Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Narvik to Singapore by train

If you like to take trips by train, you might like to take a look at a website devoted to train journeys called seat61. It's a compendium of train trips you can take all around the world. I've used it many times to plan imaginary train trips and one day I suddenly had the inspiration to plan a trip from the north west corner of Europe to the south east corner of Asia.

The first part of the journey on May 3 takes me from Narvik across the mountains to Luleaa in Sweden where I will stay the night in a cabin by a lake. I found this place to stay through Airbnb and the bloke who will be hosting me will pick me up at the station, take me back to his place, feed me a dinner of fish which probably will come from the lake and then drop me off at the bus station the next morning.  

I'll be staying in hotels for some of the bigger cities such as St Peterburg, Moscow, Beijing and Hanoi. It simplifies getting visas for those countries. The other nights I will use places I have booked through Airbnb. It's much less expensive and you get to meet the locals.

From Luleaa, I will take buses around the northern part of the Baltic Sea to Kemi from where I will take an overnight train down to Helsinki where I will spend two nights at another Airbnb close to the station.

The next train takes me to St Petersburg where I will spend three nights in a hotel.  Another train will take me to Moscow for three nights in another hotel. I'm looking forward to finally seeing these cities. 

The train number 4 to Beijing leaves once a week on each Tuesday. On day 5 of this incredibly long trip the train heads south from Ulan Ude towards Mongolia. Since I like to have a nap in the afternoon, I have opted to go first class in a compartment for just two people. I have no idea who the poor unfortunate person will be who has to put up with me.

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The train passes through Ulan Bator and eventually arrives in Beijing on Monday where I will stay for three nights in a hotel. Hopefully the smog will not be too much of a problem. I'm looking particularly forward to seeing the Summer Palace.

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The next train takes me from Beijing down to Hanoi via Nanning. I will be spending two nights on the train. In Hanoi I will stay in another hotel for three nights which cost just $40 a night. It's quite elegant and in the old quarter. It offers a street food tour that looks interesting.

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The next train is supposed to take a spectacular route by the sea on the way to Saigon. There will be two nights on the train and I will spend three nights in Saigon in another Airbnb. All of my subsequent accommodation for the remainder of the trip will be using Airbnb.

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Passenger trains no longer run in Cambodia so from Saigon I will take a bus to Phnom Penh and then a boat up the Mekong River to Siem Reap which is close to Angkor Wat. Another bus will take me to the border of Thailand where I will catch a train to Bangkok. Because of the political unrest in Bangkok I will only spend two nights in Bangkok before heading south by train in to Malaysia. One of my friends has recommended that I spend some time in Penang before I continue down to Kuala Lumpur. The final train trip will take be down to Singapore.

The only time I have been in Singapore was forty years ago so I expect much to have changed. I also expect to be fed up with the heat and humidity of south east Asia by this time so I expect I will be happy to get on a plane to take me to Sydney where Marianne will join me and for five weeks we will look after the house next door to the house we stayed in last year.

The trip from Narvik to Singapore takes 45 days. It should be quite something. No, Marianne does not want to join me on this journey. We have found that since I am retired and not going off to work, she likes to have a break from my company and have the house to herself. I can't imagine why.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Longwood Gardens

One of the major attractions in our area is Longwood Gardens. It is close to the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware about an hour's drive from our house.

The entrance from the parking lot. Usually there is plenty of parking. Some of the parking spots are shaded by trees but those spots get taken by the early birds.

A taste of what is to come.

Having paid for your ticket, you enter the Gardens.

We usually do these gardens in a clockwise direction. We head up the hill to the Carillon, over to the conservatories, eat lunch, visit the old Du Pont house, stroll down the avenue of trees, wander by the lakes and then return back up to the main entrance.

The topiary garden. By the way, this blog is long and has many photos of colourful flowers. If you don't like flowers, stop looking at this blog now and get on with your life.

Since it had been a long cold winter, very little was in bloom in the outside gardens. In Summer it is a quite different story. 

There are some small ground cover flowers blooming.

After a while, you see larger swathes of them.

Eventually they look like blue snow.

This is what they are.

The pavilion around the Eye of Water.

They had not turned on the water yet for the season.

The bed of the stream flowing from the Eye was mostly dry.

A pleasant stroll through tall pine trees.

The carillon in a tower.

A bee visiting a flower.

Carillon bells.

It's really just a folly but it looks good.

The gardens has a section of fountains that put on a spectacular display. This building is part of the supporting structure. It was too early in the year for the fountains to be working.

This patch of garden plots is known as the 'Ideas' area. Obviously the ideas had not been put into practice yet.

However, there were quite a few potted plants scattered around to give some colour.

I love orange flowers like this.

An unusual bird house.

An enclosed garden.

An espaliered tree starting to bud.

Flowers and vegies in a raised planter box.

It was very peaceful sitting here by myself waiting for the others to catch up.

Maybe I should build something like this. I do have some 6x6 treated lumber.

We continued on up the hill towards the conservatories.

It's a cornucopia of leaves and flowers inside the conservatories. Enjoy.

Pots visible through gauze.

These autumnal looking leaves were quite different from the more vibrant colours of most of the plants.

You keep walking on and on through what seems like dozens of conservatories, some big, some small.

The potting area is closed to the public.

A display of bonsai.

A tall structure holding large ferns.

A bottlebrush, the state flower for New South Wales.

This garden did not appeal to me at all. The pinkish plants in the middle put me off.

A room of desert plants.

Nothing prepares you for the grandeur of the main conservatory hall. It is simply magnificent.

My mother loved daisies and she really loved these gardens when we she visited back in 1986.

A room off to the side of the conservatory with a player piano. Unfortunately I missed hearing it play by a few minutes.

Eventually we left the conservatories and decided that lunch would be a good idea.

You can sit outside to eat.

Or inside. The tables outside were all taken so we were inside. There is a cafeteria and also a more formal dining room.

Lurking. Well, sleeping may be a better description.

Inside the conservatory.

Marianne wants this chest of drawers.

Du Pont's office. Considering how wealthy and powerful he was, it's quite simple.

The avenue of trees which prompted Du Pont to buy the property to conserve them.

We strolled slowly down the path. In the heat of summer, the trees give plenty of shade.

Lake at the bottom of the avenue of trees.

Formal Garden. In summer, the fountains operate.

It looks like pond scum to me.

This is new since we visited last time.  It appears to be a play house for children. It certainly sounded like it.

Walking up the hill towards the entrance. Be prepared to be tired by the time you do this walk. Take water bottles in summer because it can be quite hot, even with all the trees.

It's a wonderful set of gardens and I don't know of any conservatories that are better.

If you are one of our exchange families, don't drive home via  I-95. Later in the day there is too much traffic. Instead, head south on Route 1 until you reach Route 272 at Nottingham and then head south to Chesapeake Isle. There is much less traffic and most of the countryside is quite pleasant in lower Pennsylvania.