Day 1, Sat 15 Aug 2015

At 8.10am we were at out local bus stop, when I looked for my wallet and couldn't find it in its usual pocket in my rucksack. Mild panic and a dash back to the house to check. I know I'd had it beside the computer last night, so it couldn't have been far. In the end, I found it in the rucksack, but in the main section. Serves me right for not following habit.

8.55 train to Manchester Airport. Having time to spare (foolish) we had a drink in the outside cafe before braving the security check. I ended up in a huge, slow moving queue that was feeding one, yes ONE machine. There were about 8 folks milling around it, so I'm sure they could easily have monitored 2 lines. After all, the bags cannot go any faster than the mchines will scan them, so to have staff standing between 2 feeder lines making sure passengers put the correct items in the trays, couldn't really make the staff's job that much heavier, and it would double the through-put. In the end, folk on my flight got called through to the front of the queue as it became clear that we'd never make it otherwise. And the people that organise these services are supposed to be reasonably intelligent.

The flight was fine. We dozed most of the time. Caming in over the Baltic Sea was fabulous. The sky was crystal clear and we could see beautiful patterns in the sea; algae or plankton, I don't know, but it was spectacular.

Got the No.2 bus from the airport into the city. I had the rather odd experience of standing next to 2 Brits, Scots actually, discussing the merit of brothels. Odd and a little depressing.

We'd received an email telling us the manager of our apartments would be waiting for us at 6.45pm, so I gave him a phone call. Got through and he said, no problem, he'd be here. And he was. He sp-otted us from afar, walking across the square. Mind you, I had told him to look for a Brit and a Japanese, so perhaps we weren't that hard to spot.

Out room is clean and modern,though with the kitchen and bed together, compact. It's also hot. The aircon exhaust pipe is simply fed through an open window, so the outside noice comes in. Also, the aircon is noisy itself, so it might not get used. We seem to be in an area where young folk gather to make merry, though it's quiet enough now, 11.30 on a Saturday night, so fingers crossed. I spoke too soon, I've just heard some shouting and screaming. I dare not shut the window for fear of being boiled alive.

Day 2, Sun, 16 Aug

I slept above the bedclothes, only pulling the thin cover over my naked body just before dawn. Oddly, though the outside temperature is short-sleeve weather it isn't that hot. Indeed, by the time we returned to the hotel, it was decidedly cool, though I was still in short sleeves. However, the room is still very hot.

Last night, the noise outside was such I had to resort to ear plugs to get to sleep. They were very effective. The noise was not continuous, and that was half the problem. I'd be nicely dropping off when the noise from a bunch of revellers would slice through the quiet like a screeching knife.

We spent the whole day wandering the streets of the old city. The town hall was built in 1406, during the time of the Hanseatic League, which included King's Lynn. It is nice to see the buildings are still in one piece, given that the Nazis were here and knowing what wanton devastation they wreaked on Warsaw. Warsaw did a fabulous job of restooring their old town, but I didn't see any signs stating Estonia had to do so wholesale. Yes, they mention restoration, but often that was before WW2. In fact, a video outside Niguliste Church states that the Germans did little damage, but 'wanton' bombing by the Soviets in 1944 destroyed about 50% of the old town. In retribution, it was claimed, for the many Estonians who fought alongside the Germans against them.

One telling quote was on a flag stone marking notable dates in their history. 1941-1991 Period of occupation. Estonia does not differentiate between the Soviets and Nazi Germany.

Day 3, Mon, 17 Aug

What did we do today? Lots of wandering around, but little of consequence. I got up at what I thought was 7.40, only to be informed that I'd forgotten to change the clock on my phone and it was 9.40. We returned to St Olav's Church tower, which we'd climbed yesterday, to buy some of their postcards, as they were the best value we'd seen. Later on, we sat in a cafe and wrote some out while sipping coffee and tea and feeding our faces with some rather tasty cakes.

The morning's visit was to the market behind the railway station. This was definitely not a tourist spot. There were the usual fruit and veg. stalls and some clothing, shoes etc. However, on some spare stalls were some elderly Babushkas selling a few tomatoes or cucumbers, presumably from their own gardens. There were also kiosks selling second hand stuff; old Soviet radios or electrical test gear (at least, that's what I spotted) and vintage Zenit cameras. A Zenit B was the first SLR camera I owned back in about 1976 and I'm not sure that wasn't second hand then.

Tues, 18 Aug

Walked over to the Museum of Occupations. I started listening to the video commentaries, so Junko left and wandered the town while I indulged myself. I still find it hard to get into the mentality of those who want to conquer. I simply cannot understand what they want or what they hope to achieve. A grudging respect out of fear and loathing doesn't seem like much reward for the killing of others and death of your own people. Of course, I guess most conquerors are psychopaths who wouldn't care two hoots about being liked anyway.

One item impinged on my memory by its sheer mundanity; an odd contraption with an oblong plate with holes in it making a sort of wide 'V'. It's obvious when they tell you, but I simply wasn't on the wavelength of the designers. It was a steamer for the KGB to open letters.

The Soviets invaded in 1940, just before the Germans. When the Germans left in '44, many Estonians fled; 25,000 to Sweden, some to Finland (where they have a common language root), but 42,000 fled to Germany. During the war, some Estonians fought with the Germans. Whether or not they were convinced Nazis is debatable, but the one year they'd endured under Soviet rule before the Germans invaded had clearly had its effect.

During the transition to independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union, one commentator claimed that the Soviets were agitating with their satelite soviets. The implication was that blood would be spilled by those demanding independence and the soviets would appear as saviours. "Blood was spilled in Latvia and Lithuania and repression and recrimination is still going on. We managed to avoid all that and won our independence without spilling a drop of blood."

During her wanderings, Junko spotted a concert this evening, though she didn't know what sort it was. It was in Niguliste Church and featured the vocal group, 'Maneo'. Three men and three women and the sound was sublime. The church has a tremendous reverb, almost amounting to an echo. The result was that much of what the leader said was lost. However, they cleverly chose mostly slow songs and the effect was magical. "I am in heaven." Junko said, and I did not disagree.

We had a phone call from Aya and Kohe, who arrived this afternoon. We will meet up tomorrow morning.
Yesterday, I was cycling into town when I realised I'd picked up something in my tyre, as I could hear it clicking against the road. It was the broken half of a key. Well, that should be easy enough to fix, I thought, I know exactly where the hole is. So, I fixed it and replaced the tube. It stayed flat. So, I removed it again, found another hole and replaced it. It still wouldn't inflate. Third time, I couldn't find the leak. I was on a busy road and it was windy. I could neither hear the leak nor feel it against my upper lip (my usual method).

So, I walked a couple of miles to where I knew there was a bike shop. Bought a new tube and fitted it. About one mile down the road there was a bang and the tyre was flat once more. I was going to a pilates class and I'd given myself plenty of time, as I'd actually intended going somewhere else first. So, I walked the rest of the way and went to the class.

After the class I tried fixing the original tyre, but it was no good. I found a hole and patched it, but there was yet another leak. So, I removed the 'new' one and fixed that. Even that would not inflate. So, I went over to road to a bike shop and bought another new tube. This was OK, of course, but I couldn't get the tyre to stay on the rim. Feeling somewhat frustrated, I took the whole wheel into the shop and asked the bloke there to look at it. He couldn't fit the tyre either. It was as if the beading that sits in the wheel rim had stretched. Eventually, he fitted a new tyre, leaving me to examine the old one.

The beading around the edge of the tyre did look deformed, so I pulled it. It creaked. Clearly, there was movement between the rubber and the internal steel wire. I then went round the rim trying to feel for a break in the wire. I couldn't feel a single break, but I did discover a strand of the wire sticking through the rubber and into the internal space of the tyre; ie exactly where the inner-tube would be. Obviously, as I'd been wheeling the bike along, post-puncture, this strand had been systematically puncturing the tube as it moved around inside the soft tyre. No wonder there were so many holes. What was amazing was that the original puncture would have just been a single hole. Presumably, it was the stress of deflation that broke the steel wire in the beading.

I've never experienced anything like that before. I wonder if Schwalb (the tyre maker) would take pity on me...?
As many of you can attest, I can sometimes be very boring on this subject and probably sound smug. This comment might seem to confirm these opinions, but it really isn't meant to. Having done a little bit of thinking and some calculations, (from the position of an ill informed observer, of course) I often get irritated when I hear politicians and pension providers going on about how much more we all need to be saving and contributing. Do we? Really?

The background is the pension I took out with the Prudential. Way back in 1990, I was advised to move my BT pension into something that "will give you some growth". So, knowing no better, I did. BT released £22k representing 11 years of contributions. That £22k is now worth £135k. Although it is very comforting, I am not claiming any credit for this performance. As I said, I knew nothing better and just signed up for what I had been advised.

Since 1990 I have not put anything into the fund. Not a single penny. The value plateaued in the late 90s and even dipped post-2008. Yet, it still represents an average annual growth of around 8% (with profits). Now, I've no idea whether I have been incredibly lucky in having chosen a particularly healthy fund or whether - perhaps - other funds might have done even better. As far as I can tell, the Prudential management of the fund has been, well, prudent. They've retained profits in good years to boost the lean ones and still achieved 8%.

A few minutes with my spreadsheet tells me that a monthly contribution of £110 into this fund over an 11 year period would produce the requisite £22k. If that contribution had been continued throughout an average working life, the fund would grow to be £500,000. Half a million! ladies and gentlemen. More than enough to give a rosy pension, even with the current pitiful annuity rates.

I'm trying to remember how my BT pension worked and I think it required a 3% contribution from my salary and BT would top it up by 6%. With that split, £110 would require £36.66 from my gross salary which represents a gross annual salary of just £14,666. Well below the current median value. Even thinking about salaries back in the early 80s, this wasn't so unusual and most people expect an initial low salary to increase over the years.

Obviously, the magic of compound interest means it's the early years that give rise to the biggest gains and it's the early years when one is usually earning less and often have other calls on ones funds, such as mortgage, children etc. All that being said, however, I still find myself getting angry with financial advisors telling us we've got to put more and more money into our pensions. For whose benefit? If other pension funds cannot match Prudential's, is that because the Pru has been incredibly lucky or could it be that other fund managers have been incompetent? By getting policy holders to put yet more money into their pensions, are they protecting their future income or simply providing the fund managers with yet more yachts and luxury holidays?

The current "We're in!" advert for work place pensions is encouraging, but only if those pensions follow the Pru's example and really do invest and properly manage those contributions. I'm not sure what the government can do about their own pensions. Had they had the gumption to actually invest the NI contributions, instead of simply using them as a furtive tax, then perhaps they'd not be in the pickle they currently find themselves in.
I realise that one always looks at other languages through the prism of ones own and that no two languages automatically need to use similar structures to express the same concept. However, does Japanese always have to be so perverse?

In the 3 languages I know; English, Indonesian and German, the imperative is pretty simple; I must, ich muss, saya harus. And that's it. OK, they all have Indo-European roots, so are bound to have similar forms. But, does Japanese have to be so complicated?

The verb to go = iku. Active form: i-KI-masu. Negative: i-KA-nai. So far, so irregular. However, you then get the conditional form 'if I go' i the negative:

ikanakereba = if (I*) do not go

So, the English phrase 'I must go' becomes:

ikanakereba narimasen = if (I) do not go it will not do.

Finally, if you want to put this into the past tense:

ikanakereba narimasen deshita

Really? The trouble is, if you hear '~nakereba narimasen' but miss the initial 'i' then you have absolutely no idea what is going on, only that it must be done.

Please. I've only a simple brain. If I get even the slightest grip on this language it will be a miracle.

* fortunately, the verb does not reflect the person and the 'I' or 'you' is usually omitted if obvious.
Wednesday July 1st. To climb a Munro. Sgurr Thuilm, to be precise. Situated at the head of Glenfinnan, we parked in the road-side car park and set off. The first few miles are along a well metalled road that follows the river, so a very gentle start. From the road you cannot see the famous viaduct, but it looms into view quite soon and is as impressive in reality as it is in pictures. ( Standing under the arches you can test the acoustics by singing "Ping" and hearing it reverberate. However, we are much too mature and sober to have indulged in such childishness.

Just as the viaduct disappeared from view we heard the characteristic hoot of a steam locomotive whistle. Bugger. However, a few paces back along the road and we could just see a small section of the viaduct between the trees and saw the nostalgic sight of maroon coaches under the fluffy white cloud of steam emanating from the funnel of a rather beautiful loco.

Having walked a few miles along the flat, the subsequent climb up Sgurr Thuilm was all the steeper and soon demolished our smug belief that we were reasonably fit. Counting 100 paces then resting was our alternative to just sitting in the wet moss and weeping. Half way up we had to hurriedly pull on waterproofs. Despite the blistering heat at the start of the day, a tremendous thunder storm hit us. One thunder clap was so close we both almost hit the deck in fright. We think we must have only been at the edge of it, as it did not last long. Later, we ate in the local restaurant and were told the storm had knocked out all the phones in the village.

By the time we reached the top of Sgurr Thuilm the storm had passed and we had some lovely views while we ate our lunch. There were two possible routes of descent; one circling round to take in another Munro and another straight down, following the line of a stream. As it was getting late, we decided on the latter, though I'm not convinced it was much of a time saver. Not being a well-trodden path - if trodden at all - picking our way down was occasionally rather scary, though did take us to some lovely spots, as the stream cut its way through steep sided gorges, albeit small ones.

By the time we reached the metalled road our feet felt hot enough to cook eggs and bathing them in the cool waters of the river I'm sure I could see steam rising. The local hotel were then called upon to satisfy our resulting hunger, and they did so magnificently.
Have you ever watched the children's TV show Balamory? I'm told it is filmed in Tobermory so, if you have, you'll appreciate the beauty of the place. ( On the day we went the sky was clear and the sun was doing what it does best. From Kilchoan you cannot see the town, so rounding the lighthouse it's quite a sight when it comes into view. It is everything a child might draw for a perfect seaside cove; the bay is about a 3/4 circle, the sides are steep and wooded (where they are not built on) and there were dozens of sailing boats bobbing idyllically in the harbour. The buildings lining the harbour road are painted in beautiful primary colours and a more pleasant spot to sit and while away some time over a good cup of coffee, as we did, would be hard to imagine.

There was a bus to the west side of the island and, pleasant though Tobermory is, we took it. The road is single track and very twisty. Not as precipitous as some Alpine roads, but still as challenging for a driver. And they did present the passengers with some wonderful views. The destination was Calgary (yes, the original) which is a place of barely a dozen buildings around a dazzlingly white sandy cove. Having eaten out lunch on the beach, we then headed out along the north shore, across some pretty challenging rocks, some eroded into razor sharp edges, so surefootedness is essential to avoid a visit to A&E. While out there we spotted a white-tailed sea eagle, one of the species recently re-populated on the island. ( Glad I took my binoculars, even if they were only my small ones.
Having decided the boat was unable to go the distances we'd planned, we were in a dilemma. Situated, as we were, at the end of a peninsula served by a very narrow and twisty road, what could we do and where? If we left the boat at Kilchoan it would be quite a trek to retrieve it. Conversely, anywhere we went we'd have to factor it in. Every ferry crossing would be double the cost, for example. In the end, we decided to stay put and just explore the surrounding area.

One visit was to the cafe at the Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse. It was a beautiful, clear day and we were able to watch - with some envy - other boats sailing past the point. On our way back to Kilchoan, we saw a calf that looked completely stuck in some mud and in obvious distress. We back-tracked to a nearby house and, though the calf wasn't theirs, the bloke came out to deal with it. I have to say, I'm glad I wasn't that calf, because the man rather unceremoniously grabbed it by the ears and hauled it out of the mud. That said, it trotted away, seemingly none the worse for the experience.

One rather lovely aspect of camping where we did were the evenings. When the weather was fine we could watch the changing shadows and colours as the sun lowered itself gently between Arnamurchan and Mull, sending shafts of light towards the land around Loch Sunart and catching the peaks on Mull, such as Ben More. We saw an occasional seal and quite a few birds. We might have even seen a porpoise, but not the whales and basking sharks we might have seen further out to sea.
Saturday, 27 June. Met my friend, Brian, in Lymm services at some unGodly hour of the morning. Actually, it was only 7.30, but he'd been on the road since 3. He then managed to drive all the way to Kilchoan, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. (I'd have been fighting my eyelids after that length of drive.) We pitched Brian's comfortable 3-person tent on the midge infested coast in a camp site run by explorer, Trevor Potts ( Actually, the location was superb, with fabulous views over to the Tobermory Lighthouse on Mull. But the midges were real enough.

The following day we rigged Brian's boat (actually, it's his Dad's, but never mind) and set sail at around 5pm in some less than perfect weather. We later heard tell that some locals thought they'd be calling the rescue services as they watched us depart. The original intention was to sail west, around Ardnamurchan Point (yes, THAT location from the Shipping Forecast) and sail north. However, as the wind was a pretty brisk westerly, Brian thought it might be prudent, as I was a novice at the game, to go with it and sail into Loch Sunart and stop there for the night before venturing out into the Atlantic.

Well, fine idea, but I was a little concerned that we seemed to be shipping rather more H2O than I'd expected. Brian was unconcerned and said it would drain out of the bailers. Trouble was, his previous expedition was with his daughter, who, qualified sailor though she is, could almost fit into my pocket. So, along with 10 days worth of supplied and equipment, we were lying rather lower in the water than usual, rendering the bailers somewhat ineffective. By the time we anchored off Oronsay, Brian had come around to my point of view; we discovered water in the buoyancy tanks, so something was definitely not right.

We hauled the boat onto the pebbly shore and let it drain overnight. Despite the presence of no less than 8 other boats, all with luxurious accomodation, we spent the night in my ancient, though serviceable tent on shore. It was only a 2-person tent, so was a little cosy. If I thought the midges were bad at Kilchoan, they were nothing to this place. Fortunately, a quick blast with a spray afforded us a relatively peaceful night.

I say, 'relatively' as Brian was too worried about the boat to sleep well and was up at 4pm to check it over. To cut a long story short, he concluded there must be a leak and, not being in a position to fix it, decided to return to Kilchoan and review our options. So, at around 8am on the Monday morning, we hauled the boat back up the slipway and put it back onto the trailer. And watched the water slowly draining out. Our sailing adventure had come to a rather untimely end.

To be honest, the weather had been wet and not particularly warm. As we had not had to tack or jibe much, my role as crew was not very strenuous and I'd become a little chilled in the open boat, in spite of the layers and waterproofs. Typically, on subsequent days we looked out on gloriously sunny seas from the security of dry land and wondered what it would have been like to sail in that, somewhat more clement, weather.
We were here in 1988, when we met on a German course. However, I can hardly recognise it as the sleepy little town we stayed in back then.

Mayerhofen is at the end of the Ziller Valley and has a number of smaller valleys radiating from it, each one being dead ends with many ski lifts and runs. We drove to the end of one valley, to the town of Hintertux, where there was still quite a lot of activity on the slopes, if the number of folk using the lifts was anything to go by. We contemplated going up to the top of one section, but were not really properly dressed for it, so stayed grounded. There is a fairly big waterfall just behind the lift building, so we headed off to see it. The path went beyond the falls and we followed. However, as it just kept going up and up, Junko was finding the rough ground and big steps hard going, so we eventually turned back. Not, however, before we'd been treated to some pretty stunning views back down the valley. These side valleys are much narrower than the Ziller Valley and the mountains loom over them menacingly. Though a fabulous place to live in, I'd be a little concerned during the winter months. Though the sides are tree covered, I'd still worry about snow cascading on top of me.

We next returned to Mayerhofen with the intention of buying some food for the evening. On our way down the valley, we passed a Spar (we've seen lots of them since arriving) that would be open between 4-6pm and fully expected the big Spar in Mayerhofen to be open by the time we arrived. Surprisingly, that one was not open at all on a Sunday. So, we decided to go down memory lane and visit one of the local reservoirs.

In 1988 we'd visited the local power station which was part of a huge complex. Ziller Valley had often been flooded, so they planned on damming the rivers to control the flooding and generate electricity. To this end they built 3 large dams in the high valleys. Each one had combined generator-pumps and interconnecting tunnels through the mountains. With these, they can move water from one dam to the other if one threatens to over-top. A flowing spill-way may look stunning, but it means they no longer have control over the amount of water flowing downstream. On our previous visit, they told us of a storm in which they were frantically pumping water between all 3 reservoirs and only just managed to avoid over-topping them before the storm abated. Thinking about it, I don't think Schlegeis has a spill-way, at least not a visible one, so over-topping would be a real disaster.

Speicher Schlegeis is the largest of the 3 reservoirs and is but a stone's throw from the Italian border. Driving up the valley is an awesome experience. When the dam wall comes into view you are at river level, with this monstrous arch looming 50m above you. Even back in '88 I thought that, if ever the dam broke, the volume of water thundering down such a narrow valley would leave absolutely nothing in it's wake.

Before we could reach the dam there was the small problem of a red traffic light and a toll booth demanding Eu12. However, there was nobody there to take out money. Do we just drive on? At that moment, a car came down from the dam and the driver spoke to me. I'm afraid it rather broke my basic language skills, but I got the impression there were tunnels ahead and he'd waited where we were for 15 minutes and nobody came. On investigation, there was a button to press; so I pressed it and a sign lit up with a countdown; '7 Min'. At '0 min' the lights changed, so we drove up. True enough, there were a number of tunnels that were only one vehicle wide, hence the lights, but nobody asked us for money.

Again, the view down the valley was stunning, but more shocking was the level of the water. There was an ugly grey stripe between the water and the tree-line that must have been 50-100m wide. I don't know if that's a result of normal operation, but it certainly didn't look like that in '88.

On our way back to the apartment house, we turned onto a narrow country lane. This lane, however, became narrower and narrower until we found ourselves driving through a public park, scattering pedestrians and cyclists alike as we gently sailed past giving our regal waves. Clearly, we'd somehow got onto a cycle path, but I'm convinced it had not been so labelled when we first entered it. Fortunately, we managed to find a way back onto the road that did not entail reversing the whole way back.
Having picked up a hire car in Salzburg, we set off for Mayerhofen. We decided on a southern route, in order to visit the spectacular "Liechtensteinklamm" ( Well, I'm assured it is spectacular, because we didn't get to see it. Annoyingly, it was closed, even though all the information states it is open from 'early May'.

However, the route over to Mayerhofen then took us over a far more scenic route than the more northerly road would have done. We passed the Krimml Falls, which are also spectacular. ( We didn't go in, as we were running a bit late by this time, but we did get some fabulous views from observation points on the road.

After trundling along the valley floor for some while, we began climbing a veritable switchback of hairpin curves until we reached the summit of the pass. I was somewhat astonished to see a toll gate, as I'd not realised we were on a private road. Maybe there had been a sign lower down, but it certainly was not obvious to a foreigner with poor German. I did wonder whether it was only for an even higher route, but no, they'd plonked it down right on the summit, where it was obviously too far to retrace ones steps and find an alternative. I've just been looking on Google maps and cannot quite decide which road we actually took. I thought it was the main 165, but now I'm really not sure. That said, it was a lovely drive and well worth the Eu8.50.

Finding our apartment in the Ziller Valley was something of a challenge, with only a road atlas of the country as our map. However, the signage around here is second to none and we spotted the name on a roadside sign. The apartment is one of many, though I think we are the only residents today. It has a kitchen diner, a bedroom with a proper big bed and a shower room. And a view of the mountains to die for. I'm tempted not to go home.
Over the last few days we've seen people from almost every continent. I'm sure there were precious few Chinese here even 10 years ago, but there are lots here now, so that's encouraging. However, we've also seen quite a few women who are completely covered, save the eyes and hands. Often as not, their husbands are dressed in tight T-shirts and/or shorts.

Now, my feminist sensibilities instruct me that women have every right to wear just what they choose so, if these women were to assure me that their choice of dress is purely their own, I'd be duty bound to accept it. However, I cannot shake the suspicion (at the very least) that these women's choice has not been made entirely in a vacuum. It seems to me that the dress code was designed by men - and let's be honest here, it was men - who appear to have laid down rather stricter rules for what women should be allowed to wear than those laid down for men. Or at least, if the rules for dress in the Qur'an are strictly even handed, then the interpretation of those rules seem rather less so. I find it hard to believe in a God that would restrict one half of his/her creation more than the other half. So, again, I find it difficult to shake the suspicion that the men who codified the rules were, at best, less than even handed in their interpretation.

A postscript to this occurred today (Saturday). A woman in a head scarf approached us to ask a question. Her (rather generously covered) husband said something to her and she turned towards him to reply. I then saw her doing something with her scarf and when she turned around, only her eyes were visible. Clearly, she had no qualms about talking to us with her face uncovered, but he obviously did. A little while later we saw them again. She was on a swing, again open-faced, while her husband had his back to us. As we passed he suddenly became aware of our presence. I purposely did not look in their direction, but I'm sure I saw her covering her face again.


May. 13th, 2015 03:08 pm
Today's special was a visit to the palace of Hellbrunn, built by a 17th century arch-bishop. As well as a big house, there are also huge grounds and a selection of water features of which he was very proud. He'd had built a table and seats from under which he could spray water onto his guests, though, of course, keeping dry himself. Using simple water power, he'd had built various fountains and grottoes with animated scenes featuring episodes from Greek mythology. While beautiful and fascinating, I couldn't help but wonder whether he was using all his own wealth to accomplish such opulence. In the audio guide to the house it said that nobody else was allowed to keep a bigger collection of curios than the arch-bishop; the smallest horse, the stag with the biggest antlers etc. I imagined a peasant farmer who just happened to have a prize bull, only to find the arch-bishop's men on his doorstep saying, "Right, I think we'll have that." and simply walzing off with the beast. Of course, I might be slandering the poor fellow, but history doesn't instil confidence.

Back in Salzburg we took a cruise on the Salzach river. While getting the tickets, I was curious to hear the boat's captain, discussing the trip with the man in the ticket booth, with a very English accent. It turned out that he was indeed British but, though he speaks German fluently, the man in the booth likes to practice his English with him. I wondered how an Englishman came to be in charge of a river boat in Austria. He said he'd been a diving instructor in Thailand, where he met his Austrian wife, who was also a diving instructor, and returned here when she did. While job hunting, and improving his school-boy German, he spotted an advert in the local paper advertsing the post of boat captain. There was a word he didn't recognise, but that excited his wife. It meant 'sideways step'; they were wanting someone who wanted a change in career. "That job has 'you' written all over it." she told him. "So, here I am." It seems his wife is also a boat captain and they alternate shifts, giving each a rest and allowing the other to take care of their child. Apparently, the boat cannot run for 3 months of the year, so what, I wondered, did he do outside the tourist season? It transpires the state allows them those 3 idle months and even gives them Eu1000/month, as they have a guaranteed job the next season. "Not excessive, but enough to survive and the savings over the year fill in the rest. It also allows us to go skiing." he told me. So, not only does he have one of the nicest working locations, he can indulge his hobbies in the quiet months. That's how to fall on your feet.

In the evening we went to a concert given by the professor of piano at the Mozarteum. Junko did a summer course there in 1988 and he was already the prof. then. He was, of course, brilliant. Sadly, the accoustics of the room were not kind. The walls were lined with marble panels that did not exactly enhance loud or fast passages. The final piece was a violin sonata and I was sorely tempted - during the piece - to go up and gently close the lid of the piano. For their encore they did a much slower and softer piece that was, in my opinion, the best of the lot for sound balance.


May. 12th, 2015 03:06 pm
It was hot today. Even at 7pm, the local street thermometer was indicating 28'C.

Having bought a 3 day Salzburg Card we were intent on making full use of it. The plan was to do Untersberg and Hellbrunn Palace. However, Untersberg filled the day; the air being so clear it was impossible not to linger on the summit and simply drink in the views. A short bus ride out of the city took us to the Untersberg cable car and an 8 minute ride had us some 1300m higher. The air was noticeably cooler, so I put my jumper on. However, that didn't last long and it was soon off again and remained in my bag for the rest of the day. Tramping up the mountain to the highest point took us over the remains of the winter's snow, but still we didn't need jumpers. The views from the top were sublime, of course. Mountains to one side, Salzburg the other. With birds circling lazily overhead and a hand-glider catching the thermals rushing back to visit Hellbrunn seemed inappropriate.

When walking, Junko prefers to go at her own pace and finds my presence a little intimidating, so I arrived at the summit first and sat on a bench relaxing in the glorious sunshine. I was chatting with a young Hong Kong woman when a man approached, held out his hand saying, "Hello Mark, how nice to see you again." It turned out that he'd been chatting with Junko who had prompted the joke. "You did look a bit like a rabbit in the headlights." Walter told me afterwards.

Our Hong Kong friend was spending a month travelling post-graduation and had started her journey in Siberia and was going on to Prague. Walter and his wife Stephanie were from Canada and also doing a grand tour. Amazingly, he was born in Kamloops, where Junko & I were married. When I mentioned my friend who lives in Battle Street, Walter's reply was, "That was my paper round route." Small world.

Junko & I had our lunch in the café at the cable car station. We sat on the terrace and watched the hand glider floated around the hill top. At one point he dropped very low and I thought he'd gone in to land, but he soon reappeared as high as ever. It is obviously a great place for riding the thermals.

We rushed back to the town, as we'd spotted a concert that would begin at 5pm. In fact, Walter and Stephanie had said they were also going there, with their son, who is studying at the Mozarteum. Sadly, although we just arrived in time, we discovered the price was a little more than we'd bargained for and didn't have enough cash with us. I hope our new friends don't think we'd snubbed them.
I don't suppose any airport ranks highly in the minds of most people, but Stansted must be my least favourite. Getting there at 5.30am, we crawled in a vary long queue of cars, just to get to the "Rapid Drop-off Bay". Even then, we were charged £2 for the privilege. Then, once inside the terminal building, there was a huge crowd of fellow travellers, all trying to get through the security checks. And I do mean 'huge'. To be fair, almost all of the security lanes were operational, but it still seemed like too few for the number of people. And the space was so limited that they had to use those flexible barriers to snake us left and right to enforce some order into the 'mele'. Not a good advert for the airport, I'd suggest.

Carrying heavy bags in a slow moving queue, or just kicking them a few paces each time the queue moved, is not the best way to instil general bon homie. Then, before we reached our gate, we had to zig-zag past shop after shop selling perfumes, liquor and expensive electronic toys and not a single seat where we could rest our now rather weary legs. So, by the time we did sit down at the departure gate, life had already taken on a rather dour hue. Sadly, things were to get no better, as our departure was delayed a further 90 minutes because of a technical failure. However, the flight itself was faultless.

When we landed we were somewhat surprised when our neighbour asked to confirm the time, as she couldn't understand why it was so late. It transpired that she'd fallen asleep as soon as she got on the plane and had slept through both the delay and the entire flight. Lucky sod.

Junko stayed in Salzburg in 1988, while attending a piano course at the Mozarteum, and stayed with a woman who rented out room to students such as Junko. We stayed with Frau Feldbaumer when we came for a wedding around 10 years ago and did so again this time. Once checked in, we headed back into town and just wandered the streets for a couple of hours. The location of the town on the Salzach river and surrounded by mountains is a naturally beautiful one and the sight of cliffs towering over half of the old town seems almost un-natural. Even during the busy hours, it never really feels rushed or oppressive.
Last year we were troubled by wasps in our conservatory. There was a nest under the roof tiles. We left them alone,reasoning the nest would die at the end of the season and that would be an end to it. Their entry route was under the valley gutter between two sections of roof, but they occasionally go lost and emerged into our conservatory. I used to have to evict a couple every morning, sometimes a dozen or more.

Anyway, once the weather turned cold, I took down the ceiling curtains and disposed of the decaying bodies. I then cleaned the entire conservatory and thought that was that. Disposing of the nest is not as simple as it sounds, as the nest is below the valley gutter and removing that would disturb the roof too much. The least worst option is to go into the loft, extend the vacuum hose into the eves and try to suck out as much as I can reach.

OK, so far so good. However, this morning I found a wasp in the conservatory. I'm no expert, but it didn't look big enough to be a queen. The door had not been opened and, though some windows were in the partially open - ventilating - position, I wouldn't have thought it entered by that route. Perhaps it had been hibernating behind the cupboard and escaped the spring cleaning. Or, did it come from the old nest? In which case, my plan to poke the nest with my vacuum cleaner looses its attraction.

What is my next move?
Today's excursion was only a short hop along the coast to Toba, where the world's first pearls were cultured. We walked to the bus stop, which was just outside Futami's "Sea Paradise" aquarium. Outside the aquarium is a large pool where a 2.5m, 300kg Stellar's sea lion was swimming. I was thinking how large it was when an absolutely huge, 3m, 1 tonne monster swam into view. I had no idea just how big the males could get and, looking at one less than the thickness of a pane of glass away was awe inspiring. However, the same doubts entered my mind as occurred at the whale museum; I had wondered whether the pool was big enough for the female, even before I'd seen the male.

Our bus took us along to Toba where we took a tour boat around the bay then into the Pearl Museum. Toba was the birth place of Kokichi Mikimoto, who was the first man to culture pearls successfully around the turn of the last century. Unlike many Japanese museums, they had translated almost all the display explanation, so I no doubt bored Junko silly by reading it all, but it was fascinating stuff.

I've never really given pearls much thought, still less the cultured variety. However, I was a little disquieted by watching a video in which they described opening the required bit of the oyster in which to place the seed object. The method used what was labelled a scalpel. So, they were cutting into the flesh of a live animal to deposit the irritant (Wikipedia confirms it is an incision). I knew that they were seeded to produce the final product, but had not really given the method much thought. Given that the animals will cover a natural irritant with pearl, I'd assumed the cultured variety inflicted no more discomfort than what happens in nature. OK, I know they are a simple bi-valve, but I still wonder about the morality of slicing into a live animal. I don't even like the thought of leaving fish to die gasping in air, but at least they are eaten for food. These oysters are cut open just to make an object of adornment. Do they feel pain? They must be sensitive to a degree, or why would they coat the intruding particle?
We visited a museum dedicated to whales. They had a dolphin pool and sections of the bay cordened off with various cetatians; some small whales, including a false killer whale, which they'd trained to do various tricks; something I'm a little ambivalent about at the best of times. However, I couldn't shake the concern that, big though the enclosures were, they were not really big enough as these are big animals with the potential for great speed, something impossible in the confines of a sub-area of an already small bay.

Likewise, the dolphin pool seemed big at first sight. However, they said that dolphins could reach a speed of 35km/hr and one did show a great turn of speed - for about 1 second before it met the far wall.

All that said, the museum was quite interesting, even given the complete lack of any information in English. We didn`t quite have enough time to check the whole of the top floor, but as half of that was dedicated to the types of harpoon used to capture the poor animals, it wasn't something I regretted missing.

The route to the museum was by boat. We left the harbour of Katsuura and went out of the bay into the Pacific Ocean. The boat initially went in the opposite direction so we could see something of the pretty spectacular coastline. Indeed, when the boat left the seclusion of the bay it didn't head for the wider of two openings, but one that seemed to give little room for error. I can only assume that the sheer cliffs on either side continued down to a sufficient depth for our boat to safely navigate and that the wider gap did not. It was only a pity that the weather wasn't brighter or Junko might have got some sunnier photos.
When we checked into our hotel in Katsuura I noticed a map on the wall with coloured zones and a key indicating metres. Before I spotted the other pictures, I'd figured out it was a tsunami risk map. Perhaps fortunately, high ground was actually relatively close, the town being backed by steep slopes into the nearby hills, though only of use if one had sufficient warning. Some of the accompanying pictures showed stick figures running to the top of high buildings with an appropriately lower incoming wave. I know tsunami warnings can be pretty good these days, but I wonder how well they can predict the size of the wave. It would be a heart stopping sight to reach the top of a tall building only to spot the crest of the tsunami "eye to eye", so to speak.
For a country that gets so much right, I find the design of Japanese houses a little baffling. No doubt the ventilation and paper sliding doors are well suited to the stifling Japanese summer, but less so for winter. True, the south coast does not get the really heavy snows the north or Hokkaido does, but it's still well below comfortable. It gets cold in December and doesn't really begin to properly warm until March, so the lack of adequate heating or insulation seems a bit of an oversight. We've stayed in a few hotels around this time of year and leaving the comfort of the room to visit the bathroom or toilet is an unpleasant experience that takes me back to our unheated house in the 60s. Most hotels and houses I've visited have a combined air conditioner and heater, so any heating uses very electricity, which is not th most efficient way of getting heat from fossil fuels. I suppose, if the main focus of attention is keeping cool in summer, this combination might be reasonable, but I still have my doubts.

I only hope houses in Hokkaido are better designed.
Or 'Kawaii', to use the Japanese word. Where ever you go in Japan you will see adverts or public notices that employ cutsie cartoons, whether they be of animals or girls (and I use the word 'girls' deliberately), with voices pitched to resemble a girl of about 6. A classic example of this was when we checked into a hotel. The receptionist looked as though she could have gone 5 rounds with Mick McMannus, but had you heard her only via the telephone, you would have imagined her as a 15 year old waif. What was amusing was that, while she was talking to us, she let the mask slip and her real tone slipped out for just a moment, and it must have been a good half octave lower than her 'official' voice.

Likewise, today, we were walking along a paved pathway through woods and between shrines. We could hear a young couple approaching from the rear and the woman's voice sounded natural. However, as they passed us she said "Excuse me" in the tone demanded of the culture and her voice rose a good few tones before reverting to its natural, and I would say 'nicer', pitch.

I'm sure others have commented on this, even written learned papers on the subject. Indeed, I may have even heard it mentioned on FOOC. I can't help but wonder what it says about the position of women in this society.
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