Our 2012 Round-the-World trip and Cruise on MS Aranui

NOTE: Clicking on any day's title will take you to the corresponding photo page.

Singapore

10 Jul - Tuesday

Off to a bright and early start, getting up at 5:50 (shades of back to work!) squeezing the last few things into cases, and Barb throwing the bedclothes into the washing machine so that all was ready for Zoe to walk in and start house-sitting. Indeed, it was the washing that slowed us down, and we were sitting around waiting for it to finish before heading off at 6:50. We went to Pam's place, since she had offered to drive us to the airport. Said goodbye to Grant and Zoe, then off.

Coffee with Pam at the airport after checking in, and then through 4 more queues to get on the plane (Check-in, Drug testing, Security Screening, Passport, TRS. At least the TRS works, unlike Britain/France, where I have never had any joy getting refunds of VAT. But the Italians could show Australia an even better system, which must be the most bureaucratic oxymoron on this planet! However, I digress.

After all this queueing, we only had 20 minutes in the Qantas lounge to relax before we were called for the flight. The flight itself was uneventful, although we found it rather tiring. More a consequence of the stress leading up to it, I suspect.

This meant that John was a little fractious when we got to Singapore. He had trouble containing himself when trying to purchase two single railway tickets from the airport. The sign on the window said "Single tickets are only available at the ticket machines". John interpreted this to mean that if you buy from the ticket machine, all you can get are single tickets, but it leaves open the possibility of purchasing single tickets from the desk clerk. But when he asked her for two single tickets, she pointed at the sign and said that he had to buy them from the ticket machine. John was about to explain to her that the sign should therefore have said "Single tickets are available only at the ticket machines" when Barbara pulled him away and went to the ticket machines. Well, maybe this is too subtle to be an example of common sense, but it still illustrates how ignorant some people are, and we who know everything are annoyed by those who think they know everything...

With that little hissy fit over, and a packed train journey later (when some kind young woman gave up her seat for John! - I think that was out of respect for an "old gentleman"!), we found our way after a few wrong turns at the Hotel Royal @ Queens, where we checked in, had a light dinner, and then crashed into bed at about 9:30 (which was really 11:30 Melbourne time, so crashing was kind-of OK).

11 Jul - Wednesday

Made our way to breakfast at 8am, but it wasn't really worth the effort. It was a buffet breakfast at $31 each, with little choice of fruit juice, cereal or fruit, and lousy coffee! I regretted it immediately, and wished we had opted for an Optifast bar instead.

Out of the hotel by 9:15, and wandered off in a fairly aimless sort of way down the street. Our plan was to go to the Marina Bay shopping centre, and check out the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Hotel. But our first stop was to wait for the cameras to warm uo and defog, and our second stop was at Dome's, a cafe with PROPER coffee, and in a wonderful old British Raffles-style building with a verandah all the way round (actually the Singapore Art Museum, but we didn't go in).

Then on to the Singapore Expo Centre, where another side-track at the Singapore Garden Exhibition slowed us down. Barbara had seen an ad for this in the paper, but since we didn't know where the Expo Centre was, we didn't include it in our plans. But walking right past it meant that we could not ignore it, especially as they ticket staff bent over backwards to give us cheap tickets (Seniors discount, plus 10% off for being tourists! $10 down to $4.50 SGD!!) An hour wandering around one level, oohing and ahing, with lots of photos, a quick trip out for coffee and lunch, then another hour or so while Barb listened to a talk on Hoyas, while John took lots of orchid photos.

So it wasn't until 2pm that we set off for the SkyPark, and it was a bit of a hike. The staff at the desk were very helpful, and suggested that $17 to go up was not going to be a great experience, since it was getting rather overcast (it had been cloudy all morning, but inside the flower expo that didn't matter). But, she helpfully suggested, we could go up to the bar, buy a drink, and then visit the observation deck. Which we did. The drink (a pot of Hoegarden beer) was $18, so we thought of it as $17 for the observation deck, with a $1 beer thrown in! Either that, or it was the most expensive beer I've had since the Faroes (which was Euro18, but that was last year's story). The view was incredible, and we both could not get over the fact that the building and the land on which it is built did not exist when we were last in Singapore (2006)!

More tramping on after we came down, and on to a place that we did recall from 2006 - the Brewerks microbrewery in Clarke Quay. It was further down the quay than we both recollected, but it was worth the hunting down. John had a pint each of American Pale Ale (very hoppy, and a delightful thirst-quenching, feet-reviving beer) and Brown Ale (a cross between newcastle Brown and Toohey's Old). Barb had only one sore foot, so she only had 1 beer, a pint of Mad Bee Honey Ale, which she said was "very honeyey" in a mad-bee sort of way.

We had dinner there, so as to stretch the beers out, and then very wisely caught a taxi back to our hotel. I say "very wisely", as when we got back and checked the pedometer, it was a new record, beating the old one of 18300-or-so set while walking around Clermont-Ferrand - 18988! John had to have a bath to soak the alcohol out of his feet, while Barb had a shower, since she had had only 1 beer, as I said.

12 Jul - Thursday

Up bright and early to catch the shuttle bus out to the Singapore Flyer (the new ferris wheel), where we tranferred to a big bus that took us out to Singapore Zoo, where we had "Breakfast with the Oran Utans". What more needs to be said? They were oh so cute, including a baby of about 6 months, who swung and frolicked and ate with the rest of them (perhaps not quite so greedily!). Barb and I had our photos taken with the OUs, and we took lots of photos on our own camera. Best if you look at the day's photos yourself!

After breakfast we caught the "tram" around the rest of the zoo, then walked to see the bits we were interested in - mainly the White Tigers (who were beautiful!), but a few other interesting animals such as the Asian Otters, who were very frolicky, and much more energetic than the OUs!

Caught the bus back to the hotel at 11:45, arriving at the hotel by 12:30 in time to pack up and check out by 1pm. We left our bags at the hotel while we went walking again.

Our first port of call (as yesterday) was Dome's for coffee (the zoo coffee was only marginally better than the Hotel Royal @ Queens). Then down to Clarke Quay where we bought tickets for the river "bum boats". Since the next trip was not until 3pm, we had time for a quick beer ar Brewerkz again, then out to Marina Bay via the Singapore River and took bucket loads more photos.

Walked to the MRT at Clarke Quay and caught a train to Little India, where we wandered around, before John found Sim Lim Tower, where he was able to buy some very specialized electronics bits for the model railway. Wondering on, we found Sim Lim Square, an even bigger version of SLT, which had camera shops as well. So we bought a screen protector for John's new camera, as well as a new lens cover string so that I only lose the lens cover when I lose the whole camera (as Barbara was at pains to point out!). We celebrated these purchases with a small gelato each and another coffee in the Bugis+ shopping mall (there are so many of them!)

Slowly back to the hotel to collect our luggage, and then trundling suitcases, we caught the train to the airport. It was a bit of a mistake, since it was rush hour, and we had to let one train go past, it was so full, and we had the luggage - not much, mind you, but very bulky in a crowded train!

We had plenty of time to sort ourselves out at the airport, and had about 3 hours in the airport lounge to relax. An uneventful flight (apart from a very sore bum from sitting so long) saw us land in Paris just after 6am, and as I write these words, we are waiting to catch our TGV with the help of a cup of coffee at the Sheraton (where we had a beer last year, just before catching the TGV on which I left my camera :-(

13 Jul - Vendredi

Barb is now paying for the coffee (onze zero Euro), and we are reflecting on what to do at CdG for the next 4 hours. We went looking for a place that sold SIM cards, but we could find only voice/SMS ones, and not micro-SIMs at that, so no joy there. Found some seats that were not occupied (apparently pretty rare), and settled in with a book each to read away the time, with John doing occasional sortirs to get coffee, take phots of the TGVs, etc.

Boarded the train at 12:28 and enjoyed the usual smooth ride of the TGV, entertaining ourselves with lunch and tracking our progress on the GPS. This indicated a top speed (that we saw) of 343kph, just a little below the official limit of 350. The one disappointment of the trip was that the buffet car's coffee machine was broken! Arrived in Strasbourg at 14:55, where we had time for a cup of coffee (to make up) and a pain au chocolat (to compensate). John took train photos from the end of the platform while Barbara waited, and at 15:51 we boarded the train (a push-pull electric, for those of you that might know what that means), and had a 50 minute trip to Mulhouse (pronounced "M'looze", like "T'looze" in Toulouse). On the GPS, this train clocked 199kph, which is only just off what I believe is the official limit of 200kph.

We found the hotel with a little difficulty, since many of the roads are one way, and we overshot the mark the first time we went past. We couldn't back up, because there was a policeman waving us on, and there was so much traffic not letting Barb back out into the lanes. John solved the problem by getting out and walking across the pedestrian crossing and holding up the traffic until she could.

We had a few drinks in the bar until the Smiths and McLeans arrived. They had added complications, as the reason for the policeman became apparent - the whole street was blocked off for the 14 July celebrations! But after a reuniting beer, we had dinner together at the Hotel (the dinner was very good), then all collapsed at about 9:30.

14 Jul - Samedi

Very nice breakfast buffet with an interesting variety of things on offer. Chatted with John and Dianne when they came down for breakfast, but we did not see Ann and Grahame.

Set off for Cite du Train at around 10, but the GPS (which I had carefully programmed the address into before we left Oz) let us down by taking us to an allotment. We could see the CdT, but it was the otherside of the TGV tracks, and we were not going to cross them! So some renavigation with human assistance saw us on the other side of the tracks with no mishap, and we wandered in to the Cite du Train.

Well! Words cannot describe the experience. Nor photographs, and I took enough of them, 384 to be exact! I remember feeling as I wandered around the place that I had not felt this feeling of awe, amazement and alignment since I was a boy of 10 watching big SAR 500s, 520s, 700s, and 720s steam past at Mount Lofty, when I used to stay with my aunt up there. Such a parade of steam and railway power was just mind blowing. And in case you say "it's a pity it was not going", some of it was! They had the 232U1 mounted in such a way that every 20 minutes the wheels were driven round, so you could see all the valve motion working, all to the sounds of a U1 starting its train!! (I took movies, so you don't need to miss out.)

We stayed there until 1545, bought a few things at the shop, and then headed off for Riquewihr (pronounced "Reck-veer"), arriving at about 1800. Took a bit of finding, our "gites", and we had to do this down narrow winding streets full of people, so it took a while. But we found Ann and Grahame, who showed us to the right house, and we met up with the owner. Parking was such that we had to park some 500m away, but eventually that was sorted out, and we settled in. The house had wifi, so John was happy.

Dinner was at the local sausage sizzle in honour of the 14 July celebrations, so we helped along the coffers of the Riquewihr shooting club (we think that is what "commune de tir" means!) by buying some interesting sausages and tarte flambees (local variation of pizza). Plenty of chat and then we called it a day, but not before stopping at the ice cream place on the way home. Barb and I had marron crepes, a fitting french end to a very french day.

15 Jul - Dimanche

A somewhat less busy day, with some local sightseeing (brilliant), coffee drinking (not brilliant) and eating (kugelhopf). Lunch at the red house before setting off in the afternoon for Haut-Koeningsberg, a medaeval castle, substantially rebuilt and refurbished in 1908, and untouched by the two world wars, so it was in excellent condition, and well worth the climb up to the top from the car park.

Travelled there and back through many little villages, all with German sounding names ending in either "-wihr" (I think a germanic corruption of the franc "-ville"), or "-willer" (another corruption, especially when you pronounce the "w" as a germanic "v"). Lots of vineyards!

Dinner with Ann and Grahame (the Macleans chose not to eat out) at the local restaurant Au Peche Mignon. The others had "baekehoff", I had "choucroute", and we all agreed it was very good grub.

16 Jul - Lundi

We had a very French breakfast of baguettes and confiture, and set off at 10am for Strasbourg and beyond, travelling in convoy, The plan was to go up the slow way, and then return on the motorway. But at Holtzheim when we passed the Eiffel Tower, we felt lost. Some frantic phone calls to the Smith car found us re-united, and a strong finger of suspicion was pointed at Kate, the GPS voice. John switched his GPS to Simon, who seemed to know a bit more about the one-way streets, but Graham happily followed Kate's advice, and we went round in a few cycles before (in JohnMcL's terms) a "palace revolt" saw them ignore Kate's advice, and we jumped on the motorway (after a few traffic jams), and got to Wissenheim almost on time at 12:30 - only to find that the cake shop owned by Dianne's cousin was shut on Monday! So we had lunch under a big chestnut tree at the Restaurant du Saumon - John had a "tarte flambee au Munster" and Barb had a "tarte au saumon".

Then on to Schoenenbourg, nearby to which was the Fort Schoenenbourg, a large emplacement built to resist German advances in the Second World War, and part of the famous "Maginot Line". It did its job, but the Germans outflanked them, and the commander was forced to surrender 5 days after the French-German Armistice was signed on 25 June 1940. We toured the entire fort, which has an extensive underground support network. In its heyday, 620 French troops were stationed here, and it was heavily bombarbed by the Germans. It was little damaged, and remains in surprisingly good condition. We all agreed that it was a very interesting visite.

17 Jul - Mardi

Off to Colmar, with several false starts. Ann suggested the Church of St Joseph as a convenient meeting point, but she was wrong about the name, and it was miles away from the centre of town. We decided by phone to go our separate ways, so Barb and I navigated into Centre Ville and a free! car park by ourselves, then wandered around the Vieux Ville, stopping for coffee, finding the tourist information centre (a challenge in its own right!), and then lunch at the Restaurant des Dominicans.

It was lucky that we were not in a hurry, since lunch took close on an hour to arrive, and by then we had made contact with Ann and Grahame again for a quick chat before going our separate ways once more. We checked out the Colleagiate Cathedrale de St Martin, and went for a ride on the White Train, before visiting Petit Venice, then an ice cream, then back to the car and home.

Ann cooked tea tonight: fettucine and artichokes, with rattatouille on the side. Plenty of grog and convesation to help it down, then bed at 10pm.

18 Jul Mercredi

Off to Munster first up, where we stopped for coffee, and were treated to a wonderful display of storks nesting. The sun was shining, beaucoup des photos, what more could we wish for?

On from Munster up to the Grande Balloon, stopping several times for photos. We climbed the final 400m walking track to the summit, where it was extremely windy! Unfortunately, although the sun was shining, the view was not that special, as the distance scenes were very hazy. Once down again from the summit, we paused at La Vue des Alpes restaurant for lunch, then back to Riquewihr via Uffhoff and the D83. Back by 3pm. A short but exhilirating outing, especially watching all the cyclist grunting up the hill (1242m to the summit!). I think they all do it out of Tour de France envy!

Barb and I went to the local (protestant) church to hear a concert given by the Westminster Presbyterian Choir from Nashville, Tenessee. They were pretty impressive, and we came away singing "My God is a Rock".

19 Jul - Jeudi

Today we split the boys and the girls. The girls decided they wanted to do a local walk around the nearby villages, while the boys wanted to go for A Walk in the Black Forest. (Hey! What a good name for a song!). So John set off with the boys, in Grahame's car, travelling via Colmar, crossing the Rhine, then Freiberg (traffic jams), and then onto green winding roads. "Green" in Michelin speak means "scenic", which they were. I snapped lots of photos, and we stopped in a little village called Badenweiler for coffee.

Then onwards, broken by the distraction of trying to find a public toilet, which do not seem to exist in Germany! Many jokes about such lack of toilets later (which didn't help the root cause), we gave up and stopped in a lay-by with tree. The others were uncouth, but I hung on, so that when we did find a lunch place, I was able to practise one of the two German phrases that I know: "Wo ist die Herrentoilette?". At said place, I had a tuna baguette, which was very nice, while the others had naughty-torty German tortes.

Then more photos and back to Riquewih by 5pm.

At 7:20 we headed off to a local restaurant, which seemed nameless, but was characterized by being a 1-star Michelin restaurant. We tossed up whether to go with the 8-couse 68 Euro menu, or the 9-course 98 Euro menu. We settled for the 98E one, and we were not disappointed.

20 Jul - Vendredi

It being market day in Riquewihr, the women went off to check it out. But apparently it was not all that exciting, and they came back empty handed. The plan today was to head to Trois Epis (which means three ears of wheat), but as usual, our navigation aids sent us in different directions (or maybe some ignored the instructions?), and we did not synchronize well in arriving at Trois Epis. This was further compounded by some of us rushing off to see "la croix", about which little was known, but we all thought we had seen a big statue on the approaches to the town, which was situated at the top of a hill. Several independent attempts to find said cross led to much frustration, and lack of a plan meant that we ended up having morning tea at different times, but at the same place!

Barb and I did locate the aforesaid cross, but it was a very minor affair, and little more than a local pilgramage shrine. The big statue on the hill was never found, although that was not earth-shattering, as it turned out to be a statue to some local dignatory, of whom none of us gave much of a care.

So the lack of a plan meant that Barb and I again went our separate ways, and we decided to return to Riquewihr via Orbey, and then Kayserbourg. Orbey is rather uninteresting, but we walked the main street and found a cafe for coffee, and visited the church, where we found a very poignant war memorial to "les martyrs de guerre", including the entire Giganti family, Seraphin, aged 43, Leonie, 35, and their children Angele (11), Marie (7), and Joseph (1). It was very sad to reflect on the horrible circumstances in which this family must have met their untimely end. As a consequence, we left this town feeling rather low.

Kayserberg, on the other hand, is a very pretty walled town, and which we spent a couple of hours strolling around after a pleasant lunch (tarte flambees and beer) at a cafe in the town square. In case you did not know, Kayserberg was the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer, famous organist, medico, and humanitarian. Not only was his house set up as a museum, but there were statues and commemorative plaques nearby, so it was a much more positive note to reflect upon after the Orbey experience.

Then, via lots of back roads and vineyards, to Riquewihr, where Barb cooked up spaghetti carbonara for tea.

21 Jul - Samedi

Since we did not need to be in Letricourt until 5pm, we decided to travel to Letricourt via Strasbourg, and spend the day in Strasbourg. This meant packing up all our belongings, juggling cars in and out of parking lots to load them, and setting off somewhat independently, agreeing to meet at 11:30 at the Strasbourg cathedral (making sure we knew which one that was!) A quick trip up the motorway saw Barb and John in Strasbourg by 10:30, and then we had the parking battle. We had originally programmed Simon, the GPS, to head for the parking station "FIL", but when we got there, it was non-existent! (or Simon was very confused). We drove around looking for parks, but they were all "payant", and we were not about to feed a meter all day. So we gave Simon another chance, typed in another parking station, and this time he did find La Place des Bateliers, where we left the car.

We were still some distance from the cathedrale, so we had to walk across town a bit, but finding the cathedral was not hard - it is the 3rd highest in France, indeed the tallest structure in the world from 1647-1874 - and its magnificent spire pointed the way, if not to God, then at least to our friends. We had a little time for a quick squiz in the cathedral, then found the other 4 outside and retired immediately to one of the many cafes surrounding the cathedral square.

We agreed that a quick trip round on the Petit Train was the way to go, so we bought tickets for that, and set off on the 12noon run. 40 minutes and 80 photos later, we returned to the cathedral and explored its treasures. 20 minutes and 50 photos later, we re-emerged into daylight and the secular world.

There are many things I could rave on about the cathedral, but three things stand out for me. Firstly, the nave ceiling. As I said, it is the third highest spire in France, and although it is well down the list in terms of highest ceiling, the nave and ceiling is nevertheless impressive! Very "perpendicular gothic"! Secondly, the rose window at the south end of the nave was pretty impressive, and I spent more than a few moments gazing in awe at its beauty. Thirdly, the Strasbourg astronomical clock is world famous, and it had drawn its own significant crowd to watch the timing of the 1pm bells. I should have taken a movie of this, but I only just got there in time to see it, and was absorbed in watching it. Indeed, they sell tickets to watch the 12noon chiming, which is even more spectacular! Aside from the animation of the clock, various parts of it are on display, and it was manna from heaven for a boy who cut his mechanical teeth on building (working!) meccano clocks.

Lunch was a relaxed and enjoyable time on the Pont de St Martin, at the eponymous Restaurant au Pont Saint Martin. John had croucroute, while the rest all had the carte formule du jour. One of the possibilities in that menu was kidneys, but no one was into kidneys.

After lunch, which finished about 3, we wandered off on separate ways, since our cars were in different directions. We left Strasbourg about 4:30, and set off for Letricourt, choosing this time to avoid motorways and admire the countryside instead. We arrived after the others at about 5:45, and familiarised ourselves with the place. This was a much more spacious "gites", and was in fact the largest building in the village (apart from the church - there was no mairie). The church had the delightful feature, so reminiscent of Riquewihr, of chiming the quarter hours, and striking the hours - 24 hours a day! The others went for a walk around the village (it did not take them long), while John busied himself with catching up on his photos. Fortunately for him, the place did have an internet connection.

22 Jul - Dimanche

On the recommendation of Madame Raicovitsch, our landlady, we made a reservation for Sunday lunch at the Auberge de Delme in Delme, a couple of villages away. We were not disappointed. The entre was a smosgasbord of all sorts of delectable treats: prawns, fish, cold meats, calamari rings, salades, amuse bouches, etc., etc.. The temptation to pig-out on first course was very high, and some of us could barely resist. The main course was a choice of fish, duck or kidneys, and surprisingly, nobody went for the kidneys! Barb, Ann and I went for the duck, the otherd had the fish. It was all very nice, although Barb and I agreed that the duck was a little tough.

Pudding was another buffet of delightful pastries, tortes, cakes and fruit. A veritable pig-out!

After returning home, most of us collapsed for a bit of post-prandial. Needless to say, not much tea was required in the evening!

23 Jul - Lundi

Off at 10am towards Nancy, agreeing to meet at the Place Stanislas, a UNESCO World Heritage artifact. I took the precaution of checking with Grahame's Tom Tom (aka "Kate") that the place to park was in the Vaudemont car park (aka "Voldemort"), but as usual, Kate could not navigate to the "place that must not be named", let alone the "place that must not be navigated to", and they turned up 30 minutes after we did, thus occasioning an extra cup of coffee. But Barb and I did not worry, because the Place Stanislas is sooo beautiful, that the hour while we sat at a cafe and took in the view just flew by. I hope my photos do it justice.

After that very leisurely coffee, we caught the "Petit Train", which was a good way to check out the key attractions around the place. We then went to one of the cafes we saw along the way and had lunch, and then went our various ways. Barb, Ann and I decided to follow the Art Nouveau walk, and spent the next two hours having an enjoyable stroll (with photos, of course) around this route, revelling in the beautiful ceiling in the Credit Lyonnaise bank, and finishing at the Brasserie Excelsior d'Or, a wonderful tres tres tres art nouveau establishment to which we paid only a slight homage with various cold drinks (a moi, la biere pression). We all agreed we had to come back here sometime for a proper meal. We returned to Place Stanislas at 4pm to meet up with the others, before returning to our cars and our separate ways back to Letricourt.

We had a delightful BBQ in the back yard at the Gites (after a somewhat smoky start), and then retired for some to watch TV, and some to write diaries.

24 Jul - Mardi

This morning we set off for Nomeny, a nearby (6 kms) village slightly larger than Letricourt. "Slightly larger" means it has shops, a fact which the men availed themselves of by making a beeline for the patisserie. Grahame asked for a "bretzel", a local equivalent of a pretzel, but made from bread. "Local" was exactly that - local to Alsace, but not Lorraine, and we were now in Lorraine. The counter girl just looked blank! So we settled for other things, moi a croissant armande, tres yummy.

The plan was to follow a nominated walk around the village, and it went well. At the Mairie, we encountered a group of three men with large photos around a tree, and we said "bonjour" in a passing sort of way. But it was clear that these men were ready for me, so we stopped and started chatting in broken french. One of the men took pity on his native language, and switched to butchering english instead, so we heard all about their plans to celebrate the centenary of the town being destroyed in 1 aout 1914 by the advancing Germans. "Planning well ahead", I thought, and several other concurred later. But they were nothing if not enthusiastic, and we listened with interest to their collective assembly of history, as relayed through their spokesman. More on this anon.

The village was interesting, although not particularly attractive. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our walk, which included an inspection of the castle ruins, and after completing it we bought some produce at the local market stall - greengoceries and some chicken legs - then repaired to the cafe for coffee. While parking the car, we saw the others in animated conversation with a bloke across the road. I didn't recognize him at first, but it turned out to be our friend from the Mairie. He had three copies of a book "Memoires de Nomeny", and he presented each of our three couples with a copy each!! We were gobsmacked. Such kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity touched each of us. So we will certainly have some pretty strong memories of Nomeny.

Back to Letricourt for a very quick lunch, then off to Metz for the afternoon. We went via Pont a Mousson, a place famous for General Patton crossing the Moselle in the closing stages of the Second World War. It was quite pretty, and I was very taken with the church there, which seemed much larger than the size of the town demanded. But the size of the town was deceptive - various one-way streets and routes barrees meant that it took us a bit of effort (and "Ken", our Australian GPS voice) to leave the place.

Metz was wonderful. Thanks to Ken, we zoomed straight into a convenient car park right near the centre-ville, and headed for the cathedral, the pre-arranged meeting place. However, the others, following their English "Kate" GPS, got lost again, trying to find where to return their car in preparation for Saturday. Unfortunately, the station precincts were all dug up, and navigating there was a nightmare. So by the time they found us, we had done the cathedral, had a beer, and gone on the "Petit train" to see a quick (45 mins) overview of Metz. Hence went went off walking while the others explored the cathedral. We walked across town to see the Pont des Allemands, an old mediaeval fortified bridge.

A quick word about the cathedral. It has the third highest nave ceiling in France, so it is very "perpendicular gothic". (Recall that Strasbourg had the third highest spire.) Many, many stained glass windows, and the sunlight was shining through the rose window at the south end. But the windows that really got our attention were some modern ones by Marc Chagall, which we both found very evocative. And we took lots of photos!

Upon returning to the cathedral at 6:30, the renewed prearranged meeting time, there was confusion and differences over where to eat. They wanted to eat straight away and have hamburgers, we wanted to sit down, have a beer, and a nice restaurant meal. This meant that Barb and I ate separately - and very nicely, thank you: Barb had Pave de Boeuf au Gorgonzola (bleu), and I had Tartare de Boeuf. This over an hour and a half, all the while admiring the lines of Metz cathedral. We then returned to Letricourt, beating the others by half an hour, rather giving the lie to their stated intention of having a quick meal!

25 Jul - Mercredi

We decided to do a walk around Jeandelaincourt (a nearby village) this morning. It was set out in one of the brochures in the house, and it stated that it was a 2 hour walk. We set off at 11:15, and ran into some navigational difficulties when following the laneways through the town. A nice woman digging potatoes helped us out, but we were worried when she finished her instructions with "montez! montez! montez!"

Sue enough, we eventually settled into a long slog uphill, but by this time we had recognized the route markers, so we knew we were on the right track. Slowly beautiful views over the valley emerged. When we reached the summit, there was a wonderful panorama, which it appears the Romans enjoyed too, as they had a small fort up there, unfortunately all traces of which were wiped out by the fortifications of the first world war. We could still see the dugouts for the guns that were placed there during that war, but not much else was evident.

Then a long hike through the woods on top of the ridge brought us out to another vantage point, and there began the long descent, which was as bad as the climb up! (eccentric contractions, no doubt). We returned to the village at 1:25, just over the two hours quoted.

We had lunch at home, then most of us collapsed for a snooze in the afternoon. Dinner was coq au vin, cooked by JohnMac, and all agreed, it was good. That was followed by crepes, cooked by Ann and Barb. Just as good as going out for dinner!

26 Jul - Jeudi

Today we headed off on a fairly lengthy jaunt to Grand, a small village about 120 kms away. Its attraction was that it was an important Roman centre, and subsequently a Middle Ages pilgrimage hospice. We got there about 11am, and immediately investigated the coffee options, which seemed to be restricted to a small "Couronne d'Or", (Crown of Gold) pub. Fortunately they did the coffee and chocolat chaud OK, and all were happy.

We walked through the village, admiring the various archaelogical digs, and then to the roman stadium, which was a huge affair, seating 17,000 people in its heyday, and now restored to some of its glory, so you can see a) the reamins as they were before restoration, and b) the restoration so that you can see what it was like in Roman times. Quite an effective display!

After we had had our fill of circuses, we needed bread, so back to the Crown of Gold for lunch. Most of us had the salad bar "å volente", but some opted for le plat du jour. The tickets we had bought for the stadium also gave us access to the Roman mosaic, so after lunch we walked there to see the most impressive roman mosaic that I have ever seen! Suffice to say that Tony Robinson would be wetting himself if he ever dug up such an item in Time Team!

We spent half an hour looking at the mosaic and sundry exhibits, then off to Domremy la Pucelle, which was the birthplace of Joan of Arc, and now almost a pilgrimage destination in its own right. It was all very over the top - but the best bit Barb and I agreed upon - was the small 13th C church that Jd'A was purported to have been baptised in. It was very cute, and to its credit, rather understated its role on the Jd'A story.

Finally, back to Letricourt, where we had barbequed sausages for tea, cooked on the special BBQ erection in the back yard. I have to say, the french don't really know about how to erect BBQs properly. But then, there are a lot of things that the French can do that Australians can't do properly - like trains.

27 Jul - Vendredi

The others all wanted to go to Luxembourg today, but as this involved sitting in a car for several hours, Barb and I were not too keen on this, as we would be sitting in a plane for much more than that tomorrow, and thought a walk would be a much better idea. So we chose a walk from the set of brochures that we had, and set off for that. It started from a litle village nearby, called Arraye, and went to the next village, Han, and back. Indeed, we had seen the signs to them on our travels. The signs always said "Arraye et Han", because these two villages were in a "cingle" of the River Seille, the main river of the area, and Han was only accessible through Arraye, since there was no river crossing at the end of the cingle (peninsula).

Our first problem on arriving at Arraye was in finding the path. This turned out to be a bit of an omen. We were working off a brochure, written in french, and using a fair number of words not in our vocabulary! But we thought we could manage. The first instruction was to start at the end of the "rue du Chateau", which was OK, since we found the street name. Then "take the alleyway buried behind (s'enfonce) the chateau". But where was the chateau? Nothing obvious presented itself, until Barb spotted the Lorraine cross on a building, and decided that was it. A reassuring path marker was found earby, so we knew we were on the right track. There was a path "buried beside" this building which led past some barns down towards a creek, and then alongside the creek, but it quickly ended in a barbed wire fence (more omens there). More searching, and consulting the instructions: "After the stable, the path turns to the left, descend to the flats below, then along a ditch which goes up to the Seille". What that didn't say was that the path went through two gates, both wired shut (which we climbed over), and that the ditch was overgrown with stinging nettles! We picked our way very carefully along that (it now becoming obvious that the path had not been trod recently), and reached the Seille, only to find that this path (which we knew was right because there was another marker) was similarly overgrown. This time, however, on the other side of the barbed wire fence was an open field, so we climbed through the BWF, and followed the path through the field.

But the local farmers clearly were not happy about the existence of this path. Every so often, we had to cross more BWFs. At one stage, the true path opened up, so we crossed back to that. Then there were these gates/iron railings that jutted out into the river, designed presumably to stop stray vaches from roaming, which we had to climb over.

So it was hard going. There were more hassles about following the path and reading the instructions, but we did eventually "trouvez une table pour pique-nique" (not in the spot marked on the map!) where we had a small "pique-nique" and a pause to gather our thoughts. After that, the path actually because a breeze, and was entertained by the occasion information boards even! We got to Han at about 12, 3 hours from the start, in contrast to the instructions which said 2h30 hours "allez-retour"! We decided at that point not to "retour" along the path, but to take the road instead. A further measure of the difficulty we had faced was that reurning via the road only took us an hour, and it was not much different in length. Adnittedly, the path was prettier, and we stopped for lots of photos, but we felt that the brochure had not been exactly accurate!

We spent what remained of the afternoon back at the gites, packing up and tidying the place in readiness for departure tomorrow. Dinner was an inventive affair by Barb: zucchini carbonara, which was going to be spaghetti carbonara, but Madame had given us a huge number of zucchinis (courgettes), and we had to use them up! She also brought over a huge quiche lorraine (very appropriate!). So it was judged a very excellent and fitting end to the culinery side of our trip to France!

28 Jul - David's birthday

Phew! What a day this was! We left Letricourt at 6am, and arrived in Seattle at 9pm. When you add the 9 hours time zone difference, that makes arrival in Seattle at 6am tomorrow, that is, a full 24 hours of travelling, with no sunset in between. Mind you, the trip itself was incident free, but we were still pretty knackered when we got there. And we did planes, trains and automobiles to do it.

The first leg was the drive from Letricourt to the TGV station. A breeze actually, as Barb and Grahame had checked it out on one of their petrol/shopping runs previously, and little navigation was needed from John. What was a headache was dropping the car off, because we could not get into the Avis car park. I was all for just parking it in front of the Avis office (it said "Pas de Stationment", or words to that effect). Barb was more law-abiding, and searched for alternatives, but in the end, had to admit that I was right. After all, how can you have "no stationing" when it is a railway station?

The TGV station itself is in the middle of woop-woop. (I wonder what the french equivalent of woop-woop is? ou-la, ou-la?) The train was well waited-for - lots of passengers on the platform, and we took the full 4 minutes allowed for the stop. The train was slightly early, and left on the dot of 7:13, and we settled down for a comfortable 1:45 hour trip to CdG.

The plane did not leave until 12, so we spent a few hours in the flight lounge, catching up on wifi and stuff. Then off (the ground) at about 12:38, and an 8 hour trip to Chicago. Another 5 hours on the ground at Chicago, doing all the immigration stuff. John had to take his belt off, but his trousers did not fall down, contrary to weight loss expectations, and the relief of those standing by.

The last 4 hours to Seattle were the worst. By then it was the middle of the night for us, and we tried to get some sleep, but since it was a domestic flight, they were not really geared up for that. No pillows or blankets for example. But we got there, found our baggage, and while standing in the concourse at SeaTac airport (short for Seattle-Tarcoma), saying to ourselves, "well, where do we go now?", Nathan appeared, saying "you can always get a ride with us". We did.

29 Jul - Sunday

In that funny jet-lagged way, we awoke at 5am in spite of not having enough sleep, and entertained ourselves with cups of tea and computer stuff until N&L were up and about. We sashayed down to the local Portage Cafe for breakfast, where we had breakfasts you have never seed the likes off! John had "chorizo sausage scramble", a mixture of scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, tomatoes, and roast potato chunks. Helped along with some sour cream, and all of which looked like a plate of dog's vomit. (Fortunately, it was better tasting.) Barb had a Giambotta Benedict, of polenta, zucchini, poached egg, and a tomato and fennel sauce. This was better looking than mine, but since she didn't give me any, I cannot comment on its taste relativities.

After breakfast, N, B and I caught the bus to church, the First Free Methodist Church of Seattle, and a very imposing, spacious and modern place of worship it was. Nathan said that we would be welcome to join the "summer choir", which is the choir you have when the regular choir is in recess over summer, so it was roughly comparable to our Uniting Voices choir in our winter (:-). We practised a piece called "Eternal Love", which is the text of our "A New Commandment" set to a different tune. It was easy enough to pick up, but challenging enough to give satisfaction when well sung (which I think we did). The sermon was very impressive, on the theme of loving our enemies, and I took a few notes. It was given by one of their pastors, a very imposing chap, taller than Nathan and bigger than me, called Blake Wood. I was impressed by the thought and structure that went into his sermon, which wasn't short, about 25 minutes, but was very absorbing in both presentation and content. Nathan said he was always like this, and he had found the sermons at FFMC very thought-provoking. He also said that when he got to play the organ (itself very imposing, and played brilliantly by our choir mistress), he might improvise a postlude on the theme from "Blake's Seven"!

After church, we walked back to Ballard along the Washington Ship Canal - rather more bucholic sounding than it actually was! It was very much a marine industrial area, lots of docks, railway lines, marinas, boat sheds, that sort of thing. We did see "The Queen of Seattle", a steam paddle boat chunking along the canal at one point, playing tunes on its steam calliope.

The path eventually took us to the Chitternden Locks, where we could cross the river via the lock gates. The locks were busy with both boats and people, as it was a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon. We watched the salmon swimming up the fish ladder (didn't see any jumping though), and the boats going in and out of the locks for a while, then strolled through the adjecent park, where a brass band was tuning up - so we stopped long enough to hear them play their first piece, a stirring Sousa march (El Capitan).

Then on to the Ballard Farmers Market, and checked out the many stalls and their wares. We admired the food produce, got sucked in by their tempting looks, and so bought a few food items, but not much else. Then repaired to a local cafe/bar for lunch. John had a chick pea salad, and was warned by the waitress "there are a lot of chick peas in it" - which there were, but John enjoyed a healthy lunch nevertheless. Barb had a blue cheese salad, Nathan a salmon ommelette. Barb found an interesting cider "Wandering Aengus", which seemed apposite, so she went with that while John and Nathan stuck with various pale ales. Lynne just had water, as she said she was not hungry, having eaten before leaving home.

By then it was after 3, so we went home via the QFC, a local supermarket, for some further groceries, not otherwise obtainable at the market. Then a quiet afternoon and early evening trying to recover from jet lag!

30 Jul - Monday

Had breakfast at home, then caught the bus into town, getting off at Amazon with Nathan for a quick visit. He was not allowed to show us where he worked ("Commercial-in-confidence"!), but he could take us up to the roof for an impressive view of the "lakeside" of Seattle, aka Union Lake, along with the Space Needle and other landmarks.

Funny thing happened while we were up there - John decided he would take a delayed-action photo of the 4 of us on the roof, so he set up his camera to do so. Lynne thought it was a good opportunity to do the same, so she got out her camera, which is basically the equivalent American model to John's. She, however, had a remote control rather than delayed action, which meant that John had to set the camera going, then run over to the line - you know the drill. After John's camera went off, Lynne clicked her remote - and nothing happened. She tried this a few more times, but no joy. On the fourth attempt, John happened to notice that his camera clicked, and when he went to check it, found there were 5 photos of us all, the first looking quite happy, but the others looking increasingly worried! It seems that Lynne's camera may have had the remote sensor slightly obscured, so it wasn't working, but John's was quite happily obeying what it thought were instructions to it.

A cup of coffee at Amazon, then we bade farewell to Nathan as he went off to work, and Barb, Lynne and I set off for downtown Seattle (which is actually up the hill from Amazon). We spent a fair bit of time in Pike Place Market, which as Barbara says, is very reminiscent of the old Paddy's Market in Sydney. There were some nice things there (we bought John a matching tie-dye shirt for Nathan's), but being limited in what we could carry home, stalled on many possible purchases.

We had lunch in the "Sound View Cafe", Barb and I had crab burgers, rather nice, but we had to wait ages for them. Then on to Macy's, where we bought John two pairs of daks, one long, one short, since it appears that we forgot to pack the extra trousers we thought we had! Anyway, he needs new shorts, as due to loss of weight the ones he did bring fall down when you take the belt off, not a pretty sight when going through US airports.

Then home, where we had some very nice gluten-free pasta for dinner. This we had bought in the market, and I think Lynne was very pleased that she had found a source of something she could eat which was not boring.

31 Jul - Tuesday

Nathan went off to work on his bicycle, we we left shortly after him t about 10:30, heading for the hills to the east of Seattle. Lynne took us to a place called Snoqualmie, which used to be a logging town, but now much more reliant upon tourists.

The main attraction there is the Snoqualmie Falls, about which the locals make the proud claim that it is "10 stories higher than Niagara". Yes, maybe, but is only 1% of the flow! Anyway, I find comparisons of that sort rather odious, or at least irrelevant. Waterfalls should be admired for what they are, not how they compare. Bit like cathedrals, really. I found them impressive in their own right, and very reminiscent of the Fitzroy Falls in NSW (not that I am comparing the two, mind - just letting you know what style they falls into, so to speak).

Then into the town of Snoqualmie, where there is a Railway Museum. John was happy, but nothing was running, so he contented himself with wandering around and taking a few photos. We went to the next town, North Bend, which was really a twin town like Albury-Wodonga it was so close (5 miles), but much more the commercial, as opposed to the tourist, centre of things. There we had lunch at the "Pour House", a restaurant/bar chain, and it was quite pleasant, although obviously a hangout for the local drinkers. John had a Reubens snadwich, Barb a BLT sandwich, and Lynne a grilled chicken salad. Also some nice beers, John a Snoqualmie IPA (very hoppy), and Barb a Samuel Adams Summer Ale (rather citrus-y).

We had to walk this off, so we went on a 1.7 mile hike to Twin Falls. 1.7 miles is OK on the flat, but this was very up-and-down, so it felt a lot further. Some spectacular views of the falls (no comparisons this time), and lots of photos (including a movie of John skimming a stone across the river).

Then on to Rattlesnake Lake, about which we were told that there were absolutely no rattlesnakes that lived there - no one seems to know why the lake has that name, although there is a theory that a local grass has seeds that can shake in their husks when the wind blows, and these may have been mistaken (probably deliberately) by the early settlers. Rattlesnake Lake itself was beautiful, and the late afternoon sun gave it a special warmth. Barb nearly doubled the number of photos she had taken during the day, just taking reflections in the almost perfectly still waters! All three of us agreed that it was a photographer's paradise.

Back to Seattle where Nathan was waiting for us. By this time it was a bit late, so we walked down to a local Mexican restaurant (very popular, and very good food) for tea. Then time for bed. Too many steps!

1 Aug - Wednesday

The plan this morning was for Nathan and John to walk to the local Ballard Terminal RR and meet up with the shunter bloke who had promised Nathan that he would introduce me to the delights of private commercial "railroading". This was a small spur line that ran from the main railway at the coast along the Ballard waterfron and industrial area. The loco would pick up trucks from the main line transfer sidings and then deliver them to the appropriate sidings.

However! Either the bloke was off sick, or there was no loading for the day, because after waiting for 25 minutes, nobody showed, so we called it off, made a plan B, and John caught the bus that Barb and Lynne were in on the way into downtown Seattle, and we spent the day at Seattle Centre - sorry, Center, wandering around, having a coffee, catching the monorail there and back, looking at the Chihuly glass exhibition (very colourful!), and the high point (literally) going up the Space Needle for lunch!

Lunch was OK, but we were paying for the view, not a gourmet experience, so we just enjoyed the view as it slowly rotated past - twice round in two hours, so we got to see everything, especially as it was a bright sunny day. There was a bit of haze distorting the view of Mt Rainier, but it was quite obvious!

2 Aug - Thursday

Lynne announced that we were having a quiet day, which suited John just fine and gave him a chance to catch up on his photographs. J and B went for a walk in the late morning, firstly for coffee, then up to the model railway shop that Nathan had told us about. John did not want to buy anything large or expensive, and after discussion with the shopkeeper settled on a set of 3 (second hand) semaphore signals, that looked like they could be made to do interesting things.

Back to 2616NW56 for lunch (left over gluten free pasta from the other night - yum!), then we walked down to the locks again to see the salmon and watch the boats. We did see a huge barge of gravel pushed through the locks by a small tug, and it only just fitted in the width of the lock! To the tug-master's credit, he did not ding the sides once.

We went out for dinner, to Anthony's Restaurant, just round the esplanade from Ballard. Lynne picked up her girlfriend Lynn, so there were 5 of us, and we had a jolly time dining on crab and salmon - very delicious! It was beautifully augmented by a most impressive sunset over the Sound, and then, to cap it all, on the way home we stopped at Golden Gardens and saw a pretty good fireworks display!

3 Aug - Barb's Birthday

Nathan was taking two days off work, today and Monday, so we could do a jaunt together to somewhere a bit more remote. The plan was to go to the Olympics. Not the crappy bitchy hegemony of the London event, but the beautiful natural wilderness of the montain ranges in Washington! After a late start, we headed off at about 11am, and had a bit of a Cook's tour of Seattle harbourside, due to some roadworks that saw us zig-zagging over, behind and into the ferry terminal.

A bit of a wait in the queue once we reached the terminal, then on to the ferry and off very quickly once the queue did move. A half-hour trip across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, where we landed at Winslow and had lunch. Then we drove around the island on a "scenic tour", as defined by a brochure we picked up on the ferry - it was quite scenic, although nothing so dramatic that we needed to stop the car to take photos. It was about this point that John realised he had not recharged his camera battery, nor had he brought the charger, so he only had one full battery to last until Monday!

There was a bridge across to the Olympic Peninsula, but a huge long queue to get to it. The bridge itslf was not the problem, that was a very poorly timed set of traffic lights at the entrance to it, that gave relatively little prioriy to the left turning traffic (us) over the straight ahead traffic in the opposite direction (none).

From there on to Port Townsend, where we decided to stay the night, so we booked into the Harbo(u)rside Motel, quite comfortabe, and with "water views". Then for a walk around town - which is very picturesque. Apparently this place was intended to be the capital of Washington, but the railway line never reached the place, and commerce development elsewhere saw Tacoma, then Seattle, take over the leading city role. This meant that the place had a lot of late 19th C money spent on it, then nothing. So there are lots of sumptuous 1880/90s houses and buildings still extant, including the most elaborate and ornate county court house! We all agreed it was a place to come back to.

Dinner was in a chinese place near the harbour. The food was good, and well presented (each dish had an animal carved out of fruit/veg), but we agreed that it was a little same. Whether this was our fault from restricting everything to be gluten-free or not was not clear. Then back to the Harborside and to bed.

4 Aug - Saturday - Hurricane Ridge

There was a breakfast thrown in with the bed, but as it was all cereals, toast and coffee, it was not Lynne-friendly, so we decided to pack up and look for somewhere "uptown". We walked up the hill past the ornate county court house, and took a few photos of it in the morning light. Nathan recalled a place called "Sweet Laurette", a purported french bistro, which he took us to. Well, a french bistro it was not, but the food looked good, and Lynne-friendly, so we ate there. Barb and I had a salmon BLT, and the salmon was wonderful. They do tend to serve everything with "french fries", though, and that as much as anything destroyed the french ambience. Maybe that's where they got the name from?

Three of us (Barb was the odd one out) were wearing tie-dye T-shirts, John his new one from Pike's Place Market, which caused a comment or two. Some hoons driving past us as we walked there called out "Tie-dye hippies, woo-hoo!", and the waitress commented that "one of you is not the same as the others". At the farmers' market we went to after breakfast, while we were listening to a country and western duo, John was singled out as the "winner of the Port Townsend tie-dye competition by one of the singers! More comments followed during the day, as well as comments on Barb's purple hair. One woman even asked to take a photo of it, saying "I've always wanted the courage to try something like that, and now I will!"

After walking back to the car, we set off for Port Angeles. Again, a town overtaken by circumstances, but coming out much the worse compared to Port Townsend. It had no tourist attraction to speak of, other than being at the foot of the road to Hurricane Ridge - which we quickly found and made an exit from PA. We stopped at the Visitor Centre to gather information, then up the mountain.

Or at least, part of the mountain. Apparently the car park at the top was full, and the National Park gate people wee only letting one car at a time through, per car descending the mountain. So we had to wait some 45 minutes to get through that, but it was well worth the wait (some drivers ahead of us pulled out and drove back, so we were grateful for their sacrifice).

We walked to the top of the ridge for some fabulous views, then up to the top of the lookout (called Sunrise Hill), where you could see all the way to Port Angeles and the northern coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. Lots of flowers, and lots of photos!

We tried to find a place to stay in PA, but none of the places we liked the look of had vacancies, so with the help of Yelp (Yelp Help?), we found a place back in Sequim. This did mean backtracking about 20 miles, but the motel was much more salubrious, and we drove into the town itself (pronounced "Squim") for dinner at the Alder Restaurant. We had to wait here, too, for it was popular, and we took a short walk around the town while waiting. Nathan was a bit dismissive of the town planning and architecture, but I thought it was archetypically small western american architecture - wide main streets, lots of single story weatherboards, and full of shops (stores?) with names like Ditka's Escrow Agency, and Sequim Pulmonary Services, as well as the usual MacDonalds and Walmarts.

Dinner was good - Barb had "planked salmon", while John had "flatbread" with figs, goats' cheese and salad, followed by a calamari salad - all happy health stuff. While eating, we were entertained by a mother racoon and cubs eating cherries from a nearby cherry tree. A bit like possums at home, but wearing bandit masks to at least admit the fact that they were thieves!

5 Aug - Sunday - Hoh Rain Forest

We drove into Sequim for breakfast, finding the Oak Tree Restaurant which looked up to our requirements, and so it did. John had buckwheat pancakes, Barb an ommlette, and agreed they were good. From there we set off on a fairly long drive, aiming initially for Crescent Lake, where we stopped at Barnes Landing (there is a Visitor Centre there), annd went for a walk up to the Marymede Falls, which were quite impressive.

Then on to Forks, where we had planned to stop for lunch, but we saw nothing meeting our requirements, so we drove through. We did see a Shay loco preserved in a park, so we had to stop while John took photos.

On to Hoh Rain forest, We did two walks, firstly through the Hall of Mosses, which had the most spectacular festoons of mosses (air plants) hanging from the trees. After that, we did the Spruce Walk, looking at lots of different varieties, shapes and sizes of trees. Once we had finished that walk, back into the car for the drive to Aberdeen, a largeish town where we thought we would stay the night. Those we saw looked grotty, and those we didn't see had some dodgy reviews. Nathan was reliying upon Yelp (I guess a contraction of Yellow Pages), an internet finder and review tool, which of course can be quite unreliable.

We eventually settled upon the Golden Gate Motel, which seemed quite OK - its one negative was a Yelp review whch said that the reviewer had found a used needle in her bed, and this had somewhat coloured the rest of her judgement. Be that as it may, we found no needles, and spent a comfortable night there. We wandered across the road to Billy's Diner on the strength of the recommendation of the reception clerk, and were not disappointed there either. We all had yak burgers, which proved to be quite tasty, and John had a litre glass of white "Chain Saw" beer!

6 Aug - Monday - Mount Rainer

We left Aberdeen as soon as we could, and headed east. We found, thanks to Yelp, the BeeHive Diner at Montesano, which was pleasant enough - John had an omelette, which came with a mountain of hash browns (I didn't eat it all), while Barb had eggs on toast. Then back to the road.

We travelled past ?, where there was an old nuclear power station that had never been comissioned - they decided that it was a bad idea before it was finished, and cancelled the rest of the construction. On to our real destination - Mount Rainier National Park. We had, of course, seen MR from Seattle in a tantalising way, partly hidden by clouds, partly by haze, but we were not prepared for the fully glory of the place! It being 14000 feet (twice as high as Mt Kosciusko), it dominates the already mountainous surroundings because it is pretty well permanently blanketed with snow. Needless to say, we took lots of photographs, particularly as the surrounding alpine meadows were ablaze with colour from all the alpine flowers. We walked first to Myrtle Falls, then did the Nisqually Vista walk. Wow! We were able to see the Nisqually Glacier terminal, and all the way up the side of MR, all from a height of several thousand feet above the glacier and river itself. Very dramatic!!

On the way there we heard a deep "whump, whump, whump" sound, and wondered what it was. Around the corner, we found out. Something like a large bush pidgeon, but it had a very bright "fried egg" plumage on the side of its neck. It seemed quite unconcerned by us, so I was able to take lots of photos and even a movie. Later on, on the way back, we saw a deer by the track, so it was quite a memorable hike.

We reluctantly left the place, but it kept haunting us. Around one corner, we came upon reflection Lake, so named because there would be a beuatiful reflection if the water was still - but it wasn't. Nathan and I tried various approaches to seeing if we could get better reflectios, but I'm not sure if we succeeded. You can see for yourself in today's photos.

We followed that by driving down a very dramatic and steeply sided canyon - Stevens' Canyon - until we came yet another, and, as it turned out, last vista of MR, just as the sun was setting. So another stop in the car, before giving up on the place and driving to Enumclaw (lovely name!) where we had dinner. And what a dinner! John had a bucket of clams (very garlicy), and Barb had sesame seared ahi (tuna).

More driving, more driving - poor Lynne, who drove all this way and clocked up the car's first 1000 miles in doing so. But we eventually made it back to Seattle, Ballard and home, and pretty collapsed all round!

7 Aug - Tuesday - Johnsons

We had been in touch with Beth's cousins, Angela and Andrew Johnson, over the last few days, and Angela had very kindly offered to come and collect us and take us out to their home in Woodinville (which is near the famous Redmond). This she was to do at 1pm, so Lynne entertained us by driving out to Golden Gardens during the daytime (we were there the other night for the fireworks), where we saw 5 tortoises on a log, sunning themselves, as well as evidence of beaver tree felling.

Angela duly picked us up at 1pm and after a long drive out to Woodinville (45 mins away), we saw her house, where we took lots of photos of the place to take back to Beth (Beth and Gib had been to visit them last year before they moved to this place). She also took us on a drive around the local environs, including Domaine St Michel, where we did a wine tasting and bought a couple of bottles, one for dinner tonight, and one for the cruise; and Redmond, where we were blown away by the number of block taken up by Microsoft. MS is not in a separated compound, but is rather a whole set of city blocks, where one can walk or drive between the offices, making for a very decentralised feel to the place - but all very neated kept and looked after.

We had dinner with the Johnson, and met Andrew, who is very like Mark, Beth's brother (only taller), and Joanne, Angela's mother. That was all very pleasant, and all too soon we had to leave. Andrew drove us all the way back to Ballard, and Angela came along too, so we could continue chatting, which we managed with very little effort! We were most taken by their generosity.

8 Aug - Wednesday

Very early start this morning, practice for tomorrow! We left Ballard at 6:40am and headed north along the I5, turning west at the junction with state 20, out to Anacortes, where we met up with the Island Explorer 3, a purpose-built whale watching boat. The crew were very friendly, and made us feel right at home, as we set off out amongst the San Juan islands at 9:30am.

It was a very relaxing day, even though John bought a "bottomless cup" of coffee, and managed to get through 4 fills of the cup during the day! We had clam chowder in a bread bowl, which was quite challenging in quantity, but very nice in quality nevertheless. What did we see? Thousands of sea birds, a group of Steller Sea Lions basking on a rock, several Harbour Seals, a pod of Harbour Porpoise (which we were told are not the same as dolphins), 2 Bald Eagles, and at least 1 Minke Whale 3 times (or maybe 3 Minkes once each?) John and Lynne both took at least a hundred pictures of each animal that they saw (:-) It was all very exciting and kept us on our feet, watching and snapping.

There's not really much else to say - look at the photos, if you have an hour or so to kill. We returned to the harbour at 3pm, got in the car and headed for Ballard, back just before 5pm (the traffic was a bit tedious).

9 Aug - Thursday

A bit of a bummer of a day. I sit here writing this in a motel in Los Angeles, after our flight to Papeete was cancelled. At this stage we don't know what is happening, and the airline has not exactly been forthcoming with information. But I jump ahead.

We bounced out of bed at 5:30 ... well, "bounced" isn't exactly the right word when we had both been awake for at least 30 mins beforehand, and Barbara complaining that she hadn't slept since 2:30! Since we had most things packed, it was just a case of putting the last minute things away, which we managed just as the taxi arrived at 5:45, 15 minutes early. So it was a quick goodbye to Lynne, who had got up to wish us goodbye (Nathan still in bed!), and off to the airport, where we arrived 40 mins early, thanks to no traffic and a good run.

Usual BS going through endless queues, and a comfortable flight to LAX. The weather was clear, once south of the Cascades, and John took a few more photos, arriving in LAX at 10:25. We were at the back of the plane, so it took a while to get off, and then we had to walk to the next terminal.

That's where we found the bombshell. Our 2:30 flight was cancelled, and there was no hope of getting on the fully booked flight at 4:30. There was a strike of cabin crew, and the check-in staff did not know anything, nor did they have any process for dealing with things. But we waited patiently in the queue to find out what was going to happen, along with 298 other people. Have you ever waited patiently in a check-in queue for 6 hours? We dare not leave it, in case something happened, so we had to confine ourselves to individual dashes to the dunny while the other kept watch over the luggage. At about 4pm, they announced that we were all going to be put up in a hotel for the night, and that they would get us to Papeete "in 24 hours". This did not go done well with the troops, who were getting pretty ropey by this stage. And given the slow rate of information, we were not necessarily impressed with the veracity of this claim. Still, 24 hours would see us in Papeete in time, so we accepted with the best grace we could muster, boarded the shuttle bus (when it came), and were thankful to be out of LAX (especially given the shitty state we were in :-).

The hotel, "La Quinta", was nothing special, but it did have a beer and a nice hamburger (we had not had breakfast or lunch, and by this stage it was 4:30 in the afternoon, so a bit of food did restore some equilibrium. The hotel also had a wifi that worked (unlike LAX), so we could send messages to get people up to date. A brief walk before tea, then dinner in the restaurant, choosing from the same menu for lunch. John had salmon for a change, Barb had a caesar salad. It was food. Then we crashed into bed.

10 Aug - Friday

We checked the Air Tahiti Nui web page regulary for updates, but it was only being updated evry 12 hours or so, and did not have any information regarding our flight. Nor did the hotel staff know anything, in spite of us being reassured the day before that ATN would keep "everyone informed". So after breakfast, we decided the best thing was to go to the airport. After all, queues of people at the check in does prompt some action, even if it is slow.

We arrived back at LAX at 9:45 and waited ... and waited. "In an hour or so" we where told on arrival. It was more "or so" than "an hour" that they finally annnounced at 1pm that there was to be a special flight at 11pm to get us all to Papeete. Well you should have heard the cheer! Security staff came rushing over to find what all the commotion was about. But it still took until 2ish for us to get issued with our boarding passes. So we repaired to the Qantas Lounge.

One small annoyance remained. The woman on the desk did not believe we were on a Qantas flight, because our flight was "not on the system". "Well, of course it wasn't, you stupid floosie", we said, "because it is a special flight to replace a cancelled one." (We didn't actually say that, but we admitted to each other afterwards that we both thought that. Even after showing the stupid floosie the original e-ticket, which clearly said that the cancelled flight was a co-share with Qantas, she would not accept that we were on a Qantas flight. "Bloody Alan Joyce" I thought. She eventually admitted us with bad grace, saying that she would make an exception this time, and only this time - as if we would be back by choice!!

No traumas after that. We did get our monies worth out of the Qantas Club, using their (working) wifi, drinking their very nice Australian Penfolds Hyland cab sav, and having a shower each to freshen up. After all, we were there for 8 hours more! At 11:30, after a long bus commute to the plane itself, (the boarding time was optimistic), we took off a few minutes after midnight, nearly 38 hours after arriving in LAX.

11 Aug - Saturday

We landed in Papeete pretty well on the dot of 5am, after being served breakfast at 3am! I suppose it wasn't too bad in the context of the equivalent 6am Los Angeles time, but it was still pitch dark. It was only just the first light of dawn as we caught a taxi from the airport, with a woman driver who threw us into a bit of disarray by announcing that she didn't take credit cards (as I gather all taxis here don't), so we had to stop at an ATM. The first one didn't work, so we had to try another one - which fortunately for all of us, did work!

The taxi dropped us off at the port, alongside the Aranui, and we were indeed the first ones there. So from being afraid we wouldn't make it at all, to thinking that we would be dashing to get up the gangway just as the ship left, to being the first ones there was a rather dramatic reversal in our logistics. Four others of the plane joined us shortly, and we waited around until 6:45 when things started happening on board. Barb went over to talk to a woman who was obviously official, but was much better dressed than all the crew we had seen, and she was most welcoming. "Leave your bags here, just go on board, and help yourselves to coffee" she said, and a more welcoming message you cannot imagine! We were indeed the first passengers to board, and the process was much much more informal than the Holland America cruises we have done. We did not even have to show our tickets, which was fortunate, since we didn't have them! They were back at the hotel we missed, and were the subject of a few frantic phone calls to the hotel, and to Sue.

We busied ourselves unpacking, then went up to the top deck to form a welcoming party for the others when they arrived, at bit after 8. If you know the Hursts, Morgans and Robinsons well, you will know what sort of greetings we gave each other, especially given the uncertainties surrounding our arrival. After disposing ourselves into our respective cabins, we repaired to the lounge for coffee, then to the Morgans' cabin (they have the best view) to talk until the ship left.

We sailed about 11, and enjoyed the views of Tahiti as we left the harbour. Lunch was at noon, and served simultaneously to all. This meant we had to wait for the inevitable stragglers before seeing any food, but it did not matter much. There was wine on the table, and we hoed into that to keep our larynxes lubricated. The food itself was pretty good - poisson cru (marinated raw fish) for entree, duck breast for mains, and an small eclair stuffed with creme patissiere for dessert.

The rest of the day passed much in an anti-climactic sort of way. We all retired to our cabins, some more than others, and Barb and John both subsequently admitted to a bit of nodding off. We had a talk from Jorg, the cruise director, about the following days activities, in which he gave us all the "procedures" for the cruises, as well as the options for the activities the next day. Dinner time at 7pm came quickly enough, and we had a prawn and grapefruit cocktail for entree, fish (mahi-mahi) for mains, and floating islands for dessert. Then coffee in the lounge, followed by well-deserved bed!

12 Aug - Sunday - Fakarava

After all the early starts of the last few days, we couldn't help ourselves but get up early, in time to see the Aranui entering the Fakarava atoll. As we all commented at some time or other during the day, you can esily see whay they would be worried about global warming! The highest point on the atoll would be only 5 metres above sea level, with most of the (small) land mass at only 1-2 metres. We had breakfast at 6am, 30mins early than usual, because of the early start. Then aboard the landing barges to visit the atoll.

Barb and I, together with David and Sue decided to walk to the lighthouse, which we were told was 45mins or 1.5kms away. It was a flat walk (!) along a concrete road, apart from the last bit off road to the lighthouse which was up a slight (!) hill. The concrete road had an interesting story. Apparently Jacque Chirac, the then president of France, said he was going to visit Fakarava to see what all the fuss about global warming was about. So a nice new concrete road was made running the length of the small coastal settlement, and all the concrete was of course shipped in, because there is no local concrete. But then Chirac changed his mind for some political reason, and never came. So they have a nice concrete road for the tourists to walk along, and not much else - there are no cars to speak of!

The walk took the required 45mins, but we all agreed that it was more like 3kms, not 1.5, and we returned back to the village after admiring the view of the Pacific Ocean - the atoll is only about 250 metres wide. We wandered around the village, looking at local handicrafts, taking photos, etc., and then returned to the ship at 9:30 by barge, in time for a 10am departure from the atoll.

The rest of the day was spent rather idylly, punctuated only by meals and a drink in the Robinson's cabin before dinner. The girls did drag me along to the polynesian dance lessons, but I cannot say that I was in my element. We had to learn the words to the actions, "Rikuriku He, rikuriku hi, hoi riku te tohuka, rikiriki He!"

13 Aug - Monday - at sea

Breakfast at the usual time (unlike yesterday!) of 6:30, and we decided to hear the lecture from an on-board anthropologist, Victoria ??, about the Marquesans and their culture, and what the archaelogical evidence tells us. It was a bit like stamp collecting, lots of facts and citations of what this or that person found//interpreted/invented, but not a great deal of meta-level story to thread it together.

Then to hat-weaving: David seemed to get the hang of it quickly, but Barb and I made a pig's breakfast of our initial attempts! Then lunch on board , red cabbage salad with brie, Breaded turkey with olive sauce, tagliatelle and mushrooms, followed by bourdalouns. Then tea in the lounge, followed by afternoon naps all round. John had a second go at his hat, and managed to get it right eventually (see photos).

We had drinks in the Robinsons' cabin before dinner, which was onion soup, roasted wahoo fish, and then a "financier with citrus fruit". You will have to look at the photo to appreciate what this is, a biscuity base with a baked custard topping. Most of us did not like the articifial mint leaf, which was like a stale ice cream cone, slightly mint flavoured. Coffee, then collapsed into bed.

14 Aug - Tuesday - Nuka Hiva

Big day today. Up at 5:30 (again!) to see the docking in Taiohae (this time a hard landing), and then breakfast at 6:30. David, Sue, Barb and I walked into town from the docks, and explored the market, and the local church, before meeting up with Donna and Jim at the "parking", where we were to assemble for the "jeeps", for the trip across the mountain ridge to Hatiheu where we had lunch, stopping along the way firstly for photo stops of the view, then to explore the archaelogical discoveries at Tohua Kamuihei. The latter was complicated by the presence of "nonos", small biting sand flies, which leave VERY itchy sores for a week, so we all had to rub exposed areas with DEET-flavoured insect repellent. Fortunately, Sue had the requisite strength stuff, since our repellent was only 19% DEET, and apparently not strong enough. But none of us got bitten by the nonos.

Lunch was quite different. There was a Marquesan "earth oven", where the food to be cooked (in this case, 3 pigs) is buried with hot rocks and glowing coals under banana leaves, sacking, and then earth. It is basically a form of slow cooking, and used for festive occasions. All through lunch we had the interesting smells of hot earth and smoking banana leaves! There were two main courses: firstly, fish (wahu wahu, a very dense white fish, rather similar to chicken meat) with small battered prawns, then the pork we had seen in the arth oven along with various local vegetables - breadfruit, taro, sweet potato, etc.. This was followed by a dessert of a rather gelatinous form of banana, cooked in coconut milk. Barb did not like it, I could find myself warming to it, and David loved it. The others had a similar range of responses.

After lunch, David and Sue decided to walk up the hill with a tour party to the top of the ridge. They said it was hard work, but worth it for the view. The rest of us decided to stay in Hatiheu, and admire the beach. We then took the jeeps back to Taipivai, where we had an almost wet boarding of the barges (from the beach, and they had trouble getting off again!) and back to the ship. Barb, Donna and I went for a swim, which we felt was well deserved! We went to the talk about tomorrows activities, and there was ejust enough time to have bloody caesars in the Robinson's room before dinner.

Dinner was complicated by the fact that we were late down to the dining room because of the caesars, and our table was gazumped, so Barb and I ended up sharing a table with Iannis and Marta, a Slovenian couple whom we had crossed paths with at previous points on the tour. They were fun to talk to (their English was good), and the pate de foie gras, curried shrimps and palais royal went down very quickly! Coffee in the lounge to follow, then bed.

15 Aug - Wednesday - Ua Huka

Up at 5:30 for a lovely sunrise, and a very "interesting manoeuvre", to use Jorg's words. The entrance to the Vaipaee bay is quite narrow, and in order to negotiate it out again, the ship has to do a 180 degree turn in what is little wider thasn its own length. The process was to steam up to the required position, drop anchor, use the bow and stern thrusters to do a 180 spin, then use the whale boats to take ropes out to a pair of capstans each side of the bay, set into the rok walls! The bloke jumping out of the boat onto the rocks had the admiration of all those watching, and drew a round of applause when he succeeded in attaching the rope! They then tightened the ropes to keep the ship in place using the two stern ropes and the forward anchor. There was time for breakfast before disembarking.

Getting off was quite exciting too. In spite of the sheltered nature of the cove in which we were lying, there was a strong swell coming in, which meant that the barge and the gangay landing would only line up both horizontally and vertically on occasions, and "momentarily" (used NOT in the US sense!) There was a moment when you were standing on the bottom landing pad of the gangway (itself only about 240x240mm), nothing to hang on to but the sailor who was there (on the same small platform) to hang on to, and waiting the command to step across into 4 waiting arms on the barge. Note that the landing pad sailor was not able to hang on, either, since his two arms were hanging on to you! All very exciting, but nobody freaked out. Donna did let out a little scream as she made the leap, and frankly, I did not blame her at all!

Once ashore, we walked past a big BBQ which a lot of villagers were attended, but that was not for us. We found ourselves a "decorated jeep", four-wheel drives with sprigs of bougainvillea attached, and drove a short way to a handicrafts shop and polynesian artifacts museum. Barb nearly bought a wooden knife at the handicrafts (it was only $5), but we worried about whether it would get through customs and eventually decided not to. The museum was interesting, although we did have another monologue from Victoria, who reeled off information like a catalogue listing, but strangely, did not know what an object was when I asked about it.

Then there was a display of polynesian dancing before back into the cars for a trip to the Botanic Gardens, which were fascinating, but hot (and full of mozzies). Repellant kept the latter under control, and hats and plenty of shady trees the former. Jorg picked lots of fruits from the trees as he explained each one (a bit more interesting than Victoria's explanations), and allowed us to taste them. Onto yet another handicrafts and museum, this time a sea-faring museum. Sue bought a big wooden bowl, which was quite beautiful, but heavy. When we asked her about customs, she said "well, we shall see won't we?" She did not seem so concerned about the prospect of it being confiscated as we were, and it was a bit more expensive!

Lunch was in Hane at a polynesian style "restaurant", which might be likened to an Australian-country community hall. Very basic furnishings, with the food all arranged in buffet style. We had explanations of each plate of food, then tuck in! (The french always seem to get there first!)

A hike up the side of the mountain (fortunately not very far up it!) followed lunch, and we had a splendid view of the village of Hane, and of the ruins of another islander temple/village before descending to the beach and re-embarking.

Re-embarkation was almost as exciting as dis-embarkation. This time they used the whale boats, reversing them up onto the beach using that same strong swell we saw in the morning. We had to run to the boat, turn around and sit on the rear gunwale, then swing our legs across into the boat. Barb and I got separated, and she was in the second last, I was in the last boat to leave. My entry to the boat was complicated by a frenchman who didn't wait until I was on properly, and pushed me off the gunwale before I had a chance to get my balance, so I ended up staggering on to the rear seat before recovering my equilibrium. Why are the french so much more arrogant than even the yanks? Is it something about liberty, fraternity and equality? Or because they think they own the world? No, I think I'd put it down to the fact that both populations do not travel outside their own culture, and hence think their own cultures are the only ones, and all others (if they do come across them) can be trampled upon.

We had a calming drink before dinner, where we met some lovely New Zealand folk. Vic was an ex-orthopaedic surgeon, so he and David had a lovely chat about David's motorbike accident in 1969. Cecily and Julie were friendly, but reserved sort of people. Julie had been a tour guide in a previous life, so she was able to give us some tips on tours. The current plan is for the next Rpbinson-Morgan-Hurst junket to go for a chartered Beijing-Moscow train across the Siberian, which she thoroughly recommended!

16 Aug - Thursday - Ua Pou (Hakahau)

A sleep in this morning! Although the ship docked at 6am, we ignored all that, and slept in until 6:15 :-). Breakfast with Donna alone, since David and Sue had already eaten and left for the hill, and Jim was not feeling well. Once we had eaten, to the sounds of another polynesian band and dancers, we headed off up the hill too. It was slightly easier than yesterdays, not quite so high, and the track was more open and even. But the view was breathtaking! Right across Hukaheu bay, and across the ridge to the sandy beach and bay on the other side of the ridge. And away in the distance, towering over us all were the Pinnacles.

Check a polynesian 500 pacific franc note if you haven't seen them before, they are depicted thereon. Very reminiscent of the Cuillins in Skye for those that have seen them. The tallest pinnacle seemed to be perpetually shrouded in cloud, it was so high. We waited for the clouds to clear, but as soon as one lot blew away, another seemed to form to take its place/ Later on, we noticed that all the postcards of the area include clouds covering the tallest pinnacle, so maybe it is a permanent thing?

Coming down from the ridge top we paused at a restaurant for a cool drink (mango juice, very welcome!) and further admired the view before wandering around the town, posting a postcard - we joked later that it would not be cleared today, and would probably wait for the next Aranui visit in 3 weeks time! - and checking out the local catholic church, before heading to the restaurant, where we met Donna and Jim (who was a little better), then later David and Sue.

Another set of welcoming polynesian songs and dances, then lunch of poisson cru, shrimps, octopus, and pork. (Others had other things, like breadfruit, bananas, plantain, and the like.) For dessert, besides the banana pudding, which I didn't have, there was watermelon in both the usual red form, and an unusual orange form. I suggested a blindfold test, so I shut my eyes, and Donna gave me two slices to taste. One seemed more open textured than the other, so I confidently asserted it was the red one. Then I opened my eyes, and both were orange - duh! Donna had tricked me! We tried again, this time with two different colours, and I got them exactly wrong! So we concluded that there was not much to choose between them. As Donna said, to a blind man, all watermelon is orange!

We walked back to the ship (gangway boarding, no barges), watching some local kids playing on the ships hawser lines. When the wind blew, the ship swung one way, slackening the line into the water, and the kids would scramble to climb on it. Then as the ship swung the other way, the line would tighten, lifting the kids some 2-3 metres in the air! Some would drop off, but several mastered the art of sitting astride the rope until it lowered into the water once more. As I said to David, "pity we didn't have such fun things to play on when we were kids!"

The afternoon was spent swimming in the pool, drinking beer, and catching up with blogs (like this one).

17 Aug - Friday - Hiva Oa (Atuona)

Barb not feeling so good this morning, wasn't sure what it was. After breakfast we landed at Atuona (one of the few places where the Aranui could actually tie up), and waited for "the truck" to take us to the hiking point. The truck was actually a school bus "transport d'enfants" Once all the hikers were in the truck, we headed off up the hill to the hike starting point, about 1/3 of the way up. It was not far enough up the hill, because it took us the best part of 45 minutes to reach the lookout point, and the last 300m or so was very steep! Barb was struggling, but I could hardly blame her for that.

The view was fantastic, and we had several photos taken with us in the foreground, view in the back ground, etc., to show we did actually make it. After 20mins or so, it was time to head down, and going down was almost as bad as coming up. Barb was definitely not well, and had to be assisted by David and Jorg. We made it to the bus only 6mins behind schedule, and then headed to the town cemetery where Paul Gauguin's and Jacques Brel's graves are located (there is some uncertainty as to whether it is really Paul Gauguin in the grave). Then down to the Tohua to see handicrafts and wait for lunch. Barb was feeling quite off by this stage, and wanted a drink, so David went off to the local shop to buy some pineapple juice (and brought me a beer as well, which was most welcome). Unfortunately, Barb could not keep the juice down, leading us all to exclaim that the place's name was not "Hiva Oa", but "Hiva Ova"! Jorg kindly organized a car to take Barb back to the ship, while the rest of us trundled off in the truck to the Hoa Nui Restaurant.

Lunch was a slightly more elaborate menu than in the past few days, and we all agreed that the pork was the best dish again. The much feted goat curry was nice, but not nearly curry enough, which we decided was probably a cultural thing - us being used to the hotter indian and malaysian curries. Then back to the ship, and we sailed at 1400 for the island of Tahuata.

I debated whether to go ashore, given that Barb was spending the afternoon in bed, but she said she would be alright, so I went off in the barge with David and Sue, and we wandered around the little village of Vaitahu, the highlight of which was the church, built with assistance from the Vatican, and which had, unusually for Marquesan churches, a stained glass window of a Polynesian Madonna and Child. The feature which caught my attention was the beautiful timbered ceiling, and I took several photos of the rich colours in that.

While waiting for the barge to take us back to the ship, we watched the unloading of cargo. It's best seen by following the photos, but they used chains attached to the bucket of a front end loader to lift the pallets of goods ashore. Those pallets on the far side of the barge, they attached the chains to the bottom of the pallet, then pulled it across the barge to the near side, then re-attached the chains to actually lift it from the barge!

Dinner was a slightly (only slightly) subdued affair, as Barb was still not good. She had been to see the doctor, who diagnosed diverticulitis and prescribed some antibiotics, stressing that B had to make sure she took them, otherwise it could lead to an emergency evacuation! I don't think B needed too much reinforcement of that message!

18 Aug - Saturday - Fatu Hiva (Omoa, Hanavave)

A slightly damp start to the day, and we walked from the barge landing to a large handicraft exhibition, where Barb bought a pareo (in very Barby colours!), and then to a demonstration of tapa cloth making. Tapa cloth is made from extracting the inner bark from various types of trees, and then pounding it to the required thickness. It is then used either as a cloth, or by drying it out, as paper on which things can be painted or written. Then a demonstration of "umu hei" making. An umu hei is a floral arrangement made from local flowers and plant material, somewhat perfumey, and worn as a hair embellishment, or as a bouquet.

Then up the road to the end of the village, ostensibly to find the Pool of someone-or-other, but without success. We think we found some petroglphs, but there were very indistinct.

Back on board for lunch (crab meat sald, roast duck, eclairs) while we cruised to Hanavave and the "Bay of Penises", so called because of all the phallic rock promontories. Apparently, when the Catholic missionaries arrived, they did not approve of this name, and renamed it the "Bay of the Virgin"!! It is possible to see one of the rock promotories as the head of the Madonna, and the french for penis and virgin are very similar ("verge" and "vierge"), but I think the original name much more appropriate!

Barb went ashore briefly but John stayed aboard. We stayed at anchor in the Virgin's Bay to watch the sunset, while the ship had a happy hour of half price cocktails. All just too pleasant for words!

19 Aug - Sunday - Hiva Oa (Puamau, Hanaiapa)

Lovely sunrise this morning, captured in pixels. Today's port of call was Puamau on the island of Hiva Oa, with a visit to a fascinating archaelogical site of the now extinct Nikei tribe. Part of the reason the tribe is extinct was, in Jorg's words, "they made one mistake - they captured and barbequed the chief of a neighbouring rival tribe". As a consequence, they suffered severe reprisals, a test of strength from which they did not recover, especially when European diseases arrived and wiped out what remaining population there was. But the site was fascinating in the detail still extant, since much of it was left as a warning to other tribes not to so misbehave. Details like burying the important tikis upside down so only their feet were showing, thus imprisoning the mana of the person whom the tiki represented.

We walked back to the beach, where Barb went for a swim, while the rest of us admired the view. Then back to the ship for lunch, and sailing on to the next port of Hanaiapa, where David and Sue went ashore, but we did not. It was a pretty spot, but very few inhabitants and not much of a village. There were several blowholes along the coast, and we spent a few moments watching them. Dinner was eventful because we ended up with several bottles of wine more than we should have had, and that engendered much hilarity, many jokes and many laughs!

20 Aug - Monday - Nuka Hiva (Anaho)

Very rock and rolly last night, and the moans came back briefly, but not disruptively. Notwithstanding, I had a bad night, which may have had something to do with the wine consumed last night! We had breakfast at 8am, and then disembarked by barge in the beautiful bay of Anaho.

John set off on a hike up to the saddle on the pass to Hatiheu (see 14 Aug while Barb decided to stay on the beach and snorkel. It was hard work climbing the hill (very humid), but the view was worth it. Lots of photos! Then down again, and cooled off before lunch, which was a "picnic" on the beach. Well, we would call it a BBQ, because there were BBQ'ed spare ribs, sausages, beef, fish, lamb, chickem, as well as some nice salads. Almost like a FISH BBQ!

After lunch, we went for a swim (more snorkelling), then John went back on the 2pm barge, while the others waited for the 3pm one. A few photos and blogs, then a snooze until 5:30 when we had gin and tonics in the Robinsons', then the 6pm talk about the morrow in the lounge. Dinner was not in the restaurant, but was a buffet on the pool deck - and another wonderful repast of fish (seared tuna), poission cru, prawns, NZ green lipped mussels, etc., etc..

Then on the "Polynesian Night", where every group on board ship was invited to do a party piece. The Australians did the 4 pieces we had been rehearsing: "Kookaburra sits in in the Old Gum Tree" (as a round), "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" (John did the verses!), "Give me a Home among the Gum Trees" (with actions), and finally "Waltzing Matilda". It was a ball! Interestingly, nearly every nationality on board was represented, except the Canadians (there were only 2 of them), the Yanks, and the French (there were lots of them, so no excuse!) There were lots of polynesian dances as well, so it was all fun. We collapsed into bed at 11pm.

21 Aug - Tuesday - Nuka Hiva (Taiohae); Ua Pou (Hakahau)

We were docked overnight in Taiohae (on Nuka Hiva), so it was not rocky and rolly. This meant a relaxed start in the morning, and we went ashore at 8am after a leisurely breakfast. We walking into the town, posted some postcards, looked at the port, and Barb and I had a very nice espresso coffee at a little shack that seemed to do everything. So much more surprising, since Jorg had panned the coffee here. "Cheapest coffee in town, and the worst" was his comment. He was right about the former, but not the latter! Then back to the ship in time for a 10 o'clock departure, but the ship was delayed for some reason, and did not leave until 1145.

Lunch on board, while we sailed to Ua Pou - which seems to be pronounced as one word "U-wappo". Quite a swell running on the way, and we enjoyed the rocking and rolling on board. Interestingly, because the Aranui does not have stabilisers, it rolls quite a bit, at times so that all you can see out the lounge room windows is water rising quickly, as though we are sinking rapidly! But then it rolls back again, and all you can see through the window then is blue sky, and you are struck with the alternate feeling that the ship is capsizing! Fortunately for this blog, neither events occurred throughout the voyage.

In contrast to the cruises we have had on ships fitted with stabilisers, or perhaps because of the lack of stabilisers on the Aranui, I'm not sure, but it did not pitch very much. I am less comfortable with pitching, because particularly at the ends of the boat, it gives rise to alternate feelings of heaviness and lightness, which does make ascending and descending stairs quite odd. When you feel light, you can run up the stairs three at a time, but when heavy, it is best to stay put. Alternately, when descending the stairway, lightness means you float down several steps at a time, heaviness means stay put at the risk of falling down even more steps! But all this was not necessary on the Aranui, because of the lack of pitching. Negotiating stairs simply translated into holding on to the handrail to keep from bumping side to side. As I said, I prefer rolling to pitching!

We arrived in Hakahau just after 2, and walked ashore (nice to have gangway dry landings for a change!) for a stroll to the handicrafts centre, where Barb bought a stone banana to go with our wooden apple. It is made of a dark flowerstone, so it looks just like an overripe banana, but without the squishiness! Then we (Morgans and Hursts) repaired to the small pension a little way up the hill we had previously climbed (see 16 Aug) for a cool drink (beer) and a relaxing look at the view, while the Robinsons did their own thing. We wandered back on board just in time to see a tropical downpour hit us, which was OK for us, but unfortunately soaked Jim, as he was still out in it.

The rain cleared before our departure from Hakahau, and as this was the last Marquesan port we were to visit, we had a little "hat throwing ceremony", whereby (as legend has it), if you throw your hat and/or lai into the sea as you leave, then you will be destined to return. This we did with due pomp and ceremony, accompanied by photos of departing lais and my hat - not my Australian one I hastened to add, in case some of you were starting to say "thank goodness", but the coconut palm leaf one I had made at the hat-making day on 14 Aug. We watched the lovely sunset, then to dinner.

Dinner was punctuated by a red-footed booby crashing into the side of the ship, and hopping around on deck. It didn't look too damaged, but when some crew members said they would take it away and look after it, we thought, "yeah, that one is for the pot!" Subsequently we heard that it was OK, although one of the passengers who was a vet said that the prognosis was not good. We did not hear anymore about it, so I suspect he was right.

22 Aug - Wednesday - at sea

Today at sea was much quieter than the corresponding day on the outward journey. Whether it was the sense of nearing completion, or simply a lack of energy on the part of the passssengers and crew is not clear. Certainly there were fewer activities arranged, so I suspect the crew were winding down as well.

The Morgans came to breakfast chortling that they had seen flying fish across the bow of the ship, so after breakfast, Barb, David and I went looking again. We saw some just in time to get a hal dozen snaps of a fish or two flying, when it was time for Victoria's third lecture on Polynesian Migration. I thought this might be more interesting, but unfortunately, she glossed over all the technical details, saying "I won't bore you with this", but then proceeded to bore us with talk about the recreation voyages that she and her colleagues had made! I really would have been more interested in the original voyagers, and how they navigated using the stars, winds, currents and birds. Oh well, I guess there is always Google to check it out later!

After 11, Jim said that we could go up to the bridge for a look, so I shot up there and wandered in - it was all open, with a couple of people (passengers) ambling around. I fell in with one chap, Ian, a fellow Aussie (and organiser of the Polynesian Night Aussie mob), just as he was asking the Safety Officer Clement Tetuanui, whether an engine room visit were possible. "Sure", said Clement, "now?" "Why not?" said Ian, and I chimed in with "Can I come too?". So the three of us set off for the floors below, and on the way I bumped into David, and invited him to tag along.


The engine room was fascinating. Noisy, hot machinery in all directions, with a brief respite in an air-conditioned control room. We saw the main diesel propulsion engine, and 8-cylinder job with a huge turbo charger (David Hurst, eat your heart out!), the two auxiliary engines, numerous pumps, pipes, plumbing, etc., the water desal plant, the incinerator, and one of the grooviest bits of all, the rudder servo motor. Unfortunately, it was all so noisy, Clement's explanations of things could only be heard by the one person closest to him, so we each got a very selective commentary on all this. But it was fascinating, nevertheless. And Hot. Did I mention the heat? It was Hot. And Noisy. Well, you get the picture.

The rest of the day was boring, really. At least for you, dear reader. Lunch, followed by lots of photo processing and blog writing, followed by our usual 6pm talk on the next day's activities, a quick drink in the Robinson's cabin, then dinner. All pretty exhausting work, you must admit :-)

23 Aug - Thursday - Rangiroa

The usual early start we have come to expect on the Aranui, even though we (the ship) were running late. We steamed through the "Pass of Tapitu" just after 8, and anchored in the atoll of Rangiroa. Hursts and Robinsons were on the first barge out, as we had to meet our "seascope", a very peculiar type of boat that had two outriggers, with a very narrow central hull. The hull had two large rounded windows, one each side, and seats for 8 people inside, such that you could look out either side quite easily. The helmsman and deck hand sat up top, rather like a speed boat with an upper helm.

We motored out to the reef, moored there, and the fish came to say hello, no doubt encouraged by the feeding by the crew. We sat there for an hour, spellbound by the enormous numbers of fish that swarmed - there's no other word for it - around both side windows. All 8 of us vied with each other to get a good photo of 2 (only!) very brightly striped fish, made particularly challenging by the fact that every time they appeared, there would always be other fish in the way. There were two eels that were a similar challenge, since they hugged the sandy bottom, slipping into the coral at the drop of a hat, and always being just that more elusive. I took 99 photos of fish (perhaps a bit too many?), while Barbara had to put her camera away after a while, because she thought she might be taking too many!

All too soon it came to an end, and we had to swap passengers with the next barge. That barge took us to the beach, where the four of us stripped off to our bathers, and took to the water to snorkel. David and Sue were going on the pearl farm visit, so they hhad lent us their snorkelling stuff, so Barb and I were able to join in. It was easy to spend another hour paddling around looking at the fish and the coral, although the fish were not quite as plentiful as they had been in the seascope.

After snorkelling, a beer and a chat helped while away the 30 minutes or so before lunch, which was another superb Aranui picnic setup, this time with grilled (BBQed) fish - simply excellent! After lunch, John tumbled back on the barge and to the ship for the last time, while Barb stayed for another swim. As we left the lagoon, we did see a couple of dolphins frolicking alongside the side, but after that, it was back to the grind of a sea afternoon - more photos, more blogs. We did somewhat go overboard (metaphorically, I hasten to add) with our sunset photos. The last sunset on board, plus the fact that John had found a new setting on his camera to play with, meant that we ended up with 90 (!) photos of the sunset in his various stages.

Dinner was followed by more polynesian dancing, this time with those passengers who had stuck with the dancing classes - and I must say, I was impressed with the progress most of them had made. Lots of hugs, shakes and smiles all round as we said goodbyes to the restaurant staff, then we staggered off to bed for the last round of being (gently?) rocked to sleep, broken only by the moaning of our window one more. Moaning that we were leaving the next day, I would like to think.

24 Aug - Friday - Tahiti - Papeete

We arrived in Papeete just on 7am, as Barb and I were finishing our packing. We said a few goodbyes at breakfast, particularly to the excellent wait staff who had looked after us: Teihoarii (pronounced Tay-show) and Vanessa. Then we waited for the disembarkation call, which came about 8:30 - but we had to wait, for our luggage was not yet disembarked! We all got into a minibus, but were quite surprised when he dropped us at the Hertz rental place, rather than Fare Suisse, where we were expecting to go. It seems that there had been some miss-communication somewhere, but the driver was not fazed, and took us to the hotel, where I am now writing this blog. I had 160 emails waiting for me when I opened up my computer and connected to the internet, and it took me most of the morning to deal with them all.

Barb and the Morgans took off for a walk, as did the Robinsons, so I was left to my computer for several hours. That I did not mind, as I was the only one to survive without the internet for two weeks! They did bring me back some lunch at about 1:30 - a nice baguette and brie cheese, which went down well.

At about 4, the Morgans set off to explore different parts of Papeete, while we decided to wander down to the waterfront and find a bar. We had agreed to meet at the markets for dinner at 6:30, so we had a few hours to kill. We found a bar on the waterfront which met our expectations, and lo and behold, there were the Robinsons! So we sat and had a few beers while chatting, then on to the markets, where we found the Morgans.

Dinner was a shared affair, since we bought 3 different plates: poisson cru, honey chicken, and grilled mahi mahi (fish). That was yum, and we had left ourselves with enough room for dessert, so next stop was the crepes stall for yummy crepes (I had marron, Barb had chocolate banana). Then back to Fare Suisse and bed.

25 Aug - Saturday - Tahiti - Valley of Maroto

Breakfast at Fare Suisse with the Robinsons, while the Morgans went off to get some baguettes for their breakfast. We were picked up at 9am by Tere (pronounced "Terry") in a troop carrier 4-wheel drive, that amazingly, had Rachel and Danny already aboard (we had actually organized it with them, so it wasn't really that amazing). But what was amazing was the adventure to follow.

We drove off through the suburbs of Papeete, stopping to get some baguette sandwiches for lunch, and at Venus Point, so named because Captain Cook stopped there on 3 June 1769 to observe the transit of Venus. We then turned inland at the small coastal town of Papenoo to follow the road into the Valley of Maroto, which in turn leads into the ancient crater of the extinct volcano that created the island of Tahiti itself. As you can image, it is a very sacred place to the Polynesians, and there were several pae paes, or ancient tribal gathering places that we saw along the way.

Tere, our guide and driver, was very good - his English was excellent, and his knowledge of the local flora and fauna first class. We stopped many times along the way so that we could take photos, and hear his explanation of the topography, the birds, the plants, the legends - all of which made for a fascinating trip. We had our picnic lunch at a swimming hole on the Papenoo River (where Rachel and Danny went swimming), and gawped at the huge mountain cliffs around us. We reached the "Relais de la Maroto" at about 2pm, where we stopped ostensibly for a coffee, but Danny and Rachel were very keen to see the cellar, which was extensive! They bought a bottle of St Emillon Grand Cru, and we all had a taste - very smooth! It was a measure of the relationship that we had built up that they were willing to share such a treasure with us, and we all apppreciated it immensely.

Our final leg of the trip was up to the summit of the road, which was a tunnel through the ridge to the valley on the other side. We walked through the tunnel to see the view, and then drove back in the car, which had followed us. Of some concern throughout this last leg was the message on several signs that we saw: "soyez prudents" (take care) and "piste dangereux" (dangerous slopes). However, Tere guided us very confidently along the track, even in a part where the underfill of a concrete section had slipped away, leaving part of the concrete roadway suspended in mid air, with a huge drop away to the valley floor.

We returned with only one or two stops for photos - a particularly nice one was as we re-exited the tunnel, the sun was shining through a break in the clouds, giving a wonderful "Jacob's Ladder" effect onto the valley ridges. Tere said "this is why Polynesians are such spiritual people", and I could easy see why. It was a breath-taking scene.

Back in Papeete at about 6, we asked to be dropped at the food court place (it has a name, but we have not been able to discover it in print), and Danny and Rachel came with us. We had dinner together - I had tuna tartare, which was huge, with an equally large pile of chips (fries), and could not eat all of it (I mean the chips, not the tuna). But the general feeling was that it was not as good as the previous night.

We said goodbye to Danny and Rachel for the last time, and retired to Fare Suisse.

26 Aug - Sunday - Tahiti - Papeete

A little bit of an anticlimax today after the exploits of yesterday. Donna and Jim left at 6am for their week in Bora Bora, Barb and I went to church, while David and Sue packed.

Church was fascinating. We had various stories about when it started - 9 and 10 were the two main suggestions, and we thought that that must mean pre-service singing at 9, service at 10. So we rocked up at 9, only to find a small handful of people sitting quietly in their pews. Nothing happened, except the small handful grew to a large handful, then to an armful, then a bagful, then a backpack full, then a suitcase full, then ... you get the idea. By 10 the place was comfortably full, but we could not understand why all the women seemed to be on two separate sides, then the men behind them in sides as well, then a mixture across the back. While we were musing on this, an elder sort of person came and beckoned us to follow him, and lead us to more comfortable seats at the front. Comfortable was all very well, but it put paid to our plans to sneak out if the going got tough!

Once the service started, the reason for the segregation became obvious. Each group was a different choir, and the whole congregation (almost) was just several large choirs. They didn't need any conductors - one person would sing a note, then the rest would join in. And what singing! It was magnificent! I was quite blown away by it all, and it brought tears to my eyes just listening.

Which was probably just as well, as the rest of the service was not in French, as we had expected, but in Tahitian - so we had no idea what it was about, until the sermon. The preacher actually spoke bilingually, in English and Tahitian, although he switched between the two with such fluency that it was hard to discern where one stopped and the other started. But we did catch his welcome to "the Australians with us today", which left me puzzling as to how he knew we were Australians!

Then the prayers of the people were entirely in English, although it probably would have been better in Tahitian, for the leader (another elder) use "Lord God" and "Father" as every second phrase, and repeated most of the themes of the prayer, such as "bless our economy and keep the tourists coming" and "we pray that someone from this congregation will be elected to the assembly", and the like. Rather odd, to say the least.

Then back to Fare Suisse, where we had the last of David and Sue's baguettes for lunch, then went for a walk, ending up at "Le Retro", a cafe/bar on the foreshore where we had a coffee, followed by a beer. Then back to FS in time for D&S to be picked up by Beni to go to the airport. Once again, we wandered down to the food court area where we shared a sweet and sour prawn main (very nice), then pancakes for dessert (although John had a buckwheat gallette with ham and cheese, on the basis that it was lower GI and less sugar!) We had a long chat with a fellow passenger from the Aranui that we bumped into - the bloke who rode his bictcle everywhere (I have a photo of him on Nuka Hiva). Then FS and bed.

27 Aug - Monday - Tahiti - Papeete to Teahupoo

Beni organized a car from Avis to come and pick us up, and we collected a car from Avis after 30 mins or so of waiting: "the car was very dirty" was the explanation (!) Set off round the western side of the island, first stop was trying to find the "lagoonarium". After several false starts and one dead end, we found it - it was closed, and looked like it was to be closed for some time to come!

Next stop was at a beach, but it wasn't a beach in the Australian sense. Lots of broken coral, a few rocks, and relatively little sand. It was not inviting for swimming, since the signs warned of strong currents, and there was no one else in the water.

Next stop was at the "Marae Arahurahui", an ancient religious site, complete with a (restored) marae or sacred area for the priests on which sacrifices (often human) and prayers were offered to the gods. It looked fairly tame now, but I suspect it would not have been in its working life.

Next we stopped at the Grotti de Maraa, three caves of varying size cut into the cliff face by wave action, and now landlocked by changing ocean currents. Quite impressive, for those with a speleological bent.

We drove on, through lots of little villages, looking for somewhere to have coffee, but nothing looked inviting. It is a different culture, I had to keep telling myself, even though they have lots of french tradition (such as baguettes for breakfast), the espresso places seemed to be few and far between. Or at least, poorly advertised. At Papara John spotted what might have been what we were looking for behind a Mobil service, so a quick U-turn and we found a pleasant enough cafe that served the best coffee we had had since Seattle! We also shared a "far breton", a prune clafouti sort of thing, which was also wonderful. Thus refreshed, we journeyed on to Taravao, where we turned off for the road to Teahupoo, on "Tahiti Iti", a smaller volcano attached to the main island by a narrow isthmus. This was even more rural than the "mainland", with much more basic villages and farms. The largest place was Teahupoo itself, which had had its population swelled considerably by the World Surfing Championships, just concluding. Mick Fanning won, beating Josh Peterson, so it was an all Australian final.

28 Aug - Tuesday - Tahiti - Teahupoo to Papeete

Sleeping in the Kava bugalow of the Vanira Lodge was a different experience. It reminded me of the holiday house we stayed in in Tobermory, without the Morgans (Roger and Di) - but that's another story! It was an A-frame construction, made out of bamboo, with an upstairs mezzanine type bedroom, and all quite open. What privacy there was was afforded by judicious placement of the bungalows, and by virtue of the bedroom being upstairs. The positive side was the amazing view out across the reefs and beyond to the ocean. All night long we had to put up with the sound of crashing waves (and roosters crowing!) It was hard to take.

We had breakfast in the Pote'ee, or gazebo, American style with omelette and bacon (sic?), and a leisurely start to the day, getting away at about 9:30. There was a plan to go snorkelling, but Barb didn't feel well, so we hit the road instead. We made a detour up the Plateau de Taravao, with an impressive view (at the top of a very bumpy road), of the isthumus between the two islands, Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti (Tahiti Big and Little).

We then headed off back along the west coast road to the great little coffee spot we had found, but it was further back than we both had thought - 25kms to be exact, and only 35kms from Papeete! But we agreed that it was worth it, especially as we had TWO far bretons!

Then back over that same 25kms before setting off on the east coast route. Intruigingly, the distance from Taravao, the second largest population centre after Papeete, and Papeete itself is 60kms by either route, so it marks exactly half way round the main part of the island. The isthumus itself is only about 3-4 kms wide.

There's not that much to see on the eastern side - only a couple of villages, mainly because it has far less coastal strip, and the mountains plunge almost straight into the sea. There are two attractions, with 100m of each other: the 3 Waterfalls (we only visited one, the track to the others was deemed too far), and the "trou de souffleur", or blowhole, which was quite impressive, even though there was only a small swell running.

We returned to Papeete at about 3, and went back to Fare Suisse, where we unloaded camera photos, had a cup of tea, then drove off to find petrol and return the car. We did a bit of shopping on our way back, and our trip was interrupted by a tropical downpour. But we did not care, as we found Les Trois Brasseurs, and had a beer which was not Hinano.

I should make a comment on the Tahitian beer, called Hinano. They seem to have a stranglehold on the Tahitian (and Marquesan) beer markets, and in the three weeks we have been here, have encountered little else. While it is OK (it's a lager style, not very bitter, not very much flavour, but innocous enough not to offend all but the purist. But it does pale after a while, and I don't mean in the sense of a pale ale. I write this in Auckland airport, after having two Fat Yaks, and the difference is dramatic. Still, Hinano got us through some hot moments, so I no complain.

After the beer, and the rain, stopped, we headed back to FS to repack our bags in readiness for tomorrow. Once that was organized, back down the esplanade (lots of walking today!) for a final meal at the food court market - John had poisson cru for the last time, and Barb her favourite, mahi mahi (fish). While looking for pancakes, we bumped into Victoria, Barbara and Jane from the Aranui, and they invited us to join them in pancakes, which we did, and had a bit of a friendly chat about Tahiti. Then back to FS, and bed, for the last time.

29 Aug - Wednesday - Tahiti to Melbourne

We had no alarm clock to wake us up, so we kept waking up at odd hours, consulting the watch, and going back to sleep again. When the watch said 5am, we just stayed awake until it was time to get up at 5:30, get dressed and do the final packing bits in time to meet Beni out the front at exactly 10 to. Talk about Swiss timing! He had us to the airport in exactly 10 mins, so then we joined the continuous queues that you all know and love at airports. We got through to the lounge with 15 mins to spare, but they would not let us into the "VIP lounge", since it was explained that Qantas had reneged on their contract. Hmmm. Another reason to turf out Alan Joyce.

No matter. We joined the plebs, who by then were queuing madly at the gate, but that was no matter either, as we bumped into Libby from the Aranui, and chatted with her until the gate queue had all but disappeared. Then on to the plane, where we had a pleasant enough trip. Barb slept, while John watched the Untouchable (OK, but in-flight entertainment only), and we then ...

30 Aug - Thursday - Tahiti to Melbourne

... crossed the international date line into tomorrow, the day after yesterday. Who needs space travel? I felt just like Dan Dare, flying into tomorrow! We landed at Auckland at 11:40, and repaired to the business lounge (where they did let us in!), and I am now typing this.

A coupla beers (Fat Yak! Hinano, eat your heart out!), a small snack, and internet duties fulfilled, we boarded the plane (this time timing things so we missed the queues altogether), and then a 3:41:22 flight to Melbourne, where again we seemed to miss most of the queues - the airport was the quietest I have ever seen Tullamarine, but it was a sensible hour of the day (3:40), so that's probably why it was quiet. We had time for a cup of coffee, which, even though it was Villa and Hut, tasted soo good, before waiting for David (our son) in the highly re-arranged public pick-up area outside the terminal. Why they persist with such annoying window dressing, when all that is required is a train line, I don't know. Well, yes I do. The reason is called money. Enough said.

David drove us home through heavy traffic, but we had much to talk about, so the traffic did not matter. And so to home!

And that brings me to an end of this blog, dear reader. I hope you enjoyed following the tale of our 2012 cruise exploits. Probably calling it our "cruise exploits" is a little misleading, but I am open to other suggestions. Write and let me know what you think.

About the Aranui

The Aranui 3 is a mixed passenger/cargo ship cruising between Tahiti and the Marquesas, making a unique South Pacific adventure cruise. It is the third ship so named.

This cruise includes stops in Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, resting place of Paul Gauguin; Ua Pou, with its towering volcanic spires. This French Polynesia cruise also includes the islands of Fatu Hiva, Ua Huka, and Tahuata, all known for their fine art. Finally, you will get a chance to discover the enchanting coral atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava (Tuamotu).

Unlike any other South Pacific cruise, the Aranui freighter will take you far from the routes of typical Tahiti cruise tours. Meet proud Marquesans people, learn of their unusual ancient culture, or talk with Tuamotu pearl fishermen on palm-shaded atolls.

Aranui cruises offer comfortable, air-conditioned accommodations for about two hundred passengers. Passengers will be able to sunbathe on deck, to swim in the pool, and to enjoy exotic tropical drinks.

A Review of the Aranui

Manuiota'a, a book written by Robert C. Suggs and Burgl Lichtenstein, was published in 2001 and documents a 1999 cruise on the Aranui 2. Manuiota'a is a fabulous book and provides both a well-written account of the Aranui experience along with asides on the natural and cultural history of the Marquesas and Tuamotus. My wife and I sailed on the Aranui 2 in 1998 and the account in the book closely follows our experience. That is to say, the trip was truly magical in its quality. We have never had such an experience aboard any cruise ship. The islands and the experience were just awesome. While it is possible to get to these islands by air and stay in private pensions or a couple of very small (20 room) 5 star hotels, this couldn't possible replace the experience of traveling by freighter to all of these islands (there is no practical way to do this other than the Aranui), watching freight operations (ever seen a horse lifted a hundred feet in the air and swung on board deck or watched a brand new 4wd truck set on a couple of whale boats in heavy seas and brought in to shore on the surf?). Keep in mind that all the excursions are included in the fare (feasting on native foods in local restaurants, 4wd trips over mountain ranges, tours of archaeological sites, native dancers, museums, expert lecturers, etc.). Imagine landing at the dock on one of these remote islands and having all the native people come out to greet you (not just to stare but really welcome you)!

The Aranui experience is not like a regular cruise ship because the Aranui is a freighter. If you were expecting something like a Princess cruise, you will be disappointed. There are no captain's nights or casinos or Las Vegas style entertainment venues. Instead, you will find adventure that is reminiscent of an earlier time where journeys were made on a tramp steamer in the South Pacific (albeit one that has been upgraded to include AC!). As for competition between the various nationalities, there is some (particularly between the French and the Americans). Yet again, we made some friends on the Aranui 2 that we still get together with today. We've gone back to French Polynesia with some and a big group of us went to the Caribbean together. There are real bonds that form between the passengers.

Marquesas (14 Days, 13 nights) from US$5135 (excluding dormitory option) July 21, August 11, September 1

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