I is for India


India is huge.  Think north for mountains, British raj period forts and fabulous Indian Palaces, and the Himalayas in the north.  Think south for really fiery curries, beaches, the Kerala backwater cruises and sun and sand in Goa.

This will just cover some of the main sights of the north.

Most will fly into either Delhi or Mumbai.  Delhi is the nation’s capital, Mumbai its biggest city.  Delhi is made up of the Old City – tiny winding laneways, ancient mosques and temples, rickshaw drivers and cows in the streets.  Great spice markets and street food if you are really careful.

India 2016 036

New Delhi is what happened when the British decided to build.  Wide streets and boulevards, squares and fountains.  Trees and parks, and the main buildings of government.  They offered their buildings to the Maharajahs and they basically said why would we want to live in these hovels?  When you see their palaces you will understand what they mean.  From Delhi most tourists will take the Golden Triangle tour or a variation of it.  Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.  Agra is home to the first thing most people think of when you say India – the Taj Mahal.  It also is home to the Red Fort which is still half occupied by the Indian Military.  The Taj Mahal does not disappoint, is worth the early start to see it in the cooler morning air and with fewer people.  There is a smaller version of the Taj Mahal you can visit as well.  Nowhere near the same scale but all the techniques used in the Taj Mahal were tried out in the baby Taj and it is lovely in its own right.

India 2016 196

About 45 minutes from Agra is the mosque and palace complex of Fatepur Sikri, another world heritage site.  Although the hawkers can be very insistent in the mosque, once clear of there the palace is wonderfully atmospheric and the complex has many different features from the usual buildings, including an amazing audience chamber where the king was literally raised above anyone seeking his presence, and both a public entertainment area and a private bathhouse.  Gorgeous red stone glows in the sunlight.


Across to the west is Jaipur – one of my favourite place in India.  The Pink City truly is – right down to the letter boxes.  The façade of the Palace of the Winds is actually the place from behind which in earlier times the women could look out onto the streets and see the life of the ordinary people that they were not permitted to take part in.  The Amber Fort is a revelation.  Midway up a hill with fabulous views over the valley, a formal garden in the lake and more rooms than you can count as well as courtyards and meeting spaces, the Amber Fort was the summer home and also winter palace of the local maharajah.  The inlaid tiled and  mirrored ceiling was his present to his wife who missed the stars because she was not permitted outside, so she could see a version of the night sky.  Extraordinarily beautiful and it glows amber in the morning sunlight.

India 2016 352

In an extended version of the Golden Triangle you can go further west again to Udaipur, where I visited last September.  The famous Lake Palace is there, the summer palace of the City palace in the heart of the city on a man made lake.  Udaipur is greener, cleaner and wealthier than much of Rajasthan. It has a strong sense of its own history and resisted the British raj and earned respect for doing so.  About a 45 minute drive from Udaipur in the middle of nowhere is the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a heritage working hotel that you can stay in if you choose.  If you get a chance visit a village and meet the locals and the kids.  One of the best things you can do!


The Ganges is sacred to India, and the most sacred city is Varanasi.  This is where you will see people bathe in the waters for healing, and where many people are farewelled in funeral pyres.  North and you are into the Darjeeling area famous for tea plantation and the place the British escaped the summer heat.

Don’t be afraid of India.  It is fascinating and beguiling, and the food is fabulous.


H is for Hungary

For many people Hungary is Budapest, beginning or end point for the 14 day river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and vice versa.  It is a great city and well worth a few days to explore properly.  Once part of the huge Austro-Hungarian empire, Budapest has some impressive buildings including their Parliament Houses based on the British House of Parliament and has bridges between western and eastern cultures.  You can stroll along the Danube and stop for coffee and cake, indulge in the local goulash and soups or relax in a Turkish bath.

Pearl Bridge Budapest

One of the great things to do in Budapest is to stroll the riverbank and check out the connections between Hungary and Australia, and be reminded of the contribution of Hungarian nationals – Rubik of the cube is just one.  Cross the Pearl Bridge to the Buda side  (Buda is high on the hill, Pest is flat and the main part of the city) and take the funicular up to the top – or climb if you are fit!

The beautiful St Mattias Church is well worth a wander, and the Fisherman’s Bastion will give you spectacular views over Pest and especially of the river and the houses of parliament.  But go further into the city of Buda and you will be rewarded with little shops and ruins of the castle and views over to the hills beyond the city.


In Pest the market is a focal point.  You can get anything and everything there.  The Hungarian florint is still used and Hungary is still amazing value for money.  Pick up paprika to spice up your cooking, or indulge in beautiful handcrafted embroideries in the shops along the main shopping street.  Heroes Square does its best to impress and is surrounded by museums to help explain their history.  Some impressive statues.  The Turkish baths are nearby.

The Jewish synagogue is a fascinating visit.  Hire a guide to get all the lowdown on the history, and have a look at the garden around the back which is a memorial as well as a pleasant retreat.   If you are a music buff the Opera House runs tours you can take to see the fading grandeur of this building.

Away from the city there are spa towns to explore like Lake Heviz  and the town on Lake Balaton Tihany with its Benedictine monastery.

The Hungarians are friendly and welcoming.  Allow several days to get to know the city, and several more to explore beyond.


G is for Germany

Germany is many things to many people.  Depending on your age, your nationality and your interests, it might be a place you would avoid like the plague, can’t wait to see, or go to for a specific thing only.

For me, Germany has family connections several generations back when my father’s great grandfather came from Silesia, then part of Germany, to begin a new life in South Australia.  Whilst I did not get to Silesia (now a part of Poland) on my travels, I did come to really like and appreciate Germany a great deal.

I spent a month travelling through Germany.  What is most notable is the difference between north and south.  The northerners don’t count the southerners as Germans! They are Bavarians!   You will also discover that things you see in the south are not necessarily to be found in the north.  Buy wood carvings in the south; they don’t exist in the north.  And where France has a patisserie on every corner, in Germany it is an apothecary – a chemist!

While there are lots of differences, there are many things to recommend a visit to Germany.  The precision engineering is to be seen everywhere, on the autobahns, in the railway system, and in the car manufacturing.   Even the factory design will amaze you at the BMW headquarters in Munich.  That know how has been put to great use reconstructing towns and village destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.  You would almost not know it had happened so well recreated have towns been.

History buffs will love the flamboyant castles of Ludwig II in Bavaria. Neuschwanstein Castle ( the one Disney modelled his Fantasyland castle after) is just up the road from his father’s castle Hohenschwangau.  And his other castles, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee are worth a look as well.  Near to Neuschwanstein is Oberammergau, the town which hosts the Passion play every ten years in thanks for being spared the plague in the middle ages.
Another kind of history is to be found at Dachau with a visit to the concentration camp there.  A truly sobering reminder of what humans are capable of doing to each other.  You will also find WWII history in Nuremburg, which is a beautiful medieval town in its own right, and has the added layer of the rallies.

Neuschwanstein jpeg

If it is scenery you are after, Germany has it in spades.  The Alps will inspire you, the Romantic road charm you – my favourite place is Rothenburg – a walled city frozen in time and just delightful.  Check out the Christmas shop, open all year round.


The Rhine is the lifeblood of trade and much of tourism in Germany and the cruise along the river will show you dramatic gorges, castles and vineyards.

And for those of you with a literary bent, see the statue of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, or the Bremen Town musicians in the north and visit Gutenberg’s  original printing press in Mainz.

Bremen town musicians

Germans also know how to party.  Join the Oktoberfest (held in September!) in Munich, and if you are not travelling at the right time for that, any beerhall will show you strong ladies carrying up to eight steins at a time.

Beer cellars

One of the joys of travel is stumbling across something unexpected.  I was in Trier for a few hours en route to somewhere else and discovered the city was celebrating 1000 years as a city (it was a while ago!)  I stopped and had a glass of wine in its honour, and got to see the Roman Porta Negra or Black Gate also in Trier.
I climbed to the top of the tower of the thirteenth century Cologne Cathedral to see the views  and discovered the stone set at the top to mark its completion 632 years later!   And the locals in the very upmarket bars are very happy to disport amazing hair styles and colours.

Cologne cathedral and bridge

I have barely touched what there is to see and do in Germany.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer.

F is for France


France has long been a favourite destination for travellers from all over the world, and with good reason.

Whilst Paris is inundated with 3 million plus visitors a year, it still manages to keep a sense of itself.  Thoroughly sophisticated and surprisingly outdoorsy for a northern capital, Paris delights in its local markets – fabulous cheeses, fresh crusty baguettes that are simply never eaten the next day, and fabulous patisseries that are a feast for the eyes as much as the tastebuds.

The tourist and traveller alike will see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, go to see a show at the Moulin Rouge and  visit the Louvre.  But a traveller also will grab a local train or bus and find green spaces, explore the amazing cemeteries to see the resting places of famous French figures and lots of cats,  walk the streets of the local neighbourhoods and eat at the bistros that will serve local food.  Take a walk around the Left Bank, sip a coffee and people watch.


Beyond Paris explore the Loire Valley for chateaux like Chenenceau and Amboise;  drop in to see the gothic cathedral in Chartres or closer to Paris do the combined Versailles and Monet’s garden tour.  Yes this is touristy, but absolutely worth it for both places.

History lovers will check out the battlefields of World War I and the landing beaches of World War II in the north.


Those wanting more spiritual succour will visit the beautiful Mont St Michel, see where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake or visit Lisieux Basilica or the Bayeux tapestry which isn’t a tapestry at all.   Explore the Celtic connections with Wales, Ireland and Scotland in Brittany.

For remote, untouched villages and towns the Massif Central will give you a glimpse into life as it has been for centuries.  Just make sure your brakes are really good as it is a steep climb to most of the villages.  Bordeaux on the coast offers entrée to the wineries of the region;  and if wine is your thing, Beaune will do the same on the Swiss side.

In the south, the Roman influence is strong.  Visit Pont Du Gard, Nimes, Avignon for the fourteenth century papal place and bump into Roman arenas where the local kids play soccer.  Rub shoulders with film stars in Cannes if you are there at the festival time, explore the English Promenade in Nice and get lost in the wilderness of the Camargue and explore Carcassonne,  a fabulous walled city.  And lavender fields abound in the perfume making areas.


So much to do.  So much to see.  So much to taste.  Get amongst it.

E is for Ecuador

Named for the Equator this South American country is one of those somewhat overlooked places.

The capital Quito, built on the ruins of an Inca city,  is one of the highest capitals in the world, perched in foothills of the Andes Mountains at 2850 metres.   With its Spanish conquistador history and impressive colonial churches  and fascinating old town area, one of the delights of Quito is the colourful local markets with great fruit and brightly decorated ceramics.  Further out explore ruins of ancient civilisations.


Take a drive to the equator itself and you have an impressive monument of the actual line of the equator and several museums recounting the history of the exploration of the equator.  You can straddle both hemispheres here.


Ecuador is home to one of the most remarkable island systems on the planet – the Galapagos Islands.  A flight due west from Quito will bring you to the main island and from there the best way to see the islands is on a cruise.  Manned by expert guides who will explain this unique island chain and ecosystem, you will explore several islands and meet the local marine iguanas, bright red crabs, multitudes of seabirds, and possibly the amazing equatorial penguin.   Nowhere else can you get so close to wildlife.  Not hunted by men or feral animals, you can literally walk centimetres from birds on nests and past sealions basking on the steps on the back of your boat.  It is the place that crystallised Charles Darwin’s work Origin of the Species and revolutionised our understanding of how life evolved on earth.  Check out the blue footed boobies, again unique to these islands.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Let Ecuador delight you in so many ways.

D is for Denmark

Denmark is one of the Scandinavian countries  on the north coast of Europe.  Largely flat and with lots of waterways, its coastal position has meant trade over a long period of time.  Copenhagen the capital has been lauded in song, and is indeed quite lovely.  The old port area of Nyhavn is a colourful and interesting walking area for shops and ships.  Take the canal trip and see the city from the water that is its lifeblood.

Home to the royal family, the four matched Amalienborg Palaces forming a square are worth a look, and keep an eye out for Frederick and Mary and the kids!  Hans Christian Andersen made the Little Mermaid famous, and her statue is on the waterfront, but if you are expecting something huge it is not.  Look out for great Danish ceramic ware predominantly in blue and white.  Elsinore castle is the model for Hamlet’s castle.  And the Tivoli Gardens will entertain and feed you very happily.


A train ride away is Odense the birthplace of Denmark’s favourite son Hans Christian Andersen.  You can see his home as a museum now.  Denmark also gave us the lego block.  Legoland in Billund is an entire country made out of lego bricks.  See scale models of the Amalienburg Palaces, landmarks worldwide and star wars and marvel at how much work goes into this place.

If history is your thing, checkout the Grauballe Man in Aarhus in Jutland the north.  When he was first found in 1952, the police thought they had a murder on their hands.  It turns out however that the body is from somewhere about the third century BCE and was remarkably well preserved. The orange hair is coloured by the bog he was found in.

And of course no visit to Denmark can miss the Grauballe Man.  Enjoy!


Canada East

Whilst most people are very familiar with the West Coast of Canada, the eastern side offers a great deal as well.

Toronto is the main entry city for the eastern side of Canada and is well worth a look.  On the shores of the great lakes, renowned for being quite windy, and with the impressive Toronto Tower for spectacular views the city, like most eastern Canadian cities, boasts an entire underground city.  It is so cold during winter the underground malls with their shops and cafes become the streets the locals use to get between buildings and city blocks.

For many people Toronto is the jumping off point to visit Niagara Falls.  One of the three great waterfalls of the world, and like the other two straddling two countries, the falls have an impressive amount of water over them.  However the town itself is less than pleasant.

Much better is the little town of Niagara on the Lake about 25 -30 minutes’ drive from the falls themselves.  This little gem is very pretty with gorgeous trees and green areas.  It hosts a George Bernard Shaw festival in the summer and is a much nicer base to see the falls.


And by the way, Niagara is best seen from the Canadian side where the views are.  The Maid of the Mist will get you wet, so take a waterproof camera if you want to get photos and not destroy your camera.

The French first settled the eastern area of Canada and their influence is particularly strong in Quebec and Montreal.  Montreal is a university town and their park was designed by the same man as Central Park in New York.


Alive with students, music, festivals and energy this is a great city to get lost in.  The cathedral in downtown Montreal was where Celine Dion was married – it is her local church.

The capital of Ontario is Ottawa, and one of my favourite places.  The city boasts gorgeous architecture, the amazing Rideau Canal that the locals use as a skating rink to work in winter, and quite possibly the best museum I have ever experienced in the Museum of Civilisation.

Across the river in French speaking Ottawa ( but everyone speaks some English) the Museum has an impressive atrium with a range of totem poles from all over Canada, telling the history of the First Nations.  But the museum itself is one long pathway through the exhibits that you cannot get lost on, even if you take a detour to explore one of the offshoot exhibits.  It tells the story of Canada beginning with prehistoric Canada and ending in the departure lounge of Vancouver airport – just amazing.


Quebec City is the only walled city in North America.  You can walk almost the whole way round with the exception of one small area.  The wall was designed to protect the people from the English – which it did to a limited extant until the English prevailed.  You can see the fortifications and place where the battles took place.  Great views over the St Lawrence River, and views across the city to the fabulous Hotel Chateau de Frontenac, one of the most photographed landmarks in North America.

remparts-ville-de-quebecLe Petit Champlains district is the oldest and most French quarter in the city.  Cobbled streets and lovely old houses, as well as shops and restaurants.  And if you have a death wish, or your cholesterol levels are so low they need some boosting,  the local speciality is poutine –  fries cheese and gravy – nicknamed heart attack on a plate!


Quebec City is the beginning point for cruises along the St Lawrence River through the Canadian maritimes and places like Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables country.  They generally end in Boston.

The eastern provinces of Canada may not have the Rocky Mountains and the spectacular scenery but it makes up for it with history, charm, an elegance of style and gentle beauty.

Go in autumn and be wowed by the fall colours.  You will not regret your journey.