BEIJING, MAY 2, 2008
Their new airport has an amazing starry ceiling constructed of wooden or steel planks and lights. The airport itself is in the shape of a dragon with the solar panels forming the spikes on the dragon's back.

Red Wall Hotel, Beijing. Quite pleasant but the bed was hard and the breakfast poor. There were assorted Chinese dishes as you'd expect but little western food apart from fried eggs and bread. The food in the "warmers" was all cold despite numerous hovering staff and all the bread was sweet.

Hotel Gioberti, Rome, right next to the railway station. Snooty front desk staff and an ordinary, noisy room with bad plumbing right on the main street despite booking months in advance. The breakfast, on the other hand, was sensational-designed for German tourists, without doubt. There were lovely meats, cheeses, pastries presented beautifully.

A ceiling in the Vatican Museum

Albergo di Murlo, near Siena. Looked good, was expensive but basic and breakfast was ordinary.

Hotel Minerva in Pisa - basic but OK. Free internet access and one pleasant staff member at least on the front desk.

San Guisto Camping, near Florence with friendly hosts and Tuscan home cooking.

Residence Camping near Venice. Set up to attract German tourists. The room was excellent value and very clean.

Hotel Susa in Susa near the base of the Italian alps. Nice room, free internet access and pleasant breakfast. They want a lot of money in Susa for fasoletti (handkerchiefs) which I tried to buy because in Italy, ladies' hankies are the same size as men's!

Saint Pourcain, a beautiful little town where we stopped by chance and heard the organ playing behind medieval church doors. The hotel room was small and rather grubby. The Irish Pub next door, part of the hotel, had no Irish food, no Irish beer and the host spoke no Irish or English.

Les Saules camping, Loire valley, France. A very friendly host and free internet access. The disposable sheets were awful.

Sainte Claude Hotel, Peronne, France. In the centre of town but inconvenient in terms of access.

Bors Hoff, Stuckenborstel, Germany. We were the only guests. I don't think German hotels like or expect passing travellers.

Prins Carl Hotel, Ystad, Sweden. Ystad is the setting for the Kurt Wallender detective novels by Henning Mankell, and of the TV series. The room was tired, poorly ventilated and there was a step right inside the door that must have finished off a few tourists. Fortunately, the room was so small that when I fell, I landed on the bed. Breakfast was excellent.

Claridges, Delhi. A glamorous hotel with (too) many staff getting in each other's way and beautiful grounds. Outstanding food at the restaurants. Eating glorious Chicken Tikka Masala at 2 am after our arrival will be an enduring memory.

Marigold Residency Hotel, Mumbai. Close to the airport and quite pleasant but not overly friendly.

We also stayed at Lis's holiday home in Skagen, right next door to the house where one of the famous Skagen painters, Laurits Tuxen, lived. The glorious rhododendrons were in bloom and we purchased a card of the painting and have had it framed.

Tuxen painting of the rhododendrons next door

My photo of the rhododendrons next door

One building in the Skagen art gallery complex

The hotdog van in Skagen


Cheverny Castle

Chenonceau Castle

Floral decoration in the castle

Castle wear

Chambord Castle

Irish pub in Saint Pourcain

In Vejle mall

Just a few coffee accessories on sale in Vejle
Wordsworth in Goslar, Germany
Goslar, Germany, European Cup, 2008
Taj Mahal, Agra, India

A cow on the road, Agra
Beijing Airport
Watch out for the animals!
Don't slip!
A ceiling at the Temple of Heaven
On the way to the Ming tombs
Lupins in China-they grew wild in Denmark
A doorway in Albergo di Murlo
Siena, like something from Romeo and Juliet
Fountain in Siena-a drink from the wolf's mouth
A tempting fruit display in Siena

The tower is still leaning
The glorious cathedral in Florence
A canal in Venice
Masks for sale in Venice
War memorial at Villers Bretonneux, France
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Nyhavn, Copenhagen
At Rosenborg castle
Hotel in Skagen
Fire engine tour, Ystad
An adorable panda at the Beijing Zoo
At the Great Wall
The Colosseum in Rome
Goteborg Harbour, Sweden
Huts on the beach near Ystad, Sweden

Wallender fire-engine tour

A Danish cottage

Holms Inn, Middedlfart, Denmark

The tower

Just popping in to do some shopping

Sacre Coeur

Once again there were heatwaves in Europe. Do we bring them with us? We were hot for the whole 7 weeks and all the warmer clothes didn't get worn.
The Romans knew that eating pasta and sipping red wine at a footpath cafe to the strains of Volare played on an accordion was just what everybody expected. Though Italians ooze style, their tourist fare is a bit tired. We did enjoy it, however, especially the restauranteur who insisted he spoke English and sang Country Road every time he walked past our table, to prove it.
They ought to ban some of the vehicles from the city centre and crack down on the litterers who make a pigsty of such a beautiful and historic place.
The rest of Italy was equally beautiful. We drove through the countryside and carefully observed Tuscany to see if it deserves its fame. On the whole, we think it does. The landscape is not natural but wholly man made, but it is lovely, mainly because of the low hills which provide gorgeous views of thin, dark pine trees, old houses with patchy yellow paint and green wooden window shutters, olive trees, grape vines and fields of green dotted with animals.
The food is good but not as good as they think and the bread was a big disappointment, dry and rather tasteless, especially when spread with salt free burro or even olive oil. The almond biscotti were delicious.
We visited Pisa, Siena, Florence and Venice and stayed in Susa in the alps. All these cities have fantastic tourist sights but they are suffering from tourist overload and look pretty tired. The prices are outrageous, especially in Venice. We asked the price of a ride in a gondola and when we looked shocked the gondolier asked how much we expected to pay. We thought about the equivalent of $A20. He scoffed, For that you can sit in the gondola and take a picture. On the whole we encountered quite a bit of arrogance and rudeness in Italy. They want your dollars while despising you at the same time.

It was a relief to get out of Italy into France because of all the red tape involved in getting a hotel room or camping place and connecting to the internet. In France, we just had to sign the register and that was it. Breakfast isn't routinely supplied in France but we could always buy succulent baguettes.

The French countryside was not quite as pretty as Italy but more relaxed with much better roads. The crops grew right up to the edge of the road so that at times we were driving through cereal crops.

What flavour tea do I want? How about tea flavoured tea as an occasional option rather than blackcurrant, camomile, lemon, rosehip? Most of these are not teas but herbal infusions. The Europeans are so proud to have a full range of tea on display at all the cafes and restaurants-preferably in one of those expensive wooden boxes with a compartment for each flavour. But guess what, you are lucky if you can find any English breakfast or simple black tea. And don't get me started on Earl Grey. Why is that the tea that all English speaking people are automatically given? Are we supposed to be impressed by the title?
Admittedly the Bombay airport, like almost every other airport we visited, was under reconstruction, but when you have to wait 4 hours for international flights and the only food available is from a snack bar smaller than a school canteen, it would be nice to be able to get a cup of tea. I mean, it is India isn't it? They do grow tea there.

By being reasonably economical we have saved money for our overseas trip, paid for the fares, the booked hotels and a couple of tours in advance and know that when we get home we will still have lots more money to pay off. There seem to be many tourists like us. Why then do international airports cater exclusively for some kind of tourist who chooses to buy designer garments exclusively at airports together with ridiculously overpriced perfume and make up available at half the price at local chemists?

Any well organised traveller about to fly out of a country probably arrives at an airport without too much local currency in hand. Why then, is it almost impossible to buy anything cheap at airports? Why would I want to go around the world buying the same stupid designer labels from every airport anyway? Again at Bombay airport, I had 500 rupees left. That is about $A16. I was looking forward to buying a few more little souvenirs with that - I had already bought a few little things for 100 rupees knowing that price was highly inflated in tourist shops. Firstly, there were no little souvenirs. Secondly, the shops in the departure lounge would only accept US dollars or credit cards! If I'm travelling home to Australia, why would I want to convert my money to US dollars? So after being harassed to spend endlessly all week, I converted my money to a minimal amount of Australian dollars and took it home with me.

On a 2 hour stopover at Sydney domestic airport, it was a delight to see a variety of attractively presented shops selling confectionery, books and magazines, jewellery, sunglasses, cheap bags and a post office shop selling cute souvenirs all at reasonable and honest prices, and I happened to have $15 burning a hole in my purse.

Since arriving home I have heard that the rent at Adelaide airport shops is so exorbitant that the only way they can pay their way is to sell expensive gear. Perhaps the airport needs to re-think its policies, if this is true. If people have a few dollars left over, they would often like to spend it rather than change it. Have a few shops selling cheap and cheerful goods that people can buy at realistic prices - I couldn't bring myself to pay $25 for a key ring at Helsinki airport, however good the quality - a plastic one for $5 would still have come from Helsinki.

Hindu temple in Delhi

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