2011

During the installation of a new kitchen we thought it best to be out of the way, so good excuse for a trip! This a two night stay at a Travel Inn just outside Evesham. On our journey up we had a quick halt at Lower Slaughter, then onto Stow-on-the-Wold for coffee and walk round, another halt in Broadway before a final exploration in Evesham. Next day a visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, prior to a leisurely amble eastwards ending up at Napton, where we walked along the Oxford canal to its junction with the Grand Union. Very cold and dull weather, so warm car seemed the best option. Our return halts were Chipping Camden, Blockley and Moreton in Marsh. Worth mentioning that during this trip we explored as much as we could the two strange rail yards and tracks that are marked on OS 1:50,000 map 151, specifically at Long Marston, and the other really large one north of Banbury, and just west of the M40. Something I'd like to find more about, as both are still active.

Our appetites having been whetted by a television programme, early February we travelled by train over to East Anglia, first two nights in Norwich, followed by another two at Kings Lynn. Apart from the exploration of the towns, the main purpose being to travel the rail network, lovely way we find of viewing the countryside. Sunday, we spent exploring Kings Lynn, then Monday returning to Norwich, from whence we took the train up to Sheringham, then back to Cromer. Tuesday to Great Yarmouth, then via a halt in Brundell to Lowestoft. Wednesday a longer journey; to Thetford first, a quick look  round then back to the station, and a train to Cambridge, the walk from the station to any interesting areas not being worth the time, so next a train to Ipswich. While here, we took the branch line train to Felixstow. This was supposed to be an hourly service, but the train we'd intended to return on failed to run, so another hour. Thus we missed out on our intended route back - via Lowestoff, the alternative return via Ely being already known to us, whereas the preferred journey would have crossed a quite different route. We were timed with one more day at Norwich, so for this we journeyed to Wroxham, famous to me, because it has a unique family owned department store. Well worth the visit. We then hired a self drive boat for three hours, long enough to reach Horning and return. To finish the day, we visited Sheringham, which turned out to be lovely little town, with many 'local' shops, as towns used to be prior to supermarkets.
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17th February, and we've arrived into Santander. This following what can best be described as a "difficult" crossing of the Bay of Biscay. We were on the "Pont Aven", and I was pretty surprised at how poorly this supposedly modern ship, dealt with rough seas. In the night, our cabin creaked and shook, as the ship tried to plough through the waves. At one point the next morning, the lights went out, and we noticed we were no longer underway. Then the bridge came on the PA, and informed us in English, that they were have a little 'technical problem'! We had already been informed that our arrival in Santander was delayed by an hour and a half from the published arrival time. Our plan had been to catch a train south to Valladolid, and had pre-booked rooms there. So, this has had to be re-arranged. We have managed to obtain a good room here, thankfully.

Train from Santander has brought us to Valladolid - an attractive city close to the River Douro. Unusual welcome from hotel manager, perhaps a bit 'over the top', he even showed us to our room! On Sunday afternoon, we took a rail trip to Salamanaca, just long enough to give us time to walk to the main square, and back in time to catch a train back to our 'base'. Next morning, it was a very early start, this in time for the 7.30 AM train to Leon. Here we had a wait of at least four hours for an onward journey to A Coruna. This a very large town on the extreme North West "corner" of Spain. This being reached at around half eight in the evening. Taxi to hotel, which was quite some way from station, though almost on seafront, so handy for exploring that area of the city.

Following a day exploring, left the next morning, by train to Ferrol, here we quickly found a good hotel close by station. This was useful to us, because we considered taking a trip to Vigo, and we could still do it from Ferrol, though further away. Vigo was not very interesting, and made worse by being built on a slope, so very tiring to walk around. Still, we did get an idea of what that area of the country looked like.

Ferrol is at the western end of the well known "FEVE"narrow gauge railway,  this must surely be the largest narrow gauge network in Europe? Obvious we should use it! Amazing the distances. I remember the last time I was in this area of Spain, that it took us two days to motor from Santiago de Compostelato to Santander, this rail journey would also take it's time. Our first train was timed to leave Ferrol at ten past eight in the morning, and to reach Oviedo at around 2.30 in the afternoon. No point in going further that day even if the train did - it did not. So we found a hotel here, then looked round the town, which actually turned out to be interesting, with attractive buildings. Next days journey commenced at 9.05, and reached Santander in the mid afernoon, so again, plenty of rail travel. Amazing how little cost these two rail trips were. The first days ticket cost eleven Euro each, and the second day cost us around seven Euro each. Around 15 per person for almost twelve hours of travel - amazing!

Our boat not being due to leave Santander until Monday afternoon, we used our last full day for yet another narrow rail trip, this to Bilbao. This turned out to be the most enjoyable of the three days we had spent on this network. And Bilbao itself actually turned out to be a better town than we had anticipated. This little journey again excellent value, costing just four Euro for each single ticket. Obvious however these trains cannot make a profit, for an hour or so on two of the days, there were no more than two other passengers, apart from ourselves on the train. Yet these were each of two coaches, not only powered, but also heated by diesel fuel. Not only that, some stations were staffed with station masters, and smart these looked wearing their uniformed red hats.

Display on RENFE 'Media Distance' coach - very informative!

FEVE coaches also usually display outside temperature.

FEVE Stationmasters like their smart hats!



Few Spanish towns are without fountains. Top, Valladolid, below Leon
Small dogs are warmly wrapped, and this has a nice pair of trousers!      

An example of Spanish civil engineering.

This Stork has become a bit bored with incubating its egg!

Still; it does have a good view.

Very interesting the Spanish rail system is: Unlike most other countries, who have cut networks in recent times, Spain is undertaking massif investment in its rail system, this being so very obvious to ourselves. Some passenger links are lightly used though, very few persons on the trains we used between Coruna and Ferrol for example. The line out of the former south to Vigo is heavily loaded, specially so as far as Santiago de Compostela. Distances are great, and in some areas terrain difficuly, so often connections can be few and difficult, unlike say Switzerland or Britain. Goods traffic does however play a much more important role on the Spanish rail network, than is the case in Britain.

Just as a postscript to this trip: I confess I was relieved when we returned to Santander. This mainly due to the poor start. I'd had a very bad cold, such that my appetite, was virtually zero, might have canceled had it not have involved disappointment to Muriel, but my thinking was there would be 24 hours of rest on the boat to Spain, and that the trip should not take too much out of me, being I would be doing little more than sitting. Other omens though; foot passengers boarding had to reach deck six, and an escalator was being used to help get us up. I followed one person with a very large case, this fell off the stair, the elderly gentleman fell with it into me, and we all rolled over and over like a snowball. I recall thinking this will go on while the escalator keeps moving. Thankfully it soon did stop, and without us being injured - as we could so easily have been . The fact that "Pont Aven" had mechanical problems in the Bay of Biscay was rather an entertainment than a worry, but it did result in major alteration to our plans. This fault caused discussion on the Internet. As one commentate remarked  "supposing the loss or power occurred in a confined area such as the Solent!" The "Narrow Guage Railway" is actually metre guage, as compared to the four foot, eight and a half inches, used in Britain as well as most of the rest of Europe, though not Spain, some lines being broader, though newer lines are adopting European guages.
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14th March and we took a trip down to our cottage in the South of Brittany. Left Poole Sunday morning, stayed overnight at Avranches,  then a very leisurely run the next day. Our longest stop was at a village called Tinteniac, this is on the route of the canal that runs through Brittany, and along which several people we know have taken their boats. Very definitely not something we'd consider doing, much preferring the open sea. However for them it would be a good stop, as among other attributes are points for electrical hook ups. While there, we were interested in a plaque which gave information about a tram network that used to run in the area. Very large it would seem, powered by steam, the number of passengers carried in 1943 was said to be two million, and a 150,000 tonnes of goods being transported. So it must  have been a massive network. Such a pity it has now gone. Virtually all the herds of cows out on fresh grass,  so they are much earlier  than we used to be in England, usually being third week in April before our own herd was 'turned out'.

Apart from tidying up the house, we did do one trip away, this was to Pont Aven a place which originally came to fame due to the French painter Paul Gauguin taking an interest in it. Thus it is now considered a 'tourist attraction'. Our trip lasted less than a week, returning back to Poole on Friday.
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Thoroughly enjoyable 'awayday' in mid April. This as far as Brecon, but we took a leisurely drive both there and back. Going we turned off to explore a small group of habitations called Kingcoed,  this just prior to reaching Raglan were we again halted for coffee. We both find this an utterly outstanding area for scenery, quiet and isolated. Returning we took the "B" road from Abergavenny to Monmouth, then down the Wye Valley. A memorable trip.
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As was mentioned last summer, it had been our intention to take our boat down to the West Country, but had altered plan, and took a rail trip instead. Events - such as having to find and replace a 'fridge which by mistake we'd left on, and thus went kaput in the heat. This took time, with result being we failed intentions. So, as fast as possible to make amends, we succeeded to reach Brixham on the third Sunday in April. Really lovely little town this, and an excellent marina just a short walk away. Our voyage took place in a really benign period of settled weather, Seas glassy flat calm, about the best we have ever been on, an exception being passing the "bill", were the water was quite turbulent even though we had used our usual route of some distance off - as the following track illustrates:


Weather being so divine, we left after just one day, and proceeded on down to Plymouth. This a specially favoured place to us, completely lost count of the number of times stayed here, rarely with the boat - though this about the third  time with that I think. We've usually stayed at a hotel some distance from the town centre, but there are very good value places handy for the most interesting parts, e.g. Barbican has a 'Premier' close by, and there is much excellent value accommodation just west of the 'Hoe'. Spend a week here, and you'll very soon realise you'd have to come back again for another week, one week would never give enough time to see all.

Interesting this! Here I rave about Plymouth, but moving on down to Falmouth, we find ourselves enraptured by that. Smaller town, but just as interesting. Crawling with tourists too, yet we are still in April. Unlike Plymouth however, not a lot of accommodation visible, though very certainly no shortage of restaurants. This makes the resort especially attractive to boat visitors. Our berth is at town quay, right next to town centre. So, it can be readily realized why we so enjoy using our boat!






Top left: Sylvania moored at Queen Annes Battery, Plymouth. Right:  view from cabin, Barbican in background. Below: berthed at Falmouth.

Below: We've moved up to a berth at Penryn, on the right hand side of the 'photo. The view looks down one of the many creeks that issue into the estuary off Falmouth, known as "Carrick Roads".The main and longest of these enclosures of water, reaches up to the city of Truro,  One day, we motored up this reach as far as Malpas, the 'photo below right: shows "Sylvania" berthed up here, in our innocence we had presumed that this place would be sheltered, and a pleasent spot for an hour or so. As it turned out, this was far from the case, it was so windy we had to stay over night. Anyway, we had a very good nights sleep, so deep in the country, we could hear the Cocks "crowing".  Left below, is a view up the Truro River from the same spot. The water looks placid, but it really was pretty windy.

While in Penryn, the rather famous "Floral Dance" was scheduled to take place at near by Helston, so silly not to go. Must say that I had absolutely no idea as to what the days events involved, I'd heard of it, but that's about all. Seems the old custom was started to celebrate the arrival of Spring. The day really consisted as a series of dances through the streets of what is really an interesting little town. The first dance was timed for around breakfast time. We turned up in time to view the young peoples dance. This in the main comprises pupils of the local schools, girls from each sporting headbands made of flowers, the variety and type unique to the school attended. Mention flowers; the whole town being decorated with vegetation and flowers that must have been locally gathered.  these being draped round shops and door fronts. Excellent
and unique display.

Each dance was supported by the music of the towns band repeating the 'floral dance' tune. Due to the number of dancers participating, the band was split in two sections, though to be honest, this did not spread the sound out to the best effect. The dress and hats of the ladies in the other main dance we saw, contributed yet more colour and
spectical to the days proceedings.





Above is looking down stream from Penryn. "Sylvania" is berthed just on the right. Also above, is another view, and our boat is sitting on the mud. Twice a day the tide retreats to leave just a trickle of water in mid-stream. Thus we are only able to move while the tide is in.

We returned to Brixham after 'voyaging' via Fowey - we berthed there, and enjoyed an excellent lunch in The "Galleon". Needed this, because it was a long hop from here up to Brixham. Couple of 'photo's below: the first showing a view we got of St Austel while passing. Actually, and to be truthful, we were  pleased when we'd got back to Brixham. Apart from the pleasent town, in 
some ways it can be just a little daunting to consider the journey we have to make before the return to our 'home port'. Weather and sea state have to be taken into account, and the time actualy spent on the open sea usually lasts for quite some hours. We now have returned to our 'own' berth, and the crossing back from Brixham was yet another long one, eight hours. Thank goodness for our Autopilot, as once the course has been set, the steering can be left to look after itself, though obviously we need to keep a lookout at all times.
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Heck of a lot of wind during May - really glad I'm now "leisured", as had I been working, it would have been the time I should be making silage, but I reckon the wind would have caused me difficulty in getting the grass to blow itself into the trailer. Not easy for boat handling either. However, we did find a bit of calm enough to move over to Yarmouth, this so we could attend the annual rally of Nimbus Owners. Once there, it again became rough, and few boats moved out of their berths. When the time came that we felt we'd have to move over to Lymington, we did manage it, but not without some nervous consideration. Then of course we had to get back to Poole. Again not at all easy. Quite rough in the Solent, but worse of course when we reached the un-sheltered open sea. Screen wipers working most of the voyage, and lumpy seas. Not conditions we'd normally use our boat in, but then it is nowadays not often we feel the requirement to do so.
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The initial stages of this year's the Tour-de-France are to move through Brittany, so  good time to come over. While the race itself is far better viewed by television, it is a spectacle worth seeing for all the activity, though the riders do pass by in a flash.

"Barfleur" departed its berth in Poole at 12.20, reaching Cherbourg almost 1700 British time. We were among the first off - good, as we had to drive down to Villedieu-les-Poeles where we'd booked a bed for the night. Pleased at the speed we reached this - an hour and forty minutes, and we'd travelled 70 miles. Turned out the room was one of the smallest and basic we've used for quite a period. However it contained a bed, and we did get a good breakfast. No hurry required to reach our cottage, so we dawdled. Nowadays we usually halt when we cross the canal that runs south from Dinan, this time a fresh place, taking a good look at the three 'ecluses' close to Montreul-s-Lile, while perusing one of the gates, Muriel spotted what looked like an extremely large rat, the lock keeper told us it was a beaver, it looked very sleepy, possibly it had had a good feed.

While here, we often keep an eye on the Josselin boat berthing area. Doing so on this visit we spotted a Nimbus - moreover it was flying the burgee of the Nimbus Owners Club! No one on board when we called, so when we got back to 'base' we looked the boat up on the web-site, found the mobile number, and gave it a call, we then met and enjoyed lunch with Paul and Angela Vince who'd been cruising canals on their 320 "Contesa". I was really intrigued to learn that they had taken this boat up the "Oest" as far as Rohan. It had been in their mind to go on to Pontivy, then down the Blavet to Lorient, but they had been put off by the number of locks they would have had to pass through. So they turned back. Even so, in my experience what they did do was amazing. Rare indeed for any boat to pass above Josselin, I gather they did come across two others, but I very much doubt if more than one a day cruise this section of the Nante/Brest canal, and this in spite of the fact that at this time of year every ecluse employs a person to operate it.

Paul was puzzled by the fact that he had not been asked to pay for his passage. I agree. Even electricity (if it can be found, and it is at Josselin) is free. Just why the French are so generous to canal users - such as providing manning for locks etc, has long been a mystery to me.

We've viewed quite a number of stages of the Tour-de-France in France to date  - so we know the form. We decided this time we would watch near the end of the days stage. So at Redon we viewed at around ten miles from the finish. The following day we found a spot around twenty miles prior to the end. We were both impressed by the amount of interest shown by spectators. First day we arrived at the roadside before the road was closed to through traffic, yet it was already filling with enthusiasts. We all had to wait a good four hours before the riders were due to pass, and when they do, the speed is such that it is difficult to pick out individual riders. Still the whole event is a great spectacle.

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Wednesday 3rd August, and our friends at Cobbs Quay came along and inquired if we were ready for our "103rd trip"! They were joking of course, indeed in reality  we may have done quite a number more than this - that is from the time we became 'leisured'. They were kind enough to give us a lift down to the ferry port. From where we again caught the "Barfleur" to take us over to Cherbourg. We'd already booked a hotel room, and the following morning a 6.30AM train down to Lison, short wait here, and another train came along to take us down to Rennes. From here a three hour wait, before we could take a train onto Nantes. Quick change, then a very crowded 'intercity' to take us all the way to Bourdeaux, which was reached at 18.15, so, a long day, good that we'd already booked a room in a hotel easily located close to the station. Here we spent the next three days.



All the first day was occupied by 'booting' round the city. Best way to view, though of course very tiring. We thought it a lovely city, with attractive buildings and public parks. We were aspecially impressed with the monument above. Next day more rest by sitting on a train. This was out to the mouth of the Garonne, the river on which Bourdeaux is based. The Pointe de Grade is around a sixty mile rail ride, and not wholly enjoyable. We'd purchased return tickets, but did not fancy returning the same route. We realized that on the opposite side of the river was quite a large town Royan, here was another station, which would allow an alternative return. Could we exchange our return tickets for the other route? We decided to risk taking the ferry across to the other side, walked to the station, and got the tickets refunded, good job, because that rail journey was enjoyable. Our last full day in this city was a Sunday, we thought the best use of this was to use the tram system to ride around the town, sitting down, but also getting to know the place. One really interesting feature relating to trams in this city, is that in the centre, power is drawn in undeneath between the tracks, not via overhead power lines (above left) as the majority of tram systems do. Trams revert to overhead power intake outside the centre.  Consult Wickepedia - Bordeaux trams, for more details.

We'd got our hotel to book a room for us in the next town, Beziers. This was right next to the station, but we were not impressed by its quality. Never mind, we did not spend much time in it. Next morning, really early, we caught a train to Perpignan. We'd spotted what looked to be an interesting rail route through through the Pyrenees. This was a metre gauge line, and run as a tourist attraction.  A  journey we should not to have missed. An interesting aspect of the Pyrenees was that was absolutely no snow to be seen, suppose due to the time of year.




A few trains included in the 'rake' some open carriages, though the one we were on did not have any. No matter, the scenery really was spectacular, however viewed, as 'photo's above indicate. We were ready to turn northwards and home by now, and by good fortune the leg out of Beziers was also exceptionally enjoyable, a 'rural' route passing through lovely countryside. We decided it best policy to halt at St Flour, as it looked an interesting place to stay - indeed it was. In this case, we had not pre-booked a hotel, so had to look round to find one. Turned out that the one that we fell upon proved by far the best of our whole trip. Town was lovely too as these two 'photo's indicate. It was a bit of effort to walk up that hill though!.



We left St Flour the next morning by bus, for some reason trains not being run on a section of line up to Clermont Ferrand. Once we got to that town we then had to visit the booking office to arrange and pay for our onward route. We knew which way we wished to take, but as in Britain, the train company's computer often does not like our preferred route. In this case we were lucky, we could persuade the young lady clerk the trains we wished to take would be better. A lovely rural route, meaning comfortable carriages, not crowded, and at a enjoyable speed. Our one change was at Montlucan, a lovely little town, where we sat drinking tea, and watching the ever changing display of the fountains jets, and the local children playing in them.

We halted that day at Tours. Here we managed to spot an Ibis Hotel that could provide a room. We where by now far enough north, that we only needed just a couple more trains to get us back to Cherbourg. First leg being to Caen, then change to another local train. Thus ended a memorable trip, in which we really were lucky that on most days there was hardly a cloud in the sky.
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Nimbus Owners Club hold a rally in East Cowes marina each year in early September. This turned out to be the largest collection of this marque of boat I'd seen gathered in close proximity. These dissipated far faster than  I'd anticipated however, having been frightened  off by a forecast of high winds.  Cannot say I blame them, though in my own case, experience led me not to place great reliance on weather forecasts, perhaps due to considerations of rain rather than wind. Since much time is now spent on the water, henceforth more attention should be paid to Atlantic Pressure Charts, rather than if or not we should expect rain.

In our case, we'd purchased berthing, so stayed. Forecast really turned out right - the winds were indeed strong, lasting many days too. For ourselves, it would have turned out preferable, had we done as we should, and crossed over to the Hamble, this because we were paying for berthing which would be free just across the Solent. However, after three days the wind died just enough we felt we could attempt the crossing.  Very short slack though, wind again increasing to hold us 'in port' for over a week. Still we did have a different places to explore. Visiting Ryde and Shankling using the quaint rail line between. Osborne House also. Then, on the 'mainland', Port Hamble had a very handy bus link to Southampton. We took the ferry across to Hythe. Really interesting visit to an old military hospital at Netley. Neither of these would we have likely visited other- wise, both being well off the tourist routes.We also took our boat up as far as the container terminal. Only one "box carrier" tied up, neither were any cruise ships in port, still we did view five or six some days later.
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Shame the Barfleur is being discontinued for this year - next year also? Do hope not. Understandable, considering Poole's poor transport links. Thought we'd take one of the last sailings to cross to Cherbourg. This time we did not pre-book, but found our own hotel, the Ambassadeur, pleased with it, good standard at a very fair price. Have used around five others in this town, this one we'll stick too! Drove to Josselin the following day,  stopping for lunch at Combourg, this on a Sunday, so good day to motor. Spent mornings reading new book about Rupert Murdoch I'd just purchased, and out in afternoons. A trip we did take was to visit the "Abby de Timadeuc" just south of Rohan, also took a look at the highest point of the canal prior to its dropping down into Pontivy, then down the River Blavet, and on 'our' side down the River Ouest. Still have yet to find out how this waterway is kept "topped up". Seems no obvious method by which this is done, though each "ecluse" (loch) at the highest reaches, has a associated 'pond' to help them topped up, when boats are transiting.

Just three days were spent at Bleno, then we 'took off' again, west to Finisterre. Two night halt at Audierne, this to cross over to the Ile de Sein, a very small but to me, famous Island, partly because of the actions of the male population during the war, also because of its particular situation, low and very small. In fact it is just a very tight collection of housing on a really small island. The following 'photo's illustrate:





There is enough land for a football pitch,  apart from that it is just housing and  a few 'pocket handkerchief' gardens, plus a little waste ground. We did see a van on the island, but the common method of shifting goods is via handcarts.

After this we drove a little north, to Camaret-sur-mer.This has a very sheltered harbour not far off Brest. Apart from that, not an over attractive town I'd say.  Our last 'port of call' was Roscoff, from where we caught our ferry to return home. On our way we passed through what we both considered a very pretty village called "Le Faou", we should have halted to look round, but had not been certain of our route - it was through the main street, but as usual the 'authorities' where not keen this should be used, so it had not been signed. We just had to assume it was the way to go - as it was!
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We've  had our boat at Cobbs Quay for a little over five years, so have got to know the area pretty well. Being that we make use of her as a 'weekend cottage', we considered a change of scene would be an idea. Brixham is a really lovely little town, and we've taken our boat there several times. On our way back from Plymouth, we called in at the marina, and asked if there where any berths available. We where offered a selection, and invited to have a look,  and very quickly we chose one. Our next step would be to take it down there - if we where lucky enough to find a calm weather slot. By luck this came on 16th October, when we considered it calm enough to take the long voyage. It was a long one too, being that the tide was against us more than I should have allowed. Still we did it. On tying up at our alloted berth, we were very pleasently surprised to find our boats name already in place. Lovely welcome, assume Viv at Cobbs must have informed them we were coming. Our only problem now is that "Sylvania" is now around double the distance from home, than she was when she was berthed at Poole. Perhaps visit less often, but stay longer?
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Last Friday in October, lovely sunshine, and we took a trip down to Stourhead, majority of previous visits have been in the early part of the year, so nice to view autumn colours. Parked the car at Alfred's Tower, while this did mean we had a long walk down to the lakes, the route was through the actual "head" valley of the River Stour. Being it was half term, the place was swarming with visitors, but we had chosen a quiet route.

Rest of this year here: Czech Republic 2011