Day 9: 6/9/15 Innsbruck to Kitzbuhel

Enjoyed our final posh hotel breakfast of this trip before checking out and going to the station to catch the train to Kitzbuhel. We had an uneventful journey, changing trains ar Worgl with no problems. On arrival at Snowbunnys we were greeted by the newest residents ducks, who have their own paddling pool on the lawn, �� and rabbits ��.

After having got unpacked a bit and settled in, went for a walk round town. Unfortunatly the cafe for coffee and cake was shut, so imstead we went to Huberbrau for lunch. After lunch spent the afternoon relaxing and watching the grand prix. Afterwards we headed our in search  of liquid refreshment. Our first stop was the Irish bar owned by a yorkshire man and a lancastrian O'flannigans. For once they were being Irish and showing the hurling final. Now, thats a strange sport, I can't even understand the scoreboard!

Next we headed onto Sigi's, which was very quiet. We then headed on to the Glockenspiel, which had a few more people in. We had a couple of drinks there, but as their kitchen was closed,we headed next door to Huberbrau to eat. Had a very nice meal and got chatting to an Irish couple that joined us at our table. Over several drinks we discussed religion, the refugee crisis and politics. The evening's irish theme was rounded of when someone came in with an Irish wolfhound. The dog nearly came up to my hips, and was fluffy and very lovely, letting me give it lots of strokes.


Day 8: 5/9/15 We're Going On A Bear Hunt

Woke to an unusual sound after last weeks weather, water falling from the sky. Lingered over what was a very good breakfast in the hope the rain would clear.  Fish has been missing from t breakfast buffets so far this trip but this morning I had a choice of smoked salmon, smoked trout and herring, and a glass of bubbly to accompany it. My coffee came in what looked like an antique silver coffee pot, it could have come straight out kf Downton.

Top of my list to do in Innsbruck was a visit to the Alpenzoo, and it's bears. However given the weather decided to start by visiting the Hofkirch. The church houses a massive cenotaph to Emperor Maximillian. The cenotoph takes up most of the nave and is surrounded by giant bronze figures of past great leaders including a  Arthur,  King of Englamd. I didn't think Arthur ever ruled England and fought against the english.

Had a look around the round the museum next door which contained displays about tryolean life and handcrafts. It included a display of nativity scenes, some of which were I suspect not entirely reliable  whilst some must seemed slightly strange. There were also displays about life and death and the festivals that are celebrated in tyrol through the year.

When we came out it was stll raining, so we then went to the tram museum. We arrived just in time to go for a ride on one of the old trams they were running. Have to say the new ones feel a lot smother, but it was still a nice way to see some of Innsbruck. The museum itself was very small with photographs and documents about the development of Innsbruck tram network.

The rain had begun to show signs of begining to ease and Andrew's shoes showed signs of leaking. So we went back to the hotel for Andrew to change his shoes. Then we headed to the Alpenzoo, the zoo is part way up the mountain outside Innsbruck. To get there we caught the kettlebell mountain railway, which acts as a ski lift in winter. The zoo itself was bigger than I expected, we saw fish and toads and lizzards as well  as wolves and wild boar. There was a small collection of domesticated animals, cows, pigs,goats, chicken etc. There were also a few unexpected things, one being the tombstone of a man from Coleshill, the other a moose. However the zoo kept the best to last, walking down the path to the viewing point of an enclosure, I turned the corner and found myself face to face with a bear! The bear kept coming up to the window to say hello. Andrew eventually managed to drag me away from bear watching and we headed back to the hotel for a break before dinner.

We dined at the Theressien Brau. As they had pork knucle on the menu Andrew was very happy. The bar brews it's own beer which tastes very nice. The bar blends traditonal beer hall with a modern industrial feel from pipes running across the ceiling and making up the shelving around the bar. After dinner we just headed back to the hotel bar for a couple of beers beforw bed.


Day 7: Verona to Innsbruck

After breakfast checked out the  hotel and headed to the train station. Our train for Innsbruck  left on time.  We had some great mountain views as we headed through the alps. After my first visit to Italy here are some things I noticed about it:
1.) There are lots of mopeds
2.) You don't need any special clothing except a helmet to ride a moped, sundress and flip flops will do.
3.) It's more a cafe bar culture, than a bar culture.
4.) If you just order coffee, you will get expresso.
5.) Cars don't stop at pedestrian crossings unless you've actually started crossing the road.

As we got closer to the Italian/Ausrtrian border, there wasan obvious increased police presence at some srations. There were no problems until we got to Brenner. There was a group lf about 8-10 young african men on the platform, and police standing by the train. The men made no attempt to get on the train until anothe passager started telling them the train was going to Munich and encouraging them to get on. The police then got on the train and made them get of again saying they didn't have tickets or passports. This delayed us a little but we weren't too late arriving into Innsbruck.

The weather had turned cloudy. After checking into the hotel, the Grand Europa, which for Chalet School fans is where Madge and Joey stay when they first come to Austria, I set out to buy new shoes. My old ones had disintegrated in Rome, but up till now I had been living in sandals.

After having got new shoes we found a cafe next door to the shop and celebrated arriving in Austria with coffee and cake. We  then had a walk around the Old Town. Innsbruck is surounded by mountains, so you find yourself looking down a main shopping street and seeing a mountain at the end. Most of Old Town hada "hapsburg"  style to it, although some areas do have modern buildings mixed in as well. Eventually found a bar to have a drink, which had a large mental bird in it.

Decided it was time for something to eat, so found a nice beer hall type place for some good austrian food. After dinner we decided to see where else we could find. Walking away from the restraunt, we spotted a sign 20 craft beers, craft beer in Austria, what was this? We headed down the steps into the cellar, to be greeted by whitewashed walls with pictures painted on them. Passing through a door we entered the bar. At one end of the long narrow room comfy sofas and stools were placed around a table of packing cases. Beer taps gleamed in a row on the bar, whilst a screen listed the elixers available. Beers from Austria, Germamy, Denmark, Holland and others. Should I try the monks elixer, maybe not at 10%. Settled for an Austrian brewed summer ale. It gleamed golden in the glass, the taste dancing across my tongue.
Emerging later into the moonlight, we headed for the hotel and bed.


Day 6: 3/9/15 Verona

Had breakfast at the hotel then set out to explore the sights of Verona. We began by walking to Castel Veldicchio. The castle had been in militrary use until the 1920's when it was turned into a museum and nkw houses Verona's fine art collection. We didn't go into the museum but had a look around the courtyard which includes remains from an earlier building, possibily 4th, century. We then walked across the castle  bridge to the other side of the river. We walked along the river bank to the roman theatre. Parts of the site were closed for earthquake protection work. However we were still able to see the amphitheatre and climb through the ruins to see the views from the top.

After we came down, we climbed back up even further to Castel San Pietro. The castel is shut to the public, but the views from the top were well worth the climb. Stopped on the way down at a bar for some much neeeded refreshment with a drink of very delicious lemon soda.

Back down at the bottom we crossed over the old bridge and made our way to the cathedral. The current cathedral is built on the site of previous churches, with some parts still well preserved. In one of the older parts is a 12th century baptismal fonr of carved wood. It is a suitable size for full imersion baptisms and looks much  better than the paddling pools I've seen used.

Aftere the cathedral began a search for food. After much wandering of the streets we found a place called Cafe Monte Baldo. They offered two tasting menus, a valpolicella one and  a soave one, with each course matched with a different valpolicella or soave wine. Andrew had the valpolicella one, whilst I tried the soave one. My first course was spaghetti with clams,  whilst Andrew had papperdella with duck and both came with excellent wines. My second course was cuttle fish and prawns with polentra. It was the first time I had tried cuttle fish or polenta and I must admit I wasn't that keen on them. The prawns and the wine were very nice. Andrew had veal for his main course, along with another excellent wine. We then had an almond biscuity cake thing with delicious dessert wine and finished with coffee.

We began to amble back to the hotel and on the way came across Juliet's balcony. Quite how it can be hers when she didn't exist, except in Shakespere's imagination, I am not sure. However something in the story obbiously speaks to people given the crowd there and the amount of love graffiti on the surrounding walls.

Much later in the evening, when we finally began to feel hungary again we went for pizza and a bottle of wine in the warmth of a italian evening before we head north and over the alps to cooler weather tomorrow.


Day 5 2/9/2015 Rome to Verona

Had a last breakfast overlooking the hills of Rome before checking out. The local train came about on time for once, but was very full, I only just managed to squeeze on and my backpack straps got caught in the door. Arrived at Famencio station and of course the doors opened on the other side. After a lot of tugging managed to free my backpack. Got to the main train sation OK after that. Had a bit of a wait until our train to Verona arrived. It was a modern italian high speed train but surprisingly had very little luggage storage space. Our backpacks had to have seats to themselves which luckily they didn't get chargd for.

Arrived im Verona and found our hotel down a path through an archway.Reception area is very nice, marble and operatic themed decoration. Our room is smaller than in Rome  just a bedroom not a suite, but still seems very nice. Only problems being the wardrobe door sticking, but a man appeared to try and fix that and a lack of plug sockets.

Took a walk up into the old town of Verona. Verona has it's own version of the collesum, although slightly smaller. It is still used fgor staging operas and therefore has all sorts of bits of scenery lying around outside it. Had a walk around the old town and up to the oldest bridge im Verona. Decided I like Verona, it has a river, and for some reason I like being near water, it has lots of lovely old buildings and narrow twisting streets. There seems to be a good range of independent shops and the one not independent shop I love to see, the Disney store.

Had a rest at the hotel before setting out in search of food. After a walk through a park and round some side streets, found a Trattoria and had pizza's. I also had my first Italian wine imn Italy, a half bottle of Soave. Took a walk up the main street afterwards, dissapointed not to hear any opera. Failing to find a bar in town we had a drink at the hotel. I had a chardonay which was sweeter than the Soave, but still nice. Then we retired to bed.


Day 4: 01/09/15: In Search of St. Peter

After a lesiurely breakfas went to the station and had a lesiurely wait for the train. The time and freqency of trains seems to bear no resembnlamce to the  timetable! We headed to the Tivoli fountain, unfortunatly it is currently under attack from the tribe Scaffoldi.  Whillst the restoration work is being done, you can't see much or throw  coins in. Today is turning into another scorching day, hopefully it will get cooler as we head north tomorrom. We had a walk around and ended up at some more ancient ruins, the forum eof Augustus.

We got the bus from there to St. Maria Sopa Minevera. Outside the church is a statue of an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on its back. The statue is bt Berini. The obelisk on its back comes from the nearby site if an egyptian temple to the goddess Isis. I thought the elephant had a very happy smile.

The church itself contains the shrine of St. Catherine of Sienna, who worked to bring the papacy back to Rome from France and to establish peace among the Italian city states. She is one of six patron saints of Europe.

The Chuch is Rome's only gothic style church and is built on the site ofa previous temple to Minerva. We only had time for a quick look round before heading to the Vatican.

After a quick stop for an ice cream we approached the swiss guards and after security checks were allowed into the vatican. Here we reported to the archeological office with whom we had booked to go on a tour to see the tomb of St.Peter. The tour tool us deep into the Vatican. The first church here was built by Constantine, who built it on top of a necropolis. Parts of the necropolis have been excavated and are fantasticaly preserved. It really is a city of the dead with streets and mausolems the size of houses. You can see the sarcophagi and mausoleums where some of the wealthier citzens would bury their dead. The mausoleums silll have mosaic floors and frescos painted on the walls. Families would come and eat and drink on top of th graves, so the would be celebratring with the whole family, alive and dead. They brought fresh flowers to mask the smell, and we still put flowers on graves today.

The current altar is built on top of one by Gregory and the one by Constantine. However before there was even a church a simple structrure hads been put up to mark the grave. The archeologists dug under the altar and found a buriel space, surrounded by smallwr buriels, suggsting that this was somneone important that people wanted to be buried near. The main grave was basicallly a hole in the ground, nothing much to mark it. Archeologists are convinvced that this is the grave of St. peter. After alll Peter was killed at the height of Nero's  persecution, anyone trying to make the grave special would probably have been killed as well. However, the grave when discovered, was empty! So where was St. Peter? A wall had been excavated before the grave was found with some writting and a little niche on it with bones in. These had been put in a box and put to one side whilst the main excavation took place. It was only later that someone bothered to look at the inscription on the wall, although damaged, it could well read "here lies Peter". The bones were then annalysed and found to belong to a 70ish year old man, who died towards the 2nd half of the first century and would have been of a large build, suitable to be  a fisherman. Is this St. Peter? Whilst there is no conclusive proof the circumstantial evidence seems to fit and the bones are considered by the Vatican to be St. Peter's. A priest in our group led us in a prayer before we left the site where the bones are. After that we made our way out, past several lovely side chapels and the tomb of "the old pretender" son of James 7th of England and 2nd of Scotland. The final side chapel we stopped at contained the original altar built on the site by Constantine.

After all that excitment we headed back to the hotel for a rest and to get packed ready for our departure tomorrow. Decided to venture a bit further in search of food this evening and got the train to Flamenico. We found a nice looking tratorria. I had pasta and Andrew had pizza, and as he couldn't eat it all, I has some pizzza to. The food was very good and cheaper than other places we ha been to. So after dinner and a few beers headed back for an early night before our departure in the morning.


Day 3: 31/08/15 In the Footsteps of Saints and Popes

Had a slightly more lesiurely start this morning, lingering a bit more over breakfast. Had a slight detour to start with as we got on the wrong train, which then missed out the next stop. Eventually managed to get going in the right direction towards the basillica San Cle!emnte.Entrance to the 12th century basillica is free  despite the bloke standing by the door with a bowl asking for money. The basillica is quite impressive in it's own right, lovely decorated ceilling and altars, with a range of styles frlm 12th century to Baroqoue. This is complimented by a lovely peaceful cloister.

However for 10euro you can go on a journey through time. Underneath the present  church are the remains of a 4th century chuch. There are frescos on the walls and the remains of the mosaic tiled floor. One of the fresco's is  believed to mark the tomb of St. cyril , apostle to the slavs and founder of slavonic literature. You can see in the stonework where materials from an earlier building have been reused. There is a stone slab with a pagan inscription on one side and a later christian inscription on the other.

Our journey back in time does not end with trhe 4th century christians but continuing deeper there is the remains of 1st century buildings, possibily a house and also a larger building that it is thought may be  a mint. The larger building has it's own spring, still running. The house has it's own mithraic temple, complete with seats and an altar. A real glimpse into the past 2000 years ago. There has also been discovred a deeper layer containing burnt material and it is believed to date from the fire of Rome in 64 AD.

We emerged from St. clement's back into the 21st century and headed towards the next countr on our tour, the Vatican City State. We  had an arrangement to meet someone for quick access to the museums but had  a bit of time spare before, so went to look art St. Peter's Square. On the way we received countless offers of scarves, selfie sticks, guided tours etc.  St. Peter's square wasn't as crowded as I expected. The basilica is quite imposing at one end with the sides of the square framed by collonades topped by statues. An obelisk and 2 fountains are in the centre. This of course is where Calligua's circus was and many early christians and other enemies of the state met their fate. Little feeling of that remains, can ground once soaked in blood be hallowed by years of prayer?

We then headed to our meeting point ouside the vatican museums. The musems contain some stunning art works some history, amazing ceilings, artworks and ceilings - lots and lots of them. After a while it all becomes a blur. The things that stood out for me were probaly some of the religous art, the tryptichs and altar reredoses, the tapestries and the maps. I was also impressed with the ceilings and the fact that there was a Graham Sutherland piece that looked very like part of the Coventry Cathedral tapestry, you come alll to Rome and see something from home.

Of cvourse, what everyone really goes to the vatican museums to see is the Sistine chspel. Like most of the Vatican museums it has ornately painted ceillings amd walls, these just happen to be painted by some guy called Michealangelo. It has to be said they are very imlpressive. The only problem is that the chapel is absoloutly full ofpeople, all walking around looking up at the ceilling and therefore walking into each other.

After the Sistine chapel we dedcided to see what the queue was like next door for St. Peters. As there wasn't muc queue we went in. I must admit my first impressions after a two days in Rome were it's a big church with lots of good art, again, and lots of people. If we could get that many people into Coventry Cathedral I expect the canon treasurer would be a very happy man. Back to St. Peters, I must admit I found the tomb that looked like it had a dead pope in it on display a bit of putting. I also didn't feel any particularly strong holy atmosphere. Maybe that was just due to me feeling tired and churced / arted out.

Got the metro back to Flammenico and found a pizzeria bar fof a beer. The first beer came wirh bits of pizza, the second with a large plate of crisps.

After a rest at the hotel just went to the same place we went the first nigh for dinner, where I sampled a plate of italian cheese and cold meats, the salami was a lot tastier than the stuff I buy in the supermarket back home.


Day 2: 30/08/2015 In Search of Ancient Rome

Awoke to another day of blue sky and sunshine. Had a good breakfast at the hotel before heading out in seach of ancient Rome. This plan was held up slightly as we had a bit of a wait for modern piublic transport, but eventually we got to the colloseum. First impressions as we walked out  the train station and saw it was that it's big. It was also very busy, however our Roma cards allowed us to by pass some of the queues, once we had avoided all the people tryingto sell us tours, hats,water etc.  However I guess  the crowds, including the tat sellers make it seem more realistc., after all it would have been crowded when in use. Standing there in the bright light of a summers day, surrounded by tourists it seemed difficult to imagine this as the place where people fought to the death for entertainment. One change since ancient times is that a large cross now stands on one side of the arena and the pope prays here every Good Friday.

After leaving the collesium we crossed the road, through another ticket barrier and up the palatine hill in the steps of the important men of ancient Rome. Fantastic views from the top, looking towards St. Peter's, where Nero's circus would have been in ancient days. Going back even further we saw the ruins of the alleged house where Romulus lived. According to the legend Romulus and his twin brother Remus were raised by a wolf after being  abaonded as babies  and went on to be the founding fathers of Rome.

Heading back down the hill we walked through the streets of the forum, where decisions that shaped Europe's history were taken.

The only building still whole enough to go inside is the temple of Rommulus which has since also formed an enterance to a church. It now houses a small collection of statues excavated from the ruins, and also has some wall paintings. Andrew got a little bit excited when we found the temple of the Vestal Virgins until I pointed out that men were not allowed.

As the sun was past it's zenith and baking hot we headed in search of liquid and sustenance. Both of which we found in a little restraunt between the collesum and the main train station.

Fortified by plates of fresh pasta, expresso in my case and beer in Andrew's, we decided to move forward a few centuries from this morning and visit the archbasillica of St. John Lateran. This church is the official seat of the pope in Rome, built by Pope Melchiade (311-314). The church is Rome's cathedral and claims to be the most ancient church in the world. Admittedly it has had at least parts rebuilt aftef pillinging from Visigoths and Vikings (400's), earthquake (896), and two fires in the 1300's. The present structure was compleated in the 1700's.

The ceiling is brightly colouredd, glorioiusly painted and has the odd gold statue attatched to it. Large statues of the apostles line the main aisle. The walls are and side chapels are covered in baroque paintings, although there is space for a multi lingual notice on how to claim an indulgence by praying for the pope. There is also a door into the church which is only opened in Jubilee years and is kept bricked up the rest of the time.

As it was now getting very hot , headed back to the hotel for a rest before dinner. Decided not to bother going back into town but see what we could find in the local area. Ended up at a very nice restraunt, except that the menu was all in Italiam. Eventually ordered two different tortellini dishes, not sure what eitherbof them were, but they both tasted very nice. This was followed by bowls of ice cream as th weather was still very hot.

When we first came the evening had seemed quiet but was now busy, every table filled and despite the fact that it was past 10pm there were still a few children about.


Summer Holiday 2015- Day 1 29/08/2015 Coventry to Rome

Went to bed relatively early last night, knowing we had an early start this morning, so of course couldn't get to sleep and was rather bleary eyed and half asleep when the taxi arrived on time at 5am. Check in went smoothly.
Took a while to get through security. A kid in front of me was very worried about letting their bear go through the scanner. I then had to wait as my tablet was taken for extra testing but was returned safe and sound.
Once through security we went to hunt down breakfast and coffee. Wetherspoons was looking very busy, so we decided to try the new animal on the block - The Giraffe. The Giraffe provided Andrew with a cooked breakfast and me with pancakes with blueberries and bananna, and the all important coffee. Had time for a quick look round the airport shops, but I wasn't allowed to buy a rugby world cup sheep mascot, before boarding the flight.

The flight was uneventful and I ate my crossiant, read the free paper and caught up on my sleep. Arrived in Munich in plenty of time for our connecting flight so headed to the lounge for breakfast part 2 or lunch part 1 depending on how you look at it and a sip of something bubbly to celebrate the start of our holiday. Boarded the flightbto Rome on time and were treated to some stunning views as we flew over the alps.
Arrived im Rome and got our first taste of  Italian efficency, or the lack of it, it took 10mins from the plane parking to people being allowed to get of. This was followed by nearly on hours wait for baggage. However eventually we were reunited with our luggage. Headed outof customs to find our taxi driver waiting for us. Also found a cash machine, which would have been useful, if it had been working. Our driver assured us we could pay by credit card. So of we went. Given what I had previously heard about Italian roads and drivers, I was plesantly surprised  at how little horn honking and close calls there were.  Arrived at the hotel  in one piece, unfortunatly the taxi drivers credit card machine wasn't working. Andrew went with the traxi driver to the cash point, whilst I sorted out cecking us in. The foyer of the hotel is I have to say, very nice and grand with marble floors, wooden fittings, chandeliers and leather seats.

Our junior suite is very nice with a sofa as well as  a bed. The bathroom is large and includes a jacuzzi bath and 2 washbasins! As we are here for a few days, unpacked a few bits. The weather is very hot, so it was time to change into shorts and sandels.
Got the train into Rome to get our roma passes, a 3 day pass which covers public transport as well as free or discounted entry to various sites.

Had a quick walk around the center past Diocleation's bath house, but we were wilting in the heat so headed back for a rest.

Enquired at reception as to nearby eating places and followed directions to a pizzeria called La Poralina. Here we enjoyed some very nice Italian beer, pizza and delicious puddings. Eaten in a conservartory looking out on to the street watching the human race flow past.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and eventually found our way to the roof top bar where we sat drinking beer, eating snacks and looking out into the night over the local church and the hills of Rome.


Reflection on Feeding the Five Thousand (Mark 6.30-46)

We were exploring this passage during a recent quiet day and I just want to blog about some of the ideas and thoughts that came up.
We were asked to bring something that represents a part of the passage that spoke to us, I wasn't the only person to bring a cuddly sheep. Jesus has compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd. How many people in modern life are like sheep without a shepherd, searching for the right way, bombarded by messages on all sides claiming to have the right way to perfection and success if you only follow this diet, use this miracle product or follow these seven simple steps to perfect life, which you can only find out if you pay lots of money! There is a darker side to, young people being seduced by radicalists into thinking that only their way of death and destruction is the right way.
Jesus had compassion on the people because they were without a shepherd, as Christians we are called to be compassionate shepherds to the people we meet along the way, to try and show them that there is a different and better path to follow.
The disciples ask Jesus to send the people away, but Jesus tells the disciples to sort the problem out. The disciples response is that they can't, they don't have the material resources to buy food for all these people. The disciples are in a sense looking outward, they see the solution to their problem, money and food, being something they have to get from elsewhere. Jesus tells them to look at what they have, he then uses what they have to bring about the solution. How often do we look for solutions externally, if only I had this skill or those materials, then I could sort out this problem. If we dig deep into our selves we may find that we have strength and skills that we didn't realise.
These events in Mark's gospel take place shortly after Jesus and the disciples have learnt of the beheading of John the Baptist. They are grief stricken, exhausted, at the end of their tether and still more is being demanded of them. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the disciples were arguing and snapping at each other and then Jesus has put another seemingly impossible demand on them. How often in life do we feel as if we are reaching breaking point, more demands being put on us at work, coming home to the demands of family needs, wanting to spend time with friends but feeling like we don't have the energy, but then ending up in a catch 22 by feeling guilty when we say no to something. At the end of the reading Jesus finally succeeds in what he wanted to do at the start, getting away to a quiet place on his own. We all need to recognise that we are human, not superhuman, we can not always do everything, be the perfect person and solve everyone else's problems.
We put pressure on ourselves to be the perfect person portrayed by media that we think we should be. Sometimes, we need to stop, pause and realise that the only person we need to be is the one God wants us to be, the authentically real me, which may well be messy, not perfect and not able to solve all the worlds problems.