Category Archives: Other

Australia’s inland ‘sea’ – one more off the bucket list

Lake EyreI’ve always wanted to see Lake Eyre in flood. I’ve just returned from a one-week group trip to visit the lake, and it was truly awesome. Australian readers will know Lake Eyre (these days known as Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre) is in central Australia, in the northern parts of South Australia. It’s the lowest part of the continent, with the deepest point −15 m (−49 ft). The larger, northern lake is 144 kilometres (89 mi) in length and 65 kilometres (40 mi) wide, and Lake Eyre South measures 65 by 24 kilometres (40 by 15 mi). You’ll find all the details here.

We flew into Adelaide on a Tuesday and hit the road on Wednesday, heading for Port Augusta at the top of Spencer Gulf. Like the rest of Australia, the population of South Australia huddles around the coast. Of South Australia’s 1.7 million inhabitants, 1.3 million live in Adelaide, and most of the rest are in the small towns in the southern part of the state. We were going into the outback, where people are few and far between, and camels are common.

Port Augusta was set up as a (wait for it) PORT to service the farmers of the region. But it soon became an important hub, connecting the west of Australia to the East coast, and the south to the north via the telegraph line. Railways followed. The Ghan used to start in Port Augusta, and the Indian Pacific arrives there from Perth. We would be following the railway line laid for the Ghan – the train is named after the Afghan cameleers who came here from northern India with their camels to help explore Australia’s vast arid heart.

From Port Augusta. That's Spencer Gulf with the Flinders Ranges behind

From Port Augusta. That’s Spencer Gulf with the Flinders Ranges behind

The old jetty at Port Augusta

The old jetty at Port Augusta

From Port Augusta we’re heading north, up through the Flinders Ranges and into the desert. It’s harsh country out there. Although there are plenty of river red gums, the old settlers didn’t try to use them to build houses. Instead, they used local stone. You’ll see beautiful stone buildings everywhere in South Australia. Those in the photo below were part of a township called Kanyaka. Here’s the story.

Kanyaka ruins

Kanyaka ruins

And here’s the creek bed and some of the marvellous river red gums (Eucalyptus Camaldulensis) common in the area. Hard to believe that one of the station owners was drowned in the creek.

5V3A4447

The creek behind Kanyaka

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, where I’ll share a little more of our journey north.

New Release Trapped: A SciFi Convict Romance

Today Alison Aimes is my guest, introducing her new release Trapped: A SciFi Convict Romance (Book One in the Condemned Series). I asked her why she chose to write about a prison plant.

Honestly, I know it sounds suspect, but the idea for this story came to me in a dream. I woke up with a hazy sense of a prison planet and a woman trapped there without a way out From there my imagination just took off. I had so much fun wondering ‘what if?’ with this particular scenario…. What if a woman crashed on a hostile planet? What if that planet was filled with ruthless criminals? What if her only hope for survival was one of the convicts, a hardened man with a questionable past? What would she be willing to do to save herself? What would he be prepared to take? The answers ended up being action-packed and scorching hot. Especially as all those ‘what ifs’ led to a story that begins with a transactional deal for sex in return for protection and a scenario where the hero holds more of the power and control. But exploring how that changed—how a prisoner who’s become more animalistic than man rediscovers his humanity and a woman finds her soul mate on the unlikeliest of places—was pure joy to write.

Cover Trapped

TRAPPED

Recently Awarded Top Reader Pick by Night Owl Review….

A tale of unbridled desire, stunning sacrifice, and unwavering love, Trapped is an action-packed, sexy sci-fi romance that takes you to the brink of oblivion on a prison planet where only the strong survive….

Cadet Bella West has one simple objective when she joins the scientific mission to Dragath25, the notorious penal planet housing Earth’s condemned. Earn the credits necessary to save her family from starvation. But when her shuttle crashes and the majority of her crew perish, her simple mission becomes complicated fast. Now, to stay alive she’ll have to depend on one of Dragath’s own. But such protection doesn’t come free.

Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, 673 has become more beast than man after eight grueling years on an unforgiving, hazardous planet of dirt and rock—and even more treacherous inhabitants. He doesn’t look out for anyone but himself and he certainly never grows attached. So when the bold female offers him pleasure in return for protection, he takes the deal without hesitation. He never expects how her touch will alter him. Or the growing realization that saving her may be the key to his own salvation.

But as dangers mount and their ‘simple’ deal unravels will he prove to be her surprise savior or her ultimate downfall? Because caring for someone on Dragath25 may prove the greatest hazard of all.

The first book in the Condemned Series, Trapped has a HEA and can be read as a stand-alone.

© 2015 | Kristina Sherk Photography | www.Kristinasherk.com

© 2015 | Kristina Sherk Photography | www.Kristinasherk.com

About the Author

Alison Aimes is the award-winning author of the sexy sci fi romance series the Condemned as well as the sizzling contemporary romance Billionaires’ Revenge series. A sci fi fanatic with a PhD in Modern History, she’s an all over the map kind of woman whose always had a love for dramatic stories and great books, no matter the era. Now, she’s creating her own stories full of intrigue and passion, but always with a happy-ever-after ending. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two kids, and her dog. When not in front of the computer, she can be found hanging with family and friends, hiking, trying to turn herself into a pretzel through yoga, listening to a fabulous TED talk, or, last but not least, sitting on the couch imagining her characters’ next great adventures.

Alison can be found on line at www.alisonaimes.com

 

Connect with Alison Aimes:

Website: http://www.alisonaimes.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook/alisonaimes

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alisonaimes

 

Bathing in danger

I rescued a miner bird from the swimming pool the other day. I heard it splashing in the water, trying to hang on to the lip just below the overhanging edge. If I’m not around, and the hoses for the pool cleaner are not in the water (they weren’t) that’s a death sentence. But I did hear, and I went and scooped the little creature out with my hand. It’s warm this time of year. The bird just needed some time to dry off then it could rejoin its extended family. A few of them flew over to see what the rescuee was squawking about. I like to think they knew it was me and told it off for getting wet.

Ah yes, getting wet. Although I have a bird bath next to the swimming pool, the miners seem to prefer taking their chances with the big blue pool. And most of the time, they pull it off.

Picture of a Noisy Miner Bird bathing

Thanks for the bath

 

 

 

 

 

 

But not always. I rescued this one in the nick of time.

Picture of a very wet bird

It was late in the day and rather than leave it for the predators to find in the night, I put it into our very large shed to dry off overnight. Next morning it was fighting fit, and squawking at the window to get outside. When it continued to ignore the gaping door (big enough to fit a car) I went and caught it in my hands and took it outside myself. Looking back, that was a huge vote of trust. We’ve had miner birds fly into the shed and been unable to find their way out and we could not catch them. It’s an enormous space, with a mezzanine floor and plenty of places to hide, so the fact this little bird allowed me to catch him in my hands was… awesome.

Australian miner birds are often mistaken for the feral Indian mynah bird. Really, the only comparisons are the yellow eye and the family behaviour. Mynahs are introduced members of the sparrow family. Noisy miners are indigenous honeyeaters. And yes, they are very, very noisy when there’s a predator around. Even so, I like them.

The Gathering Storm : A New Year’s introspection

5V3A1039 (1)I rarely use my blog to air my political views. But today I’m going to make an exception. It is, after all, the end of a year and the beginning of a new one – even if the endings and beginnings are artificial, human constructs. We try to force our will upon nature all the time and it’s a battle which we will ultimately lose. So, here are the things that stir me. It’s my blog. If you don’t agree with what I have to say, that is your right. Peace, be still.

The climate is changing. It always has and it always will. Nature is like that. I don’t think taxing carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere will make any difference.  The driving forces that dictate our weather are the sun, and the oceans. I think we need to accept climate change, and adapt. Because we sure as hell aren’t going to stop it.

Having said that, we should be doing more about the things we can change. Embrace alternative energy sources, introduce new technology so we don’t have to dig big holes in the ground. Clean up our oceans. Stop burning the rain forest. But I’m not sure what we can do about population growth.

We cannot continue the current notion of economic growth, and return on share holder investment, at all costs. People are being forced to work longer hours for less pay. Jobs are disappearing, especially for unskilled workers, while those at the top – the financiers and bankers who ultimately contribute nothing to the community, grow richer and richer. We should return to a more sustainable way of using our resources. If we don’t, we’ll end up with a scenario like that portrayed in the movie Elysium. (Overpopulated, polluted Earth degenerates even further, while the mega-rich live on an orbiting space station with all the comforts they could imagine.)

And from there, to religion, the great divider of our world.

I despise organised religion. Don’t misunderstand. I believe everyone has the right to believe in, and worship whatever they wish. But no-one has the right to push their beliefs onto other people. Yes, I’m an atheist. And I have never, ever, knocked on a Mormon’s door to explain that their God is a figment of their imagination. And I never will.

My objection to the main religions is simple; they’re based on beliefs and practices set down thousands of years ago, which are supposed to be the only truth. For instance, religious taboos on food probably had validity back when they were defined. But why on earth would an omnipotent being care if we choose to eat bacon, or beef, or fish? And why would an omnipotent being agree that half of humanity – the female half – is worth less than the male half? Hindu temples have signs explaining that women cannot enter if they are menstruating. Which seems odd to me. God created the plumbing, right? So how could it be wrong when it’s working as it should? Ultra-orthodox Jewish men refuse to sit next to women on aeroplanes. In mosques and synagogues men and women are usually separated, although it seems more enlightened societies allow a mix. It’s good to see the Anglican church and the Jews both now ordain women but the Catholics hold out.

Of them all, fundamental Islam stands out for its treatment of women. In Saudi Arabia (supposedly our ‘friend’) women can’t drive cars. They have to wear a black tent in case they inflame the appetites of men. They can’t own property. Etc etc. Radical Islam is even worse. Slavery is acceptable. Rape is fine – in fact, it doesn’t exist. Marriage to young children and genital mutilation are commonplace practises. Women are forbidden from receiving education. Then there’s their barbaric sharia law, which dates back to the 7th century. The woman is sentenced to punishment if she’s raped. The man gets off scot free. If you steal your hand is cut off. Flogging is carried out for apparently trivial offences. These punishments were phased out in Western cultures hundreds of years ago. We’ve all seen the reports, especially about Da’esh which is gleeful in its murderous excesses. You’re a non-believer? Or even if you belong to the wrong offshoot of Islam – off with your head. Or perhaps a crucifixion instead. In the infidel West terrorism perpetrated by young Muslim men has become all too routine.

Here in Australia we have already seen the thin edge of the wedge with companies paying for Halal certification, and it seems when Muslim marriages end in divorce the woman’s rights are not recognised by the mosque unless sharia law is invoked. No, we shouldn’t be welcoming every newcomer with open arms. Look at what is happening in Northern Europe, where thousands of fit young men have poured into previously peaceful communities. No, we shouldn’t accept women walking around in burkhas. It sends the wrong signal, that women should not be seen. Apart from anything else, it impedes communication through body language. I don’t think women should even wear the hijab. What’s wrong with female hair?

So there it is. I fear for this planet. And I fear for this country. The world we’re living in reminds me very much of pre-WWII Europe. A dictator in Russia is trying to expand his power, instead of Nazi Germany we have a ruthless bunch of fanatics flexing their power in the middle east, and all the while the West makes concessions and hopes for peace.

What’s that saying? Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Sometimes I’m glad I’m old.

Christmas in the Darling Downs

5V3A4074We usually stay home for Christmas. Prawns on the barbie, a nibble of smoked salmon, dips ‘n chips and a glass of wine or three over a game of Scrabble suit me just fine. But this year we decided to go away so somebody else could do the food preparation and the washing up. We threaten to do that most years, but we always leave it too late. Christmas lunch preparations have to start early. As it happens, we found a motel with a restaurant in Warwick at rather short notice (December). That sounded suspicious, and a phone call ascertained that the restaurant wouldn’t be open. Not to worry. It seemed the locals all went to the local Chinese on Christmas day. It was the only show in town, so the owners weren’t exactly silly. I made a booking for 12:30, we jumped in the new SUV and headed off.

Warwick is one of the larger towns in an area known as the Darling Downs. This means, obviously, that it’s much higher than the Queensland coastal fringe. (English is such an idiotic language) Because of the elevation, it’s much cooler than the coast, too – which was part of the attraction. Stanthorpe, another of the larger towns, is almost always the coldest place in Queensland. We’d been in Warwick once, many years ago, and the memory of the very cold night and the ice on the car windows lingers.

Because of the milder climate the Darling Downs is famous for its wineries, cheese and fruit. Up there they can grow apples, pears, stone fruits, berries and cherries. Everybody has cellar door sales, and restaurants or cafes. Don’t go up there for those things at Christmas time, though. On Christmas day we could have shot a cannon down Warwick’s main street and not hit anything. Boxing Day wasn’t much better.

The other thing the Darling Downs does very well is storms. Rising air from the coast mixes with the cooler air and if you add a deep depression threatening to become a cyclone hovering around up in the tropics it was a perfect cocktail for another one of those regular storms. On the way to Warwick we listened to the weather bureau warnings about a large storm around Stanthorpe. It delivered tennis ball sized hail and gale force winds. One farmer’s entire strawberry crop was completely wiped out, and trees were stripped of branches and leaves, or torn out of the ground altogether. We were told that in other spots the hail wasn’t as large, but it coated the ground like a thick blanket of snow. The farmers factor storm losses into their budgets here. The picture below was of another storm.

5V3A4053

5V3A4054There’s a tornado in there, on the horizon. I’ve done a close up for you. This happened every day. Even when the weather started off fine, by late afternoon the clouds had gathered around the hills, piling up into ominous moving mountains.

Lunch at the Chinese was fun from a people-watching point of view. They’d prepared a buffet offering fresh prawns and oysters, and a range of Chinese food like Mongolian lamb, braised seafood and (because this is Australia) sweet and sour pork. The sweets table boasted a large pavlova, fruit salad, a huge bowl of local cherries, and a large store-bought tub of vanilla ice cream.  The place was packed with families. Mum and dad and the kids, older couples with their parents – probably collected from their aged care centre – all enjoying lunch together. Although the place is licensed few people ordered much more than a mid strength beer.

On the day before Christmas we took a drive up into the hills surrounding the downs. That’s where most of the rain falls onto ancient, eroding hills. From Killarney you drive up Falls Road past a number of waterfalls within short walks of the road. The clouds hung around the tops of the hills, stretching ephemeral fingers down the slopes.

5V3A3998

Queen Mary Falls – at the top

5V3A3999

Queen Mary Falls all the way down

From the top of the pass the view across the valley is spectacular. It’s sobering to think that the forest we drove through to get to this lookout would have covered that whole valley one hundred and fifty years ago. From there, we drove down to the plain and then back up again via Cunningham Gap. This part of the trip was my favourite. I love water. Maybe that’s because I’m a Scorpio?

5V3A4012

The view from Carr’s lookout

There a number of national parks within an hour’s drive of Warwick and Stanthorpe. The one with Falls Road is Main Range.

5V3A4000

Rain forest

5V3A4006

Rainforest tree ferns

5V3A4086 5V3A4113 5V3A4107Then there’s Girraween and Sundown, which illustrate why this part of the world is known as the “granite belt”. The forest is much the same as you’d find anywhere in Australia – dry sclerophyll forest. But many of the peaks are bare rock and if you look between the trees you’ll see rounded boulders everywhere, some balanced on top of each other. Others appear to be held back from the track only by a slim eucalypt. We walked along a made track to a waterhole which you can bet would have been popular with the aboriginal people back in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

The road down to the plain

The road down to the plain

We meandered our way home to Hervey Bay via Toowoomba. Just in case you thought I was kidding about the height of this area, this is the main road to Brisbane from the Downs.

From there we skirted around the glass house mountains back home. We’ll do another visit to that area some time next year, after the school holidays.

Introducing Michaela Kendrick’s “Dragon’s Honor”

DragonsHonorFinal2When I first spoke with Greta about my new release, she was intrigued by my mention of the Dragon Riders of Pern series, and she wondered how it had influenced my writing—including my current series.

This turned out to be a more difficult question than I anticipated. The Pern series will always have a special place in my heart—I still remember finding it as I pored over the shelves of books in our house. From the start, I was captivated by Lessa as the slave who could not be intimidated or broken. Fiery and commanding, she made her own destiny. I’ve always wanted to write a character who held the same strength it took to face down the dragon and bond with it, and to endure all of the trials that followed.

On the face of it, the Dragon Corps series and the Dragon Riders of Pern have little in common. One is militaristic SciFi with space marines, and the other melds fantasy elements into a story that is much more a fantasy epic than a space opera (however it may be classified). But McCaffrey is still an inspiration. One does not need to match her story structure or her genre in order to write the same sort of story: one of passion and pride, both as positives and negatives. Her villains were real, absolutely visceral. Her heroes were just as full, with the fiery natures we could empathize with even as the characters walked down the proverbial dark alleyway.

That is what I have always tried to capture in my writing. McCaffrey wrote in a fantastical world that was realistic because the characters were so relatable, both in their good and bad moments. When readers see Aryn, I want them to know how fully she is outmatched and yet cheer her on even while she walks knowingly into danger for love’s sake. When Cade’s pride leads him into yet another beating, I want the reader to flinch at the blows and yet know why he can’t bring himself to betray the woman he loves or the morals he holds so dear.

I think we read, on some level, because we want to believe that if such terrible things happen to us, we could also stand up and do the right thing. When I write, I don’t want just to show characters who rise above their circumstances, as Lessa did at the start of the book in Dragonflight, I want characters who also inspire us to be better people now, as Lessa inspired me when I was younger. I want characters like Cade and Talon, who show me the responsibility that comes with their training. I want characters like Aryn and Samara, who fight for what’s right even though they might not be the best ones to do it. I want characters like Tera, who have to confront brutal truths about people that they love. Because all of these are things we need to do in our lives, and if I can inspire even one person like Anne McCaffrey inspired me, I will be very happy, indeed.

Want to know more about Cade, Aryn, and the rest? Email Michaela at mkendrickauthor@gmail.com for a FREE review copy of Dragon’s Honor!

Dragon’s Honor

The Warlord…

From high society banquets in the ice covered skyscrapers of New Arizona, to the most far-flung outposts at the edge of human-occupied space, everyone has heard of Ymir. The Alliance’s reach is wide, and its soldiers are well trained, but there are always despots powerful enough to assert themselves, and Ymir has been one of the most notable failures of human history: a whole planet given over to a man known only as the Warlord.

The soldier…

Cade Williams was once a Dragon—the most elite fighting unit in known space. Precise, brutal, and unstoppable, they were a last resort in the lawless wastes of space colonization. But there was a price: in one horrific mission, Cade’s unit took down not only a slave trader, but an entire intergalactic carrier. Cade left and never looked back. Haunted by his past, he’s vowed never again to kill, never again to fight, and, filling jobs from dock worker to bartender, he’s managed to keep that vow. But Cade’s life is about to be turned upside down. Because when at last he runs out of options, his old friend Talon Rift appears out of nowhere. Talon, the man who ordered him to take down the carrier. Talon, who wants him to get back in the game. And when Cade won’t, Talon has a job opportunity he seems to know Cade can’t afford to pass up. Protect a woman. An innocent. Remarkably little chance of anything going wrong. And a man needs to eat.

And the trophy wife…

There are two problems: first, that Cade hates Aryn the moment he lays eyes on her; second, that he wants her like he’s never wanted anyone before in his life. Or make that three problems: Aryn’s fiancé is a weapons trafficker with a well-deserved reputation for being ruthless, and Aryn is about to get caught up in one of his schemes – one that will bring her back to the place she only just escaped…the mines of Ymir.

Where to buy:

Dragon’s Honor will be free to read in Kindle Unlimited: smile.amazon.com/dp/B017F8X7HC/

Where to find me:

Right now, I’m only on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mkendrickauthor/

Mailing list: http://eepurl.com/bIDsBn

And people can feel free to email me at mkendrickauthor@gmail.com

Excerpt:

“Cade Williams?”

The words came through the haze of smoke and drunkenness like a hallucination. Cade knew that voice. He was never, ever going to be able to forget that voice, and it had to be a hallucination because there was no way in hell the owner of that voice had chased him across three systems only to walk into a dive bar on the lower streets of New Arizona. So he went back to his drink.

He picked up the glass and stared at it. It was a scotch he’d been nursing for about three hours now, and not just because “scotch” seemed to be a loose term for colored grain alcohol. When he finished his drink, he had nowhere to go. And in the ever-drifting snow of New Arizona—he’d never figured out if the name was born of ignorance or irony—he needed to stay indoors as long as possible. The cold was fierce, and whatever acid was in the water on this planet, it would burn his skin raw in less than a night.

And if he didn’t get ten thousand credits to Osiris within a week, he was a dead man. But one thing at a time. Cade shook his head and let the moment slide away from him, a tiny drift into memory and nothing more.

“Williams,” the voice said again.

That was definitely not a hallucination. Cade’s eyes traveled along the arm that had come down on one side of him. Callused fingertips, last joint of the right index finger missing, the hint of a tattoo poking out from under a blue cuff. The arm underneath the suit jacket was well muscled, leading to broad shoulders and a clean-shaven jaw, and with a sinking feeling of dread, Cade looked up at one of his worst nightmares.

“Lieutenant Rift.”

“Actually, it’s Major now.” Talon’s face was expressionless, as it almost always was. He watched as Cade’s eyes traveled over the understated suit, across the planes of the handsome face. At last, sensing the question Cade would never ask, he flipped over the hand on his resting arm. There, glimmering in the faint light, were blood-red cufflinks.

A Dragon always wore red.

Talon absorbed Cade’s bitter smile in silence.

“You look surprisingly well.” Cade looked down into his scotch and considered drinking the rest in one gulp. The pours in this bar were generous, and with the alcohol being of dubious provenance, a gulp might well kill him. Right now, that wasn’t seeming so bad. It was all coming back to him—without warning, as it always did. He’d known the moment he heard the voice that this was going to be a bad night, even worse than he’d thought—and he’d already thought it would be pretty bad. There was screaming at the corner of his mind, the flashing of the lights in the bar taking on a reddish hue, the emergency exit sign too clear a reminder.

He closed his eyes, clenching his jaw until he thought his teeth would give way. He had to keep breathing, or the memories would take him, and the world would devolve into the chaotic mess he so feared, every face reminding him of the pods, the children pounding on the glass—

He was going to be sick. His stomach heaved.

“Should I go?”

“No.” Cade’s answer surprised even him. He opened his eyes and looked down into his drink again. He could force the world back into its neat shapes if he tried hard enough. In the vacuum of space, in the long silences of a courier’s job, he’d learned to face his fear and press it away.

He could face this, too.

“Okay.” Talon sat, pulled reflexively at both cuffs, and looked over at the bartender. “What won’t kill me here?”

“Don’t try the scotch.”

“Noted.”

Michaela Kendrick Author Photo 2Bio:

Raised on the Dragon Riders of Pern, Star Wars, Star Trek, and a whole bunch of historical romances, Michaela grew up adoring the adventure of Science Fiction and the passion of a good love story. Filled with double crossing, grand romantic gestures, sarcasm, and plenty of heat, Michaela’s books are just the sort of thing she wants to read herself!

Two more days in Amsterdam

IMG_2240IMG_2253After the Budapest – Amsterdam cruise finished, we stayed in Amsterdam for two more nights before the long trek back to Australia. Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Those canals really raise it above more of the same, with reflections and views and history around every corner. It’s not an old city, though. Not like Budapest and Koln and Bratsilava with their links to Roman times. And its real Golden Age was the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company ruled the waves, Dutch painting was at its height and Dutch inventors like Christian Huygens had the freedom to practice science.

We stayed at a hotel near the fashionable Vondel Park, where I managed to take a few nice pictures of the grand houses. The hotel probably used to be a grand house once. As a hotel it left a lot to be desired. But that’s another story.

This visit I wanted to go back to the street I was born in, just to see if I had even a glimmer of recognition. Nope. But then, as I’ve said before, you can’t really go back.

We also visited the WWII Resistance Museum, which is just over the road from Artis, Amsterdam’s zoo. My parents lived through the war years in Amsterdam. My oldest brother was born in 1940, just a couple of months after the occupation started. He was the youngest of five children, and the only boy. The oldest was seven.

To call the place the “resistance” museum was in a way, something of a misnomer. Not everybody CAN resist. But that point is made in a short introductory film about how Holland was occupied, and the progression of Nazi occupation from a benevolent stance, where they hoped to win the Dutch to their cause, gradually becoming more and more oppressive after the strikes in the tram service, leading on to the ‘honger winter’ in 1944/5. (you can watch the film in that link to the museum) The choices for ordinary citizens in Holland were collaborate, live with it, or resist. The museum gives examples of each, illustrated in articles, photos and personal objects. Much of the exhibition is about the murder of the Jews. I don’t think the Dutch people will ever get over the massacre of the Jews. It seems to be ingrained in their consciousness. And that part of Eastern Amsterdam where my family lived was one of the Jewish ghettoes.

A great deal has been made ever since the war about the French resistance. People in other occupied countries did every bit as much as the French. It’s just not as well known. I believe I had an uncle who was in the resistance. I think he ended up in a camp in Germany and returned after the war stick-thin. And I recall stories of people jumping off trains taking them to labour camps in Germany. This museum is for Dutch people more than overseas visitors. I felt it addressed a feeling of guilt, why didn’t we do more? And the fact of life is, in many cases the choices were impossible.

My sisters were still children at the end of the war – the oldest was twelve. I was born 5 years later, and my sisters taught me all the rude songs they used to sing about the Germans. What little I know about those years I heard from my sisters. My mother and father never talked about it.

But on a more fun note – Pete and I learned how to use the tram system, moving from one line to another to get around. It was lots of fun, rather like tube hopping in London, except it’s above ground. A day pass is 7.50 Euros. The trams can take you to all of the major attractions in the city and you get to have a look at the suburbs, too. I recommend it to anyone visiting Amsterdam.

To round off the day we visited with a cousin in South Amsterdam and went to a marvellous Indian restaurant for dinner. And then, with news of the bombings in Paris reverberating through Europe, the next morning we went home to an Australian summer.

Day 14: The end is nigh

IMG_2231 (1)We cruised along the canal that connects the Rhine to the city of Amsterdam on the Ij. The overcast weather threatened rain and there wasn’t much to see, but it was very green and there were cows. We tied up at docks just behind Amsterdam’s central station, right in the heart of the old city. Back in the day this would have been the harbour, where the 17th century merchantmen would start and end their journeys. Four of them sank in Australian waters – but that’s another story. (Small plug – I wrote a book about the Batavia shipwreck – check it out here).

We’d been given three options for today

  • a canal tour and tour of the city
  • a visit to the outdoor museum at Zaanse Schans
  • a visit to the Van Gogh museum

Pete and I had done the canal tour several times, and the weather looked a bit bleak for Zaanse Schans so we opted for the van Gogh museum. We’ve been to Amsterdam several times before and never been to the van Gogh. I’m not a great art connoisseur. I do like the Dutch Golden Age painters – Rembrandt, Vermeer and the like – and their maritime painters were magnificent. I also like impressionists like Monet. But with a very few exceptions I’ve never been especially attracted to van Gogh’s work. Still, his work is prized by many. Maybe I was missing something.

The exhibition followed van Gogh’s journey as an artist, from the very early self portraits, paintings like the potato pickers and then on to Paris and the south of France. We each had head sets so we could listen to commentary on the various works. Sorry, but van Gogh doesn’t do it for me. It’s always a matter of choice, of course, but I think I probably should have gone to the nearby Rijksmuseum instead, and stared at Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

IMG_2249That evening a few of us popped out after dinner to take a look at the famous Red Light district. We weren’t very good at following directions, but when we reached the Royal Palace I knew we weren’t too far away. From there we just followed the groups of young men. It’s just as you expect. Near naked young women displaying their wares in windows. It’s even more fun watching the people looking at the girls. Prostitution isn’t going to go away. At least in Amsterdam it’s controlled, health checks are enforced and crooks who force girls into the trade are put in jail. In contrast cannabis is not ‘legal’, but it’s tolerated in ‘coffee houses’. You can get dizzy just walking past those places.

IMG_2248And then it was back to the boat to pack, ready for disembarkation the next day. 137 people would go their separate ways. We were spending two nights in Amsterdam. Some folk went to Paris, others for a stopover in Dubai before heading home. We’d made new friends we hope to meet again, and shared many experiences. The cruise is great, but you never stay anywhere long enough to get more than a glimpse. Highlights for me were the Wachau Vally, Durnstein, Miltenberg and the wonderful concert in Vienna.

I’m glad we went – and I want to single out APT’s Cherie Cooper, our head mistress/governess/cruise director. She did a fabulous job of making the whole thing run like clockwork. Cheers!

Day 13: Down the Rhine to Cologne (Köln)

IMG_2056Back to the big smoke today. We were well and truly on the Rhine and a parade of barges passed us, going upriver from the Netherlands and Germany. I have no doubt we were just one of many vessels heading down river. It’s a very busy waterway. Because the Rhine’s water level was so low the barges passing us rode very high in the water, even if they were carrying cargo. Not too much profit there. We heard the next day that the water levels were the lowest they’d been in 130 years.

IMG_2199 IMG_2197There are some pretty impressive houses along this stretch of the river.

 

20151110_134352

Cologne city. That’s not the cathedral

And then we moored at Cologne, confronted with a formidable flight of stone steps to get to dry land. Had the river been higher, the trip to the top would have been shorter. It was enough to actually prevent some of the less able-bodied among us from going ashore at all.

Original frescoes from Roman times

Original frescoes from Roman times

Cologne has many claims to fame – its fabulous cathedral and its 1477 eau de cologne being the best known. But maybe not everybody knows it was a very important Roman stronghold, more of which is being dug up as they expand the underground train system. As we walked towards the cathedral following our lollipop, the guide told us the main station had been built next to the cathedral to join the old with the new. But in fact the vibration from all those trains rumbling past have put a strain on the cathedral. We did wonder about the fabled German engineers when we heard that.

20151110_134838

Then we walked up some steps to an apparently empty square being guarded by a bunch of official looking men behind simple barricades. The guide explained that the square was above the roof of a music auditorium, and the sound of feet crossing the square could be heard during recitals. So the area was fenced off in those times. Uh-huh. Well done, engineers.

 

Typical Gothic knave

Typical Gothic knave

Original stained glass window

Original stained glass window

We took a look at the cathedral, a majestic Gothic building which seemed to have been spared the allied bombs, although some of the stained glass had been replaced with inferior modern panes. If we’d had more time we would have visited the Roman museum.

That evening it was time for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail & Gala Dinner. The end of the trip loomed, but much laughter and fun was had by all. We were introduced  to ALL the staff on the Amavenita – captain, crew, hotel management, room attendants, chefs, wait staff. Everyone except the second-in-command, who (as usual) was up in the wheel house as we headed for Amsterdam.

Day 12: Musical instruments and robber baron castles.

IMG_2092Getting through all those locks can be a bit of a trial because you have to wait your turn. As a result we were a bit late getting into Rudesheim, which is famous for wine. Cherie had organised for a little tourist train to pick us up and take us to a place called Siegfried’s Kabinet, a museum for auto-playing musical devices – think music boxes and player pianos. The little train was a hoot, with all of us packed into carriages facing each other, playing kneesies. Off we went, wheezing up the steeper inclines, while a recorded commentary told us what was what.

IMG_2064 IMG_2070The train stopped outside the music museum and we all trooped in with a local guide. I actually found this much more interesting than I thought I would. The instruments had all been beautifully restored, and worked. The guide played short pieces on all of them, ranging from simple music boxes, to player pianos playing the Blue Danube waltz, to devices programmed for whole orchestra.

The highlight for me was an old record player – a very early one with a horn on it – playing a great rendition of Doris Day singing Que sera sera.

Because we’d been delayed, we didn’t have time to do much more than walk back to the boat. We were off to the Rhine Gorge!

IMG_2128

Everybody’s heard of this rocky stretch of the Rhine, with vineyards on the slopes and castles perched on the cliffs. Unfortunately, the weather had decided it really was November; cold with a brisk wind, but at least no rain. Cherie told us stories about the castles as we passed. One I remember from my childhood was about Bishop Hatto and the mouse tower. Then there was the story about the enemy brothers who had castles on the ridges above the town of Bornhofen. And then, of course, there’s the Loreley, the river siren who lured sailors to their deaths with her songs.

In a few of these pictures you’ll see what look like decorated tunnels on the riverside. These are railway tunnel. Remember that “gentleman’s agreement” I referred to, where the Allies didn’t bomb the living daylights out of ancient castles? The Germans didn’t want their railway tunnels bombed, so they disguised them as bits of castle. Dirty pool, or just smart? Take your pick.

Let’s cruise down the Rhine Gorge.

IMG_2101

The mouse tower

IMG_2137

Train with decorated tunnel

IMG_2140

Elaborate tunnel disguise

IMG_2145

Looking back past the Loreley. See how sharp those curves are. It’s treacherous water

IMG_2146

A statue of the lady herself (of course)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2167 IMG_2166

IMG_2183

The night sky as we cruised towards Cologne.

That evening we all got dressed up and boarded buses for the trip to Schloss Namedy where we were to have dinner with the princess. The renovated castle belonged to the Hohenzollern family, an offshoot of the branch whose most famous member was Kaiser Wilhelm II of WW1 fame. I’m sure I spied his portrait on the wall. We were left to explore the rooms of the place on our own, glass of champers in hand. After we’d finished the first course of our meal a young man from a nearby music school entertained us with a piano recital.

20151109_183113 20151109_190803All in all, this wasn’t the best night of the cruise for me. The food wasn’t as good as we got on the boat, the princess wasn’t there (we were greeted by the house manager) and while nobody doubted the pianist’s ability, his choice of pieces to play may not have been the best. He played heavy music, nothing like the light and wonderful tunes we enjoyed in Vienna. The castle itself struck me as more of a hunting lodge, with its many stuffed animals and heavy wooden pieces. The visit would undoubtedly have been of more interest to me if we’d arrived in daylight and been able to see over the grounds.

Never mind. It was quite enjoyable nevertheless. (That’s called damning with faint praise 🙂 )