I know this is a newsletter about running a better accounting firm but some people have said they’d like to hear a little about the trip Kate and I did in Europe recently, so I’ve added this as a bonus article.
Kate and I describe international air travel as often being “rush, rush, wait”. You have to get to the airport a long time ahead of your flight but mostly end up sitting around for a few hours. Connecting flights can run late and you rush to the next gate only to find that flight has been delayed! Rush, rush, wait!
For the first time we achieved our goal of having five weeks in Europe with only carry on luggage. This worked brilliantly for us and I highly recommend it. Travelling in the European summer definitely makes this easier. Qantas service remains OK, but it still feels like many of their team members are not fully engaged. The Qatar Air business class offering is excellent although having to get on a bus at Doha airport to go to our plane bound for Rome somewhat diminished this feeling. We’d happily travel Air France and Turkish Air again too. Our Air France experience was interesting as it involved an aborted take off from Paris (quite scary) and a night at an airport hotel while a new plane was found. They handled it well, I suspect in part because the consumer protection laws in Europe are much tougher than in Australia when it comes to fixing things when there is a problem.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Italy over the years but never in Sicily. In short, we loved it. Palermo grew on us after an initial poor reaction and like all of Sicily has so much history to share. A couple of highlights were the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento and Taormina, with its spectacular old town and amazing views to Mount Etna. If you get the chance we highly recommend a visit. Another highlight was the small Island of Lipari to the north of Sicily and considered a part of Sicily. Another beautiful old town and a wonderful night time ambience down the main street which has a vast array of restaurants. Kate had her best meal of the trip when we dined at a small restaurant at the far end of the main street. Overall the food was great, the people friendly and the trains mostly on time and clean.
A short ferry ride from the south of Sicily and you enter Malta. We fell in love almost instantly with the capital Valetta when we stayed in the heart of its old town. Just beautiful and some interesting history. Malta is a tiny island country which basically has no rivers or lakes. When you get up high it seems rather brown! We caught a ferry to the tiny island of Gozo which is a part of Malta and a popular spot. The traffic jams near the ferry were quite something! That aside it was a terrific place and we really enjoyed sitting on the terrace at our hotel overlooking the harbour and seeing the activity at the port. A real bonus on Gozo was discovering the oldest free standing structure on the planet – yes older than the Egyptian pyramids!
Nestled between Croatia and Albania this is one of the countries that was created by the break up of Yugoslavia. We flew into the inland capital city called Podgorica which doesn’t have a lot to offer other than access into some nice mountain regions. The view from the plane as we landed was quite beautiful. We had a driver take us to the coast via Budva and on to Kotor. Budva has a beautiful old town but otherwise looks like the Gold Coast with indigestion. The driver we had was typical of what were saw everywhere – young blokes with a black Mercedes or BMW. Other than a black car, the other thing they have in common is an unfailing confidence in their ability to drive while sending text messages and making calls without the hands free capability ever being used. A little bit scary. Kotor is a must see. It is set at the end of a fiord type bay with tall hills all around and a beautiful old town. Unquestionably one of the best old towns we have ever been to. Our apartment overlooked the bay and each night a different cruise ship was there. Kotor has become a super popular destination for cruise ships and the down side can be the addition of several thousand tourist on the streets. It can be a very busy place. We also had a few nights at Herceg Novi which is on the same stretch of water as Kotor but quite close to the entry from the Adriatic Sea. Nowhere did we see beaches to compete with Australia but the water was usually very clean.
A few other places we visited as part of this trip
We’d had a two week trip to Turkey cancelled during the peak of COVID so it was nice to drop into Istanbul for a day as our connecting point between Malta and Montenegro. A most fascinating city with an incredible history. Straddling Asia and Europe as it does, it has always been seen as a strategic location and changed hands many times. Our hotel for the single night stay overlooked the Blue Mosque which is stunning. Nice little boutique hotel called Hotel Nena. The Hagia Sofia nearby is a bit of a hotch potch of architecture reflecting various additions along the way. The palace nearby is vast and impressive and the Grand Bazar huge but sadly seems to have become a giant outlet for knock off designer clothes etc. We crammed a lot into our one day visit and I felt more comfortable there than I expected. It appears to be a very male dominated culture and Kate felt quite uncomfortable at first but this diminished pretty quickly.
Figueres and Cadaques
These two small towns in the east of Spain have a common connection through the famous artist Salvador Dali. Cadaques is on the coast and is pretty but not beautiful and with a windy road to get to it. Just nearby is the home that Salvador Dali lived in for many years. Eccentric to say the least! Figueres is inland from Cadaques and easily accessed by train from Barcelona. It is the home of a large and fascinating museum solely devoted to Salvador Dali, designed and created by Dali. Figueres also marked the hottest temperatures for our trip with 42 to 44 degrees.
I hadn’t been in Lisbon for over 30 years and had no real memories of it. Another one night stay as part of our route home, being a bit less direct on account of having been snagged on points. Much cooler than Spain and on the coast, Lisbon has a rich maritime history and some great sights. Browns Boutique Hotel was perhaps our quirkiest hotel of the trip. We’d happily return to Lisbon for few more days.
We had an unexpected day in Singapore due to our aborted flight from Paris. This was due to there not being any seats available on the flight from Singapore to Brisbane for the day we arrived (one day later than booked). We stayed at Clarke Quay (looking very tired) and did quite a bit of walking. Some people have spent the whole day at the airport (it is quite impressive with lots to do) but we’d previously done that! Something I’d not encountered there before was a plethora of vending machines serving freshly squeezed, chilled orange juice proudly advertised as made from Australian oranges. A pretty cool piece of equipment and only a few dollars for a drink. All through Europe you can buy freshly squeezed orange juice too, including at a lot of bars. I loved it!
I’m happy to share more about an aspect of the trip if anyone wants to know. And next month I’ll share some stories from some of accommodation which highlight well the value of great customer service.