End of the Baltics, End of Summer

Friday 28 July to Tuesday 5 September

As we depart the Baltics we also watch summer disappearing. Trees are showing golden leaves, wildflowers are turning to seed, stork nests are empty, fields are being mown. 

Apart from poorer than expected weather, it has been a wonderful experience. So we knew it’d be cool, but it’s been a little too grey, much to the frustration of many summer attired holiday makers who were also expecting better weather and our photography. 

From our first day visiting the beautiful island castle of Trakai, to exploring forests and lakes, sand dunes and beaches, we have seen a lot and learned a lot. 

Not really part of the Baltics states, but our visit to Finland was amazing.  From the liveable city of Helsinki, an overnight train to the Arctic Circle with a visit to Santa, to the historical Lakeland. 

We saw the Soviet influence on the eastern borders of the Baltics, stayed in a Soviet hotel in Ludza, explored the university city of Tartu, where Estonia’s famous IT expertise is born. We chilled out in the lovely forest of the Lahemaa National Park, before receiving a drenching in Tallinn. 

We explored beaches in less than favourable conditions, slopped around in bogs munching on wild berries and explored ancient castles by candlelight. We loved the old cities, especially those that the cruise boats can’t reach. Our legs were weary after a day on cobblestone streets.

And the berries – such variety, sweet and sour, red, black, yellow and white. The markets were full of them. They are served with salads, meat dishes and of course ice cream. 

Berries are free, as our mushrooms, you simply go into the forest, to your favourite place and pick them. We’d often see people waiting for buses on a forest road, with a basket or bucket full of their pickings. 

Playgrounds were truly impressive. Children are agile and confident. Parents sit and watch, but as long as the child can walk with confidence they are free to use the playground on their own. As well as the normal swings, slides and merry go rounds there are lots of climbing frames and Tarzan style rope courses to challenge them. 

Another outstanding sight was the quaint wooden houses, of all colours, often intermingled with Soviet style apartments. 

The legacy of wars was interesting, being pulled back and forth by Germans, Russians, Swedes, Danes, especially for the timber, an important building material. 

Forests have been devastated both in ancient times and more recently during Nazi and Soviet occupation. 

One surprise for us is how extensively English is spoken. We have only had one or two occasions where communication was tricky. From decent hotels to tiny coffee shops on the road we were able to order coffee, wine, and a city guide. Perhaps because all the languages are so different, English is common. 

Finland and the Baltics – what a treat to visit you.

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For those who like statistics, here are some…

11 May to 9 August 2017

It is 90 days since we left home and we have reached the farthest north on our travels in Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland.

We have spent quality time with both our sons and their wives -Evan & Steph in New York and Hayden & Andrea in Berlin.

In USA we travelled 3753 miles (6044 kilometres) for 43 days, slept in 17 beds and journeyed through 8 states – New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland.

In Europe we have travelled 4754 kilometres for 47 days, slept in 26 beds, including overnight plane and train and journeyed through 8 countries – Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland.

And photos? Well Bruce has taken 3,629 and I have taken 5,555 to date.

We have more time and many miles yet to travel.

I am slowly updating stories and pictures of our travels under the menu Wanderers 2017-1018.

You will see Bruce’s photos on his blog – look out for the link in each story, or just browse the Photography menu, starting at the bottom.

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Spain – it’s all about a wedding

Andrea & Hayden. Granada, 3 September 2016

Andrea & Hayden. Granada, 3 September 2016

We spent five weeks in Spain, arriving in Barcelona in mid-August.

Of course the most important event was Hayden & Andrea’s wedding in Granada. They had met whilst studying at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and developed a beautiful relationship during their study years.

With PhDs completed and jobs found in Berlin, all was set to tie the knot. So we gathered in Granada for a wonderfully happy and beautiful ceremony.

We used the opportunity to explore more of Spain, heading south to Malaga then to the Pueblos Blancos, Gibraltar (not really Spain), Cadiz, Mérida and Toledo, before flying out to Southern Africa.

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Evan’s Dailies

First a curious image appeared on Facebook, posted by Evan. And the next day another one appeared. And the day following there was another image.

Evan explained that this was a project he had long planned and suddenly, living in New York, there was the time to execute it. The challenge was to create a new image each day, exploring features and tapping into his skills in digital design. He told me that some images took an hour to create, others longer. Mostly he uses a program called Cinema 4D, but he also explores features in other digital design programs such as After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator.

In fact, he told me that some days he can’t get to his computer, so he does them on his phone.

So as the weeks went by I started to check Facebook daily and sure enough, he has not missed a day, and has created 58 Dailies to date, starting on 21 September.

I also found his Dailies on his web site www.the-silent-partner.com/dailies and on Instagram https://instagram.com/evanstainsby/

The anticipation of tomorrow’s daily is now great.

And I have a bet with Bruce that he won’t keep it up until Christmas…

Dailies on The Silent PartnerDailies on Instagram

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USA on wheels – part 2

Our second journey on wheels in North America took us across the north from Seattle to New York, crossing into Canada at both the western and eastern coasts.

This journey took us from Washington State to British Columbia, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ontario, Quebec, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.

And for the statistics.

In 30 days we slept in 16 different beds.

Because our journey took us through Canada as well as USA, the distances and fuel consumption was measured in miles/gallons and kilometers/litres, so some conversion was necessary. We travelled 4846 miles (7799 kilometers), averaging 161.5 miles per day (260km per day). We used 529 litres of fuel at an average cost of $AUD1.22 per litre.

It was grey and cool in Seattle, but the weather cleared as we drove north to Vancouver.  We enjoyed Vancouver so much that we extended our stay there. We then drove to Whistler for brunch and continued through the Fitzsimmons Range, admiring the pine forests and lakes, then turned south along the Fraser River to Lytton and Hope.

We drove east along a mining corridor of Canada, past Copper Mountain to Crawston where we stayed on a vineyard run by a German family, and we drank some beautiful crisp white wines.

Travelling south, we crossed back to USA and headed to the Grand Coulee Dam and through the wheat belt, on long straight roads to Missoula. From there we crossed the Rocky Mountains to Wyoming.

There were bike riders everywhere as we visited Little Bighorn – the site of Custer’s Last Stand. We had reached South Dakota with a million bike riders who were there for the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

We joined bikers when we visited Devil’s Tower, Crazy Horse rock carving, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug and the Badlands.

We continued east across the prairies of South Dakota and Missouri, crossed both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and passed acres and acres of wheat and corn crops.

The land greened and became undulating in Wisconsin, where we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s warehouse for AD German in Richland Center, and then continued to Chicago to see more FLW houses.

Next stop was Detroit, where we marvelled at Henry Ford’s vision and saw the emptiness left by the demise of the USA car industry.

Back to Canada – to see the amazing Niagara Falls set amongst glitz that rivals Las Vegas, then to the cities of Montreal and Quebec for a little French-Canadian culture.

We followed the Freedom Trail in Boston, learning about the beginnings of ‘Western civilisation’ in the Americas.

We popped into Rhode Island for lunch then onto Milford in Conneticut before the last few miles to New York.

Evan & Steph were ready to greet us in New York and show us the city they had just made their home!

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USA on wheels – part 1

We have just finished part 1 of USA on wheels. An anti-clockwise journey in the western states.

Our journey took us through the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and we ‘touched’ New Mexico.

For those who like statistics, in 32 days we slept in 21 beds, drove 4909 miles (7900 kilometres) averaging 153.4 miles per day (246.9 kilometres per day). We used 126.51 gallons (478.9 litres) of gas (petrol) at an average cost of $USD3.38/gallon (approx $AUD1.24/litre).

After exploring Los Angeles prior to returning home for Ev& Steph’s wedding, and with a lot of good advice from our good friend Ian, we hit the road in a Nissan Versa with a dodgy speaker system.

First stop was the glitz of Las Vegas. From there we drove Route 66 to visit a friend from Honeywell days, Ruby and see the Frank Lloyd Wright’s West Taliesin house in Scottsdale near Phoenix.

We drove through the amazing Red Rock Canyon and beautiful Oak Creek to the even more amazing Grand Canyon, and then to Monument Valley, a place held sacred by the Navajo Indians.

We touched the Four Corners, states Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado before spending time at the ancient houses of the Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde and then watching 4th July celebrations in Durango.

We then toured the amazing Arches National Park and walked miles over rocky formations.

Changing our focus from outdoors to indoors we visited Salt Lake City for an insight into the Family Search Center.

We travelled through lush farmland to reach the famed parks of Wyoming, Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

We crossed the dry harsh potato land of Idaho and followed the Colorado River to Portland where we did some city sightseeing and refreshed ourselves each evening at the craft breweries.

A quick stop in Oregon’s wine country, for coffee, and then the long 1360 mile drive down the coast through rugged coastlines, tiny fishing villages in Oregon and old red gum forests in California.

We did taste wine in the Napa Valley and we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, before viewing the calmer coastline to Los Angeles.

It’s been hard keeping our blogs up to date. Long tourist days and a plethora of decent craft breweries in the evening combined with surprisingly poor internet in many places have made it difficult to get stories written and pics uploaded. So now we will make an effort to update our sites as we embark on phase 2 from Seattle to New York, on an as yet unplanned route.

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A Joyful Interruption

It’s not every day that your younger unmarried son decides to change his status, but Evan is not your everyday person. And so we were asked to come home for a special event.

We tried to sneak into the country from our long tour through Asia and the Americas, and confine our time to the celebrations. That didn’t happen. Well the wedding did, but the sneaking in didn’t.

Evan and his long term girlfriend Steph were married on 16 June in a very small, intimate ceremony.  They celebrated with family and friends the following weekend.

While they had discussed the possibility with us a number of times, we were both surprised and delighted when they announced their intentions.

The reasons make sense – Steph has accepted a place at the University of Columbia in New York to study a Master’s in Education Research, starting in early September.

Evan has been finding it hard to get work in New York from applications made in Australia, so being married means he can travel to the USA on a spouse visa with Steph. And he hopes he can more easily track down work from there, then apply for the work visa.

I know – it is similar to Bruce’s & my story in 1973!

When I think of the 11 days that we were in town, it was non-stop.

There was coffee, dinners, hen’s and buck’s events, the wedding, the party and the families’ get-to-know-you.

We also caught up with a few people and we squeezed in a relaxing night at Sorrento to check our little house.

Small as the wedding celebration was, there was depth to it. Evan and Steph did not exchange rings, instead they chose meaningful gifts.

Evan gave Steph a sparrow’s wing broach made by the taxidermist jeweller Julia deVille, with the message ‘Dear Stephanie, to the next stage and wherever the wind takes us. All my love, Evan’.

And Stephanie’s gift to Evan was a tie bar as a symbol of her love for him, ‘It’s close to the heart and has the longitude and latitude of Princes Bridge stamped into it, which is the centre of our home Melbourne, and it is neither north nor south of the Yarra River’.

The short and very sweet ceremony was followed by dinner in the cellar of the Carlton Wine Room.

Friends and family were then invited to a party at Hares and Hyenas on Saturday 20 June. It is an interesting bookshop-come-café run by Steph’s uncle Rowland and his partner. Great Mexican food, good music and lots of chatter. It was a chance for the Stainsby’s and Templeton’s to get to know each other.

We finished the celebrations when Kate & Mark hosted lunch for us and the Templeton’s on Sunday.

The Templeton’s came from Rutherglen, Numurkah and Far North Queensland. The Wilson’s (Stainsby side) came from Brisbane and the Gold Coast and of course we flew in from Los Angeles. Many miles were covered for the event.

We are still coming to terms with our younger son’s marriage and that we officially have a daughter-in-law.

The photos that follow are a combination from my camera as well as sister Kate, niece Kim and nephew Mike.

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Goodbye Mexico & Central America It’s been nice to know you

After 14 weeks on the road and a week of R&R, we farewell Mexico and Central America.

  • We met school children in the Dominican Republic who begged us to take their photos. We encountered our first experience of the Spanish Conquests of the Americas.
  • We learnt how hard life is in Cuba, and perhaps it is easing as Fidel fades.
  • We saw monuments and churches, ate wonderful food and drove miles in Mexico. Ev and Steph joined us for a few days in Sayulita.
  • We marvelled at the engineering of the Panama Canal – still functioning the same as it did when it opened 101 years ago. Then we found flowers and coffee in the mountains.
  • We came close to wildlife in Cost Rica – enjoying watching monkeys in their own habitat.
  • We visited ancient, colourful towns and marvelled at active volcanoes in Nicaragua.
  • We saw lakes and volcanoes and beautiful indigenous people in Guatemala. Then we learnt more about the ancient culture at Tikal.
  • We chilled out in a lay back beach resort in San Pedro, Belize.

Eight amazing, diverse countries.  There are many stories and photos under The Americas menu, and still more to come.

Our next adventure is driving the USA.

School children loved to have their photos taken at the Parque Independencia, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

School children loved to have their photos taken at the Parque Independencia, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


Owen and his 1954 Chevrolet ride through Havana, Cuba

Owen and his 1954 Chevrolet ride through Havana, Cuba


Ev & Steph enjoy coconut juice in San Francisco, Mexico

Ev & Steph enjoy coconut juice in San Francisco, Mexico


El Castillo (main pyramid) Chichen Itza, Mexico

El Castillo (main pyramid) Chichen Itza, Mexico


Moving from first lock to second lock of the Panama Canal. Each lock rises 25 feet.

Moving from first lock to second lock of the Panama Canal. Each lock rises 25 feet.


White-faced monkeys. Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

White-faced monkeys. Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica


Crator Santiago at Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua

Crator Santiago at Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua


Embroidery. Market day in Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Embroidery. Market day in Chichicastenango, Guatemala


Isla Bonita Yacht Club, San Pedro, Belize

Isla Bonita Yacht Club, San Pedro, Belize


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Tikal – a lesson in climate change

The ancient archaeological site of Tikal is in the north of Guatemala, not far from the Mexican border. There are a lot of ancient Mayan sites in this area, but most of them are still engulfed in jungle. In fact the jungle is relatively new.

The Mayan people first came to this area about 3000BC. Development was slow to begin with, the people were still hunter-gatherers until around 500BC. From that time, for the next 1500 years they developed tools, agriculture and religion. They lived in the jungle where food was abundant.

Religion and culture became important, which brought the need to build temples. Tikal was chosen for its limestone, which was considered suitable for ceremonial and royal buildings. But there was no water source. Rain water was collected and stored.

As culture developed, land was cleared for crops, for housing and then for ceremonial sites. The population expanded and so did the need for cleared land.

The monuments we saw at Tikal, in their hey day, were on cleared land with limestone paving around them.

Wars were fought between various tribes, mostly to maintain territorial boundaries.

By the mid ninth century AD the climate had become too hot and dry to sustain the population. The rainforests had gone, taken over by housing, cropping and civic and religous centres. But without rain, crops could not grow and the population could not be fed.

Over the next two centuries the cities were abandoned. But it took hundreds of years for the rain forest to grow back.

Sadly, the same thing is happening in Central America today, as the forests are taken down for cropping.

But this isn’t a story about Tikal or Guatemala or Central America. This is a story about climate change and the devastating effect it has already had, and will continue to have on our Earth.

Travel opens your mind to some wonderful experiences and to some sad truths.

Ancient cedar tree

Ancient cedar tree

Ceiba tree, tree of life for Maya's, with bromeliads

Ceiba tree, tree of life for Maya’s, with bromeliads

View from Temple IV, the highest

View of the rain forest from Temple IV, Tikal



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Should you pay to visit a zoo?

On our last day in Mexico City we visited Chapultepec Zoo. It is free. And it is tired. The big cats had nice enclosures but many other animals appeared to be living in a cement cell. Big, but without greenery, water or objects to entertain them.

We don’t visit many zoos because we prefer to see animals in more natural environments, but I was interested to see the pandas, as the zoo boasts a successful breeding program. We saw one very sleepy panda and another which was walking around in circles.

In fact, when I looked through my photos, the only photos I took at the zoo was this panda walking around in circles.

So what is the value of paying to enter a zoo? It is often costly, but it surely brings in revenue to maintain it and provide comfort for the animals.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have visited the Chapultepec Zoo after all.

Panda at Chapultepec Zoo

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