Friday, 30 August 2013

The Cotswold Hills (Friday 30th August 2013)

The day started with an interesting breakfast with the other guests in the B&B. Three were a family from Laramie, Wyoming on holiday. The father is a research professor, an agricultural economist, the mother worked in geophysical mapping and their 12yo daughter. The other guest was a colleague of the Prof at the same University but working in research in air quality. He was actually an Englishman from Wiltshire showing his friends around the west and London.

We got away at about 10:00am and rather then head straight off we took the English prof's advice and went in search of some more “standing stones”. In keeping with the mystical qualities of the region the immediate area around Avebury is the world's capital of crop circles. Of the 10,000 or so seen since the 1960's 95% have been found within a 15km radius of the little town. There are many people who believe in the mystery of their creation despite claims from individuals that they have been man-made. I'm not sure which is true. Probably both. Designs have become more elaborate over the years. Why? Who knows? I just can't imagine how in the dead of a Wiltshire night a couple of local pranksters can create something so large and with such geometrical precision without detection. That two every three days for the last 46 years. Very busy boys! Moreover, once you, or any one else, has pulled the prank and got a laugh or won a bet why continue?

Anyway, we continued with our plan from yesterday to get to Malmesbury. It wasn't too far do didn't take too long. The town was very busy. We found a park and the tourist information centre. The lady in their was very helpful and furnished us with heaps of documents, brochures and maps of the Cotswolds. It was morning tea time so we found a tea-room nearby. The cakes were OK but the service, the accommodation and the tea were all good. It was time to et cracking as the day was getting away already. The A429 was to be spine s would follow, ducking off to the little villages a few kms either side of it on our way northward.

First port of call was the village of Bibury. Yes, Emily, this is the village in the opening scenes of the Altnahara episode! For all those wondering, the village and its impressive hotel featured in “A River Somewhere – Series 1” way back in 1995. The village was rather crowded with tourists which was somewhat unexpected. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in England. It's very nice but a bit of a stretch to say it's the most beautiful. There is a row of stone houses running down to the Coln River call the Arlington Row which, apparently, is one of the most photographed in England. We parked the Citroen and wandered along the river towards Arlington Row and other parts of the village. The river was full of trout just cruising the shallow, slow waters. Some quite large, some small. The water was clear and the fish easy to spot. Where was my fly-rod!

Across the stream and up the hill we met a young puppy behind a locked gate just looking for a pat, so we obliged.

His mistress came over and I inquired about the whereabouts of “a Manor with a large green lawn that went down to the river”. I couldn't remember the name of it. “That sounds like Bibury Court”, she exclaimed and gave us directions for a nice walk to get there. We followed her directions, walked through a couple of gates, past the Bibury Cricket Ground on top of the hill, down along an old stone wall keeping the forest of some wealthy lord's estate in and down a steep hill past more classic stone houses towards the river.

There, before our eyes, was the view we had been searching all over the country-side for. We stood by the little stone bridge over the Coln and gazed over the expansive green lawn up to Bibury Court, a 17th century Manor House, now a hotel.

We strolled under the huge, shady trees by the stream spotting trout arriving at the hotel's outdoor meals area. A coffee was in order in this lovely setting. We went inside to order and where blown away by the hotels lounge so decided to stop there and enjoy the wonderful “old manor”ambiance.

I ordered roast beef with horseradish sandwiches and for Kerry it was scones, jam and cream, both perfect for the setting. We lingered there for an hour or so enjoying the sumptuous lounge chairs and couches, the rich carpets, the pine wood-paneled walls, the high ceiling, the drapes and the views out the windows across the lawns and the manicured gardens. What a way to spend an hour or two.

As we left the waitress told us about a special church in a village just a little downstream with medieval glass windows that have to be seen to be believed. We promised ourselves to visit it one day, but there's always chapel or a church or a cathedral somewhe....... “Let's go and see it right now “ Kerry interrupted. So we jumped in the car and hit the narrow, winding roads to the village of Fairford.

There, as advised, we found a 15th Century Gothic church with the only full set of original stained glass windows in the whole of England. To protect this treasure the villagers even went to the trouble of taking them out and hiding them for the duration of WWII. The seventeen windows tell well-known stories from the Bible. They were designed for the largely illiterate folk of the time to help them understand the readings.

was well past 5:00pm so we pushed on through the country lanes to the A429. Just near the village of Bourton-on-the-Water we found a B&B called The Ridge. We booked in then continued on the town for tea. The village has a lovely, shallow stream flowing through it. Set with a park on one side and pubs , restaurants and shops on the other it made for a lovely setting. To complete the picture the stream is crossed by no less than six little stone bridges over a distance of 200m. A great spot for tea so we sat in the Kingsbridge Inn and enjoyed a pint and a good cheap pub meal.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

On the road again (Thursday 29th August 2013)

Lugging the cases down the stairs was much easier, but still hot work. We had breakfast however the service was much better when Michele was there. Just shows how important good people are in the hospitality industry, worth much more than any product.
We walked down to the Avis Budget office just 600m from the hotel. There was a bit of a queue as only one chap was on. Nevertheless, we still got away from London on schedule at about 10:00am. Our car is a silver Citroen C3, a nice little car that's easy to drive and I enjoy driving it. Stephen, your diesel one was a good choice and is much more up market than ours. I'm used to the low down torque a diesel gives which this unleaded variant doesn't have.

We set the GPS for Reading for no reason other than it is west of London in the general direction of the Cotswolds. Traffic on the M4 was good until we got near Windsor, then it stopped to a crawl. We thought we'd turn of to Windsor to avoid the traffic and check out Lizzie's shack in the country. Well, bugger me, but the traffic hold up was due to everyone else wanting to see Lizzie's shack. Wr caught a glimpse of Windsor Castle as we did a u-turn to get back to the M4.

We had never intended to actually go to Reading it was just a target for GPS-girl. We skirted around the large town and found the A4 which more-or-less runs parallel to the M4. It just goes through all the towns along the way rather than speeding past them. The latter was always our intention. It was lunch time so we started looking for a pub. At Beech Hill we found The Elm Tree Free House just standing on a hill in the fields. It was sunny and the pub had a terrace so we stopped there.

Waitressing at the pub was a lovely young Australian girl from Sydney. She was so excited to hear an Australian voice, as were we. We were the first Australians who had stopped at the pub. Lauren, we've seen a few barmaids and waitresses over the last two months and if they all had your smiling face and happy outlook they'd be better for it. You're a credit to yourself and a great representative of our Nation. Good luck with whatever you do next. Oh, and don't forget to vote on Saturday!

We drove on through some classic English country lanes through Mortimer and Aldermaston back towards the A4. Some roads were heavily wooded, some were lined either side for miles with hedgerows and all around the fields were green. In the areas was a village called Strathfield Saye and another called Guildford and just behind the pub was the Loddon River. It seemed like we were back in Central Victoria! A part of the English canal system runs through this country fed partially by the Kennet River. We crossed the canal at the town of Aldermaston Wharf where we caught a glimpse of some colourful canal boats moored by the bank so we pulled over for a photo.

Just up the canal was a lock with two boats approaching so we went over to watch them pass through. Well, watching, was the plan until a couple of “senior” ladies alighted to look after the task of manually opening the locks. I couldn't standby and watch so I stepped up to join in the action. One of the ladies wound a gear which partially opened one of the two gates which were abutting one another in a V shape. That let the water start to fall to the next level. Then it took sheer grunt to literally drag the gate open. The boats passed into the lock, the gates behind were closed and then the process began again with the front gate. The whole process took about 30 minutes. Finally, one of the ladies operated the electronic controls to raise the nearby road bridge so the boats could continue their journey. It was a great experience to be able to help get the boats through. One I won't forget. It's all about being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of the “once in a lifetime opportunities presented.

Back into the A4 we drove through Thatcham, Newbury ,Hungerford and Marlbouough. Our intention was to drive to Malmesbury on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, find the Tourist Information centre and find some accommodation, About 10kms past Marlborough we entered the “standing stones” district of Wiltshire. The whole area is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage area. Everywhere are example of stone circles and burial mounds from the pre-history time. Right on the A4 just near Beckhampton is the world's largest man-made mound called Silbury Hill. Obviously the UNESCO chaps haven't seen Calder Park yet!

We passed a pub with a thatched roof and thought we'd change plan and inquire about accommodation. They had none but sent us across the road to a B&B there. There was ine spare double room in Isobel Cottage so we snapped it up. It was about 4:30pm, well short of our target town, but an early finish to driving was appealing. The landlord pointed us in the direction of a nice 40 minute return walk. We walked along dirt paths past fields of horses and steers, down country lanes, past fields recently harvested for straw and hay feed during the winter, across a little creek and through numerous gates to reach the village of Avebury.

A beautiful little English village. Just a couple of streets, a pub, three shops, many large houses such as the Rector's house, The Bakery, Rosemead and so on. St, John's church and its ancient cemetery dominated the street-scape. A large ring of “standing stones” dominated the nearby fields. The Manor House and its gardens and yards, behind the church, created the perfect backdrop to the landscape.

We walked back along the route we had taken, were greeted by some friendly cows and horses looking for an easy feed and wound up back at the pub, The Horse and Waggons. There we had a lovely and relatively inexpensive meal and a couple of pints before heading back across the road to home.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

On the rails again (Wednesday 28th August 2013)

Today was all about getting from A to B or, more accurately, Z to L (Zurich to London). We actually had a little sleep in, called Ronda and chatted for for 15 minutes, tried Mary a couple time but didn't get am answer so we packed up, checked out and headed for the nearby tram stop. We caught the No 3. tram down Badenerstrasse to Zuerich HB, main station. The day was cool and wet and for the first time in eight weeks I had my jeans on. We found the station's information office and to our delight discovered that we were at the right station and the platform we wee departing from was right outside office,
We had two hours to kill so we found a nice tea-room in station and had breakfast. The lady serving was very helpful. There were a number of business meetings going on at the tables around us so I started thinking about returning to work soon. :(

We boarded the 11:34 TGV Lyria to Paris 10 minutes ahead of the departure and got settled. Apart from a stop at Basel and couple of other stations nothing else happened. 

We arrived at Gare de Lyon in Paris on time and made our way on the RER to Gare du Nord. Following the signs to the Grande Lignes we found Halles Londres and went through the whole customs and immigration thing. The 17:13 Eurostar to London left at 17:13. After about 90 minutes at 295kph we arrived at the Channel Tunnel and popped up in England 20 minutes later.

Before we knew it we were at St. Pancras International. Strolled through immigration unchallenged and made or way to the Underground and the Victoria Line. A train came along promptly and we headed to Victoria station. There was a sense of “coming home” after 8 weeks on the Continent. It was good to seen the familiar signs, streets and places. The walk dragging our bags back to Warwick Way brought that feeling home even more so.

Unfortunately our room was on the top floor of the Hotel. Lugging our heavy backs up the narrow, steep stair almost killed me. Of course there is only one cure for a near death experience of that type – pint of Guinness. Indeed, I was so near death I had to have two to fully recover.

We had the drinks and a meal at The Warwick, where we went on the day we arrived in London nine weeks ago. It was then home to bed after a long day.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Bernina Express (Tuesday 27th August 2013)

We're slowly coming to terms with the unfortunate events of yesterday evening. Kerry was pretty upset by it all but she understand we got off lightly. After breakfast at the Ibis we dragged our heavy bags up a few blocks to the Milano Centrale station. We were about two hours early for our 10:20am train so we found a seat near the Departures board and waited. To kill time we replaced a couple of souvenirs we had lost. As is the modus operandi in Europe the platform a train will depart from is not announced until 30 minutes before it is scheduled to leave. Finally our train was ready for boarding on platform 9 so we jumped up to get a good seat. No need to rush as the train was mostly empty. The conductor came by once we were settled to advise all those going to Tirano to sit at the front of the train. Up we got, lifted down the cases from the overhead storage and walked down to the second carraige. It was a long walk as this train, like most others, was about fifteen carriages long – and we were in carriage fourteen!

The train sped through the suburbs of greater Milan, stopping only at Monza. Before too long we were out if the city and into the country. Our journey was to Tirano a town just before the Italian-Swiss border. We spent about 40 minutes of the 150 minute journey traveling along the shores of Lake Como. Lake Como is smaller than Lake Maggiore, surrounded by craggy peaks. It's where all the rich and famous prefer to go. Kerry tells me that George Clooney has a little shack somewhere on its shores. Leaving Lake Como behind we sped up a very long valley towards Tirano. All along the steep sides the locals have created stone terraces on which they have planted grape vines. The rows of vines are rather short and run in every direction, where ever the country dictates with the growers using every possible square inch of arable land available.

We arrived at Tirano, bought our tickets which weren't cheap as I had inadvertently booked 1st class seats before we left Oz. We found a little bar for a bite to eat then boarded the train.

Our carriage was only half full and very spacious which was fine as it gave us the ability to dart from one side of the carriage to the other for photographs. A mother, father and their adult daughter were across the aisle from us so we struck up a conversation with them as the train rolled out of Tirano. They were from near Perth and the daughter, Amanda, was doing an MBA at Oxford.

The train started to climb immediately on our journey from Tirano, Italy to Chur, Switzerland, a journey of some six hours. In parts the train was more like a tram, traveling right along-side the road and in one instance traveling right through the main Piazza of a town. Early in the journey we climbed the Brusio Spiral, as amazing piece of engineering where the train completes full circle on a viaduct while climbing over an area smaller than the MCG. Slowly we wound our way the mountain pass which gives it name to the train. The weather was OK but ominous clouds lurked up on the higher peaks. The train's panoramic windows, which curve up on to the roof, offered a wonderful view of the tall mountains above and the deep valleys below.

After quite some time we reached the top of the Bernina Pass at 2256m. Lakes and streams were now glacier fed having that milky whiteness about them. Even though we are nearing the end of summer the streams had a very good flow. Because the track winds so tightly around the mountains it was not uncommon to see the same lake, stream, viaduct or even village a number of times from different heights and different angles. It unwittingly makes for many repeat photographs!

We started our descent which was every bit as winding as the ascent. Rain and sleet were the order of the day as the weather deteriorated quite a lot. All of the mountains were obscured by cloud, which provided a somewhat mystical feeling to the panorama. The train trundled off the higher, treeless landscape down into forests dark and thick with pine. Like on the other side a long, lush valley heralded our approach to Chur. The train picked up speed as it raced to its destination.

Approaching the station our conductor organised for us to buy our tickets online for the next train to Zurich – an Intercity express. The connecting train was waiting for us on the other side of the platform. Our friends from WA were doing the same as us, using Zurich as a stop-over on the way to Paris the next day, so we all changed trains and sat with one another once again.

At about 8:00pm we arrived in Zurich, at a glance in the fading light, a nice looking town. We grabbed a taxi to our hotel a few kms from the station. Kerry thought I was going to make her march through the rainy streets of Zurich to the hotel! We checked in, unloaded our bags and found a kebab shop across from the hotel. We ate the kebabs back in our room washed down with a beer and coke and started to prepare for our third visit to Paris in less than eight weeks.

The Bernina Express was a fun trip, the scenery great and would have been spectacular on a sunny, cloudless day.

Photos tomorrow.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Milano (Monday 26th August 2013)

Stresa is only about 80kms from Milan but it seems like a world away. After breakfast we checked out of the Hotel, loaded the Fiat and, without the aid of GPS-girl 'cos she is dead, followed the signs out of town to Milano. Like usual the signs to Milan came and went so we just adopted the “don't turn until you're told to” approach to navigation. Sometimes this works, sometimes it don't. Today it worked.
On a lovely, sunny morning the signs took us along the lake-shore for about 20kms, through a number of pretty, small towns. The roads were quiet so we were able to really enjoy the drive. I'd have been happy to follow the lake all the way to the end but we had to get to the Milan International Airport (Linate) by 10:00am to drop the car off. So we hit the autostrade at the first opportunity. I had printed (ie: to a pdf) the directions according to Google Maps last night so that gave us some idea about where to go and what to look for on the road. Although, in hindsight, we could have just fired up Google Maps on the phone which has 2GB of data. We're out of Italy by tomorrow afternoon so the TIM service won't work anymore.

We arrived at Linate which to the south of Milan via the ring-road so it was autostrade all the way. Hooray! After a couple of laps of the car-park( the Fiat pretended to be a bus on the first lap) and the help from a petrol station attendant we found the Avis check-in. The chap cast a cursory glance over the car looking for new dents and scratches, looked happy there were none, I signed a document and off we went to catch the bus into central Milan.

A reliable looking chap in a suit assured us that the X73 was the one to catch so we got a ticket from the machine (1.50 euros each) and the bus took off. By now I'd remembered Google Maps so I plugged in the hotel address and fired up the GPS on the phone and was glad to see the blue arrow and the red hotel marker slowly converging. We alighted at the closest cross-road to the hotel and just followed the blue arrow. The road we needed to walk down had a tram!! We jumped on the next one and rode it all the way to a stop 50m from the hotel. Our ATM (public transport) tickets had still not been validated so the travel so far had been free. The hotel we are at is the Ibis Milano Centrale, just a couple of hundred metres from Milano Centrale train station, the start of tomorrow's journey.

After we checked-in and called Emily on Skype we decided to go into the heart of Milan for the afternoon. We walked up to the station to buy the tickets for the first part of the ride to Zurich. The Milan Central Station is something to behold. Recently renovated, it is a beautiful piece of architecture outside and inside, especially. The main entry hall is huge in all dimensions as are it's surrounding halls that support the ticket office, entry to the platforms and other administrative functions. The whole lot is very neatly and inconspicuously integrated with the Metro underneath. The Metro is pretty scungy by comparison. We got the tickets to Tirano (11.25 euros each) using the great ticket machine – the best we have encountered yet – and found our bearings for tomorrow.
Down to the Metro to use our “free” tickets in to Piazza del Duomo. Very easy to use, we waited just a few minutes for a train. The more I use European public transport the more confused I am about how we manged to bugger it up in Victoria.

Over recent years (2003-09) the facade of the Duomo has been renovated. Today it is magnificent example of neo-Gothic architecture, clad entirely in marble. Construction of the cathedral, the 5th largest cathedral in the world, was started in 1386 and was finally, officially finished in 1966. Just a lazy six centuries. And we comment about how long Antonio Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona has taken! It's been “thrown up overnight” compared to the Milan Cathedral. Yet again, entry is free so no queues. Some big sculptures inside and some other weird things. Just like at St. Lucy's in Venice, two Cardinals lie in their glass coffins fully dressed but with their gnarled and de-hydrated hands on show. A mask covers their faces but with these two you can see the hair on the back of their heads. Creepy.

Just across the piazza is the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a crucifix shaped arcade, home to all the most exclusive retail brands you can think of.

The high, vaulted, glass-domed ceiling and beautifully patterned marble floor is something to behold. This was in my list of places to visit. Tick. We just had to stop at the famous Biffi Caffe for a pot of tea and a pastry and for Kerry's favourite pastime “watching the world go by”.

Paolo Biffi's was pastry chef to the King. His caffe has been there since 1867. The bill of 40 euros reflected all of the above.

"Tell her she's dreamin' "

We wandered out to the statue of Leonardo da Vinci in the adjacent piazza then, leg weary (my “good” knee was very sore for some reason) we decided to duck into McDonalds for a quick bite then head home. Ooooppps! We hit a bump in the road. After waiting for ages to be served (normal for any McDonalds) we sat at one of the benches with high stools. We ate the “food”, got up to go and realised our camera bag was not there! I had put the camera bag and the backpack next to each other under my stool. Someone and nicked the camera bag from right under our noses!! Luckily they didn't take the locked backpack and luckily the camera was not in the camera bag. However, we did lose the bag, the telephoto lens, a spare battery, the battery charger, assorted souvenirs we had bought over the last few days, three days of medicine, my iPod, my Telstra SIM, other assorted cables and, as always, stuff we haven't yet realised is missing .
It could have been a lot worse but it's still a shock and a wake-up call. After 8 weeks one starts to let one's defenses down a little. We searched the restaurant and the area around Piazza del Duomo to no avail. A police officer was standing nearby so we reported the theft to him. He directed us to the nearest police station where we quickly went. The officer there directed us to another station and a kindly detective escorted us to it. There we recorded a statement, signed some paperwork and went on our way back home, very saddened but “happy” that it could have been a lot worse. It got onto Telstra via Live Chat and had my number blocked. The number will be transferred to another SIM once we get back to Bendigo. The service from Telstra Live Chat was very good.
Kerry was very relieved to find her wallet in her case once we got back to the hotel. On the odd occasion we had put it in the camera bag, but not for the past few days!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Mottarone and the Borromean Islands (Sunday 25th August 2013)

The rain and storms had gone over night and we were greeted by a lovely sunny, warm morning. We headed down to the lake-shore to walk to the northern end of Stresa from where the cable-car to Mottarone departed. Along the way we passed a number of very large and elegant hotels. This is where one might find the well-to-do is Stresa, I reckon. There seemed to be a large proportion of “older” people amongst the clientèle. Old means, older than me. Denis from Tassie and and his wife were staying in one of them for a lazy 250 euros a night.

After a good twenty minutes we arrived at our destination, bought our tickets for 20 euros each and jumped in the next car. Mottarone is a 1491m peak directly behind Stresa. The journey to the village took twenty minutes. The village is nothing more than a few houses, a bar/restaurant/tabacchi, a small church and an abandoned, falling down stone building.
We were greeted in the village by the sound of cow-bells – a very authentic European alpine sound. No cows, but a shepherd has grazing his sheep, goats and donkeys on the grass near the small church. His dogs weren't earning their keep. Two were asleep in the sunshine and the other was schmoozing up to tourists looking for a scratch behind the ear. Of course Kerry couldn't resist.

We visited the small church then continued the ascent to the peak via the chairlift. After fifteen minutes we were at 1491m, right on the top of the mountain. The 360 degree panorama was brilliant. With a clear sky and the fluffy clouds sitting just above the peaks we had an uninterrupted view to the snowy Swiss Alps in the west, the plains around Milan to the east, the expansive waters of Lake Maggoire to the north and six other lakes all around. It was the sort of view it was difficult to look away from.

At the peak is a toboggan run on steel rails that winds its way down to the lower chairlift station. Kerry took a lot of convincing but eventually we found our bums planted on one and ready to speed down the 1.2kms track with its twists, turns and steep banks. I was in the back being the brake-man and going slowly for the first 75m when Kerry said, “You can go a little faster”. Of came the brake and we quickly gathered speed. Kerry began to scream, not with fear but with delight as we banked around the bends and and sped through the loops. We both had great fun, wishing we'd bought the three ride tickets instead. We were dragged back up the mountain to pickup our bags and caught the chairlift back down to the village.

The next cable-car was due to leave for the lake for 90 minutes (everything stops while Italians have lunch) so we walked to the restaurant, picked a seat in the sunshine on the balcony and dined in front of the best view you could ever wish to see.

The trip back down was just as spectacular as the one up. On the lower slopes the car passes directly over numerous houses in the villages that line the winding road to the top. Forget about privacy as 40 pairs of eyes stare down at you from on high while you enjoy a pleasant Sunday afternoon in your backyard! In a few instances the car passes just metres above the rooftops.

When we reached the bottom we sought a boat to take us over to two of the islands lying just a few hundred metres off the shore. These four islands are known collectively as the Borromean islands. Fast speed boats and slow ferries leave from many points around Stresa taking tourists to the islands. Across the waters between the islands and shore is constantly moving flotilla of vessels large and small. Boats are going every which way all day long. We chose an outfit called Lido 2000 to take us to Isola Pescatori. A chap sold us two tickets for 20 euros for transport to and between the islands then jumped in and drove the boat. I think his name was Captain Jack Sparrow. Both island are very small. One can completed a circumnavigation in about 20 minutes – at a slow and relaxed pace. The islands each have a small rise covered in stone buildings, separated by narrow lanes and housing restaurants, bars, stalls selling souvenirs and retail of quality merchandise. Isola Pescatori is crowned by a lovely little church built in 1848 while the other major island, Isola Bella, boasts a large museum/hotel with a fabulously ornate and ordered garden. We probably spent two hours on these two before one of Captain Jack's henchmen came by so we jumped on board bound for the main-land.

The stroll back to Stresa was very pleasant. Most of the town were our walking their dog, I think. We stopped for refreshments on the balcony of a bar that looked directly over the water of the lake before finding a place for dinner then home.
Stresa is a really nice town in a beautiful part of the world. I'd thoroughly recommend a visit if you're ever up that way.

Oh, just to freak you out a bit, I was on FB earlier when I stumbled across a post from Scotty. Kerry had just accepted him as a friend. He happened to be online and, to cut a long story short, he is in Glasgow training on the green to be used for next year's Commonwealth Games with the rest of the potential Comm Games squad. The team is not selected until later in the year but given he is the recently crowned Mens Singles World Champion he's probably a fair chance to wear the Green and Gold next July. We'll be close to Glasgow next week so we'll catch up for dinner. Anyway, the freaky bit is that we worked out we are on the same flight from Dubai to Melbourne and will be on the same train from Southern Cross to Bendigo and Swan Hill respectively. You couldn't have organised it if you tried!