Tuesday, 20 December 2011

All our bags are packed we're ready to go..

This is it.  Our last day in London.  What started as a single year of adventures has become a 1 year 10 month adventure for Lee and a 1 year 8 month adventure for me.  We have been very lucky to have some very good times with really great people.  It is a bittersweet leaving for me.  The people I have met here have been great,we've managed to travel and explore so much and there will always be more to see.

We have learnt how to get around: Underground, buses, trains, DLR.  We have learnt to be understood, from the simple: pants/trousers, crisps and sweets, indoors meaning home; through to the phrases: "ah bless", "do y'know what I mean?" 
We've visited:
United Kingdom
Bath
Birmingham
Bourneville
Brighton
Bristol
Broadstairs  (I swear, we didn't just choose the 'B' places)
Cambridge
Darlington
Lake District
Leeds
Nottingham
Oxford
Portsmouth
Rye
Sheffield
Southampton
Windsor
Waymouth
Yorkshire Dales
Northern Ireland
Wales
Scotland
Belgium
Brussels
Bruges
Italy
Bologna
Florence
La Spezia
Liagnano Sabadorio
Milan
Pisa
Rimini
Venice
Australia
Austria
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
France
Germany
Greece
Lichtenstein
Luxembourg
Netherlands
Norway
Singapore
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
USA

I've been everywhere man!

And our adventures don't finish here.  
We are heading back to Australia via a couple of weeks in the USA.  First in New York and Washington, then across to Seattle to meet up with Lee's Dad.  I plan to continue to blog my way through that trip, plus through the adventures that we are bound to have in Australia once we move back.  So goodbye to London and goodbye to the byline, "Following Karen and Lee on their year(s) in London and everywhere else they go.."

The Christmas Cup in Karlsruhe

Our final weekend of travel while living in London was a fun indoor tournament in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Highlights from the weekend included:
  • The Oxford (a student bar) where we ordered 50 shots and 1.2kg of schnitzel, plus four other meals for 6 of us;
  • Ensuing various degrees of drunkenness and stages of hangover on Sunday in particular;
  • Getting lost in the forest within the campus (on arrival and for Alex, also after the party);
  • A €60 taxi ride that was more like €90;
  • Off-roading in the return taxi;
  • "Have you met Alex";
  • Gluwein (pronounced glue-vine, a German version of mulled wine);
  • Girls scoring multiple goals against men;
  • French Sunday and the new call "le Spec" (short for the totally invented French word "le speculative", a dubious creative (edit by Lee) long option to be shouted from the sideline.
Some of the best fun you can have while wearing a Christmas hat and a Santa costume.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Northern Ireland

Friday was my last day at my work and in the mad rush to finish up and make sure everyone had the information they needed, I was late getting to Gatwick causing us to miss our flight. Bugger. We were able to pay a transfer fee after the fact and get on a flight later that evening, the last one of the day. We picked up our hire car and drove ~1 hour to the coast. So, another late night as my cold set in for good.

We woke in a bed and breakfast in Portrush and were served a 'fry' with eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, potato triangle things and fried bread. Just 20 minutes drive away along the coast was the World Heritage listed Giants Causeway and despite the lack of sleep and ill health we were keen to get going.

The shapes of the rock at the Giants Causeway were intriguing. We spent a good hour trying to capture the shapes and the crashing surf. Time and again the fickle surf impressed us with its splash, while we were not in a position to capture it on camera. We climbed amongst the broken rocks within the bays, investigating shells and reflections and trying not to end up in the freezing pools of water. Only half the track within the Giants Causeway was open, due to a mud slide onto the path, but we were not too disappointed as we'd stayed several hours already, we were cold, thirsty and our noses were running. To our surprise, we heard that the Carrick-a-reed rope bridge was open, as from what I had read, it was closed in December. With a fistful of chocolates each, we made our way along the coast to Carrick-a-reed. The coast was a collection of cliffs, rocky outcrops covered with moss, irregular but green-covered hills, sheep and a range of fence qualities. The colours and the quality of the light on the scenery brought to mind various BBC dramas and, by association, Friday and Saturday nights at home on the farm.
Unfortunately the Carrick-a-reed rope bridge was closed for crossing, but the scenery and the stories were pretty good.

Next on the list was Bushmills Whiskey Distillery - the oldest in the world, having been granted a licence for production in 1608 by the royalty at the time. Unfortunately, it was closed due to ice on every surface, so we ate a local lunch. The thing about eating locally are the prices. We had a soup, toasted sandwich, hamburger and coffee for less than £9 - unheard of in London.

On the way back to our accommodation we tried to capture the Dunluce Castle ruins in the dwindling light. The cold, my cold and the busy weeks caught up on us and we caught a couple of hours of sleep before heading out to dinner at 6pm (yes, there's that little light during the day).

At our host's recommendation we went for dinner at the bistro on the wharf. A door behind the tiny bar lead to a large, modern dining room, trendily decorated. Already at this hour we were lucky to find a table for two for dinner. My salmon and Lee's pork ribs were expertly prepared and presented. The combinations of flavours and textures (particularly important for me with limited sense of smell) were well balanced. Feeling greedy we each ordered one of the amazing looking desserts. Lee vanished his pavlova, but I barely made a dent in my toffee cheesecake thing.  Delicious, whatever the case.

Early to bed and late-ish to rise we started the day again with a fry up. The first thing on the list was a revisit to the Dunluce Castle ruins. We walked our way through, envisioning what it must have been like for the MacQuillans and the series of MacDonalds before it was abandoned in the 1600s. I think cold and drafty, although likely very beautiful.  The last inhabitants certainly sounded well off with their persian carpets and dozens of chairs upholstered in silk, damask, velvet and satin.

The first time we time we turned on the radio we giggled our way through the news report.  Despite the gravity of the news, it was hard to feel it.  We did grow a little more accustomed to the accent, though, this didn't help us much when locals spoke to us.  I think it was due to the speed words were spoken. At times we wondered if we were speaking the same language.

Next on the list came the Bushmills Distillery again, which opened at 12:30.  We took in a tour, which was very clear and informative.  The guide had been well coached in speaking slowly so that foreigners could understand her Northern Irish accent and she was so well practised, she wasn't thrown by a single question we asked of her.  Yes, Lee and I are those attendees who ask questions at every stop, curious as to how it all works, the numbers and scale and the output from input.  Each batch of their whiskey is distilled 3 times (unlike Scottish whiskey, which is only distilled twice) for a 'purer alcohol' which they then water down. The tour finished with a couple of tasters - I was very happy with my Hot Toddy - a recipe I might have to look up for a future occasion, and Lee's 12-year-old whiskey kept him happy - although, not at all to my taste.  The whole, slick experience persuaded us that we needed to buy a few bottles as gifts.  (We had forgotten that we only had carry on and would have to pay to check a bag so that we could ship them back to London - Bugger Bugger.)
After a lunch with a high proportion of potatoes at Bushmills Distillery, we decided to head back to Belfast via the Causeway Coast Road.  Here observed more of the stunning coastline with its great-looking surf, high cliffs, and pretty valleys.  One planned stop was at the Old Layde Church, which is also known as the 'hidden church'.  Perhaps not surprisingly, we didn't find it easily.  This church is a bit of a mystery as unlike most, which are on the top of a hill in the middle of the village, it is found in a valley, on the coast, one mile from the nearest village.  For a place where it gets rainy, cold and muddy - even the seriously faithful would be pushed by this.  It is believed that it was used by Scottish believers who would cross the water to worship, when their religion was persecuted on their own land.  The last service was held there in 1790.  The late evening light, the quiet location, the relative seclusion, the leaning gravestones made the whole place feel a bit spooky.

We carried on around the coast, without much purpose as it was pretty dark by this stage, and stopped in Carrickfergus to meet up with Hazel who I had worked with.  Dinner here and then on to the airport.  Turns out, I left my beanie at the pub where we ate.  Bugger Bugger Bugger.  That beanie was bought by Wayne on his UK travels in the 90s, I then claimed it, took it to Melbourne, left it at a Creswick Big Wet Tournament, failed to pick it up when Dan brought it to Perth, picked it up at the next Creswick Big Wet Tournament, and brought it to the UK where it went on several trips with us - including to Norway to see the northern lights.  That beanie has been around the world a couple of times now.

Landing late on Sunday night we carried on quickly to catch the express train home, only for me to realise I had left my phone on the plane. Bugger Bugger Bugger Bugger.  Ours was the last flight of the day, the final train was leaving in 5 minutes, the lost and found area was unmanned, our terminal was 10 minutes away, it was all too hard so we went home without it.  Thankfully it was handed in and I picked it up Monday afternoon, with the cost of a train to the airport and back.

Overall, it was a cheap weekend that became expensive.  This was nothing to do with the place though, which was beautiful

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Good People, Good Times

This weekend we caught the train to Darlington to catch up with Nick and Cat. They have featured in this blog previously as good people and good times and this weekend was no exception.

We arrived in Darlington late on Friday night and met them at a pub in town where they were celebrating a successful year with Nick's work colleagues. Soon after, Lee drove us home in Nick's car, with some enthusiastic directions from the back seat. Once home, Nick outlined the plan for the morning, and we tucked ourselves in to bed for an early start.

Luckily for us (and him), Nick again proved his forethought as a host by prepacking and preparing the food for the day, so that we were away by 8am, the roughness caused by the night before only adding 30 minutes to our planned departure. We were feeling optimistic with the sun shining through the window, but as Cat drove us toward the Lake District we headed into some inclement weather. It was beautiful to see the double rainbow stretched across the fields and houses, lit by golden sun, but it was an indicator for the rest of the day.

We reached our destination at the base of Helvellyn, the third highest peak in the Lake District and England (do I trust this information from Wikipedia?), and layered up in time for it to start raining. Not prepared to back out yet, we crossed the bridge over the river and started up the valley toward the Hole in the Wall. It was beautiful with the bright orange heather stretching across the hill and we were able to see the weather coming and put our hoods up. It was fairly easy-going up the hill and finished with a winding rock stair. As it rained down on us, it was asked, "Who's idea was this anyway?"

We reached the Hole in the Wall and our next decision point. As we poked our heads over the dry-stone wall we felt that the strong wind that we had dealt with so far, was pretty minimal in comparison to what was roaring across the unsheltered ridge of the mountain. We sat in the shelter of the wall and ate our sandwiches, very quickly adding all the layers we had just taken off or carried thus far.

We set off for Striding Edge, one of the peaks, and our original optimistic destination. We didn't get far before the hail stopped us. Let me describe it. It was like being hit directly in the face with tiny rocks. The hail was thick and travelling horizontally. It died down and we proceeded a bit further before it started up again. Gusts of wind knocked us sideways and backwards. We couldn't see where we were going. A conference of the minds decided it was safest if we turned back. You may think it odd that, even then, I was still a little disappointed, but agreed that it was the wisest choice.

We took a different path back down the mountain. In most places it was more sheltered, but still we were blown about and rained on. The layers over our ears made decent conversation limited, but none of this could detract from the beauty of the region. It really helped that we were well rugged up, once again proving, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing."

On the way down we saw a collection of dogs and their owners training for mountain rescues, in various stages of training. In one case a man ran 20m away and hid in a dip off the track. The dog was then released to find him and bring the handler to the man, indicated by barking. Once found, the victim passed over the squeaky toy reward. At the other end of the scale, we saw a person hiding out, perfectly still in a green sleeping bag and a dog scaling the whole hillside.

The occasional lulls in weather were welcome, but there was plenty of motivation to get down the mountain and into a sheltered, warm place. Cat drove us home after stopping off at Dirty Bird for some hangover cure (yes, it was bad enough to last most of the day). We spent a quiet evening in with some movies and takeaway.

The next morning, it again dawned sunny. I made sure to pack my polarizing filter and left the tripod behind. After some fresh, home-baked friands, that inexplicably didn't turn out as usual, we drove to Richmond. The biting cold came as a bit of a shock as we stepped out of the car, as did the light shower of rain. There was still a lovely golden sunlight, so we took the scenic route around the castle and down to the river, where it started to rain for real. Our hosts were not dressed for this weather and we strode back to the car. From there we travelled to a local, rural shop/restaurant where we ate a hearty breakfast, then drove down the road to meet Cat's borrowed horse Splash.

The weather was bitterly cold and threatening, but it wasn't until Cat had changed and taken Splash out of her stable that it started to rain. And it wasn't until she had tacked her up (excuse me if wrong terminology) and mounted that it started to snow. She took a short walk around the field, probably neither horse nor rider enjoying it, for the sake of the photographer. Of course, as soon as the horse was untacked, rugged and put safely away the weather stopped dropping water (in various forms) on our heads. We reached our limit and went home. From there we walked Fenris and their new cat in the park (cat thinks she's a dog maybe?) and spent a quiet afternoon at home with a collection of cheeses and mulled wine, before catching the train home
again.

I have to commend and thank our magnanimous hosts for their patience with my shooting photos and their hospitality in trying conditions. We had a great time, despite what my description might suggest.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Georgian Gastronomics

Most of the adventures I have blogged have been over the weekend, but that is not to say that we haven't also been active during the week. I had such a good time Tuesday night it is worthy of a post.

We met up with Ange and Stu for dinner, at a restaurant suggested by Ange as one that we wouldn't otherwise have access to. She was right - how many Georgian (the country not the state) restaurants would I have the opportunity to eat at in Australia? I'm guessing not many.

I arrived first and was amused to hear that the same music on the website was featured in the restaurant.  We had folded flatbread with cheese in the middle that tasted a bit like calzone and another bread that also had egg on top, yolk still runny.  For mains I had lamb and eggplant kind of stew/soup (came with a spoon for eating) in a delicious broth.

From there, very full, we moseyed down the street to the multi-storeyed Whole Foods to drool at the cakes, meringues and other baked goods, have a sticky-beak in their coolroom full of cheese and basically dream of the time when we could afford to shop there regularly.  (We were in Kensington..)

We came out almost empty-handed (thanks Ange for the white-choc-coated pretzels) and found our way back to a piano bar above the street that eagle-eyed Lee had spotted.  It was great!  The piano man played a selection of classic rock and classic 90s hits that had the whole bar on their feet - spot on for the target market which appeared to be single, 20-somethings that are making the most of Mummy and Daddy's allowance, or at least No Kids Professionals like us.  (We weren't dressed in the latest fashion though.)  I can only imagine how ram-packed the bar would be on a Friday or Saturday, as it was full on a Tuesday.

A really relaxed and enjoyable night with great conversation and even a little dancing.  I'm going to miss hanging out with Stu and Ange when we're back in Australia.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Northern Lights in the north of Norway

One of our most anticipated and envied trips took place this weekend: we travelled to the north of Norway to see the Aurora Borealis - and we succeeded.

Travelling to Tromso
Friday night after work we flew 2h from Heathrow to Oslo in the south of Norway. With no connecting flight to Tromso, we stayed overnight near the airport. My first impression was the cold. My second, the politeness of the receptionist at the Gardemoen Airport Hotel as he explained that we were one letter away from the correct Motel and gave us directions on how to get there. We stayed a basic and comfortable night in the Motel/Hostel and breakfasted on the usual Euro fare plus something brown that might have been goats cheese. Then it was back to the airport on the bus and on a plane for another 2 hours to Tromso ('s' sounds like a 'z'). We landed in Tromso at midday - in twilight. Our (Lee's) research had shown us that the sun was up between 10:40am and 12:20pm, losing 15 minutes a day. I'm not sure where it was rising and setting - but we never saw it.

Saturday in Tromso
We wandered through downtown Tromso: down the main street with its Christmas lights, through the town square where we picked up some street-side lunch and along the waterfront. The centre of the city and the airport are on an island at its widest 3.5km and 10km at its longest. It is part of 'the fiddly bits' or fjordland in the north of Norway. The waterfront was particularly interesting as, as several locals told us, it was at its highest ever level. A storm in the North Sea had led to water levels being several metres higher than the usual high tide. I would never have known otherwise, it was so calm. An indicator that may have been key to a more keen observer than me was where the water had breached the harbour in a puddle, all the locals were clustering and kids were splashing about in their gum boots.

It was dark by 2pm. I had to keep reminding myself of the time. I imagine the lifestyle of a local to be very different to mine. I would find it difficult to motivate myself to go outside when it was dark so much. Although being out of bed before dawn takes on a new meaning. Most people, particularly parents with kids, had some form of reflector on their clothing.

We felt like we had a good idea of the main city centre (is 65,000 people classified a city?) by 4pm when we were picked up for our main event. I had slept on both flights and I slept some more on the 1h30min coach ride to our destination in preparation. 

Lyngsfjord Adventures
On arrival we were kitted out in quilted onesies, boots, mittens and gloves. There were 12 of us who were keen to try the dog wagons - unfortunately there wasn't enough snow for us to go sledding. We split into two groups of six - our group went first to the camp, where we met the dogs - looking less like the stereotypical huskies and more like kelpies in shape. Their fur was thick and they were all friendly, although maybe a little shy at the number of people.
There was:
  • A dog who had just returned from a trip to the north pole (one you would always want on your team apparently);
  • Happy - who was just that;
  • Balu or Blue who was a really tall dog and so keen he had to be chained or he'd jump out of the pens and chase you down when left behind,
  • There was also a 13-year-old dog who was still racing;
  • And a fairly new pup (1 year) that one of our leaders was given when she helped a friend to finish a race - he had a team of young dogs that were so mentally tired that he had been running in front of them for 100km already. She was a beautiful-looking dog who was quite keen on finishing off her neighbour's unwanted food.

While our two guides Amanda and Nora loaded the dogs to take them to the starting point, we went into one of the Sami tents for a feed. We were served a wholesome meat (reindeer?) and vegetable soup served in wooden bowls with a sweet flatbread, about a centimetre high. After we had our fill of soup, a Norwegian dish of flatbread, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon was served for dessert. Then it was our turn with the dogs.

The owner of the business drove us to his property where we were to start with the dogs. Each cart had 5 dogs. The carts themselves were 100kg, plus the weight of the two travellers - one passenger and one steering/braking/scooting/pushing as required.  Steering felt a bit like a quad bike. We took it very slowly as it was very icy and the main message of the pre-briefing was basically "screw up or screw around, you injure the dogs". It was a trail-ride style, where each pack followed the one in front (apart from our leaders who wanted to cut the corner when we turned around). We travelled 9km all up, 4.5km each way (although it didn't feel that far). My favourite part of the trail was a section of woodland where the road was more of a track with ups and downs and corners and tree
stumps to navigate.

While I was driving was the first time we saw the Northern lights. A couple in our group had seen them the night before and pointed them out. After the initial distress to our guides for our unplanned stop, we had a chance to observe and take some photos - only a little bit of pressure on Lee as I was holding the dogs in check. It was faint, but very beautiful on the longer exposure on the camera. The movement or 'dancing' of the lights I would compare to sheet lightening in a distant storm, only not as fast (more a flicker than a flash) and not as bright. This may well be inaccurate as most of our view was in the gaps or reflection of clouds.

Our guides returned us safely back, without injury or incident. From there Lee and I were delivered back to the camp where we met our guide for the night, Roy, and the two other couples who were to stay the night. Roy described himself as a very active person who fell asleep if he was sitting still for five minutes - so right up our alley. He was a climber, hiker, photographer, and more. He had brought some toys along for us to try: a couple of unicycles, some juggling balls, a guitar and a mandolin. Lee tried all of these and I tried all but juggling. Throughout the evening we ducked outside to take a new shot of the northern lights, to try a different composition and in the hope that they might be brighter/less clouds/generally better.

Before going to bed around 2am in the cosy cabin we took advantage of the sauna. Robes, towels and slippers were provided, so we felt very fancy. Everything was lit by candles, lamps and the fire, so was also pretty romantic, if you discount the reason being no electricity. Our log cabin was toasty as with its roaring fire. The only, very real, reminder that we were camping - or to use a plane magazine term, "glamping" - was the drop toilet, that will always smell like a drop toilet, no matter how many candles. Breakfast was served a bit after 7am, and was made special by cutting our own large hunks of fresh-baked bread. We were driven back to Tromso with a bit of information about the area and a lot of sleep.

All the staff at Lyngsfjord Adventures did everything they possibly could to make the experience personal and enjoyable. Each activity was seamlessly run and transitioned. The staff appeared to be a very happy family who all lived within the Tamok Valley.

The ~50 people living in the Tamok Valley made their living from tourists or commuted into town for the week. There were few farmers and few fishermen but both were finding it hard. Previously, being a farmer of salmon in the fjords guaranteed you as a millionaire. Now, due to the low price of salmon, and the setup and maintenance costs required to meet strict regulations to prevent disease escaping into the wild salmon, it is a break even exercise.

Sunday in Tromso
The remainder of our day in Tromso we explored a little further out of the city centre. There was a lake marked near the centre of the island and we made our way there following Google maps. It wasn't a long way, but it was uphill. It wasn't the hill that was the trouble, it was the wet and cold weather forming ice. On the way up we were ok, possibly because we were leaning forward. On the way down was a different story. I'm not sure if it's Lee's walking style, but he ended up with a sore backside and wrists after 3 accidents. We soon adopted the locals' method of sliding our feet along the ground without lifting them. Locals seemed to use the controlled slide not just when they were walking but also when they were driving. We wondered what the statistics on road/pedestrian accidents in Norway compared to other countries is, as it was often easier to walk on the road.
The lake was beautiful in the dawn/dusk twilight; a collection of wader birds on an island in the middle, frosty yellow heather around the outside and parts of frozen water. It was also surrounded by locals taking their children, dogs or themselves for a walk (or solitary run).

For lunch, back in the city we ate two different meals combining cow and pig with veges. On the potato we had sour cream and the house garlic butter which had herbs, lots of salt and something that made it red that we just couldn't put our finger on. Once we had finished, all the light from the sky had gone, making photo-taking a little less interesting. We wandered through the town some more until it was time to make our way back to the airport for our two flights back to London Heathrow.

We were exhausted, but flat out congratulating ourselves on two items off the Bucket List:
1) See the Northern Lights (bonus points for photographing them)
2) Visit a place where the sun doesn't rise (or set)

Photoshoot analysis

I find it really interesting to look at the photos that we selected.  I believe we selected the shots that reflect how we perceive ourselves.  Let me take you through what I mean.
The shot of me: I'm leaning a long way forward looking relaxed, but engaged.  That's how I perceive myself to be.  Whereas Lee's, to me, looks strong, easy-going, but still showing his interest by a slight lean forward.  It also makes me smile to see how (un)flexible he looks. 

As for the shot of the two of us: 
  • We are looking at each other which shows our connection;
  • Lee's arm around me signifies strength, protection and comfort;
  • Lee kissing me on the cheek shows me his love for me; and 
  • My smile at him shows that he makes me happy(er).
We have a very similarly posed shot from our wedding, so that also has strong reminders for us. 

Most of these 'winning' shots were taken while seated.  This reinforces for me the online posing advice I had read, which suggested seating people, particularly if they were uncomfortable.

What do you think our photos express?  Would a different pose reflect how you perceive us?  Let me know in the comments.
All our shots can be viewed by clicking on the album link here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Photoshoot

Yesterday we started off with a very cheap haircut, a fun (and informative) experience and a photo each and came out with a regular priced haircut, a fun (and informative) experience and 5 ok-priced, well-lit, well-posed digital photos. This is following a deal I spotted on lastminute for a haircut, makeup and photoshoot with one print for £10. Unfortunately (?!), we are a very photogenic, touchy-feely couple who were having some fun - and it shows.

I was most excited about the photoshoot part of the experience as I hoped to learn some poses for portraits. Most commonly, standing shots of me were one hand on hip and sitting was with legs crossed. For Lee, standing shots were hand in pocket or arms crossed. There were, of course, minor adjustments and differences, including holding collar or looking away and down for me.

If you're not interested in poses - I'd skip the next few paragraphs..
Our first set was a typical residential stair, with everything painted white. Here, I stood leaning against the wall, one hand on hip, or one hand on banister, or I sat with my wrist on my knee, or leaning forward with my head on my hand. The next step was to bring Lee in to sit beside me on the step above and I rested my hands on his knee. Then it was his turn: leaning back against the wall, leaning shoulder against the wall with hands in pockets, sitting with feet on different steps either leaning back or leaning forward.

Next stop, a wall with bamboo curtain, where we stood alone or together, and then back to our own bit of curtained-off studio where we changed. Most of our shots were then taken in front of a roll of black card, with or without an additional light behind us. We had together shots where my arms were on his shoulders or around his waist; where we looked at each other or at the camera, or he looked at me and I looked at the camera; Lee stood behind me with arms wrapped around or I looked backwards over my shoulder and he looked basically straight on.

The remaining shots, brought in props. The first, a plain black chair, at a slight angle to backdrop, lesser angle to lightbox and photographer 
- for me: sitting up (wrists crosses on knees), sitting back (one arm across back of chair), leaning forward (chin resting on hand, keeping other arm across back of chair) [See below];
- for us: Lee giving me a hug from behind [See below];
- for Lee: sitting leaning forward (elbows on knees), with leg crossed [See below].
The second prop, a white box with a hole in the middle with a white background (rather
than the black to date) 
- for me: Sitting sideways in the circle (feet against the perimeter), sitting up in the circle (hands against perimeter, legs crosses);
- for us: Lee poking his head over my shoulder with no change from me, me back in first pose with Lee leaning on my knees, us both sitting facing forward.
- or Lee: ?
We finished up with some individual and paired shots in front of a textured wallpaper.

The whole shoot took about 30 minutes and there were approximately 80 photos from which we could choose. In most poses there was a portrait and landscape shot. Each location was lit by a giant lightbox and in some cases an additional light source (with or without a coloured gel). Our photographer Jay-Lin was experienced enough to recognise how much we enjoyed photos together and to use our connection in the photos she took. She never said to smile, just positioned us and got to shooting. I would be interested to see what would happen if the photographer then gave us 2 minutes for anything else we wanted to try - could really get some gems - but then perhaps this has been tried and resulted in duds.

The photos of us are pretty sweet: Exhibit A.

From 20111121 Photo shoot

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

This show was spectacular.  Our cheap Theatre for a Tenner tickets backfired a little when we found ourselves in the top balcony with practically a birds-eye view of the stage. Not ideal. We quickly realised why they were pushing the Upgrade Tickets for a Tenner so hard, and took advantage of it. From that somewhat grumpy start (on my part), our aspect vastly improved.

Men with smoother, sexier legs than me rocked the stage with their dancing, singing and general cavorting, through multiple costume changes. The larger-than-life characters were right at home on the
stage, (perhaps not surprisingly), and the smart as a whip one-liners seemed to be funnier than when said in the film. The costumes were all-out in size, cheek, and glitter. The wigs alone were works of art that looked terribly heavy to wear and a little unstable to dance in. The whole composition was a visual delight, making it the show I have most wanted to photograph. Perhaps others have felt the same - which is why they were checking bags at the door.

We laughed our way through the first half - particularly the scene in Broken Hill. A cheer went up when Ray Meagher who played Alf Stewart in Home and Away came on with the line "Stone the flamin' crows, what the hell's going on here" - or something to that effect - to close the first half.

The second half was marginally subdued as more of the personal aspects of the plot were explored, but continued to deliver the laughs and costume changes. At the end of the show, it appeared to be a full
standing ovation from the audience.

If you enjoyed the movie, then I believe you will enjoy the stage show more. If you enjoy a show with spectacle, visual and audio delights, and a good laugh - this will suit you down to the ground.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Nice Bristol

We spent a really enjoyable weekend with Dave (who Lee had played with on Chilly) and Laura (his new wife), in Bristol. A pair of very easy-going hosts, they picked us up from the train station Saturday morning, and we spent a couple of hours cleaning the front of their house, demolishing a rickety lean-to out the back and scraping old paint off the window-sill. The time it took to demolish was faster than the paint off the window-sill, but made the greatest difference.  They seemed really pleased with how much we were all able to do in a short time and after a tasty deli lunch, we made the most of the sunny
weather and went exploring Bristol.

We walked down the street, through the park, saw the lock that enabled the floating dock and a swinging bridge that allowed the boats through, the river at low tide, the spanning suspension bridge, the tower, picked up some patisserie treats for 'pudding', stopped for a hot drink, and wandered home along the river, which was running a bit higher.  We stuffed ourselves on home-grown pumpkin curry and our patisserie treats before being treated to large-screen David Attenborough.

This morning we had a little sleep-in before heading down to the riverside for a breakfast sandwich and to explore a little of M shed - a dockside shed filled with the people and places that make up the history of Bristol. The morning quickly disappeared and it was time to go, pack and board our train before we knew it.

I left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated (only a little bit sore) with a couple of winning photos to share (although, mostly taken by Lee - I told him he wasn't allowed to get better than me..). All in all, a comfortable weekend filled with easy conversation with Good People.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Million Dollar Quartet

We took our seats to the sound of the new fangled rock 'n' roll music of the time and watched the ushers dancing along and the audience peering at their tickets short-sightedly to work out where they were
sitting.

The story was of one night at Sun Records, where the owner, Sam Phillips, brought together 4 stars that he had discovered: Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. In the first half, characters were introduced bit by bit, with the backstory of how they had introduced themselves to Sam Phillips and what he had seen in them. I found myself unconsciously tapping my foot in time to the
music or dancing in my seat.

The premise for the show was a bit thin, but it was an excellent way to hear the hits from the four stars. The actors appeared to struggle with the accent and Elvis, in particular, had a tough gig, turning on and off the showmanship. Jerry Lee Lewis, on the other hand, was set to On the whole time - it was entertaining to watch his larger-than-life performance as he instructed the other stars about hits (before he even had one).

I would recommend this show to people who wanted to see a performance of the music from these stars. I came out singing, "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.." (I walk the line - Johnny Cash).

The Cast
Carl Perkins - Steven bor
Johnny Cash - derek hagen
Jerry Lee Lewis - ben goddard
Elvis Presley - Kevin mains
Jay Perkins (bass) - phil bloomberg
Fluke (drummer) - Adam Riley
Sam Phillips - Bill Ward
Dyanne - Francesca Jackson

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Seen or heard anything strange?

Last night the doorbell rang at 12:15. It was the police. They had found a man 20m from our front door and were wondering if we had heard or seen anything strange. I had no useful information for them that I could determine.

Soon after I realised what an insular life I lead, as I walked home from the station (not passing the place he was found) thinking about the cold, about training that night, thinking about what I was planning to eat for tea, and not noticing a thing around me. (All that thinking is probably generous too.)

This a reminder that the whole world does not revolve around ourselves and that life is fragile.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Hampton Court Palace and Bushy Park

Today I enjoyed a relaxing and informative day at Hampton Court, one of the entertaining palaces of Henry VIII. I was joined by one of my Iceni friends, Caroline.

Together we explored the Tudor kitchens and great hall, the history of Henry's wives in his quest for a son and then the Baroque half of the castle, updated by George and ??  Before they ran out of money.

From there we went outside to explore some of the gardens and the maze. There were several sections of formal gardens as well as Woodland parks. I really enjoyed the woodland parks with the exciting array autumn colours. Another highlight of the garden was a small, but as always, exciting, maze.

From there we had some lunch in the cafe - not surprisingly a pie - after all the ones we had seen in the kitchens, and then stretched our legs in Bushy Park.

Bushy Park
The feel of cold, misty rain against my face, the drag of camera bag on my shoulder.
The smell of woodsmoke and damp earth.
The bellows of horny stags sound over the top of the crunching of autumn leaves under my feet and the constant drone of traffic.
The darkening twilight, turning vivid reds and oranges to murky browns on the trees, the ground and the expansive, ground-covering ferns. The deer blend into the environment, until they startle, splash across an otherwise still stream. One stag has stolen two doe, while the alpha is chasing others. A lonesome stag returns the bellow, head tipping back, antlers along its back to release a deep, guttural mourning.
The lights of distant cars and houses seem nothing to do with this existence.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Bournville and Birmingham - Cadbury Factory!

Attempting to make the most of our few remaining weekends in London, today I headed to Bournville and Cadbury World.
Perhaps it was because I was on my own that I took a pessimistic view of the place. Each of the exhibits has been added piecemeal as the demands of the audiences over time changed. As a result, the whole experience is repetitive and non-cohesive. The exhibits:
  • Trace the history of chocolate and Cadbury (mix of models and hologram video) 
  • Takes you through the process of how chocolate is made at Cadbury (animation);
  • Takes you through the process of how particular chocolates are made (creme egg, buttons, orange cream, nut chocolate bar; video);
  • Get your picture taken with Cadbury images (against a green screen);
  • How chocolate is made at Cadbury (video);
  • View of the wrapping and packing machines (real life);
  • A history of Cadbury's television ads (while queuing for);
  • A small world mini train ride through mechanised cocoa bean characters (who helped with the discovery of dairy milk chocolate);
  • Demonstrations of the techniques of hand-made chocolate (real people) and a shot of liquid chocolate;
  • Advertisement avenue (a fact-learning exercise with the history of advertisements followed by some fun, interactive, movement games. Eg squash the chocolate by jumping on it);
  • Out through the shop and outside past the playground to Essence where you learnt about the 'magic' discovery of Cadbury Dairy milk chocolate and are then treated to a cup of liquid chocolate from the tubes with your choice of additives (I had wine gums).
It is recommended to set aside 3h for a visit. My visit was close to that and I was left with the impression that it was one long queue while they kept you occupied by feeding you information in lead up to the good bit.. Which never really came.

Please take this review with a grain of salt:
  1. I was on my own
  2. Lee wasn't there
  3. It is a working factory that just happens to make chocolate
After over-purchasing at the factory shop I explored some of the well-kept village that the Cadbury family had created for their factory workers - a factory in a garden. My favourite was the Ladies
Garden (the Gents were using theirs for football).

After that, I caught the train back into Birmingham for a look around.  All the things I had heard about it were true: industrial and grimy, that they are trying to clean up. The entire centre of the city
appeared to be shops, and plenty of them.  While this in itself provides an interesting photographic subject, I struggled to see it after the factory in a garden and a week of travelling the French countryside with Mum and Dad.  I'm sure if I had more time to adjust and explore (when it wasn't getting dark), I could have found the gems in Birmingham that I was looking for.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Blood Brothers

As an ongoing aim to see as much while we're in London as we can, I have bought tickets to multiple theatre shows, the first of which was tonight - Blood Brothers.  (Spoiler alert.)

As the musicians played the first few notes I heard the conversation of the young couple behind me,
"..well, it's a musical"
"Why did we come to a musical? 
"Did you know it was a musical? 
"I wouldn't have come if I'd known it was a musical."
Teehee!


It is a story of twin brothers split at birth and brought up by two very different families in and around Liverpool.  It was a funny show for the first half, particularly when one of the main characters farted at a particularly opportune moment, and the others on stage couldn't recover.   

The end however was teary for me and I could only imagine what it would be like for a mother to be in those shoes.

A cast of 13 did a great job, in particular the Mother, Mrs Johnstone (Amy Robbins) and the son Mickey (Stephen Palfreman), although Edward (?) did well too.  The Narrator (Philip Stewart) had an excellent voice, but unfortunately was drowned out a bit by the instrumentals that were a little too loud.

I would recommend the show to most people.

Friday, 30 September 2011

London Versus Melbourne

There's nothing quite like a visit to the homeland to highlight the
differences between two homes. This time around it was related to
population.
The very first thing I noticed coming out of Southern Cross station on
a Friday night, was that the city was empty. I was busy wondering
where all the people were. Not only that, but I noticed other side
effects as a result of the difference in population.

First, the public transport. We are spoilt living at a major public
transport junction in london, so were a little disappointed to learn
that trains were much less frequent from Boronia into Melbourne -
every half hour. I was also a little uncomfortable when I realised I
was the only person in the train carriage. In realistic terms though,
london has 6 zones of public transport, whereas melbourne only has 2.
Comparing frequency of trains in zone 2 Melbourne, to zone 2 in London
is not really fair.

The interior of the trains though are quite different. Where london
has overhead shelves and strangers' knees overlapping on facing seats,
melbourne trains have wide open space and wider spacing for seats.

One of the biggest symptoms of fewer people that I had previously read
about and didn't believe - Australians have a larger area of personal
space. You stand further away from strangers and even when talking to
people you know. It is, of course, less pronounced in the city, but it
is still present like a big bubble around every person.

It may be this bubble or maybe lack of practice but Australians are
unable to move through crowds effectively. It's difficult to get
anywhere at speed, as the people aren't great at the simple task of
getting past each other. The plus side of this is plenty more eye
contact, more smiles and as a result, a more friendly atmosphere.

The differences are not surprising, when you compare the population of
the two cities: Melbourne 3mil, versus xxmil in London; but they do
make for a nice study.


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Monday, 5 September 2011

Worth it

I am spoiled. I have spent the last week spending time with wonderful
people. It started with us being picked up from the airport by Dad
(who had already driven to Geraldton that morning).
Thursday we rallied to help mum with an excursion of her class out to
the farm. She had gone all out to organise fruit for morning tea, an
orienteering walk, egg and spoon races, sack races, a treasure hunt,
obstacle course, sand castle competition, sausage sizzle, as well as,
distress whistles for the parent leaders, a porta-loo (with water,
soap and towel) and transport for children out to our farm. My
favourite part was the treasure hunt because my team found a feather.

From there I raced up to Geraldton to join my fellow bridesmaids and
the bride, Amanda, for some pre-wedding primping and pampering.
Kristal gave us tans and we re-convened the next morning for nails.
The day was filled with haircut, eyebrow shape, church rehearsal,
preview of the reception venue, more tanning and topped off with a BBQ
tea with the Soulliers at Phillip's house.

The wedding day proceeded without any hitches. The only threat of
Bridezilla appearing was in getting to the church in time - it didn't
matter what we were wearing, even if it was nothing at all - so long
as we were on time. The two monkeys, Riley and Caleb were surprisingly
well behaved during the ceremony for their mum and dad. Head Monkey
Wrangler Uncle Phillip did alright - especially given that 2 days
previous Caleb hadn't even come near Phillip.

After a sleep in, we spent Sunday with Wayne, Vanessa, Bridget, may,
mum and dad. The highlight was watching the two girls hoon around the
playground on the foreshore.

After that we headed to see Rocco, rachael, Dakota and lyla. It was
the first time I had met lyla (lee had met her the previous day). She
was just beautiful, spending most of the time asleep.

We stayed the night and in the morning rocco took us to the sand dunes
with the motorbike. Rocco was working on the assumption that we could
both ride a dirt bike.. One that was not entirely correct - but we had
an awesome time nevertheless. (Rocco burnt more fuel in the 10 minute
ride home than we had in an hour on the dunes.)

Anyway, the extra time in WA was well worth it.

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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

WCBU and Milano

We are now coming to the end of our first month of travel and
transitioning from Euro tourists to Australian visitors. We have
visited Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece and Italy. Today we fly
to London and from thee onto Australia.

Our week in Italy was for the purpose of playing the World
Championships in Beach Ultimate. Lee and I were both playing for the
Australian mixed team, the Breakers. Beach games are 45 minutes long
and we had up to 3 games a day. Temperatures were around 36 degrees
and not much cooler overnight in our dorms with no fan or
air-conditioner. Many people slept outside on the balcony with eye
masks and ear plugs in place. we were quite glad of our week of 'heat
conditioning' on the boat in Greece, although that didn't help the
humidity.

The tournament started Sunday with the opening ceremony and a fair
accumulation of nerves for me as it's the first time I had donned the
green and gold as a player.

Our first game was on Monday afternoon (2pm) verses the Poles. They
were a strong opposition which made it hard for us to get into the
game, but we ground out the win. The sun was hot and the sand
iron-hot. We were quite glad of our purchase of Sand Socks 'just in
case' as they had their first wear.
The second game that day was 6pm against Brazil. Not as strong as Pol
pol pol pol pol pol pol-ska (Poland), I actually touched a disc in the
game and felt that I was able to contribute to the team. We won that
game with good spirit.

Tuesday we had a single game against Estonia. They were a strong team
made up of athletes. They were from Tallinn and played together all
the time, but told us that there were also players in Tartu. (Both
places we had visited with Lee's family.) Estonia gave us a great
wakeup call by beating us in universe point 9-8. This was a turning
point for structuring our team from offense and defense line into one
offense line and two defense lines. Another positive outcome was that
many on the team reevaluated their underestimation of European teams
and the effectiveness of their blades.

Wednesday morning (9am) we met a strong Irish team. Our experience the
day before helped in a universe point to win 9-8. Our second game,
that afternoon, was against the local Italians which we finished early
by taking to points cap (13-3/4?). The third and final game was
against a strong Swiss team. Lee joked with a few of them that he had
played with at Paganello which helped keep the competitive atmosphere
friendly. A really spirited game that we were disappointed to lose.

Thursday we had another big day with 3 games. 10am (Currier Island),
3pm (Netherlands) and the 9pm showcase game against Germany. We beat
currier islands and netherlands, hitting our stride, but the German
team seemed another level again. The cooler temperatures were lovely
making us feel fast, but the poor lighting made the disc hard to see.
I spent much of the time striding up and down the sideline wishing I
could play, but our offense line had trouble scoring.

Friday we were nearly at the end of the tournament and had only just
finished pool play. Our quarter final was against GB. The first point
was long and I called two contested fouls, which seemed to set the
tone for multiple calls through the game. Not the finest game, but
still a solid win of 7-5

The semi-final was another game against Germany. We had learned from
our match the night before, marking the unders and forcing backhand. A
good start with a break on defense was quickly eroded and they won the
game 13-5. I got one of our Ds, but our offense line struggled to
connect with multiple long shots thrown as cutters turned under.
Another well-spirited match, after which their captain and coach
gifted us Roo's Wind Arrow - a concept for maintaining possession on
beach.

The final day, Saturday, we played Portugal for bronze. Unlike every
previous day, it dawned windy with incoming storm clouds. Luckily for
us Portugal struggled to connect in the strong wind and a series of
breaks saw us take the game 11-4.

It is two days later and it has still not sunk in that our team
finished third in the world. I hadn't played with many of the people
on my team and I am looking forward to an opportunity to play with
them again.

Somehow with more luggage than we started with, we made our way to
Milan on buses and train. I was not very impressed with Milan the last
time I visited, but this time I felt I understood it a little better.

The first impression of Milan is of its train station which is big,
clean and impressively decked out with marble statues and motifs. We
stayed, fairly cheaply, in a nice hotel on one of the main shopping
drags of Milan, just 1km from the station in one direction and 2km
from Duomo in the other. After a week of late nights and waking with
the sun, we crashed for a couple of hours before a fancy dinner and a
photography excursion to Duomo. Lee proceeded to give me a lesson in
photos using the 50mm lens and the statement, "a good photo captures
what the eye does not see".

My impression of Milan this time around was impressive and
fashionable. The wide streets counteracted the dodginess of graffiti,
a mix which Athens could not duplicate. Exploring the city on a Sunday
night was really quiet, so I was able to take in and accept, if not
appreciate, the ludicrously priced fashions in the windows. Big square
buildings left no doubt as to the size and importance of this fashion
capital.

The next step in our 2 months of travel is Australia for a couple of
weddings. Luckily, Lee is able to work from the Melbourne office for
the next month, where he can get to know the new CEO a little better.
We fly out tomorrow.


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Sailing in the Greek Islands

Day 1
Shopping for drinks and food
Feel like like superstars when we see our boat
Set sail around 3
Arrive at Aiginos in time for golden sunset
Take our place in busy dock
Understand a bit better how moorings work to prevent dominoes damage
effect of boats.
Fish dinner in the town with horse carts going by
Still hungry so order more from local kebaberie
Go to sleep listening to local nightclub
Full moon

Day 2
Wake up to sound of church bells for Sunday morning mass
Rhys fishing
Wander through town
Fresh figs
Floppy hat
Flying fish
Swim for flying hat
Jumping off boat, catching discs
Swim to beach
Paddle bat with tennis ball on beach
Sail to Poros
Cook chicken and salad and mushroom and corn for tea

Day 3
Wake up early and wander through town - see email to mum and dad -
Maria name day - many wearing white
Wifi connection
Sail out of town and when wind dies swim in the middle of nowhere with floaties
Arrive in bay
Moor to rocks
Build fire
Goats with bells
Spaghetti bolognaise for tea
500 most of night

Day 4
Paddle in bay until lunchtime
See big houses and big boats
Moor in bay outside a beach for swim and explore
Sea urchin spines, Muscles the Crab, transparent little prawns in cave
rock pool beside beach.
Spiez overnight. Quiet taverna for tea.
Zombies on the walk back to boat

Day 5
Actually sailing today at some speed
Realised the reason/importance for some of the fixtures (eg steps with edges)
Stopped in a bay for a swim: Lu and pete late back to the boat
Accordion of boats strung to each other with ropes. Climb over a
series of boats to get to the dock
Mooring we were as useful to Janos as butterflies on a buffalo
Jumping off rocks
mojito overlooking bay as the sunset
Tipsy photos of sunset
Dinner in a green lit garden
Cats everywhere
Game of jungle speed and download photos before bed

Day 6
Some trouble when our anchor was picked up by neighboring yacht, and
some trouble when we picked up someone else's chain
Big swell and wind straight into our face meant we motored and sailed
at the same time.
Lee didn't have breakfast otherwise he would have seen it again, as it
was he saw stomach lining
Bit of a trigger for the rest of us, but luckily no-one followed his footsteps
Motored through the big swell, as the wind died down
Lunch and Swim next to boat in quiet cove
Motor in to .. To take 3rd last spot at dock
Training throw and game on artificial court grass - feels good to get
moving as quite stiff
Dinner: cheese pie (sold out in all other places), Greek salad, kilo
of lamb chops and baklava saved for tomorrow
Big orange moon as we came back to boat

Day 7
Early morning (9-ish) training on rubber crumb
Fresh bread and punnet of figs
Sail to quiet cove - first time on our own for a final swim, walls
built on the hillside
Rhys catches more fish
Motor-sail back in to Athens - each having a go behind the wheel/helm
for a photo
In to athens for a real (if cold) shower before dinner in Mikrolimano
- hunger drove us to eat in the first place we saw - bad choice as our
worst dinner yet in Greece.
Sleep in dock overnight

Day 8
Early start to make our way to Venice .. Via Istanbul.

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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Meteora 2

The imposing outcrops of rocks were the last thing we saw before bed
and the first after waking up. It was hard to believe that at the top
of these rocks Orthodox Christians had hauled all manner of religious
and historical artifacts along with their basic necessities (these
were alluded to, not on display).

Today we viewed the monasteries from the road after hiring scooters. I
was very nervous until I realised they were single speed animals.
After I got past my guilt for breaking my 'Pri-Inga Motorbike licence'
awarded at age 10 on the condition that I wore a helmet, long sleeves,
long pants and proper shoes, I really enjoyed the ride in my singlet
and skirt. It probably helped that they were quite gutless and we
never went any faster than Lee would go on his push-bike. To
everyone's astonishment we had a bike each - unlike the family of four
we saw on one.

We entered one more monastery today after failing to find the nunnery.
Agria Trias seemed to be one of the harder ones to reach as a tourist
involving a descent and a stair climb - not much to our Alp-hardened
lungs and legs but there was much panting and stopping by our fellow
tourists. No photos were allowed in any of the churches, but we did
see one case where the rules were relaxed. Yesterday, a group of deaf
and blind girls sang in the Great Meteora church. The acoustics in the
small, domed space were crystal, the music drawing everyone in the
space closer and stiller. The church today was no exception with a
dome above each of the two square spaces - I tested the acoustics
myself, but could remember no traditional hymn, in fact, the only song
I could think of was: 'Stand by your man'.

We finished off our day with a late lunch, polishing off poupasaka
(sp? Eggplant, mince, cheese) cheese crouqettes, lamb chops (yum!
Oregano and salt!), halva (hard stuff made from sesame seeds with
honey and cinnamon for taste) and melon (water and rock).

My impression of the people here is laid back and always respectful of
people. Respectful of property, not so much - there is graffiti
everywhere - including covering this train we're on. Although perhaps
it is the lack of money here that prevents its cleanup alongside the
pickup of the scrawny stray dogs and cats.

The occasional English-spoken news that we have picked up along the
way has surprised us: USA being down-graded from a AAA credit rating
to a AA credit rating for its inability to decide how to deal with the
problem of paying its debts; Italy and Spain being added to the list
of economies draining the strength of the Euro; and riots in London,
including some 10m from our house in Clapham Junction. Rioters lit
houses (and cars at other locations) on fire smashed into every shop
in the street, looting them bare. While we were safely in Austria, our
house sitter had a bag packed with our photo backup discs in case he
had to make a run for it.

Then back on the 5:30pm train that was scheduled to arrive in Athens
at 9:30pm.. And has arrived at 11pm.


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Friday, 12 August 2011

Meteora

To reach Meteora we caught the full train (standing room only tickets)
for 4.5 hours. We were able to find some seats and soon learned that
possession is 9/10ths in this scenario.
In the first hour we passed through an agricultural area. Throughout
the valleys we saw small sections of irrigated crop and often on the
hills, plantations of trees, although whether the trees are for
produce I couldn't always tell (definitely some olives). Aside from
the trees, the most plentiful crop was one we couldn't identify -
cherry tomatoes was our uneducated guess, but surely there are not
that many Greek salads in the world that need cherry tomatoes. The
tops of the hills were growing rock.

In the second hour it became more hilly (I'm reluctant to use
mountainous after the Alps) with fewer patches of arable land. On this
land there were higher proportions of wheat/barley (I can't tell after
it's cut) and corn. Even sunflowers started to crop up.
In the third hour it was mostly hills covered in scrub and and rock
apart from the one big valley, which was squares and squares of crop.

The fourth, fifth and a half hours all just seemed more of the same.

On arrival (no wonder I couldnt find any information, that's the
fourth spelling of Kalampaka I have seen just from the train people) I
thought it would be a good idea to walk the 4km to our hotel. We
couldn't remember whether we were staying in a hostel or not, so we
were sure to pack pajamas and a towel. Coming round the corner in our
sneakers and shared backpack, we spotted our 5 star accommodation in
surprise.

Checking in at our ritzy hotel at 3pm, we found out that
1) we could enter the monastries on top of the giant rocks;
2) they could be reached by road;
3) some of them shut at 3:30pm.

Skates on, we took a taxi up the mountain (we were assured that no-one
actually walks!) to see two of the monasteries. The first, Vaamal, was
a small one where we saw their chapel, their net and wooden winch (for
bringing products up the cliff) and their giant 12,000L wooden water
barrel. Every surface of the chapel was painted, many of them guilded.
The chairs and lecterns were elabourately carved.

The second monastry, Great Meteoro, was the largest. In this one there
was also a carpenter shop, kitchen, refectory, ossuary (where skulls
and bones were on display) and .. We were rushed out of this one but
had time to take in the many scenes of persecution painted in the
first room of the chapel. By far the majority were decapitations, but
the walls and ceilings also had stonings, crushing by vice, burning,
amputations and hanging upside down.

Very much like the un-initiated, I forgot that I would need covered
arms and it was really by chance that I was wearing a skirt. There
didn't appear to be any dress restrictions for the fellas.

Dinner was a fantastic. Fried cheese, stuffed vine leaves, pork
souvlaki and lamb chops, finished off with fresh watermelon - that
actually tastes like watermelon. Good bit o' melon that.

We have the option of either a 5:30am train or a 5:30pm train back to
Athens tomorrow. We think we may just sleep in..

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Athens, making curved lines straight since 447BC

Our overnight at a hotel chain near Munich airport was unfortunately
the least hospitable stay that even chocolate on the pillow couldn't
allay. On the bright side, we were out of there at 4:30am to reach an
early flight. We were able to recover some sleep as the plane was
delayed for 3 hours and then we were off to Athens.

Having looked forward to the heat of Greece for some time, it was
still a bit of a shock to see a brown landscape and feel 31 degrees
again. Exchanging our hiking boots for sandals made us much nicer to
each other.

We checked into our hostel and, after a brief rest in the air
conditioning, went to find the Acropolis. At 3pm the sweat was flowing
freely, and taking a wrong turn we ended up in a very dodgy area of
town: covered in graffiti, delinquent-looking men everywhere staring
as we passed, 'second-hand' mobile phone shops and our first lesson in
crossing the road - just walk. Walking with an air of confidence we
didn't always feel, we were soon back on the right track and on our
way up to the Acropolis.

The Acropolis has been a site of importance for centuries and human
occupation has been traced back to the Neolithic period (). It has
been a seat of kings, the home of a cult (to Athena) and the buildings
that remain today temples (?) built between 447 and 406 BC.
The scale of the buildings was massive, all built of marble, including
the ground which was a bit slippery at times. Every lintel, cornice
and column still retained at least some of its original sculpting.
Even the block-work of the walls was fitted aesthetically. All around
the buildings that remain standing are pieces of rock that .. Are
trying to fit back together like one giant jigsaw, made all the more
complicated by allowing tourists to take pieces home up until the
'80s. (?) When these buildings were whole it must have been truly
spectacular.

From the hill of the Acropolis you can see a full 360 degree view of
the city. There are few major, straight roads through the city, so it
appears quite jumbled. This is probably not surprising given it has
evolved over more than 2000 years. Over that time, various wars and
invasions have added to the destruction and thereby evolution of the
city.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Wasserspiele

Learning from yesterday that a late entrance causes waiting in lines, we went straight to the Wasserspiele fountains in Hellbrun, just outside of Salzburg, after breakfast.

Back in the 18th century, the Archbishop and ruler of the area built a pleasure palace, which he commissioned as soon as he came into power (in 1612 - and started building in 1613) as an antidote to melancholy caused by boredom. The site for the palace was specifically chosen for its many springs and streams. The Archbishop had grownup in Italy and on a later visit had seen a water garden at the residence of one of his relatives, perhaps giving him the idea to build his own. These gardens are ‘trick’ water fountains and many of the fountains tell a story.

The hour-long tour of the gardens began at the Princes table. Our guide described the trough in the centre, filled with fresh spring water, which kept the bottles of wine cool for plenty of drinking, then called for volunteers to take a seat. The rules which stand from that time are: 1) Hands on the table; 2) Stay seated; 3) Don’t panic. She then proceeded to show us the Archbishop’s little joke, which wet the crotches of every guest, but not the host.

The next short stop was a fountain labelled as a Gate to Hell. Back in the day, springs were known as gateways to hell, hence the literal translation of Hellbrun – Springs of Hell.
Next was a grotto which had a room with 40 different bird songs created and powered entirely by water. In this room nestled a metre-long ceramic dragon which had been fired in the 18th century. Here again were hidden fountains in the floor to surprise people inside and on the way out. The view out the door was of connected pools mirroring the statue of Perseus, as ever with Medusa’s head. The upper pool had 5 points, each fed from different springs and the lower pool could levitate a ball.

The walkway to the next section had miniature scenes of people: from a miller to a knight saving a naked maiden from a dragon. The walkway led to a giant scene with more than 200 figures and more than half of them that moved, powered by water. As the pipe organ sounded the finale, fountains wet the spectators from behind.

There are more surprises in store, but I won’t give more away – let me assure you it is considered ‘lucky’ to be wet by the fountains - and everyone that does the tour is considered luckier at the end. The sun came out in time for some spectacular photos around the gardens before we headed back to Salzburg.

World of the Ice Giants

We headed to Eisriesenwelt today, the world's largest ice caves, along with every other rain-drenched tourist in the area. After turning off the motorway we were forced to park at the bottom of the mountain. Not wanting to wait for the bus up the mountain, we decided to walk the 20 minute drive. 30 minutes up the mountain, dripping from the rain and sweat, with 50 photos of the same castle, and 7 full coaches having past us, I was starting to regret 'our' decision. On reaching the top about an hour and a half after setting off we discovered the wait for the 3 minute cable car ride was 2 hours, so we decided to walk the next section too. The estimated time was 90 minutes. We nailed it in 45. Must have been the cheese kranski and jam donut - lunch of champions.

We approached the ice caves with a little anxiousness as we were already soaked and cold, without being surrounded by ice. We were unjustifiably grumpy when our English-speaking tour group was mostly made up of native German speakers. Our guide, David, started by explaining the stats of the tour: worlds largest ice caves, 42 km deep with ice for the first kilometre, 1400 steps (700 up and 700 down), and all at freezing point. The caves were first discovered by Anton Posselt, a natural scientist, in 1879. Tours were conducted from the 1920s taking up to 8 hours. Our tour took 70 minutes and my hands and nose were glad of the end. Our way was lit by small lanterns which every second person carried, plus strips of magnesium which David burned to light up himself and the towers of ice. It was all quite dramatic. When asked, David was quite proud to reveal he had trekked a further 26km into the cave, and beyond that point would require sleeping in the cave.

The caves were breath-taking and walking up the stairs in the dim with ice both sides was vertigo inducing. When our guide climbed up into the ice figures and lit up the ice from the inside the view was amazing (very blue). The inside of the cave was very changable, one of the biggest figures that we saw today was not there 90 years ago, and one of the floors we walked on would have been 10m lower when the tourists came in in the '20s. The oldest ice found in the cave so far is 1000 years old. This cave is beautiful and has been shortlisted as one of the 7 natural wonders of Europe.

Early to bed tonight and hopefully we won't awake as two giant balls of mucus again.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Culture

A night of coughing was counteracted by a big breakfast and we were on our way to explore the old town of Innsbruck in the day light. We took in the museum with its golden roof, the Swarovski crystals, the Imperial gardens (giant chess, bright yellow seats and a water
fountain in the playground) and some strudel before hopping in the car and driving to Salzburg.

Keen to get started on the 'culcha' we booked ourselves in for a night of Mozart and 18th century food. The synchronicity of the violinists in the string quintet, the clarity of the singers voices and the ambience of the room in a restaurant that had been serving continuously since 810 (AD not AM) made for a special night.

Switzerland - Liechtenstein - Tunnels

Today we said goodbye to Switzerland with a few parting shots and ended up in Innsbruck, Austria. On the way we passed through Leichtenstein.

Leichtenstein was first on the radar as it is a tiny country in Europe. Researching what was there we found that the capital Vaduz had a castle, and our destination fate was sealed. We had some difficulty parking, as all spots were reserved for shoppers and in the end took a punt, after which we realised it was Saturday and those particular shops were closed anyway. Our accidental touristing magic had kicked in again and we were lucky to find a beach volleyball satellite tour (which is international competition but not at the top level). We sat in the sun enjoying the athleticism and pump up music, looking forward to our own tournament in 2 weeks time. I was lucky to have Lee on hand to answer some of my questions about technique and to take his predictions on the winner of the three semis we watched. Leaving the volleyball was not easy for us and outshone the castle and main town.
The people we spoke to had excellent English and I will remember them all being well dressed as a high end designer shop was having a 70% off sale.

I don't know what Swiss government rules are, but as soon as we were over the border, houses were made out of substances other than wood. It was incredibly scenic, to the point where we had to be specific when we said, "Wow, look at that!" as otherwise the response would be, "Which bit?" . Our first impression of Austria wasn't as scenic as Switzerland as we travelled inside tunnels for most of the motorway.
The longest we have been in so far was 16km. We were quite excited to hear our first song in German today. We've had the radio on each time we drive and mostly it's like listening to a classic rock station with an announcer we can't understand. Our impression of Austrian
architecture was not helped by our suburban entry into Innsbruck, which appeared to be blocks on blocks of 70s high rise flats.
We were staying in a hotel run by an Austrian couple, which had an authentic family feel. The hotel was halfway up the mountain overlooking the city. We had dinner there, which for me was Tiroler Groestel (boiled beef and potatoes, fried, and a fried egg on top). It
was a bit salty, but balanced by sauerkraut. Our wallets left dinner feeling much heavier than any outing in Switzerland.
Again our accidental touristing worked out for us as we headed into the old town and discovered a summer street festival with performers before heading home to bed (woohoo Saturday night!).

Friday, 5 August 2011

Hiking in the Alps

Plan A for yesterday was a mountain hike, which we did today instead. We realised that you could come to the Alps and not actually do any walking. There are cable cars, gondolas, trains and lifts. We wouldn't accept that kind of behaviour from ourselves and set out to prove it today.

We set off from Grindelwald .. And took a gondola up the first 500m to Bort (1570m).. From there though we hiked up the remaining 695m to the lake Bachalpsee (2265m). What I find hard to believe about these mountains are the wide variety and volume of wildflowers on display. We reached the top with plenty of sweat lost, photos of cows and a tinge of disappointment. What we hadn't realised on our first day was that the picture perfect, postcard weather was not permanent and that the pictures in the brochures are quite hard to replicate when the mountain is covered in cloud, the valleys are in part shadow and the mist is rolling in.

The journey down was sped up as for one leg we took an 800m flying fox. It was still a successful day as after 7 hours of walking, our legs did feel a little jellied. We were able to: justify that it's about the journey not just the destination; use human power to reach great heights; get our training in for the day; feel satisfaction in accomplishment; spend money on dinner instead of gondolas; and take in the mountain air.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Plan B, just as good as Plan A

Today we woke up to rain. Actually, more like storm. Seemed like an ideal time to revert to Plan B, Trunnelbach and Gruyeres.

Trunnelbach showcases ten waterfalls that flow down inside the mountain. There were multiple vantage points to view the thundering 20,000 litres a minute of glacier melt. Surprisingly, 16 degrees felt fairly warm after being sprayed from the falls inside the caves. A
couple of the vantage points let us get up close to the water, close enough to get nicely soaked (and cause Lee to hit Karen while running away from the splash) Our new tripod (yes, we bought one) is getting a full workout.

We got back in the car to warm up, dry off and drive over a mountain pass to the French speaking part of Switzerland and the 16th century town of Gruyeres. Here Lee broke his non-dairy diet with a vengeance, first item on the menu was raclette. This is where a hunk of the local cheese is melted bit by bit under a grill and applied to potatoes. The same cheese can be served as fondue: melted in a big pot and picked up with bread on a fork. Karen was pleased with herself that when she spoke French to the waitress, she didn't seem to notice we weren't French until Lee spoke.

Gruyeres is a picturesque town in a mountain valley. The old town is situated on a hill, has a medieval castle and is circled by a defensive wall. The castle housed eleven counts before the last one had to sell to his creditors.

The old town is home to 170 people and I don't think I would want to be one of them given the work involved to stay in theme nor would I appreciate the million tourists each year.

The drive back to the hostel was uneventful as we again took in the wooden houses with flower boxes or colourful shutters, the rolling green of the valleys covered in sheds and houses, and the strong smell of sheep and cow poo.

Tomorrow, back to fine weather and Plan A, The Mountain.

Love Lee and Karen

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lucky

There must be thousands of tourists in the Swiss Alps daily, even just in Interlaken, and yet the feeling I get from the mountains is peace. Somehow it is impossible to feel stressed when you're already feeling awed by the mountains, breathing in the fresh air and hearing, well, nothing really, it's quiet.

Here, unlike Horst where the tourists all spoke German, there is a real mix of people of all ethnicities and languages - enclosed areas like cable cars provide a nice (although biased) sample of the population for this observation.
 
Today we made our way up the Schilthorn, which has one of the best views of the three monks, a view that is commonly associated with Swiss products. The journey started from Stechelberg at 900m. This is in the lush, green valley with giant mountains either side and log sheds and houses next to the winding river which appears white from the rushing.
Heading up past a cliff waterfall on the way, Gimmelwald is the first cable car stop: 1367m, 22 degrees Celsius. There are a couple of places to stay at this level, but it's a fairly quick stop as the next cable car is weighted with the first. A couple of para-gliders got off with their giant packs at the next stop, Murren: 1638m, 21 degrees Celsius. This area was still really lush, but harder to farm, as evidenced by the truck on a giant lean in a tiny field (about the size of a big Australian house block). The next cable car ride took a bit longer and took us up more than 1000m - Birg: 2677m, 12 degrees Celsius. The transition over this leg was from green farming land to mossy cliff faces. It's around this point that it really sinks in how hard it would have been to build in the first place. On the way up I had thought this was it, but no, one more cable car up to the summit - Schilthorn: 2970m, 11 degrees Celsius. At this level there are still odd patches of snow, but mostly it is a dark-coloured slate with some very hardy alpine flowers. At the very top is a viewing platform as well as a 360 degree view rotating restaurant. We were lucky to have a crisp, clear day and London had prepared me well, as it was warm enough in the sun in my skirt. The view was just spectacular. Having seen little kids walking up we decided that we would be ok to walk the leg back to Birg which is recommended to take 1h. We took 2 due to frequent camera stoppages. I'm glad we took that route as it resulted in our best shots.

We made it back in time for the last cable car of the day back to the bottom of the mountain. We finished off the day with a self-cooked pasta, some photo catchup and planning for tomorrow.

We had moments throughout the day where we realised and reminded ourselves just how lucky we are - to be here, to be with each other, to be fit and healthy, to afford to visit Switzerland, to both have the inclination to be here.. The list goes on.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cows, car and crackers

Waking up to mist over the mountain before the sun rose, just magic.
Then waking up again after the sun has risen above the mountain, showing as a massive ball through the mist, priceless. I'm being slowed down by a cold, so it was a late breakfast before we made our way up the mountain in a cable car.

The pure magnitude of the mountain was breath-taking on the way up and once at the top, it was doubly so. Standing on the top of a mountain, wild flowers everywhere, tingeing the fresh mountain air with scent, the sun shining in the blue, blue sky, the gentle, albeit out of tune clanging of the cow bells, the mist rolling in, outcrops of white stone amongst the luscious, green grass - it would have been hard to get any more scenic. We made our way down to the cows via the difficult route (note to self, when Lee chooses the direction, put the camera away - you'll need both hands).

We came back to our hotel for another delicious meal before setting off for Interlaken. We spent a fair amount of time in the car today, with a few minor detours. The interesting part was that we were able to see the next step in the silage process. After cutting, the next step appears tone drying the grass out. This involves either turning it over with a spreader/rake behind a tractor, or by hand with a pitch fork. Once done it can start to be raked together. By hand it was with a wide rake that was bent toward the person at the end. Both of these manual steps appeared to be done by women and children today. Mechanically, it was tractors or small ride-ons that basically rake the width into a canvas barrier at one end to bring the spread clumps back into clean lines. The clean lines are then picked up by a conveyor(?) front-end that packs it into a following trailer. I found the whole process fascinating - as you can probably tell.

We went from scenery that was hilly with either grazing or being processed for silage, to the same hills covered in trees, to a mix of corn and pasture in the flat valley, then we were either in a tunnel through the side of the mountain or next to a lake (at least that was my impression when I was awake). All the way along there were wood houses with stereotype curtains in the window and masses of red and pink flowers in window boxes. There was at least one house where I don't know how they could see out the window through the flowers! There was one farm where I was really tempted to stop - selling butter by the side of the road!

We reached Interlaken an hour later than scheduled to catch up with Fabrice. We had met Fab and Alice in Melbourne, where Fab became well known for his ability to drink beer. Since then Lee has played with the Swiss frisbee team Wizards at 2 Paganello tournaments thanks to Fab and Alice who now live in Geneva. Today was Swiss national day, and more importantly, Fab's birthday. We celebrated with a BBQ on the Thun lake shore with a full spread of Swiss produce, as we watched the sun go down. The tradition of Swiss national day is to let off fireworks by the lake. At our BBQ spot what we viewed was more INTO the lake than over the lake. We arrived at our hostel in Inseltwald (just along the lake from Interlaken) in time to watch the traditionally-dressed band and lantern-bearing children progress along the main street followed by the official fireworks on the lake. It's now 11:30pm, and there are still keen beans letting off their fireworks all the way along the water. What a fun way to start our holiday!