Archive for 2010

This morning we headed into Sargeants Conveyancing to go over the contract of sale, vendor’s statement and all the assorted paperwork that comes with plonking down a massive amount of cash for some dirt and well-placed twigs. Such a good idea, getting advice — how often do we buy a house in our lifetime, and who are we to know what is right and what is “real estate agent” speak? But Genevieve is being very helpful, and its reassuring to have someone on our side (since real estate agents only pretend to be your friend so they can get the most out of you – caveat emptor in extremis) so we had no problem at the end of the meeting with signing away and sending off to the vendors (ha!
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After much searching, admittedly in completely different areas, we have now found a house in the Dandenongs — at Cockatoo, near the end of the Puffing Billy line! We had a long list of requirements for our home-to-be, and after months of searching between Melbourne (work) and Bendigo (family) we realised a few things: the areas around Mount Macedon — Woodend, Macedon, Riddell’s Creek — are too expensive by half; Lerderderg State Forest (Blackwood, Dale’s Creek) is quite nice, but properties are few and far between; and none of the towns along the Western Freeway out to Ballarat were mountainous enough and took our fancy.
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This weekend we headed south to Blackwood Forest to bid on a 4 bedroom cottage on an acre and half of lovely (but only half-finished) garden and grounds, nestled at the end of a dirt track and right next to an old church on the appropriately named Prayer Hill Lane. You may have seen the pictures we uploaded to Flickr after the first viewing, but just in case: A lovely day (for the auctioneer, at least!
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It was Melbourne Cup Day today and a state-wide public holiday (except in Bendigo, where they have the Bendigo Cup instead). After speaking with my colleague at work we decided to take the day off and head to mighty Swan Hill for a day out. Just an hour down the road from Cohuna, and a hip and happenin’ township — I can see why you love it, Suz! (Note: all sarcasm is implied only, and just to be cheeky.
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Times flies when you’re busy doing other things. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a busy month, but when I look back at what we’ve been up to I realise it sort of has been. The first bit of news is good: I’ve started work, even had my first invoice paid. It is with the same company I was working for in London, which is nice (great bunch of people) and I’m working mostly from home.
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With work moving along (well, slowly), we decided to take a weekend break in the middle of the week and spend two nights in Albury, over the NSW border. We headed off nice and early, stopping at Deniliquin (the home of the annual “Ute Muster”) for a picnic lunch. A little further down the track and we found the house I grew up in — for a couple of years, anyway.
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Ah, country living. For the last month we’ve been spending time with family in regional Victoria, with only a couple of quick day-trips into “the city” (Melbourne) so far. It is relaxing, certainly: we’ve had a couple of barbeques, even fired up the chiminea (a kind of cast-iron wood-fire oven); we spent an hour fishing on the Murray (and now want fishing-licenses of our own); even did a little “off-roading” down some bush tracks, although we balked at attempted a water-crossing, thanks to the recent flooding rains.
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Sorry for the quiet: we’ve been back in Australia for a couple of weeks now, spending time with family and trying to find our feet. No boat, sadly; but did fly back in business class! There we were in KL, of course, waiting to hear from the shipping company when our container vessel would actually arrive in Singapore. Reports were mixed: the guy who sold us the berth promised it would arrive by the (already delayed) date; the Singapore port contact added 5 days to that; and the shipping company itself told us it would arrive, depart for Jakarta, then return to Singapore before it finally headed for Australia.
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Sitting at a “Cafe Ritazza” in Kuala Lumpur, waiting for a coffee and snack and thinking about our “long way home” so far. From hostels to resorts, chicken-filled buses to cold-war Russian-built trains that felt like we were aboard Mir, it’s been an adventure — but nothing, perhaps, to the next adventure of finding a home and starting a family. Yesterday was a great day spent at the Berjaya Times Square building, a massive shopping centre complete with indoor amusement park.
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Our 15 day Thai VISAs expire today, so we’re getting out of the country. After more than a week at the Banburee Resort on Koh Samui, the idea of travelling again was actually a little exciting, whilst the idea of dealing with the logistics again — trains, accomodation, border-crossings — was just plain depressing. We did a few searches on the web, but didn’t really figure out much; we knew we had to get off the island, step one, then find our way south, but that was it.
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Early morning this morning, too early by far: our travel alarm (very useful thanks Dayna) exploded in an electronic tintinbulation at 6:02am precisely, shattering our slumber into little shards of activity. We showered (well, Dee showered — I had one last night instead, always be prepared. And prepared to be smelly), dressed and rushed down for a quick hotel breakfast by 6:30am (eggs, toast, apple juice and, why not, a spicy lasagne!
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We arrived in Bangkok with big hopes: our hotel, The White Orchid, looked great in the photos, with a jacuzzi, spa and massage room and a roof-top restaurant overlooking the city from the 12th floor. We were tired, smelly (nowhere to wash on an overnight train) and ready to just melt into a pampered, self-indulgent lifestyle for a couple of days. But as the quote goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.
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One sad monkey, just before we got on the bus to Vientiane. Poor little guy! (We gave him a banana while the owner wasn’t looking.)

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So we’ve made it to Bangkok: we got a tuk-tuk to the train station, just past the Laos-Thai Friendship Bridge, and were happy to find there were first-class tickets left — not too expensive, and after the “hard sleeper” in China and “chicken bus” in Laos we weren’t in the mood to find out what second-class bunks were like in Thailand. We were, of course, ridiculously early — 2pm when the train left at 5pm — but we figured it was better early than late.
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We’ve been a bit quiet on the journal since we got to Laos, but it is because we’ve been doing a whole lot o’ nothing: days relaxing/lazing at the hotel, reading book after book or watching (often bad) movies on HBO. In the afternoon or early evening, as the temperature dropped, we headed into town on foot or by tuk-tuk to look at shops, swap our books; invariably we would find a place to eat — it is a strange fusion of asian and european, with French restaurants selling Italian food alongside fried crickets — then a place for a quiet beer, if only to wash the cricket taste out of our mouths.
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Relaxing at Le Leela Hotel in Vientiane, Laos, and it’s time for a long overdue update. Wifi here is fast! Probably because we’re the only guests. We’ve had a bit of an adventure in Laos so far, largely due to “travellers’ belly” that hit us in Jinghong, near the border on the Chinese side. I think it started in Chengdu, however: one of the staff there was sneezing and coughing, and shortly after rolling out of town I did the same.
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So you’ve probably noticed it’s been rather quiet from us of late, and you may have guessed why: the lovely Chinese government decided to block this website with their beloved Great Firewall. They also blocked Facebook, Blogger, Flickr and a whole bunch of other sites at random. But we’re in Laos now, so I can post what we got up to in China and upload a stack of photos from the nearest wifi-enabled pub (this Internet cafe is expensive).
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Slideshow: Pandas in Chengdu

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Slideshow: Terracotta Warriors

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A soft-sleeper from Beijing brought us to Xi’an, a Shaanxi city which has expanded past its ancient walls with the same flurry of activity and industry that we saw in the north. Once the capital-city of the region, Xian is now most famous for the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors nearby. And admittedly, they are pretty cool. Row upon row of individual, life-sized statues inexplicably standing to attention in three covered (roofed & walled) pits.
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We pulled into Beijingzhan with much relief — after nearly a week on a train, it was great to be able to walk and stretch and feel solid, steady ground beneath our sandalled feet. We walked out of the train — looooong platforms — and out into the heat and noise and crowds. In moments our Trans-Mongolian crowd joined another larger crowd, the masses of mostly-Chinese travellers who were all passing through Beijing Central that day.
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Yesterday we boarded a night-train in Warsaw, bound for Moscow. It was a small cabin, but we had it to ourselves — the carriage attendant took one look at our backpacks (and generally shabby appearance) and pointed out this was “first class” — the benefit of buying our tickets far in advance (i.e. before the Icelandic volcano decided to mess up air travel for all and sundry). We stowed our packs and sat on the hard seats, waiting for the train to whisk us away to strange new adventures!
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Just a quick note to let everyone know we made it to Moscow — a 23 hour train ride from Warsaw, but I think about 22 of those hours were taken up by passport checks, with another hour to change the wheels to the Russian gauge.

Nobody here speaks english, so I better figure out some “survival Russian”, da?

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Did a lot of writing on the train from Krakow to Warsawa, so as soon as we get Internet there’ll be a mass update. We sat in our first class cabin and relaxed with free coffee, juice, water and little ginger biscuits. It’s a short trip here, maybe three hours, but we left ourselves plenty of time “just in case”. Lucky, too: we jumped off at Warsaw Centrum, walked up the platform a little and accosted a stranger: was this station the same as “Warsaw Ws”?
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With only one day in Krakow, we decided it would be best to (temporarily) eschew our “independent travel” principles and join a guided tour of the Auschwitz complex — the Nazi concentration camp where over a million people were murdered in the name of “racial purity” between 1940 and 1944. Arriving at Krakow at 7:15am — early, but still 45 minutes later than expected — we walked the short distance to our hotel, Maly-Krakow, and met the lovely Polish woman at reception.
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No time for a real update — we’re sitting having breakfast in Krakow, just about to jump on a train to Warsaw then a night train to Moscow. It’ll be the first time we get to use our very expensive visas!

I’ll come back later with posts on Budapest and Krakow, promise!

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Update: I didn’t find time (or inspiration?) to finish writing about our adventures in Budapest, but I did manage to upload some of the better photos to Flickr. In the meantime, we’re away again! One more day in Budapest, then it was time to board the Eurocity Night train to Krakow. The morning was spent organising and repacking — it is truly astounding how messy things can get if you don’t keep adjusting — and so the sun was well and truly above us when we finally checked out.
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Our last full day in Budapest was all about the tourist attractions. Neither Dee nor I are particularly drawn to large crowds of photo-snapping foreigners in plaid shorts and polo shirts, strangely enough, but there was much of Buda left to explore and so we once more boarded the Big Red Bus and headed over the bridge. As it was all planned on Thursday we knew exactly what we were doing: first, the Heroes Square, then onto stop 13 for the Fisherman’s Bastion, a wine-tasting at Faust’s Wine Bar, a walk to the Palace and the “Fenicular” down the hill towards the chain bridge.
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A late post (on a train to Warsaw) about the rest of our time in Budapest — what, you were expecting something as mundane as linearity? Seriously, from me? Okay, I’ll back-date it so it appears in the right place in the timeline, eh, that should just about do it. On our second day in Budapest, and on Dayna’s sage advice, we bought tickets for the big red “hop on, hop off” tour bus.
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A first-class train from Wien to Budapest. We each have window seats at the back of the cabin, which means there’s a large space between us and we have great leg room. Dee has a little nap while I finish Neal Stephenson’s Anathem — an excellent book, combining “fantasy” with science-fiction, philosophy and modern physics. If you like your books a little more cerebral, I can highly recommend it. (Thanks for the tip, Andrew R!
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A relaxing stay in Vienna (Wien), with little to do and even less inclination to do it. We stayed at Wombat’s “Base” Hostel — very clean, nice, friendly and better serviced than some of the hotels we’ve stayed at. Personally I want to stay in hostels from now on, as they can be cleaner, cheaper (well, not as cheap as I’d hoped, but not bad) and much more informal; I suspect that Wombat’s is one of the nicer hostels, tho’, as others in Scotland (and even Melbourne) didn’t look half as nice.
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We arrived in Salzburg in style: our 1er classe tickets gave us a small six-seater cabin, and les quatre etrangers we were to share with from Munchen never showed, so we had the place to ourselves. We read, relaxed (even stretched out across the three facing seats for a snooze) and in the afternoon opened a bottle of wine from Strasbourg and toasted — tschus! — from our little metal camping cups.
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Our last day in Strasbourg we walked around (a lot!) and found a local place for lunch — and I do mean local. The menus were en francais, mit Deutsche if we really wanted it, but no anglais. So we ordered pretty much at random — although we could have a pretty good guess at salade/salat, there was no real way to know that “Ros bif” was neither “roast” nor “beef”, but rather a third thing altogether: cheval.
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We’re in Strasbourg, on the Franco-Deutsch border! We caught our morning train from Paris without issue, taking le Metro to Gare de l’Est on the free tickets Martin and Helen left us (thanks guys) with plenty of time. Dee even (somehow) found le livre etranger section of the train station bookshop and picked up some reading material — despite leaving the travel guides with Dayna I still somehow have four books with me!
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Our second full day in Paris and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet — we’re not coming back (well, for a while anyway). Yesterday we oriented ourselves, spending the day walking around le quartier latin and rediscovering the places we visited the first time ’round — almost five years ago to the day. Our under-used legs complaining, we ate a pleasant picnic then watched a movie at l’Odean cinema before heading back to the hotel to book dinner at Nos Ancestres Les Gaulois (Our Ancestors the Gauls).
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After one final farewell, we’re in Paris! It was a bit of a mission getting to St Pancras International, as the Jubilee line is out today (and the Northern line closed at that station) and we had to get a bus to another station and then walk from Euston, but once there we settled in with a small group of friends and had some food (and champagne) at the (somewhat posh) St Pancras Grand restaurant.
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Time is simply flying by: this time last week we were cleaning the flat and packing up the last of Dayna’s stuff; now we’re staying at Dayna’s place (she’s in Wales) and have finished off just about everything we need to (“closing the loops” as Dee says)! So yeah, we cleaned our place on the weekend, and finally moved everything downstairs to Andy’s on the Monday night. (We’ve had the report back from the independent inspector now, and he comments: “Professionally cleaned” — yah!
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Time is flying: we have only two weeks to go, and one of those weeks we will be sleeping on Andy’s couch. Both Dee and I have confessed to being shocked by it this week, as it feels like we should have another month or so, but no. On Friday a man in a van comes to take our (meagre) belongings away and pack them in a container-ship bound for Australia; the following Monday we hand over the keys to this apartment and move ourselves downstairs to Andy’s, with nothing more than our packs, our wits and an arguably-naive optimism about the future.
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Last weekend

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As our time left in London grows ever shorter, we seem to be cramming more and more into each moment. Only natural, I guess, but it’s been hard on our sleep patterns! Last week I went to my first football game — Fulham vs Stoke City at the Fulham home ground, Craven Cottage. Andy organised it once he heard I’d not been any time in the five years we’ve been over here; I didn’t even get to a Rugby match at Murrayfield when we lived in Edinburgh!
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It’s been a week of sci-fi for me this week: the Sci-fi London Film Festival. Our good friend Anthony is visiting, and I caught up with him on Monday night down by the river. We sat outside and just chatted for a couple of hours — good, geeky stuff like the future of software development, or human-capability assessment and enhancement. So great catching up with him! On Wednesday we kicked off the film festival with a preview screening of Vincenzi Natali’s “Splice”.
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On Tuesday night we finished our Real Ale Trail cruise and got a t-shirt each, woo-hoo! It all started because a guy that Dee works with is stranded in London thanks to volcanic ash — Ivan, from the Ukraine, who is here with his girlfriend Natalie. We met them after work at a nearby place called “The Ship”, thinking we could get at least one more stamp on our Ale Trail map thing.
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Six weeks and counting. We’re getting into the “spirit of travel” now I reckon — most of the house packing is done, so I can make a booking with the shipping company with some confidence that we’ll be ready for them, and start concentrating on our backpacks and gear. In the meantime we’re trying to spend quality time in London so that our memories aren’t all work, work, work. Which is why we caught the bus to Drury Lane yesterday and walked to the Royal College of Surgeons for the Hunterian Museum: a gory selection of skeletons and partially-dissected animals (and people!
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It seems the Norse god Eyjafjallajokull has brought the British aeronautical travel industry to its knees this weekend, erupting from deep within his glacial palace and spreading ashy vengeance upon the mortals who dare chase through the skies in chariots of aluminium, steel and beige plastic.
Anyway, I hope this doesn’t disrupt Dayna and Bruce when they fly back into London in the wee-hours of Monday morning!

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Tonight we walked home along the narrow path that follows the Thames, crossing via Tower Bridge rather than our usual route over busy London Bridge. With the evening sun still warm, we stopped at a rickety, ice-filled cart next to the Tower Of London and bought two plastic flutes of sparkling champagne and one freshly shucked oyster — for me, as Dee was too chicken doesn’t like oysters and there’s nothing wrong with that mister.
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Hmm, not so successful as the first.

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The MSC Basel (photography copyright Pictures From Earth It looks like we might have our cargo ship back after all — Hamish emailed this morning to say he could get us on the MSC Basel on the 31st July, Singapore to Melbourne. Yes, that’s the same ship he originally had us on, so we’ve either bumped the other passengers OR will be travelling with them! (In a separate room, I hope.
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Well I think I’ve found all the WordPress plugins we might possibly need now, and so after a weekend and a day this travel journal is about ready to be used in anger (as they say – although who “they” are and why they say that I have no idea). Maps, twitter, spam-filters and the theme – all in place and ready for us to hit the road, er, tracks.
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Admittedly it’s not quite barbeque weather yet – a “fresh” 9°C currently , but when Dee found a local hardware store with coals in stock how could we argue? (The coal/rocks were not on display, of course: “We don’t really put them out because nobody is having barbecues just now.” “Perhaps not, but I’m Aussie.”) So I’m sitting on the balcony near a raging fire, sipping a beer and watching an England vs.
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[wp_geo_map]Most of you know I was in Australia in February, and when I came back we took a short trip up to the Highlands to get away from it all. We stayed in Glasgow, then on Skye in a beautiful little hotel. On the way home, we got stuck in the worst weather Scotland has seen for years — heavy snow, frozen lochs & very chilly coos.

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We “Northerners” (well, temporary) had a sunny, if cold, day today, the first in weeks if not months. Perfect weather, in fact, for an early morning walk ’round Regent’s Park, so I was up and out the door shortly after breakfast. I must admit, I felt bad for the birds swimming in the near-frozen lake but they didn’t seem to mind. Dee and I have put together a list of 101 things to do in London before we leave, and so yesterday (Saturday) we had a “Sherlock Holmes”-themed day out.
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