Saturday, December 30, 2006

Baggage at Heathrow

Baggage at Heathrow Terminal 1. When we arrived back from Prague, Terminal 1 arrivals was full of baggage. Our baggage was a bit late, so we walked around looking at who had lost their bags for Christmas. Warsaw, Edinburgh, Paris - many people had missing presents and clothes. In a way it was funny, but you had to feel for the people. Most of the baggage was due to the fog delays of the previous days.

Fast-forward two days and we are back at Heathrow Terminal 4. Check-in is packed with people and the baggage check-in carousels have broken down. We have four large bags, the remainder of our life from London. We check-in, our bags are tagged... and dumped in a pile in the middle of the terminal. I think we both knew that our previous giggle had just come back to haunt us.

We all know what happens next. We arrive after 7.5 hours at JFK, minus our baggage! Not a single piece of baggage made it onto our flight, only 50% the flight before and none of the flight after. Our first US queue experience is for the British Airways baggage desk.

Here is the upside:

  • Storing our bags at JFK while we were in New York - not required!
  • Storing our bags at LAX while in LA - not required!
  • Collecting baggage at any airport - not required!
  • Clearing customs - not required!
  • Shopping in New York sales. With nothing but clothes on our back we hit the sales in New York to find something to wear!

We still don't have our baggage, and we don't know where it is. But we are arriving home on the 8th and hopefully we will get our baggage sometime after that.

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Leaving London

Packing up to leave London. It is with a twinge of sadness that we pack our three suitcases, two backpacks and two daypacks (!) with the remainder of our gear from London. We have had a great time living in London and being able to travel and see parts of Europe. There are things that we will certainly miss, and things that we won't. And, right on queue, it started drizzling as we left Dave and Karen's house and dragged our bags up to the Angel tube.

Yes, we did get some strange looks from people on the tube. Many wondered 'what the bloody hell are you doing?', others probably 'they will have to pay excess luggage for sure!'. A few even pitied us and helped us get the bags on and off the trains before they were crushed in the doors.

At least we had a plane to get onto. There were a few people in the terminal who had cancelled or delayed flights. The heavy skies that marked our departure from the UK helped add to the delays and chaos in the airport.
Once we had checked in there was nothing left to do but enjoy our flight to JFK. The bags were at the mercy of British Airways. We still have 9 days of holidays in the US before we have to worry about anything.

Walking down the gangway for our last departure from the UK... for the moment. It is a good feeling to be going home!

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Weary after two weeks on the road we hit Prague. It was relief to find our 4-star hotel (our Christmas treat) after all of the hostels and pensions on the way.

Christmas in Prague:

  • No snow just cold - but we did see the snow in Melbourne on the news
  • Christmas markets - we are market old hats at this stage and nothing could surprise us
  • Wandering around the town - town hall, bric-a-brac shops, cobbled streets, locals and the Jewish quarter
  • Christmas breakfast in the hotel and dinner with champagne desert
  • Prague Castle - a somewhat disappointing castle after all of the hype that it received. It has nice views of the city though
  • Charles Bridge - a very nice bridge to look at
  • Vysehrad gardens - peaceful gardens in the middle of the city with beautiful views up and down the river

Click on the photo to see more of Prague

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone from Prague!

We are spending our Christmas Day in Prague, Czech Republic, just the two of us. Our white Christmas hasn't occured, but it is still below freezing. Quite different to Christmas in Brisbane and the rest of Australia, I'm sure.

We hope that everyone has a great day and enjoy your time with your family and friends.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cesky Krumlov

Today we left Vienna and headed north west into the Czech Republic. We caught a train from Vienna to Gmund on the Austria-Czech border where we had to change trains. In Gmund there was a little coffee shop where we had some lunch and off-loaded what remaining Euros we could.

Arriving in Cesky Krumlov by train leaves you with a 20 minute walk down hill to the town centre. It is no problem though, just probably not the nicest walk in the dark. Cesky Krumlov is a medieval town in the south-west of Czech Republic. We had heard glowing reports about the town so decided to use it as a stop-over between Vienna and Prague to avoid a 6+ hour train journey.

Cesky Krumlov is really a beautiful town. It has a compact old town centre that is on a bend in the river and there is the second largest castle in Czech looming over it. We have traditional Czech dishes for dinner in the town and have a walk around after dark. The town has many little stores that sell original products. As the town is in the heart of Bohemia there are many stores selling glass and crystal. It is quite cheap, but with our suitcases already overflowing back in London there is no way we can get more stuff to take home. Next time I think we will have to come over with some very empty suitcases.

As the town is only a stop-over for us we catch the midday bus to Prague the next day. The bus driver is insane, driving in the middle of the road with a smoke and mobile phone in his hands. Never-the-less we see some great country side on the way to Prague and we get there without incident.

Click on the photo to see more of Cesky Krumlov


Retracing our path to Bratislava, we catch a train back to Vienna. Surprisingly the train ticket on the way back is 50% cheaper. We have booked two nights in Vienna, however we end up staying for a third. Three nights in Vienna:

  • The first night we arrive at the hostel at 7pm. There is a Christmas market and pub crawl advertised to start at 7, so we quickly drop the bags and join the crawl. On the crawl we have 3 Americans, 6 Aussies, 1 Italian and 1 Austrian, who organised it. It was a long night but we had a good time.
  • The second night we go to the Volksoper to see an opera of Hansel and Gretel. Volksoper is a nice opera hall and the opera is enjoyable. We booked 5 euro tickets at the back of the balcony boxes, which were really quite terrible seats. Fortunately the people who booked the seats at the front of the balcony didn't show up, so we sat in the good seats for the whole show!
  • We enjoyed our first opera in Vienna and decided to see a second one at the Staatsoper (State Opera). For this we lined up to get standing tickets which were only 3.50 euros and we had a really good view. The only downside is that you stand up for the whole 3.5 hour show. It is a more professional production and there are a lot more stage props.

During the days we walked around the city looking at the architecture and sights of Vienna. The Spanish Riding School is in the centre of the city and they have exercise sessions everyday. We snuck in to get a look at one of the exercise sessions. Vienna was a relaxing, laid-back couple of days for us.

Click on the photo to see more of Vienna

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The train to Bratislava leaves from south Vienna and takes one hour to get to Petrzalka, where we catch a bus to Bratislava old town. After finding the B&B we hit the Christmas markets to find some quick and cheap dinner of chicken burgers and gluhwein. And boy was it cheap - our total dinner menu equates to around 3 euros.

Many of the things that can be bought in Bratislava are relatively cheap by EU standards. Slovakia and Czech Republics have both joined the EU and will be introducing the euro.

Around 9pm in the markets a group of four young fellows appeared with an accordian, violin and guitar and started singing traditional Slovakian songs in a tent of the markets. It was completely impromptu and soon a crowd formed with a Slovakian shin-dig ensuing. It was wonderful watching and listening to the music, even as the rain fell.

Something that has to be mentioned about our accommodation is the telephony and bathroom. The telephone has just slipped out of the 60s and the toilet door could not be shut completely if the toilet was to be used in either of the regular positions - sitting or standing.

The main interest points in Bratislava are the Old Town and the castle, which we walked around and through. There are not many tourist attractions in the city and that is not what drew us. It was the culture and people that were different from many of the other parts of Europe that we have seen. So far all of our European travel has been in EU affiliated countries. Slovakia has joined the EU but from what we saw they have not become EU-ised, which was quite refreshing.

We had some great meals in the city by just walking into a random restaurant. Once we got off the main town square the meals were cheap and the restaurants very homely.

For the quirky side of Bratislava you need to look for the statues that are dotted around the town square and surrounding streets. There is paparazzi, a helmeted peeper, a Frenchman and some other entertainer guy.

We had two nights in Bratislava and we really enjoyed our time there. By the end of the second day we had seen all of the sights, but most importantly we experienced the local culture. We both left hoping that the spread of the EU through countries like Slovakia would not destroy the uniqueness that they offer.

Click on the photo to see more of Bratislava

Monday, December 18, 2006

Central Austria

Salzburg to Vienna. Originally we were thinking of catching a train west to east from Salzburg to Vienna. Upon learning the price of two tickets however we decided to hire a car and drive, which ends up being the same price, including petrol.

We get off the A1 at Mondsee, where we saw the Sound of Music wedding church the other day. The road winds around Mondsee and over the mountains between there and Traunsee. There is a heavy frost on much of the road and on the southern sides of the lakes. Basically anywhere that doesn't get sun has a very heavy frost. It is a very cool sight. The lakes and mountains district of Austria is beautiful. There are large mountains that drop straight into the lakes, which are crystal clear and cold.

The drive takes us through Ebensee, Traunkirchen and Gmunden. Ebensee doesn't have much except spectacular views of the lake, mountains and valley. There was an outpost of the Mauthausen concentration camp here. Traunkirchen has a church and a perfectly placed chapel on top of a rocky outcrop into the lake. Gmunden has a castle built on a rocky island, accessible by a traditional wooden bridge.

It was a really great detour off the A1 with spectacular views of the mountains and lakes.

Back on the A1 we drive through to St Florian. Just before Linz we hit very thick fog and the temperature drops from 3 degrees to -1.0 in one kilometer. St Florian has a large abbey, Augustiner Chorherrenstift, which we look at in the dense fog.

Just north is the Mauthausen concentration camp. In this camp over 100,000 prisoners died from 1938 to 1945. Some of the original barracks and buildings still remain. It is very eerie looking around the camp with the fog as you can see from the photos. The woman at the ticket desk was just amazed that anyone wanted to walk around in -3 degrees, heavy fog and light drizzle to see the camp. To add to her amazement was the fact that we were from Australia, in Austria for a week and wanted to dedicate such an awful afternoon to this camp. We topped it off by mentioning that we saw Dachau camp just a few days earlier. (Sometimes it is easier to not straighten out some details with the language barrier!)

We spend the night in St. Polten, which has Christmas markets and a nice B&B. On the way to St Polten we are pulled over by a nice policemen who wanted to check all of our car papers, passport etc! Our first encounter with the police since we left Australia!


Continuing on our trip to Vienna we drive through the Danube Valley. This is one of the prettier areas of the Danube, with the river being flanked by vineyards and cliffs. It is quite similar to the Moselle Valley in Luxembourg. Of note in the valley is Stift Melk, the Benedictine abbey of Melk. This is a massive building looms over the town of Melk. The church inside has a magnificently painted dome and all of the walls are dripping with gold.

Fantastic find of the drive - Schloss Schallaburg, a Renaissance castle set away from any large towns. The castle is supposed to be shut so we want a look at the outside. When we arrive the first, second and third car parks are overflowing with cars. There is a Christmas Advent market on this weekend. Despite the number of markets seen already it provides a nice place to get some lunch.

Sights in the Danube Valley include castle ruins where Richard the Lionheart was incarcerated for a year and the site where a 25,000 year old sandstone statuette of Venus was discovered.

Our final stop is Krems an der Donau which is a nice town to walk around. From there we head straight for Vienna, to find a train to Bratislava in Slovakia.

Click on the photo to see more of Central Austria

Sunday, December 17, 2006



We arrived in Salzburg after a one hour train trip from Munich. After dropping our bags at the hostel we head for (surprise!) the Christmas markets. Much like the markets from
Ulm or Munich these have Christmas gifts and decorations with food and mulled wine. Here we find dinner of corn on a cob, baked potato and Gluhwein.


Waking up in Salzburg. The breakfast for the hostel is quite good - standard fare of cereal, bread, jam, ham, egg, cheese and coffee. There is a frost outside, and in the daylight we can look at the view from the hostel, which is the Fortung Hohensalzburg perched on the cliffs. Today we have booked a tour for the
Sound of Music film sites.

For the afternoon we look through the Mozart museum. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and lived in Salzburg. The museum is interesting, but doesn't get many points for coherency in the presentation.

Salzburg is nestled in between two cliffs, the Monchsburg and Kapuzinberg. At dusk we ascend the Kapuzinberg cliffs to get a good view of the city. We go back to the old town and peek inside the cathedral. For dinner we have a quick, but good curry meal, no frills and cheap. By accident we stumble across two stores, Easter in Salzburg and Christmas in Salzburg. They sell painted eggs and Christmas baubles of all kinds.

Tonight we spend some time planning the next few days. Once again the Sound of Music movie is on at 8pm, and we are sitting in the common room of the hostel planning our trip, but half watching the movie. Now that we have the inside information and have visited the movies sites the movie takes on a different appearance.


Another glorious day in Salzburg. Today the plan is to ascend the cliff on the other side of Salzburg, the one with the fortress and abbey. 144 stairs and halfway up the Monchsburg cliffs is the abbey that was used in the filming of the Sound of Music. It is also in its own right a very nice chapel. The haze has lifted a bit today and we are offered great views of the mountains around Salzburg.

From the abbey it is a steep walk up to the fortress. The fortress was not set out as a normal castle re-creation, it is mostly a museum. The views from the ramparts were stunning. The fortress is well known for being impenetrable, it has never been taken by force in all of its time.

After the castle we walked along the ridge that castle is on where we found a nice cafe for lunch - beer, hot chocolate, pork schnitzel and views. Down the other side of the ridge is the Augustiner beer hall. This beer hall brews its own beers and serves them in stone mugs. We nip in of course for a quick one before wandering back through the old town for dinner.

Our original plan was to only be in Salzburg for two nights, but we loved the city so much that we decided to stay for a third. Unfortunately the room we had was booked and we had to move to a shared dorm. For travellers like us this made for quite an experience.


Our night in a shared dorm in Salzburg. There were a couple of guys that could really snore. It was not much fun having to be quiet when moving around the room.

Today we leave Salzburg, which is a city that we really enjoyed. The scenery is just so beautiful and the town is peaceful and easy to get around. We pick up a car today to drive from Salzburg to Vienna.

Click on the photo to see more of Salzburg

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Sound of Music

The hills were alive... every night at 8pm in the hostel we stayed in. For the three nights and days that we spent in Salzburg I think that both Kelly and I were humming, singing or playing in our head the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. It didn't help that everywhere we looked in town there was a scene from the movie to be spotted. Movie repetitions aside, it was interesting to grit the teeth and watch bits of the movie each night to point out more of the movie scenes that we had found that day.

On our first day in Salzburg we signed up for one of the three 'official' Sound of Music tours that bus you between the sights and scenes from the movie. Of course it had the obligatory stops and a souvenir shop or two. The tour covered

  • Mirabell Gardens where the Do-re-mi smash-hit video clip was filmed,
  • Frohnburg Castle, the front of the movie house,
  • Garden Gazebo for Sixteen Going on Seventeen,
  • Leopoldskron Castle, the back of the movie house and the lake the kids fall off the boat into,
  • Untersberg, the mountain peak that the family escapes to Switzerland over. Ironically, on the other side of the peak is actually Germany, the Switzerland border is 300km to the south,
  • Mondsee which has the church that the movie wedding was filmed in,
  • Tree lined street where the kids hang out of the trees,
  • The real Von Trapp family house

In addition there are numerous sights around Salzburg that we found on foot. If you keep your eyes open around Salzberg you will likely see every outdoor scene from the movie

  • Nonnberg Abbey, which was the abbey for the movie
  • Mozart Bridge and the path along the river, again for Do-re-mi
  • Scenes in the old town

It was really interesting seeing the places from the movie. Most are still in the same condition as when shot, however a lot are now private residences so tours of the ground or getting too close to the buildings is not possible. Most of the inside scenes were shot in the studios anyway.

Click on the photo to see more of The Sound of Music
(Audio not available... Sorry!)

Thursday, December 14, 2006


It had been cold for the last few days. Not so cold for the locals, but coming from sultry London it was cold for us. This morning we woke up to snow! For the morning there were extremely large flakes of snow falling, enough to dust the fields with a white coat. Driving down to Ulm we borrowed some internet to find out where we are going to stay tonight.

Then we basically just drove to Munich on the autobahn. Steven and Richelle came to Munich with us on their way to catching a train to Nurenburg. We had a little 1.2L car with four of us and luggage stuffed in, but it still managed to sit on 150-160km/h for the main stretch of the road. You know when you drive the M1 from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and you hit the 110km/h section of road and it is just sweet relief from the slowness of 100km/h? Well, reverse that feeling and multiply it by 10 when you hit a 120km/h section after 160km/h. It is just painfully slow!

Coming into Munich, Steve's eyes lit up and nostrils flared as he smelt the Augustiner brewery in town. Before too long we were there in our first Munich beer hall, which is attached to one of the oldest brewerys in Munich. Everyone had a round of 1L beers which went down just a bit too easily for some.

A quick train ride to town brought us to the Marienplatz, the main square of Munich. The square was filled with more Christmas markets. What would have been good is to go up the town hall tower. However it seems that closing time was 30 minutes earlier than stated so we missed out. Tonight we spent our time wandering around the markets and town centre, having some Gluhwein and Bratwurst.


This morning we had a look around Munich before leaving Germany. Our bags are stored at the train station and we head back to the main town square, Marienplatz. First thing is to watch the end of the disappointing glockenspiel performance of the town clock before we get the lift to the town hall tower for the outlook that we couldn't get last night. The view of Munich is good, but we can't see to the Bavarian alps due to the haze.

Today we pass the Hofbrauhaus (a famous beer house) and decide to stop in for a sneaky drop. The Hofbrauhaus is a tourist mecca, much different from the Augustiner beer house yesterday. We can definitely understand how this, and every other drinking establishment, could be jam packed to the rafters with beer swizzlers during Oktoberfest.

We continued wandering around the Munich sights before boarding a train to Salzburg mid afternoon.

Click the photo to see more of Munich.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


A bit of a slow start today. With moving, finishing jobs and a week of parties and catchups we need to ease into this holiday. Carolin and Steven provide us with a great German breakfast with meats, little baby Jesus cheeses, eggs, spreads and breads. Once we did get going we all jumped in the car to drive around the eastern area of Baden-Wastermann, where there are a number of castles and castle ruins.

First though we stopped at Blaubeuren where there is Der Blautopf. This is a spring that is fed from under the pre-Alpine ranges, many kilometres away. At its lowest flow it is 310L/sec, but at snow break this can get up to 32000L/sec. The spring is 20m deep and the water is an amazing pure blue with great visibility to the bottom. We have a look and take a few photos. Just near the spring is an abbey that is just picture perfect.

Leaving Blabeuren we drive around the area and to the castle ruins. The first stop is a restored castle on the edge of a valley. Unfortunately it is shut for the winter, but we are able to amuse ourselves on a flying fox and with some apple trees. The apples taste great, made even better by the fact that we have to throw other apples at them to get them down. Ah, its the little things that amuse.

Next stop in the valley is a castle ruin. The ruin is in a spectacular position on a rocky outcrop into the valley. Continuing on we find a guest house that is open, as opposed to the countless that we had passed that were shut. Here we find a well earned coffee and beer.

We head home to dinner with Steven, Carolin and Richelle.

Click on the photo to see more of Ulm.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dachau Concentration Camp

Today we start our Christmas trip. Everything is packed and stored at Dave and Karen's and we leave with our backpacks on. The flight from Heathrow to Munich is a bumpy one, so much so that we can't even get a hot drink.

We get a car in Munich and head straight to Dachau. Dachau is an industrial town outside of Munich. It has one of largest and first concentration camps used by the SS from 1936-1945. Many of the original buildings and non-camp areas no longer remain, but it has been built back up as a remembrance site. The guard towers still dot the perimeter and the original gatehouse is constructed to give visitors the feeling of being led into the camp - through gates that read 'Arbeit macht frei' - Work brings freedom.

What strikes you about the camp is that it is such a large area. There are prisoner barracks lined towards the back of the camp, each barrack being 10x100m. Each barrack had sleeping quarters and a living area. The sleeping quarters had bunks three high and the beds were no wider than 2-3 feet.

The barracks are separated from the main building by a roll call area, which is a wide expanse where prisoners would stand for hours on end at the whim of an SS officer. The main building now has a museum. Towards the back of the camp are memorials from some of the main religious groups involved in the camp - Jewish, Catholic, Protestant.

Outside the main camp area is the crematorium. It is here that the bodies of dead prisioners were incinerated. In the 'new' crematorium are the gas chambers. Although there is no record of these particular ones ever be used, they were obviously designed for mass murder of prisoners, who would then be incinerated.

The memorial site is a sobering area, one of the many throughout the German occupation. In memory to the attrocities performed in camps like these there is a simple message on the memorials - Never again.

Click on the photo to see more of Dachau

We left Dachau and drove west through Bavaria to Ulm. These winter days aren't going to offer us much light for sight seeing. We arrive in Ulm at Steven and Carolin's. Ulm has Christmas markets on in the main square and we sample some Gluhwein to warm ourselves up. It is much liked mulled wine. Ulm is quite cold and we head to a restaurant in the fish area for some dinner and beers.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Respecting the Fallen

This year we have walked many miles around London, the UK and Europe. Today, as we prepare to pack everything, respect must be paid to the fallen heros who won't be returning to Australia.

These brave soles from the Colorado battalion have served us tirelessly.

Well travelled shoe companions, we salute you! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 22, 2006

St Paul's

A pretty standard Saturday in London. First of all an early gym class, followed by the post office and then off to St Paul's.

St Paul's is one of those things in London that both Kelly and I have walked or driven past nearly twice a day or more all year. And yet we have never stopped to find the time to walk into it for a good look, let alone climb to the dome. Today was different, as we have made the effort to visit the church properly.

The cathedral is amazing. It has rich paintings, lavish trims and a huge dome in the middle. One can imagine why Dianna preferred this church for a wedding over the somewhat more somber Westminster Abbey. The dome paintings are incredible; however the view from the dome is similar to that of Monument. We could see the church near our flat and Arsenal stadium. That made us realise just how close we are to the city centre. That is the distance I have been walking to work for the past 10 months.

Once again the church has a rich history with all of the usual names - Wren, Henry VIII. But this isn't the only St Paul's cathedral - this is at least the fifth to be built on the site. The cathedral also featured in WWII when it was relentlessly bombed with grenades - it was only due to the group of people who camped on the roof and disposed of the bombs that it survived.

Click on the photo to see more of St Paul's Cathedral

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pauline and Clem in London

The last of the visitors. Liam's parents, Pauline and Clem, have arrived in London to begin their 5 week trip in Europe. Once again it is great to have visitors. Our 5m by 4m flat is once again full to the brim.

Mum and Dad arrived on Thursday and made their way to Kings Cross via the tube. We met them there on the platform after taking the afternoon off work. That afternoon we did the truly English thing and stopped at the local The Winchester for a couple of swift pints. I don't think Dad could wait to say that he had his first pint in London. On Friday they took the Big Bus tour around the city, did some of the walking tours and the Thames cruise.

So come Saturday there was some serious London pavement stomping to do to see as much as possible. First stop was to drop them off at Green Park to do part of the Big Bus tour they missed the day before and then they joined the changing of the guard walking tour. Once again Kelly and I jumped on the end of the tour and pretended like we belonged. As usual, changing of the guard was packed. Of the three or four times we have seen it I think only once there was a small crowd and it was cold and drizzly. Honestly, the Londoners just plant their asses in a pub as soon as there is a spot of rain.

Once a year, for three weeks, Buckingham Palace is opened to the public while the Windsors are in their Scottish hide away, Balmoral Castle. Fortunately we had tickets to walk through the palace and the gardens. It is an amazing sight to see the working palace.

Leaving the palace we did a walk through Westminster, past the Abbey, Jewel Tower, Big Ben and up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, via a number of pubs. We would have liked to have gone to a Westminster service, but we just missed it. The Motorola Red concert was on and Scissor Sisters were the main act. Starting to head home we catch the always reliable 4 bus through to St Paul's for some night photos and then back on the 4 to home.

There is something wonderful with having visitors in London, although we have seen all the sights before it is great doing it with other people. Maybe it is because they are family.


Come Sunday and the skies had cleared. Today we went to Camden markets to show Pauline and Clem the other side of London. Not everything is high tea and up-market houses! Clem has always shown a liking to sweet things and did his eyes light up when looking at the food area of the markets. Before we knew it we were eating a very rich concoction of chocolate, crepe, strawberry and cream - of the likes not known of before (not even in the great Nutella and banana crepe ordering balls-up in Paris!)

We took the long boat cruise up Grand Union canal to Little Venice, past the London Zoo and Regent's park. There is a nice little cafe moored in Little Venice and we had lunch there. However time got away from us very quickly and the Westminster service was due to start in 20 minutes! Pauline and Clem were going to get a taste of a cross-London tube run.

Now some may curse having to run for a tube and run between the connections to get across the other side of town in record time. There are plenty of obstacles on the way - the Central line and weekend works on the Piccadilly line between Green Park and Earl's Court being some of them. We dashed up to Warwick Avenue on Bakerloo line and with a quick change at Baker Street for the Jubilee line we made it to Westminster on time.

That evening we walked up through SOHO and Carnaby Street before getting back onto the tube at Piccadilly Circus.

As I mentioned, even two days in London is a great time with family. We loved having Pauline and Clem with us for the five days before they headed off to the Cotswolds for two nights.

Click on the photo to see more of London with Pauline and Clem

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hampton Court Palace

Armed with our annual Royal Palaces pass, Kelly and I took a train out west to Hampton Court. The palace and surrounding gardens take up a large portion of land. It was a gorgeous day. We took a picnic lunch to have in the gardens before we completed the hedge maze.

The Tudor, and later Renaiessance, style palace was home to Thomas Wolsey, Archibishop of York and Chief Minister of the King. Henry VIII took over the palace in the 1500s and later it was occupied by William and Mary.

The palace and gardens are very well kept. The kitchens are massive and they could spit roast as many as 6 pigs at one time. The food was lavish and the wine free flowing in the banquet halls. Must be one of the reasons that Henry VIII was a largish fellow in his later years.

It is amazing how all of the pieces fit together throughout English history. Each statue, monument, church, palace we go to all keep mentioning the same names. Every time a guide tells the story of the history of England and London in a slightly different way and all of the pieces fall together. Maybe that is one of the things that keeps it interesting for me.

Our afternoon at Hampton Court Palace was more than enough and as the sun set the lovely burnt sun rays streamed across the buildings leaving a very warm glow.

Click on the photo to see more of Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tour of Britan

Pro-cycling made its way to Britan this week. The final stage ended in London with 20 laps around St James park, from Buckingham Palace, up the Mall, along Horse Guard's parade and Birdcage Walk.

We didn't have plans for Sunday, so we made our way down to the park hoping to get a close look at the cycling without the crowds of the Champs Elysses.

It was a fast paced 20 laps, with T-Mobile leading the pack at most stages. There was a pile up on the Mall two laps from the finish but the main contenders were still upright. World Champ, Tom Boonen (hence his rainbow jersey), lurked in the middle of the pack before taking the stage in a dramatic final sprint for the line.

Click on the photo to see more.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Another long weekend. Fresh from our long weekend in the French Alps, we had a four day weekend in Scotland. On Friday night we flew out of London City airport (a first for us!) and into Edinburgh. August is Fringe Festival month in Edinburgh and we were arriving on the last weekend of it.

We arrived in town around 10:30pm and found our accommodation. There was so little available when we were booking, but we finally settled on (had no choice but) two single rooms in a hostel. Well at least a hostel in summer. For the rest of the year it is university accommodation. It was, however, well located just down the hill off the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh was in party mode - the Royal Tattoo had just finished and many Fringe shows were just getting started. The ticket booth was shut, but we walked around and found a comedy show in Underbelly on Cowgate. The show was Girls Behaving Badly - a somewhat crass, mildly witty, series of stand up routines by five women - including a British Indian, Scot and an Aussie. We had a beer and headed back to our beds.


Today we hired a car to have a look around Edinburgh before heading north for the weekend. First stop was a coffee shop for take-away breakfast and a walk up Arthur's Seat. Arthur's Seat is an inactive volcano in the centre of Edinburgh. It was a great walk up with hazy, but rewarding, views of the city and the Firth of Forth.

Next was a look at Roslin chapel, eight miles south and most recently made popular by The Da Vinci Code. The ceiling and pillars of the chapel have amazing patterns and carvings. The chapel is well presented and they have resisted the urge to cash in on the Da Vinci popularity. In the chapel there is no mention of it at all - you have to wait for the gift shop.

North out of the city and over the Firth of Forth. We hadn't really a plan of where we were going or where we might stay for any of the next three nights. But this time we are prepared...

Read more about Scotland Camping before we return to Edinburgh.


This afternoon we return to Edinburgh to return the car and fly back to London. We left ourselves a bit of time to have a look at Edinburgh Castle. The castle reminds us very much of the Tower of London except it is perched on a big rocky crag that dominates the city. Inside the castle walls we did a guided tour and were impressed by the understated nature of the buildings. The most appealing building is St Margaret's Chapel, which is the oldest building in Edinburgh. It is a small, but very cute chapel on the inside.

Click on the photo below to see more Edinburgh

Scotland Highlands

Heading north out of Edinburgh we crossed the Firth of Forth and headed east to St Andrews. St Andrews is, understandably, a golfing town, but it does have a lot of history associated with it. The remains of a huge cathedral are atop one of the cliffs. This cathedral would have been incredibly large and would have had a prime position in the town. We stop in the town for some lunch and a look at the golf course before setting off again.

As I mentioned we didn't have solid plans for this trip, so we were uncertain as to where we should head to setup our camping gear for the night. We drove west towards Stirling and a campground called Witches Craig. What a fantastic campground! It was nestled in the base of the Logie hills and had great facilities. The tent was up in no time at all and we headed into Stirling to find some dinner and have a look around. Finally we settled into a local pub called the Rob Roy for a few beers, mingling with the locals and a round of songs by the karaoke DJ. There was a good little Chinese shop next door and we took that back to our tent for our first camping dinner.


The next morning we awoke to a perfect, but a little windy, day. We left the campground and went to the Wallace monument which is located high on top of a hill. The monument is to Scottish icon William 'Braveheart' Wallace. It shows his rise from resistance fighter to resistance leader and famous battles with the English such as the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the Battle of Falkirk.

On the road again we headed west to Loch Lomond, the loch with the largest surface area. We first turn off at Dryman and stop at Balmaha to have lunch overlooking Lomond. The eastern side of the loch is less populated and much more quiet than the touristy southern and western edges. We head back out around the bottom and up the western side to Luss. Luss is a simple lakeside town, but it is a major stop for the tourist buses on their route up to the highlands.

Click on the photo to see more of central Scotland

We continue along the loch on a narrow windy road up to Crainlarich. Along the way there is a cute little waterfall just off the main road. As we head towards Glencoe we can definitely tell that we are entering the highlands. The mountains are steeper, the scenery is amazing and the number of cars and tourist busses has dramatically dropped. Just before Glencoe there are the Three Sisters mountains, of course not the Australian ones, but the Scottish ones. Our destination for the night is Fort William, which is one of the larger towns in the highlands. There is a campground just out of town in Glen Nevis. Glen Nevis is the valley that leads up to the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the country. It is a bit of a drizzly evening, but we setup the tent and head back into town for a pub dinner.


Today we wake up to a mildly overcast day. We get in the car and head north through Spean Bridge (I only mention this because I like the name!) up to Fort Augustus, which is at the southern tip of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is much like any loch, except that it is very deep and the largest loch by volume, which lends itself to the stories of monsters of the deep. The Loch Ness Monster 'Nessie', is (by all evidence presented to us by shops in the town) living in the loch. However, being somewhat shy, she usually just swims underwater, keeping her allure and mystery by breaking the surface only when a shakey, poorly-focused camera is pointed her way. Kelly and I have a look over the loch and take a few photos, but unfortunately, due to our superior photographic ability, we don't catch a glimpse of Nessie. Back on the road we go around to Invermoriston, which has a nice walk through a gorge that leads onto Loch Ness.

By lunch we reach Loch Duich, our main destination for the day. Loch Duich is a peaceful and scenic loch that leads out to the Isle of Skye and the ocean. Perched on a small rocky island in the north of the loch is Eilean Donan castle. It is well kept and apparently the most romantic castle in Scotland. It had a turbulant past, starting as a defensive castle against the vikings, then becoming a stronghold for the area, before being occupied by Spanish troops in 1719. The castle was recaptured that year but was demolished by Royal Navy frigates. It was restored in the early 1900s and has been in films such as Highlander and The World is not Enough.

We have lunch at the castle and look around inside. It is a very nice castle and it has wonderful views over the loch and on a clear day the Isle of Skye. Leaving the castle we drive along Loch Alsh and across the bridge to Isle of Skye. Unfortunately time is getting the better of us, so we can't sample much of the Isle of Skye but we had south to Ardvasar, where we can catch a ferry across to Mallaig on the mainland. While waiting in Ardvasar Kelly and I have an ice cream and watch a seal swim about just off shore.

Off the ferry at Mallaig we drive towards Glenfinnan. The road winds through gorgeous rainforest and weaves its way over and under the rail line. The West Highland Railway trip by steam train between Fort William and Mallaig is supposedly one of the most scenic - we see it by road however. One interesting point on the railway is at Glenfinnan. There is an arched viaduct that has 21 arches at a height of 30m and it has been made very famous by the Harry Potter movies, where it was filmed with the Hogwarts Express crossing over it.

Not too far down the road is Fort William, where we head back for a late dinner and our tent.


Today we need to make the drive back down to Edinburgh. If we had had more time in the highlands we would really like to have climbed Ben Nevis. But there was no way that we were equipped for a 5 hour hike in dense fog. Instead we walked up Glen Nevis, which is a peaceful valley and creek near the campground we stayed in. It was a really nice walk.

All to soon it was time to hit the road. We took a slightly different route back to Edinburgh, via Doune. One thing that Doune has is the castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We stopped and had a look at the castle. From there it was straight through to Edinburgh via Stirling.

Back in Edinburgh we had a look at the castle before heading out for our flight. Read about Edinburgh.

Click on the photo to see more of highland Scotland

Monday, August 21, 2006

The French Alps

For Kelly and I, July was spent seeing a few stages of the Tour de France and following the coverage on television. Seeing parts of the Tour was one of the things that we definitely wanted to do in our time over here.
So when Dave floated the idea of a cycling weekend in the French Alps, we jumped at it. A weekend in the Alps was tempting in itself, but the opportunity to cycle some of the climbs of Le Tour was too good to miss.

We flew into Geneva, on the Swiss side of the Switzerland/France border and hired a car for the drive down to Grenoble and Bourg-d'Oisans. It took four border crossings to leave Geneva!! From landing and entering Switzerland, walking through to the French part of the airport, driving the car out of the (French) airport onto Swiss soil, through Geneva and over the border into France.

Our drive went late into the evening, through a large storm around Grenoble, and we reached our accommodation in the little village of Venosc around 1am. Dave had found some neat rooms in a B&B chalet, Chalet Michelle, which is run by ex-pat Brits, Brian and Michelle.


Arriving in a storm, late at night, we didn't know quite what to expect waking up in the morning. I'm sure that Dave and I were thinking it was going to be a wet ride, but neither of us really wanted to admit to it the night before. It is fair to say that Kelly and I were just amazed at the spectacular views and glorious day that we awoke to. The skies were a perfect blue, sun beating down and the chalet just had the most amazing views up, down and across the valley. Karen, Kelly, Dave and I sat down to an ample breakfast and just absorbed the view from the chalet verandah.

I hired a nice carbon fibre Trek from the well stocked local cycling store. Now, I haven't ridden a road bike since leaving Australia in December and otherwise I only rode in Brugge, so I am quite anxious about riding a Tour de France climb and being on the bike for 4-plus hours. It was time to see how the gym cycling classes prepared me.

Alpe d'Huez is an amazing ride. It is a constant climb with a number of switchbacks, some more challenging than others. Dave's climb was marred by a flat after switchback 11, but he quickly recovered. I took it at a steady pace and reached the top feeling really good. Riding Alpe d'Huez makes you realise just what history and prestige it holds for the Tour.

While the two budding tour cyclists were making their way up the mountain, Karen and I spent the morning wandering around the small town of Bourg d'Oisans. There were many gorgeous little streets to explore and along our travels we were greeted by a sweet little French boy who immediately greeted us in French (unfortunately my attempt at a French reply was pitiful - every bit of French I knew disappeared right out of my head!!). We then took the more leisurely route to the top of Alpe d'Huez. After a bit of lunch with Liam and Dave at the top - they both looked quite relaxed and pleased with themselves when we met them - Karen and I made our way down the mountain back towards Venosc. On the way we stopped off at the Romanche River which, while looking very inviting, was absolutely freezing!

Feeling pretty good, Dave and I took a side road off the descent that wound up the valley's cliffs, and back down the valley floor. Roads like this one are barely wide enough to pass a car and bike and are too small for race events, but they are spectacularly scenic rides for small groups or tourists like Dave and I. As night falls, we arrive back at the chalet and have dinner at a French restaurant in Venosc and consume a couple of well earned wines.

Click on the photo to see more of Alpe d'Huez


Saturday was another glorious day in the Alps. The plan today is to top Col de la Croix de Fer with a small detour to Col du Glandon. Both of these passes are around 2000m, over 1000m higher than where we start. Today's ride is probably more demanding than Alpe d'Huez as it is a long, sustained climb. Wanting to make it all the way, we set off at a pace that could be sustained for the 3.5 hours of climbing.

The ride from Bourg d'Oisans is a steady climb. In some places the road dips back down into the valley, losing all that precious altitude gain, and back up the other side. It is a very scenic ride, certainly a lot more than Alpe d'Huez. Once we reach the summit the views are well worth the effort. There is a little cafe at Col de la Croix de Fer, but we opt instead for the one at Col du Glandon on our descent. It has to be said that the omelette au jambon was just what was needed to refuel, and the cheeky Leffe beer to wash it down was just supurb.

When the ride up the mountain is a steady climb, the ride down is a glorious glide through the corners - 30 kilometers of it. What a sweet feeling! Reluctantly I have to return my bike today, but I could so easily have kept it for another day or two. That ended to cycling part of the weekend. There are so many more rides on offer around Bourg d'Oisans that you could easily spend a week or more riding.

Click on the photo to see more of Col de la Croix de Fer

Karen and I started our Saturday with a 'short' hike up to the waterfall on the other side of the valley. Our short hike soon turned into a very long 4 hours+ hike up the one side of mountain, up into the valley above the valley we were staying in, along the river that ended in the waterfall and back down the other side. Sights along the way included the base of the waterfall, old stone house ruins, an old bush shack, a wooden bridge that crossed the river which lead to the waterfall, lots of slate rock, the rememants of a landslip that had taken out the track (we had to navigate our way through what should have been a track!), more house ruins, more slate and so many beautiful views.

One of the most amazing sights we saw was the huge chunk of ice we came across while crossing the landslip area. The ice was longer than the length of an average size car and we are guessing just as wide and still very solid. We found out later that the ice had slipped from the glacier at the top of the mountain with the landslip months earlier. After making our way back to the village we had a healthy hiking lunch of crepes and icecream, followed by some browsing (and of course purchasing!) at the local shops.

Brian and Michelle provide dinner for us tonight with ample wine to help recount the boy's cycling exploits and the girl's waterfall hiking and shopping of the day.


Unfortunately we didn't have enough time today to contemplate a conquest of another mountain on a bike. However we did take the gondolas and fernicular from Venosc, up to Les Deux Alps, and further up to the glacier and ice caves at 3000m. Les Deux Alps is a large ski resort town nestled in the valley between two peaks. The skiing area is huge in winter and in summer it has many mountain bike tracks.

On one of the peaks there is a permanent glacier and an ice cave. The ice cave is a series of tunnels with ice sculptures throughout. It was a fun experience - almost child like. The view from the peak gave an amazing sense of the enormity and expanse of the French Alps.

All too soon though, we had to leave and retrace our drive back up to Geneva leaving our little village and cycling back in the Alps. What an amazing trip! I'm sure that I will think back on the achievements and quaintness of the area for a long time to come, each time wanting just one more day to cycle in the Alps....

Click on the photo to see more of Les Deux Alpes

Monday, August 07, 2006

London Zoo

Kelly has a soft spot for animals, I think that we all know that. We went to the London Zoo to have a look at all of the animals on show. The zoo is in north London, just next to Regents Park. We caught the bus there, with a packed lunch.

Most of the old favourites were there: Giraffes, Zebras, Penguins, Meek rats, Butterflies, Kangaroos, Hippos, Birds etc, etc. We had a great day looking around at all of the animals, something that you don't get to see much of in central London. The giraffes are amazing. Even though they aren't in a natural habitat, you can get very close to them.

This is an Okapi, which we hadn't seen before. They live in the dense rain forest of Central Africa. It looks like a cross between a zebra, a horse and a giraffe with a stumpy neck that goes forward instead of up.

Click on the photo below to see more.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tour de France - Stage 20 - Champs Elysses

As we previously mentioned, we really wanted to see the Tour de France while in Europe. A couple of weeks ago we watched stages 7 and 8 in the Brittany region in western France. Now, as the tour drew to a close, we were in Paris to see the final stage.

Without a real plan as to the best place to see the stage, we made our way to the Champs Elysses and found a place with a good view in both directions. It was a hot summer day in Paris. Not hot like a Queensland summer, but still warm enough when you are sitting on a black road. We setup camp around 11:30 and kept ourselves amused until something happened.

The tour caravan came past at about 3:00. It was the same as the one we had seen a couple of weeks earlier, except that the people on it looked very relieved to have finally hit the Champs Elysses and didn't have to do this too much longer. There were no freebies this time, either because they ran out or because everyone couldn't be bothered.

Competition for a view was fierce. We were second off the rails with short people in front, so we did quite well. Others were just plain rude about it. One fellow used his child as a wedge to get onto the rail - ask some sucker if your child can be on the rail an hour early, then once the riders come push your way through to the front under the pretence of rescuing your child from being crushed!

About an hour later we heard the TV helicopters overhead and the cyclists made their way up from Place de la Concorde for the first time. As expected the yellow jersey Phonak team of Floyd Landis led the peleton. The peleton was moving fast. Real fast. The Champs Elysses isn't a flat road, it rises steadily up to the Arc de Triomphe, but these guys make it look like a downhill. As the 8 laps progressed breakaways formed, but were quickly reeled in, and the pace consistently rose.

In the end it turned out to be a sprinter's finish, with Robbie McEwan, Thor Hushovd, Stuart O'Grady and Erik Zabel fighting it out. Go Aussies! In the end Hushovd won the sprint and stage with McEwan and O'Grady closely following. Maybe next year for an Aussie 1st and 2nd in Paris. McEwan retained the sprinters jersey.

As the last lap went by we made our way down to the podium, along with plenty of others. Hushovd got his stage prize, McEwan the green jersey and Landis the yellow jersey. And then it was over. Masses of people flocked to public transport or gave up and walked. The Tour de France had come to town and was now being rapidly disassembled.

It was a great day for us. We really enjoyed the tour.

Click on the photo to see more.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Paris and River Cruise

Kelly and I were going over to Paris to watch the last stage of the Tour de France. Since we had already had a trip to Paris we were hoping to take it easy. We flew into Paris on Saturday morning and went to our hotel. Kelly had seen the outside of the Opera house in her trip over with Karenlea and wanted to see inside, so that was our first stop in the afternoon.

As you can see from the photos the Opera house is really quite grand, but it doesn't have that self-important feeling that comes with a palace building. We also visited La Madeleine, a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Not only is the interior eerily beautiful, the building itself is huge and looks directly down a hill to the Place de la Concorde. It is one of the best best buildings in Paris.

That night we decided to take a dinner cruise on the Sienne and see all of the sights of Paris from a different angle. It was a wonderful cruise - a full three course meal, champagne, red and white wine, glass top boat and a nice sunset. I had an escargot spring roll for entree, Kelly politely refused my offer to share. The cruise lasted for 3 hours and went from the Eiffel Tower, up past Notre Dame and back again. In between meal courses you could watch the sights go by or stroll out to the back deck and look at the people going past, enjoying a summer's evening.

After the cruise we walked back up through Trocadero and sat and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle. We enjoyed our day in Paris and were looking forward for the Tour de France stage the next day.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Toast Festival

The Toast Festival is a festival of Australian food, wine and entertainment that happens during the summer in London. This year it featured Roy and HG and Paul Kelly. Roy and HG commentated a sandwich making competition and Paul Kelly put on an acoustic set. Blair McDonough, from Neighbours and Big Brother, was one of the sandwich making contenders.

Kelly, Karen and Dave went along to the festival. It was an afternoon of relaxing in the London sunshine and having a few wines. Kelly even got a photo with HG!

Click on the picture to see more.

Toast Festival
Sep 30, 2006 - 4 Photos

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jono, Liam and Zurich

Jonathan was on the Switzerland leg of his European trip. The previous weekend Kelly and I went over to western France with him for two stages of the Tour de France. This weekend I flew over to Switzerland to meet him in Zurich.

Flights into Zurich were exorbitant - well over £350 return - so I took a cheaper option and flew into Basel-Mulhouse, which is in northern Switzerland, on the border intersection with France and Germany. I landed early Saturday morning and took a one hour train south-east to Zurich. The train trip was amazing. There were little Swiss villages and houses all through the valleys. Jonathan was catching a train up from Interlarken and we met at the Zurich Hauptbanhof that morning.

First thing was to get to the 'hotel' to drop off Jonathan's gear. I use the term hotel loosely. Hostel accommodation was not very cheap in Zurich and not very available. So instead we got a room in an ETap. ETap is part of the Accor chain, but it is bargain basement prices. Kelly and I had previously stayed in one in Germany over Easter. It is a room and it is clean, but it is basic. For all my griping though, I think Jonathan found it to be a step up from some of the hostels he found himself in over the previous week!

Armed with our 24 hour tram pass, we set off for the 2 hour walk around the main sights of Zurich. We walked around the old and new towns, along the river and the lake. Zurich is a compact and very welcoming city. Once we got down to the lake we found some lunch. We just had to have Bratwurst and bread - partly because nothing else was readily available. With Zurich being set on Zurichsee (Lake Zurich), we did a one hour cruise around the northern part of it. Recreation seems to be a big thing - the lake had numerous beaches and parks where people stretched out in bathers and swam on the edge of the lake. It looked so tempting.

One of the great things about just walking around a city is that you sometimes stumble across great surprises. We walked up the east side of the town and found a little square that was having some sort of party. It was a fund-raising BBQ for the local fire brigade. They were selling (yes) Bratwurst and other sausages, beers and wine. Providing the entertainment was a local accordian player. This was a fantastic place to stop and soak up the atmosphere. People just continually came and went, stopping for a beer or two and a chat. It was amazing.

That evening we bought a few snacks and sat down on the shore of the lake. The drinks we bought were Oettingers - only 80 centimes (about 80 AU cents or 35pence) for a 440ml can - bargain! We caught a tram up to the lookout, but there isn't much to see. At 11pm we find some dinner in the main street and then head back to the hotel.


On Sunday we hired a couple of bikes. The bike hire is free, but they take your passport as deposit - cringe. Bikes are a great way to get around and see lots in European cities. We catch a gondola up into the state forest on the mountains on the east side of the town. This is a recreational area that we cycle around and climb the lookout tower. We got a little lost riding back into town, but it was downhill! The brakes were burning (don't worry, they were hire bikes), and we had no idea where we were going, so we just headed downhill until we found the river again.

It was a warm day, so we rode down to the lake and found a beach where we sat around and had a swim. The water is so clean, since it is snow melt runoff. We ride back into town, have a coffee and return the bikes. I have to catch a train back to Basel to catch my flight. My train ticket isn't valid for the return journey, but I sweet talk the woman into reissuing it (saving 35 CHF). Jonathan was heading south out of Switzerland to Milan in Italy that night, so we parted ways at the train station.

I just make it back to the airport with 5 minutes before checkin - it was really touch and go. However, as usual the plane has been delayed for 90 minutes. Once I do get on the plane the captain's first words are "Ladies and gentlemen, please take the nearest seat, abandon all loved ones. We need to take off in the next 10 minutes otherwise we all stay here until the morning." He wasn't joking - there is an 11:15pm curfew on the runway. We endup taking off in time after the quickest of safety demonstrations and I'm back home in London by 2:30am.

Jonathan and I had a fantastic time in Zurich. I don't think that it would have mattered which city we went to, we just had a great time doing stuff. Makes you want to travel around for a living....

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Jono and Liam in Zurich
Jul 16, 2006 - 24 Photos