Monday, September 10, 2007

All the Fun of the Fair

From Dublin it was back to London to pick up a pesky suitcase before packing off to Kent for our final weekend. The country side of Kent may be special, but we headed to Kent to spend the last weekend of our trip with the Wagstaff clan.

After catching the train up on Friday evening with Mark, we arrived to find the James, Tom, and Emma making their final preparations for the next day's village fair. James was finishing off a fruit cake while Tom was putting the final touches on his veggie sculpture.

Mark shows the croquet form that left him undefeated over the weekend.

The Wagstaff residence may look peaceful from the outside, but inside it was all systems go in readiness for the fair.

With a little guidance from Anne, it seemed the kids had 387 of the 3 billion or so categories covered, including "Strangest Potato" and best "Nut Cluster". But it was the sponge cake category that seemed to be the most hotly contested. While James produced a classic example, Emma gambled that one or two of the judges may just have a sweet tooth and lashed out on the icing sugar.

After a hectic Saturday morning it was off to the hall to submit the entries. The competiton looked tough, but the kids were confident.
We returned in the afternoon to find the Wagstaff's had cleaned up in most categories. Best of all, once back at the house we were able to eat lashings of cake!

What a fabulous way to finish outr trip; great company, terrific cake and some pretty ordinary croquet (Mark and James excluded).


From bustling Brissle we boarded a puddle jumper to Dublin to see our dear friend Melissa. Having dropped over to spend some time with us on the Amalfi, it was only fair that we return the visit. Melissa is our favourite brainiac and is currently teaching the good students of Trinity College the finer points of globilisation.

The inner sanctum of Trinity College.
You feel 10 IQ points smarter just walking into the quad!

It was great to see Melissa and check out Dubbers. As well as a day trip into the nearby hills, we we given a insider's tour of Trinity's hollowed halls. We were even treated to tea in the staff room. Woo hoo!!

Dublin had all the feel of a city very much on the up. Busy, thriving and diverse. And to a first timer like myself, it felt more European than English.

We celebrated our last night with a wonderful dinner in the nearby fishing point of Howth. Thank you Melissa for showing us your current home and giving up your very comfy bed for 4 nights. Great to see you as always.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bristol and the South West

Jane: Going back to Bristol was weird for me. I lived there for 5 years in the late nineties, so to go back after 8 years away was strange. It was all really familiar and yet felt quite alien. I managed to find my way around okay, mostly because we were on foot so I had time to remember. Driving was a different matter - many road changes - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The sun came out for the first time in a week which always makes things look prettier. We actually had a few days of lovely English summer.

We hired a car and pootled down into the South West for a couple of days. Standing on top of a hill looking down over the village of Cross (and its interesting topiary...) and the surrounding countryside reminded of why I loved England. Pretty green fields, rolling hills and old buildings - all very beautiful.

We visited Watchet, the seaside town that allegedly inspired Coleridge to write the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. We also went to Woolacombe Bay which I thought may have been remote, so we hung out on a pretty sand beach with about 10,000 of our closest friends. There were many hardy souls in the water (mostly wearing steamers...) but we declined to join them as we're not really into hyperthermia that much.

The rest of our time was spent driving along country lanes, walking Exmoor and meeting very nice, helpful people when we locked the keys in the car.

When in Bristol we like to stay with the amazing June at her Pierian Centre. Have a look at her site: She has set up a fabulous space that is used by the Bristol community for everything from alternative healing to corporate training. It was wonderful to catch up with her again.


We left the grey skies of London for the grey skies of Oxford where our friends Gillian and David have chosen to do a stint in the UK.

David has pulled and IT job at the uni, but rather than settle down in a houndstooth jacket with elbow pads, he went out and purchased a Porsche Boxster to whip down those lovely english country lanes. Those who know me well will appeciate my joy as we roared down to Sainsbury's for a bottle of wine, with 2.5 litres of Stuttgart engineering revving with sweet precision behind my head.

Besides being hosts of the highest order (yes, that's right David and Gillian were both awarded HOHOs from the Queen) we toured the house and grounds of near by Blenheim Palace.

You have to admire the people of Oxford. As many know, it is the setting for the Harry Potter films, but rather than just let all those props go to waste, they have created a fully functioning university. Now the place is thriving with students and books and everything. Amazing!

Blenheim Palace. Not your average student digs.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Black & White Day in London

In the absence of blue sky, I decided to take a few B&W shots as we played tourist for a day in London. Above: old meets new at the British Museum.

Tower Bridge. It actually has a lovely blue trim which must look great in summer....

Covent Garden markets.

Houses of Parliament.

On our way to the British Museum we walked past this building. I think this is a part of the near by university, but it looked like a giant model or a squat Empire State building.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hollingdrake Tours Inc.


Sme blogging. We did it! We got to Prague. It was 3,500kms all up (well actually 3,535 which I thought was a nice number, cos I'm into numbers).

Our final entry to Prague was not an ideal way to enter a city but that's life. We'd been following the Czech "Greenways" cycle route that goes from Vienna to Prague for a couple of days. It has natty little yellow signs that are usually very easy to find and follow and goes through lots of little villages and along nice quiet country roads. We didn't have a map of Prague and thought we'd be able to follow the Greenways signs into the centre. Um, no. Our signs ran out in the communist housing blocks on the outskirts and after a few dead ends, lugging bikes up stairs and generally getting very geographically embarrassed, we took the advice of a very nice cyclist to catch the metro into the centre.

We found our hostel very easily and got tidied up to hit the town. We caught up with the lovely Simon Hollingdrake who had lived in Prague for 3 years before gracing Australia with his presence. Simon showed us his Prague which was brilliant. I had been there 14 years before (not long after communism finished, but long enough for the first McDonalds to open - thank god for progress) and was amazed at how the city had changed.

LOADS of tourists, golly, lots and lots. Many of the buildings had been renovated and had swanky shops. A great vibe. Simon did his level best to undo our good work by taking us out drinking and eating but we just don't have the stamina. Two beers and another great Czech meal in a smokey restaurant and we'd be needing our little hostel bed. We did manage to be out until about 1am one night - party animals!

A line was drawn under the end of the trip (for me anyway) when we sold the bikes. We found a very nice home for them at a bike hire shop. We cleaned them, took our saddles, pedals and computers off. I actually got a little bit teary leaving them there, that funny little bike had been my transport for 3 months and had done a very good job of it. For a fairly basic mountain bike, they functioned really well. Armed with the cash (good price for all concerned) from our sale, we purchased cheap nasty wheely bags that we hope will last until Sydney.

The rest of our time in Prague was spent wandering around, dodging monsoonal rain showers, looking at lovely buildings, eating, drinking and talking tosh with Simon and his fabulous mate Chris. A really relaxing and fun way to finish the continental European leg of the holiday.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Stop in Tabor

Our route to Prague took us almost due north from where we crossed the Czech-Austrian borber, cycling via small rural villages, large farming fields and one nuclear power station. Two days south of Prague we spent a night in Tarbor, a town I knew nothing about before we arrived, but quickly it became one of my favourites of the trip.

Town planning in Tarbor seems to have only two requiremants. The first being that streets and buildings must contain the minimum number of right angles to prevent them collapsing. Secondly, any building butted up against another must be totally different from the one next to it. The rusult is a crazy mishmash of lanes, arches, coulors and styles that give the town so much character.

Oh, and our ride into Tabor took us past the Czech Republic's version of Springfield. The road ran so close to the plant that we could see and hear the water running down the cooling towers as we cycled past. Hmmm....

Friday, August 10, 2007

Krispy Crumbly

My Czech is not the greatest, and with many place names having very similiar spellings, I have resorted to getting a little creative. This tends to work fine for me when I am reading a map or trying to differentiate between places on a road sign. However, when we meet another traveller and I tell them we are going to say, Krispy Crumbly, it has resulted in more than one quizzical look.

Having climbed out of the town of Linz on the Danube and over the Czech border, we followed the Vltava river due north for the town of Krispy Crumbly, AKA Cesky Krumlov. We were both surprised by how quickly and dramatically the architecture and scenery changed once we crossed into the Czech Republic.

It was a great day's ride and we camped about a kilometre from the town centre. We headed in later to explore and have dinner and were treated to one of the meals of the trip - mine goulash and dumplings and Jane's roast duck with red cabbage and apple and dumplings. I had a fairly grim preconception of what Czech food would be like, and a traditional mean is not going to get a Heart Foundation tick, but I have really enjoyed it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Less Letters, Even Less Kangaroos

Smile. They sure know how to build a cycleway in Austria!

A simple church along the Murwag cycleway.

Go Janey, go! This day included 4 climbs, (2 over 1000m) but overall we dropped 1000m to the Danube.

Funny lot, Austrians. Ride their bikes along the Danube all serious like, until you smile and say "Morgen" and their faces light up and back they come, "Morgen". I couldn´t understand it really, cycleways everywhere, (I mean cars even stop for you to cross the road) and there´s beer and schnitzel enough for everyone at the Gasthuas, so why the long faces.

After a few hard days of riding in the mountains, yesterday we cycled 101km west along the Danube cycleway (take note RTA) from Pochlarn to Linz and I tried to raise a few smiles on those serious oncoming faces.

"G`day" in a broad aussie accent usually resulted in a smile and a "Morgen" or "Hello" in return. "G´day cobber" (or "tiger" to the kids) just left them puzzled, so I started with a bit of physical comedy. I took to riding with my right foot hooked up behind me on my pannier to appear to these fortunate on coming two legged riders that I was cycling away happily on one leg. Well, I thought it might cheer them up.....

Here are some serious Australian photos (minus three letters and containing no marsupials).

No ´roos but lots of flowers. Every house has them. This window was part of an old barn by the road. Take note CWA.

It´s Austria, it´s not meant to be flat.

The pretty and holy town of Mariazell. Beautiful church on a beautiful setting. Way over the top in every sense. I took this at about 8pm, very nice light...

Mauthausen from the river. They have a boat to take you and your bike from one side of the river to the other. Now that´s something to smile about, isn´t it?

Flowers everywhere, big ones too!