Thursday, July 31, 2008

All over Europe

The Trip

We thought we were going to Bavaria to see some castles ... so we were a bit surprised to find that we were staying in Austria, and visiting castles in Bavaria (Germany), but also dropping into Italy, and spending a couple of nights in Belgium!

Catching the right bus

We were a little worried about catching the bus at the right time and place - we even did a practice run the week before to make sure we knew where to go. But then, what could go wrong - it's not like we'd get on the wrong bus or something. Would we?

The taxi got us there a little earlier than we planned, and we stood around outside John Lewis with a number of other people with suitcases, waiting for our 'feeder bus' to join our tour.

A "Shearings" bus turned up, and the bus driver came over and approached the passengers.

"Shearings?" he asked.

"Yes," we replied.

"What name?" he queried, looking at his list.

"Wickham," we answered.

"Okayyyy ..." he said, piling our bags into the bus. "But only 'Mrs Wickham' is listed ..." and, when we looked a little concerned, "but that's okay. Hop on."

After we had been on the bus for a few minutes, a lady got on claiming to be a "Mrs Wickham", and the smiling driver waved her on too, without even a glance at us.

We began to feel worried. He hadn't even looked at our tickets. Realising the bus was about to leave - a few minutes earlier than our expected departure time - Peter got off the bus and approached the driver, who was loading the last bags into the back.

"We are going to Dover, aren't we?"

"Dover? No! This bus goes to Eastbourne." (Not that there was any indication of that on the outside of the bus!)

We pulled our bags off the bus and stood around a few more minutes until a much bigger Shearings bus arrived ... nope, not our bus either. And then another bus rolled up and the driver said, "Mr and Mrs Wickham?"

"Going to Dover?" we asked. Oh yes! Not that he looked at our tickets, even then.


The ferry terminal at Dover was all new to us - I was glad that we weren't trying to drive a car across to France, because it looked pretty complicated. Shearings have their system all worked out, and we were shunted onto the right bus with our baggage all handled out of sight. The bus went onto the ferry, and we climbed off - being careful to take note of the colour and number of the stairs nearest our bus.

We met up with our friends - Crosby and Susanne - at the ferry terminal, and soon we were all enjoying the brisk winds on the outside deck.

This part of the deck was a little more sheltered - but it was the designated smokers' area.
So we watched the white cliffs drift away, and I tried to come to grips with "panning" using my new camera!

We wanted to find a similar deck at the front to watch Calais appear, but there wasn't one.

In fact our first view of France was really from the starboard side. The trip was an hour and a half, but we seemed to run along the coast of for about half an hour.

France and Belgium

We felt quite excited about being in a new country ... but it didn't really look different, other than driving on the wrong side of the road.

And, of course, it was raining - could just as easily have been the UK!

We slipped from France into Belgium - no fanfare, not even a border sign. We were headed for Liege, in Belgium, for the first night.

It was Saturday, and they had told us on the news some million or so Brits were leaving the shores one way or another over the weekend. The traffic on the continental motorways was all jammed up, and we didn't reach our hotel in Liege until nearly 10pm. A long day on the roads!

Liege, Belgium

Our stay in Liege was nothing to write home about. The hotel was the Ramada - had recently changed its name.

This was the view from our sixth floor window. In the foreground is the old burnt-out convent chapel - the hotel is built in/on an old convent which is really evident only in the beautiful dining room in the old cloisters.

European facilities

The most interesting parts of the long drive were maybe the periodic "comfort stops". All of the motorway services have facilities provided by the same company or department. So a trip to the toilet cost us each 50 Euro cents - that's one Aussie dollar!

But you get one of these nifty vouchers, which you can spend in any of their shops or restaurants! We had to make sure we used them all up before we left the continent ... which, of course, meant spending more money.

On into Austria

That blue sign with the stars is the only indication of a border crossing these days.

On Sunday we travelled on into Austria. Our driver / tour guide was talkative and interesting, telling us about all sorts of things. He pointed out that the trucks have to be off the road for twenty four hours from 11pm on Saturday night, and indeed we could see hundreds of trucks parked off-road all along the way. Despite that, the traffic was heavy - aggravated by areas of roadworks - and we ended up being stuck in traffic again for a couple of hours.

In the evening we were relieved to arrive in the village of Lechaschau, near the town of Reutte, in the valley of the river Lech. This would be our base for the next five days. We were to stay in the Goldene Rose Hotel.

It was really quite a pleasant spot. The food was pretty basic - but not as bad as English food! Our room was bright and clean, with a view of the mountains.

A view that changes every day.

Mind you, you'd be hard pressed NOT to have mountain views from your window in Lechaschau!

Our room was spacious and comfortable - we hadn't been very impressed with our room in the Ramada in Liege, supposedly 5 star! One of the things that bothered us in Liege was the tiny pillows on the beds. Not only were they thin, but they were small, like half a pillow each.

In Lechaschau the maid liked to arrange the doonas and pillows slightly differently each day. But those yellow pillows with the pointy ears and the crunk in the middle are cloud soft - no substance to them whatsoever. But we did get a little scatter-cushion each for good measure.

Obviously some sort of 'continental' thing we don't really 'get'.

(Peter was still not feeling well at this stage, having come down with the 'flu a few days before we left ... I managed to come down with it on the Thursday.)

It's all about the castles

Neuschwanstein Castle

By the way, I didn't take this picture (it's off a postcard), it's impossible to take a picture from this angle without a hot-air balloon or something.

Our trip was called "Fairytale Castles of Bavaria". The bus had 42 seats, but there were only 20 of us doing the tour - we were very relieved that they hadn't cancelled, that would have been messy and frustrating. The trip included 3 castle visits, and two other optional visits.The optional ones required extra payments, but with the group being so small we were quite pressured to take part otherwise they would be cancelled.

The first castle, Neuschwanstein, is "the ultimate fairy-tale castle".

As we arrived in the village, we could see the castle up on the hill in the distance (left). We had several choices to get up there: walk, ride most of the way in a horse-cart, or travel in a packed bus halfway to where we could get some excellent photos. We decided on the bus going up, and the horse coming back down.

Getting a good photo of the castle meant stepping out onto this tiny bridge across the gorge - a prospect which some tourists found quite daunting.

Looking at the castle from the bridge - we then had to walk to it from there.

We could not take photos inside the castle, but we could take photos through the windows. This is looking back at the bridge from the castle.

Quite spectacular scenery. Our bus driver warned us that for some reason some people had difficulty gaining admission with their ticket. You have to put the ticket in, wait a moment until the light turns green, then pull out the ticket and walk through.

Crowds gathered around the ticket admission machine

Unfortunately these warnings made some of our more elderly group members even more nervous, and sure enough several of them just froze at the moment when the light turned green and stood there until it was red and they were stuck.

Here's another view from one of the castle windows. Down there is the car park where we started, just to the left of the other (yellow) castle.

The castle was delightful inside. "Mad" King Ludwig built it but barely got to live in in. In fact parts of it have never been finished as he was found mysteriously drowned - along with his psychiatrist - in the lake. The castle is not that old, being built in the late nineteenth century, and so everything was still very bright and fresh-looking.

The church in the meadow

After our tour of the castle and a ride back down the hill in a pony-trap, the bus tour took us to see the Wieskirche, Germany's best-known pilgrimage church.

Our bus driver told us we would go "Wow!" as soon as we opened the door, and as this was the first church we had seen in the area he was 100% right.

I have absolutely no chance of giving even a fair idea of the splendour of this place; maybe when I get my movie pictures edited I can give some idea.

All white and gold, with natural lighting, and paintings on every wall and ceiling area, not to mention the statues and marble columns. It was, of course, full of tourists - and children ... but even they could not distract from the awesomeness.

More later

So I'm going to publish this first section, and continue with a new post ...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cooks' Tales

It's interesting to put it all together, so here is Susanne and Crosby's 'spin' on The Trip.

After picking up our coach and meeting P&R, we were loaded onto the cross -Channel Ferry. The ferry is mind-bogglingly huge!! There were dozens of semis (HGVs over here) and tourist buses and caravans and just ordinary cars. Once the bus was loaded we had to get out and could wander almost anywhere. We found a nice fresh air place and guess what? I did not get sea-sick! I was very pleased with myself. C did point out that it was almost impossible to get sea sick as the crossing was so smooth, but I could feel it lurking at the edges. We had to buy food for tea (dinner, supper, whatever) as there was no meal provided that night and we would not get there 'til late. We watched the White Cliffs (sort of green and grubby) disappear and the French coast appear, there was a call to load and we were all back on the bus which was unloaded (took a bit longer than it sounds). And there we were driving (on the wrong side of the road) through France and then into Belgium. Now we can say we've been to France and Belgium. (Or at least through them).
The hotel we stayed at was nothing special. Clean and neat, yes. Soap and towels supplied etc., TV yes, but was supposed to be 4 stars and according to the paper on the wall 200 euros a night. No Way!
Breakfast was interesting: buffet style, we were offered a choice of croissants, rolls, variety of sliced meats and cheeses and hard boiled eggs(cold). Also fruit and cereals. On our way out, P discovered that there were also some hot foods offered..bad timing Peter.
Back to the bus, and a rather long and sort of boring trip for the whole day. We had toilet stops, morning and afternoon tea stops and lunch. The scenery was the same all the way. Paul the driver did say it was the edge of the Black Forest. So I watched carefully for witches and dwarves and talking animals and gingerbread houses, but I did not see a single one. We met several holdups, road works, and assorted incidents, just to make the journey so much longer. We arrived much later than planned, had dinner (nice) and collapsed into bed.
The view from our room was superb! Beautiful mountains, with green meadows on the lower slopes and grey stone higher up, dark green pines and lovely chalet style houses decorated with flowers. Every morning it looked different. P&R had different mountains and different buildings from their window.
A very similar breakfast to the other, though this place also had raw eggs you could cook yourself. I tried something different every day. The cheeses were nice, some of the breads were yummy and there was real butter as well as marge. Some of the meats were nice and some mmm...Fruit was pretty ordinary...I think in Australia we have been spoilt for fresh fruit and vege.
Mon: We left for our first castle at 9:30 and drove through fairytale tall mountains.. chalets covered with flowers, hanging baskets and window boxes.... cows with bells around their necks....neat little fields with some golden crop waiting to be harvested..... and absolutely no rubbish; unbelievable!!! Little shrines in the most obscure spots (Austria is a Catholic country) lovely.
Now for Neuschwanstein. Another slice of fairy-tale life. The castle is set in a fairytale landscape and looks like something that Cinderella or the Sleeping Beauty would inhabit. Stunning!! Our bus parked at the foot and we caught a mini bus up to Mary's Bridge. This is no bridge for height-fearers! [Crosby: needless to stay I didn't go right into the middle!] Suspended over a chasm with a raging torrent (well, maybe a bit smaller than a torrent), the view was out of this world. On one side the mountains sloping to the river and on the other a stunning view of Neuschwanstein, set in its mountain please!! I took lots of photos, but when C checked them he said we wanted the castle and not my foot (how did that happen?) so he had to brave the bridge and take some himself. We walked the rest of the way to the castle, to face the dreaded entrance. Paul had warned us about this nerve-wracking system, possibly designed to eliminate the weaker members of the human race. First one had to wait for one's group number to come up...we were 433!!.. then one lined up at the gate and waited for the green light for your group. Then you had to slip your ticket in the slot, pull it out at the right moment and then walk through the turnstile or lose your turn for ever, or at least until some official, with an exasperated sigh, let you through. With such intelligent people as C&P&R (I hope you are reading this P&R) I had no trouble getting through, though a couple of ladies on our tour had to be rescued.
Inside the castle itself was mind-boggling! You need to get out your thesaurases and find words to fill in here!! The whole castle was painted with themes from Wagners Operas. Seems King Ludwig was very keen on Wagner. All the walls and ceilings were covered with murals, sounds rather boring, doesn't it? "The walls were covered with murals", but it was absolutely stunning, beautiful colours, exquisite carvings and gold leaf everywhere. Each room more overwhelming than the last!! Our guide mentioned that Ludwig had been "committed" and taken to Munich, as he had spent all his money and some of his rellies' money on these castles. He never lived in this one. Later Ludwig and his physiciatrist were found drowned in a Lake. There is a mystery about this as Ludwig was a very tall and strong, healthy man who was an excellent swimmer...Our tour guide spoke very good English, and at the end of the tour when we thanked her, I complimented her on her English, guess what.. she had spent a year in Australia, near Coff's Harbour!! So we had a nice little chat, before leaving the castle and heading inevitably to the shop. If I have ever complained about prices in English tourist shops I take it back!! For ruinous prices, nothing matched this shop. We were almost tempted to take photos of the price tags (couldn't afford anything else).
Now down to the small village, where our bus had been left. We could walk down, take the mini bus down or catch a horse drawn vehicle. So of course we caught the horse transport. Once in the village we found a nice spot to sit and eat and watch things go by. Very restful.
Now back on the bus and off to the Church in the Meadow. It really was in a meadow. We wandered off to the church, expecting just another church. Forget "just another church". This church was, well, stunning, (I think I am overworking this word). So light and airy with gold paint and beautiful pictures on the wall. It is hard to conjure up the atmosphere of such a light, colourful, spacious church.
Next morning on to Vipiteno, Italy. We thought that we would end up in some Italiano somthing or other. Not so. It was a very Austrian/Bavarian village. This is because (as Paul explained it) the village is still part of Tirol, only Italian Tirol. The language seemed to be German. We went off to explore and found the tourist info place where I tried out my limited German (very limited) and found some one who spoke English. She suggested the church and the old room in the Rathaus [Crosby: not very complimentary; it's pronounced 'rat-house'] (council chambers) and yes we made all the obvious jokes about the two names. The old church was fascinating, we crept around so as not to disturb the people in there who were praying. More old paintings on the wall. I also caused a slight muddle with my German, there were so many people in the church, that I asked someone if it was a Mass going on as we had no desire to tramp rudely through a service. He misunderstood me (not hard) thinking that I wanted to attend a Mass and very kindly showed me the list of Mass times posted outside. Very thoughtful.. what could I say except "Dankeschon". But at least we knew that there was no service going on. Throughout our whole trip we found people very friendly and helpful like this (even if total understanding was lacking).
We found the Rathaus and the old room, where we saw an old heater tiled all over and originally wood burning which used to be common in old chalets, but no longer in use. Sadly, we could not read any of the signs around as they were all in German.
Leaving the Rathaus we met up with P&R and pointed them in the direction of the places we'd seen and they pointed us in the direction of the cafe that sold nice hot- chocolates. We didn't make the cafe as we were side-tracked by a shop selling the most beautiful embroidery, but the prices... so high and the lady so insistent that I almost felt threatened thereby making me reluctant to buy. C would not buy a pair of braces embroided all-over with flowers.[Too expensive for slingshots!] We also saw our first eidelweiss, funny looking flower, rather spiky to look at but a soft creamy colour and it felt like an Australian Flannel flower. Back to the bus...
We went to Innsbruck, in Austria. The bus was parked in the official Bus Park and we wended our way into town..not far...., past lots of shops etc. until we came to the Plaza where the Golden Roof was. It seems some king or Duke or some body had heard a rumour that he was poor. This so incensed him that he built a golden roof...actually tiles covered with gold leaf. The roof shone and sparkled as we admired it. Looked like it had just been polished, then we set off to look at the Cathedral. C by this time was feeling quite crook, with a high temp.[Crosby: thank you, Peter!] The 4 of us admired the Cathedral though poor C spent most of his time sitting in a pew "admiring". He had hoped to take the ski lift to the top of a local mountain, but that was becoming increasingly out of the question.
We found some little old narrow lanes, and wandered through them, looking at all the lovely and expensive souvenirs, then off to the museum, far too expensive ,[Crosby: I don't think they would have sold it anyway] and R was starting to feel a bit tired. In case you are wondering we could not take C straight back to the bus as it was locked until a certain time. By now it was getting close to bus opening time so we started to wend our way (slowly) back to the bus.
Back to the hotel, C dosed up with panadol, crawled into bed and slept for the rest of the afternoon and night. By now R was feeling better and P still a bit crook, so abandoning our husbands to nap time R& I set off to find a supermarket, to buy water. On the way we crossed a bridge with the beautiful water that was so common in this area. It was a soft milky sort of bluey-green, and tumbled charmingly in its gentle, shallow way, over rocks and it looked so picturesque. The sort of place you could take the kiddies to paddle. We found it hard to believe, as Paul told us later, that on one tour the river had flooded so wildly that the bridge was covered and the tour bus could not get out.By the way, if you are wondering, we found a supermarket (an Aldi under another name) and bought some water and returned to the hotel, all with barely a bungle. Mind you, crossing the road was interesting as all the cars were on the wrong side.!!
Wed, off to Linderhoff Castle, another creation of Ludwig. Now this castle was where Ludwig ended up living. This is also known as "The Wedding Cake". Again we were booked to enter the Castle at a set time, so we had time to wander the grounds and see THE Fountain. It rose every 15 min (I think) so we got to watch it several times. Then it was time to line-up for our entry. We had to go through in a group, as we were counted. P (of course) was missing, and C (of course) was allowing some ladies ahead of him, but they weren't in our tour!! He was nearly counted out. But we all made it . This castle was white outside and all Rocco style with lots of gold. Each room was a different colour. One room which was yellow had silver leaf trim. This was a small "cosy" palace . In the dining room was a table which had some kind of set-up which was lowered through the floor to the kitchen to be set or cleared and the next course set. This saved Ludwig from having to see the servants. He lived alone here in all this splendour, and rarely saw any other human. So sad.
After our tour of the castle was over, we headed off to see the grotto. Ludwig also had this built. It looks like a large cave, but is set up for the performances of... guess who... yes, Wagner's works. So lavish, so expensive, the very first place in Bavaria to have electricity. There are coloured lights shining on the water, and a stage and all this for a one man audience as no-body ever came here except Ludwig ... He must have been a very lonely man.
On to the Moorish tea house. This you could not enter, merely looked-at through the doorway which was glassed off. The whole of the inside was covered with tiny tiles, in all sorts of patterns, quite fascinating. Time to wander back to the bus.
Thurs. The morning was free, C & P were feeling better so we set off to wander around Reutte, the nearby town. It was inevitably beautiful and clean. We saw lots of old buildings with murals on their external walls. Lots of lovely window boxes, filled with bright colourful flowers. Not a lot of actual flower gardens. Most of the gardens are window boxes. These "Gardens" are taken inside during the Winter, with their heavy snowfalls, [Crosby: must get cool in there] and renewed next Summer. We found the Tourist Info, with some pamphlets in English (yea!!), a 2nd hand shop, with lovely Austrian clothes, nothing fitted. Again C refused some lovely embroided braces...I don't know why.... I can just see him wearing them to work....well, maybe not. I wonder if I can convey to you the atmosphere of this town: Lovely 2-3 storey chalets, with fascinating pictures, colourful flowers everywhere, no litter, not many cars..we just strolled along gazing at the sights... it seemed very gentle.
Now, back to business. Lunch at the hotel, then off to Ettal Abbey and Oberammergau. The Abbey was again spectacular. Light and airy and full of gold leaf. This was founded in 1330...a bit before my time. [Crosby: only a bi!]
The small village of Oberammergau was threatened by the plague and they asked God to deliver them, and promised to perform the "Passion Play" if they survived. They survived, and they kept their promise. This was in 1633 and has been performed every 10 years since. The next one being 2010. The first stage was built over the graves of plague victims.
The stage we saw was enormous, and there were people in there working. We wandered through the rest of the village, which of course, was lovely and clean. We were enchanted by the cuckoo-clocks and the exquisite wood carvings, but finally decided against any thing...the cost... I know... I know, this is a tourist place, perhaps they cater only for wealthy Americans.... There was also a Christmas shop, full of nice Christmassy things. A nice selection of Nativity sets. Then we found the icecream shop...that we could afford..and very nice too. Again, some nice little streets/lanes and another spectacular church and some very dressy headstones, then we set off to find our bus.
On the way home we stopped at a lovely lake, the water was so blue and clear, this was used for swimming and boating and in winter it freezes and is used for skating. It really was so post-cardish (new word): blue lake so clear you could see the bottom, surrounded by steep mountains covered with pines, and later on of course, with snow.
Back to hotel, with a quiz after dinner. The four of us were one team...nearly all the questions were English, but Paul assured us their was one Australian question. At the end we had to ask him which one was it. The question? How many stomachs does a cow have? Huh? Australian? Oh well, we came third anyway, what else would you expect? Now, here's one question that we got correct..(we're pretty good). Who was the last prisoner in the Tower of London? Can you answer that one eh? [Crosby: I've got to put the answer in or you'd never know. It was Rudolph Hess. I wouldn't know, but my observant wife read it while she was there not so long ago!]
Fri. C and P were feeling better and it was R's turn to feel crook,but like the other two on their worst days, she stayed the course.
We were off to Lake Constance and the island of Lindau. Instead of the motorway, Paul took us around some "back" roads, the scenery was again spectactular, what else could I say. We stopped at a small cafe/pub thingie, for morning tea. The dining room had a tree in it . . . why not ...and the ceiling was decorated with all the old-time farming implements, such as a plough and the wooden stakes they used to dry hay on... outside was a tiny shrine like a miniature for only two people at a time.
Now for the island. The bus had to park on the mainland and we walked across a long bridge. We found a pizza cafe for lunch, where the bloke who served spoke Italian and German and English. To us it seemed interesting that an Italian man should work in a German-speaking town and be able to talk to Australian tourists.
P & R went off to the park and C & I explored to Island. Lovely old churches, old houses and a harbour, where we watched the docking of the ferries that took people around the lake. Back to the park, met P & R and took a stroll around before it was time to return to the bus.
Early departure, for the long (very long) trip to our motel that night. We ate in the restaurant of that motel. We were not too impressed by the enormous and very friendly dog that strolled among the diners, his tail occasionally sweeping over someone's food.
Next day, back to the ferry and home to England.
Our feeder bus stopped to help another of their buses which broke down. This was fine, except that as a consequence we were dropped off at an obscure bus stop in Cambridge, and being Sunday the last bus had gone. So my poor little toes had to walk about 2 miles to the middle of Cambridge to find that...(thankfully) there was still one bus left to our village.. or at least within walking distance.... about another mile or two. Thanks to my husband's strong arms (he took the baggage) I limped home on one very swollen foot.
Was it worth it??? you betcha !!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Swansea? What, in Wales??

No, no ... we are not going to Swansea (in Wales). But it must be a pretty important place, because it's where they send stuff.

The Drivers Licence Debacle

When we first arrived in the UK, in Sheffield, last August, we lived in a house joined onto the police station. So, during the course of a friendly conversation, we asked the local police about drivers' licences, and whether us Aussies are allowed to drive here, and for how long, and how to get UK licences ...

And the nice policemen didn't know the answer, so he went away and researched it for us, and he still couldn't find out. It seemed that he could find out about every nationality except Australians. Even New Zealanders got a mention, but not Aussies.

We figured it must be something to do with the cricket.

The best he could come up with - phone the DVLA in Swansea. What? In Wales?

Nearly a year later and now we really do need to get our UK licences before 12 months is up.

So Peter went on-line to try to find out what we have to do. What the police in Sheffield said is true - everyone is mentioned except Aussies.

Europeans - driving on the other side of the road, not knowing the language ... can just swap their licence for a UK one. Commonwealth countries - again an easy swap.

Students from anywhere (even China) can get a UK licence after just six months here.

But Aussies seem to be in the "any others" category.

So we can:

drive on our foreign licences up to a year ... and then get a provisional licence, and eventually take the written test. But if we let it go over the year, then we have to take the practical test as well.

Aaaaaaaaah! I have to take a driving test and I have to parallel park - ? I guess I'll just catch buses.

Peter decided to lead the way. He got on with filling in the form on the internet, and then he had to print it out and sign it.

They wanted a photo - like a passport photo - and it had to be signed on the back BY SOMEONE WHO HAS KNOWN US IN THE UK FOR MORE THAN 2 YEARS! ... and all this has to be done before the 12 months is up!

Ok, so we found a teacher who has also worked in Istanbul, and was willing to say she knew us there two years ago.

So then Peter paid his 50 pounds for a provisional licence. And then they said "send us your passport". To Swansea (in Wales).

Nope. No way! He spat the dummy. We have learnt over the last few years that you don't let your passport out of your sight. Not even in England. This is the country where people leave files of secret documents on the train, and laptops full of secret information get stolen, and people find a CD of private information next to a roundabout ... not a secure environment!

The Local DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency)

Then we discovered there is a local one of these, not only in Swansea! Peter hopped in the car and headed down there between lessons.

Of course it wasn't anywhere near where they said it was on the map on the Internet, it had moved. But he eventually found it after a long walk, and the people were most helpful and efficient.

No, you don't have to get a provisional licence.
No, you don't have to take the written test.
No, you don't need a photo signed by someone who's known you for two years.
No, you don't even need to send you passport to Swansea (in Wales), just show it as ID.

And she even arranged to have the 50 pounds he'd paid on the provisional licence transfered to getting a new licence instead.

The only thing is that they take away your Australian licence, and send it back to Australia!

All's well that ends well.

So the other day Peter got one of those brown envelopes that come from government departments. He opened it up, and there were all his licence forms that he'd filled in at the local DVLA, sent back to him.

Oh no! At first it looked like they wanted his passport after all. But after we'd pawed through it , it looked like the problem was the 50 pounds. They sent it back. And wanted him to send another 50 pounds.

So he's still waiting for his new licence.

But I've got mine!!! I'm licenced to drive in the UK!! (Do you think that's wise? They've never even seen me park!)