Friday, September 5, 2008

Welcome to Cooks' Friends

If you came here from Crosby and Susanne's travel tales - Welcome!

You have to go a little further down the page to find stories and pictures about The Trip.

It is written in four stages, and because this is a blog you will find the last one first.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Moving Again

Our contracts at INTO UEA in Norwich are almost finished. Time to move on to greener pastures.

Well, no. It doesn't get any greener than this "green and pleasant land". So we are going to the desert.

We have deserts in Australia ... but not many people venture into them.

We are going to the desert in Saudi Arabia. We have jobs in Riyadh, the capital, in the middle.

The worst of the hot weather in Riyadh has passed now. We spoke to someone in Saudi today who told us cheerfully that the daytime temperatures are down to 44 degrees, and nights are about 34 degrees.

So the living must be pretty fantastic.

My new blog is called Howdi Saudi.

See you there!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The dreaded European Wasp

Brits often express to us that they fell great trepidation at the thought of living in a country like Oz where there are so many things that can bite or sting - even kill - you. The UK is a very tame country by comparison.

Well, there is an occasional adder (snake!). The other day a British kid actually got bitten on the toe by one - much to everyone's surprise, got on the National news, caused quite a kerfuffle!

In Australia we have heard of this European wasp, and it is feared - but mostly because it comes from outside Australia and is capable of damaging our fragile environment like all other introduced species.

Doing the dance

The other day I saw one of our esteemed administrators at the university doing a strange little dance as he came rushing out of his office. Apparently there have been quite a few stray wasps in the offices lately, probably encouraged by the warm weather and the presence of jam sandwiches and sweet drinks on peoples' desks ...

Well, this poor fellow experienced a wasp with a desire to meet him eyeball to eyeball, getting in behind his specs! A very good reason to dance about a bit. He wasn't stung.

Peter and I were talking about this, and saying that although we had heard the sting of the wasp can be very unpleasant, possibly dangerous?, we had never known personally of anyone who had suffered it.

Funny little balls

With classes being mostly finished, and the teachers' room being full of teachers wanting turns on the very few available computers, it was suggested that some of us may choose to work from home where we have our own computers.

Thus today Peter and I were at home and, noticing sunshine outside - the first we've seen in a week or more - I decided to take advantage of it and wash the sheets and hang them outside in the sunshine. What a luxury - we hardly ever even unlock the gate that gives us access to our tiny yard and washing line.

As I picked my way through the longish wet grass in my pink fluffy slippers, I noticed a few of these strange little balls. I thought at first that the neighbours' kids (not that our neighbours seem to have any kids) had lost their marbles or something. On closer inspection I determined that they were fruit, like some tiny plums.

We have a plum tree in our garden - ?

Well apparently that tree in the back right-hand corner is some kind of fruit tree. Nothing there now, though, just a few dried-up ones, and the few bird-pecked ones on the ground. Nothing to eat here, folks.

Curiosity killed the ...

I mentioned it to Peter who, curious as ever - especially when it comes to back gardens - went out to take a look. He found one, and picked it up ... much to the consternation of a wasp who - being disturbed in the middle of a meal - jumped out and stung him on the finger!

Well - what to do?

At that precise moment the gas and electricity metre man rang the doorbell, so after inviting him in we thought - here's a Brit, he'll know what to do. Nope.

I suggested ice, and supplied an ice cube to apply to the spot. We live over the road from a doctors' surgery, so Peter nipped across there for some further advice.

The reception staff at the surgery were most eager to help, but had no idea of what one should do in this situation. The nurse took Peter's blood pressure, which they found to be alarmingly high. Peter pointed out that bites and stings in Australia can be a life-and-death situation, so, besides the distress of being in considerable pain, he was naturally going to feel somewhat stressed overall.

His finger was swelling and getting stiff, and his armpit was sore. The doctor gave him a prescription for some antihistamines and steroids, and strict instructions to ring 999 if he started to have swelling in his lips or throat or had difficulty breathing.

So - that's what you do!

Important Information!

Our friends Crosby and Susanne wrote to us after reading this post, with some important information about wasp stings ...

We have just read your blog on wasps and thought you might need a little scaring!!
A friend of ours has been bitten, stung, whatever on 3 separate occasions. The first time he had a relatively mild reaction.. not as bad as Peter, 2nd time was probably a bit worse than Peter, but the 3rd time was actually life threatening.

He had been stung, and had not enjoyed it, but was basically of the mind that last time he survived so he would also ignore this one too. Besides they were having guests for dinner and he was cooking.

Not a good idea. We were out for the day when we got a phone call. His wife was rushing him to the hospital as he was struggling to breathe and getting worse. To cut a long story short he did survive.

Later his wife told us that they had been reprimanded for not calling an ambulance as it might have been too late. We were praying for him. He now has to carry a "pen" with him at all times in case of another bite as next time might be too late.

So the moral of this story is don't be complacent as the poison can sometimes be cumulative.

Organic Wasp trap

Fill a bucket with water add a couple tablespoons of detergent and either put it near their food source or supply your own ... we have used meat attached to the handle of the bucket. The wasps sit on water to eat or digest or wash or something. Normally they alight on the "skin" of the water, but the detergent breaks this skin and they drown.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The trip - number four, the final one

Note: To read Susanne and Crosby's spin on the trip you can click here.

The Island Town of Lindau

Our last trip was to Lindau - a town built on an island in Lake Constance, which is partly in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

I was now in the full grips of the 'flu, and would have loved to have stayed in bed ... but we had had to pay for this optional trip at the beginning of the tour because of low numbers. So I sat around in a beautiful park while the others explored the small town with its various tourist attractions.

Endless beautiful scenery

One way and another, we saw lots of Alpine scenery.

Knowing how boring motorway travel can be, our driver took us through a lot of smaller streets through the villages.

Time to go

Finally it was time for the long drive back to the ferry. To avoid too long a trip - and possibly missing the ferry - on the Sunday, we drove closer to Calais, and stayed in a motel in Brussels rather than the Liege hotel.

It was on the outskirts of town, in the industrial area. And there was obviously no rule about not smoking in the rooms. After dinner in the squeezy overcrowded restaurant where the fat greasy chef handled our food with chubby fingers in full view of the diners ... and then a night of coughing into my tiny smokey pillow ...

it was good to get back on the ferry the next day and head home!

Shearing was once again very efficient, shunting passengers and baggage onto appropriate feeder buses with the minimum of fuss. However, a few kilometres down the road we came up against one of the other buses by the side of the road, broken down. A few of the passengers got off and joined our bus.

We had spoken to the driver, asking if when we got to Norwich he could drop us off just out of town near our place - no detour required - to save us paying six quid for a taxi to bring us back to the same spot. He gave us a very gruff, unfriendly reply.

However, at the end of the day, after several unscheduled detours delivering people from the broken-down bus close to their homes, he was quite happy to do as we asked when the time came.

And we happily trundled our little red and blue cases down the road to our Victorian terrace ...

There, just inside the door, a pile of letters

including Peter's application for a British drivers licence, returned, AGAIN!

It was nice to be back in our own bed ... even if we did have to go to work the next morning.

The trip - Number 3

A day off

We spent a lot of time on the bus, and the bus driver (for one) needed a break. So from Wednesday lunchtime until Thursday lunchtime we were free to wander the local area.

There wasn't much to see in the village of Lechaschau, so we took a little walk to the next town of


After the mostly red-brick terraced houses of the UK, everything here is much cleaner and brighter. The houses are generally not only painted, but ornately decorated.

Not just here in Reutte, but pretty well everywhere we went. And not just important and special touristy buildings, but almost all of the buildings are decorated, often quite extravagantly.

There are churches everywhere, and frequently with the 'funny-hat' thing on top. The gold ball under the cross at the top traditionally contains the town plans ... the idea being that in the event of an avalanche and the town being buried this part will stick up above the snow and guide rescuers to find survivors.

In fact, preparation for avalanches is paramount in these parts. The roads we travelled along went through innumerable tunnels, most of them 'avalanche tunnels' built over the road up against the mountains to keep the roads open in the case of an avalanche. There were also 'avalanche gates' like leaning-over fences on the steeper mountainsides along the road.

We were also very curious about the little hooks and rails we saw on many roofs. Apparently when it snows they want to keep the snow ON the roof, to a depth of about 18 inches, because it's an excellent insulator.

So there were other interesting things around Reutte, like these four sun-dial type clocks on the wall. Fortunately it was a sunny day.

There were some over sized flowerpots,

and some other interesting statues.

Apparently the Austrians are very religious, more than 80% being Catholic, and in the first few years of their working life they are encouraged to sign a covenant with the church where a portion of their wages will be garnished automatically for the rest of their lives - so the churches are generally not short of funds!

There are crucifixes (and crosses too) everywhere, on street corners with a little roof to protect them in the weather, all sorts of places. So we were a little puzzled by this one on one of the street corners in Reutte.

Locked away in his own little glass window, still bruised and bleeding and sitting on his cross, with a palm tree beside him ... I don't know. Sad? definitely. Bored maybe? Fed up of being portrayed on the cross when everyone knows he is alive?

So then we went to visit


This is one of those incredibly picturesque touristy places. It's famous for the Passion Play that is put on there every ten years, using only local actors. It's a very big deal, and all the local men start growing their hair a year before the play - the next one is in 2010, and tickets are now on sale. In 1633 the people of Oberammergau promised to do this if God would save their town from the ravages of the plague at that time. The following year the stage was erected over the fresh graves of the plague victims, and the tradition lives on today.

Anyway, it's a beautiful place.

The compulsory flower decorations are even gaudier than in other towns,

and the house frescoes are even more elaborate.

Not all of them are religious, like Little Red Riding Hood depicted on this kindergarten.

And, of course there was a church, with an ornate graveyard

and the inevitable amazing decorations inside.

Then there were all the little tourist shops, like the Christmas Shop.

Crosby and Susanne were sorely tempted by the Cuckoo Clocks.

Then there was this shop with an incredible range of wicked ice creams for a remarkably cheap price!

The trip - continued

Into Italy

We were quite surprised and excited to learn that we would also be visiting Italy. The purpose of the trip was in fact to take us to a shop belonging to a friend of Paul, our bus driver, where we would be encouraged to buy liquor and Italian leather handbags ... whatever! We can be hard nosed about not buying stuff!

We enjoyed a lot of delightful scenery on our way through the Austrian Alps and into the Italian Alps into the delightful little village of Vipiteno.

The place was chock-ful of tourists, although - unlike places like Prague - we heard very little English being spoken around us.

As we expected, we were not in the least tempted by the booze or the bags - they were not very special prices at all - so we wandered around the tiny streets between the mountains.

we found a nice little cafe

and had a genuine Italian Cappuccino.

Reflective Lake

There is this lake, where on a good day you can take one of those photos with such clear reflections it's hard to know which way up to hold it.

Despite the bus driver visiting it with us three times, we never did catch it at a reflective moment. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful spot.

Innsbruk, capital of Austria

Bet you didn't know that - we didn't! So after Vipiteno, we dropped into Innsbruk. We had lunch at a MacDonald's - haven't done that for a while! At this stage Crosby had caught Peter's cold/'flu and wasn't feeling too flash.

Another church - a cathedral - and more spectacular marble and painting.

Linderhof Castle

The second castle we visited, known as the "wedding Cake", the palace at Linderhof is where Ludwig actually chose to live.

It's not that big, and lavishly decorated inside, and again, not that old. In fact it's all very sad for so many reasons. The throne room that never had an audience, the dining room for him alone, the exquisite paintings and sculptures, all just for Ludwig himself.

Again we couldn't take photos inside, but the grounds were beautiful too.

Statues, and fountains - including one that periodically shoots 30 feet into the air - and beautiful gardens.

There were beautiful walkways overgrown with vines,

and statues of horses with serious sinus problems.

We climbed the hill to the man-made grotto, all set up with lights and water to watch operas - by himself.

That's water running down those steps. The man certainly had an eye for beauty and a sense of fun, but in the end they all thought he was mad and it seems very sad.

Another Installment

Time to move on to another post.

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 ...