It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sorry - No Photos!

Sorry that all my photos are not able to be viewed.  I don't know what the problem is, but I'm trying to fix it.

If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.  FYI, I've made my album in Picassa public and cleared my cache, as advised on some forums, but I really don't know what to do next.

Problem Solved?

I've just seen a link to this incredible jacket on one of the expat forums I participate in.  Check out the seriously amazing seV/Scottevest!


Scottevest - the way of the future?

Whilst I don't think this is something that you'd want to walk around all day wearing, it's certainly solved the problem of the airlines weighing your carry-on luggage.  With more and more airlines limiting you STRICTLY to one piece of hand luggage, this would really help. 

The theory is that you put the entire jacket, with all contents, in the tray at security, and breeze on through with no problems.  You've got no hand luggage to weigh, and you can walk straight off the plane at the end.  Apparently the jackets are designed to be a little roomy so you can wear them over the top of your normal clothes without you looking like you're a sausage squished into a small skin.

I always take one of my two jackets with the big pockets so I can quickly stash anything that weighs too much (purse, camera, packs of bacon ...), but I think these guys might have invented a real winner here.

There are many styles available on the website, for men and women.  Have a look and let me know what you think.  Does anyone actually have one of these amazing jackets?

(Yes, I know, you're wondering about the bacon.  Well, the German bacon is totally different from what we're used to, so I always try and bring some back from the UK with me.  Along with humous, flat bread, M&S crispy duck ready meals, microwave porridge sachets etc.).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Language Puzzler

On Saturday night we went to see the Sting Symphonicity concert outdoors at Schloss Salem.


Schloss Salem

I don't know how many people were there, but I'm guessing at least 5,000.  It was a clear, warm night and everyone was really enjoying themselves.

Now, here's my puzzler, we've been living in Germany for 2.5 years now and, from experience, I can safely say that if I ask the local German people if they can speak English at least 60% of them will say "nein".  About 20% will say "a little", and 20% will be happy to speak it and speak it much better than I can speak German (which isn't difficult).

As Sting was performing, I looked around the crowd and nearly everyone was either singing the words or mouthing the words along with him (as were we).

So, does this mean that more people can understand English than they're letting on, or do they just mouth along to the words that they have heard, not knowing at all what they mean?

I'm not much help on this one because the only songs I heard in foreign languages when living in Australia were:-

And I really didn't know what any of them meant, though I must thank Nena for teaching me the Deutsch for 99.

I guess my question is, do you think people know what the lyrics to Sting's songs actually mean, or are they just singing along because they've heard the songs so many times that the words are stuck in their heads (and they've got no clue what they mean)?


Sting, just being fabulous

I only found out what "Ca Plane Pour Moi" meant a few years ago (thanks Craig Smith!), so I guess, maybe, just like me, they're singing things they've got no idea about?

What do you think?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

London City Airport

We're safely back at home for a week, and this time we flew out of London on British Airways from London City Airport.  I mostly fly to the UK with Ryanair and land at London Stanstead, which is a lot bigger, but further away from town.


London City Airport

I've never flown from London City before, and it's lovely.  I'm guessing it mostly gets used by business flyers as it's not terribly big, is very clean and the staff are actually, shock horror, friendly!  Yes, friendly airport staff - it's unheard of.

You can get out there on the tube/DLR, or a cab ride from Paddington is about 40 pounds.  I know 40 pounds sounds expensive, but you can fit 3 people in the cab with luggage, so that's not too bad.


London DLR Map

After you've cleared security there is a WH Smith, a book store, and a few cafes with sandwiches etc.  The prices for the food were absolutely bonkers, nearly twice what you'd pay anywhere else, so if you think you might want a snack at the airport, buy before you arrive.  Remember you can't take drinks through security.

The flight to Zurich only took just over an hour on a smallish plane (2x2 seating), but it was very roomy compared with what I've gotten used to on Ryanair - luxury!  They even came down the aisle with drinks and peanuts - for free!  Of course, with Ryanair, you get what you pay for, but it was lovely to have a change.

Anyway, I'd never even thought of flying through London City, but it was friendly, efficient, clean and stress free - I'll definitely do it again.


Friendly airport staff?  Surely some mistake!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Movie Review - Hangover 2

I know what you're thinking, "Movie review?  What?  This is meant to be a travel blog", and you're kind of right.  The only reason I'm posting this is that Hangover 2 was filmed in fabulous Bangkok and we used to live in Bangkok - a little bit of my heart will always be there.

As you know, we live in Germany, and the small town where we live doesn't have a movie theatre.  There is one in our next big town (about 20 minutes away), but they don't play movies in English, so we're a bit starved for latest releases.  The only time we get to see movies is on planes or if we pick up copies in Asia when we're travelling.

The only reason I went to see this movie in Birmingham last week (and dragged hubby and Jim along with me - sorry boys) was because of the Thai connection, and I figure this review might save a few of you forking out for a movie ticket for this very D grade flick.

The movie premise?  Dodgy.  The acting?  Woeful.  The continuity?  Missing.

But, and this is the best bit, it was filmed in amazing Bangkok and it was great to see some of the places we know pop up in the background (and foreground) of the movie.

We saw the Down Under Bar appear in the soi where one of the big fight scenes was filmed, and we've sat in there before, watching the AFL Grand Final.

Sirocco Restaurant at the top of the Lebua Tower featured prominently.

Sirocco at Lebua - fabulous, except when it rains!

We've eaten there before, with Fi & Dave, and had to run for cover when a huge tropical storm hit us.  The staff quickly relocated all diners and their food to an internal restaurant and we got to watch the lashing storm through full length windows for the rest of our meal.

The plot vaguely hangs together, though I did totally break down with hysterical laughter during the "steal the monkey from the drug lord car chase" scene, and had tears running down my face.

Save yourself the money unless you've got a Thai connection, and if you do go to see it and then think about travelling to Bangkok, don't take their clothing tips - you will absolutely melt if you're running around Bangkok in a hoodie!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Boris? He's Quite A Ride!

Just back from my first Boris Bike ride and I'm exhausted!

What's a Boris Bike?  Boris Bikes are the nickname for the London Barclays Cycle Hire bikes.

Hi, I'm Boris.  Care for a ride?

It's a fantastic bike hire scheme in London, launched in July last year, and nick named after Mayor Boris Johnson, who's an avid cyclist and just a teensy bit bonkers.

Here's Boris on a Boris - I know, it's a bit confusing ...

Anyway, I've been watching more and more Boris bike stations being set up around London over the last few months and there's one right outside Jim's door, so I thought I'd have a go on this lovely sunny day.

I was expecting the hire process to be difficult, but it only takes a few minutes and was surprisingly easy.  One thing you MUST have is a chip and pin credit card, as that's what you need to hire the bike.

It cost me the princely sum of £1 for 24 hours hire, and after I'd inserted my credit card into the machine and answered a few questions, the machine spat out a printed code.  I ambled over to the parking rack, typed the code in, and released my very own Boris.

I was a bit worried about what to do with my handbag, but there is a little basket type platform on the front of the bike, with thick elasticated straps that clip things onto it.  I was just about to head off, with my bag strapped to the platform, and a taxi driver called out and said he'd seen someone run up and grab a bag right off the front of the bike.  He recommended I wrap the handbag strap several times around my handlebars and then secure it to the platform with the elasticated platform strap - just for a bit of extra security.  Thanks Mr Taxi Driver!

There's also a wheel guard, so you don't have to worry about your skirt (or my floppy cardigan tails) getting caught in the wheel.  Each Boris has three gears, a bell and an adjustable seat. 

Now, I've not ridden a bike for quite a long time, but I gamely headed off along the canal into a formidable head wind, cruising happily past lovely moored canal boats, ducks and ducklings.  There are no bike helmets, so I thought it was safer to stick to the canal paths instead of the road.

Things I've discovered about myself and my Boris:-

  • Riding into a headwind is not pleasant.
  • Riding into a headwind is not easy.

After about 45 minutes I called it a day and returned Boris to his parking station, and exhaustedly walked across the road to home.

Even though I've collapsed on the sofa, I think the Boris scheme is fantastic and might even do it again tomorrow, probably around Hyde Park.  There are parking stations everywhere, and it's a cheap and cheerful way to get around London.

You don't have to return your Boris to the same parking station you got it from, you can ride it from one station to another.  I've seen lots of businessmen in suits riding around this time, it's a quick way to get across London if you're tough enough to deal with the traffic and the double decker buses (I'm not).

If you're a brave bike rider you can tackle roads, but there are plenty of bike paths and maps available on the website.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Piri Piri Chicken - YUM!

We spent five days in Portugal and I had Piri Piri chicken three times.  It's seriously scrumptious and very easy to make.  I've attached a recipe below that looks pretty close to what I was eating, but I managed to buy some packs of Piri Piri powder at the supermarket in Vilamoura, so see if you can find some in your local supermarket.

Piri-piri chicken

My only important note would be to make sure that your chicken is properly cooked, all the way through.  A lot of the recipes say that you should cook it quickly on the BBQ and I think maybe you should start it in the oven first, and finish it on the BBQ,  just to make sure you're eating it fully cooked.  After having a few bouts of food poisoning, I don't think you should ever take the risk.

Anyway, here's a good looking recipe, so let me know if you make it and how it turns out -

Of course, if you don't want to go to all the faff of cooking it yourself, head on down to your local Nando's and get someone else to do all the work!

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Twin, She's Back ...

Apparently I've got a doppelganger, a double, and she's living happily in Portugal.  She was around when I was living in Bangkok too, as I had several people tell me they'd seen me somewhere, or met me before, when I had no idea who they were, and had never been to the places where they'd seen me.

She's obviously ventured into the il Giardino restaurant at the Sheraton Algarve.  And how do I know this?  Well, after we checked into our room at the Sheraton last week, we decided we'd eat at one of the restaurants within the hotel complex so we didn't have to venture out exploring on our first night.

We chose il Giardino and wandered in around 9pm, only to find just a few tables occupied, but it was mainly empty.   A very friendly waiter seated us and took our drink orders before shuffling off to get the menu (which, by the way, was fabulous - amazing fresh scallops).

On his return with the drinks he said "Madam, it is so lovely to have you back in our restaurant!".  I must have looked a bit puzzled and he added "Sir, I'm sorry, I can't remember you, but your wife I definitely remember.".  Handy, considering I've never been to Portugal before.

He was so sure that he knew me that I had to play along, which has its own problems, e.g. when I had to go to the loo and had to ask "I'm so sorry, I can't remember where the bathrooms are from my last visit, can you please direct me?".

Judging from the very helpful, friendly and attentive service that night, my twin is an excellent tipper - I'm guessing he got a bit of a shock when we payed our bill!

Oh, and the reason the restaurant was quite empty at 9pm?  The Portugese eat late.  Really late.  Things started to heat up around 10pm and people were bringing their children and even babies out with them to dine at that hour.  For someone like me, who's ready to eat their own head by about 7pm, it took a bit of getting used to (and arming myself with mid-afternoon snacks).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Restaurant Review : Bar Boulud, London

After a fantastic holiday in Portugal with Jane & Clive (several seperate blogs to follow), we're now in London at Jim's.  I thought I'd start throwing out a few restaurant reviews as a howdy to my chef readers (hello Mel, Georgie, Shane and B's Matt), so here's a few notes from dinner last night at Bar Boulud in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park with Jim.

Bar Boulud, London - you can sit at tables or the bar

We had eaten before at Daniel Boulud's restaurant in the Wynn in Las Vegas and, whilst it was nice, we weren't blown away by it.  The Vegas restaurant has now closed, so I'm guessing we weren't the only ones!

The London restaurant had a very comfortable, friendly atmosphere, which I wasn't expecting from such a fancy hotel.  We each had the much talked about Piggie Burger - a grilled beef burger, topped with pulled pork, bibb lettuce and green chilli mayo on a cheddar bun.  I couldn't go past the side of truffle mash (swoon), and hubby had the peas and bacon, whilst Jim had the sauteed mushrooms.

Piggie Burger - YUM!

When the burgers came out, we were a little disappointed in their size - midway between a slider and a normal sized burger - but they turned out to be absolutely perfect and we were all stuffed full afterwards.

I thought I'd paced myself well enough to fit in a dessert, but yet again, my eyes were bigger than my tum, and all I managed was one scoop of incredibly yummy coconut passionfruit sorbet whilst the boys were enjoying their coffees.

After our meal we moved through to the bar at the front of the restaurant where the very friendly bar staff helped us with a drink (virgin Mojito for me), and gave us some samples of Aperol, which I'd been told was a rhubarb liqueur, but turned out to be an orange liqueur.  Then we jumped a taxi home down Park Lane, dodging huge rain showers - a great night out!

So, now I'm a lover of the Piggie Burger (even though it didn't have beetroot - yum!) - what's your favourite burger?

Friday, June 10, 2011

I'm Outta Here!

I'm just about to start packing a bag as we leave this morning for a trip to Portugal, Birmingham and London.  We're meeting up with Clive & Jane at their place in Faro, then flying to Birmingham to meet up with Jim for the Peter Kay concert (staying at Rotunda for the first time, it's meant to be lots of fun), then training it to London for a night (dinner at Boulud and hopefully a chance to hit the sale rail at lovely, lovely Anthro in Regent Street) before heading home.

My challenge is that I've got to have summer clothes for Faro and a mix of clothes for whatever the UK weather might throw at me.  Oh, and a few "going out" clothes for some of the gorgeous UK restaurants where Jim has managed to snare us a booking (thanks Jim!).  Quite a selection to fit into a small bag for Ryanair!!

Mum & Dad left for Singapore and Adelaide on Wednesday, and it was great to have them here.  We did lots of touring around and saw some favourite old places, and lovely new places too (hello Brugge!). Here's a few of my fave shots from the last month or so.

With Mum at Singen Hohentwiel

Afternoon tea with Mum & Dad in Allensbach

Breakfast in Brugge (oh, yum!)

Glorious fountain in Brugge where the carriage horses drink

One of a series of horse sculptures in a castle courtyard in Brugge

Sobering memories from Ypres

On the Amsterdam canals with Jim

I'm not taking my laptop so it'll be "all quiet" on the blogging front for a while.

Take care!

Monday, June 6, 2011

4 Wheels or 2? Hard or Soft?

Luggage?  We've got LOTS of luggage, of all shapes and sizes, and it gets worked pretty hard with all of our travel.

We tend to prefer Samsonite, but lately, thanks to a local supermarkets "collect stamps and get 70% off luggage", we've now got a bunch of new Wenger, to replace some of our old, battered Samsonites.

Samsonite is expensive, there's no getting around that, but if you're not in a hurry you can pretty much always get it on sale.  In the US it was on sale at Macys all the time, and in Australia you could pick it up at DJs or Myer in the Christmas sales for about 50% off.  Even if you don't have an immediate travel planned, if you see a suitable Samsonite at a good sale price, I would get it and store it away.  Good luggage is your friend and bad luggage can wreck a trip.

My friend Felicity recently raised this topic on her website Plane Jane - what do you prefer, a four wheel "spinner" or a 2 wheel "dragger"?

Personally, I'm a big fan of the 2 wheel dragger.  The spinners are fabulous on lovely smooth airport or train station floors, but are much less impressive once you're out on the footpath, trying to manouvre your heavy bag over cracks in the path, stones, cobbles and discarded bits of rubbish.

Two Wheeled Soft Sided "Dragger"

Spinners are designed to have all four wheels on the ground, gliding across the surface with the minimum of effort - and they work perfectly in perfect conditions.  The problem comes when you're on a rougher surface and you have to tilt them and pull them along like they were a dragger.  They're not designed for being dragged along on two wheels and are much heavier and harder to pull than the exact same case with only two wheels - no, I don't know why.

Four Wheeled Soft Sided "Spinner"

Another question is whether to go with a hard shell case or a soft sided case.  We've got both and I will always choose the soft sided case over the hard shell.  I know that your things are allegedly "safer" from being crushed in the hard shell, but, and trust me on this, when you've shopped up a storm in your holiday destination, and you're trying to cram in that last pair of "I had to have them, they were 75% off last price!" Nine West shoes, a soft sided case stretches to accommodate all of your stuff, the hard shell seriously does not.

Two Wheeled Hard Sided "Dragger"

Also, the soft sided cases pretty much always have "expander" gussets - an additional few centimetres of zipped out width that you can open up when you're at capacity.  It's a fabulous invention, and most hard cases don't have them.  Me?  I say go with soft sided every time.

Four Wheeled Hard Sided "Spinner"

But the most important thing to consider when you're looking at new luggage?  You absolutely need to know how much it weighs WHEN IT'S EMPTY.  If you've got a 20kg luggage allowance (pretty standard now on long haul economy flights), and your lovely new bag weighs 5kg when it's empty, that seriously cuts down on what you can take and what you can buy when you're travelling - every kilo counts!

These days you can get good, affordable cases that weigh around 3kg empty.  You can get fabulous ones that weigh less than that, but you're going to have to re-mortgage your home for them.  Good luggage departments will have a portable scale so you can weigh your case before you buy it, but if you're in doubt, take along your own portable luggage scale (a must have) so you can check it yourself. 

The better luggage brands are proud to boast about how light their cases are on the label, but the cheaper brands deliberately don't mention it, in the hope that you'll go with them because they're cheaper (and cuter - "Oh, look, it's pink with daisies on it, and that expensive Samsonite is just boring grey!").  As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so do some homework - use the internet, look at travel forums and make sure you know:-

  1. how much your luggage allowance is for your flight (it'll be in the small print and you can always find it online if you look)
  2. how much your empty case weighs
  3. how much your case weighs when full and you're ready to head off to the airport

Oh, and it's definitely worth buying one of those portable luggage scales to take the guesswork out of the weight of your packed case before you head off to the airport.  As one who's seen someone have to pay $US700 for excess luggage at check-in (and they really weren't that much over), I can honestly say that it's better to be safe than sorry!

So, now you know what I prefer, but what do you prefer?
Four or two wheels?
Hard or soft sided cases?

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Got An Award!

Thanks to gorgeous Sada over at Dressology for nominating me for a "One Lovely Blog" Award.

Sada was one of the first to encourage me to start up a blog some years ago!  She's always been so helpful and encouraging - it's not her fault I'm a "late adopter" of blogging.

Anyway, it was great to see this award first thing this morning and I'll obviously have to get working on my next post.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Belgium? You're Fabulous!

My favourite new cow?  The Belgian Blue.  What?  Doesn’t everyone have a favourite cow?

 Belgian Blue Cow - CUTE!

My old favourite was the Belted Galloway, but the Belgian Blue is a much better looking cow.  By far.

My favourite new horse?  The Belgian Draft.

Belgian Draft Horse - WANT! 

I know, now you’ll tell me that you don’t have a favourite horse either, but the Belgian Draft has kicked my old favourite, the Schwarzwalder Fuchs, into a cocked hat.

Anyway, the reason that I’ve got these favourite new things is because I’m in Belgium, and Belgium is my favourite new place.  I absolutely adore Belgium!  We’re staying in Brugge, which is seriously glorious, and have also visited Veurne and Ypres.

Brugge now edges out Copenhagen from my top 3 European cities list.  It now reads London, Amsterdam and Brugge.

Brugge - GLORIOUS!

 Veurne is an old Roman staging post by the water and was rebuilt by the Spanish in the 1500s, it’s fabulous.  Our visit to Veurne is a long story, involving a missing WW2 pilot, the Hahndorf (South Australia) Town Band and some local Veurne historians.  Anyway, we ended up having drinkies with Jose the Police Chief, and Francis, a local soldier and war historian, before being escorted to the town cemetery to lay a poppy on the grave of James MacFadyen.  Everyone was so incredibly friendly and helpful, and we also scored a tour of the Police Station.

We then whizzed over to Ypres for the 8pm Remembrance Service at the Menin Gates.  It was very moving as a brass band played on approach to the Gates, then the traffic was stopped, and the Last Post played.  An acapella choir then sang “Fields of Gold” and “Danny Boy” before the band played another song.  There were various salutes and the crowd stayed totally silent throughout – very respectful.  At the end, the band marched back to the centre of town playing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, and we headed back to the car with tears in our eyes.

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

We’re staying at the Brugge Novotel in the middle of the old town, surrounded by narrow streets of beautiful old houses and astonishing churches.  There are also quite a few shops with loads of lace work (for which Brugge is famous) and brocade.

There are lots of boat tours and also horse and carriage tours are zooming past all the time.  They’ve managed to get those horses trotting up and forward in a way that leaves my mouth agape when I think of Jeany and her “head down and mooch” style - typical reining horse.  She’s just not an “up and forward” kind of horse unless we’re in a flat gallop, or maybe I’m just not using the right encouraging German words?  Surely “Schneller, schneller, stinky schwein!” is the way forward?

 Dad has had his first Belgian beers and is a total convert, buying beers and beer glasses as souvenirs.  I overheard him having a deep conversation with the Police Chief about the merits of Trappist beer and how it’s best drunk in Belgium, because it doesn’t travel well – who knew? 

Another thing that Brugge kicks spectacularly into goal is that it doesn’t have many cyclists, unlike Amsterdam.  Which comes as a huge surprise, because Belgium is essentially as flat as a crepe.  If there was ever a country to ride your bike around, it would be Belgium.  If you came to a hill, you’d know to consult your map because you’d obviously taken a wrong turn and crossed into another country.  This place is bike riding heaven.  Except if you’re cycling down the middle of the road in front of my car …

Oh, and breakfast in Brugge?  Hot Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries, honey and a jug of melted Belgian chocolate on the side, to pour over the lot.  It was fabulous to sit and watch the world go by, and also to be watched by three of the carriage horses a few metres away who eyed my strawberries with interest.  The bonus was that there was enough chocolate in the jug for me to pour into my coffee – oh, yum!