Home again …

A holiday implies a break, a brief respite from the everyday. Our trip was so much more. Travelling, exploring, discovering, relaxing became our everyday.
We learned to live with 4 T-shirts and a pair of shorts (jeans and one jumper for when it turned cold). Why do we need any more?
We learned to live with just each other for company most days. How will we cope without each other when we return to work?
We don’t mind being at home, and have loved seeing family and friends here again, and don’t even mind going back to work. But I am so glad we seized the opportunity for Our Great Big European Adventure when we did. Our experience of these past four months will live with us forever.
To all the family and friends here in Australia who kept the home fires burning and to all those family members and friends, old and new, we met while overseas thanks for making our trip absolutely awesome.

That’s all folks.

Till next time.

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#28 London’s calling

September 22, 2012

This is it, our last weekend away, the start of our journey home to Australia.

Last look at the Bandit

We have been staying with the Barbers again since Edinburgh, loving our time with Elizabeth, seeing the old terrace that will become home to her and Ed and baby Barber.
The realisation that this adventure of ours is almost over hit me at our final petrol stop on the motorway south of Newcastle (UK of course). Less than 100 miles to go and then we’d be selling the Bandit, our home away from home for the past four months. She has been a solid workhorse, not a dream bike, but she has got us safely everywhere we’ve wanted to go and we will miss her. I will miss the travelling more than anything.
And we will miss Elizabeth like crazy.

We watch Ed play football (rugby union) on Saturday afternoon. They win, of course.

Ed playing for YMCA (black and red)

I see once again why Liz loves the sense of community that comes with living in this part of the world. I am sure she will be happy here and, while I know she misses her Australian friends and family, she will find other friends here and eventually a job and the feeling of being at home. We will just have to be regular visitors and have her on FaceTime speed dial.
After the game Ed and Liz and Graham and I drive down in Russell’s Range Rover to London.
Marc and Jenny have booked an apartment and we will stay with the kids there tonight, with Marc and Jen tomorrow night and then Emma and her boyfriend will take our place the night after. Talk about bed-hopping.
M&J’s plane is delayed, and delayed again, so they arrive directly from the airport (from Istanbul) on Sunday morning. It is raining.

Grecian beauty … our Elizabeth

Ed not at Madame Tussauds

Not a great day for sightseeing and it seems every tourist in London has decided to visit Madame Tussauds waxworks. We abandon the two-hour queue, promising Ed and Liz a visit another time, and catch the tube again for the British Museum. At least it’s dry, warm, not too crowded and it’s free!
It’s time for Elizabeth and Ed to head home. Hugs, then tears in the lift back upstairs to the apartment. Glad we have Marc and Jen for company.
So this really is it, our last night in London, a pub dinner and trivia contest (we come third thanks to our in-depth knowledge of English TV shows haha).
In the morning, a taxi ride, airport express train and the boarding call to Dubai.

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#27 Edinburgh

September 15, 2012

We have a choice: head back down the east coast via Wick to Inverness (ie go back the way we came) or take the long way around, across the top of Scotland to the west coast and then head inland, in a diagonal across the highlands. Did I mention Graham’s mantra? “Never go back”. We head west. It is windy but not so bad as the past few days. And it’s sunny (mostly) too.
But these moors offer no protection so we’re often caught coming out of the lea of a mountain or turning across a wide loch … and bracing as the wind catches the bike and tries to tip us sideways.
We meet other motorbikes coming the other way, lucky them with the wind at their backs. And pass tourists on pushbikes. No way I could do that.
The trip is worth our minor discomfort, however, with magnificent scenery, wide expanses of water and sand and hills and quaint little settlements offering petrol and beer and yummy lunches.
After an overnight stay in a B&B beside yet another loch, we pass back through Inverness (replace the satnav connection which has shorted out and top up on fuses) and head further east, now towards Bonnie and Edinburgh.
Bonnie lives only about 1-1/2 hours from the city, and only 5 minutes from the A9 but in the leafy countryside of a former farming estate.
There is still a gamekeeper who raises and releases the pheasants in time for shooting season. They often don’t survive the traffic; roasted roadkill is acceptable fare as long as you’re not the one who ran over it.
Graham and I go mushrooming with Bonnie in a nearby nature reserve, driving past JK Rowling’s house along the way.
We are only stopping for one night. Promise we’ll return for a longer visit next time. Graham wants to go fishing with Bonnie’s partner Mark (he owns a fishing magazine!!) and we would both like to just enjoy this part of the country more … and Mark and Bonnie’s company.
Tomorrow it’s Edinburgh, renting a serviced apartment within walking distance of the city centre.
I have harboured dreams of working in the Scottish capital and our visit only reinforces the idea. It may be impractical and never happen, but it doesn’t hurt to keep future options open. Graham says it would be bleak and cold in winter. Mmmmm. Cold definitely. Bleak? I don’t think so. The city has too much character.
We walk the Royal Mile, visit Holyrood Palace (so this is where Mary Queen of Scots lived) and take a tasting tour of the whisky museum. It’s only a quick visit but I’m glad we made it here.
We have cut our time in Edinburgh short to spend our last few days with Elizabeth. We have to face saying goodbye to her at the end of the week.

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#26 Canisbay

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September 8, 2012 The croft cottage at Canisbay is just like the picture Graham first saw on the internet all those months ago. Surrounded by paddocks populated by Jacobs sheep and dairy cows, we look out from the kitchen to … Continue reading

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#25 The road to Scotland

September 5, 2012

It has been two weeks since we arrived home yet it is oh so easy to slip into an easy reverie, recalling views across the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys, breakfasts with red squirrels and a stroll down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
I was cutting up mushrooms for dinner tonight and reminded Graham of our mushroom hunt with Bonnie through damp woodlands near Perth. Robbie Burns wrote poems about the waterfalls there.

We set out for Scotland from Liz and Ed’s in Yorkshire, after a few days back in Ashbourne with Al and a joyous family reunion/farewell at Zandra and John’s on Sunday.
The day before (Saturday) we went with Andrew to Burnley to watch his football team play Bristol. Great atmosphere even though Burnley didn’t play particularly well and lost. We still have loads of fun, listening to the fans behind and beside us discuss the failings of the manager, the club and various players. Every second word was swearing haha.
Andrew took us for a brief walking history tour of the old Burnley textile mills, now part of a civic rejuvenation project.
At Zandra’s on Sunday it is sad to say goodbye to everyone. All Janice’s family is down from Leeds and we meet Steven’s wife Jenny, who has recently discovered she’s pregnant with their second child. Liz and Ed join us as well. It is so lovely to realise we are part of such a big family, as here in Australia we’ve always been a small family group.
We will especially miss Andrew and Al. And I would love to spend more time with Zandra and Sallyanne and Nicola … Next visit to Ashbourne.

From Outlane, Liz and I go shopping for a day. I have missed this sort of girly time with her. And there’s a visit to her midwife as well. Graham arrives and we have the bike serviced at Jordans ready for our trip north. We still have three weeks holiday left … At any other time if someone said “you have three weeks holiday in Scotland” we’d be cheering. We are cheering but trying not to be blasé. This has gone beyond a holiday, travelling has just become our life.

It is funny how living out of the bike’s panniers hasn’t worried me but living out of suitcases for a few days is annoying. We are both looking forward to stopping for a full week at Canisbay. We have had the cottage booked since well before we left home. And now we’re on our way.

We head up the west coast first, taking the opportunity to call in on cousin Hugh Crawford (dad’s cousin) and wife Catherine at Lochmaben. We stay in a farmhouse B&B outside Lockerbie where we have a discussion about all sorts of things (how did we get on to time travel?) with our host. Hugh and Catherine are of course much older since we last saw them – well, aren’t we all. Hugh has recently had a fall while out walking the dog and his ankle has not healed as it should, which is affecting his mobility. Nevertheless they are in fine spirits and Graham and I are pleased we’ve made the time to see them.

We head further west and north, up and around Glasgow, on a mission to find Graham’s “castle”. Liz bought him a square foot of the estate of Dunan’s castle (a restoration fundraiser) when she came on her first holiday. It’s way out in Argyll and we had no idea our satnav would put us on a ferry. Still, we have learned to expect the unexpected. And up a single-lane road with passing bays. Not sure whether we missed one but we are forced off the road by oncoming cars. “We’re gone, we’re gone.” Graham’s internal commentary spills into my helmet. “We’re gone” as we fall off the tarmac and paddle through the mud and slush and wet grass. “No, we’re not” as Graham wrestles the bike to a halt. A kindly couple stop and check we’re ok. Yes, just rattled and wet. Of course it’s raining again. And the bike’s instruments have stopped working.
Our B&B is in an old mill house on the edge of forest only a few kilometres from Dunan’s. It has a homey feel, thanks to the warm welcome of Michael (a boatbuilder) and Sandra (a seamstress). And their two cats. We stay in the Janet Crawford room and eat our breakfast while we watch the antics of red squirrels who come to feed in the glen of the garden.
The next morning we find the castle and its owner Charles Dixon-Spain, who’s driving a small bobcat when we arrive. He gives us a brief history of the estate (* must google the Jacobites v Hanoverians). But my favourite part of the story is hearing how he and his wife Sadie were driving past one day, saw the for sale sign and just decided to buy the place. Not many men can say they’ve bought their wife a castle, he tells us. Even though she reminds him it’s a ruin.
It is a ruin but they have plans to create guest accommodation and a function centre in the main part of the building. They and their kids have moved into the renovated servants quarters.
From Dunan’s we pass through Fort William and the magnificent mountains around Ben Nevis. Then along Loch Ness, so much more commercial than when we were last here. Can’t believe the monster is still doing such a roaring trade. And into Inverness, another revitalized city with attractive walkways along the river.
This is as far north as we came on our last visit. People are telling us how wild and isolated it is further into the highlands. We can’t wait.


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#24 Paris

August 25, 2012

Paris. Romantic, big, beautiful Paris.
It makes me smile just being here, walking the streets, soaking in the sights, the architecture, the sounds, the accents.
We wander down to the nearby canal for dinner on our first night and are taken by the number of young people playing petanque and picnicking by the water. What a glorious atmosphere, so happy and inclusive.
Then the next morning we buy baguettes and croissants from the corner boulangerie to make lunch (by the third morning the woman in the shop is almost polite).
We can see the Sacre Coeur from our apartment balcony, from our bed even. So it is the first place we head on our first full day.
It’s as beautiful, and with as many steps, as we remember from 25 years ago, the view across the city stunning. Paris. Breathe it in. Only a slight stench of wee.
Then into the city.
Brilliant metro system, so easy.
We step out by the Seine, but still no sight of the tower. Must be hidden behind a building. Ah, there she is, revealing herself turn by turn.
A giant of engineering yet so delicate and elegant, it’s no wonder Le Tour Eiffel is one of the most photographed structures in the world. We add to the collection. Graham can’t stop.
Notre Dame, the Louvre (no matter it’s closed the day we visit), we climb the Arc de Triomphe. They are magical place names and majestic places. There are thousands of tourists here yet the streets do not seem crowded.
Who was the first to design these grand boulevards, leading from a grand arch to a grand column? The French? The Germans? Grand idea whoever it was. We stretch out as we walk the Champs Élysées, another iconic Paris address.
We complete another circle 25 years in the making and catch an English-language movie in a neighbourhood cinema. Last time it was Witches of Eastwick and Full Metal Jacket. This time we see Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley in search of a friend, or each other as it turns out, at the end of the world. A bit too schmaltzy and not even a happy ending.
A pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave is on the agenda this time around and we also discover the resting places of Chopin, Bizet, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde in this massive city cemetery. We stop for lunch, munching our baguettes by another row of family crypts.
And we visit the tres modern Paris as well, with a metro ride to La Defense and the new Grand Arch, gleaming angles among the glass office blocks.
Our last night in Paris we indulge in a special treat. We had planned to be here for our wedding anniversary (27 years) but will celebrate early with a booking at the 58 Eiffel Tower restaurant, on the first stage.
It’s not the Michelin-listed Jules Verne we had read about but I don’t think we could have asked for a more perfect night.
Right near the window with views over the Seine and the Trocadero fountains, and beside a French couple (who have the absolute window seats) but who are delightful company and are also celebrating their wedding anniversary (their 8th).
The food and wine are delicious and we end our evening with a midnight stroll through the Pigalle district to the Moulin Rouge. Paris, the city of love, we love you.
















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#23 La Belle France

August 24, 2012

We fled Amsterdam on empty stomachs, feeling frustrated and angry, the service station attendant in Belgium was as rude as anyone I’d met on the trip and we still didn’t have a bed booked for the night. My phone was flat. The iTouch was almost flat. We were well and truly winging it, on the edge.
We had thought of revisiting the Fromelles area which was halfway on our journey to Paris but now feared it may prove a disappointment as well.
We were already rattled as we rode into the village. Familiar. Tourist office closed. Damn. On to nearby Fornes-en-Weppes, where the tourist people had been so helpful last time. Tourist office closed, Friday afternoons for just this week. Double damn.
I had one bed and breakfast address saved in the iTouch. We find it. Booked out. She suggests another. And it’s like arriving in Paradise.
A farm – they grow maize and beans and potatoes and sugar beet – with comfortable private guest rooms and apartments.
Ours has a view to a green expanse of lawn and a deep bath and a TV and free wifi.
We can eat dinner with the farming couple and their other guests – a supermarket manager, a woman in rehab for cancer and a couple touring by motorcycle, on holiday.
All French, only a little English and one of the bet meals and evenings we’ve had.
An aperitif, ham and melon, fish in leek sauce, meat and tomatoes and beans and potatoes, cheeses, apple pie and chocolates to finish. Plus two wines.
The guests chat with each other like old friends, we understand some of it, they ask us about Australia and marvel at our trip. There is much laughter and much turning to a well-worn English-French dictionary. We are rejuvenated, our spirits lifted. Love your work, France.

The “Cobber” statue at the Australian memorial park near VC corner at Fromelles.


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