Sunday, 5 May 2013

We're relocating our blogging to another site

We will continue to blog on our upcoming cycle tour through Europe at

The new site is much more user friendly for you and for us. You'll see larger, clearer photos and a much nicer format, and you can easily comment without having to sign up for anything. Becoming a follower - meaning you'll receive a notification by email whenever we post a blog - is also a quick and easy three click process.

We hope you join us there.

Shane, Helen, Rosie and Tom

Location:Vogelzand,Julianadorp,The Netherlands

Monday, 29 April 2013

Days 126-131 Family time in Brugge, Belgium

This is the last blog, on this site, for our overland trip from Thailand to mainland Europe. The blog for our upcoming cycle tour through Europe can be found at
We've found Blogger to be unsophisticated; it's text formatting can't be done in-app, it's shared poorly and unpredictably on Facebook and it limits what we can do with photos.

Our rendezvous in Brugge with Helen's folks, John and Pat, and our reconvening with Lee, had been one of the few fixed dates on our agenda.

On our part, the journey from Oslo took us around 36 hours (Ha! Piffle!) sitting on 7 trains, going back into Sweden, then over an amazingly long bridge into Denmark, an overnight train into Germany (where we were due to meet Lee) then Belgium.
We woke up on the overnight train to a bit of a palaver. The train was two hours behind schedule! We were due to meet Lee at 7am (who would fret if we weren't there), we had no mobile phone, no wifi, and would well and truly miss our connection to Brussels. Much borrowing of mobiles later (one didn't work, next one out of charge, next one didn't understand, next one got no reply as Lee was in the shower...) we finally made contact and arranged to meet on platform 7, Koln. The energy in our cabin was unabated as it was then announced we had to get off at the next stop and take a different train to Koln to make up time. Aargh, much hurried packing and scrambling out of the carriage! We rewarded ourselves with 16 (well, they were good!) delectable German sausages in the excellent buffet car (not hard to be impressed after Russian trains).

The five day reunion was extremely enjoyable for all. We rented a very well located, very well appointed three storey townhouse - Symphonia - for the duration, unfortunately run by an extremely overbearing and pedantic pair of women.
Our stay was full of delights, everyone taking the opportunity to out-cater each other, meeting for coffee, the kids navigating us through the old town, the odd Belgian beer, taking turns in the jacuzzi, Rosie got her long-promised skateboard to accompany her on the bike, and the grand-parents appreciated each other even more.

Brugge lived up to its reputation as a stunning town and was surprisingly busy with tourists, especially considering it's the off season. Not surprisingly there were plentiful beautiful squares, waterways, parks and buildings. And plenty of shops for the grand-mothers...

We stumbled upon quite a few seventeenth century terrace houses similar to these that - we're told - were built to house the poor and the ill. Quite beautiful in their simplicity.

The manicured trees made us feel that we'd definitely arrived in Europe.

Something that was particular to Brugge were the religious statues to be found on the corners of many many buildings.

One day, Lee, Pat and Helen went out to Groot Bijgarden to see the bulbs.

Tom went along to be spoiled rotten and smell the flowers.

We left early on the last day - with Lee, Pat and John to leave later in the morning - as we were to meet our Dutch friends (Arthur, Josephine, Sten and Liam) near Amsterdam to get the keys to their house, where we are to stay for the next week or so.
Goodbyes were funny and heartfelt. Lee was typically very reticent to be photographed without makeup and bedecked in dressing gown!

It's the last we get to see of Lee until either we return to Oz or she comes to visit us over here. We'll get to see lots of John and Pat (whether they like it or not - snarf, snarf!) when we plan to get to the UK in around September or October.

Shane, Helen, Rosie and Tom

Location:Wethouder W. de Boerstraat,Julianadorp,The Netherlands

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Days 115-125 Lee's adventures

We all felt the weight of Lee leaving us in a taxi from Stockholm.
Lee sent us an email (that we didn't receive) saying something to the effect of: I suffered withdrawal symptoms and tears until I reached the departure lounge, then I got myself the International Tribune, Hello magazine and a cup of coffee, then I thought to myself 'Get on with it, Lee'.
Lee's first thoughts on seeing her co-travellers in the Trafalgar Tours group was 'woopy-doo, what a bunch of boring old so-and-sos!'
Over half way through the trip we got an email from Lee's new found friend Annie, which pretty well sums up another reality:

It's Annie here, your mum's minder! She's out to dinner with the group but I'm exhausted - I don't know how she keeps going. She's having lots of fun, in fact the life of the party, which I guess you would know!
Everyone loves her so she's well looked after. She's been nicknamed 'the princess' by the 50 fellow travellers! I hope we become long time friends as she's been wonderful to me and we got along so well. At least half the tour group will be visiting her in the future!

And, in addition to making a stack of cherished memories: she got her wallet stolen complete with cash, credit cards and passport (but fortunately not any lipstick); went on just about all of the optional tours; over indulged at every meal; shopped to her hearts content (note: everything she bought was small and light - signs of a more mature shopper)...
What more could a girl want?

A summary of her trip: she spent a couple of days in Prague before meeting the tour group; then the tour started with three more days in Prague; three in Vienna; and three in Budapest.
The highlights were Budapest at night, a trip up the Danube, a concert in Vienna.
The trip was 'truly expetional'.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Days 115-125, Beliebers in Oslo

We've just had the most wonderful holiday within a holiday! Eleven days with our dear friends Cameron (Aussie) and Jan (Norwegian) who live, for most of each year, a half hour south of Oslo.
Cam picked us up from Oslo train station and drove us home to their bright yellow, cosy and welcoming small cottage where Jan awaited with homemade cake and tea in glorious afternoon sunshine. We were happy to offload many bottles of wine and beer which we had lugged from Estonia where alcohol costs HALF the price of Norway!

As luck would have it, the neighbour's cottage was free so we had the best of both worlds - our own space and friends next door. Good company, great dinners, silent countryside, no plans and relentlessly damp, grey weather sent us into a careless stupor. Our sleeps got deeper and deeper; some mornings we struggled to swing our limbs out of bed. Oh dear!

For three days we arose from slumber and made the most of our 72 hour Oslo passes - all public transport and entries into all Oslo's major tourist attractions included for around $80 per adult, $30 per child.
Seeing Munch's Scream - and the location where Munch had the panic attack that inspired it - was a highlight. Both kids knew about this painting and were thrilled to see the original. None of us knew it was done in crayon on cardboard. Amazing.
The museum which most excited us, though, was the Fram Polar Museum. It housed the Fram, the mighty ship that Nansen designed and captained to intentionally get stuck in the north polar ice to prove his theory that the arctic drift would take them up and over the pole. (They entered the ice too far east and missed the pole, but it was nonetheless a remarkable story - 1.5 years in pack ice.) Amundsen later sailed the same ship down to the Antarctic for his successful assault on the South Pole. The museum was really atmospheric; standing on the deck (alone - the museums were empty out of season) marvelling at the light show casting the night sky and northern lights onto the walls and ceiling of the museum was magnificent.
For homeschool the kids were tasked to select one museum and do a mini project for it, with introduction, three key points and a summary. They both chose the Polar Museum and did a great job. They got totally wrapped up in the story.

A highlight for Rosie was Justin Bieber being in town. We happened upon his bus taking him to the arena, followed by many screaming girls who had left their vigil outside the Grand Hotel.

We squeezed in a trip to the nearby village of Drobak with Cam and a chance to see many bronze artworks saved from the prows of now defunct freighters.

And we laughed when we found a sculpture of Helen's dad...

There were walks in the forest and around the fjord, lots of homeschool, snowman building, attended a local rally fighting for community use of a heritage house (here they are dipping into the fiord) and Shane got tasked with demolishing Cam and Jan's guest annex.

Every day Cam and Jan cooked up a storm: fish cakes, salmon in 3 styles (including the memorable gravlax served with crackers and Aquavit liqueur), sausages over the fire; cloudberries, ice cream, chocolate coated almonds; cloudberry liqueur, homemade plum vodka. Four very happy bunnies and a very memorable stay. Thanks Cam and Jan!

Museums we visited:
Viking ship museum (3 ships used for burials)

Fram Polar ship museum
Kon Tiki museum (the actual raft used plus the Egyptian based Ra II)
International children's art museum
History museum (exhibits of Stone Age and Viking eras particularly wonderful, plus a History of Horses exhibition)

National Gallery (closed but for Munch's Scream, Madonna and perhaps another ten or so Munchs)
Folk Museum (various old Norwegian farm and town buildings relocated into one outdoor space)

City Hall (very funky 50s building, a wonderful surprise)

Renzo Piano's Astrup Fearnley museum (Shane, while Cam, Helen and the kids explored the enormously fun sculpture park)

Shane, Helen, Rosie and Tom

Location:Vinterbro, Norway

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Day 114 Stockholm

With only an afternoon to enjoy the many delights of Stockholm, we quickly dropped our bags at the hostel and turned tail for Gamla Stan (Old Town).

We left the hostel in a balmy 4 degrees, almost down to T-shirts, and quickly paid the price as we delved into the narrow, shadowed alleys of Gamla Stan.

Brrr. Our sightseeing rapidly became directed by the streets with sunshine rather than any great sights, although we made a point of taking in the various torgets (squares).

We were also careful to sample the fine bakery items Helen remembers so keenly from her visit 25 years hence. Sweden does cream cakes exceptionally well, as Tom found out (Rosie tucking into a meringue).

Again Lee took off on her own, all the better to meander and inspect shops for hidden treasures (a rather fabulous remarkably bright striped rain jacket accompanied her back to base).

One of the reasons we had kept our time in Stockholm to a minimum was the prohibitive costs. Certainly accommodation, public transport and coffees were expensive, but alarmingly we found the cost of food comparable to Australia. For a family who spends most of their money on food, perhaps we should relocate to Sweden! It would take a few years to tire of Stockholm - it is a truly glorious city - we cursed ourselves for affording it just one afternoon.

Making for home, we stumbled across a quite breathtaking courtyard encircled by a building on a circular plan (various residences and boutique businesses) with a perfectly curved interior facade. We declared we could never bore of looking out into this space.

The hostel we chose in Stockholm was the Af Chapman - a ship built in England in 1888, carrying trade for 25 years before being purchased by the Swedish Navy, finally becoming a youth hostel in 1949, after falling out of service after WWII. Coincidentally, Shane and Helen both stayed here (independently of each other of course) for the first time in 1986.

We ate dinner on the deck before the cold became unbearable (down jackets now posted away). Being so close to the North Pole, the sun takes forever to set - we thought we only had 10-15 minutes before sunset and an hour later we were still watching the sun above the horizon. The kids loved their unique playground. (Originally we had booked into the 'Building' part of the hostel as it was significantly cheaper; the kids volunteered money from their bank accounts to upgrade us to the ship.)

Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom & (last time for a while) Lee

Location:Stockholm Sweden

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tallinn to Stockholm

We hate boats. The whole lot of us. The prospect of taking a ferry to Stockholm - particularly one we were expected to sleep in - was very much something to endure, not enjoy.

Slowly, prospects improved. This looked like quite a nice boat.

Helen looked up the forecast for the Baltic Sea - waves up to 10cm - should be OK.

Our pricey (€210) four berth cabin (with window, Helen gets a little claustrophobic on boats) was roomy, spacious even, with a clean en-suite.

If sleep didn't come, we could take a salsa workshop, boogie at the all night disco, or just drink ourselves into oblivion in one of the bars. And hey! Lee was even able to get a manicure on board.
Despite the water being bathtub flat, Shane and Helen 'felt' the non existent movement of the boat within minutes, followed by Lee and Tom. We all took an anti-motion sickness tablet, hilarious really! Whether it was because (a) we washed them down with half price beer/wine/perry or (b) the tablets were Chinese, Lee, Shane and Helen were completely wired at nighttime and couldn't sleep. Helen took a midnight stroll to get some water and considered taking on the disco, but the smell of alcohol by now permeating the ship together with under dressed girls and leering blokes sent her back to the cabin.
Waking up less than perky, we were soon swanning it at the buffet.

We settled into a table right up the front (bow?) and thoroughly enjoyed watching the scenery pass by as we moved through the archipelago's narrow waterways in our ridiculously large ferry.

The sticky-up bit (stack?) of the ferry in front, peeping over the treetops, indicated our passage. This was all enjoyed over poached salmon with juniper berries, smoked salmon, herring, various other fish; berries, yoghurt, fruit and cereals; eggs, potato rosti, salads. We all over-ate - Lee considered it her most voluminous meal of the trip. We were so satisfied in all regards that we declared our table a home-school zone and didn't move for three hours!

Finding our hostel on Skeppsholmen was so much easier than we had grown accustomed to (three stops on the metro followed by bus 65), with everyone speaking English, signs displayed in English, and our packs much reduced (we mailed over 20kg of Siberian-weight clothing, kids lightweight beds, various Asia/hygiene related thingummyjigs and two excessively heavy khukri knives). We were also amused for an insane amount of time by an amusing Swedish word at our bus stop.

Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom and Lee

Location:Stockholm, Sweden