A wide open sunburned country

Our next stop would be the Barossa Valley, which was a six hour drive from Broken Hill.

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As we headed south it was all open spaces.

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The pictures above reminded me of Jack Absalom’s paintings.

The Australian land has very distinctive smell,
for me it is the smell of Australia and I love it!

My Country  by Dorothea Mackellar

Words adapted from the poem My Country by Dorothea Mackellar, music by Tony Hatch and Vickie Trent, arranged by David Lawrence. Origin of audio track uncertain.

As we crossed the border from New South Wales in to South Australia we passed a warning sign that there was a quarantine border station 220 km south. Unchecked fruit was not allowed in to the area south of this border, because this area was one of Australia’s main wine producing area, and they were not taking any chances of fruit fly and contamination.

Two and a half hours after reading the quarantine warning all vehicles were stopped at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ooda Wirra.

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The road was designed so that a vehicle had to pass through this check point. There wasn’t any way of getting through without being checked. The above picture is more of an illustration, because when we arrived the barrier was solid concrete and metal, and we had to zig-zag through to the other side.

As soon as the inspector (very polite and friendly) asked if we had any fruit it dawned on me that I’d forgotten about two bananas in our chiller bag. I exited the car and opened the boot (trunk for the US) and then opened the chiller bags so that the inspector could see all our food as I removed two bananas and gave them to him.

There was a large sign stating that any fruit found would not be allowed to be consumed by the owner – hence the warning 220 km, 175 km and 100 km earlier . . . . . we live and learn as I forfeited this pensioner’s lunch.

I didn’t object to handing over the fruit as we had been warned – several times. When I saw the picture of a bunch of bananas at the quarantine station,  that’s when I remembered about the forbidden fruit in the chiller bag.

Pollywog to Shellback

How to turn a pollywog in to a shellback.

On the 5th April we crossed the Equator on the way to Bangkok.
Many passengers had not crossed the ‘line’ before, so according to tradition they are Pollwogs. A ceremony was required to satisfy King Neptune and turn them in to Shellbacks. Fortunately I had crossed the line while at sea and Maureen has a certificate stating that she crossed the line when flying in a B 707 in the 1960’s, so we were Shelbacks and in the audience.

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Neptune and his wife’s throne.

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Jelly, cream, spaghetti and other slippery food waiting for the Pollywogs.

DSC05253rNot all of us have a point and click camera.

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Neptune and his wife arrives.

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Courtier opens the ceremony.

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Each Pollywog kisses a fish in respect of the sea. (I am not sure what kind of fish was used, but it was a large one).

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The heat on deck grew too much for these two Shellbacks, so we went for lunch in the air conditioned restaurant..

Kenanga Boutique Hotel, in Ubud, Bali. A hotel that impressed.

We were a small group of three ‘mature’ couples on our first visit to Bali.
After a lot of research we decided that Ubud would be our first stop rather than the beach side resorts, and that Kenanga Boutique Hotel would be our Ubud accommodation – a good choice.

Bali 2014 166rOur drivers were waiting for us just outside the arrival hall. We had booked the Kenanga Boutique hotel’s transport on the basis that it would be efficient and on time – it was. We expected a single large vehicle to accommodate all of our bags as well as ourselves; instead we had two five-seater vehicles with plenty of room for our luggage. We split three and three, so we had a comfortable ride to the hotel, which took 65 minutes. Unfortunately the trip was in the dark so we didn’t see much of the countryside.

Checking-in was fast, during which time we were offered fruit drinks and cold towels.

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This photo was taken next day, which is why it is daylight.

Our first floor bedroom was large, as was the bathroom, which had a rainwater shower head with plenty of pressure. The abundance of space allowed my wife and I to fully unpack and sort ourselves out.

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We had a large balcony over looking rice fields. The balcony was large enough to accommodate all six of our group for an evening chat and a glass of wine.

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In addition the lock on our room door (top picture) we also had a lock on the outer door of our balcony (lower picture).

Breakfast was al la carte with various choices of Asian or Western meals. The staff members were very friendly and happy to answer our questions.

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At the end of the meal the Manager of the hotel introduced himself and asked us how our rooms were for comfort, and if we slept well. It was a pleasure to complement him on his hotel, because few managers bother to ask guests for their opinion.

Later in the day a French couple arrived who turned out to be the husband and wife owners of the hotel. The following morning Patricia (one of the owners) asked us for our opinion of the hotel, and whether we had any suggestions to add to the already high service. We were happy to chat with her about her hotel, and the relaxing ambience that her and her husband had created.

The appeal of the hotel, with only fifteen bedrooms, was pure relaxation. The hotel owned rice fields behind the hotel and we would wake in the morning to the distant sound of ‘bird scarers’, as these ‘scarers’ chased very small birds from the rice fields. The rice was close to being harvested. The people who scared the birds had plastic bags tied to sticks and as they flicked the stick the bag would give off the sound of a crack, which was enough to scare the birds, but not the peacefulness of the day.

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View from our balcony.

The farmers who grew the rice had an arrangement with the hotel that they would work the hotel’s fields and split the profit with the hotel owners – it seemed to work well for both parties.

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The horizon pool was always welcome after a day of site seeing.

The evening meal was cooked to order; nothing was held ‘just in case’. The food was a mix of French and Bali influences.

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The hotel’s Terracotta restaurant; about to start serving the evening meal.

We did eat out one evening, at a French / Balinese restaurant recommended by the hotel, but we all considered that the hotel food was better.

Bali 2014 256r Part of the walk from our rooms to the restaurant for breakfast.

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 A delightful hotel in which we slooowed down . . .after all isn’t that what a holiday is all about?

 

A four night Viennese whirl!

On arrival in Vienna we took a taxi from the station to our hotel– Hotel Beethoven which was about a 30 minute ride for a nine kilometer trip , due to negotiate a number of one-way streets and the traffic was heavier than expected.

On arrival at the hotel we were greeted in the reception area with cardboard and plastic sheeting all over the floor, and plastic sheeting covering the furniture because the hotel being refurbished. I couldn’t complain about the reception that we received from the staff at the reception desk, warm and friendly.
Our room was quite large with a small corridor leading from the main door to the bedroom area. The bedroom had a small bay window alcove, which contained a writing desk and chairDSC01496r. The bay windows overlooked the street.DSC01499r

Each Sunday the hotel offered a complimentary musical recital for their guests. Champaign would be served during the interlude. Our last day in Vienna would be Sunday so we thought we would take advantage of the recital to experience the music of Vienna.

DSC01539r On the Friday we were site seeing near the Opera House, when we were ‘accosted’ by young men dress in 18th century costumes who were selling discounted tickets for a concert on Saturday evening at the Palais Auersperg to hear the Wiener Resdenzorchester.
The concert would be a sample of Viennese orchestral music, opera and dance. So we booked for the Saturday evening. On returning to our hotel we were presented with a letter from the management that stated due to unforeseen circumstance the complimentary recital would be held on Saturday afternoon, not Sunday afternoon. This was the first time that this had happened since the hotel started the complimentary recitals. Of course we could not attend, due to the Saturday evening booking, for which we had just paid not an hour earlier. It was a disappointment, but we thoroughly enjoyed the ninety-minute experience of orchestral music, opera and dance. It was not too long, particularly for tourists, who have limited time, and perhaps could not afford a full evening at the Opera House. As you see from the photos we were close to the stage.

Staircase leading to the theater

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Walking back to the hotel after an evening at the opera – the late evening sun darkening the trees against the still lit buildings.

The Beethoven Hotel was close to everything that we wanted. A five-minute walk to the Opera House, a further few minutes and you were Karntner Strass (think shops and more shops for the ladies, and side street of restaurants and cafes). A fifteen minute walk from the hotel and you would be at St Stephen’s church (Stephans Platz) or the  Hofburg.

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View of Karntner Strass from the Skybar and street level.

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St Stephen’s church

The hotel is located in a quite side street and it is two minutes from the Naschmarkt, which offers a wide range of restaurants (photos below) serving food from all over the world, from India through to Japanese and of course Viennese food. This market is closed on Sunday evening, but we ate in the market, at different restaurants, for the three previous evenings. It was convenient, and we had a wide choice, at reasonable prices.

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Most of our time in Vienna was set aside for sightseeing. Shortly after we arrived we used the hop – on –hop – off bus to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the city. It was after this that we realised that we could walk to most places of interest, including the Hofburg Palace. Walking can make one thirsty and one of the great things about Budapest and Vienna, was that our water bottles could be refilled from many of the fountains. The water was potable and free. It was mineralised and very cold. It is a pity many other cities haven’t followed their example.

We could have taken a tram, instead of walking.

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Viennese coffee house – the all sold wine & beer.

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Besides sightseeing we also enjoyed people watching, from pavement cafes.

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The main site that we didn’t walk to was the Summer Palace (Schoenberg Palace) – we used the metro.

Like Buckingham Place we had to book a time for us to enter and view the various exhibits.

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Gardens at the rear of the Palace

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Rear of the Palace.

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Distant fountain taken from the rear balcony

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Close up of fountain area

As I mentioned before we were in Vienna for a Sunday. Many places were closed, as was the Naschmarkt, so we had to find somewhere else to eat for our last evening meal. We walked around the area near the hotel, and checked various restaurants. None of them attracted us until we came across an Asian restaurant called Restaurant Quick Box. It didn’t look much from the outside, but we all fancied an Asian meal after a month of mainly European food so we thought we’d give it a try.
The front area was mainly for take away and the restaurant area was at the back. The menu consisted of three types of Asian food, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. The furniture was basic, but the place was spotless, as were the toilets. I ordered sushi and my wife had crispy duck and we ordered the house wine. My platter of sushi was fresh and sharp, with a wide choice of items, couldn’t fault the presentation nor the taste. My wife considered the duck dish to be one of the best that she had ever tasted. The bill at the end was the cheapest we’d had in Vienna, and it included the wine. I’m only sorry that I never took any photographs of the restaurant and the presentation. I’d definitely return if I was ever to visit Vienna again.

All good things come to an end and the following day we took a taxi to Wein Westbahnhof for our train to Frankfurt. The trip would be seven and a half hours – see other posts of our semi-enclosed compartment.

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Peaceful Prague

While in Prague we stayed at the Hotel General, where all the bedrooms are dedicated to different military generals.

Hotel General – Prague – http://www.hotel-general.com/en/  the building dates from 1890 – and was converted to the current hotel in 2007.

This hotel is out of the tourist area, which is a positive, because the evenings were quiet and traffic was light. The hotel is first class, and all the staff members go out of their way to make your stay memorable.
Vicky, the receptionist who greeted us, spent time explaining how the transport system worked in Prague, and she suggested restaurants, as well as answering all our questions. Our chat time was over complimentary drinks of our choice – we had Champagne – it was a very pleasant way to be welcomed to a new city.
Breakfast was from 7.00 am, which was a buffet for the cereals and juices etc, but white gloved waiters served eggs to order and all coffee was made on request. If you want to have breakfast in your room, this would not be a problem (at no extra cost). During breakfast you could, if you wished, watch the DVD of interesting places in and around Prague.
Rooms were a good size, and were spotless, as was the en suit, which had the shower over the bath. We had plenty of room in the bathroom for stowing our personal items.

The cost of the local tram in to the city was around $1.30 – the tickets are bought from sellers (newsagents etc) rather than from the tram driver. The ticket has to be validated when boarding the tram. Most days we walked to the city (about 20 minutes) for the exercise and to experience Prague. It is an easy flat walk. We used the tram to get back to the hotel after a day of sight seeing.

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Easy to walk everywhere
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Astro clock

I think Prague was our favourite of all the cities that we visited during this holiday.

It was a slower pace than Berlin and small enough that one could walk around all of the main areas without too much trouble.

Car- less

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if you get tired you can always hire a car DSC01187r.jpg

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Charles Bridge

DSC01199r ex tram bar in Wenceslas Square

My friend and I were in this small bar waiting for our wives to finish some shopping when the waiter offered me a Budweiser beer. Thinking he was referring to the American beer that I had some years ago, and didn’t like, I refused, and asked him for Czech beer. The Budweiser, he told me, was Czech beer and had nothing to do with the US brand. I trusted him and ordered the local Budweiser, which was very good. I’d forgotten about the name connection with the American beer.

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Everyone has a gimmick – as soon as he saw me taking his picture out came his sword.DSC01241r

DSC01244rI’d never have thought I stand at the foot of King Wenceslas statue.

We loved to sit and people watch –

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I just wondered if someone was taking photos of us, taking photos of others . . .

We had a lovely meal in the Blue Duck – a little expensive, but the ambiance, the taste and the service was worth that little extra.

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Try the basil sorbet, so different.

There is so much to see in Prague from clocks to castles . .

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From gardens to views

or an outside BBQ, perhaps a hole in the wall bar hidden behind the castle.

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All good things come to an end –

Prague – Budapest by train

Prague station is easy to navigate and all announcements are made in Czech and English. We were booked in first class, which was the first coach (wagon) after the engine. This trip was a much more pleasurable journey than Berlin to Prague. We had our own table and plenty of storage space for the suitcases. The storage space, other than on the rack over our heads, was the unused seats. The coach was not crowded and the ride was smooth once we left the main area of Prague. Passing through the Prague area the train was jerky which caused an unsettling feeling of being in the back seat of a car when the driver keeps speeding up and breaking. This went on for the first hour after which, it stopped and the remainder of the trip was smooth.

Being a train lover from my childhood I found the different coloured coaches from various countries across Europe, such as Russia, German, Slovakia fascinating.

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and I did like to keep an eye on the carriage in front . . .

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Salad days

Sometimes things don’t pan out as one planned, particularly when traveling.

One evening, during our short stay in Berlin, we visited a restaurant that had been recommended.

The ambiance of the place was very friendly, the staff was helpful, but the portions were huge!

There were four of us and we were unaware of the size of the portions when we ordered. I picked calves liver with apple source for a main, and asked for a small Caesar salad, as a ‘side salad’.

My wife, and our friends, ordered a schnitzel each, and the same small salad. I also ordered a small plate of chips (french fries) on the side, to go with the liver. Nobody else want chips.

The main courses arrived on larger than normal plates, and my wife’s schnitzel, as well as our friend’s schnitzels, were so large that they hung over the side of their plates. My calve’s liver was just as large – they must have used a steam roller to get it so large, or the calf, from which the liver came, was as big as a bus!

The bowl of chips was large enough for four adults, and the ‘small side salad’  would have been a main course on its own, and even then I would have asked for a doggy bag for the remains.

A small side salad for myself, and another for my wife.

I hate to think what we would have received if we just ordered a simple salad as a main course. . . . .

Once a year

Turkey-PictureChristmas comes but once and year that is the only time my wife & I eat turkey. Over the years we have experienced different ways of cooking the turkey so that it doesn’t dry out.
The ‘must have Christmas turkey’ is a hangover from our time in the UK, before we emigrated. Our Australian friends lean towards pork, ham or shellfish – prawns, oysters etc.

The best turkey recipe that we have found was sent to me a few years ago by a friend, who is half Dutch and half English, and now lives in the UK.

The process is quite simple – cover the turkey in streaky bacon, and then foil.

This year we set our oven to come on at 1.30 am Christmas morning at a temperature of 70 degrees ‘C’. (set for seven hours at 70 degrees)

At 8.30 am the temperature was increased to 180 degrees ‘C’ for three hours, which allowed us to go to 9.00 am church.

At 10.30 am the foil was removed from the turkey – the oven remaining at 180 c – depending on your needs, the removal of the foil can be between 30 to 60 minutes, before the end of the three hour period.

At 11.30 am the bird was removed from the oven and wrapped in plenty of towels (or you can use a blanket). The turkey will stay warm for hours, leaving the oven free for other food to be cooked.

We sat down for lunch at 2.00 pm and the meat was moist, tasty and appetising – dry turkey is a thing of the past.