In May 2007 we departed for Eastern Europe.
Below is our travelogue.

Our photo album is taking shape. Click here to see it.


FRIDAY, MAY 11, 2007

A Rolling Stone Gathers no Moss

Or in our case, a Wandering Segal gathers no frequent flyer points...or if we do they are as useless as an ashtray on a motorcycle. We have circumnavigated the globe several times and have thus far not accumulated enough points to catch a ferry across the river. It is such a scam; you succumb to the trap of only flying with one carrier, often at a higher cost, so that one day, after accumulating a gazillion points you can fly somewhere for free. The only problem is that there are never seats available to the destinations you want to visit, when you want to visit them. Oh, it's fine if you want to book a flight to Uzbekistan on any Friday the 13th in six years time; but then there will only be one seat available and your travelling companion will have to take the same flight the following year. Which all means that we must still work to pay for our travels; or at least until our lotto numbers drop? And we are now about to embark on our next great adventure.


 

Eastern Europe!

We spent two days in Singapore enroute to Prague (PRAHA on the map). After 4 nights in Prague we picked up a car and started driving:

  • South to Cesky Kromlov (3 nights)
  • East to Brno (2 nights)
  • South to Bratislava (2 nights)
  • West to Vienna (3 nights)
  • South to Lake Balaton (1 night)
  • East to Budapest (4 nights)
  • North-East to Miskolc (1 night)
  • North to Stara Lubovna (1 night)
  • North-West to Zakopane (1 night)
  • North to Krakow (3 nights) where we meet up with hubbies brothers and sisters-in-law. They will be travelling with us throughout Poland.
  • South back to Zakopane for another night (don't ask why)
  • North-East to Lublin (1 night)
  • North-West to Warsaw (2 nights)
  • South-West to Wraclow (1 night)
  • South-West back to Prague (1 night)


Next morning we drove to Prague airport, dropped off the car and flew to Amsterdam, Holland. My Aunt and Uncle fetched us from Schiphol and drove us to their 300 year old farm house in Friesland, which is a province in the far north of Holland.

They have lovingly restored the old house and I was eager to see what work they have completed since we last visited 7 years ago.

Did I mention that this time we are not travelling alone; Ken is coming with us. That's right, just me and two blokes. "Lucky woman", I hear you say. Let me tell you about Ken; he has a very sexy voice and is a great navigator. This time hubby will have two people telling him where to go....poor fellow.

Before you are too shocked perhaps I should point out that Ken is actually our newly acquired, battery operated, marital aid; a portable G.P.S. (Global Positioning System). The voice we have selected on the GPS is called Ken, Australian Male......"after 800 metres, turn right, then turn left...." very cool. I think they should be an obligatory gift to everyone getting married. I'm sure it would cut the divorce rate dramatically.
I will add to this periodically along the way; check in later to see what's new.



MONDAY, MAY 28, 2007

Sultry Singapore


We are at the airport about to depart Singapore and I am taking advantage of their generosity and using the free internet service they provide. I did try the free foot massage machine, free internet is miles better. I put both my feet into the foot massage machine and put it on a gentle relaxing massage setting. It was neither gentle nor relaxing. It felt like I had both feet caught in the mangle of the old wringer which stood by my mum's washing machine as a kid.

Our flight here was comfortable and on time, we lost no luggage and even managed to watch a few interesting movies on the way. One was called "wild hogs" and was about a bunch of middle aged blokes who, in an endeavour to alleviate the tedium of their middle class lives decide to ride motor bikes across the country; pretty pathetic, hey?

Then there was the one called "the Number 23" where this paranoid bloke who reads a book about how everything adds up to 23, sees parallels to this in his own life where his name, his address and even his mobile phone number add up to 23. It got me thinking and I did a few quick calculations and would you believe that the sum of my name and wedding anniversary divided by the length (in centimetres) of my middle toe actually adds up to ....you guessed it; 23! What a coincidence! Isn't that freaky?

There were also interactive games to play. 36 Nintendo games and 12 pc games; but alas, no Sudoku....bummer.
However there was one enticing game on the kiddies Nintendo station....."Super Bonk" ????
I thought I'd better take a look at what kiddies are playing these days so logged onto discover that I actually had a choice; I could play Big Bonk, Little Bonk or Crab Bonk???? Now there's a game I was itching to play! I waited and waited but try as it may it could not get it up.

The taxi driver who delivered us unscathed from the airport could talk under water with a mouthful of marbles. I think he was moonlighting as a tourist information officer. But sitting south of a north facing driver with a heavy accent made it all but impossible to understand half of what he said. Our hotel , he told us, was in a good location and very popular spot for people who like to go crabbing. I found this most peculiar as we were no where near the water. Then as the conversation continued I worked out what he actually meant was that it was popular with people who liked to go clubbing.....quite a different past time.

He then went on to ask if we liked line dancing. Personally, I can take it or leave it, but given the chance would prefer to leave it. He told us just near our hotel they teach line dancing. The image of rows of Singaporeans in cowboy clobber, thumbs firmly tucked into belt loops, boot scooting in tight formation to the dulcet tones of "Achy Breaky Heart", floated across my mind. It wasn't until we were safely in our hotel room that the cacophony of loud beating of drums and clashing of cymbals brought back images of Chinese New Year and the reality what the taxi driver had actually said finally sank in. "Lion Dancing" ....not "line dancing". The racket continued into the early hours of the morning, but lucky for us the constant drone of the air-conditioning plant for the whole hotel located right outside our window drowned it out.

We were definitely fortunate to have upgraded from a standard room to a superior room when our travel agent had the foresight to ask which we wanted. In reply to our question as to what we got in a superior room that we didn't get in a standard room, she replied, "A window".
But we are in the middle of Chinatown, a hop, skip and a jump from absolutely everything and after all it's all about location, location, location!
We have enjoyed our two hot, too hot and sweaty days here, showering three or four times a day after having walked our little legs off. And now we are ready to move on.

Colonial Architecture, Singapore

               



FRIDAY, JUNE 1 2007

Ahoy from Pretty Prague... ....capital of Chilly Czech.

The flight from Singapore to Amsterdam was a very loooooooooong 13 hours and uncomfortably crowded. We flew with KLM this time and found the little luxuries we enjoy on Singapore Airlines sadly missing. In particular enough leg room to enable one to sit in their seat without having the person in the row in front practically sitting on his lap, the ability to eat your dinner on the little fold down tray without poking out the eyes of the people sitting either side of you with your elbows, tooth brush and tooth paste, and those cute and comfy little sock/slippers, hand cream and cologne, a hot, moist cloth face washer and a variety of other personal hygiene products.

The plane was one hour late leaving Singapore when the battery died and they had to jump start it. After 30 minutes trying, unsuccessfully, I was afraid the captain was going to ask us all to push the plane down the runway so he could clutch start it. Once we managed to get airborne the flight was uneventful. I even manage to watch a few more movies including one called "Because I said so", about an interfering mother. My kids don't know how lucky they are that I'm not one of those! After a 3 hour layover we departed for Prague on a Czech Airlines flight which took a little over 1.5 hours.

Having slept little more than 3 hours in last 36 we arrived tired in Prague to a chilly 12 deg. C. But we hit the ground running and unpacked then headed straight out to explore our immediate environment. Our apartment is on the third floor of a 18th century mansion and consists of a cavernous room 5m x 6m with 4m high ceilings, an additional sleeping loft just in case we wish to pick up a couple of homeless people (of which there appears to be an abundance here), a kitchenette and a tiny bathroom. The shower recess is a minute 650mm x 650mm. To wash my toes I have to ensure I'm facing diagonally across the shower recess for fear of becoming wedged between the opposite walls whilst becoming intimately acquainted with the taps. But here again it's all about location, location, location.

We are across the road from the National Museum of which our two tall windows afford magnificent views, and around the corner is the Wenceslas Square (as in the Good King) which is not really a square but a very long rectangle, but I guess Wenceslas Rectangle just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Wenceslas Square

This city is an architects heaven; each and every building more beautiful than the next. My camera has almost overheated from excess use. The only thing that detracts from the beauty is the proliferation of graffiti; unsightly tags cover even the old renaissance buildings. These vandals have no conscience.

The transportation system here is wonderful with a very efficient tram and subway network. Brisbane could definitely learn something from Prague. Another thing they could learn is that recycled water does not kill. Both here and in Singapore we have been drinking nothing but recycled water and nothing has happened to me, happened to me, happened to me….
Well, maybe I lie; we have also been drinking a bit of beer. It's half the price of coke and a third the price of red bull and even cheaper than a soft serve ice cream from McDonalds; and it does make such a fine accompaniment to a plate full of steaming hot goulash and knedlik (dumplings).

We have walked our feet off and are now hobbling around on bony stumps. We've seen the Old Town, the New Town established in 1348 (In Prague, new is only relative), the Jewish Town with its incredibly crowded cemetery. We've visited the castle and witnessed the pomp and ceremony of the changing of the guards. We've climbed the astronomical clock tower (well….we actually took the lift) and spied the old town from dizzying heights and we have clocked up a multitude of kliks on our pedometers just meandering though the winding roads and alleyways each and every one with gorgeous buildings in different style from gothic, renaissance, baroque to neo-classical, Art Nouveau and cubist.

The old Town Square, Prague





SUNDAY, JUNE 03, 2007

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…

….often go awry.

Not a nanosecond past after corresponding last, that the ominous bing of an incoming email message heralded, what could have been, a major catastrophe in the scheme of things. As luck would have it we were at an internet café at that instant, had we not have been our story may be one of woe.

The company we had arranged to rent our car from emailed to say that the car we were to rent had been involved in an accident and was no longer available and, to make matters worse, they had no replacement car for us. So there we were, after 9:30pm with only one nights accommodation left in Prague and no car for the next 27 days.

We hastily departed the internet café and rang our landlady and explained our desperate predicament. Bless her! As soon as she hang up she proceeded to ring around to locate us a replacement vehicle; not an easy fete at 10pm. Less than 20 minutes later she rang back to say she had not only found us a car but it was a better model and at a lower price. So our misfortune turned into a blessing. She had also arrange a taxi for us the next day to take us to a meeting place to pick up the car. It was an interesting transaction; some what clandestine.

The taxi deposited us outside, what appeared to be, an unoccupied office block somewhere in the suburbs of Prague. In the car park, abandoned cars sat with their tyres melting into the bitumen. After standing their in the desolate car pasr for some 5 minutes, wondering if anyone would turn up, a car pulled in and a women, who spoke no English, indicated to us that we should load our luggage into the boot of the car. We were then herded into the office block and she proceeded to converse in an animated manner with the security guard. After what seemed an eternity we were lead up the elevator to the third floor, down an unlit corridor and into the office of some unknown person, and after much gesticulating we signed a contract we could not read for a woman we could not converse with and ended up with the key to a car for 27 days. We have, it would appear, leased a car for a month and will simply return it 3 days early. From what we could understand this works out 4000 Czech Crown cheaper than renting the car for 27 days….go figure.

And now our journey could begin. It took a lot longer to depart Prague that we had first planned. But we finally made it out onto the open road.

Hubby by the car.

At this point I must let you know that I've dumped Ken and taken up with Kobi (an Israeli male). Ken was simply useless in Eastern Europe I could not get a route from him. Kobi on the other hand has the best routes. Occasionally I use an un-named Israeli female when I want a different route. Horses for courses.

My nephew, Arnon, the computer wizard conveniently uploaded two different GPS programmes for us to use in Eastern Europe as the Tom Tom GPS software that came ready installed in our hand held computer only supplied maps for Australia. i-GO and Destinator come with different voices and we have decided to use the Hebrew language voices as they are easier for hubby to understand. We are using a combination of the two as each has areas of weakness that the other doesn't. Kobi is the Male Hebrew i-GO voice and the Destinator program has left its voices unnamed.

Our first stop after leaving Prague was Karlstejn Castle where the Bohemian crown jewels are kept safely squirreled away in a tower with 3.5m thick walls. From there we drove straight through to Cesky Krumlov. Our other planned stops have been postponed till we leave Cesky Krumlov as we simply ran out of time.

Karlstejn Castle

Cesky Krumlov is a picturesque Gothic village of chocolate box beauty, which wraps around the meandering bends of the Vltava River. It consists of a maze of narrow winding streets, most of which we have navigated, sometimes illegally, in an endeavour to locate our accommodation. All the streets are crowded with attractive, quaintly decorated buildings all supporting each other and overshadowed by a huge renaissance castle upon whose steps resides our pension. As I sit typing this I can see the fairytale tower of the castle almost within spitting distance of my window. It is listed with UNESCO and more importantly in the book "1000 place to see before you die". We are here for three nights and then head towards Brno. Hopefully the rain will stop before we leave, for although it is a stunning place I envisage it will be magical in the sunshine. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Cesky Krumlov

               


 

SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007

Budweiser, Brno and Bratislava


We departed Cesky Krumlov a few days ago after finally being granted my wish; a sunny day, and then made a bee line for Cesky Budejovice….better know as the home of the world renowned Budweiser Brewery. I don't think I've watched an American movie where there hasn't been someone drinking a "Bud". A medieval city, it's vast town square is ringed with 18th century arcades and delightfully decorative facades. Suffice to say I have taken a photo or two….thousand.
Next stop, according the map, just 10 km north, was the impressive chateau at Hluboka nad Vitavou. Unfortunately Kobi, our GPS, had other ideas and although he is programmed to take us by the quickest route, we ended up being directed via the narrowest, winding roads, through tiny, quaint villages that are too small and insignificant to appear on any map. It finally took us 45 minutes to reach the chateau and when we did, we could see Cesky Budejovice just down the road. Luckily the view was, as always, picture postcard perfect. Plenty of green, rolling hills with red rooved villages nestled in amongst wooded dells with medieval churches, their steeples reaching toward heaven.

chateau at Hluboka nad Vitavou

If there in one thing that is not in short supply here, it's castles and chateaus. The only problem with trying to visit them all is that they are inevitably located at the top of a muscle-aching, steep, no-car-access, hill. The only available car park is always at the far end of town making it necessary to run the gauntlet of the usual tourist traps; the merchandising outlets. After a few more schleps up hills, they may well loose their novelty for me.
The most impressive village we have seen to date was next on our itinerary; the UNESCO listed town (and castle of course) of Telc (pronounced Telch). It boats, besides the castle, the most beautiful town square ringed with Gothic arcades and elegant renaissance facades.

Telc

By late afternoon we reached our next stop over, Brno. Our accommodation was in a pension located in the side of a church, accessible only by driving through the church parking lot. We found a local beer hall in which to dine that evening.

I am beginning to wonder if the life expectance of the average Czech ever exceeds 45. For one thing, I don't think anyone has translated the Surgeon General's warning into Czech or Slovakian as everyone over the age of 12 smokes, and everyone feels the urge to light up strongest when sitting in a crowded venue such as cafés and restaurants. And secondly their cuisine is an exercise in cholesterol consumption; deep fried cheese and greasy sausage and wurst, oily, fried potato pancakes and doughy dumplings in every meal; I feel like I'm turning into a dumpling. If you are lucky, you might get a token lettuce leaf and quarter of a tomato on the side. Even breakfast doesn't escape a dose of cholesterol. We ordered fried eggs and meat and were served not one egg but three eggs….each, and enough bread rolls to feed a small army.

We spent two nights in Brno and visited all the tourist attractions; including, the ghoulish Capuchin Monastery where the naturally mummified corpse of monks and nobility lie in subterranean crypts.


We also visited, of course, the obligatory castle and while ascending the steep path the sudden peace and quiet was broken, not only by my audible gasps for oxygen but also by the piercing wail of an air-raid siren. We stopped dead in our tracks and unsure whether we should duck for cover or stand to attention for a minutes silence. A young couple, equally out of breath from the climb understood our universal gesture for "what the heck was that" (shoulders hunched, eye brows raised, right hand swiftly rotated in the air, turning palm upward). "Practice is on the first Wednesday at 12 noon every month", they informed us. Everyone just carried on as if nothing was unusual. I'm thinking if anyone would like to invade Brno, 12 noon on the first Wednesday of any given month would be a good time, you could just waltz on in, unhindered. So if anyone was to…..let's say, plan a missile defence facility in Eastern Europe they might be well advised to take this fact into consideration. (Oh, and by the way; Bratislava might also be a bit risky for the same reason but at midday on the first Friday of each month)

Cabbage Market, Brno

Early next morning we were on the road again, destination - Mikulov, a quaint village in the heart of the wine growing district. The town map indicated the location of the Synagogues that proliferated in the town before WWII, all 12 of them; today only one remains.
From there we motored onto Lednice and its UNESCO listed chateau and manicured gardens; home of the Lichtenstein family for over 600 years, but best of all, Kobi conceded to navigate there directly. Unlike our next proposed destination, the town of Breclav, which he first deleted entirely from our itinerary then, when I'd detected his slight of hand, and reprogrammed it, he waited until he had directed us onto a motorway, across the river, through passport control and into Slovakia before telling us to make a u-turn in another 20 km and go back 35km. We gave up at this point and were tempted to through him into the fore-mentioned river. And so we had slipped into Slovakia. We were destined to do so, but it sort of happened by accident.

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia was our next stop. We are staying here for two nights visiting the old town and …..you guessed it; the castle. My muscles, wasted by lack of use after the accident, have tripled in size and my legs now resemble those of an Olympic weight lifter.

Bratislava

Bratislava has a delightful old town centre full of well preserved examples of centuries old architectural beauty together with modern sculptures, while in the outer suburbs the drab, grey, utilitarian, communist tenements that once dominated the skyline are being replaced with more stylish apartment blocks. We drove into town on our first night there and followed the signs indicating "Free Parking", and it was indeed free…to enter; unfortunately it cost us an arm and a leg to exit, by Slovakian standards; a whopping 180SKK for two hours (approx $9 AUD equivalent to 9 litres or 19 pints US of beer at the supermarket). Next day we took the tram 14SKK (70 cents).
The beer is admittedly cheap, and the locals drink it by the bucket full. We tend to drink a bit of beer too; at these prices it seems a sin not to, and while I know you never really buy beer; only rent it, I am still at odds to understand why, after drinking one glass full, I need to pee three.
And on that cheery note I sign off for now, as we have arrived in Vienna and there is sooooooo much to see here. I'll leave it for another day.




TUESDAY, JUNE 12, 2007

The views in Vienna.........


.............are beyond superlatives. I am gob-smacked, awe-struck, speechless........well, almost.

Please, before I start, I wish to advise that the z and the y on this kez board are transposed so it maz be hard for zou to understand everzthing I tzpe. All other spelling mistakes I blame on the computer gremlins.

And the internet Nazi won't allow me to plug in mz USB connecter to upload photos....next time.

Palace , Vienna

We arrived in Vienna on Saturday 9 June and after 3 days here have really only scratched the surface of the wonder that is Vienna.

Our perambulations have taken us to ornate palaces, stunning opera houses, awesome museums and some damn fine restaurants. Our first meal here was at the 'Bier und Weinhaus' on the corner of our street. I ordered the Wienische Schnitzel (as one should in Vienna) and I was not disappointed; it was the size of a dinner plate and cooked to perfection. Hubby ordered the fried blood sausage with onion and kartoffel (potatoes), another artery clogging gastronomical creation. After dinner we decided to walk off our monstrous meals and discovered that our neighbourhood is very poor, as I had suspected by the low price we are paying for our accommodation. Some of the young ladies who live around the corner are so poor that they can't afford air-conditioning and in the 30 deg C heat that we've been experiencing lately, are forced to sit in the window of their ground floor apartment, in nothing but their underwear. But don't worry, they may be poor but they have many friends; people were coming to see them all night....funny how they all seem to be men though.

There is also numerous sex shops and strip joints on the main drag. It took me a while but finally I realised that the shop in the back of the courtyard of our hotel was not called Fetisch and Smart. There is, I've just noticed, a gap between the 'sm' and the 'art' and no C in Fetisch. Different strokes for different folks.

On Sunday we took a city tour that included a Gala performance of the Spanish Riding School. It was worth every pfenning, except they didn't allow photographs to be taken during the performance so I can' show you the photos I didn't take .....until we leave Vienna, that is.

I've really been in my element here; the museums are spectacular. On Sunday afternoon I visited the Leopold Museum where they had a fantastic exhibition od Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and best of all, Kolo Moser. Google them and be prepared to be impressed. They are some of the greatest names in the Viennese Secession (Art Nouveau style). I've also visited the Kunst Hall, The Museum of Modern Kunst and the Kunst House....and no, that's not a spelling mistake. 'Kunst' is very big in Vienna; it means 'Arts'. One needs to be very careful with their spelling around here.

While in the Kunst Hall on Sunday the weather took a turn for the worse; from clear blue skies and temperatures around 30 deg C, the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour, more reminisce of a Brisbane summer (back in the days when it used to rain, that is).

On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting the Hundertwasser house and the Kunst Haus Wien. If you haven't heard of Hundertwasser, google him. It was truly mind blowing.

             


SATURDAY, JUNE 16, 2007

From Balaton to Budapest


En-route to Budapest we sojourned for one night by the beautiful Lake Balaton in Hungary. The lake is the colour of milky jade, similar in colour to the melting ice from the glaciers in New Zealand and at 77 kilometres long, the largest fresh water lake in Europe outside of Scandinavia.

Lake Balaton

Our hosts at the pension where we stayed in Balatonfured would have to be the most hospitable we have encountered to date. We were welcomed with a glass or two of our host's home made white wine from his very own vineyard and upon departure were presented with a 1.5 litre bottle of the brew to see us on our way as our hosts, Stephan and Judit, waved us goodbye till we were out of sight.

We arrived in Budapest and discovered our accommodation is in, what looks to be, an old monastery attached to a church. The rooms must surely have been the monk's cells. To say they are sparse would be a gross understatement, but at least we have a pleasant outlook, from our sole window, over a leafy cloister. I have discovered bedrock in Budapest; it's what the beds here are made of. We have had some firm mattresses on this trip but these take the cake. They are a solid wood base covered by a wafer thin layer of foam rubber. At least with walls half a metre thick I was sure our sleep would not be disturbed by rowdy neighbours. Unfortunately we had to leave the window open as means of some meagre ventilation in the steamy 30 deg C heat. At 5am on the first morning we were woken by an over enthusiastic couple engaging in the art of Hungarian Horizontal Folk Dancing. I must be getting old; I can't imagine one good reason for waking up so early just for THAT. I wear ear plugs each night now.

The city of Budapest is one of either former glory or glory yet to come. The state of most of the interesting buildings is some where between 'lovingly restored' to down right derelict. Most lie south of "in need of tender loving care". Uninteresting 70's and 80's constructions aside, there are many varied architectural styles of note. But after Vienna, everything pails to insignificance.

Heroes Square, Budapest

We have also come across some scenes where the individual components are not unusually but the sum of the total doesn't quite add up; like seeing a polar bear in the desert. We were driving on the outskirts of the city when we encountered two such scenes. In the first scene, two young ladies were waiting outside, what appeared to be, the entrance to a light industrial zone. Nothing unusual about that, except that they were wearing skin tight mini skirts and crop tops and their fake-tan legs reached up to their armpits and were shod in stilettos. They were heavily made up and something about their demeanour made me think they were not factory workers waiting for their husbands to pick them up after work. In the second scene a young lady (and I use the term loosely) was in a semi rural setting, standing by a bus stop wearing nothing but a bikini, stilettos and a "come hither" look in her eyes; but she didn't appear to be waiting for the bus. Something tells me these gals rent out by the hour; or for lads under 18, by the minute. But they didn't appear to be doing a roaring trade what every it be.
We soon depart Budapest for regions north east of here and in 3 days should be in Poland.



 

SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2007

Food, glorious food…


...Hot sausage and mustard and the best hot sausage is kielbasa in Poland. But for soup, the Hungarian peasant soup can't be beaten. I didn't notice if they serve peasant in any other way; for instance I saw no 'fricassee of peasant' nor 'peasant l'Orange' on the menu, but in soup, the peasants are simply delicious. I did wonder where they gleaned their stock from (excuse the pun) till I noticed many peasants taking extreme risks by riding bicycles and walking, sometimes two or three abreast along busy and very narrow roads where there is barely room to cars to drive in each direction simultaneously, let alone while overtaking dare-devil peasants; crosses dot the highways and by-ways; a testament to my theory.

Krakow town square

We met up with hubby's brothers and their wives 4 day ago in Krakow - what a cracker of a city, and have been eating our way across Poland since. Our hotel in Krakow was a monument to shoddy communist architecture. Built somewhere in the 60's only the bathrooms have been renovated since, though the fittings in them are already falling from the walls. The windows; when they did close, did not stop the traffic noise from the busy street below. Nor did the curtains, made of wafer thin fabric, stop an ounce of sun from penetrating the room at 4am. I guess that's what eye masks and ear plugs are for, though hubby thought the noise of the traffic was nothing compared to the sound of my snoring.

We travel to Warsaw tomorrow and hope to meet up with my friend Sophia, whom many of you from work will remember well. In 2 days we part from the in-laws as we return to Prague before continuing to Holland and they return to Israel. We have had a great time together; a load of fun.


 

SUNDAY, JULY 01, 2007

We Saw Warsaw

Like the Phoenix, she has risen from the ashes. After the war Warsaw was in total ruin but has now been lovingly restored to her former glory.

Old Town, Warsaw

Our first night there I decided to dress up a bit in honour of my friend, Sophia Kijak and her charming husband, Robert. I had not worn my good trousers since leaving Oz and was a tad concerned about their ability to cover my expanding girth. But I managed to haul them over my hips and fasten the zipper, albeit with the aid of a little axel grease and a shoe horn. We were collected from our hotel and chauffeured to the old city where we admired the beautiful new, old buildings and enjoyed Warsaw's gastronomically delights; I can feel my arteries clogging as we speak. It was so much easier having someone to translate the menu and make recommendations. Amongst other things, Sophia recommended the Farmers Soup .The farmers were much tastier than the peasants; richer in taste. Our evening with the Kijaks was very entertaining and one we shall fondly recall for years to come.

The next day we encountered cold, wet weather as we endeavoured to navigate our way through the maze that is Warsaw's public transport system. It didn't manage to dampen our spirits. That night we dined in what was touted as a traditional Jewish Restaurant in the old city of Warsaw. The menu did offer such traditional Jewish fare as Gefilte Fish and herrings but some how I think the original owners would be turning in their graves if they saw the number of pork dishes that had some how sneaked onto the menu. The restaurant, much like all of Eastern Europe, was full of German tourists. I don't know about you, but I find it somewhat ironic that Germans should be coming to Poland to eat in a Jewish restaurant.

Hubby and me with hubby's brothers and their wives sandwiched between us.

We sadly parted company with hubby's brothers and their wives the next morning and headed slowly back to Prague. We were barely out of Warsaw's heavy peak hour traffic and onto the open road when a light on the dashboard signalled some ominous warning. Luckily we were within spitting distance of a VW car yard and the mechanic there informed us that our break pads were worn and in need of replacement. A 15 minute job we were assured….one hour and fifteen minutes later we were finally on our way again.

We spent that night in a city named Wroclaw….or so we thought. When they developed the Polish language I think they simply pulled letters out of a hat and assigned them what ever sound came to mind. For instance Wroclaw is in fact pronounced Vrotz-wahf. See the similarity? No; neither do I. I also think they thought vowels were too expensive as they are used sparingly. Yet 'z' and 'w' must have been free as they are amongst the most prolifically used letters. Our three star hotel in "Vrotz-wahf" looked more like the local YMCA. I think the only things they provided to qualify for 3 stars was one of them fancy French footbaths in the bathroom and soft toilet paper that, unlike in the rest of the country, didn't resemble recycled cardboard. But at least the beds were soft although we needed a step ladder to climb up into them.

Wroclaw

On the way into Prague we detoured via the quaint village of Kutna Hora renown for their macabre talent of interior decorating using old bones. In the Kostnice Ossuary chapel everything thing from the chandelier to the family coat of arms is made from the bones of some 40,000 souls who entrusted their remains unto the soil in the adjacent cemetery only to be dug up later and used as decor.

Kostnice Ossuary

               



FRIDAY, JULY 06, 2007

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

At some undetermined hour between dusk and dawn I sat bolt upright in bed. An eyrie light played across the ceiling from car headlights filtered through the plantation shutters.


"Where the hell are we?"

It's a sure fire sign that we've been on the road too long. I fumbled for my glasses so as to see the time on my wristwatch. 3:30 am. The earplugs firmly wedged up to my eardrums have blocked out all but the worse of the traffic noise. Slowly it all comes back to me. This must be Singapore. We're heading home!

Amsterdam was our last port of embarkation. As we flew into Brisbane I tried in vain to remember in which country we spent the most time. The customs declaration form asks this of me. What a silly question anyway. Do I include our last night in the Czech Republic? Can I state Poland and the Czech Republic; I choose the latter.

This morning the call of the Currawongs confirmed we are home. Outside, dawn was breaking even though I had been awake nearly three hours; (damn that time difference). It was only 6am. No lengthy twilight zone here in Oz. The sun rises and it is light, it sets and it is dark; all within 45 minutes. In Holland, with daylight saving, it was 10 pm before the sun set and almost midnight before it was actually dark. Long periods of dusk are an unknown phenomenon in the regions close to the tropics.

The summer days in the Netherlands are over 16.5 hours long making them more than twice as long as winter days, whereas in Brisbane there are little more than three hours difference. I could never imagine going to work and coming home again without seeing the sun. The weather in Brisbane on this, a mid-winters day, is a pleasant 20°C (68°F) and dipped to a nippy 12°C last night. Good thing we had the foresight to change our light weight summer blanket for the quilt on our bed before we departed in late May. Meanwhile in Amsterdam today I note that the temperatures are expected to range from a mild 13°C to a balmy 19°C; and they call that mid-summer?

All jokes aside, Holland was fantastic; if for no other reason than we have a great family over there. On Sunday the family organised a Bar-be-que dinner. My aunt and uncle, their three kids and their relative spouses and 7 grandchildren all converged on the home of my elder cousin, Akke (Petra), and her husband Peer in the beautiful university city of Utrecht. Peer's sister, her spouse and his son brought the head count up to 20 in the small backyard of their traditional Dutch three story brick terrace house. Bountiful food was piled high on our plates and wine flowed freely. Much merriment was made.

My aunt and uncle, their three kids and their relative spouses and 7 grandchildren


I was reminded of the open-mindedness of the Dutch society when passing a factory en-route to the airport on Tuesday; "POT" boldly emblazoned on the brick facade. I guess that is where all those cafés in Amsterdam get their stock from.
I am going to sit out in the sunny courtyard and try to top up my Melatonin levels and hopefully kick start my body clock back into Australia time. All going well I think I'll be ready to go back to work on Tuesday………..16 December 2008.

When are we off again? I hear you ask. Well, seeing as how today is 07.07.07 and we have bought our lotto ticket; I estimate it will be real soon.

Oh, before I forget, I must share with you the name of our taxi driver to the airport in Singapore, Chew Kok Long. I just knew you'd like that one.


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