Saturday, December 30, 2006


Well it has taken a while to get this update together. Christmas wasn't quite the same without Steve or our families being around but Vanessa and I tried to make it as memorable as possible.


We were surprised and of course pleased to discover that Santa thinks ahead and uses Australia Post. We entered the spirit of the season and battled the crowds on Oxford Street, Brent Cross shopping centre and the local Tesco's to find all the traditional food and decorations. We don't really have room for a full size tree so we made do with a small one.


As far as food goes, we gave the traditional turkey a go. The supermarkets over here cater to those who have limited cooking experience very well. We bought a turkey portion that came prestuffed and completely ready to roast. In fact all we had to do was remove the plastic covering. We did choose gravy over the cranberry sauce though. We ditched to plum pudding in favour of a more modern Banoffe Pie. If you haven't tried one then I recommend it, but only for a treat.

As traditional as it gets

That is all from Vanessa and myself. Although late, we hope that everyone had a great day with their own families and friends.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

ROME - day 2

On our last day we headed off to the Vatican. After yesterday’s rainy walk we decided to test out the train system. Very efficient and now we know that nearly all attractions could have been reached much faster and drier. The Vatican museum was our first stop of the day and it is incredible. The artwork on the walls and nearly every ceiling of every room is hard to describe. The colours were much more vibrant then expected. The Sistine Chapel is a must see although it did take us a while to find it, and not the easiest to photograph.

A section of the museum ceiling

St Peter’s Basilica was next and according to the guide of the group I stood near – the pope was in but didn’t do public viewings on Mondays. Inside the basilica is just as ornate and intricate as the museums. There are small private alters along the sides as well as the main alter.

We decided to take the challenge of the 300+ stairs and went to the top of the dome. The view was amazing. No sign of the rain from yesterday.

View over the Vatican City

As a whole Rome was an interesting place to visit. The history is fantastic and to see everything and understand it you would need to be there much longer then 3 days. We almost struck a public holiday again (remember Brussels) but that was on Friday and we arrived Saturday. The gelati was too good for words but the rest of the food was pretty average. Hopefully it was just the tourist thing as we plan on seeing much more of Italy with food being high on the list of attractions.

Carina – this last piccy is for you. Found it on Via Giulia which was the first main street of Renaissance Rome built in the 16th century.

Monday, December 25, 2006

ROME - day 1

We decided to travel a little further afield and headed off to Rome. Spent a couple of days checking out the sights of ancient Rome as well as the Vatican. The amount of history that is thrown at you is mindblowing.

First up was the Colosseum which was only down the road from our hotel. The structure that is left is only the stonework. All the marble and iron was stolen for construction of other buildings. The floor that can be seen in the photo is where the challenges would have occurred and the rooms underneath housed the animals and gladiators before the challenges. Each tier indicated the persons rank in society, the higher up the poorer.

Beneath the floor of the Colosseum

Colosseum from 3rd level

Circus Maximus wasn't as grand as expected. Now it is just a great big grassy area that is used as a walkway from the Palatine to the Tiber River. There really isn't anything to indicate it's past importance.

Claire at western end

The excellent weather failed us from lunchtime when the rain started and just did not stop for the rest of the day. We did although continue with the guidebook's recommended walking tour, just went a little faster and bought another umbrella. Saw the Pantheon, but it has a huge hole (sunlight) in the ceiling so not much drier in there. Kept on going to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, passing many other piazza's and monuments. Some had hieroglyphics on them and some had elephants as their main focus!

Trevi Fountain

But wait there is still day 2........

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blackrock Masters

For all of you tennis fans out there this one is for you. The Blackrock Masters is the final tournament for the has-beens of the tennis world and is held at the rather swanky location of the Royal Albert Hall. We splurged and bought tickets and found ourselves occupying a box in the second tier with another couple. The atmostphere wasn't quite as loud and raucous as we are used to and I was feeling slightly underdressed in jeans while Steve and everyone else arrived in suits.

Royal Albert Hall

McEnroe was the first match and he lived up to his reputation - spoilt brat. We thought that he may have been playing up to the crowd the first couple of times, but after the 18th questioned call it was just tedious. The crowd did switch from pro McEnroe to pro Anders (the swedish opponent), especially after he aimed a ball at the very big organ. McEnroe still won.

McEnroe vs Anders

The doubles match that followed was an exhibition game where all the trick shots come out in a single set. It was easily the highlight of the night so far. The players were Bahrami and Gullikson vs Fleming and Willander. The crowd even livened up. Would have liked there to be another set.

Final match for the night was Marcelo Rios and Jeremy Bates. Basically just big serves and not interesting, especially after the doubles woke us all up. It also didn't start until nearly 11pm so the place was starting to empty and that included us.

Marcelo Rios warming up

We have entered the ballot for Wimbledon so here's hoping we manage some tickets!!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

We have had our first visitor this week. Claire's friend Vanessa has made the journey across to start her own adventure and is staying with us for a while. She is trying to find a job and has a couple of interviews lined up. We have of course tried to show her around and spent a cultural weekend checking out the Tate Modern Art Gallery and then headed out to Leed's Castle for the day.
Claire and Vanessa along one side of the moat at Leeds Castle.

This is an intact castle built sometime in the 1100's that is still used today for events and political meetings and of course a tourist attraction. It was used by royalty until around the 1600's when King Edward gave it over to private ownership. Since then it has been a prison and hospital as well as a home. It became predominantly a tourist attration in the 70's when the last owner Lady Baillie died. There are 24 bedrooms and nearly all of them are used for guests. The only two not used are those of Lady Baillie and Queen Catherine (one of Henry's wives).
Main entrance

Side view. Castle built over two islands.

The castle also had some other attractions, such as a maze which Claire won the race to the middle. She claims it had nothing to do with the helper who was giving her directions. Vanessa was a close second. Once there the underground grotto returned us to the outside. A friend of Lady Baillie decided to give her their dog collar collection (yes you have read that correctly) so of course we had a look. It was included in our ticket after all. The highlight was Sooty's collar. Yep, they have a fake dog's collar!!!! The final attraction was the Falconry show, but due to the excessive windy conditions they were only able to demonstrate the Buzzard. The Falcon was still a baby and still learning.

Sooty's collar - remember the tv show

Buzzard show.

Monday, November 13, 2006


This is the capital city of Belgium and the head of the European Union but if you aren't a delegate or politician then you go there for chocolate and beer. Depending on who you are that may be in reverse order. We gave the Eurostar a go and would recommend it when compared to flying. Customs was quick and the stations are in the centre of the city, rather than being 40kms out of town. Travelling backwards was probably the only downside. Our first day in Brussels was Armistice Day, which is a public holiday in Belgium. Unlike Australia it was a true public holiday with all shops, museums and attractions closed. Our trusty Insight guidebook saved the day as we followed the suggested walks and checked out all the sights. The city is beautiful with all the hidden parks, but the cobblestones do get a little annoying. Lucky I don't wear heels! The one strange tradition about Brussels is the appearance of the umpires chair outside major sights.

This is La Petit Sablon with monuments to notables of the 16th century

Steve in front of the garden next to Mons de Arts

This chair was opposite the Royal Palace in yet another park.

The Grand Place is a big cobblestoned square surrounded by pubs, chocolate shops and lace shops. This area is the main touristy bit and thus the only place open over the weekend. Having been bombed and then rebuilt around the 1700 the streets off it are tiny. It is in these lanes that many of the restaurants are located as well as more choccy shops and antique shops/galleries and not to forget the undressed Mannekin Pis.

Grand Place

I gave the traditional 'mussels and fritz' a try and thought they were really salty. Not sure if that was the mussels or the broth that they were served in. The chocolate over there is second to none. Not just in taste but in look. The christmas ones were just being put in the windows. Godiva won my heart though. Those pralines are divine!! Then i found the biscuit shop. This place has moulds that are over 1m tall and made of wood and for sale. The ginger figures were fantastic and so were the macaroons.

We were a little early for the christmas markets, but there were a few small ones around the place. Steve has found the one stall just made for him. It's a pity they weren't the real thing!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Okay, so we have obviously arrived in the UK and are living like the locals….well almost. After a couple of hectic weeks we did manage to find a one bedroom flat in Surrey Quays, in South East London. Great location, only 100m from the waters of Greenland Dock and pretty well fully furnished. Only luxuries such as chopping boards and stuff to buy.

Outside the flat. Our's is the one on the 1st floor, on the left.

Greenland dock...

My job at The Doctor's Laboratory is going okay. Quite different to Australia in that we work with the public lab and share resources. No night work which is nice and located within about 70min walk or 40min by tube.

Steve has a 6 month contract with Hermes Pension Management, who manage the pension money for the Royal Mail & British Telecom. It is a mangement accounting role in the real estate division, based in Tower Hill in the financial area. Working in the real estate industry made the transition to London a little easier. Being a contractor is good. Being paid by the hour, and it is only about 25mins on the tube, although would probably be quicker if I ran, but so far that has sounded like far too much effort.

We're slowly getting around the sights of London. So far we have visited the Royal Observatory and the Greenwich Mean Time, Tower of London and a few museums. Not to forget the zoo where a Seagull decided to christen Claire's arrival to London, and some deer decided to attempt adding to their numbers. Very educational trip!!

Claire & the time.

The crown jewels are just to Claire's left...

Inside the Tower of London, some former Kings were much more "protected" than others...

Tower bridge...

London Zoo

The arrival of our first pay inspired us to travel out of London and the first stop was Brighton. Now this is the summer holiday place, so the numbers were a bit down when we were there. We wouldn't classify it as a beach as there is no sand. A stroll along the edge of the rocks is not quite as relaxing. The pebbles were quite lumpy and chilly to sit on! I did find a fantastic café and would recommend the orange and cinnamon hot chocolate. Mmmmm. Visited the pier and tried our hand at some of the arcade games. No luck though.

The little bathing huts were down the rich end of the beach (Hove - where the famous people live) and there were over 200 of them. Not surprising, but very few were actually open.

Bathing huts....

Brighton pier....

Friday, September 22, 2006

Well a slight change of plan due to the Thai military coup will see us depart directly for London on the 27th, a week later than planned. Phuket will now be on the return journey sometime next year. So what do you do when faced with another week in Oz - we headed to Kingscliff in northern NSW to relax. Not quite as exotic as Thailand but we couldn't be fussy!!

On the trip down to Kingscliff, Claire had to stop halfway to the Gold Coast to get some snacks at the Strawberry farm.

Hired bikes at Kingscliff for some exercise. No gears, pedal brakes, huge tyres and a little kids bell. I want my bike back! Lucky there were no hills on our travels.

Steve getting the speed wobbles on his bike.

Then we thought we might try a nice 4 hour bushwalk up Mount Warning. The last 100m was tough when you need the chain to pull you up the mountain, but the view was worth it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Just testing the whole process. Piccy is from Freycinet National Park overlooking Wineglass Bay when we were there last year. Stay tuned for some current updates.