A Night in the Rocks, Sydney

I’m sitting up in bed at the Holiday Inn in the Rocks. Our room is spacious, the bed comfortable, and the bed linen crisp and white. We’re almost across the road from where we’ll be boarding our ship in a few hours time.

All hotels in the Rocks are currently at a premium with cruise season reflected in their prices. Our room is $400 a night. We’re on the second floor with a view over a back lane. I’m sure on higher floors on the other side of the hotel you can most likely see our ship docked, nice I’m sure, but not for us this time.

As always, a night in The Rocks was fabulous. We arrived here around 2pm yesterday. A quick freshen up, then out and about walking around the Rocks and Circular Quay. Later in the afternoon Paul ticked The Lord Nelson off his bucket list. The Lord Nelson is a lovely old pub established in the backstreets in the Rocks in 1841. With some very nice craft beers on tap, it’s a must try must for beer connoisseurs, so worth leaving the main tourist drag to hunt out. The brews are good, and the decor authentically old. We had a drink for ourselves, and then another for Cousin in law, Geoff. It’s a pub we’re sure Geoff would enjoy. We didn’t take our camera with us, but Paul has taken some photos of the pub on his phone, which I’ll post later. (We have to work out first how to get them from his phone to my IPad – not easy for these two technically challenged oldies).

Last time we were here (almost two years ago) we tried a lovely little Italian restaurant, Zia Piña. It was so good we just had to go back again. Their quality home style pasta and pizza dishes are reflected in the queues that happily wait outside for a table to become available. They don’t take bookings. You don’t usually have to wait long, and truly – the food is worth the wait.

Another walk around the Quay after dinner soaking up the atmosphere of Sydney Harbour before retiring for some much needed sleep. And today – our cruise begins….. Exciting.

And another good week

A busy week, but a good week.

Carpet has been laid in dad’s flat. Shelves and bathroom cabinet have been fitted, and we’ve started moving dads things in. New cooker has been fitted, and new fridge has arrived and is in place. Removalist is now booked for Tuesday to do the final move.

We’re well on the way with the declutter of the house. The laundry, which is an unusual feature of houses here was holding more than 40 years of accumulated stuff. We’ve managed to whittle it all down by at least a half including taking apart cabinets which have now been tipped. The room looks twice as big. We’ve sorted through heaps of stuff in the house. I’ve lost count of how many tip and charity shop runs we’ve had.

Yesterday had the potential to go completely pear shaped. Dad had a visit from the district nurse scheduled. They won’t give a time, anytime between 9am and 5pm. Dad and Paul had an appointment at the solicitors, the oven was being delivered, and I was hoping to get some grocery shopping done for a dinner party we’re having tomorrow night. A potential buyer was coming at three to have a look at our little car. There was so much potential for everything to go wrong.

The nurse arrived early, and the oven arrived just prior to the solicitors appointment. Paul dropped me at the supermarket whilst he and dad went to the solicitors. The woman took the car for a test drive and is buying it. She’s due to pick it up later this week.

We couldn’t have timed everything better if we’d tried. We topped the day off by going to the local carvery for dinner. The last couple of times we’ve been there it’s been a bit ropey. The food was still very mediocre, but the waitress was so very,very good at her job that she made everything just that bit more tasteful. She obviously enjoys her job, and made the night an absolute pleasure.

Today the potential buyer for dads house came back with his brother for second look. I spent the morning moving things around to try and show off the houses potential. Poor dad, he’s never sold a house before so house presentation is all foreign to him. I think he was getting a little worried that if he stayed still long enough he’d either get taken to the tip or charity shop, or else he’d get washed from top to bottom with either bleach or Disenfectant.

The buyer is still keen and has an appointment with his bank on Tuesday, so by Wednesday we should know for sure. Once his finance is approved then it’ll be up to the solicitors to draw up the contract of sale. We’re hoping the exchange of contracts will have taken place before we leave on the 29th, but that’s unlikely. Solicitors here aren’t known for their speed when it comes to real estate contracts. But you never know, maybe we’ll get a pleasant surprise. Fingers crossed.

I was sure with so much going well a lotto win was on the cards. That though was just pushing it a bit to far and wasn’t to be. Never mind, I’m happy with what our good luck has delivered so far anyway. If everything continues to fall into place, we couldn’t ask for more.

A good week, including a snowman

Last time I wrote we were very unsure whether or not the decision to return to Australia was the right thing to be doing. It is, it most definitely is.

Good things have happened since my last post, really good things. An apartment became available for dad. Amazing, we’d stopped applying, so this was completely out of the blue. We had applied for this particular apartment at least a month ago. They always notify you within 48 hours if you’re successful – no luck. But the person who had been successful suddenly changed her mind. As part of our soul searching before we made our hard decision to return we had door knocked all of the providers of the supported accommodation complexes, and must have left an imprint at this one. Left us all a bit shell shocked.

Next, knowing we have to get his house sold, we made an appointment for a real estate agent to value the house this coming Tuesday. With only a few days to prepare we’ve gone into head down, bum up mode, full steam ahead, at the big tidy of house and garden. Whilst mulching the front garden I took time out to notify the next door neighbour that dad would be moving and we were preparing the house for sale. She notified a friend that she thought might be interested. He’s looked, and I think he’s going to buy it. It’ll be a win/win for us all if he does. He’ll get the house for a good price, and we’ll get a quick sale. I hope I’m not counting my chickens too soon… Should think we’ll know for sure by the end of the week.

It’s such a relief to know we’ll be going home leaving dad still living independently but with the support he needs. I think he’ll do well in a new environment. A fresh start to give him renewed zest for living.

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That’s not all though. The weather turned, finally the rain stopped and the snow started, a really good fall. I built my first snowman.

And since the snow stopped, the sun has been Shining. A good week.

Rain and mud

We’ve now been in the UK for almost four months. I doubt we’ve had more than a week of rain free days in all that time.

We’ve been trying to embrace the cold weather by getting out for country walks. We’ve bought boots, fleeces, warm waterproof jackets, hats and even gatters to protect our lower legs and boots from the worst of the wet and mud.

On Sunday we tackled a 10.5km Pub walk in the Peak District. It was written up as a particularly pretty walk, an easy walk, and suitable for most weathers. The second half of the circuit was supposed to be on a hard dry limestone surface.

We waded through almost knee deep,  squelchy mud for much of the first half of the circuit. At times it felt like the mud was going to suck our boots off our feet. One woman we meet coming in the opposite direction said there was deep water flowing where she’d never seen water in thirty years.

About half way around the circuit I spoke to a couple of people coming from the opposite direction. They both confirmed the normally dry limestone was now a virtual river. They had come downhill through it, but didn’t recommend we tackle uphill in the opposite direction. So we retraced our steps, back through the squelchy, almost knee deep mud to the starting point.

The plus’s for the day were that it didn’t started raining until we were sitting down to lunch in the village pub, and the roast beef we had in the village pub was superb.

We called into Pauls cousins, who lives in the Peak District, on the way home. He told us that by now the ground is usually frozen solid in the deeper layers with only an inch or two of mud on the surface. It’s just that this winter it’s not stopped raining, and there’s been very little freeze.

It’s bad enough having to be away from our lovely warm Australia, but to have to be here during the wettest winter on record totally sucks. We’ll still keep walking, but until the mud either dries or freezes over, I think we’re going to stick to more defined paths along canal banks, or around reseviours. All that mud is just to hard and isn’t enjoyable.

Im now only a couple of weeks off overstaying my visitors visa. Pauls waiting for his English passport, and when it arrives I’ll try to get my visa extended. We’re hoping that with Paul having an English passport it’ll help with my extension. The visitors visa only allows a stay of a total of six months out of every 12 months. It’ll cost me nearly £800 to apply with no guarantee, and no refund if it’s not successful. I daren’t leave the country for any more short European visits, I may not be allowed back in. So, for now I’m stuck in this awful weather with no chance even of a short escape.

Goodness knows what’s going to happen if I can’t get a visa. I guess I’ll stay on until they deport me. After that if Pauls dad hasn’t managed to be rehoused I guess Paul will have to stay here, and I’ll have to find someone who can reconnect the battery in the ute, and get it going for me, and someone who can manoeuvre the caravan out of the tight storage space. I can probably tow it once it’s out at a push. Goodness knows how I’d go though at getting it into a caravan site, and setting everything up on my own. Not only that, but it’s likely to happen just as winters starting again in Tassie. I don’t think I could stand a third winter in a row without any summer.

But i’ll cross those bridges if and when I have to…..

Puerto De La Cruz – Tenerife

We arrived back from a wonderful week of sunshine and blue skies in Tenerife last week. All we knew about Tenerife prior to booking our break there was that its a popular destination for Brits seeking summer sun during their bleak winter.

After booking we started doing some research, and fortunately, more by good luck than good management, we had managed to book at Puerto De La Cruz, which is towards the northern end of the Island. We absolutely loved it.

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Our apartment

The pool in the middle of the complex.

Our self catering apartment at Casablanca was spotlessly clean, comfortable and more than adequate. The weather, which was our reason for going there, didn’t disappoint. The nights were mild allowing for a good nights sleep, but were still warm enough to justify leaving the ceiling fan on low. By 10.30am it had warmed enough that the sun lounges around the pool were beginning to fill up, and yes, we spent some time lazing around there soaking up the sun. Although not a first for us, it isn’t something we would usually do. We’re spoilt for sun in Australia and it’s something we tend to take for granted. After several months of living under the grey skies of England I now understand the Brits desire to lie out in the sun soaking up every bit of it. The evenings were warm and mildly balmy. Short sleeves were definitely the order of both the day and the night.

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An interesting coastline.

We were about 20 minutes walk from the sea front and the main shopping area, and walking in the other direction, about 20 minutes from their beautiful botanical gardens. The area is hilly, so with at least two walks each day in one direction or the other we managed to get our daily exercise in.

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Bougainvillea – so reminiscent of by beloved Australia
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Amazing trees (these were in the Botanical gardens)
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My favourite – Elephants Ears.

The flora on the Island was beautiful and almost made me homesick for Australia. Colourful bougainvillea, orange trumpet vine, oleanders, hibiscus, gorgeous ferns, palms and by favourite – elephants ears. The beaches near us were mostly volcanic, so black sand, not inviting for beach walks but still with a beauty of their own, and rock pools and waves provided for an enjoyable beach vista.

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Beautiful, white tigers.

We took a trip one day to Loro Parque, a huge wild life park. It was relatively cheap considering what they have there. Orcas, Dolphins, Sea Lions, and Parakeets – all with regular shows throughout the day. Then there’s the normal (and some not so normal) zoo life – penguins, meerkats, white tigers, ant eaters, flamingos and some amazing birds and parrots. It was a good day out.

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A beach at the south end of the Island.

On our second to last day we hired a car and drove down the more touristy areas at the southern end of the Island. We were so, so pleased we were in Puerto. The southern area seemed so tacky and purpose built compared to where we were staying. Accents in Porta were a mix of Spanish, German, English, (and Australian if you count our own accents), and various other European accents. Down the south of the Island there seemed to be more English accents that anything else. The shopping and eateries around Puerto catered a lot more to the locals than those in the South. In the South everything seemed geared to tourists.

And now onto the driving. Having never driven (or been a passenger) in a left hand drive car, and driving on the right side of the road, it was with great trepidation that we hired the car. People say you get used to it, but in one day, I certainly didn’t. I had thought it would sort of be like driving on the right hand side of a one way street. How wrong I was. Being on the other side of car is weird and I kept thinking we were going to hit the curb. We came close a few times I’m sure. Also, turning into roads takes a lot of concentration to make sure you don’t find yourself driving into oncoming traffic. Then theres the street signs in Spanish to try and decipher. Would we do it again – perhaps in America where theres English signs, but I’m not so sure I’d want to repeat the experience again in a country that’s not English speaking.

It seems very popular here for people to book ‘all exclusive’ holidays abroad. I’m so pleased we stuck with self catering. We found a little local supermarket and bought our yogurt and berries for breakfast, and our salad ingredients for lunches when were home. Most nights we walked into town and meandered down the back, cobbled streets seeking out authentic Canarian restaurants with a local clientele. We found some amazing little places and ate some pretty good food, paying very little for it. One small restaurant that we found there was so, so memorable. The owner who spoke very little English managed to convey to us his recommendations, which we went with. An amazing fresh tuna salad for two, followed by fillet of lamb served on Canarian potatoes, also a dish for two. The lamb…. oh the lamb!! We both agreed it was not only the best lamb we’ve ever tasted, but the best meat dish we’ve eaten – superb.

The restaurant, Bodega Julian, was a very small family run business. Twice throughout the evening the father picked up his guitar and played while his beautiful daughter sang. The song was in Spanish so we didn’t understand a word of it, but her voice was beautiful and we could imagine the words were that of Spanish folk song ballad. We felt so sorry for those tourists that had purchased an all inclusive package deal holiday. They missed out on so much. We felt sorry for them even more on our last day there which was the one and only time we ate at the restaurant in our resort – how very ordinary.

3 days in Prague

Prague – yes, we made it. We’ve arrived home yesterday after having spent five nights away with Paul’s cousin Margaret and her husband Geoff. Two nights were spent at the airport hotel at Gatwick, and the remainder of the time exploring beautiful, old Prague.

Prague absolutely lives up to it’s reputation. We arrived around mid-day, and had three nights, and three and a half days there.

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About 4.30 in the afternoon – already dark, and freezing. First day there and I bought a much needed fur trimmed hat.

Firstly, for anyone who plans on going to Prague and happens to be reading this I’m going to start with the ‘could have, should have, would have’. The most important thing I’d recommend is to make sure your accommodation is district 1. There is an abundance of choices to fit most budgets. We booked through a local travel agency and having done some homework, asked for accommodation close to Old Town Square. Old Town Square is virtually in the central point of all there is to see in Prague. We were offered a couple of options, both of which were in district 2. They looked relatively close on the map. Ha ha – if you haven’t guessed already, the map was very deceiving. We were at least a  half hours fast paced walk from Old Town Square. As I’m not the fastest of walkers, it was closer to an hours walk for me.

Prague is definitely a ‘walk around’ city, and even if we had wanted to use taxis, we never saw any available for hire. With our accommodation so far from the centre it meant it wasn’t viable to go back for a mid afternoon rest and freshen up.  We were leaving our hotel around 9.30am and pavement bashing continuously for 12 – 13 hours. Had we been near Old Town Square all of the sites we visited were no more than 30 – 40 minute walk away. We could have given far more time to actually seeing what there was to see rather than spending time and energy getting to the starting point. And we could have had that all important afternoon ‘time out’ back at our digs.

And now onto Prague and it’s Christmas markets. What a joy. The Christmas markets are set up everywhere, but nowhere better than in Old Town Square. Whilst I’ll post a photo there is no way a photo can do any justice to the experience of actually being there. Firstly the smells….. Legs of hams being rotisseried over wood fires, the heavenly, sweet aroma of their special cinnamon scrolls, sausages (real sausages, more like a salami than what we know as a sausage) also cooked over wood fire pits, and  spicy hot wine and cider everywhere. Yes, we had a few. Then there’s the Christmas lights, and the huge Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is the biggest I’ve ever seen and the lights are synchronised with very powerful orchestral music. Absolutely amazing. And all this is set up with the back drop of glorious Gothic and Baroque architecture that Prague’s so famous for. It was all very magical and almost surreal.

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What a tree. What a church in the background. What a place.

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Cinnamon rolls being cooked over hot coals – taste as delicious as they smell.

On the second day we joined a tour which was mostly walking, but included an hour boat trip, about an hour for lunch, and a short tram ride up to the castle district. The tour provided a great snap shot of the main tourist attractions in Prague.

After day two we were at a bit of a loss, and spent the rest of the time pretty much aimlessly pavement bashing over already well walked territory. We planned to explore the Lessor area more thoroughly but somehow lost our bearings and never quite got there. We forgot we had a map, and had we remembered and taken a look, we were only a street or two away from where we were trying to get to. We didn’t look at the map until after we had returned to Old Town. Grrrr!!!!

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Charles Bridge

So – if we could do it all again, what could we do differently. Of course the main thing is to stay close to Old Town Square, and for preference somewhere between the square and Charles Bridge. The first afternoon I would have spent exactly as we did spend it, just meandering around Old Town Square and Winceslas Square and generally getting our bearings. Then, rather than doing a walking tour that encompasses everything in a snap shot six hour tour, I’d spend the second day doing a tour of just the Castle area and perhaps the Lessor town area only. The castle area isn’t just a castle, it’s almost a village, and the same with the Lessor town area. Both areas are across the river from Old Town with a few available access bridges. The most famous is the Charles Bridge – stunning. On our walking tour we spent no more than two hours perusing these two areas, a full day is needed.

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Surreal Gothic archetecture – Where’s Rapunzel?

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Neo gothic addition to the gothic church in the Castle area. The first part of this church was built in the 13th century. This addition was completed in the early 1900s. More than 500 years to completion. 

Then there’s the Jewish quarter, which we hardly saw at all and I’m sure a half day wouldn’t go astray perusing the buildings and museums there. We only briefly passed it on our tour.

Most days there seems to be a number of classical performances in one of several spectacular venues. We didn’t do any as we only really became aware of them when it was too late. And we didn’t do the Kutna Hora area, which involves a trip out of the city into the surrounding countryside, and includes a visit to the famous bone church. There is a 6 hour bus tour for Kutna Hora, which I mentioned a few times to my fellow travellers, but no-one seemed to be interested, so I put that idea aside. However, late on our last day Paul said that we should have gone there…  again, Grrrrrr!!

So, thats what we did as apposed to what we could have done, should have done, and in hindsight would have done. So hopefully by writing this, someone reading it has a chance to learn from it and won’t end up wasting two days as we did. Staying in district one  would have allowed us to make the most of our time there. I think we could have seen most of what there is to see and done justice to it all in the time we had.

So, I know this sounds like I’m grumbling a bit. I had a fabulous time. I just didn’t make the most of it and it’s unlikely I’ll get a repeat chance.

Turning 60 shaping up to be an infamous year.

I’m sure theres some pleasant memories between our sequence of unfortunate events in the year of our 60th birthday. At this point in time though those times are certainly being overshadowed, and are hard to recall.

To date:

Paul injured his left ankle on the Ottway zip fly.
Paul then injured his right ankle helping an acquaintance to fit a roof top camper.
An old ankle injury of mine has been causing me grief.
All injuries are still troubling, and we have made appointments to see if anything can be done.

Pauls birthday celebration in the Uk certainly started out with a few problems, but ended up fine with the beginning of the night almost being like a comedy of errors that, dare I say it, actually made the night a fun night.
Circumstances outside of our control meant we had to cancel our Italian tour at very late notice. We are waiting to hear if we will be able to claim the cost on our insurance.
Circumstances, this time within our control, meant we missed a second short short trip to Italy – definitely not an insurance claim event. Flight costs, hotel fees, and 1st class tickets on Eurostar all lost.
We had colds for most of the seven weeks we were in the UK. This turned to full on flu when we arrived back in Tassie. Neither of us have had a cold for around three years.
An hotel booked in Sydney for our return trip was forgotten, and we booked a second hotel. The first hotel booking was only remembered when we saw the money disappear from our account the following day. Our mistake so have to cop that one on the chin.

Then to top it all off, yesterday i was enjoying the sunshine as I pruned a creeper. Unfortunately i tugged backwards as i stepped into a pothole. Result was a backward fall and now I’m out of action for 4 – 6 weeks with my right wrist broken in three places and now in a cast. I am very right hand dominant, so very simple tasks are proving very difficult.

At least I hope thats now the topper. Anything that tops that won’t be easy to take.

Needless to say, we can’t wait to get back to the simplicity of our life on wheels. We weren’t sure if we would keep this house in Tassie empty through the winter and just spend time here in the summer, or if we’d rent it out and return to our life on wheels full time. Its ending up a no brainer – the road is beckoning big time. Alas, though we need to spend 6 – 8 months here tidying up the old place before we rent it out. That wasn’t a distasteful thought yesterday morning, but typing this left handed while my right arm hangs heavily in sling, and theres so much to do, and i can’t even prepare a meal or wash a dish for at least a month – well it certainly puts things in a different light.

Update – Clause in the small print of the insurance contract meant the Italian trip and tour wasn’t covered. If Paul’s dad had lived in Australia we would have been covered, but no cover for a sick relative in another country. Never mind – time moves on and it’s now just a distant memory, albeit that particular time is up there with he worst of memories.