Monday, December 11, 2006

How not to travel in Melbourne in Style

I started from Sydney's eastern suburbs, and hopped on a bus thinking that it would take me to the airport. The 400 goes to the airport -the 410 should as well, shouldn't it?

I ended up in Rockdale, on the *other* side of the airport. It was peak hour. My 10min float time of check-in time was rapidly disappearing. I stood on the Princes Highway, a main arterial route from the southern suburbs into the city/airport and could *not* see a single taxi. I guess because it is a main arterial route, the taxisdon't see much point in travelling it looking for fares.

After 5 traffic light cycles (and 15 minutes of panic), I finally got one. The fare cost me $20. At least my ticket was still valid, andthey hadn't sold it to a standby passenger. Phew!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

10 ways to piss off your cousin

1. Decide at the last minute that you want to visit Hong Kong, but you are too cheap to pay for your accomodation.
2. Decide that you want to stay with your relatives.
3. This results in cousin being kicked out of his own room, and being relegated to the storage room to sleep in instead.
4. Be unable to speak coherently in Cantonese, at least not enough to hold a decent conversation with cousin. So not only have you kicked him out of his room, you don't even speak to him.
5. Monopolise the family dog.
6. Make an incredible amount of noise on your first night, so that he can't get to sleep before heading to work the next day.
7. Have his parents send him out to buy computer related things for you.
8. Complain that his computer is riddled with viruses, and that the Internet connection is too slow, despite being on broadbad.
9. Despite the computer being riddled with viruses already, somehow break it even more. The damn thing has a Trojan horse and has corrupted IE so that the net won't load because it gets blocked by antivirus software.
10. Break the back up computer.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Speaking Spanish badly helped my Chinese

I wouldn't have thought so, but travelling around Europe, and only knowing a few choices words of the country that I was (and usually getting confused with the one that I had just been in), has helped myChinese.

The following conversation took place yesterday. I was looking for some huge mosaic statues nearby.

Me: Uncle - what are those things called in a bathroom that are on the floor?
Uncle: Tiles.
Me: Ah okay. Tiles. Do you know a place where they got the -uhm- those things on the ground, and then they hit it so it broke into little bits, but has lots of colours?

Update 25/12/06: Went through the convo with my mum, in Chinese. Perhaps I wasn't as successful in communicating as I thought I was; she had *no* idea what I was talking about!

Paris - my food side

Paris, eh? I went a little overboard in 'a few of my favourite things'.

I tried my first raw mussel. My first raw scallop.

Surprisingly, the mussel tasted like a raw oyster.

Midway during my visit to the Lourve, I needed to take a break from so much religious art & culture, that we went to Angelina's, a patissierie on Rue de Rivoli. Angelinas is famed for their hot chocolates and for their 'Mont Blanc' cake, a 7cm high creation of meringue, whipped cream and 'chestnut cream. The recipe, the menuboasts, has remained a secret for over 100 years.

I broke my gelato rule of ordering one thing creamy & one thing not. We ordered two hot chocolates - one white, one milk; one Mont Blanc - because I can never resist when something is a house specialty, and a strawberry tart which looked yummy when we were standing in the queueby the door.

The hot chocolates came in two milk jugs, with a side of whiped cream. White chocolate whipped cream for the hot milk chocolate; and milk chocolate whipped cream for the hot white chocolate. The hot chocolates were incredibly rich - they tasted like they were made of half chocolate, half cream; a bit more diluted than how I would make a chocolate ganache. All I could taste in the white hot chocolate was sugar; and all I could taste in the milk hot chocolate was the cream.
This leaves the Lindt and Max Bremnar hot chocolates dead in terms of over-the-top richness.

Funnily enough, the strawberry tarte and the Mont Blanc reminded me a lot of cakes you can get in Chinese bakeries in Sydney. I'm sure I've tasted chestnut cream elsewhere. The strawberry tart had the clear glaze, and the shortcrust-y type pastry plus the custard. Very muchlike the 'fruit flan' type tarts you can buy too.

The only thing that got finished was the strawberry tart. Only a few spoonfuls of the Mont Blanc had been touched - just to try the different elements. I don't think that it was really my kind of thing.

I cannot believe that I got defeated by some hot chocolate.

So a few days later, whilst wandering around the St Paul/Marais area, when I eyespyed a 'Cocoa et Chocolate' shop, I decided to check if I really had had too much hot chocolate. I got a cup of spicy hot chocolate (with chilli, pepper, cardamon & something mysterious). Igot about 2/3 through when I had had *gasp* too-much-hot-chocolate.

I don't think that I had 'too much' bread. I didn't really reach the 'Oh my, I'm going to throw up' stage at any point. Bread is the carbohydrate staple of France, much like cous cous in Morocco, or potatoes in Ireland. I think though I tried to combine being healthy & the quest for the perfect baguette in one, and it didn't really work. Brown bread or multigrain flavour doesn't have a high turnover, so I was never going to get the just-baked crispy outside & the soft
inside. Unless I got up terribly early, and even then, my chances were slim.

I folded on my second last night as I revisited a bakery in St Paul. "Un baguette, s'il vous plait". 80 euro cents. I got it. It was warm to the touch. Somehow on my metro ride between St Paul and Montemarte,half the baguette went missing. It was delicious.

I haven't eaten mussels for about 5 years. Even since I went to the Belgium Beer Cafe in Cremorne with someone, and we ordered two pots of mussels. After that, I felt as though I would throw up if I even hadjust a taste of one. I think that I had reached mussel overload.

I thought that after this period of time, the gag reflex should have worn off by now. The steak of the guy next to me looked pretty woeful. So I got a pot of mussels, and managed to eat 3/4 of the plate. I stopped just short of repeating the effect from last time though. I think I'm not quite game enough to order another pot for awhile.

One person. 4 kinds of cheese. That's not too much for one week is it?

I went for the stock standard President brand camerbert from the supermarket (shhh!). If the guy next to you rolls up, checks them for ripeness and then walks off with 8 rounds of the stuff, there has to be a reason behind it, right? I also bought some chevre at the same supermarket to regain some of my street cred for wimping out on buyinga washed rind.

I chickened out several times at a fromagerie. The first time, I was hungry and tired from too much walking. If I had started sampling cheeses then, before you knew it, I would have eaten my weight in cheese and still not know what I had wanted to buy. The second time I just sort of squawked and ran away. Finally I couraged up and pointed out some likely contenders that I liked the look of, and they wereyummy!

A sheep's milk brie type thingy which was oozy round the outside near the rind, and almost curd like in the centre. A goat's milk other thingy which was very goaty & sort of stuck on the back of the tongue.Yum!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Paris - visiting the usual suspects

Luckily, whilst I had thought that we would be spending every day inParis in a mad rush, we haven't, so we have had time to savoureverything that we have done here.

Visited the Eiffel Tower just before sunset on Tuesday. The queue forthe lift was enormous, about a 90min wait, whilst the queue for taking the stairs up was nonexistant. So we took the stairs up to the firstplatform, did a quick walk through, and then went up hem two at a timeto reach the second level in time for sunset. I don't think I managedto grab any piccies of the tower itself before the tower was lit an eerie orange colour. The sunset was beautiful, although as the sunwent, a haze descended, and it was harder to see all the buildings indetail. If you want to make it to the top level (although the view from the second level is better), it is actually cheaper to take the stairs to the second level, and then get an additional lift pass from there upwards.

Received my first taste of waiter rudeness at a seafood restaurant inMontemarte. We saw another table ask about the composition of a dish, in English, and he didn't bother answering, just pulled out the English menu (they had only one), and chucked it at them. I'm sure that that there was heaps of stuff that was available that wasn'twritten down. The French table next to us each got a serve of fish, I think with just butter and lemon juice. The woman on the other sideordered a dozen oysters - and I swear they weren't on the menu either!

Wednesday was reserved for shopping. First up I visited a mainly freshfood market under a railway underpass at Barbes Rochechourt. At one end, we stopped to take a picture of the length of the markets, all the way up to the metro station. Some stallholders thought it would behighly amusing then to come up and demand that we take a picture ofthem, and then as we started walking back down along the market, started chanting out 'tourist! tourist!' along the way. Like that is in anyway going to endear you to people. I bought some pears, some ashis and some mandarins. Perhaps the reason for the currenttiredness was the lack of fruit.

Walked the Champs Elysees from the Concorde end up to the Arc deTriomphe. The original plan, when we flew in on the Sunday, was to head straight there & get a good view of the city, since entry is freeon the Sunday of the month. Of course, it had been really cold (and foggy) when we landed, so we had decided then not to go. The Avenue is really wide, and it would be really impressive, if it wasn't filledwith 8 smelly lanes of traffic. I think we chose the wrong side to walk up, we saw the cheap ready-to-wear shops, not the pricey hautecoutour names. Took piccies of the Arc. Saw that there was a modern day version, all reflective glass further down Avenue Charles DeGaulle. I think it was at La Defense, the CBD district of Paris.

Caught the metro down to the Petit Palais & visited the cafe. Entry to the Palais is free, but for headcount reasons, we still had to collect a ticket.

Then it was time for more shopping! We headed to the St Paul/Marais district for some homewares shopping. Despite not actually living in this country, or even on the same continent, we go homewares shopping. Found some reproductions of the old style biscuit tins, so we bought a few.

Visited the Lourve! We knew that we couldn't appreciate all of theLourve in one hit, so we tried to plan. A few days before going, we got the completely *useless* map, which didn't tell you much. In the end, having paid for our entry, we went to the souvenir bookshop,hunted through until we found a guidebook with 'The Lourve tour for those in a hurry', and copied their suggested route down. Afterstarting on the 2nd floor, we ended up backtracking and getting the audio guide.

Midway during our visit, decided that we needed a refreshing break. So we headed out to Angelina's, a patissierie shop on Rue de Rivoli. Just outside, I switched from thongs to ballet flats, just to look presentable enough to enter. You could tell where the locals were -all in the smoking section. The non-smoking section had all the tourists.

The order was for two hot chocolates (one white, one milk), a montblanc (they are famed for the last two), and a strawberry tart.

Having read the easyjet magazine on the flight over, we headed to DesCrepes et des Calles in the 13th arrondisement. After leaving themetro, we found a nicer set of markets than the ones in BarbesRochouart. There were less people, it was less pushy, it was a whole lot calmer. It was very nice!

The crepes were really nice too - we got dessert ones for starters, because dessert is the most important meal of the day. Lemon and honey, and banana and butter. Yummo! I was then game enough to try a gallete, a buckwheat crepe with filling. I triedegg & cheese. It filled in the bits between the crepe & didn't taste like Soba at all.

Walked up the hill to the Sacre Coeur, an enjoyed the view of Paris.This hill behind Montemarte (or perhaps it is what defines Montemarte)is the highest point within Paris. Unfortunately, couldn't see theeiffel tower from the hill,as it was just around the corner to theright.

Saturday - I went shopping again! I visited the horror that is the LesHalles area (bleurgh); found a fantastic second hand shop on RueEtienne Marcel. They had an enormous range of boots, but everytime I found one that I liked (cherry or mahogony red), it had been separatedfrom its brother.

Sunday - last full day in Paris. I went to the Flea Market at Porte deClingancourt. It was crap! Once you left the train station, and youwalked along the side where the markets where, you had a whole lot oftouts offering you handfuls of fake belts, bags, wallets. And what is more, they didn't get the message when you ignored one of them, orsidestepped them, they just kept coming up at you. Ugh. And then themarkets themselves were crap! The antique section I had a quick browse through, but I obviously couldn't buy anything or ship it back home.

So instead, I went to the Musee d'Orsay, which had been installed in an old train station. After queuing up for 40minutes on the reduced-rate Sunday, I finally got inside. I spent a lot of time inthere, a lot more than in the Lourve, it must've been because it wasmy last museum hurrah before leaving Europe.

The highlight for me in the Musee d'Orsay was definitely the Art Nouveau section. There was a lot of stuff by Hector Guinard here, the guy who designed the curly iconic patris metro signs and railings. I spent ages in here taking piccies of Guinard's stuff, as well as the other French Nouveau artists and architects of the time.

Finally, way after sunset, I wandered around the outside of George Pompidou Centre, but was a bit museumed out from the Musee d'Orsay to go in.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Museum-ed out in Madrid.

It has been raining for the past 4 days, ever since we visited Toledo. Despite me buying a whole shoe store worth of shoes, I don´t actually have any sensible shoes for wet weather, or snow (not that it has been snowing). So I have been walking around Madrid with my jeans rolled
up, and thongs on. When it is raining and the temp is 11 degrees, that is mighty, #mighty# cold!!!

The Madrid visit has been very ´cultural´, compared to everything else that we have done in Spain!

Thursday we were in Madrid, and it was bucketing down with rain. So we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. Apparently it is the largest collection of European Art in private hands. Thats where I first went walking in the rain with thongs on, and it was f-f-freezing! We spent
about 3 hours there. It got really tiring as well, I like art, but sometimes you need a break in the middle! Unfortunately you had to complete the visit in one go, or else buy another ticket if you wanted to re-enter the museum. At 6euros a go, it would be expensive as well.

Friday, was scheduled to visit the Palacio Real, this huge 2800 monstrosity that a king wanted to build to beat all the other palaces in Europe. We had until 130pm to visit, and apparently I am a slow poke, because my sister kept cracking the whip and saying that I would have to move faster to remain on schedule.

Some of the rooms were pretty cool - like the porcelain room, where the entire room was made of porcelain - the walls, ceiling, everything. And they had designed it such that the seams or joins were hidden behind leaves or features in the porcelain. It was a really ugly room, but just amazing in the detail. A lot of the rooms were incredibly ugly or over the top, but I suppose that when they were built, it was what was in fashion at the time. Similar to how shiny stainless steel appliances and glass backed kitchens are all the rage now.

Anyway, I felt as though it was a lightening fast visit, and I didn´t get to really look at the rooms (or appreciate their ugliness). It was almost as though it was a chore that I had to complete. I´d walk in, take a picture of the sign explaining about the room (not even read it), then take a picture of the room, maybe an element that the sign had just highlighted, and then walk back out again.

After lunch (reheated pasta leftover from last night), went down the road to visit the Museum de Sofia Reina, which has the largest collection of modern art in Spain. That was quite a large museum as well, but I enjoyed it a whole lot more than I enjoyed the Thyssen musem on Thursday. I think I like #some# modern art, with a bit of a tendency towards sculpture
(Classical sculpture I can take it or leave it).

I saw Picasso´s ¨´Guernica¨ artwork though, a huge 3.5 by 7m wide thing that he got commissioned to paint for some expo or exhibition in Paris in 1936, about the time that the Spanish Civil war broke out. That was #the# artwork that a lot of people had come to see, and there was a crowd about 5 deep around it. I have yet to see the Mona Lisa, but I think it will be worse!

What was even more interesting though, was a set of photos that someone had taken as he actually painted, and you could see the development of the painting, and how he had changed objects and people in it around, and how it suddenly meant a whole something else.

Finally on Sunday, I took advantage of the free day to visit the Prado Museum. This time we prioritised & noted down the artists that we wanted to see, and only went in to see those rooms. They had a fantastic temporary exhibition that ended that day, that used IR and reflectometry to work out how the artists had constructed the painted, underneath all those layers of paint. So some had used charcoal, and some had used a metal tipped object to score the wood underneath,
before painting 'within the lines'. Others must have drawn a sketch up beforehand, and then enlarged it using a grid system. You could also see the way they had originally planned the painting, and maybe even changed the direction that the subject was looking in, or hadn't
painted the dog in, in the end. Fascinating!

I am in Paris now, but will need a few days of non-museums to recover, before heading to the Lourve.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Barcelona Experience?

Am writing this a while after my time in Barcelona, so a lot of it is from memory...

Arrived in Barcelona on the Monday, having taken a very nice fast train in from Valencia. Had an absolute panic attack when buying the train tickets in Valencia - I had said in my very best Spanish "Quisera dos bihlettes para Madrid de Manana, por favor". Then when he pointed at the screen and said "ferchardo, ferchado!", I panicked.

What? You mean the trains are closed tomorrow? After a few minutes of panicking, and trying to work out what was going on, he had someone wander over & tell us that it was actually the ticket booking system that was a bit broken at the moment. Phew.

Las Ramblas was long. We never had a chance to walk the entire length. It was oh so crowded! We walked from Catalunya Plaza to Placa Real. There were lots of street performers alongside, almost one every 10metres or so. There were two guys on stationary bikes all painted up in black and grey with two skeletons 'riding' sidecar. Once you dropped your money in the tin, they would start cycling, and so too would the two skeletons. There was another street performer that had a jumble of cloth and an upside down table as part of his act. It looked as though his two feet were sticking out from the underside of the upsidedown table. I didn't stay around long enough to witness his performance.

After checking in, we were taken via the metro to our shared apartment near Avenue de Parallel. We met some dirty dishes in the sink. Whilst finding our way back to Las Ramblas and the supermarket, we met the seedy red light district.

All the places we ate at in Barcelona were fantastic. Went to Candela Raval on L'Hospital twice, and liked the beef sirloin with a red wine reduced sauce so much, that I got it again the second time. Tried the degustation menu at Regina Raval as well. The food was good, and we
got to watch the makings of Howl's Moving Castle at the same time.

Went out and sampled the night life in Barca. Went to a club on their Erasamus night (international students night). I know that nightlife in Barca *doesn't* really start until after 1am, but this was pretty dead. It was free entry with a flyer, and I got a free drink out of it, so I won't complain too much. Some people in Barca dance in a way that suggests that they are on show, and hey, look at me.

Did lots and lots of Gaudi related visits.

Saw the outside of Casa Batlo, on the Block (Manzana) of Discord. The roof apparently represents the back of the slain dragon, and the chimney pot represents the victorious St George. I couldn't quite stomach the hour long wait or the 16.50 euro entry fee, so I bought my
own cardboard cut out copy, and have grand plans (amongst all my other projects), to build it when I get back.

Visited Parc Guell - which was amazing. Gaudi was commissioned to design this residential estate for the wealthy, but the project got pulled a few years down he track. What he did manage to build in that time was pretty specatular. The gatehouses, at the entrance to the Park look like fairy gingerbread cottages, the kind that got Hansel and Gretel into so much trouble. Unfortunately, didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked.

Visited Temple of La Sagrada Familia. Can't believe that this place is still under construction, but it is amazing. It would have to be some pretty open minded sort of priesty person who gets to run this place. We queued up for 40mins to get access to one of the towers on the passion facade, the newer side. The nativity facade is the one that Gaudi built, and is very ornate. Almost too much for me. I like the Passion Facade a lot better, which was designed by Josep Subirachs.

Walked past Palau Guell, but i was under renovation, so all I saw were some chimney pots that looked a bit like christmas trees. Went and had a look at the exterior of La Pedera (The Quarry), but didn't want to pay to enter. That one was 8euro, and also had an hour-long queue that went around the corner. Snuck a look in through the shop, there building wasn't solid as such, it had two lobbies with 'airwells' leading to the roof. Inside each airway was a winding staircase.

Went to my first proper 'football' game. It was FC Barcelona versus Huvela Recreativo. We were in side bits just off the goal (here I show my igorance), in the cheapest set of seats that we could get. There were soooo many people, and of course we were sitting in the local stand.

It was lots of fun. I can't believe how many people were there, they all stood up to sing the team song before the match. I haven't been to a Sydney FC match, so I don't know how it compares, but I don't think the SFS or the SCG have the capacity for 98 thousand.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Granada, Spain

Started our tour of Spain by catching a bus in from Faro, Southern
Portugal to Granada.

Except that you couldn´t catch a direct bus from Faro to Granada, and
we had to catch the bus to Sevilla first. Once we arrived in Sevilla,
we found that in order to get to Granada, we would have to head to
another smaller bus station before being able to catch a bus there.
Not having any guarantees of when, or if there even would a be a bus
available to go, we ended up catching the train to Grenada.

Dramas didn´t end there, also ended up walking 1.8km or so to the
backpackers hostel that we were staying it. It was raining. I wasn´t
particularily happy.

The backpackers hostel was situated in Albacyin, the muslim quarter of
Granada. Our walk into town involved walking down a twisting little
alleyway filled with brightly coloured morroccon inspired shops. Lots
of nepalese shoes, brightly coloured scarves and hookahs for smoking
the flavoured tobacco.

We booked to head to Alhambra (the red fortress) on the hill twice.
Didn´t realise that the tickets there would sell out so quickly. I
originally wanted an afternoon visit on the Friday. We ended up with a
night visit to the Palace Nazrid´s on the Friday night, and a late
afternoon visit on the Sunday afternoon. All tickets for Saturday for
purchasing over the internet had sold out completely.

I would definitely recommend the night visit. Even though it does cost
the same amount as a half day visit to the entire complex, the fact
that you don´t have enormous tour groups trooping throughout the place
behind and in front of you helps with th enjoyment of the place. I
wouldn´t call the night visit ´magical´as the Lonely Planet does.. but
it was way up there.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Evora, Spain

1 hour 45 minutes from Lisbon is Evora, a Unesco world heritage listed medieval walled city.

Skofia Loka is apparently Slovenia's 'best preserved' medieval city, so I was keen to seen how different it would be.

Evora was a lot larger than Skofia Loka, and because we weren't visiting on a Sunday, everything was open! We arrived around midday, and after visiting the tourist office where the person just circled the sites she thought would be worth visiting rather perfunctorily.

First stop, just before Siesta, was Capela dos Ossos at St Francis Church. Oh boy. Also known as the chapel of bones. Its a small 3 nave chapel, built entirely out of the bones of soldiers who have died fighting in wars. Not by anarchists, or someone who wanted to rebel against society, but by Franciscan monks. Not only that, they built it in secret to show that all men are equal in death. Of course when the general public found out about it, there was a huge outcry because they didn't know who was in there, or which bones belonged to which

The windows and domed ceiling have archways of skulls, and the window boxes have smashed bits of skull set into the wall. The archways around the doorways are built from stacked up femurs. It is really bizzare, imagining these monks heading & robbing graveyards of their inhabitants.

Visited the temple of Diana. Passed on the Evora Cathedral, despite it being recommended by the blase tourist office and the Lonley Planet. Revisted the interior of St Francis Church (the non bony bit) after Siesta, and then it was time to head back to Lisbon and try on more shoes...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Milan in 1.5 days

I had meant to spend more of my time in Italy. Didn't quite pan out that way, and instead it turned into a transit stop.

So, arrive into Milano Centrale S about 1700. Switch using the confusing metro to Line 3, and get into Missori station. When we went out to actually eat though, we found that all the Metro stations had shut down - they had been on strike earlier in the day, and it looks like that they went back just for peak hour, so it was lucky for us that we arrived in peak hour.

So, I got to experience the Italian metro on strike.

Eat some okay pizza a few streets from the Duomo, just to avoid the Duomo-tourist-hiked prices. Gelato for dessert, Pistachio and Limone. Yummo, that was the good stuff, 2 euro.

On Saturday, visited the roof of the Duomo. Pretty amazing - cannot believe that it took 600 years to build. I mean it is enormous, so I can believe that it took a long time, rather I can't believe that the project didn't stall somewhere along the way during those years. If your family was a family of stone masons, or sculpturers, it would take 8 generations or so over those 600 years. Wow.

Walked up the road to Il Castello. The little v-shaped battlements meant that the family that owned the castle was loyal to the emperor, rather than the church. Saw the slightly inclined shallow steps that were built purposefully so that the King didn't have to get out of his horse and carriage to go upstairs. Now I thought *I* was lazy!

Having run out of sights to do, we then went shopping. After all Milan is supposed to be the shopping capital of Italy. Went all around the Duomo area, and down Vittorie Emmanual Street. Sister bought a pair of Diesel jeans, about half of the retail price in Australia. I got some bronze ballet flats from Zara.

Because everyone in Italy eats so late, you get hungry around 7pm, which is the time I would idealy eat dinner. So to solve this, you head out to get apertivo, before actually eating your main meal. Milan is the capital of apertivo, and based on several recommendations, we headed to the other side of the park from the castle, to Banghre Bar.

6pm-9pm is happy hour, where if you buy a drink for 6euro, you get an all you can eat buffet of pasta, rice and cous couse salads. Also pappadums, and some rich omlette kinds of things. I got an 'indian passion'. Can't remember all the ingredients, but passionfruit alcohol, passionfrut pulp, grapefruit juice and tonic water are what I can remember. Delicious!

Got Gelato. I like Pistachio. Browsed a set of aerial photos of Italy displayed along Via Dante. I think that was really my tour of Italy.

On our last day, got more gelato just before we left for the airport. Didn't get pistachio this time, although I think Pistachio & Chocolate Brasiliano would be a winning combo.

Spent 2 hours waiting at Malpensa Airport because the flight was delayed due to high winds at Naples.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Yay, Slovenia!

World-wide traveller of the well-worn Lonely Planet path in Slovenia
(TM), I have decided that Slovenia is my favourite country so far.

I *like* Slovenia. I like Ljubljana, with its flat and even
cobblestone streets based around the river. I like the river that runs
through Ljubljana. I like the fruit and vegetable markets that run
every Monday to Saturday, and I like the underground (well, mostly)
delis and butchers, fromagieres, bakers and olive sellers that lurk
nearby. I like the organic fruit and vegetable market that also turns
up nearby, and the guy who bakes fresh rolls in an oven on a trailer
in the square outside.

Bled, which I wasn't too sure about originally because of the ugliness
of its toursit hotels on the lake, I don't mind. Despite the
unfortunate name of its 5 star hotel on the water - Hotel Toplice.
When the mountain decide to unveil itself on our last day, I think
Bled won me over.

Bohinj Valley, the view was spectacular. It is the base area for all
those high adrenaline kind of activites that I like. It was incredibly
annoying then, that I had slammed my finger in the door of the
Ljblijana hostel, and I couldn't go mtb-ing, or canyoning or climbing.

I did have a bit of a clamber (soloing) on a bit of rock whilst
walking around Lake Bohinj, long fingernails, crushed finger and all.
But it wasn't quite the same.

Slovenia Rocks!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bled, Bohinj Valley and the Julian Alps

I have been staying in Bled, which is about 30mins outside of Ljubljana. This is the area where the locals leave the city in droves every weekend, and come out to climb, canyon, paraglide, or adventure sport of some kind. I have to say - I like the Bohinj and Julian Alps area a lot more than I like Bled! I suppose Bled has more infrastructure, but the Alps *wow*.

(Of course, this morning, when I was about to leave Bled, the weather cleared, and the mountain behind the castle, which I have only ever been able to make out a faint bit of the slope turned on all its glory. I could actually see the summit. I like Bled now. I'm shallow like that.)

Went to Bohinj yesterday by bus, one of the accessways into the Julian Alps, and it was amazing. We were following the Lonely Planet guidebook, so from when the bus dropped us off, we walked up a local hill 'Peč', for what the book called a picture postcard view.

And the view was amazing, it was so beautiful; even the walk through a rainy damp forest was beautiful. Lots of limestone around, and little sinkholes in the ground. I think that kind of terrain is called 'Karst'?

So yesterday and the day before, I spent walking around lakes. Lake Bled two mornings ago, followed by a local speciality, a cream and custard slice - then to walk that one off, I walked up to the castle. There was a bit of a pergola there, so had lunch, then sat like a little old granny, with my pashmina wrapped around me and admired the view whilst listening to music.

So yesterday, I walked up Peč hill (about 2.5 hrs return), then around Lake Bohinj, with a pause to ride the cable car to the top, have lunch, and walk around. It cost 10 euro return, but the view up there was so amazing, I think it was worth it. Walked the pretty side of the lake after we came back down, and were walking really really fast near the end, because we were trying to make to 18.50 bus back to Bled. If we had missed that one, it would've meant an hour wait in the dark, and that would have sucked.

I want to come back to Vogel in the wintertime to ski! (I know, Japan is closer to Australia, and less of a time difference, but Japan doesn't have the Julian Alps!)

Of course, we ate off all the hard work of walking around the lakes, by having a big dinner at the end of it. I got the grilled trout 'trieste style' two nights ago, and it was so good, that I had it again last night. Plus a side dish of roast potatoes (so crunchy, I'm sure that there was some frying involved). Fantastic!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dark Chocolate with Orange Pieces Index

I'm sure you've heard of The Economist's 'Big Mac index', where the cost of living between countries is compared by comparing the price of a homogenous product, that is pretty much prevalent everywhere.

So! I have a serious addiction to Lindt's 'intense orange' dark chocolate (100g), with crystalline orange bits, and almond slivers. About 55% Cocoa solids of heaven. Here is my chocolate tour of Europe...

Lindt's 'intense orange' dark chocolate (100g), approx 4AUD. The bar has been set!

Freia (made by Kraft), Dark Chocolate with Raspberry
(withdrawal symptoms hadn't set in yet, obviously). About 16 Kroner, I think the Orange version was 18 kroner. Div by 4, so equivalent to 4AUD. Chocolate was drier, less sugar (and less proper cacao?). Raspberry was so-so. Can't vouch for the orange one. Didn't seem to really melt in the hand.

Lindt Espresso dark chocolate. I was dying for caffiene. Very melty with instant coffee granules. Dare I say, 'yum'?

1. Kras brand (Croatian), Dark Chocolate with Orange. The orange bits weren't crystalline, and there was no almond. Disappointing. 17 Kuna.
2. Lindt has been spotted! Admittedly in Rovinj, in a small supermarket near the bus station. 26 Kuna, so 6.50AUD. Ouch.
3. Swiss Delice, Limon with black pepper. Has the low body temp melting point (Cocoa solids of 50%). Tastes like dark chocolate with lemon wizz fizz, with a sometimes mild pepper aftertaste. 23 kuna, just short of 6AUD.

1. Villars (Swiss) dark chocolate with coffee. Minimum 50% cocoa solids, with 8% coffee 'crispies', 14% of which is instant coffee. I'm awaiting the demise of the lemon wizz fizz before I start this one. (Later note: Chocolate isn't too bad. Reminds me of the Haigh's coffee block. Will be splurging the last of our tolar on a second block).
2. Lindt Intense Orange spotted in the largest supermarket in Ljubljana old town for 1.73 euro, 3.46AUD.

Italy (Milan):
Spotted some 70% dark chocolate for 1.37euro in the tiny supermarket near Missori.

1. Some dark chocolate in a Mini Preco near Caise Sodre, Lisbon, cocoa content unknown, spotted for 59 euro cents.
2. Dark chocolate, 76% cocoa fat, 1.49euro. Can't remember the brand. Me picking it up & putting it back on the shelf prompted someone to buy it. Oooh!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Spending the last of our Kuna

Had a bit of a slow start to the last full day in Croatia. Slept in, caught tram to city. Tried to find a post office to send a painting (0.5 x 0.4m) back to Australia. First post office said that we would need a permit from the Minister of Cultural Affairs to export art. If so, why on earth didn't the art gallery say so when we were buying the damn thing?

Next post office didn't do packages that size.

Third post office said you have to go to the parcel section of the post office, around that corner and into the next dooway.

Next doorway said, no, that bit is further down the road.

Went to visit the parcel section. By this time, ready to punch the living daylights out of these people for giving us the runaround.

When the guy behind the counter said No, we would need a permit from the Minister of Cultural Affairs, and it takes about a day to get; I *think* by my sigh of exasperation & pulling ou of the map of Zabreb to ask, 'well is it on this bloody thing?', he took pity on us. It cost 350kn to send back. So that was the last of my sisters' kuna.

But I still had a bit of money to burn.

I had about $175 in AUD on me, which was a bit much to fritter away on useless things like souveniers. So after our tour of Mount Medvednica (via cable car), and our tour of the Mirgoj cemetery (most beautiful cemetery in Eu) we were about to go eat in a restaurant that served up good Zagrebian typical dishes, about 50-70kn per main course. But first we went shoe shopping... and I bought 2 pairs of shoes, but one pair I couldn't resist, they were so beautiful... they're bright red clogs (birkinstocks) and they've got a picture of a sheep on them!!!

And then we had no more money left for a typical Zagrebian dinner, and we had to go eat in a cheap fish diner instead (highly recommended by lonely planet, but still), and then when it came to actually pay, we were standing at the counter counting out the lipa to make 11 kuna.

Luckily we had already bought our train ticket to Slovenia, and our day ticket to get to the train station today. Hopefully there is no baggage charge for our packs, because we won't have anything to pay with!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Pula on Istrian Coast, Croatia

I have stayed in Pula and Rovinj on the Istrian Coast in Croatia. If you imagine the 'leg' of italy, it's kind of the bit facing the leg, up where it would join an imaginary body. It has been very beautiful.

Pula is a very small tourist town, reliant entirely upon the tourist dollar. Found this out because we were visiting out of season, and thus everything had closed. Our landlady told us abouta ferry 'Danica' that went out to an island about 5km away, we thought that would be a nice thing to do.

The day before we had visited the closest beach (possibly a YHA only beach) and had enjoyed its rocky sunniness for a total of 5 minutes before the heavens opened, and the torrential rain started. Lucky then, that we were at a YHA beach, because we then took shelter under the roof of its outdoor seating area as the gutters overflowed and cascaded across the paved floor.

When we got to the Marina, Danica was no longer running ferry services to this island, and the owner had left for the season. There were no other "excursions" leaving from Pula until nextyear.

Visiting the Roman amphitheatre in the centre of Pula was *about* the only attraction. It was almost wholy intact,and there was a museum about amphoras and olive oil production, in the basement where the gladiators used to hang out.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


So! Oktoberfest. Started on the weekend of 16 September. I arrived in
Munich on the Sunday, when the only thing to do was Oktoberfest.

Wandered down after unpacking at the youth hostel, catching an
underground train to the main station, and then catching an S-line
train to the recommended less-crowded station.

Wiesn, means 'fields', but this really was an asphalted fairground area.

There were a lot of people dressed up in their Lederhosen and
colourful Drindls, even little toddlers, and newly-borns.

It was so loud! I visited a couple of beer halls, and had my backpack
felt up by bouncers (for what, I can't imagine). It was pretty
in-your-face. I saw trays of charcoal-smoked fish being carried past,
so I went and had a look at the smoking pit. Rows and rows of fish
over charcoal pits, and being rotisserated over stands. The cheapest
fish was mackeral at 3.50 euro per 100g.

The fairground rides were extensive. Like the easter show but 1000's
of times louder. I couldn't understand the German, but it sounded a
lot like "40hours of non-stop rocking ROCK!!", again and again and

I got quite weary with the sun, and the walking around, so I had a bit
of a granny sit down on the steps of the spinning teacup ride. There
was a distinct lack of places to sit, because in the beer-halls, you
had to have reserved your table ages in advance. Everyone was chowing
down on sugar coated almonds, foot-long bratwurst, brezen, and fish
and chips.

I was so mesmorised by the action of the person making crepes: With
one hand behind your back, spread mixture on hotplate, spread around
with little mallet-like implement. Ask what flavour the person wants.
Flip with a knife onto the hotplate next door. Sprinkle flavour stuff
on. Half it with the knife, fold over; quarter it with the knife, flip
over. Somehow pick up with a knife that it folds into 8ths, place into
serviette & hand to customer, watch them burn their fingers.

I had a refreshing lemon & sugar crepe and then wandered on home to
have an adventure at the Bavarian Beer place down the road. A waitress
who offered me a shandy as an alternative to not *really* being a beer
drinker (I had 1/2 a litre of Augustiner Edelstoff instead), and a
nice half-portion of roast suckling pig & homemade potato dumpling.
Potatoes count as 'greens', right?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Oslo to Munich

I couldn't get a direct flight from Oslo to Rijeka (or Pula) on the day that I wanted, so I had to settle for a flight from Oslo to Munich, and then Munich to Rijeka the next day. I didn't realise this, but it was a total score - because I arrived in Munich the weekend that Oktoberfest or Wiesn started.

Meant to get the first tram from the youth hostel to the main train station, Oslo S, because I'm a cheapskate, and I had 23 minutes or so of internet time that I had already paid for (that's 10 kroner, dammit), but getting up early in the morning was soo hard, and I had to drag my enormous pack out into the hallway cause I'm way too nice and considerate to wake the others up in my dorm room at 545 in the morning whilst packing. Brain hadn't even made it to auto pilot stage, so I had trouble folding up the sleeping liner.

So no early tram for me, and no more internetz in Norway. Instead, I finished off my dinner of Chaterelle (50kroner for 0.5kg) pasta, and then the normal cereal and yoghurt. Spent my last 13kroner on chocolate (the Norweigan equivalent of an Aero bar), and then gave the
remaining 50c to the Salvos.

Flight was okay, got a window seat, but on the wrong, *sunny* side, so I couldn't actually see that much. Don't sit on the LHS of plane if flying south in the morning.

Ticket machines at Munich airport for the train lines only take 10€ notes.

Caught S1 line to Hauptptbahnhof, then went to change trains for the U1 line to Rotkreuplatz. Of course I caught the train in the wrong direction, but it only took me 3 stations to work it out. Saw a lot of people wandering around in their drindls and lederhosen. They really do get dressed up here to celebrate, it's not just a con put on by the Lowenbrau!

I was so used to the nice signs around Norway, that I was totally pissed off by the lack of signage (and the terrible map from the hostel website). In Oslo, Harldsheim had a nice sign from the tram stop showing the path to the hostel. I walked in about 5 different directions before I actually found the correct street for the place.

As I checked in and got my bed linen, I was told that everything was closed, not because of Oktoberfest, but because it was Sunday. And really, the only thing to do today was head to Oktoberfest ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Norway Trip Summary

Hideously overdue with this bloggy thing, so all of Norway will have to wrapped up in this one post.

Lets see...

- Everyone in Norway smokes, all outdoor areas are really for smokers, not for people who enjoy the outdoors
- Everything runs on time! Trams are good because they annouce the next stop as well as displaying it. Ahhh, organisation.
- Don't buy City tickets, e.g. the Bergen card without checking if all the attractions are open
- food, coffee (avg 30kroner for something with milk) is expensive
- clothes are cheap!
- a 1 bedroom apartment in Oslo would cost 6000 kroner per month
- Buying the Norway in a nutshell ticket or Triangle tour ticket on the net is cheaper, but is less flexible. I think you can change your tickets around up to the day before you travel.
- If you're an active person, spending at least one day in Flam *as part of the Norway in a nutshell tour) would be worthwhile. There were things like kayaking along the fjord, or riding down from Mrydal to Flam that I would have adored to do. Dangnamit! Next time.

- The streets around Skagen are good to wander around at random.
- The old town (gamle stavanger) is beautiful, with whitewashed houses and flower pots and gorgeous roses everywhere. Each house has a little bench seat to sit on. It gives good views across to the Skagen area.
- it is worthwhile paying for coffee on a really hot Indian summer day, just to get the nice cool courtyard and the tall glass of water
- 'books, bar and caffe' on Orreholmegate has a fantastic courtyard
- If accomodation is all booked up in Stavanger, try Haugesaund, or the Mossvagen Campground.

- Most of the attractions listed on the Bergen card are closed in the off season (September onwards)
- Heading up the Floibanen Funicular just before sunset, and watching sunset from the top of Mount Floyen is unbelievable and well worth it
- It gets cold on top of the mountain after dark!
- If you have time, walk down from the mountain
- I got off at Proms Gate (2nd last stop), and wandered down through the cobblestone streets above the Furnicular station, and it was very nice
- Wander through the wooden Bryggen area at random

- The 'Use-it' place, at 3 Mollergata has free internet!
- They also publish a good mag, 'Streetwise', with tips on doing Oslo on the cheap
- H&M, a department store, is everywhere.
- Cheaper to buy train (and tram) tickets at a machine (Automat)
- A good spot is to catch Line 3 (?) to the end station - Frognersternum, the view from the moutain is beautiful, and you get to hang out with the downhill mtbers.
- Karl Johans gate is a hole. Head up and around all the other streets instead.
- I didn't find the Viking Museum that interesting... wish i had gone to the Folk Museum instead... the ferry ride over was nice though (I like boats!)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Stavanger, Norway

It is amazing how much a mood can affect your perception of a town.

I arrived in Stavanger, Norway on Tuesday evening, not having booked
any accomodation. I had tried to call two places the night before, one
mob had gone on holiday, one place was fully booked up. I thought that
I would have no trouble finding somewhere to stay, and was willing to
spend a couple of extra Kr to get it. Except that I hadn't counted on
there being two major events on in town when i got there. One was a
tourism conference, and the second event, I found out later was a big
bank robberz trial. This is a place that gets fully booked out durning
summer, and this was the case now. I called two more places - and they
were gone. Changing more money into 5Kr pieces (each phone call costs
5Kr minimum - so 1AUD), i had visions of having to dump all my worldly
possessions in a locker, and finding a park bench somewhere.

Finally, I had a flash of inspiration. All the rich oil execs surely
wouldn't be slumming it would they? The yha had already closed for the
season (university accom i think), so when after several ring-outs the
Mossvagen campground answered and said that they had a room available,
i could've leapt down the phone and kissed the girl. Suddenly
Stavanger seemed a much nicer town.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Challenges to make the journey more interesting

1. arrive in stavanger with 2 big events on and no accomodation booked
2. find a sunhat in norway, heading into dark winter

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Travelling Light

My pack weighed 15kg when checking in at Sydney Airport. It is now a
little lighter.

When packing, I had debated whether or not to take a cream pair of
pants ('carpenter' pants), one of those ones that are like cargos. I
haven't worn them for a while, and now I know why. When I was fending
off the lynch mob at the kuala lumpor internet terminal (free net
access!), I could feel something kind of cold on my backside, and I
thought that I had sat in
something wet.

And then I boarded the plane to Amsterdam, and after a
fitfull night of sleeplessness, got up to go to the bathroom. I found
out that I had torn a hole in the back of my pants! The material was
so thin (because I used to wear them all the time), a section had
ripped from underneath the pocket towards the centre, and my
uncomfortableness during the night had only worsened the matter!

I ran off with one of the 'free' blankies on the aeroplane to hide the fact
that I now had half my backside exposed, but it was so unweildy
wrapped around the top of my pants, i decided to 'pretend' that I
didn't know about it, and #ahem# had a nice cool breeze whilst in
transit in amsterdam, and then to Oslo until I could get my main
backpack off the conveyor.

I chucked the pants out when I got to the YHA in Oslo. My pack is
lighter one pair of pants, but heavier by one airline blanket...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Last minute panic

I am supposed to be flying out of the country in under 12 hours. Heading off to do 'the big Europe trip' (3 months), I'm not doing *quite* what I had originally planned, which was head over to the UK and work for a bit, like several of my friends have already done, or about to do. Jealous as.

I am so hideously disorganised. I have decided that when I get back, I will stop leaving everything to the last minute like I have this time. Its all very well to do when you leave only one thing to the last minute. It doesn't work so well with multiple last minutes. Cascading issues with work and personal life have meant that apart from my first week in Norway, I still don't know what exactly I am doing once I get over there. I am just relying on the fact that I will meet my sister, and everything will be okay again. A faint hope.

I'd booked my leave so that I would fly out just as my supervisor flies in. I still haven't written up the notes for the handover of the projects I've been responsible for. I don't want to do anymore work related stuff, and I don't want to pack.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Balzac Degustation

Went to Balzac, because I was tired as all heck, and couldn't be bothered cooking.

Veloute of Shallots with Thyme Roasted Yabby Tails
Yellowfin Tuna and Spanner Crab Sandwich
2005 Paradigm Hill Riesling - Mornington Peninsula
Sauteed Spring Bay Scallops with Chanterelles, Peas and Truffles
2000 Elysium Verdelho - Hunter Valley
Redgate Garm Quail Breast, Pig Cheek Sausage, Parmesan Gnocchi and Fried Eggs
2004 Bass Phillip Gamay - South Gippsland VIC
Cervena Venison Osso Bucco with Horseradish Mash, Parsnip and Broad Beans
2004 Peter Howland 'Langley Vineyard' Shiraz - Donnybrook WA
A Selection of Stinkies (Cheeses!)
Duche de Longueville - Muscadet de Dieppe - Normany France
Quince and Strawberry Trifle with Ginger Bread
Blood Orange Jelly with Rhubarb Sorbet
2002 Sainte-Croix Du Mont, Chateau Du Pavillon - Bordeaux, France
Griotte Truffles and Fresh Cherries dusted with icing sugar.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Billingsgate Finale

I read in Good Living during the week that Billingsgate was about to close due to rising costs of seafood, and reopen as a Spanish/Mediterrean bistro. Oh No! So I decided to head there for a final fling of their pre/post ritz dinner special. I haven't manged eat there as often as I would like, even though this deal is represents great value for money.

So made a booking for Thursday evening. There were a few more tables than the last visit to Billingsgate - perhaps other people had decided to have a last hurrah at the restaurant as well.

Dishes tried:
*Stuffed Sardines with Sicilian style sauce
*Hawksbury River Whiting with something Veloute and truffle oil
*Steamed Snapper with Risotto Nero
*Bread and butter pudding (off-menu: from Balzac up the road)

The sardines had been butterflied, and then stuffed 'open'. The sauce was salty and sweet at the same time. I could identify baby caperberries, cranberries, some citrus peel, star anise or cloves. And tomatoey and slightly spicy. It was so good, that we tried to replicate it at home a few days later.

I was a total ditz when it came to the Whiting. It smelled good, but I I couldn't place what it was that made it smell good. It was the truffle oil, which I couldn't place, and I thought was actually butter.

Snapper was very tasty, but the risotto I found quite salty. I don't know if it is because I have a lower salt tolerance than 'regular' people, but I found both fish dishes quite salty. The risotto nero (squid ink) was almost too much; it was as though the risotto was black just for the sake of being black. I may have detected a bit of the squid ink taste, but not sure!

Although we had turned up originally for the post-ritz special, we ended up getting dessert as an extra to share. Bread & butter pudding, made using brioche had been toasted so that the top was crispy but not dry, and the inside was gooey and crispy. It came highly recommended from the waiter, and I highly recommend it!

5/8/06: Addendum, "Two Rooms", the new incarnation of Billingsgate has much the same menu as Billingsgate. They don't seem to be offering the pre/post-ritz special any more though.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

An Afternoon in Waterloo

Locations: Northside Produce Markets, Fratelli Fresh, Danks Street Depot

After sleeping in late & still feeling 'gah', went to the northside produce markets. "Lucky these end at noon", I say as we pull into North Sydney at 11am. Despite my blithe words, a lot of store holders were packing up. I visited the usual favourites: Pastabilities, Willowbrae chevre, Redgate Farm for cheese. The Redgate man said that the easter saturday trading was very quiet, a lot quieter than normal.

I tried a new lamb supplier that I hadn't seen there before - Ladysmith Lamb. We bought lamb sausages and a roast, then true to form tried the products fresh from the bbq, and they were tasty! Other products that we got were some fresh quail (had a craving), english stilton (love a cheese that can clear the sinuses), a grapevine ashed goats milk brie (indulgent!), and some grana padano to replace "my old faithful unspecified hard cheese which has been living in my fridge for the past three years but was really tasty grated over pasta". Somehow managed to burn through $75 in less than an hour.

I got a coffee from Toby's, despite my misgivings about getting t/a coffee, esp toby's which I never saw the point of the fuss, because "the man himself, was making it". It was okay, but I wouldn't do it again. Considering we were off to Danks Street Depot!

After looking at the map, I couldn't believe that I hadn't visited the place before. For some reason I keep getting Woolloomooloo and Waterloo mixed up, and this place is literally just across the road (& the park) from where I live.

First up was Fratelli Fresh, apparently *the* suppliers to the stars, and open to the public only on Saturdays. Or maybe Fridays too. There was quite a nice range here of fresh produce, with kiwi berries and feijoias standing out. Surprisingly I didn't see any figs, although I'm sure they're in season at the moment. There's a good selection of Italian packaged goods upstairs in the grocery section, and all sorts of 'inspirational' Italian, um, writings.

The cafe at Fratelli Fresh (Sopra) was packed, and there was a decent sized queue awaiting a feed and refreshment, so I wandered down the road and into Danks St Depot, a place I have wanted to try for ages.

Blogspot went & lost my post TWICE, so I can't quite remember what I got what was it I liked; but I do remember that they had a reuben sandwich. Apparently big New York thing, it had sourdough, and seeded mustard, saurkraut and roast beef. We were lucky enough to be seated near the kitchen, so I could see the chef in charge of making it. In fact all he seemed to make was this reuben, again and again. I like seeded mustard. I like it so much that when I go to the pub, I bring along my own tub of seeded mustard 'just in case they've run out', and also so I can dip my chips in it. But this was tooo much mustard!

Ah yes! The other the we got was a celeriac panfried sandwich thing, with an Italian chesse, all melted and gooey. One of the reasons I wanted to try it was because it used celeriac, and it wasn't remoulade! It was funny. The reuben was so strong, so overpowering in taste, that I didn't like it - and I ended up stealing mustard off it to make the celeriac sandwich taste less bland!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sydney 24hr mtb race

Location: Dargle Farm, Lower Portland, somewhere between Sackville & Wiseman's Ferry.

Despite my protests of being as sick as a dog, or well on my way to it, rode the 12 hours of daylight for the sydney24hr, in a 4 person team.

Got up disgustingly early to pick up one mad guy, who was signed up to do the full 24hrs solo (Mad, mad, I tell you!), then to pick up 3rd member of team, before proceeding in a conga line to Dargle Farm. Just beat the early morning queue in, set up tent, I snoozed until 11am, where I had dibs on the first lap.

The track had four sections, the first bit of singletrack; a generally flat dirt road section to the end of the valley, the jumps (burrums? & table top) and then the second bit of singletrack.

The first bit was quite dusty, with the initial hill out of the transition area very steep and sandy. There was a choice of left line (rocky, but not continuous), or right line (sandy as) to take. I walked it every single time. Then the bit of single track was okay, a couple of switchbacks and grids to get past, one downhill section that got progressively harder as the erosion got worse. If you took to wrong line, you were pretty much certain to fall off. Past the second grid, there was a tight left-right turn combo, with a couple of boulders in the way. I also walked this bit. But then you were out onto the dirt road. Good time to be made here, but also the most annoying headwind. Cuts your speed right back. Having some sucker to draft you is the way to go here.

First lap was the best lap. I was pretty much at the end of the pack, and no one had had time to finish the course & start overtaking me. So I did it pretty cruisy, and I didn't have to worry about silly people behind me trying to overtake at bad places.

Second lap had more people out on the track so I kept getting overtaken. It was okay... except that I fell in the first section of the lap, grazed my knee, and then while I was standing by the side of the track, another guy tried to take the same line as I had, didn't make it, so I got two bikes and a 70kg guy landing on top of the dent I had just made in myself. Ow, ow, ow. And I got blood on my pedal. It congealed straight away (cause the track was really dusty), and I kept going. (Visited the first aid guy to get a patch on it, got accused of being a wuss cause I kept making noises when he was scraping the congealed stuff off with a gauze).

Third lap was the last one for us for the day. I took my (pathetic) lights as a just in case I was still on the track at night fall. Already in the 5.5 hours from my first ride of the track to this one, I could see that it had deteriorated quite a lot. The dusty/sandy places where a lot deeper, there were a lot more obvious lines where people had gone, the jumps/erosion past the boulders were deeper & more dangerous. And I came off! A tight left hand turn, I meant to stop to let some people over take, and I fell over in a very ungainly fashion. I was very much not a happy camper, and wanted to bail right then & then. I continued riding on though, but was a lot more careful in the places I chose to stop to let people past.

Dinner was lasagne, and then I went to bed at 930. Didn't sleep very well cause there was loud music, cheers as people rode down the finish chute, and generators going. (Plus the aches and pains). Got up to go to the amenities at 3am, and it was fricken freezing!

Despite a 'quiet time' in the schedule, some team had set up a really noisy generator & it was going like the blazes. It was very pretty in the valley though, with smoke from the bonfire further up the valley drifting (it was to keep the night riders warm), and the twinkle of lights in the trees on either side as the total mad people kept going! I would've thought that they would've slowed down a bit riding at night time, and it being so cold, but no, they were still going at the same speed as they had been when I went to bed earlier.

Awoke on the Sunday morning feeling like death & hearing the cattle call "5 mins until the 12 hours of daylight race resumes! Riders assemble!". *groan*. Lucky for me, I had ridden the last lap of the night before, so no call for me to get up yet. Boy did it instead, thank goodnes.. I hate my team mates, none of them ache like I do. Why oh why did I feel so crap? Yep, as I worked out later, it was the lurgy exacting bitter revenge.

Didn't make the 2nd or third laps later. Struggled with breakfast (large mocha, bacon & egg roll, some token cereal - all the elements of a pre-race go-getter), and then made my one and only lap appearance aroun 930. Slowest lap ever. Even deducting the time I took to go to the bathroom before I hopped on the bike (& while the clock was ticking), I still managed only 1 hour 10 minutes for it.

Lucky me though. Third teammate, possibly in a gungho 'nothing's gonna happen to me' attititude took the exit chute on his second Sunday lap a little too fast. And he ate dirt. Really badly. The front wheel of his bike is now tacoed. Someone at the transition area saw him come off, ran over & helped him carry the bike over to the transition area. He thought he was okay, but it hurt to lift his left shoulder. Then he went to the first aid guy who said he had a broken collarbone & strapped him up.

*After* he had helped us one-handed to pack up the campsite, and *after* we had driven him back to Sydney (2xjelly cups, 1x pineapple juice, 1x bottle of water, totolly sugared out), mentioned that his other wrist hurt.

Ze collar bone, broken. Ze wrist, she is broken.

Phone call 3 days later. Ze other wrist, she is broken.

One broken bone per teammate, all on one poor guy's body. I feel so bad!!