Thursday, May 31, 2012


When people back home in Melbourne talk about travelling overseas, they go on about Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and so on; the big cities. And yes, they're amazing. However, you never hear people raving about Langres or Dijon, Dole or Cluny. But these places are magnificent.

Today we did a short cycle into the old city of Dijon. According to Phillipe, a French traveller we met, Dijon is the most important city in Boulogne. Al & I were gawping around like mooncalves & Phillipe explained all the local architecture to us and gave me a French lesson into the bargain. He showed us the oldest house in Dijon dating from 1483. This, evidently, was where Gerard Depardieu starred in the film Cyrano de Bergerac. The photo in the window was proof. Lol.

It's 3pm now & we're back at the van. I'm glutted on ineffable sights. Have been wheeling my bike around simply gasping in awe at the vistas everywhere. Every corner leads to another fairytale streetscape.

Need to sit back & take stock.

On the church wall there is an owl, symbol of Dijon, that one strokes for luck, according to Phillipe & the number of people giving it a rub as they passed by. I didn't bother. I must have already rubbed such a charm to be having this blissful holiday.

Sorry to bore you with how good it all is. Need to remember what happened back in Vietnam when we lost our passports & cash.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We're not German, not that there's anything wrong with that.

In some part of my mind, by virtue of having started learning French aged 11 and continuing through 2 years of study at 'teachers' college', I think I'm French. When I get here, I'm all thrilled cos I'm going to speak French and partake of the culture. And when I get here, I'm completely tongue-tied for at least 48 hours.

I can usually manage to ask for an 'emplacement pour un camping car, deux personnes avec electricite, s'il vous plait' and then the person at the desk responds in rapid fire French and a little bit of wee comes out.

Went into a bar in Langres, trying to work out whether they served food, or just drinks. Couldn't remember the verb 'mangez', to eat. 'On peut, er, er...' my fingers are miming up to my mouth. Perhaps he thinks I want to be sick the noise I'm making. I'm remembering 'dejeuner', to dine, but that's not the word I want. 'Mangez?' he asks. 'Bien sur!'

Somehow, I manage to order a chicken liver salad for Al. Mistook volaille - liver - for poulet - chicken. 'This isn't chicken,' Al remarked, when he got his little bowl of tiny turds sitting on a bed of lettuce. He ate it anyway and said it was good. I had a taste. Hmm. Not for me. Glad I had the grilled Langres cheese on little pieces of toast atop egg, ham, tomato, lettuce and delicious mayonnaise. Simple, but good.

Did a few hills on our cycle up to the walled town of Langres yesterday. Only rode about 10k round trip, but felt it in the old calves later. Justifies the bottle of Bordeaux in the evening.

Today, it'll be our fourth night in France. The patron at the camping told me I had a really good accent when I was booking our spot today, here in Dijon on the Lac Kir, right on a canal and cycling paths all over the place. Once again, a little bit of wee came out as I beamed with pride.

Basically, I'm Bart Simpson in that episode where he's in France and he can't speak French and then suddenly it clicks in and it's working. It's a good feeling. Glad all that French stuff got into my long term memory.

Another interesting phenomenon: we hired our 'camping car' in Germany, thus, we have German plates. The English campers don't speak to us, though they're all acknowledging their compatriots all over the shop. Can't think what that's all about.

A bientot.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Can't help it, Al, I'm terrified.

My lament as Al swings that massive van around tortuous, precipitous narrow roads in the Alsace region of France.

Gears! Change down! Edge! I'm going to be sick!

Still, pretty amazing views.

Have tried to train myself to look at the vista, according to Al's instructions. But I can't cos I've got special combo altitude/travel sickness.

Mind you, I'm so lucky to be doing this amazing journey.

Mcdonalds in France: well, on this Sunday morning in Colmar, we were the only customers. Free, unlimited wifi, great coffee and clean toilets with music playing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Munster: beautiful village on the way to Langres. Like so many French villages. Picturesque. Think Grimm's fairytales and more. Cobbled narrow lanes barely wide enough for our van. Arches, steeples, medieval. Windows full of quaint pottery, clothes, patisserie. (Just had a 30 g of carb bite of an eclair. BG will possibly ring the bell on that one.)

Spent last night in a Colmar camping ground on the river Ill. Balmy. Slice of moon & stars peeking through but not til 9-ish. Al beat me at Scrabble. No biggie. As I've said, anyone can. No advantage to be an English teacher. Better off as a finance analyst.

BTW. Props to the French & Germans for taking Sundays off and donning the leathers or lycra for some steep mountain riding. Sundays are siesta quiet. Will be eating in the restaurant tonight. Couldn't top up the supplies with no supermarches open. Bit low on diesel too. If we run out, I'm divorcing Monsieur No Worries on our return home. He suffers from over-relaxed syndrome.

Tip: when you've done your five hours driving and you're waiting in a queue behind a woman of a certain age (Judi Dench?) in a menopausal too tight skirt & 'scuffs' while she plays with her remote control to back her caravan into the spot that you had dibs on on your first reccy of the camp, pour yourself a chardy. Prevents fighting with your spouse who was just trying to find the right spot. (Story of his life.)

A bientot!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Munich, with van and bikes.

I assume no one wants to hear my gushing about our van and bikes, but what they hey?

Yesterday was an enormous day.  Wouldn't have thought it possible to cram so much in.  We're in a big city with an intricate but very functional transport network.  Throw in me with swollen blistered feet.  So first excursion for the day is back into Marienplatz to search for shoes, cos basically, I couldn't walk.  Now I can hobble, thanks to a new pair of Eccos.  Planets - damn you - going in the next charity bin. (First world prob.)

Me: Oh my god, Al! Diabetic feet! They're killing me.  What if I get gangrene? Ohhh! (Whines a bit.)
Al:  You've got blisters! Okay.  Everyone gets them.  Enough.

Next, train and connecting bus out to Sulzemoos - 27 k out of Munich central - to get our motorhome.  It was easier than last time, cos back in 2010 we didn't know whether we'd been scammed when we booked and paid for the van.  This time, we knew that McRent, or whatever they're called, were there with our luxury home on wheels.

Al got straight back into manual mode and driving on the 'wrong' side of the road in an enormous truck.  He had the sweat patches to prove it but have to concede, yet again, that the guy is a saint. Picture me on his right doing the full front seat driver's assistant.  Edge!!  Edge!!  Watch the yellow line!!  You're over the yellow line.  Fuck, fuck fuck!!  Okay, I'm going to try to shut up now, sorry, Al.  Oh mein gott!! Edge, edge!  Don't hit that woman!!  Second gear, second gear!!  (I could go on, and I did!)

Al successfully navigated back to this camping ground, one of the places where we first discovered the joys of campervanning back in 1985 in an orange combi van.  Keep wondering how we managed back then with no communication home apart from the occasional expensive phone call and lots of airmail.  Poste Restante kept us going during those six blissful months.

Having parked our van in the 'camping' we had to get back to Hackerbrucker on the other side of central Munich to collect our bikes.  So, one bus trip and a couple of train changes on the Uber.

Now the fun bit:  finding our way back, on bikes, to the camp.  Not too bad, given the amazing cycle paths and drivers' regard for cyclists.  Should have been a 6 k ride but we cycled on the wrong side of the river and overshot our turn off by a couple of k.

Suffice to say, by 10  last night I was gorged on cheese, seedy bread, olives, pate and chardy and feeling good.

There's something about sleeping in that little cubby hole bed.

Note to self:  a shower token gives precisely 4 minutes of hot water.  It doesn't dwindle out, it shuts off.  I was covered in Palmolive Vibrant Colour Shampoo, having forgotten the soap.  Not to worry.  It rinses off quite briskly in freezing wasser.  The sudden icy deluge seems to have reduced my ankle oedema.  Perhaps I should have tried this earlier.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day of the Triffids

That asparagus is taking over the city. Clearly it's in season here and the Munchens can't get enough. Took a photo but damned if I can work out how to load it.

Meanwhile, fascinated by how other cultures 'ablute'. Had a tussle with a cloth towel dispenser in the Damen at a restaurant. Was a bit thrilled that there was no lavatory attendant into the saucer of whom I had to throw a coin.

So here's me feeling up a towel dispenser; one of those continuous rolls. I was looking for the magic button to get it to cut me some slack so I could dry my hands. Was it automated? I waved variously around it. No. Nothing to press.

Decided to give the roll a tug. It released a measure of towel. Hands dried, I loosened my grip. Twang. The bloody thing yanked back with such force that I leapt back.

First the asparagus, then the incredible living towel dispenser.

Just sayin'.

Don't get me started on my diabetic nightmare blisters.

This post courtesy of my index finger, iPhone Blogger app and Hotel Jederman wifi. Love this little cosy hotel, where Al and I are sitting in the 'snug' playing Scrabble and having a bevy.

And hey. Think I've just attached a triffid pic.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Munich, day one.

Lunch yesterday at an old 'beer hall' restaurant, Augustiner, I think it's called. It's in Marienplatz, Munich. We had a good feed here a couple of years ago. Given we were tired from travelling to the other side of the planet we'd thought we'd go with tried and true.

My companion had the pork escalopes with French fries and a garden salad. He pronounced it ordinary. The breaded pork was a bit tough, but edible. The fries were hot and like any fries I've ever tasted and accompanied by a handy packet of Heinz Ketchup The garden salad, smothered with a generous squirt of Heinz Mayonnaise from a second handy pack, was quite tasty. Mixed leaves of lettuce and something young, red cabbagey, pickles, grated carrot. Quite substantial despite the small serve. Think Al got one taste. Otherwise, I ate the lot

I chose the 'Asparagus and grilled perch with hollandaise'. The asparagus was, unexpectedly, straight out of Day of the Triffids. It was the feature - about six x eight inch white, fat fleshy 'rods' straddled the plate. My companion pronounced them 'grossen'. They came swamped, at one end, in hollandaise and were accompanied by a lesser sized fillet of perch which was baked to the plate. Imagine being served half a head of boiled celery and you get the picture of the asparagus. Except celery has more flavour.

Ah, it was okay. Nutritious and light. To drink, I had the German dry white and my companion had the German beer.

And in my dad's words, as eulogised recently by sister, Jane: 'Never drink expensive wine. It ruins your palate.'

BTW, it's nearly five a.m. here in our little hotel room in Munich. We arrived yesterday. I've been wide awake since three and I'm wishing we'd brought our travel kettle cos I'd give my right tit for a cup of tea.

Think the theme for the next seven weeks will be my usual: First World Problems.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

The long goodbye

We had a series of farewells for my dad, many of them during his final hours. On the day he died, we mournfully watched him being slotted into the undertaker's purpose built van.  Dad would have admired its simple, clever functionality.  That farewell was a hard one.

After that, as those of you have been there know, you have to organise a major event, a funeral, when you least feel like doing it.  And because the family is all gathered, there is friction, all heightened by profound grief.

We had another deeply sad farewell after the funeral, as dad made his final trip back along the Great Ocean Road in a silver Mercedes.  Ironically, as these things happen, the weather was gloriously warm and blue.  We didn't need the room we'd organised at the local pub for his wake.  We were all out in the sun, admiring what was one of the best views in Victoria, that is, before some jerk erected a couple of god-awful shanty looking two-storeyed shacks in the middle of it.

It was a good wake and we rocked the house back at mum's later that evening, listening to dad's favourite Miles Davis tracks.

But wait, there's more. 

Next day, we had a private cremation to attend.  Another farewell, and Reggie and I did not want to go, having said our goodbyes.  Neither did our husbands, nor our girls, all of whom had been closely involved for the last 30 or so hours of my dad's life.  We were at breaking point but we didn't want to let mum down.

We were all a bit at each others' throats that morning.  Jane was organising herself and her boys for her trip back to NT.  Reggie and I, were seedy, having drunk too much for the previous seven days.  We all had a long drive to Melbourne ahead of us.

The plan was to go in convoy to the crematorium.  I asked for the address about three times in that melee around the kitchen bench.  Somehow, I couldn't get a response.  Mum knew where it was and we were to follow her.  My final question as I was walking out to the car: 'What's the fucking address?'  My daughter told me in no uncertain terms to calm down.  We'd manage.

I wasn't so sure as mum - why wasn't Jane driving?? - zoomed up the driveway, leaving us to eat her dust.  She skidded around the corner and out of sight.

Al set off, driving me and Didi.  He was very calm.  Niece, Moss, drove Reggie and her dad and followed behind us.  Yes, we'd manage.  Didi had the Google map thing happening on her mobile and directed us left at the roundabout.  However, Moss had her right indicator on, so Al, assuming they knew where they were going, turned right, pulled over, nearly got swiped by a passing car, then followed on.

The cremation service was scheduled for noon.  It was about twenty to.

Along the Surfcoast Highway, Al quietly mentioned a sign he'd seen indicating a turnoff to the crematorium in 200 metres.  'No,' I said, 'follow Moss, she knows where she's going.'  Well, her dad's nick-name is Mr Maps.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

11.55.  Call came through from Jane, waiting at the crematorium with mum.  'How long are you guys going to be?'

'It would help if we knew where we were going!'  All she could offer was that it was near a Lutheran College.  Great help.

By this time, we were well into Geelong and had pulled over to do a reccy.  I gave my iPhone to Moss; think her battery was low.  Who knows?  Meanwhile, Didi, the publicist, was doing her telephone voice with some woman from the funeral directors who told her to ring the Geelong cemetery trust or somesuch.

I'd got the Melways (street directory) out, and located the crematorium.  Surprise, surprise.  It was way back where Al had seen the sign and blithely driven past it under instruction from me.  He was flashing his lights at Moss.  Didi got Reggie on the phone.  World War 3 was happening simultaneously in both cars.  Moss couldn't turn around, and she was on the way back to Melbourne, falsely believing that Mr Maps had got a handle on where they were going. I was screaming and crying.  I had the Melways open on a double page spread and was holding it up at the windscreen in the vain hope that Moss would see it in her rearview mirror, understand my cryptic message, drop a u-ey and follow us back where we came from.

At that stage, had she had one, Didi would have strangled me from behind with a piano wire.  We headed back down the road and at about 12.45, following the really conspicuous sign on the highway, made a left for the crematorium.

I sat in the car for a further five minutes.  I feared I may do physical harm to whomsoever made any remark about being late for dad's cremation.  Reggie and co arrived about twenty minutes later.  She was feeling exactly the same as I was, given she had to dry-reach into the grass after she got out of her car.

Props have to go to the best, most professional funeral director.  From the word go he totally 'got' our collective sense of comedy.  Whilst paying all due respects to my bereft mum, and us, he engaged with all our black humour.  As he waited there, rocking on the balls of his feet outside the crematorium, his hair blowing back in the icy wind, I noticed that his surname was the same as that of one of the wealthiest families in the country.

'Any relation?'  I asked.
'Do you think I'd be doing this if I was?'  he said.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Inertia on a quiet Sunday.

It's been a week now since dad died;  most stressful experience of my life, without doubt.  He was 83, and he had suffered from a debilitating condition for the last two or so years of his life.  Even though on a theoretical level I had been anticipating my dad's death since he was diagnosed, when it finally came, it was too quick, and too slow.

We were fortunate and strong enough to have resisted the local GP's exhortations to take dad to hospital - and pump him full of IV antibiotics to treat him for a side infection.  With her hands on her hips, sister Reggie, a nurse, firmly told the doctor that we'd care for dad at home, according to his wishes.  It was very hard to resist the 'medical model'. The doctor would have liked us to surrender.  "So, you're refusing?" she said.  And that makes you feel like you're doing the wrong thing.

A palliative care team of doctor and nurse - very supportive of our decision - paid a visit; a plan was put into place  I thought we'd have more time.  I didn't think that my dad was about to die.  Reggie knew though.  It was an intense, extreme 48 or so hours for my mum, Reggie and I and our husbands and children.  All of us hands on doing whatever it was we did to get through.  My dad's death was his last gift to us; his last precious lesson.

So much has happened since then, and we've been in the eye of the storm and have just done what we had to do, especially to support my mum, who's lost the love of her life.

Today, Sunday, I'm back at home.  The bleak Melbourne weather, and my mood, have set in.  All my washing is sopping on the line.  Yesterday, I couldn't wait to get home and involve myself in a routine task in my own space, having been in a crowded, tense house for the previous week or so.

I'm wearing worn track pants, a washed out long sleeved tee-shirt; slippers.

My mum is here with Al and I, trying to do her own thing now, without my dad to care for; without his company and assurance.

There's a vague scent of Christmas lilies hanging in the air, from two bouquets of flowers that were left on my front porch during my absence.  On our return, four plastic wrapped copies of The Age were flung around the front yard .  Invitation for thieves.

In a week I'm supposed to go away on an extended holiday which we've been anticipating for the past two years. Must get organised but can't even think about it.

Meanwhile, I've left my school in the lurch, because I can't face anything about it at the moment, yet I know that short of dying myself, there's no way I can leave without writing reports for the 75 kids I teach.

I would return to school if I could just be normal; if everyone would leave me alone.  I don't want to have to engage with people's sympathy.  Nor do I want to be vulnerable in the classroom; to break down; to project.

I hate this inertia on a quiet Sunday.

Apologies to Reggie and Jane for expressing this on a blog.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

TV addiction, social media and Helen Richey's mole.

Have formed a new type of bond with my niece, Moss, this year.  I've always had a bond with her, by virtue of our being family. She's sister, Reggie's youngest, and I'd like to think I've had quite a hand in her upbringing. Moss is also between my two kids in age. We've had lots to do with each other over the years.

But this is different. Reggie and her old man have done the vine change thing, for want of a better expression. They've moved two and a half hours drive up the Hume and therefore aren't quite as physically accessible to Moss, when she fancies a bit of home comfort.  That's where Al and I come in.

Moss has given up her day job and returned to uni this year.  With Austudy, and the limited paid work she is able to do before losing her allowance, she's living just this side of down and out.  After she's paid rent, there's little left over.  She started coming over to ours for the occasional square meal and a bit of solace, missing her parents, as she does.

Lately, though, we've found a common love of sitting back on our respective couches and commentating on whatever crowd pleasing crap's on TV.

Why is this different?

When my daughter was living at home she'd occasionally sit with me, share the space and chat.  But she was usually on the trot busy with her own thing, as it should be. Definitely not seeking my company.

Moss, however, brings her homework over and sets up, with me, in the lounge.  She seems to do her assignments quite effectively, if good results are anything to go by, with one eye on her work and the other on the box and social media.  She also manages to keep up an entertaining running commentary on whatever we're watching.  I've offered Moss a quiet, warm study space but she prefers to sit with me!  Hurrah!

She'll slowly sip one glass of chardy in the time that I'll chug back three.  She'll be over there, on the other couch at her 'control panel' while I sit at mine.  We've both got laptops and iPhones going, doing the rounds of HeyTell, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook.

Anti-social? No way!

Moss and I are most companionable as we watch The Voice. That's #thevoiceau!  Doing the occasional Tweet.  She's worse than me though.  Made herself a bit unpopular with a nanna the other night while we were watching "Darncing With the Stars".  Forget that Rapper woman's gyrating body, we were transfixed by a mole on Helen Richey's chest.  Moss decided it looked like a Coco Pop and I had to agree. Then combined with Richey's crease of aged cleavage, she thought it looked more like an inverted exclamation mark. Perhaps Moss went a bit too far when she tried to get #HelenRichey'sMole trending on Twitter.

Rather than being anti-social all this digital stuff improves my sociability. Without it I wouldn't be doing book or writing groups or visiting theatre, cinema or friends. I'd just be here. Alone, given Al's in another room reading cos he can't stand the stuff I watch on TV.

Last night I was in Heytell contact with sister, Jane, in the Top End, Reggie in Wang, all of us watching The Voice, although Jane was half an hour behind.   Bit of text messaging with the work husband, who's been off school with a bad back.  Facebook contact with a former student, with whom I haven't been in touch for a couple of years. She's finished her degree now and was able to recommend a hairdresser, another former student.  Also chuckled my way through a series of Tweet exchanges with a reciprocal blogger/tweeter, Naomi, who shares my penchant for a bit of Seal dancing. (Have to say, somewhat flushed when Seal spun his chair around and cut a few moves to one of the early contestant's songs. Had to splash my face with cold water! Perhaps there's hope for a restored mojo in Europe?)

Anyway, think social media is enhancing communication, albeit virtually, not detracting from it. It suits me. Besides, I'd had plenty of face-to-face with a school full of kids and teachers all day.

Prefer the evening pace of my niece and social media for company. I know Al's in the kitchen, cooking and mapping out our Europe itinerary. All's right with the world.

And I've finally worked out who Delta Goodrem reminds me of.  Jai'me from Chris Lilley's masterpiece, Summerheights High.

Here's a pic of Moss at her 'station'.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quiet house

It's remarkably silent in my house. No sound but the humming of the hard drive and me masticating my way through a plate of carrots and celery.  Yum! 

I'm lying.  But by the time I've finished,  I'm so sick of chewing that my appetite is satisfied.

My cleaner, Annie, comes on a Tuesday. I know, very self-indulgent and lazy of me, but I work hard for my money.

Different today from other Tuesdays though.  Today, I appreciated it more. The swept front veranda, opening the front door to be greeted by the tang of Exit Mould, or whatever bleach based substance Annie uses in my bathroom.  Better than perfume as far as I'm concerned.  The fragrance of hygienically clean. 

Swanned, queen-like - that's if you can imagine a queen wearing a cycle helmet and cycle clips - through to the kitchen.   Did a royal inspection and liked what I saw.

No dirty Milo cup and spoon in the sink; no crumbs on the chopping board.  All surfaces gleaming.  Cushions arranged just so on the couches.  Books, magazines and miscellanea all perfectly aligned.  Just as Annie left it.  Think Annie's even polished the apples in the fruit bowl.  (She's probably happy that there's one less person to clean up after.)

What's more, no techno drum and bass music blasting from Pete's room.  Did I mention he's a DJ as well as a graphic designer?  Yes, I'm really going to miss that.

You know, I think I might even enjoy this 'third age'.