Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poo, Bum, Bugger!!!

I have just wandered in the direction of our upright freezer - and found the door ajar ;-(  The last time I remember going anywhere near the freezer was on Monday when I forced myself to joint the chicken we had bought at Chatsworth on Sunday and put the pieces in the freezer.  I can't recall having been in it since. And the thorough state of defrostedness of everything that was in the freezer would suggest that the door has, in fact, been open for several days.

I have had to throw pretty much everything away.  I have not thrown away the chicken, or the mince meat or the pork steaks that we bought on Sunday.  Instead, I have made up a massive pot of bolognaise sauce with the mince and have roasted the pork steaks and chicken pieces. We are, I think, going to be eating a huge amount of fleshy protein over the next few days ;-(

And I still don't have much of an appetite so strictly speaking it will be The Builder who will be eating huge amounts of fleshy protein.

Oh. And the freezer appears to be dead.  After I had finished clearing it out and throwing away vast amounts of stews and stocks and stuff, I dried it out and turned it all back on, making sure the door was properly shut.  And nothing ;-(  I think the strain on the motor as it valiantly tried to keep things frozen in the face of an open door did for it. The motor is humming at all any more.

Oh well.  I'm not buying a new freezer.  We'll just have to manage with the chest freezer for now.

(Lindsey says that it is just as well I was home sick so I could deal with all the meat.  Except that I think if I hadn't been sick, I would have noticed very quickly that the door wasn't shut and have closed it. It's unusual for me not to go into the freezer a couple of times a day.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Flooooooooo

So the weekend started off beautifully and peacefully.  Extra-peaceful, in fact, because we had had around 10 to 15 cm of snow overnight.  Now this might not sound very much, but it was soft and fluffy snow, lying in an abandoned manner all over the roads.  Between us and Grassmoor is a hill which is quite steep and also slightly winding.  Unless you were in a four wheel drive, chances are you weren't going up the hill.  And in fact, many cars were struggling mightily just to get along Queen Victoria Road, which isn't particularly hilly.

None of this would really have exercised my mind much except that I had a 9:00 hair appointment in Grassmoor.  Our car is not a four wheel drive and I really didn't fancy trying to get it up the hill.  Nothing for it then but to rug up warm and set off on foot. Which is what I did.  And do you know - it's a lovely walk. The hill is nothing like as steep as it seems when you are driving up it.  And in the snow it was peaceful and beautiful.  I amused myself watching the few cars that were out and about struggling up the hill and decided that in future I would walk to my hair appointments rather than driving the car.

We also decided that we wouldn't venture out to Chatsworth, as had been the plan, but would wait until Sunday when with luck the forecast rain would have washed away the bulk of the snow.

So Saturday trundled its way past and I retired to bed in a hale, hearty and healthy manner - only to wake up at about 2:30 on Sunday morning with painful legs, knees, buttocks, back, and throat and quite an interesting temperature ;-(  This was not good.  It also was not good that I didn't go back to sleep again. I just lay there feeling Not Terribly Well.

I didn't feel terribly well when we went out to Chatsworth.

I also didn't feel terribly well when we went, as arranged, to The Nettle for Sunday lunch.  It was a terrible waste of a rather nice butternut squash and stilton soup, and plate of roast with all the trimmings.

The great excitement of the arrival of a new washing machine on Monday morning was seriously eclipsed by the discovery of panadol, strepsils and cough mixture lurking in the bathroom cupboard.  They are all a couple of years past their use by date - but I don't care.  I'm going to use them anyway!

I *still* don't feel very well, and now I have a cough that would do Mimi proud in her final moments.  I haven't been to work this week - and it doesn't look as though I am going to get to work this week. I can barely get up out of my chair :-S  I don't actually remember the last time I had a whole week off work sick; it's rare enough for me to take even odd days off.  But it serves me right for an excess of hubris. It was only last week that I mentioned to a colleague that I hardly ever take time off sick. He did caution me against complacency - and reminded me that the last time he made such a rash comment he was then off sick for several weeks with a particularly nasty chest infection!!

Anyone want a nice cough?  I have a lovely one that needs a good home :-D

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My goodness but that was an expensive weekend!!

Nevertheless, it was a nice and frugal weekend, even if we did spend a huge amount of money!

About 12 or 18 months ago, our washing machine started making a peculiar noise.  It sounded as though there was a football boot mixed in with the clothes.  It was only an intermittent noise, so we ignored it.

Then it started to become more frequent.

And noisier!

We surmised that it was the main bearing slowly and noisily dying, but decided to wait until it had actually died before doing anything about it - not least because we were saving up for the GWT. And also because it doesn't do to replace things unnecessarily.

In the meantime, Lindsey's washing machine in Ballarat started making noises that sounded remarkably as though a high speed train was hurtling down the hallway.  Shortly after we had returned home, her washing machine died and needed to be replaced.  Ours, in sympathy, was making even more noise.

It was clear that the washing machine's days were numbered and we decided that it would be best to buy a replacement while the January sales were still on, rather than waiting until February, or March, or April and having to [pay full price.  So we have ordered a replacement. £100 off in the sales, but adding £30 to have the new one installed and the old one removed.

I have to say, though, that our little and cheap Indesit washing machine has done sterling service. I bought it in June 2002 when Austin, Julia, Tabitha and Freyja were all with us and we were struggling getting the washing done and dried.  I'd say that 10 years and 6 months isn't bad going for a little machine.  We have bought another Indesit in the hope that it too will be happy and reliable.

So that was £200+ gone.

Some months ago - I don't remember when exactly, but quite a lot of months ago - I inadvertently stood on my varifocal glasses and rendered them inoperative as varifocal glasses.  Again, I didn't want to spend lots of money in the run up to the GWT, so I dug out an ancient pair of distance glasses and carried on.  However, it was becoming clear that they weren't really working terribly effectively as corrective lenses and now that we are back I decided that I must bite the bullet and set about getting a new pair of glasses.  So The Builder and I took ourselves to the optician after we had ordered the washing machine.  I had my eyes thoroughly tested and I am now awaiting a pair of varifocal glasses, and a pair of distance sunglasses. Very exciting!

But that was another £145 gone (with a further £145 to pay when the new glasses arrive; but I remained frugally minded and chose very cheap frames, the sunglasses were half price and both my distance and near vision have changed quite a bit in the last couple of years so not money wasted). I have to say I was very impressed with the Scriven's optician.  I was equally impressed that I got a free hearing test while I was there (and you will, I hope, be delighted to learn that my hearing is absolutely excellent - so it *was* you muttering rather than my hearing being pathetic :-P  ).

Oh - and we also bought The Builder a new winter jacket and me some new winter walking trousers.  Again in the sales. Another £70 handed over

After all that we took ourselves to the Rutland by the church for a recovery glass of something and a quick lunch.  Although it wasn't particularly quick because they had one person in the kitchen and one person behind the bar and the ;pub was full :-S  Apparently on Friday they had had 6 drinkers and 4 drinkers and diners all day so had assumed that Saturday would be equally quiet.  But on Saturday it wasn't actively snowing.  It was just cold and miserable so people were thinking fondly of the idea of the pub. Particularly if they were wandering around in town.  So not particularly frugal, I suppose. But The Rutland does nice, home cooked pub food for not very much money, so not particularly extravagant either.

It started snowing again yesterday evening.  We woke up this morning to quite a good covering of snow and more snow falling.  We amused ourselves at around 7:00 watching cars trying to turn from Ankerbold Road into Queen Vic Road, or Bridge Street and by and large failing.  We decided there was no point trying to dig out our car so I could go to the station.  Instead I waited until 8:00 when it had got light and we could assess the situation, and took a bus to the station. I think I might leave work a bit early today though, so I also get home in daylight.

Click on our snowy garden to get to the snowy album

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Whooooosh

What's that noise?  Did you hear it?  Listen!

That was the sound of the Grand World Tour whoooooooooooooshing past.

And in particular it was the sound of the last week of the GWT whooshing past.  The week we spent with Austin and Kaori just seemed to vanish. Suddenly we were on a train heading from Nagoya towards Tokyo, when the week had only just seemed to have started.

We had a nice (and quiet) last morning at their place.  We had Bacon, egg and toast for breakfast, made sure we were properly packed, and hunted high and low for Sleepy Hippo who seemed to have vanished overnight (Austin found him hiding behind the sofa - we think he wanted to stay in Japan to play with Tatsuki and also Kaori had spent a bit of time gently stroking his head). Then Kaori and Tatsuki went to the library and Austin drove us to Hozumi station where we caught the train into Nagoya and he went to the gym.

Thank you for having us, A,K&T - we had a great time. Next year in Tokyo :-)


The trip to Tokyo was uneventful.  Mount Fuji was out on display as we went past - the last couple of times I've been on that route Mount Fuji was hidden by mist and clouds - and all the people on the left hand side of the train had their cameras out and were taking loads of photos.  Alas, I was on the right hand side of the train and wasn't in a position to get pretty pictures.

We changed to the Narita express at Shinagawa rather than in Tokyo itself.  It was a much more pelasant experience.  We got off the Shinkansen, went through the barriers, I went to the food hall and got sticky prawns and salad and cheese and biscuits and things for a picnic later, we bought tickets to Narita, walked in a gentle manner to the platform and ten minutes later got on the train.  None of the rush and bustle and panic and going down about six levels to the basement that you get at Tokyo station.  I would thoroughly recommend changing at Shinagawa, should you ever be in a position where you need to get from Nagoya to Narita.  We walked on to the hotel shuttle bus at Narita and shortly thereafter found ourselves at the Toyoko Inn - which was 200 yen less than the cost of the Hotel Seagull in Osaka, but which was 5 times the size, had a good sized bed, a lounge suite, a much bigger bathroom, a small cafe where we could have got basic provisions for tea (but we had our prawns and salad so didn't bother) and was altogether a much nicer experience.

We flew home on Saturday morning.  Our seats were immediately over the wing of the rather large plane, so we didn't have much of a view.  But as we flew out of Tokyo the pilot dipped the winds (I assume so he could turn the plane round, and not actually for our benefit) and we had, briefly, the most spectacular view of Fuji San, bathed in sunlight, crested with snow and looking glorious.

We stopped for a couple of hours in Frankfurt, then ended up back where we had begun, at Manchester Airport, where were waiting Tabitha, Gareth and Cally ("It's GAMMA'N'JIM!!!" cried Cally when she saw us). They came back to our place with us and stayed over Saturday night.  We all had Sunday lunch together. The Builder and I had Monday lunch in the Nettle.  It has been snowing and the countryside around our place looked very beautiful.

And now it's time to go back to work, after six weeks off.  I hope I remember the way!  I have to take the car in tomorrow - not only do I go back to work, but my Japanese classes start again tomorrow evening. And I need to know even more Japanese than I know now (which isn't very much) when we go back on the GWT2

Toasting the end of the GWT at our local favourite eating place



Sunday, January 13, 2013

Frisco

about a decade ago, Austin and his friend Julia found themselves in a hostel in San Francisco where someone taught them a card game.  None of us knows what this game is really called - Austin and Julia called it Frisco, in honour of the place where they were taught it.  We played it a lot when we were all on the family honeymoon in County Durham in 2009, but I don't think any of us has played it since.  Indeed, mostly we had forgotten the rules.

Until we got to Mizuho-shi, where Austin and The Builder sat down and thought very hard and more or less managed to remember the rules.

Concentrating hard


Should you wish to play, here are the rules.  These are the definitive rules, according to Austin, The Builder, Kaori and me.  If you play with any of us, these rules will prevail!

You need two packs of cards, including Jokers and a minimum of 4 players (although I think you could probably play with three if you had to).

Better not put this on the discard pile - it's a wild card in this round
  • You start out by dealing three cards to each player. Turn a card up for the discard pile. Place all the other cards face down in a pick up pile. Jokers and 3s are wild cards
  • Next hand, the next person along deals 4 cards. Jokers and 4s are wild
  • Next hand the next eprson deals 5. Jokers and 5s are wild
  • Continue until you have reached 13 cards. Jokers and Kings are wild
  • In each hand, each player either picks up the previously discarded card, or one from the pile. The aim is to acquire at least three of a kind, or a run of at least three cards of the same suit (so ace, 2, 3 of diamonds; 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 of spades etc).  In the hands where you have four or five cards you need all the cards to be of a kind, or a run of 4 or 5 in the same suit.  You end your go by placing a card face up on the discard pile, which the next player may pick up if it suits them
  • When you have 3 of a kind, and/or a run, you call Frisco and lay your cards down, face up.  The other players play though to the end of that hand, then lay their cards down.  Any runs or threes don't count towards the final score. Anything that can't be put into a run or a three counts towards your score.
Now - what can I do with this lot?

We played a tournament that ran over the week we were staying with Austin and Kaori, except one night when we were out.  At the end, Austin won by one point, pipping the Builder into second place.  Kaori came in third and I came in a distant fourth.  I obviously need more practice!

Adding up the scores

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nagoya

The last time I was in the vicinity of Nagoya, Lindsey, Judy Frangos and I went to Noritake Gardens to admire the china and pottery and other ceramics in their rather large shop.  I quite fancied another look around so yesterday Austin, The Builder and I took ourselves on the train into Nagoya (leaving Kaori and Tatsuki Home Alone) and made our way to Noritake. Alas, the dinosaurs that had surprised us last time weren't there yesterday.  You can see that the pond dinosaurs might have found the water temperature a bit chilly, but I was surprised that the large ones weren't in the car park.  But a very helpful man (who assured us that he couldn't speak English though it sounded remarkably like English to us when he spoke!) told us that the dinosaurs only ever come out to play in August. We had been very lucky the last time that we had happened to be there in August!!

So we had a nice potter about in the china shop and then wandered off to another part of Nagoya where we had some lunch, visited the Apple store, played about in Loft (one of those department stores which is absolutely stuffed full of things that you had no idea that you needed until you wandered in to have a look. A bit like Lakeland only more than just kitchen things), went to a Walt Disney exhibition which was in the Museum of Arts on the top storey of another department store and then made our way back towards the station.

We were a bit too early for the English Bar so had a coffee first, and then invaded the bar (where we had had gruesomely coloured cocktails when we were here for Austin and Kaori's wedding). Pints of gin and tonic for me, pints of vodka and ginger ale for The Builder and various different things in various different shades of colour for Austin, darts for Austin and The Builder. Then it was time for food, in a tonkatsu restaurant high above the station.

And s back home, where Kaori and Tatsuki seemed quite pleased to see us.

It's our last day here today and we have passed it very quietly. We've been out to lunch (a remarkably nice burger, which you more or less cook yourself on a little hot stone on your plate; it came seared but not cooked). The Builder and Austin are out now playing pool. Then we'll make a final dash to the supermarket so I can cook something with mash this evening.

Our visit with Austin and Kaori has gone extraordinarily quickly.  Hardly seems any time since we arrived!

Click on the crumbed prawns to get to the album

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Making Gyoza with Kaori

I have, as I am sure you are aware, been making Chinese style wontons for some time.  But I have never mastered the art of making Japanese gyoza, which are more or less the same thing but folded with pretty pleats.  One of the difficulties has been that in Tai Sun in Sheffield you can only buy square wrappers and the Japanese use round ones.  But even so, I couldn't quite master the pleating.

Then Kaori said she would teach me how to make her gyoza. And yesterday evening she did.

She took

  • 250 grams of pork mince (though you can use pretty much anything you want in the gyoza mix) to which she added 
  • a generous quantity of finely chopped spring onion and about a third of a half cabbage, also finely diced.  To that she added 
  • a large clove of garlic, finely chopped, 
  • a (small)dessert spoon and a half of ginger paste and
  •  two (small) dessert spoons each of oyster sauce, soya sauce and sesame oil.  She says you can add all these things to taste.  
  • She also added a pinch of salt.  
  • Then she mooshed everything together by hand.


To make the gyoza, she put a small portion of mix in the centre of each wrap the moisten the top half of the circle with a finger dipped in water.  Fold up the bottom half and carefully fold in your pleads.  Finally, press round the edges again so they don't come apart when you cook them!



When you are ready, fry the bottoms gently so they are nice and golden and then you can choose to steam, simmer or fry your gyoza.  Kaori served hers with rice, vegetables and ponzu sauce




I have discovered that I can buy round gyoza skins from Japan Centre, but that's in London and although they will deliver, it would be quite expensive for 24 gyoza skins!  I shall have to practise hard with the square ones until I can get to London!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Greeting the New Year, only a week late

I have never really properly been into Gifu.  I didn't realise that it was a large city. I have only previously see a small tiny corner of it and had assumed it was a small town. But no. It is quite a large city. And right atop a mountain there is a nice looking castle.  I knew the castle was there. I have seen pictures of it.  I have seen photos taken by friends, family and acquaintances who have been there when visiting Austin.  But The Builder and I have never been.

So yesterday Austin (who has been about a million times and didn't really want to go again) drove The Builder and me out to the castle in the morning, dropped us off and went back home again. And The Builder and I rode the "Ropeway" cable car towards the top of the mountain, admiring the wonderful views on the way up. Then we walked and climbed and scrambled up the remarkably uneven steps towards the castle - where we made the welcome discovery that people 70 and over get to go in free. I, of course, am not 70 or over.  But The Builder is.  The question is - how to prove it?  We looked at his driver's licence and couldn't see a birth date (there is one, of course). What a pity we don't have his passport with us.  But we do!!!!!!!  It's in my pouch. I always carry passport when we are in Japan, Just In Case.  Mind you, it's only 200 yen, or $2, or about £1.40 to get in anyway, so hardly expensive.  And worth every yen, cent or penny. You get a mighty and wonderful view from the top.

From the top of the castle

We encountered lots of very helpful Japanese people who wanted to take our photographs (using my camera, not theirs, obviously), or who greeted us either in Japanese or in English. And we enjoyed our camber down he uneven stairs, past the squirrel enclosure, back to the cable car for our trip back down to the bottom. Where we had a pleasant stroll around in the park while waiting for Austin, Kaori and Tatsuki to come and collect us.

Calling first at a convenience store for some lunch provisions, we set off for the Gifu temple, climbing up a rather pretty, if quite narrow, hillside road back up Gifu Mountain. Up and up and up we went, confidently following the Google Maps directions.  And up, and up, and up, and up. I don't think the Google Maps directions really were taking us to the temple but rather up to the top of the mountain :-S  So we stopped to eat our picnic lunch and to review our options

We decided to carry on up the mountain.  After all, the road had to start going down again eventually. And eventually it did. And finally we were back down in Gifu, driving along the main road and on to the temple.  What should have taken around 10 or 15 minutes had actually taken over and hour :-S

It is the Japanese practice to greet the New Year at a temple and to offer prayers for prosperity, health and happiness (and for various football teams to be successful).  Austin and Kari had decide to wait for us to arrive and to greet the New Year a little late.  For various reasons so had lots of other people and the temple was quite busy.  But eventually we found a parking space and made or way up into the temple, where we sacrificed small coins to invoke prosperity and offered thoughts of greeting to 2013 and votive wishes for health and happiness

And then we made our way back home after a really lovely day.  We had another very traditional Japanese meal for dinner - Pork steaks with fried apple rings, mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy.  I think Austin is hoping I'll cook lots and lots of Western style food while I'm here, although I am still hopeful that Kaori will teach me how to make proper gyoza.  I can make Chinese wontons, but I can't fold them properly so that they go from being wontons to pretty gyoza.



Click on the votive board to see the whole album

Monday, January 07, 2013

Catching up with family - and feasting

Mostly for the past couple of days we have, you will be astounded to hear, been eating and catching up with family.

On Saturday, after a lazy start to the day, we headed out towards Austin's old apartment, to hit the mall.  I had one or two bits and pieces to buy. Austin wanted a few things.  Kaori had a voucher at the massage and health parlour that she had been given for Christmas.  It became clear, as we headed along, that very many other people had also thought that hitting the mall on Saturday was a good plan.  So we pulled off at a gyoza restaurant that Austin and Kaori found a little while ago for a spot of lunch and to allow the hordes of people, who were clearing heading to the mall for lunch, to get out of the way.

Our lunch was a mighty feast.  The Builder and I ordered the gyoza set menu (gyoza, fried chicken, fried fish, ramen soup, rice, salad, green tea mousse for dessert) which is intended for one - and shared it between us with left overs to spare. I most certainly couldn't have eaten all of that on my own!  And it was extremely delicious.  And by the time we had eaten our feast and Austin and Kaori had eaten theirs, it was the case that a lot of the traffic had gone.  So we made our way, replete and perhaps slightly more rotund than we had been an hour earlier, to the mall, where Kaori had her massage and we all did our various errands, acquired provisions for dinner and went home to play cards, eat lemon chicken (cooked by me - Kaori had never had lemon chicken before), drink wine and watch television that Austin had been storing for our entertainment.

On Sunday Kaori's parents came by the flat mid-morning and we had a nice catch up (they speak little English; we speak little Japanese but between us and Austin translating we managed to have quite a decent conversation). Then we headed out to a pizza parlour for a truly traditional Japanese Sunday lunch of pizza and pasta.  Actually, to say that we were there quite early, and to say that pizza and pasta probably aren't authentically traditional Japanese fare, there were quite a lot of people already there when we got there.  And the pizza parlour had a small, properly wood fired oven and made pizzas one at a time - and the pizzas we had were amongst the nicest we have ever had. It was a very convivial luncheon. Then Kaori's parents went back to Nagoya (poor Kaori's mum was working the night shift at the hospital where she is a nursing assistant) and we went home via the supermarket for an evening in which we played cards, ate dinner (savoury mince and mash, made by me but not a new thing for Kaori - Austin also makes it), drank wine and watched stored up telly - oh and talked to Stella and Tony on Skype for our regular 6:30 pm Melbourne time Sunday chat.

The sun continues to shine. The temperature during the day is cool but mild. But it does plummet to well below freezing once sun has set. It was quite frosty when The Builder and I woke up this morning.

Click on the gyoza feast to reach the album


Saturday, January 05, 2013

Remembering how Japan works

You would think, given that I now have 4 entry stamps for Japan in my passport, that I would remember how things work in Japan.  But I never do!

The hotel shuttle bus took us off in the morning, allegedly in the direction of a station. The driver stopped in the middle of nowhere :-S  We looked puzzled.  "Eki," he said. "Station!"  We looked even more puzzled. He waved in the direction of what looked like a concrete pillar.  We looked even more, even more. puzzled.  He pointed behind us and looked up.  Aha!  The station is all the way up there, and the concrete pillar is actually an elevator!!!  We trundled off. luggage in tow, and found the station, and the ticket office, and acquired tickets. The ticket man helpfully pointed us in the direction of platform 3.  A train arrived and on we got.  An hour or so later I was beginning to worry that Shin-Osaka, which is where we were going to catch the shinkansen, wasn't ever showing up anywhere on the display screen on the train.  So I checked the map on the wall - and just in time realised that we needed to change at Osaka. I had assumed that if we needed to change anywhere the helpful ticket man would have mentioned it :-S

So we are at the platform at Osaka, wondering which of the trains went in the direction of Shin-Osaka, when an elderly gentleman (who had been watching me reading the various maps on the columns) came up and asked in stunningly good English "May I help you?". I figured anyone who had a good enough grasp of English grammar to use "may" instead of "can" probably would understand anything I said. He assured me that I could catch any of the trains at the platform and carried on in conversation until the train came.  He had been in London for some time a few years ago and had mastered his English there.

And so to Shin-Osaka and onto the shinkansen.  A brief moment of confusion while we worked out which ticket was the reservation and which coach we were supposed to be in, and we were on the train and off on our way to Nagoya. 45 minutes later, we were there. I was just wondering where we were going to meet Austin - and there he was!!!  The ticket barrier didn't want to let The Builder through (stuck for ever roaming the depths of the shinkansen station :-S) but fortunately the Man watching did.  And then we were on our way to Mizuho-shi to Austin, Kaori and Tatsuki's apartment.

Slowly, the way Japan works is coming back to me.  It will probably all make sense by next Saturday, when we are due to leave :-D

So we've met Tatsuki - who seemed to be a bit puzzled that people who usually live inside the laptop had emerged into his flat - and we've been to the supermarket. We've had curry at the curry house (tonkatsu for The Builder and me). We've played cards. We went to bed late.  And the sun is shining. But it's remarkably cold outside, despite the sun. There was snow on the ground between Kyoto and Nagoya.  It's not cold in Melbourne. It was 41d yesterday. We got out just in time!!!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Last time zone before GMT

At least,  it's the last time zone if you don't count Frankfurt.  Which I don't because we will only be there for an hour or so and we won't leave the airport.

You find us in a cough lozenge sized room in a hotel in Osaka.  We arrived last evening on a Jetstar flight from Cairns - which I have to say was altogether a pleasant experience. Getting out of Australia  through a small international airport is every bit as easy as getting in. I had been thinking that we might fly directly to and from Melbourne next January but I am rethinking this idea!! And I have to say that flying with Jetstar is a very much nicer experience than flying with Ryanair. I had prepaid everything that needed prepaying so we had food on the flight. And rather nice food it was too. We got to Osaka on time and proceeded in an orderly and expeditious manner through immigration (nearly all the passengers were Japanese nationals so they had a huge queue and the aliens did not :-D ) and customs.  Alas we had just missed the hotel's free shuttle bus and the next one wasn't for an hour so we took a rather more expensive than I had expected taxi to the hotel.

I was a bit nonplussed by the hotel.  I knew it was a budget hotel - I had chosen it precisely because it was a budget hotel. But it was a bit more budgety than I had expected and appeared to be out in some sort of industrial wasteland.  However,  it fulfilled all my basic requirements of a hotel in that there is a bed,  internet (although bizarrely it only works on the iPad and not on the laptop!!!) and access to a loo.  There is a shopping mall five minutes away which is open until late so there was also wine and a picnic of sorts last night.  And we woke up this morning to a deceptively sunny morning to find that we are by the docks of the harbour. I thought there were rather more people in the mall than you might expect to find in an industrial wasteland!

Shortly we are off to work out the intricacies of the trains and with a bit of luck we should be in Nagoya by lunchtime. Wish us luck!!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Cairns

When I was planning this trip, I looked long and hard at how we would be best to get from Melbourne to Japan. Eventually I decided that taking everything into account, the best way was to fly to Cairns and then to fly on from there to Osaka.

Bearing in mind Ian's unfortunate experience when he got stuck in Cairns for a night when his flight from Melbourne was delayed, I decided that it would be best to plan for an overnight stop rather than risking missing a connecting flight with a budget airline (who would almost certainly have made me pay for the new onward flight). And then I thought: that's silly; we've neither of us ever been to Cairns.  Let's have a full day there and have a look around.  So that's what I organised.

More lately, Lindsey decided that she too would come to Cairns, although she has been several times before.  And so on New Year's Day, The Builder and I flew up at lunchtime and Lindsey flew up on a slightly later flight.  The Builder and I went and laid in wine, tea and milk supplies for when she arrived.  And we had dinner in the Cock and Bull English-style pub down the road.

On Wednesday we resumed our walking program and walked the 3 km into the Cairns town centre along the promenade, admiring the bay and enjoying the sunshine (although it was perhaps a wee bit too humid!).  Then we had a potter about in the town centre, admired the shops, sat in the sunshine, ate ice cream and generally meandered about.  And then at lunchtime we hopped aboard a boat which took us out to Green Island, in the Great Barrier Reef Maritime Park. And there we went on a glass bottomed boat and admire the fish and the corals that form the inner reef.  And we saw TURTLES swimming about in the reef :-)

We walked around the (quite small) island. And we saw MORE turtles in the sea as we were wandering along the beach. They proved to be remarkably difficult to photograph, but Lindsey managed to get a very brief video of one


Then we had a restorative glass of something cold and caught the boat back to Cairns. It was a lovely, lovely afternoon.  We wandered back the 3 km to the hotel.  Lindsey and I had a leisurely swim to cool off. Then we headed back to the pub for dinner, none of us having any real desire to walk all the way back into the town centre for something more local to eat!!

And now Lindsey has abandoned us to do the last leg of the GWT unaccompanied by her. Her flight back to Melbourne has just left if it was on time.  And we are about to leave Australia and head to Japan where we will summarily be plunged back into winter.  We have jumpers and winter coats at the ready!

Bye bye Australia.  We'll see you again in twelve months or so

Click on Frannie and Jim to get to the Cairns album

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Last week in Victoria

And so we reached the last week of the Victoria leg of the GWT. Ian and The Builder turned their attention to the very poorly greenhouse (which had blown over the fence into the veg garden, even before it had been properly built, and was looking extremely sorry for itself). Lindsey and I went out and bought up Ballarat. The Builder and I went to Mount Martha for the weekend and had a lovely meal in the Flinders pub (I do like a nice piece of flathead tail).  Tony and I went to church, where he plays the flute with the choir and I got to sing Christmas carols. And we have been walking

You may remember that on our first visit to Mount Martha we went for a 7 km walk with Tony, which The Builder's feet found a bit lengthy.  Well, Lindsey and Ian bought him a pair of rather nice walking shoes for Christmas, which he says are like walking on airy cushions.  So we walked the perimeter of the Lake on Boxing Day and his feet liked that a great deal better.  Then Lindsey, Emily and I walked the lake again the following day (my feet didn't mind - but my back did!). It must be four years since I last walked the lake and then I did it twice in two days. It's a much, much nicer walk when the lake is actually a lake and not a slightly muddy swamp!  The lake walk is approximately 6 km.  Then when we got back to Mount Martha we went for a late afternoon walk with Tony of about 5 km. The following day it was a 4 km walk. Then, when we got back to Ballarat we walked around the University with Lindsey and Em - around 3 km.  Do you think maybe we should have done this the other way around and worked up to the 7 km walk rather than winding down from it?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

No walk on New Year's Eve.  Judy and Theo were coming for lunch - a lovely barbecue outside in the sunshine - and before that The Builder did some work in the garden, moving soil for Lindsey's Christmas present (a raised herb bed) and Lindsey and I went out and bought up what was left of Ballarat. Then we had roast rib of beef for our New Year dinner (cooked on the gas kettle barbecue by me; I've never done a roast like that before and it was rather a successful method of roasting. I wonder how it would work on a wood fired barbecue) and that was 2012, done and dusted.  And the Victoria leg of the GWT.  A good way to end the year.

So thank you everyone for all the hospitality. For the magnificent feasting, the wining and dining. Thank you for the presents and the fun and the walks. Thank you for coming to see us and for letting us come to see you.  We've had a great time.  But don't get too excited about our departure. We'll be back in a little over 12 months for Stella's 80th birthday celebrations. She said she doesn't want a party - but anyone who thinks I'm coming all this way for a non-party is sadly mistaken. Then she mentioned the likelihood of feasting. I'm always up for a good feast!!!

Click on the remains of our New Year's Eve feast to get to the final Victoria album