Motorbike Journey

June 17, 2018

My BMW F650GS motorbike, ridden by my NZ friend Deany, set off two weeks ago and is now in Warburton, Western Australia, with the two other bikes and riders. This is curious because that was not the route originally planned. So a sort of mystery is unravelling as I follow the GPS tracker every day. These are the links to the tracker:

As you see, the tracker is fitted to the bike that started in Sydney, they all met in Cunnamulla and went north-westwards to Windorah, then over to Birdsville and down the iconic Birdsville Track. From Marree up the equally iconic Oodnadatta Track to Marla and over to Uluru, where they had a “day off” that involved them walking 12 km around the famous rock, then climbing it, then going over to Kata Tjuta and hoofing all over those rocks too.

As Barbro and myself sat comfortably in front of the TV and computer at home, after a very nice dinner with bottle of wine, we thought of them at Yulara where a hotel room is $500 and a pizza costs $45 …

Oodnadatta seems to have improved since our visit in 1985, due in part to our considerably enriching the town by buying two spare tyres and getting the water tank fixed on our VW Kombi (me having broken these things the day before). Uluru has vastly more visitors now than in those days – here is the crowd climbing it (a practice now frequently forbidden) and the view from the top, in 1985:

… and that is the view from the top of the chain in 2018. Rock is unchanged, there are more cars. This is the top of Uluru in 1985 – a lonely place with nobody else there:

I remarked at the time that from the top I could survey an area the size of England, and I was more or less the only person in it.

But now, the GPS tracker is great. Click on “Just Go” and pick Adjustments, then you can see more of the past history and if you zoom in at the WA border, for example, you can see where they stopped for half an hour to contemplate the journey thus far. You can imagine them coping with huge dust-holes and wrestling the motorbikes in the sand … At the junction where the Kings Canyon road goes off the Lasseter Hwy, there are several trace points and on zooming in, you can see exactly where they stopped off the road for someone to have a pee in the bushes.

Their original plan was not to go to Uluru at all, but from Alice Springs to Kintore and then on along the Kiwirrkurra road to Marble Bar. Now I see they are going down the Great Central Road towards Perth, but they may yet go up the western coast and back through Kiwirrkurra on the way home, in which case they won’t do the Nullarbor Highway, and that will keep for a future ride. Hopefully, with me included.

This little gift from my local public library has turned out to be incorrect:

I had the bike all packed ready to go, just like this bloke (except that he is not going very far):

As for me? Well, I am just fine. Taking Warfarin tablets and the treatment is going according to plan, there will be an ultrasound scan for clots in 4 weeks and until then (and after then) I can have as much fun as I like.


My motorbike will cross Australia

June 4, 2018

Alternate routes shown. My motorbike will cross Australia from east to west … But without me on it. Let me explain. I woke up one morning, I had them thrombosis blues. Yes I woke up one morning, I had them thrombosis blues. One leg twice the size of the other, I didn’t know what to do. Well I hopped down to the doctor, he said I’m glad you came. Yes I hopped down to the doctor, he said I’m glad you came. He sent for an ambulance, said if you die it’d be a shame.

So (this was back in February) at the hospital they diagnosed a DVT (blood clot that can detach) and I got put onto these new and trendy pills for 3 months, that would hopefully dissolve it. And as with so many things hoped for, this did not eventuate and when I got scanned again last week the clot (a) had not dissolved, (b) had got bigger, (c) had moved to above the knee where it is much more dangerous and (d) I had Barbro with me and she went ballistic. Wife, doctor, technician and nurse all ran around the room giving me an earful. So now I am on Warfarin, which has to be monitored every couple of days.

That’s me, yesterday. The doc said that, apart from taking the medication, I should simply clear off and live a normal and active life, with the awareness that at any moment I might suddenly and painlessly drop dead on the spot. I am in very good health and this situation is normal anyway (heart attack, hit by a bus, struck by meteor, Korean atomic bomb, UFO abduction etc) so what has changed? But I am not ready for a view of the underside of the lid just yet, and my family and friends were all adamant that I should stay in Melbourne. Even the man next door said so, too, and he has to put up with me living next door to him. Steve & Hugh, the two guys I was going to ride with, do not want to be burdened with a dead body and a surplus motorbike in the middle of the outback. So, a six-week motorcycle ride across the desert is now not feasible. Look, this is one part of where I was going to go:

And you see from the timing and alternative route that this Kiwirrkurra road is so bad that it would be nearly as quick to get to Punmu via bloody Katherine, more than 3 times the distance.

I wouldn’t mind really but the guys at BM Ringwood had just prepared the bike for the trans-Australia journey, with new tyres, new chain and sprockets, oil changes, new wheel bearings, new brake shoes, better air filter, new rack for panniers, etc etc etc at a cost of $2,100 and I was actually loading the bike with gear and tools for the pre-trip trial run when my wife found out about my medical condition. When she came down from the ceiling I found it diplomatic to start unloading the bike instead.

So now I have a fully prepared bike and I suppose I could use it for next year’s Big Bike Trip, but if I ride it in the meantime it would not be fully prepared by mid-2019 – the tyres half-worn, etc – you do not want to try to buy new tyres and spare parts when in remote places. What was I to do? Probably in sympathy, my good friends Deany and Lynnie in Wellington – Deany rode my bike last year when I was overseas – were going to go to South America but last week, the day before their flight, Lynnie broke her big toe and their whole trip has had to be postponed.

HOWEVER this leaves Deany with a 5-week hole in his life and here is a prepared motorbike ready for a 5-week trip that starts in a few days! So he will fly over to Melbourne, tomorrow, and Deany will ride my bike across what the Kiwis call the West Island. May the sheep and camels tremble in fear at his approach. Here’s my bike at the end of the 28,000-km ride to Magadan in 2012 – see how the drive chain hangs slack – and a photo of Deany in 2012 with the Magadan city mascot:

Last night it was 3 degrees here in Melbourne, and it would be sub-zero in the middle of the continent. I turned up the central heating and went out for a nice dinner. When Deany, Steve and Hugh are camping out in the remote bush, in the rain and freezing cold, eating cold baked beans out of a can, I will think of them. With great pleasure.

In Magadan: Me (from Melbourne), Steve (from Sydney) and Hugh (from Brisbane)

Myrtleford to Dandongadale, and home

June 2, 2018

Where? Dandongadale is at the road junction when you ride a motorbike from Mansfield to Whitfield (amazingly bendy road) and then take a dirt road towards Myrtleford. I’m glad they have named this place, because there are no buildings here. It’s named after a Eurovision song, or should be. (My heart goes Dan-dong-a-dale, Dan-dong-a-dale when you are near, Dan-dong-a-dale Dan-dong-a-dale flies in my beer…)

We rode along a valley past some farms. Another fine day – we had a little rain, only on the first day, but evidently it can rain very heavily around here –

Our leader, Cathy, was here two years ago and knew a nice little picnic area in a glade by the lake, where we now proposed to have lunch. But the glade had been clear-felled, making the ground all churned up and muddy so they had also taken away the picnic tables. So we had lunch by the shore of Lake Buffalo where the boating club meets –

That is the rare Red Spoon and Plate Tree.

We dined this evening again at the pub in Myrtleford to be greeted by people “Oh hello, you’re the riders from Melbourne that were in here two nights ago, and last night you were in Fez’s restaurant …” Everyone knows everything about you here. I wonder what they say about my trousers.

The next day, myself and Barbro rode back to Wangaratta to catch the train home. This can be quite difficult –

A survey of Wangaratta Station from Platform 1 showed no sign of a Platform 2. No wonder the train has to leave from here occasionally. One wonders where it leaves from on the other days. Ah, I found Platform 2 down a cutting behind the station –

OK. I prepare these blog entries some days after the event and schedule them to appear automatically … and my next adventure will already have begun when this entry is published. May the Good Lord and his saints watch over me – this is where I am going to ride my motorbike:

Myrtleford to Beechworth

May 31, 2018

Unlike the other rides, this one was very hilly; that sign gives perhaps an exaggerated idea. The first half, to Everton, was along a rail trail and mostly a gentle slope of 2% – upwards. We were hoping there’d be a cafe in Everton, and sure enough Google Maps showed several, although they were closed. And in any case, they were 17,000 km away. But this Everton did have 1 cafe. Life is evidently pretty frantic here.

The bus shelter has been proudly adorned.

They are even proud of the town’s bog, prominently labelling it in case you thought it was something else. Or, possibly, in case somebody steals it.

From Everton to Beechworth is another rail trail, sloping upward at 3-4%, but relentlessly. It was still uphill as we came into Beechworth and uphill within the town to get to the famous Beechworth Bakery. Beechworth has its own spectacular trees, for example:

Back to Myrtleford by a different route, this time all downhill with one amazing 3-km run where we got up to 64 kph (on a road with a perfect surface). In the evening we dined at Fez, an excellent Moroccan restaurant.

Myrtleford to Bright

May 29, 2018

On arrival at Myrtleford we unpacked, noting the absence of trousers in my baggage. Look, I remembered everything else, I was wearing the bike shorts, but the need to bring trousers sort of escaped me. There was an Op Shop in the town – we went in, or rather we didn’t because it was full of Old Ladies, about 15 of them, in this tiny shop. Apparently this Op Shop is so good that bus tours are laid on from other towns specifically to visit it! We looked over their stock but evidently Myrtleford has a lot of very large men, and some tiny men. Or perhaps there had just been a panic buying of trousers – after all, that is what I was doing. So into Target and buy a new pair. These were very nice but they kept falling down – back to the Op Shop to buy a belt for $1.

In my freshly trousered incarnation I visited this here second-hand book shop. This was a paradise for me, even if the books were amazingly expensive, which is perhaps why so many were unsold. But the lady running it knew every book, I asked for children’s books about Jennings (a British schoolboy) and she promptly produced two rare ones. One was marked $40 as it was the 1973 edition … of course when I was a kid I had the 1963 First Edition, but I threw that away.

Ho hum, on this day we rode to Bright and back. This 30-km each way ride was mostly flat; the above picture is from the winery where we had coffee. They were doing a Long Lunch the next day, complete with wine, er … $180 each. I suppose you would get a lot of wine with it – hey, you could buy 6 excellent bottles for that. And then you would not need lunch.

The trees around here are European imports and this being autumn, they were spectacularly coloured. Here’s some more:

That last one was a chestnut tree and the nuts were falling, so the ladies stopped to gather a few.

Here’s a great idea – if your property is littered with a mass of old rusty agricultural junk, put up a sign and the trendies from Melbourne will pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for it.

Back to Myrtleford, where the annual Italian Fieri festival was in full swing.

There was a camp here in WW2 with Italian POWs, and many of them stayed on – Italy was amazingly poor then, as the 1948 film The Bicycle Thief shows. Many of them began to grow tobacco, and that became the big industry here. Now it’s wine, of course. There was a wonderful party atmosphere at the festival, and our campsite manager said a lot of people return year after year.

Myrtleford bike ride

May 27, 2018

Five-day bicycle ride based in Myrtleford. Here’s the general map, and three of the other cyclists

Traffic lights, eh (red, yellow, green). From home we caught the 6:11 train (6:11 am that is – it was full of men in orange or yellow hi-vis jackets going to work) to Southern Cross station. Here we had to find Platform 1, quite difficult as you can’t see it from the concourse – platform 2A is the first in line and further down there is Platform 2B, allowing Shakespearean jokes (2B or not 2B, etc). With perserverance we finally found Platform 1 and caught the V-line train to Wangaratta.

On arrival we rode, oh, 30 metres and then stopped for coffee. Phew! Then some more serious riding to Milawa and its now-famous gourmet district, to which hordes of ‘foodies’ flock from Melbourne every weekend –

Then on towards Myrtleford, but at a road junction I rode around in a circle while the others checked the map – I don’t like getting off the bike and would rather keep riding – and evidently I must have ridden across a small plantation of Emex australis – “three cornered jack”.

This invasive weed has seeds with amazingly sharp spikes arranged at all angles. Pneumatic tyres have about as much chance as a snow cat being chased by an asbestos dog through Hell, and very soon I decided to stop outside the Milawa Cemetery.

Close examination of that picture will show that the bike has two flat tyres – well, they are only flat at the bottom – I called for a taxi to complete my ride to Myrtleford, specifically to the Myrtleford Bike Repair Shop. Can you wait there, the taxi company said – well OK, that is what everyone else is doing here. You can see my bike in the far distance on the right:

Inside the cemetery are these Memorial Walls to Ron Gibb and Tom Allan. I wondered how they got such recognition, perhaps by being unusually intensely dead, or perhaps they were hospitable men, as each of them is now providing accommodation for 20 more people. Eventually I arrived at the shop where, with very good and cheerful service and for a good price both inner tubes were replaced (there were 9 punctures in the front tyre and 21 in the back tyre – really not worth patching). Some months ago I told someone I had not had a puncture for 15 years; but these two followed two other punctures I endured a month ago in Melbourne when I rode over a raised concrete slab and the rims sliced through the tubes on both wheels.

Myrtleford is very nice. Here is the view from the cafe as I waited for the bike repairs.

In the morning those clear-felled hills glisten in the dew and mist … some huge trees have mercifully survived the mania for clear-felling everything.

And that last photo – the signs portend the approach of my wife – “O no, my B.Roberts

A Maze – Solved

May 25, 2018

(26/5/18 – See end of this post for an update).

Being an uber-nerd, I just had to solve the 1772 x 1772 maze shown a couple of posts ago. It is beyond human effort to solve, but it wasn’t a human that did the job. For the interest of other geeks and nerds who may have the misfortune to come across this blog, here is how I did it, by programming in Python.

First the maze has to be read into the program. I have no ability whatsoever in graphics (as you will soon see) but my original was a BMP file of 396kb. I had to make a JPG of it to get it onto this blog, and JPG, being a compressed format, comes out fuzzy at the detailed level, whereas a BMP is a bitmap – an absolutely clean black&white version. I must have originally converted it from some other format, because my BMP has a few extra pixels in the corners here and there; by saving it as only 2 colours, only 1 bit per pixel is needed and the BMP file is effectively 1772 bits by 1772, packed into 1772 lines of 224 bytes, with a 62-byte header. Here is the top-left corner of it:

That shows about 1/12 of the width and 1/12 of the height of the complete thing, so this is truly an enormous maze. But as you can probably see, this data should be easy to compute with, and the first thing I noticed is that the black and the white lines were all either 3 or 4 pixels wide. Further, the runs along a row or a column were either all-black or all-white (but this does not matter). I wrote Python code to find the horizontal and vertical edges every 3 or 4 pixels, and could thus reconstruct the maze as a smaller, neater version with cells exactly 1×1 bits. Lo and behold, there were now 512 rows and 512 columns – 2 to the power 9 – that is obviously how the maze was generated. Because, generated it was – no human could set to and write a maze this big.

Solution of the maze was now very easy. You look at each white cell, and if it is surrounded by exactly 3 black cells and 1 other white cell, then it must be the end of a dead-end, and can therefore be coloured black without losing the real path. Then, looking at the white cell that was next to it usually shows that to be in the same dead-end, and furthermore it is now the last cell in the dead-end and can itself be turned black, and so on. I found that a single pass over the whole 512×512 maze closed off all the dead ends, in about 1 second of computer time. The white cells that are left were simply the solution path.

As I have no ability in graphics – I have spent 20 years trying to learn ‘tk’ and ‘tkinter’ – I put the solution out as ASCII characters, and took a screen dump of that – this is the north-east quarter of it:

I was also able to go back to the original BMP file and add black dots to it along the real path. I cannot feasibly show the whole thing here, but this is a tiny piece in the middle of it –

Ho hum, 20 hours wasted I suppose. I really should get on with writing up the Myrtleford cycling trip and the upcoming 6-week trans-Australia ride. But today’s excuse is that I have suddenly become a year older, and I need to go and celebrate.


UPDATE (the next day)

I have found three much larger mazes and solved them the same way. The above maze was 512 x512 – these are 5769×5769, 10001×10001, 32767×32767 cells (100, 400, 4000 times the size)

The solution times and results were as follows – essentially linear on the area of the maze, as expected. Marvellous what Python can do on a modern computer (“Make an array of 1 billion numbers…”)

512×512, 5 seconds to prepare the maze as 1×1 cells, then 0.36 seconds to solve it – 6570 dead ends, the longest dead-end 9818 cells, 32k white cells in the final path.
5769×5769, 127 seconds, 842k dead ends – longest 37k, 235k white cells
10k x 10k, 385 seconds, 2534k dead ends – longest 62k, 470k white cells
32k x 32k, 4197 seconds, 27M dead ends – longest 273k, 2754k white cells

I could have sped the program up, of course, but I really must stop this and start packing for my trans-Oz trip. Since these three were clean BMP mazes to start with, I was easily able to make a graphic of the final path in black-on-white = and here they are. Note they are essentially left-to-right squiggles, showing psychologically that the same person prepared the mazes, and in the same way:

Public library

May 23, 2018

Wonderful places, libraries. You can find out things you did not know before you went in.

In my latest book reservation slip, however, my own library has furnished me with some rather surprising information.

How can they foresee this? Poison on the pages? Perhaps I will die on Friday laughing at the text … hey, what a way to go.

Apart from both of us having terrible handwriting, I may have something else in common with Shakespeare after all (he died on his birthday).

A Maze

May 22, 2018

Been riding my bicycle 5 days and about to embark on Another Huge Motorbike Adventure … bear with me as I get this blog up and running daily again.

Meanwhile, for those of you who (like me) like to solve silly and stupid problems with the computer … here is a somewhat more difficult maze as a JPG file. (I have the BMP which is much cleaner but it appears that I cannot attach that to a WordPress post; the BMP file is easy to process in a simple Python program, and I have solved it).

I suppose you’d better click on it to embiggen and download it. (Or, preferably, not).

We were a-mazed

May 14, 2018

Despite its remote location (11 km out of Greta, which in turn is 20 km from the freeway) Brookfield Maze is one of the largest mazes in Australia. It is situated in a nice peaceful garden among trees, bushes, a labyrinth, outdoor chess game etc., and just before I took this photo some red parrots flew out of these bushes.

And there is a cafe, which is why the motorbike club went there, and thus explains why we went there. Actually the whole property is for sale, and the agent’s photo shows the maze better than any other picture I can find –

The maze was planted only 8 years ago but the bushes have grown very well, to about 9 feet high. (I am reverting to Imperial units, as I myself become more ancient.) This is what it looks like when you are inside it:

There are 4 signs labelled “Clue No. 1” etc but the number ‘138’ with this one is almost meaningless. And the signs are not in order as you traverse the maze. I went in and finally found the middle, where there is a raised platform from which you cannot see anybody, as the hedges are so high.

You can easily hear their screams of frustration, however. Now having found the middle from the entrance, it would be appropriate (and probably more useful) to find the entrance from the middle. So we set off … the maze is kept very clean so we had to leave little twigs as markers. There was an abandoned Coke can, which was useful, but every day the litter is obviously cleaned up. And occasionally the bushes must get trimmed somehow – I wonder how the gardeners get out when they’ve done that. And can they claim overtime if they are still lost after their shift ends. Anyway we had much more trouble getting out than getting in. Furthermore, there were 4 of us (myself & Barbro, Peter & Helen) when we started but now there were only 3; Peter was still in the maze, and we could hear him when we shouted to him.

So I went back in and very carefully began to explore, staying near the entrance. It was easy to navigate here, because Barbro and Helen were talking and I could hear them. Nevertheless I strayed too far and got lost myself. After 15 minutes of random wandering – and finding the middle yet again – I bumped into Peter. So now we were both lost in the maze. Eventually we found our way out. I don’t think we need to see any more mazes for a while now.

There are mathematical techniques guaranteed to traverse any maze … the simple one is to always stick to the right-hand wall, but a disconnected maze (whose hedges are not all joined together), such as this one and most others, will easily fool that. If you are allowed to mark the ground, then a solution is also easy – you mark every junction you have visited, and never take the same path out of it twice. Nowadays of course you would do a screen-save from Google Earth, print it out and draw on it by hand before (or instead of) actually going there.

A labyrinth is quite different from a maze, in that it has no junctions and thus only a single path. You walk it as an aid to contemplation. Labyrinths are older, dating back to about 2000 BC. Brookfield Gardens also has a labyrinth – here it is:

As we were leaving, this magnificent tree stood in the car park. Actually, it is probably standing there at other times too, but this would be hard to verify – how do you know it is there when you are not there? Anyway, here it is.

Weekend at Moyhu – and Ned Kelly

May 12, 2018

Had a nice weekend away with Barbro, drove up the Hume Freeway and stayed at Moyhu, south of Wangaratta. There are numerous places on the way associated with Ned Kelly: he was born in this house in Beveridge, which still stands –

– and indeed I once nearly bought it; as it stands on the property of a modern house which was for sale. It would be hard to develop it for tourism, and the owner is probably not allowed to let it fall into further disrepair (or, as it is historic, to repair it), but, it would still be a hoot to own this. Ned and his many siblings were raised in this tiny shack. There is a song “Ned Kelly was born in a ramshackle hut…“, so there.

Where you come hurtling off the freeway into Beveridge, there is a Work of Art, or a memorial, beside the slip lane. The landscape has also been sculptured with gravel areas, as part of it. But there is no sign or label for it, and I am completely baffled as to what it is supposed to be, or what it commemorates. I’ll keep you posted if I find out.

At the Benalla Museum there is an exhibit of Ned Kelly’s Cummerbund. He was given this when as a younger man he saved a still younger boy from drowning. The boy’s family were upper-class and the Kellys were, well, not positioned among the higher stations in life, so it was hard to find a suitable reward. Ned greatly treasured this sash, and he was wearing it under the famous suit of armour when he was captured.

The doctor who attended Ned after his capture stole the sash, and it disappeared completely from the world. A worldwide search failed to find it; there was even a song written about it “Oh where is the sash that Ned Kelly wore..“. Later: I have found it at this link. But after some decades a daughter of a family in England admitted that they had it in their possession, and it was restored to public view. It has Ned’s bloodstains on it.

There is much Kellyana all over Victoria, and the Benalla Museum is well worth a visit. It also has a gallery of Posh Women’s Clothing from the 1930s. Benalla must have been quite the place for a dressy afternoon tea.

Observant readers may note the dead body in this latter picture. The stuff of an Agatha Christie novel … Murder at the Museum … the murderer gets away by frantically dressing in one of the costumes and standing very still in one of the cabinets.

The Greta Cemetery where Ned Kelly is now buried. He and family members were placed in unmarked graves in 2004, and the authorities have taken great care to leave no trace whatsoever of the location. Opinions as to the villainy or saintliness of Mr Kelly continue to divide Australia to this day. There is plenty of room for more graves here … the above headstone says “YOUNGER”, but its occupant clearly suffered from being older. Elsewhere in the cemetery is this vista with a single grave, I don’t know why that location was chosen.

We moved on to Moyhu where we had a nice dinner at the pub – prepared and served to a very high standard. Lovely blazing wood fire. The food would have been rough here once, but now we are near the Oxley-Milawa complex to which hordes of foodies from Melbourne flock at weekends. We stayed at an Airbnb just out of Moyhu, with a neat view of the vllage across some very flat (and dry) fields.

We went on the next morning to Brookfield Maze – I’ll write about that in the next post.

Two Cakes!

May 9, 2018

Tommy and Irene, from Sweden, stayed with us recently and did the six-day Great Ocean Walk. I recalled the Day of Five Breakfasts (Link HERE) that I celebrated with Tommy some years ago.

And similarly, last week I had a Glorious Day of Two Cakes. You see, I ride every week with the Whitehorse Cyclists’ Easy Tuesday group, but having trained at the Genghis Khan School of Cycling I tend to be up at the front all the time and sometimes I find myself getting impatient. They ride about 40km at about 14kph, which is actually pretty easy to do on generally flat paths. There are also Medium (70km/20kph) and Hard (100km/25kph) groups; the Hardies average that speed including going up hills, often unnecessarily but last week’s Hard Ride was going to be on flat terrain, so I tagged along. They even called it “an easy hard ride”.

Little did I realise that the Hardies, on flat ground, simply crank up the pace until the ride becomes hard enough for them again. So we were bowling along at 30-37 kph – we hurtled past the 25 riders of the Easy Ride, who were all standing still in a field, counting themselves and going yakety-yak. I kept up at first, especially on the downhill bits, but eventually a gap between me (with the tail-end whip) and the rest of the group opened up, and despite my efforts it kept opening up. When the gap got to several hundred metres, and on level ground, I apologised to the whip and left the ride.

Then I spent 20 minutes sitting alone in a bus shelter looking at the map – there were no cafes or railway stations for miles in any direction. And the only bike path was the one that I was already on, too. I was feeling glum as well as exhausted. So I continued to ride along the path by myself and eventually I came to a children’s farm, Chesterfield Farm, in the middle of nowhere but it had a coffee shop. And cockatoos:

Hello cocky, said I. ULLO, they said. ULLO ULLO ULLO … Hello cocky … ULLO COCKY … and so on. I felt even more glum … glummer … I went into the shop, the girl said “Hello” and without thinking I squawked “ULLO ULLO”. But normality returned and I ordered a large coffee … and on this day they offered a Special Price for coffee and a huge piece of cheesecake! Which I wolfed down. I started to feel happier.

As I left the farm, my bicycle groaning under the added weight of cheesecake, I reached the bike path and guess who was coming along it, yes, the entire Easy Ride going the other way (towards where I had just come from). Here’s one of their riders, hidden in plain sight over there:

So I tagged on the end of the Easy Ride, knowing that it would eventually reach a train station. “We saw you, riding among the Hardies” said two of the ladies – can I call them Easy Ladies? – “And none of the Hardies was smiling or looking like they were enjoying themselves”.

And guess what, the Easy Ride was about to stop for coffee! The map above shows where I rode that day, and look at the speed trace below – you can distinguish the Hard Ride from the Easy Ride, and see the breaks where I sat in the bus shelter, at the farm, and at the cafe.

The cafe that the Easy Riders chose offered its own Special Deal, on Tuesdays only, coffee and a cheeseburger for $10! And … this day was a Tuesday!! Imagine my joy, two big coffees and two huge snacks in the same morning … and I realised that when we got going again, it would already be 12:15 and therefore time for lunch. As I chomped into my giant cheeseburger, I wondered why I was not able to keep up with the Hard Ride.

Blog is back – Funny story

May 1, 2018

It’s been a while – after Lars and Romina’s wedding my daughter Emma gave birth to Thomas, our first grandchild. They have requested that not many details appear on the web, but obviously we are very proud and happy.

So let me get back into blogging again. I should show a picture, so, here’s a photo I took – I bet you cannot guess what this building is!


And now here’s a funny story – this is copied from the book “Shrimp Shells in My Cleavage”, written by the much-travelled Aussie actress Stella Pulo and available from (wait for it) – or, in my case, from the book hutch in my front garden.


The best of everything in Italy is in one’s own backyard … everything, except for efficient firemen, policemen and locksmiths. If you lock yourself out of your apartment anywhere in Italy, you’re bound to meet all three parties and, perhaps, still be locked out a week later.

One afternoon I discovered that I had done exactly that, and the chief of the Florence Fire Department thought he would use my misfortune as a training session for his twenty newly recruited firemen.

To my surprise, the chief spoke to me in English. He informed me that the reason he could speak English was because he had had to deal with many foreigners who always “go outside and leave the keys inside”. He expressed his frustration by hitting his bald head rather savagely with the palm of his hand and stereotypically yelling “Mama Mia”. Then, as if petitioning God in heaven, he began wailing for mercy. He proceeded to explain that his “boys” were on their way. Each of them was going to be allowed a maximum period of sixty seconds to climb up into the building and into my apartment. He suggested that I should watch the exercise, as it could prove interesting. Great! I was about to be the guinea pig for the Florence Fire Department.

Soon the sirens of five fire engines were heard throughout Florence. Lights flashed, and everyone on the street where I lived became hysterical. With this much commotion, there must be a huge fire – why else would five fire engines and twenty firemen descend on the scene? My Italian vocabulary and dictionary weren’t enough to explain that I had simply locked my keys inside my apartment and they had come to let me in. Neither would the chief explain the situation to the rapidly growing crowd. He thought it would be good practice for his boys to deal with a panic-stricken public.

It was getting chilly, so I asked the chief if the first fireman could let me into my apartment while the rest continued the drill.

No problema. No problema,” said the chief as he gently moved me aside but well away from the door to my building. It was clear that I wasn’t going to get into my apartment before the drill was complete.

Every car wanting to travel through my street was ordered to detour while twenty strong Italian firemen entered my apartment. The chief encouraged the “audience” to applaud when any of the firemen took less than sixty seconds to complete the exercise. I reminded the chief that the last fireman ought to leave the door open, as I suspected that he had forgotten why I had requested this visit in the first place.

Prego. Prego” he answered. He then informed me that he had to see my rental contract before he could let me into my apartment.

“No problem – it’s inside.”

“No good inside – I must see it here outside, or I cannot let you in, unless the landlord can tell me that you are the tenant”, he says assertively.

“I don’t carry the rental contract in my bag, in case I get robbed, and my landlord lives in France.”

Scusi. Scusi” he said. “How am I to know that this is your apartment?”

Unfortunately, he made sense, especially when he told me that in Italy, when tenants don’t pay their rent, landlords make sure they can’t get into their apartments by changing the locks on the doors. The situation proved impossible. Twenty firemen had just entered my apartment but I was to remain locked outside. I stood helplessly in the street as I watched the Florence Fire Department proudly drive away, and everyone else depart for their warm houses.

My son’s wedding – Reception

February 20, 2018

This is the only wedding-group shot that the photographer took. From the left, Lisa & Martin (Romina’s brother), myself and Barbro, Romina and Lars, Romina’s parents.

Lars and Romina wanted a white wedding, and their wish was granted as after 3 weeks of no snow, there was a copious snowfall the day before the wedding (and there was rain on the day after, ruining the pristine snow).

The reception was held at a remote 500-year-old farmhouse that nevertheless had modern facilities.

Romina’s brother and grandfather, a wonderful and kind man. (The brother is the one on the left) (and Romina is the one in the middle).

Enough of this, where’s the beer and cake? This was the wedding cake.

And that ancillary cake was also a masterpiece of cuisine, with an accurate map on the globe – showing even Tasmania and New Zealand correctly – the cup cakes had a different Lars-related theme on each one, and the cups were in the colours of the German Flag.

The photographer took a lot of natty photos (and as with the previous post, all these photos are (c) Sabine Holaubek and are downloadable from her web site).

The horse and cart – there were three of them – was to provide fun rides into the snow-covered forest for the guests mid-afternoon. There, Sabine took the Best Wedding Picture –

We returned for the dinner, where several comic sketches were enacted by Romina’s friends, and the usual speeches were made. I gave mine in English but launched into a few words of German for the main points – I can’t get the words to flow smoothly in my spoken German.

Myself and Romina’s parents. It is strange to find myself related to a family of Bavarians, and they must be equally amazed (by Newton’s Third Law) now to discover Australians in their family. My astrologer once said “Today your wildest dreams will come true … you will not like it at all.” Seriously, we all got along wonderfully well and we formed friendships that will last for the rest of our lives.

Eventually the reception ended, the guests departed and the bridal couple set off, but unfortunately the last bus had already gone.

And there they are, thinking about what lies beyond the mountains – Austria, actually, then Italy, the Mediterranean, Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Tasmania (which is where they are going to live), New Zealand, and Invercargill. My wonderful son and his wonderful new wife – the whole world is all yours; just get yourselves into focus, eh. Actually, more than the whole world:

You take care, son.

Kiwi interlude: Burt

February 19, 2018

March 2016: Lars, his new fiancee Romina, and Burt, at the end of the 3000-km Te Araroa walking trail.

Back in 2016 we flew to Invercargill to meet Lars and Romina at the end of their walk across New Zealand. Invercargill is famous for two things – it is the last town in the world as you go south, and it was the home of Burt Munro, eccentric self-taught builder of a bizarre motorbike that took the land speed record for two-wheelers.

Click the bike to embiggen it and then gaze in amazement for, as the gods are my witness, that is Burt Munro’s record-breaking bike. The handlebars are halfway down the front forks, and the plate at the back is to stop Burt sliding off when it gets going. It was a new bike in 1920, then abandoned for years in a field, bought by Burt in 1938 for 1 pound and then very heavily modified to take the under-1000cc speed record of 296 km/h in 1967. So, the fastest bike in the world was a 47-year-old machine …. during the record-breaking run Burt’s goggles flew off and he could not see where he was going, he could look only downwards but could just about see the black line painted across the Utah desert. The film The World’s Fastest Indian tells the story and THIS CLIP shows the test run when the officials were checking that the bike could actually go, and was safe (it had no parachute – and come to think of it, no brakes). See him take off at 1:07, still in second gear. Burt’s speed record stands to this day.

I went to pay homage at the place where Burt’s house and workshop once stood. A road for new housing is now built there, but named after him. And parked on the main road I saw this yellow Mini with the rego “P0RK P1” – not “IZ 6393” which, as every NZ hoon knows, was the rego of the yellow Mini featured in the iconic film Goodbye Pork Pie (1980) –

– in which the protagonist drives the Mini from Kaitaia to Invercargill – the same journey that Lars and Romina walked – selling off every removable part of the car on the way, finally arriving at Invercargill with only a chassis, four wheels, and an engine, which was on fire. I asked my NZ motorcycling mate Deany if he knew of the film, and he said “Know it? The mechanics I employed at the time are in it” (the scene at the Dunedin scrap yard)

Anyway after we had lapped up these icons of Antipodean culture, Lars and Romina came through and walked on to Bluff, where the trail ends and Barbro walked some of the way with them. Specifically, she walked the last 4 km and skipped the other 2,996 km. At one place (it was HERE, click on “Satellite” ) – Lars asked Barbro to go off and hide somewhere while he asked Romina something.

In the euphoria that followed after she said Yes to whatever it was, the three of them noticed that they were not alone. There, caught in the bushes was a helium balloon marked “Happy 60th Birthday”. Well, the first word was correct, so they named him “Burt” after Burt Munro, and brought him along with them.

In the airbnb-house where we stayed a few days Burt was then our constant companion. After a week he was still inflated, still floating so we took him with us to Queenstown. One morning we could not find him but finally saw him at the top of the stairwell, wistfully gazing through a window at our house’s excellent vista over central Queenstown. And the next morning, Burt was gone; we searched the house high and low but could not find him anywhere. There may have been an open window. We still think of him, wafting over the streets of Queenstown, perhaps riding in the chairlift or on a jet ski.

Wherever you are, Burt old mate, you take care, eh.

My son’s wedding – Ceremony

February 18, 2018

Lars and Romina’s wedding, 20 January 2018: these are their wedding rings.

The design shows certain trees and mountains they have passed by, particularly on their walk along the length of New Zealand. The metal of the rings is Palladium, an element noted for its great capacity to absorb gaseous hydrogen. Could be very handy, they might be driving a hydrogen-powered car one day, and the battery starts to get a bit low, and it so happens that there’d be some hydrogen and …

Lars completing negotiations with Sepp, the bride’s father. I think he got Romina for 35 camels, which would be quite a bargain as she is surely worth much more than that. Sepp then went off to find Romina and bring her up the aisle. Halfway up, he carefully checked to make sure he had the right person.

As you see, Romina found the prospect of marrying this particular groom rather funny. Or maybe he told her how many camels … anyway the four of them sat down at the desk, and work began.

Romina’s parents:

Romina’s brother and his fiancee. They observed with particular interest, because they are next (in July). I don’t know if the llamas will still be there by then.

The celebrant – an official of the Bayrischzell Town Council – lit two candles (in case of power cuts) and made a long speech in German. Most of it was about how Lars & Romina met but I think she would have started with acknowledging the original Saxon owners of the land, pointing out where the fire exits were, then describing the touristic attractions of Bayrischzell and outlining the opportunities for commercial investment in this thriving community. I do recall that her first words to Rory were “Do you have any ID” whereupon he produced his passport, which was earnestly examined.

With bride, groom and witnesses all positively identified, the wedding ceremony proceeded. When it was finished, everyone frantically applauded:

The critical moment – the exchange of rings –

Actually the critical moment was in the middle of the ceremony, when they signed the marriage certificate. At that point the celebrant escorted the bride and groom to a back room, where Romina collected her new passport, fully prepared with date of issue that day, and showing her new married name; her old passport was then stamped “cancelled”. This could have got her into all sorts of trouble when trying to leave Europe, and when trying to enter Australia, as everyone’s existing paperwork showed another name, but we had already filled out forms to expedite this. Her new passport was ordered weeks ago, of course, which had involved arguing about it being in a name that was not (yet) her name. The wedding could have been cancelled for various reasons – atomic bomb, outbreak of plague, eaten by llamas etc – but not the passport.

Anyway, the delighted bride and groom then exited the chamber. Everyone was so delighted, so so happy; even the photographer could not hold the camera straight. They moved on outside into the snow-covered streets, where the red VW waited to take them to the reception.

And while outside they were presented with Son of Burt, evoking the time two years before when they got engaged, and there were just the three of them, Lars Romina and Burt … this will be a Kiwi interlude for my next post.

Note: All the photos on this post are copyright and can be viewed – alll 788 of them – and purchased from the photographer’s web site HERE

My son’s wedding – Arrival

February 17, 2018

Here I am, or rather here I was in 2016, sampling the Munich cuisine with my son Lars. But now, on 20 January 2018, we were up in the Alps for his wedding to Romina:

And there’s the red VW, decked out for the wedding. In Germany there is no official recognition of anything that you might do in a church, whatever that is; all recognised weddings are conducted by a functionary at an official registry office, and this one was at the historic Town Hall of Bayrischzell, an Alpine village about 70km SE of Munich.

Lars attempting to dress for the ceremony. Unlike us old dinosaurs in our youth, he has not had to wear a tie every day of his life. This is one of several new experiences he will have today.

Ready to set off with Rory, the best man. However, it was decided that he’d look better with a shirt on – otherwise the more delicate ladies would swoon or come over all faint. But I do feel that this picture (taken by the official photographer Sabine Holaubek and purchasable from her web site – see next blog post) encapsulates Rory’s robust approach to life.

You be careful on those stairs, Lars! Look where you are treading – not even that little red handbag will save you.

The 75 guests arrived and took their seats at the Town Hall. Then, in the time before the Arrival of the Bride, the assembled guests enacted the Admiration of the Llamas.

A herd of llamas was grazing outside the building. They must have become seriously lost … or perhaps they were put there for the guests to look at before the bride arrived (late, as custom demands). Lars and Rory waited at the desk, upon which lay a folder of the necesssary official documents such as the wedding certificate; the word on the cover means “portfolio of the wedding” but we could not resist doing this:

The celebrant waited.

The groom and best man waited.

The guests waited.

The llamas quietly grazed outside the window.

The bride and her father approached the doorway of the room.

Books, saints, Munich, wedding

February 15, 2018

How I love books – this one about arrases, for example. A neat purchase at Cracow Castle, a few days before we saw Hamlet, which of course has a scene in which Polonius gets stabbed behind the arras (what a way to go!)

At my house in Melbourne I have put up a Book Hutch in the front garden. People can take and leave books as they wish. It is a tremendous success and we have been showered with praise; several anonymous letters of congratulation have been left the hutch, and an invite to dinner from the people in the next street who have another book hutch. Mine holds about 15 books and after about a week they have all gone and been replaced by new ones. However, someone left four huge books by Diana Gabaldon in it, which nobody ever took, and they filled up 2/3 of the room. So, I built an annexe for only books by Diana Gabaldon:

Why am I telling you this, well, I just thought you would like to know. And because, when we came to visit Romina’s parents at Munich, look what the reading material in our room was:

A little statue of St.Florian is commonly found in German houses. He is the patron saint of firefighters, and is usually depicted tipping a bucket of water over a burning building, thus:

He ought to be the patron saint of bucket-makers as well. (Or rain makers.) And if he’s really that size relative to the buildings he extinguishes, then your house being on fire could be the least of your worries. As his bucket is a traditional wooden one, I can point out that St.Urban of Langres is the patron saint of barrel-makers … there’s one for everything. St.Isidore is the patron saint of the Internet – so he’d be the proper saint to pray to, when your NBN connection slows down. St.Cajetan is the patron saint of:

  • Albania, Italy, Malta, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala
  • Workers
  • Unemployed people
  • Gamblers
  • People who do not gamble

I guess he’d be pretty busy. Now where was I – oh yes, here’s the Bayrischzell Fire Station with St Florian painted on the side:

Those birds hovering over it might be vultures. When you call the fire brigade they first ask “Have you prayed to St Florian … but if the fire is still going, we’ll come now.” There should be a patron saint for Buildings Not On Fire.

Whatever … so we arrived at Munich, took the suburban train to Gernlinden. I recall that when we were here 18 months ago, at this station there were jigsaw pieces strewn over the path, thus:

The patron saint of jigsaw puzzle fans … Ha! There isn’t one. I could volunteer: “Bert Figgs was trying to solve a 3,000 piece jigsaw of the Mona Lisa and was completely stuck. He prayed to St.Steve, who indicated that Bert had fitted the famous smile upside down, also that there were two missing pieces that his cat had taken away and put under the sofa. With this saintly help, he was able to complete the puzzle.”

I seem to have wandered from the topic at hand yet again; Sepp, Romina’s father, had left his bicycle outside the house:

In a nearby suburb of western Munich, Amazon have built a huge complex of grey warehouses, which the locals call Amazonia:

Sepp was driving into town at 7am one day, or rather, he wasn’t, because he stopped at a roundabout and 67 Amazon trucks went across before he could proceed. For the wedding, Sepp had bought this beautifully preserved 1968 Volkswagen:

Of course, he is as proud as a cat with two tails over this car. It was made in Mexico, curiously, and imported new to Germany where it had had only one owner – a little old lady who used it to drive to church and back. Yes, really! We put the VW on a trailer and drove for a couple of hours up into the mountains to Bayrischzell, the village where the wedding would be held. The views were like this:

… and we rented the house shown above, which could easily accommodate 20 people in their own rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms. All of Barbro’s family came down from Sweden, and we filled the house with Swedes.

Brixen im Thale

February 14, 2018

We came to Munich a few days before my son Lars’s wedding, and Lars found time to take us up to the ski field where he had worked for several winters (and where he met Romina). Behold, the village of igloos that he, with others, has just built.

Hier ist mein Sohn, der Iglubaumeister, mit dem Mädchen, das seine Frau wird:

The igloos are built fresh every winter, by a special proprietary technique, and they can be quite big and multi-roomed – this is the view inside the entrance to the big one:

You can sleep on a nice bed – woops, I meant sleep on an ice bed (with furs, of course), get married in an ice church, buy a drink and sit at an ice table from where you can admire ice carvings on the walls.

We saw the carver at work; this will be a puma. At the bottom left of the work, on the ground, is the magazine with the picture that he is copying. In the summer he works in stone on cathedrals etc.

But when there is little to do – which Lars said did happen from time to time as they were building the village – they play a Nail Game, as follows. Four-inch nails are lightly tapped into a heavy wooden stump. Then you have to bang your nail in – using the axe side of the hammer, thus:

With a bit of luck I could actually hit the nail and drive it an inch or so in. Without the skill, most of the time one misses – but the locals can bang it in with one blow. Not only that, they toss the hammer in a loop and catch it before striking the blow, in a single smooth movement:

Here’s some advice: Do not play this game with the locals! At least, not for money. Bang, it’s gone. Bang, it’s gone. Bang, it’s gone ….

The views down the mountain were perfect.

After we came off the mountain we were so exhausted that we had to head for the nearest cafe and scoff an Apple Strudel. Each.

Dresden (4) – 13 Feb 1945

February 5, 2018

Another post that is hard to write (and read). You don’t just walk around Dresden, there is a price to pay.

As we all know, the British and Americans bombed Dresden flat in 1945. There is still controversy over whether it was a legitimate target, or even relevant to progressing the war towards a victory. It looks very like a furious revenge for the 1940 destruction of Coventry, but that really was a legitimate target (arms production and heavy machinery).

Dresden had a lot of ornate buildings and artwork, which have now been restored ending in 2005 – even the newly formed communist government began restoration work immediately after the war. This clock, for example, once had (and now has again) bells made of the finest Meissen porcelain. And look at the detail in the stonework figures on an arch beside the palace. Dresden was, and is again, awash with this calibre of artwork.

Dresden had a historic Old City, residential suburbs, extensive railway yards and junctions and a large industrial area. The map below, issued by the British to their bomber crews, shows the area to be bombed – the quadrant below and right of centre. This is the Old City, containing nothing of military relevance, and it was utterly destroyed by more than a thousand bombers.

After the firestorm ended and the rubble was cleared away, some weeks later, the Old City looked like this.

The cathedral looked like this. It was consecrated in 1388 – 13 bloody 88. The statue of Luther in front of it, curiously, was more or less intact.

The cathedral was restored in the 1990s, at a cost of 180 million Euros (100 raised by public subscription and 80 from the German government). Original stones, black in colour, were identified and replaced exactly in their original locations in the stonework, so with the new stones being light brown in colour the stonework looks like this –

The cross on top of the restored cathedral was made in Coventry by the son of one of the bomber pilots. Another cross, inside the cathedral (sorry no photo) is made of medieval iron nails from the roof of the destroyed Coventry Cathedral.

The two cities (with Stalingrad) became the world’s first Twin Cities in 1959. Presumably they all shared a common desire, not to bomb the crap out of one another, ever again.

The British Lancaster bomber had a crew of seven: pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, flight engineer, wireless operator, mid gunner and rear gunner. My father served in the RAF as a wireless operator – he reckoned, correctly, that this might be useful in getting a job after the war, when bomb aimers and rear gunners would not be much in demand. We have lost his flight records, but it is very likely that he would have flown over Dresden on that night of 13 February 1945. I have to deal with this now. After the war he was active in the Berlin Airlift and he saw at first hand the devastation that had been wreaked on Germany. And he became a fierce pacifist.

Dresden (3) – various

February 4, 2018

Let’s meet at point A. If you don’t see me, look for me at meeting point B instead. The signs here are a bit iffy:

You can go ice skating in the courtyards of some of the old quadrilateral buildings. They flood the courtyard and charge you to skate.

And that is a lady selling illustrated comic poems for various jobs that people do. Sadly, she did not have one for iglubaumeister, which is what my son is – a master igloo builder. There is not much call for igloos in Australia, but who knows where his career might take him. It looks good on his resume, along with Shelf Stacker and Dog Shoo’er, in a Western Desert community when he was 10 years old and I ran the shop for 3 weeks.

This is the Dresden State Opera House, rebuilt of course after WW2. We went along in the hope of getting spare or returned tickets for Die Fledermaus. Ha! said the lady, you come here to the Dresden State Opera, one of the world’s finest, and you think there will be spare tickets? Tomorrow we have the first opera of Wagner’s Ring, which sold out 3 years ago.

So we walked over to the State Theatre where Hamlet was playing. And yes, there were a few, a very few, free seats so we got in and waited for the play to start. The stage looked like this:

And among an audience of mostly young people, we saw a death-metal version of Hamlet. Crikey, was I blown away. Brilliant sets and setting, brilliant re-ordering of the play, five devastating songs heavy enough to bring the roof down, terrific performances by musicians who could also act. Of all the Hamlet’s I have seen – dozens – this one takes the cake. If that was not enough, the star of the show (playing Hamlet) acted the play-within-the-play all by himself, and for the final duel scene, where (spoiler alert) Hamlet kills Laertes and the King and Queen – he played all four parts by himself, simultaneously. This actor, Christian Friedel, well deserved the standing ovation and 6 curtain calls that followed. You can see bits of it (all in German, of course) HERE and the first song, filmed straight, HERE

Dresden (2) – Parade of kings

February 3, 2018

Along one outer wall of the Dresden royal palace are 24,000 picture tiles, depicting a parade of all the kings of Saxony. Here’s Albrecht, for example – one of the only two kings shown on a prancing horse.

The detail is wonderful – here is a close-up of George, for example.

The later kings include Augustus II The Strong – on the left in the picture above. He is the other king on a prancing horse; more about him in a minute. Some inferior kings do not even have a horse, and have to walk. Augustus’s horse is shown trampling on a rose –

– an allegory for some lands that he conquered and, in legend, a girl who repudiated him. Augustus II was ambitious; he decided he would be king of Poland as well as Saxony. Becoming king of Poland was easy, because it was not hereditary, the Poles elected their king; well, actually the electing was done by a small group of influential Poles – highly bribe-able Poles. The only snag was that the king of Poland had to be a Catholic. Easily done, said the protestant Augustus, I’ll become one, and look, I’ll build a Catholic cathedral. Now another snag arose, that such a cathedral could not be built in Saxony on public land. But there was room, just about, in the palace gardens. So here’s Dresden’s Catholic cathedral, jammed in about ten feet away from the royal palace.

The new King Frederick Augustus of Poland (and continuing King Augustus II The Even Stronger of Saxony) was now so pleased with himself that he put up a golden statue of himself on a horse.

The parade of kings goes up to 1918, after which time kings were no longer in vogue in Saxony. Just as well, as there is no room for more kings on the side of the building. They could possibly have extended the palace building to the right. And removed some of the more obscure older kings at the other end. The palace would slowly migrate across Dresden over the years.

Dresden (1)

February 2, 2018

So we left Poland behind and entered Germany, staying at first for 4 nights in Dresden. Of the war damage, more later, and much of the ghastly post-war Communist heritage has been replaced but the above mural remains, along with some grotesque 1960s architecture. The city does have its own manhole cover design:

In the Communist times, the East German pedestrian crossing lights showed red and green men of a unique design. After 1989 the locals wanted to keep these, despite the memories that might be associated with them, and they have indeed remained; and lately some crossings show a GIRL, albeit with old-fashioned hair and clothes, instead of the patriarchal male figure.

Or perhaps those crossings are for girls only. Here’s a shop that must have had difficulty displaying its wares –

And here we are in a German-speaking environment. We need to get the hang of this as Barbro has been trying to study German for some years, I can read written technical German but cannot cope with the conversational language, and in two weeks (from when we were in Dresden) our son will be marrying a girl from Munich and we will be part of a whole Bavarian-speaking family who have no English!

But I am sure we will get by. As this menu says, in so many words, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. (So, girls, you stick the dagger in quite low down and then you sort of twist it upwards and slightly to the right).


February 2, 2018

Blog has been quiet lately while I returned from Europe (and underwent a week of post-trip despair). Will re-start it now, next posts: Dresden, then Munich and my son’s wedding.

Meanwhile, I thought I would compile an Index to it; I have made a start.
(this is an actual page from my BMW motorbike manual)

Krakow (4) – Schindler’s Factory

January 25, 2018

Oskar Schindler was an active Nazi party member, drunkard, briber, adulterer, spy (sentenced to death by the Czechs) and a ruthless opportunistic businessman, who ran a successful enamelling business in Krakow and happily used slave labour provided by the Gestapo. But he looked after his employees and fed them better, etc, so his products were of higher quality and were turned out in more quantity than those of his rivals, and thus his business expanded and he needed more employees. And thereby, as they say, hangs a tale.

When he saw how the Nazis were treating the local populace he was appalled, and he found a kind place in his heart. Later, when it became known through the book Schindler’s Ark that he had saved the lives of 1200 Jews, he was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations and, after he died in poverty in 1974, he was buried on Mt Zion: the only member of the Nazi Party to be so recognised.

His factory is now a major museum of life in Krakow under the Nazis, and we visited it on our last day in this city. Pre-war Krakow had a vibrant working and cultural life –

and look what was on the stage (Macbeth, at top left). Life became very dreary under the Nazis – sorry, the proper adjectives fail me here. They opened a shop that sold pictures and other regalia of Hitler; business was pretty slow. This is its front window at one time –

A propaganda notice board in 1939, and in the museum today –

School essay by Roman Polanksi, in his best handwriting –

“I suddenly realised that we were to be walled in. I got so scared that I eventually burst into tears”

Illegal printing press, and an excerpt from a partisan comic for boys, printed on it; note the high quality, given the circumstances

Schindler’s desk

Opposite the desk is a memorial consisting of a cubical room, with walls made of pewterware made in the factory. Inside the room, covering the walls, are written the names of the 1200 Jews saved by Schindler, writing at this desk.

Krakow (3) – Wawel Hill

January 24, 2018

At the southern end of the Old City stands the Wawel hill, groaning under the weight of famous churches, tombs of Polish heroes, and other buildings standing on it. I won’t catalogue all these, but there was a Mysterious Mound deliberately left in place but not labelled, and I have no idea why it is there, which must be the case because otherwise it would not be mysterious, would it?

One of the defensive towers, above, has three dunnies with external waste discharge. It would not be a good idea to use the middle one, or to lean out of the lower left window.

There is also a legendary dragon’s cave under the hill, closed on the day of our visit but I note with alarm that the visitors’ route is one-way only. From the entrance there is a sweeping view over the Vistula:

A lifelike statue of the Polish Pope, St John-Paul II, is one of dozens more all over Krakow, his home city.

And that is the simple house, at the bottom of the Wawel hill, where the Pope used to live when visiting Krakow. In the evening he would sit at an open window and talk to passers-by on any topic at all. The cross beside the house is the moving, simple memorial to the Katyn massacre.

In a shop over the road from the hill entrance is this very old chest of drawers, with Biblical Latin quote: et dixit Dominus Deus ad mulierem quire hoc fecisti quae respondit serpens decepit me et comedi

“And the Lord God said to the woman, what have you done here, and she replied, the serpent deceived me, and it was a hoot” (actually, “and I ate”)

And then we walked south from the Wawel hill, and came to this plain-looking building:

It is the entrance to Schindler’s Enamel Factory. And sorry, but the next blog will be devoid of laughs.

Krakow (2) – A bit of culture

January 23, 2018

I could write forever about the rich culture of this marvellous sity, but this will have to be a narrow selection. Above is the Florian Gate in the city wall, once (and still) the main entrance to the old city. From a back street you can see the Kosciuszko Mound, but it is more clearly seen (as in the second photo below) from the Wawel hill – see next blog – if you have a telephoto lens.

Kosciuszko was a Polish hero and also a hero in what is now Belarus, Lithuania, and the United States; he got around quite a bit and of course Australia’s highest mountain is named after him. He led the Polish National Uprising of 1794 from this spot in the main square –

Clearly he looked around the square for a suitable spot to start an uprising, and he decided that in the middle of those 4 marker stones would be a good place. The main square is replete with historical markers – this water pump is a moving memorial to a man who set himself on fire as a protest against the Katyn massacre being deliberately mis-reported in the history books.

And he has his own manhole cover … but this, below, is a more glorious exemplar of the genre.

A monument to Nicolaus Copernicus, who studied at the Jagellonian University here, one of the world’s oldest seats of learning.

Another monument, this one awful –

It commemorates Chopin, and jets of water are supposed to come out of the four raised thingies, whereupon they resemble the strings of a harp or piano. This is Barbro with an unlabelled stone.

It is phallic, but I don’t want to say what it looks like. Throughout the park there are benches marked with the name sof famous authors who have contributed to Polish culture.

Graham Masterton, prolific British horror author among whose works are also found about 30 sex instruction manuals. But he is more probably represented here because he has opened a competition for inmates of Polish prisons to write short stories. (Mine would start “In one bound I was free…”)

All over Krakow are elaborate Nativity scenes like this, colourful constructions displayed in glass cases and lit up at night. I always thought the Nativity was a very low-key sort of event, in a stable, but such are the mysteries of the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, Martin Luther attempts to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Wittenberg church.

Krakow (1)

January 22, 2018

This 1920’s aerial photo shows the central part of this ancient city, for many years the capital of Poland (when Poland was there). Krakow bristles with old buildings and history, both ancient and modern. And a Pope! This is the view from our hotel room, just inside the city walls and overlooking them.

Every morning, for two hours we had a grandstand view of these poor blokes who had to bring hundreds of cheap pictures, and hang them up.

And in the evening they had to take them down again. The pictures were originals, each briskly dashed off in probably an hour, and done in oils so that they were waterproof. Because it rained fairly often, and it took 2 hours to get them all down again. They seemed to sell about one picture a day, but in the summer trade would be very brisk.

The hotel where we stayed was good quality, but showed signs of management not caring much. There was an attached bistro, where we had an antipasto that curiously resembled the breakfast buffet. Barbro recognised some of the cheese segments and slices of ham. The waiter collected our antipastoidal plates and cutlery, and then brought the main course but no cutlery. This was indeed food for intrepid travellers … the sign outside depicted an animal but we could not make out what it was:

Perhaps it was some breed of a rare species that gives very tasty meat, or meat whose leftovers can be served again at breakfast, or perhaps the animal wants to be eaten (like the animal in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was brought in alive and spoke politely to the diners “Perhaps you would like my ribs, sir…“). Maybe this species is unique to Poland, or to Krakow itself … as the original owner of this skeleton might also have been:

My wife:

Amateur psychologists would note that the tramlines do not join up, symbolically. Now this marvellously old-fashioned shop –

– is a real, normally working shop in a backstreet of the working area, away from the tourists. Here also, in the rain and after sunset, I took this arty farty photo of cobblestones.

Your eyes will swap between seeing raised stones, and hollow areas with raised borders.


January 20, 2018

I interrupt this series of delayed blog posts to announce that today, Saturday January 20th, at Bayrichszell in the Alps, my wonderful son Lars Roberts is marrying the equally wonderful Romina Streifinger, of Munich.

Congratulations to you both!

Imagine my pride! Mount Everest!


January 17, 2018

Spare me for a few days, there is a family wedding coming up at the weekend. Blog will resume next week.

Meanwhile here is an arty farty photo of cobblestones in Krakow, taken in the dark and the rain. Your eyes will swap between seeing raised stones, and rectangular hollows with walls.

Gdansk to Krakow

January 16, 2018

I forgot to mention that our hotel in Gdansk had the usual mini-bar but also provided free beer! And if you drank it all, room service would bring some more (and I personally verified this). It was very good beer – they brew it in the hotel, you can’t buy it elsewhere, and I guess it would cost them nearly nothing to brew a few litres extra.

We took the train to Krakow; it was a very nice trip. (But wait till you hear about the Krakow to Dresden trip 4 days later). We passed through a number of unpronounceable Polish stations, Tczew for example:

Depressing untidy landscape here and there:

We got this close to Warsaw:

Finally we arrived at Krakow and got a taxi to our hotel, which was right next to the Florian Gate in the city walls. This is the ancient Florian Gate tower, photographed on our first evening:

And that is St Mary’s Cathedral, in the city centre. Yes, the two towers are different heights. It is famous that since 1392 (yes 1392) on the hour, a trumpeter plays a short tune from its tower, 4 times, once in each direction, but the fourth playing is cut short. This is said to commemorate the Mongol invasion of 1241 when a Mongol archer, presumably annoyed by the trumpeting, shot him. The noon playing is broadcast on Polish Radio, and thus via the Internet to the entire world.

It was cold on the streets, but our hotel in Krakow was very nice. It had pictures of Polish kings, including this one:

If you pointed out that he had no trousers, he’d belt you with that thing he’s carrying.


January 15, 2018

The 1980’s were a strange decade. A lot of people who hated trade unions, took a liking to one in Poland. In 1980, Lech Walesa, already a persona non grata everywhere in Poland as an agitator and thus unemployed, climbed the section of wall on the right to get into the Gdansk shipyard. I think the section of wall on the left offsets it nicely. It is from Berlin.

These are the famous shipyard gates, with replica of the 21 demands of the strikers on a brown-coloured plywood sheet. Well, actually these are not the original gates. After a tank was driven through them, the original gates looked like this:

The shipyard has gone now, and has been replaced by a state-of-the art museum of what happened. From the museum door, you gaze outward across a typical Communist landscape. Then when you get inside, it looks like this.

The actual building is hard to fit into a photograph, but it does look exactly like the builder’s sketch –

Opposite the building to the south, a number of capitalist buildings have spawned. The museum thoughtfully provides a view through a window that is partly blocked off so you can’t see most of them.

An aside. When I was a schoolboy I learned how to print posters and documents using movable metal type, and one of those ancient printing machines with a bed and big screw thread on top. “Be careful, Roberts”, said the teacher, “this is the most dangerous thing in the School“. “OK Sir, I will keep my fingers safely away from it when printing”. “No no, Roberts, I meant that this thing can bring down the Government“. So here’s a real Polish underground one –

The Poles were always a nuisance to their overlords in the USSR. That Polish Pope did no end of damage by offering support to dissidents, human kindness etc (and of course is now a saint, and revered all over Poland) and occasionally, just occasionally, a politician stood up for human rights. Here is Stanislaw Stomme declining to vote for (repressive) Polish constitutional amendments in 1976. His job and career as a politician rapidly came to an end.

What triggered the 1980 strike was the sacking of a female crane driver. Later on, she would have been pleased to note that the gantry crane that she drove, complete with a working piece of its gantry, is mounted in the museum. The little truck is what Walesa stood on, to make speeches inside the shipyard.

The 21 demands of the strikers were written on two plywood sheeets and hung at the gate. Above, I show the original sheets. They are a UNESCO-listed relic; see HERE or (easier) google “21 demands unesco”.

Spare a thought for the poor apparatchik who, alone, was sent in to negotiate with the strikers; he later said:

And you know this picture:

And what happened to Stanislaw Stomme? Well he found some better company. Of the 100 seats contested, 99 were won by Solidarity.

The party was over, despite what the Party Secretary thought.

That map was in the museum. One by one, the red countries turned off. The last one was Montenegro. I know, I watched them go from the map, three times.

Things in Gdansk

January 14, 2018

One very big thing is not in this post – tomrrow’s post will cover it – but here we go, here’s a wall. You call that a wall, well, this is a wall.

I do not know its history or why it has been left standing, in an expensive part of the middle of the city. Anyway, it is time for breakfast:

In the foreground, an excellent fry-up that you could serve in London and get compliments for it. Behind it, yogurt with fruit and berries and things. I’ll let you guess who had which one. Oh look! Some manhole covers, proudly displaying the city’s two-crosses emblem.

Along the King’s Walk, the houses have small front gardens across which a square pipe is fitted, to discharge water from the roof into the street. (“when it is raining” – hey thanks, Captain Obvious). These have gargoyle-like carvings and the locals call them “pukers” which you’d understand, if it was raining.

But that second one doesn’t work any more … we visited the main cathedral, one of hundreds of churches in this most Catholic city. It contains this Astronomical Clock, next to a 14th-century Flemish altarpiece –

And that is some good advice for astronomers, or for devout worshippers looking for Heaven. I found a picture of the Last Supper – curiously, this event is not much depicted in Poland, far more commonly in Germany and the Netherlands –

This one is quite a binge, as thirteen disciples have turned up, including Iscariot (red cloak, second from left at front) who of course was sent out mid-meal on an errand. Only 8 of the disciples have halos; perhaps they ran out of plates.


January 13, 2018

Spent 4 days in Gdansk, a lovely old (i.e. rebuilt after WW2 to its pre-war appearance) city. It is now mostly famous for the rise of the Solidarity movement – see my next blog but one – but in medieval times it was a very prosperous Hanseatic trading city. Here is the main drag, known as the Kings Walk because the Polish Kings used to walk up and meet their subjects of influence

And that is the Neptune fountain, centrepiece of the city and for centuries the main meeting point (Because it is away from the river, and the river stank). These buildings on the waterfront were former warehouses and rich residences –

The biggest crane on the world, in its day; not much to see as it is all enclosed –

These cranes were simple affairs of design going back to the time of the Pyramids; they were powered by a man (preferably as heavy as possible) running in a hamster wheel, and a train of gears. This crane had FOUR hamster wheels. With 24 men in each. It was used for fitting and removing the masts of ships being built or restored here.

That is the view from our hotel window – you can see that we got the lot! From the left: merchant town, old town (with cathedral behind it), warehouses, crane (behind a yacht mast).

Some buildings in the old city are very ornate:

and others more mundane, like the brick church above. I won’t catalogue all the wonders of Gdansk, but tomorrow’s blog will have a collection of small items.

Biblical mystery, and sandpit

January 13, 2018

Before I get going properly with Poland, the above relief carving in stone decorates a house in Gdansk. (Click on it for more detail). A wise-looking donkey is tethered to a tree, and an older man takes a possibly injured boy or smaller man down from the tree. On the right, someone is working in a vineyard. It is not the story of Balaam’s Ass, and I cannot place it. I thought I knew my Bible pretty well, but evidently not THAT well. Can anyone help me identify this?

Another story. In front of Birgitta’s flat in Olofstrom there is a sorry-looking sandpit, set into the tiled area and not used much. In September 2017, a pallet of concrete blocks appeared beside it; these photos were taken on Sept 1st and 3rd, respectively.

We returned a week ago, expecting to see the sandpit gone and the new blocks in place, covering the area. But no – the pallet was still there. Note the festive Christmas stars in peoples’ windows.

A closer inspection shows that the blocks are for making a firm edge around the sand pit. After 4 months, they have done 2 sides; the next brick is approaching from the left.

Sweden Food and stuff

January 11, 2018

As a farewell to this, my 23rd visit to Sweden (yes 23rd) I share with you some photos of Swedish Food, among other bits and pieces. This is a typical coffee break (“fika”) that we had –

And those are semlor, buns with almond paste in them, then a layer of cream and the top of the bun replaced. These are what killed King Adolph Frederick on 12 Feb 1771 – well, it may have been the feast of lobster, sauerkraut, kippers, and caviar all washed down with champagne, but it is more likely that his dessert of fourteen helpings of semlor was what did him in. Hey, when you are king you can have as many helpings of dessert as you like … and how would you rather die (the other options in those days were more bloody) … curiously, in the picture above there are only 13 semlor. This is, therefore, a display of An Almost Regicidal Dessert.

Some things never change – in the Karlskrona museum is a replica of an Old Shop –

– and at least one thing remains unchanged today – look at the blue tins in the middle of third shelf down. In a modern supermarket, however, I saw this ghastly travesty of a display:

Ho ho ho, I hope Santa soon puts the bottle down and pays more attention to the road. He is not even wearing a seat belt! And in the same supermarket I found –

Wow, not only a copious quantity of the well-known Oskar’s surstromming, but a more snooty black-labelled brand. This sort is probably better, i.e. it has gone off more, or the tin is under more pressure … one day, one fine day – no, one very smelly day, I will get to eat this stuff again. I might even be cast into a lake of it, in the afterlife.

Some various odd bits now, before we move on to Poland … these are lobster pieces to be grilled to make a broth, for Mats’s Xmas dinner. I just like the way they were laid out on the black oven tray. (They were nice to eat as well)

Coloured bird houses (for coloured birds). Maybe these are like the houses in old Iceland and Greenland villages, which are colour coded, the red house is always the post office, etc.

A car heater, to be plugged in and shoved under the engine overnight, to make it easier to start on a cold morning. “Cold” being, like, -20*C. People used to park over a bonfire of burning wood, but these are safer.

Finally the station board at Asarum railway station; this picture was taken at 16:19 and you will see that the clock hands are wrong, the digital time is wrong and they do not match each other! Our train (first on the list) was late anyway.

Why do they need clocks if the trains are late? So they can see how late they are, of course.


January 10, 2018

Now we are preparing to leave Sweden, and our last port of call is Hakan and Sara’s house in the beautiful naval city of Karlskrona. We arrived at night and this was the view from their house:

Hakan gets ready to go outside and conduct a barbecue.

This is the day view; across the sound you can see the historical part of the city. The little red hut in the middle is a privately owned sauna bath.

And historical it is – that multi-barbed harpoon was found in a peat bog near here and is eight thousand years old. In the main square you get a lovely view of the old buildings, and there is a statue of a fishwoman, with tools and fish –

Now those cute houses on the island above – that is the Most Often Photographed View in all of Sweden. IKEA in Melbourne have a huge print of it, all over the canteen wall. When someone buys one of the little houses, they are subjected to all sort of caveats and obligations to keep it looking exactly like it does.

But I know the truth, the ghastly secret about these houses – look again:

There they are on the left, and on the right is the magazine building where the Swedish Navy stores its gunpowder. And they probably have not had much use for loose gunpowder lately, so this square stone edifice is probably full of very old gunpowder. Oh well, here is the town’s manhole cover:

And as it was Xmas recently, as you see, some manholes are seasonally decorated with festive trimmings.

Jamshog graveyard

January 9, 2018

Oh how I love a graveyard, all those pretty stiffs … this is the older part of the graveyard at Jamshog, Blekinge, southern Sweden, with the church in the background. Barbro’s mother and brother are buried near here.

Families now tend to cremate rather than bury, and this is the place for offerings and mementoes to be displayed (it is not where the ashes are scattered)

You can buy a specific site, and these are now spreading all over the valley, like this:

And of course, this being Sweden, there is an extensive set of rules. One wonders what would happens to any resident who disobeys them.

They have also started a new place for scattering ashes, with stone plinths to which a little plaque is affixed. This is very new, only half-a-dozen takers so far, and there is plenty of room for more.

The Swedish Lutheran Church moves with the times, so, despite its being a Protestant Christian church, when you’re dead you’re very dead but equally beloved of God, and there is now a special section for Muslims.

And another section for religions yet to be invented:

And another even bigger section. Who knows what the future might bring?

Another village – Asarum

January 8, 2018

We walked around another village – Asarum, near Karlshamn; this is where Roger lives (who built the factory in China a year ago). Here’s the main street, the school and the bank.

The big building below may have been a hotel once. No sign now.

Now here’s the church. It does not look very church-y, does it?

Because its bell tower is over the street and up the hill.

I don’t know how it got there. Maybe it got outsourced … along the road beside it, there is a mysterious dent in the kerb.

Now to the main street, where there is a shop called REPTIL.

I wonder what sort of reptile they sell. And, noting the shop name, they have only one of it. Anyway, here’s a pond on the way back to Roger’s house; note the beautiful autumn/winter colours.

And here we are in the street where Roger lives. The houses are all very nice but I can never identify which house is his; it is somewhere in the middle. Finally, Barbro told me the secret way that she identifies it: Roger’s house is red, and all the others are white or yellow.


January 7, 2018

A new world … in this double-page spread of The World on pages 2-3 of the Swedish School Atlas – Great Britain has disappeared down the central fold!

[rant] Brexit, eh … what a silly idea. If it happens, it will be the biggest disaster in British (and before that, English) history since 1066, and I reckon even worse than that. [/rant]