Back at the farm

We flew home via Bangkok, which was mad but wonderful.  We had fun in the street stalls, and our favourite food was the Thai/Korean mashup place just down the street from us.  Gee the crab was good.

That long and painful flight back to Australia; I did see Sherlock Holmes, on Tig’s recommendation, and agree that it is excellent.  We arrived in Sydney first thing in the morning.  Allison’s parents picked us up, and we stayed for coffee and chat.  Then we drove very carefully back to the farm, again on the left hand side of the road.

Then we were zombies for two days, catching up with sleep and jetlag.  The Pajero blew up during that period, probably terminally, and had to be towed home.

In our absence, the farm has been looked after by Romain from Belgium, joined partway through by Luca, a goldsmith from Naples in Italy.  They got to enjoy some apparently shocking weather, down to minus eight degrees, and all the dams and tanks are very full.

We appear to have a distinct lack of flamingos and vultures in Goulburn at the moment, and it’s a little hard coming down from our recently rather cosmopolitan lifestyle.  Our past wwoofers were so hospitable, and so keen to show off their regional specialities.  And a region can be 100 kilometres, whereas Australia has a pretty uniform culinary culture across 1000 km.

The French win the cheese award.  In Australia, Roquefort cheese is considered a bit terrifying, but Pat’s family served two types and both were delicious and different from each other.  Some of the goat and sheep cheeses were also superb.

Beer I’ll give to the Germans, but not sausages.  Our local butcher’s sausages made from Highland Cattle are remarkable, and nothing we had in Europe matched them.  Sorry, Switzerland.

We have a distinct lack of flamingos and vultures on the farm, unfortunately.  There is a certain ordinariness in being home again.

On the other hand, right now we are infested by big red rosella parrots, with clouds of white cockatoos and pink galahs passing through.  On the farm, all the animals are gearing up for spring.

At present, most of our Goulburn friends have had relatives in serious condition in hospital, and we’re not seeing much of them.  Or anyone much.  I was particularly missing our cheerful obnoxious friend Jochen, who showed up yesterday with another friend Anton, with whom I had a long and (as always) very involved conversation about the differential benefits of Keynesianism in current-day European economies.  Which I’ll count as another sign of an approaching spring.

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Coming home

We´re definitely wending our way back now.

Yesterday, we stopped at Aachen, back in Germany though just 5 minutes away from our hotel which was in Belgium.

At Aachen we saw the cathedral, relics and banqueting hall of Charlemagne, which were pretty cool.  I´m a descendant of Charlemagne, I guess like 90% of western europe if they bothered chasing their family tree far enough.

Right now we´re in Frankfurt City, we have just had lunch and we´re about to drive to the airport.  Then to Bangkok for a day, then home.

Lille

From Paris we drove to Lille, near Belgium. 

As Allison is still recovering from the bedbugs, we’re not being very adventurous.  With enough anti_histamine and ointment, they are getting better each day.

We did catch up with our past wwoofer Sandrine and her friends and cousin (who might be coming to wwoof next year).

Sandrine took us to a Flemish restaurant, for some more unusual food and a really fun night.

Paris

We headed off for breakfast at the Eiffel Tower, then to the Musee de Cluny for their great medieval collection and the unicorn tapestries.

Notre Dame Cathedral was just too busy to get near, so we headed out to the Louvre, which handled its huge crowds well.  We got at least a quick look at about half of it, which is not bad.

Unfortunately, over the day Allison came out in spots on her arms particularly.  She had a similar experience in NZ a couple of years ago, so she recognised the pattern as characteristic of bedbugs.  Not a huge surprise given the dodgy hotel we were in, but unpleasant and unsightly too.  I seem to have a few bites too, but they obviously find Ally tastier and she has a great allergic reaction.  This wasn’t as bad as the NZ attack fortunately.

We headed off to Montmartre in the artsy part of Paris, and met up with our past wwoofer Manu.  We went to a bar that his girlfiend, Nadia from Lithuania, was singing at.

She’s a pretty sprite in just enough leopardskin, and she was bouncing about energetically doing covers of mostly English language classics.

We had a fabulous night and ended up at crazy_o_clock.  Manu and Owen talked earnestly about computer game design, but the conversation went everywhere.  Allison in particular enjoyed the night.

Lescar

Adrien was a wwoofer who stayed with us for around a month, and we wish it could have been longer.  His Dad was working in Australia at the time, and the family came down for a visit.  So it was nice to meet up with some familiar faces.

They graciously offered to host us at their house in Lescar, in the Pyrenees.  When we arrived, there was a birthday cake for Allison, a local speciality which I can only describe as a creme brulee made as a cake.  Their son Simon played with Owen in Australia, and the two of them got on well together again.

Adrien set aside the whole next day for showing us around the area.

First we went to the ancient Roman cathedral at Lescar.  Lescar is now just a small town, overshadowed by Pau, but it has the really ancient buildings.  There is a great mosaic there of an archer with a wooden leg.

Then we went to Pau for the renaissance palace of King Henry IV of France.  I didn’t know a lot about that period of history, so that was pretty cool.  Then we ate crepes overlooking the palace.

Then Adrien took us around some pyrenees villages.  We saw some vultures, and the cliffs in which they nest.

They have herds of cows, with red leather collars and enormous cow bells.  They sound amazing.  They also have herds of very chunky horses, again with bells — I wonder if these are grown for meat?  We bought some sheep’s cheese.

Then we visited Adrien’s aunt and uncle, who live in one of these villages.  Their 11yo daughter Maelle is keen to learn English, and she dragged Owen off for some practice — they seemed to have fun.  Remy and Natalie are both medieval enthusiasts, and were delighted to teach us some blacksmithing and repousee metalwork.  We had dinner with them, and I had to drag us away at 11pm or we would be there still.  They gave us a forged spear-head, a repoussee work belt buckle, and a Book of Kells dog’s head cast in white metal.  We had a splendid time there.

Yesterday we spent the whole day driving to Paris, for nine hours.  Groan.  And we’re jammed into a little modular hotel.  But this morning it’s breakfast at the Eiffel Tower.

Barcelona 2

The first day we saw La Pedrera, the Gaudi apartment complex, and Casa Battlo, a house designed by the master.  I love the second one, which is a bit like a Captain Nemo submarine, with amazing tiles shading gradually from white to deepest blue. 

Then we tried to get into the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi´s church of the Sacred Family, but the queue went for at least a kilometre in the sun.  So we went to the old city instead, and took up Tig´s suggestion of the City Museum with the roman ruins underneath.  Since my last visit, they have extended more into medieval stuff, and they had a great fresco with horses that I´d love to turn into a painted tapestry.  Will write to them when I get home.

All of that we walked, in the heat, so we´re getting a lot fitter.  And a bit sorer.

Yesterday we were really organised, and got to the Sagrida Familia by two trains, easy and quite cheap.  We got there at 8.40, five minutes before the said kilometre queue manifested.  There´s a lot more there since my last visit, and just another 20-30 years to go! 

“Astonishing” is all you can say about the Sagrada Familia.  Everybody should see it. 

Then we walked and bussed to the Park Guell, Gaudi´s park high in the hills above the city.  It´s more fun, inspiring and lovely, not so good in 36 degrees.

After a siesta we headed back into the old city to see a few more things, then dinner along La Rambla.  More of the crazy statues, including dancers, fairies, numerous aliens of different planetary origin, and a couple of naked guys wandering through who seemed to just be a continuation of the general bizarrity (ok, that´s not a word, but in Barcelona it needs to be).

We sat down for a drink and were ripped off A$75 for five drinks, admittedly in big glasses but mostly ice, and two of them were lemonade.

They we had a tapas and seafood paella meal (Owen had pizza) which was about the same price including drinks, much better value though the paella eaters got stomach cramps afterwards.  Owen says we´re just getting old.

We leave Barcelona this morning, up into the Pyrenees.  Our past wwoofer Adrien gave us a scenic route to take, but Pat´s dad took it last year and warned us repeatedly and direly about ¨les precipices¨so maybe we´ll take the easy route back past Carcassonne.

Barcelona 1

GUEST POST FROM ALLISON

Barcelona is an incredibly beautiful city.  If there is a simple functional way to do things they will ignore it in favour of the beautiful option.  However,  once the beauty is created they see no reason to clean it.  And we are constantly reminded that sewers need ventilation too.

It´s very hot but you don´t notice while looking about.  Gaudi set the standard of the city and there are wonderful creative places everywhere.

As we have been doing at each stop, we are eating like locals.  So we have had Horchata, which is like a cross between coconut milk and almond milk and is divine.  We also ate refreshing gazpacho (cold vege soup) and amazing paella.  These were the highlights.  Owen ate frogs legs and we will let him tell you all what they tasted like.

We visited several Gaudi places today.  The man was amazing.  Such beauty.  Then we walked around the old city and up La Rambla, a wide pedestrian street  which was full of open air pet shops and postcard shops and people dressed up as amazing things who would move if you paid them money. 

My favourite thing of the day was the Sangria.  This is a yummy drink made from very fruity red wine, fruit juice, lots of ice and citrus pieces.  On a hot day it is delicious.  Just a bit of alcohol and a lot of liquid coolness.  We had it at lunch and dinner and every glass is happiness.