Statistics Asia, Europe, Americas 2014-2015

Between August 2014 and September 2015 we travelled. It was a 390 day journey around the world and back again, hitting 26 countries, most of them new to us. We slept (or spent the night) in 150 different beds and travelled a total of 145,766 kilometres – that 3.5 times around the circumference of earth.

Our primary destination was Barcelona, to watch Hayden defend his PhD. We knew this would happen before Christmas 2014, but without a definite date we embarked on a journey across Central Asia.

The first of it was well planned – a stop in Hong Kong, a 29 day jaunt through China, with a visa, accommodation, guides and transport planned. Another 49 days through Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. Once again planned with appropriate visas, accommodation, drivers and guides.

With poor internet in a ‘closed country’ we found ourselves trying to plan the rest of it. We walked across the border from Iran to Armenia without a serious plan. By now we knew Hayden’s defence date and had made plans for a family Christmas in Iceland. The rest was fluid. Somehow we managed to explore Armenia and Georgia and finish the ‘Silk Road’ of our journey in Istanbul.

We hit Europe! With family, we celebrated Hayden’s defence and Bruce’s birthday in Barcelona. We checked out Christmas decorations in Paris and London and joined the family in Iceland at Christmas. We celebrated New Year and renewed our passports in London.

After Christmas we chilled out in Barcelona for six weeks and planned our journey to the Americas, before hitting the road again. This time to Central America where we spent a wonderful 103 days in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Our last stop was a beach resort in Belize. That’s when we got a call from Evan – ‘can you come home to celebrate our wedding in two weeks?’

So our touring of USA and Canada was delayed a little. But that’s the benefit of having fluid plans. We are very grateful to good friend Ian from Los Angeles who devised an itinerary for us to hit the best spots in North America.

Journey 1 was a circuit from Los Angeles as far east as Durango Colorado, then north through Salt Lake City and Yellowstone, west to Portland Oregon and then down highway 1 to Los Angeles.

Journey 2 was west to east from Seattle to Vancouver, south to the Dakotas, east to the Great Lakes, back to Canada for Montreal and Quebec and then on to New York to visit Evan & Steph in their new home in Harlem.

Our last month was back to Europe – Switzerland and Malta, then on to Berlin to visit Hayden & Andrea in their new home.

So here are some numbers…

A journey around the world and back again

Beds and Guides

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An old story – Europe in 2008

It’s exactly 12 years since we dashed to Europe to help Denis celebrate his 60th birthday. A Saturday night party at their local restaurant The Toucan and plenty of touring and exploring Switzerland.

We managed to include a visit to Hayden and Elisse in Barcelona and a family holiday in Andorra, as Evan was also touring. We drove along the Ruhr Valley in France to Switzerland for the celebrations.

Bruce and I then explored Hungary (Budapest, Lake Balaton and the Danube River), Slovenia and finished at Lake Como. A quick but memorable four week jaunt.

So now, in COVID isolation, I have been digging out some old photos and remembering some of the stories.

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LiB – Bikes in Berlin

It is a year since we were in Berlin, but the memories flood back.

We spent most of our time in what was the eastern sector of Berlin, the Soviet sector. It has been rebuilt since reunification and now attracts young professionals, many with young families. This is the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Europe.

Where the U-Bahn serves the western sectors of Berlin, there was no such infrastructure in the eastern sector. That area is now served by trams. But many people choose bikes as their primary mode of transport. Bikes are everywhere. In fact the major roads have clearly marked bike lanes.

Crossing Prenzlauer Allee, the road in front of our hotel, was a challenge. From the pedestrian lane, to a bike lane, a double car lane, two trams tracks, another double car lane, and another bike lane before landing at the safety of the pedestrian lane.

The bike lanes, one in each direction, are used by cyclists, e-bikes and e-scooters.

It is fairly easy to predict what cars and trams will do, but the bike lane users are always in a hurry, are focused only on what’s in front of them and regard pedestrians as the bottom of the food chain. We always thought the bike lanes were the most dangerous to cross.

Bikes are parked outside Kindertagesstätte or Kitas (child care centres), train and tram stops and offices. The bikes parked outside Kitas usually have a trailer or cargo area to transport the children. It seems as if the parents get their children to Kita, leave the bike there and continue by foot or public transport to work.

Children ride bikes from an early age. The balance bike is popular and I was amazed at how adept even toddlers were with them. No training wheels in Berlin.

It was frightening to watch a mum or dad riding on a busy road, with their child on his own bike, often with parent’s hand on their back, being pushed along to keep up with the traffic.

Helmets? Well there are a few.

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LiB – Drinking beer in Berlin

Berlin is undoubtedly the beer drinking capital of the world. And in Summer, when it is hot, the consumption rate goes up.

Interestingly, there is a huge selection of ‘non-alcoholic’ beer, but it falls into two categories. 0.0% alcohol is just that – zero alcohol, but ‘non-alcoholic’ may actually contain up to 0.1% alcohol.

In both categories you will find all the popular varieties including pale ale, IPAs and stouts.

This was important when Andrea was pregnant and breast feeding, as we had to target the 0.0% version for her.

But what really amazed us was the number of people carrying a bottle of beer in the street – open and being consumed. There were plenty of convenience stores that stocked beer, so as you wander down the street or into a park or onto the U-bahn there will always be an opportunity to buy a bottle of beer.

But we were not impressed when we saw people leave their empty bottles on the street. That was until we realised they were left as a donation to one of the many homeless people who would collect the empties and sell them.

Only in Berlin.

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LiB – Fehnsehrturm

One of the most iconic sights of Berlin is the Fernsehrturm or TV tower.

The TV tower, to broadcast GDR television, was originally planned to be built in the hills outside Berlin. But in the 1960s, the GDR government arranged to have an even larger TV Tower built in Alexanderplatz to demonstrate the strength and efficiency of the socialist system.

It was completed and opened on 3 October 1969, just before the 20th anniversary of the founding of the GDR. This year it celebrates its 50th birthday.

At the top of the tower is a large bulb to remind the people of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. At 368m the Berliner Fernsehturm is the tallest building in Berlin and is visible from nearly everwhere.

As you walk from the Brandenburg Gate up Unter den Linden to the Museum Island and into Alexanderplatz the tower is there to guide the way. From there, as we wandered all over the old East Berlin sector, the tower provided us with a point of reference. It became our focal point, our reminder of the amazing city of Berlin.

We treated ourselves to visiting the tower. We had the luxury of waiting for a clear day and going early in the day, before the tourists arrived. Visitors are limited to 380 at a time, with an extra 20 places allowed for staff.

The view was amazing, a great way to see Berlin.

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Living in Berlin

When I wrote my last blog we were planning to book flights to Berlin in early September, and return after two months.

The plan was to meet our first grandchild, and mix spending time in Berlin with the newest family member with some travelling, perhaps even chase some family ghosts. We would watch our new grandchild’s development for the first two months, by which time she should be giggling and recognising faces. Yes, she – a little girl was on its way.

But that didn’t happen.

I got a phone call from Hayden in early July, to say that Andrea wasn’t well and had been admitted to hospital with preeclampsia. The baby would probably be delivered premature. Could we come to Berlin ASAP.

The doctors were not concerned about the baby, but Andrea’s extremely high blood pressure was causing concern for her well being. 

So little Brianna entered the world on 8th July and we were on a flight on Saturday 13th July, to provide support.

And we spent two months in Berlin in glorious summer, a far cry from shivering through one of Melbourne’s coldest winters. In that time we learnt a lot about living in Berlin.

Our first experience was visiting the little family at the Vivantes Klinikum im Friedrichshain (Friedrichshain Hospital). To get there from our hotel we walked through the beautiful Volkspark Friedrichshain.

The park is a triangular shape with the hospital tucked into the south eastern edge. We entered through the apex on the western side into the beautiful Märchenbrunnen (fairy tale fountain in honour of the Brothers Grimm). We wandered past a huge field where families were picnicking, past the cafes and restaurants and the lake, up beside a stream where the little kids chilled, and into the number one gate to the hospital.

Sometimes we were anxious to get to the hospital for feeding time, other times we stopped by the cafe for a coffee or cool drink or just wandered and explored the park.

Inside the park are two hills. The Großer Bunkerberg (Big Bunker Hill) is in fact the Flakturm II G (flak tower) which the Red Army attempted to destroy. The Kleiner Bunkerberg (Little Bunker Hill) was a bunker.

The flak tower and bunker was subsequently covered with rubble from Berlin’s ruins to create artificial hills of 78m and 48m respectively. Volunteers, mostly women dubbed Trümmerfrauen or rubble women, cleared the debris from the bombed out buildings, cleaning bricks for reuse and carting unusable stuff to the parks.

Trees have now covered the two hills and they are popular spots to hang out.

The park has at least four playgrounds for children. Mums and dads bring their prams and let the children loose in the sand pits and on the play equipment. There are no helicopter parents here, children are taught to be independent, to brush themselves down if they fall over and to share their toys and games.

Berlin is full of young families. I think our little family will slot in nicely and enjoy the park as much as we did.



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2019 Part 1

We keep saying how quickly time goes. But as we reach the halfway point of 2019, so much seems to have happened. We have had a busy time!

It all started on 5th January, when Hayden & Andrea suggested a phone call. They were announcing their pregnancy. Fantastic news!! Due date was early September.

Of course we had to keep mum about it – they didn’t want to tell everyone just yet. That was hard, in fact it was very hard.

Whilst Andrea was struggling with morning sickness, we were preparing to meet the family to celebrate my 70th birthday in Macedonia.

So many of my friends decided I needed a celebration before Macedonia. There were the Girl Cousins, the Doggie Walkers, the Maggie Walkers, the GNOs and of course family and friends. And at each celebration I had to keep THE secret.

We were three months on the road, with a short stop in Doha, then to Macedonia to meet the family for a week of celebration. Magical touring in winter.

After family time, Bruce and I continued to Kosovo and Albania for an amazing history lesson, then to Corfu and Cyprus for a little warmth and relaxation.

We visited Hayden & Andrea in Berlin, the Busch family in Stuttgart and Denis & Martine in Switzerland before crossing the Atlantic in time to celebrate Evan’s 34th birthday with Ev & Steph.

We then flew south and drove across North America from South Carolina to California, nearly 6,000 kilometres through amazing country.

We finished our adventure in Hawaii, staying on the famed Waikiki Beach. I am still trying to finish my journal.

Home again, and resuming life in Melbourne. This time we have been sharing our time between Sorrento and Sandringham. We have been catching up with our blogs/journals and I have been dabbling in family history while Bruce has been kept busy with his freelance work.

Of course there are friends and family to catch up with as well.

And guess what, we are preparing another journey – this time to meet our very first grandchild in Berlin in September.

It has been a busy and fulfilling 2019 so far.

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The Road to Rutherglen

Friday 9 to Monday 12 November.

We were so excited to welcome Evan home in November 2018 for James Gibson’s wedding in Rutherglen. Sadly, Steph couldn’t join us, as she was visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of her role with Chemonics in providing better access to education there.

We hosted a couple of events for Evan to spend time with family and friends. He also met many of his friends for a drink and chat.

We decided to drive Evan to Rutherglen for James and Siobhan’s wedding celebration and managed to do some sightseeing both with him and without him.

Having visited the Art Silos of north western Victoria, we though it would be fun to show Evan some more local ones, so we detoured to Benalla where we found a load of street murals. We still had a long way to travel, so our visit to Benalla was short.

Benalla has created a Wall-to-Wall Festival where the town invites artists to create murals. Professional artists and local people have so far created up to 50 murals around the town.

The Winton Wetlands are a reclaimed area, initially flooded for irrigation, but proved unviable because of shallow water evaporation and blue-green algae.

A project has been established to decommission the dam and restore the land. A skeleton of 150,000 river red gums create a unique landscape. Added to this are some pieces of art.

A Country Fire Authority water tank that has been decorated with the faces of three local volunteer firefighters and was painted by Guido Van Helten in March 2016.

We also found a wonderful fish painting on Boggy Bridge Road by local artist Tin Bowtell. By juxtapositioning yourself along the road, the coloured art on the individual trees comes together as fish – very clever.

There is a lot more to see at the Winton Wetlands – it is worth a longer visit.

Close by we found Goorambat where silos were painted by Jimmy D’Vate in March 2018. A beautiful rural farm scene complete with the iconic Southern Cross windmill sits on one silo, whilst a huge portrait of an endangered barking owl is on the other silo.

We also found the mural of Sophia of Goorambat in the Uniting Church, by Adnate. Sophia is the personification of divine wisdom in the Old Testament. Adnate has a strong interest and knowledge of early Renaissance paintings, which is why he was keen to paint a church mural, but he is also well known for his portraits of Indigenous Australians.

A little further north we stopped at Devenish, a small town where one sixth of its citizens signed up to serve in World War I. This is remembered by an amazing Silo Art Work by Cam Scale, depicting a nurse of the day and a modern-day army medic. Just two days before the Remembrance Day, the site was decorated with knitted and crocheted poppies – a welcome reminder of the service paid by so many Australians in both wars. They were completed in April 2018 as part of the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.

Our next stop was at Tungamah, where a wire fence kept us away from the silos completed by Sobrane in February 2018. A kookaburra sits on the left silo and dancing brolgas flit about the right-hand pair of silos.

These art silos are rather more recent additions to Australia’s amazing art silo trail. It’s a fantastic way to promote small country towns and bring a new form of art.

After we dropped Evan at Mt Ophir for the wedding celebration, we hit the road. This time to Pfeiffer’s Winery where we started the 10km hike around Lake Moodemere. The lake was once a billabong on the Murray River but is now a waterway in its own right. What struck us most about the beautiful walk was the number of birds we saw and heard. We were entertained by kookaburras, probably complaining to us for entering their territory, but I think they were also using the opportunity to teach their young how to laugh. I never ever tire of their laugh.

At Pfeiffer’s there were lots of turtles in the creek. We were told that the staff hand out dog food pellets to the young tourists to feed them. Having just read how these turtles are endangered, it was nice to see a safe haven for them.

We enjoyed a well-deserved glass of wine and a slice of Christmas cake at the end of the walk.

After a short walk along the rail trail on Sunday, we went to pick up Evan from the wedding party. Understandable he was feeling a little the worse for wear after a heavy night, but we dragged him to the Yeddonba Aboriginal Cultural Site at the foot of Mount Pilot in the Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park.

The walk is short but is mostly steps up and down the rocks. The highlight is some very faded aboriginal art of a Goanna-Snake and of a Thylacine. It is believed the art, in ochre, is about 2,000 years old and seems to indicate that the extinct thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) may have inhabited mainland Australia.

We spent our last night in Yackandandah, a favourite place for our family. My father grew up in this small town with his maternal grandparents. Our ancestors go back to the gold rush days of the 1850s as fossickers (Backhaus) and bootmakers and blacksmiths (Clune).

Sadly, the town was on holiday, with both the top pub and the bottom pub shut for the night and Saint Monday café closed on Monday. We enjoyed a very decent Thai meal instead.

Quick stops in Beechworth to visit the honey store and Milawa to visit the mustard store completed our short adventure.

We returned to Melbourne to give Evan time to catch up with more family and friends before he heads off to Mexico for another wedding next weekend. Steph will be able to join him for that event.

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An Outback Adventure

We celebrated the winter solstice by taking delivery of our brand new Subaru Outback. The purchase had been planned for some time and much research went in before making our selection.

Our first full drive was to the Mornington Peninsula – old stomping ground. We chose the motorways and country roads we knew to test out the unfamiliar features.

Then it was off to the outback – well Victoria’s outback of the Wimmera region in the state’s north west, to see the Yarriambiack Silo Art Trail.

The first bulk handling silo in Australia was built in 1919 at Peak Hill in NSW. It was not until the late 1930s that silos were built in Victoria. They were typically built alongside railway lines, for fast transportation to docks and factories.

Farmers would bring in their bagged grain, which would be emptied into a receiving grate and elevated to the top of the silo. It was an effective way to hygienically store and distribute grain.

With the advent of current mechanisation and larger transport trucks, the silos became inefficient and many were closed down. About half of the 148 silos in Victoria are now not in use.

Since 2015, GrainCorp, who owns the silos, has supported silo art projects with the aim of reinvigorating some of Australia’s smallest regional towns.

There are many painted silos in Australia, but the Yarriambiack Shire has made an art trail of those in their region.

I saved the locations in MapsME on our travel Android phone and I have been looking for the best way to import them into WordPress. Many plugins import KML files as a premium addition, however I have found Flexible Maps does it simply. If you click on a red pin, a description will be displayed. So here is our journey:

We stayed in Warracknabeal, which is quite central to the art work. We arrived on Sunday and the options for dinner were limited. We chose the ‘Creek Hotel’ which became our preferred place for the following nights. It was lively and the food was good. Bruce even found decent beer there!

Our motel was close to the Yarriambiack Creek, which provided a nice walk to the Creek Hotel.

We were shocked at the number of empty shops in Warracknabeal and the other towns we visited. Those shops that were occupied were bakeries, butchers (one in each town), hairdressers and second hand shops. Many pubs were shut up. I guess that is indicative of the tough life in the country.

On Monday we drove north to see silos at Brim, Rosebery, Lascelles and Patchewollock. We were lucky with the weather and brilliant blue skies.

We made other stops to see some interesting installations at round-abouts in Warracknabeal and Minyip, and to see a mural by Kaff-eine in Beulah. I have borrowed from the excellent Yarriambiack Silo Art Trail brochure to describe the art work we saw.

Guido van Helten’s iconic Brim mural was the first silo artwork to appear in Victoria in 2015, and initiated further art in the area. He depicts an anonymous, multi-generational quartet of female and male farmers.

Kaff-eine created a art work in Rosebery, capturing the grit, tenacity and character of a young female farmer and a contemporary horseman in common attire of Akubra hat and oilskin vest.

Rone’s work in Lascelles depicts a farming couple Geoff and Merrilyn Horman representing families who have farmed the district for generations. The art is muted in colour and it was particularly challenging to photograph Merrilyn.

Fintan Magee was challenged to paint on a narrow 35 metre high silo in Patchewollock. He used it to portray Nick “Noodle” Hulland, a local, lanky, fair-haired, squinting, archetypal Aussie farmer.

On Tuesday we drove south to see silos at Sheep Hills and Rupanyup, then continued west on to Dimboola to see the Pink Lake. The day was overcast, so photographs were a little more challenging.

Adnate created an aboriginal mural on the silos of Sheeps Hill. The magnificent mural which depicts Wergaia Elder, Uncle Ron Marks, and Wotjobaluk Elder, Aunty Regina Hood, alongside two young children, Savannah Marks and Curtly McDonald celebrates the richness of the area’s Indigenous culture.

Julia Volchkova painted on squat silos in Rupanyup. The art work represents the youth of Rupanyup and their great love of team sport. The art is monochromatic and delicate.

We stopped at Dimboola for lunch. Our hosts at the motel had recommended we go to the Victoria Hotel for lunch, but it was closed. The beautiful building was opened for business in September 1924 and has been a popular watering hole ever since, except on Tuesdays at lunch time.

After finding a suitable sandwich we drove out to the Pink Lake just to the west of Dimboola. The pink colour of the water comes from a pigment secreted by microscopic algae. Alas there was little pink as the clouds created a very dull light.

In researching the silos I found it very difficult to find history of when the silos were built and how they were used. On the other hand I was fascinated by the stories of the artists. Many started their life in art as graffiti artists but now travel the world following passions such as indigenous people and refugees. They paint murals in places such as Jordan, Ukraine, Finland and Mexico. Truely amazing stories!

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Old Stories of European Adventures

Now that my web site is up and running, I thought I would share some old stories. Our first trips to Europe in the 21st century.

The photos I am showing were initially posted on Flickr, but Flickr is limiting my photos to 1,000 unless I ‘go pro’ – so they are relocated to NGGallery here.

Europe 2005, at last

In 2005, shortly after Hayden moved to London to be with Elisse, we visited. That was my first return to Europe in twenty-five years and it was exciting. We visited friends in England, Germany, France and Italy. We also toured Spain – not knowing how it would enter our lives at a later stage.

Bruce and Thea at Vernazza IT

Adventurous in 2007

After our first journey, it was time to venture to other places. In 2007 we returned to Europe to visit Hayden and Elisse who by now had moved to Barcelona. Then to Russia – St Petersburg, Moscow and the historical Golden Circle. This was an escorted tour. Whilst we loved what we saw, we hated the constraints of the tour. We finished our travels in Prague, Warsaw and Vienna.

Hayden, Thea & Bruce in Barcelona. ES

Celebrating in 2008

It was Bruce’s idea to visit Denis for his 60th birthday celebrations in 2008, so we invited ourselves to his party. Fortuitously, Hayden and Elisse were still in Barcelona and Evan was touring, so we all got together in Barcelona and then Andorra. From there we went to Switzerland, then on to Hungary, Slovenia and a little bit of Italy. We stayed within the 40th parallel.

Bruce, Evan, Thea and Hayden at La Coma, Andorra

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