Sunday, September 28, 2008

Whoopee soon we flyyyy!!!

Writing very hastily, having just added to this blog a lot of stuff from as far back as Helsinki (and sorry for any doubling-up).. and putting in the notes I scribble when I don't have time for full entries, just so you can see what delights of detail await. Very soon now we'll put our luggage in the hotel's temporary holding room, so we can spend our last two hours here at the National Gallery.

We posted (yeah, again) yesterday, from the most incredible efficient Helsinki post office (oh, did I tell you that already? sorry), and had a fabulous feed at our favourite Helsinki cafe, Leonardos. I spent the evening going through every corner and bag and rubber band in my luggage, uber-efficiently packing for the flight to Seoul. We have 30kg luggage limit each, as we are lucky enough to have Business (or is it Economy Plus, where you have Economy service but a lovely big Business chair??? - something like that). But from Seoul to Oz, back to 20kg each, so one must be economical. I knows not whats this words means but M said something about less stuff.


Yesterday I was rounded up, sprayed, flattered and beguiled by a purrfume-wielding Finnish charmer at the Sokos shopping centre. Ahem. One must always take advantage of these moments, so I did. Apart from the great pleasure of finding an actual whole box of tissues, some superglue hairspray (I got fringe issues), and a wee sauna-scenting essential oil diffuser thingie, well, ahem, I don't really feel guilty but ya know.. there is this new Escada purrfume and how embarrassing to admit I bought it but I can't recall the name!!! Oh well, I am beyond redemption on the purrfume subject anyway. I do smell rather Magnifique but that is because THAT bottle is open.

Must go. Bags to ditch, galleries to walk, taxis to catch to airports and duty to reclaim on purple suede boots bought for birthday girls oh so many weeks ago. And then some vital fluids to assist our flight relaxation program, followed by snoozin'. We arrive at something like 7am Seoul time, but it will be 1am our body clock time. Could be ugly!

Let's hope for SILK. Go on, cross yer fingers and HOPEHOPEHOPE. That's the way.

Yes I am bloody cheerful, I'm on the downhill run to a pusscat, my own bed, our spring garden and all familiar things. Yippee!!silk

Feeling Fragile For Farewells and Further Faffing-about..

Wednesday, 24th September.

Our last full day in Freiburg. We had a good party last night, much jollity and good food and I didn’t get too tired.. after sleeping half the day it’s not surprising! My family gave me some fabbo goodies - chocolate made in the very village where my sis-in-law grew up; a Winnie the Poo pencil (for reasons I don’t fully understand, they associate WTP very strongly with me.. I may have sent one of the girls a “Pooh” present when she was a baby???), and a good shower back-washing/scratching thingie.

Today we really spent most of our time getting ready to leave (ie leave Freiburg/Germany) - a long period this morning sorting through possessions getting ready for another uber-post (15kg this time! - M is sending home the most books of any parcel this far); to do this effectively we ended up half-packing and making sure that we found and segregated items to be returned to the family.

We lugged the postables into town, and the post office experience wasn’t too bad - we know how to make up the flat-pack boxes now, and with M’s good German nothing much goes wrong. But we are always tense cos there’s an implicit system about how you do it - do you buy boxes first and then pack?; or do you head for the counter first so they can sell you the right sized boxes? or a similar thing but where they tell you a different way to do it so it’s cheaper overall??? I dunno. There was no shouting, it didn’t cost any more bombs than usual, and we left feeling virtuously empty-handed. A small celebration at an Italian cafe ensued.

Then time to get to grrrrips with The List. I still have gifts to purchase for my girls, M needs a Net fix, and I want to go to the fabric and wool shops I found on Monday. M talks to me in circles about the timing and how long to take and when to be back etc etc and I get cross. Why ask what I think if he’s already made up his mind??? ARggggg..


This out of the way, we dealt with a minor crisis when we got to the square and it was the wrong church. What??? But we worked it out quickly and forged ahead to the other square and then I knew the way. As we went along we dropped into various shops to get lil things for my younger niece for her birdy. We had a most satisfactory pile of girlie-bits and pongs when we’d finished (and she loved them, was having fun trying it all on and smelling the purrfume and so on when we left tonight...). I got samples for me too! Excellent.

The fabric shop was very, very good. Also very, very slow. And there were two women who seemed to me to be arguing over who was first, slowing things up even more. M sat patiently on the husband chair, then impatiently, then coldly, then shiveringly, before finally coming inside (his chair was in the arcade) and trying to ask politely how many more hours I’d be. I was kind of wondering that too... I shopped quickly for the fabrics, and once the duelling dragons had paid and left I had Herr ShopKeeper’s full attention. And his English is quite good, which meant I asked more questions, so... a fairly big chunk of ze inheritance is gone again kids, sorry! I gots wools and silks and felts and wunderbar things and superior quality remnants and such goodies!!! M said rather sourly that it looked like I’d replaced the entire postage weight. And???? I’ve done it before, says she defensively. Oh well. I have to brag that one piece is a bit of honest-to-gawd Missoni fabric, from the Italian fashion house. Ner. It’s a sort of folk print of braids and simple hand stitches and such, useful to me because little bits of it will be purrfect in a quilt, and a big bit of it will make a very unusual and bright skirt or cape for moi. It could be the only international designer brand item I ever wear! And, therefore (come on keep up!!!!) entirely necessary. And I’ve packed it all away purrfectly easily in my suitcases and then it will go in ze post in Helsinki (Friday) and no-one need worry at all.

I’m sad there was no time left to go to the wool shop, but even I could see that I would end up with just too much bulk. And the excitement of schlepping hundreds of bags has totally worn off, if indeed there ever was any to start with. We’re down to our ‘low’ version of numbers of cases atm, and I hope we now stay there until we get to ‘bought it Duty Free when jet-lagged, exhausted and incompetent’ things in Seoul and Hong Kong airports. Oh, not that I’m PLANNING anything....

Our last family meal was delightful, the girls singing and everyone telling jokes. And FOUR purrfumes competing for best around the table, cos I gots everyone some. Well, except for M, but he doesn’t mind. Sometimes he has a bit of mine; sometimes he uses the geranium oil which is so calming. We are clean enough that we don’t need it as camouflage!

I am now looking at an extremely tidy motel room, a line of bulging suitcases and packs sitting where a colourful tumble of clothes, gifts, purrfumes, books, scarves and bits of food used to be. This is a very good motel - it gets the most ticks on M’s comparative list, especially in the ‘room on each side and at the end of the bed’ list item. It fails only in two areas - no kettle/bar fridge, and no hair dryer in every bathroom. I asked and was able to borrow a very good dryer though, so this is only a comment on the lack of it as a standard item.

Tomorrow we leave at about 9.30 to go to the station for a 2-3 hour train trip to Frankfurt. We arrive there about 2pm, then I must post that fabric (and a tin of coffee and five packets of chocolate - the Lindt flavours available in Europe are much more varied, and I deeply regret not buying the one in the Baltic states which is 70% dark chocolate flavoured with a pinch of salt!). I am firmly in GOING HOME mode. There may not be much more text written in museum/sites/sights mode. Somehow this last few weeks has been a haul and a trek, and the time with my family here has made me see how much I just want to go back to my normal domestic environment and return to taking pleasure in the little things. Enough with the kulcha! Begone, fine dining. Face me not oh splendid vista. Give me a cat, a cuppa tea and me back yard, maybe some washing flapping around, and that’ll DO.

M feels similarly, but still has energy for kulcha. He enjoyed his time in Heidelberg, finding various nostalgic sites (his music teacher’s house; a particular pub; that sort of thing!) and having a break from the intensity of avec moi.

Maybe in Seoul I’ll be intrigued enough to go outside and see what makes Koreans different from other Asian cultures I’ve experienced. But don’t be surprised if all you get is photos of the different colours of taxis, like I took in Bangkok!

Today brought to you by a whole list of things: Essence de Hubby; ‘Magnifique’ in large doses; Calvin Klein’s ‘Euphoria’ for my sissy; ‘Kate Moss’ by Kate Moss; and Laura Giagnotti’s ??? (sorry, the docket is buried too deeply for now, I promise I’ll look it up asap) for my younger niece. M had some Magnifique on him cos he hugged me when my wrists were still wet. And the shop assistants in the ‘Müller’ department store gave me about 11 samples of some Estee Lauder Anti-Wrinkle Didja Know Yer Getting Crumbly Cream.. that smells quite nice too. I don’t expect it to have any effect beyond competent moisturising.. g’night.

Big Birthdate Buggerup..

Freiburg, Monday, September 22nd.

A major birthdate in the family - two of the matriarchs share this day. And they are indeed sharing it, at home in Canberra. Hi guys!!! ...

...and WHY did I miss it? Well because I was crook in Berlin and missed the post and then last night M was getting ready to go to Heidelberg for the day to day at the crack of morning and the night porter has no English and so we couldn’t find out about international dialling codes altho we could really because M speaks German but he didn’t want to cos he was busy and being testy so I asked my sis here to ring ze mama at home to say ‘she says GROVEL GROVEL she’ll ring tomorrow instead’ etc etc. And I had to go to the doctor to find out if my blood tests are ok or I am dying or what and that was exactly the time I was sposed to ring home etc etc.. anyway I am not dying and ze mama got ze message as did ze auntie and so allus good. For now. So I went into town and bought it. Every shiny thing and unguent and coat and everything and most of the coffee too. GUT!

And then I was very tired and caught the right tram home but it was the other number which is also the right tram, and when I got out I couldn’t see which way to go and it started raining ach sheisse.. anyway now I am safe inside and dry and about to cook up a storm for two nieces while their mummy is out at the Parents and Teacher evening. And I am having a sleepover! Haven’t done that since I was about 17 and I forget how. I have my decent nightie and a book and plenty of new unguents but I forgot my teddy. M will be back tomorrow at 6pm and ... and ...

I am ready to come home.

Today brought to you by Lancome “Magnifique”, which was sprayed lavishly all over me several times today. I can’t tell you what I think of it cos I still have very little sense of smell. The Cherman Doktor says it is autumn ‘adenovirus’. Right. Like hayfever I gather.

Freiburg bliss, Saturday Sept 20th

mHello bloggie,

Yes I’ve been remiss the last few days. What with the extra resting, to help the asthma settle, and the wonderful happy hours we’ve spent with the family, there’s been no time for mere computers. But now we’ve established a pattern of sorts, and here’s what’s doin’...

You’ve read about our arrival. A huge success. The second day we slept in, then went to spent the rest of the day with our dear ones, as they each came home from school or choir or went out to a meeting or whatever. All WE did was sit around being delighted and drinking coffee and listening to our washing going around in the washing machine. Fabulous. We may even have gone for a walk.. a totter in my case.

Next day we went to the doctor for me, to get some more steroids and have a check up. Frau Mendle has got quite a file of our family in her practice, cos me mum’s been to see her too, in previous visits! The doc decided to do some blood tests, to check MY potassium levels, and blood count, and also to see what indicator there might be of infection. She topped me up with nice drugs, confirmed that my blood pressure was still nice and low, and off we went. Easy. I’ll see her again on Monday for the blood test results and anything that might come out of that. I’m not feeling much better as to sinuses, but the asthma has calmed down a lot. I made the mistake of having some wine last night and that caused some problems today, so off ze grog again, sigh, for now.

I went shopping with sis and elder niece in the afternoon, to buy some warm clothes for M. We found just the right thing in the first shop they took me to, skivvies and a good wool and cashmere jumper. Purrfect. I tried to find something for myself, but I felt awfully shy shopping with others, and I easily purrsuaded them it was time for coffee instead! Then we had to get home so I could prepare the dinner - roast lamb. Nom.

It turned out very well, even tho it was served more than an hour late, cos me sis had two close girlfriends drop in around 8pm when the food was ready. Much hilarity, wine and chatter ensued, and I thought what the hell, turned everything down, and we just got stuck into family stories and learning about the friends and their trip to Italy recently, and all that jazz. Finally at 9.30 M kind of said, faintly, ‘are we going to eat?’ and we retrieved the dinner. I think in some ways letting the roast meat and veg sit in a very slow oven (only 50C) for a while had done it good - the lamb was sweet and very tender (I cooked it very simply in oil and lemon); the potatoes had become crisp wedges (not burnt), as had the carrots; the onions were more or less melted; so the only slight casualty was the boiled brussel sprouts which were definitely over-cooked. But it didn’t matter a jot, and those of us who remained had a beautiful dinner. And OH how I enjoyed cooking it! And loading up the dishwasher, using the microwave, using the washing machine and dryer (it’s all in the kitchen, continental style). Made me feel very at home. We stumbled, replete, relaxed and full of girlie hugs, back to the motel after 11pm. Ahhhh, this is better. M’s new jumper is a hit, a good colour and a good fit and warmer than his old one. We slept so well.

This morning was another matter, the princess corpse rose after midday and although M went out valiantly TWICE to try to get me coffee (the motel brekkie finishes at 10am), no go. He went over to the family, leaving me saying “I won’t be long”. Huh. By the time the little pink pill had propurrly set in and I’d had a shower and stuffed around it was nearly 4pm! Yikes. But that didn’t matter either, the others were having a blobby Saturday, so I just turned up, drank several buckets of coffee, and then it was time for a quick meal and off to a Commedia Del’Arte performance at the Castle in nearby Bad Krozingen. Four of us went - us, sis and younger niece. It was such a good evening, with quartet of two violins, cello and harpsichord/mini-organ, and two purrformers using masks and the minimum of props and choreography to tell a broadly humorous tale of mis-placed loyalties and love. Of course there was a happy ending! Of course there was silliness and the old two-door/cross-dressing character gag. I loved it. Sis brought marzipan to eat to keep the digestives wolves from the door, and at interval we had wine and good bread. All most satisfactory. I may not be able to tell you of dozens of trips to tourist sites and accounts of exhibitions or repeat museum history lectures, but BOY the music and entertainment has been wonderful in the last few weeks.

Tomorrow is another very special day - our cousin Sarah is travelling here from Basel to spend the day with us. We will meet her at the Freiburg Cathedral, where the nieces are singing Mozart’s “Sparrow Mass” during the service. Then we’ll have the afternoon with Sarah to catch up on tons of family news (her elder daughter is getting married next week, for a start!), and go for another walk in one of the parks around here. I expect it to be a chatterfest all day.

Monday is even planned - M is going away to Heldelberg for 36 hours on his own. He lived there when he was 17 with his family, and wants to make another sentimental journey there. Last Europe trip we spent a week there, it’s a lovely place. It was the site of one of our magical journey experiences, when we were walking down from the Schloss on the top of the hill overlooking the town. It was Sunday evening in a golden late summer light; and all the churches began to ring for their 6 o’clock services. The bells floated up to us through the forest where we walked... as I said, magical. MY fate this Monday is more earthly - I’ll see the doc again, find a WiFi point so I can bring blog and email and such up to date, and then I must (presses hand to brow) shop again. You’ll find out why.

For now, I am going to sign off while I can still hear the cello continuo from the baroque music (Corelli etc) tonight, and hope that tomorrow my nose behaves itself in the sight of god, Sarah and the angelic choir.

Today brought to you by coffee. Coffee. And.... COFFEE.

Random notes and Freiburg Part #1

[Here are some of my aide memoires; ready to have details filled in when I get the urge. At least you'll know I've not totally forgetten some fairly important bits!]

Helsinki, last day
M was feeling quite off - he thought probably culture-shock, tiredness, fedupofcrookwifeness, and maybe a touch of the blues. We could see over the road there was a shopping centre of some kind, and a sign saying Cultural Museum, so we went to have a look. First things first, let’s have (at 4pm) lunch. ... a waitress spilled an entire cup of coffee down M’s only-just-drycleaned jacket... he went ballistic, but I got a free brownie. We then inspected two modern collections (not bad, altho I got into trouble for taking photos, oops).. walk back to hotel and begin major packing opurrations, ready to go by train to St P tomorrow..

St Petersburg - the anarchist canal boat guide deserves his own entry, and dear blog, one day, ONE DAY it will come!

Two walking tours; the food; music in streets everywhere, the two concerts (both premieres; the fierce lady who berated us (to no effect!), saxophones in purrticular, the watermelon painting in the hotel; note to Austra about how much we love it here, barely even touching the surface and it’s so appealing... the ‘demo’ for opening of new uni year; seeing the previous Prez, famous woman prez who taught in Canada for 20 years before being ‘recruited’ back to Latvia to rule very successfully for ? 8 years..

the Dada cafe...the wonderful soups and the blessing of no smoking inside...

Bus to Vilnius tomorrow - only one full day and we have already decided that our two main ventures will be to the post office, then a walking tour. And, for me, a proper Web fix, so I can add to T n S; write to ppls, check dosh, etc etc.

M changes his mind on Wed morning and says no posting til Krakow - oh yes?? we’re back to 9 pieces of luggage and I think a spot of posting would be VERY useful..

more detail on Chopin concert and Raoul Wallenburg opera.. and quote the young English lad from the train today, who said to someone on his mobble that ‘we went to ‘Orshwitss, it was kinda wow’’... and why *I* didn’t go, OR to the Salt Mine. and some further reflections on the way we feel we’re being petulant about the difference in things which seems to annoy us so much, even tho it’s part and parcel of travelling.. my view is that we are essentially HOME ppl, and the places we stay at need to meet some aspects of HOME to make us feel relaxed and welcome. and the step up into bathrooms IS a bloody nuisance and a hazard, as are bloody sharp bed-edges in too-small rooms where one has to eel one’s way around everything, even a norty bad red shoe lying provocatively 4 inches way from its mate and just begging to be tripped over.. and the endless annoyance and/or cost of laundry. a super-ripoff opportunity which is milked to the max, everywhere. how many travel plugs can a girl make room for? they’d have to take up space usually reserved for precious and far more important unguents.

Riga walking tour redux; anarchy on the St Petersburg canal-waves.., some more remarks on Vilnius and Krakow.. thoughts, also, about the concertomania we may be indulging in, in Berlinsk.

Berlin, Monday Sept 15th - 11kg just sent off from Berlin post office - two boxes, one large, one medium large; containing amongst many papers and books, two wooden cats, two ceramic apples, a ceramic and glass cat or 2, a ditto angel, and the Sonato mug set. all wrapped in a mile of bubble wrap and brown duck tape. I hope and pray and wish and hopehopehope that all the breakable things make it back to Oz in the amount of pieces they started with.

I’ve been to a good doc; heard that M’s liver enzyme levels are now entirely normal, as is his blood count, bp and pulse rate. The blood test showed he’s suffering some sort of allergy - maybe a hayfever? He’s not been aware of anything, altho sneezing a bit, so that’s ok. Doc told me I looked sick; gave me antibiotics without a qualm OR a lecture (unlike Helsinki doc who visibly shuddered when I mentioned various uber-doc meds, that was rather upsetting..). also topped up my valium for my ‘back’ (I can’t tell you, half the time, whether I take it for my back or for the rest of me, psyche to the forefront..). then we walked a thousand miles to the post office and spent a thousand hours wrapping things in more bubble wrap and duck tape than you’ve ever seen. Now a taxi* to the Bauhaus, where we shall have lunch before a quick-ish look around. Then home to pack, ready for a bus to Freiburg tomorrow, arriving at 5pm.

*The taxi driver took off at a speed we’ve previously only identified with Rome.. he was making and taking calls on his mobile.. this is common, however illegal. He took us quickly to a high-rise filled street, with a huge window-fronted business with ‘BAUHAUS’ all over the glass... we wandered in a puzzled way towards it; this looks more Grace Bros than Gropius.. as we get closer we can see that the small print says ‘House and Home Wares’. Oh. Not THAT kind of Bauhaus. The driver is watching us, and as we turn back towards him he asks what the trouble is. M explains, again, that we want the ART MUSEUM BAUHOUS. He looks quite puzzled, and has to make a couple of radio calls, then at last says ‘ok ok get in’. We do, looking at each other. He charges off at high speed to a wider highway with median strip area of big business. We’re not too sure, but he’s got the bit between his teeth, and when he screeches to a halt next to a KPMG high-rise, I’m getting that ‘oh sure, we’re having and adventure’ feeling. He does two u-turns (“it’s not a trip without a u-ey” my father always says) and we end up at the same place. All this done at high speed amidst much beeping and swerving - of the other traffic. Then, nothing loathe, he turns down a walkway!!! and creeps along, looking at the highly unlikely surrounds of a small park and some fairly domestic or back of cafe buildings. Then he comes to another side street. We’re not allowed out; he calls again on the radio and this time, as he explains afterwards, he gets a woman. She gives him another address and he’s happy now, ‘oh yah, yah’ and screeches off the walkway and does a hasty u-turn onto the street. About 3 metres along, he stamps on the brakes. As we rub our foreheads from their rapid onset head-rest therapy, ‘Das is est!’ he proudly declares. Right. We hand over more Euros (he kindly deducted the second flag-fall) and head into the nearest big gateway. This still looks wrong, but I hear a beep and a despairing ‘lady! lady!’ and look back - he’s gesturing to us to go the other way, and sure enough, around a few bushes we find it, the actual Bauhaus Art Museum. Wonders.

Naturally after all the posting and walking around in the cold and then high-speed taxi shenanigans, we head straight for the cafe. The service is marginally faster than the speed of erosion, but eventually we get our baguettes and coffees. I’m flaked out by now, and M not far behind. But Berlin has been difficult for us; we haven’t got to see very much (although I must say that if all we’d seen were the two concerts, I’d be very happy). We spend a gob-smacking hour walking the exhibition, seeing familiar designs and objects, and reminding me of some of the long-lost art classes I had at my extremely ordinary high school. I recognise more than I’d expected. I was particularly delighted at the shop, where I saw ‘Stickles’, a toy from my childhood - notched coloured circles which interlocked into 3 dimensional shapes. I enjoyed seeing the cutting edge Bauhaus teasets and office chairs - these styles are as fresh and practical today as they were extreme modern minimalism in their day. Wonderful. M encourages me to buy something, but the only things I really want are all too impractical to carry with us - ceramic, glass, large... I do LUST after the vases, which are square or rectangular blocks of glass, with a vase shape carved inside them and given a frosted finish. Completely impractical - heavy, breakable, expensive and foolish. DAMN.

We went back on the bus, had a quick dinner, and then packed furiously, ready for an early start to take the train to Freiburg, where I am looking forward so much to seeing my family.

During the night I suffer two severe asthma attacks - they’ve been on the increase for a week or so.. in the morning I drag myself out of bed, sweating and shaking. I try going through the usual ‘there, there, you’ll survive’ morning routine - shower, unguents, coffee... but I nearly collapse in the shower, I’m so hot (and yes, I did turn the water temp down to nearly goosebump levels); I can’t face the coffee for fear of nausea; I try to put on some clothes and my hands are shaking.. at this point I have to say to M that I don’t think I can make it. We indulge in a bit of swearing, crying and hand-holding, then he shapes up in his usual uber-wonderful way and begins to be very practical about what must be done.

I take a bucket of oral steroids - my only alternative at this stage. I *could* ring an ambulance; or try to see the doctor, but the thought of negotiating the medical system in a foreign country (and in spite of our unnecessary fears in Russa) is simply too much, I ache to just lie down and shut my eyes. And shake quietly to myself with a teddy bear nearby.

M speaks immediately to the hotel ppl and they quickly confirm we can keep the room. Then when he is certain that I’m stable for now, and don’t want him to try to get onto the doc, he goes to the nearest big train station (at the Zoo, if you want to know) and for a very small fee, only a few euros, is able to transfer our tickets to tomorrow’s train. Phew. He’s back quicky, with today’s English papers. I’m out to it, I vaguely hear the door open, next thing I know it’s three hours later and I’m awake looking for a puffer and thanking the goddesses that I can stay quietly, safely and near medical help if I need it. I nearly made it onto that train, what finished me off was the fear of having a huge attack while travelling and having NO help to hand, and my only option being to get off at some random town/city and go through the exhausting business of hospital/doctor/hotel etc etc. Not a happy thought.

I’m writing this bit on Wednesday, on the train, having benefitted enormously from the rest and the onset of the drugs. I’ll still have to take it quietly, and see a doc in Freiburg, but there we have the advantage of knowing that my sis-in-law has a good doc - we saw her last time when I’d hurt my back - and generally being in the bosom of the family and with native speakers who know the ‘system’. Saves a LOT of time, that does.

M also benefitted from the rest yesterday - after he’d returned from fixing the tickets he slept as well, saying he’d needed to catch up. So there was a silver lining. We even tottered out, just across the road to the good Italian restaurant, knowing that I could get ‘safe’ food - ie food that wouldn’t have crunchy bits or chilli or rice, these being things which can catch in my throat and set off more koffing. M said I was just trying to even up the odds, after his Russian drama. Huh. I have NO desire to spend 5 days in hospital anywhere, thank you. I’ve done quite enough of THAT!

I *have* wondered if we were foolish to take on this trip. The triumph (or blindness) of hope over experience. And I have also wondered if we should keep going, especially in the last three weeks. It’s been hard yakka, first with M’s illness and recovery; then my gradual descent into throat virus/sinus/asthma problems. I don’t have an easy answer - at what point does one give up? Not just give up the money, but the people; the places; the hopes and expectations; the unexpected excitements and the unpredictable events... I guess if M’s Russian doktors had said ‘ze liver she is shotsky’ we might have pulled the plug and retreated to excellent Australian medical care. Ditto if I ended up in a similar state and a white-coat pointed out that asthma stressors riddled our proposed pathway.. for now, we’ll carry on, and I expect we’ll finish. We’ve made it (in half an hour) to family territory. From here we can get back to Helsinki easily, no more long train trips. The only part I could happily ditch is the 5 days in Seoul, staying instead one night, then flying on through another overnight stop in HK and thence to Sydney. I predict crying when we land there.

Let’s hope Seoul is spiffy enough to cause some excitement. Let’s hope Seoul has some fabric! I have totally failed to find textiles of practically any kind, unless you all want shawls. The end of summer fashions sales are at full pitch, but high end designer duds are not what I see my friends and family wearing. Unless you are all secretly decked out in Stella and Chanel and YSL and I just think you’ve done the ironing for once...

I gotta go, it’s almost time to start heaving luggage down from the racks and lining up at the door to leap off - we have a whole 2 minutes to de-train in Freiburg before this extremely nice new and well-staffed German train departs. We enjoyed the dining-car - full service! The only train trip where we’ve had such a thing; the rest of the trains have only had a sort of kiosk, sometimes with no tables and chairs.


9:21pm, Freiburg, safe and delighted in the bosom of the family.

We arrived, de-trained easily, and were met by three beautiful women - my sis-in-law (my OTHER sis-in-law, who is easily as lovely) - and two of her daughters; the eldest who is 16 going on 21 and gorgeous and elegant and unspoiled, and her youngest daughter, who is therefore (counts on fingers.... ) nearly 13, ah yes, she told me we’re missing her birthday by only a few days. She is still round-faced and goofy and is SO like her daddy (MY youngest brother, got that?). We had a rousing family dinner, special south German food - spaetzle with onions, schnitzel, salad, and then apple and plum strudel. NOM. All home-cooked and such a welcome change from restaurant food. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten plenty of really wonderful things (and, that reminds me, the blog is overdue for a food run-down, I’ll get onto that), but nothing beats real food.

Now I am exhausted, slightly wheezy, incredibly thankful for the quick effect of the steroids which is the only reason I’ve been able to make this trip today. And in the hands of some pretty special peoples. I said over dinner something I’ve not wanted to mention, although purrhaps it’s been obvious to you readers out there? - if we hadn’t been coming to see our family, I think I would have said to Michael after Riga - let’s just go home. Just STOP with all this half-alive, worried about poor health, too tired to enjoy things, fed up with different languages, etc etc. - all the things which should make travelling worth it have been making think it’s not enough, because of my dang busted body. So.

Today brought to you by ICE (Inter-City-Express), a wonderful husband who knows just when to say the encouraging things, and my dear German family. There’s a bit of ‘Enjoy’ in there but it can hardly compete with such earthly ravishments.

Thursday 18th September

Oh my oh my oh my... the BEST day. Slept in, read books, went up to the family for a late lunch and stayed until now (10.30pm). Talked, drank buckets of coffee, went for a long walk, more walking, hugging girlies and teasing girlies and watching tv and drinking more coffee and singing and eating and making plans.... bliss. Just... BLISS. No hunter-gathering, no organising, no timetables or taxis or decisions.

And! the plans we have are all for ordinary things - going out to buy nice things for me to cook tomorrow night, sorting out a concert for Saturday night, going on Sunday to Mass to hear the girlies sing with their choir; my cousin Sarah coming from Basel for the day. We’ll definitely stay an extra day here, therefore reducing our planned time in Frankfurt from 2 days to one. Easy. Wonderful. A very fine way to finish our holiday on a high, oh such a lovely high note, and face the business of getting home. This is better. We must remember this for our next trip - if our shares don’t plummet in value and all the airlines in the world stop flying and we can’t sail cos they got no fuel either and no-one can row that far...

We’ll see.

Today brought to you by Fair Trade coffee, eau-de-gorgeousgirls, and a little bit of Gucci just for fun.

Berlin, Friday September 12th; just notes

I’ve been in bed all day, hedding of deth, sinusing and exhaustipating. M’s been out doing miracles - finding out about the public buses, going to the ... (I seem to have cut something from here, now, 3 weeks later, whom nose what it was, sorry!)..

I see events are preceding you before you've even started...pardon me if I'm being a bit post-modern, we just got back from seeing Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Phil doing a wonderful contemporary program of Elliott Carter, a friend of Barenboim's and about to turn 100 years old; it was a tribute purrformance.

I've been in bed for two days (since the day-long train trip here from Krakow). Hed of deth and bloody old sinus exploding. I have an appt on Monday to see the doc.. have been out today, duly stuffed with drugs, on a 2 hour bus tour around Berlin, seeing highlights .. with a TERRIBLE auto-commentary, nearly 10 years out of date. it's 'on your left' and 'the next building' bits were all over the place... and there were lots of weird quotes - the Zoomerzet-accented woman who did the English version would say something like "therefore leading to the well-known quote of Herr NeverHeardOf: Sun's rays beaming down will live forever in the tree-tops". Hmm.. theses were sposed to be deeply deep metaphors for the crushing and renaissance of ze Cherman spirit after ze vars.. und I find myself not having a clue about what it all means.

That said, the actual sights were pretty strong stuff - the Jewish dead memorial; a bit of Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie... and some of the statistics about how many zillions of Russians sent in to batter Berlin to bits/ditto English etc. WWII facts are unremittingly nasty. Hence our reluctance to see Auschwitz OR the Salt Mines. A chance to see where deepest misery and hideousness happened? Let's leave it to my fertile-enough imagination!

I gotta go, it's M's turn on this puter, and I gotta go to bed. We hope tomorrow to go to see three museums very close to each other - Modern Art, Arts and Crafts Museum, and one other... all very close to the Tiergarten park and the zoo. Monday is posting day, and seeing the doc day, and I hope some clothes shopping day - I have ONE long-sleeved top and after all our culling and leaving of cold-weather clothes, it is now 6 degrees at night; barely 15 during the day. M is cold and I have no coat either.. seems a good enough reason to have a go, there are Salgs on everywhere for end of summer gear (which, in this part of the world, always includes jumpers and jackets!). The other night we walked along the uber-expensive designer gear shopping strip and I got ideas about my station, especially as to shoes. And some new Bvlgari purrfume but I can't merember the name.

AND shock horror I can't get into the StrawberryNet* site from this hotel's server, can you believe it??? Rampant consumer-discrimination!!!

*to order more unguents at Web discount prices, you know, I might not have enough!!!! :-p

Berlin, Thurs 11th September

Yeah, I know it's the anniversary of THAT September 11... but for me...

A day off.

Sleep; plunger coffee and decent muesli. More sleep. Air-conditioning!! Reading English papers (The Independent, The Guardian, and the (American) Herald Tribune). Lavish showering with all the unguents unpacked and to hand. More lots of Gucci.

Sitting around while M sleeps, after he went out to find and then consult an English-speaking doctor nearby. He’s had his blood test and immediately bought himself a bottle of white wine! Heh. He’s been counting the days since we left the Russian clinic... let’s hope his remaining dodgy liver levels are now ok. Ditto blood pressure and heart health.

Massive efforts by me, whose legs feel as if I walked here, not came by train, to go out a few blocks for dinner. An excellent paella and some Rosé. Tottered back drooling over the YSL/Chanel/Gucci/Bvlgari/other top end designer shops with luscious, impossibly gorgeous shoes... M fainting at the prices! I told him about how one buys a pair for umpteen dollars, then amortises the cost over the next 25 years of wearing them, to make them a REAL bargain buy. He seems strangely unconvinced ... I think I’ll have to demonstrate so he can see how it works. Selfless, I know.

Both of us have huge headaches. I cut my finger practically in half getting the plastic cover off a CD. My feet still hurt. M is trying to be his usual saintly self but is pretty crisp around the edges. We need to do our washing and sort out our dang mobile phones and make phone calls and get his suit dry-cleaned and I need a haircut and some beauty salon rescue activities... it’s all too hard.

Tomorrow, tomorrow ... I think we’ll start with a physio appointment for me; then go to the Bauhaus; and then we’ll see. I’m looking forward to cooking our dinner, if I can remember how. And I’ll get the password for the hotel’s free WiFi so you can all catch up with us and vv.

Posting must happen soon. I must buy presents for my family in Freiburg, having inadvertently sent home the carefully-chosen gifts I found in Riga, in the massive pre-flight posting in Vilnius. [I looked at the few photos I took in Vilnius, and I can hardly remember being there. That was a tricky 36 hours...]

I feel I need ... things. Stuff. Goodies. I’m not sure why, but I read in The Guardian today that a scientific/medical link has been made between healing times and the amount or lack of patting and stroking the patient receives. The article was published with a photo of a baby, but I read it thinking of all the self-patting I experience via the constant unguentification of an impurrfect princess. I’ve always thought of the application of body lotions and such as a simple form of administering a little ‘there, there..’. Now I am proven right! This is not an excuse, it’s a scientific process of self-care and symptom-management. I love it.

Goodnight. It’s gonna be the big pain-pill bomb tonight; the last resort uber-drug for hed of dethness and rampant fatigue and sore leggies. Pardon me if I drool....


The last two days have been a physical marvel - a palpable lifting of the weight from my shoulders and spirit.

I think, since we crossed the border into Russia, I've been under a dark cloud. The reckoning for this I shall examine more closely when I have more time (having spent 2 hours sorting things to post this afternoon, and 2 more hours re-packing this evening, I'm not inclined to natter just now). But the feeling is strong and quite clear to me. The last five weeks at least have been a big struggle.

For now, we are quite delighted to have taken umpteen more kilos of stuff to the extremely excellent and efficient and orderly and friendly Saturday Helsinki post office. All kinds of amazing things can be found - packing boxes which don't require a degree in spatial-development-architectural-witticism to assemble; staff who point out cheaper options!!!!; tables for packing which are equipped with scissors, that wide strong sticky tape, string (yes dad, we finally found some!); labels, instructions and plenty of ROOM!!!. We happily filled two boxes with papers, souvenirs, unguents, a few spare clothes (I still don't really need my fiord-wear heavy-duty wool jumper) and suchlike.. the only thing I didn't find room for was a 1 kg tin of excellent Freiburg 'BIO BIO' coffee. Natch. It's in with me smalls now; I can go anywhere at this point and as long as my luggage goes with me I'll be orright for clean undies and nice coffee..

We repaired to the nice cafe of our Helsinki previous visit - Leonardo's. We ate the whole cafe. I had a small meltdown during the meal (tears are not far from the surface, the last few days) but pink fizz and grilled ching and some cheesecake to share fixed me well enough. Since then, as I said, I've been packingsortingfiddling with all me stuff and thinking exclusively of HOME. As of tomorrow evening, it is a mere week until we feel Australian soil (tarmac) under our footsore tootsies. I may not kiss it but I'll be bloody glad to consider a little tap of the toes, or maybe dripping a tear or two onto it. If I drink enough on the last leg, I might even vaporise Sydney airport, which would be a very community-minded action!

Our flight to Seoul leaves at about 5pm tomorrow; we'll be off to the airport about 2pm to ensure I have time to claim my tax duty back (from previous Helsinki purrchases) (but not all of them; I mistakenly sent the paperwork home to Oz a while back. Bugger.). We need time to get some wons, too. That's Korean currency, and it runs at something like 96.4 won to one Ozzie dollar. My maths won't be up to it I assure you!

As for recent Visa action, the nice lady at the Sokos shopping centre, where I went today to purchase the amazing luxury of a whole box of Kleenex tissues - not the endless little packets, which drive me nuts - FORCED me, I tell you, to try several new purrfumes.

You know purrfectly well what happened next. Mmmm.... Escada, Dior, Gaultier... how to choose??? I found a way, of course I did!

I gots to go now and order my bedtime hot chocolate from the bar before it closes - Satdy night in Helsinki and come 9.30pm it's doornail dead. Don't ask me why. As long as noone keeps ME awake I don't care.

And, btw, there should be time tomorrow morning before we nick off, for me to do some uploading and thought-and-snorting. I feel bad I've been neglecting ze blog, but just wait patiently and you'll read allaboudit. Guten nacht and sleepen tacht, for now!

Today brought to you by layers of 'Magnifique'; Gaultier 'Classique'; Chanel No. 5's 'Huile Sensual', and a spot of some new Escada called something like 'MY PURRFECT PONGO'.'


Friday, September 26, 2008

Just a note..

We're in Frankfurt, two hours by train from Freiburg. Very sad having to farewell our dear ones last night. ...

Yesterday M and I did the biggest post you ever saw, 15kg!! Then went shopping for gifts for everyone (purrfume all round, heh); then to his ... his ... somewhat helplessly doomed look of marital understanding, I went to the fabric shop I'd noticed on Monday.

You know how you post things home so you have more room in your suitcase for the rest of your travels? Well, doesn't EVERYONE darling travel with metres of silk velvet and a bit of genuine Italian designer brand Missoni plaid in their cases????

Tomorrow this all gets flown to Helsinki, where another post office is in my immediate future! M won't let me near a shop I think. Heh. I'm VERY happy I finally found some fabric, I did see a wool shop too but I just couldn't do it to him, after my fabric fix took 45 mins (there be some very argumentative German wimmins out there not deciding about their fabrics...).

Seoul on Saturday. Wow!!! And, once again, thanks for the good wishes and encouragement from you lot, you lot know who you lot are.

Today brought to you by 'Magnifique'. When I finally upload my stuff from the lappie, you'll see why. Oh, and it´s BLISSFULLY COOL....

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Family fabulous family!

Hellooooo.... I have a ton of stuff to upload but once again I am not using my own dear little lappie, so another period of patience from you all is required, sorry.

We are in Freiburg, with our family, having a holiday from our holiday. I'm at their dining table as I write, having had a sleepover last night - a most satisfactory event involving pasta, choc-chip biccies, the new Pink Panther movie (meh), a tiff between two girlies, and a long talk to their mama over some wine after the lieblings went to bed. Wunderbar. M is in Heidelberg, having a fix of his old home town from yon days of yore before.

Yesterday I saw ze doktor again and (don't faint) my blood levels are 'all kompleetly normal'. Cripes! People don't say the "N" word to me very often! She was very kind about my high anxiety level, dealing with my quivering lip and being helpful. What it means on the ground is no more antibiotic (she says it is something called 'adeno-virus', a common autumn bug in these parts, which manifests like hayfever and of course is not treatable by auntybiotix), get off the steroids fairly quickly cos ze chest she is much better, and go home. Right. The going home bit sounds pretty good to me. I've had enough. Once we leave here (Thursday morning) we're on the home trail, merely stopping in Frankfurt, Helsinki, Seoul, Hong Kong and Sydney before we return to familiar furry territory.

After seeing the doc I bravely took the tram into town (only 4 stops) and bought everything out of sheer relief. Well HEAVENS there were purrfume sales on everywhere and what is a poor home-sick abandoned husbandless little catcan to do? SPEND appears to be the answer! I got spiffy presents for nearly everyone, running out of energy in the end after four hours. Peoples is going to be happy. *I* is happy cos I gots new wasn't my fault, I tell you, the nice shop assistants kept sprayink me with "Magnifique" and as you all know, resistance is useless. So I didn't resist and now I have a nice bottle of the new Lancome "Magnifique" to keep me from being smelly... or make it worse...

Tonight we are having a little party to celebrate my birdy and my younger niece's about to be birdy, so I gotta go and make a cake. Do I remember how? I hope so - it's the recipe I've been using for 25 years from the Nursing Mother's Cookbook (hi Hil!), babies all over me as I stirred the mix, so I think it will be orright.

Today brought to you, so far, by a brilliant phone call to my dear ones in Canberra, a silent house, and a shiny new bottle of pong waiting for me in the bathroom bag. Yay!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best-laid plans get scuppered

Just very briefly - I've been having asthma troubles for a week or so. When I saw the doc yesterday I mentioned it, but in the concentration we all needed to get the sinus bit right in our English and German, I forgot to get her to listen to me lungs. Bad move. Last night I had another of those 'bolt of lightening' severe attacks; twice.

As we were getting ready for the train this morning, I kept saying to myself 'you can do it, you CAN, you only have to stay ok until you get into your seat'... but I started to shake and sweat, and think of what I might do if I had a huge attack on the we stayed here. It wasn't any problem to keep the room, and Saint Michael went to the nearest big station and paid a very small fee to change our tickets. He's a SAINT. I have to keep saying this because he keeps being one.

I've stuck a bucket of oral bloody steroids down my neck; rested all day; bravely ventured out for some soup at the Italian place over the road. Now we hope for a night free of dramas. Please cross your airways for us!

Relatives in Freiburg were sad but understanding, and all is on track (so to speak) for us to get down there tomorrow.

But FAARRRKK.... today brought to you by a series of pharmaceuticals, soft pillows, and lots of reassurance from M. Purrfume??? Don't speak of such things; I might cry and that will make me koff...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bear with me...

Berlin, Monday Sept 15 (I think)

My nose has dominion over the holiday, again. I beens to the doktor and I gots aunty-biotix.

We travel to Freiburg tomorrow, to spend time with my Curly-Girls and their mother. There will be PROPER blog entries from there, pwomise. I tried to post a lolcat here for you to be going on with, but I no not how to html such things.


Here are two words to keep you interested in coming back to read more: Barenboim and Rattle. Oh, and a third word: WOWEE!!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Berlin - a day off.

Sleep; plunger coffee and decent muesli. More sleep. Air-conditioning!! Reading English papers (The Independent, The Guardian, and the (American) Herald Tribune). Lavish showering with all the unguents unpacked and to hand. More lots of Gucci.

Sitting around while M sleeps, after he went out to find and then consult an English-speaking doctor nearby. He’s had his blood test and immediately bought himself a bottle of white wine! Heh. He’s been counting the days since we left the Russian clinic... let’s hope his remaining dodgy liver levels are now ok. Ditto blood pressure and heart health.

Massive efforts by me, whose legs feel as if I walked here, not came by train, to go out a few blocks for dinner. An excellent paella and some Rosé. Tottered back drooling over the YSL/Chanel/Gucci/Bvlgari/other top end designer shops with luscious, impossibly gorgeous shoes... M fainting at the prices! I told him about how one buys a pair for umpteen dollars, then amortises the cost over the next 25 years of wearing them, to make them a REAL bargain buy. He seems strangely unconvinced ... I think I’ll have to demonstrate so he can see how it works. Selfless, I know.

Both of us have huge headaches. I cut my finger practically in half getting the plastic cover off a CD. My feet still hurt. M is trying to be his usual saintly self but is pretty crisp around the edges. We need to do our washing and sort out our dang mobile phones and make phone calls and get his suit dry-cleaned and I need a haircut and some beauty salon rescue activities... it’s all too hard.

Tomorrow, tomorrow ... I think we’ll start with a physio appointment for me; then go to the Bauhaus; and then we’ll see. I’m looking forward to cooking our dinner, if I can remember how. And I’ll get the password for the hotel’s free WiFi so you can all catch up with us and vv.

Posting must happen soon. I must buy presents for my family in Freiburg, having inadvertently sent home the carefully-chosen gifts I found in Riga, in the massive pre-flight posting in Vilnius. [I looked at the few photos I took in Vilnius, and I can hardly remember being there. That was a tricky 36 hours...]

I feel I need ... things. Stuff. Goodies. I’m not sure why, but I read in The Guardian today that a scientific/medical link has been made between healing times and the amount or lack of patting and stroking the patient receives. The article was published with a photo of a baby, but I read it thinking of all the self-patting I experience via the constant unguentification of an impurrfect princess. I’ve always thought of the application of body lotions and such as a simple form of administering a little ‘there, there..’. Now I am proven right! This is not an excuse, it’s a scientific process of self-care and symptom-management. I love it.

Goodnight. It’s gonna be the big pain-pill bomb tonight; the last resort uber-drug for hed of dethness and rampant fatigue and sore leggies. Pardon me if I drool....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Krakow to Berlin, 10th September (beware, whining content)..

Ah, the joys of travel.... what are they again???

Oh yes, *I* remember.

Frantic packing, sorting, culling, stuffing, mangling, squishing, thumping and not a drop of booze in sight, the night before.
Failure of wake-up call in spite of two requests. Fortunately M has an alarm which wakes him up... the night porter knocked on our door THIRTY MINUTES after the designated time, saying our phone wasn’t working. I refuse to consider what may have happened if M’s backup had failed...
Needless to say, the waking up happens at some ungoddessly hour, with no breakfast possible because it’s too early ... evidently so early that the hotel has no electricity - it can neither boil a kettle nor open a fridge. SNORT.
M has scoped the railway station and told me there is a 10 minute walk between the entrance and the platform.. *I* see... HOW many pieces of baggage are we up to again?
Krakow Central Station also has no electricity at this hour of the day, so no coffee can be acquired* ... I did find a stall selling bananas and bottled water. Just as well (read on)
Train has three narrow but very high steps, suitcases for the hauling up of. Grunt.
Seat numbering goes like this (no joke): Left hand side 20, 24, 35, 37, 36, 34, 45. Right hand side 28, 31, 33, 32, 38, 41, 43, 32. U-huh ... we decide that our seats are two aisle seats, one in front of the other. Then the nice young lad in eleventy-nine D offers to move so we can sit together. [Several ticket inspections later (ie they didn’t notice this error), quite a bit of us shuffling around in the carriage to escape sun, heat, humidity (sigh), being backwards, loud talking etc (ie we didn’t notice the error either), M discovers our REAL 1st Class seats are two carriages away, in an air-conditioned compartment of 6 big, velvety, downright cosy seats. “Our” compartment is full of three people with their shoes off and feet (nasty horny men’s feet) up on the seats. We don’t mind SO much, it’s so far into the journey it’s not worth moving all the luggage (lugging the luggage, WHY have I never put the two together before??) ... but other compartments in this chilly paradise are completely empty... I spose we coulda decamped into one of them. Never mind, I was so very entranced by the Barbara Vine I was reading I didn’t notice the heat so much. Tummy rumbling demanding large pizza-sized pizzas was another matter.]
We decide to have lunch at 12.30, a civilised time and about half-way through our day-long trip. At the stop before now, there is a long delay, and several mysterious clangs and big thumps .. oh har har, this is the Polish diner car being disentrained. The nice Polish conductor who comes along just as we are walking up to the other end of the train, in case M was turned around and lost, says ‘No diner until 2 hours’.
At another hot, humid stop, indeed about 2 hours later (and past the border check, which was a cursory inspection of a few people’s, randomly chosen passports, there are more clanks and biffs and a German diner car is attached. This has an enormous range of about three things, and the annoyingly, alarmingly ubiquitous Nescafe pod coffee machine. [These things have taken over Europe; latte-sippers beware! They have made the delivery of ersatz ‘real’ coffee a snap for cafes and hotels everywhere. No nasty grinding of actual beans, or all that pesky business with the frothy milk. Just stick a paper cup under the nozzle and press a button, and pshhhh bbbrrp out comes black stuff, followed by thbbbbrrrrrrrrrr white bubbles. Doesn’t taste like coffee. The only resemblance is that it’s hot wet stuff in a cup. HUMPH.
[* When I returned with my bananas, I looked around at the station before taking the lift back to the platform, and saw a little kiosk open around a dim corner.. she had coffee, the same Nescafe pod machine stuff, but I wasn’t going to quibble at this hour - and with this great a need. If you add plenty of those wee milk pods, and plenty of sugar, it becomes a reasonably enjoyable sweet-ish hot milk drink. Not necessarily a coffee, but a hot slurp of something-or-other which gives one a bit of heart.]
M announces that on arrival in Berlin, we have a very precisely time-tabled three minutes to heave our selves and luggage off the train before it departs into the German yonder.

I’m having FAR too much fun. Hot, tired, starving, squished, confused and once again apparently able to access the train’s Free Public WiFi but of course I fail, again.

There was ONE good bit - the Hotel Monopol (which had certificates all over the place saying it was voted Best Hotel in Poland 2006/7) (more on this in a minute) had actually managed to get us a taxi, and the night porter stopped smoking long enough to help carry out our cases, AND say goodbye and have a good trip. Then the non-smoking (2nd miracle) taxi driver loads (3rd) our cases carefully (4th) into the boot and off we go. He takes a very different route to that M used the other day.. past a huge shopping complex - Galeria, which I’ve seen in Helsinki, St Petersburg and Riga so far - round a few corners, and voila! stops at Platform 3. Miracle no. 5, cos this means the 10 minute walk is avoided completely and we only have to go one floor down in a lift to get to the exact bit of the platform we need. Amazing. We don’t even (6th) get stuck going into or out of the lift.

[The Hotel Monopol stands out for us as one of the least comfy of our trip, mostly because of the scruffiness of the room: torn curtains, dirty walls, hard beds, a window which wouldn’t stay open until we operated on it with a tin of hairspray, a shower head which took ‘spraying’ to new heights - yep, into our eyes and right over the top of the shower stall and over our left shoulders onto the dry towel, because the shower spray head was leaky and couldn’t be tightened enough to stop the extra squirty bits - and the stench of cigarette smoke in the hallways. At first I thought the maids were working on Personal Best for Early Onset Emphysema, but then realised that the stairwell, being huge and open around a four-floor high atrium, was funneling up the smoke from the foyer lounge, where addicts could settle in for a fix. And the hotel has the slowest lift I’ve ever seen - even I could have climbed the four flights of stairs, with plenty of stops for wheezing and whingeing, and still beat the lift. My final grouch is that not ONCE did the reception staff greet us as we passed by. As for eye contact when asking purrfectly reasonable questions, like ‘can you order a taxi?’, or ‘when will the laundry be back?’... if this is Best in Poland, imagine worst! It could almost be worth going, just to see how low they can go...].

It’s nearly 5.30, and the train is very close to Berlin now. In a minute M will want to start gathering our bags together and standing at the train door ready to presto-heavo onto the platform. He’s also (yeah, his travel purrsona again) explained that we aren’t leaving the station until he’s found an information office to double-check our tickets to Freiburg. All this admin! I know it has to be done (I think). I will try not to think of a cool comfy hotel room with a nice cool comfy shower followed by a cool comfy big dinner and a cool comfy long sleep. Cool and comfy, how conservative and anal and middle-aged and unadventurous is that???

But I must stop talking about myself....


Later; 11pm....

Leaving the train was easy enough, in spite of the mangling of two hordes - departures and embarkations fighting it out with their suitcases through the small train doors. And us with our 4 suitcases etc, trying to leap on and off and get them all and me not fall down de steps or lose a case.. no little old ladies were ruffled in the process or anything. We saw the lift immediately (Berlin main railway station is a model of modern efficiency); then those pesky gods started to interfere again... first, I got into the lift with my two cases, pushing towards the 3 people already in the lift. Another woman got in with me, and it seemed that there would be no room for M. But he said something tersely, involving the words “meine Frau” (dat’s moi) and people moved back and, surprise surprise, there was plenty of room for us all. Up we went the one floor we needed to get to the main station area. Leaving the lift was a farce - M got out easily cos he was jammed into the doors and just popped out. Before I or the other person leaving could move, a little old lady charged in with her bag, bashing it into my shins and totally blocking my exit line. I started to say things like “Wait, bitte, I need to get out, fark, M what’s the word for ‘shove over’, bitte mein Mann’ and somehow the l.o.l. was sidelined into a corner and I got out without the lift doors eating me. I think I spoiled her perm but..

M saw a sign (no, not that kind of sign, just one on the platform) about Travel Information and set off to see if he could do the ticket confirmation thing. I was left minding our Rubik’s cube of luggage pieces, sweating quietly to myself and swearing ditto. While I waited (thinking that at least M was probably achieving something given the amount of time it was taking) a fellow with dreadfully deformed feet stumbled up to me and began some kind of begging or questioning. I felt a bit confronted by this, and after saying NO very firmly a few times, I tried GO AWAY with a gesture and this did the trick. Who knows, maybe I should have this dude on my conscience, he may have been asking me where the escalator was, or which way to the disabled dunnies, but I have no idea. I just didn’t like the way he held his hand out and stared at me. He came back just before M; I was preparing myself for some good old Aussie vernacular at high volume when he caught my eye and veered away. Hmm... will I be the subject of his nightmares for weeks to come? I hope not. I hope he just tells his mates at the pub tonight about the ignorant chick at the station who pissed him off when he was only asking about the public phones...

Tickets confirmed, validated, discharged, stamped, stickered and officially sanctioned as honest to goodness German tickets for German trains, this month, for us, all above board and ship-shape. One less bit of admin for M to let himself worry about. We found a taxi driver who drove us at high speed, talking most of the time on his mobile (very Rome-esque) to our hotel in about 30 seconds. AND it’s not a hotel room, but a serviced apartment, and we have a kitchen!!! with microwave, dishwasher, oven, toaster.. the delights go on forever. It even has a full-size bath. The only quibble I have is that the bed is a sofa-bed, and although very comfy, it has all that metal machinery on each side. The receptionist explained that this way we could have the room as a tv/entertaining room during the day if we liked. Hmm.. .a good rationalisation, but I’d purrfur, actually, a lounge AND a bedroom. Picky picky.. it’s gonna be nice to be in the same bed as M, and having hazardous bed edges is hardly new. At least this time it’s the outside bits rather than the middle of the beds against which it comes to pass that many an elbow and knee gets biffed in the dead of night when the rest of the slumberous body is merely trying to turn over. Ow.


Today brought to you by a rather nasty Polish train; some equally nasty German train coffee; the gem of a girl in a station cafe who pointed out that they sold Segafredo coffee (meaning that TA-DA!!! we can have decent coffee for brekkie tomorrow, made in our very own plunger, with real milk n everything); eau de hot train; and a bedtime shot of Gucci to get me through the night.


Krakow, Tuesday 9th September; futzing around..

I've been trying to work out some improvements to my blog, like how to put a 'fold' into each post; and how to add photos, and that. Not very successfully as you can see!

I guess I could investigate the blogspot list of goodies and see if I understands it a bit betterer.. anyone who cares to write in with suggestions for brain-dead travelling blog-dags is most welcome.

So, what we up to? M is still suffering ennui and self-shoulda/coulda/oughta wrangles. I am not so down, but SO tired.. we got up for brekkie after I'd had a good 9 hours of sleep, and afterwards I lay down and went out like a light for another 2 hours.. weird. Even for me this is kinda long. Cuts into the day of prospective touristing too.

We both have a strong sense of relief that tomorrow we travel (by train) to Berlin. A return to Western life! M speaks fluent German, so negotiating the city, the usual shopping/banking/posting/Netting details, and making our eccentric way through the days, should be much easier. I know that lotsa lotsa people don't speak English, but I'm getting a bit distressed by the 'blank face/don't wanna know' reaction from most people here. It's too much like Beijing, 10 years ago, especially the 'don't wanna know' part. In shopkeepers, waiters and the service industry in general, I don't understand the hostility - don't they want the money to keep in business? Me no get it. Me want peoples to be NICE to me. Foolish moi.

Two days ago we leapt up at the crack of breakfast and joined a group of about 10 people for a bus and walking tour of Krakow, the Old City. Our guide, the glamorous Caterina, was very good, explaining the significance and historical value of the places we visited - I particularly enjoyed seeing the remaining one synagogue still operating, and the old cemetary next door. Of course the two World Wars have had a huge influence on the city, both visually and culturally, and the markers are plain. As we saw in Riga (yes, yes, the Riga walking tour blog entry is coming) there are bullet holes, walls built from the rubble of previous structures, and restored and over-built sites of all kinds. One part of Krakow which I particularly enjoy is the parkland which encircles the Old City - it used to be the moat with a huge stone wall. Now the walls are largely gone, and the moat has become a park. This green belt around the city is a strong reminder of dear old Adelaide, the home town of your faithful correspondent.

After our tour finished (as we walked through the street where one John Paul II was once the parish priest) our legs were gone boom. We retired for a siesta, before going out to a short concert in a nearby stone church - the church of St Giles. The performance was a collection of pieces for organ and soprano. It was a strange concert - the soprano had a beautiful coloratura and was clearly experienced in stagecraft and presentation. The organist complemented her performance by playing as if he'd never seen the music before that morning. I was speculating about whether his right hand could play faster than his left, and the numerous times when he and the soprano seemed to disagree about which piece they were actually playing. He performed a couple of solos, not very well at all. He chose speed over accuracy, and his lack of musicianship was stunning. I took a couple of sound recordings on Le Camera, but I think they aren't worth keeping. The clash!

Yesterday was fairly quiet, we rested and read for ages in the morning. In the afternoon we went out to see a concert at the cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, but it wasn't on for some reason. I've written about this in a piece which I hope to upload very soon.. I had a good shopping opportunity after this, making my luggage to Berlin look kinda complicated. Oh well, that's nothing new.

Today my favourite thing has been the time I spent sitting in a cafe in the Market Square, having lattes and super-fresh raspberries, oh NOM, and watching the world go by. And what did I see? Firstly, a bloody lot of smokers. So many people busy inhaling themselves to death. Then, a lot of icecream eating, hand-holding, strolling, pigeon-feeding, busking, eating and laughing. It's a lovely day today. Every day we've been here, we've heard at some point the piercing top notes of a counter-tenor who aspires to the type of musical interpretation we experienced with that organist at St Giles - this fellow means well, but his approach to pitch is to belt out a high note and hope for the best. Agonising! He sings Schubert's 'Ave Maria' with all the delicacy of a hippo burping after dinner. Today he began 'performing' on the church steps (another church) just as I finished my second latte. That was enough to send me on my way to this Net cafe!

Shortly we'll be off for an early dinner, and then our final Krakow concert - back to the Bonerowsky Palace for a piano recital of Brahms and Chopin. And I need to do some feverish packing as we'll be up at 5:45 am, ouch ouch, to get on the 7am train. Which I most decidedly do NOT want to miss.

Better go, then. Today brought to you by 'Enjoy', those delicious raspberries, and a sigh of relief.

Monday, September 8, 2008

WiFi WoEs (AgAiN!!)

I’ve come to the WiFi cafe, only to find, as I often do, that WiFi doesn’t necessarily mean I can connect easily to the webs and read/write stuff I want to. Damn. This is very frustrating - I keep getting an error message suggesting that my network settings need to be changed, but danged if I can work out how. Sometimes it just spontaneously gets a grrip and lets me into the webs; sometime no matter what I do (I even sink so low as to follow the instructions) I can’t get in. There is a fleeting moment when I see all the little green lights of the ‘connected and working’ list of ISP/airport etc stuff go on, meaning the webs is alive and waiting, but it flashes on and then straight off again. Argggghhhh...

But as I am very comfy, with a nice rock wall to look at, a candle for my purrsonal fang shui, and a latte and a fresh orange juice to hand, I shall rattle on and hope to upload this onto ze blog fairly soon. This will probably be when we get to Berlin - we travel there by train on Wednesday. I think we are both pretty much over travelling in ex-Communist states; places where we don’t spikka de lingo; places of relative difficulty even for two smarty-parties like us; the combination of unexpected travails (M’s health; the whole Vilnius experience; my mood swings) has led to us both feeling that we’ve travelled enough. Enough! Berlin offers respite in a number of different ways - M speaks fluent German; we will be staying in a studio apartment so I can cook (M thinks this is a problem - hardly so! I’m really looking forward to have some control over the amount of salt, fat, garlic/onion and UFOs* in our food). And we can make our own coffee and tea whenever we want it, instead of the blind searching for a cafe which might be orright - today we did this and instead of the usual $A3:00 coffee we were stiffed for $A8:00 per latte. NOT worth it imho. There is some sort of implicit code about which restaurants/cafes are the cheaper, ‘ordinary’ ones, but we haven’t cracked it.

The food is definably different from everything we’ve had so far - Scandinavia, Russia (to my great surprise), Estonia and Latvia all seemed to have as much or more fresh food on offer than stodge - ie salads, grills, plain fruit salad in various forms, and freshly-squeezed juice everywhere. Here the fried cheese with fried everything else cuisine dominates - we have got to the point where we are sick of Italian a la Polish, the Kebab cafes (everywhere) are tempting because the grilled chicken is good, but there is so much sauce and cheese etc etc added. And no, not so many people speak English, so it’s tricky trying to mime ‘no onion, sauce, chilli’... last night we went to the Pronto Restaurant because M fancied their risotto - which was pretty good, nice and slushy and full of cream and parmesan. Quite rich, even for a risotto. I chose grilled vegetables, and they were grilled, but also doused in oil during and after cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have it, but I am not so keen on oily, garlicky food. My little tummy tends to wake me up at 2am saying ‘GRIPE’ and ‘BLOAT’ and ‘YUCKY-POO’ and demand Alka-Seltzer what we only have a very tiny bit of left which M needs more than me. The list of over-the-counter meds we could have brought, aside from those we did, is alarmingly long!

*Unnecessarily Fatty and Objectionable


M is keeping a list of hotel room pros and cons, and sometimes we discuss it - things like extra pillows; towels which are not so old you can see through them; staff who don’t have any manners; bathroom fittings which don’t either spray water where it’s not wanted, or fall off their hooks, or both... a bar fridge; reading lights for both beds; and, dammit, ONE bed big enough for two instead of the ‘push two singles together and jam something between the mattresses so you don’t ding your elbows on the wooden edges of the beds’ option. Don’t couples in these parts of the world want to hold hands at night??? And how can you put the teddy bears between the pillows if there is a chasm? Teddy bears don’t like chasms, they told me so.

There’s a more general ‘desirable features of hotels’ list which is mostly linked to steps and our preference for none. We have got to the point of laughing about it, just. Arriving at ungodly times, fried from the trip and in my case nice and stiff as to back, makes for interesting moments wrangling luggage. M is patient enough about lugging everything up the front steps, but once we find a lift we expect it to take us to the same floor as our room. This is a real Lucky Dip of a concept - one can be on the same floor and have hallways with steps up and down, ramps, narrow suitcase-unfriendly corners, heavy doors which won’t stay propped open and therefore tend to bang shut and leave the one outside without the room card stranded... one can also happily ascend to the fourth floor and discover that there is a choice between half a flight of steps up or down, to get to one’s room. Up, was the answer. It always is.

On my last trip to Europe I said, with great feeling, that it is made up of marble staircases, and one is always at the bottom and one always needs to be at the top. This Murphy’s Law is compounded by the number and weight of one’s bags. [For example, if I only had a handbag, I’d have about 20 steps to go up, and I’d probably have a handrail. Once I’m fully loaded with my two cases, backpack, extra bag or two plus handbag, the steps go around the corner and up two more flights, every step is a different height and width, and the handrails have fallen off. If M has the same amount of luggage all this climbing will be outside, on a hot humid day, and his sunhat will be at the bottom of a case and he won’t open it because gypsies are hanging around hoping for some easy takeaway loot. Add a paper bag of sammos and fruit and it will suddenly rain; two lattes in a box will cause a strong wind to blow up, and if I have a hed of deth we’ll get to the top and discover the hotel has two buildings and ours is the one back down the steps, across the canal with the marble-stepped bridge, and up four more flights of steps into a west-facing room with no airconditioning and a screaming baby in the room next door ... I have been accused of exaggeration; I maintain that I am just more prepared than some to put down the TRUTH.]


We came out today to see an organ concert at 4pm, at the church of St Peter and St Paul. It was looking suspiciously empty and un-concertlike; M discovered firstly that it was at 4.30, and then that these concerts aren’t on this week. The flyer didn’t mention that.. perhaps it was an unexpected cancellation, because the dates were listed; we’re not entirely incompetent. M has travel ennui today; worse than mine the other day. He’s gone back to the hotel to rest and have time out .. I, naturally, have been shopping. I found a little shop selling ceramic, wood and print pieces by local artists. I’ve come away with a delightfully full bag of goodies; a large packing problem because most of the things I bought are breakable; and a new Krakow friend. The young woman minding the shop was embarrassed because she was snoozing when I walked in. She told me she’s in the last four days of writing her Masters! Reason enough to snooze I’d say. She put a tiny angel in my bag, a gift, to bring us good luck for the rest of our travels. The goodness of people...

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Aussie pals - particularly the two others who make up the Good Wimmin’s Group. They have just left on a trip to Tibet and China. I hope they’ve got away without having as huge a nervous wrangle as I did. They’re on the road for three weeks - gone and back before I return! Another very close friend is on the way to Paris, and she’ll be there during our time in Freiburg. You can catch a train from there to Paris you know - I’m still entertaining a fantasy about doing just that and meeting her for coffee. It seems a very fine fantasy and one that has a decent chance of coming true. We’ll see! Two years ago there was hope that I could get my darling dorter posted over to me when *I* was in Paris, to celebrate her 21st birdy, but alas it was not to be. Coffee with my pal would be a most suitable and delightful second try.

I’d better stop here, I promised M I’d be back at the hotel by 6pm and time is marching on. I do hope I can find a way to transport all these delightful but breakable goodies acquired today. Bubble wrap is a good thing, but boxes can be dropped and flung and not treated right. I shall carry them to Berlin I think, and with luck we’ll find a post office where we can wrap them in layers of bubbles and shock-absorbing filler and paper the outside with FRAGILE stickers.

I still need a cat. This place is full of people walking very healthy dawgs, and budgies in the restaurants, and bloody pigeons everywhere. So where are all the lil pusscats trying to murderate the pigeons???

Today brought to you by coffee and shopping. Keep your fingers crossed for M please. I fear that even blasts of Chanel No. 5 on HIS heart chakra, may not be enough to cheer him up...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Polish National Day!

Howdy from Krakow.. it's Saturday night here, with celebrations of all kinds going on outside (in the main city Market Square) - live music, stalls selling exotic cosmetics and beer and other useful things. It's warm (28ishC) and humid - yes, sigh sigh, my personal weather dark star is working again; locals tell me it's NEVER humid here, and hardly EVER this warm at this time of year. And our hotel, while purrfectly ok, has given us a west-facing room, oh sighhhh. We do have two fans however, cos we have our own as you know, and there is one in the room. We can manage a rather nice cross-current across the beds, which is enough to cool me, but not so windy that it bothers M.

I have travel-ennui.. perhaps partly because of the bloody Vilnuis fark-up and the physical and mental strength required yesterday. I will post the details when I come back to this 'net cafe with my lappie... but, briefly, nothing went wrong, it was a huge relief to get here so easily compared to the rather dire train option.

[We got into our room, changed to cooler clothes, staggered out to the nearest cafe selling sandwiches and fresh juice, and then collapsed for a long sleep. Then repeated the activity in the evening - up, out for dinner, then collapse for sleep again. Showers and sorting a big bundle of washing for the hotel laundry service happened too. Damn the expense, I'm sick of washing stuff in small bathroom basins..]

I had a big catch-up sleep (in part I think to help fend off a small throat thingie, which I believe I picked up thanks to someone sitting behind me on an airport bus, who sneezed several times before I had the chance to get a tissue over me face - 'airport bus' meaning the buses which took us from the terminal to the plane and vice versa; in one case, because of the long and roundabout route, we were convinced we were being taken to the back blocks to board an old helicopter or perhaps one of those bi-planes where you can get out and do Hollywood posing on the wings...).. I woke up very down. Why??? I asked myself, am I doing all this travel? Another bloody hotel room. More time to be spent finding things and hunting for food and managing suitcases and avoiding cigarettes etc etc. Moop moop I went. M was out, getting concert tickets for tonight and looking around and having a big 'net fix and being NORMAL. There was no chocolate left in our stash.. no trashy mags or new bottles of purrfume... I want a CAT, in fact I want TWO CATS. And my garden and ALL my shoes, and .. and .. home. Even the filing I haven't done yet, waiting for me in boxes in my study....

M returned looking very happy, with bananas, the concert tickets, and lots of news about various useful places he'd found. He tempted me with loving patience to have a banana (low blood sugar fixed), more water (ditto dehydration, probably), gave me a gentle pep-talk ('we can't go home now, think of all the ppl reading your blog who'd be disappointed'; 'our house-sitter would be suddenly homeless'; 'think of having to go home on one of those 27-hour flights with no stopping half-way to recover and shop in Hong Kong'... ok, he didn't really say that last bit but it's a good point - even with those super-don'tdropdeadfromaclot-socks my legs and feet swell alarmingly on planes. And yes, I DO twiddle me legs and walk and stretch and drink water like a fish etc etc... but I digress, again).

He asked me if I'd cut his beard and hair and that was excellent distraction; I spent a long time over it and made quite a big mess in the bathroom - which *I* don't have to clear up! That was enough to get me considering a bit of smiling again. Once we'd washed the hair off ourselves and dressed, it was a bit cooler outside and I was ready for some coffee. M took me to see the wondrous combination of goodies for droopy princesses - AIRCONDITIONING in a shopping mall which had a decent cafe/bar serving LATTE, emergency-strength CHOCOLATE CAKE (chocolate mousse with espresso cream and a praline topping, wowee!) and with a recent copy of The Times for me to read, while he went out to another Information Centre nearby. When he returned, the icing on the cake for me was the L'OCCITANE SHOP upstairs, which he'd noted especially for me. What a guy. No you CAN'T have him, I won't share!

I spent a very happy half-hour in there inspecting every item. Then, with some reluctance, I only bought things I needed ... well, 3 out of 4 were definitely 'replacement' items (skin care). M had suggested I get a candle there, to help with the 'make a hotel room feel like home' supplies. [We both enjoyed a lavender candle I bought from L'O in Melbourne earlier this year; found the scent enjoyable rather than soapy, as cheaper scented candles tend to be.] I chose a cinnamon and orange-scented candle, which on reflection is a bit Christmassy, but purrhaps that will help my Festive Attitude Problem!


The concert was a wonderful performance of Chopin pieces for piano, held in a room at the Bonerowski Palace, built in the early 1500s. The pieces were performed by Pawel Kubica; a slim, intense fellow in his 30's I'd say. He had the knack of seeming to coax the piano to produce its music - I feel this sometimes when watching orchestral performances; the conductor seems to be 'magicking' the music from a space above the musicians. Kubica seemed to barely touch the keys, leaving the piano to 'sing' on its own. Fantastic. The event was slightly marred by several audience members taking flash photos. Surely the flash is distracting for the performer? Certainly the 'click' of the shot being taken was distracting for me. I disapprove. This is right up there with mobile phone pollution in concerts. Grrr...

Now I need to go, tomorrow is another day and all that. We're going to be up and doing at a reasonable hour (by 9am) to go on a 4-hour bus trip around Krakow to see the city highlights, and have a short tour through the castle. See you all soon!

Today brought to you by ... M. He deserves all the credit this time.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Getting to Krakow

The alarm went off at 4:15am. I’d been up til after midnight, trying to finish packing but really just fiddling around ineffectively, because of a toxic combination of anxiety and fatigue. It *was* good to post off umpteen hundred dollar’s worth of stuff yesterday - two huge boxes (parents please note!) (about 14kg, believe it or not - but this included MAJOR items like M’s spare shoes, spare clothes - we’re getting down to absolute travel basics now - my heat pad, a ton of princess creams, another ton of souvenirs and gifts which I would otherwise have posted to their new homes, sorry pals, I’ll have to dole the goodies out after we return!).

[Vilnius could be Anywheresville, for all the touristing we got done. In fact if our hotel hadn’t been right in the centre of the Old City, right opposite a major church (nup, didn’t even get the name), we wouldn’t have seen anything remarkable. The general impression we got, from our two short walks to find dinner, and the trip to the post office, is that it’s quite similar to Riga - the old part of town has survived fairly well, the narrow cobbled streets have been left alone, and the prevailing period of architecture is a mix of art nouveau and 19th C ‘gracious home’ style.]

Our hotel room was VERY interesting - to get there, one goes up three storeys in one of those glass-walled lifts, overlooking an atrium. Fine for those of you who don’t suffer from vertigo. Then along a hallway, up a steepish ramp for 3 metres, then through a little lounge with a box full of free books - some in English, so we swapped with some of our stuff - along more hallway, past a steep flight of steps up to what appeared to be one (closed off) loft room; up two steps and sharp right into our room. The room itself had two levels - ‘downstairs’ was the bathroom, wardrobe, desk and two big windows. Up the pine stairs was a bedroom loft, with two attic windows in the ceiling, another desk and a tv. We didn’t much like this arrangement, BUT the big news is that the tv channels were a strange mix of Russian, Lithuanian, French and German; with one BBC channel, CNN (one can’t escape this), AND... a 24 hour classical music channel! We used this as radio almost the entire 38 hours we were there. One of the 2 slight quibbles* we had with it was that only one movement of any piece was played at a time.. but there were some wonderful old recordings, from the early days of black and white tv (with shaky camera work and all of two angles), featuring long-dead artists. This helped offset our angst while we worked out how we were going to get to Krakow ... much frantic emailing to our Oz travel agent and some tidy Interwebs work by M, combined to get us flights from Vilnius to Warsaw; then Warsaw to Krakow.

[*M’s note: the other was that there was minimal info flashed up - very briefly - during each piece saying what it was (allegedly: such as “Schumann’s Carnival” when it was actually just the first two of a long set of movements) and who was playing the main part(s) but absolutely zilch about conductor, orchestra, place of recording, date of recording or other such little details. BUT IT WAS STILL GREAT!!! :-) ]

Which we did, and now I am sitting on a rather hard Polish bed, in a room that is a mix of modern (ubiquitous European bathroom), nice carpet and Soviet bloc bedspreads (yeah, dog-poo brown again). In a minute we’ll have to stagger out to find some food, so that we can then sleep, sleep sleeeeeep to help recover from the last 15 hours of our lives. The two Polish Air flights (LOT on both planes (small DC10s? .. erm.. room for about 40 people; propellers; our seats in row 11 were BELOW the wings). For brekkie we got a little pack with a few slices of ham and salami, one runty sour pickle, one dried apricot and one wee prune; two somewhat stale slices of bread, and a few of those mini-tubs of butter, jam and some sort of Nutella I think. I didn’t open that one. One could have juice or tea or coffee.. M was brave enough to try the coffee but I stuck to tea, my opinion being that average teabag tea, diluted with plenty of milk and sugar, is more drinkable than disgusting coffee.

We were delayed at Warsaw, because it was a foggy foggy morning. The flight from Vilnius to Warsaw took off in what seemed to us to be similarly dense fog, but our plane to Krakow was delayed from somewhere else.. we had about an hour extra to fill in. M made the mistake of giving me all his Polish money (a 100 zloty bill) so I could get some coffee. I was doing fine until I found some English books in a shop next to the cafe, and they cost exactly the amount left from one cup of coffee. My defense is that I didn’t know it was M’s only zlotys! He was pretty pissed off when I told him, in spite of the books being the new Alexander McCall Smith, and a new Andrew Vacswwhs. He walked around the ‘holding’ terminal and there was no autobank, and the money changing person refused to take Lithuanian money, no no no we don’ts want none of thats feelthy dosh... there was nearly a marital, but I went to ask the person at our departure lounge desk if there was any way I could get a hot drink for ‘my sick husband’, or some money, and she said I could leave this terminal for the main one and go to the autobank there. I charged off to do this, fuming inside cos M’s travelling persona caused him to remind me, like a willful child, to get back in time. Like I WANT to get stuck in Warsaw airport with no luggage, money or cats. Huh.

I had to negotiate a lot of fierce guards wearing cam gear (interesting to see that inside the airport, it made them extremely obvious!). One of them was a human being and showed me how to get out and where to head for the money, without any English. I duly extracted millions of zlotys and hied me way back to M. Going through security requires one to take off extra things cf Aussie security - watch, belt and shoes are mandatory. Some ppl had to do a lot of hoicking to prevent themselves losing their daks and/or tripping over them!

The second flight was only 45 mins, and after we were served a ‘snack’ - a Prince Polo bar which is a superior form of a KitKat; same idea, but with quite good dark chocolate. Nom. Washed it down with some nice water, and then I crashed, only waking when the plane thumped as it touched down. Got a good crick in my neck cos LOT planes don’t have reclining seats.

Now for the lunch hunter-gathering and some nice sleep. We don’t leave here until 10th September, so if we sleep/loll away today, we still have four whole days to do stuff and see stuff and buy stuff and go to find stuff and post stuff and get stuff washed and so on. There is a sign on the mirror opposite the bed which says ‘DIAL 333 AND CALL THE WORLD’ and I may do just that.

Seeya later... thudboomzzzzzzzzzzzzzz........

Date order muddled AGAIN

Yes, I've posted my Tallinn/Riga posts AFTER some 'current comments'. Like before, it's too time-consuming to fiddle with dates to make it all purrfect.

You can cope!

This Vilnius hotel has free WiFi in the foyer, and I would have used it more, if we'd been here longer. There is a STORY about our travel from here to Krakow, tomorrow, which you will see asap. Meantime, there is more on Riga coming...

Today brought to you by a frenzied eau-de-panic - we had to suddenly do a major down-size of luggage so as to fit on a plane tomorrow at 6am. All will shortly be revealed!

Riga; Monday 1st September

Riga, Monday 1st September.

Hey, it’s spring in Canberra which makes it autumn here, I expect the autumn weather in Riga is warmer than Canberra temperatures.. I hope I’m wrong though. It’s been a balmy 18 degrees today, sunny with a light (and, it must be said, slightly chilly) breeze. We’ve had a very romantic day.. what with the miracle of M wanting to go shopping, and the weather, and the wonderful closeness we’ve had all day. Could this be because we’ve engaged in the ultimate relationship intimacy??? - no need to blush, I mean the shopping, for heaven’s sake!

First stop, breakfast. I had a good sleep, but was still terribly bleary. I struggled into my jeans (I LOVE MY JEANS) and tottered out with M. The breakfast room is outside the hotel, across the alleyway, and into another room via a door which BANGS closed. It opens and closes a lot, and the BANGS drive me mad all through the meal. No, I don’t have a hangover, it’s just too damn early for noise. I was partly mollified by finding porridge, very creamy porridge, and salted but no so much that I couldn’t cope. Yes, I am a weirdo who eats porridge (and eggs, and even chips, I hope this confession doesn’t mean I lose half my readers!) without salt. Prefers these things without salt. Finds the salty versions anything from somewhat unpleasant to downright inedibly horrid.

No muesli or fresh fruit in this buffet. There’s salad and cottage cheese but that’s lunch food. You see my problem, I have these funny ideas about what gets eaten when. With what. And whom, definitely with whom. One can’t show one’s morning, or even early afternoon, face to just anyone. Seeing anyones running off shuddering is so lowering... yeah, I can’t pay attention to myself tonight. Hang on, I’ll try a bit harder...

Erm.. oh yes, breakfast. We fiddled around in the room writing our shopping list and getting the princess vertical and purrfumed and laces tied and eyes open with brain somewhat connected.. and leave at 12ish. Doesn’t matter, the shops are all open until 6pm at least. We leave the hotel, walk about 20 steps, and we’re in a store selling Latvian linen, a stupendously low-priced speciality. And in the SALE box is a loose weave linen table cloth that we fall for totally; immediately; quick as a flash. Out with the Visa card to limber it up ready for a busy day... next stop is the amber shop. Darling A, my Latvian angel, has given us more information about Riga and its environs and shops and attractions than we can do justice to in a month, never mind our attenuated visit of only three days. One of the items she’s given us is a card for a particular amber business, which is perhaps 250 metres from our hotel. However this branch of the shop is now closed and the other is further away than we want to go, today. We’re shopping while walking around the northern side of the Old City, so we return to another amber business nearby. I like this shop’s wares, they have modern settings of the stones, and they have a huge range of the different colours and styles of amber. In we go!

M tells me that in Latvia, amber is traditionally worn in three forms: beads, brooches and blouse fasteners. I’m not sure what a blouse fastener is compared to a brooch, and I can’t see in the shelves of goodies anything which differentiates between the two. I quickly rule out necklaces, because I want to see the amber too. I don’t wear earrings, so that’s two big lots of stuff we can pass by... I’m drawn to bangles and rings. M finds brooches, and they are a mixture of engraved pieces - very traditional styles - and huge circles and butterflies. I don’t like them much, and they’re very expensive. Nup. Let’s look at bangles. There are some styles I like a lot, butter yellow rectangles of amber strung on elastic.. elastic doesn’t seem posh enough for a flash birdy present. The bracelets made of pieces of amber set in silver and linked into a chain are even more expensive, and although we both like them a lot, we do need to eat on the rest of this trip!

We end up focussing on the rings, which are every shape and colour of amber, and of course a range of sizes.. I bought a beautiful tear-drop shaped piece of honey-coloured amber in St Petersburg, to wear on a chain. The rings which catch my eye are butter yellow. The rings M prefers are a glassy olive green with amber highlights. We look around a bit more and I see a small yellow amber heart. So a decision is reached - I’ll get the heart for myself, to wear on my arctic silver fox pendant chain, and M will choose a green amber set in silver ring. So, dear patient readers who wade through my long descriptions, I have now a humungously beautiful and large gorgeousness of a ring, which I may not take off for several years. All day, since we bought it, we’ve been holding my hand up to the light to admire it. Shall I try to describe the design?.. hmm... it’s a sort of rounded-edge triangle, an isosceles triangle, set in a flat band of silver about 4mm wide. The stone is not flat but ground into a rounded but bumpy surface... and it’s kinda big. Kinda.. as big as .. half a large marble? As big as .. bigger than I thought we could afford, bigger than I deserve and certainly bigger than I’d have the nerve to buy for myself. It’s LOVELY. It’s a very special gift and I feel much better about the nought* now!

* I mean the nought on the end of my age...

I also had a fun time in a ‘beauty’ shop - just skin care, hair stuff and makeup. But it’s fun re-stocking things like soap and shampoo by inspecting brands I’ve never seen before, and trying to translate the Latvian words for ‘sensitive skin’ or ‘mild mint’. I end up with a big bag of loot; olive oil soap and tea tree oil - this more for the smell than any practical purpose, although I know it’s an excellent mild anti-bacterial - and new hair clips and a real sea sponge for the shower and a third lipstick!!! Profligate consumerism. Heh.

Our next stop is an internet cafe so M can do some money stuff. No laughing. This is not irony but a check on our money-management dudes in Australia, to see if a transfer has happened. Yes! Then M finds a little ‘milk bar’ which has, oh bliss, a half-decent American newspaper (The Noo Yawk Herald Tribune), and some more trashy mags in English. Maybe all I really wanted for my birdy was a bunch of mags! [And speaking of which, last night I was thinking to myself, in a wakeful patch, that I might ask me mum to post me two things which would make the last few weeks of this trip super-fabbo - a tube of my preferred toothpaste, which is not available Over Here, and a few bits of the Sydney Morning Herald for general marital consumption. No, not Vegemite, I can manage without that. But having the right taste in me gob after scrubbing would be kinda good. It is the littlest things, when you’re travelling...]

My next triumph is finding a store called New Yorker, which sells women’s clothes. For young, slim, trendy women. Chicks, if you must. There’s nothing for me in there, but I find some cute things for my teenage nieces, my darling dorter (hi dollink!), and a friend who has hoped for fabric but alas I have not found anything for her. At the counter I find tights in mad colours and patterns and grab a handful, they can go in the ‘general gifts’ box along with the silly socks I bought in the beauty shop. Yellow fishnet ankle socks anyone?

After this we need lunch. We return to the Double Coffee cafe, because we know they have actual sandwiches. And good coffee, and freshly-squeezed juice, and comfy chairs. Easy.. then the happy spenders return to the hotel for a siesta. I fall into bed surrounded by plastic bags of goodies, but still wearing my new fabbo gorgeous spiffy and love-given ring. Lucky, lucky me...

At 6-ish we’re refreshed, I’ve squeezed out another lot of shirts and such to dry all over the room, and M has identified a walking tour around more of the northern are of the Old City.

It’s a lovely two hours we spend here - passing through the streets of graceful old buildings; churches; romantic laneways; the Swedish gate and Jacob’s Park; sculptures (probably) of martyrs; Parliament House; the Danish Embassy; a small part of the river embankment... I took zillions of photos and some film; M was very patient when I kept stopping to snap close-ups of bits of building. I like old doors and fancy ironwork and cherubs and columns, and peeling old walls and bits of ancient woodwork and mossy bricks with trees growing out of them three floors up; and uneven stone steps and huge doorknobs and dates carved into mantels. And shots of M when he doesn’t know I’m taking them; and steeples against the dusk clouds; and any cat, live or handmade, that I can find.

M’s leggies are falling off as we return to the square where we started. We stop in the Four Rooms cafe, which is housed in a building dating back to, truly, 1207. Jaw drops to floor... I took a few pics of the stone walls, the beams and the rafters. They didn’t come out too well, the flash bleached-out details, and the natural-light shots may be too shady.. we’ll see.

The meal is delightful - I’ve opted for darling A’s recommendation of potato cakes with salmon and sour cream. This restaurant serves the dish with large pearls of red caviar.. double nom. Our waiter is very friendly; when we get chatting we discover he’s emigrating to Australia in a month, hoping to enrol at Canberra University! We’re suitably amazed; even more so when he produces some Canberra contact info for his course and the lecturer is a colleague well-known to M. The world is indeed very small. Of course we invite him to contact us; M produces his name card (I MUST make a name card for myself; I’ve been mulling over what I’d say about my ‘work’ - a source of great amusement to me. Like, how to describe a life filled with optional activities? I totally refuse to say Home Duties or even Domestic Manager; I don’t do anything particularly more than anything else. It’s far easier to describe myself when travelling, thus: A Dag; Abroad; Again. I must work out how to translate THAT into a life/work description!) and we make sure that he understands that we mean it when we say please contact us. His name, it deserves to be recorded, is Dmitri Stroganov. This stroganoff is following me around!

Now, I’ve opened all the goodie bags and played with the contents. I’ve discovered that the new ring sends little glints across the screen as I type, and we’ve had a very magical day. With luck, more of the same tomorrow - magic I mean, not all that shopping!

Today brought to you by Prrrrada by the bucketful; overlaid by Chanel No. 5 ditto; the aroma of the real, propurrly made cuppa tea at the Four Rooms place; and Essence de Hubby, a peerless and powerful nice thing.

Goodnights to you all! And please pat your cats.f