Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where to from here?

Well everyone, after being home for almost five months I have decided that I am going to continue blogging - a little differently though. I miss the conversations we have!

I can't bring myself to continue this blog into life back home. The differences are just too great!

This blog is the story of our amazing journey. When I started it as we were getting ready to leave for Europe, the main purpose was so that friends and family could share a little of the journey with us. Well, in the end there were more than 6,000 discrete readers - a little fact that to this day still blows me away. Many of the people reading have never met us, and are unlikely to ever meet us - I guess some of them were friends of friends of friends that we made along the journey. If anyone ever makes it to Australia, despite whether you met us or not, contact us - you'll always have a bed at our place in Maryborough Queensland for a night or two!

I blogged daily with the exception of 2 or 3 days. In the end I had it down to a fine art - getting on to the computer around 10 pm or later if we came back in from dinner later - and spent on average 2 hours per day dowloading the photos from the camera, selecting the ones to use and then re-sizing them while all the time writing the entry. And yes, it was late when I usually finished, but the upside to that was that it was about breakfast time back here in Australia and we could Skype Antony and Amanda and talk to Little-Miss-Chatterbox, our beautiful little granddaughter Izabella. The great benefit is that she remembers who we are and recognised us easily when they were here at Christmas - oh, the joys of modern communication! Oh and by the way, she now has a little brother - Thomas George was born 6 April - 8lb 3oz and 23 inches - a beautiful big little boy.

There was one week when Helen was travelling with us that I didn't get to upload the blog - and by the end of the week I was getting desperate emails - from Where are you now? Is everything OK? through to UPDATE THE BLOG. NOW! Had to laugh at that one - and you know who you are!!!! And since arriving home there have been countless people who have said to me how they miss starting the day with reading what we are up to. Gosh, who would have thought people would find it that interesting?!

In the end though, it became so much more than just a way to talk with you all. It has become the most amazing record of everything we saw and did, the people we met, the places we stayed, the food we ate. While we were travelling it was getting to the point where we were forgetting some of that detail - I think it was because our heads were still being filled with all sorts of interesting 'stuff'. Since getting home though, my recall has improved dramatically and I can tell stories from almost every day - I only have to close my eyes and it is like I am there all over again - well, kind of.

We are planning to print the blog into a hard glossy coffee table style book - with the blog entries on the right hand side pages and more of those 79,053 photos we took on the opposite pages. In A4 format (because other formats literally double the cost) it will take at least two volumes I am advised by the printer. WOW. Still, I will never have enough time to scrapbook this story given that it took me 3 years to scrap my last 6 week trip to Europe. And I like the way it reads too much not to have a copy. We plan to just print one copy for ourselves. There are thousands of travel books in any library and I really don't think that there is enough demand to actually publish this. I'll let you all know how it goes.

So this is my final post on this blog.

Thank you one and all for sharing this amazing journey with us. Every day when the TV is on there are so many times that we say , "Oh wow, we have been there". In fact we are saying it so often lately that our daughter Gen mimics me before I can say it - I think she is getting tired of hearing it. We are trying to convince her to save hard and to travel while she is young and without commitments to tie her down.

I will continue to blog from this address - you are welcome to come on over if you are interested.

Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.
Theodor Suess Geisel

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reconnecting with my roots

Now that we have a car, and with itchy feet because we are not travelling any longer and not seeing new things every day, we had planned a day taking the two mums over some of the country that my mum grew up in. We get away in good time and are on the road after breakfast about 10 am. First stop is to say 'hi' to Dad and check on his grave at the largest cemetery in Newcastel, the Sandgate Cemetery. All looks in good condition and it is hard to believe that it is almost 9 years since we lost him to Motor Neurone Disease. We pass by the graves of Mum's parents - George and Annie Stevens as well and it is nice and clean as well. They are not at all like the cemeteries that we saw so often in Europe, adjacent to the churches and filled with flowers growing on the plots. Here the cemeteries are sited on seperate land are are somewhat stark, just row on row on row of gravestones with little colour - I guess we are following somewhat the example set by the early English settlers.

So we push on, knowing that we want to cover quite a bit of territory today. Our next stop is at Bulahdelah, north on the Pacific Highway about 80 kms from Newcastle. There are major highways works underway around here with a bypass planned doe the town. But at the moment, we still pass through and there, in the same spot as he has had for the last 20 years or so is a cherry seller, next to one of the local petrol stations. We stop, eager to taste more of the amazing fruit that we have available to us here in Australia in summer and buy two half-kilo bags. One for Michael and I in the front of the car and another for the mums in the back. The next half hour or so is very quiet as we all stuff our faces. Gosh they are good. Thick and firm, they burst their juices into your mouth with the first bite, full of deep cherry flavour. Yu-um!

We leave the Pacific Highway and head on to The Lakes Way that will take us around the Myall and Smith Lakes system to reach Forster and Tuncurry where the lakes enter in to the ocean. Long known as caravanning beach holiday towns on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, these have grown to include many medium density holiday apartment complexes and all the mod-cons that the modern holiday maker seems to need - clubs, cinemas, shopping centres. But if you leave the main street in either of these twin towns that straddle the Wampoola River mouth where it connects with the draining Wallis Lake, connected by a bridge that is clowly sinking in to the sandy depths, then little has changed - there are streets and streets of holiday homes waiting for the arrival of the summer holidays, getting ready for their owner families who will spend much of the 6 - 8 weeks living a very casual beachside lifestyle. First time visitors to Foster-Tuncurry are usually amazed at the colour of the water that break out from the lakes under the bridge and out to sea. With a sandy base, this water is some of the clearest, bluest and aqua water that you see in this part of the country (you need a sandy base to get a blue river, when they have a mud or dirt base then it looks muddied).

We continue our trip a little further north to Old Bar just outside Taree. This was where my Dad grew up and I have fond memories of a holiday with my sister Donna when I was about 13 or 14 staying with our great aunt and uncle on their dairy farm at Pampoolah just down from Grandma and Granpa's home. Of course this once very rural area is changing with more new subdivisions springing up every time I come through here. We head right down to the beach, exposed to gale force winds today, whipping up huge seas with very obvious rips - but it doesn't deter the board riders who seem to take great delight in the less than safe seas - thankfully there are no swimmers trying to brave the waters - just a few paddlers. We are disappointed that the surf club is not open for meals as it is well and truly lunch time now - in fact it is after 1:30 pm.

There is a small hamburger shop open in the park just back from the beach and once we have placed orders for 'burgers with the works' for us all we head back out into the sun. Netta lies soaking it up while the rest of us head for the shade of one of the covered picnic tables. Now, those burgers were fantastic - mince patties, bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, pineapple, beetroot, cheese and onion barely held within a straining bun. We had bought a serve of hot chips to share, but really the burgers are enough. This is fast food at its very best - hot and fresh and bursting with goodness. Followed by coffees all round we felt like kings.

Onward and upwards to Taree where Mum had lived for many years, where she met and married Dad and where I was born. This city sits on the banks of the Manning River and is a lush green city. As we cross the bridge into the city we can clearly see the one remaining riverside black of undeveloped land that Mum's aunt owns. That has got to worth a bit these days with everyone wanting waterfront property. Over the bridge I call on Mum's memory to take us up to the family home on the corner of Smith Street.

You know with the memory of a child, I remember this house to be a huge sandstone construction. We spent many happy times here visiting with Nanny and Pa and the first time I came back passed here (when we were moving our family to Bundaberg in Queensland), I was disappointed as it was much smaller than my memory remembered and of brick construction. Today, it is beautifully kept and is indeed a large home for its day with a multiple of bedrooms and the most enormous sleepout (a closed in verandah area lined with beds along the outer long wall) that catered for the large Stevens family of 8 children and the many visitors or workers who also regularly stayed. Taree has adopted the Flame Tree as their city emblem and today the main street of Victoria Street is lined with superb examples in full bloom - a truly beautiful native tree.

Ellenborough Falls
Comboyne to Landsdowne - a real trip down memory lane for both Mum and me!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Have wheels will travel !

Ahhh - the joy of being mobile again! I love having a car and really feel only half complete without one! This morning Netta had an appointment with her eye specialist in Fairfield and so I take her over while Michael trims the bushes around the house.

All goes well and like eveyone, the specialist is amazed at how well and active and 'young' Netta is for an 87 year old person. Once home, we finish loading the car and we all head out of Sydney and north towards Newcastle and my mum's place.

Mum lives in a suburb of Newcastle just 2 hours north of Sydney. Some of you might remember that this was where Australia had it's first earthquake with fatalities - gee 10+ years ago now. Years ago there was a very large industrial base here with a steelworks and the associated type of companies that goes along with the like, but today that industry has gone along with most heavy industry of it's ilk to the cheaper offshore economies. Newcastle for some time became an economically depressed city with very high unemployment, but today has turned itself around and now has a very successful university and a vibrant tourism industry.

Mum and Dad bought their very first house in Newcastle the year before we left Sydney to move to Queensland (that was in 1990) and she still lives in it, as large as it is. Comes in handy when we all want to visit, although we keep telling here that the days of all the family being there at the same time are going to be very few and far between these days - what with us all thrown to the four corners these days. We arrive late in the afternoon and are met with tears and hugs and then the best that mum does - food food and more food! The night is spent reminiscing, catching up with the latest family news and telling tales of our trip - although we don't get those tens of thousands of photos out yet. It was enough just getting out the little keepsakes that we had bought home for her.

Wednesday dawns bright and warm. We are struggling (OK you had better make that more of me) with the adjustments we need to make due to the change in the climate we are now experiencing. We have gone from cool late autumn to the hot and humid heaviness that Australia feels in the lead up to Christmas as summer begins to take a full hold. Mum keeps the house shut up and when it really gets unbearable, puts on the airconditioner. She however NEVER feels the cold, so has no need of it for herself. Not sure whether she is lucky or not - she would have died in the European cold!!!

Mum has a sister (Catherine) and brother-in-law (Don) that had lived in another Newcastle suburb for many years and when they retired they built a beautiful new duplex with another of their sisters Rita (whose daughter Anna was recently such a godsend in England) overlooking the beach at Caves Beach. So today we are having lunch with Don and Catherine and Rita at the Caves Beach Hotel that has had a major makeover - it has gone from the (friendly) ugly duckling to a very sophisticated and lovely swan.

Rita had visited Anna and Garry and the boys during the year while we were on the continent and it is lovely to catch up and exchange stories. Don and Catherine spent part of the year travelling to the Queensland coast and had a very relaxing time. This is one of the trips they ususually do each year and when we are home, they will often call in, so it is lovely to see them all. The food was fabulous and we nearly all selected from the extensive seafood menu and we are taken back to our time on the Atlantic coasts of Europe. The seafood here is quite different from that we had earlier in the year, but nevertheless very fresh and wonderfully good.

After lunch we had back to Caves Beach for coffee at Catherine and Don's place before we head home to mums. Of course, we detour via the supermarket and it is as busy as it can be, now that we are so close to Christmas.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Its a family affair

Michael has a large extended family and when we left Sydney to live in Queensland all those years ago (just short of 20 years ago), we tried to make sure that we kept in regular contact. As the kids all started school I took a part time job so that I could be there for them most of the time and as it was with the Department of Education I was able to arrange my hours so that I was able to have time off in almost all the school holidays. And in those holidays we would drive back to Sydney to catch up with the family. I remember great times when we (all the various families) would get together for a big Greek style picnic at Neilsen Park in Vaucluse. And so, now that we have arrived back on the mother soil, everyone is coming over and we are catching up all over again. LOVE IT.

Today our nephew Micah and his lovely wife Amanda came up from the Southern Highlands south of Sydney. Yes, there are a whole heap of Amandas in the family at the moment! Micah is the eldest child of Michael's brother Peter and he and his brothers and sister are all pretty close to our kids. I guess all those trips back to Sydney paid off! Antony and his Amanda called in and spent time with them when they were on holidays recently and will do so again en-route to Antony's new posting in Wagga in January.

Micah has just completed studying an Advanced Diploma in Mechanics at TAFE and has been enrolled in an Engineering Degree at Wollongong University to start next March. We are all so proud of him!

A little later Michael's cousin Phil and his wife Mandy called in. Philip is a Captain with Qantas and we had eagerly scanned the crew faces before we left Singapore wondering whether we might have been lucky enough to have him flying us, but no it wasn't to be. Together with Mandy, they have established East Ridge Olive Grove west of Sydney at Lue near Mudgee. This year was a bumper year with great tasting oil by all accounts, and Mandy has bought me a bottle today - can't wait to get home and try it. Mandy and I used to catch up every year and it was great to see them today! There was lots of story sharing as Phil and Mandy were in the UK for a wedding while we were on the continent. And there was even more reminiscing about times gone in the family.

Morning tea became lunch and salad ingredients and cold cuts on the table were soon stuffing breadrolls. Too hot for tea and coffee so we had made a large bowl filled with punch (peppermint tea, mint, apricot nectar, pineapple juice and ginger ale - very refreshing) and managed to down the lot - all 7 litres of it!

Great day!! Tomorrow after we take mum to her eye specialist we are off up to Newcastle 2 hours to the north to visit my mum - and Netta is coming with us - yahoo!

And as the night is winding towards a close, brother Peter comes in! Yep. Great all round!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cars and jobs and cleaning house

The weather is as oppressive as we have been dreading. Today it reached an uncomfortable 39°C which is a hell of a shock to my body that up until a few days ago was enjoying the late autumn temperatures in Europe. The water situation here is critical. There are major bushfires burning across much of New South Wales and South Australia and some just north of home in Queensland.

Heat wave conditions saw high temperatures in much of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia with the maximum today in a number of towns of 45°C (that is 113°C !). Give me back autumn! Here in western Sydney it got to 42! Late in the afternoon there was an impressive electrical storm with more than 800 lightening strikes recorded in Sydney alone. Two houses hit by lightening were burned down - one of the hazards of living in Australia.

Well after a few days of searching Michael finally found us a car today. He had trawled the Auto Alley area of Parramatta / Granville yesterday after we found nothing in the newspapers, but with no success. So this morning Mum phoned her neighbours who know a local dealer and Jim very kindly offered to take Michael down to see the cars in their yard.

Still no luck and then Jim got very kind. He offered to take Michael out to Minchinbury (about half an hour from here) to where there is a conglomerate of dealers. And finally, he found this Subaru Impreza - you know the kind that was in the Fast and Furious movies!! Nah, not really, a hatchback! Older than what we really wanted and more expensive, but the best of what was on offer.

A summer cold is the worst to try and get rid of and I am feeling more and more congested each day. Still, I am on drugs and syrups so hopefully I can knock it before too long. There were a couple of highlights between the sneezes today. Peter ten, Michael's school boy friend called in and we shared a lot of laughs while waiting for Michael to get back, and then Lesley, whose gorgeous mum passed away recently, visited and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing with her. All sitting in the relative comfort of the air conditioned family room.

And then - we managed to get tickets to Mamma Mia the musical, playing at the Lyric Theatre at Star City! AND THEY ARE IN THE SECOND ROW FROM THE STAGE!!! So Lesley, the two mums and I are in for a real treat on Tuesday 1 December. Watch out world - might have to stop talking for a few days so that my voice recovers enough for a great singalong!

The other thing I have been up to is re-packing all our 'stuff' so that like things are all together. We have not bought a great deal of souvenirs, or at least I did not think we had, but all together, they fill to bursting the on-board suitcase that we bought. And once I had taken the grog we bought during the last couple of months out of one of the suitcases then I could get all our winter clothing in to one suitcase! So we are now sorted - winter in one, summer (as much as we have) in another for us to use now, souvenirs in one bag and bits and bobs in about another 4! Easier to find things thankfully. And Gen has told us that the three parcels we posted home from Europe in the last couple of weeks have all arrived safe and sound. God bless the postal workers!!