Category Archives: Adventures Europe 2013


Whenever Karyn and I pass by an oval containing a number of people dressed in white, I often jokingly use the term ‘Flannelled Fools’ to describe the scene.  It is usually in the middle of summer, and apart from a bit of activity in the middle, most seem to be just standing around in the blazing sun doing very little.  Of course, I am talking about the game of cricket, and the term ‘Flannelled Fools’ was first used by Rudyard Kipling in his 1902 poem ‘The Islanders’.  He was describing the attire and, in his mind, the stupidity of the game and players.

The English invented the sport and took it to the World when colonization was the go.  It was only the Americans who resisted, as the prospect of having to play cricket was possibly enough to bring on the war of independence.  They replaced it with that other absolutely riveting game of baseball.  The only advantage being that it is over sooner and a winner can be declared.  At the highest level, cricket can go on for as much as five days and still not produce a result.

In Australia, in summer, cricket is king and the captain of the National team stands next to the Prime Minister in importance in the nation.  I was brought up on the game, and it’s in my blood.  Along with many others around the World, I am afraid that I’m a “cricket tragic”.

So, when Karyn and I were planning our trip, I would tell anyone who would listen, that one highlight for me was to be a day at the cricket in London.  Half of the listeners would glaze over on the basis that they consider cricket to be as exciting as watching paint dry.  The other half would salivate at the prospect of going to Lords, the home of cricket, for the opening day of the second Ashes test.

As it turns out, the first test had been a nail biter and it went down to the wire on the last day. The final result was only made possible by the wonders of electronic technology.  It was that close, and the Aussies performed much better than expected.  They still lost.

We were staying with our friends, and former sailing buddies, Kiko and Mie.   One of their sons had managed to score the much sought after tickets.  They were as scarce as rocking horse poo.  It is important to announce at this stage that only two tickets were necessary as both Karyn and Mie preferred to spend the day walking over broken glass.  Actually they went to a garden display, but you get my drift.

Kiko planned our journey by train and taxi with military precision.  It was vitally important not to miss the first ball bowled.  We arrived in our seats just as the Queen was reviewing the combatants from both teams. It was a very special occasion.

With half and hour to spare before play commenced, I had time to take in the atmosphere. Seated beside me were two guys from Adelaide and on the other side of Kiko, there was a young fellow from Perth and another from Bundaberg.  We were surrounded by Aussies and I felt immediately at home.  Kiko tried to rekindle his Kiwi heritage, but not sure it worked.  Besides, claiming to be a Kiwi to a bunch of Aussies is never a winning move.

By the way, England is suffering its hottest weather in thirty years.  It was going to be a scorcher and we were sitting in the sun.  So, about ten minutes before play was to commence, a couple of the Aussies bolted and returned with two very cold beers.  They apologised for not getting us one.  I looked at Kiko and he nodded.  As I dashed out to the back of the stand and the bar, I had Noel Coward’s famous song of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun” running through my head.  Maybe I was being a bit stupid, but I thought I would make it back in time.

There was just one hiccup.  The beer lines were only producing froth and the ensuing delay was the clincher.  On return, I came to a sudden halt at the bottom of the stairs.  Entry was closed for the start of the first over.  Here I was, having come half way around the World to watch the first ball of the Test match and I missed it.  All I saw was the backside of the person in front and it wasn’t a good look.

The situation improved after that as the first part of the day went definitely in favour of the colonials.  We were on top with three wickets before lunch and their best batsmen were back in the Pavilion.  It was looking good with a real possibility of getting revenge for the first loss.  But, as happens in this game, the tables were soon turned and the Poms struggled back into the match.  It was only at the end of the day that a few more wickets fell to leave it pretty much on an equal footing.

This is more than I can say for much of the crowd.  While Kiko and I had only consumed that one fateful beer and a lovely glass of wine with lunch, I cannot say the same for much of the rest.  When proceedings became a little dull on the field, I decided to investigate the outer parts of this wonderful arena.  There appeared to be just as many outside the grand stand swilling beer and champagne as there were inside actually watching the game.  The thing is, while they were a little unsteady on their feet, they all remained very civilized.  That is the nature of the game and the people who attend.  It is what makes cricket-cricket.

The only exception and actual fool of the day was a very well to do gentleman who we had the misfortune to come across on our way home in the train.  He sat opposite me and proceeded to shovel a McDonalds Big Mac, together with associated chips and Pepsi Max into his mouth as fast as possible.  Most of it either ended up plastered across his face or on the floor.  He was not dressed in flannels but wore a very expensive suit.  Thankfully, he had his feet on the coat he had removed and this was catching the coleslaw.  Once completed, he threw the packaging in the corner and proceeded to pick his nose with great gusto while texting on the phone.  Multi skilled.  I had to turn away or be sick.

It was all too much for one passenger, who intervened when our very inebriated toff decided to depart the train at the next station.  He was going to leave the mess behind.  It was suggested that he might clean up.  Well, it was like he had been asked to fly to the moon in a tiger moth.  He reminded everyone within hearing that he was actually a very important person and besides, it was only paper.  Actually it was paper and chips and coleslaw and HIS TREASURED PASS TO THE CRICKET FOR POSSIBLY THE NEXT FOUR DAYS.  I wanted him to wake up the next morning and find it missing.  Yes, justice at last.

Unfortunately he was reminded of this fact and it was soon retrieved, leaving the remainder behind.  The situation deteriorated further until a lovely young lady intervened, picked up the mess, smiled at the non flannelled fool and said, “See that wasn’t too hard was it?”

Once out of the train, he started to complain to the conductor about being harassed and then gave the finger to the passengers in our carriage.  At least it was taking a rest from his nose.  Surely things couldn’t get any worse than this?

Well actually they did.  For Australian cricket lovers anyway.  Our team fell into a big hole and the game was over in four days.  That’s two down with three more to go.  Still a chance I suppose but I’m afraid it’s not looking good.

Perhaps I should consider a come back?


Rod’s pictures of the cricket

AMSTERDAM – The Venice of the North

We fell in love with Amsterdam and its wonderful canals as soon as we arrived.  Out of the blue, as we were walking through the railway station, a couple gave us their travel card for all public transport.  They said it would be good for the next twenty-four hours, and it was.  They were leaving the city and maybe felt sorry for the old codger trudging along carrying a back pack.

Outside the train station there is a parking area made up of three levels.  Each is the length of a football field.  The whole complex is completely dedicated to push bikes.  This, by the way, only represents a very small proportion of the bikes parked near the station, and for that matter, the rest of Amsterdam.  We had arrived in cycling nirvana.  No flashy carbon road bikes mind you, but literally thousands of ‘Sit Up and Beg’ bikes.  They are called this as that is what everyone looks like when they ride.

Each parked bike has two locks.  One is a permanent implement located near the back fork, and the other, a massive chain used to attach the bike to the nearest immovable object available.  Bike theft is obviously an issue in Amsterdam, and many finish up in the canals.

We soon found out that these bikes are not fast, but silent and deadly.  It was actually possible to be cleaned up eight times, from all directions and modes of transport, just crossing the road in front of our hotel.  I felt like one of those open mouth clowns in side show alley on steroids.  Though, instead of a table tennis ball in the mouth, it could very well be a bike.

Because of the success of our small walking tour in Paris, we thought we would take on the Amsterdam version.  Our guide Sean, a Dutch/American who had been an art teacher, has lived in this wonderful city for many years.  He was great and so was our group – just four in total.  It was an excellent way to get started.

On our journey, we soon discovered that the representatives of the oldest profession are still showing their wares in shop front windows.  But it all seems a bit ho hum as these displays of exposure just seem to be a normally accepted part of life in Amsterdam.  No one takes much notice.

That is of course except for the yobbos from across the channel and surrounds.  They arrive in their hordes on a Friday afternoon, and either leave their brains behind at the airport or bring them along for a pickling.  Sean had told us that the worst thing to happen in Amsterdam was the introduction of cheap airfares and three day bucks parties.  One fine young representative of this select group had on a tee shirt with the following message – “If I’m not wasted, the day is”.   I felt like suggesting an addition to the front – “Life Wasted”.

Of course, they are not just here to prove their manhood and drink beer.  They also come for the coffee.  Well, the coffee shops anyway.  We soon discovered that a ‘Coffee Shop’ sells more than coffee.  The unavoidable intake of smoke from the dreaded weed is enough to get high as you pass, and the age of the consumers is frightening.

We learnt very quickly how to escape these displays of insanity and found our way into the quieter back blocks of the city where the locals abide.  It was here we also found a coffee shop that just sells real coffee.  The owner is an Aussie who roasts his own blend and is endeavouring to make his mark in Amsterdam after some success in New York.  He was very switched on.

It was also in this part of town that we found the museums and art galleries.  The Van Gogh Museum was sensational and so was the Maritime Museum.  While we were visiting this particular location, Karyn thought it would be a good idea to attend the simulated sailing exhibit.  SIMULATED SAILING???  After having spent nearly three years bobbing around the oceans of the World, why would I want to simulate the experience?  I have only just recovered from the last episode.  Anyway, as usual, Karyn was right.  It was a good idea and I survived.

We gave Ann Frank’s house a miss, as the line up for entry was over 100 metres long and not budging.  Instead, as Karyn did the rounds of the city by tram, I opted for the highly recommended Resistance Museum.  It tells the story of life in the Netherlands during WW2.  With the occupation, it all came down to a decision to cooperate, collaborate or resist – individuals were just trying to find the best way to survive.

Speaking of which, Karyn and I survived very well in Amsterdam and we had an excellent time.  This is more than I can say for some of the lads.  As we exited our hotel for the last time, I noticed a young kiwi bent over with head in hands and obviously the worse for wear.  He was possibly the same individual who spent the night throwing up in the room next door.

We pointed in the direction of the train station on route to the airport and London.  As we dodged the empty McDonalds wrappings, broken glass, beer cans and cigarette butts, courtesy of the previous night, I wondered about the future of this unique city and whether it can stand the attention.

Then again, maybe I am just an old codger carrying a back pack, and it will survive as it always has.

Pictures from Amsterdam


Our journey to Paris required a change of trains in Marseille.  The original plan was for us to stay for a night, but the reviews in relation to theft in the hotels and railway station gave me the creeps.  We now just had one hour to be on full alert.  As it turns out, we needed to be.

The day didn’t start well when the taxi from our hotel to the station in Aix en Provence didn’t show.  We made a run for the train with full packs and jumped in as the doors were closing.  As Maxwell Smart may say “Just made it by that much”. By the way, the original rationale for the taxi was so that we wouldn’t get hot and sweaty before such a long journey.

The arrival in Marseille was somewhat dampened by the sight of some heavily armed police escorting two hand cuffed young men out of the station.  Bunkering down on a seat in the ticket office seemed to be the best option.

Directly behind me, I could hear the constant murmurings of someone apparently praying.  Sure enough, there was a heavily bearded man doing his duty to Allah.  In the middle of it all, his phone rang.  He then proceeded to shout in an extremely loud agitated voice at whoever was making the call.  Maybe he was upset at the interruption, but it was enough to arouse the attention of the whole ticket office – shouting over, back to praying.  After another ten minutes he was up and off.  I am not sure why, but for some reason I was compelled to look under his seat – just in case he left his bag behind.  Isn’t it a great pity that suspicion can be aroused so easily?

This episode was soon followed by a young lady who was offering me a paper.  We had been warned.  She then proceeded to play with my cap.  I assumed that she was after my wallet and not my body.

The fast train couldn’t come soon enough and our allocated seats were just fine.  The only issue for Karyn was that they faced the wrong direction. It was backwards all the way into Paris.  On arrival, we fought our way along the platform through a smoky haze created by a stunning proportion of desperate passengers.  Thankfully, at least the trains are smoke free.  As I mentioned in an earlier note, the French are big on smoking and the Parisians are the champions.

Paris is open mouth gob smackingly stunning, but for some reason, it took us a while to fall in love.  Maybe we had been on the move for so long, we needed a break.  As it turns out, our apartment for six nights was just the place.  It was located near an open market, opposite the Metro and just down the road from the Eiffel Tower – all very convenient.

The Eiffel is a must visit for millions and the line up in the heat of the day is a wonder in itself.  One couple decided to beat the rush.  I was out running early on the banks of the Seine, and the only other life forms visible were market people getting ready for another day.  The young couple looked rather strange, dressed in their wedding outfits with camera in hand, as they scurried along in the semi dark.  I imagined that they were determined to get their compulsory shot at the tower without interference.  The bride was doing it tough in her long dress and heels.

We spent our time in Paris on our feet and in the Metro as we checked out the usual sites.  Karyn was keen to have a go at the local Velo bike hire scheme.  I was not so sure and after an hour, and a couple of close calls, we gave them back.

The line up for the Notre Dame Cathedral was huge and I spent my time watching the professional queue jumpers in action.  Some of them were very slick.  I sometimes wonder, that if you make the decision to cheat, why not go to the top of the line rather than just half way.  Thankfully our time in the sun was short lived as the movement was constant and the entry free.  The inside and the exit are another story.  Karyn purchased an audio, so she knew what we were looking at.  As the audio office wanted something of value for security, I thought I may have to remain behind.  Fortunately my driver’s licence was sufficient.  I have to say, for a building that is over 850 years old, it is very impressive.  The stained glass windows are amazing.

We were approached by a woman who wore a cross and wanted to show us around and talk about the glory of God.  She was selling religion.  We declined.  A priest was hearing confession in a corner and the faithful were lined for their turn.  He was selling redemption and that is never free.  We didn’t join the queue.  At the exit door, there was another woman dressed in religious regalia, whom I assumed was a nun.  She had a collection bowl.  We declined again.  Just outside the exit, there was another woman dressed in rags who was also looking for money.  There was no opportunity to respond to this request as she was very quickly given the short shift by the church officials.  It was quite obvious that in this location, charity begins at home and stays there.

The queues to the Louvre are infamous, so we checked out the options through the wonders of the internet.  The secret is to go early, do it on Sunday as it’s free, thereby avoiding another queue, and take the Metro.  It only took us twenty minutes of air conditioned comfort, in a line through a shopping mall under the complex.  We were in.  The lovely lady with the slight smile is still there along with thousands of other exhibits.  A five hour marathon did me in and we only just scratched the surface.

Food is very big in Paris, so we decided to do a guided walking tour for foodies to see what all the fuss was about.  It had come highly recommended by friends.  Now I am not one to wear a green dot on my shirt and follow someone with a flag, but this promised to be a small intimate group.  And as it turned out, it was – Nine Aussies, coincidently, and Roberto, our wonderful guide and now friend.  He said we were his family and treated us that way for our time together.  Roberto turned out to be not only an expert on food, but on a vast range of social, cultural and political issues in relation to all things French.  It was a wonderful day.

We spent our last full day on a visit to Versailles.  Apparently, the entry queues make the Louvre feel like a picnic.  We’d been warned to expect time in the sun for up to three hours. Once again, the internet came in handy and following some great detective work by Karyn, we found a door to the side that led straight to a ticket counter, a guide, and a special visit to the back rooms and hidden apartments of the King and Queen – just amazing, no queuing and no chaotic crowds.

However, the day turned out to be a bit of a struggle as once we rejoined the throng, the congestion in the main part of the Chateau reminded me of the conga line we had at Cinque Terre.  Versailles is an amazing place, but the opulence and extravagance of royalty at the time left me feeling cold.  I was inclined to shout out “Vive Le Revolution!”

On our last evening in romantic Paris, we wanted to celebrate with a nice dinner.  There are restaurants everywhere.  The problem is that the majority of eating at this time of year is out doors and every table has at least one smoker.  In the city of love and good food, it was time to through caution to the wind, find its direction and choose the least intrusive spot.  The meal was lovely, and our lungs survived.

We now head for Amsterdam and are going by train with allocated seats.



Paris and Versailles Photos

Getting in to Versailles


The station master for our train from the end of our walk was a young lady who wore her station master’s hat on a slight angle.  She kissed the train driver on both cheeks, as the French do, but didn’t extend the gesture to the passengers. We did, by the way, manage to get a seat, but only just.  Thankfully there were very few left and Karyn was forced to take the first on offer.  Yes!

The travelling notes on our destination stated that Aix en Provence is a town where the women far outweigh the men.  Most apparently were doing Arts at the local university.  It is a location with a wonderful cultural history.  But, we were not here to study the demographics, or sadly, even the arts festival.  We were here for Le Tour.

We checked into our hotel, and after a slight hiccup where our third night had disappeared from the booking, we were soon settled and off to pick up the bikes.  We thought we would get into the full spirit of the event and give the stage from Aix en Provence a bit of a crack.  Well some of it anyway.  The road bikes from the local bike hire shop were very basic and quite grubby, but they did the job – the wheels went round when we peddled.  So we set off for a trial run.  Well here we were, strange bikes, strange location, strange side of the road and limited idea where we were on the map.  After a bit of a ride around the town, with lots of stopping and map checking, we managed to find our humble abode without falling off or getting skittled.

The next morning, we were off to find the start of the stage.  There was nothing there, other than a painted sign on the road.  I was a bit underwhelmed.  As a matter of fact, the whole town seemed to be in the same state.  The bike shop owner had complained that they were going to close the roads and the schools for the day.  The hotel manager said that biking wasn’t big in the South of France.  It felt like Karyn and I were the only ones excited.

Anyway, we set off on our ride of Stage six of the 100th anniversary of this amazing race.  It was raining and the roads were greasy.  We had our first flat tyre about ten K down the track.  We fixed it, but couldn’t find the problem and assumed that it was associated with the movement of tape in the rim that exposed some rough edges.  Our second flat occurred a bit further on and it was on the same wheel on Karyn’s bike.  This was fixed with our last remaining spare, and even though I removed the tyre and checked it out, I couldn’t find a problem.  Having safely made it to the small village of Saint Cannart, it was time to stop for breakfast and then head for home on a dodgy tyre, with a dodgy wheel.  We were told there were no bike shops in the village.  I did however get a loan of a decent pump before departure, courtesy of a group of cyclists who were doing a charity ride over the original Tour de France route.

With 20 K still to go and no spare, the front tyre was flat again.  It was going to be a long walk home in the rain and a rather deflating end to our adventure.  But wait, is that a BIKE SHOP?  Yes it was.  Pure bliss, right in the middle of nowhere and just when we needed it.  The owner took one look at the wheel, shook his head and decided to replace the tape.  As a final gesture he ran his expert hand around the tyre, and found what was possibly the real culprit.  It turned out to be the tiniest speck of glass hidden deep within the rubber.

I actually felt like a bit of a dill, but then thought, hang on, we have just done our bit for the Aussies on Le Tour.  That piece of glass could have been the end for Cadel, Richie, or one of The Green Edge boys, and now we have cleared the way.

We made it back unscathed and after a bit of exploring around some of the surrounding hills, we did a final loop of the town.  Someone shouted out that Le Tour wasn’t until the following day.  I said that I needed to start now to make it.  On arrival at our hotel, we realised that we were both covered in mud and grease from the road.  I am afraid that my white Place socks and white Graceville Bike Company kit will never be the same again.

Thursday 4th July is famous for lots of things, but on this particular occasion it was to be famous for Le Tour de France to leave Aix en Provence.  The town had finally come alive and it was a beautiful sunny day.  We headed down to the start and it was packed to the rafters.  My mission was to get as close to the bikes and riders as possible.  We discovered this fenced off section with lots of security and admission only by special pass.  I thought that this must be it.  I pleaded with security, but no way.  I even tried to pull the Aussie tag and had a chat to one who had a brother living in Brisbane – all to no avail.  I thought of scaling the three metre high fence and then thought again.  We did a circuit around the complex and it was locked up as tight as a fishes you know what.

Throughout all of this, Karyn kept on saying that she couldn’t see any bikes inside, maybe we should look elsewhere?  Karyn is very wise.  So instead of looking in, we looked out.  And there they were, the buses and the bikes.  I jumped the fence, well, struggled over, and arrived in cycling nirvana – Two hundred of the best cyclists in the World and about 400 of the best and most expensive bikes in the World.  And no security – go figure.  The other secure area that was tied up like Fort Knox was for the sponsors’ exhibits – go figure again.

And then it happened.  I was swamped.  First it was Matt Goss, then Cameron Meyer and Stuart O’Grady, all from Green Edge.  Then came Richie Porte from Sky, closely followed by Cadel Evans from BMC.  They must have heard about our exploits the previous day and wanted a few tips, as well as say thanks for that bit of glass we picked up.  Stuart had even heard about our days on the cobbles a few weeks earlier and wanted to sort out some technique issues in case he had another crack at the Paris-Roubaix ride.  Sadly, Simon Gerrans, the yellow jersey holder, missed out and I noted with some sadness at the end of the day he had dropped a few places.  Even with Karyn’s constant supply of food and water to keep up the energy levels, one could only do so much.

And then they were off and were gone.  Another 200 k in the blazing sun at an average of around 45 k per hour and they will do it every day for three weeks.  Crashes will occur and bones will be broken.  In some cases, the accidents are fatal.  Most however, just get back on the bike and ride – as that is what they do.

And so it is also time for us to get on our bike and ride, not literally this time.  But before we do, I must mention that out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something.  Aix en Provence is a delightful place, full of delightful people, both young and old.  But they have this other odd habit.  They smoke.  What is it about the French and smoking?

We are off to Paris by train, maybe we will find out there.  By the way, our seats are allocated and numbered.  Just thought you would like to know.

Its all about the bike

Aix en Provence


Rod hanging out with his mates at the Tour de France