Beer o’clock

Souvenirs are an essential part of travel. They are brought home then remind of that holiday as they collect dust for years. Then you move on and they are replaced by other souvenirs that begin the cycle anew.

The Tall One’s father has a house full of, rather than souvenirs, curios that might one day pass on to her. As if to tease us about our (still outstanding) trip to India, there is a mini Taj Mahal that I suspect is made from marble and came from India.

model of Taj Mahal alongside other knick knacks

Although it might be a little tricky to transport, bringing it into Australia wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, since I am always honest on biosecurity questions, I would have to declare this item.

carved elephant ivory with other knick knacks

Yes, that thing on the left is ivory, appatently a gift from Africa many years ago. It wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be allowed to be imported. But it does make me wonder about what might happen to such things that are historic yet no longer cool.

We are cycling all over, every day. It is really enjoyable thanks to how integrated bicycles are into the culture. Yesterday we visited the grave of Tall One’s mother. It was a bit creepy seeing Tall One’s exact name on the headstone.

woman pointing at headstone in graveyard

I was relieved to discover that she isn’t a zombie, but was named after her grandmother. Then into the church where I was reprimanded for not being quiet/respectful/guilty/pious enough. Truth be known, I wasn’t being any of those things, but let’s not get into a conversation about my opinion of religion. Having said that, it is a big beautiful church, I can only wonder how they built such huge arches in the early 1900s.

No, she didn’t genuflect or cross herself.

colourful stained glass window in church

2AM might seem a bit late to start eating and drinking, but Gold Coast 2AM is 6PM in the Netherlands. The Tall One’s sister Angela and her husband Martin (Angela’s, not Tall One’s) plus a friend (theirs, not hers) drove us to Leiden, a university town not far from Wassener.

It is old and beautiful.

canal in Netherlands with boats and houses in background

Bikes outnumber cars hundreds to one, it is a treat walking around here. Our destination was the StadtBrouwHuis bar, it was for more than dinner, it was a Dutch brewery experience.

Translated, StadtBrouwHuis is State Brew House, and apart from brewing their own beer, they have a pretty big variety to choose from.

roof handles for pouring beer

I wasnt too interested in big glasses of one or two beers, so negotiated for a series of sampler glasses. Let’s just say I am glad I wasn’t driving, or riding.

table with many half filled glasses of beer
people sitting around table

Rain was forecast for this afternoon so we went riding in the morning. There are several forests around here, all with a network of fietspad (bike paths). One led us to a lovely old building that used to be the local government offices, it is now a reception centre. Except not entirely.

We went inside and while I was looking around, Tall One started chatting to a man who I assumed was the building manager or something like that. I wander over and am introduced to the Mayor of Wassener! After bowing deeply and licking his shoes clean, I half jokingly ask if his office is in the building.

He immediately ushers us through a couple of doors into what can only be described as a sumptuous room that is his office. He told us the story, but there was too much info about the history of the building to remember. Suffice to say it once belonged to the king and the desk and some other furniture is original, dating back to the 17th century.

man and woman in ornate office.  man is mayor of Wassener

Then on to a local modern art gallery.

row of sculptures of people with real person standing in front
sculpture of person standing on head

It is starting to rain, so we will hunker down for the afternoon. Oh, I have seen some windmills, but will wait until I get the money shot.

I do know I have no right to complain about anything, but if you play Wordle, you will understand 335 X/6


On yer bike

Day 1 was a looong days (deliberate plural). Door to door it took 34 hours to get from the Gold Coast in Australia to Wassener in the Netherlands. When we eventually went to bed, it was about 7AM body time, 45 hours after leaving home. That trope about falling asleep the moment my head hit the pillow became a reality.

The Tall One had big plans for day 2 despite my suggestion it be a rest day. It is worth noting that due to what turned out to be her misinformation campaign, my expectations about Dutch weather had me anticipating something worse than Melbourne. But it is magnificent! Sunny and warm.

Weirdly, it doesn’t get dark until about 10:30pm and it happens so slowly, there is no dusk, as such. I can only imagine what time it gets dark in late June.

group of parked bikes in netherlands

We’ve all heard about the bicycle culture in the Netherlands, I can report it is absolutely true and I am wondering if it is at all possible to make real in Straya.

Bikes are everywhere, every road has a bike path, there are bicycle specific traffic lights. It is fantastic! The photo above is pretty typical, bike racks are outside every shop, in the streets, all over the place. Notice the bike path, well away from the road, leading into the roundabout.

bikes in bike path at roundabout Netherlands

Even in the roundabouts , bikes are kept separate from cars and cyclists are treated with care by car drivers, unlike in Australia where there is a certain level of contempt.

Another common sight…

children in buggy on front of bicycle

As the woman said, “this is very Dutch”. There are all sorts of variations on this for carrying kids, goods, whatever.

But it gets better. There has been a shift in the culture here where what were once manicured lawns are now allowed to go wild, encouraging insects and therefore, birds. There are definitely a lot more insects here than at home, though as Tall Girl pointed out, they are much bigger in Straya and like everything else, liable to kill you.

long grass in road verge

Just before we left home, I had floated the idea of letting the front lawn go, maybe I will soon have less to mow, at least I now have some ammo to justify my idea.

white flowers growing in grass

We have a couple of bikes and today set off to a beautiful protected area along the coast known as the dunes, because…there are dunes. There is a constant stream of cyclists going in both directions, I can’t quite figure out if they are commuting or just going for a ride. I suspect it is a mixture of both. It is only about 10km to The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands, which is at the end of the substantial and well signed bike path along the coast.

black water birds with white faces sitting on a nest

For those who don’t know me well, I hand-built an earth walled house about 30 years ago. So seeing these beautiful thatched roofs was so wonderful. If only I could see one being replaced or repaired. Though my Dutch isn’t close to good enough to be able to have a conversation…yet…if ever.

house with thatched roof

Banks are extinct here in Wassener for some reason. There literally isn’t one left, which makes getting some cash hard. Apparently the rest of the Netherlands isn’t the same, so not sure what is going on here. But oddly, despite no banks, ATMs are critically endangered, the closest is a 10 minute ride and there is only 1 in each of the local shopping areas.

Finally, I would like to thank big finance for making the exchange rate 1 Euro = 1.5 $AUD which makes calculations easy.

Praise Cheeses

Hooray, borders are open and May 16th has finally arrived. After our non trip to India at the start of 2020 it was good to be travelling again.

Holidays are boring if they get off on the right foot and we had a great start when we thought our ride was taking us to Brisbane airport, but he thought he was taking us to the train to Brisbane airport. Forensic inspection of emails revealed that somewhere I did mention train, but that is no excuse for Dave not knowing I meant airport.

Fortunately, the fear of covid paperwork and airport chaos meant we had left way too early for my liking, but perfect timing for relationship harmony.

As it happened, Brisbane airport is a very big place for there to be only one flight leaving, so checking in was pretty stress free.

people standing in line at airport

But it likely wasn’t so stress free for an amphibian attempting to stow away. The bag owner had no idea where they had picked up a frog on top of their suitcases. With all the rain last week it was likely looking for higher safe ground. Much hilarity as I chased it around the line of passengers. I hope it survives where I released it in the little garden at the front of the airport.

It had been so long I had forgotten the joy of long haul flights. Seven hours to Singapore, 3 hours transit spent trying to spot a single butterfly in the butterfly garden in the airport – haven’t they genetically modify butterflies to be nocturnal yet? – then 13 hours to Amsterdam.

Photos never do justice to sunrises, this is titled Full Moon Rising Over Wing Above Turkey. The flight wasn’t too bad, the entertainment technology is pretty cool these days. Apart from a huge range of movies and TV shows, there is an excellent Where Are We maps thingy with loads of options to help passengers help the pilot not get lost.

And here we are, in Wassener, Netherlands. It has a reputation as an upmarket area, I have told Dutch people this is where I am going and the response is always “oooh, Wassener” and little sounds indicating that Wassenarians (I just made that up) are snobs.

We only arrived at 10 this morning and I already have my favourite cheese shops and bakeries. They are constantly changing as I discover even more amazing cheese shops.

cheese shop

I have been cycling a lot recently and starting to lose weight, this could be my undoing.

cheese shop

I’ll be updating here as often as possible. You can look forward to our trip to Germany and a visit to the notorious Amsterdam cafes. OK, there may be more than one trip to the cafes.

Daar gaan we

Map of the Netherlands

It has been over 3 years since I have been able to exercise my position as a privileged western white male and leave for somewhere else.

Today Erna and I head to The Netherlands for 3 weeks. Mostly to visit her aging dad, but also sharing a big adventure.

rows of colourful tulips

That’s about all I really know for now, except this should be gezellig.

Hint: in Dutch a “g” is pronounced like you are clearing some phlegm from the back of your throat.

Dutch windmills with water and tulips in the foreground

Can’t complain about Indian railways

Day 4 of our isolated un-trip to India and things are going much more smoothly than I could have imagined.

Indian Railway system is possibly the only lasting benefit left by the British during their occupation of the place. The network is extensive, trains are frequent and mostly run on time.* Also, at least outside of cattle class, they are quite clean and sleeper beds include linen. Did I mention fares are also pretty cheap?

So our trip from Amritsar to Haridwar (near Rishikesh) would have been fun and a new experience for Petronella, had we taken it. But I think even had our flight not been cancelled, all Indian trains have been.

Right now we would have been on the banks of the upper Ganges River, wondering why it seems compulsory for Western women to wear yoga pants 24/7 in this city. Well, I would have been, she would like have been wearing yoga pants.

Ganges River at Rishikesh

Tonight we won’t be travelling by train to Khajuraho, site of the Karma Sutra Temple. In a day or 3 I’ll share some rather racy photos and update you on the incredible things we don’t do.

* this is based on experience, not any collection of data across the whole network. For all I know hardly any of the trains run on time – and it wouldn’t be surprising – but apart from 1 that was cancelled, 1 that was 5 hours late, 1 that was estimated 12 hours late and a few other delays…OK, so they sometimes are on time.

Best travel leg ever

Jetlag is a pain. You arrive at your destination and for the next couple of days your body is catching up with local time.

But not this trip. It is as though our bodies are on local time all the time. It is incredible, people are using our regular currency, speak our language and we blend in as though we belong.

I know Air Asia is regarded as a budget airline, but this time I am all compliments, it was as though the flight over didn’t happen.

I have to say that in all my travels, airline food has never looked like this.

Airline breakfast

Who ever heard of getting Montmarte Patisserrie croissants on a plane? And for lunch, Chilli sin Carne and salad with home-grown ingredients.

Not Airline Food

Of course, departure day didn’t quite go as expected. Before we flew we had to handle the flu with a last minute vaccination. Despite initial fears, no one fainted which was a good thing.

Flu shot

Thanks to our corporate sponsors for providing free shots.

Next stop won’t be Amritsar where we won’t visit the Golden Temple, the Pakistan Border or the maze temple. But more about those places when we don’t get there.

Troublesome travel companions

Perhaps a more experienced traveller can help me with this.

Our flight has now been officially cancelled. Air Asia has sent an SMS advising the flight isn’t happening and suggesting I read an email that they haven’t sent. That isn’t the problem.

My anxiety comes from the fact that we aren’t leaving in 24 hours and Erna still hasn’t unpacked. Does she plan on leaving it to the last minute?

If this is how our non-trip starts, what is going to happen when we don’t arrive in India?

Your suggestions are welcome.

Less that one week to not go

We’ve been looking forward to our trip to India for months and it is now less than one week until we don’t leave.

We are pretty excited as we start unpacking all those special things we bought for this trip.

Of course it is important to make sure that all the necessary documents are in order:

Visa cancelled? CHECK!

visa cancelled

Refund status: Don’t be ridiculous

Air ticket cancelled? CHECK!

air asia cancelled

Refund status: Amount credited for 1 year

Train tickets cancelled? CHECK!

Refund status: 100% refunded!

We are so not looking forward to not leaving next Saturday.

Starting then you should keep your eyes open for regular updates on where we haven’t been.

Internet permitting, of course.

Navigating India railways

India gives the impression of being a tech savvy country, but you wouldn’t know it if you used the India Rail web site. Given that it represents a huge government organisation it is definitely one of the most difficult sites to use; it has too many ads (since when does a government business site have google ads?), parts of it don’t work, parts of it are confusing, parts of it are pointless…it sucks.

I spent about 8 hours trying to book some train tickets, constantly hitting a wall “foreign cards not accepted” with any card I tried. Doing some research I found 12go who will book for you, but R500 ($10) worth of tickets cost an additional R800 ($16) booking fee.

India’s railways carry 23 million people per day

Then I remembered cleartrip who I have used successfully in the past but they took money without delivering a ticket. I have previously had refunds from them so am not worried, but it was frustrating trying to get it to work.

There had to be a way around this and a few sites had mentioned that IRCTC now takes Atom payments which work with foreign cards.

This is what the payment screen looks like – errr…well, I would show you a screenshot but…

which proves my point.

So if you do manage to connect and choose your India train trip and want to pay with a foreign card, there is a way to do it. I am posting this as a test blog post and also so that people wanting to buy India rail tickets with foreign international cards don’t have as hard a time figuring it out.

Once you get to the review trip page, instead of choosing Debit Card with PIN – which seems the most obvious, choose Multiple Payment Service – here’s a screenshot I prepared earlier.

India Rail payment page

No, I have no idea what they would hide it in there except T.I.I. (This Is India). Once in there the International Cards using Atom payment thingy is obvious

IRCTS Atom payment for foreign cards

Obviously your results may vary, but the first ticket literally took me most of a day – but it is best to not get too frustrated or you won’t survive being in India. Once I discovered the Multiple Payment Service, 4 more tickets took about 30 minutes.

I have downloaded the tickets to show the officious conductors, all I need now is for them to show up in my list of purchased tickets on the IRCTC site…sigh…