A Travellerspoint blog

A picture is worth a thousand words ...

and thanks to everyone for taking an interest in our travels

Just to wind up our travel blog, Lisa has put together a 10-minute (photo) pictorial highlighting some of our favourite experiences. By no means comprehensive, it nevertheless captures the essence of the trip I reckon (and the music ain't half bad as well!).

A quick thank you to all of you that have taken the time to read this blog, and offer your kind words of encouragement and appreciation.

Dan, Lisa, Gabi, and Nat Happell
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Posted by happellfamily12 22:41 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Hong Kong SAR (Sadly, Australian Reality looms ...)

Dim Sum, Dolphins, Shopping, Star Ferry, Views & Lights

semi-overcast 31 °C

Well, it had to end eventually, so we alighted our flight from London with the usual excitement of visiting a new place (for the girls), but also with a sense of sadness that this would be our last adventure for quite some time!

The Airport Express whisked us onto Hong Kong island in under 40 minutes, and we then caught the MTR four stops to Tin Hau, the location of our hotel (& also my home twenty years earlier). The temperature (31 degs) and humidity (high) was the first thing the girls noticed - Gabi especially commenting every time we left the air-conditioned comfort of the hotel. The second thing that struck our group was the full-on nature of the city ... walking along the Causeway Bay streets that first evening, I think the girls' heads were spinning by the number of people out-and-about, and the frenetic nature and smells of the street activities.

Nat poolside in our hotel ... Causeway Bay and Wan Chai behind

Nat poolside in our hotel ... Causeway Bay and Wan Chai behind


taken from the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry terminal looking back to the island side ... great photo Lisa

taken from the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry terminal looking back to the island side ... great photo Lisa


looking down on Causeway Bay

looking down on Causeway Bay

It was a relief then to stumble across a nice Japanese restaurant around 8:30pm, and after a 15-minute wait, take our seats. Confusion then ensued as no waiters materialised, but an iPad mini sat on the table. Further investigation revealed a comprehensive menu listed on the screen, and after a few false starts (better not order 22 cans of Sapporo!), we sent through our order for a selection of Japanese goodies. Sure enough the food started arriving 10 minutes later, and we were left to ponder another clever technological advance, and another reduction in the need to converse with one's fellow human beings.

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We followed the standard tourist beat on our visit, only missing out on a midweek Happy Valley race meeting, which I would have loved to have shown Lisa and the kids to soak up the amazing atmosphere. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the Victoria Peak tram ride and views; a stroll through Hong Kong Park which included a quick caligraphy lesson for all; numerous MTR train trips; Star Ferry rides which took us to the stunning nightly light show over Victoria Harbour; and we even ventured up the world's longest escalator from Central to the Mid Levels.

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Needless to say we had some lovely meals - mostly at bargain prices - with the standouts being some dim sum at a Taiwanese chain called Din Tai Fung, and also some beef brisket (believe it or not) at Sister Wah in Tin Hau. Lisa was disappointed with the Temple Street Night Market, but had better luck at the Ladies Market where her rarely used bargaining skills were dusted off, and put to good use! On that day I took the girls to the iconic Ocean Park on the south side of HK Island, and we had a fantastic time watching the seals/sea lions/walruses being fed, the dolphins performing tricks, catching the submarine train, getting (slightly) scared on the water rides, and generally enjoying the diverse activities of this extraordinary tourist attraction.

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On our last day it was nice to finish on a 'travel high' - being able to check our bags in at Hong Kong train station (let's hope that is an idea copied worldwide) - and then follow up with some excellent Cathay Pacific service on the 9 hour flight to Melbourne. So our journey was over, but Lisa has compiled a photographic display of the sixteen months which appears in the next blog, and is well worth a look.
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Posted by happellfamily12 22:40 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged views lights shopping dim_sum ocean_park humidity caligraphy Comments (0)

Amsterdam: Fly-by-night (and rail by day)

The Venice of the North

overcast 22 °C

One final European dream (or bucket list entry as they now like to say) had yet to be fulfilled - a trip on the 'chunnel' train, and a visit to Amsterdam. Thanks to Lisa's generosity ... and running up an enormous slate of credits to the better half ... I was able to complete this trip off just before our London departure to Hong Kong.

London, St Pancras International, an impressive space

London, St Pancras International, an impressive space

Whilst the Eurostar train was a bit underwhelming - efficient enough, but the carriages were pretty dated - the connecting Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam was a ripper. I arrived late in the evening, and after catching the straightforward #1 tram down to the suburb of Overtoomse Slius, checked into my Airbnb apartment where I was greeted by owner Hans, who turned out to be a good bloke.

Wednesday was a frantic day of sightseeing. Nearby Vondelpark was the first stop, and this 150-year-old park was peaceful (despite plenty of energetic citizens) and beautiful in the mid-morning sunshine.

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A slew of standard tourist activities followed - mainly on foot - although I did succumb to a canal boat trip as recommended by Hans, and this turned out to be better than expected. It didn't take long for the charms of this magnificent city to win me over, and I eventually just let the bulky Canon hang around my neck as the photo opportunities were so frequent.

Singel canal

Singel canal


a fairly typical scene, but the importance of bikes in Amsterdam cannot be  underestimated

a fairly typical scene, but the importance of bikes in Amsterdam cannot be underestimated


no, not a container ship, but the Science Center Nemo

no, not a container ship, but the Science Center Nemo


Prinsengracht

Prinsengracht


bobbies and trams; officers of the law get on their bikes!

bobbies and trams; officers of the law get on their bikes!

The highlight of the day was yet to come however ... a trip to the Rijksmuseum, recently re-opened after a 10 year/375 million euro renovation. The Dutch Masters were abundantly represented, and it was a magical three hours spent (along with many others) touring the impressively remodelled rooms and spaces.

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A drink was called for after this engrossing visit, and an innocent beer turned into quite a few more as I got chatting to a German guy called Toby on one of the main tourist drags. Educated in Denver, he was amusing company, and I paid for it the next morning with a shocking hangover. This was not part of the plan, as I had an early start on my way to the KLM Open out at Zandvoort - a 30-minute train ride from Centraal Station.

Zandvoort is a seaside resort, and Kennemer Golf & Country Club - founded in 1910 - is not dissimilar to many British links courses. The tournament as per normal did not draw a cracker field, but I was content enough to follow the quality grouping of Ross Fisher (UK), Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium), and Mikko Ilonen (Finland). It was easy enough to watch a bit of the trailing group as well, which included local hero Joost Luiten (pronounced Joast Loyten), who to the delight of the local fans went on to win the tournament.

Johan Edfors - typically unorthodox

Johan Edfors - typically unorthodox


8golf_sign.jpg6golf_gen.jpgColsaerts, Fisher, and Ilonen ... average scoring, but quality ball-striking

Colsaerts, Fisher, and Ilonen ... average scoring, but quality ball-striking

Anyway, the hangover eased as the day wore on, and I managed to board the Easyjet flight from Schiphol Airport in a reasonable state. A highly enjoyable mini-trip was capped off by getting a big upgrade on my cheap-as-chips car rental at Gatwick (new Mercedes A180 ... lovely), and a big greeting from Gabi and Nat as I returned to Newbury.
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Posted by happellfamily12 09:52 Archived in Netherlands Tagged canals amsterdam golf thalys rijksmuseum vondelpark Comments (0)

Bem-vindo ao Algarve!

Our European odyssey finishes in the south of Portugal

sunny 28 °C

With less than 3 weeks to go before our European departure, we were keen to make the most of the fading continental summer. Greece, Turkey, and Malta were all ruled out on account of expense (the normally miserly [on price] budget airlines were failing to live up to the holiday spirit for these destinations).

We elected instead to head to the Algarve in southern Portugal - a sun-kissed region renowned for great beaches and golf resorts. Aware that the kids were starting to show a few signs of travel fatigue (the impending return to Oz accelerating the mood), we planned an unambitious two weeks of mainly beach and poolside relaxation.

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As it transpired we had a lovely time. Our base was a small fishing village called Olhos d'Agua - jammed between ritzy Vilamoura and busy, but unappealing Albufeira - and we were pleasantly surprised to find that most holidaymakers were Portuguese, along with the usual smattering of northern Europeans, English and the Irish.

Chicken piri-piri ... the national dish

Chicken piri-piri ... the national dish

Highlights included the laidback locals; delicious food (chicken piri-piri, steak on the stone, grilled sardines, morning pastries); lovely weather; gorgeous Algarve coastline which was as craggy as it was spectacular; a day trip we made to Sagres (via rental car); and seeing the girls slowly get the hang of boogie boarding!

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However the top of the list for all concerned was a dolphin spotting trip we caught from nearby Albufeira marina. We headed 5 miles off shore in a zodiac (at around 34 bumpy mph), and were very fortunate to come across a big school (pod) of around 80 short-beaked common dolphins. They were incredibly playful - zipping under our boat, slicing through the water, then performing little pirouette breaches - and we were awestruck.

Olhos d'Agua, cliff top view down to our local beach, the busy Praia d'Agua

Olhos d'Agua, cliff top view down to our local beach, the busy Praia d'Agua

Olhos d'Agua, girls stretching out on Praia d'Agua

Olhos d'Agua, girls stretching out on Praia d'Agua

Olhos d'Agua, Nat attacks the clams from 'O Caixote'

Olhos d'Agua, Nat attacks the clams from 'O Caixote'

Olhos d'Agua, pool in our apartment complex

Olhos d'Agua, pool in our apartment complex

Albufeira, Praia da Coelha, view along the beach to a deep cave

Albufeira, Praia da Coelha, view along the beach to a deep cave

Albufeira, Praia da Coelha, Happell family in said cave!

Albufeira, Praia da Coelha, Happell family in said cave!

Albufeira, Praia da Coelha, camera and seagulls looking west

Albufeira, Praia da Coelha, camera and seagulls looking west

Sagres, Praia da Mareta, surf was definitely up on the day of our visit

Sagres, Praia da Mareta, surf was definitely up on the day of our visit

Sagres, often windy and in centuries gone by often thought to be the end of the world

Sagres, often windy and in centuries gone by often thought to be the end of the world

Sagres, view back from the 16th century fortress (of Henry the Navigator fame)

Sagres, view back from the 16th century fortress (of Henry the Navigator fame)

Vila Do Bispo, Praia do Castelejo, west facing so good protection from the wind this day

Vila Do Bispo, Praia do Castelejo, west facing so good protection from the wind this day

Albufeira, dolphin trip, unpromising name but a fantastic experience for all

Albufeira, dolphin trip, unpromising name but a fantastic experience for all

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Vilamoura, Praia da Falesia, also a popular walking strip at low tide

Vilamoura, Praia da Falesia, also a popular walking strip at low tide

Vilamoura, Praia da Falesia, an example of the famous red cliffs

Vilamoura, Praia da Falesia, an example of the famous red cliffs

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Posted by happellfamily12 05:50 Archived in Portugal Tagged beaches algarve sagres albufeira olhos_d'agua chicken_piri_piri Comments (0)

And did those feet ...
 Walk upon Englands mountains green

Mountains, Lakes, Cornish Coast, Messing About in Boats

all seasons in one day 18 °C

Lake District

As we waved goodbye to our shieling from the ferry, we traversed the Firth of Lorne over to Oban, and bundled into the car for the trip south to the Lake District.

Our destination was a tiny hamlet called Borrowdale - 5 miles south of Keswick - where our accommodation (shock, horror to me) was the YHA! The thought filled me somewhat with dread ... shared showers, rowdy and drunken youth, the great unwashed. The last hostel I was in was 20 years ago in Italy - my friends and I named it Mama Grossa’s instead of Mama Rossa’s. However upon arrival my doubts were dismissed. The car park was filled with new and modern cars (even a shiny BMW for goodness sake!), and our room was bright and fresh. The clientele were mostly families and dedicated empty-nester trampers - not a drunken youth to be seen. Dan was impressed as I soon settled into hostel life, finding a space in the shared fridge and elbowing my way in to use the stove.

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Actually the YHA was fantastic; perfect for kids with a games room and other kids to play with, whilst there was a bar and lounge for the adults where you could chat and share hiking stories. A bit like a ski lodge without the snow.

Buttermere

Acting on some local knowledge we decided to go to Buttermere for an easy stroll around its shores. Only one of the lakes in the Lake District is actually called a 'lake' - Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere are 'meres'. (Mere – a lake that is broad in relation to its depth).

Buttermere was beautiful, and an enjoyable stroll through farmland and a picnic lunch on the water's edge was a very pleasant way to pass the afternoon.

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The Cumberland Pencil Museum

A trip to the famous Pencil Museum in Keswick was a must ... most people must remember their first pack of Derwent pencils. The museum provided us with the history of the humble pencil, and had many interesting facts and figures including a pencil that had been designed to include a map of enemy territory during World War II.

Of course one could hardly escape without a purchase, and thanks to generous Aunty CiCi the kids stocked up.

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Mire House – ‘I am part of all that I have met’ - Tennyson

Unfortunately our second day in the district was rather grey and wet, so a trip to Mire House was the order of the day. This house, built in the 17th century, played host to many poets including Tennyson and Wordsworth. It is privately owned, but the gardens are open to the public, and a steeple chase and obstacle course provided entertainment for the kids.

In addition - across the road in Dodd Wood - you can watch the rare osprey nesting in the distant trees; however on this day it was rather hard to see through the binoculars despite the help of the friendly birdwatchers. Our plans for an afternoon kayak were foiled by the rain, so it was back to the hostel for a shower and hot cuppa.

Castle Crag Hike

I think our fellow hostellers thought we were rather pathetic as we returned from our day to listen to tales of tricky and treacherous hikes. Not to be outdone we decided to tackle nearby Castle Crag, and after several wrong turns and muddy feet we made it to the top and were rewarded with a stunning view of Derwent Water and the surrounding valleys.

Topping off the day with a visit to Windermere where clearly most of the 15.8 million annual visitors like to congregate! My last shared facility cooking meal followed, and I felt proud that I had survived our four night hostel stay. Perhaps I could repeat the process again some time.

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Cornwall – Polruan

A full day of driving on busy and wet roads, and we arrived in Polruan frazzled and short-tempered. Negotiating our way through narrow, stone walled streets to our little cottage added much money to the swear jar, especially when Dan (possibly) damaged the mirror on one of those nasty stone walls. Dinner and beer at the local pub soon calmed the frazzled nerves although not the depleted bank account.

Our week in Polruan was to tie in beautifully with Fowey Regatta week. The view from our cottage window looked out onto a harbour filled with boats both old and new, big and small. Our first few days were spent visiting Fowey on the little ferry, enjoying crabbing off the jetty, and watching fireworks. We also had a lovely morning fishing and caught about eight fish - mostly mackerel but a lovely whiting as well. BBQ mackerel with lemon, orange rind and butter sauce ... delicious.

Crabbing, Fishing, Fireworks, Fowey, Polruan, Cottage View and our White Cottage

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Other adventures included hiring two kayaks - hard work when you are paddling up river against the tide and there is not even a decent coffee at the end! Swims at the local beaches for the kids and Dan (water temperature arctic), and beers on the jetty. Plus of course several non-Heart Foundation approved 'cream teas': beautiful scones, jam, and clotted cream.

Kayaking

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St Michael's Mount, Polperro, and the Red Arrows

On Thursday we decided to tackle driving again, this time hoping for no stone wall contact. With a long weekend looming the traffic was terrible; we did however make it to St Michael’s Mount in far west Cornwall - a lovely town and church that sits on a tidal island. The island is accessible during low tide, and the surrounding beach in front of Marazion is long, clean, and popular with tourists. Lunch was followed by a swim and walk before piling back into the car for a quick visit to neighbouring Polperro, and then back to Polruan for the Red Arrows.

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The Red Arrows are an annual feature of Fowey Regatta Week. They are officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, and consist of nine aircraft. It is an extremely popular event and the surrounding hills are packed with people trying to catch a glimpse of the aircraft. We joined the crowd on a hillside in Polruan that gave us sea and harbour views. The anticipation was like New Year in Sydney ... suddenly out of nowhere the red arrows appeared. It was incredible: swooping, circling, twists, turns in group and in pairs with a colourful smoke trail. The noise was unbelievable but this added to the excitement. For me it was an absolute highlight - I think I could become a bit of an aero-head.

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Mevagissey

On our final day in Polruan we decided to wrap up the trip with a visit to the town of Mevagissey - a 45 minute boat trip. This town is bigger than Polruan and not quite as charming (of all the towns we visited Polruan had the most appeal). A tasty lunch at the atmospheric 15th century Fountain Inn, a visit to the quirky museum, and a cliff top walk gave us the feel for the town. After the boat trip back to Polruan we enjoyed the last night in our little cottage. We would certainly miss waking up to the view of yachts and the mournful call of the seagulls.

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Newbury

Returning to Newbury where our friend Michelle was kindly putting as up, we had a treat in store for Sunday.

Just like Toad of Toad Hall we had the chance to go in a river barge thanks to Michelle. We were fortunate that the heavy morning rain cleared, and we had a fantastic four hours heading down the River Thames from Maidenhead and finishing in Egham. What a way to pass the day ... cruising down the river, negotiating the locks, seeing many grand houses, and of course Windsor Palace. The peace of the river, and the chug chug of the motors and other boats as they passed us by made it a memorable day.

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Blenheim Palace

On this day we couldn’t believe our luck when the weather man told us it was going to be 26 degrees. Newbury is a fun town, and its proximity to a number of castles and palaces including Highclere (of Downton Abbey fame) and Blenheim Palace make it a great base for exploring. Having already visited Highclere before we left for Scotland, on the advice of Michelle we decided to visit Blenheim Palace.

Home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a World Heritage Site. Blenheim Palace was a gift from Queen Anne and a grateful nation to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, following his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Blenheim Palace is surrounded by over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland including the great lake, and beautiful gardens.

The car park was teeming - long weekend - and at 35 pounds for only the gardens we decided to give the Palace itself a miss - the slump in the aussie dollar was starting to hit the hip pocket! The gardens are extensive and a mixed feel of rural and cottage. Picnic on the lake, followed by hiding in Harry Potter’s tree (Order of the Phoenix) and paddling in one of the little streams. A walk to the fantastic maze and children’s play area that once housed the kitchen garden. The magnificent palace always in the background.

Topping off the day with a BBQ at Michelle’s. Just as we were starting to doubt the British summer this day certainly proved us wrong.

Blenheim Palace Photos

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Posted by happellfamily12 07:35 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lake_district regatta cornwall newbury polruan mevagissey polperro Comments (0)

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