Weekend away, day 3

Scully slept better last night in our motel room. I think the rain helped, as the sound drowned out a lot of the minor noises that kept distracting throughout her the previous night.

The rain held off for the evening, and my wife and I went out to a nice restaurant on one of the nearby winery estates. We’ve been here once before and really enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere, so made sure to rebook it for this trip. They said over the phone that us bringing Scully would be fine, but I wasn’t sure if we’d need to sit outdoors – I think they mentioned something about a private room. When we got there, it was sprinkling very lightly. I said we had a booking and had informed them we’d be bringing our dog. They showed us straight into the main dining room and gave us a table in the corner!

Now, I’m pretty sure that restaurants here aren’t allowed to have animals (other than assistance dogs) in indoor food serving areas, but we weren’t about to point that out, and nobody seemed to mind at all. The diners at the tables nearest us were delighted and waved at Scully and scratched her when she wandered over (on leash, but she had enough room to move around a little). So we were nice and warm inside, and enjoyed a most wonderful meal. This place does a five course fixed menu, which changes daily, using a lot of ingredients they grow on their own property, and sourcing other ingredients from local farms.

This morning we got up and went to a cafe for breakfast, before packing the car and checking out of the motel. It had rained very heavily overnight, but stopped while we were having breakfast. It started up again by the time we were packing the car, and then got heavier as we drove off, heading home.

We took a different route for the first part of the trip, through a couple of small towns along a longer road that we hadn’t driven along before. It was nice to see the towns, but it was raining fairly heavily when we were there, and it was also very cold, so we couldn’t fully appreciate the scenery and historic buildings. We stopped for lunch in Lithgow, just the western side of the Blue Mountains, and then drove straight through form there to home, through heavy rain.

It was a good trip, and the rain wasn’t nearly as bad as forecast for Saturday, but it did hamper us a bit today. Scully’s glad to be home, however. After two days of being on the road in unfamiliar places and being on edge, she’s crashed and been sleeping most of the afternoon and evening since we got home.

New content today:

Weekend away, day 2

As it turned out, the weather wasn’t nearly as bad as forecast. The morning was clear and dry today. It only started raining about 1pm, and then it was only light and intermittent, although as we approach evening now it’s starting to set in a little heavier. But nothing like the torrential rain all day I was expecting.

We had a nice breakfast at the place where we would normally stay in town, but can’t this time because of having Scully with us. Then went to the Mudgee Honey Haven to buy some local honey, then to Baker Williams distillery to get some of their delicious butterscotch schnapps (I always pick up a bottle when we visit town), and to de Lusso winery to buy some wines, which they make from a range of rarer Italian grapes that are not commonly grown in Australia.

After that we went back into town to have lunch, at the Mudgee Brewing Company. We sat outside and it started to rain, but we had a large umbrella over the table and so were fine. After eating we walked around the centre of town, checking some shops, letting Scully run in the park a bit, and then going to a ceramics gallery where a local potter makes various things: bowls, plates, vases, cups, mugs, etc. We bought a couple of really beautifully glazed noodled bowls.

Scully had fun exploring Mudgee with us. Here she is at the Catholic church and the historic clock tower in the centre of town.

And checking out a roll of hay at Baker Williams Distillery.

Tonight we have our fancy dinner of the trip, at a restaurant out of town at one of the wineries. I think they said that they have a private room inside where we can bring Scully, which I’m hoping is right because it’ll be pretty cold sitting outside tonight!

New content today: When the update happens there’ll be new Irregular Webcomic! rerun annotation, Square Root of Minus Garfield, iToons, and Comments on a Postcard.

Weekend away, day 1

Today is the first day of the weekend trip I’ve been planning with my wife and Scully… since we first booked it back in about February. We originally booked for April, but that got scuttled by COVID-19 travel restrictions that were introduced. We rebooked when travel opened up again, and managed to actually make it this time.

We left home at 1:30 this afternoon, after my wife finished her morning shift of working from home. The first hour of driving was basically crossing suburbs of Sydney, and we really only got outside the city after crossing the Hawkesbury River at Richmond, north-west of home. From there we crossed the Blue Mountains via Bells Line of Road, arriving in Lithgow about 3:30. This is the only real town we pass through on the way to Mudgee, and we stopped to get a snack and a hot drink for my wife. Many places on the main street had closed already – after 3pm in a country town not much is open.

Crossing the mountains we were amazed at how much of the countryside had been burnt in the recent bushfires of last summer, just six months ago. Remember that that was the huge disaster that everyone was talking about, before COVID got going. It was just endless driving through blackened trees, and then getting long views from ridge tops across an unbroken panorama of burnt landscape. It was really eerie.

We left Lithgow about 4 o’clock, and drove through to Mudgee, arriving just before 6. We checked into our motel on the edge of town, which seems like a nice clean place, fairly modern. Previously we’ve stayed here at another place in the centre of town that we like, but with Scully we had to find somewhere that allows pets.

We headed into town for our dinner booking at a place we’ve been to before, but which has changed name and presumably ownership since last time. It wasn’t quite as fancy as it used to be, but it was a very good meal.

No sign of the forecast relentless rain that is supposed to hit tomorrow. Even now, late in the evening, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the stars are twinkling brightly from the dark rural sky.

New content today: I can’t easily link to all these remotely, but check for new Irregular Webcomic!, Square Root of Minus Garfield, and Comments on a Postcard.

Back to Ethics

The new school term started this week here in New South Wales, and schools are pretty much open for business as usual. Ethics classes also begin this week, for the first time since they stopped for COVID-19 back in March, and my first class was today. There was no screening of any sort at the school gate – it was wide open and I just walked in. But I walked past another primary school on the way, and they had staff at the gate meeting kids with hand sanitiser and making them use it before coming in, and not letting parents in. I guess each school is doing things differently.

I only had these kids for 3 weeks at the start of the year, and I’d just about learnt all their names, but with the intervening months, I’ve forgotten most of them again, so I had to resort to name tags again. The discussion today was about animal rights. We began with a story about a chimpanzee who was taken from his parents as a baby and raised in a succession of human families, trying to teach him sign language. This chimp became violent and ended up in a cage in a research lab, and died at 20 (about half the age of chimps in the wild).

So we talked about whether chimps and other great apes deserve to have rights to freedom like humans, and experiments on them being banned. The kids were generally in favour of that. Then I asked about rats and mice that were used to test drugs that save human lives. That split the responses a bit. One boy said they shouldn’t test things like that on animals at all anyway, they should test on humans(!). Eventually we converged a bit and the kids were generally agreeing that animals deserved to have the right to live wild and free. Then I asked about dogs and cats – should they all be free, and having them as pets banned? And wow… that got interesting responses. One girl said, “Now you’re asking really hard questions!” And I answered, “Yes, that’s the point of Ethics class.”

So it was a good robust discussion, with plenty of the kids interested and contributing good comments. The behaviour could still improve, with things breaking out into spontaneous chatter more often than ideal, but it might have been a little better than the first classes in March.

I walked home a longer way, and then when I got home my wife was out with Scully and asked me to take her for a walk so she could go back in to work, so I extended it an extra couple of kilometres. I ended up walking over 11 km – before 11am!

We’re also planning our weekend away. We leave on Friday afternoon to drive out to Mudgee, a country town about 3.5 hours drive away (non-stop – we’ll have a rest break along the way). We arrive Friday evening, and have dinner and accommodation booked, at a place where Scully can stay with us. We spend all day Saturday there, and have a really nice dinner booked for Saturday, at a lovely place we’ve been to before. I think they said they have a private room where we can dine with Scully, rather than having to sit outside in the cold. And then we drive back on Sunday.

Speaking of the cold, the forecast for the weekend isn’t great, alas. Mudgee on Saturday is forecast to be -1°C overnight, to a maximum of just 14°C, and around 15mm of rain with possible thunderstorms! So it’s going to be wet and very cold. We’ll just have to make do and enjoy as best we can – we’ve been looking forward to this trip since we had to cancel it back in April.

New content today:

Nothing Saturday

Oops! I forgot to post anything on Saturday (it’s now Sunday morning here). Probably because almost nothing happened. I can barely remember what I did…

I posted a new Snot Block & Roll review (of an old sample). And I did some work on an old travel diary and photos from a trip to Thailand in 2005. And not much else.

I’ve been getting into the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. And finished watching season 2 of the new Lost in Space. Yeah, not a very productive day.

New content today:

COVID cancellations

A while ago I’d booked a trip away over Easter, planning to do a road trip with my wife and Scully. We found a motel with a pet-friendly room at Mudgee, one of our favourite country town destinations, and a suitable AirBnB in another town making a nice loop from Sydney, with a couple of nights in each place. I also booked a couple of our favourite restaurants in Mudgee. We’ve been looking forward to this trip for a while.

But with the coronavirus situation in Australia getting progressively more serious by the day, and the very real possibility of travel restrictions being imposed, as well as the thought of possibly spreading the disease even if travel is not restricted, we’re reconsidering our plans. We decided to cancel the AirBnB today, but leave the Mudgee accommodation for the time being. Realistically I think it’s unlikely we’ll be able to go, so at some point that will probably have to be cancelled too, as well as the restaurant reservations.

It’s a shame because besides having a trip ourselves, I really wanted to help the rural communities by visiting and spending some money there. The good news is that AirBnB announced just today that they’d be refunding all prepaid bookings, including the normally non-refundable fees, and they’d also not be charging the hosts for cancelled bookings (which normally they’d do, apparently). So at least both we and our cancelled host haven’t lost anything because of this cancellation.

Other than that, today I took a longish walk to a nearby suburb in search of some prebaked pizza bases, which we use to make pizzas for dinner at home. I tried to buy some the other day in my local supermarket, but they’d sold out, so I decided to try elsewhere today, and get a bit of extra exercise while at it. I found them, and enjoyed the time out in the warm autumn day.

At home today I mostly worked on writing some more Darths & Droids comics.

New content today:

A day out to the north

With my market day cancelled (as mentioned yesterday), I took the opportunity to go on a short day trip with my wife and Scully. We drove north to the outskirts of Sydney, stopping first at the suburb of Berowra, which is secluded in a pocket surrounded by undeveloped bushland. We stopped first at a place named Barnett’s Playground, at the end of a street. Leading from the playground was a short walking track that proceeded to the edge of a steep drop from the ridge down to Berowra Creek far below. Here was Barnetts Lookout (no apostrophe, since designated place names in Australia are decreed to never have apostrophes – the playground, not being a designated place, is allowed to have an apostrophe).

Berowra Creek

After admiring the view for a while we took Berowra Waters Road down the hill to Berowra Waters, a tiny village on the creek. There is no bridge, and the only way to cross the creek is by boat.

Berowra Waters wharf

Scully enjoyed the view too.

Scully checking out Berowra Waters

From here we drove back up the hill and further north to Pie in the Sky at Cowan, a popular roadside establishment that sells meat pies, mostly frequented by motorbike riders taking the narrow, winding old highway north rather than the newer and faster but boring freeway. Here we had lunch (I had one of the chicken, honey, and mustard pies and a Moroccan lamb pie), and also enjoyed the sky-high view east towards the Hawkesbury River and across Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.

Hawkesbury from Pie in the Sky

Tummies full, we headed back towards home, but stopped one more time, taking an unsealed road into the Muogamarra Nature Reserve. At the end of the road we left the car and took a short walk into the bush. It was peaceful and remote, and we could hear numerous birds flitting around in the vegetation. However Australian scrubland birds tend to be very active and never sit still for very long. But I waited patiently and got a few photos.

Variegated fairywren, male

Variegated fairywren, female

These are male and female variegated fairywrens.

We headed home, and as we drove south the weather closed in and rain fell, fortunately after we were done exploring for the day.

New content today:

Germany travel diary completed

I’ve completed work on my Germany travel diary from last week’s trip. I’ve revised the text a bit and added photos, after completing work on the photos I took over there.

And in some other good news: Remember how one of the hotels I booked through Amoma, and then Amoma went bankrupt, leaving my booking in limbo and me out of $500? I applied to Visa for a chargeback, and submitted evidence of Amoma’s bankruptcy and defaulting on my prepaid hotel bill. It took 7 weeks for Visa to process the claim, but today I got the money refunded! Woo!

Apart from that, I didn’t do much today. I strained my back yesterday while hauling those groceries home, and wanted to take it easy today, so I relaxed a bit.

New content today:

Recovery Sunday

I slept soundly from 22:30 (after the Rugby World Cup Final) to 05:30, when Scully woke me up requesting to go downstairs to the grass for a toilet. I climbed back in bed about 6 and dozed for another 3 hours, while my wife got up and pottered around.

After a late breakfast, we took Scully for a walk. It was a hot day in Sydney – reaching over 30°C by 11:00. But it was cloudy and a cool wind picked up, reducing temperatures through the afternoon until we got a huge thunderstorm around 15:00. A bit after that we invited Luna (next door’s poodle) in for a puppy play-date for about an hour and a half. The dogs love each other and raced around the house playing and fighting over toys.

I didn’t do much else, taking it easy to get over the travel, except for uploading some more photos from Germany – including my day at the Spiel board games exhibition.

Spiel bisected

I also formatted my travel diary into HTML and uploaded that to my website. I’ll add photos to it a bit later, but you can read the text now.

New content today:

My trip to Essen

So, it’s Saturday evening and I’ve been home almost 12 hours now, after not sleeping since Thursday morning. I can never sleep on planes – just too uncomfortable. I am however surprisingly awake. I’m about to watch the Rugby World Cup final game between England and South Africa, before dropping into bed for hopefully about 10-12 hours, and waking up Sunday morning with no jetlag. We’ll see how that plan goes.

As mentioned in the previous short update, I couldn’t log into this blog from my iPad/phone, so I couldn’t update while travelling as I’d planned to do. Which means I have a full trip to report on. I kept a detailed travel diary as I usually do, and will be formatting that into web pages and posting it with photos over the next few days, so I’ll just mention some highlights here.

My wife and I flew out of Sydney on the afternoon of Friday 25 Oct, and landed in Frankfurt on Saturday morning 26 Oct. Which doesn’t sound so bad, until you realise Frankfurt is 9 time zones later than Sydney, which adds another 9 hours to the transit time. We got a train to Essen and spent the afternoon/evening exploring the centre of the city.

Essen Cathedral (it’s not very big):

Essen Minster

A wurst hut:

Wurst hut

On Sunday we went to Spiel, the huge board games exhibition. I have photos, but haven’t processed/uploaded any yet. But here’s a photo of the haul of games I bought/was given:

Spiel haul

Top left: a pack of exclusive bonus cards for Race for the Galaxy. Below that two bonus tiles for Roll for the Galaxy, then bonus dishes for Sushi Go Party!, and a pack of bonus words for Codenames (in German). Next column is Cultistorm Face 2 face, a quick card game spinoff from the huge Cthulhu mythos board game Cultistorm. Below that Walking in Burano, a pattern construction game, with a pack of bonus cards exclusive to Spiel. Some Lego minifigures my wife and I made from the custom figure construction bins at the Lego store in Cologne (so not from Spiel). And finally Deep Blue.

On Monday-Wednesday I attended ISO Photography Standards meetings in Cologne, while my wife explored Cologne. Then Thursday we explored together before catching a train back to Frankfurt and flying home.

New content today: