Orange Trip, Day 5

There’s not too much to say about today, as it was a driving day, heading home from our short trip to Orange.

We got up in the morning, had breakfast and showers, and took Scully for a walk over to the cafe where my wife got her morning coffee again. The forecast for today was showers, but the day looked bright and sunny… except as we left for the walk it started raining, out of an almost clear blue sky! It didn’t last long though.

Back at the hotel we packed our bags and the car, and then headed off for the drive home. We headed east straight through Bathurst and to Lithgow, where we stopped to have a light lunch, at a cafe where we’ve eaten a few times on previous trips.

From there, we drove straight through to home, crossing the Blue Mountains via Bell’s Line of Road this time, rather than the Great Western Highway which we’d taken west on Tuesday. This road is more scenic, but a bit slower. We passed through large areas of burnt-out forest, from the huge fires in 2019-2020, which threatened Lithgow.

We got home around 3pm, and unpacked the car. We took Scully for a bit of a walk, up to the supermarket so I could get some vegetables and fruit, and also some eggs, to last us a few days until I can do a full grocery shop.

At home I went through my SLR photos, mostly of birds from the wetlands and reservoirs we visited in the past few days. I haven’t uploaded them all yet, but here are a teaser of introduced species before I do all the native birds: Common starling:

Common starling

And a spotted dove:

Spotted dove

New content today:

Orange Trip, Day 4

I woke up about 6:30 this morning and got up to use the bathroom, which prompted Scully to get up and want to go outside. So I got dressed and took her out. Fortunately the rain had stopped overnight and the morning was clear and sunny. Then I had some muesli for breakfast while Scully crept back to bed and my wife slept in a bit more.

This morning we decided to go and explore a park where we could take Scully for a walk. We headed out of town to Gosling Creek Reserve, which is a large park next to Gosling Creek Reservoir. It has a network of walking paths which are used for the Orange Parkrun, going around the edge of the reservoir and then back through a mix of scrub, eucalyptus trees, and lawn areas with picnic tables and playground equipment. I took my camera and got a few shots of birds, including some eastern rosellas, which were very cool. We spent a good hour or more walking around and enjoying the scenery and bird life.

After this we headed back into town briefly to pick up a couple of apples that we’d got from the hotel reception desk earlier. The plan was to use these to supplement the cheese platter that we were going to get with our wine tasting at Word of Mouth Wines, which my wife had booked before our trip. We chose them because they were dog-friendly, but they said they didn’t serve lunch – only a bit of cheese and crackers as a snack.

At Word of Mouth we were greeted by a friendly man and his large labradoodle Artemis. He showed us to a sunny room out the back, looking over a field with a couple of alpacas in it. We did the wine tasting, which was a series if white wines, a rosé, and just one red. My wife liked it better than yesterday’s at Brangayne, and we bought a couple of bottles – resisting more because we don’t have a lot of room in the car. A problem was that what we expected was an optional cheese platter which we could buy, and which would be at least moderately substantial. But what we got was a complementary plate with just a couple of crackers with cheese on them and a couple with slices of sausage, which the man said was to clear our palates between the wines.

Here’s Scully at the winery:

Scully at Word of Mouth Winery

So we had our apples and then when we left the winery we drove further along the road to Lake Conobolas, where there was a cafe at which we hoped to get something else to eat. Lake Conobolas is a reservoir in Lake Conobolas Reserve, another large park with picnic areas. The cafe had indoor seating, but it was attached to a kiosk doing take-away food and there were plenty of picnic tables around. We grabbed a table and got some wraps to eat, pumpkin for my wife and Moroccan chicken for me.

After eating we walked around a bit, crossing the dam wall, which was spilling water down into Molong Creek below. This was the result of all the rain we’ve had this year, plus the 40 mm extra added just yesterday. News today was reporting more flooding in parts of regional New South Wales, including roads cut at Bathurst, which we need to drive through tomorrow to get back home to Sydney. And although today was dry, more rain is forecast for tomorrow.

Canobolas Dam spilling

Leaving Lake Conobolas, we drove back a little along the same road to the Pinnacle Lookout, which the guy at Word of Mouth Winery had told us was a beautiful place with amazing views. We climbed a steep set of wooden steps from the car park up to the lookout, which was perched atop some granite boulders at the top of the hill. It gave us a panoramic view of the landscape below, sweeping from the west through north to the east. It was very windy and cold on the exposed lookout, so we didn’t stay too long.

View from Pinnacle Lookout

From here we drove back to Orange, taking a loop around further west and north than we’d been before, so we got to see some new roads and scenery. The connecting cross-roads were nice and slow, especially because there were a lot of nasty potholes full of rainwater which I had to slow down and dodge to avoid damaging the car. It was really a case of veering all over the road and taking it slowly. Some of the potholes looked very deep and nasty indeed, but we managed to avoid anything like that.

We relaxed a bit in the hotel before heading out for dinner in the evening. We walked over to Lolli Redini, which had told me that we could walk-in for a table outdoors, depending on the weather. However when we got there the waiter seemed surprised that we wanted to sit outside and said they hadn’t got any tables set up. He kind of said he could set up a table for us, but he clearly sounded reluctant to actually do so and was trying to talk us out of it. He recommended we go down the block to Birdie, a more casual restaurant and bar operated by the same owners. So we did that.

It turned out to be really nice there, with several tables outside under the wide awning – all empty until we grabbed one. My wife wanted to know if they could make the seafood spaghetti into a vegetarian version, so I asked when ordering at the bar, and the woman there went to check with the kitchen, coming back to confirm that it could be done. I ordered the grilled salmon, and we also got some bar nuts to snack on. My wife had a glass of Pinot Noir while I had a cocktail called a Budgie Smuggler, which was sparkling wine, absinthe, apple juice, and something else that I forget. It was very nice, and the food was really good. The chef had added mushrooms, zucchini, and pumpkin to the pasta sauce, which was very nice rather than just making it without the seafood.

Summer Street night

The dessert special sounded good, being a citrus chocolate mousse with churros, but just next door was an amazing looking gelato place called Spilt Milk. It was clearly popular, with hordes of people there getting scoops to eat, at times queueing out the door. I walked over there and got two scoops: salted caramel, and ricotta with honey. I ate it sitting back at our table at Birdie, and it was really good.

Then we waked back to the hotel for our last night here in Orange before heading home tomorrow.

Orange trip, day 3

We all slept a lot better last night. Scully was much more settled, which meant my wife and I could get a good sleep too. We were so tired after not sleeping the previous night that we slept in until after 8:30. When we got up, it was raining steadily outside, as forecast. I took Scully down to the grass for her toilet, which was wet but not as cold as I expected.

We had breakfast (mine was the leftover pizza from Parrot Distillery), then had showers and got ready to head out in the wet. M. wanted to go to Ever Coffee Roasters cafe, which we’d spotted yesterday on the other side of the railway station. It’s a short walk from our hotel, just over the railway line. They had some tables outside under a wide awning, so we could sit while my wife had her coffee, though it was pretty chilly. While we sat there, we could see through a window into the home decoration shop next door, where a toddler was crawling around and sitting in a display box of little coloured samples of carpet.

Rainy day in Orange

We walked back through the rain to the hotel. Then we hopped in the car to drive out to Spotlight, so my wife could look through some of the fabrics there to choose some for making dog bandanas. This was a backup time filler while it was raining heavily. The car navigation system tried to take us along a road that had been permanently blocked off, and then when we went around we ended up on a brand new road that didn’t exist in the navigation database. Fortunately I had a good idea where we needed to go, so we ended up there without too much trouble. Scully got to explore the store while my wife found a bunch of fabrics she wanted to buy.

From there we drove over to the Nile Street Cafe, where we’d booked lunch. Earlier my wife checked by phoning up that they had somewhere we could sit outside but out of the rain, which they confirmed. The cafe was a converted house in the middle of a residential street. It looked nice and had a fairly fancy menu. I had the battered barramundi with chips and salad, and then a slice of a Persian tart, which had lots of almonds and pistachios in it, topped with dried rose petals, and infused with rosewater, which was really nice. As we ate these, the rain eased off and stopped, and the sun came out, filtering through the clouds. We decided it would be a good chance to walk Scully around the block to get some exercise before leaving. But as we packed up to go, the rain started up again, and it was heavy by the time we went back to the car and climbed in.

Ask for Mayfields

While at the cafe, I found and contacted Brangayne Winery, which was the first one to come up for dog-friendly wineries in the region. I left a message and a woman phoned back to confirm that yes, we could bring our dog and do a wine tasting, indoors out of the rain. So we drove over there through the rain and entered the vineyard, which had a nice view over a broad valley looking back towards Orange. The tasting was in an old apple storage shed, which the woman there told us was used to store fruit from when the property was originally an orchard, growing apples and stone fruits. It converted to a vineyard in the 1990s.

Brangayne Winery, Orange

We did a full tasting of the wines: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, and the winery’s signature “Tristan” blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. The Chardonnay was named “Isolde”, as the winery itself was named after Brangayne, a handmaiden of Isolde as told in the Arthurian legend. We bought a half dozen bottles to take home, mostly the Merlot and the red blend, which were the best in our opinion.

The rain had started again heavily while we were inside, so we decided to wait a bit before braving it to get back in the car. After a while, I realised that there was a loading ramp under cover, and I could go get the car and back it onto the ramp and then we could load the car without having to deal with the heavy rain. So we did that and then headed off back to Orange.

Brangayne Winery, Orange

At the hotel, the rain had stopped again, and we set out for a bit of a walk to give Scully some more exercise. But it started raining yet again, and we decided to keep it short, just going around the block. For dinner we decided to order take-away from an Indian restaurant. I chose The Upper House, which was highly rated online. We had dhal tadka and malai kofta with rice and a piece of roti. I considered some of the meat dishes, but after having duck two nights ago and lamb last night I didn’t feel like any sort of meat tonight, so went for the extra vegetarian option. I went out in the rain again to pick it up, leaving M. and Scully in the room to stay dry. The food was very good, with the dhal being a bit spicy even though I’d asked for mild when they asked how spicy we wanted it.

It’s still raining steadily. Checking the Bureau of Meteorology, I see we’ve had close to 40 mm of rain in the Orange region today. The forecast is for it to continue until about 7am but then start clearing up. So hopefully tomorrow we’ll have some better weather.

Orange trip, day 2

We had a very restless night last night. Scully was on edge all night and kept wanting to get up and look around the hotel room, and twice she wanted to go outside to toilet. So I had to get dressed in multiple layers of clothing to survive the polar temperature outside and take her out in the middle of the night. I don’t even know what time it was, but maybe midnight and around 2am. And in between she was almost constantly moving around or growling at noises outside in the street. I think overall I got maybe an hour or two of sleep.

My wife and I were up before 7am as Scully got up with the sun. I took her down to the grass across the street again for the usual morning toilet. After that I went for a walk a couple of blocks to the nearest supermarket to buy some muesli and milk for us to eat in the room for breakfast. I paused to take a photo of this gorgeous Art Deco hotel on the main street:

Royal Hotel, Orange

After eating, we went for a drive to check out some of the local wetlands for bird life. I took my SLR and long lens and we stopped first at the Brooklands Wetlands. This was a bit disappointing, being a creek running behind a row of houses, and accessible only by a strip of muddy grass. I didn’t see many birds at all, and got my shoes wet enough to soak the socks. After a bit we gave up and returned to the car to try driving over to the Coogal Park Wetlands. This was much better! There was a paved path running along a stream lined with bullrushes and other wetland vegetation. We followed it north for about a kilometre, and spotted a dozen or more different bird species. I managed to get some hopefully decent photos of a crimson rosella parent and a juvenile still in the nest, and a grey fantail.

We stopped to fill the car with petrol on the way back to the hotel. Then we went for a walk through the centre of Orange, checking out the main street and one of the small parks, where we let Scully play in the grass a bit. We wanted to get her walking a lot today to wear her out for tonight so she sleeps!

Now it was approaching noon and we walked over to Parrot Distillery where we’d booked a lunch. We found the distillery and they welcomed Scully inside, where there were several tables in the shed where they did the distillation, with a bar and a pizza oven on the side. I got a tasting board of three of their exotic gins: sloe gin, oriental gin, and bush botanicals. They were all very different and good. To go with the drinks we ordered a rosemary bread, which turned out to be a pizza crust with rosemary springs and large flakes of salt, which was good. Then we ordered a margherita pizza and a pizza with local pork and fennel sausage and potato on it. They were both really good. We took a few leftover slices back to the hotel.

After lunch, we decided to take Scully out to the Orange Botanic Gardens. I didn’t feel like driving after all the gin, so we walked. It was a fair way, over 4 km each way. The gardens were very nice, but a little bare coming out of winter into early spring.

Orange Botanic Gardens

There were some magnolias in flower, and wattle trees, but not much else.

Orange Botanic Gardens

We walked back, with Scully walking all the way home. She should be really tired tonight!

We stopped in at the hotel briefly before heading out again for dinner, at the Union Bank restaurant. We sat in the very nice courtyard, which was not as cold as sitting outside at the Peacock Lounge last night. We shared a cos salad, a cheese platter, and the lamb dish, sliced and served with baba ganoush and some pickled vegetables and chilis. It was good, but not as good as last night’s dinner. Then we walked back home to the hotel for the night.

Tomorrow will be interesting. The forecast is for up to 40 mm of rain in the region, and catching the evening news tonight we saw that authorities are concerned about potential flooding.

Orange trip, day 1

This morning I woke up, had breakfast, and packed our things in the car for our driving trip out to Orange. We left just after 9am, hitting the road: my wife, Scully, and me.

We drove west, taking the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains. Over the other side of the mountains we descended towards Lithgow, and stopped briefly at a highway rest stop to stretch our legs and let Scully use the grass. From there we continued west to Bathurst, where we stopped for lunch just a few minutes after midday.

We found a cafe with outdoor seating, although all the other customers were sitting inside in the warmth, because it was 12°C outside. My wife had q quiche and I had a chicken wrap, both of which came served with chips (“fries” for the Americans). We also got one of the home made caramel slices – the sort of rustic, obviously hand-made dessert you expect in country towns. It was all reasonably good.

After lunch, we continued, turning south to the town of Cowra. This was a detour to go visit the dog breeder where we got Scully four years ago! We hadn’t seen her since we got Scully, and my wife said we would be in the area and asked if she’d like us to drop in. The breeder said yes, so we went. “In the area” here means within 120 km, because that was about how far out of the way we had to drive!

We expected that we might be able to see Scully’s mother and litter-mate brother, who the breeder had kept for breeding future generations. But when we arrived, she said that Scully’s brother, Presley, had actually grown too large, so didn’t have ideal genetics for breeding, and so she’d given him to a family as a pet. But Scully’s mother, Paige, was there!

Scully and her mother Paige

Scully and Paige hadn’t seen each other for over 4 years, and it seemed as though neither of them recognised the other. They had a bit of a curious sniff, but then were happy to mostly ignore one another. But the breeder was delighted to see Scully and hear our stories about her.

After spending close to an hour chatting with her, we continued on our way. We stopped briefly at the Cowra Japanese Gardens, which is the largest Japanese garden in the southern hemisphere. I’ve never visited here before, and it was a good chance to pop in briefly, though we didn’t have time to really do it justice, just taking a quick walk around the garden on one of the walking paths.

Cowra Japanese Garden

Cowra Japanese Garden

The gardens were lovely, although it was perhaps a few weeks early for most of the flowers. Some magnolias were in bloom, but the cherry blossoms needed a bit more spring.

From here we drove back north again to Orange. We arrived just after 5pm and checked into our hotel for the next few nights. It’s nice and central in the town, and a nice room we have, with a kitchen and dining area. The next issue was where to get dinner. We’d had trouble finding places in Orange where we could take Scully, because apparently very few places here have outdoor seating for dinner. We had one place in mind for tonight, but checking their website showed that they don’t open at all on Tuesdays. So we had to find somewhere else. My wife called a few places, and found one that had a beer garden, but they said it wouldn’t be open for business until October. But when she explained why we wanted to sit outside, they agreed that we could eat out there, if we came inside to order our food at the bar, rather than them send a waiter out.

So we did that, showing up at The Oriana, where we ordered our dinner from the Peacock Lounge. This was a pretty fancy place! I had duck cooked two ways, while my wife had a beetroot tart, and we had some green beans and broccolini on the side, and some house baked sourdough bread. The meal was really good, washed down with glasses of some local Orange wines.

(No comic content updates while I’m travelling.)

Finding dog-friendly dining

I mentioned briefly last Saturday that my wife and I are taking a short trip next week, to the country town of Orange, west of Sydney. I said we had dog-friendly accommodation, so we can take Scully.

We’ve been trying to book places to eat that have outdoor dining areas, where we can take Scully as well. (In Australia, dogs—other than assistance dogs—are banned from indoor seating areas of establishments serving food, but are okay in al fresco areas.) But we’ve run into a bit pf a problem. There are many cafes with outdoor seating that serve lunch, but they are all closed for dinner. And despite a couple of days of searching, we’ve found only two places in all of Orange that serve dinner and have dog-friendly seating options. Neither of them take bookings either, so we just have to show up and hope they have a free table.

A friend of mine’s parents live in Orange, and he’s contacted them to ask if they have any other suggestions, but he hasn’t heard back yet. I suppose if worst comes to worst we can get take-away food from somewhere and eat in our hotel room. But oh well, we have other things planned and I’m sure we’ll enjoy the time away!

Today I had my face-to-face ethics class at the school. We talked about cheating in sports, and it was a really good and lively discussion. Several of the kids had pertinent examples for the questions, some from professional sports they have seen, and some from their own sports that they played at the school. One girl said that in one netball game they played against another school, the opposing team were being really physical, making a lot of illegal contact, and the referee wasn’t calling penalties. So she said her team “had to” start doing the same, in order to be on an even footing. She said she doesn’t even remember who won, but that it was most fun game of netball she’d ever played in!

New content today:

Claiming travel compensation

Today I worked some more on my previously mentioned secret project, which is approaching completion.

I also filed a request for compensation with Lufthansa over our flight that was delayed by 23 hours in Singapore. Because it was operated by a European Union airline with a destination within the EU, the EU Flight Compensation Regulation EC No 261/2004 applies, and my wife and I are entitled to compensation of 600€ each, plus reimbursement of additional expenses incurred due to the delay. So I wrote up a request for this compensation plus expenses, including details of the hotel accommodation (in the Changi Airport transit hotel), train tickets, and COVID tests that we had to pay for because our plans were disrupted. I submitted this with all of the receipts via Lufthansa’s online claim form, and have received an acknowledgement email. Let’s see how long it takes for them to process and pay out.

The main news today here in Sydney is the weather, once again. After a fairly and blissfully dry June, we have another major rain system hitting us. The rain began late last night, and today we were forecast to get up to 90 mm of rain, with another 150 mm tomorrow, and 80 mm on Monday, followed by up to 20 mm each day until Thursday. Severe weather and flood warnings have been issued. It has been raining non-stop all day, light on occasion, but often heavy. Sydney has recorded 70 mm of rain in the last 24 hours, and some suburbs are up to over 150 mm. Tomorrow is going to be much worse, with strong winds also predicted.

New content today:

Jet lag day

I tried to get a good night’s sleep last night, staying up until about 11pm so I was tired and could hopefully sleep the night through, But your body clock is a funny thing. I woke up around 4am and felt wide awake, despite still being very tired. I stayed there but got up about 05:30 to start the day. I’ve now been awake all day and am very tired, so hopefully I’ll be able to sleep through to around 07:00 or so tomorrow.

I went to the supermarket as soon as it opened at 7am to buy groceries: milk, eggs, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables to restock on perishables, plus a few other things that were on the shopping list. I processed a few photos and put together a small album from the trip. These are all photos from my phone. I copied about 300 other photos off my SLR, but haven’t started going through those yet.

My wife and I took Scully for as long walk at lunch time. She’s settling back into the normal routine quickly.

And tonight I just made a quick and easy pesto pasta for dinner. I’ll cook more ambitious things in a day or two. Oh, I refreshed the sourdough starter, and it looks like it survived well.

New content today:

That day in Amsterdam and the voyage home

Going back in time to Monday:

We woke up late and prepared to go out for our full day in Amsterdam. The forecast was for morning showers, developing into steady rain after midday, but the morning was dry and although the sky was overcast it didn’t threaten any rain soon. We walked to the Albert Cuypmarkt to have a look at that and get some breakfast there. We bought some poffertjes to have as the first round of breakfast (see photo posted in the previous entry). These were served with a big slab of butter and a large sprinkling of powdered sugar. They were nice, but sweet, and we needed something else to add to make up a proper breakfast.

We hoped there would be some bakery stalls at the market to get some fresh bread or pastries for breakfast, but we didn’t spot any. It seemed much less of a farmers’ market and more the sort of market with fast food stalls and lots of stalls selling knick-knacks and souvenirs and clothing and so on. There were a couple of fruit and vegetable stalls and maybe a deli stall or two, but otherwise nowhere where you’d go to buy fresh food to take home. Instead we found a bakery shop in one of the buildings towards the western end of the street market. We got croissants, mine filled with ham and cheese. It was delicious, with nice flaky pastry.

From here we walked past the Rijksmuseum and admired the exterior architecture. But alas we didn’t have lots of time so we didn’t go inside, as visiting this world renowned art museum could easily have eaten up an entire day.

From here we walked north across various canals until we reached the Bloemenmarkt floating flower market. I was looking forward to this as flower markets are generally vibrant and full of colour, and make good photo opportunities. However I was rather disappointed to discover that there were almost no fresh cut flowers here at all. Almost all the stalls were selling flower bulbs and cuttings and seeds, as well as small potted plants such as succulents, cacti, and other random things. Most of them also sold touristy souvenirs. In short, it was nothing like what I had hoped for.

Continuing our walk, my plan had been to go down the main tourist drag towards Dam Square. But having done that last night, and had enough of this overly touristy area, we cut that section off and proceeded to the Nine Streets neighbourhood, which was supposed to be more elegant and interesting, with picturesque canals and streets lined with boutiques and eclectic shops. Well, it was okay, and there were plenty of nice views, but it wasn’t quite as nice as I’d expected. There was a lot of construction work in progress in various streets, which didn’t help.

So we finished traversing this area faster than anticipated, and then headed across the canal west in the Jordaan neighbourhood. Again, I’d read that Jordaan was worth exploring. It was a more residential area and looked like a trendy and moderately expensive place to live. The main street had a selection of slightly more mundane shops than the boutiques of Nine Streets, so it felt more lived in. We detoured around a bit to take in some of the residential vibe, but again this didn’t take too long.

We did find a great place for lunch. My wife spotted a delicatessen across the road and we went over to take a look. It sold deli meats and cheeses, but also had a sandwich bar. The woman behind the counter was very friendly and made M. a sandwich on a long thin wholegrain baguette, with pesto, aged gouda, cucumber, and tomato. When the lady asked which cheese my wife wanted, she answered gouda, and then the lady asked what type of gouda! Then she shaved off some bits of young gouda and aged gouda so we could try them. The aged was really nice, so my wife got that. I also had the aged gouda on a sandwich with ham and mustard. We sat on a bench in front of the shop window to eat our sandwiches. This was a perfect lunch – somewhere nice and local that the residents got to to buy supplies and the vast majority of tourists would probably never stop at.

From Jordaan, we continued west toward De Hallen. My original plan was that we would approach this area close to dinner time, and potentially eat in the food hall here. But we made it by early afternoon, so had plenty of time to spare. We arrived just as it started raining gently, so it was good timing. It turned out that De Hallen was also a kind of small shopping mall in what looked like a historical warehouse or something similar, but with a small number of fairly large and interesting things, including studios and a cinema. One shop had a large selection of eclectic and interesting artsy things for home decor or artistic inspiration, and we browsed in here a bit.

Across the interior hall from there was a denim shop and fashion design studio. The front looked like a jeans shop, but along one side were banks of sewing machines, with some people working at them, and along the other were large rolls of denim material. A man told us about the place: It was a design school for fashion designers and creators, to work specifically on denim wear. Students were there to learn and practise and hopefully go on to make their own fashion labels. Many of the jeans and other clothing in the shop were made by the students. And at the back of the shop and also upstairs were classrooms and more banks of sewing machines where students were busy assembling clothing. We were allowed to wander around and watch them working. Some of the clothing on display was very creative, using denim not just for pants, but also jackets, dresses, and so on.

We went into the food hall nearby. This was an area with maybe one or two hundred tables for dinners, surrounded by about 30 or 40 different places selling food ready to eat, as well as a handful of bars selling drinks. We managed to find a table among the people and had a drink and a mid-afternoon snack. There was a place making bitterballen, and so I had to try some. They had about 7 or 8 different flavours. You could get 3 or 6 or 10 balls of one type, or they also had a sampling board with one of each of five different flavours. This wasn’t as economical, but I had to try the different types, so I got one of those. “Bitterball sauce” or mayonnaise were extra, but mustard was free for some reason, so I got mustard to go with them (also because I like mustard). The woman cooking the bitterballen just threw all the orders into the deep fryer at once, and then when she pulled them out in the fryer strainer she had to pick up and inspect each one closely before deciding what flavour it was and adding it to the correct order. There was quite a wait, as about 5 or 6 people had ordered before me.

We figured we could have a leisurely afternoon sitting here and snacking on things, rather than having a large sit down dinner later on. But my wife. wanted to get a coffee from a cafe that she’d spotted outside as we’d approached De Hallen. So we went out there, braving some spitting rain, and got seats in the cafe. She had her coffee while I went around another corner to get some ice cream at another place we’d seen while going out to the cafe. By now the weather had turned and besides raining it was chilly and windy. I now wished I’d brought my jacket to wear. But as the woman at the ice cream shop agreed with me, it’s never too cold for ice cream! It turned out the cafe owner was from Australia and the woman who was serving was from New Zealand, so we had a quick chat with her.

While going to get my ice cream, I’d noticed a large pet store just around the corner from the cafe. We went in here to look around and find a present for Scully. I found a soft plush toy in Dutch orange colour, which we got. Interestingly they also had “dog beer”, which came in beer-like bottles and two flavours: original and chicken. Both with 0% alcohol and various meat proteins and stuff. I assume they are like a broth.

Dog Beer!!

From here we began walking back towards our hotel, as it was getting to early evening and we had come a long way. We walked back a different way, going through Vondelpark, a large forested park and one of Amsterdam’s main attractions. It was beautiful, with gravel paths leading through dense forests, which opened out into ponds, lakes, lawns, and formal gardens in places. We passed along a stream to the rose garden, which contained dozens of varieties of roses in many colours, laid out in a pattern of hexagons. There were many birds too, and I counted about 14 different species using eBird. It was raining steadily when we arrived, but it eased off as we explored the park and had stopped by the time we left. We passed a lake across which were several very expensive looking houses that backed onto the lake. They must have incredible views.

We continued walking, getting quite tired and footsore by now. We still wanted something for dinner, though something fairly light as we’d eaten snacks in the afternoon. My wife spotted a place called Soup En Zo, which served a selection of soups, salads, and little bites like cheese pastry sticks and quiches. She got a Moroccan chick pea soup while I got the zucchini and parmesan. She also got a small pumpkin quiche, and we grabbed some chunks of bread to go with the soups. They were all really good. Again another local place off the tourist path.

A light dinner eaten, we continued on back to the hotel. It was quite a hike and we were exhausted when we got in. We gradually closed the thick curtains to block out the sunlight early so we could adapt to the dark and get some sleep before it got too late. Because we planned to be up at 06:00 tomorrow to leave and head to the airport for our flight, which is scheduled at 11:15.

There have been horror stories about Schiphol Airport recently, with enormous queues and waiting times of several hours to get through security. A friend of mine messaged me via Facebook that we should get to the airport five hours before the flight, as she was in some travel groups that were saying that the average waiting time was four hours, and she had a friend who had had to wait six hours! But I’d already seen signs at train stations and advice on the Schiphol Airport website saying that you should not show up more than four hours before your flight, because if you were there earlier they wouldn’t even let you into the departures hall, and you’d have to wait outside. hen there was other info saying that the queues were very long and in some cases the queues extended outside the building! And when I asked the hotel staff about how to get to the airport, they told me to catch the number 4 tram to Centraal Station and then a train from there, and we should aim to be there four to five hours before our flight.

Well, we didn’t want to get up at 04:00, so we decided 06:00 was good enough, as that should get us to the airport by around 07:00, just over four hours before flight time. That decided, we packed our bags and returned a bit early.

Tuesday 28 June

We woke up a bit before the alarm went off. I got up at 05:30 and did some stretching exercises, then got M. up. I checked our check-in state on the Singapore Airlines app, thinking we’d have to go to a counter to get boarding passes printed. But the app had generated boarding passes that we could load into Apple Wallet! So we did that, thinking how awesome it was that we could have the boarding passes on our phones instead of having to get printed ones that were easy to lose.

We were ready to go just after 06:00. We left the hotel and walked half a block to the nearest tram stop. It only took a few minutes to arrive, taking us to Centraal station where we got a train to the airport. We got off and went upstairs to the departure area. It was now 07:00, so 4:15 before our flight. We saw signs saying that you shouldn’t enter the departure hall more than four hours before your flight, but there was nobody there enforcing it, so we wandered in. We skipped the check-in counters since we had no bags to drop off and we had our boarding passes, and we went straight to security. I was expecting huge queues, but it really wasn’t that bad at all. They looked at our digital boarding passes and we went through security very quickly. Then came customs, where we joined a queue that looked long, but it moved very quickly and we were at the front in about 10 minutes. Our passports were scanned automatically, and then a customs officer simply stamped our passports and we were inside the terminal. We’d expected several hours of waiting in queues, but the whole process had taken only about 15 minutes.

Grateful for that, we headed to the Aspire lounge, where Singapore Airlines had a special section roped off just for Singapore customers. We were the first ones there, and had the entire section to ourselves, while other people crammed into the other areas of the lounge. We finally had some breakfast, bowls of muesli with yoghurt, and I added some fresh chopped fruit to mine. It was a nicer and more comfortable breakfast than we would have got outside in the main terminal area.

Here a strange thing happened. My phone rang, and it was a call from a number in the Netherlands. Normally I just decline calls from outside Australia as they are always spam, so I did so. Then it rang again. And then I got another call from another number in the Netherlands. I didn’t want to answer any of these, as that would activate mobile roaming and a high daily charge, and I was absolutely sure that nobody in the Netherlands knew my phone number, so it had to be spam. But it was an odd coincidence that there were several from within the country I was currently in.

We headed to our gate about an hour before, to give us time to walk over there, and to look at some shops on the way. There was also a Rijksmuseum gift shop and behind it was an actual display of paintings from the museum itself! The display was themed as “Woman Power”, and all of the featured paintings were by female artists contemporary with the great (male) Dutch masters. So although we didn’t get to visit the museum itself, this was a nice taste of the collection.

Boarding started at the expected time, half an hour before departure. Although here we had an issue, as they told us that the digital boarding passes on our phones weren’t good enough and we had to get printed ones. And they’d been trying to phone us several times to find out where we were as we hadn’t checked in to get boarding passes as they’d expected!

Once on board the captain announced that we’d have to wait for about an hour before pushing back from the gate, because Schiphol was extremely busy with departures and we were in a long queue to leave. Given we originally only had 1:20 to make our scheduled connection in Singapore, I hoped that we’d make up time in the air and arrive closer to our scheduled arrival time. We did not want to miss our connecting flight to Sydney and end up spending more unexpected time in Changi Airport!

Wednesday 29 June

We made up a little time, but by the time we landed we had just 40 minutes to make our connecting flight before it departed. Fortunately, while taxiing the captain announced that the flight to Sydney was waiting for us, and was at the immediately adjacent gate, so all we had to do was walk over and go straight on board. Compared to the 28 hours or so we spent in Changi last time, we were in the terminal building maybe 15 minutes at the most this time. Our second flight pushed back from the gate bang on time. It was so quick that I wonder how they managed to get all the passengers over as well as all the checked luggage. Fortunately for us we only had carry-on, so didn’t have any possibility of checked bags going astray.

The final flight landed about half an hour early, around 16:30 Sydney time. Sydney Airport was completely empty. We must have been the first plane to arrive for at least an hour, as there was nobody ahead of us at any of the immigration, baggage claims, or customs areas. As a result of this and not having any checked bags to wait for, we were out into the arrivals hall within just a few minutes.

We headed to the station and caught a train 3 minutes later. We were home and in the door by 17:30. We’d been in Amsterdam just 21 hours earlier. The entire trip form Amsterdam to our home had taken 7 hours less than we spent in Changi Airport on the way out!

We had quick showers and then went to Loki and Rachel’s place to pick up Scully. Family reunited, we came home and relaxed a bit in the evening before bed time, and hoping to sleep through until morning to get over any jet lag.

A day in Amsterdam

I’m not going to write such today because I want to get an early night so I can get up at 06:00 tomorrow to head to the airport for our flight home. I’m a bit concerned because Schiphol Airport is currently notorious for incredibly long wait times getting through check-in, customs, and security. A friend of mine advised me to get there at least 5 hours before the flight because she said 4 hours seems to be about the average waiting time going by experience from a Facebook travel groups she’s in, and that a friend of hers had to wait 6 hours. On the other hand, Schiphol Airport’s web site says you should not arrive more than 4 hours before your flight, because if you do they won’t even let you into the departure hall – you have to wait outside.

Given the luck we’ve had with travel on this trip so far… maybe it’s time for our luck to change and things won’t be so bad. As long as we actually make our flight, I’ll be happy.

Anyway, today I spent walking around Amsterdam with my wife. We saw and did a lot of stuff, but I’m going to write it all up on the plane rather than stay up late tonight. So here are some highlight photos:

Poffertjes for breakfast at the Albert Cuyp Market:

Poffertjes for breakfast

Monkey at the Rijksmuseum:

Monkey at the Rijksmuseum

Bloemenmarkt floating flower market:

Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam

Monkey and a canal:

Monkey and Amsterdam canal

Monkey and a sampling board of bitterballen:

Monkey trying some Dutch bitterballen

A bridge in Vondelpark:

Vondelpark bridge

Some very expensive houses backing onto Vondelpark:

Vondelpark houses