Saturday, 31 December 2005

The Spanish wines of Argentina

When we lived in Darwin we once held a BBQ and I had decided that I wanted a Spanish red wine to go with the food. It's not that the Australian wines are bad, I just find it too much of a pot-luck game to find a really good wine. It can be very hard to find wines from other countries because Australia is such a big producer of wines themselves and is geographically located so far away from other wine producing countries. When I lived in Denmark I found that I preferred Rioja wines from Spain. In my opinion you never go wrong with a Rioja almost regardless of the price.
So I went in search of a bottle shop with a good selection of foreign wines. Nope couldn't find a single bottle shop selling any kind of Spanish wines.
Do you know that sensation when you are really focused on a task and suddenly the solution is revealed right in front of you?
It happened to me there in a bottle shop as I came across a red wine from Argentina. It dawned on me that the main language of Argentina is Spanish and my conclusion was, right then and there, that in my hand I was holding a Spanish wine. Problem solved. It wasn't until I was sitting in my car on my way home that I realised how silly I had been.
The wine though turned out to be excellent, so once in a while I still indulge in "Spanish" wines from Argentina.
Sometimes smart people do stupid things and sometimes stupid people do smart things. I am not always sure which category I belong in.

Want to know more?

Friday, 30 December 2005

Bloody Weather

Heathrow Airport, London. 29. December.
"Will all passengers, arriving on the flight from Copenhagen, please report to the information counter near baggage belt four".
All passengers on our flight had reached the baggage belt with our flight number displayed and was now waiting for the baggage to appear. We were already three and half hours late due to the snow in Copenhagen. It couldn't possibly get any worse, could it? Two hundred people were queueing up at the counter when a new message came through the speakers.
"We are sorry to inform the passengers on the flight from Copenhagen, that due to the adverse weather conditions in Copenhagen Airport, none of the luggage was loaded on the plane. Please fill out a form at the service desk and your luggage will be delivered to your stated address as soon as possible".
The guy handing out the forms told us that normally it would only take a day for the luggage to be delivered, maybe two days or three days at most, but not more than five days, or so he hoped.
They all knew: the people who checked our boarding pass, the steward greeting us when boarding the plane, the stewardess handing out the bad tasting coffee during the flight, the pilot saying goodbye when we were leaving the plane, the guys in day-glow clothes and ear protectors down on the tarmac, the guy we were watching for an hour at the boarding gate while he was trying to free his baggage handling truck from a snow drift. They all knew that our suitcases were not loaded. They all kept quiet about it until the very minute where we were supposed to get our luggage back.
It does make sense of course, you don't want to take off in a plane full of pissed off people.
In the end it only took them 24 hours to deliver our suitcases to our home, but it was a less than perfect ending on a trip that should have taken a couple of hours.

Friday, 23 December 2005

White Christmas

A white Christmas is almost a myth in Denmark. Everybody seem to remember landscapes blanketed with snow and frozen lakes. The facts are that a white Christmas only happened seven times in the last century (1901-2000)*. What people are remembering are Christmas cards, shop window decorations, countless adds showing snowy landscapes, and hundreds of Christmas movies. Brainwashing really works.

I found Christmas more exciting as a child. Didn't care much for the food only the presents mattered, not the soft ones though. Now I find myself looking forward to the food. Ah well, I still look forward to the presents, not the soft ones though.
When we arrived at our grand parents place, all we kids (my sister and I) would rush through the main entrance and rip through the hallway through the living room and into the dinning room where the Christmas tree would decorated, towering over a plethora of Christmas presents.
Never got that remote controlled car I wished
for. I would always get one of those crappy ones with a trailing cable. There would be no batteries and back then all shops would be closed on Christmas Eve. So I would spend the night dragging the car around by the cable until one of the grown ups would step on it by mistake.
I never got a chemistry set either, I think my fa
mily had images of me blowing up my room if they gave me one.
Once I did get a plastic trumpet I wished for, think that got stepped on too. Same with the guitar.
Best thing ever was a tool box, now I could take things apart. The hammer would be used to simulate car crashes on my toy cars until they all were reduced to small metal and plastic bits, no longer recognizable as cars. Radios were pried open with screw drivers. Wires were cut with the cutters. Eventually the tools disappeared. It didn't stop me though, I'm still pulling things apart at every opportunity. I can't wait until something goes out of warranty and fails, it's my big chance to see how they work inside. I am getting better at putting things back together again though, in fact I'm doing it for a living.

Merry Christmas

*I knew that trivia from the label of the christmas edition of Tuborg beer would come in handy one day.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

The Nullabor Thing

"Doing the Nullabor thing" means crossing the Nullabor Plain on the Eyre Highway along the southern coast of Australia following the Great Australian Bight. The feat is not as big as it was in the 50's or 60's before the road was sealed, but it's still one of those thing you can brag about. There is not a lot to see and it's almost unbelievable flat, in fact those two things are what it's all about.
One of the days, while "doing the Nullabor thing", we were not overtaken once nor did we overtake anyone else for the eight hours we drove that day. I didn't count cars coming in the opposite direction, but they could probably be counted on two hands.
There is no towns to be found at all, only a roadhouse about every 350 Km. There is very few tourist attractions, as I write this I can only remember one and that is the whale watching spot at the head of the Bight (I'll do another post on this another day).
Trees are so few and scarce that you forget about them the minute you have passed them. This have given rise to the myth that there are no trees at all on the Nullabor. Maybe the myth comes from people who have never done the crossing themselves? Or maybe some very stupid people has done the crossing in the past: "Duh, so that's what a tree look like, I always thought they where called rocks", "eh... so what does a rock look like then?"

Roadkills are the main feature along the Nullabor, mostly kangaroos. I'm not talking about seeing ten or twenty dead animals during a day of driving, you can count them in hundreds. Driving after darkness has fallen can be very dangerous, because this is the time when the kangaroos are most active. Most of them are killed by the roadtrains, not many normal cars ventures into the night even when fitted with roobars.

Second feature on the Nullabor must be the garbage. The roadside is littered with bottles, cans and chips bags something like fifty meters into the bush. I can't understand the mindset of people who throw garbage out the car window, but if this is an indicator of the average human intelligence then we are indeed in deep trouble.
We passed a dead tree that had been decorated by sticking empty bottles and cans on all the branches, a fitting monument of protest against the pigs in our midst (I have no idea why I didn't stop to take a few photos of this tree).
Once we crossed the border into South Australia the roadside suddenly cleared up. No more dead marsupials and used beverage containers. It seemed to me that they had more fences in place along the road, preventing animals from straying onto the road. The state must also have a cleaning program in place to clear up the trash. I can't believe that people stop their polluting ways just because they cross a state border.

The only photo I took of the road itself. Must be in South Australia judging by the lack of roadkills and litter.

Want to know more?
Nullabor Plain
Eyre Highway
Road Train

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Train Commuting

I prefer trains. I can read or listen to music without having to worry about the traffic. Waiting at the station isn't all bad either.

Friday, 16 December 2005

Cleaning Bird

After Crossing the border into South Australia from Western Australia we had to take the traditional border crossing photos. Coming back to the car we found this bird busy picking off the dead bugs from the front bumber.

It's a Magpie-lark AKA Mudlark AKA Peewee all depending on which part of Australia you come from.
Helpful little fella, I think he might be trying to make up for all the other birds fouling my cars over the years. If only more birds were like him/her

Want to know more?

Western Australia Meteor

Nothing ever happens when I'm around. I'm the epicenter of boredom. I live in Western Australia for three years and the minute I leave something happens. A meteor the size of a basketball streaks across the night sky and can be seen just about everywhere in the southern region of Western Australia.
I haven't looked into this, but I'm sure if I did, I would find that the meteor was at its most spectacular when viewed from Coode Street in Mount Lawley (Perth suburb) where we used to live.

News article and link to video

Henbury Meteor Crater

In '96, when I was in Australia for the first time, I spent some time in Alice Springs. My girlfriend, her flatmate and me rented a car for the journey deep outback to Uluru or Ayers Rock as it used to be called. On the way back we took a slightly shorter, but indefinitely bumpy, dirt road that took us past the largest of the Henbury Meteor Craters. It's so far from everything that you could probably spend days there without seeing other people, a truly peaceful place on earth.

Fast forward nine years.

The other day here in London my wife (the girlfriend from back then) and I were at the Natural History Museum. At the exhibition of meteorites we came face to face with one of the fragments from the Henbury Meteor. We had come full circle.

We saw the impact crater in one of the most desert places in the world and the meteorite in one of the busiest cities of the world. I wonder if it some day will the other way around?

Want to know more?
Henbury Meteor:
Photo of crater
Fragment on London Natural History Museum

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

The art of opening a bottle of beer

Before venturing Down Under, away from the safe surroundings of Denmark, I didn't know about beer bottles with twist tops. We don't have them in Denmark, you need a cap opener
At a party in Singapore some Australian friends where in the other boat, they didn't know of beer bottles without twist tops. They were hurting themselves, cutting their hands trying in vain to twist off the unyielding cap. They had brought the beers but had not realised that in order to access the amber fluid* inside, you need a tool. Being a Dane I knew all about the art of freestyle beer bottle opening. With two bottles you can use them to open each other by holding one of the bottles around the neck and use the other one as a lever against your fingers. Once the first cap is off you can replace it and use that bottle to open the other one in the same way.
This of course is only child's play, Danes will brag that they can open a beer with a page from a newspaper or a wet hot dog bun.

The newspaper method:
Fold the page about 1 cm (about half an inch) from the bottom. Fold that over tightly again, again, again, again, again and again until you have made a stick. Then fold that over in the middle.
Grab a beer bottle around the neck, use the newspaper stick as a lever and push it up against the cap using your fingers, around the neck of the bottle, as leverage.

The wet hot dog bun method:
Take a hot dog bun, soak it in water, put it in the freezer for a couple of hours and then open the beer as you would with a newspaper.

*If you find a beer bottle filled with amber liquid on the road, while walking home from a party, do not assume that it actually is beer! (see also: yellow snow).

London Car Fires

The last three weeks I've been doing some driving around London. Having only arrived here a couple of months ago from Australia, I'm still getting used to the traffic conditions.
I listen to the radio while driving to work, since it's not considered safe to read a book while driving (this is why I prefer trains). Listening to the traffic report I have been very baffled to hear about at least one car fire on freeway every morning. In Australia some days it get so hot that you will get burns by touching exposed metal with your bare fingers. But in the six years I have lived there, I can only recall three or four times when I have heard traffic reports about car fires on the freeway.
What's going on here in England? Is it very expensive to get your car towed? or does the insurance only cover when the car has been damaged beyond repair? So now everybody carries a small bottle of flammable liquid and a box of matches in the glove compartment. When a headlight bulb fails, they douse the car with the flammable liquid, strike a match and PUFFFF.....

All these car fires have probably prepared the firemen fighting the Buncefield oil depot blaze. This humongous fire was put out in only three days. The first two days the fire was so fierce that all the firefighters could do was hang around holding up their hands warming them by the heat and say 'gosh!' a lot. Then they went to work and put it out in a day.

Want to know more?
Buncefield oil depot blaze

Sunday, 11 December 2005

Winter Advice

Winter is here and since I haven't been in winter weather for several years, it is time to re-freshen the old advices for living in a cold climate.

Get some gloves. Think about how silly it would be being found lying unconscious with both hands in your pockets after slipping on an icy sidewalk. You need your hands to break the fall when you do the slip 'n' slide.

Don't eat yellow snow!

Down Under with Bill Bryson

A good book to read before going to Australia, while being in Australia or after having been to Australia is Down Under by Bill Bryson.
I case you don't know Bill Bryson, let me assure you that his writting will have you laughing out loud. He has written several travel books, a couple of books about the English Laguage and a science/history book (A Short History of Nearly Everything). His books make you want to go to the places he descripes (well some of them) or go back to those places, if you have already been there.

For some strange reason some of his books are sold under different titles in USA. I.e "Down Under" has become "In A Sunburnt Country" in USA. It could very well be that it is the other way around, that the title used in USA is the original title. I don't know.

Want to know more?
Excerpt from "Down Under/In A Sunburned Country"

Alice Springs

In 1996 I was in Australia for the first time. At that point my whole image of Australia was a bit warped. I knew they had Kangaroos, a crocodile hunter, a Crocodile Dundee and they were referred to as: "Down Under", blatantly ignoring that this expression should cover a great part of the African continent as well as the South American continent.

I went to the library (my second home back then) to find some more information. I found only three books and this was in a large and very well stocked library.
This is very typical of Australia, everybody knows it's there but outside of Australia it can be difficult to find information about it.
One book was written by a Dane who had driven around most of Australia in the early 70'es in a VW van. It wasn't a bad book but 20+ years is a long time and I assumed (rightly) that Australia would have changed since.
Another book was a history book of Australia and was such a dry read that I suspected that it might have been left in a outback desert baking in the sun for years.
Third book was quite old as well but was a very good and funny read. It's written by Robyn Davidson and is called: "Tracks". It her story about how she moved to Alice Springs, learned how to ride and care for camels and then went alone on a trek from Alice Springs to the Western Australia coast with a bunch of camels.
The Alice Springs she describes is very different today, but it still gives a good description a the isolated town in the middle of Australia. Anybody who likes travel books should give this one a try.

It was very appropriate because I would spend four weeks in Alice Springs and travel around from there later. I did a lot of bushwalking around the area, it's very exhilarating to be so far from any civilisation and the desert is just plain pretty.
When we are finished here in Europe we might try to go to Alice Springs and live there for a while.