Category Archives: travel

And the crap piles up

Just heard from my brother, who is opening our mail.

Well, who wasn’t opening our mail.

He just sent us a pile of bills, due from August 21st … and a legal demand letter and collection notice.

We had to get our washing machine serviced last year.

I rang to make a booking and said I thought it was under warranty, the company agreed.

Service guy came out on July 15, 2008, serviced machine, went to give me a bill, I said, no, it’s under warranty. He said OK, and left.


Shortly before I left (as in, a day or two before I left – so the END OF JUNE 2009), we received a letter from the washing machine company with a BILL for the service.

I flew out, Fraser dealt with the letter.

At least, I thought he did. (And so did he – he sent the bill back with a note saying, “This was under warranty, if there are any questions please get in touch”).

Which brings us to “just heard from my brother, who wasn’t opening our mail” – and therefore missed (1) a solicitor’s letter demanding immediate payment; and (2) a debt collection company, demanding immediate payment.

Of course, we don’t have any of the appropriate paperwork here.

It’s not the $160 or so that is the issue, it’s the principle. If the thing was under warranty, which I  believe it was, then we should not be being pursued for this money.

And if it wasn’t under warranty, then (1) they should have told me when I rang and (2) they should have billed us LESS THAN ELEVEN MONTHS LATER.


Leave a comment

Posted by on September 6, 2009 in house, rant, travel



There are days when I wonder whether this trip was a good idea … and days when I think it was probably a bad idea.

They’re usually the days when the kids didn’t get enough sleep.

Today  is the latter kind.

On top of the news that someone broke into our house over the weekend (probably nothing stolen, but we need to do some repairs and I’m not quite sure how, given that we’re on the wrong side of the world), Otto is having another of her monumental tantrums that involve screaming and shrieking at the top of her voice.

This one is because I pointed out that she had paint on her jeans and told her she had to wear her smock if she was going to do painting. She refused, so I confiscated her paints. Cue shrieks.

I would not be surprised if we were kicked out of this flat. That’s how much noise she tries to make.



Posted by on September 1, 2009 in parenting, travel



Do not say things like that when I am DRIVING please…

We went out with M on Sunday, which was fab. Our first stop was the Industriemuseum in Oberhausen. I am not doing travelogue here, don’t worry, this is Necessary Background.

You see, Fraser accidentally selected the wrong street from Tomsk the SatNav. It was the right town (fortunately), but it  was about six minutes’ drive away from where we wanted to be.

He said something about fat fingers, and I drove on.

Biggie then added words to the effect of, “we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for dad’s inexperienced fingers.”

Four hours later, she was still asking why all three adults immediately collapsed into helpless gales of laughter.


Posted by on August 25, 2009 in children, funnies, travel


Recent gaming

Gaming in Germany was looking pretty light on, really. I’d been so busy, apart from when people specifically came over to game, I was not even playing much with the kids.

Friday night, during dinner, Eleanor asked whether we could play “The Underground game with the Moles” – this is Buddel-Wuddel (English title Rig-a-dig Dig), a HABA game by Kramer and Ulrich.

Each player has 3 moles. At the start of the game, you load your moles onto two mine carts, one at a time. The mine carts only hold 4 moles, so in a 4-player game you start with only 2 travelling moles. On your turn, you roll the dice and then move either cart (whether or not it contains one of your moles) up to the shown number of spaces – and then rotate it a quarter turn. If the cart is adjacent to a space with a gnome on it (and most of the track *is* adjacent to those spaces), the mole (if any) that is adjacent to the gnome is kidnapped by the gnome and has to get out of the car. (If there was already a mole on the gnome space, it can hop back in.)

Any moles that are still in the car at the end of the track get treasure. The car is then re-set to the start and another placement round occurs.

There’s a little more to it than that, but it’s a very fun little game and worthy of more atttention than just “OMG! There’s a HABA game on special! I must buy it NOW!”

Since we were already sitting at the table, once the girls had gone to bed, Fraser and I started in on the little games that I’d picked up.

First game was another HABA title, Tier auf Tier: Das Duell.

Now we think Tier auf Tier (Animal upon Animal) is a fantastic little dexterity game – but neither of us was really impressed with this one. Each player takes 4 animals (an octopus, a squirrel, a goose and a *something else – possibly a goat*.). One player then rolls the two dice: the big die shows which animal must be on the bottom, the smaller one which must be on the top. And then it’s a race to be the first to get your four animals stacked. We won one round each and decided it could go away – it wasn’t really exciting us. I am not sure it would go over particularly well with children, as these animals are a bit harder to stack. Must try. I do, however, wonder whether it’s possible to combine the pieces from 2 copies of this with the pieces from Tier auf Tier. I suspect the scale is different..

Fortunately, the next three games were more successful.

First up was Ausgerechnet Uppsala! I had heard about this game and thought it sounded fabulous – basically, in very simplified form, you’re betting on whether a town is to the North, South, East or West of another town. Only problem is, you’ve probably never heard of half the places listed.

I thought I would be quite good at this, but Fraser won by a very embarassing 14 to my 3. And two of  those 3 were for successfully guessing, in the last round, that we had six towns in the wrong place. Every time I got points, Fraser took them away from me. All that wargaming meant he knew general areas for a lot more obscure places than I did, and for some that were not so obscure.

We had a blast.

I may have to desecrate this set, though, and write on some of the cards – they use the German names for some places. Whether крастны площадь or Rote Platz is easier to understand, I leave to your imagination, but in our set it is going to be re-named Red Square. (yes, I know my Russian spelling is woeful these days).

Definitely need more of this game.

Next was Keltis: Der Weg der Steine. This is the small version of the boardgame of the card game, I believe, and is another in the around-5-Euro price bracket.

Fraser and I haven’t played Keltis yet, but we’ve played a bit of Lost Cities. I think I like this better. It seemed faster, and I think the simplified scoring makes it more accessible. The rules are very simple: On your turn, either take a faced tile or flip a tile and take it or leave it. You have at most 1 row in each colour, which may go either up or down. Tiles with celtic clover give you an immediate second turn, other tiles have wishing stones (bonus for total at end of game) or bonus points (point value at end of game). I won handily, 42 to Fraser’s 22.

Last for the evening was Einfach Genial: Wer zu viel riskiert, verliert (a small push-your-luck game in the Ingenious  family). I had bought this originally, thinking it must be a mini mini version of Ingenious, thinking that the game’s title was just commentary. I realised my mistake when the pieces turned out to be single rather than double tiles.

The goal of the game is to be the first to collect 7 tiles in each of the 6 symbols/colours. At the start of the game, three tiles are turned over from the heap in the middle of the table (even the rules acknowledge that it’s unlikely to be a neat pile). On a player’s turn, they turn over tiles until they bust, or until they decide to stop. You bust if your tile matches one that you’ve already faced that round, or if it does NOT match one of the face-up tiles – and then your pieces go into that face-up area as well, to sweeten the pot. If you don’t bust, you see, you take not only the tiles you turned over but also any matching ones from the faced times in the centre of the table.

Once you get to 7 tiles of a colour/symbol, you say INGENIOUS! (does anyone else enforce that rule, I wonder) and take a second turn.

We both really enjoyed this one. Quick and light, but very fun. It also has the world’s best tile sheet ever – one large hexagon (for the rules summary card) and one teeny tiny little hexagon in one corner. Heh. I won by a pinch, exploiting the “at any time, instead of taking a turn, you may take exactly 1 tile from the faced-area” rule (Fraser still had 2 colours to complete).

Meanwhile, in the UK I tried a couple of games that were unfamiliar as well

Hoppladi-Hopplada is another lovely little dice game in the series that includes Heckmeck. I played this with the Shire Gamers last week and really enjoyed it, despite my usual luck with dice games. The push-your-luck element works particularly well.

Genial Spezial is another big box game in the Ingenious family, where players make connections between different spaces. I enjoyed it, and I don’t usually like abstracts much.

Bunte Runde is a charming children’s set collection game.

Wobbally is a very fun game in the Jenga style, but with balls.

And Heckmeck in the teeny tiny tin is beyond adorable.

Thanks to Steve in Cardiff, Shire Gamers, a Hippo, Jon in York, Mike and Robert for the gaming while I was away. And special thanks to Fraser, who let me go out on the town while he stayed at the hotel with the children.


Posted by on August 17, 2009 in games, travel


A new Series …

Dear friends, I am proud to present

Photographs of Vending Machines in Public Toilets.

(a girl has to have a hobby)

Our first candidate is from the Ladies’ public toilets at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (main train station). You have to pay 70c to get in here.

But once you are in, what fun you can have for a mere 4 Euros. Here’s a close-up of that machine:

More to follow in this exciting series.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 30, 2009 in funnies, travel



Catastrophic failure of information design. At least twice.

OK. Passport stuff is now out of my hands. Mum and I went in and physically collected the certificate, then I completed a new form and had it and my photo certified (again) by the local pharmacist. It’s all been sent off platinum express post with a begging letter saying just tell me what I need to do and I will do it. It may arrive before I leave, or it may not, in which case
(1) I will have lied on my application form (where I said I would be in Australia when the passport is issued – well I will be, if they do it in time); and
(2)  Fraser will have to bring it over to Germany for me. With a signed statement from me saying that he’s doing it with my permission, etc etc etc.

Now all I have is some bad photocopies to show that I have had a UK passport, ever.

Now that the deed is done, I can identify some failures of information design (and failures of me, to appropriately take in information).

Let’s start with the Victorian Bureau of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Their website says, you can now apply online for (list of types of certificates). You beauty, I said, and clicked to open the application form.

What I did not do, and what I think is reasonable to not do, is read past the end of that list. To the sentence that says, you still have to send us proof of ID.

There was no reminder of that at the conclusion of my application.

There was no e-mail to me, reminding me of that. (Or, in my case, telling me)

And so, they processed my payment on May 13th, and happily did nothing while I waited for my certificate, unaware that they were expecting us to do something. 


If I had chased it up last week, I would have had it already 😦

My cock-up, definitely – but as a professional information designer, I give their listing a fail.

Anyway, then comes the UK government. Who are so good at web stuff in general, but just failed here.

In applying for a passport, there’s a web page with information about what you have to supply. That page includes links to a downloadable form, downloadable notes on how to fill out the form … and a checklist.

BUT that web page – it turns out – also includes information that is not on the form, not in the notes, and not in the checklist.

Bad information design. You download the form, the notes, the checklist, then work from them. At least, that’s what I do. Double ugh. I spent half an hour searching their website this morning and missed that stuff every time.

ALSO – when do you read a checklist? I read it at the end of a process, when I am CHECKING that I have done the things I had to do. 

And so, I read it today.

The UK Passport form says “Must be completed in ink” – so I did. Blue ink.

The very very last item on the checklist page says “Check that you used BLACK ink to complete the form.”


The very officious person at the passport office said “Oh but ALL forms and official documents have to be completed in black ink these days.” – and refused to even acknowledge that it is reasonable to consider that the category “ink” includes “blue ink”.

Try telling that to the Victorian Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages, where I completed a form using their supplied blue pen.

Anyway. My application has been sent off. They got


  • 1 signed checklist;
  • 1 payment sheet, with credit card number for payment;
  • 1 original application form, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my birth certificate, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my dad’s birth certificate, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my UK passport, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my parents’ marriage certificate, with photocopy;
  • 2 photos, 1 certified;
  • 1 colour photocopy of my driver’s licence and medicare card;
  • 1 platinum express post return envelope, addressed to me; and
  • 1 cover letter.


They quote 15 working days for processing.

That would see my passport sent off on Tuesday 23rd, the day before I leave, in an envelope that guarantees delivery before 12 noon the next day.

My flight is at 11, so I will leave home at 10.

I now have two potential plans.

1. I included a pathetic, please please please note, asking whether there was any way if they would expedite processing the passport, even offering to fly to Canberra if that would help. (hope I have enough frequent flyer points!). They may, possibly, take pity on me. (Although the person I spoke to said that they only do that if there is a death … still, I said I need it to enrol my kids in school).

2. If the passport has been shipped (I have a tracking number), I will get on the phone to the  courier company and beg them to deliver it early, or offer to collect it from their depot or meet their courier somewhere. Or beg Fraser to fly it to Sydney for me – we transit there 🙂

Meanwhile, maybe I should start on the evidence requirements for long stay Schengen visas. That means:

  • Application forms, 2 completed copies. Per person.
  • 2 recent passport photos
  • Our passports
  • Visa fees (60 E each)
  • Copies of our return tickets and/or itineraries
  • An invitation letter from friends in Germany, or hotel/tour reservation (I think our lease would qualify here)
  • Proof of sufficient funds for the stay (3 months of bank statements) (probably also a letter from Fraser’s employer, confirming that he will be back to work in December).
  • Proof of travel insurance
  • Police clearance certificates (for the 4 of us) – at least these are the non-fingerprint kind
  • Doctor’s Certificate (certifying that you are a good state of health and free of contagious diseases)
    – A self-addressed Express Post Envelope or a Prepaid Courier Satchel for the return of your

    Doctor’s certificate, confirming that we are in good health. 

That’s what I’ll need if I don’t have my UK passport. It won’t hurt to have a police clearance and a doctor’s certificate (and maybe the children’s immunisation records), anyway.

It *almost* seems easier.

The lesson of the story: Even if I never travel again? I am going to always ensure I have a valid UK passport.


Posted by on June 1, 2009 in rant, travel


And three weeks zipped by ..

Last time I counted, it was 6 weeks till we left.

Ah, heaps of time.

Now, it is three-and-a-half.

Just to put that in perspective:

  • The girls and I have three weekends left in Australia. This weekend, Fraser and I will be at BorderCon in Albury – so there are really only two weekends left before we go. And we want to have a party the week before we leave – so really only one weekend to pack things up.
  • I have a project to finish for a client. It involves writing a whole battery of PRINCE2 documents. That will be achievable.
  • I have another project to finish for another client. It involves lots more writing. That will be partially achievable, but I will probably have work to do when I get to Germany. The client is not happy with some of the work that I didn’t do, and has asked for me to work on that area. While her faith in me is touching and flattering, I am nervous that it might be misplaced.
  • I have two games to translate. The urgent part of one is half-done. I’m hoping to finish the urgent bits by the middle of the week.
  • I have all sorts of things to organise for our trip. More on this elsewhere. I need to stop overthinking the small stuff.
  • Mum and dad’s house has its first Open-For-Inspection on Thursday. I have not been there for a week. I need to find time to go there.
  • I still do not have a British passport. Nor do the girls have Australian passports (long story). Lots of chasing things up to happen on Monday morning.
  • Fraser and I need to get international drivers permits. We tried to do this on Saturday, but the RACV shop closes at 12 noon (where every other shop in the centre closes at 5pm).
  • I have to go to the luggage shop and ask if they can order the new model of Trunki for Otto. Failing that, I need to order one online. This is becoming urgent.
  • We need to organise parent-teacher meetings with the girls’ teachers. These would normally happen at the end of this term but they have been delayed to early next term.
  • Fraser and I need to move back to our “2 boxes a night” packing philosophy.
  • I need to do invoicing and tax. Urgently.

What I did today :)

Woke up.

Thought, hmm, I need to do some work.

Decided to turn on the eee first to check email etc in bed.

La, la, la. Read the paper, checked email, wandered around on bgg. Then decided to do what I usually do on Mondays – check the Qantas website and sob that airfares to Germany are around the $2700 mark during June-July.


$1409 RETURN!!!

gmail and gtalk Fraser. Possibly before he was even at work. Wait impatiently for him to respond.

Three options. Let’s go through them and eliminate some. OK, let’s eliminate one and change one. We now have dates we will be in Europe

Run to bathroom, shower, dress. Makeup? Nah, no time.

Me, on gtalk: Fraser, this is your last chance to change anything

Fraser, on gtalk: Go for it.

Drive to shopping centre. OMG my travel agent has a client with him. Make appointment to see him in 20 minutes, run to kmart to pick up easter egg for niece.

Back to travel agent. He’s free.


Our preferred dates are booked out. Wotthehell, we’ll go a bit earlier.

Travel insurance? You beaut. No problems there either. 


We are booked. I must pay today. $6200 for 4 return airfares to Europe. Expected price was over $9800. Holy frijole that’s a cheap plane ride.

And so, ’twas done. 

We leave Australia in late June, and Fraser will join us in late July. We return at the end of November, leaving time for a trans-atlantic hop to BGGcon if we decide the kids are up for it. Or if Fraser decides to go on his own.

The Bigster might even, if she is very lucky, get to see a German christmas market.

I am so excited. Also, a little bit terrified. But only a little bit, because that won’t really kick in until a week before I FLY TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD WITH MY KIDS. omg.

Now, apartment hunting. And trying to rent out our house. Or find a home exchange, or something. And thinking about travel. And school, and all that stuff.

And telling work, of course. Yikes.


Oh yeah – my day. Then I had a filling. This afternoon, I have a pap smear and an icky painful gynae thing. From the sublime to the ridiculous, here I go again.


Posted by on April 7, 2009 in be happy, family, grand plans, travel


Now officially planning

We arrive in Europe on or immediately after July 1st.

Outstanding questions:

  • where will we live? (I even posted something in the Germany forums on BGG)
  • will be start in the UK, then travel, then go to Germany? Or start in Germany, then pack up, travel, come back for OMGESSEN! ?
  • um, just about everything.

We have a date, though.

And I am officially looking for a flat or house to let or sublet, in Germany, for up to 3 months, from 1.July.09 or a bit after that.


1 Comment

Posted by on March 29, 2009 in family, grand plans, travel



Remember how, last year, I travelled to 4 different currency zones and 2 different timezones (and Singapore, for half hour stopovers)?

Yesterday, I was playing with my mobile phone and discovered that it has (a) a currency conversion function and (b) a World Clock where you can store several different timezones.



Posted by on February 19, 2009 in travel