BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Monday, 29 October 2012

A week in Hemel Hempstead - Secret Squirrel stuff.

Not much of a blog this week. We're both helping Paul with his secret project which keeps us pretty busy. I've included a few random photos from the week just for interest.


We woke up this morning to find the BM lying on its side. It must have gotten a fright yesterday and decided it needed a little lie down. Or maybe the ground was wet and soft and the stand dug in. Over it went. This is the first time the bike has been over but luckily it was on nice soft grass, so no damage done. Paul and I managed to pick it up without too much trouble.

 I'm having a little rest.
It's very sad seeing a bike lying on its side.

Nearly there.

Paul mentioned it might snow here later in the week. I hope so, I've never been anywhere when it has snowed, apart from the ski fields in Australia. If it does I'm suiting up and going for a ride.

We've been having a few problems contacting our daughter at home for a while. She's looking after our house, and more importantly our dogs and cat. Today we finally managed to contact Paige on Skype. Just as well because we thought we might have to go home if we didn't hear from her soon. A big thanks to all of our friends who brought pressure to bare. The most important thing is that Paige, the dogs, the cat, and the fish are all well.


OK, I admit it, sometimes it's the small things in life that excite me. Today an envelope arrived containing my latest ebay purchase, Gear Gremlin zip pulls.

Do I have to tell you this is a zip pull?

You may remember months ago when Suzanne's Rev'it jacket arrived, it was missing a few zip pulls. This makes the zips very hard to use with gloves on. I contacted both the retailer and Rev'it directly asking for a couple of zip pulls but got no response at all. Thanks guys. This week I was trolling through ebay for a couple of Pacsafes to secure our gear to the bike, and I came across these little beauties.

Gear Gremlin sell these for 1.99 GBP. I needed a couple, and I thought I'd get a couple extra just for spares, so I ordered four. The ebay site doesn't mention that here are four in a packet so I now have sixteen of these. If you see me on the road, and need a zip pull, just ask and you can have one.

They are a great little motorcyclist goody. You can find these here:


Today was the coldest day so far. Brrrrrr. Paul and I spent the day at a secure location conducting more secret men's business. We achieved quite a lot today, but finished up a bit behind schedule. Lot's more to do.

Paul and Juliet have three pets, Tina the dog, who is about twelve years old and reminds me a lot of Nougat, our old dog. She's a bit deaf, unless you're unwrapping food, and a bit blind, unless you drop a crumb on the floor. 

Tina was reclining on the lounge and was a bit cold,
so we covered her with a blanket.

Skittles the (insane) cat, who will let you pat her, for a while, then hiss, growl, and scratch your arm to pieces. She and I have been having therapy sessions, and will continue to do so until she understands that her behaviour is not acceptable. Much the same as I had to do with Suzanne when we met. : )

Skittles thinking,
"Any closer and I'll shred you like tissue paper".

And then there's Olly the (great) cat. Olly is a solid ginger tom and has a high pitched purr that sounds like an old telephone dial tone, or a dove cooing. He's really cool.

This is Olly's James Bond impression.

I was eating dinner last night and Olly decided that he should have some...

...and decided to help himself.

The funny thing is that if it hadn't been cooked chicken bones, I would have given him some as a reward for showing so much ingenuity it placing himself in a position to attack my dinner. 


It was cold alright last night. This is what I woke up to in the morning.

Yup! That's last night's snow...

...and it was still there at 10am the next day.

On the plus side is that the weather is beautiful. Bright blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. But you know what that's cold again. Maybe we'll see more snow tonight.


Suzanne went off to the zoo again today with Magda, another painty friend, while Paul and I continued to slave away. All will be revealed soon. 

One job we had to do today was a car shuffle for a friend of ours, Heather. This involved me picking up Heather on the bike for her first ever motorcycle ride. I love introducing new people to motorcycles. Not only because they usually love it, but because it's reminder for me as well. When you ride all the time you become a bit blase about how lucky you are to be able to enjoy motorcycling. When a newbie gets off the bike with a real sparkle in their eyes and tells you how fantastic it is, as Heather did, it reminds me just how fortunate I am. I love riding. Thanks Heather. We'll go for a longer ride when it warms up. It was about six degrees on our little ride.

I got an exciting phone call from Suzanne in the afternoon. She's got chatting with Yani, the head keeper at Paradise Wildlife Park, and arranged a Lemur visit for us. I'm really excited about this. The two things I've really enjoyed about this trip are the people we've met, and the animals we've met. I've held a McCaw (my favourite bird), a Falcon, we've seen wild deer, horses, and now I'm going to get up close and personal with a bunch of Lemurs. I wonder if they'll teach me how to jump like they do. I'll let you know when it happens. Expect a hundred photos.

Here's a Lemur photo in case you missed all the others.


I watched replay of the Phillip Island Moto GP in the morning with casey Stoner taking his sixth consecutive win at The Island. Yahoo!  Then it was back to work with Paul.

Like I said there wasn't much on this week, however next week looks like it will be a bit of fun. We have a heap of things arranged already, including...a Guy Fawkes night bonfire. When I was a kid we used to call it cracker night. We used to save our pocket money and buy crackers, and if you were really rich, a sky rocket, jumping Jack, or Catherine wheel. That was until the government banned fireworks (Except in Canberra of course) because they were too dangerous and we had to be saved from ourselves. That was at least forty years ago, so I reckon I've got forty years worth of catching up to do. Suzanne however disagrees, apparently spending 200 GBP on fireworks is unacceptable. What do you think? 

At Tesco, forty quid, about $65AUD, will get me the following: A pack of sixteen rockets, a Solaris Selection Box (24 fireworks: 17 fountains, 4 roman candles, 2 rockets, and 1 mine????), a Shooting Star Rocket Pack (6 rockets), and a Magnitude. What is a Magnitude? I'll quote from the brochure. "A delightful 150 shot barrage of multi-coloured stars, with golden tails firing 30 ft into the air". By my count, that's a total of twenty four rockets. If I can't have some fun (or do some damage) with that lot I'll be disappointed. Yes, you're right, I have never grown up. Keep watch for the photos, possibly from the local hospital's emergency ward if the Australian Government is right.

Friday, 26 October 2012

A baby lemur, and a very close call.


Well it sure is cold and grey here in the UK. Today Suzanne did facepainty stuff and I went with Paul to help him out with his new super secret project. I'd love to tell you about it, but I can't. Maybe soon.


Juliet told us about a small zoo that was nearby that was supposed to be quite good. Paradise Wildlife Park. I'm animal addicted so we saddled up and made tracks for the zoo. here's their website:

The Lemurs were our first stop. hey had a fantastic enclosure. A big outdoor area, and a small enclosed  heated area for them at night time. Here are a few of them in their little house:

Bored Lemur.

Sleepy Lemur.

It's possible to have a "Lemur Encounter" for 99 GBP. You get to go into the enclosure for half an hour and feed the Lemurs. Oh wow! If we weren't on such a tight budget I'd be in there like a shot. (Paige, you would LOVE this.) Here are a few shots of a young guy who enjoyed this experience while I was there:

 There's a bowl of food in there, somewhere.

 Are you talkin' to me?

Check out the baby Lemur on mum's back.
Soooooo Cool.

These guys are like Meerkats on acid. After watching them playing in their enclosure, jumping from ropes to trees and over anything they could see, I decided that this is where the sport of Parkour came from. A couple of guys watching some Lemurs one day said "Wouldn't it be fun to be able to do that?" and it went from there. I've also decided if I'm reincarnated I want to come back as a Lemur. Anyway, enough about Lemurs. There were other animals there as well...

 A different sort of Lemur.

 My favorite birds, McCaws.

 They had a great farmyard display, and the kids could pat them. Yes, I spent about an hour there.

 Yes, another lemur shot.
The Lemur quartet.

What do you call a group of otters?
A Romp. It gives "A romp in the hay" a whole new meaning.

There were lots of other animals as well, but I'm sure you've all seen a lion and tiger before so no photos of them. With my animal addiction satisfied for the day we rugged up against the cold and rode back to Juliet's. 

This is where it got really interesting. I came the closest I've ever been to getting squished by a car. A big blue Ford Transit van decided to exit the roundabout from the centre lane, while I was next to him continuing on to the next exit. It was very quick, but I think it went like this: Brake, turn a little to avoid immediate impact, accelerate in front of van, see van over right shoulder, turn a bit more, straighten up, brake, pick an exit, line up the curb (Wet and on an angle. Oh oh!), release the brakes, throttle on, jump the curb onto the traffic island, brake on the wet grass, stop, breath. It was close. I thought about it afterwards and being a blind van there was no way he could have seen us. We wouldn't have been visible in his mirror at all either. OK, he shouldn't have turned from that lane, but he just didn't see us. The strange thing is it didn't scare me at all. As a motorcyclist you have one of these close calls every ten years or so, but like I said, this was the closest ever. Suzanne wasn't so matter of fact about it though. I think she had a little fright.

From there we went to Tesco and bought some (much needed) drinks, and food for dinner. My main thought for the day - Lemurs are way cool little dudes.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A bit of work and a bit of play. OK, a bit of work and a lot of play.

18 & 19/10/12


Paul, who we are staying with, has a project on the go that requires a bit of shifting stuff. I can't say too much but all shall become public knowledge very soon. We had some work planned for today but Paul managed to source a piece of equipment at a great price so we jumped in his van to go and pick it up. It was in Reading. Reading is about half way to bloody Bristol so I got to see the same old Motorway all over again. It was a very successful trip though and a very good result for Paul. We're all happy.


Juliet had invited a few friends around for a dinner party. By the time Friday night arrived, so had about fifteen people.

 A few of the guests in the lounge room.
Suzanne, Mike, Juliet, Amanda, Paul, Phillipa, Alex, Michael, Heather, Magda, Bart, and Nina. You can work out who is who. Everyone else was in the kitchen.

 I've been trying to catch this for years.
Me taking a photo of Paul taking a flash photo.

 Amanda looked like she enjoyed herself.

 Meet Mike. Some people say Mike is so similar to me (behaviour wise) that we should never be in the same room together. We hit it off immediately.

 One of our hosts, Paul.

 Our other host, Juliet, with Skittles that cat.

 Mike having a little rest. I call it recharging.

 This is Michael.
Michael is a driving instructor and I'm trying to convince him that he should travel to Australia to teach Paige to drive. We'll pay the airfare as it would be cheaper than lessons. Come on Michael, how about it?

Mike was recharged and ready to go.
Heather gets some lovin'.

It's surprising how many people you can fit into a small room, and how few people you need to have a great time. It was great to meet you all guys. See you again soon.

I'm planning our escape route. I'm thinking ferry to Calais, follow the coast of France down to Spain, then into Portugal, down to Gibraltar  and across to Morocco. It's got to be warmer there. If we're in Morocco we might as well take a look at the Sahara don't you think?

More British bureaucracy, and a story about a tent...


Today featured ANOTHER drive to Bristol. OK, Bristol is a nice place, but the road there is boring. I've ridden it far too many times and next time I go I'm sticking to the back roads. 

We had to go to the Post office to pick up something I ordered from the US and had delivered to Claire's while we were in our cruise. Unfortunately as Claire had no identification in my name the Post Office wouldn't allow her to pick it up. We walked into the Post Office just before closing and presented our little piece of official paper with my parcel's ID number. Of course it wasn't there. "If it's not collected within 18 days, it's sent to customs." To be fair the girl was very nice and very helpful  She even gave us the number to call to chase up my stuff. We'll do that tomorrow.

Now, it was time to checkout this tent. We drove to Weston Super Mare to look at a tent that was listed on ebay. It was the exact same tent we had, and they're pretty scarce, and it was in the county right next to where ours was stolen from. Suzanne had spoken to the police and asked what we should do. They said go and take a look and if it's yours, call us. We'll send someone around to sort it out. We pulled up outside the house and nervously rang the doorbell. I saw a "Look out for motorcyclists" type sticker on the back of the car in the driveway, so I hoped that it wouldn't be our tent. I'd hate to think fellow motorcyclists would steal from each other.

We walked in and met Sam and Clare, who were selling the tent. We felt really bad playing stupid and asking them to put up the tent for us. Once the tent was up it was pretty obvious it wasn't ours. It was then that I said "We have to come clean guys." Poor Clare looked really worried but once we told the out story it was all fine. Sam and Clare are about to head off on a trip around the world riding a pair of KTM690s. What a coincidence.

We Sat for some time and talked bikes, travelling, sat navs and gear, including She Wees, over a few drinks. When we left we had a replacement tent so we could continue our journey, but more importantly we'd made two new like minded friends. They're a great couple and I'm hoping they'll come and stay with us when they reach Perth in early 2014. I can honestly say they're the only people we've met on out trip that I'm envious of. Their planned route is amazing.

You can visit their website at but be warned, their full on website makes my humble blog look pretty boring.

We got back to Hemel at about 9pm so this one day car hire has now turned into three. I wonder if I can claim that on travel insurance? Tomorrow it's time to pay some board. I'll be helping Paul setting up his new project.
Our first breakdown.


Today's plan was simple. We pick up a hire car at about 9am, load our suitcase (well, we can't fit it on the bike can we?), and head to Bristol. Suzanne will drive and I'll ride. Once we reach Bristol we'll pick up out other cases, check out a tent, and then both go to Hemel Hempstead where we'll stay with Paul and Juliet for a while.

That's pretty simple isn't it?

Except the bike won't start. This is the first time I've had any problem with the bike, and it was my own fault. I'd left the sat nav on the bike and it usually turns itself off after a while. When I say usually, I mean every other time I've done it. It had a flat battery, so no go. We tried bump starting the bike. John pushed really hard as he wanted to see us gone  : ) Then we tried jump starting it with two different cars, all without success. I called the BMW breakdown service and the earliest they could get there was 3pm. Time for a coffee then.

Around 3pm the BMW guy arrived, pulled out his jump start battery, and immediately fired the bike into life. I quizzed him about his little battery and explained that the cars we tried didn't work. He just smiled and said "This little battery will start trucks, tractors, anything. It's all in the amperage". Sure enough, a push of the button and the BM fired into life and sat there idling happily.

So a bit behind schedule we pointed our vehicles to Bristol. When we arrived we had a quick chat with Claire and Chris then made our way to Hemel, finally arriving at about 10.30pm.

What a day. We still needed to go back to Bristol the next day to pick up a delivery from the post office and to check out an ebay tent. Yes, an ebay tent. I've been watching ebay and Gumtree since our tent was stolen and a tent just like ours showed up on ebay, in the next county to Bristol where ours went missing. Coincidental? Will it be ours? We'll find out tomorrow when we go and see it.
What a week. Crayfish, paint, glitter, chemists, drugs, riding, and more.

9 - 15/10/12

Wow! A whole week in one blog. I've nearly caught up now.

Our plan was to take advantage of Ange and John's hospitality for a few days, then move on. I should take time now to point out that Ange and John hadn't actually invited us to stay, and really had no say in the matter. Our mad friend Jo invited us to stay with her whenever we liked. When we finally arranged to come and visit, Jo explained that we weren't actually staying with her, but with her friend Ange. Apparently this is a regular occurrence. Good one Jo! 

A huge thankyou to Angela, John, Ben, Josh, and Jupiter. We actually ended up staying for eight days! We know we overstayed our welcome and appreciate your understanding (in the case of Suzanne, very understanding). I hope things are back to normal now.

Ange makes a beautiful sponge cake dessert, we were told. Personally I didn't like it.

Why did we stay for so long? Because we were sick. The first few days we pretty much stayed in bed. I blogged, and Suzanne slept. The problem was that we'd get up late, and stay up late. Jo would come over, sometimes with Jim, the paints would come out, along with the wine, and it was a painting party till all hours of the morning. John is very tolerant and understanding.

This was the kitchen table (early in the night) nearly every night...

...and midway through the night.
You don't want to see what it was like at 4am!
And I won't mention the floor.

Suzanne warmed up by playing with lines and colours...
(UPDATE: This was actually Angie painting over some of Suzanne's doodling. I was asleep and got the facts wrong so I have to make a public admission of guilt.)

...then played with a few designs...

...then played some more...

...and ended up with this

...and this.
Thanks for being a great model Charisse.
It was really good to catch up again.

Ange teaching Suzanne a new trick.
I can't tell you, I'd have to kill you.

So apart from sleeping, blogging, and painting, what else did we do? Well, now that you've asked...
  • Suzanne helped Jo out on a face painting gig at a wedding, and had trouble understanding what the kids were saying, because they were speaking English.
  • We went to the Medical Centre about our colds. It had been three weeks after all. The nurse prescribed us both a course of antibiotics, which after a few days had nearly killed the damn bug at last. I also got in trouble when the nurse took my temperature. He asked if I'd been taking paracetamol and I said no, I don't like to take drugs unless I really have too. He looked at me and said "Do you want a high temperature?" Then he took my blood pressure. When I explained that I hadn't been taking my medication (Hey, I'm a bloke. We're all the same) he looked at me and said "Do you want to have a stroke?" I wasn't game to tell him about my cholesterol.  I walked out of there promising I'd take my medication. Anyway, we're on the mend at last.
  • We went and saw a crayfish breeding setup. It's experimental at the moment but could grow (pun intended) in the future.
Put it back Suzanne, it's under size.
I don't know why she's using two hands.

So that sums up our time in Stoke on Trent. It's starting to get cold and wet around these parts and I believe it's time to head south and find a warm place to stay for a while. Somewhere like Greece, or Spain, or Morocco. Unfortunately, in my weakened state due to sickness (it could have been my drunken state) Suzanne took advantage of me. "Apparently" I insisted that she should go with Nick (a visiting US painter) and Jo on a tour of Scotland while Nick conducts classes. Jo was quick as a wink and organised everything in a flash, so we're stuck here in Blighty until mid November. It's getting COLD.

We're heading a bit further south tomorrow, to Hemel Hempstead. We'll be staying with Paul and Juliet, more painty people, for a while. At least we can earn our keep there. Paul needs a lot of stuff shifted, so I can help out. Hang on. Physical work? Me? Oh no, what have I done.

Monday, 22 October 2012

UK Face and Body painting Convention.

6, 7, 8/10/12


Suzanne and I dragged ourselves out of bed about 10am. We are both now deep in the grips of this horrible cold that is doing the rounds at the moment. We made a quick trip to Tescos across the road and I bought some new socks and jocks as well as a clean shirt to wear today, which used up the remainder of our $400 travel insurance money. I'll be interested to see what happens when we submit our claim. If we don't get our case back by tonight, we'll have another $400 to spend tomorrow. I'd rather have my case.

We walked into the convention and it was like coming home. There were so many people we haven't seen since the last convention and it was really good to catch up with them all. Lynne Jamieson and Bec Anthony were there from Australia so it felt a tiny bit like being in Oz talking to them. A lot of people at the convention were sick as well, so I didn't feel so bad staying around and sounding like a barking walrus, coughing all the time. After mingling for a few hours I was starting to feel like a blob so I left about 4pm and went home to bed. I stayed there until late afternoon the next day. The Saturday night dinner is a high point of the convention with everyone donning fancy dress in keeping with the theme of the convention, which this year was Alice in Wonderland. This year's dinner sounded like it was a great night, as it was last time. I'm really, really sorry I missed it.

Suzanne must have been crook because she arrived home fairly early as well. What a pair of party poopers. Sorry guys, we promise to do better next time.

Here are a few photos I stole of the interweb...

Remember the photo from last night of Simon Smith
painted and asleep? Well this is his work (assisted by Annie Duncan). It's amazing. Stacey isn't a bad model either.

Here's another shot.

That's our friend Angela in the middle with 
Percy the Flamingo, and Annie Duncan on the right. Percy made a few appearances at Angela's house when we visited.

You'll read about it soon.

Angela and Percy. A rare shot where they are both behaving.

The beautiful Anne (with makeup). It's a shame she didn't speak a word of English...she's from Scotland.

I'm sure as usual the face and body painting crew had a wonderful time. Like I said, I'm just disappointed I missed it. With a bit of luck I'll be fine tomorrow and we can do it all again.


I'm staying in bed. Those of you that know me well know I'll always keep going, but this thing has got me and got me bad. I stayed in bed for nearly twenty four hours. I surfaced at about 5pm and went to the convention. I socialised for a while, had something to eat, then made my way back to the hotel asking Suzanne to say goodnight to everyone for me. I think the last few months of non stop action has caught up with me as I'm just not getting any better.  : (

The good news is that our suitcase has arrived at Angela and Percy's house. I just hope that my camera is still in it. By rights we had another $400 to spend because we didn't get the case back in seventy two hours, but I just feel too sick to care.

Sorry guys, I was stuffed.


I actually started to feel a bit better today. Suzanne headed over to the convention and I loaded up the bike. Our room was so far from the front door it took me five trips and heaps of time to get organised. I was wearing all my riding gear and sweating like a pig. By the time I'd finished I realised that i wasn't any better at all.

Suzanne was taking part in a beginners airbrush course today with Flavio Bosco, my favourite airbrush artist. I was happy to sit in the open area and just drink soft drinks and rest. It did give me the opportunity to have a good chat with Rosey, the event organiser. She's a pocket dynamo and has been putting this event on for ten (I think) years. She does a fantastic job and the event is a lot of fun as well as a huge learning experience for painters of all levels. I actually get so inspired when I'm at Rosey's convention I feel like picking up a brush and having a go. And trust me, I'm no artist.

With Suzanne's airbrush lesson out of the way we said our goodbyes (I REALLY hate that bit) and mounted the bike to ride to Stoke on Trent to spend a few nights with Angela and Percy.

 Like a walrus, I've fattened up for the winter.
Getting ready to head off.

 Let's roll.

 Gone. Suzanne's pillion position keeps cars away,
unfortunately it attracts roosting crows. 

We have hardly any photos of the two of us on the bike. Thanks Lynne, I stole these from your Facebook page. It was great to catch up again.

A couple of hours later we pulled into Angela's driveway and put the bike on the stand after another cold and wet ride. After we settled down we saw "The Suitcase" I was very nervous as I opened it as I really thought my camera would have gone missing. To say I was pretty happy when I saw my camera would be a gigantic understatement. Yahbloddyhoo!

We had a very nice dinner with Angela and her husband John, along with Jo (from the convention) and her hubby Jim. We also had a couple of drinks. Percy made an appearance late in the night and someone's wife, whose name starts with S, was very rude with him.

Percy sniffing face paint.

It turned into one of those nights which went til the wee small hours. It was a very funny night and we had lots of laughs. Hopefully we'll recover a bit more in the few days we're here.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Farewell Ukraine. Farewell suitcase.


I don't need food for a month. Breakfast this morning consisted of  cup of coffee and a small croissant. That's it. I'm sure I'll be hungry by 10 am but I don't care, I'm not going to continue eating the way we have been. I'll explode if I do.

We all arrived at the airport expecting all the dramas you hear about that happen in former soviet block countries. Once again it's all rubbish. The procedure was just the same as at Perth airport, but quicker, and with friendlier staff. I'm really tired of reading and being told stories about how bad places are. Every experience that we have had in situations like this have proven all the stories wrong. If you haven't visited somewhere yourself please don't tell people about it as if you are an expert.

Ukraine, in Particular Poltava, is one of the prettiest countries I've been to. The infrastructure has some way to go in some areas, but then you'd expect that after years of communist rule destroying the place. The people are wary of strangers and are guarded, but once they get to know you they are warm, friendly, and generous. The younger generation are just like our kids, happy and enjoying life. They haven't experienced that atrocities their grandparents have. The grandparents passed the mistrust and fear onto their kids who also lived under communist rule (my father) but it looks like that is disappearing now in the current generation.

If you have the opportunity to visit Ukraine I suggest you take advantage of that opportunity. I'm pretty sure you'll love it. But maybe go in spring or summer, not in the minus 32 degree winter. Maybe that's just me.

Goodbye Ukraine. We'll visit again soon.

Alitalia decided to cancel our original Kiev / Rome flight and fly us on a later flight via Milan with a three hour stop over. We basically lost half a day in Rome. Talking about losing things, they lost my suitcase, along with about eight other passengers. (They lost the suitcases, not the passengers). Not happy Jan, especially as I'd packed my camera my suitcase. I'll never do that again. Luckily I'd downloaded all last nights photos onto our computer in the morning. I felt really sorry for the two Japanese girls who were on their way to Sydney in an hour.

We stood in the que at Alitalia, filled out the relevant paperwork, and then went to our hotel. Alitalia promised they'd find it and deliver it to us. Good luck with that. "Where will you be staying sir?" One night in Rome, fly to Bristol, two hours in Bristol, ride to Dudley and the UK Face and Body painting Convention, three nights, ride to a friend's house in Stoke on Trent, two nights. "Can I have the addresses please?" NO, because all the info is on my lap top, which has a flat battery, and the charger is in my suitcase, along with the chargers for our phones (which are also flat) etc, so you can't call us.

No toiletries, no socks, no jocks, no shirts, etc. I had a good sulk. I really didn't give a rat's about all that stuff, I just wanted my camera. The Alitalia guy gave us a contact phone number and a website where we could check up on the progress of my case.

My dislike for Italy has grown even stronger.

(There are no photos in this blog for obvious reasons)

The Alitalia runaround.


First thing this morning we called the Alitalia contact number regarding my case. Of course it's an automated system, and it's in Italian. Unfortunately I don't know what Italian is for "If you want to find your lost case, push number three". The girl at hotel reception helped us but we had no joy at all.

Back upstairs Suzanne rang our HBF Travel Insurance people to let them know what had happened. The girl told us that we could spend $400 on essentials straight away, and if we didn't get the case back within seventy two hours we could spend another $400. Suzanne and I discussed what essentials were. She's thinking toiletries and clothes, I'm thinking a camera because we're spending the next three days at the UK Convention. A camera is a necessity. Suzanne won.

We were now due to fly to Bristol so when we got to the airport I fronted the Alitalia desk and enquired about the case. A lovely lady told me "Yes, your case arrived about half an hour ago. Please go to this desk and they will sort it out for you." Bloody ripper. After a bit of showing passports to security guards and police I managed to get to the desk she had directed me to. "I'm sorry sir, we have no reports about your case at this stage. But don't worry, it will turn up." Grrrrrrrrrrr! Now I'm angry and smelly, and I'm as crook as a dog with man flu.

We decided it was time to take advantage of our travel insurance money and headed for the chemist. Bloody hell. You don't realise how much all the bits and pieces in your toilet bag are worth until you buy them all at once. Razor, shaving creme, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, Suzanne's makeup (just a few basics) my cholesterol and blood pressure medication (I really need that right now!), and all the other stuff. It nearly cleaned out the $400 there and then. Of course this all sounds good, getting all this stuff for free. The problem is that if we get our suitcase back, we'll have all our original stuff as well. We're on the bike and we don't have room for anything extra.

Time to board our flight to Bristol. I'll just mention now that we flew Easyjet to and from Rome, and they are really good. Their staff are way, way above average and do a great job. I'm more than happy to fly with them again.

We were in the taxi from Bristol airport to our friends house to pick up the bike and the taxi driver asked if we were Australian. Once we said yes he got stuck into us about the cricket, the Olympics, and anything else that he Poms have done well in recently. It was all in good fun and we had a laugh. The next day the Aussie women's team won the 20/20 final. I wish I had his number. 

We arrived at Claire and Chris's just after 8pm and commenced what I thought would be about an hour job of sorting our gear, packing the bike, and hitting the motorway. I think we left just after 11pm. It was our worst ride so far this trip. It was chucking it down,  it was cold, there were no lights or cat's eyes on the road, and I couldn't see a thing. I rode until my visor was too dirty to see through, then flipped it up (it was freezing) then my glasses got too dirty so I pulled them forward and looked over the top of them. I can't see without them, but I couldn't see with them so it made little difference. Eventually I just had to pull over to the side of the road to clean everything. Within a minute there was an RAC van behind me, the guy got out in the rain and came to see if I was OK. Wow! Thanks mate, I didn't need help but I appreciated you stopping. Onward we went. We still had about an hour to go, it was six degrees, and Suzanne was freezing. I'm certain we won't be riding to Ukraine in winter now. 

We finally shivered our way into the hotel car park at about 12.45am. The hotel was a strange layout which meant we had about a hundred metre struggle with our gear through the hotel to our room. We were finally in our room and we decided that all the party goers at the convention would be in bed now. Then there was a knock at our door. I said to Suzanne "That'll be Jo". Sure enough. "There are about twenty of us still going and waiting for you" Jo said. Well, we had to do the right thing didn't we?

It was really good to catch up with friend we haven't seen since the last convention two years ago. Most of them were pretty primed as it was now after 1am. Poor Simon Smith fell asleep on the lounge. 

Falling asleep in a room full of face and body painters?
Bad idea Simon. (The photo above has been stolen from a friend's Facebook page)

The fun continued until a just after 4am when we all decided it was probably time to call it a night and go to bed. I have a feeling it's going to be one of those weekends. We're both looking forward to tomorrow and catching up with lots of people. I hope this man flu has gone by then.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Ukraine day 9 - Poltava to Kiev - another second cousin and some crime!


We wolfed down another early breakfast as we had another train to catch this morning. Mykhailo and Alexi met us downstairs and we pointed the mighty Mercedes van toward the Poltava railway station. It was nice of Mykhail to make the effort to get up early this morning and see us off. He didn't have to as his duties as our guide finished yesterday. I'd like to think he enjoyed his time with us, I know we enjoyed his company on this trip. He told us he'd continue digging and try and find some more about our family history. After all, there are two aunties that we still know nothing about. But that will be another story...

We said goodbye to the guys and it was actually a bit emotional. Mykhailo had done so much for us in such a short time. He felt like an old friend. I'm pretty sure I saw a tear in his eye as he said goodbye as well.

Goodbye Mykhail and Alexi. We really will miss you.

Our train, ready to roll.

The train trip was once again a very pleasant ride. Suzanne engaged in her favourite pastime as usual, sleeping, while I caught up on some blogging. You'd be surprised how hard it is to keep up with it. Each blog takes an hour at the very least, and when you're flat out touring it's very hard to find the time. And then you need internet access. (insert Suzanne . . . stop moaning, I have a solution Sime, don't do it, then you can spend more time with me : ) (Not moaning Suzanne, just telling it like it is) Anyway, the rural countryside was amazing and the autumn leaves of the Silver Birches were a palette of vibrant golds, browns, reds, oranges, and yellows, just like in dad's paintings.

Once we were in Kiev again out transfer driver picked us up and drove us back to Riviera on Podol, our hotel. 

The one and only Ukrainian girl photo I managed to snap off while Suzanne wasn't watching. Check out those shoes.

I hope Suzanne doesn't read this blog.

(Insert Suzanne...I do read it as you get me to check your spelling you numpty, and if I remember correctly I was the one who spotted the bum, I mean the shoes : ) 

You know what it's like when you lob at a hotel. All the rigmarole of organising your luggage, checking in, and making sure you don't leave anything in your transport. We'd been standing at reception for a few minutes when I noticed a family standing off to one side, the woman was holding a bunch of flowers. It had totally slipped my mind that Alla was going to meet us at the hotel. I walked over and asked if she was waiting for Mykolajenkos. There were lots of big hugs and we started the family reunion all over again.

Alla, Sacha, and their two daughters Alina (9) and Sophia (5) were all there. The girls were pretty happy as they got to have the day off school to go and meet their Aussie relatives. The family tree is really getting a workout. Of course no one spoke English so Lily was our translator. Those of you who know Lily will understand how funny that could be. ; ) At one point she stopped talking to Alla, turned to me and chattered away in Ukrainian. I let her go for some time before I said 'Mil ,(I've always  call her Milla) I can't understand Ukrainian". Then she turned to Alla and told her what had happened - in English. I guess you had to be there to see the funny side. I love my sister.

Sofia, Alina, Sacha, and Alla. (L to R)

The girls were really cool.

In all the excitement something terrible happened. Sacha had put his small briefcase down, and it disappeared. He owns a car yard and his case contained a sizable amount of cash, important paperwork, two phones, work, car & home keys, and all the usual cards etc. The Police were called and the hotel security camera footage viewed. It showed one man walk in and distract the reception staff while another sat down, after draping his coat over the arm of a chair. A few minutes later he picked up his coat, along with Sacha's bag, and calmly walked out of the hotel. About half an hour later the bag miraculously appeared out the front of her hotel with everything, except the cash, still inside. Apparently this is quite common. The Ukrainian Mafia follow tourists into hotels and steal things in the usual check in confusion. It put a big cloud over our happy day. The one person who seemed least concerned was Sacha, who continued to joke and laugh as we spoke.

The Police rolled up. Now I've spoken (admittedly at length) about the girls and the way they dress in Ukraine. Well now it was Suzanne's turn. She said to me "Did you see the Police when they got here?" I said no, because I had, and I thought I'd get in trouble if I said yes. The first one walked in. Tall, blond, wearing a short black skirt, stockings, and heeled, tall leather boots. Suzanne thought she was a stripper visiting the hotel. Then her partner walked in. She was the same except with dark hair. They sat with Sacha and took down all the details of what had happened. Maybe the theory here is if you are a criminal you'll give yourself up to be arrested and handcuffed by someone like these two. (Rex, Gary, you've got nothing on these two coppers.)

Meanwhile back at the family, Suzanne gave each of the girls one of her books. They loved them, but Sofia really wanted to be painted. We sat upstairs in the bar and started to explain to Alla how we all fitted in the family. She had no idea. I showed her my rough family tree and it all came together. She added Sasha, Alina, and Sofia to the tree. She knew of dad and told us her mother has a lot of photos. As with when we met Valya we wished we had more time to get to know everyone better and to find out more about the family, but like I said, a week ago we knew nothing so we couldn't plan anything. It's obvious we have to come back. Sasha said we should come back in winter and he'd take us skiing. I asked how cold it gets and he said minus thirty two! I suggested that I won't be riding the BM in minus thirty two. Oh yes, Sasha is a motorcyclist as well. He rides a Suzuki VL1500. Yahoo! A rellie that rides.

We get all of the niceties out of the way and Alla suggests we go to the Kiev archives to try and get a birth certificate for dad. At the first stop they search for dad's details but tell us that they don't have the records here, we need to go to another archive. We are now driving around Kiev in peak hour traffic. Sasha has to go back to work, so he called a friend to drive us around. He can obviously pull some strings. 

Next stop we are told, no we don't have them here, you need to go to Poltava. We told them we were there two days ago and they tell us again – go to Poltava. Bureaucrats! They are the same all over the world I guess. The bottom line is that no one knows where the records are for 1920. They will try to find 1911 and my uncle's records.

It was a little disappointing, but when I look at what we did get from this trip, I couldn't be happier. At the end of the day we now have sixteen new names for the family tree, with more to come, and we met some of our previously unknown relatives. It's bloody fantastic!

Obviously we had to have some food to celebrate. At last I

I could put my vodka drinking practise to good use. The previous night we had all decided to only have one course at dinner tonight because we were all eating far too much.

Yeah right. 

Alla ordered dinner for us. Not only did we get starters and two courses but some side dishes as well. Sasha had been working and showed up after dinner - with a huge torte. He explained that Ukraine was famous for it's torte. After a LARGE piece I can understand why. It was just heavenly delicious.

Torte anyone? Alina demolished a small piece.

After dinner Sasha explains that he has three cars with drivers downstairs to take us back to our hotel. What did I say about strings? Back at the hotel we all said goodnight and we promised to make a return visit. I don't think it will be during ski season Sasha. Sorry.

The gang. Me, Sofia, Suzanne, Alina, Alla, Lily, and Ron. (L to R)

So that's Ukraine. What a beautiful country, and I have relatives spread around it. I really want to come back here on the bike. I want to learn more about my relatives and our family. I Can't believe how lucky we were to meet our extended family, and we have Mykhailo to thank for that. 

If you have the opportunity to visit Ukraine, do it. You won't be disappointed, and if you ask nicely I might hook you up with my cousins who'll show you around.

I don't want to leave tomorrow.

(Sorry about the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but it's late and I have been typing this quickly, trying to keep up with my thoughts).