A Travellerspoint blog


Reporting from Düsseldorf

View Mallorca on aboo10's travel map.

Given that I 'accidentally' got a job 3 days before term started, our settling in time to our new home has taken a bit longer than planned, and been a bit more tiring than planned. When I was not supposed to be working, the plan was that I would be doing all the unpacking and setting up the house, and grocery shopping, leaving our weekends free to explore Düsseldorf and get to know where we now live. The kids had their settling in moments, missing their old school and friends, and wanting to 'go home', but we've explained and explained that this is now our home, and trying to make things comfortable and familiar. In Germany, everything closes on Sundays. Everything. So Saturdays are crazy with shopping and planning for the week.

So after 10 weeks of school, we had a mid term break coming up... and we debated about staying home and exploring Düsseldorf, or going away and relaxing. Feet up relaxing. Really we knew that if we stayed home, we would spend more time unpacking those last few boxes and doing more school work, and what we needed was some down time... so we found a last minute holiday package in Mallorca... we booked it, a bit blind, not knowing very much about where we were going, and when we got on that plane, we were on our way to 5 days of relaxation!

Being further south, the days were longer, and we cherished the last of the summer, Mallorca was about 10 degrees warmer. We stayed in an all-inclusive resort, which was a new experience for us... not necessarily one we would rush back to, but lying by the pool overlooking the Mediterranean was not too hard to take. The kids were in the pool for hours on end and we were lucky as well to have a kids club on site.

We went for a 5 day break, and didn't take very long to settle in. We went into town one day and visited the stunning cathedral and wandered around the old town, and enjoyed a tapas lunch and a sangria. We got caught in a deluge on the way home, and were lucky to quickly hail a taxi to get us back to the hotel quickly.

On another day we hired a car and drove around the island, and visited some caves on the far side and Bellver Castle on the hill in Palma overlooking the harbour and across to the cathedral. It was remarkable because it is round.

The rest of the time we let the kids go to kids club, swim and play, while we relaxed and read trashy novels!!

Posted by aboo10 12:04 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches churches children family_travel Comments (0)

Our new home

Reporting from Düsseldorf

sunny 25 °C

I know this is well overdue... and that in fact we have been living here for nearly to 6 months... but my new year's resolution is to get my blog back up to date and write about our travels regularly!! So look out for a few rapid-fire posts!!

So remembering back to early August, when the sun was shining and the air was warm, we were welcomed to Düsseldorf and met at the airport by our settling in 'buddy', who had the keys to our house and the directions for the taxi driver. I felt a bit bewildered as we drove along, and in no time at all, we were pulling up at our new house. We are in a small apartment building (compared to our 30 floor block in Shanghai). There are 8 flats in the block, and our flat is on the top 2 floors - no lift, but our front door is on the second floor of the building.

We were pleasantly surprised. The flat was polished and shiny, we had a welcome box waiting for us. The kids loved the spiral staircase, and the furniture package we had pre-bought was all installed and gave us enough to be comfortable for a little while at least. Our buddy left us for a little while, and then came back to show us where the closest supermarket was... so we all wandered down for our first foray into Aldi. We didn't buy much, just some fruit, vegetables, milk and groceries... just enough to set us up for dinner and breakfast!

Over the next few days, we headed off on some little walks around and our buddy took us in to town to help us get mobile phones, internet and home phone all connected and sorted out. And of course take us to our first German pub for the Düsseldorf special beer, Alt. We went into our school (employer) to fill in lots of forms, and get acquainted with the German Bureaucracy, and get all our visas and so forth in place. We spotted the Rhine when we walked up to Kaiserswerth, and were amazed at just how close it was!!

Germany turned on the heat for us, and we spent a day at the pool. We wondered how many of the kids who were swimming there that day, we would know or be friends with by the following summer. We found our 'local', and couldn't believe how cute the square was where we sat for a few cold beers... while the kids ate ice cream.

In our first full week, we enrolled Jie Jie into a swim camp. Our logic behind this was so she knew some people before she started school, and it was a good ploy - we met a handful of Grade 1s, who have remained her friends all through first semester! Her teacher at swim camp also turned out to be our downstairs neighbour. It was a bit of a palaver to get her there - 2 trams there and 2 trams back, and a longish walk to/from the pool.

Our next week, was when Mike started orientation at work, and the kids and I took a few careful exploratory outings on our own, and also attended what we could of the Orientation program for newbies... including a walking tour of Düsseldorf, a river cruise and lunch. Didi charmed all the other new teachers when he was asked at lunch what a four year old could do, and his response was that 'I can dress up like Superman'. We went to a dinner for all new staff, and sat on a table (lucky for me) with the deputy head of the Elementary School, and she was over the moon when I said that I was a qualified teacher and was hoping to do some supply work once the kids were settled.

We had made friends on the tram with another Aussie family, with a girl and a boy (each one year younger than our two) and the husband works at the school too, and they invited us over for our first real playdate on the Thursday before school was due to start... We turned up there, only to be met by the HR Manager from school... She mentioned that they were short a part time teacher for 10 weeks and would I be interested... I left my two kids for a play, and went down to chat with the Elementary School Principal, and agreeing to attend a training session the next day (when babysitting was provided) I had accepted a Literacy Support Teaching role, part time for 10 weeks. I turned up the next morning to the training session, only to be pulled out again after an hour, to meet with the Director of the whole school, and after a quick chat with Mike, agreed to take a full time role teaching Grade 3... aiyo... school starts Monday!!

Posted by aboo10 11:55 Archived in Germany Comments (0)


Reporting from Düsseldorf

sunny 45 °C
View Relocation on aboo10's travel map.

At the time of booking our one way trip to Düsseldorf, it seemed like a good option to have a stop on the way in Dubai. However, after checking in 8 bags at Tullamarine, and only about 30kg overweight we were having our doubts about hauling all this stuff off the plane, and into a hotel for a few days. All things considered, it couldn't have been easier as we had airport transfers included, and we'd packed the bags such that we didn't need to open them all up, but with all that stuff, and having not considered the impacts of Ramadan, it wasn't really a relaxing 3 days in the desert!

So firstly, it was 45 degrees. That's hot. That's the kind of hot, that you go outside from the air conditioning and your glasses fog up immediately, or your camera. We arrived just after midnight Dubai time, and after schlepping all our carry on and tired kidlets along the terminal (which is not small) we suddenly realised that one of our carry-ons was missing… so Mike hotfooted back to the gate and asked the ground crew, and fortunately they retrieved bag and we were not already one down! This hold up however, meant we were definitely the last off our plane through customs, and into the baggage retrieval… fortunately all bags were rotating on the carousel and aside from needing 2 trolleys and making the tired kids walk and walk and walk, we finally found the guide holding our names to take us to our hotel.

We got to the hotel and crashed into bed. Our apartment was huge… more than we needed for 3 days, including a full kitchen, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because what we didn't know on arrival was that Ramadan here is actually law, and even foreigners needed to abide by the strict rules of no eating or drinking in public places until after sunset each day. Now, I originally thought that no drinking meant no alcohol, but it means no liquid passing your lips. Children are allowed to drink water. Adults are not supposed to.

So on our first morning, after our breakfast, in a curtained off area in the hotel, where they were serving breakfast until 10am, we headed out to The Dubai Mall, in the foyer was an enormous fish tank - 3 storeys high, and about as wide. In the foyer as well there was an elaborate Da Vinci exhibition, which fascinated the kids. What we couldn’t get over though, in a mall, was that all, and I mean every single one, the food shops were closed. They were all closed up, dark and with no signs of life at all. Fortunately I had some muesli bars, chocolate and sultanas on hand, and a bottle of water, and by the afternoon when we really hadn’t had enough food to keep the kids sane, I started surreptitiously sneaking sultanas into their mouths, just to give them a mini-energy boost. We went up the impressive Burj Khalifa, which is currently the tallest building in the world, to the viewing platform. We were lucky that we had a fairly clear day to enjoy the view out to the desert and out to sea, however were suddenly surprised, and a little disappointed to find that the viewing platform is actually 22m lower than that of the Shanghai World Financial Centre, despite the actual building being almost twice as tall.


After we finished there, we wondered what activities we could do on empty, weak bellies in the searing heat, and this mall had everything - ice skating rinks, other galleries and displays, loads of shops and an aquarium, and popular consensus (which actually meant everyone except me) decided that we would go to the movies, to see Pixar’s latest movie, Monsters University in 3D. It was actually pretty good, and the kids loved it. When it was over, sundown was finally coming close… and the restaurants were all showing signs of life, we wandered around looking for one where we could have dinner. As soon as the sun set. We rejected Carluccios, Brunettis and a Chinese restaurant on the basis that we were in the Middle East, and wanted to eat accordingly. We found an appropriate place, which had a bargain ramadan dinner set menu, and we thought that would be perfect. We also ordered some breads and mild meatballs for the kids, but then the set menu came, starting with a fancy aperitif. The drawback of having not eaten all day, was that actually we were full after a few bites of bread dipped in hommous with some fried cheese. We watched the water and light show under the Burj Khalifa from the restaurant which was pretty spectacular, and then asked to take the rest of our dinner home with us.

24B1FBA92219AC68178F464227B2A098.jpgThe next day we were off on an organised part of our trip, but we hadn’t really done very much research before we left, and although we thought we were going on a tour, we actually went to a waterslide park… again no substantial food all day!! But they did sell drinks, frozen yoghurt and fresh fruit… the kids went non-stop for several hours on the slides, and we tried to keep up with them!! We had the previous night’s leftovers as dinner, and then went to bed early to be ready for our final flight for this trip… to our new home in Düsseldorf.

Posted by aboo10 01:08 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Australia in Winter…

Reporting from Düsseldorf

This is a super quick update to explain our travels and moves during the last 2 months. We packed up our life in Shanghai after five years, and have been in transition from China to our new home in Germany.

Our shipping left Shanghai at the start of June, so we were effectively camping in our own home for about 3 weeks, but with some furniture as it didn't all belong to us… we finished up our time in Shanghai with a bucket list which included taking the kids to Lost Heaven, walking along the Bund (again), eating noodles, cocktails and dinner at Flair, and celebrating the 'last' time we did a number of things, and of course saying farewell to so many of our dearest friends. Even with so much time ahead of our departure we were flat out with activities including the last week at school, farewell parties for the kids, including a swimming party for our kids thrown together at the last minute the day after school finished, and that final clean up. We couldn't believe how much stuff we still had left over!!

We checked out of our apartment and headed to Pudong International Airport for our last flight out as residents with 113kg of checked in luggage. (I am not ruling out never flying out of Pudong again!) The kids were amazing (as usual) and flew well, and even managed the transfer in KL. Didi woke up after our landing in Sydney and asked in a loud clear voice - 'Are we in Germany now?' Poor little darling… didn't like that the answer was No. We checked into the Swissotel in Market Street, and were glad to have an upgraded room and that it was available straight away. We had four days scheduled in Sydney and most of it was to attend to our business. Jie Jie had a playdate on the North Shore with a boy who had been at her school in Shanghai until a few months ago and it was delightful to see them catch up again. We went out for dinner with my aunt, uncle and cousins to the Australian Hotel in the Rocks - which had an ace atmosphere, thanks to the big rugby game between Australia and England.

On Sunday we started the day by going to a service at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, which is run by the minister who married us, and also christened both the kids. Then some gorgeous friends from Newcastle drove down to see us and we spent the afternoon at the Australian Museum looking at the dinosaurs and playing in the kids area. They have had a second baby (who is now nearly one) that we hadn't met, so was fab to catch up with them.

The sun finally came out on Monday and we went for a walk through the Botanic Gardens and around the Opera House. I always feel like I've come home when I am on that promenade at Circular Quay watching the ferries come in and seeing the sun glistening on the harbour looking ahead to the both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I guess that's what living in Sydney for over 10 years does to you!! Beautiful city.

After our time in Sydney, we hired a car and drove down to stay with my awesome 91 year old Grandma at her new villa in Batemans Bay. We had a jam packed few days with fish and chips on the beach, a day out on my uncle's farm followed by a boat trip back down to Batemans Bay. I just love the Aussie bush, the colours and the smells are divine. We also visited my step-Grandfather who has recently moved into a high care nursing home, and has kangaroos grazing outside his window. It was great to see all the family and spend time again in a place we know so well.

From Batemans Bay we drove across NSW to Wagga Wagga to visit a friend from University, and break our drive. It was great for the kids to be able to play with their toys and get to know their kids! After one night in Wagga we continued down south to Melbourne… we headed to Milawa for lunch, and to stock up on some delicious cheese and then meandered though Gippsland to Mum and Dad's house.

3 weeks in Melbourne flew past, busy with doctors appointments, organising our stuff a bit more and catching up with old friends. Mum and Dad were delighted to have the kids in their house and organised a variety of activities for them, and started off with taking them to the zoo, and finished with a trip to the Aquarium. Jie Jie and Dad got a bit of an interest in the birds down at the Glen Iris Wetlands, and spent their spare minutes down there documenting the birds they saw, and constantly on the lookout for the elusive blue wren.

The weather in Melbourne was perfect, a delightful sunny, unusually warm July. Loved the blue skies and fluffy clouds, and the sun streaming in the windows of the sunroom. It was nice to be back in the house I grew up in, it's a lovely area and so familiar even after 15 years away.

Packing our bags for the next flights caused some worry, as although initially we thought it would all fit in easily, at the last minute it was apparent that there was a good chance we would exceed our baggage allocation of 30kg per person. At the check in counter, we were proved right - we exceeded our luggage allowance by almost another 30kg! Fortunately the man checking us in told us that our A380 had 200 empty seats, and not to worry about the excess and didn't charge us… but we were only headed to Dubai for a mini-break/stopover… what would happen when we left Dubai???

Posted by aboo10 13:07 Comments (2)

Giant Pandas and a Big Buddha

Reporting from Chengdu

overcast 19 °C
View Pandas and a Giant Buddha on aboo10's travel map.

It's the Spring Break or Easter Holidays from school this week, and we have had Nannie and Granddad visiting from Wales. After suggesting a few places we could go, and with some consultation with the short people we decided to visit Chengdu, so we could see the pandas. Technically, our little family have been here before, we came here on our very first Chinese adventure... But Didi was in utero and Jie Jie was only 20 months old, so not surprisingly didn't remember it too much, or at all.

We have practically relived our first trip as on our first full day we went to see the pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base. And they were as cute as Mike and I remembered. Playing with their friends and eating bamboo and chilling out in the gorgeous scenery, the pandas were a joy to watch, and quite mesmerising. We arrived and there was a mystical fog coming through the bamboo, but when we got to the first enclosures, we couldn't see any pandas and we were peering in, looking hard into the depths of then enclosures only to realise we'd arrived before the pandas were out for breakfast. All of a sudden, three pandas entered the enclosure and immediately launched upon some bundles of bamboo and stripped them bare of leaves and crunch up the stems. We walked around the Research Base looking into all the enclosures which were grouped roughly by age. Interestingly their behaviour as cubs, sub-adults and adults kind of corresponded with similar age groups in people. The Red Pandas also had a section of enclosures, and interestingly aside from the common name of panda, the Red Pandas and the Giant Pandas are not related as species at all. This visit to Chengdu we have come in the spring, whereas last time we came in the autumn, and so this time the youngest pandas we saw were about nine month old toddlers, compared to three month old tiny babies. It was lovely to see the babies playing with mum and having cuddles and tumbling with their siblings. And our kids are now the proud parents of a new red panda and also a giant panda, super cute and cuddly!!

That night we went to see a performance of the Sichuan Opera, which is famous for face mask changing, and was super impressive. Even though it didn't start until 8pm, and after a busy day the kids stayed awake until the very end, although Didi fell asleep in the applause, which I think was really just a ploy to be carried home! The show was amazing, and had a number of acts including acrobats, illusions, singing and dancing and the face changing act was remarkable. Instantaneous mask and costume changes, all by sleight of hand. Truly amazing, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Yesterday we went out to see the Giant Buddha at Leshan Mountain. The Buddha was carved out of rock at the junction of two rivers, with the belief that Buddha would help calm the currents of the two rivers, remarkably it worked, although according to our guide book, it might just be because that was where the leftover rock was tossed. We took a speedboat out on the river to look at the full Buddha. The trip only took about 15 mins in total, but we got a fun speedy ride along the river and a good look at the Buddha. After that we climbed to the top of the mountain to see the Buddha from the top. It had been raining so was a little slippery in parts, but the well worn steps were easy enough to climb, and we all did it, grandkids and grandparents together! It was even more impressive to see the Buddha from level with his 9m ear as it gave a true scale of just how big he is, at 74m tall!! We enjoyed looking in the temple on the top, although Didi was a little scared of some of the carved wooden guards with threatening eyes. And also tried to blow out the incense sticks and oil burners. There was a fish pond with enormous carp which the kids fed... Not that they looked hungry at all. We then had to climb down, and went through an ancient fishing village and saw a gorgeous old bridge across a river. Our driver came to pick us up, and we promptly all fell asleep on the three hour drive back to Chengdu.

Sichuan cuisine is among my favourite of the Chinese cuisines, and we thoroughly enjoyed trying Gong Pao Chicken and Ma Po Tofu in situ. The flavours were exquisite, although a bit too much for Nannie and Granddad, who also struggled with chopsticks, and not being Shanghai, western cutlery was not readily available.

Now we are just packing everything up, and getting ready to head back to Shanghai!!

Posted by aboo10 20:40 Archived in China Tagged children pandas sichuan family_travel Comments (2)

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