Christmas in Tassie - not all just fun and games


12.18.2014 until the 6. of Jan 2015


I hate ships ... the rolling about and the prospect of a long voyage across Bass Strait from Melbourne to Devonport also brings back memories of Scottish ferries where I spent hours heaving over the ceramic bowl (or praying to god on the big white telephone), because this route has a reputation for being extremely rough at times. Since we had to spend so much for the crossing of our motorcycle already we try to save on ours, So we now sit on rather uncomfortable recliners instead of booking a cabin with proper beds. Luckily, I've taken 2 seasickness pills which have completely knocked me out and I sleep like an angel while Kevin tries to find a comfortable position in his chair which he can't make to recline at all. It is just getting light, when we arrive (my prayers were answered, the crossing was quiet) and although there are still a few days left until Christmas we decide not to make detours and go immediately to Paul and Kerry’s at the other end of the island. Our bike is already waiting for us in the parking lot, because we as foot passengers were allowed to leave the ship last and we immediately wrap up in the full bike gear- it is much colder here than it was in Melbourne and then we follow Wayne through the checkpoints where vehicles are being searched for unauthorized goods such as fruits, vegetables, honey, etc. - they are even stricter and more thorough here than they have been on the other state borders. Wayne is well known here and so we are just waved through friendly and very soon we are on the highway one, which will take us on a direct route to Hobart. It's pretty cool and cloudy, sometimes it drizzles. The landscape and small villages through which we come remind us even more "Good old Britain" than anything we've seen in Australia so far - the architectural style, the churches, rosaries, bowling greens, the English lawns, advertising signs, place names, countryside, pastures with cows and sheep ... .. simply everything. We stop in the small town of Ross and treat ourselves to the biggest Vanilla Slices of the Empire for breakfast - lavley. We did have some Cornish pasties too but they were not really that thrilling - at least when you know the real thing. Tasmania is more than twice as large as Belgium and from Devonport to Paul and Kerrys place it's just over 300 km, but thanks to the really good highways and the fact that there is virtually no traffic, we arrive at our destination at midday despite several breaks along the way. I am sure the GPS does not know it but it actually takes us along the scenic route and not the fast one, which is definitely fine by us. Well - what can I say, it feels like coming home. We've been traveling so long, but since we left our home for the first time, we are among friends - people who know our home and have felt comfortable there.  It is a wonderful feeling. And what a wonderful place they live in - or how else would you call a house with motorcycles in the living room and a lawn full of wallabies? After 3 months of travelling, down the west coast and then across the south of this vast continent, it's great to finally be in a place where we can take a break and a deep breath ......we only relax for a couple of days really and then Kerry takes out the whip so I finally get working on our blog and bring it up to date (well I am about 6 months behind) ...... and somehow it's pretty hard to write that part of Bali to Timor-Leste. I cannot tell you why - except it is more and more difficult day by day. Probably because it's been so long and so much has happened since then that I have problems to get everything written down now. When we travel, it is often almost impossible to sit down to work on the blog or I don't even find the time for the diary. We're on the road almost every day and there in Australia we have spent most nights in a tent in the bush, so we have to conserve the batteries of the computer and do as little as possible on it ... .. Kerry has set the goal that we should be up to date with our paperwork and have fixed all the problems on our bike when we leave this place. Not an easy task - we have accumulated quite a few errands to accomplish: Kevin needs blood pressure tablets, our carnet must be extended as well as the insurance for the motorcycle, we need spare parts and almost everything we carry around with us slowly but surely falls apart. There is an awful lot that needs to be repaired on the bike (intermittent electrical failures, spare tank welding, sidecar break setting, indicators don't work ... again, tappets setting .... ). Our two friends have in addition rather quite a busy social life and because Paul is away from home for long periods of time when he is on the ship jobs accumulate to be sorted while he has his time off so there is a lot of what needs to be done before he sails towards Antarctica again. So after first assessing the situation and a battle plan is drafted, what can we do when and how. I spend every free minute on the computer and Kev is glad that he gets to do something different for a change by helping Paul to paint an old caravan. Of course, it is not all just work - in between we do quite a bit of exploring - one day we go to Hobart to the weekly market, for example ... .. What a contrast to markets at home at this time of the year! Kerry complains that everywhere is crowded and full of tourists - for us it is pleasant and relaxing more like a normal market day and not at all like one just before the Christmas holidays. There are plenty of parking spaces and not the least bit of the crowded jostle we know from home - only Bing Crosby's dreaming of a white Christmas playing aggravates me here too... Anyway - we really loved Hobart from the first moment. It does not feel like a major city at all. There are very few highrise buildings and city is nestled at and around the hills and the harbor.  There are many small shops, old buildings and oodles of history. Even though it's not thousands of years since Europeans settled here and most of it "only" dates as of the end of the 18th century (well at least if you ignore 40000 years of Aboriginal history on this island which we decide to do for the moment), but is very intense and felt everywhere. Abel Tasman was the first European who discovered the island in 1642. He was a Dutch sailor and explorer who was employed by the East India Company and tried to find new sea routes to Indonesia and originally named the island Van Diemen's Land after his employer (in 1856 the name was officially changed in Tasmans honor).  It took another 130 years , until the English came here and from 1803 they started to colonize the state - mainly with deported prisoners and their guards, which were meant to provide agricultural and industrial development on the island. A coveted commodity from this place was the wood of the Huon pine, a tree which grows only in Tasmania’s  narrow silt river beds and that very slowly. Some specimens are up to 2000 years old, the wood is naturally impregnated with oils that give it a honey-yellow color and very fine grain and ensure that it does not absorb water and therefore does not rot - these properties are ideal for shipbuilding - the nation of seafarers had unlimited use for this timber (which means that nowadays there are not so very many of these trees left). Anywhere in Hobart you can find monuments from its past as a penal colony, but also lovingly designed mementos of recent history can be found such as the detailed copy of Mawson's Hut from the South Pole (an Australian and one of the major antarctic explores next to Amundsen) - all in all one of the nicest cities that us two country bumkins have come across so far. The next day a ride-out with the British Bike Club is on the agenda. We meet in Hobart and from there it goes up Mount Wellington, where we admire an incredible view of the city, surrounding hills, the river Derwent, the channel and Bruny Island. From here most of the partaking bikers ride to the home of one of the club members, where everything for the physical well-being is provided (i.e. BBQ, sweets and drinks) and of course lots of bike-talk is being shared ... Liza and we are also duly admired and amongst all the friendly club members we also have the honor to meet Stan Dibben and his son Mark. Stan is quite a special person - with a long and admirable life - and he was sidecar world champion in the year in which Kevin was born ... .. We end the day in the pub around the corner, where we just catch the last half hour of a Raggae band appearance and enjoy this with a few Ciders in the sunshine - what a day. The last few days before Christmas are relatively quiet.  We manage to get in contact with Tom and Abby who we had a wonderful time in Mongolia with before we continued our trip to the south and Tom and Abby went north as they were on their way to London and from there on to Abby's home country (Canada) before in the end they settled here in Hobart. Kerry invites them to a nice barbecue and we are pleased to see them once again after we spent such a brilliant week in Mongolia together. The restoration of Dolly the caravan is making progress - as is my blog, on which I now work with alacrity and Kerry's whip in the back. On Christmas Eve Kev has an appointment with Paul's family doctor, who helps him and prescribes enough pills to stock up on blood pressure tablets to last him for the next six months, then we make a detour to Ken. He is also a member of the British Motorcycle Club and restores old motorcycles and cars with enthusiasm and attention to detail - what a treasure trove of vintage vehicles - everything restored is also fully functional and we marvel at some of his new projects which when Ken has finished working on them in his meticulous way will be like new. It is obvious how much Ken loves his hobby as he shows us around and answers all of our questions. Here we meet Stan and Mark Dibben again who seem to be just as pleased with this meeting ,as we are and when we are about to leave Mark invites us to visit him and Stan at his home when we've a breather from all our errands, visits and paperwork . On the way back we stop at the Automobile Association in Hobart, where we try to sort out the extension of our carnet. The competent young lady has never done anything like this, but pulls out all the stops to help us and after a few phone calls we have a fair idea how everything has to work, She copies all the documents that we have available and promises to get it all sorted in the required way - but the lady of the AAA (Australian Automobile Association) who deals with this kind of request is on holiday until the 5th of January - we are assured however that there will still be sufficient time available to us to have the extension before the old customs documents expire so that we AND our Liza can stay in the country without further problems. On the way back we do some last-minute shopping for tomorrow's Hippie Christmas celebration, and again I cannot believe how calm and relaxed the atmosphere in the supermarket is and that there is not the pre-Christmas consumerism stress going on here: there are plenty of parking spaces , the shelves are not empty, there are shopping carts available and no long queues at the tills, even though they are not even all open ! Unbelievable!! We do need to get a move on now though as there is still a lot to prepare for tomorrow's party. Paul and Kev start taking the furniture out of the living room and then carry tables and chairs for the feast in while Kerry and I start with the cooking - I would like to contribute German meatballs and cheese appetizers for the party, Kerry is cooking 2 different dishes plus a dessert and is found in every corner of the house. She distributes the jobs, monitors their correct execution and then digs out the decor. In between, she still finds time to look after Wesley – taking care of the old dog and his ailments. She also captures everything photographically - while I'm already worn out just by watching her.  She complains that this year she’s somehow slacking - hah - lucky, otherwise we'd probably just see her shoot past us like watching a time-lapse movie. After my meatballs are done Kev and I get the task to assemble the old dusty Christmas tree - not an easy task, because it has lost a lot of its plastic branches and we will do our best to fill the holes with decoration. I try conjuring up a Christmas feeling - but even though it is summer here in Tassie that does not necessarily  mean it’s always warm (when there is no sun, it is sometimes so cold and lousy as it is at home at the other end of the world if we have a "lousy Winter").

I wonder what makes up the Christmas feeling for me  and decide it  must be made up from the Pre-Christmas-Stress paired with all the Christmas markets, the fairy lights everywhere, the daily droning of George Michael’s Last Christmas and the strained following the weather report in the hope of having a white Christmas somehow seems to sum up the so-called festive mood back home. You could somehow compare it with a pressure cooker: the pressure increases as of the end of November from day to day - starting with all the shopping that needs to be done, accumulating Christmas presents, preparing and cleaning the house , writing cards and of course (at least in Germany) the cookie baking for Christmas ...... .. until just before the festival of peace the pressure is so strong that it culminates every now and then in domestic disputes - and when finally everyone is sitting,  freshly bathed, under the Christmas tree while the smoke of burnt schnitzels (which have to be replaced with sausages in the end) slowly disappears  and the all the excitement is being replaced by the disappointment  over unwrapping a new Iron (that one definitely had on the wish-list), it is as if the pressure cooker has been taken off the heat and placed under cold running water and when you finally open it there is only a faint "Pfft" – now you get the be-it-as-it-may-feeling and you can laugh again, sit together and feast for two days until you almost burst and swear that next year everything will be different. ....... and if everything is different, you ask yourself, what is missing?!?

Well – definitely the family in our case, but unlike the last Christmas in a foreign country, this time, we are in a home with our friends and we are preparing a Christmas party, which is rather different, but has its own tradition ....

We bring a little bit of German Christmas to Tasmania and Paul and Kerry get their little gift we have organized along the way and we have to unpack a few parcels too - Bente our dear friend from London, for example, has not forgotten us and has sent us a calendar with pictures from home and after all our preparations for the next day are done we retreat to our bedroom and Skype with our German family and friends (the English celebrate no Christmas Eve and therefore have to wait until tomorrow) ... .. it's so good to chat and somehow it also feels good to hear that we are being missed. It's kind of funny - we enjoy every minute of this trip - yes - even the bad ones (at least in hindsight) but despite all the wonderful experiences and places that we can see, we know that we will end up back to our starting point with our families and friends - let's hope that everything there has not changed so much by that time that we end up in a foreign land again!

As we have pretty much prepared what we could on Christmas Eve there is not an awful lot left to do on Christmas day – so we enjoy a quiet morning and only have to apply some finishing touches and sort out our glad rags according to the theme. I don’t have too much trouble here because I've bought a few brightly colored dresses in Asia, a tinsel ribbon around the head and finished is the job. Kev gets my 18 hole colorful patchwork happy-pants from Indonesia and a scarf tied around his forehead, he also looks the part. Kerry has spontaneously invited Mark and his father Stan, for all who come to the Christmas party, according to Kerry are orphans who have no family in Tassie and / or otherwise would not be celebrating. So shortly after noon all start arriving and they have been working really hard on their outfits  - the Flower Power Party has turned into a Hippie-Christmas, all look as if they were on the way to Woodstock and everyone brings some delicious food with them - Only Mark and Stan obviously had trouble finding a suitable outfit at such short notice, which would pass as flower power so we decorate the pair with a little tinsel and what we find otherwise.

It is a fun afternoon with a lot of extremely delicious food - but nothing typical for Christmas - more international and colourful. After the formal part - Food and Photos - at some point the wigs fall and lo and behold - almost all have gray, short hair. All the food has been great, but the best thing is a ice-cream gateau. Serena says with a grin that she is only allowed to come to the party if she brings the dessert with her and all other’s unanimously declare that this is no joke.

Well – this Australian Christmas is traditionally ‘untraditional’ and something what Kevin's son once said about us and our friends pops into my head: "somehow you're all a little bit crazy" – well thank god for that! One thing, however, is just like at home - in the end we have more than enough food left over, to not have to deal with cooking over the next few days.

Boxing Day is not a special day here. The shops are open again and Kerry, Paul and Kev are devoted to join forces finishing off the caravan for the Snelling family with their two children today so they can move in for a week. They have however called and changed the day of their arrival, because all 4 have caught a gastrointestinal virus and prefer not to fly in this state - so now there is enough time to get everything ready in peace and I ... .. sit at the computer. Now I'm working on the translation of the 13 pages I wrote about last month in Indonesia and as usual this takes its time. I need two more days until I am finally ready to upload everything on the website - one for the translation (that's what happens when you write too much and then on top of it insist on doing this in 2 languages) and a further sorting and labeling the pictures and then uploading the whole lot and now I have to do the same for Timor-Leste, and almost 4 months of travelling across Australia .... here I have an advantage though: everything is already written in German and I only have to revise the rough draft a little – so there is "only" the translation and the sorting of the photos missing... ...

Kev has now started to work on our bike and he has found out that the bearings in the swing arm of the sidecar are completely done in – and naturally they are not standard stock that you get in any store but expensive original BMW parts - great! What it would feel like when one day everything was repaired and in perfect working order – I wonder? Kev has set the tappets, Paul has synchronized the carburetors, the spare tank has been taken out and is waiting to be welded and now the simple task to put new brake pads in the sidecar brake has extended into taking the whole lot to pieces and we have to find an affordable source for the bearings of the swingarm (Munich Motorcycles charges over 200 dollars for the pair we need !! !) Oh, and then there's a problem with the throttle cable - it does not roll back, with the result that the engine whines loudly at idle. Fortunately, this one problem is solved quickly as it turns out that one of the two throttle cables is damaged and at least here we have something in the spare parts box ... .. At least the caravan is ready - Kerry's friends called and announced their arrival for tomorrow. Paul is cleaning the insides and then Kerry hangs the curtains and makes the beds - it looks absolutely super. If the Snellings prefer a bed – we won’t mind swapping!  Andrew, Bron and the two girls Pippa and Indigo bring life into the place and of course they are also infected by the passion for motorcycles, engines and old cars. Andrew has twice taken part in the Beijing / Paris Rally (which we have pursued on TV at home!). They are all currently a little worn out, for one by the recently passed tummy bug, and also because the normally cute and cheerful little Indigo is teething heavily, which turns the most peaceful baby into a nightmare. So we all (I mean the visitors) have something in common: We have sailed into Paul and Kerry's peaceful harbour and try to recharge our batteries - we for the onward journey and family Snelling for everyday life and so we spend the last days of the old year with a few excursions and a little rest - even if we try to bring our bike and blog fit up to date at the same time......

New Years eve it was planned to go to a party initially but somehow we all seem to fancy just a quiet nice evening so a simple meal for all is quickly cooked and then we just spend the evening and time until midnight in the back yard with a lovely fire (in an old washing machine drum) and we just about make it to midnight before falling into our beds - it was just right....

After a quiet end to an incredible year we begin 2015 with a ride-out with Paul and Kerry and a few of their friends. Paul and Kerry go back home again after a short time, because they do not want to leave Andrew, Bron and the children alone  with their old dog for too long. We join the remaining party and explore a few extra loops of the coastal road. Often we stop to enjoy the beautiful views along the coast and onto Bruny Island. It is a beautiful day, blue skies and sunshine but also windy and you never really know what to wear here. In the sun it's hot, and thanks to the Antarctic ozone hole you catch quite a nasty sunburn in no time. When the sun disappears behind a cloud ,  however, it immediately gets freezing cold and the wind rarely takes a break. Gradually most of the guys leave and in the end we are still riding along with Tim and John, who invites us to a cider in his garage. We admire his 3 old Italian motorcycles and the 2 BMWs, he has lined up there. Pretty much  everyone of Paul  and Kerry's friends seems to have such a collection here (though none can keep up with Paul's private motorcycle museum). Of course we don’t just have ONE can of cider and John also has much to tell. He is a chef and has worked in Italy for many European Summers - he spent  the summer of the southern hemisphere here in Tasmania as a ship's cook.

The next day we want to visit Mark and his father Stan. The two have invited us a few times now and we really want to oblige, because both Stan and his son, who works as a university professor in Hobart are extremely lovable. In addition, of course, Stan has lived a very colorful life and with a mischievous smile knows how to tell thousands of stories. He survived the war as a professional  musician, because he did not have to spend too much time at the front line in this function and then he was found on many stages around the world with his trumpet. However, he had another passion - motorcycles - and so he soon made himself a name as a motorcycle racer and in 1953 he even was, (as already  mentioned) sidecar world champion. He is now almost 90 years old, but still active and even though he must be in quite a bit of pain from a cracked vertebrae, which he has suffered from fairly recently, does not stop him from taking a spin with Kevin in the sidecar and to hang out from the boat in an effective photogenic manner when they return. Although Mark looks at first glance like a typical professor, he has inherited the infectious smile and the charm of his father and also the love for motorcycling ... so we spend another day in illustrious company with many anecdotes. Mark lives in Richmond - a beautiful old town that has witnessed a lot of Tasmanian history and could tell quite some interesting stories too -  if a town could talk.... In any case, many of the historic buildings have been preserved and speak in their own way. Actually, we only wanted to stay with Paul and Kerry until January 2,  but since just before New Year's Eve I have a terrible toothache which becomes worse in the nights an robs me of my sleep. Most offices and also surgeries are closed until January 5th so we have to wait until then to make a dentist appointment - also Kerry still cracks the whip and we can only continue when I at least have caught up with the blog as far as our arrival in Australia so we spend the next few days with Kev and Paul doing jobs on our bike and I'm spending most of my time at the computer ploughing through my work and after I've spent the last 10 days of the old year bringing our adventures from Bali to West Timor to paper, or better on the computer I now make progress with the translation and photos of our report on East Timor.

In addition, we tackle the overdue paperwork like the extension of our carnet and the renewal of the third party bike insurance and get a new SIM card for our Internet Stick ... let's hope that the connections are better here in Tasmania!

With Paul's help, we then order some more spare parts which hopefully we can collect on our return to Sandfly.

The dentist appointment is on Tuesday morning at 9:30 and while I'm sweating through a filling here for an hour then Kev packs the bike so that we can finally set off and explore the island.