Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Toilet break

I only ever come to Brussels for work-related stuff, so tonight I decided to see a bit of the city and leg it around the touristy spots before the sun went down.

It turns out the place is titchy, and unless I managed to miss a massive chunk of the city out somewhere, I saw pretty much everything the guidebook recommended.

Perhaps a little unfairly, Brussels has a bit of a reputation for being a dull place. Full of diplomats and government buildings, much of the characterful buildings have been overshadowed by large office blocks and glass and metal-covered towers.

But in the centre, in the Grand Place, there are some really snazzy, historic buildings which – coupled with its cafe culture – give the city a really nice feel.

The most famous touristy bit of Brussels though isn’t a big, impressive building. Instead it’s a titchy statue of a peeing boy.

Mannekin Pis

To be honest, I didn’t really understand the attraction. I certainly didn’t get why people were queuing up to have a family snap in front of it:

Family Pis
But I had to give a thumbs up to the nearby witty chip shop owners for making the most of its weird, crowd-drawing neighbour:

soggy chips
Not sure I’d want to eat there though. I hate soggy chips.


“It’s starting to blow a bit”

If I was living in Queensland I’d be starting to wonder who I’d annoyed.

After much of the southern part of the state was declared a disaster zone earlier last month thanks to some of the worst flooding ever seen, northern Queensland is now facing it’s own disaster – Cyclone Yasi.

When I was staying in Innisfail, about an hour south from the state capital of Cairns, my friend Marty talked a lot about Cyclone Larry, a tropical cyclone which hit the region in 2006 and did a huge amount of damage to farms, houses and towns.

It pretty much decimated the banana, paw paw and mango industry, snapping trees at their bases and taking out millions of dollars-worth of crops in a matter of minutes. Many farmers were forced out of  business and some of the ones I met were still trying to get back on their feet.

Paw Paws in Innisfail

What’s scary is that Cyclone Larry was a category 4 hurricane. The latest one, Yasi, is category 5.

According to meteorologists, storms and winds of up to 160mph are going to hit north-west Queensland for ten hours within the next few hours (from 11am GMT). There will be an hour’s lull as the storm passes over, then another ten hours of storms will follow.

The cyclone – described as the worst in a century –  is expected to hit at high tide, causing 7m surges in low-lying areas. It’s so strong it’s expected to move up to 300km inland and force rains southwards across a state which is already saturated. The state’s premier, Anna Bligh, said the cyclone’s impact is going to be more life-threatening “than any experienced in recent generations”. Ten thousand people have moved to shelters, those that haven’t have been told to stay in their homes.

Yasi is predicted to hit the coast very close to Marty’s place, where he farms barramundi with his wife Linda and children Harvey and Emma.

I managed to get hold of Marty on Monday, when he said things were “hectic”. He’s just sent me a text message which says: “It’s starting to blow a bit now”. I assume he’s the master of understatement.

Having spent so long in the region, it’s hard to imagine how the largely wooden, stilted houses are going to stand up to such ferocious winds. Having seen the landscape, I know the majority of crops don’t stand a chance.

Etty Bay
Fingers crossed everyone manages to stay safe. Thinking of you.


Settling back in

I’ve avoided blogging for a week or so, partly to give you a rest and partly because I didn’t trust myself not to just whinge about the fact that England is BLOODY FREEZING.

In just 24 hours on a plane I lost 35 degrees. Seriously, I don’t remember it being this cold before.

And what’s with the sun not making an appearance? For five days last week I went to FW Towers before the sun came up and left when it was dark. The lack of daylight has played havoc with my already-wrecked body clock, leaving me half-asleep at 2pm and wide awake at four in the morning. Thank goodness for my suntan, it’s doing a cracking job of disguising what would otherwise be pallid skin and my blood-shot eyes.

Aside from missing a source of Vitamin D, there are a few other things I’ve had to get accustomed to:

1. Wearing shoes. Four months of flip flops has left my midget feet flat and wide like a hobbit’s. They have not appreciated being squeezed into 4”, pointy-toed stilletoes.

2. A life without iced coffee. I’m probably healthier for it, but boy do I miss that sickly, milky, syrupy, caffeiney goodness.

3. Not going to the beach. While I hate going in it, I love being by the sea. Sadly, Vauxhall just doesn’t compare.

Admittedly being back’s not been all bad. It’s been nice to see the family, my Bestest and The Boy. It’s  been nice to find out my housemates didn’t kill my fish in my absence. It’s been nice to see my FW chums and to get back to with arguing with The Farmer. Heck, it’s even been nice to get back into writing about the CAP.

I’d been warned about the post-travelling come-down, so I know I’ll be okay if I just persevere for a bit. After all, Spring’s not far away. It’s got to get warmer soon, right? Right?


The cast (and a thank you)

I’ve gone on about how great it’s been to visit my Nuffield friends, but special mention has to be made to the families who’ve not only put up with a random English girl turning up on their doorstep, but made me feel incredibly welcome.

Aside from giving up their beds, doing my washing, and cooking for me, they’ve been responsible for teaching me how to ride a quad bike, introducing me to hunstman spiders (thanks, Hugh and George), and teaching me how to dance like a ballerina.

The Nuffield kids
I’d like to think that by playing with New Holland tractors, reading with a British accent, dancing to Miley and being covered in My Little Ponies, that I’ve made lots of little friends along the way too.

A special mention has to go to 18-month-old Allie for being the only person in three months to get my name right. My Farmers Weekly chums will attest to how much I love being mistakenly called Carolyn…

I’ve also made a few four-legged friends on my travels too.

The Nuffield Pets
The offer still stands to give Chelsea a home – I reckon she’d love Vauxhall. I could probably find a home for Sam too – my freezer’s pretty empty right now…


The end is nigh

So this is it.

After three countries, 101 days, 41 different towns and cities, seven changes in time zone and more than 100 blog posts, I’m on my way home.

I’ve met some amazing people along the way, visited incredible farms and businesses, and seen some amazing scenery.

I’ve nearly been kidnapped, driven around a Grand Prix track, been eaten by fish, and got my own back by catching my own.

I’ve been run into, dined on kangaroo, been mistakenly married-off and baked in a bikini on Christmas day.

The end

I’ve also seen some huge extremes in weather and seen first-hand the start of one of the biggest disasters in recent Australian history. To say it’s been a bit crazy is a huge understatement.

I’m not sure I was able to say the same for India, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit sad to be leaving Australia. As much as Mr Poultry World rubbishes the place, I’ve really loved it.

Going back to chilly England and back to FW Towers is going to be really tough (as is having my Tim Tam supply cut off), but I’m looking forward to having access to more than four pairs of shoes and no longer living out of a suitcase. And seeing friends and family, I s’pose.

I hope those of you who’ve bothered reading this as I’ve gone along haven’t been too bored, or confused by my sense of humour. A big thank you to those who have commented, emailed or got in touch on Twitter – it’s been great to have your company along the way.


Spuds at Spud’s

I’ve come to the conclusion I’ll have to start wearing platform shoes if I spend any more time on farms.

I understand the need for giant cars when you’re driving across bumpy and muddy terrain, but does the clutch on four-wheel drive cars really have to be so toe-stretchingly far from the seat?

I’d borrowed Ed’s Jeep to drive a few kilometres down the road to visit sheep farmer, potato grower and fishing coach, Vaughan.
And despite being rammed up against the windscreen, my titchy hobbit legs could barely reach the pedals.

I’d had to slide of my seat and propel myself into the foot-well to be able to change from first to second gear, and not trusting myself to manage the same feat to get into third, I ended up driving the whole way to Vaughan’s farm at 30km.

Potato planting
Vaughan grows potatoes on 1000 acres for Western Potatoes. WP is the last of Australia’s agricultural markets which is still regulated, which means Vaughan has a secure price of about $360/t and a guaranteed market for his produce.

The retailers are still as picky in what they will accept and the kind of spuds they want Vaughan to grow, but he doesn’t have to have any direct dealings with them when it comes to securing contracts.

It’s a system that suits Vaughan as it takes the headache out of marketing crops and gives him spare time to go and play cricket or watch people catch giant fish. It does make potato production a rather elitist industry though as it’s very difficult for new entrants who can’t afford the expensive growers’ licences to grow spuds commercially.

Vaughan's fields
Anyway, Vaughan was seeding yesterday so he invited me along to help, or rather, talk at him in the tractor for a couple of hours while he made very straight, non-GPS-aided lines in his paddocks.

He plants on a three-year rotation of clover pasture which he ploughs into the soil in the spring, but the dirt still needs the help of a tonne of fertiliser per acre once the spuds are in the ground.

His soils were some of the better, red-type I’ve seen, with plenty of clay, but despite being irrigated earlier in the day it still looked as dry as anything to me. Now the seeds are in he’ll irrigate with an inch of water every three days, the water taken from his ground-source allowance.

Probably keen to restore silence to his John Deere, after a few laps of the paddock Vaughan dropped me back at the Jeep to make the drive back home.

I had the good sense to wait until he’d pulled out of the yard before I attempted my graceful ‘footwell bounce’ to put the thing in gear, and eventually I managed to amble along back to Ed’s place.

Admittedly it was slightly embarrassing when I got overtaken by the golf carts which are used by local winery workers to trundle through the vines, but seeing as the Jeep windows are tinted I figured it’d be Ed who’ll get the reputation for being a terrible driver…


Floody hell

I’ve mentioned the rain and floods several times over the past few weeks and months, but things have started to get scary over here in Australia.

This is Toowoomba, where I drove through in December:

Towoomba flood
Over the past couple of days, Toowoomba has received as much rainfall in an hour as many states get in the whole year. About 50 people have so far been reported missing in the region, 12 have died and millions of dollars’ worth of damage has been caused to buildings, roads and vehicles.

Towoomba flood 2
The latest lot of rain has fallen on already-saturated land, so the water is flowing over vast swathes of the Murray-Darling river basin without soaking in.

Towoomba flood 3
It’s having a disastrous effect on farms in the region too. Not only has the relatively thin top soil been washed away, but it’s caused untold damage to sugar cane and wheat. Latest estimates say losses to farmers in southern Queensland could be $500m. There are already reports of food running out and the price of what food does remain is apparently shooting through the roof.

Fingers crossed all my friends and the people I met in Queensland are managing to stay dry. Thinking of you all x


Long-distance Clara, eat your heart out

I can’t tell if I’m meant to be John Candy or Steve Martin, but I’ve had a bit of a Planes, Trains and Automobiles-esque escapade all in the name of coming to visit the farm of my Aussie bestest, Rob.

Rob is a fellow Nuffielder who farms a few sheep and grows a bit of canola and wheat on his 2000ha farm in Kojonup, about three hours south-east of Perth.

Obviously as some kind of penance for the near-death experience he claims he had when I picked him up from Heathrow last year (or perhaps as some kind of hint that he didn’t actually want me to visit), Rob decided to make it as difficult as possible for me to get to his house.

Lifts with family members fell through,  while a visit to a bus station resulted in me being told by a miserable biddy at the ticket office that “you can’t just come to the bus station and expect to get on a bus, y’know. The next one leaves on Thursday.”

Worried I was going to have to spend the rest of my life in Perth’s various travel interchanges, Kojonup local (and my new hero) Mick stepped in. Mick is a lorry driver and had been making a grain delivery and fertiliser collection in the city. I don’t know  whether he really appreciated having a random English girl in his cab for three hours, but I had a great time checking out the bush and rock-strewn farmland from such a high vantage point:

canola stubble
I’m not sure how Long-Distance Clara managed it, as being only 5ft 3″ doesn’t make me the ideal person to be a trucker. There’s no lady-like way of getting up to the cab when it’s 8ft off the ground and the ladder to the lorry door is about 3ft away from it. Still, it gave Mick something to laugh at…


Getting wrecked in Fremantle

I’ve come to the conclusion my Western Australia travel guide should stick to his day job.

I hopped on a bus today and headed to the coastal town of Fremantle, which is just outside Perth. Despite being “just a harbour” (R.E-W, 2011), I managed to spend a nice Bank Holiday Monday in the town, enjoying the beach and the 30-degree+ sunshine (am I’m doing a good job of making you jealous, people back home?).


Surprisingly, given my talent for history, I hadn’t realised Western Australia had been discovered by the Dutch. During  the 1600s loads of Dutch ships sailed from Indonesia to explore WA, and subsequently quite a few of them managed to get themselves mangled around the rocky coastline.

Freemantle’s martime museum is full of cargoes the Dutch were bringing over to trade, including bullion, pottery and bricks for building work.

Afraid of missing out on finding something exciting, the Portugese managed to start smashing up their boats on the coast some years later too, while a few of the people who actually made it to dry land decided to hang around to set up a fishing community.

With descriptions like these, I reckon I should give up on journalism and become a history teacher, or at the very least a Fremantle tour-guide. At least I wouldn’t describe it as ‘just a harbour’…


Watery extremes

Having heard about nothing but rain for the last two-and-a-bit months, today I finally got a taste of what things are like on the other side of Australia.

Flood waters are expected to peak today in Rockhampton and Bundaberg – two of the towns I’ve visited on my way the east coast. It’s been really weird seeing pictures of the streets I saw just a few weeks ago under so much water that people are travelling around by boat.

But it’s a completely different story heading west, and my five-hour flight from Sydney to Perth showed just how quickly things can change. Within an hour or so I’d gone from flying over greenery to desert, scrub, shrunken rivers and dried-out reservoirs:

Aerial shot of lake
I think the air hostesses must’ve thought I was a bit odd as I spent the entire flight glued to the window, but the landscape below was just so interesting – dead straight roads ran for hundreds of kilometres and then ended abruptly in the bush, while mines popped up in the middle of the desert, hours from civilisation:

Western Australia
Having landed in Perth I’ve found myself at the home of Brian and Tracy McAlpine, who have very kindly opened their home to an impromptu visitor. Brian is a Nuffield Scholar from 2003, and he farms 8000 acres about three hours north of Perth in Wubin, which is pretty much desert too.

Like many growers in the west he’s had problems with low rainfall this season, but reduced yields of good quality crops means the wheat he has managed to grow has managed to fetch good prices – at one point wheat for the Chinese noodle market fetched about $500/t.

It’s weird how the weather is causing such extremes of fortune for farmers over here. Fingers crossed I’ve seen the last of the upset water can cause.

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