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Jimbo's World Tour 2006

Welcome to Jimbo's Travel Page. Here is where I will be keeping a record of my travels for all of you to read. Please feel free to leave a comment for me. If I have time in between discovering new places and meeting new people I will reply to them!

So what's it all about? Well I am headed overseas for 3 months or so to further the cause of solar energy! I will do this mainly by working with some colleagues at DLR (Deutsche Zentrum fur Luft and Raumfahrt) which translates to something like German Aerospace Research. These guys really do rocket science, but they're also the leading solar group in the world in terms of solar chemistry and hydrogen production. They are also really great people and have a wonderful facility about 15km from downtown Koln.
My schedule looks something like:
June 2-18: at DLR in Koln
June 19-28: in Spain, for conference on concentrating solar applications and chemical energy storage; also some field trips to installations and research facility at Almeria. One day holiday in Alhambra in Granada!
June 28-July 1: staying with me old mate Tex and his familiy in Copenhagen
July 2-7: Uppsala, Sweden for conference on solar electrochemical energy conversions
July 8-16: Home to remind my family what I look like
July 17-September 1: at DLR in Koln for experimental campaigns on hydrogen production and thermal decoposition of sulphuric acid at >1000 degrees C. Some side trips planned:
July 29-31 Paris (meeting Friday in Saclay)
August 4-6 Vienna (to see my old mate Mr Joe)
August 12,13 Koln, Bonn
August 18-20 London
August 25-27 Ruhrgebeit & Ahr Valley
September 2: fly home to my family again!
Meanwhile it's back to the solar furnace for me. Tschooz!

Diary Entries

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Location: Maitland, Australia

Howdy! Is anyone still reading this? I had grand plans of doing the Vietnam holiday and adding photos but hey it's been a month nearly since we got back and I haven't uploaded any snaps and only written a few days stuff... no point if no-one is reading! Email me if you want me to pull my finger out...

Meantime it is Movember here, and I am growing a moustache to raise money for men's health, and for fun of course. Mind you, it's not that comfortable and I can't wait to shave the bloody thing off. I have been more diligent about my mo-blog, so have a look at that...

goto http://www.movember.com.au/au/home/ click on "mo logs" at the bottom right, and enter my rego number which is 18683. The photos are actually thumbnails and you can click on them for the mo in all its glory... enjoy!

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Hello everybody! Just a short note to say that we have returned from Vietnam and over the next few weeks i will do a delayed diary - try and type a day or two at a time so it's almost like being there again. We had a great time, it is a beautiful and slightly crazy country, but the Vietnamese people are fantastic and the scenery is breathtaking. The food is good, and things are cheap, the only problems are pollution and traffic congestion... but the thrill of crossing the road just adds to the fun...

Friday, 13 October 2006

Location: Halong Bay, Vietnam

Thursday 13 October – drive to Halong Bay, overnight on Junk.
No rest for the wicked. After a great buffet breakfast (these proved to be the best of the entire holiday!) we headed off in our air conditioned van again to the coast, about 3 or 4 hours away depending on how many tourist stops you make. Along the way, Chung, our excellent guide, provided a steady stream of interesting facts:
- land in Hanoi downtown is the second most expensive in the world after Tokyo, about $20,000 US/m2. Sounds impressive, but I have no idea really…
- the population of Hanoi is 5.5 million
- 30 people die every day in road accidents
- Hanoi is cool and hazy in Autumn (now) and hot and clear in summer (cool?!?!)
- Lots of Vietnamese are Buddhist and believe in ghosts; accordingly their cemeteries are away from houses, often in the middle of rice paddies
- The Red River is really the Pink River in Vietnamese
- A speeding fine is $100 US – 2.5 months average wage
- Hanoi has 2.5 million motorcycles – Chinese versions are $400 US, Japanese models built in Vietnam start around $2000 US
- The government places a luxury tax on cars to discourage people buying them – cars cost twice what they do outside Vietnam

And lots more, but that’s probably enough for now. The drive took about 4 hours, and we stopped at a government run shop allegedly set up for the benefit of disabled children. Actually I think some of them worked there as well, though I didn’t want to stare. We dutifully wandered through the huge complex and examined the carvings, jewellery, lacquer ware and silk clothing. I was the weak one as usual and ended up getting a couple of nice lacquer ware trays and a picture but in hindsight it wasn’t a bad thing as the prices were reasonable and that was one less thing to have to shop for later (though a pain to carry round!)

The rest of the 4 hours was spent marvelling at why the road toll wasn’t higher given the mayhem on the roads… actually the only thing working in their favour is the fact that if you hit anyone, it’s likely to be another bike rather than a big SUV, although the speed limits are also relatively modest – lots of 50 or 60 kph. And drinking in the scenery of rice paddies, cemeteries, the curious architecture (a mix of crumbling dumps and brand new three story mansions) and the rural pastimes of harvesting and drying rice and hay. Rice is dried in the sun for 3 days before it can be bagged up, so this means you actually see a fair bit of it spread out on concrete pads in front of houses in the filthy air along the roadside…

Halong City – the stepping off point for Halong Bay (World Heritage area with 3000 limestone islands rising majestically out of the ocean) – epitomises Vietnam’s headlong rush towards development. The city appears to be growing at a phenomenal rate, with new suburbs and houses sprouting up everywhere, lots of high(ish) rise – up to 6 or 8 stories instead of the normal 3 story “traditional” houses, and of course the inevitable mix of rubbish and construction debris everywhere. But the middle of the town looks like any Vietnamese street – a procession of different shops (usually quite specialised), a sprinkling of food outlets with plastic chairs, all spreading out onto the “footpath” which is generally not for pedestrian use but rather for motorbike parking or as an extension of the shop… so much of the time you end up walking rather nervously on the road while motorbikes stream past your shoulder…

The boom is probably due in a large part to a well oiled and thriving tourist trade in Halong Bay. There is a large and bustling tourist harbour crowded with junks for taking out foreigners – these are large timber vessels with about 8 or 10 cabins on the lower deck, with a restaurant above and above that an open deck where you can sit and get sunburnt. The food onboard was amazing – providing you like sea food (which I do, although the rest of my family generally stop after fish). So, unfortunately, I had to eat 4 people’s share of crabs, prawns, squid, baby octopus, while they picked away at the fish and some rice, and some Vietnamese spring rolls. The crazy thing is you are so busy eating there’s hardly time to enjoy the scenery.

The junks follow a pretty well defined route or series of routes, ours taking in a large and impressive cave system with pretty cool lighting called the Surprise cave, apparently because the Frenchman who found it was pretty surprised by what he found. Cool ceiling sculpted by waves, lots of stalactites and stalagmites, some of them a bit suggestive and emphasised by the choice of lighting colours… And of course you can see pretty much any animal you like in the formations – dragons, lions, turtles – it is considered good luck to rub the turtles head three times and make a wish…

Next stop was a rare beach – most of the islands rise so steeply that there is no beach – where Taine and I climbed to the temple at the top of the hill while Jack and Trace had a swim in the bathwater like ocean. We cooled off with a dip afterwards, and the kids met some locals and played splashing games. Back on board, we motored around the corner where we moored for the night along with 30 or 40 other junks. Dinner was another seafood extravaganza – bugs, prawns, garlic squid, fish, stir fry cabbage and watermelon. The kids didn’t eat much!

Impressions of Vietnam thus far: most people don’t seem that pushy although occasionally people will chase you down the street. Most people in Hanoi will stare at you but not smile, although they are often more interested in the kids and tricking them, as foreign kids are a bit unusual. The place is dirty, noisy and crazy, but not uncomfortable or intimidating, just fun. Taine calls it “market mania”.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Tuesday 10 October to Wednesday 11th: off on holidays again. Luckily Sydney Airport is only 2.5 hrs from our place by car. Here we made our first blue, though, as it had been so long since we’d used the long term car park that it had moved to the International Terminal. Although it costs $240 to park there for 17 days, it’s nice to be able to get back, throw your bags in the boot and head home without the excruciating experience of a 4 hour train trip…

We flew to KL and then Hanoi with Malaysian, Trace electing to pay a few extra bucks for the improved service and in particular the kids video games to keep them happy on the flight. This backfired a little, as the last thing they wanted to do was sleep so we all arrived pretty much exhausted in KL for the 5 hour stop over. We managed to find a quiet corner of the terminal building and grab some much needed sleep while we waited for our next plane. As the sun came up, we saw the haze hanging over Malaysia from forest fires in Indonesia – apparently now an annual problem in this part of the world. KL looks very European, and KLIA proudly advertises being the best airport in the world. Well, maybe, but who really cares?

Landing in Hanoi, things were a little different. This is probably not in the running for the best airport in the world, as it’s quite small and pretty basic. Immediately we got off the plane we knew we were in the tropics, as this is one airport where the air conditioning doesn’t buffer you from the outside world. So we waited in line, sweating quietly, only to be told that the triplicate forms handed out by the cabin crew were now superseded and we had to start again. But the customs people were pretty relaxed, although it took forever to get to the counter. Quarantine? Nah, no Australian paranoia here and you can take in what you like (although they reserve the right to shoot you if you are caught carrying drugs I guess). Outside, our driver and air conditioned bus awaited – amazing really for the four of us – and we had a 45 minute drive to the hotel. The chief road rule over here is don’t hit anyone, but other than that it seems to be pretty much open slather. Oh, and the horn is the accepted indicator for changing lanes or if someone in front of you is about to get hit and should move. The other amazing thing is that the traffic is about 80% motorcycles, although this doesn’t mean that they can’t carry pretty much the same as a car. 2 people on a bike are pretty much normal, but so are 3 or 4. You can indeed fit a whole family on a bike, and I did see 4 adults a few times. But they are smaller over there, remember that… bikes are also excellent substitutes for utility vans – quite capable of carrying huge stacks of eggs, a couple of pigs, chickens, iron bars etc etc. And helmets are certainly optional and not worn by 90% of people – more people wear face masks to filter out some of the pollution.

Landscape: rice paddies, marshes, lots of houses along the roads. The whole place looks a bit like a building site with rubble and rubbish strewn all over the place. Things get worse in the cities with even more traffic… After checking into our palatial rooms at the Zephyr (4 star in Vietnam = 5 star in Australia I reckon) we took a wander along the streets towards the old town (we were at the Southern end of the Lake) along irregular streets and seemingly endless shops, although not many restaurants. Tried to get a feel for the place before launching into a spending frenzy so settled for some silk sleeping bag liners for the train ride to Sapa ($5US each) and some Pokemon figurines for Taine. Why does he love that stuff so much! For dinner we thought we’d try the Green Tangerine which was highly recommended in Lonely Planet and by friends but probably exploiting this fact by charging Australian style prices. So we settled for a quite drink in the pleasant atmosphere instead and got a cheap meal at a tourist travel shop come café. Dinner including drinks was about $15… afterwards, we took a cyclo home – these are tricycles with a double seat at the front and some skinny guy at the back who smiles a lot and drives the fat tourists around town for next to nothing - $2.50 for half an hour and we probably could have bargained harder. But it seems unfair to be too hard on these people when they have so little and we have so much…. What we didn’t enjoy so much was the banana lady who accosted Jack and put the bamboo pole on his shoulders before we realised it – so we dutifully took the photos and bought some bananas although she grabbed the 50,000VD note from my hand and refused to pay the change – this is a common tactic, once you have negotiated the price they suddenly revert or seem to have trouble understanding you all of a sudden. But hard to get to upset about $4, let’s face it. It’s just the principle!

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Location: Maitland, Australia

Howdy! Well, I am not sure that I want to write a blog while I'm not travelling, as it seems a bit self-indulgent, even more so than when one is travelling. However, I just wanted to make a few observations about Australia vs Europe and let you, my devoted readers (please don't feel shy to leave a comment!) know what is in store.

1. Australia and Europe.
Sun: Well, the Sun is in the opposite hemisphere - in the north here, in the south in Europe. This can be very disconcerting!
Food: I have been enjoying a lot more Asian influenced food since I have been home - Thai and Indian especially. There is also more than just pork here - it is the staple meat in Europe, I sometimes think, so it was awesome to have a roast lamb meal on the weekend. And beef steak last night. But I have to admit European ham is much better than Australian ham. Bananas - well, I don't think my local supermarket even stocks them anymore, which really pisses me off when I think that they could be imported for a reasonable price, and I also hear rumours of banana dumping in Coffs Harbour because they need to maintain a ratio between Queensland and NSW producers. No bananas for breakfast, not a happy camper.
Bikes: like the US, cycling is a sport here, not a viable means of transportation. I miss cycling to work, but 26km along a busy highway in a country where cyclists are seen as weirdos... the car is still king here, and it's hard to see how that will change with the sprawling suburbs and inadequate public transport infrastructure.
Weather: it has been crap, pretty much. Last week we had 5 days of rain, but now at least it is OK. Not warm yet, but at least not wet. I see the weather in Cologne is now perfect 28 degrees and sunny most days. Damn.
Home: well there's no place like home! Great to see my family again, and sleep in my own bed again. Tracey has done a great job looking after the yard and even painted Taine's room and filled in the cracks in the plaster I was trying to ignore until we were ready to sell - looks awesome.
Beer: I think it is better in Germany. Fizzy lager mostly here... but the wine is good.

2. Travel Plans
October 10-26: Family spectacular expedition to Vietnam with a stop in KL on the way back. Basically a quick tour of the whole country from North to South, from hill tribes to the Mekong Delta. Trace has put together a great itinerary which I can put up here if anyone expresses the slightest interest. Or maybe even if they don't. Should be hilarious travelling with the kids...
November 10-20 (tentative): possible conference trip to San Francisco


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Recent Messages

From Colin & Val
Have just read your 26th November 2006 entry. Technology is a little slow in our part of the World - had to wait for the carrier pigeon to deliver a hard copy - is there a suspicion of school boy humour there?

We had a lovely Christmas with our Son "Tex" and family in Copenhagen and off to seethem again in a couple of weeks.

Hope Santa Claus brought everyone in your household most of the things they asked for. I remembered to watch Dinner for Two - now an integral part of our Christmas/New Year routine!

love to all - we will be investigating air ticket prices
Response: Hey guys, nice to hear from you, and time I resurrected the blog perhaps. Must get some Vietnam stuff up there. Look forward to seeing you if you make it down under, til then take care. Best wishes, Jim
From Björn
Hi Jim, fantastic fotos!
It really was a very nice time with you here last summer!
Hope you are doing well, take care,
Björn
Response: Hey Bjorn, I had a great time in Koln too, and will hopefully be over again at some stage to catch up. Hope the PhD is progressing well! Cheers, Jim
From ZD
I'm still reading your Blog, waiting for some Vietnam fotos!
Response: Ja ja dat... I have started sorting and will think about writing a reduced travel log with some selected schnapps, sorry snaps. Tschooz
From ZuperDani
Hey Jimbo,
nice to read some news. And, of course you want to write while you are not travelling! GENAU! Sunny greatings to Australia
Response: Hey ZuperDani, thanks for saying guten tag. Still not really sure who wants to hear about my garden ramble on the weekend, though... but at least the weather was superb and this week is going to be better than it is in Cologne... Cheers, Jimbo
From barb
Hi there
Guess you're home by now? It's nice to read your stories, it's almost like being there again. Great that you got to see Sue and Dickon and stay in Sue's crazy house (I love it. Did you see the enormous basement? Bigger than my house. So cool). Hi to family.
Response: Hey Barb, yes home now, must get around to the last rites on the blog. Will maybe do periodic updates when we do something really interesting, like the Vietnam holiday in October, but it seems a bit naff to do one normally! Yes, saw the huge basement, slowly being turned into another flat. What a cool and crazy house! C u
From Mr Paul
G'day Jimbo,
wie gehts wie stehts? I just got back from Fraser Island and a two week holiday with sister and nephew which was excellent. When are you coming back? We are continously running short of soccer players these days. Alex actually broke his arm stepping on the ball and falling over! Reading your stories I was thinking we should start playing beach volleyball as well. What do you reckon? Anyway, have a great time in the last few weeks. Regards to Christian and Rainer! Cheers Paul
Response: Hey Mr Paul, alles gut!Great to hear from you! Hardly anyone leaves me a message these days; I'll have to be sad and ask for them! I am back at work on Tuesday, just one week now, doubtless very jetlagged... but yes volleyball is great fun, and maybe as it's less strenuous (and less chance of fractures, poor Alex!) we would get better participation? Good idea... See you soon, Jim.
From Supergran
Hii, great to read all about yr doings.Should have looked before I emailed !!
Response: Hii, keep checking as I will try and update every 3 or 4 days. I have a shipload of photos to sort from gay Paris and some stories to write when I get home tonight. I still ambivalent about the city - it's just a little too big, impersonal and busy for me. Great museums and pretty boulevardes, but soooooo many tourists and long queues, and chaos on the metro... see you!
From Tex
Sorry, have only just got 'round to reading your blog, due to being in Japan and after two weeks here, feeling like I've just had a post-mortem. That notwithstanding, am glad to see you had a 'pleasant interlude' with us in Copenhagen!! Our stay with you in Oz in 1998 was a 'mostly tolerable sojourn' ;-) Seriously...you need a holiday old son, but there's plenty of good experiences from this summer to reminisce over in the back garden with a nice bottle of Lone Star by your side! Hope you make it to the UK and my folks - they'll be very glad to see you.

P.S. Spanish is like French? You'll be saying Kiwis sound like Aussies next...
Response: Hey Tex, nice to catch up again... yes, I do need a holiday, the next one is going to be more travel - Vietnam. But this time with my family so that will be much better. Spanish and French are both Romance languages and have a lot of similar words. Aussies and Kiwis only sound the same if you're not from Oceania ;-) And there are also some differences in outlook, though many similarities as well...Let me know whether any of those weekends are out in terms of your folks. Cheers, Jim
From Mr P
G'day Jim,
I've finally managed to catch up on your last couple of postings and it sounds like the awesome times continue!
So I think it’s time you gave us an answer to the really big question, the question that was the real purpose of the trip cunningly buried under the guise of a work related fact finding and knowledge sharing mission with your counterparts from DLR……who really makes the best beer over there? Have the Germans got it nailed or have you stumbled over another obscure drop somewhere that takes the title?
Keep up the running commentary and the photos too!

Nick.
Response: Hey Mr Nick, it's been too long! Well, I must say that my research is still incomplete on the beer front (something that I am trying to address) but at this stage I would have to say that the German beer is really good and there are many different possibilities. The Paulaner Weissbier is particularly good, but there are also good pilseners and the local brew (kolsch) is also very refreshing and easy to drink. I had some czech beer (Urquell) the other day and it was not as good as I had previously thought it was compared to the local brews. Rather harsh finish. Have some Budvar in the fridge at home, perhaps that will be better! The Danish stuff was very bland (Calsberg, Tuborg), Swedish a lot better but ridiculously overpriced at $9 a bottle. Spanish beer is very refreshing but rather bland - good for hot weather. But overall I think the Germans have the mantle thus far! Cheers, Jim.
From Mr Paul
Hey Mr Jim,

great to read all your thoughts, you should really write a book mate! Cool pics from Berlin! I will give your travel recommendations to Carmen...they are well and wisely compiled! In addition to earplugs I can highly recommend the Bose Noise Canceling Earphones, they block out most of the noise of the plane. I slept like a baby using them! Keep in touch mate and enjoy the heat wave...I am still fighting off my cold here, brrr. Cheers Paul
Response: Hey Mr Paul, thanks for the message. I always wanted to write a book but have no idea what to write about! The heatwave is taking it's toll - my room has no cross flow ventilation ;-) so it's a bit stuffy and hard to sleep... but so nice and balmy outside in the evening, with the smell of ripe wheat. Get well soon! Cheers, Jim.
From Linus Vedung
Dear Jim, Its a small world, my Aussie friend (who has a blog on planetranger) skyped me and told me about this Australian bloke that apparently had stayed at my parents house in Uppsala (he has been there as well and he also borrowed clothing from them. In his case it was Stens tuxedo). I read your blog and saw the picture of you and Sten.

My mothers name used to be quite a common name in Sweden. Tor's (The thunder god) spouse was named Siv and the name actually means "wife".

Best of luck to you on your travels.
Response: Hi Linus - thanks for the note - I had such a lovely time with Sten and Siv, and it's really cool that you guys spotted the blog. LOL about the tux, I opted for a tee shirt and some shorts, plus a pair of Sten's best underpants ;-) All the best, Jim.
From Simon
Hey Mate,
i'm an aussie living in the US (studying at cornell) and i have a blog on planet ranger. i was just doing a random look around on other pages and happened across yours. i read that you stayed with a couple in Sweden, Sten and Siv. It's weird, os they're actually the parents of my best mate (Linus) and I stayed with them when I was in Uppsala (and they also lent me clothes!). Anyway, just thought it was a small world and it was worth saying hi.
Cheers,
Simon
www.planetranger.com/simon
Response: Hi Simon, that's hilarious! It's funny as the more I travel the more I realise how big and diverse the world really is; conversely, this sort of thing just shows how interconnected the world is and it's probably getting more so the more we travel. Thanks for dropping me a line and all the best with your studies. In two days I head back to Cologne for another 7 week stint to the horror of my wife, but hopefully I can add to my blog! Cheers, Jim.
From sue ferrar
hey Jim! Why not pop in on your cousin in London?! I even have a solar water-heating system...

It was good to meet you and Tracy and the boys last year - hope to see y'all again one day! Love and best wishes,

Sue
Response: Hi Sue, yes I am hoping to make it over to old blighty for a visit. Would be great to catch up! Cheers, Jim
From Dan
Interesting stuff Jim. Keep up the good work. The history notes are great spotted with a few dramas make good reading.

Go the All Blacks!
Response: hey Dan, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment - the first apart from my wife who mentioned that I didn't metntion our wedding anniversary on 12 June... Go the Blacks! And I hope Italy trash the French in the World Cup too...