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The Dumpling Diaries

Welcome to Mike and Sylv's travel page which will document, in beautifully crafted words and award-winning pictures, our round-the-world odyssey. An odyssey that will take us from chicken fried rice and uncomfortable bus rides, to pasta, chianti and scooters, to beer, dumplings and rude shopkeepers. Join us for the ride, feel free to leave a message/comment for us and we will try to reply in between lashings of dumplings and beer.
Mike & Sylv

Diary Entries

Monday, 17 July 2006

Location: Tulum, Mexico

The final whistle has been blown on the World Cup. The final beer has been drunk in Prague. After saying our sad farewells to Sylv´s family in Moravia, closing bank accounts and disconnecting phones, we started on the homeward leg of our journey. In Frankfurt we boarded a long, wide-bodied jet, full of short, wide-bodied Mexicans headed, strangely enough, for Mexico City. We sat next to Yei (pron: Jay) who had just returned from a month from doing an aeronautics course in Moscow – as the birthplace of the Antonov, the Tupolev and one of the world´s most secretive air-safety records, I couldn´t think of a better place to learn about aeronautics. Yei was tossing up between a career in aeronautics and life as a magician. Yei showed us several very clever card tricks, leaving us both very impressed. More impressive, however, was Yei´s magical cocktail – beer with tomato juice, salt and pepper. “You should also use chilli.” Indeed. He assured us it tasted very good. We believed him.
After 12 hours of staring incredulously at beer and tomato juice we arrived in Mexico City and despite the altitude, managed a brisk run for our connecting flight to Cancun where we arrived at 11pm. I could be judging Cancun too hastily, but at 11pm it looked like the Gold Coast on steroids, with a lot of lights and lots of bad seaside resort sculptures. It looked like an architectural theme-park boasting the biggest, ugliest hotels built outside of the former Eastern Bloc. We stayed at the Maya Hostel, called as such because the bed linen and air-conditioning system dated from around 1200BC. AS we didn´t plan on a vacation doing Tequila slammers on bartops with American summer-breakers in Cancun, we rose after our Mayan-style night´s sleep and took an 8.30am bus south to Tulum. We passed a procession of time-share resorts, hotels and holiday villages with evocative names like Freedom Paradise (see note below), Desire Resort and Secrets Excellence Riviera Cancun, each with an entrance statement bigger and better than the next that all looked like stadium gates. In Tulum we are staying at the Papaya Playa Cabañas. We are staying right on the beach in a cabaña which is Spanish for “something a hurricane threw together” – a random-looking collection of wood and palm thatch, with all the thermal qualities of a mosquito net and which includes a double-bed and mattress which seems to be in a constant state of damp. It´s very hot in Tulum, so it´s good that it´s only a 20m stumble to our Caribbean beach - all turquoise and sugar-white sand. The beach is coincidentally also a “clothes optional” affair which yesterday meant that it looked like a series of dried floral arrangements, one chap´s undercarriage so sun-burned I thought he´d come to the beach looking for a game of cricket…. (think about it).

Cultural Observation No. 18: Among the many resorts along the coast is one called Freedom Paradise. With its motto “Live large, live free”, FP is the first and only size-friendly resort in the world. “Here guests of all sizes and ages are welcome to fully enjoy their beach vacation … Size-friendly amenities include sturdy furniture, majority of wide armless chairs and sun beds, walk-in pools with grab bars, few stairs, just two-story buildings, standard rooms with sturdy comfortable beds, walk-in showers with grab bars, shower seat available on request, staff with a size-friendly attitude”. In addition the hotel has no less than four restaurants including Pelicanos, serving “hamburgers, French fries, hotdogs and mini pizzas while you watch pelicans fish for their own lunch”. Nice.

Thursday, 06 July 2006

Location: Dortmund, Germany

Hello Emma from Oz,
sorry but i pushed reply on your message and now can´t find it anywhere in order to send a reply. Many thanks for your message, and yes I normally work at the Herald Sun. I took a year off and have been living in Prague since July last year. Alas, it´s back to the Sun at the end of July. You can find my World Cup diary on the Herald Sun site under sport or under my name in the navigation bar to the left.
Thanks again for your message.

Saturday, 01 July 2006

Location: Frankfurt, Germany

Friday, 30 June 2006

Location: Berlin, Germany

Monday, 26 June 2006

Location: Kaiserslautern, Germany

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Location: Íhringen, Germany

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Location: Stuttgart, Germany

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Location: Stuttgart, Germany

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Location: Frankfurt, Germany

Monday, 19 June 2006

Location: Cologne, Germany

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Location: Munich, Germany

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Location: Frankfurt, Germany

Friday, 16 June 2006

Location: Near Frankfurt, Germany

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Location: Goerlitz, Germany

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Location: Berlin, Germany

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Location: Berlin, Germany

Monday, 12 June 2006

Location: Kaiserslautern, Germany

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Location: Dortmund, Germany

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Location: Prague et al, Czech Republic

I WRITE this entry from the trains and train stations of Germany. I have essentially farewelled Prague to spend the month in Germany “reporting” on the World Cup (see and click on Mike Bruce on the left navigation bar for the daily diary). For the past few weeks Sylv and I have been in melancholy reflection on our time there and all the things we really like, some of which we shall miss about Czech. Here is my list in no particular order.
1. BEER – okay, okay, I know this is just reinforcing a cliché, but I shall genuinely miss Czech beer. Having lived in Germany and Belgium, no mean brewers themselves, Czech beer is my undisputed heavyweight champion here. I love its flavour, its temperature (ie, not served with a thin ice-cap as in Australia), the fact it is not too gassy and how it’s drunk mainly by the delicate half-litre. I also adore the Czechs’ appreciation of beer, how they know and appreciate the difference in quality of the tap over the bottle, and how they nip across to the pub to fill up their jug or glass to take home rather than buy a bottle and how they genuinely believe beer to be healthy, a thirst quencher and the best antidote to a hangover. Na zdraví! (Note, the 3crown deposit on beer bottles is another winner – good for the environment and a steady income stream for the homeless.)
2. PUBLIC TRANSPORT – beautiful trams, regular trams, efficient trams, fast trams and a network, which for a city of 1.16 million, makes Auckland, for example, look pre-trogladite. One thing, I guess, for which we can thank the Bolsheviks. I also love the way the young immediately jump up to offer seats to the elderly, gout-ridden, hip-replaced, the crutch-carrying and ladies with children. Something which, if not observed in Melbourne, should be punishable by a good ol’ public stoning.
3. COST OF LIVING – I love leaving the supermarket with a cubic metre of groceries and still having change from 200 crowns ($12). I love the ability to buy a 500ml bottle of beer for 9 crowns (50c), a flock of chicken for $2.50 and a schnitzel and spuds at our local for 70 crowns ($3.90). If only we could bundle up the cost of living and take it home with us.
4. POTATOES – I can eat a bowl of them on their own. I’ve always loved Europe’s golden, waxy, firm, creamy spuds that hard to find in the Antipodes. New Zealand is getting there, but don’t get me started on Australian potatoes. Poop. No wonder McDonalds Australia goes to North Otago for its chips …
5. SYLV’S FAMILY – while my communication with them is limited largely to swearwords and the realm of food and beverage, such as “see the beer, the beer is big, I like the big beer,” and other primary-reader dialogue, you don’t always need the language to know what makes good, kind and warm people. They have done so much for us and given us experiences we would ordinarily not have had in Czech and have more than justified Sylv’s decision to come here for the year. We’ll really miss our weekends in Southern Moravia, the “Tuscany of Central Europe.”
6. FILM – Czech really hides its light under a bushel here. They make some amazing, intelligent films which seem to get relatively little publicity I have yet to see a bad film and am surprised we don’t see more of them down at Coburg Blockbuster and Videoezy (iro.). Apart from Kolja which won the Best Foreign Film Oscar, modern Czech film seems to be unheralded. If you get a chance to see Up And Down, We Must Stick Together, Pupendo, Happiness or Dark Blue World, do it.
7. THE WEDNESDAY GIRLS – Each Wednesday morning was English-class time with three girls who worked up the road Martina, Misha and Lenka, and then with Jana in town. This became my Wednesday routine, a welcome break from the four white walls of our apartment, and most importantly some interaction with someone apart from my best friend in Prague, the BBC Foreign Service. They were all such lovely people, great company and very patient with my limited pedagogical ability.
8. GRANDMA’S APRICOT JAM – This stuff should be on the shelves of those boutique food shops in New York, London and Paris. Using apricots (and other assorted fruit) grown on their farm-size allotments in Southern Moravia, Sylv’s grandma and grandpa make a few metric tonnes of jam each year (we are still getting through the 2004 stock!). Forget those fancy Yarra Valley jobs with the designer jars and designer prices, this is the Jonah Lomu of jam, a Titan of conserves.
9. SVICKOVA – There probably won’t be a lot of Czech foods we will really crave back in Australia. Czech food is generally described as a bit dull, but like the curate’s egg, there are good parts to it. One is svickova – sirloin beef roasted with a vegetable-stock and cream sauce, served with a slice of lemon, cranberries and whipped cream … and of course dumplings. It might sound strange but it’s delicious. Fruit dumplings is another favourite – flour dumplings with an apricot or plum, for example, stuffed into it and sprinkled with butter, sugar and breadcrumbs. Soups are also excellent here, especially zelnicka, or cabbage soup. And what Sylv’s granddad calls a “light meal” - fried cheese with chips. Wouldn’t quite make the Jenny Craig Top 10, but it’s surprisingly good.
10. ABSENCE OF RETAIL HASSLE – The usual negligible service you get in shops in Prague has its positive flipside – you can go wander around most shops, and (apart from being closely watched as a shoplifting suspect) you can shop without the insidious US-style “how can I help you today, my that really looks lovely on you, how about something for the lady, just your colour sir, and how many other ways can we possibly upsell you?” retail crap.

Monday, 08 May 2006

Location: Venice, Italy

IN my experience Teutonic rail conductors are usually tall, fair-headed, well-groomed men, often with facial hair, a blue blazer and a peaked military-style hat. They are generally not 5ft-tall Afro-Caribbean men with negligible dental hygiene and dreadlocks. Ours was. Our “Austrian” train conductor told us, very nicely, that there was a 24-hour train strike in Italy so we would have to disembark at the Austrian-Italian border at the ideal time of 4am and board a bus to Venice – for this privilege we would also have to pay an extra €30. Oh, and because of the disruption to services, we would also have to change trains in Salzburg at the equally ideal time of midnight. When we reached Salzburg and schlepped our luggage across to the second train in the dead of night, The Hills Were Alive With The Sound of Expletive Grumbling About the Woeful State of the Italian Civil Service, I can tell you. We actually reached Venice on time and made our way to our accommodation on La Giudecca – the island which lies opposite the thronging St Marks, the quarter neatly divided into the areas known as Little Boston and Little Tokyo (this is a joke, there are NO areas called this in Venice). Located under La Redentore church where the bell-ringer’s watch clearly needed an overhaul, our B&B was, by Venetian price standards, palatial – for €80 we got a large room, large bathroom, terrace, garden, fridge and 700 satellite TV channels which allowed you to switch directly from Muslim World to Transvestite TV, or from the Sabbath Hour to Euro-Dominatrix. Something for everyone. Our personal favourite was clearly VIP-TV which involved an energetic compere standing on a stage with 15 naked ladies, who -somewhat less energetically - danced around careful not to make any sudden movements for risk of taking someone’s eye out. It was all to promote an online betting site – the link between the two is obvious … to someone I’m sure.
For the next three days Sylv and I walked the lanes and alleys of the part-theatre, part-museum, part-stunning-city that is Venice and tried to avoid some of the 16.5 million tourists who largely seem to ply the route between St Marks Square and the Rialto bridge. La Giudecca (our "home") was a gondola-free zone, a sanctuary from the mask shops, plastic gondola models and overpriced restaurants of St Marks. Over there life has a fairly vernacular rhythm, with markets and normal shops and where people seemed a little warmer to the tourist presence than across the water.
On the last day in Venice I interviewed the chairwoman of, and the scientist for Venice in Peril (the mob trying to stop the city sinking into the lagoon) for a feature article in the Herald Sun. From what she said, we're glad we visited Venice now and didn’t leave it until 2106.
Cultural Observation No. 18: Venice is sinking faster than ever. In the first decade of the 20th century St Mark’s Square flooded less than 10 times a year - by the 1980s the city was flooding more than 40 times a year, and in the 7 months from September 2000 to March 2001 alone, it flooded 40 times. Of the 10 highest tides between 1902 and 2003, eight have happened since 1960. These are of course frightening statistics for people producing Carnevale masks and plastic models of gondolas.

Monday, 01 May 2006

Location: Manchester/London, England

Oh, to be in England, Now that April's there, And whoever wakes in England, Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf, Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough, In England -now!
Robert Browning (deluded English poet)

Yes Bobby, that’s all very well when you’re overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal (as you were) and not actually freezing your sheaves and boles off back in 8°celsius in England. On the public holiday weekend straddling April and May, Sylv and I headed to the UK. For much of the time we had weather which would have made the Falklands feel like Montego Bay.
First stop was Manchester which, unless you're on a Coronation St fan-tour, would not be on your average UK itinerary, but it was on ours as my best friend of 31 years Dean lives there. In Manchester we drove up hill and down dale, sampled persistently bad beer, walked footpaths and towpaths, saw town halls and stone walls, and enjoyed a sublime curry in the city’s Curry Mile – a kind of Boulevard of Balti lined with hundreds of painfully polite sub-continental men reminding us that his restaurant won best Tandoori Chicken in the 2003 Manchester curry cook-off.
The next day (Sunday) Dean drove us “up” (as one says) to London, where for the first time in way too long, I caught up with an old friend from Christchurch, Annabel Newman, and we got to meet her fiancé Stu, and flatmates and friends. The re-union and the evening were, for me at least, easily the highlight of our London visit.
And that, I'm afraid, is probably the best thing I can say about our London visit. By Monday evening in London, for the first time since last September, I turned to Sylv and said: “I can’t wait to go ‘home’ to Prague”. By Tuesday even Zizkov looked pretty good.
Cultural Observation No. 17: Lonely Planet’s 2006 London guide rates it as "one of the coolest capitals of the world" but hugely expensive. London remains the place to be for its club scene, theatres and improving restaurants, it says, but its underground transport system and hotels are "horrendously overpriced". The guide also laments the "conversion of traditional pubs into alcoholic theme parks". No kidding.

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Recent Messages

From Sylvia
Hi Matty, in case you log on to this site again - email me at

when i posted your message up it removed your email address so i now have no way of contacting you!!
From matt wilson
Hi Sylv & Mike,
I am sure that you are now back in Aust, if you are drop me an e-mail with your contact details and I'll shoot over mine.
Matt Wilson
From Monty
with less than two weeks of the odyssey to go, surely the time is now for hon to put her foot down, post an article and add a much much needed feminine touch to the DD's???
Response: ¿are you saying my entries are not in touch with their feminine side Monty?....
From Emma in Oz
I love your World Cup photos, especially the captions! They crack me up... discovered your page from the feature photo. Well done! Do you normally write for the Herald Sun? The Iranian journalist is a classic.
From Martin
Gruss Dich Mike,
wie gehts? Ich hoffe dass die Deutsche Bahn macht deine Tage! Wie immer, deine unglaublich positive GOOD THINGS article ist lust zu lesen! Wir mussen uns treffen in Mexico! Martin aus Deutsche Neighbourhood in Chicago
Response: Ja, machen wir´s. Hoffentlich sehen wir uns. Hasta Mexico!
From Monty
i was wondering, now that we are mere days away from the start, how the locals were handling the disappointment after failing to qualify for the biggest and most significant global event to be staged this year...
will they view the finals with a hint of regret, thoughts of what could have (should have) been or an avalanche of jealousy?
just how will the czechs feel as they sit down to watch eurovision06?
Response: I was hoping you wouldn't bring that up Monty ... embarrassing I know. Just as well we do so well in the beauty contests.
From Chris & Pauline
Sounds like you got your 170 crowns worth Mike. Won't need a haircut until Christmas. Paul & Janine left on Tuesday, very sad & lots of tears. Had a wonderful wedding celebration at Yacht Club & wonderful month of April with lots of visitors, eating, drinking, late nights & early mornings. Only Darby & Joan at 2 Hook Court now. When are you coming back to Oz?
Mike we all would love to see you with a No.1.
Take care, Love, Chris & Pauline
Response: Hi Chris and Pauline, must have been very hard to farewell Paul and Janine. the wedding celebration sounded beautiful from what we heard. We're back in Oz 25 July so look forward to catching up over some of home brew! love Mike and Sylv
From Cob
Just put up a photo so we can all have a laugh.
Response: go away
From Cobbo
Please just one photo. Pleeeease. We could all do with some cheering up with winter setting in. Esp me.
Response: As a Tigers supporter, that must surely be your lament every winter...
From Deso
more intriguing than Dan Brown, more plot than Grisham, more romance than Patricia Cornwall and easier to read than the Herald Sun. Fiancee has career in Rheem ads coming up on her return.
Response: Not sure if I like the "easier to read than the Herald Sun" bit.
From Martin
Just a little while applying stucco onto the poshy Chicago castle-like houses and so much NEW stuff. Jeeeez I have to get that beerbath right after we come back. Congrats to the PHM!
Response: Ano, ano. Mam ted cas ... For the beer bath you will probably have to line up behind a couple of thousand Germans
From Cob
Obviously a tad disappointed you didn't run in the Tui shorts. Maybe you could have 'doctored' the photos but decided not to.
Also a tad concerned at how close you are standing urinating to your friend.
Great photos and updates.
Response: Cob, friends who widdle together stick together. Would have worn Tui but chaffing was a big problem.
From Chris & Pauline
Just read your last 3 entries. We're into Autumn and still having maximum temps. of 31. Melbourne has been even higher. Commonwealth Games have just finished there and they had perfect weather, some days hotter than here, for the 10 days - not a drop of rain. Of course we blitzed the medal tally. Paul & Janine arrive this Sunday and we're having a celebration of their marriage at the Southport y
Response: Hello Chris and Pauline! Great to hear from you both. wish we could be there for the celebration, i'm sure it's going to be beautiful. finally warming up here, averaging a top of 11-15. reached 22 the other week which felt almost tropical... Mike ran the marathon on Sat despite recovering from illness earlier in week. so proud of him! take care, love Sylv & Mike
From Allie
Judging by the "undies" photos you haven't changed much since the Digby Pl lawn days.!! Greetings to you both
Response: thanks Allie. Yes, I do now have about 40 more hairs on my chest since 1975 though ....
From Frank
Thanks for your visit! Loved it!
From Mark
Greetings Mike and Sylv
Keep up the running Mike!!
Following your progress in the Noble Financial picking comp Mike.
I am being penalised for picking with my heart and not my head !!!
All is well to you soon..
Regards..Mark and Glenda
Response: running curtailed by silly immunity experiments.
AS for tipping, I have fallen off the first page and onto the second - 62nd.
From Placey
You have left me scarred for life, Broocey. Bacon-in-a-biscuit will never be the same.
Response: Hey Placey, guess what's on the menu when you come to Prague? You see that stuff i was putting through the mincer ...?
From David Main
Yummy Mike, Pig for Breakfast Lunch and Dinner, with a black pudding chaser. You lucky bugger.
Response: Make mine trotters, easy over.
From Martin and Kami
Just a greeting to both of you. Watch out for all those sausages and concrete dumplings. ;o)))) So that you do not have to write cultural observ. no. 8 - ¨kind and warm¨ personnel of Czech hospitals ;o))))
Martin Baby-deer and Kamila Worried-about-him
From Chris & Pauline
Hi Sylvia & Mike,
From all stories & piccies you all had a wonderful time - most probably not enough- together in Prague & Vienna.
We're sure you were all sad to say goodbye to each other. Had a lovely surprise call from Cathryn yesterday from Barcelona. They both are going to feel the heat when they come back home. The past week here has been bearable. Melbourne today is 35. Very hot at the tennis.
Love your stories Mike and look forward to many more. Hope your work is going well Sylvia. Take care
Love, Chris & Pauline
Response: Crazy. Bush fires in Australia, while the homeless in Prague are dying in fires they have had to light to keep warm. Perverse. We are, thankfully, staying warm.
From Lady and the Mus
I hear it's -12 in Praha again, hope you're having fun with the snow. Just been to Napoli, maybe a bit of snow there would help cover some of the rubbish smeared across the streets! Off to Barcelona today, will keep you posted on
Missing the beers, klobasa and your company.
Peas. Laday and the Mus
Response: Yes it's a tad cold here. Might be time for my long-promised experimental run around the block in my undies. Stand by for more.
From Cob
So that was a "short entry" eh? On 'long entries' can you please provide an estimated 'time to read' figure so I can allocate an hour or two in the evening. Base the estimated time figure on the average reading time of a decent tram spotter.
You are sounding well and happy Cob
Response: Oh yes all right then. Still haven't seen the new Porsche trams yet. Big anti-climax.
From Martin and Kami
New Year greetings to carp-fighter and Sylv :o)
...we were just wondering how did that bloody fish taste...? :o)))))) Good pics.
Response: Hi Martin, hi Kami,
As I said to Michal, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the carp. The soup was nice. As for the fish itself, well, I think our next visit to Czech will probably be in July.
Hope you're well
From Fishy
Ahh Brooce
With all the fish stories, how could I not send you a note. I will go out in sympathy with you and also enjoy fish on Christmas Day in Ambervegas. Although not the delicacies of Moravia, the paua and whitebait will just have to do. Have a fabulous celebration with all Sylvia's family and keep up the commentaries.
Take care
love fishy, sid and louiexx
Response: Hi Fish
I will not judge the carp until I try it of course. Have a lovely Chrissie and New Year and say hi to Sid and the folks - and Louie of course
From Chris & Pauline
Just wanted to wish you guys a very merry Christmas. We will miss you both this year. We will have a quiet one this year with just 6 of us. No tri-nation cricket match either. Chris will have a home brew for you. Prague looks beautiful but cold at the moment. Enjoy your time with Cathryn & Adam - they have bought their thermals. Look forward to more stories and piccies.
Love, Chris & Pauline
Response: Hi Chris and Pauline, thanks for your message and sorry for the late response. hope you had a great chrissy!! we missed being there...had a really nice xmas with my family although could have done without the carp. Cathryn and Adam arrive tomorrow, we're sooo excited!! good thing they've bought their thermals. it's snowing like mad today! lotsa love and happy new year from both of us :-)