Yes, I know I'm late with this post - xmas is well and truly over. But,- I did cross the BIG ditch to spend my first cold xmas ever. Then landed in hospital xmas day, cause the air in Georgia bit my lungs. But, apart from that , I still had a xmas morning that was SO delightful, didn't need anymore !! let me tell you about it - -  -  -  -  -  -

CHRISTMAS EVE,  really really cold,  the feeling of anticipation became overwhelming in the Blake household.

                                        santa signs

                                       Santa had been well and truly notified.

                                  pokemon 3

                                   Pokemon had been played (Lachlan had won again)

                                     family 4

                                Family church service for Xnas Eve was over.

                                     minion 2

                                     Finally, climb into new "minion onesies" Mom had got specially for xmas and -

                                      santa view    

                                      check where Santa is  - wow, he's flying over Germany right now - if we work out how fast he is going and how far to us - oh never mind, let's go to bed now, and he should get to us sometime during the night. We've left out food for him and his reindeers, so we'll be right.



Guess what - Santa did come -  food was gone - pressies piled up - woohoo - he must be a GOOD Santa !! Let the fun begin.

Time to let the pictures do the talking  -

          xmas morn 1ab            a xmas 6

         a xmas 2            a xmas 1     

         a xmas 3           a xmas 4

         a xmas 6           a xmas 7

         a xmas 8           a xmas 9

         a xmas 10           a xmas 11

         a xmas 12           a xmas trooper

       Wonderful energy - boys on xmas morning. Should be bottled, and taken out when needed. Both Laclan and Zach were overcome when the saw the pressies - and I'm proud of them, they opened all very carefully. Then they were off - Zachie to run with his magical new "dune buggy", Lachie to build his new lego "star wars", and Trooper to catch his new squeeky rubber bone (and gulp down his large can dog food - YUMBO)

Just as the energy was dropping, Dad said - sun is shining - time for a bike ride - so they did.

           xmas 14 bike ride



           The Botanical Garden in Atlanta, has to be one of the most spectacularly brilliant gardens I have ever seen. Their displays are a mixture of interactive and seasonal ones, designed to enchant and delight. Children especially find so much to do and see and play with,  in the specially zoned Childrens Garden. Never static, the Gardens are an  especially magic place at Christmas.

This Xmas was no exception. So as night crept in, and with Lyssa and Pappy from Augusta, the family went off to the gardens to see the lights.

Once again, my piccies will do the talking -

                                          gardens 3

                                          gardens 5

                       gardens 1     gardens 2

                       gardens 7a     gardens 9

                                        gardens 10

                                gardens 12

                        gardens 16

                        gardens 17

                                gardens 20 best

                                        gardens 15 both at well 

Get the picture ? All interactive. So, not just a display to look at, one where you can walk through and over and round and marvel at. Covers a huge distance. I have blogged about the gardens earlier, at Halloween, where the displays you walk around and through are totally awesome, but this, at Christmas, is another dimension again.

In 20 yrs time, I wonder how much of this xmas the boys will remember ? The year they wore their MINION onesies at Xmastime.

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Hop across the ditch to middle earth, you'll find a lot of things to talk about.

                           roses this mix

Their roses are AMAAAZZING. And they're everywhere. All those Scots that sailed across the oceans must have brought their rose cuttings with them, and they ALL grew.


Strawberries have the original essence of strawberry in spades - they are sweeter and bigger and even more luscious than ours - and ours are damn fine.

                           1 pastries - use this one

And - sigh - their pastries, I'm best not to talk about.

                          santa 2

The have the biggest, ugliest santa EVER - although, any Santa this big must bring loads of pressies. YES.


They don't use their stones to make neat garden beds, or pile them in discreet mounds - no, they pile them up high. Very impressive.Bit scary, hope they are wired way up there !!

                             hobbit mix

And the beings that piled all those stones up - why, Lord Gandulph would have been there, plus lots of hobbits we found skulking around trees and at markets - you know, anyone from Middle Earth.

                             dog mix

And those same beings from Midlle Earth love their dogs. They must, we saw SO many. The first one here is called Trooper, second on the right is sheep. 

                   yarn bomb 3      yarn bomb 2                         

Everything (almost) that stands still, gets yarn bombed. Noni and I kept moving. Sometimes quite fast, with the mad knitters over there.

                                yarn bombed 10

                                     See what I mean ??

                          corm best

This tree only escaped cause it is a cormorant tree. Park your cormorants here - no mad knitter would brave these babies. (very fishy poops!!)

                            2 ti tree

I'm here to tell you also, just how clever the Kiwis are - this is a ti-tree in flower. We have them, - Leptospermum scoparium - they have them as well - everywhere. BUT, they have commercialised their ti-trees very very cleverly. Firstly, in NZ the ti-tree is called Manuka, and because it grows everywhere, and flowers profusely, the bees love it and make lots and lots of honey. Not just honey - MANUKA HONEY - which they reckon has "magical powers" - so everybody buys it. Voila - multi hundred?? dollar industry. Magical powers ? Who knows. Certainly is pretty good stuff their honey - but it is the same as ours.  As I said - switched on , these Kiwi's.

                           3 swamp hen

And how about this - common old purple swamp hens abound EVERYWHERE over there - we have them, but ours are quite discrete and stay in their own swamp or creek. NZ swamp hens roam all over parks and gardens and present themselves for photo shoots regularly and painfully. So what do the Kiwis do - call them PUKAKO - and turn them into a huge souvenir business based on red crest,irridescent purply- blue neck, humungous feet (for the swamp) and a very very cute white splotch on his bum. You can buy figurines of Pukako, Pukako Poo, Pukako sketches, Pukako wall friezes, - didn't find ground up Pukako, everything else but.

                          4 geese a

Now, I have a suggestion. Early morning walk beside the sublimely beautiful, and quite spiritual lake in Rotorua - we walked past hundreds of snoozing geese. Great swathes of them in separate clumps - obviously tribes of separate families, each with their own patch of lawn. 

    geese 4      geese 5

    At some unseen signal, they all woke up, stretched, and headed off to the lake for a days hard swimming. 

    Come on Kiwis - if you can commercialise ti-trees, and swamp hens - why not geese ? Surely you're clever enough to think of something special for all eager, hopeful tourists ? You could even eat them, I guess, as a last resort.


Which reminds me - you know those cute cuddly little guys that run across our rooves with their hobnailed boots on - here they are called possum fur !! And I could have bought possum wool, but didn't

      rot best geyser

However, all jokes aside - go visit Rotorua. Called a Thermal Wonderland, it surely is. There are champagne pools (champagne colour with bubbles); mists that bliock out the sun; pools so high in cyanide they are bright yellow; mud pools that you can hear going plop, plop; pools high in gold and silver; pools with orange edges - arsenic; and everywhere smells of sulphur - you either get used to it, or move on. Best of all, of course are the geysers - the one pictured is called "The Lady", and she was quite ladylike the day we were there.


       rot 10


                rot 5 with noni  

 rot 8 good        rot 9 

 rot 22      rot 17

 rot 16       rot 15                                                               

               rot 11

We came, we saw, and we loved Rotorua. Something quite primaeval about the colours and the mists and the sheer beauty of this place. Although our enjoyment of it all was probably enhanced by the Polynesian Pools we soaked in before having an amazing massage. Wasn't quite up to a mud bath, but truly satisfying instead. And not quite as hot or lethal as the mud seemed to be.



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This is Delan. He is a small locomotive. He works at Bingera sugar mill near Bundaberg. Actually he is quite big for a cane locomotive, but he is still small.

Through the bush

His job is to haul sugarcane in bins to the mill, but first he has to haul empty bins from the mill out into the canefields so that they can be filled.

Here he goes hauling empty bins - but this is through the bush, not canefields! There is a big hill to cross before you get to the Bucca area of cane.










Through the cane     Through the cane 2

That's more like it! Over the hill and into the canefields. Down to the siding.

 At the sidingBut there are full bins waiting in the siding.

Pull out the fulls     Fulls and empties 

So Delan pulls them out far enough to clear the points, then pushes them to another siding...

Hidden fulls

And hides them behind the trees! Why?

Then he pushes all the empties into two sidings - they just fit!Parking the empties

Then off to the very end of the line to find some full bins.


 Off to the end of the line 

Back from the end 

Here he comes back with 62 full bins! We expect that he will now pick up the other 12 full ones from the siding. But no! He charges off straight into the canefields towards the big hill.

We finally catch up at the siding at the bottom of the big hill. He slows and then stops. Then the driver's assistant goes back halfway down the train, puts a sprag in the wheels and CUTS THE TRAIN IN HALF! What is going on? Does Delan think he can't make it?  Cant make it

We ask the DA - what's going on?  

Cut in half

Delan thinks he can't make it. He thinks he can't, he thinks he can't. We KNOW he can't: the maximum number of bins over the hill for Delan is 31. That is why he hid the other 12 behind the trees! First we will go up to Ralph's siding at the top of the hill, then come back for the other 31.




Off we go

So off we go with half the train. Up to the top of the hill. Where Delan leaves the bins and heads off back down the hill.

Left behind    Back we go

Meanwhile, back at the bottom of the hill the bins are waiting..............

MeanwhileThen here comes Delan!Back we come 2

Couples up and off we go again!Couple upUp the hill againBack up the big hill..............

And off into the sunset.into the sunset

The Americans call this "Doubling the Hill". We just thought it doubled the fun.

And Delan and the driver and the DA? Off to the mill, a bite to eat, then back for those other dozen bins.



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     selfie 20a sicily

  Rahmels, off for a year in Europe, scampered through Italy to find out what all the fuss was in Sicily.

 Can you see where Sicily sits in this map? A vital gateway to the  Mediterranean, North Africa and the Adriatic, perfect for trade and a sitting duck for colonization. Roman armies conquered it,  Germanic tribes came next, Byzantine Empire came next, Muslims  next from Arabia, who were then ousted by the Normans (Roger  2nd) who gave way to the Germans (again), then French (Charles), and finally the Italians - led by Garibaldi.

                 PHEW !!

 1946, Sicily finally became an autonomus region. And all those nasty regimes left behind relics, ready for 21st C tourists.

As well as a fascinatingly eclectic landscape,we find also the origins of the Mafia. I guess rebellion against each dictator in turn had to be a given, and it would have had to be a bloody revolt to count for anything.  Maybe now, though, it is time for them to stop. 

On a much happier and energetic note - Desiree Rahmel, tourist extraordinaire, now has a fascinating snippet of history for her early morning walkies. I walk with her in spirit along these ancient pathways, and love it (although she would leave me for dead, her walking style is fast, mine - loiter.)

                  walkie 8

Along this street with its wonderful old buildings -

                 walkie 3

                Past the fish shop - only one open this early.

walkie 50  walkie 4   

Out along the esplanade, around the bay looking at -

              walkie 2   

The fishing fleet, home from their overnight Ionian Sea catchings.

              wonderful wall           

And back again, past ancient walls and so much more historical stuff . AAAAHHH !!

              walkie 7               

And all within the shadow of Mt Etna, lifting its head above the morning mists. Bliss.

But wait, what is Micha doing ???

              wine b

The MOST important job of the day - he has to trot down to the local to get the daily dose of red stuff siphoned straight out of the tank into his own bottle. Bliss again.

  catania 1  catania 5

Or maybe he's at the fish market, haggling for his share of the night catch. Or maybe he fancies a baby lamb for tonight's repast. 

               days pizza

Or maybe - - what the heck, let's have an authentic Sicilian pizza or 2.

  taormina this one  taormina this one also

Some days they might both wander through the old streets of Taormina for Desiree to pick out which dazzling pieces of Majolica ceramics she is sending back by the truck load for her new Sicilian-look displays. NO ?? I hear you say ?? Too garish ?? But you're in Sicily, now. None of that minimalist stuff is allowed !!

                      popnda chella beach africans

And MOST days they go to Pondachella Beach for a swim - at least in summer.

                     pondachella beach selfie

And EVERY day, they have sundowners wherever they are. True lotus - eaters!!

Travelling - yes, that as well. 

                     sicily map 1

And around Sicily ? Of course. The X refers to their living spot, the red line where they went tripping recently.

 Palermo - the capital we have all heard about, is described as being flamboyant, feisty and full of life. It is a true urban melting pot for the wave upon wave of conquerers who each built their own style of architecture, and obviously impregnated enough women to leave their genetic legacy as well. The people of Palermo, today, are wonderfully eclectic - and not all that interested in tourists, but their wonderful eating houses make up for that. 

                          Palermo mix 1ac

                          palermo mix 2

Next Marsala - guess who bought a very large bucket of Marsala ? 

                          marsala ignore rest 1

                           marsala ignore 2

          I must say, this city, Marsala, looks stunning !! Gleaming marble-paved streets, stately baroque architecture, charmingly friendly restaurants - oooooohhh - pick me, I could cope.

Driving , driving down the red line on the south coast past Agrigento, you find a blue upside down "V" on my map - this is Licata - my next totally beautiful city.

                          licata mix better

                              Licata. Supposed to be where you find the "real" Sicily. Quite apart from being a city once again rich in culture, architecture and gastronomical adventures, it is also the birthplace of some rather nasty members of the mafia. The real Sicily, I wonder !!

Follow the red line around to the SE corner, you will come to a city with a difference. Syracuse. 

                         syracuse 5

It's different because it is an ancient Greek city, so much so, UNESCO has listed it as a World heritage Site. Evidently Syracuse was once a major power of the Mediterranean, and is renowned as the birthplace of Archimedes. They still use his Principle, but I wonder if they still have his bath ??

                        syracuse 1

Syracuse even boasts an Amphitheatre or 2.

Back on the red line, and home via Catania. Exploring over for today, but maybe not for tomorrow.


And so, as the sun sets slowly over Pondachella Beach, we say farewell to our favourite lotus eaters while they nibble their marzipan fruits, and sip their marsala sherry and never ever dream about home in Oz. 



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