Monthly Archives: March 2013

Rolling With Retro

Seriously, Deborah? The movers aren’t even picking up the household goods until Saturday morning to send it all on to Australia and you are already feeling ‘nest-y’ again?

Mark and I have embraced the Mid-Century look over the last few years and just as we were leaving Australia, we bought the cute little ‘Sputnik’ table that you see in this photo. Mark refreshed the top with a bright red gloss and the black iron legs and little feet at the end (a punchy lime green) are the original colours.


A fabbo gift — a rocket style lava lamp


What you see in the picture is my Christmas present which I never got around to posting three months ago when it arrived in France with a mere 48 hours to spare before Christmas Day. I always wanted a Lava Lamp back in the original time period but the other people in my life back then thought that it was silly. But guess who never let go of that love of Lava Lamps? Me!

I must have said something about it sometime over the last few years because Mark planted that firmly in his brain and he totally surprised me this year with this gift. And he tracked down the original manufacturer in England to order this totally fabbo rocket ship version. It’s simply hypnotic to have it on in the background of a darkened room while you are watching television or just sitting quietly.

Now I can’t wait to get UNPACKED in Australia and see it again!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Toast The Tax?

Saw this poster in a window here in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK and I thought it was worth following up on. What did it mean? Were toasted sandwiches really going to be taxed on top of the cost of the sandwich?


Poster in the window of a shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne protesting the government’s application of a 20% tax on toasted sandwiches!


That turns out to be exactly what is happening. As this online e-petition explains, the UK government has decided to apply VAT of 20% onto what is charged for toasted sandwiches even though the other countries in the EU have already done away with it.

What an insane and greedy grab for cash by the government in a time of extreme financial hardship!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Photo Essay: Newcastle Upon Tyne On A Sunny Saturday

I have to laugh about the timing of this photo essay since I took these pictures 21 days ago and it was the last time we saw any blue sky at all! It’s been unrelentingly grim weather-wise here in Newcastle Upon Tyne and the locals we have talked to all say the same thing. They have never experienced a winter that has lasted so long and been so cold.

Since the high is 2 degrees today and the skies are dark with yet more snow in the forecast for this evening (groan!), let’s move the Rickety Time Machine backward by 21 days and enjoy the sunny views, eh?


41 m (135 ft) high column & monument to prominent politician, social reformer, & Prime Minister Charles Earl Grey erected in 1838 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.


Busy shoppers and pedestrians on a sunny Saturday in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK


Entry to the historic Central Arcade in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK


Interior of the historic Central Arcade in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK



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Counting Down to Departure from Northern Hemisphere!

It’s now only ONE WEEK until our household goods get picked up by the moving company! I’ve spent my day filling out ‘Unaccompanied Goods’ forms for the Australian Customs folks, refining the inventory sheets so they know what is in every single box we have packed, getting specs online for our fridge-freezer to ship back to AU, and finding out what the coolant in that appliance contains (nothing negative, thank heavens!).


Australian Fridge Form


I was and HOPING to find some time to do photo editing this afternoon and I am SO far behind and my agencies in New York and London are awaiting images that should have been there already. Sheesh!

We spent the day at Hadrian’s Wall yesterday and in spite of the breathtaking cold, we had a wonderful time. That will be a future post full of pictures, but it might have to wait for awhile.

Back to work I go!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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SAVINGS on Travel Insurance for Overseas Trips

Whether you are an expat, a round-the-world traveller, or simply someone who is headed off on their annual holiday, a comprehensive travel insurance policy is a VERY necessary item when you leave home. And anyone who fails to purchase such an essential thing may be taking their lives and their financial future in their hands. Rather a lot of people think that they are the ‘lucky ones’ and that no accident or theft or illness will befall them because they are alert and aware and prepared. But, as I can share from personal experience, life’s a little messier than that!

Before you even make a travel insurance purchase, there are ways to save on your overall costs. They usually mean you have to be patient enough to look at quite a few online options, compare the coverage, decide what you don’t need to trim things down a bit, and then consider paying a higher excess or deductible.

Why pay for action sports coverage if that isn’t your thing? And if you aren’t carrying a lot of tech gear with you the way we do, you can probably use a more budget-oriented company that’s a bit ‘no frills’ except on the essentials like medical coverage and missing luggage.

In the past, we have repeatedly used World Nomads as our travel insurance provider. I have nothing but the highest praise for this company and would recommend them to anyone. They were quite reasonably priced, were very pleasant to deal with, and we were quite satisfied with the service we received when we unexpectedly had to make a claim against travel insurance for the first time ever in 2012. They paid a week-long hospital bill for me when I was incredibly ill in France last summer and I would have been stuck with that hefty bill if we had not had an active policy at the time. An episode like that is one of the reasons that I continue to remind fellow travellers to ALWAYS have insurance because the unexpected really does happen more often than you can imagine.

That hospital visit left me in a tricky position though. I now have what’s known as a ‘pre-existing condition’ since it is an issue that could potentially reappear in the future. World Nomads was quite clear on their website when I checked a few days ago and it stated that yes, I could purchase travel insurance that would cover all of the other things like lost luggage or cancelled flights and so forth. But they would NOT COVER any medical issue that had been paid out in the past. On my!

That set me on an almost 3-day search of site after site to try and find good quality travel insurance that I could purchase by simply being honest, stating that I had been hospitalised for a previous issue, and paying a slightly higher premium. Easy, right? But when the companies that I was researching were moving from my budget-target of £500 for the two of us for a 6 week trip and zooming right up to over £1,200 for that short a period, I was a bit stunned. We paid that much for a full year of comprehensive travel insurance a mere 2-1/2 years ago!

I looked at quite a few companies in the UK and discovered that, one after another, they rejected our applications because Mark was British (so he was eligible to buy a policy), but I was Australian and therefore was not. Telling fibs and pretending to be a UK citizen or resident wouldn’t have been a good idea since it would have negated the insurance coverage completely.

When you are preparing to purchase your own travel insurance, you will need to make sure that you answer truthfully what country you are a legal resident of. Since we’ve given up on living in the UK and I didn’t bother doing the paperwork to become a legal resident, I am still a citizen of Australia so I did a web search on insurance for pre-existing medical conditions from the Australian Google site. Simply search from your own country so that if there is ever a problem, they can air-ambulance you back to your home country.

Some of the bigger companies that I included in my search were BUPA, Travel Insure Direct, Medi-Bank,, and 1-Cover as well as the policies offered by banks in Australia. They were all over £1,000 for 6 weeks and CoverMore was the most expensive at £1,249.

Finally (whew!) on Day 3, I found what I was looking for — insurance that covered everything, had a medical certificate stating that I had declared my condition, and we were both covered for all the rest of the baggage, delays, and such. AND, triumph of triumphs, it came in at under £500 for the two of us.

The company we are using this time is InsureAndGo and they have branches in several countries. Securing that insurance for our upcoming trip was the final puzzle piece for the adventure ahead.

Come back soon for more pictures from Newcastle Upon Tyne!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Quayside & Baltic Mill Contemporary Art Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne UK

The temperatures are still distinctly wintery and the air was full of rain and delicate snow flurries on Sunday. But one of the places on our things-to-do list for Newcastle was a visit to the Baltic Mill Contemporary Art Centre. We also wanted a chance to see the architecture of the buildings and bridges along the Quayside since we had heard so many positive things about that area.

We drove to the closest Park-and-Ride area for the Metro and just sat and watched the stations go by as we travelled from one part of Newcastle into the heart of the city.


On board the Metro in Newcastle Upon Tyne UK


Gateshead Station for the Metro in Newcastle Upon Tyne


Emerging at the Gateshead Station, we took the escalators up the surface and braved a very cold and blustery walk past the lovely Tyne Bridge which looks like a miniature of the Sydney Harbour Bridge because it was built by English firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd, of Middlesbrough, the same contractors who built the many-times-larger bridge in Australia.


Tyne Bridge in Newcastle Upon Tyne UK


15 minutes of walking-against-the-wind later, we arrived at the The Sage Gateshead, a spectacularly funky and shiny and contemporary building that houses everything from concert halls to music studios to cafes and gift shops and more. The place was buzzing with activity on that cold winter day as people mixed and mingled, ate and drank, relaxed in the warmth. Just take a look at all of the upcoming events by clicking on the link above.


The Sage Gateshead centre for the arts and music on the Quayside in Newcastle Upon Tyne UK


Walking through the building to the east facade entry, we saw the re-purposed historical building that houses the Baltic Mill Contemporary Art Centre. in the near distance and traversed the levels of stairs down toward the waterfront setting.


Baltic Mill Contemporary Art Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne UK


We had such high hopes — truly — but our favourite parts of this museum ended up being the cafe and the gift shop — and that’s a sad statement. We knew full well that this was a small museum and could not be compared to the many major urban museums we have seen all over Europe for the last 2-1/2 years. But we certainly had expected more and both left feeling quite disappointed by the visit. The exhibits currently on offer were simply bland and odd and, in several cases, quite dated — not in a good way. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside so I can’t let you judge for yourselves. For us, it was all too-little and too-uncritically-examined and we both had a sense of been-there-seen-that a long time ago. Ah well — at least the admission was free!

The best thing about the Baltic Mill for us was the viewing platform on the 5th level which has simply splendid look-outs over the Quayside area and the juxtaposition of old bridge, new bridge, old buildings, new buildings and all tied up with the pretty ribbon of the Tyne snaking its watery way through the middle.

View of Quayside in Newcastle Upon Tyne from viewing platform at Baltic Mill Contemporary Art Centre with Sage Gatehead, Tyne Bridge, and Millennium Bridge.


Come back soon for more photos and articles about Newcastle including one on the small but elegant Laing Art Gallery.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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SAVINGS on Europe to USA to Australia on Apartments, Hotels, & Amtrak!–Part 3

The previous TRAVEL SAVINGS article discussed looking for promo codes, discount codes, and discount vouchers for everything from ferries to trains to airline flights. Today we’ll discuss MORE train travel, hotel, and apartment reservations.

Our preferred method of saving money whilst travelling is to get an apartment in any city that we will be in for more than 2 days. A 3 day minimum booking is pretty standard for most of the holiday apartment letting sites. But when you have your own full kitchen set-up, you can make and eat the meals you want for a fraction of the cost of eating out each day.

For our upcoming Paris and Brussels stays of 3 nights in each city, I looked at both AirBnB and Roomarama first. Each site has a wonderful variety of apartment styles and sizes. But in the end I went back to AirBnB where I have always had positive experiences in the past during a week in Amsterdam and a week-plus in Barcelona.

Things to check are what the EXTRA fees are on each listing. Some hosts are incredibly flexible and charge no additional fees other than the standard AirBnB booking fee of around £18-20. But other hosts charge security deposits of up to £500 for a 3 night stay AND a cleaning fee of up to £50. I’m a bit too frugal to embrace those costs, so my final list of possible selections all had no cleaning fees and little or no security deposit.

I never did find an apartment on either of the sites above for our Brussels stay and ended up booking an apartment for Brussels on the website. We had a specific area that we wanted to stay in since we were coming into the same huge train station from Paris, and then several days later we’d be departing on the EuroStar from that station.

By the way, if you click on that link above for the Eurostar, you’ll see under the current DEALS FROM LONDON a fare of £69 per person for the London to Brussels route. That would have cost us £138 for the two of us — right? I booked with RailEurope instead of with the Eurostar site and paid a total of £80 for the two of us — a £58 savings!

If specific locations or neighbourhoods are important to you when booking an apartment or hotel, input that information into the search bar on the left side of the page at and it will produce a list of options that are in or near that specific neighbourhood or site. I used this same website for our overnight hotels in Toronto and Vancouver and put the name of the international airport in each of those cities into the search field and found quite reasonably priced hotels for those one night stays. And in each of the 3 reservations that I made on, I was able to save 20-30% off of the price on other booking sites by comparing the prices at the other sites and ALSO ticking on the hotels that were offering 24-48 hour discounts or a mark-down because it was one of the last 3-5 rooms. You have to really keep your eyes open for specials on all of these sites because they can really save you quite a lot when you are planning trips both large and small.

The final element of our upcoming trip was how to get across the continental United States without flying. I found ONE Delta flight from Cincinnati to Seattle with no layovers or plane changes, but I ruled it out immediately when I saw what the baggage sizes and limitations were. Our carry-on bags are the international flight size, not the domestic flight size! Also we carry SO MUCH tech gear and have even more items than we did when we left Australia 2-1/2 years ago — 2 15″ MacBook Pro laptops, 4 passport drives, cables and connectors, 3 Nikon DSLR cameras, 8 lenses, and a small Lumix camera. We carry all of that in our carry-on luggage along with a change of underwear and, if we are lucky, some pajamas and an extra pair of jeans. I use rolled-up t-shirts and socks, and a thin cashmere cardigan to cushion the cameras and lenses.

The Delta flight’s baggage size restrictions meant we would have had to check on 2 extra bags full of essential gear. Nope! That’s how I make my living and it is far too valuable to lose. In case this is news to people flying either domestically or internationally, it is never-ever safe to check on tech gear when flying because it ‘mysteriously goes missing’ rather often from inside your bag or it runs the risk of being irreparably damaged by gorilla-fisted luggage handlers. And if you think your travel insurance policy will reimburse you for missing tech gear — no, they will not. If you read all of the fine print in travel insurance documents, they very specifically state that there will be no reimbursement if you pack valuable items such as cameras, computers, or jewelry inside your check-on luggage.

We thought it might be fun to do a week long cross country drive in a tiny rental car. But then I began to research those options (and spent a full day doing that on website after website!) and I was simply stunned at the costs. Not only have the costs of renting a car risen dramatically in the USA since we were last there over 11 years ago, but the agencies that do allow one-way rentals all charge a one-way drop off fee of £1,000 minimum! That figure was in Great Britain pounds, NOT in dollars. At that point I said to my friend here in Newcastle that we could have purchased an old ‘banger’ car and insured it for the cost of a one way rental plus petrol plus food and hotels on the road PLUS a £1,000 drop-off fee. Sheesh! And did you know that the rental car agencies apply a ‘pick-n-mix’ strategy nowadays and you pay $149 a week for the all-important sat-nav and an additional $10 a day for a second driver? The renting-a-car option went right out the window!

Our final option turned out to be not only the cheapest but has the potential to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that we will always remember. We have always loved travelling by train because it is a gentle and relaxing option compared to flying or driving. I looked at the AMTRAK site in the USA and discovered that we could travel from one side of the United States to the other in complete comfort in the privacy of our own room AND with all meals included for less than the cost of either the Delta flight or the eye-watering car rental option. But wait — there’s more!

I did a web search for “Amtrak Discounts” and came up with several options. Here’s an example of a 42% fare reduction for the second passenger that is running on Amtrak right now. This discount does not apply to the purchase of the sleeper cabins, but it did drop the cost of our complete train ticket by $50. We’re using Amtrak again for the Tacoma to Vancouver section of the trip prior to flying off to Australia, so I used the code again and along with a special that the Amtrak Cascades route is currently running, I saved another $17.50 off the $80.00 original cost for that 6 hour trip. It all adds up!

Here is the main AMTRAK page for current discounts. It will change week after week, but you can set up an email alert and stay apprised of the fare specials so you can grab a bargain.

Adding up ALL of my bits and pieces of discounts, I’ve saved £185 in British money or $280 in US dollars. If hotels are already paid for, that is DAYS of daily expense money. So now do you see why I keep reinforcing that it all adds up?

Hope this series has helped some of you think outside of the one-site-does-it-all mode of travel reservations and you’ll take the plunge into looking for discount codes and promo vouchers, too. Make a game out of it and have some fun adding up those savings!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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