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There may be easier ways to get from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, to Hamburg, Germany, but the most direct way is the flight to London from Halifax. Unfortunately, it is a red-eye, scheduled to leave around midnight. It lands in London around 9:30 AM. The first available, reasonably-priced flight to Hamburg leaves at three in the afternoon. On paper, that doesn’t seem like too much of a problem. In reality, it is a nightmare. The night flight to London is too short to get a proper night’s sleep and there is nowhere in that section of Heathrow offering any semblance of rest or relaxation.

So, we arrived in Hamburg absolutely exhausted. Our handful of German words had disappeared and the taxi driver was quite dubious about our destination. He offered to take us to the Elysee Hotel to pick up the key, but had no idea where the Gasthaus might be, even though I had the address and assured him it was only a short distance away.

People who are nearly catatonic so easily pass for idiots, especially when they don’t speak the language. In the end, it all worked out just fine. When in doubt, dress well. That’s our motto.

For those readers unfamiliar with the two hemispheres, it is now summer in Melbourne. It is a good time to be elsewhere as the temperatures in Australia tend to soar into the stratosphere. This year, our escape entailed a return to our home in Nova Scotia (for Christmas), and a visit to the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany for January and February. Not to mention a brief stopover in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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You sentimentalists will be happy to know that our Christmas in Grand Pre was white, although the snow disappeared soon after it arrived. Maritime climates are fickle that way. Two years ago they were skating on the lake called the Alster, within walking distance of the Gasthaus. This year it is fine for boats and birds. It is a winter of rain.

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We are fortunate to have found a home away from home at the Gasthaus of the University of Hamburg, a building that has some serious history and a wonderful staff. We are not the only visitors here associated with the Max Planck Institute, which runs a centre dedicated to Comparative and International Private Law.

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The nearly 80 research institutes of the Max Planck Society conduct basic research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities. They have a total staff of approx. 13,000 permanent employees, including 4,700 scientists, plus around 11,000 non-tenured scientists and guests. Their budget for 2006 was about €1.4 billion, with 84% from state and federal funds. The Max Planck Institutes focus on excellence in research, with 32 Nobel Prizes awarded to their scientists, and are generally regarded as the foremost basic research organization in Germany and Europe.

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We are talking big potatoes for a country this size. Exploring Hamburg and the surrounding area will be a new adventure, challenging for both us in terms of language and culture. This is will be the first of several posts based on my sojourn here. And I have some catching up to do, so you will find me backtracking to do a couple more posts in Australia. Things have been a bit hectic of late, and I’ve been preoccupied. We are in a good place to write now, so stay tuned.

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It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia just as summer seemed to be on the verge of fulfilling its annual promise of sunshine and strawberries, but my wife does have an academic appointment in Australia. Despite a sabbatical and the opportunity to teach a semester in London on behalf of the University of Melbourne, it was time to return to Oz. When I was young, a trip to the antipodes would have taken several days.

Now, in enormous jets traveling at over 800 kms an hour it takes, well, days. It could have taken fewer of them if we hadn’t made a detour through Portland, Oregon to visit our son and his family, but the jet lag would have been worse. Instead of two legs, our itinerary morphed into four– Halifax to Calgary, Calgary to Portland, Portland to L.A., and Los Angeles to Melbourne. It is that last jaunt, the one that Australians laughingly call the hop over the “pond,” that is tantamount to torture. I used to refer to being at the economy end of the stick as traveling “cattle class.” I don’t anymore.

A shocking investigation into the treatment of cattle transported to Indonesian abattoirs cured me of using that term forever. The video was so appalling I simply couldn’t watch more than a minute. Australian viewers were apparently of the same mind, so the traffic of live animals to other countries for slaughter was halted, temporarily. It is set to begin again, under a lot more scrutiny. “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and that video confirmed my inclination to go green in body as well as mind.  It is certainly not easy, despite the advent of so-called veggie options in restaurants.  And it does require a major shift in thinking about meals.

Mind you, I drive too much and spend far too many hours burning up the skies. On a long haul flight, you are basically immobilized for sixteen hours as the giant metal tube creeps across that vast expanse of ocean far below.

If you are assigned to a seat in the very last row, as I was, you wish they would just shoot you and get it over with. But we are highly adaptable creatures, and 21st century commercial airlines prove it. One gets used to the stultifying boredom, the noise, the dehydrated air, the toilets and the airborne equivalent of “food.” It is a luxury most of the people on this planet cannot afford, so how can one complain? I am always amazed that those lumbering machines can actually get airborne despite all that luggage.

On the tiny screen three inches from your face, you can unreel a fair selection of Hollywooden flics, Australian films, TV shows and Other. One movie I had been wanting to see was on the menu, “Oranges and Sunshine.” It tells the tale of 130,000 children who were deported from England and sent off to various countries, including Australia, under a scheme to rid the motherland of children from orphanages as well as others the authorities felt might become wards of the State. It was entirely illegal, but that never stops governments.

The heart breaking story is revealed through the eyes of the British social worker, Margaret Humphreys, who found out about it when one of the “Australian” children sought information from her about her birth parents. This happened in 1986. It is a very moving film directed by Jim Loach, with a great performance by Emily Watson and a fine cast.

We arrived home to an eviction notice. Apparently our landlord wants to sell and wishes to do some renovations to the house before it is put on the market. So, yours truly had to scramble to find a new place to park ourselves and all our stuff. That has now been accomplished, and the rest is simply packing and moving. As my sister noted, wryly, we should be getting frequent mover miles. We are not going very far, but moving is moving. Everything still has to be boxed.

For my next posts, I will be reporting from Maribyrnong. I have written about the River in a couple of posts– The Walk We Drive To, and one about the Henly regatta, if memory serves. The new place has lots of windows, so it will be a bit like moving from a cave to a treehouse. I’m looking forward to that. And we’ll be able to walk to the river.

All new pics and posts have taken a back seat to all this travel and disruption. If you are waiting for photos from our adventure on the Bay of Fundy, please be patient. I’ll get to it. In the meantime, cheers from the country and continent Down Under.


We could have chosen a worse time to fly to Halifax. We could have come on December 13, when hundred-mile-an-hour winds were wreaking havoc in Nova Scotia, knocking down towering fir trees and ripping shingles off our carriage house. Instead, we picked the worst time to leave Durham, North Carolina. Soft, wet snow began falling around midnight, followed by freezing rain on the morning we were due to depart. Not exactly conducive to getting to the airport.

We considered booking a hotel in the vicinity, but finally decided to take our chances. I did revise our departure time, insisting that our cab driver show up at 6:15 AM for a 9:15 flight. The appointed time came and went, followed by a flurry of phone calls. It turned out our driver wasn’t lost, but fender benders had turned the route into an obstacle course. Since we were leaving Durham after almost a full year in residence, we were not traveling light. The cabbie came from Africa originally, so we got in with some trepidation, but he immediately informed us that he had lived in Michigan. Not to worry.

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One item in our carry-on may have been unique to our luggage– two hats in an elegant German hat box. One of our serendipitous discoveries in Durham was a first-rate hat store, owned by a classy Cuban. Southerners like hats, and they are willing to invest in them. On the afternoon we wandered into the store, my wife, who is fairly abstemious with her personal wardrobe, emerged with TWO hats, one for spring, one for winter. The purchase of two German hats made the owner’s day, so he threw in the fancy box.

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When we first took an informal inventory at the Stewart House twenty-three years ago, we were delighted to discover a genuine beaver hat, complete with leather box. Peeling stickers indicated that the hat (and its owner) did the grand tour of Europe. It may have belonged to Florence Nunn’s father. Florence was named after his favorite city in Italy. She married Charles Stewart, the great great grandson of Robert Laird, the man who had the “Stewart” house built, circa 1779. They traveled by sea in those days, but it was nice to return a hat box to the old homestead, even if it was in the overhead compartment of an airship.

To say that the Raleigh-Durham airport is a little light on de-icing equipment is something of an understatement. They have exactly two trucks to service every single flight, and it is a busy airport. My flight to Philadelphia was number seven in line for de-icing, so we took off three hours late. Fortunately, the flight to Halifax was delayed an hour and a half.  All’s well that ends well.  And arriving here on the same day was a good ending.

It was a quiet and green Christmas this year, with only one other family member present for the holiday. And our daughter, Stephanie, got on a plane for Vancouver on Christmas morning. Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you all serenity, peace and good fortune. We are living in interesting times, so those may be in short supply. Cheers from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

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