Ute Art in Ootha

On our legendary “Wicked Camper” adventure, we came across some funky Utes in a huge paddock in Ootha in outback New South Wales. The utes (slang for utility trucks) had been designed and altered to suit a certain theme. Some of these were lifted into the air, others were sitting on their tail or nose, while some just sat plainly on the ground.

My favourite Ute design was the Kangaroo. In this one, the Ute had been placed on its tail end and had been painted to suit a kangaroo’s body. On it, 2 arms, 2 legs and a head had been attached in appropriate places, as well as the roof being pulled forward to add a joey in. Other good ones include the Bundaberg Rum bottle, the Fuel Station and the Outhouse.

~ Chocolate Milk Cow


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Taj Mahal at sunrise

The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most photographed buildings, and yet it still has the power to take your breath away.

When I was in school, I read that the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal to commemorate his wife Mumtaz.  The tomb is built of marble which gives it an air of coolness and serenity, which – true or not – is how I imagine this eternal wife to be.

We were there – the bro and I – at 6.45am to watch sunrise. It was an effort given that we had arrived into Agra well after midnight, courtesy of an unhurried Indian train. But it was worth it. The marble changes hue with the mist and the sun rise, and you will be clicking away with the best of them.  There will probably be a queue to get your picture taken on the same bench that Princess Diana did.

The Taj is most impressive in its entirety, but get up close and inspect the inscriptions and the inlays.  Also, make your way over to Agra Fort after stopping for breakfast. Late in life, Shah Jahan was imprisoned at the fort by his son, in a tower whose balcony has a view of the Taj Mahal.

~ Spotted Cow


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Infinity gates

Before we went to Japan, I saw a picture of these seemingly infinite rows of orange gates and I knew we had to go there.

This is at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, dedicated to the gods of wine and sake.  It’s a peaceful site with wooded paths running up the Inari mountain, and small shrines and eating stalls dotted along the way. The gates – known as torii – are behind the main shrine building.  They are even more impressive in person. When you stand at the head of the gate, it winds round in a tunnel of orange sunshine.  The inscriptions on the posts look like lines of prayers, but I later discovered that they are the names of the people & companies who made donations for the gates. Look out for the fox statues which guard the gates. They are the Inari messengers (… sounds very Twilight !)

~ Spotted Cow



Dog sledding in -30°C

Yup, you heard me right the first time. Minus 30 degrees. You wear 2 sets of long undies, 2 sets of fleece pyjamas, inner jacket, outer jacket, yet another jacket on top, glove liners, gloves, big gloves, sock liners, 2 pairs of socks, woolly hat and hood. Then you’re ready to get on the sled.

It’s really fun. You feel the cold a bit, but more than anything it’s quite exhilarating. The dogs are quite fast and you have to be careful not to slide up the side of the path and tip the sled over.

The dogs are gorgeous. They have big eyes and perky ears and lots of thick glossy fur.

We did the dog-sledding in Finland. I’ll talk more about our Finnish winter holiday next time.

~ Spotted Cow



Wicked Camper

The family rented a ‘Wicked Camper’ van for the holidays to discover different places in New South Wales.  The Camper was cool. It had chairs that you could bring out to relax on, and a closet for all your stuff hidden under the beds!

Being in the Camper is great fun for all the family, it has funny quotes and amazing pictures decorating the outside of it, and can give you some great memories in your outback adventures. There are little messages hidden all around the van for you to find out about other peoples experiences. The Camper van is a ‘wicked’ experience for everyone!


~ Moo Cow



Christmas, neither at home nor away

Baby Cow closing in on little deer

Ever fancied not having any responsibility on Christmas Day? Let someone else organise the food, the tree, and the entertainment. We did it one year when the idea of all of us in a small London flat with nowhere to go seemed a bit crampy. Plus, we were due to fly out on Boxing Day.

Our choice was Ashdown Park Hotel in East Sussex where we stayed from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. It was marvellous. The grounds are enormous and on the doorstep of Ashdown Forest.  This is Winnie The Pooh country.  You can borrow mountain bikes and cycle on the bumpy forest paths.  There are plenty of secret corners and hidden gardens to explore, and you’ll encounter the wild deer that roam the estate.  We had a go at croquet – badly. There’s a golf course. And we discovered a llama park nearby.

The youngsters can use the remainder of their energy in the swimming pool while the adults enjoy spa services or one of the reading spots in front of the fire.

It goes without saying that there is an abundance of food. We didn’t go hungry and the children had far too much chocolate and cake, as well as surprise treats under the tree and on their pillows – both from us and courtesy of the hotel.

We don’t know if we’d do it quite like that again. But it suited us on that one occasion and the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.

Spotted Cow


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Cologne Christmas markets

Seven weeks till Christmas, someone said.  I reckon it’s  time to start posts with Christmas and winter themes.

I love the German Christmas markets.  I say that, but I’ve only been to the one in Cologne and it’s my blueprint for how all of them should be.

Cologne has seven Christmas markets, and my favourites are the big one in front of the imposing Cologne Cathedral and the somewhat nostalgic one in the Old Town.  The markets are open all day, but they’re most atmospheric at night. It’s the combination of the crisp cold air, the Christmas trees & lights, children laughing in the skating rink and smells of gluhwein (mulled wine) and roasting potatoes and spitting sausages. It feels like Christmas in a movie.

I love the stalls that sell crafts and wooden toys and Christmas decorations. I bought a wooden woodpecker which pecks down a pole … and it was subsequently named Zoe Woodpecker by one of our youngsters.  I also buy the ginger biscuits called Lebkuchen, which are almost an art form.  They’re so pretty that I don’t want to eat them.  I still have stale ones, still in their plastic wrappers, the souvenirs of Christmas pasts.

Spotted Cow

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To market, to market …

Ubud, Bali

… to buy a fat pig.  You can do just that at the Ubud public market. There is a stall that sells suckling pig or babi guling, the local specialty. The market is located across the road from Ubud Palace in a multi-storey building full of stalls that spill over into the car park and onto the street. Vendors sell flowers, fresh produce, cooked food, fruit juices, sweets, temple offerings. Get up early, and by early I mean around 7am, otherwise you’ll miss the good stuff. Remember to bring your camera. Many of the vendors are happy to pose for photos, especially if you ask them nicely.

Spotted Cow

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Monkeying around in Bali

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a must-do in Ubud. It’s a lovely green forest with pathways, strewn with Balinese sculptures and lots of monkeys scurrying around. The monkeys are long-tailed macaques, for those in the know. They are everywhere and they are not shy about coming forward, especially if there’s fruit on offer.

Beware if you are carrying plastic bags. The little – and big (!) – mischief makers aren’t embarrassed about tearing apart your shopping bag to get at what they think are food parcels.

There is a small temple in the forest.  Ladies, if you’re not appropriately dressed, they’ll rent you a sarong to tie around your waist.


Spotted Cow

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