May Your Ensemble be Wrapped and Dasvidaniya Darlinks….

Huhh? What IS she on about now I can hear you think.  Well, it’s funny the things in life that make you laugh and for me one of these things is the common or garden bed valance which has always raised a titter in me.  During a quieter moment whilst working for a London estate agent back in the early 90’s, one of the girls piped up “you’ll never guess what American’s call a bed valance?”


“They call it a dust ruffle”  We just fell about thinking of a baccy chewing, stetsoned Texan talking about his “durrrst rurrrffle”.  So the whenever the subject of a valance comes up I remember laughing about cowboy’s bed linen.

The valance subject arose again a couple of weeks ago when I visited my local linen emporium.  Except that it’s not called linen in Australia, it’s called Manchester and is a term derived from the Manchester cotton mills and came with the Mancunian immigrants arriving in Australia.  At the time of my visit to the “Manchester” shop my “Manchester” cupboard was sorely lacking in a “durrst rurrfle” for our spare bed.  We are shortly to have friends from England coming to stay and because my crate of “Manchester” is temporarily unavailable remaining buried under the rest of all Our Worldly Goods in our shipping container, I needed to purchase another.  Here follows the conversation between me and the shop assistant (SA).

SA: “Howyagowan? Whatcha after love?”

Me: “Errrr hello.  Do you have any valances for a king sized bed?’

SA: Remains silent offering a blank stare.

Me: “You know, a valance, the thing like a sheet but goes over the bed base?”

SA:  Visibly thinking “Don’t know whatcha mean love”

Me: Trying extremely hard not to laugh and thinking to myself OMG they’ve gone more yank than I thought: “I think they call them Dust Ruffle’s in America”

SA: Lightbulb in brain illuminates “OK gotcha love, you’re after a VALL-ANCE”

Me: Tears now pouring down my face, spluttered “Alright, now we understand each other, do you have a VALL-ANCE for a king sized bed?”

SA: “No Love but I can getcha one onloine”

Me: Guffawing “That’s very kind of you but no don’t worry, never mind, thank you” and started to leave, still tittering.

SA: “Hang about love, I think I can help ya.”  Rummages around on her shelves and pulls out a sheet sized packet.  “How about this doll, it’s all the go, it’s an Ensemble Wrap.”

Me: Completely lost the plot and about to roll on the floor in hysterical laughter. “What’s, an Ensemble Wrap?”

SA: “Ya wrap it round the base of ya scratcher doll, ya know together round the mattress and base and makes it look real neat, it’s got ‘lastic and everything”.

Me: Sides now hurting “I’ll take it”.

So there you have it, and a message to my guests arriving from London in a couple of weeks – your ensemble is now most definitely wrapped.

Our Ensembly Wrapped Spare Bed complete with ‘lastic

Other than the above nothing particularly eventful has happened over the past few weeks.  So rather than bore you to death with my thankfully uneventful day-to-day life I thought I would share with you some memories of a previous travel experience, after all, my blog was always intended to be of a traveling nature.

Sometime towards the end of the last millennia my middle sister married and she and her new husband immediately left to go and live on the far eastern coast of Russia in a town called Vladivostok.  My brother-in-law worked for shipping insurance company and had been charged with setting up their new office in the only port in the vicinity which didn’t freeze over in winter.   It was not long after the Berlin wall came down and life hadn’t been easy for the Russians let alone my sis and bro-in-law.  Communications were a tricky thing but nevertheless “Smelly” as we call each other, and I managed to arrange an expedition for us to travel together from London to St Petersburg then fly across the continent to the Kamchatkan peninsula.  We were intending to look for bears and Petropavlosk was where we would meet bro-in-law and set off for the barren wastes to the North.  Thinking about it now having since travelled through Alaska and learning what I now know about bears, what we had planned in Kamchatka was really quite barmy. 

My sister and I arrived in St Petersburg finding ourselves staying in a decidedly dreary grey, typically Russian hotel which smelt faintly of boiled cabbage, and yes, the food was awful too.  To compensate we had a picturesque view over the Neva River towards the Summer gardens. 

The Hermitage (Winter Palace) St Petersburg

Unlike our fellow tourists we were travelling independently and not attached to a charabanc tour group.  Because Smelly had Russian residency we were not required to queue for hours in the long line snaking its way across the square in front of the Winter Palace.  We smugly and rather incongruously bypassed the patiently waiting grockels and sailed straight in.  The Winter Palace is astonishing, apart from the breathtakingly opulent architecture we were awe struck at the mind bogglingly huge collections of art (a room of impressionistic paintings had only recently been discovered in an unexplored cellar), porcelain, silverware, goldware, sculpture… it just went on and on and on. 

One of the 117 Staircases


Later whilst we were having lunch in the cafe we were spied by some friends of our parents which was really quite extraordinary.  They expressed the weariness they felt of their guided charabanc tour and being eternally forced to “follow the red umbrella”.

St Petersburg is like a mini Venice, taking a water taxi around the labyrinth of canals spurring off the Neva River we were again amazed at the magnificent Palladian architecture.  Later on we again took to the water in a hydrofoil which took us to the Summer Palace. 

Golden Fountains at the Summer Palace

I could blah on for ages about the Golden Water fountains and sumptuous interior but life was about to become more interesting and alot more Russian. 

At the back of the Summer Palace we found a man baiting his enormous brown bear forcing it to drink beer from a bottle whilst it danced on its hind legs.  It broke our hearts.  The poor thing looked completely spaced out and in disgust we left hitching a ride in a beaten up old Lada back to town.

Next day for the first time in our lives we flew business class to Petropavlosk.  Extravagant you may think but Aeroflot’s economy class on internal flights was to be avoided at all costs.  Our hotel was even worse than the last.  Now really smelling of boiled cabbage our room was complete with a “roach motel” (they check in but never check out) and a hose attached to the basin’s hot tap enabling you to fill the bath… not that there was a plug…  Dinner consisted of packet ham, an anaemic boiled potato and yup, you’ve guessed it, boiled cabbage, except that this time it was cold.


Despite all we were looking forward to the arrival of bro-in-law.  We waited and waited… no sign… until eventually two days later we received a call from him.  Apologising profusely he explained all the flights from ‘Vlad were booked as it was the hunting season and he couldn’t get a seat.  Smelly and I were on our tod.  Bro-in-law gave us the name and phone number of Peter our guide and feeling that we’d come all this way we’d carry on as planned with the expedition.

Peter was delighted to hear from us and very gallantly told us it wasn’t a problem that bro-in-law wasn’t with us.  Peter invited us to a meal at his “Datcha” which is basically the Russian equivalent of an English vegetable allotment.  Another ride in a rickety Lada took us to a remote veggie patch surrounded by high bushes and in one corner was a tumbling down shed with a table and mismatching chairs laid out on the dirt.  Others had already arrived and were also coming with us on our expedition, a young square shaped girl with an enormous hairy black dog and another young bloke.  None of the Russians could speak English but with Smelly’s smattering of the mother tongue conversation flowed fairly easily.  A bubbling, ominous looking black cauldron hung over a small fire and omitted fishy smells.  Fish, for me, is the root of all evil and turning pale, my stomach turned.  “I bet you get the head!” Smelly said in English to me.  “They give it to the most honoured guest”.  “Oh God” I thought.  And, lo and behold, floating in my bowl of smoking hot fishy disgustingness was a salmon head with it’s clouded over eye looking up at me.  I nearly died.

I survived the fish soup and next morning we were collected from our hotel in an ancient ex-military personnel carrier truck which took us on the 3.5 hour bumpy drive to our camping site.  A backdrop of snowcapped mountains and the smell of sulphur from the hot spring greeted us and Smelly and I enthusiastically pitched our two man bivvy.  Then the truck left leaving the five of us to fend for ourselves.  Smelly and I thought “crikey what if something happens?  We’ve got no radio, no phone, no transport and we’re in the middle of blooming nowhere”.  Resiliently we pulled on our swimming ‘cozzies and stepped into the boiling hot, rather whiffy water of the hot spring, what fun we thought through gritted teeth, this is great.  All we need now is a bear to come and say hello…

The bear we thankfully didn’t see

Having been instructed to bring our own food we cooked up our packets of dried grey goo and then slopped off to bed, leaving the others drinking ‘wodka’ by the fire.  We were wondering where everyone else was going to sleep as there was only one other small tent.  In the wee small hours we were shoved aside and Square Shape who lay down next to me and within minutes was snoring her head off.  I was jammed in the middle and couldn’t move at all.   Lying next to Smelly but on the outside of the tent was the huge , black hairy dog so she couldn’t move either.

The next morning having spent the worst night of my life I crawled out of the tent and Smelly said she’d never seen me look so awful.  I remember thinking to myself “why  on earth didn’t I accept the invitation to spend my holls in a villa on Corfu?  The weather had changed and now it was raining and freezing cold.  Peter said “Veather getting vorse, vee need leave now”.  The truck wasn’t booked to collect us for another two days and the nearest road was a three hour hike away.  We heaved on our rucksacks starting trudging across the heather.  I worried we that we had no map but thought “oh well I’m sure Peter knows where he’s going”. 

As the morning wore on and it became exceedingly apparent that Peter’s sense of direction was woefully lacking.  There was no sign of the road and now the wind was blowing sleet at us sideways.  Peter said “if vee don’t find shelter soon, vee will die.”

Dasvidaniya darlinks… ‘till next time…

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