Archive for category Travel

The guestroom

The room is located at 17 Naismith Court, Rowville. It can be reserved on airbnb, or by contacting us on 0405 494 678.

The double room comes with a large wardrobe, morning sun and a pretty view.

Apart from this space, you can find assorted semi-private sitting areas around the house to do your work or relax. In the well equipped kitchen and laundry you can make short work of your chores.

Meals and relaxing times can be shared outside if weather permits.

Apart from good transport options to all directions, the area offers lots of walks, wildlife, nature and sport facilities.

 

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Phillip Island Getaway

Managed to sneak away for a weekend to Phillip Island and to come back with less wrinkles. On Sunday night the Friday seemed ages ago. Need to do this more!

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Europe 2012 Part 1 – Leaving

Monday, 4:30PM, LCCT Airport, Kuala Lumpur

At Sunday 9PM, our daughters Z and T are carrying our bags to the car…they are dropping their parents off to the airport. We don’t know to whom is this more surreal for, but this will take a while to sink in.
Everyone is very nice to each other on the way to the airport, even Dad’s annoying jokes draw a controlled blank, and his naff radio selection is left on, if a little turned down. The F1 race has just finished in Albert Park, and they are already packing up and heading to Kuala Lumpur for the next race. As if in some very close but parallel universe we are heading to our next race around the world , first stop: also KL. Not expecting many F1 stars on our budget flight though.
Our 1:25AM red-eye flight is a bumpy one. Normally it is Z who jokes about B being “chucky” (singing “you’re my barf-y girl” is a favourite joke), but the shoe is on the other foot now, and it is Z who is close to project the dinner back. His self belief shaken, taken down a notch makes him more bearable for the rest of the flight.
Upon arrival, the Malay immigration takes our fingerprints. This is the first time for both of us…feels a bit like losing virginity and not having a choice about it. Not nice, but apparently the next time it won’t hurt as much.
Our next flight leaves a leisurely 18 hours later, so we start making ourselves comfortable…we get to know the best toilets, find the comfy chairs (in the corner next to the domestic departures there are two with no armrest between them, allowing a lie down), browsing the shops, sampling the foods. Soon we feel like Tom Hank’s character in the movie “Terminal”, we get especially close to Seruwati, the trolley guy, who can’t stop talking about his daughters*

This has to be the best airport food in the world, and for only 10 MYR each!

This has to be the best airport food in the world, and for only 10 MYR each!

We remember how we have pre-booked a hotel room a couple of years ago for 40 MYR, so we wonder across the carpark to the same Tune hotel to ask how much for a room. 220 RM, the smiley receptionist advises. I realise I’ve learnt about this…it is called yield-management. I’ve expected to use it on others, doesn’t seem quite so fair now. No lying down then…back to my rambling, everything-about-all 1300 page history book called “Tragedy and hope” I would have never had the time to read. So, did Roosevelt deal with the deflationary gap correctly? Only 9 hours to go, how time flies.

*Poetic license in use

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Europe 2012 Part 2 – The sick entry

Friday 23rd March, the Marais Apartment, Paris

If we assume that one´s chances of having a runny nose, sore throat, diaorrhea, and bad back are independent events, then statistically speaking having them all at the same time would happen once every 2 lifetimes. How lucky for that day to happen to Z, and to happen when in gay ole Paris.
With three busy tourist days under our belt, and the luxury of a sick day to recuperate, the impressions start to bubble up…
Our apartment, just metres from numerous great bakeries, 100m from Pompidou centre and about 800 from the heart of the city called Ile da Cite, is in an  a w e s o m e  position. If you extend the backbone of the city, the line connectig Arc du Triumph, Champs Elysees, the grarden of Tulieres and Louvre, you would pass right next to us, not because of dumb luck, but because we´re special. Another proof of this is that we´re having nothing but sunny days since our arrival, a statistic not matched even by Louis XIV the sun-king.

A cafe at our streetcorner, with Pompidou centre in the background

A cafe at dusk at our streetcorner, with the Pompidou centre in the background

On a more serious and informative note, we really are in a great spot. For example, on the ground floor is a famous painter’s supplies shop called Henri Roche that made and sold pastels, the magic ingredient on many impressionists paintings (like those of Degas…ever noticed how the blues were “popping”?). How’s that for history being all around us? The locals are so blase about it that no-one even mentions this to us and we only make this connection when seeing the shop on a TV program about Impressionist art a year later :)

Our first day was spent walking in our neighbourhood (in the old part of Paris called Marais, mainly the 4th arrondisement today). It proves very touristy, but a number of small gems are uncovered: an old marketplace, interconnected courtyards behind the homogeneous facades (St Paul´s village), the snugly located, instantly recognisable town planning effort called Places des Vosges, and old curvy cobblestoned streets spared in the rebuild of the city in the 19th century by Napoleon´s architect Haussmann. The small gems are puncuated by the the landmarks like the cathedral of Notre Dame, Hotel d´ville (town hall), the funky Pompidou building, etc. 4 hours of walking keeps the jetlag at bay for the day.

Our first meal

Our first meal – the stuff we´ve been thining about for so long

21st of April is our second day. We do the Sandiman´s walking tour. Our guide Ono is Dutch, and suitably tall (easy to find in the crowds!). Having learnt English by watching the cartoon network, he speaks like a slightly retarded American, but we do hear great stories about among others the faces on the Pont Neuf, the bullet marks on the police building, how large building inevitably turn into museums here, the 25 attempts on Henry IV´s life, and the overarching history of the city from pre-roman times until the end of WWII. About 8 hours of walking later, we get home exhausted.

Springtime in Paris

Springtime in Paris (we’re quite literal here)

On 22nd we hire 4 Velibs (bikes of the bikeshare program scattered thoughout the city in about 2000 bike stations) and ride to the Eiffel tower, more Marais places (like the Moroccan kitchen where we sample their cuisine) and visited Pere La Chaise cemetery. The bikes are great, they roll very easily and the three gears are perfect for any situation. Pushing throug hthe dense traffic, contending with pedestrians, bikes, scooters, cars, trucks and buses in VERY close proximity is adrenalin-pumping fun. Policeman ignoring us going the wrong way, through red lights, or on footpaths is the icing on the cake. One drawback of the Velib is discovered when all the posts were taken, leaving us searching available posts for about an hour (and paying for the privilege of keeping the bikes for longer than permitted). Another 8 hours of walking and biking…the wheels are starting to fall off now!

Many scenes of the movie "Midnight in Paris" re-enacted on location, in one shot :)

Many scenes of the movie “Midnight in Paris” re-enacted on location, in one shot :)

On 23rd we had a little walk early in the morning to watch how the city wakes, a mid-sized walk (sans the sick yours truly, home wrting this entry) to the latin Quarter (the other old and charming part of Paris) and a late night walk along the river to soak in the night atmosphere: the lights, the music of the buskers, the young pcnicing on the Pont des Arcs (the one with the thousands of locks put there by lovers).

Paris lights and an unlikely pair

Paris lights and an unlikely pair

Despite the big, frantic city, the people are calm, natural, even warm, eager to make contact by wishing bon jour to everyone. Not the stereotypical french behaviour…everyone seems to describe the french differently, that mystique has got to be the big drawcard of theirs.

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Europe 2012 Part 3 – West of France

Sunday, 1st of April at our Bordeaux hosts´ place

Our last day in Paris is spent in Montmartre. We take the car to try driving on the right hand side…the cauldron of Paris traffic is not the normal place to try one´s feet, but Z loves driving there.
The hill of sacre Coeur is hosting a running race, in addition to the multitude of tourists, so the congestion is at maximum, but the locals filling the lawns with picnic rugs and bottles of the good stuff was a sight to behold.
Next day we say goodbye to E. and Sz., our great travel partners, as well to our rented apartment. We drive to the park of Vincennes, to meet with old friends T. and C., chat and walk the parc in front of the castle, and spend a great night with them.
Next day we drive about 450km to Foussignac, our first time away from the crazy-intensive Paris region. The GPS is set to the shortest route, so we see plenty of small roads, lanes and backyards (the french stack the spare bricks exactly the same way as we do in AU).
As a bonus, we drive through the Loire valley, apopular tourist region for its castles, rivers, and general gorgeousness. Places like Blois and Loches are achingly beautiful, the old buildings over the river are just asking to be photographed.
We arrive to E. and C.´s place, who are friends of a friend. There we spend a great evening over a dinner and some selected cognacs (the Hennessy Paradis is really an experience, thank you E.), longing to extend it but needing to let the hosts, who are having a difficult day coming, go at 11:30PM.
Our next day on the other is very easy, a (practically personal) tour + tasting at Hennessy first, and the same at a small family producer´s called Freres Moines later.

Cognac making illustrated

Cognac making illustrated

All that drinking meant a rest was needed, so in the afternoon we´re picqued-nicqued under the shade of a blossoming plumtree between a couple of little villages.

Bread, cheese, wine, a passing lady wishing bon apetit, and sleep

Bread, cheese, wine, a passing lady wishing bon apetit, and sleep

Arriving to S. and L.´s in a suburb of Bordeaux was on time and unremarkable, thanks to the ever more loved and respected GPS. Over the next three days we explore the major areas around the city: the upmarket Medoc to the NW, St Emilion to the E and Arcachon/Dune de Pyla to the W.

Beached 120m above the sea atop the sand dune of Pyla

Beached 120m above the sea atop the sand dune of Pyla

A strong impression remains: standing at the shore of the Atlantic for the first time, with the sun setting over it, we feel like we´re at the edge of Europe.

At the end of the three days we say goodbye to S. and L. with a heavy heart, having grown very close with the whole family in this short time.
Our next hosts are F. and L., right in the centre of the city. The three days here are spentwalking the old city, passionately discussing all sorts of issues with F., passionately cooking and eating with gusto. Bordeaux has a long and varied history, and somewhat disturbingly the latest, if now slightly fading, injection of vitality and opulence was partly earned with with unscrupulous trading with slaves.

Pont de Pierre, or the "stone bridge" over the river Garonnes

Pont de Pierre, or the "stone bridge" over the river Garonnes


We forget all that when downing escargo with pastis. Yes, we´re that shallow.

Escargo and pastis. Not scary unless you´re a snail.

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Europe 2012 Part 4 – The SW of France and Basque country

On Monday 2nd April we leave towards Toulous with F., stopping at his mother´s place for an exquisite lunch that starts with champagne, contains blanquette de veau, and finishes with tarte des pommes, yum!

In Touluse, we meet with B., a larger than life (although tall in real life as well) character. F. and B. are an intense, entertaining couple, arguing to death over any differences they can find, and loving it as much as love watching it. Dinners are made to exacting specs with scientific precision, and the hours of sourcing ingredients, preparing and consuming the meal are filled with passionate convincing of others of various points of historical and philosophical views.

On the 4th we drive to the medieval city of Auch perched on a hiltop on a bank of a river…this city acts as a gateway to the Armagnac region, which is of special interest to us. After a self-guided tour in the old town, we drive on to sample two Armagnac makers we randomly find on the roadside. The first, Delord family is a more a slick, marketing focused one, but still we get to meet the family, and get a book explaining everything about the golden liquid. The other one called Gentilhomme de Gascogne is a more traditional affair, eleven generationas of daughters (there´s never been a a boy in the family until now, a shy 30 year old we also meet) continued the armagnac making tradition, and compiled a fascinating museum in the process. The drink collection in the back of the car is steadily growing, up to four bottles of the good stuff now.

We keep driving until only about 1 hour from the coastal towns of Bayonne and Biarritz, and stop to sleep in the car, but not before squeezing in a pique-nique in another picturesque spot on the shores of a small lake.

Still life

Still life

On the 5th the weather turns super mean, icy cold wind brings horizontal rain, hail even. We catch a break and manage a a nice walk in Biarritz (now we know why the town has a word “Ritz” in its name) without getting wet. A beautiful coastal road between St Jean de Luz and Hendaye is also enjoyed dry…

A funky rock at the shores of the Atlantic

A funky rock at the shores of the Atlantic

...and the view of the funky foreshore

...and the view of the funky foreshore

…but in San Sebastian we get quite wet and cold as we walk around. Never mind, the city was gorgeous, civilised, and the views of the famous bay are worth getting a cold for (which we don´t, so all is good).

He's been an soldier and a slave, but now they ride behind him. He fights. And then they pick him up off the ground.

He's been an soldier and a slave, but now the believers ride together. He fights. And then they pick him up off the ground.

We also take a short drive to Pamplona and get a fabulous parking spot about 100m from the old city centre. Deep in Basque territory, the signage is undecipherable, and ethnic tension seems to hang in the air: ETA signs are sprated on everywhere, and when dignitaries are leaving the town hall, heavy and nervous police protectionsurrounds them. At the end of our self guided walk, police is standing by our car too…turns out we have parked very illegally and were suspect, so when we´ve appeared, the police had his hand on his handgun, and we´re only let go after some radioing with colleagues. Oh, otherwise Pamplona was fabulous.

Our search for budget accommodation (we don´t have hosts organised around here) leads us to Sangüesa, a small towm on the pilgrim-trail. The room we rent for the next two nights is also geared for pilgrims: basic room, two bunkbeds, no linen, shared toilet with other rooms, but only 10 EU only per head. We finally catch our breath, sleep in the next morning, take long showers and catch up on internet needs.

The evening of 6th brings an half-anticipated semi-surprise: an Easter procession through the old town. The seven floats lit up and carried by KKK-style  (unfortunate association, but hard to explain otherwise) masked men and perhaps women also, the drums in sync with the steps, the haunting singing, the brass band and the myriad giant candles carried by townsfolk added up to a very unique experience.

Easter Procession in Sengüesa, Navarra, Spain

Easter Procession in Sengüesa, Navarra, Spain

Next morning we pack up and head to Foz de Lumbier, a canyon carved by the Irati river and used for timber transportation. The vultures circling overhead with their 1.7 m wingspan are awe inspiring, and the site of the now ruined “Devil´s bridge” contemplative.

Foz du Lumbier, or the canyon of Lumbier

Foz du Lumbier, or the canyon of Lumbier

The same canyon, but viewed through a fish-bowl

The same canyon, but viewed through a fish-bowl

We also realise that art and history has been all around us all this time, and many loved stories are brought to life by the places visited from which the stories have also sprung. Exupery in Toulouse, D´Artagnan near Auch, Cervantes and Hemingway all over the Navarro region through which we´re now travelling – learning about these topics is so much easier in Europe.

 

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Europe 2012 Part 5 – Madrid

The drive to Pinto (just south of Madrid) is super-easy, as Spain seems to be half-covered by roads despite there being zero cars on the roads – seems wasteful, but we´re not complaining (later we find out this is partly a result of milking the more industrious regions and sinking tax moneys into anything in the Spanish heartland). E., our host meets us at the apartmant despite having had a traumatic few days as J., her husband, had a serious car accident only 3 days ago. The couple is determined this shouldn´t interfere with our plans, what an amazing, selfless couple! After coming home to accomodate us, E. goes back to hospital to care for the hubby. Thank you for this act of love, J. and E. Thus begins our five day Madrid stay in the most inspiring fashion.

On Easter Sunday the 8th of April we visit J. in the hospital, then continue to El Rastro, the district which on Sundays turns into a huge marketplace. Calle Ribera de Curtidores is a site of heaving mass of people and sellers of stuff like 5 EU leather bags and 10 EU Levis jeans. For a big change, we rested and cooled off under one of the biggest domes in the world listening to the Easter mass in the cathedral of San Francisco El Grande. Another walk in the parked development called Madrid Rio, and we were ready to drive home for the night.

The park around Rio Madrid on a sunny day

The park around Rio Madrid on a sunny day

Next day we both felt sluggish, so only moved in a small radius around Pinto, strolling and browsing shops. The reason for the sluggishness becomes clear the day after, when B. comes down with a bug of some sort. Despite the physical issues, she is bravely putting up with the pre-ordained plan: take the train to Plaza del Sol in the heart of Madrid, walk around for couple of hours, then take the 3 hour Sandiman´s walking tour to get to know the city´s history. Even when she throws up in someone´s doorway (sorry), she rejoins the tour, paler but even more determined (what a trooper!). It helps that the tour is fascinating, well worth the 10 EU we give in tips at the end.

The city´s symbol, the Bear, at Plaza del Sol

The city´s symbol, the Bear, at Plaza del Sol

The 11th is a day dedicated to a trip to Toledo, a 60 km drive from our base in Pinto. It is touristy, but deservedly so. We walk about 5 hours, getting lost in the narrow alleys, stumbling onto little unexpected delights like interesting squares or sudden views. This is just what old towns do.

Spring garden with the city wall in the background

Spring garden with the city wall in the background

That night Athletico is doing battle with its eternal (ok, 100 year old) nemesis, Real. We watch the game with J. and his parents over a nice and very late (10PM-12 AM) farewell dinner. As expected, Athletico´s breakthrough win has to wait for at least another year. We get home at 2AM Thursday morning, just how  do Spanish get up for work? (well, those that do have a job, anyway)

The last day is spent around the house and the internet cafe, writing this entry among the other chores. Early impressions of Spain are that it is certainly different. The landscape is empty, dry, spaghetti-western looking. Madrid is the Los Angeles of Europe (and indeed, Spain the US of Europe) with its sprawling expanse and multitudes of freeways (so this is where all the people from the empty villages go!). the Spanish mindset is locally and inwardly focused, and we feel hedonistic/intellectually unstimulating. Things are not done in depth here, large parts of their recent unsavoury history (the civil war, the Franco era) is conveniently swept under the carpet. Some political events seems just childish, and backward, even today ethnic minorities are kept down with strong-armed tactics and exploited. US of Europe, indeed. These things seem to be the norm in backwaters of Eastern Europe, but I thought not ok near the heart of western civilisation. Still, people were very friendly to us, helpful, and the city had a relaxed, comfortable feel to it, and the moneys collected elsewhere over the centuries do show in grandiose buildings and art treasures.

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Europe 2012 Part 6 – Barcelona I

We spend the Friday the 13th driving to Barcelona, with no unpleasant accidents to report. About 30km from the city, the striking outlines of the Montserrat (serrated mountain) become visible, looking like a work of a modernista sculptor, foreshadowing that, even though still in Spain, we´re in for something different. This night we at the top of the stairs we receive a warm welcome by our hosts A. and M. and together we make light work of  the tasty plate of tortilla de patatas M. whips up for us.

The next day is dedicated to Gaudí´s architecture and life. We see five commissioned works from his first, a lamp-post in Plaza Reial, to his last, the sligtly larger scale La Sagrada Familia (or “Sangria Familiar”, as some tourists call it).

The right facade, telling the story of the birth of Jesus

The right facade of La Sagrada Familia, telling the story of the birth of Jesus


These works could have only happened in athe early 20th centruy cash rich, industrial Catalunya, that was ready for something new. His imagination is still breathtaking, the rich symbolism is a potent as ever, and the contradictions in his life (spender of untold wealth on lavish facades, nationalist, spartan workaholic and super-devoted believer) still puzzling today. Our day finishes in Parc Güell, where art-as-nature and fantasy elements, while commercial failure as a housing development idea, make perfect sense in the surrounding nature.

the familiar benches and houses marking the entrance of the park behind

The familiar benches and houses marking the entrance of the park behind

On the 15th we tour the gothic city.

The bridge connecting the Bishop´s house with the Cataluñan Parliament - very symbolic of the power of the church in medieval times

The bridge over the street, connecting the Bishop´s house with the Cataluñan Parliament - to us this is very symbolic of the power of the church in medieval times, and how the power-sharing excluded the common man


We learn of the varied history and the many past masters of this city, its prosperous medieval trading period, the industrious 19th century, the decline under Generalisimo Franco and the partial restoration for the 1992 Olympic games. The city is a darker, grittier, edgier place than Madrid, but more progressive and liberal. Our feeling is that the many people that came to this accepting place now mean a more fertile soil for ideas, creativity, and perhaps it is no accident that 20th century artists such as Picasso, Míro, Gaudí, Buñuel, etc. come from Cataluña, and not Madrid.

 

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Europe 2012 Part 7 – Barcelona II

On 16th we drive to the revered-by-the-locals Montserrat (serrated mountains). The place certainly feels different, a Monastery stuck to the vertical cliff-faces, the peaks, looking like upturned fat fingers, surrounding the buildings like nature’s statues…or maybe I should illustrate instead of blabbering:

The monastery of Montserrat

The monastery of Montserrat

There we take in the sights of the basilica, with the statue of the blackfaced virgin saint of Catalunya called La Morenetta, then climb past  the monastery complex, testing our fitness, to a secluded spot for a well-earned picnic.The day finished with a gentle drive to Granollers, a small town about 30km NE from Barcelona, and the location of our next host O.’s residence.

O. is an interesting, super-likable character, and in no time we’re discussing topics such as the history of anarchism, Kropotkin’s social ideas and other juicy topics. The resulting late night (and big day before it) means we’re good for nothing the next day, and have to contend with a “walking” around Granollers.

Our big day at Granollers

Our big day at Granollers

At least B. gathers the inspiration to cook up a storm in a cooking pot, a paprikas with chorizo, a meal that ends up going down like the treat it was.

On the 18th we drive to a valley of the monastery of Sant Miguel del Fai, in the Catalan countryside, and criss-cross the area on foot. B.’s amazed at the herbs she finds growing freely at the roadside (fennel, bay leaves, mint, rosemary), all expensive items in AU. That evening we head out to O.’s hanging place, a bar where everyone seems to know each other. Chelsea – Barcelona on the telly (1:0, rats), and amazing mussels served to everybody on the house (it was the bar man’s birthday), what a night.

On our last day in Cataluna we head back to the big smoke of Barcelona for one more look.

Roman pillars in original location, inside the courtyard of a modern and lived in building

Roman pillars in original location, inside the courtyard of a modern and lived in building

We take yet another history tour (less entertaining, but much more factually correct…guess, we can’t have it all :) ), and finish the day with an inside visit of the mind blowing Sagrada Familia. The place is like no other church (or building, for that matter) we’ve ever seen. After an hour our necks hurt because we keep looking up – typically having come here to meet something greater than ourselves, the pose (apart from the pain) seems appropriate. Light floods the inside, something other church buildings should also aim for. Lastly, the natural light and the structures imitating nature can act as a bridge between two groups of people, those that worship the creation and those that concentrate on the creator only.

The inside of this amazing thing.

The inside of this amazing thing

This building deserves a separate entry on it own. By about 5pm our brains are completely saturated with the flood of information and new impressions of this day and can’t take on a single new factoid. We head home in a quiet, contemplative mood.

20th is our last day in Spain…one that begins with a Dali theme to it. We stroll Figueres, Dali’s hometown and the location of his egg-crowned museum. From there, we head to Cadaques, a small seaside (once fishing, then hippy, but tourist now) village, where the colours of white (the sunlight and B.’s skin tones) and blue (that of the atmosphere/sea) pop like we’ve never seen before, not even in NZ. We are starting to get why so many painters come to this region of Europe…

The man standing on the beachfront, looking at his village

The man standing on the beachfront, looking at his village

Our last activity in Spain (for now…Granada still awaits) is driving from El Port de la Selva to Banyuls sur Mer in France. This is where the Pyrenees meet the sea, making for dramatic views and cliff-hanging towns and roads. Our Great Ocean Road in Victoria has nothing over this.

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Europe 2012 Part 8 – Narbonne and Grands Causses

We arrive to N. and S.’s place in Narbonne nicely relaxed by the endless vineyards and Cathar ruins along the second half of this day’s drive.  The hosts are really special people, we quickly get to great conversations, especially when around the table and consuming masterful dinners and sampling the drinks S. collects and shares with road-weary travelers. We like it here, so much so that apart from a short day trip the next day and some sleeping, we spend all of our time with our warm, knowledgeable and personable hosts.

Under Narbonne's main street, a section of the old roman Via Domitia is uncovered

Under Narbonne's main street, a section of the old roman Via Domitia is uncovered

We wish our 5th and 6th decades of our lives are spent in a quality way that N. and S. do theirs.

When we asked a houseboat owner on the Canal du Midi what that Aussie flag does on the bow, he invited us in and we have spent about an hour chatting

When we asked a houseboat owner on the Canal du Midi what that Aussie flag does on the bow, he invited us in and we have spent about an hour chatting... see more of the boat/book at peniche-oz.com

On the 22nd we have to end the comfortable fun and leave Narbonne towards the national park of Grands Causses. In it, there is aplace called Roquerfort sur-Salzon that is located on top of a maze of caves and a crazy-green valley. The caves are place where the “king of cheeses and cheese of Kings” called Roquefort is made and matured. We tour the caves, learn about the processes and finally, sample the product. Thank God AU allows it to be imported, despite it being made from raw (unpasturised) milk. Next stop: allow our own farmers to make it, idiots!

A short drive from there is the record-breaking Millau bridge, which we duly drive to and photograph.

That night we sleep in the very cold car (for the second time), and start the next day early by rolling along (as slow as we can) the gorges du Tarn.

The township of Millau, in a gorgeous moment in time

The township of Millau, in a gorgeous moment in time

Many riverside medieval villages and worthwhile viewpoints later we get out of the national park.

Half expecting characters from fairy-stories to appear out of these houses (this is not a scale model)

Half expecting characters from fairy-stories to appear out of these houses (this is not a scale model)

Progress down south, towards the Mediterranean quickens at this stage. A quick stop in Nimes allows a discovery of a tidy town with (as far as we can see) only two special buildings: the largest roman-gallic arena and a well preserved roman forum. The next city we stop at is Arles, which feels much more homely, and with Van Gogh moments everywhere (like the building from the famous ” cafe terrace at night” painting) and the hometown of the Gipsy Kings, seems a lot more interesting.

The said cafe, still painted in V.G.-yellow. Here was the last two years spent before the sanatorium stage

The said cafe, still painted in V.G.-yellow. Here was the last two years spent before the sanatorium stage

But another short stroll later we have to get going; E. and V., our next hosts in Marseilles, await us that evening in.

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Europe 2012 Part 9 – South of France

On the 24th, our first day in Marseilles, Z.’s back has decided to take time out. The night in the car and the many hours of driving during the previous days must have been a touch too much. So we have to slow down…this day we can only visit the port area (a huge construction site in 2012) and the Le Panier district next to it. The next day is much more memorable as our host takes us down south using the coastal road, and eventually to the beautiful Sormiou Calanques. The place is stunning, and despite being just a short 20 min drive from a city of a million people, there is hardly anyone there.

Sormiou

The calanque of Sormiou, sans visitors, and at its windswept sunny best

On the way back we eat at a beach side restaurant, where Z. is tasting steak tartare and beouf carpaccio for the first time. Sun, breeze, good food, this places really restores. Thank you E. for the perfect day!

On the 26th we say goodbye to our hosts and head to Cassis, park the car. We lose ourselves in the coastal park where you can easily (if fit enough) see three calanques, one prettier than the next. The mistral has cleared the air from dust and clouds, and we can freely marvel at the crazy colours of the white rocks and dark blue waters. This is like Dalmatian coastline but on an acid trip! The place is a must visit, although we imagine one to avoid (as is the whole of South, for that matter) in summer.

The third and most striking calanque when walking from Cassis

The third and most striking calanque when walking from Cassis

That night we arrive tired to Vallauris, to the house of the very welcoming C., a friend first met in AU. We excitedly chat and make plans for the next day, the theme of which will be: Inland villages of Provance…

The day turns out to be quite diverse. Vence was a bigger place with a beautiful walled old town. St Paul is super-pretty, touristyand full with artist’s atelliers – here we have ice cream before lunch, and what can you do about it? Villeneuf Loubet has a nice river, a riviera and a hillside, and finally Valbonne is laid out in a grid, strange for an old place. Some Fragonard perfume and an olive oil can are souvenirs from this day trip.

A pretty spot in St Paul's village

A pretty spot in St Paul's village

Next day, our penultimate, we walk the Antibes. The harbour is nice, although the perverse wealth flaunted via the 80m luxury ships and their 25 staff   is surely fuel for the more revolutionary types. The old town is very nice, and contains an absynthe bar (a rare things nowadays), where we sample a couple of varieties of the drink.

Absinthe bar with funny hats

Absinthe bar with funny hats

Lastly we try to walk on the path around the Cap d’Antibes, but the real picturesque part is locked down today…apparently, too windy (pffft). Looks like the lowest common denominator and its lawyer friends have started its tyrannical march in France as well.

The 29th has started soggily, but we summon our energies to get up and drive toward Monaco. A running race – induced traffic jam in Nice and and disappearing clouds change our plans, and we simply enjoy the sun, the waves and the peoples of the riviera where the traffic gets stupid. The sea is two-toned: brilliant azure (so this is where the name of the coast comes from!) near the coast , and dark blue further out, delineated by a clear line…just stunning.

Riviera of Nice

Riviera of Nice

Later when home, we swim in the pool, and lounge more on the sun, with gazpacho in hand. Dinner is trout with garlic mushrooms and a big bowl of salad…what a great Mediterranean day.

30th is a sad day. The weather is cold, it rains and hails on and off all day. This is also our last day together – B. is packing to head home, and Z. will drive towards East tomorrow. How will we survive, after 6 weeks of being together 24×7?

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Melbourne attractions

Melbourne is one of the world’s most livable cities, and one that Europeans will find most familiar. However, it is also a city that guards its jewels jealously, and opens up only gradually. Compared to Sydney’s “slim volume of urban thought” and in-your-face splendour and brashness, it’s a city you get to know from the inside out.
The camera clicking express tourists can leave disappointed. Visitors are advised to slow down, take in the myriad small beauties and unique details they will be surrounded with. You do the best if you peer down lane-ways and enjoy the surprises, if you become what Charles Baudelaire called a flaneur, an anonymous figure who walks the city in order to experience it.
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Ode to the Road Part 1 – Introduction

Ode to the road

Northern Europe

 

 

Introduction

Our travelogue will be dominated by the road, this incredibly powerful and addictive invention. Its effects are everywhere around us; even if one doesn’t use it, its simple, unassuming presence makes horizons expand and brings the Outside in for all residents, together with all things we tend to classify as good and bad (there is remarkably little we don’t put into these bins). For the traveller, the effects of the road are stronger still. Apart from experiencing more novelty, the constantly changing landscape tends to shifts the brain into a state that records and retrieves things differently, enabling ”the peak achievement of the intellect … turning an incident into a moment that has been lived” (Walter Benjamin).

These effects takes on a extra significance when we realise that once the road has done its job, it cannot be un-done, just like the apple could not be un-eaten in Eden or the good and bad can’t be stuffed back into Pandora’s jar.

Roads are not like high rise building, standing tall and proud for all to see, advertising power and making residents feel superior. Nor is it like some technological marvel, making its creators and users feel a sense of achievement and pride in humanity’s ingenuity. The road is happy to be anonymous, walked upon without recognition. Once brought into existence, it is a silent, enduring force that performs its gentle magic, the effects of which is only exceeded by the power of written word. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ode to the Road Part 2 – Europe in 2010

Europe in 2010

Europe has been seemingly rendered irrelevant in the 21st century by the new ideas of the brash young guns of the liberal West where every day brings another 24 hours of progress, and lately with its sheer weight, centrally planned debt-free Asia. Disparaging phrases and metaphors about Europe come thick and fast to the mind of outside observers: past its prime, divided and conquered, neatly slotted into the long line of past empires dotting history’s timeline. Outside tourists visit this storied civilisation as a living museum, and if I was given to hyperbolae, I’d say with steps a little quicker for the fear of missing it completely before it disappears. Intuitively, there is nothing surprising about this; creative destruction, the new ideas trumping and killing off the old is one constant we have in human history and any society that doesn’t rejuvenate will turn sclerotic; once the effort turns to control, rather than creativity, the organisation/civilisation, reduced to keep repeating itself, will surely fall. Still, we are of the view that if we dig deeper, the popular first-glance view predicting a bleak outlook ignores the difficult story, the one much harder to tell but more revealing and kinder to the old lady Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ode to the Road Part 3 – Ideas are not new

 

Ideas are not new

“The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for ‘entrepreneur’.” The now famous words were (although disputed, almost certainly) spoken by George Bush while talking to Tony Blair at a G8 summit in 2002. I wonder if he knew that his title of Commander-in-chief also consists of two French words…but I digress. The point is, for the subject of the successful new world it is very easy to believe what they borrowed is theirs.

For example, isn’t the attractive architecture on the picture below is of the USA? It must be. Don’t we see this building symbolising the country of the free daily on the news?


White house, built in the 1790s (wikpedia.org)

With that background, this building then will easily look like a mere pale “copy”:


Stourhead estate from 1720s in Wiltshire, England (wikipedia.org).

Not many will know that Irish and English examples of this architecture were the basis of the plans for the White house. Even fewer will recognise that both examples belong to the Palladian architecture, named after Venetian architect Andrea Palladino (1508–1580). So, the creativity and innovation came from Venice, copied by the Brits and Irish, Europe’s mini-new world, and finally copied by USA, the world’s proper new world. Read the rest of this entry »

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