France, 1997, Part 2: The South of France

Sarah and I travelled south to Bordeaux.

All I remember about Bordeaux is the huge Monument aux Girondins fountain with bronze horses all lit up at night as we wandered past it to the hostel.

During the day, we went to the Les Grandes Murailles winery in St Emilion wine country which had a picturesque old ruined winery between fields of grape vines.

We traversed the French Riviera to Marseille. The views of the sea from the train were incredible.

In Marseille, we saw the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde with its tall watch tower and headed straight down La Canebiere to catch a boat to Ille D If.

Chateau D If is best known as the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo. We walked around the whole island and went inside to see Dante’s dungeon where a hole in the cell shows an escape attempt. There were some great views of the city from the terrace of St Christopher tower and the keep.

In Nice, we walked the whole length of the Promenade des Anglais at sunset. With the pink sky against the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean, it was the most memorable sunset I had seen.

On our walk back we passed a ruined promenade to nowhere and the famous Hotel Negresco lit up at night.

In Monte Carlo we walked the Monaco Grand Prix race track to the Monte Carlo Casino. The race track is just a normal road by day, but its twists and turns lent to the imagination.

Inside the Monte Carlo Casino, we went to the Bar Americain and the Casino Cafe de Paris- a tip to get to see the casino without having to gamble all your money away, although they still had slot machines.

Related posts: France, 1997, Part 1: Paris, Belgium, 1997, Holland, 1997, England, 1997, I first started travelling, By special request, Home is where you make it, I first started writing

Cocktail Hour in Sydneytown

After 17 years of living in Sydney, I would consider myself somewhat qualified to find a good cocktail bar in the city. I may not be at my youngest and hippest anymore, but fortunately I work with a couple of twenty something’s who are, so am still able to find a good cocktail when I need one.

My most recent favourite cocktail bar is Lobo Plantation in the city. Decked out in some sort of Cuban Caribbean colonial theme by an ex-Ivy bartender, it exceeded expectations and was indeed discovered to be cool when the hipsters showed up to disturb our pre-dinner cocktails. I recommend the Awkward Pearing- a coffee and expresso cocktail that was surprisingly good.

Another of the recent cocktail-bar-in-a-basement variety is Eau De Vie in Darlinghurst. I was not impressed and will not be back. Fortunately, we discovered the nearby Hinky Dinks which was a pleasant surprise. I loved the American diner set up and the Popcorn Paloma- popcorn infused tequila with grapefruit soda. Yum!

Baxters– the late night whisky bar down an alley way that everyone down the Circular Quay end of town is talking about is a favourite of my husband. If you are not a whisky drinker go to the nearby Palmer and Co instead. This 1920’s themed speakeasy below The Establishment is noisy, but nice, and they have lovely staff.

For a summer cocktail, Opera Bar is my go to place. You can’t beat a bar at the Opera House with a view of the Harbour Bridge on a sunny day in Sydney. I have often been known to remark that “it isn’t summer in Sydney without a cocktail at Opera Bar.”

The nearby ECQ Bar is also a great alternative for a less crowded destination. Nice high bar stools and good classic cocktails like Cosmopolitans and Margarita’s. I also like Cruise Bar on the other side of Circular Quay- comfy outdoor lounges and lovely Mojito concoctions.

In my 20’s, I was taken to Jimmy Lik’s in Potts Point by a much cooler person than I. We also went to a place where you had to knock on the door and they looked at you through a peephole. Sorry- I have no idea where it was, how to find it, or how to get in again.

Other cooler than I friends have introduced me to The Cuban Place in the city centre which is a bit noisy, but has a cheap cocktail hour. I have also been taken to a bar in Paddington that was a place to be at the time, but I just didn’t like drinking my cocktail out of a jar while sitting on a crate that much.

Sometimes these new funky cocktail bars make me nostalgic for the days when Cargo Bar, Bungalow 8 and Pontoon in Darling Harbour were the places to go. Nice traditional bars on the water with a packed dance floor and a line up at the door.

Last time I checked Ivy and The Argyle were the places to go for cocktail and night out on the town, but I am sure that’s all changing again even as I write this.

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France, 1997, Part 1: Paris

After arriving in Paris, Sarah and I headed straight to the Eiffel Tower for our very own iconic photo of us at the monument.

Paris is like a museum in itself, so we walked to the Place de la Concorde roundabout and along the Champs Elysees taking in the many beautiful buildings and monuments along the way.

We found the Liberty Flame atop the motorway where Diana Princes of Wales died near the Pont Alma. Many flowers were still being laid after the recent tragedy.

A boat tour of the River Seine took us to see the sights of the gold- encrusted Pont Alexandre 3 and the impressive looking Musee d Orsay.

I was awed by the famous Pont Neuf and the pretty Place de la Bastille. It looked like the little houses on the Ile St Louis would be a nice place to live and the replica Statue of Liberty on the Ile aux Cygnes (Island of Swans) seemed bizarre and in the wrong place.

We alighting the boat at the Palais de Chaliot in the statue-filled Trocadero gardens.

On our second day, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower. It was such a strange feeling standing under the tower and seeing the structure up close. It was surreal to actually be in such a famous place.

We climbed the first two flights of the Eiffel Tower to save some money and then caught a lift to the top for unmatched views of Paris. We could see everything from the Arc de Triomphe to Sacre Cour. The whole city- built up and spread out on a grid system with the river cutting it in half.

Next was a visit to the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame Cathedral- made famous to me by the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was plain to see where the movie had gained its inspiration.

After finally finding out how to get to the Arc de Triomphe without getting run over (there is a foot tunnel that goes under the road), we had another climb. From the top it was easy to see how all 12 roads of the Etoile fan out in a star shape- one all the way from Arc la Defense to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel .

That made over 1,000 steps up for the day, as well as many walks in between, so it was time out for us!

A day museum pass was purchased and we headed inside one of the pyramids to the Lourve. I was struck by the sculpture of jaguar and rabbit by Antoine-Louis Barye, and liked the tiger paintings by Delacroix; but my favourite was the Winged Victory of Samothe statue. We by passed the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa covered in a thick pane of glass and only saw it from afar.

Next we went to the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was kept prisoner as she awaited the guillotine. The building outside was beautiful, but I didn’t understand much of what we looked at inside as all the signs were in French.

A local Parisian friend took us to the Jewish quarter for a falafel and the first square in Paris- Place des Voges. Absolutely beautiful.

We went to the modern looking Georges Pompidou Centre at the much newer and much odder Place Igor- Stravinsky and found the cute little La Defenseur du Temps clock with dragon.

Even after this first visit, I could tell that Paris was to become one of my favourite cities in the world.

Related posts: Belgium, 1997, Holland, 1997, England, 1997, I first started travelling, By special request, Home is where you make it, I first started writing

Belgium: On Exchange

Guest blog post by Steven Riddell- someone who knows a lot more about Belgium than I do!

A sea of faces greeted me as I passed through immigration and customs. The arrivals hall was packed with people waiting for loved ones, friends and newly arrived exchange students from Australia. Those waiting for timid and hesitant exchange students were brandishing placards with names to bring them forth into the arms of a happy new family for the next year. My host family had no such placard but I managed to recognise a man jumping up and down from the back of the pack, my host father for the coming 12 months.

So began my year as an exchange student in Belgium a travel destination that is somewhat misunderstood with tour companies crossing the country in the obligatory two hours, perhaps with a stop in Bruxelles to find the statue of a small boy taking a “piss” (Mannequin Pis) and the Grand Place (I use the French spelling) which are essential.

Are these the two things I would want to see if I was visiting Belgium for the first time. No chance. After spending a year there and many return trips, these tourist attractions are mundane and boring.

I lived in the small village of Dolembreux which is 20 km south of Liege. Liege is the largest city in Wallonie- the French speaking part of Belgium. In general, the population of Belgium is densely packed around city dwelling- Bruxelles, Liege, Antwerp, Brugge and Charleroi, among others. Within 10 km of leaving a city in Belgium you are thrown into evergreen country side, much of which is amazingly picturesque regardless of the time of year.

The two places in Belgium I would recommend to visit are Durbuy and Ghent. Many have never heard of Durbuy which is the smallest town in the world and a wonderful place to spend a day. Located on the Ourthe River approximately 45 minutes from Liege, small cobblestone streets wind through alleyways and around the castle which sits on the bank of the river. I visited Durbuy on a more recent trip to Belgium and was amazed that I had never been there before.

Likewise, much enthusiasm is pushed towards Brugge as the place to visit in Belgium. And while Brugge is a beautiful place (it also holds the only Michelangelo statue outside of Italy), head to Ghent- a similarly beautiful destination but without the tourists and tourist traps.

Geographically, Belgium is in an enviable position due to its centraliy and ease of access to other countries. Within a month of arriving in Belgium in 1996, I was taken on a day tour which started as breakfast in Liege, morning tea in Maastrict (the southern most city in the Netherlands), lunch in Aachen, a quick stop in Monchau (both located in Germany) and afternoon tea in one of my favourite ciites in the world to visit- Luxembourg.

So if you are new to Europe and have never been there before, tick off four countries in one day using Liege as your base. These places will not disappoint.

Belgium, 1997

Sarah and I arrived in Antwerp and to see the huge Cathedral of Our Lady which was an overwhelming sight. I don’t think I had ever seen a cathedral that big before.

We strolled through the famous Grote Markt to the Brabo fountain.

In Brussels, we stayed in a tall house with friends of our friends from Zwagg. They took us to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and the Brewers buildings in the Grand Palace for a cheery beer at the King of Spain. The first of many different flavoured beers that we tried in Belgium.

The famous Manneken Pis was so small that we almost missed him as we walked through the town square and we rubbed the Everard ‘t Serclaes for luck.

We visited the bizarre Atonium in Bruparck- a monument to the discovery of the atom which was shaped like an atom. The grounds had a miniature Europe, which looked even smaller from the top of the monument.

Whenever I go to a new city, I always like to go to a high viewpoint so I can get an idea of the layout of the place. So when we travelled to Brugge- a miniature city surrounded by canals- we climbed the 366 steps up the Belfry to the carillon bells. Nothing but flat land and orange rooves as far as the eye could see.

We found the Church of Our Lady with it’s a famous marble statue of Madonna and Child.

Every town in Belgium seemed to have a town square with town hall and a tall church.

We had our fill of waffles and headed from the small country of Belgium to the big city of Paris.

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Get your groove on!

I always loved dancing and despite being uncoordinated, I have some natural rhythm. Or perhaps it’s a love of dancing coupled with a lack of self-consciousness.

My cousins and I used to put together dance routines to entertain the adults at family functions. One year we dressed up in crepe paper buttercups and sang and danced to the song from the Three Amigo’s movie.

When I was in high school I took part in the Rock Eisteddfod for three years. I was a piece of lava for the Pompeii themed year, a harem girl for the Arabian night’s themed year and a card- the queen of spades- for the casino themed year. The best thing about it was when we got into the finals, we got to perform at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and mix with all the Sydney schools. My mum still have videos of all the performances.

At the age of 18, it was off to the local ex-servos club in Nowra to hit the dance floor with friends and students from other local schools to hip new music by Salt- N- Pepa and such like. I also managed a few nights clubbing in Wollongong with my cousin who lived there.

And then I graduated to the big time- clubbing in Sydney. I became a regular at Home while it was still one of the most popular clubs in the city. Now I always feel a little old and out of place at nightclubs. I’m out of touch with the hip music and the cool places to go- which brings me to the subject of parties.

I used to go to lots of parties in my twenties when I had a lot of acquaintances- dress up parties, birthday parties, New Year’s parties, house warming parties, just because it’s the weekend parties- you never knew who you were going to meet!

Now that we are older and everyone owns property, it’s no longer fashionable to invite everyone you have ever met over to your place to turn up at 11pm and trash the floorboards. Parties involve small gatherings in the garden or picnics in the park at 11am. But you still can BYO alcohol.

I never liked to have parties for myself- I find it a bit strange having a celebration for something I haven’t achieved.

My first and only childhood birthday party was when I was five at my house in Berry. We had semi- legal fireworks from Canberra and played pin the tail on the donkey. My friends threw me a surprise 21st party at my flat in Sydney and I had a great 25th with 70 of my closest acquaintances at The Slipp Inn- where Mary met her prince of Denmark. I was not as lucky as her that night!

I had a surprise 29th courtesy of my boyfriend and organised my own 30th party in the backyard of my parents house in Berry. It was vampire themed and I was the only Buffy. Scary to say I already had the whole wardrobe, including the leather pants, and only had to buy a blonde wig.

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Holland, 1997

Sarah and I travelled on the Stenaline Discovery from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.

We tripped over the hundreds of bikes out the front of Amsterdam Central Station and went to stay at the Globe hostel.

As everyone who visits Amsterdam does, we visited the red light district, saw a peep show and went to the Stone’s Café with handy menu’s showing the different forms in which marijuana could be consumed legally. Other cafes such as The Doors Café, the Grasshopper and the Greenhouse were all appropriately themed.

We visited the house where Anne Frank lived behind a bookshelf during the war and went on a tour of the Heineken Brewery. We went for a ride on the huge Ferris wheel in Dam Square and saw the famous Sunflowers painting at the Van Gogh museum.

Amsterdam is a city full of museums, so we also went to the hemp museum, the torture museum and the sex museum.

My favourite day was when we went on a canal boat tour of the Amstel River.

Nearby in Leiden, we visited a real windmill- the Molen De Valk, also known as the Falcon Windmill. Very cool.

We went to The Hague to see the Binnehof and the International Court of Justice.

In Zwaag, we visited some friends of my parents who owned The Great British Shop in Hoorn. They had kids, so we all went to Walibi World theme park in Flavoland for the day. It was strange seeing a big orange kangaroo (the theme park’s mascot) and not being in Australia.

I remember the Holland countryside being extremely flat and windy with dykes and three pronged white windmills.

Our first Euro rail ticket entry was to Station Blaak in Rotterdam.

The Erasmus suspension bridge reminded me of the Anzac bridge in Sydney.

We also saw the the Williems Brug bridge, the Euromast tower, and visited the old port area of Delfshaven before heading to the next country- Belgium.

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The Homestead

A poem from guest blogger Tony Stoddart

 

The old homestead is where you’ll find me

Away from the mischief and the tyranny

Where the blue gum and the kookaburra rules

Where still you’ll find a few of the bush ranger’s tools

 

Where the plains reach out to the old homestead

Where a family of Aussies were lovingly bread

Where the fresh mountain air resides

And the wedge tail peacefully glides

 

Where the black snake slides freely

Where if you wander late, you’ll cop the steely

Angry stubborn desperate stare

Of the long gone bush rangers there

 

The Kellys and the like roam freely in the woods

Chatting and reminiscing and comparing their goods

Where ghosts of the past rule supreme

And they wander the forest as if in a dream

 

If the old homestead could speak it would say

Come visit the bush get away today

Roam in the woods smell the mountain air

Discard the suit, do it if you dare

 

Come visit the homestead and sit with the crew

Sample bush tucker is what you should do

Take a walk in the woods and sit with old Ned

Yarn with the shearers in the old shearing shed

 

Walk on the plains and lay on the grass

Escape from the city don’t let it pass

Come sit with the family round the log fire at night

Let them share the good times misfortune and blight

 

Sit still near the trees and talk with the birds

Ride a bush pony and run with the herds

Smell fresh mountain air in the clear early morn

Fill your lungs with the healing of a brand new dawn

 

And when you return to your world over there

Think of the homestead and please don’t despair

Cause old Ned and friends, bush rangers and all

Will be wandering and waiting,,,, till you get the call.

 

C A J Stoddart 10-06-2014.

England, 1997

Returning to London, I stayed with my Sri Lankan aunts and cousins in Harlesden. They took me to Marble Arch, the remains of Winchester Palace and on a tour of the kitschy London Dungeons. We saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and had a lesser known great view of city from the top of the long spiral staircase at the Monument to the Fire.

An Australian friend was working as a nanny in London at the time, so we decided to meet up. We went to the usual sights together- The Parliament Houses, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the River Thames, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. We went shopping at Covent Garden and Camden markets.

I discovered the centre of GMT at Greenwich and one of my favourite London sights- the Tower of London. I made a pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s Globe to watch The Winter’s Tale and saw the Swan Lake ballet at the Royal Albert Hall, which remains the best ballet I have ever seen.

Family friends, Claire and Lisa, took me to Admiralty Arch, Regent’s Park and the London Zoo. We saw the Queen’s black swans at St James Park and the canals of Little Venice. They took me to Oxford St- which became my favourite place in the world to shop. By night, we went to a new restaurant chain called Wagamama and a trendy Soho bar.

The plan was to work the English summer at Perry’s – the restaurant owned by Claire and Lisa’s parents/my Dad’s friends- Alan and Viv. So, I travelled to Upwey, Weymouth to live with my grandparents.

I met Sarah at Perry’s and we became friends. When we weren’t working, we would meet our other friend Liz at Upstairs Downstairs for a coffee or go to the beach to watch Sarah’s brother’s play in the beach volleyball tournament sponsored by Jose Cuervo.

There are 150 pubs in the Weymouth area, so we also went to The Golden Lion, the Hog’s Head, The Black Dog, The Swan, the White Hart, The George Inn, The King’s Arms, The Red Lion and the Old Spa on a regular basis.

After working the dinner shift, we would go out to The Malibu nightclub where we had VIP membership and could get one pound shots on Monday nights. Sometimes we also went to Verdes, or The Rendezvous nightclub.

Around 3am, everyone ended up at Scoffers for chips, cheese and beans.

One morning, after a particularly hard night of dancing, my grandma burst into my bedroom to tell me that Diana, Princess of Wales had died. There was nothing else on television for weeks.

A family friend that visited my grandparents weekly had a cocker spaniel, so they included me on their dog walks to Worbarrow Bay, Poole Harbour, Portland Bill and to chase the swans at Poole Park.

I went on day trips to Durdle Door and the Man O’War at Lulworth Cove on the English Channel. I spent a day at the deserted Tyneham village and one at Corfe Castle.

Travelling to Swindon and Cirencester to visit my Dad’s side of the family, they showed me Chedworth Roman Villa and we strolled through the Cirencester Park. I revisited Bourton-on-the-Water and went to Bibury trout farm.

As the summer drew to a close, Sarah decided to come on my planned Europe trip with me. And so began our grand tour around 13 countries in three months.

First stop was Holland.

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