The Last Hurrah of the Ski Season

You have been able to tell the skiers amongst us by the smiles on the faces and the funny face tans. This has been a bumper snow season, something that has made many hearts beat faster for several months now. Mine is not amongst them, and I was frankly shocked to hear myself suggest to Himself that we return to the mountains for a last hurrah of skiing. He needed no further persuading, always eager to get out there in the fields of white.

My motivation, apart from my love of all things surrounding and apart from the actual act of skiing – the drive up through the beautiful King Valley; the lovely AAC Dinner Plain Lodge; the food & wine consumed; the beauty of the snow covered landscape – was to see if I could conquer the act of stopping. A crucial skill, and one I had yet to master. My strategy of hurling myself backwards onto my arse is not sustainable, particularly at my age. So if I am to continue joining them on the cross country slopes it is a skill I need to acquire.

The drive up was its usual delight, starting with a coffee and wine purchasing at Fowles Winery.  The King Valley was looking more beautiful than usual thanks to the budding of the multitude of blossom trees, the magnificent magnolias and the camellias and rhododendrons. Don’t just think of Bright for the autumn colour – it also revels in Spring glory.

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Bright was our lunch destination this time around, to try out a relative newcomer to the eating scene – Tomahawks  a small shed of a place in Camp Street (just up from the Chinese restaurant on the corner). A funky spot with a small but delectable menu, and staffed with charming young things. We enjoyed our lunch, but should not have indulged in the donut ice cream sandwich with caramel sauce. My guilt stayed with me until the next day, even though I only ate half of this piece of decadence.

There was still snow as far as the eye could see, from Mt Hotham to Dinner Plain. And, as promised by Himself, the snow on the cross country trails was soft and forgiving, so I buckled up for two days of slogging it up and down the trail to Wire Plain. And whilst some small improvements may have been gained, I still found myself backside down in the snow more times than I wanted. It would seem that as soon as any downward momentum is picked up, all rational thought seems to leave my head and panic sets in, making me incapable of sorting out my left from my right  and of achieving any effective inward rolling of the ankle in order to achieve the desired cessation of forward movement. I am left slightly bewildered by the person who ever thought of strapping planks of slippery wood to ones feet and walking up and down hills on them. What was he thinking (as I’m sure it had to be a He).

Thankfully  for my bones and feet (which did not take kindly to the cross country ski boots) our third day dawned wet and windy, and I was allowed a leave pass.  Instead, we climbed into the car and escaped the sleety hail/snow (called sago by those in the know) and travelled down to Omeo and up the Omeo Highway to Anglers Rest and towards Mt Wills. Another lovely, but winding (take note if you are prone to car sickness) valley, following a very full and fast moving river. The wattles were coming into bloom, in all their different hues of yellow.

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The valley was once dotted with gold mines and their accompanying townships, most of them well gone by now, although their names remain on the map. Between Glen Valley and Glen Wills we came across the Glen Wills cemetery, the burial spot for some 97 locals between the years 1894 and 1920. 40 of the 97 were infants. A sobering reminder of the hardships of the pioneering life.

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After a brief look into the famous Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest we returned to Omeo, and enjoyed a tasty home cooked lunch at the Homestead House Cafe, opposite the Golden Age Hotel.

Our entertainment was provided by eavesdropping into the Ladies Golf Club Committee meeting, all 3 of them, as they debated the catering for an upcoming event. One of the three was keen to offer the slices and cakes free of charge. Another took quite some persuading, but grudgingly agreed to give it a try. We also know that sausage rolls, meat pies and dim sims will be available for sale. We were tempted to ask when the event was being held as the post game tucker was sounding quite enticing!

We took a brief detour outside of Omeo, lured by the Winery 16kms sign. It sure didn’t look like grape growing country, so we were intrigued.  Turns out there is a very small acreage at Cassillis, but the wine makers are now semi retired. Their tasting shed is closed and they only sell at local markets. However, the chap who has recently bought the grape vines plans to keep growing the grapes for them, and will have the wine available for tasting and sale on Public Holidays and maybe the occasional weekend. He’ll put out a sandwich board on the Great Alpine Road when he is open for business, so unless there is a board don’t take the turn off the road if wine is what you seek.

Next morning the promised snow showers were a fairly wet affair, but our time had come to leave the mountain. Our drive down to Harrietville was a slow one, thanks to the cloud and wet snow fall –  not much to be seen out of the windscreen.

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We rewarded ourselves with a coffee at Sixpence Coffee, a small coffee roasters, cafe and bakery in the backstreets of Bright. Despite the wet and cold day, the little space was packed with people enjoying their lattes and a freshly baked cake or pie.

Then it was onwards to Melbourne. Already my vow to abandon any further attempts at cross country skiing was starting to fade. Like childbirth, you forget the agony and sink into the après ski glow. But hang on, I stopped at one child, so perhaps not the best analogy for me! Will I keep trying to conquer this exasperating sport so I can enjoy all the trappings that go with it? I’ll see how I feel come August next year, and how much of the agony I remember.

 

 

My #MIFF2017

People always ask Did you have a good MIFF? And my answer this year is most definitely YES. 40 films seen over 16 days – 23 of which are in the Liked column, a further 11 in the Okay column and only 6 ended up in the Nope pile.

I have finally learnt to pace myself better – no films after 9pm; no more than 3 a day unless absolutely necessary. These rules had me reaching the finish line in reasonable shape, unlike previous years where exhaustion, hunger, and sunlight deprivation took its toll.

And as always MIFF has delighted through the people you encounter, bonded together by a common love of the big screen. There are the regular MIFF tragics, those people I have gotten to know over the successive festivals and only see once a year – we have a year’s worth of news to catch up on. Then there are those you chat to in the queue, or sitting next to you, or even on the train home. Chance encounters, swapping what you’ve seen and liked, and sometimes moving further into more personal territory. It is the people as much as the films that help feed my addiction to the Melbourne International Film Festival.

So, what films have gone into my Liked & Recommended  column?

After much soul searching, first place has gone to Faces Places the latest film (and maybe, sadly, last) from that amazing French film maker Agnes Varda, in collaboration with a young French photographer who goes by the name of JR. The film is quirky, endearing and heart warming. It is my theory that ‘everyone has a story you just have to ask’  brought to life in a masterly fashion. The world needs more people like Agnes in it.

This was followed closely by The Party , Sally Potter’s latest. A laugh out loud skewering of British politics, political correctness and society in general. A stellar cast, with the gorgeous Patricia Clarkson making the most of her marvellous one liners.

Staying with the Brits, I just loved the animated film by the British illustrator Raymond Briggs. Ethel and Ernest traces the life of Raymond’s parents, from courtship to death. There were smiles and tears. I spied the young man next to me wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his jumper, and offered him a tissue. Just lovely.

Then for something completely different I am not a Witch was a visual delight. My first ever Zambian film.

The Songkeepers is a funny and moving documentary about the indigenous people (largely women) keeping the Lutheran hymns learnt on the missions, but translated into their own language, alive. The film follows the choir through rehearsals and then on tour to Germany. The irony that this inspiring group have been brought together, and shown to the world, by an African-American born in South America but raised in Britain and  a young Indian film maker was not lost on me. It takes ‘outsiders’ to recognise the richness and beauty of the culture of our First People.

Staying with Australian films, another doco that won my heart was All for One, about the Orica Green Edge cycling team. Now, the art of cycle racing is a complete mystery to me, but I loved this film. It had it all – tears, laughter, edge of the seat excitement, horror at the crashes, and Aussie pride. It would seem this film captured others as it won the Audience Award for documentaries.

We are lucky to be able to see Harry Dean Stanton in what surely must be his last film, Lucky. We get to spend time with 90 year old Lucky as he goes about his daily routine and confronts, or avoids,  his mortality. David Lynch tries to steal the film as Lucky’s best friend, but this film belongs to Harry Dean.

Corruption was the theme linking several of my favourite films – The Nile Hilton Incident, Glory, A Man of Integrity. The Nile Hilton Incident takes us into the corruption of the Cairo police force, where everything has a price. I got a little confused at the end about who was shafting who, who was aiding and abetting who, but that didn’t matter. Feels almost like a documentary.

Glory takes us into Bulgarian corruption as we sympathise with Tsanko, a solitary railway worker who ends up in a nightmare not of his making, all because of his honesty, and the love of his watch.

A Man of Integrity is another film about a good man battling the system of bribes and officialdom, only to see the system become his undoing. This Iranian film was the Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes. The director, Mohammad Rasoulof, shot the film in secret as his films do not curry favour with the Iranian authorities.

We get a small glimpse of the horror that is Syria in the engrossing film Insyriated, set almost entirely in a bombed apartment in Damascus.

For a complete change of pace I fell in love with Maudie, the bio pic about Maudie Lewis, an artist I had never heard of before, but turns out she is a famous folk artist from Novia Scotia. Sally Hawkins completely inhabits the role. I notice this film is about to come out on General Release, so do go and see it.

I didn’t go in with particularly high hopes for Where You’re Meant to Be, but I thoroughly enjoyed this Scottish doco about Aidan Moffat’s attempts to update traditional Celtic songs. Aidan Moffat was the lead singer of a group I have luckily never heard of, Arab Strap, and is a very funny chappy.

It was good to see Geena Davis, Tim Robbins and the wonderful American theatre actress, Lois Smith, in the intriguing Marjorie Prime – a meditation on grief.

The Lovers was a chance to see another rarely seen American actress, this time Debra Winger. An amusing tale about the boredom of long term marriage and infidelity.

The Russians gave us a very different take on the end of a marriage in Loveless. Given the fact that this was from Russia it should not come as any surprise that the laughs were non existent. Rather, we see the viciousness that can occur when the love is gone, with the child being the innocent victim. Excellent movie making, and it won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year.

Two films from India also took my fancy. Newton takes an amusing swipe at the democratic process in India, whilst Hotel Salvation takes us to Varanasi and death beside the sacred Ganges River.

I wanted to slap Daphne but it is a terrific performance from a lass called Emily Beecham.

Mountain is the follow up documentary by the director of Sherpa. It is definitely not in the same class as Sherpa, but the images of the mountains are awe inspiring and the specially composed soundtrack by Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra provides an excellent framework. The narration, although beautifully spoken by Willem Dafoe, gets a bit schmaltzy. One that definitely needs to be seen on the big screen.

Dina is a fly on the wall documentary looking into the life of Dina and Scott, both on the Autism Spectrum, as they prepare for their upcoming nuptials. Heartwarming.

In the Fade was a predictable piece of story telling, but Diane Kruger eats up the screen in her Cannes winning Best Actress performance.

The latest film from Michael Haneke ends my Liked & Recommended list. Called Happy End you know of course, being Haneke, that the tongue is firmly in the cheek. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as evidenced by the walk outs, but I found I became completely engaged with the machinations of this extended, dysfunctional family, and the maybe evil 13 year old girl. And I loved the way we see events but can’t hear what is going on, only for it to be revealed later at a pertinent point.

Moving on to my Okay films:

Call me by your Name sits between Liked and Okay, and obviously a lot more people were less conflicted in their reaction to this sultry, coming of age, awakening homosexuality film than I was, as this won the Audience Award.  If it had been 20 minutes shorter it would definitely have been in my Liked List. And oh, to be parents like them.

Song to Song had me both highly frustrated and mesmerised at the same time. But, there were lots of walk outs so I’m guessing highly frustrated won out for many people. Terence Malick is an acquired taste, one I haven’t fully embraced. A bit of a waste of a great cast – Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Michael Fassbender – although Patti Smith’s cameo almost stole the show. Also, not enough music for me, given it was based around three major Austin music festivals.

Beatriz at Dinner stars the lovely Selma Hayek, plus a terrific performance by John Lithgow. But, I felt this film just bludgeoned me over the head with its environmental  message. And, if I had drunk as much as her I would have been comatose, or at the very least, slurring my words, not avenging the environment.

I’m being a bit mean about Ali’s Wedding as it is definitely going to be a crowd pleaser. A true story starring the real Ali. If you liked Red Dog you will enjoy Ali’s Wedding, and it got the Age Critic’s Award for the Aussie films on offer.

April’s Daughter won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes but I found it a bit disappointing, but she was definitely one crazy Mumma.

A Fantastic Woman was directed by the chap who gave us that terrific film, Gloria, but this one was not as good. Stars transgender actress Daniela Vega, who I felt  breathed heavily far too frequently in place of acting for my liking. But, turns out she has a fabulous voice.

If you like elephants then you will get some enjoyment out of Pop Aye, a little tale about a disillusioned, middle aged architect who rescues an elephant.

Yourself and Yours is a curious but amusing tale from South Korea, with a sly jab at male expectations of women.

Lover for a Day was very very French. Need I say more?

The Giant was a quirky little film from Sweden that tackles the issue of society’s attitude to people with disabilities. Some nice ideas in this film, but he doesn’t quite pull it off.

The Work was my first film of the Festival. A worthy documentary looking at group therapy in Folsom Prison with hardened criminals and men from the outside world. I found it a bit heavy handed, and a bit of a wasted opportunity.

And my NOPES were:

Claire’s Camera. Yet another outing for the fabulous Isabelle Huppert, who is Claire, but this was largely a bore  with a very slight storyline.

God’s Own Country was billed as a British Brokeback Mountain. Not even close. Brutish Yorkshire lad, living a brutish life, engaging in brutish sex. Goodness knows why the doe eyed Romanian fell in love with him.

The Challenge started off with the most rousing music whilst we watched falcons fluttering around, but this doco about rich male Saudi excess was one big bore. The real challenge was to stay awake.

Until the Birds Return. Three different, unconnected stories set in Algeria. The birds never did return. Plus, there was a random piece of Algerian Bollywood thrown into the middle of it. Go figure.

Let the Sunshine In. Now Juliette Binoche is gorgeous to watch but this latest from Claire Denis just didn’t work for me. Juliette plays a very needy and high maintenance divorcee looking for love. She needed a good spanking, and not of the sexual kind.

Ellipsis is the directorial debut from David Wenham, shot in 10 days with no script. And it shows.

The last hurrah – the three Bs

The clock is ticking as the road trip must eventually come to an end. We have two nights left. Where to go? Pete spots Putty Road linking Singleton and Windsor, bisecting the Wollemi National Park and Yengo National Park. How about we drive down that he says. So, off we go.

The start is less than promising as we battle the traffic beyond Maitland. Rather than veer off to the motorway bypass I had been lured by the romantic sounding townships of  Lochnivar and Greta. Mistake. Then we are confronted by the Rio Tinto open cut mines at Mt Thorley, which stretch either side of Putty Rd as far as the eye can see. Happily, it is not too long before we are engulfed by beautiful eucalyptus and native pine forests. Putty Road is very popular with motorbike riders as it winds its way through the forests, but it is obvious that several did not make it through the bends as attested to by the roadside floral memorials.

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We make it to Windsor unscathed, then have to battle the traffic to link up to the Hume Freeway. We have decided to spend the night at Berrima, a decision based on restaurant choice. Our first B.

I remember when the highway used to go through the centre of Berrima, but now it is bypassed, so we turn off the Hume and head into this historic hamlet. I have booked us into the Berrima Bakehouse Motel which turns out to be a delightful, renovated Motel a short walk from our dining destination for the night, Eschalot.

There is almost no one to be seen on the street of Berrima, and it is freezing cold. In fact, during the night the inverter heater has to go into defrost mode as it freezes on the external part (so ends up sounding something akin to a lorry going past on the highway!).

But, Eschalot is toasty warm, both in temperature and welcome, and we have a delightful evening in this one hat restaurant.

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We breakfast in the General Store Café, a new venture opened by a young Italian couple. We are only the second table there, so I wish them luck as they are very charming, and eager to please.

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After a walk round the township admiring the beautiful sandstone buildings, we hop into the car, heading towards our second B, Beechworth, for our last night of the trip. Lunch is taken at the rustic but excellent Long Track Pantry in Jugiong. I used to love the drive down into the valley surrounding Jugiong on our drives from Canberra to Melbourne, and it is still lovely.

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Onward to Beechworth, through the beautiful countryside, including wind farms, standing proud on the hill side.

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Our arrival into Beechworth got off to a slightly shaky start when I presented myself at the Motel reception. The genial owner could find no record of our booking. No wonder, wrong Motel – we should have been at the other end of  Camp Street. Whoopsies. But, he was very gracious! Our Motel, the Carriageworks, was yet another example of 1970s motel decor – wood panelling galore, but a very effective heater, which was needed as Beechworth was seriously cold.

We had a short walk to 2 hat Provenance. I had booked online and had originally requested 7pm. That time is not available was the automated response – 7.30? So, I booked for 7.30, only to find only one other couple sitting lonely in an empty dining room. Go figure. In the end only 4 couples came to dine that night. The restaurant is in an old bank building, with soaring ceilings, which proves very difficult to heat. I was frozen as we were seated by a window, which didn’t help the enjoyment of the evening. The waiter was pleasant but a bit Lurch like, and each dish was brought to the table by the chef himself, and very seriously introduced, with no other engagement. The food was okay, but the overall experience was stilted, and cold. And our dessert was, to our palate, inedible. We ate only a portion of it and gave our feedback to the waiter, but it was still included on the bill. Not a restaurant I would return to.

The next morning we had to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we could leave. As our neighbour in the next room said: It would freeze the balls off a bull.

We drive on to our third, and final B, Benalla. For the past 3 years, this Victorian township has invited world renowned, and local, street artists to do their best with walls in the township over a three day street art festival. The charming lady at the Tourist Information office arms us with a map of the locations of the art works and off we set, via an excellent brunch at Rustik Café. All and all, a great end to our road trip. Do go and see the Benalla Street Art for yourself.

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And now, it is back to wintery Melbourne. I wonder where to next?

 

The Pacific Highway Shuffle through the Northern Rivers

It was with some sadness that we turned our backs on sunny Kingscliff, but needs must ……. and the Pacific Highway was calling.

But, it is a shuffle along our major highway, for two reasons. One is that the NSW Government has obviously decided it is well past time to make our national highway into more than a two lane track, so we travel slowly through ongoing roadworks from Ballina to Coffs Harbour. There is enough work going on to keep the road building workers of the State fully occupied until retirement I’d say.

The other is that we keep diverting off the main road to check out the various towns and hamlets along the coast. First stop is groovy Brunswick Heads, for a coffee and a walk around the block, where almost every second shop seems to be a café or restaurant.

Back in the car and we shuffle along to Yamba, the twin sister to Iluka across the Clarence River estuary. It is no wonder they call this region The Northern Rivers, as there is water, water everywhere. The rivers are wide and deceptively slow moving. Either side lie flat, fertile flood plains – covered in sugar cane plantations up until about Yamba, then moving into rich pasture land. Houses are on stilts – wise move given their proximity to rivers that obviously like to break their banks. The rivers, estuaries and lakes that criss cross the land must be a fisherperson’s dream – even Pete starts to get visions of life with a ‘tinnie’!

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Not a lot is happening in Yamba, but we admire the flotilla of pelicans, hanging around hoping for tidbits from the fishermen, and the lighthouse, before setting off for our final destination for the day, Nambucca Heads.

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Here we are staying in a lovely Airbnb granny flat beneath Nancy and Ben’s huge work in progress of a house. The flat is simple and stylish, but oh so cold. They have only had it up and running for a couple of months, so hadn’t realised that it would need more than an oil heater to make the large, high ceiling rooms anywhere near warm. Never mind, I just wear my puffer coat inside and out!

Next morning, after breakfast kindly supplied by our hosts, on Ben’s recommendation we walk down to the Wharf Café for a very good coffee, sitting in the sun and enjoying the view.

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This is followed by a walk along the estuary to check out the V-Wall. Visitors and residents alike are encouraged to bring their weatherproof paints, and in some cases, their mosaic tiles, and leave a memory on one of the concrete breakwater blocks. But, no painting over or defacing anybody else’s memento.

Standing guard on the wall is Buddy, the kelpie, border collie & maybe other things cross. Buddy is a fish pointer. His owner tells me that he will happily stand there all day if necessary, looking out for fish. Has he ever fallen in? Yes, indeed but it doesn’t seem to have deterred his enthusiasm for fishing.

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We finish with a hike up to the top of the headland, where we find a tiny pioneer cemetery.

A final look at the sweeping views, then down the hill and into the car.

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Next stop is South West Rocks which we could spy from Nambucca Heads. It is a lovely little seaside town, a few houses, some apartment blocks, a motel or two and a caravan park with magnificent views. We enjoy a sandwich from the bakery, sitting in the sun watching young lads risk life and limb jumping off the rocks – as you do when you’re young and male.

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There seems to be a bit of a POW theme emerging during this trip as we check out the Trial Bay goal, which was used to detain Germans living in Australia and Asia during WWI. The goal has been lovingly restored by volunteers, although I’m sure the prisoners were not so admiring of the beautiful sandstone buildings, or the views. In the distance we see a couple of whales moving up the coast, before climbing into the car once more.

Our last stop, and resting place for the next two nights, is Forster, another seaside town perched between inlet and sea, this time on the Wallis River estuary. The other theme of this road trip is slightly daggy 60s/70s motels, of which there are plenty. You have to love them. This time we are in the Forster Motor Lodge, where the very genial caretaker Gary makes us welcome.

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We start the next day with a whale watching trip with Amaroo Cruises, as I have a burning desire to see these amazing creatures up closer. Although we come across one, the wind is strong, the waters are choppy and we end up unable to stay nearby for long. We do however idle by a large pod of the Wallis estuary dolphins, small but highly active creatures.

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Into the car to explore a little further down. Again, there is water whichever way you look, all surrounded by forests of paperbarks and native conifers. Lovely. We head to Seal Rocks. Beautiful beaches, a couple of houses, and a gorgeous lighthouse (with cottages you can stay in). Windblown but oh, that view. Must store this away for future reference.

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We finish the day with a dash to the oyster seller. Wallis Lake produces something like 60% of the Sydney Rock oyster supply. We indulge in a dozen each, just opened. Delicious.

We have found places we would like to come back to and spend more time. That’s the trouble with a road trip, it just keeps adding to the We will have to come back here list.

 

 

 

Champions in Kingscliff

Kingscliff is a bit like the old Gold Coast – still relatively low rise, with a small set of shops and a thriving bowls club and Surf Life Saving Club. The golden sands of the beach stretch off into the distance, admittedly currently marred by the upgrade and redevelopment that will result in fabulous beach access, and hopefully protect the beach from further ravages by the relentless sea. The vibe is low key and relaxed. And, the sun is shining. What more could you want.

We are Airbnbing here, and this is the true Airbnb experience – genuine people who are keen to meet others and share their beautiful locale. Elizabeth and Steve have Orient by the Sea, which is essentially the downstairs of their two storey town house, in spitting distance of the shops and beach. We have a bedroom, a sitting room, a bathroom and a little kitchenette. We share the front door and entry foyer. You can mix, or not mix. We do both. Our hosts are super friendly and keen to chat and share experiences, but are also aware of letting us have our privacy to do our own thing. That to me is what Airbnb should be all about.

Our focus is on the IRB National Lifesaving Championships, so we spend most of our time standing on the beach. To the initiated, IRB events look chaotic – inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) zooming all about; people in wetsuits running up the beach and flinging themselves into IRBs; people being flung into and out of IRBs; people moving up and down the beach. But, rest assured, it is organised chaos.

 

Movement is constant, as to make things fair, teams move lanes between every event, as there is no controlling the waves and when and where they fall.

Friday the respective state teams compete. There is fierce interstate rivalry, but, at least in Victoria, strong intrastate support. Much to the annoyance of all the other states and their individual teams, the various Victorian teams show strong support for each other, and even have a Victorian chant: We love you because you’re Victorian …… clap, clap, clap, clap.

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The camaraderie is in fact one of the reasons I love watching these championships. The Williamstown crew are a tight knit bunch. It is one for all, and all for one. They suffer for each other, and rejoice in each other’s victories. I am grateful for the care they shower on my highly anxious pre race daughter, cushioning her in their support. As parents we are largely superfluous; we’re not part of the inner circle; we are not the ones they turn to first for the encouraging hug. And, that’s how it should be. I am moved to tears when I see the Team Coach, and chief wrangler, in tears after Abby’s gold medal swim. He has known her since she was 16. They are family.

As always there are dramas – we get disqualified in a couple of events; the rope to start the motor breaks in another so we never get off the beach; a patient isn’t hauled in on the first run in another; and most dramatic of all, a crew member goes flying out of the boat and ends up with a damaged knee. But, despite these obstacles, Williamstown Life Saving Club comes third overall, an excellent achievement.

Our girl and her team win the Gold Medal in her particular event, for the 4th year in a row. The event is called The Tube. Let me talk you through it. The driver and swimmer are on the beach, the starter’s gun goes and they race to the boat. The driver starts the engine, and then the swimmer (Abby) leaps in. They race over the waves towards the patient, who is patiently bobbing about waiting to be rescued. The boat gets to the first can and Abby heaves the rescue Tube into the water, followed by herself. She then swims to the patient, throws the tube at him. He clips the Tube around himself and she then proceeds to swim back to the boat, towing him behind (he is allowed to kick). The boat can’t wait for them at the end of the run – rather must drive off, keep an eye on proceedings and then race back in as the swimmer reaches the end can. The swimmer heaves the patient and then herself back into the boat, and the boat races to the shore. The boat roars up to the sand, the driver leaps out and runs to the finish line. The first driver at the finish line wins. There you have it, the Tube Race. And they won. Hurrah!

The Championships run over three days, so there isn’t much time for anything else. But, we do manage some extra curricular activity. Friday evening as the sun is beginning to set we go walking along the breakwater, and are delighted to see two migrating whales putting on a display of dives and leaps in the middle distance. A thrill to see them.

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Saturday afternoon we get an early mark as racing is called off due to wind and choppy seas. We take the opportunity to visit the Tweed Regional Gallery in nearby Murwillimbah. What a beautiful Gallery it is, making the most of its location in the valley. The current exhibition is an A-Z from the collection – and it is a delight to work out the curator’s thinking behind each choice. And then there is the Margaret Olley Centre attached to the Gallery. They have been blessed by a grant from the Margaret Olley Trust and now house a recreation of Margaret Olley’s home and studio. Plus, a grant from her Trust enables an artist in residence, and a showing of their work. And, on our visit there is an exhibition of Margaret Olley portraits, by herself and others. Wonderful. I am moved to tears by the stories and portraits- there was just something about her face that endears her to you; I feel a connection. All in all, an enchanting experience.

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And of course, nothing is complete without visits to restaurants. We visit two, Fins at the Salt complex in Kingscliff, and Taverna, just a few minutes walk from our accommodation. Fins is jam packed on a Saturday night, and the wait staff are working overtime. They are not helped by an accident in the kitchen involving a knife and stitches, which holds up service. The seafood is delicious, but goodness me, not cheap – with mains around $47, entrees at $26. At those prices I think it is rather rich (excuse the pun) to charge for bread & butter. We decline.

Sunday night at Taverna is Chef’s Table night, which translates to no choice, set meal, $39 a head (dessert and drinks not included). It is a lovely space – white, bright and light. And absolutely packed. Yet the staff manage the tables with grace and efficiency- and the food is delicious. What a bargain. We walk back up the hill very happy campers.

Monday morning the sun is still shining brightly but we must drag ourselves away and begin the journey home. Thank you Kingscliff, we will stay longer next time.

Road Trip to Aussies – Orange to Bellingen

We keep to the back roads on our way further north, with the next leg in our road trip being Orange to dang, dang, dang Tamworth – home of country music. Watching the changes in the landscape keeps us fascinated.

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Just before Tamworth we are intrigued by the white fluff along the roadside. Wool that has been desiccated by the mower? We stop and have a feel and are still unsure. Pete hazards a guess at cotton but we look around at the dry paddocks either side and think, surely not. But, Lo & behold shortly after we pass fields of harvested cotton and HUGE bales of cotton wrapped up in yellow plastic. It would seem that the bales moult as they are transported, leaving a white fluffy carpet beside the road. A mystery solved.

In Tamworth we stay at the rather bizarre Retreat@Froogmoore Park – I couldn’t resist a place that had a Dungeon Room, replete with a whip. Although much to Pete’s disappointment we are in the Madea (Japanese) Room. The interior decoration in this place is interesting to say the least. But, the gardens are beautiful.

My main impressions of Tamworth are a wide, palm lined main street; statues of Australian country singers; a stunning Deco pub; and a very loud and crowded bat colony along the river.

We have a lot to do the next day, so decide to skip breakfast at Froogmoore (never did work out why the odd name) at $25 a head and head to Armidale instead. But, we ended up stopping in the lovely village of Uralla, just before Armidale, and chanced upon the terrific The Alternate Root Café, housed in a beautiful 1908 shopfront with a magnificent old tin roof. Excellent coffee and a very tasty breakfast left us very happy road trippers.

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We merely passed through the outskirts of Armidale, intent as we were on travelling along the poetic sounding Waterfall Way. The name conjured up visions of a lush green landscape, but we were still moving through grazing pasture land. Where were these waterfalls then? 40 kms later we veer slightly off the highway and into the parking area for the Woollombi Gorge. A short walk later we see in front of us a magnificent Gorge and a series of beautiful waterfalls tumbling down the rockface.

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We travel a bit further along Waterfall Way to the minuscule hamlet of Ebor where we discover the beautiful Ebor Falls, Upper and Lower.

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As well as the waterfalls there are panoramic views across the valley. Who would have thought that all this beauty lay just beyond the boundaries of a not very interesting road.

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From here it is on to Dorrigo and its UNESCO World Heritage listed rainforest – a micro climate again tucked just off the Waterfall Way. Unfortunately , we arrive too late to take advantage of the walks on offer, but we do get a feel for this unique environment.

It starts to drizzle as we hop into the car, and so we follow the rainbow into Bellingen, a delightful village nestled into this beautiful valley. Day disappears with a glorious sunset, a fitting end to a day of natural wonders.

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We are staying at the Bellingen Valley Lodge, a motel stuck in the time warp of the 1970s. Good bones but needs some love and care. But, we did have that glorious view of sunset, and the bed is comfortable.

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Dinner is at the newly opened Popla and it is fabulous, one of the most enjoyable meals we have had in a while – great food and charming staff. Worth a trip to Bellingen just to eat there.

Next morning we explore the hippy haven of Bellingen, starting with an excellent coffee at Amelia Franklin – they roast their own beans, and run barista courses, all out of an ex servo in the Main Street. Coffee is followed by breakfast at Black Bear, a cafe recommended by the lass at Popla last night, whom we bump into both at Amelia Franklin and at Black Bear. It is a small place! Breakfast is followed by a quick peruse of the shops before heading to the Pacific Highway and the last push to Kingscliff.

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We stop into Ballina for lunch at the cafe at the Surf Life Saving Club, overlooking the glorious beach. Leaving town, we stock up on local oysters and prawns for our evening feast at our Kingscliff Airbnb. To be washed down with one of our bottles of Orange wine. Sorted. It has been a highly enjoyable road trip. Now on to the next chapter.

A Day in Orange, NSW

We are staying 2 nights in Orange, in the very lovely Blue Room at deRussie Boutique Hotel . When I tried to book this was the only room available and the Manager offered it to me for $100 per night less, so what’s a girl to do. I do love a bargain. And, we felt very special in this lovely suite.

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I had heard that Orange had become a booming food and wine centre, hence our decision to stay an extra day to explore some of the wineries in the area. But, a word of advice – don’t visit Orange on Sunday and Monday, as it turns out most of the restaurants are closed. Sad Debra face when she discovers this.

But, all is not lost and dinner on Sunday night is at Union Bank, where we have a very pleasant evening. And better yet, it is just around the corner from our hotel, so a brisk walk in the cold cold night gets us there in no time.

We have a slow start the next day, enjoying our complimentary continental breakfast in our suite, before walking round the other corner to the Byng Street Cafe for our coffee hit (and a drooling over the food on offer). This café would not be out of place on any Melbourne street.

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It’s time now for wine tasting, so off we head to De Salis Winery, perched beside Mt Canobolas, at around 1050 metres. They talk about Orange being a cool climate wine region. I would suggest it’s a COLD climate wine region, especially at this altitude! We are greeted at the winery by the two friendly winery dogs, and Mitch Svenson, assistant, and very enthusiastic, wine maker to his Dad, Charlie. Mitch is the reason we are now proud De Salis wine club members, and walk away with numerous bottles under our arm. He sure can talk!

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We wave goodbye to Mitch, and the dogs, and head to Ross Hill Winery  , but first we leg it up to a lookout to get views over the Orange landscape.

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We are the only visitors at the winery, but are greeted warmly by one of the sons – wine making in Orange is very much a labour of family love. Tasting leads to buying, of course. As we are settling up I spy a sample bottle of Pistol Packing Momma from Liberator Wines. My interest is immediately engaged as my Dad was a Liberator bomber (although I may of course have got my bomber planes mixed up – I’m sure Dad will correct me when he reads this!). Turns out this is a special range they produce in honour of GrandPa Ross, who flew a Liberator called Pistol Packing Momma. We are presented with a complimentary bottle of the wine to give to Dad, with their regards. How nice is that.

Our final wine stop is Philip Shaw Winery, where we settle in front of the wood fire for a cheese platter and wine tasting, delivered by a very charming young lady who runs the room single handed, never missing a beat despite the fact that she has numerous tables, plus wine tastings and sales to deal with. Again we leave with a box of wine. We are certainly not going to be thirsty on this trip! We have been very impressed with the wines we have tried, and are delighted to add a new (to us) wine region to our repertoire.

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Enough wine has been drunk, so we drive to historic Millthorpe for coffee and cake at the Old Sugar Mill. Being a Monday nothing is happening in Millthorpe, but I gather it is heaving on weekends.

We’ve had a lovely day ambling around the area. Certainly the wines are terrific, and the people we encounter are passionate about their craft. Dinner that night is booked at Percy’s Kitchen. We arrive at the allotted time, and are greeted and shown to our table. Would we like something to drink? Let me have a look at the wine list I say. Off he goes, never to be seen again. 30 minutes later we still have not been able to give an order for either food or wine, in a half empty restaurant. The menu doesn’t actually excite us, so we rug up and beat a hasty retreat up several blocks to a bustling Chinese Korean restaurant called Mr Lim – recommended by the man from Ross Hill winery. And are we glad we did – we had a terrific meal, and a great end to a fabulous day exploring a little of what Orange has to offer.

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Road Trip to Aussies – Melbourne to Orange

It’s July. That means it’s time once more for the IRB National Lifesaving Championships (that’s Inflatable Rescue Boats for the uninitiated), or Aussies as we call them, and being the good parents we are it is off to Kingscliff, NSW we go, to cheer on our daughter and the Williamstown team. But, being us, we have to turn this opportunity into a trip, so off we go on a 5 night road trip through this wide brown/green/mauve land of ours.

Packing  proves to be the first challenge. Partly because the temptation when you are travelling by car is to throw yet another item in, just in case. And partly because we will be encountering temperatures from -1 to 23! In goes the puffer coat AND the bathers, and everything in between.

First stop is Fowles Winery at Avenel – a coffee and a bottle of wine for tonight.  Onwards up the Hume. We deviate off at Chiltern for a quick bite. This little town is showing signs of decline, with many empty shopfronts. The story of many towns that have been bypassed by the highways. You take your tastebuds into dangerous territory when you head out into country Australia.  Sure there are some regional gems, but you also encounter some shockers and unfortunately Chiltern turned out to be the latter rather than the former. Ah well, it was food.

We make a quick stop to say Hello to the Dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai. As a teenager living in Canberra we would always stop at The Dog on our many trips to Melbourne. So nice to see families still doing this ritual. As well as the obligatory photo, we stock up on a bag of freshly picked Batlow apples – crisp and juicy.

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Time then to turn off the Hume Highway and head inland, with Cootamundra our first night’s stay. We have booked into the Southern Comfort Motor Inn, and it is the classic Aussie motel – large room, clean, decorated in the 70s. Great. Peter, mine host, when asked to recommend somewhere to eat responds with You won’t find anything gourmet in Cootamundra love. He’s right. But, we get a cheap, basic pub meal at the busiest spot in town, the Central Hotel. Even though it’s a Saturday night there isn’t much happening in ‘Coota’  – the enormously wide Main Street is virtually deserted on this cold winter night.

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Next morning we decide to turn our back on Coota and head to Young for breakfast. Trip Advisor recommends The Kettle & Grain cafe so in we head. Nice little spot in an old schoolhouse, but my word those poor schoolchildren must have been too frozen to learn anything back in the day.

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I love these country towns – wide streets and an eclectic mixture of architecture. Every town has its beautiful lace ironwork pub, its impressive town hall, and some wonderful Deco buildings.

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Next stop is Cowra, to visit the remains of the POW camp and the Japanese Garden. The garden is beautiful, so tranquil. Learning more about the POW breakout is fascinating, and it is heartening in these times of so much divisiveness to see a town that has embraced it’s history and has turned it into something positive.

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Our last port of call before arriving in Orange is accidental as we knew nothing about  Canowindra but stopped upon a whim after seeing the sign pointing to Historic Village. But, it turns out to be a little gem of a town – lovely buildings, and an interesting array of shops. We visit the Artesan Chocolate shop, and stock up on treats for later and have a good chat to the two charming owners, refugees from Sydney who toiled to restore what was once a solicitor’s office into a homage to handmade chocolates from around the area and beyond.

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It is then an easy drive through beautiful countryside to Orange, our ‘home’ for the next 2 nights.

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Dark Mofo 2017

We all know about The Guggenheim Effect, and how an outstanding piece of architecture, housing an amazing array of art, managed to transform a once struggling industrial town in the Basque Country into an international tourist destination. Here in Australia we have the MONA Effect. The vision of David Walsh and his team of curators has managed to put Hobart front and centre on the cultural tourist map of every Mainlander. 

To spread the joy across the Year, we also have MONA FOMA (Museum of Old and New Art:Festival of Music and Art), held in summer – which has become more fondly known as MOFO – and Dark Mofo, which is the reason I find myself in Hobart this June.

Dark Mofo is Hobart and MONA’s celebration of the winter solstice and all things dark, and light. This is its fifth year, and its growing popularity is evident in the packed flight heading out of Melbourne, as why else would you be going to chilly Hobart in the middle of Winter?!

We are eight, eager to experience as much as we can over our 3 days. Our Airbnb house is perfectly located within easy walking distance to all the action. The only drawback being the fact that it sits right on Davey Street, the main drag in town – and even though this is a small city it would seem that the total population of Hobart likes to spend their time driving up Davey Street. The constant sound of traffic roaring past is not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep.  But, this is only a small dampener on our enjoyment of the festivities.


We ease into our stay with a delicious dinner at Peacock & Jones, admiring the Dark Mofo red light theme as we walk along the harbourside.


Friday morning we wander down to Salamanca Place in search of breakfast, and settle on Tricycle Cafe in the Salamanca Arts Centre, blending in with the locals who favour this quaint little spot. Browsing in the shops and galleries that line the precinct finishes off the morning.

Come afternoon we toy with the idea of walking up Mt Wellington, but quickly banish the thought when we actually look at the mountain, and hop into the car instead. And wouldn’t you know it, the cloud descends just as we reach the top. We linger in the chill long enough for a brief parting, enough to get an idea of how magnificent the view could be.


We have a date that night with Paul Kelly and the very sexy Camille O’Sullivan in their show Ancient Rain, but first we must eat, so walk down to Princes Wharf, which has been transformed into the Winter Feast site. Shooting flames and a light forest beckon you into a wharf shed packed with food and drink stalls, and lots of very jolly people enjoying a veritable cornucopia of choice.



In fact, the people you encounter are one of the joys of Dark Mofo. Tasmanians are an extremely friendly bunch anyway.  Add into the mix visitors all there for the same reason, determined to enjoy themselves, and you have the right ingredients for goodwill to all. Strangers happily sit cheek by jowl, striking up conversations about all manner of things (next day we meet one young Sydneysider who had us in hysterics with her dating stories). It is at the Winter Feast that we meet a couple (who we find out met 7 years ago at the Melbourne Cup) who tell us about a fab little cafe, Small Fry,  that we visit later in our stay. The mood at Winter Feast is upbeat despite, and perhaps because of, the crowds. And the food on offer is terrific. 

The Federation Concert Hall is heaving with people. Ancient Rain does not appeal to all. Given it is based on Irish poems and letters, it is hardly surprising that the overall mood is fairly dour (let’s face it, they are not the cheeriest bunch), but Camille O’Sullivan sings like an angel and she draws me into her world – I emerge blinking in the light, slightly in love.

We devote Saturday to MONA, and the opening of its latest exhibition by the Museum of Everything but first a visit to the Salamanca Market, held every Saturday morning. We have great fun browsing the stalls, chatting to stall holders and shoppers alike. 


Catching the ferry to MONA is a great way to start an amazing visit – excitement and anticipation builds as you travel up the beautiful Derwent River.


To quote the MONA brochure: From June 2017, MONA will be crammed to the hilt with an astonishing assortment of artworks from The Museum of Everything: the world’s first and only wandering institution for the untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It certainly was crammed – we spent about 2 hours just in the Museum of Everything, some of it wonderful, some of it not. But, it was fascinating, and I am intrigued as to how and where they discovered this stuff.



We were on the 11am ferry there and the 5pm ferry back – it is so easy to spend a whole day at MONA, particularly on opening day when there is a passing parade of entertainment thrown into the mix. We need a hot whisky punch to revive us before climbing aboard the Mona Roamer ferry back to Constitution Dock.



Straight off the ferry and into the Winter Feast shed, along with everyone else. Food, drink and a singalong round the fire. 


We could have lingered longer, but Dark Park beckons, so off we trot to admire the laser light show, and enjoy a whisky tasting in the shed.


Sunday morning we head off to the Farm Gate Market in Bathurst Street, via an excellent take away coffee at Small Fry – where we drooled over the menu, and admired the focus and care of the chef in the tiny kitchen.

The market was full of very yummy things – so, we bought most of our evening meal requirements: veggies, fruit pies, cheeses, cream.


Then, down to Consitution Dock to buy the fish:


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before dumping our bounty to undertake a brisk walk, under grey skies, through Battery Point to the Wrest Point Casino and back. At the Casino we are delighted to see a seal doing a solo swim, just for us.


A quick change and off to the Theatre Royal to see Sleeping Beauty, a collaboration between Victoria Opera and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. I am definitely not an opera fan, but this production is lots of fun – telling the story of Sleeping Beauty via puppets, and singing of course. 


Home then, red wine and our wonderful home cooked meal of local Tassie produce. A very fitting way to end our Dark Mofo experience, as we fly home tomorrow (an experience marred by the Jetstar flight being delayed by 2 hours).

Thank you Hobart, Dark Mofo and MONA for a terrific long weekend. A bientôt.

A night in Barcelona 

Barcelona this trip is merely a stop over – a chance to, hopefully, get a good night’s sleep before the horror of flying back to Australia, cattle class. I’m on my own. Not something I experience all that often whilst overseas – a single stranger in a strange land. 

My train from San Sebastián arrives at the allotted time. I had decided I would catch a taxi to the hotel, some 2km away, rather than schlep my suitcase and backpack up & down stairs at the metro. But, it turns out that the Barcelona taxis are on strike today. The man at the taxi rank, who has the unenviable task of passing on this news to many disgruntled tourists, kindly turns his attention to the map on my phone. Together we work out a route for me to walk, and luckily it is via landmarks I recognise.

I stop for a cafe con leche along the way as a caffeine withdrawal headache is starting, then soldier on. In no time really I am at Hotel Market. The lovely lady on reception claims to recognise my face from my last visit a year ago. It feels very welcoming. I have a lovely room on the 6th floor, with a shared lounge and a view over local life around the Sant Antoni market. I can hear dogs yapping – some one must have brought their dogs with them to the hotel. Wouldn’t surprise me – dogs seem to go everywhere with their owners here.


After settling in, I venture forth. I do a quick check of the San Antoni market renovations – a massive job, and it is looking good, but still off limits to people. I’m sure it will be fabulous when it is finally finished.

Having missed breakfast and lunch, except for survival snacks on the train, I have a goal in mind. Reserva Iberica, that palace to all things porcine, and acorn fed. I order a tasting platter of jamon for one, and a glass of rosado. The platter looks the same size as the one Pete and I shared a few weeks ago, but I am up for the challenge. I sit and happily munch away, whilst watching the crowds pass by on the Ramblas.


It is then back to the hotel for some R & R. I head out again around 8, to a small wine bar I had spotted around the corner. It’s a cosy little place that sells an array of wine by the glass. I settle in, with a glass of red from Montsant. There are only a handful of others in the wine bar, but evidence of more – I must be in between shifts. I notice people coming in with empty bottles of all shapes. They make a quick stop to the bar, then leave with full bottles. Turns out you can bring an empty litre container and get it filled with the wine of your choice from huge barrels lining the wall. What a great idea for your everyday quaffing wine.

I then move on to a little local restaurant I had noticed on my walk to the hotel, 2 blocks away in the same street. I had Googled it and it sounded interesting – established since 1921, three sets of owners. The most recent owners, once customers, had bought it a few years back and installed a male chef to maintain the traditions but bring a touch of modernity, or so the website says. Several interesting looking menus on the website. Can Miserias. Worth a try I thought. I see no sign of the male chef – there seems to be an older lady in the kitchen – nor the different menus that were on offer on the website, or the touches of modernity.  But, the food is simple and tasty, and the owner/waiter very welcoming.

I arrive at 8.45. Early I know for Spain, but not too bad. There is one other diner – an elderly male, who amuses himself with his smart phone. I am placed at one end, he is at the other. Only one other diner arrives, just as I am finishing up – another elderly male, with his newspaper and bifocal glasses. It gets me thinking about the name, Miserias. Is this the spot where lonely old men – widowers maybe – have their evening meal. They certainly seem to be regulars. How nice that they have somewhere to go – to have a well cooked, simple, meal, and a little bit of interaction, even if it is just with the owner. But, I am concerned that with this level of clientele, Can Miserias may not be seeing another decade.


I’m in and out in 45 minutes. Back to the hotel to luxuriate in all my space. I shall sleep in, then wander out for a late breakfast before packing up and catching the airport bus, which stops just around the corner. Home again, home again jigetty jog.