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.

 

 

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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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:


And, a quick admire of the sculptures at the Dock:


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.

Beautiful San Sebastián 

What a beautiful town this is. The curves of its bays. The laid back atmosphere. The beaches. The food, oh the food. This is my kinda place. It’s great to be back here, and even better that we are staying with friends who have decided to decamp here for a good chunk of this year. Their apartment is in the Gros district – a block from the beach (in fact you can see the water from their apartment) and easy walking distance to the Old Town and the train station, but removed enough from the tourist madness of the Old Town. It’s a proper, local community.


We have devoted our time here to mooching, eating and drinking. So, pretty much the same as anywhere really! We have been blessed by gorgeous weather. Lucky, as this area is verdant for a reason – it does rain a lot. But, so far so good. Mind you, we start hiking on Tuesday, so I’m sure things will change given our track record.

Our first morning was spent buying supplies at the mercado. As usual buying more than we needed but not being able to resist. Pete is on dinner duty for two nights so that we can boost our vegetable intake. After shopping it was time to take to the hill and climb up to our luncheon spot, Mirador del Ulia. The hike up the hill was worth it – spectacular food and an amazing view.





Of course this was a complete indulgence, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Each little course that came out was greeted with an Oh, Ah. We listened closely to the explanation of each dish, then resorted to the menu to try and work out exactly what we were eating, but that often wasn’t much help either. We just had to give ourselves over to the taste. Each morsel was a work of art, for both the eye and the mouth. Each bite was savoured and discussed. We easily wile away the afternoon, making the most of the experience, and that glorious view. 




Going back down the hill was much easier than the going up, helped of course by the bottles of wine consumed. Needless to say, no dinner was required that night!

Needing to feel more virtuous the next day, we set off for a 7km hike along the coastline to the next village, Pasai Donibane,  which is part of the first leg of the Camino del Norte (if starting from Irun). What a stunning walk, when blessed by sunshine as we were. It has its ups and downs, and I quickly realised I have become hill unfit since my last serious walk. The Picos de Europa walks next week are going to be a bit of a challenge.


There is a steep ascent, followed by a steep descent into Pasaia but the view from the top looking down into the entry to the harbour is breathtaking.


Pasaia is split into two by the inlet. On one side is the new town, on the other the Old Town, or Pasaia Donibane, where Victor Hugo once spent some time. The path takes you down into the harbour on the new side. From there you hop on a boat to ferry you across to the Old Town (.70 euro per person).


We joined the throng and chose a table at one of the several restaurants dotted around the square. A glass of wine each, and 3 plates to share – prawns, calamari and a mixed salad. That did the job. Back on the ferry to new town, and a short walk to the bus for the journey back to San Sebastián. 

The evening ended in much hilarity as we watched the Eurovision final in real time, live. Of course we cheered on the Australian entrant, but the Belarus duo rather stole my heart with their bouncy little tune, and bride and groom costumes. Portugal turned out to be the clear winner. An interesting choice, but it is a beautiful song. And of course, a wonderful spot for the Eurovision contest in 2018. 

We started Sunday with an excellent coffee at Sakona Coffee Roasters, a cafe that would not be out of place in Melbourne. They obviously take their coffee seriously, but serve it with a big hearted smile. And they are not just coffee roasters – the breakfast plates that went past us had us thinking we must come back for breakfast as well as coffee.


We join the crowds of tourists and locals promenading around the waterfront, admiring the views across the bay.


It is then pintxos time. We pick a bar that is crowded, nab a small table outside, then battle the customers gathered around the bar inside, groaning with a mouth watering pintxos display. We restrain ourselves and select only a few, as we know the thing to do is a pintxos hop – have a drink and one or two pintxos at a number of different bars. In fact, acting like a local comes way too easily. I swear if I lived in Spain I would become an alcoholic – it always seems to be the right time for a drink!


We move on to another bar and repeat the process. Muy buen. Muy muy buen. Our final stop is La Vina, which is rightly famous for its incredible cheesecake, which is just as delicious as I remember from our last visit. I am a happy woman.


Our stay in San Sebastián has been short, but very very sweet. I look forward to returning after a week of hiking in the mountains. There are still so many bars to sample! 

Four Days in Madrid

Madrid is a first for both of us. We arrive around midday, and quickly and easily negotiate the transfer from Renfe to the metro at Atocha station. We are only 2 stops away from Gran Via, on the blue line. Travelling makes us once more envious of the public transport systems overseas – frequent; networked with interstate trains and airports; easy to use ticket machines in multiple languages selling single tickets and providing change; clear signage; and accurate notification of upcoming stations (how often have I seen incorrect station information on the Sandringham line? Lots. Why can’t we get it right?!). The only thing I don’t like is that there are always stairs that you have to lug your case up, or down. I usually end up in a slather. But, enough grumpy old lady whinging.

We pop up like moles into the pedestrian mall of Calle de la Montera, where it intersects with Gran Via. Our hotel, Praktik Metropol, is just there. Not very encouragingly, just above McDonalds. However, it turns out to be a perfect location and we can easily walk to everything, and get to and from our train station. Also turns out to be an interesting location, as working girls (and I don’t mean the secretarial kind) throng the street. Pete, bless him, comments on how many girls with tight clothing are clustered around the street.


First impressions – a little bit grubby, at least where we are. Lots of street vendors of jet black skin. An array of different architectural styles, with many grand buildings. A more organic street layout – we miss the grid pattern of Barcelona. Harder to get a handle on where you are, and the different neighbours. After 4 days however we start to get the hang of it, and the different identity of the various neighbourhoods. Only feel uncomfortable once, in the area around the Lavapiés metro station – I think some deals might go down there.

As in all the cities, we walk and walk. The only time we actually use the metro is to and from the train station. Walking allows us to get more of a feel for a city, and we can appreciate the different architecture. Over our few days in Madrid we see beautiful examples of Deco, Art Noveau, Baroque, and modern.


After checking in we put my cafe research to good use and head off to the Malasaña district, and the Federal Café. You could easily think you were in Melbourne, and we probably tripled the average age of customer, but didn’t let that deter us.


Lunch done, we continue to the Temple of Debod, the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral. The sun is blazing forth and there is not a cloud in the sky. The temperature hovers around 28 C. Hot. Not surprisingly, the gardens around the Temple are littered with people, some soaking up the rays, others seeking shade and relief from the heat. The park affords views across the city, and we realise that there is a massive green wedge right in the middle of the city, stretching as far as the eye can see. Our map tells us this is the Casa de Campo – 1.7 hectares of greenery, named for the fact that it was once the Royal hunting estate.


They are changing the guard at the Royal Palace and we just catch the horses trotting off for their off duty time.


I, of course, go into the Cathedral. Himself abstains. The interior is quite a surprise as the decorations are very bright, and modern. Not at all what I was expecting. Almost tribal.


We have booked into an Urban Adventures Tapas Walking tour that evening, starting at 7pm. Our meeting spot is the statue in the centre of the Plaza de la Villa. We are a group of 7- a family of 3 from Armadale, NSW and an elderly European couple who are residents of Calgary, Canada. Our tour guide is the lovely Andrea, a resident of Madrid who is enthusiastic about both her city and its food. We learn a lot about the history of Madrid in between eating and drinking.


I thoroughly enjoyed the tour for what we learnt, but I have to say I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about much of the food, and drink, although felt it was very authentic. It is no wonder we have seen a lot of overweight Spaniards – bread, fried food, salty food, sweet food. I wonder what their diabetes and cholesterol rates are. Pete and I dumped several of our samples surreptitiously into nearby bins, whilst I shuffled my drink along the bar.

We start off  in the Mercado de San Miguel, which is full of people, although it is apparently relatively quiet as it is a Monday. This is not a produce market, rather small food outlets. You buy food, and drink, to have here – if you can find a spot to perch in the central seating area – or to take away. Andrea says it is more likely to be a tourist haunt than a locals spot, although she was here with a group of friends on Saturday night. Here we sample olives, and cheese. And vermouth (akin to drinking cough medicine is my verdict) with the olives and a rather nice vino blanco with the cheese. One of the olive Tapas is a skewer of olives, pickled pepper and salted anchovy – it is called The Gilda (but pronounced Hilda), named after the character Rita Hayworth played in the film Gilda. Apparently she asked a bartender for some olives with a bit of spice to go with her drink. He created this Tapas in response and it was christened The Gilda/Hilda.


Walking the streets we learn that the street signs will usually have a picture of what the street name means, and that dotted throughout the town are plaques embedded into the pavements in front of significant buildings. Andrea tells us to look out for both as we walk around the city.


We pass by the famous Botin restaurant, the oldest restaurant in the world and famous for its suckling pig. Unfortunately it is not on our itinerary as we are partial to pig in all its forms. There is a queue of tourists outside, waiting patiently to be granted entrance. Botin has its own plaque in the pavement.


We move into the La Latina district, an area that is frequented by locals, as well as tourists.


Our destination is Casa Lucas, where we have 3 Tapas – a local ‘salami’ on bread;  a kind of ratatouille, topped with a fried quail egg, on bread, with matchstick chips; and oxtail meatballs on a bed of mashed potato. All of which were yummy, and washed down with a vino tinto.


Next up is the Cerveceria La Campana, which is famous for its bocadillo calamares, a speciality of Madrid. The place is packed, but we manage to squeeze in down the back. Pete & I elect to share one between us. Good thing we did as it turns out to be a soft, unappetising bun filled with overcrumbed and slightly chewy calamari. We eat the calamari and leave the bun. I gamely try the local wine mixed with lemonade that is a common accompaniment to the calamares. One sip is all I manage. There is no accounting for taste as this restaurant goes through 7,000 kilos of calamares every 15 days!!!


Our walk takes us through Plaza Mayor, which is full of people enjoying  their evening meal al fresco.


Andrea points out Chocoleteria San Gine, which she insists makes the best chocolate and churros in town, and makes us promise to return and try them. We end up breaking our promise (Alex would be very disappointed in us).


Our next stop is Casa Labra, famous for its cod croquettes and fried pieces of cod. There are other items on the menu but Andrea says that people rarely order anything else but cod – rather wonder why they bother then if that is the case. Casa Labra is an institution in the city, and was the spot where the Socialist Party was founded in 1860. But it is here that Pete & I sidle up to the bin and dump our croquettes, which are full of  gluggy bechamel sauce and sparse with lumps of cod. Quite awful really.


Our last stop for the night is La Casa de las Torrejas, via bustling Puerto del Sol. Andrea points out the plaque in the pavement marking Kilometre Zero. From this point all roads leading out of Madrid are measured.


At Casa de las Torrejas we are to have the Spanish version of French toast. Pete and I err on the side of caution and say we will share one between us. I also opt for a glass of vino blanco rather than the traditional glass of sweet wine. A mistake on two counts, as the postre (dessert) is delicious – like a custardy , vanilla, French toast – and the sweet wine comes in shot glasses and is a bit like a light fortified wine, and goes nicely with the dessert. I could easily have scoffed the whole serve, and drunk the glass of wine rather than the sip from a fellow guest that I actually experienced.


Andrea escorts us back to Puerto del Sol and bids us farewell, after checking we all know how to get back to our respective hotels. It has been a delightful 3 and a half hours, despite some of the tapas, as we have learnt about Madrid and its inhabitants from a charming and knowledgeable guide. It takes us no time to walk back to the Praktik, and our bed.


Day 2 has been earmarked as our cultural day, but first coffee and breakfast at Hola Cafe, where we are served by a set of charming and funky young men.


Then, on to the Prado. Luckily I had purchased a Paseo del Arte ticket (a 3 museum pass) online and a Reduced Price ticket for Pete. This lets us skip the long line queuing for tickets and into the short queue for prebought tickets. The Prado is huge – 2 full floors of works, plus a small section on Level 2 and another in the basement. Not to mention the Temporary Exhibit, which in this case is paintings from Old Budapest. I have to admit that we skipped the few rooms on Floor 2 and the basement, and the Temporary Exhibition. But, we went into every other room, of which there are at least 100. Towards the end I started to get the same panicked feeling I get at Ikea- would I ever get out of there alive. After about 3 hours we emerged, staggering into the light and never wanting to see a religious painting again. Food and drink was desperately required.

La Sanabresa, one of Madrid’s dying breed of casa de comidas (basic restaurants) provided the solution. We were extremely lucky to snare a table as soon as we arrived at this bustling local restaurant, and I would say we were the only English speakers, although not the first. There is a menu in English, although none of the staff speak it. The tables are covered with paper that is replaced with each new customer. 3 courses, bread and a bottle of wine for 11.50 €. The food is simple home cooking, and the wine a very drinkable house red, and we loved it.


Fortified, we were ready to tackle Museum 2, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which turns out to be the case of duelling collections. Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, and his Dad, had amassed a huge collection of paintings spanning from the late 13th century to the 1980’s. HH’s Spanish wife persuaded him to establish the collection in Madrid, plus, she too got bitten by the collecting bug and started to build her own collection of paintings. Thus, the Museo contains two collections – His and Hers, often with overlapping artists. Overall it is considered to be one of the world’s foremost private art collections and certainly gives one a look at art through the ages.

Our day spent in galleries, together with Thursday’s visit to the Regina Sofia Museo, leaves me pondering the question of who decides what is great art?  How is it decided that a particular artist is worth collecting, and displaying to the public? How is it decided that an artist is a genius, or a particular work is a masterpiece?  How does the art world work? Over 3 galleries I have seen some work I loved, but more that left me cold, even so-called masterpieces. Interesting isn’t it.

After all that culture we needed to retire to our hotel and gather our strength i.e. have an exhausted tourist nap, before heading out one block to Al Trapo restaurant in the Iberostar hotel. I was a bit anxious about the choice as it is in a hotel, and was almost empty when we arrived at 8.45pm. But, it is mentioned in the Guide Michelin, and the food was terrific, and reasonably priced for this level of quality. Small serves, but that suited us perfectly given our big lunch. Even the butter was beautifully presented, and the bread was delicious. We shared 2 of the starters – scallops in a passionfruit vinaigrette and the green vegetable salad with ricotta cream. Then shared 2 ‘mains’ – the wood pigeon Rice and the grilled skatefish. Everything looked wonderful and tasted even better. I could not resist a dessert, and chose the Forest fruits, Greek yoghurt, frozen herbs which was sublime (luckily Pete did not want any as he may have had to wrestle the spoon from me).  So, so good.



Day 3 was a day of walking. We decided to use the numerous city markets as our navigation points, and worked out a route that took in 5 of them, each in different neighbourhoods so we could get a better feel of the city.

We started at Mercado San Anton, our local market in the trendy Chueca district. At this hour (10am) the stalls were just getting started, but we followed the locals and ended up at a bar serving a small bocadillo and a coffee for 2€.  Jamon for me, calamares for him (and a much better one than we had on the walking tour). A good start.

On to Mercado de Barceló, situated in a very modern piece of architecture (I suspect the building might glow with light at night), but opposite a glorious old Deco theatre.


Next one was the Mercado de la Paz, in the very upmarket Salamanca district. We had a coffee in a very authentico bar before heading back into Chueco for lunch – nothing to write home about.


On then to Mercado de San Fernando, in the more seedy and downmarket area of Lavapies. Unfortunately, the stalls were all closed up by the time we got there. I say unfortunately as it looked slightly different, with perhaps more of an African influence. Never mind.

Back then to Mercado de San Miguel, that we had visited on the food tour. At 4pm it was heaving with tourists. We did a circuit then got the hell out of there. Back to Hotel Praktik Metropol and some quiet time, and a cup of tea, in their lovely lounge area.


Dinner tonight is at Celso y Manolo, recommended by Madrid Food Tours as her current favourite spot. Obviously very hip and happening, with young, groovy waiters and tiny tables. But, our booking isn’t until 9pm, so we fill in time at the Angelita wine bar. Propped up at the bar, with a glass of cava followed by a vino blanco, and complimentary Tapas, we feel very Spanish.

At dinner we order a bottle of red that turns out to be de-lic-ious. So despite the fact I have had 2 glasses of wine at the wine bar I proceed to demolish half the bottle of red. Subsequently I thought the food was fantastic, but I may be an unreliable judge!


Oh, bed did look good that night. Our final day was grey and cold, with rain predicted later in the day. We packed up and left our bags in reception, then headed off to Pum Pum Cafe, not far from our destination of the Reina Sofia museum. Again, we could have been in Australia – a funky cafe, serving avo on toast, and a Canberra salad!! Lovely smiling staff to boot. Breakfast and coffee done, we head to the Museum.


Our main goal was the Picasso Path to Guernica exhibition, which was commemorating the 80th anniversary of Guernica’s first showing. The exhibition focuses on the roots of Guernica’s imagery, and Picasso’s immediate post Guernica work. For those who don’t know, on April 26th 1937, the small town of Guernica in the Basque region of Spain was totally destroyed by German bombers at the request of Franco. For the first time in military history an attack was aimed specifically at the civilian population. Market day was chosen in order to ensure the most casualties. More than 1,600 people were killed, and another 1,000 injured. Picasso had been asked in early 1937 to produce a painting for the Spanish Pavilion but he had struggled to find a subject. The destruction of Guernica became his inspiration to produce a painting about suffering and war.



It was a fascinating exhibition, marred somewhat by the crowds, particularly of school children as young as 5 or 6. Not really what I would have thought was a suitable exhibition for littlies.

A quick lunch at the museum’s restaurant and a brisk walk back to the hotel to collect our luggage.  Metro it to Chamartin and catch our train to San Sebastián – a 5 and a half hour trip. And unlike the train from Valencia to Madrid, no free beverages or food. Very poor Renfe! We had to buy our own vino Tinto and crisps.


We have enjoyed our time in Madrid, but feel we have ticked that box and feel no need to make a return visit. San Sebastián here we come.

Barcelona Once More

Here we are in Barcelona – again. Our fourth trip to this wonderful city. It seems you can’t keep us away from Spain. This time Barcelona is our start and end point for a trip that will take in Valencia, Madrid, San Sebastián and the Picos de Europa. 

Given our multiple visits in just a few years, we are saved from the need to be energetic tourists. Instead, our time will be dedicated to mooching around, with some specific sights thrown in. And of course, surprise, surprise, lots of eating. 

We arrived late at night on Monday, after some 21 hours of flying and 4 hours of hanging around airports. And then we had to stand in the Customs line for 45 minutes (that will teach us to arrive on a Bank Holiday). To say we were tired and longing to be horizontal would be an understatement. It was with great relief that we found Danny from Casa Consell still waiting for us at 10.45pm. A quick tour of the property and we flung ourselves into bed and beautiful oblivion.

We take more notice of our lodgings in the morning. The room is compact, but spotlessly clean. Warm and cosy. Hot water in the shower, just don’t try and move around too much as space is rather restricted. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the location is excellent as we can walk everywhere, or jump on the Metro around the corner. After a basic but adequate breakfast we hit the streets. Our agenda today is simple – find a coffee, organise our train tickets, lunch, visit the Sant Pau Hospital site, dinner.

So, first the coffee – Nomad Coffee Lab in El Born. A café latte for me, and double espresso for him, whilst we admire the barista at work.


Before heading to the train station we have a wander round the El Born market – which isn’t actually a market anymore. Once upon a time it was the largest undercover market, but the grand size proved to be its undoing as the area ultimately could not sustain a produce market of this size. It eventually closed down and fell into disrepair. Plans to restore the space and turn part of it into a Library were halted in 2002 when excavations discovered extensive remains of the medieval city that once occupied the area. It was decided to protect the ruins, and display them to the public. So now the massive iron market roof provides protection for the original city that sat on this spot.

We then head to Estació de França, as we know from experience that it is usually pretty empty and thus easier to get tickets. We decide to use the machines rather than struggle with our inept Spanish through a small hole in the window. Probably the wrong decision as the machine seems to understand that we are ignorant tourists and sets out to make the transaction as difficult as possible – it lurches between being very touch sensitive to not responding to touch at all; instructions are hidden from immediate view; make a mistake and you have to start all over again; put the debit card in the wrong way and it cancels the transaction altogether. Suffice it to say it took us well over 40 minutes, and one very sore finger from screen poking, to buy 3 train tickets! Even now I’m not sure we have the correct ones, but we shall find out.

So shattered were we that we had to immediately repair to Casa Delfín for lunch, and it did not disappoint – grilled sardines, meatballs with peas & wild mushrooms and a spinach, pear, Stilton & pinenut salad. Washed down with a glass or two of wine. Buena, muy buena.


We then head off to the Sant Pau Recinte Modernista, or, the Old Sant Pau hospital, via the Arc de Triomf and Sagrada Familia.


We try and recall what has been added to the Sagrada since our last visit. Maybe the frilly arches on the front? Whatever it is, it continues to be an awe inspiring piece of architecture. But today we are only passing by.


Our goal is at the end of Av.de Gaudí – the very beautiful Art Noveau Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, also known as Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. The hospital was built between 1902 and 1930, and was the brainchild of the Catalan Modernista architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (who also designed the glorious Palau de Musica Catalana). In its day, the hospital was cutting edge and was designed by Montaner to provide light, beauty and open space to the patients. It operated as a hospital up until 2009. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is still undergoing restoration. It is just beautiful – if only modern hospitals followed the same design aesthetic.



By the time we get back to the vicinity of our hotel we have probably walked well over 10kms, and I’m tired, hungry and thirsty and therefore, slightly testy. I spy a haunt from earlier trips – Reserva Iberica. Pete takes no persuading for a sit down, a glass of cava and a tasting plate of jamon. That is just what I needed! Spirits restored.


Now we can hold out until the Spanish meal time of 9pm – well almost. We arrive at Tapas 24 at 8.45, but still have to queue. The customers all appear to be tourists like us, but when we finally get a stool I get chatting to the young Spanish man sitting next to me. He is from Salamanca, and tells me he always comes to Tapas 24 when he is in town for business. He says that the locals stay away until around 10pm, when they know the tourists will have departed. 

Our tapas is a mixed bag, some great, some not so great. The highlight is the tomato salad, followed by the char grilled Iberian pork loin:

The squid roll and smoked mackerel are okay, but the Crab & Avocado salad – the most expensive dish of the lot – is bland and uninspiring. Disappointing.


I am now well and truly ready for bed, so we relinquish our stools to the next customers and walk around the block back to Casa Consell and much needed sleep. All in all, a terrific day in this gracious city.

Wednesday morning the sky is grey and rain is predicted – not a good prediction as we are booked to do a 3 hour walking tour with Barcelona Architecture Walks, however the rain holds off until the end of the walk, and even then is just a light drizzle. The theme of our walk is Barcelona & Urbanism, and we learn all about Ildefons Cerdà, the inventor of the science of urbanism and master planning. Cerdà was responsible for the grid design of Barcelona, which he envisaged as an egalitarian city dominated by open spaces. Unfortunately, the final city design was compromised by developers, by the desire of the wealthy to have visible and tangible evidence of their wealth and by the Catalan disdain for anything that was imposed on them by the central Government of Madrid. But, enough of Cerdà’s design was maintained to make Barcelona the very liveable city it is today. 


After 3 hours on our feet we need a coffee and a sit down. So when the walk ends we hightail it back to the Mercat del Ninot that we had walked through to get to the meeting point for our tour. A coffee at one stall was followed by lunch at another, Perellá – specialists in cod, but it was the dazzling array of olives that originally attracted our attention:


We were served by a charming young man with excellent English. Turns out he was from Mexico – came here to study cinema, fell in love, married and is now working in hospitality to make a living. Also got chatting about Spanish wines with a couple of local ladies, who were enjoying a glass of cava, or two! They agreed I knew enough Spanish if I could order the alcohol. A thoroughly enjoyable luncheon break – good food, good wine, pleasant ambiance – only locals, and not very many of them.

Ambled back to the hotel, through different streets and laneways. Pete is getting to know this city very well. I think he has walked most of it. Idled the remainder of the afternoon away at the hotel, escaping the light drizzle and cool breeze, which cleared up in time for us to emerge for dinner.

Our choice tonight was Santa Gula, in the Gràcia district, thanks to blogger Foodie in Barcelona. And what a great choice it was – a small space (if you go, you must book – we saw several parties turned away), with friendly wait staff and interesting, well executed food. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Would happily go again to try out other dishes on the menu.



Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny for our last (half) day in Barcelona. This afternoon we are catching a train to Valencia. How should we spend the morning? Hmm, I know – let’s have a coffee and then brunch to sustain us for the 3 and a half hour train trip. I warned you that this visit would involve lots of eating!

So, we wandered down into the Gòtic district to Satan’s Corner, a coffee shop we had discovered last year. We lingered over the coffee, studying the map of Barcelona and applying our new knowledge about the urban planning that created the city. Quite fascinating really.  


It was still too early for brunch (wouldn’t want to peak too early), so ambled at random through the laneways of the Gòtic area before emerging into the throngs promenading along La Rambla. A street we prefer to avoid however was necessary today as our brunch destination was Kiosko Universal at Mercat de la Boqueria, recommended by the Barcelona Architecture Walks people and Foodie in Barcelona.


Their speciality is seafood, but we started with grilled vegetables and assorted mushrooms before launching into a plate of baby sardines, followed by garlic prawns – both as fresh as can be, and simply cooked, in lashings of olive oil (perfect for dunking the delicious bread into). All washed down with a glass of cava. 


That should sustain us for the train journey. Adios Barcelona – we continue to love you, but Valencia here we come.

Canberra Revisited

Late last year one of our Library Club gals had the bright idea of a group excursion to Canberra to see the Versailles exhibition. I joined in the affirmative chorus, whilst inwardly quaking. Canberra is the home of my youth – a place I fled from the minute I finished my Arts degree at the wonderful ANU. Canberra represented to me a boring, monochromatic township, full of public servants and absolutely nothing resembling a beating heart. But, in the interests of group solidarity I girded my loins and found myself boarding an early morning flight to our nation’s capital last Friday.

We had decided to stay at the renovated, and heritage listed, Hotel Kurrajong – walking distance to the lake, the Gallery and Parliament House (old & new). Given its proximity to Old Parliament House, it was not surprising to hear that in its heyday the hotel had a strong political association. Most notable being that it was the residence of Ben Chifley – in fact, he suffered his fatal heart attack in Room 205. The only thing that died during our visit was the wedding band on Saturday night, who for some reason thought that “I will Survive” was a suitable song with which to end the night! 




All eight finally assembled, our first act for the day was coffee and brunch. Local knowledge was thoroughly tapped as part of the pre trip research, so it was with confidence that we set off to the Kingston Foreshore development. This was my first hint that my Canberra of old might have changed, as here was something more akin to Melbourne’s Docklands – fancy apartments overlooking the lake; boat moorings; and a whole array of cafes and restaurants facing the water. Oh la la, very fancy, Canberra.


Our inside knowledge directed us to Local Press, a funky, waterside cafe serving good coffee and very yummy food. We settled into an outside table and enjoyed what remained of the morning. 


Refreshed and refuelled, we ambled beside the lake to the Australian National Gallery, admiring the views and trees along the way. There is certainly an abundance of greenery in Canberra, even if the roads are relatively deserted.



Whilst the Versailles exhibition was the trigger for our visit, it proved to be but a small part of our overall Canberra experience. All credit to the Gallery in trying to create some of the mood and feel of the palace, with the highlight being the recreation of the famous Latona fountain, complete with water sounds and cascading water imagery. So peaceful that one of our party actually fell asleep momentarily in the room. But, overall I am not a huge fan of Baroque art  – too fussy for me. In fact, the most fascinating aspect of the exhibition was the story of the engineering feats involved in getting water to the grounds to make all the fountains work. 


Emerging from the exhibition we did a quick tour around the rest of the Gallery, admiring the eclectic range of art on display.


Sensory overload and fatigue was taking its toll, so the vote was for a wander back to the hotel for some R & R, before heading out for drinks and dinner. Our original plan had been to wander around the Night Market near Hotel Realm before dinner, but to our dismay, we discovered the market had been cancelled – lack of interest maybe? No matter. We grabbed a table and a bottle of bubbles from the bar and toasted a successful first day in Canberra. And finished off the evening with a meal at the famous Ottoman Cuisine restaurant – all within easy walking distance of Hotel Kurrajong. It was a happy and tired group of women whose heads hit the pillow that night.


Day 2 arrived with overcast skies and the threat of rain. Our day started with a walk around the lake (or run for two of our hardier members). Even I, the great Canberra detractor, have to admit that the natural setting for our capital is beautiful – trees and parkland abound; and the varying blue hues of the surrounding Brindabella mountains make a glorious backdrop. The 6km walk around the water’s edge, looping over King’s Ave bridge and across to Commonwealth Ave bridge, provides a visual check list of Canberra’s major institutions: the Carillon, Captain Cook’s Memorial jet, the National Museum of Australia, the National Library, the High Court, Old & New Parliament House, and the National Gallery. Not to mention a sighting of Robert Menzies along the way.


Our walk had worked up an appetite, so we headed to another terrific café, Maple and Clove (http://www.mapleandclove.com.au), for a delicious brunch and truly excellent coffee. Happy ladies.


To give those unfamiliar with Canberra more of an understanding of the layout of the city we headed off to the National Arboretum, which was planted in 2005 after the devastating bushfires of 2001 and 2003 burnt out much of the forest and  radiata pine plantations in the area. The idea for an arboretum dates back to Walter Burley Griffin’s plans for Canberra – the fires provided the catalyst for turning the idea into a reality. The site covers some 250 hectares and the idea is to plant 100 forests and 100 gardens featuring endangered, rare and symbolic trees from around the world. Plus, it provides beautiful views across Canberra (well, it would have if the rain had not arrived just as we did).

Next stop was the ANU Drill Hall Gallery (http://dhg.anu.edu.au) , a gorgeous and little known space tucked away on campus beside Toad Hall. The building itself is beautiful, with its polished boards and sinuous curved brick walls.


The Gallery was showing a retrospective of Elisabeth Cummings, a graduate of the National Art School in Sydney in the 1950s and founding member of the Wedderburn, NSW group of artists. Now, this is more my sort of art – the colours are glorious, and make the heart sing.


The Drill Hall is also the permanent home of Sidney Nolan’s magnificent Riverbend series – a 9 panel work (1.5 x 10m overall) depicting the banks of a river in the Victorian bush, complete with outlaws and bushrangers. Beautiful.


It was then on to Art of a different nature – the art works and cocktails at the newish, and very funky, Hotel Hotel in New Acton (http://www.hotel-hotel.com.au/). A reviving drink was enjoyed whilst we admired the ambiance and tried to blend in with the hip and happening younger things of Canberra.


Exhausted yet? We almost were, but had one more stop to make before heading back to our hotel – the National Portrait Gallery. Boy, is that one impressive building, but the collection on display was smaller than the Gallery size suggests. However, an extra treat was in store for us as we stumbled into a recital by Clarion, a local vocal quartet. So calming and uplifting.


Then it was back to the hotel for a much needed rest, a cup of tea and a read of the Saturday paper before heading out into the night for dinner. We headed back to the Kingston Foreshore, and discovered where all the Canberrans were hiding. The place was teeming with people, and it was hand to hand combat in the parking lot. Luckily we had the foresight to have booked a table at Morks, a popular (and therefore noisy) Modern Thai restaurant. Day 2 was then done & dusted.


Our final morning we woke to clear blue skies and a predicted high of 28 degrees. We check out and leave the bags in the hotel’s care before walking across to the Kingston shops and breakfast at another recommended café (thank you Virginia), Penny University.

Again, an interesting and different menu. Boy, has the food scene in Canberra made a drastic change from my Uni days in the mid 70s – I still recall the dancing in the streets when Gus’ Cafe in Garema Place put tables outside! Now, Canberra is worth a visit just to eat.


Food and coffee needs satisfied, we amble down to the Foreshore yet again, but this time to wander through the Old Bus Depot market, which is largely a lot of tat if truth be known, but some cash was exchanged by our party of 8. Spotted this lovely old factory on the way:


Back to the hotel to collect the cars and a drive to the Botanic Gardens, where the rainforest gully provides a welcome respite from the heat before we venture into the Red Centre garden.


We drive to the airport via a stop off to visit groovy Lonsdale Street, Braddon where boutiques jostle with cafes, all in a street that used to be home to mechanics and car repair shops in my day. We discover Frugii Dessert Laboratory (  http://www.frugii.com ), selling some of the yummiest ice cream I’ve had in a long while. That took care of the heat exhaustion.


Our 3 days in Canberra have come to an end. Thank you to my lovely travelling companions who provided many a laugh.  I have been forced to reappraise my image of my old home town. I still wouldn’t want to live there, but would be happy to visit again. So, I’ll be seeing ya Canberra.

A Dip into Adelaide’s Festival Frenzy

It has been years since I visited The City of Churches, and I have been saying for just as long “I must go to the Adelaide Festival one day”.  That day finally arrived last Sunday as I boarded a Jetstar flight bright & early, with a ticket to see The Secret River clutched in my hot little hand. The return flight cost a mere $10 more than the theatre ticket!


We arrived in sunny Adelaide around 10am, which meant that most of the city was shut tight. Apparently, Adelaidians are late risers on a Sunday. After a couple of false starts (not only are they late sleepers, we discover that quite a lot of them must also be vegans and/or health nuts as we exit yet another cafe after the lass tried to persuade us of the merits of a coconut milk latté). But thanks to the Hustle pop up on King William Rd we finally get the good coffee fix we needed. Thank you Hustle, you are a life saver.


It is also at Hustle that we discover not only is Adelaide hosting the Adelaide Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival AND Adelaide Writers Week all at once, it is also catering to petrol heads with the running of Clipsall 500 – which turns out to be a motor race. Who knew?  We don’t actually see any cars, but suffer from the Clipsall effect via roads blocked off and jet flyovers during the course of the day.

Suitably caffeinated we head further up King William Rd in search of brunch. Pollen 185 is where we settle, and even though it too is a mecca for vegetarians and vegans, we do manage to get fetta rather than some nut based “cheese”! 

We are now ready to hit Adelaide Writers Week, a week long celebration of books, authors and readers, nestled beside the Torrens River under the shade of overhanging trees. There are two stages (East and West), and a massive book selling tent. Eager book lovers shuffle between these three points, revelling in the talks by a diverse range of authors. And, wonder of wonders, it is all FREE (even down to the free water station for thirsty fans). What a gift from the city to the public.


After working out the geography (which way is east?), we settle down to listen to Krys Lee and AS Patric (a Melbourne boy) talk about their work under the title of The Sadness of History. We follow this up with Just Wicked, where I am introduced to two overseas writers – Amy Stewart, who has written a crime series based on real life sisters, the Kopps, and Kate Summerscale, talking about her book A Wicked Boy, a true crime account of two London children who murdered their mother in 1895. They both go onto my must read list.


It is with some reluctance that we tear ourselves away, but promise to return tomorrow. We have a date with a winery and a quarry. Firstly, the winery – Glen Ewin Estate (http://glenewinestate.com.au) is offering patrons of The Secret River a $55 pre theatre meal, so we head out to the Adelaide Hills to enjoy the last of the sun’s rays on the deck of the bistro.


There is a bit of a fig theme happening, from the illustrated placemats to the menu, thanks to the large fig orchard on the estate. Although be warned – no figs appear with the fig and saffron cured ocean trout. The fig juice was used in the curing of the trout, not in the plating up. But, the chocolate dipped figs to end the meal are beautiful to behold.


Now on to the quarry, and what an inspired venue for this moving piece of theatre it proves to be. The play, written by Andrew Bovell from the novel by Kate Grenville, has garnered rave reviews in both Sydney and Melbourne, but watching it unfold in the natural amphitheater of the abandoned quarry, with attendant gum trees, lifts this wonderful play into another dimension. Despite the cold gully wind, the audience was entranced for the whole 2 hours 50 minutes. This play deserves to take its place within the classics of Australian theatre.


Our second day in Festival City starts with a late breakfast at Argo on the Square. Thank heavens we decided to share the dish:


before making a visit to an Adelaide icon – the Haigh’s factory shop! Interesting that Adelaide is home to two famous and well loved family owned businesses, Coopers Brewery and Haigh’s chocolates. 


All food groups now covered it is time to nourish the mind, so we head back to Writers Week. Spoiled for choice we finally settle on The Critics;  Jessa Crispin and Sebastian Smee talking the art of criticism, and their respective books, under the guidance of our very own Wheeler Centre CEO, Michael Williams. Sebastian is an Australian art critic who won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2011 for his work on the Boston Globe. Jessa is the founder of the blog and webzine, Bookslut, and is one of those frighteningly intelligent, articulate and acerbic young women that I quake before. She takes no prisoners – Sebastian Smee included. Invigorating.

Then we move on to crime, again. First up is a Melbourne (or more accurately, Torquay) local author – Jock Serong – talking about his books, Quota and the latest, The Rules of Backyard Cricket, under the excellent questioning of New Zealand author, Kate de Goldi. Both books sound intriguing, and are added to the must read list (this Writers Festival might be free but it is going to cost me a fortune in book purchases!). Our last session is with the Booker shortlisted Graeme Macrae Burnett, talking about his novel His Bloody Project and its predecessor, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. My list grows.

Time to leave the world of books to head off to The Garden of Earthly Delights for much needed alcoholic refreshment, and food. The Garden is an assortment of food trucks, carnival rides & games, and Fringe Festival venues. The vibe is relaxed and fun – a perfect spot to refuel and refresh between gigs.



Our last engagement for the night is a seat in Studio 7 to see Mother’s Ruin: a cabaret about Gin, which proves to be a hilarious musical romp through the history of gin. The only downside was the absence of said gin for patrons to imbibe while enjoying the show. Lots of fun, and those two ladies sure can belt out a tune.



I have thoroughly enjoyed my brief dip into the Adelaide festival waters. So much to see and do; an excess of cultural riches. I have but scratched the surface of what this exhilarating two weeks has to offer. Next time I’ll come for longer.

Marvellous Mr Tuppy

I probably shouldn’t write about Mr Tuppy as currently I can just wander up and be assured of getting a seat. This little café has been flying under the radar, tucked away as it is in a nonedescript strip of shops in Tennyson Street, Elwood, but it is slowly gaining attention – and rightly so. Mr Tuppy bucks the trend of both super foods (enough with the kale, please) and smashed avocado with or without corn fritters, by offering full frontal, mouth tingling Asian flavours. You’ll not be sharing any of this as you’ll want it all for yourself.

The owners have converted what was once a dingy newsagency into a grungy, funky, exposed brick place of welcome. Up front are buckets of flowers for sale and the coffee machine, which cranks out a seriously good coffee (it was in fact the queue for coffee one Saturday morning that alerted me to Mr Tuppy’s existence). You then pass by the cakes and packs of Pocky and Hello Panda for sale, before spying the delicious looking and ever changing range of ice cream flavours. 


 Beyond the tiny kitchen space is the small seating area. The food preparation area may be small, and overflow into the seating area can and does occur, but they are churning out some great bites from it.



Choosing what to order takes time as it all sounds seriously delicious:



Today I opt for the L.F.C burger, and Lordy, Lordy I am very glad I did as a soft bun stuffed full of green papaya salad and a juicy soft shell crab lands in front of me. I am a very happy girl.


So, sshh, don’t tell anyone else about Mr Tuppy as I want to make sure I get my seat, but do yourself a favour and get on down.