Saturday, July 21, 2007

Scotland - Sydney

Scotland pics:
-The river at Dunkeld (north of Perth)
-Window in old church at Dunkeld
-Belinda has cup of tea (with new cardy)
-Amazing Scottish landscapes (Ben Nevis to Cairngorms)
- (For Sal) a Dunbar grave at Corgarff (between Inverness & Aberdeen))
-The River Feugh at Banchory (west of Aberdeen)
-Whisky bottle at picnic spot, Banchory
-Belinda and castles (Crathies, Dunotter)
-View from our window in Edinburgh (city skyline)
-Graveyard in Edinburgh
-Chris and E. Castle
-Belinda and E. graffiti
-Belinda in gorgeous E. hotel room

Day 1 - Drive from Gloucester, and in spite of dire English warnings about the distance, take only 4 hours to reach Scottish border (Gretna Green - enough said), another four hours to bypass Glasgow and head NE towards Perth. We end up in charming twin villages (Dunkeld/Birnam), divided by the river ...
it's pretty, old-fashioned and very civilised. We stay at the Royal Dunkeld, eat steak & guinness pie, and baked cod, and drink wine by the river in endless twilight (the sun sets about 9pm, but it's still light until 11pm). Kippers for breakfast - yum! I buy cardy in gorgeous knitwear shop.

Day 2 - Drive into the highlands - oh my god - the scenery - it's such a cliche... The driving is a pleasure - the roads are good and well-signposted, there's little traffic - a relief after crowded England. We drive through Glencoe and Ben Nevis national park, there are pockets of wall-to-wall B&Bs (Loch Ness - a good place to avoid!), but on the whole the tourism is low-key, and there are no crowds this early in the summer. North of Inverness we find a great riverside spot with a pub, but they are booked out - bummer - we go on to the next village (Maryburgh) and find a B&B in a tucked away spot, with a garden restaurant nearby. The restaurant promises 'black pudding salad', which sounds intriguing, but is disappointingly almost bereft of black pudding. I am appeased when there's a big slice of it on my breakfast plate next morning!

Day 3 - Why have we not been drinking lots of whisky? The nip we bought on the first evening was 3 quid each ($7.50), so we'd better buy it by the bottle - at 20 pounds ($50) for a 10 yo single malt it's much better value! We don't have time unfortunately to go further north or west, so head SE via Nairn and Culloden through the Cairngorm National Park. It's very different to the highlands - but equally dramatic, wild and windswept with amazing heather colours. We stop near Cock Bridge - there is a striking sculpture with a view over Corgarff Casle - and have morning tea of oatcakes, kippers and whisky (double-yum!). Just down the road at Corgarff is a beautiful cemetery - we can't resist a photo stop. Find our overnight stop (not too big, not too small, not too touristy!) at Banchory, where we buy v. good fish & chips and eat (with whisky!) overlooking the River Dee.

Day 4 - Oh no - our last day! We want to get to Edinburgh in time for a brief look around, and have to be at the airport at midday tomorrow, but first, Chris has promised me some castles! We visit Crathes castle, dating from 16th century - it's well-preserved and furnished, and the knowledgeable guides bring its history to life. Then to Stonehaven, and Dunotter Castle - the opposite extreme, it's a ruin on a craggy clifftop, very atmospheric and romantic.
Then to Edinburgh, arriving around 3pm, we start the search for a B&B - what a treasure hunt! After two hours of dead-ends and door-to-door enquiries, we are lucky to find the best room in the city - large elegant room in elegant corner terrace, with panoramic view of the city. It's already almost 6pm, but we still have several hours of daylight to explore, so we bus into the city and walk around the old town (Castle, Royal Mile) - so this is where all the tourists are! Walk back via old cemetery and Princes Park to the new town where we find some good pub grub (grilled salmon), then home to enjoy our skyline and the last of our whisky with oatcakes.

Now we're home, what can I say? It was totally gorgeous, and only enhanced by the odd whisky nip! Chris thought he was exhausted with travelling, but just a few hours in Scotland woke him up. Our new slogan for Scottish tourism - When you're tired of travelling, come home to Scotland!

Arrived home on saturday 14th to shocking cold (to think we had been telling the Scots that our winter was no colder than their summer - not true at all right now!). Then the additional shock of going back to work with jetlag! but it was worth it - what fun we had, can't wait to do it again!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Boulogne - England

The best seafood restaurant
Bob & Belinda in Val & Ken's flat, Brighton
Chris and old pier, Brighton
Amazing sky at Weymouth beach
Watching Wimbledon at Watchet (Somerset)
Princess at Dunster Castle (Somerset)
At The Green Dragon (our B&B - Somerset)
With family at Pat's place, Newent
View from May Hill, near Newent

The best seafood restaurant in Boulogne is closed, and the place we finally find on a slow, rainy Sunday night is pretty awful - the worst oysters ever (and not cheap at $16 for 1/2 dozen!). Oh well - we'll be out of here first thing.
Next morning we find that the ferry doesn't take foot passengers. Emergency call to Chris's brother Bob, who is taking his car on the ferry later today - phew - we book in to ride with him, and will have lunch with him. The best seafood restaurant is now open, so we book in. Bob arives late - we have only 20 minutes for lunch, but go for it, guzzle wine and food (fabulous this time), dash to the wharf, and ... miss the ferry. BUGGER - the next is in 4 hours! Maybe we should go back and finish our lunch ...
Finally get to England and Bob drives us from Dover to Brighton where we stay over with Val and Ken - who have known Bob for 30 years. It's still cold and rainy but the art deco flat is fabulous, and Val is cooking roast chicken stuffed with lemon. a lovely relaxed evening, and a great (re)introduction to England.
Next day - a quick promenade and fish'n'chip lunch, then we pick up our car and are on our way west along the coast. It doesn't take long to realise that driving close to the coast is crowded and slow, so we pick up an A-road to speed our journey. First stop Weymouth (Weymouth Sands by John Cowper Powys is a favourite book), it is very picturesque, but very touristed, and even in this weather is so busy that it takes 20 minutes to get into town, another 20 to get out again. We rethink our idea of sticking to the coast. End up for the night in Bridport, west of Weymouth and just off the coast - it is more 'real' and we have no problem finding pub accommodation. Pub dinner is inexpensive, but a bit boring - we vow to start picnicking again if only the weather improves!
Two more days - we decide that rather than driving the coast right down to Cornwall, we will explore Dorset, Devon and Somerset, and find inland towns to stay. There are a multitude of tiny beautiful picturesque villages in a labyrinth of hedged laneways - it's a bit like Venice only bigger! We stay in larger towns that are less toytown than the villages, and get stuck just on one night, when we end up driving into Exeter for accommodation - maybe rained-out campers are filling the pubs?
Finally up to Newent, a little village NW of Gloucester for a couple of nights with my Auntie Pat, and to catch up with a miscellany of rellies, and have a yummy pub lunch (sausages and mash with onions in a yorkshire pie crust - real comfort food!). Poor Chris is surrounded by Brummies - we decide that England is endlessly filled with charm and chat and warm, flat beer! Although the weather has greatly improved, and we do end the visit sitting by the lake drinking aussie cab sav with my cousin Kay and her boyfriend Paul, which is fun.
Leave on sunday for the big drive up to Scotland - we have only four more days and must make the most of it!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Genoa - Arles - Boulogne

Train through French Riviera
Belinda and Roman amphitheatre
Chris and posters
Full moon picnic by river
Chris in Vincent's bedroom
Street scene
Card players

After a hot and arduous journey from Nocelle to Genoa, we arrived at 11pm and found the nearest cheap hotel. It was rather seedy, and Genoa looked interesting, but we were back at the station at 8am so didn't see much of it. The train ride around the coast to Nice through the Riviera is very beautiful, we pick up picnic food and red wine for lunch on the train, and continue on to Arles. Hurrah - we are back in France and the trains run on time!
We want to stay put for a while after a mad week of nonstop travel, but arrive in Arles to find it dirty and infested with tourists. Planning to move on, we check back into the train station the next morning - but there is a strike on routes west and delays on routes north (what? this isn't Italy!). Resigned, we explore the town periphery and find a charming hotel near the river, far from the madding tourist crowd. We lunch at the local bar - phew! we are the only tourists in the village!
Good Arles: Picturesque (faded shutters, swallows nesting in terracotta tiled roofs), interesting history, good size for walking, good picnic spots on the Rhone, creative vibe.
Bad Arles: Rubbish, dogshit, tourists, not pedestrian friendly (too many cars, few pedestrian precincts), many galleries closed because their major photographic festival (and Lou Reed in concert) are on NEXT week (Good, says Chris, I've had enough galleries!).
We have fun spotting candidates for the 'Van Gogh Lookalike Convention' (criteria: essential - eccentric and dishevelled air; desirable - beard, hat, red hair, baguette and/or bottle of wine under arm ...). We see plenty! Eating in Arles is not as interesting as hoped (more restaurants = less interesting food?). I have chevre (goat's cheese) with everything - even on pizza! Figs are €2 a kilo at the market! Best meals are picnics by the river, we have a great local wine shop, wine is good and cheap.
After five restful days we relucantly head north to Boulogne sur Mer, a last quick stop before leaving Europe, we are determined to have a good seafood eat-up.

Orvieto - Positano pics

Belinda and Duomo
View from city
Chris at cafe
Street party

Positano (Nocelle)
Bus ride
Nocelle restaurant
View from our terrace
Us on breakfast terrace
Positano tourists
Positano lunch
Nocelle laneway

Saturday, June 30, 2007

ITALY - Orvieto and Positano

Now have a few days respite before we move on, have time for blogging and email, but still having problems uploading photos - grr - the vagaries of other people's systems!

Here's news from Italy, hopefully photos will come soon!

Having spent an extra day in Venice, we have only 2 days to get down to Positano, on the Amalfi Coast S. of Naples. We take a midday train down to Orvieto, a medieval hill town in Umbria. The landscape is dramatic and slightly fantyastic - like a fairytale town suspended in the clouds - actually a plateau above steep cliffs.

Not too many people get off the train, maybe it will be nice and quiet? Aagh - on our arrival at 6pm the bus is mobbed by tourists on their way back down - it doesn't look promising! However, we go for a walk around town - the views are incredible, the Duomo divine - and find that it's very friendly and quite quiet now that the daytrippers are gone.

We find a 'local' bar and drink some white wine. We hear music, and discover a music event in a courtyard nearby - the band is playing Hendrix and other blues, they are selling Fair Trade beer, and rough-as-guts red, and homemade panini. The night ends with an Italian pop version of reggae/ska - the crowd is up dancing - it's lots of fun!

Next day, after sightseeing, and strolling at dusk in the beautiful piazza, also ends in music - a guitar trio playing outside a bar attracts a large crowd, and the girls are dancing in the streets - it's my kind of town!

Another late night, but we leave early for Positano - it's quite a trip! The train to Salerno takes only 4 hours, but it takes as long again to reach our little hilltop village of Nocelle, 5km above Positano. What a scary bus ride! now we really feel suspended in the heavens. It's a tiny village of vegetable farmers, with a few B&Bs and one small restaurant which happens to be fabulous.

Foodie alert - we ate (ok, it was over 2 nights):
Antipasto di casa (various cheeses, meats, grilled vegetables & bruschetta)
Cheese ravioli with tomato sauce & basil
Pork cutlets with cherry tomatoes & rocket
Grilled whole fish stuffed with rosemary
Finished with Limoncello liqueur - a local speciality.

The trip out was less hair-raising, but arduous in other ways. Let me just say:
1. Timetables in Italy are approximate at best.
2. The only time a train runs on time is if you are trying to connect with it.
3. It was about 38°C in Rome.
After 2 days, we make it to Arles, but that's another story.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Paris to Venice - now with pics!

Chris & Kandinsky at the Pompidou
Belinda at Peter's studio in Paris
Our anniversary dinner
Belinda with 'antiques' at the Marche au Puces
Dinner at Sarah's
Chris with Gondolas
Chris at Biennale
Belinda in Venice laneway
Belinda in picnic spot (view from picnic spot)

It's been a while - internet access surprisingly hard to access (& expensive) in some places, and we're so busy having fun!
Finished our Paris visit with day-long trips to the Louvre (highlights - El Greco, and the architecture) and Pompidou (highlights - Annette Messager, Kandinsky, the view). A wonderful anniversary dinner at a local bistro (for the foodies - sardines rillettes, terrine foie gras, duck breast with coriander mash, veal kidneys with ravioli and asparagus). Finished the visit with a dinner at my friend Sarah's beautiful apartment in Neuilly with her family.
Then a long train ride to Venice! The rail strike that had been mentioned didn't happen, but our train ran late so we had an hour to kill at Milan station - very huge, busy, dirty.
Venice is a dream, unreal, like stepping into a labyrinthine video game with no escape! It IS full of tourists, unbearably in some spots, but not hard to get away from. We stayed in a residential area on a small campo where locals gather to chat and children play - very charming. Hostaria next door had set menu including wine for 10 euros - great value for Venice! Two full days seeing the Biennale which was huge!, so we stayed an extra day to see Venice, walk and take photos. Great fun!
Am still trying to get my last batch put on disc so I can upload them - stay posted!

B&C xx