Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Family, London, Paris, art & food

Driving on the motorway to England is a nightmare - it's drizzly and the wet road is full of trucks playing chicken with each other at 70mph. We decide to spend as much time as possible off the motorway. First detour is the Lake District, via via Keswick and Windermere - it is a lovely drive and as picturesque as its reputation. From the sublime to the ridiculous - we then detour via Blackpool. It is as gloriously tacky as one could possibly imagine - a melange of fast-food, funfairs, horse and cart rides and cheap grungy hotels, sadly there's no time for fish & chips.
Wistful at Windermere
Blackpool belle

We are visiting Newent, near Gloucester, where my aunt (and godmother) Pat lives. We arrive a little late after all the detours, and our dinner is in the oven :) We catch up with the family - cousins Garry and Kay, Kay's daughter Emily and her fiance Darryl. It's great to stop being a tourist for a couple of days. Newent is a beautiful old market town, we eat at the pub, walk to the ancient church, around the lake, and to the cemetery where my Uncle is buried. Then it's time for more family visiting in London.

Me and Auntie Pat by the lake
With cousins at Newent
 An easy drive to London via Oxford, to see Chris's brother Bob. We are really getting the hang of all the roundabouts! Bob & Libby's Hampstead flat is still a charming bit of bohemia, packed to the rafters with both the kids, Barbie and Vinny, also living at home. Libby arrives home from her gardening job and we celebrate the reunion … a bit too enthusiastically. For the first time this holiday we wake hungover.

London is large and needs weeks to explore properly, but we have only a couple of days, and it is still raining intermittently, though we have missed the deluges suffered by much of the UK this week. With Bob and Libby as guides we do a lot in our short time: 
  • Camden Art Centre (crazy art jester Bruce Lacey)
  • Visits to some amazing gardens and houses, dinner with the family at Carluccio's in Hampstead, 
  • Breakfast with nephew Darian at the Breakfast Club in Angel Islington, and catch up with Cat from the Glasgow architecture tour at the Glasgow Art School Graduates exhibition nearby. 
  • One of the food experiences of the trip so far: Bob's chilli prawns, Belinda's baked salmon, Chris's chilli sauce and Libby's nutty brown rice. Home cooking - yummmm!
Even in these over-communicative days it is a rare and wonderful thing to make contact with distant family - we all feel it is precious, and we wish we had planned for a longer visit.
Morning tea with Libby and Bob
Barbie, Libby, Bel, Darian & Bob outside the Breakfast Club
 Through the quiet sunday streets to St Pancras Station and the Eurostar to Paris, then we are back in the familiar space of Peter's studio where we stayed for a week in 2007. We plan to picnic (as we did in 2007) in the nearby park, Batignolles Square. It's Sunday and not much is open, but we get together baguette and cheese and red wine (of course), a rotisserie chicken and some salad. It's early on a lovely Sunday evening, and the park is packed with promenading couples and families. Is everyone in Paris either pregnant or pushing a stroller? It seems so …

Now to work off all that bread and cheese: 
  • Montmartre cemetery, for my gothic fix, then up the hill to Sacre Coeur. Sacre bleu, les touristes!!! 
  • At Notre Dame also, we are shocked by the crush of tourists, and don't bother queuing, but walk up to the Pompidou Centre for major Gerhardt Richter retrospective and whatever else is on. There are always less tourists for contemporary art … we flake out halfway through the contemporary collection and make our way home for dinner before even seeing the Kandinskys.  
  • Musee de Quai Branly - the anthropological museum - is showing Les Maitres du dĂ©sordres (Masters of Chaos) - very intriguing. And what a collection! We barely scratch the surface. 
  • Walk along the Seine from the Tour Eiffel to the Tuileries. It's a beautiful day, and we manage to avoid being scammed by the gypsies ;) 
  • Instead of the vast Louvre we opt for the bijou Jeu de Paume, a contemporary photography, film and video gallery, and enjoy Eva Besnyo and and Laurent Grasso. 
And to refuel: La Bonne Heure, the bistro in Batignolles where we celebrated our 22nd anniversary 5 years ago, hasn't changed at all, and at 9.30 on a Tuesday night is buzzing! We eat tomato and mozzarella salad, grilled 'bar' with aubergine caviar, duck breast on mash, with a bordeaux.
Striking a pose on the steps of Sacre Coeur
At La Bonne Heure
It must be Paris!
In liminal space at Gare de l'Est
All too soon we are on the fast and comfortable TGV train, and in Strasbourg in 2.5 hours. As we walk along the river to the hotel it seems a beautiful place with hanging baskets of flowers everywhere. The room, however, is vibrating with the noise of jackhammers,and the view is onto a construction site. We ask if it's possible to change but the manager shrugs "Yes, it's terrible, but what can I do? Je suis desolĂ© …". Oh well, we won't be spending much time in the room …
Peter, the old friend of Chris's from art school whose studio we borrowed in Paris, is now living in Strasbourg with his new wife Monika and their daughters aged 4 years, and 2 months.  It's a scene of ...... domesticity (insert own adjective), particularly as they are moving flats next week and the flat is strewn with boxes. But they could not be more welcoming and we spend more time there than we should, drinking wine, eating cheese and fruit, ratatouille, terrine and pork with apricots.

The Strasbourg sites? well, the gothic cathedral is world-famous - we climb the steeple for a great view of the city. Nearby are the art, archeology and decorative art museums, with some lovely gothic paintings, and relics of Strasbourg history. The Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art has some impressive work and the gallery building itself is even more impressive. The local market is small and lovely, and we drool over all the gorgeous food we can't buy! Particularly striking are the beautifully cultivated public garden beds, which combine flowers with vegetables of all kinds, it is wonderful to see such care taken.

Kandinsky room at MMCA Strasbourg
Chris, Peter, Monika, Desiree
Strasbourg market produce and garden bed
Strasbourg from the cathedral steeple
Next? All stops to Istanbul.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gothic, grimy, glorious Glasgow

Travelling by ferry and train from Dublin, via Holyhead and Bangor (Wales) and Crewe (England), to Glasgow, takes all day. The landscape gradually changes from the grey rocks and slate of Wales to the red brick and tile of England. The changes of train are diverting and make the journey seem shorter; it is an easy way to spend the day, although rather grimy windows make watching the landscape less interesting than it might be. We celebrate our first train trip with a glass of red wine.
Adelaide's - our Baptist Church accommodation
In Glasgow, even brides wear black
Arriving in Glasgow we haul our bags from Central Station, along Hope St to to Bath St. It's an impressive but grimy city at first glance - masses of intact buildings in a variety of architectural styles - neo-classical, art nouveau and gothic revival, in various shades of red, sandstone, grey and black. Bath St is lined with elegant tenements until we reach the austere looking neo-classical building that houses Adelaide's, situated in a Baptist church building. We explore the restaurants along Sauchiehall Street (pronounced Socky-hall, although I prefer Saucy-hall), and end up at an Italian cafe near our place. It's ok, but it's not Carluccio's.
The next day we make a big decision to cancel the Edinburgh side-trip and stay in Glasgow - I think Chris is in love.
Glasgow Art School has major development happening (like COFA in Sydney)
Beautiful Kelvingrove Park
We are excited by: 
Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Glasgow School of Arts - we luck into a 'test' tour of Glasgow city architecture, led by Glasgow School of Arts students, and most of the testers are students too. It's a lot of fun, and a great intro to the city. 
The museums - St Mungo's at the cathedral presents a global range of religious art and artefacts, Kelvingrove has everything from stuffed animals to French impressionists and of course lots more Rennie Mackintosh, the Burrell collection has stunning collections of art and artefacts from antiquity to 20th century. 
  • Lunch at the Centre for Contemporary Art - a very groovy urban redevelopment where a courtyard between buildings has been roofed. Excellent vegetarian cafe, contemporary shows of art and cinema, and 'cultural' studios.
  • Supper at Rogano's - art deco 'oyster bar'.
  • Best meal - Charcoals - South Indian Tandoori & curries - the best Indian food we've had for years.
  • Cafe at CCA
    The art school City Tour group
Going gothic at the Necropolis
Dr Who???
City busker
We are challenged by:
Walk along the river's edge in the city - urban renewal has been attempted but there's a way to go - it's grimy, gritty and a bit scary.
Saturday night in Merchant City - it's kind of like the Rocks in Sydney, 'hens' night outings abound, and it's bogan city.

After five days we have explored quite thoroughly and are ready for the next adventure.
Watching Andy Murray in Wimbledon final

Friday, July 6, 2012

In Ireland - you're welcome

hello friends!
so … we arrived in Dublin after the usual long and uncomfortable flights, and transiting in the giant shopping malls crossed with bureaucratic nightmares that are airports, but managed to catch up on a few good movies so it wasn't all bad (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a hoot). But please Lord, may I never have to transit at Heathrow again.

Now we are just about to leave Ireland after some magical days driving around the west coast. Crab claws and langoustines in Dingle - heaven! the first week of a holiday always lasts the longest, and it seems we have been in Ireland for aeons, among friendly and chatty locals, who always assure us "You're welcome".

Lobby of Buswells Hotel, Dublin
Dublin was work (the conference) and play (pubs and music). Our hotel was a touch of luxury in a great location halfway between Trinity College and St Stephen's Green, and we explored galleries museum old bookshops pubs parks and restaurants. Favourite restaurant? Carluccio's on Dawson St. Favourite bar? Whelan's, where we saw the 'Ukeristic Congress' (it seems the ukelele contagion is here as well). Favourite art? small but impressive European collection in the National Gallery, Marcel Duchamp at the Museum of Modern Art. (For anyone interested in the conference … you can read more here).
Breakfast at Carluccios
Chris drinking Sicilian sangiovese
What church is that?
Whelan's Bar
Roundstone village
Then a few days of driving, walking and (of course) photographing and eating on the wonderful west coast - Connemara, the Burren and Dingle peninsula, with a brief dip into the Ring of Kerry. What is wonderful at this time of year is the endless light - the sun doesn't set until almost 10pm, which makes for some late dinners, and the weird feeling of sometimes going to bed when it's still light. The landscapes are of course amazing, endless stone walls and rocky outcrops, ruined cottages and castles among the green green grass that is dotted with sheep. A surprising amount of new development, much of which is built to match older architecture, so you only see close up how the charming village you are approaching is actually a vast new suburban housing estate. Some rather scarily touristy towns, yet others are still charming and authentic with minimal tourism. 
Roundstone cemetery
The Burren coast

Galway is clogged with tourists and traffic detours, so we end up at Roundstone - recommended by our Dublin taxi driver - and it is perfect, a gem of a little fishing village perched on the Connemara coast. We eat salmon and hake in the bar of our hotel overlooking the main street and harbour. Next day we explore the Burren Coast, wild and craggy, down to the Cliffs of Moher, then head inland to avoid the hordes and end up late in Ennis, an attractive medium sized town with a rather upmarket heritage hotel. Chris orders the duckling for dinner, and it comes with three kinds of potato (deep fried threads, mash, chats in cream and butter). Luckily I have ordered only a soup - the ubiquitous chowder - so we manage to demolish it all.

Ennis main street in the evening
Dingle main street
Ruin on the Dingle peninsula
Dingle crab claws, mmmm

Next day - the Dingle peninsula. We check in to our room over Ashe's pub in Dingle and head out for exploration of picturesque coast and prehistoric ruins. Dinner at the hotel is possibly the best seafood meal EVER - freshly shucked oysters with home made bread, steamed langoustines with garlic oil, crab claws in ginger lime butter. Then to O'Sullivans bar for some music  - it is literally packed to the rafters (the ceiling is probably under 2 metres).
Back in Dublin we book into the Ferryman Hotel - a pub situated on the river between the city and the wharves. Nice room with view of the Liffey, breakfast and wifi included - it's a bargain. First thing in the morning we find ourselves once again eating eggs, bacon, black pudding - the whole disaster (I am becoming accustomed to skipping lunch altogether). Off we go again - ferry to Wales, then train via Bangor to Glasgow, Saucy-hall St and Gallowgate ;)

the Orient express from Dublin

It's been a long time ... since our last trip to Europe, but here we go again. The plan is to travel from Ireland to Scotland, England and France, then through Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul and Cappodocia:

View Orient Express from Dublin in a larger map