Friday, October 16, 2009

Viva Las Vegas

Gosh it's warm here - by comparison to the last few weeks, anyway. Has averaged 28C for our 3 day stay.
Is there a patron saint of holiday-makers? If so, we must have had some special protection as the weather could not have been better if we had scripted it, from the warmth of the south of France to the brilliant autumn sunshine in England to the snow in Canada, and now balmy desert days in Las Vegas. It will probably be horrible when we get home just to get even!
We have a very comfortable room on the 22nd floor of the MGM Grand hotel on the strip, with a view all the way out to the mountains and directly opposite New York, New York and its roller coaster, Aria, Monte Carlo and a still under construction, Big V, for Vegas. It's easy to get caught up in the glitz of the casino strip and miss the Sierra Nevada just the other side of the hi-rise towers.
We started well with a win on the slot machines, and HUGE pizzas for dinner in one of the 14 restaurants (not counting several Starbucks and at least five other fast food outlets) in the hotel - it's so big and so diverse there would be no need to leave at all, as any need imaginable can be catered for on-site. But wander we did - a tour along the strip, with visits to Bally, Flamingo, Tropicana, Caesars Palace (oh dear, the roulette wheel! And brain-freezing 24 oz slurpies with a triple citron vodka).
Thursday was the day we came for - gambling aside, Vegas is the access point for the Grand Canyon. We were picked up by shuttle and driven to Boulder Airport for the first adventure of the day, a light aircraft flight over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead on our way to the canyon itself. 7000 feet above sea level is only around 3000 feet above the ground here and the view was spectacular. Lake Mead is enormous, over 110 miles long, although the water level has dropped 200 feet. The dam looks like leggo at this height but is still the largest man-made construction on earth, the scenery is wonderful and the flight over too soon as we land at the Hualapi Indian reservation that is the Western Rim home to the Grand Canyon. Our next leg was the helicopter flight over the canyon, and down 4000 feet to the canyon floor. Rich has been in a helicopter before, and whilst Sue loves the light aircraft experience, this is her first helicopter ride - "why didn't I do this before, it's magic!" Then a leisurely ride down the Colorado river looking UP at the canyon walls , and the vegetation and wildlife on the riverbanks, before the helicopter takes us back up to the rim. It's almost more scary on the way up, as the pilot hugs the canyon walls then crests a rise to reveal the sheer drop the other side. We spend the remainder of the day exploring the rim and the view across and down into the canyon (don't get so close to the edge!) before the return small plane flight when the shuttle returns us to the hotel.
In just 3 days we tour the strip by monorail during daylight, and again on foot at night to take in the fountain show at the Bellagio Hotel, see the Cirque du Soleil show 'Ka', and yet again eat ourselves stupid with a delicious teppanyaki dinner at the in-house Japanese, pasta and cab-sav to die for, and lovely Tom Yum. We saw the MGM's own lions but missed the picture opportunity on all 3 days, and everywhere you go there are slot machines and tables and opportunities to gamble including McCarran International airport that must have at least 300 slots!
So here we are at LAX waiting for our flight to Sydney. Such a long flight but both of us are now longing to be back in OZ despite all the wonderful experiences we have enjoyed on the trip, especially the love and friendship of Dennis and Barbara in Bosworth, the unbelievable Clive and Jean at Studland, the irrepressible Sue and her husband Roger in Woking, Tom and Mav in Calgary who were as warm as the weather was cold. Our loving and heartfelt thanks go out to all of them for making our overseas leg truly the trip of a lifetime.


Otherwise known as the Frozen North! Well, not really, it did snow on the trip home from the airport, but nothing could be warmer than the welcome from Tom & Mav.
Calgary looks and feels almost like Perth, it's a similar size and population (1.1 million), and far more home-like than New York. The climate is another matter. We were assured that the weather was unseasonably cold, but from a tourist perspective snow was the just the icing on the cake - visually as well as figuratively.
Tom and Mav had planned an overnight trip for us to Banff in the Rocky Mountains, and the day started clear and sunny, but as we sat down to lunch at Lake Louise Resort (table with a view of the lake & mountains beyond) the snow started to fall - and fell, and fell, and fell. We discovered later that the road we travelled had been closed for part of the afternoon due to ice and snow (46 cars slid off the icy roads), but we made it to Banff thanks to Tom, and a lovely room at The Rimrock. When we got up next morning it was -12C and icicles hung from the gutters, snow clung to the trees - it was as if someone turned on Christmas overnight. Needless to say, snowballs were thrown but not with any great enjoyment by the throwee because it was very, very COLD. We breakfasted at Banff Springs Resort, then made our way to the gondola up to Sulphur Mountain, where the mercury had made it to -20C. The view around the mountains was spectacular, and it didn't feel too bad in the sun, but the wind chill in the shade was frighteningly and shiveringly cold. We went down into the Banff township, which actually has a Christmas Store, and browsed around before heading back to Calgary. Wildlife count: several squirrels, 1 chipmunk (sooo cute), 3 elk, 2 mountain sheep, 1 coyote and a real live grizzly bear! Honest, it just ran across the road in front of us - must have missed the notice about hibernation dates. Would have loved a photo but didn't fancy getting out of the car.
Our week passed too quickly; meeting Tom & Mav's family - Chris, Greg & Stephanie, grandson Lucas - and friends; exploring Calgary and the surrounding countryside, not to mention the large white-tailed stag deer at the end of the street when we went to pick up the mail - until we woke to our last morning and a heavy snowfall overnight had blanketed the place in white. Sue couldn't let this pass, and nothing beats a walk in ankle-deep snow - for someone who hasn't seen the stuff for 25 years! (Rich was smart and stayed in the warm. None of our own clothes were competent to stand up to the was unimaginable.) Rubbish, just a bit chilly..............
Again, we were sad to leave as Tom and Mav had been such fabulous hosts, and Rich's turn to shed a tear as we said farewell. We rugged up for the trip to the airport and the flight to Las Vegas, where we immediately peeled off as many layers of clothing as we could get away with.


Sorry, friends
The blog has not turned out to be as functional as we thought. We had decided to do without the weight of a laptop on our travels, so are at the mercy of our (incredibly generous) hosts, or the vagaries, difficulties and expense of internet cafes. Sorry we haven't posted as frequently or as diligently as we had intended. The lack of photos will be addressed when we return - we could have a slide night! But we'll probably just do the Picassa thing.............

New York New York

On the weekend we packed a bag and took a 2-day trip to Niagara Falls - sounds a bit like the start of Gilligan's Island, but we did get home on time. The Falls are spectacular - everyone has seen pictures and movie footage, but it's something almost primal to travel on the 'Maid of the Mist' boat trip to the bottom of the falls and hear the roar of the water, feel the spray and the surge of the current at the bottom. 'Mist' nothing, we got SOAKED, despite the very attractive plastic rain poncho supplied. Almost at the bottom of the falls is a walkway called the 'Cave of Winds', described when the falls froze solid decades ago, creating ice bridges and sculpted formations people could walk through. Now it is a wooden walkway around the foot of the Bridal Falls, where I stood with the water cascading over my feet, looking straight up hundreds of feet into the waterfall as it spilled over the edge. I don't know how long I stood mesmerised, breathless (and soaked again) before making my way back to the top. (Sadly not available for those with heart conditions).
Unfortunately the tour was not well organised, leaving too little time at the Falls, and I won't bother mentioning the rest (Corning glass factory visit wasn't TOO bad).
The rest of our New York stay was a blur of sights, sounds and experiences. We did it all - or as much as we could jam in to the week. Times Square, 42nd St, 5th Ave, Empire State Building, the beautiful Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, and finally the Guggenheim (a Kandinsky exhibition not really our cup of tea, but plenty of Picasso, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Manet in the permanent display). We took the obligatory horse carriage ride in Central Park - looks so romantic in all those movies, but as Rich pointed out, you can't see anything and it smells like horse shit! Also must mention the New York deli lunch and the Reuben Sandwich with 1lb meat - that's it, nothing else, just bread & 1lb meat! Oh, and a pickle. Absolutely risible, ended up giving half of it to passing lady with small dog at the airport(which probably died trying to eat it). We found the Brill Building, where Gershwin, Arlen and many other greats knocked out their wonderful tunes; it's currently home to a music store selling everything from the latest CD to hard-to-get sheet music and tacky jewellery made from old vinyl records - so we had to buy a CD & some pins.
Of course the week ended and we had to get the luggage DOWN those appalling stairs and off to Calgary.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

So getting to the apartment in 'the Big Apple' was a bit of a strain, but once we were there - New York is sensory overload no matter what you do. Even that first night's grocery shopping seemed like an adventure.
We began our stay with a quick bus ride downtown to catch a 3-hour Circle Line boat tour of the island and bridges, taking in Statten Island, the Statue of Liberty, a mini Sydney Harbour Bridge called the Hellgate Bridge and many others. The boat cruise gave us wonderful views of many of the city buildings and landmarks, and sold really tasty hot dogs (one NY icon down and about a million to go). Back to the apartment for a quick shower & bite to eat before putting on the glad-rags and taking a big yellow cab to the Met where we saw 'The Marriage of Figaro'. The building is magnificent, and I had booked my favourite seats (front of the balcony) so we could truly appreciate the interior of the opera house whilst waiting for the curtain to go up. I am sure we should expect brilliant performances at the Met & certainly weren't disappointed. The signts and sounds danced through our heads on the way home and for days afterwards.
Thursday we decided on a walk through central park to the Guggenheim - around 2 miles - which was delightful, and almost assuaged our disappointment at finding the museum closed! A lovely Brazilian couple we met at the entrance were more disappointed as they were leaving that night, and gave us their tickets to use another day. Making the best of the day, we went down to the MoMA and had a lovely couple of hours wandering the paintings, and enjoyed a tasty lunch at the cafe inside. Another quick shower and change back at the apartment before tripping downtown to Dizzy Gillespie's 'Club CocaCola'. Glamour and style to the max in this lovely intimate room looking out onto Columbus Circle, the Manhatten skyline and a full moon - perfect setting for an evening of hot jazz. We stayed for 2 sets, firstly vocal diva Karrin Allyson, then an Aussie sax player Lisa Parrott and her ensemble. Good food and cocktails, and the company of a charming Michigan chap called Ted, whom we met in line, made this a faboulous night, and we wandered home around 1am.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

After our near month in England, we left Bosworth and Dennis and Barbara sadly and in Susan's case with tears. Den and Barb were wonderful hosts and friends. Liz stayed of course but seems to have decided to return to Australia before Christmas, perhaps. Anyway, we were off to NY via flying backwards to Zurich and then on to NY. The Fokker 100 jet was a bit squeezy but endurable for two hours and a bit but we looked forward to the eight plus hours flight to NY in the comparative luxury of the big Airbus. Sadly, Swissair did not quite live up to its once sterling reputation. Cabin crew varied from outstanding (a young man) to grumpy and surly (a 30ish woman). The food was just OK (just), don't ever bother with Swiss wines on a plane, and the whole entertainment system did not films, no TV, no music, no nothing! For eight and a half hours! Lucky for us we are both readers with good books and the seats were fine except that Susan's seat did not work and would only recline rather than move into the full bed position as mine did. I could not sleep for feeling guilty because she couldn't. When we told the stewardess, her responsive was "yes, I know. A lot of them don't work properly". And that was it. Never again will we fly Swissair.....luckily for us, we have a Qantas flight out of the US, and our first two legs were Qantas and Singapore Airlines.
Arrived very tired at JFK airport, having effectively travelled all night long and half the day and found a taxi driver who did not cheat us, well, not too much.....and he gave us a hand with the baggage which seems to have gotten heavier the more we have had to handle it, even though we sent seven kgs home.
When we arrived at our flat, I was fibrillating and feeling pretty ordinary and we were both horrified when we realised that our flat was first up ten steps to the lobby and then up 55 more steep steps to Apt. 7 on the top floor and no lift. Although I failed to see the humour at the time, once in the flat, the bedrooms were another 18 steps up a spiral staircase, so steep and curly that Cyn and Roel's spiral was a doddle by comparison. The flat itself was very good, plenty of space and with two bathrooms and toilets, one for each floor and we had a large deck as well.
The problem was the steps, especially because I was not well. It was all I could do to carry one small bag up and I nearly karked it doing that. Poor Susan insisted that she could manage the big cases and she managed, I don't know how, to lug each monstrous bag up all those flights and the rest of the "small" luggage as I had managed only one. I was wrecked and even she, brave girl, was looking more than slighly peaky by the time she had made her third trip up and down. When we both recovered some time later we took the time to enjoy the space and amenity of our new home before we descended for the start of many such trips to find a local supermarket for our first night's meal. The lessor was very mean and did not have a single thing for its guests, no salt/pepper/bread/eggs or milk for guests who had come thousands of miles to find empty fridges, no dishwasher powder, no detergent, no washing powder........but the flat was still nice.
Susan was an absolute Trojan and cooked a tasty scrambled egg dish for our supper. And thus ended an exhausting, eventful first day in the Big Apple.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to Bosworth

The drive back to Bosworth was uneventful because we have become quite expert at negotiating the motorways. However, we did inadvertently arrive at Bosworth when only 5 miles from it by an extremely circuitous route.....the only "failure" of my navigator. We kept seeing signs "Bosworth 2 miles" and after driving two miles saw another sign saying Bowsorth 3 miles and this was repeated at least about an endless road. Getting a little lost in this part of the world is no chore at all because the country lanes are so beautiful, it is hard not to just drive along for the sheer pleasure of it.
Den and Barb and Lizzie were overjoyed at our return and had lined up a series of lunches and dinners to catch up with their son, Steve and his beautiful fiancee, Deborah, their daughter Beverley and her husband, Graham. The evening with Steve and Deborah and our party of five was very pleasant and we drank two beautiful wines, a Puligny Montrachet and a St Emilion red...absolutely delicious. Our evening was a little marred by the next table of 20 who were celebrating a birthday very, very raucously and not a little drunkenly. No one was nasty but they were having a really good time and the noise eventually drove us out before coffee. We returned home for a lovel;y chat long into the night.
Bev and Graham have bought two Victorian workers' cottages on over an acre of land, complete with orchard and have spent the last several months turning these two into a lovely two storey home for has come up very well and is really lovely and rural. To cap it off they have bought four acres of pasture next door and intend to run a few sheep on it. Both are animal mad and have two lovely labradors, both huge, and four cats. The animals are like children to them as Graham's children have all long since left home and one of them has just had his own little girl.
We visited the historic site of the Battle of Bosworth where King Richard III met his demise and ended 331 years of Plantagenet rule. It was yet another beautiful day for our visit and the visitors centre was very entertaining and informative. There were locals there who were really archers who demonstrated all the old bows, the many different types of arrows, the genuine old swords and daggers as well as a mock fight between pikemen......all dressed up in replica costumes of the 15th century. Pictures will be posted when we get to Calgary. We tried on some armour and I nearly buckled under the weight of a chain mail vest!!!!
The rest of the week passed in ablur of lunches and dinners, the highlight of which for me was a lunch at a local pub that served a truly delicious shepherds' pie, peas and chips. Susan and I have gained twenty kilos between us and will use out time in New York to stem the fat flood!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Woking Mansion stay

We were quite sad to leave the genial company of Clive and the eccentric company of his wife Jean and once again our drive to "Guildford" aka Worplesden but really Woking was uneventful thanks to my first class navigator except, yet again, within sight of our goal, we thought we were lost and phoned Cousin Sue for directions. We weren't and were soon at their wonderful home set in three and a half acres of beautifully maintained gardens, lawn and woodland. Sue was very welcoming and it turned out that the two Sues got on like a house on fire. So often did I hear them cackling with laughter that I offered them parts in the next production of MacBeth. Cousin Sue managed to back her Land Rover into the painter's car in her own driveway smashing a tail light....women drivers!
Roger has done very well for himself and our accommodation was of the six star hotel variety but the most important things were the love and friendship of Cuz Sue. She and her namesake managed to shop up a small storm in Guildford and we had some tasty meals out. I was as patient as Christ's donkey while they shopped and shopped. The Sahara boutique (sale!!!) was very grateful for their patronage and Sue got her much sought after new handbag for £15 instead of USD700 (in Singapore). However, Cuz Sue like Lucifer, tempted her yet again and on Sunday, they swanned off to the factory outlets town of Bicester in Oxford which I passed up and stayed home to watch the cricket and football. A pair of Jimmy Choo shoes reduced to £330 nearly found their way into my Sue's shopping bag but my warnings and her great self-control prevented a disaster.
On Friday,we drove to Chertsey to visit my old school. Sadly for me the only intact piece of nostalgia was of the railway bridge to the playing fields which were as lovely as ever in the September sunshine. The school buildings have been sold to a Christian communityand were off limits and the rest of the school grounds have been ruined by the ugliest school buildings I have ever had the misfortune to see. Only the old ambulacrum was still there albeit refurbished. Was it Tom Wolfe who wrote "You can't go back". I was glad that I had been back but sad at the state of the place.
Food again, Cuz Sue's home cooking was very tasty but on Saturday night we visited a one Michelin star restaurant close by called Drakes. Very nice indeed, good food and with service I have never seen in Oz except at the Regent in Sydney 15 years ago. We ate out again on Sunday night after the girls' shopping trip to Bicester where Roger bought a great Bose sound system for his study. Roger has 3000 bottles in his cellar and Sue has so much food in the pantry and the fridges that I told her to invite us again along with Suzanne and Al, John and Julie and the boys and Cyn and Roel and not to buy any more food. That way, after say a month, she would actually be able to get into her pantry and Roger might be able to buy some more wine. (See later). On Monday, Sue and I trained to London to Waterloo....what a change...the we wandered over to Festival Hall and finally to the London Eye and camera time. The Eye was a pleasant experience so we continued in this vein by taking a Thames River cruise....wonderfully interesting and very relaxing. The banks of the river are of course the repository of some of the greatest historical events in London's history, plus we got a better look at "The Gherkin" where Roger has his office.
I stayed in town to meet Roger for a wine tasting at Berry's, one of the oldest wine mercahnts in London and Sue returned to Woking where she did not take up the offer of a lift home by her namesake and chose the 20 minute walk instead. The pavement is very, very narrow on this winding country road and she chose to walk on the unpaved side facing oncoming traffic. This was almost her undoing because a fox ran out of the bushes and almost bowled her over before taking off at a great rate running in front of a chasing car! All survived. Roger and I trained back quite late, he having spent another small fortune on five cases more to add to his growiing pile. I think I convinced him to auction off 1000 bottles because that would give him some room as well as return some capital to his wine fund.
Again we departed with sadness to return to Market Bosworth as we had really enjoyed our stay with Sue and Roger.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The week in Dorset flew past - Rich's birthday was marked by a magnificent lunch at the Guildhall in Poole, another seafood repast at this lovely French restaurant, commencing with local oysters and culminating in dessert with a VERY large candle for the birthday boy. Thanks to all the well-wishers who offered birthday greetings over the course of the day that made the birthday complete.
Each day featured a drive through the winding country lanes bordered with blackberries (just ripe - yum!) beyond which we glimpsed fields of cattle, then a view of the ocean, from the rugged chalk cliffs to the seaside resort of Weymouth where Sue's family spent summer holidays. One afternoon Sue & Liz braved the climb to the top of the downs and walked to the Old Harry Rocks at the edge of the chalk cliff before tramping down to the beach and back up to the house - wonderful views and really bracing wind along the top of the downs. We even ventured to the beach one morning - just a walk along the sand (for a couple of miles) and maybe dipping toes into the water. Of course, Studland beach is home to a 'naturist' section, which we had to walk through to get to the cafe! Clive is a member of the local golf club, and whilst we declined his offer to play, we ate lunch in the clubhouse overlooking the bay and Bournemouth beyond. The course is a bit hilly, but every hole has a view of the ocean. Evenings were spent poring over old photos, Clive's collection is extensive, and Richard & Clive reminiscing - 'do you remember when we...........' and 'what's the name of that boy who........' chatting as if they had never been apart.
All too soon it was time to move on, a final lunch and a fond farewell - promises for a return visit that will be easy to keep. Yet again we packed and lugged those wretched suitcases to the car, and set off for Woking and the Dyer residence, AA Route Planner in hand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sue's Uncle Dennis was kind enough to offer to lend us his '05 Volvo C60 to drive down to Studland opposite Poole in Dorset. Poole harbour is the site for the 2012 Olympic sailing races. I had some misgivings about driving on roads when I had no idea of where I was going and having observed the speed at which English drivers hare around their narrow winding lanes, I was hoping that Susan might decide to take the train which we had alrady booked and paid for. The car trip won and we could not get a refund on our ticket. Fortunately our next host Clive invited Lizzie, Susan's daughter to visit with us and we were able to exchange our ticket down for her ticket back. Clive was totally spontaneous with his invitation as soon as he heard that she was also at Uncle's house. The AA internet site here provides detailed route instructions from A to B and we printed off a copy as well as having Clive's very detailed instructions on how to traverse the last couple of miles after getting off the car ferry.
I just steered and did everything that Susan instructed. She is an excellent navigator and with Liz's sharp eyes from the back seat, we did not get lost once, although we thought we were lost three times.
Cor! These English drivers don't half drive fast....there was I on the motorway doing nearly 100mph and chaps are flying past me. Sue claims I got up to 110 but I am sure that it was parralax error as she was looking sideways at the speedo.
We arrived safely and only 15 minutes "late" after spending an amazing hour at Winchester Cathedral en route. It is a breathtaking gothic masterpiece and I was totally awestruck when we entered. Words cannot describe the magnificence of the architecture nor is it easy to comprehend how it was built in the 11th century to replace an earlier church on the same site. The sense of history was quite overwhelming.
As was Clive's welcome when we arrived at his home in a little private estate on the side of a down overlooking fields, a golf course and the magnificent panorama of Poole inner and outer harbours. He and wife Jean were out in the lane waiting for us, he dresed in shorts and a blue (his old St Alban's house colour) shirt and our old school cap. He is 6'7" plus and 20 stone so you can imagine the sight. He had a large welcome banner, a sign welcoming the 52 year school reunion, twirly multi-coloured hanging helix banner and a helium ballon. A funny and very warm welcome.
His retirement house is perfectly sited facing the West so we had sunsets to look forward to every day and the always beautiful view from the deck and living room and most importantly from our bedroom which offered even more panoramic views. Clive and I had not met for 52 years although we have been regular email correpondents for the last six years and I had been trying to get him to come and visit me in Perth. The warmth of his and Jean's welcome was touching and the piece de resistance of the evening was the meal he served us. Clive has been in the catering and restaurant business for most of his life apart from when he was a full-time property developer and he is a very, very good cook. His lobster bisque was out-of-this-world good. Five huge lobsters, langoustine, prawns and the most delicious local mussels. Quite the best meal we have had since we left Singapore.....not fair to compare it with La Ferrandaise in Paris but more enjoyable because of the company. Roel, Allan, Sue and Cynnie, not to mention John and Julie would have cried with pleasure to eat was that good! Andf of course he provided a magnum of Lanson to wash it down with. A good time was had by all.
Sunday 13th was of course my 70th birthday and I was touched to awaken to a bunch of cards and presents. Clive had given me an antique fruit penknife complete with silver sixpence between the blade and the "sheath" so as never to cut the bonds of friendship. I was truly touched. Susan had already given me my present, a magnificent Tissot chronograph that I am wearing now and she also came up with my favourite marzipan chocs for the day.
The 12th was spent touring around, driven by Clive, the many, many beauty spots in the area, always with woods, green fields, harbours and sea to delight the eye and the spirit. We had a lovely lunch and in the evening Clive produced his second masterpiece......local racks of lamb. I reckon that John or Allan on their own would have finished both racks by themselves. I have never had such good lamb, perfectly cooked in a mint sauce paste, the lightest pink with wonderful tenderness and flavour.....once again unfair to compare with the French lamb I ate at La Ferrandaise but every bit its equal in flavour and texture. Birthday news to come.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Old Dart

We've been in Blighty for a week now, beginning in Market Bosworth with Den & Barb, who were kind enough to pick us up from the airport - and it's so welcoming after all those anonymous arrivals and fights for a taxi, to be met by family. Doubly kind as they are already playing host to my daughter Liz.
Market Bosworth is a beautiful village with historic significance (battle of Bosworth Field, 15th century War of the Roses). Many of the buildings of the time are still in use, including a 14th century Norman church. And of course the PUBS! Den must be slipping 'cos it took us at least 2 hours to hit the first one, a swift pint in the 'King Bill' before dinner. Another round of eating has begun, too, between visits to local restaurants - notably the 'pie&wine' night at the Black Horse - and Barb's home cooking, weight loss isn't going to happen anytime soon. We are getting at least some exercise, though, as everything in the village is a walk away, and it's such an enjoyable walk.
On Tuesday we went to Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of the bard, and visited the cottages and walked along the river. The guide at Anne Hathaway's cottage was most entertaining, and we had a lesson in language and the origin of terms such as 'sideboard' and 'upper crust'. The gardens are another delight - visitors are invited to taste the fruit growing in the orchard and we all felt we could sit for hours in the tranquility of an English country garden.
Liz was determined to have a day's shopping 'mother&daughter', so Sue & Liz headed to The Bullring, leaving Richard home to cook dinner. The Bullring has changed beyond all recognition, and is now a multi-level modern shopping precinct spanning both sides of the road. Gone is the fresh market with the game-sellers and fishmongers of my childhood - no hare and pheasant complete with head and feet, no cockles and whelks and jellied eel.............. quite a disappointment. Girls will rise to any occasion, however, and we enjoyed the day, returning with Krispy Kreme donuts to follow the fab curry Rich had waiting for us. We spent the next day walking the village, looking at the sites, including the lovely old Norman church and graveyard. Den & Barb braved (!) Rich's curry for dinner and really enjoyed it.
It's delightful weather here - bright, sunny, warm days that lend themselves to relaxing in Den & Barb's lovely back garden. Many a cup of tea & glass of wine have been shared with them, and our pictures can't do justice to the setting or the friendship.
Friday sees us off to the south coast to visit Clive Gill, an old school friend from Richard's days at Chertsey. Thanks to Den's generous loan of the car, we have cancelled the train tickets and will make a day trip of it (promise to drive at least CLOSE to the speed limit!)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

ok - so shoot me!

yes, I know we promised to write regularly & keep this up to date, but we are truly doing just so many things that it's really difficult. Almost 2 weeks have passed and we haven't told you anything!
We caught the train with Vi & Robert William from Chalon to Paris via Lyon, a relatively comfortable and problem-free trip, to the apartment on Rue Edmond Roger in the 15th arondissment in Paris. The apartment was charming and comfortable, with local shops & bakeries and a Metro station only a few minutes walk. On Monday we had a 'day off', did some grocery shopping, walked around the neighbourhood and had a beer in a local cafe as we watched the world walk past. Vi cooked curry for dinner, a most welcome change from the fare on the boat.
Tuesday saw us out early and on the train to Versaille courtesy of the ParisPass, which included bus and rail travel plus entry to museums and monuments across the city. Despite a cold and rainy day we had a lovely time and came home in a state of 'Rococco overload' - I think you need many visits to see and appreciate all of the Palace, so much art, gilt and marble in one place. And of course it really illustrates the great class divide in France in the days of Louis XIV. Tonight Vi felt like a rest, so Robert joined us for a trip to the Latin Quarter in search of dinner. There was really too much choice, and every pavement cafe and brasserie has a hawker in the street touting for business - not until we were seated did we realise the 'fondue speciality' restaurant we picked was actually GREEK! And BAD Greek at that - oh, well.
What a day Wednesday turned out to be - we started out to see the Louvre, intending to visit the Jardins de Luxemburg briefly and have lunch beforehand. For lunch we had selected a restaurant, 'Le Ferrandaise' from an article in the Australian Financial Review, close to the Luxemburg. Well the gardens are so lovely - clean, pretty, colourful - and peaceful despite being well-used - that we sat and had coffee and wrote postcards and talked together for far longer than we intended. Then we went to lunch, and what a meal it was - in keeping with many French cafes it offered a 3-course set price option, which we took, and enjoyed every mouthful. As the AFR article said, lunch is a leisurely affaire in Paris, and 3.30 rolled around so quickly, leaving us too little time for the Louvre. Instead I wandered off to the Tuilleries, another beautifully kept garden close to the Seine, walking there along the banks, looking at the street vendors and the old buildings. Almost forgot Wednesday was the night we had tickets to Moulin Rouge, so quick dash to the Metro and off to a great show. (Surprisingly good meal and wine, too). I know it's all about the girls, but the other acts were very entertaining, a ventriloquist, a juggler and a pair of acrobats.
Ok, so Thursday we started out to see the Louvre, but after our late night at the Moulin Rouge we didn't get up in time, so a lazy day was had by all. The four of us decided on buses rather than trains to visit Sacre Coeur, the elegant church on the hill overlooking the whole of Paris - spectacular views, graceful architecture and a busker doing VERY bad Paul Simon. Richard really appreciated the hundreds of steps up to the cathedral, and Vi & Sue enjoyed the designer shops on the Avenue Montaigne and the Gallerie Lafayette. Lunch at the Food Hall in Gallerie Lafayette - delicious Serano ham & chorizo at a Spanish tapas place. Then down to the Eiffel Tower - HUGE queues, so we took a cruise on the river around the Ile de Paris and the many bridges. Back to the Eiffel Tower and slightly smaller queues, but as night fell the wind rose and the intrepid travellers.....................piked it & went home!
Right, Friday is here and we are BLOODY WELL GOING TO THE LOUVRE! But first we had to go to the post office and send home several kilos of surplus clothing and assorted tat. As we left the post office the heavens opened - it actually RAINED! So of course we did the Parisienne thing and ducked into a cafe........ Then we went to the Louvre. Yes it's worth waiting for, filled with wonders, we saw the real thing instead of prints & copies. Rembrandt, Reubens, and the most beautiful coxyx in the world above the bum of the Venus de Milo. Dinner in an Arab restaurant tonight, really multicultural, isn't it.
Saturday and the end is nigh - what can we cram into today? We really wanted to take Vi & Robert to Le Ferrandaise, so arranged to meet them after a visit to Musee d'Orsay. This was a real treat, much smaller than the Louvre but home to fabulous works by Degas, Monet, Whistler, Van Gogh, you name it. The atmosphere was much more intimate and really hard to leave, could sit for hours. Unfortunately our new favourite restaurant was closed, but a great lunch at Les Editors followed, then Vi & Sue returned to Avenue Montaigne to press noses to the windows of Dior & Chanel, whilst Robert & Richard took the scenic route back to the flat.
Sunday - pack bags, tidy flat, eat last food in fridge & catch plane to Birmingham to be greeted with open arms by Den & Barb (with Liz in tow).
This is a fantastic holiday, packed with things to do & see (and eat) but we do think of friends & loved ones and wish you could be with us to share what we are experiencing - we will try to do better with keeping you up to date & posting photos. TTFN

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Here are a few of the family shots from Singapore - the girls, the boys, the whole Kraal clan and the family choir!

at last a few photos from Singapore - a Pina Colada by the pool, and a Singapore Sling at The Raffles

Sunday, August 30, 2009

lazy, aren't we!

ok, so it's been so much fun we haven't blogged for almost a week, and we're not even sorry!
After leaving Avignon we continued cruising up the Rhone to Viviers, with more gorgeous scenery, beautiful old buildings and farmlands rolling past the boat. Viviers has quaint winding narrow streets that snake their way up the hill through the fortified city walls to a magnficent old church. People live in the old buildings built inside the walls of the city, and although renovated inside with the help of a local guide we were able to imagine life in the 13th century as we wandered up Goat Lane, avoiding the open drainage ditch in the centre and ducking under low door lintels.
By now we have fallen into ship-board routine, waking to a sumptous breakfast served by the charming restaurant staff, then a morning walking tour of the town. We return to the ship for lunch (perfect roast beef today, with so many other choices it's hard to stop) then out again in the afternoon for a tour or perhaps stay on board and soak up some sun or catch up on sleep before another extravagant gourmet meal in the evening and occasionally live music or a walk before bed. So exhausting I don't know if we can take much more................
Lyon followed Viviers, a much bigger city, perhaps the size of Mandurah. After a tour of the city and historical sites we decided to forego lunch on board in favour of a visit to the local restaurant of Paul Bocuse. I have to say this was the only disappointment of the trip, a very ordinary lunch (although an extraordinary bill!)
Chalon sur Saone is the last stop on the cruise, where we spend almost 2 days. The first day is spent in Beaune, famous Burgundy winemaking region, with a visit to a medieval hospital and local street market. The historical sights are fascinating, and the street market full of fresh produce was just enchanting. A small shopping opportunity yielded a couple of spectacular wines to accompany today's meals on board. The afternoon was spent touring a local Chateau dating to the 12th Century, where the guided tour was provided by the Baroness, a charming woman with a theatrical delivery who's excitment lead to a mix of French and English (and I was able to indulge my passion for cookbooks with her family edition).
Today we leave the River Royale after a last gourmandising breakfast and a sad farewell to the dlightful staff who have loked after us so well. Vi & I took a quick walk around the town of Chalon whilst waiting for the train to Paris via Lyon for the next exciting adventure............

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

During last night's dinner we cruised slowly up the Rhone to Avignon, where we docked for the night. This morning another equally well-informed guide took us on a walking tour of this walled city. Avignon has the most complete and well preserved city wall in the region, dating back to medieval times, but the first settlement has been dated at 600BC. In the 14th century, Avignon was home to the Papal See, and we toured the Popes' Palace from that time. For Western Australians, with a history of 200 years, it's mind-blowing to walk around a city where the buildings began more than 2000 years ago, and even the most recent seem to be around 500 years old.
This afternoon we indulged in a tour of - guess what - a WINERY! Now I know we can do that at home, but who could resist a tour of Chateauneuf Du Pape. Tasted 3 wines, all very pleasant, the third a standout - but at the risk of sounding parochial, we do have at least their equal in Australia, and at far more reasonable prices.
Also walked around the aqueduct build to take water from Nimes to Avignon, another mind-boggling engineering feat of it's day.
I have to say all this activity has taken place in temperatures of more than 30C, and we might even come home with a tan.
Arles is the first stop on our Epicurean Delights cruise of Burgundy & Provence - it's also home to a 2000 year old amphitheatre that has been restored and hosts regular bullfights! (unfortunately no fights whilst we were there, but the amphitheatre was truly imposing and one has no difficulty imagining a Roman Circus taking place). There are many historical sites, from Roman times through to the Middle Ages. We strolled around cobbled streets looking at the local sights on a very informative guided tour before returning to the boat for the Captain's Welcome cocktail party and dinner, complete with live music and dancing (good thing I packed the little black dress). Hopefully all the walking will compensate for at least some of the eating - and dancing is good exercise too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

hello friends
sorry, no photos as we are using communal computers here on the River Royale as we cruise our way down the Rhone and up the cholesterol count!
We were sad to leave Singapore, and the 12 hour flight to Nice via Zurich was comfortable but very long. Hadn't expected the South of France to be quite so hot, but the temperature at Nice was 30+ at 10.00am and continued climbing as we found a taxi to the train station (found out later we were overcharged by almost 100%), struggled up and down stairs with baggage (no lift/escalator) to find the train had broken down and had to be replaced - at another platform! Up & down stairs again to the next platform, where the (un-airconditioned) train finally left, almost 1.5 hours late. Another (overcharged) taxi to the hotel and complete collapse. The hotel was quite lovely - not on the luxurious scale of the PanPac but quaint and comfortable, clean and staffed by charming & helpful people. Marseille was a very mixed experience, exotic to our Australian eyes, old buildings and ultramodern boats in the marina. Our package included tours of the city by mini-train, a boat trip and tour of Chateau D'If (home to the Man in the Iron Mask) and the most delicious Boulliabase dinner that we couldn't finish. Seafood fans, this was a true delight.
An early start on Sunday took us to meet Vi & Robert and join the cruise ship River Royale in Arles for our next adventure - stay tuned...................

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wow, what a party! The champagne was flowing, the satay was heavenly and then the music started. A real party in the old fashioned sense, where David’s friend Mario played piano whilst his wife Michelle sang, and the whole company danced and sang along. Amongst the first numbers of the evening was ‘Yvonne’, the tune written for our hostess by her father with words by husband David.
Michael and Perline were there with new baby Elijah, who is so beautiful. Pat’s son Anton, newly arrived from France, is as impossible tall and good looking as his mother, and all four children danced all night with the energy of youth. The rest of us didn’t do too badly in the carousing department – Richard danced with me (twice!) and sang (wouldn’t let me do that though!), I couldn’t resist the Rhumba rhythms and danced with everyone, even Edward took a turn as a solo vocalist and David, die-hard Man U supporter, finished the evening with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Singapore is so beautiful, it’s not called the garden city for nothing. As Richard has seen it all so many times, I decided to play the tourist and go exploring alone. The HiPPO hop-on hop-off double decker buses provided a fabulous view and commentary of the city sites. Little India, Chinatown, the riverfront and a 63 hectare botanic garden from the perfect vantage point, as well as info on everything from Stamford Raffles to land prices. I can’t begin to describe the variety in architecture, from Neo-classical to ultra-modern, but never boring. It’s hard to believe a city of high-rise buildings could be so varied and so pleasing to the eye. I think Perth’s architects should be shipped here for compulsory re-education. And I probably need some myself – no hat, no sunscreen + 4 hours outside = guess what?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rich's blog

Aug 15 continued. Roeland, the food at Samy's was really wonderful. You would have eaten yourself sick as I nearly did. On Monday, we rose late (surprise!) and after a huge breakfast at the hotel that was very expensive, David and his very, very beautiful grandaughter, Aurea, aged 17, picked us up; off to Thompson Plaza, near where Dad and Mum used to live (Windsor Park) wher we had a truly tasy dim sum lunch. The beautiful, slim, tall Pat (think "The Girl from Ipanema") eats like the proverbial horse and still manages to keep her gorgeous model's figure. The three eggs soup, the pork/prawn dumplings, steamed peanuts, carrot cake,portugese tarts, chicken's feet, and all ten other dishes varied from good to wonderful. I paid not realising that it would seriously incur David's real wrath. He wouldn't speak to me for half an hour. Pat's daughters are all lovely. The little ones, April and Ashley are very well behaved children and I think Pat is quite a strict mother. April is adorable because she could be a sister to my twin grandsons, physical beauty allied to a lovely loving personality.
After the lovely lunch, back to the hotel, me for a nap and Sue down to the pool for 20 laps of the 25 mwtre pool and finishing her book. At dusk we took the MRT to the shuttle bus pick up in Coleman Rd and off to the Singapore Flyer. This is a 565 metre tall Ferris wheel at Marina City which provides a breathtaking view of Singapore by night. When we post some pics you will see what I mean. I forgot the universal cable and Sue is off now buying one for the rest of the trip. I am supposed to be the one frightened of heights but oddly Sue was the one who felt very uncomfortable on the rotation which took forty minutes. I enjoyed it very much and very selfishly, I am glad that Sue mentioned her fear only after the trip had finished or else I would have had my own enjoyment curtailed. Still, she said the experience and the views were worth the money and the discomfort.
After that we went to see the world's biggest fountain at Suntech City. The laser light display was very disappointing after the wonderful show that was put on for the year 2000 celebration but it was still worth a look. Wewnt to the food court afterwards (what else) and had a tasty bowl of Hokkien Mee soup, only $3.80, and not really as good as the last time but it had he authentic flavour if a little weak, soup not rich enough.
Tuesday August 18, David picked us and drove us to Little India to a real labourers' tosai breakfast shop for an Indian breakfast. It was so late in he morning that Yvonne elcted to have the briani lunch, curried chicken and yeallow rice, again on banana leaf, while David ordered all of the rest of us tosai breakfast. This is a huge very thin "pancake" fried crisp and brown on one side and only about 1mm thick but soft on the other.....miraculous...and with this you eat with fingers to pick up the gourd curry, coconut curry and dahl curry, as well a separate small bowl of fishcurry gravy and ditto chicken. The "roti" was so large that even rolled up and folded it was nearly a foot long and neither Suse nor I could quite finish our portion although all the delicious sauces and vegetarian curries were well and truly finished. The Indian sweets were a mixed bag, one delicious and the other two a bit ordinary.
Again, David was kind enough to drop us off at the shoppers' Mecca, the Indian departmen store, Mustafa's. This shop is truly an Aladdin's cave of goods......everything from a giant pharmacy, through clothing, electrical goods etc to watches, gold and jewellery. It has to be seen to be believed, not just for the variety of goods, but the volumes and the way that they are displayed, piled up in great heaps with narrow aisles. As I said, a real Aladdin's cave. Sue spent a bit of money here, mostly on my birthday present, a lovely Tissot chronograph. She also got herself a Miss Dior for about AUD 84.00 versus 120 at a discount shop in Perth and even duty free a bottle costs about AUD110. Good shopping.
Tuesday August 18. We had a big night out. Sue was very good and went for another swim, this time 30 laps. I was napping as usual after finishing my own book when the doorbell service with a pina colada. I guessed that it was for Sue down by the pool and sent it down to her but it gave me a surprise when woken from a lovely sleep. When I went down to join her and told her about the mistake, she told me that she had said three times that she was at the pool!!! Cultural differences especially when English is not the first language.
The big night out lived up to expectations. First, a visit to the Singapore Cricket Club, where David's life long friend Ed de Sousa is a member. It is on the historic padang and has been a cricket club since 1862. It is a wonderful colonial building and even though it is now air-conditioned it still has the ceiling fans turning and wonderful attentive staff. Ed is well known there and we got terrific service and surprise, surprise, terrific food.....a sort a Singapore tapas meal, with everything from chilli/garlic prawns, green chilli pakora, samosas, ikan bilis, etc and corned beef sandwiches (amazingly delicious). The SCC has the only two grass tennis courts in the city and the only turf cricket wicket. There were two men playing singles in the very humid and warm evening conditions and they were seriously at it and quite good. I don't know where they got their energy from in that energy sapping heat and humidity. One thing I have noticed about Singaporeans is that there are not many fat ones. They are mostly lean and fit looking and it has made me quite ashamed of my beer belly even though it was not beer caused but wine and food. As if that makes a difference! Anyhow, big resolution to reduce it in size. After the SCC, it was off to the Jazz at Southbridge club on foot. David made a little presentation of a first edition music score of the club's owner's first hit record. The owner's name was Lee Chang who was a successful architect and gave that up to be a jazz club proprietor and jazz muso playing the vibraphone. His club combo, piano, bass, drums and vibes were quite good and the Bulgarian singer who followed their set (the beautiful Maya, all 4'11" in four inch heels) was also accomplished and certainly easy on the eye. Afer two bottles of Perrier Jouet, it was on to Harry's Bar where thankfully, David allowed us to drink ordinary drinks like G & T. Two members of the house band here were old friends of David's.....the bass player, now an African American Singaporean, Christie, and Andrew, the piano player. Christie played at David's house in 2000 and I remembered him well, him and his great love of 12 year old Chivas. He is a very, very good bassist and the band really swung along, irresistibly toe-tapping and finger-snapping stuff. I really wisjed I could have taken William, Toby and Jacob to see them make music live but I'm afraid that the law says I shall have to wait until they are 18 years old. The guest featured singer was a huge AfAmerican from Chicago and he belted out some great standards.
Fittingly, it was home by taxi after midnight, exhausted and slightly drunk. Tonight is the big satay night at David's house where all the family will be gathered as well as some of D's old friends. His French grandson, Anton, arrived yesterday morning and I look forward to meeting him. He will be hard-pressed to match his beautiful sisters. We'll of course let you know how the evening went. David sends his love and best wishes to all but especially to Suzanne. My love to all and kisses to those who know who they are! Rich

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 15 – the big day finally arrived! Rich woke at 4.00am like an excited schoolboy, I only managed a little longer. A last look around the house and a final check of the suitcases (yes, I had to sit on mine to close it) before the lovely Suzanne arrived to take us to the airport. We are so grateful to her for avoiding the hassle of a taxi.
Then a pleasant flight – new cabin was a mystery, had to ask the cabin steward how all the gadgets worked. We watched Disgrace, John Malkovich as brilliant as always. An immaculate landing brought us to the Changi terminal, where we whisked through in record time and 45 minutes later pulled up at the Pan Pacific Orchard Hotel to find David Kraal waiting at the entrance. “Meet me in the bar, I’ve organized some drinks” says he. Dom Perignon certainly starts the holiday in style, and took the wind out of our sails a little as we had brought him a bottle to wet his new grandson’s head!
We have also met some of David’s family; lovely wife Yvonne, beautiful daughters Carol and Pat, Pat’s even more beautiful daughters Auria, April and Ashley, and extended family ‘K’, Sharon, Steven and Edward.
I don’t think we have stopped eating since, the food is wonderful, but I’m getting worried that we will be overweight when we fly out, never mind the suitcases. Samy's Indian restaurant, so authentic we ate off banana leaves with our fingers, fish head curry to die for. And the hotel restaurant Chap Chye equally heavenly. PROMISE to take photos soon............

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

OK friends - this is it - the big trip begins!
In just a few days we will be on our way and we hope you will use this blog to keep in touch whilst we are gone.
We promise to load photos and read your posts, and we'll see you in 3 MONTHS!!!!!!