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The last bit – goodbye Albury and hello again Melbourne

February 27, 2016

We took a trip to Bright whilst we were based in Albury for a couple of nights, as I was desperate to see some kangaroos in the wild – the only ones we’d seen were road kill until now. It’s a myth that they are on every street corner in Australia – they doze in the shade far away from the roads during the day, and play hari-kari with the cars at dusk and into the night. We stayed in a gorgeous little cottage just outside Bright (which is at a higher altitude and much cooler than Albury, especially at night) making sleep much more comfortable. We weren’t disappointed, spotting 5 or 6 kangaroos nibbling the grass near the adjoining cottage to ours as we drove up. I was in animal heaven! The next two evening were spent with our eyes glued to the grassy hill taking hundreds of photos, at one point there were around 20 of them just outside our veranda. Unfortunately we were so transfixed that we completely forgot how the mosquitos come out to play at dusk too, so they had a free feast on us and our fresh British blood.

We also drove 1600 metres above sea level up Mount Buffalo, which is a ski resort during the winter (yes they really do have snow) and even on a February day the temperature drops like a stone from 30 degrees in Bright to a chilly 13 at the top – a 45 minute drive on a very twisty turny road. The gorgeous crisp air and incredible views are certainly worth the trip.

Back in Albury, the weather threatens to reach nearly 40 degrees, so we sit and read, have early-ish (we are on holiday after all) walks, visit the Marilyn Monroe exhibition and generally have a lazy time. After a moment of sheer madness on the internet and left alone with his credit card, Pete manages to secure VIP tickets to see Prince in Melbourne, and my review of this you can see in an earlier post. We had a blast. After only 5 hours sleep we drive back to Albury (three and a half hour trip) for a rest!

Soon it’s time to leave our lovely friends, and head back to Melbourne for the last three nights before flying home. Temperatures are getting ridiculous again, the day we choose to visit the NGV for the Ai Weiei/Andy Warhol exhibition it hits 40 – which is rather similar to walking into a giant sauna, complete with a huge hairdryer blowing in your face set to ‘extra-hot’ and it’s completely draining. So, we opt to stay in the gallery for three hours. Fascinating show, it’s interesting how the two complement each other in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. We pay a couple of visits while we are here to one of our favourite bars – The Gin Palace – which is like an upmarket dark and cosy boudoir. The waiters know everything there is to know about the 100 different gins they stock, and the cocktails are equally delicious – cue hangover the next day, which is something you don’t want to have in this kind of heat!

Last day – late check out, mooching about Melbourne, supper at Chocolate Buddha, then taxi to the airport for the long and painful flight home and a chilly 6 degrees which greets us at Heathrow. After 8 weeks away I am longing for my bed, but I will miss the warmth of Australia and all who sail in her. As they would say – awesome!

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From seaside to Australia’s capital city – we love Canberra

February 17, 2016

From the tranquillity of Bateman’s, to the pristine open spaces of Canberra. Many Australian’s seem to dislike their capital city – Canberra. Apparently Albury was once one of the choices for the capital many years ago – but a sandstorm struck and it was deemed an unsuitable climate. Canberra won the day, and it certainly reminds us of England in many ways, not least the amount of roundabouts and open spaces. It’s surrounded by hills, a short drive takes you to some of the many nearby national parks, and fantastic views of the city. Another reminder of the vastness of the country. We are here because some of our oldest friends emigrated here ten years ago, and they spend part of their time here because he has joined the Australian Army, and is based here during the week. Our base is the Diplomat Hotel, just a block or two away from their apartment near the foreshore –a beautiful part of the city. We spend our time sampling the local bars and café’s, visiting the many fantastic museums and art galleries that Canberra has to offer, and driving into the city centre to sample – wait for it, a little piece of England – Jamie’s Italian! Another highlight was the Sunday morning market at the old bus station and a look around the glassworks, witnessing the artists create vases, glasses and sculpture made from glass.

From Canberra we travel back to their home in Albury, for a slice of Australian life and a catch up with our friends of many years. We are grateful for their hospitality – it’s so lovely to relax and not have to be in a hotel for a change, and we spend a few days not doing very much apart from sampling local coffee and walking in the local botanical gardens. Simple things, such as doing a bit of washing, having a home cooked meal, and playing with their gorgeous Labrador George – after many weeks of travelling it’s these opportunities, and the chance to sit back and reflect on the last two weeks which are worth their weight in gold. One thing I am looking forward to is my own bed, and an opportunity to hang up my clothes and not live out of a suitcase – travel is a wonderful thing, but after a while it does make you appreciate the little things that mean a lot back home, despite the generosity and amenability of your hosts, wherever you may be in this world.

Prince – Melbourne gig review 17th February 2016

February 17, 2016

Enter stage centre, in silhouette, complete with afro, surrounded by a swirling paisley kaleidoscope backdrop. His royal purpleness, funkiness, whatever you want to call him, owns the stage at the Melbourne State Theatre tonight. From the first second, we are captivated. Prince Rogers Nelson begins his set with a song about Melbourne – Big City – the crowd respond enthusiastically, constantly reminding him how much they love him. How can one man, one tiny man (sorry Prince) exude so much love, energy and sex appeal? He owned the crowd, the piano, the funk. I thought I would be witnessing a pretty laid back show, but how wrong could I be? We were up dancing and didn’t sit down until we got back to our hotel. The renowned shy man snuck a few sidelong glances as he murmured between songs, and we lapped it up. He smiled at our response. Leaving the stage several times during the performance only added to the electricity felt in the room. Although there was audience of 2000 people tonight, it felt like he was playing to just a handful of us in the first few rows (yes we were that lucky and silly with the credit card to get us here!). Paisley Park, Purple Rain, Cream, Satisfy, plus a few from his new album HitnRun, Little Red Corvette, How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore, Raspberry Beret, Rock n Roll Love Affair, plus some back numbers we haven’t heard before. I expect some clever clogs on Twitter will have the set list soon! He finished with Nothing Compares to U – we are yelling for more but the house lights loom large, and people start to leave. The Arts Centre Melbourne tower is lit up purple for him, people are taking selfies everywhere. Cameras and phones were strictly banned under Prince’s instructions, and the gig was all the better for it. One bright spark lit her lighter in front of us during one of the ballads, which was quickly confiscated by the efficient security. I’m back at our hotel now and it’s hard to sleep, so I’m playing his new CD given out to everyone (sorry neighbours) and writing my thoughts down here. He’s doing two nights in Sydney 20/21st Feb, I believe they are sold out too. If you get a chance to see him anywhere, I strongly urge you to do so if you love the funk…

From frantic Sydney to laid back Bateman’s Bay

February 13, 2016

Apart from drinks and dinner with friends in Sydney, one highlight has to be a trip the MCA at Circular Keys. This year, one of Britain’s favourite artists, someone who is fast becoming a national treasure – Grayson Perry – has an exhibition here, so we have to go and see. The last one I saw was back in 2003 at Tate Britain, when he won the Turner Prize. That was confined to an exhibition of his many decorative pots, but this was something else. From his early drawings and sketched out ideas, to the more familiar pots, there were also many bronze sculptures, (For those who know his work, his beloved Alan Measles features heavily) and the most amazingly detailed and vibrant tapestries, each with their own narrative. The collection was well laid out, and enhanced by there being few visitors midweek (goodness knows where the hundreds of tourists from the huge ocean liner go each day, they don’t know what they are missing here) so we could get really close to everything and take our time. Sadly I couldn’t return every day to have another look so I bought the book to read when we return to the UK. Next to the MCA is a fabulous pop up bar – the aptly named Gin Garden, where everything ‘gin’ is available with the lovely view of the harbour bridge, the opera house and of course the gigantic ocean liner which shields the duo when it docks daily, roll on 7pm when it leaves and the famous view is restored!
Another ‘must do’ is to get on one of the green and gold ferries to go across the harbour – we chose to go to Darling Harbour this way rather than traipse through the hot sweaty streets. Sadly this is the only opportunity we have – but next time…

Bateman’s Bay is a little slice of paradise after the noise of the city. Our hotel overlooks a lake, and is full of bird life – King Parrots, Ibis, Moorhens, Fantails, and Cormorants, and some I can’t identify. A short drive into the town and we find the boat yard and fish shop (lots of hopeful Pelicans here!) where we book a trip up the Clyde River for a leisurely three hour round trip. The wildlife evades us as it’s so hot, save for a lonesome Pelican at Nelligen. Nelligen is largely shut, apart from a tiny store where we buy ice creams before the trip home. The sound of the boat engine is soporific and it’s hard to keep our eyes open. Later in the afternoon we discover an almost deserted ‘Surfside beach’ where laze for a while. A snooze later and we venture back into town for pizza and a beer before an early night and the next day’s trip to Canberra to meet up with friends. Such is the life of a new retiree, roaming from beach to sofa to and back again…

The middle bit – Tamborine, Tamworth and Sydney

February 10, 2016

One of the things I love best about Australia is it’s vastness and the views – and the incredible wildlife. Driving back to Tamborine from Noosa we decide to take a small diversion through the Glasshouse Mountains, to the Melena Botanical Gardens and Aviary. It was far too hot to walk around the gardens by the time we arrived around 2pm, but we were in time for a tour of the aviary – which turns out to be one of my holiday highlights. Our guide introduced us to some of the tamer birds, a black cockatoo, a Corella (a bit like a cockatoo, smaller and without the yellow crest) and various bold and cheeky Macaws. Bribe them with a bit of seed and they’ll come and sit on your shoulder or head for a while, or if you forget to take off your necklace the Corella may come in a snuggle with his beady eye on it’s ulterior motive! The aviary has a separate area for rescued birds – many people take on an African grey parrot or a Macaw, not realising that they can easily out live humans by many years, and can be a very demanding pet to keep domestically. Hopefully the birds can be rehabilitated to eventually join the rest of the aviary, but they seem very calm and well cared for here. The views of the Glasshouse Mountains from here are incredible, almost prehistoric in nature, it’s a beautiful part of the country.
Our friends suggest a ride down to Southport on the Gold Coast to have a look at the famous Versace Hotel – we drive past it but instead of going in, we park next door and have a fantastic seafood meal overlooking the marina, full of boats we can only dream about (how the other half live) – the Moreton Bay Bugs may be an ugly critter but they taste absolutely divine!
Australia Day, 26th January – the tradition is to spend it with friends and family having a barbeque – and often it rains, just like any Bank Holiday back in the UK! The difference up in Tamborine is that the temperature is in the high twenties, so it’s a pleasure to be outside and not huddled under an umbrella or watching chef man the BBQ from a doorway while he (it’s generally a bloke job somehow) sizzles and gets soaked at the same time. Our host does a fantastic job, cooking for a family of eleven, plus the two of us. I’ve known Elaine since we were both seventeen, more years ago than we care to remember – as a consequence I know her family too, and she is lucky enough to have them all emigrate to Australia to join her at some point, they now live no more than 40 minutes away from each other.
After everyone has left and we’ve settled down to sleep, a commotion emerges outside – it’s coming from the garage. It transpires that a baby possum has been trapped in the garage for a couple of days, and Elaine & Glyn are trying to persuade him to leave! He eventually runs out, and blinded by the security lights runs straight into the shed wall, then dashes off into the forest. The next day, we say goodbye, a bit sad but happy in the knowledge we will be back, hopefully for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.
It’s a long drive to our next destination – Sydney – so we decide to take the inland route for a change, and stopover in Tamworth, which is home to the Golden Guitar Motor Inn and the capital of Australian Country Music. Not a genre we are fond of, but we thought it would be fun to find out more. It transpires that the annual festival of country music finished last week – so the town is now a bit knackered and most places are shut! Our hotel room was a reasonable price but the manager tells me it would have been $500AUD a night during festival – as they say over here – crikey!!!

Tamworth behind us, we arrive to a bit of luxury in Sydney, our hotel is close to the Rocks and the harbour bridge – we cannot fault the hotel, the service and quality is amazing, and very friendly too. It’s a busy time, we need to catch up with a friend’s brother and his partner and their three year old, an old work colleague and friend of Pete’s, and another friend we met through twitter who is a fellow Spurs fan. The city also put on a couple of incredible storms while we were there. Sydney made the news when lightning struck the Westfield Tower, and we were having lunch in Dymocks bookshop at the time, and we certainly felt the impact! I’ve never seen rain like it, the streets turn into small rivers and you can get soaked to the skin in seconds if you are caught in it. The second storm struck while we were having drinks with Pete’s friend in the Glenmore Hotel – the rooftop bar has amazing views of the city – the sky turned as dark as night, and the rain was like stair rods – so we had to stay for another couple until it passed…

Week three/four – From Mornington to Byron Bay, via Albury & Nelson’s Bay, then onto Tamborine

January 25, 2016

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One of the disadvantages of touring Australia by car (for there aren’t many in my book) is the long distances between destinations. On paper, a seven hour drive seems doable, until it turns into nearly ten with a couple of stops. So, we make our way to Byron’s Bay to meet friends for a long weekend break, with a quick stopover at their house in Albury (stop at a supermarket to get a disappointing supper) then it’s up early to travel to Nelson’s Bay – but by the time we arrive it’s pretty late and dark once we’ve had dinner at the pub next door to the hotel – so you get the picture, you simply don’t get time to explore the area. Still, the main point is to get up there and meet our friends and enjoy Byron.
Byron Bay is like stepping into another world – laid back, invariably sunny and warm, full of hippies, students on gap years and other assorted ‘characters’ – yet the vibe is good, the beach beautiful and it’s impossible not to relax and absorb. Four nights zip by, and it’s soon time to drive to Tamborine to our friend’s place in the forest. I’ve know her since I was seventeen, and she was responsible for getting me and my husband together back in 1982! We lost touch for a large number of years (before the days of internet and mobile phones) and it was a chance meeting between a mutual friend which reunited us seven years ago. Since then we’ve seen each other three times and this will be the fourth – it’s like the years roll back and we chat like we’ve never been apart.
Their house in Tamborine is beautiful, so quiet and still (apart from the cicada’s), so it’s impossible not to relax. Days are spent chatting, swimming in the pool, relaxing in the hot tub, exploring the area and sleeping! A family of butcher birds visit every afternoon for a treat of minced beef – they’ve been feeding them since before our last visit in 2013, and now the birds have three babies. Watch them every day and you can see small changes, they get a little bolder, lose a few more downy feathers, and practice being able to catch the meat mid-air. One night we are visited by a possum and his mum, and I am in wildlife element! They only pop in for a drink of water, a munch on the plants and helpfully pose for a couple of photos. During our stay we spend a night away in Noosa, to catch up with a couple we first met ten years ago at a resort in Uluru. Since then we have managed to see them every time we’ve come to Australia, for dinner in Noosa. We dined on fabulous seafood at Gusto, which is on the river – where we get special attention as they eat there an awful lot!
Our motel, a bit of a bargain for Noosa at £70 a night is great, a bit like the Travelodge chain in the UK – huge comfy bed and pillows, fierce shower, clean and friendly with lots of parking. This one even had a pool! We decide to spend a few hours shopping and having breakfast, then drive a bit further out from the car park in the woods and discover another beach we’ve not seen before – idyllic, not busy and littered here and there with swimmers and kite surfers. The sea is an unbelievable tropical blue, the breeze just enough to take the intense 32 degree heat off our backs. Shame we didn’t book a second night! Next time though…

Road trip – week three, and a bit of a shock.

January 15, 2016

Packing up the car (we can never travel light) until it groans, we begin the long trip to Albury, where our friends are letting us stay for one night while they are in Byron Bay, where we are meeting them later in the week. After a quick bit of shopping for food, we settle on the sofa for a night in front of the TV, outside it’s about 40 degrees and like stepping into a sauna, thank heavens for air con. After a few minutes I spot a story on Facebook, and can’t believe what I’m reading. David Bowie has died after an 18 month battle with cancer. We had listened to his new album on the journey, loved it, and were wondering what he would do next. Never expected this. It can’t be true, can it? The comments that follow are equally disbelieving, claiming that his page has been hacked and it’s some horrible cruel hoax. For the next few minutes we are glued to Twitter and the various ‘reliable’ news sources as the awful truth is revealed. He had kept it secret from everyone except close friends and family, it was true. One of my teenage idols had gone, claimed by this dreadful disease, he was human after all. Strange to feel so upset about someone I have never met, but I spent the next few hours reflecting on how his attitude, words and music had affected my life and that of so many others. Facebook and Twitter were filled with tributes, YouTube clips, interviews and reminisces from those closest to him in the business. It was some strange comfort that a lot of my friends felt the same as we exchanged memories and feelings. The outpouring of grief was surreal, much like that when Elvis, Diana and Jacko passed away – you only need mention one word and everyone knows who you are talking about, like it or not, they are icons of the modern world. It’s true what everyone says – his last album, Blackstar was his way of saying goodbye – just listen to the beautifully crafted lyrics, and see if they don’t touch your heart.