Sunday, October 24, 2010

Home again and thinking about the next trip

It is nice to be home. Our bed is so comfortable!  The garden looks splendid, if a little overgrown. We are full of ideas and energy to do up the house. And of course it is lovely to catch up with family...

This morning as we walked through the reserve (we are on a  health kick to try and get rid of the extra weight we have gained) Alan and I debriefed on the the highlights and best memories from the trip.  We are keen to do another big trip in a year or so.  I feel I will be much better prepared for the next trip based on what we learnt from this one.

Next time:
  • I will take less clothes
  • I will buy some of those special quick drying travel trousers (much as I don't like the look of them) and quick drying underwear
  • I will be realistic and take some clothes in a bigger size to accommodate a bit of weight gain
  • I will stick with Shauna's excellent travel tip of having clothes sorted in the suitcase in plastic bags for tops, underwear, extras etc. to avoid having to pull everything out all the time
  • I will take a small hairdryer - not so much for the hair but for quick drying of washed underwear
  • We will definitely take a compass - having got lost at least once a day, this would have definitely helped
  • We will take a fork, knife and spoon and plastic plate each and a corkscrew
  • Preplanning of travel and accommodation really saves time and energy
  • Location in a city is the number one priority for accommodation
  • Booking tours in advance is a good idea - some of our best days ended up being on the tours we took - Amalfi and Pompeii, Countryside Provence etc.
  • Good walking shoes and bandaids are essential
  • Posting things home worked well and everything arrived okay
  • High capacity memory stick or hard drive for backing up the photos on the laptop
  • Take several universal adapters in case you lose one or more
  • Hold on to small change and notes for tips
  • When driving on the right hand side of the road, remind yourself particularly at the start of a journey to keep to the right!
  • Download photos every day and remove from camera - keep in separate folders for each day on the computer as it is easier to organise them all later.  Backup regularly.
That's all for now - time to get out in the garden again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dubai stopover

 Once again we meet a taxi driver who has left his family in another country and works here 11 months of the year alone.  It seems Dubai is owned by wealthy Arabs but staffed by Pakistanis, Indians, Egyptians and countless other nationalities.  Everyone we meet, however, is full of praise for this gleaming new city. 

We arrive in Dubai at 7 am and sleep until early afternoon in our hotel.  This time we know not to walk anywhere in this city as it's just too darn hot.  We catch a taxi to Dubai Mall and wander around bedazzled by the swanky mall's interior with its vast array of shops, ice-skating rink, inbuilt aquarium, gold souk, fountain and light show on the half hour.  We both have a bit of a last minute shopping spree.  Good to see husband finally buy himself something!

Another taxi drive to another shopping precinct - this one selling traditonal wares near the beach area and the seven star Al Qasr Hotel.  We decide to have dinner and sit in an open area overlooking an artificial lake and the amazing sight of the hotel.  Three different waiters compete for our order - each from different restaurants.  Quite ridiculous - Alan has a meal from one, me another and because we don't want to leave the other one out Alan has an apple juice from the third.

Arab men smoking hookers are at other tables.  We can't have an alcoholic drink with dinner so after our meal we head down the steps to the bean bag area right beside the lake for a drink.  It is an extraordinary atmosphere with lounge music playing and lights in the date palms casting intriguing shadows. We watch as the Al Qasr comes alive with strobe lights up and down its sail shape and comment on the helicopter pad which perches off to one side near the top of the building like a side table for drinks.  Bizarre!  After being in Europe where everything is old it is strange to be somewhere where everything is new and the architecture is so vastly different.  Tomorrow we will be back in Australia - which will be a different story again...

Goodbye Paris - we will be back

The view from our room - Hotel Marignan
 in the Latin Quarter
Okay so we discover on our last day in Paris that it is not all picture perfect.  We catch the metro to what we think in the Montmatre area but emerge into an African ghetto.  Well it could well be.  We wander around for a while but it is raining and we are feeling like we don't belong here so hop back on the metro to the Latin Quarter.

The art and craft market at Bastille is just cranking up when we arrive.  I buy a lovely handsewn top from a young designer and some earrings.  A last lunch off Boulevard St Germaine and we taxi it to the airport - hours early but it seems the time to move on.  We are in the mental space now of the homeward journey.  One thing is for sure though - we intend to return to this enchanting city.  Au revoir.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The only thing wrong with Paris is the men pissing in the street says Susan

Top of Eiffel Tower
We are on a mission.  It is our last full day in Paris.  First the Eiffel Tower.  Up on the first stage landing we queue for nearly an hour to get the lift to the top.  Only two lifts are working instead of four.  One doesn't even want to contemplate if it is safe to go in the remaining lifts.  The view from the top is staggering.  You can see for 50 kms or more in any direction and the city and its major monuments are laid out below us with the Seine snaking through it.  I am pleased to go down the lift again though to ground level where there are many hawkers selling miniature Eiffel Towers.

We walk across the Seine and up to the Arc De Triomphe and Alan points out the exact spot where he stood at 11 am on 11 November 1980. Yes my husband has a wonderful way with dates.

Onwards down the Champs Elysee where at one intersection a movie is being filmed. The director calls "Action" and we take photos of the actors driving by in a car commenting that we will have to watch French movies for the next few years to identify them.

The Musee D'Orsay has a fabulous collection of impressionist paintings with all the big names there.  I am very taken with the raw energy of Van Gogh's self portrait amongst other paintings...

A one hour cruise on the Seine gives us a chance to sit down for a while.  It is a cold on the top deck but a great way to see all the sights.  There are gypsies living along the river in makeshift dwellings, which reminds me of our gypsy gold ring scam of yesterday.

We were in the gardens near the Louvre when a woman in front of us bent down and picked up a gold ring.  "Is it yours?" she asks Sue and I.  No. "Oh well," she says "I don't want it - it must be your lucky day."  There is no-one around any and obviously no-one to give the ring to so we take it, both trying it on.  Just as she is leaving us she says "By the way can you give me some money for a coke."  Of course we feel obliged.  Neither of us feels very good about the ring and suspect it is a scam.  Next day we see her in action near Musee D'Orsay and I give her back the ring telling her we don't want her bad luck. What a way to make a living.

It is our final meal all together as Sue is leaving for Germany first thing in the morning.  We dine at La Petite Perigourdine and it is lucky we are early as it is a very popular restaurant and fills up fast.  Sue has the duck served in a copper pot with small berry fruits and pasta with mushrooms.  Alan has beef steak, served dramatically with a folded cheese potato mix.  I have the veal with fois gras sauce and aubergines.  Everything tastes amazing.  We finish with a stunning dessert of burnt plums in sticky caramel sauce with ice cream.  Absolutely divine!

I love Paris in the autumn

It is very chilly so I buy a hat
It is not hard to love Paris.  Everything and everyone is so stylish and there is so much to feast the eyes upon.  We find a flea market just around the corner from our hotel and Sue and I are in seventh heaven - Alan not so.  We catch up with him at Notre-Dame.  Then it's on to the Louvre, walking along the Seine to get there.  It is 3.30 pm before we even draw breathe.  I have my picture taken with the Mona Lisa.

Next we walk through Jardin des Tuilleries, where even slumped in chairs taking in the sun around the circular water pond the French manage to look glamorous.  There is an installation of a white tree sculpture being lowered into one pond which is entertaining to watch for a while. 

The Musee de L'Orangerie contains Claude Monet's vast collection of waterlillies plus numerous works by Renoir, Cezanne, Modiglinia, Matisse, Picasso.  It is all wonderful.

We debrief over dinner at L'Etoile du Berger, which is playing live music when we arrive.  Being near the Sorbonne there are lots of eccentric academic types there.  We start with escargots - very tasty.  Alan then has the mussels, which are small and keep him busy for hours.  I have a huge salad with goat's cheese and Sue has a chicken salad.  Alan has profiteroles with ice cream for dessert, me the caramel ice cream and Sue the berries and ice cream.  Mmmm.

Hat hair and the Mona Lisa

Goodbye Portugal - shame about the grafitti

We visit the Fado museum along from our guesthouse on our last morning in Portugal.  It is a great museum - very innovative.  I have never been to a sound museum before and find it very entertaining.  We walk around with our own personal speakers clicking on the numbers of people who look interesting to hear them singing.  We have been to several exhibitions now in Portugal that I am very impressed with - the Portugese have a great way with graphics and design.  It's such an enormous shame though about all the grafitti - on every house, building, monument, church. It kind of spoils everything and makes you think the Portugese don't value what they've got.

We fly into Paris in the late afternoon.  There is a golden hue over everything.  Ah - so good to be in France again.  The love affair with France palls slightly when it takes us over half an hour to get a ticket for the rail trip into the city.  The machines won't take credit cards, then they won't take notes...  The trip is also incredibly long and involves two trains.  It is hours after we have touched down that we finally make it to Hotel Marignan in the Latin Quarter at 13 rue de Sommerand.  Great little hotel in a quiet street just minutes from Notredame.

We venture our for a late meal to a bar restuarant around the corner.  It is very French, very cosy and we have a good meal - not high cuisine but comfort type food: duck breast for me and pork with mustard sauce for Alan and Sue.  We all have the creme caramel with grapes in it with brown sugar glasing.  Hmm - yes no wonder I have put on weight - all these desserts!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flea markets and new shoes in Lisbon

At 8am we are jostling together in the small shared bathroom after all the young things in the hostel have departed following hours of grooming and using up all the hot water. After breakfast Alan decides to do his own thing as he suspects Rose, Sue and I will be doing too much shopping for his liking. He departs to ride the hop on-hop off bus around the city. We walk up the little alleyways of the old town to find the Tuesday morning flea market up by a cathedral. It is very much a flea market - mostly old junk but I buy two fabulous tunics from a young designer. We meet up with Alan back near our hostel to have lunch and to toast Rose, who is leaving us in the afternoon, with a jug of sangria.

Alan, Sue and I walk back into town and visit a couple of fabulous exhitibitions. At the Viva la Republique exhibition on tourism in the early 20th century we buy lots of  postcards and arty gifts. Afterwards Alan does his own thing again and explores museums and takes lots of photos around town. Sue and I do some serious 'shop bothering' without too much luck although I do manage to buy two pair of shoes - a pair of red scholls and cheap sandals. Near the main square by the port while we wait for Alan I ceremoniously dump my old black sandals in a bin. They are barely hanging together after the many hundreds of kilometres walked on this trip.

We collapse back at the hostel on our bunks for a few hours until going out for our final dinner in Lisbon. The restaurant is empty when we arrive.


"Restaurant Trigio Latino is just a stone's throw from our guesthouse Beira Mar. It is decorated in a combination of retro furniture and modern tile art. Front of house is a charming young Portugese man wearing a vest and jeans and his Swedish partner. We start with a complimentary cocktail and after some advice I choose the duck and date pie. Lee chooses the prawns with a mango sauce while Alan has stuffed chicken breasts with a mushroom sauce. The wine is good - a Duoro red for me and Lee and Alan has a white. The restaurant is packed as we wait for our desserts. I have the zablagione with eucalyptus icecream, Lee has the fresh pineapple with chocolate sauce and Alan a blackberry cheesecake with basil icecream, which he tries to swap for mine."

Goodbye Rose - we miss you!

Lisbon - Moving and washing day

By 9.30 am after a big breakfast (to make up for the cost of the rooms at Hotel Barcelona) we are on the metro with our bags in peak hour. Our new accommodation is a complete contrast. We are in a youth hostel, the four of us sharing a room with six bunk beds. The walls of our dorm are decorated with painted tiles. We are however right in the centre of the action in Alfama, the old part of the city.

Next on the agenda - off to a laundromat. We find Lavandaria Lava Neve in Rua Algeria 37 in Sao Jose, a stone's throw from Avenida metro stop. The lovely French woman slaving over an ironing board tells us she will put our clothes in the dryer after they are finished in the washing machines. When we return she is folding my undies very nicely.

We spend the afternoon wandering through Lisbon central area and looking in many shops. We go on a venicular up to a lookout and take the number 28 tram to the castle. As we have seen so many castles on this trip we don't actually go inside but wander down the hill to a little restaurant for some sardines and sangria - as you do in Lisbon.

It is a late lunch at 4 pm. We also try a caprihinia cocktail which is delicious - rum and limes and sugar. Quite potent.

Being in the fado district (fado being Portugese traditional music) we decide to find a restaurant with fado around 9pm.

The setting is fabulous, the music is wonderful and the food so woeful it is not worth writing about.

Typical Lisbon street scene (minus the grafitti)

Relief - a laundromat at last!
Our new accommodation - Guesthouse Beira Mar- our room is the middle
 balcony on the second floor

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Carlos and the pink palaces

Yesterday the taxi driver who took us to our hotel offered to take us on a tour of Sintra with a stop at the royal palace on the way and the coast on the way back. We took him up on the offer and at 9.30 am Carlos and his taxi are waiting for us.

Carlos is an excellent tour guide. He plays fado music in the taxi to create the right ambience and is very attentive with Sue, Rose and I. He tells us he used to work in the Algarve as a waiter, barman and 'lover' and this is how he learnt his English.

First stop is an amazing pink palace, Queluz National Palace, that looked a bit scrappy from the outside but is gorgeous inside. Huge high ceilings, lots of ornate gilt edged walls and decorations, fabulous furnishings, tiled surfaces, mirrors and walls - although all looking a bit faded and jaded. The over-the-top glitz and ornateness of it reminds me of the kind of decorations on the old musical carousel in the Hobart Botanical Gardens. The garden around the palace is vast and also very grand and we wander around it in the rain.

Upward and onwards to Sintra and Pena, the national palace which embodies the essence of the 19th century Romanitic artistic movement. The palace was built on the site of a monastery and is like a fantasy castle. Poets, including Bryon, have waxed lyrical over it. It looks like a castle that has been designed by someone on acid. Psychadelic colours, small unusually shaped rooms - all highly decorated. We are all pretty amazed. The surroundings around and below the castle are also quite magical. Beautiful natural forests all around. It is easy to see why it is World Heritage listed.

After a little shop in Sintra, Carlos drives us to the coast. He is very taken with wealth and points out every big house along the way. He even stops and shows us through a very expensive hotel on the coast where it costs three or four hundred euro a night for a room. We drive on to the western most point of mainland Europe where there is a lighthouse and pounding surf.

Next stop the fish restaurant right on the coast with views sweeping of the Atlantic Ocean that Carlos has decided we will be eating at. It is much more upmarket than our usual fare and we have to wait half an hour to get a table, by which time it is 4 pm.


"Some fish is bought over in a basket for us to choose what we would like. It is sold by the kilo. We choose a bream and a sea bass which is whisked off to be grilled. Meanwhile we settle into a bottle of Tavedo 2009, another great Duoro white. Our cooked fish is ceremoniously served at our table with potatoes and green beans. It is rather nice and the wine so good we order another bottle. We finish up with the only dessert available on the menu due to the lateness of the day. A nougat icecream with a sticky sauce. We are all a bit shocked by the 196 euro bill for lunch!"

Back in the car (with Carlos' selection of music now much more uptempo to reflect our slightly inebriated state) we drive along the coast to Cascais, which looks very much like the French Riveria (ha - now that I have been there I can say that!). The surf splashes over the road as we travel on and back to Lisbon. A memorable day and worth every bit of the 160 euros we pay Carlos for our personal tour.

Pena Palace, Sintra

Queluz National Palace

Coimbra & Lisbon - Sue and Rose get into trouble

Despite the rain the day starts off well. The train trip to Lisbon is uneventful but finding accommodation when we arrive proves to be a bit tricky. I think we had all been expecting to just hop off the train and have offers of fabulous accommodation presented to us. But no it is a holiday weekend in Spain and Brazil, which has bought lots of tourists to Lisbon and just about everything is booked out. The tourist office manages to find us accommodation a little way out of town near Campo Pequno metro station. It is very expensive and a bit souless and as Sue says "We could be in Melbourne."

It is still raining and we are all a bit depressed. We have piles of dirty washing and Alan and I head out to find a laundromat. Sue and Rose go off towards town to look at alternative accommodation.

Alan and I return even more depressed - no laundromat. Sue and Rose return glad to be alive. Their little outing attracts a police force (well 8 policemen) and a fire brigade after they get trapped in a very small lift with two young spaniards.

We all need to retire to our rooms to be glum for a while before going out for dinner to a restaurant recommended by the hotel receptionist. We trudge up the street in the pouring rain to find Restaurant oFunil. It is a bit glam (Michelin rated) and we are all still in our dirty and wet clothes. The restaurant ends up being a fabulous end to an otherwise bad day.

Over to Sue:

"We go straight into the main course. I spy duck breast on the menu and decide to go with this, as does Lee. The breast is quite rare, sliced and glazed with a cream balsamic sauce and served with an aubergine gratin. It doesn't disappoint us. Alan and Rose choose lamb cutlets served on a bed of cornmeal crumbs with asparagus and a mint jus. They too are very happy. We wash the excellent meal down with a bottle of red, a Vila Regia 2007 from the Douro region. Alan has the white from the same vineyard. Dessert is equally as splendid. Rose and Alan's chocolate mousse is served with an orange sauce and cat's tongue wafers. I take a risk and choose a ricotto cheese with sweet pumpkin sauce, which is seasoned with nutmeg. It is delicious. Lee airs on the safe side with a creme brulee. We finish the excellent meal with coffee. The service is extremely attentive and the whole meal comes to 94 euros."

Longing to do our washing

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Diana tour of Coimbra surrounds

I decide I will go easy on the food and drink today. None of my clothes fit me comfortably any more. Apart from that they are all dirty and wet from all the rain. I am feeling a bit homesick - I think I am nearly over this travel caper.

Alan and I walk up to the University before breakfast. At 10 am we are in our square when we hear Diana (State Ref library colleague of Alan's) shouting at us from her grey volvo at the lights: "GET IN THE CAR." We pile in unceremonously and away we go, Diana talking ten to the dozen.

Tearing along the highway like locals we head towards the Roman ruins at Conimbriga. We get lost so have a coffee break. Diana tells us that a latte is called a mia delite and insists that we try the local delicacy - pastel nata, a custard filled pastry. Fabulous, but there go the diet plans for the day!

We have all but given on finding the ruins but accidentally stumble on them 4 kms out of Conimbrigia. Alan is ecstatic to get another fix of Roman empire remnants. He is very taken with the site, particularly by the mosaic floors. He waxes lyrical about the colours in the mosaics.

After visiting the ruins of the Roman empire in three different countries now and noting the similarities in the way the towns and houses were laid out in each we have quite an appreciation of the incredible town planning disciplines and organisational powers of the conquering Romans.  Life in an ancient Roman town would have been quite pleasant.

We get lost again before heading towards Montemor-o-Velho, 32 kms west of Coimbra.

And of course we lunch.


"Rose, Lee and I have grilled bass and salad. Alan has grilled ribs and Diana pork mixed up with cubed vegies. All quite tasty - and cheap again. Five meals with two beers, minerals waters and coffees comes to under 35 euros."

We walk off lunch at Montemor-o-Velho castle, which broods over the flood plain of the Mondega. It was built in about the 10th or 11th century and looks very Norman with moorish influences.  I find it very dramatic and interesting but I can't help comparing it to 'our' castle back at Hautefort in France where the outlook from the castle is so surreally beautiful.  Here it is a bit more 'Glenorchy'.

Back at Coimbra it is pouring down with rain but we wade around alleyways looking for that elusive shop I have talked up so much.

I decide to skip dinner and drinks and stay in my room watching the update on the mine rescue via CNN on telly and listening to the rain outside. The food battlers, however, strike out again.


"We decide to revist our restaurant of the previous night. They have changed the menu. Alan has the salted cod cooked in milk (recommended by Diana) with the bright yellow chips and rice again. The meal had a curdled kind of look. Rose and I have a dish of pasta and meat chunks with salad and a half jug of red wine and then it is home to bed early."

Umbrella time in Porto and Coimbra

It is pouring in Porto as we walk around town for one last look around. As is always the way we discover interesting streets we haven't come across before just as we are about to leave. There are lots of very over the top bridalwear shops where we take photos to show Elysia.

We have lunch in the middle of the shopping area in a little cafe called Tupi Tupi where people are queueing to get a table.

Over to Sue:

"Alan has his usual serving of soup - vegetable this time. We compensate with a glass of red wine because we can't have him having more than us. We all have the fish - it is nice - boneless, moist and lightly battered. (Apparently it was the Portugese who introduced tempura to the Japanese.) The meal is accompanied by rice with beans - risotto style - and carrot salad. The ambience is enhanced by the shimmering peacock-blue eyelids of the elderly lady behind us. It is our best meal in Portugal so far for only 27 euros for all us including the good red wine."

The train trip to Coimbra takes just over an hour and we find accommodation right behind the main square opposite the river. Pensao Residencial Larbelo is very efficiently run and very clean. We are told off by the stern lady behind the desk to move so the cleaning lady, in her housecoat and scrubbing away on her knees, can clean the floor behind us. The rooms are spotless but ours are three floors up the spiral red staircase.

After a predinner drink in a great courtyard we find a little restaurant in an alleyway. They don't speak any English which makes for interesting identification of menu items.


"Lee, Rose and I have the pork chops with very yellow french fries and rice with a carafe of red. The chops are a bit dry. We also have three salads and numerous bits of bread. Alan has roast chicken washed down with a carafe of white wine. Again the meal is ridiculously cheap."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 33 – Porto

Raining, raining, raining – we take a ride on the top of a tourist bus and wind around the city, across the bridge and port 'caves' area. All rather fascinating. Some observations: old women wearing short frilly aprons, the short stature of many Portuguese people, lots of young people smoking, prayer gatherings and marches, the food all seems to be yellow coloured, there is graffiti absolutely everywhere...

Around noon we return to the hotel to wait for the arrival of Rose from Germany. Now Alan has three wives instead of just the two!

Back down in the port area we take a tour on the Douro River under the five bridges which span various parts of the city. As we pass under one of the highest bridges I joke with Rose about hearing the splash of a jumper from the bridge. Less than a minute later my joke is in actual fact a grim reality. Just as we have passed under the bridge a man has jumped but we are all looking forward at the scenery ahead and don't see him. The captain of our ship stops the boat and circles around looking for the body, police boats speed to the scene, sirens sound along the roadways. When it becomes obvious no body is going to surface our tour continues. We are all quiet for a while.

Back at the port we have a quick bite before heading over the bridge to the port lodges. We visit Graham's for a wine tour and port tasting. Alan buys a bottle of the 10-year old tawny.

Food critic Sue describes our dinner experience:

“Deciding to eat off the tourist track we choose a restaurant up a side street. The waiter is a character and steers us through the menu. Once again we stick to a seafood theme. After Alan's grass soup he and I have octopus, which is is rather unusually served as a tentacle curled on the plate, and in my opinion a bit tasteless. Lee has seafood rice and Rose cod brago with 'blown' potatoes. Dessert is the highlight of the meal – after being shown the dessert menu we are told there is nothing available apart from pineapple or orange with port. The pineapple is plucked from the display on the counter, sliced and served with ruby port.”

Day 32 – Goodbye France hullo Portugal

We take photos with Larry before we leave. He's been wonderful company during our stay at Fleur de Gites – a very interesting life and some amazing stories. We take away many fond memories of our stay here – nights by the fire sipping great Bordeaux red wines, cats on laps, misty views from bedroom windows, creaking floorboards. I don't think I have ever slept so soundly anywhere else before.

St Emilion was such a special place to visit on our drive from Bordeaux to Hautefort that we stop in there again on our return trip. Another lunch in the square and a chance to buy some of those things we wished we'd bought the first time.

Would you believe my bag weighs only 14 kg – thanks to all the parcels and boxes sent home. Ryan Air is a very no-frills airline but it does what it promises and gets us to Porto on time.

We catch the train into town and get off at a station that seems to be in a very derelict part of town. It is raining and there is graffiti everywhere, decaying walls, chipped pavements, ugly houses – all a bit of a shock after France where it seems everything is picture-perfect even when run down.

However, our hotel the Rex has some semblance of former grandeur – elaborate ceilings, dark heavy ornate furniture, chandeliers. We check in then head out for dinner. More grubby facades down narrow lane ways but it does change to wider avenues and gracious but decaying old buildings and the fabulous port area where we have dinner in a restaurant watching the rain fall on the harbour.

Over to our food writer Sue:

“The nibbles come unordered as appears to be the custom. We have fish and potato balls, a soft cheese and olives with bread. Alan has his soup – this time a vegetable soup followed by calamari. 'Not as good as Greece'. Lee has grilled dora and I have the sea bass. Both are grilled and served with boiled potatoes tossed in olive oil with a bit of salad. Nice onions. Meal is fresh  - clean tastes.”

goodbye France

hello portugal