Off to Menton in southern France all the way by train.

My man and I love trains and with the wonderful TGV and Eurostar it’s not difficult to wizz across Europe from London. The departure lounge at St Pancras is always packed with people sitting anywhere they can. All that space as you walk down between the arcade of shops and then at the end everyone is squeezed into this small holding area. Maybe sometimes it’s quieter but we’ve never seen it like that.

The TGV is a brilliant way to travel. You look out of the window at the cars going along the motorway and they seem to be travelling so slow …they’re not of course, it’s us flashing by. Within two and three quarters hours we’d arrived in sunny Avignon before travelling further south to Menton. The train goes a lot slower after Marseille but we didn’t mind; the weather and the terrain told us we were heading towards the glamorous Cote d’Azur with Menton being the last rail stop before Italy.

Hotel Lemon where we were staying for four nights was just down the road from Menton station. It was a perfect sized hotel for us with only eighteen rooms. Ours was right at the top of this French colonial style building, tucked away from everyone, the only snag being …there was no lift. The owner’s son was on hand fortunately and had no trouble taking both our cases, one on each shoulder up the two flights of stairs to our room – we were very grateful as by now we were definitely flagging.

The town of Menton in the South of France
The town of Menton – an interesting place to wander around.

I can’t say our meal in the town that evening was anything special but we made up for it after that. Our first full day there was spent discovering the town and walking along the promenade. Straightaway we loved the feel of the place. Menton is famous for its lemons and has a festival each year. As well as that it has apparently the most days of sunshine of anywhere in France. What a great boast, very good for tourism that’s for sure. As you can see from the pictures above it lived up to it reputation whilst we were there. I had to take a picture of these two art nouveau wall plaques – Alphonse Mucha painted decorative theatrical posters which was why these two were on the wall of a disused theatre. Good to see they hadn’t been vandalised.

That night we had as superb meal, not French but Italian. If you go to Menton do go to Le Napoli, their home-cooked meals are to die for! It’s more a locals restaurant than a tourist place which to be honest gave it a great atmosphere. The food, tasty sauces, the presentation, the price – everything was perfect. It was so good we went back there on our last night too.

Val Rahmeh Exotic Botanical Gardens
Val Rahmeh Exotic Botanical Gardens

Our second day in Menton and we were off exploring the hillside around the town. The Botanical Gardens of Val Rahmeh are delightful and very quiet. Entrance is just €7 which as they say on their website allows you to wander and enjoy the exotic, elegant, organised chaos of their gardens. Do check the opening times as the ‘old retainers’ go for lunch and they will get you out by 12.30 come hell or high water! The gardens are varied with paths winding through. It’s protected from the winds by the mountains which gives this exotic garden a subtropical micro climate.

I forgot to say that on our way up to the hills we walked through the historic old part of Menton and couldn’t believe how many passageways there are. It’s a mediaeval district with tiny houses built into the side of the hill. We never did find a way through to get out at the top road and maybe there isn’t one.

Cemetery du vieux chateau, Menton
Cemetery du vieux chateau

Leaving the garden we walked further up the hill coming out onto a main road and then turned into Park Pian which was full of olive trees (picture top left). It was so quiet and peaceful and a pleasure just to sit there for a while. Our next stop was the Cemetery du Vieux Chateau which as you would expect was equally quiet! If you follow my Blogs you’ll know how fond I am of cemeteries – well photographing them! This one has the best views of the old town and the harbour and some pretty good statues too. I was in my element taking pictures. There’s the grave of William Webb Ellis here. He is accredited with inventing the sport of rugby so this cemetery has become something of a pilgrimage site for rugby fans.

The rest of the day was spent flaking on the beach, reading and enjoying the sunshine. A couple of hours was enough; the beach was very rocky and quite uncomfortable and we only had a thin towel each. There was just one antidote to recover from our aching backs …a couple of beers at one of the bars along the promenade.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin between Menton & Monaco
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin – a mediaeval village perched on an outcrop high over the Mediterranean

The next day we walked from our hotel to catch the number 100 bus which goes along the coast round to Monaco. We missed the stop by the first staircase which takes you up to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin but spotted the second in time for the driver to stop for us. It’s quite a steep walk up to the village which is perched on the edge of a cliff topped by a 10th century castle which offers a fabulous panoramic view. We were lucky to see the view as not long after we’d arrived at the castle the clouds started to roll in. The main tower is pretty much intact and in fact was rebuilt at the beginning of this century. The medieval village has narrow streets, lots of arched passageways and tiny individual shops and of course cafes and restaurants.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Looks like we’re about to fall off the edge!

After refreshing ourselves with some local beer we made our way down to the corniche by the first staircase and decided to walk back to Menton along the promenade. By now we’re quite hungry and as luck would have it we came across a bakery with a cafe which was bustling with life and selling decent squares of pizzas and yummy cakes – perfect! I’m not sure how far it was to Menton except it felt a fair way so when we got back we headed off to the beach again for another couple hours R&R.

On our third full day we decided to visit Monaco and caught the 100 bus again. Monaco is the name of the country, it has several neighbourhoods and Monte-Carlo is one of these. (I looked this up!).

The Monte-Carlo Casino
The Casino de Monte-Carlo opened in 1863 and is the most prestigious of them all.

Our first stop after getting off the bus and walking along a street lined with very expensive shops (no surprise there), was to pick up a map from the tourist information office. We then walked though a small park with tropical plants and a manicured lawn to the ‘Place du Casino’, which says it all. There are four casinos in the Principality with the Casino de Monte-Carlo being the most luxurious. In the front, on the roundabout is the stunning ‘Sky Mirror’ designed by Anish Kapoor to reflect the fountain, the sky and the casino – it does that beautifully.

The harbour in Monaco
The harbour in Monaco with an enigmatic statue of ‘Le Plonger’ (the diver).

After watching the very smart limos drive sedately around the Place du Casino we headed off to walk around the marina on our way to the Prince’s Palace. It doesn’t cost anything to ogle these super yachts and it’s an interesting stroll. Loved the name of the motor cruiser registered in Poole …the name says it all. The statue of the diver was very impressive but despite trying to find if it was sculpted after anyone famous I’ve drawn a blank on that one.

The Prince's Palace and changing of the guard.
The Prince’s Palace. Every day at precisely 11.55 the Changing of the Guard takes place.

The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, H.S.H. Prince Albert II. Climbing up to the palace was a good aerobic exercise as there are plenty of steep paths and steps – there is an easier way but we like a challenge. We arrived at the square on the dot of 11.55, just as the guards were coming out. The Ceremony lasted about five minutes and although there were lots of tourists watching we managed to get near the front.

We then went to the shop to buy tickets for admission to the Palace which were 10 euros for adults. To my great surprise there was also an exhibition in the state rooms mostly of photographs and film of the afternoon on May 6th 1955 when Grace Kelly visited the Palace and met Prince Rainier. Less than a year after that this legendary film star married her prince. Sorry to disappoint if you’re visiting the palace this year, the exhibition ended on October 15th 2019. Even so, this 13th century Palace which was restored by Prince Rainier (with no expense spared) is magnificent with a spectacular marble staircase, opulent furnishings, frescoes, paintings and tapestries.

After that we were in need of something to eat but is there anywhere cheap to eat in this city? The answer is yes. Just by the market hall is an outside cafe selling drinks and sandwiches and panini at very reasonable prices. We felt quite pleased with ourselves but as by now it was mid afternoon it was time to head back to the station.

Two views of the harbour; inside the atrium of the casino; outside The Casino of Monte-Carlo
Around Monte-Carlo

One final thing we wanted to do was to go into the Casino de Monte-Carlo to have a peak inside – not to gamble but to admire the magnificent Atrium. It’s free to go in and photography is allowed. This superb space with its marble columns, frescoes and gold leaf everywhere is just amazing and impossible to photograph without any one else in the shot.

Did Monte-Carlo come up to our expectations? I’m not sure we had any. You can almost smell the money here but unlike Vegas this place is real. If it looks expensive, then it definitely is. It was well worth the visit but great to get back to some reality. For our last night in Menton we went back to the same Italian restaurant and the patron remembered us even down to the wine we’d drunk the first time!

When Saturday morning arrived we were sorry to leave Menton but as we were heading to Provence our sprits lifted fairly soon. We boarded the local train to Nice and then caught the TGV to Avignon. Next Blog … yes, it’s all about Provence!

Three go to Lisbon (Final Part)

Visiting a cemetery may not be on everyone’s holiday itinerary but I find them fascinating. So much scope for taking pictures and I don’t mean in a morbid way. There’s usually some beautiful statues and often on gravestones in Europe is a picture of the deceased person. Makes it somehow more personal. In this cemetery in Lisbon we came across a memorial to the firemen who had died in an incident in the city. (The memorial is the small picture below the statue).

Cemetery of Pleasures in Lisbon
Cemetery of Pleasures in Lisbon

At the far end of the cemetery is a separate area of graves dedicated to the men who gave their lives to the fire service. It was a peaceful spot, beautifully maintained with a superb view of the Tagus river with the 25th April Bridge bridge across. The cemetery is called Cemiterio dos Prazeres which bizarrely translates as the Cemetery of Pleasures. This would you believe, has become a popular tourist place to visit.

The website says …”When you walk through the large entrance gates and enter the central square, you don’t really notice how big this 20 hectare cemetery is. The paths along the graves are symmetrical, making Cemitério dos Prazeres look like a miniature city for the dead”. If you look at the picture (above), bottom right you can see what they mean. There are lots of avenues with small houses on either side which are the family mausoleums. They have little ‘front doors’ with glass windows which you can peer through and see the caskets …should you wish. Walking along this avenue felt a little weird so we decided to head out and find a beer. Fortunately as the cemetery is just by the terminus to the no 28 tram line, there was plenty of places to get a drink.

I should mention that if you do visit the cemetery there are famous Portuguese personalities buried there including actors, singers, writers and painters. Open every day of the week 0900-17.00.

And now it was our final day. We decided to walk first of all to the St Vincent Monastery to see if we could get in the church to look round. This imposing building dominates the skyline and is huge! Its name in Portuguese is ‘Mosteiro de Sao Vincente de Fora‘ which means ‘Monastery of St Vincent Outside the walls.’

Church of St Vicente

If you go there don’t be put off by thinking it’s closed; walk through the archway on the right which takes you into the walled garden and the entrance is opposite. For a mere €5 you can wander round and enjoy the church, the collection of paintings, sculptures, the museum, an impressive gallery and from the top of the roof of the monastery you get amazing views. I’ve already mentioned that our friend doesn’t like heights so my man and I went up to to check it out. You can just make it out from the picture above that the rooftop has a balustrade and this runs all the way round. I’m so pleased I went down to tell Liz that it was really safe up there – she came up to the top and loved the all-round views.

The convent and church of 16th century St Vincent
The monastery and church of 16th century St Vincent

This beautiful church is in the heart of the Alfama district. Historically this area was associated with poverty, prostitution and squalor where once the poor and disadvantaged lived. Walking through the narrow cobbled streets with its ancient houses, fashionable shops and trendy cafes you could hardly believe it now. It’s a really interesting area with some very steep stone staircases where you can take in the view at the top before descending down to the maze of alley ways lined with tiny independent shops and bars.

We had a simple but delicious lunch at a cafe perched on the corner of one of the streets. We wobbled on our chairs a bit but there’s hardly any streets in the Alfama District which are flat. The fish was fresh, the beer quenched our thirst and if there were fumes from the cars passing close to our table, we didn’t mind. We had time to chat about our fab week in Lisbon; all the things we’d done and how we’ll definitely come back one day. The Alfama District is where Fado is said to have been born. It’s a melancholic style of singing said to be a deep expression of the Portuguese soul and originally associated with sailors and prostitution. This link will take you to five restaurant in Alfama where Fado is sung. uhttps://www.lisbonguru.com/5-best-fado-restaurants-alfama/ There are lots more restaurants and bars so you need to do your research as meals vary in price. To discover more about this traditional music there’s the Museum of Fado but sadly we just couldn’t fit that in before heading home.

The pictures below were all taken in the Alfama district

My favourite picture from our trip to Lisbon.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our week in Lisbon. I felt I need to split the Blog into three parts otherwise it would have been too l-o-n-g! Thanks for sticking with it.

Three go to Lisbon Part 2

If you’re going to Lisbon a friend said, you must visit the Aquarium.

It’s probably something we wouldn’t have thought of doing but when we read about it and the fact it’s the largest indoor aquarium in Europe we decided to go.

The Lisbon Oceanarium
The Lisbon Oceanarium

We caught the underground train from Oriente (East) Station on the Red line and arrived in this very modern part of the city. It’s a redeveloped area by the Tagus River called the Parque das Nações, pictured top left. There’s lots of green spaces, famous Lisbon mosaics and striking contemporary buildings like the Camões Theatre and the Oceanarium. Nearby are trendy waterfront restaurants and the glass-roofed Centro Vasco da Gama, with shops and cinemas. Just walking to the Oceanarium was an experience in itself – a really interesting area.

Unless you have the right equipment, taking pictures of fish in tanks is never easy. Here is a selection which I have to say I was quite pleased with. Also, you know how after a while in these kind of places you start to get bored, well not here. It was brilliantly done and kept our interest going right to the cafeteria. That was the one let down …we should have gone elsewhere for our late lunch.

Oceanarium Lisbon.
Fish in an immense tank. Penguins fairly free to roam in their cold quarters.

My favourite picture is the one top right. It looks like the people are actually in the tank with the shark!

Did I mention that when we were in Lisbon the temperature got near to 30 degrees? It was pretty hot in the city when we got off the train so we decided to stop at one of the cafes in Rossio Square to have a reviving beer before heading up the hill towards the castle. I don’t know if you can make it out from the picture below, it’s the one top left, it’s of a large group of people waving flags and protesting. Actually it looked like thousands of people led along by the local youth choir! We were happy to sit in the sunshine enjoying our beer, eating a pasta de nata and listening to the music until the rally passed by.

If you’re wondering how the graffiti fits in to the picture below – there’s a short cut to the gateway by the castle which we used, we called it graffiti alley as all the walls there are covered.

Walking back from the station to our apartment, uphill all the way.

After our walk back and maybe because of the beer we all decided that we needed a siesta before visiting the castle that evening. In the summer it stays open until 9pm long after the tourist coaches have left. It was definitely the right time to go, not only because it was a beautiful evening but it was so much quieter wandering around than during the day.

Lisbon castle
The grounds of Castelo de S. Jorge complete with peacocks.
Castle in Lisbon evening views over the city.
Views from the Castle.
Sunset at Castello de S. Jorge, Lisbon
Sunset at Castello de S. Jorge

The light that evening was stunning and walking along the castle walls was just fabulous as it gave us good views over the city and down to the river. We left our friend to talk to the peacocks in the garden as she doesn’t do heights.

The picture below is my favourite of all the ones I took that evening. The buildings have turned golden in the late setting sun.

Evening light hitting the buildings in Lisbon.
Looking through to the city bathed in warm sunlight.

Day 5 and we’re off to the magical place called Sintra. It’s a short train journey from Rossio station to Sintra which is at the end of the line. The station is superb with it’s ornate exterior with two horseshoe-shaped archways. We didn’t have much time to appreciate the building though as there was no way we were going to miss this train!

I think most tourists to Lisbon take the time to go out to Sintra. One of the travel guides describes this World Heritage Site as a Portuguese gem; ‘a place full of magic and mystery with its rippling mountains, dewy forests exotic gardens, glittering palaces and ancient castles’. What it doesn’t say is that it’s teeming with tourists. Yes we were tourists too all heading off the train at Sintra to find the 434 tourist bus – it was chaos. There were touts selling guided tours, tuk-tuk drivers stopping you as you walked along and the lack of signs of where to catch the shuttle bus was really confusing.

We eventually found the bus stop and squeezed onto an already tightly packed bus. We had intended to get off at the stop for the Quinta da Regaleira which is a stone palace steeped in myth and legend with underground passages and grottoes and is surrounded in mystery – I was intrigued.. (A quinta by the way is a wine-producing estate). As it happened we could have walked there which as our non-communicative driver wasn’t stopping anywhere until we’d got to the Moorish Castle we should have done.

Moorish Castle in Sintra
Top picture is of an interesting set of steps we spotted on the way to Rossio station. The rest are pictures of the Moorish Castle.

This castle was built by the North African Moors between the 8th and the 11th century. To get the best views you need to climb up onto the battlements which of course we did. Our friend was quite happy to chat to other tourists who didn’t want to brave the heights. It’s a terrific viewpoint though and very blustery! You can see several other palaces including the Regaleira which we were still hoping to visit.

After walking around the battlements and weaving along the many paths through the gardens we carried on up to the amazing Palace of Pena. If you’re tight for time this is the palace to visit. It sits on the top one of the hills overlooking Sintra and is (apparently) the finest example in Europe of 19th century Romantic revivalism. The colours of this castle hit you straight away and surrounding all this is a large forest with hidden paths threading through it. Our ticket which we’d bought at the first stop after getting off the bus covered the palace interior and the terraces and the park.

Palacio da Pena
Palace of Pena and a view of the Moorish castle which had been our first stop.
Just some of the stunning features of Pena Palace.
Just some of the stunning features of Pena Palace. Clearly a Moroccan style of architecture in this courtyard.

The interior of the palace with its staterooms and chapel was just as interesting as the terraces. There were fewer people inside so it was easier to walk round unlike the perimeter of the castle terraces which was really busy. I guess you have to accept this when you’re visiting a major tourist attraction!

Features of the Palace of Pena
The Palace staterooms; the main archway into the palace and a view of the town from the Palace of Sintra.

By mid afternoon after doing lots of walk we were feeling pretty tired. We decided not to walk down to the palace of Quinta da Regaleira and hoped we could hop off the bus at the nearest stop.. Getting on the shuttle bus it was obvious that again the driver wasn’t stopping until we were back down to Sintra. Disappointed we headed to an outside bar, paid over the odds for a beer and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were sorry not to have done more but Sintra is not easy to work out. I’ve since read on a few web sites that these shuttle buses are a law unto themselves particularly in the high season. You can hire a tuk tuk but they’re not cheap and on top of that you have the entrance price for each palace. Don’t be put off though …the parks and palaces of the World Heritage site of Sintra are well worth a visit. Best avoided in the high season if you can and when it’s cooler – this is a hilly place.

I did think I’d finish this Blog on our week in Lisbon in two parts but there’s going to be a third. With a day and a half left when we visited the main cemetery in Lisbon, discovered Fado in the Alfama district of the city and visited magnificent Monastery of San Vincent de Fora I have more pictures to drop in and some more ramblings. For now I think this Blog is quite long enough! Hope you’ll stick around to read part 3.

Three go to Lisbon.

One of the iconic yellow trams which transport locals and tourists across the city. Cheap, clean and reliable and a great way to see this wonderful city. Take the number 28 tram for the classic Lisbon tram journey which screeches and rattles its way through the popular tourist districts. In this picture is also one of the hundreds of tuk-tuks ready to take tourists on a tour, costing rather more than the tram.

There’s no doubt that Lisbon is very hilly and our apartment was right on the top of one of the hills by the Sao Jorge Castle. We loved this area. In the day it teems with tourists rolling through the many souvenir shops or queuing to go into the castle and at night you’re transported back in time as you walk along the quiet, dimly lit cobbled streets. There was a full moon the night we arrived.

A full moon on our first night in the city.

Day one. First objective …to find a bakers for croissant and bread and a little grocers for fruit and yogurt. No problem at all. Our little apartment had a terrace which was one of the reasons we chose it. Perfect for eating breakfast al fresco or enjoying a glass of wine later. The terrace backed onto the wall of the castle which has several very noisy residents. It wasn’t unusual to see a peacock looking down on us from the wall or an adjacent tree, fortunately they couldn’t get out of the grounds! The thing about peacocks is that they are very noisy. I always thought that at night time birds go to roost and sleep. These delightful creatures sqwark all the time …morning, noon and night. No we didn’t get used to it! Our friend had the bedroom at the front of the building so she couldn’t hear them – we could!

Enough about peacocks, we had a city to explore. First stop was to walk down the hill to the the cathedral known locally as the Se de Lisboa. This Roman Catholic church is the oldest in the city and has an impressive Gothic cloister.

Not the prettiest church I’ve ever been in but the cloister is impressive.

Tour of the cathedral done, it was time for a sandwich and a beer before walking down to the waterside and the impressive Commerce Square.

Praca de Comericio (Commerce Square) by the Tagus river and the 25th of April suspension bridge.

This area is buzzing with tourists and locals. We thoroughly enjoyed just sitting by the river Tagus soaking in the atmosphere watching the boats go by and the antics of the seagulls. After half an hour or so we decided it was time for a little retail therapy …at least that’s what we girls thought.

You just walk through The Rua Augusta Arch and you’re into the main shopping centre. One of the most interesting shops was the window of a traditional bakers which was full of those delicious Portuguese custard tarts, Pasteis de Nata. More about these later. Having checked out the many shoes shops and making a mental note to come back to several we carried on walking to the ruins of the Carmo Convent.

You walk through a little door by the cash desk and suddenly there’s the impressive ruins of the convent in front of you. This ruin was one of the many victims of a devastating earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755. As well as the ruins which in themselves are fascinating there is a museum housed in the apse and nave of the convent which still have a roof over them. The museum is full of an eclectic mix of objects, tombs and tiles. The party of school children in there found some of the objects very amusing … This ruined convent is well worth a visit and a great place to take pictures.

Carmo Convent, Lisbon
The roofless Carmo Convent and Church
Picking out the details.
To think that some of this stone work dates back to the 15th century.

After all the walking we’d done it was time to catch a tram back up the hill. Arriving at our stop we were definitely flagging and needed to re-charge our batteries. One last thing we wanted to do though before heading back to our apartment was to walk across the road to look at the view over the city. It was spectacular in the evening sunshine.

Stunning views wherever you look.

Even though we knew there was lots more to see in Lisbon we decided on our second day to catch a train to Cascais which is on the coast just west of Lisbon. It takes about forty minutes, mostly whizzing through the suburbs with almost every wall covered in graffiti. In our carriage we were serenaded by a group of students singing Queen songs – they were really good. Couldn’t help wishing that we get this at home on our trains sometimes!

Cascais (apologies for the slightly wonky middle picture)!

We expected the town to be touristy, what we hadn’t expected was all the tacky shops and oh my goodness, the buskers! A mixed lot! The tourist information website describes Cascais as … ‘an elegant fusion of decorative 19th century architecture and modern tourist facilities’. Yes there is some interesting houses especially away from the main street but overall we weren’t that impressed. We hadn’t gone to flake on the beach and we didn’t go into The Castro Guklmaraes Museum or walk far along the coast so we didn’t really do the place justice. Don’t be put off by my lack enthusiasm though.

Back on the train and this time we got off at the station nearest to the Belem Monument. An iconic structure built in 1940 celebrating the achievements of Portuguese explorers, it’s truly magnificent. There is a lift which takes you to the top for a modest price.

Bele
The work that went into these sculptures is incredible.

Just a stone throws away from the monument is the home of the iconic and delicious Pasteis de Nata. Pasteis de Belem is the place to go for Portugal’s famous custard tart. Flaky pastry and unctuous custard is a winning combination. This bakery and cafe have been making the Pasteis since 1837 and it appears the interior dates back from that time too. We may have missed out on a visit to the nearby Monastery on account of the huge numbers of tourists outside but we weren’t going to visit Belem and not buy Pasteis de Nata.

Clutching our delightfully package treats we caught a bus back into the city and then took a cable car up to the castle and our apartment.

Time to relax on the terrace with a Pasteis de Nata washed down with a glass of rose.

After all that it was time for a siesta. We needed to charge our batteries once again before before going out that evening to a famous fish restaurant down near the sea front. Should we have booked a table …yes of course we should.

Love this picture, top left of a traditional Portuguese twelve stringed guitar. It’s associated with the music genre, Fado. I took it whilst the street busker was chatting to someone. The guitar was just lying on the ground so I quickly took a picture with my phone. Fado is a form of singing which is very expressive and mournful and I would add, haunting. The music is often associated with pubs and cafes and originated in Portugal in the 1820’s. We noticed that restaurants advertising Fado singing were quite expensive which did put us off. I wish now we had tried one but as we will definitely be going back to Lisbon we’ll not miss out on this again. There’s also a whole museum devoted to Fado.

Walking the back streets of Lisbon at night is so enjoyable and feels safe. There’s lots of atmosphere, graffiti and interesting murals. It was a shame we had to wait outside Maria Catita restaurant for almost an hour for a table but we were given a drink along with all the other tourists waiting. Quite a party really except the wine was terrible! My lobster dish, pictured bottom right was delicious and well worth waiting for. This popular restaurant fully deserves its reputation but if you go, book a table!

Well we’re halfway through our week in Lisbon so I think it’s a good time to finish the first half of this Blog. Lots more pictures to come including what we got up to in Sintra and our visit to the Lisbon Oceanarium. I hope you’ll stick around to read the final part!

Hello to Singapore …again.

It’s hard to say whether we should have gone straight from Melbourne to London without a stop-over but as we love Singapore we decided to spend a couple more days there on our way home.

When it rains in Singapore it doesn’t mess about and my goodness was it raining when we arrived! Instead of getting soaked wandering around we decided to get our heads down for a while. We stayed in The Park Regis Hotel again and had a fab room looking out on the swimming pool.

Swimming pool at The Park Regis Hotel, Singapore.
Typical weather in Singapore – downpours and warm, humid days.

After a couple of hours sleep we headed to our favourite cafe bar for breakfast, Malaysian style. This place is such good value and the person who runs it is so welcoming. Cheapest place in the city for breakfast (we reckon) as long as you’re happy to have a little honey on your bread with a boiled egg and cake to follow. Interesting combination and it worked for us. I didn’t have to explain this time how I like my tea (black tea, cold milk and one sugar), our friendly owner remembered from our visits a couple of weeks earlier. If she thought that having milk in tea was odd she didn’t say!

Double U Traditional cafe in Singapore.
Chinatown (top left) and our Malaysian breakfast bar, Double U Traditional cafe.

Next stop after a bit of a wander round was to the imposing building known as Parkview Square. I’d spotted this Art Deco building when we were in the city last time and thought maybe it was a museum. Turns out it’s one of the most expensive office blocks in the city. This link will tell you all about it so I won’t go into the detail of its history here but enough to say that despite the Art Deco architecture it was built less than twenty years ago! Parkview is not all it seems!

Once my man had researched the place and discovered there was a rather excellent wine bar on the ground floor that was where we headed. Apparently amongst its patrons are members of the Divine Wine Bar Society, I can aspire to that! Sitting in the Atlas Bar surrounded by Art Deco frescos and statues everywhere, you just want to make your glass of fizz last for ever!

Atlas Bar in Parkview Square, Singapore.
Atlas Bar inside Parkview Square.
Inside the Atlas Bar in Parkview Square, Singapore.
Enjoying a glass of fizz in the Atlas Bar in Parkview Square, Singapore.

Eventually we managed to drag ourselves away and walked to the adjacent district of Kampong Glam Malay, home of Singapore’s Muslim Community. It’s a popular area for tourists as there’s lots of good value cafes but more importantly at the end of Muscat Street is the imposing Masjid Sultan mosque which is a must to visit. The massive gold domes are a magnificent landmark and inside is a huge prayer hall which can accommodate up to 5000 people. Before you enter the Mosque women are given a very fetching all-over robe and for men wearing shorts there is a sexy long skirt for covering the legs. As you’ll see from the picture below we both looked rather fetching! Our stay in the mosque was longer than planned as in true Singapore style the heavens opened and for about an hour the rain was torrential. Even a rather large scorpion came inside to shelter! We gave him a wide berth …

Visiting Masjid Sultan Mosque, Singapore.
Masjid Sultan Mosque

Back to the hotel for a swim and another snooze (this jet-lag is hard to ignore) and we were ready for the evening.

There’s so much to do in this city and one of the star attractions is to go up to the Observation Deck of the Sands Park Hotel. The lift whisks you up the 57 floors to the SkyPark Observation Deck. You can go up anytime (it’s not free!) but at night you can watch the light and water show which is spectacular. These pictures don’t do it justice but there’s only so much my Panasonic Lumix camera can do from that height! You can see the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ and the whole of the Marina Bay area and the amazing cityscape which is Singapore.

Then it was time to head for Chinatown for yet another decently priced meal at one of the many restaurants and to soak up the great atmosphere there.

Views from Sands SkyPark Observation Deck , Singapore.
Views from Sands SkyPark Observation Deck – 57 storeys up!

The last day of our trip. We were heading home but not until late evening. We’d already done lots both at the beginning of our holiday and this stop-over on the way back so what were we going to do on our last day? It was easy to decide …Singapore’s Botanic Gardens. It’s world famous and rightly so and a great way to spend a few hours. Apparently the Gardens are the most visited botanic gardens in the world with over 4 million visitors annually.

It’s easy to get there by metro and free to wander round the grounds. There are lots of themed gardens and although we didn’t have time to go round them all we managed quite a few. After lunch we headed for the National Orchid Garden within the site. I’ll never forget this experience; the most fabulous orchids you’re ever likely to see, even tops Wisley! It’s cheap to get in too, just $5 dollars for adults and $1 dollar if you’re over 60.

Singapore Botanic Gardens
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Grounds of the National Orchid Garden, Singapore.
I’m one of the 4 million tourists who visit the National Orchid Garden each year.
Orchids in The National Orchid Garden, Singapore
Just some of the fabulous orchids in The National Orchid Garden
Orchids in The National Orchid Garden, Singapore.
More of the amazing orchids in The National Orchid Garden, Singapore.
Orchid house at the National Orchid Garden. with each one dedicated to a famous visitor.
Orchid house with each one dedicated to a famous visitor.

If we go back to Singapore we’d definitely go to The Botanic Gardens again. There is so much to see and as interesting as the theme gardens are it’s the Orchids I’d head for straightaway. If you love orchids you’ll love this garden. This visit was the perfect way to end our holiday.

Farewell to Oz!

The quickest way to get back to our friends who live on the Mornington Peninsular was to go by ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento. On this crossing, unlike the previous trip, we didn’t see any dolphins but you can’t be lucky every time.

Searoad Ferries
On the way back to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsular

Our friends had planned two pretty full days of sightseeing for the last part of our holiday starting with a visit to see ‘Puffing Billy’. This century-old steam train railway is a major tourist attraction and runs through the mountainous Dandenong Ranges National Park. Unfortunately due to our packed schedule we didn’t have time to go on the train but at least we saw it. It’s not a million miles away from Melbourne so if you’re in the area I’m sure it’s well worth taking a trip,

Puffing Billy about to leave from Belgrave Station.

You can see why The Dandenongs is a popular tourist attraction. The landscape feels almost primeval full of verdant forests and rocky landscapes with a number of walking trails and lush pathways to choose from. If you’re not into walking there’s lots of arts and craft industries and quaint villages.

Our next stop after seeing the ‘Puffing Billy was right up my street as my friends knew it would be …William Ricketts Sanctuary. The brochure describes this place as ‘nestling into the hillside amongst cloud sweeping Mountain Ash and ferns’. It’s certainly hidden away and is literally a living gallery.

William Ricketts was apparently a quiet chap, very in tune with nature and believed all Australians should adopt Aboriginal philosophies. Within the sanctuary there are 90 different sculptures carved into rocks and tree trunks depicting Aboriginal people engaging with the pure forest setting, it felt quite magical and very peaceful.

Gardens of the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia
William Ricketts Sanctuary
One or two of the sculptures.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from this delightful setting. What fascinating sculptures …I loved them! Lunch beckoned however and we had a table booked for 1.00pm for afternoon tea. At home we’d usually have this mid to late afternoon but don’t forget this is Australia! To be fair to our friends who’d booked ‘Fortnums’ for this treat, it’s such a popular place they were fully booked for lunch.

Fortnums is famous for their Devonshire scones and I’m not surprised, they were delicious and very filling. The restaurant is on the main street in Sassafras village which is full of English style tea rooms and shops. Agatha Christie came here hence as you might spot from the picture below, the village even boasts a Miss Marples tea room!

After a splendid tea we had a wander around before returning to our friends’ house in Hastings.

Afternoon tea, Aussie style.
Afternoon tea in Sassafras Village

Our last full day in Oz and no time for slacking! Fist of all we were taken to an enormous outdoor market with hundreds of stalls selling crafts, veg. and lots of interesting goodies. Perhaps as well that we didn’t have any room left in our cases. An hour walking around was enough; the temperature had shot up and was in the mid 30’s.

Our next stop was a trip on Arthur’s Seat Eagle which the Swiss would describe as a Gondolbahn. The views are really impressive if you like heights which my man and I do. My friend’s husband however was pleased when we got to the bottom. Unfortunately for him we had the trip back up …This is a new attraction for the Mornington Peninsular and I must say the gondolas are very smart and the views across Port Philip Bay are impressive.

Flying high and loving it!

Back up at the top with everyone ready for lunch we sat in the nearby woods and had a picnic in the shade away from the searing heat.

Arthur's Seat Nat Park, Victoria
Cheers!

Our friends know how keen I am on gardening and so our next port of call was to Heronswood, Australia’s first organically-certified gardens. As well as a variety of flower borders the house is quite a landmark. Architecturally it wouldn’t look out of place in Portmeirion. I was fascinated by the ‘Dry Garden’ with its mix of cacti, succulents and grasses which never needs watering. Handy in this part of the world I should imagine.

Heronswood Gardens
This felt very English in its design.

We would have stayed longer at Heronswood but it was very hot and our friends decided that it was time for an ice cream. It seemed like the whole of Mornington Peninsular was there, the place was packed, even coach loads of people arriving!

We’d certainly done quite a lot on our last day and were thankful to go down to the bay at Hastings to walk along a little and feel the refreshing breeze.

Hastings Marina and a plate of mussels.

I can’t finish this Blog on our Australian trip without first of all thanking our friends for their wonderful kindness and hospitality. They had been waiting forty years for us to visit them and we were so pleased to be able to do that and celebrate their Ruby anniversary with them.

…And the plate of mussels? Please take note how beautifully those mussel shells are arranged! My friend at home always arranges the shells like this and we like to give it a go but what a stir we caused at the restaurant at Hastings. The waitress was amazed, so much so she took the bowl into the kitchen to show everyone! We have started a trend maybe?!

So it’s goodbye to Australia and hello again to Singapore before we arrive home. More on the last leg of our trip in the next Blog.

Walking up to The Pinnacle in The Grampians.

Now when it comes to walking neither of us are wimps but reading about the two routes up to The Pinnacle we went for the easier option. I was so pleased we did! It’s not the distance that’s the tricky part (only 2.1km up to the top), it’s the smooth, slippery rocks that make it ‘interesting’. We didn’t have our hiking boots which would have helped and although my trainers are pretty good once the rocks became damp it was easy to slip on them. I guess it didn’t help that on our previous holiday in Majorca I slipped while walking one of the coastal routes and ended up visiting the local GP. Walking in my area of The Cotswolds is generally a lot easier!

The Pinnacle Walk, Grampians Nat Park, Victoria,
The First lookout

We parked at Sundial car park and started our walk from there. Our first stop was Devil’s Gap and even there after very little climbing the views were impressive. Pretty flowers too although I don’t remember many flowering bushes after that point.

Flowers on The Pinnacle Walk, Grampians Nat Park, Victoria,
Flowers on the way up are easy to spot!

The picture below on the bottom left shows how smooth those rocks are. At this point I’m starting to get a little apprehensive; I could see we still had some way to go to The Pinnacle and wouldn’t you know it …it’s starting to rain. My man is being very encouraging. He knew there was no way we were turning back, I was just having a bit of a wobble! He’s now in charge of my camera as I needed both hands for clambering up the rock and so there are no pictures (although I could have taken some but I was more concerned with coaxing Maggie along) until we got to the top. There is an excellent Blog I’ve come across which shows the steeper climb from the Wonderland carpark. Fab pictures which really show the wonderful views and that the harder route is definitely not for wimps! Interesting though this family encountered lots of other walkers we were joined by just four. These lovely Dutch people were very encouraging and seemed to be quite impressed when we made it to The Pinnacle.

The Pinnacle Walk, Grampians Nat Park, Victoria,
Going up!

Wow what a view! It was well worth the hike, so glad we did it!

The Pinnacle, Grampians National Park
Looking across from The Pinnacle to Lake Bellfield and Hall’s Gap.

Thank you to the Dutch walkers for taking our picture – this was as brave as I was prepared to be!

 The Pinnacle Walk, Grampians Nat Park, Victoria,
We’ve made it!

As you can see from the pictures below our fellow walkers had no such qualms about climbing up the nearby rocks.

The Pinnacle The Grampians Nat Park, Victoria,
The braver walkers

This is the hike to do when you’re in The Grampians. If you’re an experienced walker and have good walking boots then starting from the Wonderland car park will give you a much more adventurous walk. Whichever route you choose, you definitely won’t be disappointed!

Birds in The Grampians Nat Park, Victoria,
Goodbye our feathered friends

Later that day we had to say goodbye to our feathered friends and head off back to Mornington Peninsular for the final leg of our Aussie holiday.