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.

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.

The fantastic Grampians National Park, Victoria.

It was almost time to leave The Great Ocean Road and head inland for The Grampians National Park but there were a couple of iconic sites along the coast we still wanted to see.

Australia’s Shipwreck Coast is part of the Great Ocean Road, not surprisingly there’s lots of history associated with this area. Probably the most famous is the loss of a clipper ship named Loch Ard. She is one of 700 ships that are believed wrecked along this treacherous coastline. The iron-hulled ship Loch Ard went down in 1878, dashed against the rocks at Mutton Bird Island, east of Port Campbell. Of the 54 people on board only two survived, a cabin boy named Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, an 18 year old woman.

Tom came ashore first and heard the cries of Eva and clearly being a brave soul he went back into the ocean to rescue her. They sheltered in what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge. Tom was subsequently given £1000 and a gold medal for bravery, he married but not to Eva and reached the rank of Captain. Eva married, also to a ship’s captain and with her husband returned to Ireland where they lived on another coastline prone to shipwrecks. The irony is that apparently they often went down to help seafarers who had been shipwrecked.

The Loch Ard Gorge and The Grotto

Out of the 700 or so ships lost along this coast only 240 have been discovered. It’s a fascinating area but we only had time to stop at Loch Ard Gorge, The Bay of Islands and The Grotto. If you’re in the area, ‘London Arch’ is worth a visit too. We would have gone but by then The Grampians was calling.

The Bay of Islands and a Bride.

I’m not going to get away without mentioning the picture of the bride. The joke with my man is that whenever we go on holiday we usually come across a bridal shoot. Having shot hundreds of weddings I always have to stop and see what the photographer is doing. I didn’t expect to see a shoot going on as we walked along the coastal path though. Credit to the model, no she wasn’t a ‘real’ bride, she kept on smiling despite a sheer drop in front of her and being buffeted by a strong wind coming off the sea. I had to take a picture of course!

So …on to The Grampians!

Kangaroos in the woods, emus on the Plain and our woodland lodge.

Not surprisingly The Grampians is a very popular tourist destination with it’s high mountain ranges, walking trails, scenic drives, good camp sites and a fantastic range of wildlife including kangaroos, emus and a huge variety of parrots. More on those shortly …

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Hall’s Gap where we were staying for two nights. Our woodland lodge was enormous complete with a jacuzzi in the bathroom, a massive lounge, two double bedrooms (should we have needed one each!) and a veranda complete with barbecue at the front of the house. Honestly we could have had some party in there!

Having dumped our things we went in search of a beer. The first place only had cans so that was out. We were told to drive out of town and we’d find a place selling draught beer. We eventually did! It had been quite a drive to Hall’s Gap so we thought we deserved a decent pint of beer and that’s exactly what we got. Our next thought was where to eat that night. We solved that pretty quickly as we spotted an Indian restaurant going back along the main road into town. We may be in Australia but an Indian meal is not to be turned down. If you’re in Hall’s Gap and looking for somewhere to eat go no further than ‘The Spirit of Punjab‘, it was excellent. We had such a good meal that we went back the next night!

Still on the subject of food. We’d bought everything we needed for breakfast from one of the stores in town and were all ready to eat on our veranda. Looking out of the picture window we weren’t too sure about eating outside ….how did these birds know?!

Waiting for breakfast

Now one sulphur-crested cockatoo we might have coped with but five – just too much of a challenge. Within a couple of minutes word had got round. We had enough different kinds of birds to rival any aviary – magpies, the aforementioned cockatoos, then kookaburras arrived (very cute) and last but not least the beautiful crimson rosella who clearly ruled the roost. There was a definite pecking order!

The last remnants of our croissant.

Having eaten our breakfast inside and planned our day we headed off first to see the spectacular Mackenzie Falls. It’s a short walk down to the base of the Falls from the car park; yes it’s steep with lots of steps but it’s fairly easy. At times you are right by the side of the falls but it’s only when you get down to the bottom you realise just how immense they are.

View from the car park and on the walk alongside the Falls

As the water cascades over the huge cliffs into a deep pool it sends fine sprays of rainbow mist high into the air, it was really something down there. Steep climbing back up though so we were pleased we had lots of water with us, although there was plenty all around!

Pretty impressive!

After the waterfall trip we spent the afternoon wandering around the area. There are lots of walks to choose from including short strolls and that’s what we decided to do. We were saving ourselves for a more challenging one the next day.

Lots of info at the Visitor Information Centre

The highlight of the afternoon was walking across to the playing field in Hall’s Gap and meeting lots of kangaroos. They were everywhere! I know it says on the Hall’s Gap website that every visitor will encounter a kangaroo but we didn’t expect to get this close to them. It was a wonderful experience.

Now tomorrow we were doing The Pinnacle Walk. According to the Tourist Info. this walk is one of the highlights of the entire region with stunning views of Hall’s Gap and many of the peaks in the Grampians …we were choosing the easiest route! More about our ‘walk’ in the next Blog.

Saying Hi to the 12 Apostles

We were back on The Great Ocean Road after our encounter with koalas the previous day. This time we were heading to see the 12 Apostles. These iconic limestone stacks have been pounded by the Southern Ocean so much that only seven and a little bit, of the twelve pillars remain. They’re literally just crumbling away. In 2005 one of the stacks collapsed dramatically so it’s anyone’s guess as to how long the remaining seven will last.

The picture below was taken from the main viewing platform.

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive, Victoria, Australia
Breathtaking views of these magnificent rock stacks

As you can see from this next picture there’s quite a few steps down to the beach but it was well worth going down there. Once on the beach we could really appreciate the size of these crumbling stacks. You have to laugh though …as a professional photographer shooting family celebrations I’m used to taking pictures of couples so when this guy asked me to take a picture of him standing on the beach with his girlfriend I was happy to oblige. Cheeky devil looked at the picture I’d taken and in broken English said …”Again please, no big rock behind us.” I guess he hadn’t come to admire the stacks!

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive Victoria
It’s quite a way down there.

With my pride still intact we walked up the steps to the top with the wind battering us sideways. There are quite a few designated viewing areas so we walked along to a smaller, less crowded one which gave us fantastic views of this stunning coastline.

A few pictures later and it was time to head to our B&B to get sorted before finding somewhere for a meal. We didn’t want to be too late eating as we had a date later with with some fairy penguins.

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive Victoria
Just breathtaking.

Our aptly named B&B, 12 Apostles, was only a five minute drive away. Robyn Wallis has three rooms for guests at her cosy farmhouse. The views are lovely as is her garden with lots of interesting artistic objects around the place. It was so peaceful there and we were told that in the evening we would see a stunning array of stars as there was absolutely no light pollution.

12 Apostles B&B on Princetown Road near Great Ocean Drive, Victoria, Australia
12 Apostles B&B on Princetown Road near Great Ocean Drive.

Having off-loaded our things we headed into Port Campbell to find somewhere to eat with hopefully some good Aussie beer on tap. Five minutes later we found just the place down at the Foreshore. ‘Hearty pub style food with local beer’ is what the sign outside said and it was right. 12 Rocks Beach Bar is unpretentious; the meals are reasonably priced and the local beer is good if just a little too cold for us Brits. Pleasantly full we headed back along the road to the Visitor Facility at the 12 Apostles.

Dawn for the sunrise and dusk for the sunset are the two times to view the 12 Apostles. We weren’t surprised therefore that with half an hour to go before sunset the parking plot at the Visitor Facility was pretty full. The seagulls were in force too, landing on cars and making a heck of a noise. They seemed to prefer certain vehicles, no idea why. Had to take picture of this lot on the car roofs.

Seagulls on cars at the Port Campbell Visitor Centre, Twelve Apostles
Seagulls enjoying a landing platform at the Port Campbell Visitor Centre.

With the light fading and a beautiful orange glow forming on the horizon we headed to the main viewing area. I can’t deny that there were lots of visitors there all waiting for the sunset but there was enough space for everyone.

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive, Victoria Australia
Perfect sunset.

Here is just a couple of the shots I took as this wonderful sunset slowly lit up those majestic rocks along the coastline …just magical.

Dusk at The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive Victoria Australia
Dusk at The Twelve Apostles
Sunset at The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive Victoria Australia
Just when you think the sunset can’t get any better …

So having this magical time enjoying the fabulous glow on the rocks you’re now given a new show ..penguins. These fairy penguins waddle their way onto the beach about ten to fifteen minutes after sunset. They play in the foam along the shoreline then go back into the water, come out again and then waddle a little way up the beach. It would have been fantastic to have had a longer lens with me but I didn’t so I had to be content with the pictures I got however these little penguins are so cute and we loved watching them. We stayed until it got dark until we couldn’t see them anymore.

Fairy Penguins at The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Drive, Victoria, Australia
Sundown and now the Fairy Penguins arrive waddling their way to the shore.

We rounded off this amazing evening by sitting on the porch at our B&B just watching the stars and sharing a very pleasant bottle of Australian Chardonnay. This is what holidays are all about.

Melbourne, Mates & Mornington Peninsular.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from our little Miner’s Cottage in Walhalla but today we were heading to Hastings on the Mornington Peninsular to visit friends. We’d been promising to visit them for as long as I can remember, they probably thought we’d never make it … just goes to show!

We’d been guests at their wedding forty years ago and so how could we not come over to Oz to celebrate their Ruby wedding anniversary? It was also my friend’s husband’s birthday so there were two things to celebrate.

Considering neither of them drink, well my friend a little but compared to our consumption it’s a drop in the old wine glass, it was kind of them to take us to a vineyard after lunch. It was a good choice, Stumpy Gully wine is very quaffable and of course I ended up buying a bottle …for later. The setting there is delightful, no wonder the restaurant has a great reputation along with their wines and a very romantic place to celebrate a wedding too I would imagine.

Stumpy Gulley vineyard, Victoria
My man enjoying his wine tasting at Stumpy Gully vineyard
Stumpy Gully vineyard, Victoria
Part of the vineyard at Stumpy Gully

The next day we caught the train into Melbourne arriving at the bustling Flinders Street Station. We walked around a little to get our bearings and then headed to one of the aboriginal art galleries, Koorie Heritage Trust in Federation Square.

Sites of Melbourne, Victoria.
Melbourne skyline with Princes Bridge, Flinder’s Street Station & St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Koorie Heritage Trust Museum. Victoria.
Aboriginal artwork in The Koorie Heritage Trust Museum, Melbourne.

These designs are amazing and I loved the display of the rolled towers in one of the galleries at the museum. After a refreshing cup of tea for me and coffee for my man we were off to see art of a different kind.

Hosier Lane in Melbourne is a lane full of urban street art, graffiti if you like. Even the wheelie bins are painted! One thing the guide book doesn’t tell you about is the smell, presumably at night this area is a refuge for rough sleepers.

Hosier Street, Melbourne.
Graffiti everywhere even on the bins! Hosier Street, Melbourne.

After the mind-blowing effect of so much grafitti we headed back to Federation Square to The Ian Potter Centre which has a fabulous collection of art and is part of the National Gallery of Victoria. You could spend a whole day in there and it’s free admission. Here’s my favourite painting, it’s a bit ‘off-kilter’ but that’s the photographer not the hanging!

Painting of a woman holding vase in The National Gallery Victoria.
My favourite painting in The Ian Potter Centre part of the National Gallery Victoria.

We decided to do as much as possible before lunch (as you can probably tell!) so our next stop was St Paul’s Cathedral. As an ordination service was about to start we weren’t able to have a good look round. The architecture apparently is neo-Gothic, partly early English and partly decorated. It’s a fairly austere building designed by an English architect but he certainly didn’t (in my opinion) try to copy any of our classic Cathedrals.

Now it definitely was time for lunch so we walked across Princes Bridge and found an excellent cafe along the riverside just in time to escape a torrential downpour! Fortunately when we were ready to leave the weather had sorted itself out so we headed back to the centre by Flinder’s Station and caught one of the ionic free City Circle trams, route number 35. After our free tour we just had time to pop into the other part of the National Gallery of Victoria before heading for the train back to Hastings for a celebration meal cooked by our hosts. Loved the traditional Aussie pumpkin soup, delicious!

As much as we enjoyed our trip to Melbourne we’re not really city people. We enjoyed being on the coast blowing a few cobwebs away and our friends were great guides and know all the pretty harbours and walkways.

Mornington Harbour Victoria.
Mornington Harbour, Victoria.

All too soon it was time to leave although it wasn’t a final farewell as we were coming back to Hastings after the next part of our trip. So it was goodbye to Mornington Peninsular as we headed off to The Great Ocean Drive. The most direct route was by ferry first. Just forty minutes across what is known as Victory Bight from Sorrento to Queenscliff avoiding a long drive via Melbourne, and we saw dolphins, a real treat. More about the drive and our stay in The Grampians in the next blog.

Searoad Ferries Victoria.
Searoad Ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff Victoria

Two days in Singapore.

Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

A stop-over in Singapore (1)

We were off to Australia, our first trip to the Antipodes. We could have flown straight to Sydney but it was just too tempting to stop-over in Singapore after all, we’d arrive in Oz more alert without jet lag …wouldn’t we?

It was about ten years since we’d been in Singapore. Even at 6am and you’ve guessed it, feeling pretty zonked as we were driven from the airport, the skyline of the city looked impressive. Was it our imagination or did it seem like skyscraper city, with the ocassional area of green grass? How much would we recognise from the last time we were here we wondered, a lot can change in ten years.

We knew we wouldn’t be able to get into our room until early afternoon so after dumping our cases at our hotel, The Park Regis, we made our way into town, dragging our feet with tiredness. It was a grey old day which didn’t help to lift our spirits although it’s an interesting walk around the Boat Quay. Afterwards we looked around the very impressive National Gallery which is free to go in and huge. After a cheap and delicious Chinese lunch in one of the back streets we were able to get into our room and catch up on some sleep.

The boat quay, Singapore.
The boat quay, Singapore.
The statues along the Boat Quay, Singapore
Superb sculptures alongside the Boat Quay

A few hours later and we were ready to hit the city. We headed off to Gardens by the Bay which is a huge, futuristic park in the bay area. It’s rated one of the top three things to do in Singapore and you can see why. Great place and it’s free!

Supertree Grove, Singapore during the Light & Sound show.
Skyway and Supertree Grove. Taken during the Light and Sound show.

So much to see in the park and the Light and Sound show which takes place every evening at 7.45 and 8.45 is spectacular. How they’ve lit up the trees is something else – an amazing sight. Huge crowds started to gather to enjoy this free show; you have find to a space to sit wherever you can. If you want you can pay to watch it from the Skyway but we didn’t see the point. We did agree though that when we come back to the city in a couple of week’s time we’ll go up to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and watch the display from there.

Our flight the next day wasn’t until early evening so we spent the day walking around the city, our first stop was the Asian Civilisations Museum. We love anything to do with Asian artefacts and culture. The gallery is on three levels and showcases not just Asian art and culture but also sculptures and paintings of Christian and Islamic art. As it turned out we could have spent hours in there, so much to see, it was excellent. I took a few pictures but the light in several of the galleries was very low. Their website has some good pictures on there.

Display from the Tang shipwreck
Display from the Tang shipwreck of more than 1000 pieces from the 9th century of ceramics, gold and silver.
The Gallery of ancient religions at The Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore
The Gallery of ancient religions.
Asian Museum, Singapore
The variety of exhibits in the Museum, something for everyone.

Inevitably when you’re staying in Singapore the place to go and explore and enjoy a good value meal is Chinatown. Apart from the appalling smell as you pass the stalls selling durian fruit, the area is fun, colourful and bursting with life. Night time is best to experience the buzz, the smell of street food and enjoy the entertainment. We ate there both nights

On our second night before going for a meal we visited the Hindu temple, Sri Mariamann which is just around the corner from Chinatown. I don’t know why but invariably on holiday I come across a wedding and this holiday was no exception. We didn’t expect the temple to be full of people carrying food, a procession and loud music. We weren’t sure what was going on but it turned out to be the first of several ceremonies celebrating a wedding. Don’t know whether the bride and groom were there but there was plenty going on even if they weren’t! We couldn’t stay too long as we wanted to have a meal before heading off to the airport. Only wish my pictures conveyed the huge amount of activity going on at this temple and the deafening noise!

A ceremony at Sri Mariamman Temple
The start of the ceremony at Sri Mariamman Temple
Food at the wedding ceremony at Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore
Announcements at the beginning of the wedding ceremony at Sri Mariamman Temple
Wonderful features of the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore
Some of the wonderful features of the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

After another excellent meal in Chinatown washed down by a couple of bottles of Tiger beer we picked up our bags from the hotel and headed for the airport for our next part of the trip. Australia here we come!

Still ‘Up North’!

After two very enjoyable days in Liverpool we headed off towards Howarth in Bronte country. Gosh what a busy little place and packed with tourists even on a murky day in October! There are plenty of tea shops to choose from but I won’t be putting a hyperlink to the one we chose because it was overpriced and not a good choice. The tea was OK as you’d expect in Yorkshire but the minuscule piece of cake definitely wasn’t worth the money. Still it didn’t matter, we had a train journey to look forward to!

Main Street Howarth by Maggie Booth Photography
The busy main street in Howarth.

The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway has its terminus at Oxenhope which is where we caught the train. This iconic heritage railway reopened in 1968 and is run entirely by volunteers. One of the stops along the route is Oakworth station which shot to fame in the film ‘The Railway Children’. The journey is just over 4 and a half miles long with six stations each reflecting railway architecture of the 19th century. Although the weather wasn’t brilliant we still enjoyed the views and the Victorian stations. The decline of the textile industry in this area though is very evident with several derelict woollen mills lining the tracks outside Keighley.

Oxenhope station and engine 75078 by Maggie Booth Photography
Waiting to board the train at Oxenhope station
Engine 75078 at Oxenhope station by Maggie Booth Photography
Engine 75078 at Oxenhope station
Keighley Station on the Worth valley railway.
Keighley Station retains many of its original features.
Engine 75078 on the KWVR at Keighley by Maggie Booth Photography
Engine 75078 coming back from the turntable
Engine 75078 at Keighley taking on water by Maggie Booth Photography
Almost ready to reverse and connect with the carriages.
Oxenhope to Keithley steam by Maggie Booth Photography
75078 with a full head of steam and ready for the off.

After our train journey we headed off to catch up with friends who live just outside Howarth. We’d not seen them for a while so there was plenty of nattering going on washed down with a few glasses of vino … (ha! ha!). Then the following morning we were off again to see more friends who live near Silverdale Cove which is on the Lancashire Coast.

We hadn’t seen these friends for a while either and this was another lovely catch-up. Their eldest daughter who is eight was a baby when we were last up there and we hadn’t of course met their youngest little girl but we hit it off with them straightaway. Having said that it wasn’t long before the girls left us to our chatting …after all adult talk is so boring!

After mugs of tea and cake around the kitchen table we noticed the sun had come out …it was time to go for a walk. A short drive and we were at the coast and what stunning views to have on your doorstep! Silverdale Cove is beautiful and a great place to explore and photograph.

Silverdale Cove on the Lancashire coast by Maggie Booth Photography
The stunning Silverdale Cove.

We rounded off the afternoon with an excellent pint in one of the local pubs before saying goodbye to our friends and headed to our hotel for the night in Clitheroe. My man decide we’d go along the top road heading for The Trough of Bowland. It was getting dark but light enough to see some of the amazing landscape along the way, avoid sheep in the road, flooded bits and see (to our delight) a barn owl fly past us. If that wasn’t reward enough the fabulous sunset definitely was. Hope the pictures do it justice. This road is not for the faint-hearted with twists and turns and heart-stopping moments in case a car comes the other way. We made it but when we told the receptionist at the Waddington Arms how we’d got there she was pretty amazed!

Sunset going towards The Trough of Bowland by Maggie Booth Photography
Capturing a beautiful sunset heading towards The Trough of Bowland

We had an excellent meal that night in the hotel and a good room and were surprised at how cheap it was compared with prices around here in Gloucestershire. After a hearty breakfast we wandered around Clitheroe on a wet Monday morning before heading south down the motorway and home. It was a great four days away, the weather had been typically British but that didn’t matter and anyway we might find some sun on our next trip which will be to Majorca.

The beautiful Bernese Oberland

When I was twenty I went abroad for the first time. Yes it was quite a while ago but I still remember how I felt when I saw those beautiful Swiss mountains; The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, it was breathtaking!

On that holiday we drove over from Interlaken to Grindelwald, a pretty village in the mountains, in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. It’s a popular ski resort as well as a perfect place to hike from, so many walks start from here. One of the things we did there and it’s the only thing I remember, is going on the chairlift up to First. In those days it was an open chair, two seats side by side with a canvas top and sides that rolled up. Somewhere I have a picture of myself sat on the chairlift and dare I say …looking a little like Julie Christie? I know, it’s hard to believe now! My first trip on a chairlift and I loved it! Now sadly the chairlift is no more having been replaced by a cable car. I’m sure it’s a good way to get up to this minor summit if you’re not able to hike, but I can’t believe it’s as much fun as the open chairlift. Health & Safety hey?!!

A couple of years ago we went back to Grindelwald staying at Hotel Tschuggen which is run by Robert & Monica. It’s a small hotel on the main street and from the back you get a magnificent view across the valley to the mountains. It’s an excellent place to stay with comfortable rooms and a delicious breakfast with home-made yogurt and of course a range of locally made cheeses.  The owners are lovely and are so welcoming and very helpful. We loved the town and the area so much and the hotel and the pizzas at Onkel Toms that we went back to Grindelwald again this year.

One of the things we wanted to do for the second time was to go on the Mannlichen Gondola cableway. It’s the third longest in the world and it’s just an amazing experience. We love the little gondolas which hold up to four people but guess what …this is the last season they will be running. From next year the little gondolas are being replaced by a cable car. Its a shame but for the operators they can get more people up there in a quicker time. Easier for skiers too.

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The summit at Mannlichen complete with a very large wooden cow! Great fun climbing inside and playing the cow bells.

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The drop below to the Lauterbrunnen valley didn’t seem to bother this chap!

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We’re all ready for the hike. Had to take a view of the Wetterhorn and of course the Eiger. Not a cloud in sight!

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If I didn’t stop to take pictures we would easily get to Kleine Scheidegg in two hours. It’s a simple, short hike with one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world. A fantastic view of the mountains, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

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Not long before you get to Kleine Scheidegg station there just happens to be a watering hole on the route, Berghaus Grindelwaldblick. My man decided a beer was called for and I went for a Swiss wine from the village of Yvorne. We had stopped at the village crossing over from France a couple of days earlier and had spent a pleasant hour on a Sunday morning tasting a selection of their wines.

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I just wasn’t ready for all the alpine flowers which were growing everywhere. This alpine hike has everything!

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Although there’s no denying that Switzerland is an expensive country, if you can, do go. The scenery in the Bernese Oberland is wonderful …it’s breathtaking and unique. Pictures can’t do it justice. It’s pretty much unspoilt and hopefully it’ll remain so. I do feel very lucky to have done several hikes in this area and hopefully my man and I will be back before too long.