Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Little More Leisure

At the Edinburgh airport now, waiting to check in on our flight to Paris via thrifty airline, Easyjet, with no seat allocations, just scramble. We have had a fairly leisurely jaunt through the Highlands, starting with the beautiful Loch Lomond (complete with swans and ducks), then through the Glencoe gorge and national park and finishing at the Old Pines at Speam Bridge (past Fort William) which was a modern hotel with a splendid view from our room of Ben Nevis and the surrounding forest. It had a good eatery too. In fact, I need to take back everything bad I've ever said about UK food. We've hardly had a bad meal since we got here.

Next day, on the hotel's advice, we went to the very picturesque Cia Aig Falls and thence to the ruined Urqhart Castle dripping with history and finally the Cairngorms Wildlife Park where we saw a Capercaillie (a weird black Highland bird, very rare), a wild cat (also rare) and a red squirrel. Not to mention other beasties like a Russian tiger. We stayed overnight at a weird hotel in Dalwhinnie which was quite comfortable, then next day proceeded via a little walk at Blair Athol, a pioneer Scottish botanists' garden and Huntingtower Castle to Edinburgh.

We've done both the Edinburgh Castle and the Hollyrood Palaces and the Queen's Gallery, and today went to the Scottish National Gallery, which has an array of great paintings from Botticelli, through Raphael, Velasquez to Cezanne and Monet. A feast for the eye in quite a small space.

So we've motored the Great Glen (no monsters in Loch Ness in evidence) and walked the Golden Mile, and feasted on the best that Edinburgh's seafood restaurants have to offer (we've tried two of them). Dare I say it, I doubt that we'll eat so well in Paris. Stay tuned for further reports.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ye tak the high road

Just a brief note on Scotland which has been splendid. The countryside was superb with waterfalls, birds, pheasants and so on. A beautiful hotel out of Fort William with views from the bedroom of Ben Nevis. Now suffering in Edinburgh with oysters and crayfish for dinner last night. Today, off to Paris, so all is well if we can find the airport.
Alas, no twinges of race memory emerging for little me. Too long ago, methinks.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mackintoshed out

We went to the main art gallery and museum today, which had 'the largest collection of Mackintosh' in the world, which I doubt, but it was impressive, as were the art collections particularly the Impressionists. Then on to the Hunterian gallery at the University with another great collection and the Mackintosh/Macdonald flat reproduced over three levels. We feel now that we've done justice to the Mackintosh heritage in Glasgow. Even though it turned out to be a dead end, it was magnificent while it lasted.

Then off to pick up our little VW Polo and a foray through peak-hour Glasgow traffic back to the hotel. After a good, rather hippie dinner, we're off tomorrow to the Highlands and on to Edinburgh.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Scottish burr

We finished London with some grand flourishes. On Sunday, we went to Hampton Court and had a great time retracing the steps of various English monarchs and walking round the spring gardens. Then back to town for a brief view of the Courtauld collection, including some splendid Cezannes. On Monday we did both Tates, the Britain, with massive numbers of Turners, and the Modern, with plenty of Picasso, Braque and more Cezanne, not to mention much more modern stuff.

We finished our London visit with another dinner with Polly, this time at our nearby Spanish menu pub.

Our research paid off and we made it easily to the Glasgow train (delayed by a trackside fire somewhere or other - everything seems to be delayed). Some entertainment from the French guests at our hotel. The rather spoilt young girl peered at her English breakfast and said, shocked, 'C'est bizarre.' Then enquired whether they did crepes or 'continental' breakfast. 'We do English breakfast,' was the stiff reply. There are amazing numbers of French tourist around, even in Glasgow.

The Virgin train trip was smooth and easy (it should have been at the price) and the hotel is good. We went straight out to the Rennie Mackintosh designed School of Art which is really impressive. We had a personal tour from one of the art students. Tomorrow, we do the art gallery and with luck collect the car and then next day make for the Highlands. Good fish dinner tonight.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

London in spades

We had a very nice drink then dinner with Polly on the night of our arrival. She knew of a very good Anatolian place near the British Museum (which is not far from our hotel) so we had a good natter and nosh there.

Next day we tackled the huge crowds at the same Museum and ogled everything from the Elgin marbles to Egyptian mummies to European Frankish remains (we love King Clovis). Then after a rest it was off to Halftix for entry to a revival of Carousel (Oliver with Rowan Atkinson was booked out). We enjoyed the nostalgia, which was what it was, in a competent but not brilliant production. It was nice going to the Savoy of G&S fame.

Today, we met Peter's nephew, Sam, and his lady Linda and their two children, Jack and Kate, at London Bridge station. We had a coffee then went for a stroll and shopping at the Borough Market (very similar to our local markets, but a lot bigger!) We then went back to their place in Southwark to consume the booty. It was very nice, as in Amsterdam, to be with real people in real places.

After leaving them, we went to the Sir John Soane museum, which is an eccentric marvel of Regency bric-a-brac, plus some splendid artworks (Hogarth, Canaletto). That leaves us just two days to 'do' the rest of London: the galleries and Hampton court.

Fortunately, early this morning, after the excellent 'English' breakfast at our hotel (the Spanish clients just have 'bread' thank you, 'Toast' says the lady), we collected our train tickets and sussed the route to Euston station which is quite close to our hotel.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Amsterdam to Vienna to London

A long break as there was no internet in the flat in Vienna. On our last day in Amsterdam, Peter's cousin and aunt took us on a walking tour of the Jordane area, followed by a trip round the canals in an electric 'tinnie' with wine and a picnic.

Off to Vienna early the next morning, for an orgy of paintings and palaces, tempered with a trip to the Schonbrunn palace gardens and zoo, where I clocked my first panda, near the very comatose koalas. We had a great night at the opera: a very traditional performance of The Marriage of Figaro but nearly perfect. By the time we got to MAK, the design museum, on our last day we were about museumed out, so had a traditional Viennese dinner in which Peter nearly blew his head off with horse radish.

We're now in London. The contrast between the smooth airport train in Vienna this morning and the bumpy old underground in London was quite marked. But our hotel in Bloomsbury is good and comfy and we are meeting Polly after she finishes work.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Today, after acquiring a transport pass for the trams, we went to see Peter's aunt, Susanne. Also her friend Robert (a distant cousin of Peter's) drove up from Rotterdam to see us. We had a very pleasant coffee and lunch then a drive in the ''country''. Back to town and a very nice Indonesian dinner around the corner from our hotel.

Tomorrow more touristing, probably Van Gogh, plus dinner with the rest of the family.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Amsterdam in the drizzle

The flight from Thailand was very comfortable with KLM. It was very strange being overnight in a plane where it seemed everyone was asleep after a midnight snack of tomato soup and chicken salad. The staff were good (though not nearly as many as with Thai Airlines) and we arrived early in the morning in Amsterdam. A quick train trip into town, then taxi to our comfortable hotel and we were off. The contrast between steamy Thailand and somewhat icy Amsterdam is quite marked.

We've arranged (after battles with the public phones) to contact Peter's aunt, and we'll visit her tomorrow and probably have dinner with the rest of the family on Good Friday. Meanwhile, we queued for ages at the Rijksmuseum for their special masterpieces exhibition, which was well worth it, though a bit long on Dutch nationalism. It was a fairly drizzly day in Amsterdam, so we repaired to the hotel for an arvo rest, then ventured out into a splendid spring evening for a very pleasant meal of mainly fish. Now home for bed in our little canalside attic.

The hotel managers took our (very heavy) bags upstairs (very steep) while we were out. I'm not looking forward to taking them out again.

Monday, April 06, 2009

National Park

The National Park tour was a very long day starting at 8am after a good breakfast. A drive to the Park and a view of the information centre was followed by some beastie and bird sightings, then a three-hour walk in the jungle, where among other things we were narrowly missed by a crapping gibbon.

We then went for a simple lunch (choice of fried rice or sweet & sour) then a waterfall viewing and a panorama, topped off by dusk sightings (and that's all they were) of some grazing wild elephants. Other beasties included samba deer, squirrels, lizards, monkeys, a scorpion and in marked contrast to the elephants, a stick insect. Somewhat weary, we came back to the guesthouse for dinner then bed.

Tomorrow we go to the local markets and some cave paintings before heading off to the airport and Holland.

In Thailand

After a good flight on Thai airways and good, edible food, we arrived in the vast airport hotel in Bangkok, where we spent the night (a bit exhausted). In the morning we were picked up like clockwork and were whisked off (for two and a half hours) to the very friendly and comfortable Khow Yai Guesthouse. After lunching, we had a swim (!) then a tour of a Buddhist meditation cave (very muggy) and saw two million bats (Ian would have wet himself) fly off at sunset into the National Park. Home for dinner.

Today we do a tour of the National Park itself. The tour is in openbacked safari utes. In typical Thai fashion, no seat belts, but very slow movement. The stopover has proven very good so far. We toured yesterday with a Danish couple and a couple from Brisbane who were very affable.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Up, up and away

Yesterday was a very busy day. I despatched the final versions of Dickins plus the film autobiography to the publishers. At lunchtime, I got Janie the Wagon and went to the 'beautiful' motel in Box Hill where Peter Walsh is trapped for a week recovering. It is actually quite comfortable and he seems fine, though his post-op is clearly painful. He is comfortable reading and watching the teev in peace in his eyrie (on the ground).

Home again to start packing and organising, and make last-minute phone calls. Now there is just the packing to do, to try to fit it all in my trundle bag. As an omen, The Australian is late arriving at Maria's milk bar this morning. Are we being weaned off the country?

This arvo, it's off to the airport, with the assistance of my father, to make the big leap to Thailand for a stopover of three days. Then to Amsterdam and the Ronge rellos.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


This week has been mainly a few finishing touches to the film autobiography (captions and the like) plus the final corrections on the Dickins memoir, now just requiring a final proof before sending to the publisher.

As well, there has been a deal of social activity. Sal came for farewell tea on Monday (vera bolognese and apple pie) and last night P., Lorraine and I went to Movida for a splendid dinner (probably better than any we'll get in Spain) followed by a Lucinda Williams concert at Hamer Hall. She was great, but the whole thing was over-amplified (are we getting old?) and her boy band was a bit indulgent with guitar riffing. They thought they were the ants pants, but we came to hear Lucinda.

One more day to go for final derangements for travel, packing, getting money etc. Peter Walsh is languishing in a motel in Box Hill following an operation. He can't travel for five days, so either I'll got to see him, or get him for dinner here. Frank is coming tonight for a final pretrip conference. Phew!