Sunday, May 31, 2015

A kind of normality

Now after three weeks since our return, life is starting to get back to normal. Today, I had my first non-medical outing, to the Lyon Housemuseum for one of their excellent lecture series. This time was art historian, Jaynie Anderson, on historical architect houses and museums, along with Gerard Vaughan, of the NGA, talking about the history of private collections and what became of them. Followed by arvo tea (yummy crutchless sandwiches) and an opportunity to walk around the collection, it was a splendid afternoon. Now the roast beef is cooking in the oven.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Flight home 11 May

As I've said, Dublin airport wins the prize for best airport, though perhaps it's just because it's small. The flight from Dublin to Abu Dabi was okay via Etihad then the rot set in. Though we disembarked at gate 61 and were transiting to gate 60, for security reasons we had to go all the way back to the start (1), then back again. Fortunately, I got a wheelchair and a handsome pusher. The flight seemed too cold to me and to P. (I complained but nothing happened, perhaps it was the pneumonia) and the overhead lights didn't work and weren't fixed for the whole flight, so no reading. All this from the airline claiming to be the best in the world. I don't think so. Tullamarine has never seemed so welcoming.

Ireland, on the road, 2 - 10 May

On Saturday, it poured with rain as we picked up our little Peugeot, then drove into Dublin's streets in search of the freeway to Galway. We found it, thanks to P.'s navigation. We stopped at a perpetually traffic-jammed Athlone for lunch (many Irish towns haven't really grappled with their traffic problem). Eventually, we found a little comfy diner for a fair lunch. We arrived in Galway in the rain. Our B&B was basic but okay, in a row of B&Bs a bit like a Butlins holiday camp. We had an indifferent pub dinner with lots of entertainment (a hen's night, an Italian school trip). We headed off next day via The Burren. On the Burren Road, our rear view mirror collided with that of a passing car. Ours wasn't damaged after P.'s running repair, so we parted having exchanged details. Twill be interesting to see whether there are any consequences. We went to the Cliffs of Moher, where the tourist infrastructure is outstripped by demand, but they are splendid, thence to Doolin where we stayed at the good Doolin Guesthouse and dined at O'Connor's Pub (indifferent again). The scenery in western Ireland is truly splendid. From Doolin we headed for Dingle. A coffee at the pleasant town of Ennis was followed by a quick drive through the prettiest town in Ireland, Adare, which was traffic-jammed and parked out. We went on to the nearby more humdrum town of Rathkeale where we had lunch at the pub. Very ordinary but probably more relective of contemporary Ireland (pensioners having club sandwiches and chips for their weekly treat). We drove on to Dingle through magnificent countryside. Dingle is a treasure on Dingle Bay. We stayed at the Harbour Nights B&B in a spacious room, right on the water. We had a very good meal at their fish restaurant (no chips) which purports not to open if the catch isn't good (I think it's when it suits them). Next day, we drove around the Dingle Peninsula with splendid views ('Ryan's Daughter' was filmed here) and archaeological sites. Next day was a marathon drive into central Cork. We stopped for brunch at Killarney and had a brief look at the magnificent National Park until driven away by rain. We thought we'd find a place to stay before Cork but didn't so we we slipped into a reasonable hotel in central Cork and had dinner. I was feeling a bit the worse for wear. Next day was easier to Cashel through pleasant countryside. P. tackled the Rock of Cashel, while I napped. We stayed at the good value Murphy's Hotel and had an indifferent dinner there. I was beginning to resent the huge servings the Irish foist on you as I was losing my appetite. Next day, off to Kilkenny, another easy one. We stayed at another basic B&B, O'Malley's, but had a splendid meal at a recommended eatery Zuni, in the main street. P. went to Kilkenny Castle, the National Craft Gallery and the Kilkenny Design Centre while I rested. Next morning he added the Cathedral and a walk round the town. Then we made for Dublin but stopped on the way at an old pile Russborough House with connections to the Mitford Family. It was a quite interesting hysteric house with a fair lunch. We stayed at the airport overnight, dumped the car with some difficulty, then shuttled to the terminal.

Dublin 29 April - 1 May

We had a smooth flight to Dublin from Amsterdam, though the Schiphol (airport) experience has had the lustre taken off it, and the prize for best airport goes to Dublin where caring attendants noticed I wasn't too well and offered me a wheelchair. We got to our guesthouse (I had skimped having been lavish in Amsterdam) and we wound up on the third floor, no lift, where P. valiantly carried the bags and I collapsed. Fortunately, next day they transferred us to the first floor, which was more manageable. We also had a good breakfast at the restaurant associated with the guesthouse next door. We went on the Thursday to the Book of Kells at Trinity College, then the splendid Chester Beatty Library where we had lunch. We had dinner that night at the Guelleton, the same restaurant as breakfast, which was quite good and the waiters were entertaining. Next day, industrial action hit again and most of the buses (which we had already paid for) were on strike, so we caught a cab to our prepaid Guinness tour, which I thought was a giant paid promotion but P. quite liked. I rested in the arvo while he went to the Archaeology Museum, Temple Bar and the Liffey. In the evening, we had a pub meal (very undistinguished as much Irish cuisine) then went to the Abbey Theatre for 'Hedda Gabbler' which was enjoyable (!?) though inexplicably in English accents, sort of.

Amsterdam 24 April - 28 April

The train from Ghent wasn't quite so exciting, but we did get a wine on the way from Antwerp to Amsterdam. We'd splurged a bit on the hotel Prinsen in Amsterdam so had a very large room looking onto the garden and were near the Vondelpark and the centre of town. P. found a wonderful old Oesterbar where we just snuck in for dinner on our first night. Next day, I was feeling a bit unwell (this was probably the start of my pneumonia but who knows) so P. went off by himself to the Stedelijk (Modern Art) Museum to see the temporary Matisse exhibition. I was conserving my strength for the evening's Concertgebouw concert by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra which was splendid, as was the venue though the tempi were strangely slow. Perhaps it's a new fashion. On Sunday, we went to the new Rijksmuseum, which I thought was a bit of a disappointment, especially given how many years (15?) they had to get it right. There was a temporary exhibition of Late Rembrandt which was wonderful, but the museum kept pouring in patrons without any regard for comfort or visibility. I had imagined new presentations with integrated paintings, objets, furniture etc. Instead, we had each century's greatest hits whatever their artistic merits. In the evening, we visited P.'s cousin Pim and his family plus his aunt Susanne who is still going strong, acerbic as ever. We had a meal at his place and a good mag. On Monday, we went to the ever-reliable Van Gogh Museum, a splendid museum experience with a good lunch, then had an excellent meal at the Joost Hotel, just down the road from ours. Next day, P. was kind enough to revisit the Stedelijk so I could see the Matisse plus their other collections (some of which were a bit hackneyed, how quickly modern art can age). As we lunched in their cafe, an errant mouse made its way across the floor. Was it an artwork? Who knows. We finished Amsterdam with a farewell (and more leisurely) visit to the Oesterbar.

Ghent 20 April -23 April

On Monday, we said goodbye to Yael, our host, and went to Gard du Nord. I had lashed out and booked first class on the train to Ghent. To our surprise, a trolly dolly came along and served a delicious lunch including wine along the way. I told her how poor Australian train food was, and she offered to visit to show us how to do it. We changed at Brussels and caught an almost-suburban train to Ghent. Our hotel, the Ibis Opera was very convenient to where we wanted to go but the room was custom-made to be as small as physically possible and still work. We had a foray to see the old town, then the next morning had a very pleasant boat trip along the canals (touristique but worth doing). We also took in the Van Eyk at the Cathedral. In the evening, after a good meal in the bistro across the road from the hotel, we went to the beautiful Ghent opera to see 'La Juive' by Halevy. If you look at the plot summaries, you will see why it is a good companion piece to 'Rusalka' by Dvorak. The production was excellent, amplified by having a big chorus and voices in a tiny theatre with some of the action in the auditorium. Security was very tight given recent terrorism in Belgium and the subject of the opera. Next day, we were going to catch the train to Bruges. Alas! Industrial action meant no trains, few trams and some attractions closed. We did manage to get to see one of Ghent's curiosities, the Dr Guislain Museum of mental disorders, giving a good history of the treatment of 'lunatics'. Next day (Wednesday) we visited the old castle, Gravensteen, very impressive, though I suspect more restored than real and the absolutely splendid Design Museum, with a local lunch.

Paris: last weekend 18 -19 April

Today (Saturday), P. and I went to the Institut du Monde Arabe, right by the Seine, in the Sorbonne, which contains a splendid museum full of beautiful artefacts. However, from the commentary one would imagine that Arabs, Jews and Christians had always got on wonderfully well, which is not quite true at all times. Even better, on the roof, overlooking Paris, is a restaurant called Noura which we were lucky enough to get into. It serves Arab-style food with panache. Later in the afternoon, I rested while P. went off to see the Tour Jean Sans Peur (which figures in Elaine S.'s research). Then we joined Polly in the evening for a farewell dinner (she was off to Bordeaux on Monday, we to Ghent). It was another local eatery, this one very, very trendy, called Claude Colliot. In keeping with the neighbourhood, it had a strong gay clientele and very innovative food. On Sunday, we went to the Louis Vuitton Museum/Gallery 'designed' by Frank Gehry. To me, it was one of the worst designed buildings I have ever seen, right down to the entrance which has no shelter from sun or rain for waiting patrons. The eatery had a waiting time of an hour and a half, and the galleries were cubes in an odd-shaped building, making for endless corridors. And the art wasn't up to much. We escape to the next-door Jardin d'Acclimitisation, a sort of funfair for kiddies, had a quick lunch, then home. In the evening, for our farewell Paris dinner, we went to the Auberge Nicolas Flamel, supposedly the oldest building in Paris (1407), guess where, Rue MONTMORENCY. Polly had put us on to it, as Nicolas was purported to be an alchemist. To our surprise, it was an excellent dinner which we thought was going to be a novelty. A very varied clientele packed the restaurant (again we were lucky to get in) and we enjoyed it immensely. As you'll gather from the amount of eating (and drinking) we did in Paris, we didn't stint, though we did eat at nearly all levels, apart from fast food.

Paris week two 13 - 17 April

P.'s phone is still not working. The new simcard gobbled up all the credit almost immediately doing updates or somesuch, so we hiked off to St Lazare again to try to get it fixed so we can contact Polly who arrives in Paris tomorrow from England. Then we went to Pere Lachaise cemetery which proved to be a bit of a washout as you had to walk for miles to find..what? We had a nice lunch though at a nearby Brasserie. In the evening, we had a posh dinner at La Dome de Marais, although it was amusing when I ordered oysters; they at first took the order, then said they only had four, then came back and said they only had two. I had two. It was a good meal though. On Tuesday, we walked down to the Picasso Museum, now renovated, which was excellent, though I'm still not entirely persuaded by Picasso. We also had a good lunch on the rooftop with some nice strangers, all opera lovers. In the evening, we had dinner at a local brasserie which specialises in a tapas menu. On Wednesday, we metroed to the Chateau de Vincennes, an old pile dripping with history, then had lunch at a local Bofingers. We had a flash Spanish dinner at Iperiber, in, guess where, the Rue de Montmorency, which is becoming our second home. Next day, we caught up with Polly and did the local attractions, including Notre Dame, had a crepe lunch nearby and in the evening went to Kerry B.'s recommendation, the Belleville Cabaret, which had not bad food and singalongs of trad. French songs. It was a lot of fun. We rejoined Polly on Friday for the Louvre which was surprisingly unhassling, though our lunch at their eatery took three hours. Never mind: it was good to have the time to chat to Polly.

Paris first weekend 11 -12 April

On Saturday, we went to the Pompidou Centre, just around the corner. They had a special Jeff Koons exhibition which was a touch underwhelming (how does this man get such acclaim?) and a very interesting Herve Telemaque retrospective. Though a lot of their main collection was being rehung, a temporary survey of contemporary art provided plenty of interest, though reinforced the fact that world art is with us with a vengeance (it could have been the same in any Western country). We rewarded ourselves with lunch at the very posh rooftop cafe, Georges, where we had a slap-up lunch (I got my crab claws). We made up for it in the evening by having a modest meal at our local, Archives, a very undistinguished brasserie. On Sunday, we headed for the Rodin Museum. The main building is under renovation, but the beautiful garden more than made up for it, as well as the temporary exhibition on Rodin's ways of working. In the early evening, we revisited the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle for a classical concert (a sort of the classics' greatest hits) but nothing can beat a dusk concert with the light fading over those beautiful stained-glass windows. We had a quick meal at Arts et Metiers (the station after ours).

Paris week one 6 - 10 April

We settled into our lovely Paris 'apartment' (really a bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom) after a bit of running around (me trying to find a phone, P. staying put with the luggage). But, using my advice from Vietnam, the flat owner turned up to let us in right on time. We had a not very good dinner at the nearest eatery (it was a holiday so a lot was closed) and settled in. Rue Michel le Comte is very well located, near the Pompidou Centre and walking distance from the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame. There are lots of eateries within walking distance too, and we hadn't exhausted them after a fortnight. Next door to our flat, I was surprised to see a large room with lots of cats. 'A mad cat lady,' I thought in my sexist way. However, it turned out to be the Cafe des Chats, where pussies are held captive to amuse the customers. 'Free the cats,' I shouted, often. Part of the aim of spending a fortnight in Paris, which is very extravagant, was to visit some museums and venues we don't usually have time for. So: next morning, we went to the Jewish Museum round the corner. Understandably, they have massive security. They told us about a concert of Offenbach era songs in a couple of nights, so we went off in search of the venue in the Rue des Rosiers (the old Jewish quarter). That night, we ate at one of the local brasseries on the next street, Rue Rambuteau. We went to the wonderful Cluny Museum next morning which had a temporary exhibition of Swabian Wooden Statues which were magnificent. We then wandered in the very busy Luxembourg Gardens on a sunny day. We ate in the Rue des Rosiers, then saw Anne Sophie Schmidt in the concert of (mainly) comic songs from the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth century. Next day, P. did some long overdue washing in the nearby Rue de Montmorency (just when we thought we'd left it). That evening, we ate in a local restaurant (Atelier d'Alexandre). On Friday, we forayed to the grands magasins to try to get a French simcard for P.'s phone. We succeeded, then had a cafe meal near the Bastille and went to a superb and spectacular production of 'Rusalka' at the Bastille Opera.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ha Noi and Halong 1 - 5 April

On arrival in Hanoi, we visited an old university temple, then had lunch at a training restaurant. In the evening, P. went on a street food tour of Hanoi while I rested in the Lan Vien Hotel. Next morning, we headed north in our minibus via a ceramic factory to Halong Bay where we boarded a very comfy boat for an overnight trip around the many islands in the bay. It was very picturesque with miles too much food and another highlight though the presence of too many other boats underlined how touristique it really was. Back to Hanoi via a herb farm and a charity centre producing many goods for export, then to the Ho Chi Minh Memorial (a bit grandiose) and a farewell dinner for the tour. We had two more days in Hanoi and we visited the excellent Ethnographic Museum (including the wonderful water puppets) and the History of Vietnam and Revolutionary Museums. There was much to enjoy about Hanoi though I think it is overpraised for its French heritage. It actually isn't very different from Saigon (and the traffic is equally dreadful in both). That night, we had a transfer to the airport, but on arrival were told that our plane had not arrived so we were taken back to town (another hour) for a couple of hours rest in a hotel before departure in the morning. Consequently, we left Vietnam about 7 hours late and arrived in Paris the same. Fortunately, I was able to alert our Parisian landlady via the temporary hotel's computer.

Hoi An 30 - 31 March

Da Nang, where our flight arrived, is a totally new and artificial town which aims to avoid oldtime planning difficulties and social problems. We'll see. Our bus took us to Marble Mountain, nearby, which has temples and oodles of marble statues, no longer made from marble from the mountain (which is running out) but imported from China. We proceeded to Hoi An, where, to our surprise we were installed at the Hoi An Hotel, another colonial remnant but much renovated, where we spent two nights in luxury (we had enrolled for the 'comfort' tour, after all). That night, Tuyen, our guide, took us to a splendid local barbecue dinner. Hoi An was once a thriving port until it silted up, leaving the town high and dry. It also fortunately preserved the old town from modernisation, so it is a splendid example of wonderful old buildings, temples and a glorious Japanese old wooden bridge. That night, we had dinner at a very good eatery, Green Mango, to complete a definite highlight of Vietnam. Next morning, we went to Da Nang, via its beach, for another Vietnam Air flight to Ha Noi.

Ho Chi Minh City 26 - 29 March

Just over two months ago now, P. and I hopped on a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City for the quite pleasant 7 and a half hour flight. We had organised a transfer to our hotel (or Ingrid, our inestimable travel agent had) so were soon at the Asian Ruby Hotel where (presumably because we were ahead of the tour) we were given a deluxe room. The catch with a deluxe room is that it had an almost impossible spa/bath/shower with no handles or non-slip mechanism. This repeated itself in many hotel rooms along the way, where designers seemed to compete with each other for impractical but innovative designs. Next day, we went to the Fine Arts Museum to see old and new Vietnamese art in a (French?) colonial building. It was a very interesting collection, though suffering a bit from the heat. The next day (Saturday) we went to the Remnants of War Museum which, as well as truly shocking photos, had even more shocking figures of the number of bombs dropped on Vietnam by the U.S. and its allies (us). We also stood outside the Reunification Palace which we visited later. That night, we joined our tour leader, the excellent Tuyen Vu and a mixed group but with some German/Canadians of quite affable people. On Sunday, we went to the Reunification Palace, a monument to the false belief that if you surround yourself with luxury you will be impregnable (see North Vietnamese tanks breaking down the gates). We then had a drive in the country to the Cuchi Tunnels where the North Vietnamese hid out and fought the invaders. Back in town, we went to the Chinatown markets, then had a deathdefying cyclo trip back to our hotel through the horrific traffic, pedalled by people twice our age and half our weight. Next morning, we saw the Cathedral and the Post Office (colonial) and went to the Remnants of War Museum again, before boarding a flight to Da Nang, with Vietnam Airlines again.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tee hee

Now back on the air after some six weeks offline. For some reason, when I had access to a computer overseas, I could Facebook but not blog. Oh well! I'll try to make up the diary for our travels as I go, but first, it is now nearly a fortnight since we arrived back. I've been flat out like a lizard with, as it turned out, low-level pneumonia, caught God-knows-where but probably on some plane flight. After a visit to the local health centre, I was whizzed off to the Royal Melbourne where under the excellent care of renal and infectious diseases they kept me in solitary in case of TB (not a wonderful experience). However, it only lasted just under 48 hours and I was home again with high-powered antibiotics and rest. I'm feeling better already, helped by lots of intravenous antibiotics in hospital. I won't be doing cartwheels very soon though. Meanwhile, back to Vietnam.