As we drive along the waterfront at Geelong on the way to our home exchange in Drysdale, our host Jill mentions something called “bollards” which, she says, are a reflection of the town’s history. When we return to Geelong for a longer visit, we discover them in greater detail and find them most endearing. To quote the Bollard trail walk brochure, “Over 100 bollards are installed right around the Waterfront from Limeburner’s Point to Rippleside Park. Artist Jan Mitchell was commissioned by the City of Greater Geelong in 1995 to transform reclaimed timber pier pylons into these remarkable works of art.” We don’t get to see them all, but here are the ones we did meet.
I can’t believe that we left Blois nearly a month ago! After our first brief stay in Delhi, we have been in Sydney, Armidale, Coffs Harbour, Adelaide and Melbourne. We are now in Kennet River on the Great Ocean Road on the southern coast of Victoria. We have been constantly on the go, visiting family and old friends and having to say goodbye, and making new friends whom we hope to see again. Although I have not been posting in Aussie in France, I have been posting every day (well, practically!) on my other blog, Loire Daily Photo, in the form of “postcards from Australia”. Sydney and Armidale, where I held a family reunion three years ago, are the only places I have been before.
Sydney with its stunning harbour and laid-back style, remains, for me, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We stayed with good friends in Redfern, caught up with my brother, wife and three lovely sons in Parramatta, had an unforgettable dinner with Brainy Pianist whom you may remember from 2012, and discovered Cockatoo Island with one of my many cousins.
Although I had been to Armidale before, I was able to better appreciate this lovely country town in the New England tableland, where buildings can’t be more than two storeys high. I stayed with my hospitable cousins and caught up with others, slept in my grandmother’s beautiful brass and ceramic bed, saw my elderly aunt who is still living in her own home every day, was invited to dinner, morning and afternoon tea with new and old friends alike and walked several kilometers every morning before breakfast with my fast-paced cousin.
Coffs Harbour was a little too built up for me, although we enjoyed some lovely walks along the ocean front near our home exchange in Korora, but Sawtell, Nambucca Heads and the country towns of Dorrigo and Bellingen, had a different charm. I caught up with another elderly aunt and her son and was invited to dinner by friends of Armidale friends who have a stunning house overlooking the harbour.
Adelaide, where we stayed in a lovely home exchange in the very attractive suburb of Toorak Gardens, has the most beautiful botanical gardens we have ever seen, but we found the city itself somewhat dry and dusty. The mythical Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale vineyards were sadly scorched due to an ongoing drought. but we tasted some fine wines and met up with retired friends from Brisbane who are making their way around the country in a mobile home. We loved the seafront suburb of Glenelg which we visited with my nephew. We met up with three Australian couples who have bought a house in the south of France and Jean Michel was delighted to be able to talk to them in French. I also had a wonderful visit with some old school friends whom I had not seen for 35 years!
But whenever we said we were going to Melbourne for the first time, we were told “You’ll love Melbourne!” And they were perfectly right. We loved it from the minute we saw it. We loved the atmosphere, the buildings and the people, but I won’t say anything more here, because our visit deserves to be described in detail. So, keep tuned!
Every so often, I receive a “postcard” from my friend Alan Stretton whom I have known for more than 40 years. This one took me back to Townsville, where we both grew up, and to my holidays on the Island, which is still my very favourite place today. I would like to share his postcard with you.
When Alan is not living in Canberra he is perfecting the art of slow travel; do less but experience more.
“The island referred to in the postcard is Magnetic Island off the coast from Townsville, Alan tells us. “Ever since I was a child we referred to it as ‘the Island’, to differentiate it from all the other islands in the sea.”
“Hello, Alan. How is the pizza?”
“The pizzas are delicious as always, Lucia. I was wondering if I could order the pasta with prawns, anchovies and chilli to take away?”
Silence and a look of puzzlement was not quite the response I was expecting.
“The rest of my family are leaving tomorrow but I am staying an extra day. I don’t want to cook on my last night.”
I can see Lucia’s look of puzzlement changing to one of incredulity.
“You want to take the pasta home and place it in the fridge overnight and then reheat it in the microwave tomorrow night?”
Her look makes me wish that I could just fade into the background of coconut palms and granite boulders. But I stumble on.
“I don’t want to cook on my last night on the Island. You are closed so I will have to go to Picnic Bay and the food there is not very good.”
“We do not normally do take away except for pizzas. But I will do it for you. But it will not taste very good. Are you sure you want it?”
I feel as if I am 14 again, at school, being grilled by the Deputy Head Mistress and all my seemingly innocent answers are clearly not cutting the mustard. And this from the normally charming Lucia who makes customers feel that she and Alberto opened their Caffè dell’Isola just so that they could serve you.
After another uncomfortable silence, a hint of possibility lightens Lucia’s face.
“Can you come here tomorrow just before we close at 3 o’clock?”
“Good. If you come then I will cook dinner for you. It will be closer to the time you eat the pasta and I will use meat rather than seafood so it will reheat better.”
Lucia’s generosity means that honour is restored and we smile broadly again. Relieved, I return to my pasta and a large glass of wine.
The next afternoon I return to Caffè dell’Isola and Lucia cooks macaroni with Italian sausage, zucchini and feta for me to take away. She refuses to accept any payment. Luckily I had thought to take a decent bottle of wine to give Lucia and Alfredo as a farewell gift. They are trying to sell the cafe so may not be here when we next return to the Island. “Follow us on Facebook. We will be somewhere.”
With my dinner in the bag I walk across the road and the 50 or so metres of wet sand left by the low tide until I am standing in calf deep water watching many rays gliding at surprising speed and five or six small black tipped reef shark looking for small fish. When I stand still, they come within two metres.
I am glad to report that life in paradise is as good as they say.
Venice, Germany and Lisbon, in that order, outside France, and Turquant near Chinon, closer to home.
Venice comes first because of our wonderful gondola experience (which sounds very touristy I know) and all our other less touristy visits as it was our second time in the Floating City. Strange as it may seem, it was not until I had read my way through Donna Leon’s 23 Commissioner Brunetti crime novels a few months later that it became really apparent to me that there are no cars in Venice.
I see Venice as being full of canals and bridges and boats and alleyways rather than being without cars. I was fascinated by all the different types of boats and activities on the canal. Last time we were there, I had a foot problem and we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos. This time, we did a lot more walking.
Next, Germany, where we cycled for a month, first along the Moselle River, then the Rhine, followed by the Elbe, which took as into the former East Germany then up to the North Sea and Friesland, chasing the sun and windmills.
September found us in Lisbon which we loved when the sun come out but found somewhat seedy when it rained, which was more often than not. The best surprise was the marvellous monastery of Jeronimos in Belem, which is among the five places in the world that have left an indelible mark on me. The others are Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Tasman National Park in Australia and Rila Monastery in Bulgaria.
Lisbon is a city of vistas and tiles and we even bought some 18th century azulejos to incorporate into our future kitchen. The other place we really enjoyed was Sintra with its beautiful palace and hilltop castles.
We didn’t go very far afield in France this year, because we spent a lot of time cycling along the many paths around Blois and the neighbouring châteaux of Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny, but we did go to Turquant on the Loire not far from Saumur for a surprisingly early cycling weekend in March.
We went back to visit the austere and beautiful 12th century abbey of Fontevraud with its extraordinary kitchens.
Our first trip in 2015 will be to Granada for a week at the end of January to soak up the Spanish atmosphere of Andalucia, which we discovered (and loved) in Seville a few years ago and get some much-needed sun.
We have a home-exchange in Istanbul to redeem, but haven’t fixed the dates yet.
With Black Cat now living in New York I would like to visit the city through her eyes and take in Boston as well.
I’m still hoping to go to Australia before the end of the year but don’t know yet whether that will eventuate.
This summer may be a series of short cycling trips, along the lines of Turquant, as we plan to renovate the kitchen and add at least one large and several small windows to bring in more light. And, as everyone knows, renovation always takes far longer than expected!
When we discovered Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon recently, I added it to the list of places that have left an indelible mark on me because they were totally unexpected and totally overwhelming. At the same time, I was asked to participate in the Booked.net – Top Destinations to Go challenge by Anda from Travel Notes and Beyond. Choosing just five places was a hard task so Jean Michel and I pooled our favourites, which include both man-made and natural wonders.
The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The interior of Gaudi’s Basilica of the Holy Family is absolutely dazzling, breathtaking, overwhelming. There are no words to describe it and no photo to do it justice. It is the most amazing well of light imaginable. The brightly coloured stained glass windows that would be gaudy anywhere else are quite superb.
Gaudi was only 31 when he began working on the cathedral in 1883. It evolved considerably during his lifetime, becoming more and more audacious. Sadly, he was run over by a tram at the age of 73 and nearly all the plans destroyed by fire during the Civil War in 1936.
The pillars, which split into two halfway up to remove the need for flying buttresses, represent trees in a forest with leaves at the top. The pillars themselves have a special spiral design with fluting that increases in number as it gets higher and take us soaring up to the highest point, 45 metres above the ground. An unforgettable moment.
Never had I seen colours like those in the Plitvice Lakes. Each view was more marvellous than the one before!
At 10 am, before the floods of tourists arrive, the upper path is simply an hour of magic to remember forever.
Tasman National Park in Australia
Our trip to Tasmania was somewhat disappointing, due to cold rainy weather. But the sun came out at last and we set off for Port Arthur. On the way, we followed a sign saying Blow Hole, Devil’s Kitchen and Tasman Arch.
And what we saw was mind-blowing.
These natural formations along the rugged coastline about an hour and a half south of Hobart are dramatic and grandiose, leaving a impression of immensity that you will never forget.
Rila Monastery in Bulgaria
The initial impression of Rila Monastery built halfway up a mountain and surrounded by forest is quite fabulous.
Founded in the 10th century by the hermit St John of Rila, it was destroyed by fire in the 19th century and rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. Although characteristic of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th-19th centuries), which symbolises the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation, it is quite unique.
The monastery museum contains the most fabulous carved cross I’ve ever seen produced painstakingly by a monk called Rafail, with 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures and 12 years in the making. It was hardly surprising that Rafail lost his sight in the process. Just one more reason to remember Rila.
The S-Bend in Austria
Cycling along the Danube from its source in Donau-Eschingen to Budapest was a magical experience in itself. One areas stands out in particular, the Wachau world heritage site in Austria between Linz in Austria and Passau in Germany and the S-Bend in particular.
The single most remarkable moment of the trip was the view of the S-bend from Schlogen blick.
We had spent the day cycling along tranquil car-free paths, going back and forth across the Danube on a series of little ferries, and now we could see our day’s journey spread out in majesty before us. A truly unforgettable moment.
So tell me, if you were asked to name your five most unforgettable places, what would you choose?
And if you’re a blogger, why don’t you join the To Destinations to Go challenge (and the chance to win an iPhone 6)? Click here for more information.
I wanted to pick out the highlights of my Monday’s Travel Photos posts in 2012 but rather than choose my own favourites, always a difficult task, I asked Relationnel to tell me which of my Monday’s travel photos he preferred month by month. These, of course, are not the places I went to in 2012, but taken from various holidays over the last few years. Which is your favourite? Or is there a photo you remember from another post that you prefer?
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I recently went on holidays to Australia and it was not always as I expected. In my monthly guest post for My French Life, the global community of French and francophiles connecting like-minded people in English & French, I ponder on where I really belong.
I lobbied alongside fellow expats from the Southern Cross Group a few years ago to have the Australian constitution changed so that Australian citizens living overseas could have dual nationality.
We were successful so I applied for French nationality. Now I can vote in French elections and I have a French ID. I can’t vote in Australia, though, because I have been ‘disenfranchised’ as I no longer reside in Australia.
When I travel to Australia, I use my Australian passport and when I return to France, I use my French passport. It’s like slipping into another skin. Read more
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We don’t go to Australia all that often – only once every three years – but with the development of Internet banking, I thought it might be useful to have an account in Australia to avoid the hassle of international money transfers through my French bank and the cost of using a Visa card on holidays.
So I found a phone number for a well-known Australian bank and rang them. Within ten minutes, I had opened two linked accounts, one of which had an astonishing 6% interest rate. Certainly far above the 2.25% maximum I can get on my savings accounts in France. It seemed too good to be true.
I had some money transferred into one of the accounts from time to time for various reasons (if Leonardo had a bill to pay in France in euros, for example, I would pay it and he’d put the equivalent amount of dollars in my account), thus saving him an international transfer and giving me some savings for my next holiday in Australia. One day, I wanted to see how much was in the account. And that is when the problems started.
Until I went to the branch I had nominated in Parramatta and showed my ID, I could not obtain the Internet codes. I spoke to various people on the phone and was finally told that I could have my passport and signature verified by the Australian embassy and fax them through. Which I did, at great expense. However, I could still not obtain my codes and any further inquiries were ignored.
In the end, I decided to wait until I got to Australia in September, hoping that I wouldn’t die in the meantime and have my money go to the State! I waltzed into the bank thinking it would only take a few minutes. That was a misconception. I was asked for TWO Australian identity papers. Which I don’t have. I only have my passport. I have plenty of French ID – passport, ID card, driver’s licence, medical card, voting card – but not having lived in Australia for 37 years, I have no other Australian ID.
Nearly an hour and several phone calls later, at my insistence, my French passport was accepted as a second ID. To take money out, I needed a plastic card, but I couldn’t guarantee a postal address where I would be certain to receive the card while I was still in Australia. Tricky. However, I could take money out at the counter, with my Australian passport, at any branch in the country – for €2.50 a time. So much for saving money.
I then said casually, “I suppose this account really is getting 6% interest”. “Oh, no, that depends. Since you haven’t filed a tax number, there’s withholding tax. And you have to put 10 dollars in each month to get interest.” I was flabbergasted. I asked if I could have a 12-month statement. No, I could only have the last 3 months. Now why hadn’t I been told all this when I opened the account?
I took out a large amount of money (no charge the first time!) and left the bank, angry and discouraged. Relationnel and I divided up the money between us and hoped we wouldn’t get mugged along the way. We were in Parramatta, after all.
Towards the end of our holiday, I went to see another branch on the Gold Coast, prepared to close the account and change banks. This time, the young man was much more cooperative. I was told that I could transfer money into the linked account then set up a monthly transfer of ten dollars so that the first account would be interest-bearing. With my plastic card, I would only pay 50 cents a time to take out money from the ATM. After several emails back and forth, I finally received a 12-month statement.
I can now consult my bank statement on-line, make transfers to other accounts, including international transfers, and receive interest!
But my advice, after all this, is to choose an international on-line bank that is especially geared towards expats and check all the ins and outs. You’ll avoid a lot of hassle. Banking rules are far too complicated for us lesser mortals!
If you’ve been following my blog recently, you will have noticed that most of the places we stayed in Australia were home exchanges. Our first swap was last February in Madrid. Since then, all our exchanges have been with Australia – two simultaneous and four non-simultaneous. Two have included a vehicle, which is an enormous boon when you consider the price of renting a car.
Apart from the question of cost, one of the great advantages of house swaps is that you get to be a local. When you’re lucky enough to meet the owners (not always possible in the case of simultaneous exchanges), they can explain the ropes and give you tips on things to do and places to visit. Otherwise they can leave useful information.
Relationnel was particularly appreciative of having a glimpse of Australia from the inside. In the past, we’ve either stayed with friends or motels or rented holiday accommodation which is not quite the same as living in someone’s home during their absence. The general spaciousness, the kitchen equipment, the video installations and the laundry facilities impressed him the most. I had problems with the heating (or rather the lack of heating!)
We are no doubt not very representative of French people in general, but our television in Paris is concealed behind a large armchair as we very rarely watch it. It’s quite big but nothing like the size of the ones in most of the homes we stayed in. Our exchangers must have been a little disappointed to see our somewhat basic video installations. In Blois, we don’t even have a TV because we are too far from the centre of the town to have international channels. However, we expect optic fibre to be installed within the next two years.
We noticed that everyone in Australia has kitchen tongs so we bought a set for Blois for our Australian visitors. We have some in Paris but I never remember to use them! Fridges are much bigger in Australia, for one thing, and no one seems to use lettuce driers which are standard equipment in most French households. All the barbecues were gas or electric.
A laundry room is very rare in France and there are pratically no washing machines here that use cold water, which is why the cycles are so long (the machine heats the water). We had problems using some of the machines in Australia because theywere often programmed for cold water only and it took me a while to realise where the problem lay. Here, you can choose between 30°, 40°, 60° and 90°. Some of the machines are enormous in Australia – 9.5 kg – which is wonderful for washing sheets and towels. Also, you only have to put them out on the line for a few hours to dry. It’s far more complicated and time-consuming here!
In France, I have always had central heating. In Paris, our apartment is grossly overheated because we are on the 4th floor and even if we turn off all the radiators, the hot water coming through the pipes easily takes the temperature up to 23° or 24° instead of the regulatory 19°C. But the most important thing is that central heating means that all the rooms are evenly heated.
In Tasmania, where it was still very cold, particularly at night, there were usually no radiators in the hallways, bathrooms and toilets although there were heated overhead lights in the bathroom. Since the rooms were often quite big with open-plan living spaces, it meant that the rooms were often chilly. In Hobart, though, we had a fireplace, which was wonderful. I do admit it’s far healthier to have less heating – I’m just not used to it!
In three of the houses, we had the most splendid views and I was only sorry that our simultaneous exchangers were deprived of the wonderful view of the Palais Royal gardens from our balcony because of renovations. One of the houses had an absolutely stunning garden and the rooms were furnished with antiques. My nephews, aged 5 to 10, who were staying with us, thought it was a castle!
I’d like to say thank you to all our exchangers who gave us the opportunity to stay in their lovely homes. This post is not a criticism in any way – I’m just pointing out interesting differences between French and Australian homes that we observed.
When I was growing up in Townsville, North Queensland, which has a current population of 200,000 (80,000 back in those days), Brisbane, the State capital and my mother’s birthplace, which now has over 2 million people (600,000 in my childhood), was the “big smoke”. I found it confusing more than anything as I followed my mother, always a keen shopper, through the busy streets. It was not until Black Cat spent a year at the University of Queensland in 2006 that I could say I really visited it.
Today, I think it is a lovely and very dynamic city, with its own special atmosphere. I particularly like the south bank area along the Brisbane River right in the centre of the city.