16
Jul
10

On Our Last Leg(s)

The Cumbrian Lakes District lies just north of Wales on England’s north western coast. I just wanted to stay on Lake Windermere – nice and simple. No one warned us of the need for a completely alternative lexicon to navigate this area. It first became apparent when we learned that we had booked accommodation at Landing How. I thought that there should surely be a question mark after the name but there wasn’t. The Lakes District is comprised of lakes (surprised?), fells (hills), forces (waterfalls), wolds (hills), becks (streams), hows (hills), tarns (small elevated lakes) and pikes (hills [large]).

A network of bridleways, public footpaths with kissing gates and stiles on fence lines allow mere mortals like us the privilege of wandering through fields of sheep, flowers and stinging nettles. These public rights of way have existed across England and Wales for several centuries and permit persons to traverse private land on designated routes without fear of trespass infringement. Jen and I made extensive use of these footpaths during our week of hot sunny days with breezes light enough to keep us cool while walking. Eventually we would reach a village where we could sit and get a coffee and scone – of course, partaken only to avoid the onset of hypoglycaemia. Suffering such an attack in the English countryside would just not do!

Kissing gates are cool, not because you can kiss them or even kiss over them (though we often did), but because they are a swinging gate that is always open, needs no lock yet prevents stock from passing through. They are a bit hard to describe, but imagine a garden gate swinging between and inside a V-shaped forked fence on the latch side. You enter with the gate swung away from you, move into the deep part of the V then swing the gate back past you to the other side as you exit. You’d best look at the picture of the stone one below. Alternatively, there are stiles which are one or two raised treads which pass through the fence so you can step over the apex of the fence. Goats and some clever sheep (oxymoron) can get over these, thus they are less common.

One sunny afternoon after walking up to Skelwith Force, we returned to the village to have afternoon tea on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river whereupon we witnessed a very public stoush over posession of a table on the terrace, between a very nice visiting couple, some equally nice do-gooders and some much lesser locals with dogs. The visitors arrived, laid claim to an empty table by leaving a cardigan thereon and went to the counter to order. Moments later, the do-gooders, seeing the cardigan and thinking it had been left by some previous patron, quickly got up and took it inside to the waitress for safe keeping. Meanwhile the lesser locals arrived with their dogs and took up semi-permanent residence at the aforementioned table. Upon their return, the visitors were first met by the dogs then the unmoving, passively aggressive lesser locals. The situation rapidly deteriorated firstly by virtue of the lesser locals’ feigned surprise at seeing the visitors, then by a offering a non-genuine invitation to join them and their dogs, then finally to loud, belligerent, long-winded discussion of the proceedings. Needless to say, the offending do-gooders adjacent, were first regretful then embarrassed, then gobsmacked at the scene they had unwittingly created. All in all, it was a most entertaining afternoon.

Day after day we would walk the fells and circumnavigate tarns never tiring of the beautiful vistas and quiet waters. There was always a quaint village with a stone pub, lolly shop and cafe beside a lake with boathouses at the water’s edge and wooded islands in the middle. Families of swans and ducks swim through the lilies while only a hundred metres offshore, fly-fishermen would attempt to outsmart wise old trout.

In pursuit of one of my travel objectives, I would seize any opportunity to engage the locals. Most often this would be on a footpath somewhere but occasionally in the car, in the middle of a small village intersection with someone in a motorized wheelchair while Jen is in the local store. The most interesting chap I met on the whole trip in fact. “Never let an opportunity pass” I always say. Jen just shakes her head.

Grasmere was probably my favourite Lakes town. Postcard perfect, complete with Taffy Thomas’s Storytellers Garden, where the art of storytelling is celebrated and taught for the benefit of future generations. …and flowers, flowers and more flowers, more beautiful and lush than anything I have ever seen in Australia. Whitewashed houses surrounded by dry stone garden walls. In fact dry stone walls everywhere! We saw one disappearing over the top of a very high fell which must have been a several kilometres long. Just imagine how many stones were carried and individually placed to make it two to three hundred years ago. Amazing. A truly marvellous place to visit.

London was our last stop before returning home. A real melting pot of cultures now, where nearly fifty percent of the people in the street have their identity hidden by cloth, where you have to really listen hard to hear English spoken and no footpath courtesy at all, anywhere. I fear that London is no longer the “Heart of Empire” that she once was – rather a Mecca (no pun intended) for shopping by the obscenely wealthy. There are a few little oases that we found, the canals between Regent’s Park and Little Venice are lovely, coffee beside the Serpentine at sunset, cycling from Kensington Gardens, along Rotten Row to St James’s Park, the Wallace Collection in Mayfair is truly superb collection of antiquities and the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s. It wasn’t all bad though, we bumped in to Bill Granger at Melt, a first class Chocolatier in Notting Hill. He is doing a story on them in an upcoming edition of Delicious magazine.

A pleasant 24 hr A380 flight home later and it’s all back to normal. Great to see our family and friends, nice to sleep in your own bed, good to hear Ray Hadley “giving it” to the government on the radio, good to drive a right hand drive car, great to feel the baby soft cheeks of Erica, good to see a healthy bank balance thanks to the superb work done by Guy and glad to see Leekins surviving Mungin-death so ably. Thanks to my darling Jen for putting up with a decade of wishful travel thinking and sharing the trip of a lifetime. We had such relaxing fun for three solid months a rare thing these days for the likes of us. Thanks to all our friends and family who rang, visited, fed, encouraged and supported our four children in our absence.

And finally and most importantly is you, dear reader. For the comments and encouragement you have given me during the life of this blog. I am very gratified to know that you have enjoyed the stories and pictures.

It has been a real pleasure having you holiday with us. It was everything I wanted it to be, plus some. It has truly been a Bon Voyage

Finsthwaite

Grasmere







Stock gate with stone kissing gate at right





Ullswater




The scene of the crime at Skelwith Bridge



The Storyteller’s Garden


21st century petrol station


Our house in Notting Hill

10
Jul
10

Cumbrian Lakes District Pictorial



01
Jul
10

Rule Britannia?

Thursday dawned bright and early – at least I assume so because I was asleep until 0800 hrs. It was our last day in Paris and we were bound for the white cliffs of Dover. Going to the motherland, the green of Devon, dry stone walls, the history of Bath and the honey coloured stone cottages of the Cotswolds; where we could speak Australian and be understood. Surely this was all good. We had mixed feelings though, in both Italy and France we had learned and experienced so much that was new, unfamiliar and therefore exciting. Was it going to be as good in England?

The ferry ride was wet, windy and freezing. I thought of how much the WWII soldiers would have hung on the words of that wartime song and how disappointed they might have been when there weren’t any bluebirds and only greyish cliffs. I guess you call it poetic licence. However, a tad of research taught me that about 70 miles (remember them?) west at Seaford, the white cliffs are truly spectacular and well worth several hours walk and a night in a B&B.

What visit to the channel coast is complete without a lightning stopover at the Brighton Pier. The one pound forty pence in coin that Jen had in her purse gave us just enough time to briskly walk to the end of the pier, see a couple of thousand overweight holiday makers scoffing down fish and chips, take a photograph and get out. In contrast, the lovely white rendered multi-storey residences along the beachfront look terrific and are in fabulous condition.

Escaping to the English countryside, we headed for The New Forest, so named by William the Conquerer in 1066 because it was his favourite hunting ground when he wasn’t out conquering some else’s homeland. We walked for miles through forest walks where deer, cows and wild ponies breed and roam free with the luxury of right of way. These heavily protected animals are actually direct descendants of those alive a thousand years ago – it’s a bit hard to comprehend. We stayed in the New Forest Inn, a genuine Pommy pub in a tiny village in the middle of the forest where two people can get two sumptuous courses for the princely sum of ten pounds.

On route to Bath we stopped for a genuine cream tea in Milton Abbas where in the 1700s, the owner of Milton Abbey decided that the adjacent market town of Middleton was disturbing his peace and quiet so he commissioned an architect and landscape gardener to design a new village and move everyone there. The original village site is now a lake. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re really in charge. Most of the houses there are lime-washed mortar with thatched roofs.

The Roman Empire wasted no time in establishing itself in Britain. By 43 AD, Bath was on the map as a health resort where both bathing but also “taking of the waters” would help relieve all manner of ailments including rheumatism, consumption, arthritis, pox and scabs. A “must do” in this town is the free walking tour which leaves the Pump Room each morning. Andrew, our guide a retired high school history teacher was as entertaining as he was well informed. The weather was so hot that many of the locals came out to work on their tans in the private park beside the Avon just where the three tiered weir is. We non-locals paid a pound for the privilege. One woman in particular should not have pursued this pastime in a public place. I was advised not to include the photo.

Steve and Jane, a fellow middle aged backpacker couple who we first met at breakfast in a YHA hostel on Lake Como, spotted us in the curtilage of Bath Abbey. It was lovely to catch up with them and have nice dinner together (not a ten pound one) during which we learned that like us, staying at a total of two youth hostels during their journeys fulfilled their lifetime quota for doing so.

The UK canal system was once upon a time, the arteries of the country. Nowadays they are an extensive network of waterways upon which you can motor for pleasure. Bath is accessible from London by canal, albeit not quickly. We walked along some of the Bath section for several hours overtaking many narrowboats and enjoyed witnessing the skills of the holiday makers in their 77 foot long craft negotiating multiple locks on their way towards Bristol. Near Caen there are 16 locks in a row providing a climb of 237 feet in the space of 2.5 miles.

Our experience of staying in the Cotswolds was everything we wanted it to be. Quaint villages covered with climbing roses that you would kill for, castles with gardens that have been tended lovingly by the same family for six or so generations and fields of sheep surrounded by centuries old dry stone walls. We rented Rose Cottage in Stow-on-the-Wold, a 17th century cottage with heavy oak beamed ceilings, internal doors that didn’t even try to close properly and door heads so low that I had to duck as I went through. It did have hot water and a shower so everything was just great. The kitchen was plenty big enough for me to make dinner while Jen read her book, sat outside with a drink or finished off Scarlet’s cardi

Not looking forward to coming back just yet.

The Seven Sisters





Chichester



Milton Abbas

THe New Forest


Rose Cottage



The Tithe Barn, Sudeley Castle

















25
Jun
10

Claude’s Lily Ponds

In spite of overdosing ourselves in Paris on bike lanes, pont crossings and espressos, after a short sortie to Leuven in Belgium to visit an old friend, Jen and I went back for another fix of Paris. So we Velib’ed further afield than we had the first week and got more comfortable with the way of life there. The time came though, when we had to leave because the cost of the accommodation was killing us, but it was worth it.

An hour up the road with the Seine River still beside us, we turn off the A4 to the hamlet of Giverny. This little town is home to a lily pond with Japanese style bridge made famous by Claude Monet, a heavily bearded man who was pretty handy with a paintbrush and palette knife.

Most of our accommodation on this trip was chosen using the internet where a whole week’s domestic happiness rested on a decision made from the analysis of thumbnail pictures of apartments and cottages. In this particular case we were overjoyed to see our home for the next few days, a seventeenth century watermill in full working order complete with salmon leaping up the spillway against the flow of water. It has long since ceased grinding flour, rather these days it generates electricity. Yes, the whole estate runs on 240v supplied by a 21st century inverter being supplied 24v from a 19th century generator being driven by a 17th century wooden toothed drive wheel connected to a 15 foot diameter waterwheel. What current they don’t use (which is about 75%) goes back into the grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, forever and ever, amen. A very nifty money maker indeed.

So we walked into our mill, the downstairs area was the living room featuring a glass wall with the stream and paddles on the outside and the cogs and generation gear on the inside – very impressive to the men, a mild curiosity for the women and certain death for children.

The safety barrier between you and this bone crushing machine comprised a half-inch chain suspended twelve inches off the floor by a few sparsely spaced poles. Literally anything or anyone that went between the teeth of the exposed gears of those driven wheels would, very rapidly, be crushed beyond any recognition. To make things worse, a number of antique curiosities were arranged on the floor in front of the gears all providing perfectly positioned trip hazards. All this in a rental property! If not closed down, can you imagine the public liability premiums they would face in Australia? Needless to say we gave them a wide berth and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the property.

Next morning we mounted the two mountain bikes that were in the shed and pedalled our way down the lane towards Monet’s Garden. Being early June, the garden was in full bloom. It’s not a large place, his house at the top of a gentle slope, below it are heavily planted cottage gardens featuring large beds of heavily scented roses, the biggest fat-assed peonies you’ve ever seen and an avenue of arched trellised with climbing roses. Further below that, the famous lily ponds with bridges made so famous in his Water Lilies series of paintings. I’m going to print one of my own “Water Lilies” shots on canvas as soon as I get home.
We spent a very pleasurable day there wandering around the garden, taking the odd photograph and just sitting, taking in the ambience. As we pedalled home, we ate an early dinner on the terrace of The Hôtel Baudy which was the centre of impressionist artistic life in Giverny’s heyday. It also has an impressive garden and a working studio out the back complete with old works hanging crookedly on the wall.

After the busyness of Paris, the old mill and gardens here get a “very highly recommended” rating for a totally relaxing and restorative stay in the country.

My very own paint daubed Monets ready for printing on canvas when I get home.
















My old mate Guy (and his Mum) with whom I used to work at American Cyanamid 23 years ago

At dinner with he and Lea.

19
Jun
10

Ahh Paris, au revoir

A week in Paris allows you to settle in a bit, to get to know your local cafe owner and the checkout man at the local supermarché. You get to see the same places at different times of the day and as a result, get a glimpse of the normal rhythms of life there. But I’m an outsider. No matter how much I would like to, I can’t avoid being seen as a tourist. Regardless of how I wear my scarf or how well I pronounce my “bonjour” or “merci, au revoir”, it is immediately apparent to a local, that I am not a local. I hate that! I don’t want to be a local, I just want to observe and interact with them as they do each other. A built in input/output Babel Fish is what I need.

It is not hard to find people that speak glowingly of the romance of Paris. I am indeed one myself. Everywhere you look, you see everyday women looking gorgeous in outfits featuring scarves, carelessly tied up hair (I love that) and boots. You see couples kissing in the late afternoon on the Pont des Arts and lovers on the grass in the Place des Vosges. Its quite infectious actually, we found ourselves quite naturally enjoying those same pastimes more often than perhaps we might normally do. I think it’s the result of a combination of things; the accepting French attitude towards the outward demonstration of love, coupled with the increased focus Jen and I have on each other due to our very relaxed time schedule. Whatever the reason, it was good and I’d like to bottle it, bring it home and share it with you all. It’s that good.

Our little apartment in the middle of the Seine on the Íle Saint-Louis was just fantastic. Within twenty paces of our huge green front door we were on the banks of the river. The “Le Flore en L’Íle”, a favourite quayside cafe written about in the book “Without Reservations” by Alice Steinbach (a highly recommended light read) was adjacent to our building as was the birthplace of Berthillon glaces and sorbets. Fifty more paces across Pont Saint-Louis were the colossal flying buttresses (external arched supports) of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. A magnificent site to see when riding home each night.

I have seen la Tour Eiffel before but still get blown away by its phenomenal and seemingly increasing size as you approach it, particularly at night. At just under a thousand feet high, comprising eighteen thousand individual pieces of steel and two and a half million rivets, not only is it a magnificently simple piece of engineering but in my estimation, one of the design masterpieces of the world. I never tire of looking at its graceful lines.

Just a few minutes walk at the western end of the Íle de la Cité and across the bridge to Saint-Germain-des-Prés are hundreds of art, photography, sculpture and furniture design galleries. I could have spent my entire holiday in this district but Jen wouldn’t let me.😦 I think the thing that impressed me the most about Paris was the architecture. I love the consistency of building design around the city – beautifully sawn cream stone, five to six storeys, slate roof with French (of course) doors opening onto wrought iron clad balconies. One particularly strong ambition of mine was to get invited in to one of these gorgeous places to just see what they were like inside. The nearest I came to doing so was to chat for ten minutes with a young architect at a Velib’ station about his current project – a very opulent residential renovation in the sixteenth. So I had to content myself with spending some evenings with five hundred and sixty millimetres at f5.6 clipped onto the front of my Canon seeking any clandestine view inside that I could get away with.

I got to love two meals a day, meat with cheese, pamplemousse (a French grapefruit) juice, sunset at 2157 hrs (ending 15 hours and ten minutes of daylight), the “sing-song” tones of the bon jour we got from the lady in our local boulangerie, masses of people out on the street at dusk, the busyness of the water traffic on the river, having coffee at the bar, and did I mention the architecture.

I will miss the sound of the bell on our Velib’s as we warn pedestrians that we are approaching from behind, the golden shine of the sun on the Seine as it passes under multiple closely spaced bridges, couples in rowboats on Lac Inférieur, the lamp-lit flights of stairs down from Montmarte, the sound of jazz buskers on the bridges and in the parks, the most magnificent cut flowers in the flower markets and florists (Erica, you would go nuts) and the parks full of massive peonies, climbing roses and the biggest hydrangeas youve ever seen.

It’s intoxicating. It’s definitely a place you have to return to.

Íle Saint-Louis














Our apartment windows.

14
Jun
10

Vive la Velib’

There is so much to enjoy about Paris – a lifestyle that is totally different to anything we have in Australia. One girl I spoke with explained that everyone’s apartment is so small that they have to get outside for at least some time each day; in street cafes, bistros and bars. With 25,000 people per square kilometre, Paris’s public transport systems cope well. The Metro runs like a well oiled clock and the legendary lane-less roundabouts look daunting but actually run quite smoothly because there are no road rules, just guidelines – go with the flow, head for the exit you want to use and merge, merge, merge. I suspect that Parisian car salesmen are not wealthy in comparison with scooter and bicycle salespersons, whose products continue to dominate the personal transportation market segment.

Very early in the piece, Jen, Wendy and I agreed that Bruce and Robyn’s advice on their choice of Parisian transport was spot on – the Velib’ – the coolest, retroest, three speed twist grip cycle in existence. In spite of Gunther’s (a well meaning but ill-informed colleague of Wendy’s) warning that we would surely all be killed if we rode bikes in Paris, we eagerly slid our credit cards into the slot, paid the princely sum of €5 for the privilege of riding these little beauties for a week and got out on the road.

I’m not a cheapskate naturally (I have to work at it), but time IS money and this is particularly true of the Velib’. If you take a bike from the rack and return it to any rack in Paris within thirty minutes, it costs you nought. Isn’t that a bargain? If you go overtime, it costs you. The system is designed to keep the bikes constantly in use rather than sitting idle in someone’s back lane or the like. We quickly got into a really good routine. Jen and Wendy were in charge of bike selection and safety checks – tyres, lights, gears, seat height, bell etc while I keyed all the codes into the meter. We could be on our way within a minute or three if all went well.

Man, we have covered some distance – and being so flat, with such ease! From our apartment on the Íle St-Louis we would go to Mouffetard Market for fresh veg, across the bridge to Le Madeleine for coffee, along the river to the Jardin de Luxembourg for a picnic and further on to the Eiffel Tower for a photo, the girls even went east to Bercy by themselves to buy our Michael Bublé tickets. Jen is particularly proud of the fact that she now uses less “left leg scoots” to take off from the kerb than she used to. Both girls have such confidence now that they were even heard to utter the words Crusty Demons whilst descending flights of stairs at speed.

There are separated bike lanes that you share with taxi’s and buses which, it is said, makes it much safer; that is until you get to Place de la Concorde where the whole system breaks down into chaos. Nevertheless, three brave Aussies launch out from Rue de Rivoli up the Champs Elysee without blinking.

We have pretty comprehensively covered arrondissements one to thirteen and my favourite, sixteen. As the kilometres have mounted up, the girls’ calves and quads have gained remarkable definition and slenderness. On this trip Jen realised one of her long held desires which was to ride a bike in Paris wearing a flowing skirt with baguettes and flowers in the basket. You should see her face as she rides, it is best described as excited contentment – it’s lovely. Then, the excitement part went up a notch when, while riding through Les Tuileries, she took the leading bike position and led us through the park.

Surely, this is living!











07
Jun
10

Piz Gloria and Neighbours

Guy had only just turned fifteen when he flew by himself to London to meet up with Lee who was his gap year for their one month tour of Europe together. After a gruelling interview with British immigration about the whereabouts of his parents and his intended itinerary with his yet to be seen brother in the arrivals hall he emerged victorious. It doesn’t take much for Dads to get proud of their children and I, in this particular case was no exception. How good does it make you feel whey your own progeny can hold their nerve in the face of that level of challenge.

During that trip, the boys stayed in the salubrious Mountain Hostel in a place called Gimmelwald, high in the Swiss Alps. From that moment on, I wanted to take Jen to this very same establishment in recognition and as a celebration of the achievements of our young sons.

This place has a serious pedigree. Further up the gondola is Shilthorn which was “Piz Gloria” the villain’s hideout in the James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” starring Aussie 007, George Lazenby. The neighbouring Eiger is also a big name in the mountain business rising to just a smidge below 4000m; setting for the action/thriller movie “The Eiger Sanction” where the villainous Dr Jonathan Hemlock, art collector, mountaineer and contract assassin works hard in an effort to finance the purchase of a Picasso. Last but certainly not least is Jungfrau, the “Top of Europe” where hotels with accompanying observatory don’t get much better – anywhere.

So there we were at the Mountain Hostel, being shown up to the Honeymoon Suite (a special surprise for Jen for our 28th anniversary), surrounded by the most awe inspiring mountain peaks the world has to offer, the tops of which were still covered in snow. Could life be any better I ask?
Well, yes actually. Upon entering the Honeymoon Suite only then were we courteously advised of a long held Managerial joke re the naming of the said suite. Suite would probably not accurately describe a boudoir in which one could not stand upright. You might more accurately describe it as an all timber room in roof above a noisy bar, accessed by a ladder through a trapdoor with mattresses on the floor, a small window and a string of lovely red floral fairy lights for mood creation. That was pretty much it – and we loved it!

After a hearty night’s sleep, we got up to a fabulous morning of achingly clean air, crystal streams, five hundred metre high waterfalls and walking paths stretching for miles. First, we traversed to Murren along a path used by the locals to get to the local shops, then on to Winteregg. The paths consisted of narrow, moist, earthy walking tracks through light, bright green forest. We were helped along the way by small red and white trail markers which if you saw them, showed you which way was the right way. After about two hours, we stopped at a clearing sporting a glorious view down the valley whence we had just come, had a drink, lay down on a wooden bench in the sun and fell soundly asleep for half an hour. This, I have recently discovered, is how to have a holiday! We were woken by a thunderous boom coming down the valley from above. We jumped up to see a wall of ice and rock scree plummet a thousand metres to the slopes below. A place you would definitely not want to be as a walker or climber. Returning home that afternoon had us descending a 45 degree slope down a really narrow switchback pathway through smallish snowdrifts.

Back at the hostel, Jen being as incognito as possible, with eyes downcast (due to her belief that she was too old to legitimately stay in a youth hostel) was still mentally battling with the notion of showering in a cubicle adjacent to strapping young European men the age of her children. As is her usual modus operandi, she sought advice from her children re the current situation and was duly reassured by Lee as to the rightfulness of her being there. All I can say is thank goodness for global roaming and SMS!
Exercising long lost culinary skills that were rekindled in Tuscany, I made a delicious Tagliatelli with tomato and anchovies. This, expertly teamed with the finest Schweppes Aqua Tonica available in the mountains, we sat al fresco on the deck and feasted on both food and view.


The Honeymoon Suite