Wordless Wednesday: Seatown Sunset

Sunset, Seatown Scotland
The sun sets a little later in this part of Scotland.
Seatown, Banffshire Scotland
Sun setting on Seatown, Banffshire Scotland

St Monans by the sea

StMonans-5482

St Monans is one of many small, picturesque villages on Scotland’s east coast. Popular with painters and lovers of seafood, it was the perfect location for our small group. 17th and 18th century coloured houses, a historic church, fishing boats, coastal views, and the ruins of Newark Castle provide plenty of fodder for this snap happy traveller. The East Pier Smokehouse came highly recommended for a lobster lunch and it did not disappoint. A glass of white wine to wash it all done and then it was time to explore the village and find a spot suitable for sketching. To be honest, I spent the majority of my time taking photos (procrastinating) and only managed to get one small sketch done before hopping back on the bus.

 

Scotland here I come!

 

Edinburgh 1999
Edinburgh 1999

Today I am hopping on a plane and flying to Edinburgh, Scotland. It has only been 6 months since our last big holiday which makes me feel extremely lucky, holidays like this don’t come along very often. The first and last time I was in Scotland it was 1999, and I was on a tour which stopped overnight in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was short but sweet and the desire to return has never left. Why Scotland now you may ask? The opportunity to join a painting tour with my art teacher Louise Corke and several other artists came up and it was too good to resist, two weeks of painting and drawing in the Scottish countryside, destination Dairsie Castle and Gardenstown.

The tour starts and finishes in Edinburgh so I’ve tacked on a couple of days at the beginning and end of the trip, time to explore and do a day trip to Glencoe via Loch Ness. The group will also be heading to Northumberland to visit the Unison pastel factory and perhaps pick up a few more beautiful colours, such lovely soft pastels and with any luck I’ll be able to bring a box home without them turning to dust. What I am really hoping to get out of this trip is inspiration for my drawing, with the weather always changing (apparently) it should be relatively easy to get photos that I can use for as a reference for my art for at least twelve months.

Blog posts may or may not happen while I’m in Scotland, but you can follow me on instagram, twoblackdogz, because I can guarantee that there will be many, many photos taken 🙂

Waters of Venice

“The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like tendrils of vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald and sapphire, Citi s a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea.”
Mark Helprin, The Pacific and Other Stories

Venice. Oh how I love thee

Gondola cruise on the canal
Gondola cruise on the canal

You’ve heard me rave about Venice before so it will come as no surprise that after my third visit to the serene city I still feel the desire to return. We stayed in a small hotel called the Locanda La Corte not far from Rialto Bridge and close to the Ospedale vaporetto stop, perfect for walking to the city’s main attractions. The window of our hotel room opened onto a canal, it was ideal for us and there were many moments when all I wanted to do was look out that window, listen to the seagulls and watch the world float by. Of an afternoon, when the sun was shining, the reflection of the waves could be seen on the wall and ceiling of our room creating a feeling of calm.

Being Autumn the number of tourists seemed lower than on my previous visits in Spring and Summer, but still the streets and main squares were crowded. Away from the main attractions such as St Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge we could stroll freely and without interference from people armed with selfie sticks and those trying to sell them. It was the quieter alleys and squares that I love, although feeling like an intruder armed with a camera and invading a local’s personal space. One morning I left hubby at the hotel while I went out for a walk, camera in hand I decided to venture into a part of Venice that I had not seen, Cannaregio. I didn’t make it very far and found myself standing on the edge of the island and looking towards the Island of San Michele and in the background, snow covered mountains. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, ideal for hopping on a boat and heading to the islands of Burano and Torcello which is exactly what we did.

Venice is often described as a theme park, attracting millions of visitors all year round and it is easy to get caught up in the hype and complain about how expensive everything is and how it is difficult to find a good, affordable meal. On Burano there are a dozen or more places to eat on the main street where all the tourists go, a couple of locals recommended two restaurants but they were packed so we sat down to a meal of fried calamari and chips (fries or frites) by the water. The food was cheap and fresh and not far from the vaporetto stop. Our favourite cheap eat find was a little place not far from the Rialto Bridge, I had read about it in a couple of guide books and expected it to be full of budget conscious tourists like us. Rosticceria Gislon is not what you would expect in a seemingly tourist area, it looks like a cafeteria and offers pre-prepared food at a good price, it was also crammed with locals (or Italian speaking tourists). We had three great meals at Rosticceria Gislon, one of the most memorable (and cheap) being the deep fried mozzarella and ham sandwiches…delicious!

I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a centuries old city such as Venice, one that is never free of the hoardes of tourists whilst also having to manage the impact of high tides and rising sea levels.  The eery beauty of this city appeals greatly to me, I have always wanted to spend a few months living in Venice however I wonder if the enchantment would wear off during an extended stay. In the meantime, editing all my photos and remembering our time in Venice will have to suffice.

Movieworld on the Gold Coast

School holidays and theme parks aren’t usually something I would combine, however it can be fun if you have good company and a fast-track pass (helps beat the hideously long queues, for a fee of course). One of my long-time friends and her teenage daughter came to stay for a couple of nights so we had one day of age appropriate activities for us (shopping and food) and one for her daughter, and yes, visiting the MovieWorld theme park was her choice. MovieWorld on the Gold Coast is a popular Warner Bros theme park and has several rollercoaster type rides as well as a stunt show, 4D movie, kids area and superheroes and cartoon characters parading around and posing for photos. We arrived when the park was open and already there were hundreds of people queuing to get on the popular rides, it didn’t look promising. My girlfriend bought two Fast-track passes which helps bypass the long queues, at $60 per pass I thought it a tad expensive but it did mean that we only queued for 10-20 minutes instead of 1-2 hours. On top of the $89 adult entry fee, cost of photos, food and souvenirs, it must get horrendously expensive for families.

My girlfriend has family living nearby so they met us at the theme park, her twenty-something nephew went on the rides with her daughter while we looked after his two young children. For us it was fun trying to manoeuvre a pram through the crowded theme park and keep the kids entertained, eventually they were happy to hang out with us and we were able to enjoy a coffee break. When it came time for the kids to go home and have a sleep, I inherited one of the Fast-track passes, given the cost my girlfriend wanted to make sure that she got good value for money. If you haven’t already guessed, my girlfriend doesn’t do rollercoasters. Rollercoasters have always frightened me, that is part of the experience, but they’ve never made me sick and up until yesterday I had never experienced that OMG!!!! I’m never going on that again feeling. Having lunch just prior probably didn’t help, you’ll understand when you look at the photos and see if you can spot the photo where I look less than thrilled to be on the ride.

Yesterday was a laugh and although it isn’t something I would choose to do for fun (anymore) I am so glad that we went to MovieWorld, it was a great day spent with wonderful people.

 

Another Paris icon

Six weeks ago today we landed in Paris, excited about our next scrappy adventure and extremely happy to be in one of my favourite cities. Our hotel, the Hotel Familia, is not far from the Notre Dame Cathedral Building History and within 10 minutes we found ourselves staring in awe at one of Paris’ architectural icons. Being so close to the cathedral it was rare that we went anywhere without getting a glimpse of the gargoyles and flying buttresses, thus resulting in me taking numerous photos at different times of day.

Australia was discovered by the English in the late 1700s and we have few buildings older than 150 years. Travelling in Europe and seeing buildings or monuments that are 700+ years old is an incredible experience for us and it is hard to imagine how builders and craftsmen achieved what they did without the technology and equipment available today.

I love the Notre Dame Cathedral, from all angles and especially when it is bathed in the golden light that a setting sun brings.

 

 

A quick look at Bologna

Neither Hubby or I had been to Bologna before this trip and knew very little about the city. We spent three nights in Bologna and still don’t know much other than it is easy to get good food, the historic centre is mainly medieval (architecture-wise) and there are plenty of students and beggars. I’ll touch more on our visit in a later post, for now please enjoy this quick look at Bologna.

My Australia Day

Australia Day is a day where Australians get together and celebrate the good things about our nation and being Australian. The date for Australia Day, January 26, was chosen because it is the anniversary of the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet from England in 1788. On this day, many Australians join their family, friends and communities for a BBQ, picnic in the park or a game of cricket at the beach, it is a National holiday and if the date happens to fall on a weekend then we get an additional day off to make the most of the event. This year Australia Day was on a Sunday (so I’ve got today off work) which for me, started like any other Sunday with time spent at our local shelter, cleaning up after puppies and dogs, getting lots of kisses and cuddles and taking the dogs out for a bit of exercise. At the moment I have a couple of favourites at the shelter, but there is one particular fellow called Curly whom I absolutely love, he is a British Bulldog/Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross (apparently) and he is loud, barking at everyone he sees and sadly, people find it off-putting and interest in this gorgeous guy is minimal. Curly has a huge grin, is a wriggle butt, a snuggler and a kisser, once you get past the barking and spend some one-on-one time with him it is almost impossible not to love him so my mission (when I am there) is to get him out of his kennel and walking where people can see the other side to this gorgeous little man. Surprise, surprise, I also take lots of photos of him to share on social media 🙂

Our two black dogs certainly didn’t miss out on the fun of Australia Day, once the heat of the day had passed we loaded them into the car and headed off to the lake for a walk and a (dogs only) swim. The border of the lake has an excellent walking path, rough 4 kilometres in distance, and off leash park, plenty of outdoor gym equipment as well as BBQ areas and playground equipment for children to enjoy. Being Australia Day, every man and their dog was out and about, the carpark was almost full and a variety of activities were being undertaken by the lake including kite flying. I’m not keen on the off leash area and Maxi doesn’t always react well to other dogs after the initial sniff and greet, instead we redirected our pooches to the water’s edge where they sniffed the rocks and reeds, scratched in the sand and paddled in the shallow water until it was time to go home. As we walk to the car we pass by the remnant of someone else’s Australia Day celebration, careless people had expressed their ‘Aussie pride’ by spray painting a rude gesture on an old lounge and leaving it for someone else to dispose of, this thoughtless and often aggressive patriotism is a side to Australia Day that bothers me and one that has been all too prevalent over the last 10 years. Regardless of the blight on the landscape, spending time together at the lake was a lovely end to the day, I stood and took photos of the setting sun while Bundy pulled on the lead in pursuit of a scent, Maxi was grinning like a fool and the husband stood by, rattling the keys in his pocket, his hint for me to hurry up and put the camera away.

My top 10 Australian experiences

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

Today on news.com.au I read an article listing Australia’s top 10 landmarks named by TripAdvisor based on the millions of reviews posted by travellers over the past year. There were a couple of places that surprised me and a couple that I have never visited so I’m not in a position to judge whether they’re worthy of being in a top 10 list. The article attracted some scathing commentary from readers with some labelling Sydney as boring, claiming that the Opera House looks better from a distance, and that Australia is too ‘young’ as a country to offer any thing interesting to see. The most negative comment stated that there was really nothing to see in Australia apart from a couple of the landmarks listed, our beaches and the barrier reef so it wasn’t worth spending 3 weeks in Australia especially with inland travel being so expensive, customer service so poor and our restaurant scene lacking.

In response to this article I’ve come up with two top 10 lists, one is my top 10 based on the Australia I’ve experienced and the other is the Australia I wish to experience.

My top 10 Australian experiences

Melbourne

I don’t have any particular suburb or landmark in mind, the long weekend I spent in this Victorian city was purely about food and shopping and I loved every minute. Melbourne is a very cosmopolitan city, I love the variety of restaurants and cafes, we explored China town and had Yum Cha for lunch, our hotel was not far from Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar and one evening was spent dining on Moussaka. Street art lines alleyways and boutiques filled with retro clothing, designer handbags, handmade chocolates and beautiful paper products called to us and the only thing stopping me spending a small fortune was the fact that I didn’t have a small fortune to spend.

National War Memorial, Canberra

It has been many years since I last visited the National War Memorial however it is a place I have been to several times and would go again if given the chance. The National War Memorial is both inspiring and sombre, you walk away feeling proud of the Australians who fought for us yet sad, so many lives lost on all sides.

The Australian National War Memorial, Canberra
The Australian National War Memorial, Canberra. Source:http://loyalty33.smugmug.com/Travel/Canberra-ACT-December-2008/i-CDJNLnK/1/L/The%20war%20memorial-IMG_3083-L.jpg

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

Hiding in the Lamington National Park is O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, accommodation and spa for those who want to spend some time connecting with nature. You can go for the day, take a picnic lunch and feed the birds, there are several tracks through the bush and if you’re lucky you will see more than bush turkeys and goannas. If you stay overnight there is the option of getting up at sunrise, wishing the wallabies a good morning and taking a free guided walk through the rainforest to see and hear about the native birds, they are quite active at that time of day. See a sunset from the bluff is also a spectacular moment, especially when combined with a glass or two of bubbles.

 

Circular Quay, Sydney

When ever I’m in Sydney a walk around Circular Quay is always in order, going between the Rocks and the Botanic Gardens. Exploring the Rocks is always a joy for me especially if the markets are on, I have memories of choc coated coffee beans and fudge, not to mention a glass of wine or two at pubs such as the Orient Hotel or The Mercantile. Circular Quay is home to the Museum of Contemporary Art as well as multiple buskers, you can sit at the edge of the park and the passers by or admire the numerous ferries and boats that move in and out of the wharf. The Opera House is a spectacular piece of architecture, as a child I performed there with hundreds of other school children, playing a number of pieces on the recorder and listening to talented singers and school bands. Seeing the Opera House of a night time is a must, walk around the building to see the city from a different perspective and if you get the chance, buy a ticket to a play or musical performance because it is an amazing experience. Nearby is the Botanic Gardens, providing a peaceful and beautiful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, here you can have a nap or spend the time admiring the specimens on display in the gardens.

Swell Sculpture Festival

I’ve written about the Swell Sculpture Festival before, held at Currumbin Beach in September it is worth putting on your ‘must see’ list if ever you are in Queensland at that time of year.

 

Cruise Sydney Harbour on a Tall Ship

This is something I did almost twenty years ago and I have discovered that the experience is still available albeit it on different ships. My boyfriend and I did a twilight cruise of Sydney Harbour on a tall ship and it was magical, we watched the sun set from the deck of a replica of The Endeavour, it was very relaxing and romantic.

The Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley in New South Wales is a well known region for wine, only a couple of hours from Sydney it is easy to do in a day trip (don’t forget a designated driver) or you can stay in one of the many B&Bs in the region. Tyrells, McGuigans and the Piggs Peake Winery are just some of the wineries you can visit, Piggs Peake Winery is a small, boutique vineyard whereas the other two produce large quantities of wine for the mass market.

The Great Barrier Reef

Definitely a must see for anyone who loves marine life, scuba diving, snorkelling and island hopping. You can take a day trip out on to the reef or charter a boat and cruise between islands: Hamilton, Lindeman, Brampton and Lizard just to name a few. The seafood is fresh and at the right time of year the days are calm and perfect for soaking up sun, sitting on the deck of a boat drinking a refreshing cocktail or having a picnic on Whitehaven beach. Although I didn’t go snorkelling I did enjoy swimming over coral, seeing turtles in their natural environment and watching dolphins swim and play around the bow of the boat.

Great Barrier Reef. Source: http://grantstudios.smugmug.com/Nature/Nature/i-rsz3DJr/0/L/photo-1-L.jpg

Vivid Festival, Sydney

The Vivid Festival in Sydney is held in June, it is a festival of light, art and music and an amazing way to see Sydney at its best. I’ve always loved the city at night especially around the harbour, the lights reflect on the water and the city really does sparkle. At the night markets in the Rocks you can choose from a variety of international cuisines and beverages, stalls selling pastries, paella, Thai food, German sausages and gelati will make your mouth water and you can wash it down with a beer or wine from the numerous pubs and bars. Photographers, amateur and professional line the quay with their tripods and snap photos of the light show happening at the Opera House, Museum of Contemporary Art and surrounds. For a city that is too often in a hurry and the people too often cool and indifferent, the festival is a a fantastic opportunity to slow down and revel in all that is happening.

Rural Australia

This one is not about any place in particular, I grew up in rural Australia and I still find joy in returning to my hometown, a small town in New South Wales where the nights are so dark that you can see all the stars. Staying in the cities is great if all you want to do is shop, go to galleries and museums or dine in a la carte restaurants before heading to the theatre, but there is more to Australia than cities and the Barrier Reef. The experience of riding a horse through the bush, watching the sunrise from a mountain top or floating down a river on the inner tube of a truck tyre is something different for most visitors and from a country girl, I think its an experience not to be missed. As kids we camped by the river, toasted marshmallows under the stars and went bushwalking during the day, as an adult I love sitting on my parents deck and watching the sunset, in the morning I take the dog for a walk down to the river stopping to say hello to the cows and horses standing in their paddocks.

Sunset in the country

My top 10 Australian Experience wishlist

  1. Drive the Great Ocean Road and see the twelve apostles.
  2. Visit Western Australia when the desert flowers are blooming.
  3. Visit the Barossa Valley and its vineyards.
  4. Drive around Tasmania, include time on King Island, staying in B&Bs and taste testing all the gourmet produce.
  5. Explore Kakadu National Park during the wet season.
  6. Spend a week in dog friendly accommodation by the beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
  7. Visit the Margaret River region in Western Australia, see Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and dine on the fresh produce accompanied by regional wines.
  8. Stay in the Blue Mountains, visit Norman Lindsay’s former home and ride the steep, scenic railway.
  9. Cruise the Murray River on a paddlewheeler.
  10. Travel between Adelaide and Darwin on the Ghan.

You might be thinking that I haven’t really seen much of Australia and you would be correct, I’ve seen more of Europe than I have Australia. It will probably take me ten years to do everything on my wish list, possibly longer. It is easy to forget how large Australia is and how much time is needed to move between destinations, for example, a flight from Brisbane to Perth takes about five and a half hours and to drive from Sydney to Melbourne takes about 14 hours. Air travel has gotten cheaper however it is probably still more expensive traveling in Australia than it is in the US or Europe, then again our population is much smaller than many other places so providing better, faster, cheaper infrastructure isn’t always possible. 

If you could visit Australia, what would be the three ‘must see or must do’ activities on your list?

Cheers and have a great weekend!