The Snake

We made a couple of trips inland from The Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne.

From the end of The Great Ocean Road at the attractive and attractively named town of Port Fairy, we travelled back to Melbourne inland via Ballarat, Daylesford and Trentham. 

Ballarat is an example of a gold rush town that has seen better days but is now fighting back. Daylesford was a disappointment and with hindsight we spent too long there – probably our first tactical error. Trentham was lovely with great shops, restaurants and walks. One of these provided my first sighting of kangaroos.

Typical Buildings in Ballerat, Daylesford and Trentham

Trentham Falls and Kangaroos Near Trentham


There is interesting plant and wildlife, especially unfamiliar and often noisy birds, almost everywhere we have been in Australia. Our trips inland to a couple of waterfalls were particularly remarkable in this respect.

One was located along a long single lane track cut through old eucalyptus forest. The trunks soared on either side like an incredble cathedral nave with tree ferns carpeting the forest floor. In a clearing we had our first wallaby sighting.

Hopetoun Falls and My First Wallaby

The other waterfall visit required a steep walk. During this, a brown, lengthy and impressively mean-looking snake crossed the steps a couple of feet away from me. Fortunately, my reflexive step back sent me tumbling into the bank and not down the precipice on the other side of the path!  The snake stayed firmly in my mind for a few days afterwards – especially after I was told it’s the brown ones that are dangerous.

Melbourne is safer!

The Really Great Ocean Road

After our fun in Queensland, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) (actually not so long-suffering these past couple of weeks) and I travelled to Melbourne. From there we hired a car and LSW drove us (ok, she suffers a bit) West along The Great Ocean Road to Port Fairy. 

We stopped overnight at Apollo Bay and Port Campbell to break up the journey. In any case, we were frequently in and out of the car to avail ourselves of the well signposted, comprehensively explained and lovingly looked-after coastal viewpoints.  

Joining The Great Ocean Road Near Anglesea

Apollo Bay at Sunset

 

As in Queensland, even the easily accessible beaches were clean and empty.

The three days hopping along the coast were incredible. Each stop seemed to surpass the previous in terms of magnitude of spectacle and drama – the latter helped by a steady stiffening of the breeze and a corresponding increase in the surf as we travelled West.

The pictures I could take on my now outdated iPhone cannot do the Great Ocean Road justice. Nevertheless, here are few.

Views Of/Near The Twelve Apostles

Panoramic Shot of Razorback Near Port Campbell

Loch Ard Gorge

London Bridge (Fell in 2002 Trapping 2 Tourists) and The Arch

The Grotto Near Port Campbell


Bay of Islands


The Great Ocean Road is a tremendous engineering feat dating back to the early 20th century. It is also an extraordinary showcase for this spectacular southernmost coast. 

LSW and I also travelled inland and that was also extraordinary in other ways. More on that if I manage to find time to catch up with the blogging….

Noosa and Brisbane Roar

Our last few days in Queensland were spent  mopping up a few shop visits, restaurant recommendations and sights in Brisbane, and a trip two hours north to Noosa with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend.

LSW and I also had the honour of being invited to dinner with the parents of one of YS’s best friends, and to see Brisbane Roar play football in the huge SunCorp Stadium. Both evenings were enormous fun and also fascinating in the observation of similarities and differences from the UK.  Certainly the pyrotechnics as the teams came out at SunCorp Stadium are a step up from what we experience at Forest Green Rovers!

Brisbane Roar vs Adelaide at the SunCorp Stadium


Noosa was rainy and, at times, very rainy. Rain didn’t stop play though. LSW was able to get around the touristy town shops, I walked along the coast, we taught YS’s girlfriend Rummy and we all saw dolphins. 

View From Our Airbnb in Noosa: Sunrise After Showers


We also saw YS’s proficiency with car and camera. Especially gIven my relative incompetence in driving and in using machines and equipment, I was impressed. It’s always good to see first hand offspring mastering things beyond ones own ability.

YS drove us in the rain to Mount Coot-tha for a panoramic view of Brisbane and then to the Botanic Gardens. There was just time for some more YS camerawork there before the rain closed in again.

YS and Girlfriend on Mt Coot-tha


We said goodbye to YS and girlfriend next morning after another routinely  marvellous breakfast. 

Açai Bowl at Nodo Donuts Cafe, Brisbane


This breakfast was at the cafe where YS had first worked when he arrived in Brisbane 18 months ago.  It was lovely to see him greeted by the staff there but then sad to say goodbye to him. YS and girlfriend are back to the UK for Christmas though, so only 8 weeks to a reunion.

North New South Wales

Unexpectedly, we moved to yet another time zone as we travelled south towards Byron Bay from Brisbane. I hadn’t previously realised that time zones varied by Australian state as well longitude. It reduced the challenge of getting up in time to see the sunrises!

The country drives around Bangalow, where we stayed for three nights, were wonderful. Sometimes, if you squinted a bit, the countryside was reminiscent of the emptier parts of England. Then I’d look again and the tropical trees would shake me into realising the differences.

Byron Bay Hinterland Countryside


And then there are the hordes of metre-wide black fruit bats and the ear piercing crescendos of the crickets! We don’t have them in Gloucestershire. Both were jaw-dropping.

Scenes Around Bangalow


The quality of the Australian breakfasts, the  clean sand and sheer scale of the beaches, and the friendliness of all we met continued to be uplifting. 

Other highlights from our trip south, for me, included the wildlife (including eagles, pelicans, dolphins and whales) in Byron Bay and on the lovely, almost empty Kings Beach just to the south. 


We also enjoyed the quirkiness of Nimbin with its hippies stuck in the 1970s. 

Stalls and Shops in Nimbin; Hippy Capital of NSW

Nearby, Minyon Falls, a 100 metre drop, was impressive but would have been more spectacular with some water!  

That shouldn’t be a deficiency now the drought has broken. We drove through huge storms on the day we returned to Brisbane and then again as we moved north to Noosa.  At least bringing my umbrella hasn’t been a waste of luggage space. Also, I’m glad we are missing out on hurricane Ophelia back in the UK.

Australia: Youngest Son, Brisbane and The Glasshouse Mountains

Our Youngest Son (YS) has been in Australia for almost 18 months now. This is Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW) and my first trip to Australia. It was great to see him and his lovely Northern Irish girlfriend for the first time since he left.

His lifestyle here seems tremendous. Brisbane is up and coming and has some edgy bits. He has forged a new, interesting and apparently thriving cinematography business here (Cactus Juice Cinematography). He has great friends and a car to enable trips to the amazing countryside and coast.

YS and his girlfriend have shown us around West End where they live, introduced us to the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art and guided us to using the river boats to see other hip parts of Brisbane.  

Example Local Art at Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art


Also they drove us out to see sunrise from the Glasshouse Mountains. The jet lag meant the very early start was no problem for LSW or I – although there is embarrassing footage of us snoozing in the back of the car on the way back!

In any case the trip was fabulous. The sunrise was great. The ancient volcanic plugs that make up the mountains are spectacular but also, in the case of Ngungun, accessible through a 30 minute, energetic climb. The views all around were spectacular.

Sunrise View Climbing Ngungun, Glasshouse Mountains

View from Ngungun at Sunrise

 

YS and girlfriend were able to scare us on the way down with warnings of animals called ‘drop bears’ that fall onto the unsuspecting shoulders of tourists. This is fiction of course, but we were taken in for a few seconds. Pommie tricking is sport!

Sunrise Over the Sunshine Coast from Ngungun

We did much more on the trip, including our first of many visits to a pristine, seemingly endless beaches of perfect sand and surf, and my first açai bowl breakfast.  Great fun and more to come…

Singapore

We have had a great couple of days in Singapore. 

The flight here, via a brief airport-based stop-over in Hong Kong, was more comfortable than I had expected (given we flew economy). LSW and I saw a lot of films!

We are staying at Villa Samadhi. This is well outside the city centre in the midst of a rather tropical natural park.  It has proven to be an excellent, relaxed and authentic choice.  The breakfast in a nearby, related restaurant accessible by a walkway through sub-tropical vegetation, has been particularly satisfying and the service has been wonderful.  The hotel is surrounded by the constant sound of wildlife and is very different from the modern high rises in the city. 

Villa Samadhi, Labrador Natural Park


Singapore has a strong sense of order and discipline.  Old Chinese, Peranakan and ex-British colonial co-exist alongside the ultra modern skyscrapers and extraordinary hotel complexes, but in a rather pristine, structured way (though Chinatown and, I expect, Little India are muddled enclaves). Overall, the architecture – such as the magnificently upgraded National Gallery – is startling.

St Andrews Cathedral

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Downtown Singapore – Old Riverfront Bars, New High Rises

 

While we have been here, we have managed to catch up with a cousin and some friends who live in the city. That has kept our stay grounded in something other than pure tourism and has been a lovely diversion from sightseeing.

Gardens by the Bay

Inside the National Gallery Singapore – The Rotunda

 

Chinatown Temple Amid Modern Singapore


Looking forward now to Brisbane, slightly less punishing heat and humidity, and Youngest Son!

Two New Music Venues For Me

I am always interested in going to new venues for gigs. By the time I left London I had been to lots of different venues and knew the logistics of many of them pretty intimately (when to arrive, where to stand, what if anything to drink). I had my favourites (Café Oto, St Pancras Old Church, The Lexington and so on) and tended to follow them rather than bands when selecting where to go.

Having left London, I am now building up a new list of local venues. This week I added two more to the list: The Stroud Goods Shed, which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Prema in Uley.

The venues had similarities – for example, both had ancient open beam structures in the roof – but they were also very different. The Stroud Goods Shed was rather cavernous and verged on cold – not that that affected the high quality of the music. Prema was smaller and more intimate and the audience was far older.

At Stroud Goods Shed we saw Mesadorm and at Prema we saw Habedekuk. Again, there were similarities (for example, both bands had folk roots and both featured an 8-piece band). But while Mesadorm played complex English tunes with deep and meaningful lyrics, Habadekuk played jazzed up Danish dance tunes with complex titles.

Mesadorm

Mesadorm at The Stroud Goods Shed

LSW loves all things Danish so we couldn’t go wrong with Habadekuk but both were very enjoyable. I’ll be looking out for more music events at Stroud Goods Shed and Prema.

Habadekuk

Habadekuk at Prema

First though, Australia…. Hopefully I can get the mobile version of the blog software to work and keep you at least somewhat up to date with our trip to see Youngest Son.

Bottoms Up!

Followers of the blog will recall that Forest Green Rovers (FGR) is the football team I follow – rather too avidly in Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) view. You will also know that FGR are the most sustainable and green football club in the world (see here) and that it won promotion to the English Football League proper for the first time just 4 months ago. The winning of the playoff final at Wembley was an incredibly emotional high point.

2017 National League Playoff Final

2017 National League Playoff Final: Forest Green Rovers 3 Tranmere Rovers 1

Now we are up against the ‘big boys’ of League 2 and we are struggling. A couple of Saturdays ago I went to fellow strugglers Port Vale (north of Stoke) to see the bottom two clubs thrash out a draw. The scale of the ground underlined what a step up we have made.

I thought from the warm ups that there was going to be a concession to both sides’ lack of quality by having two goals to aim at each (see picture) but that proved wrong. We played out a 1-1 draw and, following another defeat since, we are now at the bottom of the league.

FGR at Port Vale

FGR Warming Up at Port : Having Two Goals Didn’t Help

None of this is particularly pertinent to my recent retirement since I have supported FGR for almost 20 years. However, retirement has affected the pattern of my attendance at games. Now I can travel on the supporters coach to more away games and get to see home games in midweek not just at the weekends. Also, I can get to Supporters Club meetings and the informative, midweek forums with the Manager and Chairman.

FGR Supporters Coach

FGRs Away Supporters Coach – The Height of Supporter Luxury!

On the other hand, when LSW and I are away on our more extended holidays, I will miss large chunks of the football season. While we are on our way to Australia and back, I shall miss 5, and possibly 6, FGR games – more than I have ever missed in succession before. I regret that but I am hoping to see a football match in Brisbane and, by the time I am back, I’m confident FGR won’t be propping up the league table any more. Fingers crossed!

More Retirement Tourism

The trip to London was a great success; we crammed a lot in without ever feeling rushed. It felt a bit weird staying in the Barbican flat (and sleeping on the sofa-bed) having given this up at ‘mates rates’ to Eldest Son (ES) and girlfriend when I retired. But it was lovely to see that the flat is now a proper home rather than just a place to park myself week-nights while I worked in London.

The raison d’etre for the London visit was to have dinner with ES, his wonderful girlfriend and his girlfriend’s lovely Italian/Palestinian parents. I even got to practice about twenty words of Italian! Also during the 36 hours in London, we got to see old friends from when we lived in Kew, caught up with Middle Son (MS), and even got to pop in to see LSW’s sister and nieces.

I also got a bit of culture in. LSW and I went to Tate Britain to see the Rachel Whiteread exhibition – a collection of her ‘sculptures’ of ‘forgotten spaces’ such as the 100 spaces under chairs or the insides of water bottles. It didn’t really grip me but I’m glad we got to see the exhibition and the overall colour scheme was appealing.

Then on Monday, while LSW was shopping, I went to the BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait gallery. Until the rooms were swamped by hordes of schoolchildren, this was peaceful, inspiring and, although I am no great judge, high quality. I especially liked the paintings that were so meticulous that they looked like photos – although I got to wonder whether a photo might have been as good. I suspect I missed the point but enjoyed it anyway.

IMG_3775

Finalists at BP Portrait Awards 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery

LSW and I also squeezed in a rather leisurely lunch. Why can’t we have, in our part of Gloucestershire, restaurants as simple, effective and of seemingly effortless high quality as Rochelle Canteen. It’s not hard to get the formula right; the restaurant is in an old bike shed adjoining a former school for goodness sake! It was perfect for us yesterday.

I’m weaning myself off London but it was exciting to go back.

Retirement Tourism

In August LSW and I went through our diaries to work out when we might be able to go away for a night or two to explore parts of the UK countryside. I was surprised to find LSW’s work and community commitments, plus my commitments to Forest Green Rovers fixtures, meant that we struggled to find two contiguous days when we could be away.

We ended up identifying two days earlier this week as the only dates we could get away before we head off to Australia for a month at the beginning of October. We decided to use the time to visit my parents in Nottingham and then go on to stay in Derbyshire and see Chatsworth House.

It was very good to see my parents – something we haven’t done enough even since I retired. They are coping well into their 80’s despite the aches and pains probably to be expected at this stage of life. Nottingham feels a long way away and so it was good to combine the visit with our first slice of real tourism since I retired.

We dined and stayed overnight in Stoney Middleton in the heart of the Peak District and which is the location of the legendary Lovers Leap. We walked to Eyam, the so called ‘Plague Village’. We also strode in the breeze along the dramatic Curbar Edge – a recommendation from my Dad. It was exhilarating there. It’s a landscape similar in some ways to our Cotswolds home, but also refreshingly different. It certainly reminded us of various TV and film re-enactments of scenes of contemplation and unrequited love from Victorian novels set ‘Up North’ (the breeze even gave me the teary eyes).

The Joe Wright film of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice also came to mind when we visited Chatsworth House the following day. The house is set in terrific grounds. The views are archetypally English (designed by Capability Brown), the kitchen garden was full of produce and inspiring, and the house itself is breath-taking. The rooms were particularly good due to its lighting and a current fashion exhibition that was beautifully displayed and which brought the house to life.

It was a good couple of days of tourism. We have another couple of tourism days coming up in London next weekend – though that feels more like just going back to old stomping grounds – and then we have the Australia trip. It’s largely booked now and an exciting prospect.