First impressions last

Just over a decade ago, in 2009, my husband, Tony, and I began our French adventure. Here are the shots from our very first trip to Argenton-sur-Creuse in central France, via London and Paris on that inaugural trip, that made the cut and appear in my photobook…

London, England

I snapped the iconic Palace of Westminster from atop the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus – which is always an easy option for exploring a new city.

Paris, France

We captured Tony’s first-ever view of the Eiffel Tower from the beautiful Montmartre area.

Paris, France

Dusk at the magnificent and imposing Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, Montmatre. This area remains one of our favourites in Paris.

Argenton-sur-Creuse, France

A perfect reflection in the peaceful Creuse river of the one of the many historical sites in our beloved Argenton: the 14th century Chapelle Saint-Benoît.

Limoges, France

Exploring Limoges, we stumbled upon their amazing town hall (or Hôtel de Ville) with its elaborate porcelain-decorated fountain. (Limoges of course is renowned for its porcelain.)

As they say, first impressions last, and these experiences of London and France on our first overseas trip together no doubt fueled our shared passion for travel, which has not waned, but rather has grown over the last ten years.

So much to see… so much to photograph!

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A few Australian highlights

As record-breaking – and heartbreaking – bush fires rage in parts of Australia, my walk down memory lane (through my recently compiled photobook) happens to feature some shots of Australia’s natural beauty and interesting regions taken on various trips I took in the early 2000’s.

Australia sure has a lot to offer – even in the current conditions. Sometimes I hear of tourists expecting to see all the highlights of this vast island nation in just a matter of days – impossible. (For a visual size comparisons to other parts of the world, check out this link.)

But obviously, if currently travelling here, keeping an eye on the local emergency websites is imperative. Links to all Australian emergency services can be found at http://www.emergencyalert.gov.au/.

Stay safe everyone.

Sculptures at Broken Hill

The Living Desert and Sculptures, Broken Hill, New South Wales in 2003

Misty morning at Kakadu

Kadadu National Park, Northern Territory in 2006

Devils Marbles near Tennant Creek

Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, Warumungu, Northern Territory in 2006

Sunset at Uluru

Uluru/Ayers Rock, Northern Territory in 2006

Dolphin at Sea World

Sea World Marine Park, Gold Coast, Queensland in 2007

Winery at McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale, South Australia in 2008

Beach on the Gold Coast

Gold Coast, Queensland in 2008

Coops Shot Tower in Melbourne

Melbourne Central shopping centre, Melbourne, Victoria in 2008

In most of these photos, the play of light makes them a little more special than just the usual happy snap. Well, that was my intention anyway… maybe you can shed some light on whether I succeeded.

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Whirlwind world tour

What started out as a straightforward trip to the Bahamas turned into a 5 week round-the-world whirlwind tour with my sister back in 2003. Sometimes a round-the-world plane fare works out to be great value when you visit more than one continent.

For us, it was the perfect excuse to add South Africa to our itinerary. Both born there, it certainly seemed a fitting place to begin our trip, funded as it was by our inheritance from our recently departed parents.

South Africa

We had an amazing time catching up with relatives not seen for decades, who showed us some incredible sights in and around Johannesburg – including an unforgettable day-safari.

Paris

My very first visit to Paris was on this trip in springtime 2003… so I can’t help smiling in remembrance whenever I hear the song “I love Paris in the springtime” – and who wouldn’t? Tout le monde aime la France, n’est-ce pas? Just absorbing the sights of this gorgeous city was an experience, but losing ourselves for hours in the Louvre was a real highlight.

New York

The city that never sleeps? (as another song plays in my head.) We didn’t find that New York lived up to it’s reputation. Maybe it was just the area we were looking around, or the post-911 quietness, but we had trouble finding somewhere open for dinner (with no smartphones back then to assist us!) So we were happy to stumble upon a cute little movie themed restaurant with great food at reasonable prices for a memorable night out (unfortunately the name of which escapes me… I wonder if it’s still even open, so many years later?)

Bahamas

This beach was as amazing as it looked: soft white sand, azure-blue crystal-clear water, so warm and inviting. A tropical paradise indeed. I snapped up an offer at this beach-side resort in the Bahamas which was where the planning for this trip began. And what a trip it was!

Memories that make you smile – that’s the essence of life don’t you think?

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45,000 memories

When my sister kindly gifted me a photobook voucher for my birthday this year it gave me impetus to really dig through my 45,000 photos (yes, I’m not joking… and that’s after lots of culling!) to put together a very small selection of my favourite photos from my many travels to-date… not only filling the generous 60 page book, but adding a few extra pages to boot.

And it reminded me how much fun I had sharing my photos and travel experiences through the public forum of blogging – even more so than a coffee table book to shyly share with a selected few.

So to get me back into the blogging habit, I now commit to publishing a weekly post, walking you through these already-selected travel photos (so it shouldn’t be too hard, right?) starting here with some blasts from the past, remnants of my pre-digital photography…

Queenstown

New Zealand, 1981

I remember Queenstown as a tourist’s paradise of thrill-seeking activities in the midst of spectacular New Zealand scenery. A jet-boat ride remained top of my scariest-things-I-have-ever-done list for a very long time, and I have never forgotten the feeling that I was going to be tossed out of the boat at every twist and turn, dangerously weaving among the rocks and cliffs on that hair-raising ride. (A tip for the short of stature – don’t sit in the front seat!)

Christchurch

New Zealand, 1981

What a pretty city was Christchurch – and definitely one of my favourite places I remember visiting on that two-week driving holiday around New Zealand, way back in the eighties. How heart-wrenching the devastating earthquake of 2011 must have been. It astounds me how people can recover and rebuild after such disasters.

Marysville

Victoria Australia, 2002

Less than a 2 hour drive from Melbourne, Marysville is a perfect weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Badly affected by the terrible bush fires of Black Saturday in 2009, here is yet another story of regeneration after tragedy. Strange to think that some my holiday snaps may have become historical records.

Murray River

Victoria Australia, 2000

I loved exploring historic towns like Echuca or Corowa nestled along the mighty Murray River. I remember taking this photo after a relaxing lunch by the Murray on a weekend getaway up that way – the exact location long-forgotten.

Until next week!

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A funny thing happened when we arrived in Paris

We had a bit of a “Fawlty Towers” experience on finally arriving in Paris in June last year…

When our flight from Hong Kong was significantly delayed, we let the hotel know we would arrive early the following morning; and having pre-paid for the room we looked forward to simply walking in on arrival. Ah, no. A little cheeky double-dipping by the hotel meant they had no room immediately available for us. And lack of communication with the cleaning staff meant we were left standing around waiting, when finally they offered us a free breakfast – the standard Paris breakfast of croissant and hot chocolate (no complaints here!) – but the poor waitress was confused when she asked for our room number and told us “we” had already had breakfast! No-one told her of the mix-up either. All this in a tiny boutique hotel – we had to laugh.

Timhotel was literally across the road from Gard du Nord – very convenient, and despite the initial debacle, perfectly comfortable. It’s also not far from a hop-on-hop-off-bus stop, although we had trouble finding it (how we missed it, I don’t know – it’s right next to the Gare du Nord-Dunkerque bus stop) so took the train instead to see Luxembourg Gardens for the first time.

 We came upon a choir singing and it was nice to relax there for a while.

Then meandered around with the palace making a beautiful backdrop to our photos…

and enjoyed the lush green gardens and sculptures of the 23 hectare “Jardin du Luxembourg”. Imagine how spectacular it would be in Spring with the flowers in full bloom! Well worth a visit any time of year.

We headed off to the Catacombs and found Café Daguerre just close by where we had a lovely lunch, before discovering that the Catacombs were closed due to some strike action (surpise, surprise). Not to worry – always plenty to see in Paris! 

We were impressed by the Grand Palais and Petit Palais and ended up at Pont Alexandre for a view of the Eiffel Tower, finally catching the “Open Tour Paris” sightseeing bus at Place de la Concorde.

A little weary after all our trekking around, it was a great way to spend the rest of the afternoon, sitting back and letting the scenery pass by, snapping shots of Paris icons.  

The next morning we used the same tickets (cost effective!), this time getting off at the Sacre Coeur stop to walk up to see the church and around into Montmartre for breakfast, watching the tourists and artists interact.

It’s one of our favourite areas of Paris and a fitting end to our little Parisian sojourn.

 

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Hello again Hong Kong

The thing with travel plans (well with any plans really) is that they can easily go awry. The important thing is to roll with the punches and make the best of it, come what may…

In June this year we set off for a 6-week overseas trip, arriving at the airport to find out our midnight flight was significantly delayed, causing us to be bumped onto a much later second leg flight from Hong Kong to Paris, necessitating spending a day in Hong Kong (ironically we had talked about wanting to spend some time in Hong Kong again… perhaps a case of “be careful what you wish for”).

Hong Kong

We rearranged our luggage for the unexpected stopover, then were invited to wait in Cathay’s lounge, and got to experience how the “other half” waits!

Arriving in Hong Kong we were expecting to travel into the city for our complimentary hotel room, but they had put us up at the Regal Airport Hotel instead.

Regal Airport Hotel

Initially a little disappointed, it turned out to be very convenient – not even needing to leave the airport terminal building if the weather didn’t clear (after all it was a typhoon which caused the original delay). A hotel lunch voucher was provided as well – but we didn’t plan to spend the whole day at the hotel – no matter how swish!

Hotel room

After reviving ourselves with a short rest and shower, we headed out, taking the train towards Hong Kong (only 24 minutes on the MTR Airport Express) but changed our mind and got off at Kowloon. Unfortunately, the station wasn’t in the market area we were hoping for – just flashy shops and hotels. But we got a view across Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong city skyline,

Hong Kong skyline

and reminisced about our first trip to Hong Kong in 2009…

The excitement of being upgraded at Hotel Jen when they had no record of our on-line booking, and enjoying the Executive Sky Lounge each evening…

Hotel Jen Sky Lounge

The fun of riding on the iconic, historic trams.

Hong Kong tram

The world’s longest outdoor covered escalator, and the hustle and bustle of markets and city streets.

Gage Street Hong Kong Street Market Hong Kong

Stumbling upon the zoo and botanic gardens on our way to the funicular Peak_Tram

Peak Tram Hong Kong

Riding up to the Peak Tower Centre, enjoying the views and finding unique souvenirs.

Hong Kong from Peak Tram

Taking an under-harbour train trip to the mainland for a superb meal at Langham Place Hotel.

Langham Place Hotel

And a City Lights tour which started with a sunset cruise in a colourful junk…

Harbour cruise 2009

around Victoria Harbour (ironically missing the renowned “Symphony of Lights”).

Sunset Victoria Harbour HK

Stopping for dinner on the ornate Jumbo – the world’s largest floating restaurant…

Jumbo Floating Restaurant HK

And a coach ride up the mountains for a great view of the city at night.

Hong Kong city lights

Preserving our perfect memories, we opted for something completely different this time, and hopped on the train to Disneyland!

Train to HK Disneyland

HK Disneyland

The weather held out and we really enjoyed the afternoon, with a few rides, including Hyperspace Mountain – a superfast version of Space Mountain:  one of my all-time Disneyland favourites –

Hyperspace Mountain

and naturally punctuating the visit with food.

Food Disneyland

Back at the hotel we swapped our lunch voucher for a dinner voucher and enjoyed a sumptuous buffet dinner in the hotel complex. Then made the most of our hotel room to freshen up and recover from our fun day out, eager for our next midnight flight to Paris.

Fun day out

 

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Memories of Beautiful Chicago

Last year we spent a few glorious days in Chicago, USA, and I couldn’t start blogging about this year’s travels until I had at least shared some photos of that little sojourn in this beautiful clean and friendly city…

Arriving at O’Hare airport, we took the Blue Line train to Chicago, transferring to the 66 bus towards Navy Pier, alighting at Michigan Avenue – just near the historic Water Tower

for an easy 10-minute walk to the very comfortable Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel – and were greeted by live piano music wafting across from the lobby bar.

That evening, we walked towards the Ferris Wheel in the distance, enjoying the sunset over Lake Michigan

and arriving at Navy Pier – which is a collection of shops, eateries and attractions –

and enjoyed the city lights from the enclosed gondolas of the Ferris Wheel, followed by dinner at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for great service in a very fun, and friendly atmosphere.

We walked up towards Gold Coast and Old Town the following morning, delighted to discover the beach on sparkling Lake Michigan. The sand gave way to a large causeway, and many dog walkers, joggers and bikers were also enjoying the wide-open space of the waterfront.

We continued walking until we saw a sign for Lincoln Park which lead us into the zoo (free entry) and wandered around the lovely gardens and animal enclosures and all with a great view across to the city.

One morning we got up early to do the Lakefront Trail all the way from Navy Pier up to Millennium Park – which is a “must see”:

the tall blocks of Crown Fountain with the moving faces – spewing out water as if from their mouths; the gardens, the Great Lawn (a concert picnic area),

and of course, Cloud Gate (more commonly known as “The Bean”). A huge shiny metallic sculpture. Get here early to take selfies and photos of distorted reflections before crowds gather.

Be early too, to get into the popular Purple Pig. Not only great beer and food (try their melt-in-the-mouth pork shoulder) but a warm atmosphere and good background music too.

Tony had a fabulous burger at Grand Lux Café with its plush old-style furnishings, and my “small” Chili Chicken Mango Salad was anything but – and not expensive at all.

Go to Portillo’s for an “authentic” (small but very tasty) hot dog. Funky old décor and memorabilia everywhere – even an old car suspended above! Another fun and reasonably priced venue.

While on the subject of food, go to The French Market for a cosmopolitan shopping and eating experience. We had a Belgium burger and triple fried frites – with a little Canadian twist to mine: Maple bacon and apple. (Really combining our travel memories here!)

We had a little trouble finding the Revival Food Hall (which looks like another great place to eat!) for Black Dog Gelato and I can recommend the mixed berry sorbet and coconut gelato combo.

Right next to the huge statue of Lincoln and a “contemporary man” (a giant replica of a sculpture called “Return Visit”)

lies the Tribune Tower – the building with stones inset, reputedly from other famous landmark buildings around the world.

After a walk along Chicago Riverwalk, chocoholics might like to stop in at Ghirardelli, or go further afield to Michael Jordan’s at the Intercontinental for their “famous” 23-layer chocolate cake (in honour of MJ). Rich and dense (hmmm) – the candle for my birthday was a nice touch.

For a fabulous view over Chicago, go to Willis Tower from the 103rd floor. On a clear day, it seems you can see forever! And a step out into the glass viewing bays… if you dare!

We loved Chicago – so pretty and pedestrian-friendly. Plantings of tulips in the main streets against the backdrop of fabulous buildings – both old and new – we just soaked it all in. The fabulous weather certainly helped and kept us away from the museums and galleries.

We will just have to visit them next time!

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Warm Canadian hospitality

The world is getting smaller.

With travel relatively cheap these days (how else could we afford to travel half-way across the world every year?) and the internet making communication so effortless, we found ourselves in Toronto, Canada, being collected by my cyber-friend, Denise.

Feeling like old friends through our association on Facebook and Words with Friends, this was our first face-to-face meeting, and we easily chattered away the 2-and-a-half-hours to her lovely home in the Beaver Valley.

Cyber friends meet

Much fun and laughter ensued over the next few days, meeting new friends…

Ontario hospitality

…cheering on the Maple Leafs ice hockey team, experiencing the outdoor hot tub on a chilly night, sightseeing in Beaver Valley and beyond – we certainly experienced the warmth of Canadian hospitality, and the beauty of the Valley.

Eugenia Falls put on a good display for us.

Eugenia Falls

Our big day out in Collingwood was another highlight, starting with lunch at Northwinds Brewhouse.

Beer is salad

Their relaxed and friendly service was appreciated and the mac and cheese was astoundingly good! Not to mention the beer and cider hybrid.

Northwinds

Next stop was Collingwood Olive Oil Co for tastings of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

Olive Oil Co

It was an eye opener – or should I say, a taste-bud opener. The peppery aftertaste of the oils; the sweetness of the balsamics – some of them good enough to drink! We bought 2 different bottles which they kindly double-sealed for a safe journey home in our luggage.

Balsamic tasting

About 8kms west of Collingwood, at the quaint Blue Mountain Village (a ski village by the same designers as Whistler Village) we stopped at BeaverTails for a freshly made pastry, resembling, of course, a beaver’s tail.

Beavertail

The light, thin pastry was topped with chocolate and icing sugar – super sweet and, shared between four of us, made a good serving size.

As if there hadn’t already been enough eating and drinking over the course of our visit, we also went beer tasting. Collingwood’s history of shipbuilding includes the fascinating side-launching of new ships (which you can check out on YouTube) – hence the name:  Side Launch Brewing Co.

Side Launch Brewery

We’ll drink to that!

You know, we had such a great time in Ontario, it almost made us want to move there!

Beautiful Beaver Valley

(Almost!)

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Toronto from top to bottom

Arriving at Union Station, Toronto, Canada, it took us a while to spot the red TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway sign.

Toronto Transit Commission

Then we were taken by surprise that we had to buy our tickets with cash – fortunately having just enough coin in our pockets to get us out of trouble.

Coming up from Dundas subway station, we lost our bearings and took a wrong turn (or two!) but eventually found our way to the Grand Hotel and Suites.

The room was lovely and seemed so big after our little cabin on the train where we had spent the last 4 days travelling across from Vancouver.

Rather grand

Located in Jarvis Street, the Grand Hotel is out of the main centre of Toronto, but still easily walkable to everything, once we didn’t have luggage to worry about – and had a tourist map in hand!

Our view of Toronto

And we came up with this little impromptu walking tour:

Headed through St James Park…

St James Cathedral Toronto

(right across from St. Lawrence Hall, where we returned the next day to check out the fresh food market.)

Then down past the Gooderham Building, on Wellington St E,

Gooderham Building

(don’t miss the back)

The back of Gooderham Building

keep going – the end is in sight…

Walking to the CN Tower

pass Union Station on the way to the icon of Toronto…

Union Station Toronto

the CN Tower – which (according to Wikipedia) is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere.

I had my reservations about going to their 360 revolving restaurant, suspecting it was just a tourist-trap, but at $36 each just to go up to the viewing deck, it was really only twice the price to have dinner there as well, and enjoy the slowly changing view of Toronto, 350m below, over the duration of the meal.

Toronto from the CN Tower

Their wines were pricey, but the food was superb. High quality, with thoughtful flavour combinations and careful presentation. (We can recommend the pork for main, and the chocolate delice for dessert.)

360 Restaurant CN Tower

Our timing was perfect, having done one complete rotation by the time we finished, just as the sun was setting.

We headed down one level to experience standing on the glass floor – gazing down 342 metres felt surreal.

Looking down

Out on the viewing platform it was cold and windy, and the mesh safety screen a photo-spoiler, so down one more level where we could walk around taking photos in comfort, to our hearts’ content, as the sky darkened and the city lights twinkled.

Night view from CN Tower

In stark contrast, the next morning we headed underground, meandering through the PATH:  a maze of shops, cafes, and services – connecting major buildings in the city, protected from the elements.

Down to the PATH

Just like a never-ending Westfield – and (I’m not kidding) with a Starbucks at every turn!

Underground shopping

Back up on street level, we made our way towards the historic Distillery District:  13 acres of restored heritage buildings which were once the Gooderham and Worts distillery, now housing shops, eateries and yes, even breweries.

The historic Distillery District

We chose Mill St Brewery for lunch, which had great ambiance and many original features. The service was great – a tasting of beer before we ordered the same, and when I mentioned the chicken wings were a little dry, not only did they replace them, but didn’t charge for them either. Now that’s what I call service!

Mill St Brewery

Thank you Toronto! It wasn’t our first visit, and I’m sure it won’t be our last.

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4,500 kms of Canadian beauty

Last Easter, after a fabulous week up at Whistler, BC, Canada, it was time to head off on our next adventure, catching our pre-booked coach for the scenic ride back down the mountain to Vancouver.

Scenic drive form Whistler to Vancouver

The coach drop-off location at Burrard train station, directly behind the Hyatt, was convenient for us to catch a train to Main St/Science World station, across the road from Pacific Central station where we could check in our luggage for our 4-night 4,500km train journey across to Toronto. (Relieved that our 1 small suitcase, rather than 2 smaller bags as per the allowance guide, was accepted as cabin baggage.)

Pacific Central Station Vancouver

Night fell as the train crept out of the city, and we enjoyed a welcome drink and canapes in the bubble-roofed viewing carriage before heading back to our private sleeper cabin (2 movable armchairs by day, and 2 bunk beds by night with basin and separate toilet, and the shared shower literally 5 steps away) and I easily fell asleep to the rocking and rumbling of the train, now travelling at speed.

Excited to see the first views of the morning, we were up early – wandering down to the dining car for an early breakfast at 6.30am (served right through until 9am).

Breakfast anyone?

Each meal for the trip, randomly seated with other passengers to enjoy good food and entertaining company along with the ever-changing scenery. All our meals, (though no alcohol – bar the welcome drinks), were included in our fare.

04. Dining car on The Canadian

It was lovely to see the train snaking its way around lakes and rivers, mountains, and forests…

Snaking our way across Canada

spending some of each day in the viewing carriage, or retiring to the privacy of our cabin, taking advantage of a rare chance to relax and read.

The viewing carriage

Waiting for freight trains to pass is a common occurrence which seriously interferes with keeping to the timetable – and on such a long journey, arrival within 10 hours is still considered “on time”!

Passing freight train

Anticipation built before the slow ride past Pyramid Falls.

08. Pyramid Falls

Spectacular snow-capped mountains and rivers followed – although Mount Robson (the highest mountain in the Rockies) stubbonly hid behind cloud cover.

Clouds obscured our view of Mt Robson

Leaving British Columbia, we entered Alberta. A 45-minute stop at Jasper (the longest stop of the trip) allowed for a good half hour to explore, and a welcome chance to stretch our legs.

Jasper, Canada

We travelled across the prairies on Day Two…

Little house on the prairie

and were surprised at the amount of snow – we braved only a few minutes out in the freezing air at Melville station, Saskatchewan – and joked about being in a snow dome in the viewing car.

The highlight of the evening was crossing an impressive wooden trestle bridge – you need to be ready (with a steady hand) at the back of the lounge car to capture a photo as the track curves around.

Opening our blind on Day Three, the train was stationary, and we were greeted with a picture-postcard scene of freshly snow-covered trees.

Pretty as a picture

And for the next few hours, the magical beauty of icy lakes and snow-covered forests.

Icy lakes

Through Manitoba and then into Ontario (and their time-zone changes), we now travelled through thickly wooded areas…

Straight through the woods

with the occasional lake or river – some still iced over, yet only patches of snow left on the ground.

Ever changing scenery

We noticed the new cabin crew was not as lively as the first, but the animated and engaging bar staff made up for them!

Enjoying a drink

Our final morning, with the sun shining brightly, the landscape continued to change: from lakes and lake houses to farmland; then from remote unspoilt countryside to signs of “civilisation”.

Lake house

Our scheduled arrival time was long gone, and from the chatter on the train, not everyone was prepared for such a delay. Snacks were served, then a light lunch, as time continued to march on.

After our stop-start journey, we eventually pulled into Union Station, Toronto, around 3.30pm – a mere 6 hours behind schedule, but all smiles after our cross-Canadian adventure.

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