A Picnic at Hanging Rock

As we were in a part of Victoria adjacent to the Macedon Ranges, it seemed inevitable that a trip to Hanging Rock as something we should do. We watched the old movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock” the evening before as a form of preparation (although I think the movie has not aged well, such shallow characters, wooden acting and so little happening for such a long time). Next morning we learned from the news that today was the 50th anniversary of the release of the book “A Picnic at Hanging Rock” so our timing could not be more on-point.

We started the day with a brilliant breakfast at “Redbeard”, a oldschool sourdough bakery at Trentham. We then booked out of our accommodation and drove to Hanging Rock Winery for some wine tasting. they had a wide variety of styles, but we needed 2 bottles and settled on the Moscato for Jo and a Sangiovese for Peter.

We then followed the signs to Hanging Rock – oddly our SatNav got completely lost close to the rock (but do not panic, our watches did not stop at 12).

The climb to the top was tiring but manageable, punctuated by film crew personnel stopping and starting us as they were filming. Apparently there is to be a new mini-series adaptation of the story – I cannot imagine how they can stretch that out to a mini-series but apparently, it is happening some time next year.

We were followed up by vehicles, cast and crew. Fortunately they had mapped out location markers, presumably for later shoots, and we were able to locate landscape highlights easily.

We made it all the way up through the cathedral to the summit, amazing views all round on a brilliant clear day. We decided the countryside around this region is lovely, but at this time of year pretty dry.

Coming down we re-encountered filming, including some eerie scenes of the girls in (man-made) foggy forest glades exploring – I took some photos and got into trouble for doing so – I was determined not to let the chance elude us though – coincidence was strong with us on that day.

When we reached the bottom, we got our esky and had a simple picnic – well, it would be wrong not to really.After a restorative rest, we paid the entry fee to leave and then headed over to Mt Macedon.

A nice relaxed drive up the range took us to Mt Macedon Memorial Cross park. A nice ramble along the ridge (on wobbly legs still recovering from the Hanging Rock descent) to a lookout with a sweeping vista of the other side of the ranges-amazing.

Suitably refreshed and satisfied with our day at Hanging Rock, we headed back into Melbourne.

We settled into our accomodation, a short stay apartment block near the corner of Queen St and La Trobe St – we stayed here last time in Melbourne because it was close to most things, trams and Queen Victoria Markets.

We finished our day after dinner with a walk to Queens Bridge. From there we viewed the Gas Brigades outside the Crown complex before turning in after a long day.

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Rural Victoria

For our 34th Wedding anniversary (and just because …reasons) we decided to head south for a week of food, shopping and fun. We flew to Melbourne, picked up a hire car at the airport and drove out to Daylesford in regional Victoria.

Jo loves to research, and is really thorough so we had places to eat and visit planned out.

We had lunch at “The Larder”, a hipster cafe with tasty food and a relaxed seating plan (shared tables) which was a nice start to the day and a good way to unwind from the perils of transit. They made an awesome cup of tea also.

We then set out on a provisions hunt on the main street of Daylesford, seeking cheese and charcuterie.  The shops in this area were interesting, full of art, craft and things we had not see a dozen times over in other tourist regions. We afternoon tea’d at Lake Daylesford accompanied by a flock of mallard, then we drove to the Daylesford Cider Company for some cider tasting.

After trying all 7 on offer (some lovely, some just plain weird), we decided on a clutch of 4 bottles for later.

We then drove to our accommodation at Trentham – a lakeside “cottage”. We decided, even though it was fairly late, to walk up town to familiarise ourselves with the layout. We then headed back to Daylesford and Mercato restaurant for dinner.

On the road next day we drove to Trentham Falls, then on to Moto Bean coffee roasters at Malmsbury – apparently really good coffee and 10/10 for their tea (unusual as baristas normally do not understand tea, he made it in a pot and everything). From there we walked to the viaduct, a pleasant stroll though a pine grove.

We then set “plastic patsy” our troubled and increasingly bewildered Satnav to take us to Kyneton. On arrival we walked historic Piper Street, again full of interesting art and craft.

We had pre-booked our 34th Wedding Anniversary lunch at “The Source”, a fantastic meal and terrific local winelist. After provisions hunting, we returned to Trentham and re-walked the street shops, now open.

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Postcard From Paris.

They say a change is as good as a holiday. They lied.streets

Our 6 weeks away has seen us explore cultures and food from many different countries, seen sights that simply do not exist in suburban Brisbane, met people from many walks of life, gained a little more international perspective and I think that merely makes us want to do it again.locks

As we plan to leave Paris, not sure if we will return (because there are so many other interesting places to visit), reflecting on the holiday that was means focussing on the notables, and there have been many, most mentioned in other blog posts – this post will focus on some memorable moments for us in Paris.baguette

There are things that help us feel French, if indeed that is possible for someone who is not, but strolling along boulevards (Paris is famous for them, remodelled after a dictator thought the town was disorganised and dirty) is one of them. There is a distinctive “Paris look” – buildings 3 or so stories high built around a central courtyard, rounded or slated roofline, entry foyer and spiral stairs leading up that is so familiar, so sensible. Plain doors with treasure behind, utility green or dark, unassuming but secure.street

A morning walk to a Boulangerie, in search of crisp buttery still-warm croissant, baguette or other delight, a lovely gentle way to start the day, being greeted with a hearty “Bonjour!” From the shop keeper, so nice. I know many people think the French rude, we have not found this. We found they appreciate us trying to use their language (although I suspect we brutalise it – they can tell straight away we are not French), were warm and accommodating for the most part and often went out of their way to help, particularly when we were lost.pomp1

Last visit to Paris we walked around the Centre Pompidou but not inside. That was a mistake but you cannot do everything. This visit we were determined to go inside and explore. Such a cool building – services, pipes and other stuff on the outside make it appear to be built inside out. We started at the top, via odd steamy escalator tubes and wandered around a retrospective exhibition of Le Corbusier, a seemingly much loved French architect/designer.LeCorbusier

Much of the display was in French only, and seemed very confusing/too arty for our brains but re recognised something – a chair, the most comfortable thing we sat in in our flat in Lucca – it was a Le Corbusier chair (retailing for 4500E) – I decided I still want one, one day.LeCorbusier2

The lower levels had modern art, I was particularly taken with a section that contained works by Jean-Paul Goude – his style is unmistakable and contained much to do with Grace Jones, another favourite of mine. There was sound art, participatory art and stuff I had no idea what it was, but the gallery spaces are fascinating and well worth the trip.

Jo knew how much I loved St. Chapel (as a glass artist, it is a bit of a holy grail), and discovered there was a concert series playing when we were in town. We secured pretty good seats to a string ensemble (3 violins, viola, cello, bass and harpsichord) and had the vaguest of ideas what they would play before hand but reasoned that it was in St. Chapel, how could it not be amazing?cafe

We arrived early, as is our habit (Jo has transport paranoia so we usually arrive early, as opposed the the dreaded late) so spent some time doing something very Parisian apparently – we sat in a cafe, with a drink and people watched. The more you do this, the more you realise there is no such thing as normal, fascinating none the less. When it was time we joined the entry queue.chapel1

Once seated (bag X-ray, frisk and a couple of queues later) the time for the concert start came and went, then, in embarrassed French the first violin came out and explained that the cellist was late but they would play something while he arrived. To my great delight they started with unplanned but clearly rehearsed “Air of a G string” by J.S. Bach. I still get goosebumps thinking about how deliciously the venue acoustics made the sound of the ensemble rich and lovely. Imagine intricate well played music in an impossibly lovely building – every surface of which was either stained glass, gilded carving or rich painted decoration – there is nowhere in the world like St. Chapel.chapel3

They then began an exempt from “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, with the viola sort of filling in some of the cello parts and it was nice but noticeably lacking a bass section. Then the cellist rushed in, lovely bald head glistening with sweat a the poor possum had been running with his cello in a backpack. After getting settled, the viola player mopped his friends head and they started a stunning rendition of Pachelbel’s “Canon” – a glorious looped piece with each instrument weaving in and out of a not so simple melody.chapel2

After rapturous applause, they set about rendering Four Seasons in its entirety – 12 or so movements, stirring and complicated. It was clear why they waited for the cellist as so much of the piece was violin 1 musically arguing with the cello. Boy could the first violin play, such a treat. After an encore piece it was time to leave and find the restaurant we were now late for dinner in. All round a stunning and memorable day.lights3

Last visit we failed to see the lights of Paris – this blasted twilight means there is light until late in the evening. This visit we were determined to see what we could see when the lights went out so after a late dinner we began walking the streets – Notre Dame, Louvre, finishing up at the Eiffel Tower.lights1

We were tired, it began to rain (well inconvenient squalls between drizzle really) but at 11pm the twinkling lights went on and the assembled dampened but none the less enthused crowd cheered, rightly so.lights2

Wet (the first time we ventured out without rain gear and needed it – grrr) but elated we negotiated the metro back home exhausted but satisfied we had seen the city glow.lights4

We spent a morning wandering with intent through markets. The Bastille markets were well and truly full of stall holders and customers by the time we arrived (which was fairly early in the morning).markets4

Jostling, fevered spruiking of wares, a vast array of fresh fruits, cheeses (I am still amazed at the variety, and the apparent fluency most French have with the names, characters and pairings), meats (freshly slaughtered, preserved, cooked steaming and available in pate, terrines, sausage and bungled mystery meat), breads, olives, the works.markets3

We used the market to pick store cupboard ingredients for our home cooked meals but talk about spoilt for choice.markets2

During a meandering exploration of Montmartre, we wended our way down the hill to a cheese restaurant (yes, there is such a thing) and had an amazing lunch – we could choose 5 or 10 cheeses with wine – we each went for 5 cheeses, our cheese preferences (or rather Jo’s no blue) was noted and soon a slate with a clockwise selection of cheese wedges arrived, along with bread, salad and wine.

The cheeses, some soft, some hard, some strong flavoured, some veined and furry, were to be eaten from mild to strong – we each got a different selection and began trading. It was fascinating, surprisingly delicious as an occasional lunch idea but we both found the afternoon walking a little tiring, and probably would have benefited from a nap to get over the cheese comas.cheese

We had decided to try and French-up our new kitchen, so we’re on the prowl for artwork and …things to help us, strolling along the Seine one afternoon we just walked and walked and walked – just one more bridge. Along the walkway artists, book sellers and scam merchants set up stalls, you can get nearly everything. We saw a series of water colour images that we sort of liked that were Paris scenes, originals (according to the stall holder), then we saw the same set, different size, different stall, then a series of oil paintings, then the same images again in water colour, then as prints, then on postcards, then on shirts, trays and coasters and realised that “first buy” instincts are not always right.markets1

Near the end, more confused about what we wanted than ever, we came upon a water colour artist, unassuming stall, small paintings of local buildings we recognised, lovely architectural detail (pen and ink then water colour wash), saw one he was finishing and decided to invest. We bought 4 all up, lovely things (one wide and three tall) that will look splendid on the walls, all evoking powerful memories of street scenes. It was so lucky we waited as we think we have something that there are not copies of (couldn’t bear the thought of hanging something that was a dime a dozen).artist

We are still looking for bits and bobs, but have started a collection of things we will remember buying, from places we loved (and we think Vernon the rooster will approve). Our biggest problem is that we do not really know what we want, but know that when we see something we love then it is easy.

Holiday over, easy to wax lyrical but it has been fun, we travel well together (isn’t that right Jo?) and neither of us are looking forward to the long haul back to the far side of the planet. It helps you realise how far Australia is from so much of the world when you travel to Europe. You also realise how close so much of Europe is to each other, no wonder locals travel so freely.

We arrive late Saturday, having lost time via timey-whimey-wibbly-wobbly and will sleep as much as we can – neither of us sleep easily on planes but at least with Singapore airlines, we get a little more legroom in cattle class.

Returning to work will be …. interesting.

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Another Perfect Day in France – a bicycle, a baguette, a bottle and a garden

imageWe both had a passing interest in Monet and his art, Jo had done some research and found a bicycle tour run by a company we had used when last in Paris to skip the queue on the Eiffel Tower and so we decided to book the day out with them.image

It was no forgone conclusion we would go – both still battling coughs and flu symptoms, we had a restless night sleep but woke up feeling like it was worth a shot, given there was a cancellation fee so we girded our loins, dosed up and after a restorative morning pastry for breakfast (one of the advantages/disadvantages of being so close to Paris’s best Boulangerie) we headed off on the metro to Gare St Lazare, a regional train station. There we met up with our guides and the rest of the group – 30ish people, all ages and shapes which made us feel better and more capable of actually coping.image

The tour organised all transfers, so we boarded a speedy train, got talked to about Impressionism in general and Monet and his inspirations in particular which made the trip to Vernon fly by.image

On arrival in Vernon, we headed to the bike lockup, were issued all purpose 3-geared bicycles and then headed out through the town past an ancient cathedral (actually a contemporary age to Notre Dame, but with little of the restoration done to it) to the village centre. There we locked up the bikes and headed to the shops – the aim, get the fixings for a picnic – easy.image

First stop was a charcuterie where we picked up a rather luscious slice of rabbit and pistachio terrine and some sliced sausison.image

Heading towards a Boulangerie we came across a arty bits and pieces shop and found a resin rooster that we thought should live in our kitchen back home – very French and resplendent. We have learned not to agonise. When we see something we like we buy it, the whole think about it and come back thing never works. We have named him “Vernon”, a suitably regal name (buggered if I know how we will get him home, but you get that).image

We then picked up a baguette and a sweet choux pastry then headed off to a fromagerie – we had been told about a rather wonderful rustic pear cider they sell cold so we got a bottle. All our bounty fitted in the backpack (with the baguette sticking out the top – like a real Frenchman). We then cycled across the bridge and picnicked beside the Seine on a lovely grassy verge.image

It was warm, the ducks were out with their ducklings, the water flowed as did the cider providing a stunning backdrop to a stunning and deliciously bohemian lunch.image

After relaxing, suitably supped, we hopped on to our bikes for the ride out of Vernon towards the tiny village of Giverny. Part of the trail was an old railway track, repurposed as a bike and pedestrian way – can you imagine gently cycling through the French countryside, breeze in your hair, warm sun on your back, fields, cottages, haystacks (well, none of these, too early in the season, but imagination is a wonderful thing).image

We really loved the ride, it was peaceful and picture postcard perfect. We were a little wobbly and Jo really did not like the traffic/road section which for us seemed a little scary but road rules in France seem a little open to interpretation. Before too long (the cycle way was about 3 miles long) we were locking up our bikes in the outskirts of Giverny, on rue Claude Monet (I guess this must be the place).image

Looking at historical photos of Giverny, the modern town and the original cluster of buildings in a field near little resemblance. One wonders if Monet was in the modern day country side would he find the inspiration to paint – my guess is the contrast between the heavily industrialised and dirty old Paris and the new verdant landscape was his muse, but what do I know?image

We walked to Monet’s house, took a side street and entered the garden at the rear, were given a rendezvous point and time that were ages into the future and then were left to our own devices to explore.image

His original house had a formal garden, but when he got wealthy (one of the few living artists to directly benefit from painting sales) he purchased part of the paddock below his house that straddles a creek and here he created a water garden with split streams, bamboo and flower gardens surrounding water lily ponds.image

Japanese bridges, gently twisting paths and rich planting a of annual and perennial colour amongst mature trees and anyone would be art inspired here. If it is close to what it was like in his day I can understand his predilection for form and structure rather than detail, distilling the essence of the scene as it melts into a miasma of shape and colour and movement.image

Apparently, when he got old and passed on, the property fell to his sons, both of who, died fairly soon after leaving the property heirless. Astonishingly it lay abandoned for ages, decaying gently, gardens growing wildly with much of the artwork still in the house. When it was donated to the state, conservators arrived to find a tree growing through his studio and paintings all over the walls – these were “relocated” for “safekeeping”, most of which can now be seen in museums but can you imagine such a treasure trove just gently rotting in the countryside unattended – boggles the mind.image

We wandered, photoed, gasped and sighed, each twist of a path brought a new vista, tantalising glimpse of the water, Japanese inspired bridges and luscious plantings. The foundation that now runs the place used Monet’s own notes to replant and maintain. Everywhere you look there was colour, life, inspiration.image

After being suitably blown away by the water garden we moved up closer to the house and the formal garden – down rows of colour, rose arbors, espalier pear and apple trees and a glorious chicken run – this was a garden to be enjoyed, lived in, played in and to paint.image

The walk through the house was interesting – in salon and studio, copies of famous works crowded working racks and rails, throughout the house were hundreds of Japanese lithographs which actually make sense – he collected and was inspired by them.image

In very Japanese style, many were concentrating on landscape elements rather than trying to bother with narrative – something Monet was most criticised for by the then art establishment – silly stuck in one genre French persons they were. Changes to the salon style of acceptable art in Paris were slow and much contested it seems.image

Exiting (through the obligatory gift shop where you could buy nearly everything Monet – hats, umbrellas, coasters, novelty condoms…) we walked back to our meeting point in time to gather bike and cycle to the local Giverney churchyard and notice the Monet family grave site, revealing a tangled web of marriage, re-marriage, step-relations and infidelity. They lived a life that was rich and full, leaving an art legacy rare and beautiful.image

We cycled back to the bike lockup, much of the trip this time was gently downhill and fairly easy going. The town stuff on the roads was exhausting and at times we lost sight of the rest of the group, but we made it back with time to spare, locked up the bike and a little saddle weary made our way back to the train station.image

The trip home was slow – our high speed train went really slow, due to some electrical problem on its original line we took a slower regional track and so arrived back late, buggered. Quick metro combo and we were home, simple light dinner and then bed.image

A perfect day in the French countryside indeed.image

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Bonjour Paris – Champs, Metro, Musee et des Macarons

Returning to Paris after 3 years away has been a really interesting experience. I mentioned in the Lyon posts previously how comfortable we feel in France generally, but returning to the familiar Canal area of Paris has been wonderful.image

We were determined to try and get our previous apartment – such a funky mix of styles, comfortable and most importantly close to the best Boulangerie in Paris “du Pain Et Des Idees” and really close to metro stations and a bunch of great restaurants.image

Sadly this will probably be our last stay here, as our hosts are thinking of selling up and moving to Spain (…so how much would a pair of apartments in Paris cost us Jo????) which is a real shame but I guess memories will have to do (…no, seriously Jo, I am ready to drop everything and move???). Speaking of memories, our first trip to Paris, first evening in the city was the perfect meal in a little restaurant around the corner called “Les Enfants Purdus” and we decided not to go back, our memory of that meal is perfect, and we do not want to sully it with another visit.image

We arrived on VE (Victory in Europe) day,  national public holiday and we headed out almost straight away to catch the metro (a couple of line changes, easy for seasoned pros like us) to surface beside Arc De Triumph – a huge tricolour French flag flying in the arch. Amongst thousands of people, it seemed like all of Paris was on the streets, we walked the length of The Champs Élysées among more flags, such life and vitality buoyed us up (we were going to stop when we got tired, but before we knew it we were at Place de Le Concorde and still full of energy).image

Europe generally has twilight – this brain bending light until after 9pm in the evening. I have found it takes some getting used to. I am generally dazed and confused both in terms of time and direction (something Jo finally learned about me is that I have the most appalling sense of direction, I have been telling her this for years but she finally now accepts that navigation should never be left to me). We find we are eating really late, taking photos without flash late into the night, it is nuts but in a wonderful way.image

We consciously decided not to revisit the Louvre this time – it is too huge. We did however decide to check out Musee de Orangerie – we really went to see the Monet but checked out some odd sculpture in the lower levels first. Monet, like many of the impressionists of his era painted hints of scenes, you look at the work and immediately your imagination fills in the detail – I like that.image

Orangerie on the top floor has a pair of oval rooms that are unique – water lilies surround you, like 360 degrees all around you.image

Monet painted these glorious panels that were meant to be seen from the centre and this museum built a space where this wonderful experience is possible. Such glorious use of colour, wonderful stuff.image

We then went to Le Musee D’Orsay, a glorious re-purposed train station and wallowed in the artwork there. I think I liked this museum much more than the Louvre for example because you could get up close and personal with the art, actually see the brushstrokes, admire the colours and technique.image

I wanted to do this with Mona at Louvre but were stopped by crowds, a barrier and 2 inches of bullet proof glass. There is lots to see at D’Orsay and the building itself is also a star. We stopped for tea/coffee in the funky cafe on the top level, admiring views out of the huge clock faces that front the building – just wonderful.image

We saw many works I recognised, came to appreciate Gauguin, Renior, Van Gogh and countless others, examining many famous works – such a privilege. In old paintings I am struck with the wonder of light – the artist manages to add light to the works so they almost glow and I find that magical.image

Those keeping up the last time we were here, our whole trip was arranged around cross city pilgrimages to patisseries (a noble cause we thought, there were some things we had researched that we simply had to try).image

We were a little less pastry centric this visit but have deliberately detoured to pick up a discrete clutch of Macarons from “Pain de Sucre” because, well, because they are the best in the world.image

We could not go past the opportunity of walking a kilometre or so out of our way to pick up a pair of fruity pastries (this time rhubarb dome and mango slice) from Hugo & Victor – masters of fruit flavour concentration, and we forced them down for dessert one night – such a celebration of fruit, fondant, subtle sweetness and rich accompaniment with a presentation that just makes you drool.image

We also followed the pilgrims trail to Jaques Genim’s salon – sadly he no longer sells pastries that you can take out, rather requiring you to sit and enjoy them in his tea room – not really an imposition as the thing we actually went there for was his hot chocolate – a magically thick, rich, slightly bitter and semi-sweet celebration of chocolate that is a meal in itself. We would go back again, it was glorious second time (even the burps later were a chocolatey celebration).image

Getting around the city is actually pretty easy we find. It is rare to be anywhere too far from a metro station. Descending into the metro system, you work out where you are, what line services your area, where you want to go and what line that is on, then work out where to change lines. It is like a subterranean world down there, whole boulevards and streets underground connecting the levels, platforms and exits. A ticket gets you in, you do your travelling and exit a station, does not really matter how many changes or lines you have used, one price – brilliant. image

The longest wait is about 9 minutes, depending on the line it can get squashy but you experience Paris in all its complexities travelling native. Buskers get on, some are so awful that it is almost worth paying them to stop playing.image

Beggars, whole families sleeping rough in the tube stations, massive artworks, avoiding pickpockets – it is a rich and wonderful place we are thoroughly enjoying revisiting.

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Lyon – Pain, Fromage et Vin

It is a difficult thing to talk about French places without talking about bread, cheese and wine. These above all else seem integral to the way French people live their lives. We came to Lyon because it is said to be the gastronomic centre of France but we really did not know what to expect.image

Much of our research suggested that offal (those squidgey secondary cuts of meat that both Jo and I are a little squirly about) was the main plat du jour but, thankfully, that has not been our experience.image

It is a rare treat to stroll through a morning produce market on the banks of the Rhone, noticing the staggering number of types of cheeses, breads, sausison (a sort of French salami) and cuts of meat. Confronting to walk past a tripier, a butcher that specialises in offal, and comforting to sort through mounds of fresh asparagus (white asparagus is prized here, not sure why as I think the green tastes nicer but my palette is not French, so go figure) in the peak of season, surrounded by an abundance of spring veg all locally grown.image

Our overseas trips usually have us staying for longer periods in one place, our accommodation needs a kitchen and fridge as we like to see what is fresh and cook it – the menu is a little like our weekend menu back home – what ever looks good, use that. It seems this is a very French thing to do, go us.image

We do eat out, occasionally, usually after a lot of research on where is good and what is good there – we have had some spectacular meals out in Lyon – a dinner at a traditional Bouchon (known for meat cookery, not so much vegies/salads) was standout – Jo had a pike quenelle, I had wild mushroom ravioli. Quenelles are a regional speciality – the shape is not the thing (in oz we use the term to describe a technique using 2 spoons to shape something soft) but the dish was a little like a pike soufflé floating in a sea of crayfish sauce, baked to perfection and so very tasty – nothing overdone however, you can taste the flavours of the ingredients – mark of great cookery in our opinion.image

Sauces elevate a remarkable meal to new heights and I think I am safe to say that French have nailed the sauce concept, they also, during the meal provide bottomless baskets of baguette to rip up and mop the plates clean – it would be impolite to send the plates back still covered in a sauce that may have taken ages to make and, besides, they are usually too yummy to waste.image

Spectacularly good food can come from humble looking places. In oz we have become to associate posh with taste and quality but Europe seems to treat this as a nonsense. The second best pizza I have ever eaten (just for reference I have now tried LOTS) was bought in a railway station cafe on the outskirts of Venice – the most unassuming place with so much pride in the food they make.

So obsessed are the French with wine and cheese that the government now has strict naming and making guidelines for both – the schemes are complex and, to us, unnecessarily so but we decided this trip to try and understand a little more about French wine. For the average joe visiting France, a visit to the bottle shop (or supermarket, fantastic wine can be bought in lots of places) the first thing we, as Australians notice is that there is little to no indication of what grape is in the bottle.image

We, at home, go to a bottlo and pick up a Shiraz, for instance, and we are pretty sure what the contents will be like. With a little more info, we know that certain regions make a Shiraz with more pepper, others with more berry and it seems fairly easy to find something we will like. I used to go for the Shiraz but these days am tending towards a Merlot blend because that suits my palette now.image

Our first visit to the French wine section was a complete gamble. I was looking for something resembling a wine favourite I had back in the day – Rosemount Estate used to make something they called a Beaujolais and it was the ducks guts – served chilled I loved it to bits. France stopped them making it because the term ‘Beaujolais’ like champagne was a region. Rosemount never made anything similar again 🙁 ….so I found a bottle of Beaujolais – it’s label was confusing, but under the name was something like “Appellation Beaujolais Controlle” – the AOC scheme (the “O” is the origin/region the wine comes from).image

Beaujolais is produced in that region, is made almost exclusively of Gamay grapes (the government allows for some classifications up to 10% of another grape, usually for colour only as the Gamay grape is thin skinned and prolonged maceration of juice with seeds and stems is not allowed by law). There are laws governing technique, quantity, quality, harvest, cultivation and things like allowable irrigation. This is not so dissimilar to the laws that control Italy’s beloved Chianti Classico, with the government issuing a set number of bottle labels dictating the maximum number of bottles a producer can produce based on yield and quality from their vines.image

I did a wine tasting evening, trying to get my head around the region/taste centric scheme for wine naming and realised that, say, for Burgundy, there is a region taste profile and then within that region there will be variation depending on whether the wine was aged in oak, how old or burned the oak was, how old the vines were when harvest happened (yes, you CAN taste the difference between young and old vines, it amazed me). Most important is the terroir. Terroir is WHERE the grapes are grown – the soil, slope, aspect etc that determine the flavour profile of the grape before it then goes through the winemaking process.image

It is fascinating and batshit complicated and I only have the vaguest understanding of it and it is further complicated by the fact that the region of Beaujolais for instance has many AOCs with in it, so a bottle may not even have the word ‘Beaujolais’ on it but will still be one (we tasted Brouilly and   Fleurie, both gamay grapes, different terroir, different palette but both recognisably Beaujolais).image

It is really interesting and I need a LOT more time tasting and exploring and that is a good thing – annoyingly French wines are so hideously expensive in oz because of the 120% import tax and other issues, still, everyone needs a hobby.image

We (rather I, Jo tolerantly tagged along) toured the Beaujolais region the day after our wine tasting course and it was fascinating to see such a small region with such a high yield of completely distinctive wine. I also got to taste some rather special wines, including a Fleurie from 120 year old vines – a single bottle requires a mortgage (and I suspect a special act of parliament) but wow, just wow.image

I know of no other culture that has developed so many distinctly different cheeses. Each county, region, village has its speciality. Lyon has many, but one we bought was a little plastic pot containing a ripe pat of St Marcelin. Imagine the yummiest, gooeyest brie or Camembert you have ever tried – this beats that easily, sorry. Smeared on a ripped up multigrain baguette and it is the yummiest lunch. We had this as a picnic lunch on a perfect sunny day in a park.image

There are again complex government restrictions on size, portion treatment (this one must be rolled in black grape vine ash, this one must be aged in that cave for exactly 5 months etc) but the variety of cow, sheep and goats milk cheeses, hard, soft and flowey is staggering. The pairing of wine and cheese is a life’s work, each effects the other. We had a lovely blue cheese, for instance, that completely changed an acid Chardonnay into a sweet wine – messing with tastebuds is so much fun.image

Bread. Now I will admit before our first visit to Paris over 3 years ago I was pretty sure I had bread worked out. I now know I know nothing. It is difficult to describe the feeling when your taste world is turned upside down completely but it has happened to us a number of times, usually when we first chomp into a fresh baguette from a Boulanger in France. It is crust, soft interior, taste, sound … difficult to quantify but it is a revelation.image

You see French people, such a stereotype, carrying bags with baguettes protruding, munching them as a meal, and now I understand why. I too could do that and be happy. Couple it with French butter (not enough time to explore that topic here) and a fresh filling and it is nothing like you have had before. Use scraps of it to mop up dinner juices and it is sublime. Toast it and spread it with butter and Vegemite and that is the most comforting breakfast I know.image

Jo and I have a sweet tooth, much to our doctors horror as we both watch our blood sugar do unhealthy things, and pain de sucre is a weakness that is easy to understand. Croissants, pastries, cakes, jellies, mousses and other delicious things are assembled with such craft, it is impossible to walk past a patisserie without pausing and drooling. Delicate, creamy, fresh and delicious. We have yet to experience a dud and we have eaten … a lot. We are very selective, and often pay a lot for them but figure when on holiday a treat is justified, right?image

We have also developed an expensive taste in chocolate – French hot chocolate we think is superior to Italian and Spanish and yes, we have sampled all many times. There is something so intensely satisfying about a semi-sweet chocolate served as an emulsion with milk and cream, it is a meal in itself and worth trying but do not make the mistake of trying to finish a dessert with it as that is too much even for us.image

Reading back over the last gush of food related blogging I hope you do not think we are food snobs. Realise please that we are fairly ordinary folk that like to eat and appreciate things that taste nice. Our time in France, particularly, has changed our perception of what that actually means, and opened our eyes to a world of food that a kid from Maleny and a kid from Southport would never have dreamt of in their wildest dreams.

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Lyon – Place and Space

After a late evening flight from Santorini to Athens, and a strategically brilliant night sleep in the airport Sofitel, we emerged bright eyed and bushy tailed (ie. shagged and fragged) for our flight to Lyon. The flight was uneventful (even though people had said Aegean Air was sub-par we found it a very smooth ride and oddly plenty of legroom).image

On arriving in Lyon airport, we took a train/tram thing that took us into the heart of the new city. After leaving our luggage in a lockup, we set off in search of lunch and provisions for the evening. Jo had researched a foodie spot associated with Paul Bocuse, so headed for Les Halle de Lyon – a large ground floor food court selling high end food both fresh, cooked and served depending on what you wanted to do. We sat and had ‘plat de jour’ which turned out to be the most delicious chicken breast cooked in butter and then served with fresh egg pasta and a glorious mushroom sauce – totally delicious with a glass of house wine. We then searched for ingredients for dinner- a couple of confit duck legs and a baguette …… ahhh, baguettes, I will wax lyrical about food in another post.image

We walked back, much fortified and collected our luggage, then caught a metro, changed lines and ended up at Vieux Lyon station, adjacent to Cathedral St Jean, near our new digs for the stay in Lyon.image

Cobbled streets, squares, narrow streets, there is a feel that is difficult to put into words but we knew and could feel that we were in France and that, for us, felt comfortable. Neither of us have much French language, but we have a lot more than we do greek, the signs make more sense and we began to feel comfortable almost straight away.

After a bit of a kerfuffle (we had planned to get a SIM for my phone but had such good service with Skype credit that we did not, so were without a phone to ring our landlord to let him know we were here and needed letting in).image

Our apartment is a section on the 2nd floor of a medieval building that is heritage listed. It is batshit crazy, funkily designed and decorated and we love it. Really high ceilings, large rooms, big artworks, bold colours and lots of home comfort and we were set. Right in the heart of old Lyon, between the tourist street, rue St Jean and the less visited rue de Boeuf make this ancient quarter of the city lively and interesting. It bustles with people during the day, tourists and locals soaking up the food, customs and sunshine and is quiet at night.image

The pace of life here is wonderfully relaxed, we find things do not open much before 10, an afternoons work could be sitting in a cafe sipping coffee or wine watching people go past, or wondering how the cars (this quarter of the city is mostly pedestrianised making for scary driving) are going to sort themselves out in the tiny blocked streets.image

Our landlord gave us some inside information about the local eateries and sights which turned out to be really useful. Lyon and surrounding districts in days gone by was important in the fabric industry – silk and brocade weaving particularly. We were told that much of the interesting features of the city were inside the buildings. This takes time to understand.image

A network of Traboules exist – these are official passages that provide shortcuts between and through city blocks. The streets are plain, doorways open to passageways, hidden courtyards in the middle of blocks and reveal towers, tall galleries and shops. So many of them you would not know even existed if you did not have a map (or an entry code in some cases).image

The city has a civic agreement that ensures the traboules remain public access even though in most cases they traverse private land and we explored the ones local to us one evening, just so interesting. They originally provided covered shortcuts for silk workers carrying expensive and weather sensitive goods from place to place.image

The city straddles a pair of rivers – the Rhone and the Saone which at the moment are in flood. Apparently higher than usual rainfall further up the valley coupled with above average snowmelt (we flew over snow capped mountains on the way in to Lyon) have the level of the water so high that many of the riverside walkways are submerged and the cruise boats that normally travel between here and Germany are stuck between the many bridges that weave around the city.image

“Now listen carefully, I will say zis only once!” (apologies to Allo Allo fans), we discovered after a visit to the Museum of the French Resistance that Lyon was in many ways the home of this movement. We also learned why Lyon bridges for the most part date from the 1940s – retreating Nazi troops blew up the originals.image

We thought to museum was a missed opportunity – all in French we had difficulty navigating and making sense of many of the displays, the English guides were incomplete and did not seem to provide the same accessible detail and that is a shame, it is interesting stuff but presented in a frustrating way. The video recounts by survivors was particularly powerful.image

Many famous Lyonaise people have revolutionised the modern world – the Lumier brothers brought the age of cinema to life and Joseph Jaquard revolutionised the textile industry with automated looms driven by stacks of punched cards (general purpose programmable machines that led to computers – geeky fun fact).image

Art is everywhere, large scale murals and trompe l’oeils (painted 3d perspective pictures) litter the city, some amazing, most require a double take as you realise it is painted. Art and culture go back a long way, we visited a pair of Roman Ampitheatres atop a hill and another section of a Coloseum-like arena that was found near a planned botanical garden. image

I have said it before but as white Australians, we do not really have much history. Australian history stretches back millennia but there are few historical artefacts or buildings to speak of. Not so here. We visited (quite by accident as it turns out) a roman museum atop a hill that also contains the Basillica we were originally aiming for.image

In an astonishing subterranean concrete building, remains of roman occupation and much much earlier were on display including stones and statuary from temples to Augustus built by Claudius, temples dedicated to Marcellus and other well known roman names – they got around certainly leaving their mark.image

Our stay has been interesting, peppered by interesting sights and sounds but the food – that is a whole different story…..

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Santorini – A World Away

Relaxed about the ferry ride – these sorts of ships go through the waves rather than over them, and consoled by the fact that there was little wind and the ocean was calm and flat, we had a good trip, albeit 8ish hours (when a plane from Athens takes 1/2 hour). image

The ship is a small suburb on the water, with multiple vehicle layers (to my amazement I saw a huge articulated semi trailer drive in front first and come out the right way round???) and passenger decks above, with cafes and seating of all types. We opted for ‘airplane type’ seats which were allocated and comfortable but you could take pot luck and commandeer one of the many bench seats as seasoned sleepers did.image

We chose to travel this way because we wanted to gain a view of Santorini from the ocean, the island is the remnants of an exploded volcano, with most of the townships on Santorini clinging perilously to terrifying cliffs on the inside of the caldera, and one of the few ways to gain an appreciation for its shape and scale is by sea.

The 8 hours seem to pass pretty quickly to our surprise, there were a couple of island stop overs along the way which were interesting. You never get used to the colour of the ocean here – such an intense aqua blue, and so clear you can see at the shore line the islands plunge down to the depths really rapidly.image

We got our first glimpses of Santorini – a crescent shaped island caldera cupping a volcanic core – still steaming and active off the port bow (I do not know, the left side of the shippy thing) as the Oia headland formed a sort of ‘gap’ in the tiny landmass on the horizon. We sailed towards the gap to gradually discern a thin ‘crust’ of houses along the top ridge.image

As we rounded the Oia headland, the crescent shape opened up and we could see a number of villages in clumps perched on the cliff edge, white and glistening in the afternoon sun.

Our ship docked at the far end of the island and a car was waiting to ferry us back to Oia and out accomodation and I am glad I do not drive here – the roads are narrow, windey, barely a car wide and often you meet other traffic, like the local bus, on them.image

Much of the accomodation here is modelled after traditional cave houses – ours was a box with a barrel-shaped roof, loft bedroom built in to the roof above kitchen and bathroom – compact but cosy (if you do not mind cracking your head in the middle of the night as you go for a wee walk) but you do take your life in your own hands climbing down the ladder from the loft.image

After settling in, we headed up to Oia searching for groceries (milk for tea etc) and sussing what was available so we could do a proper provisions run on the morrow. The walk to the shops and restaurants in part follows the road, a scary squeezy walk when busses are about but once there you have a long avenue of shops one side, unspeakably beautiful views over the caldera in the other.image

Our main objective on Santorini was to relax – it had been go go go up until now and we thought a little sunshine and sea breeze would just be the tonic. Both of us have been a bit fluey so the warmer climes were appreciated.image

Sunsets here are special – maybe just for those of us who live on the eastern side of a continent and find the sight of the sun setting over water novel but every evening there is a mass migration of people who flock to the tip of Oia to watch the sun go down. We did it a couple of times and were surrounded by locals, tourists from cruise ships and the like.image

There are a few options for getting around on Santorini. Some folk hire cars, quad or motor cycles, we opted to use the local bus network and that worked out fine. We journeyed over to Fira and had a try at a ‘fish spa’. You wash your feet then, with assistance, plunge them into a tank full of tiny fish that gently exfoliate you. It is the oddest feeling, ticklish at first then just odd as little fish vigorously schlurp away at your feet, wiggling between your toes and seeming to enjoy it. I felt a little guilty that my giant clodhoppers provided their meal (I am assuming they are feeding on dry skin).image

The fish spa fitted in the gap between busses nicely, we were on time for a second bus that would take us on to Pyrgos. This township was billed as ‘traditional village life’ as it was less developed and more of the houses and other things needed for living were on show. We lunched, shopped and climbed the ridge exploring the twisting turning passages between buildings and churches which was very interesting.image

Catching the bus back to Firos, we further explored. It looks like this town lives and breathes cruise ship tourist, even providing launches and cable car to get the, on/off quickly. Everywhere you look you see white buildings, blue church domes and cliffs dropping shear into oceans of blue green.image

We have tried food and wine here, I want to say I liked the wines but found them resinous and salty on my palette which was not what I expected until I saw how they cultivate grapes. Elsewhere they encourage grapes on trellises but here, due to the salty winds they cultivate grape plants in tight spirals really close to the ground. The yield is small, mostly white and the wines are dry (except for the deadly fortified wines and spirits distiller here also).image

We have found here particularly, but Greece in general, the food to be salty. It is probably more a product of the abundance of olives, capers and seafood but if I was asked my lasting impressions I would say that. image

That said we have had some lovely things. We hobbled down the zig zag steps at Oia to sea level – quite a climb (tourists often do the reverse journey atop miserable donkeys that are herded at the bottom the the descent) and had a late lunch at the Sunset fish cafe – mussels in white wine, tomato balls and saganaki which was a good meal. The kebabs and gyros are also fab eating, as are generally the fish. We also tried mezze, I liked the fava (a split pea purée) and grilled octopus which was tender and tasty. Not sure I can face another greek salad however as I may have reached my feta capacity.image

Looking through my photos, there are many postcard views, amusingly we bought a calendar and in it are photos of places we have also photographed. Our quest to accessorise our bathroom led us to a series of porcelain buildings that will look a treat where we have planned for them to be.image

Santorini has provided us with a breather – pace here is so very relaxed, sleep ins, lax timetables and warm sunny weather have put us in good stead for our next leg onwards into France. We leave in the evening for a late flight to Athens, hotel stay over and early flight to Lyon … bring it on!image

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Athens – a room with a view (and some flu)

The go go go of travel and the wildly changing weather conditions had finally taken its toll on us and Jo’s sniffle turned into coughs and temperatures. Fortunately, due to some good advice (from the lovely Mrs Noisy) we broke out our travel antibiotics and we had the good sense to slow down in Athens.

Our playboy apartment was a short walk from Syntagma Square, a train line meeting point and there were lots of things to do and see in the local area so it was not a loss really.image

I was sent on food raids, found hidden kebab and gyros shops off the tourist path, pie shops (Greeks like pastry and bread) and were well sustained during the day.

On our second last day in Athens, there was something I really wanted to explore – the Archaelogical Museum, and the prospect of going solo concerned me a bit. I could see the headline now : “And that was the last she ever saw of her husband”, but with a mud map in tow, I caught a red line for a couple of stops getting me to Omonia Square and after an initial bewildering walk around the square and heading off in entirely the wrong direction (those who know me would not be surprised by this) until I ran into a street that was on my map, and realising it was the wrong side of the map.image

Once I got my bearings I was off and before too long arrived. It was open until 8, Jo said she would not start worrying until after 5 so it was all good as I casually meandered in and out of some astonishing collections of artefacts.image

First I did the statues, lots of really old but in very good condition, clearly the best of these is probably in the Louvre or British Museums but it is nice to see whole statues. Not really sure why all the men were nude but the ladies clothed, times change I guess.image

I wandered into the vase collection, amazed by the vibrancy of design and colour from pots that age back to 450BC and beyond.image

I also fell in love with a style of sculpture that captured vignettes of scenes containing a mix of people going about daily life. So much so that I started a captioning competition on Facebook for those interested. The carving style is naturalistic, lovely flowing lines, delicate rendered fabrics and everyone looks calm and peaceful – reminiscent of the much more recent art nouveau movement that so changed Paris.image

Amazed at how my incomplete research flooded back to help me distinguish amphorae, kraters and kylixs (they are pot shapes that determine usually what they are good for). There is an unhealthy amount of pottery and I got a bit fatigued of the amazing designs – astonishing visual motifs and burnished ware with incised and glazed patterns much like the modern monstrosities on sale for tourists.image

The Egypt section was interesting because of the large collection of everyday objects and I really liked the bronzes section, so many beautiful tiny cast bronze figurines for so many purposes from votive offerings (thanks “Time Team”, I know what that means) through to kids toys.image

The museum also had a number of galleries that were collections owned or sponsored by families, they seemed to be a hodgepodge of artefacts from many eras, with only cursory chronological arrangement.image

One of the must see treasures I looked for was The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient bronze computer from 2BC that, via and astonishing series of interlocking cogs and levers could (they think) accurately predict the position and rotation of the moon as one of its functions but there are few records that even hint at such a machine. An astrolabe like thing was seen in contemporary etchings but the connections are sketchy at best. The level of engineering and precision for something so old breaks my brain. This section of the gallery was full of more recent attempts to duplicate some of the functions believed possible with this gizmo but wow, just wow – I never thought I would ever actually see it.image

Entering the “prehistoric” section of the museum takes your breath away. Nerdy tho I am, there are a number of ancient/precious world things I have told myself I must if the opportunity avails see and the “Death Mask of Agamnemnon” is up there. He greets you, as a slightly squished flat be beautiful solid gold mask that is for me the symbol of Ancient Greece, or more correctly Mycenae, crafted in 1500BC and as glorious today as it was then.image

Surrounding this mask there is gold, lots of it, chest plates, head adornments, Childs dolls, wrist bands, jewellery, sword hilts and much much more. It was overwhelming but so beautiful. Amongst the really old stuff were votive offerings, coins, kids toys, beauty aids, so much of the day to day.image

Suitably overawed, I made my way back to the metro station and back home with nearly no issue and then did the dinner run, Jo much rested and looking/sounding better for the day rest.

Next morning we had an early transfer. Packed and ready, we trundled our suitcases to Syntagma square, took the lift to the train station, travelled on the blue line for a stop and then transferred to the green line and rode to the terminus – Piraeus to search out our ferry.image

I had visions of this tiny chugging boat that I would be seasick over the side of whilst still in the harbour (for those not keeping up I get motion sick in a bath) but in front of us was the 7:25 to Fira, a suburb sized monster passenger and vehicular ferry that would rival a cruise ship.

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Athens – It’s All Greek To Me

After a strenuous but well planned transit day from Rome, we arrived at the train station near the airport, negotiated tickets like a pro and headed to find a train luggage in tow. Our home station is Syntagma Square but the bloody Greek alphabet has s’s as sigmas, Rs as Ps, and more bizarre symbol combinations which I am told are phonetic, with sort of English under them, well, most times(ish) a shift in brain function and signs started to make sense.image

Our new digs (can’t make this shit up) is plumb between Guy Laroche and the Playboy shop in the posh part of town. 7th floor caused a heart flutter until we found a lift (well, in truth a single person carrier that both of us and our luggage just about fit, bugger the weight limitations right, they are just guidelines not laws) and were soon making sense of the apartment.image

We looked at maps, they were free and seemed to be great until we started using them to discover that only main roads were indicated – great for gross navigation, less so for finding a particular place if you only have a vague idea where you are to start with. All through this holiday, Jo had made Google maps of the areas and attractions, capturing them on the iPad so we can use them offline and they have been a lifesaver.

We were tired, it was late, we headed to the supermarket for some basic supplies (milk, butter, bread etc) then returned to the apartment to settle in. I had been feeling fluey for a couple of days and Jo had a cough we attributed to the pollution and second hand smoking we are doing being amongst natives but I was running a temperature, dosed up and after an interesting restaurant meal had an early night.

Awaking seemingly refreshed, we headed out on foot via a number of vague map directions to the Central Markets which was an eye opening experience. We needed lamb, fish and chicken, and saw chunks of each freshly slaughtered. Negotiating with market stall owners, and avoiding the slippery floors underfoot was interesting and although I think we only sort of knew what we were buying, we managed to get our meat. On to the vegie stands for staples then back to the unit to store them in larder and fridge.image

After a rest and restorative cup of tea we headed out on the metro one stop away to grab some lunch – we wanted to try both Kebabs (a skewer of spiced lamb mince bbqd wrapped in a pita with salad) and a gyros (sliced meat much like a doner kebab wrapped in a pita with chips – yeah, I know, weird hey- and salad and yoghurt and garlic sauce). Both were delicious. The pita was thick, puffy, warm and utterly yummy. I could easily do lots of them.image

Feeling suitably fed, we headed off to explore Agora – an ancient city under a part of Athens that had many periods of occupancy. We bought multi-site passes that let us into the major areas so we could do them in an order that suited us.image

The first site, called “Roman Agora” was difficult to visualise – piles of rubble, lines of column bases and neat stacks of stones earmarked for reconstruction sometime, possibly. It was originally a roman market place and you could sort of get it, temple one end, colonnades and stalls around.image

We then headed to a larger section of Agora, dating to 400BC and before, which breaks my brain. We wandered through remains of buildings, courtyards, temples and roads. We went through a reconstructed stoa (colonnaded pavilion) which now houses a museum containing some lovely pottery and lots of decapitated statues – heads seem in short supply on Greek statues it seems.

We wended our way up the gentle slope, a clearly tantalising Acropolis over our left shoulder, towards an intact temple that was first used in 428BC, converted to a Christian church in 7AD and later used to bury Protestants in the 1800s. It nestles beautifully into an olive studded hillside and is the very model of what I think of when someone says Greek temple.image

Last stop was a gravesite that had been used by many ages. Robbed artefacts were housed in a museum adjacent and showed grave goods stretching back to Egyptian times.

Tired and fluey, we returned to our accommodation for some rest and a home-cooked fish supper. Considering the micro kitchenette I think it turned out really well. On our tiny stove I managed to brown and cook the fish cutlets through, served with a Greek salad and dinner was done.

After a restless sleep and continued flu symptoms worsening for Jo we opted to move our rest day (we had one scheduled for Athens, so it was fine) so we could take it easy.

I had an outing, I was sent with a mission to locate and purchase Greek pies from a certain shop not far from us – chicken and bacon filled one and feta and spinach the other, delicious and a filling lunch.

We did go for a brief walk in the afternoon through the central gardens, emerging at the site of the first modern Olympics – a massive horseshoe shaped arena that was used first in the 1800s.image

I am not sure what sports that stadium could host as it was nearly all searing, nearly no track.

Re-entering the gardens on our way home we got a little lost and nearly joined a large and vocal political demonstration that was heading for the palace and Houses of Parliament but managed to skirt around them eventually.

We have noticed in Greece (and to an extent in Rome) that public trees in the streets are often citrus. At this time in the season they are laden with fruit and all the easy to reach ones are already picked. We found a mandarin tree, plucked a fruit, peeled it and attempted a segment – sour as anything which was annoying as it looked lovely and ripe – perhaps it is just that variety.

Lemon and garlic chicken was expertly sizzled in our micro kitchenette for dinner, with braised Mediterranean vegetables, making a yummy and satisfying meal to top of the day.

Our next day started early, as we arose, breakfasted and headed to the Metro to go one stop on the red line towards the Acropolis. We took our time, ascended the hill to be greeted with astonishing views of the hand built plateau that tops a hill – clearly they had augmented the existing hill with huge walls. Once the centre of religious life in Athens, the scale of the site is staggering, and the approach imposing.image

Many ages of development have left remnants. Some have been demolished to make way for more recent buildings, existing buildings are being painstakingly reconstructed using original and new materials (I like that you can tell the original from the new) and repaired from old attempts at restoration.image

It seems early attempts to ensure there was something spectacular atop the hill have damaged those somethings to the point where some have to be dismantled and rebuilt. Materials, science and techniques have improved and much of the Parthenon are now intact – such an awe inspiring building.image

After climbing through the entry gate (Propylaea) we wandered the plateau, amazed at the remains. I liked the side temple, (Erechtheion), I named it the temple of the perpetual headache because one of its porticos was held up atop the heads of a row of woman statues.image

It is clear this is a long term restoration project, piles of stones are catalogued awaiting their relocation and reconstruction, much of the feel of the latest buildings has already been effected but the reconstruction project has been going on for decades (Jo says it is just a giant jigsaw puzzle, why do they not just get on with it).image

On one of the long sides of the Acropolis, down hill and inset into the hill are a pair of gigantic amphitheatres – the neatest one (the Odeum of Herodes Atticus), has been tidied up and looks ready to host performances again but the other (Theatre of Dionysus) is little more than a ruin. It is clear that both Roman and Greek loved their theatre And understood acoustics because the design is nothing short of brilliant.image

We made the right decision to come early, as we were climbing down waves of tourists (yes, I know we are tourists also) were coursing uphill, selfie sticks in hand. We wended our way down the side of the Acropolis to the Acropolis museum, built specially to house and display remains of the site. Built in levels, there is an amazing array of pottery, statues and fragments (a head gallery – perhaps this is where al the heads ended up), coins and other objects used to live and pray.

I was particularly interested in the pigments, minerals fixed in solvents and still visible on some of the better preserved pieces. I did not realise that the temples on the Acropolis were once richly coloured as well as covered with scuplture. The top level of the museum showcases the top levels of decoration of the Parthenon, indicating clearly how spectacular it once was just from an adornment perspective. Deep relief sculptured panels along all sides tell many tales of victory, anguish and the involvement of gods and mythical animals.image

Of particular interest to me were the pediments – the triangular areas each end under the slab roofs. Proper statues, carved in the round as opposed to slab reliefs seems to me excessive. Even though the fronts were only ever partially visible from afar at ground level, they needed to be perfect in the eyes of the gods.

They depict a jumble of gods, legends and dazzling collections of tits and arse. Oddly, as seems to be the culture here, male statues are usually naked, female statues are usually fully clothed. The originals were transferred here, well, that which remained after a destructive Christian cleansing and centuries of trophy hunters looking for just the right thing for their front garden. Up on the Parthenon we could see fragments of the pediment statues (well, copies of bits) to give you an idea of space, place and scale.image

Some of the most precious and complete statuary from this site is funnily enough in the British Museum – apparently they said they would look after it until there was suitable display space in Athens, and now there is they are still looking after it.

Back to our apartment for a rest, we shall see what we are up to on the morrow.

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