Wednesday 31 January 2024

Rome dispatches - our apartment, an aqueduct and buildings

We are in Rome and I have so much to share here that I hardly know where to start.  Here are a few initial thoughts and places.  Above is a random building.  The apartment buildings are so beautiful with their giant doors, shutters, balconies, pot plants, washing lines and colourful walls.  Rome is full of wonderful ancient remains and heritage buildings that integrate with modern life.

Even on the plane into Rome we could see that there were buildings of interest to be seen.  When you pay peanuts for RyanAir, you get seats so cheap they they can't even include a pocket in the back of the seat in front of us.  And getting up at 2.30am for early bird flights meant we were in a daze boarding the plane.  The views of the Swiss Alps and Rome made us look forward with excitement. 

 We got a train to Termini from the Ciampino airport but then gave up navigating public transport and took a taxi to our AirBnB apartment.  I was so outraged when the taxi driver charged us 20 Euros, at least twice what we should have paid, that I ended up accepting 13 Euros despite it including 3 Euros for taking our suitcases in the boot.  I am sure I have never been levied with a suitcase charge before.

Our apartment by the San Giovanni gates is lovely.  After almost a week in a hotel room, it is luxury to have a kitchen and extra room.   Not that we are using the kitchen much but we did buy a few things at the supermarket that need a fridge or microwave.

Our host is very friendly and helpful.  She showed us around the apartment and left us a little welcome pack with various savoury snacks and a bottle of wine.  I was most excited about the packet of Fonzies.  These brought back memories of my first trip to Rome over 20 years ago when I was missing home and found comfort in Fonzies because of their similarities to our Twisties in Australia.

The bedroom was welcoming with lots of pillows, cushions and towels in lovely calming greens.  Sylvia's penguin is enjoying it.  The living area also has a sofa bed.

The balcony overlooks two apartment buildings, one of which is scaffiolded.  There is a lot of roadwork and scaffolding in Rome.  When we arrived the apartment was so warn we had to open the doors to let in the fresh air.  We have mostly had the heater off.  In Melbourne we don't have much heating in winter and the central heating is Europe can be stuffy.

I include a picture of our bathroom because it is different to what I would expect in Australia.  We don't have bidets and I have never understood them.  I often have to navigate different shower systems when I travel but I was really confused by this shower.  It has four different places from which water can gush in jets.  I started by unsetting the water outlet and took a while to work out how to get it coming from the top.

Our favourite local cafe/restaurant/bakery so far is Molino (Via Appia Nuova 82), as recommended by our host.  They do wonderful focaccia but I would also love to taste their pizzas, which is also sold by weight.  And the sweet food looks wonderful.  They say the kitchen closes at 3pm but they are open in the evening so maybe it reopens.  

Times for cafes and shops in Rome are confusing.  I have noticed that quite a few places close for an hour or two in mid afternoon.  Perhaps this allows them to stay open later. 

We are staying very near to the Porta San Giovanni (gate) of the Aurelian Walls which were built almost 2000 years ago.  I am not sure if any changes have been made since but it is amazing that our 21st Century cars fit through these archways that I assume were built for chariots and horse drawn carts. Having said that, the Italian cars are like toy town compared to the profusion of hulking four wheel drives in Australia.  Small makes cars minimally less scary when walking on a pedestrian crossing in Rome; it is only for the bold.  And they seem to park wherever they can including all the things I have been taught not to do: double parking, parking right on a corner and parallel parking almost bumper to bumper.

The line of Aurelian or city walls built along from the San Sebastian Gate is quite intact.  I walked along it in the Giardini Viale Carlo Felice.  These are narrow gardens but pleasant and I will write about my walk there to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.  I was amazed to find that there is a dog park by the walls.  Can you spot the dog peering through the fence?  I also love the Roman water taps, though not that the ones that continually spout water.

This gate is near the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.  I was attracted to how colourful it was with the wire work which is studded with colourful stones.

We have been to heart of the old city to see the Trevi Fountain and eat pasta.  More on that later.  But the buildings everywhere we looked were amazing.

On our way back from the Trevi Fountain to the Metro station we passed  a department store called Rinascente and Sylvia dragged me in.  She has been checking out some off-the-beaten-track sights that were once found in Lonely Planet but now are more likely to be found on Tik Tok.  In the basement of this store is a an aqueduct called the Acqua Virgo, which was built between 25 to 19 BC and supplied water to the first public baths in Rome.  This was discovered in 2017 so I don't feel like I should have seen this on my first trip to Rome about 20 years ago.

It was exciting enough to see the aqueduct in a high end but on top of that it was great to see the light show that superimposed images of ancient architecture and maps over the ancient stones.  I loved it and tried to take photos but they lack the fluid changes between images.  One minute it was a simple 2D line drawing of the archways.

The next moment there is a more complex image of the aqueduct and buildings.

Or there is an drawing of a building.  (Unfortunately I did not take the details of the titles that gave more information.)

 The picture would then morph into the interior of the building with gorgeous mosaic floors.

If light shows on ancient aqueducts don't get you excited, maybe you would prefer to check out the details of this manger seen in the Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi Baroque church.  Sylvia was keen to move on so I could not linger to find out if it was not yet packed up after Christmas or there for another reason.  I'll be back soon with more on Rome.

Saturday 27 January 2024

Edinburgh Dispatches: Kildonan, Longniddry and meals

Greetings from Edinburgh.  Sylvia and I arrived a few days ago and have enjoyed seeing the familiar sights of the city where I have lived and made many visits.  Our days have been fairly quiet with some catching up with old faces and enjoying the Scottish food.  Here are a few photos and reflections.


Loved being greeted by an Irn Bru vending machine at the airport and then driven to our accommodation at Kildonan Lodge Hotel by a local taxi driver who told us Edinburgh is the city of road works!  Felt like nothing had changed.

Our room wasn't ready upon our morning arrival so we walked down to Cameron Toll to get our essentials: a cheese and onion pastie from Greggs, new frames for Sylvia's glasses (after they snapped during our flights), a 30 day sim card (was impressed O2 sold us 7GB and European roaming for 10 pounds - much cheaper than an e-sim), and then shopping in Sainsburys supermarket.  At Sainsburys we got a new coat, haggis crisps, branston baked beans and muellers corners.  It is always fun to look around foreign supermarkets.  There was so much I would have loved to have bought such as these packets of Christmas Pudding flavoured crisps.

Then back to our hotel to check in to our (petit) four poster bedroom.  We were so tired that we were asleep about 6pm and didn't mind sharing the bed.  It is a rather impressive bed after all.  A few days on we are still feeling a bit combobulated after travelling for about 29 hours plus time at five airports.  I usually am quite a night owl but am still going to bed ridiculously early and waking hours before sunrise.

On my first morning I woke at about 5am and had baked beans and a bread roll for breakfast.  A few hours later on the way to Edinburgh Waverley train Station, I stopped for a very nice cauliflower cheese and broccoli pastie from Mor Bakehouse.  It kept me going.

I walked down Cockburn Street and Fleshmarket Close to the station.  There are many familiar shops and cafes and some new ones.  It seems since my last visit that there has been a proliferation of pretty cafes decorated with artificial flowers.  I was particularly impressed by the facade of Arcade haggis and whiskey house on Cockburn Street.  I could not see vegan haggis on the menu in the window but a website says they have it.

On to the train station.  The ticket office at Waverley is reached through a spectacular waiting room.  It really is a beautiful train station and I loved all the quote from Walter Scott who wrote the novel Waverley..  According to the signs, it is the only train station in the world to be named after a novel.


We haven't seen much of the iconic Edinburgh Castle, other than as a hulking shadow looming over Princes Street.  I really liked the castle photo with this flower display at Marks and Spencer Food in Waverley Station.

I took the train to Longniddry to visit friends Clare and Martin.  They very kindly made me a vegetable and lentil soup. served with huge cheese scones.  It was lovely to catch up with them on the covid years, health and family.  I always love chatting to them about politics in our respective countries: Boris, Rishi, Scomo, Albo, Robodebt, the British Post Office scandal, and Palestine, among other things.

We had time for a quick walk at Longniddry beach.  They advised I steer clear of the dead bird on the path in case of Avian Flu, and the told me about how they had to ring the police when they found a dead body on the beach recently.  That is a change from stories of sharks and rips on Australian beaches.

In the evening we walked up the High Street to Makar's Mash Bar for haggis neeps and tatties.  More on that later!  I was quite shocked at the unsightly barriers on the High Street section of Royal Mile.  It is such a beautiful street that it does not deserve this.  Others are also unhappy about these barriers.  Apparently they are there to prevent terrorist attacks of driving vehicles into crowds.

I was even less forgiving of the shabbiness of these iconic red telephone boxes on the High Street.  They have always been so clean and great for photos.  But they are now covered in stickers and look like they have seen better times.  The North Bridge is also covered in scaffolding but at least the repairs are necessary.  

However it is still such a beautiful city.  The top photo (by Sylvia) of the Scott Memorial and the Old Town shows how lovely it can be.

Yesterday we had a quiet day with a cuppa at Costa Coffee in Cameron Toll with Sylvia's aunt and exchanged late Christmas gifts.  It was great to see HH.  Less great for Sylvia to leave her phone in the black cab but the driver was a gentleman who returned it within 15 minutes.
Later in the day we went to Marks and Spencer where we had a late lunch.  I had mac and cheese and Sylvia had a baked bean jacket potato with rainbow slaw.  I also enjoyed a warming pot of berry tea and Sylvia had apple juice.  While we have unfamiliar cities ahead of us, it is very comforting to visit some familiar places in Edinburgh.

We are up early this morning thanks to our jetlag.  I spent a bit of time in the charming lounge at the Kildonan before breakfast.  The furniture is slightly different to our last visit but still feels like stepping into another world where people have more time and money than us.

And here is our breakfast at the Kildonan.  Unlike last time, we had to order it the night before.  There was a misunderstanding and we got our order wrong but it was fixed with a smile (a genuine one - not a Basil Fawlty smile) this morning.  Sylvia had 2 poached eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomato and tatiie scone with toast.  I had some fruit salad with small pancakes drizzled in what was called maple syrup on the order form but seemed more like golden syrup.  We were the only guests in the breakfast room who were foreigners.  It felt very British with the woman at the next table asking for marmalade for her toast.  It is good to be back!

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Grounds of Eden cafe, Coburg

Grounds of Eden looks unassuming from the street but step into and admire the classiness of the white furniture against green walls with lots of plants and the occasional playful giraffe (sadly not a live one).  It used to be the Two Monks cafe, which was a nice cafe but this is a lot more fancy.

I first went there about 18 months ago with a friend on her birthday.  We both had the vegan Avo garden with smashed avocado, tomato, pomegranate, kale, dressing and candied nuts on charcoal toast with a slick of beetroot hummus.  I think it usually comes with an egg but not for either of us.  It was such a nice version of avo on toast.  I also had a great dark hot chocolate as it was a cold winter's day.

Then last year I went there with Sylvia.  She had perused the menu and decided on the Iced dirty rose latte.  It came with a Rose & lavender brew, espresso milk and ice with a little jug of rose syrup.  Sylvia loved it though she was glad the syrup came on the side as a little went a long way.  And did I mention how pretty it looked?  Purple flowers on top and a layer of red brew under the espresso and milk.  Down the page you will see how it looked when stirred.

I chose the Garden of Eden mocktail with red apple juice and a rhubarb and elderflower syrup.  The staff kindly let me know before they served that there was no ice.  There was a problem and the last of the ice had gone into Sylvia's drink.  But I really wanted to try it and agreed to have it cold.  It really made a difference not to have ice.  Despite that the flavours were really good, I enjoyed a bit of fizz and loved the presentation with a skewer of apple slices and raspberry, some yellow and purple pansies and syrup on the side.

I ordered the Whipped feta and wild garlic mushrooms.  It was a very satisfying dish with sautéed kale, garlic mushroom, roasted red pepper, chili olives and fried chickpeas on a bed of creamy whipped feta hummus, plus some sourdough toast.  The garlic mushrooms and crispy chickpeas were amazing (and I am not so big on mushrooms) but I found a few of the chilli olives were enough for me.  Sylvia had a bowl of chips and loved sharing some of my meal.  There was plenty for both of us. 

Despite some savoury food, Sylvia's main aim was dessert.  The Rose pink waffle was calling to her.  It was a cone of homemade strawberry waffle with vanilla ice cream and a beautifully arranged spill of mixed berries and other fresh fruits, strawberry mousse, cute little marbled meringues, and a side serving of chocolate fudge syrup in a tiny jar.  Sylvia loved the mousse, did not feel that the ice cream was necessary and liked the dessert so much that she had it again (without the ice cream) when she returned there with my dad and E soon after.

The menu has changed since we visited.  It is sad to see that the whipped feta and mushrooms is no longer there but there are now two avocado on toast offerings, and still lots of interesting sounding desserts.  As well as the Rose Pink Waffle, you can also order Biscoff French Toast or Matcha Strawberry Pancakes.

Here is a photo of the whimsical giraffe.  Maybe we will sit closer to it next time so I can admire it.  We have many places we would like to try but also ones like this cafe where we would love to return.

Grounds of Eden
350 Sydney Road, Coburg
Open 8am - 3pm daily

Sunday 14 January 2024

A-Z of my Australian Travels

My mum used to sing "I've been everywhere, man" with the long tongue-twisting list of Australia towns.  As a child it often felt like I yearned to go everywhere but decades later I can look back and see just how lucky I was to see so much of Australia before I travelled abroad as a 26 year old.  Yet there is always more to see (hello Uluru and Far North Queensland).  Today I am writing about my travels around Australia, focusing mostly on places I visited before I started blogging.  Both images and memories can be a bit hit and miss in places that I visited in my childhood and my student days.  We didn't take many photos back then so I have added a few from my blogging days, as well as some references to places visited since I have been blogging.

In my childhood so many holidays were in easy driving distance with only a couple of long drives interstate.  I clearly remember my brother comically kneeling on the ground and blessing it like a pope when we crossed the Murray River and, at age 12, I was finally out of our home state of Victoria.  At 20 years old it was so exciting and stomach-curdling when I had my first plane trip.  But as a university student and employee in my twenties, I started to travel more around Australia.  I still enjoy travelling around Australia and still wish I could see more of it. 

A is for Albany, WA

We went to Albany in the South West of Western Australia with a work colleague in a hire car on roadtrip to and from Perth in 2006.  The photo is of the view from a whale cruise.  It is one of my clearest memories of Albany.  The cruise was in search of a whale with the tourguide on the phone or walky talky to a pal who had seen a whale.  Finally we saw some a whale tail from a distance.  I've never been sure if it really was a whale.  From Albany we drove back to Perth via the giant tingle trees in Walpole, accommodation in Kerridale and the caves in Margaret River.

B is for Brisbane, Queensland

I have only been to Brisbane for a few short work trips: a conference, a workshop and showcase.  Two of these visits were almost 20 years ago and one was last year.  On one of the earlier trips, I visited my aunt and my friend.  My aunt took me about to the Customs House, Brisbane Beach, Mt Coot lookout and the Bonsai House at Botanic Gardens.  The photo is of Story Bridge, one of the iconic sights of Brisbane.

C is for Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

My first interstate trip without my family was with a friend when I was 20 years old.  We flew from Melbourne to Tasmania (my first plane flight), then travelled to Cradle Mountain and up to Devonport to return to Melbourne on the Abel Tasman ferry.  I think we returned overnight and had a bed but can't quite remember - only watching a rom-com on the tv and finding that the butterflies in my stomach were from sea sickness rather than the movie.  

At Cradle Mountain we stayed in a cabin that was a drive from the main lodge. We were pretty unprepared.  Firstly we didn't know how to light the fire and argued over who would ask the old man in the next cabin for help.  We didn't have enough food and had to hitch hike to the lodge for food.  We went on a joy ride to view the beauty of the mountains but the 6 seater plane made me feel airsick and I did not get the full benefit of the spectacular views. I think we might have gone for a short hike but it is too long ago to remember clearly.

D is for Darwin, NT

The first day of my new job many years ago was in Darwin for a "Convocation".  It was quite overwhelming.  I then visited my colleagues in Darwin regularly for a few years and became quite fond of it.  I often had time to go to the markets (Parap, Mindl Beach and Nightcliff).  One colleague raved about paw paw salad.  It was the first place I saw dragon fruit.  Darwin was a world away with a tropical laid-back vibe, wet season downpours and lots of Asian influences.  One of my colleagues told me he went swimming in the beaches until he got the "croc fear".  Another took me to her home to see a pre-Cyclone Tracy houses on stilts with slatted windows (similar to the above historic house).  I got to drive the CEO's car and laugh at the 5 minute peak hour.  

E came up to spend time with me a couple of times.  I had many social visits to drinking holes and restaurants such as Darwin Wharf, the Hanuman Restaurant and Cullen Bay.  With E we spent time as tourists visiting the Museum and Art Gallery (with Sweetheart the crocodile and an impressive Cyclone Tracy exhibit), Parliament House, historic Burnett House (above photo), feeding the fishes, and the jumping crocodile cruise.

E is for East Victoria

As a kid, we travelled in our state to the West and North of Melbourne but not often to the East.  I went to Lakes Entrance once when I was so little that all I can remember is bird poo on a park bench.  We had cousins in Maffra but I only remember running under the sprinkler in the heat.  My dad once took us to visit a friend of of his in Omeo.  On that trip we went for a drive around Dinner Plains that was just a muddy construction site and memorably my dad stopped at one point to throw the salad (made by his friend) down a mountain because us kids would not eat it.  We also drove around the Princes Highway (A1) to Sydney on one roadtrip.  As a student I drove to Wilson's Prom in a panel van and loved the beaches (see above photo) even though the snorkelling seemed too difficult.  You can see in my travel posts that I have been to East of Victoria more as an adult: Phillip Island, Mt Hotham, Shoreham, Yarram and Healesville.

F is for Fremantle, WA

On a visit to Perth as a student, we had an memorable visit to Fremantle.  It was the place to go to take the boat to Rotnest Island to see the cute quokkas and beautiful beaches.  My main memory is taking the cheap ferry and feeling quite sea sick as we helped fasten see-through plastic awnings to protect us from the rough waves.  The most amazing thing we did was visit the Fremantle Gaol.  It had closed only a few years before and our tour guide talked about the prisoners as though they had just left.  I remember some amazing artwork in the cells, hearing about the prisoners in the exercise yard and then our tour guide at the end telling us that he had been the deputy hangman of the prison.  I have good memories of brightly coloured modern cafes at Fremantle, possibly in 2006, and would definitely return.

G is for Gypsy Caravan holiday, Victoria

One of the most memorable childhood holidays was travelling through the bush for a week in a gypsy caravan pulled by Sam the Horse.  Our family was 7 kids under 11 years old, our laborador dog and my parents.  The heat was so hot that I still remember tipping buckets of water over ourselves in 40 C heat when my mum and sister returned from the caravan to tell us they heard the shocking news on the radio that John Lennon had been assassinated.  It was such an adventure with some of us sleeping in a tent, swimming in dams, showering under a tree by pouring water into a bag with holes.  There was a lot of walking beside the caravan because my mum said it was too heavy for Sam if we were on the caravan (and she knew if we tried to ride on the back step).  

We loved the gentle Clydsdale, Sam, who pulled the wagon but on our second last day it was too much for all of us in the heat.  Sam bolted when my parents tried to put on his harness.  The caravan was damaged and my mum said enough was enough.  She walked with my sister to the nearest farm to phone the company from where we had hired the horse and caravan.  They drove us back to the car a day early (not happy because Sam would not go in a horse box).  I clearly remember how dirty we were as we stopped at McDonalds in Ballarat on the way home but the food and the facilities seemed amazing after roughing it.

H is for Hahndorf, SA

I first went to Handorf near Adelaide in South Australia with my family when we travelled to Adelaide by car.  I love a heritage village.  Hahndorf was built by German migrants in the nineteenth century with many stone buildings to replicate those from their home towns.  My memories are of my large family trying to find a large enough table for us in a busy restaurant.  As a young adult I drove there with a couple of friends.  There was a lot of drinking and partying on this visit; one of my friends met her husband there.  But perhaps that was in Adelaide.  My memories are hazy.  I have clearer memories of a work trip to Adelaide watching the Haigh chocolates factory workers wrapping chocolates.

I is for India Pacific Train

A friend and I went to Perth by train.  That meant one day overnight on a train from Melbourne to Adelaide, a day in Adelaide, then we joined the India Pacific train (which started in Sydney) and travelled another 2 nights and a day to Perth.  We were students without much money so we didn't get sleepers.  After three nights sitting up in the cheap seats (with annoying music) it was great to lie down in the hostel where we stayed in Perth.  Crossing the Nullabor Plain was quite an experience with red dirt and shrubby plants as far as we could see.  The above photo was taken when we stopped in the middle of nowhere.  I can't remember why.  I do remember that when we were soon to arrive in Perth that an official came through and told me I could not take my apple off the train.  I said I would eat it and he stayed to check I did.  

We had a great time in Perth at a hostel.  When we discovered a favourite band, Weddings Parties Everything, were playing out of town, the hostel minibus was organised by our new friends and we had a great night at the gig with a group from the hostel.  The beaches were also great but we were more sun smart than British backpackers we met at the hostel who would get sunburnt so badly they had to spend the next day in bed.

J is for Johanna Beach, Victoria

Well of course I had to stop at Johanna Beach on the Great Ocean Road.  The stop at this wild beach was a blink of an eye in a trip to see the 12 Apostles at Port Campbell.  I didn't even swim but I have always hoped to return.  One day!  I think it was on the same trip that we stayed at a bed and breakfast near Apollo Bay and had to drive into town with petrol so low that as we drove up and down the steep hills the fuel gauge was frequently showing us to be on empty.  I was very relieved when we got to a petrol station.

The Great Ocean Road is such wonderful scenic drive, though not so safe.  It is so hard to drive and not let the eye be distracted by the views.  The beaches are the best in the world.  It is fun to stop at the Anglesea golf course to see the kangaroos that frequent it.  As well as the roads being full of distractions, they wind and bend to slow down the sensible driver.  These days there are more scenic lookouts so it is easier to pass slow traffic and stop to admire the sea views.  The road was constructed - mostly by hand - along the seaside cliffs by returned soldiers after World War I.  It was completed during the Depression in 1932.

K is for Kakadu, NT

On one trip to Darwin for work, E came up so we could join a tour to Kakadu National Park.  We were there at the end of the wet season when everyone kept telling us that there would be dragonflies soon to usher in the dry season.  

Our gung-ho tour guide took us in a 4-wheel drive minibus.  He drove us by huge termite mounds and stopped to show us a frill necked lizard and lick green ant bums.  When we got into the national park our bus broke down in a remote location.  I was impressed that one of his colleagues noticed he wasn't there and came to rescue us.  Even so, after one breakdown, I was worried about driving across a river, where I expected crocodiles but instead saw Aboriginal children swimming.  The upside was that we were the only group to visit the Aboriginal rock art site and could view it at our leisure.  The scenery was amazing and quite Crocodile Dundee.  

We saw a corroboree (Aboriginal dance ceremony) that night and stayed in a cabin with a man with really smelly feet.  The tour also included a stop at the refreshingly beautiful Litchfield Gorge.  We returned to Melbourne with great memories and scabies.

L is for Lorne, Victoria

I've been visiting Lorne for as long as I can remember.  We lived close enough for day trips.  My aunt had a beach house that had a John Denver album and room for backyard cricket.  Sometimes we met my dad there after work for fish and chips on the beach.  There were days by the swing bridge where the sea met the river, and other days when the waves were higher than our heads.  My mum taught us not to go beyond where the sea was up to our waists to allow for large waves.  And we always made sure that other people were out further than us.  In those days I don't remember life guards and red and yellow flags of safety zones.  I was so spoilt by the pristine beaches of soft sand and blue ocean that I have rarely seen beaches to hold a candle to Lorne.  

As well as magnificent beaches, we spent quite a lot of time having bbqs and bushwalking in the Angahook Forest Park.  When we were young we walked from the bbq area to the beach.  I loved the tall gum trees and the shady tree ferns.  Driving to Lorne after the Ash Wednesday bushfires, I was sad to see all the burnt trees.  Over the months we watched the bush regenerate.  I have written about a couple of Lorne holidays since starting this blog.  As it is quite far to drive, I ended up going to Torquay more these days but still have a special place in my heart for Lorne.

M is for Murray River, Victoria

The first place I went interstate was across the Murray River into NSW during a holiday in Swan Hill when I was about 12 years old.  My oldest brother got to his knees and laid hands on the ground as he has seen the Pope do.  I have been to and across the river many times since.  It always surprises me at how wide it is.  My mum loves the Murray as she lived near it as a kid.  Actually three of my grandparents lived along the Murray River.  We've been on the steamboats on the river at Echuca, looked for koalas in the gum trees on its banks and lingered longer in Yarrawonga.

N is for National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, ACT

While I was a student, some of my friends went to Canberra to study and do government internships.  I enjoyed visiting them and wandering around the national capital.  I travelled by public transport unlike when I visited by car or for work when the roundabouts would drive us crazy.  Staying with my friends gave me plenty of time to visit place like War Memorial, the National Museum, National Gallery, and historic Calthorpe House.  One of my favourite places was the lovely 1930s Old Parliament House when it was turned into the National Portrait Gallery.  

I loved all the elegantly minimal 1930s architecture from the early days of Canberra.  One of the buildings which I admired was the National Film and Sound Archive.  One day a friend and I were at a loose end and sat in the visitors centre watching historic tv clips over and over so that, as the loop went around, we could yell out what clip was coming next.  I wish I had that much time to while away the day nowadays.

O is for Old Sydney Town, NSW

I love living history museums where I can immerse myself in a moment in history.  The one I know the best is Sovereign Hill in Ballarat that recreates a gold rush town.  It is great for a spot of panning for gold and eating those red horsehead lollipops.  I have fond memories of Old Sydney Town, just north of Sydney, where we went when I was 14 years old.  I had read and watched on tv about the history of colonisation of Australia and could recognise names and liefstyles.  Though I don't remember seeing anything in Old Sydney Town about the Aboriginal people that the settlement had displaced.  I am sure it would be very different today if it was still open.  I also loved the Swan Hill Pioneer Village and remember enjoying being there with my siblings in the old school house and taking it in turns to be the teacher.  We loved playing schools as kids so a real classroom was great!

P is for Port Arthur , Tasmania

This is the most difficult place to write about.  It is the ruins of a convict settlement near Hobart.   I went there when I was 20 and had fun with my school friend.  Port Arthur offered horrific stories of solitary confinement, young boys doing hard labour, and the isle of the dead where prisoners were buried.  We even did a ghost tour that bored my friend but I was more susceptible.  One of the nicest parts of going there was staying with Jim and Sally in their Seascape guesthouse.  They were so kind to us.  On our first night they helped us work out where to go for dinner and even spoke to local people to organise transport there and back.  It was awful to hear about the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996.  But I didn't take as much notice of current affairs as I do now.  So it was years later that I realised that the guesthouse where we stayed was the place that was burnt after the owners were murdered.  When I returned to Hobart in 2008 I could not face going to Port Arthur as it was too depressing. 

Q ifs for Queenscliff, Victoria

Queenscliff is a place I used to go to often to cross the Heads or the Rip where Bass Straits meets Port Phillip Bay.  At first we would take the passenger ferry, which often bobbed about in the rip.  I barely remember that ferry to Sorrento but I do remember that we often sat outside to help with the seasickness, and sometimes looked over at the swell of the ocean in the ferry's wake.  There was nothing like stepping off the ferry with shaky legs and stepping on terra firma with great relief.  My mum would tell us how rare the Queenscliff black lighthouse was, and we went on tours of its maritime history.  Fort Queenscliff was one of Australia's coastal defences, important for being situated at the Heads where any ships would enter Port Phillip Bay towards Melbourne.  As a kid I found it hard to tell the difference between Queenscliff and Queensland, and often thought people heading to tropical Queensland were just going up the road.

In 1987 the new car ferry replaced the little passenger ferry.  My toddler niece would call it the "big boat" and it seemed huge.  This was a hovercraft with more car park than passenger seats.  The convenience of taking the car on the ferry was great but the extra expense made it less practical.  And the wooden pier was replaced by a modern concreate expanse for the queues during busy periods.  I don't go to Queenscliff so often nowadays but I do occasionally go to the Bellarine Peninsula - whether for holidays at Ocean Grove, to visit a friend at her holiday house in Point Lonsdale, to visit the Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary, to eat at the cafe in Diver Dan's hut at Barwon Heads or to go to the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington.

R is for Road trips, various

Road trips mean country bakeries, far away horizons, scenic drives, historic country pubs with cast iron balconies, tiny towns, large public gardens with the obligatory fountain, quirky signs, bluestone ruins, and windmills.  Driving long distances is not my favourite thing to do but I do love seeing country towns and the views along the wide open road that I would not otherwise see.  I've taken roadtrips to Sydney, Adelaide, Port Fairy, Orange, Canberra, the Grampians among other places.

As a kid roadtrips meant cramming into a car with 6 siblings, with one memorable drive to Sydney by the coast on the Princes Highway in a station wagon with luggage packed around the two kids in back-facing seats in the boot.  I loved that we stopped at a caravan park in Eden called the Garden of Eden on that trip.  One of my favourite road trip memories is driving through Mt Gambier on the way home from Adelaide as it was getting dark and everyone was getting tired.  We saw the lighted sign of a well known hotel chain and my parents had not energy to resist getting a room there.  It was a really nice hotel and we enjoyed our unexpected stay.

S is for Sorrento

As you can see in my Queenscliff memories, we often got the ferry to Sorrento when I was a kid.  When I was quite small, my mum's family would often holiday on the Mornington Peninsula.  I remember one rambling holiday house where we toasted jaffles in the fire and ran around in the big garden pretending our ping pong bats (or tennis racquets?) were guitars and then marvelling at a sun shower.  I also have vague memories of the Sorrento Aquarium.  Some time before I reached high school, my grandparents bought a house in Rye for holidays and weekends and they eventually moved there upon retirement.  

We would take the ferry (before the car ferry) and pile into my grandfather's VW beetle and my grandmother's little corona.  My grandfather would remark on all the migrant families having picnics on the shore when it was holiday time.  Then we would have a BBQ at their place surrounded by tea trees and head out to of the bay beaches.  We didn't go to the dangerous ocean back beaches.  For some longer holidays, my parents drove the long way around the bay so that when we arrived at my grandparents home we had our van that we could all fit in.  One of my favourite place names to pass was Tootgarook and I loved driving along Point Nepean Road by the seaside.  The beaches at Sorrento, Rye, Rosebud and Blairgowrie are lovely with calm blue seas and sandy shores.

T is for Trephina Gorge, NT
I have had a few trips to Alice Springs for work. It is such a remote town in the middle of the desert.  I never got to Uluru (which I discovered is a plane trip away) but enjoyed seeing the MacDonald Ranges from my hotel window.  One of the most memorable trips was out of town to an Indigenous conference in a large marquee with two pedestal fans at the front in 40 C weather.  It was so hot that even my absent-minded manager was concerned for my health.  Some people camped nearby and told us about the snake that they saw.  There were plans for a conference dinner at Trephina Gorge but the weather was not promising so the dinner was moved to another venue out of town.  Some colleagues and I visited Trephina Gorge after the conference and I was so amazed by the scenery that I was sad we had not had our dinner there.

U is for Underground caves, Margaret River, WA

Driving back from Albany to Perth, we stopped at Margaret River to visit the underground caves.  The photo above is of the entrance to the caves.  It was fascinating to descend into the Lake Cave and marvel at the stalactites hanging from the ceiling of a huge cave with a river running through it.  I have a photo from inside the cave but it is so dim you can just see the stalactites but not much more.  I suspect with today's cameras I would get a much better photo in that lighting.  The above photo is of the entrance.  If I was to go to Margaret River again, I would like to spend more time enjoying the good food the region has to offer.

V is for Violet town, Victoria

Violet Town is one of the small towns that the Hume Highway used to go through but now bypasses, so I only know I am passing there by the road signs.  I went there once to be bridesmaid at a friend's wedding at her parents' farm.  I can't remember how I got there but it was a beautiful outdoor wedding with bottle green and cream in the bride and bridesmaids outfits and the lovely vistas of the gentle hills and shady trees.  I had some mild asthma late at night and would have managed but my friend's sister was a doctor and insisted on driving me an hour to an all night chemist in the middle of the night because no one except the bride had ventolin - and we didn't want to disturb her wedding night.

W is for Waterfront Geelong, Victoria

Geelong was part of my life since I can remember.  When we were young it was the big smoke compared to our country town.  Frequenting beaches on the Mornington Peninsula and Great Ocean Road meant that Geelong's bay beaches were never attractive.  We were more likely to be spending our time at the Village Twin (cinema), the Art Gallery, the Geelong Library, the Malop Street Mall, the Pancake Parlour, the new Market Square shopping centre or the bluestone train station en route to Melbourne.  But as an adult the Geelong Waterfront has been given a new lease on life.

I have spent quite a bit of time walking along the waterfront and eating at its cafes such as the Wharf Shed with my family.  We took my nieces to the carousel and playgrounds, got family photos taken at Easter Beach, went on a ferris wheel with a friend, attended a refugee demonstration, and ate ice creams from a van.  I love the life-sized peg people, like in the above photo, you can see all along the waterfront.  They are great fun and reflect the history of Geelong.  I still don't swim at beaches at Geelong but I do love the liveliness of the Waterfront today.

X is for Xstravagant Sydney, NSW

The Sydney and Melbourne rivalry has always been fierce.  Melbourne is the cool moody goth dressed in black at a coffee shop.  Sydney is a glitzy big sister in cocktail bars with spectacular views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.  I first visited Sydney with family as a teenager, then frequently as a student when my younger sister lived there and later when I had a partner and child.  

Sydney has always felt a little extravagant: from the view from Sydney Tower and the luxury of Victoria Building shopping centre with my parents, to visiting the meticulously detailed museums and conferences in wharf sheds as a student, to taking part in the Mardi Gras in the early 1990s, to travelling the harbour on ferries with my daughter.  Circular Quay has always felt special with its views of the Opera House and the Bridge.  I have visited for work events, swam at the gorgeous city beaches and even travelled out to the Blue Mountains. 

Y is for Yarram, Victoria

My first visit to Yarram in Gippsland was to attend a friend's wedding at their farm.  We drove along a bush road with signs saying to beware wombats but we only saw them as roadkill.  On that visit we stayed in a cabin at a caravan park.   I returned recently with Sylvia and enjoyed visiting Tarra Bulga National Park. 

Z is for Zumsteins, Victoria

We had quite a few holidays at the Zumsteins in the Grampians.  It was a large house rented out by the RSL.  Next door was a paddock where kangaroos came to be fed by tourists.  We would have bbqs in the yard with the roos.  The above photo is a crop of my toddler brother patting a tame kangaroo.  We would go on bushwalks and occasionally drive into the town of Halls Gap.  I have been back a couple of times with Sylvia and still marvel at the beautiful landscape.  These days I don't think the houses where we stayed are there any more and the kangaroo grounds were disbanded after a kangaroo attacked a tourist.  I was really surprised this year to find there are quite a few Aboriginal rock art sites in the Grampians.  Something I never would have expected as a kid.

More travel compilations posts on Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:

About Me, Part 2 - mostly about travels (2008)
A-Z of my international travel (places and stories)
Travel in the 1990s - A-Z of changes 
Also see travel posts in reflections and reviews