Saturday, September 14, 2019

Portugal Itinerary

My plans so far:

Much of it based on this

Sept 23 Mon.  dep Perth QF 9 at 6.45 pm Terminal 4
Est. journey time 17.20 hrs non-stop

Sept 24 Tues. dep London Heathrow  BA458 7.20 am Terminal 5
arr Madrid Barajas 10.50 am. Terminal 4 S
dep Madrid Barajas Air Europa 1143 at 2.50 pm.
Porto: Passenger Hostel

Sept 25 Wed.  Train to Pinhao
Vintage House Duoro Hotel

Sept 26 & 27 Thurs & Fri
Pinhao: Quinta de la Rosa Hotel

Sept 28 & 29 Sat & Sun
Porto House of Sandeman Hotel

Sept 30 Mon. Train to Coimbra
Sept 30, 1 & 2 October Coimbra Olive Street House

Oct 3, 4 & 5 Thurs, Fri, Sat: Lisbon Corpo Santo Hotel
Oct 6  Sun: Lisbon Five Sins Hostel

Oct 7 & 8 Sun & Mon Evora: Noble House 

Oct 9 & 10 Lagos ??? tba.

Oct 11, 12 & 13 Fri, Sat, Sun: Tavira Pousada Hotel

Oct 14 Mon: bus to Seville; hotel tba.

Oct 15 Tues: train to Madrid: ?? Barcelo Imagine Hotel

Oct 16 Wed dep Madrid Barajas QF8142 (EK0142) 3.20 pm.
arr Dubai 12.45 am. Dep Dubai QF8420 (EK0420) 2.45 am

Oct 17 Thurs arr Perth 5.35 Terminal 1.

Holiday reading:  (ebooks for those long flights)

Published 3 Oct

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Celebration at Sandalfords

A beautiful Spring day of 25 degrees. Time for a gourmet lunch at Sandalfords Winery in the Swan Valley. C was celebrating her birthday belatedly, thus avoiding last Sunday (Fathers Day) when all the venues would be packed.

We had a little stroll around the gardens first and admired the old vines which are just beginning to shoot.  Soon I’ll be seeing the vintage in Portugal.

Some people actually arrived by helicopter!

Starters: sourdough with balsamic, dukkha and hummus

E's gnocchi with mushroom sauce

My venison stew with aligot,
last tasted in France

Luscious dessert: chocolate creme brûlée

JL's dessert of Turkish rice pudding
 with sesame seed ice cream.
He wouldn't eat the edible flower!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Wildflowers at Wireless Hill

Last chance to see the best of the wildflowers in the Wireless Hill Nature Reserve:

Kangaroo Paws

Cats Paws

Swan River Myrtle

Parrot Bush

Parrot Bush close up

Banksia cone

Spider Orchid

Bunny Orchids

Bunny Orchids



Blue Tongue Lizard sunning himself and trying to hide

Swan River from Wireless Hill lookout

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Night train to Lisbon

The book, the film, the trip...

I’ve just read the book and watched the DVD. This is part of my research for my forthcoming trip to Portugal. The novel has received enthusiastic reviews, but I found it rather long-winded and I skipped over many philosophical passages. The film concentrated on the exciting plot, without the philosophy. It deals with the resistance to Salazar’s dictatorial regime in Portugal, a subject not often aired (unlike the French Resistance to the Nazis which is much better known).

Next month I’m off to Portugal, though no night train will be involved. With my ongoing knee problem (not bad enough for surgery apparently, but still painful for long distance walking) I’ve planned a backpacking trip on the country’s rail network. I’ll be visiting many of the top spots on the Portuguese Camino but as a tourist. 

Starting in Porto, I'll be taking a slow train up the Duoro Valley as far as Pinhao, hoping to see the grape harvest. Then back to Porto to take in a few sights I missed last time, such as the Lello Bookshop, which was the inspiration for Hogwarts library in Harry Potter. On to Lisbon via the university town of Coimbra (beautiful ancient library and cathedral). Four nights in Lisbon, with a side trip to Sintra: hope all the steps and cobbles do not cause my knee to give out. Further south to Evora and maybe down to the Algarve after that. I'll miss the camaraderie of being on the Camino, where pilgrims stick together, instantly recognisable to each other even without the shell on their backpack; but I'll have more time and energy to see all the sights - and even do some shopping (only one custard tart per day, though!)

Lisbon Resistance Museum

Monday, July 29, 2019

Winter in Perth

Nothing much doing here: cold nights and warm afternoons. Wish we were in Broome!

Full moon setting over the city at 7.00 a.m.

Kid takes selfie; Grandma cooks dinner!

On my keep-fit walks (now shorter than they used to be) I’ve been taking photos of trees and shrubs in flower at this time of year:

Weird and wonderful plants,
taller than me!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

St Petersburg

Reading Stalingrad has set me thinking about my trip to St Petersburg in the year 2000.  I stayed at the International Youth Hostel, where you paid in US$ and they arranged the visa for you. I was allocated a female dormitory room for 5, upstairs, but the few showers were on the ground floor. The thing I remember most about the place was the ersatz food served for breakfast. Everything was a poor imitation of what we had in the West. The "strawberry" jam was pink and thin, the "cheese" had no taste and the "cornflakes" were a perfect example of the old joke that the packet contained more nutrition than what was inside. I felt sorry for the Russians who had never tasted the real thing - but perhaps their breakfast of local stuff was probably a lot better than what was served to overseas visitors.

The other thing I remember about St Petersburg was that no-one (absolutely no-one) spoke English. Finding your way around was a challenge, as it was necessary to master some of the Cyrillic script so that you could read street signs or get off at the right subway station. The youth hostel was close to the Moscow Station, but there was a 5 pointed roundabout from which it was easy and disconcerting to take the wrong exit and get completely lost.

I did encounter one Russian with perfect English on the night train from Tallin. But he was there for a scam. As the train crossed from Estonia into Russia in the middle of the night, he rapped on the compartment doors with a metal spoon, asking everyone to fill in a currency declaration form and to "prepare for an inspection". By great good fortune, I had been warned about this by some British tourists in Tallin, who told me to fill in the form correctly down to the last cent. This I did, and the Russian "official" seemed nonplussed when I handed him the form and showed him my small amount of money without fear and trembling. In the compartment next door, I heard a fierce argument going on when the Canadian man was in big trouble for just giving a round figure. In effect he was being asked for a bribe to be able to continue on his travels.

St Petersburg was not all bad.  I went three days running to the Hermitage (using my International Student Card - as a mature student!) I also enjoyed eating Beef Stroganoff and caviare in a posh restaurant. What we get here is indeed ersatz caviare!

"unflinching portrayal of backbreaking labour"
I was keen to visit the home of the artist Ilya Repin, whose painting Barge Haulers on the Volga I had once seen in a travelling exhibition.  This involved a train journey. The train was so crowded that I found it difficult to see out, in order to read the station signs. Somehow I got there and asked the way to the house from a well-dressed businessman, by showing him the picture in my guide book. He pointed vaguely and mimed "steps". I felt it was quite an achievement on my part! People who go on package tours miss out on a lot.

Back at the youth hostel, the bed opposite me (which had been occupied by a girl whose stuff was still scattered around) remained un-slept in. Should I alert the authorities in case something untoward had happened to her? I agonised for another day, when fortunately she reappeared after partying! The beds were hard and the blanket thin - maybe she had found somewhere better to spend the night.

Thursday, July 18, 2019


This huge novel will become the War and Peace of the twentieth century. There is a newly published English translation, a labour of love which makes sense of the many drafts written by Vasily Grossman in the Soviet era. He was a war correspondent during WW2 and documented the German advance towards Stalingrad. He had first hand experience of the horrors of war and its impact on ordinary lives.

This will be a challenging read for me. My usual bedtime reading consists of murder mysteries which I can demolish in a couple of days. This book might take me a couple of years. After a few chapters, I am impressed by the level of detail Grossman reveals. For example, a description of the peasant lifestyle of Vavilov, who receives his call-up papers early in the piece, resembles the abject poverty yet apparent contentment of an earlier Russian era. How could this be 1940? Vavilov leaves for the war, knowing he will never return to the life he loves. He cannot bear to go, but he has no choice.