Let’s make it a good one

Here we are at New Year’s Eve again. The year’s gone by so quickly and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was trying to stay cool last New Year’s Eve Down Under. Time flies doesn’t it? And speaking of fun, I’ve managed quite a bit of it over the last 12 months.

After returning from my bi-annual pilgrimage to Melbourne (and a fab top-up visit from Lil Chicky) in January, travelling-for-work was much less frequent this year but I managed to find some cash and conquer some new frontiers. Ten days in Seattle with Seattle-A heralded my first trip to Canada, I spent four fabulous days in Stockholm at the start of August and then jetted off for a week of sun, sand and a whole swag of reading in Mauritius in November.

Speaking of reading, I smashed my book-a-week target by 25% (I read 65) and 8 of them got a Gidday 5-star rating (that’s 12.5%). I discovered Henning Mankell recently and will be reading more of his Kurt Wallander series next year. And while it doesn’t count in 2015’s quota, I am in the middle of my first Philip Kerr – March Violets with protagonist PI Bernard Gunther – and if things continue as they are, the new year looks set to start with another big fat 5 star rating. Awesome.

There have been many theatre outings over the year, Death of a Salesman being one that I studied at high school yet hadn’t seen and the most recent being Hangmen which featured a cracking ‘noir’ plot and really great characterisation. I’ve also been back to Sadlers Wells to be swept away by the Rambert Dance Company and transported to Spain at the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

I’ve upped my Live Screening ante enjoying some new (well new to me) Shakespeare – Love’s Labors Lost, Othello and The Winters Tale – and several operas including my first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. Live Screening also delivered a theatre highlight – Man and Superman – and a new crush, Ralph Fiennes. When seeing his face alight with joy in taking the final bows, well I may have had a little weak-at-the-knees moment…okay maybe not so little.

I’m finishing the year with a two week staycation. Christmas was spent with friends in SE London and aside from an outing to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral with another friend yesterday, I have just enjoyed being at home. I’ve still got five days off before I go back to work so plenty of time of time to complete my Christmas jigsaw puzzle, finish March Violets and catch up with friends for a little Star Wars, drinks and dinner.

It’s almost midnight here, Bryan Adams is rockin’ it out on the telly and before long, the crackle of fireworks will be heard overhead as those locally organised start the new year with a bang. All that remains is for me to wish you the very best for 2016…

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Let’s make it a good one.

Victorian vista – part two

A quick recap – I went to Seattle to visit my friend, we decided to nip up to Victoria (the one in Canada) on the clipper and spent our first afternoon wandering around Butchart Gardens and eating ice-cream. We then returned to our hotel for a little rest and reconnoitre while contemplating this view…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

We had a great dinner that evening at 10 Acres Bistro, a local bar and bistro where the menu is based on what’s available from the farm, the 10 acres of the name, on the Saanich Peninsula. The portions were huge and delicious and it was just as well we had a 20 minute stagger back to the hotel to help digest it all.

But this was just the beginning.

The morning dawned, cool and blue-skied and it was time to tackle our second culinary milestone: breakfast at Blue Fox Cafe.

Blue Fox Cafe

This had consistent rave reviews wherever we looked and we were not disappointed – it was fresh and scrumptious both in the decor and the dishes. We made our way through a couple of enormous plates (almost), picked at the fattest slab of French toast we’d ever seen (smothered with gorgeous local maple syrup of course) and chatted with a local couple at the next table who had been coming to the Blue Fox for years. (We found ourselves at the effect of many conversations with locals that started with ‘oh I just love your accent’ over the two days.)

This was by far the best meal of the trip (the others were fabulous so this is high praise indeed) and I would absolutely recommend you getting yourself there – apparently it’s crazy busy on the weekend but at 10.30-ish on a Wednesday morning, we only had a ten minute wait.

Absolutely stuffed, we headed back towards the harbour, stopping along the way to a) buy a loaf of the honey, apple and raisin bread to take home (it came with my omelette and we both fell in love with it – disappointingly we were informed that it was only made on Friday’s…sob!) and b) check out some of the local beauty services on offer.

Frilly Lily

Our next stop was the Royal BC Museum (or Royal Museum of British Colombia)…

Museum of BC

…where we spent a couple of hours wandering around the myriad of exhibits on Natural History…

woolly mammoth

…and Human History.

Native fashion

Totem

Human History

To coin a local turn of phrase, this was awesome. The exhibits were really interactive and atmospheric and it seemed that around every corner there was a new way to immerse ourselves/learn something. Since our return, a lot of people I’ve spoken to have a) admitted that they did not visit it and b) recommended the Legislature Building tour but we were both so thrilled with our visit that I haven’t yet felt that we should have spent either less time there or spent it somewhere else.

Next it was time for some general wandering to admire the sights.

Said Legislature Building…

The Empress overlooking the harbour. The most famous hotel in Victoria and advertised purveyor of excellent afternoon teas. We did not stop as we had other foodie pursuits in our sights.

The Empress

There was traditional architecture galore along the harbourside walk to our hotel – this guest house was my favourite.

Victorian architectureAlong the waterfront stands a statue of Captain James Cook – yes the same one that foundered on Endeavour Reef off the NE coast of Australia in 1770. Clearly not put off, Cook continued his explorations and in 1778, was looking for the entry to the North West Passage when he stumbled across Victoria Harbour. (This guy really got around.) It took another 65 years for the Hudson’s Bay Company to build their fort on this site in 1843.

This mini Empire State Building also stands on the waterfront but atop the Tourism Bureau…for the life of me I cannot remember its significance but the photo does confirm that we were blessed with gorgeously sunny almost-t-shirt weather.

A mini Empire State Buiding

We also indulged in a spot of shopping and added shoes, little dude apparel and for Seattle-A, a selection from local chocolatier of note, Rogers.

Chocoholics Heaven at Rogers

With the afternoon advancing, it was time to tackle foodie milestone number three, a spot of fish and chips at Red Fish Blue Fish (a spot of Dr Seuss always adds a little something to a day). At 3pm, the wait was about 25 minutes so Seattle-A held the line…

The lunch line at 3pm

…while yours truly snagged a couple of seats with a view.

Harbour view from lunch stop at Red Fish Blue Fish

Needless to say we made short work of things – falling-apart fish, lightly battered pickles (a Pacific North West specialty), crunchy golden chips – and washed it all down with a craft brewed ginger ale from Sparkmouth.

Post scrummy fish and chips carnage

So with our last supper under our belts, it was time to loosen things a notch, collect our bags from the hotel and head to the clipper terminal for the trip back to Seattle.

Time to go home

We had such a great time together, enjoying both the discovery of somewhere new and blazing a culinary trail together and in pulling together these two trip posts, I was reminded – somewhat appropriately – of this quote from Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish which seemed to sum up our northern adventure…

Dr Seuss Today was fun.And that, my friends, was that!

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Helpful website if you are visiting:  http://www.tourismvictoria.com/

Things to do/restaurant sections were great reference points for us. That it all links through to Tripadvisor also means that you can see what people really thought and it was the Tripadvisor rating that drove us to choose the Royal BC Museum over everything else.

A Town Called Snohomish…

I have been travelling this week and with work taking me to the US of A for a few days of meetings, I decided to add a few days more and pay a visit to Team-M in Seattle

It’s been eight months since I last saw Seattle-A and all of her boys and while I turned up ready for an intensive cuddle top up, as far as the little dudes went, well young memories are not so long it seems and it’s taken few hours before screaming and suspicious looks were replaced by a cuddle (O) and cheeky grin or two (R).

Today was crisp, cold and clear so we bundled everyone into the car and headed off to the small historic township of Snohomish. Yes, it is a real town, founded in the mid-1800s with a population of less than 10,000 people (2010 census). 

Anyway I felt the afternoon was already looking promising when we crossed paths with this Waffle Wagon on the way there…

…so as soon as we arrived it was off to the Snohomish Bakery for a spot of lunch.


We then meandered down the main street, lined with antique shops and stores exhorting passersby to ‘buy local’. The flat-fronted buildings really gave it an old frontier town feel and I particularly liked these two.

A short stroll off the Main Street gave us a different perspective on the town, surrounded as it was by stark and beautifully pristine scenery…

...while this totem by the water presumably gave a nod to the local Native American tribe, sdoh-doh-hohsh, for whom the township was named.

And just as we were heading back to the car, we came across the Snohomish Pie Company. It would have been rude not to pop in, so we did emerging five minutes later with a bag of goodly vittels and some words of wisdom…

…and yes, yes it did. That chocolate pecan pie did indeed fix everything (including fixing a few more lifetimes on my hips!)

So that folks was my afternoon in Snohomish. Now, back to Operation Cuddles…

Let The Festivities Commence…

Today is December 1st and that can mean only one thing:

It’s been a hive of festive activity at Gidday HQ today. First order of business was the construction of the Mum’s traditional seasonal supplement, the advent calendar…


It took me a while to find today’s window, hidden as it was in a back street…


Then there was a spot of present wrapping to make sure I could get some Seattle-bound goodies into tomorrow’s post (Seattle-A, look out for Santa-Kym’s delivery very soon.)

Then it was time for that favourite of all my favourite Christmas things – decorating the tree.

I missed out on this last year between lounging about in Langkawi and meandering around Melbourne – and since Christmas 2011 I’ve travelled to Krakow and Amsterdam (among many other places) and have added a few more objets d’Christmas to my horde. 

Needless to say I spent a happy couple of hours laying out all of my carefully wrapped ornaments and awarding them their leafy homes for the next month…


And last but by no means least, Alfie Bear has a new Christmas hat…


So it’s all systems go here at Gidday HQ.

Let the festivities commence!

Salutations From Seattle…

Salutations from Seattle peeps!

While we’ve been managing to get out and about each day during my Seattle sojourn, this has been somewhat limited to shorter outings that we can manage with the babies in tow, who by the way, have been rather busy melting Aunty Kym’s heart. And needless to say blogging has taken a back seat while I soak up as much Seattle-A time as possible while I’m here. 

But as the boys had a hot date with the paediatrition last Thursday (and Mummy and Daddy had the whole deal covered more than adequately), I decided to make myself scarce and get into Seattle for a day of sightseeing and shopping.

Seattle is a relatively ‘new’ town having been founded in 1851. That’s more than 70 years after the First Fleet sailed into Australia’s Sydney Cove, so this is an unusual position for an Aussie, used to being the youngster in the global village, to be in. It is also reasonably compact and very walkable, the streets are wide and tree-lined and there are coffee shops absolutely everywhere where you can rejuvenate. And despite my general aversion to Starbucks, the coffee, service and free wi-fi were both excellent and eminently helpful.

All up I spent six hours and only covered the Downtown area. Arriving at Westlake on the express bus from Overlake Transit Centre (near Husband of Seattle-A’s work and a bargain at only $2.50 for a single 20min trip), I picked a few choice morsels from the guide book and just wandered around in between (more on that in another post). 

And the highlights? Well the weather was absolutely glorious but I have a feeling that was more good luck than good planning and quite frankly there’s not much anyone can do about that. But for spectacular views no matter the weather, take the express lift up to the Chinese Room on the 35th floor of the Smith Tower just around the corner from Pioneer Square.


The 36-42nd floors are occupied by a penthouse (yes, just one penthouse) but the 360 degree observation deck around the 35th floor is fantastic. Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s a shot of the ‘other’ observation deck, the Space Needle. According to my Frommer’s guide, you get to pay about $17.50 for the privilege of being rotated (versus walking around the 35th floor of the Smith Tower for $7.50).

The Mountain is out! Mt Rainier looms through the clouds, an apparently unusual occurrence so I was thrilled to get this ‘on film’.  

A glorious view over Elliott Bay to the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.

After you’ve had your fill of amazing views, it’s just a couple of blocks down the hill to Pioneer Square and into Doc Maynard’s to take the 90 minute Underground Tour of Seattle ($17.50 per person). Filled with historic sound bites, this unique tour takes you beneath the streets of Downtown Seattle to explore this outpost of the Pacific Northwest’s seamy past. And me being, well me, I bought the book that forms the basis for the tour, Sons of the Profits by Bill Speidel. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

School buses lined up in Pioneer Square.
 
Doc Maynard’s: your underground tour starts here!
 
Heading underground…

 …to see the city from another perspective.


And a visit to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without a wander through Pike Place Market.

There’s plenty of fish to buy (among other things)…
 
 …but don’t forget to give a nod to the original Starbucks. These happy buskers were playing a few tunes when I wandered by.

Speaking of nods, being back in the States reminds me just how wonderful it is to be served. From the locals in the street to the staff in the stores and restaurants, people cannot do enough to help and want to make sure you have an amazing time in their city. Something that the rest of the world could take a few notes on.

And finally it was time for a spot of shopping at Macy’s who were having a sale – God Bless America I say!


And after finding some great bargains and nothing less than exceptional service, I only had a short block to walk to take my tired feet and satisfied smile back to the bus for the ride ‘home’.

ps…You may have noticed that I didn’t race around to try and squeeze everything in (as I am usually wont to do). Well I figure this might just be the first of many visits – presuming Team-M will have me – so I thought I’d leave some stuff for next time!

The Good Book…

Lately, the e-book has come in for a bit of schtick.

At the end of February, Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan said said ‘E-readers are representative of our mindless embrace of all that purports to be ‘progress”. Then a month later fellow blogger Russell Ward described the Kindle as ‘cold and calculating in its determination to deliver the electronic word seamlessly to you’.

Ouch!

Admittedly I was a slow convert, clinging on to both the physical and the ritual around my serious book habit. And I still love a good book shop browse. In fact last week I had an hour to kill before meeting A-used-to-be-down-the-hill and I spent it wandering through Foyles at St Pancras Station, perusing the latest dust jackets, dipping into travel guides (I’m off to Rome for a little city break soon) and flicking through the pages of Titanic-themed tomes in the special event section. Lovely stuff.

But the thought of finding more space in my already full bookshelf, packed with old theatre programs, illustrated coffee table books – for which I have no coffee table – and those volumes dubbed with ‘re-read me status’ or acquired in youthful nostalgia (my hard back Jane Austen set and the 7-book Chronicles of Narnia being a couple of these) before my Kindle conversion, holds little allure.

On the other hand my Kindle – christened Audrey for her stylish simplicity – goes everywhere with me. There is nothing cool or calculating about immersing myself in a few quick chapters while on the bus, waiting for a friend, in the boarding lounge and even before lights out at night. Audrey is always at the ready and the Kindle shop only a few clicks away. Apart from my favourites, both old and new, I’ve discovered authors I would never have come across and been able to support the burgeoning efforts of a couple of budding writers in my blogging circle – just check out 2011’s Book Nook numbers 51, 55a and 57.

Granted a Kindle is not the be all and end all. After all, there is nothing like a travel book for sitting on the plane, standing on a street corner in a new city or sipping espresso in a funky cafe, marking the places to be seen with folded corners and scribbled annotations and plotting my next adventure(s).

And I haven’t quite managed the conversion of my magazine or Saturday Times newspaper habit yet but let’s face it, the only way to conquer the Samurai Sudoku or the cryptic version of the Jumbo Crossword is curled up on my couch, pen in hand, steaming coffee at my elbow.

But villifying the Kindle and all its counterparts seems a little extreme. Like laptops, smartphones and iPods, the e-reader is just another symbol of our increasingly mobile lives and to my mind, something that encourages the consumption of the written word in every place or space. And that can only be a good thing.

Books still have their place in my life. But for me the power lies in the storytelling.

And I get to take that everywhere.