47: Some ups and downs

Since my last post, I’ve had a birthday – number 47 to be exact. As is my usual birthday habit, I decided to take a long weekend and explore somewhere new – the last few years I’ve been to Stockholm, Ghent, and Barcelona. This year, another adventure beckoned.

I have known Swiss-S for about 15 years – we worked together in Melbourne and have ridden the rollercoaster of expat life in London at overlapping points in time. A couple of years ago, I watched him exchange I-do’s with Prosecco-G in a small Belgian village and now they live in Geneva with rescue dog, R. At his 40th birthday drinks do earlier this year (Swiss-S that is, not R), we agreed to ‘make a plan’ so at a dark and excruciatingly early hour last Saturday, I boarded a plane for Geneva. Here’s how things went down.

After a quick trip from the airport on the Swiss-ly efficient and air-conditioned train (it’s about the only air-conditioned thing in Geneva), we had a hello ‘coffee and chat’ before Swiss-S and I wandered down to the lake.

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An aaaw-dorable local family takes a dip

Next we headed to the Old Town where we climbed the 150-odd steps to enjoy the views from the South Tower of St Peter’s Cathedral…

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View from the South Tower, St Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva

…and then climbed down and back up the North Tower to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

We also visited the archaeological exhibition beneath the cathedral – I know it’s not for everyone but I’m fascinated by old stones and stuff.

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Old monk’s cell beneath St Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva – must have been a small monk.

After such exertion, it was time for a pick-me-up so we headed to a rooftop bar to check out the view again before heading further around the lake to pay homage to the Jet d’Eau with a dash along the old stone pier beneath its spray.

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Evening number one started out with a drinks cruise on the lake, a very pleasant way to enjoy the warm weather, clean air and magnificent views. Each ticket included two drinks and at first, we got a bit excited when we saw that cocktails were included.

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They may look harmless (as well as cheap) but after one, we realised that these were pure alcohol (there was no mixer included in that one glass!). Sensible Swiss-S purchased a bottle of something soft with our second round so we didn’t end up pie-eyed on pouches. It probably goes without saying that we were really ready for dinner by the time we disembarked.

Day two took an international turn with a trip into France to Chamonix. Our first order of business was a trip up, up, up the mountain (two cable cars and an elevator) to Aiguille du Midi to admire the panoramic views of Mont Blanc.

This is a picture of the information board showing the view from the lookout…

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…and this is what we saw.

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‘Limited’ visibility – don’t worry, we were warned when we bought our tickets.

Nevertheless, we rejoiced in the snow…

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It was actually snowing as we stood there – but it had to be done.

…stepped out into the void…

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You can just make out the cliff face beneath our feet. It must be super freaky when you can see everything below.

…and had a rather pleasant lunch at the highest restaurant in Europe.

In the afternoon we took the train up another mountain to see the glacier and visit the ice cave

Did I mention that there are 430 steps down to the ice caves? Oh yes, and that means 430 steps back up. After yesterday’s cathedral climb and a morning at altitude, we were completely done in when we finished here – a crepe and coffee pick-me-up was essential before the 90 minute drive home. Lucky for us we also found one of Prosecco-G’s mixed CDs to keep us entertained on the road.

Evening number two proved rather festive with a boozy barbecue at the apartment. And at midnight, my big day arrived with a ‘happy birthday’ and a few surprises from my fabulous hosts.

After all the food, fresh air and alcohol, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I slept very well that night.

August 1st is Switzerland’s National Day (nice of them to do this for my birthday, wouldn’t you say?) and with a festive feeling still in the air, we all piled into Prosecco-G’s Beetle and headed to a local winery for brunch. I had raclette (among other things) – it was delicious!

The afternoon was spent driving around the area, admiring the scenery and making the most of the warm sunny weather.

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Once back in town again, it was an ice-cream by the lake with Swiss-S and R to cap off a chokkas weekend. Then there was just enough time to pack, freshen up and head to the airport.

So that was my sensational Swiss celebration – full of fresh air, glorious scenery and plenty of laughs and good times with my fabulous friends. Not a bad way to birthday, I’d say.

Wonder what I’ll get up to next year?

Spring shoots

Today is the May Day Bank Holiday in the UK and after a basking in some long overdue Spring sunshine yesterday, it’s time for me to keep my word and share my last two months of gadding about (which, with Mum’s 3-week visit smack-bang in the middle, pretty much disappeared before I knew it).

There have been a few highlights of the stage-and-screen variety since February starting with a ‘goosebumps all-over’ moment as Glenn Close filled the London Coliseum with her performance of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. The BBC ran a gripping six-part adaption of John le Carre’s The Night Manager that starred Hugh Laurie – in fine and menacing form – and Tom Hiddleston which had me transfixed on Sunday nights. (For those of you who don’t know Hugh, think House and Black Adder.)

And I saw a couple of really great movies – Spotlight and Eye in the Sky, the latter being a charity screening at my local cinema, The Phoenix. In his pre-film talk, director Gavin Hood explained that the technology featured in Eye in the Sky is real and out there as we speak. Mind-blowing stuff.

There were also some things I expected to love more than I did. The Maids at Trafalgar Studios was edgy and well-acted but a little too crazy for me and Immortal Tango contained patches of thrilling Argentine Tango but was brought low by too much tinkering with the quintessential drama and passion of the dance. Based on how much I loved The Night Manager, I had another stab at reading le Carre’s novel only to remember how convoluted and unwieldy I find his writing. And reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was spoiled by knowing ‘who dunnit’, having seen it on TV earlier this year (another brilliant adaption from the Beeb).

There have been some firsts as well.

I attended my first political debate on the EU referendum at the London Palladium. It was chockers with people and points of view and while it didn’t really help me to make a more informed decision, I did leave with my view of politics and politicians intact – grandstanding and emotive argument just don’t do it for me.

However what did do it for me was Painting the Modern Garden, an exhibition featuring artists from Monet to Matisse (and many in between) on my first sortie to the Royal Academy.

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I also visited Poole, site of the second largest natural deep-water harbour in the world (after Sydney).

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Dorset Quay, Poole

Last but not least, April alone has meant birthdays galore. It started with my two favourite little dudes turning 3 with Mum, Seattle-A celebrating a week later. And on the 30th, my good friend of more than 15 years, Swiss-S, finally turned 40 on the same day that high school friend, Aussie-J, marked her slightly more advanced passage through life (although she’s still younger than yours truly).

And the great Bard himself, Shakespeare celebrated his birthday on April 23rd, the same day as he popped his clogs 52 years later. There’s been much ado about this and for my part, this Bard-themed week has been book-ended by  Shakespeare Live! last weekend and a Shakespeare’s London walking tour on Saturday just gone with the Museum of London.

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Memorial to John Heminge and Henry Condell, the two actors who published Shakespeare’s First Folio in 1623 in St Mary Aldermanbury’s Garden.

In other news, I was very excited by the Monopoly-themed loos at Marylebone Station…

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I had to wait for everyone to leave the loos before taking these pics so no-one thought I was being weird or creepy (she says, posting them for all the world to see.)

…my fabulous new shoes…

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…and that fact that Spring finally ‘sprang’…

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Delicate Spring flowers  lined my street for about two weeks before they dropped to leave leafy green boughs behind them.

And I think that’ll do. Just as well that the month ended with a 3-day weekend…but the batteries are recharged and I’m ready to go again…

…come what May.

(Geddit? I just couldn’t resist a play on words.)

4 days in Stockholm: Celebrating me

Earlier this month, I spent 4 days welcoming a new city to the Gidday repertoire, Stockholm. It was also my birthday so you could say that my Stockholm city break was essentially a big fat Happy Birthday to me.  And after my arrival and check-in in the heart of Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) and some wandering and a canal cruise to get my bearings the afternoon prior, said birthday dawned bright and sunny and the delights of Djurgarden were beckoning.

After an invigorating 40 minute stroll from Gamla Stan along the water’s edge, my first official stop was the Vasa Museum. Everyone I mentioned my upcoming trip to recommended this and so at 10am on a Saturday, I joined the unexpectedly short queue and walked into the museum to see this…

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Yes, it’s so big I could not fit it all into the camera frame. I had another go later with my phone…

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The good ship Vasa is a warship that was built in the 1600s. It was the largest ship ever built at the time, able to carry 64 cannons (over 2 decks) and 450 people, and was commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf to bolster his aggressive campaign to bring the Baltic region to Sweden’s heel. If this was not through force then the sheer awe/terror inspired by the Vasa’s size and splendor was intended to intimidate his enemies into submission. The ship set sail from Stockholm Harbour on 10th August 1628…and capsized just off the southern tip of Djurgarden, a voyage of about 1300m.

Just to put this into perspective, I swim further than that – 1600m – each ‘dip‘.

Our animated guide Stefano explained it all very clearly. While the ship had been built to be taller (and more intimidating) than any before, its width had remained the same and when combined with 2 levels of open and fully loaded gun ports, all it took was a ‘puff’ of wind to send it toppling over. This is the view of the stern looking up from the water line – yes the water line, not from the bottom of the ship – I couldn’t fit all of that in.

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So Sweden’s most glorious and expensive PR campaign of the age sat at the bottom of Stockholm Harbour for more than 330 years before its rediscovery (in 1956), salvage and conservation. The museum was opened in 1990, less than a nautical mile from the site of the disaster.

This museum is definitely one of my Stockholm highlights. There’s loads to see and do from the numerous viewing platform levels around the reconstructed Vasa itself (98% original), videos of the salvage and conservation as well as free guided tours and visits to the recreated gun deck and showcases of items retrieved during the salvage operation. It was also my first decent wi-fi access since my arrival so whilst watching the salvage film in the auditorium, my phone was inundated with a veritable deluge of lovely birthday wishes (and thanks to those of you who sent them).

After 2 and a half hours, I emerged into the warm sunshine to meander a little further along Djurgarden’s main drag in search of sustenance (including some pretty delicious Swedish apple cake)…

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…and a blast from my past: Benny, BjornFrida and Agnetha – ABBA!

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You could make The ABBA Museum quite an interactive experience if you like that sort of thing. You can record yourself belting out an ABBA tune in the sound booth or make your own music video. You can even sit in the ABBA Arrival helicopter  or perform on the ABBA stage alongside Benny, Frida, Bjorn and Agnetha.

For the record, this wasn’t what what I was up for. Instead I spent a couple of nostalgic hours here, listening to the myriad of interviews with the band themselves and to all of the songs I sang along to as a child (as well as the questionable-sounding results of a couple of young fans in the non-sound-proof sound booth). It was great fun and really fantastic to see the important part that ABBA’s Australian record label, RCA, played in building their fan base and huge success Down Under.

With a few more hours of daylight still ahead of me, I decided to venture a little further along the road to visit Skansen.

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Skansen is in open-air museum and zoo that has been in operation since 1891. It combines history – 150 buildings from different eras from all over Sweden have been re-assembled here…

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…with fantastic views…

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…and an opportunity to play ‘Spot the [insert relevant animal]’…

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After a few hours of wandering around Skansen’s 75 acres and a celebratory ice- cream (after all, it was my birthday) it was time to head back to the hotel and put my feet up for an hour or two before heading out again for dinner.

Bistro Pastis, a tiny French affair, is tucked away on a cobbled street running down from Stortorget in Gamla Stan and in spite of it being a busy Saturday night, I managed to nab a table outside. The food was absolutely delicious – a warm beetroot and goats cheese salad followed by a fillet of shark (my first) in a champagne sauce – and all washed down with a divine glass of bordeaux. And as the Swedish twilight stretched well into the evening, spending a relaxed dinner enjoying both the view and the gentle flirting from my lovely waiter was the perfect way to end a day designed to mark the beginning of yet another year.

Happy birthday to me and may the year ahead be filled with many more moments like this!


Entry fees (in case you are interested!)

Vasa Museum – 130 SEK

ABBA Museum – 255 SEK

Skansen – 170 SEK

And 2 courses, wine and coffee at Bistro Pastis came to 389 SEK. This was after the 25% discount my waiter offered because ‘he was so busy and I had to keep waiting’ (And he didn’t even know it was my birthday!) This girl’s still got it….