The Occasional Tales of Ailsa B du Bois

From Ballarat to the world beyond…

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Archive for June, 2009

Back in Ballarat Again…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 11, 2009

We’re now back safely in our little, old, gold-rush city of Ballarat in Victoria, where it’s hovvering between minus two degree and plus four degree celcius.  It’s a frosty, crispy, misty affair, and oh so different to the scorching forty degree days we were experiencing only a week ago, on the other side of the world.  It’s been an absolutely amazing trip, and a lot of stimuli to try to reconcile, and make sense of, in a relatively condensed period of time.  We really packed immense cultural diversity into this trip.  I have so many vivid, and intensely visual, memories that will stay with me forever, and help inspire me for a long time to come.  Taking time out like that is so great for achieving some clarity on various personal aspirations, and Laurie and I certainly got a lot out of it that we’ll bring to fruition over the next several years of our lives.  Our daughter says she’s coming with us next time, and we’ve assured her we are never leaving her again.  She leapt into my arms at the airport, in her pyjama’s, and looked wildly happy to do so.  She’s so thrilled to have us back again, of course, and we’re extremely happy to be back with her again too.  Her reading has progressed in leaps and bounds since we left – she can now read whole paragraphs, and sounds her words out really well.  Must have something to do with all those postcards we sent her…  No… Seriously, it’s thanks to my Mum & Dad’s diligent, daily help with her homework and her bed-time readings while we were away.  We are so incredibly fortunate to have their support.  That I know for sure!

Anyway, it’s back to the routine of daily work and life for us both from Monday onwards.  So, now that I’ve recovered from my insanely strong 3 day bout of jet-lag, and culled my travel photo collection down to 1,110 images (!), I realise it’s probably time to put this little travel blog to bed.  It’s only been a partial insight into what we’ve been up to, of course, because you simply can’t document everything.  Initially, I started writing this blog ‘thing’ for my parents and my daughter, but then found that my brother and his wife were interested, and that my husband’s boss was interested, and that various friends were interested, and so it seems that various people have read it, and hopefully got something enjoyable out of it.  It’s such a bizarre thing to write what is essentially ‘a dear diary’ that is open for anyone, anywhere in the world to read.  It’s just been my own subjective take on things, obviously.  As I really don’t know who has been reading it, I’ve never endeavoured to cater for any tastes or view-points, other than my own.   In any case, I hope it’s been of value to those who have read it, or at the very least interesting…  I know I’ve enjoyed doing it, and if I can come up with a new topic to write about in due course, that may possibly be of broad interest, I’ll be giving it a go again.  In any case, farewell for now, wishing you well, and thank you for reading!

p.s. Planning a Hong Kong trip in a few years time…  (interested in seeing beyond the airport terminal!)

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The Palace, an Epicurean Market & the Thyssen

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 7, 2009

Spent our last day in Madrid gazing, with dropped jaws, at the extraordinary opulence of the Palacio Real, built for Joseph Bonaparte (Napolean’s bro) several hundred years ago.  It really defies desciption, as it is just so over the top.  The porcelein room is unbelievable, as is the throne room, and the likely value of the bulding and contents is completely beyond my comprehension.  Suffice to say that the current Spanish royals can’t bring themselves to live there, as it is clearly way beyond acceptable levels of indulgence for these curent times  (That said I’ve just spotted a bottle of whisky worth more than my whole home here in the Hong Kong Airport, so I suppose I’m just to poor for words, really…)  In any case, the Palacio Real offers a fascinating insight into the splendour of previous dynastic tastes in interior decorating.  It’s a must see in Madrid.

After that we wandered over towards the Plaza Mayor, and chanced upon a very civilised epicurean market-place at Plaza de San Miguel, on the way there.  You can buy modest sized rations of exquisite seafood bruscetta, or huge individual oysters, and all sorts of delicious delights, with a vermouth to wash it down.  Aside from being  a sort of epicurean fast-food emporium for well-heeled folk on the run, it also doubles as a fresh food market.  After examining all the fare on offer there, we went for a sav blanc in Plaza Mayor, and thought about how much nicer it is to sit in a plaza in the sunshine in Madrid on a Friday afternoon, than it is to spend a Friday working…  As this was our last day in Spain, such thoughts naturally cross one’s mind.  Irk…  That’s right…  Life is not an endless world tour – What a shame!  So, with that disturbing realisation in mind, we scurried off to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum to view yet more art-works while we still could.  A wide ranging collection, with some great cubist works.  What was particularly striking about the Thyssen was the colour of the walls throughout the space.  They’ve used a peachy rose colour throughout, which is an odd choice but it really works.  Being owned by a female entrepreneur, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, one might presume that this colour choice is her point of differentiation.  It does create a memorably warm ambience, albeit in a slightly claustrophobic 1980s fashion.

For our last night in Madrid, we went to Bar Labra for battered cod and vermouth, both of which were outrageously good, and then on to another tapas bar for the most succulent calamari we have ever tasted.    Madrid has won my heart – quite honestly.  We will be returning to Spain – no question about it.  Viva Espania, I say.  And now, as I peer out over the misty Hong Kong landscape from the confines of this pristine glass and steel airport transit lounge, I look forward to nothing more than a good lie down!  These long haul flights really are hideous.

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Arte Reina Sofia, The Crystal Palace & Other Observations…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 4, 2009

This morning we´re off to the contemporary art mecca here, the Reina Sofia, which will likely eat up several hours.  Picasso´s Guernica is the star piece there, but there´s all sorts of other jewells as well.  They have a feature exhibition on at the moment of the sculptural work of Juan Muñoz.  He makes strange and amusing people who are slightly shorter than real people, in dark grey fibreglass, and there is a whole room full of about 70 or more joyous looking Chinese men in Red China uniforms (they´re all sculptures) and you can wak in amongst them, and imagine you´re hanging out with Mao´s army during a uniquely happy moment.  Sounds simultaneously spooky and uplifting to me, so I must experience it.   After that we´re going to check out the Crystal Palace in Parque del Retiro, and then view the antique Railway Station, which is said to  be fabulously  evocative of a far grander period of train travel.   After that Laurie wants to go for a late luch back at our new favourite Huertas taverna, Maceiras, for seafood paella and cerveza.

Last night we had tapas ol fresco, as it was such a  warm night, and the food was outrageously good.  We had mussels in provencial sauce (the best I´ve ever tasted), grilled mushrooms with speck type ham & herbs, and honey glazed aubergine, which was the just the best.  We are also finding the quality of the wine here to be very good; both affordable and deliciously velvety.  I now fully understand why the Brits love Spain.  It is a sort of paradise, it seems to me.  The locals are quite irreverant and quirky, which I like.

One thing I meant to mention when in Paris is how gorgeous it is to find men playing the accordian in the plaza´s and in the metro.  It really adds an overt European charm to day-to-day life, and while I realise its a bit cheesy, I really like that they hold to these traditions.  I also really like the fact that they let real ´live´painters sit in the Prado, and create copies of their favourite master-pieces.  It´s amazing to watch these people work, and really good for the children to witness how its done.  Madrid is a really lovely life-style city.  I passed a jazz band playing ´Summer-time, and the living is easy´in the park yesterday, and I think that sums up the mood here perfectly.  Off to a photographic exhibition in Centro tonight, then for a stroll up into Chueca, the gay barrio of Madrid, with bars galore.  Window-shopping and sight-seeing is always fun.  Even from our little Juliet balcony, outside our 3rd floor hotel window, there are interesting things to see happening down below on the street.  If only we didn´t need to sleep!

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The Magic of Madrid: City of the Garden of Earthly Delights

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 3, 2009

Here in Madrid, Laurie and I have found a city that we love and claim as our type of city…  Madrid is a lovely size, with gorgeous grand green boulevards, beautiful architecture, happening lane-ways, very warm and sensual climate, and the people are so relaxed and sexy while barely being conscious of it.  The food is delicious here as well, but then we do love tapas, and especially authentic tapas, like we had today at an old socialist institution of a Galecian tapas bar.  The octopus in quality olive oil with paprika was the best thing I´ve ever tasted, and sincerely melted in your mouth.  The music everywhere we go is great too.  Just walking along the streets is such a delight, because no-one cares what you´re doing, and people are just doing their thing, it seems.  The pace of this city is just right, in our opinion.

We arrived yesterday at about 6pm, and from the minute we disembarked at the architecturally hip airport, and taxi´d into the city, we knew that we´d made the right choice in stopping off here, and that this will be a really enjoyable 4 nights.  It actually reminds us a lot of Melbourne, if you can imagine Melbourne being sultry, sexy and Spanish speaking, with Museo Jambon (Ham Museums!) every block or so.  Today we went to the Museo de Prado, and saw their lush collection of classic art, most of it from the 1400s to 1600s.  Goya, Velazquez, Rubens, Raphael, Caravaggio etcetera, and the prize for me was seeing Bosch´Garden of Earthly Delights. I feel somehow that although this complex and intricate painting was by a Dutch artist, it has found it´s home in the perfectly appropriate city for a work of this type.  We´ve seen numerous trannies, tattoo parlours, impressively clean looking street hookers, and Ramones style rockers that look like they´ve just stepped out of the Tardis, along with oh so civilised string quartets busking in the streets, homeless men asleep in door-ways with literature half read in their laps.  Tonight we´re going back into Huertas for tapas then on to a jazz bar.  We´d love to see flamenco but the price is steep, so we´ll do that next time we visit Spain (yes, always planning…).  We went to the tranquil Real Jardin Botanica today, and also saw a punkie girl photo exhibition. All very interesting.

Tomorrow, or Friday, we´re off to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Palace, and I´m running out of Euro coins now, so this blog is about to end abrubtly!

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