This photograph was taken in January 2016 and shows part of Australia’s largest and most beautiful inland waterways, the Gippsland Lakes. A network of lakes, marshes and lagoons covering over 600 square kilometres, separated from the ocean by coastal dunes known as Ninety Mile Beach. Unsurprisingly, bird and marine life thrives here. It’s a magnificent spot.
In a way it’s inevitable that we’ve made comparisons between last Christmas in Australia and this one in Austria. Largely, I should add, prompted by Facebook constantly throwing up photographic memories of last year’s trip. I had said I wouldn’t do a “where were we this time last year?” and, to be fair, I’ve not overindulged. However, it’s hard to ignore the contrasts.
The biggest difference is, of course, the weather: summer v winter. This time last year we were sightseeing in Adelaide and the surrounding area, ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under, luxuriating in the heat (35-40C) and petting cuddly baby animals. This year we’ve been out either walking or skiing and enjoying the sunshine, though not the heat (-3 – +3C), visiting areas we love and know well. We’ve thought about “how long is it since we were last here?” This, of course, includes working out what’s changed since that last time.
In both instances, we stayed in self-catering accommodation. We like spacious flats where we can stretch out, which have separate bathrooms and many of the conveniences we’d find at home. I enjoy cooking with local ingredients and confess to missing the oysters and lobster tails of last year or, more specifically, the markets where we bought our produce. Aside from the local well-stocked supermarket, this year I’ve contented myself with Innsbruck’s food hall and one of my favourite shops in Munich, Dallmayr’s.
Of course, I don’t cook all the time. In Australia, it’s never hard to find a restaurant serving something I can eat. The only one’s which are “no go’s” are fine dining establishments with 6-8 course set menus. Austria’s rather different. There’s plenty on offer for vegetarians, so long as you eat cheese and dairy. I am restricted to pasta with tomato sauce, pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables, large mixed salads and the occasional fish dish. However, the better the restaurant, the more likely it is to have or be prepared to adapt something on its menu for me. Meanwhile, it’s a refined form of torture watching everyone, including my beloved, tuck into some of my formerly favourite dishes.
It’s not all holiday though as we still have to keep the business ticking over wherever we are but my beloved tries to stay off the grid between Christmas and New Year. Interestingly, 2018 has gotten off to a great start business wise, and long may it continue.
This year, we’ve spent just over a month in the same place although we’ve had trips to the surrounding towns of Munich, Mittenwald and Innsbruck. We’ve not explored as much as we did last year. Partly, this is because we’ve had many winter and summer holidays in this area and we know what we like to see and do. It’s less virgin territory and more of a trip down memory lane.
Both holidays were pretty active in terms of both participating in and watching sport, though Australia definitely wins hand down. Largely because of the more favourable weather conditions but also because last year my beloved wasn’t still recovering from a broken leg.
I’m delighted to report that he’s been sensible – and about time too. He’s been much more cautious than before, when the idea of taking it easy for the first few days while he recovered his snow legs was total anathema. We’ve also walked a lot more than before, partly because of the weather and partly because my beloved’s leg gets tired after three day’s of consecutive skiing. He’s also stuck to the classic rather than skating technique on account of his hips.
So, what are we going to do next year? While I would happily jump on a plane to Australia, I recognise that the business won’t allow us to have an extended stay and while a winter holiday was fun, I’ve become more of a fan of the sun. This was the last building block of 2018 and we’ve decided to spend it at home with occasional forays into Italy for some la dolce vita.
It’s perhaps inevitable that after another fabulous vacation in Australia so many of the photographs are from our last trip there. My two younger sisters are dedicated sun-worshippers and couldn’t get over the number of photographs of totally empty beaches I posted on Facebook, such as this one on the Mornington Peninsula. But many of the beaches are dangerous, I’m not talking sharks but riptides which could easily sweep you out to sea. However, I just loved those miles of empty sandy beaches bordered by greenery and pounded by the waves. I think they look wild and remote. Perfect for a spot of chilling, but nothing more.
This is the wooden jetty at Seaford, a beach resort near to Melbourne, at dusk. We spent two weeks here earlier this year staying in a small studio apartment right opposite this glorious beach. It’s a popular resort with families largely because the water’s very shallow until you’re almost at the end of the pier which teems with fishermen. At dusk, the beach is empty apart from a few dog walkers and some seabirds. We love wandering along sandy beaches but rarely ever spend time sitting on them. I just love the play of colours between sea and sky at sunrise and sunset.
So many of our holidays and trips are built around watching live bike racing. This photo was taken by my beloved at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the ladies event. A race which was as equally thrilling as its men’s counterpart the following day. Unusually, my beloved had gone off on the back of a motorbike to watch the race unfold on the roads around Geelong which we first visited back in 2010 for the UCI Road World Championships. This photo showcases the verdant landscape and gives a flavour of the mounting excitement as the riders approach.
Over the next 12 days I’ll be posting a selection of my favourite photos from 2017. It’s a tough task whittling thousands of them down to just 12, a handful of which make it on to our Christmas card. Not unnaturally, because of our trip to Australia earlier in the year, it looms large on our photographs. This year, we’re going cross-country skiing in Austria, a complete contrast. I’m sure that at some point during the vacation, which I know will be lovely, I’ll think back fondly to our two last year end trips to Australia. I’ve already got our next one planned but it’s unlikely to be before 2020 because of pressure of work. This is one of my favourite photos simply because of the strong bold colours on the beach huts, something one inevitably associates with British south-coast holiday spots. These however are on Mornington Beach. Don’t they just gladden your hearts?
Even though I live a short stroll from the beach, I wouldn’t describe myself as a beach person. No, it’s the water I love, its ever changing moods and colours. However, I’m not adverse to a stroll along a sandy beach, digging my toes into the damp sand and walking along the receding waterline. While I was in Australia, I posted lots of beach photos and many of my friends were astonished at how empty they were. It’s true, there’s so many beaches that most have only a few folks on them. Often the empty ones are the more dangerous ones where swimming is forbidden and there are no lifeguards. I should clarify that, when I say dangerous, I’m referring to rip tides and rocks, not sharks.
Of course, when you use the words “beach” and “Australia” many think of Bondi beach. It might be the most well-known one outside of Australia but it’s surprisingly small. Now, I’m no surfer but the beach is much larger at Manley and the waves look pretty good to me! What do you think?
But my favourite beaches are those where the waves crash against the shoreline and sunbathing is the only permitted activity. Often these are havens for birdlife and are bordered by magnificent dunes with all manner of plants and shrubs.
Equally, I love family-style beaches where the sand’s soft, the water’s clear and shallow – ideal for a splash about. Often there’s a pier for strolling along or fishing from or for diving into the sea. Perfect for a spot of lotus eating.
I also enjoy the beaches at sunrise and sunset. I particularly love the play of light on the water.
However, some of the most magnificent seascapes are to be found along the Great Ocean Road.
One of Australia’s greatest treasures is her flora – a staggering 24,000 species of native plants. Now this is where my late mother would have been in her element. She would have known the names of all the plants we ooohed and aaahed over. My beloved and I don’t have a green finger between us while my mother poured her heart and soul into her garden which was always a blaze of colour. She would have loved seeing one of her favourite flowers everywhere. Not so much a host of golden daffodils as clouds of gently swaying blue and white agapanthus plants in gardens, growing wild in the verges and decorating civic areas. She planted hers in large cobalt blue pots on the patio. The owner of the beautiful historic house we stayed in at Birregurra told me that they’re easy plants to grow. Maybe, I’ll give them a go on the terrace.
In addition, the vineyards we visited all had beautiful well-cared for gardens, some with potagers, others with sculptures and, of course, rows and rows of vines, orchards and olive trees.
But it’s not just the flowers, the trees and bushes are magnificent too and again there’s a huge variety from stubby to towering trees, monster killer ferns (just joking!) and all sorts of shrubs. I enjoyed looking at the variety of plants in the dunes, protecting those long lovely sandy beaches. I particularly loved the smell of the gum trees (eucalypts) on a warm afternoon – so evocative. They’re another omnipresent species and serve as shelter for many species of native Australian animals and birds. A few varieties of gum leaves are the only food koalas will eat. Not that I ever saw one up a tree despite craning my neck upwards for hours.
This brings me onto the fauna. This time around we didn’t see any living animals in the wild, only those at the Tour Down Under which the pro riders get to cuddle.
Sadly we saw far too many dead on the roadside, roadkill. However, we saw and heard much of the bird life. The birds – a bit like the Aussies themselves – are noisy. I loved lying in bed in the early morning and hearing them sing, shout and shake it all about but the only ones I could name were the raucous white cockatoos.
Before we go to Australia again, I should take a leaf out of my mother’s book and do a spot of research so that I can identify more of the wonderful flora and fauna. Just don’t hold your breath………
I’m a “townie” so while I much enjoy the varied and beautiful Australian countryside and seaside, it’s the towns where I feel more at home. I loved just walking out of our rental apartments and having plenty of shops and restaurants on our doorstep. It reminded me of when we lived in Bayswater and Chiswick. I love exploring urban environments. I’m never happier than when I’m pounding the pavements, window shopping, enjoying the local architecture or dropping into a local restaurant.
In Prahran, our modern flat was part of the earliest developed block. While much of the town was built from 1890 onwards, the church (1854) next door was swiftly followed by the town hall and fire station (round the corner). Though many of the buildings have little architectural merit, other than age, the Australians have taken care to keep much of the frontage of key streets even if large apartment blocks tower behind. A number of former department stores and industrial buildings have been converted into domestic dwellings, again helping to preserve the area’s character and feel.
Many of the early homes have wrap around porches and balconies decorated with wrought iron gingerbread trims, many of which are single level dwellings aka bungalows. All have a narrow road frontage but are very deep with the rooms running off a single hallway. I suppose this was to limit thermal gain well before the invention of air conditioning. They tend to have been built cheek by jowl with the neighbouring property and on quite small plots. It’s this lively mix of architectural styles you’ll find all over Melbourne.
Despite the plethora of choice, I found myself returning time and time again to the excellent stalls in Prahran market, purveyors of wonderful local, largely organic produce. The Essential Ingredient, a shop within the market, was a cook’s delight, selling a wide range of fantastic produce and products. If only I had such a store on my doorstep in France. I suppose that’s one of the many advantages of having a melting pot population who’ve introduced all sorts of culinary delights into the everyday. Of course, I can buy all of these ingredients at home, mainly via the internet, but not from such a magnificent one stop shop. I also loved the eclectic mix of mainly one-off shops along Chapel Street.
Where we stayed in Walkersville, Adelaide, was a similar but much smaller neighbourhood and we tended to wander over to nearby Melbourne Street to eat. Walkerville is within walking distance of CBD and the marvellous Central Market, a positive treasure trove of edible goodies, though we also enjoyed food shopping in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, buying from local and artisan producers wherever we could.