Museums, Music and Mea Culpa

I might as well start with a Mea Culpa. Even with the best advice, from three friends, we managed not to be organised enough to go to the Reichstag, the German Parliament building and see the amazing glass dome. The best advice is to do a detailed registration early perhaps online, have breakfast or coffee at the Kafer, the rooftop restaurant and beat the crowds. Visit the official website for information:  The Reichstag books out early, plan ahead.

One other mea culpa was not leaving at least one day for Potsdam. As it turned out, our last day in Berlin, James wasn’t well and so we stayed close to the hotel. Four days for Berlin is not enough. Potsdam is a worthy place to visit by all accounts.

Berlin is a city of museums, galleries, history, music and culture. Museum Island was incredible with several museums of sterling quality on the northern half of this small island.

The Ishtar Gate

My favourite was definitely the Pergamon Museum, with the Pergamon Altar, the  Hittite carvings and the Ishtar Gate. As a young student, we read about Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the king had his 8th magnificent Gate made out of glazed brick. Saying I was overwhelmed seems fairly prosaic but this gate is beautiful and beyond what I had imagined. What do you think? Now I try to imagine what the Hanging Gardens looked like.

Eastside Gallery, Berlin

Near the centre of Berlin, we visited the Eastside Gallery, over a kilometre of the Wall is here and much of it is covered in graffiti and essentially it is a monument to freedom. It wasn’t just a wall but several parallel walls, with glass and barbed wire to keep people in. Visiting the East Side Gallery did let me feel like I was in East Berlin.

Violinist at the Konzerthaus

After visiting several museums and going out to CheckPoint Charlie and the Eastside Gallery, we decided to go to the Konzerthaus and have a look. There was a tremendous outdoor cafe and buskers performing wonderful music. This was my favourite with his violin, his music immersed us into this scene of Berlin life.



Sunshine in Berlin

Brandenberg Gate – From the East side

Berlin is turning on its best blue skies for us. The Brandenburg Tor was magnificent, with the blue sky framing the city.

Most of Berlin seems to hide behind a bit of scaffolding and bollards. The Brandenburg Gate was no different. We stroll back down the boulevard, flanked by Consulates, five star hotels and a Starbucks.

Construction in Berlin

The views above were not the views that President Reagan saw when he gave his inspired speech to “Tear down this wall, Mr Gorbachev”. He was looking from the Western side and saw the rear of the chariot. A potent message, for the past 30 years, that walls aren’t the answer.

Several people asked if we stayed in East Berlin or West Berlin and it is hard to answer. We stayed in Mitte, Mitte meaning central or middle, was definitely split in the middle. But you can’t see the lines of East and West in this area today. It is so fresh and rebuilt so beautifully it is hard to pinpoint.  Now there are quite a few embassies near the Brandenburg Tor and we went for coffee at Einsteins, we found out it was formerly the preferred coffee house for Russian spies and their friends.

The Spree River running past Museum Island in Mitte

We walked to Museum Island, looking up at Humboldt’s statue then passing through a Pinch gut of a lane near the German Historical museum or Zeughaus. Stencilled onto the footpath, BEWARE PICKPOCKETS, three more steps and we are descended on by a swarm of people with clipboards, wanting to interview us. “Sign our petition”.

We said No and continued walking, but they corned a Chinese man going the other way who screamed “No, No, No” in English and they swarmed him. Feral. Quite frightening.
I hope he had his hand on his wallet and phone. You can’t intervene because part of the scam is that a “tourist” might come your aid and then as soon as you relax, he is off with your wallet.

Everyone was enjoying the sunshine

We spent several hours on Museum Island, a blog post in itself, but as the jetlag pressed in, we decided to go on a river trip on the River Spree. We needed the sunshine and views, after our thirty two hour flight and Berlin offered it in Spades.

Cruise on the River Spree in Berlin

Tasmania is not the Med

We had two wonderful weeks camping on Mercier in Cowan Creek, we met up with so many friends, shared wine and food and played with a wonderful new two-man kayak. We ate Sue’s Duck Curry, Debbie’s lasagna and Michele’s peeled prawns. Geoff, James and Dave Hats excelled on their respective barbecues.

Our New Year’s Eve  photo by Sue Vincent


For all that food and wine, something was definitely missing. Where were Richard and Rene and the party boat, NAND V? Thanks to Frosty, we did know. We were getting frequent updates from Frosty complete with photos as they motored to Tasmania.

Let me assure my Northern hemisphere readers, Tasmania is not our summertime Med. It is more like the Med in the middle of winter; rough, fierce and changeable. But the M/Y NAND V crew picked their weather and beat south along the coast, into Bass Straight and finally into the Derwent River. The NAND and crew had arrived at Hobart.

After our two weeks (without the party boat), we sailed home Saturday and moored Mercier. The phone rang on Sunday afternoon, it was Richard and the conversation was brief, meet Jane at the airport on Monday morning and fly down for several days of cruising the D’Entrecasteaux Canal and visit some of the ports in that vicinity. Off we went.

We landed in Hobart, jumped in a cab and within minutes of being met by Rene at the entrance of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, we were on the NAND and motoring out of the marina. Ever wonderful hosts, there were scallop pies in the oven.

We were reminded very quickly, that we are now sailing in the Roaring 40’s and we plugged away crossing the mouth of the Derwent. Moths flew past us on their foils so quickly they looked airborne.

We motored on to Bruny Island and saw an amazing sight. A large seal was struggling with an octopus and right overhead was a sea eagle poised for any opportunity of taking a share. The seal was throwing the octopus into the air and then retrieving it like a puppy with a chew toy. To keep the octopus from grabbing him, the seal would shake his head from side to side, dragging it in the water and then throw his catch into the air. The water black with ink. The sea eagle floated over this carnage. finally realising there was nothing left for him. It was quite an amazing sight, Rene took the best photo. Here is mine.


Seal lunching on octopus sashimi


Jane had a unique fishing style, catch and release. She caught over 25 Flathead but as they were small, she released them back to the wild. We weren’t sure what the fish below was but she sent him back too.

Jane’s Catch and Release



In the evening, we moored in Barnes Bay in an anchorage slightly misnamed The Duck Pond. It was calm, but there were swans not ducks.  There were a few yachts moored there and we were all visited by a family of black swans. They were so graceful and lovely, the male swam to one side and the ‘teens’ and Mother approached the boat chirping melodically, very interested in the bread we threw over the side. They seemed so gentle but the male looked on very sternly, you wouldn’t want to upset him.

Swan Family



We went into Cygnet Bay, the next day after looking at fish farms in several places. We took the dingy into the wharf and tied up and walked into town. We had good coffee and then shopped for a few items from the organic grocer – there were superb cherries, raspberries, blueberries and patron peppers. The produce in Tasmania is remarkably good.


James and Blue

The weather went from chilly to beautiful, no one was tempted to swim but we did see children swimming.The best thing about the weather was that the five of us missed the Sydney heat wave. It was a joy to need a jacket at night .

Tasmania is in the Roaring Forties and sea breeze was showing a preponderance of brown on its charts, meaning we were going to get plenty of gusts at 35-45 knots at about 9 PM. We made our way back to Hobart and the mooring. The marina managers were going to each boat and checking the mooring lines and fenders. Now we had time for a quick trip to Hobart Town with our sailors’ errands taking them to the shipwright and the ladies walking around town. It was hard to believe that such a change was coming.

Rene & Jane


And here is a photo of the wonderful NAND V, we know people will enjoy visiting her at the Wooden Boat Festival. Thanks so much to Rene and Richard for their wonderful hospitality. And to Jane for her wonderful company and commentary of the Golden Globe outfits. What a great interlude with friends.

Nand V









The Pacific Northwest

We were so lucky to have my sister move to Oregon.  It opened up a completely new area for James and I to explore.  There are no photos here of Rick and Linda because they were in the processing of moving to their new home. My sister advised me that it would be very boring to have photos upon photos of boxes.We changed our dates and went a few days early to help them move along with Rick’s father Larry and wife MJ, friend Kevin and then left them to unpack.

When we mentioned this change of plans to Barbara about our sudden lack of playmates in the Pacific Northwest, she volunteered to bring Frank and Adam and keep us company.

First stop was Seattle: Pikes Markets downtown and then a walking tour with Seattle 101. We had a great breakfast at the markets after watching the salmon toss and looking at beautiful flowers.

James, Frank, Barbara and Adam
James, Frank, Barbara and Adam

Seattle 101 walking tour was wonderfully entertaining and informative. Joe is a Seattle native and his passion for the city and its story was tremendous.

My favourite Seattle exhibit/museum is Chihuly Garden and Glass. It was a highlight of the visit to Seattle. It should definitely be on your Do Not Miss list for Seattle. Inside and out, Dale Chihuly’s creations are remarkable.

Frank and James at the Gallery
Frank and James at the
The Indoor Garden
The Indoor Garden

The following day we toured the Museum of Flight. It was another outstanding museum and I noticed the same look of rapture on Frank’s face that I saw on Barbara’s face at Chihuly. Here is why:  there were so many planes and rockets and exhibits. Prepare to spend the day here.

Seattle's Museum of Flight
Seattle’s Museum of Flight

We had a quiet Fourth of July, watching the fireworks over Lake Union. The next morning we were up and ready to drive to Vancouver, Canada.

Here is the thing, we had a short window of opportunity for a taste of Vancouver and we spent too much time at the border crossing.  Think twice about going Seattle to Vancouver with just two days to stay. Vancouver is worth more time and the border crossing shouldn’t be the largest part of your experience.

We did have a great reunion with Marie and Simon Fawkes, who gave us great advice – “get on your bike”, so the next day we rode at least 15 miles to allow us to see as much of Vancouver as possible on rented bikes. The Sea Wall was fabulous, riding a fairly flat and accessible bike path allowed us to see much of beautiful, sunny Vancouver.

15 miles of Vancouver
15 miles of Vancouver

We literally biked until our legs turned to jelly. We would like to thank Washington, Vancouver and Oregon for good weather. We did have clothes for inclement weather but we didn’t need them. Weren’t we lucky?

New York – a visit home

A visit to New York is a visit to my childhood. The food and sounds are almost the same at the market and on the streets where I spent my first seven years. The great thing about living in NY was access to the Bronx Zoo, The Botanical Gardens and museums. There are an amazing amount of museums in New York City and this trip we visited two.


The American Gallery The Metropolitan Museum
The American Gallery
The Metropolitan Museum

We met cousins Marian and Jessica at the Metropolitan Museum and chose three exhibits to view. The first exhibit was an ethereal series of Whaling pictures by the English romantic James.M.W. Turner. Where a realist’s images might have been gruesome, Turner’s froth and cloud hide the gore. Out of the waves’ foam, there struggles a ship or a whale. Our imagination takes us to sounds of sailors yelling orders and encouragement. Original manuscripts of Melville’s Moby Dick are displayed, which opens the discussion did Melville see these paintings before writing Moby Dick?

From Turner, we went to the Temple of Dendur, a temple moved from Egypt to the Metropolitan, when it was going to be flooded under the Aswan High Dam. Isis and Osiris now have a home in the middle of NYC. The emperor Augustus of Rome commissioned the temple which gives you a clear point in time of its age (15BC). It is remarkable that it was able to be re-situated from one metropolis to another. Egypt was very generous in deeding this gift to the United States, at that time represented by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Temple of Dendur
Temple of Dendur


The last stop for the day was the Manus x Machina, Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibit. It is more about the techniques and processes the 20th and 21rst centuries have brought to couture fashion. Exquisite, revealing in that the humble sewing machine began journey, made this possible and wrought incredible changes to how Couture was fashioned over the years.

The highlight of this visit was a young girl, visibly worshiping the dress that was designed by Karl Lagerfield for Chanel with a 20 foot train. She ran from perspective to perspective and had her phone camera going non stop and she peered into the detail of the embroidery, which had been crafted using such artful processes, so closely that the guard had to intervene. Such passion at such an early age. For me, it was this passion that was the highlight of the exhibit, you understand this passion is where the design comes from no matter the machines or materials.  These dresses come from someones mind and passion.


Another morning was in the Upper Eastside, spent at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Housed in the stately mansion of steel magnate of Andrew Carnegie, the building is a work of art itself. Building was begun in 1899, but this house featured a Otis Elevator, the first private elevator. Carnegie is one of my patron saints, because he gave huge amounts of his wealth to the creation of public libraries.

Two of the many exhibits that we loved were Beauty/Triennial with its emergent technologies, 3 D printings of ceramic and glass and the PolyThread knitted textile pavillion.

Pavillion by Shima Seiki
Pavillion by Shima Seiki

The other favorites is the story of the Haas Brothers and Haas Sisters and their whimsical figures brought together with technology, algorithms and hand sewing. Look this MonkeyBiz up, it is a wonderful partnership story.


Haas Monkey Biz
Haas Monkey Biz

Cooper Hewitt has a wonderful online presence. Check it out.





A Washington DC Soujourn

We arrived in DC and Marian took us to Cherrydale, a suburb of Arlington, VA so that Kay could host us in their condo.  We walked up the hill to see Clarendon where we had lunch and explored the two neighborhoods. Trendy inner city neighborhoods that make it so easy to bike to work.

Cherrydale Hardware
Cherrydale Hardware


We met Charlene and Carolyn over the next couple of days, including a visit in the venerable building Constitution Hall, which houses the Daughters of the American Revolution and acted as a set for Alan Sorkin’s The West Wing.

James and I had a day of sight-seeing in Washington, which is quite a movable feast. We took the Metro to a stop very close to the White House and watched as two policemen questioned a very suspicious character. Seriously, he spent several minutes talking to the two policeman and was still there when we left ten minutes later. DC is not the best place to wear a costume.

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We meandered around the White House and noticed increased security in the area since our last visit, which was pre-September 11th.

The White House is still beautiful and serene, even with the barricades in front.

The White House
The White House

The day was blue skies with fluffy clouds and none of the humidity that DC is famous for. We walked all around the Washington Monument, really a monument to General George Washington, as it was being considered before he became president. It is a monument you can see for quite a distance and it often peeks out at you as you travel in Arlington and nearby areas.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

We walked past several other monuments on the Mall and then went to the new Indian Museum at the Smithsonian. We had a great Native American luncheon and looked at the interesting displays. We covered lots of territory around the Washington on the Circulator Red Line bus, which does a loop around the National Mall at a very reasonable price. Other Circulator buses are also available and a bargain with a Metro card.  DC is not a place for cars, so my tip is to purchase or borrow a Metro card, load it up and then use public transport.

Cherry trees and magnolias are so evocative and reminiscent of the South generally. Indigenous to the Southeastern United States, they can grow as tall as 90 feet high and the blooms are magnificent. Their fragrance brings to mind evenings spent on porch swings.  Now we head North to the land of Yankees.

Magnolia Grandiflora
Magnolia Grandiflora


The good life in the mountains of Tennessee

Leaving Georgia,  we head towards my cousins’ home in the hills of Tennessee. This is the log cabin experience, the full Eco-lodge facility. Feeding the goats and chickens happens twice a day, my cousins grow their own food, make their own cheeses and live in this idyllic up woods hideaway, close to grandchildren and not too close to town.

They don’t have a house alarm, but they do have a Great Pyrenees, to keep foxes, snakes and strangers away from the goats and chickens. This dog is the size of a bear. He takes his job as guardian to the family and animals very seriously. Once he gets to know you, he doesn’t bite, or so they promised us.

Our guardian in the mountains
Our guardian in the mountains

We had several highlights to this portion of our journey, sitting on the porch and listening to the goats bleat, was almost a zen moment. You really relax here and enjoy the conversation. Discussions of politics are not allowed, so we were all calm and happy.

A rocker and a swing a great place to watch the sun go down.
A rocker and a swing a great place to watch the sun go down.

We did go down the mountain and visit civilization because there was the excitement of a vintage car show. I could almost do a full blog on these gorgeous old cars that lined the streets in the center of town.

These cars were immaculate
These cars were immaculate

It was great to stroll around the historic district and seeing beautiful old mansions, just a few hundred years old and still stately.

Southern homes
Stately Southern home

Everyone would agree that the most fun we had been the watermelon eating contest. Several young men ate a tenth of their weight in watermelon. Watermelon seeds were somehow distributed all over the yard and the boys. Getting together with cousins was a highlight of my childhood.  Seeing all these cousins play brings back memories of making ice cream, eating watermelon and running outdoors in the yard with the dog.

Log Cabin
Log Cabin (our accommodation)


Southern Hospitality

Even though we aren’t sailing in the Med, we are enjoying azure skies and the beautiful country of the US.  We are in my Mother’s home state of Georgia, my ancestors were here when Georgia was still a colony, so the connection runs very deep. Ten minutes from landing at the Atlanta airport, my Southern accent is returning. When we were young and going to visit our grandparents, we would practice our Southern accents on the way down south.

We are off to visit cousins, Don and Becky at their gorgeous home just minutes from Atlanta.  Hey you Sydney-siders, would you like to see what $1 million buys you in Atlanta, GA?

Elegant hospitality on offer
Elegant hospitality on offer

As elegant as the house is, it is the 4.87 acres of gardens and tennis court that captured my attention and my heart.

Turns out my cousin Don is a great landscaper and gardener, spending time on every aspect of this very special garden.

This is what Georgia looks like
This is what Georgia looks like.

The garden remind me of Japanese gardens, but with the pine and hardwood forest as a backdrop instead of rice fields. We are in the country but within easy reach of Buckhead and Atlanta and we made the most of the shops in Buckhead and Peachtree City.

Georgia's red clay means lushness
Georgia’s red clay means lushness

You don’t see or hear neighbours, but we did hear their rooster some mornings. We love our neighbours but this garden is serene.

The hospitality is wonderful in the South and we were spoiled with cousins Jerry and Marilyn coming and visiting us, Tanya having us down to her gracious home in Warner Robins and Judy and Butch making us lunch in Rome.

We went to a fabulous restaurant in Atlanta near Buckhead, New York Prime, to hear the wonderful impressionist, Maxwell Taylor reprise all the great male singers of the 20th Century. What a splendid evening.

Maxwell Taylor at New York Prime
Jerry, Becky, Don and us with Maxwell Taylor at New York Prime

Thanks Georgia for all the hospitality. It is so wonderful to visit and connect with that Georgia red clay.



We had a morning in Orvieto before leaving for Rome. Not enough time, but at least we got to see it quickly and know it is a place to return to in the future.  It is a splendid and enjoyable hill town in Umbria. Built on volcanic base, rising above tufa cliffs visible from the passing valley.

Umbrian hill scape
Umbrian hill scape

Still you can do a day tour from Rome, so it gets busy by lunch time. The shops here are upmarket and have interesting and beautiful merchandise. The most splendid Duomo, I have seen outside of Rome is here in Orvieto.

side View of the Duomo, built like a fortress
Side View of the Duomo, built like a fortress

But the detail of the edifice is incredible in paints that look made of gold, lapis and emeralds.

Soaring angels of cows, Griffins and eagles adore the portico.
Soaring angels of cows, Griffins and eagles adore the portico.

The facade of the Cathedral was under scaffolding, so these parts are the best we can manage.

Orvieto was once an Etruscan city and later became a favorite refuge for Popes. I guess even Popes need a holiday. The magnificent vistas and climate would have called to them.

Beautiful storm clouds
Beautiful storm clouds

We have to return to Orvieto and stay on the hill. But down in the valleys, even in Lazio we saw more sunflowers.



Montepulciano and Pienza

Wine country, Etruscans, hilltop villages, green Italy and a perfectly transformed Renaissance village are all covered in today’s blog.

As you travel through the vines, sunflower farms and rolling hills lush with vegetation and crops, you see green Italy, not one of stone and concrete but another Italy altogether. Many of the vines are of the Montepulciano Vino Nobile grape and are some of Italy’s best wines.  They even had Montepulciano plums at our agriturismo. Montepulciano is a hilltop town and its roots go back to the ancient Etruscans.

The well in the Piazza Grande, Montepulciano
The well in the Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

On our second day in the area, we drove into the countryside to visit Pienza, a town created by Pope Pius ll. Beginning in 1458, Pius ll worked with the Florentine architect, Bernardo Rossellino to create a city model that was laid out in an orderly, pleasing and rational manner.It was a town where urban décor would benefit the citizens. He included new areas for the needy, so they could share in the bounty. He was a truly humanist Pope, standing up against slavery and the persecution of Jews.

Tuscan hillsides
Tuscan hillsides

Most of us have passed bakeries, where the aromas are pushed out into the noses of passersby to entice them into the shop.  In Pienza, the cheese shop had a fan sending out aromatic scents to pull you into their shop. Pienza is noted for its Pecorino cheese. Also known as cacio, it is made from sheep’s milk.  The sheep feed on the verdant hillsides eating aromatic herbs like it thyme, penny royal and absinthe.

The smell of cheese was everywhere
The smell of cheese was everywhere

There was also large amounts of art, including giant bracelets and rings.

giant ring sculpture near reclining nude on swing
giant ring sculpture near reclining nude on swing

When in Italy, you read about the Etruscans and if you Google them, the story will begin “Their language didn’t survive, so we know nothing about them, but they were an elegant people.” Now with DNA samples, we may see that the Etruscans (Eighth century BC- First century AD) came from the western Anatolia, near Izmir in Turkey. The Etruscans are fascinating because ‘elegant and mysterious’ suggests a people of Bond men. But in the Etruscans’ case, women had a significant role to play in daily life. The Etruscans were also great artists and seem to be the ‘creators’ of the famous hilltop towns in Tuscany and Umbria. Italy’s history goes back beyond the Romans.

The geneticists did not stop with testing ancient Etruscan DNA, but they also tested cow DNA in the region and found a match with Tuscan bovine DNA in the same area of Western Anatolia. Beef is a food of choice in Tuscany and Umbria.

An angel cow
An angel cow

As we left this area, we saw sunflower farms, some almost fully ripe and others that had just been planted. They are joyous to see and enjoy.

Tuscan sunflowers
Tuscan sunflowers

Next trip we will stay in some of the hilltop towns, but staying in the country also has it’s benefits.