Thursday, April 29, 2010

Armchair travel

Well, it's a cold and wet day and it'd be nice to be somewhere sunny and warm. Thankfully the good people at Taschen have published two tomes of great escapes. These books feature the most exquisite hotels and hideaways around the globe and are the perfect things to curl up with (aside from the fact that they're massive coffee table books and heavy!) and plan your next trip or dream. So, thanks to the good people at Amazon UK who managed to deliver this book to my doorstep today - despite the volcano cloud that's been delaying passengers and freight and causing havoc. Now, it's time to make a milo and put a blanket over me and sit and read! Until baby girl wakes up that is!

At the going down of the sun we will remember

It's been a few days since Anzac day, but this is the first time since that I've had a chance to blog. I've been privileged to see several sites of Australian and Commonwealth wartime significance on my travels - the Gallipoli battlefields and cemeteries, Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi in Thailand, the infamous battlefields in Vietnam, and also the Normandy beaches and cemeteries. 
Every battlefield and cemetery is sombre, poignant and moving, as you'd expect. Every grave in the Commonwealth cemeteries hosts a scripture, poem or message from loved ones. Interestingly, the American cemeteries in Normandy are quite different and simply list a soldier's name, rank and hometown. The rows and rows of crosses as far as the eye can see each marking a soldier's resting place, speak plainly enough. 
Every Anzac day service is slightly different. I remember eating Anzac biscuits in the Thai jungle and it feeling quite incongruous, and the Australian and New Zealand services at the Wellington Arch in London are held on alternate years and differ quite a lot. 
This Anzac day, I went to the service at the Queenscliff barracks. I'd guess there were a few hundred people in attendance recognising the importance of keeping the Anzac spirit alive. Veterans, couples, young children, families were all there commemorating. As a historian and traveller, I understand the importance of remembering those who have gone before and what they gave. We took our baby daughter along with us and I hope she'll be at an Anzac service every year so that she respects and appreciates who's gone before and those who are serving right now.
Just a few inscriptions from Gallipoli graves to share with you: 
An Anzac Brave in an Anzac grave
We have loved him in life, let us not forget him in death
Oh Gallipoli thou holdest one of God's noblest from his loved ones
He gave his life that others may live
Their name liveth forevermore

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The humble side table

When I was small, my Nanna had a number of little tables in her house. I used to love them because they were the right size for me, but she must have loved them as handy spots to place a cup of tea or a magazine or book. Sometime in my teenage years, I thought side tables were for old people, but now I discover I unwittingly have three in my house! My side tables mainly act as display spaces for books, ceramics and my many cherished photos, and the one next to my couch is the perfect height for placing a drink. Side tables also mean that more is on display (I'm not a minimalist), which means you're more likely to pick up that cookbook you've been meaning to read for eons or play that chess set that you bought while travelling three years ago. So, today I'm honouring the humble side table because of its versatility and usefulness. Here's my three pictured.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A beautiful bookshop

Like many avid readers, I like to find a bookshop with soul. I fit into that category that will pay a bit more for a book from a charming independent bookshop rather than the same book at discount from a big chain. Although I'm not adverse to special offers or buying online.
Whenever I go to a new place, I am always on the lookout for bookshops that are warm, inviting, interesting and cosy. The kind of places that I can linger for hours and immerse myself in the worlds of literature, photography, design and travel. 
On my travels I've discovered a few such bookshops that live in my memory.  Nomad Books on Fulham Rd was one of my favourite local places when I lived in London. It has armchairs, a cafe and a big downstairs room with a huge table and chairs where many a winter weekend afternoon was spent researching the next trip and stocking up on travel guides (although the travel section has sadly since moved upstairs). Robinson Crusoe books in Istanbul is another bookshop that captured my imagination with its dark wood-panelled shelves and a range of fascinating titles. And you can't be a true Melbournian without being in love with Readings in Carlton - a stalwart of the city's literary circle and a favourite evening or weekend browsing and buying place.
I now have another bookshop to add my favourites. It's in a little town called Talbot about 50 minutes' drive from Ballarat. It's one of those gold-rush towns where the main street looks like it should be a western movie set. In its goldrush heyday it had 30,000 people and now it has 340! Talbot is becoming very trendy and has a lovely cafe called London House, a new little homewares store called A Life Less Ordinary, and a really great monthly farmer's market. The bookshop is called Slightly Bent Books. It's lit by lamps, has big armchairs and a couch, a woodfire, a globe, a Moroccan lantern in the window and loads of new and second-hand books. It's one of those places where you pick one book off the shelf and there's another five or six gems in the same genre hiding behind. A book lover's bookshop.
If you are in the Ballarat or Talbot region on 1st and 2nd May, the town of Clunes is holding their annual book fair. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

A farm visit

Last weekend I had a birthday and me and a group of friends and family visited Lavandula to celebrate, which is a beautiful Swiss-Italian lavender farm just outside of Hepburn Springs. It has a romantic garden and there's a rustic cafe, fields of lavender, olive trees, grapes and animals. We were there with three toddlers and three babies, and the toddlers had a wonderful time talking to the emu and pony, running through the lavender, stalking geese and jumping in puddles. The autumn trees are out so the farm was awash with burnt red, yellow and orange. It's a gorgeous place to while away an afternoon and highly recommended by me. See

Thursday, April 15, 2010

By the seaside

I had a lovely Easter in the little coastal town of Port Fairy on Victoria's shipwreck coast. It has become very trendy in the past few years with gorgeous accommodation places, cool cafes, lovely homewares stores, and beautiful beaches. I had divine lemon pudding ice cream at a cafe called Bella Claire, and Rebecca's Cafe served sumptuous meals and cakes. Just a few photos to share with you if ever you're in Victoria and you'd like a weekend escape. I've never stayed there but my pick of places to stay based purely on location and the exterior would be Oscars Waterfront Boutique Hotel

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Les Baux De Provence

A friend of my mum has just emailed me her itinerary for her forthcoming Europe trip. One of the places she's visiting is a tiny little French town in Provence called Les Baux De Provence. My husband and I went there just after Christmas 2005. It was the most beautiful place in a rugged, craggy and romantic way. We were there at 7.30 in the morning and it was absolutely icy cold. There's photos of me wearing a big padded coat with a faux fur-lined hood and leather gloves and still looking freezing. Les Baux had the most charming shops that looked as if they were carved out of the rock. They sold beautiful hand-made soaps, olive oils and there was the most gorgeous quilt shop there. Unfortunately my husband and I had been robbed on Christmas day in Nice so we had very little money to spend on luxuries like quilts but next time! For those who are wondering - we were stopped at a red traffic light in our hire car and two guys ran up to the car, opened the door and grabbed my handbag and camera. Of course we'd only just flown in so the bag had passports, money, train tickets - basically everything - in it! Anyway, let that not put you off - it's just one of those things that happens from time to time.
For further inspiration on Les Baux see:
And of course have a happy and safe Easter.