It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Opera Review : Andre Chenier, Bregenz Floating Stage

On Wednesday night we went along to see Umberto Giordano's "Andre Chenier" on the floating stage in Bregenz, Austria.

Bregenz is about a 90 minute drive from home and we set off early, expecting to arrive about 6.45pm with plenty of time to wander about and have dinner somewhere before the 9.00pm start.  About 7km out of Bregenz we hit the traffic jam of all traffic jams - everyone was flooding into town for the show.  We sat for 90 minutes and only travelled about 5km.

By this time we were getting more than a little ticked off, so I made the executive decision to whiz down a side street in the hope of skipping past it.  Surprisingly it worked!  We arrived within about 2 minutes at the venue and then it was a hunt for a car park.  We got a park at last, and with lots of wiggling and in-and-out work, I wedged the biggest car in Germany into the smallest car park space in Austria.

No time for a walk around and a leisurely dinner, so we had a bite in one of the festival catering areas and headed to our seats, facing the amazing floating stage.  The stage was designed around the painting "The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David in 1793.

The Death of Marat, Jacques-Louis David, 1793

Andre Chenier stage, Bregenz

The opera was sung in Italian with surtitles in German - yay, talk about confusing!  That said, it was absolutely amazing, with so much happening and we got a total visual spectacular.  Here's the details of the show:-

Opera in four acts, sung in Italian.
Music by Umberto Giordano. Libretto by Luigi Illica.

Duration: 2 hours without break
France in the year 1789. The aristocracy revels, the people groan. And between two stools stands the poet André Chénier. Cherished by the rich for his moving verses, in his heart he remains a revolutionary. 
André Chénier, the most famous work by the Italian composer Umberto Giordano, is a brilliantly vivid historical drama and a human tragedy of shattering intensity. Set against the background of the French Revolution, the opera has strong appeal both as a passionate love story and as a historical thriller. André Chénier is based on the life of a real historical character, a French poet who got caught up in the turmoil of the French Revolution, frst as an ardent supporter and then as a victim, mercilessly persecuted and ultimately sent to the guillotine.
Giordano’s music is charged with a furious enthusiasm and stirring emotions. Historical dances and marches from the time before the French Revolution can be heard in the opera as well as classic Revolution­era songs including "Ça ira" and the Marseillaise.
The composer incorporated historical dances and marches from the time before the French Revolution in the operatic score, along with classic revolutionary songs like "Ça ira" and the Marseillaise. Together with rousing arias and thrilling duets they lend a unique flavour to the opera.
"It seems as though  André Chénier was composed especially for the Bregenz Seebühne. The opera presents a perfect mix of ingredients for the venue: a thrilling story and four strong characters, caught between the excesses of the Ancien Régime and the terror of the French Revolution. There is André Chénier, an idealistic poet, and his adversary Carlo Gérard, once a servant and now a revolutionary ringleader. And there is the young noblewoman Maddalena, who is feeing from the rebels, aided by her maidservant, who sacrifces herself as a prostitute in order to support her mistress fnancially. Giordano’s music is verismo of the very highest calibre and drives the high­voltage plot forward with breathtaking speed." Artistic director David Pountney

We were lucky enough to experience Verdi's Aida on the floating stage in Bregenz last year, and it was also totally amazing.  If you ever get the chance to see these "once in a lifetime" shows in Bregenz, please make the effort - you won't be disappointed.

Click here for the website for the Bregenz Festival so you can see what's what.

Aida on the floating stage in Bregenz

Friday, August 19, 2011

Restaurant Review : Restaurant J, Stockholm

Jim booked us a table at the absolutely glorious Restaurant J, part of the Hotel J complex in Nacka Strand.

We arrived early and ordered drinks to have whilst sitting on the edge of the dock and watching the sun go down over the water - what a perfect start to the evening!

We arrived by taxi, but ferries and water taxis came and went all night from the front of the restaurant, so that's probably a much more fun way to arrive and we'd do it that way next time.

The restaurant and hotel are decorated in gorgeous beach-side style.  Lots of light, open air, limed wood and stars and stripes everywhere - you could be in Newport, Rhode Island, quite easily.

Unsurprisingly, the menu is largely seafood based and the boys had amazing seafood platters comprised of crayfish, prawns, herrings and other pots of fishy things.  Not being that keen on fish myself (fish and chips or fish fingers aside - yeah, I'm posh) I ordered the meatballs, mash, gravy and lingonberry jam and it was scrumptious.

The menu was large, yummy and interesting, but they had two rather different things on their menu - you could book a room at their hotel by ordering it from the menu, or you could buy a boat by ordering it from the menu!  The boys voted me down on my idea to order a boat - I just wanted to see what would happen!

If we're ever back in Stockholm,  I think we might spend a night at the hotel attached to the restaurant, it looks so comfortable and how great would it be to wake up and look out over the water?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stockholm : Vasa Museum

We had a fantastic time visiting the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

The Vasa is a warship that was built in 1628 and sunk on its maiden voyage in Stockholm harbour.  The Vasa lay underwater for around 300 years until it was raised and restored.  The quality of the water meant that 95% of the ship is original.

Here's some details:-

When Vasa was being built, the tactics of sea battles were changing. Cannon had not yet been used in a coordinated or decisive way, and the goal was to capture the enemy ship by boarding, rather than to sink it. Later in the 17th century, ships and cannon were coordinated in the line of battle: opposing fleets fired at each other in two lines. Vasa stands somewhere between these two approaches to fighting at sea. She has a large number of heavy cannon, at the same time that she was manned and equipped for hand-to-hand combat. The high stern allowed men with muskets to shoot down into the decks of a lower ship, and on the upper deck were guns called stormstycken (literally, “assault guns”), which fired canisters of small shot and scrap metal, much like a giant shotgun.

On Sunday, the 10th of August, 1628, Vasa lay rigged and ready for sea just below the royal palace Tre Kronor. Ballast, guns and ammunition were all on board.

On the quays and shores along Strömmen, an excited public waited to watch the ship leave Stockholm and celebrate her departure.

Over a hundred crewmen were on board, as well as women and children. The crew had permission to take family and guests along for the first part of the passage through the Archipelago.
For the first few hundred meters, Vasa was warped along the waterfront with cables from the shore. The ship did not begin to sail until she reached what is now Slussen. Sailors climbed the rigging to set four of Vasa’s ten sails. A salute was fired, and Vasa slowly began her maiden voyage.

Once Vasa came out from under the lee of the Södermalm cliffs, the sails could catch the wind, but the ship was tender and heeled over to port, then heeled again, even farther. Water rushed in through the open gunports and the ship’s fate was decided. Vasa sank, after sailing barely 1300 meters.

The crew threw themselves into the water or clung to the rigging until rescued, but not all managed to save themselves. Eyewitnesses differ on the exact numbers, but perhaps 30 of approximately 150 people on board died in the loss. After the ship was raised in 1961, the remains of at least 16 people were found.

Ticket prices are 110SEK for adults (about £11) and it's well worth a visit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Restaurant Review : 19glas, Stockholm

On Sunday afternoon we were wandering around Gamlastan looking for somewhere for a late lunch, and thought we'd stop and have a look at the menu hanging out the front of 19glas, a small wine bar down a cobbled street.

The very personable waiter said they didn't really do lunch on Sundays, but they were trying a wide range of Scandi-influenced tapas and had more than 300+ wines by the glass.  Well, that sold us!  We grabbed a small table on the footpath and sat down on stools that were made from giant corks.

The very friendly and helpful waiter bought us the menu and this is what we ordered:-

  • Spinach and garlic
  • Pickled beetroot
  • Chantarelle toast
  • Oven roasted potatoes with garlic
  • Gruyere cheese
  • Beans with lardo
  • Rillette of duck and beer
  • Puree of yellow peas with pork shank

We also got a few plates of bread and the food was so good that we were wiping the plates clean with it - YUM!  The tapas was fabulous and our faves were the rillette, beans with lardo, and the peas with pork (all of which we re-ordered).

The staff were great and the chef came out for a chat after we'd eaten.  We could have easily whiled away the afternoon watching the world go by with a few glasses of vino, but hubby had had to whiz back to the hotel for a conference call, and, as it was Sunday, the shops were closing at 4pm (hello, important!) - so we had to scoot.

Here's a link to the wine list -

We'll definitely be back if we're visiting Stockholm again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stockholm : Stieg Larsson Tour

Have you read the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson?  If you have, you'll know how great they are, and if you haven't, then you should give them a try.  The first one is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and it's a gritty, dark story revolving around the characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist - set in Stockholm.

Stieg (1954-2004) was a Swedish writer and journalist, who was three and a half books into his Millenium novels (he was planning on writing around 10 in the series) when he unfortunately passed away of a heart attack.  His first book was just about to be published when he died, so he never knew how successful his books became.

There is one book remaining unpublished, that he hadn't quite finished at his death, but his loyal readers are waiting to see if his partner will be able to finish and publish it.

Hubby, Jim and I have read and enjoyed the books, so this past weekend in Stockholm, we booked ourselves on the English walking tour of Sodermalm, where much of the action in the book was set.

Fiskargatan 9, Lisbeth's Apartment

The tour lasted for two hours and commenced at Bellmangatan 1, where the character Mikael Blomkvist lived.  We had a fantastic English speaking guide, Lena, and she really fleshed out the story for us.  Along the way we also learnt about Sodermalm's history, and stopped to take in great views across the city and water.

Bellmangatan 1, Mikael's Apartment

The tickets were 140SEK/head (about £14) and very well worth it.  One thing to remember is that Sodermalm is quite hilly, and there is a fair bit of walking, so it's maybe not so great for babies in prams or people in wheelchairs.  That said, we did have an older gentleman with a walking stick and he seemed to be okay.

Now we'll just have to wait for book number 4 to be released ...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Restaurant Review : F12, Stockholm

Just back from a fabulous long weekend in Stockholm with my wonderful hubby and our friend Jim.  We walked miles and miles, ate mounds of food, had some very nice drinks and really had a ball!

I'll put out a few different posts on Stockholm, but first I'll do the amazing meal we had at F12 on Friday night.  Jim had done an advance booking and the restaurant itself was absolutely gorgeous.

We decided on the degustation menu and the boys had the wine pairing to go with it.  It was all totally amazing and the staff were brilliant and spoke great English.  As each dish was presented, it was described to us and one of the waitresses pronounced "artichokes" as "archie-cokes".  Well, I could hardly keep a straight face, it was fabulous!  That was the only language slip up the whole night, which is pretty good considering English isn't their first language.

Anyway, I could go through it dish by dish, but honestly, there were so many dishes that it'd take days.  I thought it might be easier to just list everything out below from the copy of the menu they give every diner (along with a book on all the fabulous restaurants of the world).  So, here goes (bonus dishes from the kitchen in italic, degustation dishes in bold, wine flight in normal font):-

Oyster leaf with fennel sorbet
Le Ciste 2008, Domaine Laguerre, Coteux du Languedoc, France

Sweetbreads with hazelnuts and white miso
Carneros Chardonnay 2008, Clos du Val, California, USA

Salma salmon tartare with oyster emulsion and dark rye bread
Tokaji Sec 2007, Kiralyudvar, Tokah-Hegyalja, Hungary

Sauteed artichoke with jus
Kleiner Wald Pinot Noir 2007, Weinbau Wenzel, Burgenland, Austria

Duck's liver with carrot and liquorice loaf
Burg 2007, Marcel Deiss, Alsace, France

Milk poached pollock with crayfish from Lake Vattern and leek
Klostersatz Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2010, FX Pichler, Wachau, Austria

Wagyu beef 10+ with chanterelles and sauteed onions
County Line Syrah 2007, Radio Coteau, Sonoma, USA

Frozen Fourme d-Ambert with grapes and verjus
White Port NV, Quinta de Baldias, Douro, Portugal

Raspberry yoghurt and almonds (I swapped mine for a peach souffle)
Samling Beerenauslese 2006, Tschida, Burgenland, Austria

What do you think of that?  Amazing, hey?  There were also two bonus pre-desserts, but I can't remember them exactly - there was definitely chocolate involved.  We also had a glorious bread basket filled with the most scrumptious breads and restaurant churned butter AND an amazing starter of teensy little things like cherry macaron filled with duck liver, parmesan puffs and little cones filled with creamy cheese and caviar.

So, all in all, it was seriously fabulous.  It's definitely a special occasion restaurant, and one of those nights that you'll remember for ages.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hyde Park : London

After you've used your Oyster card to catch the tube to Harrods, you can walk back through Knightsbridge to glorious Hyde Park and soak up some sun lazing about next to the Serpentine, or grab a yummy meal, coffee or glass of bubbles at The Serpentine Bar & Kitchen.

Hyde Park, together with adjacent Kensington Gardens, covers around 625 acres in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world.  It really is the lungs of London.

In 1536 Henry VIII acquired the park from the canons of Westminster Abbey, but he had it fenced and kept it as a private deer and hunting park ("It's good to be the King!"), and in 1637 Charles I opened the park to the general public.

Oh Henry, you had it so good!  Your wives?  Not so much.

You can do a lot in Hyde Park, or you can do nothing much at all.  It's a lovely, safe, well kept place for lazing around with a newspaper, or you can get some friends together and play football, touch rugby, cricket, softball or have a game of Frisbee.

You can hire a Boris Bike at various locations throughout the park, and if you're feeling cashed up, you can hire a horse from Hyde Park Stables.

A lovely, though expensive, way to spend an hour.

The horse rides are taken out along the tan around the edge of the park, and if you're a horse nut like me, but don't have the cash to hire a horse (not cheap, one hour starts at £64), just walk along the tan and you'll see people trotting and cantering past, or mounted police schooling their horses on the grass.  If you wander through at the right time you'll often see the Mounted Calvary going through their paces from the Hyde Park Barracks.

Household Cavalry Coming Through!

Take a picnic, enjoy the day in the fresh air, but remember one thing, those lovely deck chairs you see in the sunny spots aren't free!  I discovered this one day as I plonked myself down with my Stieg Larsson and was just getting comfortable when the owner of the chairs came up and asked for the rental money.  Um, no, sorry.  I'll sit on the grass for free.

Oops, not free!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Christian The Lion Video

I've found out that those who follow me via email might not have got the embedded video on the last blog post of Christian the lion being reunited with his two humans.  Not sure why it didn't work, but I won't embed it this time, I'll just link it here, so click away and enjoy.

The Reunion - bring on the tissues!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Harrods : London

Just a brief recap on the previous post, in case I didn't make it screamingly obvious enough, I LOVE LONDON.  One of my favourite shops in London is Harrods.  I know, I can hear you sigh and say "Not Harrods!  She's such a tourist!".  Well, yes, in fact, I am a tourist, but I'm a tourist who knows what she likes, and I like Harrods.

I don't know if anyone who lives in London actually shops at Harrods, but I know that tourists certainly do, and I think it's a "must visit" for anyone who's going to London.

If I'm there, you can find me haunting the cake hall, the pet department, the equestrian department, the Harrods hall (where you can buy everything with Harrods printed on it), or, occassionally, the shoe department, where I gaze at the regiments of Louboutins, Guccis and Choos with a mixture of delight and impracticality.

Harrods Cupcakes - bring them to me!

Harrods first opened in 1824 in a different location, by the Thames in Southwark, and moved the current location in Knightsbridge in 1849, where it spreads over 5 acres.  It's the only store I've ever heard of that has a dress code.  Yes, seriously.  So if you're thinking of wandering in wearing your bike shorts, a midriff top that reveals your tattoos and no shoes, well, you'd best think again.

The store does have a dress code. We would kindly ask all visitors to ensure all clothing is clean and presentable and that the appropriate footwear is worn whilst in the store. We would also ask that visitors refrain from wearing clothing which may reveal intimate parts of the body, or which portrays offensive pictures or writing, as well as refraining from wearing crash helmets in the store. In particular the code does not permit any person entering the store who is wearing high cut, sports or beach shorts, swimwear, bare midriffs, athletic singlets, cycling shorts or general sporting attire, bare feet or any extremes of personal presentation.
    You can get everything at Harrods, that what they pride themselves on.  If they don't have it, they'll order it for you.  Back in the 1960s two Aussie lads even bought a lion cub from the pet department.  Check out the story of Christian the lion here.

    Don't worry, after spending a few years living with the lads and spending his days either in their antique shop or exercising (with permission) in a local graveyard, the boys reintegrated Christian (with the help of the Adamsons) to the African bush.  Check out the absolute tear jerking reunion of the lads and Christian above (and if you don't get a tear in your eye, then you're harder than I thought!).  I just watched the video again before linking it, and have happy tears coursing down my face - it's fantastic.

    Christian & The Lads

    Anyway, I'm pretty sure you can't get lions there anymore, but you can hire a plane, buy a house, eat a whoopie pie, drink champagne, buy something for your horse, have a massage, eat a lobster, buy some fabulous souvenirs, and pretty much get anything that takes your fancy.

    And I know this will bother some of you, but Harrods has already opened their Christmas store!  Yes, it's August, and I know that's rather early.  But I'm one of those people who rejoice at early showings of Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns at supermarkets, so I'm 110% all for Christmas decorations being available all year.  And if you love Christmas, the Harrods Christmas store will really get your tail wagging - it's glorious.

    So, even if you think Harrods is just for tourists, go along, enjoy walking around and looking at everything, even if you don't buy.  I think you'll find that you love Harrods too (except, maybe, if you're a man, and then you might want to sit in a bar whilst the womenfolk go at it)!


    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Oyster Card : London

    If you're going on holiday to London, I highly recommend that you get your hands on an Oyster Card and save yourself a fortune on public transport costs.

    I think by now everyone understands that I love London.  Love, love, love it.  Don't know why, but I just do.  I love walking around it, dining in it, shopping in it, reading the newspaper in it and just being in it.  London is fantastic.  The best way to get around London if you're not in a hurry is to walk, but they also have a pretty good public transport system.  The only problem with the public transport is that it's expensive.  Very expensive.

    Probably the quickest way to get around is on the Underground (aka the tube).  It's the oldest underground railway in the world and the first section opened in 1863.  Yes, 1863.  That section is STILL running (part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines).

    The tube runs all over (under, actually) London and the maps are fairly easy to understand.  That said, I have gone to the correct station and gotten on the train going in the wrong direction before.  If that happens, you just go to the next station, get off and cross over to the right platform - it's not stressy.

    Now, back to the Oyster Card.  An Oyster Card is a plastic card, the same size as a credit card, that you pre-load with money and you use on the bus, tram, train, DLR, overground and most National Rail services in London.

    You can get an Oyster Card at London Travel Information Services, Oyster Ticket Shops and tube stations.  They cost £5, but once you've bought one your travel becomes significantly discounted compared to what you'd pay if you just walk up and buy a ticket on the transport you require.

    For example, one bus ticket costs £2.20 per trip, but if you use your Oyster Card it's only £1.30, with a daily price cap of £4.00 for as many trips as you like that day - see link here.  One tube ticket starts at £4.00 per trip, but if you use Oyster then it's only £1.90 - see link here.

    So you can easily recoup your initial £5 investment (usually within the first day of your visit), and you go on saving money each time you use public transport.

    The Oyster is rechargeable (you can keep topping it up with money).  You can top up your Oyster at ticket machines in tube stations or shops displaying the Oyster logo.  If I'm walking past a tube station and I've got a pocket full of change, I usually go in an top my Oyster up with the change (just make sure you don't do that in peak times unless you want a whole new group of enemies!).

    So, get yourself an Oyster on your first day, save loads of money and go shopping with all you've saved!  I can't see a flaw in that logic, and I hope you love London as much as I do.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Take That in Munich

    I'm married to a fantastic man who loves surprises, and so are a lot of my dear girlfriends.  Hubby has caught me open mouthed with surprise at my amazing 40th birthday dinner at The Manse in North Adelaide, and again at Zurich Airport when our lovely friends Sars and JD flew in from Australia to stay and I had absolutely no idea (cue lots of tears, hugs and laughter).  But this time we decided to work jointly with Craig to surprise his gorgeous wife Mel in Munich last Friday afternoon.

    Mel & Craig are British, but currently live in Australia, and are dear friends of ours.  Over the last 4 months Craig has been spinning believable stories to Mel about visiting the UK via Munich, where he apparently had to go for business.  She fell for it all.  They arrived at their hotel after the awfully long flight from Australia on Friday morning, and we drove up from Rado, arriving mid afternoon.  They were in the bar when we arrived, and I snuck up behind Mel and gave her a big hug.  She was totally in shock and it was seriously fabulous.


    We spent the afternoon with them, all spinning lines about going to dinner that night in a beer cellar in the big park near the Olympia Stadium.  Again, she fell for it all - even when we were walking past squads of women wearing Take That t-shirts!  Eventually we arrived at the stadium and Paul consulted his map and said that we had to go in, and we handed over the Take That tickets.  Mel just kept reading her ticket (which looked like a boarding pass, printed on A4 paper) and trying to figure it out and then she realised that we were all going to the concert and she was thrilled.

    Hey!  We're At Take That!

    Anyway, the concert was top class.  It was the last date in the world wide Progress concert tour and the boys pulled out all the stops.  The support was Pet Shop Boys and they put on a great show - I swear they haven't aged even though they've been around for decades.

    Pet Shop Boys

    Then it was time for Take That, and they certainly didn't disappoint.  The stage was huge, with large mechanised robots on it and a long runway out into the crowd.  Firstly it was the four guys performing without Robbie and they were on for about 45 minutes.  Then Robbie came on alone and was on for about 45 minutes, then they all came on together for about 45 minutes.

    The stage show was amazing, with lots of dancers, costumes and a giant caterpillar wearing a saddle that they rode on.  They spent a lot of time interacting with the crowd on the long catwalk, and turning the cameras on their crew and support to say thanks for all their help at the very last show.

    Robbie was still Robbie, nothing changes there.  He's a cheeky monkey and didn't let us down, he was great and everyone was smiling and singing along.

    Robbie & The Robot

    The only downside was that they still allow smoking at concerts in Germany and LOTS of Germans smoke.  There doesn't seem to be any regulation on smoking here.  You can buy cigarettes from vending machines on the street, so there's no age limit either.  By the time we left the concert we all smelt like ash-trays, and the boys, being taller, were having the smoke blown in their faces when people thoughtfully blew smoke up high.

    We got back to the hotel around midnight after a concert that started about 7.30pm - we certainly got our moneys worth!

    We bought Mel & Craig back to Rado on Saturday and they fly out to the UK today - it's been seriously fabulous to have them here.

    Yay For Surprises!