Our retirement adventures

Sydney, February 2014

10 February

With Southern England windy, waterlogged and drenched again, the crossing to Heysham was surprisingly calm, in sunny weather and on time. Long arduous drive though to Andover to see cousin Jose following her husband, Dennis’ death last Thursday.

Linda and Mick also there, remarkably, the first time Sal had seen Mick since their wedding in the late 70s! We also now have a booking for the 2015 TT in May/June!

Holiday Inn in Reading West is adequate, not flooded, but the bathroom has definitely seen better days. Meal in hotel again adequate but we were late and the only ones there. Good night’s sleep.

11 February

Absolute deluge again and as we drive to Flic’s it is clear that so many fields are flooded. Signs seen to avoid Windsor as well as Datchet and judging by the news reports, both are under water.

Flic well but still sore. Epidural on 26th as well as courtizal injections which hopefully will relieve the pain of the last 7 years.

imageBy now sunny and arrive at Heathrow just before 3 for an 8:35 flight so plenty of time. Parking easy to find and a good few hours in Executive Lounge although we seemed to be infectious judging by a group from the Far East wearing face masks in the lounge.

Not overly impressed with BA’s continued insistence with back to front seating in Club Class. Stranger next to me seems to have trouble in getting his son (aged about 8) to sleep. Not much sleep myself.

12 February

Long walk to Terminal 3 in Dubai and have difficulty again in finding right place to go for lounge for Qantas flight to Sydney. It is in the Emirates lounge! More comfortable seating in Qantas with better configuration. Long flight to Sydney, so good night or is it good morning?

13 February

Qantas cutlery

Qantas cutlery

An upstairs seat in a much better configured A380 Qantas plane. Qantas seem to have the formulae right as far as seating configuration is concerned. I would however question their taste in cutlery.

13+ hours on one flight is a long time and whilst I am not a great film lover I did manage to see The Railway Man (Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman, who was made up to like like Jenny Agutter from her Railway Children film, starred). An excellently moving film.

Arrival at Sydney was on time and we were in the car to take us to our hotel 30 minutes Later.

However, the Travelodge hotel in Wynyard is a great disappointment, the room smelling musty, the sheets seemingly damp bordering on wet and up a hill from the harbour area. Not what we thought we were getting and not a credit to Audley travel.  We were told initially the room was not ready which just proves the staff had no idea as we had paid for the previous night. Nevertheless, we manage a couple of hours rest before heading downhill to the harbour area and a walk to the Opera House.

Sydney: the iconic views

Sydney: the iconic views

Find lift to reception area and enquire about a tour then head back for lunch in one of the many eateries along the waterfront – expensive.

Neither of us feel up to doing much so get one of the red open top bus tours around Sydney for an amazing price of A$30 each.

However, there isn’t a great deal to see and what there is to see is often commented on either well before we reach it or, more annoyingly, well afterwards. Long waits at stops as driver has to collect fares from new travellers, there being no other staff on board. Still, we learn good snippets of information and locate the National Maritime Museum although not Nimo!

Sal doesn’t do hills upwards which is one of the reasons for our disappointment at the hotel, so get taxi back to hotel although not sure taxi driver was impressed at such a short journey. Only 30 minutes of free Internet access allowed at the hotel and use up our daily half hour before falling asleep until half eight. Not inclined to go out for a meal so just a Starbucks coffee and a muffin tonight; healthy, I think not!

Manage to contact John & Sue Bowring (ex G & S, IoM) and arrange to meet with them on Sunday afternoon. Good sleep tonight.

14 February

Cooler today after last night’s thunderstorm, overcast but dry. After a Starbuck’s breakfast head to Red Bus tour for the Bondi beach circuit.

Bondi beach

Bondi beach

First, the City tour to the Bondi beach tour stop and the timing of the commentary is even worse than yesterday, completely missing out one item and covering something about the town hall at least one stop beforehand. I never did see the lion with the closed eye!

The Bondi tour however was good although we didn’t get out at Bondi – not enough time on our ticket. The drive back along north Bondi and Rose Bay showed us another side to Sydney; affluence in their houses and area.

Stop off at Station where there is a small railway themed bookstore. No purchases but do spot a DVD of a driver’s eye view of a train journey from Waterloo to Reading, how random is that.

Lunch in a small cafe, much cheaper than the waterfront and a walk back through QVB which Pierre Cardin had once described as “the most beautiful shopping centre in the world” – an apt description.

QVB shopping centre, and it's clock

QVB shopping centre, and it’s clock

Superbly renovated with a couple of wonderful clocks, stained glass windows and ornate floor tiling, the original building dates from 1898 and was to be demolished in the 1960s after it ceased to be a market.

Today’s Internet half hour allows us to even complete a few Lexulous games!

Woolworth’s here is a food store, so provisions for breakfast bought. Dinner in adjacent Japanese Restaurant as there is nothing else within immediate vicinity that doesn’t involve hills.  It is an OK meal, nothing spectacular.

15 February

A grey and wet day to start with and I had left our rain ware at home! Nevertheless, after the ubiquitous Starbucks, we head off to Circular Quay, by which time most of the rain has passed, and just manage to catch the 11:00 Manly ferry which is quite crowded. The vessel has two “front ends” so does not need to turn around, thus saving time on the journey.

30 minutes crossing in the greater Sydney bay and we leave along with probably 900 or so other souls for an explore of this area. A surfing competition is being held on the other side of the town but the weather has obviously put a dampener on proceedings and the viewing stands are virtually empty. Walk along the coastal path for a short distance towards Shelly Beach away from but still in sight of the surfers.

Manly beach on a surfing day

Manly beach on a surfing day

Manly has an area of water called the “World surfing Reserve” which is not surprisingly where the competition is being held.

Sailing competition in Sydney Harbour

Sailing competition in Sydney Harbour

Back into town for a leisurely lunch at a local fish restaurant (Fiasco), followed by an ice cream and return to Circular Quay on the ferry. Sit outside on – deck and watch many sailing boats probably in several races.

Get details of what’s on at the Opera House and then take a leisurely walk back to hotel. Britain won a gold in the Winter Olympics!!

16 February

A dry start but that soon turns to quite heavy rain so the jet boat is not really an option. Instead, leisurely walk to QVB for coffee, watch the clock strike 12 and then off to the Westfield shopping Centre for a stroll out of the rain. Lunch is a couple of pies as take aways that we eat in our room after succumbing to buying an umbrella.

Sydney bridge

Sydney bridge

John and Sue Bowring meet us in the foyer and we all walk down to the Contemporary Arts Centre on the Waterfront for a coffee before walking the rest of the waterfront towards and under the Bridge past what Sue describes as the most expensive hotel.

Sydney fairground

Sydney fairground

The fairground opposite the harbour is apparently an all year round attraction that somehow looks a little out of place so near the Bridge.

Nearby are some of the most expensive apartments in Sydney that sell on for in excess of A$50m each and although the view is not as good today as it might have been had the weather been better, you can see why they would be so expensive.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

John is persuaded to take our picture with the Opera House in the background in between their commentary on the area – John and Sue certainly seem to have settled here, Sue even having sung in the Opera House.

Slow walk back to hotel and then off for dinner at Vapiano which I understand is a Swedish concept as you pay for your meals on a “debit card” but an in-house one, paying with real money when you leave. Basically, it is a tab as we would know it but with your own card.

17 February

Still raining although forecast is better. Sue had suggested visiting Parramatter by ferry. By the time we were at the harbour, the rain had stopped and we took a seat at the front of the vessel, wind in our faces as the ferry, good value at $14.80 each return, stopping at various places along the way in a 90 minute journey to the end of the navigable part of the river.

Kissing gate wharf, an interesting commuter stop!

Kissing Point wharf, an interesting commuter stop!

As one would expect, many fabulous (and probably fabulously priced) waterfront houses and private craft passed and a few interestingly named wharf stops; Kissing Point and Cockatoo island to name but two.

The vessel, seemingly all named after famous Australians such as Eelong Goolagong, slowed down nearer Parramatter as by now residential had turned into industrial and vegetation at the side of the river. Disappointed to find rubbish on river was quite high and there was evidence of oil spillage.

Parramatter reached and a walk further up stream to town which apart from some high rise modern buildings seems to be similar to some towns we visited in NZ last year with canopy walkways and single storey shops all of which have definitely seen better days.

Parramatter ferry

Parramatter ferry

Back to quay and catch next ferry back taking in the view from the outside front again. Passing first the vegetation by the side of the river causing us to stay slow but passing into the industrial sites and waterfront housing which allowed us to travel much quicker.

By now the sun is out so views better by the time we reach Sydney harbour. Coffee in waterfront area and tickets booked for Magic Flute on our return to Sydney in about 5 weeks time.

Sydney Harbour Bridge with some sun

Sydney Harbour Bridge with some sun

Yesterday, John had invited me to take up a free ticket he had been given and Sue couldn’t use to see a conversation between Richard Roxburgh and Jessica Hobbs organised by the “equity foundation”.

Now I knew nothing of these two before this but RR is in Rake, an Australian sort of spoof crime series directed by JH.

Lots of young actors and actresses in the audience and some interesting dialogue between the two mostly centered around the relationship between actors and directors. A few questions at the end including one from an extra who had a bread roll thrown at him in one of the episodes of the 1st series. Back to hotel at about 7:40 to pick up Sal and walk up road to Vapiano again for evening meal.

Before the talk, John took me to see the old part of the library with a fascinating map shown as floor tiles as you enter about the voyages in the 1640’s that charted a lot of the coastline of Australia. The voyages were undertaken by two Dutch ships under the captainship of Abel Janszoon Tasman. A wonderful sight and it is a pity we have so little time to explore more of this and the library itself which has characteristics similar to the one we viewed in Boston last October.

18 February

Off to Tasmania after breakfast in Starbucks. Hotel absolutely mobbed pre check out with a group in and a group out. Hotel happy to offer a refund of phone call and transport to airport in view of complaint about standard of room on arrival but transport never materialises so hotel persuade a taxi to get us to airport free of charge (to us).

Virgin Australia efficient at airport and we arrive in a cloudy and cooler Tasmania on time, collect luggage and off to hotel in taxi. Tasmania only has a population of .5m with probably half of these in Hobart, or as one local shopkeeper told us, “Slowbart”!

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Andorra 2014

Andorra 2014

What a difference a year makes. Harry, now nearly two, walks everywhere, chatters all the time – you can hold a conversation with him of sorts – whereas last year’s visit to Andorra at the same time of year was when he had only just taken a few gingerly taken steps.

The low lying mist around Ronaldsway airport had not caused Easyjet problems in landing and we were off on time, a relief. Overnighting at Gatwick we were soon on our way to Barcelona the following morning only this time it wasn’t quite so warm and sunny on arrival. Our journey to Andorra was uneventful and Mrs SatNav behaved herself this time, not trying to send us off a cliff as it had done last year.

Harry's 1st personalised numberplate

Harry’s 1st personalised numberplate

Even the hire car had Harry’s initials on it although I don’t think he worried about that.

This year, we stopped at the L’Eclerc shop just over the Spanish border for provisions, a total scrum of people inside, probably mostly Spanish, but certainly some locals including one woman paying with an €500 note. I have never seen so many umbrellas for sale and certainly outside of the USA, so many suitcases.  Maybe they thought the rain in the UK right now is heading their way (UK umbrella sales increase 219% year on year).

A different (modern) apartment this year but only just up the hill with an underground car park so hopefully no problems next Saturday morning if it snows.

Sarah, Ali and Harry had a good journey from St Malo.

Sunday 26 January

Harry and Mel relaxing

Harry and Mel relaxing

Crowded day with some fresh snow so a morning in and then up to Grau Roig although we find we are not able to get up to Grau Roig as snow chains required and these are in Sarah & Ali’s car. Back to El Tarter but can’t park as too many visitors so return to our garage and walk to cable car. Take Harry on cable car but he is apprehensive holding on to Mel tightly – he really wasn’t sure about it. Harry enjoys snow outside cafe, still a little apprehensive on way down but after an amble back to our apartment, he is dead on his feet, just nodding his head when asked if he wants to go to bed.

Monday 27 January

Harry enjoying a ride

Harry enjoying a ride

Make it to Grau Roig as no new overnight snow. Harry enjoys skiing and coming down on sledge but best of all he likes eating the snow. Ali has hurt himself skiing so tomorrow is a day off.

Tuesday 28 January

A day off from the snow and a swim at the local pool which Harry thought was cold. Off to Andorra de Villa for some retail therapy for Sarah, Ali and Mel whilst Sally and I take Harry back for a sleep.

Wednesday 29 January

Walks above El Tarter

Walks above El Tarter

Another day up the slopes at El Tarter but by now Harry is enthralled with the cable car which he likens to an aeroplane. Off to Andorra la Ville for some more retail therapy but Harry not well on way back and sick in car. Probably something in the frankfurter at the cafe above El Tarter.

Thursday 30 January

Drive up to Encamp and up a longer cable car that Harry is very excited to go in. He can’t wait! Dinner tonight at …… (The same one as we went to last year) and Harry is very good at the table but is very tired despite a 2 hour sleep at lunchtime.

Friday 31 January

No Internet access so never saw the forecast change from glorious sunshine to consistent snow which we are now faced with. Take Harry up on the cable car which by now seems to be his preferred mode of transport.

Harry's attempt at a snowman

Harry’s attempt at a snowman

A long play in the snow and then down for another 2+ hour sleep before a final visit to Andorra la Ville for a stock up on goodies to eat and diesel for the car.

Saturday 1 February

An uneventful drive back to Barcelona airport although getting a drink in Barcelona airport proved difficult, their 2 cash machines that you have to use to pay for drinks etc. were both out of order and after 30 minutes the staff finally realised that they could take old fashioned cash in their hands and write down the amount for analysing later.  Easyjet flights back home and a nice comfortable overnight at the Sofitel in Gatwick.

Now for our visit to Australia!

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