Archive for the travel Category

Weekend escape: Cranford Cottage at Heathcote

Posted in travel with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2014 by jason nahrung

cranford cottage, heathcote

The view from the front porch of Cranford Cottage


There’s a paddock of calf-high brown grass bent with breeze stretching past gum trees to the horizon. Houses there are lost in haze, too distant to be a concern; Mt Ida pokes a leafy head over the top. Sheep work their way across the paddock, and Eddy the emu may be seen prowling the fence, waiting for Stephen to open the gate and let him back into the facing paddock where black angus graze, so he can scribe his circular route around the property once more.

Among the other birds spied here are lorikeets and galahs, magpies, willy wagtails, sparrows; hawks, Stephen says, and occasionally even wedge-tailed eagles. But we don’t see the raptors. The farm has chooks, too: can’t miss that cock crowing, far enough away at the house to be rustic charm rather than a trigger for a throttling.

At day, glowing in the sun; at night, gilded by moonlight: the grass is mesmerising. That space, that quiet … what an ideal getaway this place is.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Back deck

Farmers Stephen and his wife Cally run Cranford Cottage at Heathcote, barely 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, a B&B where they’ve done everything right. Set at the back of the homestead’s house paddock, the cabin has two bedrooms with en suites flanking the central kitchen, dining and lounge area, with a porch looking towards the sheep and a full-length deck facing the creek and cattle.

Corrugated iron and undressed timber feature outside; the living area has timber floor, wood heater and air conditioning, while the bedroom has a ceiling fan and carpet so new you can smell it. TV, DVD, an iPad of music, Scrabble, wifi, battery-operated tea-light candles are provided; there’s a dishwasher, microwave and gas stove.

The cottage has one of the best provisioned kitchens I’ve encountered at a B&B — even flour and raw sugar, cling wrap, cooking oil, a generous jar of instant Moccona coffee to supplement the espresso. The only absence come brekkie time is egg rings … meh. The provided breakfast is (scrambled) eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread from the local bakery, avocado, juice. There are bananas, microwave popcorn, muesli, numerous teas, hot chocolate … excellent stuff.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Welcome gift of wine, with sage advice

As the custom wine label on our complimentary bottle of red tells us, there’s plenty of wine in Heathcote, a shiraz heartland, and the cottage is mere minutes from town, which has four cellar doors in the main street and around 40 wineries in the region. As it turns out, we don’t get past the main street’s offerings. Heathcote Winery is very good, but it’s Heathcote Estate (they also run Mornington Peninsula’s Yabby Lake) that takes my fancy with their Barossa-style, attention-grabbing shiraz, and Peregrine Ridge at the farmers’ market is a pleasant find. Owner-operator Graeme steers us to a purveyor of pork that is sensational.

More pictures of the cottage, with sheep — and Eddy!

Stephen and Cally booked us in for Friday night dinner at the Willow Room in town, a superb, intimate restaurant and B&B run by a couple Stephen tells us have not long ago moved from Melbourne. A fortunate tree change, if my taste buds are any judge: the food is sensational. You know you’re in a wine region when you ask the origin of the house red — a most excellent drop — and you’re told the names of the people who made it, not their winery.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Chook kettle

Gentle Saturday morning rain makes the grass glisten, washes the bushfire smoke haze from the air.

‘It’ll keep us going,’ Stephen says of the drizzle as we return from the market just after lunch time (dim sum, pork sausage on a slice of bread, coffee), but the rain was barely enough to wet our hair. We take short showers (there is no bath tub): the water is solely drawn from rainwater tanks. And my god, it tastes so good out of the tap.

We while away the remainder of the weekend, playing cards, picking at nibbles from the local IGA washed down by local red. The mountain bikes go unused, the four-hole just-for-fun golf course in the back yard remains untested.

When we reluctantly leave on the Sunday, the boot filled with bottles of vinegar and oil, preserves and — ahem — wine, Stephen waves from a small set of vines planted down at the lagoon, where a platform juts out over the parched rim. He’s got guests so we don’t pull up, just wave: we left a note to say we’d be back.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Mt Ida cloaked in rain, Cranford Cottage

2014 Australian Literary Festival calendar

Posted in events, travel, writing with tags , , , on December 3, 2013 by jason nahrung

calendarThe calendar of literary events in Australia for 2014 is already looking mighty busy. It’s great to see so many events blocking out their dates early so everyone can plan their travel arrangements!

Corrections and additions welcome, and I’ll keep updating as more come on line.

Holiday highlights: around the UK in 30 days, or, the secret to a great Devonshire tea

Posted in travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2013 by jason nahrung

October. Months ago now. My wife and I spent most of it driving around England, from London, to Bodmin in Cornwall, to Aberfoyle in Scotland, to York, to Brighton, and back to London to fly home. We based ourselves in each locale — sharing with fellow Aussie travellers in Cornwall and Scotland in self-catering cottages — and did day trips to the surrounding sights, except for Brighton, where we were ensconced for the World Fantasy Convention. Much has been said elsewhere about the convention (start here, if you like): I enjoyed it, but programming let the side down, and the numbers were huge, so it didn’t really feel like a World Fantasy, more like a Worldcon. Anyway, it will be the last one for me for awhile. Got this holiday to pay off, yeah?

Speaking of which:

London:

egyptian goddess sekhmet

Sekhmet at British Museum

The British Museum: Perfect for a rainy day — and you do need all day — and how wonderful to reconnect with the wonderful Sekhmet statues in the Egyptian section. It’s free, though a donation is requested. I gave at the gift shop.
The Thames: we made the most of the sunshine and hopped a boat to Greenwich, where we roamed the market, checked out GMT and enjoyed the skyline from the river.
Borough Market: my friend Tina tipped us off to this one, where all manner of tempting goodies were to be had. We bought cheese, not as rank as the Stinking Bishop we’d had previously with my friend Maria down the pub.
Highgate Cemetery: I love this cemetery. Douglas Adams is buried there, amongst many other luminaries, and much undergrowth.
Galleries: London’s got oodles. We hit the National Portrait Gallery — Brontes! Shelleys! Helena Bonham Carter! — and the Tate Modern — Picasso and stuff, a bit more challenging, but a wonderful space and plenty to consider; there must be something for everyone in here.
A show! What, with the West End right there, you’d be mad not to take in a show, right? The Leicester Square TKTS booth is first port of call to see what’s going hot and cheap. We snaffled two in the slightly downbeat, quite intimate and absolutely wonderful Fortune Theatre for The Woman in Black — some very creepy staging, a few too many cheap loud noises, and an uncompromising ghost story. Just as enjoyable as when I first saw it, all those years ago, but I don’t recall those sound effects. A room full of schoolkids matching the cast scream for scream certainly helped the atmosphere!


Bodmin Moor, from the Cheesewring

Bodmin Moor, from the Cheesewring


Cornwall:

Twas Cornwall where we had our first Devonshire, or cream, tea, and somewhere between there and Devon we worked out the best possible combination: CLOTTED cream, lashings of strawberry jam, warm scone. And yes, for those pagans among us, coffee ‘if we must’.
Tintagel: a most scenic ruin spread across mainland and island, fantastic, and that’s without bringing King Arthur’s conception into it. A nearby Norman church is worth the walk.
Bodmin Moor: Winding roads cross this undulating landscape, windswept and all camouflage-coloured in heath and blackberry vines, dotted with standing stones and the remnants of tin-mining glory. What a contrast, the stones and the ventilation shafts that dot the countryside, and now with added wind farms.
Dartmoor: not Corwnwall, but Devon, but an easy enough drive and thoroughly rewarding — oak forests, Iron Age settlements, standing stones, wild ponies, scrumpy. And everywhere — everywhere — sheep, and some cattle, including some big-horned shaggy ones.
Pretty villages, but horrid streets: Street? Ha. Lane. Alley. Oversized footpath! Clinging to sea cliffs, places such as St Ives, Port Isaac and Fowey are delights for the pedestrian, and boast some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had (highly recommended: the King’s Arms in Marazion, near St Michael’s Mount, and what a cool place that is, with the tide coming in over the causeway so you get a boat trip back to the mainland).
A note on Land’s End: it might be the southernmost tip of the country, and the coffee might be half decent, but it’s really not worth paying the price of admission to this capitalising theme park. More pleasing was an ice cream from the van near Godrevy Island lighthouse and watching the sun set.


Loch Ness, at Fort Augustus

Loch Ness, at Fort Augustus


Scotland:

We took a night in Bowness-on-Windermere on the way north from Bodmin to Aberfoyle, and wow, the Lakes District sure is pretty. Mountains, rivers … lakes, naturally. Well worth a return for some serious tramping.
The Three Sisters (Glencoe): We drove from Aberfoyle up the western side of Loch Lomond to Loch Ness. What a brilliant drive. Lochs, mountains, moors … lochs, did I mention lochs? Gorgeous with their borders of autumn forests.
Trossachs: Aberfoyle, on Loch Ard, is a gateway to the Trossachs park, and we spent a day tramping two routes to get a good look at the mossy forests and reflective lochs. More lochs. Oh yes! Awesome lunchtime destination, loch-side: Venachar Lochside cafe near Callander.

More holiday pictures at my Flickr site

Glasgow Necropolis: Sprawling, hilly, treed, this epic graveyard is a time sink with its many memento moris and statues.
Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh: Last time I visited, I bumped into the grumpy Scots in Edinburgh and came away unimpressed. This time, I’m prepared to give the old place a second chance, even if driving in felt a little like being caught in a computer game with vanishing lanes, narrow lanes, parked cars, one-way streets, invincible pedestrians and trams. The small Old Calton Cemetery, across from high-point Calton Hill with its faux-Parthenon National Monument, is well worth a browse, with many tombs set against the walls and fine carvings. But it’s the haggis — brilliantly spiced and lightly deep fried, at the so very friendly Royal McGregor on the Royal Mile, that really wins me over to the place.
Stirling: I love this town, especially the old area around the cemetery and castle. Such a picturesque resting place with some lovely decorative stones, under the eye of the castle.


walls at York

Walking York’s walls


York:

York is one of my favourite English cities, mainly because of the Shambles and the layers of history to be found there. We could easily have stayed longer in our charming Gillygate B&B (Kirstyn loved her morning kippers!), just outside Bootham Bar and within chiming distance of the Minster. York Castle Museum was worth the price of admission just for its recreation of a Victorian street that cycles through a full day with light and sound, and the haunted house on Stonegate Street was interesting just for its architecture. Great food (try the Hole in the Wall pub for Yorkshire pudding, the Evil Eye Lounge for spicier Malaysian fare), bar one pub who will remain nameless; a walking tour guided by cat statues; a clever, well-acted play (Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down) at the York Theatre Royal; and Roman ruins and walls EVERYWHERE (even in the theatre!)!

St Hilda's Abbey, Whitby

Whitby Abbey


Whitby:

veiled vestal virgin, or bride, copy

‘Veiled Bride’

We took a day trip across the moors to Whitby, such a charming fishing village that I first encountered in the pages of Dracula. Given its Whitby Gothic Weekend tradition, I’d expected more goth stuff, but no, not really, and we missed the kitschy Dracula Experience (so bad we had to see it, we were told by friends, but we got distracted by the abbey). On the West Cliff, Captain Cook — there’s more to him than we get taught in school — and our prize acquisition from this holiday, a gorgeous ‘Veiled Bride’ sculpture reproduction bust of a veiled vestal virgin. On the eastern side of the river, a little shambles, the 199 Steps to the top where St Mary’s church and the ruins of St Hild’s, or simply Whitby, Abbey await. The abbey is stunning, and we watched the sun set there. Awesome fish and chips for lunch? Try Royal Fisheries.
The great thing about the English weather forecasts — while their news, and TV in general, is fairly crap, the weather forecast you can rely on, so when they say clearing in the arvo, you can safely leave York with the wipers on and watch the sun go down at Whitby.
brighton beach and burnt pier

Brighton, and the remains of a burnt pier


Brighton:

Didn’t get much of a look at Brighton, other than its pebble beach — what a funky racket when the waves are crashing in! — and its famed pier and a bunch of lunches and dinners. Probably the best night out was at Little Bay, set up as a kind of theatre with one booth sporting a cameo of Edgar Allan Poe, jazzy operatic singer Sam Chara, and a 10-quid three-course meal that was worth a whole lot more.

And back to London …

A bus trip from Brighton to London for 5 quid! Score! And then, a last dinner at an Italian place called Bizzaro, near Paddington Station, with tiramisu to die for.

So all up, a very splendid month, 2500 miles notched up in the hire car, and good times. The convenient thing about spacing out the trip to just key points was being able to unpack at each and settle in a bit, roll with the weather, take things a bit leisurely. Especially in a place like York, where just walking around is so pleasurable. All those alleys, closes, vennels, ghauts …
Now, about this next holiday…

cream or devonshire tea

Cream Tea

More holiday pictures at my Flickr site

Cradle Mountain: it reigns

Posted in travel with tags , , , , on August 26, 2013 by jason nahrung

Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania

Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania


It rained. A lot. And it was perfect. The weekend was designed as a laid-back getaway, and that’s what we got at Cradle Mountain Lodge.

The Lodge sits just outside Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, an area of such awesome natural beauty and value it’s World Heritage listed.

Sun shone on the English fields of sheep and cattle on the two-and-a-bit-hours drive from Launceston, but as the altitude climbed, the clouds came over, until we were winding through misty-rainy moor and edging sheer gullies choked with eucalyptus forest.

The clouds never left for the duration of the weekend, even threatening to snow at one point. But the rain showed mercy, breaking long enough for us to not only appreciate the bounty around us, but work up an appetite: there was the half-hour Enchanted Walk, with its duckboards running beside a fast-flowing stream and taking us from open grass paddocks to moss-covered forest; and there was a wee taste of the Dove Lake track, with a side trip to “the boatshed”, down to Lake Lilla. There was even a brief rainbow on the return trek!

More pictures of rainy Cradle Mountain

Our accommodation, a sprawling estate run by Peppers, was ideal for the stay: next door to our friends, spacious with an airlock to keep the dripping wet out and the warmth in, no television, a gas fire. The staff were uniformly friendly, too.

A short stroll to the lodge — it’s made out of a lot of timber — yielded close encounters with wombats and pademelons. In the no-fuss bistro, there was wood-fired pizza and other pub grub; in the restaurant, more elegant fare, including a walk-in wine cellar.

A buffet breakfast was included, and it offered a pleasing range of hot and cold tucker, and all fresh.
A lower bar, for guests only, had one of the best wood fires to dry out beside.

Our excursions included a joint win at the bistro’s short and sweet trivia night, and a little more romantic, and included in the accommodation price, a tour of the nearby Tassie Devil sanctuary, where the besieged critters are, along with two kinds of very cute quoll, available for viewing.

We dodged rain to see the cute little dudes fed pieces of wallaby, and didn’t they get stuck in. Devil screeches are something to be heard, especially in the dark and rain.

It’s great that there’s hope for the species, at least once the population suffering from lethal tumours has died out.

Boat Shed, Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain

Boat Shed, Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain

There was sun on the way home, of course. On the way in, we stopped at Sheffield for honey and fudge — the fudge did not make it home — but on the way out, it was a straight run back to Launceston for lunch at Blue Cafe — noms the sweet corn fritters — before flying out.

What really impressed, other than the landscape and sheer comfort of the resort, was the ease of access. A short flight from Melbourne, a short and very pleasant drive, a wilderness-embedded resort with its own walks, and the whole national park at the doorstep.

A fly, a drive, a walk, a feed, wombats (!), even an afternoon nap. Just lovely, rain or shine.

Headstones and lake reflections in Ballaratia

Posted in dining Ballarat, out and about in ballaratia, travel with tags , , , , on July 2, 2013 by jason nahrung

Ballaarat Old Cemetery, Ballarat

Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Friday was sunshine and fluffy clouds, little breeze, the typical Ballaratian winter’s day, we are told, but the first we’ve been able to enjoy. So Kirstyn and I took the day off and went to the Ballaarat Old Cemetery.

The city fathers were indeed wise to commission a second, with the city being a boom gold town and all, and the cemetery quite compact — population, about 25,000 (according to a sign board at the graveyard).

Here a lawn of unmarked pioneer era graves, here the Jews, here the Irish, the Germans … here the Chinese with the only oven I’ve seen outside of Mt Morgan.

Diggers' Eureka memorial, Ballaarat Old Cemetery, Ballarat

Diggers’ Eureka memorial, Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Probably the boneyard’s greatest claim to fame is the Eureka rebellion, with separate monuments for soldiers and rebels who died in the uprising, the insurgents so popular a jury would not convict them for treason. Interesting wording on the monuments, too. Fascinating insight.

We were struck by the number of children and infants mentioned on the stones, a sign of the harsh conditions in the late 19th century, no doubt. Those simple engravings conveyed so much sorrow.

Others blustered with Christian piety or simple resignation and hope; some struck more affecting messages: my beloved has gone down into the garden to gather lilies in the garden.

More cemetery pictures

The cemetery is well tended, sparkling with wafting strands of cobweb glistening like fishing line. An information building offers some insights. There are few grand monuments, defying expectation of a wealthy town’s significant departures; maybe the toffs have got their pillars out at the ‘new’ cemetery … We will investigate!

Eclectic Tastes Cafe, Ballarat

Eclectic Tastes Cafe, Ballarat

Next to the cemetery is the Eclectic Tastes Cafe. This converted home is one of those cafes that is welcoming as soon as you walk through the door — eclectic in decoration through its various rooms, a proudly parma-free zone, and a darn tasty menu with good coffee. I knocked back a sensational skillet of kidney beans and cheese and stuff, gently spiced, served with sourdough for sopping up the sauce. Kirstyn had a vegetarian pizza that even tempted me, thanks to nuts and blue cheese sauce. It’s the favourite eatery we’ve come across here so far.

Boathouse Restaurant, Lake Wendouree, Ballarat

Boathouse Restaurant, Lake Wendouree

Later in the afternoon, we headed for Ballarat’s defining geographical feature: Lake Wendouree. It’s been a site for rowers since 1864; now it’s dotted with boatsheds and cafes and parkland. We’ve yet to do a proper tour of the lake, and on Friday were content to just hover around one part where the Lake View Hotel enticed with its second-storey balcony … but we opted for cake and coffee on the deck at the tad pricey Boathouse Restaurant, right on the water, with a wonderful willow tree for extra scenery. There we could take in the water birds and joggers, rowers and paddlers and anglers as the sun sank and chill came down. One couple in a canoe pulled up at the cafe for coffee.

We snapped off a bunch of photos and retreated to home in the gloaming, appetites whetted for further exploration of Ballaratia.

More sunset pictures

Lake Wendouree sunset, Ballarat

Sunset, Lake Wendouree

Canberra to Clunes: books,books,books

Posted in awards, books, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2013 by jason nahrung

booktown in clunes 2013Clunes, a mere 20 minutes outside of Ballarat, has turned on its Booktown charm this weekend. Book shops and stalls are replete with all manner of reading material, from $2 paperbacks to rather more expensive collectibles. Newspapers of yore, magazines, a couple of volumes listing Irish coppers by name and year … all manner of quirk and taste was on offer.

It was elbow room only in some book shops when we visited yesterday. There were comments such as, ‘this one’s cheaper here’, or, ‘it’s rare, but it doesn’t have the slipcase’.

We didn’t catch any of the talks, but were content to browse and sup coffee and score tucker from the food vans.

What a cute town; what a lot of books!

Indeed, it has been a week of books, for only last weekend we were in Canberra for Conflux (various reports on the con are here), the national spec fic convention.

It was a hoot, with much catching up and some doozy panels too.

Angry Robot honcho Marc Gascoigne was a guest, and it was a little sad to hear him, and others, say that stories could be *too* Australian for the international market. Look forward to further US hegemony or more universal voices? Let’s hope not. Marc also painted a picture of Angry Robot that had many of us lining up with our CVs — their building has CAVES!

And how good was it to see the marvellous Nalo Hopkinson back in Australia? Very bloody good!

Great to see Russell B Farr land the A Bertram Chandler award for his career in publishing to date, awarded at one of the best Ditmar award presentations ever, overseen by Deborah Biancotti and ably supported by Lego and a cock-block clock (of which I am now the proud recipient due to lottery, and hope becomes an institution for future awards). Kirstyn won an award for her Writer and the Critic podcast with Ian Mond, which was a lovely nod, and as expected, Margo Lanagan’s wonderful Sea Hearts took out the best novel award. The full list of winners can be found here.

the bride price by cat sparksAnd there were book launches … so many book launches! One standout — and an alliterative one, too! — was that for Cat Sparks, rolling out her collection The Bride Price with Ticonderoga — it sold out! Before I got a copy! But there are many more, and you should check them out, too.

In between Canberra and Clunes, there was mileage: about 2500km worth, which included selling off a portion of my comic collection in Maitland, my first visit to Echuca and picking up some Campbells wines (home of Empire Port) in Rutherglen. Ah, road trips … gotta love’em. Especially when you get home with wine and books!

Newcastle Writers Festival truly ex-cell-ent

Posted in travel, writing with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2013 by jason nahrung
newcastle jail courtyard

Newcastle Gaol courtyard, scene of the crime

Every writers’ festival should have a jail.

Especially for a panel on horror.

The inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival  was a hoot, and pretty darn smooth, too, despite being held over a number of venues and being run by staff who hadn’t really done much like this before.

They had 60 writers and a whole lot of sell-out panels, with a grand get-together at the art gallery and an opening night speech par excellence from Miriam Margolyes  in a gorgeous theatre, panels in council chambers and the wonderfully scenic Noah’s hotel and a pub and — awesomeness of awesomeness — an old jail!

Kirstyn and I had a grand ol’ chat with Jenny Blackford about writing and horror and Kirstyn’s necklace and the barbarous destruction of some very old fig trees in a city park, all in the surrounds of a barred courtyard with an old loo in the far corner. Newcastle is Kirstyn’s old stomping ground, and it was interesting to see the evolution of the city through her remembrances.

Also flying the flag for spec fic was Margo Lanagan — we caught her YA panel. Jack Dann and Janeen Webb and Russell Blackford were also guests, but family commitments meant we got only to see Jack read an amazing homage to Gene Wolfe in a packed pub outing dedicated to Sin. Amidst gay-hating religion and people smuggling and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ — the poem, not Iron Maiden — Jack and wonderfully, pointedly funny Anita Heiss brought the prose on home.

Miriam Margolyes’ opening night talk — highly recommended

Anyway, we loved the atmosphere at the festival — they drove those of us at Noah’s in an adapted tram to the Friday night soiree! — and Newcastle itself is a pretty amazing place, so much going on in not a lot of square mileage given the coal and the coast and river and history and attempts to breathe life into the inner city. Some wonderful artwork on display, for instance, at the Emporium, and some serious cafe action. There’s even a writers’ walk, which we didn’t get to do, but the fact they have one is pretty cool. I felt there was a real hunger there for some spec fic action, too. If even felt like a spec fic convention in one way: the hotel’s bar shut far too early!

The festival was such a blast the organisers have already announced dates for next year — April 4–6 — and we’re putting it on the calendar now. Even if the festival isn’t using the jail as a venue next year, there are tours. Ex-cell-ent!

New year, new home, new books!

Posted in gothic, horror, musings, travel with tags , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by jason nahrung

website clipping of ballarat

When I’ve told people we’re moving to Ballarat, there are two comments that usually follow: ‘Why?’ and, ‘It’s cold, y’know. Like, freezing.’

To the latter, the simple answer is, y’know, coats. But the former is a bit more long winded, to do with property prices in Melbourne, and how Ballarat is as close as we could get to spitting distance of the big smoke, and how it’s got a uni and a writers’ centre and a literature festival (hey, it’s Victoria: what town doesn’t have a literature festival? or a market…), and so on. I liken it to being on the Sunshine Coast and working in Brissie, without the coast. Or the ranges, for that matter. Okay, so it’s got a train and it’s got two lanes of divided road with a respectable stretch of 110kmh in between, and it takes about same amount of time, traffic (an hour and a bit) and rail gods (90 minutes and a bit) allowing.

Ballarat’s a tidy town, brimming with neat cottages and such, and history oozing out its mine shafts. No river to speak of, but lots of culverts, and a very fine lake with swans. I’m told it has a very good Irish pub, obviously that friend’s first memory of a previous visit, and a very fine bakery, too — my friends have broad tastes, clearly. Plus — OMG — an absinthe bar!

Kirstyn and I are looking forward to exploring the place, and the surrounds — for instance, the Pyrenees wine district, which I’m told does a very drinkable shiraz, which is what I want in a wine region. Oh yes. AND we’ve spotted a cafe with a view of the cemetery from the al freso dining area — w00t!

By the end of February, we’ll be Ballaratians. Some might pronounce the former Ballah-ratt-e-ans, but I’m thinking of going for Bal-ah-ray-shuns. I guess Rats could also come up. B-Rat is just far too street. I’m stopping now.

So, a new address, our own patch of suburban dirt with a line already dotted out for a future chook pen, I believe. Excitements!

To go with the new house, new books (though the books came first, to be honest), one apiece: my outback vampire road-trippin’ blood-lettin’ romp, Blood and Dust, and Kirstyn’s dark tale of family secrets, an amazing game of make believe and how what you wish for can be a tad detrimental, Perfections. Both are available now in digital formats (all of ‘em) thanks to the small but passionate team at Xoum.

There will be some kind of ceremony to mark the arrival of these two yarns into the wilds, but it’s been delayed by the move. One thing to be said for e-books — no packing!

house with Hills hoist

A Hills hoist of our own

 

Time out in the Grampians

Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by jason nahrung

halls gap from pinnacle in grampians national parkHectic times here at the desk, so not a lot of bloggage; needless to say, skiving off last weekend to hit the Grampians was a blessed relief. We stayed at the well appointed Boronia Peak Villas, close enough to walk to the centre of Halls Gap and the most excellent Kookaburra restaurant (you really do need to book for weekend dinner; we were lucky to get in and saw more than one hungry diner turned away).

Kangaroos rule Halls Gap, and we also saw deer and plenty of bird life: cockatoos, galahs, ducks with parades of ducklings, parrots of all shades, wrens, ravens and currawongs, and simply oodles of all sorts … and that was just in town!

Twas spring and wildflowers were spraying colour all over the national park, a much more colourful affair than our previous visit in May when the weather had been somewhat drab compared to the warm sun and cool breezes we encountered at the weekend.

pinnacle walk in grampiansWe managed to get in walks to the spectacular Pinnacle — the 2km journey was steep but not entirely mountain goat terrain, with some amazing rock formations and a stunning view at the top — and the much smoother creek-side Silverband Falls, still showing signs of devastating flooding in 2011, and the Balconies lookout, with quick stops at the Boroka Lookout and Lake Bellfield along the way.

Back in May, we did the steep stairs down to the base of Mackenzie Falls, too, but we ran out of time this weekend.

It really is a gorgeous area, and only three hours from Melbourne. It really does make you appreciate the effort to not only protect such sites, but to make them accessible.

cliff in grampians


These are some of the pix I took on my mobile phone after both sets of batteries for my point-and-shoot died. More from the weekend, including actual camera shots, are at my Flickr site.

Napoleon conquers at NGV

Posted in art, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by jason nahrung

napoleon exhibit at ngv

It took two-and-a-half hours to go through the Napoleon exhibition at NGV yesterday. It wasn’t particularly crowded, but there was oodles to see and read. Simply oodles. Busts, furniture, books, uniforms, paintings. Music.

This line jumped out:

The attention paid to the decorative arts in particular was part of a wider plan to revive the country’s economy…

Whoa! Art as an important part of a nation’s economy as well as identity? Revolutionary stuff, at least Down Under.

Napoleon’s savvy might not have made it down here just yet, but the little dictator was fascinated by Terra Australis, in particular Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery.

A section of the exhibit is dedicated to giving the French their due in the mapping of the coastline and the cataloguing of its flora and fauna. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, even had black swans, emus and kangaroos in the garden.

The Australian connection runs close to home, too. I also wasn’t aware of the Napoleonic memorabilia to be found at Briars Park on the Mornington Peninsula, thanks to a family connection running to Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena.

napoleon on horsebackAnother section sets the scene for his rise to power, and then it’s a chronological introduction to his career and the way art changed with the times as classic imperial motifs rose to the fore.

You can trace his evolution from thin-faced general to round-cheeked emperor; a video of his death mask completes the passage. One watercolour portrait on a small box shows eyes of avarice; another display contrasts his simple soldierly tastes with the pomp of state; elsewhere there is mention of manipulation of the media of the day with exaggerated reportage and widespread iconography of his greatness.

As always in such a historical display, there’s the fascination at the thought of these items being used: the combs and travelling boxes, the chair with the lion-headed arms, the Psyche mirror …

A familiarity with the French ruler’s history is advisable to help fill in the gaps, but what a champion display this is.

Meals on wheels: Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

melbourne's colonial tramcar restaurantOn Sunday night we dined out in style for a friend’s 50th, indulging in five courses on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

The 1947 tram has been decked out with lamps, tables for four and for two, a chef and bar service, and for three hours it trundles amongst a convoy of three around Melbourne — St Kilda, Albert Park and Docklands slid past the tinted windows, while a various artists playlist of the Eagles, Prince and Sinead O’Connor played quietly in the background.

The food was top notch: appetiser of dips, entree of grilled barramundi, main of eye fillet, cheese and then sticky date pudding for dessert, all washed down with sparkling and red wine, with port to finish. All included in the price. The staff were awesomely friendly, too.

Rather than rush home from the tram, we made a night of it, crashing at Citigate, right opposite Flinders St Station, which meant we could walk everywhere we needed to go: ideal springtime lunch at Southbank, then to the tram, then to the gallery in the morning before the train home. The room was spacious enough for two people with only one carry-on bag between them, there was an iPod dock, the staff were wonderfully friendly, and this was the view from the twelfth floor:

view from citigate hotel melbourneQuiet, too. All they need now are proper cave curtains to keep out the sunlight.

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