Sunday, 12 December 2010

Paris, one more time

We've lost count of the number of times we have visited Paris. At the end of October we visited the city in its Autumn colour.

We cannot say how easy it is to hop onto the Eurostar from Kings Cross St Pancras International for a pleasant 2 hour train trip the the beautiful city. We will miss Paris weekends a lot when we're back in Australia.

Paris was our final trip as residents of the UK. I stress 'as residents' because coming back into the UK, I was no longer a resident/student but a visitor. I had to re-enter the UK to remain, until we leave this December.

Despite the number of times we have been to Paris, there were still new things to discover on our trip. This trip was our first not staying with and not seeing Herlina and Damien who moved to China temporarily. It was strange to not meet them in Paris. We chose to stay at Hotel le Bellechasse which was right by the Musee d'Orsay.

It was a lovely boutique hotel with cosy rooms designed by the Parisian fashion designer Christian Lacroix.

The location was excellent among the tiny streets of St Germain and within walking distance to a number of places. The service was also wonderful.

When we were back in London, the forecast for Paris over the weekend was rain but we woke up to blue skies and sun. The Autumn colours of the trees were like flames along the banks of the Seine and were stunning.

We had no real plans for this trip, but visited my favourite street, Rue Saint-Honore to pick up a baguette for lunch and make some purchases for friends back in Sydney.

We continued on to Laduree at Rue Royale (turn right off Saint-Honore) which has become our 'regular' on visits to Paris. The flagship Laduree is on the Champs Elysee, but Rue Royale is a lot less busy (note that the line outside Laduree is for take-away macaroons. Enter Laduree on the right to get a table. We've never waited very long). Our afternoon tea was coffees and ice cream macaroons (the ice cream is the filling between the biscuit and so delicious. Only recently discovered thanks to Dad's curiosity at Laduree, Harrods). It was then onto more shopping at St Germain.

We have briefly been to St Germain before, but we discovered more of the area on this trip. It has all the shops of Rue Saint-Honore but everything is dotted around little, leafy streets. We had fun discovering the place and its shops, such as this gorgeous Christian Loubutin store.

We also discovered a stunning Ralph Lauren store on Boulevard St Germain.

There is a Ralph Lauren restaurant and courtyard on the ground floor and then numerous floors of luxe interiors that reflect a mix of American and French interior styles.

The store felt more like someone's home with big fireplaces, chandeliers, art work and antiquities such as an old American flag which presented only 13 states. The store was stunning at each level. For more pictures of the interiors visit this website. After a day of shopping and walking, we found a neat little wine and tapas bar close to our hotel called Da Rosa for a drink.

Sunday was another sunny day and we started with coffee at the bustling Cafe de Flore.

We then visited the Marais as most of Paris is closed on Sundays except this Jewish quarter. It's the busiest we have ever seen the place and it wasn't even summer anymore.

I spent most of my time vintage shopping, with lots of tips from Mel. While I shopped, Geoff visited the Musee Carnavalet, which tells the history of the city. After a day in the Marais, we went back to the hotel before walking to La Fontaine de Mars for a late dinner.

The restaurant was recommended by Tom and Myles. Apparently the Obamas dined there when they visited Paris (yes, very glamourous!). The restaurant was cosy and very traditional French from the toile wallpaper to the menus.

We had a lovely dinner topped off with wonderful desserts such as the La Fontaine de Mars Floating Island below.

When we left the restaurant the Eiffel Tower sparkled for us one last time and we said goodbye to the city of love which has given us many, many wonderful stories and experiences. It was now back to London to make preparations for the big move back to Australia!

Friday, 10 December 2010

TEDx in Montreal

In October this year, I attended and spoke at a TEDx conference on the theme Design for Health in Montreal. This was my second time in Canada this year and there's more about the conference and my time in Montreal on my PhD blog Letters to Australia (click the link to visit the post).

At the TEDx: Design for Health conference, Montreal

Monday, 6 December 2010

Beautiful Bonifacio

There are few places in the world, I believe, more special than Bonifacio. The Corsican town sits atop 70m high limestone cliffs overlooking the emerald Mediterranean Sea. And as you spend time there, you wonder what life in a place like this is really like.

For one, probably very cold and windy in the winters, but then hot and busy with tourists in the summers. Being here at the very end of summer meant the town was a little busy, but nothing out of the ordinary. We took lots of photos in Bonifacio so we're going to do an annotated photo album here for the last stop of our 2010 European summer holiday. Bonifacio consists of an old town perched on the clifftops.

Check out the huge boulders which must have broken off from the cliffs at some stage.

The Marina is more modern and located below the old town.

We stayed in the heart of the old town at the lovely Hotel Colomba. It had wonderful and personal service as well as cosy, rabbit warren rooms which had quirky details such as tiny windows and hand painted motifs on the wrought iron beds.

The streets of Bonifacio are old and historic, like this little laneway below.

The main street is lined with shops and restaurants. You can walk from one end of the old town to the other in 5 minutes, which gives an indication of the size of the old town.

Some of the shops are perched right on the edge of the cliff. In this one, the window looks out to the sparkling Med.

There were lots of beautiful homeware shops. Wish we'd come with bigger suitcases!

We found a lovely antique shop on the way down to the Marina.

It sold hand illustrated Florentine maps among other antiques. We made a birthday present purchase to send home to Sydney.

It's already made it home and has since been beautifully framed.

Down at the Marina, there are lots more shops and restaurants. This is the main strip.

And we had a bit of fun at this sweet shop which was like uncovering pirate treasures in big barrels of sweets. Yummy!

The Marina had lovely views back toward the old town.

We preferred our place in the old town. Most sights are located in the old town and you can visit the three main sights for a few euros. This was our favourite, the Roi D'Aragon Stairway etched into the cliffs of Bonifacio.

Legend says that the 187 steps were sculpted into the cliffs overnight by soldiers during a 1420 seige.

The climb down, and up, is not for the fainted hearted. Once at the bottom, the pathway twists around the cliffs right by the water's edge and it certainly is a sight.

Bonifacio's exposure on the edge of Corsica left it always open to invasion. Its extensive fortifications are wrapped around the edge of the cliffs and the La Madonetta Lighthouse looks back at the fort from its place across the Bonifacio Strait.

The exposure of the fort makes for a very windy place and you can trace the pathway most of the way around, climbing up and down stairs and towers, such as this one.

And see stunning views of the cliffs and coast line.

Set back from the fort is the Marine Cemetery. Its extensive streets of family memorials is no doubt battered by the elements perched on the cliff top, but with amazing views.

We spent a day out on the water touring and seeing Bonifacio from the sea. We visited many sights such as the secluded Fazzio Beach.

Whose water was a brilliant emerald.

Not too far away, this cave's roof is unique in being the shape of Corsica.

We stayed 3 nights in Bonifacio and it was more than enough time to relax, take in all the sights and sample a lot of the restaurants. The best place to eat was actually at the Hotel Colomba restaurant. Here's Geoff with his favourite Coriscan chestnut Pietra beer. Again, no room in our luggage to take any back to London.

Most restaurants had strong Italian influences and a lot of seafood. We also loved Lan'K which was nestled in the historic, cobbled streets of Bonifacio.

Our European summer holiday was at its end and Figari Airport was just a half hour taxi ride from Bonifacio with flights direct to London. Bonifacio was certainly a magical place. All the places we visited over our summer trip were different, special and memorable in their own way. We loved every moment and can't wait to return to Sydney at the end of the year for more sun, beach and summer action.

Monday, 29 November 2010

More Sardinia, Santa Teresa

From Cagliari, we flew into Olbia airport. The town of Olbia is an hour's drive from the seaside town Santa Teresa, on the northern tip of Sardinia where we'd spend almost a week on the beach.

When we arrived we thought we'd ended up in a sleepy little town. The streets of colourful apartments were empty, and all the shuttered windows were closed to the daylight.

We arrived at the La Terrazza di Lilly B&B where our friends, Myles and Tom had stayed a few months before. The B&B was well located in the town's quiet streets and on the hillside overlooking the beach, Rena Bianca, and the Mediterranean Sea.

It was also a stone's throw from the 16th century Torre Longosardo, a tower that was to protect the Sardinian shorelines.

View from Rena Bianca Beach. Torre Longosardo to the left and La Terrazza di Lilly B&B is the middle white villa at the front

The B&B was immaculate and beachy...

... with fantastic views to the emerald waters...

Rena Bianca Beach in Santa Teresa from the B&B

... and Corsica, which could be seen in the distance.

We hopped into our swimmers and headed straight for the beach and the blue sun lounges. The waters were as clear as the waters at Poetto Beach.

I should make a mention of the business of sunbeds (lettino) and umbrellas (ombrellone) in Italy, and most European beaches. We don't have these facilities on Aussie beaches (well, that I know of) but in Italy and other European beaches, private areas of sunbeds and umbrellas are hired out for a daily charge to ensure a comfortable beach stay.

At Poetto Beach, facilities such as cabanas, toilets and showers were provided. As well as decking for wheelchairs as we noticed how the beach was well catered for the older population. Rena Bianca didn't have as many facilities, being much smaller, but as we were already used to the comfort of the sun lounges at Poetto we couldn't resist. The sunbeds and umbrellas also provide ample shade when the sun is highest in the sky and a place to store or hang belongings, off sand and away from prying hands. I did at times, miss feeling the bed of sand underneath me, but for everything else the sunbeds were great.

The areas are usually overlooked by one or two people who are also life guards. And we did see a beach rescue of someone in an inflatable boat who got washed around the headlands when the seas became rough one afternoon.

I mentioned arriving in to a sleepy town, but on our first night out, fresh from the beach and a day in the sun, we discovered that at 8pm Santa Teresa comes to life with lights and with lots of people.

We dined at the nearby il Grottino, the best restaurant in town, we believe.

All the eateries, bars and shops throw open their doors till late and we spent every night out in the town for dinner and shopping. There were endless shops of souvenirs and red coral jewellery.

Am afraid we can't say much more about Santa Teresa. Most of our days began with breakfast at the B&B, then down at the beach.

Rena Bianca first thing in the morning

In the evenings we'd visit town and return for a restful night with the windows open while the waves crashed on the shores below.

We opted not to hire a car in Sardinia, so we weren't inclined to explore the surrounding areas but it's something we'd consider one day in the future (after we learn to drive manual and on the opposite side of the road). We were quite happy to stay put and make up for all lost beach time over the past 3 years. A place like Santa Teresa couldn't be more perfect for this.

After our week in Santa Teresa, we took a ferry (jut one hour) to the French island, Corsica, landing in the beautiful cliff top town of Bonifacio.

Google map of Sardinia (bottom) and Corsica (top)