Australia, Melbourne and Hobart

Great to be back in my own bed after a few weeks away. Also fab to have my old school friend Lorna over from the U.K. As not only is it good to see her but I get a chance to be a tourist again. Over the last few days we visited the Shrine of Remembrance (I’m ashamed to say it is the first time I’ve been inside and it is very good), a long walk to all corners of the Botanical Gardens and another quick trip to Hobart that included Port Arthur, MONA (always visit there), Salamanca Market and two excellent restaurants – Franklin and FICO?

The lovely Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. Wonderful to have all this right on the city doorstep.
Sights around Hobart, Port Arthur and MONA

Oman, Muscat

I’ve been so relaxed here that I almost forgot to post! Exciting to be in Oman as it is a new country to add to my list and I would like to see more of the interior at some point – desert and mountains. Stayed at the very Zen Chedi Hotel (see pools below which explain how lazy I’ve been).

But I did get out a bit – first to see the dolphins which was fun.

Then a city tour where the highlight was definitely the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Built about twenty years ago it has stunning architecture and beautiful gardens and mosaics. Of course I had to cover my arms, legs, hair and shoulders – and my good old Louis scarf came in very handy – although it is hot in there. Beautiful exteriors.

Then we took a walk inside and got to see an open Quran.

I was also very taken with the mosaics just outside which represent what you would typically see in various Islamic cultures – Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Saudi, Iran and Iraq.

Then a trip to the palace for guests of the sultan and a private museum.

And finally those lovely pools at the Chedi. All those to choose from and the sea!

Now back to Melbourne.

Italy, Milan and Arrivederci Italia – some final comments my whole Italy experience.

First stop today was the Fondazione Prada. Like many other ateliers they have donated a foundation to Milan to house contemporary art exhibits. They also find great designers to develop them so they are pretty cool to just wander around. This is in an area that used to be industrial where no-one went and it still feels edgy in a good way. Loved their 50’s retro cafe too.

The Fondazione has a golden wall and everyone has to take a pic there – so we did. This is with my dear and long time friend Sabrina who lives in Milan and was kindly showing me around the less obvious spots to visit.

I didn’t know there were canals in Milan but there are and it is another hip area that has had some money spent on it to make it a more attractive place to wander around and to eat and drink.

And now that I’ve left Italy here are:

Things I loved about Italy

The scenery – mountains, lakes, cities, wine regions (I did no beach on this trip)

The medium sized towns like Bologna, Padua, Ravello, Lucca and Verona – nice for a couple of days

But also for me – Rome and Venice were places I would go back to as I think they will always have new things to see

The vast amount of superb art and architecture – traditional and contemporary – and the museums they are housed in

The weather in September and October – great for doing things and not being too hot or cold or wet. Less crowds too

The food – home made pasta and artisanal gelati especially

The local wines – and the prosecco , aperol spritz and negronis

The quality handicrafts – glass, pottery, fabric, gold,lace etc

The history and how each period is layered on the previous one so some places are like “a lasagne” from pre Roman to modern day

Their belief that their will be hiccups every day but it will all work out in the end

The traditional hotels from an era that is long gone elsewhere

Most of the places I visited were very walkable so I did a lot of that which improved my fitness levels and gave me an excuse to eat a gelati most days!


What is annoying (at times)

Lousy wifi connections in some places (not necessarily the small ones).

A very elongated understanding of “a minute” so if the walk is supposedly 5 minutes assume it is really 15 and scale up

If I never hear O Solo Mio, Que Sera sera or Volare again – it won’t be a moment too soon.

The fact that’s no restaurant will give you tap water – even if you beg (and I did) and even though it is safe to drink. Bring your own bottle and fill up at the numerous handy water fountains. It is sold at inflationary prices.

Prices for many things are higher compared even to London and certainly to the US – no real bargains here.

Many shops still close from 1-3pm every day. What the ??? Also restaurants close around 2.30 and reopen around 7.30. If you want to eat outside of those times – good luck or revert to McDonalds.

Taking a few days off the blog now. Next stop Oman.

Sent from my iPhone

Italy, Milan

Long time since I was in Milan. Had forgotten how stylish everyone looks here. No- one would walk through the city in shorts, or gym wear or track suits or cropped tops. They do chic casual very well – including the men. I like that as I’m not a big fan of over casual except on the beach! (Ok – I’m showing my age!)

Always good to visit the Duomo. This time I went up to the roof which was spectacular. I took the lift option but you still have to climb

loads of stairs at what you think is the top just less than if you climbed from the bottom – worth it though as you see a completely different perspective.

The Duomo from the grand. Magnificent is not an exaggeration.

Duomo from the roof

And I know I’ve gone on about ceilings in Italy but they also do good doors!

Last day in Italy tomorrow and summary of my most (and least – and there are not many) liked aspects of the country.

Italy, Stresa

Had a very lazy two days in Stresa on Lake Maggiore at another charming hotel – where the doors and walls in the rooms are hand painted, the view is gorgeous and nice treats appear each evening. So pretty. I also visited the Borromean Islands – three tiny islands in the middle of the lake – they take about 15 minutes to walk around but are cute and a good place for a coffee and gelato.

Villa Aminta, Stresa

Isola Pescatore and Bella, Borromean Islands

Next and last stop in Italy – Milan. I think I might be doing some shopping!

Italy, 3 days by Lake Como

Last time I visited the lakes in Italy I was with my parents and aged around 9. Don’t remember much except of being scared by the tiny lizards basking in the sunshine (in my defence, I grew up in London). This time I will definitely remember the visit. I stayed in the middle part of the lake – opposite the small town of Bellagio (which is somewhat different to its namesake in Las Vegas). In October it tends to be very misty over the lake and that means it is hard to see the mountains but it is still beautiful (and not at all crowded) and as you will see on my last day the sun appeared and what a difference that made. 

I treated myself to stay in a hotel hat was built in 1910 in the grand tradition of palazzo style hotels. It is quite lovely as it has the tradition as well as some touches of modernity. 

When visiting the lakes the days are made up of relaxing and enjoying the views and getting on one of the ferries to visit other towns and check them out. All very civilised. Many of these towns have villas you can visit – partly for the buildings but mostly for the amazing terraced gardens which even in Fall are pretty amazing (Paulette if you haven’t done this part of Italy you would love this). Next to my hotel was Villa Carlotta and over in Bellagio was Villa Melzi. Some garden and interiors from both are below.  Paintings by Hayetz (who I saw a lot of in Florence and yes that’s Romeo and Juliet again) and also beautiful sculptures by Canova – who seemed to be one of Italy’s great sculptors as well as a renowned mentor of younger artists. I still like Bernini the best but Canova comes a close second. 

Bellagio is charming although it would have been more so if I had bumped into George Clooney. I looked very hard but no luck.

And then when the sun came out it looked like this from my hotel. Just lovely and I feel nicely chilled.

Italy, Verona 

Verona is another of those small towns that make for a great day trip. I was staying nearby in the Valpolicella wine region at Villa de Cordevigo.Although it was somewhat misty I really enjoyed my day there.

Here is where I stayed – very picturesque and Italian

Verona is famous for a few things. Firstly its old amphitheater- which although it looks in worse condition than the Coliseum is used for concerts during the summer – everyone from Adele to Robbie Williams in May and June and then it is open air opera exclusively in July and August. Would love to do that one time. Also an old Roman theatre which is now a museum that looks over the town. As usual lots of nice piazzas to hang out in and buildings in every hue. And as ever lots of churches – the gruesome figures at the bottom are from St Anastasia.

Secondly, it is of course the place where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was set and indeed there is a balcony that pretends to be “the one” – a bit rich really given it is a made up story. Even  more interesting I thought was the Juliet Club (see below) – I had heard about this place from a documentary years ago. Basically it is staffed by volunteers who respond to hundreds of letters from all over the world written to Juliet asking for guidance on their love lives. (Which seems a bit strange really given she was all of 15 and as I recall it didn’t end well for her or Romeo) – but anyway a sweet notion.