Vancouver: A foggy day

The opportunity to re-visit Vancouver arose when my husband had a conference there in September 2010. We had previously spent three days in Vancouver and twelve days on the island and enjoyed it so much that this was not a chance to pass on.

We stayed in the Westin Bayshore with an incredible view over the Devonian Harbour Park, the Lost Lagoon of Stanley Park and the mountains of North Vancouver. In fact I would have been quite happy just to stay in the room all week and gaze at that view as it changed constantly with the light and position of the sun. It was also perfectly positioned to watch people walking, jogging, cycling or roller-blading along the seawall walk, and the coming and goings of yachts and rowing boats from the picturesque rowing club opposite.

On the first day though we awoke to fog, and the view though still magnificent, was obliterated by the grey mist. Nevertheless hating to waste a day, and it being the only day we had here together, we decided to have a gentle walk to stretch our legs after the long flight and set off around the seawall and in to Stanley Park.

We walked up to the totem poles and then followed the seawall around Hallelujah Point, past the nine o’clock gun up to Brockton Point lighthouse and past the Empress of Japan figurehead and the Girl in a Wetsuit statue. We took it slowly, taking as usual, far too many photographs despite the grey light. In fact because it was so still the water in Coal Harbour was like glass and we spent a quite a while looking for interesting reflections to shoot. I only found out on this visit that cyclists and inline-skaters must travel around the seawall in Stanley Park in a counter clockwise direction only.

Being autumn the trees and leaves were also very photogenic. And at the children’s water park where we cut back through the park we passed close to the aquarium where we came across a family of racoons on the hunt for food. I know they may be considered a nuisance but they do look quite cute and make a change from the (black) squirrels.

We intended to eat at Ciao Bella on Denman Street but being a Monday it was full (they do 50% offers on all pasta dishes at lunch and on Monday and Tuesday dinner) so we ate at a Mexican restaurant further up the street called Ponchos where they create authentic Mexican recipes. We shared great paella, but the deserts were rather too sweet for our liking. One customer was celebrating a birthday and the owner grabbed her guitar from the corner of the room and began singing to her in Spanish. She then made special liqueur coffees with kahlua, brandy and something else that I didn’t catch, setting fire to the spirit in a way I have never seen before – pouring the spirit into a long handled ladle, then setting fire to it and pouring the flaming spirit back into the glasses from a distance. The lights in the restaurant had been turned down, so it was quite a spectacle, though I’m not sure what Health and Safety officials would think about it 🙂

Cape Town: A Circular Drive to Cape Point

Distance:  124 km from Constantia via False Bay, Cape Point, Kommetjie, Hout Bay.
Time: 2 hours 50 minutes without stopping

Leaving Constantia, where we were staying, we drove down the M3 then on to the M4 (Main Road) towards Muizenberg, where I lived in the 1970s and took a right shortly before the village onto Boyes Drive to Kalk Bay.

False bay
False Bay from Boyes Drive

This road climbs up above Lakeside and the bay with outstanding views from the top of Boyes Drive across Lakeside, Marina da Gama, the Cape Flats and the entire False Bay coastline. It clings to the lower edge of the Muizenberg Mountains until reaching Kalk Bay where you rejoin the Main Road.

Kalk Bay is an attractive character village with a great harbour where you can still buy fresh fish direct from the boats as they return with the days catch; I can recommend cooking a whole fish on a braai, freshly stuffed with limes and coriander and wrapped in foil  (they will scale and gut it for you if you ask).  It has several antique shops plus a very decent restaurant “The Brass Bell” situated right next to the railway station and directly on the waterside which used to do a very good crayfish thermidor in the past.

The Residency
The Residency

We stopped briefly in Simonstown to visit the museum there which is housed in a lovely building “The Residency” dating from 1772.

The Residency Museum
The Residency Museum

The views from the veranda across Simon’s Bay are well worth the visit and if you are interested in the Dutch East Indies Company, Simon van der Stel or the Royal Navy then it is a must see.

The “Historic Mile” (twenty one of the buildings in St Georges street are over 150 years old), is a popular walk along pavements once trodden by Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain James Cook.

Warning
Warning

Next stop has to be at the Boulders Beach where you can walk along the boardwalk to see the African or Black-footed (formerly known as the Jackass) penguins that have colonised this area since 1983. March to May is the time when they are breeding in South Africa and we saw many birds on nests in amongst the bush and boulders.

African Penguins
African Penguins

They are noisy and it can be smelly, but on this occasion the wind was in the right direction!

Continue along what is known as the Cape Peninsula Scenic Route to Cape Point the most south westerly point in Africa which is at the end of the Table Mountain National Park chain stretching from Signal Hill. Not to be missed is the short hike from the Point to the Cape of Good Hope on the Atlantic side. Good walking shoes are a necessity plus a head for heights or if you are a serious hiker there are trails from here all the way back to Table Mountain. We came across ostrich at the Cape of Good Hope but you may well see kudu or sable.

Ostrich
Ostrich

A funicular railway replaced the little bus “the Flying Scotsman” in 1996 taking passengers up to the ‘new’ lighthouse at the top or if you want to spend all day in the park then head down to one of the secluded beaches at Buffels Bay or Bordjiesrif where there are tidal pools and you can picnic or have a braai (South African BBQ).

Diaz Beach
Diaz Beach at Cape Point

We decided to loop back to Constantia along the Atlantic coast road so headed for Scarborough (with its strange Camel rock formation, which we missed completely) and the twisty road towards Kommetjie, a peaceful rural delight with the Slangkop lighthouse.

Slangkop Lighthouse - Kommetjie
Slangkop Lighthouse – Kommetjie
View to Hout Bay
View to Hout Bay from Kommetjie

Just before Kommetjie is a stretch of road called ‘Misty Cliffs’ so called because of the sea spray which hangs over the road. Every twist in the road is a scenic delight and it is hard to keep concentrating on the road ahead, (but essential as the drop below is a long way).

Long Beach
Long Beach, Noordhoek

At Noordhoek we stopped to access the long beach which is still a place to go for horse rides on the beach or fly a kite and then we drove along the infamous ‘Chapmans Peak Drive’ with its 114 curves (though I confess I did not count them all). This is a now a toll road and cost us 24 ZAR (2008). The last time I went along this stretch of road was in the early 1980s.

Chapman's Peak Drive
Chapman’s Peak Drive

Every visit since then it has been partially closed due to rock falls and eventually was closed completely in 2000. Fortunately it re-opened in 2003 with a new tunnel so I was at long last able to fulfil my wish of driving along this road myself. The road ends in Hout Bay a seaside resort town about 20 minutes from Cape Town.

Chapman's Peak Drive
Chapman’s Peak Drive Tunnel

Dinner at ‘The Mariner’s Wharf’ in Hout Bay is recommended for the best lobster in town, though booking is advisable. Return to Cape Town via Constantia or around the coast road via Camps Bay, Clifton and Sea Point.

Postcard from Genève

September 2009 – Place du Bourg de Four

Place du Bourg-de-Four
Place du Bourg-de-Four

I am sitting here outside Chez Ma Cousine ‘on y mange du poulet’, (literal translation – at the house of my cousin one only eats chicken) which is just one of the little cafés in the square, having a rest after walking around the Old Town (lots of ups and downs and cobbled streets), sipping a large café crème. The sun is shining and it has been another very warm day for late September, so the shade of the umbrella above me is welcome. The Place du Bourg is lovely!

Geneva, fountains and flowersThis is the centre of the Old Town and has an 18th century flowered fountain, which I am sitting next to. I have got into fountains in a big way since coming to Genève – they are everywhere, and all so different, flowers, sculptures, swans – fascinating!

As I look around me I notice that this spot attracts lots of little sparrows alternating between sips of water and splashing in the fountain to cheekily trying to pinch crumbs off the tables. They land on the tables and chairs all around me, but are too quick for my camera, though I manage to capture one poised on the edge of the fountain, with his back towards me, of course! There is the sound of someone playing a recorder, badly, from within one of the apartments in the square. Shutters and windows wide open to the sun and the constant murmur of people in conversation buzzes in the background.

Geneva - Place du Bourg-de-FourAlthough it is only four o’clock in the late afternoon there is very little space at any of the cafés. Empty tables are soon filled. People are now drinking cold beers and white wine; groups of friends meeting up – standing up to greet each other nosily  with the flamboyant kiss/kiss/kiss on both cheeks.

“Eh! Comment ça va?”

(Hey! How are you?) their happy smiling faces. Husbands wait patiently for their wives to stop their shopping in the Rue du Rhone, Rue de Rive and Place du Molard (watches, parfumeries, fashion and chocolatiers); elderly ladies, very smartly dressed and coiffured, read a book or a newspaper and a young student sitting opposite me with her study books open on the table makes notes whilst casually sipping her Evian water

Geneva Fountain
Sparrows on the fountain

Occasionally a young boy on his way home from school will arrive at the fountain and climb up for a drink, casually dropping his school bag in the dust and eyeing my camera with curiosity. Small children amuse themselves by running around the circumference, giggling as they hide from their parents. It is a busy, lively place, sunlight streaming through the autumnal trees. I have had to buy another coffee as I am reluctant to leave just yet.

boy and fountain
Boy in the fountain

An elderly gentleman has come to sit at the table next to me, he is also alone, his red polo shirt matches the red umbrella under which he sits in the shade and together we observe all who pass by. Two young Genevois couples meet up and order bottles of Rosé wine and a tall jug of Pimms: they all light up cigarettes.

Geneva - la Clemence

It strikes me how many young Genevois smoke. Must be how they keep so slim! Funny how we have become so used to no smoking in public in the UK that it is now so noticeable in Europe!

At another table in the next café along which has white umbrellas, a beautiful Italian-looking lady is wearing the classic dark glasses. Silver bands hold back her glossy black hair and she talks loudly on her mobile phone – hands gesticulating in the air – her large cup of cappuccino forgotten and going cold. Ah life is wonderful, but now I must go and make my way to the Promenade de la Treille to see the avenue of Chestnut trees and the world’s longest bench.

Ciao, ciao – I’ll write again soon xx

The City of Love: How I left my heart in San Francisco

(This is a long post about my love affair with San Francisco which started in 1965)

San Francisco first hit my radar way back in 1965 when “California Dreamin’ ” by the Mamas and the Papas hit the British charts. Knowing nothing about LA or indeed California, anywhere that offered warmth in winter seemed like a good place to be to me. By the time Scott McKenzie was singing “San Francisco (be sure to wear some flowers in your hair)” a hit in the spring of 1967, I was hooked. This was one USA state I had to visit. Haight-Ashbury frequently featured on the television with its flower-power, incense-burning, acid-dropping, tie-dye-wearing, peace-and-love-vibe hippies during the summer of love (1967) and I fell in love with the whole enchilada. As the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s I too became an incense burning, peace-loving hippy myself, though it was an awful lot more years before I would get to San Fran.

The next time the city nudged its way into my life was in 1972 when I was working for a brief spell in Zürich as an au pair and came into contact with a group of Americans from California who were over in Europe to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. Falling in love with a gentle, flute-playing, blonde haired surfer from San Francisco made me yearn to visit that golden state again. All too soon he took off for India and I returned home to the UK, alone. The years passed and the USA was no longer on my ‘must see’ list and San Francisco faded from my dreams. The summer of love was long past… Continue reading The City of Love: How I left my heart in San Francisco

Strolling around the Île de la Cité

I once read somewhere that “life is too short not to go to Paris as often as one can” but must admit to not having adhered to that having only been there three times in my life. The “City of Lights” or “La Ville-Lumière” as it was then called, comes from the fact that Paris was the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and it was famous as a centre of education and ideas throughout Europe. The city’s early adoption of street lighting probably also contributed to its “City of Lights” tag.

Le quai des Grands-Augustins depuis le Pont-Neuf

My previous visit had been during the dull days between Christmas and New Year when everything seems flat. Leaving London Waterloo on Boxing Day seemed like a good idea at the time. Paris put on her usual glittering party frock and despite the bitter cold and wet weather the OH and I enjoyed a few days walking along the banks of the River Seine and exploring the usual tourist sites that we had both seen (though not together) in our late teens; eating expensive steaks and drinking expensive wine and taking rather bad photos (I blame the weather – too damn cold to take off the gloves)

Café EsmeraldaSo in 2010 when the opportunity to spend five days in Paris in early spring arose it was not to be sniffed at. Once again we took the Eurostar (this time from its new terminal in St Pancras station) to ‘gay Paree‘, hoping for a somewhat warmer welcome. As the OH was to be “au conference” pretty much the whole time it gave me an excuse to wander aimlessly and have a look at the hidden parts of Paris. There is nothing better for me than to venture into districts I have not been in and to look more closely at those I had. So armed with a good map, several metro tickets, camera and notebook, off I went to explore. Continue reading Strolling around the Île de la Cité