VIVID Sydney!

For the last 2 days of Becky’s stay, we went to Sydney, primarily to check out VIVID! We stayed close by the quay – this was the view from our hotel room:

2018_Sydney_June7-7

VIVID Sydney is in it’s 10th year this year and is a 23 day festival of light (and music, and ideas), but mostly it’s about the great lighting displays.

2018_Sydney_June7-16

2018_Sydney_June7-1

Our first night in Sydney, we took a Sydney harbour boat cruise to see the lights from the water.

2018_Sydney_June7-22018_Sydney_June7-62018_Sydney_June7-5

Our second night (in the rain), we walked around the Quay and The Rocks area.

2018_Sydney_June7-17

Doesn’t the Sydney Opera House look amazing (even in the rain)!

There were some great displays, but I particularly enjoyed the “Beautiful and Dangerous” display which projected magnified images of various infectious bacteria and viruses.

It was right up my alley (as a bacterial scientist) and connected with my artistic self as well.

Besides seeing VIVID, we shopped – of course (Becky was still looking for family gifts to take back to the US), we walked through the botanical gardens (and found a giant fly!)

2018_Sydney_June7-15

and we visited the Art Gallery of NSW. I particularly liked this oversized Captain Cook:

2018_Sydney_June7-12

I was keen to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries on display at the gallery. I didn’t know this was a series of 6 tapestries. They were fabulous and were made around the year 1500, by an unknown maker and rediscovered some 300 years later in the Château de Boussac in France.

It was a lovely weekend (even if Becky was a bit under the weather) and it was great to have her visiting me for the past 2 weeks.

2018_Sydney_June7-14

 

A visitor from Texas, USA to Newcastle, NSW!

 

My friend Becky is currently visiting us from Texas. We meet through the pilates class at the local gym in Sherman whilst I was living there, and now I would consider her one of my best friends. Becky has been in Newcastle now 5 days. We have been exploring a little and I have been showing of the parts of my town (with plenty more planned). But today is a bit of a rest day as Becky picked up a cold on the way over (we’ll blame the aeroplane germs). So I’d thought I write a little about what’s happened so far.

IMG_3375

A lazy Sunday afternoon drink listening to some live music at Queens Wharf

We have done a bit of walking, well, quite a bit really. We have been along the harbourside, past the beaches, visited the Christ Church Cathedral, have done a spot of shopping (how can you not?) and have taken a few photos. It’s been fun!

2018_May28_ChristChurchCathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

2018_May28_NewcastleTownHall

Newcastle Town Hall and the pool in front of Civic Fountain

2018_May28_Becky_NewcastleBaths

Becky and the pump house for the Newcastle Ocean Baths

Becky has written a couple of blog posts about her adventures so far. Check them out here.

We also took a drive up to the Hunter Valley vineyards and tasted some excellent wine. Andrew was the designated driver so we could enjoy what was on offer. Besides the good wines, there are also some lovely, picturesque views. The following pictures were taken at Audrey Wilkinson vineyard (excellent wines). We also visited Tulloch wines (also very good wines),  before having some lunch. There is something for everyone in Hunter Valley wine country, from boutique vineyards through to the large well known wine makers, and many excellent places to stay and to eat – so come and visit and spend the weekend (or week) relaxing in the Hunter Valley.

2018_May28_AWvineyard_Becky_sml

2018_May28_AWvineyard

Red roses means red grapes

 

This is the first time I have had a non-family member house guest in a long time. It certainly makes you pay more attention to what is around you (and clean up after yourself more). Seeing your surroundings through the eyes of a visitor from overseas will give you a new perspective on things. There are subtle differences between the USA and Australia, from light switches and power point switches to not so subtle differences, like driving on the other side of the road, and it’s fun to be able to discover and comment on these with a friend.

Tomorrow we are going on a Hunter River cruise to the lovely town of Morpeth. We are both looking forward to that.

 

 

A little more of Madrid

With the ECCMID conference over I was left with a day and a bit to finish exploring Madrid.

There are many museums in Madrid, and I thought I should visit at least one. My choice was not the extremely popular and well renowned Museo National del Prado; instead I went to visit the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (also very well regarded) and solely because I wanted to see Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII.

I wasn’t disappointed; it’s actually quite a small painting.

Madrid_HenryVIII

I also got to view many more famous paintings and works by famous artists.

For example – Rembrandt’s self portrait.

Madrid_April2425-1

You will also find paintings by the greats – Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Moreau- all in the one room (room 32)! It was fantastic, what a treat!

Madrid_April2425-3

Renoir

Madrid_April2425-4

van Gogh

I walked a little more of the city; there are some very nice green spaces.

Madrid_April2425-6

Madrid_April2425-19

On my last morning in Madrid, I finally made it to the royal palace. But before I got inside, I was able to witness the changing of the guard.

Madrid_April2425-13.jpg

What a wonderful place. It is very opulent and not hard to see where the Spanish spent some of that gold brought back from the Americas. There were no photos allowed in the main apartments of the palace (Google images for Madrid Royal Palace, and you will be amazed), but the main central staircase is ok.

The gardens around the Palace are lovely too!

Madrid_April2425-18

I found a few more Meninas too:

Holy Toledo – a visit to the historic town in España!

Part 2 of my day trip from Madrid.

After a couple of hours in Segovia, it was back on the bus to Toledo (south of Madrid). What a view from above the city.

Toledo-2

A very interesting old city, located at the top of a hill (we took 6 escalators up to the main city) high above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha. Toledo is a walled city and known as the “City of three cultures” as Christians, Muslims and Jews lived here together for centuries. Toledo was also the capital of the Visigothic kingdom of Hispania following the fall of the Roman Empire. Toledo is well known for its quality steel and sword making (today there is not such a great call for quality swords, but the city has made swords for movies and TV shows such as Lord of the Rings, 300 and Game of Thrones. The city was listed as a UNESCO site in 1986.

After some lunch and a little free time, we headed up to the cathedral.

Toledo-3

The present cathedral dates from the 1220’s as it was rebuilt after the church preceding it burnt down. Prior to that it was a mosque, and before that the Visigothic Cathedral. Yes, it is another awesome church in Europe, and it is of course unique with many wonderful features (including paintings by El Greco who lived in Toledo for 37 years before he died in 1614),

but one thing in particular made this cathedral stand out.

Toledo-5

The Tesoro (or Custody of Enrique de Arfe) – is made up of 18kg of pure gold (the first gold that Christopher Columbus brought back from the Americas) and 183kg of silver, with myriad precious gemstones and some 260 statuettes. Made in the 16th-century, this processional colossus gets out once a year for the Feast of Corpus Christi, when it is paraded around the streets of Toledo.

Toledo-7

Toledo was an interesting town, and deserves more than 1/2 a day –

Toledo-4

The city’s coat of arms – the two headed eagle

Both the cities of Segovia and Toledo deserve more time, but I am so thankful I did this tour; it was great! If ever you are in Spain, don’t miss Segovia or Toledo!

 

 

Segovia – a little town with a lot of history in España

After 2 days wandering around Madrid, I thought I needed something more interesting to do. I decided a day tour full of history and culture would be just the thing. This is the tour I took (recommended). I took a day trip to the UNESCO listed towns of Segovia and Toledo (blog post to follow on Toledo).

Before the tour started, I was already enjoying myself. I had caught the metro to Las Vestas and when I exited the station, right there is the Plaza de Toros; the bullfighting arena. The arena can hold 24,000 spectators and even has its own chapel and hospital (for when things don’t go the way of the bullfighters I guess).

PlazaDeToros-1

First stop on the tour was Segovia (northwest of Madrid in the Castile and Leon region) – a walled city dating back to before Christ.

Apparently Segovia was originally a Celtic possession, but control later passed to the Romans. Segovia was UNESCO classified in 1985.

All the buildings in Segovia have a unique finish; it’s very ornamental and you won’t see it anywhere else except for this region. To hide the flaws of the mortared finish they decorated the finishes. They are beautiful:

segovia-22.jpg

There are 3 notable monuments in Segovia. The first is the Roman aqueduct.

Segovia-1

This is over 2000 years old, has never been restored, so stands as it has always been and was in use up until the 20th century. At its highest point it is 29 metres tall and 818 metres in length, with 170 arches. The aqueduct is constructed using about 25,000 granite blocks and has no mortar holding them in place. Awesome!

The 2nd great thing in Segovia is the Alcazar (the castle), which sits between the rivers Eresma and Clamores and was inhabited by the kings (and queens) of Castile.

This is a real fairytale castle, as it was the castle for the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Snow White castle.

Isabella I (also known as Isabella the Catholic – Isabella of Castile) was crowned here.

It is also the place where she met with Christopher Columbus before sending him on his way to India when he ended up discovering the Americas (Isabella also financed Columbus’s journey by selling her jewels). There’s not much to this building really, and it’s smaller than you might expect, but definitely worth a visit.

There are some great views to be had too.

The 3rd thing of note in Segovia is the Cathedral, a gothic style Roman Catholic Cathedral built between 1525 and 1577. We didn’t get to go inside, but it’s an awesome building.

Segovia-21

Segovia was amazing and definitely worth a visit.

Segovia-5

What a view!

España – 2 days exploring Madrid, Spain (part 2)

Day 2: A bit more exploring Madrid

Today I did a bit of training to get to various places, I found the metro very easy to use (and a tourist ticket is the way to go for a visitor). There are 12 different lines, so you can get anywhere within the city relatively easily. My line was No. 5.

On my way to visit the museum I was intending to visit, I passed the Banco de España, a beautiful example of 19th century Spanish architecture:

In the end I didn’t make it to any museum (perhaps I had my fill while I was in Italy, I just couldn’t get motivated – and it was such a beautiful day); instead I visited a park – Parque del Retiro.

Madrid-21The Parque del Retiro was originally part of the royal grounds and in 1767 the aristocracy were permitted entry. It was another hundred years before the gates were opened to the general public.

The park is huge (at 125 hectares, one of the largest in the city) and very relaxing, even if there are plenty of other people around, you can find somewhere to sit, ponder, have a picnic, snooze, play with the kids, whatever.

I found myself having lunch here, by the lake that once was used to perform mock naval battles. It dates from 1631. Today you can hire a row boat and cruise the lake.

After my late lunch (it was after 4 before I left the park), I explored a little more and did a little shopping (couldn’t resist a pair of Spanish sandals – it was so hot, I needed them! Don’t tell my husband) around Porta del Sol (“Gateway of the Sun”).

Madrid-55This square is actually oval shaped and has 10 streets radiating from it. I found some interesting things within the square: the statue of Carlos III (above), the bear climbing the arbutus tree (the symbol of the city):Madrid-16and a Spanish mariachi band performing:

Madrid-17

On the way home I walked part way along the Gran Via (a Parisian style boulevard 1315m long) which was begun in 1910, but not completed until 1940.

Madrid-18300 buildings were demolished and 14 streets disappeared to make it happen. There are still some architecturally fabulous buildings along this street.

At the end of the Gran Via is the impressive Metropolis building.

As I have wandered around Madrid, I have found these Spanish Ladies throughout the city. All are different and after doing some research I discovered there are 90 of these Meninas, created by artist Antonio Azzato in fibreglass. I thought they were pretty cool, so here is a selection.

España – 2 days exploring Madrid, Spain (part 1)

I’m back in Europe!

The European Congress for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) has presented me with a wonderful opportunity to do a little bit more exploring of the world. [For those who don’t know, my real job is working in medical microbiology]. This year ECCMID is being held in Madrid, Spain and I have been very fortunate (but have worked hard) to be able to be here. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore for a few days before the conference started.

Day 1:

I am staying about a half hour out of the city (out near the airport), so I caught a metro train into the city centre. I hopped off at the Opera station and wandered a little

Madrid-35

before I did my usual thing of doing a city sightseeing hop-on-hop-off bus tour.

Madrid-36

There were 2 loops you could do, but I only did the one for historical Madrid. This took quite a long time the traffic is crazy busy and we were at a standstill for quite a long time (hence why I didn’t do the second loop).

The botanical gardens looked good, so that was my first hop off stop. It cost €4 to get in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, so very worthwhile.

Madrid-3Madrid-32

Spring has sprung in Spain, so there was an excellent display of flowering tulips.

Madrid-31

I also saw some great bonsai

My 2nd stop was the royal palace (Palacio Real); I’d read about this and it looked really interesting. Unfortunately, when I went to buy my ticket I was told the palace was closed for the week (Bummer!), but I could get into the armoury for €5 if I wanted. I was most interested in looking through the grounds rather than the armoury, but I went in anyway. So glad I did.

Madrid-11Madrid-12The palace is impressive from the outside and the pictures I saw on inside looked amazing.

The armoury was fantastic- I was so impressed. The body amour of the soldiers and the armour plating for the horses were amazing – these were works of art, so much detail and excellent craftsmanship. The same can be said for the swords and pistols. Most of the armour dated from the16 century. Unfortunately no photos allowed, but Google images for Madrid royal palace armoury and you will see what I mean.

When I came out of the armoury, I encountered this peacock.

Madrid-14He was beautiful, I’d had never been so close to one, and was able to get a close look at his feathers.

Madrid-13

There was plenty of walking thereafter, so many sights to see, and I took plenty of photos.

Madrid-42

Italia – A visit to Pompeii

We finally had a lovely, sunny day to do some sightseeing on our trip to Italy the day we went to Pompeii. I have always wanted to go to Pompeii since I learnt about it in history when I was at school. The tale of what happened is legendary; what an intriguing place and history.

 

Pompeii-11

Mt Vesuvius – standing quietly at the moment overlooking the ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and surrounding areas were buried under about 6 metres of volcanic ash and pumice when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. It is such a fascinating story; what did the people of those towns think and feel on that fateful day, on 24th August 79? How did the 8,000 – 10,000 inhabitants of Pompeii live? What were their everyday lives like?

Pompeii-4

The remains of one of the many bakeries

Pompeii-10

A penis in the pavement pointing the way to the brothel

Pompeii-9

Pictures of what’s available in the brothel.

Pompeii-8

Now this is a rock hard bed!

Pompeii lay abandoned until it was first rediscovered in 1599 and remained relatively untouched until 1748 when explorers looking for artefacts found that the ashes of Mt Vesuvius had acted as a wonderful preservative. Pompeii is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Pompeii-7

While excavation is limited these days – this was happening in the bathing area

The archaeological site that has developed over the past 300 or so years is simply amazing.  The site is vast (an enthusiast could spend days here), with apparently only about two thirds of the 170 acre area having been excavated. While there is still more to discover, what has been unearthed so far is unlike anything else you will see.

Pompeii-3

The streets were wide enough for chariots, and are deeply grooved as a result. The stepping stones provided access for pedestrians

The small theatre (Odeon)

The small theatre

Pompeii-5

How impressive are these columns?

Pompeii-2

At the bottom of the hill, where the poorer people lived.

We did a half-day tour from Naples (and while this was great, the tour guide and information provided was excellent), for me it wasn’t enough. If you just want a taste of Pompeii, then a half-day tour is well worth it. If, however, you are more like me and hungry for more information and keen to see more and discover more on your own, then do this trip independently (it is totally do-able).

Pompeii-12

Ah, Roma, Italy 🇮🇹 (part 3) – the rest of Roma

In Roma, I did invest in a Hop-on-hop-off bus ticket (which I highly recommend for any city you visit; it’s a great way to get your bearings and to see what the city has to offer – and you can go back and see what you’re interested in later); we spent an afternoon doing a full loop of the city. It also offers great photo opportunities.

Rome-41

Previously a stadium, now housing

Rome-43

The Forum

We did do an awful lot of walking in Roma and after the extensive walking we did in the Vatican, we ventured out and explored, pretty much just following our noses. We managed to visit:

the Trevi fountain,

Roma-2.jpg

the Pantheon,

Piazza Navona (which we later returned to and took a look at the underground, where the remains of the Stadium of Domitian exist).

Our last full day in Roma (and it rained all day) we visited the church that sits at the top of the Spanish Steps – Trinita dei Monti.

We walked aimlessly through Villa Borghese park – saw some famous people:

We went to the Villa Medici – guided tour only available.

Rome-59

There is so much to see in Rome – it’s a big, old city. Here’s a few random shots:

Rome-50Rome-48Rome-47Rome-46Rome-45

One other thing we managed to do, and that was do a pasta making class at a local restaurant. It was great fun and I can’t wait to try making my own.

Because it rained so much, we were a little limited in what we were able to see and do in Roma and we didn’t get to see The Forum or Palatine Hill. Maybe next time (I did throw a coin in the Trevi fountain after all)!

And just because I like squirrels – I’ll sign off this post with an Italian squirrel:

Rome_squirrel

Ah, Roma, Italy 🇮🇹 (part 2) – a visit to the Colosseum

What is Rome’s most identifiable site? I think everyone could recognise the Colosseum when shown a picture.

Rome-22

We caught the metro down to this most famous stadium. As you step out of the metro station, there, looming large right in front of you is one of the best known ancient monuments still standing. No matter how many pictures you see of this ruined building, it’s just not the same as seeing it person. The Colosseum is literally awesome!

I am glad I did not book in advance for this one. As it happens, the first Sunday in the month and the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are all free to enter. And as an added bonus, it wasn’t raining (as it did every other day we were in Roma).

We arrived just before 9am, and there was already a huge line to get in. We were offered skip the line and a 45 minute guided tour tickets by the MANY individuals representing various tour companies who were charging 25euro per person. We politely declined and were told we would have to wait in line for 2 hours. We joined the end of the queue anyway. The line moved quickly and 20 minutes later we were inside the Colosseum. You need to spend more than 45 minutes here – I’m so glad I didn’t buy one of those “skip-the-line” guided tours! Although we didn’t have any commentary, (I did buy a book later), there is lots to read and we spent hours here.

Rome-26

It is possible to get tickets for tours to the underground area and the top tiers of the Colosseum, but I guess these were not available on the days that there is free entry.

Afterwards we sat opposite the Colosseum for lunch, admiring the view and people watching; watching all the posers trying to get that perfect shot of themselves in front of Rome’s most famous antique!