Happy Ever After and the Milford Track

 

Next week marks 2 years since I hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand. It is then, perhaps fitting that Happy Ever After will also be published next week. Why fitting? Because the Milford Track and Queenstown feature quite heavily in this story.

Over 100 years ago the Spectator magazine declared Milford “the finest walk in the world” – and although I have limited experience of these things, they weren’t wrong. It is way more than fine.

My Milford experience wasn’t an entirely happy one even though the track itself was as wildly beautiful as everyone says that it would be.

The finish line

This tramp – 54km or 33.5 miles (all the distance markers are in miles) – over glacier-fed rivers, through luxurious beech forest and up and over the alpine crossing that is the MacKinnon Pass – is a truly beautiful one. Yet while I finished the Routeburn Track only a couple of years earlier feeling as though I could do anything I set my mind to, there were a lot of moments on this one – particularly on day 3 with the Mackinnon Pass crossing – where I felt as though it had broken me.

It wasn’t just the rain – although it did rain steadily for the first 3 days. I’d gone with the guided walk option so even though we were soaked through by the end of each day, drying rooms and hot showers soon had us toasty and warm. Besides, rain is part of the landscape down here – and its beauty is even more dramatic in the rain.

No, my experience was marred by a lack of adequate training. This is rated a moderate walk and doable for most people with average fitness. I, however, had not prepared as well as I could have and should have.

2016 was a horror of a year with nasty unexpected surprise on top of nasty unexpected surprise. One after the other. Friends, jobs, finances, losses. We don’t need to get into the unpleasant detail. Between a daily 3 hour commute and all the other stuff that was happening, getting into a regular training pattern was difficult and my head was not where it needed to be.

As a result, I’d trained for the distances and the flat, but not for the uneven ground and certainly not for Mackinnon Pass. After the year that I’d had it felt as though the Pass had broken me into bits. I’m glad now that it did feel that way as I was able to use the experience when I was writing Kate’s story in Happy Ever After.

Day 1

Day 1 involved mostly getting to the start of the track. After waking to news of an overnight earthquake in Wellington, we left Queenstown on a bus for Te Anau Downs (with a stop at Te Anau for lunch) and then a boat ride to Glade Wharf and the official start of the track.

Day 2

Day 2 was an easy tramp – 16kms (10 miles) over relatively flat ground in the pouring rain. The amount of rain meant that the waterfalls sprang from absolutely everywhere.

I tramped most of the day alone and it was immensely gorgeous and peaceful and all of those words I was hoping it would be.

That afternoon back at the lodge the keas – large and extremely cheeky alpine parrots – kept us amused with their comical antics – and an active demonstration of why you shouldn’t leave hiking boots outside your room to dry!

Day 3

Day 3 was different. Although the distance was slightly shorter than the previous day, it was a steep uphill climb to Mackinnon Pass and an even steeper descent.

Going up was physically tough and my lack of preparation showed. I was slow and sore. Once we got above the beech forest, the views though, were magnificent.

At the memorial at the top, the clouds miraculously cleared and we could see the valley below – and just how far we’d come.

After stopping for some lunch and to use the toilet with the best view in the entire world, we made our way down – slowly, with my toes banging into the front of my boots and what felt like knives driving into my knees. Going up was hard, but I spent the entire 4 hours going down being scared of every step I took in case I fell and hurt myself.

Day 4

The longest of the walking days – 21 kms or 13.5 miles – the terrain was a little rocky, and there were a number of suspension bridges to cross, but otherwise nothing too challenging. It was, in fact, a glorious day to be tramping.

At (aptly named) Sandfly Point we boarded a boat to take us across to our accommodation for the night at Mitre Lodge and a final night dinner with a real party atmosphere.

Day 5 – Milford Sound

On day 5 we woke to a magnificent blue day and a cruise boat in at Milford Sound.

Before heading back to Queenstown we did a cruise of Milford Sound. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on Milford Sound a few times – twice on a short cruise like this one and once on an overnight cruise that I’ll never forget.

Anyways, these are views that would never get old. And the rain during the week just made the waterfalls even more impressive.

Would I do it again?

I’m not sure. Even though I said that I’d never ever ever do another long distance walk with a mountain in the middle again, it feels a little like unfinished business. Having said that, I’m planning another long distance challenge for early 2020 – if I can ever get this flipping ankle right.

Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. This truly is a magnificent walk with magnificent views – even in the rain…or maybe especially because of the rain.

I struggled – as did a few of the others – because I hadn’t prepared as well as I should have. Everyone else appeared to manage it very easily. I remain in awe of the group of Victorian hikers – all of whom were well into their 60s – who bounded up and down that mountain with relative ease.

As for my character, Kate Spence, will she do it again? She doesn’t need to –  she got exactly what she needed to get from the experience.

Happy Ever After is now available for pre-order at a special price from Amazon and will be published in Australia on 17/11/18 and all other territories 18/11/18. This link will take you to the pre-order.

There’s a print version on its way, so watch this space.

If you want to read more about my experience on the track, the day by day posts can be found here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Cimetière du Père Lachaise

 

‘Hey you – Kangaroo…allons…catch up.’

We were in Pere-Lachaise Cemetary – the most visited cemetery in the world – and had managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost. Of course, we could have booked ourselves on one of the tours of the cemetery, but that clashed with being able to visit the Bastille Markets – and we really wanted to do that. Besides, booking a tour would mean we’d need to be there by a certain time and what if we saw something interesting on the walk on the way there?

No, a tour, whilst tempting, would be way too constrictive – we’d do it ourselves instead. How hard could it be? I’d uploaded a map – okay I’d taken a screen dump of the map showing the important graves – but nothing had prepared us for the sheer number of them – and the size of the cemetery.

Although Paris residency was the only qualification you needed to be buried here, among the notable are the writers Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette; the composer Chopin; Edith Piaf. Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison; painters Seurat, Modigliani and Delacroix; and the dancer Isadora Duncan.

We quickly found Colette’s resting spot but from there we struck trouble and I had to admit the unthinkable – I had no flipping idea where to find Edith Piaf or Oscar Wilde, let alone Jim Morrison.

Just as we were approaching the first of the hills in the cemetery – which sits quite high over Paris – we come across a middle-aged man with long black hair and wild eyes holding a worn clipboard holding equally worn papers. He’s talking to an American couple outside Chopin’s grave and he reckons he has a shortcut to Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde.

We tag along – him calling me Kangaroo the whole time. Of course, we know that he’s an unofficial guide and that he probably ropes people like us in all the time, but he’s hilarious so we don’t care.

Along the way, he points out graves of people of interest and tells us about the history of the cemetery. There have been a million people interred here over the years, but, he says, not that many here now.

‘You know what happens? Kangaroo, do you know?’

‘No, why don’t you tell us.’

‘Barbecued,’ he says, indicating his head towards the crematorium. As an aside, that’s not strictly correct – and not at all respectful – but we’re getting the idea that neither respect nor accuracy is that important to him. Besides, we’re too busy trying to keep up with him.

‘Allons Kangaroo,’ he says again. I wave his words away and continue to take my photo.

‘How much do you reckon this will cost us?’ asks hubby under his breath.

We see another American woman looking for Edith Piaf. ‘She died,’ our “guide” says, completely deadpan. She doesn’t smile.

At Monsieur Noir’s grave we all – except for hubby – rub the….okay Mum and Dad, if you’re reading turn away now….we rub the very worn stone at his, well, crotch. Apparently, it’s good for one’s sex life and fertility.

‘How many children do you want?’ our guide asks the American couple who he calls Chicago.

‘We want twins,’ says Mrs Chicago.

‘You both better rub very hard then,’ he tells them. They each place one hand on his crotch and one on his foot – no, I don’t know why either – and lean in to kiss each other. I hope their wish comes true.

Judging by the worn nature of the ahem area, plenty of other people have tested the theory. I could tell you a story about how the legend came about – it has something to do with when Victor Noix, a 21-year-old journalist, was shot through the heart by Napoleon III’s nephew in a botched duel, a certain part of his anatomy – but no, I won’t go any further because I suspect my mother is still reading.

Eventually, we find Edith Piaf and Bugatti – who has a seriously tiny headstone for someone who invented such an expensive car.

At Oscar Wilde’s grave – which has a glass screen around it now to protect against the lipstick –  he leaves us and heads back down the hill to find more tourists needing a shortcut to Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde. He’s 50E richer (we gave him 20E) and we’ve laughed steadily for the last half hour or so.

As for us, we went looking for Jim Morrison…and found him.

Getting there…

We walked up via the Bastille Markets (more on that next time). It was an easy walk through a part of Paris we otherwise wouldn’t have walked through.

You can, however, catch the metro – Père Lachaise or Phillipe Auguste.

If you want to take the tour – a friend of mine recommended this one – it takes 2 hours, runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and costs around $25USD per person.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Ketchup’s Bank Glamping

I distinctly recall the last time I stayed in a tent. It was in a caravan park in Mallacoota – we were living in Bombala at the time – and I must have been about 13.

It was a 6 man tent and the 4 of us kids lay in our sleeping bags at the back of the tent, with a divider down the middle separating where Mum and Dad were. An annexe at the front held our kitchen stuff. I remember plenty about that experience:

  • How uncomfortable it was to sleep
  • How there was no privacy
  • How you had to climb over everyone and go to the amenities block to use the toilet
  • How uncomfortable it was to sleep

I also recall how when the wind came up we couldn’t leave the tent in case it blew away…but that’s another story that we all still laugh about.

We had camped before that trip – in sleeping bags on hard ground on a bush block outside of Merriwa – where we were living at the time. The toilet on that occasion was a spade with a toilet roll on the end. We still laugh about that too.

To say I didn’t enjoy the whole camping/tent thing would be a gross understatement. In fact, I vowed I’d never do it again – the camping or the tent thing – despite the laughs nearly 40 years later.

Age, however, mellows…or something like that… Since we’ve been in Queensland I’ve been flirting with the idea of both caravanning and camping – even though my husband has:

  • done a cost-benefit analysis on owning a van vs staying in country motels – including the fuel consumption of towing a van, site fees and…I could go on
  • pointed out how I need a bathroom under the same roof
  • pointed out how I sleep so lightly that a frog farting in a car on a highway 5 miles away is enough to keep me awake
  • pointed out that I have trust issues with regards to space, privacy and the ability to lock myself away securely.
  • pointed out that my hair has a tendency to go to dreadlocks when out in the great outdoors

Sure, he has a point – several, in fact – but I’ve pointed out:

  • how much fun it is to cook outside
  • how much fun it is to eat outside
  • how great it is to get away from noise
  • how the bush has its own sounds
  • how the stars are so clear in the dark
  • how amazing birds sound in the country
  • how much we both enjoy our Eucumbene trips
  • how we need to push boundaries every so often
  • how he keeps telling me he was a boy scout
  • life is too short to worry about dreadlocks
  • Adventure before dementia

The compromise? Glamping. And that’s where Ketchup’s Bank comes in.

The location…

Ketchup’s Bank is located in the Scenic Rim region of South East Queensland – just an hour from Brisbane and the same from the Gold Coast. The closest town, Boonah, is a 15-minute scenic drive away – longer if you stop for photos.

There are restaurants, pubs and a huge IGA supermarket in Boonah – for all your camp kitchen needs.

The Eco-tent

Take every preconceived notion you have about tents and throw them out of your mind. Are they gone? Good. This tent is certainly nothing like that brown and orange tent of my memory.

For a start, it has a bed – and a very comfy queen bed it is, with fluffy doonas and proper pillows. There’s a couple of chairs, a bar fridge for your supplies, a TV for DVDs only (thankfully no TV reception) and a small collection of DVDs.

Then there’s a bathroom – with a toilet that flushes and a shower that’s hot. You can leave the curtain and the tent flap open and shower with the bush, the birds and the wallabies. I chose not to scare the wildlife.

There was also a covered deck area that was obviously built just for me to do some copy editing from. As an aside, that whole business about writing drunk and editing sober is a fallacy…just saying.

The rain poured down on Friday night and we were warm, cozy and dry in our tent. I will admit to feeling a tad exposed without a door that could be locked, but I managed to get over that.

The Kitchen…

It’s a camp kitchen – but amped up. As well as a campfire with plenty of firewood and a few different sized Dutch ovens, there’s also a barbecue and most of the utensils you’ll need to whip up a great meal.

We prepared beef stroganoff on the first night, cooked up an incredible breakfast the following morning using the provisions in the breakfast hamper that we’d pre-ordered, and had pork chops with sauteed potatoes, green beans and a creamy pepper sauce on the second night. All prepared, cooked and eaten outside. You even boil the kettle for your tea on the barbie – or the billy. Don’t worry if you can’t do without your morning caffeine hit, Ketchup’s supply ground coffee and a plunger.

Somehow those eggs tasted even better knowing that we could personally thank the ladies who’d laid them for us.

Because we weren’t sure what we’d find in the way of nibbly things at Boonah, we’d also ordered an antipasto platter to accompany our drinks on Friday night. It was so generous we saved it for lunch on Saturday instead.

Around the property

There are a series of walks around the property – the scenery and birdlife are fabulous.

At night the stars are clearer than stars have a right to be, and in the late afternoon and early morning, there’s always the possibility of a visitor of the wallaby kind. As an aside, when driving into the property, keep an eye out – they have a habit of bursting out of the scrub and bouncing across the road.

Other bits and pieces…

Ketchup’s Bank currently has two eco-tents. The other was occupied on the weekend we were there, but we saw and heard little from our “neighbours”.

They don’t cater to children and there is no cellphone reception – although there is wi-fi, enough to allow you to post to Instagram or google the following days’ activities.

If you want more information, you can find it here.

Will we do it again? Yep. I’m a convert. Hear the serenity.

While in the Scenic Rim…

Scenic Rim Brewery

Don’t miss the chance to visit the Scenic Rim Brewery. With beers named Digga, Shazza, Fat Man and Phar-Que how could you not? We were there because we’d heard the bitterbollans (Dutch meatballs) were amazing – which they were.

They also have a loaded chiko roll on the menu…don’t ask!

Kooroomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm

I nearly didn’t mention this place – mainly because we rocked on up on Saturday (in the rain) and they were closed without explanation. So why am I telling you? Partly because it’s one of the main attractions in the area – seemingly with a humungous marketing budget and poor communications – but mostly because I wanted an excuse to post the pictures of the lavender that I got soaked taking. That’s why.

Bunjurgen Winery

This was a gem of a place – and possibly the most enjoyable and least pretentious wine tasting we’ve ever had. Dave pulled up a chair and a table and sat down and we chatted. There’s nothing sleek, posh or whatever about Bunjurgen – and that’s a great thing.

They grow 2 grape varieties – chambourcin and shiraz. When the climate does the right thing by them they make wine – rose, a mixed red, and a couple of ports – and when it’s too hot and wet to make wine, they make grape juice or verjuice. Too easy.

I reckon that I learnt more about winemaking in this climate than I’ll ever need to know – and so much more – but all via stories and good humour. We could have stayed and talked for ages.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


On the road again…part 2

For part 1, check out last weeks post.

Canberra to Eucumbene 169kms

After another sub-freezing start – gotta love Canberra in the winter – it was off to Eucumbene with a stop in Cooma for groceries, alcohol and the cheapest but worst sausage roll of the road trip. Normally Cooma sausage rolls are reliable, but this one was – horror of all horrors – microwaved. Sacrilege.

Although it was as cold as it usually is there was no snow this year. Substantial falls were forecast on the day we left. Such is life.

It was also drier than we’ve seen it with the dam all but empty.

Clancy of the Campfire

Don’t worry, we do have an indoor toilet too

In terms of the #clancyofthecampfire cooking challenge, there was plenty of amazing food – all prepared and cooked outside in either camp (Dutch) ovens or on the Oz Pig… or a combo of both.

We had bread and damper, and frankfurts two ways – cooked in the billy and wrapped in the damper and cooked on sticks in the fire.

Yes, folks, I give you the damper dog.

We had camp versions of coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon. Note to self – I must learn how to style and photograph brown food.

We had brownies and golden syrup dumplings (cooked in the billy can), and we also had French Savoury Cake. I’ve previously posted the recipe for that one here.

My personal fave for the weekend, though, was steamed dumplings with chilli soy sauce. Super yummy – and goes to prove that there is no limit to what you can cook in a camp oven.

Naturally, there were also jaffles – to use up all the leftovers.

In terms of weather, we had howling winds, driving rain, clear blue days and starry starry nights. Just the usual mixed bag really – and enough to give us a challenge in the outdoor cooking stakes.

Eucumbene to Cowra 363kms

It was raining when we left Eucumbene and we took the unsealed shortcut road across to the Snowy Mountains Highway, coming across black ice and other hazards.

ummm…move off the road… please?

The rain had turned to snow by the time we got to Adaminaby and was falling quite heavily as we began the climb up the mountain. As an aside, it’s compulsory for two-wheel drive cars to carry chains on this part of the road during the winter months (AWD and 4WD vehicles are exempt.

Even with 4WD engaged it wasn’t the easiest of drives – but the approach into Kiandra was very pretty.

Until the establishment of Cabramurra, Kiandra, an old gold-mining town, was the highest town in Australia. It’s also said to be the birthplace of Australian skiing. There you go.

Tumut

We pulled in at Tumut for a sausage roll (incidentally the second best of the trip) and a coffee. I’ve always liked this town – the rolling hills and the countryside around here are lovely (and a tad greener than most other places at the moment).

Aside from being the gateway to the Snowy River Scheme, Tumut was one of the towns short-listed to become what is now the Australian Capital Territory. Albury, Armidale, Dalgety, Tooma and Orange were some of the other towns on the list, but the House of Representatives favoured Tumut and the Senate favoured Bombala. It was after that stalemate that Canberra was chosen.

Young

Young, the cherry capital of Australia, was our lunch stop. Young also has the dubious claim to fame of being the scene of the Lambing Flats Riots during the gold rush and was the first town in Australia to install electricity into both streets and homes. Wilders Bakery also does a pretty good chicken and vegetable soup.

Cowra

Our overnight stay was at Cowra.

During WW2 Cowra was home to a massive prisoner of war camp. In 1944 over 500 Japanese POWs attempted a mass breakout. The casualties are buried in the Japanese War Cemetary here in town. A Japanese Garden – the largest in the southern hemisphere – was also built to reinforce the cultural links between Japan and Cowra.

I took a drive up to check out where the old POW camp was, but the light was fading too much for me to visit the gardens.

if you look closely you’ll see a roo I surprised

Where we stayed: Cowra Services Motel. After three nights in sleeping bags, the king-sized bed at the Cowra Services Motel felt like the height of luxury.

Where we ate: Cowra Services Club

Cowra to Armidale 584kms

Today we covered scenery and towns that I haven’t been through since we used to do the Merriwa to Tumbarumba run back in the mid-late 70s. Although interesting scenery, today’s drive was not one for great stops. Wellington – a really lovely town – was too close for a morning tea stop and anywhere else decent was too far away or by-passed.

After going past Gulgong (the town on the old ten dollar note) we ended up at a rest area and another billboard on the solar system drive.

Pluto at Birriwa, north of Gulgong

With the local trading post and somebody done somebody wrong songs on the radio we drove into Werris Creek for lunch where we found two points of interest – one being the town’s status as Australia’s first railway town, and the second being that Werris Creek was used as a location in Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken.”

Armidale

We finally made it into Armidale just after 4pm when the local temperature was just 2C with a wind chill factor bringing it below freezing.

This is possibly my favourite town in NSW. We stop here whenever we do the Sydney – Sunshine Coast run and it’s a place I especially enjoy in the winter. Being a university town it also has a great secondhand bookshop and I went a tad over the top on some travel memoirs.

Where we stayed: Armidale Pines Motel. This was probably the best motel of the trip. Good sized, comfy rooms and no road noise at all. Plus we were just a block and a half away from our favourite pub…

Where we ate: The White Bull. This place has a great fit-out, a good vibe, and does an amazing steak. We eat here whenever we’re in town.

Armidale to Sunshine Coast 589kms

Very little to be said about today’s drive other than we both just wanted to get home.

It was too early to stop at Tenterfield for one of the best pies on the highway at Federation Pies, so our morning tea stop was at The Church at Thulimbah, just north of Stanhope. I had a go at recreating their orange and almond cake over the weekend.

Other than that? A forgettable lunch stop at Gatton and home by mid-afternoon.

In total, we travelled just over 3600 kms and visited some fabulous (and some not so fabulous) towns. We saw first-hand the impact of the drought, and also saw other areas which, although still drought-affected, were faring slightly better.

We had a ball staying in motels and eating at local pubs and clubs – and found something interesting and endearing in each of them. As for our next road trip? I’m thinking Sunshine Coast to Port Douglas (1700kms) and maybe back via Longreach (another 2400kms)…Maybe next winter…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Melbourne

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – the weekend that Ms T and I do our annual weekend away in Melbourne. It’s something that we’ve been doing for years now – since she was about 10, I suppose…maybe earlier. Over that time we’ve shared it occasionally with friends and, on one occasion, with my sister and her daughter, but mostly it’s just us.

What do we do? Mostly walk and eat and talk…and talk and eat and walk. Sure, there’s a little bit of research for whatever it is that I’m writing – or intending to write – but generally, I come back with more ideas than what I’ve gone down to research.

Dumplings

Of course. Hutong is my fave purveyor of dumplings in a city that knows its dumplings, but we were after a quick snack in lieu of the lunch that we missed out on due to a delay of the Jetstar variety. Something to keep us going until dinner.

Shanghai Dragon Dumplings (at least I think that’s the name) in Russell St did the job – and for less than $20.

Pasta

Not quite in the cheap eats category,  is the Cellar Bar at Grossi Florentino in Bourke St – at the Exhibition Street end. We love it here and always – even in the middle of winter – choose to sit outside on the street.

This time we each had possibly the best plate of pasta in recent memory – Tonarelli alla Gricia, Guanciale, Pecorino. A simple Roman dish with just three ingredients – pasta, pecorino, and guanciale or pigs cheek. That’s it. Delicious.

Plus, we had room left for dessert at Om Nom.

Dessert

This was our designated splurge for the weekend – Om Nom at the Adelphi Hotel in Flinders Lane, just up from Swanston Street. We’d booked a table for dessert only.

At the reception counter

Hilariously we’d just finished raving about how fabulous three ingredients could taste and how you didn’t need to do unnecessary stuff to food. ‘Who needs foams and gels and spheres?’ I asked.

And then we walked into Om Nom. These desserts – and the cocktails – are unashamedly theatrical. All of it is unnecessary, yet at the same time, so beautiful that you can’t do anything but appreciate it.

Ms T had strawberries and meringue – that was obviously so much more than that. Liquid nitrogen was involved.

I had an apple and coconut splice – which was, in essence, an apple and coconut splice. Was the foam required? Nope, but when the syrup that was poured over by the executive chef dissolved the foam almost before I could get a good photo of it, it left behind little drops of pure coconut. Clever.

Apologies for the pic quality – the lighting wasn’t good.

Walking and Exploring

This is such a great city for exploring on foot – and we always try and throw in one destination foodie place to make the walk even more worthwhile. On this trip, we were heading up into East Brunswick via Carlton – and back via Fitzroy.

I’ve always loved it around here – the mix of student accommodation, vintage shops, Victorian-era architecture, cafe culture, and Little Italy represents Melbourne in a nutshell. All up we covered about 10kms return…which helped justify pizza!

We walked up Lygon Street past Trades Hall (where I attempted to bore Ms T with a lesson about the 8 hour day and the trade union movement in Australia – her eyes glazed over very quickly) and detoured off to have a look at Melbourne University. This was, of course, when the rain started. By the time we reached the cemetery though, there were glimpses of blue sky again.

Speaking of which, if you’re into exploring interesting cemeteries – and yes, I am – this is a fascinating one. Burke and Wills are buried here, as is Frederick Federici (said to be the phantom of the Princess Theatre), and a whole host of prime ministers and premiers.

Pizza

It wasn’t all just aimless wandering – we did have a destination in mind: 400 Gradi in Brunswick.

This place has won awards for its pizzas – proper awards – and it’s easy to see why. Stupendously good pizza – and well worth the walk.

Street Art

A Melbourne post by me wouldn’t be complete without some street art.

Hosier Lane…

And elsewhere…

and finally, an ode to spaghetti…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


OEuilly

The capital O and E together is not a typo. In French, it looks as though the two letters are joined. I’m typing in English, though, so you’ll need to trust me on that.

This dinky little town might be difficult to pronounce (it’s something like wee-yee) but it’s seriously cute in a grey-stone quintessential French village sort of way. It’s one of those towns that make you want to see what’s behind the shutters, what’s on the kitchen tables, why there is fake grass used as fences. Yes, fake grass on fences. Bunnings is missing out on a whole market there.

There’s a well and a centre of town that I like to imagine was just like the tiled pictures in the photos below.

OEuilly has a 13th-century church that sits on the top of the hill and has views all down the valley. In the churchyard are five white marble gravestones – for RAF airmen who died on May 4, 1944. They must have been in the same plane or the same formation. There was the pilot, two gunners, the air bomber and the wireless operator.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.

OEuilly is located on the Vallee de la Marne Champagne Route (you’ll have to imagine that the accents that should be over some of these letters are actually there) it’s about 13kms from Epernay and 27kms from Reims in the heart of Champagne.

The town also has plenty of champagne producers and a museum devoted to wine-growing – the Economusee d’OEuilly. Again, you can put the accent thingies over the “e” yourself. Early in the morning as we walked through town, these strange tractors moved from field to field. They looked like monster trucks but in an agricultural form – so designed to be able to drive through the vineyards without damaging the vines.

Although we came to the region for the champagne, it’s not why we were here in OEuilly. OEuilly was the first stop on our foodie road-trip and we were here for Jean-Eric’s cooking. Well, not just Jean-Eric’s cooking…but it’s as good a reason as any.

road-tripping

L’Oeuillade en Champagne

This charming little gite in the heart of Champagne was to be our home for the first night of our road-trip – and it didn’t disappoint.

Choosing accommodation for 3 people when 2 of them are a couple (me and hubby) can be a tad difficult – as well as we get on together, we do also need a certain amount of our own space.

L’Oeuillade had plenty of living space and 3 good sized bedrooms. If we’d been inclined to cook, we had all the facilities to do so. Cooking, though, was the last thing on our minds.

What would be on our mind? Champagne, of course…in the garden.

We’d dropped in for a sneaky bubbly tasting at Epernay on our way in – to pick up some supplies for the evening – and this is where we settled…pretty much for the night.

And why not? It was a glorious Spring evening and we had plenty of champagne, portable speakers, comfy chairs, and views like this.

Best of all, because we’d reserved dinner in-house, Jean-Eric, our host, and his lovely wife brought our meal to us. Bliss. Great food with no washing up. Their house was across the road, and that’s where they brought each course of our meal from.

We started with champagne which Jean-Eric had hubby open sabrage style – with a champagne sabre. The video was on Instagram, but essentially the sabre breaks the neck and the cork of the bottle away. It’s all very dramatic.

not the bottle we opened with the sabre

The meal that followed was one of the best we had in France. It was, without a doubt, the best value one we had too.

What did we eat?

Parmentier de Foie Gras sauce au vin – sliced potatoes with pate and a red wine sauce. I would never have thught of this combo in a million years but it worked.

Papillote de Rouget au Champagne – Red mullet with champagne sauce cooked “en papillote” ie in paper. THE best fish dish we had in France. I’ve found a recipe I’ll be experimenting with, but I doubt it will be as good as this one on a warm Spring evening in Champagne with champagne.

Sorbet au Marc de Champagne – the marc is a brandy made from the discarded skins and seeds in the process of making champagne. It was poured over the sorbet as a very tasty palate cleanser.

Joues de Porc à la Bière de Marne – pork cheeks cooked in local beer. Sorry, no pic…but very yummy.

Assiette des Trois Fromages – a selection of cheese. I especially loved the cream cheese which was similar to the cervelles de canuts that we would later taste in Lyon.

Sabayon de fruits et ratafia – a sabayon served with berries and a glass of the local ratafia, a spirit that is essentially a fortified grape brandy.

And all washed down with the “supplies” we’d purchased in Epernay. It was the type of meal that memories are made of. And all for 35 euros a head*

If you’re heading to Champagne and want to know more about L’Oeuillade en Champagne, you can find Jean-Eric’s website here. We, however, found him on Air BNB. Hde and his wife were brilliant hosts.

*Price was as of April 2018.

Next time: A Day in Champagne…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Tyne Cot and Ypres – On Flanders Fields

Tyne Cot

Just over 50 kms from Brugge (Bruges) and 40kms from Lille sits an area of farmland. There are blossoms and Cyprus trees and, at this time of the day, the birdsong is glorious.

This is Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing. A big title, yes, but a fitting one for the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world – in any war.

The area around Ypres and Passendale (or Passchendaele) stood smack bang in the middle of Germany’s planned sweep through the rest of Belgium and into France in WW1. As such, it was considered strategically important by both German and Allied Forces. From late in 1914 (the first battle of Ypres) both sides dug in for the duration.

I won’t bore you with the war history – suffice to say countless lives were lost for very small gains. In the worst of the battles in 1917 – the Battle of Passchendaele – over half a million lives were lost.

If you look across the fields now you can see barely a rise in the ground, yet any tiny undulation was fought for and defended. Tyne Cot stands on one of these, with German bunkers or shelters still part of the cemetery.

The statistics

Tyne Cot is the resting place of almost 12,000 Commonwealth servicemen – over 8,300 of whom remain unidentified – their graves are marked with the inscription “A soldier of the Great War…known unto God.”

Yes, those numbers are correct. These men all died in the fighting around Ypres (Ieper) between 1914 – 1918, but most fell during the Battle of Passchendaele, or Third Battle of Ypres, in 1917.

The Memorial Wall

The stone wall around the cemetery – the memorial wall – lists the names of almost 35,000 servicemen of the UK and New Zealand who died between August 1917 and November 1918 and who have no known grave.

The numbers are actually worse than this. The original intention was to list all the names of British servicemen who died in the Ypres area on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres (see below) but they ran out of space to do so. An arbitrary cut-off date of 15 August 1917 was decided on, with the remainder of the names being listed at Tyne Cot.

Four graves here are for unnamed German soldiers treated here after the battle. Their inscriptions are in German.

Standing here in 2018 it’s hard to fathom the vast difference between the area as it is now – green, leafy and full of birdsong – to the chaos, filth and noise these men must have died in. The ground was virtually liquefied by shelling and the trees long turned to matchsticks.

It’s a fitting and respectful memorial – and one that you can help but be moved by.

Ypres

It’s fair to say that Ypres (or Ieper) has been pretty unlucky over the years when it’s come to wars.

Even before it was literally flattened in World War 1, it was the scene of a number of battles and sieges – dating all the way back to the first century when the Romans took a liking to it. In the 13th century, a huge fire took most of the city out, in the 14th century it was besieged in the Norwich Crusades, and in 1678 it was captured (briefly) for France by Louis IV.

Ypres became part of the Hapsburg empire early in the 18th century, before being captured again by the French 80 years later. Then, of course, came the three battles of Ypres (deliberately mispronounced Wipers by English soldiers) in WW1 – which obliterated the town.

Rebuilding Ypres

Ypres became a symbol of all the British were fighting for – and a place of pilgrimage after the war. Using money paid by Germany in reparation the town was rebuilt. Some buildings so closely resemble the original that it’s hard to believe that they haven’t been here all along.

The Cloth Hall (originally built in the 13th century) in particular is a very close replica. (Unfortunately, we were there as the sun was going down so my pics aren’t great.)

Ypres these days has the title of “city of peace” and is a sister city with Hiroshima – both cities sharing some devastating commonalities. Ypres is where chemical warfare was first used and Hiroshima…well, we know that story.

Aside from its importance as a place of memorial, Ypres is also popular with war and family historians.

Menin Gate

The Menin Gate in Ypres is a memorial to the missing.  The names of over 54,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died in the battles around Ypres up to August 15, 1917, and whose graves are unknown are listed here.

To honour the fallen, every evening at 8 pm sharp the Last Post is played under the Menin Gate Memorial. The ceremony has taken place every day since 1928. The night that we attended was the 31,012th ceremony.

The playing of the Last Post is generally followed by the laying of wreaths by families of the fallen or other associations. The ceremony is then concluded by the buglers playing the Reveille – to mark a return to daily life at the end of the homage.

According to the website, the Menin Gate was chosen as the location for the ceremony because of its special symbolic significance. It was from this spot that countless thousands of soldiers set off for the front, many of them destined never to return. If you want to know more about this incredibly emotional service, duck across to The Last Post website.

Check out my other posts from France at this link.

 

 

 

Brugge…

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, way back in the 13thand14thcenturies, there existed a city that was so prosperous that the wealth of its citizens rivalled that of queens.

Its fortune was made on the back of textiles and trade, with international traders setting up here to do business with the ships laden with all sorts of exotic goods – wool, wine, silks, spices –that berthed here. The city was so important that stock exchanges today are still called bourses in many languagesafter the trader’s house that many merchants met in during the 13thcentury right here.

It was here that English wool was converted into fabric, and here that Flemish artists painted works for such perfection.

As often happens in these situations, the craftsmen began to disagree and stand up to their overlords. Retributions followed – as retributions often do – and traders began looking for somewhere else to do business. Merchants followed the traders and the city began to fall into a decline.

Then disaster struck…

The long sea channel that connected the city with the sea – and the city’s economic lifeline – silted up. With access to the sea gone, houses were abandoned, and canals remained empty.

The city slumped into a slumber that would last around 400 years – which is, in a way, somewhat appropriate for a place that looked as though it had sprung straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

The city is Brugge (or Bruges), and it’s thanks (in part) to this extended slumber that it miraculously survived two world wars.  Some tourists made their way through late in the 19thcentury on their way through to Waterloo (does anyone else want to burst into song at that name, or is that just me?) but it wasn’t until much later that Brugge was rediscovered.

Today it’s a picture postcard example of a perfectly preserved medieval city.

In the past Brugge’s trade was mercantile, today it’s about tourists with its prime assets being a massive market square, narrow cobbled streets, historic churches, perfectly preserved buildings and photogenic, willow-draped canals.

Textiles are still popular, with plenty of shops selling tapestries and lace – keep an eye out for the map of the city done in lace. The pic below doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.

Chocolate is king here. You can buy all chocolate here from commercial novelties (think phallic – this is a PG-rated site so I won’t post the pics) to artisan chocolatiers. The entire city is full of air-borne calories, so take care not to breathe too deeply.

Truffles

We visited on a day-trip from Lille so sadly had just a short time to explore. Anyways, here’s some of what we did see…

Markt

And no, I haven’t spelt it incorrectly – there is no “e”. This open market square is the centre of town.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

Tucked into the square, beside a chocolate shop, is the Heilig- Bloedbasiliek or Basilica of the Holy Blood.

It takes its name from the phial that apparently holds a few drops of Christ’s blood. For the donation of a few euros, you can check it out. It doesn’t look anything like blood – not that I’d know what blood would look like after it’s been in a phial for over a thousand years.

Anyways, it was reportedly brought here in the 12th century after the Crusades. The Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood was formed soon after to protect and preserve and venerate it – which all sounds a little Dan Brown-ish.  Each Ascension Day they do a procession through the city.

There’s even a legend that every hundred years the blood flows again. Given no one alive has actually seen this phenomenon I suspect it’s a little like the “back in 30 minutes” signs you see on shop doors – when you don’t know when the thirty minutes actually has started.

It does, however, make for a good story, and from a rather nondescript exterior, the stairs lead up and around into a lovely and intricately decorated chapel.

Half Moon Brewery

Brugge is very much a beer town, yet there’s only the one family-run brewery still actually operating in town- Half Moon Brewery…the perfect spot to stop for lunch after walking all morning. Although this brewery was founded in 1856, there has, in fact, been a brewery on this site since 1564.

The 2-course menu here was 22E, so we shared the shrimp croquettes and I had the Flemish Beefstew – which is, incidentally, called Carbonnade or Carbonade Flamande in Flemish France. (Keep an eye out for the recipe over the next few days).

Hubby and F chose the beer ham and cheese soup – also excellent – and thankfully helped me out with my fries.

On the subject of fries, or frites, it seems that the nationality of the cook who accidentally dropped a piece of potato into some hot oil and invented the chip is as hotly debated as the question of who made the first pavlova. The Belgians say it was them, and the French claim that it was in fact them. Whatever – these fries were flipping good.

The Beer Wall

On the subject of beer, we had to check out the 2 be Beer Wall. there are over 1800 beers – and their accompanying glasses (all Belgian beers have a branded glass that the beer should be served in) – in the wall. Wait, wasn’t there a song about that? 1800 beers on the wall…no?

The bar has only about ten beers on tap at any one time, but plenty more in bottles. Worth a look…and a drink.

Canal Cruise

Yep, it’s seriously touristy, but at 8E it’s worth it to get a different view of this gorgeous city.

A must do.

The Cathedral

St-Salvatorskathedraal…Sweeping high ceilings and antique tapestries make this one interesting.

While we were wandering around there was a girl standing high up on some scaffolding do painstaking restoration work. Now, there’s an idea for a character…

What else?

There are the shops that sell tapestries and lace,

shops that are just about Christmas – all year round,

a market building where I can’t remember the name…Vismarkt?

and enough architecture, art, history, and dreamy canals to keep anyone interested.

The problem is, lots of other people know about Brugge’s beauty and the streets are mobbed in summer and on weekends. Come in the off-season, or midweek – as we did – and avoid the crowds.

 

 

 

 

La Grand Tour of France

Morning mist in Burgundy

After three fabulous weeks in France we arrived home last night – exhausted. We’ve crammed a lot into our time away and come back richer for the experience.

On the road-trip leg of our holiday, we travelled over 3000 kms – from Lille into Belgium, the Netherlands, down to Champagne, Burgundy, Lyon, the Loire Valley, and finally to Paris.

I put my Fitbit back on for the trip, and we racked up a massive 238,900 steps. Given that my 5km morning walks usually measure out at just under 5000 steps, that’s an awful lot of kilometres walked.

We consumed about the same number of litres of wine as kms that we walked…ok, a slight exaggeration…and almost as much again in baguettes and cheese.

We visited about a hundred churches (another slight exaggeration), took more photos than I have time to download at the moment, and bought a daggy tea-towel at every stage of the journey.

We also learnt a lot about France, it’s foods, it’s culture, and it’s quirks – and that is, I think, the best part about staying and travelling with friends and talking to a number of expats. Aside from the laughs and the company, you learn about a country from those who live there.

I’ll be posting more about each region over the next few weeks, but for now here are some of our observations. Settle in…this is a loooong post.

About France

1. France is an absolute contradiction – on the one hand, there’s a formality and structure about things we’re quite laid back about, and on the other, there’s chaos and disregard for many things that we’d consider necessary here in Australia. I’d love a euro for the number of times I heard expats say something like ‘it makes no sense, but it’s how it is.’ It might be frustrating to live with, but I love it.

2. France is pretty much closed on a Monday – so check the opening hours of shops and museums. It’s a weird feeling hitting a village at 1 pm and finding the streets deserted.

3. France pretty much closes for lunch – between 12 – 2 pm. That includes banks, post offices and even police stations in regional areas.

5. You can often park for free between 12 and 2 pm – the parking inspectors are at lunch.

6. Meetings aren’t booked between 12 and 2 pm – business interferes with digestion.

7. French workers don’t tend to run errands at lunchtime – they sit down or go home to eat. Besides, most services are closed anyway.

8. Other than for essential deliveries, trucks are off the road on Sundays (and public holidays). Sunday is still considered the family day.

9. France, in general, is not really disability friendly. Many places – especially in regional France – are not wheelchair accessible.

10. There are also a lot of stairs and not many places with lifts – one of the reasons, I suspect, that French women don’t get fat.

11. Merely adding “le” to the start of a word doesn’t make it French.

12. You can make yourself understood with a few basic French words – the effort is usually appreciated.

13. There is history everywhere.

About Food

1. The French sit down to eat – or stand at a bar. You rarely see locals walking along drinking coffee and eating a croissant from a bag.

2. Lunch is lunch, dinner is dinner, and you don’t eat in between – unless you’re a child.

3. Nothing interferes with lunch – especially not work. Besides, some workers even have restaurant vouchers in their packages. Now that’s civilised.

4. The French really do buy their baguettes daily and really do offer bread at each meal. Weirdly, butter is only offered at breakfast or if you’ve ordered oysters. No, I haven’t figured that one out either.

5. Most supermarkets don’t have chocolates, cold drinks or other snacks at the check-out – if you want these products you need to get them from the aisle. This is not a bad thing.

6. France will never need to spend euros on a buy local program – why would you want to eat (or drink) from anywhere else?

7. Wine is sipped and savoured and often served in small glasses.

8. Cheese is sliced into small portions and often eaten with a knife and fork. It’s can be served with baguette, but not crackers – which are difficult to find in a supermarket. Also, it doesn’t get eaten before a meal, but after it – before dessert (if a dessert is being served) or instead of dessert.

9. Dips are not really a thing. You can usually get hummus, taramasalata and tzatziki from the deli in the supermarket – but see above comments re crackers.

10. The French drink very little fresh milk, and most take their coffee and tea black. They do, however, eat a lot of yoghurts – most of which comes in little portion controlled glass yoghurt pots.

11. Salads are not necessarily a light option and are always perfectly dressed.

12. The French like to talk about food all the time – but especially when they’re eating. My kind of people.

13. You can eat really well for not a lot of euros – even in Paris. Many places have a two or three-course special that is great value.

14. Unlike here, house wine is a good choice – and tends to showcase a region and the restaurant you’re eating in.

15. In many cases you can’t just rock on up to a cellar door for a tasting – many places require these to be booked and often involve a tour.

16. Done well, escargots (snails) are yummy. The garlic butter and parsley sauce with baguette is even yummier.

17. Each region has its specialities – and these are absolutely worth seeking out. Except for andouilettes in Burgundy and (especially) in Lyon. There is no excuse for these.

18. The cheeses are incredible.

19. Shop windows contain airborne calories – and the patisserie really is fabulous…even for this non-sweet lover. As for artisan chocolates – don’t get me started.

20. Especially in regional France, the food on offer is French or the cuisine of that particular region. There is an exception to this rule for Italian food – which seems to be the universal cuisine.

21. Spice is unheard of. We were craving a decent dose of chilli.

22. Some food hygiene things that we take for granted aren’t considered a problem. As an example, on more than one occasion we saw cooked cold meats and charcuterie displayed in the same space as raw meats – and served by the same gloves that had just finished cutting raw meat.

About art and cultural stuff

1. You don’t need to go to museums to see great art.

2. Churches are full of incredible art – and not just on the walls. The windows took my breath away. Reims Cathedral has a Chagall stained glass window that I could have stared at for hours.

3. There are a lot of churches and each of them is different and awe-inspiring in their own way.

the cathedral at Epernay

4. Wineries often have great art.

a sculpture at Moet et Chandon

5. The French nobility seemed to do little more than pose for paintings and sculptures.

6. The chateaus of the Loire really are that big – and that ostentatious. It’s no wonder they had a revolution.

7. There really is such a disorder as chateau fatigue.

8. The Spring flowers and blossoms need to be seen to be believed.

 

 

 

L is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

L is for Lyon

We’ll be in Lyon later this month and there’s so much about the place that’s already firing my imagination. Sit back while I weave the beginnings of a tale…

If you were to look at a satellite image of Lyon – which you’re probably not inclined to do but please, go with me on this – you’d see a few streets running parallel to the river but not many side streets connecting them that actually run down to the river.

This isn’t a problem if you’re a tourist – so you have to walk an extra 200m, what of it? But it is a problem if you’re a 15th-century silk trader and you’re carrying heavy bolts of fabulously precious silk.

Ok, I’m going to stop right there for a second as the image and the idea develops – 15th century and silk trade.

So, you’re a 15th-century silk trader carrying heavy fabric and you need to get to the river quickly…what do you do? You start to take shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways to get your precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa. That’s what you do.

We now know this network of passageways as traboules – a word that comes from the Latin trans ambulare which means “to cross” – and Lyon has hundreds of these.

Another pause while we picture this – 15th century, silk traders, a network of passageways to the river and a waiting cargo ship. The colour of the silk striking against the murkiness of the candlelit passageways. Yep, the image and the idea is beginning to get clearer. I’m thinking smuggling and other dark deeds…

Right, back to the history. Although these alleys were associated with the silk traders in that the traboules kept the fabric dry as well as provided a convenient shortcut, they’ve been in Lyon at least since the 4th century.

You see, back in the day, Lyon was a bit of a poster child for the Roman Empire. Signs of this are still around – with the structures apparently still quite impressive. I’ll let you know after we visit them.  It makes you wonder what the Romans knew about building back then?

But I digress. Lyon was important  – or Lugdunum as they called it, which doesn’t have quite the same ring as Lyon – partly because it was a handy stop-over point, but mostly because it has two rivers. The Rhone curves through the centre of Lyon as does the Saone.

Anyways, once the Romans reluctantly left town, the aqueducts bringing water to the city started to fail – a little like an iPhone at the end of its warranty. People started building closer to the river and the first traboules were built around this time to allow people to get from their homes to the water quicker.  Yeah, not much of a story there – I think I’ll stay with the 15th-century silk traders.

These silk workers, known as canuts had to eat… so let’s move forward a couple of hundred years to the 17th and 18th century to talk about the other thing I’m looking forward to in Lyon – les bouchons.

The Bouchon is a restaurant serving Lyonnaise cuisine – which is heavily meat-based and does, shall we say, use the whole of the animal.

These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses. I’m beginning to see another strand of a potential story and I haven’t even visited yet!

Then there’s the tradition of machon (the a has a little upside down triangle over it). This is pretty much charcuterie and all bits porky served with pots of Beaujolais in the early morning.  The silk weavers – or canuts – of La Croix-Rousse would all get together to share these meals at dawn after they finished work. My kind of breakfast.

Tired and down-trodden silk workers, hungry bellies, pork and litres of red wine before the sun is properly up – I’m seeing the perfect environment for the hatching of dastardly plans.

Maybe there’s a way of making this trip tax deductible after all…


It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, Debbish, Seize the Day Project, Write of the Middle, 50 Shades of Age, and, of course, me.

Feel free to link up a post that reflects what you’re lovin’ about life. All bloggers are welcome! Fashion, food, beauty, business, personal, parenting … whatever …

Make sure you click on some of the Lovin’ Life links below and see what else is in the blogosphere. So much to love …