Belfast

We had a lot of ground to cover after leaving Newcastle, and so spent only a brief time in Belfast. The inclement weather didn’t encourage us to explore too far but what we did see was extraordinary. Founded in 1868, this fabulous wedge-shaped building was originally called the Shakespeare, the clientele mostly from the theatre. We should have ventured inside Bittles Bar but it was a bit early for a pint, even for us. The traditional Victorian Bar is apparently adorned with interesting artwork and portraits of Ireland’s literary and sporting heroes.

1.Bittles Bar

Adjacent to Bittles Bar was a rather ornate bright yellow drinking fountain. The Jaffe Memorial fountain was erected in 1874 by Otto Jaffe, Belfast’s first and only Jewish Lord Mayor, to commemorate his father. Daniel Joseph Jaffe was a merchant from Hamburg who came to Belfast in 1850 and set up a linen export business. He was quite the philanthropist, funding the building of Belfast’s first synagogue and Otto followed in his footsteps, giving much to the community. This is without doubt the most spectacular drinking fountain I have ever seen.

2.Jaffe Memorial fountain

I did not expect to see a giant Ferris wheel in the centre of the city. Belfast’s answer to the London Eye, the Belfast Wheel opened in 2007. There was much controversy over the location of the wheel, it had been built around and on top of the Titanic Memorial on the grounds of Belfast City Hall. Following objections from the Belfast Titanic Society and the Environmental Agency, the Belfast Wheel closed for business in April 2010.

3.The Belfast Wheel

The criticism was based on the location, not the wheel itself, it had proved to be a great tourist attraction. It did seem out of place next to the majestic City Hall for which planning began in 1888 after Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria and construction was completed in 1906. Built mainly from Portland stone, it covers an area of one and a half acres. The four copper-coated corner towers and central dome are the distinctive green seen on other Victorian buildings.

4.Belfast City Hall

The 53 metre lantern-crowned central dome dominates the city skyline.

5.Belfast City Hall

There was so much more to see in Belfast, we may have to return one day.

Southern Swan

Strolling around The Rocks in Sydney one morning, we noticed a magnificent tall ship sailing in the harbour.

1.James Craig

The James Craig, a 19th century barque, was rescued in 1972 from Recherche Bay in Tasmania where she had been purposely sunk in 1932. Restoration began in Hobart before she was towed to Sydney in 1981 where the work was completed and she returned to the sea in 2001.

2.James Craig

Watching her gracefully glide across the water, we knew we wanted the experience and promptly signed up for a twilight dinner cruise on the Southern Swan, berthed at Campbell’s Cove, The Rocks.

3.Southern Swan

Originally named Our Svanen, the three-masted barquentine was built in Denmark in 1922 and traded as a grain carrier through the cold waters of the North Atlantic. She then sailed Baltic trade routes as a cargo vessel for Tuborg brewery until she was purchased as a private vessel in 1969. Since then, she has served as a training ship with the Canadian Sea Cadets, travelled to Vancouver for the 1986 World Expo, sailed to England for the First Fleet Re-enactment and returned to Australia for the Bicentennial First Fleet Re-enactment. She now has a lovely home with stunning harbour views.

4.Southern Swan

For two hours, we sipped champagne and enjoyed a delicious three course meal surrounded by the most beautiful harbour in the world (in my humble opinion). I was fascinated by the ropes and pulleys, works of art with a purpose.

As we neared the magnificent Sydney Heads, Bradleys Head lighthouse, built in 1905, warned of treacherous waters. The mast mounted on the point is from HMAS Sydney, renowned for her battle with the German cruiser Emden in 1914.

15.toward the heads

The tall ships cruise offers the chance of a mast climb challenge. There were no takers this time, possibly because alcohol is not to be consumed prior to a climb and, after all, it was a dinner cruise. Looking up at the mast was enough of a thrill for me.

16.mast17.mast

Our time on the water went by too soon and, as the sun sank in the west, we returned to Campbell’s Cove, another wonderful experience tucked away as memories.

18.mast

Sandridge Bridge

I have never really taken an interest in the unattractive steel footbridge with the unusual sculptures that crosses the Yarra River, until our last visit to Melbourne.

1.Sandridge Bridge

Enjoying a late afternoon beverage at Southbank, I was captivated by the light and reflections on the water and started to appreciate the obscure beauty of the structure.

2.Sandridge Bridge p.m.

I have since delved further. The original bridge and railway line was built in 1853 when Port Melbourne, then known as Sandridge, became a thriving hub thanks to the Victorian gold rush. It was also the first passenger rail service in Australia. The bridge was replaced in 1857 with a timber trestle bridge, built at the oblique angle to redress the issue of the existing tight curve. The current bridge opened in 1888, one of the first in Melbourne to use steel girders rather than iron. The support columns are hollow iron filled with concrete, set parallel to the flow of the river, in groups of three. On closer inspection, each rivet seemed a work of art.

3.Sandridge Bridge p.m.

Even the ornamental pediments are made from cast iron.

The morning light of the new day offered fresh reflective images.

6.Sandridge Bridge a.m.7.Sandridge Bridge

The railway bridge was last used in 1987 and remained, as something of an eyesore, until Melbourne City Council committed $15.5 million for its restoration in 2003. Sandridge Bridge was relaunched in 2006 as a celebration of the indigenous and immigrant history of Victoria, a tribute to those who made the journey by train from Station Pier to Flinders Street Station. Artist Nadim Karam created ten abstract sculptures, representing the different periods of immigration, using more than 3.7km of stainless steel. The artwork is titled The Travellers and the figures move slowly across the bridge in a 15 minute sequence. I must admit, I have never noticed them moving.

8.Sandridge Bridge sculptures

A series of 128 glass panels line the walkway, each one offering information about the origin of the immigrants, in alphabetical order, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. It can take quite a while to cross the bridge, a rest along the way is sometimes in order.

9.welcome swallow

From the north side, nature’s reflections resemble graffiti

10.Sandridge Bridge

and the intricate angles are more evident.

11.Sandridge Bridge

Unlike nature’s graffiti, that of lesser mortals is unsightly and unwelcome.

12.painting over graffiti

Sandridge Bridge may not be the most appealing landmark in Melbourne but it is certainly a great memorial to those who contributed so much, not only to the state of Victoria, but to the nation of Australia.

13.Sandridge Bridge

The Conservatory

Over the years of living here in Tasmania, we have made many trips to Launceston. About halfway along the Bass Highway, at a place called Parramatta Creek, there is a fascinating building that has always intrigued us. The conservatory was built 40 years ago by a Devonport man who designed it to house his grand piano.

1.Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory

The mother-daughter team who run the café and providore approached the owner of the building and he eventually agreed to sell. In March 2015, The Tasmanian Food & Wine Conservatory opened. The interior is reminiscent of a bygone era,

2.interior Conservatory

the furnishings are comfortable and inviting.

The beautiful grand piano has pride of place.

The shelves are stocked with 100% Tasmanian goods from the best growers and producers across the state.

I took a stroll around the gardens before lunch, the late spring rewarded with some magnificent blooms.

27.front garden

Returning through the rear entrance,

36.rear view

lunch was served. The menu changes daily to make the most of fresh, local produce. Two of us chose Okonomiyaki; Japanese savoury pancake served with Scottsdale twice cooked sticky pork belly, crushed toasted peanuts, crispy fried shallots, bean shoots, fresh chilli and Thirlstane Gardens coriander.

It was a tough decision between the pork and the Braefield pulled lamb burger on a Pigeon Whole bakery brioche bun with smoky baba ganoush, baby spinach, crispy Brandsema balsamic eggplant and house pickled red onion served with sweet potato chips and tzatziki.

39.Pulled lamb burger

There are also vegetarian options, including a selection of delicious dips.

40.dips

Of course, the local wines are superb. I don’t think we can travel to Launceston without stopping in for, at least, a coffee and cake.

41.not our car42.Tasmanian Food & Wine Conservatory

https://www.facebook.com/Tasmanianfoodandwineconservatory/

Lough Ree

With two nights accommodation booked at Edenderry, we consulted the map and decided to explore the middle of the island. Scotch whisky has been my favourite tipple for as long as I can remember, although I have never really taken to Irish whiskey. Tullamore distillery was only half an hour away so a perfect opportunity to educate my palate. We enlisted the help of Holly (the satnav) who, true to form, deposited us on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and declared we had reached our destination. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, we returned to the main road and issued the instructions again. She performed a perfect replay of the first attempt, this time we narrowly missed being flattened by an oncoming truck and we realised Tullamore was not on our agenda after all. Back to the main road, we continued to the town of Athlone. The River Shannon was as grey as the sky

1.Athlone

and, although it is the second most populous town in the Midlands, there didn’t seem to be much happening.

2.Athlone

The 12th century castle was closed for the winter season so we reverted to the usual Plan B – a pint of Guinness and a spot of lunch. After a post prandial stroll through the park,

3.park walk

we followed the river

4.River Shannon

until it became a huge inland lake. Lough Ree (Lake of the Kings) is one of three major lakes on the River Shannon. Thirty-two kilometres long, it is the geographical centre of Ireland.

5.Lough Ree

Myths and legends abound with ghosts of high kings and fallen warriors and, of course, a rumoured lake monster lurking beneath the depths.

6.Lough Ree

Small lakeside towns were picturesque in their autumn colours,

7.Lough Ree

though the marina lay empty, perhaps awaiting some warmer weather.

8.Lough Ree

Lough Ree is dotted with small islands, many have ancient ruins of monastic sites from the middle ages.

9.Lough Ree island

It is believed that when out on the water, the eyes of ancient monks peer through the mist and linger in the air. I was pleased to be safely on land.

10.Lough Ree islands

We left Lough Ree and returned to Edenderry for another superb meal and a pint at Larkins.

11.Lough Ree