A pleasant day at Brisbane’s Southbank”

This weekend was the Regional Flavours promotion of Queensland produce at Southbank, the site of Expo 88 beside the Brisbane River. As you know, we do enjoy our fresh food and visiting the fresh food markets in Europe.

So yesterday morning we caught the train from our local station at Lota for the 35 minute ride to Southbank.

When we arrived we found that many others had arrived before us and the market stalls were very busy with queues to buy goods at most of them. The regions of Queensland had displays of both fresh food and goods produced in the region from that.

We weren’t tempted to buy much as we didn’t have the car. I lived in The South Burnett for ten years and so bought a bag of curry flavoured peanuts for old times sake. Kingaroy is famous for its peanut van which sits beside the main road into town and sells peanuts with many flavours.

You could buy a stemless plastic recyclable wine glass for $5 and visit the area which showcased the many wine-producing companies of Queensland for tastings. We do not really enjoy tasting many wines in quick procession so we didn’t bother with that.

Many stalls were selling food for eating on the run- everything from berries to ice cream to chicken wings to camel milk and camel cheese to sliders and tagines. There didn’t seem to be an area where you could sit down to have a proper meal within the Regional Flavours displays and since we like to sit down and enjoy our food, we ate at one of the local restaurants, French Martini, where we both enjoyed moules cooked in white wine and lemon with a baguette. I also enjoyed my glass of French Chablis. The moules were delicious but the baguette was quite disappointing – not up to the standard I expect of French breads. We sat and enjoyed ourselves over our leisurely lunch. I felt quite disloyal eating at a French restaurant on this day but consoled myself with the thought that the mussels would have been local.

After lunch we wandered back alongside the river to South Brisbane Station, enjoying the lovely ambience of Southbank where so many families enjoyed the artificial beach and the parklands.

All in all, a very pleasant few hours!

Oceania Cruises wows us again!

A couple of weeks ago we received an invitation to a luncheon from Oceania Cruises. We thought we’d go along ….. It would probably be finger food and we’d stand around for an hour or so, trying to juggle glasses of wine and plates of food as we chatted to fellow Oceania cruisers before hearing the promotional messages but it would be OK.

So we caught the train into the city, found 480 Queen Street and caught the lift to level 4 and entered Otto Ristorante, a beautiful Italian restaurant with a view of the Brisbane River and the Story Bridge.

This was a special, sit-down, a-la-carte meal with lovely wines. It was Oceania thanking some 60 of us for being loyal Oceania cruisers. The food was delicious as you would expect of a company which promises the finest cuisine at sea. What’s more, they did not use it as an opportunity to sell more cruises.

We were very impressed with the restaurant too. It is a beautiful venue and the food and the service were great. We’d like to return.

So, thank you Oceania. We really enjoyed ourselves.

Flying from Brisbane to Europe and return

We flew Etihad business class from Brisbane to Paris and Barcelona to Brisbane on our holiday in Europe. The holiday was great but how were the flights?

They were long, so long! Our journey to Paris was 28 hours, door to door. I don’t sleep too well on planes so that doesn’t help. Some people seem to be able to sleep the whole way. The lucky ones! I didn’t watch any movies as I couldn’t seem to find any that I really wanted to watch but I filled the hours by reading. I find it’s a great opportunity to lose myself totally in a good book. Even though I am retired, I don’t get that chance as often as I’d like.

On both routes we had a two hour stopover in Abu Dhabi. It’s not quite a long enough break if you want to have a shower and freshen up as we like to do. By the time we disembarked, walked to the transit area, found where the next gate was and then found the lounge, we had about an hour and that’s not quite enough. I’d rather that though than have a five hour lay over.

So what of the airline’s performance? On the way to Paris, the flights were on time but our departure from Barcelona was delayed because we had no crew. That wouldn’t have been such a problem if an announcement had been made saying that boarding was delayed but that didn’t happen. Boarding showed on the board so everyone rushed to the gate only to stand around for 30 minutes until the crew arrived and they prepared the plane.

I found it annoying that in Abu Dhabi, the home of Etihad, we couldn’t disembark directly into the terminal but rather had to negotiate stairs and then be bussed around the tarmac for what seemed miles. The same happened in reverse when we were leaving.

Checking in on Etihad in Barcelona is not easy. The taxi dropped us at our terminal but we couldn’t see the Etihad counter so we asked at information and the pleasant lady told us we had to go down two levels to counter 821. Well, we followed the signs, we thought, went down two levels and were out on the footpath. We eventually found our way back in and found the counter. It was a bare concrete area. Not very welcoming. All that, with all of our luggage, of course. After Check-in we then went back up two levels, found our gate and the lounge. It was breakfast time and we were hungry by this time but there was very little food to choose from. What was most disappointing for me was the lack of any dairy-free milk to have on my cereal and in my coffee.

Sleeping arrangements on the plane are ok. The bed is completely flat and so you can stretch out comfortably and I did manage about four hours sleep. David did much better. I do enjoy the beds on Singapore and Emirates where you have a mattress but this arrangement was satisfactory.

One meal is served on each leg and then there are all day offerings of things like omelettes, steak sandwiches, cereals, breads and pastries. Again, I prefer the food on Singapore Airlines but this was ok. However, still no dairy alternative on offer. Surely today, it should be standard practice to offer soy or almond milk.

Most of the crew have been very friendly and helpful but two seemed to find us an inconvenience when we asked for something.

One advantage of flying Etihad is that we can amass Velocity points which means we can travel more comfortably at home in Australia. This is the case with Singapore Airlines too.

We are so lucky to be able to fly business class and enjoy this comfort and service and Etihad have looked after us pretty well. I think though that should we be lucky enough to travel overseas again, it will be with Singapore Airlines.

If you can’t beat them, join them!

And so today we wandered La Ramblas with all the other tourists!

I loved the flowers – roses, orchids etc and herbs as well. We were surprised to see a couple of Australian native plants. Can you spot them?

Many people wander the streets trying to sell items to tourists but they don’t appear to have much success. You see a variety of people dressed as characters and posing for photos with the crowd, hoping for donations and these seem to be more successful. Standing still all day in the costume and war paint must be difficult.

There were two demonstrations in the street. One around the statue of Columbus appeared to be part of the feminist movement and the other was something to do with Russia. Not being able to read Spanish particularly well, we weren’t really sure.

Here we are doing the ultimate tourist activity – lunching in La Ramblas with a huge glass of sangria and watching the passing parade.

Our last full day in Europe! We’ve had a wonderful time and we feel very lucky to have been here. Will we return? If so, when will that be? Who knows? But we have loved being here.

Tomorrow we begin that long flight home.

La Rambla overrun with tourists

I can see why the people of Barcelona are protesting about the number of tourists taking over their city. This morning about 8am we went to La Boqueria, the market thinking we’d have breakfast there. We noticed some locals obviously having their Saturday morning breakfast before they did their shopping but honestly we could hardly move for tourists. We gave up and went back out to the street to find a cafe.

I’m glad we came here in 2014 for a week and thoroughly enjoyed the city. Now I feel that we are just adding to the problem by being two more tourists. There is an interesting article in The Australian this weekend about the plight of places that can’t cope with the number of visitors; especially those that come for a day and don’t spend any money – as those of us on cruise ships are won’t to do. Five percent of the world’s jobs are in tourism though, so it’s a bit of a dilemma. Tourism creates jobs but tourists create problems. Venice is certainly a case in point.

Anyway, after breakfast we hopped on the Hop-on Hop-off bus and did a two hour tour of the city. We were surprised to see that the Marina is still in port. It’s sunny today but quite cool and we needed our coats. The Sagrada Familia is still not finished. Barcelona has five kilometres of lovely sandy beaches, all easily accessible by tram and bus. The people were out early today soaking up the sunshine.

Here’s a view of the city from up high at the Jardins del Doctor Pia:

I was on the wrong side of the bus to get a good photo of the people on the beaches. This is the best I could do:

And here is the Sagrada Familia: It’s much to elaborate for my tastes but I can appreciate the amount of work in it.

When we were in Lima, Peru in 2010 we were amazed at the enclosed wooden balconies which many buildings have. They can do this because the climate there is so dry and the timber doesn’t rot. The average annual rainfall is 16mm per year – that’s right 1.6cm.

Today we saw a balcony which reminded us of Lima. Barcelona’s average rainfall is 64cm.

Tonight we are on a quest to find a restaurant where the locals eat. Wish us luck!

Our life on the Oceania Marina is over! So sad!

This morning we had to leave our beautiful Marina. We had a great cruise – loved every minute of it. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well. The king size beds are the most comfortable beds I have ever slept on and I slept like a baby most nights. They have the most amazing pillows. You can actually buy the bed, mattress, pillows and bedding and have it delivered to your home anywhere in the world. I’d love to but there’d be no room for anything else in our bedroom so I have to give it a miss.

The food on Oceania is outstanding. I think their claim to have “The finest cuisine at sea” is justifiable. Red Ginger is still my favourite restaurant on board but all the food we had was delicious. David loved his breakfasts and for a man who has coffee and tomato on toast most mornings at home, he did very well.

Can you see his plate? Lamb chops, crispy bacon, eggs, tomato to be followed by two pieces of toast and marmalade and he’d already had a plate of berries and an orange juice! Incredible!

We enjoyed the evening entertainment and I think we went for twelve out of the fourteen nights. The entertainment crew put on six singing and dancing evenings and we thoroughly enjoyed them all. We had a British comedian on two nights and he was very funny. David laughed a lot. A very clever pianist entertained us,again for two nights. He could play anything. Last night we had the crew’s salute and the end of the show and we couldn’t believe how many chefs there were.

I was concerned about how long it would take for us to get off the ship, go through border patrol, get a taxi and get to our hotel. I needn’t have worried. It was a very efficient operation. (Not like it was in Copenhagen in 2016 where we were in the taxi queue for two hours. No exaggeration!) Our time to disembark was 9am and by 9:30 we were stowing our luggage at our hotel and heading off to La Boqueria, the famous Barcelona market. We are very familiar with it as it was where we bought our food to take back to our apartment when we were here in 2014.

It’s amazing eh? I forgot to take a photo of the fruit. There’s so much and it all looks so fresh. We will be returning to the market shortly to buy our food for dinner.

We have a lovely hotel room at Citadines Ramblas right on Las Ramblas, the Main Street of Barcelona. We have tea making facilities, a microwave and cutlery, crockery etc so we will be able to buy fresh food at the market and eat in if we wish.

The weather has turned against us today – it’s raining and only 15* but we are not complaining because every other day has been fine and sunny. We decided to visit El Cortes Ingles, the large department store to get out of the rain while we waited to check in. It sells everything you could possibly want. When we were here before, there was no plug in the apartment and we went to a few shops trying to find one. Eventually we went to this store and managed, through some mime, to find the right area of the shop and bought a plug. So we affectionately call El Cortes Ingres The Plug Shop. David was going to buy a plug again as a souvenir but instead he bought two shirts.

We found a pleasant cafe to have lunch – seafood paella and a glass of sangria. Very nice? And they had soy milk so I could have a very good cappuccino. Yes!

A. Great start to our short stay in Barcelona!

Could easily spend a week in Málaga

It’s a lovely city – beaches, beautiful squares, elegant buildings and such a lot of greenery.

This is our last port on our wonderful cruise on Oceania Marina. Next stop Will be Barcelona on Friday and we will have to disembark.

Today we had a late start, banana pancakes for breakfast, did some washing and headed off to the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. The tour here was really well managed and the information was comprehensive and easy to understand so we really enjoyed it.

The Jacarandas were in flower so that reminded us of home as did the colourful bougainvilleas. We even saw a very thirsty, sad-looking gum tree.

We had hoped to visit the botanical gardens but when I looked it up on the web it said that it could be closed because of the May Day holiday. I asked the tourist info people and they looked it up on the web and told me what I already knew. So we figured it wasn’t worth €100 in taxi fares to get there and find it closed. We enjoyed our visit to Málaga nevertheless.

Here’s a few pictures to show why we enjoyed it so.

After our tour we found a little café to have lunch. David wasn’t adventurous and had a burger and chips but I enjoyed pescaîto frito – fried seafood. It was a huge serve and was too much for me. It included anchovies, squid, fish, mussels etc.

A week here in a little apartment near the beach would be very pleasant!