Around Australia: Sarina Beach to Townsville


Today we woke before dawn and watched the sun rise over the sea in front of our motel room. After breakfast we had to drive back into the centre of Sarina for fuel and to see the Cane Toad statue in the middle of town. Back home, Moffat has a sheep and Rockhampton where we stayed the previous night, has several statues of bulls.

Cane Toads are native to Central and South America. They were introduced in 1935 to control insects which were detrimental to sugar cane production and to reduce the use of pesticides. They did not control the insects however and proliferated beyond Queensland where they were introduced. They exude poison from glands on their shoulders and can be fatal to domestic pets which eat them, although some birds have mastered the art of catching and eating them without triggering the poison. There have been debates about how and whether they should be eliminated but not all methods utilised have been successful. The Cane Toad has been listed by the National Trust of Queensland as a state icon of Queensland, along with the Great Barrier Reef, and past icons, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the backyard mango tree (also an introduced species). Local school children gave this toad the name Buffy.
Continuing north on Highway 1 towards Mackay, I noticed on the map that a range of mountains southwest of the city are called The Blue Mountains. I am familiar with the Blue Mountains in New South Wales but did not know there were others elsewhere. Coffs Harbour has a big banana, but Bowen has a big mango, illustrating one particular variety introduced and grown here.

Bowen also has a number of murals in the town centre, reminiscent of some American towns we have driven through. However, they are not in such vibrant colours as some of the American ones but they do illustrate the history of the town.


A must in Bowen is a drive to the top of Flagstaff Hill which gives 360 degree views. The interpretive centre is closed having been damaged in the most recent cyclone to hit the area.


There were a number of birds hanging around, this magpie obviously regularly perches on this street light.

After Bowen the surrounding area is much drier. At 1pm the temperature got up to 30 degrees. After lunch at a rest area we continued towards Townsville and again entered sugarcane territory.

We had to stop at a level crossing for a cane train to pass and counted 216 trucks.

In Townsville it was pretty windy on the strand and the beach was quiet with the lifeguards hanging around with not much to do.

Walking along the strand I spotted this sculpture: Bazza and Shazza by Jan Hynes in 2004.

A large number of helicopters kept passing over during late afternoon and early evening. A couple of them were obviously military but there were several others. I hope they stop before we need to sleep. 280 miles today brings the trip total to date to 1957 miles.

Meeting the Warriors in Liverpool


Last Friday saw us on the train to Liverpool to see the World Museum exhibition of ‘China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors’. I have heard that the reason the exhibition came to Liverpool this year rather than any other UK city, was that there are many Liverpool FC fans in China (known as ‘The Other Red Army) who campaigned for it. Liverpool has a very longstanding Chinese community, older than that in San Francisco. The warriors were discovered quite by chance in 1974. It estimated that there are around 8,000 figures and horses in total but only 2,000 have been excavated so far. We were seeing a very small sample of those. There were a number of displays of ancient Chinese history and the rise of the Qin dynasty. The Chinese Empire was bigger than the later Roman Empire. The tomb complex was huge, larger than the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. In addition to the warrior figures, there were horses and chariots, helmets, armour, weapons and items needed in the afterlife.




Other displays focussed on the Han Dynasty, the Silk Road and items which probably found their way to China via that route.

The warriors were perhaps the most striking items on display.



A lighting display of how the tomb might have looked in it’s setting:

We left the exhibition via a walkway with Chinese lanterns suspended above it.

Outside the sun was out, buskers were playing in the street and the city centre was busy. A group of people including the Merseyside Chief Constable, were abseiling down wires suspended from the Radio City Tower. Unfortunately they had just landed so I could not get a photograph of them. On the train back to Crewe, a guy was having a dispute with the train manager about the price of his ticket for the short journey to Liverpool South Parkway station. We began to wonder if the matter would be resolved before we got to his station but it was. The Terracotta Warriors exhibition continues until October so there is still plenty of time to see it.

Walking in Madeira: exploring Funchal


Our walking tour of Funchal began with the farmers’ market which has meat and fish markets at the back and plants, herbs, spices and seeds upstairs.


Along the sides are independent shops. We found some rum of the north in a shop whose ceiling was composed of wine bottles. The proprietor told us how to best drink the rum: take a brandy glass and put in a teaspoon, add hot water and stir before removing the spoon & water and adding the rum. This is the best way to release the aroma.

I also bought some seeds and some cardamom pods. Our next stop was the Bordal Embroidery factory where we had a guided tour.


Once the fabric has been prepared it is sent out to the embroiderers. Some items can take as much as three months to complete. Their oldest embroiderer is 90 and we were told that no young people are taking up the trade so it may become a dying art. Continuing around the city streets we passed the taxi ranks. They are all yellow with a blue stripe in Funchal so easy to spot but this sign was interesting.


We also visited the cathedral.


It is the oldest church in Madeira, the first building being constructed in 1514. After some wine tasting at a casa with wines dating back to the 19th century

we took the cable car to the Tropical Garden at Monte.

The gardens occupy 70,000 square metres and house tropical plants from around the world. I was rated as one of the 13 most beautiful botanical gardens in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. Monte Palace Museum holds exhibitions and on our visit the Berardo Collection from Zimbabwe was on display.

Other artworks are placed around the garden:

There are also Chinese and Japanese gardens, native forest and mineral specimens. There are tiles from the 15th to 20th century and 40 tile panels outlining Portuguese history. We walked down the the cafe at the bottom of the site and the steep upward return gave us some good exercise. The central lake has swans from Iceland and Scandinavia in winter. Most would have been on their way back to their breeding grounds in April but this lonely swan had an injured wing and had stayed behind.

Some of our group decided to take the wicker sledges back down the hill:

However, we took the more sedate cable car back down to the seafront.

At the final group dinner in a local restaurant, we gave our group leader a signed boomerang in addition to his tip. They are on sale in Madeira. I had always associated boomerangs with indigenous Australians, but it turns out that they were also used in Europe and Africa with the earliest one found in Poland. It was made from a mammoth tusk and estimated to be around 23,000 years old.

There is so much more to be seen in Funchal: gardens, museums, the Frente Mar walk along the shore and other areas of the island to explore so I am sure that we will be back.

A few days in Florence


The ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma made us wonder whether we would get away at all but by our departure day the snow had melted at home and local transport was getting back to normal, so our journey to London was uneventful. Much of the rest of the country was still suffering from the effects of which had battered the UK and other parts of Europe in the preceding few days. From our hotel near London City Airport we could see planes landing and were reassured that we would be on our way the following day. On arrival in Florence we treated to an upgrade by the hotel and settled in. It was situated a little out of the old city centre which turned out to be a blessing as even out of season, the old city is very busy. A 10-minute bus ride got us to the Duomo and cost less than it would in Edinburgh.

On our first morning we left the queues outside the Duomo and headed for the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. Florence is littered with museums and the very keen can opt for the 72 in 72 hours prepaid card, but it is probably better to be selective if you only have a few days. I find I can only process one gallery per day. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum has models of his many inventions and also covers his exploration of human anatomy. Most of his drawings are held elsewhere in the world, some at Windsor Castle. The museum has interactive sections where children can build models. Afterwards, fortified with coffee, we wandered down towards the river where the Ponte Vecchio was very crowded.

The craze for putting padlocks on bridges has reached Florence.

Walking around the city we encountered a chocolate market. Florence is well-supplied with bookshops, both new and secondhand and a lovely shop selling hand-printed paper where I bought some gifts. Navigating around some parts were made tricky due to the tram system work and extensions.

On our second day we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia getting soaked en route by a heavy thunderstorm and hail.

The gallery is housed in rooms dating from the 14th century and which used to be part of the hospital of San Mateo and a monastery. It is famous for Michelangelo’s David

but also houses the four statues of the Slaves commissioned by pope Julius II as a decoration of his grave which are known as “The Prisoners” and other works. There are rooms full of medieval and later paintings by Florentine artists, rooms devoted to plaster models for sculpture, fabrics and a museum of musical instruments.


It was certainly worth getting there early as when we left in the late morning, it was getting fairly busy. The sun had emerged, so we had our lunch on a bench in a piazza with pigeons and house sparrows watching in case we dropped a crumb.

Our second day coincided with International Women’s Day. The Uffizi Gallery had an exhibition devoted to the work of Elisabetta Sirani, an Italian Baroque painter from Bologna. I was not familiar with her work. She died unexpectedly at 27 but in her short life produced 200 paintings, 15 etchings, and hundreds of drawings. The most frequently depicted woman in the Uffizi is of course the Virgin Mary but I also spotted this series of paintings, some by Botticelli, each woman representing a virtue;

I enjoyed seeing works I have known from History of Art classes at school and even the ceilings are magnifcent.

The funeral of the Italian footballer who died last week was being held in Florence at the Basilica de Santa Croce on Thursday and we saw people walking home afterwards. There were also demonstrations following the murder of a Senegalese man at his market stall on Monday.

The sun had come out and before we returned to our hotel, we enjoyed a gelato. Growing up in Scotland, many towns had an Italian gelateria selling a product far superior to the Walls and Lyons Maid sold in regular shops. Some Scots-Italians’ ancestors arrived in Scotland in the late 19th century having escaped famine and poverty in their homeland. Today, many remain in the catering industry.

All too soon our brief stay was at an end but we will return as there is so much more to see.

New things in familiar places



Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.

I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.

We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.

We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.

A short weekend in Dublin


James had never seen the Irish Rugby team play at home so Friday morning saw us on an early train to Holyhead under blue skies and sunshine. I was trying to remember whether I had ever been west of Chester by train as we are usually driving to Anglesey to visit friends or to take the ferry to Ireland. The railway soon meets the coast and the tide was out on the Dee Estuary so lots of birds were feeding on the sand but we sped fast too quickly to identify many. At Holyhead there is a seamless transition from the train to the ferry terminal which is at the end of the platforms. It is also a short walk over a modern bridge to to the town centre.

I had hoped that as we were sailing west and sunset was around an hour before we were due to arrive in Dublin, that I might get some sunset shots but the advancing weather front brought dense cloud which put paid to that idea. Taxis were in short supply at the port despite two ferries arriving within a short time but one arrived eventually and we were soon ensconced in our quayside hotel. That evening we met some friends from Dublin whom we had not seen for several years and returned to the Winding Stair Restaurant. I have still not managed to be there when the bookshop on the ground floor is open. On Saturday morning we walked along the quayside and crossed the river to Trinity College. Several hungry gulls were looking hopefully at passers-by.

Rowan Gillespie’s 1997 sculpture ‘Famine’ also stands by the river.

Our destination that morning was the Book of Kells exhibition which was over-booked on our last visit. Near the college we passed a pub which had been open since 7am. I later learnt that this was originally to serve the market traders. There was no market that day but several people inside. There is an explanatory exhibition about the Books of Kells, Armagh and Durrow, the old manuscripts on display and then you can visit the old college library.


It is a fabulous building, housing around 20,000 of the library’s oldest books and lined with marble busts. On our visit there was also a display of ephemera relating to Oscar Wilde. There is Ireland’s oldest harp which dates from the 15th century and a copy of the 1916 proclamation of the Irish Republic. The rest of Saturday was spent meeting up with friends and enjoying the rugby match which Ireland won. We had planned to spend Sunday morning visiting a few more places in the city in a leisurely fashion before catching an afternoon boat back to Holyhead. However, a text received during dinner changed our plans as the afternoon ‘swift boat’ was cancelled due to bad weather and we had to take the early morning one. Some time ago, catamarans were introduced on several of the Irish Sea routes to reduce the time of the crossings. However, their movement meant that they were rapidly dubbed ‘the vomit comet’ and were also said to create waves big enough to wash fishermen off the walls of Dun Laoghaire which was the port ferries from the UK previously came into. As we boarded the ferry, the police were escorting an Asian man onto the boat. However we later saw him wandering around unescorted and he disembarked with the rest of us. I hope that they had not had to protect him from harassment. I read today that hate crime rates have now overtaken sectarian crime rates in Northern Ireland but I do not know if this is the case in the Republic. In addition to cancelled boats we also had cancelled trains. The person in the rail ticket office in Holyhead did not seem to know which were running and which were not. The first train was a relatively new, warm Arriva train which only took us as far as Llandudno Junction but with views of the mountains in Snowdonia with a dusting of snow. After that we were squashed onto a bus to Chester and then a very full Virgin train home, determined to make our next visit somewhat longer.

Pop up Pop Art in Chester


Chester Visual Arts has had a free exhibition of 1960s Pop Art prints from the V&A collection on since the end of July. It finishes on Sunday and today, the Cheshire Art Fund had organised a pop up lecture on Pop Art by Adrian Sumner. This was a good excuse to get on the train and learn a little more about it. We had visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last summer but my art studies at school did not venture beyond the end of the 19th century and a lot of the modern art I have studied since has been abstract modernism. The exhibition was of prints with some textiles and wallpaper. Photography was not allowed. After a bit of shopping, I returned for the lecture. Adrian covered a lot of material. I learnt that Eduardo Paolozzi produced some early Pop Art in the 1940s and 1950s. I know him mainly for his later sculpture (and looked after some of his relatives when I worked in Edinburgh 30 years ago) so it was interesting to discover some of his other works. Adrian took us through from the earliest days to modern artists in both Europe and the USA. As he has been a lecturer in art I was a little surprised that he went on for over 75 minutes (I left before the end at this point) and did not encourage audience participation. Outside on Northgate Street there are some three dimensional works. This sculpture was installed in 1992 as a celebration of Chester’s 900th anniversary celebrations.

There was also this baby elephant called Janya which means ‘life’ in Hindi sculpted by Annette Yarrow in 2010. She grew up in India in the 1930s and 1940s and this sculpture was a gift to the city from the zoo. It chimed with my interest in natural history because the other day I was reading something which said that while there are clear morphological differences between Asian and African elephant (including ear size), it has now been discovered that there may be at least two species of African elephants, the Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) which look the same and are only distinguishable by DNA. A third species, the West African Elephant, has also been postulated.

On our way back to the station, we passed the cathedral which had this installation outside.

There was no notice to explain what it was and who created it and we did not have time to go inside and find out as we had a train to catch. I have used my art fund pass a lot, although this was the first local event I had been able to attend and they have been able to fund numerous artworks for the nation. Chester Visual Arts aims to establish a permanent contemporary arts centre in Chester and I wish them luck.