Being a tourist in Sydney!

We have been home three weeks now and it has been oh so busy! We have had a stream of visitors and one of the best things about having visitors is that you get to be a tourist in your own city, the bad thing is you stay up too late and (sometimes!) drink too much wine. The highlights include sailing in Sydney harbour and seeing dolphins frolicking in front of the Opera House, it was the first time dolphins had been seen in the harbour for one hundred years I had heard on the radio the day before but never imagined that we would see them, it made our day extra special; a wonderful breakfast at the Coogee Bay Pavilion (I would recommend their frittata) on a glorious winter day, brisk air, with a deep blue cloudless sky, the sun beating down, perfect for the walk to Bondi Beach, followed by gelato from Messina, so hard to choose as the choice of flavours is fantastic; a tour of the Opera House which was so interesting, of the million plus tiles on the roof only 32 have been replaced in the last forty years and the organ in the Concert Hall has over two thousands pipes our tour guide told us just after she had burst into song to illustrate the acoustics! She was pleased to see us again (you’re back!) as she showed us to our seats at the National Geographic Live talk by Steve Winter, My Nine Lives, in which he talked about his passion for big cats and his adventures photographing them, about the destruction of their habitat, particularly about palm oil plantations – his take home message, choose products carefully and don’t eat anything with palm oil in it, where the palm oil source is not ratified.

I’ve been to the Archibald at the Art Gallery of NSW, an eclectic collection of portraits of prominent Australians and it is fascinating to read why the artist picked their subject and then to see how they choose to portray them, sometimes in a less than flattering way. A lovely lunch with a dear friend at Chiswick at the Art Gallery prior made for a perfect outing. We have been out to dinner at Tetsuya’s – always special, not that I have eaten there often! Mantecato in Balmain for beautiful risotto, beetroot was my choice – scrumptious!, and to our local, Capello, the thinnest most delicious pizzas, and Mexican too, laughing with girlfriends all evening! Simon went back to De Porres house to help cook, eat dinner and enjoy playing Uno with his fellow volunteers, who he first met whilst doing his service for his Duke of Edinburgh award, and the homeless people who drop in for dinner and those who stay there. Simon’s tennis, golf and yoga all continue to improve and he has booked himself an extra long golf lesson next week so he can play 9 holes with Ken, his coach!

Simon had a great birthday celebration with Hanja and Guy hosting a lunch for him and his friends from Riverview, and us too- it was so good to catch up with everyone and hear what the boys (young men now!) have been up to. And yesterday we had a lovely relaxed breakfast sitting in Camperdown Park, under the huge Morton Bay Fig trees, with Emma and her friends to celebrate her birthday, with food and coffees coming from a café across the road, The Store, such a beautiful, peaceful spot in the midst of the city. Friends came and went, we came and went, they played the guitar and the violin and brought beautiful gifts, happy times.

Home, sweet home, via the Orient Express!

It has been a busy few days here in Sydney as you will have gathered from my prolonged absence! A myriad of appointments, catching up with the dentist, optometrist, chiropractor and friends too, as well as tennis and golf lessons for Simon and yoga. Simon is discovering the added benefits of the Arrowsmith programme, with his golf much improved, particularly driving according to Michael when they played last weekend, Simon’s tennis coach said he was moving with much improved fluidity and whilst he is less flexible he is much stronger says Cheree, his yoga teacher. Add to that, his  increased independence and confidence and we can see that the Arrowsmith programme is doing what it sets out to do, that is, allowing their students to become the person they were meant to be, if they had the opportunity to overcome their learning difficulties. It is very exciting to see the cognitive changes being enacted and to have so many people comment upon them.

But now I have to go back to our holiday and Simon’s birthday which was a very special day, starting with the beautiful buffet breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental, after which we went back up to Simon’s room to open his presents which had filled half his suitcase! The girls and I had to dash off to try on their tailor made dresses, in which they looked gorgeous, and the lady in the shop, together with Emma and Lara, insisted that “Mum” should buy something too! A lovely little black dress later, we returned to fit our dresses into our suitcases. Off to lunch at the restaurant across the river, another buffet, Lara was in heaven! A Thai banquet sitting at a table which required contortion to sit at floor level with your feet in the hollow below, Simon was concerned that Michael might dislocate his hip getting in and out but he somehow rolled into place and didn’t move until we were finished, when he rolled out again!

We were sad to leave the fabulous Mandarin Oriental and the wonderful people there who had welcomed us so warmly – onto Simon’s birthday train trip. The Orient Express! From Bangkok to Singapore, 3 nights rolling through the Thai and Malaysian countryside, on the most luxurious train! Simon went into his carriage and came out wide-eyed. “Come and look at this, it is just like the Hogwarts Express!”. He loved it and it did! He loved the fact that the bunk beds appeared as if by magic during dinner and that there was a lovely cabin steward, Woody, who made him, Emma and Lara feel as if they were the most special people in the train, that we had to dress up for dinner each evening, that we could go to the Observation Car and watch the world hurtling by, with a drink in hand, meeting our fellow passengers, though it was never crowded, and that we had time to while away, sitting chatting or playing long games of Uno, laughing as we tried to thwart Michael each time he was about to win, but he won anyway! Breakfast was a feast, brought to our carriages on a tray, lunch and dinner were each three courses, delicious, taste sensations, beautifully presented, all the more impressive given the speed at which the train was moving and that the kitchens were so very small, and there was also afternoon tea, my favourite, with tiny cakes, scones and sandwiches! And then there was the Piano Bar, with Peter on the piano, playing requests and encouraging guests to sing, he was especially thrilled when Emma sang with him. On our last evening, after the late sitting for dinner, we repaired to the Piano Bar where a sing-along session lasted until the wee small hours in a wonderfully convivial atmosphere. Peter said that doesn’t happen very often! Additionally, we went on two excursions from the train, both very different, one to the Bridge over the River Kwai, a sobering experience where we learnt of the horrors of war in the museum dedicated to the Burma railway, we paid our respects in the cemetery leaving the flowers which had been put on our pillows the previous night, it seemed a small gesture to those who had given their lives under such terrible circumstances. Our other excursion was to Georgetown in Penang, we were lucky enough to pick the good coach with a great guide who spoke with much enthusiasm and knowledge of the history, the architecture, the religions and the people. We followed her through a Chinese temple, fantastically ornate, through little India where the Indian convicts were allowed to move to once they had become free men having built all the beautiful colonial buildings under the command of the English and finally to the Eastern Oriental Hotel, the Georgetown equivalent of Raffles, without the peanuts (more of that in a later post), to enjoy a Pimms.

See you in Singapore!

 

 

Back on board but sadly not on the Orient Express!

Just a quick post to say a post will be written tomorrow (sorry Richard!), we are finally home after our amazing trip. We are getting sorted and settled, albeit  we are only here until early September when Simon heads back to Arrowsmith for his third year in Peterborough, changing his brain further and surviving another Canadian winter. For the moment we are enjoying the Australian winter, it was a heady 23C sunny day in Sydney today!