The business end of my Northern Hemispherean summer: I'm leaving for Melbourne tonight after a cruisey week in Toronto and New York City.
There's a book by Julian Barnes titled "England, England" and a theme park in Japan which encapsulate some aspects of this whirlwind tour.
Barnes writes of an entrepreneur who builds a theme park containing all of the great icons of England, and the real life Japanese version contains white miniature replicates-to-scale of world monuments- come see the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace and the Empire State Building all in the one convenient location.
So I could babble on about some of the things I've seen, but you can imagine that when in Paris, you'll probably go and see the Notre Dame.
A few highlights:
* The pastries in Portugal, the food in Paris and the deli in Angel behind the antique market which supplied our Hyde Park picnic in the sweltering London heatwave.
* In Sintra near Lisbon, climbing up the ruins of the Castelo dos Mouros and looking over to the Palacio Nacional de Pena.
* Meeting some Glaswegian students at their local as I watched Australia beat Croatia to march into Round 2 of the World Cup. Our own triumph followed when we won a food voucher during the trivia quiz.
* Finally making it to Austria (a childhood dream/Mecca of sorts). Whereas in London, there are statues to Kings, Queens and Military, the first statues I found were of Haydn and Mozart. It was a thrill to be perched in the balcony of a Viennese concert hall watching an orchestra in period costume playing a mostly Mozart program. And the train ride to Salzburg with amazing breathtaking alpine scenery - stunning!
* Discovering the Art Nouveau movement in various guises beginning with Charles Rennie Mackintosh of the Glasgow School, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele of the Secession movement in Austria, Alphonse Mucha in the Mucha Museum and an exhibition on the Croatian Art Nouveau movement in the amazing Obecni dum building, both in Prague. My favourite experience belongs to Vienna: basking in the warm glow of Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" at the Belvedere.
* Another musical pilgrimage, visiting CGBGs in New York before it closes in September for yuppified apartments - a sad demise for the birthplace of American punk music. In the 70s, this club hosted The Ramones, Blondie and other music for uplifting gourmandisers. The room is tiny, dark and dank with walls plastered with posters and stickers of the last 23 years.
* In Prague, watching a thunder and lightning storm rumble up the Vltava River towards our spot on the hill near the Vysehrad. Our vantage point encompassed the southern part of the river all the way up past Karluv Most and to Prague Castle - an incredible sunset spectaular.
* And seriously, it would be worth all the pomp, circumstance and excessive ...excess to live in a Palace if that's a ticket to explore/ponder/play/daydream in the accompanying palatial grounds: I would revisit the gardens of the Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna and the Nymphenburg Palace, Munich in a heartbeat.
Will update with photos when I get back home-sweet-home!
As much fun as it is to see the sights, my trip was really made by intermittent pitstops visiting ex-pats. It was nice to have a 'home' to come back to after traipsing around in the European summer or crazy New York weather. Many thanks to Cam (+Pat+Eric+Candid+Paul), Geoff, Nancy (+Laura) and Leonie (+Ben) for looking after me and showing me the favourite parts of their newly-adopted cities!
Apart from a blister here and there and a tan to rival solarium addicts, I've been healthy and happy. I have also met a lot of lovely people, travellers or otherwise.
However it will be fantastic to resume a semblance of normality - my travel bug is well and truly satisfied for a little while yet!