Saturday, December 15, 2012

Big temperature difference between Oz and the UK

As we have (boringly) bought the same car in Oz as are UK Mazda 6 (and same colour!), we can graphically show the current differences in weather conditions using the dashboard thermometer. This was Koonwara in Victoria on 30th Nov:-


And the next two shots are in Suffolk...

and approaching the Clifton Suspension Bridge...

in the UK. Check out the thermometer readings on the very LHS!! It was 35 Koonwarra, and hit 39.6 degrees in Melbourne the same day. Manchester has nudged -10 degrees. Why are we here??

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Xmas letter 2012

At this time of year we go through our diaries and try to work out what happened in the 12 months that have just shot by, quicker than all the previous ones. It’s hard to think of a Xmas letter in which things have changed quite so much for us. Last year we were talking of Nicky’s job as Professor in Bristol, our lovely Georgian house in Clifton, Stuart doing auditions and trials around the UK….….well all that has changed.

Nicky resigned from Bristol Uni in early 2012. The least said about this the better. Nicky has learnt firsthand how busy one can be without a job – Stuart has turned this into an art form for decades. She started a 3 day per week maternity locum at Manchester Kids Hospital in the middle of the year, and is renting an apartment from Di, one of Stuart bass teachers.
Stuey has been running up the miles in the Mazda, tearing all over the country to do gigs and auditions, 55,000 miles in two years, more than TWO return trips as the crow flies to Australia and back if you could do it in a car!! He had trials for no2 jobs with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Opera North as well as gigs with a range of groups including Scottish Chamber. Highlights were a UK tour of Wagner’s Die Walkure, plus two festivals in Cornwall, St Columb and St Endelion. Later in the year Stuey worked with Orchestra Victoria, the Australian Ballet and the Tasmanian Symphony, among others. The year started with two basses, and ended the same, having bought one and sold another.
We have found it really tough returning to the UK and after lots of deliberation we have decided to return to Australia in 2013. Our health is being affected by the lifestyles we are forced to lead in order to work in our chosen areas in Britain. The house has been on the market all year, going nowhere fast, so we will have to rent it out for at least part of 2013 and rent in Melbourne once we return. Stuey has heaps of work lined up, Nicky will do so soon.

If our professional goals have not have been achieved, our personal ones certainly have. It’s been great to spend quality time with family and friends, too many to mention in this letter. One aim was to do as much of Europe as possible, and we have partly achieved that goal. In late Dec 2011 we stayed in Chris and Sharon’s beach pad on Ile d’Oleron, off the West coast of France. There was of course a detour to Bordeaux, to check out the Left bank of the Gironde including St Julian, Pauillac and Margaux.

In March we put the car on the Eurotunnel train and drove down to Macon, in the heart of the Burgundy region, to stay at Bob and Liz’s vineyard. What a wonderful part of the world, with good food, wine, countryside and company. The car creaked its way home laden with 16 cases of wine, most of which was for our friends, honest! We spent time in Beaune, Reims and popped into Paris to see England pip France in a six Nations thriller at Stadt de France. Bob is President elect of the RFU, and got us great tickets. Fabulous day. There was even time for sightseeing in Paris and we drove back to Calais thro the Somme region, which will be gearing up for its 100 yr anniversary of the appalling  WWI battle in 4 yrs time.

In July we hopped on cheap flights to Barcelona. Despite Stuey’s reluctance it was a stunning trip. The guide books really don’t do it justice – if you are reading this and haven’t been there, just go. It reminded us of Sydney – groovy modern city with stunning beaches. But Sydney doesn’t have Gaudi – amazing architecture, including La Sagrada Familia.

In August we had some time out in Edinburgh – Stuey was working with Scottish Chamber but there was time to celebrate our 22nd anniversary in style, with supper at Greywalls.

The “only” other trips were to Australia. Nic popped over 3 times, Stuart just once, for a 3 month stint from Sept – Nov. Any doubts about returning to Oz were extinguished in our trip to Melbourne in late 2012 – it’s a wonderful place to live and its home for us both. 2013 will be about making that transition happen.

We wish you and yours a wonderful Xmas and a safe and healthy 2013. For those out you outside Oz, save and up and come visit us. For those in Australia, get your beer fridge stocked up – we are coming back!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Echidna resident at Cape Paterson

Andy sent us these wonderful videos taken on 22nd Nov 2012. We have seen track before, but here is the evidence:-

Monday, November 12, 2012

Oz vs UK

I have been in the UK for around 18 months, and this is just my second trip to Australia in that time. For what its worth, here are some comparisons between the two:-

Australia is expensive. Beer in our local, the Royal Oak in Clifton is GBP3.30 a pint, and that is expensive for the UK, its much cheaper in parts of Manchester. In many pubs in Melbourne its A$10-12 a pint, and at the current forex rate that is GBP7-8. Ouch. The hi A$ skews the numbers a little, but things are expensive here. But people earn more also

Traffic is getting worse in Oz.....but it has a long way to go to get to the UK levels of congestion.

UK drivers are more considerate than Auzzies - I guess they have to be, as there are more of them on the roads. Poms are much better with cyclists, and Auzzies on a main road are far less likely to let people turn Right, in front of them onto a side road.

The UK is a little bigger than Victoria, the most densely populated state in Australia, with 5.5m people. The UK has 62.2m people, ie it is 11x more populated for the same land mass. This state tells us a great deal about liveability in both countries.

The roads in Australia are much better than the UK. There have been lots of pot holes this year due to the high rainfall, but many have been fixed, in Australia. Poms will know this is not the case over the Old Blighty.

I just bought the same car on each country - lets see how they last. Did a wheel bearing in the UK, I reckon the wear and tear in Australia will be much less.

Hay fever has been shocking this Spring in Oz, much worse than the UK. I never normally have a problem in the old country, but my eyes have been streaming here in Oz.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mau 40th


On Sunday Oct 14th Mau joined the 40s club. Unfortunately I am not longer a member of that group, having been "upgraded" to the next one! I see it as a Gold frequent flyers card - Mau is still only on Silver!
I joined up with Sophie, Alicia, Mau and Ravi Savarirayan at San Telmo, a groovy Argentinian eatery in Meyers Place, for a night of great food and serious Malbecs. The boys were robust, the gals just gorgeous as ever. And Sophie had run a half marathon that morning - amazing.
Most of the discussion was on the topic of web profiling; how to control or manage what comes up against an individual on a web search. Am itching to write stuff about Ravi to prove this point, but am far too professional subject my blog to a slander and libel claim. But yes, its tiny! Lets see what comes up on a Google search as a result of this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The bass has last


There were a few hitches getting me to Melbourne, but the bass had more hoops to get thro. But its here, at last. Customs didnt fumigate it, nor did they charge import duties. Yay to both. And a huge thank you to Michelle Fink for taking me to pick it up at Tullamarine. And taking this shot to celebrate!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In Melbourne....where its windy!!

I was meant to land in Melbourne on Mon 3/9 local time. My flight from Manchester to Doha was delayed, so we circled the airport waiting for a landing which time I had missed my connection to Melbourne. Or Qatar had oversold the seats on the flight!! Either way I ended up in a 5 start hotel in the desert. More food then ever I could eat. But no grog of course.

So I landed on Tues eve. Wed was windy - this house had its roof blown off on Harcourt St, North Melbourne.

Am staying with Johnny and Mimi - life is good

Carvery lunch at the Fairview

The weekend before I left for Melbourne we went to the aptly named Fairview in Shaw for a carvery lunch, with Mum, Julie, Steve and the girls Sarah and Charlotte, who were both on fine form. £4.50 for a carvery lunch - wow.

It was a beaut day, as the photos atest.

And all taken with my iPhone - how did we survive when phones just made phone calls??

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Edinburgh Aug 2012

In late August Stuey was working with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra doing a concert in the Edinburgh International Festival. Nic popped up too for a long weekend or mixed weather to celebrate our 22nd anniversary.

Dinner at Greywalls was amazing. Its a beautiful old house in Gullane, 6 miles East of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth. As you can see, Nicky scrubs up good for a woman married 22 years, and she is looking very excited about her scallops entree!

We had a great walk up the Pentland Hills just South of Edinburgh, which offers a great view of the Forth, the bridges, the City and nearby dry ski slope and golf courses. Everyone plays golf.

Next was Roslyn Chapel, made famous at the end of the Da Vinci Code book and film. Stunning.

We made a soggy trip to St Abbs Head, which would have been marvellous had the weather been better. And the seabird centre at North Berwick is cool - there are cameras on the 5 islands in the Forth, packed with birdlife, such at Gannets on Bass Rock. And a trip to scotland would just not be the same without a visit to a distillery, and this time it was a tour of Glenkinchie, and its subtle lowlands scotch.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Barcelona July 2012

One of our goals in Europe was to visit new places. In July 2012 we added Barcelona to our list. Nicky was very keen, Stuey less so. It's the sort of place that doesn't sell well in guide books, but as we found out, was well worth the trip. It's the 4th busiest tourist city in the EU after Paris, London and Rome. And we've been to all them. It's 17th in the worlds most livable cities, Melbourne coming top, of course.

We left Bristol early on Thursday 19 July 2012, at the end of two months rain and cloud in the UK - the Poms were at thier whinging best. The jet stream passed north of Barcelona so we were greeting by welcome sunshine. It was 23-30 degrees for our stay, Noice.

Our first arvo was spent getting our bearings on the open top tourist bus. Nicky got into the swing of things with a siesta, then G and T, then a walk down La Rambla to Port Vell. The Regina hotel (highly recomended) is just off Placa de Catalunya, at the top end of La Rambla, which is the main tourist artery thro the old city, tree lined and packed with shops, tourists, pick pockets and police. The guide books and locals warned about the crooks but the police seem to be on top of it.

Supper was black paella (calamari ink) on the beach at Barceloneta, at Kaika. Yum. We strolled back thro Barri Gotic, the old city and had a cold beer in the bar that was to become our local, Bootleg. We got chatting to a few poms, one of them damon, a jazz trumpet player who has worked with our old friend Jonny Scott and the Jules Holland band. What a small world?! The trip back was the first of many thro winding narrow alleyways that often lead to open placas. Stunning.

Friday was the day to start Barcelona in details, and first up was Anton Gaudi's magnificent Sagrada Familia. We ignored advice to book tickets online which cost us a 45 min queue. Everything is much quicker if booked online in Barcelona, largely due to the locals tendency to chatter, to anyone, before tending to customers. Mañana indeed!!

Sagrada Familia is Barca's icon. It's huge and awe inspiring. Most cathedrals were built over many decades and SF is no exception - a church, tourist attraction and building site all in one. It's very much work in progress, being built to the Designs gaudi left behind having died after being hit by a tram in 1926. Barca's architectural style is Modernista, Gaudi being its most famous architect. Gaudi's main influence was the natural world and the video shows a good example - the internal columns of SF branch off like trees at the top.

After 3 hours at SF we headed north to another popular Gaudi site, Parc Guell, for more groovy Modernista designs including the mosaic lizard and some real live parrots. PG was packed, hilly and bakingly hot, so the ice cream shop at the end of the no 24 bus home was very welcome.

After a siesta it was off to supper. Reader might start to see a theme here. We stopped at a small wine bar and tried a catalunyan red, yum once more. Next was Nicky's choice of restaurant, an excellent one, Señor Paradella, but it wasn't open til 8.30 - the locals eat SO late. So we had tapas instead. When in Rome and all that...but Stuey didn't consider it a proper meal!! Back to the hotel via Bootleg.

Sat 21st was Cooler, overcast. After a later start and obligatory tea from Starbucks we cut thro La Rambla, Barri Gotic, to the La Ribena walk, Museo Picasso (which we saved for Sunday due to the queue), antic market, more laneways and Santa Maria del Mar. 

Lunch was at the Santa Catarina market, bread, jambon, queso, bread, yumo. Next we headed north to Palau de la Musica Catalana, an awesome modernista concert hall, by Lluis Domenech i Montaner not Gaudi. What an awesome concert hall - now that would be a great place to work

But we were soon back in a Gaudi building after a tube ride to Diagonal. La Pedrera or Casa Mila is remarkable, especially the out of this world roof and attic. Most designers treat the roof as a functional space rather than aesthetic - not Gaudi. The chimneys are works of art and the roof undulates rather than being flat. Inside is an apartment in period style.

The 28 bus got us to Starbucks for refreshments prior to our siesta. then it was back to the Bootleg and a local tip for dinner, El Salon to sample Catalan food, with a local Chardonnay, yum yum.

The locals are seriously into dogs, but not so into rules - check out the No Dogs sign just by the Catalan to in the photo!

Sunday started with tea, then the Cathedral. As with every other building there are many Catalan flags and crests - locals are Catalans first, Spanish second.

After a croissant it was off to the Museo Picasso, which focused on a few early periods. Stuey doesn't really get the cubist and later stuff. His early realist and impressionist work matches the masters - remarkable that he was only a teenager. Some of the late stuff looks like the work of a 6 yr old!! The blue period It was a great insight into P, or Pable Ruiz, as he signed his earlier work, using his fathers surname.

After a baguette lunch we walked thro the La Raval region before watching Sir Wiggo win the tour de France at siesta time. Next was the metro to the beach - packed with young bodies. It's very like Sydney with glorious beaches in the city. Stuey had a dip in the Med. It's great for people watching, and some of them had clothes on! Picasso would have been confused as all noses seemed to be between eyes, ears on side of heads etc...

After cleaning up it was off to Señor Paradella for a magic yummy dinner of jambon, seafood both and roast lamb with a big ballsy Priorat red.

Monday was our final day, which started with smoke haze from bush fires further north near Figuiras. After tea we rambled La Rambla picking up wine and jambon to take home.

And when the lovely folk at Eastjet delivered us in Bristol the sun was shining - in fact it was only 1 degree cooler than Barcalona. We shall have to go again!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

House is looking good

Bristol might not have been a complete success for us (!) but the house has been wonderful. We love it, terrific building, layout and it feels like home.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

France Mar 2012 - Reims, Paris and Albert

France is a big place - there is so much to see. And as you can tell from this and the previous blog entries, we tried to do it all in a week!!

Sat 10/3 Beaune to Reims

First job was breakfast, of course. Next we cleared up and left Vergisson, to head North towards Beaune (pronounced “bone”). This is the heart of serious red Burgundy. After a short 100km drive North we popped into Beaune to check out the market and architecture. We then did a driving tour thro Cote de Beaune, to the South of the town. The countryside is similar to Macon, hilly with quaint villages dotted among vines as far as the eye could see. We stopped for lunch atop of one of the hills and feasted on jambon, bread and cheese from the market.

Next it was North again, heading towards Dijon and the Cote de Nuit area. This is a narrow strip of vines which contains some of the biggest names in the region, France, indeed the world. And they are tiny – Domaine Romanee-Conti is the most expensive and most famous pinot in the world. Wikipedia tells me that a single bottle of the 1990 vintage has sold for almost US$11,000. No, it was not on free tasting, and no we didnt buy any!! And the vineyard is 4.4 acres – Geoff and Leanne, our friends in Melbourne live on a 5 acre block that is bigger than Romanee-Conti. We popped into a Cave and tried wines from a few areas around Beaune, and the credit card was given a nudge once more. Am sure the car groaned when we got back in, with another box of wine.

It was then time drive North, from Dijon back to Reims. Time for a couple of Leffes then bread, cheese, meats and wine. Yum once more.

Sun 11/3 Paris

The 9.15 Train took us to Paris est. It was meant to be a 45 mins journey but took 2 hrs! What little comfort we had was knowing that its not just the UK rail system that has problems

The Metro tipped us out at Place de Bastille – a flashpoint in the revolution but nowadays a groovy spot with the biggest opera house I have even seen. We did a walk thro two arrondisments – the Marais and Les Halles, covering the Jewish quarter, the Pompidou Centre, St Eustace, Forum Les Halles, the Bourse (stock exchange) and the river Siene. Lunch took the form of a falafel in the heart of la Marais, which was noteworthy enough to make this blog entry.

For our main course, we headed North to Stadt de France to see the best rugby match we have had the pleasure to watch. Thank you Bob for the tickets – everything about it was just wonderful; the atmosphere, bands, tension and the small matter a very close match that ended France 22-24 England, but only after a Trahn-Duc drop goal attempt dropped a meter under the bar. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot....

We managed to get an early train back to Reims for a mirror image of the previous night – beer, bread, cheese, meats and wine. Yuuuuuuum. Readers may be starting to notice a thread here....

12/3 Reims to Albert

Our last full day in France on this trip started with breakfast then a quick schlep across to Reims Cathedral. This is at least our 3rd trip to Reims, yet Notre Dame never fails to take the breath away. It is architectural history, from the middle ages to now. French kings were crowned there, one at the behest of Joan of Arc. It was clobbered on both world wars. Some of the older stained glass remains but much was removed by the Germans, and some of the modern replacements includes the work of Mark Chagall among others. These word will not even try and do the place justice – its a staggering building.

Grog lovers will know that Reims is in the champagne region. So off we popped on our next driving tour, down to Epernay and its surrounding villages. The scene was very similar to Burgundy further South - miles on miles of vines, with lots of people bending over pruning back the vines to the main root.

Our trek towards Calais saw us detour slightly to the West, to the Somme. We were last here in 2001, but the place is so huge there is always more to see and take in. Our first stop was Villers-Bretennoux and the Australian memorial. Like many sites on the Somme, it is a sobering, yet inspiring place to be. The rows on rows of white headstone, beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are a sad reminder to those who fell in battle. Even more so are the names of 11,000 or so whose bodies were never found, doe to the fortunes of war. As recently as 2010 as large mass grave was found at Fromelles, which has created big news in Australia recently, as relatives of lost soldiers have been asked for DNA to help identify lost men. And this all happened close to 100 years ago. The memorial is pock marked, after fighting in the second world war.

We drove down the road from Albert to Bapaume, dropping into the remarkable Newfoundland (Canadian) Memorial at Beaumont Hamel. The Canuks bought a piece a land where the Newfoundlands came up against heavily entrenched German lines, just a few metres from their own. The trenches have been retained, and a short walk allows people to see just how close they were. No mans land is like a lunar landscape thanks to relentless shelling. Two more cemeteries show the outcome.

13/3 Albert to Calais to Kenley to Bristol

We just had time to visit the Somme trench museum in Albert before heading off to Calais for our train thro the tunnel. A 250m disused WWII bomb shelter has been converting into a fascinating museum, with a great trench simulation with lights and sounds and a few stuffed rats.

Our train was at 12.20, we had lunch with Nicko, picked up the bass, which only just fitted into the car with all the grog, then headed back to Bristol in time to unpack and tend to a couple of attention starved cats.

France Mar 2012 - Macon

Tues 6/3 to London

We left Bristol on Tues arvo, as Nic managed to get off a bit early from work. At one point we were making great time.... Then there was a crash on the M25 and we sat there for 90 mins with the engine off! Ah the joys of travel in the UK. Still, we arrived in time for a curry with Mike and Catherine and our host, Nicko

Wed 7/3 to Reims

A day of frantic activity on both sides of the English Channel started early with Nic off to lecture to a group of orthodontists in the central London. Stuey too caught the train to town, to pick up a bass from Duncan Goode at English National Opera. We reconvened back at Purley then shot off to Folkestone to catch the 2.20 train thro the tunnel, which we just managed. Although we have been thro the tunnel a few times now, it never ceases to amaze how efficient it is, so much better the ferry options of yesteryear. Next was an awful 2.5 hr drive to Reims; it was very wet, with lots of standing water on the carriageway, so overtaking was a leap of faith. We got to Reims ok, checked in then hit the city for a meal at Brasserie Flo. Nic went for the mainstream steak frites option, Stuey opted for the Alsace sauerkraut and sausage supper! Yum.

Thurs 8/3 to Macon

We left Reims early, to embark on our 3.5 hr drive down to Macon. The weather had cleared, it was a beautiful bright sunny Spring day. We arrived for lunch and joined Bob, Liz, Hugh, Chris, Ian, Janet and Norman. Bob Reeves is our neighbour in Clifton – he has a share of Vergecosse vineyard and holiday accommodation in the village of Vergisson in the Macon region of Burgundy,

It is located in a magic spot nestled in the hills among the vines. The parcels of grapes are very small and are shared among owners – there is a very good reason for this as the region is knows for its micro-climates. Hail showers have been known to pass thro and devastate a small area, leaving the adjacent parcel untouched. Stuart was flogged by Hugh and Norman at dice, fortunately not for money or wine.

Next up was a wine tasting session at Domaine Saumaize-Michelin,

Roger and Christine manage the property and vineyard – from accommodation bookings, to growing the vines and making the wine. We tried a dozen or so chardonnays, mostly Pouilly-Fuisse.

And the evening was rounded off with coq au vin cooked by Laurence, a Doctor who has given up medicine to cook. Am sure this was a wise choice as she was no doubt a superb quack, but her food is glorious. Yum once more.

Fri 9/3 Beaujolais

After a traditional French breakie of breads and croissants Bob took us on a stunning drive thro the local villages to Chirouble to try some Beaujolais reds. The Burgundy region is divided into 5 areas, spread out over 100s of kms – Chablis, Cote de Nuit, Cote de Beaune, Macon and Beaujolais. Bobs property is in Macon, very close to the border with Beaujolais. Reds in this region are based on the Gamay grape, as against Pinot Noir further north around Beaune. Gamy makes a rustic, gamey, earthy animal wine, quite different to anything else. In true French fashion, they flaut the rules in Beaujolais – vines are not trelliced, but left to stand alone. Our memory of Beaujolais had been jaundiced thanks to the Beaujolais Nouvelle craze in the 1980s, where lots of young, rough reds hit London around October, and everyone got very excited about it. Thankfully that trend has abated...except in Japan. Enough said. Bob’s secret Beaujolais cellar lead to our first purchase of the tour.

Next stop was lunch by the river Soane. We are sure that Bob knows everyone in these parts. Entree plus main plus wine for 13 euros – it was no wonder the place was full. And the customers who were “working” clearly were into the French tradition of a long lunch!! Then it was back to Verecosse to sleep off lunch, to go Rogers to buy lots of wine and test the Mazda’s suspension to the max, then off out to eat, of course. This time at a local restaurant in Vergisson. Yum, yum, yum.

Xmas 2011

Xmas was spent in Mo's pad in Stokie Newington, NE London. The three of us has a 40-something Xmas (one of us only just made it into that group mind you) as we have no mates and didnt want to share our noice wines with anyone else.

It was a quiet day, the gals had a run, I was suffering with man-flu, so opted out. We lounged around, made a few skype calls and dining like kings and queens - Mo produced wonders in the kitchen. The goose was glorious, with all the trimmings.

Nickys early energy in the first video has clearly dwindled by the second one, later in the arvo and a few bottles worse for wear!!

The skype call to Buxton summed up many up there quite nicely, V cheating at board games, Jon being antisocial and Ewan performing!

Ile d'Oleron Dec 2011

In December 2011 Chris and Sharon Gibbs allowed us to visit thier wonderful beach house Ile d'Oleron on the Atlantic coast of France, roughtly half way down the country. We go back a long way - Nickys first job after graduating in Jan 1986 was house officre at Edgware General Hospital - Sharon was the previous post holder and was senior house officer for Nic's first 6 months.

After the disappointment of getting a flat on Friday 17th, we missed our ferry. Mazda, in thier wisdom, dont put a spare wheel and tyre in new cars nowadays, and the dodgy punture repair kit didnt work. This is a car Mazda, not a push bike. So we were towed to a quickfit place, left the car and stayed with Jane Young, and the kids Ben, Alice and Suzanna, who were all home. It was wonderful to see the guys.

On Saturday we got the car fixed up with new tyres then shot to Portsmouth, and got the ferry over to Caen before staying overing just South of Caen. The following day we did the 5 hour drive South to Ile d'Oleron.

The island is fantastic - jutting out into the Atlantic, it must be hugely popular with the locals in peak season. It was pretty empty when when we were there, but still a wonderful place to visit. We cycled round the paths to get the feel of half of the island. Its full of mussle and oyster producers, and lots of birds interested in the former! Chris and Sharon's house is fantastic - the garden shed had suffered a little in a recent storm, so we ended up trying to patch the roof felt, most of which was in the garden!


We took a day out to drive down to Bordeaux, on the first of what was to be a series of wine tours in France. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear this! Bordeaux is a big region, with sub appellations spread over a large area. We decided to focus on the Left bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Medoc, and specifically the Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Joseph appellations. One of the aims was to learn more about French wine, which can be a bit of a mystery. For example three wines in Pauillac are premier grand crus, the top drawer of the 1855 classification, and they are Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild. In good years these go for over 1000 euros a bottle! Just across the creek, there are some 2me crus, which are arguably just as good, in neighbouring St Julien, and they sell for a fraction of the price. Leoville Barton is one of our favourites - so it was great to see the vines, the chateau, and to stock up on some serious clarets!

I hate to say it, but however rude we Brits can be about the French, we really are very fond if thier country and its produce.