Thursday, April 26, 2007

London - some random shots.

These are just things we have noticed while wandering around the place. Most have been taken on Steve's phone rather then the camera.

This sculpture is at Canary Wharf on a quite confusing round-about. If you look very closely you can see that there are red, amber and green lights on all at once.

The unusally warm weather has brought out the flowers early (photo taken in March). These are in a park near Embankment station.

Hyde Park is one of our favourites and this is a statue to Peter Pan.

The Australian War Memorial which is on the border of Hyde Park and Green Park.
Steve decided to catch up with the other Grafton High people and have their own 10yr reunion. Yes, the police officer is a real one complete with real gun!!

Monday, April 16, 2007


We decided to head to the highlands for the Easter break on a 'Haggis' bus tour. The tour started by taking a train from London to Edinburgh. Known as the Flying Scotsman, the trip up the East coast of England was one of the more picturesque train trips that we have done so far, and the 4 1/2 hrs seemed to go very quickly.

We had fantastic weather for most of the weekend. When we arrived on Thursday arvo, we did a walking tour of the city with our guide and then took to the hillls - in particular climbing Arthurs Seat. The view was fantastic, however the wind was blowing about a million miles per hour which made the going tough in parts. The walking tour explored the royal mile which runs from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace and lined with tiny lanes and hidden squares amongst all the souvenir shops.

Arthurs Seat & Salisbury Crags

Salisbury Crags from outside Holyrood palace end of the royal Mile.

View of the Queen's Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Looks like a nice weekender, although not sure that she uses it much.

Claire taking a breather 1/2 way up to Arthur's Seat.

View from the top of Arthurs Seat, overlooking the East of Edinburgh

There were a number of sandstone rock sculptures surrounding the palace and neighbouring Holyrood Park. We decided that this one of a lion was the best. They were all very cool though.

The accomodation for the trip was all in hostels and the one we stayed at in Edinburgh was excellent. A room and bathroom to ourselves. We were pretty lucky with this getting a private room for 3 of the 4 nights and only having to share bathrooms for 2 nights.

Day 2 (which was also Claire's birthday) meant quite a long but scenic bus trip up to the Isle of Skye. We left Edinburgh, and travelled towards Stirling, going through William Wallace country (for all those Braveheart fans) with a history lesson at the memorial to the Battle of Bannockburn. We then continued driving with short photo stops at Killmahog to visit Hamish the Hairy Coo, and Blackmount to observe a lone piper. The hairy coo was brought over by vikings and don't really have a farming purpose. We didn't see too many more of them during our driving.

A few miles down the road and we went for a stroll on Rannoch Mor. The sponginess of the peat is very different to walk on. It also hides the water well. More then a few people got back on the bus with wet socks! Steve & Claire at Rannoch Moor.

We then hit the road again heading towards Glencoe for another spot of history and the photo stop at Three Sisters (3 mountains side by side).
Steve is at the Three Sisters

The remainder of the afternoon was spent heading up to Isle of Skye travelling along the Great Glen which runs along the Great Lochs (ie. big lakes). The changes in scenery around each corner are simply spectacular. Steep & trechorous mountains mixed with massive lochs give you an understanding as to why the areas are so sparcely populated. The bridge across to the Isle and the small town of Kyleakin used to be one of the most expensive tolls at £180 return. Lucky for us this has been abolished.

Bridge from the mainland to the Isle of Skye.

There isn't a lot to do in Kyleakin, so the night was spent getting to know our fellow companions. There were quite a few from Australia including a few from Brisbane. The next morning greeted us with a fantastic sunrise and we headed north on the island. Today was less history and more local myths. We had a quick stop at Slignahan (the 'stream of eternal beauty') for those who wanted to dunk their faces in, but we decided it was too cold and our natural beauty would suffice for a while longer. Given the fantastic weather it was decided to do some mountain climbing on Storr mountain. The views over the Sound of Raasay and Loch Leathan were incredible. So much so that Steve is currently looking at an upgrade to the camera. We didn't really have the shoes to make it all the way to 'the old man'.

Claire enjoying the view

View with the Sound on the left and Loch on the right

Steve with part of the Man of Storr behind

After we got back in the bus, we headed back to the mainland and across the country to Carbisdale Castle which is on the bank of the River Kyle. The drive again showed some impressive countryside as we left the rugged mountains behind and moved into the farmland with sheep and lambs and many little villages. The Castle has been converted into a hostel and was our bed for the night. It has good novelty value, but given it was built 100 years ago, it wasn't really designed as a youth hostel. Big problems being cold showers, and a few toilets that didn't flush. Not good with 2 coaches plus other travellers staying.

On our way back to Edinburgh we stopped at Loch Ness, where Steve is convinced he just missed Nessie!! The water here is almost black (something to do with the peat soil, i think) which is completely different to every other body of water we had seen so far. You could not see the ground once it was more then a few inches deep.

Claire at Loch Ness

Nessie, just moments after going back into the water, causing a wave to hit the shore.......

Following this we went to Culloden Moor for another history stop and explored the battle ground. Quite a sobering place. This was almost the end of our time as we headed straight back to Edinburgh. The last morning was spent wandering around the royal mile being true tourists. We did some souveniour shopping and before catching the train back to London.

One of the questions that has niggled at me for years - How do they put the letters into candy. I honestly wasn't expecting to find the answer in Bruges but took the opportunity when I could. This shop does have a website, so I could just refer to it, but there is a requirement to speak flemish. The guy that owns this shop has lived in Melbourne and was trained by an aussie in how to make Candy.

In Belgium it is tradition for the parents to send out small gifts when a child is born so the candy being made here is for a soon to be born. The parents were there as well and were nice enough to let us have a taste at the end.

I arrived slightly late so missed the pouring of the sugar onto the table. The first myth to be dispelled is that the entire mix is all one flavour. I at least thought the colours provided the flavour. The colour is then poured over a section of the sugar sheet and then stirred in. The sections are separated using a pair of steel scissors and kneaded to get a uniform colour. The colours used here were black (letters), blue and brown (outside), and white (filler). The table used here is not heated.
Creating the colours

After the colours have been kneaded and are uniform throughout, the section it is transferred to another table that is kept slightly warm to prevent solidifying. The white section was the largest and was then stretched to aerate it and double it's size. The colour intensified to be a really bright white. The size of this section made the wall hook necessary. They just did it by hand on the bench for the smaller colours.
Stretching the sugar

The letters are all made individually using the black and white sections. The actual block size is probably around 15cm long upto 4cm across. This block then gets gently stretched and lengthened to a final length of around an 2.5 x 50cm. This will be the working length of the entire piece.
The M and A blocks already lengthened. Others sections are lined up behind them on the warming bench.

A thin piece of the white is placed between each letter to differentiate them. When all the letters are finished they are placed around a sausage of white and then wrapped in white to form a roll. Once the roll is formed it needs to be kept rolling so that the heat doesn't allow it to settle. You will probably notice the 'roller' in some of the pictures. We thought he might have been in training as his stretching technique was not quite as smooth as the main guy.

The finished name before forming the roll.

The outside of this candy was striped with blue, brown and white. Each section was joined in a fairly thick slab and again gently stretched lengthways. When it was twice the working length it was cut and the new piece placed next to the original. This process was repeated again to give a sheet with four block of each colour.
Creating the outer striped layer.

This slab is then rolled around the letter roll. Which the 'roller' has been constantly moving to prevent flat bits forming. This was then rolled for a few minutes on both the warming bench and the cooling bench (right next to it). At this point the roll is still huge and you can't really understand how it all compresses down to the the 1cm round lolly.
The final roll.

From here he started to twist one end as if it were a lolly wrapper which causes the stripes to wrap around. When it looked like he was about to twist the end off, he started to gently pull the candy out over onto the cooling bench. At this point it doesn't look all that nice as the stripes are all streaky but amazingly the letters are all there. He told us that the first metre or two produced aren't all that presentable for sale.
End has been removed and about to start pulling final product.

The roll is continully moving even when he is pulling out the lengths. The lengths were cut every half metre or so to keep is manageable for final cutting and to check the letters.
Pulling out the candy.

The cutting process happens after each length has been rolled on the cooling bench for a few minutes. Cutting basically involved the length being held over a sharp ridge and a paint scraper used as a knife from above. The candy just snaps off.
Cutting for samples.

So that is how the letters get into candy. We did stand around in this tiny shop for about an hour, which was enough to cut the first length and provide us with a taste. We went off sightseeing and walked past a couple of hours later when they were just starting the bag the cut product. That quantity was going to make around 60 of the jars that the shop sells for around 3euro each. I don't know how big the gift bags were going to be but that couple obviously has many friends!!
The final lolly! It was a cherry flavour and very nice, but still warm.

After getting such a great show for free we couldn't really leave without purchasing some of the product, so three jars later it was all worth it. If you do head to Bruge this shop is great and located in one of the main streets. There are big windows all around that give a good view as well. For more photos of the process check out their site -

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Okay, it has been a while since we have ventured anywhere, but with Steve getting a job we thought it appropriate to celebrate. We headed off to Belgium again, but this time to Bruges. It wasn't a fantastic start to arrive at the hotel at 1130pm to discover our booking had been lost. Luckily they had a cancellation and there was a room for us until we could sort it out the next morning.

In relation to our previous trip to Brussels, Bruges is much nicer in every way. The old city is the main tourist area and is almost completely surrounded by a canal (complete with windmills) that follow the now demolished town walls to almost encirle it. The main canal branches off and winds through the city. Storybook and quaint with lots of cobbled streets, squares, churches and medieval architecture best describes the area. A german squadron leader issued specific orders during WW2 to spare the town, thus preserving the history.

Steve and one of the windmills alond the ring canal.

We only had 2 days to explore this city and started by heading up the Belfry. The 300 steps up started out easy enough but became quite narrow towards the top. This used to house the treasury in the 1200's but now has a 47 bell carillon and someone to work them on a full time basis. Apart from the chiming of the clock the carilloneur played christmas carols. Not what you expect to hear in March! The view from the top was pretty impressive.
After seeing the town from above we decided to see it from the water and headed off to do the canal tour - an excellect way to see some of the more impressive houses and parks.

The weather was so nice, we decided to stay out of museums and churches and see as much of the area on foot as we could. This isn't difficult as the length of the city is only around 7km. This place has some beautiful parks and would be a great place to run and cycle around. Minniewater park complete with its swans and family of ducks was one of the best.

We did venture inside a couple of times. The first was a trip to the diamond museum. Many shiny and sparkly things kept in locked cabinets. The demonstration was interesting and the guy did fancy himself as a bit of a comedian - told one lady her wedding ring wasn't real. I think her husband was a little concerned, luckily that was just part of the routine.

Diamond cutting.Next was the chocolate museum. A really interesting exhibition covering 4 floors and even included a demo of praline filled choccys. I have to say that the samples weren't all that nice, but then mine were coffee flavoured and dark. I would have preferred the freshly made milk chocolate pralines!!!! Important to remember for next year - Bruges has a big chocolate festival for easter and while we were there a week early (stay tuned for easter in Scotland) the many chocolate shops were setting up their displays. I am in complete awe of what they can create. Steve did keep me restricted to only a small box, but i do endorse the purchased product. Oh, there is a 2 year chocolatier course in Bruges.....mmm very tempting.

Display in the Depla window.
Lastly we headed to the Halve Maan Brewery, right in the centre of town alongside a canal. This has been a brewery since the 1500's but it's current beer - Brugse Zot - only started production in 2005. We did a tour and saw a couple of Aussie cans (including XXXX) amongst the display, before being informed that beer should only ever be consumed from the matched glass, apparently different glasses will change the taste.
View from the brewery

We did cram a fair bit into our 2 days and would definitely like to go back. Oh one last thing - I found out how the letters get into candy.......