Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung
Roses at the Cottage

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Take a Punt

Over the Australia Day long weekend we had a bit of an adventure! We went punt-looking! And punt-riding - I think it's actually called 'punting'! It seems amazing to me that within a short distance of the city (and of course the Cottage) not one but two punts can be found. And so we headed off to the Royal Botanic Gardens (open 7.30 - sunset every day of the year) to take a look and of course have a stroll. It was a beautiful day and we had a spring in our step. Walking through the gardens is always a delight (I will write about the gardens in a future post) but this was punt-looking day so we headed down to the lake and lo and behold there awaiting us was a rather exotic looking punt (reminded me of a gondola!) and a very smartly dressed punt driver (is that what they are called?!) I must admit that we were rather taken-a-back by the price of a 30 minute punt around the gardens - $25 per head (if I recall there was a family rate) and so we decided to just take a look and wander on. 
All aboard for a Garden Punt
After all we had another punt on our minds! En route back to the car we passed the Wind in the Willows dinghy parked awaiting the twice-daily show - now that is definitely worth a viewing - it's fun - with - or without - children. Highly recommended. We could just imagine Rat, Mole, Badger, Otter, Portly and of course who could forget Mr Toad. (sadly this production has now finished until next January - but do keep it in mind).
The Wind in the Willows dinghy awaiting ...
And so we headed off to nearby Herring Island crossing the Punt Road Bridge which was named for the punt that used to cross the Yarra River before the bridge was built! (The extension of Punt Road becomes Hoddle Street) Herring Island is a man-made island and the one-and-only island in the  mighty Yarra River. Its address is Richmond!  
Little olde Herring Island
This environmental Sculpture Park Island is 3.2 hectares and is only accessible by boat - or surprise, surprise - punt! The punt runs every weekend from mid-January to late April from 11 - 5. Cost - $2 per person or $5 per family (more competitive than the Gardens punt!). 

An Australia Day family picnic on the island
Named after Sir Edmund Herring a former Governor of Victoria, Chief Justice and head of the Scout movement - the island was originally used by the scouts. The old scout hall is now used as a gallery. But it was the sculptures we had come to see. Set in natural bushland - amazing so close to the city - the island is dotted with wonderful sculptures. Here are just a few. 
Scaled stem (looks like a waddy to me!) Robert Bridgewater
Steerage - Jill Peck (down the pointy end of the island) with a Yarra Cruiser advancing in the background
Cairn - Andy Goldsworthy
Before heading home we stopped for lunch at Kanteen (converted from an old toilet block! - but don't be put off!) the food and the ambience is terrific and well worth a visit - punting or not. It's right next to the punt loading dock. 50 Alexandra Ave, South Yarra - 9827 0488. It's a great spot to get the feel of the 'country' right on our Richmond doorstep.
Heading onto the punt en route to lunch at Kanteen (in the distance!)
So if you are feeling like a punt - why not cross Punt Road, visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, then 'ride the punt' to explore Herring Island and on your way back to the Cottage grab a footy. It's just a drop punt (!) from the MCG!

Bowen Cottage client comment: We would stay more often if we could. Perfect in every way.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Art in the Eye of a Needle

I was privileged to see something remarkable this morning. A friend had heard a radio interview with the artist who creates the world's smallest and most wonderous works of art. His name is Willard Wigan (visit his website here - a must). 
Willard Wigan talking to his new fans!!
Now when I say that his artwork is created in the eye of a needle I don't mean a large darning needle eye. I mean a small regular needle eye - one of those eye's that require you to lick the cotton a million times just to get the cotton through the eye. 
The eye of the needle

The microscope needed for each piece of artwork - this is The Last Supper (not able to be photographed!!)
And inside each eye is the most beautious works of art I have ever seen. The Last Supper can be seen in all its glory - just as you would see it in Leonardo da Vinci's famed painting. Except that it is so small that you need to view it (inside the needle) through a strong microscope. His art is created in such minute proportions that he has changed the face of art which can hardly be seen by the naked eye.
The Last Supper
The Pieta
This is a man who had learning difficulties and couldn't read or write. As he says on his website: “It began when I was five years old. I started making houses for ants because I thought they needed somewhere to live. Then I made them shoes and hats. It was a fantasy world I escaped to. That’s how my career as a micro-sculptor began.” As he says in this wonderful TED video here "just because we can't see it doesn't mean there is nothing there".

He is able to slow down his heartbeat (he works between heartbeats) and he has the stillest pointer finger I have ever seen! He was in the foyer of the ANZ Head office and asked a young fellow to point his finger at his finger - it was not possible - you try it - your finger wobbles! And when making sculptures this small finger wobble is an absolute no no. He makes the sculptures and then places them inside the needle. We saw one today of a racehorse with rider - and the whip can be removed. Another was a fairy with wings which were cut down (a lot) from the wings of a dead fly. He chatted to his new-found admirers and said that he needs to be so careful with his work as he had been know to inhale them! Each piece takes him 2-3+ months to create.
Fairy wings - made out of cut down fly wings
On searching Google I saw that his work is now being sold for up to $11 million - not bad for a boy who couldn't read or write! He has also combined with the renowned watchmakers Greubel Forsey - and the watch shown ($2 million) has a gold three-masted sailing ship in the winder. Listen here to a wonderful video with the watchmakers and Willard. Willard himself was wearing a watch which incorporated what looked like a miniature child's wind up street organ. Extraordinary!
The watch with the gold three masted sailing ship in the wind up!
If you have recently been watching the Australian Open Tennis you may have seen a new and rather quirky ad for the ANZ Bank with Aussie actor Simon Baker from the US Television show The Mentalist in which he talks about 'Art in the eye of a needle'. And there they were right here in Melbourne at ANZ headquarters - just for a 4 hour period. But don't worry the artwork is off the National Gallery of Victoria. Unfortunately although it is listed on Willard's website as 18-27 January 2014 I can find no reference to it on the NGV website! He also told us that the exhibition will be moving around Australia. I just can't find where or when! Keep an eye out for it - it is worth persuing. It was truly remarkable.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Richmond's Hot!

As I write this in searing 40+ degree heat I have been thinking of all the 'destinations' nearby where one can find a little relief from the heat. Of course if you are at the Australian Open Tennis it seems that there are loads of cool-down spots and showers being played on the spectators while the tennis players are required to play in what can only be described as life-threatening heat.

Spectators at the Tennis cooling off (AFP/Getty Images)
If it is 40+ degrees just imagine the radiating heat coming off the hard courts (at least the old-fashioned grass courts were a little cooler). It beggars belief how they are managing - even with icevests at the changeovers. I don't care how fit the players are - having them play in these temperatures (and without a saline drip after the match - in case of drugs!) - is quite frankly madness. 
Kenny de Schepper from France (where it is freezing) donning his icevest - on his head (AFP Getty Images)
So here are a dozen of my 'cool-off' suggestions on days like today

1. The 50m Richmond Recreation Centre indoor pool - in Gleadell Street (near the Richmond Town Hall) - just a short walk from the Cottage.
The Richmond Pool - it will be a little more crowded on a hot day!!

2. The old Melbourne City Baths which have been refurbished on the corner of Swanston and Victoria Streets - you can have a 'history lesson' while visiting
The historic City Baths

3. The National Gallery of Victoria - either the Ian Potter (corner Swanston and Flinders Streets) or the NGV International just a little further along Swanston Street. Run your fingers up and down the water-wall.
Cool clear water - at the NGV International

4. A movie at the Palace Como (corner Chapel Street - the extension of Church Street and Toorak Road, or one of the less appealing city cinemas
5. At the end of the day take a picnic to the nearby Fitzroy Gardens and sit near one of the lovely fountains - there's nothing like running water to cool you down
Splashing water in the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens

6. Try one of the local pubs or restaurants (you'll find a list of recommendations in the Cottage Welcome Manual) - have a long refreshing beer, a long lime and soda - and linger over a meal - just check that the airconditioning is working before entering!
7. Take the tram to the beach - laden with sunscreen, hats, water and shoes (that sand is hot hot hot on your feet)
8.  Lie low at the Cottage and enjoy one of the three air-conditioners (fingers crossed that the electricity grid can cope with all the demand - pathetic)
9. Don't take the train - the lines keep buckling and the wait can be inordinate (another pathetic!)
10. Make yourself a 'spider' - lemonade and icecream
11. Eat fish and chips - there's nothing like celebrating summer!! Try The Fish Market at 272 Bridge Road or Richmond Oysters at 437 Church Street
12. Cool down while worrying about all the icebergs that are melting
Melting iceberg - looks pretty but......(icestories.exploratorium.edu)
Have I forgotten anything? What do you do to cool off in an extended heatwave?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Cricket Whitewash

Now you either love or hate cricket - well I love it! I'm talking about Test Cricket and - even - One Day Cricket. None of this 20/20 Big Bash pretend baseball for me. Cricket means summer. Cricket means growing up with the ABC radio cricket commentary always in the background in our house. Or in more modern times (70's/80's!!) my father gardening with either a transistor at his side or dare I say 'earphones'. Tradition states that if you are attending the cricket then it is sacriledge to miss the first - and the last - balls of the day. And with the Ashes series just completed if you had missed the first ball of the day - then you may have missed an Aussie taking a Pom wicket. We won 5/0 having been beaten in the English summer of 2013 by the Poms 3/0. What a turnaround! 
A day at the MCG - just look at that tartan mowing! (MCG website)
So what has this got to do with Richmond?! Well within walking distance of the Cottage is the hallowed ground of the Melbourne Cricket Club (formed in 1838). What a venue. Over the 4 days of what should have been a 5 day match the 4th Test at the MCG hosted over 271,000 fans (5 days and we would have cracked the 300,000 mark). And because the Aussies were doing so well the world record for a day at the cricket was beaten with 91,112 attending. Extraordinary. 
Bill Ponsford hitting a 'four'
Take a walk around the outside of the stadium (it could almost be called a colliseum when there are up to 100,000 baying for opposition blood - albeit with no lions) and not only will you find wonderful sculptures (by Louis Laumen) of our famed footballers (see earlier post here), athletes but also world renowned Victorian cricketers including Bill Ponsford (who has a grandstand named after him) and the infamous Shane Warne are all there to enjoy. 

Shane Warne bowling the ball of the Century
Things have changed since the first cricket match was played at the MCG between Victoria and New South Wales in 1856 and against an English X1 in 1862. The first Test between England and Australia was played in 1877. (see the MCG history here) (the first Aussie Rules match was played in 1858). Preparing the cricket pitches was almost an art form for the curators - and it still is - but now the pitch is prepared off-site and 'dropped in' to the oval. At the back of the MCG in a small cordoned off paddock you can see the pitches being prepared. After all they all need to be slightly different for the 3 modern forms of the game. You will find the 'dropped in pitches' between the Stadium and the Richmond Football Club. Take a walk to have a look and while you are there you should pass the historical scarred tree (see earlier post here

Preparing the pitches - Richmond Football Club on the right

You just might be looking at THE pitch for the 4th Test!
Oh and just before I go I love some of the Tweets reprinted in The Age about the cricket - here are some of my favourites - so clever:
What do you call an Englishman with 100 runs against his name? A bowler (Paige Cardona)
Just went to make a cup of tea and I've missed 4 wickets. Well played Australia - put us out of our misery now please (Daniel Ostermeyer)
and I will leave you with this one:
Brits who could play better cricket than the English team. 1. Penelope Keith; 2. Ronnie Corbett; 3. Cliff Richard; 4. Prince George (Sally Sara)
Before the 1st Test - Captains Alistair Cook and our Michael Clarke - with the famed Ashes urn - only Michael was laughing at the end! (abcnet.au)
Bowen Cottage client comment: This is a home not a rental! Everything felt well cared for and loved. The books, street directory, tourist information and magazines were much appreciated and well utilised.