In honour of the Year of the Horse

There may be a few horsey pictures on this blog in 2014 in honour of the Year of the Horse. This little champion was born at the Irish National Stud in 2013.

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Cate Blanchett for Vogue

I think Cate Blanchett is one of the most stylish, beautiful women of our era, not to mention wicked smart. Here is some footage from her recent Vogue shoot (the music is as beautiful as the setting and subject).

Cate Blanchett for Vogue

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Stalking the Shoppers

I am doing shiftwork these days; the long hours can be tough, but the four days off every roster more than make up for it. I’ve been going to the gym, catching up on reading, going out for coffee and enjoying the sunshine, and most recently, stalking the fashion ‘penny auction’ site Runway Bidder. Runway Bidder offers the opportunity to purchase high end fashion items, predominantly shoes and bags, for a fraction of their retail price. The reserve price for each item is one percent of its retail value, so in theory you could pick up a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels for under $10. [For the record I am not at all affiliated with Runway Bidder, and have actually raised a couple of concerns with the ACCC regarding some things I've seen. Shop at your own risk!]

The first catch is that you have to purchase your bids, each coming in at around 77 cents Australian; the second is that this type of auction requires endurance, a psychology degree, and if you actually want value for money, an understanding of basic Math concepts.

As far as I can tell there are three types of people frequenting this site:

1. The stalkers and snipers – people who wouldn’t mind Christian Louboutin heels, but are not prepared to stay up all night and spend a fortune on bids to secure them. So they pop in and out, let others do the heavy lifting of running down other people’s Bid Agents (an automated bid placing system) and will chuck a bid on here and there if the competition seems to be flagging.

2. The people who really do want those shoes, although not wanting to pay too much; but, who are willing to stay up all night, placing bids only when they have to in order to avoid someone else winning – maybe using the odd Bid Agent when a trip to the bathroom cannot be postponed any longer.

3. The hard-core bidders. Some of these seem to have a clear strategy to wear down the opposition using strategically placed runs of Bid Agents. Others seem to be missing the ‘basic math’ component, failing to understand that if you have to spend $600 on bids plus pay the final auction price you might as well just go out and buy the shoes from a store!

I wonder what these people should actually be doing in life instead of stalking fashion auctions. My excuse is that I’m on days off; but, really I should be going for a walk, getting a good night’s sleep, reading something worthwhile in order to broaden my mind, or at the very least dragging my eyes away from the computer screen so that I don’t go permanently cross-eyed. Are these people also shift workers like me? or is it the middle of the night where they are and will they be stumbling bleary eyed into work tomorrow, inhaling caffeine to get them through their day? Maybe they are bidding on company time. Or maybe they’re unemployed.

I also wonder at what point an addiction akin to gambling kicks in. “I’ll win eventually, just have to invest a little more cash….”. I’m not attempting to moralise here, just wondering how Vicky, Jennifer, Amanda, Laura and Co will cope if they don’t win those heels! And now … I’m going to the gym!

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Queen Victoria Memorial, London

The Queen Victoria Memorial, situated in front of Buckingham Palace, is almost more imposing than the palace itself. The memorial was unveiled in 1911 and along with the sculpture of Queen Victoria, is adorned with the angels of truth and justice and a statue of charity.

Queen Victoria Memorial

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Mount Stromlo Observatory

The Mount Stromlo Observatory was extensively damaged during bushfires that ripped through the ACT 2003 and required extensive rebuilding work. Below is an image taken at the Mount Stromlo open day held in 2011.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMount Stromlo’s next open day will be held on 30 November 2013, but regular ‘star grazing’ nights (a combination of food and star gazing) are held at Scope cafe. More information can be found on the Scope website.

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Get ready to wave at Saturn.

On 19/20 July, NASA’s spacecraft Cassini will be imaging the planet Saturn, and our home Earth! You can read more about Cassini’s mission here. NASA is encouraging everyone to get outside and wave at Saturn during the event. International timings for the ‘group photo’ are here: Wave at Saturn timings.

So, I’ll be up early on Saturday morning, standing outside our apartment block waving at Saturn!

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Travel highlights – Scotland

Balmoral BorderI recently embarked on a month-long adventure to the UK to home of all things scenic, and historic. Blessed with beautiful weather, I was able to spend a lot of time outdoors, walking the cobblestone streets and exploring estate grounds and gardens. My favourite part of the trip was the week spent in Scotland and I’ve picked out some of the highlights to share with you.

No visit to Scotland is complete without a tour of Edinburgh Castle. According to the Castle guide, the earliest evidence of human settlement on the site is from around 900 BC; however a ‘castle’ on the site is not referenced until 1093 AD. Parts of the castle have been destroyed and rebuilt over the years. The oldest remaining building on the site is St Margaret’s Chapel, built around 1130 AD.

Another must-see in Edinburgh is Queen Elizabeth’s official residence, the Palace at Holyroodhouse. Once home to Mary Queen of Scots, the apartments contain a range of art and artefacts, and tourists are guided through Mary’s story, including the murder of her advisor by her husband Lord Darnley which took place in Holyroodhouse. Both historic apartments, and state apartments may be viewed providing that the Royal family are not in residence.

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

A few kilometres outside of Edinburgh lies Rosslyn Chapel, probably best known from its role in the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code, and the accompanying movie. Alas, there are no secret dungeons under the Chapel (at least not that we were told of!) but the site’s fascinating history and architecture make Rossyln worth a visit. While you are sitting through the talk given by the Rosslyn tour guide inside the Chapel, look up at the ornate ceiling, decorated with flowers and stars.

Drawing Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Drawing Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

At the Leith docks, accessed via the Ocean Plaza shopping centre, is the Royal Yacht Britannia. An audio guide takes you through the varying levels of the yacht, where you can view the Queen and Prince Phillip’s individual suites, as well as the ‘honeymoon’ suite of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The Royal accommodation is in contrast with that of the Yacht’s crew and the Royal Marines who travelled on the Yacht as part of the protection detail for the Royal family. The drawing room (pictured) and the dining room are probably the most impressive rooms on the yacht, but my favourite area was the aft deck with it’s potential for relaxing in deck chairs and soaking up the sunshine.

The vegetable garden - Balmoral Castle.

The vegetable garden – Balmoral Castle.

Aberdeenshire is the home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Summer residence, Balmoral Castle. Although only one room of the Castle is open to tourists, the beautiful grounds are the real reason to visit Balmoral. The excellent audio guide walks you through the woodlands surrounding the castle, past the cultivated cut flower and vegetable gardens, and explains the history and features of the Castle itself. Balmoral Castle was purchased by Queen Victoria and was subsequently rebuilt based on designs heavily influenced by her husband Prince Albert. Prince Albert’s influence can be seen in the fairy-tale-like towers that adorn the Castle, mirroring those of his native Germany.

The distilling room at Glenfiddich.

The distilling room at Glenfiddich.

Scotland is famous the world over for its production of Scotch Whisky (in Ireland, Whiskey uses the ‘e’), and no region of Scotland is more renowned for Whisky production than Speyside. We visited the Glenfiddich Distillery located just outside of Dufftown. Glenfiddich runs a free tour every hour that includes an education on the distillation process, cooperage, the storage and blending process, and a free tasting of their 12, 15 and 18 year old drops. I particularly enjoyed being able to give the olfactory senses a run, trying to smell the differences in the age of the whisky and the subtleties inferred by the different casks used for maturation.

We overnighted in Inverness and had dinner at the scrumptious River House restaurant – I would recommend making a reservation as the restaurant fills up quickly, particularly on the weekend. I had the asparagus soup and a divine camembert and onion tart. Inverness is a good starting point for a drive along the shoreline of Loch Ness – unfortunately the monster did not show itself.

Although we covered a lot of ground during our travels, I do not feel that I have even scratched the surface of this beautiful place. The Shetland Islands, Glasgow, and a lighthouse stay are on my list of things to do when I return to Scotland, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

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