Saturday, November 20, 2010

meandering melbourne

My brief visit to Melbourne is over and I have to say that I really liked the place. I was fortunate to have had mostly great weather which always casts a good light on any city.

But I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of green space I found in my wandering, and also at the general friendliness of the people. It made me realise we Sydneysiders are not a particularly friendly mob to each other or to strangers.

As per usual, my flights did not go smoothly - silly me naively thinking they would.

Boarding my Jetstar flight at Sydney went without a hitch, but then we had to sit an inordinate amount of time waiting to taxi out onto the runway.

An announcement informed us that our cabin crew was arriving on another flight which had been delayed. "But they are now on board and we are ready to depart." reported the Captain.

Then I noticed a passenger get up from her seat with her bag and head to the front of the plane.

Again, we sat sitting...waiting.

Eventually - "Sorry for the delay, but a passenger decided to leave the aircraft and we have had to wait for the airbridge to connect back to the plane. We will be underway shortly." ('Why did she leave? What does she know?? Did she have a premoniton about the flight???')

Another minute passed with quite a long line of its companions.

A further announcement:

"We apologise for the delay but the airbridge has become stuck and we are now waiting for the engineers to come and remove it from the aircraft."

But finally, about an hour late, we took off and arrived safely at Tullermarine on the outskirts of Melbourne city.

I found a basic hostel in St. Kilda which suited my price and purpose, dumped my bags and went for a wander to get my bearings.

the oslo hotel (web

the Oslo as it was in 1872

I didn't know anything about St.Kilda - but a website I've just come across has this to say:

"St Kilda is a remarkable place. It is situated on one of the most picturesque points of the Bay a short distance from the city, has safe sandy beaches, and yet for decades was shunned by Melbournites because it was the haunt of prostitutes and druggies."

So it's a lot like the place I live in here in Sydney!

Interestingly, there was never a 'St.Kilda' The name derived from a ship 'The Lady of St.Kilda' that was moored along the foreshore of the village of Fareham, by which the suburb was formerly known. The ship in turn was named after an archipelago in the Scottish Hebrides, from the Viking word "skildar" which means shield, and of which it is said the islands resembled.

However I found it a charming place, with many grand old houses, tree lined streets and some wonderful cake shops and cafes on Acland Street. St.Kilda also has its own Luna Park, and a delighful Botanic Gardens.

In the early afternoon I met up with me ol' china Scottwoz, over from Cambodia, for a long natter and catch-up. Later we had dinner and listened to some live bands at the Espy down near the St.Kilda beach on the Esplanade.

espy rock chick

The following day I walked into town, meandered around the National Gallery of Victoria, dropped into some independent galleries along Flinders Lane, and generally basked in the beautiful sunny day and friendliness of the locals. By the time I had walked home at the end of the day, then walked around St.Kilda in the evening a bit more looking for groceries, I've worked out I had covered about 18kms. That night my legs told me it seemed a lot more!

My third day I was able to catch up with my old friend Fols whom I don't see enough of. We go way back to the late '70's where we were at Art School together. She moved to Melbourne many years ago and this was the first time I'd managed to visit her on her own turf.

We had an enjoyable and relaxed day (despite it turning wet and cold overnight) checking out some contemporary art at The Ian Potter Gallery; a great Bill Viola Video work called 'The Raft' at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image, and coffee at the landmark Pellegrini's Cafe at 66 Bourke St (which was redolent in atmosphere of Bar Italia in Soho, London - another coffee institution serving espresso when most other English cafes were still serving instant coffee.)

the raft - bill viola


In the evening, back in my hostel, I sat around with some randoms at the hostel - a favourite pastime of mine, and one of the reasons I still enjoy hostelling instead of the frigid formality of hotel environments. Many of the young'uns I met were here for a years working holiday, most appearing to have made Melbourne their arrival destination, with plans to then head East and then North up to Cairns.

I left to come home the following day, flying for the first time with Tiger Airways. They have a shed out the back of Melbourne airport and a Flight Schedule board that simply lies to everyone.

Waiting for my flight well past the departure time, the board continually informed me my flight was now boarding when it was quite obvious, due to the explosion of bodies lolling around the very much closed Gate, that the plane was not about to go anywhere. It was quite possible it had not even arrived.

After flashing "Final Boarding" for a while it then announced "Now Closed."
Several nervous people (myself included) approached an airport official who blithely told us not to pay any attention to the board ( it was obviously an attention seeker) but instead listen to the announcements.

Now let me say here that I feel that although I might not have perfect hearing, it is still adequate enough to serve me in most real life situations. Thus - the following is as accurate a representation of a Tiger Airways announcement:

"Would argle bargle bappenraps Tiger dabro woadle Sydblee barble darger boola and woaler woodle tuba to the bordle or da farso lah ti doh."

But eventually the gate opened, we boarded and took off. And only 50 minutes late.

Quite good really.

melbourne collage

airportcontainer cafe

oslo next door neighbour

curious headless woman

digital supermarket labels

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

virgin flight

I'm off to Melbourne in a couple of weeks. I haven't been down there since the 1980's. Not that I have anything against that fair city but there has not really been a good enough reason to go.

But I've recently rediscovered an old friend who lives there, and a new friend is flying in from Cambodia - so it seemed like a perfectly good reason to make the trip. (And who can resist a $49 airfare anyway??)

Consequently, it has reminded me of the very first trip where I flew in an aeroplane!

It was April 1977 and I had finished my first half semester at art school. My flatmate at that time was doing the same visual arts course; we had gone to the same high school together and both worked part-time at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the rocks. (More tales about that notorious establishment later...)

We booked a one way flight to Melbourne, which if I remember correctly, was $45. Considered a good (student) deal even then.

As a dirt poor art student this was the first of a lifetime of budget trips.

Our first destination was to meet up with a school mate who had joined the RAAF and was stationed in Melbourne. My memory tells me he was based near Laverton airport, which I think in the '70's was military only. (But I'm willing to be corrected as my memory is shot at the best of times). I only say this because I recall it was a bit of a train trip from the city centre to get there. the railway station was called, appropriately, "Aircraft".

We managed to catch up with him briefly but his work restrictions meant we couldn't stay. As it was getting late by that time we ended up sleeping under a motorway bridge. (First night!)

accomodation underpass [image:googlemaps]

The next day we wandered into central Melbourne and stowed out luggage in Flinders St. station lockers.

flinder st station [image:web]

This freed us up to roam the city, take in the National Gallery of Victoria and various other sites of interest. Early in the evening we were waylaid by a happy troup of young folk who invited us to dine with them free of charge. We gladly accepted this unbounded hospitality to later find out they were acolytes of the 'Children of God' (aka 'The Family of Love' and later just 'The Family')

do the hippy hippy shake... [image:web]

Beating a hasty heathen retreat (after a good feed of course) we returned to Flinders St station for our bags to find it completely locked up for the night.

So, sans sleeping bags, we headed down to the Sydney Myer Music Bowl (an outdoor music/entertainment venue in the Kings Domain) and curled up on the under cover but outdoors seats to spend the night. It was April and in Melbourne it gets quite cold by that time of year. I remembered reading that homeless people keep themselves warm using newspaper. Only having half the facts, and failing to realise that the bums stuff the newspapers INSIDE their clothes, I spent most of the night chasing after my newspaper 'blankets' whenever the wind whipped them up and off into the darkness. (Second night.)

sydney myer music bowl [image:web]

The following day we continued out explorations of the city, buying bread and cheese in the supermarket for lunch, and then went off to spend the night at the Salvation Army's People's Palace, a refuge for those in need! My travel mate's father was a high ranking Sally official so we had connections! (Third night)

Having had our fill of the city we then headed north to Montsalvat, an artist's colony in Eltham. Begun in 1935, the collections of buildings were erected often with recycled building materials from city developments. Consequently it has become a melange of oddly incongruous architectural styles, vaguely Medieval and/or parochially rustic. Still - very charming and still worth a visit.

montsalvat great hall [image:web]

We spent the entire day there and then as evening fell we once again found ourselves without accommodation. So armed with our trusted sleeping bags, we heading into the fields and woods around Montsalvat and found a quiet spot under a large Eucalypt to spend the night. This was particularly memorable for me as it was the first time I had encountered the truly unholy howling moan of the common brushtail possum. Sort of cat-in-a-blender screech with some hissing and moaning thrown in for good measure.

spawn of satan [image:web]

Lying exposed to the elements in the utter darkness of night it was a fearful sound. I was fortunate that my travel companion knew what it was. So I gave it a bloody loud "SHOO!" As a result, for a good hour afterwards the damned fiend dropped bits of broken twig down upon us. (Fourth night.)

The following day we headed to the railway station to catch the train to Wagga Wagga where we had intended freeloading off an old friend there. Leaving my putrid backpack full of unwashed clothes and half eaten packets of biscuits on the station platform for 5 minutes whilst I bought our tickets, I returned to find some miserable sod had stolen it.

Thoroughly disheartened we exchanged our tickets for some going back to Sydney and spent the next night sleeping sitting up on the train. (Fifth night.)

Once safely back home, I thought I'd had a bloody brilliant holiday!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

bula birthday

my fiji route

For those of you still guessing....... yes, I DID get away again for my birthday.

It was very last minute.

Do you know that little glow of pleasure you get when you discover $20 you had forgotten all about in a jacket pocket? Well imagine it wasn't $20 but $550. That's what happened to me three of weeks ago. I had squirreled it away more than 18 months ago (I often keep a wad of cash at home for daily & weekly living expenses to save me constantly going to an auto-teller.) It was around the time I had to get ready to move from my old flat. With all the ensuing turmoil of the move it stayed hidden and forgotten all this time to emerge just before my birthday.

Great present eh?

So my original plan was to use my 'back-up' idea for a birthday celebration if I wasn't able to afford an overseas trip - and that was to skydive. Always wanted to but never got around to it. Once I actually got to the airfield, had practiced the rolling landing, but at the last minute the weather turned and we couldn't take the plane up. So I looked into doing it this year.

It was quite expensive to do it as I wanted to jump on my actual birthday - which was a Saturday this year. Weekends are pricier. But the predicted weather forecast was dour so I thought about other options. One was to fly up to see a mates new home out the back of Noosa in South Queensland.

That got me to the Jetstar website.

Then it was too late. Whilst browsing I saw an excellent fare for Fiji and it was booked before I realised what I was doing!

To get the cheap fare meant I had to leave on the Saturday and return the following Saturday. Even a day more, or a day less pushed the fare up by 50%.

Now Fiji has never been a 'must see' destination for me, being very much a resort island; hotels, swimming pools and Pina Coladas. But I was certain there had to be more to it than just that.

So I flew into Nadi on the West side of the main island and straight away caught a local bus from the airport to a small town to the north called Lautoka. Once here I changed to another bus which took me to the very north of the island to a town called Rakiraki. Here I hopped into a taxi for a short ride to Volivoli, a great little 'resort' on the northern most tip of the island.

on my volivoli verandah

birthday ritual

volivoli beach

donning dive gear

dive boat

I spent two night here and went diving in the interim. Really clear water and some of the best coral I've yet seen. And came face to face with my first shark. (Well first REAL shark - the guitar shark in Zanzibar was more a haddock in shark drag) I think it was a white tipped reef shark that was at least err ...12 metres long...

Fortunately, by the time my brain registered what it was it had swum on away from me disappearing into the distance.

Leaving Volivoli I caught another bus which took me down the Eastern side of the island, hugging the coast and at times venturing up into the highlands. It afforded me the opportunity to see a lot of the landscape. Several hours later I arrived in Suva, the capital, where I spent 2 nights.

Normally I am not a fan of capital cities, but there was something really nice about Suva. I suspect it has a lot to do with the Fijians. And the relaxed casualness about the place. Small, clean and comfortable. I saw almost no tourists there, and was not hassled by anyone even once.

The day after I arrived I took a local bus up into the hills north of Suva to a National Park, the Colo-I-Suva rainforest park. I spent about 5 relaxing hours wandering through the forest listening to the birds, occasionally getting rained on (well... it IS a rainforest) and searching out many of the small but attractive waterfalls.

in the rainforest



The rest of my time in Suva was spent wandering around the town, counting the mongooses (mongeese? mongi??) visiting the National museum and shopping for groceries. (I was making all of my own meals on this trip to keep costs down.)

Leaving Suva I caught another bus 3/4 the way along the south coast (called the Coral Coast) to a small resort near Sigitoka called Tubakula. I spent two nights here and the middle day I took a trip up the Sigitoka River into the highlands where I stopped in a small village to join in a kava ceremony; hopped on a bilibili (bamboo raft) to go up the river, and explored a small cave system.

tubakula beach

my hidden accommodation in tubakula

view from my bungalow, tubakula

kava ceremony

sigitoka river

sigitoka river

cave entrance

cave interior

cave formation

Leaving Tubakula it was only a brief bus ride to Nadi, where I arrived early afternoon on the day before I was to fly out.

Now Nadi is a bit of a flea pit I have to say. I would recommend to anyone planning on going to Fiji not to waste any time there. There are a hundred places within 2 or 3 hours bus ride from the airport to stay that are far more beautiful that it really doesn't matter what time you fly in, you would have time to get to somewhere else!

As it was I had the entire afternoon and evening to kill here as well as the next morning.

It is some indication of my feelings about Nadi that I chose to head to the airport at 10am for a 3pm flight rather than hang around Nadi.

My overall impression? The Fijians (or rather the Fijian-Fijians as opposed to the Indo-Fijians) were what really made the trip for me. I think I have to say, with 67 countries under my belt, that they were the most genuinely friendly people I have ever met anywhere. And (not wishing to get bogged down in the politics) the Indo-Fijians could take some valuable lessons from them...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

sexy x.e.

I know I'm biased - but if you needed any further incentive to pack your bags and go and see some of the world take a quick look at these three graphs I've lifted off (I heart xe).

They show the fluctuations in the exchange rates over the last 2 years.
(NB the 'low' and 'high' rates.)

In the case of the US dollar you can now get 50% more US dollars for the same amount of Aussie dollars as you could almost exactly 2 years ago. (ie for $100 AUS in Oct 2008 you would get $60 US. Today that same AU$100 would get you US$94)

*click for larger image.

AUS$ - US$



Strike while the iron is hot!! They are already talking about how the Aussie dollar is over valued.

(***sorry this post is aimed at us Aussies!!! For you outlanders I'm afraid we've become a little more expensive!)

Monday, June 14, 2010

armchair travel

I thought I would share one of the 'Wonders of the Web' with you. It is easy to forget how utterly amazing the internet can be, and then you come across a site like this.

For those of you unable to get (yet) to Italy, follow the link for a close encounter with one of the finest frescoes in the world - without the crowds.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

(Then get off your bums and go and see the real thing!!)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

eternal inspiration

One of the most inspiring people I have met in regards travelling was a little old lady who's name I don't even know.

It was 1986 and I was early in the Bicycle Europe trip and found myself in Fort William in Scotland. This is the town closest to the UK's highest mountain Ben Nevis.

A modest 1,344 metres in height, it is a 3 - 4 hour climb from sea level to the summit of what the locals refer to as "The Ben". Although not very high, even in June there was still a fair amount of snow remaining scattered around the top.

About 10 minutes from the top I passed an elderly woman on her way up wearing a daypack and carrying a hiking pole. Surprised, I gauged her age to be around 70-75. (More likely closer to the latter.)

When she arrived at where we were standing, she surveyed the splendid scene of the Scottish Highlands laid out at our feet and said:

"I'm SO glad it clear and sunny today - it was so cloudy last week you couldn't see a thing."

Slightly shocked I inquired as to her plans on descent to which she replies:

"I'm hitch-hiking to John O'Groats."

Come hell or high water I am determined to be just like that LOL (Little Old Lady) in my advancing years and hope to be buried with my hiking poles.

firth of forth bridge (you dont want a mouth full of yoghurt when you say it)

en route to the ben

a loch unlocking

summer snow patches

view from near the summit

paul and neal (a canadian cyclist we met on the road who joined us for 3 weeks)at the top

view down to loch eil from the summit


ben nevis from the web as i neglected to take my own photo!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

doggybiscuit kisses

May 1990
It's no secret that for many years up until my trip across Tibet usurped its position, Turkey had long been my favourite travel experience. And I say 'experience' rather than 'country' or 'trip' as it best sums up how I feel about the place. Turkey provided me with the most extraordinarily diverse experiences I think I have ever had on one trip. Not alway good experiences mind you, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Doggybiscuit is the name a chance travel companion and I nicknamed a small town at the far Eastern edge of Turkey called Doğubeyazıt.

It sits close to the point where Turkey, Iran and Armenia meet and is a convenient destination if you are headed north to Yerevan, or Tehran to the south-east. If you heard the name Doğubeyazıt pronounced correctly you would understand the derivation of our moniker.

I was heading there from Mt Nemrut, a little to the west, where I had been to see the giant statues at the summit.

village on road to Nemrut summit

mt nemrut

me for scale

I had crossed Lake Van, meandered around the Rock Of Van (which, if you know your history has inscriptions dating back to 1300BC), searched Van vainly for a cat (any local cat would have sufficed). And then caught a mini bus north eastwards across the most wonderful landscape imaginable.

Desert, lava fields looking like meadows of shiny black toffee, eroded river beds that resembled a mini Grand Canyon, and whirling dust. As we approached Doğubeyazıt at sunset across the plains that skirted several extinct volcanoes, a lightning storm lit up the sky.

The reason I was out this far East was to get a glimpse of the fabled Mount Ararat - that of the supposed last resting place of Noah's Ark. (Also I was harbouring a secret desire that I might find an Ark perched on Ararat in a Snowdome at some market stall somewhere. But that particular pleasure was denied me.)

I checked into my (cheap) hotel and met the very affable owner and his wife. The owner was a stereotypical, slighly rotund middle aged Turkish man who wouldn't have looked out of place wearing a fez. (But of course the fez was banned in Turkey in the 1920's as part of the country's modernisation process). Like most of the Turkish men I interacted with, he was very keen to practice his English.

This can become wearisome at times, especially if it occurs regularly on an hourly and daily basis. But I was feeling relaxed and unpestered so I gave generously of my time. Besides - it helps pay back some of the incredible generosity given by perfect strangers whilst travelling the world.

And so the conversation (usually) goes: "Hello. How are you? Where are you from? What is your name? How old are you? Are you married? What is your job? Are you on holidays? And this one strayed little from the formula. But once past the usual phrases it became a little more difficult. But knowing some Turkish by that stage I was able to tease out more conversation.

Then at one stage he asked me "Can....I....?" and then raised an eyebrow to check if he had chosen a correct word.
"Yes..can I" I repeated reassuringly.
"Uhh..Can I..'av?"
"Yes...that is correct..Can I have..."
"Oh.. yes..uhh..can I 'av..uhh... a keez?"
"I'm sorry!!?
"Can I 'av a keez?"
And just to reinforce his request he puckered up and made kissing noises.
"Well, I don't think so."

The following morning I took a stroll 5km or so out of town and up one of the many hills surrounding Doggybiscuit. The dirt road wound its way through some large open fields on the way up to the ruins of a 17th Century Ottoman palace called İşak Paşa Sarayı.

Halfway along I stopped to take some photos of Mt Ararat as the view was particularly good. But no sooner had I swung my camera up to my eyes than out of nowhere a soldier came running, waving his rifle and gesticulating wildly that photos were forbidden. It was then that I began to be aware that in the fields on either side of the road were in fact an abundance of military vehicles under camouflage netting.

So I hastened on up the hillside to the palace.

On the way back down several hours later I was very careful not to take out my camera. But as I walked, suddenly on the other side of the road to my last confrontation, yet another soldier came walking across the fields calling out "Hey..Johnny..." and beckoning me over to the fence.

As my name was not Johnny I prudently kept walking.
"Hey Johnny..Johnny..come here."
He became quite insistent. And one thing I have learned in my years of worldly travel is that it is not wise to ignore a man with a gun.

So I slowly edged my way closer to the fence. Fortunately there was a kind of culvert between the road and the fence which provided me with a practical barrier from the soldier in question.

By this time he was right at the fence. He had one hand hidden suspiciously behind his back.

"Hello Johnny. Where you from?"
"Oh that is good. I like Australia. Here.. for you."

And with that he lobbed from behind his back a large bunch of wildflowers tied together with reed which he must have spent a good part of the day picking while on sentry duty.

So what was I to do?

I took them back with me and gave them to the hotel owner.

işak paşa sarayı

around işak paşa

back of the palace

palace doorway

distant doğubeyazıt

behind the palace