Anzac Day – Lest We Forget

Anzac Day – Lest We Forget

In Australia (for my overseas readers) we honour the soldiers who fought for their country in past wars that they were involved in. On the 25th of April it’s Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Day.

I’ve serendipitously arrived in countries that have similar traditions, Veterans Day in the USA, Ochi (No) Day in Greece plus Greece’s Independence Day and Armed Forces Day in Britain. And there must be many marches/processions around the globe – as there would be a rare country that wasn’t involved in a minor political skirmish or a major. all out war in the past or in the present..

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Australian 1st Division troops march through the London streets on the anniversary of the first Anzac Day in 1916. Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament can be seen. 

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In Sydney in 1916, one year after WWI ended, wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the march in convoys of cars, attended by nurses.

I have a complicated emotional history with Anzac Day. When I was a child it was a tradition that we went to the march (always called ‘the march’) in Sydney – my mother, myself and my little sister. We would watch the veterans from the WWI on through to Korea march by or be transported in the back of an open car. We, and the thick crowd would clap and wave our flags. Waving at our father – for we knew not what. He had never spoken about the raid on Darwin which I found out he had been under serving as a young lad who lied about his age to join the army.

Darwin being bombed – 9 February 1942.

At the end of the long march, we would head to Hyde Park to eat sandwiches and drink cordial that my mother had made. Our father would join us before he headed off to the pub to meet up with his army buddies. To me this was a heady thing. Who were these men, what did they talk about. As a kid I had no concept of war and participated in Anzac Day like it was Christmas Day or the Queens Birthday – some sort of celebration.

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Two young men went off to war, one went to the army (my father Bill Wroe) and one went to the navy (uncle Bert Wroe).

While my father was in the pub involved with secret men’s business we went up to Kings Cross – notorious for Bohemians and gangsters in the late 50s. My colourful aunty Jean had a flat there and somehow my mother and the aunties disappeared and us cousins just roamed the Kings X streets. We hung around the pubs as every space was taken up with blokes playing two-up. There was a lot of change dropped by careless punters and we cleaned up. The Greek fish’n’chip shop in Darlinghurst Road got most of the booty as we feasted on chips, scallops, and battered savs.

These were idyllic days. And never an inquiring mind when at my grandmother’s as I gazed at the oval picture frames holding images of my great uncles. My nan said that she “lost four of her brothers in the war” – and all I thought that how could you lose four men. Where did they get lost?

Marching in the 1950s.

But as I grew older and the Vietnam War was front of mind and claiming space in the nightly TV news, I became enraged at the idea of a lottery, a barrel full of names where a young man of 19 years of age would be stamped on a ticket and they would be conscripted into the army to go fight a war in Indochina where nobody of their tender age even knew where it was. So I turned my back on Anzac Day and protested in the streets against the war. This wasn’t about the soldiers, who when they returned to Australia were unfairly spurned and were given a hard time, it was about our engagement in this terrible war. When Gough Whitlam was elected to Prime Minister he declared that the war was over for Australian soldiers in Vietnam and they were to be brought home.

Sadly it was a few decades until the returned Vietnam vets were recognised and honoured for their service. And through those decades, many were fighting for compensation and assistance with the cancers they came back with from Agent Orange – a deadly poison dropped across the south Vietnamese paddy fields to starve the enemy. And many of those young men who came home died from cancer and now men into their late 60s are still suffering from PTSD.) What a dirty little war it was.

I softened towards Anzac day about 20 years ago when I was in Winton, a little town in the middle of Queensland – out the back of beyond. I had a few days there and one of those days was Anzac Day. I wanted to see how it played out in the country town.

I woke before dawn and walked to where the town’s War Memorial stood. There were probably about 30 people there. Two kids from the local Scout troop stood sentinel at the memorial, and a couple of soldiers who had driven down from Townsville (600km) were here. A couple of old guys in wheelchairs were attending wearing their best suits and rows of medals pinned to the left side. A ratty old tape recorder played a creaky version of the Last Post and as the final sound faded out a huge flock of budgerigars took to the sky as dawn was breaking. I felt my heart stop and a great sadness come over me. What were those old guys remembering?

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Winton War Memorial.

Along the way I asked my father about the bombing of Darwin and he always kept it light but said “the bastards kept on coming”. Dad was on the Ack Ack guns, he found Darwin very hot and his mates a good bunch . . . that’s all I got.

It’s funny that in the mid 60s when my parents separated that my dad went back to Darwin to meet up with his foster-brother (our Uncle Alf) and except for rare visits to Sydney he lived in Darwin until he died in 1995.

With the constant barrage of news we suffer every day from television and social media it seems like the world is on fire with war hotspots. People going crazy with grief, going crazy with rage, going crazy with a lust for blood. Will it ever end? I think not.

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Dad to Beverley and Dianne – Bill Wroe.

So for this coming Anzac Day let’s make it a day of remembrance for the fallen and for those who served and suffered. And importantly, remember the current/contemporary victims of war and how they flee their ragged and war-corrupted lands for a better and safer life – remember the grand deeds of our past – but there are less than grand and kind deeds occurring now.  Lest We Forget.

Writer Bev Malzard does not attend ANZAC marches in Sydney now and cannot watch it on TV as she tends to tear up. Does this happen because of age, sentimentality, empathy or a greater understanding of the world? Who knows, but as she slips back into hippiedom, she’s back on the streets crying out “make love, not war”.

 

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How to get lost

How to get lost

OR – the road less travelled or driving miss crazy . . .or ‘are we there yet?’ 

At a pinch I could probably perform emergency surgery, whip up and decorate a four-tiered wedding cake, put out a bush fire, sail single-handed from Sydney to Auckland and hand tool a pair of leather boots. BUT I can’t drive. I don’t want to drive. And I have travelled all around the world without having to drive and am a well-travelled public transport passenger. (Never ride a bus or train without having a book at hand.)

And I don’t think I’m a bludger – don’t expect to be chauffeured like a princess but I do appreciate driving with my partner and friends.

I did try driving years ago and almost went into a wall in Maroubra and I actually drove into a river up the north coast of NSW. But you don’t need to hear the circumstances, it was a long time ago.

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This past weekend I went on a road trip with an old friend. Now, we are both pretty smart women, my friend an excellent driver and travelling companion. We were driving from Sydney to Cooma, with a short coffee stop and another lunch stop. It is 397km from Sydney to Cooma and should take 4 hours driving. We ended up doing 605km and the trip took 8 hours.

I don’t know how this happens. From Sydney – Cooma is south. You just drive DOWN the road.

We ducked off the Motorway for a little lunch in Jugiong and then when we came back on the highway it felt wrong so we did an emergency u-turn and ended up on the outskirts of Yass – TWICE. Hysteria was building and uncontrolled laughing was the noise of the hour. We had a map, both of us had GPS’ in our phones which we used and with my immaculate sense of direction and navigation skills we should have sailed down the freeways with the utmost confidence of a perfect ‘getting there and arriving’ result.

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We mulled the disastrous timing over and remembered several times we had been together and got lost. We had another weekend away just out of Sydney and were driving up and down a road looking for a haunted property (that’s another story) before we saw the sign hidden by lack of light – or maybe it wasn’t there and decided to appear to taunt us. Same trip we lost a major town – Camden! How did that happen?

You could plonk me down in the middle of a foreign city and I would find the way to where I had to go, but co-piloting with my old mate – can’t trust we’ll get there on time.

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Is it a Sliding Doors phenomenon? A car-cursed thing? Because we talk too much and get distracted? Or my explanation is that the Twilight Zone has the door open for us at all times.

Anyway, we reached Cooma as I predicted we would. Next day we knew exactly how to drive to Nimmitabel on the Monaro Highway. Had brekkie in town and popped into the tourist bureau to pick up a little local info. Re-checked our route out-of-town (only to be polite, I knew where to go) and the woman behind the counter gave us totally different directions .. . and she was totally right. Geez.

The rest of the weekend went swimmingly perfect.

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An overnight at a B&B in Nimmitabel with old friends, an encounter with a large wombat (whom my old friend rescued and is giving a five-star life before it goes back into the wild), great food and hospitality. We gave permission to our friends to tell the tale of our trip down at dinner parties – and they thought ‘ya couldn’t make that up’.

Journey Jottings:

  • Jugiong (despite its treacherous navigation interruptions is a top place for lunch); the countryside from there and further south is soooooo dry you can imagine it crackling – but when you see the colour of the Monaro Plains – it’s white-hot under the sun and not a green blade of grass to be seen.
  • Friday night in Cooma and the joint ain’t jumpin’. Found a fab Lebanese restaurant ‘Roses’ for dinner – but didn’t even see a lone dog taking itself for a walk through town.
  • Stayed at the only accommodation in Nimmitabel, the Royal Arms B&B (originally an old coaching in I believe). Comfy, warm and welcoming. Not too flash but clean and quirky and did the trick for a good night’s sleep.

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  • AND because we were making such brilliant time driving back to Sydney we stopped in at Goulburn (Australia’s first inland city) to have a power lunch at The Paragon cafe.

    Vanilla Slice; Greek salad courtesy Garry Malzard; Paragon Restaurant.

Writer, Bev Malzard often dreams that she is in the middle of an emergency situation and has to drive someone to safety – no problems at all. Wonder what that means. And she was exaggerating in the first paragraph.

P.S/ Does anyone else have random Geographical Hiccups when they are driving?

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Royal Arms B&B royalarms.nimmitabel@gmail.com

Cooma Visitors Centre http://www.visitcooma.com.au Cooma

Roses Restaurant

Paragon Cooma

Who put the PORT into PORTUGAL?

Who put the PORT into PORTUGAL?

Portugal’s robust and vibrant small city of the north, Porto, is more than the sum of its many and varied bridges.

 I was coming to the end of a cruise along the silky Douro River in Portugal through an old part of the world that is thus far unspoilt, mellow and innocent of mass tourism at its most voracious.

We had visited vineyards that have been producing wine for hundreds of years, walked through sleepy, ancient villages and skipped across the border to take on Spain for on sunny afternoon.

But the cruise was at an end and a new landing and a new city was revving up the anticipation endorphins.

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The vessel was coming to where the river meets the sea, through the city of Porto.

This is an aged city and under a brilliant blue sky the view of the built-up apartments on the edge of the shore and the emergence of bridge after bridge, from wrought iron to modern concrete construction gives the river an energetic, gleeful aura.

Port is high spirited, a charming place, jam-packed with solid buildings, Roman ramparts, higgledy piggledy alleyways, wide open Parisian style town squares, elegant boutiques, crumbling shop facades, blue and white ceramic tiled walls and wandering scruffy, off-hand dogs. Baroque churches display excessive gold decoration and overwhelming artwork, and cliff tops use the city as drapery along them. Upcountry attitude prevails here and the tripeiros (Porto locals) are hard working and have been quoted as saying: “we earn the money and Lisbon spends it”. Intercity rivalry?

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Along the serene Douro River steep sided, terraced vineyards produce the ‘gold’ of the region – port wine. It makes its way down to Porto, named for the potent elixir and it was Porto that put ‘Porto’ into Portugal.

The main part of Porto sits on the craggy bluffs east of the mouth of the Douro River. Avenida dos Aliados is a broad avenue running through the central part of the city lined with handsome, intricately detailed, Art Nouveau buildings.

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How could one resist taking this picture of a Portuguese cat on a hot tiled roof.

South of this avenue is the Ribeira district, the historic heartbeat and an eclectic and attractive neighbourhood.

Alongside the riverside promenade I view the traditional boats (barco rabelos) that used to ferry the port wine down the river. From here you can see wine lodges across the river in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, a busy precinct but accessible, friendly and easy to navigate. It’s not too tricked up and its shabbiness conveys warmth and hospitality.

One of the bridges of the city is pretty special – the double decker Ponte Dom Luis I was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel (yes, that one). The top deck is for pedestrians and one of the city’s metro lines and the bottom deck carries cars and trucks.

Nearby to Avenida dos Aliados is the gorgeous San Bento railway station. It’s so glamorous: there’s huge Portuguese tiled artwork (azulejos) depicting battle scenes and the history of local public transport – no battles were fought over a tram line!

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One of my fave pictures ever. It was a scorcher and in the middle of town (Porto), the kids were coolong off the way kids do.

Not far from the avenue is the pedestrian ‘mall’, Rua  Santa Catarina.

This is the main shopping district of the area, with a host of shops for clothes, shoes, souvenirs and homewares and there are many cafes.

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Black-suited, bow-tied waiters swiftly navigate crowded coffee houses balancing little silver trays bearing pastries, or cups of coffee.

The atmosphere in any eating or drinking establishment is vibrant and I was swept up in the joy of eating out really means – serious business.

On a corner in the shopping district is a building that startles with its glorious façade. The Capela das Almas is covered in lustrous blue azulejos. An integral part of Portuguese culture, azulejos typically are painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles that decorate the inside and outside of rooms, homes, and public buildings throughout Portugal. Not only decorative, they help control the temperature inside the buildings. The Moors introduced them to Spain and Portugal after learning about the azulejos from the Persians.

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THE ART OF THE TART

Porto people have the nickname ‘tripeiros’, meaning ‘tripe eaters. And therein hangs a tale.

When Henry the Navigator was preparing to sail to Morocco in 1415, Porto’s loyal citizens donated their best meat to the expedition, keeping the offal for themselves which earned them the nickname – tripeiros.

Fish, fish and more fish also suited me here but as well as an obsession with the local sardines I couldn’t get enough of the pastries. Ah, those buttery, fragrant Portuguese tarts, enough to melt a heart of stone.

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And what is a visit to Porto without a tipple of the ‘gold’. You can buy direct from the warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia but it’s nice to ask for a glass in a restaurant or café and join in the pleasant imbibing of Portugal’s best drop with the locals.

Writer Bev Malzard is lucky enough to live in the inner west suburb of Petersham in Sydney – locally know as ‘Portugal’. She was not sponsored to say this but heartily recommends ‘Sweet Belem’ pastry shop for the best Portuguese tarts (and many other sweet treasures) to be had in Sydney. She can be seen lurking around the shop at regular intervals . . .

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https://www.visitportugal.com

Portugal 

 

 

 

Oh Vienna!

Oh Vienna!

Forever young, Vienna knows how to enjoy herself and share the love.

 (Mercer’s 20th annual Quality of Living survey recently announced that Vienna topped the world’s most liveable city list for the ninth consecutive year. See link at bottom of article.)

Landlocked and lovely, that’s Austria. A country of modest proportions that is neatly wrapped into a package that contains almost everything a visitor could desire. There’s the sounds of music, Mozart, mountains, strudel, lakes, cakes, castles and mighty fine museums, sparkling Christmas markets and brilliant ski fields – in fact the perfect place for a European holiday.

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And top of the delicious Austrian cake is the capital and Grand Dame of the country – big, bold, hip and a work of exquisite art – Vienna.

Let Vienna be the one for you! A city that has not only rested on its elegant, pedigree laurels – it trims and reinvents them at regular intervals.

Discover Vienna by walking! The city reveals treasures around every corner. Start your day with a purposeful amble along and around the Ringstrasse – the road that leads to all things cultural and historic. Pedestrian precincts take in the grand architecture from Baroque to Art Deco and 70s glass houses.

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Switch between the sights of the magnificent Vienna State Opera House to a clutch of old-school and hip and happening cafes – yes, coffee and café culture reigns supreme here . . . along with music, cakes and the best collection of museums in the world.

The city encourages and nurtures all cultural pursuits and galleries and museums have constantly changing exhibitions for young artists. Museums include left-of-field subjects such as Schnapps; Textiles; Undertakers; Graphic Artists, Torture and many more.

But the classic stalwarts are the Kunsthistoriches Museum; Leopold; Kunst Haus Wien; Liechtenstein Palace and for equine magnificence – the Lipizzaner Museum.

There are certain attractions to see in Vienna and experiences not to be missed. My considered and totally biased opinion is for you to follow my lead:

  • As Vienna’s cultural ascendancy continues to rise each year – head to any exhibition that’s on. From Gothic to Biedemeier to classic art to modern – it’s here.
  • Book for an evening at the Vienna State Opera House – even if you’ve never seen an opera before – time to change your mind set.
  • Must tastes are: Tafelspitz (slow boiled beef) served with horseradish and chive sauce; Vienna Schnitzel (the king of the table), tender flat veal, crumbed and served cooked to a golden colour – and usually very large servings.
  • Obtain a list of restaurants from the tourism bureau and that way you can eat your way through the entire menu of the Hapsburg Empire plus the delights of the new world.
  • Mixing old and new is de rigueur in Vienna so sample the city’s finest traditional food and signature tiny sandwiches at Zum Schwarzen Kameel – The Black Camel – a great place to start your food adventure in the city.
  • Now, let’s get serious about cakes and pastries! Patisseries are the sweet temples of our time and they include the famous Demel and Schokov, bakery and coffee house that display cream pastries and cakes that will bring a little tear of happiness to your eye and a life-changing experience to your mouth. Sacher Torte reigns supreme in all its glossy, chocolaty gorgeousness. You can purchase the Sacher Torte around town, but it’s all about the occasion when you have cake and coffee at the Hotel Sacher (best to go to the source).
  • Take an evening stroll through the Naschmarkt, the city’s fresh food open market selling olives, cheeses, oil, meats and sauerkraut from huge vats.

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  • Coffee, coffee, coffee. No trip to Vienna is complete without a visit to a coffee house, an institution ingrained in the DNA of the Viennese. Enter the world of aroma and elegance and very good taste. Try a Kleiner Schwarzer – well before ‘espresso’ was invented, this little ‘shot’ of black coffee invigorated Vienna’s populace. And for the milk fanciers, go for a Melange – the ‘mixture’ that is quintessentially Viennese – a perfect marriage between coffee, milk and textured milk foam – with a pastry or apfelstrudel of course.
  • Favourite coffee houses include: vintage Cafe Central, Kleines Cafe, Cafe Korb, Cafe Diglas and Demel.
  • Go see the famous white horses performing at the Lipizzaner Show – the Spanish Riding School, for precision and tradition on show with magnificent horses.
  • Love a palace? There are tours through the divine 18th century Schonbrunn Palace. The lavish rococo rooms leave a lasting impression – think gold, gold, gold.
  • Vienna is a green place with serene parks. Walk through the Volksgarten, Stadtpark and Burggarten for fragrant roses and old trees that have many tales to tell.
  • Shopping . . . and there’s lots. The main hub for shopping is the city centre where fashion – is the fashion. Also there are many small boutiques specialising in young designers’ work. Watches, leather, homewares are being created by designers of diverse origins. And if you can bypass a snow globe there are beautiful souvenirs to purchase that are not kitsch or cliché. Souvenirs as gifts – if you can bear to part with them.

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It’s difficult to sum Vienna up on a couple of pages, Hard to explain its vibrant personality, it’s fierce loyalty to tradition and its bold acceptance of the new and adventurous. The art of enjoyment is what Vienna is about.

World’s most liveable cities for 2018

TIP: Buy a Vienna Card on arrival for visits to lots of attractions and transport – great value.

AND take a ride in a Fiaka.

Writer, Bev Malzard has had many culinary excursions in Vienna and has eaten every dish mentioned above. And she has a little guilty secret that should now be told. She was given a gift of a Sacher Torte, wrapped safely in cellophane and packed into a stylish balsa wood presentation box. It wasn’t a giant cake but one that would nicely feed six well-mannered mouths. She had a morning to kill and sensibly missed breakfast as the long flight back to Sydney from Vienna would be adding a few calories to her over-indulged body. After packing, settling back for a meditative hour or so she thought a cup of tea would be nice. And that damn box of cake began to rattle and hum! She unpacked the cake and ate the entire thing – washed it down with several cups of tea – and felt no shame.

But she was awake for almost the entire flight to Dubai, and on to Sydney. The amount of sugar she had digested had come out to play for 12 hours. The lesson learned? Only eat half the cake in one sitting.

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Bali cooking class

Bali cooking class

I hadn’t planned to do anything strenuous on a recent holiday in Bali – just sleep, eat, swim. But life often has other plans. We had been in Ubud for a couple of days, happened upon a royal cremation that saw a few thousand people converge on the cultural and spiritual town of Ubud, about an hour’s drive from the capital Denpasar. Well, that was a colourful and jolly affair.

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The following day we did some slow sightseeing outside of town and then took a walk down a back road in Ubud. About to turn back because of the fierce heat and I spied the sign ‘Goya’ at the entrance of somewhere that looked rather fancy. Then a chap asked us if we’d like to take a look at the resort. Sure.

We walked through a spacious foyer breezeway and then stepped down and followed a path lined with tall bamboo crowding to create dappled shade.

Out of the shade and in front of us was an infinity pool (they are de rigueur in Bali), and to the left a canopy covered a lovely outdoor restaurant. Now, how does this happen? We talked to the staff for a few minutes and next thing, we had signed up for a cooking class to be held the following day.

I had partaken in a few cooking classes in the past, they were hands on but not comprehensive – maybe some chopping, plating up or dipping rice paper sheets into hot water. This was the real deal. Our chef was with us every step of the way. We were introduced to the variety of spices, and how to prepare the ingredients. We cut, diced, shaved and mortar and pestle wrestled a sambal into submission.

Despite the heat we toiled towards a fine lunch. The sambal spice was included in the Chicken Lawar, Pepes Ikan (barramundi) steamed inside banana leaf). Dessert was Sumping nangka (jack fruit).

Once we finished cooking the meal we were walked to a little cabana, were we given our certificates for being the best cooks ever to attend a cooking class here!

We ate really good food in Bali over an eight-day period BUT this was the best meal of all. True.

Included in the price of $AU45, is the class for a couple of hours, a reserved table to eat lunch and a video and pictures taken and emailed to us (these are the pics and the video) and for an extra $5 you can stay and swim in the infinity pool afterwards.

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For details: Goya, Bali cooking class  www.goyaboutiqueresort.com email: goya@goyaboutiqueresort.com

Writer Bev Malzard paid for this class herself and recommends the experience as fun and filling! Just a tip, wear makeup or tidy up for the video – she didn’t but thinks it could have been a winner as a Masterchef audition!

 

 

USA: get your kicks on Route 66

USA: get your kicks on Route 66

A pilgrimage is what a drive along Route 66 is today. The fabled road lives in songs and literature and just won’t fade away. This is America’s Main Street.

In the earliest days of television in Australia, the black and white screen flickered with many (mostly) American series to entertain the young minds of the babyboomers: Mickey Mouse Club (remember Annette Funnicello?); CheyenneSugarfoot and Rawhide (cowboy cool dudes) and family entertainment – The Nelsons (oh Ricky!);The Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best. But for us growing, restless teenagers of the time this was ‘too square’, no grunt at all. Bandstand was a constant and we got our rock’n’roll edge with Six O’Clock Rock but drama to get our motor running? No.


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Then in the early 60s along came Route 66, edgy, and supremely cool; two guys in a sleek convertible Corvette heading from Chicago to LA . . . with incidents and episodes along the way.  Tod and Buzz slicked back their hair, got moody, threw on their duffle coats and jumped in the car – to drive.

We may not have heard the early song by Nat King Cole – well, it was a recorded in 1946 but Get Your Kicks on Route 66 is embedded in everyone’s musical memory. And our generation may not have that restless seed of youth blossoming as it did in the 60s but the Mother Road waits for the adventurous!

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The romanticised highway represents a transition from dirt road to super-highway. Route 66 was the shining beacon as to the importance of the automobile as a new world achievement – and to the American people it symbolised the new freedom and mobility for every person who owned and drove their car. Route 66 was born in 1926, pieced together from a network of existing trails and anonymous roads. It’s the Mother Road that carried life along the highway from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Interstate Highways System took it over in the 1950s and much of old Route 66 was decertified and became a secondary road, a highway of broken dreams and a mythical place that stranded small towns and businesses with cruel bypasses.

Today it’s the road to a new adventure – a link to the past with an air of freedom. In the past decade the idea of Route 66 has been reinvigorated and has made a rock’n’roll kind of comeback – warts and all.

Driving to find the glory days you don’t have to go far out from Los Angeles and for a couple of hundred miles discover what’s happening along the way.

Route 66 and beyond can work nicely if you:

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Head out of LA and visit Big Bear Lake, Yucca Valley. Set in the heart of the San Bernadino Mountains, Big Bear Lake and surrounds is startlingly beautiful country with much to do for fun: off-road adventure in a Pinzgauer 4WD – hot to trot and loads of fun; Big Bear Village has a rustic charm with a sophisticated edge – the coffee in town is damn good too!

 Yucca Valley is reached after a drive that descends through a layered spread of heavily grassed land to almost paint-by-numbers clarity in the tapestry effect of the landscape. And in the distance a tiny sliver of snow is glimpsed on the top of the San Bernadino Mountains.

There’s a hometown atmosphere and this ‘High Desert’ region is welcoming and eye opening for its nature and cultural heritage. And if you want to meet the locals – they are the friendliest people around, just drop by Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneering Palace for mesquite barbecue chow and you’ll enter an establishment  plonked on the side of the road that looks deserted except for a few utes parked out front. Walk through the doors and it’s packed, there are waitresses zooming around the tables and the beer is flowing and the music is about to start – hip and happening! Step out the backdoor and you are in the old west.

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Pioneertown was founded by a group of Hollywood investors in 1946 with dreams of creating a living movie set. The 1870s ‘frontier town’ with authentic facades never did take off but folk had fun there and several of the properties are working sets with art and craft people doing their thing.

Hit the highway and drive through the empty, lonely landscape until you come to the sublime (if you love a desert park) Joshua Tree National Park.

 In the park is the Desert Queen Ranch, a crumbling reminder of the toughness of this country and the remains here tell the life story of Bill Keys’ family – the  trials, triumphs and tribulations. Keys lived there from 1910 until his death in 1969.

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Bill Keys was a resourceful man who was the Desert Donald Trump of his day – pursuing mining and ranching and taking every opportunity to make a killing – which he actually did. He lived on the isolated ranch with his wife and seven children, three of whom are buried there.

During a property dispute Keys shot and killed a man and was convicted of murder and spent a few years in the big house educating himself. (He was paroled in 1950 and was pardoned in 1956 through the efforts of Earle Stanley Garner, author of the Perry Mason novels.)

The original homestead is still there plus outbuildings, a schoolhouse, farm and mining equipment and old truck chassis. The elements are rusting and corroding the debris from Bill Keys’ empire – to restore it or let it crumble back to the earth – that’s still being debated.

Even though it’s a remote and strange desert park, Joshua Tree has drawn some pretty interesting characters – including lots of alien/spaceship sightings. Oddly, the Andreas Fault Line is visible in parts of the park and juts out of the earth like a dragon’s spine. Cattle rustlers are legendary and Keith Richards and Graham Harrison sat out here and took copious amounts of drugs while waiting to have a close encounter with a UFO . . .

In keeping with the mystical/hippy/left-over60s vibe of the area much of the interesting stuff of the area has survived and thrived.

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The ‘Integratron’ is an acoustically perfect tabernacle dome and energy machine sited on a powerful geometric vortex in the magical Mojave Desert. (This was created by George Van Tassle, and is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle drawings and the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions of extraterrestrials – that’s the speil anyway.) Whatever floats your boat out here but climbing up to the platform to lie down while someone rims ceramic bowls is quite something – a resonating sound bath indeed.

The historic route continues to evolve as states repair and redirect the road. Entering Amboy, there’s the classic Route 66 stamped on the road in front of a Roy’s Motel sign – classic 60s and a poor old motel that is crying in the shadows for someone to bring back its retro coolness. Faded and atmospheric, the location is not as neglected at is seems. It’s used for commercials and movies – the no-longer-a- town Amboy, Roy’s Motel and Cafe has a certain staying power. A buyer paid cash (lots) for the site in 2005 and has promised to preserve the town and reopen Roy’s.

 (The writer cruised into Amboy and was excited to see about a dozen gleaming, shiny black and silver clad Harley Davidson’s – this is where it’s happening she thinks. Just the backdrop for the ‘Wild Ones’; as she drew closer to the bikies – she noticed as they were decked out in denim and leather, chains, bandanas and snake-hipped girls by their sides – they were all drinking Coca-Cola. This was a meeting for the Christian Motorcyclists Association, riding Route 66 to Chicago – it was big, but these boys weren’t going to be bad!)

Away from the bustling metropolis of ‘town’ we started to see the beauty and drama of the Mojave National Preserve – sand dunes lead to volcanic cones, craters became mirage-like salt pans and sand was accumulated in vast amounts everywhere the eye could see – where does it come from?

We cruise past the Whiting Brothers Gas Station, a relic that has been preserved and then stop for a milkshake (it had to be a milkshake) at the Bagdad Cafe (remember the film?). It is still basking in the glory of movie fame – albeit needing a bit of nip and tuck. The love this cafe draws is evidenced by notes stuck on the windows – the clientele is universal; all stopping by to take a peek at the defunct motel from the film and to order a chocolate malt!

We stop for some big town buzz and Barstow fits the bill. Amazing outlet malls here and for some real local hospitality we eat at Idle Spurs Steakhouse – a favourite in the High Desert region of Southern California. Built around the original house – these folk have been slinging steaks since 1950.

After a lazy sleep-in we keep moving west as we’ve backtracked. We stop at the extremely charming and colourful Victorville Route 66 Museum – and we’re greeted by the local lady volunteers – they are the ants pants! There is so much going on in the museum, take an hour or so to let it seep in – from The Grapes of Wrathto the Mother Road’s heyday as one of the greatest ways to experience America on driving holidays.

We wrap up our short Route 66 driving trip with a stop at the original Wigwam Motel. This motel is one of just a couple remaining of a great chain. The wigwams are neat as pins and there’s the place beside them to park your car. This is one of two only (the other is in Holbrook, Arizona)  Wigwam Motels still in business to offer hospitality to drivers on Route 66.

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Now stationary, I ponder America’s amazing history – this small part of the vast continent. Roads criss-crossing the country, frenzied drivers taking the freeways, highways and byways, toll roads, side lanes and flyovers – is the romance still there for them, behind the wheel does it still feel that it’s the way to claim the ground under their feet or is it like Route 66, a fabled Main Street where driving trip from A to B is the ribbon that unites more than an idea?
 www.eaglerider.com (to hire Motorcycles ); www.wigwammotel.com

 

 

How to explore Umbria, Italy

How to explore Umbria, Italy

If it wasn’t for the Etruscans, there might not be olive oil or wine in this region of Italy. Let’s head to the hilltop fortress towns of Umbria and enjoy the legacy of the ancient invaders.

It had been a carb-overload lunch hosted by chef and pastamaking teacher Lorenzo Polegri, a showman and a man of smiles and passion as he demonstrated how to perfect the art of pasta making. None of us in our group were very talented but who cares? We enjoyed our repast in Ristorante Zeppelin in the quiet midday ambience of the mediaeval Umbrian town of Orvieto.

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This town, a natural fortress, is one of the many glorious fortified towns and cities of the Umbrian region, which includes the spiritually robust Assisi, the glorious mystery of Perugia and this elegant site of Orvieto, all founded by the very late, lamented Etruscans who disappeared into the emerging Roman empire in the third century BC.

After eating food fit for Etruscan epicureans, we scattered to waddle into the narrow curved streets of this city bathed in autumnal afternoon light.

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Curving past small shops, drifting along, I lifted my eyes and saw the most confoundingly beautiful structure – a green and white striped cathedral – a bold statement against the stark blue sky – with intricate, delicate relief carvings on the capitals with sumptuous cornerstones. The bold marble panels adorn the façade and are respected as one of the masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It may not be the biggest and the best in the world – but this striped beauty captured my heart.

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Orvieto Cathedral is one of Italy’s most celebrated cathedrals. The 14th century edifice was built between 1290 and 1500 and she shines as brightly as ever. Built under papal direction, the building is famous for its mosaic inlay facade.

Duomo di Orvieto is widely considered the most glorious example of Italian Gothic. A miracle is said to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a travelling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.

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Next stop along the way on our escourted journey is the jewel of Umbria, Perugia. Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria and covers a high hilltop around the area. Another Etruscan beauty, Perugia is known for its universities (the first founded in 1308) and is celebrated for its culture and artistic pursuits.

The city has centuries of tumultuous religious and political (same thing then) history and all of it immersed in the stone here.

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The Rocca Paolina was the ‘underground’ city, built in 1373 at the then highest part of the town. The richest merchants of 16th century Perugia lived here but it was destroyed by local citizens in an uprising provoked by the Pope. The town disappeared but the streets have been uncovered and the mediaeval homes that were a platform for the new fortress are now on show.

The stone houses with Gothic doorways and tunnels look as if they are waiting for people to go about their daily business. The atmospheric route through the fortress by escalators take you through Rocca Paolina under the portico of Palazzo del Governo.

We headed out into the night and into the strange and curious labyrinthine streets underground. After ascending to ‘uptown Perugia’ to the historic centre, in a state of wonderment we found ourselves in the vigorous city of Perugia, with its night lights on and aromas enticing us into a 21st century pizza house.

Next stop across the Umbrian Valley is the mother ship of holy hilltop fortress cities: Assisi. Birthplace (in 1182) of Italy’s favourite saint, Francis, the city is always buzzing with pilgrims.

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Saint Francis and female favourite Saint Clare are the drawcards for the fans. The bodies of both saints were discovered in 1818 and luckily they hadn’t been tampered with by grave robbers. For centuries, holy relics had done great business across Europe.

So what is left (bones of Saint Francis) and preserved remains of Saint Clare is on show as the faithful and curious pass by in snaking queues through Basilica di Santa Chiara (where Clare is) and the Basilica di San Francesco.

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There are fine examples of Giotto’s frescoes and Cimabue’s painting to be viewed and other cultural attractions includes many little pottery statues of chubby monks and waving popes. And for fans of Norberto, the famous Umbrian painter, there’s a small gallery with an excellent variety of fine prints to aquire.

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It feels like we’ve ticked off the holy trinity of hill towns in Umbria and look forward to the next stop in Tuscany. More and more I appreciate the fact that we enjoy these splendid visits, and afterwards hop back on to a comfy coach which takes us to our next stop. So far we have been transported from Rome, taken to ‘secret places’, had intimate meals with welcoming local folk, and been invited into authentic experiences. Each night we have been put to bed, well fed and happy, in lovely hotels.

As we anticipate lunch and tastings of the local olive oil, and a meal of regional cooking in another handsome hill town – this time Spello, with its historic centre still enveloped by Roman walls. We stretch our legs in the coach, chat about the marvellous day we have had and agree that those Etruscans knew a thing or two about leaving an amazing legacy in Umbria.

Writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Insight Vaations insightvacations.com.au and found the itinerary exciting and edifying. She recommends sampling gelato at every stop along the way. You will not be disappointed.