Sydney: gets its glamp on!

Sydney: gets its glamp on!

Mmmm, damn traffic first thing in the morning. It’s only 7am. I open my eyes, crawl out of bed and check what is outside my accommodation. It’s a hydrofoil gliding past me on Sydney Harbour.
Waking up on an island in the harbour is a world away from one of the great cities of the planet. I’m on Cockatoo Island a mere ferry ride from the ‘mainland’ and the gateway city to Australia, Sydney, and sitting in a tent on an island that is chock full of history, a multi-layered past, a modern invitation and the odd ghost or two.
It is the largest island in the harbour (UNESCO World-Heritage- listed) that is up for a visit, a stay and the past and present to explore.
I’m in a cool little two-person tent on stretch bed, covered in a fluffy Donna, windows / flaps up to let the sunshine and the moonlight in. I’m ‘glamping’.

Cockatoo Island glamping sunset
With winter almost upon Sydney, it’s the perfect time to come glamping on Cockatoo Island. Cool nights and sunny, blue sky days lend themselves to walks around the island to see each site where the history is on display. Nights are spent around the fire pit meeting new friends before zipping up for the night.


There are lovely apartments to stay in too up on the top of the island and a home for families to fill.
Cockatoo Island was called Wareamah by the original people, of the Eora Nation.
The Eora people would paddle canoes from the mainland to the island to perform sacred ceremony. After colonisation the indigenous people were relegated to remote parts of the mainland.

Cockatoo Island campground
During the years of early colonisation the island was a convict precinct with an horrendous prison history and you can see the amazing work done on the huge sandstone cuts done by hand by prisoners living on water and one meal a day between 1839-1869. Explore the sad, solitary cells and be grateful you weren’t around then – especially as a villain.


The precinct also housed some unfortunate girls in the reform school. The Biloela site is where you might meet your first ghosts.
The island was a productive and important as a major shipbuilding centre. There are fascinating tales to be read here of the dockyard workers.
The industrial, colonial and maritime history are part and parcel of the wonderful Cockatoo Island experience.

Enjoy Lunch at Societe Overboard
It’s also a fab venue for special events and festivals ( check out the website).
Visit the Dog Leg Tunnel Cinema and see historical videos of Cockatoo Island; activities for hire include tennis, basketball, quoits and croquet; you can watch volunteers bring the island’s machinery back to life at the Restoration Workshop; get your camera or your phone out to capture the gritty and grunty industrial buildings and the beautiful vistas of the surrounding harbour – share the images #cockatooisland; enjoy cafe life in one of the cafes and there are free electric barbecues near the Visitors Centre.


It’s free to enter the island and the ferry is caught at Circular Quay.
So what do you fancy? Cosy glamping or perhaps luxury accommodation in a heritage house or apartment. Maybe a night in each . . . . for a million dollar view.

Writer Bev Malzard was a guest of the Harbour Trust’s Cockatoo Island. She walked the island during the day but was a scaredy cat and didn’t do the ghost walk.
FACT There are no cockatoos on Cockatoo Island.

Visit: Cockatoo Island

NSW transport

Inside the glamping tent, Cockatoo Island Credit - Geoff Magee

Advertisements

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.


o

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!

 photo 6

 

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:

P1030455

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.

Photo 2

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.

photo.3 JPG

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.

photo 4

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.

photo. 8JPG

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.

_IGP1501

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.

_IGP1514

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.

_IGP1523

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.

_IGP1530

 

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.

_IGP1594

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.

_IGP1542

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.

_IGP1557

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.

_IGP1555

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.