Get outta town – or slow travel on weekends

Get outta town – or slow travel on weekends

Winter in Australia – all over Australia – is not a hardship. Maybe down south there’s snow and drizzle but rarely does it lock residents in their homes for too long.

Now I can only speak from my base that is Sydney, Yeah, Sydney people are pretty much big sissies in the winter from June through to August.

And even though I like to get out and about for walks I admit to taking the easy way out on a chilly day – fire on, tv on, locked in.

My partner and I decided last year to get out of town on the odd weekend the rediscover regions within a couple of hours drive time or even a cheap flight away.

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And we even ventured further than an urban adventure close to home.

Last year we flew to Melbourne and hired a car to take us the Ballarat for two nights so we could do the Silo Art Trail drive out through the western district and the Mallee. What a trip. Silo Art Trail couldn’t have been a better day – crisp cold, sunny and low flying clouds on a forever horizon.

And the experience of the illustrated silos fed our addiction to wall/outdoor art (see blog ‘Where the art is’, June 5, 2018 and ‘Painting the Town Red, June 10. 2017).

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The following day in Ballarat was crap weather, so we visited the Art Gallery (regional galleries in Australia are inspirational and impressive), grabbed lunch and went to the local movie house – a classic cinema built in the 1930s and renovated with love. After watching a blockbuster film we headed to a splendid restaurant (yes, in Ballarat) Catfish, a lauded foodie haven. And owners and chef Damien and Danielle Jones have just closed Catfish and will reopen as ‘Mr Jones’ – serving refined rustic!

A drive to Melbourne airport next day, a flight back to Sydney and we’d had an amazing weekend.

Ballarat movie theatre, a local cafe and black swans on Lake Wendouree.

Another getaway was a drive to Wisemans Ferry, a gentle area of the historic and beautiful Hawkesbury River. A day was spent walking the old convict road, reading up on the past, and taking the three-minute ferry across the river. We drove on to St Albans, a remote settlement with a pub that has tales to tell of convicts and early farmers’ trials and tribulations.

(Read Kate Grenville’s book The Secret River about a 19th century story of the region.)

Our weekends are sometimes ’half weekends’, such as a trip out west of Sydney to eat classic Vietnamese food for lunch in Cabramatta and another day in Windsor, a town that has fascinating convict buildings and a bustling brunch and lunch society.

Recently we did a three-day escape from the big smoke. A drive out of town to the Blue Mountains and across the Great Dividing Range and landed at Jenolan Caves, the old Caves House continues to have repairs done and the canteen is now a groovy café and offers up good coffee and tasty lunchtime fare. But the sight of Caves House makes one delirious with speculation and imagination – wondering how the heck this came to be. The little settlement is remote from every big town with one road in and one road out – and if the weather is bad – there’s no way out for a few days.

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We took a tour though the cold caves and it was marvellous. The stunning caverns that have seen tourists and Victorian adventurers scrabble through, then walk planned paths gaze in awe at the natural architecture of millions of years’ worth of evolution and grand design wrought by time and water.

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There are some wonderful nostalgic photographs of guests here from way back where we see woman in long skirts, blouses with leg-o-mutton sleeves and wide brimmed hats, men in coats and ties and hats – all ready to clamber over rocks and indoor ‘climbing walls’.

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The following day we drove to Kanangra Boyd National Park. This has to be one of my fave natural views in the world.

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The long plateau of sandstone juts out into Kanangra Valley that has undulating, and wonderful folding green valleys below where in a long gone past indigenous tribes trod the nomadic trading route.

We sat looking over the splendour of this vast park – unsullied by crowds, roads and development. Please let it stay that way.

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Kanangra Plateau.

A drive on to Bathurst, a university town and under a big blue sky, typically really cold during winter. A dinner at a great surprise of a restaurant – Dogwood – an Aussie take on the best of American classic food, I went for the gumbo and the ‘dog’.

So, how about making a plan? Get outta town for a couple of days, change your routine and rediscover the geography of your youth or discover an urban treasure or country town within a few hours’ drive from your front door.

As we grow older time seems to be moving faster – let’s halt its progress and advocate for ‘slow travel’ close to home.

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Happy weekend travels (or sneaky weekday getaways.)

Where do you like to ‘get away’ to on weekends not too far from home?

Writer Bev Malzard is in search of the Best Pie, or Vanilla Slice in country towns. Every town or village has a window sign at the local bakery shouting its winning achievements. She keeps taste tasting along the way and quite frankly still hasn’t had the ‘best’ yet. She continues her quest.

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SPAIN: Mad for Madrid

SPAIN: Mad for Madrid

It seems that travellers are mad for Spain at the moment, and why not, cities brimming with history, aromatic with the scents of flowers and amazing food and the time-honoured hospitality of this grand old country that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

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Following is a short trip down memory lane from a couple of years back and a short but sweet 48 hours in Madrid.

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Platea Madrid.

Arriving in Madrid on a pleasant end of a summer day, we drove along tree-lined streets and were delivered to the hotel Villa Magna in the elegant Salamanca barrio (precinct). This is the time when jet-lag kicks in but it’s too exciting being in a new city and it’s afternoon – lunch time, yay.

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The fabulous Mercado de San Miguel where all sorts of divine food is at your disposal.

And this is how the eating frenzy began. First stop was a five-minute walk from the hotel to the beautifully restored and beloved Platea Madrid. The old art deco theatre has had new life breathed into it and has become a fragrant complex of tapas bars, Michelin starred restaurants and snack bars with rustic market-style décor. A cooling ale and a plate of potatas bravas (fried chunks of potato with spicy, paprika ridden tomato sauce), small bites of battered cod and some succulant slices of jamon iberico – I was hooked.

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Jamon Iberica.

And an early dinner eschewed. This was the funny part of the trip – our timing was not always conducive to being ‘hungry’. Breakfast isn’t a big deal here. Coffee and a little pastry maybe or two coffees. Lunch is from anywhere between 2pm and 4pm and if you are on a schedule, you’ll find yourself having dinner within a couple of hours after a banquet of a lunch.

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Normally, a little tapas bar has one or two specialties – this one featured grilled or stuffed mushrooms and fried chillies – and of course slices of jamon . . .

So after a quick change in my room and a serious count of the threads in the cotton sheets, we were off to  nearby Tatal, a fancy restaurant owned by Rafael Nadal and Julios Ingelsias (both of then stood us up for a shared plate). The restaurant started filling up and by the time we left at 10pm (early by local standards) the place was packed with well-dressed patrons – and a week night too.

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The following day was a series of long walks through the beautiful Buen retro Park, a visit the famous Museo Nacional Del Prado to view extraordinary paintings and sculptures by Spanish artists (Goya, Picasso, Velasquez for starters, shopping for espadrilles, finding just the right cake for afternoon tea and a final jaunt around town on a Tapas Tour – a definite must for food lovers.
Ah, Madrid, it was short, it was sweet but oh, so fine!

DSC01010With more espadrilles than you can tip toe around, they are the authentic design and made here in Madrid. Writer Bev Malzard struck it lucky when her sandals broke and she just HAD to buy three pair of espadrilles – as you do!

Tasmanian ancestral home beckons

Tasmanian ancestral home beckons

It was a dark and stormy night. How often do you get to say that and it’s true?

And it was a dark and stormy night as Hobart, the Tasmanian capital was lashed by one of the worst storms in decades.

We drove from Freycinet into Hobart as the weather picked up momentum – rain and wind worsening as we closed in on the city.

And then to find our accommodation. The gps took us up a winding road and we were high above the city that was starting to look like it was disappearing under a blanket of swirling mist.

And here we are. At Corinda.

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This glorious old home was built by Alfred Crisp, a well-to-do timber merchant who rose through the social ranks to become Lord Mayor of Hobart.  And when Julian Roberts and Chaxi Afonso Higuera recently bought Corinda in Hobart’s Glebe, they were doing much more than simply acquiring a new business. Alfred Crisp was Julian’s great, great grandfather, so when the opportunity presented itself Julian brought Corinda back into the family.

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After the Roberts bought the Victorian property, which was built on land previously used for a convict-run vegetable garden, they spent several months refurbishing and adding their personal touches. Guests stay in sumptuous heritage rooms featuring exquisite joinery crafted from fine Tasmanian timbers, such as huon pine and blackwood, as well as luxurious textiles and one of a kind antiques.

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We fell in love with Corinda straight away, and not only because we were given shelter from the storm.

We carried our bags upstairs to the sound of our footsteps clashing with the well-trod stairs, just a few creaks to remind us that our feet were among hundreds that had climbed up over the years.

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We could hear the rain pounding the windows as the wind from the south punished the front of the house. Our bedroom was warm and cosy and the bathroom was a stylish addition to the closed-in side verandah. And that’s where the force of the weather showed itself. The wild wind had found tiny openings and was pushing the rain under the door and between the window panes.

It’s an old house and is in excellent repair but this crazy storm tried every trick in the book to disturb its equilibrium.

And the best it could do was to try to flood our bathroom, but we stopped it in its tracks with old school shoring up – towels. And that did the job.

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It was hard to leave our room as we had settled in but we had to head down town for a dinner. We parked in the Salamanca area and ran through mad rain til we reached our foodie destination. It wasn’t until after dinner that we realised that we were in a critical situation – the road was beginning to flood. We shot through then!

The next day as we loitered over our eggs and bacon and barista coffee we heard the news that the roads were closed, and the schools in the immediate vicinity of the city were closed too.

The storm had run its course and left a heap of damage behind. I wonder how many storms Corinda has witnessed – and survived to tell the tale.

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Next night we decided that the house was too good to leave so we had drinks in the elegant drawing-room. Without a reservation desk and staff bustling around, it feels as if you have the grand home to yourself, we didn’t but it seemed so.

We even had a pizza delivered to Corinda rather than leave our precious comfort behind.

While Julian and Chaxi were new to Corinda, they are far from new to hospitality. Between them they have more than 20 years’ experience in hotel management, gained in establishments in the UK as well as Australia. Now settled in Tasmania, they’re using that experience to their advantage on home ground. For example, they source the finest local produce for the Corinda breakfast table. Guests can wake up to fresh free-range eggs and organic bacon, served with home-made bread and locally produced jams.

The property is famous for its lush landscaping, with many mature trees and shrubs as well as European-style parterre areas. The garden has always been maintained in the style in which Alfred Crisp created it and provides a verdant outdoor setting for weddings and other events (weather permitting). Group walking tours of the garden can be booked on request.

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Corinda is the perfect base for those wanting to explore Southern Tasmania’s world -class attractions including MONA and World Heritage-listed Port Arthur. Corinda’s sister property, boutique country house hotel Brockley, is situated on the spectacular East Coast of Tasmania, and is ideal for those wanting to extend their Tasmanian break to include Maria Island and Freycinet National Parks.

We continued the act of loitering around the breakfast table, having yet another excellent coffee. Then out for a drive to Richmond for a little more history and hopefully, a sunny day. And it was.

Writer, Bev Malzard was a guest of Corinda. And it wasn’t her who ate all the nuts at the bar in the drawing-room . . . or maybe it was.

www.corindacollection.com.au     www.brockleyestate.com.au

Note from the owners

‘We’re excited about welcoming guests to Corinda, which truly epitomises the beauty of unspoilt historic Tasmania. It’s our ancestral home, so we were thrilled to be able to buy it, bring it back into the family and refresh it.  Now that the hard work is done, we’re looking forward to sharing Corinda’s heritage and history with our guests.’

Special offer: Guests can stay for four nights in the house and only pay for three from April – October 2018. Direct bookings only and date exclusions apply. Please check www.corindacollection.com.au for more information.

Cooking School: Later in 2018 Corinda will be launching its cooking school where classic, authentic Spanish/Canary Islands cuisine including paella will be shared the way they should be. Recipes Chaxi learnt sitting on her grandmother’s knee will a part of the curriculum. Lunch will be served in the dining room at Corinda with Tassie fine wines to accompany the feast.

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Where the art is – try a country town

Where the art is – try a country town

What was guerilla art is now great art. Walls become artworks and sleepy lanes and behind the scene walls and silos the grand canvasses of rural towns. Once was graffiti, is now urban engagement and licence to paint the town red.

It probably began 45,000 years ago in Australia; community minded fellas worked their magic art on to the walls of caves to let passing nomads see what food was available, attractions in the region and objects to be found or maybe just to show off their talent. Rock art galleries started it all.

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For thousands of years, human beings have made their mark upon plain surfaces, from stick men to tag-style graffiti.

And when someone criticized the wall vandals of the 80s with the sentence “Punks can’t spell Cappuccino”, that phrase became official graffiti and the wall expression medium had arrived, evolved and gained acceptance by the less-than-art-critical-public.

Melbourne art works.

Pre ‘acceptable’ wall art in New York City, of the 70s gave birth to excessive public graffiti – think subway trains. In one of his essays back in the day, Norman Mailer said New York subway graffiti is “the great art of the 70s”. And it burned brightly until Mayor Ed Koch. elected on a clean-up-the-city every which way platform, scrubbed clean the city. By the mid-80s NYC graffiti had faded quietly and what was left or came later became the acceptable norm.

Melbourne outdoor art.

Across the Atlantic, enigmatic artist Banksy launched his wall art career in his home town, Bristol. Stencils became his medium as his art gained notoriety on a big scale in the late 1990s.

Banksy’s work sneaks up on you. Characteristic of the works are the obvious digs at hypocrisy, violence, greed and authoritarianism but pathos and whimsy are in the creative makeup too.

And at home, wall art has changed the urban ‘artscape’ and rural regions. Australia is engaged with a stunning variety of wall/outdoor art that crept in stealthily during the late 90s too. Melbourne had the wall art advantage first up because of the surviving laneways in the inner city. And some of the most creative artists have emerged from the southern capital.

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Sydney was a slow starter but every week another piece of excellent art appears on the walls in and around the inner west and on the edge of the CBD. Without a lot of laneways remaining due to concentrated development, the older suburbs snatched the prize.

The big winners for wall art are the small cities and rural towns of Australia with their untouched walls.

In previous blogs I have attended the amazing First Coat Festival in the Queensland tidy town of Toowoomba. I’ve followed wall art festivals to Wollongong south of Sydney, wandered the lanes of Melbourne and followed the fabulous Silo Art Trail in Victoria.

And once you get an interest in wall art/outdoor art there’s no turning back – you see it everywhere and become fans of certain artists. And when you see them at work and converse with them, you’ll find a group of young people who are modest, amiable and happy to share the love of this medium.

My last excursion into the rural artistic enclaves of Australia was to Benalla in Victoria for the /Wall to Wall’ Festival last March, the second one held there.

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Benalla is a small city located on the Broken River in the High Country north-eastern region of Victoria, Australia, about 212km north-east of the state capital Melbourne. At the 2016 census the population was 9,298.

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We drove from Sydney and overnighted at the pretty town of Rutherglen just over the border after driving through Albury.

Benalla is a town of character with great coffee shops a bakery that boasts numerous wards for having the best Vanilla Slice in Australia, good restaurants, beautiful Botanic Gardens and a splendid regional art galley.

We hit the street running to take in as many artworks as possible. Best view was watching the artists at work. They seem so small against the large canvasses they work on.

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Benalla Art Gallery.

Outside of Benalla is a slip of a siding town called Goorambat where there a silo has been painted and in a wee Uniting church Matt Adnate has created the portrait Sophia’ which has become a local attraction.

‘Sophia’ by Matt Adnate.

I would encourage anyone to take the time out to get outta your city and explore our wonderful country towns as they are leading the way to colour in the bland residue of the dusty past. The towns are coming back to life and with the extraordinary support of the locals and visitors, they are more than an Aussie country town – they are performing on the world stage where art trails and maps are exposing the talent of the new breed of artists painting the town red!

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Writer Bev Malzard nearly expired in the heat of the Benalla Wall to Wall weekend and hopes it might be a little later than March next year. BUT find out for yourself and keep in touch with what’s going on throughout the year in the town of the great vanilla slice – and yes, of course she ate one.

Visit: http://www.enjoybenalla.com.au Wall to Wall

 

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

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Inside the glamping tent, Cockatoo Island Credit - Geoff Magee

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.