Travel: Victorian Highlights

I‘m going out on a limb with this post, taking a risk, throwing caution to the wind, heading into troubled waters . . .that’s a bit dramatic. Posting this piece on Victoria today, 1 June 2021, while the state of Victoria is in a state of lockdown feels a little ambitious? Yes? No? Victorians have suffered the lockdowns due to COCID-19 worse than any other state in Australia and businesses, and industires, such as the travel industry have been fraught with closures, and empty beds and coffers. BUT it WILL bounce back, it was but now, (today) it’s not bouncing at all, barely a foot shuffle. AND when it does open up again let me invite all Aussies and our Kiwi neighbours to visit and enjoy the beautiful state that comes good on all its promises of natural beauty, great food and wine, classy attractions and sincere hospitality.

A small state but packed like an overflowing picnic basket, Victoria has a taste sensation that covers city to country, ocean to mountains and fine food and regional fare to match the perfect wines. Need to know more? Go there.

Melbourne

Gateway to Victoria, the state’s capital city Melbourne is a river city and a class act. A walkable city or the best way to discover the ‘neighbourhoods’ is to hop a tram and head out of the CBD, But before you enter boho Brunswick, precious Prahan, edgy Fitzroy or to be in the sharp breezes of St Kilda beach, get your bearings in and around the city.

Nobody can persuade Melburnians that their coffee and their restaurants aren’t the best in Australia (and maybe the world when you really push the argument). And they do have damn fine food and java too. Also the proliferation of small bars over the past decade has made the social scene uber cool. Tiny, bespoke bars tucked away in alleyways that have survived city development are almost invisible during daylight hours when you do the laneways tours of wall art that is pretty spectacular.

One of many colourful and irreverent laneways of Melbourne.
The best!

Don’t miss a trip to the Victoria Markets for all that’s edible and wearable; cruise the Yarra River for a new perspective; go see the brilliant National Gallery and the instagrammable features of Federation Square. Take this city slowly and seek out sporting venues, memorable parks and gardens and some quirky, individual shopping adventures.

To market, to market . . .

Yarra yabba do!

Just an hour outside Melbourne is the splendid Yarra Valley boasting elegant vineyards and boutique wineries. This cool climate region produces high quality winning wines and they are there for the day trippers tasting. Chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon are star players and big name labels such as De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon promise fine tipples.

There are tea rooms, restaurants and hotels along the way for a longer stay and close by is Healesville Sanctuary which has a breeding progam for the uniquely designed platypus.

In the region of the Dandenongs here there are beautiful, classic gardens to stroll around, one of the finest being Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Sherbrooke

Great Ocean Road

Near Port Campbell and famous for the string of rock stars, the Twelve Apostles, bold rock formations, sitting in the Southern Ocean beyond mighty cliffs are a sight to behold. The drive along the Great Ocean Road yields rugged landmarks, beautiful beaches and holiday towns (Torquay, Apollo Bay and Lorne). Inland are caves to explore, waterfalls and rainforest. But it’s all about the drive, which is exhilarating where some of the road hugs the cliffs and winds around headlands. Zoom, Zoom.

P.S. There are only eight of the 12 Apostles left standing. The rocky stacks have been washed by wild seas and time and tide has taken its toll.

Apostles, from the Great Ocean Road.

The ‘B’ cities

Doubling up here with the two big Victorian ‘B’ cities – both inland cities that have been built on the back of gold! Ballarat and Bendigo are separated by 120km. Ballarat is closer to Melbourne and you can catch a train there (1 1/2-hour journey) or drive the 115km.

Both cities have bold charm as they have beautiful architecture from neo-classical, to gothic and Federation styles. All this built with shiny money.

Ballarat’s Regent Thetre.

Ballarat’s wealth from the goldfields began when gold was discovered in 1851, an event that took over sleepy sheep grazing paddocks. Within days of the first nugget being extracted the ‘rush’ was on, and thousands of hopeful miners descended on the, what was to become known as the ‘Ballarat Diggings’.

Ballarat and Bendigo have embraced the coffee culture and cafes flourish as well as classy restaurants and bars. And both cities boast splendid regional art galleries that have snaffled up extraordinary exhibitions that the big smoke have missed out on. Culture in the country? Sure is.

In Ballarat’s Fine Art Gallery, see the original Eureka Stockade flag and a wide selection of Australian artists’ work. Also visit Her Majesty’s Theatre which was once graced with the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.

In Bendigo admire the epitome of gold-boom architecture with the Shamrock Hotel, four flamboyant stories high!

So high, silo

Ballarat is a good base camp to take a six-hour (round trip) drive out along the wheat belt of Victoria with viewing stops along the way to discover the Silo Art Trail, an inspired outdoor gallery.

The concept of having the towering (up to 27m high), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Decommissioned wheat silos define the landscape here, and honouring farmers and farming history has turned into a smashing success engaging the
entire community.

First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup, with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This artwork is not for the faint-hearted, given the artists craft their works while working alone, hoisted in a cherry picker. Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate, where children of the local Indigenous clan dwarf all who stand below.

Silo mural of four locals by Guido van Helten in Brim, Victoria.

Onward at Brim is the extraordinary Farmer Quartet, an overwhelming vision with the subtle hues of the landscape humbly depicting four characters from the region – now modest celebrities of the shire.

Further into the Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here, a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers, curve around the silos and are as much a part of the landscape as the Mallee root tree.

The top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town of dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Artist Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland – a reluctant pin-up.

High Country

North east-ish is Victoria’s High Country where the Alpine National Park is home to ten of the state’s highest peaks. The massive park is a space for all seasons: great ski fields in winter; and in summer, miniature wildflowers cover the grassy plateaus above the tree line and the north-eastern small towns are awash with gold and red hues of the autumn parade.

Another two ‘B’ towns that are local celebrities are Bright ands Beechworth. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved gold-rush towns with more than 30 National Trust-classified buildings, a sight for architecture fiends! Also not to be missed here is the Beechworth Bakery, famous for the much sought after Vanilla Slice trophy. You decide!

Autumn in Bright, Victoria.

Provenance in Beechworth is one of the best regional restaurants in Australia, with chef/owner Michael Ryan a Hatted chef many times over. Also, Bridge Road Brewers Bridge Road is fantastic for its range of locally made ales from locally grown hops, as well as its outstanding pizzas. Ox & Hound Bistro is also a gorgeous little French restaurant.

Bright is close by to the ski fields of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek. The town is charming and in April/May it outs it’s colourful attitude into party mode for the Bright Autumn Festival when the deciduous light up, shiny and bright.

Bright is on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, a 100km sealed, off-road walking and bike trail between Wangaratta, Beechworth, Rutherglen (wonderful fortified wines here) and Bright.

Short sections of the trail can be accessed from towns along the route. (My recommendation as the food and wine here is pretty special – so why waste too much time walking?)

To explore the food, wine, nature, cycle, accommodation, experience options in the region of Victoria’s High Country visit: victoriashighcountry.com.au or ridehighcountry.com.au 

And there’s more . . . the Mornington Peninsula (golfers go crazy for the much-awarded Dunes Golf Links at Rye); Phillip Island and Gippsland (national parks, heritage villages, a penguin parade and the classic fishing town of Port Albert); Spa country – Daylesford and Hepburn Springs – and the Lakehouse Restaurant; the Grampians National Park, an area of magnificence – a landscape of rock-encrusted ranges perching high above the Western District.

Visit: https://www.visitvictoria.com/

and https://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions

How to indulge in Tasmania

How to indulge in Tasmania

The tiny island of ‘Tassie’ has an abundance of attractions and experiences to be indulged in. After a long period of being unable to travel, here is where you will breathe easy, enjoy glorious nature and get a taste of the best of what the island has to offer.

Separated from the mainland by 240km of the unpredictable waters of Bass Strait, the island of Tasmania has a brutal history with its beginnings as a far flung penal colony for hardened villains. And as the island developed, logging, fishing and agriculture began to sustain the island state to become the southern area of Australia and the ‘mother country’s’ fruit basket.

Today, a visit is rich for experiences, from culinary to cool climate wineries, artistic culture to outdoor, natural excursions. Following are six highlights of Tasmania that have been pulled from a hat that is bursting with many more:

HOBART

Start with arguably Australia’s most beautiful state’s capital city, Hobart. Well after colonial times and up to the 1960s Hobart was a sleepy town that had not progressed and its architecture and back story was ignored by the rest of the country. Now it proudly shows off what was or could have been demolished and forgotten. Places such as Battery Point, built in 1818 to house workers and merchants of the great port. This area is considered to be Australia’s complete colonial village, hardly changed since 1840. Hilly streets, quaint cottages and views to the sea and the imposing backdrop of Mount Wellington looming over Hobart. All that has changed here is the traffic and exorbitant real estate prices.

Constitution and Victoria Docks are the heart of Sullivans Cove where pleasure craft and small fishing boats tie up. Fancy some fish and chips? Perfect food for a wander round this precinct, which is all abuzz when the Wooden Boat Festival is held (every two years) and goes crazy as Constitution Dock is the finish line for the annual, prestigious Sydney to Hobart Race held when the yachts depart Sydney to sail south on Boxing Day.

The city offers stunning botanical gardens, waterside walks – and a trip up Mount Wellington is a treat – but damn cold in winter when snow often decorates the summit and the wind cuts through you.

As Tasmania is a gourmet’s passion there are many beautiful and innovative restaurants in the city and within a 30-minute drive out. For locally sourced food for taste heaven check out: Dier Makr; Fico; Franklin and The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery.

Salamanca Markets held along the dockside’s Georgian buildings is where you’ll find, fine artisan produce and arts and craft. There are small galleries here in the old warehouses that compliment big sister up the road, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

OH, MONA . . .

Embedded into the riverside cliffs along the Derwent and Moorilla Vineyard is an institution that has put Tasmania on the world map . . . MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. This is one of the most exciting attractions ion Australia. Don’t come here looking for an immersion into the gentle art of paintings, come her to be excited, appalled, surprised and moved to tears and laughter.  Drive there from the city, 15 minutes, or catch the ferry and enter up the stairs from the river bank. A visit to MONA is about your own experience – be provoked, be entertained.

BROODY BRUNY

This rugged island just a short sail from Hobart (best time to go from October to April) is a joy to behold on the journey there. Dolphins at play, gangs of sleepy seals playing possum on the rocks and sea birds swirling above. North and South Bruny are connected by a narrow strip of land called The Neck, which is easier to say than ‘isthmus’.

Take a day trip here or enjoy a few lazy days or spectacular bushwalks that come with ‘glamping’ holidays. Camped out in the bush here and being fed on local seafood and fresh Bruny oysters is irresistible.

South Bruny National Park is where the mighty dolerite cliffs around the southern capes stand; Cloudy Bay’s arc of dunes are the result of relentless ocean swells; Great Taylor’s Bay is a calm and sheltered spot where Bennett wallabies, Tasmanian pademelons and echidnas roam – like they own the place!

Don’t miss the path at Cape Bruny that leads you to the convict built lighthouse – the views from here are spectacular.

CHOOFING ALONG

Over on the wild west coast you can do the locomotion on an historical train journey. All aboard for the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restored 1896 rack-and-pinion railway that travels over 34km of river and forest track from Queenstown to Macquarie Harbour or from Strahan to Queenstown. There’s a full day or half day train trip and as you travel through pristine wilderness areas, you’ll cross deep gorges and wonder at the minds that planned this challenging and almost impossible and impassable terrain. All aboard now!

FASCINATING FREYCINET

Freycinet National Park has the amazing combination of dramatic mountains, elegant beaches, silky smooth lakes – along along a narrow peninsular. The peaks of The Hazards light up with a tangerine glow at sunset in the summer and are covered in swirling mist during the cold months. Wonderful walks here and a view, before you descend to Wineglass Bay with its perfect beach of glowing white sand is spectacular.

Canoe along the inshore waters and paddling around Coles Bay offers up a splendid view of The Hazards.

Freycinet Lodge is pretty fancy for a stay and great views of Coles Bay. From waterview rooms and restaurants, after a relax, there are organised walks and outdoor activities – if you can tear yourself away from the deck!

Full on posh is the divine Saffire Lodge, a luxurious experience for fine dining, fine spa treatments and a damn fine view of The Hazards when you look out your windows. There’s a trip to Coles Bay to shuck your own oysters while standing in the bay (in waterproof waders) and sipping a glass of bubbly. Nothing could be finer . . .

TASTE OF THE NORTH

Maybe it’s the landscape, or simply the Pinot Noir, but there’s something magical and charming about Josef Chromy Wines. Set 10 minutes outside of Launceston on Tasmania’s northern coast, the winery is housed inside an estate established in 1880, and views stretch out towards the rolling hills and slopes that are covered in vines.

Here, enjoy the total winery immersion event: Sample the Pinot and Chardonnay that the winery is famously known for. As the Tamar Valley’s most notable vineyard, Josef Chromy Wines offers exceptional culinary experiences, from basic tastings at the cellar door to tours pairing wine and chocolate. For a full experience at the winery and restaurant, join a tour that goes ‘behind the label’ for a glimpse of the winemaking process, which is then followed up by an exquisite meal, perfectly paired with the wine. Josef Chromy Wines is located 4 minutes south of the town of Relbia and 10 minutes south of Launceston.

And there’s so many experiences to have here, just sort through Tasmania’s box of tricks which includes: the city of Launceston on the Tamar River; Cradle Mountain; historic Richmond and Port Arthur.

This story was previously published in New Zealand’s leading travel magazine: Visit http://www.letstravelmag.com

http://www.letstravelmag.com

How to ‘do’ the top town

How to ‘do’ the top town

Getting close to crossing borders again – head to the top of Oz: Darwin

Once considered the wild west, Darwin was a haven for maintenance avoiding men; dodgy people who needed to disappear, 20th century vagabonds and a town with a drinking culture to set galactic records.

When Cyclone Tracy blew into town on 24 December 1974 and devastated the town and outlying areas, what rose from the flattened town and broken hearts was the origins of a new, modern city that would be a beacon to government, entrepreneurs, tourism activity, young go-getters, especially the migrant and refugee settlers – which has resulted in a busy, buzzy tropical town.

To market . . .

Gone are the days of the slab of steak, three eggs and chips as regular fare, international cuisine is well and truly on the menu in some great restaurants but the place to get your spicy fix is the markets.

While traveling you may be hanging out for a flat white made by a topknot wearing chappie with tats and a goatee, a laksa or a tropical smoothie, Parap Market is where the locals throng to every Saturday morning. Fruit and vegies that you’ve only seen in Asia are on sale and while you tuck into a curry or roti, shut your eyes and taste the spice accompanied by the light aroma of patchouli – yes, this is where the new breed hippie has been reinvented. (You could probably give them a few tips from way back!)

The main place to hit just before sunset is Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. This is Darwin’s most popular tourist spot so arrive early and bags your spot on the beach. They operate from April to the end of October (the dry season). Munch a kangaroo sausage, a meal from the Roadkill Café. listen into the poetry readings, watch a dance troupe or pick up a few Aboriginal arts and Asian crafts. Don’t panic if you miss the magnificent sunset, there’ll be another one tomorrow.

My best place to go

(A fave sunset watching spot is from the less than posh yacht club, the Darwin Trailer Boat Club. The city’s oldest club (1954) started out as a modified caravan on the beach and now serves cold beer and fantastic food from the bistro.)

Or sashay on to a yacht or a restored pearling lugger for a sunset cruise on the harbour, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine to set the mood.

We reckon you you can still find a decent steak and chips and an authentic burger here but here’s the lowdown on where to find the best eats in town:

Pee Wee’s at the Point; Little Miss Korea (for Barramundi Bibimbap), Alfonsinos, Char Restaurant, Hanuman and Il Lido. But as in any town, sometimes you just have to follow your nose and take a leap of faith.

Best pubs are The Precinct and Lola’s Pergola. There are many other watering holes of various persuasions.

The big hotels have fantastic restaurants and clever clogs chefs. Darwin’s signature dishes include amazing prawns from the Gulf and before you leave you have to seek out Penang Crocodile Curry and the King hit dish – Chili Mud Crab.

Some local pubs will serve you a family meal with surf’n’turf as the special and if you are nostalgic for the 80s there’s always the ‘parmie’ washed down with a cold beer. Bottoms up!

Darwin is home to the weird and wonderful and aside for some seriously lovely attractions you may want to step out of your comfort zone for:

  • The Helicopter Pub Crawl (three different pubs to share a yarn or two with the locals and a few bevies and the designated driver is a helicopter pilot;
  • Deckchair Cinema is an outdoor movie-going experience where you can watch the stars on the screen and overhead in the starry starry night sky. (It operated during the dry season, so take a picnic and enjoy the flix!)
  • Not quite a wild ride but close to it is the Airboat Tour of Darwin Harbour that takes you around the harbour and the mangroves. (An airboat is a flat-bottomed vessel that is propelled by a giant fan instead of a motor.)
  • The Crocodile Cage of Death . . . no explanation needed really. Get in the cage, get dunked and the crazed croc (very Darwin) is beneath you, mouth slavering for fresh meat. Or, croc swims in and eats food thrown by keepers. This is fun, go for it.
  • Two stories that are important are set at the Flying Doctor Service building on Stokes Wharf. As well as the Flying Doctor history and extraordinary work done across the Outback, there’s the Bombing of Darwin Virtual Reality experience. This is well done and tells the dramatic tales from 1942 of the devastation wrought and the individual human stories.
  • Fannie Bay Gaol Museum once housed Darwin’s most desperate criminals between 1883-1979. The cells and gallows are pretty gloomy but are often used as a backdrop for dinner parties! The rare gallows mechanism was modelled on the Newgate Gallows in England – as said previous, pretty gloomy and hairs-on-the- arm-raising.

Galleries and Museums

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is a corker – there’s so much discover and uncover here from maritime archaeology, sublime indigenous art, artefacts and culture to WWII and the story of Cyclone Tracy.

Two other superb museums in the Darwin Military Museum Precinct at East Point include: the Darwin Military Museum and the interactive installations at the Defence of Darwin Experience next door. When you reflect on the dusty hot town of Darwin as the first line of defence for an invasion of Australia in WWII and it being bombed mercilessly, it is a chilling thought as to what might have been.

How to souvenir: or buy something for yourself

When I started travel writing, folks thought I was taking a holiday. I was often asked to bring back duty free perfume, smokes, booze etc. I did in the beginning and then I stopped buying for anyone else – just a simple “no”, said politely and that was that. (I had my own stuff to bring back.)

I can sit on my couch, in my bed, on the kitchen floor or even sit in the bath, and look around and see familiar items purchased over the past 30 years. I try and live ‘small; but I do like to have and use a few memories that have been collected along the way, and they all have stories to tell.

My first offering  is a pair of Chinese Warriors, small in stature but big of heart. I purchased these two fellas in February 1989, just a few months before the Tiananmen Square protest/revolt.

It was my first visit to China, it was minus 10 degrees and such an exciting place to be, Beijing before the world came to it. These two warriors were from an outdoor stall and were inexpensive and probably two of thousands made. They were covered lightly in brown dust that had blown in from the Gobi Desert, the same grime mixed with air pollution that I wore around my neck, scarves, hair and face.

I’ve had the guys on a windowsill protecting me since 1989 and I have never washed or even dusted them. They are as they were, covered in grit from many battles and their armour wears stains with pride. One of their hands broke off after a spill and that had been superglued on so they can continue their watch over me.

https://travelgaltravels.com/2017/08/10/china-first-encounter

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I have two souvenirs here (below) from Morocco. I haven’t mentioned the scarves, shoes, fabric or spices but I’m very fond of these pieces. First there’s the little glass containers set in a silver base with a jaunty tassel atop. I did buy larger one’s for the ‘present drawer’ but this pair sit modestly on a kitchen shelf and reminds me to add the pungent spice, cumin, to everything. A taste senstationa I discovered in Morocco. A pinch on yoghurt and honey is good and a hefty shake into anything hot and savoury will transport your tastebuds.

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This pair of tumblers were a score from the shop at Yves Saint Laurent Musee in Marrakech. They are a neat fit for my hands and hold enough of a beverage to quench a thirst. Other items in the boutique included clothes, leather handbags, art work, ceramics and sublime fashion accessories. I had previously sold my last kidney so it had to be a modest buy, and the handblown glasses fitted the bill. The museum has a revolving exhibition as there are more than 5000 pieces of wearable fashion to show . . .

 

Tea for two

This lovely rustically oriental cannister is an old tea caddy. I brought two of them back to Oz after my first visit to Macau (now Macao) around the mid 90s. It was before the super structures shot up over night, ie the Venetian et al. It was a quieter place and many of the antique shops were afterthoughts on the shopping route. This is where and when I first tasted Lord Stowe’s perfect pasteis de nata (Portuguese tarts) and invested in my first cashmere wrap. Both excellent decisions.

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These pieces were easy to pack into a suitcase but a companion snaffled up a bargain – a huge Chinese hat box which was the size of an eight year old child, and it wasn’t until she reached the airport coming home that she realised her spatial inadequacy. We got it home – but it wasn’t easy.

Next item is totally utilitarian. In the mid 80s I was holidaying in Malaysia and had a two-day stopover in Singapore. It was my first visit and I ended up in a dusty, higgledy piggledy part of town called Little India. Since visited it’s now a pretty schmick and touristy precinct and my first place to go when I arrive in Singers – I need a curry to start the stay.

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But my wandering took me to a shop that sold cooking implements and this chubby pot took my fancy. It has a copper base, it cost the equivalent of $2 then and it has been cooking rice (perfectly) for me for 30 years. It gets taken off a shelf at least once a week and does its work – we are a damn good team.

The beads below have never been worn, but they were hard won and hold a special place in my heart. In the mid-90s I went on a sensational trip to Kenya. It was first visit to Africa. We had stayed at a couple of lodges and we were scheduled to go to a family compound on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The night before there was an outdoor fire, wine, music, wine, dying embers and wine. On the way back to my hut I slipped on polished concrete and the pain in my ankle was so severe I almost passed out.

Limping badly, the next day we visited the compound and I had to forego the jumping up and down ritual because of my pain.

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I was suffering a hangover and a sprained ankle and was grumpy. On leaving the boundary of the reserve there was a woman selling these beaded necklaces – she was asking an exorbitant price and I gave the ‘are you serious’ look and she had it in for me. After much screeching, not me, my head hurt too much, we almost had a tug of war – I now wanted it badly and she knew it. I capitulated, surrendered and handed over the money – a lot of it. She was about to hand me the beaded piece and changed her mind and whipped this one off her neck and handed it over with a big grin. I have no idea what the gesture meant but I’ll take it as one of good will.

A peony, not a pony

I love this vase. It has such elegance and lovely peonies painted around it. I was travelling in and around Bejing with a corporate group of event planners and we were given gifts along the way. This was one  them and I have been putting flowers in it for the past 20 years. Our host was the indomitable Helen Wong of Helen Wong Tours (the first person to get journos into China for the Australian Society of Travel Writers conference in 2001 to Shanghai).

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What I remember of that time was the gracious and exciting hospitality put on for the planners. We visited the Forbidden City and as we walked to where we could see the expanse of the great courtyard it was lined with about three hundred actors wearing ancient imperial guard costumes. Just one of the wondeful events put on for us.

One day we all went to a section of the Great Wall. And I gave the wall walk a miss – well, I had walked it before . . . and the low, black clouds looked ominous. So Ms Wong and I sat in a tiny tea shop and sipped and chatted. As the storm broke, the view to the wall was a spectacle to behold – hundreds of people were running along the wall draped in blue plastic raincoats – my imagination took over and what I saw was hundreds of condoms tearing along the wall path. I mentioned this to Ms Wong and she gulped and spat her tea out – first and last time I ever saw her lose her cool.

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Last BUT certainly not the least of all of my treasures is this plump little ceramic elephant vase. At an agm for the Australian Society of Travel Writers, held in Thailand in 1999, I was on a trip after the city meeting and we stayed south in Hua Hin at the Railway Hotel (it may have changed names now). In the gardens were/ maybe still are, gigantic topiary elephants that were startling. As elephants were the theme du jour I purchased this cutie at the hotel shop. Every time I pop a flower in it I recall three exquisite days spent in that, then underdeveloped town and wandering the uncrowded streets at night and eating monster barbecued prawns outdoors.

So how do I categorise these precious if rather ordinary pieces? Souvenirs? Or jewellery snapped up enroute or that rather heavy doona cover I carried back from the Paris summer sales . . .

Who cares . .  I only know that every picture here, tells a story.

 

 

 

 

Travel: New Caledonia

France in the Pacific? Feel like a change of pace, a change of heart and a change of culture? How about Parisian panache and savoir fare – and it’s in our neighbourhood. Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia is calling.

Noumea, who knew, so Frenchy so chic! So close to Australia with a French sensibility and a Pacific casualness, the capital city is vibrant and ticks all the boxes for a fine holiday.

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I confess to a visit 20 years ago and the planets were not aligning; nothing impressed me and the Pacific destination was ticked off and forgotten about. BUT how things have changed, there’s a young vibrancy here and an independent confidence that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. So for a holiday with a difference, viva la difference . . .

Say ‘au revoir ‘to Sydney and you are in New Caledonia within three hours to say ‘bonjour’.

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  • A stay at Marriott’s Le Meridien Noumea Resort & Spa is top of the pops here. A beachfront suite overlooks the gardens and the ocean. Restaurants run the gourmet gamut and you can walk from French to Japanese cuisine within a few steps.
  • Head downtown to discover a wealth of hip bars and classy restaurants. Check out (newcaledonia.travel) for a list of rooftop bars, by-the-sea bars and cheese and wine tasting cellars (yes! French wine and French cheese, ooh la la).

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  • At Port Moselle there’s a small but colourful market with lots of local goods (authenticated signs) and it’s a brilliant place to buy fab fruit and stop for a coffee and a buttery croissant.
  • In a water taxi, you can be on an island in Le Lagoon in five minutes. Duck Island has a bar and restaurant and you can swim and snorkel here and if you’re lucky there’ll be a party on after sunset – wild times ahead.

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  • Visit the beautiful Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a splendid building by architect Renzo Piano. This is centre to discover the local Kanak culture.

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  • Take a sailing trip around Le Lagoon, so big you think it’s the ocean and stop off at Amedee Island, 40 mins from Noumea. Here a stunning lighthouse awaits you for a climb. The locals call the islet Amadee Lighthouse Island.

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  • Indulge in lobster thermidor (old school and delicious), baguettes, patisseries offerings of many delights, fresh coconuts – a Gallic blend of influences. Tres bon.

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AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME:  SYD-NEWCAL 3 hrs; MEL-NEWCAL 3hrs50mins

CURRENCY: The CFC (Change Franc Pacifique).

LANGUAGE: French and English.

 BEST TIME TO VISIT:

From September to December, when the days are warm and sunny with little or no rain. But overall – with sunny year-round subtropical weather – New Caledonia is good to visit at anytime of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: Make mine Marrakech

Travel: Make mine Marrakech

 

Marrakech Morocco, it’s bold and it’s beautiful. Colours collide here and eyes and ears are put to an endurance test. Every morning I woke up in the Red City, I fell in love with it, over and over again.

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The early foreign travellers to Morocco called Marrakech ‘Morocco City’. The city of old has expanded over the centuries since its origins but it is those beginnings that have kept it as mesmerising and traditional as it was in the past. It’s still a marketplace.

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It is the ‘Red City’, soaked with the natural red ochre pigment that is the walls and buildings dominating the city, souks and medinas, but there are other colours too that fight for space – colour is king in Morocco. A variety of blues and bright yellow and pink fight for your attention.

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To try and give a blanket narrative on this magical place is like trying to cover an oval of brilliant blooms with a handkerchief. Following are observations, ideas and suggestions of how to experience the beauty, colour and movement of Marrakech.

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Playing the market

Marrakech has Berber rather than Arabic origins as it was originally the meeting place of the Atlas tribes. It was the centre of the past for gold, slaves, ivory and leather brought to Morocco by caravans from far away empires via the desert port of Timbuktu. The visiting and trading population swelled the city’s souks and its way of life.

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In the heart of the medina (a medina is a distinct city section in north African cities, typically walled, it has narrow lanes and streets that are maze-like), is the wide open spaced Djemma El Fna or Jemaa el Fna (this has many spellings) – the city’s main market where all aspects of north African life is on view and the space becomes a theatre. The main souks are to the north of the market place but this is where the action is.

The epicentre of Marrakech is Jemaa el Fna, weaving its chaotic magic all day and all night.

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The famed “night market” at Jemaa el Fna is a bizarre microcosm of entertainment, food, and tradition. Since the mid-11th century, this plaza has been the beating and sometimes bloody heart of Marrakech’s old city. A thousand years ago, executioners plied their trade here (hence one translation of the plaza’s name to mean “assembly of the dead”). Today, the only gore you’re likely to see is from the skinned sheep’s heads ready for barbecue that await the market’s hungry patrons. The market is eminently intriguing in all ways – in a can’t-look-away kind of way.

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You have to keep moving at a steady pace throughout the market to avoid the snake charmers because if you stop for a brief moment to look at the reptiles, you’ll find one or two wrapped around your neck and shoulders. They’ll stay coiled there until you pay up for the experience – or else you might choke!

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There are fortune tellers, water sellers, jugglers, acrobats, garment makers, sellers of strange things in bottles and one stall that I cannot ever unsee – the man selling the teeth.

Day and night this middle-aged man sits on a folding chair at a card table presiding over a mounds of teeth. Some of the teeth have been worked into half dentures, delicately displayed for toothless shoppers (and generally the people of Morocco have terrible teeth due to to amount of sugar they consume daily).

Where did he get all these teeth?

A charming sight is the water sellers dressed in colourful garb as they have been for centuries with pompom hats fringed with coloured wool. In the local dialect they are called Gharrib and they carry goatskin tar lined bags holding water. They are mostly wandering entertainers these day but the Moroccans consider it lucky to drink the water they sell (see picture above).

After wandering around and if you aren’t stopping to eat a barbecued cow’s head, or skewered chicken feet, go to a café on the perimeter of the square, grab a cold beer and watch the amazing dance of pedestrians below as they shape shift thought the market.

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Colour and culture

Take an historical tour of the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs are exquisite examples of refined architecture and tradition. Bahia (Bahia means brilliance) Palace was built in the 19th century and captures the the essence of Islamic and Moroccan style.

DSC03632It’s interesting to explore the layout and see the rooms of the harem which includes a vast court with four rooms built for Si Moussa, the grand vizier’s wives and many more for his 24 concubines. School rooms for the great many offspring that were produced on a regular basis.

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A visit to a souk is mandatory. If you’ve run out of spending money – sell a kidney. Beautifully made shoes and leather goods, carpets, embroidered caftans, spices, brass and copper goods are begging to be snaffled up.

In the early morning when the traffic is cool and calm, hop into a caliche (horse-drawn carriage) and let your destination be spectacular Jardin Majorelle, with its abundance of giant bamboo, yucca, palm, cypress and banana tree, bougainvillea and otherworldly cacti. These earthy, natural colours contrast vividly with the cobalt blue façade (called Marjorelle Blue) of the villa lovingly restored by Yves Saint Laurent.

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The French fashion legend said he ‘found colour’ in Morocco and made it his second home. The Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is a joy, a revelation and to see the exhibits is an emotional experience. The building is made from local bricks and the architecture is formed like the fabric of a dress with the curve of a draped cloak. There’s a rotating cast of 500 fashion items of clothes, and 50,000 pieces of accessories on display to be absorbed.

Saint Laurent dedicated his later years to this museum and created the extraordinary Berber Museum and stocked it with glorious, historical garments and accessories from the diverse Berber community that he had collected in his travels over the years.

Shuffle through the medina to fill your heart and soul with the essence of Morocco and once you’ve had your fill of the sights and sounds, the people and the donkeys crowding the medina’s alleyways step back in time to the 12th century. Count the 19 grand gates surrounding the medina – the grandest of all being the Bab Agnaou. And before you leave the distant past behind, walk the grounds of El Badi Palace, a 16th century ruin (but in very good shape) that still has an orchard growing ornamental oranges.

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Close by to the museums and gardens there’s a small local and French designer section of new buildings promoting modern, collectible goods and there’s a cool café to calm the shopping ardour.

A taxi ride back to Jardins de la Medina a superior riad (a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden, courtyard and fountain) to shake off the heat of a heady Marrakech day and perhaps take a dip in the pool set in luxurious gardens or maybe a spa with hammam (a traditional cleansing ritual), steam bath and traditional Moroccan beauty treatments.

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Marrakech has centuries old layers to be uncovered and enjoyed. So much of its history is on display and open to touristic scrutiny but remember it has secrets – just think about the streets lined with orange trees, so pretty and not quite what they seem.

The trees are for ornamentation only – you can’t eat the fruit.

The author travelled to Morocco with http://www.bypriorarrangement.com

This story was first published by https://letstravelmag.com/

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I have to fess up – I did not drink the water.

 

 

 

How to be bold in Boulder

How to be bold in Boulder

I had five hours to spend in Boulder, a city in the grand state of Colorado in the USA. What to do? I couldn’t give you a full-on review of a city I had not explored, nor had been there before. What I did know: it’s a city of just 103,000 residents (almost a third of whom are students at the University of Colorado at Boulder), it has a reputation for packing  punch.

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At 5,430 feet (1657 metres) and generally sunny, it’s a spectacularly beautiful destination that’s been smart (and pioneering) about growth and preserving open space, so it’s a magnet for athletes, bohemians, hipsters, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts of every ilk.

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With a progressive dining and brewing scene, it’s a breeze to eat healthily and drink locally. Even outdoor music is better in the Front Range: you won’t regret splurging for a concert ticket at Red Rocks, just to the south.

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I won’t go into the hiking, biking, climbing and all outdoorsy activities that are everyday jaunts for the Boulderites (Bouldonians?) as I don’t do outdoors very well. (See link at end of story for more local info.) As I was coming into town I had a total moment of excitement and knew what this Boulder post was to be about – TEA.

My preferred tea late at night cosied up in my bed in Sydney is a brew called Sleepytime Tea by Celestial Seasonings (this is not a sponsored post). We drove past a sign saying Celestial Seasoning – yippee.

Oh joy, the building/factory was open for tours – yes! And it was free. This is the home of my tea!

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Celestial Seasonings is in the northeast of Boulder and looks like any other productive, immaculately clean factory – BUT – it smells so good. Just like a freshly opened box of Sleepytime Tea.

Our devoted tour group donned fetching blue hairnets and began the walk. We watched our fave teas being mixed, packed and boxed. (Apparently, and I concur, it takes three seconds for a machine to wrap a box and 10 minutes to get it off.) And when we walked into the Peppermint room, our eyes began to sting and our lungs began to sing with the sharp, pungent aroma of the precious peppermint oils exuding from the herbs. This room is mostly locked down as the oil could permeate the flavours of the other herbal and fruit teas produced here.

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The company tries to be as sustainable as it can be and the tea bags no longer have strings and the actual bags that contain the tea are biodegradable and one of our guides said she packs her used bags around her garden plants to hold water and dissolve ethically.

A few tasting sips and a major purchase of boxes and away we went most happily. On the driveway out of the complex I saw my first Groundhogs . . . too cute.

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There was a foodies market on in town so we meandered among the food and produce stalls. And in keeping with the tea theme we visited two tea shops (what is it Boulder, craft beer in competition with the humble cuppa?).

We saw the large tea/cafe emporium, Boulder Dushanbe Tea house that is most exotic but packed to the teapot brim on market day.

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So into the main mall here for an elegant tea experience at Ku Cha House of Tea. We settled on an ethereal white tea that was delicate and totally tea-zen.

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So, this busy bee little city with its outdoorsy attitude and athletic ambience can turn on the tea charm, and sit quietly and contemplate the Colorado big sky and the art of sipping a cheery brew.

Writer Bev Malzard has just finished her tea that she purchased in June. Damn! Best head back to Boulder, sooner than later.

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Visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/lifestyle/vacation-ideas/things-to-do-in-boulder/

Visit: www.celestialseasonings.com/visit-us/

Visit: www.boulderteahouse.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slow Travel: Cruising Vietnam

Slow Travel: Cruising Vietnam

 

An up-close and authentic view of real life in Vietnam is happily experienced while cruising the rivers with stops along the way in villages and hit of the big smoke – Hanoi. Take it slow . . . 

Torrential! And that’s the perfect word for the monsoon rains that lashed our ship for 20 minutes, and then, like all good monsoon downpours, the air stilled and regained its hot and steamy attitude and the wide Red River became a silky, calm spread of chicken gravy coloured water.

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Welcome to north Vietnam. We were sailing on a ten-day cruise on the Angkor Pandaw, a beautiful ship designed to mirror the ships of the Irrawaddy Flotilla that plied the waters of colonial Burma. The vessel is pretty special, and the decks gleam with the rich timber patina walked on by many barefoot passengers. The brass is polished daily and all detail on the ship is ship shape and immaculate.

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I was a little concerned at the thought of a ten-day cruise as I’d only sailed for five consecutive days in the past. I had nothing to worry about except at the end of the cruise when I just wanted a few more days on board.

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Our ship left Hanoi and we sailed to the glorious heritage-listed Halong Bay, where we gently sailed in sight of extravagant limestone islands and towering, craggy kasts. We visited water-limestone caves by kayaking and row boats.

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Off the ship for an afternoon as we were taken to a deserted beach, where we had an entire bay to ourselves for a cooling dip. Bliss.

As the sun set and lights from the bay’s scattered fishing boats twinkled we sat down for our first of many abundant and creative dinners.

The ship sails west and after the Red River, it hits the Lo River the Red River delta and then the Black River. The sights along the river don’t display quaint and pretty castles and rolling hills. I hesitate to use the word ‘authentic’ but we were immersed in the real life of north Vietnam and the progress and industry that keeps the country ticking along. There are concrete factories, sand mountains shoring up the banks against flooding, amazing fish farm floating villages, banana plantations and often in the distance, the soaring spires of catholic churches and terraced steps of Buddhist temples.

The startling contrast of the rural tranquility and the brick kilns and facades of heavy industry, neat patches of corn fields and passionfruit vine mounds were sights that juxtaposed the life of the rivers.

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Almost every day there is an excursion (all included in the price) and to places where few other westerners are. As well as the ship being the only pleasure craft among gliding barges on the rivers, the villagers are laid back, welcoming and eager to show their talents. Bemused barge captains waived and I imagine they thought that our beautiful ship looked like it had wandered in to the wrong neighbourhood.

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In one tiny village, three generations of women from 18 to 90 years of age showed us the skill behind the ubiquitous conical hat – the most practical chapeau for tropical weather countries. Such an endearing experience and we were welcomed in a friendly and understated way – cups of tea were offered and bananas and peanuts put out for us.

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Between excursions we came back to cold towels and a cooling drink before a tasty lunch (don’t fight it, just enjoy the banquet!).

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At each stop along the river we were looked at as a novelty as there weren’t many westerners in this neck of the woods. Other trips to villages include a walk through a pretty town, Thanh Ha, to watch a water puppet show, an inspection of a small village that has the noble tradition of producing fine ceramic items with the skills passed down through the generations. This was in the province of Hanoi and a local Lion Dance troupe, welcomed us to the region with a raucous drumming performance and dancing lions.

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We were treated to an extraordinary concert in the village of Hung Lo temple to hear a choir, yet again, women from seven years to their 80s carrying on the tradition of singing ‘Hat Xoan’. And we danced with the singers to a fishing song, without the usual embarrassment of looking like bulls in a China shop – a testament to the generosity of spirit of these local people.

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In this village there is the Thay and Tay Phuong pagodas, both built around enormous pillars of jackfruit, decorated with hundreds of statues, and surmounted by sweeping upturned eaves.

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Another village introduced us to the knife makers – families that for generations have been pounding red hot steel into machetes and chopping knives.

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A walk around Duong Lam village exposes us to the elegance and grandeur of the UNESCO designated village. Duong Lam has a history that dates back to around 1200 years with many of the houses almost 400 years old. Apart from its historical and touristic values, the ancient village is a significant place for scientists to study resident communities in ancient agriculture.

Our last meet and greet was in an H’mong village sitting among glowing green, lush rice fields. The village is in an idyllic valley with stilt houses dotting the landscape. A shared cup of tea and some locally made banana wine, peanuts and bananas – and all traditional social mores had been adhered to.

What a cruise, what an experience and what about Vietnam for another cruise? Don’t mind if I do.

Friend or pho?

  • Around and beyond World Heritage listed Halong Bay, there are 1,969 dramatic limestone islands and rock formations dating back 20 million years.
  • The lotus is the national flower of Vietnam. All parts of this sustainable plant can be used or consumed and as most homes don’t have foil, the leaves are used for wrapping food for cooking or storing.
  • Pho is an aromatic stock-based soup with noodles, and beef, chicken or tofu – eat for breakfast lunch or dinner!

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  • The durable conical hat worn by farmers is called ‘Non La’.
  • Be flexible – monsoon rains could change the river levels and perhaps change the itinerary – enjoy the adventure.

Writer, Bev Malzard enjoyed extra time in Hanoi before and after the cruise and will cobble a few city images together for another blog in a couple of weeks. Here’s the writer with a lion, not quite extinct in Vietnam yet. 

This article was previously published in www.mydiscoveries.com.au

 

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And below, a reminder to do our bit while travelling, start small and don’t accept the plastic bags and take your own water bottle.

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The (almost half) year that was

The (almost half) year that was

I was reading a colleague’s ‘year of travel tales’ and thought I might put my 2018 up in lights too. After a few trips last year that were diverse in their locations I have many warm memories and hopefully some insights into what makes the world tick outside my limited realm. Once I began looking through my diary and picking my brains I realised that one year was too much to fit into one blog . . .so half (well, April) a year to begin with.

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At new year in 2018 I visited Melbourne with my partner and another friend, nothing planned but called it a holiday. The theme became Street and Wall Art (one of my fave subjects to write about). Melbourne led the way in Oz before other cities and country towns saw the benefit of exposing these fab young artists’ works, the tourism draw and total fun for the locals.

What I learned in Melbourne: Always take an umbrella, no matter what time of year you visit and always have a cake from the Ackland Street bakeries. Life is too short to miss one of these confections. Also discovered the charming Chinese Museum in Cohen Place.

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During the Sydney summer, I mooched around town and my suburb going for walks; heading to the beach, and going to the amazing St George Outdoor Cinema. We go to see two movies every season and the thrill of the big screen lifting up from across the harbour, the music coming on and flights on bats swarming through the twilight sky is a very Sydney night to behold.

Bali beckoned

And what was deemed another ‘holiday’ was an eight-day stay in Bali. Landed and straight up to Ubud for R&R. Four days of bliss. And the day we arrived there was a full-scale royal funeral happening .  . . thousands of people packed the streets. It was such a colourful and joyful event – and event it was. Stayed at Honeymoon Guesthouse (this is not a sponsored post), big room with air-con, pool in the grounds and a good brekkie. The Honeymoon s owned by and Australian woman, Janet de Neefe and her husband Ketut Suadana. Janet was the person who started the Bali Writer’s festival, an internationally respected annual event. Her idea for the festival was after one of the bombings in Bali when morale was low and the island needed a boost.

After Ubud we spent two days in Seminyak at the fancy Hotel Indigo and decided that’s what fancy resorts/hotels are for, staying in and resorting to chilling out. It was so damn hot we just dipped in and out of the pool all day, ordered cold drinks and hot chips . . . nice way to spend the day.

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Last two days at Sanur, so peaceful and laid back it was almost dull. But the Art Hotel had a funny roof infinity pool (pretty ordinary brekkie), nice cheap room, and close to cafes and restaurants.

See: https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/05/01/bali-then-and-now

What I learned in Bali: buy a cheap hat when you get there, don’t try to carry your good hat on a plane and from place to place. Go to a cooking school for a day’s course. Take moisturiser that is water-based. Don’t order the chicken Parmigiano on Jetstar. See https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/03/19/bali-cooking-class

 

Benalla the beautiful

Only 24 hours after landing back from Bali we were barreling south from Sydney, heading for a little town in north-east Victoria, Benalla. Stopped off on the way to stay in the wine town of Rutherglen to visit old friends for hippy, happy days in Greece many years ago (that’s an entirely different story).

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https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/06/04/where-the-art-is-try-a-country-town

Benalla’s Wall to Wall Art festival (see above link) was a blast – in a quiet country way. Yet again, exposure of art to locals and the huge crowd it draws from all over. The baby boomer crowd are the travellers who follow the art around, and check into the festivals and know what they like!

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What I learned in Benalla: Eat out early. The first night there we ate at the local Chinese and it was pretty good. Next night looking for a restaurant at 8.30pm was more difficult – only the Colonel and his chooks beckoned so we opted for a frozen lasagna, fruit and yoghurt from the supermarket, nuked the dinner-in-a-box in the motel microwave and happy as a couple of Larrys.

Going through last year’s diary between trips I have scribbled: pool; write; pool; write blog; record ‘Barry’; pool; walk; DEADLINE; write; cocktail event; find images today – urgent; find so-and-so to commission a story; pedicure; send proofs; movie; pool; Walking Dead starts tonight; buy food; hairdresser; bake a cake; write; DEADLINE; pool; writers lunch; walk; catch up on blog writing . . .  my exciting life!

Nimmitabel – who knew?

Ranked as seventh highest town in Australia (1082m) Nimmitabel is a tiny town (320 population) in the Snowy Monaro region 37km south of Cooma in NSW.  I rolled into this town when the two shops had shut – so the place resembled a ghost town. But life hums along quietly here and I was to visit a friend who is a quiet achiever, a legend in some small circles – a man who, with his partner has been rescuing wombats left along the highway. He raises them, looks after them 24 hours’ a day, has them eat him out of house and home (true), travels far and wide to find fresh grass when the drought gives nothing and then he teaches them bush craft and how to live in the wild. There’s not a native animal or bird that someone has found and not brought to him to look after when it has been shot, neglected or run down by cowboy drivers. His name is Garry Malzard.

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What I learned in that region: After having lunch at the cool little village of Jugiong, don’t distract your driver and end up in Canberra when you’re hoping for reach Sydney. AND the area around Nimmitabel has the only true chernozem soil in Australia, a very rich, fertile and dark coloured soil.[3]

Admirable Adelaide

Next Aussie destination was Adelaide. The Adelaide Central Market. The markets, the markets, the markets . . . best in Oz (IMHO). Shopped and ate.

Headed to the Fleurieu Peninsula – stunning coastline with roaring sea rolling in and vineyards crowding the land. A precious part of South Australia, this region boasts many splendours – one of which is the Star of Greece restaurant that sits on the edge of the cliff with views along the cliffs and beaches of Port Willunga.

The Star has been there for many years and until a recent makeover it was a basic beach shack. And it is still not too up itself and offers conviviality and a homey ambience. No fancy pants here – just the real deal.

img_0123What I learned in Adelaide: Get out of town and visit the amazing D’Arenburg Cube . . .go see for yourself. Eat anything fish and chippy! Buy curry spices from The Adelaide Central Market.

Last stop in Oz before the middle of 2018 was a six-day trip to Tasmania. Two days in Launceston, and then a drive to Freycinet National Park to stay in the Coastal Pavilions – glam accommodation and the region home to the famous Freycinet oysters – so wish I liked them as people say they are the best!

Then on to Hobart in one of the worst storms the city had seen in decades – see link below.

So that’s me up until the end of May 2018. I didn’t realise I had such a good time last year . . . I will ponder on the second half for another post.

https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/06/18/tasmanian-ancestral-home-beckons

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