Category Archives: Blogging From A-Z April Challenge

P- A Different Perspective of Paris…A-Z Challenge.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

Ernest Hemingway

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re off to Paris, a city with a big name and enormous reputation.  Indeed, if you were ever looking for inspiration, you’d head to Paris if you could.

Paris Rainy Street

Paris also has its rainy days. Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street;Rainy Day. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

However, all that glitters isn’t gold. So, it’s hardly surprising that the realities of Paris could well be very different to the Paris of your dreams, especially if you linger beyond the tourist traps. After spending six weeks in Paris in the Summer of ’92, I felt it was no coincidence that Paris has spawned revolutions, along with philosophical, literary, artistic and fashion movements.Indeed, for me, it was both a city of incredibly dazzling bright lights, but also a city of equally dark shadows and despair. Potentially, it’s this juxtaposition which fuels her creative flow. Creates a gripping tension spawning ideas.

writing in Paris

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

Indeed, when I reflect on my time in Paris, I often wonder why so few connect the city of love with the city of heartbreak. After all, isn’t it inevitable? Well, at least, that’s how it seems to me, and I’m sure anyone else who’s ever been dumped in Paris would agree. Indeed, I used to follow a band called Paris Dumper, and if you’re still in any doubt, just watch Casablanca. Things didn’t work out for Humphrey Bogart in Paris either.

Rowena Paris motorbike

My quest for the meaning of life continued

Over the last few years, Paris has also been the scene of horrific and very tragic terrorist attacks, along with mass movements defending the freedom of speech and fighting to overcome such  racism and bigotry.

Meanwhile, the people of Paris live alongside all this storm and drang, and somehow they go about their business like rows of ants carefully circumnavigating all this drama. After all, the people of Paris are just like people anywhere else on the planet. They also need to eat, work, love and sleep.

View of Nore Dame

Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891). “Notre-Dame vue du quai de la Tournelle”. Huile sur toile, 1852. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

It has taken me quite a few days to get my head around Paris. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll already note that my travel series isn’t just a series of checklists of what to see in each place. After all, such travel information is only a click or two away, and there’s no need to replicate all of that.

Picasso Notre Dame de Paris

Pablo Picasso, Notre Dame de Paris 1954. 

Rather, I wanted to share with you was what it was like for a 22 year old Australian to spend six weeks in Paris, where I had some kind of finger on the pulse. After all, I wasn’t just there for a couple days frenetically speeding through my checklist like a crazed ant. Rather, we lingered over a continental breakfast at our hotel, the Henri IV on the Rue Saint Jacques, just across from Notre Dame.

Rowena Luxembourg Gardens

My Feet Hanging Out at the Luxembourg Gardens, which were absolutely delightful. We spent quite a lot of time there. 

Indeed, we met a couple of Americans over breakfast at the hotel one morning, and one of them had lived in Paris before and became our impromptu tour guide. I particularly remember him taking us to the Musee Rodin where we could not only see, but experience those incredibly sculptures, especially The Thinker and The Kiss. Wow! They truly electrified my soul, and moved me so much more than the famed Mona Lisa at the Louvre. They were absolutely incredible, and also became something of a photographic feast.

However, as a bunch of twenty somethings, we also had our daily pilgrimage over Pont Neuf into the Latin Quarter where we hung out at the Boulangerie St Michel. You could people watch for hours there, if that’s what you were inclined to do. Moreover, like the great French philosophers who exchanged ideas in the cafes in Paris, we also philosophised. After all, we were young travellers wandering through Europe with the wind. There was so much to think about and I’m pretty sure the absence of any kind of anchor or routine, wasn’t entirely good for the psyche either.

Jim Morrison Grave

Jimmy Morrison’s Grave. 

We were the only flotsam and jetsam wandering through Paris either. Aside from the cafes, we also gravitated towards Jimmy Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a never-ending vigil. “Tumbleweeds”  also hung out at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where proprietor George Whitman offered somewhere to crash out in exchange for working for a few hours in the shop. I think I also read something about having to read a book a day as well, although I couldn’t be entirely sure, because I didn’t stay there.

Shakespeare Bookshop

The Shakespeare Bookshop

However, you won’t be surprised that I found my way into the Shakespeare Bookshop. By this stage, I’d spent three months on the continent and the Shakespeare was the only English-speaking bookshop in Paris. I was craving for the written word in my own tongue. Indeed, I clearly remember reading those words in my guidebook. However, what I suspect was missing from the guidebook, was the possibility of doing poetry readings at the Shakespeare and I might have heard about that from my American friend, Chris, who, as I said, had lived in Paris. Either way, a rather naive, young Australia who had self-published her anthology of poetry: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth fronted up to George Whitman and asked to do a reading.

Poetry Reading

Me & My Notebook…taken during my solo reading upstairs at the Shakespeare Bookshop

To put you in the picture, from what I’ve subsequently researched, having an unknown, young poet from distant Sydney, Australia approach the great George Whitman about reading her own poetry at THE Shakespeare, was very much along the same vein as young Oliver Twist holding out his bowl and asking: “Please sir, can I have some more!”

Obviously, I was a complete and utter upstart. However, ignorance is bliss and I knew none of that at the time. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know terribly much about the Shakespeare’s incredible history and how it was a haven for literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin and Henry while they were in Paris. Somehow, Rowena Curtin of Sydney who’d performed at Sydney University’s International Women’s Day Festival, the Reasonably Good Cafe in Chippendale, Gleebooks and the Newtown Street Festival didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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Degas: Ballet At the Paris Opera. The Art Institute of Chicago.  

However, for some reason, he gave me a go. Not only that, he gave me a solo reading, which also meant having to draw up my own advertising poster to go in the shop window. Talk about cringe-worthy. In hindsight, I’m telling my 22 year old self to put that notebook back in your backpack and drink some more coffee…you little upstart!!!

However, if I’d done that and stuck to the tried and tested, I wouldn’t have this incredible and very unique feather in my cap. Despite everything I’ve been through since, nothing and nobody can take this away from me.

From what I now understand, my experience was truly remarkable. Apparently, young poets didn’t get a look in at the Shakespeare, and were strictly audience only. George Whitman wasn’t a soft touch either. I still remember meeting him and he was quite gruff, which is quite understandable now I know just whose footsteps I was treading on and what an extraordinary opportunity I had. Indeed, it’s an experience well beyond the scope of this post, as I’ll need to dig up those travel diaries once again. However, I’ll have to write about it soon. Indeed, I can’t believe I’ve left it so long.

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The City of Lights By Night. The light dancing across the inky waters was rather alluring in those early hours of the morn. 

However, Paris had quite a heaviness for me, and I clearly remember writing poetry at two o’clock in the morning beside the River Seine just near Pont Neuf . Clear as day, I remember looking across the river and there was a group of young men with their ghetto blaster and while I should have been afraid, I was locked inside something like a bubble of grief where either I didn’t care anymore. Or, believed I couldn’t be hurt anymore. Just let me say, there’s a reason why there are so many bridges in Paris and it isn’t just to get to the other side.

Arc de Triomphe by Night

Robert Ricart, Arc de Triomphe by Night.

“Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be

here…the French air clears up the brain and does one good.”

-Vincent van Gogh letter to Horace Mann Livens from Paris September

or October, 1886.

So, you can probably understand why it’s taken me quite some time to write about Paris, and why I couldn’t simply write some stereotypical tribute to all it’s sights and wonders. I have crossed known its dark side, wallowed in it and thanks to my very best friends and the grace of God, survived. Indeed, they got me on a train back to Heidelberg where my friends there picked up this crumpled bird and very slowly helped me regain my strength. The spirit of Paris ran me over and almost destroyed me completely. Indeed, for me, it is a city to be approached with a great deal of caution, particularly once you start carving a path beyond the roads most travelled.

Patisserie Paris

Paris could also be exquisite and incredibly delicious. 

I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences in Paris? Or, perhaps in another time and place? I’ve also experienced a similar vibe in Byron Bay, which also attracts travellers, seekers and along with it’s incredibly natural beauty also has its darkness.

Best wishes,

Rowena

P.S> I would like to add that I didn’t experience all darkness and gloom in Paris, and that experiencing the heaviness of life isn’t all bad. That it’s often during times of struggle that we actually grow the most. Have our eyes opened to the enormous realms of possibilities which are always just out there waiting for us to stick our necks out, take a risk and have a go.

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 20th April, 2020

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Since we’re meeting up in a virtual sense, let’s throw social distancing out the window and we can all shake hands, hug and even throw a party together. Don’t you just miss all of that close social contact and being with family and friends beyond your front door?!! It’s particularly hard on people people who are living alone. After all, it’s not a lifestyle choice which everyone chooses, and it’s times like this that those twists and turns of fate can be particularly hard to get through.

By the way, since we’ve been doing a bit of baking here, you can have your pick of chocolate Caramel Slice, or  chop chip cookies and there might’ve been a pavlova in there somewhere or perhaps that was a few weeks ago. Of course, you’re always welcome to Vegemite toast where you pop round here. It’s an Australian staple, especially for me.

How is the coronavirus impacting your part of the world? It’s sure inflicting a lot of grief  in a lot of places, but fortunately Australia and New Zealand are doing okay atm. However, it’s hard to know just how it’s all going to pan out and nobody has a crystal ball.

Still, lock down isn’t bliss and so many people have lost their jobs and are doing it tough. I’m gaoled inside, except for going out for exercise, and then I have to breathe in every time I approach another human being, I almost flinch. Our local footpaths weren’t made for social distancing. They weren’t made for two dogs on leads to pass each other either. None of our three dogs tolerate other dogs either, and even bark and lunge from across the road at times. It’s so embarrassing. I’m clearly not a good dog mum and it’s back to school for me.

However, clearly other parts of the world are doing things much tougher and so many loved ones are losing their lives. I also want to give a big shout out to all those working in our hospitals and essential services. Many, many thanks and I hope you’re getting along okay. You’re all working under very extreme war zone type conditions and we as a global community are thinking of you and sending our love.

Well, how is lock down looking for us?

Well, I’m in lock down with my husband Geoff and our two teenaged kids aged 16 and 14 along with our three dogs. Geoff’s working from home and has also completely dug up our backyard and buried a layer of subterranean “pavers” which are designed to stop dogs from digging holes. Yes, we needed to reclaim our backyard, especially because we’re wanting to put our new isolation camper in the backyard without it falling down a hole. My research on WWI is continuing and I’ve also been beavering through the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, where I’m writing about places I’ve been. I’m currently a day behind because I’m trying to get Paris write. What I want to say is fairly complex, because as the saying goes “not all that glitters is gold”.

ballet shoes

Meanwhile, the kids are on school holidays. Our daughter has three days of dance rehearsals this week which will be running via zoom in our kitchen. I’ve had to put a schedule on the white board out there so the rest of us can schedule in our cups of tea and there’s also a matter of cooking dinner, which seems to clash with the schedule and the rest of us are left huddled together with empty tummies out in the loungeroom. That goes double for Lady, one of our dogs. She’s thinking about dinner as soon as she’s finished breakfast.

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Bruce the Shark Grass

Our son has been doing Scouts for years and is now a Venturer. They’re also conducting their meetings via zoom and their leader also set them a lock down challenge. They’re growing grass animals and there’s naturally a competition to see whose animal has the longest hair at the end of the holidays.

Zac at the beach

Meanwhile, the dogs have been the overall winners during this lock down scenario. Since we’re only allowed out for exercise, they’ve been going for a lot more walks and they’ve also had all of us home. That means four ball and stick throwers and they’re thrilled to bits. I’ve been enjoying our walks along the beach, although Zac wasn’t allowed off the lead until all the other dogs had gone home. We have some work ahead.

Meanwhile, I’m binge watching Masterchef tonight. Somehow, I missed the start of the series and I had a week to catch up on. I wasn’t sure how it would go with the three new judges. However, they brought back contestants from past seasons and that’s provided the familiarity and I quite like the new judges. This week was Gordon Ramsay Week, and I must say I feel sorry for the contestants launching off a new season with him. Talk about being thrown in the deep end.

Well, I’d better finish this off and get to bed. It is very, very late, but I just ran out of hours today. I run out of hours every day. I wonder where they go…

Take care and stay safe.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

O – Great Ocean Road, Victoria…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to the Great Ocean Road, Victoria our next stop on the way through the A-Z of Places I’ve Been during the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge. It’s quite a coincidence that we’re going on another road trip straight after crossing the Nullarbor Plain, yesterday. For those of you who like to be efficient and travel via the most direct route, you’re not going to like me today. You see, yesterday, we were heading from East to West heading for Perth, and while we could have approached the Great Ocean Road from East to West, we’re not. I’ve driven along the Great Ocean Road twice and both times it’s been on the way from Adelaide to Melbourne and just to add a few kilometres onto the clock, then back home to Sydney. For those of you particularly living in the UK or even Tasmania where you might not be used to traveling vast distances, that’s further than you’ll possibly drive in a lifetime.

Great Ocean Road

Although the Great Ocean Road is in Victoria (ie not in NSW where we live), the views are jaw-droppingly beautiful and if you’re prone to trigger-happy photography, you’ll love it here and just be thankful for digital photography. You could have gone through a hell of a lot of film here is the weather was cooperating and bathing those magnificent rock formations in golden light right at the very moment you’re looking through the lens, which, as we all know, isn’t always possible when you’re travelling.

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The remains of the 12 Apostles at Sunset.

By the way, I probably should fill you in on the whereabouts of the Great Ocean Road. Essentially, when you look at the map, you’ll find it snaking its way across the bottom of Victoria. However, for more specific directions, this 243-kilometre stretch of road lies between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford, although that doesn’t really help much because that’a not what you’re there for. At least, it wasn’t why I was going there. I wanted to see and, of course,  photograph the 12 Apostles. This is where not being able to add up can be in your favour. I don’t know how many apostles are still standing, but I’m sure it’s not 12!

So, this takes us into the Port Campbell National Park, which extends from  from Princetown to Peterborough. This is where you’ll capture all those postcard-perfect photos of the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, The Arch and the Grotto, to name a few.  I also recommend stopping in at the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre located at 26 Morris Street, Port Campbell before you head out.

I also recommend that you book your accommodation ahead if you are traveling during the school holiday periods, especially around Christmas. We tend to like travelling by feel and just pulling up when we’re really to stop. However, we had a lot of trouble finding anywhere to stay when we came through here in early January. That makes a lot of sense, but when you’e not used to booking ahead, finding out there’s no room at the inn can come as a nasty surprise.

In the meantime, while Australia’s borders are closed and no one’s allowed to travel beyond your letterbox here in Australia unless it’s under the banner of “exercise”, I thought you might like to explore the Great Ocean Road in it’s full, virtual glory via it’s Official Website.

Have you ever driven along the Great Ocean Road? Or, perhaps you have your own favourite coastal drive, which you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

N- Australia’s Nullarbor Plain…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 14 of the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re leaving Melbourne to the fashionistas, gourmets and hipsters. They can pine longingly for their lattes, smashed avo and empty cafes. Meanwhile, we’re boarding Morrie the Magnificent, our trusty Morris Minor with his zipped up Datsun 180Y engine and whatever it was which allowed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to fly, and we’re off to find Australia’s Yellow Brick Road AKA the Eyre Highway. Indeed, we’re off to cross the Nullarbor Plain.

Although I’ve also crossed the Nullarbor by train on board the Indian Pacific both with and without a sleeper (boy sitting up was painful and only the stuff of uni students and equally impoverished backpackers), I thought we’d go by road. So far, I’ve only done the road trip once. It was absolutely epic, and I’m longing to repeat the trip with Geoff and the kids. However,  of course, that will have to wait. Even travel within Australia is banned at the moment, and WA is more shut down than most. It’s even clamped down on travel within the state with an iron fist.

By the way, when it comes to social distancing and out-manouvering the Coronavirus, it doesn’t get much better than the Nullarbor Plain. With 200 km in between petrol stations, even the virus will run out of gas.

Nullarbour Ceduna roadsign

Road Sign Ceduna, South Australia.

The Nullarbor Plain covers a vast, almost incomprehensible distance, stretching about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) kms at it’s widest point. The Eyre Highway, which is the main road (and indeed the ONLY road across the Nullarbor), is a staggering 1,664 km (1,034 mi) long. When you’re heading from East to West, it starts out in Port Augusta in South Australia and winds up in Norseman, Western Australia.

That’s a very long trip for Morrie the Magnificent to even consider, especially when he’s been rather unreliable of late and might not even make it past Woy Woy. However, since this is a virtual adventure, let’s look on the bright side. As Morrie mutters: “I think I can”, we can all shout out: “We know you can!!”

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Map Showing the Eyre Highway, which crosses the Nullarbor Plain from Port Augusta, SA to Norseman, WA.

However, before we leave on the trip, there are a few things you ought to know. Firstly, no electronic devices, books or other distractions are allowed. While many have referred to the Nullarbor as the “Nullaboring”, there’s still a lot to see out there. Besides, that sense of never-ending salt bush and vast unending space, is something which needs to be experienced in its full glory. That’s even if you as the driver are going mad asking: “Are we there yet?” SORRREEE!!! No, you’re not!!! Stop being so precious and make the most of the experience. It’s like nothing else. You can be thankful when you get home, that it’s only the trip of a lifetime and you don’t have to do this journey everyday!!

Nullarbor Pink Everlastings

Pink Everlasting Daisies Flourishing Alongside the Eyre Highway.

My apologies, I got a bit sidetracked there. I was meant to be giving you what could amount to a lifesaving briefing about what you need to take with you. Given the Nullarbor’s absolute isolation, you need to travel with a good supply of water, extra petrol and food in case you break down. While there is other traffic out there and people are very mindful of stopping to help, it’s always better to be prepared and self-sufficient, especially if you’re driving at night. You have to remember there are stretches of 200 kms in between petrol stations, and there’s not a Maccas on every corner either. Rather, it’s a case of me, myself and I out there, which, as my Dad would say, could well “put hairs on your chest”.

One last warning, it’s not advisable to do this trip in the heart of our Australian Summer. It gets so hot out there, that even the flies refuse to travel.

As I said, I’ve only driven across the Nullarbor once. That was with a friend back in 1997. We were heading one-way from Sydney to Perth  via Adelaide, and sharing driving and petrol expenses. However, since my friend drove a manual Commodore, the trip also came with obligatory driving lessons and let’s just say it’s just as well the Nullarbor had no trees! I wasn’t a natural!!

Nullarbor Eagle

An eagle perched over roadkill.

To be perfectly honest, aside from never-ending salt bush, there’s not much report out here. Well, that’s until you come across an eagle perched on top of a dead kangaroo and  it’s fiercely defending it’s dinner from passing road trains and cars. It’s quite amusing to watch, especially after looking at salt bush for hours. It seems the Eyre Highway provides a sort of fast food service out here, and as you could imagine, nothing goes to waste.

Now, I’m going to start the difficult process of trying to reconstruct my memories into some kind of sequence, hoping I really don’t get things out of order. Indeed, I’m hoping that just this once, my photographs might be in the right order. That back in the days of film and printing out photos as they happened, that I won’t be left scrambling, cursing my scatter-and-shuffle brain.

Thinking back to our trip across the Nullarbor, there are a few places which really come to mind.

Rowena Great Australian Bight

The Great Australian Bight.

It’s a shame this magnificent stretch of plunging limestone cliffs is so isolated and difficult to reach. They’re breathtakingly beautiful and their sheer size and enormity blew me away. While I’ve heard it’s a great place for whale watching, we were only driving through, and weren’t looking for a more extended experience at the time. Meanwhile, I just loved the landscape itself.

Great Australian Bight truck

The road train parked on the edge of the Great Australian Bight here, gives some perspective on the enormity of the cliffs.

Eucla

The isolated town of Eucla might only be a quick 10 minute drive from the South Australian border However, it’s still a massive 1,430 kilometres from Perth. So, you’re not there yet.

Nullarbor Rowena Eucla

While in hindsight, it feels like we were hot-footing our way to Perth and didn’t stop long at any local spots along the way, we actually did check out Eucla’s impressive Bilbunya Dunes, which look like a scene straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. It reminded me of tobogganing down sand dunes on Glad bags back when I was at school, before dune rehabilitation became a concern.

Nullarbor Eucla Sand dune

I really liked this footprints climbing up the side of the dune. The lone figure at the top seems so alone and isolated and the footprints suggest a journey of self-discovery and introspection, as though they’re climbing up the sand and inside themselves. 

In addition to the dunes, we also checked out the Old Telegraph Station. I’m not sure how much was visible at the time. However, from the look of my photos, only a chimney was peering out above the sand. I’ll be writing more about the Old Telegraph Station tomorrow after I dug up a few old stories from the old newspapers. My goodness! They were great.

Nullarbor Chimney Telegraph Station

 

The 90 Mile Straight.

Once you cross the Western Australian border, the Eyre Highway itself becomes a sight to behold. Between Balladonia and Caiguna, you hit what’s colloquially known as the “90 Mile Straight” where the road stretches in a straight line for 146.6 kilometres (91.1 mi) without a bend. This is regarded as the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, and one of the longest in the world. That might not seem very exciting when you’re cruising along that endless straight line. However, once you finally reach that bend in the road, it’s a true Eureka moment!! 

The Nullarbor Links

Not being a golfer myself, I didn’t pay much attention to the Nullarbor Links on our trip. However, with my Dad being a passionate golfer, I couldn’t go past it now. The Nullarbor Links is the world’s longest golf course with 18 holes on the 1,365 kilometre course, stretching from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia. Plus, there’s an added bonus. You could well have Skippy the bush kangaroo and her  mates cheering you on.

Nullarbour Roadsign

Road Signs

Road signs along the Eyre Highway make for great photo opportunities and are landmarks in themselves.

There’s a lot more to the Nullarbour Plain for those who want to venture off the main road. However, that wasn’t my experience. So, I’ll leave that for someone else.

I would’ve loved to take you further down the track to Esperance. However, just this once, I’m going to stick to the brief.

Have you ever been across the Nullarbor Plain and if so, do you have any stories to share? Or, perhaps, this is a trip you’d love to make one day. Something to cross of your bucket list.

I hope and pray that you and yours are staying safe and well.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

M- Melbourne…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to what I believe to be Day 13 and halfway through the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2020 is Places I’ve Been and today, we’re off to Melbourne.

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A Melbourne Tram.

While we’re all armed to the hilt to evade the coronavirus, while we’re in Melbourne you’ll also need to keep your eyes peeled for the trams. They look innocuous enough from  a distance, but don’t be fooled. They can become terrifying missiles of personal destruction. That’s why there’s plenty of signage to keep you on your toes. So, my first word to you, is to heed the advice.

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When it came to writing about Melbourne, again I wondered whether I really had the goods. Being Sydney born and bred, Melbourne’s always been that abomination South of the border. In other words, it was the enemy.

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The Entrance to Flinders Street Station (constructed 1909) 

However, then I finally made it down to Melbourne in my early 20’s, I actually quite liked it (not that I actually let on when I came home). The trams made it very easy to get around and were quite a novelty. Moreover, I loved all the fashion outlets, especially checking out Melbourne’s great fashion Mecca, Chapel Street.

Chloe

Jules Joseph Lefebvre: Chloe, 1875.

There was also the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). However, that’s not where you’ll find Melbourne’s most famous portrait. Rather, you’ll find Chloé located in the upstairs bar of the Young and Jackson Hotel, where it’s been since 1909, and not without controversy.

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Of course, as a Sydneysider, it’s very tempting to point out all the things that Melbourne hasn’t got. First cab off the rank, of course, is our beautiful harbour, and Melbourne seems a bit short-changed with its alternative… the muddy Yarra River. Adding to that, there’s no SYDNEY Opera House and no SYDNEY Harbour Bridge. It doesn’t live up to us on the beach front either. After all, it doesn’t have Bondi either!!

 

However, there’s one thing Melbourne has which Sydney’s sorely missing.  That is Masterchef. Yes, Masterchef is based in Melbourne. So, if Melbourne wasn’t the Australian food capital before Masterchef, it certainly is now. That in itself could be reason enough to defect. I wouldn’t be the first, and I won’t be the last.

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Watching Aussie Rules Football. Sorry Melbourne. This photo was taken at the SCG and I’m sporting my Sydney Swans Scarf.

Melbourne is also the capital of Australian Rules Football, and the finale is held down there every year no matter whose playing. I’ve never been to a match in Melbourne, but the family would like to make it down for the final one day, although it is very expensive. By the way, I’m a Sydney Swans supporter, our son goes for Greater Western Sydney, while Geoff goes for Essendon and any team that’s playing Collingwood.

Of course, Melbourne isn’t completely devoid of beaches. While I haven’t really checked most of them out, I have been to Brighton Beach, with its brightly painted bathing boxes, which are well over a hundred years old and date back to the Victorian era where one didn’t strut down the main street showing your ankles let alone in your bikini.

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Early Morning Port Melbourne Viewed From The Spirit of Tasmania. 

This brings me to Port Melbourne, which we experienced at sunrise after sailing overnight  on board the Spirit of Tasmania. However, although I didn’t know it at the time, my Great Grandfather, Reuben Gardiner, who was a Second Mate on board the Adelaide Steamship Company’s coal steamer, the Dilkera,  had had a very different experience of Port Melbourne.

On Tuesday 8th April, 1924, the Dilkera, ploughed into a small coastal steamer, the Wyrallah, which had steered right in front of the Dilkara’s path in a treacherous stretch of water near the entrance of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, known as The Rip.  Five crew members and one passenger on board the Wyrallah drowned. Indeed, the Wyrallah sank like a stone in less than ten minutes, while the heartbreaking cries of the drowning men could still heard from the Dilkera, until there was nothing but silence. If you would like to read more about the collision, you can reach a previous post HERE.

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Yours truly at Federation Square.

We probably shouldn’t leave Melbourne on such a tragic note and so I’ll take you on a quick virtual tour of the National Gallery of Victoria (the NGV). Firstly there’s the Marking-Time exhibition of Indigenous art. “This exhibition explores drawings and markings of figures, signs or text made on public surfaces across Indigenous Australia, from rock face to now. ” There’s also Top Arts 2020 Top Arts 2020 which celebrates the exceptional and thought-provoking work of VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts students. Drawn from a range of media, topics, schools and students, Top Arts 2020 is part of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s annual showcasing of excellence. This LINK will take you on a virtual tour of the exhibition. To be perfectly honest with you, I found it a little creepy exploring this vast white gallery space designed for large milling crowds of people, but is conspicuously empty. Of course, this has nothing to do with our current scenario of social distancing which has naturally closed the gallery altogether leaving the artworks together to haunt each other in this ghostly space. BTW I also had a bit of fun running through this virtual gallery with my mouse, where there was no one to throw me out and spoil the fun.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our tour of Melbourne. You never know quite where you’re going to end up on one of my tours. However, by now you’ve learned to expect the expected.

Have you ever been to Melbourne? Or, perhaps you live there and can really show me up with a few more detailed posts. I acknowledge this barely scratches the surface. Indeed, I freely admit that I barely know the place. However, since it’s looking like we won’t be able to go overseas for quite a long time,  an extended trip to Melbourne where we could also catch up with family is probably on the cards.

Sending love to you and yours through these difficult times.

Love,

Rowena

 

 

K – Köln (Cologne), Germany…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to what I surely hope is Day 11, of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, where we’ll be touching down in Köln (Cologne) on the River Rhine. I was in Köln back in May, 1992 with my best friend Lisa, and it was our second port of call on our great European backpacking adventure. I didn’t know much about about Köln before the trip. However, my grandmother used to wear 4711 Eau de Cologne when I was a little girl, and while it was mesmerising then, it was more of a “granny fragrance” and most definitely not something I’d wear myself. However, you’re welcome to visit the Farina Fragrance Museum near the Town Hall.

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When I think back to our time in Köln, the first thing that comes to mind is hunger. The second is food envy. By this stage, our initial stash of bread rolls from our first free night’s accommodation in the KLM Hotel in Amsterdam, had well and truly run out. Ever conserving our pennies, we thought very carefully before lashing out on a punnet of strawberries to share for dinner, which tragically turned out to be sour. So, it take much imagination to put yourself in that picture. Just to rub salt in the wound, we were staying at the Youth Hostel, and a group of German high school students was also staying there and while we were starving, they were all being dished up huge, delectable bowls full of spaghetti. While we were drooling, crippled with growling hunger and covertous food envy; these spoiled brats, didn’t finish their meals. Indeed, the dining room was filled with half-empty bowls and if we didn’t have any self-dignity (or perhaps if we’d been travelling alone and didn’t have an eye witness) we could’ve polished off their leftovers, and even licked the bowls. The irony is, of course, that we were still flush with funds at this point, and I actually arrived home with enough money to buy a return ticket to Europe. However, it was that uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead, which reigned our spending in (something we know all too well in these particularly uncertain times).

Aside from the hunger,  magnificent Köln Cathedral was absolutely sensational, particularly since this was the first cathedral we’d ever visited in Europe and it was so far beyond anything we have back in Australia , that it blew me away. . Apparently, the cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark. Construction began back in 1248 but was halted in 1473, unfinished and work did not restart until the 1840s, when the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. It’s hard to imagine something being unfinished for so long, and it makes me feel so much better about all my own unfinished projects. 

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There was another aspect to our visit to Köln Cathedral. As it turned out, we were in Köln during the 50th Anniversary of “Operation Millenium” where Britain almost bombed Köln out of existence in retaliation for German attacks on London and Warsaw. Indeed, on the evening of 30 May 1942, over 1,000 bombers took off for Cologne under the Command of Bomber Harris. Köln was decimated. All but flattened, except for the magnificent Cathedral which miraculously survived peering imperiously over the carnage. I’m not going to make any apologies for not liking war or its after effects. This wasn’t some virtual experience in a video game. You can find out more about it here HERE. I’m yet to finish watching this documentary but it seems rather balanced and definitely has some incredible and very sobering footage.

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As part of the anniversary commemorations, there was a small protest outside Köln Cathedral called the “Cologne Complaining Wall for Peace”. I was fascinated by this at the time, particular as an Australian who’d only been in Europe for a week and it really opened my eyes. It’s always good to hear more than one side of any story, and I usually prefer multiple angles to really shake things up. So, now I’m going to peer at these photos from 28 years ago hoping my dodgy eyesight can glean something from all those years ago.

Here goes:

A Monument for “Bomber Harris”.

May 31, 1992 is the 50th Anniversary of the 1,000 bomber attack on Cologne. British Airfield Marshal Arthur Harris ordered the attack. The destruction of Dresden on February 1, 1945 was his work, too.

In May

The British Government plans to dedicate a monument to him in Central London with funds from the veterans’ organization.

“Bomber Command Harris”

KILL ONE,

and you’re a murderer.

Kill 100,000

and you are a hero.

To keep matters straight- Harris’s carpet bombing attacks “to demoralise the civilian population” were a reaction to the raids which Nazi Germany committed against cities like:

Guernica (1937)

Warsaw (1939)

Rotterdam (1940)

Coventry (1940)

Belgrade (     )

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Köln in 1944. 

The display also included photos of Köln after the bombings, showing the monumental devastation. Look at it now, and on first impressions, you’d never know until you  take a deeper look and discern the new from the old.

While I acknowledge bringing up controversial and rather grim details of WWII is rather hard hitting, I do believe we need to know about this things. That we can’t just fill our head with happy thoughts, and hope to acquire wisdom. That as much as we campaign and long for peace, that war inevitably seems to comes in one form or another and we not only need to be prepared, we need to know how to fight and defend ourselves against the enemy. As it stands at the moment, that enemy is a virus but the principles remain, especially if you don’t want to be a sitting duck for attack.

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However, before I move on from its beautiful Churches and cathedrals, I thought we might check out Groß St Martin’s Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque Catholic church and its foundations (circa 960 AD) rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine. The church was later transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The current buildings, including a soaring crossing tower that is a landmark of Cologne’s Old Town, were erected between 1150-1250.

St Martins 1946

The church was badly damaged during World War II, and there was a question of whether the church should be restored, and how it should be restored, was the subject of debate. Should the church be left as a ruined memorial to the war? Or should it be fully restored? And if so, which period in the history of Great Saint Martin represents the “original” church? A series of public lectures were held in 1946/47, under the theme “What happens to the Cologne Churches?”. These lectures involved artists, politicians, architects and restorers, and mirrored public debates on the issue. In spite of some public scepticism, restoration work began in 1948, and the church was opened to worshippers when the interior restorations were completed in 1985, after a long wait of forty years. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Höffner, who installed holy relics of Brigitta von Schweden, Sebastianus and Engelbert of Cologne, in its sepulchre. So, it hadn’t been open long before I was there.

Cologne Hot Chocolate

Lastly, after rousing your sympathy for this little Aussie Battler starving away over in Germany, I do have a confession to make. I did manage to find one indulgence. This was a hot chocolate with whipped cream. I’d never had one before, but a pact was made. It was divine. I absolutely loved its pure indulgence. Loved it enough to endure the disapproval of the skim brigade. After all, everybody needs a little bit of naughtiness.

On that note, it’s time for us to leave Köln behind. Back in 1992, Köln marked a fork in the road. With Germany in the grip of a train and garbage strike with trains difficult to catch and rubbish piling in the streets, Lisa decided to leave Germany and I can’t remember whether she went back to Amsterdam, or headed onto Prague and Budapest. Meanwhile, I continued further South bound for Heidelberg, accidentally leaving my passport behind in Köln just to complicate matters a little more after having my wallet stolen in Amsterdam only days before. However, as we head along to L in the Blogging A to Z Challenge, we’ll be heading somewhere else but you can visit Heidelberg HERE.

Have you ever been to Köln? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

I- Ipswich…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 9 of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge. My theme for 2020 is Places I’ve Been and today we’ll be travelling to Ipswich, Queensland, despite the state currently being in lock-down on account of the Coronavirus.

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Map showing the road route from Brisbane to Ipswich.

Australians will be rather gobsmacked to find Ipswich lined up alongside some of the most spectacularly beautiful cities in the world. Trust me! If I’d been to Ireland or India, Ipswich wouldn’t have made the cut. However, I decided to go with Ipswich to touch on a very important reason many of us travel. That is to see the people we love. Yes, that sense of place can also be about people.

Jonathon & Qantas Pilot

Our son with the Qantas Captain at Brisbane Airport.

So, today we’re going to visit my late grandparents who I always knew as “Mama and Papa Haebich, although since my grandfather lived to the ripe old age of 95, he came to be known as “Papa Bert” to our kids. My grandparents moved to Ipswich in about 1976, when I was seven years old.

Portrait Mama & Papa

My grandparents in front of the piano. My grandmother would cover it in cards and photos for special occasions. I don’t think I ever heard my grandmother play it, although she used to play the organ for church while my grandfather preached.

What I remember most about visiting my grandparents was their incredible, almost giddy love for us, which surpassed all human understanding. Our dogs get uber-excited about going for a walk and they literally quiver with excitement. However, I’m not even sure that comes close to how our grandparents felt about seeing us…especially my grandmother!

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A Historic Postcard of Ipswich’s Main Street. 

With us living in Sydney, it was roughly a 1000 km drive to get there and I still remember the first time we drove up there in the family’s EH Holden with the unforgettable number plate “EGO”. My brother and I were sharing the back seat and almost murdering each other before we’d even passed through the toll gates on the Pacific Highway leaving Sydney.  I remember that incredible excited anticipation as we pulled into their street. My grandfather had specially bought brand new numbers for the house so we could find it. They were bright red and still there last time I looked more than 40 years later. They would’ve been keeping an eagle-eye out for our car. As soon as it appeared, they would’ve been down the stairs in a flash making the 1954 Royal tour look relatively sedate. As soon as she saw me, I would’ve been lost inside my grandmother’s arms all snuggled up inside a hug.

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My grandfather ued to draw us cartoons and post them down to us. This one shows when the infants school choir made a record and my mum was the accompanist. BTW back then I saw known as “Nina”. 

Before we move on from this very first trip to Ipswich, there was something else which also captured our attention. That was the fire engines. Their siren was quite different to what we were used to and the fire station was about a block away. So, the next morning while the big people were still asleep, my brother and I took ourselves on an excursion to the fire station. It was so much fun, and then Dad suddenly appeared out of nowhere. We weren’t really in trouble as such, I suspect because he had a few walkabouts of his own as a kid and he understood the need.

When I was older, I used to catch the McCafferty’s bus up to see my grandparents in my school holidays. Much to my mother’s annoyance, I did a lot of baking while I was there and she was trying to get both my grandmother and I to lose weight. However, she was over 1000 km away, and out of reach. My grandparents especially picked and froze mulberries from their tree, so I could make my not so world famous mulberry pie when I came. Of course, being the forbidden fruit made every scrumptious mouthful so much better. In addition to the cooking, we also used to catch the train into Brisbane to go shopping. I still remember when the then Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, introduced these flash new silver, single-storey trains, which my grandparents simply called: “Joh’s trains”. Joh could do no wrong, and was up there alongside the saints, until he slipped up. That was painful!

My grandparents lived in what’s known as a Queenslander house. This is essentially a historic rather ornate timber home, which is built up on pillars to maximize air-flow to cool the place down. This provides a massive and much cooler space under the house, which could provide added living space. However, in my grandparents’ case, it was an Aladdin’s cave of stashed treasures, including a functional laundry copper, which was still there when we sold the house about ten years ago. (I still get sad and have a deep sense of loss about all the stuff that was thrown out!!)

In more recent times, Queensland’s most infamous politician hails from Ipswich. Pauline Hansen famously used to have a fish & chips shop there, and has been canonized for her catch cry: “Please explain.”

Above – The Workshops Rail Museum has a nipper’s playground section for the kids. It’s sensational!!

Meanwhile, the arrival of our son on the scene, brought fresh meaning and a brand new destination on our trips to Ipswich. When he was about 2 years old, we took him to the Workshops Rail Museum for the first time. We’d flown up to Ipswich to celebrate my grandfather’s 70th year of ordination as a Pastor in the Lutheran Church. While mum was busy with preparations back at the house, my Dad and I decided to take Mister for a quick visit to the trains, and we’d planned to return the next day for a longer visit. However, you try explaining that to a two year old who’s just discovered Nirvana?!!! He wouldn’t budge. He threw a whopper of a tantrum, and the guy operating the model train exhibit and was well versed in dealing with disappointed kiddies, kindly turned it off so we could get him out. My Dad pick him up and held him under his arm, kicking and screaming blue murder all the way out to the car . He clearly wasn’t taking “NO!!!” for an answer and after going to a gazillion parenting courses, I knew the only way forward was to wait until Vesuvius subsided and his rational mind started to kicked back in. That was our only hope of ever getting him back into his car seat and buckled in. However, who was I kidding? This toddler couldn’t read, but he’d sure as hell absorbed my favourite motivation quote:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

― Calvin Coolidge

Well, this kid had it covered. He was sitting in the driver’s seat and refusing to move. We rang my mum and warned her we could be back late and that her much beloved grandson was holding things up. Of course, this didn’t go down well. I don’t know how many head honchos from the Church were going to be at the celebration, but mum needed the car to get the cake out there and the stress levels back at the house were also at fever-pitch. I have no idea how we managed to get that car moving.

Papa Bert 70th ordination

My grandfather, Pastor Bert Haebich, at his 70th Ordination in 2007.

However, all’s well that ends well apparently. We all managed to get out there. The afternoon went without a hitch. AND (drum roll) we were all smiles for the cameras. Happy families!

Jonathon teaching Papa Bert to read

As is often the case when grandparents live a distance away, we’ve barely been back since my grandfather passed away in 2009. We’ve visited friends and gone back to the Workshops Museum, but it’s been too long and that’s not going to change for awhile now. I am exceptionally grateful for that and the strict measures the governments have put in place. We’ve had a good reduction in the number of new cases and Australians who are bunkered can actually feel quite safe, and also a huge sense of gratitude to our front line workers who are keeping us alive. Thank you very much!

Amelia & Jonathon piano 2010

Have you ever been to Ipswich? Or, perhaps there’s a place which is made special to you because of the people living there, which you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you. 

Best wishes,

Rowena

Papa & Mama Haebich

 

H- Heidelberg…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 8 of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re flying from Geraldton in Western Australia, back across to Europe and touching down in Heidelberg, Germany where I live for around 6 months back in 1992 while backpacking through Europe.

Heidelberg Castle Door

Knocking on the door of Heidelberg Castle. 

I first arrived in Heidelberg about a week after I arrived in Europe. There was a rail and garbage strike in Germany at the time, and it was difficult to get around. So, when it came to leaving Cologne, my friend decided to head to Budapest while I came to Heidelberg.

At this point, I was incredibly homesick and I remember locking my backpack in the lockers at Heidelberg Railway Station and bursting into tears. I wanted to go home. As you may recall, I’d had my wallet stolen in Amsterdam at the Orange festival and I’d lost my passport in Cologne.  I was missing a very close friend back in Sydney, who was one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. It was one of those friendships which hovered along the very brink between friendship and romance with a bubbling intensity all of its own. Being on a pretty tight budget, I was trying not to call him, but oh me of little self-control buckled when I spotted a phone booth outside the station. Standing there with a handful of German Marks, I poured the coins through the slot and those few precious minutes  were gone in a flash and my emotions were churning around like a washing machine. I wanted to go home, but I’d had a big farewell party before I left, and wasn’t due back for a year. So, I had to tough it out, or I’d have major egg on face.

 

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It was at this point that I came across a group of Christians doing street mission work near the train station. They didn’t know me from a bar of soap. However, when they heard that I’d lost my passport and was feeling lost, they invited me to stay for a few days initially until I could get to the Australian Embassy in Frankfurt for a replacement. I ended up staying with them for about a month then, attending their German Church while also going to an American Baptist Church. This is just what I needed and it suited me better to have more of a lived-in experience than to be moving around like a rolling stone for 6-12 months without any roots in the ground.

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y initial room in the attic where I slept in the blue sleeping bag alongside a young woman from Rottweil who spoke a German dialect and no English. Talk about jumping in the deep end, but so worthwhile and incredibly special. 

 

 

Of course, it would’ve been great to have seen more and especially travelled to places like Rome, Greece, Scotland and Ireland, which I’m still hanging out to see. However, it’s much harder to camp out on someone’s floor when you’re older and now I’m married with family commitments. So, it isn’t an experience I could have later in life. Moreover, I’m exceptionally grateful for the love and hospitality I was shown, and the love we continue to share. It was the experience of a lifetime and probably more in tune with being an exchange student than a backpacker.

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In the Altstadt.

Ultimately, I ended up living in Heidelberg for something like 5-6 months all up. While I was there, I took the family’s daughter to school in Kahlsruhe and while she was in school, I worked in a plant nursery or Gartnerei just helping out. My boss asked me once what I wanted to do when I got back to Australia. I mentioned journalism. Well, she didn’t think I was cut out for this more practical work. She said she’d found it much much easier to communicate with the Polish workers across a language barrier than with me. I’d had no experience of outdoor work like this, and these days I’m renowned for my brown fingers. Yes, I’m a plant killer.

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My desk later on down in the cellar. You will notice there are two clocks on the desks with different times. I was so incredibly homesick that I stuck an Australian $5.00 note to the wall and an American friend gave me the photo of the Sydney Opera House which takes such a prominent position on the wall. There’s also my diary with my poetry and reflections of seeing the Mona Lisa on top of my Bible. Such a time capsule. So precious. 

So, as you can see, my experience of Heidelberg was more of a lived experience, living in between the German locals and American Army families there. I used to go to aerobics at the US Military base down the road where they incorporated square dancing, and in true military style called out “Move it! Move it! Move it!” The US Military had shipped America to Heidelberg and some of the troops had their “Yank tanks” shipped out, which dwarfed the local German cars. There was even a Burger King on base. I was trying to improve on my German, but it was quite struggle living in another country and not knowing the language well. I was seriously regretting mucking around during my German lessons at school and not paying more attention. Yet, at the same time, I found a real sense of community and belonging there, which has touched me for life. After all, people matter. I have no doubt that God was holding me in the palm of his hand throughout these travels and keeping me safe, sometimes in spite of myself and I am very grateful that so many people  heard his voice and took such special care of me.

Heidelberg castle by night

Heidelberg Castle By Night. 

Architecturally speaking, Heidelberg is a beautiful city, even by European standards and is best known for it’s castle, the Philosopher’s Walk and Baroque Altstadt. I also had an experience of a different kind in Heidelberg. That was driving along the Autobarn at 240 kph in my friend’s BMW. That was ever so much faster than my bicycle. There are no photos of that experience, but there was a deal of heartbreak down the track, which leads me into German musical classic: I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg.

It was very hard returning to Australia after living in Heidelberg. I came home to Sydney for Christmas and was undecided about heading back. Indeed, I had no idea how it would pan out when I flew out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and touched down in Sydney. After being the only Australian in my communities in Heidelberg, I returned to Sydney feeling culturally dislocated and very torn. However, as I started reconnecting with people back home, the penny dropped. I was Australian and I belonged here. Besides, on top of that, the economic realities of life also hit me smack on the face. While it was okay to scoot off to Europe for a year, my father reminded me of the need to make a living, while pointing out the difficulties of meeting someone overseas and how that would work out. Ouch! It was time for me to get a proper job, and when I had all my family here, I didn’t need to recreate that on the other side of the world.

It’s taken me almost 30 years to write that. Leaving Heidelberg and my friends behind was like ripping velcro apart. However, there are times where that fork in the road isn’t an easy choice and either road is going to involve some pain. It is during these times, that we just have to keep putting one foot after the other and keep walking. Of course, it can be hard to see what God is doing during these times. However, that’s what I love about the  Footprints Poem. That when we feel like we’re alone and can only see one set of footprints, that’s when Jesus is carrying us and sharing our burdens.

Returning every day to all these places I’ve been during the A-Z Challenge, has actually been a lot more emotionally confronting than I’d expected. I’ve never been good with goodbyes, and that’s what travel is….constantly leaving people, places, memories and even parts of yourself behind, and then moving onto the next place like turning the page of a book and letting go of every page that’s gone before. I can’t do it, which is probably why I’ve been living in the same house now for almost 20 years. That, along with my acute health conditions, which hasn’t stopped me from being a traveller, but have certainly redefined the perimeters of travel.

I probably should’ve expected this. However, my inspiration behind this series was very different. I wanted to post a series of inspirational travel photos to lift our spirits at this unprecedented time where travel of any sort beyond work is not only banned, but most of the planes are also strangely grounded. Moreover, even if we could magically transport overseas across the globe, nowhere would take us in. Well, at least, not without throwing us into deepest darkest quarantine for 14 days. After all, travellers have become the unwitting conduits of this modern plague. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ultimately lose our love of travel or our insatiable zest to explore new places, their people and cultures. No one knows what the world is going to look like when we get to the other side of this pandemic, but the cogs will continue moving forward going somewhere and hopefully we’ll till be going along for the ride.

Have you ever been to Heidelberg? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS- Perhaps, you’d like to read a flash fiction piece I wrote about that phone call to my friend in Australia: Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle – Friday Fictioneers

 

G- Geraldton, Western Australia.

Welcome to the latest stopover in my series of Places I’ve Been for the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’re be leapfrogging once again across the globe leaving Florence behind and heading off to Geraldton, Western Australia which might just need a bit of an introduction. Geraldton’s on the coast about 429 kilometres North of Perth. By the way, we’ll also be visiting Greenough, a little to the South.

Although it seems hard to believe now, I ended up living in Geraldton in my mid-20s after packing up the car and heading over there with a friend on an impulsive whim. Not that I was actually heading for Geraldton. I was actually heading for Perth, and somehow took a right hand turn and kept going. However, isn’t that always the way? That it’s just like John Lennon said:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Well, it isn’t that way for everyone. After all, there are those people who stay in the same seat all their working lives and never deviate from the plan.

However, I wasn’t being quite as carefree and fly with the wind as I thought. As it turned out what I’d put down to my stressful job in Sydney, turned out to be fluid on the brain, or hydrocephalus. So, I wasn’t just trying to escape from the rat race, but from myself. Or, to be precise, this alien invader which essentially all but killed me off, and sent me and the Mitsubishi Colt back to Sydney to start over and my Geraldton chapter came to an abrupt end. Indeed, it was ripped straight out of the book.

Naturally, even going back to Geraldton on this virtual tour is unleashing a kaleidoscope of memories, the way it does when a soldier returns to the battlefield. There were so many hopes and dreams which weren’t just tied up in that move, but were contained inside that beautiful, watery head of mine where I could actually do laps back and forth if I wanted to. Or, if the wind built up, I could even surf inside my head. How’s that for a unique talent? Isn’t that what everyone is striving for??? To be the very best at something and utterly inimitable? Humph! Perhaps, I should’ve picked a different box. Tried tap dancing instead. Having harbour views inside my head proved rather problematic.

Yet, there is always beauty. A bright side.

Geraldton has the most magnificent sunsets over the ocean, and a few white clouds just totally pulls it off. Moreover, in Spring Geraldton comes to life when a kaleidoscope of wildflowers explodes like fireworks across the landscape during wildflower season. There were also very special friends and nights out at restaurants and simply just being. There is always light and never complete darkness, no matter how we might feel at the time.

Anyway, you didn’t come to Geraldton to muse about my head. However, travel is as much about stories and those people you meet along the road, as it is about checking off your checklist.

I don’t know whether we should arrive in Geraldton by plane so you can have a sense of the local fly-in fly-out culture. Or, whether we should fly into Perth and drive up in what was my Mitsubishi Colt. While it’s probably been recycled into steel cans by now, I haven’t forgotten what it was like to overtake a massive road train in that little car better suited to inner city driving. I held my breath and muttered a few prayers as I pressed the accelerator almost to the floor to gain momentum. The steering wheel shook in my sweaty palms, and it felt like I was almost flying in a dodgy rocket. Yet, somehow we made it and drove on.

Geoff Greenough tree

The Leaning Trees are scattered throughout the Greenough area just South of Geraldton. The leaning trees are a bizarre natural phenomenon caused by the airborne salt content blown in with the winds off the Indian Ocean. The tree trunks lie horizontal to the ground and have become somewhat of an icon.

Before I moved to Geraldton,  the real estate agent warned us about a few things. There was this story about the wind being so strong, that you hang your washing out in the morning and pick it up from next door in the afternoon . My aunt also told me about these mysterious trees, which are bent right over and grow along the ground because the wind is so strong.  No one mentioned the balls of tumble weed which swept along the beach like soccer balls. They were visual proof that I was now in the wild West, and my days of swanning around Sydney’s Whale Beach were long gone.

However, what the real estate agent didn’t mention, was the heat. Being from Sydney, I thought I knew heat. However, the heat in Geraldton was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. In Summer, it was like living in a kiln, and it wasn’t uncommon for the temperature to hit 46°C in the shade.

To give you some idea of what it was like living in that kind of heat, there was an open air-car park in town where I parked every day for work. In that car park, there was only one covered car space, which in the manner of country towns, might’ve amounted to a couple of strategically placed sheets of corrugated iron. This shelter was certainly nothing approaching  a shed let alone a garage. Yet, in that intense heat, this shelter was hot property and a bit of a battle broke out for that parking spot between me and the guy who worked next door. I don’t remember actually meeting the man, but I knew his car, and as the temperature soared, we were getting to work earlier and earlier battling it out for that space. Humph…I wonder if he’s had it to himself all these years since I left? I doubt it.There’s always someone ready to take your place, especially in a car park.

Another really lovely aspect to life living in Geraldton, is the crayfish or lobster. For many it’s a way of life to put out a craypot and catch their own crayfish. Yum!

The Greenough River flows just South of Geraldton. I stayed stayed out there in a cottage on the river for a couple of weeks. I remember waking up before sunrise and photographing the black swans gracefully gliding upon its glassy, ink facade. It was incredibly serene and my friend was blown away by the photos. Geraldton with it’s railway line along the waterfront wasn’t always recognized for it’s breathtaking beauty. Unfortunately, I can’t quite put my hands on the photos atm,  but I’m on the lookout.

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Speaking of the Greenough River, I highly recommend visiting the historic Greenough village. It was my understanding that the village flooded and moved to higher ground, leaving the original village behind as a form of time capsule. When I was over there, the village was rather understated and almost blending in with the paddock like an old farm ute slowly rusting into the soil. Indeed, that’s what I particularly loved about it. I could discover and explore it for myself and feel like I’d found something, even if it wasn’t lost.

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Of course, we’re wandering all over the place in my usual style travelling from memory, rather than using a map and proceding in a logical sequence. However, I suspect reigning in this wandering spirit and subjecting it to a list, would strip away its soul and isn’t worth it, even if you would get from A to B faster and save a bit on petrol.

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St Francis Xavier Church, Geraldton

Culturally speaking, Geraldton was an interesting and a surprisingly diverse place. Part of that was thanks to the wind, which attracted windsurfers to the area from right around the world. That’s what took one of my close friends there and she still hasn’t left. The local farming and cray fishing industries also brought wealth to the area, and it was well known not to judge a book by their cover around town. That a farmer might come into town straight off the farm in their dungarees, yet have the ready cash to buy a brand new ute or tractor.

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A front view

 

This takes us back into town, now we’re off to St Francis Xavier Cathedral, which is absolutely magnificent. It was designed by architect and priest John Hawes, who built a series of Churches throughout the region, although this is clearly the jewel in the crown. really looks quite out of place in an Australian regional city.

Rowena Geraldton Gaol

Next, I thought we might go and visit Old Geraldton Gaol and Craft Centre. As you can see I got myself into a spot of trouble. These days, the cells are usually occupied by craft artisans, although the place is like a ghost town atm. Closed down thanks to preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

While I was checking out the Old Gaol online, I came across this fantastic video of the Pink Lake from Midwest Adventure Tours. To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember going there, and I’m kicking myself. So, I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did!

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed Geraldton. It’s been quite a journey for me, even cathartic.

I hope you and yours are keeping well and virus free.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

Greenough’s Leaning Trees

Photo of St Francis Xavier Cathedral – Nachoman-au CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=391469

F- Florence…A-Z Challenge 2020.

Welcome back to my series on Places I’ve Been for the 2020 Blogging A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’ll be heading over to the magnificent city Florence – birthplace of the Renaissance.

Writing about any city is intimidating, especially when you’re writing to the scope of this challenge which is all about short snappy posts and moving onto the next one. It’s meant to be more that those flashes of passing scenery you see through the windows of a passing train, than a much more considered absorption of each monumental treasure along with that quixotic sounds and aromas unique to that place.

Of course, when it comes to summing up Florence’s grandeur and inimitable history, it’s an impossible task.

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How serene…An early morning perspective of Florence.

 

“Stand on a bridge over the Arno river several times in a day and the light, mood and view changes every time. Firenze is magnetic, romantic and busy. Its urban fabric has hardly changed since the Renaissance, its narrow streets evoke a thousand tales, and its food and wine are so wonderful the tag ‘Fiorentina’ has become an international label of quality assurance.”

– Lonely Planet

So, I’m doing what I can. Almost 30 years down the track, I’m trying to remember my Florence. The Florence I experienced in August 1992 as a 22 year old backpacker who was simply visiting for a weekend. It’s not much to go on but armed with a handful of photographs I will press on.

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Perched on the stairs outside Santa Croce. 

The very first thing I remember about Florence was the heat. I felt like I was inside an oven, when for an Australian quite accustomed to the heat, says a lot. I also remember seeing luscious gelato stores. Gelato in an entirely different league from the pre-packaged stuff you could buy from the local pizza place. The colours were so bright and the gelato so luscious, that even after all this time I’m still salivating and staring through the crowds with puppy dog eyes. Drats! The life of a backpacker living on the smell of an oil rag is pure torture, especially being immersed in such temptation.

My view of Florence is from the street. It’s hot. Crowded. I want gelato, but initially go without (although, of course, you know I later succumbed.) The other thing is that as a young, single woman, I was also an unwitting target for Italian men who clearly saw the pursuit of female tourists as a national sport. However, it made such a difference to have my own personal tour guide. If I can offer one piece of travel advice, it’s “go local”.

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My gut feel is that I didn’t rush to the Duomo, even though that’s where my heart flutters whenever I see an aerial perspective of Florence and the Duomo hovers overhead like a proud mama bear. Located in Piazza del Duomo, Florence Cathedral was formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction began in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The magnificent dome, which dominates the exterior, was added in the 15th century on a design of Filippo Brunelleschi. If you’d like to read more about the architectural aspects of the Duomo: Click Here. This is also a good Link.

Birth of Venus

What always comes to mind when I reminisce about my trip to Florence, is seeing Bottacelli’s Birth of Venus for the very first time in person and it was electric, and even exceeded the gelato. I actually bought my very own print of the Birth of Venus, which says quite a lot on my backpacker budget.
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Michelangelo – The Statue of David

Michelangelo’s Statue of David housed at Florence’s Accademia Gallery is well-recognised as one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time and well described in the words of Giorgio Vasari:

“When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelagnolo finish it”.

Giorgio Vasari

I feel very privileged to have seen this statue in person and from right up close. How amazing. Of course, it’s not the same as meeting Michelangelo himself or seeing the artistic genius at work, but it is enough to walk amongst his shadows here in Florence and traverse the streets he trod hoping that one day I would find my own angel sealed inside my very own metaphorical slab of marble. After all, I was still so young with all the world at my feet and my dreams, weren’t perceived as dreams but imminent destinations and my ticket was there ready in my pocket. Many times, I’ve wanted to jump into my time machine and be that person again. My faith might have been blind but it was real.

Michelangelo’s Tomb

Memory tells me very poignantly, that I also visited Michelangelo’s tomb. Even 30 years later, I still remember standing by his tomb as clear as day and having my photo taken by my local tour guide. That’s monumental. Over the years, I’d forgotten the name of the place or that Michelangelo wasn’t the only incredible mind buried here. Michelangelo is buried in Santa Croce, as are RossiniMachiavelli, and the Pisan-born Galileo Galilei, who was tried by the Inquisition and was not allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death. There is also a memorial to Dante, but his sarcophagus is empty (he is actually buried in Ravenna as he was exiled from Florence). However, I’ve just scanned in my photos and when you read the inscription, you’ll see it’s actually Dante’s tomb! So, my memory isn’t so good after all.

By the way, if you’ve like to read the gripping story of Michelangelo’s Tomb, click here.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Veccio

“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewelers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the center, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite”.

– Charles Dickens

As our tour continues, it’s still stinking hot and full of bodies. I also remember walking across Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. It was in these shops and markets that all reservations about spending money blew up in smoke and I blame my maths. Back in 1992, we still had the lire and I’ve forgotten what the formula was but I certainly mucked it up and goodness knows how much the leather wallet purse I bought actually cost. In the long run, it didn’t really matter. It was pickpocketing in Thailand on my way home.

These memories comes in no particular order, or perhaps they do. I’m not sure. I’m just finding my way back along the corridoors of memory the best way I can and perhaps I should Google a map of Florence and put things in their rightful place and in a neat little sequence. However, that isn’t me and doesn’t evoke that same sense of travelling by feel and intuition (along with the assistance of my local guide).

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It is my local tour guide who took me out to a local monastery which, much to my amazement, produced Ouzo. I haven’t remembered the name that monastery, even though I sort of remember driving there and more clearly remember having a small glass of clear liquor, which had been made on location by the monks still living in the monastery. It was visiting this monastery which felt incredibly authentic and a window into another world and indeed the reason why we travel…to see and experience something beyond our own backyard and way of life.

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However, I was a 23 year old when I visited the monastry and I experienced this incredible place through those eyes and it was here that possibly my favourite photo of myself on my European travels was taken. I’d spotted this sign on the end of a high stone wall and pulled myself along the top to get into position grateful for my many years of climbing trees as a kid preparing me for the job.

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This photo shows me for how I saw myself…a traveller. I was an Australian over in Europe exploring Italy and I was miles and miles away from home and living the life of a bird.

Doing a Google search from my lounge room back in Australia in 2020, it looks like this monastry was the Certosa of Galluzzo. It would be wonderful to go back and retrace my steps and experience this incredible historica place through more mature eyes.

Florence in April 2020…

Then, I was brutally brought back to the present where Florence and all of Italy is embroiled in the deepest depths of the coronavirus and Florence is closed.

All the world is thinking of you and praying for release, a flattening of the curve an end to this blight. I send you my love and the outstretched arms of a friend. We hope you’ll be okay and we look forward to catching up in person on the other side.

Have you ever been to Florence? Have some memories or posts to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena