Tag Archives: Youth Hostel

X- An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Today, this this brings us to X, and not without a rather pregnant pause. Indeed, you could say that I’ve never been anywhere starting with X. Moreover, although I’ve had multiple x-rays, I could hardly say that I’ve been to xylophone, could I?

Even with a great theme, every year there’s always a few rubbish letters which no amount of creativity, imagination or roaming through the thesaurus can resolve. X is a frequent flyer. Or, perhaps I should say: “frequent failure”. However, if we were looking on the bright side, we could simply re-frame these difficult letters as “challenging”. After all, even I have to admit the finding an X has been “an education” almost every year. Anyway, that’s how I conjured up the idea of this year’s X being… (drum roll!!) An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn.

Here goes…

Back when I was a 21 year old university student, I caught the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth sitting up the entire way with a week off in Adelaide to break up the trip. Although I initially stayed with my uncle in Perth, I soon moved into the Youth Hostel. As an unabashed extrovert, I was like a pig in mud mixing with backpackers from right around the world, which was so exciting for someone who’d only ever been to Hong Kong. I loved it. It was a constant party and talkfest with all these young, mostly single people all thrown together and blowing along with the wind.

Map from Perth, Western Australia to The Pinnacles Desert, Pinnacles Dr, Cervantes WA 6511

Map Showing the Trip from Perth to the Pinnacles.

Anyway, an American, two Japanese and an Australian (yours truly) decided to pitch in and hire a car to check out the Pinnacles, a series of eroded limestone pillars, which resemble a haunted graveyard. The Pinnacles are located in the Nambung National Park, near Cervantes 192 kms North of Perth, making for a 2.25 hour drive via State Route 60.  Looking like somewhere straight out of Stephen King, the Pinnacles aren’t the sort of place you want to get lost, especially after dark. The bogey man, woman, or their ghost, could well be lurking around somewhere.

Rowena Driving Practice Youth Hostel Perth

Being a cautious bunch, the night before our big adventure, as you can see from the photograph, our American driver practised driving the Australian way in the courtyard at the hostel. For the uninitiated, that means driving on the left hand side of the road  while sitting on the right hand side of the car (Gee all that was confusing. I had to run that by Geoff to get it right.)

Pinnacles Western Australia

All went well at the Pinnacles. Conditions were absolutely perfect for photography and we got some striking, even haunting images. Indeed,  if we’d just turned around and driven back to Perth the way we came, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell. Just a handful of photos with smiling faces, these wacky limestone pillars and deep blue skies.

However, we looked at the map and noticed an alternative, much more scenic, coastal  route back to Perth via a tiny place called Grey, which barely seemed to justify its dot on the map.  Indeed, we should’ve known we were hardly heading for a huge metropolis when we spotted the “Bar” out the window. Taking rustic to the extreme, I jumped out and took a photo.

Bar Grey Western Australia

The Grey Hotel

Meanwhile, our travels along this exceptionally scenic road continued. By the way, I should point out that when we checked out the map, this road was marked “vehicular track. Local enquiry suggested.” However, we were young. Had no idea what that meant, and brushed it off. Whenever we hit a bump in the road, our fearless American leader calmly reversed back up and literally floored it right through the sand.  Indeed, I’m sure we all gave him a huge cheer, instead of questioning whether our humble Toyota Camry truly had 4WD capabilities and whether it was capable of pulling off this trip. After all, this was a hire car and family sedan. It wasn’t your classic Aussie paddock-basher, which could be abandoned by the side of the road when it failed to do the deed.

Rowena & Backpackers bogged WA

However, it’s so much easier to be sensible  when you’re 50 years old and enjoying the comfort of your lounge chair. It’s also easier in hindsight when you know that humble Toyota Camry along with the American, Australian and two Japanese onboard  are about to drive straight into a massive sand dune, where no amount of reversing was going to save the day. We were bogged.

Rowena bogged Western Australia

Not only that. It was almost sunset and all we had in terms of food and water, was half a bottle of diet coke and an apple. In other words, no emergency rations.

We were in serious trouble.

While we weren’t exactly lost, we were well and truly off the grid in a very remote and isolate spot with a very slim chance of anyone finding us quickly along our road less travelled. Indeed, this area was so isolated, not even the coronavirus could find it.

Anyway, the American and one of the Japanese guys did the hero bloke thing, and walked off in search of help while I stayed behind with the other Japanese guy at the car. I started wondering how long we were going to be stranded here, and that my parents back in Sydney all the way across the other side of the country,  had no idea where I was and how much trouble we were in. Indeed, I could go missing and never, ever be found all because we couldn’t read a map properly and opted for the scenic route.

Grey Western Australia

Spotted nearby. I wonder if this tourist ever made it home?

If the guys couldn’t find help, our only hope lay  back at the Youth hostel. I’d arranged to go out for dinner with a friend at 7.00 pm, and was hoping  she might raise the alarm when we didn’t get back. After all, this was 1990 and none of us had mobile phones. Besides, they wouldn’t have worked there anyway. Too remote.

Sunset Grey Western Australia

Sunset At Grey, Western Australia -taken while we were bogged and waiting for help to return.

Meanwhile the sun was setting. I photographed the sunset. As you can see, it was absolutely magnificent, an incredible golden glow over the ocean. However, I still remember the fear.  I also didn’t really know what to talk about with the Japanese guy, but he talked to me about work in Japan and he sang me a song which I think might have been from the company dormitory where he lived. I could well have recited Dorothea McKellar’s iconic Australian love poem: My Country, as I always love to educate people about Australia and share a bit of “us”.

However, all too soon, the sun had set. It was pitch black, and the others hadn’t returned. I think we had the lights on. After all, we were needing to be found. It was a very stressful time, particularly for me as the only Australian with any idea of just how dangerous being stranded in such an isolation place without adequate provisions could be.

Trust me. I wasn’t catastrophizing!!

Yet, then out of the darkness, salvation appeared. The guys had flagged down a local fisherman with a 4WD who towed us out…not without a bit of a smile either. Rotten tourists. We weren’t the first lot he’d towed out either.

Probably the worst part of this story, is that it along with the photos have been buried for almost 30 years. My kids have never seen them and boy did they have a laugh at my expense, especially our son who is about to head off and get his Learner’s Permit. My pathetic map reading skills and zero sense of direction are legendary around here, and this was just the icing on the cake. Trust Mum!

Indeed, while I can have a laugh at our ordeal, driving into a sand dune is even way too cringe-worthy for me, although I was but a humble passenger at the time.  Well, as the only Australian in the car, I could well have been the navigator and that in itself could well have been our undoing. I get lost even when I turn the map around the right way. Anyway, about five years later, I returned to Western Australia and all of this was well and truly swept under the carpet. Pinnacles? What Pinnacles? Moreover, I’ve never returned to the town of Grey either.

Do you have an Xtraordinary travel story? Please share in the comments down below and add any links.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Q – Queenstown…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Queenstown, the latest stopover on my series, Places I’ve Been, for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

Before we go any further, I should warn you, that Queenstown isn’t on my top ten places to visit. Indeed, at the time it was a mistake, and my views haven’t changed. So, I caution you to be very careful when you program “Queenstown” into your magic carpet, and ensure you clearly enter  Queenstown, New Zealand into your GPS. Do not mention Tasmania. You’ll certainly notice a striking difference, which goes well beyond the accent and how much Vegemite they spread on their toast.

Unfortunately, I ended up in Queenstown, Tasmania  back in 1995 when I flew down for the 50th Anniversary of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. I hired a car with a fellow backpacker from the Youth Hostel and unfortunately neither of us had done our research. After leaving Hobart and visiting the stunning Russell Falls, we noticed Queenstown on the map and decided to head there for the night.

Big mistake!!!

Well, perhaps, it it wasn’t such a huge mistake, because it was an education. However, we’d have to be one of the few visitors to Tasmania who went to Queenstown instead of the breathtaking East Coast.

queenstown

Back in 1995, Tasmania’s Queenstown was still an environmental catastrophe and nothing short of a heartbreaking, barren moonscape after years of copper mining  had all but destroyed the place. As the Tasmanian Times explains: “Queenstown became famed for the denuded landscapes … and its Red River. The Queen River turns red from the iron oxide that leaches from the mine along with other metal sulphides and most of the creeks around the town are subject to the acid mine drainage and can be consider contaminated 1.” (I highly recommend you click through to this article and particularly check out the photographs).

“The copper smelters wreaked havoc on the surrounding landscape. Not only did the sulphur fumes kill off plants in the area but the eleven furnaces required vast quantities of timber and the mining company simply cut down the forests to fuel the fires. It has been estimated that hundreds of men were employed as timber cutters and that over 3 million tonnes of timber were cut down between 1896 and 1923. At its peak the furnaces were consuming 2,040 tonnes of wood each week. The combination of timber felling, the sulphur fumes and the heavy rainfall in the area (which washed away the top soil) ensured that by 1900 the whole valley looked like a desert.[2]”

queenstown nz

Queenstown, New Zealand.

So, clearly the Tasmanian Queenstown is a striking contrast to its Kiwi namesake.

Unfortunately, this also leaves me with another confession to make.

Geoff and I spent two weeks travelling around New Zealand on our honeymoon, but didn’t make it through to Queenstown. Otherwise, I would’ve been writing about my honeymoon instead, which would’ve been such a wonderful story straight after my tales of heartbreak and existential angst in Paris.

Well, perhaps you’ll be pleased to know that my travels do end up with a happy ending, which actually turned out to be a new beginning.

Do you have any travel stories where you took the wrong fork in the road? I’m sure there must be so many of them out there. I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

  1. https://tasmaniantimes.com/2016/12/the-red-river-a-mining-legacy/

2) https://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/queenstown-20040208-gdkqp5.html

 

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.

4711

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. 

DSC_9050

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.

National-Archives-Mass_bomber_raid_on_Cologne_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqRW1mvIVYlV4JG0MIT8wtjBRjid0pkpSoel9MG7q99NA

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 (     )

Cologne-and-Cathedral-1944

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.

DSC_9052

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