Thursday, March 20, 2008


Portland is a great city. It's one place I absolutely have to go back to one day, especially as I didn't get a chance to see anything of the rest of Oregon either. It has a great feel to it as cities go, and it seems like there's a big arty kind of community here. The Pearl District just north of downtown is great for just wandering and window shopping, and my new favourite bookstore in the world is here (Powell's City of Books).

The Saturday markets, which were actually open all week long in the lead up to Christmas. Some great food, although most of it is arts and crafts and handmade produce. I must have spent a couple of hours browsing here and bought a few little things like earrings and Marionberry chocolates and jam (the Marionberry is a hybrid berry originally conceived in Oregon and is a blend of boysenberry and blackberry). I had some lovely conversations with various artists as well - I apologised and said I wouldn't be able to buy anything as I was on a budget and had hardly any room left in my luggage but that it was a pleasure to be able to look at their work, and most of the sellers warmed right away and were happy to chat once I was open about only being able to browse. So the art was great - the buskers, not so much. I believe I had what was possibly the worst musical experience of my life here, listening to an old guy sing "I Write the Songs" unintelligibly and out of tune to a badly rehashed electronic accompaniment. And he looked a little like the stapler guy from Office Space.

I took this for the silhouette of the lamppost and the moon rather than the sign, but it reads 'Portland Saturday Market Festival of the Last Minute', which I think is a much better name than Chadstone's 'all night Christmas trading'.

Part of the entrance to the Saturday market.

Wandering around downtown on a nice sunny day. I can't remember which church this is, but it's over near the library somewhere.

A beautiful old stone church across the road from the art gallery.

Lovely arched windows at the same church.

View across Southwest Park to the church.

Christmas lights at the Portland Grotto's annual Festival of Lights. The gardens are filled with literally millions of lights, and the chapel there is all beautifully decorated also.

Outline of the Chapel of Mary with the Tree of Life in the foreground.

The inside of the chapel. As part of the festival they had choral concerts on every evening with local school and community choirs. I heard three that night, of varying standards, but one was actually very good. I think they were from Mountain View, but I don't think it was Mountain View in California.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Well, I did say I would eventually get around to putting some more photos up - you wouldn't believe how difficult it seems to be to find a computer that doesn't make Blogger crash anytime I tried to add pictures. If you've looked at my albums on Facebook you've already seen all of these, and I currently have photos added all the way up to Spain, and I will gradually catch up here as well.

The original Starbucks - no, it's not really that exciting, and I've seen plenty of nicer Starbucks around the world, but the jazz quartet outside was pretty cool (note the silver double bass).

Pike Place Market is a Seattle institution and has some of the best gourmet food you'll find anywhere. After multiple taste testings of bread and oil, jams, chutneys, chocolate, dried fruit and the famous Market Spice orange tea, we almost didn't need lunch, but the piroshkys and borsch across the street were too good to pass up.

A not particularly attractive photo of Puget Sound shrouded in mist, but I do like a seagull with a healthy disrespect for authority.

The way this fountain was lit up from the inside made for some interesting pictures. This was down near the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Martin, a friend from Canada who spent the day showing me around Seattle where he grew up, contemplates the fountain (while I contemplate how best to capture the interesting angles created by the steps, the building and the umbrella).

A curious piece of sculpture in the sculpture park, against the backdrop of Seattle's skyline and the Space Needle. We didn't go up the tower because the weather was pretty bad and the views wouldn't have been worth it.

In the sculpture park, with some interesting effects in the glass on the top and sides, though you probably can't see it best from this photo.

The Space Needle and the Christmas tree on top, as seen through the aforementioned interesting glass screen.

This was in the public library which, apart from being a great piece of modern architecture, is also one of the best libraries I've ever been in - I don't know why Australia can't do libraries like this, but that's one thing North America seems to do very well (Vancouver's seven storey main library is also great). This library has one level which is entirely red, and we got some great photos in here - well Martin did, mine are just OK. Did I mention he's an architectural photographer?

One of the main reading areas in the library - I could curl up here all day with a good book. And it must be lovely on a nice sunny day, on the rare occasion that the sun shows itself in Seattle.

The Macy's Christmas star in the downtown area. This was about a week before Christmas, so the lights everywhere made the city look very beautiful.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Galavanting around Europe (abridged and unillustrated)

My goodness. Is it March already? How on earth did that happen?

Hello, and sorry for the lengthy gap between posts. You could all be forgiven for thinking that I'd disappeared off the face of the planet. After all, it's somewhat pointless to have a blog that never gets attention from its owner. I don't know what made me think that I'd be able to keep up with regular posts while on the move, but there you go. Just so you know where I am and roughly what I've been doing, here's a quick summary of everything I've packed in during the last two months.

After I left California in January, I had a pretty insane ten days of hopping across the country, with EIGHT flights during that time. I visited my good friend Bethany in Houston, a large sprawling industrial city with little worth seeing (except Bethany!), and then headed for South Carolina (via a very brief stop in Washington DC).

South Carolina was lovely, staying in a large house for three nights overlooking a tranquil lake. I saw a bit of Columbia, which is where my relatives work and teach at the university, and also went to Charleston for a day where we wandered around the streets of antebellum homes and had lunch at a very nice restaurant serving Southern cuisine (rarely healthy but oh so good).

Then it was back to Washington DC where I crammed in as much as I could in two and a half days, seeing most of the monuments and some of the museums and government buildings. I also made it to an excellent Evensong at the National Cathedral where the choir was superb.

My last two flights were Washington DC-London-Madrid, where I arrived in time for the VaughanTown program I was taking part in. VaughanTown was possibly one of the best weeks of my entire trip - I highly recommend it to anyone going to Spain! It's such an amazing introduction to the people and the culture, and even though it's hard work at times (i.e. it's definitely not a holiday), you get to spend a week in the Gredos mountains with a really fun bunch of people from all over the world. I had the most amazing view when I looked out my window, and woke up every day for a week going "Oh my God, I'm in Spain!!!"

After having to say goodbye to all the people from that week's VaughanTown, I spent a few more nights in Madrid and then headed off around the rest of Spain. Spain for me was like a drug, with every new city giving you a new hit. It's such a vibrant country, and everywhere I went had a different character and something unique about it. It was most enjoyable just to wander the streets of the old part of each city and get "lost" - although occasionally it was not so much "lost" as "Ahh... right, I think I'm actually LOST". I got pretty good at going up to strangers and pointing at the map saying "Disculpe... donde estoy???" "Lo siento... no hablo mucho espanol" came in pretty handy too.

So in the space of just under a month I traversed three countries and went to Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, Avignon, Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Genova, Verona, Venice, Florence and Siena. It was the most amazing but also the most exhausting month of my entire trip so far, so I was quite glad to head back to the UK at the end of February.

One of the biggest frustrations of travelling in Europe, even in the (alleged) off-season, was that there were still tourists everywhere, and I got sick of having to fight my way through crowds just to get a photo of something, or queueing for an hour to get into a museum. Just once it would have been nice to not feel like one tourist among thousands. I'd be carefully lining up what was to be the perfect photograph, waiting for someone to move out of the way so I could press the shutter release button, only for another stupid tourist to wander into the frame from the other direction. At the Alhambra I came close to developing a bad case of Photographer's Rage, otherwise known as "Get the *&$% out of my photo you idiot!" Syndrome.

But the worst was possibly Valentine's Day where I began the day in Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet, and ended it in Venice. In Verona one of the prime attractions is the Casa di Giulietto, where you can see Juliet's balcony from a little courtyard, and there is also a small bronze statue of Juliet. There's a superstition which says that if you rub Juliet's right breast you will apparently get a new lover. So the entire place was filled with teenage girls gathering round the statue, rubbing the breast of a Shakespearean tragic heroine and giggling as if it's the naughtiest thing they've ever done (which - who knows - perhaps it is). Then they proceeded to take a couple of hundreds of photos of each other gathered round the statue (who by now has one considerably shinier breast than the other) while the rest of us looked on wanting to scream at them and say "Some of us would like a photo WITHOUT your hands groping her!"

So if I thought Verona was bad, with its clusters of giggling teenagers and huge red love hearts suspended above every street, it was worse in Venice. It seemed like every couple in Europe had decided to head here on a romantic mini-break, and everywhere you looked there were deliriously happy couples holding hands, stopping mid-stroll to kiss in the middle of a busy street and hold up everyone behind them. More than once I had an overwhelming urge to push a nauseatingly happy couple into the nearest canal! Venice, although a beautiful and enchanting city, is not a place to be single on Valentine's Day...

So it was with some relief that I made it back to England after a month of constant travel. Some friends of my parents had me to stay at their place in Bognor Regis, possibly the least touristy place in all of England and a very welcome change from the droves of tourists in Europe. Just a nice seaside town on the south coast, not far from Brighton, where I could sleep in, drink endless cups of tea, and cure my cold with a heavy dose of Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. We did take a couple of day trips though, going to Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Bosham and Arundel.

So where am I now? Rainy county Cork, down in the south of Ireland. I have found a place to live for the next couple of months, and my housemates are Jamie, a 25 year old Irish guy who seems pretty relaxed and laid back, and Andrea, a 28 year old Italian guy who made an amazing lasagne last week. I knew there was a reason I moved in with an Italian! I will probably sign up with a temp agency here like I did in Vancouver, and it didn't take me long to join a choir either - I went to my first rehearsal last Tuesday with Cor Cois Abhann (pronounced Cor Cosh Ah-wahn I believe). They're not bad - they seem like a fun group who do a wide variety of music, but the other choirs I've sung with in Australia and Canada have certainly provided more in the way of a challenge. Still, it's a good way to meet people so I don't really mind.

That's all until I get around to posting photos. And since I don't have internet at home it means finding time and money to come to an internet cafe every few days - I could probably have bought my own computer by now with the amount I have spent on internet around the world!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Aussie girl appears in local paper on other side of world

I totally forgot to mention this is my post yesterday...

Just before the New Year I was hanging out in downtown Mountain View while Amy and Ian were at work, and a girl came up to me outside the library to ask if she could ask me a question for the Mountain View Voice. It was for the 'Voices About Town' section, where random people are stopped in the street to answer a simple survey question.

She was asking people whether they had ever made and kept a New Year's Resolution, and 2007 was actually a pretty good year for me in terms of making and keeping resolutions so we got chatting and she wrote down mine, took my photo, and it made it in. I know some people think New Year's Resolutions are silly, or that they shouldn't necessarily be tied to the new year, but I find them helpful. So if you're wondering what mine was, it was to drop three sizes in 2007 - and I did!! Actually, I probably went down by more than that, depending on which country's clothing sizes you go by. It's still a long process, but I'm so excited that I want the whole world to know about it. I have lost more than what my backpack weighs! So... yay me!

Also the girl who interviewed me was lovely, and we got talking about Australia and travel and all kinds of things, and ended up going for coffee for an hour and a half. She was amazed to even find an Australian in Mountain View - it's not exactly a tourist hotspot. But her sister is planning on coming to Australia at some point so she was asking me lots of questions, and we're now friends on Facebook.

Funny how being in the right place at the right time can lead to meeting new and interesting people.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Ringing in the new year, California style

Has it really been over four months since I left home? It’s hard to believe – it seems like such a short time, although I have packed in a lot. I know it’s been a while between posts (again). My last month in Vancouver absolutely flew by, filled with much singing, dancing, and socialising. Oh, and some work was also fit in at some point too.

Leaving Vancouver was so much harder than I expected it to be. When I left Melbourne in August, I knew I would have tons of adventures on this trip and that I would miss friends and family at home, but I didn’t expect the places I was visiting to have the same hold over me that home does. I’ve lived in Melbourne for over 27 years and there’s no question in my mind that that’s where my home is – but how can it be then that just 3 months in Canada can make me feel the same way about a place? I think I knew within a week of being there that if Melbourne wasn’t home then Vancouver easily could be. No wonder so many Australians end up there… there’s something about it that really gets under your skin. (And no, this is not me saying that I plan to suddenly move across the world and not come back, but should I ever think seriously about it, there’s a good chance it’d be there.)

I’m back in California again, staying with Amy and Ian in San Jose, and I saw Seattle and Portland as well on my way back from Canada. Christmas and New Year was one big blur of fun, food and family (primarily Ian’s) as I think I’ve been to no less than eight dinners/breakfasts/gatherings in the past week and a half: two on Christmas Eve, two Christmas Day, one New Year’s Eve, one New Year’s Day, one dinner last Wednesday for Amy’s 21st Birthday (Happy Birthday Amy!), and a small party yesterday. Then tonight is the last dinner with Amy's family. Every celebration has been with different groups of people and different sides of the family. My family doesn’t get together this much in a decade! Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and happy to have an outsider tag along, which has been great since I can’t be with my own family at the moment while they have various stresses in their lives. The hardest thing about being on the other side of the world is feeling so powerless to be of support to the people I love when they need it. But since I have no control over anything going on at home, I’m trying as much as possible to enjoy every opportunity I’m given over here.

I could spend days recapping everything else I’ve done since I last posted in November. I have even more people now telling me to update! Sorry guys. It’s coming…

But for the moment, I wanted to post these photographs: this was my very last sunset of 2007, taken in San Jose on the way to Ian’s family’s house in Mountain View last week. They aren't great, but it’s the best I could get from a moving vehicle. I loved that the last sunset of the year was this beautiful though, and I found it fitting that such a great year had such a great finish. It made me reflect on how many things I’ve done in the last few months that I’ve never done before, and how many times I’ve said yes to giving something a try and not regretted it for a moment. I used to be the kind of person who liked to stick with what I know, who didn’t like being out of my comfort zone, and even when I did try new things, it frequently scared the hell out of me. But if I’ve learnt one thing since travelling it’s that life is so much better when you challenge yourself and exceed your expectations. Doing something I’ve never done before doesn’t fill me with dread the way it used to. I have no idea what 2008 holds for me, but I know that I’ve never looked forward to the unknown quite as much as what I do right now.

So I thought I’d try to narrow down my list of small triumphs I’ve had since August to just a Top 5: the top five great moments I’ve had that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t seized the day, or pushed myself just a little, or that I could quite easily have chickened out of but didn’t. In no particular order they are…

1. Hiking in the Rockies

OK, so it doesn’t sound like that big a deal really, but when I climbed the Saddleback track in Lake Louise, and Parker Ridge on the Icefields Parkway, it was the most exhilarating feeling to see the world from the top of a mountain and to know without a doubt that a year ago I would have been incapable of such a task.

When I climbed Parker Ridge, there seemed to be about five times when I thought “Oh good, I can see the top, it must be where those people are”. Nope. The path just kept going up and up and up. Several times I considered the merit of going all the way to the top – how much better can the view get from another fifty metres elevation? It was pretty spectacular already, and I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. “Is it worth it to go the rest of the way?” I asked people coming in the other direction, hoping they’d tell me that no, it was pretty much the same as from where I was. But they didn’t. “Yes, it’s amazing!” they said. “Keep going, you won’t regret it!” I was dubious, but continued up the path, stopping when I needed it but determined to get to the top despite being a good 10 minutes behind most of the other people in the Moose group.

Well, there are no words to describe the view from the end of the trail. To think I almost turned around before I got to see it! It’s a view that doesn’t even begin to compare with the bits of the Rockies you can see from the road. When you get to the top you can see right down the other side to a completely inaccessible part of the Columbia Icefield – most people see only the Athabasca Glacier which is the tiniest portion of the icefield. I was so elated I practically ran down the mountain on the way back, and I made sure to tell everyone I passed that it was absolutely worth it to keep going.

2. Thanksgiving Dinner

I already mentioned this a few posts ago, so I won’t go into details again. Just about everyone I have told about spending the holiday with three complete strangers in a house I’d never been to have looked at me with an expression of incredulous disbelief. “You did what?” was the most common reaction. And although I couldn’t see my mother’s expression on the phone, I could hear it!

Yeah, I guess it was a risk. You never know what kind of freaks are out there, I’ll grant you that. But for those who were wondering, I made sure to tell someone where I was going, and if it had looked like the kind of house you wouldn’t get out of alive then I wouldn’t have gone in. As it turned out, it was a true highlight of my time in Canada. I ate some of the best food I’ve ever had, and laughed harder than I’d laughed in ages. Yet I could just have easily sat home that night watching bad TV had I not said to myself “Oh, why not… it might be fun.”

3. Joining the Cathedral Choir

Again, something I’ve mentioned before, but I realised how different my time in Vancouver would have been had I not ‘seized the day’ and introduced myself to Rupert Lang when I had the opportunity. I doubt that I would have been quite so likely to end up in the choir if I’d just sent an email saying “Hi, need another soprano for two months?” No one ever really needs another soprano since we tend to be everywhere, but I’m so glad I got the opportunity to sing with this fantastic group. I made some really good friends, sang lots of great music which I would never get to sing with Concordis (not a criticism, just that they’re very different choirs), and I’ll probably be going back in summer of 2009 to sing with them on their next tour to Mexico. Carpe diem – doors will open!

4. Blues dancing in Seattle

This is not exactly a risk I took, or something I pushed myself to try, but it was something new that I wouldn’t usually do in Melbourne. I gave it a go and loved it, and enjoyed it all the more for being with a great friend. We ate Haitian food (also new, and also good) and danced the night away, and it was the perfect end to my one day in Seattle. Also worth trying was swing dancing in San Francisco!

5. (The Elusive)

OK, Number 5 I’m not going to share – sorry if you’re feeling cheated! The question is, which of these is more likely?
a) I could only think of four things but Top 5 has a much better ring to it; or
b) Number 5 is a secret.

You decide!

If you’re feeling similarly reflective about 2007, I’d love to hear your own highlights of the year. Little or big things, it doesn’t matter – your best achievement, best meal you ate, best conversation you had, best piece of music you sang, best new thing you tried, best photo you took, best ‘A-ha!’ moment, best decision you made… add a comment to this post and share away, or post it on your own blog.

And in the tradition of all good ‘blog challenges’, I hereby tag the following people to add their own Top 5 of 2007 to their blogs: Heather, Ross, Lisa J, Amy and Martin. Add your list and then tag five other bloggers who you want to see add their own lists.

Coming soon: Photos from Seattle, Portland, and San Jose. And maybe a few from Vancouver I never got around to putting up.

That’s all for now. Happy 2008 everyone!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Photos from Vancouver

Here are a few pictures taken on my wanderings around Vancouver, mostly around the West End, Stanley Park and English Bay.

This is the Inukshuk at Alexandra Point, right near English Bay. An inukshuk is a stone landmark used as a directional milestone. It is a symbol with deep roots in the Inuit culture, signifying safety, hope and friendship. I've actually taken heaps of photos of it, on my never-ending search to find the perfect shot with the perfect lighting conditions of this very Canadian symbol. There are more on Facebook!

This is at Canada Place, up near the waterfront in the downtown area, looking north toward the mountains. I'm trying to remember what building the sails are part of, but they're a very distinctive marker on Vancouver's skyline.

This is in Stanley Park, not far from Second Beach, and I took this for two reasons: one, because I love the progression of winter-autumnal trees (I know, it should be the other way round really) and two, because it felt a little bit Six Feet Under, and if you've ever watched the opening titles to the show you'll get what I mean.

This is taken from the seawall which surrounds Stanely Park, looking across to West Van on the other side of the bay. The seawall is closed once you round that bend, due to major storm damage which occurred last December. Something like 10,000 trees in the park were either destroyed or damaged, and a 2km section of the seawall suffered major damage as well, so there has been a huge reconstruction project happening throughout 2007. It would be nice if the rest of the seawall were to open before I leave Vancouver, so that I can walk all 9km of it.

Looking across False Creek to Vanier Park and the neighbourhood of Kitsilano. Slightly shaky camera, but how cool are those clouds?!

This is English Bay, bathed in late afternoon sunlight (my favourite time of day). Yes, that is a tree on top of the building in the centre. I'm sure it's one of the most expensive buildings to live in in the West End, probably partly to do with the eccentric appeal of an enormous tree sprouting from the top. I gather there's a whole roof garden up there but it's not open to the public.

Lost Lagoon, which lies between my place and the rest of Stanley Park. I often walk around the lagoon, which takes about half an hour. Quite frequently I see squirrels and raccoons while I'm out walking, which Canadians probably don't think twice about but which are a novelty for me.

OK, this photo is probably the shot that most captures the West End for me: gay-friendly, Canadian, proud, and living in a high-rise overlooking the bay (and being just eccentric enough to live in a building with a tree on the top).

If you haven't already noticed, I like trees. Especially skeletal winter trees. And autumn leaves. And sunset. Both of these are in the English Bay/lower Stanley Park area.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Photos from the Rockies

OK, I promised some photos, so here are some pictures of my nine days in the Rockies, which I have to say are absolutely spectacular and should be on everyone's "must go there one day" list. I just fell in love with this part of the world - it truly is some of the most amazing landscape anywhere. And just when you think it can't get any better, it does - I just kept on being surprised by how beautiful it was. Every time the weather or the light changes, you see something new and different. And these mountains pretty much put every mountain in Australia to shame! Our mountains look like gently undulating hills in comparison.

Anyway, these photos are by no means exhaustive; I took several hundred photos in a week and a bit, so I picked out some good/interesting ones for now and will post a few more another time, as well as some from around Vancouver.

Depsite the horribly crooked horizon I really love this shot. This was Emerald Lake, which is a glacier lake in Glacier National Park, before you actually reach the Rockies. A few of the crazier people in our group (I was with the Moose backpacker bus) decided to swim in water that couldn't have been more than 1-2 degrees. And there were literally a hundred or more people gathered round with cameras to capture this collective insanity. Left to right: Steve (UK), Laurence (Albany, Australia), Kaz (NZ) and David (UK). I seem to have quite a lot of photos of Laurence swimming in glacier lakes because he swam in just about all of them. He's keeping the stereotype of the crazy Australian alive and well throughout the world.

A more tranquil Emerald Lake, before everyone went swimming.

Lake Louise, one of the most photographed and most famous spots in the Rockies.

The view from the Saddleback track around the Lake Louise area. This was a really tough climb (3.7km all uphill) but wow, the views were worth it! L-R: Lene (Denmark), Lukas (Germany), me (looking a bit hot and sweaty), Pieter (Switzerland) and Michael (Germany).

At Lake Louise again, having mostly recovered from the hike.

One of the many waterfalls we visited - I think this must be the Kicking Horse river, which might be the name of the falls as well, I can't really remember. (After dozens of rivers and waterfalls they all look a bit the same after a while).

This really captures the sweeping majesty of the mountains for me. I also have a portrait-oriented version of this shot where I like the light a lot better, but you'd have to look at it sideways because I still can't seem to rotate photos on Blogger.

This was the hostel at Rampart Creek, where we stayed in cosy wood cabins and woke up to the view in the background. There was also a sauna cabin by the creek, where you stay inside the steam room until you just about can't breate anymore, and then run down to the near freezing creek to cool off. Then run back to the sauna again and repeat a few times. The creek has a deceptively strong current though, so there's really only one area at the side of the creek where it's safe to take a dip in the water (bloody freezing, too!!) otherwise you'd be quite easily swept downstream and end up battered and bruised a hundred metres downstream (or worse). I only tried it once and wore thongs (flip-flops, for the non-Aussies) so as to not cut my feet on the rocks, but it's next to impossible to keep them on in the moving water. And so that, my friends, is how I sacrificed a thong to the great Canadian wilderness.

Sitting around the campfire while dinner was cooking inside. Ah, the campfires... two of the best nights of the trip, sitting around chatting until the small hours and making Smores (toasted marshmallow cookie sandwiches with melted chocolate). Mmm, so good!

Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. The icefield is unfathomably big and covers an area which (apparently) is big enough for every person in North America to stand on with a distance of a metre apart. I can't quite picture this - as that's over 300 million people, but that's what all the guidebooks boast. It certainly is big though, and this glacier is only a tiny, tiny, tiny part of it. These big ice-bus things allow you to drive out onto the glacier and get out to walk around at a clearing which has been levelled and is safe to stand on. All the large mounds of rubble are moraines, which are part of the process of glacier formation. (And not, as some people frequently ask, rock which has been piled up along the sides by machinery so you can get to the glacier!)

Out on the glacier - the blue sky appeared once we got off the ice bus and made the skyline even more breathtaking.

Ben, a fellow Melbournian, and me out on the glacier. If I look cold it's because I was. Very.
Well that's it for now. More pictures next time.