They thought they were safe. Although New Zealand sits atop the “Ring of Fire,” where the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates join, there were no known fault lines where 25,000 people lived for 160 or more years, building beautiful churches, universities and homes. One day, in 2010, that changed forever.
Christchurch, located on the south island of New Zealand, has excellent walking or cycling trails due to its plain-like nature and compact size. The shallow and immaculately clean River Avon runs gently through the city’s centre, and not only boasts trout and salmon in its waters, but is flanked by easy, level, walking trails. The age old Alder, Oak and Birch trees, lining these paths, give the city a distinctive English atmosphere, particularly if you visit during winter.
The tranquillity and reminders of English village living are everywhere and I thought Christchurch a cosy place to make a home, that is, until two weeks after my visit in 2010.
The first earthquake registering 7.1 hit the unsuspecting city of Christchurch on September, 4th 2010, causing widespread damage but no loss of life.
The second quake was felt barely six months later and with a magnitude of 6.3, of which the epicentre was a mere 10 kilometres south-east of Christchurch’s central business district.
Killing 185 people and injured several thousand, many of Christchurch’s unique buildings collapsed, water and gas mains burst causing flooding, roads were uplifted. Countless houses sustained damage, especially in the CBD, where we had stayed not long before. Continuing liquefaction issues have rendered many homes unliveable and unable to be sold.
Experts thought a new fault line had appeared in the areas immediately surrounding Christchurch, meaning the city was unlikely to be the same again.
Surprisingly, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, retail store owners in the commercial district quickly improvised, bringing in shipping containers so that they could continue operating, albeit in a limited way.
It is a vast change from Christchurch, the way it used to be, just two weeks prior to that day the first earthquake hit. Here are my memories of the way it was.
My Christchurch Memories
An earthquake was the furthest thing from our mind when we ate a delicious and ample breakfast at the Holiday on Avon motel, prior to boarding the hotel’s free city shuttle bus to Cathedral Square to do some sightseeing on our first day in this pretty city.
Our dining room at the hotel overlooked this lovely vista and a 15-minute stroll along the river took us to the City Square, the site of the iconic 170-year-old Christchurch Cathedral.
Cathedral Square – Christchurch City
The Christchurch Cathedral Square, a few weeks before the earthquake devastates the town. Some people here enjoying Chess, on a clean crisp winter’s day. We spent some time examinging the ornate tiling and interior of the Cathedral, itself.
A group of Maori buskers performed songs for us, with traditional Maori “Poi.” The performance, they freely admitted, was in its early stages.
A short distance away, we explored the Botanic Gardens – a location I always visit when I am travelling, in order to see the local botany and floral displays.
Botanic Gardens Christchurch
The Curator’s house at the Botanic Gardens, replete with herb garden, was tasked with supplying the herbs for the restaurant. Again, very English.
Transport in Christchurch
I guess the city was pleased it kept its city tram network, although I am unsure if this is still operating, as a tourist, ‘hop on hop off’ tram. Formerly, it stopped at the major sites surrounding Cathedral Square. For a small city, they really looked after their tourists.
Ornate iron fretwork on the bridge over the river captured my attention. I wonder if it is still intact?
Christchurch’s Heritage Architecture
Beautiful architecture was found in many corners of Christchurch.
A collection of 23 heritage bluestone buildings formed the Arts Centre and University. Housing many different artists and crafts from painting, ceramics, to older ladies spinning and knitting socks, the Arts Centre was evidence of multi-purposing these stately structures. Demonstrations were occurring daily whilst I was there.
Note: This area sustained much damage from the quake, so may look different today.
Day Trips from Christchurch
The Christchurch area of New Zealand can be a convenient hub for day trips to Akaroa, Mt Cook National Park and the TranszAlpine Train Trip to Greymouth.
The relatively small population of Christchurch has had support from the New Zealand Government in the slow process of rebuilding. That continues with further earthquake-proof structures, similar to those found in Wellington.
The Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, was an impressive piece of religious architecture and a tourist draw-card for the small city. Sadly it’s now gone, due to two large earthquakes that occurred back in 2010 and 2011. I was lucky enough to visit just two weeks before the first earthquake.
History of Christchurch
For Christchurch to be declared a ‘city’, with all the privileges that entailed, it had to have a cathedral, so the pilgrims that sailed on the immigrant ships in 1850 and made Christchurch their home, built the cathedral in the historic style of the time. Clearly, they had faith that the city would develop.
The Church though a little damaged, remained intact after the first earthquake, in 2010, but the beautiful tower fell in the second event barely six months later. An earthquake-proof cathedral, presumably of a different design will be re-built on this site.
Some insight into days on board the immigrant ships was provided:
Life on board was cramped. Steerage passengers were confined to a small space below the main deck. Single men slept in bunks. Married couples had a curtain for privacy. This space was used not only for sleeping, but also for storing everything needed for the voyage. There was a lack of fresh air, and dampness was a constant concern. Basic food was provided, such as salted meat, flour, rice, biscuits and potatoes. A bucket was supplied for washing and laundry.
Many suffered from seasickness. The worst, during the first two weeks, but for some, it continued for the whole voyage. Passengers passed the time at sea plotting the ship’s course, writing letters and diaries, sewing, playing cards and games, and dancing. Prayer meetings were held every morning and afternoon, and there was a full church service on Sundays. There were also school lessons for the children. Source: http://www.firstfourships.co.nz/
A door like the Cathedral entry door could withstand any earthquake.
Christchurch Cathedral’s Stained Glass Windows
Not able to withstand the quake were the stained glass windows and curiously patriotic cushions on the pews.
The mosaic theme continued all along the wall and floor tiles. They loved these sorts of things in the mid 1800’s. Didn’t they? A real treasure.
Part of the design included a Swastika, a symbol that held a different meaning, prior to World War II.
The Swastika is known as the Fylfot and is an ancient symbol found in the ruins of Troy, Egypt, China, and India. In Sanskit, it means prosperity from the belief that it brings good luck. The Victorians loved the symbol and I have a Victorian hat pin that is a swastika. It gives me the creeps, but historically, that was not the intention.
Not sure what the relevance of this was for, other than what it says.
Here is what the cathedral looked like until recently – Reduced to rubble but the door remains intact.
Work was scheduled to begin in 2020, on the re-build.
Overlooking Stockholm, Skansen Open Air Museum is a walk back in history that every visitor should make when visiting Sweden.
Skansen is the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden and is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm, Sweden. It was opened on 11 October 1891 by Artur Hazelius to show the way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era.
In a few hours, oner can stroll back through time to pre-industrial Sweden and imagine life in the beautifully preserved collection of traditional buildings.
All levels of society are featured here from the humble bonded farmer to the wealthy Corn Chandler, a dealer in grains, whose quaint summerhouse is a postcard-worthy.
If you are visiting at Christmas and through early January, there are extra activities organized with attendants in period costume singing Christmas songs and dancing around the tree as well as reindeer sled rides for the children.
The Old Church in Skansen is reminiscent of a turbulent period in religious history. The Church in Sweden was heavily influenced by the traditions of Martin Luther whose idea was not to start a new religion, but rather to reform Christianity. He extolled the virtues of finding, “Salvation through Faith.” Although there are very old Swedish Churches dating back to the end of the Viking era with heavily decorated ceilings, later buildings were more austere in decoration.
Photography is encouraged throughout the museum, but the interiors of many buildings are quite dark and in order to preserve any painted objects, such as a splendid Swedish Mora clock, the use of a camera flash is prohibited. The clock at Skansen was painted in Swedish folk art style similar to the one below and dated back to 1799.
In years gone by, it was customary for art students to travel to Stockholm in order to learn to paint and later, return to the countryside to decorate household items and furniture for wealthy farmers, in typical folk art style.
Accompanying the collection of historic buildings is a small zoo, which would delight the younger members of the family, and features arctic animals such as reindeer, moose, lynx, bear and grey wolves.
Don’t forget to snap your panoramic shot, as the view from Skansen gives you an opportunity to capture the Stockholm skyline and city centre.
I recommend the various lunch options nearby. You could easily spend the afternoon here visiting other attractions such as Grona Lund Amusement Park, Vasa or the ABBA museums and the Art Gallery.
Lunch options in the area range from cafes to a la carte restaurants. One of which claimed to serve the best salmon in the world so I just had to try it. Served with potato and dill it was definitely a ‘melt-in-the-mouth,’ flavour and the freshest salmon I have eaten. In archetypal Swedish style, a simple dessert of fresh raspberries with ice cream and raspberry sauce was a fitting complement to the meal.
Several years ago, we endured a heart-stopping trip toThe Remarkables Ski Fields in the South Island of New Zealand. Australians flock to the NZ ski fields, every year, as it is more cost effective for them, than skiing in the limited fields in Australia.
After the 8 Kilometre, nail-biting transfer to the Remarkables Ski Field, in a very old bus, we checked “in,” to receive our NZ Ski My Pass Card, microchipped to follow our progress around the ski fields and were measured for clothing, boots, and skis.
Hiring Skis and Clothing on the Ski Fields
The Ski Centre, (at 1610 m a.s.l.), was awash with bodies of all sizes in snowsuits, teeny tiny kids sliding about on snowboards and loads of skis resting in the snow.
Travel tip: Visitors can hire ski gear for their skiing adventure, (pants, jackets, and boots etc) but they do have to bring some items of their own, as I was to soon discover.
“No, you can’t hire gloves, Ma’am, for hygiene reasons” – the attendant in the Ski shop told me sternly, upon enquiring. What was I thinking? (Even in this pre-Covid vacation). Ski gloves would be a personal item you couldn’t and wouldn’t want to hire!
I regretted not thinking through the Travel agent’s vague advice: “Travel light, you can hire everything over there.” I cursed leaving my own super-thick Norwegian gloves at home and regretted passing up the opportunity to buy a pair at our local supermarket, (which had so many on sale, as ski gloves aren’t usually a popular commodity in Australia). Thus, having a captive market, I succumbed and purchased a pair for $50.00 at the small mountain Ski shop. It would be impossible to ski/toboggan without gloves.
Storage Lockers for Hire at The Remarkables
I also regret not hiring a storage locker at the ski centre; however, the locks appeared dubious and I preferred to have my passport, drink bottles and asthma medication with me so chose to carry it around on my back, whilst skiing, not realizing how destabilizing this would be on my balance.
Update: The Ski centre now offers secure day storage with automated pay lockers and if skiing the next day you can store your used gear overnight in the Rental Department. This is available downstairs in the base building and you can pay by credit card or EFTPOS.
I’d opted to introduce my daughter to the thrill of downhill skiing in New Zealand, so I attempted to teach her what little I knew from a trip to Thredbo Ski Fields, as a school student, some 30 years ago.
Unfortunately for my pride, it fast became apparent that following the lead of another beginner skiers in the very generous Beginner’s bowl as well as eavesdropping on a few instructors was far more successful for my daughter, than listening to Mum’s antiquated knowledge. Physically adept, she quickly got the hang of it, having been cross-country skiing in Norway, several years previously. Before long, she was going up and down the magic carpet in the Beginner’s bowl area, while I watched on from a distance.
Lifts at the Remarkables
It is useful to bear in mind that lift passes allow you to access both The Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields and do not need to be used on consecutive days.
From the ski centre, we jumped, (literally), onto the chairlift, to travel up to the Tubing area. With skis on, it is no mean feat for a 10-year-old, new to downhill skiing, to manage this without any assistance. What happened to those nice attendants I remember who were there to help you on and off the chairlift with a modicum of grace?
In this age of economic rationalism, they had been replaced by a single safety officer, who replied to a request for assistance with a lackadaisical, “You’ll be alright!” That is Kiwi skiing for you and his confidence in my skills, as anticipated, was sorely misplaced. Getting on the lift, was managed fine, but getting off was quite a different matter.
Busily advising my daughter, Miss 10, on what to watch out for when alighting from the chair, (which she managed with incredible finesse), I suddenly realised I’d left alighting from the chair a second or two, too late!! By which time, I had to jump, as the lift had started to turn and the ground was fast disappearing beneath me. The sharp decline on the slope meant I promptly lost my balance, falling over right in front of the turning chair!
With not a soul to help, I got up with the help of Miss 10, which was humiliation enough. I was then relieved to see a friendly face approach me, thinking this stranger was going to assist me to maintain my precarious balance on the snow. Alas, she was a photographer out to take an obligatory-first time ski portrait- the kind they sell in kiosks at somewhat ridiculous prices.
Snap snap snap, clicked the camera.
I inwardly hoped she didn’t get one of me falling at the top of the chairlift. On second thoughts, that could have been a better tourist photo! With my mouth wide open, gasping for air and scrambling for something on which to gain a solid footing, (said backpack swinging around on my back), it is little wonder the photographer suddenly hesitated, thinking I was about to sneeze, or collapse. No, it was me with a mild bout of asthma, gasping for a little more air.
Tubing and Snow Fun at The Remarkables
After that mild mishap, and a few more falls and runs down the slopes, we arrived at the Tubing area – which is a short walk from the lift.
Riding a Rubber tyre tube down a huge slope is a real blast in the snow. I can’t tell you how much fun it is, even for a person of my age. It is not just for children.
Miss 10 and I tubed up and down for over an hour, and I would have continued if I could have. I think sometime we may have reached speeds of 20 -30 km/h. It was heady! I felt young again!
Back then, the Tubes are pulled up by a rope tow, which has to be held taut whilst you are seated on the large rubber tube. For me, that meant holding the tow rope in a position that rather awkwardly was between my legs! Yet this was so much more preferable to walking up the hill in the snow dragging the tube in thick snow. And it meant we could get more downhill runs in. Yay!
Of course, the ubiquitous Tourist Photographer was there too. I think two photos cost near to over NZD$60.00 – you have been warned!
After several more hours, I was utterly exhausted and needed some fuel and asthma medication to continue. We returned to the beginner area instead of attempting more advanced runs. We’d fallen over too many times to remember, by this stage.
Despite seeing a nasty beginner snowboarding accident which to me looked like a flip gone wrong, we had so much fun, going up, coming down, going up, coming down, throwing snowballs, sliding down the snow cave/tunnel etc. And the view from the Remarkables was well, remarkable!
Ski Transfer to Queenstown from The Remarkables
The return trip from the ski fields is simple enough. No need to book as apparently shuttles leave the mountain every hour, or as soon as they fill up a bus load, from 2 pm onwards.
To reach our destination in Queenstown, we’d had to firstly cross the Canterbury plains and central Otago – Mckenzie country, take lunch at stunning Mt Cook, had a tea break at Omarama and Cromwell before traversing the very scenic Lindis Pass, before finally reaching Queenstown.
Along the winding road into Queenstown, there’s a small hydro plant and narrow gorge where the famous Queenstown Jetboat scoots along, at ultra high speed for tourists. Just another one of New Zealand’s many thrill-seeking activities.
The Jet boat ride is not for me. I don’t relish paying money to be thrown around at a high speed whilst getting splashed with cold water for a half-hour. Little did I know, that our bus ride from Queenstown would make the JetBoat ride look like a casual walk in the park.
Ski Transfer to the Remarkables Ski Fields
As you cannot stay “on-snow,” in New Zealand, one must book a bus transfer to the ski fields, 8 kilometres away, which the travel agent had kindly pre-booked for me.
When the bus finally arrived at our hotel, I boarded it with a fair degree of trepidation. Picture an aging school bus dating from the 1950s, apparently called, ‘Old Bertie,’ with seats thinly padded with threadbare green vinyl. The rusty push slider windows with white metal casings gives you the impression of what this creaky old bus was like.
I mulled over whether I should be daunted that I was double the age of anyone else on board, including the driver, who introduced himself as Bevan. Bevan appeared so young he might still be ‘wet behind the ears,’ I thought.
Our pick up time was so early in the morning, we’d only grabbed a piece of toast from the extensive hotel buffet, which seemed criminal. Especially when we spent the better part of the following hour, picking up numerous beanie-clad snowboarders from the hostels around Queenstown, some of whom kept us waiting for quite some time. Bevan, our driver, had no qualms about reprimanding them for being late! Finally, though, we were on the way to the ski fields called The Remarkables: Eight kilometres away, so the road sign had said – in large print.
Early on the driver had problems with shifting the gears in Old Bertie the Bus, as we started up the mountain road towards the ski fields. My monkey mind worried he had not long had a license to drive this old jalopy.
“No snow on the road up to the Remarkables,” the two-way radio croaked out through a crackling speaker to the driver. Apparently, it was a ‘no-go,’ if there was snow on the road and our transfer would be cancelled. That would be a shame, I thought.
The reason for the two-way radio message was soon to become apparent as it wasn’t long before a distinctive burning smell and a handbrake in need of some tightening, confirmed my worst fears. The travel agent had booked us on a low-budget bus transfer, where passenger safety appeared to be a secondary concern. Eek!
We drove and we drove, on and on, as the old bus creaked and groaned and slipped and slid wildly back and forth across the wet and slushy roads. My young daughter, who was huddled beside me, tentatively asked, “Mum, what’s that burning smell? Is it the bus?”
So she was noticing it too.
The remaining passengers seem completely unaware of any impending engine issue or disaster. Most were sleeping or dozing in their seats, heads listing awkwardly to alternate sides in perfect time with the lurching of ‘Old Bertie,’ around the corners. If it wasn’t so worrisome, it might have been laughable.
Quickly hushing my daughter’s question with reassurances, I noted we had came dangerously close to slipping off the soft edges of the mountain road. The lack of guard rails meant that if the bus happened to slide, we would go over the side of the mountain into the valley below.
Heart stopping stuff.
I told myself and my daughter, that the company must drive up here every day in winter, so it must be safe enough. With my heart palpitating at a level way above normal, I wondered if my daughter could hear the tremble in my voice!
It felt like an absolute eternity of nail-biting terror as we rounded each corner, then another and another. We had been driving for around 30 minutes. It was slow progress. Surely, I thought, we must be almost there. The sign had said 8 km to the ski fields themselves, hadn’t it?
In the distance, I saw another large sign and craned my neck to read the words emblazoned therein, which declared:
“The Remarkables –
You are now half-way there!”
I felt ill.
There was probably another half-hour of this torture to endure! I gripped the seat even tighter as the bus continued to lurch from side to side, (shock absorbers or suspension was clearly unknown at the date of its manufacture).
Does anyone remember those days of driving without synchromesh in the low gears of a manual car? If you do, you might have become nostalgic about this bus which took me for a ride down memory lane, or rather, nightmare lane.
Along with no shock absorbers, the driver had to ram the gear shift down into first gear after having to stop the bus completely first, at which point the tyres would skid and slip underneath us, and the bus would slide backwards on the road, as Bevan desperately tried to get the tyres to grip the gravel mush.
What if there had been a little snow on the road? It didn’t bear thinking about.
I had to close my eyes. But finally we made it to the ski site, safe but not sound!
Before we stepped hurriedly off the bus, our driver had a stern warning that we must return to the bus at 4pm, or else!
“You must tell us if you come down any other way,” he said, “otherwise we will send the ski patrol out looking for you, as we don’t leave anyone on the mountain.”
I had already decided to descend from the ski fields a completely different way, as we were on a time limit to reach our dinner destination at Queenstown’s Gondola restaurant, so the frightening bus trip merely cemented my plans in concrete. Looking out the window, I had spotted two new all-weather terrain shuttle vehicles advertising transfers back to Queenstown, for NZ$25 at the mountain Bus Stop.
So eager was I to report to Bevan the Bus driver-come-potential-troubled-youth, that I was going to use the alternative shuttle bus to return to town, I almost spat out the words to him. The bus trip up the mountain was harrowing enough, I can only imagine the absolute terror of sliding down those mountain roads in “Old Bertie,” and its questionable braking ability.
The return journey was spent in a dazzling new vehicle. Even though the vehicle came very close to the edge of the moutain road, I did not feel in any danger. No burning rubber smell, either.
New Zealand has often been compared to Norway. In fact, on the way to Kastrup airport in Denmark, I saw one of those massive billboards, illuminated with a photograph of a snow-covered mountain.
The caption read,
No! New Zealand!”
Several years ago, I took a bus from Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand all the way to Queenstown, via Mt Cook. I am hoping that I will be able to do this trip again.
If you are tempted to travel this section of New Zealand, I recommend taking a power block, or back up batteries for your phone or camera, because, if you are anything like me, you will find many jaw-dropping photo opportunities, as you pass through the Southern Alps.
One of the sights we passed by, that got the attention of fellow bus passengers, was a location that was one the film sets of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Movie trilogy.
Apparently, the local farmers were called in to provide extras for the Horse Stampede scene. This involved a large number of horsemen, a battle charge and horse stampede. The crews were set up and ready to film and had organized a large group of local farmers to be on standby as horsemen actors, but Peter Jackson felt that the weather and light was not optimal for filming so he cancelled the day.
This went on each day, for seven days. The farmers dutifully turned up each day, at the appointed time, ready for their big-screen break. After Peter Jackson cancelled filming again on the seventh consecutive day, the Farmers walked off the set.
They complained they couldn’t afford to be away from their farms, for so many days on end, twiddling their thumbs, so it was decided that their wives would step in and provide the horsemen extras for the stampede scene.
Next time you watch one of the movies and you think you are witnessing a cavalry charge of men, think again!!!
The Lindis Pass
The 60 kilometre stretch of road, known as the Lindis Pass, is considered by some to be the most beautiful passes in all of New Zealand. With the tussock grass covering all but the high snowy peaks, it is a great place to stop and view the majesty of the Southern Alps.
Be sure to check road conditions for the pass in the town of Omarama before you embark on this journey, as the pass crosses 971 metres above sea level, at its highest point. As such, its often closed due to bad weather conditions. It can even have black ice, making driving treacherous.
Approaching Lindis pass in our bus, I spotted a road farther up encircling the peak of the mountain; one that would give Norway’s “Trollstigen” a bit of competition.
Traffic through the pass will often queue up when weather conditions force road closure for a few hours, or days. Oftentimes, travellers waiting along the road, will leave their cars and walk around collecting piles of rocks which they turn into cairns.
Norwegians would call these trolls.
Yet another parallel between New Zealand and Norway.
In many ways, travelling through this area I that if I squinted, I could easily fool myself that I was somewhere in Scandinavia or Iceland again.
And that brings us to Lake Dunstan. It glorious aqua colour indicative of the glaciers that feed it.
Ski Fields and Lake Dunstan
Andrew our bus driver, explained how Lake Dunstan was created when a river was dammed, so the old township of Cromwell had to be relocated and the locals rehoused.
If you’re a ski bunny, the ski fields of Queenstown are a manageable driving distance away from this spot, (50 minutes to The Remarkables and 40 minutes to Wanaka). This is a great alternative to staying in Queenstown itself, which can be a tad more expensive.
Activities in Otago and Queenstown
Besides Skiing, activities for individuals and groups who prefer to explore and experience places at their leisure, include:
Four-wheel driving the many hill tracks, or guided 4WD tours
Trekking and mountain biking
Visiting the Central Otago vineyards
Exploring the heritage stone buildings
Museum and Old Cromwell Town
Old mining landscapes
Guided fishing trips on Lake Dunstan
Snowmobiles (winter only)
Jet boating the Kawarau or Clutha Rivers
Continuing our bus journey meant only a short Tea stop at the roadside Fruit stall. I took the opportunity to purchase a couple of serves of breakfast fruit at farm gate prices.
The stall also displayed some of the largest pine cones I have seen.
Fellow blogger Pooja from Stories from Europe grew up in Nepal, so we’ve joined forces to write about a city located close to Kathmandu, called Bhaktapur. The individual accounts are about the same city, Bhaktapur, but written from a perspective of 34 years apart.
What things had changed?
What comparisons can we draw? Let’s find out.
It is March in the year 1986.
It’s been two months since the doomed Space Shuttle Mission exploded and before another month is over, the reactor in Chernobyl, Russia will fail triggering a catastrophic nuclear accident that will change the world.
Meanwhile, in Australia, I am young, newly married and embarking on my first overseas trip. I am optimistic and filled with a mixture of excitement and nervous energy about my upcoming visit to Nepal. It would be my first time travelling overseas.
The First Overseas Trip
Why choose Nepal for my first overseas trip when every second Australian, at that time, was going to London or Bali?
24-year-old me was eager to experience a culture entirely different from the semi-pasteurized life I had in Australia, yet I still had many reservations about what ‘Overseas’ would be like.
My Arrival in Nepal – Kathmandu
When I arrived in Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom, the wave of initial shock I felt at seeing the level of underdevelopment that existed in the Third-world, quickly gave way to a respect and appreciation for the Nepalese country, its eye-popping scenery, history and peace-loving people.
In 1986, I wrote in my travel diary, “the poverty of many Nepalese citizens contrasts sharply with a grand, ancient architecture, which is set against the backdrop of the staggering beauty of the Himalayas, mountains that could easily be mistaken for clouds.”
The contrast of our well appointed accommodation, the Yak ‘n Yeti Hotel, a former Palace in itself, with the scene a few steps away on the main street of the capital was stark.
In 1986, there was very few modern conveniences, (there was great bemusement and amazement when someone brought a small vacuum cleaner into the hotel lobby). The swimming pool was cleaned with a mop that consisted of a rag wrapped around the end of a wooden broom.
Thus, it was a day or so before ‘Westernized’ me could relax and enjoy the Nepalese culture, without feeling a sense of inequity on behalf of the people, and guilt for living my life in what would Nepalis would consider to be an extravagant and materialistic Western lifestyle, in comparison. (Even though my lifestyle was merely average by Australian standards.)
One street vendor summed it up.
“Where are you from? he asked, polishing the prayer wheel we were about to buy.
“Australia? Then you are rich!” he put forward.
I shook my head.
“No, not rich, definitely not rich,” I maintained.
“No?” he said, raising his eyebrow quizzically.
“How long did it take you to save the money to come here, then?’ he asked, “Six months, a year?”
I said, “Almost two years,” but he had made his point well. I was rich in comparison.
Bhaktapur – 1986
After a day or so in Kathmandu, my new husband and I were eager to explore further by driving around 10 kilometres east, passing through largely agricultural farms and the turnoff to China before arriving at Bhaktapur.
In 1986, 80% of the population of Bhaktapur were farming and the city was not yet on the main tourist trail. That was a shame as it was the original epicentre of Nepalese government from the 12th century until Kathmandu became the capital city under the Rana Kings.
The name Bhaktapur, means, “city of devotees,” my yellowing travel notes tell me, and if you enjoy traditional art, architecture and lifestyle, Bhaktapur gives you this in bucketloads. To visit Bhaktapur in 1986, it felt like a time warp back to the 14th centuries, Nepal’s Golden Age, when the Dynasty of Malla Kings ruled the region.
As well as seeing traditional Newari homes, Bhaktapur’s main square, ‘Durbar Square’, is filled with UNESCO heritage-listed Palaces and Pagoda-styled temples, adorned with highly crafted, intricate woodcarvings and statues that I felt were a privilege to see, given that Nepal was, for many years, closed to the outside world.
It isn’t widely known that the tiered Pagoda-style architecture, typically associated with the Orient, was first developed in Nepal, by a Nepalese architect who exported the concept very successfully to Asia.
Our Guide, Madhav, explained the history behind the architectural legacy left from the Malla Dynasty and their lengthy rule which preceded the more inward-looking Rana Kings, who closed off Nepal to foreigners.
Walking across Durbar Square we saw the masterpiece that is the Golden Gate, which comprises the main entrance to the old Royal Palace. Said to be, ‘the most richly moulded specimen of its kind in the world,’ the Golden Gate is intricately embellished with Garuda, the mythical griffin, Goddesses and other Hindu creatures. The gate leads to an inner courtyard containing a Royal Pool, or Water tank where a Hindu goddess, was believed to have her daily bath.
The Royal Palace itself, a structure adorned with fifty-five carved wooden windows, was built during the reign of the Malla King Bhupendra Malla, and finally completed in 1754.
Despite the Royal Palace remaining closed to the public as a result of the damage it sustained, during the 1934 earthquake, we feel now quite lucky to see it when we did, as the damage to these heritage structures from the 1934 earthquake had been repaired and the devastating 1990 earthquake was yet to happen. This is the palace as it appeared in 2013, (not my photo).
The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla stands atop a pillar overlooking the square. The King is depicted in an act of worship and can be seen facing the Palace and away from the main square, as a mark of respect. Such a contrast to other statues in the West.
A few more steps away, Taumadhi square features a five-tiered pagoda built in the 1700s, with stepped plinths, said to have taken three generations to construct. The animal statues on the steps, guard both the temple and the resident Goddess. My photo is old and cloudy, but I am there standing on the right side at the top of the steps, talking to some young girls.
The girls in the photo gathered around me, holding my hands tightly and pleading, “one rupee.” Their fingers were so cold, and I worried that one little girl might actually be ill. One rupee is a pitiful amount of money and my heart went out to them, but our guide had warned us away from giving any of the children money. “If you give them money, it encourages begging,” he said. I did not want to offend.
From here we strolled along the quieter back alleys, where several Newari ladies dressed in traditional Sari, sat on mats on the ground, selling their crafts.
They sold silver filigree jewellery and trinkets, some inlaid with semi-precious stones as well as carved wooden boxes. There didn’t seem to be a lot of customers about that day. I purchased a small carved box and was given another small silver box in place of change, as the seller had no coins or notes to give me any change for the transaction. A kindly gesture and one that I hope did not leave her out of pocket.
Buddhist Art -Thangkas
We were privileged to witness the Buddhist monks painting scrolls in the traditional Buddhist art form, known as Thangkas. The monks paint versions with authentic gold leaf highlights, or a lesser alternative using gold paint, which was reflected in the price of each alternative.
I selected the following Thangka, brought it home from our trip, had it framed and it has been such a delight to me. All my family love it and I still have on the wall in my new home, 34 years later. It is a timeless piece that still fascinates me. There is always something new to see in the painting, even after 34 years.
Some of the figures depicted in the painting might, on closer inspection, be considered pornographic to an unknowing Western eye. We are grateful that our guide explained the true purpose of this traditional depiction. The erotic positions of the figures were intended to excite men and the male spirit, in the hopes of increasing their fertility, something vital to the population, where children are seen as a way of securing your financial future.
Perhaps it worked, as I never had problems conceiving children?
Our final stop in Bhaktapur, was a surprise invitation from our guide to drink coffee with him in a small Lounge, located atop one of the tiered Pagoda-like buildings, overlooking Taumadhi Square.
It was a unique experience to sit and contemplate the history of the centuries-old square where Kings had walked, where battles were fought, where ancient monuments were crafted and stone sculptures stood on guard, as a timeless testament to a creative and artistically rich culture.
Our Guide told us he met a girlfriend who lived in our home town and also how it was common for many Tour Guides to marry foreign tourists and live overseas. He insisted that he would prefer to stay in Nepal and hoped his girl would move over there. He asked us to go visit her when we went back home. I imagine he would have been disappointed to hear that she had no plans to return to Nepal.
Visiting Bhaktapur was a unique and highly satisfying experience I shall never forget and I thank Pooja from the blog: Stories from Europe for the opportunity to share these beautiful memories of my first overseas travel experience with you.
Bhaktapur – 2020
What things had changed since 1986?
To find out what has changed in Bhaktapur over the intervening years, visit Pooja’s blog post, and find out what life in present-day Bhaktapur is like.
What was your first Overseas travel experience like?
Where did you go? Was it to someone familiar or completely different?
I would be happy if you link back to #firsttripoverseas in the comments below.
I wrote a guest post some years ago, for a travel blogger, about a favourite place that I had visited. As we cannot travel irl, virtual travel will have to do today. there is some formatting errors as it is written with the old editor. (Who uses that now?)
Choosing a topic for my favourite holiday destination, was both easy and difficult. Easy because I knew it would be somewhere in Scandinavia, (for those who know me, I hear you mumbling an audible, “of course,”) but difficult because I could only pick one Scandinavian country.
Each region of Scandinavia has its own beauty, personality and appeal and it is hard to choose one over them all. In today’s case, Sweden won out. Tomorrow I am sure it will be Denmark, and the next: Norway……
Sweden, or ‘Sverige’ (pronounced in Swedish svair-ri-ah), is one of my all-time favourites to visit because it is full of Nordic vitality, culture and unique sights.
Don’t let the threat of a harsh winter put you off a winter vacation in Sweden, because the warmer jet stream ensures that the winters in Scandinavia are no worse, and even sometimes better, than the American or Canadian version.
I enjoyed “fika” ( Swedish coffee and cake ) in a traditional Swedish cafe
In southern Sweden, you’ll find a fast-paced modernity in the large, cosmopolitan cities, like Stockholm and Malmø, but you will delight in finding they are also peppered with ‘old world’ charm.
The central area of the country is where rural Sweden and the philosophy of ‘Ikea’ at its best, with rolling green hills, a dusting of snow in Winter and a countryside dotted with ‘Falun’ red cottages, barns, medieval farms and quaint churches, some with amazing, intricately-painted ceilings dating back to medieval times.
You’ll also see age-old Swedish traditions alive and kicking, from one end of the country all the way to the other.
From painted horses in Dalarna to summers with wild ‘surstromming,’ (fermented fish), or Crayfish parties, or relaxing lazily on the west coast resorts, where a tourist-driven, laid back lifestyle predominates. A local beach on the Bohuslan coast might be a lump of bare sun-soaked rock, striking, attractive, yet it is appealing and extremely popular to visitors and Swedes alike.
And don’t forget the far north, where a Swedish winter adventure might include viewing the northern lights, going dog sledding, snowmobiling or experiencing a mix of arctic and Sami culture that transforms a cold, dark winter into a snowy, white wonderland one might associate more with Santa Claus and his elves.
You might ask: ‘What made this place so memorable?’
The Swedish people themselves have a proud and varied history, are gregarious, hard-working and cannot go for more than a few hours without ‘Fika’: coffee and cake.
Just my kind of people!
You will find cafes and bakery everywhere serving Fika, and this experience coupled with a kanelbolle, or cinnamon bun, made my Swedish experience memorable.
So what are the top ten sights/activities for this destination?
1. Vasa Museum –Stockholm:
See the ill-fated, triple-decked centuries old galleon that sank on its maiden voyage in the Stockholm harbour, replete with cannons, crew and gold-encrusted decorations. Nearby is the Nordic Museum that is also worth a look.
2. Skansen/Liseberg – Stockholm: an open-air museum with vintage Swedish houses, barns, dancing demonstrations and delicious traditional food. Stockholm’s Zoo is also located there, so if you yearn to see moose, reindeer, or a bear, you can do that when you visit Skansen. Then, burn off the extra calories on the rides at neighbouring Liseberg, Stockholm’s oldest amusement park.
3. Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s Old Town: a mecca for foodies. Commencing at the Royal palace, the “Old Town” consists of narrow alleyways, cute cafes, oh- so photogenic painted terrace houses, and shops full of traditional souvenirs to take home. Money exchanges/plenty of ATM’s are conveniently located here to help you on your mission!
Radhuset– Stockholm’s Town Hall: like a ‘mentos sweet’: plain and dull on the outside, magnificent on the inside. The Town Hall, built in the 1930s, is not only the venue for the Nobel Prize ceremonies; it has a Council chamber with a unique roof. The roof’s design was inspired by an upturned and decorated hull of a Viking longboat and the Town Hall also has a third reception room that is equivalent to an ancient Egyptian Pharoah’s temple. Surprising, and a definite ‘must-see’. Guided tours usually operate daily.
Stockholm archipelago – A leisurely boat trip past idyllic islands, the occasional fortress and stunningly beautiful nature. A photographer’s dream on a good day. Departs from Stockholm or Stromstad. Alternatively, if you are not a water baby: the sites mentioned in the Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millenium’ trilogy are a great way to see more of Stockholm. There is an easy D.I.Y. walking tour of Stockholm. Maps available at the tourist office.
Malmø – Skane, Southern Sweden: see the impressive “Turning torso” building, a feat of modern engineering; and Malmohus, a renaissance castle; as well as historic buildings in the Malmø Town Square including the Town Hall from 1547, Hotel Kramer and the old pharmacy: Apoteket. If you still have breath or run out of things to do, take a thirty-minute train ride and you are in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Ystad –Skane, Southern Sweden: trace Detective Kurt Wallander’s footsteps, (from Henning Mankell’s famous novels and TV series). There’s loads of half-timbered cottages with thatch roofs too.
Stromstad –Bohuslan, a beachside town on the west coast – see the Town Hall with its quirky history, take in drop-dead gorgeous views out to the archipelago, and try the must-have Buffet lunch at Lalaholmen hotel. You SO don’t want to miss the dessert. But you may want to skip the ‘surstromming’, (a fermented very smelly fish)and just party in the lively atmosphere and long hours of daylight hours in summer, or use Stromstad as a launchpad, for a high-speed boat trip to spend a day in Norway.
Lappland: Skellefteaa – track and hunt wild reindeer in their native habitat, go sledding, skiing or snowmobiling, or see Sweden’s oldest wooden bridge, and an utterly impressive Domkirke Cathedral, (a place of pilgrimage for centuries) and the pilgrim’s traditional cottages nearby.
10. Catch a glimpse of the mysterious Northern lights, or ski from February to June at Riksgransen, where, if you are lucky you may see the testing of pre-production European model cars that occurs in spring on the, still frozen, Arctic lakes.
If I could go again I would…
Spend more time relaxing on the Bohuslan coast, on a long summer night, visit Gotland to see the Viking relics and feast on Swedish delicacies such as reindeer, cloudberries, salmon, ‘Vasterbotten’ cheese and ‘Filmjolk.’
Is a Swedish holiday for you? Something for you to ponder about?
Easter is a time when Norwegians head for the hills, or in Norway’s case, the mountains.
Most families have a cabin they own in the ‘fjeller’ – or mountains, decorated in traditional Norwegian ‘Hytte’ style. ‘Hytte’ means cabin, plural ‘Hytter’, in Norwegian.
Hytter are timber cottages decorated with Norwegian crafts such as Traditional Rosemaling Art, woodcarving, weaving and embroidery, with mostly rustic interiors, fitted with benches topped with reindeer furs, (sitteunderlag), and other traditional furnishings.
Norwegian ‘Hytter’ Mountain Cabins
Hytter, or cabins, are quite rudimentary houses, partly because of the remoteness of their locations and partly due to the Norwegian tradition of getting back to nature. Visiting a family mountain cabin at Easter is a therapeutic time for Norwegians to ski, breathe in the fresh mountain air, relax and for a short time, not rely on everyday modern conveniences.
So when I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Hytte in Beito, high up in the Norwegian mountains with Norwegian friends, how could I resist?
The area known as Beito is part of the community at Beitostølen, an elite skiing location where the likes of the Norwegian Olympic ski team spent their time. Norwegian-Australian friends who heard I was going to visit Beitostølen, were quite rightly jealous, reacting with comments like,
“That is where the ski team practice.”
“Do you realize how lucky you are to be going to Beitostølen?”
I did. It was different to any other holiday I had experienced.
The Hytte at Beito comprised three timber cabins, with adjoining composting toilet and washroom; that would later hold a shower at some point in the future.
The cabins, themselves, were not equipped with running water, so we sponged ourselves using a bucket, with water sourced from the nearby spring. Fetching the water is a chore that would traditionally be delegated to children.
Living as I do in Australia, meant things like fetching water in the snow proved to be a novel experience. I was the first to volunteer for this task as it was another chance to be outside in the hushed, cosy silence of the snow-covered hillside.
If it meant I was to traipse through knee-deep snow to collect water, those mediative moments of silence, amidst the breathtaking mountain scenery, inhaling fresh Norwegian air and hearing only my muffled footsteps, were merely a comforting, restorative practice for me.
Norwegian Hytte Meals
Hytter meals are simple, apart from breakfast. The traditional hytte breakfast is a feast of eggs, salmon, cheese, bread, jam and vegetables, such as cucumber and carrot and also perhaps some yoghurt/kefir or waffles. Our bodies needed lots of food, ostensibly, to keep warm and active out in the snow.
Lunch is almost non-existent, but really after the filling Hytte breakfast, who needs lunch? A Norwegian chocolate bar, known as a ‘Quiklunsj’ (Quick lunch), or an apple, would suffice.
Dinner is mostly a laid back affair of home-made soup, cold meat such as lamb or boiled sheep and bread, or ‘Lompe’ – basically a hot dog, with a bread-like wrap made from potato flour, cooked on the outside barbeque or grill, of course.
Things to do at the Hytte
We spent the daytime out of doors, unless it was snowing heavily. We skied, tobogganed, slide down snowy slopes with the ‘akebrett,’ a paddle like slide, or the snow bike; walked about in snowshoes, built snow castles, threw snowballs and made plenty of snow angels, and snow “candles,” just because.
Once darkness arrived, it was time to ‘play’ inside, talking, drawing or Rosemaling – another Norwegian tradition, which is actually my great passion. If it was snowing hard outside during the day, there would be more Rosemaling as wells as card games or puppet shows, for the children. We read books too, as there was no TV, nor phone reception, unless you visited the grocery store a few miles away.
To get into the full spirit of the Norwegian Easter experience, I read one of the rivetting crime novels from Norwegian crime fiction author Jo Nesbø to complement my surroundings. He is a compelling writer and if you have not come across him before, you can read a Book Review.
The Hytte was good, clean fun and a really healthy, energetic holiday.
Was it cold by Australian standards?
Yes, but did I like it?
Absolutely. I loved it.
Being at the tail-end of a Norwegian winter, the weather towards Easter is generally calm, without storms. After a cold night, the sun could be so warm, my face became tanned!
During these sun-filled days, the Norwegians would enjoy sitting against a sunny wall, their face upturned towards the sky, taking in much needed Vitamin D that their bodies had missed during the long, dark winter. They even have a word for this kind of activity: Solveggen.
Warming the soul and the body!
This is what the Norwegian Easter did for me, too!
Wherever you are in the world, you can still travel virtually. When are you going this Easter?
Norwegians, Easter, cabins and crime literature belong together like horse and carriage – a tradition that started over 90 years ago. Here you can find out how to celebrate a typical Norwegian Easter.
First: Ensure that you have skis – either bought or borrowed. Also, make sure you have ski wax even if you are not sure how to use it. There is always someone along the tracks that can help a ‘forlorn wretch’.
When it comes to clothing it is important that it has red color, preferably with a home knitted wool sweater that smells of last year’s bonfire.
But wait a minute. If you do not know it already: Norwegians love skiing, especially at Easter, and many go several miles to their cabins where to spend the vacation. Surprisingly many people ski into a different era where outdoor toilet, drafty cabins and totally deserted landscape are considered paradise.
Australians are renowned for a laconic, self-deprecating sense of humour that is, to a large extent, the sort of mockery that is not meant to offend.
Australia – New Zealand Relations
We love to tease the New Zealanders about their accent and habits, like their habit of calling all and sundry, ‘bro.’ The Kiwis, in turn, mock us about our own ‘Straylan‘ accent, about who really invented pavlova, or whether Russell Crowe is an Aussie or Kiwi.
[Although after the phone-throwing incident, there was a debate as to whether anyone would claim Russell, at all].
Mocking each other can be a sign of feeling secure enough with the friendship that each may ‘have a go,’ or tease someone, in a gentle way, hopefully without it being taken personally, or causing offence. And so it is between New Zealanders and Australians.
Teasing aside, our countries do have a fairly similar culture, at least historically in the Anglo-Saxon sense. Many of us have relatives in both countries.
We understand each other and visit all the time, prior to Corona, of course. It is quicker to travel to New Zealand than to travel to the other side of Australia, for goodness sake. When every second or third New Zealand Teenager moved to Australia in search of work, in the 1980s, the popular joke here, was:
“So you moved here from New Zealand? Did you leave the light on?”
New Zealanders are very welcome in Australia and are treated as one of us. Well, except when it comes to welfare payments, perhaps. ‘Nuff’ said.
Aussie Vernacular Idioms
My Kiwi cousins enjoy teasing me about the way Aussies say, “Yeh, nah,” or ‘yes,’ then ‘no’ in the one breath or sentence. And we do say it. No doubt.
All the time!
So why was this T-shirt found in a souvenir shop, in New Zealand, with a kiwi as part of the logo? “Hey, bro?“
Are New Zealanders saying it, as well?
In defence of my fellow Aussies, this confusing phrase is used when we want to make two points, relative to one another, presumably to save time. As you may know, Aussies like to shorten everything to save time, especially when it comes to conversation and slang. As this video confirms:
In saying Yeh. Nah, we are agreeing with our conversational partner before further disagreeing on a smaller, less significant related point. Hence:
“Yeh, meaning you are right, (it looks like it might rain, but) “nah” meaning in reality, it probably won’t rain this afternoon – hence “Yeh, Nah, I don’t think it’s going to rain!” Clear as mud?
It seems this confusing idiom that makes no literal sense has traversed the Tasman Sea, into New Zealand to the point that it’s now New Zealand speak, if only because it has the word, ‘bro’, after it!!
Aussies will NOT disagree with this, will they? Yeh…. nah!
And if you are ready for some more Aussie humour, Carl might give you a laugh.
Most of us are familiar with ‘Michelin stars – the rating system for high-class restaurants the world over. Those highly sought after Michelin stars are indicative of excellence in consistency, presentation of food and mastery of technique.
What would you do if you were presented with a Michelin meal you couldn’t eat? Read the first part of a Michelin Meal in Japan.
Eleven Course Meal
My stay at a traditional Ryokan, or ‘Old World’ Inn, complete with Tatami mats and sliding paper walls in Kyoto, Japan, included an evening meal, which was served to us in our very own private dining room that comprised part of the sleeping quarters. A fantastic arrangement! Yes, well not necessarily.
It meant not eating the meal was never going to be an option, as we couldn’t leave the restaurant and go home. This was in our home, albeit our room, even if it was only for a short time.
Unfortunately, my daughter a.k.a. Miss Teen now ‘Adult,’ refused to eat any of Michelin Courses #1,#2 and #3 out of 11 courses. And this entire menu was all about seafood.
From Crab to Squid, Sea Urchin to Tilefish, (whatever that is), the menu lurched from one sea creature to another form of oceanic life. [With one token course that constituted a beef dish].
Me? I love seafood of all kinds. If it came from the sea, and is edible, I will eat it.
Miss Teen now an ‘Adult,’ on the other hand, would have none of it. She cannot eat seafood, or rather will not eat seafood. There was no forewarning of the menu contents, when we booked in at this Ryokan, so this was all a complete surprise.
On reading the menu, Daughter dear declared,
“Oh! I will just eat the rice!”
I dutifully opted for eating her untouched courses #1-3, but on re-examining the menu, I quickly realized I couldn’t possibly consume each and every part of the full eleven courses, for both of us.
I had to think. Which of the following options could I take for the rest of the meal?
Send her meal portions back uneaten
Tell the staff my teen is ill and can’t eat it
Apologise profusely and possibly insult the chef
Leave the Ryokan for other accommodation
None of those options sounded palatable, (no pun intended), and there were so many courses! To insult the chef would be rude, culturally insensitive and ungrateful. I also had to bear in mind, the Chef was to serve the rest of MY meal, which I was looking forward to eating.
What was I to do?
Michelin Food Disposal
I looked at the small bin provided in our room.
It would only handle paper and dry contents. I could not leave uneaten seafood portions there.
We were to catch an airport taxi and a 10-hour flight home to Australia the next day, so hiding it in my luggage would result in me smelling like a fish tank! Not the sweetest perfume de toilet!
I devised a plan. After the gentile kimono-clad room attendant/waitress, served up the next culinary marine delight and had left the room, I found a zip lock bag in my luggage.
It was similar to the ones they give you at the airport for storing toiletries, but that was all I had. Surreptitiously, I emptied the uneaten portions of daughter’s courses, within. It wasn’t easy. Those bags are meant for lip gloss and small hand creams. Not five courses from a traditional Japanese degustation style menu!
My subterfuge was very nearly discovered when the Japanese waiter returned, shortly after serving through the seventh course. Thank goodness she knocked on the door first. I would have had to fez up to ditching the food and how would that have looked?
Meanwhile Miss Teen Now an ‘Adult’ was by now, really hungry and looking forward to eating the course of rice. She suggested she might eat both our serves, as she was hungry. “Of course you can,” I reassured her.
Just before the rice was served, we were to be served tea. Green tea. At the mere mention of Green tea by the waiter, Miss Teen Now an Adult, shook her head vigorously to indicate ‘no,’ and eagerly awaited her bowl of rice.
The course of rice was then served – but to her dismay, one bowl not two, arrived, and was served to me only!
Miss Teen Now an ‘Adult,’ was completely forlorn. First all these serves of seafood and now no rice! The poor room attendant clearly had not understood. As soon as our door was closed again, I pushed the rice bowl towards her explaining I had more than enough to eat with all the sea urchins etc. and that she should have the rice.
If the truth be told, I’d have liked to try the rice as the Japanese are very particular about its quality. They do not like imported rice, and prefer the home-grown variety. Miss Teen Now an Adult, inhaled the whole bowl, before I had the chance to request even a small tasting portion. But that is okay.
Soup and Dessert
Strangely, a small bowl of miso soup course followed the rice – perhaps it aids digestion, or could it be that they think a person has consumed too much seafood, at that point? Remember there was now two bowls for me to drink, not one!
The Dessert course consisted of a Persimmon, times two, of course. I’d never eaten a persimmon before, so that was a novel experience and I confess to being quite partial to the sweet, delicate taste. I couldn’t get through the second one, so it also went into the baggie.
There was still my shady skulduggery of hiding food to address: about 5 courses of seafood and a half a persimmon sat in a zip lock baggie inside my handbag. It was 10 pm at night, I was in a Ryokan, in Japan and there was no rubbish bin in sight.
It was time to go out for a little walk.
Gion Bin Hunt and Geishas
Now in most countries, unless a G7 or Olympics were being held, it would not be too difficult to find a rubbish bin on the street, where I could discretely dispose of all aforementioned Michelin Chef scraps.
But this was Japan.
In Japan, each citizen is responsible for their own rubbish. Japanese people take home their used plastic drink bottles and empty food wrappers for recycling or dispose of them, to landfill. You must either pay for rubbish collections from your premises, or take it to the landfill, yourself. Thus, there are very few if any, public trash bins on the streets, in Japan.
It looked like we were in a long walk.
We walked the Gion with not a single bin, in sight. We passed several 7/11 stores along the way – no bins there either.
Around 10.30 pm we saw her.
A Geisha Girl in full attire.
The genuine Geishas are notoriously secretive and seeing a working Geisha in real life, really did make the whole rubbish disposal expedition, totally worthwhile.
In my excitement of seeing her, I fumbled for my camera, its carry cord becoming tangled up in the zip of my handbag, where said seafood was hiding. For a minute, I was completely distracted by the thought of a full-to-bursting ‘zip lock bag,’ spilling its unwanted Michelin meal contents inside my handbag, which would no doubt lead to me smelling like a tile-fish or sea urchin, for the next 24 hours! Meanwhile the Geisha was getting further away Ah!
An American tourist shouted at me to ‘run’ after the geisha, in order to get the prized photo. You can see him in the foreground. The Geisha, by then, had got some distance away. It was amazing how fast she moved in those traditional wooden shoes and maintained her poise. I got the photo. It is grainy, but one grainy photo is better than none.
You are told not to stop or ask Geishas to pose for photographs as they are considered highly skilled working ladies, who entertain guests through performing the ancient traditions of art, dance and singing and are handsomely paid for their time. And she did seem to be in a dreadful hurry.
Suddenly the fact that we had to walk further to find a bin, didn’t bother us as much. We eventually found one at the large Yasaka-jinja Shrine at the Gion. And we could both sleep easier for the rest of the night.
Miss Teen Now an ‘Adult,’ was really keen for breakfast, the next morning, but understandably so, don’t you think?
475 deaths from Corona, in Italy yesterday. 140 new cases overnight here, in Australia. No new cases in China – that they are aware of. Some good news from China, at last.
Iceland had its first death, possibly attributed to Covid 19! Iceland!
A sparsely populated area in the north of a country of only 250,000 people. An outpost in the very north of the Atlantic!
And who was it that perished in that tiny village in the north of Iceland?
An Australian tourist!
Unbelievable, but true.
RIYADH: The Saudi Health Ministry announced 67 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total in the Kingdom to 238. The ministry said that highest number among the newly recorded cases was 45 arrivals to Saudi Arabia during the past two days. These cases arrived from UK.
It begs the questions of how much international travel, for business or pleasure has contributed to spreading this virus, albeit inadvertantly?
The Australian Airline carrier, Qantas, has reduced flights by 90%. International travel has been curtailed indefinitely, for most people. The Government has now banned foriegners from visiting our country. If you are a foreign citizen living here, you may leave, but you cannot return.
Is the sun setting on the future of passenger cruising and travel? Along with companies whose sole business is tourism, holiday accommodation, hospitality, and recreation?
Supermarkets sales are booming, whilst every other business languishes, rots or dies – Death by Corona.
Toilet paper, rice, pasta, other staples and curiously broccoli, fly off the shelves as soon as they are re-stocked. Why just Broccoli?
Nurses, Doctors, Hospital staff such as Cleaners, Ward Admininstration staff and Service folk, Ambulance drivers, Paramedics, Police, Fire, Laboratory testing staff, Security Personnel, Emergency services, all continue to work. Thanks goodness they do.
A friend works in a Hospital laboratory conducting more than 1000 Covid 19 tests a day! His work is usually only URGENT specimens for the hospital. One hospital. How many more are being conducted at the major high volume blood laboratories in each city. That statistic staggers me.
Gyms, sporting clubs and Yoga studios have closed.
Cinemas have closed.
Social Clubs have closed.
Universities have moved to online delivery of lessons.
Fiestas and Public festivals and events are canned.
We cannot gather together in a group of more than 100.
Yet the Government refuses to close the schools – children are safer in the germ- riddled playground and public toilet than in their family home,according to our fearless leader!
TV ratings must be up higher than ever before, or perhaps residential internet data usage is?
I remain at work, by direction. Everything but essential appointments are cancelled. Essential means an appointment that is vital, for safety reasons. So there will be very limited community visits for me – I will be spending my days at work, filing!
Quite frankly, I would rather stay at home, on unpaid leave and write, or paint. One consolation is the traffic is better. And I have my podcasts to listen to. There is no Covid 19 news on them.
Driving to Podcasts
As I drive the long drive to and from work, I listen to stories of history, of what it was like to endure life in years gone by, scientific advances, the wars, heroic tales of people who overcome adversity or those who achieved success. I listen to philosophers and researchers – those who study the past to find answers to the future, who create our future. It interests me and is much preferable than listening to Corona updates.
My daughter is worried. A 20 year old girl should not have to worry about whether she will live or die by the hand of a virus. She worries about having money to buy food and essentials; she works at a hotel, empty of guests, so her shifts have been drastically cut. There is a pitiful amount of money coming in.
She worries about paying rent. The landlord will no doubt still collect every last cent that is due. There is no relief for those who pay for their accommodation, or who have a mortgage. We help her, of course. We are her parents and willingly help. What if we weren’t here?
I reassure her worried teenage young adult mind, by telling her that humans are a resilient species. We have survived famine, years of food rations in the Great Depression and The World Wars. People ate rabbits, for the most part! I don’t tell her that part.
Yet in all this, life feels like it’s on hold.
I am flooded with daily emails about the extra precautions industry and businesses are taking, offering hand santizer, cleaning door handles, countertops, using gloves to handle food, only taking credit cards for payment, in order to avoid ‘dirty’ cash. I wonder: did your business, never ever clean your products or benches, door handles or ATM’s buttons before?
The mood at work and throughout society now, is solemn. And it can only become worse. People are worried, talking constantly about the latest media updates. It is hard to remain joyful and optimistic when everything is so uncertain.
While large parts of the northern hemisphere revel in Christmas, soft snow underfoot and Jingle Bells, those contemplating a visit to Australia, might need to know a few facts before they arrive:
It’s Hot Here
It’s hot, darn hot and especially so if you rarely experience temperatures exceeding 26 degrees C.
Be prepared for sunburn. Be sure to bring or buy sunscreen, open shoes or “thongs”, (the ones that you wear on your feet!), and a decent, broad-brimmed hat!
Oh, and drink at least 2 litres of fluid a day. This does not include your coffee allowance! [Coffee is a diuretic and will dehydrate you].
An Australian Christmas
“But it doesn’t feel like Christmas,”
That’s the tell tale sign that you’re probably not speaking with an Australian resident. Despite Australia’s best attempts at creating a traditional European atmosphere with hot Christmas lunches comprising Roast meat, vegetables and puddings, it just isn’t the same feel when the mercury passes 30 degress celsius.
Well may foreign visitors smile at our attempts at, “Xmas hygge” replete with plastic Christmas trees with fake snow. They might relish laying on the beach eating buckets of prawns, (read: shrimp, but very large ones), on Christmas Day, but to those residents from the North, a hot Christmas will, no doubt, never be a real Christmas.
Let’s Go Swimming
As strange as it may seem, Australians wear clothes in the ocean or swimming pool. Yes, the fashion disaster, but highly practical, lycra rashi shirts and shorts, or all in ones for little kids, are essential clothing if you want to avoid sunburn. That is because Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. At Christmas time, you can get sunburnt in as little as 10 minutes.
There are jellyfish and they aren’t friendly…
With the mercury soaring well above thiry degrees celsius, you will probably try and cool off by jumping in the ocean, for a swim.
Except, if you’re in the state of Queensland.
Summer is jellyfish season, which means regardless of how hot it is, it’s far too dangerous to go plunging in the sea, especially in the tropical north.
That must seem like a cruel joke to foreigners, but it is the truth. You can of course, still swim and take your chances, or wear ladies stockings to prevent the jellyfish tentacles stinging your skin. That really is your options! You’ve been forewarned.
Are you still keen to don your Aussie cosie* *read: Swimsuit now?
If you are, you might like to:
Meet your Friendly Neighbourhood Crocodile
There is no swimming in the Top End, or the region called The Northern Territory either, but that’s not because of jellyfish; it’s the crocodiles that are lurking in the waterways. One of the hottest places in the world, surrounded by water, and you can’t go for a swim because you’ll be torn apart by a prehistoric reptile. If you don’t believe me, here is a quote from a Northern Territory local, in his own words:
“It’s ingrained in all of us — when you go fishing, you are taught to be alert [and] don’t hang your hands over the boat for example,” he said. Although the fear is warranted, it’s all about calculated risk and an awareness of the place we call home.
The Freshwater crocs pose less of a threat as they are more likely to attack only when they feel threatened. “It’s hot, and we always need to cool down and so most locals will take the plunge, even if it means risking it all for the sake of a cool dip.”
Perhaps I should address the elephant in the room, or more accurately, the snake in the house.
Sensible tourists don’t go wandering through any long grass or bushland, particularly next to creeks or waterways, because we do have extremely venomous snakes here. And, if you stay with some Aussie friends, you may see one in the backyard, or if you are really lucky, in the house. They are on the move at Christmas. Pythons, especially like to curl up behind toilets, but don’t worry, the pythons aren’t venomous.
Have fun with that.
It’s hot, then cold and rainy, and then hot again
Most visitors to our shores have the impression Australia is a land without winter, and it is all about bright, sunny days and nothing else.
That isn’t always the case.
Depending on what part of our expansive continent you stay in, you might get days so hot and humid that you can barely move your arm off the sofa. Later in the arvo – (read: afternoon), a tropical thunderstorm with terrential rain will soak you through to the skin, in a matter of seconds – even with a raincoat, which most of us don’t own. There is no need for it.
The tropical storms might cool you down temporarily, but rest assured, it will be hot again in about 30 minutes, which is when the storm will probably finish.
Alternatively, you just might get a little rain or sleet at Christmas, if you visit the little island at the bottom of Australia, called Tasmania – you know the land mass that is closest to Antarctica – bar New Zealand, of course. Mt Wellington in Tassie, (oops Tasmania), often has a dusting of snow, even at Christmas. Mostly it’s just for a few hours, until it melts away.
Birds – there is lots of them
We have a plethora of bird species, so if you are an enthusiast, you will think you’ve reached paradise. Mostly active at dawn and dusk, they can range from the extremely colourful, as in the Rainbow Lorikeet, sing beautiful songs like the common Butcherbird, or laugh hysterically at you,like a Kookaburra.
Don’t take it personally.
As a child, I could never work out why the storybooks would tell of birds flying south for the winter? Such was the domination of British literature in Australia, in the sixties and seventies. Unless their internal compass is faulty, the birds here don’t fly south, as the only land they would reach would be Antarctica.
There is always a flood or a fire, in Australia, somewhere in summer. The Northern half of Australia is prone to tropical storms, called cyclones, at Christmas and cyclones bring monsoonal rains, severe winds and floodings, in their wake. The rest of Australia is prone to Bushfires, and we have had more than enough of those this year.
Ah…Australia: beautiful, isn’t it?
It is Peak Holiday Season
For most of the world, there’s a small shutdown between Christmas and New Year, and then it’s back to work as normal. For Australians, Christmas time is the green light to leave town. You’ll find Aussies at the beach, or, ironically, snowboarding in Japan).
Well almost…. Doctors, Nurses, retail workers, hospitality staff, fireman, airport workers amazingly still have a job to do all year around. Pretty much the only ones on holidays are the Tradesman and Office staff, those who work in the education sector and fireplace installers.
That is a good thing, right?
Shop til you Drop
As for retail, the triple hit of summertime, the long school break and Christmas means it is the busiest time for retail shopping. It is manic at the large air-conditioned malls, as all those residents without air conditioners hibernate there to cool off during daylight hours. To say nothing of the mayhem at Boxing Day sales. It is hot at Christmas and people WANT A BARGAIN, and they WANT IT NOW!
Traveller Tip: the highways to the beach are car parks! Start out early in you are driving.
Don’t light a Camp Fire
We have some spectacular national parks in Australia, places where you can hike or camp and enjoy the great outdoors. Unlike other countries, however, you just can’t have a campfire. Even though everyone is aware of the very valid reasons for that, it’s still disappointing for tourists and even more so for the locals whose homes might be threatened by a bushfire that started out as a campfire. As I said, we have had more than our fair share of bushfire this year.
People become obsessed with cricket and tennis
You’re unsure of the point of Cricket?
So am I, but anyway – Cricket is a game that is sacred to Australians, they stand for hours on an open grassy field in the sun, at the height of summertime. Crazy! The important games go for five entire days, and at the end you might not have a winner or loser. Insane? I know, I know.
No one really watches cricket anyway and mostly we ‘dis’ the commentators – it is an Aussie tradition. But the cricket and tennis will always be on in summer, and in many Aussie households, you’re absolutely not allowed to touch the remote, or complain about it, or point out that it’s really boring. Even if noone is watching it……
All the Northerners lamenting the cooler weather – are you still ready to book your holiday flight to Australia?
If you can handle all of that, I will welcome you with open arms!