“There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that can't sit still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will. They range the field and rove the flood, And they climb the mountain's crest; Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don't know how to rest.”
- Robert Service

Monday, 24 February 2014

Ma'avelous Melbourne

We've now been in Melbourne two days and I'm neck deep in its funky artsy-fartsy culture already.

For a few years now, I'd easily call Vancouver my home. Even though I haven't lived there for a year, when I meet mew friends along the road I tell them I'm "from Vancouver." Why not? It's a beautiful city, and one that's consistently rated among the top 5 most liveable cities in the world. But now I'm in Melbourne. Melbourne has been ranked the #1 most liveable city in the world for the last 3 years (you can read the latest report here), and it most certainly deserves it. Melbourne may not have breathtaking mountain views from the city centre, but it does have a visually interesting skyline (imaging a quirky mix of old stone buildings, tall skyscrapers, and modernist architecture at intriguing angles), and a hip arts scene.

How hip?

Well, on the evening that we arrived we stumbled into a massive street arts festival, called "White Night." In it's second year, officials estimated that 500,000 people crowded a few city blocks during the overnight festival (it ran from 7pm-7am). Michael and I wandered about for a while early in the evening and spotted some fun light displays and projections, but soon decided to hightail it out after a couple of "adventures" trying to cross the street. You see, crossing the street took about 20 minutes and involved heavily reducing one's personal space bubble. It was like being a spawning Atlantic salmon - trying to swim upstream (though in reality the 'stream' flowed in every direction) when the water molecules were made out of other people. There was that, and also that attempting to see or do anything other than the street light projections involved a massive lineup.

But Michael's a trooper, and agreed to go back to the hostel to sleep, and then go for another walkabout at 6am! The streets were much more comfortable...

We had much better luck seeing installations in the wee hours of the morning...
At 9pm, there'd been an hour and a half lineup for this installation, called "Purple Rain." Prince's song of the same name played on circuit as purple lights illuminated a mist. Visitors were provided with umbrellas. We stayed about 3 minutes.
 And then there was today. After a nice long sleep-in (after staying out very late to catch the men's Olympic hockey gold medal game! Go Canada!), we joined a walking tour about the city. In general, it was a good tour. But then, but then, we were shown some of Melbourne's fantastic street art! It's of varying quality, but I was in love with the energy and the colour of it all - filling up alleyways from bottom to top! Yeah.
bird lady
This one was about 6 feet tall
...I couldn't help myself.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Karri in a Hurry!

We've been on a delightful road trip with Michael's Uncle Keith and Aunt Sue this week. It seems they know everybody around these parts, and have been able to stay with other extended family members or friends as we've traveled south from Perth to Margaret River and to our current "home" in Denmark. We made plenty of detours along the way, including to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the South-Westiest point of Australia. I feel like I've seen lots of lighthouses in the last 12 months....(but it really doesn't get old!)

But while we've been driving, I've spent plenty of time gazing out the car window curious about all of the new and interesting flora and fauna. So many new things! Especially so are the trees. These Australian trees really are quite special, though I mostly notice only two types: the Karri Trees, and the Xanthorrhoea (commonly known as "Blackboys." But a politically correct person in public might rather use its scientific name...).

The Karris are straight tall giants - gum trees that shed their bark and look smooth and blonde. They're so tall, that they were used as fire lookout posts. One of those posts remains accessible to the public, and courageous travelers can try their luck at ascending the seemingly impossible re-bar ladder. It's called the Gloucester Tree. The refurbished lookout at the treetop is about 72 metres from the ground.Wikipedia says that only 20% of people who start up actually continue to the top, and for good reason. That ladder is fucking scary! There's absolutely no way an attraction like this would exist in North America without a required signed waiver and safety ropes.

But we did it! And I didn't fall!

Sorry, mom. Better to beg forgiveness though, right?
I've just started up the ladder. They'res a wire cage to the outside of the latter to keep people from sliding off to the side, but you're on your own if you fall straight down....
 Now, the Blackboy trees are really interesting, at least from my vantage point. These guys grow impossibly slow, which is the reason for their blackened trunks; forest fires are a regular occurance in Western Australia (WA), and they've all been charred. But they survived!

Just how long do they survive? Well, check out the photo below, with Michael for reference.

The human is 1778 mm tall. The Blackboy is taller than this.
 These "trees" grow at a staggering rate of only a few milimetres per year. Based on math, where we'll guess this baby grows 5mm in a year (1778mm/5mm), a Michael sized tree is 355 years old. But this one is taller! I reckon this one is at least a half century, at the least! Rad.

But here are some other cool things:

The smallest busker in ever. His dad watched on from another park bench. He rocked some sweet lulabys.
Darn tootin, I put some shrimp on the barby!
I've seen my share of 'Roos, but these two were large Western Grey Kangaroos! REAL LIVE KANGAROOS!

Arrival in Aussieland

...Does this make me a guest blogger on my own blog?

At any rate, we're in Australia now. We've been here for a week now, in fact and I'll blame sheer exhaustion from a month in India as the reason why my writing has been slacking. Michael's Uncle Keith and Aunt Sue have been kind enough to put us up in their home in Perth, and for the first few days I will admit that I was very lazy, happy to have clean water, clean sheets, and fresh greens to eat. And for the record (and also since I know Sue will be reading this), Sue is an excellent cook and I feel like I've been eating gourmet every day! Thanks, Sue!

So the last time I had started a genuine attempt at a blog post, we were still in Varanasi. A very adventurous tourmate hadconvinced us to come along with her for a swim the night before, and our guide had organized it all for us. A small continent of the group met in the wee hours of the morning to ride down to the Ganges, where we caught a boat to the opposing shore with a sandbar and significantly fewer locals doing their laundry, spreading the ashes of their loved ones, and gawking at the white foreigners.

But the boat couldn't quite get us up to the dry sand, so we were all required to jump off the boat directly into knee deep water.

Before I go further, I should direct you to This Website, This Wikipedia Page, and This News Article. Basically, the Ganges is incredibly polluted, and contains microbes that could easily make an outsider incredibly sick just by looking at it. But you should also note that I am still alive, a few weeks later. Michael also weighed these risks and decided he'd rather bet on sleeping in an extra 4 cozy hours and join us for breakfast.

So in the foggy, cool morning, 6 tourists jumped into the Ganges. The water was warmer than I expected, though I has buffered by the extra layers I was required to wear "for modesty." One of our group - the instigator - plunged right underwater and I stared on in amazement. Such bravery! I, on the other hand was very content to wade up to my thighs. I splashed some of the murky water about with my hands, and I gave thanks to Mother Ganges for the gifts of the Land and the Sky and the Air (despite how much we had ruined them...). It was a lovely, peaceful moment for me. I'd had very few of those since entering India, and I was very thankful for it.

Good morning, Mother Ganges!
Since we'd started planning this trip, we had expected to let the group leave us in Varanasi as they went on to Delhi. But after almost 3 weeks of camaraderie we bowed to pressure and decided to return to the most bustling, busy Indian city of them all! I'm glad we did, too. It was great to wrap up the whole experience with the other 14 brave young souls we'd been traveling with a couple of Indian beers on the rooftop terrace.

But no time to rest! Our next stop was an extended layover in Singapore, a place in stark contrast to Delhi. This place is so clean that it's illegal to import chewing gum.  No more seeing people peeing in the street all willy-nilly! But all that aside, Singapore was a wonderful, vibrant city to visit. And it's much like Vancouver with it's long walkways along the water crammed with afternoon joggers, and zest for healthy living. Although....Michael may have mentioned that "If Disney were to build a city, it would be Singapore" for it's oversimplification of tourist areas (like Chinatown) and abundance of theme park type venues across the metro area. Not that we're complaining- the Night Safari was pretty cool!
Michael and the Merlion! The 'cruise ship atop a skyscraper' (the Marina Bay Sands Hotel) is behind him.
Singapore's signature dish is Chili Crab. We waited around until 10pm to get a seat, and it was messy! A whole crab served in sauce with no shell crackers. It came with two sets of chopsticks. The two ladies behind us were able to eat it daintily, but what they don't know is that Michael has accidentally shot a crab leg across the room and under their table...
But we couldn't stay there for long! Of course, our next stop was Perth! We've been getting into lots of little adventures while we've been here, and we're only a few days in. I can't wait for more!
Aunt Sue was kind enough to give Michael a lesson in driving a stick-shift on the left side of the road. No accidents, but we took a few extraneous turns around a roundabout...
With all of this beautiful blue water around me now, I was inspired to tint the tips of my tresses blue! Yeah! ...But now Michael's taken to calling me a Hippy, especially when I'm wearing my poofy Indian pajama pants...
We're soon to leave on a road trip with Keith and Sue down south along the coast towards the South-Westiest corner of Australia. Kangaroos, here I come!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Singapore (this is my blog now)

It's been a while since my last post.  Our laptop wasn't charging and I was procrastinating typing out a whole post on my phone... procrastinating as in didn't do it.  Good news is the laptop is back now.  I don't know why it wasn't recharging the last week, but it may have had something to do with the vibration that appeared on the laptop shell whenever I plugged it in in India.

We've been in Singapore now three days.  Tonight is our last here.  Tomorrow morning we're leaving for Perth.  Singapore is an amazing city.  It was a bit of culture shock coming from India.  It's so incredibly clean and modern and generally comfortable.  If Disney were to build a city it would be Singapore.  It has massive buildings with interesting architecture, excellent public transport, lots of man-made tourist attractions, bright lights, it's spacious, clean, and has a twice-nightly water laser show.

Sarah with the Merlion, Singapore's mascot.  There's no history behind it -- it's recent,
tourism oriented and designed by committee.
 We spent a couple days wandering around the city.  Everyone we talked to recommended Chinatown and Little India.  Having just come from big China and India we weren't sure if it would be too interesting, but ended up there in our wandering anyway.  China town here is really neat.  It's currently decked out in red and gold lanterns and horse decorations for the Chinese new year.  "Have a Horse-picious New Year".  Did I mention it's remarkably clean?  From Chinatown you can walk a few streets over and end up in a neighbourhood reminiscent of colonial Cuba with it's brightly painted homes, then through a downtown that rivals Manhattan in height, past the most expensive shopping district I've seen, through the Arabic neighbourhood Kampong Glam, to the bustling (and, in keeping in character, slightly less clean) streets of little India, and finally circle back to Clarke Quay with a mesmerizing tourist bar scene.  It feels very much like walking from fantasyland through frontierland to tomorrowland.  Also the beer prices are probably the same.  Beer prices here make hockey arena concessions seem like a good deal.

Kampong Glam neighbourhood
 We also went a bit out of town to see the night safari last night.  It's a zoo full of nocturnal animals, lit by artificial moonlight, with some walking trails and a tram ride (the safari part, I think).  I really enjoyed staring at the sloth bear staring at me, and seeing the hyenas pace back and forth, with all this prey just out of reach.  Sarah liked walking through the bat enclosure best.  I took a lot of photos.  They're mostly all black.

I updated our photo album with pictures from India.  I'll add Singapore soon.