And Finally…..Hong Kong

The last part of our holiday, and what, in many ways, turned out to be its climax, was a stop-over in Hong Kong. The geography of Hong Kong with its bay and surrounding islands is breath-taking. The variety of environment in such a small area was surprising. The markets and the neon streets were every bit as exotic as I expected. The weather was hazy but very comfortably warm. We simply had a great time.

Hong Kong From The Peak

Hong Kong From The Peak

Our first day was dominated by a visit to the botanical gardens and then a trip on the funicular to The Peak. From there we could grasp the overall layout of the city. We had our first trip on the Star Ferry across the bay (costing all of 50p for a return crossing) and visited the markets of Kowloon.

Hong Kong Bay

View From The Star Ferry – Day

Hong Kong Bay

View From The Star Ferry – Night

Our sense of smell was assaulted by the food markets. Our Western sensibilities were challenged by the goldfish market where thousands of gorgeous tropical fish hung in little plastic bags and the aquariums were full with more fish than water. The piles of sometimes inexplicable stuff for sale in the acres of the ‘Ladies Market’ and ‘Night Market’ were incredible. Neon was everywhere; it screened the scruffy buildings above the street level activity and added to the feeling of frenzy. The markets stoked up our every sense.

The second day was calmer as we travelled out to one of the islands and a 6 kilometre cable car ride over forest covered mountains to The Big Budda. The views were again wonderful and the Budda was certainly big.

We travelled back by ferry via a small fishing village and again experienced amazing food shops and their pungent smells (especially the drying fish swim bladders).

Tai O

Tai O – A Fishing Village

Our final morning was spent on the top of trams criss-crossing Hong Kong Island. A brave lunch in a cavernous restaurant filled with a couple of hundred Chinese diners followed. The Chinese are a much more reserved – almost stern – people relative to Australians (who were incredibly friendly). However, we were so thankful that our struggles with the multiple choice tick-box ordering system were resolved by the proactivity of a very helpful fellow customer. Lunch was not only tasty but a great experience of humanity in a foreign country.

We left Hong Kong after a final Star Ferry return trip in very good spirits. For the first time in my memory I had no feeling of dread of work email hell as a holiday drew to a close. Nothing bad had happened in over three weeks of holiday (therefore meeting my base level of contentment). Indeed, every day had held lovely surprises and the promise of something great next.

Home being next also felt fine.

Melbourne’s 3 Bs: Breakfast, Beer and Botanics

At time of writing this, LSW and I are enjoying our last day of our holiday in Hong Kong. It feels remarkable that just three days ago, we were in the midst of a very different culture in Melbourne. We had two periods there either side of our Great Ocean Road trip and (although Hong Kong tops it – more about which another time) we loved Melbourne.

There were a number of highlights including the surprise pleasure of the faded holiday resort area of St Kilda on the bay to the south of the city. It was a little like how I remember Clacton-on-Sea but with an uncluttered pier and penguins (well, we saw one anyway).

Views of St Kilda (Bay, Fun Park and Quirky Shops)

 

The relatively residential areas of Collingwood and Fitzroy where we stayed during our second visit were also charming. Their Victorian terraces with their wrought iron trellises and balconies were particularly alluring, especially when modern, designer extensions to their rears were visible.

Views of Collingwood and Fitzroy

 

But my prime memories of Melbourne are of the outstanding Botanical Gardens, the unexpectedly good craft beers (and numerous rooftop bars to drink them in) and, most of all, the wonderful breakfasts. Cafe Rustica produced my favourites in both the ‘best hot’ and ‘prettiest’ breakfast categories.

The ‘Prettiest Breakfast’ of the Holiday

 

We spent much of each day planning breakfast and drinking holes and talking in glowing terms about the resulting pleasures in execution. Some of this will be reproducible, at least in part, when we get home, but these three Bs – botanics, beer and breakfasts – will live long in my memories of Melbourne.

Melbourne Botanical Gardens and City From Shrine of Remembrance

Rooftop View From Naked For Satan Bar

The Snake

We made a couple of trips inland from The Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne.

From the end of The Great Ocean Road at the attractive and attractively named town of Port Fairy, we travelled back to Melbourne inland via Ballarat, Daylesford and Trentham.

Ballarat is an example of a gold rush town that has seen better days but is now fighting back. Daylesford was a disappointment and with hindsight we spent too long there – probably our first tactical error. Trentham was lovely with great shops, restaurants and walks. One of these provided my first sighting of kangaroos.

Typical Buildings in Ballerat, Daylesford and Trentham

 

Trentham Falls and Kangaroos Near Trentham

There is interesting plant and wildlife, especially unfamiliar and often noisy birds, almost everywhere we have been in Australia. Our trips inland to a couple of waterfalls were particularly remarkable in this respect.

One was located along a long single lane track cut through old eucalyptus forest. The trunks soared on either side like an incredble cathedral nave with tree ferns carpeting the forest floor. In a clearing we had our first wallaby sighting.

Hopetoun Falls and My First Wallaby

 

The other waterfall visit required a steep walk. During this, a brown, lengthy and impressively mean-looking snake crossed the steps a couple of feet away from me. Fortunately, my reflexive step back sent me tumbling into the bank and not down the precipice on the other side of the path!  The snake stayed firmly in my mind for a few days afterwards – especially after I was told it’s the brown ones that are dangerous.

Melbourne is safer!

The Really Great Ocean Road

After our fun in Queensland, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) (actually not so long-suffering these past couple of weeks) and I travelled to Melbourne. From there we hired a car and LSW drove us (ok, she suffers a bit) West along The Great Ocean Road to Port Fairy.

We stopped overnight at Apollo Bay and Port Campbell to break up the journey. In any case, we were frequently in and out of the car to avail ourselves of the well signposted, comprehensively explained and lovingly looked-after coastal viewpoints.

Joining The Great Ocean Road Near Anglesea

Apollo Bay at Sunset

 

As in Queensland, even the easily accessible beaches were clean and empty.

The three days hopping along the coast were incredible. Each stop seemed to surpass the previous in terms of magnitude of spectacle and drama – the latter helped by a steady stiffening of the breeze and a corresponding increase in the surf as we travelled West.

The pictures I could take on my now outdated iPhone cannot do the Great Ocean Road justice. Nevertheless, here are few.

Views Of/Near The Twelve Apostles

Panoramic Shot of Razorback Near Port Campbell

Loch Ard Gorge

London Bridge (Fell in 2002 Trapping 2 Tourists) and The Arch

The Grotto Near Port Campbell

Bay of Islands

The Great Ocean Road is a tremendous engineering feat dating back to the early 20th century. It is also an extraordinary showcase for this spectacular southernmost coast.

LSW and I also travelled inland and that was also extraordinary in other ways. More on that if I manage to find time to catch up with the blogging….

Noosa and Brisbane Roar

Our last few days in Queensland were spent  mopping up a few shop visits, restaurant recommendations and sights in Brisbane, and a trip two hours north to Noosa with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend.

LSW and I also had the honour of being invited to dinner with the parents of one of YS’s best friends, and to see Brisbane Roar play football in the huge SunCorp Stadium. Both evenings were enormous fun and also fascinating in the observation of similarities and differences from the UK.  Certainly the pyrotechnics as the teams came out at SunCorp Stadium are a step up from what we experience at Forest Green Rovers!

Brisbane Roar vs Adelaide at the SunCorp Stadium

Noosa was rainy and, at times, very rainy. Rain didn’t stop play though. LSW was able to get around the touristy town shops, I walked along the coast, we taught YS’s girlfriend Rummy and we all saw dolphins.

View From Our Airbnb in Noosa: Sunrise After Showers

We also saw YS’s proficiency with car and camera. Especially gIven my relative incompetence in driving and in using machines and equipment, I was impressed. It’s always good to see first hand offspring mastering things beyond ones own ability.

YS drove us in the rain to Mount Coot-tha for a panoramic view of Brisbane and then to the Botanic Gardens. There was just time for some more YS camerawork there before the rain closed in again.

YS and Girlfriend on Mt Coot-tha

We said goodbye to YS and girlfriend next morning after another routinely  marvellous breakfast.

Açai Bowl at Nodo Donuts Cafe, Brisbane

This breakfast was at the cafe where YS had first worked when he arrived in Brisbane 18 months ago.  It was lovely to see him greeted by the staff there but then sad to say goodbye to him. YS and girlfriend are back to the UK for Christmas though, so only 8 weeks to a reunion.

North New South Wales

Unexpectedly, we moved to yet another time zone as we travelled south towards Byron Bay from Brisbane. I hadn’t previously realised that time zones varied by Australian state as well longitude. It reduced the challenge of getting up in time to see the sunrises!

The country drives around Bangalow, where we stayed for three nights, were wonderful. Sometimes, if you squinted a bit, the countryside was reminiscent of the emptier parts of England. Then I’d look again and the tropical trees would shake me into realising the differences.

Byron Bay Hinterland Countryside

And then there are the hordes of metre-wide black fruit bats and the ear piercing crescendos of the crickets! We don’t have them in Gloucestershire. Both were jaw-dropping.

Scenes Around Bangalow

The quality of the Australian breakfasts, the  clean sand and sheer scale of the beaches, and the friendliness of all we met continued to be uplifting.

Other highlights from our trip south, for me, included the wildlife (including eagles, pelicans, dolphins and whales) in Byron Bay and on the lovely, almost empty Kings Beach just to the south.


We also enjoyed the quirkiness of Nimbin with its hippies stuck in the 1970s.

Stalls and Shops in Nimbin; Hippy Capital of NSW

 

Nearby, Minyon Falls, a 100 metre drop, was impressive but would have been more spectacular with some water!

That shouldn’t be a deficiency now the drought has broken. We drove through huge storms on the day we returned to Brisbane and then again as we moved north to Noosa.  At least bringing my umbrella hasn’t been a waste of luggage space. Also, I’m glad we are missing out on hurricane Ophelia back in the UK.

Australia: Youngest Son, Brisbane and The Glasshouse Mountains

Our Youngest Son (YS) has been in Australia for almost 18 months now. This is Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW) and my first trip to Australia. It was great to see him and his lovely Northern Irish girlfriend for the first time since he left.

His lifestyle here seems tremendous. Brisbane is up and coming and has some edgy bits. He has forged a new, interesting and apparently thriving cinematography business here (Cactus Juice Cinematography). He has great friends and a car to enable trips to the amazing countryside and coast.

YS and his girlfriend have shown us around West End where they live, introduced us to the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art and guided us to using the river boats to see other hip parts of Brisbane.

Example Local Art at Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art

Also they drove us out to see sunrise from the Glasshouse Mountains. The jet lag meant the very early start was no problem for LSW or I – although there is embarrassing footage of us snoozing in the back of the car on the way back!

In any case the trip was fabulous. The sunrise was great. The ancient volcanic plugs that make up the mountains are spectacular but also, in the case of Ngungun, accessible through a 30 minute, energetic climb. The views all around were spectacular.

Sunrise View Climbing Ngungun, Glasshouse Mountains

View from Ngungun at Sunrise

 

YS and girlfriend were able to scare us on the way down with warnings of animals called ‘drop bears’ that fall onto the unsuspecting shoulders of tourists. This is fiction of course, but we were taken in for a few seconds. Pommie tricking is sport!

Sunrise Over the Sunshine Coast from Ngungun

 

We did much more on the trip, including our first of many visits to a pristine, seemingly endless beaches of perfect sand and surf, and my first açai bowl breakfast.  Great fun and more to come…

Singapore

We have had a great couple of days in Singapore.

The flight here, via a brief airport-based stop-over in Hong Kong, was more comfortable than I had expected (given we flew economy). LSW and I saw a lot of films!

We are staying at Villa Samadhi. This is well outside the city centre in the midst of a rather tropical natural park.  It has proven to be an excellent, relaxed and authentic choice.  The breakfast in a nearby, related restaurant accessible by a walkway through sub-tropical vegetation, has been particularly satisfying and the service has been wonderful.  The hotel is surrounded by the constant sound of wildlife and is very different from the modern high rises in the city.

Villa Samadhi, Labrador Natural Park

Singapore has a strong sense of order and discipline.  Old Chinese, Peranakan and ex-British colonial co-exist alongside the ultra modern skyscrapers and extraordinary hotel complexes, but in a rather pristine, structured way (though Chinatown and, I expect, Little India are muddled enclaves). Overall, the architecture – such as the magnificently upgraded National Gallery – is startling.

St Andrews Cathedral

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Downtown Singapore – Old Riverfront Bars, New High Rises

 

While we have been here, we have managed to catch up with a cousin and some friends who live in the city. That has kept our stay grounded in something other than pure tourism and has been a lovely diversion from sightseeing.

Gardens by the Bay

Inside the National Gallery Singapore – The Rotunda

 

Chinatown Temple Amid Modern Singapore

Looking forward now to Brisbane, slightly less punishing heat and humidity, and Youngest Son!

Two New Music Venues For Me

I am always interested in going to new venues for gigs. By the time I left London I had been to lots of different venues and knew the logistics of many of them pretty intimately (when to arrive, where to stand, what if anything to drink). I had my favourites (Café Oto, St Pancras Old Church, The Lexington and so on) and tended to follow them rather than bands when selecting where to go.

Having left London, I am now building up a new list of local venues. This week I added two more to the list: The Stroud Goods Shed, which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Prema in Uley.

The venues had similarities – for example, both had ancient open beam structures in the roof – but they were also very different. The Stroud Goods Shed was rather cavernous and verged on cold – not that that affected the high quality of the music. Prema was smaller and more intimate and the audience was far older.

At Stroud Goods Shed we saw Mesadorm and at Prema we saw Habedekuk. Again, there were similarities (for example, both bands had folk roots and both featured an 8-piece band). But while Mesadorm played complex English tunes with deep and meaningful lyrics, Habadekuk played jazzed up Danish dance tunes with complex titles.

Mesadorm

Mesadorm at The Stroud Goods Shed

LSW loves all things Danish so we couldn’t go wrong with Habadekuk but both were very enjoyable. I’ll be looking out for more music events at Stroud Goods Shed and Prema.

Habadekuk

Habadekuk at Prema

First though, Australia…. Hopefully I can get the mobile version of the blog software to work and keep you at least somewhat up to date with our trip to see Youngest Son.