Stranger In A Strange Land

Rays of light, symbolically represented as hor...

Rays of light, symbolically represented as horns on the head of Moses (Michelangelo), can be a graphic symbol of Wisdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “What’s your favorite part about visiting a new place — the food? The architecture? The people watching?”

What is it like for me to be a stranger in a strange land?

The first thing I notice and enjoy in a new place, a totally new place, not just a new town, is the light. Australia has a particular light, bright and full or air. Europe is a softer light and South East Asia has a light filtered by the high humidity except for that glorious hour late in the afternoon after the rain.

Then I notice the different buildings. It’s not just the architecture but the street advertising and furniture. To my eye the buildings in Australia are fairly monotonous. They were built by a first world country in the last hundred years and we have very little that is noticeably Australian. It’s only when you start going north up the coast of Queensland and you run into the classic Queenslander lifted high off the ground, girdled by wide overhanging verandahs and shuttered windows and doors. These aren’t storm shutters, they are built to shut out the world while letting the cool night air into the house.

My first trip to Europe was such a shock. I’d come from Sydney via a day in Bangkok where of course the architecture is anything but Australian – even the shopping centre architecture is totally different in Bangkok let alone all the other buildings, though I have to say our inexpensive hotel close to the airport could have been almost anywhere in the world – standard multi-storey concrete construction.

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A Long Way

Hua Hin beach on a cloudy morning

Hua Hin beach on a cloudy morning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Tell us about the farthest you’ve ever traveled from home.”

Far from home. When I think of far from home then physical distance isn;t the first thing that comes to mind. If you want distance then we are talking about London (500 miles further from home than Boston).

London for the first time was a strange mix of the known and the unknown. So much of it was learnt from books and movies over so many years. A London cab, a tube station, a mailbox, a telephone booth and the Beefeaters at the Tower of London were all so familiar that I may as well have been home. At the same time the shops along a street and a hundred other details were different. The two conflicting aspects made for a couple of strange days as I adjusted.

The strange thing is that London feels closer to home than some other places I’ve visited.

Walking through the natural calm of the Daintree rainforest north of Port Douglas seems a million miles from the urban noise of Sydney. Outside the forest is a blistering hot day but inside the light is filtered through the canopy and it’s cooler and tinted green.

Sitting in a cheap restaurant with Laminex tables in Hua Hin, Thailand. They gave me a menu that was obviously “westernised” so I ordered by pointing to dishes being eaten by the locals on the tables near me and ended up eating a mouth watering meal as the owner’s wife giggled when one of the curries burnt through my resolve and had me gulping water.

Camping by the side of the road in Outback NSW with my father. Outside the circle of the gas lamp it is so dark that you can hardly see your hand in front of your face while overhead the night is so clear that the sparkling dust of the Milky Way is thrown across the sky. The camping spot is dusty and red, the same red that is caked onto the car.

Then there’s the time when even the house I live in is not home. The times when the major depression has stripped me of any ability to find pleasure, peace or calm and it seems I will never stop sobbing.

Those places all seem a long, long way from home. Distance is just not a simple measurement of miles or kilometres but how far away you are from your every day, your known, your safe.

A Thousand Words

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.”

I usually write non-fiction with the odd poem thrown in so I guess I need to post a photo. Should I take a new photo or use an old one?

I decided to open up iPhoto and have a quick scan and see what grabbed my attention. I ended up with three.

Here’s the first I found (you can click on them all to see them larger):


It’s a picture of the Newtown Festival from almost two years ago. I went the day before I flew out to Boston for Thanksgiving. It’s shot diagonally across Camperdown Park just by the stone wall to St Stephen’s Church and just out of shot in the distance is the house I lived in with my ex-wife.

Here’s the second:


This one is Fremont Street in Las Vegas. It’s where I met my brother and his wife on the way to Boston. I guess that makes it my second trip to Vegas but my first to Fremont Street.

Here’s the third:


This is a closeup of some “lace” made out of iron. There was a brilliant exhibition of all sorts of lace at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum and I took some great photos.

Life On The Move

A contemporary Tibetan nomadic tent near Namts...

A contemporary Tibetan nomadic tent near Namtso lake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: If you could live a nomadic life, would you? Where would you go? How would you decide? What would life be like without a “home base”?

What exactly is a “nomadic life”? If we take the literal meaning of nomadic then we mean a fairly simple, primitive life constantly on the move from one spot to the next. In a modern world we talk about “grey nomads”, retired people who spend a fair amount of the year in a mobile home travelling around.

There are also people who live a life a less simple who might be called “nomadic” who move from home to home across the globe. People with homes in Sydney, London and New York for example. Actors often have homes in Los Angeles and elsewhere moving between them as required. Modern musicians will also move from city to city to work with producers or to go to a specific studio, staying a few months and then moving on to various homes.

These are all, in their own way, nomadic lifestyles.

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Naturally Exploring

English: A variety of corals form an outcrop o...

A variety of corals form an outcrop on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, Queensland, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?”

The problem I have with questions about “first experience” or “earliest memory of” is that I have no idea about the chronology of my earliest memories. Is the memory of being on the beach earlier or later than the memory of the picnic by the river or the lantana and creek behind the houses across the road?

I spent a lot of time outside when I was a small boy. I grew up in a suburb of Newcastle that was under development and had bushland behind the houses across the road, not to mention a chicken farm at the end of the road, though it closed when I was still small. So I spent a great deal of time exploring the bush. I also spent a lot of time climbing an oak tree on a vacant block near my house.

The family went to the beach a lot, indeed we went to Surfer’s Paradise for two weeks every year. We also visited the local beaches of Newcastle frequently in summer. I remember feeding hot chips to seagulls, running in and out of the waves, watching my footprints in the wet sand get washed away by subsequent waves. I also remember building sandcastles with a plastic bucket and spade, collecting shells and sitting on the sand next to my parents while I read ‘Treasure’ magazine. I remember running at flocks of seagulls to scare them into the air.

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Taking It Slow

Big bike ride

Today’s Daily Prompt: “You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely — bike? Hot air balloon?)”

My favourite cross country trip was my first Big NSW Bike Ride. I’ve travelled cross country in cars, buses, trains, large aeroplanes and small aeroplanes and the only thing that came close to the fun and joy of the Big NSW Bike Ride was a trip from Brisbane to Kingaroy in a Robinson Helicopter. I have yet to do a trip by motorcycle and it is high on my bucket list, now I’m over fifty it would be much harder to cover 650 kilometres in a week on a pushbike so a motor holds a definite appeal.

Eight days of cycling over nine days took 1500 cyclists over 650 kilometres. You can read my essay about the ride for some details.

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Baedeker And Beyond

English: View of NYC from Empire state building

View of NYC from Empire state building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?” It’s noticeable that they title the post ‘Tourist Trap’.

Who exactly is a tourist and what is a “tourist destination”?

The idea of a tourist really derives from the “Grand Tour” — a tour around Europe undertaken by the wealthy of Europe (principally England) to expose a young gentleman to the cultural legacy of antiquity and the Renaissance. At first, in the 1600s, they were accompanied by an educated and informed guide but later as travel got cheaper and the middle class arose books to inform and assist arose – the forerunner of the guide books we use today. Forster’s book ‘A Room With A View’ is a novel that deals with English men and women at the end of the era of the Grand Tour at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

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A Hand

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear, To dig the...

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post was prompted by today’s Daily Prompt, “Tell us about the most surprising helping hand you’ve ever received.” Mine is not quite a traditional helping hand but one that has stayed with me for many years, nonetheless.

There I was in that small church in Stratford-on-Avon sitting in the front pew looking at a stone set into the floor with tears flooding my cheeks.

My first trip to Europe was only a little over ten years ago and I was over 40 after a lifetime of reading English literature and seeing English drama (I went to rehearsals of the Scottish play when I was three).

My trip started in Rome where I was overcome by the age of everything that surrounded me and finally I found myself in St Peter’s standing in front of the Pieta and was so overcome by the beauty of mother and child that I wept.

Florence was another revelation. The art was breathtaking and a trip through the Uffizi will live in my memory forever.

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Final Thoughts on LaLa and Travelling

Just wanted to say a few more things about L.A. before I entirely forget the great experience.

Our second day was a trip to Universal Studios. Jessi and I both enjoyed it as a theme park and an experience (though it has to be said if you want the best theme park experience I’ve ever had then go Disney.) She particularly liked her first ride in a serious roller coaster, so much she had to do it twice. The other high point for her was the studio trolley tour that took in (among other places) Wisteria Lane from “Desperate Housewives.”

Thinking of Universal Studios reminds me of one little trick to touristing in the US. The neatest and cheapest souvenirs you can score are stamped pennies – Jessi has enjoyed them since her first trip at age eight. These small vending machines take two quarters and a penny, you then select one of (usually) four designs and grind at a lever for several rotations and your penny comes back flattened into an oval and stamped on one side with the design. Jessi has collected them on all three trips to the U.S. and on her first trip bought a collector’s book at Disneyland and got a second collector’s book at Universal this trip. For 51 cents each you can easily get a dozen out of your pocket change over a day.

Our third and final day could have been harder but Jessi and I are just lucky. It was our last one so we had to spend the morning packing (someone still ended up with a bag 13 pounds overweight despite a new bag to take the overflow). The J Girl then wanted to visit this trendy part of Melrose Avenue that had a couple of second hand clothes stores and boutiques. So I checked the map and decided that the tursit centre of Hollywood Boulevarde was about as close as the Metro train would take us so we set off for there to have lunch. After lunch (and a dessert at the Disney Soda Fountain) what was right across the road but a cab. So for $15 (including tip) we ened up right out side the store Jessi wanted to visit first.

We spent some time shopping (I got three great shirts, don’t ask what my partner in crime bought but she went for volume over quality in one store buying 5 T-shirts for $5 each). Had coffee in a great coffee shop, one last clothes store and asked them about buses. Turns out a bus ran right the way down Melrose to the street our hotel was on, only 800 metres or so from home. Even greater joy when we got off the bus – A McDonalds right on the corner so we had afteroon tea of Fries and a Coke before the walk.

So all those people who insist you can’t visit L.A. without a car – sucks poo to you.

Everybody comes to Hollywood

So Jessi and I are now in LaLa land. Just don’t talk to me about LAX, Los Angeles airport sucks the big one.

To start off, United unloaded us at Terminal 6 while their baggage carousels are in Terminal 7. Now they have four carousels, one had no flights assigned to it, two had a few flights and one had ten, count them, ten flights using it. So there must have been four hundred people crowded around it. Why is it everybody has to crowd the carousel? Then finally the shuttle system was totally overloaded by the number of people moving after the holidays so it was forty minutes before we got ours to get to the hotel. Would you believe it was two and a half hours from landing to the front desk of the hotel.

This morning Jessi and I set out for Hollywood Boulevarde. The hotel is close to a Metro station so we took a train – there was a station at Hollywood and Vine. We then walked along the Boulevarde freaking at all the stars on the sidewalk and then really going over the top when we got a sight of the Hollywood sign.

We walked all the way to the end to discover that on one side of the road the last star is “The Dead End Kids” – good joke somebody.

Along the way we visited the Ripley’s Museum, had a look at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (and all the hands and feet in the concrete out the front) and had a Sundae (each) at the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Shop. I had a Sundae that had Mickey Mouse head shaped sprinkles on it – way cool.

We also had a good look around a lot of shops and souvenir stands.

Once again, pictures are up on Flickr – mostly of various sidewalk stars that got us excited for some reason or other. Video to come from the girl soon.