Featured post

Australia, Melbourne – the bits of life I am not so keen on at the moment and my friend Misery Bear

I have been fairly optimistic so far in my posts about all the things that are ok about the current situation – and generally I do feel pretty ok and entertained but of course there are a few things that I find particularly irritating (but not the end of the world for sure:).

CLEANING AN APARTMENT – I am renting one while in Melbourne and to be honest I haven’t done much in the way of cleaning my own place for decades – if I was down to my last dollar I would find a way to pay for someone else to do it for me. Of course not possible these days and my German mother taught me well so I have not forgotten how to use a mop or a vacuum cleaner but in the intervening years things have moved on.

Here is the mop and bucket – now with a nifty pedal to push down on to spin the mop dry before you use it – very clever.

Dripping wet before and then after the pedal is pushed and the spinner spins – totally dry – who knew?

Even vacuum cleaners are not what I remember – now they are slim and cordless (for up to 40 minutes although who in their right mind would vacuum for that long anyway?)

New (at least to me) style vacuum cleaner.

My ignorance may shock some but I have to confess that driving a rental car a couple of years ago in New Zealand after not driving for about 15 years was the first time I noticed that cars didn’t need keys to start them any more!

Will I ever get any joy out of housework? – absolutely not. I do not have a domestic bone in my body BUT like Maslow suggested – we all have our own hierarchy of needs and my need for a clean and tidy environment just marginally exceeds my intense dislike of cleaning. Although, I have to add that cleaning, while dull and time consuming, is not that difficult and I have concluded that even a man could do it!

CANCELLING OR HAVING STUFF CANCELLED – seems particularly onerous when you are permanently on the road and lots of things – flights, accommodation, cruises, theatre, exhibitions etc have been booked in advance. Some refunds are easier to obtain than others and at the moment whether it is a refund or a voucher it takes ages so having to set up a bookkeeping business to keep track of ensuring that eventually everything works out. Clearly when I can travel again my destinations will be based on what flight vouchers I have to use up by the end of 2021.

LACK OF PERSONAL SERVICES – this is really first world stuff – no nail bars (why are my toes so much further away from me than they used to be?); no brow or lash bars, no beauticians BUT thankfully hair salons are considered essential services here so I have not had to embrace grey (as if that is ever going to happen while I am still breathing).

Colour restored and I feel GOOD! (Thanks to Del on Commercial Road)

FAMOUT AND NOT SO FAMOUS CELEBRITIES TRYING TO “CHEER US UP” – please just stop. The disappointment of hearing people who I usually love to watch live with a band and other enhancements just singing to us in their pyjamas and beanie hats or in their post bath towels – is not working for me. Mostly I feel I could do just as well as them singing in my shower – which I will definitely not be broadcasting to all and sundry. I’ll just listen to the versions that sound really good on Spotify thanks.

Really????

PEOPLE MOANING ABOUT HOW AWFUL ISOLATION IS – Get a Grip! No bombs falling out of the sky; no hunger (or even toilet paper rationing); many parts of the world where you can still go for one walk a day; so much available entertainment and education at home; alcohol still considered essential; people who are lucky enough to have jobs can work from home and keep them.

The really tough time will be after we can all go out again and it will last a lot longer. But that’s just my view…..

Videos, GIFS and Memes – some funny others not so much but given sense of humour differs so much this is the one (thanks to Jane and John) that creases me up every time I watch it and is my favourite – especially for my solo friends and travellers.

Now I am going to stop complaining about things that aren’t really worth complaining about and head out on my daily stroll so that I can listen to the wonderful Oliver Kitteridge Again on Audible., Yesterday I saw these and from now on optimism will be back on my agenda:)

Featured post

Australia, Melbourne – Nomadic life now VERY challenged – but here’s what I like to do (part 1A) – MY DAILY WALK

And I thought the first four weeks here were a bit weird. But as we all know things took a turn for the worse and we live in this strange dystopian way where we actively walk away from anyone who gets too close to us on the pavement – if you are a big city girl like me that is just the “normal thing” to do anyway!

But – as with all things strange and new you learn about yourself and how you choose to react to external factors you can’t control. Being an only child and someone who has travelled solo very often I am not daunted by my own company and probably do a lot better being on my own than I might be if I lived with more people! In fact I find I agree with almost everything I am thinking and saying to myself (conversations with self are also a plus as long as you remember there really is only one of you in the room:)

So in the absence of being able to post on my travels for a while and rather than repost my previous trips (which you can find easily if you want to visit other parts of the world virtually) – here’s my first post about what I actually like about being “stuck” in Melbourne for however long it will be – after the “likes” (and there are a few) I will confess to what I don’t like as much (that will be part 2)

WHAT I LIKE. (Would be great to hear from others what they enjoy about this situation we all find ourselves in) and to get ideas on how you fill your time.

1. MY DAILY WALK (and I know some locations are not allowed to do that but thankfully we still can as long as we are sensible) – where I try and manage 10000 steps while avoiding other human beings. This has made me do more exercise in isolation than I generally did when I wasn’t! 10 Gold starts for me.

Because it is the only time I can be out and about I move much more slowly and take the time to see things I would normally have charged past. So far this includes flowers (and I get to practise my iphone photo skills too) and enjoying the first signs of Autumn.

Anyone who knows the names of all these flowers – let me know – my knowledge in this space is classic for a Londoner – if it’s not a tulip, a rose or a daffodil I’m stuck.
I know the bird of paradise flower!
Colours of Autumn in Fawkner Park – how fab to be in a place with flowers and Autumnal colours at the same time

The other thing I like about my daily walk is that I can multi-task (some things never change). In this case I am either listening to podcasts or Audible books. Some of my faves have been – PODCASTS (To catch and Kill, The Drop Out, The Thinking Traveller, Blood Territory (an audible podcast). BOOKS (everything by Jessie Burton – The miniaturist, The Muse and The Confession (saving that one) – great new talent. The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh; I’m thinking of downloading all the Harry Potter books narrated by Stephen Fry.

Taking daily walks has also meant I have started to go to places I didn’t even know existed before. My favourites are Fawkner Park and the Yarra trail by the river. I discovered the Federation Bells and saw a kookaburra very close up.

A cheeky kookaburra seems very at home when there are less people around on the Yarra trail
The Federation Bells doing their thing
A perfect tree in Fawkner Park

Of course I am actually writing this post right now because it is bucketing down outside so my walk may be jeopardised today. Unlike many of my fellow Brits I have never understood the desire to walk for hours in the pouring rain – why this should be deemed fun is beyond me but I know there are a lot of ardent walkers back there in Blighty (some are even good friends of mine:) – so there must be something to it I suppose – maybe the pub at the end?

Ooh – rain just stopped – I’m out of here….

Featured post

Australia, Melbourne – nomadic life a bit challenged!

Well it all started to well – arriving back in Melbourne 14 months since my last visit with Marjory and renting an apartment in South Yarra. There were restaurants, there was gin, there was city, there was countryside, there was theatre and of course there were old friends and new friends.

12th Night in the Botanical Gardens
Food glorious Food at Chin Chin
Cocktails with Marjory
Having fun with mates
Great times in the countryside and the city
More gin and plants for Marjory to paint

So I managed to eat at Cumulus, Chin Chin, Supernormal, Cuccineta, Maha, Botanical, Misschu, Sake, France Soir and at friends’ houses. We saw Twelfth Night, Billy Elliott, Harry Potter and a play at the MTC.

And then the cancellation notices started coming in – no Robbie Williams (still recovering from that one), no Food and Wine Festival Events, No movies, no more theatre, No NGV. Closely followed by notifications that visiting Sri Lanka (my next port of Call was no longer possible) and toilet paper wars and instructions from just about everywhere to “go home” and stay home. “Social distancing” has become the new buzz phrase.

So Marjory will cut short her visit in a couple of days to head back to Canada – that was meant to be my next stop after Sri Lanka but looks like I will no longer be allowed in there!

So my plans have had to be changed on the hoof. Road trip to NSW and Queensland cancelled, Sri Lanka cancelled – and given I don’t have a home, I will stay in Melbourne for at least another month and “wait and see”. There are certainly worse places to be “stuck” that’s for sure.

I won’t run out of things to do – books, Netflix and online courses (I’ve just enrolled in one about the pyramids of Giza (mights as well dream of travel if I can’t actually do it! And thanks Felicity for introducing me to all those free programs online).

Featured post

Belgium – Mechelen, Lier and Bruges

One of the things I enjoy about staying in one area for a couple of weeks is having the time to visit the lesser known towns not just the obvious places. One of those was Mechelen – about 45 minutes by train from Antwerp. This town dates back to 1473 and has a traditional town square and a wondrous cathedral (St Rombouts). Once again a summer festival was about to start so they were getting the square set up for that – they do make the most of summer here.

The streets and square of Mechelen with St Rombouts Cathedral

The best bit was taking a cruise on the River Dilje through the town – no crowds – only six of us on the boat and within 5 minutes we were drifting quietly past some lovely apartments and converted warehouses and I could spend time deciding which one I would pick if I was buying one (the Art Deco style white one with the huge windows I expect!)

We also passed the three colorful houses known as “Houses of the Little Devils” as they are adorned with carved demons. Perfect day.

Cruising the River Dilje and the Houses of the Little Devils

The still waters of the River Dilje in Mechelen

Of course I had to visit Bruges (or Brugge as the Flemish speakers would call it). It takes about 90 minutes by train from Antwerp.

Walking into town from the station I stopped off at the newly renovated Gruuthusemuseum which has been newly renovated.This used to be a medieval mansion owned by a very rich brewer in the 15th century and all the floors (very creaky wooden ones) have survived intact. As you walk through you get to see a mix of art, tapestries, lace, sculpture and the private entry to the passage direct into the neighboring church. They have done an excellent job of this restoration and it was thankfully not busy at 10 am.

Exteriors of the Gruuthusemuseum and attached church

Bust of Charles V, stained glass windows, tapestry and inlaid wooden trinket holder inside The Gruuthusemuseum

The chapel with secret passageway into the church, local lace and crockery

Yes the Centre of Bruges is pretty but it is teeming with tourists – I visited on a Thursday and had to work hard to take these photos without millions of other people in them! I liked the town and can understand why it has become so popular but like Venice and Florence I think it would be better to visit outside of the summer season.

Main square in Bruges and waterways everywhere

Beautiful buildings along the waterways at every turn plus the narrow Alley of the blind Donkey

More love of comics and the Wall of Beer – which is very long indeed – this is just a snippet

Talking of preferred smaller towns, I jumped on the train once again for just 20 minutes to visit neighboring Lier. I suppose it could be argued that this is a suburb of Antwerp but it is definitely a town in its own right – where there are virtually no tourists – just locals enjoying the summer time with a few strong beers!

The main square in Lier plus examples of some of the houses when you head down a side street

Picture perfect and quiet waterways and lanes in Lier

Loved the hand carved wooden sign posts too.

The Zimmertoren – with its beautiful clock that tells the time, the zodiac, the stars, and probably makes a beer as well!

So in summary – it was the smaller towns in Belgium that I enjoyed the most – especially at this time of year. If you find yourself in this part of the world make sure to visit some of them.

Australia, Melbourne – Nomadic life of the solo traveller now VERY challenged – but here’s what I am gaining from lockdown (part 1B) – What I’m learning about, what I’m watching, how I’m staying connected and how I’m keeping things a “bit normal”.

While I am still enjoying my daily walks in South Yarra (and thankfully we are having a very mild Autumn so far) mostly on my own but sometimes with the allowed “one other person at a distance”, I am also quite enjoying the time indoors as well thanks to modern technology. I really feel for some of my friends in countries where exercise outdoors is prohibited – hang on in there….

WHAT I’M LEARNING – Thanks to my friend Felicity for introducing me to free online learning – especially Edx and Khan Academy. So far I have taken three History of Art courses – and I really like the make up of written text and video and the fact that everything is in short sharp bites of info. I am now working through 20th century World History – WW1 covered and now onto WW2 (not the most cheerful of topics but especially of interest to me having spent a few months in Eastern Europe last year). Here’s an extract of a Khan Academy course page -how fantastic to be able to learn more about things that interest me for FREE! I think they are really great.

Extract of sub courses on 20th century history from Khan Academy

While my friend Marjory was over we became avid watchers of The Chase – twice a day – the UK version at 3pm and the Aussie version at 5pm. I love a quiz and although it was more fun shouting out the answers with someone else in the room I am getting used to talking to myself anyway so I shout them out to an empty room. I love knowing a little about a lot of things and it appeals to my competitive nature!

My favourite Chaser is Paul the Sinnerman

WHAT I’M WATCHING – And then there is Netflix. Whenever I travel I like to pick a genre of tv series to watch – for this Covid19 I am mostly focussing on non English speaking TV series (with subtitles – never dubbing which I hate!). My faves over the past few weeks are Money Heist (Spain), Fauda (Israel), The Break (France), Unorthodox (Yiddish and German), Giri/Haji (Japanese/English), The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch (Yiddish/German), Bonus Family (Swedish). And on my forthcoming list are The Valhalla Murders and Babylon Berlin. I generally prefer the quality of writing for TV series over movies – especially if watching at home.

Love this series

ACHIEVING SOME THINGS EVERY DAY -I have decided that while I am living comfortably in leggings, t shirts and sweatshirts – I will shower, dress and even put on my usual make up every day (that’s just my thing, I am not preaching). I also try to plan each day with a bit of an itinerary to give shape to my day and to help satisfy my achievement oriented personality! Even though I don’t work anymore I do like to organise my time and have some sense of achievement at the end of the day. So my current daily agenda might be something like: Get up, shower, get dressed and made up; watch news for no more than 30 minutes (everything is repeated after that); take my daily 10,000 step walk; buy groceries as needed; take an online class; read for an hour; do an online jigsaw; watch the Chase; do laundry; watch an episode or two of something; enjoy first drink of the day (have been strict about only drinking from 6pm onwards); make dinner; home manicure, enjoy 2nd drink of the day, sleep zzz. Maybe not the most exciting but I find I can easily fill time and do some different things every day.

The bottle isn’t always empty but the glass usually is!

And then there is also the regular chances to catch up with friends all over the world via whatsapp or zoom. I can honestly say I have probably spent more time just casually chatting with mates online since this all started than I ever have before. It’s nice:)

A modern day “Brady Bunch”moment – for those old enough to remember the credits!

As I am still loving my walks and noticing what’s around me – here are some new photos of things I have seen along the way in lovely Melbourne

Flowers still keep blooming in Autumn over here
Visions of Melbourne (from a distance)

Next update – the things I don’t find much fun about lockdown.

Vietnam, Hoi An

In case anyone thinks I’ve given up blogging about my travels – I haven’t but as I’ve spent the last three weeks with friends and on my own (planning the rest of this year and even 2021 travels) in a place I have often blogged about – I thought I would save this visit up for one blog with things I haven’t necessarily mentioned before although I have posted a few interim things on Instagram which is much faster!

I always love having people to stay at my place in Vietnam when I am there and this year I had two lots of visitors. Firstly my cruise and SE tour buddies – Luisa and Chris (and aren’t we glad we did the Asia cruise at the very start of the year thereby avoiding cancelled destinations and even cancelled cruise) and secondly Jo and Fliss – both of whom, like me, are rather enjoying not working. Jo is a regular visitor here but the other were newbies so it was fun showing them around.

Luisa and Chris pose by the pink wall in the old town of Hoi An. We enjoyed seeing the local temples and the Calm Spa in the rice paddies – water buffalo not included – we just chanced upon him and his owner on our way there.
Jo, Fliss and I loving not having a schedule anything more complex than gin time, spa time, food time, shopping time!
En route to cooking school – a stop at the colourful market in Hoi An is one of my favourite places to take in the freshness and buzz
Taking a rid in a traditional fishing coracle boat before we got down to some serious rice pancake making

My apartment is a very short walk from Marble Mountain but as is often the case I rarely visit there. But this time we took the short elevator ride to what I thought was just one pagoda but turned out to be a large complex of pagodas and temples. Pretty cool actually and literally on the doorstep.

Temples, pagodas and buddhas at Marble Mountain

En route to Marble Mountain there are about 10 massive – and I mean massive shops – selling marble everything. Again another place I had never beven into – but this time I decided that “Marble Bunnings” or “Marble B and Q” for my Brit friends had to be seen. So glad I did – check out photos below – not sure who buys these – and some are ginormous – but I did get a kick out of seeing what was for sale!

To give you a feel for the sheer size of these places – which also include an indoor area for the more delicate works
But it’s not just buddhas and lions. Do people really buy status of Washington and Einstein in Hoi An? I guess they might.
I actually quite liked these and could imagine one on my balcony at home – wherever that is!
And these made me giggle the most – there are about 12 of them – it was hard to choose my favourite 4

And a visit to Hoi An has to include shopping – ladies I’m looking at you! Of course I had to join in – such a bargain – so had some clothes and some shoes made (plus some Birkie lookalikes). We also bought a lot of other stuff – I won’t bore you….

Finally the two things I never tire of when I visit this part of the world – the evening light in Hoi An and the view from my apartment.

Dusk in Hoi An
Rain or shine doesn’t matter – I love “my beach” in Danang.

I will be back next year but now heading south to another of my “homes”……..

Laos, Luang Prabang – three days in this lovely town

I have always had a soft spot for Luang Prabang in Laos and so this is unashamedly by fourth visit. I always prefer to stay slightly outside of town as many of the hotels are situated in the peaceful rice paddies which gives a real flavour of the countryside. This time I stayed at the Pullman Hotel about ten minutes from town.

Feeling the serenity at the Pullman Hotel Luang Prabang

You can’t go far in Luang Prabang without seeing temples of every shape and size – they are all perfectly formed and well kept by the Buddhist monks. In fact the whole town is very clean – it is always being swept everywhere you turn.

Examples of Lao Temples in Luang Prabang

A particularly well known temple is Wat Xieng Thong or the Temple of the Golden City. It is known for its mosaics on the walls – just lovely.

Wall mosaics at Wat Xieng Thong

More exteriors at Wat Xieng Thong and a Lao couple in wedding dress

And where there is a temple there must be various incarnations of Buddha – something about that face is so peaceful to look at.

Buddhas in temples in Luang Prabang

Something I haven’t done since my first visit is to get up at the crack of dawn to give alms to the Buddhist monks. This time I convinced Luisa and Chris to leave the hotel at 5.30am so that we could do just that. First stop is to pick up a basket of stick rice. Then you put on the shawl and wait for them to float down the street from various monasteries in single file holding their rice bowls which we filled as they passed – no human touch allowed. It’s a really special experience and if you go with a private guide they will take you to the area where there are not loads of tourists – definitely a plus.

Giving alms to the monks before dawn

Me and my rice bowl. The ladies who get up earlier than us and cook the rice set off home at 7am.

Luang Prabang having a strong Indochine background due to the period of French rule of about 60 years also has quite a few interesting buildings that reflect both French and local architecture and sometimes both in the same building. We did an architecture walk after giving alms to the monks – and a lot of strong coffee.

French Colonial and Laotian houses in Luang Prabang

Wandering through the streets of Luang Prabang is always fun with something to see at each corner – colourful tuk tuks and colourful flowers and veggies and a mish mash of wires are common sights.

Street scenes in Luang Prabang

Between 5pm-10pm the night market is in full flow and a fun place to idle before heading off to a well deserved cocktail and Laotian meal.

Lots for sale at the Night Market

Luisa and I enjoy “Lohitos” in Luang Prabang

Once the monks are up and about they are visible until around noon. They are either at the temples cleaning and doing other chores or they are visiting from other places and are as touristy as anyone else including enjoying taking selfies and having their photos taken. Just as well as they are very photogenic – ranging from 9 years old to 90!

Novice monk and fully fledged monk

A sample of monks and three “wise” monkeys!

Cambodia – Siem Reap

Back to Cambodia but this time on land rather than via cruise and visiting Siem Reap – land of temples and smiling people.

Before we started on the temples we took a leisurely boat trip to watch the sunset at the floating village of Tonle Sap. The waters are starting to get lower now which means you see a lot more land than usual. This lake is massive (250 km long). I think some of these homes would be described as “fixer uppers” by most of us but everyone here seems to be happy in spite of their lack of material possessions.

Tonle Sap Lake at sunset

Catch the sun, eat the sun!

Siem Reap is all about the temples and the big Daddy of the all is of course Angkor Wat. Our visit to Siem Reap co-incided with Chinese New Year and so there were a lot of visitors but we were told that tourism is nevertheless down 40% on last year – which is a real problem for the locals who really need those tourist dollars. I think there may be a lot of misconceptions about Cambodia but I think it is a wonderful place with gentle caring people who are trying to make the best of the future after a traumatic past. I can also vouch for the Khmer food – yum.

There are many temples to visit and it is a good idea to cap it at two per day so you can enjoy them properly and not get “templed out”. Most of them are very close to one another and also close to where all the main hotels are based. They are particularly interesting as they are a mash up of Hindu and Buddhist religions due to the period they were built being a time of Hindu or Buddhist prominence depending on which King was in charge!

Dawn at Angkor Wat – you just have to do it and get past the 5am start. Worth it.

Interiors at Angkor Wat – which is the largest religious site in the world – incredible detail everywhere.

On my last visit about 20 years ago Angkor Thom (or Baiyun) was my favourite temple and I think it still is. The 49 giant Buddha faces are extraordinary and seem so peaceful. Also the detail of the bas reliefs which cover many walls tell you so much about the way people lived back in the 1100 and 1200s – how they dressed, the animals used and eaten, the flora and fauna etc. A lot of the faces have different expressions on them too.

Angkor Thom or Baiyun temple

We then had a non temple day in town – which involved tuk tuk rides and shopping. A great place to visit is the Artisans of Angkor workshops – started about 30 years ago as a means of teaching local Cambodians traditional crafts which were dying out due to the fallout from the Pol Pot regime when these kinds of capabilities were not valued at all. Initially they had to search both inside and outside of Cambodia to find people who were still alive and knew how to do things like wooden carving, silk weaving, silver making, soapstone carving, etc. Many had to be persuaded to come back to help teach young people these skills. But now this company employs many people, is self sufficient (in fact will not accept donations as they want to be able to show the local people that they make things that visitors want to buy and pay money for and so can turn a profit) and they provide paid vacation and maternity leave pay and childcare facilities – very unique in Cambodia. Apparently Angelina Jolie is always trying to give donations to them but they refuse even her – she can shop there though and that is what we did too -so hopefully we have done our bit to help some Cambodians.

Chris tries to pretend she likes being on a tuk tuk and the view behind as we head to Artisans of Angkor

Inside of Artisans of Angkor – the workshops and the showroom of finished items

On our second day of temple hopping we visited Banteay Srei – also known as the Temple of Women for no good reason other than they think the name of the place sounded like the word for Woman! I like to think of it as the Pink temple and it is compact and charming and like Angkor Wat surrounded by a moat. It is 35 km outside of the main area of Siem Reap temples but well worth a trip in my opinion.

The picturesque Banteay Srei Temple

Doors and corridors at Banteay Srei Temple

Symbols and stories are etched everywhere at Banteay Srei Temple

Outside the temple there was everything from a set of musicians raising money for people impacted by land mines, to market traders to a friendly driver whisking past.

Near Banteay Srei Temple

A quick stop at a Hindu temple which has not been restored as well as some but remains majestic

Hindu temple between other temples!

Our final temple was Ta Prohm (or the Tomb Raider temple as it is rather annoyingly known as – ref this is where Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft and also adopted a child). Anyway, ignoring the hype – this is a magical place where the trees have taken over parts of the temple creating a captivating symbiosis (yes a bit pretentious here but a fair description nevertheless). Alternatively the ultimate kids adventure playground maybe?

The trees are taking over at Ta Prohm – but it all seems to work well anyway

Ta Prohm Temple

We also paid a visit to the National Museum which I highly recommend to do either before visiting the Wats so you know what to expect or at the end of your trip – as we did – which gave us a better understanding of what we had seen. Unfortunately no photos but the room with 1000 buddhas is worth the visit alone.

Sad to leave lovely Cambodia.