Friday, June 30, 2006

Heading north...to Edinburgh

* The next two posts are about a long weekend in August 2005 to see the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh.

Early on in the year, I found that Contiki ran a 4-day tour up to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and as soon as I saw the tour advertised, I knew I wanted to do it. I don't know why I became obsessed with going to the Tattoo - I was never outrageously interested in anything military, nor bagpipe-ish - in fact, when we used to watch the Tattoo on the ABC at home as kids, I thought it was about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Anyway, on the last weekend in August, me and 50 other nutters set off on a four-day Contiki tour (my shortest tour ever), on the very long drive up to Edinburgh. It’s basically straight up the infamous M1 – the main road north from London.

Other than a few stops, and introductions of everyone on the bus, the 10-hour bus ride was as boring as hell. But…at 6.30pm or so, we reached Edinburgh, where it was a balmy 12-13C (quite noice for “summer” weather), and were shown to our accommodation in Pollack Halls – part of the student accommodation arm in the University of Edinburgh, about 15 mins walk out of the city.

Bags stowed, we hit the town, which, in the final weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, was going off. The festival is a month long celebration of everything and seems to be one of the largest combined festivals in the world.

Despite the wet, freezing weather, my first impression of Edinburgh was that it is a beautiful city – quite like anything else I’ve seen in the UK. The buildings are stunning – old and grey/black, with loads of character. Like the Scottish people, the buildings stood tall and proud, as if not taking any crap from anyone.

It was surprising to see girls walking round in the near arctic conditions in micro skirts and ugg boots – seems to be the fashion in the northern parts of this country….speaking of nutters. Perhaps I’m getting prudish in my old age.

A date with 1000 pipers and haggis

Anyway, we partied hard into the wee hours of the morning and fronted up some time later at the food hall for a canteen-style breakfast. Black pudding was on offer, but the prospect of pig’s blood and guts for breakfast didn’t bode well after a night on the razzle. I settled for the far more comforting bacon and eggs.

We spent the morning exploring the historic Edinburgh Castle – a massive old fort perched on top of the highest hill in the city. It afforded great views of Edinburgh, out across the mountains and sea. It was blowing a gale and bloody cold, but very scenic.

I headed down into the Royal Mile, which is the heart of the city’s Old Town. I find when I’m travelling these days, I avoid the hideous High Streets and shopping malls, and seek out the old, quaint parts. The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill, down to Holyrood Palace at the bottom. Holyrood Palace is one of the royal residences in Edinburgh, and while not as flash as Buckingham Palace, it’s not bad for a wee cottage up north.

All sorts of quaint boutiques lined the streets, together with loads of Scottish paraphenlia like kilts, fake bagpipes, tartans and all sorts of warm wooly stuff.

I found fantastic little arts and crafts markets in an old cemetery in the streets below the castle and wandered back up the Royal Mile, checking out the many buskers and street performers that were there as part of the festival.

I recently heard a comedian describing the Edinburgh festival, and how “every corner is home to a bloke with bagpipes in a kilt” – and that was certainly the case. It was a scream!

After a mid-afternoon backbash, the group headed back into town and had a quick dinner and beer before joining the massive queue for the Military Tattoo. Here’s the thing with the Tattoo…it was the final night of the Tattoo, which had been playing for about a month, with two performances each night. They jam about 10,000 people into a purpose-built stadium in the car-park of Edinburgh Castle. Police line the streets, and they close of many of the main access ways into the castle, and pretty much filter people in, while also doing security searches. When the early show finishes, they have to get 10,000 people out, and let another 10,000 people in, which equates to a truck load of people in the narrow cobbled streets around the castle.

I spose it took about an hour to get in, but when we eventually got seated, the atmosphere was electric. By 10.30pm, when the show was due to start, the sky was pitch black and the castle was illuminated with flaming torches. It was even colder and windier than it had been during the day, but at least the rain held off.

The first pipers burst into the stadium and for the next couple of hours I sat mesmerized by what the Scots consider to be a deeply traditional and proud celebration of their military might.

Pipe bands from around the world performed various songs, and when the Scottish band played Scotland the Brave, the crowd went completely nuts. My favourite part of the show was when the entire 1000 or so performers played Mull of Kintyre – one of the best songs ever! And then they played “Sailing”, which again, with the strength of several hundred bagpipes, was awesome.

The grand finale was a haunting rendition of the Last Post, played by a loan piper at the top of the castle. Throughout the show, the wall of the castle had been used as a huge projection screen, and lit various colours – but for the last song, they turned out all the lights, had huge flaming torches on the castle’s main pulpits and focused a spotlight on the piper.

It actually moved me to tears – the whole Last Post thing. It was an extraordinary setting, and having spent the day in Edinburgh, it became very clear that the Scots are intensely strong, proud people. The show concluded with huge fireworks over the castle and the predictable rush and crush to get out, but it was one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen – and well worth it if you’re able to get tickets.

We kicked on at one of the many overflowing nightclubs and once again, partied our little hearts out.

The next day, I wandered round some more, before meeting Iain, an old IR colleague, who lives in Edinburgh, for lunch. We hadn’t seen each other for yonks, and it was a great to catch up. Cheers Iain!

The atmosphere in the city was fantastic, and the people-watching opportunities were spectacular. I spent the rest of the day pottering round the streets and checking out the main points of interest.

That evening, there was an option restaurant visit for what, we were promised, was a traditional Scottish meal. I had been debating whether to try haggis (mashed up, cooked offal), and decided that out of respect to the locals, I should give their celebrated delicacy a go. Holding my nose and shutting my eyes, I threw it down the hatch and managed to keep it there. The morsel I had was well cooked, so I couldn’t taste any of the potentially gross stuff…so there you go. I can at least say I tried haggis. Probably not likely to give it another go however…

After the main meal, we were treated to Andy the Piper/Comedian – a solo piper, who cranked up his bagpipes and between tunes, chatted about the history of the pipes and heckled everyone in the room. He was rude, completely un-PC and thoroughly hilarious. His finale was to play the theme song from Star Wars, which was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard.

We kicked on at one of the many overflowing nightclubs and once again, partied our little hearts out. One travel buddy partied so hard he wound up in Edinburgh hospital at 5.00am with a torn ligament. This was of course, the morning we had to drive back to London. With an 8.00am departure, we all (somehow) managed to make it back onto the bus for the long drive home.

Things were predictably quiet for the first few hours, then the natives got restless, talked crap, asked if we were there yet (10 thousand times), pondered the horrors of M1 traffic, talked more crap, and finally, some 10 hours later, pulled into the now familiar Bedford Way at Russell Square – Contiki’s drop off point.

As we said our goodbyes, Scotland the Brave was no doubt ringing loudly in our minds, after one truly awesome long weekend.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Around the World in 80 Dates

Ok - I'm on a bit of a roll with travel books! But one of the truly most enjoyable travel books I've ever read was Around the World in 80 Dates, by Jennifer Cox.

After a good dose of introspection, the former Head of PR for Lonely Planet, decided to embark on a global search for her perfect man. Jennifer composed a "soul mate job description" and farmed it out to her geographically scattered "date wranglers". Their mission was to set her up on dates with any suitable blokes they knew - anywhere in the world. Her mission was to get through 80 dates...

The story sequentially diarises the dates and cities and the inevitable adventures and horror shows that ensue. As our intrepid heroin churns her way through the 10th, 20th, 30th and 50th dates, you start to wonder if she's actually going to meet the ideal man.

Around the World in 80 Dates is a fantastic travel adventure, and an inspiration to chics everywhere who are on the search for Mr Right.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

To be sure - it's Dublin!

* The next six posts are about a driving trip Mum and I did through Ireland in May 2005.

TO BE SURE!

Mum and I arrived in Dublin mid-morning, and collected our trusty Toyota Corolla (an automatic). I haven't driven in over 6 months, and that combined with the less-than-clearly signed Dublin roads, extreme traffic, no detailed map of the city's surrounds, and rain, made for a nervous drive into town. But we got eventually there with some kamikaze navigating, a few u-turns and some near misses...:-)

Once we actually found the Tourist Information Centre, we were able to get a map that showed roughly where our first B&B was - at Clontarf, just 4kms from the city.

We had a typical oyrish lunch in a typical oyrish pub, and were quite surprised at the number of people out drinking on a Monday lunch time. Apparently any time's a good time to drink in Ireland.

After walking down O'Connell Street, the main street, we jumped on one of the city's tourist buses and checked out the main attractions. Highlights included Trinity College - a stunning old building that's home to the Book of Kells; then the Guiness Storehouse (although how people can drink that stuff is beyond me!). The Guide pointed out at this part of the tour, that Dublin's largest alcoholic rehabilitation centre was right opposite its largest brewery. Irish logic for you!

The guide then pointed out Kilmainham Gaol, the largest unoccupied gaol in the UK - how's that for a promotional tagline...

We drove through the lovely Phoenix Park, which is the largest urban park in Europe. As well as being home to Ireland's President, it's also home to Dublin Zoo. The guide pointed out that the Zoo has actually had quite a successful lion breeding program, most likely he thought, as a result of the similarity of Ireland's climate with that of the Serengheti.

Winding back along the River Liffey, we passed a pub at an average rate of 1 every 5 seconds. I was starting to feel at home.

After doing the loop on the bus, we found the car and yet again attempted to find the B&B, this time somewhat better equipped. More kamikaze navigating, swearing, squinting at the map, and a phonecall to our B&B hostess for the evening, we found our quaint little B&B and the even quainter Moira.

Moira looked like she was nearing 95, although was probably only 75, had the thickest Oyrish accent, and to be sure, she was lovely. Grand. It was all grand! Moira's house contained the largest collection of sentimental sh1te I've seen in a long time. Absolutely every surface was covered with photos, kitch little souvenirs, dusty antiques, stuffed animals, quaint signs and collections of god-knows what.

She showed us to our room upstairs, which was certainly neat and comfortable. And small. The "ensuite" actually consisted of a moulded shower no bigger than 40cm square and a wash basin. But it as warm and cosy, and had at least three pictures of the Virgin Mary looking over us, plus one of the Mona Lisa for good measure.

Moira helpfully gave us instructions on how to catch the bus back into town (I was *not* driving anywhere near Dublin traffic again that day!), and we got there in about 10 minutes. It helps when you know where you're going!

Even at 6.00pm it was still sunny - the nights are light until 9.00pm and later at this time of the year.

Mum was bent on finding a pub with Oyrish music, and the ever-trusty Moira had given us some tips. The Temple Bar area, just on one of the banks of the river, is great for pubs and restaurants, and within minutes, we were skulling the first of many cidars and listening to two blokes on guitars playing Irish music. Ahh....we were here.

Funnily enough, after several pints of cider and a good dose of Irish accents, you actually start to believe you are one of them. Mum and I started babbling in Irish, and were starting to be very sure of everything...the catchcry became "to be sure", and I guess we must have said that at least a thousand times each during the next five days.

Irish Stew and a typical fry-up completed our first very Irish day in Dublin. The copious amount of cider also meant that we had a few problems finding the right bus home - but that was only because Mum didn't trust my navigating abilities....we got there...eventually...to be sure!

Cork-ed!

DAY 2: The beds in Moira's cramped little rooms were surprisingly comfortable, and the light came streaming in at some very early time. Breakfast was at 8.00am, and this was where we met some of the other guests - an elderly English couple who seemed to think they were about to miss their flight back to Dublin, an American couple with a cute kid, and a Swedish couple who didn't say a whole lot. Oh, and a strange English bloke who also didn't talk a lot but sounded Australian. He was a bit offended when I asked if he was Australian...

Moira's breakfast room was more crammed with s*** than the rest of the house, including a photograph of Pope John II in a crowd - presumably on one of his many trips to Ireland. Anyway, Moira's brilliant breaky fry up hit the spot, and we started the tea-drinking odyssey that is Irish breakfast. I reckon we had about fourteen gallons of tea over the next five days.

We said goodbye to Moira, and with a few "to be sure's", we were off. The plan was to avoid Dublin and its notorious traffic, and head in exactly the opposite direction of where we were aiming to get to for the day (Cork), to get onto the M50 (a ring road around Dublin), which would theoretically bypass the traffic and eventually hook us up with the N7 - the main road down to Cork.

The plan kind of worked, and again with much swearing, kamikaze navigating, squinting and pointing, we somehow made it onto the N7, which turned into the M7 (a real motorway), and out onto the open road.

First impressions were of the green green grass and rolling hills. Buildings rapidly made way for sheep and cows, and we started to see the many ruins that dot the countryside - an old castle here, a bit of a wall there etc...some chunks of rock were probably just that - chunks of rock - but others were quite impressive, and probably had a long history attached to them.

The plan was to head down to Cork, via Kilkenny and Waterford. We sailed through County Laois, which we'd never heard of, and into County Carlow and the sleepy little town of Carlow. Looking back, Carlow was one of the divier places we visited but as we had to drive right through the centre of it anyway, we couldn't help notice the brightly coloured buildings and quaint pubs. Little did we know that almost *all* Irish towns are like this...

So we oohed and ahhed over cute Carlow, got the hang of the car (blinkers and windscreen wipers were switched, so there was much windscreen wiper action inadvertently going on for the first 100kms), and had a cuppa tea. Mum asked for a latte and got a blank look, then asked for skim milk in her tea, and was told that there was only real milk...clearly latte hysteria has not reached Carlow just yet.

We hit the road again, marvelling at the green grass, rolling hills, old chunks of rock, cows and sheep etc, and sailed into Kilkenny. More brightly coloured buildings paved the streets, but this was by far a prettier town than ugly ducking Carlow. It was quintessentially quaint - it probably helped to define the word. The doors on buildings were no taller than 5.5 feet, and there were barely any buildings over three storeys - well, accept Kilkenny Castle, which dominated the entire city, perched atop the local hill. It was quite a substantial chunk of rock.

The guide book deemed Kilkenny to be "one of Ireland's finest cities, full of medieval treasures and lined with brightly coloured painted Victorian style pubs and shopfronts", and indeed it was. Mum and I both thought this was one of the prettiest towns we visited.

We traipsed up the hill to the castle, along with hundreds of other tourists, and entered the very green grounds. We had to walk a good few hundred metres back from the castle to get the photo on this page. We then pottered around the Design Centre, which is actually a big tourist shop (although surprisingly good value), and I decided it would be fitting to spend the rest of the week driving round with Irish music bellowing around us.

For the next 700kms, "Timeless Irish Classics", a double CD containing hits like, "Danny Boy, Molly Malone and the Black Velvet Band" provided endless entertainment as we drove through many of the places referenced in the songs.

Next stop was Waterford, home of the famous Waterford Crystal Factory - this we avoided, but the township of Waterford itself was quite pleasant, and had quaint little cobbled streets and more brightly coloured shops.

From there, we sailed though County Waterford, through yet more green rolling hills, and out to the coast at Dungarven. This was our first citing of the coast since Dublin, and barring the vast mudflats, it was fairly scenic.

Timed to perfection, we arrived in Cork City bang on peak hour, but I did actually have my bearings pretty well sorted, having been there in February. The B&B was actually on the city map we had, which made things much easier - accept for the weird Irish house numbering system and the fact that street names on the streets bare little resemblance to the street names on maps...

Anyway, John, the B&B host for the evening welcomed us, outlined the breakfast schedule and pointed us on our merry way, into the city.

We were keen to hear Irish music, which doesn't actually seem to start before 9.30pm-ish in any given pub. Dinner this night was in a very oirish pub called Clancey's, and again cider featured prominently. I also introduced Mum to tot hoddies...or hot hoddies..whatever...the barmen understood.

To wile away time before the band started, I challenged Mum to a limerick competition. We each had to come up with limericks that mentioned the other person's name, by the time we got to County Limerick in a couple of days. This she accepted, and we began working on our limericks there and then. Here's a taste of our literary talent....we'll add more soon:

** From Robyn **
I do have a daughter called Mel
Who had too much cider and fell
She got up again and said
"Oh what a pain,
Do they have this great stuff in hell?"

** From Mel **
There once was a woman called Robyn
Who flew RyanAir into Doblin (go with me here!)
She saw Waterford, Cork and Kinsale
Her navigatin' never did fail
Although her head in the cider was bobbin'.

Funnily enough, all of our limericks revolved around alcohol. To be sure. Anyway, it kept us amused till the band began to play.

And they were excellent - possibly better than the Timeless Irish Classics if the truth be told. They did some jigs, sang some songs, and then got the audience up to attempt to do some irish dancing. Imagine the consequences of copious cider mixed with rapid dancing and lots of counting, tricky steps (like turning your partner), and foreign tourists not being able to understand the band dude's thick oirish accent....somewhat disastrous, but very very funny. We tripped our way through the rest of the evening, and headed back down through a very crowded high street, and back to the comfy B&B.

We were getting the hang of this place called Ireland.

Anti-clockwise around the Ring of Kerry

DAY 3: The day began with grey skies and drizzle, so we decided not to do a walking tour of Cork city, but headed straight out to the Blarney Castle, just north of the city.

The castle was built in the 15th century and is in pretty good condition for such an old chunk of stone. The grounds surrounding the castle were green and gorgeous, and there were far more flowers than when I was there in February.

We climbed the cramped spiral stairs to the top of the Castle, which gives a great view of the countryside, and the very cute township of Blarney. Having already kissed the Blarney Stone, I didn’t feel the need to do it again, but it was amusing listening to some of the American tourists talking about how unsanitary it was to have several hundred (or thousand) people kiss a small bit of rock embedded into the side of the castle. Mum also passed, but did manage to get some completely unflattering photos of other people doing it.

There’s a coffee shop in Blarney that does the best hot chocolate, so we camped there for a while as the rain really started to fall.

It rained pretty much the whole day. The cows, sheep, cute coloured buildings and old ruins out in the fields kept us amused, and our Timeless Irish Classics bellowed through the car. We were starting to learn the words, and they seemed so fitting:

“Oh grey and bleak, by shore and creek,
The rugged rocks abound.
But sweeter green the grass between
Than grows on Irish ground.”

We drove through the small town of Macroom and into Killarney, which is one of the biggest towns outside of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick. Its proximity to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula mean it’s perennially packed with tourists and coaches. But its narrow cobbled streets, great little pubs and craft shops give it heaps of character. Coincidentally, almost all of the towns starting with K were the nicest.

After a long walk through Killarney, lunch and some souvenir shopping, we headed on our merry way round the Ring of Kerry, anti-clockwise. We’d been told that the roads around this area were crap, and that we were likely to have to share them with the bwzillions of coaches that take tourists on day trips. Our plan was to get halfway round The Ring that afternoon, and beat the coaches that would start from Killarney the next day.

It was a shame that it was such a drab day, and that the fog was low – because it was obvious that the scenery would have been spectacular. We drove round windy little cliff tops where green hills met the North Atlantic Ocean off the wild west coast. Not being able to see much, we kept driving to a little town called Cahersiveen (pronounced car seveen) and decided to stay there for the evening. It was a quaint little town where the “highway” rambled through the main street. It’s quite extraordinary to see buses and trucks pass each other in these narrow little passageways.

By about 4.00pm, it was windy, wet, freezing, and time for a cider. The barmaid gave us tips about the best place for dinner – a pub just down the road from hers. We found the B&B, which our host had pointed out, was on the “car ferry road”.

The B&B was great – it had a large glass conservatory as the guest’s sitting room, and the room was warm (although you had to run around in the shower to get wet – Irish water pressure is not so good). We got chatting to a British couple who were staying there for the evening, and then a scary looking German family (think middle age punk rocker types with one child) came in too.

We didn’t realise that seafood would be plentiful in Ireland (despite it being surrounded by water….duh!), but we had the yummiest salmon dinner that night. In fact, Mum had salmon every night.

The old pub was cold and dimly lit, but we parked ourselves in front of the fire to thaw out, and asked the barmaid how her town’s name was pronounced. The Irish people are awesome – so friendly, and much less formal than the English…

With a few more ciders under our belts, we called it quits and had an early night, keeping our fingers crossed for better weather!

County Clare and Ladies View

DAY 4: To be sure, the rain stopped, and although it was cloudy, the view of countryside around Cahersiveen was much better than the day before.

Brigette, Eilish’s daughter, was a cute little kid who served us our full oirish breakfast. Mum asked what she usually had for breakfast, and she said in an even cuter oirish accent “Aww, cereal or sometimes rashers (of bacon).” The temptation to ask silly questions just to hear Irish people talk, was often too great to resist.

After breakfast, we made friends with Brigette’s cat Bingy. Bingy was a very affectionate cat, who wound itself round our legs and demanded to be patted for 20 minutes. Mum, who was suffering cat withdrawal symptoms (having not seen her “girls”, Misty and Pixie, for over two weeks) gave Bingy all the attention he demanded – to the point where he was doing that weird cat-going-sideways-in-ecstasy thing. They actually needed to be separated with a crowbar.

We set off for a quick squizz of the small pier where ferries take passengers over to Valencia Island, about a kilometre off the coast of Cahersiveen.

Then it was back onto the Ring of Kerry and onto some more bendy cliff-top roads. If you get stuck behind a truck or coach on these roads, you’re more or less stuffed – or at least reduced to a snail’s pace.

Fortunately there wasn’t a lot of traffic on this road, and other than a few sets of roadworks, we had a pretty good run. The landscape got rockier, and a couple of times we had to stop to let sheep cross the road. This was the clich├ęd Ireland I was looking for!

We stopped for a cuppa at a lookout called Ladies View. It looked out to a scenic valley where some of County Kerry’s biggest lakes converged.

Earlier, we had decided that if we could get a decent drive in today, and get quite a way up the coast, we could visit the Cliffs of Moher and Galway the following day.

We completed the Ring of Kerry loop and bypassed Killarney this time, heading north to Tralee for lunch. It was a larger town than Killarney, perhaps with a little less character and more traffic.

Parking in most Irish towns is a complete disaster. This is without doubt one of the country’s biggest problems – there are simply too many cars on the roads for the cities to cope with. Parking stations are packed, streets are crammed with cars parked on the sides, and it’s really quite tedious to get across town.

The green hills of County Kerry sailed by, as we drove up to the Shannon River Estuary, and to a car-ferry at Tarbert. We only had to wait about 20 minutes for the next ferry to take us over to Killimer in County Clare.

County Clare seemed even greener than County Kerry, and we stopped in the cute little town of Kilrish for the ritual afternoon cuppa. I guess the greener a place is, the more rain they’re likely to get, and as if on cue, it started drizzling again.

We then headed further west and up the coast road via Kilrush, Doonbeg and Kilmurry, through Milltown Malbay, and into what we thought was the pick of the villages for the evening – Lahinch.

Lahinch’s beach makes it a popular resort town for surfers, and it’s also known for its traditional music.

The B&B was about a kilometre out of town, so we backbashed for a while before heading back into town for a pub dinner. Another pub across the road had an Irish band playing that night, and a few hot toddies kept us going until the band started. I’d never really been into traditional Irish music, but listening to it for 8 hours in the car each day, and then again in pubs at night has really changed my mind. I’m an Irish music convert!

The band was excellent, and as we left the pub, the heavens opened up and the green green hills of County Clare were watered once again.

Roaring winds at the Cliffs of Moher

Day 5: The plan for today was to check out the Cliffs of Moher, head inland and north up to Galway via Kinvarra, and then down to Limerick.

We'd checked out the B&B book, and Mum happened to spot a castle in a town just out of Limerick. I didn't think we'd have a snowflakes chance in hell of getting a room in a castle for the night, but when I rang, they said they had availability. So we booked, and spent the rest of the day wondering what this castle would be like.

The day was fairly fine, although windy, and as we crawled up bendy narrow country roads behind another heavy truck bound for roadworks, the wind really kicked in. The poor moos were walking sideways...

We got to the Cliffs of Moher carpark and donned jackets and scarves. It was blowing a gale - I guess the weather on this very exposed coastline copped a lot of rough weather and high winds.

The Cliffs of Moher were awesome, and we ploughed through the wind up to an old light-housey sort of structure on the top of the hill. I really thought we could have been blown off that hill! But the view was worth the chill factor.

To the strains of increasingly familiar "The Irish Rover", we drove down into lush green countryside, through a funny little town called Lisdoonvarna and into a picturesque seaside town called Kinvarra. I liked it because it had pink buildings. Mum liked it because she got to play with a ginger cat, and we had a hot chocolate.

Just out of Kinvarra, was the relics of yet another castle - Dunguaire Castle, which perched atop a hill overlooking the colourful little town.

The drive up to Galway was uninspiring, as we hit a motorway and lanes of traffic, all streaming into what we suspected was the 3rd largest city in Ireland.

Galway's a great spot - once you can park your car! Once again, traffic was rife and carparks were completely chockers. Driving round Ireland on a daily basis would be a complete nightmare. Galway has all the facilities of a large city like Cork or Dublin, but the charm and quaintness of Kilkenny or Killarney. It's old town weaved through the centre of the CBD, and heaps of people were out, walking the streets. It was a beautiful day - unbelievably sunny!

It would have been easier to spend more time in Galway, but we had to get back down through County Clare and into the midlands by that evening.

We passed through the towns of Gort and Ennis and stopped for a quick beer in Limerick, Ireland's 4th biggest city. We were both surprised at how big some of the cities were. When we entered the Squire McGuire pub for a drink (it was Friday afternoon after all!), a roomful of blokes looked at us as if to wonder what we were doing in their pub. To be sure!

The karoke continued as we drove south through County Limerick and into Tipperary (It's a long Way to Tipperary!). The small town of Bansha was another 20kms or so out of Tipperary, and we started to look for our castle.

Out in the fields, a large manor loomed and a sign pointed to Bansha Castle. Our bed for the night! Ok - so it was smaller than Buckingham Palace, and even Kensington Palace - but in much better condition than Blarney Castle - like it had electricity and carpet.

We drove into the large property and up a well groomed track to the main house. John, the host, was out mowing the enormous lawns, and came over to welcome us. He introduced us to Paddy, his gorgeous black boofy labrador and showed us into the house. It was without a doubt the best place we stayed in Ireland.

Our room was huge and there were about another 10 we could make use of - the lounge room, which was a vast sprawling luxurious room that backed onto a billiards room with a full size billards table.

The furnishings were perfect and small reminders of the castle's past dotted the walls. Hanging in one room, was a scroll addressed to Dr Russell - a former owner of the house and Doctor for the town of Bansha. The townsfolk had presented him with a scroll in 1945 on the occasion of his marriage in 1945 - it wished him well and talked about how fine a man he was. They were probably crawling,and trying to get into his will to get their hands on the gorgeous chunk of house we were standing in. I was certainly trying to work out how I could make it mine.

Dinner that night was down the road in the little village of Bansha. We had a choice of two pubs, and were fortunate enough to pick the one where a local wedding party was celebrating. I went to the bar to get drinks, and this leprechaun-looking little old man at the bar started chatting to me through a gummy smile. He asked if I was travelling...yes, I was from Australia, living in London and travelling with my Mum. Then he asked if I was married - the cheeky b*****! I said no. Then he asked if I was looking for a bloke - I told him it depended who was asking...Mind you, if he had had any direct ties to Bansha Castle, it might have been another story....

As Mum and I tucked into yet more salmon and cider, people from the wedding party started traipsing through the pub in their best wedding clothes. To give you an idea of how ridiculously inappropriate their clothing was - we had each worn our woollen coats to the pub. It was COLD! But these guests had strappy dresses and shoes - or the ones who bothered to dress up did. Others had jeans and shoes that looked suspiciously like sneakers...it was quite the country wedding! I didn't manage to get a look at the bride, but Mum did, and reported that she was about the size of a house and gave a speech.

There was also a fair in a park opposite the pub, and as we left, we saw several of the younger wedding guests tottering through the mud in those strappy shoes...really quite bizarre.

Bansha Castle at night was not at all drafty or cold. Much renovation work had made it warm and cosy, all in keeping with the style of its 18th centure structure.

I drifted off to sleep that night dreaming of dashing Irish princes...

County Tipperary and the castle

DAY 6: My prince didn't show up, but it was very pleasant to wake up in a castle. As we expected, the breakfast room was as grand as the rest of the house. All the silverware was out and breakfast was indeed a very civilised affair.

The breakfast room looked out to the back gardens, which were actually surrounded by the ruins of the original 17th Century castle. It was all spectacular. We loved the castle and everything about it. I want one.

Setting off, we did a quick lap back through Tipperary in case we'd missed anything as went sailing through the day before. We hadn't.

Then we set off to Cashel to see the Rock of Cashel. Rising 200 feet above the surrounding land and topped by a cluster of ruins, the Rock of Cashel is an impressive site.

A friendly guide called Moira explained that the kings of Munster ruled their lands from the top of this limestone outcrop from around 370 until 1101, when it was turned over to the church.

We walked though each of the five buildings - all religious sites - and through the cemetary. Moira explained the various legends associated with the Rock of Cashel. It is said to have been formed when the Devil, flying across Ireland in a great hurry, took a bite of the mountains in his path and spat it out in the Golden Vale.

A gap to the north, called Devil's Bit, is said to be a perfect match to the dimensions of the rock. St Patrick arrived in 450 to baptise King Aengus and his brothers. During the ceremony, the saint accidentally drove his sharp-pointed staff into the king's foot, but the king didn't flinch, believing that the pain was part of the Christian initiation rites. From then on, Cashel was also called St Patrick's Rock.

So...that's a very brief history of that particular chunk of stone. The rain started to fall once again - big drops this time...bloody torrential, in fact...so we decided to end our tour of Cashel and continue driving north-west back to Dublin.

This was our last day, and we attempted to play our 60 songs worth of irish hits in one day. I think some of my fondest memories of Ireland will be driving through the green countryside, belting out Irish tunes with Mum.

Compared with County Clare and Country Kerry, County Tipperary is a bit sparse in terms of attractions, and even it's towns seem a little more bland than other places we'd passed through. Abbeyleix, however, was a cute little town, that made for a good lunch stop. We had our 10,000 cup of tea and headed on our merry way back up the M7. We had planned to stop in Kildare to kill time before the flight back to London, but a quick loop through that town encouraged us to keep going into the airport. There was a bar there, after all!

The traffic going into Dublin was abysmal, and probably made us appreciate all the quaint little towns a million times more, now that we were back in the big smoke.

We dropped the car off and headed into the usual nightmare that is a RyanAir check in queue, and then headed for the bar. We had about 2 hours to kill before the flight, and fortunately, the FA Cup final between Liverpool and Arsenal happened to be playing. The whole airport was practically squashed into the bar, and flights seemed to being delayed all over the place as people craned to see the last few minutes of the game. It was hilarious! I've never heard so many announcements... "Would Mr Paddy Smith please go straight to gate 47. Your plane is waiting". This went on and on until the game finished (Liverpool won), and the second the final bell sounded, the whole bar emptied out as people rushed to their planes.

And so ended our six days in the Emerald Isle. To be sure, Ireland is a wonderful place and I would go back in a heartbeat!

WIWT: Ice Caves on Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier's ice caves provided a stunning playground one winter's afternoon in July 2004. Flying up to the glacier by helicopter, we spent several hours hiking over the ice. Click here for details about New Zealand's glacier flights.

Tales of a Female Nomad

While I'm on the subject of great travel books, Rita Golden Gelman's Tales of a Female Nomad, was a book I read some 5 years ago.

It tells the story of Gelman, who, despite having lived a privileged existance, felt trapped in an unhappy marriage. She courageously decided to follow her dream and take off to see the world by herself. Little did she know far she would travel, or that she would continue to be travelling some 20 years later.

Gelman's inspiring journey through places like Mexico, Guatemala, Israel, Indonesia, and the US provides close-up glimpses of everyday life in other cultures, while inspiring readers to question their notions of "freedom" and the fear that most often holds them back from being "free".

Thirteen luxury hotels, five months...no money

Travel books are a great way of killing time on long-haul flights. Absolutely Faking It, by Tiana Templeman, is an hilarious story about a couple who won what was billed as "the trip of a lifetime".

Tiana and her husband set off on a five month adventure through fourteen countries, incorporating their prize of a three-night stay at each of 15 of the world's most luxurious hotels.

From the Ritz in Paris to the Peninsula in Hong Kong, Tiana recounts amusing anecdotes about how two self-confessed backpackers "faked" their way through a world of enormous suites, Chanel toiletries and ultra-discreet butlers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sunset Dreaming - a road trip through the Kimberley

* This article was first published in Australian Video Camera Magazine in 2004, when I wrote a series of freelance articles about travelling with video cameras.

Crocs, rocks and red dust were just some of the sights the spectacular Kimberley region offered on a recent road trip from Broome to Darwin. Melanie Surplice reports on her dusty drive though one of the world’s great wilderness areas.

“We’re going to drive from Broome to Darwin,” my friend announced. “Wanna come?”

It was an offer too good to refuse. After six months of planning, our motley crew of twelve – all friends of friends - congregated on Broome’s spectacular Cable Beach. Kilometres of white sand lay before us, a fiery orange sunset hinting at the beauty we would witness over the next ten days.

Our three hired Land Cruisers were parked in formation. Equipped with two car-top tents, walkie talkies, cooking and sleeping gear, each car doubled as a mobile home for four people. From the start, we knew that space in the cars would be limited, but when it came to actually packing ourselves, our luggage, and the requisite food and alcohol supplies, the cars bulged at the seams.

We didn’t have a definite itinerary, but there was general consensus that we would take about five days to drive the Gibb River Road, then head to Wyndham to re-stock supplies. Then we would take the Great Northern Highway south to Purnululu National Park, explore the Bungles Bungles and return the cars in Darwin.

Camera and camcorder considerations
It was always going to be a trip where the potential for fantastic photos and video footage was infinite.

One issue to contend with was the lack of power. The digital camera owners didn’t think it was worth buying car charger adaptors, but instead chanced it, and charged their batteries in roadhouses and wherever else they could find standard power points. They also came perilously close to running out of memory – spare memory cards would have been well worth taking! I bought the car charger kit for my Panasonic camcorder, and took what I hoped would be enough film and batteries for my Canon Elph (non-digital) camera.

Dust was a constant companion, and despite our best attempts at keeping the equipment clean, it all seemed to end up coated with a light film of red dust each day. A brush stored in a snap-lock plastic bag was a useful addition to the camera kit.

The other issue was that no matter how grotty we became, or no matter how ghastly we looked in the morning – there were always another eleven cameras to capture the moment.

Hit the road Jack
As Boab’s I, II and III (our nicknames for the cars) rolled out of Broome and onto the highway on Day One, the itinerary was thrown out the window. It was decided that we would take a detour to Fitzroy Crossing, and visit what the guidebook told us were some of the highlights of the Kimberley. We would then backtrack up to the Gibb River Road the following day.

The 400km drive along the sealed road of the Great Northern Highway gave the drivers a chance to familiarise themselves with the vehicles. The backseat drivers familiarised themselves with the walkie talkies, and I familiarised myself with filming scenery at 80 kilometres/hour.

For a place that you might expect to be barren, the scenery was ever-changing and fascinating to film. Thousands of boab trees dotted the landscape, their unique, sometimes human-like shapes giving us much to talk about.

Gorgeous gorges
Our main dose of sightseeing that day was at Geikie Gorge. This area forms part of an ancient coral reef, and the contrasting orange, black and white cliffs set against the clear blue sky were spectacular. The best way to view this gorge is by water, and the barge cruise was a relaxing way to spend a few hours. Here we saw our first collection of fresh water crocodiles and promptly pulled all hands inside the boat.

Locals at the Fitzroy Crossing Tourist Centre had mentioned a nearby deserted quarry. This, we decided, would be fitting campsite for our first night. It was already quite late and our instructions for the campsite were vague. The further we drove, the darker it got, and fog started to descend. The boab trees appeared to float amongst the mist – it was quite eerie.

We eventually found the quarry just as the setting sun plunged us into complete darkness. This gave us the extra challenge of setting up camp for the first time in the dark. Fortunately, ‘pitching the tent’ involved undoing a few straps and pulling the ladder down to the ground. In what became a finely honed routine, each car delegated camp builders, fire makers and cooks, and dinner was prepared under the twinkling Kimberley sky.

The next day began with a freezing early morning swim in croc-free water. Despite the fact that temperatures hit 30 degrees during the day, the mornings and evenings were chilly.

Tunnel Creek was the first stop for the day. Equipped with old sneakers and torches, we walked through the frequently pitch black 750-metre long cave that runs through the Napier Range. At times, we waded through waist-deep water, unsure whether it would get deeper – the bags containing our camera equipment held high above our heads.

About 30 kilometres down the track, we pulled onto the Gibb River Road and into Windjana Gorge National Park. This entire area is famous for its gorges, and Windjana Gorge didn’t disappoint.

Never smile at a crocodile
Freshwater crocodiles floated ominously in the water, and we practically tripped over a smallish one on our afternoon walk. The croc was so still it didn’t look real, and four of my travel buddies decided to play chicken with it, seeing who could get closest to it. I captured the scene safely from about 100 metres using the digital zoom. I was expecting to use the footage either as coronary evidence or for Funniest Home Videos. Fortunately, the croc didn’t move.

The next few days followed a similar routine of getting up with the sun, exploring gorges and bashing our way down the dusty Gibb River Road. At times the drive was so bumpy, the corrugations so deep, that we could barely hear ourselves think. I frequently filmed the scenery out of the window, and I didn’t mind that the camera was jumping all over the place – it captured the sights and sounds of the trip. Even when I watch the footage now, I can still feel every jolt.

El Questro Station, a million acre property, was one of my favourite places on the Gibb River Road. Home to the El Questro, Emma and Moonshine Gorges and the Zebedee thermal springs, there are ample natural attractions, and a heap of activities such as swimming, fishing, boating and hiking.

Domed shaped rocks
Surprisingly, we followed the planned itinerary for the remaining five days. Highlights on this part of the trip included camping by the crocodile-infested Ord River, the crocodile farm at Wyndham and the Bungle Bungles.

Purnululu National Park, home to the Bungle Bungles recently received a World Heritage listing. The huge black and orange striped domes lived in relative isolation until a film crew broadcast aerial shots of the amazing site in 1982. Apparently twice as many people now see the Bungle Bungles by air than those that visit by road. This is not surprising, because even though it’s only a 55 kilometre drive in from the Great Northern Highway turnoff, the road is so treacherous that it took more than three hours to travel.

As my 11 weary, grotty travel buddies and I sat in a pub in Darwin on the final day, we reflected on the beauty of the two states we had driven through.

The Kimberley is one of those places that everyone should see at least once. This adventure took place in the dry season – but seeing it in the wet is meant to be just as awesome. It is a place of contrasts – wet and dry; welcoming and at times, dangerous; blue skies and red earth.

The cars were fantastic, and well worth investigating if you’re travelling with a group or family. As for the friendships – even after ten days of fairly close living and – we managed not to kill each other, and would possibly consider doing another road trip together. And, as for my camcorder and camera – I’m still finding specks of Kimberley dust in kit. It was worth every second.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WIWT: Cable Beach - Broome, Australia

The first weekly WIWT (Wish I Was There) photo is of Broome's famous Cable Beach. I took this shot in July 2003, when a bunch of crazy mates and I set off in three 4WD's for a two-week outback adventure across North-Western Australia. Click here for more details about Broome and surrounds.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Norway’s Extraordinary Fjord Country

* This article was first published in Australian Video Camera Magazine in 2001, when I wrote a series of freelance articles about travelling with video cameras.

Take the E6 Highway out of Oslo, drive north for some 2,000 kilometres and you will eventually reach Nordkapp, Europe’s northernmost point. This long stretch of road is both a filming dream and nightmare. There is so much spectacular scenery you don’t know where to point and shoot next. Melanie Surplice reports on her recent visit to Norway – land of the fjords and one of nature’s most beautiful playgrounds.

A large ceramic troll outside the small tourist-filled town of Dombas reminds visitors that they are deep in the heart of Norway. From here, for the next several thousand kilometres we see trolls of all shapes and sizes, and ‘Moose Crossing’ signs as frequently as ‘Stop’ signs.

As rain begins to fall, we turn off Norway’s main E6 Highway onto the E136, en route to our campsite at Andalsnes. What begin as nondescript rocks in the distance suddenly loom into towering snow-capped mountains, as we descend deep into a valley.

The sky is perilously black and the rock faces impossibly sheer, almost vertical. It's difficult to take in the enormity of the mountains from the coach windows. Thirty faces and cameras are pushed hard up against the glass, bottom jaws dragging, and necks straining to see the cliff tops. Waterfalls spew from openings in the cliffs with the ferocity of Niagara Falls.

Birth of the fjords
It is difficult to imagine that 65 million years ago this landscape consisted of rounded hills and wide valleys. The land rose during the Tertiary period, and the ensuing formation of steep mountainsides gave new force to the rivers. The landscape was gradually worn down to form deep, steep-walled river valleys.

During the 40 or so ice ages to hit Northern Europe in the last 2-3 million years (the Quaternary era), the ice flowed down the mountainsides and valleys in a slow-moving mass, collecting rock piles in its path and digging the valleys deeper and wider.

The once flat landscape was slowly transformed into a land with steep-walled troughs leading to the sea. The enormous weight of the glacial ice masses pressed down the land and carried glacial debris towards the sea, which is why most fjords are so-called threshold or bar fjords – that is, very shallow at the mouth and up to 1000 metres deep in their inner reaches.

As we near Andalsnes, we see Trollveggen, the highest vertical mountain wall in Europe. From top to bottom, Trollveggen stands a staggering 5,950ft, of which 3,300 is completely vertical and another150ft is overhang.

Also known as The Troll Wall, Trollveggen was first climbed in 1958 by a local Norwegian climber. Norwegian climbers consider the area the ultimate challenge. Not surprisingly, it has been the setting for films such as Cliff Hanger.

The cloud and snow mean we can't see the top of this mountainous giant, although our oohs and ahhs continue all the way to the campsite.

Located at the edge of the Romsdalsfjord, Andalsnes is the northern gateway to Norway’s western fjords.

With some free time, we take advantage of the free canoes by the lake. Others hot-foot it to the campsite’s Internet cafe. At the equivalent of US$5 for 15 minutes, talk is definitely not cheap in Norway. Nothing is, for that matter. Mini DV tapes are more expensive the further north we go – the most expensive tapes hit US$25. A basic hamburger lunch at McDonalds cost one of my travel buddies US$15!

We have been promised that the next day will be one of the highlights of the trip, and we are not disappointed.

Trollstigen Road – gateway to fjord country
The day begins with a hair-raising drive up the Trollstigen Road (Troll’s Path). The road is so technically challenging that a specialist driver is brought in for this part of the journey.

Trollstigen was opened in 1936, and has since been an important link between the towns of Romsdalen and Sunnmore. With a total of 11 hair-pin bends, a 1:12 gradient, and the fact that it is almost one lane all the way, Trollstigen is mind-boggling.

Halfway up to the mountain pass, we stop for a photograph in front of the thundering 180-metre Stigfossen waterfall. It is so loud I can barely hear myself think.

The next couple of hours provide breathtaking scenery. I film out of the window for kilometre after bendy kilometre.

Finally we descend into another valley to the picturesque town of Valldal. A 20-minute ferry ride takes us to Eisdal, and from there we continue along the Eagles Road to the top of Norway’s famous 16 kilometre Geirangerfjord.

Even on a cloudy day, Geirangerfjord is as stunning as it is enormous. Three cruise ships moored on the waterfront at Geiranger village are absolutely dwarfed by the fjord.

It had been raining on and off all day so the waterfalls in the area are particularly impressive. It is easy to see why the Seven Sisters, Suitor and Bridal Veil waterfalls are so famous. They are stunning.

It didn’t take the Norwegians long to discover the advantages of living in fjord country. There is fertile soil in the sheltered coves and the sea abounds with fish, seals and whales. The settlers knew it would be hard work to turn the countryside into pasture-land and cultivate crops and, indeed, it was a lifelong struggle against the forces of nature.

Those who chose to settle far up the mountainsides often had to tie their children to a rope to stop then falling. They built rope and pulley systems and ladders to ease the ascent, and kept animals to ensure they were as self-sufficient as possible.

Some of these mountain farms are still occupied in the summer. Along the Geirangerfjord, the local residents' associations have put a great deal of effort into preserving the best farms, which have become a popular destination for walkers. This has breathed new life into an old tradition while providing relaxation and recreation.

Our mini-cruise comes to an end, and we begin the long and windy drive back to Andalsnes. Norway’s scenery once again takes on an ominous appearance as the clouds roll in.

Fun and games
Mushy patches of snow line the roadside, and we decide it’s time for a late-afternoon snow fight. Passing cars toot as they see 31 crazy tourists running round with snowballs, as if playing with snow for the first time. We eventually return to the coach, cold, breathless and giggling like teenagers.

Just when we think our day can’t get anymore unforgettable, comes the descent of the Trollstigen Road. It was scary enough going up – but going down, in the now torrential rain, with other tour buses trying to pass us in the other direction – is a new experience in anxiety.

To the uninitiated, the road is simply not wide enough in some places for two coaches to pass each other. The drivers, who have obviously done this hundreds of times, know better.

It is my misfortune to be on the cliff side, as another coach passes us on the inside. We are so close to the waist-height safety barrier that I feel our coach is going to topple over – one look down at the spiralling road below sends my heart racing. The hairs on the back of my neck are on end.

Picture two coaches, a hair’s width apart on a tiny slip of road, several thousand metres above sea level, shuffling forwards, centimetre by centimetre – with finally enough space between the mirrors to ensure a safe passing. It’s that close. I mentally run through my travel insurance policy a thousand times and only begin to breathe normally once we’ve made it all the way down.

As we pull into the campsite the sun finally shines through the clouds that have plagued us for most of the day. We are rewarded with a quick glimpse of the snowy peaks of the Romsdalsfjord. It’s one awesome view!

Our journey the next day takes us to the university town of Trondheim, before we again inch our way north via a town called Hell, and into the Arctic Circle – land of reindeers, Santa Clause and the elusive midnight sun.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Welcome to my travel blog!

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

When my parents first took me overseas in 1980, little did I know that it would be the beginning of my life-long obsession with travelling. Since that first trip to Europe 26 years ago, I've travelled with family, friends, groups and by myself, to 6 continents and over 40 countries. The more I travel, the more I realise how much more there is left to see and experience in this world.

Two of my other great passions are writing and photography, so it seemed fitting to bring it all together in a blog – you know, while I work out how to become a travel editor.

Hope you enjoy these ramblings!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New Zealand - Index Page

WIWT: Ice Caves on Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Fox Glacier's ice caves provided a stunning playground one winter's afternoon in July 2004. Flying up to the glacier by helicopter, we spent several hours hiking over the ice. Click here for details about New Zealand's glacier flights.

Books - Index Page

Around the World in 80 Dates
Ok - I'm on a bit of a roll with travel books! But one of the truly most enjoyable travel books I've ever read was Around the World in 80 Dates, by Jennifer Cox.








Thirteen luxury hotels, five months...no money
Travel books are a great way of killing time on long-haul flights. Absolutely Faking It, by Tiana Templeman, is an hilarious story about a couple who won what was billed as "the trip of a lifetime".







Tales of a Female Nomad
While I'm on the subject of great travel books, Rita Golden Gelman's Tales of a Female Nomad, was a book I read some 5 years ago.It tells the story of Gelman, who, despite having lived a privileged existance, felt trapped in an unhappy marriage. She courageously decided to follow her dream and take off to see the world by herself. Little did she know far she would travel, or that she would continue to be travelling some 20 years later.

Photos/WIWT Archives

A new way to present travel pics
For anyone that loves photography and the digital revolution, Photobox.co.uk is a brilliant site, and was a fantastic recommendation from one of my digital camera-toutin' mates. More...

London Fire Brigade Exhibition
I love photography, it's importance in the news, and the way it provides a permanent reminder of a particular scene.So the current exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery in London was a perfect way to spend an hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The London Fire Brigade Archive is a small exhibition at the gallery running until 17 September and features nearly 100 black and white images from the broader collection of some 300,000 images. More...

WIWT: Poignant Pics
This is definitely not a case of "Wish I Was There" (WIWT), but I took this photo in New York at one of the many tribute sites to the victims of September 11. Given the 1-year anniversary last week of the London bombings, and yesterday's terrorist attrocities in Mumbai, it seemed fitting to post a somewhat more poignant pic.


















WIWT: Going ape in Gibraltar
Gibraltar's famous Barbary Apes scamper over the upper reaches of the massive Rock of Gibraltar. Legend has it that should the apes ever disappear, the British will leave Gibraltar. It's worth spending a couple of days in this extremely British outpost, although you'll get a better meal over the Spanish border (you have to cross Gibraltar airport's runway to get there!) at La Linea.

















WIWT: Ice Caves on Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Fox Glacier's ice caves provided a stunning playground one winter's afternoon in July 2004. Flying up to the glacier by helicopter, we spent several hours hiking over the ice. Click here for details about New Zealand's glacier flights.

















WIWT: Cable Beach - Broome, Australia
The first weekly WIWT (Wish I Was There) photo is of Broome's famous Cable Beach. I took this shot in July 2003, when a bunch of crazy mates and I set off in three 4WD's for a two-week outback adventure across North-Western Australia. Click here for more details about Broome and surrounds.

Spas/Retreats - Index Page

Retreating in the Blue Mountains
My mind is quiet and my entire body sinks deeper into the heated bed, ylang ylang and sandalwood wafting through the room. "How do you feel"? asks Pauline. "Hmmm". "Are you relaxed"? she gently persists. I would have thought the snoring gave that away...

Resorts - Index Page

Nothing here yet! Let's hope I have something to report soon.

Camping - Index Page

Sunset Dreaming - a road trip through the Kimberley
Crocs, rocks and red dust were just some of the sights the spectacular Kimberley region offered on a recent road trip from Broome to Darwin. Melanie Surplice reports on her dusty drive though one of the world’s great wilderness areas.

WIWT: Cable Beach - Broome, Australia

Tours - Index Page

Drooling in Dubrovnik
JULY 21 (Day 1 of tour): The 2.5 hour flight from Dubrovnik was painless enough, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew the next week was going to be a tad warm - it was a steamy 30C at 10.30pm!

A date with 1000 pipers and haggis
Anyway, we partied hard into the wee hours of the morning and fronted up some time later at the food hall for a canteen-style breakfast. Black pudding was on offer, but the prospect of pig’s blood and guts for breakfast didn’t bode well after a night on the razzle. I settled for the far more comforting bacon and eggs.

Heading north...to Edinburgh
Early on in the year, I found that Contiki ran a 4-day tour up to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and as soon as I saw the tour advertised, I knew I wanted to do it. I don't know why I became obsessed with going to the Tattoo - I was never outrageously interested in anything military, nor bagpipe-ish - in fact, when we used to watch the Tattoo on the ABC at home as kids, I thought it was about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Norway’s Extraordinary Fjord Country
Take the E6 Highway out of Oslo, drive north for some 2,000 kilometres and you will eventually reach Nordkapp, Europe’s northernmost point. This long stretch of road is both a filming dream and nightmare. There is so much spectacular scenery you don’t know where to point and shoot next. Melanie Surplice reports on her recent visit to Norway – land of the fjords and one of nature’s most beautiful playgrounds.

USA - Index Page

WIWT: Poignant Pics

Scotland - Index Page

A date with 1000 pipers and haggis
Anyway, we partied hard into the wee hours of the morning and fronted up some time later at the food hall for a canteen-style breakfast. Black pudding was on offer, but the prospect of pig’s blood and guts for breakfast didn’t bode well after a night on the razzle. I settled for the far more comforting bacon and eggs.

Heading north...to Edinburgh
Early on in the year, I found that Contiki ran a 4-day tour up to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and as soon as I saw the tour advertised, I knew I wanted to do it. I don't know why I became obsessed with going to the Tattoo - I was never outrageously interested in anything military, nor bagpipe-ish - in fact, when we used to watch the Tattoo on the ABC at home as kids, I thought it was about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Norway - Index Page

Norway’s Extraordinary Fjord Country
Take the E6 Highway out of Oslo, drive north for some 2,000 kilometres and you will eventually reach Nordkapp, Europe’s northernmost point. This long stretch of road is both a filming dream and nightmare. There is so much spectacular scenery you don’t know where to point and shoot next. Melanie Surplice reports on her recent visit to Norway – land of the fjords and one of nature’s most beautiful playgrounds.

Ireland - Index Page

County Tipperary and the castle
DAY 6: My prince didn't show up, but it was very pleasant to wake up in a castle. As we expected, the breakfast room was as grand as the rest of the house. All the silverware was out and breakfast was indeed a very civilised affair.

Roaring winds at the Cliffs of Moher
Day 5: The plan for today was to check out the Cliffs of Moher, head inland and north up to Galway via Kinvarra, and then down to Limerick.We'd checked out the B&B book, and Mum happened to spot a castle in a town just out of Limerick. I didn't think we'd have a snowflakes chance in hell of getting a room in a castle for the night, but when I rang, they said they had availability. So we booked, and spent the rest of the day wondering what this castle would be like.

County Clare and Ladies View
DAY 4: To be sure, the rain stopped, and although it was cloudy, the view of countryside around Cahersiveen was much better than the day before.

Anti-clockwise around the Ring of Kerry
DAY 3: The day began with grey skies and drizzle, so we decided not to do a walking tour of Cork city, but headed straight out to the Blarney Castle, just north of the city.

Cork-ed!
DAY 2: The beds in Moira's cramped little rooms were surprisingly comfortable, and the light came streaming in at some very early time. Breakfast was at 8.00am, and this was where we met some of the other guests - an elderly English couple who seemed to think they were about to miss their flight back to Dublin, an American couple with a cute kid, and a Swedish couple who didn't say a whole lot. Oh, and a strange English bloke who also didn't talk a lot but sounded Australian. He was a bit offended when I asked if he was Australian...

To be sure - it's Dublin!
TO BE SURE!Mum and I arrived in Dublin mid-morning, and collected our trusty Toyota Corolla (an automatic). I haven't driven in over 6 months, and that combined with the less-than-clearly signed Dublin roads, extreme traffic, no detailed map of the city's surrounds, and rain, made for a nervous drive into town. But we got eventually there with some kamikaze navigating, a few u-turns and some near misses...:-)

Gibraltar - Index Page

The thing about Gibraltar pounds...
On the subject of Gibraltar (having visited there in April this year), I discovered that although British Pounds and Gibraltan Pounds may be completely interchangeable at an exchange rate of 1:1 in Gibraltar, they are not interchangeable back in Britain! That is, Gibraltan Pounds are not accepted as currency in Britain (as Scottish Pounds are), and it's bloody difficult to exchange them.

WIWT: Going ape in Gibraltar

England - Index Page

Citizen journalism and the London Fire Brigade Exhibition

WIWT: Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace, London

Croatia - Index Page

A daytrip to Lokrum
July 23 (Day 3): A couple of the more adventurous tour buddies set off early morning for a bus trip to nearby Montenegro.After a late night and a couple of shared bottles of Croatian chardy, I decided to join another bunch of more laidback tour buddies, and we headed over to the small nature reserve of Lokrum, a 30-minute ferry trip from Dubrovnik harbour.

Walking the walls of Dubrovnik
July 22 (Day 2): The warm weather continued, and it was a balmy 25C over breaky on the balcony, with temperatures continuing to head north.Our brief bus journey took us along a small stretch of the coast, and the Adriatic sea was the most amazing shade of blue – that continued throughout the entire trip. The Dalmation Coast is truly stunning!

Drooling in Dubrovnik
JULY 21 (Day 1 of tour): The 2.5 hour flight from Dubrovnik was painless enough, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew the next week was going to be a tad warm - it was a steamy 30C at 10.30pm!

Australia - Index Page

Sunset Dreaming - a road trip through the Kimberley
Crocs, rocks and red dust were just some of the sights the spectacular Kimberley region offered on a recent road trip from Broome to Darwin. Melanie Surplice reports on her dusty drive though one of the world’s great wilderness areas.

WIWT: Cable Beach - Broome, Australia

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Slovenia - Index Page

Bring on the superlatives for Slovenia's Lake Bled
Slovenia was the destination of choice for the August Bank Holiday weekend. The weekend had been planned well in advance, and the final party of 10 comprised of some Aussies and Brits, a Norwegian, a Canadian and a Kiwi – a mini United Nations if you will.