Archives for the month of: April, 2013

Firstly, it has been a glorious Autumn weekend here in Sydney and the riding was awesome. Which brings me to my story, not related to riding.

My chief riding buddy is my brother Marc. Now that he lives in Melbourne we don’t get to ride together as often, as we are separated by some 900km. A year ago we all celebrated his marriage to my awesome sister-in-law. So it was a trip down to Melbourne that we all made looked forward to all year. For the wedding I was entrusted with only two tasks; witness the signing of the marriage certificate, and bring my brother and his future wife’s overnight bag to the wedding reception.

The first task was easy, I got a look from the newlywed couple in the church and that was my cue to issue my autograph. The church ceremony was beautiful and went off without a hitch.

We returned back to the apartment we rented for the trip to drop off the Pok with his babysitter for the evening. This gave me a chance to pick up their overnight bag and make our way to the reception by taxi so we could enjoy a few glasses of wine for the night. It was a great venue in the middle of Albert Park on the lake.

Carousel Albert Park

Arriving at the venue we were greeted out of the taxi by the venue staff and the other guests who would be celebrating the wedding. We were keen to jump out and get stuck into the festivities, it was turning out to be a great wedding. I got the chance to mingle and talk to some of my family members while waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. It was when I was talking to my Aunt that I realised mid sentence that I had left the bride and groom’s overnight bag in the boot of the taxi! Sh!t! I ran back to the doorman, leaving my Aunt to wonder what she must have said to offend me. By that stage 45 minutes had already passed.

So I told the doorman my dilemma, and he asked me how we had arrived? I told him that my mode of transport was a Melbourne taxi, and it was yellow. With that he let out a chuckle. See the image below.

Melbourne Taxis

So here is the thing, 99% of taxis in Melbourne are yellow! He asked me if I knew what taxi company it was from. Being from Sydney, I had no idea what companies operated taxis in Melbourne. All I knew was that it was a yellow taxi and it had a large boot with luggage in it.

The doorman said to me he would put a few calls out, but asked me to give him some time and don’t tell the bridal party just yet.

Marc and Sal arrived after we took our seats. I informed my wife who reminded me of how stupid I was (absolving herself of any shared culpability – it was my job after all). As the speeches commenced and the entrees were served I was sweating it. I was not enjoying the wait, with no promise of a good ending. I cast many glances over to the doorman who just shook his head, indicating no luck so far.

As soon as the entrees were finished and there was a brief respite in the reception ceremonies I rushed over to the doorman to get the latest update. He had managed to contact all the major taxi companies and they said that they would put out a call to their drivers. But I had no idea whether the driver would be working through the night or finishing his shift. A lot of weekend taxi drivers call it quits before the drunken idiots decide they need a lift home. The sweat continued.

The reception party continued with the speeches, toasts, and main courses served. I was not relaxed at all. My wife continued to enjoy the evening, and with a few glasses of wine under the belt the story began to spread. Thankfully my brother and his wife did not get wind of it.

By the time two hours had gone and I was “bricking it”. The music had started and I was thinking of all the negative outcomes, and there were many. Another half hour had passed and the doorman called me over to provide me an update. He started by saying, “We managed to find the driver, but…”. I could not believe what I was hearing! But he got the response that he wanted, it was a wind up. They did manage to track the driver and the bag down. The bag was safely delivered and stashed away in the storage room for later use.

At that point I pulled out a $50 note and handed it to the doorman – he earned it. And their overnight bag had done a veritable evening tour of Melbourne city.

I could now finally enjoy the evening and have a beverage or two, while my wife proceeded to retell the story to any member of the family who was willing to listen (many). My brother and his wife were looking strangely at us and my wife in particular as they got a slight inkling that a funny story being told. Little did they know that it was at my expense.

The next day we all met up for post wedding drinks at the pub. I informed my brother and his new wife of what went on. He asked me why I even bothered telling him after the fact, and that ignorance would have been bliss.

I guess I got a lucky save.

Happy anniversary Marc and Sal!

OK – I am now hooked on the weekly travel theme from ‘Where’s my backpack?‘. This week’s travel theme is light, and it would have to be my favourite type of photographic setting. I love shooting at night with the artificial city lights. I love shooting sunsets with the sun fading. So the question was which ones would make the cut. These photos were taken in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Greece, and the United States. I look forward to travelling more and capturing more photos of light.

The first shot was a spectacular sunset captured in the NSW Hunter Valley. The sun lit up the clouds in all their glory – beautiful spot, and great wine too.

Travel Theme - Light 001

This second shot was taken outside of my house when I lived in Manchester in the UK. It was the first time I had seen snow in England and I was giddy as a school kid (at 1am in the morning mind you). The night lights bathed the snow in a surreal golden colour.

Travel Theme - Light 002

This third shot was taken inside the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada. This part of the cathedral is in the rear, where the natural light descends gloriously down from the ceiling.

Travel Theme - Light 003

The next shot was taken at the Vivid Festival of light in Sydney from 2011. The Sydney Opera House is hosting a pretty good canvas for the projected light.

Travel Theme - Light 004

This shot is a weird one, and sorry to the vegetarians. My mother in-law got remarried a few years back and we celebrated the occasion outdoors under the moonlight with a spit roast. Once the sun set, the night was pretty much lit by the roast and moon – and the pig was delicious thanks to my brother in law.

Travel Theme - Light 005

Sydney Harbour is constantly abuzz with boats and ferries, and at night their lights leave trails against the old coat hanger. I have quite a few of these in my type of shots in my collection.

Travel Theme - Light 006

Sunset in the Greek Islands is an experience that I would recommend to anyone. Santorini, Crete, and Mykonos are all well known islands. But my favourite is Paros, and a calming sunset it is.

Travel Theme - Light 007

The Vivid Festival offers up too many shots of Sydney all lit up. This next photo is of Customs House from the 2012 show, where this animation came to life.

Travel Theme - Light 008

I can’t get away from sunsets. Here the Northen Midlands, United Kingdom, countryside is bathed in the light of the setting sun over the fields at English Frankton.

Travel Theme - Light 009

The last shot was from my third trip to New York, USA. The Empire State Building always puts on a light show.

Travel Theme - Light 010

I have decided to add one other from our wedding where we had the chefs cook for all of us with large open flame pans in front of all the guests. Our photographer for the evening thought it would be a good idea to get a photo of us in front of the flame. It was a great night! (Thanks Alison for the photos).

wedding_b-c_1337

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. It is the national day of remembrance for all the fallen service men and women. It is always on the 25th of April, regardless of what day it falls on. It is a solemn public holiday in that while I enjoy the day off, it is one that was earned by those who shed blood. It is not a day to glorify war, but simply a day to remember those who have been lost and in most cases made the ultimate sacrifice most probably on a foreign shore.

ANZAC Day 2013

That sacrifice allows myself and my family to enjoy this day in peace alongside all other Australians, both new and old. For that, I, and all of my fellow Aussies will be forever grateful.

Lest we forget.

So we are counting down the days to our first trip to Hawaii! My brother who lives in Toronto, Canada with his Fiance are getting married halfway between Canada and Australia. We are so pumped as we are looking forward to not only the wedding but a trip to what looks like an awesome place.

The Pok (aka our son) is also pumped for the trip. He has been running around asking us whether today we are going to “Hawawi”. Yes he has difficulty pronouncing it. But he knows that we have to fly on a plane to get there. It will be funny to see him at the airport towing his carry-on bag to go to the gate.

To the Islands We Go!

What do we have planned? Well we are going to see three of the islands. O’ahu, Maui, and Hawai’i islands and it is going to be a blast. The main part of our trip will be in Maui where we will be staying for a week, but we are spending a sufficient amount of time on the other two islands. I have been zooming in and out of the islands on Google Earth to check out what the landscape looks like from satellite.

Hawaii - Google Earth

In the last couple of months now I have seen two documentaries on National Geographic channel about the Big Island of Hawai’i. Bob Ballard did an undersea documentary about the burgeoning volcanic island off the cost of the Big Island. He also recounted an interesting fact that I was unaware of, that the volcano on Big Island measured from the base of the sea floor is the tallest mountain in the world – surpassing Everest by a significant amount.

What is on the ‘Bucket List’

When we knew we were going to Hawaii, my wife asked me “what do you want to do when we go?” The first thing and only thing that I responded with was “mountain bike down a volcano!” Of course, my travelling desires have expanded since that conversation and we are planning to do a number of things rain, hail, or shine. So here is the list (in no particular order):

1. Mountain bike down a volcano (on Maui)

2. Photograph lava flowing into the ocean (on Big Island)

3. Go deep sea fishing off the coast (at Maui or Big Island)

4. Visit the memorial of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (in Honolulu)

5. Go snorkeling off the coast (at Maui)

6. Attend a Luau with my family (on Maui)

7. See the natural tropical forests on the islands (Maui or Big Island)

8. Surf longboard at Waikiki Beach (on Honolulu)

9. Catch up with an old work colleague who married her Army beau before they both leave Honolulu

10. Visit the observatory at the top of the volcano on Big Island.

There are probably a few other things I will add to the list, but for now, these are the must dos. I did forget one though – relax and enjoy the company of my family.

Misconceptions of Hawaii

This is where I my expectations are likely to be significantly shattered. One of the few TV shows I try to watch every week is Hawaii Five-O. I know it is corny, and most of the story lines are far fetched – but have you seen the location of the show! Plus if fellow Aussie Alex O’Loughlin thinks it is a good idea to run around the islands then it has gotta be good. But I reckon there is absolutely no chance of significant crime going down – with McGarret and Danno to the rescue – while we are there (at least I hope not).

Hawaii Five-O wallpaper

What is probably more plausible is family shenanigans going down like in ‘The Descendants’. Although you will not find me running around like George Clooney in the movie.

The Descendants - George Clooney

What I do hope is that we have some moments like this from the film, taking in the stunning scenery of the islands – even if we are not going to Kauai.

The Descendants - valley at Kauai

My One Fear

I only have one fear about this trip… that I will want to stay. Aloha Hawaii, we are coming to visit you!

This week’s travel theme is ‘Contrast’ – http://wheresmybackpack.com/2013/04/19/travel-theme-contrast/ , which had me for the most part well and truly stumped. I realised when sifting through my photos that I don’t shoot a lot of contrasting photos, but rather try and find the complimentary elements in the photograph and frame that shot. But I found a couple of photos, that hopefully reflect the theme. All the images link through to the larger photos on my Flickr site.

This first shot was from my first trip to the Great Ocean Road and the Otways in Victoria, Australia. Beautiful part of the world and now protected with State Forests and National Parks. The single dead Eucalyptus tree stood out among its peers in the living canopy.

Beech Forest dead Eucalyptus tree

The second shot was taken on the same trip, amongst the trees on the skywalk at Beech Forest. I love the way that the single strip of bark has fallen away from trunk.

Beech Forest peeling bark Eucalypt

This next shot was taken at the de Young Museum located in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA. The building was amazing with it’s weathered and rusted metal covering. The solitary sculpture contrast beautifully against the deep burnt orange colours of the cladding.

de Young Museum sculpture

Every year for the last few years Sydney has hosted a festival of light, called Vivid! Every year they do something amazing on the Sydney Opera House, and I caught this single ‘sail’ lit up against the others as it transitioned between displays.

Sydney Opera House - Vivid 2011

The last photo is probably the most poignant as it was taken at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. Even after all these years, family members still lovingly remember their fallen loved ones.

In Memory of a fallen Vietnam War soldier

I have been keen to get some kilometers in the legs over the past couple of days, but the Sydney weather has decided to turn it on. Yesterday I went to do a 40km time trial on the road steed to see how I was going recovering from a nasty bout of viral bronchitis – and my ride was met with 40km/hr winds that nearly knocked me off the bike at one point with my front wheel slipping laterally on some downed leaves. It was a good hit out, and even in the bad conditions I was able to maintain a good pace. I was keen to back it up today, but was greeted this morning to this (and that was when it was lightly raining):

No Riding

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fair weather rider, but putting down 60-80km in these sort of conditions on Sydney roads is a bit nutty.

So I thought I would write up two component reviews that I swear by and have already installed onto my new MTB steed.

Oury Lock-on Grips

Oury Grip are an American company based in Arkansas who specialise in making grips for motorcross and ATV, but also MTB and BMX. Grips are a funny thing, and like all your contact parts are peculiar to your personal taste and comfort. I had gone through three different sets on a previous MTB steed (my old Trek 4300 – solid horse, but as light as a draught horse), before I found the Oury Lock-on grips.

Oury Lock-on 1

 

Oury Lock-on grips feature two clamp rings on both sides of the grip itself. The grip itself has a great rubber pattern to its outside surface which is both comfortable and strong as well. The inside of the grip is made of a different material which provides a strong inner core. Its the connection of this inner core to the clamps which makes the whole grip unit quite strong and rigid on the bars. The only difficulty I have had installing these on the bars has been in getting clamps onto the grip units, but with a mallet and a flat surface this is sorted pretty quickly. I suppose the burning question is how do these feel on a ride? I have ridden with these grips on 3 hour rides and never once felt any discomfort through the hands. While the rubber squares have a tiny bit of give in them, you never feel out of control and in continuous contact with the bars. But without gloves it will leave square marks in your palms after a long ride, though I never felt discomfort.

Oury Lock-on 2

 

So when I got my new MTB steed I had to get a set of these onto the bars. My wife’s flat bar road bike has these grips on too, and the testament to how well they feel is when I was cheeky enough to ask if I could swap over the grips from her bike onto my new MTB steed she put her foot down and said “get your own!” Great component, looks good and does the job with comfort.

3T Xida carbon bar

When I built my previous MTB steed I was trying to build an uber-light rig so the frame, seat-post, and bar were all carbon. I managed to get 3T components for the seat-post and bar on special online for 40% of the retail price and I was very impressed. The bar is the 3T Xida, which is a compact bar – meaning that instead of the 720mm width they are narrower at 640mm.

3T Xida 1

 

You are probably thinking to yourself ‘this guy is writing a review about a bar, what is so special about this overpriced italian component?’ Well this is one slick piece of kit! For starters the bar weighs in at just under 140g, which was half the weight of the alloy bar that came with my new bike. It has only a slight sweep at 3.5 degrees, but with the eccentric connection to the centre oversize tubing you can also rotate the bar at the stem to have a slight upturn. The centre point of the bar has a rougher surface to provide the connection point with the stem a better gripping layer. As with all 3T components, it is all about precision and there are marker points around the centre point to ensure that you can measure the rotation of the connection exactly how you want it.

3T Xida 2

Again the ultimate point is how does it ride? It is initially a strange feeling riding with carbon bars. You do not realise how much you get used to the transfer of vibrations through alloy bars into your hands (even with suspension forks). There is a strange amount of flex yet rigidity in the bars, I suppose the carbon at work. It means that the smaller jolts that your forks are never going to take through the suspension don’t transfer to the same amount to you the rider – making it a more comfortable ride. And given the fact that I clock up most of my kilometers on my road bike, I suppose that I am used to a narrower width bar. Plus I am a strong enough bloke to be able to yank the front end around with only 640mm width on the front. This bar looks slick on the bike, but it does make your cockpit that much more compact. As soon as the online “specials” came up again, I had to get this onto the new MTB steed.

3T Xida 3

 

I definitely recommend these, at the right price they are a good buy and are a bit of sleeper as to how much more comfortable they will make your ride.

How does the cockpit look with the both of these installed? Check out the photo below:

Cockpit

And yes that is a bell on the bar, with my only excuse being that my MTB Steed doubles as my Urban Steed too.

 

One final thought… I hope that justice will be served to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. We were captivated last night watching the coverage of the manhunt for the two (and there may be more) suspects. It will not bring back those that were lost, nor repair the injuries that the many other victims have received – but for the victims, their families, the athletes, and the city of Boston the Police and Anti-Terrorism Forces did their jobs and caught the suspects. I never understand why sports like this are targeted, because the sacrifice made by those athletes just to get to the start line is the most human of endeavours – which should never be tarnished by war, politics, and mindless extremism. I hope that next year, the Boston Marathon will run proudly and safely once again.

I never thought I would be writing this, but the man who stole my bike has been identified and caught. It turns out his brazenness and stupidity in not trying to hid his identity coupled with leaving the tool he used in crime behind has led to his apprehension.

I was contacted last week by the NSW Police from my Local Area Command and asked to come in and provide a statement. The Police Officer quickly told me that my custom MTB had not been recovered (I had already resigned myself to it not coming back). The officer asked me to bring in the “bike specification” sheet that I had provided to the Police and the my local bike stores. I provided my statement at the same time as identifying the thief from many previous mugshots – fifteen to be exact. It was easily matched to footage from our apartment’s CCTV cameras. Fifteen mugshots means he has been arrested fifteen times.

Bike Thief on entry

 

So who is this guy? Turns out he is a drug addict who resides in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. He is about the same age as I am. A single fingerprint lifted from the adjustable wrench he used to break into my locked up cage was matched to a string of other outstanding thefts in which he has also been implicated. He has a string of other thefts in his “work history”, and previously had a history of stealing automobiles and “chopshopping” them. All of this in the name of maintaining his drug habit. When the Police apprehended him after raiding his residence, they found his shoes and trousers that he wore in the break in. He admitted to the crime, and his hearing will be later this year.

Will I get my bike back? Probably not. He doesn’t even remember where he offloaded it. It was only when the photo was shown to him that he admitted to the incident.

Life is full of choices

At some point this guy made a choice, or series of choices, to take on this life. This is what I will never understand. I grew up in a house where the only two drugs consumed were coffee and alcohol, and both in great moderation. None of my immediate family members smoked, and most of my extended family members did not either. When I was growing up at school and through university some people would have a go at me for being boring… for not trying this or that. I could never understand this, because how many times do you have to be told that this is the path that leads to nothing good.

I got a real education lesson when I provided my statement. Sitting with the Police Officer at the station provided me with the opportunity to ask some questions about how the theft likely unfolded. The officer told me several things that got me thinking a lot since that day.

As it turns out, bike theft if rife in Sydney. Apparently there is even some huge guy who loiters around the suburb adjacent to ours who through sheer brute strength can bust open bike locks with his bare hands. The thieves, while not the sharpest tool in the shed, do know the difference between a top end bike and run of the mill.

The officer told me that the Police could probably attribute 90% of thefts to the support of illegal drug activities. Theft in the aim of hocking the goods for cash. I was even told that most thieves do not steal so as to contribute to a future positive outcome – like use the proceeds of a theft to help them go on a holiday.

We spoke about the fact that the thief probably didn’t even get paid in cash, but got a stash of drugs for his fix in exchange for the bike. And he probably offloaded it to a ‘house’ before he even returned back to his place of residence. As it turns out, if someone ‘innocent’ lives in one of these ‘houses’ and cannot be proven to be directly implicated in the stolen goods operation they will not get charged. Aiding and abetting in this case  is not how it is like on CSI.

And here I was thinking that he might try and take it into a bike store to get the busted spoke in the front wheel fixed.

The Police have a thankless job

I can’t comprehend why the Police receive constant criticism and apprehension from the general public. Sure there are bad seeds in the bunch and there are examples of corruption, but this is a vocation that deals with the worst side of society and is often not backed up by the legal system. Plus, I could probably tell you of many worst examples in the corporate world of unethical behaviour.

The Police Officer I dealt with told me about the first six months spent on the job. About the countless dead drug addicts that the officer encountered, who had overdosed on some chemical concoction or another. And about how the legal system does not support them in doing their job by locking the criminals up, or the lack of support groups to try and rehabilitate the addicts to bring them back into society. I asked if there was hope for this thief, but the officer responded that he has hit middle age and this is probably the life he will lead until he is six feet under.

The Police have a pretty thankless job. Yes they are not perfect, but nobody is.I was dealt with in nothing but a professional manner by all the officers I dealt with, and was never bullsh!tted to about the reality of the situation. I want to thank them for taking the effort in apprehending the thief, and I wish they got more support to be successful. As for the thief, right now I can’t forgive what he has done to myself and so many others. He will probably see jail time for his crimes and I am indifferent to that. Based on the life he has lead so far, he has shown no appetite to make a different choice – and everyone has the ability to make the tougher choice.

Does all this make me feel good? No. I just think about what a waste of the opportunity of life.

I don’t normally blog to the weekly themes but another blogger that I follow, Michael at retireediary, blogged a cool post to the weekly travel theme “benches”. BTW, if you get the chance check out the rest of his blog of his many travels and awesome photos from his trips.

This travel theme reminded me of a single photo I snapped when on a work trip to San Francisco many years ago. It is not the best photo, but it is one of my favourites as it captured a moment that you only see when you travel. Travel Theme: Benches http://wheresmybackpack.com/2013/04/12/travel-theme-benches/.

3 Monkeys on a bench with their Chief

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil…

I have posted a couple of times now of our many trips to Singapore, including the Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands art and decoration. These posts were predominantly about man made structures. Singapore is known worldwide as the Garden City, but for some reason it was not until my sixth trip to the country that I managed to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The gardens also contain the National Orchid Garden and it is a surreal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city state’s downtown area. Given Singapore’s tropic location, it is always raining there. But the rain didn’t deter us from visiting the gardens, and it added a different dynamic to the surroundings. I really enjoyed the few hours we spent there, it was relaxing, even though we walked a lot! I was surprised at being allowed to get so close to some of the flowers and plants to shoot macro. There are also some garden sculptures throughout the gardens, but it is not over the top and compliments the gardens well.

Even on a cloudy, rainy day the gardens are alive with colour. Below are my favourite photos from our trip, and as usual the images link through to my larger photos on Flickr.

Singapore Botanic Gardens #01

Singapore Botanic Gardens #02

Singapore Botanic Gardens #03

Singapore Botanic Gardens #04

Singapore Botanic Gardens #05

Singapore Botanic Gardens #06

Singapore Botanic Gardens #07

Singapore Botanic Gardens #08

Singapore Botanic Gardens #09

Singapore Botanic Gardens #10

Singapore Botanic Gardens #11

Singapore Botanic Gardens #12

I spent a good portion of my visit carrying the Pok in his “rucksack” while he was asleep. It is quite strange trying to operate a Digital SLR camera with a big weight hanging from your belly.

Singapore Botanic Gardens - Dad and Pok

It is quite easy to get to the gardens with a bus stop right next to the Southern end of the park and a metro station at the Northern end. There are also quite a few exhibitions on as well during the year. Timing your visit, if that is possible, to be around the time of the orchid blooms makes for a much better visit. If you want to know where the Botanic Gardens are, I have attached a link to the location on Google Maps below.

Singapore_BG-map

A couple of weeks ago I posted about one of our many trips to Singapore where we visited the Gardens by the Bay. We first saw these gardens from the spectacular Marina Bay Sands hotel complex. It is surprising how cheaply you can grab a room if there is no special event on at the hotel. We were fortunate that when we went we got a few nights on the cheap prior to the city revving up for the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. The building has become a new icon of the city state, and has received a great amount of attention from other bloggers. Its high level design is simple and yet immense in its scale. For someone trying to photograph it, the many lines and curves offer something almost other worldly.

Marina Bay Sands in section

But what struck me more were some of the artistic decorations for the hotel. The simplicity of the buildings design couple with its scale called for decoration that matches this. In some cases, the building itself is the art. Maybe these caught my attention because they were more human in scale than the massive towers and pool deck  the size of an aircraft carrier. I shot these four “pieces” at the hotel for their striking simplicity and their uniqueness. As usual, these images click through to the large photos on my Flickr site.

The first piece shimmered with the wind, making this facade of the building look like a rippling water of metal.

Singapore - Marina Bay Sands Art #1

The buildings large towers with their internal split create a fascinating ceiling which is an art piece in itself. The horizontal ‘beams’ are corridors for guests and staff to get from one side of the hotel tower to the other.

Singapore - Marina Bay Sands Art #2

 

The high ceilings called for down lights that filled the space. The glass on these lights was something special that only really came alive at night.

Singapore - Marina Bay Sands Art #3

 

But I think that I saved my favourite piece for last. This tall, simple water feature kept me fascinated watching the path of water constantly rotate the channels dipping and rising when empty – keeping the sculpture constantly in a state of flux.

Singapore - Marina Bay Sands Art #4

 

You may not like it, but the building and its decorative art are stunning and elicit a response. I would like to stay there again at some point in the future to see whether the hotel has stood the test of time.

%d bloggers like this: