Archives for the month of: March, 2014

Nothing to say, just the photo from the mobile

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This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Pink. I struggled with this theme, my first reaction was – c’mon Ailsa, I don’t take photos of pink things. But sure enough, there was sufficient “pink” stuff in my travels to participate in this week’s travel theme.

I am going to start in Tallinn, Estonia (awesome place to go – even it was like us, just a quick day trip from Helsinki), where the Parliament Building nestled in the old town is coloured pink of all things. We visited Tallinn on our honeymoon.

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Across to Asia, and another stop on our honeymoon, the bustle of Shanghai. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the Pudong district looks like some 1970’s spaceship landed vertically in the business district. It has reflective pink glass panels around its “spheres”. Did I say that this tower was huge? The top observation deck is 350m off the ground and the tower tops out at 480m. Huge! The non-pink bits are very concrete ugly by the way.

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Further South in Singapore, the National Orchid Gardens are a treasure of colour. There was bound to be a pink flower here.

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Over to North America and my favourite city in the whole Americas (so far) would have to be Montreal. As my brother says, Montreal is the bomb! Pick up a bit of France (a good bit) and dump it in Canada, add a bit of cheekiness and fun and you have Montreal. This is the interior of the Palais des congrès de Montréal where we have Claude Cormier’s sculpture “Lipstick Forest”. There are 52 of these trees inside, holding up the building.

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Down South again in Mexico, on the Riviera Maya at Xcaret we have the beautiful flamingo being bred and taken care of.

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Finally back home in Australia and the annual Vivid Light Festival in Sydney is a feast of light and colour at night. A couple of years ago, some artist decided to erect a chandelier in the rocks. I think that the artist was being a bit greedy having the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House too.

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In Canberra, we visited the Parliament House and for the second time in a blog post we have a photo of a parliament building. This time it is of our Australian Senate chamber and the pink hued setting. These colours would drive me nuts if I sat there all day – no wonder the politicians stir and argue all the time.

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Finally, I haven’t posted anything cycling related for a while and pink is the colour of … Lampre. Nobody does fluoro in the peloton like the guys from Italy. This was taken from when I went to the Tour Down Under in Adelaide a few years back – super fun trip.

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Nothing to say, just the photo from the mobile.

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This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Gardens. When having a look at my past travels I found a whole load of photos from Gardens in the different places that I visited. Some were grand, others were small. I guess I find solace in a little bit of nature – controlled. What I really enjoy discovering is where there is a mix of urban environment with botanic endeavours. The other funny thing about this theme is that my family name is probably derived from the French word for garden – jardin.

Sydney, Australia (my home town), is where I am going to start. The Botanical Gardens marry the harbour with the city and with the skyline immediately adjacent. It provides for an interesting background.

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Brisbane, Australia, has a similar location for the City Botanic Gardens. But its gardens are more tropical in nature.

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Asian destinations have gardens aplenty, which I think is deeply rooted in many Asian cultures. In Kanazawa, Japan, you will find one of the three best gardens in the whole of the country – the Kenrokuen Gardens. They are stunning and right in the heart of the city, adjacent to the remains of Kanazawa Castle. It was too bad that it was such an overcast day, but I was fortunate that I was on the Western side of the country as the rest of the country was in the grips of a typhoon.

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Singapore is called the Garden City, and for good reason. It’s tropical climate is perfect for botanical ventures. My new favourite gardens in Singapore are the Gardens by the Bay (which I have posted about before). The “super” trees are something else.

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Going to Europe and France maintains a rich legacy of its past with the many formal (and geometric) gardens. One of the most famous in Paris is the Jardin de Tuileries. They used to make tiles for the buildings in the city at this location. Just don’t walk on the grass!… and yes that is the Tour Eiffel in the background.

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The Château de Versailles, just outside of Paris, has the most amazing gardens I have ever seen with its fountains and the hedgerow mazes. I recommend this far better than spending your time queuing to see some overly ornate interiors that are only for royalty (or other hob-knobs). Here you must definitely keep off the grass!

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When I was in Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, I did appreciate the effort that the Greeks put in to build the Olympic venues (though it possibly bankrupted the country). The main Olympic Park, OAKA, had a garden of a different kind with its tree lined boulevards, ponds, and steel structured agora designed by Calatrava. Night time was surreal in the park. Unfortunately the park is in a state of ruin as the bleak economic situation takes its toll on the country.

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What continues to surprise me when visiting big American cities is how the locals have gone to great efforts to build gardens in the heart of their home towns. In Washington DC, the most beautiful of all the presidential memorials is the Roosevelt monument. It is very understated and is quite the opposite to the overly grand structures located around the rest of the National Mall.

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San Francisco is quite a site, and not too dissimilar to Sydney in many respects. There are plenty of Gardens here too, but the ones I like the most were those surrounding that infamously steep bit of bitumen – Lombard Street. Even the surrounding houses got in on the botanic act.

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But in all my travels, by far my favourite garden to visit has been the New York City High Line. It is a garden that has been built by a collective of locals who regenerated an elevated railway line. It is a fantastic example of urban regeneration, but it is special for me as it was one of the first overseas destinations that I took my boy soon after he had started to walk.

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Great theme this week Ailsa! I had quite a few more, but that is enough for this post.

 

Well… there are not literally wild rhinos on the loose in Sydney. What it’s really all about is Taronga Zoo creating the Taronga Wild! Rhino Trail. The trail has some 125 rhino statues uniquely painted by artists and sponsored by Australian business to help raise awareness of the critical plight facing rhinos through poaching and habitat loss. The rhinos are literally everywhere and are here till the end of April. In May they will be auctioning off the statues with the proceeds going towards Taronga’s rhino conservation programs. This is the sort of thing that you would expect in Melbourne, but fortunately we are seeing more and more of these urban art exhibitions. I think they are cool, and with phone camera in hand these are some of the statues that I captured.

In Darling Harbour…

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At Dawes Point…

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On King Street Wharf…

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Out the front of the NSW Government offices…

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At Pitt Street Mall…

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In the Rocks…

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They are everywhere, and they are colourfully cool.

Our boy, AKA ‘The Pok’, has started to say some really funny things with the reasoning of a 3 year old behind his musings. Some of it is hilarious, or just bizarre.

Last week as we sat down to the normal routine of a weekday breakfast, my wife, the Pok, and I loaded up our breakfast bowls at the table. I had cereal and milk, The Pok had his favourite cereal with yoghurt, and my wife had served herself some toast which she intended douse with a topping of honey. In my infinite wisdom (and to deter the ants of Summer) I put the bottle of honey in the fridge. My wisdom did not extend to cover the effect that the cold had on the viscosity of the honey itself – cold and not runny at all.

So as my wife turned the bottle upside to squeeze the honey out, what should have been a simple toast dressing turned into a squeezing ordeal. Each squeeze of the bottle produced only a few drops and my wife had to squeeze more than 10 times to get the minimum acceptable amount to cover her toast. Normally this amount of squeezing would have produced far too much honey.

The Pok looked at her disapprovingly and said “Do you think you have got enough yet?”

We burst out laughing at his first attempt at reverse parenting.

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In my previous posts about our trip to Tropical North Queensland – Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge, and the Daintree Rainforest, I was pretty much wowed by the beauty of the location and destinations. But my wife (my favourite travel agent) had organised a couple of special adventures for us while we were up there. Two of our adventures would involve the both of us, and one was for me to go and play on my own. Cape Tribulation is the perfect destination to go out and see the Great Barrier Reef (it is quite close to the coast here as opposed to the distance off the coast at Cairns), and if you want to go and find crocodiles in the wild you can do that too. But we have both previously been out to see the reef and saw our fill of crocs up in Kakadu. For us it would be “fun in the jungle!”

A Night Walk in the Rainforest

The first adventure we undertook was with the tour group Jungle Adventures and their Nightwalk. If anyone is thinking of doing this tour, don’t take the your advice from Trip Advisor. This walk through the forest at night was a very cool travel experience. The Daintree is not a forest teeming with large animal life, it is very much a world of the micro. Angie, our guide, picked us up right on time and set our expectations that the wild life does not perform and display itself on cue. But luckily for us the animals did come out to play. Angie was very knowledgeable about the whole ecosystem, and her professional background as a biologist was perfectly suited to her being our guide.

The first animal that revealed itself in the dark was an infant Boyd’s Forest Dragon. It was tiny, I estimate no longer than 15cm from head to tail. But there it was perched on its leafless tree alone in the dark.

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Not more than a few steps further away on the rainforest floor was a green leafed plant teeming with what I would say was over 100 little spiders no bigger than half the thumbnail on my pinkie finger. They were working like ants, which was surprising. They were definitely spiders, not ants, counting by the number legs they had.

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What freaked me out about our little walk was what we saw next, a half intact nest of wasps. The other half of the nest was empty and on the floor of the rainforest. The half that we saw was replete with again over 100 of the biting buggers. Our guide instructed us to keep a very wide berth so as not to “wake them up” – well understood.

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Did I say we were lucky? We saw a couple more additional Boyd’s Forest Dragons that were fully grown. The low light meant that I couldn’t get any good photos of these two. But after walking to the banks of a rushing river, we headed towards some other attractions in the forest. As I shone my torch down on the ground to make sure I wasn’t tripping over anything, I spotted this cricket hopping around and up onto the plant next to me – almost like he was checking out what we were doing.

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I tried to get my wife’s attention to show her the find, but when I returned he had already hopped away. Nearby to our hopping friend were these giant mushrooms sprouting from the base of a tree trunk. I am pretty sure that these are not edible.

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The highlight of the forest was definitely the hollow strangler tree. We were able to walk through it and look up into its hollow structure.

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Then our guide showed us something really cool. She stood within the middle of the strangler tree and shone her light upwards, to cool effect.

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While we were at the base of the tree, Angie told us to switch off the torches and she picked up two pieces of tree trunk that lay on the floor. They were glowing with bio-luminescent light. It was quite a strange experience seeing this green glowing light in the pitch black of the rainforest floor. As we stood there on the floor in the dark, other lights came on in the distance – fireflies! Our guide told us about how they make different light patterns to communicate, i.e. a bit of jungle strobe. Sure enough, that is what we saw. It was so dark that the only way I would have got a photo of these faint lights would have been with an f1.0 lens on front and an ISO cranked up to over 12,000 (BTW – I don’t have that piece of kit).

We had one last Boyd’s Forest Dragon bid us farewell at the end of our trek. His body weight properly bent his branch perch over.

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It was an evening with wonder, and was all the more enjoyable when we took the time to stop and look at all the minute detail that surrounded us. At that point the whole experience came alive.

Jungle Surfing the Canopy

The next morning I returned to the jungle with the same company for a very different type of adventure – flying fox running through the rainforest canopy. This is where tripadvisor is right – everybody loves this.This time we had a different guide, Sarah, pick me up. But Angie from the night before backed up her shift and was the second guide with us. The group I did this with was not much bigger than the night before. There was only a young German backpacker, a young Aussie couple from Western Australia on holiday for the first time in the Daintree, and myself – perfect!

After getting rigged up and going through all the safety conversations we made our way up the mountain slope. The route that we took was very similar to where we trekked through the night before. The rainforest looked so very different during the day than at night. Our first rope was an uphill one, where we had to belay up to the next platform. This was fun being suspended by the carabiners and climbing up like a monkey. My partner for the climbs was the young German girl.

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We went in pairs and my climbing partner kindly offered to take a few snaps of me as we went. The helmets were a bit naff and had seen a few sweaty scalps, but they all had funny names and mine was “George of the Jungle” – appropriate for me.

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Our guides suggested that we take some funny shots while suspended. Here is one of my legs as if I am gliding over the top of canopy.

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It was good that we were allowed to take the cameras with us, hooked onto carabiners on our harnesses. Here is a compilation of some of the video that I took. Some of me, and some of the others. The final rope was upside down, a very strange sensation.

You can tell I had fun!

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I had an awesome time up in the canopy of the rainforest, and we learnt a bit more about what we were flying over the top of. I still can’t get over the green of the trees. If you ever go to the Daintree, you should definitely add this adventure to the list too.

Sunset Paddle at Cape Tribulation

The last of our adventures was a sunset paddle in a sea kayak with Paddletrek Kayak Adventures. The owner of the company, Pete, was to be our guide for the afternoon. My wife was back in the swing of the adventure, and we would take out a two person kayak, with me in the engine seat. There was only another two people on our tour, two girls from London who had only just arrived – boy were they going to get an education in Australian wildlife up close.

Pete asked me to help him bring the boats out to the shoreline, and as we brought the first two up we saw a juvenile reef shark thrashing about in the surf trying to eat something. Couldn’t get a shot of it, and as Pete tried to approach the shark bolted off back into the water. It was a perfect afternoon for a paddle out on the water. The swell was less than a foot and the wind was virtually non-existent.

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The underwater case for my Canon Powershot G15 was to come in handy for this adventure, as were my polarised cycling sunglasses – enabling me to see through the reflections on the water surface. It wasn’t only the reef shark that was hungry. This great billed heron was also searching for dinner among the shallow reef.

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Our route was to traverse through breaks in the shallow reef and make our way out towards the mangroves to look for box jellyfish – the second most dangerous thing in the sea. We were also searching for dolphins in the hope they would come close and play with us. The dolphins were playing in the distance, and we concentrated on finding the jellyfish near the mangroves.

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Pete was enthusiastically telling us about what we do and don’t know about the amazing creature known as a box jellyfish. And it is a truly amazing underwater animal with the most bizarre breeding patterns, its unbelievable strength and well… it’s deadliness. That didn’t stop Pete the crazy kiwi from picking one up out of the water to show us its biology. The priceless moment of the whole paddle was seeing the look on the faces of the two girls from London.

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Out of the water the tentacles recalled from the juvenile jellyfish. Pete showed us its perfect symmetry of its body, and gradually the jelly fish relaxed. He even was able to place it in the palm of his hand, and with all his experience he knew that holding it the way he did communicated to the jellyfish that he was no threat. My wife even got to touch the non-venomous part of the body. Pete gently placed the jellyfish back into where it went back to its business.

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Paddletrek is a family business, and Pete’s wife baked the most awesome moist carrot cake that we got to eat while we were out on the kayaks. That was very unexpected. Fortunately for us the afternoon shower held off and we were able to paddle back to the shore easily.

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The last surprise for the London girls was another huge golden orb spider right next to the shower where we were to rinse off. Definitely three for three, and a great fun time out on the water with a very knowledgeable and experienced guide.

That’s pretty much it from what was probably one of the best short trips that we have taken. I will definitely be heading back up there with friends next time and exploring some other parts of Tropical North Queensland (like Palm Cove and the Atherton Tablelands) – but that is for another adventure. I couldn’t more highly recommend a trip up to the amazing Daintree Rainforest, it truly is a magical place.

Work has been quite busy over the last couple of weeks and lots of changes have been made. It has been keeping me away from keeping up with my blog and (apologies) keeping up with all my other fellow bloggers. It has been a time struggle just writing the posts. But things have quietened back down and hopefully I can get back to investing some time in the blogosphere.

The French band Phoenix have landed in Sydney again! If you don’t know who they are, they are the best band you haven’t heard of 🙂 I just spent an awesome night with my wife seeing them play live at the Hordern Pavilion – and the floor was pumping.

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What I can’t figure out is why they are more popular outside of their home country France? Maybe because all their songs are in English. Who cares, we Aussies love them. And they performed all of their songs that I love. Haha, I am not too old yet to rock out at a concert.

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