Conquering Kings Canyon

On taking the early morning rim walk around Kings Canyon and the Karrke Aboriginal tour.

Much to Glen’s horror (and mine if I’m honest), we were up before the sun on Sunday morning so we could go on the early morning rim walk around Kings Canyon. We wolfed down some breakfast with a bunch of other eager hikers and then went to reception to meet our guide.

Glen and I were the only ones going on the tour so we had the guide to ourselves (as well as a giant bus). We arrived at Kings Canyon with the sun almost ready to burst over the rim. The guide, Marcus, was happy to have just two, seemingly fit, “young” people in his group as that meant no stragglers and no waiting for people with dodgy hips etc. The walk, advertised to take about 3 to 4 hours was going to be over in no time.

Walking the Kings Canyon Rim

We started with the 500 steps up the side of the canyon, setting a cracking pace that left my throat burning and my lungs heaving by the time we reached the top. We then set off around the rim, going through staggeringly beautiful rock formations bathed in the sunrise light. The rocks were so red!

We passed through Priscilla’s Crack, a split in between two rocks that featured in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. We’ll have to watch the movie again now. There was also a tree that Elle McPherson had posed against. You can easily understand why it’s a popular spot for photos.

We continued on at a good speed, heading out to lookouts, seeing fossils that Marcus wouldn’t normally stop for if there was a larger group. (So happy was he to have only the two of us that he mentioned it to just about every other tour-led group, inspiring envy as we left their 24-strong hordes behind.)

On one of these slight detours we spotted a wallaroo (or Euro if you’re from WA) amongst the spinifex. Hooray for wildlife sightings!

We bumped into the British doctors we met at the Fields of Light dinner at Uluru; they were hurrying to get it done before embarking on their 500km-drive back to Alice Springs to catch their plane.

We went up and down rock ledges, down to the Garden of Eden (a water hole that can no longer be swum in because of all the sunscreen polluting the water), and I finally got to eat something off a bush – a native fig. Tasted like a fig.

We took photos along the way, continued our march that didn’t feel too strenuous for most of it, and then came around the other side of the canyon and began our descent. We reached the bottom two and a half hours after we’d started. If we’d not stopped, we would have easily done it in two, but then we wouldn’t have seen anything.

We got back on the bus with another group of people who’d done the shorter and easier creek walk and then arrived back at the resort at about 10am to find that Optus had installed a mobile phone tower nearby and we had signal again. (We’d been without it since yesterday…yet managed to survive.)

Karrke Tour

The middle of our day passed with naps, lunch, and reading, until we had an Aboriginal cultural tour booked for 4pm. It took place about half an hour down the road and was called the Karrke Tour. (Karrke is the name of the bowerbird local to these parts.)

We were greeted and joined a German couple who were halfway through their tour. The tour guides, Peter and Christine, took us to different stations where we learnt about different types of ochre, making jewellery, and bush tucker. They showed us live honey ants, their abdomens full of juice, and then how to cook a witchety grub. They pop when they’re done. After that it was different medicinal plants.

The Germans then finished and we continued on to see the large amounts of work involved in collecting and grinding seeds to make a type of flour and then turn that into a tasteless, utilitarian bread.

We were shown different hunting tools and weapons, and then real live witchety grubs as they were extracted out of the roots of trees. They’re soft and squishy to touch, pretty big for a bug and apparently taste of raw egg when raw. When they’re cooked, they take on the taste of the tree they were growing in so if they burrowed into eucalyptus leaves, they’d taste of eucalyptus.

The tour went for half an hour, was well structured, very interesting and Peter and Christine friendly and engaging. I’m glad we went along. While we were chatting to Peter on our way back to the car, we said how we’d seen a wallaroo earlier in the day. He said he’d lived there 15 years and only seen them three times, that’s how rare and shy they are. He also said that the number of kangaroos and emus has gotten low so now they’re a rare sight too, when before they’d be plenty of them to see. We were now more likely to see dingos (which we had).

Back at the resort, we packed our bags, went for dinner and had an early night ready for our return to Uluru in the morning and then our flights home.

Kata-Tjuta to Kings Canyon

On visiting Kata Tjuta, walking the Valley of the Winds and Walpo Gorge, seeing wildlife (perentie, dingo and eagle) and arriving at Kings Canyon.

I was keen to get going early on Saturday morning as the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuta (formerly The Olgas) had closed the previous day after 11am due to the heat, as well as us having to drive 300 km to Kings Canyon in time for dinner.

Despite this, however, when the alarm went off at 6am, Glen and I both dismissed the alarms and went back to sleep. I thought Glen had a backup alarm set for 6:30am but he didn’t (at least not for a Saturday morning) and we both woke up at 7am instead. A quick shower, a quick breakfast and we were on the road before 8am.



Kata-Tjuta (the Olgas) is the other big rock (or collection of rocks) on the horizon in Uluru – Kata-Tjuta National Park. From a distance it reminds me of a sculpture gone wrong with bits jutting out all over the place; or like it’s the unfinished version of Uluru.

I drove us to Kata-Tjutu and straight to the Valley of the Winds, which was due to close at 11am due to the rising temperature (slated to be 37°C). There are two lookout points at Kata Tjuta, one easily reached, the other part of a 7km loop. We set off and I wanted to at least get to the second lookout, and agreed with Glen that we didn’t need to do the full loop which would take about 3 hours.

We got to the first lookout, continued on through the gorge, and ascended to the second lookout. We were soon joined by about 25 high school students on some sort of trip, perhaps a last hurrah for year 12. We took our photos, rehydrated and then returned, bumping into the couple from Sydney we’d met the night before. They were going to do the full loop…and more power to them. We were quite satisfied with what we’d seen haha.

The trip took us about two hours with breaks included. It lived up to its name with the channel being quite windy. We made a stupid joke about Glen’s name meaning ‘Valley’ so he was ‘Glen of the Winds’ for a while and you can imagine the connotation that has.

Back at the car we headed for Walpo Gorge, a 1km trip that took about an hour return. It was spacious, rocky and ended in a cool shady spot. I was thrilled that, along the way, I spotted a 1-metre long perentie, happily strolling along beside the path. That provided much amusement – and filled a gap in what has been a fairly wildlife-free trip.

While it’s been awesome to see these iconic Australian places, I’ve got to say that as far as gorges go, Karajini National Park is by far the best we’ve been to.

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Uluru to Kings Canyon

After Walpo Gorge we hopped back in the car, got petrol at the resort and then booked it up the Lasseter Highway to reach Kings Canyon. Google said it would take four hours but somewhere I managed to do it in three. (It would have been 2 hours 45 minutes if we hadn’t stopped a couple of times.)

The drive was uneventful all except for THE DINGO! Glen spotted a sign for a rest stop and wanted to pull over. When I pulled in, I headed for a park bench and pulled up alongside it. At which point we both noticed the dingo sitting under the bench. It was completely unperturbed by our presence. We took our photos, and for some reason Glen didn’t want to get out and say hello.

We left after five minutes. I was absolutely thrilled to see a wild dingo. During the drive we’d also seen a wedge-tailed eagle flying overhead, which brings our animal count to about six (including zebra finches, rock pigeons and a small lizard).

We arrived at Kings Canyon Resort a little after 3pm and checked in. The guy at the counter seemed a bit unsure about what the hell was going on. He gave us our room key but we’d booked a package that came with a bunch of other things so it was a bit of rigamarole from there on. It was all sorted in the end though and we booked, for Sunday, a 6:30am Kings Canyon rim walk (ugh…so early), as well as a cultural tour at 4pm.

After getting into our room, we crawled into bed for a few hours and woke up groggy at 5:30. We’d booked another special dinner, again outside. I’m not sure about Glen but I was starting to feel a little over fancy dinners by this stage but we’d paid for it so we went. I think it’s been the best food out of the three we’ve been on.


Under a Desert Moon

We joined two other couples – one from Melbourne with four kids and another from Brisbane nearing their seventies – for champagne and canapés. Conversation began with where we were all from and quickly progressed to talk about Uluru and dingoes.

We then were shown to our tables, each seating two and placed around a fire, which at the start of the evening was too hot for all of us but was eventually forgotten and pleasantly comforting.

We had a six-course degustation that took Australian ingredients and gave them a different twist. Remarkably there was no lemon myrtle. We had kangaroo loin with mushrooms, emu koftas (and other Middle Eastern inspired flavours), a delicious granita of passionfruit and pineapple (which tasted like a frosty fruit and I could have eaten way more), barramundi with beurre blanc and parsnips, and then a macadamia baklava with bush berries and vanilla icecream. Delicious!

Conversation bounced across the tables as we shared our experiences of what we’d seen and done. I think that when people look at Glen and I they think we’re in our twenties and we’re doing these things as our ‘one nice treat’ on a holiday that would otherwise be spent in backpackers or in the back of a 4WD. I think they’re surprised when they find out what we’ve done.

Thankfully dinner was all over by about 8:45 because that meant we could have an early night. We said our farewells and got back to the room, preparing ourselves for an early morning start. I think Glen’s hankering for one of those sit-by-the-pool holidays…I might be as well.

Uluru and the Best of Intentions


On contemplating the climb/no climb situation; taking the Mala Walk; opting for driving instead of walking around Uluru, and dinner under the stars at Tali Wiru.

In preparing for this trip to Uluru, I’d checked the weather and was chagrined to find most of the days we’d be here the temperature would be well over 30°C. Today (Friday) and Saturday were slated to be 37°C – not the best temperature when you want to walk 10 km in the open sun.

Despite waking at 7, much earlier than we’d anticipated, we didn’t hit the road until 9am. The concierge recommended we join the Mala Walk, which is guided by a ranger, that started at 10am. That gave us time to stop at the cultural centre first (great building with strong thematic interpretation, however, overloaded with text and poorly attended) and then get to Mala Car Park to wait for the guide. The heat was already getting up there.

Because of the 36°C+ weather, the route to climb Uluru was closed and so only people who’d gone up there earlier were given access down. Glen and I were both surprised at the numbers tramping down the side of Uluru considering the prominent messages about climbing it being a mark of disrespect to the Anangu people who consider Uluru a sacred site.

The numbers of people doing the climb have dropped to about 20% of visitors, and a guide said that the reason the climb is still open is because it’s believed, by certain tourist bodies, that if it were closed there wouldn’t be anything else for tourists to do.

Now, no doubt getting up there, climbing the rock and seeing the valleys, the pools, the difference, would be something worth seeing, but, in my opinion, not at the expense of disrespecting another culture, especially one that’s suffered so much as the Anangu (and other Aboriginal people). I also struggle to understand how people can quite easily, it seems, disregard a heartfelt entreaty not to climb it, purely for their own self-satisfaction.

Getting Around Uluru


We followed the tour guide for an hour-long guided walk along the Mara track, which took us to significant Anangu sites (including rock art) and ended down Kantju Gorge where there was a waterhole. We heard various stories relating to the Anangu mythology and how they lived off the land.

Once the tour finished, we hummed and haahed about continuing our walk around the rest of Uluru which would take at least three hours and cover 10 km. The heat rose and fell as we went from no shade to shade, and so did our willingness to undertake such a trek. In the end, with the heat beating down on us, we opted to drive around Uluru instead and justified it any number of ways. And now that we’ve done it, I don’t regret it at all.

We got back to the car and went clockwise around Uluru, stopping on the side of the road at various opportunities to take our photos (though not of sacred sites where we were told not to). There is something truly magical about the place, and I loved the variability of the surface of the rock. We imagined faces, or the flood of water during the wet season, or that Uluru was itself dropped from a great height and sinking into the earth because of the way the lines ran.

We stopped at Kuniya Walk and went along the track to another waterhole, stopping at caves where there was more rock art, and then took a break at the waterhole. Hundreds of tiny birds that peeped flew around us. They were so small that even when tens and tens of them landed on a branch, it barely moved. They were also so small that it was easy to overlook them until they launched into their air and the sound of their wings beating furiously amplified in the enclosed space.

There were also a bunch of berries around (and a helpful sign that said which of a few were edible or poisonous). I didn’t eat any, as much as I wanted to. Glen was concerned I might poison myself so for his sake, I didn’t.

Our trip around Uluru took a fraction of the time and saved us from dying of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Once back in town we stopped for lunch, bought a few things and returned to the hotel for a bit of a relax before the night’s dining experience.

Tali Wiru

When I booked the holiday and accompanying experiences, I booked us in for Sounds of Silence, an outdoor dining experience with tables of ten. Last night, Glen read the description of it and realised that we were going to be repeating what we’d done the night before except without the Field of Lights. As good as the experience was, we didn’t need to do it again.

When we talked to the staff at the counter in the morning, they seemed uncertain about us getting a refund because it was less than 24 hours away but “while they checked” they upsold us on doing Tali Wiru. Tali Wiru is another outdoor dining experience, but limited to 20 people and an a la carte menu.

We caught the big car thing at 6pm, a vehicle so big it reminded us of the polar bear trucks in Churchill. We drove for about twenty minutes through the outback to a remote location (past the industrial area for the resort) where we stopped and got a nice view of the helicopter that another couple had arrived via. Glen and I instantly had FOMO (fear of missing out) that we hadn’t arrived in such style. I spoke to them later and heard how wonderful the experience had been. Ahhhh next time.

We walked up the hill to a fire pit where one of the staff was playing the didgeridoo. We were served champagne and then a series of canapés consisting of scallops (with ants), kangaroo and another that I can’t remember. All delicious. The chef then came out with an arranged platter of difference bush tucker which she explained and then offered us to sample.

I ate one of the ants which tasted salty, sweet and sour all at the same time. I also had a bush tomato which tasted like beef jerky. Most of the ingredients came from rainforest in Queensland so I felt a bit cheated that they weren’t local ingredients but instead under the broader umbrella of ‘indigenous’ ingredients. Still, they were delicious.

We struck up a conversation with the helicopter couple who’d come from Sydney but it was broken when we were shown to our seats. There were only 18 of us, all in couples, and all with our own tables. We were still able to chat with people as and when we felt like it. I also had a good view of Uluru in one direction and Kata Tjuta in the other until the sun went down.

Different from the dinner the night before, we were given a la carte choices, of which I had pressed wallaby as an entree, toothfish for a main and then a lychee and bush-fruit-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of dessert. All came with matched wines so it was a merry night.

We had a star talk again tonight, though this was longer and went into Aboriginal astronomy as well which was interesting. We also saw six of the zodiac constellations. After dinner we sat around the fire with hot chocolate (and cognac for those who wanted it) and heard a bit about the local Indigenous people and how they hunted. Made me realise we only scratched the surface on this ancient culture and its practices.

While around the campfire we chatted to an American couple who have been living in Australia for six years. They’d driven from Melbourne with their three children (two of which are four years old). They’d stayed in Coober Pedy and Port Augusta and one of the children had caught pneumonia. They were very happy to have a night out without the children.

After dinner, we climbed aboard the monster truck again and were driven back to our hotel. So ended another day out in Central Australia.

Queenstown and Arrowtown

We flew from Auckland to Queenstown at midday on Tuesday, taking what must be one of the most beautiful flights in the world. We passed over the fiordlands as we came down to land; instantly the place reminded me of a combination of Newfoundland and Banff. Honestly, if the flight hadn’t been so sure, I’d have thought we’d detoured to Canada.

After landing, we collected our car (a green one this time but not a mini) and drove to our AirBnB: a converted shipping container perched on top of a hill with an enviable view of the mountains and the lake. Could we just stay here forever?

We’d bought some food at the shops in town on our way through so we had lunch, chilled out a bit and then, before we really knew it, it was an acceptable time to go for dinner. We headed back into town to a fish and chip van situated near the fancy restaurants and the lake.

We bumped into a couple of radiologists from back home and then sat watching the sky get dark and warded off three very determined ducks who were after our fish and chips. They didn’t succeed. After dinner we scurried home to our box and read our books.


Wednesday was the start of the conference and Glen dutifully went off to attend a workshop. Meanwhile I went exploring and decided I’d do the good thing and go for a short hike. I went to Arrowtown, an old gold mining settlement that has been turned into a quaint tourist attraction. It’s also a good spot to go for some walks.

I picked the Sawpit Gully walk, a 2–3 hour walk up hills, through forests and along rivers and a pipeline. I figured that I’d be at the shorter end of the timescale but after setting off and stopping for a rest pretty soon in, I worried I’d be pushing the three hours. Not to mention my knee (the one that fractured) was feeling tender. Nevertheless, I persevered.

I was rewarded with wild strawberries (very much at the end of the season) and wild blackberries. Glen hates it when I eat random berries growing in the wild but a) these weren’t random and b) he wasn’t there. It’s not like I ate anything else.

A couple of birds showed interested in me at one point so perhaps I was near their nest, and then one of them followed me for a little way and came quite close. They certainly didn’t seem afraid of my presence.

In addition to the berries and the birds, there were also lots of funky fungi (which I definitely did not eat), which reminded me a lot of the national park we went to in Quebec, La Mauricie, and all its fungi.

I ascended the hill and then marched across highlands and descended into valleys with little rivers. For much of the first hour of my trip I was alone except for one woman who came jogging up behind me and then disappeared. Jogging! While there I was dying! The isolation was wonderful but I could also understand how people get agoraphobic. The hills were open and expansive and I felt very exposed, but I still enjoyed myself.

It wasn’t until the descent that I started seeing people who’d taken the track counter-clockwise. I think they would have the harder route. Time marched along with me until eventually I came to the start of the track again (there were moments I was afraid I’d taken the wrong turn and would have to endure even more exercise and fresh air). I was pleased to find that despite the stops I’d taken along the way, the walk took me exactly two hours.

Once back at the beginning I walked into the Arrowtown settlement and had a look around. I didn’t find anywhere I wanted to stop for lunch so thought I’d try one of the wineries I’d passed on the way in. Unfortunately, the sat-nav took me another way and I bypassed them completely. I had to settle for chicken salad when I got home, which was probably for the best.

Onsen Hot Pools

Despite having a whole afternoon free to go explore more of what Queenstown had to offer, I was perfectly content to stare out the glass door of our accommodation for a while and then get some work done.

I sat outside on the balcony to begin with but soon my fingers froze so I retreated inside to the warmth. I managed to edit another chapter of my book and get a few other things done before it was time to pick Glen up at 5:30.

Later that evening we went to Onsen Hot Pools, a destination recommended to us by the woman at the Air New Zealand check-in at Auckland Airport. We booked a late-night lantern-lit hour-long experience, starting at 9 pm. The water was hot and the jets were of reasonable strength which was perfect for my sore legs. (I’m really not a cardio kind of guy.)

Less perfect was the argument we had about ten minutes into our time there. Still, the open air with its frosty breeze and the warm water were pleasant, if not exactly romantic. Unfortunately, it was also a cloudy night so we couldn’t see the stars or the moon. Oh well, we’re still lucky.

Trastevere and the Vatican Museums

Tuesday morning Glen went off to the conference while I got to sleep-in, though it wasn’t for long. Up for breakfast on the terrace again, getting some work done and then planning what I was going to get done for the day. I hit the streets by 10am.

The Cats of Rome


Even though I’ve been inside it before, I wanted to get another look inside the Pantheon. I find it such an odd mix, the ancient dome and temple exterior, the marbled Catholic church decoration and altar, along with the tombs of Italy’s two kings and this throng of people looking at the hole in the roof and taking perspective photos.

In all the hustle and bustle there was an Italian man, probably in his fifties, standing to attention in front of the tomb of one of the Italian kings, Umberto I, and his queen, Margherita. Dressed impeccably in a blue suit, he took this moment of quiet to pay his respects to a king long dead.

Then, when he’d given his dues, he walked over to the guard on duty, saluted him, shook his hand, wrote his name on the ledger, saluted the guard again and walked out of the Pantheon and up the street. I know, because I followed him for a bit and was tempted to ask what he was doing and how often he came to complete this ritual. There was something beautiful and sombre about it all.

I’ve since learned that the soldiers (there is one for each of the tombs, the other being for Vittorio Emanuelle II) are the Honor Guard to the Royal Tombs of the Pantheon. For 136 years, the Honor Guard have stood beside the tomb to honour the kings who did much to unify the country. I wonder if the man in blue had been one of them.

After the Pantheon I headed south to see the four temple ruins and their stray cats who have found sanctuary there. It’s a cat haven that invites people in to help care for the city’s many, many cats, but it wasn’t open when I arrived, with me being too early. The temples themselves were impressive and just sitting next to a busy intersection in Roma.

From here I walked through the Campo de’ Fiori where I bought a substandard peach (I’ve had a few really good ones on this trip so this one was disappointing), and then onto the river, crossing the Ponte Sisto and into Trastevere.

Tramping through Trastevere

I’d read a short itinerary of things to explore in Trastevere, an area across the Tiber with cobblestone streets, narrow arrows and a bit of a hip and rough feel. It was a beautiful day and wandering through these winding and shaded streets was a treat.

First main stop was the Basilica di Santa Maria. I took a seat inside this church which is heavily decorated in gold Cavillini mosaics. The light is subdued so it exudes this warm, earthy feel. Definitely worth a visit, and one of the few churches I’ve been in on this trip. Even better was that there were hardly any tourists, perhaps ten or so, the rest of the small group being locals come to pray.

Too early for lunch, I took the hike up some steps to the Gianicolo, the eighth hill of Rome. I walked along the Passeggiata del Gianicolo to get an excellent view across the city of Rome. The area is also filled with sculptures of heads, presumably of important people during the Risorgimento, as the hill also sports a giant Garibaldi sculpture.

After a look over the city, I then took a different path down the hill. I’d hoped I would be able to cut into the gardens below but they were gated. Instead, I walked through an area that I would have been terrified to walk through at night, and was a little uneasy about during the middle of the day.

The path was a dirt track, cutting through undergrowth littered with bottles, shoes, other bits of rubbish and a couple of spots where homeless people had slept. I could hear the people above so if anyone did leap out and attack me, they’d hopefully hear me. I only felt marginally better when I saw someone coming the other way. Of course, I survived with no problems what so ever and came out back at the top of the stairs for my climb down.

I tried to find a palazzo next, which I think I saw but didn’t go in. There was another villa nearby and the botanic gardens but I was done with much of the sightseeing and keen to try a recommended restaurant nearby.

I walked past John Cabot University which had soldiers posted out the front, something that is common for most, if not all, universities and government buildings in Rome. Are universities really such a target that they need armoured guards and gates and constant checks? The same happens at the Sorbonne in Paris. As if university isn’t (sometimes) stressful enough.

The main restaurant strip in Trastevere was beginning to come alive, though there was definitely a distinction between the more ‘authentic’ places that opened at 1pm, and the others for tourists which opened earlier. The place I wanted to try – Pianostrada Laboratorio di Cucina – was one of the authentic that didn’t open until 1pm. It was only just after 12 and I didn’t feel like hanging around.

Instead I wandered the streets, guided by TripAdvisor reviews (which is a surefire way of making yourself doubt every decision and come out feeling even more anxious about buying lunch), until I finally settled on a place that looked good enough and was serving.

I ate a fairly simple but decent pollo alla romana with some green beans, downed a bottle of water, and then continued on my way out of Trastevere and to Isola Tiberina.

Isola Tiberina

This little island in the middle of the Tiber is connected with two bridges and is so small you can walk across it in about five minutes. There are some restaurants, a church, probably a few places to visit but otherwise there’s not much. It nevertheless intrigued me enough, this island in the middle of the river, for me to stop on. A man was also sunbathing on one end of it.

I think I was again mistaken for being Jewish, a semi-regular occurrence wherever we are in the world. This time by a waitress outside a restaurant who at first tried to encourage me in but when I declined she said, ‘There is no kosher on this side of the bridge.’

I couldn’t tell whether she was being insulting, i.e. ‘we don’t serve your guide here, piss off’, or helpful. I later learned that the Jewish area is in the vicinity so perhaps she was being helpful, if presumptuous.

I had a quick look at some more ruins that were nearby, a great example of ancient Roman architecture at the bottom, with Middle Age architecture in the middle and modern on the top. Pretty cool.

My travels then took me up through the city, walking the busy Via del Corso, and back to the hotel. I think I fell asleep on the bed.

A(nother) Sinner in the Vatican

As part of the conference, the committee organised an after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. I met Glen at the entrance at 7pm and we joined a couple of hundred other medical professionals on a tour through the Vatican’s junkyard (as a lecturer once described it to me).

We were in a group of about 20 people, our guide taking us through a selection of the rooms, some of which I remember from my visit here about 16 years ago. We went through the room of maps, which looks even more brightly decorated and stunning than I remember. Then there were tapestries and statues and various other bits of art (including all the male statues which had their penises chipped off) that the Vatican had collected over its 2000 year history.

The Raphael rooms were an interesting stop along the tour, the way Raphael had included figures such as Leonardo da Vinci (not the only homosexual in the Vatican, I’m sure), Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo and even Raphael himself in the paintings. Nice to see these more humanist elements sneaking their way into supposedly sacred works. The room then got hot with all the people in there and we were glad to get out.

The Sistine Chapel still puts me in awe. I remember the first time I saw it, on a school trip, and it had recently been cleaned. The room shone. And I couldn’t believe that the other kids on the trip would rather sit down than look up at this amazing work of art. Then we weren’t allowed to take photos, but tonight, we were.

And of course we gazed on the Day of Judgement on the wall and heard about the skinned saint holding his skin (which had the face of Michelangelo on it), and the rest of the interpretation of the painting. We looked at it and above our heads for a while, relishing the sight, before moving on and setting a cracking pace through a few more rooms until we were back at the entrance/exit.

A quick bite to eat near the hotel and then we collapsed into bed at about 11pm, surprisingly one of our latest nights on this trip.

From Toronto to Munich

Saturday marked a year since coming to Canada, so it was quite fitting that we’d mark the day by going somewhere else. At 11:30am we went to Smith on Church St for brunch with Pete and Royden and Nathan, their friend from Vancouver.

It was Royden’s 50th birthday so it was a nice way to spend the middle of the day. Unfortunately, he was a little late as he got stopped on his motorbike by a cop for crossing a line or something. Luckily, he didn’t get a ticket or anything (even with not having his license on him).

I ordered my usual (poached eggs, toast and bacon on the side for Glen to eat). There’s not really much else on the menu that I can order, if I don’t want waffles and crepes. Everything else has pork of some variety in it. Still, we sat on the patio, the sun rose over the top and warmed me up.

After breakfast we went into Out on the Street, the clothing shop on the corner. Glen wanted to buy a t-shirt. He couldn’t find one. I did. I bought it. Glen also found a wedding ring. There was one there I thought was ok but Glen’s attempt at being funny put me off it.

Soon after getting home, we left for the airport. We only took one piece of carry-on luggage each so we didn’t have to bother to check any luggage. We boarded our flight to Zurich a little after six and were delayed for a little while. I think we left about 20 minutes late which didn’t bother us but you could hear a lot of huffing going on. I don’t know how flight attendants put up with all the whinging.

We were fed (I’d forgotten I’d requested a vegetarian meal so was pleasantly surprised to receive it before everyone was given their food), I took a sleeping pill, watched Muppets Most Wanted (and can barely remember any of it except that I know I watched it all the way through) and then went to sleep. I think I got a few hours, which wasn’t really enough.

We landed in Zurich at 9:30am (or probably a bit after because of the delays) on Sunday, then wandered through the airport to our gate for our flight to Munich. The plane was probably only about half full and the flight took less than an hour.

From Munich Airport we caught a train into the city, expecting that the train we were on would stop at the train station we needed. Instead it went from East Munich to West Munich, skipping central station. We got off, along with another traveller, in West Munich and luckily there was another train on the opposite side of the platform going to where we needed to go.

From the Hauptbahnhof we walked to the hotel, which was pretty close. Even though it was only about 12:30 or so, I was absolutely dead on me feet and starting to feel ill. It was 4am or so in Toronto so coupled with that and the limited sleep, I wasn’t in a good mood when we arrived. But, praise be to God, our room was ready when we checked in at Treff Hotel.

We then committed the cardinal sin of travelling. We went to bed in the middle of the day. Jet lag be damned. Sleep never felt so good. We woke up about three hours later, somewhat refreshed and hungry. One of the joys of summertime in Europe is that it stays light so late and we were able to enjoy a lot of the city.

Glen had downloaded walking tours on his phone and set our course. I can’t remember the names of all the places but we saw a lot of churches, some fountains, some gates (tors), a garden (where there was a rotunda with people dancing), a few markets with musicians and more dancing, and the famous Hofbrauhaus brewery.

Neither Glen or I are beer drinkers but, when in Germany… The place was packed with people, loud Bavarian folk music being played inside and lots of smokers in the otherwise lovely beer garden. We sat, we ordered beer (only half a litre each instead of the standard 1L) and food (we made a go of the German menu but eventually asked for an English one). Three other people came and joined our table as space was at a premium. One was German, while the other two were a retired couple from the US. We chatted to them about their travels and where they’re from. Was pleasant.

After a bit more walking around Munich streets, and seeing the Glockenspiel at the Town Hall (which we would return to on Monday), I was ready for bed again. At 8pm. Glen couldn’t quite believe it. I did feel a sense of failure, that I should have pushed on longer, but then I thought, bugger it. I need sleep. We returned and I was asleep by 9pm. It was heaven.

Vancouver, a town for walking

I went to the gym this morning for the first time since Saturday. Felt good to get back in to the routine, even if my sleeping patterns are still a bit out of whack. After the gym and breakfast, I hit the pavement. It’s been a warm 10°C in Vancouver today, warm enough for me to just have to wear a jacket (not my Canada Goose one) without a beanie or gloves. Amazing!

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Vancouver right now (in fact, it’s the cherry blossom season) so I saw plenty of these trees along my walk along the sea wall. I walked along False Creek, all the way up to Stanley Park. Right on the tip of Vancouver, Stanley Park is huge. It’s kind of like Kings Park back home, just with different vegetation.

Because it’s so big and I was on foot, I barely cracked the surface. I walked along the bottom of it, around the edge of the Lost Lagoon (which isn’t so lost after all), and headed in the direction of Beaver Lake. But by that time it was about noon and I was hungry and all the restaurants in Stanley Park were closed.

Not wanting to walk for another four hours without food, I abandoned my plans of heading to Beaver Lake and instead caught the bus (for free!) downtown. I got off near to Gas Town, a historical district that’s very trendy now, and searched for food.

I really wanted pizza but I refrained. During my food hunt, I passed a film crew with their vans and equipment setting up outside one of the restaurants. Later when I walked past, they were filming inside the restaurant, with fake snow falling outside the window. I don’t know what or who they were filming though. There was an old style tram in the street with “San Francisco” on it so maybe that was a clue.

I stopped for lunch in the Steamworks Pub and ate spicy edamame and half a sundried-blueberry-and-maple-glazed roast chicken. Delicious. Sated, I walked back up Gas Town, bought some birthday cards, then walked back to the apartment. By the time I got in it was about quarter to four, which I think was a good effort.

I’ve spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing various bits and pieces of work, mostly promotional stuff for my book. It’s coming along. I’ve had someone accept a review request and I’m hoping for more over the next few days.

I think I’ll have an early night tonight and try to catch up on some sleep. Before I do though, I need to figure out what to see tomorrow. Then it’s only one more sleep until Glen arrives. Can’t wait.

New York by train, ferry and foot

Slept in! Wonderful! Late breakfast in the hotel before arming ourselves with a map and our cameras we set out to tackle the subway to get to the World Trade Centre. We milled around the entrance to the subway for a while, trying to figure out what kind of ticket we needed to ride the subway. Finally got some help and then we bought metrocards and descended into the subway.

Everywhere are signs saying “If you see something, say something.” Whenever I saw one, all I could think of was a drag queen called Taylor Mac who sings a song called “Say Something”, based on the MTA’s ‘slogan’. And when he sings it, it goes, “If you see something, say something. Something like this…” and then screams. Makes me laugh every time.

We got on a train, went south, got off at 14th St because the trains weren’t going further and then looked a bit bewildered on the platform trying to figure out which train to catch next. Two older guys took pity on us and asked us where we were going and then directed us to catch the next train and get off at Chambers. They then talked to us.

One of them lives in the West Village, either in the same building as or next to Hugh Jackman. Who he’s met and talked about Ireland (his homeland) with. And this guy’s nephew lives in Sydney and asked me what the weather was like and the best time to visit. They got on the train with us then got off at the next station. They were very nice, very friendly and not at all what I expected from New Yorkers. Pleasantly surprised.

We got off at Chambers then walked down to the World Trade Centre site. They’ve built number one, which is tall and impressive and imposing. We didn’t go to the memorial but navigated around a lot of people selling commemorative books with titles like “Freedom Forever” or “Never Forget”. Ugh.

We walked around the little church there, checking out the old tombstones, then went down Church St, cut through Trinity Church, onto Wall Street, saw the Stock Exchange Building, then down Beaver St to see the bull. We took photos at the arse end because the head had too many people around it.

More walking to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. We joined a couple hundred people as we spilled onto the free ferry and it set off across the water. The ferry is the best way to see the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of LIberty. And despite the number of people pouring onto the ferry, there is still ample uncrowded viewing. And it’s all free. Twenty-five minutes to Staten Island, then you get off, go around into the ferry terminal and get back on the ferry and go back to Manhattan. Well worth the trip.

Amazed at how small the Statue looks. Considering how often you see it in movies and TV, you expect it to be this monstrous thing but it actually looks quite petite. Then again, we were looking at it from a distance.

We caught the subway up to 14th St and Union Square to go to Momofuku Noodle Bar (Albert’s recommendation) for a late lunch. I enjoyed walking along the streets between the subway station and the restaurant. They were much more peaceful and sedate, and kind of what I like seeing in New York movies/shows, just the normalcy, not the insanity of the tourist traps.

After lunch, back onto the subway again to Grand Central Station, another of those icons that you see in everything New York. Feels a bit surreal to actually be there. What’s even weirder is an Apple store located on one of the levels, in prime position.

Then outside to check out the Chrysler building from the street. There are some other amazing art deco buildings around it too that have the most beautiful decorations on the outer walls. All of which are mostly overlooked by people wandering by or craning their next to get a shot of the Chrysler building.

We walked up 42nd Street and the pavement got more crowded the closer we got to Times Square. Couldn’t wait to get into the hotel and put my feet up. Next time we come to New York, definitely not staying in this part of town.

In the evening we had tickets to see Spiderman the Musical. I had low expectations and amazingly they were too high. Billed as a spectacular with some nifty effects, Glen and I were completely underwhelmed and then writhing in our seats from the general awfulness of the script and music. The music was written by Bono and The Edge and all I can say is they must have been paid a shitload of money. The script was god awful and cringeworthy and I couldn’t summon up anything to make me care.

After ten minutes in, I tried to find the good in it. Thinking that maybe I was pre-judging it and should look at it again from a different viewpoint. Didn’t help. It was just bad. The acrobatics were interesting and provided a bit of a thrill but they weren’t enough to make up for the rest of it. I get that they were going for a comic book feel, considering Spiderman started off as a comic, but it just comes out as exceedingly cheesy and woeful.

At half-time, Glen and I barely looked back as we left. Albert stayed behind and later said that the storyline didn’t get any better, neither did the music, but the special effects were cool. Regardless, the cast got a standing ovation. Then again, I think people giving standing ovations for everything over here.

With our reclaimed time, Glen and I walked through busy streets to Hell’s Kitchen to find some food for a late night supper. We went into a very run-down Chinese restaurant called Mee Noodle. Articles and awards from ten and twenty years ago were hanging on the walls, and the place had definitely seen better days, but it was open, there were people in it and the food was cheap. It wasn’t bad either. Glen and I had a chicken dish each and couldn’t finish the servings.

Afterwards we went into the gay bar next door called Flaming Saddles. It’s cowboy themed. And it was packed. We got in, squished our way through and then, after about five minutes of not being able to move anywhere, we left. We couldn’t get to the bar without some major pushing and shoving (and not in a good way) so we gave up and left. There were some hotties there though. Typical American college boy types. Looked like a fun place but I’ve had my fill of cramped, crowded spaces for one night.

Back to the hotel at quarter to midnight with Albert returning soon after to give us an update on the rest of the musical. It’s given us something to laugh about for sure. So that’s the end of our first full day in New York. Two and a half more to go. Am sure they’ll be just as packed.

A necropolis, farm and a bbq that wasn’t

Bright day in Toronto.
Bright day in Toronto.

It’s proving to be a little too easy to spend all my time indoors. There’s always something to do, some spot of admin, some email, some tidying (though I struggle to do that to be sure) or else read my book. Yet, yesterday and today have been so beautiful, weather-wise, that staying inside has felt like a crime. So, as well as doing all the stuff at home, I’ve ventured Outside.

Yesterday I walked to the Toronto Necropolis, which is about a 20 minute walk from where we live. To get there you go down Wellesley St for a bit, which is filled with high-rise council flats, the kind you’d find dotted all over London, yet only two streets away I walked down Winchester Ave which is a tree-lined street with semi-detached houses and beautiful gardens in bloom. The difference is stark.

Winchester Avenue
Winchester Avenue

Across the road from the Necropolis is the Riverdale Farm, a small hobby type farm in the city that’s owned by the city. There’s also a big parkland next to it where people were having picnics. The farm has a few animals on it, including chickens, horses, goats, cows and sheep. It’s probably a very popular destination for school visits so kids can learn about farming. There were one or two mums and grandmothers with very small children, and the farm is probably the place they go every week for an outing.

Pleasant to walk around and strange though it may sound, it was nice to see some animals (other than dogs and squirrels). There’s a farmers’ market there on Tuesdays in the evening but it’s not exactly convenient. Plus Tuesdays are cheap movie days so unlikely to make it haha.

I then went into the cemetery, which is all very nice, lots of graves from the 1800s and early 1900s. I did a loop around one of the paths and decided I’d seen enough. My favourite cemeteries (if one has to have favourites) are Highgate in London and Père Lachaise in Paris. So Gothic, so overgrown and monumental. And full of famous people I’ve heard of. Here, there are a few famous Torontonians, which don’t mean much to me unfortunately. But it’s a nice cemetery to visit and take a walk around.

In the evening Glen and I went to see Top Secret! at Harbourfront as part of their free summer flicks season. From the guys who did Airplane!, Top Secret! is a similar kind of spoof film, starring a very young and pretty Val Kilmer. It’s full of dad jokes like “Yes, I know a little German. He’s over there,” so I was pretty happy. I think it got funnier as it went along but I can see why it bombed when it came out in the 80s. I’m glad we went out though and took advantage of the fine weather and free entertainment.

Today I caught a train and bus out to Eglinton Square for the Caribana BBQ. Caribana is a big Caribbean festival held in Toronto every year. The street parade is supposed to be epic but unfortunately it’s happening while we’re in Montreal. There are various side events being staged and one of them is the Caribana BBQ. It was meant to start at 12pm and I arrived at 12:30, ready to be amazed by Caribbean delicacies and people in bright costumes.

Caribana where?
Caribana where?

What I saw was an empty carpark with seven stalls dotted around (two of which just had people sitting at them but no food). It all looked rather sad. I did a quick walk around what was there (one of them was for a restaurant that was at the carpark’s shopping centre, only fifty metres away) and then went to join other similarly non-plussed bystanders looking from under the shade of some trees.

I stayed a few more minutes to see if I could discern any movement, any possibility that things were going to get better, but when nothing did, I turned, went into the food court and ordered a chicken shawarmi. Caribana had become a cari-bust. I hope for their sake that it did improve after I left.

Jaffa cakes!
Jaffa cakes!

I went and waited at the bus stop, and got poked with a stick by a small children. Her mother told her off and apologised. To her credit, the child didn’t poke me again but she did hit other things on the bus shelter. The mother, while looking at her phone, kept saying with little effect, “Stop hitting that with the stick or I’ll take it off you.” PUT DOWN YOUR GODDAMN PHONE AND PARENT! Anyway…

On the plus side, I found out there’s a shop in Eglinton Square Shopping Centre that imports and sells British food. Including Jaffa cakes and chocolate digestives. Not that I bought any.

Down by the water

Sunday was anything but a day of rest. Glen had slept for 12 hours the night before, battling a fever, so woke up feeling better than he had in a couple of days. In comparison, I slept terribly and had a tension headache when I woke. I think it’s the pillows. They’re uncomfortable.

I wanted to check out the Distillery District in the morning, which is down towards the waterfront to the left of where we are. After a week here, the meaning of walking distance has stretched. What looked like a long way on the map only a few days ago is now easy to get to. I think it has something to do with the city being laid out on a grid.

Lady on a ladybug.
Lady on a ladybug.

So we took the walk down Jarvis and then Front and along a park. It was about 9am and there were barely any people about. The biggest group was outside the St Lawrence Markets as there’s an antique/second-hand sale there every Sunday. The rest of the walk down to the Distillery District was pleasant. There was a park with a ladybug swing-seat thing in it which I coaxed Glen into riding.

The Distillery District is an old style area. Formerly a distillery (who would have thought it), the district “represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.” It’s a bit like Fremantle with his refurbished and very clean historic buildings and plethora of art galleries and restaurants/bars/pubs. We were there a little early, with only a few people around and one art display open. There was an outdoor display of Zimbabwean (inspired?) sculpture underneath this large metal sculpture that looked like something from War of the Worlds.

The area is very atmospheric with its cobbled footpaths. No cars allowed down here which makes it even nicer. The Toronto Jazz Festival has a couple of free stages  there too but being so early nothing was playing. The size of the alfresco areas of some of the restaurants intimated that the place must get packed in the afternoon and evening. We’ll definitely be back to check it out.

Next was the long trek to the Harbourfront Centre. This was within walking distance, about half an hour or so, but the heat was rising and the forecast rain and clouds were keeping away. Also, we walked along the waterfront (or just back from it because you can’t get down too close) so there was little to no shade the whole way. It was a really nice walk as you go past a lot of industrial type buildings, parking lots and fenced off areas. It’s kind of like the port area of Fremantle.

We eventually got towards something of interest. It was the Waterfront Festival this weekend, as well as the bicentennial of the War of 1812, between the US and the British Empire which took place on land and sea, most notably at the border between Canada and the US. There was a bunch of tall ships docked on the lake for people to go aboard, as well as a giant inflatable beaver. We listened to parents negotiating with their children.

More walking through stalls, up towards the Harbourfront. The place is just heaving with people, what with it being a bright summer’s day and so much going on in this area. I was impressed to learn that the Harbourfront Centre is a charity and it owns that part of the waterfront and operates it as a free public space for Toronto. Talk about doing something for the public good.

We went into the Power Plant, which is a large contemporary art museum. There was an exhibition called Postscript which featured a number of works on conceptual writing. Some very cool and large pieces though, none of which I really had a clue about, but I liked them for how they looked. There was a wall of megaphones/bell speakers each emitting a phrase of gibberish. On another wall was a long piece of text from a battle, stretching around the corner, the letters all packed together which, to me, gave the impression of the battle, it’s crowdedness. There was a red telephone with a sign that said to pick up the receiver and follow the instructions but when you did so the only sound was a bird’s call.

It was while we were looking at the art that I received a message to say that our offer on the apartment had been accepted but we needed to print of the agreement, sign it and return it by 2pm. We asked a guide at the art gallery if there was anywhere that could print and scan nearby and she suggested FedEx Kinkos. A quick search revealed one only a block or two away, which was convenient, and it was open too. So we got there, printed the document, signed it, scanned and returned it. This place only charged us about $1.50, whereas the other one was about $4. Economies of scale I suppose.

So the offer has been accepted. We will no longer be homeless and we can move in this Friday. With that out of the way, we’re now free to argue about furniture. Glen and I have very different ideas on what we’d like to live with so a compromise and calm voices are needed (or else maybe a bullet). It’ll turn out all right in the end.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up looking at the rest of the Harbourfront, including in a very cool gift/homewares store, and going to the bank to get the necessary documents and insurance for us to move in. We also walked the very long way back home. The humidity and the heat, combined with the disagreements about furniture and style, made it less than enjoyable. We walked past the Rogers Centre (a big sports stadium), where the Toronto Blue Jays were playing. The dome was open so you could hear the roaring and cheering from the fans. They had their eleventh straight win. Go Blue Jays!

In the evening we had dinner with Pauline, who’s from Toronto but we met in Perth. We went to a soul/jazz restaurant called Joe Mama’s, which is in a pretty trendy part of town. It was really muggy so all three of us were uncomfortable from the heat. Plus the waitress was slack in bringing us water (we had to ask three times and the third time she didn’t return), the music was too loud for a conversation, Pauline got the wrong meal and Glen’s food was dry. BUT I liked the place and it was somewhere different. Apparently it’s really good for a drink and a dance later in the evening.

We then went in search for bubble tea and had to settle for something less than bubble tea but the walk and the tea gave us more time to chat. We also arranged a couple of catch-ups for the weekend and next week. We’re also going to IKEA together on Thursday as Pauline’s moving into her place about the same time as us. Exciting times ahead.