Posts Tagged ‘wegotwo travel’

Rolling Rust

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

A rolling stone gathers no moss” said the Latin writer Publilus Syrus and this is true of rolling stock (railway carriages plying a nation’s rail system) too.
The very opposite of this ancient proverb lies before our eyes in the once mildly busy shunting yards at Healesville’s railway station. Old train carriages, once the pride of the Victorian Railway’s fleet, lie waiting their turn for restoration by Yarra Valley Tourist Railway volunteers. In the meantime, they march toward “unrepairable” – their patinas attract our attention.
The regular train service in Healesville stopped long ago – 1981 to be exact. How do I know? Because my father was the last serving Station Master at this station and I was present the day the last train rolled into the railway station – a sad day for the community and for rail enthusiasts in the state of Victoria.
For many years after the last train service the station and rail line were virtually abandoned, however, through the efforts of many enthusiastic volunteers, the rail line has been partially re-opened and tourists can now take a short journey from Healesville to the nearby Tarrawarra area. The memories of this beautiful trip are still vivid – out of the station, over the crossing, across the Watts River then up the incline all the way to the beautiful brick tunnel then down the other side toward the Yarra River flats and on to the Tarrawarra Monastery station.
A variety of rolling stock is now located at in the Healesville railway yard. Some of it is serviceable but most of it is in need of time, money and labour all of which is in limited supply.
The old carriages (and even older buildings) may not attract the attention of passersby however, if one stops long enough, the beauty of the blended mix of Mother Nature and Man Made is worth capturing on “film”.
Negotiating the worn rails and ballast we savour the contrast of faded paintwork and rust on the old carriages and delight in the angles created by nature and steel. Safe in the knowledge that nothing is going to move we get up close to wheels, springs and levers.
Like two excited children we delight in the opportunity to be “down in the pit” (off platform), surrounded by the smell of old grease and diesel – a “train spotter’s” Nirvana.
For those interested in anything to do with railways a visit to the Healesville railway station and the Yarra Valley Tourist Railway headquarters is a must. Don’t neglect the neglected and, if you would like to see the railway return to its former glory days become a volunteer or donate some monies to this worthwhile cause.

Click on the FS icon in the bottom right hand corner of the gallery for full screen view:

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A Whale Of A Time On Whale’s Tale

Monday, June 16th, 2014

A glass of cold champagne in one hand and my Princess’ knee in the other. A warm ocean breeze blowing across the deck of the old schooner “Whale’s Tale” and the friendly Fijian crew serenading us with beautiful harmonies as the captain holds course for Schooner Island.  What a magical scene.  It feels like we’re dreaming.

The sun’s reflection shimmers on the turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and, in the distance, the ancient volcanic mountain ranges of the Koroyanitu National Park tower above the outskirts of Lautoka.  The slow rate of advance of our vessel fazes none of the day trippers – we are all here to soak up the ambience.

The trip from Denarau marina to Schooner Island takes around 90 minutes and along the way we sail past many of the small islands that lie off Viti Levu’s west coast.  Each Fijian island is unique and we remind ourselves that we will have to return to explore more of this nation’s beauty.

The hospitality of the crew is as a warm as the mid morning sun.  They continue to offer cold drinks, fresh fruit and recently baked delights.  Knowing that lunch will be served on Schooner Island we finish what is on our already laden plates and take some time out to photograph and video the sights and sounds onboard.

Schooner Island grows larger on the horizon so the captain orders the huge mainsail to be taken down as he reduces the revs on the engine to slow the 100 foot boat.  The crew prepare to drop the anchor and we are guided onto the dinghy that has been towed astern.  It’s time for these sea legs to return to the land.

When the dinghy’s loaded the crew cast us off “Whale’s Tale” and we motor to the beach.  The dinghy’s crew negotiate the complex reef surrounding Schooner Island before securing the boat and helping us ashore.  We’ve arrived.

The rest of the crew and fellow shipmates join us on the island and we are asked to congregate in the “village hall” for a traditional welcome ceremony and kava drink.  A new chief (one of our unsuspecting shipmates) is appointed “Chief” for the day and the ceremonies begin.  After the compulsory sip of kava we are free to roam the island and explore the surrounding reef.

Being keen snorkelers we fit some of the gear provided and head into the warm water.  Upon placing our heads under the surface we are immediately greeted by an array of beautiful fish.  The colourful coral, white sand and blue water are just like the pictures you see on postcards.  Sea life abounds here in Fiji’s nutrient rich waters – one of the world’s best places for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Returning to the beach our crew let us know that lunch is served and that there is plenty of it.  These Fijian locals love their food and they want to make sure we don’t go home hungry.  No chance of that.

Freshly cooked meats, salads and fruit make up the main fare and cold beverages are served at the bar.  Strangely, despite the amount of food we ate during the voyage to the island, our stomachs are up for another feed.  Must have been all the exercise we did while we were snorkeling. Just sayin’.

With the words of our parents ringing in our ears (“Let your food go down before you go swimming again”) we wait patiently under the shade of a beach hut and get to know some of our fellow travelers.  One of the bonuses of a trip like this is that you meet some interesting people and learn about other places in the world.

Lunch has started to make its way through our digestive system so we don our snorkeling gear and head out into the water once more.  Diving in a different area exposes us to a new reef and some different species of fish.  Despite being very small, Schooner Island has offers a variety of experiences for those keen to get into the water.

The sun is approaching the other side of the yardarm as we exit the water and the ship’s crew have started to transfer people back to Whale’s Tale for the trip back to Denarau.  We return our snorkeling gear, freshen up and wait for the boat to return.  A passing thought enters our mind: “What if we hide and become castaways”?

From the beach we can see people diving into the water from the ship’s upper decks.  On returning to the ship I decide that I will give that a go.  Can’t have too much fun here in Fiji!

The trip back to Denarau marina is not long enough.  The sing-a-longs over a cold beer, a beautiful setting sun and some friendly banter are all good reasons to extend the trip.  However, the crew have to prepare for tomorrow’s outing and the experience they want to create for the next lot of travelers. Maybe we should book for another trip tomorrow!

Whales’ Tale slips back into the marina at the pre-arranged time and the well oiled crew bring the old vessel smoothly alongside – no stress and no fuss.  The crew sing a traditional farewell song to us all and there are a few wet eyes amongst the crew and day trippers.

The wonderful hospitality shown by the crew continues after we step ashore and beyond.  Genuine Fijian goodbyes are sung out to us as we walk along the pier toward our transport.  What a magical day.

When in Fiji make sure you take a trip to Schooner Island on Whale’s Tale.  From the time you board the old schooner until the time you are dropped off at your hotel you will experience Fijian hospitality at its best.

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CURIOUS KIDS

Friday, May 9th, 2014

The innocence of children is such a wonderful emotion to capture on “film”.  We are always respectful of a youngster’s space and always seek approval from parents before we start taking photos.  Of course showing the youngsters a photo of themselves always delights!

Recently, on a short trip to Luang Prabang, we captured some happy and engaged kids in and around the city.  An endearing feature of Asian countries is the happiness of those with little.  We remember the days of our own childhood when we were caused to be creative with our time.  Like the kids of Luang Prabang we were never bored or seeking entertainment from a “distraction”.  Thankfully, the digital age and its distraction are still a ways off for most of the children of Laos and it is wonderfully refreshing to see little minds creating and having fun.

A lesson for us all – Be present to the simple things in life and life will shower you with the most wonderful of gifts – smiles, dance, play, dress up, chasing and learning.

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10 Things To Do In Luang Prabang

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Work Your Heart For Buddha

Mount Phousi is almost the geographical centre of Luang Prabang, a small mountain that rises to just over 150 metres above the surrounding landscape. It is perfect place from which to view the city or to watch the sun rise or set over the Mekong River and nearby mountains.

You can climb up to the top of the small mountain via two different routes and both are a great workout!  Both routes lead to Wat Chom Si (the temple located at the top of the mountain).

If you start the climb from the Kingkitsarath Road steps (south eastern side) you ascend past some beautiful statues and vantage points.

A small fee is charged for the climb to the very top – a small price to pay for the experience.

Swim in Kuang Si Falls

The Kuang Si falls are located in a beautiful rural area about 28 kilometres (a 45 minute drive) south west of Luang Prabang.  Transport options to and from the falls are dependent on one’s budget and desired travel experience.  You can ride, catch a Tuk Tuk or hire a private car.  None are expensive.

The falls themselves are a must see and a cooling off dip in the pools which the falls run into is definitely recommended.

Kuang Si (also called Tat Kuang Xi) falls is a three-tier waterfall around 200 feet high.  The water falls over ancient limestone and down into beautiful turquoise coloured pools below.

Visitors can climb to the top of the falls although, in the wet, the track is very slippery and the views from the top are not necessarily worth the effort or risk.

Time might be better spent with your feet in the pools and having your “tootises” cleaned by the local fish that inhabit them.

Café Lebelair, located near the main falls, offers some tasty treats and local coffee and tea – a nice stop off after walking alongside the pools and viewing the main falls.

Delight In A Fresh Feast

Laos was a French protectorate from 1893 through until 1946 and, in addition to some stunning French style colonial buildings, the French influence is still evident in the food on offer at many of the excellent restaurants located throughout the city.

For the “foodies” amongst you, Luang Prabang will be a delightful experience.  From the street side outlets to the more up market restaurants the food on offer is delicious.

For the not so budget conscious try L’Elephant on Vat Nong.  The food is authentic French and the décor inside is eye catching.  The Apsara on Kingkitsarath Road is another favourite amongst the expat community in LP.

For those wanting an awesome feed at a great price try L’etranger Books and Tea on Kingkitsarath Road – the soup is to die for and they have a great little gallery upstairs.

Sisavangvong Road is one of the main streets in the small city (it’s the one transformed into the wonderful night market) and your hunger can be resolved at any of the great eateries located at the north eastern end.

Get On Yer Bike

One of the refreshing things about Luang Prabang is the number of bicycles on the road.  This cheap and healthy transport option is still a big favourite amongst the locals and many visitors.

Most of the hotels, villas and hostels offer free (or very cheap) bike hire so there are no excuses for not “getting on your bike” for the day.

For those readers that are not at the peak of their fitness don’t despair – Luang Prabang’s topography, for the most part, is rather flat.

The roads are very safe to ride because the local traffic moves slowly and it is very respectful of bike riders.  You might have to negotiate the occasional slow moving chicken or a mangy dog that has taken up residence in the middle of the road but neither of these will cause a panic.

If you want to extend your workout and get really active you can join one of the adventure company rides.  These rides can be part or full day or you can even do two plus day adventures.  The rides take in some of the spectacular rural country in northern Laos – a perfect way to get a feel for this beautiful place.

Stroll The Markets

Asian marketplaces are always fun to visit.  The bargains on offer are hard to resist and the energy of the marketplaces attract locals and visitors alike.

While it can be said that some markets around Asia are “same, same” Luang Prabang’s nightly market is not in this category.  You will find beautiful (certified) local products on offer – silks and cloth covering every spectrum of the colour band, delightful (read “not pushy”) stall owners and polite fellow tourists.

Before “entering” the market proper you can grab a fresh juice (or beverage of choice) and sip on it as you meander through the neatly presented ground level stalls.

The night markets take up half of Sisavangvong Road and start just before sunset.   Allow yourself an hour or so to take in the vast array of goods on offer – it’s worth it.

Find Some Modern Masters

Art, in its many forms, plays a big part in Laotian culture and many current artists call Luang Prabang home.

Carvers, painters, potters, sculptors, weavers and writers – you will find them all in Luang Prabang.  Some have studied overseas and many are gaining the attention of galleries, fashion houses and publishers on the international stage.

Visitors can visit the tiny factories where traditional weavers and potters work their magic or search out the small shops and galleries that display the fine art and carvings of local artisans.

Hmong (local tribes people) crafts can be purchased from a craft market located on the corner of Sisavangvong and Kitsalt Roads.

A visit to the small village of Ban Tchan on the opposite side of the Mekong River to Luang Prabang is a must for fans of pottery.  The village is around 15 minutes by boat from one of the wharves located on the LP side of the river.

Get Up Close And Personal With Nature

High summer rainfalls and a temperate climate mean that the northern part of Laos is lush and alive.

Nature lovers will enjoy the abundance of birds and insects that call Laos home.  They will also enjoy the stunning native trees and high canopies.

For those that enjoy the sound and feel of water Luang Prabang’s rivers (large and small) and waterfalls will keep you happy.  In addition to the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, water lovers can immerse themselves, literally, in beautiful rural streams and waterfalls that flow from the surrounding mountains.

Figure Out Wat

One of Asia’s attractions is its love for Buddha and all things Buddhism.  Laos is not exception.

Wats (temples) big and small can be found scattered throughout Luang Prabang and each of them is beautiful.

Whilst Mt Phousi’s Wat Chom Si’s mountain location is unique, those that can’t make the long climb to the top can take in the stunning Wat Mai – located right in the heart of the city.

Several other large temples are located at various points in and around the city.  If you are not too “watted out” you would do well to enjoy the sights on offer at Wat Phol Phao on Highway 13, Wat Xieng Dong at the north eastern end of Khem Kong and Wat Wisunalat near Kingkitsarath Road.

Work Out The Breeds

You may have seen some scruffy dogs on your travels but probably never as many as you are likely to see in Luang Prabang.  These “bitzer” (bits of this and bits of that) breeds come in all shapes, colours and sizes and most of them are adorable.

The bitches amongst the breeds don’t seem to spend too much time between litters with many of them having teats that are so long that they almost drag on the ground.

With low basic wages that barely allow a family to just survive, one can’t imagine that much money gets spent on animals in Laos.  This doesn’t mean that the locals don’t love their pets but it is survival of the fittest in these parts.

The dogs are friendly and happy and they make for great pictures.

Bear It For All To See

Free The Bears is a not for profit organisation started by Australian woman Mary Hutton in 1995.  Mary and her team of dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to “protect and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world.”

Visitors to Luang Prabang can get up close and personal with some of the bears that “Free The Bears” (FTB) have saved from a life of misery.

FTB’s bear rescue centre is located at the Tat Kuang Si falls and the entrance fee for the falls allows visitors to see the bears and to donate to the cause.

The FTB workers have been building elevated walkways and enclosures and this gives visitors great exposure to the 30 plus bears.  The bears are quite active (particularly during feeding time) and it is evident that the home they have now is a wonderful existence compared to the caged life that many of them experienced in the past.

Don’t forget to donate some monies (or purchase some of the gifts for sale) to this worthy cause before you head off to the nearby waterfalls.

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Brad Pitt’s Putting On Weight

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Our little Honda “zinger” motorbike zooms along the blacktop road at “a clip”. The wind is in our eyes and our senses are soaking up the sights and sounds of this clear, warm Phuket afternoon. “Was that a little elephant?” Indeed it was. I pull over to the side of the road and let the traffic go by before negotiating a U turn. My Princess holds on tightly as I make sure we don’t get “T-boned” by local traffic.
We ride the short distance back to the car park where we saw the baby elephant and dismount our Japanese steed.
The “little” guy is swinging from side to side while munching on some fresh leaves from a banana tree. He is not chained up and seems content to stand his ground as we approach him. His trainer is nearby reclining in the shade and, like a lot of Thai people, he is not in any hurry to let our initial experience be affected by getting involved. It’s one of those “things” about Thailand that makes you want to come back again and again.
A “handyman” sign nailed above the shack that the trainer sits in advertises that food for feeding the elephant can be purchased for 100 Thai Baht (around $3). What a bargain!
The trainer senses that we are keen to feed the elephant so he extracts himself from his “office” and approaches us with a basket full of fresh cucumbers. We hand him 100 TBH and “Brad Pitt” (apparently this is what the owner has christened the baby elephant) approaches us eager to get a feed of cucumbers.
We learn that this “little” guy eats around 50kg of food per day and that cucumbers rate high on his list of “Brad Pitt” approved foods. His trainer speaks to Brad in Thai elephant language and Brad politely accepts our offerings. Despite his obvious desire to consume the whole basket in one mouthful his strict upbringing means that hand feeding Brad is rather stress free. In fact, it’s a lot of fun.
We are able to capture some nice close up photos of Brad and his fuzzy hairdo and depart the car park feeling rather pleased with our interaction with this “famous” pachyderm actor.
If you’re in Thailand take a trip to the southern end of Phuket and visit the Phucada Safari car park. Brad Pitt may have grown up and moved on into elephant trekking but, hey, he might be replaced by George Clooney!

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Nature’s Walmart

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Christmas is only two days away and there is probably not a lot under the tree (if there is a tree). However, on a beach that was devastated by the world’s most destructive tsunami just 9 years ago, a small girl has already received a gift.
In a quiet area where a local river flows out to the sea she has Mother Nature has gifted her an early present – a small seed nut that has started to sprout. With nothing more than a child’s beautiful imagination she has graciously accepted this gift and started her own garden.
She knows that her garden will be will be consumed by the incoming tide but she is smart enough to know that another gift will be waiting for her tomorrow. In the meantime she gets to create.
Whilst this small child may not be opening a fancy present on Christmas day she has been given one of the most beautiful gifts of all – a gift from “Nature’s Walmart”. It’s a free gift, one that comes wrapped in millions of different ways and one that can be passed on – just as it was on this day.
Thank you for the gift of being present to this small child that asked for nothing and received the world.

Nature's Walmart

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