Summer of 2018 – Heat Wave in Victoria Beach

Summer of 2018 – Heat Wave in Victoria Beach

As I sit here at my computer in this summer of 2018, I am filled with gratitude for living in the beautiful province of Nova Scotia in the small village of Victoria Beach. VB overlooks the Digby Gut, and in case you don’t know, the Digby Gut is a narrow passage of water separating the mainland of NS from an isthmus which juts out into the Bay of Fundy, which in turn leads to the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking over to Digby on the mainland across the Gut from Victoria Beach.

Like many people today, I try to be grateful for little things in my life. Today I am grateful for having chosen to live in Victoria Beach over ten years ago. After more than seventy years of living, I have discovered that practising the art of being grateful has huge benefits: for example, it keeps me focused on the positives rather than the negatives in my life. Goodness knows we all need to do this these days when we hear what is going on in our world. Practising gratefulness isn’t a waste of our time considering how it is human nature to want to complain. This is especially true of many Nova Scotians who do it more out of habit than actually feeling ungrateful. Complaining is a bit like talking about the weather around here. It is often used as an opener for making conversation which is an attempt to be friendly. However, could we not lessen our complaining by being more grateful for the things we have rather than for what we lack?

Unfortunately, this summer’s weather is giving people much to complain about since we are now entering our fourth week of record-breaking high temperatures and humidity indexes. High 20’s and low 30’s are simply not the norm for Nova Scotians! In the past, we were lucky to get even a few days of above 30 degree weather. This province has never experienced anything like the heat wave we are now in the midst of and forecast to last until the end of August. Like the rest of Canada, we are breaking all known records.

Air conditioners in Nova Scotia have always been few and far between except for Halifax where they can be found in public buildings and some homes. Now everyone is talking about getting a heat pump or some kind of A/C. However, even though the heat is very much on our minds with bodies bravely attempting to adjust to it, many of us are striving not to complain….too much! How can we when we hear that in some parts of the world people are actually dying from the heat or losing their homes and forests to the wildfires that abound out in the western part of our continent?

Every summer, we who live here in VB, have been blessed with the cooling breezes off the Bay of Fundy which gives the locals bragging rights for having the Bay at our doorstep to provide free air conditioning. This year is different. Now there is talk that just maybe we need to purchase a heat pump. Personally I have not found this weather too hard to handle probably because my yearly forays to Thailand have acclimatised me. Yes, it’s been getting unbearably hot at times during our heat wave, but just when I’m starting to drip, a welcomed breeze will appear for some relief. The nights are still quite cool at about 18 degrees so a good night’s sleep is definitely possible when I keep our windows open. Doing this ensures our mornings begin with a comfortable house. Early morning fog which collects in the Gut has also helped to keep our temperature under control until the sun appears. However, it’s not so much the temperatures, but  the high humidity which is our greatest challenge as it truly saps our strength.

Cindy Day, our resident meteorologist, explains this spate of prolonged heat and humidity on what is called a Bermuda High where hot, humid air moves to the north from a high pressure system over Bermuda. Another meteorologist likens this effect to how a heat pump works, pumping the American air northward where it gets trapped above us. As these winds move forward, they pick up moisture which in turn lessens the oxygen available. Apparently this is causing the fatigue and headaches which many of us are experiencing. It’s also driving hoards of us to Nova Scotia’s beaches.

Nova Scotia’s beaches are definitely another one of our blessings during this heat wave. Our province is surrounded by the ocean providing white sand beaches along the Atlantic coast where the average water temperatures are 65 degrees. More sheltered beaches can be found along the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait.

Beach at Lockeport,NS on the Atlantic coast.

Mavillette Beach on the Bay of Fundy.

We also have access to over 3,000 freshwater lakes and hundreds of small streams and rivers. Water is never more than an hour or so drive for most Nova Scotians.

One of many lakes near Annapolis Royal at Mickey Hill.

Another at Raven Haven administered by Annapolis Co. which draws many families.

And yet another at Milford House in Maitland Bridge near Annapolis Royal.

For those of us living in Victoria Beach, we actually can lay claim to a beach of our own. It may be cold and rocky, but it does provide us with invigorating waters should we want to venture into them.

Here is our beach which is actually called Indian Beach by the locals.

Lovely view of our beach overlooking the Gut.

We can crow about how lucky we are right now in Victoria Beach, but we have no right to be complacent. Scientists are predicting that higher summer time temperatures will become the norm, and that we need to prepare for this. Where do we begin? Well, we can install a heat pump for air conditioning for starters. The government is now offering help to home owners in the way of rebates for those who wish to purchase one. If that’s not feasible, we can buy a few fans which I am told are being improved all the time for noise and efficiency. When we leave home, we can carry a water bottle with us at all times to keep hydrated or take along a sun hat for protection. Or, we can take borrow the Eastern custom of using an umbrella to shield ourselves from the sun’s intense rays. We can also schedule our heavy work both inside and outside for the early and later part of our day. Furthermore, we could even do what Europeans have done for centuries…take time off at the hottest time of the day for a rest or siesta. What a great way to reduce any stress in our lives or just catch up on some much needed sleep if we have trouble sleeping through the night.

So, rather than complaining about how hot it is, let’s enjoy our prolonged heat wave for the remainder of our summer and consider what we can do in the future to deal with our changing climate which is without a doubt at our doorstep. This will be our challenge.

Halifax – A City on the Rise

Halifax – A City on the Rise

Recently I found a message from Trip Advisor in my mail box alerting travellers to their choice for the top ten “cities on the rise” in the world which we should consider putting on our ‘bucket lists’. My curiosity tweaked, I took the time to check this out and to my surprise and delight Halifax, Nova Scotia placed fourth on their list! What on earth does my city of birth offer that would put them in the world’s lime light, I wondered? According to Trip Advisor (TA) this honour is based on the following three things:

  1. Military history
  2. Culinary delights
  3. Entertainment

Ironically, before my daughter embarked on her short visit to Halifax last week, she wondered what sights and activities I would recommend for the two days that she, my son-in-law and grandson were going to be there. Not having much time to come up with some place she had never seen, I sent her TA’s recommendations along with the above article. When I met up with them, she asked me if I knew where York Redoubt was located. I was temporarily stymied! I had heard of it but knew little about it or just where it was located. However, thanks to Google Maps and the GPS, we found this National Historic Park site in Purcell’s Cove about 14 miles outside of Halifax.

A short history of York Redoubt.

What we found there was another eye-opener, especially for me. How could I have not seen this place when I spent the better part of ten years living in Halifax as a child and teenager? Not only does this military site have one fantastic view of Halifax’s outer harbour, but it also has an easy to understand description of the role this  place has played over the three centuries it has protected the city, beginning with the wars between Britain and France in 1793 when the fort was begun, up to 1956 when it was closed and designated as a historic site. Its hey day culminated in its success at guarding the harbour and the city from German U-boats during World War II.

Looking over the outer harbour towards Halifax.

The boys…my grandson and his dad…enjoyed scouting out the premises. There were the cannons of all sizes with some large enough to shoot balls weighing up to 24 pounds to ogle over. Moreover, there were 27 buildings to explore, including a Martello Tower*, numerous magazines for storage of ammunition…many below ground, supplies rooms, and even a cookhouse. The park is definitely large with trails providing peaceful walks through the forest which are never far from a spectacular view of the harbour with McNab’s Island* in the distance. Another plus to our visit was, save for a few other folks, we had this beautiful spot almost to ourselves.

Hey, Daddy, look at this!

Mummy giving a short history of the site.

What is left of the Martello Tower.

A cannon resting on its mount.

Overlooking McNab’s Island

Our second stop was to Hydrostone Market in the north end of Halifax. This area suffered huge loses on December 6, 1917 when the Norwegian ship SS Imo collided with the Mont Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, setting off an explosion that devastated the entire north end of the city, causing thousands of deaths and injuries. With the help from other communities across  Canada and our neighbours to the south from Boston, the area was rebuilt with houses made of hydrostone, a compressed cement which would withstand any further fires or calamities. Today these houses make up the Hydrostone Market, an upscale and trendy place with homes, shops and restaurants neatly laid out along boulevards shaded by stately trees and community gardens.

At this point the boys, preferring to head back to their hotel for a swim in the pool, decided to leave us girls to explore this place on our own…a good idea. Right there and then, we headed to Julien’s Pattisserie, Bakery and Cafe, the cutest little Parisian cafe outside of Paris. We were in seventh heaven as we sat outside on the ivied covered patio sipping our cappuccino and savouring our yummy desserts.

So good…

Following this indulgence, we couldn’t resist popping into some of the quaint shops lining the boulevard where, of course, we found lots of unusual art and crafts….many locally made… to drool over. I found some all natural face cream to help keep my ever encroaching wrinkles at bay, while my daughter just had to have a lovely amethyst necklace.

Later that night for dinner, with no specific place in mind, we set out to peruse some of Halifax’s culinary delights. Since my son-in-law does not eat fish, any restaurants specialising in that were quickly eliminated. That wasn’t a problem since it did help to narrow down the many choices we faced. With a nine year old to consider, we agreed to look for an Italian offering where we could find pizza. After a short search, we found just what we were looking for at Bishop’s Landing on the harbour front at Ristorante a Mano. We were truly impressed with this place which offered great Italian food, good service, and reasonable prices. The four of us, which included craft beer for the adults, ate there for about $100.00.

Eating out allows grandson to us his mom’s smart phone while waiting for our food.

The entertainment scene was TA’s third category included in their survey of ‘cities on the rise’. We didn’t have time to take in any of the many opportunities that no doubt were available even on a Tuesday night because we were all tired from our long drives and sight-seeing. Nevertheless, Halifax has gained a reputation for drawing talent from all over Canada and the world for all music genres… from rap to opera and jazz…to name a few. Every night you can catch local Maritime music at many of the pubs and restaurants in the downtown core.

After dinner stroll along the walkway skirting the harbour.

For me this time in my home city was very special as it gave me and my little family some quality time together in a place which is seemingly gaining much attention from other parts of Canada and the world. Who would have thought that the city which I could hardly wait to escape from, back in the ’60’s when I was a young girl anxious to see the rest of the world, has now become one of the world’s most interesting cities to visit! Wonders never cease!

*Martello Tower – constructed in 1793 and one of five Martello Towers built to protect Halifax over the past three centuries. Round in structure with thick walls, they were built to mount the cannons and to house their large heavy balls.

*McNab’s Island – The largest island at the entrance to Halifax Harbour is now part of the National Parks system hosting picnics and historical tours in the summer months.

 

 

Reflecting on Anthony Bourdain’s Death

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks you: it breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you.” Anthony Bourdain.

When I heard that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, for one brief moment my heart stopped. Envied by both travellers and would be travellers alike, he had an amazing ability to gain an understanding of the many countries he visited. His love of all kinds of food and his talent for cooking it in five-star restaurants before he gained his fame as a ‘tell it as it is’ travel reporter led to an impressive lifestyle envied by those who wanted the kind of freedom that such a profession can give. The intensity of my shock at the news of his suicide took me by surprise. How could he of all people commit such a sad and selfish act when at the top of a flourishing career?

Although I envied his job and the finesse with which he handled it, I was never one of his avid fans. There was no question that he was a powerful interviewer and showed an honesty and humbleness which is rare in celebrities and that impressed me.  However, call me judgemental or plain old-fashioned, but his many tattoos bothered me. What was he trying to say I wondered? I wonder this about all the young travellers I see with bodies covered in them? I know that tattoos are meant to portray something personal about those wearing them, such as a love affair gone sour, a particular beef against the world, or to draw attention to a personal philosophy or cause, but aren’t they also an indication or sign that the person sporting them doesn’t really respect or like his body or what’s inside it? To me it speaks of some kind of self mutilation.Was this his way of unknowingly portraying an inner disconnect of something vital missing in his seemingly exciting life of freedom?

I also admired Bourdain’s wonderful way with words, hence, the above quotation which appeared in our Chronicle Herald the day after his death. It so vividly sums up the good and bad aspects of travelling alone. The amount of travel I have done is a drop in the bucket compared to what he put in. Nevertheless, I totally agree with what it can be and apparently was for him. It can be a blessing as well as a curse. The freedom which it allows has to be the top draw for any traveller who endeavours to do it, but there is invariably a price tag attached to such freedom.

Bourdain had an eleven year daughter and a wife… for awhile…apparently they had separated. He was totally responsible for pulling together his team of writers, photographers, and all the other bodies needed to carry out his travels to exotic places around the world. This effort was from all reports on a modest budget. It’s not surprising that this would eventually take a toll on his family. Those closest to him noticed that although he appeared to be happy right up until a few days before his death, he did look very tired. At the age of 61 perhaps he saw what was ahead and decided to end it before it got the best of him. We will never know, but the one thing I do know is that if you have a family or a spouse, travelling on your own doesn’t provide a firm foundation for a close relationship…..unless you can take the family with you. This is happening in some rare cases with young, mostly European couples. I think we will see more of this in the future as our world becomes more dependent on technology and young people are forced to find more rewarding work in a foreign country, or to escape from the rat race in their own countries. They could also be forced to move because of climate change and the cost of living in their native countries. There are a myriad of reasons and the opportunities for doing this are certainly there. The nomadic lifestyle is appealing to a growing group of those who want that kind of freedom.

I totally agree that the best education you could ever get is to travel by yourself. There is no doubt in my mind about that. As Bourdain said: “The journey changes you.” That is certainly true for me. Let me name the ways:

  1. It has increased my self-confidence.
  2. It has helped me to find the value in reaching out to others.
  3. It has helped me to be more resilient.
  4. It has helped me understand the world through the culture and the customs of the countries I have visited.
  5. It has helped me open my eyes and heart to see that although we may be different on the outside, we are not so on the inside. We are all very much connected.

Anthony Bourdain found his passion in the work he was doing which garnered him fame and recognition and all the other benefits that came with that. The missing link was his inability to overcome his demons and realise that the only way he could have conquered them would have been to face them. He needed to slow up and take time to do that. Unfortunately, he did not, resulting in leaving behind a young daughter who will have to deal with his decision. He will definitely be missed by all those who knew him, but we all  know who will miss him the most… and this is the greatest tragedy of all.

If you would like to find out more about my thoughts on travelling on my own as a senior woman you can take a look at the following posts:

Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

Travelling Solo or Not?

My tribute to Anthony Bourdain’s perpective on travel with food as the key for unlocking his road to fame, is the gallery of pictures I have taken over the years in my travels to Viet Nam (his favourite country), Thailand, Cambodia, and Myranmar (Burma), Morocco and Italy. Click on the picture for the caption.

 

 

Celebrating Tea and Queen Victoria

Only in Canada do we look forward to that third weekend in May when we are gifted with a long weekend. Why is that, you might wonder? Is it because after a harsh Canadian winter, we can look forward to summer which is just around the corner, knowing we can finally get outside to clean up winter’s aftermath making room for our transplants, or to open up the cottage? This might be true for most of us these days, but for some it’s an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Queen Victoria who had the distinction of being Britain’s longest reigning monarch… a title she can no longer proclaim since Elizabeth 11 took it over in 2015.

When Victoria died in 1901, our then government decided to make the third Monday in May a statutory holiday to commemorate her birth on May 24, 1819, causing many a raised eyebrow in Britain as well as our neighbour to the south that we should be setting aside this day to celebrate a Queen who was to all extent and purposes a temperamental and dour, old woman who always wore black. However, as we have found out, appearances can be deceiving.

Thanks to her talent and love for writing, we have discovered that Victoria was the exact opposite of that stern image implanted in our brains by our history books and our great grandparents. Present day historians claim that her daily dairies were enough to fill over 700 books beginning with her childhood until her death in 1901. Through them, we have learned that she was a passionate and strong woman who refused to bow to the strict social norms of her time. She not only had a firm grip on who she was as a person, but also on the country she ruled as well as the country she most loved…Germany.

After all, her beloved husband, Albert, was a German and strong personality in his own right who came into her life at the tender age of 19 when she was about to take over the daunting task of Queen. He fulfilled not only the role of her lover, but also provided a strong father figure for her. He was the pillar of strength she needed as she gave birth to their nine children while struggling to keep control of the world’s largest Empire.

Our interest in Victoria has increased over recent years as her descendants have gradually released some of what she wrote. We are learning that this woman had another side which went totally against the acceptable customs of her day especially when it came to her subsequent relationships with men after Albert’s early death. Yes, she suffered from depression which explained her long period of mourning. She never discarded the black dresses, but she refused to stop having fun and being herself when she met a man who understood her, such as her servant John Brown, a rough and ready  Scot who adored her. The same was true for Disraeli one of her Prime Ministers.

Even in her final years after receiving the title of Empress of India, she refused to travel there insisting that India come to her. As a result, a young servant with a wife and mother-in-law arrived to carry out the task of teaching Victoria every thing there was to know about his country Thus, began another close relationship for this woman with an old body at 84 who still had a young heart.

Victoria’s personal life was certainly not a boring one. However, it was a source of concern for her family and many of those who worked with and under here as she fought to lead her Empire through the vagaries of the world at that time. As a head of state and ruler of the vast British Empire, we know she survived numerous attempts to assassinate her. We also know that she really came into her own after Albert’s death becoming extremely popular with her public towards the end of her reign. During her 63 years on the throne, Britain experienced tremendous growth in technology, industry and communication. Underground rail systems, bridges, and roads were built everywhere in attempts to unite the country. Judging by the crowds who came out to see her in her later years, it appears she had indeed matured and finally won her battle to take control without Albert’s influence.

Learning about Victoria as a person has made Victoria Day for me just a little more interesting. What started as a day to have a parade and some fireworks, morphing into a time to clean up the yard and plant some flowers to welcome summer has now  brought us time to reflect on the personal journey of a woman with two very distinct sides to her personality during a time of change in matters of morality and economic growth throughout her vast Empire.

For my Victoria Day Weekend this year, I had the opportunity to do something different: I was asked to be a greeter for the guests who attended a Victorian Tea and Talk at the Lower Granville Hall. Under the capable leadership of Medea and Alan Holtz, new comers to the community of Port Royal, and some hard-working ladies with much experience in holding dinners and teas to raise funds for their hall, this successful tea did a great job of commemorating the Queen’s birthday. What better way to raise some much-needed money for our hall and the Annapolis Heritage Society who will be using our donation to help fix and paint the exteriors of two light houses: the one in Port Royal and the other in Victoria Beach.

Medea and Alan Holtz

Every effort was made to treat all those who attended this fundraiser an authentic Victorian Tea. Not only did the servers don Victorian dresses, headgear, and gloves, but had to walk carefully to avoid tripping on their long skirts. These little touches along with soft parlour music lent an atmosphere of calm and gentility much appreciated by the guests causing some to linger longer than planned.

Susan MacGregor

Me, the Greeter

The beautiful table settings, the tea served in silver pots, and the dainty sandwiches and sweets were the main attraction. However, the star of the show had to be the peaches! Why peaches? Well apparently Victoria, when introduced to them on a visit to Italy, fell madly in love with them and every year after that insisted that some be shipped to her in England. Unfortunately, peaches aren’t in season on Victoria Day in Nova Scotia. Instead of serving imports the gals made their own life-like peaches from a secret recipe using ordinary cookie dough.

To keep our guests amused a trivia quiz about Victoria’s life as well as the Royals today…especially since this was the day of Harry and Megan’s wedding…was on each table to provide fun and learning for all. What a great way to pull people together.

Our special guest speaker, Barry Moody, a noted local historian, gave an insightful talk on how tea became the favourite drink of the British, and the influence that had on the country’s social norms and economy. Did you know that the first tea was offered in 1658 at a London coffee-house? From there it became the beverage of choice at the Royal Court. It then quickly became an important social occasion giving birth to our famous ‘afternoon teas’. You may have heard of the term ‘high tea’ which was customarily tea served with a meal. With the advent of such social customs came opportunities for the East India Company to import more tea from China. It also provided opportunities for business minded entrepreneurs to start manufacturing such tea essentials as porcelain tea cups and saucers, teapots and even mustache mugs. Barry went on to say that artifacts related to tea drinking have shown up at Melanson’s Settlement, a Historical Site in Granville Beach. He admitted not much else is known about how the ritual of drinking tea influenced the Port Royal area, but noted that it was the French who have given us proof that it existed here in some form. I suspect it was also a popular past time with the Scottish and English Loyalists who settled here. In my own experience, my maternal grandmother was a big fan of ‘afternoon teas’. After my grandfather died, she moved from Halifax to a small farm in Seabright, where she hosted teas every Sunday afternoon for all her friends. Petit fours, shortbreads, Scottish scones made on a griddle, oatcakes with homemade jam were the lure making “Georgie’s” teas very popular.

Like most things today, our rituals and customs are being challenged by the changes occurring in our lifestyles. Tea drinking is losing some of its allure to the rise in our coffee culture. There are still those who prefer their tea because it has less caffeine or none at all if you consider sipping herbal teas possibly for medicinal purposes. Or, it might just be a matter of personal taste. Whatever the reason, our guests and those who organized this event were left with an experience that left us satisfied and wiser about the influence of tea on the British Empire and the Queen who reigned. I am happy to have been involved in this ‘tea’ event which was a hit with all those who attended. Without a doubt, this will become a yearly event on Victoria Day. The Port Royal gals are already looking ahead to next year and planning for it to be held on Monday instead of Saturday.

Kamille and Jeff Langstroff

 

Final Stop – Sydney, Australia

Final Stop – Sydney, Australia

By the time I arrived in Sydney, I had covered half the continent by air in two weeks…not much time to see all I had hoped but probably enough to learn something about its people and how this strange land, its history, and its location have helped shape people into what they are today. This is especially true for their cities considering that about 80% of the Australian population live in them with most located along the coast.

Before I landed in Sydney, I got the impression from various people I know who have been there as well as Aussies, themselves, that there was no reason to stay for long as it was just another big city. I would be wasting my valuable time there when there are so many other gorgeous places to visit. True enough but I was finding it tiring and expensive moving around this vast country so was happy to stay ‘put’ there for the week.

My first view of Sydney.

Getting closer.

And yes, Sydney is a huge city of over five million people when you consider the entire area composed of the centre or CBD and all its precincts….but then so is Melbourne. Yet, I never once heard any disparaging remarks about that city. On the contrary,  the reaction of most who had visited Melbourne was that it was their favourite city. Perhaps this is an example of the rivalry that has and still does exist between these two dynamic cities.

A look at the city from the ferry.

My other reason for choosing to stay longer than most was because not only was it my place of departure, but also because I had friends I wanted to visit near Bathurst, a town about 200 km southwest by train. I would have time to actually see and get to know Sydney as well as have a quick visit to the Blue Mountains which were on my list of ‘must sees’.

Fortunately, my Sydney arrival was a breeze compared to the experience I had in Melbourne. To learn more about this you can go to my recent post First Stop – Melbourne, Australia. The Airbnb place where I had booked a room was located in the precinct of Leichhardt, Sidney’s “Little Italy” which was about a half hour from the CBD (Central Business District) by bus and train. The check- in procedure was similar to what I had with Little St. Kilda in Melbourne. However, this time I had clear and copious instructions from the owner on how to get there and most importantly how to get in and find my room. The whole thing went without a hitch, and the next day the owner came to introduce himself and answer any questions I had. This made my stay so much more enjoyable knowing I had an actual person I could call upon if need be.

With this hassle free arrival, I was ready to tackle Sydney and its sights the next day. After perusing all the brochures I had picked up at the Information Centre in Central Station the previous day and taking the time to read up on the expert advice of my Fodor’s guide-book, I decided the best place to start would be at the Circular Quay train stop which serves as a link for ferries, trams, and buses. Faced with a multitude of kiosks selling sight-seeing tours, I decided to not waste any time looking around but just go ahead and book the Zoo and Eco tour with Manly Fast Ferries. This family owned company offered me the two things I wanted to do: a trip to the Taronga Zoo which requires a ferry ride to reach and a two-hour tour of Sidney Harbour with commentary which would give me a birds’ eye view of the whole harbour area. Since the tour was good for 24 hours, I was able to do the zoo on the first day and leave the harbour tour for the following day.

The iconic Opera House from the ferry on my way to the Taronga Zoo.

The other Sydney icon-the Harbour Bridge.

This turned out beautifully because the cruise stopped at several places with the option to disembark at whichever one you wanted and stay for as long as the last ferry of the day departed. I am usually against taking a tour but in this case with the amount of flexibility and freedom to set my own pace, it fit my needs at the affordable price of  $59.

The Taronga Zoo covers a huge unspoiled piece of land built on the side of a mountain overlooking Sydney Harbour with an impressive view of the Opera House and Harbour bridge. All the animals are housed in a large space providing the kind of habitat they need to be happy. I could have taken a cable car up to the top (included in the price) but because of the long line-up….it was Easter Monday so many families with children were there… I opted to walk which allowed me to go at my own pace, stopping along the way to view the animals of Australia, such as the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, the platypus, echinadas, and emus. I saw them all including the shy koalas, or at least one of them, who deigned to wake up long enough for me to capture him on camera. Now I could have had my picture taken with a koala  who has the special task of staying awake to have his picture taken by those who like to fork over $25 for such a privilege, but I was not that desperate to cuddle such a cute animal for that price.

You all know this guy.

Not another ‘roo but a wallaby – smaller with a pointed face.

What else is there for a koala to do in the day time?

That dark spot is a nearly extinct platypus.

The following morning I was up early for my two-hour cruise at 9:30. I say early because I had to have breakfast as well as leave at least a half hour to get there from my place which entailed a bus ride to Central Station and then the train from there to Circular Quay. I have to say that Sydney’s transit system was much easier to navigate than Melbourne’s. I bought an Opal card which worked the same way as the Miki but in general their whole system was better laid out and organized with people who knew how to help. In retrospect, I think Melbourne’s is in a bit of a mess because it’s been experiencing monumental growth of late. One Aussie told me that they have over 1500 people a week now coming to live there, a fact which was later backed up by some research I did.

Sydney’s Central Station-the hub to everywhere.

After an hour of cruising, I decided to spend the rest of my day in Manly and even though it was overcast and threatening rain, I still wanted to see why Manly Beach was considered by many as one of the best beaches around. Who knew that Sydney and its environs has over 100 beaches from small, maybe just a few feet, to very large up to more than several kilometres long? Fodor’s claims they have over 30. Whoever is correct, there is no denying that Sydney has its pick of fine beaches.

One of many stately homes on the harbour.

I loved Manly, a separate village and perfect seaside resort with gorgeous beaches.  It’s considered as the birthplace of surfing in Australia. Manly Beach is just minutes from the centre, linked by the Corso, a wide boulevard lined with numerous cafes, restaurants, and shops, leading to the beach promenade flanked by lovely homes and stately Norfolk pine trees. The promenade eventually hooks onto some excellent trails to the north where there is a National Park and views to die for. To me Manly looked like the perfect place for the well-heeled and those looking for a slower more laid back style of living.

Manly Beach before the sun appeared.

After the sun appeared.

My one regret…. not bringing my bathing suit! When I left so early in the morning, it was cool and looked like rain. Moreover, I wasn’t too clear on how the cruise worked or where it was taking me. It was a last-minute decision to get off at Manly. Less than an hour later, the sun came out as I was walking the Cabbage Tree Bay trail a short hike along the coast. Later, over a big all-day breakfast special of egg and bacon on a black bun with a rocket salad, I had regained my energy so decided to go for the longer trail that would take me to North Head at the northernmost part of the peninsula where Manly is located offering some more of Sidney Harbour’s gorgeous views. In my eagerness, I really overdid it because it took longer than I thought leaving me to have to rush back to the wharf to catch one of the last ferries going back to Circular Quay…my only way back unless I had a car. There was no bus service as far as I could fathom from those I asked. Despite this one blip in my lovely day, I was totally satisfied with the tour and the choices I had made.

Views from the look off on the North Head Trail.

The Harbour Bridge at sunset.

The next day I decided to make an easier one with little walking so didn’t go back to the CBD or anywhere near a train or bus. I stayed right where I was in “Little Italy” drinking cappuccinos, people watching, and reading in a nearby park in preparation for the next day when I would be travelling by train to the town of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. I am saving my report on this trip for my next post.

After returning from the Blue Mountains, I spent my remaining day and a half in the CBD exploring the downtown putting me in the midst of the business and high-end shopping area. I wanted to see this part of Sydney where some of its most beautiful old buildings are located, namely the Queen Victoria Building built in 1898. It’s noted for its architectural beauty which sports a huge clock tower in the centre. Today it’s a classy shopping arcade with a host of high-end shops and cafes. Someone recommended I take in a High Tea while there but after seeing the price, I declined and settled for the Aussie version of an iced coffee made with milk, coffee, of course, ice cream all topped with a good dollop of whipped cream. Yummy!

Sydney’s business and shopping area with stately buildings.

Since Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden wasn’t too far away, I took my remaining time to walk around taking in The Calyx, a world- class exhibition featuring a colourful display of how pollination and colour play such an important role in the world of plants. I could have spent all day there because there was so much to see as there seems to be in all the botanic gardens in the places I visited in Australia. It really is a country of varied flora which they showcase so well. Finally, the fact that from the gardens you can get another fantastic view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is another reason to visit.

So colourful.

Interesting. Did you know?

My last day in Sydney presented me with a difficult choice. There was so much I hadn’t seen. In the end, I chose to make my way out to Bondi Beach, which is the one that everyone goes to. You simply don’t go to Sydney and not go to Bondi even though there are more than a hundred to choose from. Why Bondi? Well for starters, it’s probably one of the largest and has everything that beach goers want in the way of sand, surf, lots of places to eat, close enough to the city and easily accessible by bus, and of course, the people who flock there in droves giving it a carnival type of atmosphere. People draw people, and especially in Australia where biggest and best seem to be king. I would loved to have had the time to walk along the coast to Bronte Beach which sounded so much nicer but… At least I was able to put on my bathing suit and get half way into the water. It was very rough and unless you are a surfer or strong swimmer, you had to be careful not to get swamped. Even though it was a Tuesday when you would think that everyone would be at work or in school, such wasn’t the case. The part at the other end of the beach (it’s about 7 kms. long) had the flags up telling bathers there was less current, but it was so crowded I didn’t want to go near it. There were no lifeguards on duty since it was off-season.

I left Sydney with a good feeling and was glad I spent as much time as I did there. It really does have so much to boast about, and I can understand why Melbourne is striving to match it. They could very well do that too except they are missing one important component which they will never have….the most beautiful harbour in the world. Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet to arrive in Sydney in 1788 said it best: “Here lies the finest harbour in the world.”

Four Days in Singapore

With a four-day stop over in Singapore,  I am happy to report that just about everything that’s been said about this unique city/city-state is true.

I arrived at Changi Airport just as the sun was setting so was able to see what was in store as the shuttle bus drove at a decent speed into the centre of the city where I am staying. The Bougainvillea lined freeway failed to turn up even one scrap of garbage…anywhere. I was looking both sides and saw nothing. What a contrast to Cambodia or any of the SE Asian countries.

I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps this is why some have said they found Singapore boring. Was it boring because it looks like a city should with clean streets and orderly traffic? Are we to the point that it takes dirt and poverty to stimulate our senses?

To tell the truth, these very qualities espoused by Singapore have put me into seventh heaven. For me it’s a pleasure to be walking around a city that seems to work. Traffic is heavy as it is in all big cities, but it moves at a good pace. There isn’t a lot of honking and excessive noise with big trucks and buses spewing out toxic fumes. Motorists stop for pedestrians before you even put a foot into the street, and they wait until you are all the way across. Pedestrians are equally as courteous. They don’t jay walk, and they wait patiently at the traffic lights until the walk signal comes up. At times this seems like an eternity to me. The Singaporeans don’t mind waiting; they can check their phones instead. Everyone has a phone to play with here. When I thought Bangkok took the prize for this phenomenon I have learned that it must be Singapore. While on the MRT (the subway), all twenty or so people in my car  except me and one other person was concentrated on their phones.

Street scene with old and new.

Since my solo travel began five years ago, I have found that the best way for me to explore a large city at first is by walking and getting to know the area where I am staying. I keep the regular tourist sites or ‘must sees’ for later…if ever. I am happy to get three out of ten of the best recommended sites. Trying to take in everything that everyone else goes to see would stress me out. I’ll take sore feet at the end of a day over that kind of stress.

My first day in a brand new city, especially one that has been recently named the most expensive place to live in the world, can offer mixed emotions for me. Yes, it’s definitely thrilling  for me to explore new territory but underneath there is always a little anxiety. My main stressors are getting oriented so I at least head out in the general direction I want to go and figuring out the general lay of the land. That way I can finally decide where I want to walk.

The advantage I had in carrying out this plan in Singapore is that all Singaporeans speak English. This is their first language but then you have all the various other languages, such as Mandarin, Malay, and Hindi with their different accents and rendition of English which doesn’t always make their English understandable to a person like me whose auditory strength borders on the weak side. With the help from the friendly staff at the Champion Hotel City where I have been staying, I quickly opted to start my exploration close to my area which just happens to be at the border of Chinatown and within walking distance to downtown and the Singapore River.

Entrance to Chinatown.

I found out that the river is the cleanest it’s ever been. At one time before Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia in 1965 it was filthy. I doubt many places can boast of this today, at least not any in Asia.

The Singapore River

Fortunately, I had an ideal location and if I wanted to go further afield all I had to do was figure out the complicated (to me anyway) subway system and go from there. I decided to make it really simple that first day by walking straight up Victoria Rd. to the area known as Bugis noted for its diversity, history and shopping.

Entering the Bugis area.

I expect most of you have heard of the Raffles Hotel with its famous bar serving the equally famous singapore sling. How about the man who started all this…Sir Stamford Raffles? My trek to Bugis helped me sort out some historical facts regarding this man who is considered to be the founder of what is modern-day Singapore. It has a humble beginning as a fishing village inhabited by poor Malays (people from Malaysia) at the time when Raffles’ made his appearance under British rule. This was in the early 1800’s which isn’t so old by our standards considering what Singapore is today. At that time, the area was controlled by the Dutch and those living there, numbering about a 1,000 were chafing at the bit under their rule. Sensing this, Raffles quickly proposed a more lucrative trade for them under Britain. With the right kind of diplomacy and salesmanship, a partnership was born and there has been no looking back ever since. Today his legacy can be seen on buildings and streets everywhere.

A little history of Bugis and Sir Stamford Raffles.

Before reaching Bugis I came upon a stately white portal or gate and wall encircling an attractive older building and grounds which looked at first glance like a five-star hotel sporting a couple of high-class restaurants and a courtyard. Seeing a parade of women dressed in beautiful long dresses spoke of some kind of ceremony to be held…a wedding perhaps? However upon closer scrutiny, I realised I was wandering around a significant historical site which also housed a gorgeous Gothic style church painted in white. Except for its colour it looked much like the Notre Dame in Paris. The site I had stumbled upon is called Chijmes, dating back to the 1880’s when it was built as an orphanage by the nuns for abandoned females. As far as I can fathom, it simply isn’t on the tourist radar. None of the brochures and maps mentioned it. Such a pity because the site is beautiful and a perfect symbol of Singapore’s past. The ladies were singers taking part in a Singing Festival. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find out when the actual performance was to be held. What I saw was a dress rehearsal.

The Chijmes Cathedral

A choir in their lovely purple dresses.

My travels that day also took me to a couple of ritzy malls… the brochures weren’t kidding when they said this was one of the best shopping areas in the city along with others like Orchard Road, Little India, Chinatown, and the list goes on. Singapore could brag they are the most over-malled city in the world.

At one point I wandered into a predominately Muslim area (Halal) evidenced by the number of women wearing scarves. Hunger was taking over by this time so I decided to stop for an afternoon meal which would serve as lunch and dinner. A restaurant with the Trip Advisor logo and a claim to have the best biryani in Singapore caught my attention so I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed and by Singaporean standards I got good value for my money at $14 which by the way is a few cents more in our Canadian money. Not bad considering the menus I had looked at where almost double that.

A chocolate dessert at a mere $18.

One of the tourist recommendations I did take in was the iLight Show at Marina Bay a magical display of light and colour celebrating the city’s support of sustainability. It showed creations from artists around the world including a Canadian artist from Quebec.

An exhibit made from used plastic.

This creation named Light Breeze is made from used neon tubes.

The light show with the Marina Bay in the background.

I couldn’t afford to have a drink at Raffles so instead I went to Level 33 a bar up on the 33rd floor of the Marina Bay Financial Centre where I opted for a cappuccino which I enjoyed much more than a singapore sling. The views were just as good, too.

View from Level 33 of the harbour and the container ships.

View of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino with the Supertrees Garden on top.

Yesterday I met up with some Chiang Mai friends at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Halia Restaurant. We had so much to talk about that we didn’t leave nearly enough time to explore this English garden landscape dating back to the 1800’s. To this day it remains a major centre for plant research and breeding, with orchids leading the list. It’s one of the most visited gardens in the world and has won numerous awards. Time magazine described it as ‘Asia’s best urban jungle’. It comes highly recommended so I’m sorry we didn’t plan this better so we could see more of it. Maybe it was just as well we didn’t because by the time we finished our meal the humidity and the heat were overwhelming.

Friends Irene and Trevor.

Finally, you can’t visit Singapore and not take the time to visit the two most popular enclaves: Chinatown and Little India. I had my first meal in Chinatown the night I arrived…dumplings, my favourite Chinese food. Then yesterday I made a quick run through Little India, brimming with colour and bargains in Indian jewellery and clothing. For Indian food lovers there were restaurants galore. This was probably the place where I saw more garbage than usual, nevertheless,  by Indian standards it just couldn’t compare.

Street scene in Little India.

Colourful Indian saris.

Four days were about the right amount of time for me. There was still much more I could have seen and done had my budget allowed. I have no regrets in stopping over, and one thing for sure it’s prepared me for what lies ahead. Australia is also an expensive country to visit so getting used to such high prices has been a learning curve which I know I’ll have to deal on my next stop which will be Melbourne.

Chinatown

Coastal Cambodia at Risk?

Southwestern Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand has been gifted with white sand beaches, tropical islands, budding resorts, and provincial towns. It’s no surprise that tourists from all over the world are flocking here to sample these offerings, potentially promising a boom for the local economy. Cambodia desperately needs this but will it succeed at getting it? Unfortunately, I see some black clouds on the horizon threatening their dream.

This is Kep Beach.

Sun setting on Outres Beach 2.

One of the beautiful beaches on Rabbit Is. near Kep.

Found this fellow on the beach above.

Before I begin to figure out how Cambodia can possibly deal with those black clouds I see looming over it, I want to relate how my stay this past week at the Village of Outres between the beaches of Outres 1 and 2 reminded me so much of the ’60’s when the ‘hippies’ of that era began their search for their nirvana which would come to be an escape from the troubles they saw in their world around them. Down through the ages there have many idealists wanting to set up their utopias in order to live life the way in which they felt it should be lived not how their governments dictated. They wanted to live on the fringes like the ‘hippies’ and create their own perfect world. The problem is that most of them were out of sync with their times so their experiments usually failed. Those of us who were around in the ’60’s witnessed their demise when drugs took over their lives. Others just got disillusioned from trying to right the wrongs and gave it all up to go back to normal living. However, their movement and the ideas behind it weren’t a total failure because what they did accomplish was an awakening in many of us that our western society didn’t have all the answers on how our world should work.

You are probably wondering where I am going with this but bear with me. Since I arrived here three weeks ago, in what is now referred to as Coastal Cambodia… first in Kep, then a little inland to the old French provincial town of Kampot, and, finally, this week to Outres Beach 2 near Sihanoukville, the largest city in this tourist haven…. I have stumbled upon a community of sorts bearing an odd resemblance to the hippy communes.

Old French colonial home in Kep being restored to its former glory.

Street scene in Outres Village.

For the past week I have been calling a comfy enclave of bungalows called Om Home in Outres Village, my home. I couldn’t help noticing that the ex-pats and many of the backpackers here were dressing and living a life similar to our “hippies” of the ’60’s. They are mostly young people wearing weird clothing, maybe some facial jewellery, sporting long hair, dread locks, and beards, and definitely showing off bodies with lots of tattoos. There are a few older men and women interspersed in the group. This group of ex-pats, digital nomads, or barang as the locals call them may dress and lead a laid back life style reminiscent of the hippy era but the similarity ends there.

Some barang or young ex-pats.

Unlike our idealistic ‘hippies’ who were too far ahead of their time in their search for a better world, today’s young people are more practical and here just when Cambodia and the world needs them. Their goal is not to escape our imperfect world but to immerse themselves in it. They are not sitting around dreaming about what to do: they are endeavouring to do it. They are aware of what they are facing and open to changing with the times in order to carve out a life for themselves.

I joined a clean up crew who meet once a week to pick up garbage on the streets.

Plastic bottles are the only items being recycled.

This is a common site everywhere.

Two girls from England trying to clean up the beach following a full moon tide.

Someone tried to make a neat pile from the trash the tide brought in.

The Village of Outres has basically been created by the barang  over the past eight years. On my first visit back then, all that was here was a handful of thatched huts and small restaurants renting out beach chairs for the few tourists who wanted to escape the crowded beaches in Sihanoukville. Seeing an opportunity to use their entrepreneurship and creativity, adventurous barang began to open up guest houses, restaurants providing foods from around the world, yoga studios, arts and craft shops, and, of course, numerous Internet jobs which has earned them the title of ‘digital nomads’…people who can take their skills anywhere to make a living as long as they have a computer.

This $3 special with good coffee drew me in for breakfast. The owner is Italian.

Music is a huge part of the creative scene everywhere in town.

Cambodia has been the perfect place for them to do this with the government basically turning a blind eye to what they are doing… that is until the tourists starting arriving in larger numbers. The increase in the number of Chinese tourists has quickly caught the interest of the government and  the developers. The rising middle class in China wants to  see the world, and they have the money to do so but not in the style of the backpackers. They prefer five-star resorts, fine cuisine, and easy accessibility to all the hot spots, such as Siem Reap with its ruins from the ancient Khmer Kingdom of Angkor. Before this influx of tourists from China, it was almost a win/win situation for all sides as it brought money into the country’s coffers and provided much-needed jobs and business opportunities for the locals. However, the influx of the Chinese tourist is changing all of this.

This owner wants to sell his business before the invasion of the Chinese really begins.

You must have guessed by now the cause for the ‘black cloud’ hanging over this unfortunate country. In the past few years, rampant construction driven by Chinese millionaires has been changing the natural beauty of this coastal region to what is beginning to look like a garbage dump with a landscape dominated by cranes and high buildings.  This is particularly noticeable in and around Sihanoukville and gradually creeping into Kep and Kampot.

One of many new buildings being constructed in the Village.

Garbage is everywhere waiting for pick up to be taken somewhere?

Depending on who you talk to, there are various moves from China that are causing not only the ex-pats but the locals much concern. Fancy resorts are replacing the bamboo huts and little guest houses which were once affordable to the young backpackers and middle class tourists.

One of the 5 star resorts on Outres Beach 2.

As I mentioned, the new resorts are geared to cater to the emerging middle class of China, Russia, and more mature tourists from Europe who no longer want to backpack it. When the developers start drawing this kind of tourist then there’s always another money-maker to be considered…gambling! Rumour has it that when all the construction in Sihanoukville is completed, the city can then boast of over 40 casinos! Now you might think that all this will benefit the Cambodian people by providing them with those much-needed jobs making it all good, but you will be wrong!

A casino nearing completion atop Bokar Hill near Kampot.

Apparently the construction crews and eventually the operators of the resorts and casinos are being staffed by the Chinese. All of this is creating gate-like communities which could ultimately destroy the efforts of the young ex-pats and the locals here in the Village of Outres where they have been learning to work together to make their community more sustainable and peaceful. Many of them are outfitting their buildings with solar devices to heat their water and run their generators, which they often have to rely upon when their power is cut off by the construction sites. Moreover, many restaurants are offering organically grown foods on their menus. They are proud to claim that their village is a foodie’s haven with everything made from scratch.

This restaurant takes pride in using solar power and serving organically grown foods.

However, this could conceivably become a past dream with the impending Chinese invasion which right now weighs heavily on the mind of the locals and the ex-pats. To add further insult to injury, their invasion is being openly aided and abetted by the present government led by Hun Sen. You can read more about him and his government in my most recent post Cambodia – Past and Present.

Of course, he’s doing everything in his power to keep the status quo in this country which is to line his and his cronies’ pockets with cash. China has no problem with this way of doing business for it’s the custom in this part of the world. They appear to be out to get whatever they need to take care of their aging population by building comfortable apartments for retirement, and for the younger generation, who are eager to escape to beaches, those five-star resorts. Then there awaits them the forests, the water from the Mekong River, and the minerals that Cambodia can still claim to have but are rapidly disappearing. Granted some of this money will filter down to the people. The infrastructure that the government has put millions of dollars into, enabling the people to travel around more easily and quickly is a plus for those who can afford motorbikes and fancy cars but what about those many poor people who can’t?

Cambodia is still a corrupt country. The only winners who can come out on top to improve their lives are those with the money. If you have that, you can buy anything you want including a job, but it you don’t, you can’t go too far.

I know Cambodia isn’t the only developing country facing this problem…. all the SE Asian countries and other parts of the world are to some degree dealing with this sickness depending on how much unspoiled land they have left, other valuable resources, and the degree of governmental transparency. The invasion of the Chinese is a great concern to all.

The opinions of many Cambodians and those barang I have talked to is that of all the SE Asian countries, Cambodia stands to be the biggest loser. It will continue to need our help, but it will have to be the kind of help that can empower them enough so that they can regain some of their pride of culture. They have been constantly beaten down over the years with totally corrupts leaders.They have also had over half of their country slaughtered during the reign of the Rouge wiping out almost all their well-educated and older generation. Now they are faced not only with a totally corrupt government, but a floundering population of young people who have by and large been poorly educated unless they were fortunate to have parents who were wealthy enough to send them to an International school.

Most NGO’s focus on teaching English and various skills such as making crafts and learning computer skills to those disadvantaged kids who have no parents or prospects, but I think that what they probably need more than anything else right now is to be empowered. More emphasis on Life Skills training could do this. They have to be given a better understanding of their past and learn to take  pride in their  culture again. This could help them to stand up to the Chinese in a way that isn’t going to get them killed. They need to change their thinking from despair to hope in spite of the obstacles that are facing them. Everyone agrees that a change of government is needed, but for now they will, unfortunately,  have to accept the fact that their present government is here to stay for a while.

I wish that the Cambodian people had fewer odds facing them and their lives could be easier. I wish that their future could be more promising because if any people deserve more, it would have to be them.