Outback South Australia

A visit to the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia is one of my favourite camping trips; an opportunity to enjoy the solitude of Australia’s haunting and ageless landscape, distinct flora and fauna, bushwalks, ancient rock art and more. One visit is not enough, as the Ranges cover a vast area, stretching over 400 kilometres.

On the way from home near Melbourne, I stay at campsites on the banks of the Murray River, at quaint and quiet country towns, or in some of South Australia’s prime wine regions like the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley. Tasting wines before camping in the desert has a certain piquancy.

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The tranquility of the Murray River is occasionally broken by a flotilla of pelicans gliding  by the campsite, or a passing houseboat.

Lyrup

Burra is an appealing South Australian country town close to the Ranges. Typically, it has grand buildings, a characterful pub, and fine streetscapes, a testament to a more prosperous past; in its case, copper mining.

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The Burra Hotel

Another classic country pub at Peterborough.

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Bush camping at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges. The billy is boiling on the open fire while the solar panel charges the battery to power the portable refrigerator and lights.

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Emus wander through the camp, at home in an arid environment.

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Red gums line the creek beds waiting for infrequent rains to flood the watercourse.

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A walk or a drive provides these views.

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Ruined stone houses are common around the Flinders Ranges. European settlers established farms in the nineteenth century and misunderstood the Outback climate, believing that a good season or two was typical. Ultimately,  the usual drought-like weather conditions prevailed and within a generation, most small settlers were ruined. A tragedy for them, but worse for the Aboriginal people who were displaced by the settlers, after living in the area for tens of thousands of years.

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A Walk on the Isle of Skye: Tragedy, Scenery, Legends, Sheep, and the Highland Clearances

I walked to Boreraig in late August 2017. Boreraig was a Highland crofting village until its inhabitants were forcibly evicted in 1854. The walk provides an opportunity to enjoy the Isle of Skye’s unique scenery, as well as to reflect on the Highland Clearances, and the continuing widespread involuntary displacement of people around the world.

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The walk commences at the ruin of Cill Chriosd (Christ’s Church in Gaelic) once the main parish church on Skye. Here, the church ruins and graveyard at the left stand below Skye’s imposing Cuillan mountains, with the ruined wall of the Suardal marble cutting and polishing works in the foreground.

Next, it’s a lengthy and steady climb.

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It’s a long way to fall from the crest of the hill before the descent into Boreraig.

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Walking or mountain biking are the only options to reach Boreraig by land. I saw only one other couple on my walk. An old stone fence from the village can be seen beyond the cyclists.

About 120 people lived in Borereig’s 22 houses before their forced eviction. Once a beautiful setting for a village, now it’s sombre, eerie and forlorn.

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Stone fences snaking into the distance, and piles of overgrown rocks where houses once stood, are a lonely reminder that a community once existed here.

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The return walk offers more of Skye’s ever-changing light and views.

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On the right above is Beinn na Caillich, one of the Red Cuillan. Local legend claims that the grave of a Norwegian princess from the Viking era is located on the summit where she was laid to rest so that she could forever face the land of her birth and feel its winds.

If you stay on Skye for a while, it’s easy to believe in legends.

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In many cases, sheep replaced people in the Highland Clearances as they offered more money to the landowners.

I’ve written more about Skye here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nomadicpaths.wordpress.com/5477

Walk details

  • Distance: a return walk of 10.2 km from Cill Chriosd on the Broadford to Elgol road. A longer walk includes visiting another Clearance village – Suisinish.
  • Terrain: a steady climb on well defined paths and tracks that are sometimes boggy, and often uneven, followed by a gentle descent into Boreraig. An early part of the walk follows the old ‘Marble Line’, the rail line that was used to move marble down to the Broadford jetty in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The marble is claimed to be better than Italy’s famous marble from Carrara.
  • Total Ascent: 353m (1158ft)
  • Rating: Superb

http://www.go4awalk.com/walks/walk-search/walk.php?walk=h149

The Clearances

The Highland Clearances were a disaster for Scottish Gaelic culture. Like all major historical events, they are complex. The Laird of Boreraig, Lord McDonald of Skye, claimed that the crofters of Boreraig had to move “because they (the people) were too far from Church.” This was not the real reason for their eviction. Lord McDonald was close to bankruptcy at the time. In an attempt to reverse the debts, the administrators of the McDonald estate cleared Boreraig  and other villages and replaced the people with sheep, because sheep provided bigger profits.

More reading

This site has a brief history of Skye:

http://www.scottishaccommodationindex.com/isleofskyepics.htm

http://www.electricscotland.com/history/clearances/29.htm

http://www.blaven.com/sevenmiles.aspx

http://www.scotsman.com/sport/boreraig-and-suisnish-1-1393025

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boreraig

https://canmore.org.uk/site/11562/skye-boreraig

 

Is this the world’s most beautiful public toilet?

In some countries, finding a public toilet/WC may be easy (as in China, France, New Zealand, or Australia), or virtually impossible (as in the USA or Italy).

Where a country lacks public toilets, locals probably expect that visitors will follow their own example, and use an establishment such as a bar or café. However, in popular tourist destinations, grim faced waiters and grimmer signs, or locked doors, provide a strong disincentive to anyone seeking relief without becoming an involuntary customer. In smaller villages and localities, there may be no such prospect at all. Is it possible that locals in those countries have developed a Darwinian survival trait that allows them to better control their bodily functions?

Most public toilets make no concessions to aesthetics. Not so this one in Pont Aven, Brittany; my selection for the most beautiful public toilet in the world. Why? It’s an elegant structure, reminiscent of the hórreos or granaries of Galicia in Spain. Traditional stone construction integrates subtly with the convenient central location in the village, and the Aven River below provides soothing sound effects of running water.

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Rome on a rainy Sunday

Roving sellers switched from other wares like scarves and trinkets and sold umbrellas to those who did not expect rain. My sturdy new umbrella was large, blue and white with brass fittings, and a bargain at €5.

The rain started falling quite heavily at Piazza Navona. Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) looks splendid in any weather.

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The rain continued to fall as we crossed the bridge to Trastevere on the way back to our rented apartment. The new umbrella continued to excel.

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Mobile 4

After dinner, I left the umbrella at the restaurant. I returned a few minutes later and recovered it. Alas, on unfurling it the following morning, I discovered that although apparently identical at night, the umbrella was of a different colour and was well used with several holes, tarnished brass fittings, and a handle that comes off.  I hope that the new possessor of my fine umbrella values it as much I would have.

 

A Hong Kong Wander

A visit to Hong Kong can be frugal and slow, or the opposite. A leisurely stroll around older neighbourhoods, like Sheung Wan, gives a glimpse of earlier times, and the everyday, where locals walk, eat, shop and congregate. Better this than the multi-storied glittering halls of consumerism where international brand name items sell for absurd prices amongst excesses of air-conditioned marble and glass, overpriced food, and bored sales staff.

Cheap entertainment, cheap views, cheap travel ….

Many of Hong Kong Island’s streets are steep. When walking becomes tiresome, an easy way to ascend is to use the elevators in Central that whisk people 800 metres up from the harbour. Good views abound with  little effort.

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To a foreigner, shop displays range from the mundane to the bizarre. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know whether to reach for a cookbook, or just remain mystified. (Apologies for the bad phone photos).

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Lizards and starfish.

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Hong Kong is industrious.

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Quaint workshops and shops are easy to find, like this old operating printing press.

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Hand carts are crucial for deliveries. However, Hong Kong is not all hard work.

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Hong Kong’s public transport is very good and cheap. A 30 minute ferry trip to Lamma Island costs HK$35.6 (about AU$6) return. Lamma is rather laid-back, sparsely populated, pedestrianised, and a quiet and forested contrast to the city. The local fishing industry supplies the island seafood restaurants, which make a good place for lunch.

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Lamma’s main village – Yung Shue Wan – seen from the ferry. Below, inside one of the island’s temples.

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Hong Kong Island’s double decker trams are cheap HK$2.30 (AU$0.38) for an adult fare, and a nice scenic and relaxing way to travel about.

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Eat where the locals eat, here at a wet market (selling seafood, meat and fresh vegetables). Join them for cheap authentic tasty food.

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Impressions of Bruges: Belgium’s beautiful medieval town

Bruges was a major economic, cultural and artistic centre of medieval Europe. Protected by its long decline in fortunes from more recent negative ‘developments’, she remains an intact and relaxed small city that attracts many visitors.

Bruges is appealing for her splendid architecture, history that is honoured and celebrated, a refined life-style where locals bicycle and walk through old streets that ban cars, a regular tourist income from the many visitors, and Belgian specialities like chocolate, handicrafts, beer…

Morning school’s out, and it’s time for lunch.

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The Markt is Bruges’ main square. Medieval streets wander off into labyrinths, allowing a visitor to become lost – later to find canals, squares, quiet streets, churches and lanes to savour.

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Tourist boats now ply the canals that were once crucial to Bruge’s commercial importance in European textiles.

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Romance is in the air.

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Chocolate art.

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There must always be music.

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Snapshots of Berlin

Berlin is large, cosmopolitan, busy, and spread out, with a broad diversity of offerings for a visitor. Getting lost in a new locale is always high on my agenda, as is finding somewhere to eat, and trying out local public transport. After that, it’s time to visit some major sights and enjoy a few cultural pursuits.

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The Reichstag (Parliament) played an important role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.

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Between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate lies a memorial to the Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) who were murdered by the Nazis, estimated at between 220,000 and 1.5 million. Separate memorials nearby commemorate 6 million murdered Jews, and the many gay people who were also Nazi victims.

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The Brandenburg Gate has a long and varied history. Sometimes it has featured as a celebration of military power and victories, having been used by Napoleon and his victorious army as a triumphal arch in 1806, and adopted as an important party symbol by the Nazis. More recently, the gate has become a symbol of peace, freedom and unification, when its function as part of the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Berlin between 1961 and 1989 ended.

Berlin’s many buskers entertain.

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The organ grinder salutes a donor outside the Brandenburg Gate.

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Musical harmonies echo at the Samariterst U-bahn station (underground/metro) in Friedrichschain, East Berlin: a gritty, vibrant, young and politically aware kiez (Berlin lingo for immediate neighbourhood). It’s my favourite kiez, about which I’ve written more here.

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This sign in Friedrichschain roughly translates to: ‘No cops or Nazis in our neighbourhood.’

A wish to see some art in Berlin involves a difficult choice given the vast number of alternatives. The East Side Gallery focused on the Berlin Wall era had already proved fascinating.  The Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery) goes almost unheralded in much tourist information, yet has an extraordinary collection of European art from the 13th to 18th Centuries; rooms full of mediaeval sacred paintings, and numerous examples of major artists such as Durer, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Holbein, Cranach, Rubens, Caneletto, Tiepolo, Corregi, Caravaggio…and here, a Boticelli selected from so many of his paintings displayed at the Gemäldegalerie.

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Finally, Berlin fusion food: Currywurst (sliced sausage in a curry sauce).

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A Walk in East Berlin

On Sundays in Freidrichshain, East Berlin, the flea market at Boxhagenerplatz is a crowded, entertaining and eclectic experience. In addition to the widely diverse items for sale, buskers entertain, and nearby restaurants, cafes and bars beckon.

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Everywhere, outside dining, strolling, bike riding.

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Politics remains an issue. (But, why in English?)

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Buildings become a canvas.

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What remains of the Berlin wall that divided the city into east and west until 1989 is another canvas.

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An escapee from East Berlin crossing the wall. Many in the crowd wave goodbye.

Détente.

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Should a visitor go west of the wall?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcards from Skye : Homage to Skye

Returning to the Isle of Skye after 17 years has proved that memories of sublime scenery and a sense of connection are sometimes just feeble recollections.

Everything on Skye is in constant change; weather, light, temperature, hills, cliffs, burns, lochs and lochans, tides … Except for the continuity of the white houses. Everywhere in their crofts, villages and isolation, they remain constant and beautiful.

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The Sleat Peninsula

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A view of the Cuillans, Skye’s main mountain range, from the Sleat Peninsula.

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According to legend, warrior queen Sgathaich lived in Dun Scaith Castle, now ruined, and taught Chu Chulainn, an Irish folk hero from the 9th Century, the martial arts of war when he first arrived in Skye from Ireland.

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Portree, Skye’s main village

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My great-great grandparents and their children, including their 4 year old daughter, my great-grandmother, left Skye in 1837 as part of the exodus of Scottish Highlanders displaced from their lands by the Clearances, when sheep took priority over people.

In a world history of bad landlords, many Scottish landowners from the 19th Century deserve a major prize for being near the bottom of the cesspool of the worst.

In and around the village of Breakish (Breacais Àrd – Upper Breakish, Breacais Ìosal – Lower Breakish) are Neolithic finds from 3000BC, and a Holy Well from the 7th Century attributed to MaolRubha, who brought Christianity from Ireland to the Druid Picts of the Western Highlands and Islands. That era was followed by 400 years of rule by the Vikings, whose relics and shipbuilding sites have been found nearby.

One of my favourite Scottish bands – Capercaillie – sings about Scotland, its history and hope.

 

Karen Mathieson’s gorgeous vocals soar in Gaelic here:

 

Have Uke, will Travel

Portable music access while travelling has changed over the years. The Walkman replaced the tape player in the 1990s, and was in turn replaced by the ipod/mp3 player that has now been largely superseded by the mobile phone and tablet.

But, what if you crave the company of an instrument to play on your travels? Instruments haven’t generally been miniaturised, so the issue of size remains a problem.

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For my current long trip, I had hoped to pack a small guitar. However, the nice compact guitar that appealed – the Cordoba Mini – is 77.47 cm (30.5 inches) long, and too long for cabin baggage allowed by most airlines, usually 55-56cm (about 22 inches).

My mandolin, at 68.6 cm (27 inches) long, is also too long to take as cabin luggage, and I fear the hazards inflicted on checked luggage too much to endanger one of my favourites. So, a change of plan was needed.

Few sounds are more annoying than listening to someone learning a new musical instrument. I therefore avoided the temptation to pick a totally foreign instrument in recognition of the danger of antagonising neighbours in holiday accommodation, however much the bagpipes, tabla, violin, electronic keyboard and other momentarily appealing alternatives came to mind.

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This Kala soprano ukulele cost AU$86, and is better than a cheaper uke by keeping reasonably in tune, courtesy of the quality of its tuning pegs and strings. I chose it because of the price and good reviews. It’s 53.5cm (26.06 inches) in length, a little longer with its soft case, but qualifies as hand luggage. Ukulele phone apps make holiday playing easy as they include tuners, chord charts, how to play instructions, and song lyrics and chords (universal, of course, regardless of instrument).

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It’s time for a strum.

A note for later trips

A fellow hotel guest in Bali brought his tenor ukulele (longer than a soprano at around 66 cm) from Australia as oversized baggage. Jetstar allows any baggage including a musical instrument that exceeds 1 metre (39 inches) in length to be carried as oversized baggage at AU$25 per flight. This option (also used for sporting items like surfboards) looks like a good method for travelling with a musical instrument internationally, particularly as it seems that the item is given greater care than the rough and tumble of normal checked baggage.