Give Tasmania a Break! Part 1

I don’t know why a lot of people pick on Tasmania and give its residents a hard time about having 11 fingers and two heads!

Yes, it is only a small island dangling off the bottom of Australia, and perhaps it is off the ‘main drag’ of tourist destinations, but it punches well above its weight on a whole lot of levels.

Until 2011, I had never spent much time in Tasmania. Sure, I had seen plenty about it on TV, and had once been locked in a conference room in Hobart for a week, but I had never had the opportunity to really explore. Many people had told me it was green and lush, like a mini-England, but it was time to go and find out for myself.

Luckily for The Brave Man* and I, we have some good friends in Hobart who invited us to go sailing with them around Bruny Island for a couple of days. I will talk about that in a separate post at a later date, as it was such a special experience – a true feast for all the senses.

There is nothing like exploring a place with the locals to get all the inside information on their patch. The thing I particularly enjoy is that you get to explore a place at a much deeper level – the economy, the politics and what makes a community tick. A true warts-and-all picture.

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The Sea Shepherd takes a well-earned break at Constitution Dock, Hobart

I can safely say that Tasmania won our hearts. Tasmania is the complete package when it comes to the variety of things to see and do. It’s a terrible cliché, but ‘there is something for everyone’ in this postage stamp-like state.

Hobart is well-known for its convict and pioneering heritage. Settled in 1804, many of its handsome sandstone buildings remain intact, giving the city a feel of grandeur and grace. Other than a stroll around the distinctive wharf area – the final port for the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race – a journey to Hobart would not be complete without a visit to MONA.

MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, just has to be seen to be believed. Even if you are not an art lover, go there for a complete reorientation of your senses. I do not have an artistic bone in my body but even I could appreciate the diversity and depth of most of the art works.

The MONA experience started with a relaxing ferry ride from the Hobart wharf, up the Derwent River, to the foot of a sandstone cliff that encases the Museum. Where things started to challenge normality was when I had to walk four storeys underground to disappear into a world of wackiness and confrontation.

I spent most of the next four hours laughing outrageously, laughing nervously or being completely gobsmacked! I have no idea whether those were appropriate responses, and perhaps I was showing my complete lack of culture and civilisation. There was the Fat Car, a plump and pumped up Porsche, as a commentary on our flabby and obese lifestyles. There was a tribute to Madonna which included a wall of 40 televisions, each featuring a person singing ‘Like A Virgin’ off-key. There were Egyptian sarcophagi and a truck in a hall. Yes, a full-size semi-trailer four storeys underground, wedged in a hallway. Go figure!

By the end of the visit, I was physically exhausted and almost sore from the sensory overload. Such an assault on the senses, both positive and negative, has left a deep and lasting impression. Call me crazy, but I think it is worth a trip to Hobart just to experience MONA. It has not converted me to become a modern art fan, but it has certainly put Hobart on the cultural map!

Reeling from all that ‘culcha’, we borrowed a car and headed west out of Hobart to see as much of Tassie as we could in the short time remaining. In another post, I will talk about the excellent range of day walks we enjoyed, but here I will focus on the ‘built’ tourist attractions.

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A postcard showing the level of detail and the skill of the art of The Wall

If you have the opportunity, another ‘must see’ is The Wall in the Wilderness. Located at Derwent Bridge, midway between Hobart and Strahan, a sculptor is creating a breathtaking work of art in wood. The Wall is made up of three metre high panels of wood, all joined together to form a solid visual expanse. These panels are being progressively carved to highlight the history of the central Tasmanian highlands, starting with the Indigenous people and including the timber industry, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. The skill involved is simply outstanding – a wagon has every spoke, chain and rope carved individually and separately to stand out in relief. When we visited in 2011, the wall was around 40 metres long, with the final length to be 100 metres. I agree that sometimes wood turning and wood carving can be a little twee, but this is art in a wooden form. Don’t miss it.

Back in the car, we joined the stream of grey nomads heading west towards Strahan. It gave me pause to wonder whether we had automatically and involuntarily joined the Grey Nomad scene, and although I wasn’t overly happy about it, we were travelling out of school holiday time, and we simply had to roll with it. Literally! Get stuck behind a grey nomad in a caravan or camper, and even though Tasmania is small, it takes a long time to roll anywhere!

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The star of the West Coast Wilderness Railway

The West Coast Wilderness Railway was a highlight for the train nut in our travelling party. The steam train puffed its way from Queenstown to Strahan, through some of the most remote and picturesque landscape you could ever come across.

Queenstown is a bit of an anomaly in the normally leafy Tasmanian countryside. It is a moonscape, battered and barren as a result of over 100 years of copper mining. It is a tired community with little going for it other than being the starting point for the tourist railway. I am sure the loyal locals would beg to differ, but the down-at-heel feel and multiple empty shops indicated to me that its time has passed.

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The toxic Queen River

The negative impacts of the copper mining history can still be seen today with both the Queen and King rivers classified as toxic. A perfect example of paying for the mistakes of generations past.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is unique because it includes an ABT Rack and Pinion system on part of its track to manage the steep inclines. It strains and groans as it rattles and ratchets its way up the mountain. I wondered if we were going to make it, while the train buff was almost hanging out the carriage window, counting every rack and every pinion. Constructed in 1897, the rail line’s main purpose was to transport massive loads of copper to the port at Strahan, but now it specialises in massive loads of tourists…or loads of massive tourists. Other than being a very pleasant way to spend a day, we were educated about the pioneering history of the region as we rattled along the route, with a number of stops where we could pan for gold, explore ruins and stretch our legs.

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The harbour at Strahan

Returning to Strahan, we spent the rest of our visit wandering around the streets and docks. Strahan is a charming port town, perfectly set up for tourists with a range of intriguing art and craft stores, and plenty of top quality food and beverages. Wood carving, wooden artefacts and timberyards are prominent, and The Brave Man* bought a few Huon pine offcuts as a memento of his visit. Not the most exciting souvenir in my opinion, but each to his own!

Unfortunately, time beat us and we had to point the little car back towards Hobart. I have only covered a few of the highlights we experienced. There is just so much history and beauty crammed into this gem of an island. One day when we sign on as full-time grey nomads, we will return.

Tell me, what do you recommend we see the next time around?

March 2011

The Basics

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The King River, a better colour but also toxic

What: MONA is open every day except Tuesdays. Entrance fees are $20 for adults or free if you are under 18 or from Tasmania. The Wall is open seven days and entrance fees apply. West Coast Wilderness Railway is $100 per person including a shuttle bus from Strahan to Queenstown.

Where: MONA is located 11 kilometres north of Hobart – approximately 25 minutes by water, or 20 minutes by road. The return ferry ride costs $20.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.

Why: Choose Tasmania if you would like a short break with lots to do in a small space.

How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to move about.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and multiple senior citizens.

Related Posts: Watch this space…

Related Blogs: I am not the only one to wax lyrical about a road trip in Tasmania. For a younger and groovier perspective have a look at http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/life-time-tasmanian-road-trip/

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

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Mérida – More Roman History than Rome!

You would think that walking from Seville in southern Spain to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain would be MORE than enough walking, but there has never been a better city to explore on foot than the UNESCO World Heritage city of Mérida.

Mérida is around 200km due north of Seville, or eight days walk. I entered the city over the bridge built in 25BC, made up of 60 perfect consecutive arches, and I knew I was in for something special.

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Storks make themselves at home, Plaza de Espana, Merida Spain

In desperate need of coffee, I followed winding, cobbled streets and emerged into Plaza de España to be greeted by not only copious amounts of tasty and reviving coffee, but the heart of the city. The plaza was just coming to life – yes, it was pretty early, but the throng grew and it became a hub of chatter and gossip. Even the ubiquitous Spanish storks thought it was the best place to reside.

I think that Australia has a lot to learn from countries such as Spain. Either by good luck, good management or tradition, towns, cities and even the smallest villages in Spain have incorporated central spaces for people to meet and socialise. This has to be good for the soul as well as building a strong sense of community. It also gives the areas a warm, bubbling vibe. It attracts tourists like me and we stay and spend money. What is not to love?

Anyway, back to the history…

Mérida was established in the first century BC as Emérita Augusta, the capital of Roman Lusitania. It occupies a prominent position on the Silver Route (Ruta de la Plata), the main transport route for moving goods (especially silver) from southern Spain to the north, and is the basis for the 1000km-long Camino Via de la Plata trail. The Romans left behind lasting reminders of their occupation which are a feast for both the eyes and minds of amateur historians like me.

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A few of the locals having a chat, Merida Spain

With only one and a half rest days in Mérida, I had to be selective about how I was going to spend my time. There is so much history, I simple couldn’t see it all.

The Tourist Office in Plaza de España sells tickets that include entry to many of the archaeological sites. For €12 you can access the Theatre and Amphitheatre, the Alcazaba, Circus and more. It comes with a handy map which shows you how to navigate the city to reach these sites.

My first stop was the Amphitheatre, a stage where burly gladiators wrestled with beasts. This building preserves some of its original elements, like the grandstands, the box and the gallery. I could almost hear the roar of both the audience and the ferocious animals fighting for their lives.

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Part of the Teatro Romano, Merida Spain

The Teatro Romano right next door to the Amphitheatre was erected between 15 and 16BC and can seat 6000 people. The original stage area is dominated by two rows of columns, decorated with the remains of sculptures of deities and imperial figures. When I visited, workers were busily constructing temporary stages and sound systems. I am not sure what performance was planned but I suspect it was opera. How cool would it be to watch any show against such a historic backdrop? Each Summer they hold the Mérida Classical Theatre Festival, apparently one of the most important of its kind in Spain. Now that would be something to see and a perfect excuse for me to return.

On the same site are a number of gardens and excavations revealing detailed friezes and parts of Roman buildings. It must be a nightmare to build anything in this city. As soon as you start digging a footing or similar, you find yet another Roman, Visigoth or Moorish relic. What I don’t get is where all the dirt comes from that hides the generations of construction? These are big buildings, how do they get buried so deep underground? Obviously more research is required on my part.

Back to the map again and off to the Roman Circus. Again, my imagination ran wild with the roars of the crowd and the pounding of the horse’s hooves. This is one of the best preserved circuses to be found and also one of the largest at 403m long and 96m wide. The stands could hold 30 000 spectators. What a sound they would have made when their charioteer was winning.

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What a feast for the senses. The Aqueduct of the Miracles, Merida Spain.

The Aqueduct of the Milagros is simply gobsmacking. How something so large and so old can remain standing for so long, I will never know. It is commonly known as ‘Los Milagros’, or the miracles, because of its ability to withstand the tests of time. More than 800metres of the aqueduct have been preserved and some sections are 27m high.

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The Diana Temple, Merida Spain

The Diana Temple was similarly astounding. An awesome piece of architecture squeezed into the Mérida CBD. I love how such history is juxtaposed with modern buildings right next door.

If I had had more time I would have liked to visit the National Museum of Roman Art. With more than 36 000 artefacts – all of which were found in Mérida and its vicinity – apparently it is an excellent snapshot of the history of the city and its Roman legacy. Again, that will have to wait until next time.

As I explored the city, I bumped into a few of my fellow walkers. Andrea from Italy was equally impressed with Mérida and he thought it contained the best range of Roman ruins outside of Rome. High praise indeed.

There were arches and forums and Christian churches and bridges and Moslem citadels. My brain hurt, my feet hurt and I simply couldn’t take more in. I suspect it is possible to spend days in this magical city and still not feel like you have seen it all. Even with a flying visit to the Arab fortress, the Alcazaba, I felt I didn’t even start to get my head around that period of history which followed Roman occupation.

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Plaza de Espana, Merida Spain

Time and energy beat me, and with a flattened camera battery, I retreated to Plaza de España. Sitting there, I started to wonder what it would feel like to grow up and live, amongst such significant history. Would the locals become a bit blasé about it all as they stroll past yet another 4th BC dig site on their way to the supermarket?

How good would it be to go to school in Mérida and study ancient history at the same time? Not only could you study history but you would walk past it on your way to school. Or maybe I would be just another bored school kid, more interested in the playground and Pokemon Go than a pile of dusty stones.

More things to ponder as I shouldered my backpack and stepped out into the dawn, northbound once more …

 

September 2014

The Basics

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Worse for wear but atmospheric!

What: Mérida is a city of around 60 000 people strategically placed eight walking days north of Seville. I had a rest day there as part of the Camino Via de la Plata and stayed at a nice little hotel called Hostal Senero, tucked in a small street near Plaza de España.

Where: Mérida – is about 200km north of Seville.

When: A rest day, so two nights in September 2014. Cool mornings and beautiful blue sky days.

Why: I had done some research before leaving Australia and all the forums etc raved about Merida as a perfect place to rest and soak up some ancient history.

How: I walked into town but it is also accessible by train, regular buses, or you can fly into Badajoz (about 50 km to the west of Mérida).

Who: Myself, and two hardy and inspiring Canadians.

Related Posts: For more information about walking the Camino Via de la Plata, have a look at https://melsonebigadventure.wordpress.com/category/two-feet-walking/camino-via-de-la-plata-2014/

Related Blogs: For more photos of Roman ruins, have a look at: http://www.takingontheworld.net/world-travel-blog/spain/merida

Read About It: For background information and guidebooks on the Via de la Plata, have a look at Book Depository

Playing Tourist in the Tropics

We Australians are spoiled for choice when seeking a bolt-hole to escape the worst of Winter. From any point on our continent, just keep heading north, and each inch on the map will equate to a couple of degrees further up the thermometer.

The Brave Man* (BM) is convinced that he needs a short dose of warmth mid-Winter to delude himself that the worst of the season is almost over. Last year it was Hawaii; this year we set off for Palm Cove in far north Queensland to defrost, and see what all the fuss was about.

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The beach – without a croc or stinger in sight, Palm Cove.

Palm Cove is one of a series of small beachside communities that populate the region 28km north of Cairns.

If you plan to do much tripping around in this part of the country, I would recommend a hire car. By the time you calculate the cost of taxis and additional shuttle transport, the cost of a hire car and the ultimate flexibility it provides, makes it a financially viable option. In contrast, I would not recommend the Atlas Car Rental company at all. Yes, they were one of the cheapest options available but the staff were exceptionally rude, totally disinterested and refused to supply the size of car originally booked online. The BM* is six foot four inches tall, and he couldn’t even fit behind the steering wheel of our mobile matchbox. Their version of customer service was to hand us the keys and walk away. Buyer beware!

Winding up the rubber band of our little car, we did a quick raid on the supermarket in Cairns before making our way to Palm Cove. For some reason we thought this necessary, not thinking that the towns and villages further north would be of the size to contain decent supermarkets. Wrong.

As we drove north, the Captain Cook Highway took us slightly inland but the abundant tropical vegetation and soft sea breezes indicated that the ocean was never far away. It was obvious to us that this road was an important part of the ‘commuter’ belt with a new, dual lane road much of the way to Palm Cove. It made it so easy to move around.

When planning the trip, the BM* had been told about how noisy it was to stay right on the esplanade in Palm Cove, so he selected the Mango Lagoon Resort & Wellness Spa. It was a leisurely three-block stroll back from the main drag – super-quiet and leafy. Our self-contained apartment was just the right size, with all the mod cons including a washing machine and dryer, and shuttered French doors that opened onto swaying palms and one of the resort’s many pools. Yes, the true definition of a tropical paradise.

The Weather Gods continued to frown on us and, even though it was lovely to pull on the shorts and t-shirts, it either misted, drizzled or rained properly the entire time we were there. We couldn’t complain as we were on holiday, but the locals did not hold back on how unseasonably cold and wet it was as they clomped around in their woollen ugg boots. At 25°C, we thought ugg boots was slight overkill but each to their own.

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No wonder the beach was deserted…

Knowing that we would not melt under a little rain, and with only four full days to cram everything in, we set out to discover why so many rave about Palm Cove. A stroll along the esplanade with ice creams dripping down our hands, we found it a relaxed and laid back ‘town’ – town being a generous description – and the fastest things were the shuttle buses tootling backwards and forwards to the vast array of accommodation choices. The esplanade is edged with swaying palms, a United Nations of eating houses and ice cream stands, while a long and winding path bordered the beach. I was surprised and disappointed to see signs warning of crocodiles and stingers in the ocean, but a few brave souls frolicked in the green water regardless. The hire car gave us the scope to tour the neighbouring villages of Clifton Beach, Kewarra Beach, Trinity Beach – more swaying palms and ice cream shops – and then explore further afield.

We tried to plan our days around the weather forecast, which turned out to be a really good intention but completely pointless on implementation.

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Kuranda Rail in the rain

First on the list was a visit to the Kuranda Rail and Skyrail. It was frustrating to watch the rain spatter against the train windows as we weaved and rattled our way up the mountains to Kuranda. The atmospheric train ride and history attached to the railway was fascinating, however Kuranda itself was a bit of a tourist trap – all souvenir shops and over-priced eating establishments. A quick walk up the main street was enough for us.

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and the Skyrail in the sunshine!

The Skyrail floated over the tree tops of the Barron Gorge National Park as we descended the mountains and back down to the coast. To make the most of the forest below, there are a couple of ‘stations’ where you can hop off the cable car and explore the greenery on foot. We particularly enjoyed a short, guided walking tour from the Barron Falls station. A fascinating insight into how a rainforest ‘works’ and the various layered flora and fauna.

If we weren’t already wet enough, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous with a day’s snorkelling on the Upolo Reef, an outer section of the Great Barrier Reef. We booked on a smaller ‘sailing’ boat with Reef Daytripper, as neither the BM* or I like crowds. Thank goodness there were only 11 of us (plus crew) on board, as we huddled under protection from the rain the majority of the trip. We refused to let the weather dampen our adventure and snorkelled to our hearts’ content amongst the giant clams, sea turtles, neon-striped fish, gropers, sting rays and

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One of the busy little clown fish. Photo courtesy: greatbarrierreef.com.au

‘Nemo’ clown fish. It was a weird feeling to snorkel and, at the same time, feel the rain pounding on my back. The cloud cover did not allow the coral colours to really dazzle but I just pretended I was hovering above brilliant reds, blues and greens. There is so much bad news in the media about the reef dying, that I didn’t want to miss a moment.

Another gorgeous day trip was up to Mossman Gorge and then onto Daintree. It was on this specific day that we realised why it is called ‘rainforest’. On a fine day, it must be spectacular but after a couple of hours of being drenched to the skin, we were totally ‘over’ both rain and forest!

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The rain and the forest at Mossman Gorge

We sought sanctuary and dryness in the Matchbox car and drove a little further north to the Daintree River. The BM* was desperate to get up close to a crocodile and we got this in spades at the Daintree Cruise Centre.

For around an hour we cruised the Daintree River, taking in the mangroves and wildlife large and small. The weather was still grey and forbidding but not half as forbidding as the huge crocodiles lounging on the river bank waiting for a tourist to dangle a lazy arm over the side of the boat. We ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over the adult crocs and did our best to spot the babies camouflaged in the mud. There

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One of the residents of the Daintree River area…thank goodness my camera has a decent zoom. I wasn’t getting any closer than I had to!

were vibrant Azure Kingfishers flitting through the mangroves, rainbow-coloured butterflies and a riot of other birdlife skimming the surface of the river. How lucky are we to have the diversity of wildlife – both beautiful and murderous – in Australia?

Palm Cove ticked all the boxes for our Winter escape. It is the perfect destination for a short break with plenty to see and do within an easy drive.

No doubt you could also enjoy the ‘fly and flop’ type-holiday, but watch out for the bities on the beach!

July 2016

The Basics

DSCF5289.JPGWhat: A five day break with self-contained accommodation. Eating out in Palm Cove is very expensive so it was nice to have the option to self-cater.

Where: Palm Cove, Far North Queensland.

When: Do your research. Apparently there are certain times of year when it is safer to swim in the water.

Why: To escape Winter and feel the sun and warmth on our skin – with sunscreen of course.

How: We flew from the Queensland Gold Coast to Cairns with Jetstar and then hired a car.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man*.

Related Posts: See my post Road Trippin

Related Blogs: If you only have 48 hours in Palm Cove, then this blog may help you narrow down your choices: http://blog.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/48-hours-in-palm-cove/

*The Brave Man (BM) refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

I am going to apologise right up front for this blog post. It may turn out to be one long string of clichés or a saccharine wallow in childhood memories. Or it could identify for you a place you definitely do NOT want to visit. But for this 50-something year old big kid, it was a dream come true.

As a child growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the highlight of each week was the Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night at 6p.m. I would be glued to the black and white (and eventually colour) TV and transported to every far flung corner of the world or my imagination. I don’t remember regularly watching the Mickey Mouse Club but man, I lusted after a pair of those perfect ears.

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Here at last. The Magic Castle, Disneyland Paris

A year living in England in 2003 placed all of Europe on our doorstep including, within spitting distance, Disneyland Paris. Of course we explained this trip as a birthday treat for the two much younger members of the household but, I admit to being just as excited as they were.

It was a challenge to temper the excitement as we trundled through the wintry streets of Byfleet at 5a.m. dragging our wheelie bags. Needless to say, the thousands of bleary-eyed commuters who joined our train trip into London were less than excited about their day. They had no choice but to put up with our jollity and two children bouncing off the walls of the train.

There are two very passionate train lovers in this family so the excitement levels threatened to go off the scale when we arrived at Waterloo station to board the Eurostar train to Lille and then onwards to Disneyland Paris. In reply to quizzical, and somewhat exasperated, looks from our fellow travellers, I would flash the cover of our Disneyland Resort Paris guidebook and they would nod knowingly, and redouble their efforts to ignore us.

Our short-break package included train travel, two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, and unlimited 3-day entry into Disneyland and Disney Studios. Does life get much better than that? As soon as we arrived at the resort park – yes, there is more to Disneyland than just Disneyland – we checked into our hotel, collected our admission tickets and ran squealing with glee towards the entrance turnstiles. We were there at last.

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M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E!!!

Before leaving England, the locals had tried to dampen our enthusiasm a little because (a) it was only Disneyland after all, and (b) it was Winter (usually preceded by ‘you idiot why are you going there now?’). Little did they understand the warped logic of we Disney-addicts and our assumption that the colder temperatures would reduce crowd numbers. Thankfully we lucked out on both points – cold but crystal clear blue sky days and a manageable number of other hardy souls running from ride to parade.

But our Disney passion was balanced by strategy and, before arriving in France, we had already identified our ‘must sees’ and importantly, how long we were prepared to wait for them. If the sign said ‘75 minutes to wait’ we would veer off and visit something else, and then circle back later optimistically hoping that the line would be shorter. Most times we were not disappointed.

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All aboard for the Disneyland Railroad…

The first part of the strategy (and see previous comments about the resident train nuts) was to get the lie of the land. The Disneyland Railroad chugs around the edge of the theme park, stopping at stations in each of the ‘lands’, and takes around 20 minutes to complete the full loop. Armed with this information, we were ready to immerse ourselves in all things Disney.

Main Street USA is a recreation of historic small-town America. It is the perfect welcome to the park and fires up the imagination for the rest of Disneyland. In reality it is just a string of over-priced cafes and souvenir shops, but the gauntlet must be run to get into the park proper.

I am a roller coaster fan from way back so I took to them with gusto. Big Thunder Mountain is a runaway mine train through forests, collapsing mine shafts and eventually into a ‘flooding’ river – equal parts corny and hilarious. How old did I say I was? The kids were lapping it all up too although the 9-year old refused to open his eyes from go to whoa! I think it would have been scarier than having them open.

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Adventureland, Disneyland Paris

We rode riverboat and Mad Hatter’s Teacups. We enjoyed robot-like animatronics in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and a reverse-ride through Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Yes, more high-pitched squealing and tightly scrunched eyes.

Highlights included the ‘Honey, I shrunk the audience’ 3-D show. At last, an opportunity to sit and rest our tired legs. Based on the popular movies, the whole audience was ‘shrunk’ to matchbox-size and, crazily, it felt like it due to the highly convincing 3-D visual effects, surround sound and other sensations. The classic came at the end of the movie when a ‘giant’ dog on the screen turned towards the audience and sneezed all over us. Yes, we got sprayed with water at the same time. Gross but very funny!

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The Main Street Electrical Parade, Disneyland Paris

The Wonderful World of Disney Parade and the Main Street Electrical Parade at night were both worth plonking down on the street gutter and watching all the childhood favourites as they strolled or rolled by.

It was a truly fairy-tale experience and my only regret is that I came to my senses and did not buy my own set of mouse ears. I couldn’t quite justify the purchase in my adult-mind but I should have thrown caution to the wind and satisfied my every childhood whim.

We ran from joyride to roller coaster to parade for three days straight but soon it was all over, and it was a very happy but wearied family stumbling homewards from the Byfleet train station. It was 1130p.m., dark and cold, and I was mentally replaying the magic of the past days.

Imagine my surprise when the 9-year old called out, “Mel, what’s for dinner tomorrow night?” All the excitement and entertainment of this once in a lifetime experience, and he was thinking of his stomach?? Is youth wasted on the young?

February 2003

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Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Paris

The Basics

What: Three day package tour from London to Disneyland Paris – train travel, two nights’ accommodation with breakfast at Sequoia Lodge, unlimited Park entry, a guide book and activity packs for both children.

Where: Disneyland Resort Paris – about 32 km east of Paris.

When: Late Winter 2003 – yes, it was cold and sometimes grey but that kept the crowds (and therefore our competition) under control.

Why: A birthday celebration for one of the children and a long-held dream for both of the adults.

How: Eurostar train from Waterloo Station, London with connections at Lille direct to Disneyland Paris.

Who: Myself, The Brave Man* and two out-of-control-with-excitement children.

Related Blogs: For more up-to-date information about a family day out at Disneyland Paris, then have a look at this great blog that specialises in traveling with children: http://www.wheressharon.com/europe-with-kids/disneyland-paris-review/

 

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

When Giving Away Money is Good For Business.

I imagine that tourism is a tricky business. What attractions and businesses do you need in a community to capture and keep a visitor for more than one day? Not every community can have a Disneyland, nor every town an Eiffel Tower.

Personally, I feel it is the simple things that are sometimes the most attractive, but few communities realise they have it in their power, or have the energy and initiative, to create something special.

Greenville, South Carolina, is a living, breathing example of how to create something out of nothing. The residents are obviously passionate and proud of their city and are not afraid to invest their energies, and their all-important dollars, to benefit both locals and visitors alike.

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Main Street, Greenville South Carolina

We visited Greenville as part of a short but convoluted road tour of the USA (see my post about looking for James Taylor). On the surface, Greenville could be viewed as basically another smallish city in the deep south of the USA. It is bustling, super-friendly (Hi Y’all), mad-keen on American football and full of flapping banners from competing universities. It is when you get out of the car and onto the streets that you get the true sense of the city and how it has been rejuvenated to stand out from the crowd.

In the early days, Greenville was a mill town. Cotton mills were prolific, and woollen mills and a paper factory all clustered along the edges of the Reedy River. In 1915 it even branded itself as the Textile Centre of the South. Viewing historical photos, I can only imagine the impact these industries had on the local economy but also the environment.

Today there is little evidence of the negative impacts of the mills, and the Reedy River has been restored and enhanced to make it virtually unrecognisable in comparison to those industrial days.

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The restored Reedy River

The Reedy River, at the foot of Greenville’s main street, is now part of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. This trail stretches a superb 21miles (33.8km) through forests, valleys and riverside parks, linking four communities in Greenville County. Each year the trail grows and snakes (or should that be ‘hops’?) through the picturesque County as funds become available.

While any community can create a park or a trail, the thing that really caught our imagination was that much of it was, and continues to be, funded via philanthropy. Reading the Swamp Rabbit Trail promotional material, opportunities to sponsor and donate abound, and include benches/seating, bike racks, mile markers or even ‘buying’ a section of the trail.

I realise that Australians do not have a strong philanthropic culture but just think what we could create in our communities if we did?

I spent many hours walking through Falls Park and Cleveland Park – adjoining parks in different parts of Greenville – but all connected by the Trail. It was obvious to me just how popular this walk was, with locals of all ages walking and cycling, and visitors such as myself armed with cameras and smartphones.

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Falls Park and the Reedy River – all rejuvenated, replanted and restored.

The valuable thing is that the community has recognised this ‘infrastructure’ as not only good for a healthy lifestyle, but also a solid economic generator. Research conducted in 2014 showed that businesses neighbouring the Trail reported up to 85% increase in trade due to the passing foot and cycle traffic. It also found that 25% of trail users were visitors and they invested $6.7million in the local tourism economy. Yes, there is money in the great outdoors and we, as individual donors, can influence that.

Philanthropy was not only evident by the river, but also up and down Greenville’s main street. The whole street has been converted into a public art space with an easy stroll from one sculpture to the next. I realise sculpture is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if the aim is to slow down the foot traffic and encourage people to spend longer in the CBD (thereby benefiting business and economic turnover), then this is an ideal tool.

The 40-odd sculptures range from bronze busts of civic forefathers, accompanied by panels of historical explanatory information, to exuberant lifelike violin and flute players dancing in the forecourt of some non-descript corporate structure. The majority of these works were funded by private individuals or families in memory of someone, or for their own posterity I guess.

All the sculptures were linked together as part of an informal walking trail which moves you from the top of the main street to the bottom – yes, sharing the love amongst the business community.

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One of the many Mice on Main. Photo courtesy: Zan Wells

The really clever thing they have done in this city is to include sculpture targeted at children. A dedicated Mice on Main sculpture trail has been developed which is literally one great mouse hunt. Nine tiny bronze mice are hidden in mysterious places along the main street and children use a treasure-hunt-type map to discover them all. How tricky is that? It engages the younger members of a travelling party, captures the whole family for longer (eating, drinking and shopping) as they walk, systematically moves visitors throughout the community, AND it is community-funded.

As you can tell, Greenville certainly left an impression and inspired us to think about what we could be doing in our own home town to enrich our community and add to the tourism arsenal. Greenville is a fantastic example of a community with a bit of vision and a lot of energy to bring their dreams to life. Their efforts have built a rich and vibrant community with a very high quality of life for themselves, but they have also created cultural and environmental tourist attractions that encourage people to visit, stay and spend.

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I love those meeces to pieces. Photo courtesy of: http://www.visitgreenvillesc

Win, win, win.

March 2013

 

The Basics

What: Greenville has a population of around 62 000 people. We stayed at Hampton Inn and Suites situated on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. Access to the Swamp River Trail and the sculptures is free but you can also join themed walking/cycling/segway tours with a variety of commercial tour companies.

Where: Greenville is in the north-west corner of South Carolina, USA. You can fly in/out of Greenville/Spartanburg International Airport or access it by every other mode of transport.

When: We were there in early Spring and the flowers were just starting to pop open.

Why: Greenville is a picture-perfect introduction to the southern states of the USA. Friendly and warm people, interesting arts, tempting shopping, historic architecture, southern cuisine, a jazz scene and plenty of outdoor activities.

How: We drove from Washington DC (as you do) in a hire car. The road network is excellent.

Who: One man pretending to be on a serious research project (well yes, he actually was) and me being a serious tourist!

Related Posts: Looking for James Taylor 

Related Blogs: for the low down on all things Greenville, have a look at this blog: http://www.lovegreenville.com/blog/