Book Title: From Snow to Ash – Solitude, soul-searching and survival on Australia’s toughest hiking trail
Author: Anthony Sharwood
Promotional Blurb: The incredible, inspiring story of a solo journey through Australia’s toughest and most beautiful hiking trail – the Australian Alps Walking Track – for fans of Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and anyone who dreams of iconic wilderness walks.
At the start of the hellish, fiery Australian summer of 2019/20, Walkley Award-winning journalist and suburban dad Anthony Sharwood set off on a journey. Abandoning his post on a busy news website to clear his mind, he solo-trekked the Australian Alps Walking Track, Australia’s most gruelling and breathtakingly beautiful mainland hiking trail, which traverses the entirety of the legendary High Country from Gippsland in Victoria to the outskirts of Canberra.
The journey started in a blizzard and ended in a blaze. Along the way, this lifelong lover of the mountains came to realise that nothing would ever be the same – either for him or for the imperilled Australian Alps, a landscape as fragile and sensitive to the changing climate as the Great Barrier Reef. Source
It is probably rare to read the words ‘giggle’ and ‘museum’ in the same sentence, but not if you visit the Behind the Lines cartoon exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra.
This Museum, housed in Old Parliament House, hosts an annual best of political cartoons exhibition. The theme this year is ‘The Greatest Hits Tour’ with a not-so-subtle nod towards our Federal election held early last year.
No one and nothing is safe from the acid wit flowing out of the cartoonist’s pen and I am so pleased about that…
Promotional Blurb: A smart, funny novel of love, self-acceptance, second chances and blisters. Two misfits walk 2 000km along the Camino to find themselves and, perhaps, each other.
Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past – for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.
Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, in north western Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself, and a new beginning. But can these two very different people find themselves? Will they find each other?
In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist. Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal – physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover along the way.
My Thoughts: This is one for the camino walkers or the ‘camino curious’. Rather than a super-factual walking guide to the Camino in Spain, it couches the trials and tribulations of long-distance walking in the ebbs and flows of a fictional new relationship.
Martin and Zoe have an inauspicious meeting in Cluny, central France before they set out independently to walk South and South-west towards Santiago de Compostela. Zoe intends her final destination to be St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees while Martin intends to walk all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
What their intentions are and what actually happens are two completely different stories.
I have read Simsion’s work before and did not really enjoy it and, if it the book wasn’t about walking a camino, I would never have grabbed it out of the bargain bin of my local Op Shop.
Camino first, quality writing second!
However, my estimation of him went clear through the roof when I read the jacket blurb to reveal that both he and his wife walked the Chemin/Camino from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, not once, but twice! That is around 2 038km over 87 days – twice! All of a sudden these authors had street cred! Or serious walking cred!
I may be a little judgmental, but the fact that both authors had experienced these paths firsthand meant that their writing had a little more authenticity. They had walked the endless hard days and enjoyed the warmth of new friendships and deep conversations.
This book will appeal to people who have walked the Camino and wish to reminisce about the Le Puy, del Norte or Primitivo paths. It will also appeal to people who would like an entertaining introduction to caminos in Spain or those who just enjoy a light read.
Prior to the Covid19 pandemic, I was due to fly to Spain to walk the Primitivo (plus a couple of other lesser known paths). I have also long dreamed of walking the del Norte route and now, I have the Chemin from Cluny to add to the wish list.
One of these days we will be allowed to travel internationally again and these dreams can come true.
This is a pleasant, easy read. Not world-beating literature, but it rolls along at a steady pace – a bit like a day’s walk – and the vast variety of characters are appealing and credible.
It is not good for those of us with itchy feet! I gave it 7/10.
Author bios: Graeme Simsion is the internationally bestselling author of The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect and The Best of Adam Sharp.
Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. She has thirty years’ experience in perinatal psychiatry, and works with the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Her Natalie King: Forensic Psychologist series of thrillers are published by Text.
On the 25th of April every year, Australia pauses to commemorate ANZAC Day. This day takes the form of memorial services at the Cenotaph in every small town and village across the country, with very large and well-supported parades in our major cities.
An important part of the annual ceremony is the playing of The Last Post. A haunting bugle solo that never fails to bring chills and goose bumps.
Unlike once-a-year ANZAC Day, The Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra is held every afternoon and, in my humble opinion, it is a must-do activity for every Aussie.
I had heard a little about the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and when planning a visit to Canberra, it was high on my list of things to do. Unfortunately, even though I was booking two weeks ahead, it was already booked out. Bugger!
Booking tickets prior to visiting is now required for all parts of the AWM. I even rang the AWM to see if I could beg a ticket, but no joy and they advised that we would just have try to our luck on the day. Oh well, not to worry. There would be plenty of other things to see and do.
After three hours of military history, death, destruction and a few small doses of humour we were just about overwhelmed with the whole AWM experience. As we headed across the empty grounds and towards the carpark, it was nearing the time of the Last Post Ceremony, and I suggested to The Husband that we should try our luck and check if they could squeeze us in.
We were rewarded with a warm welcome and ushered back through the doors of the main AWM building and into the Commemorative Area.
The Commemorative Area is often seen in promotional images for the AWM. It is a large open courtyard with a ‘pool of reflection’ running lengthways along the courtyard floor and overlooked by two long, arched verandas. These verandas are home to a seemingly endless Roll of Honour listing the names of 102 000 soldiers and service people who represented Australia and lost their lives in over 100 years of conflict. It was incredibly sobering to walk and read the names knowing that each bronze name represents a heartbeat and a life cut far too short.
Where the bronze alphabetical panels join each other there is small crack and friends and family are welcome to insert a small poppy next to the name of the person who is significant to them. The scarlet poppies add a brilliant flash of colour amongst the sadness.
As we slowly walked and read, letting the sheer volume of names sink in, I noticed a lady in tears as she tried to explain to her young son the seriousness and significance of all the poppies. I dug into the bottom of my handbag and gave her a packet of tissues. Probably not a 100% Covid19-safe action, but she appreciated it.
But, back to the Last Post Ceremony…
The Last Post Ceremony is the final activity held at the AWM before the close of each day and it is both solemn and powerful. I am getting goose bumps just writing about it many weeks later.
The light was fading and the air was taking on that early evening cool that gets into your bones as a respectful hush fell over the small (and well-spaced) crowd. The Master of Ceremonies stepped up to the podium, welcomed us all and acknowledged any returned service people in the audience.
Four wreaths were then laid at the end of the pool of reflection and a bagpiper accompanied the laying of the wreaths. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, bagpipes have a plaintiveness about them that makes everyone pause.
Colonel Frank Colley saluted and read out the story of Private William Charles Pinneger Brown. At each Last Post Ceremony a service person’s life is featured, bringing an immediate human touch to the event and ensures the audience focuses on the people of the war, rather than the guns, tanks and planes.
Private William Charles Pinneger Brown was born in 1885 in Adelaide, South Australia. Before enlisting in the 10th battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in May 1916, he was a carpenter, married to Ethel with a couple of young children. In December 1916 he joined the 27th battalion in the trenches of France, only to be killed a little over four months later by an artillery shell. He was only 31 years old. Although it was recorded that he died at Bullecourt, his grave has never been located due to the tumult of a moving battlefront and destruction caused by constant bombardment.
Private Brown was one 62 000 Australians who died during World War 1. That’s a pretty powerful number when you consider that Australia’s population in 1918 (by the end of the War) was only around 4.9million. A further 156 000 people were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner during the war.
The Ceremony then moved on the Ode. The Ode comes from For the Fallen, a poem by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
You could have heard a pin drop…except for a pair of larrikin white cockatoos who chose that moment to dive bomb the ceremony and generally create a raucous racket, screeching and squawking as they wheeled above our heads. I couldn’t help but smile at the Australianess of this and our endless desire to poke fun and not take ourselves too seriously. (I note that in the YouTube clip of this ceremony, the cockatoos have been completely edited out!)
A lone bugler stood to attention at the edge of the courtyard and played the forlorn Last Post. A moving and fitting end to the Ceremony. As the last echoes resounded around the verandas, the piper and dignitaries turned and walked into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the doors closed solemnly behind them.
What a powerful way to end a visit to the AWM.
Maybe war and military history is not your thing and I understand that completely. Can I recommend that you skip all the displays and body counts, touch screens and dioramas in the AWM itself, and just attend the Last Post Ceremony?
It is a must-do activity and a fitting way to remember those who have served our country – past AND present.
Lest we forget.
What: It is possible to have your own family member recognised at the Last Post Ceremony. Simply lodge a request on their website. Be prepared to wait though, as it may take up to three years for your soldier’s turn to come around. You can also lay a wreath during the Ceremony itself. When you arrive, see one of the ushers and they will tell you whether all the positions have been filled. You do not need to be a family member to participate and they provide the wreaths.
Where: Treloar Crescent, Campbell (a suburb of Canberra).
When: The Ceremony runs for around 20 minutes and starts at 455pm. Book your ticket here.
Why: To pay homage to those who made it possible for us to live in freedom and in peace.
How: We stayed at the Quest City Walk right in the heart of Canberra. The location was perfect with easy walking distance to lots of restaurants and shops. We booked via AirBnB and at $139, it was very good value. (As an Airbnb Associate, I earn a small commission when you book through this link and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.)
Who: All Australians – young and old.
Related Posts: For more information about what else to see at the AWM. Read on.
Related Blogs: If you can’t make it in person to Canberra, then watch the Last Post Ceremony broadcast live everyday on the AWM YouTube channel or Facebook page.
Read About It: For an interesting and heart-breaking read about a soldier in World War 1, grab a copy of Crack Hardy by Stephen Dando-Collins. The story relates to Dando-Collins’ great uncles who enlisted in WW1 and none were unchanged by the experience. Highly recommended. Go straight to Book Depository.
Promotional Blurb: What would move you to ditch your life and take off into the wild for five months? For Laura Waters, it took the implosion of a toxic relationship and a crippling bout of anxiety.
Armed with maps, a compass and her life in a bag on her back, she set out to walk the untamed landscapes of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand, 3000 kilometres of raw, wild, mountainous trail winding from the top of the North Island to the frosty tip of the South Island. But when her walking partner dropped out on the second day, she was faced with a choice: abandon the journey, or face her fears and continue on alone? She chose to walk on.
For five months, Laura battled not only treacherous terrain and elements, but also the demons of self-doubt and anxiety. As the kilometres fell behind her, nature did its work, stripping away her identity and guiding her towards a new way of being. At the end of Te Araroa, it was the hard-earned insights into the power of nature, emotional wellbeing and fulfilling relationships – with others as well as with herself – that were Laura’s greatest accomplishments. She emerged ‘rewilded’, and it transformed her life. Source
With the whole Covid19 kerfuffle severely clipping my international-travel wings, a good alternate travel fix is to explore my own backyard and sights and sites last visited 40 years ago.
What possibly could have changed in that time?
While trying to recover from the shock of 40 years passing in the blink of an eye, I plotted out a break-neck-speed itinerary to visit Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
For the uninitiated, Canberra is the political capital of Australia and the seat of our Federal Parliament. Every school student in Australia, often during high school, is encouraged to make the pilgrimage to this political and bureaucratic mecca. Thankfully there are many more interesting things to see than just watching our politicians grandstanding during Question Time and as I planned our itinerary, I was determined to revisit a couple of places from my own (ancient) school excursion.
First stop, the Australian War Memorial.
Walking past military sculptures and memorial plaques, and up to the imposing façade of the Australian War Memorial, I knew I was in for a war inundation. I enjoy history and I especially enjoy learning about the times, and lives, of people who made our country what it is today. For better or worse, war leaves no place and no one untouched, even when those wars are far from our shores.
In front of the large ‘Fully Booked’ signs, the ushers were turning away tonnes of people and I was a tiny bit pleased that I had booked our tickets well in advance. The Memorial was all over the new normal Covid19 regulations with plenty of hand sanitising stations, additional ushers encouraging social distancing and handing out free stylus’ so you didn’t have to touch the touch-screens to access information.
After a quick stroll along the balconies of the Commemorative Area, we wandered into the Museum proper and straight into World War 1. World War 1 is a significant focus of this complex as the concept of an Australian war memorial developed straight after the war’s end in 1918. Charles Bean, a war correspondent and historian during World War 1, lobbied hard when he returned to Australia for some sort of memorial to act as a shrine to the memory of the men and women who served.
World War 1 was also especially significant because it was the first war our country fought as a federated nation. Australians did actively participate in the Boer War and other wars, but the First World War was the earliest call of the Mother Country (Great Britain) to defend democracy.
As I strolled the various displays I realised a LOT has changed over the past 40 years and many of the stiff and clumsy diorama models (cutting edge in their day) had been replaced or complemented by sound/light shows, touch screens and tactile displays. Far more appealing and interesting for school students and general visitors of any age!
From World War 1 we stumbled into the more modern wars of Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor (more of a peace-keeping mission than a war) before finally moving into the large display of World War 2 machinery and memorabilia. Yes, the lack of chronological order will not please the Purists.
There is no way you could see everything and read every description in your allotted two hours. I was very interested, but admit to becoming quickly overwhelmed by all the different dates and battles. I love the history, but do not love the equipment of war and the endless guns and tanks and planes leave me cold. I guess I am more interested in the human stories of both those who went to war and those who were left at home.
Soon our time slot was up and we were invited to leave the Galleries in the main building. No one was forcing us out, but we had to leave to make space for others to come in. Last stop was the extensive souvenir shop. If you hadn’t had enough war in the past two hours, you could buy some to take home. A poppy and a postcard were enough for me.
But we weren’t done yet…
In my flurry of organisation, I had also booked us in to the Anzac Hall, found behind the main War Memorial building. This is a smaller space with a focus on audio-visual shows. They have three presentations:
G for George: About WW2 bombing raids over Germany
An aerial dogfight from WW1,and
Submarines sneaking into Sydney Harbour during WW2.
But I was done. I was all worn and warred out.
Standing on hard surfaces for three house straight was exhausting and my brain was full-to-overflowing with dates, battles, body counts and questionable leadership activities. Perhaps if you lived in Canberra you could make multiple short visits and ‘do’ one war at a time. That way you would have time to process the who, what, where and when. I wouldn’t bother trying to work out the ‘why’.
I walked away from the Australian War Memorial in the early evening dark impressed by what I had seen, but shaking my head at:
The devastation and senselessness of war.
The unnecessary cruelty and barbarity of some people during wartime when they put aside any sense of shared humanity.
The fact that no one really wins. Everyone is hurt in some way or other. Even the victors pay a high price.
Do we really learn from places like the Australian War Memorial? Does it, even in the smallest way, stop us from doing it all over again?
Or do we simply say ‘how sad’ and step back into the comfort of our freedoms and democracy, and do it all again?
The Australian War Memorial is lobbying hard for a $498million redevelopment and expansion. I wonder, is that really necessary? Don’t we already have enough in place to honour the memory of the brave?
What do you think? Commemoration? Or Glorification?
What: The Australian War Memorial has three main areas to visit: The Galleries, Commemorative Area and Anzac Hall. It has extensive landscaped grounds with sculpture, memorials, military equipment and a coffee shop. Entry is free.
Where: Treloar Crescent, Campbell (a suburb of Canberra).
When: Open from 10am-5pm, every day except Christmas Day. We visited during Covid19 and it’s now a requirement to book your tickets to the different areas in advance. Book in here.
Why: For ordinary people like me, the ‘why’ is to understand more about Australia’s involvement in a whole range of wars, as well as commemorate the service and sacrifice of others. For the military buffs, the Australian War Memorial would be like having all your Christmases come at once.
How: We stayed at the Quest City Walk right in the heart of Canberra. The location was perfect with easy walking distance to lots of restaurants and shops. We booked via AirBnB. (As an Airbnb Associate, I earn a small commission when you book through this link and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.)
Who: The Galleries appeared to be highly accessible for everyone. There are stairs up to the Commemorative verandas, but perhaps there is a lift somewhere – which I didn’t see. Their website is not clear on physical access.
Related Posts: For a little more military history, but on foreign soil this time, read about our visit to the Pearl Harbour Memorial in Hawaii. An amazing site.
Related Blogs: For another person’s perspective on the Australian War Memorial, have a look at Why You Wander blog. She visited pre-Covid19 and mentioned the availability of guided tours. That would be an excellent activity.
Read About It: For an interesting and eye-opening read, grab a copy of Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard. He talks about his experience in the Vietnam War and massive personal repercussions afterwards. I never really knew much about the Vietnam War and how the soldiers were treated when they got back to Australia and this book, with some gentle humour in places, explains a lot. Highly recommended. Go straight to Book Depository.
It is time for me to don the black skivvy, slide on the intellectual-looking glasses, and assume my movie-reviewer persona. Definitely not a hard transition to make when today’s movie review relates to walking a camino in Spain.
Grab a cuppa and a couple of chocolate biscuits (you’ll need some energy for all that walking).
Pull up your comfy chair, sit back and relax, and step out into the Spanish countryside….
Friday night free-to-air television viewing in Australia features the usual reality TV shows, football or cricket matches (depending on the season) and endless repeats of American sitcoms and B-grade movies. The only bright spot for the horticulturally-inclined is Gardening Australia on ABC TV.
I do admit to finding these and other home/lifestyle shows to be incredibly frustrating as everything is so effortless and perfect. I can assure you there is nothing perfect about my house and garden and it takes a fair bit of effort to even achieve an imperfect state.
Despite that, I do admire the conversation generated by Gardening Australia, especially around the importance of backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. Hence my desire to visit Pete’s Patch, also known as the Tasmanian Community Food Garden, at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.
We have had a lot of time this year to sit back and think about our lives and how we may live them differently in the future. My wanderlust remains strong and once bans are lifted and it is safe, the first thing I will be doing will be to book my ticket to Madrid, Spain.
Here are five YouTube clips that I hope will communicate the joy of walking in Spain, the wonderful people you meet along the way and the sheer pleasure of being outside in Nature.
I know boat trips and cruises aren’t everyone’s thing, but in my humble opinion, there is no better way to blow the cobwebs out than to scoot down the stunning Tasman coastline, with the sea air pummelling your senses under sparkling blue skies.
Come with me as I step aboard a Pennicott Wilderness Journeys boat for a truly remarkable day out.
I was tempted to call this post “All You Need to Know About Walking the Italian Via Francigena”. However as we are all individuals, no doubt we all have quite different experiences of walking 1000km through Italy. Instead, this post has a more modest title.
Modesty aside, what I hope this post does achieve is a comprehensive summary of the planning, the actual experience on a day-to-day basis, and then the obligatory post-walk reflections. I also hope it saves you a bit of legwork as you tackle you own planning.
There’s a whole lot of mythology out there about walking a camino in Spain.
To you, it may appear to be an attractive romantic notion – out there strolling across the Spanish countryside, breathing in that fresh country air and restoring yourself at the end of each day with copious quantities of vino tinto.
It may also seem to be something well out of your comfort zone and far above your fitness levels.
This post will remove some of the mystique and hopefully a few barriers stopping you lacing up your walking shoes and joining the friendly flow of folk on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
It took a particularly wet and miserable Autumn day to keep me inside. As a rule I love rainy days as they happen so rarely in Australia and it was the perfect excuse to dust off my well-loved copy of the movie, The Way.
I put my hand up and admit that this is possibly my sixth or seventh viewing of The Way so obviously I am a bit of a fan. It never fails to create a sense of wanderlust and the urge to walk out my back door and just keep going.
But, how accurate is it? Does it really portray the highs and lows of walking the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain? Or is it all glossed over with a thick layer of Hollywood schmaltz?
A very good question and one I asked myself continually during our 17-hour visit.
White Cliffs, in Outback NSW, is located approximately 1 020km West of Sydney and 268km North East of Broken Hill. When we jumped in the car in Broken Hill to head towards our destination it was already 34°C and leapt to 38°C in three minutes and it was only 938am!
When you are heading down Hobart way, there are at least two must-see places:
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and
Salamanca is an area set slightly back from Hobart’s waterfront and wharf area. Its backdrop is a row of stunning old sandstone warehouses and on Saturday mornings, the foreground is chockful of market stalls.
Feel like a piece of chewy biltong? Want to buy some new socks?
Or how about a taste of the freshest and sweetest natural honey?
Like millions of other people around the World, I have had my travel wings severely clipped. By now I should be regaling you with stories about our Everest Base Camp adventure and dazzling you with photos of snow-capped mountains and breathtaking valleys. But, all our gear has been packed away, ready to walk another day.
I am the first to agree that my inability to travel is very much a ‘First World’ problem and there are millions of people around the Globe who have much more urgent and important issues to deal with.
Personally, travel brings me such joy and fulfilment that I do genuinely feel its loss and so I have decided that if I can’t travel physically, then I need to find a whole range of ways to travel mentally and emotionally.
I am a bit partial to wanders through lush, green spaces and nothing fits the bill better than a visit to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens on the edge of the Hobart CBD.
The gardens are one of Australia’s oldest, established in the early years of the colony over 200 years ago. While it may not be the size and scale of more famous gardens, it has a variety and beauty that makes for a very enjoyable couple of hours or a longer day out.
Like so many other people, my travel plans have been affected by the virus that is currently sweeping the World.
In a few short days I was to be lacing on my hiking boots and taking my first few tentative steps in the Himalayas, Nepal. But not anymore.
The backpacks have been unpacked and put away, and all the medicines and bits and pieces stored in a separate tub in the hope that the trip will be rescheduled one day. Ever the optimist.
While I am very disappointed, it is time to be a bit philosophical and grateful for all that I do have – a full belly, clothes on my back, a roof over my head, loving family and good friends. Many people don’t even have that.
So in the meantime I will focus on sharing my travels around Australia and have everything crossed that my next camino in Spain, scheduled for early May, comes off.
Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson! (For all the Lost in Space fans out there.)
Navel gazing post ahead!
March 2020 will see me celebrating, perhaps acknowledging is a more appropriate word, my four year blog anniversary and it’s time for a little reflection, and hopefully some interaction/feedback from your good selves.
Head West out of Sydney. West over the Blue Mountains. West through Dubbo and past Cobar until you nearly drive into Wilcannia. So far you are a mere 960km from the Sydney Opera House.
Turn left on a dusty, bumpy dirt road and head south-west from Wilcannia and after about 160 dry, sandy kilometres, with any luck you will hit the tar again and be enjoying the bright lights of the thriving metropolis of Menindee. Population 551 (on a good day).
Your next question, “Why on Earth would you want to visit Menindee?”
I have these fantastic visions of me being a super-fit individual with a trim, taut physique, but needless to say there is a vast gap between imagining and reality. The pressure is on though as it is only a few short weeks before we will be donning the down jackets and trekking to Everest Base Camp deep in Nepal’s Himalayas.
I need to transform this middle-age spread into a more compact form and dramatically reduce the number of blubbery kilograms that I must haul up endless mountains.
In the past I have shared a number of blog posts highlighting the growing trend of installing sculptures in every town, street, park or wherever you darn well please. I love that outdoor sculptures break down any barriers that may exist between art and the general public. Perhaps it is art by stealth? Who cares? It encourages anyone and everyone to interact with the pieces and instantly, everyone’s an expert!
There are few places in Australia that ‘do’ outside sculpture like the small rural New South Wales town of Walcha.
The Camino Primitivo will be the last official section of my 2020 Spanish Camino adventure.
This Camino itinerary will be a bit like a burger ‘with the lot’ as it combines a number of paths – Caminos Madrid, Frances, San Salvador, Primitivo, Verde, del Norte and then a final stint of the Frances down into Santiago de Compostela on the last day. All combined in an effort to see new parts of Spain and to avoid the camino hordes.
Broken Hill is located around 1 150km west of Sydney and 520km from Adelaide and is officially in the middle of Nowhere! Despite its remote location, the city does have a fascinating history (which I will share in a later post) and its other huge selling point is the depth and diversity of artistic talent.
It’s time to get off the beaten track a little with a visit to Wauchope. Not that Wauchope is remote or hidden away, but this town definitely lives in the shadow of its much larger coastal neighbour, Port Macquarie.
I have rabbited on in some recent blogs about how the drought in Australia is crippling farmers and their surrounding communities. Some regions have not had any useful rain (more than a couple of millimetres) in over two years. Needless to say, like the dams and paddocks, farming income has completely dried up.
Often the face of the drought is a devastated farmer standing brokenhearted in a completely barren landscape. What many people don’t consider is the flow-on impact on the rural towns and the many small businesses that make up the fabric of these communities. When farmers have no money to spend, the cash flow also dries up for rural supply businesses, hairdressers, supermarkets and gift stores etc.
In an effort to support rural business, a social media campaign has kicked off to buy from the bush (#buyfromthebush, @buyfromthebush), encouraging everyone to source their Christmas gifts from retailers and producers located in rural, regional and remote Australia.
On a recent visit to the small New South Wales (NSW) town of Walcha, I rolled up my sleeves and made a concerted effort to inject a little bit of cash into the local shops.
The Camino Madrid will be the first stage of my 2020 camino adventure. I am combining three main camino paths with a sprinkling of Camino Frances, Verde and del Norte for good measure, and then making it up a bit towards the end by going cross-country.
These plans always sound fabulous in theory, but it takes a fair dose of sweat and determination to find out how they work in practice. I will take each day as it comes and will be doing my best Doris Day impression as I ‘que sera sera’ through the Spanish countryside. A scary thought if you have heard me sing!
When I am on the road somewhere, it is easy to sit in the car and just drive. The concept of the ‘journey’ goes out the car window and the focus is on the destination at any cost.
For years I have been driving North from my home town, zipping through some scrubby, unattractive bush and straight past the turn off for the site of Hands on Rock. As the name indicates, there are hands and rock, but it is so much more than that. It is a stunning introduction to some classic Aboriginal art and culture right in my own backyard.
For us southern hemisphere dwellers Spring is here and Summer is threatening just around the corner. As soon as the weather warms my thoughts go to lazy BBQs and outdoor dining, and something cool and refreshing in my hand.
When I saw the promotion for a local ‘Gintelligence’ class, I thought that this was definitely something I needed to learn more about. Who knew that getting educated could be so much fun?
With a fellow gin-lover by my side, we rolled up our sleeves and poured ourselves into the history of gin.
Book Title: The Valley of the Assassins And Other Persian Travels
Author: Freya Stark
Promotional Blurb: Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.
Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society.
Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view. Source Continue reading →
Australia is blessed with an abundance of beaches. I guess that comes with the territory as Australia would be the World’s largest island if we weren’t classified as a continent!
Many visitors to Australia make a bee line to Bondi or Manly beaches on Sydney’s outskirts or head straight to Queensland’s Gold Coast or further North to Cairns and the Barrier Reef. Yes, these are all very picturesque destinations, but they represent only a very small selection of the endless beach beauty that can be found all around our coastline.
To me, beaches are more than long stretches of sparkling white sand. They become magnets to walk, swim, sail, fish and be dazzled by all sorts of bird and sea life.
Growing up on a farm, when things were good and the seasons were kind, we would escape to the beach for a dose of salty sea air and sand between our toes. Invariably the road would take us North to the North Coast of New South Wales (NSW) or even further north into the glitz and bling of Queensland’s Gold Coast.
It is only now that I start to discover the gems I missed out on tucked away on the South Coast of NSW.
If you are visiting Sydney and feel the need to escape the towering buildings and concrete jungle, then include this short stroll on your itinerary. It is sure to blast out the cobwebs with salty, sea air.
As the title says, this post describes the third section of the Bondi Beach to Manly route, this time from Rose Bay to Darling Point. As this stage was my third for the day, I actually cut it a bit short as after +25km, the ol’ legs were starting to protest.
Interested in more stunning views of Sydney and palatial homes?
As the title says, this post describes the second stage of the Bondi to Manly Coastal Path, this time from Watsons Bay to Rose Bay. Of the three stages I completed on a sparkling June day, this was my favourite.
For background on this 80km path and to start from the ‘beginning’ check out my post about Stage 1.
By now you may have gathered that I am happy to travel anywhere, anytime. I reckon I could pack for an international trip in less than ten minutes and not leave anything important behind.
As I am always rabbiting on about all the wonderful places I go and experiences I enjoy, I thought I would challenge myself to write a post discussing places I would NOT return to or travel to in the first place…
Trips to Sydney, colloquially referred to as The Big Smoke, are few and far between for me these days. When I do undertake the four-hour drive it is often a fleeting, overnight trip and I am more than ready to make my escape back to the bush.
This changed in early June when I had an opportunity to spend four days just playing tourist. What a luxury and novelty. One of the things on my bucket list was a visit to the Archibald Prize for Portrait Painting at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney.
I’m no artist, but I do enjoy opening my eyes and mind to new and creative things.
March 2019 saw me notch up my three year blogging anniversary. Yes, that is long time to be sending my waffly words out into the ether, but it has also been an interesting, challenging and rewarding experience from this side of the computer.
If you are thinking about getting into the Blogosphere, here are a few tips and tricks that I have learned along the way…
Book Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru
Author: Dervla Murphy
Promotional Blurb: The eight feet belong to Dervla Murphy, her nine-year-old daughter Rachel and Juana, an elegant mule, who together clambered the length of Peru, from Cajamarca near the border with Ecuador, to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, over 1300 miles to the south.
With only the most basic necessities to sustain them and spending most of their time above 10,000 feet, their journey was marked by extreme discomfort, occasional danger and even the temporary loss of Juana over a precipice. Yet mother and daughter, a formidable duo, were unflagging in their sympathetic response to the perilous beauty and impoverished people of the Andes.
In this extraordinary adventure, Dervla Murphy is at her intrepid best, facing up to the terrors, horrors and joys of her journey along the mountain paths. Source
My Thoughts: To date, I have not travelled anywhere in South America and have read very little about this continent. Spotting this book in a second hand bookstore was the perfect opportunity to remedy this situation. The fact that the book was about a walking adventure made it even more appealing!
This is an eye-opening read. Their bravery or downright foolhardiness is as breathtaking as the scenery they scramble through. I do not know if I am more in awe of Dervla for her unquestioning belief that walking 1300 miles through the Andes is an interesting and enjoyable way to spend ten weeks of your life OR her daughter Rachel who merrily and uncomplainingly traipsed along after her mother. The adventurous spirit must be a genetic thing and I suspect you could count on one hand the number of other nine year olds in the World who would willingly follow a parent through such terrain and under such conditions.
Murphy is quoted as saying, “the hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security”. Wise words.
Amidst all the blood, sweat and tears, Murphy waxes lyrical about the breathtaking natural scenery and at times, struggles to find enough superlatives to describe what she is seeing. Luckily for the reader she knows to check herself and balances much of the floral prose with snippets of historical information as they follow the path of the early Spanish conquistadores.
A really enjoyable read that is a good mix of adventure, stunning landscape, human mishaps, history and reflections about colonial invasion. I gave it 8/10.
Author bio: Dervla Murphy was born on 28 November 1931 of parents whose families were both settled in Dublin as far back as can be traced. Her grandfather and most of his family were involved in the Irish Republican movement. Her father was appointed Waterford County Librarian in 1930 after three years internment in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne. Her mother was invalided by arthritis when Dervla was one year old.
She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was fourteen, when, because of the wartime shortage of servants, she left to keep house for her father and to nurse her mother. Dervla did this for sixteen years with occasional breaks bicycling on the Continent.
Her mother’s death left her free to go farther afield and in 1963 she cycled to India. There she worked with Tibetan refugee children before returning home after a year to write her first two books.
Dervla Murphy’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Over 20 other titles have followed. Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer. Source
The light was starting to soften and the breeze picked up as we zipped up our jackets and tucked in our scarves. Although Summer was just around the corner, it was still definitely wintery as we strode across the ochre sand of the Thar Desert.
We had driven about 40km further west out of Jaisalmer, and 40km closer to Pakistan, to enjoy a night in a ‘luxury’ desert camp and the obligatory sunset camel ride. This was all part of our Webjet package tour and would prove to be one of the more memorable activities during our visit to India.
You know, it’s not such a quantum leap from being a walk-for-health-and-enjoyment walker to becoming a let’s-walk-900km walker! You simply do the same things day after day, as you slowly move from point A to B.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the required change in mindset and here are some tips to help you develop the confidence to step out and step up to a big walking adventure…
Well, I don’t hate cooking, but if I had the option I would prefer to watch paint dry than have to think about ‘what’s for dinner’. So, it was with no little trepidation that I voluntarily agreed to participate in an Indian cooking class.
I believe that you need to be a committed optimist to truly enjoy international travel. If you stopped and thought about all the things that could possibly go wrong as soon as you step outside your front door, you would never leave home.
On the other hand, perhaps we need the occasional travel disaster to make us appreciate all the fabulous things about setting out on an international adventure. Continue reading →
Last year I took on the biggest physical challenge of my life – the Italian leg of the Via Francigena pilgrimage trail. Over a period of 40 days, I covered 1 046.9km (yes, that 0.9km is very important) and there were many days when I really questioned my sanity!
However, now that seven months have passed and, I imagine a little like the pain of childbirth the hard times have faded, I may be able to assess the whole thing a little more objectively… Continue reading →
Those graceful white sails are instantly recognisable. They soar away from the city and out towards the harbour, floating above the home of quality Australian music and performance.
There was a happy buzz around Circular Quay as we strolled towards the Sydney Opera House. The young and groovy were just starting to come out to play and international visitors were surging to see the iconic scenery lit up at night.
Us? We were about to experience some world-class jazz.
Book Title: On The Trail of Genghis Khan – An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads
Author: Tim Cope
Promotional Blurb: The relationship between man and horse on the Eurasian steppe gave rise to a succession of rich nomadic cultures. Among them were the Mongols of the thirteenth century – a small tribe, which, under the charismatic leadership of Genghis Khan, created the largest contiguous land empire in history. Inspired by the extraordinary life nomads still lead today, Tim Cope embarked on a journey that hadn’t been successfully completed since those times: to travel on horseback across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe, from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary.
From horse-riding novice to travelling three years and 10 000 kilometres on horseback, accompanied by his dog Tigon, Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaus, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians. Along the way, he was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and told him their recent history: Stalin’s push for industrialisation brought calamity to the steepe and forced collectivism that in Kazakhstan alone led to the loss of several million livestock and the starvation of more than a million nomads. Today Cope bears witness to how the traditional ways hang precariously in the balance in the post-Soviet world. Source
My Thoughts: I had heard about this book many, many years ago and it sat in my To Be Read pile for the same amount of years. I had to get my mind ready for an epic journey – ready to tackle an adventure of this size and scale.
This IS an adventure to beat ALL adventures!
Throughout the book I was boggled by Cope’s ability to withstand the searing or freezing temperatures, the constant threats to personal safety and his ability to survive on a diet heavily laced with camel’s head and pig fat, and all washed down with a never-ending stream of vodka.
I like to think I am a fairly adventurous soul, but I am positively pedestrian when compared to Cope. His journey from Mongolia to Hungary was an exercise in pure resilience. I was blown away by Cope’s passion for the journey and the history of the regions he passed through and its people, and his sheer stamina to do it day after day even under constant threat to his safety.
Cope’s passion for adventure is balanced by his love of history and his book is littered with background information on the Mongols, Cossacks, Russians and Tatars. It was the impact of the Russians which really opened my eyes. Their systematic programme of ethnic cleansing all but wiped out the individual cultures and replaced it with bland and severe Soviet architecture, social and political systems, Russian language and a seemingly limitless stream of vodka. It has just broken the identity of so many countries and it makes me wonder if they will ever recover. Amidst all the desolation and cultural devastation there were small pockets of resistance and I hope they can find a foothold and eventually blossom.
I must admit that I did lose track of some of the history and it all got a bit confusing at times, but that is more of a comment about me than Cope’s writing.
Another thing I have been wondering is whether this sort of adventure is still possible today. We live in such an incredibly connected world these days, is it possible to truly go ‘off grid’ like Cope did?
Also, with so much political tension in the World, would it be possible to move from country to country like Cope did, although I acknowledge that this was not straight forward for him either 15 years ago.
It has certainly tweaked my interest to travel to some of these little known countries.
If you like an adventurous read that makes you think AND opens your eyes to both history and ancient cultures, then make sure you track down a copy of Cope’s epic.
Author bio: Born in 1978, Tim Cope, F.R.G.S., is an award-winning adventurer, author and film-maker with a special interest in the traditional cultures of Central Asia and Russia. He has studied as a wilderness guide in the Finnish and Russian subarctic, ridden a bicycle across Russia to China, and rowed a boat along the Yenisey River through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. Tim’s most renowned journey was a three year journey by horse from Mongolia to Hungary on the trail of Genghis Khan. He is also the creator of several documentary films, including the award winning series “The Trail of Genghis Khan,” (commissioned by ABC Australia and ZDF/Arte in Europe). Tim lives in Victoria, Australia, and annually guides trekking journeys to remote western Mongolia for World Expeditions.Source
You may have seen the print and other ads for the Webjet tour business and wondered if they were too good to be true. The prices seem incredibly low and chockful of meals, entrance tickets and other add-ons, making you wonder, ‘how can they do it’?
Since 2013 I have walked three caminos, all concluding at Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. The ever-popular Camino Frances was my introduction to the wonderful world of long distance walking. Bitten by the bug, I returned to Spain for the Via de la Plata from Seville in 2014 and then stepped out on my own on the Camino Portuguese from Lisbon in 2016.
With all those caminos under my belt I thought it was time to break out of Spain (J) and, for something different, last year I walked 1046.9km through Italy on the Via Francigena.
But what is the difference between the two? And which is the right one for you? Continue reading →
Each day brings exciting, and sometimes challenging, new sights, sounds and smells.
We are now down in southern Rajasthan at the romantic white city, Udaipur. In the last week we have: • been stunned by the living city inside the Jaisalmer Fort, • ridden camels across the sand dunes of the Thar Desert and walked bow-legged for a while afterwards!😉 • listened to soothing chakra music in the imposing Mehrangarh Fort and • stood amused and confused in the colourful chaos of the old Jodhpur bazaar. • bumped and jiggled and rattled over the back roads to soaring Jain temples, • edged slowly through, joyous singing and dancing weddings and • had more selfie photos taken than I have had hot dinners! • Laughed at the traffic and the ability to fit a complete car chassis in the back of a small tuk tuk, • Visited a small desert school to drop off some school supplies. The children stared at us as if we had dropped in from out of space, but hopefully the pens and pencils will be useful. • Stared open mouthed at the opulence of the City Palace in Udaipur, and • Watched the golden walls of the Palace glow at sunset as we bobbed around Lake Pichola.
More accurately, we are not in little ol’ Mudgee anymore. Instead we are in a car driving through the depths of dusty Rajasthan, India.
Today will be day five of our Opulence of Rajasthan tour and I am struggling to put into words all that we have seen. India is such a land of contrasts – from gobsmacking beauty to heartbreaking sadness, and always an eye opener.
Our little traveling party of three women, and our patient driver, left New Delhi on Monday. We have been working our way eastwards and arrived in Jaisalmer yesterday afternoon. As we have travelled, the terrain has become increasingly desolate and now we are well and truly on the outskirts of the Thar Desert. To the point where this afternoon our plan is to pull on our johdpurs, mount up and head off on our camels out over the sand dunes.
In the meantime I will try to share a little of what we have seen so far. Even in the middle of nowhere there is something to look at, even if it just the crazy traffic.
Asif, our driver, is great company and is happy answer all our crazy questions and sometimes even he has his camera out taking photos too!
Enjoy the snaps below. I will try to be a better blogger over the next couple of weeks, but no guarantees!
Chandi Cowl market in Old Delhi
Through the streets of Jaisalmer
Sunset over Jaisalmer
Views from the car
Making new friends at Ramdevra Hindu Temple
The inhospitable countryside as we edge closer to the Thar Desert
Happy pilgrims on their way to Ramdevra
Transport in India!!
Thousands of rats at Rat temple at Phalodi
A rubbish mountain (the photo really doesn’t show its true size) at Bikaner
One of the main things I enjoy about walking pilgrim trails is that often the trails lead me through all manner of remote countryside and many small towns and villages that would not normally be on a tourist’s agenda.
Piacenza, in northern Italy, is one of those gems which reward a curious visitor as well as an exhausted hiker, and truly hum with the energy of local life.
Unfortunately I am not one of them, especially when it comes to anything remotely artistic or creative. I am strictly a stick figure artist and even then you have to use a fair bit of imagination to see what I am getting at, but I do love to see the magical creations of others.
On a recent stroll through many Italian towns and cities, I was spoilt for creative choice
I know I am terribly biased, but I love my home town of Mudgee. Yes, it is only small and, Yes, it is a solid three and a half or four hour drive from Sydney, but when you get here it is a feast for the senses, especially the tastebuds.
We have around 40 wineries, breweries and distilleries in the countryside surrounding the town, however in this post I am encouraging you to park the car, pocket the keys and explore Mudgee itself. Being small, everything is in easy walking distance.
Promotional Blurb: It was the late night Tai Bo fitness commercial warning him that life comes to an end after 40 that prompted Peter Moore to chase a boyhood dream. To go to Italy and seek out its celebrated dolce vita from the back of a Vespa.
But it couldn’t be just any old Vespa. Peter wanted a bike as old as he was and in the same sort of condition: a little rough round the edges, a bit slow in the mornings perhaps, but basically still OK. And it had to have saddle seats. And temperamental electrics. And a little too much chrome. The sort of scooter you’d imagine a sharp-suited, Ray Ban-wearing young Marcello Mastroianni riding. Her name was Sophia.
From picnicking in the Italian alps and rattling through cobbled hilltop to gate-crashing Frances Mayes’s villa and re-enacting ‘Roman Holiday’, Vroom with a View is as much a romance as a travel adventure. For not only does Peter win the woman of his dreams, he falls for a side of Italy others rarely see. Along with Sophia, of course… Source: Book Depository
My Thoughts: This is a wonderful, quirky travel read, especially enjoyable for those of us with a soft spot for all things Italian.
It really resonated with me so soon after my return from my latest walk, this time in Italy. I was pleased to see he traveled to a few of the same places that I visited. He even mentioned the Via Francigena a couple of times and I do admit to often looking longingly at Vespas and other small motor bikes. How much easier and quicker would it have been to jump on one of those machines, even an old one like Sophia, and putter up some of the %$#@! hills?
He has a very easy and entertaining style. His voice is informal and relaxed, but interesting at the same time. He has a good eye and ear, and captures the sights, smells and sounds of Italy. Most importantly, he captures the warmth of the Italian people.
Author bio: Peter is an author who writes about travel. He is always searching for places that are authentic and a little bit different. No floaty sundresses or hipster beards here. Born in Sydney. Living in London. Author of six best-selling travel narratives. Travelled through 105 countries. Always looking for the next dodgy lane to wander down.Source
It must be a wee bit frustrating being a small town or city in Italy, struggling to share the limelight with heavy-hitters such as Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. No amount of marketing budget will ever be enough to compete with their tourism profile and yet there are so many smaller, magical places with great stories to tell.
So, here is a small promotion for the city of Vercelli…
Having packed away the hiking boots and washed all my incredibly grotty hiking clothes that could possibly have walked home on their own, I thought it might be timely to share some key learnings from my latest long distance walk through Italy.
The greatest joy of travel are those moments when you go, ‘Huh? I didn’t expect that’. On a recent stroll through Italy I was constantly surprised and my expectations and assumptions regularly challenged.
Perhaps this is more of a reflection of my own ignorance and biases, and this is what I found… Continue reading →
When we think of Switzerland we naturally picture soaring snow-capped mountains, lush green fields, cows with cowbells, chocolate, watches and possibly, St Bernard dogs with their trusty brandy barrels fastened below their chins.
But did you know that the dogs have been named after their home? The Great Saint Bernard Pass.