Sunday, 29 March 2009

At last some proper sport

Australian accents don't vary much from place to place, but their sports do, and in Victoria and Tasmania, Aussie Rules Footy is no 1 and the rest are nowhere. But here in Christchurch God is in his heaven and rugby union is where it's at. As it should be.
My host Matt Donaldson (founder while at Uni of the Richard Loe fan club, so clearly a rugby man who appreciates the darker arts of the game) took me to see the local Super 14 side, the Crusaders. I'm guessing there aren't many muslims in Christchurch, which makes sense when you think about it. Anyway, fans of the Scottish Borders rugby team will see above that while said team may be gone, it's traditions live on, 3 laps of the pitch no less. Though no one announced the recent death of any of the fans' favourite horses, one of the many lows of recent Borders rugby history. The buildup didn't get the game it deserved, 11-7 home win but a bit of slog despite perfect conditions, made worse because all the other NZ Super 14 teams played more exciting games the same weekend.
OK, non-rugby fans can tune back in now. 1st big disaster of this trip was on last full day in Melbourne, when my camera was either mislaid or nabbed, meaning I'll almost certainly have to rely on my memory for the last few days in Tassie and Melbourne, though fortunately most photos prior to that had been copied to a memory stick. New camera purchased, life goes on. I'm taking it easy with Matt and his lovely family, growing fat on their barbeques and teaching the kids to play cricket, which may not fill future generations of England players with terror. I last saw Matt 28 years ago when he was about 7, last time I was in NZ when his Dad was my Dad's boss. Wouldn't have thought those encounters influenced our subsequent lives, but rugby tours and Lord of the Rings movies are the major sporting and cultural references for us both, so maybe...
Couple more days in Christchurch, then car hired for drive down to Queenstown and then the Milford Track, if I can't acquire some sort of niggling injury to get me out of it.
I've added some photos to the last few entries; an unleavened diet of my prose has doubtless been hard going for some!

Monday, 23 March 2009

I get around

I've tried a few alternatives:

Car hire: Flexible, and cheap if you can get fellow travellers along for the ride. Except I ended up doing all the driving because said fellow travellers a: couldn't drive, b: could but hadn't brought a licence, c: could, but were nervous driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Which meant that had to put up with the occasional glitches that arise from me going for the clutch and discovering I'm driving an automatic so it hasn't got one. They were calmer about it than I would have been. Also got a lift with another car hirer, and thanked her by breaking one of her keys in the bootlock - sorry Katja! Not everyone likes hire cars. Alas the photo above isn't easy to read on the blog, but says (in several languages) "Don't even think about blocking these gates. Our elephants will stomp your wretched hire car down to the hubcaps. Your cooperation is appreciated." Which I would have taken more seriously if the sign had been in India rather than Tasmania.

Public Transport: I've become attached to Melbourne's trams, looking forward to trying Edinburgh's new system in - er - about 2030, at the current rate. But using buses on Tasmania was hit and miss, there were nice attractions around Deloraine but no buses before mid afternoon, so I tried...

Hitching: ...and got a lift from an old couple who chuntered at each other a lot - "There's that place. We should stop." "What?" "That place recommended in the book. We talked about it this morning." "Remind me." "It's got [long description read from book follows]" "That sounds ok, let's go to that." "OK, turn around, it's 3 miles behind us now..." But despite this, got to walk to Alum cliffs (the old chap Dave was as fast on crutches as I was without) and visit the Chocolate Tasting Centre with them, which was as good as it sounds!

Ferry: Overnight from Tassie to Melbourne in 'ocean recliners'. A lot of grumbles from fellow travellers, but to me it feels like being in 1st class on an airoplane, so quite enjoyable.

Tours: Risk is you're not in control. My latest one was day trip to Cradle Mountain, most popular national park in Tassie, but some of my fellow travellers had to be back at their cruise ship by 2:30, which meant a quick drive in and out. Our guide took us round more local attractions (where he lives) later on as compensation, but asked what my Rough Guide to Oz says about them and unfortunately I told him - it describes the relevant coastline as 'unremarkable' and some of the street sculpture as 'tacky', which put him in a huff.

Shanks Pony: All purpose shoes standing up well, but Milford Track in a couple of weeks will be their real test

Cycling: I've hired/borrowed 4 bikes so far. Not really tested myself since Hobart, Melbourne is very flat. Can see muscles getting a shock when I try cycling in NZ.

This is the last missive from Oz for the moment. Recent highlights include:

  • the Australian Ballet,

  • the huge Melbourne botanic gardens, and

  • discovering the Melbourne central library has a special chess room with a huge bequest of books and boards set out for casual players.

Recent lowlights include:

  • Australian cornflakes (immeasurably worse than ours),

  • lack of foreign news/sport in Aussie papers (it's not just UK and US who are myopic about what goes on abroad), and

  • the AFL changing their ticketing policy for the Aussie Rules Footy game myself and German pals planned to attend at MCG this Thursday, which means tickets are no longer available on the day.

One impression is how much every town, village, club, etc in Victoria and Tasmania (and maybe everywhere else in Oz) commemorate their wars. Their memorials seem much bigger and more plentiful than ours. Surely we've fought more wars than them? Maybe we need to enter a few more. Not complaining about this military tradition, best meal I've had was in an ex-serviceman's club in St Helens, Tasmania.

The other thing they've got far more of than us is statues of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and George V, I guess because they wouldn't see them in person so needed reminders of who was really in charge. Think they lost the royal urge after that, or didn't need statues after TV arrived. Maybe statues have been replaced by urge to install street sculpture, there's almost too much of that in Melbourne, it's good but the place seems cluttered with it all.

This is already the longest I've been away from the UK since 1992, and will overtake that trip (Europe by train) soon. No homesickness yet, though if Scotland had good rugby news to celebrate I might feel some. But back in the real world...

Thursday, 19 March 2009


You shouldn't use crude national stereotypes to judge your fellow travellers, but here I go anyway. It's true that the the Germans have far bigger packs than anyone else, it's true that the East Asians take by far the most photos (I saw one at the hostel this morning photographing his breakfast cereal). And it's true that the Israelis look like Jesus - well, the only one I've met did. And the French smell.

In Deloraine, Tasmania, today. It's also a stereotype that Tasmania is about 50 years behind the times, which maybe why political correctness hasn't arrived in the gift shops yet, see photo.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

15 minutes of fame

The travel and the sights are why I'm here, but it's the people that really make the trip enjoyable. Though I'm feeling an underachiever compared to some. Recent travelling companions in Tassie have included 6ft 9 John, who as starting Centre led his University in Montana to its best ever performance in the National College Basketball finals and was set to sign a professional contract before the dreaded cruciate ligament popped. Sadly it hasn't healed sufficiently for him to resume playing, and he would admit that he hasn't yet found a career to replace it, though he's enjoying the travelling while he awaits inspiration. There's also Yasuko, who 25 years ago was playing drums in an all girl band for 4 figure Japanese crowds, and Carolin, who has won professional cycling roadraces in Germany, and entertains the punters in Aussie hostels with her Pete Townsend impressions. I need something to compare - Borders Chess Champion 1994 doesn't quite stack up. Pictures show J&Y with Nick from Switzerland in front of one of the giant trees in the the Mount Field National Park, and Carolin at Coles Bay Hostel in typical pose.

These three fellow travellers were my companions for the trek to Wineglass Bay, voted one of the 10 best beaches in the world, apparently. Heavy rain for the 1st half hour, but sunshine after that to reward those who persevered. Other recent highlights have been Russell Falls at Mount Field National Park, and the Bay of Fires, where I managed my first ocean dip of the trip. Very cold, but one of these "I will if you will" situations where by the time you've discovered just how cold you're all in your cossies and its too late to back out!

No photos again today, alas, the St Helens, Tasmania library computer doesn't want to download them onto blogs, though it's happy to do so for emails.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

This computer is for family history research only...

Updating this was easy at my first 2 ports of call. Both Mrinal in Bombay and Colin in Melbourne had broadband, lots of laptops (Apple ones, which I hadn't used before - they required much use of expletives initially), and were generous with giving me access as and when required. It's not been so easy subsequently. Couchsurfing has taken off in such a big way here that potential hosts are pleading not to get any more short term requests, and the computers in the hostels and internet cafes cost money and don't give much access time.

But Hobart central library has lots of computers, no doubt meant for the use of locals, but currently full of scruffy travellers. And smelly ones in my case; I tried to cycle up Mt Wellington which overlooks the town today, but it's very hot for Scotsmen) and at half distance decided this was biting off too much. Especially since I can drive up it tomorrow, I've hired a car for the next 3 days, and hopefully will persuade some of the more civilised occupants of the hostel to join me for some or all of these. Plan is to do see a bit of the wilderness, albeit probably the bits with marked paths if that isn't a contradiction in terms.

Three day bus trip from Melbourne took me to the Grampian Mountains (amazing how many things here are named after bits of Scotland) and back along the Great Ocean Road. The forests in the Grampians were decimated by fire a few years ago and haven't recovered yet, it's been too dry, and the reservoirs there are very low. Enjoyed the walks we did there but I enjoyed a walk along treetop platforms (pictured) in some of the temperate rain forest further south more, much fresher cleaner air. Also saw the seacliffs of shipwreck coast, especially the 12 Apostles, though there aren't actually 12, they keep disappearing. Some say they collapse into the sea, attached photo suggests another possible explanation. Was underwhelmed by the supposed fantastic surf beaches - I guess you have to understand this sport.

Good trip overall, though the group (20+) was quiet; raising a quorum for the pub on the last night was tough, and many people spent the hours on the bus in their own little iPod world, emerging dutifully at the various photo stops to take a shot - I think some people spend so much time taking photos that they never actually look at the stuff they're seeing. Even the guide was finding them frustrating. Think I'm just about managing to blend in with these younger travellers; people keep asking my age and expressing surprise at the answer, which is nice!

I keep hearing that Melbourne is running out of water, and yet that the population is exploding and will overtake Sydney in the next few years. No one can use water for car washing or spraying gardens or sports pitches - some of the cricket was being played on dustbowls not much different to Bombay. And they're building a $3bn desalination plant - I thought only the Middle East went in for these things. Hobart's more attractive at first sight, probably because it feels so British. Which isn't always a good thing, today's been gorgeous but they're predicting rain for next few days. Don't mind it on Sunday afternoon - I've found out when the Scotland v Ireland game will be shown, now I just have to find a pub that takes Setanta.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Footsteps of Doom

I had a tentative theory before I left that my arrival would spell trouble for any places I visited. Based on the bad news that hit Bombay and Melbourne shortly after I booked to visit them. And Melbourne has been shaken up since my arrival - earthquake measuring 4+ on the richter scale the day after I arrived, which we felt, though it didn't rock our worlds. It was well timed, as we were at one of Colin's friends watching The Ace in the Hole, which is about a cave in at a mine.

So not exactly doom, unless of course it's part of the build up to THE BIG ONE.

Off on a 3 day tour ( tomorrow. Flight to Tasmania the day after I get back, and back to Melbourne about a week later - haven't booked return journey yet. Hope to see some Australian footie on my return, the regular season starts this month. In the meantime, attached photo shows it's popular at local level too.

Friday, 6 March 2009

...and in Australia

All a bit more sedate here. Melbourne Cricket Ground, Day 2 of a Sheffield Shield Match, 80,000 capacity not being fully tested. First time I've ever seen live 1st class cricket.

Cricket in India...

This is the 'Oval', a public park that swarms with cricket, there were about 20+ separate games visible from where I took this pic, all overlapping each other. This was about the fastest bowler I saw, so quite impressed to have caught the ball in this pic.


47 degree temperatures and raging bushfires. Melbourne's experiencing nothing of the sort at present. Today felt like a typical Melrose spring day, never above 15 degrees and perfect for cycling. Or at least the bit of the day I experienced - woke up this morning at 10:45 after nearly 14 hours sleep, can't remember when that last happened. The Qantas flight from Bombay wasn't very restful, not least because at one point a woman fainted and collapsed on me and needed emergency oxygen. Would like to pretend I did my white knight impression, but don't think breaking her fall and summoning the cabin staff qualifies.

I'm being hosted here by Colin, another upstanding member of the couchsurfing community, and a guy whose generosity goes way beyond the call of duty. Also a film and SF geek who can match my memory of obscure movies and best-forgotten cult classic novels blow-for-blow. He has the edge on me on Role Playing Games, as he's still an active player, which brings back my teenage years. I STILL can't believe Alan Purves was secretly the Android in Mike Jones 'Alien' re-creation....

But I should say more about India. I at last saw Slumdog Millionaire on the plane from Bombay (it was embarrassing not having done so before staying with the chap who shot much of it, but Mrinal was very nice about this!) and there was lots from the film that I recognised from my stay, including the huge water pipes around which entire slums have been built (see photo), with attractive mosques (and temples, and surprisingly many churches) in the background. We had dinner on my last night with several other people from the Bombay film world, during which I learned lots of dirt about Bollywood celebrities which I sadly have no use for. Mrinal also took me to a Buddhist 1st millenium Monastic Cave Complex, very impressive, though like many of Bombay's attractions, poorly presented for visitors (I don't just mean European ones) - pity they don't make more of an effort. Even more impressive is the huge National Park the caves are in, in land-hungry Bombay the pressure to surrendur this to the developers must be huge. It's full of leopards apparently though they're hard to spot, there's certainly plenty monkeys for them to eat (see above for 3 of the less camera-shy). Other random impressions - answering nature's call in the middle of the night, avoiding a meditating Indian in the darkness, then tripping over his cat; lots of new fruits - do they sell papaya in the UK? it's excellent; and Mrinal being stopped by the cops for running a red light we hadn't seen (50 rupees is the going rate for persuading them not to make an issue of this) following which we stopped obediently at the next one and the motorbike behind us shot straight through it in the most blatant way possible.

I'm glad to have experienced it, and would go back to other parts of India, but even with the fantastic hospitality I had, a week is about my limit in a place as intense, hot, and crowded as Bombay. Plus India's best defense against foreign invaders is still keeping me much too regular, and I acquired some non-too-fetching spots (this blog is warts'n'all...) on face and hands which may have been heat or allergy-related. Appearance was only thing affected, they weren't even itchy, and almost gone now, but still very unwelcome!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Bombay or Mumbai

The first thing you discover in Bombay is that there's a lot of confusion about the name. My host Mrinal, who is Indian born and bred, calls it Bombay, but to Oliver and Henry Briggs (pictured, ages 5 and 3, they've arrived from England a few months ago), it's Mumbai and they loudly corrected me when I 'got it wrong'. Since their parents were hosting me for an afternoon of luxury poolside at the Marriot Hotel, I wasn't about to argue with them.

Next thing you discover is that if you try to do to much, you flake out, because it's very hot. And the traffic is incredible, Bombay has lots of signs discouraging 'honking', which frankly everyone is ignoring. But with the help of an assertive driver (and Mrinal is a very assertive driver) you can see a lot. We did the grand tour, covering churches, the zoo, beaches, mosques, and the obligatory Slums with their impressive recycling industry. And cricket being played everywhere, though many of the bowlers need their actions reviewed by the ICC.

Also climbed up to a fort at Kernala about 2 hours from Bombay, hottest slowest walk I've ever done. Lots of wild monkeys eyeing our food. Most impressive part of the fort is the caves cut into the rock pinnacle at its centre, which house enough water for an army to withstand a siege for months.

Off to Oz tomorrow.