The Alice – heart of our country, home of our flies

There are thousands of cattle grazing in Central Australia, providing a rich breeding ground for bush flies. So, visitors to ‘The Alice’, as Alice Springs is affectionately called, spend a lot of time doing ‘the Aussie salute‘ if they are outdoors during daylight hours without a netted hat or insect repellant.

A couple of mid-year overnight frosts will reduce the population for a few months but that hadn’t occurred before we disembarked from The Ghan to spend a week in Alice Springs and the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park. I had come prepared, but I can tell you, there is quite an art to getting yourself protected from both the flies and the sun’s rays without making a mess of your face and your clothes!

Anyway, with that more or less sorted, we quite enjoyed ourselves in and around this relaxed and historic town, which has a population of about 25,000.

The most significant event in the town’s early history was the construction of the overland telegraph line from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north, to link up with an underground cable to the Dutch East Indies, now modern day Indonesia. This major feat of surveying, engineering and construction, which took place in the early 1870s, dramatically shortened the time taken for information to be exchanged between Australian residents and most other parts of the world. The telegraph station in the vicinity of what became Alice Springs was one of the most important in the network.

This marker, dedicated by the Institution of Engineers, Australia, celebrates the fact that the 3,178 kilometre line was constructed in less that two years under the direction of Charles Todd, whose name was later given to the ephemeral river that makes its way through the modern town. The name of Todd’s wife, Alice was given to the waterhole from which the telegraph station drew its water supply; the station precinct became known as ‘Alice Springs’; and, in 1933, that became the town’s name.

The heritage-listed telegraph station buildings are maintained in excellent condition and contain some modest technical displays and information boards.

 

   

The telegraph line, its workforce and the increase in European economic and government activities that it facilitated were not such good news for the Aboriginal residents of central Australia. Slowly but surely, many of them lost access to their traditional sources of food and water and to sites that were important for reasons of social cohesion and long-established cultural practices. Conflicts ensued, bringing down the force of the British colonial justice system.

In the early decades of the 20th century, salt was rubbed into these wounds when Australian authorities implemented a policy of separating Aboriginal mothers from children fathered by a non-Aboriginal man. In the name of ‘saving the half-castes’, as they were called, the children were taken, often by force, and placed in supervised accommodation. For several years in the 1930s, the old telegraph station outside Alice Springs was one such place, having become technologically obsolete in 1932.

Information boards at the old station share stories of the varied impacts of this practice, known now by the term ‘The Stolen Generations’. This matter continues to generate a variety of emotions and opinions but, nowadays at least, it is a story that is out in the open and is mostly being handled with sensitivity and positive purpose.


So, a mixture of significant reasons for visiting the Old Telegraph Station, and a contrast of proud and dark events that is not uncommon in Australia’s short modern history.

Next, something that is a source of untarnished pride across our nation – the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We visited its base in Alice Springs, where much of its pioneering work began.

The RFDS or ‘Flying Doctor’, as it is known, is the largest aero-medical service in the world, having grown from initial trials in 1928 to have 1,600 paid staff, numerous volunteers and a fleet of more than 70 aircraft operating from 23 bases. More details of its history are available here.

The service was initiated by John Flynn, a Presbyterian minister and head of the Australian Inland Mission. Now, I’m no fan of missionaries of any persuasion, but I have no difficulty acknowledging Flynn’s devotion to the well-being of Australians who lived in remote places. That is what drove him to find a system and resources for providing emergency medical care across Australia’s outback.

Since 1994, Flynn’s efforts have been celebrated on one side of Australia’s $20 note, which is why I bought the fridge magnet. The items depicted on the note include the plane that launched the first trial of the service; the pedal radio invented by an associate of Flynn to enable communication between remote locations and the service bases; and the ‘body’ chart devised by an RFDS nurse to help patients describe their symptoms. The last of these is still in use today, 68 years on! A new version of the note will be released later this year; it includes an image of another vital outback service, the ‘School of the Air‘, which was initiated by RFDS members and used the same pedal radio technology.

And here is the interior – minus all manner of medical equipment – and the exterior of one of the modern fleet of RFDS aircraft.

   

Just across the road from the RFDS base is an Australian reptile centre, where we came up very close and friendly with some of the inhabitants! For example, here is a Bearded Dragon lizard enjoying the warmth of Maggie’s hand.


Meanwhile, I was swaddled in a python! My warm neck was its preferred location.


Our next destination was the art galleries at the Araluen Arts Centre, where I was keen to view an exhibition called Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality.

This exhibition commemorates and explores one of the most significant events in modern Australian history, the August 1966 walk-off by Aboriginal stockmen and their families from the Wave Hill cattle station, which was located on their traditional lands.

Although the strike was sparked by poor wages and conditions, it also focused attention on Aboriginal land rights, resulting in dramatic changes to Australian laws and land tenure policies, changes which continue to roll through the country to this day. A summary of the walk-off event is here, including the story of two famous songs which it inspired.

It was one of the most remarkable exhibitions I have ever seen. (You can find out more about it here.) I knew that the events were important – I was 12 at the time of the walk off and 20 by the time the land hand-back occurred – but I knew little of the detail. I was captivated by the way the exhibition blended so many forms of visual, spoken and written material, some historical, some new.

As Maggie knows all too well, I have an unquenchable thirst for information in such situations and I greedily took it all in. Then, ‘just in cases’ (that’s a Love Actually reference), I called into the gallery shop on the way out to buy the book produced in conjunction with the exhibition.

For my own records, I took a photo of my favourite image in the exhibition. It is called Aerial view of Jinparrak (Old Wave Hill Station) and is a large work painted in 2015 by two senior Gurindji artists, one female, one male, who lived at Jinparrak at the time of the walk-off. Obviously, it is not my right to publish an image of this remarkable painting on my blog. However, I will devote a subsequent post to it and show you where you can view it online.

Our last visit of note was to the Olive Pink Botanical Garden, Alice Springs’ modest but fascinating botanical garden.

Here, if you are fortunate, you can view the Sturt Desert Pea, central Australia’s most famous flowering plant. You won’t see many of these in my hometown – too cold and too wet for too much of the year, for starters!


And why does the garden bear the name of two colours, olive and pink? Well, that’s because a woman by that name founded it, lobbied to have it secured officially and was its first, honorary, curator. She was also famous as an anthropologist, campaigner for Aboriginal social justice and artist.

This image of Olive Pink adorns the wall at the garden’s cafe. Amongst other text, it says that she was once called “the most ferocious woman in captivity”. Now, that’s a serious rep! Reminds me of a couple of my female cousins, actually.

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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Up close with Uluru and Kata Tjuta

This post shows you what we did and saw when we weren’t watching the sun rise or set over Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

First, a walk into Walpa Gorge, one of two trails open to the public at Kata Tjuta. (Some locations are closed to the public for conservation reasons or because they are used for significant ceremonies by Anangu male elders.)

   

The next photos show the conglomerate material from which Kata Tjuta was formed.

   

Here is the dry bed of a stream which runs after each fall of rain over Kata Tjuta

This last photo was taken from the same spot but in the opposite direction, towards some of the sand dunes which cover much of the national park and make up the oldest system of stable sand dunes in the world.

Later in the same day, we were driven around Uluru to view sites that relate to Anangu creation stories associated with the rock. So, this is an appropriate time to tell you a little about the significance of Uluru to the traditional owners and their community.

First, you might like to see a welcome from one of the traditional owners. It’s here.

Secondly, I was interested to learn that Uluru is not regarded as a sacred site in its own right. However, it is still a sacred place to the Anangu because it is where the four most important creation events occurred, events which the Anangu believe account for some of the key features of the rock. Further explanation of this distinction can be found here.

The creation stories are very powerful but they are also shared openly with a wider public, by way of education. So, our non-Aboriginal driver/guide was at liberty to tell us the stories of Mala, Lungkata and Kuniya and Liru. If you read these stories, ostensibly about how physical features came to be, you will discover that they also provide important lessons as to how Anangu persons should behave as they grow up.

We viewed some of these sites from our tour coach but we did have time to walk to Mutitjulu waterhole, where the fateful battle between Kuniya and Liru took place.

Mutitjulu waterhole

The next group of photos illustrates the variety of rock features. It is not difficult to imagine how they could have inspired creation stories.

         


 

Sadly, there is also a destruction story associated with Uluru. Despite the wishes of the traditional owners and the park managers, a significant number of individuals climb the rock each day. They come from Australia and from overseas, with the express intention of doing this, almost as if it is some sort of hunters’ trophy.

Even if you don’t care much about Aboriginal cultural values, there are strong safety and environmental reasons why you should not climb on the rock. You can find out more here, including a downloadable fact sheet.

Happily, climbing on Uluru will be banned from 26 October 2019. Soon enough, would-be climbers will either stay away or, preferably, find adequate reward from all the other ways you can enjoy yourself during a visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Our first visit was very short – just two nights and one-and-a-half days – and we have already decided to return, sooner rather than later, perhaps after there has been a good period of rain to bring on a display of native wildflowers.

Also on a happy note, we bought a painting of the night sky from a local Aboriginal artist, pictured here with her bright-eyed daughter.

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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Sunset, sunrise … sunset

This second post about our recent journey through the centre of Australia introduces you to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, one of the most iconic locations in Australia.

Uluru

Kata Tjuta

Let me begin by saying that it is very difficult to convey anything like the majestic physicality and enchanting spirituality of Uluru and Kata Tjuta through images shot by amateur photographers using smart phones. But I will do my best and I will supplement the images with words and some links to specific information.

Fifty years ago, when Maggie and I were nearing the end of our high school years, the vast majority of Australians called these two sites by the names given to them by European explorers in the mid-19th century: Ayers Rock and The Olgas.

However, our country’s relationship with the two sites has undergone significant change since 1985, when the traditional Aboriginal owners were given title to this area, then leased the national park portion of their land back to the national government and entered into a joint management arrangement for the park. (In 1977, it had been renamed according to the local Aboriginal language. Ayers Rock reverted to Uluru and The Olgas to Kata Tjuta.)

Over the last 30 years, I have interacted with numerous Aboriginal Australians, socially or through work. No other aspect of the life of my country matters more to me than remediation of the profound impacts of Europeanisation of our continent on the well-being of the peoples who have lived here for as long as 80,000 years. So, I am very happy that most Australians know what I am referring to when I say that I have been to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

But I digress! Let me tell you some basic facts. At its highest point, Uluru is 348 metres above the ground and its circumference is 9.4km. The highest of Kata Tjuta’s 36 domes is 546 metres above the ground. The geological history of how they each came to be formed as we see them today is very interesting. You can read about it here.

One of the favoured activities when visiting the park is to view one of the formations at sunset or sunrise, or both!

We began with sunset at Kata Tjuta.

  

We were up very early the next morning to watch the sunrise over Uluru, with Kata Tjuta in the background to the north-west of ‘The Rock’, its affectionate nickname.

The rays of the rising sun lit up Kata Tjuta in colours that reminded us of some of the works of Albert Namatjira, a justly-famous Aboriginal painter.

Later the same day, we were taken to a viewing area on the northern side of Uluru for the sunset, one of the most photographed sights in Australia.

 

In my next post, I will show you some finer details of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta and tell you a little about what they mean to the Aṉangu, the local Aboriginal people.

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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Journey through the middle of Australia: days 1&2

Maggie and I have recently returned from a fortnight’s journey through the middle of Australia, from south to north. Our journey began in Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia and finished in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, extending over 23 degrees of latitude.

Our principal mode of travel was the passenger train called The Ghan, named in memory of the men who came with camels from western Asia – including Afghanistan – and from northern Africa, in the mid-19th century, enabling Europeans to journey into the sandy deserts and scrubland of the inner regions of Australia.

The trip from Adelaide to Darwin is 2979 km long and takes 54 hours over two nights and three or four days, at an average speed of 85kmh. We took the four day option, which involved alighting at Alice Springs, the main town in Central Australia, in order to visit some of the spectacular sites in that region. A week later, we re-boarded The Ghan for the journey to Darwin.

The first group of photos were taken at the station in Adelaide while we were waiting to board our carriage. Our train was nearly 750 metres long; the middle photos were taken from the same point, looking in opposite directions.

The fourth photo shows the scene in the reception hall, where we were treated to free bubbly and live music from a guitarist-singer, by way of acclimatising us to the quality of experience that awaited us!

   

Then, we and the other 250 passengers were invited to make our way, by foot or golf-cart, to our carriage and settle into our cabins. We had booked a ‘Gold Superior’ cabin, the middle quality, which provided is with twice the standard floor area, a ‘three-quarter’ bed, complimentary bubbles, armchairs, a coffee machine and sundry other creature comforts.

The train’s passenger carriages were laid out in groups of three separated by a lounge car (see below), a dining car and a galley, followed by a mirror image of that configuration. The standard of the meals was remarkably high, given the cramped conditions, and the wine list featured a generous selection of popular table wines from Australia’s most esteemed wine regions.

               

Before we went to sleep, I organised us to lie face up on the bed with our heads up against the window. Then I turned all the lights out, giving us a wondrous view of the cloudless night sky, with countless thousands of bright stars and a clear image of the Milky Way. I had been fortunate enough to enjoy such a view before; for Maggie, it was a magical first.

We had set our travel clock to rouse us at an ungodly hour the next morning, so we could join most of our fellow-passengers for an outback sunrise experience. Being a winter’s morning far from any maritime influences, the temperature was close to freezing but the train crew had risen even earlier to light two bonfires and prepare tables laden with hot drinks and warm bakery items.

There was a bit of a buzz amongst the passengers as the sky began to lighten, although most of us were equally pleased to return to our cabins and catch forty winks.

  

As the sun climbed through the morning, we entered the vast region of Australia known affectionately as the ‘Red Centre’. I think you can see why that is the case! Believe it or not, every 10 years or so, there is enough rainfall to cover much of this land with floodwaters, most of it remaining inland to replenish underground water supplies or drain into Lake Eyre, which is up to 15 metres below sea level. (More info here.)

 

Early in the afternoon, we crossed from South Australia to the Northern Territory and crossed the dry bed of the Finke River, said to be the oldest riverbed in the world. Nowadays, it is dry most of the time, sometimes for years on end, but the indigenous gum trees are able to grow long roots to tap into water lying well below the parched surface.

  

Before much longer, The Ghan was slowing down as we reached Alice Springs, the main town of the Red Centre, rich in history and the country of the Arrente aboriginal people.

This is where we broke our journey for seven days to explore both ‘The Alice’ and the World Heritage-listed sites of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. I will share those experiences with you in subsequent posts.

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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Norwegian fish soup revision

A couple of months ago, I posted a recipe for a Norwegian fish soup.

In that post, I said that, due to my enforced low-carb routine, I use less potato than specified in that recipe. I also said that I would be happy to consider adding some tomato, in the form of Maggie’s cooked tomato reduction or similar.

In fact, the recipe I now prefer to use has no potato at all and uses the equivalent of about 150g of tomato, cooked down to about 100g to concentrate its flavour. Aside from the carbohydrate consideration, I actually prefer the texture of the soup without potato and the tomato adds a some eye-pleasing colour.

Here is a bowl of soup, cooked according the latest version of the recipe, followed by its predecessor.

And here is the revised recipe.

Ingredients

15-20g butter
1 large leek, trimmed, halved lengthways and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
3 tsp plain flour
3-4 cups fish stock
1 stick celery, halved lengthways and sliced semi-finely
150g peeled and chopped tomatoes, reduced to about 100g
1 medium carrot, peeled, halved lengthways and finely sliced into wafers
salt and pepper
200-250g firm, white fish cut into 2cm cubes
100-120g Atlantic salmon, cut into 2cm pieces
60-80ml cream

Method

  1. Melt butter in a heavy-based saucepan over gentle heat, add leek and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes.
  2. Add flour, cook for one minute then gradually add stock, stirring constantly.
  3. When liquid is simmering, add celery and tomato, bring back to a simmer and cook for 6 minutes.
  4. Add carrot wafers and simmer for 4 minutes
  5. Add seasoning, allowing for saltiness of fish
  6. Add fish, return to simmer and cook for 3 minutes
  7. Add cream to taste and simmer for 2 minutes
  8. Adjust seasoning and serve

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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Ten days in Japan: high speed, comfortable pace

 

View of the peak of Mt Fuji as our flight approached Tokyo. The Japanese passengers were very excited!

This is the first in a series of nine posts about our travels between June 2017 and February 2019. In total, we went on seven trips and spent significant time on the ground in thirteen countries across four continents and five islands.

When, where and how

Maggie and I spent 10 days in Japan in December 2017, including Christmas Day, but we retreated to the peace and quiet of our home in Melbourne just before the beginning of Hatsumode, the colourful-but-crowded Japanese period of en masse visits to Shinto shrines.

This was our first visit to Japan. We chose this time of the year for several reasons: we get a kick out of spending Christmas in other countries; major sites are not overcrowded; and early winter is not overly harsh in the south of Japan. In fact it was dry most of the time, we only used an umbrella once, briefly, and I needed to wear thermal undergarments on just two mornings.

Instead of booking a complete tour, our travel agent helped us to put together a diverse itinerary of free time, specific short tours and rail transfers between cities. Our ten nights were spent in hotel accommodation in Tokyo, the lakeside town of Hakone, the old imperial capital Kyoto and Osaka.

We flew to and from Japan via Singapore, partly because there were no direct flights available from Osaka to Melbourne. In hindsight, it would have been smarter to book direct flights between Melbourne and Tokyo and use a bullet train to get to Tokyo airport from Osaka, a journey of little more than three hours!

As you would expect, we moved from city to city by bullet train, having obtained a Japan Rail Pass before we left Australia. We also used local train services in both Tokyo and Osaka. We cannot overstate how impressed we were with our train travel experiences.

Faster than Superman!

Sights and experiences

Tsukiji (Tokyo) fish market tour & sushi class (morning)
Our guide led us on a very interesting exploration of the streets of seafood stalls in the outer market. The sushi class was excellent and the instructor, 30 years a sushi chef, was a charming and effective teacher. At home, we have continued to apply what we learnt.

With our sushi master

Tokyo highlights tour
This full-day tour with the Sunrise Tours company was varied and mostly interesting and our tour guide was very good. It began with the lookout on top of the famous Tokyo Tower and ended at the beautiful Sensoji temple and neighbouring pagoda at the top of the popular Nakamise Shopping Street. As you would expect, it also included a traditional tea ceremony, which wasn’t quite our cup of matcha, although the surrounding Japanese garden setting was quite attractive. Overall, a long day but a very satisfactory introduction to Tokyo, both old and modern.

     

     

Mt Fuji tour
Much to our surprise and disappointment, this turned out to be the weak leg of our itinerary. The ‘5th station’ on Mt Fuji, the highest point for coach tours, was well short of the standard you would find in other countries for such an iconic landmark, in terms of interpretation items, viewing spots, signage and convenient access to light snacks etc. And our view of the snow-capped summit was facing directly into the morning sun. (Our photo flatters the view!)

Then we had another long drive to catch a boat for the short trip on Lake Ashi to the base of the Komagatake ‘ropeway’, or cable car as we would call it. This piece of infrastructure looked like a relic from the second World War but it worked safely enough and the views of Mt Fuji and the lake were very impressive.

      

Hakone
The town of Hakone is at the southern end of Lake Ashi and is a popular summer-time destination for Tokyo residents. It was an attractive and restful place to spend a day and two nights, including a good variety of dining options and quality souvenirs.

Kyoto & Nara day-tour
This was one of the best tours we have ever experienced (except for the hilariously bland buffet lunch we were offered during the break between the two halves of the tour). The itinerary was packed with world-class sites, our guide was close to perfect and it all went like clockwork. Not to be missed (except the lunch)!

Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan from the late 8th century until 1869 and contains several outstanding buildings from those times. Today, the city’s historical virtues are protected by restrictions on the height and colours of new buildings, helping to make it one of the most beautiful cities we have ever visited.

To begin, we visited Ryōan-ji temple, home to the world’s most famous dry landscape Zen garden, as well as a lovely pond and surrounding garden.

   

Next, we visited the site of the Golden Pavillion, a breathtakingly beautiful structure and one of 17 World Heritage listed sites in Kyoto. The original building was destroyed in 1950, when it was set ablaze by a suicidal novice priest. It was rebuilt in 1955. We also marvelled at the meticulous work done to maintain the quality of the site’s gardens and pathways.

  

The last Koyoto site we visited was the grounds of the old Imperial Palace, an area covering more than 70 hectares in the centre of Kyoto. It was a place of contrasts, with vast imperial buildings and classic, finely-detailed gardens and water features.

     

In the afternoon, we were taken to Nara, which had been the Japanese capital in the 8th century. First, we were guided through Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden structure and home to the Great Buddha, a bronze statue 15 metres high. As with most other sites we visited, there was no over-crowding, which made our guide very happy!

   

The other highlight of the afternoon was a visit to Kasuga Tahisha shrine, set in verdant woodlands and famous for the vast number of stone lanterns which line the pathways leading to the shrine. We had limited access to the main shrine, as preparations were underway for the imminent Hatsumode festivities.

 

Miyajima & Hiroshima tour
Our enjoyment of this tour suffered a little by comparison with our experiences in Kyoto and Nara on the previous day. This was especially the case with the famously photogenic shrine on Miyajima Island, which our guide struggled to bring to life; it didn’t help that our tour group was large and it was a windy day. However, we still enjoyed ourselves, had the island’s signature dish for lunch – okonomiyi – and bought some souvenirs before returning to the mainland to visit the atomic bomb sites and memorials. This was a very worthwhile experience, providing us with a brief but thorough coverage of the bombing event, its consequences, its ongoing significance and the various memorials.

  

Giant sushi rice paddle on display on Miyajima. We decided a regular-sized one would work better in our kitchen!

Iconic dome in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

 

One of the many murals in the memorial park made up of thousands of small paper cranes. The commitment to peace and forgiveness was inspiring.

Hiroshima street lighting to mark Christmas, celebrated by Japanese people as one of the world’s great festivals!

Osaka tour
The final pre-booked item on our itinerary was a half-day tour in Osaka, concluding with lunch at a kushikatsu restaurant.  This tour was excellent, beginning with an extended visit to the impressive Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine. It is one of Japan’s oldest shrines and attracts vast numbers of Japanese visitors during Hatsumode. We then moved by tramcar and subway to Shinsekai, one of Osaka’s bustling food precincts. After a short tour, we sat down to our kushikatsu lunch, one of the many Japanese cuisines we tasted for the first time during our journey.

After the tour, we followed our guide’s instructions to make our way to the famous Dotonbori food precinct. What a place! We didn’t eat there but it was still worth a look, with plenty of culinary eye-candy, technology, colour and a happy throng of people. Don’t the Japanese do queuing well?!

        

  

   

     

Food and beverages

During our ten days in Japan we ate a wide variety of Japanese food, much of it coming as our first experience of the particular cuisine.  We wouldn’t go looking for some of those food styles again but we still enjoyed the experience. We only had one bad result. On our first night in Tokyo, we were very tired by the time we reached our hotel and, unusually for us, we hadn’t done any dining-venue research on the net before leaving Australia. We ended up paying an excessive amount for a feed of unexciting teppanyaki in a restaurant attached to the hotel. A costly lesson learned.

We soon discovered that there were two sure-fire ways to find dining venues: upper floors in multi-storey shopping malls; and along streets and arcades close to or within train stations. The latter should not come as a surprise: 48 of the world’s 50 busiest stations are in Japan; and Japanese office workers are more likely to dine on their way home from work than their counterparts in other countries.

We also wised up to the fact that Japanese beer is a good match for Japanese food and, unlike when at home, we only drank wine before or after meals.

At out hotel in Hakone, we struck gold in the form of a head chef who had trained in France, then worked in Vienna before coming back to Japan. We hadn’t planned on going French for two nights but we were more than happy to do so!

In Kyoto, we found the delightfully quaint Cafe Nakayama, which served a fine cup of tea, filtered coffee and various snacks. We had three light meals there!

In Osaka, we discovered the Daimaru store in the Osaka station complex and took full advantage, stocking up on sushi-related tools and crockery and patronising the store’s floor of better restaurants for one lunch and two dinners. One of the latter included a burger that was ethereally light and flavoursome. We wish we knew how they did it!

Here are some examples, including the ubiquitous sushi train.

 

 

Great hamburger! Note the cardboard collar to protect wait-staff and customers from the sizzle-flak.

 

Final thoughts

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Japan and would rate it around 9 out of 10, with only a couple of flat spots.

We found Japanese people to be incredibly courteous and helpful; city streets and buildings are tidy and clean; and they use technology extensively and effectively to make things happen.

The places where we stayed and the sites we visited or viewed, encompassed an attractive mix of Japan’s rich cultural heritage, beautiful scenery, colourful urban spaces and much of its varied cuisine.

We were also very impressed with the aptly named Sunrise Tours, the local company (in the land of the rising sun) which operated most of the organised tours we did. There was always clear information, flawless logistics, good coaches, excellent drivers and, with one exception, very good guides.

I will finish with a favourite memory, from our wonderful bullet-train experiences. As we sped across the countryside, a steward would enter our carriage and bow. Then he or she would walk through the carriage, checking that everyone was comfortable and then, before exiting through the far doorway, turn and bow to us again. Ah, the simple delights of international travel!

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

 

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Travel post backlog

Other than a couple of fleeting references to a recent resort-based holiday in Vietnam, I haven’t written any posts about travel since May 2017. So, my Sheriff’s-posse-sized band of regular readers could be forgiven for assuming that Maggie and I have spent most of the last two years close to home in Melbourne.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

It’s just that, we have been travelling so often and, when at home, I have been so consumed by the responsibilities of being the sole trustee for the estates of my late father and brother, that I have lacked both the time and the inclination to produce anything worthy of your interest.

However, inspired by our week in Vietnam and, beginning with the softer option of sharing some food stories, I have returned to a blogger’s happy place, ready to work my way through a backlog of travel experiences.

Here is a brief overview of our itinerary for the period from June 2017 to February 2019.

A tour of Vancouver Island and the Canadian Rockies

In June 2017, we travelled by coach, ferry, plane and train on a tour from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, through the Rocky Mountains and ending at the city of Vancouver. Here are two examples of the spectacular scenery to which we were treated.

Spirit Island at Lake Maligne

View of Lake Louise from our hotel room


A fog-free week in San Francisco

From Vancouver, we flew to San Francisco and based ourselves in an Airbnb-listed apartment handy to Fishermen’s Wharf. The fog rolled away soon after we arrived and we never saw it again! It was July 2017, 50 years on from the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’.

A sunny view of the Golden Gate Bridge

‘Summer of Love’ 50th anniversary exhibition


Japan highlights at a relaxed pace and high speed

Later in the year, we spent our third Christmas overseas, this time in Japan. The weather was cool but mainly dry, popular sites were uncrowded and the Japanese rail system a wonderful experience in its own right.

We returned home with a diverse collection of fond memories of Japan and its people.

Mount Fuji, best viewed from a distance

One of the many works in Hiroshima made from paper doves, all in the name of peace


Tasmanian wild and beautiful places

Tasmania, Australia’s island state, is justly renowned for its abundance of accessible natural wilderness but Maggie had never experienced any of it. We remedied that on a self-drive tour in March 2018, including the first anniversary of the death of my father, who was a passionate Tasmanian.

View of Cradle Mountain across Dove Lake

Within a rare example of temperate rainforest, Franklin River valley


Eight dry days in the Scottish highlands

Our next journey took us half a world away from the highlands of Tasmania to spend eight days driving around the famed highlands of Scotland. Australian friends had warned us to have our umbrellas handy at all times but we had only a few hours of ‘Scotch mist’. And half of that added to the bleak atmosphere of the Glencoe area, site of an infamous massacre, as we drove through.

‘Harry was here.’ A famous example of 19th century Scottish engineering excellence

Pipe band assemble at Stirling Castle to mark the Queen’s official birthday

A few wee drams of whisky being distilled


A Scandinavian cruise

From Scotland, we flew to Bergen, the second largest city of Norway. Our short stay included a visit to the home where Edvard Grieg lived for most of his adult life. Then we boarded the Viking Sun for a cruise along the Norwegian coast, finishing in Copenhagen. I can’t wait to tell you more about our wonderful cruise experience!

Recital room at the home of Edvard Grieg, Bergen

Stunning 9th century Viking long ship on display in Oslo


A comprehensive tour of the highlights of China

In September, we packed our suitcases again to fly to Beijing to join a two-week tour of the highlights of China, including a four-night Yangtze river cruise and three internal flights. We knew that we would be amazed by the various historic, cultural and natural sites but we were a little surprised to find modern China as agreeable as we did.

Chilled-out panda at Chongqing Zoo

Not a souvenir shop in sight! All by myself on the Great Wall

The Terracotta Warriors have to be seen to be believed!


Singapore, for a third time

We just couldn’t help ourselves when a great Singapore package deal reached our Inbox! We love Singapore and we are also very fond of seven of its residents, known collectively as ‘The Singapore Gals … and a Gentleman’, a friendship which began during a tour of France in 2009. It is a safe bet that we will return to Singapore at least one more time.

The marvellous Gardens by the Bay as seen from one of the Singapore Flyer’s 28 capsules

Up close with orchids inside Gardens by the Bay


A holiday in Vietnam

Which brings me to our most recent travel experience – six nights at the Grand Sheraton Resort Da Nang. We were prepared to discover that resort life is just a bit too quiet and sedentary for us but, thanks to its 210 metre long pool and to the abundance of friendly service we that was lavished us, we found it quite bearable, thank you! A tour of old Hoi An in the quiet of the morning was a bonus.

‘Infinity and beyond!’ Grand Sheraton Resort Da Nang

Silk lanterns colour the old streets of Hoi An

Well, that was the easy part. Now I have to revisit the myriad memories and photos from each of these journeys and do my best to fashion them into stories which, if my mojo is working, will be both interesting and useful.

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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