July 31, 2011
I’m apparently not good at signing off posts when I do my journeys. The last day of the Broken Hill trip was fairly ordinary, I’d gotten into a bit of a grump and was fairly jack of it by the end. I do remember driving through some bushfire regrowth area, which was an interesting concatenation of green and black colourings.
But that’s neither here nor there. Time instead now for a few intermittent blog posts from my seemingly annual tripification – this time it’s to Vietnam!
I tired of the Melbourne winter and decided to visit somewhere warm, and Vietnam stuck out a mile. Never having travelled in a country where I couldn’t speak the language (or had a grownup guiding me…), I decided to softcock it and go for the tour to break myself in. Accommodation and plenty of activities organised, but also plenty of free time for wandering (which involves being hassled by touts, it appears)
The adventure started before Vietnam on the flight over with Thai Airlines. I’ve decided I don’t like flying. It’s not the flying per se, but being an enormous lummox I have to get to the airport early in order to have a crack at getting an exit row seat (I physically do not fit in normal economy seats). I then get to sit around in an airport for several hours (what fun) and then get to sit in a damned narrow seat (exit row seats are narrower than normal seats – I won’t bore you with why). So narrow the my narrowish hips are touching both sides – I guess you’re stuffed if you’re a tall woman. I then get to do things like have Dad bring Toddler to my spot as the place to calm toddler down. Yes, I like being the fence-post for a daycare for grumpy toddlers. But that didn’t last long – Dad was replaced with Oldfella, some poor geezer who knocked my out of my dozing when he struck my foot with his shoulder. It’s a little disconcerting to wake up to some old guy flat on his back staring blankly. At first I wondered if he was seizing (I can help there!) but it was clear he wasn’t – and I wondered if he was stroking, in which case he’s kinda fucked since we’re in the air. Very thankfully it was just a hypoglycaemic attack and he woke and was able to tell the staff that, though he did spend the rest of the flight on the floor, poor bugger (we were shuffled off elsewhere). Add to that the point that being in an exit row seat means you don’t have a proper table and the swing-out movie screen isn’t angle right so you can’t see it properly, and add again that being in an overwing seat means you have a door with a tiny porthole overlooking a wing rather than a proper window of some kind… and yes, I’ve decided that flying is being bored and uncomfortable and I don’t like it.
Vietnam, on the other hand, I’m still coming to grips with. Landing in at Ho Cho Minh City was a rough affair, so much so that it was rather obvious what the intent was of the sudden soothing jazz music over the PA. Landed, changed some dollars, and pre-booked a cab from the airport. Herein lay the first challenge – the receipt had the wrong hotel address. I’d showed the driver the right hotel in my documentation. He’d looked agitated, but we couldn’t communicate, so off we set into the crazy HCMC traffic, him at home and knowing where we’re going and a little ticked off – the receipt was for the wrong amount to my hotel, I gathered – and me unable to tell where we were, crazy traffic going everywhere, not thinking straight due to sleep deprivation, and wondering where the hell I would actually end up. I couldn’t even tell if the receipt was too high or too low…
The hotel is nice enough, if a bit oddly appointed. Everything is cheek-by-jowl here, and I’ve had a fairly solid introduction to the ways of SE Asian cities. I went wandering for a bit, got fleeced at the market for a couple of things as I can’t barter to save myself, and went for a walk whereupon the heavens burst. My usual trick of ‘meh, I’m a bit wet, may as well keep going, it’ll dry soon enough’ does not work in the humid tropics – eight hours later, clothes are still damp (more than just sweat damp) lesson learned, but may not be avoidable. It seems too that the greatest invention the Vietnamese have gained is the raincoat – they pop up everywhere when the heavens open, and pillion passengers just huddle under the rider’s coat.
Back to the hotel and meet the guy sharing my twin-share room. Turns out he lives in the next suburb. Turns out he works for a company that is a client of my company. Neither of us are heavily involved in the intersective areas of our respective companies, but damn, that’s weird. We also have in common a complete lack of ability with language, and have each spent much time trying to digest phrase book info and having none of it stick. By the way, Lonely Planet Vietnamese Phrase Book – when you give the ‘english-speaker phonetic approximation’ of how to pronounce a vietnamese word, do not – I repeat, do not – use two new accents that you don’t describe anywhere in the book. Besides, if the sound is ‘k’, then use a damn ‘k’, don’t use an accented ‘g’ with no description. Yes, LPVPB, I’m talking to you.
Not many/any photos for this post, unfortunately. As I was wandering around, I was very conscious of the fact I was sleep dep’d, and given warnings about the touristy areas of HCMC and camera snatchers. I erred on the side of caution since my antennae were in.
Similarly, the sleep dep has disjointed the above narrative a fair bit. So much has happened in 24h (like, for instance, meeting the whole tour group and guide and they seem like a good crew) but I’ve begged off drinking tonight to catch up on sleep so I better hop to it. Off to do boating in the Mekong tomorrow, and I’m not sure when I’ll be posting – it will be spotty. No photos this time around – I need to trim the couple I had down. Next time, I promise.
January 17, 2010
Today was a travelling day, Broken Hill to Deniliquin. The driving day was broken into two halves: To Ivanhoe and From Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe is a mere spit of a town and doesn’t have much worth mentioning on a Sunday arvo.
After starting out apprehensive about the unsealed road, I was disappointed when it ended. I’d probably given the car a knock or two that I shouldn’t have, but it carried on like a trooper. I can see why people get excited about outback driving, though I might need a little more instruction before I tackle those roads that require you to bring winches and ropes.
In Hay we stopped off for some suprisingly good Thai food at a shop that does Thai, pizza, fish’n’chips and hamburgers. It’s funny how you see Aussie men above a certain age with a South-East Asian wife and immediately think ‘mail-order bride’. Maybe that’s just me. It’s probably a bit defamatory as they were both warm, kind people. In any case, the Thai food was pretty good for a fast food shop. Mum spent some time looking at real estate and it’s apparent that if you want a cheap place to live, move to a dying town. Big houses going for $100-200k. It was the same situation in Mildura.
Deniliquin is our final resting spot, a place I’ve always wanted to go to simply because I like the name. It’s bigger than I thought. But a rest after a ten-hour drive calls to me – though tomorrow is easy mode, only about four to five hours total with a break in the middle. So, as promised, not much plot, but some extra photos…
January 16, 2010
It’s been a surprisingly long day, and I’m buggered, so it’ll be a short one plus a bunch of photos.
About three and a half hours drive took us up the Silver City highway to the Silver City itself, Broken Hill, the town that made BHP the behemoth that it is (Broken Hill Proprietary). The town sits astride a giant lode that is still being mined today, though it’s nearly out, and the place is defined around mining. Quite humourously all the street names are named things like Bromide, Argent, Chloride, Thalidomide†, and Calcite. The hotel we’re staying at is on Mica St. The streets themselves are made haphazardly and are the result of what must be the laziest roadbuilders in Australia. Instead of having a pipe go under a crossroad like everywhere else, they’ll just dip the street instead. There are dips everywhere. In one case the slope was just a bit too steep to build up, so instead of raising the road a bit, they just gave up. It’s a bit weird driving around here.
Now, from memory, wordpress doesn’t like image-heavy posts, but let’s see how we go. I’m not cogent enough to write a narrative at the moment, too knackered. Part of being knackered is also being a bit stressed out at doing 200km of unexpected unsealed road tomorrow. It could take two hours, it could take five.
Finished off the day by driving to a local hilltop where there are a dozen or so sculptures of varying quality. A couple are great, most are meh. This is the piece I called “The One” because it’s the one that’s always going to be in photos and brochures. In the right time of year I would guess that the sun can be seen through the hole at sunset. We waited for sunset and were finally rewarded with one of the most gloriousless sunsets ever. Stunning lack of colour. The sun didn’t set so much as the horizon rose – a dust storm was inbound, and it was bloody windy too.
Time for bed now, tomorrow promises to be a Big Day.
† Okay, I lied about this one
January 15, 2010
Yes, it’s been a long time. I never did sign off when coming home. After a monstrous flight back I was so exhausted from the flight and travel that I basically fell asleep for a week and couldn’t bring myself to write the closing page. Weeks turned into months and it never got written. Now I’m on another road trip and I thought I’d tack it on to the blog.
The last day in the US deserves a nutshell, though most of the story is the flight. Didn’t get up to much new, just went out and wandered the streets of NY to say farewell to the grand city. Actually being able to sleep in a queen-size bed was a godsend. In the early afternoon I scoffed the last of my cheap street food, grabbed my sports-bag-cum-backpack, and wended my way out to JFK airport. The subway takes you out to an airport train that’s entirely automated – you can sit up the front and watch the train take you places. A bit weird. But I got the flight desk and had already booked for an exit-row seat for my rather lengthy legs. No trace in the system. Eh? Turns out Qantas had just instituted a policy saying that you can reserve exit row seats… if you pay $160 for them. How new was this policy? I was the first person to have to cough up the dough. I wasn’t in the mood for screaming and yelling – I’d even been pulled out of the queue to be individually attended to at a different counter before finding this out – so I just decided to not make a scene and cough up the money. It took a total of six staff and hour to process the payment. That’s not “it must have been an hour”, the grand colloquial hour that’s more like 17 minutes. That’s an hour of me being genial and polite, watching the clock, watching the next and the next person join in. At least the flight left on time, 7pm. So I’ve been up all day from the crack of dawn, and now starting the flight to LA and then to Melbourne in the evening.
The flight to LA was uneventful, bar for a chatty flight attendant who was a bit intrusive at first but I warmed to him. Landed at LA in the early hours of the morning and paid a “ha ha, you’re captive” $9 for a soggy salad roll. The plane we were to fly to Melbourne on was one of those cool new A380s, the grand new additions to the Qantas fleet. About to leave US soil, I was saying my mental formal goodbyes… when the pilot took us out of the queue at the runway as the #3 engine wouldn’t start. He went through a number of processes including rebooting the plane (now there’s a weird phrase) and if that didn’t work, he said we’d need a spare part that would only be available in Sydney (Australia, Qantas depot) or Toulouse (France, Airbus folks). It didn’t work. During all this I couldn’t recline my seat due to safety rules, and therefore couldn’t even doze. Those seats are not made for 6’6” fellas. Anyway, turns out there was a spare at LAX, engineers came out and installed it, and we were on our way three and a half hours later. 16 hours in the sky home made the total of me sitting in a not-quite-right size seat come in at around 25 hours – which of course started at my body clock time of 7pm. I arrived home, was greeted by my sterling housemates who presented me with a proper coke, and we then went to a driving range and played golf in an attempt to keep me awake until dusk. It sorta worked. I then slept for about a week.
It was worth it.
Since then I’ve been a mix of mostly unemployed and now slightly employed. Couple of days a week. Not great, but at least I can make the rent. But I did get the urge to go on another road trip.
And where was a decent drive away from my hometown Melbourne? Why, Broken Hill. In the middle of the NSW desert. It was just a destination, a good long drive away. Turns out it’s full of artists because of all the wild colours and grand views. There may be something to do there after all, though won’t be there for more than half a day. I just wanted to get some driving done and I’ve got a four-day round trip. Mum was missing me and wanted to come along so she’s been riding shotgun and continuously feeding me while I drive.So today, my birthday, the 15th, I set out for Mildura, in the far northwestern corner of my state. The day started at 4am. It was supposed to start around 7:30, but my phone on the charger in the kitchen somehow re-enabled its alarms and set off an alarm set to wake me at 4am – not sure when I used this last, may have been my trip to the US. I have no idea why the alarms re-enabled, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. By the time Mum got up and we were set and ready to go, it’d just passed 9… and we still had fuel to fill, coffee to buy (yes, she’s an addict) and food to grab. We got onto the Calder freeway in Melbourne at 9:40, and this road would take us all the way. Much of the land was a dry summer yellow, all vestiges of green from the recent rain long gone. It reminded me of southern Colorado where I could have sworn I was driving at home if it weren’t for being on the wrong side of the road. We sailed through a number of stock standard Australian hamlets, tired and baked from the sun, stopping for small breaks and food here and there. It was a largely unsurprising trip. Well, until we hit a little place called Sea Lake. After the mocking of a far inland town called Sea Lake (it’s on a salt lake) we wandered into the newsagent for the ATM. In one nook of the place there were a couple of hundred oddly bell-shaped bottles with greenery that looked like terrariums. Not the normal thing you carry in a newsagent. Turns out that they were orchids, and orchids by the bucketload in tonnes of variety. Turns out that after newsagenting for 38 years, the proprietor has made a little hobby for himself in importing these sealed little bottles. On leaving Sea Lake we spied a little road to a viewing platform over the salt lake and decided a little side-trip was due. The viewing platform was a weird sheep-run that raised you all of a meter and a half to look out over the salt lake. In the distance there were tailings heaps visible from where salt is mined from the lake. Mum wanted some of the salt (pink salt), so we kept on down the road and went out on the salt pan to make it to the next jut of land where the tailings heap was… … and we reversed back off the salt pan as the car began to sink. Probably not a good idea to get your car bogged on the pan. There’s a lot of water just under the surface, and a great way to find that moisture is to press a set of tires into it. We found another way around to the tailings heap as the salt pan near the start was quite black and dirty, then wandered to the salt pan with the weirdly crunchy salt beneath us. Mum made her collection of pink salt, we took a lot of photos, got mildly sunburnt, and wandered on. The rest of the trip to Mildura was fairly mundane, with the exception of the ‘award-winning’ vanilla slices of Ouyen actually being rather nice. There was also a behemoth of a mechanical vehicle at Red Cliffs called Big Lizzie, but description won’t do her justice, you’ll need to see the photo, even if only to check out her wheels. She was supposed to haul wool on the other side of the river, but never crossed it, so ended up hauling grain on this side.
Mildura itself is a medium country town. Had decent grub at the ‘Worker’s club’ and cruised the streets a bit. We wandered on down to the ‘lock and weir’ and I learned something about locks and weirs. There is an island in the middle of the river. The lock is on one side and allows boats to raise or lower to the water level up/downstream. The weir is on the other side of the island and acts as overflow to ensure the water level never gets too high for the lock. Learn something new every day.
So the dark horse of the day was the little town known as Sea Lake. Surprised me, anyway. I don’t expect much for the next few days in terms of exciting adventures – this was always going to be a ‘point that way and drive’ expedition – but you never know what might crop up.
Oh… and Mildura has active fountains! Hooray for fountains…
†Remember that you can click on thumbnails for a bigger look at Big Lizzie
July 15, 2009
It’s so unfair that I have to leave both NY and the US at the same time.When I first started the blog, I mostly saw it as a way to keep people informed of where I was and what I was doing. I thought I’d update it every few days with an ‘I’m at -foo- doing -bar-‘ and not much else, since the few travel blogs I’ve looked at are much the same: here I am at A, met person B, look at panoramic vista photo C. It turned out for me that the blog was a way to distill the stuff that happened during the day, in effect, to help me memorise it, to remember the stuff that happened earlier in the day. It hasn’t worked perfectly, but there was so much happening on most days that sitting down and thinking about it really helped. And like I said earlier, for every thing in the blog there’s two or three that I encounter during the day. At least. The other big advantage for me was having various people suggest random cool things to do, which is a decent feat given the breadth of the travels.
Anyway, I’ve got to get out of the room as sign-out is approaching. I’ve repacked everything and have a couple of hours walking around time before heading off to JFK.
Think I might get me some Korean dumplings…
July 15, 2009
I suppose I should wander out one last time into the New York night. Tomorrow night at this time I’ll be halfway to my LA stopover.
July 14, 2009
- encaustic sculpture
- marbeling and the uncanny valley
- shoe foot paws costume
- austin luxury homes
- yellow girder
- how big is a 6 man tent
- small town police vehicles
- dick wolf
- where to find gold teeth in winston sale
- “best restaurant in fort stockton”
- hand shower pipe
- dull penis
- naked “women’s bath”
- balloon clown cleveland
Tomorrow I’m juggling hostels so I can’t do anything big in the morning, and in the afternoon it’s (hopefully) off to Jon Stewart for my last night in the US. Here’s hoping he punctuates my trip well…
July 13, 2009
Essentially yesterday was a long arvo at a science museum. Yes, I know I said that I was into credit now and only free things count, but I claim the $30 expenditure was on science, which feels like home to me, so therefore counts as ‘accommodation’! Yes, that’ll do.So a nice sunny walk along the river was in order with a shirt concealing my sunburned shoulders, watching people sun themselves and boat about and a windsurfer looking frustrated in the still conditions. The walk was so picturesque that I had to repeat it in the evening on the way back, trying not to get hit by the joggers and bikers that claim that path for themselves. I’ll never understand jogging, pounding your knees until you’re sweaty in an attempt to be unable to hear your ipod properly. Weirdos. I’d selected the museum of science as there was no modern art museum on offer in Boston. While musing what to do, the hostel had a mural of various things around town and I saw the museum listed there. Fondly remembering the Exploratorium back in SF (where fondly remembering = barring up over), I set out with far more time available. The Museum of Science in Boston was a bit weird. It was part museum exhibits and part hands-on exhibits, whereas the Exploratorium was all hands-on. There was still lots of cool stuff to see and do, with the exception that once again there were too many kiddliewinks in the way. Damn things. Someone should create some kind of playground with lots of hands-on things to do to keep them out of the way. Saw a 3-D show on bugs narrated by Judi Dench where the heroine gets eaten by the hero. I’ve never really understood getting famous actors to voice-act. “Shall we see the 20 minute featurette ‘Bugs!‘?” -> “Nah, not really interested” -> “Judi Dench is narrating. She’s a Dame, you know?” -> “Fukken SIGN ME UP! In like FLYNN!” Also saw a show in the planetarium on the Mars rovers that NASA sent up and performed beyond expectations, but the show that really took the cake was the electric show. The bloke running it had his little red lab coat and went through the usual ain’t-it-cool stuff with small Van der Graaf generators and volunteer’s hair, but he inexpertly built the show up through using the Jacob’s ladder and Tesla coils to using one of the largest Van der Graaf generators in the world†. Big, loud zaps. He got into a birdcage and raised it up so it was being zapped so as to demonstrate the skin effect, the generator zapping the cage with 500kV with him putting his hands on the inside of the metal. For dramatic effect he licked his finger and put it opposite the spot on the bar the zaps were striking. Apart from the shows there were a great variety of themes on display and it took a while to try everything. Favourites were the perceptual illusions and the light benches. Perception and attention have always been a favourite of mine, though my theory is rusty, because I’m always interested in seeing how we perceive the stuff that’s out there, and how we can fool our detectoring devices, not to mention seeing just how many clauses a sentence can hold. But there was stuff on birds, gears, mathematical modelling, playground physics, weather, reproduction and genetics, computer history, desert life, looking for clues like an archaeoligist, music, fluid dynamics, and a passel of stuff that I can’t bring to mind just now. Probably have photos, though.
The evening was spent choring after a brief mental debate of going out drinking with no money and very tired versus smelling like a back-country bull for the next few days. Fought with the crappy internet connection and called it a night. Today has mostly been a travelling day after scoffing a last-minute cup of clam chowder. Nummy. I never did find Gareth’s much-promoted bucket of battered hotdogs. Managed to get the front seat up the top of the bus and I can tell you that it’s kinda scary when you see a low bridge approaching. Add that to the interstate being tree-lined all the way and it wasn’t the most interesting of trips. Now I’m ensconced in the HI hostel in NY and am about to head out for food. It’s huge. And like the one in Boston, I’m on the bloody top floor with no elevator, heavy bags and slightly stuffed knees. Tomorrow is my last full day in the US and unfortunately I’ve got to swap hostels in the middle of it. Weird to think that after all this time I’ll be boarding a plane in 48 hours.
† When Americans say ‘the world’, you never know if they mean ‘the Earth’ or ‘the USA’
July 12, 2009
I found a new way to be woken today, and it didn’t involve any of the other five guys in the room. The trick is to have your chest heated by the sun streaming in through the closed window†. So wakeup time was around 7:15 and I’ve learned to close the shades. Out of the tiny room into the tiny shower, but at least they all work.Just out and about exploring Boston today. The first thing that strikes you is that it’s a wealthy city. Everything is so well kept, but it’s allowed to look natural rather than clipped to hell as per LA greenery. The other thing that strikes you is how small it is. There’s a wall map of it in the hostel kitchen and eight miles will take you from the docks to the outer suburbs. The hostel is all of a mile and a half from the centre of town and it’s a lazy walk through avenues to get there. The avenue I walked down had two statues per block and most of them were literary or civil rights figures with a small smattering of military. A curious reversal of the usual mix. This avenue opened out into Boston Common, full of people soaking in the gentle summer sun, eating expensive snack food. There’s all sorts of historical markers and they’re very proud of their activities in the 17th and 18th century. There’s a few ‘burying grounds’ around, not cemeteries, not graveyards, but ‘burying ground’. The paths made for the tourists go willy-nilly over the graves and it’s kind of weird. Blokes in period costume wander around waxing lyrical about the denizens of the burying grounds, which is just as well since the headstones are worn to indecipherability.
I wandered through the streets a bit more and ran into a most bizarre protest. A few blokes spruiking for Lyndon LaRouche. I normally leave these folks alone, but as I passed their sandwich board I couldn’t help but double over laughing. “Britain gave you Hitler” it proclaimed, and then a line about Obama’s healthcare plan. One of the blokes came over and asked why I was laughing and I explained, asking him how Britain gave us Hitler – his answer was that it was British Imperialism that bankrolled him.I asked how on earth could he distill decades of european politics into ‘britain gave you hitler’ and how on earth this is related to the british healthcare system they were reviling and he gave me some literature – LaRouche’s recent webcast transcript. I read it on and off throughout the day with just a critical eye, not a political one. It’s so full of misdirections, misrepresentions and outright lies I’m amazed he has followers. In the speech he mentions Britain as the enemy a lot (he occasionally says he means the style of economics, but keeps attacking the people with a particular penchant for Prince Philip like he’s some kind of nefarious mastermind), and says that Obama’s healthcare plan is exactly the same as the events of the holocaust. Not ‘will lead to’ or a bit of hyperbole, but actually specifies it’s exactly the same. Not knowing the details of Obama’s healthcare plan I can’t defend or attack it, but the LaRouche literature can only be considered slanderous. Hell, he calls Obama, Blair, Prince Phil and Her Madge all to be Nazis. And he means it. The guy is a total loon. I did try to find the spruikers later in the day because I just wanted to point out that character assassination was not the same as addressing the issue, but I couldn’t find them. Much of the rest of the day was just wandering through the streets, through the thronging central market and out along the harbourfront. There’s a Tall Ships race that’s in port at the moment, and droves of people crowding around to see them. I went to the site of the Tea Party museum, but it was out of commission. There were a few tall ships around that were sorta fun to look at, but just sitting by the harbour watching boats in general was kinda meditative. Reminded me of Sydney a bit, without the bluffs.
I ended up wandering back through town and had dinner at a rather average Chinese place and found that wandering around for six hours in the gentle Boston sun had given me mild sunburn on my shoulders. Damn. The other thing I realised was that I am now out of money. I have enough for food and accommodation, but I’m working on credit now. Damn. Only four more days to go, I guess. The other, other thing I realised is that the two alternate hostels I was trying to book when I’m back in NY don’t have vacancies. I may have to return to a Jazz hostel, of which there are several. Damn.
ADDENDUM: Hahahahah! I found that I could do one night at one alternate hostel, and the other night at the other! I’d rather take the risk on two new hostels than go back to the jazz hostels and sleep on their crappy short mattresses again.
† ‘closed window’ doesn’t sound so poetic, does it?
July 11, 2009
† If something is poignant, it stands to reason that it must contain some poign. Mind you, I heard a curator on the radio pronounce the ‘g’. Ouch.