More Hong Kong Stories: The Silk Road


Our first morning in Hong Kong, I headed north to Hong Kong City. Thoughts of silk had been running around my mind since the moment I first found out we were going to Hong Kong, so had done my research. I’d read a great deal about Cheung Sha Wan Road in Sham Shui Po being a mecca for fabric and embellishments. This area is considered the fashion district and is where the designers go for supplies. I’d also read several accounts of a silk merchant named Angus, who was over in Ho Man Tin, who was said to have quality silk at the best prices.

I emerged from the subway onto Cheung Sha Wan Road and set off to find the fabric shops. I walked up and down the road and couldn’t find them. I found lots of fashion retailers, with merchants that looked askance at my large American size body in their shops full of size zeros. Those clothes were so pretty though, dresses the color of the ocean, with filmy, floaty layers that brought to mind frothy waves lapping the shore. But I was just looking for someone who I could ask where the fabric was. I was learning that English wasn’t going to get me very far.

I had read that most shop owners or clerks in the city had enough English to make a sale, but that wasn’t my experience. One woman told me it was two streets over, so I went in that direction. On the way, I stumbled upon a market street, filled with vendors selling all sorts of things. On one table I found a small, but very heavy, bronze statue of a mermaid. I wanted it really bad, but knew that carrying that in my bag all day would be a pain. I reluctantly put it down and turned to go. The seller chased me down, punching numbers into a calculator, jabbing his finger at it insisting, even as I walked away shaking my head. I had no language to explain my dilemma. Now I’m wishing I had sucked it up and carried it. At the time I was saving my bag space and carrying muscles for silk.

ribbon shop Hong Kong cityI turned my attention back to the hunt. I wandered into a shop selling handbags and found a very helpful English speaking woman. She told me I could find what I was looking for over on Tai Nan Street. Along the way, I found shops that specialized in ribbons and others in buttons or lace, the goods spilling out the doors and onto the sidewalk. As I approached Tai Nan Road, the smell of leather grew strong. I realized then that she must have thought I was asking where to buy leather to sew my own handbag. Tai Nan was one long street full of leather shops.

I continued to wander. I finally found fabric on Ki Lung Street. Shops lined each side of the road and canopied stalls filled the sidewalks with more fabric. Many of the stores just had swatches for the customer to peruse. You make your selections, then have the fabric lengths delivered to you (so I’m given to understand from what I read online). I had also read that most of the fabric stores were wholesale, but that many will sell to the retail customer.
I didn’t see much silk, and what I did see, I really had no way of knowing if it was real. Not without a match to burn it with and I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have gone over well. I was already guilty of being American. Again, I had no language to discuss fabric content or prices.

I did find a nice piece of Japanese linen printed with owls. It was hanging on a rack outside of a shop and had a sign with a good price. I carried it inside to pay. The clerk punched a price in a calculator that was not what the sign said. I turned to go point at the sign and the guy came running after me. He may have thought I was stealing it, or then again, he did have his calculator. I got it for the published price.

The day was hot and humid and my tongue was dry. I’d brought one bottle of water, not accounting for the liters I would sweat out. I had passed a couple of convenience stores on my journey and the thought of getting additional water flitted in and out of my head. Now, I was done looking at fabric and ready for the next stops on my itinerary, as I made my way toward the silk merchant. I couldn’t even be bothered to buy a length of ribbon or packet of buttons; I needed water.

Hong KongAs I wandered on foot to Flower Market Road, I was moving away from the more commercial district. Hot and thirsty, I finished the last sip of the water I carried. I told myself I’d stop at the very next convenience store I found. Except I couldn’t find one. I must have been getting delirious with dehydration and heat because I could see on the map a fairly straight shot from the flower market to the bird market but I seemed to have gone in a big circle out of my way.

I finally found the bird market, but still no water, and by this time I was really questioning my reasoning of “I’ll be fine.” I’ve been in Australia too long; I’m starting to fall for the “she’ll be right” line of thinking. After winding my way through the birdcage-filled lanes, and considering drinking out of their water cups, I turned in the direction of the silk merchant’s home. I saw on the map the MOKO shopping mall sat between me and the silk, so I headed there first. On the way, I was blessed with a brief misting of rain. I had to fight the temptation to turn my open mouth to the sky, and tried instead to imbibe the moisture through my skin.

I decided to have a liquid lunch, but not the fun kind. I sat at a table and pointed to the liquidy looking items on the picture menu. After a bowl of soup and a pot of tea, I was ready to continue my quest, but not before finding another bottle of water.

I walked out of the mall, heading in the direction of the silk. Sometimes I am amazed at the difficulty I have with simple tasks. I could not for the life of me find a pedestrian path across the street I was on to get to the street I needed to traverse. It appeared the only way to do it was in a car. There were no sidewalks, no room to walk between brick walls and the busy road, and a tall wall stood between the east and west sides of the street. I kept going, hoping not to be run over, and finally found my way out of the maze.

fabric shop in Hong Kong cityThe silk merchant was at 8 Soares Avenue. “Go up to a penthouse apartment and knock on the door,” were the instructions I’d found on the internet. OK, except you can’t just walk in, you need a key for the front door of the building. As I stood there wondering what next, someone else came along and held the door for me. There was a woman sitting just inside in a small, dark foyer, at a tiny table, who appeared to be the gatekeeper. I told her the name of the person I sought and she sent me up a rickety lift to the penthouse level. At the top I stepped out. There was a door to an apartment, some stairs leading to the rooftop and a confusing sign that made it sound like the fabric sales took place on the roof. But that didn’t make sense, so I went back and knocked at the door. Mrs. Silk Merchant opened the door, and wiping her hands on her apron, told me that Angus had retired from the silk business just one year ago. I think she questioned the sanity of this strange American woman laughing hysterically in her hallway.

Flash Back to Hong Kong

flying over northern Australia

Last August, I boarded a plane to Hong Kong. I was accompanying my husband on a business trip, and like on so many of our travels, this was to be a few days of him going to meetings and me wandering around the city.
I tried to sleep through the flight, but my eyes were constantly drawn to the window and, even though we were miles above it, the parts of the Australian landscape I’ve not yet experienced. Watching the earth from above, the lines of rivers and land forms always start me thinking of how I might be able to recreate those lines with needle and thread.

first glimpse of Hong KongEventually, the view turned to blue water and clouds. Now I was looking at tiny boats, wondering, if a whale breached could I see it? and checking the screen on the seat in front of me to chart our route and note which islands we were flying over. There’s Papua New Guinea. Those green mounds over there must be the Philippines. Finally, nine hours later, another green mass rose before us. My first glimpse of Hong Kong, emerald green mountains, and behind them a mass of skyscrapers crowded into a strip of land along the coast.

Once again on land, we traveled from Lantau Island where the airport is, over the bridge and through Hong Kong City, and over another bridge to arrive on Hong Kong Island, where we were staying at Lanson Place, a small boutique hotel.

After unpacking and freshening up in our beautiful, light and airy room, equipped with complimentary smart phone for our use, our stomachs led us back out. We stopped to ask the concierge for restaurant suggestions. Instead of just telling us, he went out of his way to walk us to the dim sum restaurant.

Hong KongHong Kong, for me, was a good introduction to Asia. It was foreign and exotic in its sounds, sights, smells, and tastes, and yet in its city-ness it was familiar enough not to be overwhelming.  The subway was super clean and easy to navigate. I had heard stories about being crammed into crowded train cars, but they were no more crowded than Sydney trains at rush hour.

foodstuffs Hong Kong city

old men making hammered metal vesselsAlthough, I typically have an aversion to heat and humidity, as I walked along the Hong Kong sidewalks, all of my senses alight with the bright colors, questionable odors, and the hum of Cantonese punctuated by the sound of clanging metal, machinery and honking cars, I was happy to have the heat searing the experience into my skin.

Usually when I travel, I like to familiarize myself with the area before I arrive, and have some idea of sites I’d like to visit, but keeping just shy of having an actual itinerary; I want the freedom to just sit in cafes and watch the locals, or to wander and see what happens. This time though, there were so many places I wanted to go and only two and half days to do it, so a detailed itinerary is what happened, with lots of walking between locations in order to soak it all in. My itinerary did not include any giant Buddhas or climbing to high places so I could look down. I have no interest in huge statues that were constructed only 25 years ago, and I think my view of the city from the plane was pretty good.

On our first morning, after a buffet breakfast in the luxurious hotel lounge, I traveled north to Hong Kong City, where I visited the fashion district in Sham Shui Po, on a search for fabric and embellishments that I’ll write about more in a later post.

orchid shop on Flower Market Road Hong Kong cityAfter my fabric search, I headed south and east to Flower Market Road. I found this orchid shop, and next to it a shop selling assorted tropical houseplants. Many were varieties I’ve never seen, which caused me to have brief fantasies of trying to sneak them through quarantine back in Sydney. But I know better.

bird market Hong Kong cityMy next stop was the bird market. Teetering stacks of small rattan, wooden, and plastic cages teeming with songbirds lined the walk, while little old men sat smoking and conversing with their friends. I found the place fascinating, but I did have to put aside all of my ideas about birds in cages and a strong desire to run through the market opening said cages.

bird market Hong Kong cityI was surprised by the variety of birds that one might expect to have as a pet. Some were familiar faces from Australia, like the Noisy Miner Bird, but most were birds I’ve never seen. It made me think about culture and what we think of as normal. Of course, the parakeets and canaries that I’m familiar with in the pet stores at home have family members living in the wild, too, but somehow we think a canary is a proper pet and a blue jay isn’t.

Stanley Market Hong KongDay two’s itinerary began with a bus ride to Stanley Market at the south end of the island. I was happy to escape the crowds of the city! I found a completely different atmosphere down there, quiet, fewer people, and much cleaner air.

The Stanley market sells just about everything you can think of.  You can find pearls and jade, tea sets, handbags (be careful of knockoffs), and assorted souvenir type items. There are clothes, but you’re not going to find much in the way of American sizes. One fun thing is to have a name seal, or chop, carved while you shop.

Stanley Market Road Hong KongThe Boathouse was a good place for a seafood lunch, on a verandah looking out over the water. If you are tired of dim sum, you’ll find variety here.

Tai Wong TempleMany small temples dot the Hong Kong countryside and towns. On my way to visit the Tin Hau temple in Stanley, I passed the Tai Wong Temple.

Tin Hau TempleTin Hau is the Goddess of the sea. She was originally a mortal girl named Lin Moniang who lived during the Song Dynasty. She was said to be able to predict storms at sea. When her brother and father’s boat sank, she lost her life trying to save them. Because of her great sacrifice, she rose to heaven to become a goddess. She later was named Tin Hau, Empress of Heaven. Sailors pay respect to her, praying for her protection.

The original temple was built in 1767; the current site is a rectangular brick and mortar block building.  Inside I found a man selling joss (incense) sticks to place in front of the deities. He sold me a large handful, then proceeded to show and tell me what to do – in Chinese of course. Tin Hau’s image is center stage, flanked by a multitude of other gods and goddesses. The joss seller lit my sticks – he wouldn’t let me do it as I might have lit myself or the temple on fire. He showed me where to start, on the end, giving each deity up three sticks. Tin Hau must have more, though.

That’s enough of my rambling. Later in the week, I’ll be back with some stories of my search for silk and of a lesson we received in eating etiquette, along with some random things to know about visiting Hong Kong.

Out With the Old and In With the New

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

Cliche title I know, but I was so happy to let 2017 explode in a shower of fireworks over Sydney Harbour.

Photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

We finished off the old year and began the new with good friends. 

We’re told that apartment there, in the photo above, is where Nicole Kidman lives. If you look real close you can see two silhouettes on the rooftop terrace.

Dear friends shared their home and family with us for a traditional Aussie/Kiwi Christmas, replete with crackers and paper crowns and a pudding whose recipe has been passed down through the generations.

We had a visitor from the US join us, making the day even more special. She refers to herself as our DNA daughter, damn near adopted. That she is. She first came into our life as my son’s high school sweetheart. That didn’t work out so well, but we’d already formed a bond we weren’t interested in breaking.

As has become our holiday tradition, we journeyed down the south coast of New South Wales. We retraced the route we took last year, wanting to share some of our favorite places with our visitor.


In North Batemans Bay, hidden down a gravel drive, you’ll find scrumptious oysters, fresh from the water. This area is part of the oyster trail, that begins in Shoalhaven and travels south to Wonboyn. Have a few of these as your appetizer, then head on across the bridge to….

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

…Innes Boat Shed for the very best fish and chips around. Just go ahead and stuff yourself on oysters and fish. It’s so good.

 

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography
The south coast is sprinkled with charming little villages set between coast and rolling farmland. The wooden Santas sitting on awnings seemed to be a theme.

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

As has also become our custom, we journeyed a bit farther than the year before, down to Merimbula. We had a perfect AirBnB unit, just a short walk from the water in two directions. I was too eager to get my feet in the water and couldn’t bear to wait until the next day, so my beloved and I walked to the beach, completely forgetting how early it gets dark down here. I’m still accustomed to northern hemisphere summers where it stays light until late.

At the end of the trail leading to the beach, we placed our shoes by the fence, so we didn’t have to carry them. We walked along the water’s edge, splashing, talking, stealing kisses. After we’d gone a very long ways, we realized it was getting dark, and turned around. In no time at all, it was like someone had drawn a curtain over the sky. We couldn’t see. Craig used his camera flash to light the bush that lined the beach. There were many of these kinds of trails leading off, but we didn’t see any with shoes, that might lead us back from whence we came! We continued to walk and flash and after a very gigglesome time, the flash reflected off a pair of sneakers hanging over the fence.

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

The next stop on our journey was Melbourne, a city we just can’t seem to get enough of.  

On our final day in Melbourne, a hellish heat wave arrived. The news warned people to take care and stay inside. There was still much to show our DNA daughter, so we got creative and traveled across the CBD by cutting through air conditioned shopping arcades. While standing in the Block Arcade, deciding where to go next, I happened to notice that we were standing by Hopetoun Tea Room and there was no queue! I’ve never been able to get in because I’m not willing to stand in line for an hour just to eat a pastry. “Quick!” I said, “make a line!” We did and were seated promptly. Now that I’ve had their pastry and amazing tea, I think it could be worth standing around awhile.

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

The last stop of our holiday landed us in Canberra, where we visited the National Museum of Australia and the Songlines exhibition about the Aboriginal Seven Sisters Dreaming stories. It’s only there until the end of February, so if you have a chance at all, do go see it.

Also at the museum was the Midawarr/Harvest exhibit. I was mesmerized by this watercolor painting Distant Glimpses by John Wolseley. Comprised of many paper panels, it spanned the width of the gallery, and contained watercolor, printing, sketches, and I think even some collage. 

We had such a short time in Canberra, that we didn’t get to see much more than this museum and an amazing pork sandwich at Mocan & Green Grout, which is most definitely a worthy destination. We were told by several folks that there wasn’t much to do in Canberra. That was simply incorrect information. Next visit, and there must be a next visit, will include all the other museums: The National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery of Australia, the Library, The National Science and Technology Centre…. The list goes on and on, not to mention the historical government buildings to see. At just three hours from Sydney, I’m thinking this would be a perfect weekend trip. 

“Oh honeeey!” (starts packing bags)

Testing the Waters

I don’t know how to return to this blog. It’s been 344 days since I last posted.  Shortly before that, I declared that I wouldn’t wait an entire year before posting about my upcoming second road trip down the south coast. I did. Not only that, but I made a third holiday road trip to the south coast.

I’m not going to make excuses for why I’ve been absent from the page, nor will I claim to know what I’m doing here now. I don’t know what this blog is anymore, don’t know what this incarnation will bring, what it has become over its year of incubation. There has been incubation. I have thought about the blog. Even looked at it from time to time. I just never made it so far as to type anything. I’m here now with my fingers tip tapping over the keyboard. I’ll have to wait and see what becomes of this. I’m dipping my toes in the water to test the temperature.

So much has happened over the last year. I find myself almost at the three year anniversary of our arrival in this down under land. Three years. That’s how long we originally intended to be here. The length of time we told our friends and family at home that we would be away. Now what? Our visas expire next December. We have no idea what the future holds for us or even what we want it to hold.

I do know that I still have so much of Australia to experience, and knowing that our time here may be coming to an end date, I want to start cramming in experience like mad.

This is a good time to think back over the experiences I’ve had here already. I can sort through my virtual stacks of photos to relive some memories. Maybe that’s where the blog will come in handy.

One thing I have learned is that I absolutely despise processing my photos after I’ve snapped them. In fact, the only camera I ever use anymore is my i-Phone. I’ve turned all serious photography over to my husband, and so will be turning to him for blog photos. “Hey honey, do you have any pics of that trip to….”

 

Musing on Melbourne Part Two

window dressing

Looking at a map of Melbourne’s city center, you see a mostly rectilinear geometry of parallel and perpendicular streets. Vintage maroon and green trams travel the City Circle route, which marks the boundary of the free tram zone. It is on foot, though, that you’ll find the wonder of this city. Step inside those straight lines and you’ll discover a magical universe where around every corner is another surprise.

The State Library, a popular place to congregate for an al fresco lunch.

Melbourne is a very youthful, hipster city. The first things I noticed were women wearing fashionable yet sensible shoes instead of the towering black ankle booties you find on every young woman in Sydney and the absence of prams.

As I discovered two years ago when we first moved to Australia, there is a rivalry of sorts between Sydney and Melbourne for who makes the best coffee. Don’t tell Sydney I said this, but so far the best coffee I’ve discovered was in Melbourne at Brother Baba Budan , part of the Seven Seeds family. It’s a tiny little place with more chairs hanging from the ceiling than sitting on the floor. At any time you’ll find it jam packed full of coffee lovers, and the coffee is well worth it. Pick up a packet of beans to brew at home. The Adado Gedeo Ethiopia was a revelation.

cocoa and fairy floss at Hash

Another unique, hot beverage experience awaits you at Hash Specialty Coffee & Roasters. It’s a thick, Italian style hot chocolate served in a beaker, which you then pour over the lofty mountain of fairy floss (cotton candy). Myself, I skipped the spun sugar and went straight for the pudding-like chocolate.

Spicy BBQ Pork Bowl at Paperboy Kitchen

Melbournians are spoiled for choice when it comes to food and drink, and we sampled as much as we could in a week. One night we met up with some American friends for pre-dinner drinks at the Gin Palace, a moody, speak-easy kinda joint, with intimate seating arrangements of low, plush couches, and novel length list of martini choices.

After that, we moved on to Meatmaiden, where, as you can guess from the name, they serve a lot of meat. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. One of the highlights of the visit had to be watching the tables full of very large and hungry footy players. They devoured an awful lot of food and, as we got there late, there was a lot of the menu missing. The chef was very kind and sent us some on-the-house goodies.

Another popular spot was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy, a suburb just northeast of the city center. Leon Satanovich ran a vodka still in this building during the Depression. Because of the blasting heat, he worked in his undies. Folks who came to taste his vodka used the code phrase “let’s get naked for Satan.”  We sat on the rooftop terrace, watched the sun go down and feasted on Basque inspired small plates.

On our last day, we had a farewell to Melbourne meal at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. We had the Margherita pizza with fior de latte. Mmmmm!

Wunderkammer

Between meals, Melbourne is a literal cabinet of curiosities, starting with Wunderkammer, which was exactly that. It was filled with skeletons, fossils and minerals, taxidermy, mounted insects and strange little contraptions.

l’uccello

My favorite find, the one I dream of, was l’uccello Vintage Haberdashery & Fancy Goods in the Cathedral Arcade. It was a textile artist’s heaven. Plus, I just like to say “haberdashery.”

l’uccello

It was overflowing with vintage ribbons and buttons, with silk embroidery floss, Liberty of London and French General fabric.

l’uccello

And the Holy Grail of textile arts, something I never expected to see in real life, Sophie Digard scarves and necklaces. I’m having to fan myself right now; I feel faint thinking of it.

As I left l’uccello, I wandered in another shop next door. Fascinated with the collection of objects and the fanciful curating, I was snapping photos and wondering why there was no proprietor. I was alone in the shop until a woman whispered past me and said, “I didn’t see that.” “Didn’t see what?” I asked. The photos. Apparently I wasn’t to be taking photos. It seems a few months back, some extremist Christians had been in, snapped photos and then publicly denounced the shop owner as a Satanist. I couldn’t see anything in the shop that would give someone that idea, but I put my camera down and followed the woman into her shop, the Muses of Mystery.

Muses of Mystery

I had to scratch my head, wondering why the other guy’s shop was targeted. I had a lovely chat with Vikkhi and an enjoyable wander around her shop.

Haunted Bookshop

Another place I found in a local guide and was keen to visit was the Haunted Bookshop. I’m pretty sure the fellow behind the counter is the resident haint. When I asked to see tarot cards he might as well have chased me out of the store rattling chains and howling for all the help he gave. He made it abundantly clear that I was not welcome there. Maybe it was the camera.

 

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Musing on Melbourne

National Gallery of Victoria

I struggle to breathe when I think of what tomorrow brings. I feel like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the air. I vacillate between wanting to bury myself in some activity that wipes out all other thought, and thinking, “no-no-no, I have to do SOMETHING!” Tomorrow I will do a thing, a starting point; I will go to the Women’s March in Sydney. I will dress in black to signify my state of mourning for my country of origin. For today, I will pretend that all is well, and I’ll go on a little mental journey to Melbourne.

I discovered Melbourne last June when I accompanied my husband on a business trip, and I fell in love immediately! I was enchanted with the old world charm, the colorful laneways, and all the twisty-turny places where you can discover delightful surprises.

Our adventure began at the Historic Port Authority Building, an example of Neo-Grec architecture, which was completed in 1931. The granite and marble-filled building is now an apartment space, where we enjoyed an Airbnb stay. I could have spent the day looking at each fine detail of this building, but the husband was doing a lot of heavy sighing, so we went out the door and into the city.

The Forum Theatre

The city center is laid out in a what’s known as the Hoddle Grid, oriented 70 degrees off from true north.  The main streets which run NE to SW and SE to NW are lined with stunning architecture.

Town Hall

Wandering off from those straight lines you’ll discover the laneways, little alleys that run between the main thoroughfares and sometimes veer off into dead ends.

I immediately lost my husband to the graffiti covered walls.

The street art is one of Melbourne’s main attractions.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Among the architectural highlights are the churches. I’m not a religious person, and yet I find myself fascinated by sacred architecture.

Go Go Bar

Our hosts were serious foodies and gave us many good suggestions for places to eat. Nearby was the popular Chin Chin. When we got there, the wait was only 15 minutes, so we went downstairs to the Go Go Bar and had an amazing espresso martini. By the time we were seated the line was snaking out the door, around the corner, down the laneway. The food was worthy of that line, but I am so glad we arrived when we did!

Walking down the sidewalk on the way to dinner, I caught a glimpse of glowing light through the stained glass of the Cathedral Arcade and had to duck in for a quick photo.

The Royal Arcade

The arcades are beautiful shopping centers dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the selling points of this city, for me, is you can find a farmers market almost any day of the week. We hopped over to the Queen Victoria Market on Sunday. There we discovered the Brazilian Festival where they were smoking a lot of meat!

A lot of meat!

I spent a good few days wandering this beautiful city and really barely touched on it. What I did see is too much for one blog post. I’ll be back with some highlights of the amazing food, beverages, and some quirky little shops I found. In the meantime, I’m planning our next trip there, which will include revisiting some of my favorite spots!

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A South Coast Journey

A year ago, (Yes a year. I don’t procrastinate, not at all.) our friends were flying off to Perth for the holidays and insisted that while they were gone, we should take their car and go on a road trip. So Christmas day we packed up the car and pulled out onto the highway. They’d given Craig some driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road lessons in the days previous, but he was still quite nervous. I wasn’t allowed to knit, as I had to be his second set of eyes to make sure he was doing it right. He didn’t really need my help, but it made him feel better.

We drove south on the A1, leaving the city behind. The freeway cuts through the wooded Royal National Park, then comes to the city of Wollongong on the other side. Keep going past the town and suddenly the landscape opens up and you’re surrounded by green rolling hills. The sheer expanse of space made me feel as if I’d just been released from a small closet where I’d been kept locked up for several months. At that moment I thought, “oh, I’m not going back.”

Soon we started seeing signs for kangaroo crossings. My main goal on this trip was to finally see a kangaroo! I hoped the first one I saw wasn’t roadkill. We drove through places with wonderful names like Jerrawangala and Ulladulla, words I want to repeat again and again just to feel the syllables roll around in my mouth.

southcoast-nsw-2-of-25In late afternoon we arrived at our Airbnb rental at Dolphin point. After meeting our host and having a short rest, we walked to the nearby beach, where the waters from Stony Creek River meet the ocean. We walked down the short beach, crossed a narrow inlet onto another large expanse of sand, and across that to the lagoon. The tide was coming in, so we left our belongings a good ways up on the sand, and waded into the water. There was a sandspit on the other side that we wanted to get to and look out on the ocean from there. The river was intent on making its way to the open sea, so we lifted our legs and let it carry us. Once to the other side, we discovered it was pretty much a straight vertical climb up, and it was all we could do to hold our ground and not be swept away.

southcoast-nsw-3-of-25Craig wanted to go ahead and follow the current around the spit and out to sea. That didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Aside from drowning, I was also worried about our cameras we’d left back on shore. A quick glance over told me we’d better hurry back. The water was close to lapping at our cameras now. Even swimming across the current rather than trying to swim against it was obviously going to take me far from where I was trying to go. We eventually made it, just in the nick of time. By this point, the “large expanse of sand” was a small island.

southcoast-nsw-5-of-25According to my itinerary, the next day was when I would finally see a kangaroo. We set off for Pebbly Beach, known for the abundant kangaroo population. The beach was mostly deserted except for other folks who read the same reviews of the beach that I did. On the way back from the loo, one went hopping by and was gone before I realized what was happening. I spoke to a local who told me that, indeed, it was a big kangaroo hot spot, but they usually show up for four o’clock happy hour. So we decided to continue our trek south to see what we could find.

gabe-the-wombatAt Batemans Bay we found Birdland Animal Park and my new boyfriend Gabe.

southcoast-nsw-6-of-25Craig found a different kind of friend.

southcoast-nsw-8-of-25And wallabies!

southcoast-nsw-9-of-25The next day we turned back north and drove to Jervis Bay to our next Airbnb. It was a just perfect size tiny cabin in our hosts’ backyard, surrounded by flowers and chickens. Our hosts recommended Orient Post Bakehouse for truly amazing fish and chips, and invited us by in the evening for a drink. That’s one of the things we appreciate about Airbnb, is the chance to meet people and make new friends. We ended up staying until midnight or later drinking wine and chatting with our hosts, two other Airbnb guests from Germany, staying in a caravan out front, plus two of the hosts’ friends from Ireland who were there visiting.

southcoast-nsw-11-of-25The next day we went to Hyams Beach, where it’s said to have the whitest sand around.  Hmmm. Not exactly white, but it was a gorgeous beach!  On the way to the beach, we stopped off at the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum in Huskisson. A year later I don’t remember everything that we saw, but I know I found it interesting and there were lots of things from boats and an old ferry.

For lunch we went to Greenwell Point for oysters. There are several stands were you can buy oysters shucked and served with lemon. And we’re told that there are people just on the side of the road selling them too. We did see some signs, but apparently they were sold out. It’s a popular attraction, so go early if you want oysters.

southcoast-nsw-17-of-25There are lots of fishing boats around, and that attracts one of my favorite birds. I got such a kick out of this greedy guy. All that mess he’s swallowing looks painful, doesn’t it?

southcoast-nsw-19-of-25Next up, we visited Currarong to find the shipwreck. At the beginning of the trail we found this obsidian black river. Somebody told us that it’s the tannin from the tea trees that turns the water black.

southcoast-nsw-21-of-25At the end of the trail we found the shipwreck. On a stormy night of March 27, 1928 the S.S. Merimbula ran aground at Whale Point. The next morning, the fourteen passengers and 35 crew members rowed safely ashore. These are the remains that have washed up here.

southcoast-nsw-23-of-25Following Lighthouse Road down to the southern tip of the Currarong peninsula we found Point Perpendicular Lightstation. For awhile we were the only people there. It was so quiet, the only sounds coming from the wind and sea and gulls. The late afternoon sun was glorious.

Finally, it was time to go search out some dinner. Nowra is the nearest town of any size and most likely to have a few restaurants to choose from. We learned something about Christmas week in Australia. Everything is closed. Well, not quite everything. We did find an Indian restaurant that hit the spot.

southcoast-nsw-25-of-25On the final day of our holiday, we thought we’d make one last side journey on our way home. We drove over the twisty windy roads of Cambewarra Range to arrive at Kangaroo Valley. We had brought along a little picnic and stopped to dine beside this peaceful river.

This Christmas, we’re heading south again. This time we’ll have home base at Batemans Bay, and take some short trips from there. I’ll try real hard not to wait another year before I post pics!

Happy holidays to all!

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Blue Mountains Road Trip

blue-mountains-2-of-20After almost two years down here in Australia, we finally made the very short trip to the amazingly beautiful Blue Mountains. What we were waiting for, I do not know. We set the tone for our holiday away by having a leisurely morning before we jumped in the vehicle and headed west.

Our first stop was in the village of Wentworth Falls. A friend had recommended that we absolutely needed to stop at Conditorei Patisserie Schwarz. Oh. My. Goodness. That was very good advice. We had a lovely lunch consisting of the Aussie staple food, meat pie, and Schwarz’s soup of the day, which was I believe Hungarian Goulash. I’m not certain, but I am certain it was all delicious. Before we left, of course, we had to buy pastries for the road!

Feeling chockers (very full!) we got back on the road, but not for long. We took a little jaunt to visit the actual water fall of Wentworth Falls. I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen bigger, much bigger waterfalls, but it was stunning scenery. I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed the mountains.

blue-mountains-4-of-20The bird life in the Blue Mountains was extraordinary.

blue-mountains-5-of-20Continuing on, we came to the Three Sisters rock formation. According to a version of Aboriginal legend, the three sisters of the Katoomba tribe, living in this valley, fell in love with three brothers from the wrong tribe. A battle ensued and the girls were turned to stone for their protection. Unfortunately, the witchdoctor who did the deed died before he could turn them back into girls.

blue-mountains-9-of-20We found another glorious view at Govetts Leap near Blackheath. You can’t really tell from this photo… well maybe a little bit. Look over to the far left. See that bit of yellow? Great swaths of this color filled the valleys and hillsides. It was almost like taking an autumn leaf-peeping drive in Utah.

hedgehog-fabricI couldn’t resist stopping at Blackheath Haberdashery & Fabric. Really, I just love any place that has haberdashery in the name! I did find this super cute Japanese fabric by Sevenberry. I also took a quick peek in the House of Wool; they had a sweet collection of yarn.

blue-mountains-16-of-20As evening drew near, we arrived at our destination, Jenolan Caves and the Cave House hotel. The accommodation was built in 1897 by architect Walter Liberty Vernon, in Federation Arts and Crafts style. The simple, yet comfortable rooms are decorated to be reminiscent of the late Victorian, early Edwardian era. No TV. No wi-fi. It was wonderful. We had more delicious food in the grand dining room at Chisolm’s restaurant in the hotel.

blue-mountains-13-of-20After dinner, the young woman at the front desk urged us to walk down to the Blue Lake, so named because of the light refraction caused by dissolving particles of limestone. While strolling along we were treated with a sighting of the resident platypus. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

blue-mountains-19-of-20The next day we started off with more yummy food! The dining room served up a huge buffet, with sausages, bacon, beans and toast, yogurt, fruit, muslii, and of course coffee, tea, orange juice, and milk. Oh and there were even pastries, but I had been spoiled by Schwarz’s the day before.

After another lazy morning, we took our cave tour. They have several different caves you can tour, all for different fitness levels and adventure seeking levels. We viewed Chifley Cave, a very moderate choice.

blue-mountains-20-of-20My favorite formations in the cave were what they named “shawls”, these bits that look like fabric draped across the way. The other highlight for me was the precocious little boy who chatted up our guide and was full of witty remarks.

Apparently this is where I stopped taking photos, with the Nikon anyway. I was in such a state of relaxation, that it just did not occur to me. We left Jenolan and headed northwest to Bathurst to stock up on provisions for the rest of the weekend to be spent in a cozy little cabin that we found on AirBnB.

All in all it was a heavenly weekend full of rest, de-stressing, and reconnecting . And best of all, now that we know just how quick and easy a trip it is up to the Blue Mountains, our plan is to make many an escape up there on hot and humid summer weekends! There are so very many more sights to see and little villages to explore!

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Finding a Light in the Darkness

a-light-in-the-darkness-1-of-1As the misty, morning light edged into my consciousness, the waking nightmare seeped in beside it. I reached immediately for my phone, for a connection to the outside world, comfort. My husband is off in New Zealand on business. Squinting at the phone through sleep and tear crusted eyes, I found first a letter of condolence from a dear friend in Scotland. His dry wit even in the face of this tragedy allowed me to start the day with a smile and a chortle before the tears returned.

I was uplifted when I opened Facebook and saw hopeful messages there. People are mourning, as I am, and they are asking, “how can I help to make this better?” This is a frightening turn of events; a hate mongering, racist, misogynist, xenophobe is actually president of our United States, and a whole lot of hate mongering, racist, misogynist, xenophobes put him there. That’s the real scary part, that there are that many out there. I think of my friends of color, my Muslim friends, and those in the LGBTQ community, and imagine how much more compounded their fear must be.

And yet, we have to keep going. We don’t have to sit back and accept this, watch our world crumble, and give over to the despair and hate. The question is, “how do we make a difference?” I want some kind of concrete plan, a to-do list of tasks I can complete and when the list is all checked off the world will be a brighter place. My in-box is so full of emails exhorting me to take action, sign the petition for this cause, donate money for that one. I find it all so overwhelming.

As I read those thoughtful posts in my Facebook feed, I’m reminded that it is love and compassion for others that will pull us through this and create a better world for us all. Just as humans are soft, malleable creatures, so too is our path forward. Yes, we need to sign petitions and donate money, services, time as we can, but we need to spread love too. The way forward is in each individual interaction with our fellow creatures. Just as hate and enmity spreads, so too does love. I have to believe that today. Isn’t that the American can-do spirit? The attitude that made our country great? We can do this. For fuck’s sake let us do this.

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Hallowe’en Down Under

rookwood-cemetery-9-of-33 It’s All Hallows’ Eve in the northern hemisphere. My own little grandgoblin is probably just finishing up trick-or-treating. Hyped up on sugar she’s giving her mom fits, dancing in circles and crying, “but I don’t wanna go to bed! Just one more piece of candy? Puhleese?”

I still can’t quite get my mind around the idea of Halloween here in Australia. Halloween is a harvest festival, one last blast before the nights get long and dark and cold. It doesn’t fit here where the nesting magpies are swooping and the the flora is in full flush and it’s just about time to hit the beaches. Halloween is a relatively new phenomenon here in ‘Straya. It’s only been in the last decade that it has started to take hold.

Which is why I was unprepared last night when I glanced out the window to see two ghoulish tots climbing the mountain of my front stoop with their plastic pumpkins, calling, “trick or treat!” I froze for a moment, dumbstruck, then ran to rummage through the cupboard looking for that package of cookies I bought to make Halloween witch cupcakes for a party I didn’t go to. I couldn’t find them and had to disappoint the little monsters. The little boy shook his finger at me and told me to do better next year. I looked at the parents and said, “I’m sorry. We were told that you all don’t trick or treat here.” “Yeah nah,” she told me, “there’s heaps that go around here.”

Last year, we were told that trick-or-treating isn’t a thing here, that some households do it, and the kids only go to houses that are decorated or to friends’ houses where it’s been prearranged. We were at a party last year, so were clueless as to what may have been happening on our street. An internet search for answers brought up a great debate between supporters and detractors, those who shamed me for disappointing the little ones, and those who made the Halloween is un-Australian Facebook page.  Apparently Halloween is growing in popularity; some point to the Americanization of Australia through social media, television, and film where Halloween shows up regularly. I did see many etiquette lists that said stick to the decorated houses if you want treats, and that if you don’t want trick-or-treaters, don’t decorate. Well that makes sense, but had me wondering if the kids mistook all the real spider webs for spooky decor. I swear I swept them down a day ago!

After the kids climbed back down the stoop, I closed the door, drew the blinds and hid in the shadowy recesses of my lolly-free house. A short while later I heard a rumbling, a great horde of children screeching, “trick or treat!” as they grew nearer.  I started shaking. I had visions of the scene in Frankenstein where the angry villagers come over the hill carrying torches, intent on mayhem.

The roar of that sugar-hungry mob reached a deafening pitch as they came closer. I cowered in the corner of my sofa, glancing over at the door, wondering if I should throw the deadbolt, latch the chain. I held my breath and peered through the blinds as they reached the front of my house. Whew! They passed by! I could breathe again. I listened to them swarm on up the block. A good fifteen minutes later I could still hear them in the distance.

I thought, “yeah little kid, I’ll remember next year. I’ll remember not to be home.” But now I kind of regret not having decorated the porch and bought heaps of lollies to hand out. One of the arguments I read in favor of the holiday was that it brings communities together, helps you get to know your neighbors. I would love to gain a reputation with the kids as the scary witch who hands out the best treats. We have been wondering how to meet more of our neighbors; I think I missed out on a great opportunity.

Hmmm…. I bet Halloween decorations are really cheap right now!