Liebster four – the dud

Liebster four - the dud

Pattaya
Thailand
2 Mar 2008

Josie of Josie Wanders asked me to answer ten questions as part of the nomination process for the 2017 Liebster Award.

4. Which place does everyone else rave about but you weren’t so impressed?

Glasgow springs to mind, but I find many others share my opinion. Los Angeles, likewise. Both much like the curate’s egg, I guess. Good in parts.

Maybe Thailand is the same, but my one day in Thailand wasn’t one I relished. To begin with, I had a bad cold, some virus picked up from a taxi driver in Hong Kong a few days earlier. I’d had no internet for several days, and I was not feeling 100% in myself.

Rather than take the long day trip to Bangkok, we elected to save a little money and get the free shuttle to Pattaya Beach. See a few sights, have a lunch that was a little more exotic than the very British shipboard food, do a little shopping.

The beach was unimpressive, the air was hazy, the temperature high and likewise the humidity. The beachfront was lined with stalls selling tack and pirated CDs, broken by a desultory bar or two. I could see the place really came alive after dusk, but by then we’d be well out to sea, and it didn’t look like my sort of scene. Loud music, touts, poor behaviour; I could just imagine it.

The commercial centre inland had a good mall – I picked up some art supplies and vital medication – but overall I found it noisy and crowded and unlovely.

Perhaps there are aspects of Thailand that are more graceful and serene. But not Pattaya Beach or the container port.

Pete

The Liebster Award:

Liebster three – the bucket

Liebster three - the bucket

Dubai
United Arab Emirates
Apr 2017

Josie of Josie Wanders asked me to answer ten questions as part of the nomination process for the 2017 Liebster Award.

3. What’s the number one thing on your bucket list right now?

I’ve got a long list of things I’d like to do, places to go, stuff to see. Just reading travel blogs adds more and more to the list.

But the thing about a bucket list is that it’s not a bucket full of items to savour, it’s what you want to do before you kick the bucket. That is, to die.

Death comes to us all, and most likely when it does, the desire to keep on going will be right at the top of any list of priorities. No way to scratch that itch.

So I don’t really have a bucket list. I take the position that there are so many things I’ve done already, just living in this age, that just adding more to what I’ve already got is pointless.

Besides, that’s pleasure, as opposed to happiness.

I like ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s when I can get it.* I could eat it all day, I guess, and after a while, the pleasure would wear off and be replaced by something else.

Happiness is the simple joy of living. I can experience that any time I want.

Having said that, something that’s been at the top of my list for a long time, and gets a bump every time I read a certain sort of blog, is international long haul first class air travel.

I saved up an enormous number of points, found some flights, and booked our seats to Tehran. Our suites, rather. Expect some champagne-fuelled blogging in April!

Pete

* Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey, a double scoop, please!

The Liebster Award:

Mildura plinther K175: your dream steam to Hogwarts Australia

Mildura plinther K175: your dream steam to Hogwarts Australia

Mildura
Victoria
4 Dec 2016

We stopped one morning for coffee in Mildura, an agricultural city on the Murray River in Victoria. I love these old places, a mix of history and modern, council brutalism and goldfields colonial.

By the leisurely river, we found a park full of children running around, bouncing and swirling on the play equipment, their dogs sharing the fun. Their parents under the awning of a nearby kiosk selling hot food and – oh joy! – espresso coffee.

We found a vacant picnic table under a shade tree, enjoying our Sunday brunch, watching the activity.

Nearby, a steam engine – K 175, built in 1941 at the workshops in Newtown, a whistle-hoot from my childhood home – stood fenced off, freshly painted, a proud reminder of the old days when long trains hauled freights of apricots, grapes, vegetables and grain to the markets in Melbourne, returning with fat bags of banknotes for the farmers.

K class engine running dreams in Pakenham

My thoughts were with those glory days of the old Victorian Railways and the historic bungle that saw each Australian colony adopt a different rail gauge. Passengers had to change when crossing borders, a nuisance with all the bags and boxes and children. Such as here on the Murray, I guess, with New South Wales and its standard gauge tracks just over the river. (Victoria, flush with gold rush wealth, chose a broad gauge, more expensive to build, but offering a better ride.)

But to those frolicking children of the digital age, the old engine would have looked straight out of Harry Potter, ready to come to life for a trip to the Australian wizarding academy of Grouseo. How many, I wondered, leant against the railings, climbed aboard in their imagination to set off on a noisy smokey rush to adventure?

About as many as elderly children like me, I guessed, travelling in thought to older days.

I drained my latte, climbed into my own rather less romantic chariot, and pulled away, bound for South Australia.

Pete

(Text image courtesy Wikipedia “By Simon, Mandy, Joshua, Bradley and baby Karla Yeo from Pakenham, Australia” – 20100425_SX1IS_069, CC BY 2.0)

Two birds

Two birds

Canberra
Australian Capital Territory
19 JaN 2017

I’ve been looking at travel blogs recently. There are thousands out there, but I’ve only seen hundreds. They all look great, with photographs of colourful, dramatic, interesting landscapes, tales of luxury holidays, road trips, city visits and so on.

It’s been good fun reading them and admiring the photos and envying the travellers, but ultimately arid and unsatisfying. At least for me.

A few bloggers have shown signs of seriousness. They have their own domain, a premium theme, installed Google Analytics, reserved social media accounts, put up a few ads and affiliate links. Like me, they have checked some of the boxes for “How to Travel Blog”.

Very few will make it to the point of generating even a tiny profit for their owners, let alone making a full-time living. Why? Blogging is hard work. Those social media accounts must be tended, the photos must be edited, the stories must be entertaining and informative. Day after day after day. If the blogger has a day job and/or a family, the time is squeezed away. If the blogger is travelling, that’s more time taken up, with internet access becoming scarcer and more expensive.

The posts start to dry up – and with them the readership – or the writing becomes stale and the same old stories and photos rehashed.

A few prosper. Two reasons I can think of beyond ticking the right boxes.

  1. The blogger has a genuine “voice” and their personality shines through.
  2. There is something more than travel being presented.

Here’s what I mean. See the main image? It shows two birds in a tree full of fruit and berries. Most bloggers are like the bird gorging itself on all the good things. The thrills, the food, the exotic places.*

The other bird is just watching, calm and detached. It sees further, it sees below the surface, it sees the reality.

Travel is a consumer product nowadays. If a blogger is nothing but an unpaid promoter of whatever travel products are on the market, they will be shallow, second-rate. If they were any good, they would be getting paid for it.

If a blogger steps back, finds the real substance, presents the good along with the bad, provides information that is useful or perceptive, then they may survive and prosper. Because apart from giving their readers a reason to keep on coming back, they are giving themselves a reason to continue.

What do you think? What do the top bloggers have to keep their audience, and why do they keep doing it?

Pete

* This can be amazing fun, but probably not good for the long term. See here for a classic and hilarious example.
(Main image: Two Birds in a Tree by Jeffery Courtney)

Liebster two – the partner

Liebster two - the partner

Singapore
4 March 2008

Josie of Josie Wanders asked me to answer ten questions as part of the nomination process for the 2017 Liebster Award.

2. Who is your preferred travel partner? Or do you prefer to go it alone?

There are a lot of advantages, in my eyes, to solo travel. I can faff about with my camera to get the perfect shot without someone checking their watch every half hour. I don’t have to selflessly give up my cherished window seat. I can fill up on junk food and spread my crap around a hotel room and get up in the middle of the night to check Facebook. I can go to the airport early and just hang out by a window taking photographs of planes for an hour and there’s no comeback from somebody who can – and will – think of a more productive way to spend time. Like eating a salad.

But so often I’ll see something marvellous and think to myself, “I wish I could share this moment.”

On the whole, I’d rather travel with a friend.

Routebear, perhaps. He never complains, he attracts women, he smiles at my jokes, he likes a glass of bubbly. But he occasionally gets lost, hiding in my duffel bag, or staying behind at the Washington Monument while I walk on.

Cari, who is quiet and beautiful and a keen photographer. She took me to Hiroshima and the Empire State Building and a dozen other marvellous places.

Andy, who is generous and full of bad jokes and loves history and old battlefields.

Jay, who understands my sense of humour, is a New Zealander (always a plusand loves cemeteries. We once sat on the side of Bloody Lane in Antietam, weeping for the dead.

Newk, who has an enthusiasm for points and loyalty cards and is good for an invitation into the First Class lounge. And has a love of the bizarre. I’m always a little terrified that he’ll lead me out of my comfort zone.

Janice, the English school teacher who is utterly and delightfully mad. She gave me a Route 66 Hawai’ian shirt, she loves chooks, she is adored by children of all ages, she has been decorated by the Queen.

Viv, who is nominally German, but has set about collecting nationalities. She has a bookshelf full of passports, wild travel stories, her appearance changes every time I see her, and she also loves chooks.

Ricky, who speaks five languages, is insanely intelligent, knows the best eating establishments in every village in every country, and is gentle and thoughtful.

My children, who accompanied me on two different round the world trips, and were a delight every step of the way.

My wife, who knows me better than anybody else, has my best interests at heart, and knows her art and architecture. I can hold her hand as the sun goes down over the ocean and be totally happy.

And dozens more. I’ve had joyous adventures with so many over the years.

My perfect travel companion is someone with a sense of adventure, a sense of fun, a sense of wonder. Someone mindful of others. Someone organised and knowledgeable would be handy, but not essential.

Pete

The Liebster Award:

Liebster One – the book

Liebster One - the book

Wellington
New Zealand
9 Dec 2003

Josie of Josie Wanders asked me to answer ten questions as part of the nomination process for the 2017 Liebster Award.

1. What is your favourite travel book?

So many. Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines is a standout. It describes the imagined landscapes of Central Australia through the eyes of an English traveller. Bruce demonstrates that there can be multiple and equally valid ways of seeing the same land. Every Australian, indeed, every human, should read this.

My own book BookCrossing Through Middle-Earth – a retelling of two trips through New Zealand, twenty years apart. New Zealand has my heart, and I think it shows in my words. A beautiful land, a jewel in the ocean at the end of the earth, peopled by brave and sturdy folk who always have a smile for the weary traveller.

My friend Linda’s book A Little Twist of Texas*, her story of a solo trip from California to the 2005 BookCrossing.com Convention in Fort Worth. A spiritual as well as a physical journey, she rode through magnificent lands, a cruiser motorcycle roaring beneath her. For some reason, she took a shine to me, and two weeks and half a continent away from her husband, she was as horny as a room full of rabbits. To find out what happened next, you’ll either have to buy her book or me a beer.

I loved Linda. Gentle, funny, brave, perceptive, an awesome traveller, we attended a couple more conventions together, and I last saw her in the desert near Blythe CA in May 2011, a small figure waving in the dusk. She died of cancer a couple of years later, much missed by what seemed like half the internet.

I wrote and published my book in four months, an amazing confidence-builder, and Linda pretty much wrote hers on the go, typing out the day’s travels in a lonely tent each night on a tiny IBM Thinkpad.

My favourite book has yet to be completed. It is the Moleskine journal made famous by Bruce Chatwin, its black oilcloth covers held firm by an elastic band, its empty pages an invitation to write. Take one with you, dear traveller, next time you find yourself with a moment to spare before your flight leaves. Buy a Lamy Vista fountain pen and your daily adventure record will be a joy.

I look forward to reading the resulting book.

Pete

* Linda originally titled her book Texas With a Twist, and on seeing this, I emailed her urgently, pointing out the awkward initials.

The Liebster Award:

Liebster love

Liebster love

Canberra
Australian Capital Territory
17 Jan 2017

I began this blog on 22 December 2016. Four weeks ago. Thirty posts, a bunch of photos, a tonne of fun. I was inspired by seeing Josie of Josie Wanders commence a career as a full-time travel blogger. She has already visited some fabulous places, and I’ve shared BookCrossing.com escapades with her here and there around the globe.

Josie of JosieWanders.com

Image credit: JosieWanders.com

I thought, wow, Josie is getting serious about this! Maybe I can follow in her footsteps, pursue a life of glorious adventure, take incredible photographs, lose a decade or two off my age and look amazing to boot.

A big ask, but I made a start, choosing a “postcard” format, aiming for a couple of photographs and around 250-350 words every day.

And now, thanks to Josie, I’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award, a peer-nominated award for new travel blogs, awarded every year since 2011. “Liebster” is a German word meaning “sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.” Remarkably terse language, German, but I am honoured to be regarded as even one of these.

The official rules may be found on The Global Aussie’s site here, Josie’s post nominating me is here, and my responses to the questions will be posted over the next few days as a series of postcards.

Pete

The Liebster Award:

The crossing

The crossing

Shibuya
Japan
30 Jun 2009

I started work again this morning after my summer break. I work as an Uber driver in Canberra around dawn. “Best time of the day to drive,” I tell my passengers, “Nobody on the road but me and the kangaroos.”

I collected four young people for the airport. And their serious looking backpacks. And carry on. That’s a lot to cram into a Volkswagen, even my station wagon version. One day I must tell the story of how five of us drove across Europe in a Golf. Five days, six countries, three nationalities, a tonne of fun.

“Going anywhere special?” I asked.

“Japan,” one said, and gave the details. There had been a lot of Google research going on and in their minds, they were already skiing down the slopes and shopping in Shinjuku.

I mentioned I’d lost track of how many times I’ve been to Japan – five, I think, not counting transits – and they asked for tips.

“You know the crossing at Shibuya?” They nodded. “Sit in the Starbucks, have a coffee, watch the crowds.”

Everyone does it. Grand entertainment, watching the throngs going to and from the station. At peak hour, it’s like a battle scene from some apocalypse movie. Apart from the Japanese politeness, of course.

Everyone’s so helpful and friendly. I might be functionally illiterate in Japan, but someone will always help out a puzzled foreigner. Like pointing out that the “you are here” maps on street corners don’t necessarily have north at the top.

And they have a mania for presentation. “I bought a mug at that Starbucks, and they wrapped it in tissue paper, put it in a box, wrapped the box, and put it in a carrier bag.”

I mentioned the name of my blog, dropped them off at the airport for their fourteen hours of travel to a charming land and drove back into my usual run. If they are reading this, I’d love to hear how the trip went. Sounded fabulous. Just leave a link to your Instagram feed in the comments, okay?

Pete

All agog and magog

All agog and magog

Melbourne
9 Dec 2016

My earliest memories are of Melbourne. Trips into the city with my parents and siblings, and my eyes were everywhere at the marvels. Skyscrapers, the Christmas windows of the big shops on Bourke Street, stomping through the piles of autumn leaves in Fitzroy Gardens…

Years later, I came back to Melbourne to work, and I’d roam the central city, browsing the bookshops, salivating in the food halls and markets, just surfing the throng and the life and the colour going on all around.

I was recently in Melbourne. It hasn’t changed. Still exciting and interesting.

Get off the main streets into the maze of laneways and arcades. These are about as full of life and good things as any place in Melbourne and more so than most.

The Royal Arcade is the oldest of these arcades, opened in 1970, and beautifully restored to glory. Its iconic clock featuring the mythic figures of Gog and Magog striking the hours never fails to draw photographers, while the cafes and tearooms and chocolate boutiques are delicious window-shopping.

Always busy at tea times, these places are well worth the wait, just for the chance to sip a latte, munch on something yummy, and watch life go by.

Pete

Streetshooter

Streetshooter


Canberra
15 Jan 2017

In a previous post, I gave reasons for buying a mirrorless camera. They boil down to size and capability.

Size is important for more than the obvious reasons. To capture the genuine flavour of a foreign land, poncing about with a massive great camera is going to draw attention and either scare off the folk or paint their faces with artificiality when they catch sight of you.

Smartphones are great for street photography. Everyone, everywhere, has a smartphone. They are pretty much invisible.

Not so great for image quality.

So my backup camera body is a small mirrorless with a short but good lens. The Olympus Pen F above, shown with a 17mm ƒ1.8 prime. It is deliberately styled on an old film camera and it is by far the most handsome bit of photo kit I’ve ever owned.

It is also state of the art, with wifi, a 20MP sensor, the ability to pixel-shift up to 50MP, and in-body image stabilisation. It has a flip-out touchscreen, and a discreet little electronic viewfinder.

Enough functions and controls for the most fussy of photographers, including a suite of in-camera black and white and artistic effects. Try something arty, and you can see the effect immediately instead of hours later when you fire up Photoshop.

Small enough that I can carry it in a belt pouch. If I want to tuck it away.

Not cheap, and not for the novice. But if you know what you are about, then this might possibly be the best camera on the planet for capturing the essence of an exotic street.

Not that I count myself as an expert. But I aim to be. Stick around for and see how I go!

Pete