Sunday, April 1, 2012

sri lanka

The direct translation of Sri Lanka is- 'royal island'- and regal she is, what incredible beauty - the sea, mountains, the food, the wildlife, the people. Island of Smiles is my translation. What really struck me was the people - their readiness to smile, their genuine unselfconsciousness and natural grace. A predominantly Buddhist country. Here is a place that has not been spoilt by tourism. Well not yet anyway.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

village life

Lao people are shy and reserved- take a drive two hours out of laid back little Luang Prabang and this is still true. Life in the dusty villages is very quiet and the people are obviously have very limited means- Laos is one of the poorest nations on earth. However, unlike other parts of Asia, they do not ask you for money and they live with quiet dignity in spite of the lack of basic resources like electricity, sanitation and running water. I did not see any beggars. They seem to be enterprising and many women at home embroider by hand- pieces of fabric to sell which the women wear as sarongs. They sell for relatively low prices considering the many hours of work that go into making them. Rural villages don't have schools - young children were playing happily together outside in the dusty outdoor areas.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The other Side

Booking a tour or cycling trip are some of the more popular things to do in Luang Prabang. I intended to see some of the villages, however I thought it might be interesting to explore by foot first. I was told that there were a few weaving workshops nearby. A bamboo foot bridge was the shortcut to a narrow dirt road which followed the river. I walked for about an hour - passing a woodcarver working on furniture outside a house on the way.
Wondering if I was ever going to get there as it was getting very hot and dusty, I finally saw the first of several workshops housing the weavers and their wares. Of course everyone wants you to go to their shop, and it is difficult to tactfully leave without buying! I settled on two runners from the last shop along the road, where a gorgeous rooster patrolled - one silk and one cotton woven in the traditional Lao style.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Luang Prabang

 Luang Prabang has a French colonial influence with a big dose of Buddhism. Plenty of young Laos men in saffron robes inhabit the village of wats (temples) for their tour of monk duty before going back to regular life, lending the place an air of purity. Being in the far north of the country, it is best to fly in as the roads are bad- from Hanoi, it was only 1 1/2 hrs flight. Luang Prabang is not big, just a couple of main streets lined with tour shops and relatively pricey restaurants. It comes alive with atmosphere at night when coloured lanterns light up the street and the huge night markets start selling food and local crafts.
Early mornings are serene when monks walk in single file down the road beside the Mekong river collecting food in bowls from the residents. Local restaurants high up on the banks of the Mekong offer an idyllic place to spend the cool of the morning drinking coffee, watching the river life of barges, boats and fishermen, reading and slowing right down, before the heat really sets in.

Monday, April 25, 2011

East Coast Blues Festival

Caught some great music at the Easter blues festival at Byron this week. Always a great lineup- something old, something new and always something to surprise when you least expect it. Bob Dylan was the headline act as befits a legend, along with some favourites- Michael Franti, Xavier Rudd- missed the great Elvis Costello who I heard was fabulous- loved the weirdly named  'A French Butler called Smith' complete with dreads and fuschia top hat! Wish I had seen Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks from Canada- another new one to me, she has a beautiful voice on their song 'Midnight in Harlem'. Gurrumul was there, a legendary Aboriginal singer receiving major interest overseas (he performs a spinetingling rendition of 'Every Breath you Take' with Sting.)  Australian indigenous talent is slow in getting the interest it deserves- just witness the amazing Torres Strait Islander dancer Albert David on the Street Warriors clip below.
Back in downtown West End I was watching a busker outside Coles supermarket 'from the communities up north' and asked him to come up to the centre where I work to share his natural infectious love of music. He got immediately involved and has got everyone singing for 'Uncle Bobs Talent Show'.

Street Warriors with amazing dancer

Sunday, March 6, 2011

west end

On a scale of multiculturalism, Brisbane would rate 3/10, as opposed to say Sydney or Melbourne- whitebread. The two most diverse areas in Brisbane are Sunnybank- predominantly Asian, and inner city West End where a variety of cultures and Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Greek, and Italian restaurants all feature. This is where I work and I love to walk down Vulture Street past the colorful inhabitants and Greek grandpas to get my coffee every morning. West End owes a lot of it's eclecticism to a tribe of cool and groovy types, feral ecowarriors, Aboriginal people, the homeless and an assorted group of dispossessed souls known for having lively conversations with themselves.
Lately this group is on the decline due to rising rents and the rapid gentrification of the area and luxury unit development on the rivers edge, where until recently they used to gather. These are the people I have got to know and worked with over the last year, and the character of West End will change with their leaving. There is still however the fabulous Green Flea markets on the riverside every Saturday morning, a must go for a taste of the original West End.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

brisbane- after the rain

Rosalie Village
Don't think I am going to work today. I drove down to the bottom of the hill this morning and had to turn back due to major flooding. It's a surreal day- sunny after seven days of straight rain, with flood warnings as the Brisbane River is rising to a high water level at 11am today and another when the tide rises early  tomorrow morning. Brisbane CBD is built around the river, and lots of houses in suburbs around or near the river banks will be inundated. It seems reminiscent of a warzone with sirens going and helicopters overhead. Furniture on backs of utes and vans goes past on the roads. Strangely, back home everyone is mowing their lawn..

Later that afternoon- click the pic to check the guys in the kayak and a bathtub!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

byron bay

Byron Street, Bangalow
Barebones gallery
The image most people have of Byron Bay is a beachy/ hippie/ tourist town/backpacker haven. When someone says Byron, what they mean is any part of a large area of northern New South Wales- encompassing small towns, hinterland, farmland and coastline. The reality is that Byron is more a state of mind. The diverse, exotic community of people living here contributes to Byron's reputation for being a utopia of sorts. What attracts alternative minded people from all over the world to make the shire their home is the laid back vibe and close knit creative community giving the area a distinct bohemian feel. Many well known artists and musicians call this place home. Some play often at local venues - mantra songstress Deva Premal is one who performs locally as well as internationally, even at the request of the Dalai Lama.
 When I come down from Brisbane to stay with friends at beachside Suffolk Park- one of the best things is falling asleep to the sound of waves and waking to an early morning walk on the beach with the assortment of dogs, surfers and anyone else up early. I went recently for a performance by my friends Paul and Monique with several other local musos held at a lovely old church hall in Ewingsdale. A slideshow background was provided by artist Sean O'Shea -check out his videos for a peek at 'Yasgurs Farm' -Innocence. One of my favourite places to visit is the tiny town of Bangalow- full of funky shops and Barebones Art Space gallery. I couldn't resist buying a painting of dogs by local artist Birgit Henstorf. Another fave thing to do here is to catch the great market on the 4th Sunday of each month. Don't forget the legendary Byron Blues Festival at Easter- what a line up this year - BB King, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello etc..... got my ticket!

Gayatri Mantra - Deva Premal

Monday, December 27, 2010


Waking up in Ubud to a verdant green valley lined with banana palms starts the day in serenity. Outside a table overlooks the river Campuhan where a flask of hot tea and sugar bananas is placed every morning by a young girl padding silently past the simple single room cottages lining the hillside. A fifteen minute walk down the hill takes us to Ubud - the cultural and artistic heart of Bali- 5 minutes by rented motorbike- a great way to get around. This is an enchanted place with many laid back restaurants, galleries and markets to become absorbed in.  
A cooking class presented an opportunity to check out spices used in gado gado, my fave Indonesian dish and to meet travellers from distant parts of the world. Don't miss a chance to buy a ticket to see the Kecak Monkey Chant- a  dramatic battle sequence from the Hindu epic 'Ramayana'-  captured in the brilliant 1993 film 'Baraka'. Jalan Monkey Forest is a street (next to the monkey forest!) where there are several small textile shops. I spent a lot of time at one in particular, looking at vintage ikats from Timor and fell in love with this woven floral pattern runner.

Kecak Dance

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Dusk at Abian Biu
Where you choose to stay when travelling can make a big impact on your enjoyment. Let's face it- it's your home and sanctuary for that time and if the staff are happy and friendly, that affects the way you see the people. I personally like to search out somewhere small and atmospheric, and nearly always, the people are lovely too. Abian Biu is a chichi little place with a pool near rice paddies about 10 minute taxi ride from Seminyak. The owner/manager 'Mr Yoseph', a flamboyant Javanese, has built the place in a traditional style of Java with Chinese overtones. He was decorator to royalty in Java and has furnished the place with old photographs and vintage pieces he has collected. The staff are very personable, relaxed and obviously love working here. I have seen some poor reviews but would go for feel over immaculate cleanliness anyday, particularly when reasonably priced and in countries that are not 1st world.
Seminyak is near the beach, with great little boutiques and quite a few nice little places to eat. My recommendations are- La Lucciola smack bang on the beach- beautiful view for breakfast, Made's Warung and Cafe Bali on Jalan Oberoi.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Bali is the island dreams are made of- a tropical paradise. Temperate weather all year round and serene, gentle people- a mere 3 hour plus flight from Perth. Perfect for a week away! Australians take Bali for granted, often forgetting how exotic this island really is, how spiritual and special the culture and lifestyle.
 Several times a day offerings are made to the spirits in observance of Hindu beliefs. Homes, cafes and businesses will always have a shrine in one corner where incense sticks are lit and offerings of flowers, fruit and rice are made on bended knee with hands clasped and head bowed. There is a strong connection to the village of one's birth where it is considered a duty to return for any important occasion or religious observance- often resulting in frequent sudden departures! 
It is lovely to see both women and men often wearing the elegant traditional batik sarong as everyday dress.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

margaret river

The southernmost tip of Western Australia is home to the famously beautiful area of Margaret River, known for producing world class wine and it's pristine coastline. There is a 135 km walk from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin in the south known as the Cape to Cape track. It meanders through protected national parks, kauri forests and down to the beaches - it can be walked in 4 days, camping along the way. I walked a section of it near Hamelin Bay when all the wildflowers were in bloom, catching sight of fat lizards sunning themselves on the sand. The big controversy happening currently is the potential coal mine being touted for the area. Locals make their own fun in this remote area- while visiting my brother, I was invited to a 'house concert' where Waifs drummer David Ross MacDonald entertained with ballads on guitar and stories. A neighbour told the fantastic story of how she came upon German kayaker Freya Hoffmeister landing on the beach at Augusta looking for somewhere to camp while circumnavigating Australia solo last year.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Sailing on the Swan River -yes,there are (black) swans.
The huge coastline is a major feature of West Australia and sailing is a favourite pastime (remember the Americas Cup?). Perth is bounded by water-the Indian Ocean along the coast and the Swan River running right through the middle of the city. A 10 minute walk takes you from the city railway station to the banks of the Swan River where yachts race each other any day of the week. Another favourite pastime is drinking beer. The tradition of the great Aussie pub is testament to this- several fine examples still exist in Fremantle, notably the Sail and Anchor on South Terrace, located opposite another institution- the Fremantle Markets.I always visit this friendly and unique market. You never know what you'll find there. I picked up some wildflower honey and  a couple of great Aboriginal art calendars and CDs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


South Tce- Aussie style
Arriving in Perth in November, you know you are at the edge of the desert when it is 39 degrees outside and the airport is full of sunburnt musclebound men wearing shorts and thongs in transit from booming mining towns up north. My flight took 5 1/2 hours by air from Brisbane, and I made a beeline for my favourite neighbourhood of Fremantle, or Freo as it is affectionately known to locals. Locals and tourists alike descend on the cafes, hotels and restaurants that abound in this lively seaside port. Historic sandstone buildings and shops line the streets and waterside. Check out 'Diamond Aps' on Wray Avenue where I snapped up a preloved mens Armani navy blazer and floral Guy Laroche shirt for Xmas pressies, making sure to have a coffee at Wild Poppy next door. Then take a step back in time to 'Bousfields' on High Street, a mens store that dates back to 1902 where they stock a great range of Akubra hats- I picked up a classic black felt 'Stylemaster' for moi.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


One place everyone must visit once is the iconic Bondi Beach- even on an overcast day, it has appeal. Yes there are cooler beaches around - Clovelly, Bronte- but Bondi is the quintessential Aussie beach and I don't mind sharing it with everyone and their dog. Plenty of Australian films and television series have used Bondi as a backdrop. The home of the famous Bondi lifesavers, and the Art Deco 'Bathers Pavilion'. Take the #382 Dover Heights bus from the city, and see scenic winding backstreets of Darlinghurst, Paddington and Woollahra with all their historic terrace houses and bijoux boutiques. I made time to visit Axel Mano, a bespoke hat shop on cosmopolitan Queen Street in Woollahra, to get measured for a Milanese straw by milliner Susie Meekin. While I was there I spotted an irresistable 'garage sale' sign on a house a couple of doors down, where I snapped up a Persian rug hanging outside for a bargain $35. The only problem was lugging it back on the bus....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Sydneysiders have a unique freedom of self expression and sense of individuality evident in their sense of style and cultural identity. I love that on a walk around the back streets of an inner city suburb on a Sunday morning, I spotted these two gentlemen in earnest discussion, (hat wearers always appeal to me) and then only a street away, came across this colorful pair. Stayed in Newtown for the weekend at a bed and breakfast (best breakfast ever!) - Tara Guest House, a fabulous renovated ex doctors residence and a funky base to explore a truly multicultural and fascinating suburb of Sydney. An impromptu guest arrived for breakfast- photographer William Yang who opened a children's project at the Sherman Gallery the night before. Newtown is only a 10 minute walk to the railway station from (bus stop only 1 minute away)- there would have to be restaurants of nearly every country at every 2nd shop on Enmore Road. I saw Peruvian, Scandinavian, African and several Thai and Turkish. Spoilt for choice. The weekend happened to be Halloween and the Goths were out and proud, there was even a goth market outside the town hall. Black fishnet stockings and mohawks in abundance.

sydney harbour

I never tire of beautiful Sydney Harbour. As an Aussie, I love that I can visit my favourite places over and over again. Grab a Virgin Blue flight when they have their special fares- so reasonably priced- I paid $130 return from Brisbane to Sydney. Ferries are my favourite method of transport. The Sydney Harbour system crisscrosses from side to side - so many gorgeous waterside locations, all accessible by a variety of small to large ferries which travel several different routes. Catch the ferry to Balmain on a weekend and a 5 minute bus ride will take you to local Rozelle markets, a laidback neighbourhood market full of bargain treasures, on the spot massage tent, entertainment and good food. Other great wharves where the ferry stops are scenic Cremorne Point or McMahons Point- then walk up to the Balls Head Reserve for the best picnic spot and view.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Mosaic is everywhere in Morocco. The walls, floors, steps, and water fountains, both public and in the interior courtyards of riads.  The Middle East is where mosaic originated. Public water fountains are great displays of mosaic pattern in everyday use, particularly in older areas, where homes often don't have running water. The tiles are called zelliji. Ornamention is everywhere you look- every surface is painted, carved or decorated in some way- evidence of the abundant traditional handcraft traditions still practised in Morocco.


Lovely Riad Malaika is a recently restored riad in a narrow backstreet of Essaouira. There are only 8 rooms over 3 levels with a rooftop terrace. The rooms in Essaouira are good value compared to Fes and Marrakech. Riad Malaika is run by a friendly and kind French-Belgian couple, aided and abetted by the savvy and knowledgable Hakim- a young local guy who speaks several languages, learnt while working in one of the shops. Everything in the town is within walking distance, including one of the best Moroccan restaurants we visited for tajine only two minutes around the corner. There is an Arabic expression used frequently that I love, which roughly translated means 'If it is Allah's (God's) will' - 'Insha'Allah', meaning- 'hopefully'.
'Insha'Allah' I will return to Morocco...


Essaouira is a peaceful coastal village 2 hours drive north of Marrakesh. The temperature goes down dramatically as soon as you arrive, and there is a cooling sea breeze.  The colour is blue- the buildings, the boats, the sea, the sky. The pace of life is so slow here, the locals are very laid back -the perfect place to while away a week or two. I loved Essaouira, and it is obvious that the hippie trail came this way too, as evidenced by the continuing tale of Jimi Hendrix' visit in the 60's. Ride a camel on the beach, sit in one of the many courtyard cafes and read a book for an hour or two, sip a traditional mint tea or the great Moroccan coffee. I found a tiny street stall selling a huge selection of African music including Mali musicians Rokia Traore and Ali Farka Toure. There is a great English language bookshop with more Paul Bowles books than I have seen anywhere.  The classic Bertolucci film version of 'Under the Sheltering Sky' featuring a young John Malkovich (with hair) will whet your appetite for Morocco, if you haven't seen it -do.

Monday, November 8, 2010


In the lane outside our riad we heard the hypnotic chanting of musicians. Following the sound of rhythmic percussion, we found the Gnaoua musicians busking and watched them twirling their tasselled hats. They can often be seen in the UNESCO listed Djemaa El Fna late at night, jumping around wildly twisting their heads to make the tassels fly while someone collects dirhams for the show. The square comes alive at night with food stalls, snake charmers and performers all gathering crowds of onlookers to a show which has been going since the 11th century and has to be seen to be believed. One of the greatest shows on earth!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The train to Marrakech from Fes takes a full 8 hours (make that 9 after a delay) stopping at many stations along the way. After Fes it seems like a very large, noisy, busy city, full of honking, weaving cars, horse drawn carriages and crowds. The charm of Marrakech is hidden under it's exterior, hidden away in the quiet side streets and havens behind closed doors of the riads and homes. Moroccans I met seemed to be very reserved, thoughtful and good humoured and generally polite, not pushy. They are legendary traders and however much experience you may have at bargaining, you will not succeed in paying less than what your purchase is worth -at best. Mostly I saw men out and about in public- women less so, usually with other women, in a group, or with their husband.  Walking down the crowded streets meant being jostled constantly, and it made sense in the streets of near the busy Djemaa El Fna square to walk behind the women, as the men instantly respectfully clear a path for them, not so a tourist!
Whenever we needed a rest from the overwhelmingness of negotiating the city, we escaped gratefully to the cool peace and quiet of our riad. Maison Arabo-Andelouse is an ancient riad just outside the medina run by  Mohammed, a wonderful Berber gentleman. He cared for us in a most gracious, caring manner. When bidding our goodbyes, he made one of the most touching of gestures- placing the hand on the heart and a bowing of the head- a sign of respect in the Arab world.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Wandering aimlessly is the best way to experience the 'medinas' or 'souqs' as the market areas are known, a spaghetti of narrow interconnected cobbled paths. Best to stick to the main ones if you don't want to get lost, which is inevitable. In the old city in Fez, there is a colour coded system of overhead signs marking the way at random intervals for five different routes. They are not always there when there is a fork in the road! I found this a helpful way to navigate until you start to recognise particular shops of landmarks. There are spectacular mosques and madrassas (Koranic schools) along the way which also serve to mark the way. In Fes, I saw signs requesting that  non Muslims not enter the mosques, a bit disappointing- however you can see the opulent interiors from the entrance. Five times a day you can hear the same 'call to prayer' from the speakers on the minaret on top of the mosques, easily the tallest towers visible. Men with their heads covered in a prayer cap, will race to the mosques. I saw one fellow who was late and locked out, standing outside with his eyes tightly shut, reciting the verses passionately along with those inside.

Friday, October 29, 2010


love his hat!
 Although the leather tannery of Fez is almost at the centre of the medina, you will never have trouble finding it. As you get closer, you will smell the unmistakable odour, simultaneously besieged by any number of people wanting to take you to their father/brother/cousin's shop. The leather shops are all situated close by -most with a birds' eye view of the dyepits, which is where these photos were taken, and where I saw the skins being dyed for the yellow baboosh.

A small girl aged about 10 years followed us there, in spite of us telling her we were not going to give her any dirhams-  all the way being told by stern Moroccan men that she should be at school. Unofficial tour guides are actively discouraged by the authorities, and any one caught is in trouble with the police. We had first hand experience of this, after we met an entertaining young man with terrible dental hygiene, speaking excellent English, while standing hopelessly lost in the street looking at a map. We followed him for an energetic, interesting 45 minutes through narrow twisting alleys far from any known route, when quite suddenly he was pursued at high speed on foot by two uniformed men while standing talking to me. We never saw him again, but hoped he got away as we had really come to enjoy his company.