five impressive tourism premiers

In the post Sydney Olympics era I had the chance to work with, and observe, a series of State Premiers with varying degrees of interest in the tourism industry. While most of them understood the economic engine that tourism can be, there were five who stood out.

The late Jim Bacon personally took on the tourism portfolio as Premier and achieved new sea and air access under his guidance. It underpinned a boom in the State’s tourism growth. Unlike subsequent leaders who failed to see the myth of jobs growth from extractive industries, Jim fully understood the inexorable trend towards the service and knowledge economy.

Building on the Kennett legacy in Victoria of well integrated infrastructure and tourism, Steve Bracks and then John Brumby took the integrated events, tourism and infrastructure strategy to a new level. Both Premiers knew the industry and elevated it within their cabinets. For a decade, from 2001 to 2010, Melbourne “ate Sydney’s lunch”.  It also coincided with leadership in NSW that took a “do little” approach to attracting visitors. Little wonder that Cairns and Melbourne took market share from Sydney for inbound arrivals in this period.

Steve and John fostered Victoria’s key advantage – co-operation. Co-operation between public and private sector and within Government, where seamless events and tourism policy was elevated to an appropriate level – and where Departments worked together to fulfil a vision.

In Queensland, a State where tourism represents an even bigger slice of the economy, Peter Beattie also elevated its relative importance. Gaining aviation access, creating conference infrastructure, promoting Queensland internationally and domestically, the job was well done. Peter led the charge. I can still see him calling, and then steering, a meeting of industry leaders, when Ansett fell out of the sky in September 2001.

My final nominee is Barry O’Farrell. Barry had watched the neglect in NSW for years in opposition and was determined to make a difference. He had only really started the journey of integrated infrastructure, events and promotion when he resigned recently. I saw the manifestation of his beliefs at a Tourism and Transport Forum recently where he spoke to 100 industry leaders for 20 minutes without referring to a note.

He spoke with deep knowledge about key infrastructure developments in Sydney and the respect he had for the Victorian model. His conversational address acknowledged at least a dozen people in the room, reflecting an engaged Premier. Let’s hope the momentum continues under the leadership of Mike Baird.

I have no doubt that John Olsen (who was a key driver in G’Day LA), Mike Wran and Geoff Gallop were all effective tourism industry supporters, but for the five men I have acknowledged, it was a fundamental platform of their leadership and the prosperity of their States.

off the beaten track in argentina

off the beaten track in argentina

December 2, 2011  |  main blog, travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

Argentina is accessible and fun for visitors. In fact, it’s easy for Aussies to feel at home in a place with friendly people, jacarandas, malbec and cheap, tender meat. Buenos Aries, a city of 12 million, has plenty to experience for up to a week in any itinerary. The 24 hour side trip to Colonia in Uruguay, adds variety and can easily be built in.

From a travel perspective, the “must do’s” in Buenos Aries include the Evita museum; Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada – the scene of many significant events in history; MALBA – the museum of Latin American contemporary art; Recoleta Cemetery; La Boca – the birthplace of the tango; Teatro Colon -the famous opera house; the markets of San Telmo; and one of the many professional tango shows. Getting off the beaten track unlocks little treasures of restaurants, nightclubs and bars, although there’s little action before 10pm.

It’s amusing how some things seem relatively expensive and others cheap. Two poor quality cappuccinos cost 35 pesos (about $9) – which can buy a good bottle of malbec, a return taxi to the city, an entire home cooked meal, or ten empanadas. Don’t order cappuccino in BA!

Beyond Buenos Aries lie plenty of options – including Iguazu Falls, the Mendoza wine region, Patagonia and the north-west with Salta at the centre. We chose Salta on a LAN Chile flight – having been outraged by the discriminatory airline pricing policies for foreigners.

First impressions are always interesting – Salta has a rich heritage, lots of battlers, interesting ethnic influences (Inca, Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese), pretty girls (Matt Damon and Robert Duvall married Salta girls), a town in transition being discovered by the rest of the world,  and where the siesta is taken more seriously than in Buenos Aries. We warmed to Salta – a city of 500,000 with grand colonial architecture, great restaurants and a fantastic little boutique hotel called Hotel Antigua del Convento at $80 a night.

It’s OK to drive in regional Argentina. The manual Chevrolet was a suitable way to make excursions south and north of Salta. The trip south to the wine region of Cafayete provided some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. Our eyes were on stalks as we ogled the crimson rocks and sheer magnitude of the dry river beds and massive Andes mountain ranges. It really was as if we were on another planet. Words cannot do justice to this multi-coloured, multi-textured landscape that is a geography teacher’s paradise. 

Cafayete wine region is older than Australia’s. Vineyards in the region are the highest in the world, averaging 1700 metres. The altitude is offset by the latitude as Cafayete is quite close to the Tropic of Capricorn. The region enjoys 340 cloudless days annually, with temperatures ranging between 2 and 38 degrees. The soils look similar to the champagne region of France – shale dominated, hungry and well drained. We loved the Cabernet and Malbec but didn’t warm to the much acclaimed white, Torrontes which was a bit sweet.

The trip north took us close to Bolivia to places like Purmamarca (home of the hill of seven colours), Humahuaca and the amazing Salinas Grandes – an inland salt lake at 3500 metres altitude, covering 3000 square miles. Purmamarca has become a tourism mecca, with artesan stalls dominating the town landscape and boutique restaurants and accommodation springing up. They offer a stark contrast to the living conditions of local people in their almost primitive mud brick homes. We pondered whether this destination will suffer from the “Kuta beach effect” ten years from now. Tourists can destroy the essence that attracts them in the first place.

The drive from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes is at least the equal of the Salta wine trail south. A magnificently engineered mountain road (a key route to Chile), llamas, multi coloured mountains and the expansive salt lakes were a totally different experience for two seasoned travellers. Although we only experienced a small transect of the Andes, it left us without doubt that this is one of the most impressive geographic phenomena in the world.

Why don’t you elevate Argentina in your travel priorities and experience it before the Qantas direct flights stop in April 2012? If you do, here are a few tips:

  1. Incorporate the Andes in any travel itinerary – there’s nothing like it on the planet
  2. Get some basic Spanish before the trip. It gets embarrassing when you can’t reciprocate the enthusiasm and warmth of a new interaction
  3. Buy a Frommer’s guidebook to supplement the internet. It’s the pick of the crop.
  4. Book ahead. Argentina is becoming a hot spot for world travel and often booked out
  5. Book an apartment with cooking facilities. While restaurants are reasonable good value, the fresh produce and wine is outstanding quality and value.
  6. Don’t be afraid to drive in regional Argentina –it’s  quite easy really
  7. Take the subway around Buenos Aries at 30 cents a trip and supplement it with walking. Major attractions can be “clumped” and reached on foot
surprising argentina

surprising argentina

As we become increasingly aware of our short time on this planet, priorities for life, including travel, are often discussed. Little did we imagine that Argentina would take priority in our own travel plans. Encouraged by one daughter, we enjoyed an amazing two weeks in Buenos Aries and north-west Argentina. The appetite has been whetted for more, in a fascinating country with 5000km of coastline from tropical to sub Antarctic environments.  

 Rich with Inca heritage and battles with European invaders, and of politics over the past 60 years that have swayed between military rule and Peronist power (past and present), Argentina seems poised to regain lost prosperity. There are stark contrasts between regional poverty – almost third world poverty – and some of the well to do in Buenos Aries. Another contrast is old world sophistication and the vibrant energy of the young. Gauchos, tango dancers and i phones happily coexist, and yet it’s easy to sense substantial change ahead in this highly urbanised, exciting country of 42 million people. Low taxation and high inflation are current challenges for this resurgent, resource rich nation.

 From a tourism perspective, Argentina has seemingly untapped potential. Before the direct Qantas flight home from Buenos Aries (which shifts to Santiago in April 2012), I talked with Geoff McGeary, the founder and owner of APT, who has just established a business in Argentina. The adventure business is booming and he can’t keep up with demand from Australia alone. The country is accessible and interesting, with key points of differentiation in a tourism world that is increasingly homogeneous.

 Argentinians love football, siestas, and have a strong sense of community. The European influence – not only from Spain but from Italy as well – permeates local life, with bidets to be found even in hostels. This is an accommodating country, one which is tolerant and welcoming. It also possesses an energy brooding beneath the siesta – an energy that will make Argentina economically more powerful and accessible to the world. There is a pervasive sense of hope and justice in Argentina, just nine years after the dramas of police shooting protestors in the streets.

 Argentina served up surprises everywhere:

  •  Argentina is a food bowl. We enjoyed the quality of the produce available on the domestic market – much of it reflecting no middle men in the supply chain, although supermarkets are starting to put pressure on small local shop keepers as they have done in every other part of the developing world. Some food was exceptional – like freshly squeezed orange juice; organically grown and dried peaches; fresh shelled walnuts; raisins; tomatoes that tasted as if they came from the back garden; succulent corn; ripe and cheap avocadoes; abundant and tender fresh asparagus and of course the meat – fillet steak was AUD 8.00 a kg in most retails outlets
  • The insidious influence of western diet is having an impact on the local population with obesity apparent and possibly aligned with an overwhelming consumption of soft drink, confectionary and very sweet and fatty bakery items. What a shame given the corn and other foodstuffs that formed the base diet for Argentinians in the past
  • The behaviour of children and young adults is as we knew it forty years ago – respectful, controlled and cheerful. We were amused by the habit of very young students wearing lab coats – like young engineers. Bizarre but cute!
  • Old cars are abundant, particularly in regional Argentina  – Ford 100’s, Ford Falcons, old Peugot 504’s and Renault 12’s, Fiats and the ubiquitous Volkswagens and  Toyotas
  • Beverage consumption varies from the comfort of flasks of mate tea to fizzy drinks to the hip wine bars of Palermo serving craft beer on tap and wine by the glass. Red wine is improving and represents a real global opportunity for the industry – blessed with cheap labour and proven terroir. Quaffing wine is very cheap and good wines excellent value. AUD10 will deliver a seriously good Cabernet or Malbec.
  • Whatever happened to the African slaves who were abundant in the 19th Century? Little is written about this subject. Did they leave due to the prejudices of the military; did they become subsumed into the population; or did they perish?
  • Although Argentina has seen a large influx of Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, there is almost no Asian or Muslim presence in the country
the melbourne sydney coastal road trip

the melbourne sydney coastal road trip

August 30, 2011  |  life, travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

People often remark that we’re lucky to have two of the world’s best cities separated only by a 75 minute flight. However, they may not appreciate the quality of the experiences offered by the coastal road journey between the two. You can do it in 12 hours hard driving, but if that’s the aim, take the Hume and do it in 9! Tackling the Prince’s Highway over two days is a better option, and even longer with side trips.

There’s plenty of information available about popular stopovers on this route, so this post focuses on some of the secrets, starting from Melbourne. The first secret is at Yarragon, which may be a little early for the first coffee.  However, it boasts an excellent art and craft gallery featuring many well-known Australian artists. It’s called Town and Country Gallery and is open 10 to 5pm daily.

On the way to Bairnsdale you can consider two paths off the beaten track. One is Walhalla – turn off at Moe – and immerse yourself in some gold mining history. The drive and scenery are spectacular as well, taking the return journey towards the Prince’s Highway at Traralgon. Walhalla – a sleepy town with 20 residents-  portrays life as it was in the gold rush when 4000 miners sought their fortune. There are plenty of quality B&B’s if you want to stay longer in the area.

The other detour to consider is the Heyfield turnoff after Traralgon – drive through Heyfield, Tinamba, Maffra and reconnect with the Prince’s Highway at Stratford.  It’s a pretty drive through dairy and grazing land and Maffra is considered to have one of the prettiest main streets in Victoria.

In the heart of East Gippsland, Bairnsdale on the Mitchell River, flags the turn off to Lakes Entrance. Enjoy one of the world’s great views as you climb down Brown Mountain to the point where the Gippsland Lakes meets the Tasman Sea at Lakes Entrance. Situated on the northern end of the ninety-mile beach, Lakes is a fishing village, tourist haven and focal point for surf and nature based activities.

As you journey on through Orbost (where there’s a good café on the eastern outskirts) to Cann River, you could dream about the splendid isolation and amazing fishing offered by places that are signposted on the way – idyllic coastal hamlets like Cape Conran, Marlo and Bemm River. You might even then be tempted to turn off the main road and see Mallacoota – Victoria’s eastern most town and surely its best kept secret. The town of 1000 people swells to 8000 regular holiday makers in the summer as people flock to the heart of the Croajingalong National Park. In my view, it is one of the most beautiful coastal settings in the world, combined with a wealth of experiences in which to become totally immersed.

Eden is always a good place to stop for a break – but you need to turn right and go to the fishing harbour at the east of the town. Great ocean views, the smell of salt water and fish, a good coffee, and even some reasonable fish and chips are available at this point. Further along the track, I strongly suggest turning off the highway at Pambula and taking the coastal drive through Merimbula and Tathra to Bermagui. You’ll miss Bega and the Bega Valley, but the track between Merimbula and Narooma is probably one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the NSW coast. The 35km trek between Tathra and Bermagui is a good example, with turnoffs to incredible places like Bithry Inlet and a drive past Cutagee beach.

Bermagui is my town! A preserved and stunningly beautiful town of 3000 people off the main highway, Bermagui still has the fishing village feel. It’s the closest point of Australia to the Continental shelf, one of the reasons the fishing there is legendary.  There’s always a sheltered beach to be found, the golf course is excellent and there’s plenty to do. Climb Mount Gulaga, swim at the famous Blue Pool, check out Tilba and Cobargo, and dine at the delightful Il Passagio restaurant – after a glass of wine at the Horse and Camel – and check out accommodation options from Julie Rutherford.

Narooma is a pretty town with a famous golf course. It has become quite a retirement centre now. It boasts the best coffee on the entire trip at Montague Coffee on the northern outskirts of the town, just before the bridge. Bateman’s Bay (and suburbs) has become huge – partly due to its popularity with Canberrians. There’s a good local hospital and retail facilities, and some pretty little coves and beaches as you go south. Just north of Bateman’s Bay, there is a roadside café at a little place called East Lynne. You simply MUST stop and buy a family sized apple pie straight from the oven – or indulge in one of the pies and sausage rolls. Without argument, the best in Australia, and I’m not given to hyperbole!

Instead of just staying on the highway at Ulladulla, take a small detour through Mollymook which only adds ten minutes to the trip. If you’re hungry at Milton, stop at Pilgrims Vegetarian café for some of the best fare on the south coast. Once past Nowra, the traffic builds and the trip starts to become more of an ordeal. Then all of a sudden Berry snaps you out of thoughts that you’re in the outskirts of Sydney. It’s a pretty town with a famous sourdough bakery. It’s possible to turn off at Berry and take the home stretch through Kangaroo Valley and Bowral – it might add an hour to the trip, but it’s a beautiful drive. If you decide to go through Wollongong, there is still one more decision to take – stay on the Highway or take the much slower Grand Pacific Drive that now boasts a new road between Scarborough and Stanwell Park – what NSW claims as the answer to the Great Ocean Road (which is a huge over statement).  If time pressures prevail, this option can also be a day drive or return train trip from Sydney. I suggest the train.

Back in the big smoke, one thing is certain – you’ll be planning the next trip south to explore the many experiences that you missed due to the deadline. Melbourne to Sydney – or the reverse – with its myriad of tangents is really one of the great journeys of the world.

off the beaten track in perugia

off the beaten track in perugia

February 7, 2011  |  travel tips and tales  |  2 Comments

The Rock of Ages and I floated through eight warm days in Perugia in September after the hordes of visitors had returned to work. We lived and breathed local culture, practising our Italian and soaking up the ambience and spirituality of a grand place. Perugia is a fairly large Umbrian city of 150,000 permanent residents and 30,000 itinerant students. We stayed in the heart of Centro Historica, which seamlessly and sublimely integrates hundreds of years of history with modern Italian commerce.

 From our base, we spent five days experiencing Perugia’s historic buildings, enotechas, pizzerias, boutiques and theatres, and day trips by train to Assisi, Foligno, Arezzo and Spello. The trip to Arezzo passed Lake Trasimeno, with some delightful views of rural life in northern Umbria and southern Tuscany. Lingering themes of Perugia include:

 • Brilliant food, often of the slow, or peasant type that is authentic to the area. Following the Italian bible on slow food, Osteria d’Italia, we discovered dishes like bean soup and pork in wild fennel. Good quality red is abundant and good value.

 • Classy, well dressed people….women talk of “Italian stallions”, but the women are at least as classy – well dressed with fine features.

 • The strength of religion and Catholicism in a town connected to the modern world. We took a mass (as imposters) at the famous Catedral – celebrated in Italian – and with a feeling hard to convey in words. The organ music and singing was moving and made me weep, it was so special.

 • The appreciation of music running richly through the veins of all Perugians – from school band concerts in the main piazza, to the free jazz and classical concert series, to the Italian folk bands having fun at the farmers markets. The city lives and breathes music and most kids carry instruments to school.

 • Heritage manifested in buildings; the demeanour of well-informed townsfolk, and the stories that people continue to tell.

 • An optimistic and calm spirit that is subtle yet pervasive. The locals may have trouble articulating this. It may result from a combination of religious faith, family values, enjoyment of simple pleasures and supportive communities.

 • Unabashed animation and debate among friends, family and colleagues. Hand waving and aggression soon give way to hugs and kisses – which is no different in Perugia to other parts of Italy. Perhaps it’s more about the process than the content.

• A well organized and generous tourism information facility with capable English speakers supported by a wide range of collateral material. For example we were provided with a detailed map of Umbria produced by the Touring Club of Italy – probably the best free map I’ve ever seen.

 • An emerging clash between the time honoured appreciation of subtlety, class and heritage, and the new commercialism fuelled from the west that is threatening to make this another version of any global town. Starbucks in Italy? Sadly, it’s a reality!

 • Despite a generous approach to refugees and a humanitarian tolerance of homelessness, there is a severe threat to the status quo with under privileged, beggars, drug addicts, gypsies and refugees making their mark on the city, often clashing with the romantic expectations of many visitors.

Treat yourself to a few days in and around Perugia…off the beaten track, when the numbers subside and when the weather is still warm. Truly memorable!

truly the king of parks

truly the king of parks

October 18, 2010  |  travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

King’s Park in Perth is the most visited tourist attraction in WA with millions of people passing through part of its 400 hectares annually. It’s a spectacular setting, high on the limestone escarpment hugging the Swan River, elevated 65m above the city of Perth

Visiting King’s Park at any time of year is exciting, but to do so on a 30 degree Perth Day in early October is a treat. King’s Park, with its myriad of bushland walks harbouring over 300 native species, also houses the Botanic Gardens. Featuring over 2000 of WA’s 12000 species of flora, the biodiversity is amazing. This was just the time to stroll through the gardens, with flowers of all shapes and sizes drawing people and birds like magnets to their colour and nectar. The amazing display of kangaroo paw, such as the one on the left, was a sight to behold. A little Rhodanthe (which used to be included in the genus Helipterum) is shown with its colurful pink flowers at right.

I love the emphasis on learning at King’s Park, a trend that aligns with the increasing desire of people to understand what they are experiencing when they travel. Education programs are facilitated by programs and events, many of which are provided by volunteers. Even if vistors are not absorbed about things botanical, there are some accessible learning points about species such as this grevillea (left) and the impressive grass trees shown to the right (Xanthorea preisi) that are so abundant and important, not only in the bush walks and the Botanic gardens, but throughout Western Australia.

 It’s clear that Western Australians take pride in their major tourist attraction. There is seamless co-operation between the responsible Government managers, private sector sponsors and volunteers.  This sense of co-operation extends to concerts and events that are regularly accommodated in the expansive lawn areas. As a matter of fact, the lawns were good enough to putt on!

There is much to learn about the indigenous and European settlement of WA, about the incredible biodiversity in the State and about the geology of the escarpment and the restoration that is taking place. King’s Park provides an excellent static and living education service. Just check out the website to get a flavour of this, the expansive area involved and the quality of the site. Featured here is a lovely blue Leschenaultia sp. on the left and a striking Darwinia sp. on the right. The subject matter was excellent as these images were taken on a mobile phone! Make sure you build King’s Park into your next WA visit. Pity it doesn’t have an Aboriginal name.

By the way,  the featured image is the flower or Eucalpytus macrocarpa, or Mottlecah, native to south west WA.

from garden of eden to world heritage

from garden of eden to world heritage

September 13, 2010  |  aborigines, travel tips and tales  |  2 Comments

I can’t believe that it has taken so long to experience Mungo National Park – one of the globally recognised treasures on the Australian landscape. Only an hour north of Mildura, Mungo National Park includes most of the ancient dry lake bed of Lake Mungo, one of a series of dry lake beds that make up the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area.

40,000 years ago, Mungo National Park was a Garden of Area teeming with wildlife. Now it’s a parched semi-desert with differential erosion unlocking the secrets of an ancient aboriginal culture dating back 50,000 years. Mungo is owned and operated by three tribal groups of aboriginal people who form a Group Elders Council – something of a model for other places – operating Mungo with Parks in a joint management agreement.

Each school holidays, one of the tribal groups – the Barkindjii, Mutthi Mutthi and Nyiampaa – run the excellent Discovery Tours guided tour program. Another commercial tour is run by Graeme Clark of Harry Nanya Tours. Harry’s story is legendary and may well become a film one day. Mungo certainly has incredible archaeological and geological significance, but the aboriginal stories going back tens of thousands of years provide the real meaning.

The relatively recent discovery of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man provides the most important human remains ever found in Australia. They were buried on the shore of Lake Mungo, beneath the ‘Walls of China’, a series of lunettes on the South eastern edge of the lake. Their discovery re-wrote the ancient story of this land and its people and sent shock-waves around the world. Three years after their re-discovery and intense scrutiny, the trackways were carefully covered over again with a bed of sand – the same sand that had protected the footprints from the elements for thousands of years. The tracks are so fragile and precious that they have to be protected from everybody, even researchers

These 42,000 year old ritual burials are some of the oldest remains of modern humans (Homo sapiens) yet found outside of Africa. Mungo Lady is the oldest known cremation in the world, representing the early emergence of humanity’s spiritual beliefs.

Mungo Lady and Mungo Man are particularly special to their Aboriginal descendants who still live around the Willandra Lakes area, as this quote from Nyiampaa Elder, Roy Kennedy demonstrates:

Coming to Mungo I get a different sense of feeling that I’m home. You seem to know when you’re back in your own Country. It’s not taught to you, it’s built in you. It’s in your soul, that that’s your Country”

Visitors can stay at Mungo Lodge, but I must say I was a little disappointed with the result after Indigenous Business Australia invested a lot of money in its refurbishment. The Lodge lacks soul and stories and is still an opportunity waiting to happen. The accommodation is pleasant but you could be anywhere else in Australia. The old Lodge used to come alive with campfires and stories. Let’s hope that is rekindled soon.

vietnam - it's all about people and food

vietnam – it’s all about people and food

August 13, 2010  |  travel tips and tales, uncategorized  |  No Comments

Vietnam has become a fashionable and accessible destination for Australians. If you’re thinking of going, do it soon as this country is becoming westernised by the day. A recent trip from the Mekong Delta in the south to Sapa on the Chinese border in the north, spanned the delights of Vietnam for 23 days. There were plenty of tantalising travel stories from Halong Bay, Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang , Sapa and Ho Chi Minh City. This record focuses on the food and the people – good reasons to experience Vietnam at any location.

Vietnamese food is fantastic! Forget the jokes about dogs and possums – although we did see dog looking strangely like Peking duck at Sapa. In a general sense the food is light, clean, flavoursome and different. Vietnam is a food bowl of fertile river plains, deltas and terraced hills. The variety and presentation of produce in the wet markets would put Woolworths and Coles to shame. All organically grown, the quality and flavour of fruit and vegetables is second to none.

Pho (rice noodles, pronounced fer) is the breakfast food of a nation. We ate a lot of pho tai – rare beef with rice noodles, some chilli, lime, bean shoots and Vietnamese mint. Com (rice) is the staple food and can be made into wrappers, noodles and sweets. Vietnamese spring rolls (nem) are excellent, as are the range of salads. Green papaya and green mango salads were brilliant. Use of various herbs and spices add special flavour to most meals. And we can’t forget that wonderful legacy from the French – fresh baguettes available everywhere.

Most of our meals were taken in restaurants that ranged from authentic local shops such as the one in Hue where we had special egg pancakes, to the more upmarket restaurants such as Au Lac in Hanoi. We even had some meals on the street and strongly support this bold approach (although the street stalls are rapidly disappearing)

Two thirds of Vietnam’s 84 million people are under thirty. These people respect their heritage but are in touch with the globe through mobile phones, i pods and the internet. The Vietnamese are proud, determined and shrewd. In history they have seen off the Chinese, the French and the Americans. There is a strong work ethic and loyalty to family, together with a strong instinct to do business and to deal. We thought that people in the north were softer and more subtle than their countrymen in Saigon. Melbourne is to Hanoi, as Saigon is to Sydney.

On the religious front, most of the population have adopted the triple religion – where Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism.

Be warned – Vietnam is addictive and now rates as one of my top two repeat destinations.

a day in arrezzo

a day in arrezzo

August 1, 2010  |  travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

Rock of Ages had kept an article from a back edition of Gourmet Traveller about the Fiera for Antichera in Arezzo, a town of around 20,000 in southern Tuscany, which is, the article said, held on the first weekend of every month. In good faith we set off on Saturday October first, on a train trip to Arezzo to see if this market had staying power. Talk about an understatement! Thirty years of momentum have turned the Fiera into Europe’s major antique market with 30,000 buyers and sellers converging on Arezzo to recycle their treasures.

  We’ve never seen anything like it…Camberwell market times 50 in scale, with every street of the centro historico lined with stalls - dealers having travelled from many countries to display Europe’s finest old treasures. Our eyes were out on stalks as we fossicked through old keys, coins, glassware, paintings, furniture, books – all quality products and not overly expensive. This wasn’t a buying occasion for us, with transport logistics an issue and a house sale looming, but we did treat ourselves to a trinket each. Rock bought a necklace from Murano (an island off Venice famous for its glass) and I snapped up a 5 lire silver coin from 1820. Interestingly, with thousands of people converging on Arezzo for the market, many of the vendors wrapped up their stalls in canvass for the mandatory siesta, so we made our way back to Perugia after a roast pork roll (the best outside Borough Market in London) in a back street. The Arezzo market is something anyone travelling to this part of Italy should try and take in. The markets themselves are amazing, but it’s the setting that is special….flanked by 14 and 15th Century churches and buildings, all with many stories to tell.

broken hill and the miner's arms

broken hill and the miner’s arms

July 30, 2010  |  travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

One of life’s little surprises was a recent road trip with my parents to Broken Hill. It’s a living museum of 20,000 people (30,000 at its peak), with the large ore body bordering its eastern boundary giving context and reason for the very existence of this inland city in the desert. The contrast between capital and labour through history was obvious – from the stately architecture of the courthouse and early hotels to the ubiquitous tin cottages. While great wealth has emanated from Broken Hill, this has been, and still is, a worker’s city. Street names reflect the significance of the mining industry – Iodide, Bromide, Chloride…..

What a treat to find the Miner’s Arms Hotel – a beautifully restored hotel, originally built in 1888 and now converted into a delightful B&B by Michael and Marjorie Raetz. The Miner’s Arms offers authentic and warm hospitality, comfortable and spacious rooms and the best breakfasts in the land. I can highly recommend this experience and it seems that others do as well, with the Miner’s Arms continuing to win tourism awards for the best B&B.

Nearby Silverton provided further insights into the hardships and rewards of the pioneers. The museum in Silverton, at the site of the old gaol, is one of Australia’s finest collections of mining and community memorabilia. No-one visiting Silverton should miss the local cemetery, with gravestones going back to the mid 1850’s. The physical location of the cemetery in saltbush and red dust, was itself a reminder of past challenges, and as one gravestone was marked, “blighted hopes”.

Argent Street – the main thoroughfare in Broken Hill – is an inviting strip to walk and absorb the past and current. Some grand buildings with useful interpretive material are seamlessly integrated with the commerce of the day. We made our contribution to the local economy when dad and I dropped in to a store called, “Outback Whips and Leather”. A size 61 white Akubra slipped on the boss’s head like a hand in a glove and became an early Christmas present

Our Broken Hill experience would not have been complete without the sunset trips to the Living Desert and the Pinnacles on successive evenings. Kangaroos, solitude, silence, soft eerie light, birds and dry river beds that hosted “Hans Heysen eucalypts”, left us in awe of the natural beauty, and reaching for our cameras and paintbrushes.