Madeiran Magic

We’ve spent a week on the beautiful Island of Madeira.  It’s somewhere we’ve been to many times, but still each visit brings something new.  The island is a province of Portugal, but it is actually much closer to North Africa.   It has a rich heritage and a very interesting geology as a volcanic island.  It is very mountainous with several peaks over 1800m above sea level, making for striking peaks, ravines and valleys. 

One of the things that does immediately hit the senses is the vibrant range of colours of the many plants and flowers.  The mineral rich soil of the island produces an abundance of fruit, vegetables and flowers.  However it has come at the back breaking expense of the many generations that toiled to dig the terraces and the Levadas (the irrigation system drawn from the North side of the island to the South) to create enough flat land to cultivate.  Even today the work is manual, with no farm machinery able to access the high and narrow terraces.

Another highlight of the week was going Dolphin spotting.  We used a small but highly recommended company called H20 https://www.h2omadeira.com/ and we were not disappointed. During our 2 hour journey we saw Bottlenose, Striped and Spotted Dolphins.  All very different in size and character.  We got some lovely close encounters and it was especially adorable seeing the babies.   My pictures are a bit fuzzy, so this is from H20 themselves, who take a collection of photos from each trip.

Courtesy of H2O Madeira

Funchal is the capital of Madeira, famed for its wine, it’s tiled streets and for being the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo.  It’s a small town to navigate and has some lovely little squares and cobble streets to explore.

 

We found a Vegan restaurant near the centre called Coarcao Vegan (or Vegan Heart on Google Maps) https://www.facebook.com/icoracaovegano?utm_source=tripadvisor&utm_medium=referral The Teriyaki ‘Chicken’ is highly recommended and the Falafal salad or the soup.  Other meals, whilst delicious were mostly deep fried, so whilst tasty, were not exactly healthy.

No trip to Funchal is complete without the coffee stop at the Grand Café – Golden Gate.  It was closed when we last visited Madeira for refurbishment, but its certainly looking great with the new facelift.  It’s the best terrace for people watching in the centre and the coffee is excellent.

We always enjoy our time here and look forward to coming back again some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The one I forgot to mention – Kuala Lumpur

This is by way of very late entry, the stop we made on the way home.  From Sydney we flew to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a few days before going on to Heathrow. It was one of those ‘felt like a good idea at the time’ sort of decisions.

Kuala Lumpur feels like the pit stop to the world.  It opens up Europe for Oceania and vice versa.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel ‘ The Shangri La, which was on the outskirts of the main city ring.

We expected to either use public transport or shank’s pony to get around, but found both had their limitation.  The Taxi’s whilst cheap, also had their adventures!

After settling into the hotel, we took the free bus that circles the city.  We had wrongly assumed that this was geared towards tourists.  It was in fact a workers bus, taking the mostly migrant workers from Bangladesh took to their various work locations.  So we did a loop around the back of restaurants, hospitals, office blocks and many other spots.  We stood out in our bright holiday clothes amongst the sombre attire of the workers.  Many spoke little English, but there was one man who was very welcoming and wanted to help us and gave us lots of smiles.  A generous act when it was clear we were the interlopers.

The next day we decided to walk to the nearby shopping mall.  Only 10 minutes up the road – what could go wrong?  Well apparently a lot! The first thing you have to deal with is the heat and humidity which saps your energy with every step.  Then the dodgy street signs, which start off in earnest showing you the way and then seem to get bored and give up half way through.

The road junctions are a law unto themselves.  There are pedestrian crossings, but the pavements below you is either so broken up it’s hard to cross at the junction, or the traffic is rapid and not giving you confidence of its willingness to stop, so a 10 minute walk turns into a 30 minute adventure.

KL centre seems to be about big architectural statements and shopping malls.  The Petronas twin tower was a towering piece of architecture.  The streets had a mixture of run down and broken building, alongside vibrant colours. The big attraction seemed to be the shopping centres and I wondered as I walked around them, who were all these shops for?  Certainly not the locals, many of whom would struggle to afford even the smallest item here.

On the Sunday we went to the KL Bird park, billed as the largest open air aviary in the world.  And the size and space where impressive.  We seen a great range of birds.

Yet beyond the apparent open air nature of the park, we saw some small enclosures with little in the way of natural habitat or growth and some birds that did not look happy.  An emphasis, was for entertainment, with many left out for picture opportunities or to fly to the staff on demand.  It was perhaps not different from the many other animal parks and sanctuaries we had visited over the previous few months, but somehow it felt different. To be fair to the KL Bird staff, I did write to express some of my concerns and they did write back.  I won’t be there to see if improvements are made, but perhaps others will.

 

One of the unexpected visitors to the bird park where the monkeys who somehow have managed to live and thrive in this metropolis.  They had a way of getting through the net at the top of the aviary and come in for plentiful supply of food.

Four days felt like long enough in KL and we were happy to be heading back to London when the time came.

Last but certainly not least on our Ozzie adventure – Sydney

Perhaps we saved the best to last in Australia.  As the largest city by population, Sydney oozes confidence, style and a welcoming charm. We stayed in the heart of the city in Hyde Park and it was the perfect spot from which to go exploring. We were opposite the Anzac war memorial, which although closed to the public for refurbishment, is still an elegant landmark in the park.  Here’s a night time picture.

Anzac at night

 There is lots of heritage to see here.  Not far from our hotel was the Queen Victoria Building, a very large multi-story shopping mall, built around 1895.  It is still elegant and full of interesting shops.

 Queen Victoria Building

 

We also got to the more historic end of town – The Rocks.  This is where the first convicts were dumped when they arrived in Australia and left to fend for themselves.  As it was surrounded on three sides by sea, only one side needed guarding, reducing the amount of supervision needed. From these humble beginnings a substantial neighbourhood has emerged, with a mixed and sometimes unsavoury past. We took a walking night tour to hear about some of the past characters.

This is Cadmans cottage, one of the first buildings on the Rocks and now one of the oldest buildings in Sydney. Built in 1816 for the use of the governmental coxswains and their crews that would help to navigate the ships through the treacherous rocky coast of Sydney.

Old cottage

 

We took a bus ride around the city, which ended up being excellent.  We used Free Tours The bus ride is $18AUD each, and then you pay the guide what you think it was worth.  Fantastic concept and the guide was informative and funny.  We got to see Bondi Beach.  Joy was able to soak it all in, but I had to run around trying to find an ATM that worked, as we still owed the driver for our ticket. Also Macquarie Lighthouse which was built in 1818.

Bondi beach

 Lighthouse

 We also found a great restaurant for lunch one day.  You pay on weight very like Tidbits in London, if anyone has been there.  Very tasty dishes and the desserts were positively sinful at Om Vegan .

 Of course, no visit to Sydney would be complete without seeing Darling Harbour and the Opera House.  It is an iconic building and it was very exciting to see it up close.  There are no bad angles to this building.  It is quite an extraordinary structure.  The front of it almost looks like a glass cathedral.    The contrast inside was quite stark, where unrelenting grey concrete is everywhere and was quite ugly when compared to the exterior.

Sydney opera house group

 Sydney opera house group 2

 

We also noticed this lamp in the corner of our hotel lobby.  Anyone who has visited the BA Lounges in Heathrow Terminal 5 will recognise them.

Black horse lamp

The last thing we went to see was the architectural quirk of the Business School of University Technology Sydney  in Surry Hills.  The building is made from brick, but with such a fluid shape it’s hard to believe.  The building’s façade, which was made of 320,000 custom designed bricks, is described as the “squashed brown paper bag” and you can see why from this picture.

Brown paper bag building

So we know that Little Man has been a little shy lately, but he does pop up here somewhere.  Can you spot him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra – the 14 minute town

After the Blue Mountains, we decided to take a last minute detour to Canberra which is about a 3 hour drive from Sydney.  Unlike most of Australia’s cities, Canberra is inland, with a population of 400,000 resdents.  We coined it the 14 minute town as it seemed that everywhere according to the Sat Nav was exactly 14 minutes away from us.  Mind you, it was the Easter Weekend, so that may be more optimistic than usual.

It’s an interesting place as it is a low rise city, spread out into smaller towns, each with their own identity and centre.  Canberra is reputed to be one of the cleanest, safest and most hospitable cities in the world, and visiting it, you can see why it may earn this accolade.

Canberra group 1

 It’s different from many cities as it was made not born.  By that I mean it was planned as a city from the very beginning.  Most places start out with a bunch of houses, and then grow from a small nucleus in a rather haphazard and unplanned way into a city. 

Canberra was designed from the outset. The location was decided so that it did not place either Sydney or Melbourne above each other, since they were already growing and sprawling urban populations.  A piece of land from New South Wales was identified and became the Australian Capital Territory, so it would not have allegiance (or subservience) to any other Australian state.

To build the capital city of a confident and growing nation an Architecture competition was launched in 1912, asking for entries from around the world.  A Chicago based couple won the design competition  Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.  Marion was herself a pioneering figure, being the first female registered architect in the world. 

Their design was about building a city for people to live in and enjoy, so the emphasis was on lots of open spaces, wide streets and accessibility.  Their grand vision was never fully realized, as war, depression and political incompetence, got in the way, but by the 1950’s, work began again on building a capital city that would make Australia proud.  Whilst some of the egalitarian vision of the original designers was lost, it is still amazing to see how much of their initial vision was retained.

You cannot go far in the Southern Hemisphere without seeing some memorial to Captain Cook.  For us in the Northern Hemisphere he’s known as an explorer, but in the Southern Hemisphere, across most of the Pacific, he is seen as the founding father.  The memorial in Canberra tracked his three voyages that circumnavigated the globe and brought back  valuable information about the coastlines, flora and fauna of the lands here, paving the way for others to follow.  This memorial showed the route of his three voyages and the stops he made along the way.  The fountain is another Captain Cook monument.

Canberra Group 2

Whilst we were in Canberra they launched the largest Cartier exhibition that I think has ever been shown.

Cartier Group 1

The director of the Gallery personally went to meet the queen to convince her to share some of her personal pieces in the exhibition.  The pink rose brooch above is said to be one of her favourite pieces.  The pink diamond at the centre was given to her as a wedding present from an Indian prince (as you do!) and was made into the brooch.

There were also some famous pieces from film stars such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor below.

 

Cartier Group 2

On the way back to Sydney we stopped at a service station to pick up a bite to eat.  We have happened upon a really cool fast-food chain called Olivers Real Food, that aim to serve good wholesome, mainly plant-based food.

Right beside Olivers was a Merino wool shop (the highly specialised wool that Australia and New Zealand are famed for.)  To make sure that you didn’t miss it, they put a huge Merino Ram in the car park. Oversized animals must be a thing here as we’ve seen a lot of them on our journeys!

Giant Ram

Our final stop in Australia is Sydney, so we’ll be back soon with our final Ozzie update.

 

We met The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains and a few other friends

Three sisters panoramic

From Byron Bay we made our way to Blue Mountains, to do our last bit of volunteering.  This time house sitting  for a doppelganger for Milo from the film, ‘The Mask’, called Jack and two cats.  The Blue Mountains is West of Sydney.  The range is huge, covering over 11,000kms.  It is called the blue mountains because of the blue Haze that is created by the oils from the Eucalyptus trees. 

It’s most famous landmark is the three towering stones that rise up above the forest at the cliffs edge.  They were once a group of seven formations, but only these three remain and they are referred to as the Three Sisters. 

Three sisters 2

 Not far away are the Leura cascade.  Here’s a picture from near the top of the trail.

Waterfall

 And the final big landscape we visited was the Lennox Falls. 

panoramic blue mountain

All three locations were pretty spectacular to look at.  We’ve seen some amazing sights during our trip through the Hawaiian Islands and New Zealand , but it was the sheer scale and range of the view here that took our breath away.  For as far as the eye could see there was just forest and mountains.  It was heartening to see so much untamed land, when you consider the destruction that European settlers made to these lands (and their inhabitants) with their arrival.

 Our charges for the few days were Jack (aka Milo) and Tigger and Sylvia.  They were a lot of fun to be with.  Jack was like a mother hen clucking around his chicks with the two cats.  He would greet them, nibble at their necks and ears, like a mother cat might cleaning her kittens and make sure they didn’t fight, which they were prone to do. 

When it was Jack’s time to go for a walk, Sylvia decided she needed to join us and would follow us into the bush, or lead the way, if we weren’t going fast enough, or going the right direction.  It is a real pleasure being around animals when you are travelling, they are immediately grounding and help you to relax.

Dog and cat walking

There is a very strong arts and crafts movement in the mountains with many galleries and craft centres.  We saw some very creative yarn bombing in the town of Katoomba near the Three Sisters.  It was so colourful, even the tree was probably smiling.

 

 

Next stop – Canberra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A birthday in Byron Bay

From the Gold Coast we travelled down to Byron’s Bay. This is a small beachside town that is known for its laid-back approach to life and its alternative lifestyles and therapies.  This made it an excellent place for us to celebrate Joy’s birthday in a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. 

It was named Byron Bay by Captain Cook who drew up the navigational maps for much of the Pacific in his three voyages around the world in the 18th Century.  Many of the names he used to define his early maps of the coast line are still in existence today.  Byron Bay for example,  was named after his Naval Office John Byron, who helped navigate and draw up the maps of Australia, New Zealand and many of the Pacific Islands.  He is the grandfather of the perhaps more famous, poet, Lord Byron.  

The weather was not exactly kind to us during our stay, so although we did visit the beach, the sky was ominous, and we had rain for most of our stay.

Beach

 

We stayed in a tree house, not exactly by design, but more to do with the quirky nature of the accommodation we chose. A tree house sounds romantic and of course if you look at the picture here, the room looks quite lovely.

Tree house

 The reality was an outside toilet and shower that were accessed via external stairs, that were not easy to negotiate during a heavy tropical storm which we had for the two nights we were there. It’s part of the ups and downs of travel, so you take the rough (and sometimes the very rough) with the smooth.

External stairs

We still managed to have a lovely day on Joy’s birthday.  She got a great card in the post, which certainly was apt, given where we were.

Joys Birthday

 In the evening we went to an all-vegan restaurant called The Beet, http://www.thebeet.com.au/ which served up delicious plant-based food. 

Vegan Feast

Although it’s the beach that everyone associates with Byron Bay, we decided to visit the Crystal Castle in the Hinterland.  It was up in the hills and offered spectacular views and probably the world’s most impressive crystal collection.    The sheer size and scale of many of the crystals was hard to fathom.  These Smoky Qartz Geodes are 5.5 metres tall. That is a lot of crystal!  

Crystal garden.jpg

 Below it is a beautiful Rose Quartz spiral in front of a Buddha Statue.  It was very serene to walk in that space.

Crystal spiral

One of the more far-out things we experienced  was a session on plant music.  A synthesizer was connected to different plants and then the most amazing gentle chimes were heard.  Apparently it varies according to the plant, which plants are nearby and whether they are in the mood to play.  I kid you not!  If you are interested, you can find out more here:   http://www.musicoftheplants.com/en/

Crystals are reputed to have many qualities, which vary depending on their mineral composition, bringing harmony and balance to our emotions and our physical body. We certainly felt very chilled by the time we left the place.  Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

Brisbane to the Gold Coast

Brisbane sign

From the tropical paradise of Hamilton, we flew to Brisbane.  Although it is the third largest city by population, it has an easy going atmosphere and is very pleasant to walk around.  It was hot when we were here, at about 33c.  Brisbane is the gateway to the Sunshine Coast to the North and the Gold Coast to the south, but does not have any beach of its own.  However they do have a man-made beach on the South Bank of the river, which is a very good imitation when you can’t get out of the city.

Beach park

 The architecture here is a mixture of old and new.  This Brisbane Arcade is an Art Deco beauty and the imposing building below it was once the treasury, but is now ironically a treasury of a different sort, since it operates as a casino. 

Brisbane arcadeTreasury casino

One of the highlights was visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary nearby.  It has been going for over 90 years and was one of the first set up in Australia to protect wildlife. We got to see more of the wonderful Koalas, who take cuteness to a whole new level.  How many can you spot in this group photo?

 

 

We were also able to get up close and personal with the Kangaroos.  Some had been born at the sanctuary, but many were rehabilitated after road accidents.  It’s distressing how many of these wonderful creatures you see as road kill as you drive around the country.

 

A nice touch was being able to feed the wild Rainbow Lorikeets in the afternoon.  Dishes of food were brought out and you just had to hold it up and they would flock over and land on the dish.  Here’s a  close up of this beautiful bird.

Lorakeet close up

 Some of the surprises were the Tasmanian Devil, who is a handsome chappie.

 

We also met the Wombat. He is a chunky fellow and hard to describe, but somewhere between a pig and a rat gets close to it. Unfortunately like so many of the native species he is very nearly extinct, the cause of which, as you can see from this very troubling sign is loss of their habitat over the years.

 

One of the other creatures we saw was a Cassowary.  This is a native bird, a bit like an Emu, but very different in habitat and behaviour.  It is also an endangered species with many threats, including feral pigs, dogs, cats and humans.  The bright blue head makes it very distinctive and it is a fearsome fighter if it finds itself or its young threatened.  The male bird incubates the eggs and then rears the chicks for another nine months. No glass ceiling in the Cassowary world!

Cassowary

 

 

We also found these little dragons walking around all over the sanctuary.  They are wild and can be found all around the area.  This little fella kindly posed by his sign, so we could find out all about him.

 Water Dragon

It was very sobering, meeting so many endangered species at the sanctuary and seeing the destructive effects of human settlement on the habitat and populations of some of these magnificent creatures that would have roamed this world for thousands of years before we came along.

 Next stop was the Gold Coast, which is a fabulous stretch of golden sandy beach.  It was torrential rain during our stay, so no swimming in the ocean for us on this occasion.  We got to walk around, got sand blasted by the powerful winds and found a fantastic vegan restaurant for lunch.  I was also pleased to see that they had named an Avenue in my honour.

Mary Ave

 

 

 Next stop Byron Bay.