Monday, December 4, 2017

December 5th – Flying Home For Christmas From Sydney

Cruising into Sydney always makes for a great arrival, as we sail into its huge harbour, surrounded by the opulent homes of Sydney's great and good, and then the iconic set pieces of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge hove into view. 

But, today is going to be a good departure as well as arrival, because we're heading straight off to the airport to fly back to London for Christmas. Having been in 30 degrees plus temperatures for pretty much the whole of the last month, it will probably be a bit of a shock to the system to get back to freezing cold Blighty, but at least it will feel properly Christmassy. Seeing Christmas trees and snowmen in tropical Singapore or Brisbane has been a little disconcerting to someone who's only used to cold Christmasses.

Anyway, we're looking forward to a bit of down time with friends and families, before heading off to LA on January 5th for the start of the Word Cruise.

Inline image

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3rd – Brisbane’s Urbane Jungle

Walking around Brisbane's relaxed, but busy streets, I couldn't help thinking to myself that this must be a pretty good place to live. It might not be able to compete with Sydney or Melbourne's gloss and grandeur, but it seems to be a more accessible kind of place, with not the same level of self-consciously expensive look-at-me air to its streets or people.

When it came to its cultural attractions, Brisbane also used to suffer by comparison with the other more glamorous state capitals, but in the last 30 years it's added some great cultural institutions on its South Bank. With its neighbouring theatre, art galleries and museums, it's a similar concept to London's South Bank – in fact, the concrete and the box shapes of its riverside buildings are very similar.

We went to the excellent Queensland Art Gallery to do a free guided tour of its Aboriginal collection. Our guide explained that Queensland was quite late to set up a State Gallery, so New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia had already scooped up much of the best Australian art available, which meant that they have chosen to concentrate on contemporary Aboriginal art and on art from South East Asia.

Our guide did a brilliant job in explaining the complexities of aboriginal art – unsurprisingly, there's a lot more to them than meets the untutored eye. It was particularly surprising to find out that the "dot art" that we think is synonymous with aboriginal art, only came into being in the 1970s. This was when aboriginal art was first becoming popular, but the artists chose to hide some of the secret meanings in their illustrations (which traditionally were used to locate watering holes etc), by covering the paintings with dots. This turned out to be pleasing to the western eye, and dot painting became the norm.

Knowing some of the stories behind the art, and the underlying concepts involved certainly gave me a greater appreciation of aboriginal culture, and there was some really interesting stuff on offer here. I just wish we'd had more time.

The rest of our day was spent with general wandering and finding a nice place for lunch. In spite of it having a predominantly high-rise cityscape, somehow Brisbane didn't have a particularly claustrophobic feel to it – maybe it was because it was a Sunday, but there was a sense of space that is rare in a city of so many skyscrapers.

Brisbane has a lot going for it – a great climate, an urbane cultural side, interesting colonial heritage, and by the looks of all those skyscrapers, a very healthy economy.

December 1st – A Mountain To Climb in Townsville

OK… it was technically a hill, but today it definitely felt like I was climbing a mountain.

When you approach Townsville from the sea, all views are dominated by huge monolith of orangey-pink granite rock behind the town called Castle Hill. At 290 metres tall, it's only just a few metres short of being classified a mountain, and when you're struggling half way up it, the name "hill" doesn't seem to do justice to this forbiddingly tall and steep lump of rock.

For the energetic, it's a Townsville ritual to climb the hill every morning, so seeing as we're on a bit of a fitness drive at the moment, we decided to give it a go too. The main problem is that Townsville can get incredibly hot, so we wanted to get going as early as possible in the morning (we were cleared at about 7.45am), and the Shuttle into town only started at 9am. That meant that we were adding to our fitness challenge by having to walk to the start of the hill too.

So, we asked a couple of people at the terminal how long it would take, with estimates ranging from an hour and a half, to two hours (which seeing as we only had just over four hours here would leave it a bit tight). That meant that we started with a speed walk to the start of the trail.

We were already sweating by then, but that was nothing compared to the buckets of perspiration pouring off us as we sweated our way up the steep side of the hill/mountain. Fortunately, the path has just been re-opened after fixing up its steps, which meant that we didn't have to worry about losing our footing. The sign said that there were 1,100 steps up to the top, and progress initially didn't seem like it was very fast – every time you turned a corner, another seemingly endless set of steps stretched up ahead of us.

Our calves and thighs were beginning to protest quite loudly, but suddenly the end was in sight, and as we approached the road toward the end of the trail, we saw loads of unbelievably fit-looking people walking, jogging, and pushing prams with scarcely a bother. By now, we were fairly dishevelled and caked in sweat, yet as they jogged past us somehow they were looking fresh as daisies. Townsville must have a pretty fit population.

But, it was great to get to the top (it had taken about an hour from the ship), to enjoy the views of the flat town ahead of us, and to get some cooling breezes blowing up the hill. On the other side of the hill, the rest if Townsville sprawled into the distance, with the Hervey Mountain range beyond.

Predictably, coming down was much easier and quicker, but we were by now not fit for much beyond a little bit of wandering, and general moaning about how tired we were. How all those people who were running up and down the hill then did anything else during the rest of the day, I don't know.

Some days you don't need to achieve much more than climbing every mountain (or hill).

Friday, December 1, 2017

November 30th – Finding Culture in Cairns

The point of cruise ships coming to Cairns is not to visit the city itself, but either to visit the Great Barrier Reef or the Rainforest that's just outside the city. Seeing as we've done both those a few times, today we decided to see if there was more to Cairns than we've given it credit for in the past.

Since the International Airport was built in the city in 1984, the city has grown exponentially from being a fairly unremarkable upcountry town, into the (possibly overdeveloped) tourist playground that it is today. There were plenty of building sites all around town, as yet more hotels are built to cater for the increasing numbers of Chinese and Japanese tourists attracted here. But, the town also retains a real down-to-earth backpacker feel to it, as groups of shirtless young tourists wander from bar, to travel agency, to all-you-can eat buffet restaurant.

It doesn't combine to create a particularly cultured or charming feel to a town, where it can feel that most people you see are just passing through. However, we did find a nice cafĂ© for lunch, before we headed to Cairns's latest cultural attraction – The Cairns Museum – which opened this year after a $1.8 million refit.

You could see that a lot of effort had been put into the museum, but for some reason we didn't find it particularly engaging. It could have been that the energy-sapping heat outside had left us unwilling to stand in front of information-heavy display boards with long sections of text. It could have been that the exhibits themselves weren't that exciting, so they had to rely on these long texts to give the objects some context. Or, if I were being cynical, it could just be that Cairns's history isn't that interesting.

Having said that, the aboriginal history was fascinating, but every time it got you wanting to know more ,the information ran out, and you'd be left looking at a telephone from the 1950s, or a tourist poster from the 1960s. Anyway, I probably shouldn't have had high expectations, and as I said, they had put a lot of effort in.

Basically, our day taught us that you should have high expectations of the Great Barrier Reef and for Rainforest, but don't expect too much in the way of culture or charm in Cairns itself.