Friday 29 November 2013

The Unpublished 17: More Rooftop Melbourne

In October, Royal Auto magazine published my article about various rooftop attractions of Melbourne, Australia - you can read it here

However, due to space reasons, a number of items were left out of the final published piece. For your entertainment and education, here they are now...

“Look! Up in the sky!”

With a new Superman movie recently in the cinemas, it might well be time to revive that famous cry from the old George Reeves TV series… at least in Melbourne. Here are some rooftop highlights of the city.

CH2 Rooftop Terrace

A lesser-known city structure is Council House 2 (nicknamed CH2), next to the Melbourne Town Hall and containing the city council’s office workers.

The building is fitted out with a number of impressive environmentally-friendly features, such as moving shutters which lower the need for air-conditioning, and big yellow turbines which produce electricity as they’re propelled by the wind.

Next to those turbines is a rooftop terrace (see image top right), with a garden which aims to release oxygen back into the concrete jungle. It’s usually out of bounds, but once a year the public can visit the rooftop as part of the Open House Melbourne project.

240 Little Collins St,

Pop Up Patch

Federation Square is the last place you’d expect to find a place to grow vegies, but you’d be wrong. The broad roof over the square’s car park was recently converted into the Pop Up Patch, a series of allotments within recycled apple crates.

Most are rented to members of the public who want to grow their own produce in a garden with a view, with each restaurant in Fed Square also having its own patch. There are regular introductory workshops for both adults and kids, along with food truck sessions and other events to be found on the Patch’s website.

Off Russell St,

Adelphi Pool

The next time you’re walking along Flinders Lane between Russell and Swanston Streets, look up. From the ninth floor rooftop of the Adelphi Hotel, you’ll see a swimming pool projecting out over the street, its transparent base allowing swimmers to glimpse pedestrians down below (and vice versa).

God knows how they ever got planning permission to build such a thing, but it’s one of the city’s most unusual places to have a dip.

The pool area is currently awaiting a major renovation, but while you're waiting you can pop in to the hotel restaurant to enjoy its recently released "dessert hotel" menu which features spectacular sweet dishes.

187 Flinders Ln,

And for more quirky Melbourne attractions high and low, download the Melbourne Historical, Melbourne Literary or Melbourne Peculiar mobile apps.

Saturday 23 November 2013

"When I Say Run, Run!": Travel & Doctor Who

The author, looking absurdly young in 1990
If you ask me, there's nothing more fulfilling than travelling with a theme.

Whether your special interest is reggae music or World War II sites or bagpipe playing, lacing your itinerary with relevant stops brings a trip alive.

Rather than consisting of dutiful trudges around worthy museums and cathedrals, your journey becomes one that's deeply meaningful to yourself.

In April 1990, Narrelle Harris and I had been together for a mere four years.

We were on our first overseas trip together, a rail journey around Britain aided by a thick paperback containing the entire UK train timetable.

The World Wide Web was yet to be invented, email was still largely unknown to the public, and the Berlin Wall had only just fallen.

A mock-up of the TARDIS console room at Longleat's Doctor Who Exhibition, 1990

Another thing that had ended in 1989 was Doctor Who. After running for 26 seasons since 1963, it had finally exhausted itself. However, we were keen to engage with aspects of the series on its home soil, if we could.

So on Tuesday 24 April 1990 (according to my beautifully handwritten travel diary - those were the days!), we enjoyed a full English breakfast at our B&B in Salisbury, had a look around the local market then caught a train to Warminster, the closest station to Longleat House.

Longleat House in 1990

A stately home with various attractions on its grounds, Longleat had long hosted a Doctor Who exhibition. Striking a deal with a local taxi company to take us to the house and mind our luggage for the day, we reached the Doctor Who Exhibition, in those days the only place you could see props and sets from the show.

The photos from that visit have been scanned and dotted through this blog post (though sorry about the date stamps - people in 1990 didn't know any better).

A Yeti, as seen in the 1968 Doctor Who story The Web of Fear

You might be asking yourself: Why make such a big deal about a cancelled TV program?

Doctor Who had always meant a lot to me. Born seven months before its first screening in Australia, I watched it from the very beginning (according to my mother).

One of my earliest memories of any sort is of a thrilling episode of the Patrick Troughton story The Evil of the Daleks, in which a civil war erupts among the Doctor's deadliest foes.

A Dalek from the 1988 Doctor Who story, Remembrance of the Daleks

It was screened in Britain in 1967, so I suppose I must have seen it a year or so later, when I was four years old.

It's impossible to say how much Doctor Who influenced me as a bookish kid growing up outside a small country town in 1960s and '70s Western Australia.

However I've always loved science fiction and am an avowed cultural Anglophile, and I admire the Doctor's combination of individuality, curiosity, courage and reason. So the show must have left its mark.

The bizarre Kandy Man, from the 1988 Doctor Who story The Happiness Patrol

More than anything, I travel. It's a fact often overlooked, but beyond its adventure and science fiction roots, Doctor Who is a program about travel.

Travel without boundaries of time and place, travel that challenges, travel that you hopefully come away from a little wiser.

So today, on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who's first transmission on 23 November 1963, I want to say "Thank you, Doctor." For opening my eyes to the vast, varied, exciting world outside my door.

For my thoughts on the cultural references and connections of Doctor Who, read this article for Issimo Magazine.

Friday 15 November 2013

The Unpublished 16: Phillip Island for Adults

In 2009 I stayed for a few days on Phillip Island, a popular family holiday destination southeast of Melbourne, Australia. I wrote an article about what the island offered adults travelling without kids, but due to a travel magazine's change of editors it was never published. Here it is; and all the places mentioned remain great places to visit:

Massage centres are usually placed in idyllic locations - in rainforests, perhaps, or overlooking the sea - so I’m a little surprised to find one above a shoe shop and cafe on the main street of Cowes, the principal settlement of Phillip Island.

But it seems that, as in many spiritual philosophies, shoe shopping and wellness treatments form a kind of cosmic balance.

“Groups of four female friends will often come in together,” explains Patricia Hanrahan, owner and chief masseur at Aromatherapy in Action. “Two of them will get a massage while the other two go shoe shopping, and then swap places.” And have a coffee afterward, no doubt.

As my wife Narrelle and I wait for our scheduled treatments, I’m reflecting on the stereotype I had of Phillip Island as merely an old-fashioned fish ‘n’ chip-driven holiday town for families.

Although that’s still true to a degree, over the next three days I discover that the island has been quietly updating itself to match the tastes of couples on a weekend away, becoming a place to keep it slow, natural, romantic and playful.

Keeping it slow

It’s a beautiful day on Churchill Island, cool and crisp with the promise of sun later. The island, attached to Phillip Island by a narrow bridge, seems even more detached from the outside world than its big sister, its profile resembling a whale breaking the surface of Western Port Bay.

It’s the perfect place for the monthly Churchill Island Farmers’ Market that’s set out on its grassy flanks, with a view down over the water and the mainland beyond. As we saunter past its stalls, we spot emu oil, homemade biscuits, chutneys, chilli sauces, Dutch pancakes, and fruit and vegetables for sale.

We buy a coffee from the cafe of the adjacent heritage farm, sit on a grassy rise next to the market, and watch slowly moving shoppers. It's a delight to be here, enjoying the view and the pleasures of slow food at the same time.

Keeping it natural

Once the Wildlife Coast Cruises boat passes Nobby’s Point, we’re into Bass Strait and the water is considerably more active than along Cowes' northern shores.

Reaching Seal Rocks, we’re suddenly joined by dozens of seals, mostly young pups, who throw themselves into the sea to swim playfully between us and their rocky base. There’s only some ten metres between boat and land, and I’m struck by the dramatic colours of the scene - dark blue sea, light blue sky, and pure white foam as waves break against the black rocks.

As the boat moves slowly along, it seems an interesting question as to who is viewing who: you can imagine the seals welcoming their daily human diversion between the morning feed and the late afternoon nap.

Keeping it romantic

Our couples massages turns out to very pleasant. Lying on benches a metre apart, we each have a masseur working away at soothing our aching muscles, applying aromatherapy oils of Patricia’s own invention. I drift off into the happy near-trance massage state in which I cease thinking about anything but the present, but am just conscious enough to shift limbs when prompted.

Both refreshed and relaxed, we’re in the right frame of mind for a romantic dinner at The Foreshore restaurant in Rhyll, a tiny settlement on the island’s east coast. For mains, Narrelle chooses the whole snapper while I have the bangers and mash.

While my choice is a tastily upgraded version of the old favourite, featuring locally-made sausages with beef, thyme and mustard seeds, the real winner is my entree: Atlantic salmon cured in fresh dill, flaked salt, lemon juice and vodka.

We sit enjoying the food and the water view in the big, timbered interior and life seems pretty relaxed. And romantic.

Keeping it playful

Humans also have a playful side, and Phillip Island doesn’t fail us in indulging it. One afternoon we pitch up at Amaze’N Things, a family-friendly attraction which features a large outdoor maze. But what really works for us are the fascinating halls of illusions and puzzles within the building.

It’s amazing how engaging an old-fashioned hall of mirrors can be when supplemented with a little technology. The Gravity Room is fascinating, with its perspective-bending properties which totally confuse the brain (“Is that table leaning, or am I?”). And the confusing expander disc makes us see each other in an entirely new and distorted light.

We walk out of the place amused and laughing. The place is family-friendly, but you don’t need to have kids in tow to enjoy it. And the same can be said for the whole of Phillip Island.

Disclosure time... on this trip I travelled courtesy of Destination Phillip Island.

Friday 8 November 2013

Vampires of Literary Dublin

I've never really understood the appeal of unboxing videos, in which people film themselves unpacking a newly arrived smartphone or tablet and commenting on the experience.

However, I couldn't resist posting this pic to Twitter on the day my copy of Lonely Planet: Great Escapes arrived in the mail:

Where I was expecting a compact paperback, Great Escapes turned out to be a hefty hardback coffee table book with beautiful images on glossy paper.

It's full of travel "escapes" of various kinds, from cultural to adventurous.

My contribution is Dive into Literary Dublin, highlighting the Irish capital's literary history and associated attractions, from the ancient Book of Kells to literary pub tours.

Each article also contains a number of breakout boxes, looking at specific aspects of the escape. One I was particularly pleased with contained my potted history of Bram Stoker's inspiration for his hugely influential horror novel Dracula.

With kind permission of Lonely Planet, here it is:

Bram Stoker, Vampire Writer
When it was published in 1897, no-one could have guessed that Dracula would make Bram Stoker the most influential horror fiction novelist ever. Born in Dublin in 1847, Stoker had been a sickly child with plenty of time for reading. As an adult he became friends with Oscar Wilde and the actor Henry Irving. But it was possibly from his chance meeting with Hungarian historian and traveller Arminius Vambéry that Stoker learned of the legend of Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. Vambéry’s reward? As rumour has it, he was immortalised in the novel as Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula’s implacable foe.
(The above text is an extract from Lonely Planet’s Great Escapes, © Lonely Planet 2013. In stores now, A$49.99. Buy online here.)

In the drafting and redrafting of the escape, some content was jettisoned but is still of interest. So in the spirit of DVD extras, here's some additional Dublin-lit content from me:
North of the Liffey lies a museum devoted to the oldest type of Irish storytelling – folklore. Although the National Leprechaun Museum has an amusing name, this institution is devoted to all of Ireland’s ancient myths, covering creatures both famous and obscure. To thread its interior is entertaining in itself, passing through a giant’s living room and beneath upside-down umbrellas, and taking in a shifting map which outlines the creatures of this rich mythical world. But the best part is listening to a live storyteller, who weaves tales involving leprechauns, greedy men and the legendary outlandish warrior Finn McCool.
(Read about my visit to the National Leprechaun Museum in my Kindle ebook, I Am a Bond Villain: A Travel Writer's Strange Affair With Britain & Ireland)

The Cheeky Statues
For a laugh and an insight into Dubliners’ surprisingly acid sense of humour, spend a day weaving between the city’s most prominent pieces of street art. When you reach each one, ask a local what they call it. Every piece has a nickname, including a statue of Molly Malone (‘The Tart with the Cart’), a statue of two shoppers (‘The Hags with the Bags’) and the needle-like Spire of Dublin (‘The Stiletto in the Ghetto’). In a park next to the Liffey is a water-drenched statue of Anna Livia, who represents the river; she’s ‘The Floozy in the Jacuzzi’.
(For more on Dubliners' irreverent naming of statues, with photos, read my previous post on the subject.) 

And finally, some extra reading in these books by Irish writers, intimately involving Dublin:
The Portable Virgin (Anne Enright) Collection of short stories by a prize-winning author, exploring the city and its people. [Buy here]
Winterland (Alan Glynn) A fast-paced crime novel which highlights the seamier side of 21st-century Dublin. [Buy here]
(And you can read my interview with Catherine Duffy from Dublin's City of Literature office here.)
 Enjoy! And keep reading that Irish lit.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Contemplating the Spin Cycle

This week's guest post is by fantasy author Narrelle M Harris...

One of the pleasures about packing light is that the traveller must make time once a week to wash.

Yes, I said ‘pleasures’ rather than ‘problems’. I don’t refer simply to how nice it is to have a bag replete once more with clean socks ‘n’ jocks.  I mean that this simple little chore has attractions all of its own.

When I’m travelling, I like grand panoramas. I love seeing the great landscapes, the beautiful buildings, and the highlights featured in the guidebooks.

But I also love seeing the small details of life for locals.

I enjoy wandering through regular neighbourhoods, observing how suburban architecture and front yards reflect a different way of life, or puzzling the impact of light industry bumping up against ordinary shopping strips and residential streets.

Laundromats, bless their soap-scented air, are primarily located in the suburbs. A walk to a laundromat in a foreign city is also a stroll through the social life of a place.

It’s a glimpse into everyday lives and details that are odd to an outsider. As a writer, that kind of detail is invaluable; as a person curious about other people, it poses questions of how others experience the world. 

The way residential architecture can be so different from city to city; the types of plants in gardens; the toys and tools by doors; the stickers on letterboxes; the graffiti on walls; whether people in their yards smile hello – all these elements of a town add texture and depth to your understanding of it.

One of the other simple pleasures of wash day is the little bubble of quiet the chore creates. This can be especially valuable if two or more of you are travelling together.

You spend each day sharing your experiences, which is brilliant, but it’s also nice to split up for a bit and reunite with unshared observations. And no matter how well you get on, or how much you love each other, you occasionally need a little ‘me’ time.

Being on the road is tremendously stimulating and exciting, but it’s also exhausting.

It can be good to take a break from it, to let the dust settle. Perhaps to consolidate some of that experience by writing about it: in a journal or a blog, or in postcards to distant friends.

A week into our trip to Canada, some days of which were spent in the north-western wilderness looking for bears, it was time to freshen up. Time for time out from the rush of travel with its tiny/terrifying plane rides and bone-rattling buses, and this urban girl’s startling proximity to capital-N Nature.

As much as I loved the Great Bear Lodge, it was extraordinarily pleasant to find a laundromat in a pretty back street of Victoria, British Columbia beyond the populous tourist harbour; to be surrounded by houses and shops, to talk to a kindly local to work out how to use the coin machines, to chat about the weather and seek a recommendation for coffee.

The laundromat I visited in Edmonton offered similar simple pleasures, as I conversed with the owners about our trip, and used the washing time to write about it too.

Laundromats are, I find, little oases on journeys.

Surrounded by the hum and rattle of washing machines, kept warm by the heat generated by the mesmerising turn of a dryer, I write postcards and blog about my adventures, all the better to consolidate my observations and emotions.

I read a little, I contemplate the world, and at the end of my two hours of retreat – I have clean underwear.

That, people, is a little bit magical.

When not hanging around foreign laundromats, Narrelle M Harris writes awesome fiction such as her latest cross-media project, the rock and roll fantasy Kitty and Cadaver. Check out the Kitty and Cadaver website to read the first six chapters for free, or to download them for your mobile devices.