Friday 27 February 2015

Melbourne on a White Night 2015 (Part 1)

White Night was an instant success in Melbourne. In its first year, 2013, it attracted over 300,000 participants to art exhibits spread across the city centre from 7pm to 7am.

I missed its second staging in 2014 because I was in Hawaii. That time it attracted over 500,000 people, and it was a a very crowded experience from all accounts.

This year the event, held from 7pm to 7am on 21-22 February, was different. Still a huge attendance, pushing half a million, but spread out over a much wider area and with people attending later if they could. The buzz was noticeably lower, but it was easier to get around.

Narrelle Harris and I set out about 7pm this year, crossing the Yarra River to attend a ghost tour through the Arts Centre. Whether you believed the ghost stories or not, it was great to see the backstage areas and stand on the vast stage of the State Theatre:

The ghostly theme continued next door at Hamer Hall where we witnessed Ghostly Machines, a human-free sound and light piece performed by the concert hall's lighting and sound array:

Next we headed to NGV International. The big highlight here was Keyframes, a collection of neon tube figures in the moat which lit on and off in time with music. Here's a short clip I filmed:

Inside the gallery there were two pieces.The one in the Great Hall was a science experiment which produced projections and sound, and in the adjoining garden was this colourful laser light show:

Across St Kilda Road, beneath the equestrian statue of King Edward VII, we found this illuminated set of angel wings in front of which people posed. I suspect this kid had in mind the sinister Weeping Angels of Doctor Who:

From the riverbank we could hear Bollywood music floating across the water from this floating barge, near glowing flowers on the water:

By the time we'd bought some supper from a food truck in Alexandra Gardens, it was nearing midnight. Time to cross the river, brave the Federation Square crowds and see what the north of the White Night zone had to offer...

Next: Wonderland! And light in motion across a World Heritage building...

Friday 20 February 2015

Street Art: Roa All Over

I've been looking at a lot of street art recently.

In Berlin and Melbourne I've joined artist-led tours, and saw a fair bit of art during a food tour in London's Shoreditch.

In Los Angeles I checked out some cool murals in the old warehouse district, and have viewed numerous impressive works of the walls of Montreal.

Across all these cities, one factor stays constant: Roa.

This Belgian street artist has travelled the world, creating huge black and white paintings of animals native to the area he's visiting. Often he depicts dead animals, but not always.

I don't go looking for Roa, but he always seems to find me. Here are some of his pieces I've encountered...

1. Healesville, Australia.

2. Montreal, Canada.

3. London, UK.

4. Berlin, Germany.

5. Los Angeles, USA.

That guy gets around! Who knows where I'll see him next?

Friday 13 February 2015

Review: JFK-LAX in Qantas Premium Economy Class

There's nothing like an upgrade to put a smile on one's face, especially on a long flight.

We're flying Qantas from New York to Melbourne. The first leg is a six-hour flight across the breadth of the USA to LAX, where we'll change planes.

Premium Economy in our Boeing 747-400 is tucked into its own small section between a galley and the Economy Class seats behind.

You can't guarantee there won't be screaming babies and other such hazards in this class of travel, but it seems less likely than in Economy.

The calm and compactness of the section is indeed very soothing.

Also appreciated, of course, is the extra space that comes with Premium Economy.

I can fully stretch out my legs without touching the seat in front, and there's sufficient seat width that Narrelle and I are able to sit comfortably side by side without being mashed into each other.

Entertainment is provided by a screen which swivels out of one armrest.
There's a good mix of movies, and I'm pleased to see a category devoted to Australian films.

Since I've just departed New York, however, I decide to revisit the streets of Manhattan via The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Dinner is a choice of salmon or cannelloni filled with ricotta, and I choose the latter. It's excellent. Tasty and filling, and matches well with a glass of Margaret River chardonnay.

As I've discovered on other flights, Qantas' interpretation of Premium Economy is very good, a distinct cut above Economy Class.

It's been a very pleasant way to travel between two great American cities.

Now it's time to switch onto an Airbus A380, and head home.

Disclosure: I paid for my own flight but was upgraded to Premium Economy by Qantas.

Friday 6 February 2015

Cacao & the Writer: My Chocolate-Coated Travel

In my work as a travel writer, there are recurring themes.

One of them, I realised the other day, is chocolate.

I was writing a chocolate-related travel article for a major publication, in this case related to London. As I typed, a reference to cacao reminded me that I'd seen a cacao pod in person in Borneo, when I'd visited Malaysia in 2009:

This got me thinking about other times that chocolate had featured in my travels.

In 2010, when Narrelle Harris and I were travelling through Hungary, we dropped into the classic Budapest cafe Gerbeaud. My order was a csokoládé kávé, coffee blended with hot chocolate, amaretto and whipped cream. Alongside it was a perfectly formed slice of Sachertorte:

In May last year I was introduced to great Middle Eastern chocolate, not something I'd been expecting after the terrible chocolate we used to endure when living in Egypt in the 1990s. These locally handmade beauties were on sale at the shopfront of Salma's, a chocolatier in Muscat, Oman:

Closer to home, in 2007 I visited Adelaide and went on a tour of Haigh's chocolate factory. This South Australian brand has several outlets in Melbourne, and it's hard to resist its dark chocolate peppermint frogs. This was the factory shop:

In 2012 I travelled to Quebec City, Canada for the first time and was delighted to discover the Érico chocolate shop and museum, whose exhibits including chocolate clothing:

On the other side of Canada in 2013, Narrelle and I visited an excellent chocolate maker and cafe in Gastown, called East Van Roasters:

And while travelling on the South Island of New Zealand in 2011, I stopped with some colleagues for lunch at She Chocolat, a chocolate-making business with a restaurant overlooking beautiful Governors Bay:

So what's the chocolate-related story I'm writing at the moment? Can't tell you... yet. Follow me on social media (see the links in the right-hand column) to find out when it's published.

I will reveal it has a historic context... and this is how it ends up: