Friday 27 November 2015

Street Art of Berlin

I visited Germany courtesy of Railbookers Australia.

A year ago I wrote an article on the Alternative Berlin Street Art Tour for The Age newspaper here in Melbourne. You can read it by clicking here.

It was fun to attend and write about, particularly as we were led by an actual street artist who could explain the philosophy and techniques behind the art.

As always with such articles, there was limited space for accompanying photographs. And images were, of course, the heart of the subject.

So here's a selection of art I encountered along the streets of the German capital that day in September 2014... ending with a spray-painted cat I created myself at the artists' studio inside a former East Berlin margarine factory:


The Alternative Berlin Street Art Tour costs €18; click here for times and booking details.

Friday 20 November 2015

Review: Qantas International Business Lounge, LAX

For this review Qantas gave me access to its lounge at LAX, though I paid for my own airfare to/from the USA.

When booking connecting flights, I prefer to have a surplus of time in case of delays.

Thus my Alaska Airlines domestic flight from Seattle touched down at Los Angeles International Airport some eight hours before my Qantas flight to Melbourne was due to take off.

Excessive? Possibly. But on this occasion I knew I'd have access to Qantas' new International Business Lounge (officially the "Los Angeles Business Lounge") at LAX.

Even without lounge access, I don't mind a bit of dead time between flights at the end of a big trip. I'll find somewhere to sit with something to eat and drink, and fill the time by working on my iPad: writing a blog post, or doing some final admin.

The new Qantas Business Lounge, it turned out, was a classy place to be wrangling my receipts.

Opened in June 2014, it's actually a joint lounge shared by Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific, though managed by the Australian airline.

It's located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which itself has had a complete overhaul and is now a much more attractive place in which to wait for a flight.

The first thing that struck me about the new lounge is its size - it's immense, spreading out in various directions and wrapping around a central lightwell.

The second thing I noticed was its decor. Borrowing design elements from each airlines' own lounges as from Californian culture, it has a sleek retro look which varied as I moved through the space:

There were also a lot of power points throughout the lounge, something you really appreciate when you have work to do or need to recharge a device.

For a while I sat at this long table which was inset with power points along its centre:

I was also impressed with the catering, particularly from a vegetarian point of view. Of these six hot dishes, only the butter chicken was non-vege (the bacon bits mentioned were stored separately from the roast potatoes):

There was also an excellent selection of fresh salads on offer:

In the dedicated dining area across the lounge, I believe there were further hot dishes on offer. But I found the buffet selection to be more than adequate.

I moved around between the various areas and seating types, got some work done, and ate some good food. The time passed more quickly than one might expect at LAX, and the lounge provided a pleasant finale to my latest US visit.

If you can afford a Business Class fare, I recommend it.

For other posts regarding air travel, click on the air travel link among the Labels below, then scroll down.

Friday 13 November 2015

Farewell Petra: Business Associate, Friend, Cat

Petra, 2003-2015
This is the blog post I knew I'd have to write one day, but dreaded writing.

Last Saturday our cat Petra passed away.

She'd been with us for twelve years, nearly a quarter of my life.

We adopted her from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in North Melbourne the same week I became a freelance writer, in January 2004.

As a result, I thought of her as my "business associate"; a kind of silent (well, not so silent) partner who did her thing while I was doing mine.

She was also a friend. Our interaction was limited by communication barriers, and by the very different ways our brains worked; but we communicated just the same.

At my desk, in November 2011.

I didn't need to be Doctor Dolittle to figure out what she wanted most of the time (generally summarised as "attention").

Interrupting my packing in April 2015.
For her part she reminded me that life wasn't all about me, and that I should get up from the desk occasionally and do things other than write.

It was partly this mysterious interaction that made me decide to become vegetarian this year; she made me see animals as emotional beings with whom we can connect.

I learned a lot from Petra, and I think she had a good, fulfilling life and knew that she was loved.

She's gone, and she's left a hole in our lives. In my working life, too. The home office seems so still this week.

She's gone, and I miss her so much.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Murals & Statues: Portland Street Art

I stayed in Portland as a guest of and Travel Portland, though I paid for my own airfare to the USA.

I was really looking forward to visiting Portland, Oregon on my recent visit to the USA.

Largely it was because I'm a fan of Portlandia, the TV program which makes fun of the hipster culture of that city (and by extension, of all cities). I was curious to see whether Portland's reputation for quirkiness was deserved.

I'm please to report that it was. And while we're waiting for my investigations to eventually see the light of day in various publications, here's some fine street art I spotted as I made my way around.

These first three examples I encountered were along and near Alberta Street, a cool shopping strip in the city's northeast:

I particularly liked that third one, which read "You are confined only by the walls you build yourself."

I spotted the art below on the wall of Eastside community radio station KBOO, with lots of energy to it:

And here are two more conventional pieces of street art. The first is the Downtown statue which gave its name to the TV series, Portlandia...

... while below is the Skidmore Fountain in the city's Old Town district, erected in 1888 in honour of a late businessman. It was modelled on fountains Skidmore had seen in Paris at an international exposition, and is such a landmark that there's a nearby light rail stop named after it.

On a more offbeat angle, this pillar of famous books stands at the entrance of the vast Downtown bookstore, Powell's Books. On this side you can make out the titles of A Thousand and One Nights, Hamlet, Tao Te Ching and The Odyssey:

Finally, I saw this embedded in an Old Town sidewalk. No idea what it's about. Anyone know?

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Subterranean in Seattle: Underground Tour

I stayed in Seattle as a guest of, Visit Seattle and the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, though I paid for my own airfare to the USA. 

Yesterday I visited the oldest part of Seattle, its Pioneer Square neighbourhood. 

Then I went one further, and visited the Old Old Seattle beneath its streets - the original waterfront neighbourhood that existed one storey lower over a century ago.

In the late 19th century, Seattle's waterfront district was a foul-smelling stretch of bars and brothels which sat on flats which were often flooded. When the Great Seattle Fire levelled the city in 1889, it created the perfect opportunity for renewal.

What happened next was a remarkable feat of engineering. Over several years, concrete retaining walls were built along the sides of roads, then filled in so the new street surfaces were one storey higher.

While this was happening, businesses traded as usual in newly constructed buildings at least two storeys high; accessible via narrow sidewalks running at ground level below each side of the raised roads.

Finally, the gap between street and building was covered with a new sidewalk at what would become the new ground level, and what had been ground-level storeys became basements.

Some of these fasinating subterranean chambers can be visited. I joined the regular tour of Beneath the Streets, the newest company to offer access.

As Beneath the Streets shares its premises beneath Cherry Street with the ghost tour company Spooked in Seattle, it has a macabre location in which to begin its tour:

After an explanation of underground Seattle's history, my guide Richard led me through adjacent rooms to an area where the original sidewalk ran beneath the street, and the retaining wall could still be seen:

After we explored this area, we headed out on the streets to see something of above-ground Seattle, including the bust of the Native American Chief Seattle (or Si'ahl) who gave his name to the city:

Richard also pointed out the numerous glass skylights which let light into the underground areas, the glass now having turned purple as it contained manganese:

Then we headed into the J&M Cafe and Cardroom, billed as Seattle's oldest bar:

From a door in the alleyway behind the bar, we were able to access its original ground level, now being used as a storage space. But it still had some remnant wallpaper and signage from its original use:

Along the street, we descended into our final chamber in underground Seattle. This time, it was a renovated space that's in use as a live comedy venue:

If you look carefully, you can make out some famous Seattle-ites in that last photo.

It was a fascinating tour, and it's intriguing to think that a whole layer of the city, once thronged with inhabitants, now lies mostly silent beneath its streets.

Beneath the Streets' underground Seattle tour is $15; make bookings at