Friday 13 December 2019

One Trip, Multiple Stories: A Travel Writer's Rail Journey through Europe

For the journey detailed below, I received on-the-ground assistance from local tourism authorities and hotels. Full disclosures are included with each linked article and blog post.

This is, believe it or not, post number 600 on this blog. A lot of water has flowed under the virtual bridge since I started it in 2008, and travel writing itself has become more challenging in terms of extracting an income from it.

However, for this post I'd like to reprise what I did for post 400 and post 500 - that is, to dissect a particular travel writing journey and show how my travels are converted into specific stories. At the end I'll add a summary of profit and expenses.

For this post I'm looking my 2016 trip to Europe, travelling through Germany, Denmark, Poland and Ukraine over four weeks in May-June that year.

Are we sitting comfortably? Then let's begin...

Sunday 8 May 2016

Fly from Melbourne to Hamburg via Dubai.

Monday 9 May 2016

Activity (from Monday to Wednesday): Visit the Speicherstadt Museum, Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei and the Coffee Museum, as well as contemporary cafes, in Hamburg, Germany.
  1. Resulting story: An article about Hamburg's coffee history and culture for Lonely Planet's website.
Tuesday 10 May 2016

Activity: Join Hempel’s Beatles tour (in which the guide plays a ukulele!) through the St Pauli district of Hamburg.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the tour for Traveller.
  2. Blog Post: A post about the tour here at Aerohaveno.
Activity: Visit the historic Kaifu-bad baths in Hamburg.
  1. Resulting story: An article about Germany's spa culture for Traveller.
  2. Resulting story: An article about Germany's spa culture for Lonely Planet's website.
Thursday 12 May 2016

Activity: Visit Café Niederegger, famous for its locally-manufactured marzipan, in Lübeck, Germany.
  1. Resulting story: An article about Lubeck's marzipan for Lonely Planet's website.
Activity: Visit the Hanseatic Museum in Lübeck, Germany.
  1. Blog Post: A post about the museum here at Aerohaveno.
Friday 13 May 2016

Activity: Catch train from Lübeck to Copenhagen, Denmark (including ferry crossing).
  1. Blog Post: A post about the journey here at Aerohaveno.
Saturday 14 May 2016

Activity: Take Nordic Noir tour (featuring The Killing and The Bridge) in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  1. Resulting story:  A 'Postcard from Copenhagen' article for the Spectrum (culture) section of The Age newspaper in Melbourne.
Sunday 15 May 2016

Activity: Take a guided tour of the counter-culture enclave Christiania in Copenhagen.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the tour for Traveller.
Activity: Visit the Thorvaldsen Museum of classical statuary in Copenhagen.
  1. Blog Post: A post about the (surprisingly interesting) museum here at Aerohaveno.
Monday 16 May 2016

Activity: Visit Kronborg Castle (Shakespeare's Elsinore in Hamlet), in Helsingør, Denmark.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the castle for Traveller.
Tuesday 17 May 2016

Activity: Catch bus to Ystad, Sweden, then overnight ferry to Świnoujście, Poland (arriving Wednesday, connecting with train to Warsaw).
  1. Blog Post: A post about the journey here at Aerohaveno.
Thursday 19 May 2016

Activity: Day-trip to Łódź, Poland by train, to join a tour of the city's post-industrial and cinematic sights.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the city for Lonely Planet's website.
  2. Blog Post: A post about the city here at Aerohaveno.
Friday 20 May 2016

 Activity: Taking a tour focusing on Warsaw's architectural highlights.
  1. Resulting story: An item about the city in an article about less-crowded European destinations, for Traveller.
  2. Blog Post: A post about the city's architectural oddities here at Aerohaveno.
  3. Blog Post: A post about food highlights, including a Warsaw bar mleczny and other items from later in this visit to Poland, here at Aerohaveno.
Saturday 21 May 2016

Activity: Train to Gdańsk, visit the city's new Shakespeare Theatre.
  1. Resulting story: An item about the theatre in a list of Best Travel Finds of 2016, for Traveller.
  2. Blog Post: A post about food highlights, including a historic local restaurant and other items from elsewhere in this visit to Poland, here at Aerohaveno.
Sunday 22 May 2016

Activity: Tour of Malbork Castle, near Gdańsk.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the castle and its restaurant for Traveller.
  2. Blog Post: A post about food highlights, including the castle's restaurant and other items from elsewhere in this visit to Poland, here at Aerohaveno.
Activity: Visit the new European Solidarity Centre, in a historic former shipyard in Gdańsk.
  1. Resulting story: An article about walking the city's historic heart for Lonely Planet's website.
  2. Blog Post: A post about the centre here at Aerohaveno.
Monday 23 May 2016

Activity: Visit Wilczy Szaniec (Wolf's Lair), Hitler's Russian Front HQ during World War II.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the eerie site for Traveller.
  2. Blog Post: A post about the site here at Aerohaveno.
Tuesday 24 May 2016

Activity: Driving to Bohoniki and Kruszyniany in eastern Poland, to visit their historic mosques.
  1. Blog Post: A post about food highlights, including traditional Tatar cuisine of Kruszyniany and other items from elsewhere in this visit to Poland, here at Aerohaveno.
Wednesday 25 May 2016

Activity: Taking a tour of Białowieża National Park in eastern Poland (where bison still roam!).
  1. Resulting story: An article about the park for Lonely Planet's website.
  2. Blog Post: A post about the park here at Aerohaveno.
Thursday 26 May 2016

Activity: Overnight sleeper train from Kraków, Poland to Lviv, Ukraine.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the rail journey for Traveller.
Friday 27 to Monday 30 May 2016

Activity: Exploring cafes and other attractions of Lviv, Ukraine.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the city's cafe scene for Lonely Planet's website.
  2. Resulting story: An article about the saucy Masoch Cafe for Traveller.
  3. Blog Post: A post about the city's attractions here at Aerohaveno.
Tuesday 31 May 2016

Activity: Joining a tour of communist-era architecture and history in Kiev, Ukraine.
  1. Resulting story: An article about the tour for Lonely Planet's website.
  2. Spiked story: An article about the tour for an Australian magazine which was cancelled (for which I received a part-payment 'kill fee').
Wednesday 1 to Thursday 2 June 2016

Activity: Two-day tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine (sleeping over in Chernobyl).
  1. Resulting story: An article about the tour for Lonely Planet's website.
  2. Resulting story: An article about the tour for Traveller.
  3. Resulting story: An article about how to visit Chernobyl for Lonely Planet's website (ahead of the Chernobyl TV series).
  4. Spiked story: An article about the tour for an Australian magazine (for which I received full payment).
  5. Blog Post: A post about the tour here at Aerohaveno.
Saturday 4 June 2016

Activity: Overnight sleeper train from Kiev, Ukraine to Warsaw, Poland.
  1. Blog Post: A post about the rail journey here at Aerohaveno.
And that's it! I flew from Warsaw back to Melbourne on Monday 6 June. I feel exhausted just typing all that. It was a great journey, full of variety. The visit to Chernobyl was the strangest thing I'd done yet on my travels, incredibly moving and memorable.

Writing output, financial income

By my count, the trip produced a total of 25 paid articles for various publications (include two spiked articles I received payment for), and 14 posts on this blog. I've also delivered (so far) two paid talks about my 2016 Europe trip to audiences at public libraries.

I calculate the paid articles earned a total of $12,905.52 (all figures here are in Australian dollars) for both words and photos, before adding any applicable sales tax. This includes the fees from the library talks.

The blog posts don't earn any direct income, but drive traffic to Aerohaveno and thus contribute to the occasional small payments I receive from the Google Ads running on my blog.


The Polish government covered my flights and most expenses for my Poland stay, and the German National Tourist Board likewise hosted me in Germany. In Denmark I received a public transport and museum pass from Visit Denmark, but paid for my food and accommodation. In Ukraine I paid for everything except my hotel stay in Lviv (luckily Ukraine was breathtakingly cheap!).

I calculate my total expenses on this trip at $2,951.81, which leaves a profit of $9,953.71 (and whatever future income is derived from public talks about that trip).

Some trips have a greater return on outlay, others less so. What's worth noting is how long a particular journey can take to fully pay out. The first published of the 25 articles appeared on 22 June 2016, and the last on 31 July 2019 - quite a chronological spread!

Also, my Europe 2016 talk will continue to be delivered to library audiences throughout 2020 (I began delivering it in early 2019, and I generally change my headline public talk every two years).

It's not easy to make a living from travel writing; but my rule of thumb is to derive a published story per each day of travel on a particular trip. That quantity, if achieved, helps make it viable. That target was largely achieved on this occasion.

After this epic post, it's time for a break! Aerohaveno will be taking a rest over the holiday season, and will be back with you in early January. Have a great New Year!

Friday 6 December 2019

Outback Patron of the Arts

In March 2018, I spent a few days in the remote Queensland town of Normanton, awaiting the weekly run of the Gulflander train.

One morning, killing time, I visited the Three Tribes art gallery, and for the first time the ferocious dogs near the old town well declined to bark at me.

Were they asleep on the job, or was I slowly becoming accepted as a local?

The front of the gallery was locked, so I walked around the back and found an open-air shed with a dozen or so Aboriginal women creating art at tables.

Shenane was the gallery manager, who I'd met briefly the day before at the town's Visitor Centre. She had a no-nonsense manner I associated with the aunts of PG Wodehouse books.

“I don’t have a staff member to run the shop at the moment,” she said, opening up the gallery for me. She explained the women were mostly making art as part of a work for the dole scheme.

“Better than doing something pointless like weeding,” I said.

It struck me as a good idea, the artists building skills and creating works to be proud of, as well as earning a commission from sales. And it provided another way for tourists to spend their dollars in the town, which was always a consideration for remote places with limited amusements.

There was an array of work on the walls, in both contemporary and traditional styles. One large portrait with a lot of black was painted by a woman who’d suffered from depression, said Shenane.

I turned over a small glazed bowl shaped like a gumleaf (see image at left). It was $3, so I decided to buy it.

Then I noticed a framed painting on the wall above the till, about 50 centimetres square, featuring brightly coloured handprints framed by dots (see image top right). It was only $30. I bought that too.

While I was encasing it in some bubble wrap Shenane had found, she ushered in a young woman. This was the artist, Stella. We had a chat about the work and how she had created its elements, and she went away beaming.

“That was her first sale,” said Shenane, dropping the aunt-like demeanour and smiling.

I rarely make impulse buys when travelling, obsessed as I am with travelling light. Now I had to work out how to get the art back to Melbourne.

The staff at Normanton's general store gave me an empty cardboard box to encase it, which I bound with a large amount of post office adhesive tape. I dispatched it to the mercies of Australia Post, feeling good about my impulsive role as patron of the arts.

I returned home safely two weeks later. So did the painting.

Three Tribes is located at 85 Landsborough Street, Normanton, Queensland. See more details at the Bynoe Arts Centre website.

Friday 29 November 2019

Street Art of Melbourne

Over the past few weeks I’ve been undertaking my first Lonely Planet research gig for a few years - updating sections of the Pocket Melbourne guide.

It’s an interesting experience updating a travel guide to your own city. In previous years I’ve updated overseas locations for LP, so typically I’d do several weeks of intensive research in that country, followed by several weeks of intensive data entry at home.

Because I’m doing this particular job from my own home, I can spread out the work and intersperse research days with data entry days. The results of my research will appear in the book, of course, but over the course of my walking I’ve noticed a lot of interesting street art as I’ve wandered through the inner-city streets.

Melbourne is famous for its colourful murals and other informal open-air art, so I thought I’d share some of what I saw here...

Day 1: Fitzroy and Collingwood




Day 2: East Melbourne and Richmond




Day 3: South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor


... and a side-trip to East Brunswick:

... and a bonus entry from Footscray (Go the ’Scray!):

Melbourne really is a city of murals. Keep an eye on its unassuming alleyway walls when you visit!

Friday 22 November 2019

Review: KAWS, Melbourne, Australia

I was hosted to this exhibition by the National Gallery of Victoria.

Last weekend I had a look through the NGV's current big exhibition, KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness.

There's no avoiding it as you step within the gallery, as a huge new commissioned work by the artist (see image, right) stands in the middle of the central courtyard.

It's titled Gone, and depicts a figure with crossed-out eyes and a skull-and-crossbones head carrying a deceased BFF, one of the artist's repeated figures.

BFF also has crossed-out eyes, and a furry version of the skull-and-crossbones.

Now get this: Xs on the eyes in cartooning has always meant death. Characters depicted this way are dead. If they are mobile, they are the walking dead. The skull-and-crossbones motif seems to underline this.

So why does no-one mention it? On the NGV's website the commentary says "Through his works KAWS celebrates generosity, support for others and the deep need we have for companionship." And nowhere on the captioning in the exhibition does it mention death.

But they seem dead. They might be companions, but dead ones, at least emotionally if not physically. Narrelle and I walked around the exhibition, feeling that KAWS was really trying to say something nihilistic, pointing out the meaninglessness of existence... because we all end up dead.

The figures in this exhibition are colourful, bright, intriguing and subversive of pop culture... but at the same time, as Holly said to Lister in Red Dwarf: "He's dead, Dave. Everybody is dead. Everybody is dead, Dave."

OK, now I've got that out of my system, what is the exhibition like if we acknowledge its macabre overtones?

Interesting stuff, especially the work from the early days when KAWS would hijack advertising posters and paint his cartoonish death masks over them. This is where the "We're all gonna die" visual cue really resonates, juxtaposed with the artificial vibrancy of the fit, alert figures found in ads.

Further on, we see KAWS' trademark adoption and reinvention of popular cartoon characters, such as Snoopy and The Simpsons - with his version seen here swapping heads because, I guess, they're dead.

There's a room of incredibly vibrant abstract paintings too, their vividness attained by applying multiple coats of paint. And at the end is a room full of big figures - classic KAWS creations, cartoon giants with their eyes crossed out, some with exposed inner organs.

To be honest, this later part of the exhibition didn't move me as much as the earlier work which interacted with real-world posters.

I can see the figures might hint at our need for companionship seeing we're all going to die, and have something to say about isolation and loneliness. But mostly I was spooked by those dead, dead eyes.

KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness continues to 13 April 2020, at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia. Tickets $20 for adults, $17 concession. Make bookings here.

Friday 15 November 2019

Cairns of Inverness

On this trip I was hosted by Visit Britain and Visit Scotland.

As part of my recent visit to Scotland, I visited the battlefield at Culloden, where the rebellious Jacobites were finally routed by British troops in 1746. (And for the Doctor Who fans out there, where the Doctor first met Jamie McCrimmon, who travelled with him for a while.)

That's a story for another day. What I wasn't expecting was the nearby site I was taken to by my guide afterward, somewhere he thought I'd find interesting.

He was right. Where we stopped was the Balnuaran of Clava, which contains a series of three Bronze Age cairns dating back to 2000 BCE. I'd never heard of these before, but they were intriguing.

The cairns are low grey circle of stones, two of which have passages into their centres. The entrances to these seems to be aligned toward the setting sun in midwinter, and separate standing stones are dotted around each cairn.

It's fascinating stuff. No one's sure what the meaning of the cairns' layout is, or who was buried there, but the layout of circles in the green space is an impressive piece of artistry in itself. As an arrangement, it seems both creative and deeply embedded in the environment.

It was an interesting place to wander through, the most accessible of more than fifty such cairns scattered around Inverness. Without remaining records, we'll never know who precisely were the people who built them there, or why. But we can admire what they left behind.

Learn more about the Clava Cairns at the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Friday 8 November 2019

There's a Light... in Hamilton, New Zealand

On this trip I was hosted by Tourism New Zealand.

As the poet John Whitter famously wrote:  

For all sad words of tongue and pen
The saddest are these, 'It might have been'

I was thinking of those words as I stood in Embassy Park in the New Zealand city of Hamilton last month. For before it was a park, this rectangular space off the main street contained the Embassy Theatre.

Opened in 1915, the theatre was used for stage productions and other public event for many decades, until the stage was removed and it became purely an ageing cinema.

By chance, this era coincided with the arrival of Richard O'Brien, who would later create the musical The Rocky Horror Show and its movie spinoff, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

O'Brien at that point was cutting hair for a living, in a barber shop housed within the theatre building. As a result, he caught a lot of late-night double feature movie screenings - an experience which acted as inspiration for his gender-bending musical which drew heavily on that B-grade material.

The actor/writer became famous when the musical and movie became international hits in the 1970s. But I don't think the upright burghers of Hamilton were entirely proud of the highly sexualised stage and movie output of their once local lad.

For the Embassy Theatre closed as a cinema in 1989, and then - get this! - was demolished against protest in 1994, when the work it had inspired had already been a phenomenon for two decades.

Imagine if the creaking old cinema had survived, and had been refurbished by the city into a small cinematic arts centre. Nowadays Hamilton could have a wonderful old cultural asset in its heart, perhaps drawing visitors from everywhere for a weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show screening at midnight Saturday.

Belatedly there's been recognition of the one that got away, and the park where the cinema once stood has been transformed into a celebration of the musical and film. It contains a prominent statue of O'Brien as the character Riff Raff, and various other quirky features including sound and lighting.

It's a fun place to visit... but ah, what might have been. As they sang in the musical:

Rose tints my world
Keeps me safe from my trouble and pain.

Embassy Park is at 218 Victoria St, Hamilton, New Zealand. See the live camera feed at