Sunday, December 4, 2016

Museums in Sydney by Margot Justes

Depending on your stay, and things you like to do you won’t be disappointed in Sydney.
Aside from the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, wonderful restaurants, and I’ve heard an active night life.  Can’t tell you much about night life-I’m an early riser, pack a full day when on the road, and am exhausted by ten. A nightcap in my hotel is about it for the night scene for me.

If your tastes run to museums, as mine does, there are a few to visit.

There is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney’s answer to the Chicago Art Institute. Overlooking the Sydney Harbor and the Botanic Gardens, it is a relaxing, well lit museum that showcases Australian Artists, and has a huge display of Aboriginal art, along with a fine collection of European and Asian, and of course Australian art. It’s a museum that is easy to visit, at an pace. I prefer the smaller, more intimate museums, less angst that I’m missing something.

Over a million people visit the museum annually. The week we were there, there was a school holiday and the museums were filled with parents and children.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Rocks area-considered to be the oldest part of Sydney. The building is modern and quite lovely, and if you like modern art, you will enjoy the visit. I found a few exhibits I really enjoyed and some that were downright funny.

The Australian Museum, established in 1827, is considered Australia’s oldest museum, and covers natural history, Australian animals, and I actually got see a Cassowary Bird. There is a skeleton room, gems, and interactive kiddie areas. There is also the Indigenous Australians display, along with local cultural heritage galleries, among them displays that highlight the Aboriginal life .

While we were there, toward the end of our visit, bits of dust and soot started coming down from the vents; it was raining all sorts of speckled stuff.  Then the fire alarm went off. The exit from the museum was orderly, no panic ensued. I don’t know what happened, but by the time we were outside, the fire trucks were already in place.

The Rocks Discovery Museum, located in the oldest part of Sydney, provides a wonderful history of the Rocks, along with a terrific collection of pre-1788 artifacts.  This museum takes you back to the beginning, when English sailors, whalers,  traders and adventurers made the area their home. I think it was my favorite area in Sydney.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, features historic vessels, along with a full-scale replica of Captain Cook’s ship, the HMB Endeavour. While I was there was an Ansel Adams exhibit, Photography from the Mountains to the Sea. That was a delightful added bonus.

There are others, but I only had a limited time and picked the ones that most interested me.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Favorite Things in Sydney by Margot Justes



 There are many things to do in Sydney, and what to do depends on individual preferences, and time available.  I listed my favorite museums in a separate blog, but there are obviously many other things to see and do.

My daughter went to the top of the Harbor Bridge, the climb was rigorous and that bridge is mighty high, 440 ft from top to water level. I viewed it as a three and a half hour tour of terror.

I went to the Westfield Tower instead, took the elevator all the way up, and got my glimpse of Sydney from above, the easy way. I also took the off/on bus tour. It’s a good way to get a look at the whole city, you can get off and on at will, and visit museums, malls, whatever you like at your leisure.

The walking tours are always a delight. You get to see all the nooks and crannies, that you might miss if on your own. The Rocks walking tour was a perfect example. The area became my favorite part of Sydney, steeped in history with many wonderful old buildings and intricate stone passage ways in the oldest part of Sydney.

The Royal Botanic Gardens are a must. The gardens border Sydney Harbor and are next to the Opera House, Art Gallery NSW, and the Government House. It’s as if all points lead to the gardens. The grounds are vast and stunning, occasionally you’ll see posted signs ‘please walk on grass’. If you walk along the coast path, you’ll reach Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, where the view of the Opera House is absolutely stunning.

Of course there is shopping, from many art galleries that promote works of local artists, to souvenir shops that sell Crocodile Dundee hats, the usual touristy kitsch, to jewelry stores selling all kinds of opals, and high end jewelry, and everything in between.

The architecture is magnificent, let’s not forget the iconic Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, Westfield Tower, and of course the QVB-the Queen Victoria Building-a magnificent structure with colorful glass windows, beautiful inside and out, and it’s a shopping mall.

The hotel was walking distance to Circular Quay, the transportation hub that offers ferry rides across Sydney Harbor. It was an easy ferry ride to Darling Harbor, and Manly Beach. We asked the locals which beach we should visit-Bondi or Manly-since there was no time to do both, and the majority said Manly. So Manly it was. Many locals sat on the concrete walkway and enjoyed the sun. A perfect moment to relax and take a deep breath, and watch as the birds zoomed-in, hoping to get fed.

I would recommend a travel book, I usually tend to stick with Frommer’s; the layout is easy to read, and I just tag what interests me. If you don’t want to tour the city independently, there are many tours available.
I research the hotels on line, and usually pick them based on location, and easy access to sites, or public transportation. Sometimes I book through the hotel directly, on line, or I use a travel agent; in some cases travel agents have a better deal than you can find yourself. I check all options. 

These are the places that I most wanted to see, others I missed simply because there wasn’t enough time. Do I want to go back and see more of Australia. Yes, absolutely.

I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Sydney and Cairns as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sydney by Margot Justes


An early six am flight put me in Sydney about three hours later. The first thing I noticed was the change in temperature; Cairns was mid 80’s , Sydney mid 60’s. Not bad for middle of winter. For me, it was the perfect time to travel.

As with Cairns, I loved Sydney. Vastly different from Cairns, Sydney is big, less touristy, a working metropolis, like any other major city, except it’s in Australia, and it’s stunning. Maybe because I loved the gorgeous accent, the famous harbor, the iconic Opera House, the bridge, and all within walking distance from the hotel, it never got old. The people are just as friendly and helpful as they were in Cairns.

A short taxi hop brought me to the hotel. I love to walk, and usually pick hotels in areas where I want to spend the most time.  I wanted to be close to the Opera House, Sydney Harbor, Harbor Bridge, and the Rocks, considered to be the oldest part of Sydney. There was a hotel that fit the bill, and the price wasn’t astronomical.

When I checked in, the room wasn’t ready. They were very gracious, and said there would be a lovely room available within an hour. I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and it included plain yogurt mixed with passion fruit. I first mixed the yogurt and passion fruit in Cairns, and it was addictive. By the time I finished, the room was indeed ready, and the luggage was already in place. The view was fantastic; I could see the harbor, the Opera House and the bridge.

By noon, I was on my way to the harbor to get a closer look at the Opera House; without a doubt, it was one of the most remarkable buildings I have ever seen. I was already dreading going home, and I just arrived.

There are many restaurants along the harbor, with spectacular views, and I decided my first dinner in Sydney would be in one of those outdoor places. It gets chilly in the evening, and most of them had heaters and candles. The heaters for warmth, the candles for ambiance. Perfection. I was there in July, it was winter, and considerably than Cairns.

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting the Government House. The mansion overlooks the Royal Botanic Gardens, and it was walking distance form hotel.

The Government house built between 1837 and 1845, and for a while served as the official residence of the Governor of New South Wales. This Gothic Revival building is quite beautiful; the stately rooms, and 19th century furnishings make for a fascinating visit, and along the way you learn a quite bit about Sydney.  The guide was knowledgeable, and passionate about the history of the building, and some of the inhabitants. Admission is free, and it is well worth the visit.

In the evening I went back to the harbor area, and stopped for dinner in one of those delightful restaurants that faced the harbor, and the food was delicious.  I’m a pizza fan, and always manage to try the local version. Yes, even in Australia-they are quite popular there too. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tjapukai by Margot Justes



Tjapukai is an Aboriginal Cultural Park. A short 15 minute ride from Cairns, puts you right in the old world culture brilliantly revived, and it seems to be alive and doing well.

It is a contained park with planned activities, and I thought it was a terrific introduction to the Aboriginal culture and folk art. 

There was a didgeridoo concert, the haunting mellow sound resonated in the theatre, along with traditional dancing performed by the Tjapukai Dance Troupe. The didgeridoo requires a lot of air power, but the sound that comes out of the instrument resonates around you like an echo. Powerful, still and evocative.

The dance movements were mesmerizing, you quickly got caught up in the story they were telling. Tales of hunting, spiritualism, survival and pride; an insight into the culture through music and dance. The perfect introduction to a civilization  that was totally foreign to me. It was ideal, because it brought the past to life not just through a lecture, but through art, music and dance, and it was interactive

There were boomerang throwing lessons, along with spear throwing, it’s not as easy as it looks. If thrown correctly, the boomerang will return to you, but you must make the attempt to catch it. It will not magically appear in your hand, although the return flight was fascinating to watch.

There were lessons about hunting tools and weapons that were used some 40,000 years ago by the Aboriginal people. It was an amazing insight into an ancient society.

The park is intimate, well organized, and first and foremost educational. A rare glimpse of what once was, an inspiration to keep the old culture alive for future generation. A tiny spark that shows awareness of what once was.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Kuranda by Margot Justes



Another perfect getaway from Cairns is Kuranda. There are a couple of wonderful ways to get there, one is to take the combined Skyrail, and the Scenic Rail. Tours are available where you can do both. That is what I did, hindsight being perfect, I would have just gotten the tickets and taken the rail both ways. It was a sublime 45 minute ride and the scenery was incredible, huge gorges, waterfalls and lush vegetation.

Splurge for a first class ticket, and you will be wined and dined in delicious comfort on a train that dates back to the 1890’s, and along the way pass through some amazing scenery as the old train chugs along.  

The return trip was on the Skyrail, as it seemed to float over the top of the rainforest. You catch a tiny glimpse of the vastness of the formidable rain forest. I found the scenery was far more spectacular from the train, and I enjoyed it more.

Kuranda Village is delightful, it’s fun just to stroll down the street and visit the shops. The Heritage Markets operate 7 days a week, along the way there were a few galleries,  restaurants, many arts and crafts boutiques, it is a place to relax and simply enjoy. I even bought a contemporary abstract that was being sold off and discounted, really discounted. I picked it up for a ridiculous price, and lugged it home.

It is a charming, touristy place, the locals are friendly, and willing to go out of their way to be helpful, and there is the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and Kuranda Koala Gardens. To see everything at leisure, the best bet is to get a round trip train ticket and not worry about catching the last Skyrail.  I would love to go back and do just that.

Kuranda is not to be missed, and the way to get there is incomparable.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Daintree Rainforest by Margot Justes



Third day in Cairns took me to Daintree Rainforest.  It’s quite a hike, a good 2 hours plus pick up time from various hotels. The ‘safari’ truck was not the most comfortable mode of transportation, every bump on the road left an impression, and there were quite a few.  For me it was worth the effort. I’ve never seen a rainforest before, and didn’t really know what to expect. Our guide told us that the rainforest is over 125 million years old. Simply amazing.

The tour included, a two hour walk in the forest, a chance to swim in a creek in crystal clear water, sample the local fruit, and local Billy tea, basically an earthy bush tea, rather a muddy flavor, a barbecue lunch, a visit with captive kangaroos, and a Daintree River cruise in search of crocodiles. There was also a stop at Cape Tribulation,  a walk to the lookout to see where the rainforest meets the reef.

The first thing you notice as you enter the forest is the soft mist, the gently falling rain, the serenity, the tall trees and branches aiming for the sun, along with lush ground vegetation. You can hear drops fall on the leaves, listen to the countless birds chirping, and wild turkeys strolling in the distance.  

Even with the tourists, the clicking cameras and resounding footsteps, it was one of the most peaceful couple of hours I have ever spent. There is a boardwalk  designed for tourists, otherwise the bush is thick with vegetation. We searched for the ever elusive Cassowary birds, but we weren’t lucky enough to see one. The flightless birds are related to the emu, and are considered to be the heaviest birds in Australia.

After our tour of the forest, it was on to the creek for a swim and fresh fruit. I’m still not a fan of papayas, but loved the passion fruit. It’s actually quite delicious mixed with yogurt.  It became my breakfast treat, both in Cairns and Sydney.

Lunch was served in a local restaurant, where our tour guides put a steak on the barbie for us. I got to feed a couple of kangaroos. The restaurant keeps maimed kangaroos in a fenced yard; they survive, are well treated, and it’s great for the tourists. I have never seen a kangaroo before, and found these quite docile, and strangely awkward except when they run. The locals are not so delighted with the creatures, they are considered to be a nuisance. I loved them.

The last thing on the agenda was the Daintree river cruise, we were in search of crocodiles. It was a cloudy, rainy day, perfectly suited to the location, and we even found a large crocodile, along with birds, and Mangrove trees. You can see the roots well above the water, they thrive in salty, swampy coastal waters.  

The day was long, packed solid, and well worth it. It was an exhausting excursion, my endurance was well tested, I’m not as young as I used to be. Would I do it again? You bet.
Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef by Margot Justes redux




Cairns is the getaway to the Barrier Reef, among other places. Ie booked a tour to Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef. According to the brochure, Green Island is a beautiful 6000 year old coral cay located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

It’s a 45 minute boat ride to Green Island from Cairns. The boat ride to Green Island was peaceful, even a whale paid us a visit, checked us out and went on his merry way.

The ride from Green Island to the Barrier Reef was exhilarating. Let’s just say it was a choppy ride-really, really choppy, knuckle white choppy. Even the crew had to hold on. I like speed boats, but that day my knuckles really were white. I was on the top deck, and couldn’t have moved if I wanted to, and believe  me I didn’t. I clung to the railing with both hands, and didn’t let go until long after the boat stopped moving.

Green Island was beautiful. Lush with vegetation, unspoiled and protected. There is one resort with a swimming pool, but it was a bit chilly, and only the birds swam. There were a couple of gift shops, a restaurant, and a cafe; all part of the resort. After a walk about, I stopped for a cup of coffee-not a surprise-the setting was beautiful, right in the center of the entrance to the resort. Who could resist?  If you were not a guest, you couldn’t get to the resort property, but access was available to the restaurant, gift shop, scuba and snorkeling gear.

It is isolated, but there are plenty of snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. Peaceful and serene, and cut off from the rest of the world, it’s a perfect place to commune with nature, and just relax, savor a cup of coffee, take a deep breath and enjoy.

After Green Island, it was on to the Great Barrier Reef. The boat docked along a pontoon, and we spend the rest of the day there. While the crew cooked our lunch, it was time to scuba dive, snorkel, take a helicopter ride, or a trip in a semi submersible to view the reef. I tried snorkeling once, but the water tastes terrible. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to drink the water.

I did go in the semi submersible, twice, because it was so incredible. I have never seen anything like the reef before, the vitality and variety of the life below was astounding,  because of the continuous movement of life, it seemed to dance. There are a few pictures, but they are cloudy, shooting through a thick pane of murky glass is not the best way to get great pictures. But I found Nemo. I really did.

More next week.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within

Blood Art
www.mjustes.com