Beijing…….

Part I

I only wish I were a better story teller in order to share how magnificently wondrous, bold and truly profound Beijing is.

Our days there were all worthy of the title once in a lifetime moment and even under the often present blanket of smog, this ancient city held an earnest charm not easily forgotten.

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Every morning I threw open the gauze curtains and lifted the block-out shades to watch the city wake.   It was during these quiet mornings I embraced a new breakfast ritual of delicate tea and sweet, gently fuzzed local peaches.

By nature I’m a bit of a coffee fiend but drinking these lovely teas, made from the finest of leaf from plantations across China, was a signature highlight of our trip.  There really was no better way to start the day.

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My one wish while in Beijing was to walk upon the Great Wall.

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I won’t sugar coat this as it was a challenging climb yet for all its difficulty, it was the most rewarding hike I have ever done.  I took breaths of paper thin air, often succumbed to the early morning heat and struggled with the steep steps and inclines yet I soaked up everything I possibly could in an effort to carry a tiny piece of that incredible day back home with me.

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327315339285283307After the walk I was ravenous, and how better complete the day than enjoy plates of steaming dumplings with my big ol’ dumpling.

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Eat Beijing

The golden thread which holds this amazing city together is food.  We tried anything and everything, rolled succulent Peking duck pancakes one after the other, tried classic Imperial dishes to humble local bowls and indulged in golden egg tarts.

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Add to that the famous Beijing boiled lamb tripe, hand-pulled noodles, street food in the Hutong district, boiled mutton and exquisite cakes and pastries and our holiday food hit list was complete.

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When you colour co-ordinate your outfit to match your favorite food vendor…….

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We also had the best pizza ever in a tiny corner of the city. The Great Leap Brewing Company not only serves up fantastic craft beers but the pizza was A-mazing!!……and you will not often hear me say that of pizza.

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I think I will be forgiven for not ordering this dish…….

Drink Beijing

Tea.  Tea.  Tea.

Tsingtao – pure delight when combating the heat of Beijing.

Craft Beer –  treacley stouts, porters, pilsners, IPA’s, pale ales, lagers, saisons…….. the craft beer scene in China has taken off.  While in Beijing, the Great Leap Brewing Company became our ‘local’ and rightly so due to the world class beers they have on tap.  Using local ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns, silver needle tea and locally grown hops these guys know the market and they know how to brew.  For beer and food they get a 10/10.

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Cocktails – we stayed at the luxurious NUO Hotel and enjoyed cocktail hour at the O’Bar.  With its huge outdoor terrace encompassing stunning views of the city together with its oriental glamour this bar is a true city gem.

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More glimpses into the magic that was Beijing to follow…….x

 

Where is our Southern Cross…….

There were no stars last night.

There were no stars the night before, nor the night before that and so on.

Our vast skies of majestic blue to inky black and sparkling at nightfall, now hover between a coverlet of smoke and ash or apocalyptic red.  As with everyone else, I am heartbroken and I fear this summer has changed Australia forever.

Despairingly, I watch the images and listen to the stories unable to comprehend all that has been truly lost.  How did our beautiful country, the place we are so very privileged to call our home come to this…….

My eyes are dry, I cannot cry,

I’ve got no heart for breaking.

But where it was, in days gone by

A dull and empty aching

                                                                        Henry Lawson



 

Footnote:  The ‘Southern Cross’ is a small but beautiful constellation of the southern sky.  It can be seen all year round from anywhere in Australia and it also features on the Australian flag.

Dropping the curtain on 2019 with some wise words……..

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; as they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery but let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune but do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars and you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should therefore be at peace.  And whatever  labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.

………….Desiderata by Max Ehrmann 1927

 

 

 

 

CROCS!!…..and I don’t mean those unattractive items of footwear!

I began this post a couple of days ago.  It was a time when the state of South Australia had been plunged into a catastrophic fire danger rating with no part of the state rated lower than severe.   By 10am on Wednesday, the temperatures in the area where I live had already hit 41 degrees (106 Fahrenheit) with the hot north wind reaching speeds of over 50 km/h.  It was long day with record temperatures broken across South Australia and by evening, the sky appeared to have been bleached of all colour.  There was no sunset that night.  Just an eerie sky which almost looked like a faded black and white print.

I was up early on that day.  Threw a little water around, looked hopefully at the 100 year old pines, gums and peppermints which surround and dug up some of the garlic I planted during winter.   Its my first crop of garlic, an Australian variety known for their small, sweet pungent cloves.  I’ve tied them with jute and they are hanging to dry.  The rest of the garlic will be harvested over the coming weeks.

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After that, there was little more to do other than close up the house, draw the blinds, hunker down with the cats and wait it out.

The following days, and the temperatures have dropped by around 20 degrees.  Drops like that are so welcome during summer in Australia.  There was no big cornflower blue sky on Thursday though.  Just a canvas of smoky pale grey and the unmistakable smell of scorched earth.

My heart and thoughts are with those who battled Wednesdays fires and to those in Queensland and New South Wales who have endured such heartache and loss over the past few weeks.  We are indeed a country of extremes and it is during these times you realise what is most important to you.

Crocs of the top end……

The sun was still rising as we left Darwin and headed out along the Arnhem Highway to Wak Wak, a tiny dot of a place located near the Adelaide River.

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Home to one of the largest concentrations of saltwater crocs and a haven for birdlife, the Adelaide River really is a beautiful part of the world.

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You know life is truly grand when you get to watch these great birds soar above and swoop down along the surface of the Adelaide River……..

Mornings in the territory bring such serenity especially when out on water in a flat-based tinny with a knowledgeable, passionate and funny as hell top end character who doubles as a croc guide.  His love and incredible respect for these huge apex predators so apparent.

The hum of the outboard, the prolific birdlife, the sun warming your back while skimming across the top of the chocolate milkshake coloured water as it unfurls like a silky ribbon is pure bliss.

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You think it can’t get any better than this.

But it does.

Because within moments of being out on the river.

You encounter your first croc.

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And they keep coming…….

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Some of the crocs we saw were absolutely massive!  Majestic powerhouses of strength and might.  Up close, they reminded me of weary, battle-scared warships yet I found these reptiles to be incredibly beautiful.

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During the morning, we happened upon a very plucky little juvenile croc.  The guide called him ‘Little Man’ but I like to think of him as ‘Lion Heart’ solely for his incredible courage, resilience and determination.   According to our guide, Lion Hearts’ chances of surviving to reach the maturity of the big crocs we had already seen were slim at best.  I often think of Lion Heart and hope he is still out swimming, out witting and out charming his bigger rivals.

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Lion Heart, cute as a darn button…….

Being on the water with those great birds swooping down and those enormous, profoundly fascinating apex predators stalking the boat was so good for my heart and my soul.

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And stalk the boat he did………

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The top end is absolute beauty and wonder.   I returned home to South Australia with a grateful and very happy heart so thank you for the stunning sunrises, the best laksa ever, the crocs, the humble no-bullshit people, the gin-clear swimming holes, the crocs, the sunshine, the markets, the amazing street art and the crocs.

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Go see the top.  If you never, never go you will never, never know…….x

Street Art Darwin Style…….

Fernweh is a lovely German word which literally translates to far sickness.   Perhaps it is akin to an ache for distance lands and I think I may have suffered a bout of fernweh after I returned from the Northern Territory…….

If you never, never go – Part III

I am rather prone to a little solitude from time to time and while in Darwin, it was no different.  Early mornings, before the tropical heat really set in, I walked the quite streets.  Its a good time to be out and about in Darwin as there is very little in the way of foot traffic or tourists.

It was also a good time to get a double shot espresso iced coffee, a chocolate croissant, to get a little lost and to find some amazing top end street art…….

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I have a fascination for street art and there is a self-guided art walk available in Darwin.  I however, prefer to just skulk the streets and happen upon these wonderful images for myself.

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I love the artistic expression in street and graffiti art.  The animated, the creative and the very colourful.  I love how interactive it is in that you can touch it and photograph it.  I love that it changes with the weather or an artist’s whim.  That it spills into the world from dark alleyways and underpasses, reinvigorates tired buildings and wall and I love how it is so vibrantly beautiful to those of us who appreciate it.

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Some of the works I saw were massive in that they encompassed several stories of a building or the entire wall of a car park.  These enormous pieces are impossible to miss yet others were found whilst skulking around the winding back lanes and alleyways, on smaller walls and door and although some were simply a stencil, they were all equally impressive.

A snapshot of some I found.  Enjoy………

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The cover of the book says – ‘A child who reads is an adult who thinks’ and ‘The world belongs to those who read’…….

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How could you not love these amazing outdoor galleries…….

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Brightening up public housing…….

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No doubt about it, I am catching this blog up.  The longest surviving inhabitants of the top end coming soon……..x

 

 

 

If you never, never go – Part II…….

The heat wave continued in South Australia making for bleached, pale and hazy skies.  A thunderstorm on Friday evening, which blew my ‘tree house’ down, then short bouts of showery rains have finally cooled our state down.

Little in the way of digging, planting or weeding has happened due to the heat although very recently, as in the past day or so, I invested in some beautiful Hybrid Tea Roses.  I have devoted a bed just for them right in front of the house where I will see them every day.

An entry in a writing competition received second place.  It was a placing I certainly did not expect as I was chuffed enough to have been shortlisted in the top ten.  I am so happy and very humbled by my ‘win’ and I decided to spend the prize money on something which will bring continued joy and a gentle reminder to keep writing.

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The beautiful ‘Just Joey’ ……..

The garden and yard have been challenging, and at times, a deeply frustrating quest but I’m getting there……..slowly!  Some days, I have actually been out there from sun up to sun down yet the weeds persist.  Completely resilient to heat, boiling water, hand pulling and my cursing them, they soldier on with such determination and vigor.

I wrote earlier in a blog post that I am trying to hand pull all of the weeds as I am a committed organic gardener which means no herbicides or pesticides.  Plus I am trying to ‘break the cycle of weeds’ by removing them completely.  Therein lies the problem as apparently ‘a year of weeds left to seed, makes for twenty years of weeding’!  The  wonderful and very knowledgeable Sophie Thomson said that so by my calculations, it had been five years since any weeding was done, therefore, I have 100 years of weeds ahead!

I have a vision for the restoration and a plan.  Low hand-made gabian walls and paths, a mix of native and indigenous plants alongside roses, daisy’s, salvias, cat mints and lavenders.  Athough a perfectionist in most (okay all!) areas of my life, my garden is to be a beautiful chaotic mass of colour, rooms and foliage.  No clipped lawns, no harsh lines and edges and certainly not contrived.  Just soft, irregular, rambling and lovely.


Eat Darwin

Like your food on a stick?  Me too and where better to find it than at one of the popular Darwin markets.

There are two main markets in Darwin, both equally famous for their street food.  The Mindil Beach Sunset Markets (run only during the dry season) and my favorite, the fabulous Parap Markets.  Both these markets epitomise everything  Top End – a love of community and a relaxed multicultural vibe.

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

Every Thursday and Sunday evening in the dry season, which falls between April and October, and home to around 200 stalls are the popular Mindil Beach Sunset Markets.  Held on the foreshore of Mindil Beach, these markets are a perfect way to end a glorious day in the top end as you watch the sun go down over the Timor Sea.

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Apart from the sunset, these markets are renowned for their smoky grilled street food and there is plenty on offer.  Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Brazilian and Portuguese to name just a few with most serves costing from as little as $6 onwards.  On my first night at the markets I believe I may have eaten my weight in stuffed chicken wings which were amazing.

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There are a number of very good arts and crafts stalls selling photography, bespoke jewellery, leather goods, fresh water pearls, tie dye items and Indigenous wares.  The Indigenous works are stunning with paintings, beautiful screen printed fabrics (which have been made into items such as bags and scarves) and hand-woven pandanus baskets.  Some of these stalls are 100% Aboriginal owed which means the artists and their remote communities benefit.

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Parap Markets

Tucked away in Parap Village, this market, with its laconic community style is where you will get one of the best laksa’s on the planet!

Mary’s Laksa has been dished up to locals and tourists for just over 20 years and the recipe hasn’t changed.  Home-made with the freshest ingredients, this laksa is absolutely worth the wait in line……..and there is always a line.

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I loved these markets.  The community vibe and the air heavy with the aroma of roasting coffee, sweetly scented tropical fruit and flowers and Asian food.  There are also many arts and craft stalls where you can pick up a one off hand-made piece of the Top End to take home. Held every Saturday rain, hail or shine markets don’t get much better than these.

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Thai deep fried banana……..I didn’t (couldn’t) stop at one serve

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There are so many great places to eat in and around Darwin.  With its multicultural mix of restaurants, cafes, food truck, markets and bars – the freshest of seasonal and local produce along with seafood pulled straight from the ocean – Darwin has it covered.

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Drink Darwin

The thing with Darwin is that it is always hot and the beer is always cold.  Again, there are a number of great places to grab a cold one from high-end to the oh-so-laid-back-casual to all those places in-between.

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I recommend you find a spot on a deck or balcony under those big slow turning fans as this will offer the best place to indulge in the perfect combination of a Green Ant G&T and a little people watching.

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The ‘Ski and Trailer Boat Club’ is a great little spot to catch up for a cold beer and watch the sun go down.  This little club is unpretentious and welcoming, offers great food and is packed to the brim with friendly locals.

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Best in show again Darwin…….

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Tips: 

Best time to visit – ANY!  Either season has its draw-cards

Eat – Wharf One, Humpty Doo Hotel, Ski & Trailer Boat Club, Parap Markets

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if only for this – Mary’s Wonton Laksa…….

Drink – For great coffee The Museum & Art Gallery NT, Ski & Trailer Boat Club, The Darwin Hotel (a cozy Art Deco watering hole in the city) and anywhere along the waterfront.

Crocs and street art up next…….x

Footnote:  Just Joey Rose – Barossa Nursery in Nuriootpa

 

 

If you never, never go……..

It is unseasonably warm in SA at the moment with the sort of heat that puts roses in your cheeks without physical exertion, dries the washing in a matter of moments and makes me realise I am not quite ready to give up spring just yet.

Although driven inside before 9 am, I have still been able to do small gardening jobs such as snipping the faded heads off the daisy plants I put to ground in early April.  I am sentimental about daisy’s and always have been.  I inevitably plant them wherever I live and now being back here, I can (and do) plant them till my heart is content.

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Being inside also gives me time to pickle some of the veg I grew, cook florid stalks of rhubarb, spend more time with our three lovely cats and catch this blog up.

Darwin – Part I

I love the ease and simplicity of Darwin and that it somehow smells of summer and spice all year round.  There are just two seasons in the top end.  Wet and dry!  The dry sees blue skies, heat and sunshine.  The wet is hair frizzing humidity, impossibly beautiful late afternoon thunderstorms and the fluorescent greening of the landscape.

Most mornings, I stood on the balcony of the unit with a strong iced coffee in hand and just watched the sun rise over the city and surrounding ocean.  Evenings, and the sky was ablaze with the setting sun.  It really was beautiful.

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Experience Darwin

There is an awful lot to like about Darwin.  More than just a city of backpackers, crocs, heat and some of the best tabloid journalism you will ever read, Darwin is no longer the wild untamed mango-madness frontier it once was.  With its rich Indigenous history and melting pot of nationalities, this place has become a relaxed and stylishly cosmopolitan go-to destination.  Did I mention there were crocs……..

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I now know why the water in the Adelaide river is so brown!!…….

Darwin is a city best explored on foot.  So perfect for walkers, you will do no better than to wander the streets and laneways in search of quirky book stores, street art, bars, cafes, culture and history plus there is the waterfront, parks and gardens.

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Beautifully presented and encapsulating the Top End perfectly, is the amazing Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.  With its permanent displays – the Cyclone Tracy exhibit is deeply compelling, beautiful artwork, artifacts, ‘Sweetheart’ – the legendary icon of the north and exhibitions, I spent the best part of a day here and could not recommend a visit more highly.  It is located in Conacher St, Fannie Bay.

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You can just hang out in Darwin itself or, you can head out of the city to places which will slow you right down.

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The landscape is ever changing, immense and glorious in the top end and at times, so stunningly beautiful, it looks like vivid water colours.  There are giant termite mounds, tracks and trails through rain forests, wildlife, swathes of rich stony dirt and dazzling blue skies.

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One of the best spots to swim in crystal clear water so pellucid we could see the flawlessness of the smooth round stones which littered the bottom of the swimming holes, was in Litchfield National Park.

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Part of the Wagait traditional Indigenous lands, Litchfield, with its striking rock formations, swimming holes – most bordered by monsoon forests, lookouts, waterfalls and bushwalking tracks and trails is a must visit and the perfect place to beat the heat.

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In these stunning places, where water is as essential as life itself, I often heard nothing but the beat of my own heart and my breathing.

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Nature inducing awe doesn’t get much better than the top end.  Part II –  crocs, a little street art and eat/drink Darwin coming soon…..x