Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sunshine, ice cream and music ...


The mugging on 15 November that lasted maybe 10 seconds is still causing havoc a month later. I can't recall another time when I've had so many problems on a daily basis relating to every aspect of getting my banking situation back to normal. It's definitely been a lesson well learned in terms of only carrying essentials on me, and then as discreetly as possible. It appears things might have taken a turn for the better in the last couple of days, thanks to help from my sister Deb, Polly in Hong Kong, Ingrid and Claudio in Santiago, and apartment owners Paulina and Jorge in Chile and Maite in New York, who have been exceedingly patient in waiting for me to follow up my bookings with dollars.

While all this has been going on, I've settled into life in Santiago in late spring. Through my initial contact Leo I've met a bunch of people who have been both fun to get to know a little and a great support to me: Susan, Marc (now back in Ireland), Ingrid, John, Veronica and others.

I've been very happy to find a film festival playing ("Stories from the Backstage": mainly documentaries about the music industry). With Maria and Leo I saw "Pina" for the third time (previously in Berlin and Sydney). With Andrew R, a visiting travel writer whom I met in 2009 through my pal Sarah in Vancouver, I saw "The Libertines" (Pete Doherty); and I've seen films on Miles Davis, Ray Davies (The Kinks) and the movie "The Runaways" (Joan Jett). More to come this week... An enjoyable dinner with Andrew in the Lastarria area after the film, during which I heard some of his travel horror stories and raised the possibility of renting his apartment in Vancouver in 2013.

An unexpected treat in Santiago is the profusion of gelato bars. Chileans just love their ice cream! You see people everywhere tucking into a cone or cup, and it's not even summer yet. They also love to display their affection publicly. PDAs everywhere one looks. I guess they can't all get a room...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Getting settled in Santiago



GAM Building (Edificio Diego Portales) on the Alameda

Santiago is a fantastic city! In fact, it was just voted fifth in South America for its quality of life. I can see why. It's a nice blend of old colonial-style buildings in the historic centre, groovy arts and cafe precincts, and a very modern infrastructure. Apparently it's all been paid for by copper. I've spent the last week getting my bearings and learning about my neighbourhood, which stretches about an hour from home in any direction on foot or a few subway stops.

The apartment I'm renting from Paulina, whose mum Maria and dad Lalo befriended me in Valparaiso, is right on the Mapocho River, which is the colour of chocolate milk. It's runoff from the foothills of the Andes, which loom over the city. At night when the traffic has stilled I can hear the water rushing by.

It's late spring but already hot. There are gelaterias and ice creameries everywhere. I've even seen vendors on buses selling ice creams out of a portable cooler. I'm doing my bit for the economy and having gelato most days.

Maria has taken over from Lalo in watching out for me. She looks after the apartment, and we've been out for coffee. There is a standing invitation to go out dancing with her (tango, marenge, salsa...), which I've promised I will do.

I had an hour's run one morning this week along the river to Los Leones and back. Opposite me is Parque Forestale, a narrow park that lines the river. It's intersected by roads and interrupted by some highways, so running along the river involves quite a bit of criss-crossing the bridges.

I have met a photographer, Leo, whose studio and home are very near the amazing Cerro Santa Lucia. This steep hill with various folly-type ramparts is right in the middle of an arty precinct. There are great views from the top across to Cerro San Cristobal, where there is a statue of the Virgin Mary on the hilltop. I took the funicular to the top last Friday when I was exploring the Bellavista neighbourhood, which is on my side of the river and a 10-minute walk from home. Just over the park is Barrio Lastarria, which is very groovy and has some fabulous (and cheap) clothing boutiques. Leo showed me through it on Saturday evening, and we had lunch nearby the other day.

Museo de Bellas Artes, two blocks from me, includes a contemporary art gallery, which I looked through on the weekend. Another gallery of visual arts is attached to the fabulous GAM building, which also has theatres. I've found two art cinemas and saw the new Juliette Binoche film, "Certified Copy", which had French, Italian and only a little English dialogue, with Spanish subtitles, so it felt like total submersion for me. Cinema tickets are very cheap: around US$/A$6! I've also seen an exhibition of Andy Warhol's works on loan from a museum for children in the States. There was lots of stuff there I hadn't seen before.

I've been into a couple of the huge cathedrals near Plaza de Armas, which is the cultural centre of the city and only a short walk from me. I now want to start visiting the various historical and other museums, including the Fundacion Museo de la Mode, which just bought at auction in London one of Amy Winehouse's iconic dresses.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Still chilling in Chile


I had a long run yesterday morning, again with Lalo accompanying me on his bike. This time we headed north along the coast towards Vina del Mar. Once we got out of Valpo city we were alongside the sea and beaches. Vina is Chile's main tourist strip; its Riviera. There were a lot of tradespeople beavering away in Vina, readying the place for the summer. Lalo and I had ice cream (me) and coffee and croissants (him) at our turnaround point. All up, about 14–15 km. Very enjoyable.

I like to get into a routine and have really enjoyed the last few days here.

At breakfast yesterday I met an English couple, Carole and Peter, who are full-time travellers. Like me, they have sold up at home and just travel. We had lots of stories to share. I envy them their next destination: six days along the Patagonian coastline by steamer.

I'm packed up and moving to Santiago today, with the help of Lalo and Maria.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Loving the Chile burghers


After a bumpy start to my extended stay in Chile this time last week, I'm back in my normal positive state of mind. This has come about because special people keep cropping up and taking me under their wings. At Hotel Da Vinci in Valparaiso, Enrico, Natalie, Luis and others have become my Valpo family. I'm also now into a routine, which always gives me pleasure in a new place.

I'll be moving to Santiago later this week, which plan was set in place just a few days after I was robbed. I was feeling vulnerable and limited in what I could do here, but that has now changed. Never mind: I'll be leaving here feeling positive about the place, and hopefully I'll have a chance to meet again with the friends I've made here.

I'll be renting a small apartment in an area of Santiago that is opposite a park where I can run and near to art galleries, cafes and restaurants, and the metro. It seems I was meant to enquire about this apartment! The owner and her family have literally adopted me. P lives in Washington, and the apartment is managed on her behalf by her mum, Maria and Dad, Lalo. They took me out to lunch here on Sunday, and are such lovely people. Lalo lives in Valpo; Maria is in Santiago but was visiting Valpo with their grandson. Yesterday and today, Lalo rode beside me on his bike while I ran along the coast road for some hill training. These were my first runs in two weeks, and without his generosity I may not have run here at all. Maria is a hoot, and just two years older than I am. P will be visiting Santiago next month. She is a runner also, so we are planning to run together.

While I was waiting for Lalo this morning I got chatting with a young New Zealand backpacker who was waiting for a bus to the main station. Rachael came to Chile for a friend's wedding, and has taken the opportunity to travel for a month in Peru, Argentina and Chile. There's nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that she is travelling with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Lily, on her hip!

There are opportunistic, dishonest people everywhere; but everyone I've met since that first afternoon in Valpo has been friendly, kind, thoughtful and generous - or just plain awesome.

If I still had a camera I would be photographing the urban art, for which Valparaiso is famous. It's a city made for exploring on foot.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vexed in Valparaiso, Chile


Belize (continued)

After working all day on Saturday I decided to spend my last day in Belize on Caye Caulker, which is one of the small islands that line the barrier reef that is one of the great attractions of this part of the Caribbean. I took two small planes and then a golf cart taxi to the SeaBreeze guesthouse at the end of the sandy main road that runs through the township. It wasn't cheap, but it was sort of funky in a backpacker way; I could handle that. But I couldn't get the promised reliable internet access, and then there was no water. I decided to pull the plug and go straight to Belize City ready for my flight to Chile on Monday. I checked out of the hotel I'd just checked into and took a water taxi to the mainland, where a major chain hotel was the only viable option. I couldn't get reliable internet access there, either, so I was already in a bad mood when I discovered my room was double the rate they had quoted over the phone. If I feel I've been mucked about and ripped off, I can turn into The Guest From Hell, which is what happened at The Radisson Belize City. I'm sure Belize, and especially the islands, can be appealing, but apart from offering the chance to catch up with an old friend the place didn't do much for me.

Valparaiso, Chile

I flew into Santiago on Tuesday morning after making my connection back in Miami. (Be warned: Getting a connecting international flight after flying into Miami from outside the US is not to be confused with being "in transit".) I'd arranged a car and driver to meet me in Santiago and bring me to Valparaiso, where I had booked a long stay at Hotel da Vinci in the expectation that I'd love Valpo and would be comfortable here while I focused on a heavy workload over the next month or two or three.

Within a few hours, while I was walking around getting my bearings, I was robbed in a nearby street by three young men who suddenly surrounded me. Before I could fully grasp what was happening, one of them grabbed my shoulder bag and yanked it hard, breaking the strap. I screamed and shouted to people further up the street to grab them as they ran past, but they got away and disappeared around a corner. The bag contained a credit card, debit card, cash, my iPhone, camera, keys and a security device for my Hong Kong bank account. I was shaking in shock.

When I got back to my hotel, Enrico the owner was dealing with some new guests one of whom had also been robbed. Enrico, the other staff here (Natalie, Daniel, Luis) and this bunch of nine women from the US were a wonderful support for me. Marsha, Tracy, Barbara (whose stolen bag also contained her passport), Betsy, Edwinna, Dee, Kris, Linda and another Barbara asked me to join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant after I'd given a statement to the police, who came to the hotel. Marsha lives in Northern Chile, and Tracy (a novelist) lives in Peru. The others mainly live in New Mexico and Arizona. They are connected by various networks and were just finishing a trip together through Chile guided by Betsy.

Yesterday morning, Enrico took me to the police station to put my statement in writing. He knows just how it feels: he was robbed just after he arrived in Chile from Italy a few years ago.

The experience has spoiled Valpo for me, and I'm yet to decide where I'll go after I replace my cards. My first choice would be to return to New York, but I need answers to questions about my visa status before I can decide to go that route.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Mosquito Coast: Belize


I'm spending five days in Central America as a bit of a breather between New York and my next long-stay destination, Chile.

I flew in on Wednesday. Each of the four planes I took from La Guardia in Queens, NY to Corozal in Belize via Miami and Belize City got progressively smaller, until the last one, from San Pedro in the island chain offshore from the mainland, had room for just me, the pilot and a couple from Tombstone, Arizona. We are on the Caribbean coast, so it all looks very tropical. Belize is a developing country, so it's also very ramshackle.

My main reason for choosing this particular place for a break was to see an old friend from my years in Hong Kong. Sue F and I last caught up in 1996, during a quick visit I made to HK that year. She retired to Portugal and then to Belize, and is now moving on to Guatemala. We had dinner here at my resort hotel, The Almond Tree, the night I arrived. On Thursday I did some work, then met Sue, her daughter Kim and K's partner Mark, for lunch at Blue's, a lovely place a short walk north along the bay.

Yesterday we drove to Orange Walk Town, from where we travelled upriver by small boat for about 90 minutes to the site of some ancient Mayan ruins at Lamanai. Saw some stunning birds, a couple of crocs, and some spider monkeys along the river. Back to Corozal for a swim in the hotel pool and an early dinner and chat with some other guests (Patty and Michael from Washington State, and Deb and Irv from Minnesota).

I've been working all day today, catching up on some bitty jobs and clearing up loose ends before I leave on Monday for Chile.

A marathon last week in New York


My New York sojourn ended on a high note with marathon week. Frannie from Albury flew in a few days beforehand to stay with me and take part. She gained entry through the lottery. I gained entry to next year's marathon by running races :-) The unseasonal snowstorm a couple of weeks ago saw my second-to-last race cancelled, but my last one went ahead on a cold but beautiful Saturday a week ago. I was third in my age group in the 5K that went from the United Nations Building to the marathon finish line in Central Park, and Frannie was fourth just behind me!

Marathon day was stunningly beautiful. I went over to Staten Island with Fran to see her on her way to the start, then came back to Manhattan. I watched bits of the race with Joanne on 1st Avenue, where I saw Marie, Steve and Maria. Caught Maria again on 5th Avenue. I didn't see Fran at all, who finished about 15 minutes faster than she'd expected. Both she and Maria had a bad time with cramps, but they still did really well and really earned their medals.

Frannie flew out to see her daughter in the Mid-West on Monday and I packed up my New York life before flying south on Wednesday.

On other notes: During my final week I saw three one-act plays (including one by Woody Allen) on Broadway, and saw a few films as part of the NYC Documentary Film Festival: one about Charlotte Rampling, who did a Q&A afterwards; a fascinating account of the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames, which I saw with Maria; and 'Girl With Black Balloons' (about a long-term resident artist of the Chelsea Hotel). I visited the 9/11 Memorial and saw the water features that occupy the footprints of the original South and North Towers. I had four morning runs with the usual suspects, whom I'll miss incredibly over the next six months. And I joined in the NYC Marathon opening ceremony and Parade of Nations with Fran.

On my last morning I had coffee with architect Kate, with whom I have so many things in common it's uncanny. I also spent time the last week getting to know John Boy and Anne from 96th Street a little better. I'll really miss them.

Au revoir, New York!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snow Falling on 97th Street


Engineers' Gate, 90th Street and 5th Avenue, New York: The start of most of my morning runs

I arrived back in New York about ten weeks ago, in summer, and today it's snowing! I can hardly believe what I'm seeing, but I know it's cold enough. At 8 am I ran the last 10 miles (16 km) of the New York marathon course with a bunch of friends and it was damned cold by the time we'd finished and I was walking home. It's now settling on the trees and ground as snow. Gorgeous.

Too much has happened since my last post on 4 October to catch up now. I feel so at home here and I go about my day like any other New Yorker, so it doesn't really feel like I need to keep a travel blog. That will change soon when I fly south for the winter.

My family had a scare mid-month when Mum, in Australia, had serious heart issues and had to have a pacemaker installed. Once the procedure was done she was out of any danger, which was a great relief for us all. I've changed my plans so that I can go back in late February for a week.

Some highlights from the past month: Staten Island half marathon (my best half mara time since 2009 and a third place in my age group); New York Film Festival, including "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" and "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople" (which I saw with Albury pal Mary-Jane); my own mini film festival: "Bombay Beach", "To Be Heard", "Texas Killing Fields", "The Way"; catchup birthday meals and a run in Toronto with Hong Kong pals Sarah and William, and Frances; Niagara Falls marathon: a personal best time of 4:13:00 and a fifth place in my age group on a beautiful day; catchup with my "B" mate Di (Bali, Berlin, Broadway/Brighton Beach); and pre-dawn runs in Central Park three mornings a week with some or all of Maria, Sung, Sarah, Lissy, Heather, Joe, Marie, Steve, John....

I'm really going to miss friends from 96th Street: Chloe, John Boy and the rest of the crew.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hallelujah!



Morningside Park, New York City

I'm counting all my blessings and feeling very grateful for my good health and the special people in my life.

I've run three races since my last update: the Fifth Avenue Mile, an 18-miler (30K) and a half marathon (13 miles/21.1K). My best effort was the mile, which was 5 seconds faster than last year and was of "national class" for my age, according to the New York Road Runners' calculations. I also took 8 minutes off last year's time for the 18-miler, and gained 5th place in my AG in both races. Had brunch after the mile with my Dead Runner mate Josh, last seen in Maine last year. This weekend's half marathon was a 6th place (out of 57). I followed that with a scenic 10-mile run with Maria yesterday in Central Park, up to Morningside Heights and down the Hudson before returning through the park.

Made a return visit yesterday to Shiloh Baptist Church in Harlem with some visitors from Oz, including Liz, an in-house editor for one of my main clients. The pastor used a very detailed baseball analogy (it now being the season playoffs), which was pretty funny. He was swinging a baseball bat and the congregation was getting very worked up. I'd been to a baseball game on Tuesday night with this bunch (and runner pals Heather, Joe, Joe's brother David, Lauren, Steve and Tim) – New York Mets vs Cincinnati Reds – in Flushing, Queens. It was a lot of fun doing The Wave and being pumped up by the music.

I've signed on for next year's Green Mountain Relay (I did this 200-mile event in Vermont in 2009) after being talked into it by team leader Tavia at lunch recently. I also caught up this past week with another former GMR teammate, Tamar (for brunch and later a movie). Our team in 2009 was called "New York Running Chicks and a Few Dudes".

I've been up very early most mornings for regular training runs in the park with some or all of the 5.30 a.m. crew: Maria, Sung, Lizzy, Sarah, Sun, Steve, John, Heather and Joe. Caught up with Joanne for a lunchtime run when she came into town last week from Pelham, and with Marie, just back from a cycling holiday in Sardinia. Had a massage appointment with Marie on Friday.

I saw the play "War Horse" on the recommendation of one of my authors. Fantastic life-size puppet horses. Some 8 million horses died during the First World War. The play includes scenes of trench warfare, and of horses being caught up in the barbed wire. Very harrowing.

Visited the New York Art Fair the week before last and was relieved not to feel compelled to buy something! I've also been continuing my movie streak with the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center: On Saturday I saw "The Separation" (Iran) and "The Loneliest Planet" (USA/Germany). Both were excellent. Tamar and I saw the German film "3" on Friday down in the East Village. Albury artist pal Mary-Jane is visiting New York for a few weeks and we saw "The Help" after our walk in the park got rained out last week.

I'm feeling very tired tonight and will soon be in bed with a book. It's cold and damp outside, and I don't need to be anywhere but here. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Walking on the mild side


The Palisades

I've spent a bit of time recently with new pal Louise, a writer and traveller whom I met through writer/playwright Julia. Amazingly, we have a mutual friend in Ubud, Bali, the writer Cat Wheeler. It's a very small world indeed. Lou has now moved on to the UK, so I wonder where we'll meet up again... Julia is also in the UK, packing up her life there in preparation for returning to NYC at the end of the month.

My training is going very well. I was put to the test this past weekend with my first races since the half marathon I ran in Thailand way back in February. In the Fitness Mind, Body and Spirit 4-mile race in Central Park I dug deep to maintain an average pace of 8:02-minute miles. This was an improvement on last year of a minute overall and two places. (I placed 4th out of 58 in my age group.) On Sunday I went to Yonkers (further up the Hudson River) and ran the 86th Yonkers Half Marathon with NY pals Joanne and Heather. Joanne has just moved out of the city to Pelham, so it was a good opportunity to see her. We three started together. After about mile 6 I took it up a notch and managed to come in at 1:59:45, which gave me a 1st place in my age group (out of 6). In places there were great views across to The Palisades, which line the western shore of the Hudson River for some distance north of the George Washington Bridge.

As there is no rest for the wicked, I joined Maria and Sung for a 4-miler yesterday morning and a 6-miler today (also with Tuesday regulars Sarah, Lissy, John and Sun). (Sung answered an ad I placed on the New York Road Runners website and has joined the 5.30 am group.) I'll resume my weekly massages with Marie when she returns from cycling in Sardinia.

There are two more events coming up this weekend: a 1-mile sprint down 5th Avenue on Saturday and an 18-mile marathon tune-up on Sunday. They will give me five of my required nine races for guaranteed entry to next year's New York Marathon.

My movie marathon is also continuing: "Love Crime" (French, with Kristin Scott Thomas), "Chasing Madoff" (about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme and the attempts by four whistleblowers to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate him), "The Future" (written and directed by, and featuring, the artist Miranda July), "Hedgehog" (a really enjoyable French film, which I saw with Chloe), and "We Were Here" (documentary about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco).

I've also seen some 9/11-related exhibitions at the International Center of Photography, the New York Historical Society, and the Time Warner Center lobby (portraits taken in the weeks and months after 9/11 using the huge Polaroid camera that was used in Albury by Anne Zahalka and Petrina Hicks to photograph the Fruit Fly Circus kids in 2006).

I've met up with my friend CY, who is looking gorgeous and doing very well after a really difficult 18 months.

I'm now one month into my 10-week stay. It feels longer than that, as I've met so many people; but I know the remaining time will pass far too quickly.

Right on schedule, the weather changed a week after Labor Day. It's officially autumn this week and it's turned cool. A beautiful time of year to be in New York!

Monday, September 5, 2011

One step at a time


There is nowhere in the world I feel quite so much at home as in New York City.

I've settled into my training for the Niagara Falls Marathon and have been really lucky to be able to pick up where I left off with some runner friends I made in past visits. Heather and Joe, and Marie have, in turn, introduced me to Joanne, Maria and Lissy. I ran circuits of Central Park with them at 5.30 on three mornings last week, and then on Saturday morning I was able to complete a 20-mile (32K) run on not much of a base purely because of the company and support of Joanne and Maria. A full circuit of Central Park, and then a run down the Hudson River to near Ground Zero and back to 97th Street, is a very good way to start a long weekend.

I've caught up with my photographer friend Holly for breakfast and a film about NY photographer Bill Cunningham. Holly is creating a buzz as a drag photojournalist. I've also seen "Higher Ground", "Brighton Rock" and "Rebirth" (a 9/11 documentary).

During the week I went to a writers' group, where I met some very interesting people. Through that group I've become friends with Julia (a playwright/theatre director/writer) and Chloe (a painter/social worker). They are both in my neighbourhood, so it's been easy to catch up with them on most days.

This Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, but to me it feels like a new beginning. I just need to take it one step at a time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

You might as well train


Since I flew into New York last Monday we've had an earthquake, a hurricane, and tornado warnings. It seems my spell as Bringer of Gorgeous Weather is over! Hurricane Irene ended up being a bit of a fizzer for us New Yorkers. We dutifully emptied supermarket and hardware store shelves of torches, batteries and bottled water. We filled our bathtubs with water to flush our loos if the power went off. We evacuated (or not), and we stayed off the streets. But nothing really happened... CNN was trying to keep the fear factor going, but it all got a bit silly. Which is not to say there weren't people and places badly impacted by the storm (touted as a hurricane "the size of Europe" and "unprecedented" in its potential to cause damage to cities along the east coast), but Manhattanites aren't likely to put their lives on hold again so readily the next time a big storm threatens.

I caught up with Gordon and Joanna again on Thursday for "afternoon tea" (not a traditional tea, but a bite to eat at tea time) at the Algonquin Hotel. There is no longer a round table; instead, an oval table presides under a painting of the "New Yorker" writers and editors who used to meet here regularly for lunch and to share witticisms, criticisms and general bitchiness.

The hurricane danger has passed, and I have a marathon to get trained for. As Dorothy Parker said, "You might as well live."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The beagle has landed



Hong Kong

My feet hardly had time to touch the ground in Hong Kong. Cathy N met my plane and deposited me at the door of my hotel, Butterfly on Wellington. I'll definitely stay there again. It's right near the Mid-Levels escalator and the Graham Street wet market, whose days are numbered. Friday morning I had coffee with Bernadette Longley, a publisher with Macmillan, at the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay. Called in to see my accountant, Millie, then had a lovely vegan dim sum lunch with Cathy H-F at the Lock Cha Teahouse in Hong Kong Park. She is doing the Maclehose Trailwalker event again this year. Lunch was swiftly followed by afternoon tea with Cathy and Bec N at the Mandarin Oriental. Great to catch up on all their news. I was feeling overfed by this stage and passed on dinner invites in favour of an early night after drinks at the Foreign Correspondents' Club with Chris D and Polly.

San Francisco

I was met at San Francisco airport by Annie W, a Dead Runner friend from Aptos. We checked into our hotel (Parc55 near Union Square), then walked to the bay end of Market Street to get a bite to eat for lunch. (I had Vietnamese summer rolls.) On the way back we met Rita and Douglas, who had come up from Monterey Bay. It's great when online pals become real ones. We went out for dinner to a Brazilian restaurant on Market Street. I had a huge salad.

Sunday morning we had an hour's run along the bay, Rita and I wearing the tiaras I had bought in Hong Kong. We were called "princesses" by a street person, and we chatted up two Russian sailors who were minding a Tall Ship that had sailed from Vladivostok. Breakfast back at the hotel together before Rita and Douglas headed home.

In the early afternoon, Annie and I were part of a conference call with some other Dead Runners about the DRS world conference to be held in Texas in February.

Walked with Annie over to the SF Museum of Modern Art to meet my former Hong Kong friend Francine B and her service dog Lola. I had last seen them in that same spot in May 2009. We had a coffee, then saw a couple of excellent exhibitions at the Contemporary Jewish Museum: Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas at home; and Charlotte Salomon's amazing small paintings that tell the story of her life before she died at age 26 in Auschwitz.

I did some work before Annie and I went across the road to an Italian place for dinner, then worked on until 11.30. I had only two hours' sleep before getting up to do some more work, then headed with Annie to the airport at 5 am. It was fun spending time with her. We'll meet up again at the DRSWC.

New York

I worked for three hours on the plane. As we banked over Manhattan I could see my building! It's the most amazing city to see from the air.

Cabbed it to my home in Manhattan, on the corner of West 97th Street and Central Park West, and unpacked my suitcase for the first time in three weeks! I then went to Whole Foods nearby and stocked up on salad stuff.

Yesterday was my first full day back. At 1.51 pm there was an earthquake measuring 5.8 along the eastern seaboard. I didn't feel anything, but friends in Brooklyn and Maryland said they felt it.

Had dinner with Gordon and Joanna R, who moved back to the UK from Oz about four months ago. Gordon is here to promote his novel Mice, which is published in the US by Penguin. We went to a burger bar near the Rockefeller Center. Jo and I had seafood salads. I'll catch up with them again tomorrow.

Today has been a big work day.





Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sydney sojourn


I've had a fun week in Sydney catching up with very special friends. (And working!)

On Sunday morning Katie M and I walked from Newtown to Bondi Beach via Centennial Park and Bondi Junction. With a breakfast stop it took us three hours, and we chatted the whole time. Katie and I have worked on many, many book projects together since 1994, and it was fabulous to have that quality time with her. She worked at The Law Book Company after I left the company in 1983. We met up with Frannie and Karla from Albury, and 80,000 other City to Surfers.

Had dinner with my best pal from the LBCo days, Gina, on Sunday night. Lots of shared memories of people and places from the early 1980s, including the much-missed Brad Alick. Lots of laughs. I'd forgotten how funny Gina is.

Greg T dates our first meeting to 1976, to the days when Saturdays meant Frenchs Wine Bar on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst. I used to go there to see bands, and Greg used to play there. Our friendship was really forged in the early 1980s. A fun dinner with him on Monday night.

Last night I had dinner with Chris P and his partner Heather at the Spanish Club, where Chris and I spent many evenings in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I met Heather about five years ago when they passed through Albury. Chris has always been a special friend, and I've really enjoyed both times I've met Heather.

I'm also enjoying getting to know Anne Z better each time I stay here at Australia Street Guesthouse. Yesterday we had a little photo shoot in my room.

Today I went up to Frenchs Forest to meet the people I've been working with for many, many years at Pearson Education: Sandra, Liz, Rebecca, Kathryn and Bernadette. Katie is the only one of the team I had met previously (in 1994 and last Sunday). So good to put faces to names and voices.

Tomorrow I'm leaving Oz and heading back to New York via Hong Kong and San Francisco.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The beat goes on...


Photograph by Anne Zahalka.

My feet have hardly touched the ground since I left Albury a week ago. On Monday I caught up with Susanna B, whom I met in Hong Kong last November. We had lunch, a great chat, and a terrific hug. Some people just seem like instant friends. That night, Barb and Bill and I had dinner with one of my oldest friends, photographer Bill B and his gorgeous partner Sally. Bill and I met in 1968, when he was an exchange student in Albury from the US. I've known Sal since the 1980s. I see them every few years. It's hard to believe we are talking about celebrating our 60th birthdays when we've known each other since our 16th year.

Tuesday morning I met up with Lorraine R, whom I met in Kuala Lumpur about a year ago when I was on my way to Italy. We were both running in the park beneath the Petronas Towers and got chatting. I had a coffee with Lorraine in Albury last week when she was passing through, and we arranged to run at 6.30 in Melbourne this week. I tripped and went flying just as we started running, and hurt my arm. We ran a circuit of The Tan together and had a good chat, then I ran another one on my own. By the time I got back to the apartment the arm had stiffened up and I realised I'd done some damage to it. Bill took me to The Alfred Hospital where I spent the morning having X-rays. It seems I chipped a bone in the radial head. Not broken, but the doctor said I'd need to keep it in a sling for six weeks. As it's turned out, after being fairly useless for four days, it's already coming good and I don't think I'll be using the sling from now on.

Hong Kong pal and photographer Jennifer B and I had afternoon tea at the Windsor Hotel. We caught up for the first time in years early last year, when I went down to Brighton and we had lunch and walked on the beach with her dog Tilly.

Finished the day with Martyn, who came by the apartment for a drink with B&B and to collect me and my bags. We go back to 1974, so we agreed we should rendezvous in 2014 for our 40th anniversary :-)) He took me to the airport on Wednesday.

I dropped my bags at photo artist Anne Z's guesthouse in Newtown, in Sydney (from where I started my travels in May last year), and went into Darling Harbour to meet up with Joanne B. We've seen a lot of each other in the past few months: Bali in December, and in Albury, Melbourne and Sydney in the past month. She was in Sydney for work for the day. From there I went to Suzie's hotel near Chinatown to have dinner and hear about her reunion last week with her birth mother and half-brothers. We caught up again last night for a quick drink before she caught her flight back to the UK. I'll see her again next August when I'm hoping to do another walk with Joanne and Tony.

On Thursday, Chris M (we've been good pals since 1973, when we were at uni together) had dinner after going along to a small function for Christina Noble. Good to see Kirrily again after meeting her for the first time at the ball in Melbourne last week.

Yesterday Anne Z and I had lunch, and I met gallery owner Nicky Ginsberg, who I've bought two artworks from over the years. Made a quick visit to the Art Gallery of NSW. Farewell drink with Suzie, then went to Potts Point for dinner with Marah B. She and Katie M gave me my first jobs for what is now Pearson Education when I returned to Sydney from Hong Kong at the end of 1993. I still do work for Katie, and I've worked with Marah on various art-related projects over the years. She now heads up the Biennale of Sydney. A good night at the end of a very busy week.

A sunny weekend, perfect for the Sydney City to Surf race tomorrow. My race pack never arrived in Albury, so I'm unable to join Frannie and Karla, who came up from Albury yesterday. But I have a Plan B and I'll see them afterwards.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

On the road again


After a month in Albury, and a week of farewells, I kissed my mum au revoir at Albury Airport yesterday morning and picked up where I had left off. I'm staying for a few nights with Barb and Bill in their apartment on Southbank, Melbourne. I'm looking at this Art Centre spire, which is only about 200 metres away and is lit up with blue lights.

JB and I spent last night at a Gala Ball marking the 10th anniversary in Australia of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation. Christina is a powerful, passionate speaker who made a big impression on everyone in the room. I sponsor a young boy in Mongolia through CNCF, and I spent two days helping out at the Foundation in Ho Chi Minh City in 2009.


JB's article about our holiday in Ubud, Bali last December was published in "The Age" today.

Barb, JB and I saw the very amusing British film "The Trip" today in Carlton. I saw it in Istanbul in April, as part of the Istanbul International Film Festival.

I'm feeling very excited about heading off again.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Is home where the art is?


I have stuff deposited all over the world, but all of my art collection is here in regional Australia. Does that mean Albury is still my home base?

I feel I have at least three homes now: Albury, Kuching and New York (where I'm headed next). Am I just being greedy?

I've spent the past three weeks catching up with friends, family, acquaintances, runners and dogs. I've been to a funeral and the movies, to the podiatrist, optometrist and dentist, and to exhibition openings at Albury Art Gallery/Library/Museum and Wodonga Artspace. I've been taken for walks by my happily rehomed dogs Butch and Charlie, and for long runs in the early-morning fog by crazy runner pals. I've spent time with two dear friends I wouldn't have seen if their visits to Albury hadn't coincided with mine, and with another who made the time to visit from out of town. I've flown to Sydney to spend two days with Chris.

When I moved back to Albury in 1995, I felt I was on my knees. This place got me back on my feet. It's because of Albury and the friends I've made here that I can now do what I'm doing. Albury will always have a large part of my heart ... and, for the time being, all of my art.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Albury, Oz


I'm now back where I started my journey in May 2010, but only for a month. There's quite a bit to catch up on...

Kuching

I loved spending time with my Kuching family. Min and Eng and I did some very early-morning runs (4.30 am!) in the lead-up to the Wees' KL half marathon. I'm very taken with the "Kuching Shuffle" training technique and have shown Di and Fran here in Oz how it works. I really enjoyed the long runs with Min and the breakfasts afterwards with Sam, Eng Hooi and Belinda, and William and Jackie... Dinner with Habitat for Humanity visitors from NZ. Lunch with everyone at Design Network Architects. Also spent quality time with Emily and Rita, Maz and June (who took me to karaoke and prayers at the central mosque), Josephine, Ramsay, Michael and Moses, Bernard, and Abdullah (our fourth city in five months!). I spoke with a group of high-school kids about my career, and celebrated Father's Day with all of Emily's family. Belinda drove me to the airport, where I got to see the Wees on their way to KL. Can't wait to see them all again next May.

Queensland

Chris met my flight from Singapore. The last time I had seen him was in Canberra in December 2008. We stayed at Eco Lodge in the Glasshouse Mountains. Went for a walk halfway up Mt Tibrogargan, which I then ran twice around the following morning. We met up with my relations June and Kevin for a great walk up one of the other spectacular mountains in the area, then had lunch in Caloundra. Amazingly, we ran into my cousins Ken and Faye just walking along the seafront. From Glasshouse Mountains we went to Expedition and Carnarvon National Parks, where we camped for over a week, sometimes in what Chris calls "wild camps". I did a number of runs, and we went for lots of walks. The walk up Carnarvon Gorge to Big Bend was a highlight, and I loved the Amphitheatre.

We made our way back to Brisbane via Dalby and Bribie Island, where we had a fun night and day with June and Kevin. Spent the last night in Brisbane with young rellies Jaye, Christos, Kellie, Cassie and Lachlan. Saw a Surrealism exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art and had a quick look through the Queensland Art Gallery. I'm hoping to stay on Bribie for a month early in 2013, with Brisbane just an hour away by train.

Flew to Melbourne, where I spent an hour talking with new friend Kay while we waited for our flights.

Albury

I arrived back in Albury in time for dinner with my sister Deb and brother-in-law Steve, who had collected the key for the apartment I'm staying in on the main street. The big Art Deco exhibition at Albury Art Gallery and Library/Museum opened the next night. Saw many people I know, and met others I had been working with on the catalogue for the show.

Saw my Mum, and my dogs Butch and Charlie on Saturday. Mum is well, apart from having a cold. Butch and Charlie didn't recognise me initially! We went for a walk in the cold with Therese, Jules and Yvonne.

Dinner that night with Deb and Steve and my nephew Mitch, who is now out of the brace he has had to wear since breaking five vertebrae in a motorcycle racing accident some months ago. He's a lucky boy.

Went to the Dogs' Breakfast on Sunday. Good to see Kay, Lyn and Graham, and other friends and their dogs.

Spent some time with Dotti and Rob during the Art Deco walk in the afternoon.

Caught up with Barb and Bill, who were up from Melbourne, and Therese and Gary for an hour before Gary and I went to the movies to see "Oranges and Sunshine". Always great to see B&B. I'll stay with them next month for a few nights.

Dotti and I had coffee on Monday. She brought a couple of my kilim rugs that she's storing for me to put in the apartment where I'm staying.

Ran Tuesday morning with Christine (a fabulous catchup-on-news run), and on Wednesday with Di and Fran. The hardest run I've done in a while! Fran scored an entry to this year's New York marathon in the lottery and will stay with me on Central Park West for a few nights.

Dinner with Mum on Wednesday, and with Jan and Pete and Jo last night. Much to talk about! Had lunch with Kate from Bright.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kuching Kapers


I'm nearly halfway through my return visit to Kuching. I'll be sorry to leave, even though I'm very much looking forward to the next stage of my travels.

Kuching and I seem to have a serious fling going on! It feels like home, and it keeps delivering great people into my path. Fabulous to spend time with Emily and Rita again. We've had various dinners, including at Rita's house with daughters Kah-Yee (just graduated as a pharmacist) and Kah-Ling (studying law). Emily and I have been to the movies, where we froze watching "Kung Fu Panda 2" in 3D. Emily has also put me together with a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, Dr Tay, for help in clearing up the cold I've had since April.

I'm also taking the opportunity while I'm here to have a complete medical check-up.

New friends Samantha and Min, with kids Sean and Sara, and Belinda and Eng Hooi are a total delight. I met them very briefly in January at the end of a run. We used Facebook in the intervening months to stay in touch, and it felt like we were already old friends when I joined them for dinner at Sam and Min's house last Saturday night. We've had two runs together (Sunday and Wednesday), and have a few more planned. They are training for the Kuala Lumpur half marathon.

I love seeing familiar faces along the waterfront of a morning when I'm doing my run. It's one of my favourite places.

Last night, Eng Hooi and Belinda made a nasi lemak feast at their home, where I met a couple of other people who sometimes join the Sunday morning group run.

I've also caught up again with artists Ramsay and Narong, and hope to have them here for dinner next week.

As usual, I'm staying at Batik Boutique Hotel, where I know a lot of the crew from January. Maz and Jun and I had dinner this week, though they haven't been able to convince me to go to karaoke again.

I've also seen Josephine H for another of her extraordinary facials, and will squeeze in another couple over the next fortnight.

As always, work is very busy.

This photo of the area near Kuching's waterfront was taken by Darroll Lo, Emily's brother.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

North to South; West to East


A very brief catchup on my travels...

Cotswold Way Walk, UK
On 3 May (was it only a few weeks ago?!), Jo and Tony and I met up in Stratford Upon Avon to start our walk along the beautiful Cotswold Way, south from Chipping Camden to Bath for 160 kilometres through woods and up and down rolling hills. We had a fabulous time. Stayed in B&Bs and pubs in Stanton, Cleeve Hill, Little Witcombe (where great pals Peter and Amanda and daughter Elizabeth met me for dinner), Middle Yard, North Nibley, Tormarton and Bath. Our lodgings ranged from 4 star to 1 star, but the breakfasts were always good.

We celebrated reaching Bath by having a cream tea at the famous Pump Room. We have a couple of ideas for next year's walk. I'll look forward to it, and to spending more quality time with Tony and Jo.

Saw Suzie again back in Thames Ditton before catching a cab into London and over the London Bridge to City Airport for my commuter flight to Luxembourg.

Luxembourg
I spent four days here. The first two were spent mainly at the Islamic Financial Services Board annual summit. I edit the standards produced by the IFSB. Good to see Abdullah Haron (we had a meetup in Kuala Lumpur in January), Isma and Erni from KL.

I walked around the old town and checked out the fabulous art gallery, designed by IM Pei. The city was *very* quiet over the weekend. I worked and went to see a couple of films. I was ready to leave by the Monday.

Berlin
Loved Berlin! Very user-friendly city, with so much to see and learn. It's on my list of places to return to and maybe spend a couple of months. I checked out a number of museums, including the Berlin Wall one at Checkpoint Charlie, just near my hotel in the former East Berlin area called Mitte. Ran under the Brandenburg Gate and in the Tiergarten. Fabulous to spend a few days with Di and Ron, friends from the week I spent in Ubud, Bali, when I first left Oz on 24 May last year. We spent one morning seeing another side of Berlin through the eyes of photographer and documentary filmmaker Jonnek Jonneksson (Ron's birthday present to Di). Di and I also saw a fantastic 3D film by Wim Wenders about Pina Bausch, the German choreographer. Stunning.

Ate lots of great Vietnamese food, and German chocolate from Fassbinder & Rausch. Also had dinner with Abdullah, who had flown in after returning to KL from Luxembourg the week before.

Singapore
I arrived in Singapore on Wednesday this week from Berlin via Frankfurt. Caught up with Betty from Towers Watson, and for lunch with Janis and Joel from John Wiley. Also managed to get to a good hairdresser for the first time in ages! Had dinner on Friday at Clarke Quay with Dead Runner pal Ellen (from Ho Chi Minh City, where she and I had dinner in late 2009). We took part in the Sunset Marathon last night, which started at 10 pm. For a number of reasons we decided even before we had started that we would pull out at the halfway turnaround. I walked the half in 3.5 hours and was back at my hotel by about 2.30 am.

Tomorrow I'm heading back to Kuching :-))

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Catching up with friends in the UK

I stayed in Thames Ditton with Suzie and her family. (We last caught up in August in Alnwick, just before the Coast to Coast walk.) Fun to see her again so soon. Our great pal Deb, from our Helena May days, came over to spend the morning watching the royal wedding. I hadn't seen Deb since about 1989. Fabulous to see her again. She's mad for dogs and has got her pilot's licence.

On Saturday I took the train to Exeter in Devon to meet up with Linda (last visited in 2007) and her sister Pam. I met Pam in Sydney in 1994 after I moved back to Oz from Hong Kong. We spent a great four hours or so talking and checking out some op shops for gear for my Cotswold Way walk.

On Sunday, Suzie and David drove me up to Stratford-upon-Avon, to meet with Jo. Jo was one of our group that did the Coast to Coast walk. On Monday we drove over to Warwick for lunch, and for Jo to have a Reiki massage session. On Tuesday I worked, before we met up with our pal Tony for the start of the Cotswold Way walk in Chipping Campden.

Great pals Peter and Amanda were also able to meet up during the walk near Cheltenham ...

Anzac Day, Gallipoli

I spent 18 hours on the Gallipoli Peninsula, from about 8.30 pm on 24 April to early afternoon the next day, attending the Anzac Day dawn service at North Beach (next to Anzac Cove) and the Australian (at Lone Pine) and New Zealand services. So many people attend these now, it's a huge logistical exercise. Once you cross the Dardanelles on the car ferry, there's no way out except by the bus you came in on anywhere from 18 to 21 hours later. It was very moving having some knowledge of what happened there between 25 April 1915 and the evacuations at the end of that year, but I hated the whole experience of being corralled and herded about for all those hours, and of feeling chilled to the bone during the night. Was it *really* necessary to deposit us there eight hours before the dawn service?

I was very relieved when it was all over. I left Canakkale the next day and took a bus to Tekirdag, on the western shore of the Sea of Marmara in a region that used to be known as Thrace. I stayed the night there before heading back to Istanbul the next day. The following day I flew to London.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Turkish delight


I’m totally hooked on Turkey…

I’m writing this in Canakkale, the jumping-off point for my visit to Gallipoli for Anzac Day remembrance services. I arrived in a roundabout way yesterday from Istanbul, where I’ve spent the past three weeks. My ferry to Bandirma was cancelled due to high winds, which put a spanner in the works. However, fate was at work… I got chatting about possible alternative plans with a fellow passenger, a uni professor, who was supposed to be giving a speech in Bandirma, and ended up being offered a lift in the car his sponsoring university sent to rescue him. A very nice bloke, with whom I hope to stay in touch through Facebook.

I spent the night in Bandirma and came to Canakkale yesterday (180 km) by very comfortable coach for a tiny fare. If I needed any further reason to plan to spend time travelling around Turkey, that was it.

I’ve been working in Istanbul, but have also settled in and made it home. I was lucky that my visit coincided with the Istanbul International Film Festival. I saw eight films. They were all in cinemas near Taksim Square, so I got to explore that part of town. I also made a young friend, Ufuk, who was a volunteer for the festival. She helped me with tickets and we spoke a number of times and are now friends on Facebook.

I also visited Istanbul Modern, the main art gallery; took a Bosphorus boat cruise; and checked out Santa Sophia (which I could see from my bed), the Blue Mosque, the Royal Palace and Basilica Cistern in my neighbourhood of Sultanahmet. And I've been buying silver jewellery :-))

I got into a routine of having morning runs in Gulhane Park, just a three-minute walk from my home in Istanbul, Agora Life Hotel. Great people there. I’ve felt very welcomed by everyone: Kadir, Ifan, Isa, Furkan …

Other people in the neighbourhood also made it feel like my neighbourhood.

I think Turkish people are incredibly friendly. I’ll definitely be back for a few months, hopefully in mid-2012.

A walk along Lake Geneva: Days 4 and 5


I'm catching up after my blog has been blocked for three weeks...

I took the train from Vevey back to Lutry on Friday morning to meet Jacques at the waterfront for day 4 of my walk. The sun was back out after being drizzly the day before. We walked through an area of vineyards planted on the very steep hillsides and on every other possible surface. Some lovely villages clustered among the vines, with cellars open for tastings and sales. We ate lunch at a lovely terrace restaurant in Epesses, perched high above the lake. Jacques peeled off at St-Seraphin to catch the train back to Lausanne and I carried on to Vevey.

Yesterday was a stunning day, beginning with a pink and blue dawn complete with sleeping swans on the lake. I loved this amazing fork sculpture. The walk was mostly lakeside, and the kilometre or so just before Montreux was fantastic: gorgeously colourful flowerbeds and lots of bamboo art. In Montreux I had a coffee and croissant before heading back to the lake for the last hour of the walk: to Chateau de Crillon and on to Villeneuve. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. As I walked into Villeneuve I watched a couple of hang-gliders landing.

It felt a bit odd to have finished.

I took the train back to Lausanne, packed all my gear, did some work and then had a final dinner at Belleview with Liliane.

What a fabulous month.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A walk along Lake Geneva: Day 3


I still managed to get lost twice during today's walk. The day started with clear views across to the Alps, with Mont Blanc visible for the first time this month. In 2007 I spent ten days walking in and out of the valleys that surround Mont Blanc. It was my first long-distance walk. Loved seeing it again today.

Very beautiful scenery along much of the way today.

The weather changed after my lunchtime stop in Ouchy.

I love this photograph, which I took between Pully and Lutry. The guy was just standing there looking straight ahead. I didn't have time even to zoom in, but now I'm glad. I like the composition. His umbrella is so tiny... And I like the way the eye moves down from the umbrella to the poles in the water.

The hotel where I'd wanted to stay in Lutry was full, so after a bit of dithering I took the train to Vevey, where I'm staying at a hotel I noticed two weeks ago when Jacques and I drove through here on our way to Montreux. I'll go back to Lutry tomorrow morning to meet him for our walk through the vineyards, then will come back here for the last night of my walk.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A walk along Lake Geneva: Days 1 and 2


I was born without the map-reading gene, so the first two days of my walk from Nyon to Villeneuve, along Lake Geneva, have been interesting! Very little of the route is beside the lake. Instead, I've walked through woods and fields, through a golf course and a cemetery, beside a river, through vineyards, up and down hills, and along small lanes and main roads. I've had to backtrack many times, found myself back where I started after following the walking man sign, and in some places I've missed seeing where the lake path resumes. I've seen lots of dogs out walking, a fair number of swans, and a squirrel. I'm feeling surprisingly stiff and sore. But I'm having a fabulous time...

I walked from Nyon to Rolle yesterday (about 25 km) and about the same distance today (I'm guessing) to Morges. Tomorrow I'll reach Lausanne (which is visible from Morges) and then continue on to Lutry. Apparently, this next stage is all on lakeside path.

There are small villages scattered everywhere over the hillsides that rise from the lake, so I'm only skimming the surface. Views across the lake are to the French Alps.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An alpine weekend


Liliane and I spent three days over last weekend seeing quite a large part of Switzerland by train. On Friday we went to Zermatt, which sits at the foot of the Matterhorn – a truly stunning mountain. Zermatt is very user-friendly for skiers, who can take the ski lifts right in town. There’s a flow of foot traffic to and from the lifts at the start and end of the day, and a vibrant après-ski scene. We had apple strudel at a café looking up at the Matterhorn, and dinner at La Dolce Vita on the main drag.

Saturday we took the Glacier Express train from Zermatt to St Moritz. We apparently crossed 291 bridges and went through 91 tunnels. Gorgeous views. Lots of snow. Interesting history. Some fun people in our carriage, including a bunch of gregarious Italians and a lovely Japanese couple.

In St Moritz we stayed in Dorf, the upper part of town, where there is a leaning tower. (The lower part of town, at the end of the lake, is called “Bad”.) One of my clients is from here, and I’ve just remembered that I used to smoke St Moritz cigarettes!

The highlight of the trip for me was our walk around St Moritz Lake on Sunday morning. On the shady side of the lake, which was still frozen, the path was covered in crunchy snow and occasional ice. Very beautiful.

From St Moritz we took the train to Zurich. I was last there in 2007 just before I joined my friend Wisty from Oz on the Mont Blanc Circuit trek. Liliane and I transferred here to the Lausanne train, which went through Bern. On the spur of the moment I decided to spend the night there. I stayed at La Belle Epoque, which I had noticed when I was there a few weeks ago. I took a walk around the part of the city that overlooks the river, got some work done and ate dinner, then finished a job yesterday morning before heading back to Lausanne at lunchtime.

Dinner at Jacques’ last night, where we planned some of my last Swiss adventure…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last pain de raisin in Paris


March has been an INTENSE month. My work schedule has been very demanding, but I'm also in a beautiful part of the world and I want to see as much as I can while I'm here.

A week ago tomorrow, my friend Jacques and I saw an exhibition in Lausanne of black-and-white photographs by Hans Steiner, one of Switzerland's most prominent photographers from the 1930s through to the 1960s. It was really interesting to hear Jacques talk about some of the subjects covered in the works. I bought a print (one of ten printed from the original negative) to add to my collection of works bought during my travels.

Jacques then took me to lunch at a lovely place on the slopes above the vineyards in the area that's known as the "Swiss Riviera". We sat on the terrace that looks out over the lake and ate locally caught perch. In Montreux I checked into my hotel (the Fairmont Montreux Palace) before Jacques dropped me at the railway station.

I took the two-carriage train that goes up the steep slopes behind Montreux, past finishing schools and private clinics, to the ski slopes at Rochers de Naye. Very dramatic. It wasn’t perfectly clear weather, but it was the best I was going to get.

Back at lakeside I went to see the statue of Freddie Mercury, which wasn’t on public display when my niece Chloe and I were in Montreux almost exactly ten years ago.

I spent the evening at the movies seeing the Coen Bros film “True Grit”.

At dawn I had a run in light drizzle to Chateau de Chillon, a medieval castle on the edge of the lake. The pathway is beautifully landscaped and there are occasional outdoor artworks. I'll be back here towards the end of the month.

From Montreux I took the train back to Lausanne for one night before heading to Paris last Sunday.

I’m staying in the St-Germain area of the Latin Quarter, on the Left Bank of the Seine, at Relais Hotel de Vieux Paris. In an earlier incarnation the hotel was the “Beat Hotel”, home to William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg and other Beat poets and bohemians.

The streets are very busy, though it’s still off-season. Remy, who runs the hotel, calls the people who hang out in the neighbourhood “BoBos”: bohemian bourgeoisie.

The day I arrived I had time to see a couple of exhibitions (including Mondrian) and some of the permanent displays at The Pompidou Centre, but I’ve had little free time since then. Each morning I’ve been for a 90-minute exploratory run, which I’ve really enjoyed. The first morning I ran to the Eiffel Tower along the Seine and back to Notre Dame Cathedral. I popped in for a quick sit-down and to check out morning mass. Yesterday I ran via Pont Neuf and the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and back via the Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde. And today I went via the Bastille to an elevated planted promenade that’s a similar concept to the High Line in New York, but longer.

The weather has been beautiful here. I’ve made headway with work. And I’ve had three runs and used them to have my own experience of Paris, even if I couldn’t do most of what I had hoped. The woman in the patisserie around the corner now expects me to call in at about eight o'clock in the morning for a pain de raisin after my run. I like that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One night in Neuchatel...


I had planned to stay for two nights, but the place was too quiet.

Liliane and I drove from Lausanne up to Lac de Neuchatel on Saturday, where we had a bit of a look around Colombier/Cortaillod (where I was entered to run a half marathon on the Sunday), Auvernier (where there are some very old vineyards), and Neuchatel. I had already decided to pull out of the race, but it was a good opportunity for an outing and to spend some time with Liliane. We had afternoon tea at a very grand hotel on the lakeshore, then Liliane headed off and I started looking for a hotel for the night. It turned out to be the last night of the World Championship Figure Skating competition and accommodation was hard to find. I was referred to Hotel Touring, which must have been filled otherwise with figure skaters who partied hard after the end of competition, judging by all the noise.

I ate dinner at a small brasserie but failed to include either chocolate or cheese, both of which Neuchatel is famous for, apparently.

The town dates back to the Middle Ages, and there are lots of beautiful old buildings and fountains, cobbled squares, grand public buildings (I visited the art gallery), quirky steps and funky window treatments. I loved the colours. It's all very well looked after, but on a late winter Sunday it was too quiet to keep me after I'd walked everywhere I was going to walk and had lunch at Les Halles. The big place on the hill in the centre of town that looked like a cathedral was shrouded in scaffolding, and none of the interesting-looking shops were open. Best to visit these places during the week, I think.

I took the train back to Lausanne, though I was very tempted to take the one to Bern when it pulled up at the next platform.

Squeezed in around all of this has been work, of course.

I have lots of excursions coming up over the next two weeks, and there is an end in sight to the full-on workload, at least for a few days, towards the end of the month.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The beat goes on...


Today I had just a tiny taste of what's in store during my walk across the northern shore of Lake Geneva (c. 80 kilometres), which I'm hoping to do over four days in the last week of March when the winter haze should have fully lifted. I took the train just a little way east of Lausanne to Pully, then walked down to Lutry, a medieval village on the lake shore. Above this part of Lake Geneva are steep hillsides planted with wine grapes.

From Lutry I walked back to Ouchy, which is like Lausanne's toe in the lake. It's so beautiful: swans on the water, the French Alps just across the way, lots of dogs out for walks, wonderful buildings. I'm fully aware of how lucky I am to be spending time in this beautiful part of the world. If only I could speak French...!

The end of the last couple of months of intense work pressure is in sight, and so to celebrate I'm going to Paris for five days at the end of next week. I got my train tickets today. I'm booked into a hotel in the Latin Quarter that has associations with the Beat poets.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bern, baby... Bern!


How come no one told me about Bern?

What a fabulous city! It's the capital of Switzerland but has a population of only about 130,000. It's about 500 years old, gorgeously situated on the Aare River, has stunning buildings (it's a UNESCO World Heritage site), and there are very funky shops in the lanes of the old town and along cobblestoned, colonnaded Marktgrasse. I went by train from Lausanne this afternoon when I created a window of opportunity for an excursion by starting work at 4.45 am. I didn't know anything about Bern and considered going only as far as Fribourg, which I thought would be more accessible for a visit of a couple of hours than a bigger city. So glad I went with Bern! I seemed to walk instinctively in the right direction, and then I couldn't believe my luck. I also found a great little cinema. I think a return visit for a night or two is on the cards.

Bern is very "German", where Lausanne is very "French".

Yesterday, I took the ferry across to Evian-les-Bains, on the French side of Lake Geneva. It's the old spa town where Evian water originates. There's a small old town area, a majestic former spa that now houses an art gallery and conference centre (I saw an exhibition of works showing daily life in 19th-century Paris), a casino and a marina. It's late winter and the town was very sleepy, but I had lunch and walked along the shoreline checking out the dogs.

Friday, March 4, 2011

From Lampang to Lausanne sur Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)


If anyone actually reads this blog, I feel I should apologise for the lack of frequent updates. I had hoped to update it every few days, but pressure of work has made it difficult to see and do as much as I might have if my time had been freer, and so there hasn't been much to recount. But it just goes to show that I'm not on a perpetual holiday. I do have some time blocked out for a break in May; the rest of the time it's what I'm calling "business as unusual", where I take my breaks where and when I can find them, just like everyone else.

Having said that, I did spend a couple of days in Lampang, a town two hours by rail south of Chiang Mai, last weekend. I ran a half marathon on the Sunday morning and placed second in the Female 50+ category. It was a fundraiser for the Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation, which was started by a Danish woman, Nana, whom I spent some time chatting with on the Saturday when I registered and again before and after the race.

There was a small field for the half; maybe 70 or so runners. We started at 5.30, in the dark. By 6.30 it was starting to become light, with people and monks heading for temples, and temple music playing. Lots of people spoke to me, or gave me a thumbs-up, or put their hands together and slightly bowed their head, as in the traditional Thai greeting. It was lovely.

I received a trophy at the awards ceremony, which I presented to Dom back in Chiang Mai at breakfast on Monday morning in thanks for his training company. I took him and Mike, and Peter and Jiab, to dinner on Sunday night after I returned to Chiang Mai. I felt quite sad saying goodbye to them.

Flew to Bangkok on Monday, where I mostly worked in my hotel room until it was time to head to the airport on Tuesday afternoon. I took time out for dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel, on the Chao Praya River, where I had stayed with my niece Jaye 20 years ago.

Flew via Doha to Geneva overnight on Tuesday, and then took the train to Lausanne. I was last in this neck of the woods in 2007, when I walked the Mont Blanc Circuit with my friend Wisty and a bunch of people on an Exodus trip. Before that, I was here with my niece Chloe in 2001, when we made a side trip to Lausanne and Montreux (and London) from our base in the Marais district in Paris. It would be fun to go to Paris for a couple of days while I'm here, but work pressure may knock that idea on the head. Hopefully, I'll be able to do a few things closer to home. I'm staying in the apartment owned by the people I rent the apartment in New York from. Their friend Liliane met me in a bistro at Lausanne Gare yesterday and brought me to the apartment. People are so nice :-)) On a clear day there are views from where I'm sitting across the lake to the Alps and France, but it's been very white/grey since I arrived.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Run off my feet ... with work


I definitely feel like I've been living in Chiang Mai during the past month. I've done very little that a tourist might do. I would like to have spent a couple of days trekking, visited some of the "long neck" villages, and flown with the gibbons on the flying fox through the trees. Instead, I've been visiting the dentist at regular intervals and trying to stay on top of my workload without having a meltdown.

I was very lucky to end up staying here at PJ's Place, which is small and homely. I've enjoyed getting to know Peter and Jiab, and long-term residents Mike and Dom, a little. Dom has run with me around the moat in the early morning a few times. It was his birthday this week and he took us all out for dinner to Chilli Mango. I also enjoyed meeting a friend of theirs, David, who lives in New Jersey.

Dom and Mike headed in a hire car to Lampang today for a few days at a resort on a river near a national park. Dom has just got his car driver's licence and was designated driver. Mike called earlier to say they had arrived safely. He sat in the back of the car. I don't know if he wore the motorbike helmet he had planned to wear. Peter and Jiab also went out of town today, to a village near the Burmese border for the funeral of a young guy (25) who had previously worked here and died suddenly this week.

My friend of 33 years, Chris, and I have been talking all week about our plan to meet in Alice Springs, in Central Australia, in July for a bit of a bush bash/camping holiday in his 4WD. I've never been out that way. Looking forward to it.

Tomorrow I'm taking the train to Lampang, where on Sunday I'm taking part in a half marathon to raise funds for the Lampang Pony Foundation. Notice that I didn't write "compete in" or "race in". I'm so undertrained it's not funny, but I'll enjoy the time out from work.

I've been in Asia since mid-November, so it will be a complete change now to head for Europe, where it's just on the verge of spring, so still quite cold. I have lots of great things planned (as my dad says, planning is one-third of the fun), including meet-ups with some fabulous friends made since I started my travels last May.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Which wat's what?


I've been in Chiang Mai a week. I was last here in about 1989, but I have no memory of the old city, the 700-year-old centre of town. The area is a square, 2km along each side, with remnants of the old wall and moat. There are 100 or so wats (temples) in Chiang Mai, and they are stunning. This one is Wat Phra Sing, on the western edge of the square. I want to spend a day wandering through the area but haven't had a chance to do so yet.

I'm staying about 10 minutes' walk from the old city. My neighbours Mike and Dom, permanent residents here at Peter and Jiab's guesthouse, have taken me under their wing. Dom took me on his scooter to Chiang Mai University for a run yesterday afternoon. (I had a run near there a few days ago.) He ran a circuit with me, then I attempted to run another on my own but got hopelessly lost. We are planning to do a 6 am run around the moat on Thursday.

Tomorrow I'm having my first run – at Hua Tung Tao Reservoir – with a woman named Ann. A few days ago I emailed the local Hash House Harriers and asked if they knew of anyone training for a marathon or half marathon who might like company on training runs. I had a response that led me to the British Council, and through a guy there I was put in touch with Ann, who does triathlons.

Work has been very busy, so my sightseeing so far has been squeezed in around that and visits to a dentist for the first week of some intense dental work.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Malacca (Melaka) Musings...


I've been very lucky again with my accommodation. Courtyard @ Heeren is a heritage building that has been very nicely revamped as a boutique hotel, and it's in a perfect location: parallel to the famous Jonker Walk in Malacca's Chinatown area and just a few minutes' walk from the really gorgeous Malacca River. The staff are very friendly and have really gone overboard to make me feel at home. Most guests come for a few days over the weekend from KL or Singapore, whereas I'm staying for 11 days. I've been here a week already; I leave on Monday for Chiang Mai.

Malacca has a very rich history going back to about the 1200s or 1300s. The period of the Sultanates was followed by Portuguese rule from the 1500s, then the Dutch, followed by the English. The Japanese occupied it during the war, then the English took over again before Malaya became independent Malaysia. It's a very multicultural place, like all of Malaysia, so there is breadth as well as depth to it.

Chinatown is a great area to stay, and especially just now in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

I particularly love the river that winds through town. It's more like a canal, and is lined with cafes and homes and heritage buildings. I ran along it one morning this week and late one afternoon.

I've been working very hard while I've been here (a couple of 4 am starts), but I've also tried to see something of interest each day. There's a whole bunch of museums close by. I've visited the art gallery and a couple of historical museums. I also saw a fascinating exhibition called "Enduring Beauty" (about deforming the body in the name of "beauty" by scarification, tattooing, neck rings, lip plates, foot binding, etc). There's a nice walk up the hill to the ruins of an old church with a very unsympathetically positioned (by the British) ruined lighthouse in front.

Yesterday I went to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with two work colleagues (and Facebook friends) at the Islamic Financial Services Board. Really enjoyed catching up with them again after meeting them for the first time in 2007.

At lunch today I met a woman from South Carolina who is travelling in a very intrepid fashion around Asia for three months with her eight-year old granddaughter. They'll be in Chiang Mai while I'm there, so we may catch up again.

This past week has also been about thinking ahead. I've entered a half marathon in Turkey in April, firmed up plans to walk in England (the Cotswold Way) in May with Tony and Jo (pals from last year's Coast to Coast walk across England), made plans to visit Luxembourg (for work) and maybe Germany for pleasure after the walk. And more...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Salaam, Bombay


It's been a case of Mumbai madness over the past week. My artist/illustrator friend Uma, whom I met in Malta in 2007, met my plane in Chennai very late on Wednesday night. My suitcase didn't make it, though it caught up with us two days later in Mumbai. I stayed with Uma and her sister Subashree for the night before Uma and I flew to Mumbai on Thursday morning. Terrific flight across the country. Quite barren and wild in parts, especially the Western Ghats.

We checked into the Taj Palace and Towers Hotel, just across the road from the Gateway of India. The Taj was one of the sites of the November 2008 terrorist attacks, and the security in the vicinity of the hotel is very tight. We went to some fabulous clothes markets opposite Crawford Market, where I bought some tops and leggings. Also checked out the fabulous Victoria Terminus rail station (VT), also a site of the 2008 terrorist attacks. We went to see a new-release Bollywood film on Thursday night at a cinema just near the hotel.

Friday until mid-afternoon was devoted mainly to seeing art. We met my running friend Sanjay at 3 pm in the rather funky little Samovar Cafe attached to the Jehangir Art Gallery, close by the National Museum of Modern Art. He and I then walked to where the running expo was being held for the Mumbai marathon and half marathon, to pick up our race packets. We met up again in the evening at the Cricket Club of India for drinks and then had dinner of crab at a nearby seafood place.

Saturday morning Uma and I took a ferry over to see the Elephanta Caves. She was a brilliant tour guide, as she could explain the significance of the various groupings of Shiva and co. We had a late lunch at the Leopold Cafe, another site of the 2008 attacks, where a very friendly Australian couple bent my ear for about an hour.

Sunday was the half marathon. I picked up Sanjay at 5 am, and we went together to the start at Bandra. A crowded start in the dark at 6:15, but after a couple of kilometres I found my stride and then maintained a pretty steady pace. We ran over the Sealink and along Marine Parade, beside the bay. It reminded me of the Melbourne half marathon a few years back! My final time was 2:10 (my slowest half time ever, I think) and I placed fifth in my age category (67th out of c. 1360 women overall). I saw the two Ethiopian women winners of the marathon sprint to the finish, with only a second separating them. Walked back to the Taj for a big breakfast.

Sanjay pulled a calf muscle about 15K into the run and had to be doped up to walk to the finish :-((

In the afternoon, Uma and I took a taxi out to see an exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor, a London-based Indian artist. I was really taken with the huge installation called "Shooting into the Corner", which involved pots of red wax being fired at a high white corner space using a cannon. Fantastic!

Back at the hotel I settled down to do some serious work.

In the late afternoon, Uma headed off to stay with her cousin for a couple of days before flying back to Chennai tonight. It was great to spend time with her, and I hope I can get back to Chennai sometime as there was no chance to see anything of it this trip.

Caught up with Sanjay and his wife Reetu at the Cricket Club of India again last night for drinks, and for dinner at a great little place near the Taj called Indigo. I'm going to head off there again now.

It's been fabulous meeting Sanjay after getting to know him over the last couple of years through the Dead Runners Society.

I've been struck by the number of dogs that lie sleeping by the roadsides in Mumbai (let sleeping dogs lie?), and by the amazingly gaudy horse-drawn carriages that ply their trade here in Colaba. I just saw one pony whose back legs were slipping all over the place on the cobblestones.

Tomorrow night I fly back to Malaysia – Malacca – until the end of the month.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kuching postscript, 11/1/11


A 'mishap' last night at Kuching Airport (the terminal was designed by Edric Ong, Ramsay's cousin), where an Air Asia flight skidded off the runway on landing in heavy rain, closed the place down for most of today. My flight was shuffled to tomorrow.

This event gave me time to focus on the job I'm doing for Sarawak Energy, though the tradeoff is I don't get to see anything of Chennai this time, apart from the drive to and from the airport.

The Sarawak Energy project came through Ruth S, who is Jay's neighbour. We met briefly the other night as I was walking to meet Mas and Jun to go to their karaoke bar. Ruth checked out my website and then mentioned me to Nick, and Nick made contact and came here on Sunday to explain what would be required.

Ruth and I had breakfast and a fabulous talk this morning at the Grand Margherita. We both felt like we'd already known each other for ages. She is also a dog person, with Bella, a Lab, back in Oz. Her sister, who lives in Wodonga (the twin town to my home in Oz), had even mentioned my Dogs' Breakfast Group to Ruth some time ago. And here we are, meeting in Borneo!

Au revoir, Kuching


I've been very busy while in Kuching, working on a marketing textbook as well as some smaller jobs. I've met a lot of new people this visit. Through Jackie (investment banker who started the Batik Boutique Hotel where I'm staying), I met Jay (formerly with the World Bank), who organises a lot of hikes. Two weekends ago I joined a hike to Jangkar Falls, c. 100 km from Kuching, with visitors from Melbourne Stephen (HR with World Vision) and Anthony (a "retired venture capitalist" who looks about 25!). Their friend Byron (a mortgage broker whose family lives in Kuching) was out of action for the day. I ended up slipping on wet rocks and banging my chin hard on a boulder. This led to a visit to Normah Hospital a day or so later for X-rays. Not broken, but badly bruised. I caught up with the boys for a brief lunch the day after the walk.

On 2 January I picked up where I'd left off with my training, and really enjoyed running along the river in the morning. I ran into Johnny (who I know from my last visit) a couple of days ago and we had a run yesterday. It's too wet to run this morning, and I have a breakfast meeting, but I'll catch up with him and Sim, Madeline and Alan in May when I'm back for a month. I loved seeing the same faces in the morning; people are just so nice. I talked with a lot of them. After running each day, I went to a cafe at the far end of the Main Bazaar for roti, which is where I met June. She's into kayaking. One morning Feeza, from Batik, came with me.

Mas, who also works here at Batik, and her husband Jun took me out for breakfast one day and to a karaoke cafe one night. Lovely people. I had to promise to learn a song for next time I'm visiting!

Had dinner a few times with Emily, Rita and Ka-Yee, Darroll and James; met Emily's mum and dad and uncle. We went to see "Tron" at Spring Mall last week. Emily and Rita are very special.

On Saturday Jackie and Jay organised another hike, on a trail that was supposed to lead to a lost antimony mine. Instead we ended up in a leech-infested swamp for three hours. The nice people – Jackie, Jay, John (banker), Kho (office equipment), Tan (?), Joanna (landscape designer) and Sharon (ICT) – made up for the leeches.

Through Jay I met Ruth S, who is working here with Sarawak Energy Berhad on an 18-month assignment. Ruth mentioned me to Nick W, who is involved with a huge rebranding exercise at SEB. Nick got in touch and we had a meeting here on Sunday morning. Today I'm having breakfast with Ruth to go over the brief for my first job for them.

I had my first appointment with Josephine, beauty therapist extraordinaire, yesterday: a three-hour facial.

The crew here at Batik have been amazing: Lily, Kenny, Peter the Great, Hafizz, Raj, Jake, Jo-Lyn, Hafeeza, Mas, Umpai...

On Sunday morning I met a group of runners just after they had finished their regular long run. They have invited me to join them in May when I'm back: Min is an architect, Lim an English and PE teacher, Belinda a teacher and vice principal, Samantha an interior designer and Sara, a student (daughter of Min and Sam).

I think Kuching is unique in the friendliness and openness of people you meet casually on the street. I'm really looking forward to coming back in May.

Today I'm flying to Chennai, India, to spend time with my friend Uma. We met at Norbert Attard's studio in Malta in 2007. On Thursday we're flying to Mumbai for six nights. I'm looking forward to meeting Sanjay, a friend since 2009 through the Dead Runners Society.