The Ivory Curl trees were in full bloom the day we drove to the mountains. Other than Milano’s on the Mall after work on a Friday, the loose scattering of odd-shaped volcanic plugs called the Glasshouse Mountains are one of my favourite places in Queensland. Driving up to the Sunshine Coast these past few weekends, Mt. Tibrogargan always catches me out. Its shape-shifting profile means that as you drive around it it’s apt to take on different appearances.
Walking over the rocks that separate Alexandra Headland from Mooloolaba I nearly stood on a sea snake. I made sure it was dead before inspecting it closely. It was silver, with dark bands, and up close you could see it had non-overlapping hexagonal scales. They weren’t perfect, however; it was as if they came from the same mold that produced the basalt stacks at Giant’s Causeway, the odd coastal formation in Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland that we’d visited last Easter. I looked it up later using the photos I’d taken and found it was a Hydrophis elegans; an elegant sea snake.
The Mooloolah river flows into the Coral Sea just south of the seaside town of Mooloolaba. In its final half kilometre it wraps around a spit, enveloping the boats anchored in Mooloolaba Marina that stick out into it on hundred-metre-long arms. On arm C of the Marina is a thirty-five-or-so foot yacht called the Gráinne Mhaol (pronounced Grawnya Wail) owned by our Irish friends Karl and Kara. Knowing they were heading off on an Antarctic cruise in the new year, we asked them around Christmastime if they needed someone – knowing full well they didn’t – to housesit the Gráinne while they were away. Magnanimously, they played along and said that’d be great, actually. We could keep an eye out in case anything happened while they were away, like a plague of bluebottles or a shower of cane toads.
Pandanus, Alexandra Headland Continue reading
We left Zakynthos the old-fashioned way: by ferry and bus to Athens. There’s nothing like being on the water to make you feel like you’re leaving or arriving on an island – coming by plane just can’t compare. On a calm sea we slowly watched Zakynthos turn into a hazy blur on the horizon, a slightly darker blue meeting the ultramarine of the sea.
For the end of September, it was unusually hot in Athens. The Friday afternoon traffic held us up but we finally arrived in our modest little apartment. Once again we chose to use AirBnb for the luxury of having a bit more room in which to spread out and for the option of eating in if we wanted. We were in the Pangrati district, just a quick walk across a park from the Evaggelismos metro stop and, most importantly, the Airport Bus. Walking into Syntagma Square, the epicentre of Athens, took about 15 minutes, except for the time we ended up going in circles in the National Gardens trying to find an exit. Continue reading
Our couchsurf near Salon-de-Provence was perfectly situated for day tours into the hill towns of Provence. Our first tour was to be of the Alpilles, a long limestone range full of olive trees, vineyards and medieval towns.
We got off to a bit of a bumpy start, circumnavigating Salon a couple of times before finding the correct road. We’d planned a little route round the Alpilles, starting at Eyguières, transiting Mouriès, then hitting Les Baux-de-Provence, where we had our first stop.
We picked up a car near the Nîmes train station and headed for our next destination – a Couchsurf near Salon-de-Provence. But as we had a bit of time to kill we decided to do a little side trip along the way. Referring to our guidebook we found a detour to the town of Miramas-le-Vieux. They really seem to like these hyphenated town names here, sometimes stretching to four or five words strung together in a memory-testing place name. We duly took turned off from the highway and headed south.
After about 20 minutes we approached the outskirts of a large town which turned out to be Miramas (note the lack of ‘-le-Vieux’). This ugly modern town seemed to bear no resemblance to the guidebook’s description so we decided to drive on and look for an alternative. Just after exiting the town we spotted a discrete sign up a narrow local road for ‘Miramas-le-Vieux’. We’d just discovered one of the little touring pitfalls – if there is a town called ‘le-Vieux’, which of course means ‘the-old’, then that most likely indicates that there is also a newer, and usually much less picturesque, town with the same name waiting to confuse visitors.
This guy got up from his seat two rows behind us on the Toulouse-Nîmes TGV to have a go at the family in the four-seater space opposite us, whose kids were – fair enough – being a bit noisy, albeit harmlessly so, I felt, since they looked like nice people, and you could tell the kids were smart, and while naturally I couldn’t catch everything the guy was saying it was definitely some sort of appeal to the mother to keep the kids’ jabber down, but she, long-legged and splendid of hair, kind of like Michelle Obama, tranquilly rebuffed his every plaintive “Mais Madame…”, explaining that kids will be kids, and saying “That’s just how they are: I don’t have a choice.” to which he answered “Moi non plus, Madame”, turning away, having failed to receive satisfaction, whereupon the father, hitherto uninvolved, offered the guy a desultory “Desolé”.
At the end of a raw spring week sleet and windy, Sunday turned the corner into May, ready to make amends. That morning we stepped out of our Theseus Walk Airbnb pied-à-terre and caught the number 38 bus to Charing Cross Road, ready to take it on foot from there.
Maybe I’d been listening to too many Shane MacGowan songs, but I’d forgotten how pretty Leicester Square can be when it’s quiet and the weather’s good. Thick with tourists, touts, and down and outs as it usually is, it’s hard to appreciate its prettiness under normal circumstances, but on May Day we got to see the square with the Bard and the Little Tramp in a clean light, and it was nicer than I’d imagined it would be.
On a cold February evening in 1999 I met my future husband in a pub on Main Street, Clifden. By the end of the year I’d moved to that little market town on the Atlantic, where I spent the next four years before moving back to Australia.
As little towns in Ireland go, Clifden’s not bad. Being a tourist town, there are pubs, boutiques and restaurants a-plenty. It’s a vibrant place full of tourists, and you’re always close to beautiful sandy beaches. But in winter it suffers the full force of the Atlantic weather and the tourists disappear along with a good portion on the locals. It’s just you and the mountains. And the lonely bogs.