I recently entered a short article for the ABC’s community page, ABC Open. They have a theme of the month, with this month’s theme being “Running with Scissors” – a story where you undertook something daring, out of the ordinary…
“Eight months into my marriage, I realised something’s gotta give. Feeling trapped in a dud job and needing space from an ever-present spouse, I decided to tackle a solo female cycling tour – 1000 kilometres in 14 days. Sure I love cycling, but I’d never done more than 20 kilometres in a single sitting. Until then.
Preparation was short, dictated by the need for a quick getaway. I remember reading a few blogs and forums for touring cyclists, highlighting the need to prepare for rainy weather. “Never mind, it’s September in Europe”, I remember thinking – “not really the wet season” and “it won’t happen to me”. How wrong can one wager?
Landing in Maastricht, the hilly part of Holland, I remember looking for a quiet corner on the airport where I could unpack my partially dismantled bicycle from its airplane box and mante it, as a woman would say. Or try to. Hubby did try and give me some directions and practice. It must have worked, because I was off some time later. In a time before GPS, map roaming and technological advances, it was just me and my printed maps. I glided along rivers, over hills and through passes – Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany – getting lost often, wasting energy.
I hit rain. I decided to wait it out. I lost. That feeling of getting ready to continue a cycling tour – not a day tour or a quick dart – when it’s pouring outside, and you know you’ll be wet in five minutes flat, that feeling is indescribable. Defeat before you even start. You set off, your face gets slapped with wet. Then your saddle bags, then your shoes and finally the backsplash from the wheels. You should have heard the conversations in my head.
One other time saw me crying in frustration when my saddlebag’s string got caught in my spokes, broke off, got tangled so badly that it damaged the wheel. All the while it was past 5pm in a sleepy Belgian village. An unanticipated overnighter.
There were good times too, quite a few. Beer in youth hostels. Freedom as you cycle downhill through forests and riversides. Hobbling over antiquated cobblestones in tiny, ancient villages. Having a dorm room all to yourself. Growing stronger, cycling further each day. Missing my spouse.
We made up, we’re still together 10 years later. And I have a story to tell. I since read somewhere: “The worst day of cycling beats the best day at work”. I agree wholeheartedly now, but back then, I’m not so sure. I would do it again, though. With more preparation.”
Warning: This post is written by a garden admirer/enthusiast, with no formal garden vocabulary up her sleeve!
This past weekend I attended my third Galston Open Gardens event since moving to Sydney. Galston is a town located about 40km northeast of Sydney, in a beautiful rural setting with green pastures and in October, a few fillies, ducklings and baby goats to be seen!
The Open Gardens event is usually held on the third weekend of October each year. There are around 8 privately owned open gardens, scattered across a 15km radius. Entry fees are $20 per person for all 8 gardens, or $5 per garden and tickets are sold at each garden.
The diversity of the gardens are spectacular and range from formal designs to “garden meets forest flows” as many homes have a forest border. Spring makes for a colourful canvas, with jasmine and honey scents following the visitors and attracting native birds.
Because gardening is such a personal matter, I feel a little mean for picking my favourite. But alas, give credit where credit is due – my favourite garden this year was Garden 2 (Callooh Calley) with its perennial step garden and multitude of roses and iris. I didn’t want to leave this place, especially not after seeing several crimson rosellas (red and blue parrots) playing around this lovely, serene space.
Hats off to all garden owners who participated – your hard work is magnificent and visitors appreciate you opening your gardens to fellow gardeners and enthusiasts. Thanks also to the Galston Garden Club for arranging this event.
Pictures of gardens speak better than words, so here you go:
As life on the road goes, not everything is just rosy. I also had to squeeze in an emergency visit to a Dutch dentist, as my crown couldn’t wait to fall out until we got back from our holidays. The experience is like any other dental visit – marred by angst. I’ll spare you the details, but the most notable difference was that the dentists there shake your hand, introducing themselves only as “Magriet” or “Anneloes” – no fancy titles there, just a lady fixing your teeth.
Indonesian Ricetable (Rijsttafel)
I have been obsessed with a quasi-Dutch cuisine called Indonesian Ricetable (rijsttafel) since I read about it in a fancy travel magazine many years ago and decided to make this the theme for my 21st birthday party. Needless to say, after trying the real thing in Amsterdam, I can vouch that what I served at my 21st birthday party was not what the Dutch, nor the Indonesians, had in mind, but nevertheless, my friends would never know until they experience it first hand too.
Mum and I dined at a well-known Dutch-Indonesian restaurant, with only a handful of tables, after a kindly call from our landlords to the restaurant. This cuisine stems from the time when Indonesia was a Dutch colony (1800-1949). The idea is to have a central pot of steamed white rice on the table, surrounded to the brim by tiny, yet extremely flavourful dishes. Between 8 and 40 tiny dishes can be ordered and the spread includes vegetarian and various meaty dishes. It is a culinary treasure hunt and best enjoyed by two or more people, who can point each other in the right direction regarding the spiciness and eccentricity of a dish. A word of advise: Take your time. There is no point in rushing through this exploration. You might only experience it once in your life and it’s so very special. The meal was concluded with a digestif of Dutch gin (jenever) in a local pub. Strong stuff, watch where you’re walking, but enjoy the gawking.
A final tip of mine would be to watch your step carefully in Amsterdam, especially when walking the busy streets. There is a myriad of things to see, and what you see is often so authentically quaint, that you can’t help but be momentarily mesmerized by the sight. Yet, and this is a big yet: Should you cross the road without looking specifically for bicycles, the Dutch cyclists will mow you down without a doubt. If they miss, they will make it a memorable experience by shouting at the top of their lungs at you, in Dutch – and if this isn’t enough, all the other cyclists around you will then start ringing their bells to show solidarity with the shouter. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. They do not slow down, partly because they are in the right, and partly because the sturdy Dutch bicycles do not have gears, so once they get going with the wind from behind, there’s little point in braking, even for tourists – how else will they learn? With great relief, I can assure you that neither mum nor I had to learn this lesson the hard way, due to frequent but frantic reminders to each other.
Visit Amsterdam as soon as you can, it’s a special city that makes for gorgeous photos and splendid memories. And if your mum is anything like mine, take her with. It should help you crawl out of your shell and exterminate your embarrassment bug.
Once back to the safety of normal Amsterdam streets, where groups of drunken men aren’t leering and being excessively loud with bravado, Mum and I discovered a whole different peepshow of our own – gawking unashamedly into people’s houses. It’s not our fault, really – the Dutch don’t draw their curtains! What better way to satisfy my interior design cravings than to stare into the most beautifully lit and decorated homes at night.
It’s all so very European: Think clean lines of Ikea meet quirky Dutch design. What’s more, every house exhibits extravagant floral arrangements, because let me tell you, flowers are cheap as chips. The source is a mere 20 kilometres away, acre upon acre of tulip fields and greenhouses.
Which brings me to my highlight of our trip: A daytrip to Keukenhof, a tulip park just outside Amsterdam. This stunningly designed flower park spans 32 hectares and is open for only 2 months of the year during spring. With hard work and meticulous planning, the creators put forth the most impressive displays of floral colour and design, as well as hosting orchid shows, showcasting gardening ideas and presenting other forms of entertainment. Mum and I love all forms of gardens and we make it a point to visit open gardens and botanical institutions wherever we travel. Hence my question to said Dutch friend: “Did you visit Keukenhof every year as a kid, you lucky duck?” To which he answered with a look of utter dismay on his face: “Are you kidding me? What child wants to visit a flower park?” My bubble was thoroughly burst.
Outside Keukenhof, they also offer bicycles for rent. I jumped at the idea, because it has been a dream of mine to cycle through Dutch tulip fields since a very young age. I can’t remember which book put it squarely in my mind, but there you have it, not all children are created equally. That day I soared. On my sturdy Dutch bicycle, along canals, through villages, past tulip fields I cruised. This was hands down one of the best days of my life, because it was even better than I imagined it to be. The clean yet fragrant air, the companionship, because Dutch people cycle in droves and they greet each other wherever they cycle, so you are forever being engaged in your experience. But above all, navigating a 15km round trip with only a crudely drawn A4 map, all on my own.
Exploring Amsterdam with a disturbingly curious mother is no small feat, especially if you have hang-ups about things of a questionable nature and Mum doesn’t.
Let’s start at the beginning: Amsterdam must be one of the most charming cities in Europe, with kilometres of canals, bicycle paths and tiny bridges wherever you look. Add to this already romantic picture Spring, the houseboats and the famous narrow, yet slightly leaning buildings, and you have enough to feed your imagination for weeks to come. We were told that these buildings lean slightly forward for a very good reason, and the reason is not poor architecture or moving foundations, although these exist. No, when these building went up in the 1600’s, some architects believed in the optical illusion that makes the buildings seem more imposing – they are literally towering over the onlooker.
Huge hooks adorn the top front of most buildings, which are used to help move furniture with ropes, because the staircases are invariably narrow, given the width of the building. A Dutch friend once told me that he used to live on the top floor of an old building, where the staircase simply wasn’t built to the top for lack of space. Instead, the last few steps to the top was achieved by hoisting yourself up a rope. This kind of living arrangement is obviously only suited to strong young men, Mum and I thought, and I sneaked a quick peek at our booking again.
Not to worry, we were boooked into an imposing period home close to Vondelpark, a park well known for cycling, picnicking and summer concerts – including fondling no doubt. The period home was aptly named Prince Henry and we felt like royalty, because the Dutch know a thing or two about interior design and making the most of small spaces. No ropes in our room.
Apart from doing the girly thing of exploring every little tea shop and boutique in Amsterdam – and there are hundreds – Mum eventually acknowledged that she wanted more spice, and not for cooking. This is, after all, the city known for its red light district and medicinal coffee shops. Hence our evening walking tour of the red light district. Although some early signs of spring were visible during the daytime, March evenings are still pretty fresh. Fitted out in chunky jackets, woolen scarves, ear muffles, long socks and winter boots, we set off to meet our tour guide, Sally. Meeting place: A hotel lobby across from Centraal Station.
Unless you ever had to ask: “Are you also here for the red light district walking tour?” with your elderly mother in tow, I can tell you now, I win this one.
Once we were gathered, a good 12 of us – all perfectly normal looking tourists – Sally sets out the rules. Numbers 1-10: “NO photographs of the ladies. Understood? They value their privacy as much as anyone. Absolutely NO photograps.”
Only the highlights follow, as I’m sure you’re as curious as Mum – who, by the way, asked the majority of questions, bless her:
There are certain ‘areas’ within the red light district for every fancy that may need tickling – Eastern European ladies, African ladies, Asian ladies etc.
There used to be ‘men for hire’, but business was so slow that they’ve discontinued that line of service.
Rooms are rented per night, and rent is pretty steep.
“Service fees” are charged per 15 minutes. The average “service” lasts 6 minutes.
Police patrol the area vigorously and a “safety light system” has been introduced to ensure the ladies’ safety. Each room has a panic button inside, and if this is activated, an alarm light flashes out front and this alerts the police that something untoward is happening.
The oldest registered prostitutes are twin sisters aged in their mid-seventies!
By the by, Mum did try and sneak in a photograph, and when I called her on it, her casual response was: “The flash isn’t on.” Go on earth, swallow me now.
I have to share one of my favourite walks with you. We live in Artarmon, Sydney (about 5km from the Sydney Harbour Bridge). Quite early on when we moved here, I followed a path one day, and it kept going – around sporting fields, under a highway, through a little nature reserve, past another sporting field – the path just went on and on.
At some point, I saw a jogger emerge from a side path, looking fairly off the beaten track. But if the runner could go there, so could I. I decided to follow the path. It took me through a forest, down to a stream, all along a stream, even a rock crossing at some point, and past another sporting field (3!) At last, there was an end to this journey – except for the uphill way back. The end point was Middle Harbour – I have walked a good 5km to Middle Harbour with a breathtaking view of moored boats in a river enclave, surrounded by beautiful gum trees and soaring, rowdy cockatoos. Here’s a glimpse:
My dear mom was visiting me for 8 weeks this year – her first time in Australia. We decided to do a camping trip down the South Coast of NSW and the results were great!
Day 1: We visited Bowral and their Tulip show and gained free entry by a fluke! It was glorious to be walking amongst the tulip displays. That night we camped at Bundanoon – Morton National Park, and we also did the Glow Worm Glen walk after dark – just the two of us, and some 6 little creatures (not glow worms) who turned out to be wombats – gave us a small fright when we first saw them, looking like little bears roaming. The Glen was quiet, we were the only ones there on a Sunday night, which was special and just a tad eerie!
Day 2: We visited Fitzroy Falls before going through a beautiful pass called Bellawongarah, or Bundewallah. Small road, not suitable for caravans. We then visited Berry where I wanted some Berry Tarts or pies, but instead we settled on a banana honey cake (gluten free of all things) from Berry Bakery and it wasn’t half bad. It lasted a good 3-4 days, came in very handy at coffee breaks when we needed something sweet. We also stocked up on some groceries, before heading to Booderee National Park. My favourite.
I was there for the first time around 28 Dec 2014 and all 3 campsites in Booderee were completely booked. I vowed to come back – my memories served me well for the next 9 months. At last I had the chance to camp there with my mom and I wasn’t disappointed. There are 3 campsites – with Cave Beach being quite rough – no warm water, only a few toilets, and you have to walk down from your car to the camp, carrying all your camping stuff with you – about 300 metres, but it gets heavy with the 5th cycle and we each had a tent, duvets, little mattresses, pillows, cookery, camping chairs, a table etc. etc. But once you’re there, it’s glorious. We set up camp right next to the pond, with deafening frog songs right through the night. By early daylight, when the froggy pandemonium died down, the birds quickly took over. We stayed 2 nights, as we couldn’t muster up the energy to pack up and walk up the hill with all our stuff. The sunsets alone make this worth the effort, though:
I spent a great morning on the beach (Green Patch, Scottish Rocks, Hole in the Wall) and we also went to visit the nearby towns of Sanctuary Point, Erowal Beach, Wright’s Beach (where I spent a night in Dec 2014 in the car at the boat mooring place) and St Georges Basin. Lastly I showed her Hyams Beach and it’s infamous little coffee shop, where city dwellers on holiday were queueing for their morning lattes.
The next day we packed up just in time, as it started raining. To be honest, we did go for warm showers in the other camp (Bristol Point), totally worth it. We also checked out the Booderee Botanical Gardens and I saw a Diamond Python, who took one look at me and decided to get out of the way.
Day 4: We got as far as Bendalong – which my colleague insisted we visit. Well worth it. A bay so turqouise, it’s hard to leave, and forests all round. We spent the night in a very nice campground (the only one in Bendalong), in the power-free area and all was well, until this family with a very noise little boy moved in next to us. And that was the end of our peace. I went for a well-deserved beach walk over sunset, and got back refreshed, and the kid was quiet as it was close to bed time. We grilled sausages that we bought at the only little shop in town. We also drove to Manyana, the neighbouring town to have a look – loads of houses and nothing else. Apparently it’s a breeding ground for sharks, because of the sandy kind of inlet that is exposed during low tide, but gives protection during high tide.
Day 5: We drove South – through Ulladulla, which wasn’t half bad – I was curious what a place with a name like that is like, and it was pretty nifty – we stocked up in a huge Coles and there’s even a large Bunnings where we bought gas for our cooker and my mom bought me a beautiful candle in a bird motif pie dish. We drove to Pretty Beach to look for camping places – the long weekend was getting closer and everyone was warning us that they were booked out. We didn’t quite found what we were looking for at Pretty Beach – absolutely nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t us. We drove through the State Forest to Pebbly Beach, best drive in a long time. The forest was glorious, the road not bad, and it was the day that the flying ants (some kind of termite) all decided to hit the road. Pebbly Beach was not our kind of place – and even more so with the flying things in the air. We pushed through to Depot Beach and we were not disappointed. We immediately knew this was our place. Camping on the edge of the forest with the birds going crazy, but a seaview of turquoise water. We would have stayed longer if we could, but one night was all they had available, as the next day was the start of the long weekend and they were all booked out and were expecting 170 new arrivals. The ablutions weren’t the best, but the camp site was. It was here that I used a box telephone? What is it called? for the first time in years. There is no cellphone reception in the whole area, so I needed to let hubby know where we were and that we were okay.
Day 6: Stopped at Batemans Bay for fish & chips and it was BUSY. Everyone coming down for the long weekend. It was frankly way too busy for two ladies who just spent the last few nights with frogs and wombats and little else. We made our way down, enquiring where we would be able to find something quieter. They said Narooma was lovely, but there was a music festival on that weekend, which would have made it loud and full. We decided to skip it. But when we hit Narooma at 5pm that day, tired, warm and sweaty, we decided to try our luck. There is one caravan park down in the centre of town, which looked as full and hot as we felt, and it was right across from the music festival – we gave that one a skip. But then we found another one, about 2km outside of town towards Mystery Bay, at Surf’s beach. Lovely receptionist, lovely spot, well kept park. A little more expensive, but well worth it. Excellent ablutions, we could do our laundry, we even moved to a more idyllic spot the next day (just picked up our erected tents and dragged it across!). We did still hear the thump-thump of bass music that night, but with the roaring sea on the one side and my earplugs on the other, I didn’t have much trouble sleeping.
Day 7: We drove on to Merimbula that day, again on a recommendation, but again, it was too busy for us. We had fish, chips and slushies on the beach, and drove on to Eden, which was kind of our aim for the trip. And there we found Garden of Eden. A holiday park so perfect, we could have stayed forever. By this time we had enough of erecting tents, so we opted for an apartment. It was set in lovely gardens, with birds playing around the whole day. There were quite a lot of permanent dwellers and very few campers. On the one side, we had Lake Curalo, and on the other side the beach. And I took my time to drive around and found my perfect spot for a house – on the Nethercote Road, and when I took my mom to have a look at it, 2 horses magically appeared! Hoping to be fed! We only had one mandarin, which my mom begrudgingly offered to the horses (she bought it and they were very sweet – the mandarins, but the horses too). They loved it. We also visited the view points and Cocora Beach. We loved Eden and the friendly people there.
Day 8: We had to stay another day, of course! I visited Ben Boyd National Park and the Pinnacles and some beaches.
Day 9: We packed up and started our journey home. We took the smaller inland roads, had pies at Bemboka (ham, bacon, cheese and something else- oh, potato!) and ate it at a viewpoint we thought would never materialise (in the Snowy Mountains). Before that, we tried to find a picnic spot closer to Bemboka, only to be nearly run over by a herd of cattle, so happy to be out and about that they were doing the happy cow dances.
We drove through Cooma, where I had a rest and saw an Eastern Rosella for the first time. The drive was so windy, it really took it out of me to steer, and have this warm wind blow at you the whole time. During my rest, I found a cheap but nice place in Canberra for us, so we headed straight there. Best Western Sunset or something. Very nice lodgings indeed, just outside of town. By the we have been driving with the car’s ABS light on for about 2 hours and were really worried that the car would break down in the middle of nowhere, with dusk (and kangaroos) approaching soon – so many decaying kangaroos and wombats I’ve never seen before.
Day 10, last day, we spent at the Floriade in Canberra (as we started with a tulip festival in Bowral on our first day!) which was lovely. We also visited the Canberra Botanical Gardens and picnicked there. We didn’t see much of Canberra unfortunately, as we were anxious to get home before dark. After stopping in Goulburn for a break and a quick shop at Vinnies and some other odd shops, we bought yummy stuff from a very busy bakery to have on our way home. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we had a very near miss of an accident, which left us a little rattled and so we just pushed on home.
Home sweet home, thanks Mom for a lovely trip, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else! And thanks hubby for waiting so patiently for us and holding the fort at home.