Category Archives: travel

bingo bingo bingo!!!

OK, been away for a little while – had a WONDERFUL holiday – sorry to anyone who expected me to blog while I was away… that was just not going to happen! Still, now I’m back and there’s no excuse, so here’s the first installment of a few retrospective travel posts – hope you enjoy them!

We were very worried about Swine Flu. Not catching it, but being forcibly quarantined because of suspected contact with it. We already knew it was a mild flu, because our daughter had, a fortnight earlier, had a confirmed case and had recovered within days. No, paranoia was definitely our biggest fear, especially during our two night stopover in Hong Kong.

This fear snapped into sharp reality almost as soon as we arrived… we were walking up one of the labyrinthine ramps in Hong Kong airport, somewhere between disembarking and baggage collection when we found ourselves being checked on an heat-sensitive camera. Imagine my horror when the girl watching the screen leaps up, gesturing to her offsider, and shouting “bingo bingo bingo!!!”, and she was pointing… at ME! Yes, I was stopped mid stream and taken aside because apparently I was giving off more heat than everyone else. I’m sure they thought they’d caught a live one. Hard to say, but I choose to believe she was crestfallen when an in-ear thermometer check revealed the heat went no more than skin deep. Survived round one!

Next hurdle, the taxi from the station to our hotel. Very friendly and happy local with only a very little english. Seemed quite animated when we told him we were heading for the Metropark Wanchai, a lot of misunderstanding before we finally realise what he’s trying to tell us. The Metropark had just reopened after being sealed off with all guests in quarantine for a week! What can you say? We just hoped Swine Flu was a bit like lightning in never striking twice in the same spot. Sure enough, the hotel was adorned with photos and newspaper articles describing the events of the prior week. Looks like they made the best of a bad situation. Glad we weren’t there!

masking the problemBy this time, we were quite used to face masks. I’d say about a third of the people on the street were wearing them. Even the hosties on the plane were wearing them! It was all a bit disconcerting. In true Hong Kong fashion though, this was not seen as a downside, but a business opportunity – they were for sale everywhere – in bulk!

The other side effect of the war on Swine Flu was an almost religious cleaning regime. Hong Kong people seem to be very civic minded already – cleaning up after their dogs – holding handrails – keeping clear of the edge… there are reminders everywhere, but hygiene was the new fashion. There were public advertisements, television spots. The one we really liked though was the notices in many public places to the effect of “This button (door handle|toilet seat|etc.) is disinfected four times daily”, accompanied by an army of helpful and motivated hygiene enforcers. It was great!

Manly part two

manly panoramaStill banging on about my recent Sydney trip. I took an extra day in my schedule for a bit of tourism. After a bit of deliberation, I decided to head for the Spit Bridge and did the Spit to Manly Scenic Walkway.

Beautiful! Unlike anything else I’ve done in Sydney. There were some places which really take your breath away. It’s not just the views either, there’s constant entertainment as you pass amazing sculptured sandstone cliffs, sudden changes in microclimate, aboriginal rock carvings, brilliant wildflowers, secluded beaches. I passed a fairly constant stream of european tourists, chattering in french, german and I think even russian.

A fabulous place for a walk. Nice accurate map of it all on Open Street Map, so you can download it to your GPS :-)

Manly vs. Melbourne

I was in Sydney last week for the excellent WDS08, but it was some other aspects of Sydney that I want to write about this time.

1. Soul

Sydney doesn’t seem to have one. I find it an intensely sad city – I’m sure there are exceptions, but Sydney is beautiful in spite of what has been done to it, not because of it. I’ll admit that the areas I visited probably skewed my view, but at any time you can see thousands of people rushing along and not noticing the real world around them. It’s hard not to lust after harbour views, a fancy boat and a sports car when there is so much wealth so obviously on display, but I reckon Sydneysiders have forgotten how to be happy in themselves. A shame.

2. Rugby

While I was in Sydney, there was an incredible build up to the Rugby League Semi Final between the Cronulla Sharks and (the common enemy), Melbourne Storm. I honestly don’t give a toss about Rugby – the game bores me to tears, but I was amazed at the level of vitriol and wildly biased reporting that flooded the press and airways before the game. They had totally written Melbourne off well before the game started. Of course, Melbourne trounced Cronulla something like 26-0. I went back to my hotel room and watched the last 30 minutes or so, but the commentators wouldn’t give up… with literally minutes to go and a huge deficit – they continued to call the Melbourne players slow and tired. Obviously not as slow and tired as the Cronulla players, but that didn’t seem to register.

I can sort of understand the controversial comments from Melbourne Storm’s coach and Manager, I’ll be they get thoroughly sick of listening to that sort of garbage all season. Anyway, it’s all down to a Grand Final against Manly, who also thrashed their opposition, so they seem to be a worthy opponent.

3. Coffee

It’s a long standing joke that you can’t get a decent coffee in Sydney. I don’t think it’s really that bad, but there are still plenty of fancy cafés that don’t seem to worked it out. However, I am delighted to report that things are improving and I have found at least one place where the fussiest coffee snob can get a brew that is nothing short of superlative. It’s Manly once again – hmm… is there a pattern here? no! – but tucked away, just off the garish Corso, is Scuzi Mi (sorry, I can’t remember the name exactly) in Darley Road. You really can’t miss it – amongst the franchise cafés Sydney seems to be flooded with it, stands out like a sore thumb. I chose it because it looked like it belonged in Sydney Road and the long macchiato I had was nothing short of sensational.

the city bike…

the city bikeIf you’re visiting Adelaide and you like to ride a bike, you’re in luck. The city has a scheme of free bicycle hire it calls City Bikes. Yep, totally free – all you have to do is provide some sort of ID as collateral (eg: licence, passport), and you’re on your way, with a bike, helmet and lock.
The city is as flat as a pancake, the roads are generally wide and almost always quiet, and the parks have a network of well maintained trails. It is paradise on two wheels!

where was their spirit of adventure?

One of the fascinating things about Google’s Street View coverage of Australia is the amazingly out of the way places they got to. I love this aspect – dirt roads that wind along in the back blocks of the never never.

Anyway, I was panning around the Gulf Country of far north Queensland when I noticed the blue line didn’t go all the way to Normanton. Odd – so I dropped the little yellow guy as close as I could to the end of the line and saw in the distance what looked like… yes, I think it is… water! Ha! that’s the Gulf Country for you.

Burke development road

No wonder they never got to Normanton :-)

Domain – first to market with Street View?

Checking my moderation queue, and noticed a comment on yesterday’s street view post, that seems to be from someone on the Domain team. I didn’t see the comment until this morning, but I did receive an announcement email from Domain yesterday and was mightily impressed with their use of streetview.

Obviously, they’ve had access to the service for a little while now and have implemented a slick tab method of switching between street view and map view. In fact, I think it’s better, or at least more intuitive than the default ‘balloon’ that most google maps use.

With this release, Australians are entering a whole new dimension of real estate and travel. Without even thinking about it, I have already checked out a hotel I am hoping to book in Adelaide (confirmed easy access to the Torrens and gardens), I also poked around a couple of interesting properties in Fitzroy ad noted that while the real estate pages mention nothing about graffiti, the street view shot clearly shows that the property is regarded as a bit of a ‘canvas’ by locals.

What I can’t quite fathom about Street View in Australia, is the incredible coverage. I can understand the Google investment in cities and tourism areas – there’s an obvious commercial return there, but I am completely puzzled (and delighted) that they seem to have driven from Jamieson up the Woods Point road to Gaffney’s Creek! That’s impressive!

I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot about this in the coming weeks. My congratulations to the team at Google for such an impressive launch and also to Domain for an excellent commercial implementation. Go check it out!

Ballina’s last resort

Well here I am at Ballina Beach Resort, the venue for Ausweb08 – one of the world’s oldest internet based conferences. It doesn’t have the cachet of the newcomers like Web Directions, but it still attracts some good thinkers and some interesting topics.

One of the features of this conference, however, is that it is always in rather nice beachside locations. This gives the poor old academic a welcome break from the humdrum of campus, but I suspect it has in some ways cheapened the message being delivered.

Anyway, this one, as I said, is in Ballina. The location is just a few minutes walk from the beach, the venue is comfortable, but – and this is a big but – why do conference venues think it’s OK to serve such god awful food? I’ve had bad, but this is utterly woeful. The breakfast this morning nominally cost $20. What I got was a choice of: toast with peanut butter and jam; some basic cereals; a bain-marie which was mostly empty but occasionally topped up with some greasy bacon, and rubbery scrambled eggs; no decent fruit; no pastries. Totally pathetic, when you consider that just up the road in Byron Bay, there are creators of some of the best coffee, jams, spreads, muesli, and organic foods in Australia.

The empty bain-marie at Ballina Beach Resort
The most pathetic breakfast ever!

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Before the conference program kicked in and I was able to choose my own food, we found some absolute gems. Thai by Night, on the main stret in Ballina served up the best Thai food I’ve had since I left Chiang Mai. Then we had breakfast at The Harvest Cafe in Newrybar just a few k. north of Ballina. Sensational… utterly beautiful. Oh, and after that we went on the the Byron Bay Sunday market – more great food and snacks. While I’m stuck in the conference my travel partners have sampled the excellent food at the local RSL. So there’s plenty of choice if you look around – just don’t even think about eating at Ballina Beach Resort… they don’t deserve a second chance.

not same same

Laem Set at sunsetIt’s a long way from Chiang Mai to the island of Ko Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand. We’re 9 degrees from the equator – roughly the same as the tip of Cape York, but along with all the differences there are all the similarities. Continue reading