Musings on Tourism in Edinburgh.

The interminable bagpipe playing continues unabated as you move from one corner to the other. Some pipers clearly know only one piece. If you stand in the same place long enough you hear them play it again and again. 

National Portrait Gallery

My last stop in Scotland is Edinburgh. I am glad I didn’t come here first,  it would have swayed my opinion of this wonderful place.

The sun is shining down on the people sitting outside one of the authentic Scottish pubs. Authentic, except everyone there is not from Edinburgh. Not even the staff.

Waverly Station

Some of my melancholy may stem from the fact that I fly home tomorrow and my big adventure ends. I think some stems from the fact that this city is in danger of losing itself. Losing itself up the arse of overtourism. I wrote about this in a previous post and here I find myself conflicted again.

St Giles Kirk
National art gallery

I am a tourist.

I am in Edinburgh.

I’m part of the problem. 

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a place to visit. 

The architecture? Sublime! 

The history? Incredibly long and intriguing.

The winding streets and narrow closes (laneways)  a photographer’s delight.

But the people? So many people. Jostling and bustling.

Selfie after selfie. In front of the castle. In front of the Kirk. In front of the shops with the fake wisteria.

Street performance getting ready
Plenty of stairs!

We’ll all have the same photos. I retreated to the Galleries and the breathtakingly magnificent Scottish Museum.

I wish I could have been here 30 years ago. (But with the same digital technology I have now!!) Then,  it would have been truly spectacular!

What do we do? What do we do? There is obviously too much money sloshing around in the collective travel bucket of the world, including my own.  I feel badly for the people who do call this place home. They have lost their city. AirBnB has taken up most the properties nearest the city and people can not find places to live. Their pubs are crowded, their streets noisy. I apologize for the contribution I made.

Next big adventure? Definitely most definitely, has to be in Australia. 

You’re going to Fraserburgh?’

The opinion of others.

Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily.  I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.

“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”

“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”

The “crowd” relaxed

The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?

“Fraserburgh???” Willy asked “Why yea going there?”

“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.

I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.

“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”

“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.

It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.

The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.

I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers,  it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.

As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring  to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.

As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.

The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.

The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!

So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!

Isle of Skye

Impressions of Skye?

Sheer igneous escarpments surrounded by velvety green slopes,

Outcrops and boulders interrupting the grazing sheep’s progress.

Slushy bogs and deep lochs. Tiny wildflowers and soft grass.

Rocky beaches with brown seaweed and driftwood  (and unfortunately blue plastic bags, plastic ropes and packing straps).

Single track roads. Sailing boats. Craft shops and cafes with modern cuisine.

People!

Lots and lots of people.

I spent three days on Skye at the end of June, crossing from Oban and from there I travelled on to Lewis and Harris.

Apart from the city of Glasgow and the Harry Potter Bridge (oh sorry the Glenfinnan Viaduct) Skye was the most crowded place on my road trip. Neil who has a blog Travels with a Kilt) recently wrote a post about how places like Skye are being drowned by the weight of tourists and I would concur even though I’m one of those tourists.

It becomes obvious in a number of ways, firstly nearly every homestead is a B&B,  you need to let 4 – 5 cars pass at each passing place on the single track roads and you get yelled at by people in car parks. I decided to give Syke’s “must sees” a miss after such an experience at the Claigan Coral Beach carpark. I opted instead to head back to the small bothy I was staying at and spend the time sitting in the sun and staring out over the fabulous view I already had.

I trudged across the rocky beach to the pub at Stein, had coffee and posted some cards back home. I lit the fire for effect rather than warmth, as it was a comfortable 18oC. I rested and wrote and contemplated how grateful I was to be able to afford to do this. I pondered on how little we need to be content if we let ourselves. I made porridge for breakfast and smiled at the shared culture that meant I knew exactly what that jar of brown sugar was for.

Brigid’s bothy in Waternish, is a small stone, single roomed building about 4 x 12 m with a tin roof and double glazed windows. Facing directly west it is bathed in soft light. Sitting literally a weak-arm’s stone throw from the rocky beach you could spend the whole day looking for shells and sea glass. (It would make a fantastic writing/artist retreat!)

Brigid runs the bothy as an AirBnB and I began to imagine it is magical. Judging by the comments in the visitors’ book, others before me agreed. It’s quiet, secluded and there is no easy access to the internet.

In the 10 days before arriving there I had been relentlessly pushing myself to see and do as much as I could while in Scotland. I was tired. The long, long days had meant my sleep patterns were out the window. Being there around the solstice meant it was still light at midnight and the sun returned at 4 AM. I was emotionally drained after losing my travel mascot, Iain. First world problem perhaps, but nonetheless, I was honestly upset.

After taking on the Quiraing Hill Circuit I slowed right down, sorted out my suitcase and took fewer than 100 photos. The decision to take it easy for two days was well made. I’ve wrote three blog posts, created two short little videos and edited some photos ready to upload when I did get internet. I contemplated about whether to try and replace Iain and decided what will happen will happen. I read a short book – Brokeback Mountain and watched the tide come in and out.

I discovered that unlike Australian sunsets which are over in twenty minutes, the twilight lasts for hours. The red streaks lingering and deepening. It did not get truly dark and my intention to photograph the night sky was thwarted by the biggest light polluter around – the sun.

I checked out refreshed and recharged.

If you come to Skye, take Neil’s advice, come in the quieter times of the year. Judy at the craft shop in Stein summed it up. “We have the place to ourselves in the winter and autumn. No-one comes then.”

Come then, the mountains will still be here. The snow, if it falls, will add another dimension and the stormy weather will give you more stories to tell. Best of all you won’t be arguing with other tourists about parking spaces.

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P.S. I ended up going back to the coral beach early the next day and there were only 3 other cars there.  I would recommend this strategy for the “natural” sites which don’t require a ticket. In summer, it’s light from around 4AM and it seems most people don’t get on the road till around 10. You could get an early start and be back in a cafe for a late breakfast and miss the crowds.

Claigan Coral Beach

Hamilton Island – North Queensland

“It’s too hot up here for White Pointers. They don’t like the hot water” Natalie said with the confidence of a local. She’s lived in North Queensland all her life so she should know. Guy laughed quietly as he continued to trim the greenery for a bouquet he was building.

“The winters here are stunning” he said. “The water is clear, the humidity is gone and there is less chance of stingers”

Natalie and Guy from Floral Collection – florist and homewares
Floral Collection
Homewares with a difference at Floral Collection

I’m here in mid-January and  the temperature has hovered in the high 20’s dropping (!) to 23 overnight. The humidity remains a constant 69%. Summer was doing it’s tropical best! Water temperature averages out at 28C

Natalie says that anything under 20C and she has a jumper on! Natalie and Guy run the Floral Collection on Front Street and are just two of the friendly people willing to share their story with me as I went from shop to shop in Hamilton Island.

Burgers and Fries at Popeyes
Interesting marble sculptures
Marina Cafe
Buggies galore!
The marina and Front Street
The IGA Supermarket is busy all day!
Ice Cream anyone?

There are not many shops on Hamilton Island. The retail section runs along the Marina. There are a few restaurants/bars, the pub, a post office, an IGA supermarket, a pharmacy, the Bakery, a pizzeria, fish and chip shop, and four clothing boutiques, The dive shop, at least two art galleries, the souvenir shop, a real estate agent, marina admin, cruise office and water sport hire round it off. There is also a private College which seems a bit of an oddity.  The resort hotel complex has a spa and another boutique/souvenir store as well. The prices are not too bad, considering. Considering it’s a captive audience and the lack of competition.

There are a few exclusive accomodation options that have there own restaurant but a school teacher has no business messing with those places!

Front Street is crowded with golf buggies, the only form of transport for hire. These electric buggies are limited to the Island’s maximum speed of 20kph. Their pace matches the pace of the people on the island. This is a holiday island not the place for an adventure! The surrounding landscapes are stunning and the tropical heat and humidity lull you into a lazy haze very quickly.

The view from Passage peak

Over the last few days I have settled into the routine of an early morning coffee watching the busy-ness of the marina, while guarding my food from the clever birds who will swipe your banana bread as soon as look at you.

Cheeky, cheerful and conniving cockatoo!

I watch as the early ferry drops off construction and resort workers coming in from the mainland. Then as the tourists begin to board for shore excursions to Airlie Beach or the Reef. I watch the yachties take their provisions for the week in little trolleys along the narrow docks. I watch the planes take off and land on the runway that seems too short. It’s quiet but not silent. The low hum of boats motoring out of the harbour and the flutter of helicopters an almost constant backdrop of sound broken occasionally by the buzzing of a reversing buggy.

From Passage Peak – the Island’s highest point

Cat’s Eye Beach at low tide

Jarryd from the Marina Tavern told me most “hospo” workers live on the island in subsidised accommodation which on the whole is very comfortable depending on how much you want to spend. Jarryd has been on the Island for a few years and hales from the Albury-Wodonga area at the NSW-Victorian border.  The Chef has been there for 5 years and loves Island living. The Island workers’ families can attend the State run primary school which has less than 60 students and 4 teachers. Secondary School students need to head off to the mainland to Proserpine High School.

Island living suits these fellows from the Marina Tavern.

I stopped to ask one of the HI-VIS clad workers about the best place to get a shot of a plane landing on that short runway. He’s been coming to the Island by ferry every work day since 1986. He’s seen a lot of changes since then. Originally a privately owned farm, Hamilton Island was developed by Keith Hamilton as a resort in 1975. It is now 100% owned by 21st Century Resort Holdings. In 2017,it was significantly damaged by Cyclone Debbie although there is little evidence of that now.

Don’t come for the extreme sports.

Don’t come to Hamilton Island if you are looking for an adventure packed itinerary. Come here if you are looking for a family friendly, high end resort holiday. Swimming (in the pool because of the risk of stingers in the sea), sailing, fishing, eating, drinking and resting. There are some opportunities for more active pursuits such as kart racing, jet ski hire and 4WD buggies. The island is small (5 x 3.5 km) but there are a few short walks that take you to some spectacular view points. I’d recommend  the walk up to Passage Peak. There are lots of steps and according the information board it’s the most challenging walk on offer.The views make it worth it. At the very top you stand on a rocky granite outcrop which towers above the surrounding landscape. The breeze cools your sweaty body and as you turn slowly on your heel you can take in 360o  of magic turquoise water studded with green islands.

Coral Cove

Who comes to Hamilton Island?

The marina here is the largest in all of the Whitsunday group of islands so it’s a starting point for sailors and yachties. Boats come and go all day. Families with younger children and a few teenagers are the predominant group. Honeymooners and wedding parties also make up a significant chunk of the population. There are some international visitors but from my rough observations they are in the minority. Given it’s the long summer break from school here in Australia, that’s not surprising. The scales may be in the other direction in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. It would be an great destination for a few days away for the “girl’s weekend” or a ‘significant” birthday. There are several flights in and out every day and the ferry crosses from Shute Harbour on the mainland several times a day. It’s clean, tidy and there is an overwhelming feeling of affluence. I am here on grandma duty so I can’t comment on the nightlife, but sunset cocktails at One Tree Hill is a family friendly experience not to be missed.

Cat’s Eye Beach

Bommie Restaurant in the Yacht Club – fine dining

Sinuous curves of the whale inspired Yacht Club
A cleansing ale at the Marina Tavern
Boats of all sizes
Sunset cocktails at One Tree Hill
The sunset!

…And about those jellyfish…

Australia has its fair share of biting things that have the potential to kill you. It’s all about risk management. The likelihood is low but the consequence is extreme. Irukandji are small, transparent jellyfish that cause extremely painful and in some cases life threatening  stings. They are cousins to the much larger, more deadly Box Jellyfish. Jellyfish are apparently more of a problem when there is a northerly wind blowing and after heavy rains when they are washed down into the ocean from the breeding grounds in the estuaries. The Island’s management recommend you wear a stinger suit which is essentially a very thin wetsuit if you want to swim in the ocean.

Taking the plunge…

As I sat on the back step of the catamaran, I surveyed the inviting blue water.  There were five other boats moored in the same area off Whitehaven Beach. No-one else was swimming. What seemed like a good idea at the time, became to me, more and more risky the longer I sat there. The jellyfish were not going to be a problem as I was suited up, it was the idea of sharks that got me worried. Would a lone swimmer splashing about become a shark’s easy lunch?  Be invincible not invisible I shouted in my own head. I dove into the water and adjusted my mask. I swam a few metres and floated awhile. The nearby fringe reef suddenly seemed much too far away. I had overcome my fear – I had done enough – I was wet! I could get out now!. I scrambled back on board, heart beating a little faster.

I should have spoken to Natalie before I went swimming!  Let’s hope someone told the sharks to carry a thermometer!

Charting a course to Whitehaven Beach

You can find out more about the details of getting to Hamilton Island and where to stay on their excellent website.

I prepared this post on my IPad. I’m never happy with the image options on the app version of WordPress and will fix them up when I get back home!

Apologies for the slow loading too! Check out the short video I made here.

Central Park, New York

New York is legendary. The thing of thousands of stories. Central Park is …well…central to many of these stories. Police dramas where unsuspecting joggers get murdered or raped on one of the winding pathways to romances like When Harry Met Sally. A quick search of the internet throws up several web pages that give you a list of movies made in Central Park. Have a look here for a start. http://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/central-park-movie/

Since being in New York I have visited the Park a lot. My lodging location helps, I’m just across the road. (Thanks again RJB!!) The pace of my morning jog has been slowed right down as I have stopped to take photos of early morning reflections in the ponds and the reservoir.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a picnic on Sheep’s Meadow and indulged in some serious people watching. On this, the first hot sunny day of spring, puffer jackets were replaced by bare chested men playing spike ball (see this video – I had never seen it before https://youtu.be/jdRKqguEbas)

The blossoms trees had blossomed and the bees were a-buzzing. Clusters of daffodils, jonquils and crocus had survived the previous week’s snow to brighten things up.

The less active, lay around on the grass reading or sleeping.

To think only five days ago the flowers were buried by snow.

I can see why this enormous Park is labelled New Yorker’s front yard. It’s a place to play and relax. A place to meet a place to zone out. A place to remember green.

Somewhere in between…

This month I am visiting my daughter who lives in an apartment in Be’er Sheva, south of Tel Aviv. While individual living standards will vary widely in any country, Israel would be considered a “first world” country. You can drink the water straight from the tap. You can turn the lights on with the flick of a switch and there is hot water, really hot water as it turns out. The solar heated water can be boosted with a ‘boiler’ for a quick-heat option in the morning or when it’s cloudy. In the absence of a thermometer, I am guessing the water comes out at around 70C – 80C. No temperature limiters here.

The council collects the garbage regularly. Apartments don’t have individual bins but rather one large community bin and recycling facilities shared by 5 or so apartment complexes. I am not sure what happens for stand alone houses. One positive of this system is that you don’t have a big line up of separate Sulo bins clogging up the roadways.

The downside is that rubbish that does not fit into the big pit garbages, like building waste, green waste etc is piled up all around them in the street until it is collected. These piles are very tempting, dangerous playgrounds for my grandson who finds it hard to resist the bits and pieces of wood, wires and broken windows, setting this grandma into a tiz of “be carefuls” “watch outs” “Oh no – don’t play with that!!!!!….(broken fluorescent tube)”

Demolition? Is that an electrical cable above that digger?

The streets are swept each morning, but litter abounds, as does dog poo! A walk in the evening is an obstacle course as you navigate around the poopy piles. No poles with plastic doggy-doo bags are provided and it would seem people do not bring their own pooper scoopers. Despite the rubbish, I have yet to see a rat or a cockroach. It would seem the street cats do a very good job of keeping away these pests.

Australia has a definite “nanny state” feel that is absent in Israel. It’s difficult for an outsider like me to work out whether there are less rules and requirements or if they are just not enforced. The best evidence of this is seen in the very different approach to building safety. Electrical wires and telephone cables festoon the outsides of most apartment buildings and make things look “interesting” and to be frank, dangerous.

Bike helmets for push bike riders appear optional, even for children Sticking to the speed limit and allowing adequate room to change lanes is very optional and apparently inconvenient! You get tooted in the slow lane even if you are sticking to the 120 kph speed limit! Heavy rain does, however, garner some respect with drivers slowing down to 80 and using their hazard lights. (Thankfully!)

Shopkeepers are direct and to the point. Their manner seems abrupt and terse if you are used to the “have a nice day” attitude we get in Australia. Don’t expect service with a smile – it’s not part of the culture. They are not intentionally rude it’s just how it’s done here. It’s a pleasant change to be able to walk around a shop and not be hovered over while you repeatedly declare yourself to be “Just looking thanks”. On the other hand, when you have decided to make a purchase it would be nice not to wait while they finish their phone call or chat with their fellow workers.

Australia is too regulated with many safety decisions taken out of the hands of its citizens. For example, in NSW, hot water heaters MUST be limited to 55C. If you want hotter water for a special purpose you’ll need to boil it in the kettle. Hence, the onus for safety is taken away from the person using the water. If you know the water is hot you should be careful when you use it – not expect the government to take responsibility of every aspect of your life. It abrogates our personal responsibility to keep ourselves and our families safe.

This map, although nearly 15 years old shows a big difference between the rate of accidental childhood injuries in different countries. Israel is in the +45 per 100000 category. Australia at the other end. of the scale.

Perhaps we do need the safety net?

Where is the answer?

In my opinion, Israel could do with a few more by-laws and regulations and Australia could do with less. People could clean up after themselves and their dogs. The combination of fast drivers and helmetless kids worries me. Australians should take more responsibility for themselves.

The answer, like with most things lies somewhere in between.

(Prepared on my iPad- sorry if the photos turn out skewiff!)

Wollongong – Part 1. The first snapshot of many.

P1510989-1I love my home town – Wollongong. Pronounced Wool-on-gong NOT Wal-on-gong even though it’s got two L’s and one O. But don’t get me started on how to pronounce names down here. Some of our suburbs’ names are easy to say and very descriptive:

Fairy Meadow, Figtree, Fernhill, and Coalcliff

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Woonona Beach

Others, are a bit tricky and prove you are an outsider if you can’t pronounce them properly:

Woonona – Woo-noo-nah

Towradgi – Toe-rod-gee

Unanderra – You-nan-derra

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Anyways, the ‘Gong is about 90 kilometres south of Sydney. It’s on the coast with a narrow strip of land before you get to a cliff face called “The Escarpment”. By European or American standards, it’s a hill really, but for us, that 500-odd metres is a mighty barrier. A barrier to Sydney. A barrier to the Westies and a barrier that keeps us a parochial region.

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Street Art from the Annual Wonderwalls Project

There is a lot to love about it. You should come visit!

Here are a few examples. A little while ago, I went to the Innovation Campus of the University of Wollongong to listen to an Australian Academy of Science talk about nanoparticles, bioactive polymers and the 3D printing of body parts. There were about 150 people there, eating some nice canapes and drinking some fine Australian wine.

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The Little Lighthouse

The following night, I went to the program launch of the Wollongong Writers’ Festival which is held in November. A different audience, but we still sipped on some fine Australian wine and ate some very nice canapes. All this, within walking distance of my home. (As a small observation, the scientist’s wine outranked the writers but the writers had better food!)

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My point is, though, that I can do these amazing things without going very far. Without having to battle traffic. Wollongong is large enough to attract interesting events but small enough to feel like a country town. We have a world class university and our natural resources make it a great place for industry and tourism. I can have it all here. I work nine kilometres from where I live and if I want to spend a day in the “Big Smoke” of Sydney, I can – it’s only 90 minutes on the train.

In future posts, which will appear on an ad hoc basis, I will show you around my little city but for now here are a few photos of local scenes to whet your appetite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yehuda Markets on a Friday.

The ticket, successfully purchased from the Hebrew speaking vending machine, was tucked into my pocket. A symbol of my growing ability to work out what I needed to do to get around this ancient limestone city. I stood and waited with the others at the top of Jaffa Street near City Hall. The Old City at my back, the Coffix store in front with its cheap coffee in paper cups like any other world city.

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The sleek tram pulls in and stops. Score! I am standing in line with the door and like any good Australian I stand aside in readiness to get on; ready to wait politely for the passengers to get off before I step aboard and take my place.

 

 

Wait: what’s this?  PUSH!  SHOVE!  and NO “excuse me’s”!

The scene quickly turns into a thrashing melee  inefficiently entering AND exiting the carriage simultaneously! An old lady gets left on the tram. A shout; the doors re-open, and she gets off.

Me? Well I am still standing on the road. Backpack askew, confidence dented and clearly not on the tram!

Uh hah… so this is how it is…

The trams are frequent, so next time, I am better prepared. Elbows out, head down I barrel my way on and negotiate a place where I can hang onto the overhead strap and sway in unison with everyone else like slow dancing zombies, jerking and writhing without much rhythm.

The trams in Jerusalem run on time. They are clean and modern, but forget your Anglo-centric idea of queuing!

It ain’t gonna happen!

Mind you there is no ill humour[1], no nastiness, just a sense of looking after yourself. At the same time the mum with the double-decker stroller and the three ambulant kids is at a disadvantage and she gets some help from the crowd.

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My destination is only three stops away so I try to stay close to the door but at each stop I get pushed further and further into the tram. At Mehane Yehuda; I squeeze through, under, over and around the throng and pop out the doors like a broad bean being squeezed out of its shell. My backpack is stuck between two passengers but it gets propelled forward with some helpful arms. I straighten up and remind myself that if everything is like home why bother leaving the house!

Yehuda Market is a busy place. When you add to this the need to shop, get home (probably on public transport), have the house tidy, the next four meals prepared, candles lit and prayers started all before sundown and you have just elevated it to a mega-busy place! A balagan[2] in fact!

This is Yehuda Market on Fridays. While not everyone in Jerusalem is an observant Jew, many are and the need to get all the chores done before Shabbat starts is a mood changing event. Many of the stall holders must also finish their business in time to get home for their own Shabbat preparations. No time for leisurely shopping! Think grab and run!

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I love the expression on the faces of the fellows buying the fish. You can hear them say…is it big enough? Too big?

The market is literally and figuratively a melting pot of culture and religion. Black-capped and hatted Haredi mix with bare-fleshed tattooed youth. Old and young haggling over the price of a whole salmon. Spice merchants vie for your attention with their great bowls of saffron[3], turmeric and paprika.

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The abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables makes a colourful display, punctuated by wisps of malodourous reminders of the fish, meat and rotting scraps that are smeared on the ancient floors. The fans on the tent-like roof don’t even bother to try to move the air.

 

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The foods on display may be familiar or a total mystery; the unintelligible labels not helping your decision. Is this an herb or tea? Is this pastry dessert or savoury?   How do you order coffee?  How do I know if that sign says NIS150 per kilo or per 100 g? This, as it turns out, is a very important distinction!

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The nice young man with an interesting take on the metric system of weights and measures.

After several hours and a thousand images later, I have only bought a few items. Some herbal tea with chunky bits of dried fruit that I purchased from the nice young man who chatted to me in good English but who charged me ten times the price[4], some fruit, olives, bread and cheese.

 

 

 

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A fitting lunch topped off with a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice before walking back to my apartment in the German Quarter. A good 3 ½ km walk, but with the shops beginning to close and the streets emptying it was a pleasant way to enjoy the afternoon. I was in no hurry even if everyone else was.

 

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[1] Apart from my own!

[2] Balagan roughly translates to a schamozzle! i.e.  a big mess of disorganised chaos.

[3] I am not sure if it really is saffron though. In Australia, saffron is about $13,000 a kilo. If those plies really where saffron they would need to be guarded!

[4] Refer to the warning above!

Confessions of a solo female traveller Part 1.

Washington DC – December 2009

It had been a long journey to get here, to this point; both physically and emotionally. Fifteen hours to LA then another five to Washington DC.

Obelisk - Washington Mall

It was -10oC and the circle of flags were fluttering noisily, standing out stiffly, stretched by the wind to their full length. The metal halyards clanked and whined against their posts.

 

I could hardly hear the voice on the other end of the phone – the conversation stilted and formal. Not warm or comforting. I complained that all I wanted was to have someone to sit  in a nice warm pub with,  out of the wind.  I was not yet ready to make that step  alone.  Silent, frustrated tears were freezing on my cheeks as I said goodbye to the man I no longer knew but had spent the last 25 years with. I was 16,000 km away but that was closer than I felt.  My heart felt colder than my un-gloved fingertips.

pc1201621.jpgAs the sun set behind the Obelisk it set on that part of me too. It was time to walk away.

I imagined myself silhouetted by the setting sun and had an image of Scarlet O’Hara standing up in the vegetable patch; straightening her shoulders and vowing never to be hungry again.

I visibly squared my own shoulders and strode purposefully past the Pool of Remembrance as it crusted over, trapping leaves in its icy layers. I stood and watched the ice spreading, fascinated by how quickly it engulfed one leaf and then another and another. Finally, distracted by some chattering joggers– political types no doubt – running past in their active-wear, I moved on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cold made me feel alive and I was keenly mindful of all that was going on around me as if I had suddenly transformed into some sort of superhero with special powers to see and hear the smallest of things; the tiniest details.

I repeated out loud “I will never be hungry again.”

 

But I wasn’t hungry… what was I not going to be…?  I searched for the emotion. It seemed nameless…and then…

“I will never be lonely again!” I realised  that I felt less alone in my own company than I had in the last ten or so years living with someone who had become a stranger.

I was free. Free to be me.

In that moment of realisation, I had become a solo traveller. No longer a woman apologetically travelling without her partner but a woman choosing to travel alone, on purpose and with purpose.

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(These images were taken with a little Olympus. I am not even sure what the model was now. Suffice to say my photography has progressed!)