Launceston: self-guided architectural walk

Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city with a population of close to 90,000 people. It’s the third oldest city in Australia after the Europeans set up camp around 1804. Wikipedia tells me it was the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to use anaesthetic and the first Australian city to have underground sewers. Impressive!  It also has a large collection of historical buildings and the lack of skyscrapers makes the streetscape very aesthetically pleasing. The absence of man-made canyons and being able to see the sky makes a real difference to the ambiance. There are no windy tunnels with overpowering towering concrete monsters blocking out the sun. Launceston has managed to keep its city relatively free from development and it celebrates its architectural integrity.

Near Brisbane Street mall

I enjoy self-guided architecture walks around cities and I thought that with all the significant buildings, there would be an app or website to do such a thing in Launceston. I could not find an “official” one but did find maps and descriptions put together for architecture students on Pocket Sites. It included both historic and modern buildings of architectural significance. There is a Part A and Part B which covers more than 50 sites. It includes buildings in the CBD with a short detour into a residential street. It took me about three hours to complete and I covered a bit more than 7 km. It was a very pleasant way of getting my 10,000 steps up!

Duncan House – Art Deco – 45 Brisbane Street

Be prepared for some interesting buildings. Not all of them would fit my description of being “significant”. I discovered that there is a style of building, common in the 1980s, called “brutalist”. In my opinion, these buildings are ugly monstrosities! They look cheap and nasty and brutal is an excellent description. 

Henry House 1983. Brutalist Style. Civic Square

ANZ Building: Brutalist style c1980. Cnr Brisbane and George Street

On the other hand, the Regency, Queen Ann (revival), Georgian and Colonial era buildings reflect a time of softer and more delicate facades. No doubt these were made possible due to the presence of cheaper labour, (convicts perhaps?) and materials. 

Terrace Houses in St John Street.

If you’re the type who likes this sort of urban adventure, get out early before all the city workers park their cars and spoil your photos! It’s free and you’ll also go past some nice cafes if you decide to take a break. There are easily accessible public toilets along the way. It’s my kind of touristing!

Details on the Town Hall – Civic Square

Walking in the Orkney Islands.

As part of my recent  Scottish Adventure, I booked a 6-day walking tour with About Argyll Walking Holidays. It was all-inclusive except for dinner and drinks. I won’t include details of price or the intinerary here. You can find the most up-to-date information on their own site.

I have written about my experiences with small group tours in some other posts, and I am pleased to report that this was a very positive experience that would suit most people interested in walking, history and wildlife (in particular – birds). This is NOT a rollicking adventure holiday! If you are looking for strenuous walking or wild partying – look elsewhere! If you are looking for pleasant walking in the company of like-minded people with a well-informed guide; then this is the holiday for you.

The walks, for the most part, are gentle and do not extend beyond 10km (6 miles). The terrain, while sometimes uneven and rocky and at other times very close to cliff edges,  was not difficult to traverse. Having said that, you do need to have a reasonable level of fitness if you are going to enjoy it and not slow everyone down. The group I joined was fully booked with 8 people. Two couples and four singles. From the UK, Italy, the US and me the Aussie. Our tour guide Nigel, also from the UK, rounded off the group.

The tour starts at either Glasgow or Aberdeen Railway stations and takes the Northlink Ferry to Kirkwall and back. This first 7-hour ferry ride gives you the opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers quickly. On the way back you get a sleeper cabin.

We stayed at Bellavista, which was a little less than 2 km from the town of Kirkwall. The rooms were comfortable and cosy. The breakfast provided was generous, and the owner, Patsy,  prepared our packed lunch for each walking day. We ate in the restaurants of local hotels except for one night when we had a quick fish and chips before heading off to listen to some traditional Orkney music at The Reel. Nigel sounded out the group on the first night to get an idea of the type of places we would like to eat at and how much we wanted to spend and then booked them on our behalf. We ate dinner as a group and were usually back at the BnB by 10PM each night. I spent around £30-35 on most evening meals which included two courses and two glasses of wine.  We started the day at a very civilised time with breakfast at 8 and departure at 9AM.

The group meshed well with everyone generously sharing stories of their life and times. We were mostly in the same stage of life with grown-up children and grandchildren. I enjoyed chatting with C from Italy, who was keen to improve her already excellent English. We had some fun discussing the various different euphemisms for urinating, and we laughed when we decided that “taking a leak” was preferable to “taking a piss” and “call of nature” was perhaps the most polite! The English and Australians see a “man about a dog” while in the US they “talk to a man about a horse”. Urinating was a topic of conversation because when you’re walking in the middle of nowhere with very few trees and a group of people, you have to talk about it!

The weather was very mixed and unpredictable. We had a combination of sun, rain, fog and wind. You will need to be properly equipped with water-proof clothing and a cover for your backpack. (I fashioned quite a useful one from a sturdy plastic carrier bag! see the header photo) Although our walk was in early July and theoretically summer, I started each day with thermals under my hiking pants, a warm fleece and jacket. I also wore a beanie and scarf for at least part of every day. On two of the days when it warmed up to 22°C,  I stripped down to my undershirt and wished I had not worn the thermal tights. Proper waterproof hiking boots/shoes with good tread are essential as there are several very boggy areas to walk across.

I made these little videos each day using my iPhone and iMovie.

I found this tour to be the most relaxing part of my 5-week holiday. I didn’t have to worry about anything! I could let go of the super vigilant reins I had been holding and let someone else do all the running around. The most taxing element for me was deciding whether to try haggis or not!

 

PS: I did try the haggis – once – that was enough!

 

Scottish Road Trip – Stage 1 comes to an end.

It’s been 21 days since I flew out of Sydney. I am now in Aberdeen on Scotland’s east coast, listening to the calls of the giant seagulls which  have followed me for the last 2 weeks as I hugged the coast. I covered 1572 miles or 2530 km. I didn’t think Scotland had that many kilometres to do! Criss-crossing along the single track roads has added up.

I have stayed in 11 different AirBnBs, 2 guest houses and one youth hostel. I did 5 ferry crossings, one chartered boat voyage, one overnight train, 3 buses and 1 taxi ride. I  witnessed and gave first aid at one serious road crash. I have lost track of the number of castles and castle ruins I have seen and I have been to 5 museums. I have walked 285 kilometres. I lost one travel mascot and found another.

I am not going to add up how much I have spent, but it’s been a lot!! Things here priced the same “number” but cost twice as much. I mean it might cost $4 in Australia and £4 here, so in effect $8AUD.

I have met some wonderful people and become Facebook friends with one. (AMcL – that’s you!)

My overall impressions of Scotland have been very positive. I have felt comfortable going into pubs on my own and chatting with the locals. I have promised a postcard from Wollongong to Willy at the Culloden Moor Inn. He wants to show it to his mate who has been to Australia at least six times but wasn’t there on the night.

The main topic of conversation revolves around me traveling alone.  

One fellow at the  Red Lion at Forres declaring that it took some balls to travel solo and even he would be too scared to travel in another country alone.

I don’t feel brave. I have said before in another post that I don’t take stupid chances. I am usually tucked up in my room well before dark and don’t lurk in places that seem a bit dodgy. Although, that is sometimes a bit hard in cities you don’t know and you accidentally witness drug deals and prostitute haunts.

I did feel very brave staying in a youth hostel though. A first for me, and I must say I was a bit worried about a number of things:

1. Not being a youth,

2. Sharing a room with four women I didn’t know

3. Bed bugs and

4. The prospect of people throwing their shoes at me because I snore!

It turned out fine. I only chatted with the French lady who was about 10 years younger than me – the three others came in later after I was already in bed and no-one threw shoes at me! I had no red welts in the morning, so it seems my worries may have been unfounded. I sat in the community lounge after dinner editing the day’s photos and watched some other “mature” youths (average age 40) doing a whisky and chocolate taste testing  party and teasing each other unmercifully, after a wreck diving expedition. They invited me to join in. I tested the chocolate but not the whisky!

Given that the youth hostel was less than ½ the price of everywhere else I have stayed it makes good sense to try them out more often. The French lady says she really likes travelling on her own but stays at youth hostels because she can find someone to talk to in the evenings so it was a nice compromise for her.

The next phase of my adventure is with a small group walking tour in the Orkney Islands.

Let’s see how that goes!