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!

Climbing Ben Lomond

The plastic poncho was flapping wildly in the wind and the hood was vibrating with a high pitched whine against my eye. The sleet still made its way under the thin plastic and snaked its way down my arms. I reminded myself again, that I was doing this on purpose and I was in fact, on holiday. This may not have been fun but it was satisfying. Life doesn’t always have to be fun but I am a firm believer in satisfaction, despite what Mick might  say.

Ben Lomond at 974 ft,  is one of the great Munros of Scotland. A short and easy drive from Glasgow ensures it popularity. There are two ascent routes, the “tourist” route and the more difficult climb via the Ptarmigan Trail. I like a challenge so decided to do the second trail. Halfway up, I decided that perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea! All the way up I was expecting a welcoming crew with champagne on hand and a helicopter to whisk me back down! Due to budgetary cut backs my welcoming party were two young Poms who were happy to chat and take a photo for me.

I did it! 3 ½ hours!

Invincible and in the fog almost invisible!!

I passed no-one else on the trail and no-one overtook me. The path is very easy to follow in that you can see it at all times.  It is well worn and although in some areas you scramble over the rocks, the track is never out of view. At no time did I feel like I needed to make a decision on where to go – that was easy – just go UP! I do strongly recommend that you used hiking poles as there are a lot of big step-ups and while manageable it would have been much easier with poles. It is a steep ascent, with switchbacks to ease the climb but the contour lines are VERY close together.

Each time I thought I was at the top and ready to celebrate, the mist revealed another, taller peak behind it. “Will this never end?” The black faced sheep seemed amused at my mutterings. “Baaa no lady – you have a ways to go yet.”

The sign board in the car park warns you to be well prepared for changes in weather and boy were they right about that. At first, it was sunny and I took off all my top layers. In 10 minutes it was raining so out comes the over jacket which kept me dry but made me feel like I was in a furnace. I switched to the plastic, disposable rain poncho which kept me dry and cooler. In the last 500m, I needed to swap this out for the over jacket again because it was in danger of turning into a sail and pushing me off the mountain!

The walk down – ha! A doddle in comparison. A gentle grade most of the way but the rain had made the stones slippery and care was still needed. This route was like a highway and I passed at least 70 people making their way to the top. I t’sked at those in shorts and t-shirts with no apparent outerwear. “Oh dear!” I said to myself “you’re gonna freeze when you get to the top!”

I used this Map (link to download) although Google maps worked well and the signal was very strong at the top.

DON’T do this walk if you do not have a good level of fitness. I’m 58 and my fitness for my age is good but unless you are doing regular exercise and walking this will be a challenge too far!

(video to follow when I have better internet!)

Wollongong Snapshot 3: The Active ‘Gong – a few free, fun outdoor activities when you visit Wollongong.

There’s plenty to see and do in my home town. People come here for holidays! You can easily fill up a weekend with active fun and fab food with very little effort. This post is about some free things you can do to keep active while spending time in Wollongong. I am not going to say much about accommodation or cafes etc. I will keep that for a separate post. This is certainly not an exhaustive guide but gives you a bit of an idea of things to do.

  1. Like swimming but not sand? Head down to the Continental Pools just on the other side of the breakwater from Belmore Basin.

    There are two 50 m pools side by side. They are filled with the sea water but not tidal and the bright blue pool shell makes them look like a regular chlorine pool. Entry is free! This blog post gives some more information about the pool. http://oceanpoolsnsw.net.au/continental-baths-wollongong-nsw-2529/ . The Wollongong Council website also has information about opening times. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/beachespools/Pages/pools.aspx#gref

  2. Like swimming and don’t mind the sand? Wollongong has more sandy beaches than you can poke a boogie board at! From Stanwell Park in the north to “Farm” down at Killalea State Park there are all sorts of beaches.
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    Woonona Beach

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    Bulli Beach Sea Pool

    If you are in the CBD, you can easily walk to City Beach or North Beach. The Bathing Pavilion at North Beach has been renovated and has good change rooms and showers and there are some cafes there too.

    You can walk along the Blue Mile and around the lighthouses to get from one beach to the other. City Beach and North Beach are patrolled (by life guards) in season and you should swim between the flags. Belmore Basin is a small sandy beach on Wollongong Harbour. This is a great place for little kids and swimmers who don’t like waves. If you are a surfer have a look at this site for a few suggestions. http://www.backpackaround.com/things-to-do/destinations/new-south-wales/wollongong/wollongong-surfing.html

  3. Bushwalking. There are some very fine bushwalks in the Illawarra area.
  • Sublime Point Walk. If you are a bit of an extreme exercise enthusiast, you might like to try the Sublime Point Walk. It’s short (less than a kilometre one way) but it’s straight up (more or less) the escarpment. Lots of people try to beat their own personal best and get it done one way in less than 30 minutes. That’s easy if you come down the track but not so much if you start at Austinmer and go up. The National Parks website tells you how to get there and where to park. You can take the train and get off at Austinmer. This is also uphill and will take about 20 – 25 minutes. Take water and snacks. There is a café at the top but it is not open 24/7. Apart from trying to beat the speed record lots of people aim to get to the top by sunrise, so many start the walk in the near dark. Please note: the local residents will get VERY narky if you park in their driveway so play nice if you drive. You should be fit to do this walk – it’s a hard slog and will be tough on your knees. You need to be comfortable climbing ladders and there are lots of stairs. But the view!! The view is amazing!

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/sublime-point-walking-track

 

  1. The Park Run: The Park Run is a global volunteer-organised running club. There are three places you can do the Park Run in the Illawarra if you are a registered member. One in Sandon Pont, another that starts from Fairy Meadow Surf Club and then down south in Shellharbour. These 5 km timed runs are all in great locations and attract lots of locals and travellers. http://www.parkrun.com.au/northwollongong/ . Links to the Sandon Point and Shellharbour runs are on this page. The runs are held on Saturday mornings.

 

  1. Bike riding: Fancy a long ride along the beach? There is a bike/walk path that goes from the just south of the city up to Thirroul in the North – around 10 km all up. You will wind your way past several beaches, Bellambi Lagoon and some urban areas. You can also ride around Lake Illawarra (about 31 km) http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/sportrec/Pages/CyclingGuide.aspx
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The Seacliff Bridge

In the future it will be possible to walk/ride from Stanwell Park in the north right down to Lake Illawarra.  http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/services/majorprojects/Pages/grandpacificwalk.asp Some sections are completed but it is not yet possible unless you ride on the road. You can walk/ride across the iconic Seacliff Bridge which features in lots of car ads. The bridge is on Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

6.  Wollongong Botanic Gardens. For those who prefer a more gentle walk the WBG are a real treat. Both Native and exotic plants are on display with picnic areas and secret trails. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/botanicgarden/Pages/default.aspx. They also host a Sunset Cinema in summer (which is not free). You could also duck across the road and have a wander through the University of Wollongong’s grounds.

Need a rest?

The following ideas, while not active may also be of interest to round out your weekend!

  1. Feeling Spiritual? Australia is a secular country but there are several large temples and churches in the Illawarra area that are interesting to visit.
  • Nan Tien Temple. The Nan Tien Temple is a huge Buddhist Temple and conference centre. It has beautiful gardens and you can wander around and look at the interesting buildings, gong the peace bell and sit in on the free lectures about Buddhism. There is a very good vegan café. This page has information on how to get there and what to wear http://www.nantien.org.au/en/visitor-info/directions-and-dress-code
  • Sri Venkateswara Temple. This Hindu temple is in the northern most suburb of Wollongong; Helensburgh. While accessible by public transport and a 4 km walk, a car would make it much easier! It is closed between 12 – 4pm on week days. Once again you can buy vegetarian food here. Find more information here

 http://www.svtsydney.org/contactus.html

  1. Museums and Art Galleries:
  • Wollongong Art Gallery: There is a small regional art gallery in Wollongong’s city centre. It has a permanent collection as well as several exhibitions each year. It would be a great way to spend an hour or so on a very hot or wet day! http://www.wollongongartgallery.com/gallery/Pages/default.aspx
  • Illawarra Museum: This cute little museum which is run by the Illawarra Historical Society is right on the beach and in the old court building. It’s free to enter but they can use a donation if you would like to contribute. See their website for more http://www.illawarramuseum.com/

 

NOT FREE!

 

[1] This is for the full track – there are several paces to start so you can cut it down to 6 km one way if you wish.

Street art in Tel Aviv – a photo essay.

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In Neve Tzdek

Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 right next to the ancient city of Jaffa (Yafo), which is the oldest continuously occupied working port in the world[2]. In 2016, there were as many car parks as disco bars[1]. Fifty thousand people accessed the free city wi-fi in public spaces (including me!) Ninety-one percent of the city’s 418,600 residents were Jewish. There were 7000 hotel rooms.  And nearly every surface that can been drawn on hosts some amazing art.

If you have read my other posts you have perhaps figured by now, that my daughter lives in Israel. She moved from Australia about 4 years ago  and at present is living just outside of Tel Aviv.

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I have been to visit five times  and each time I go; I say on my return to God’s own country (Wollongong[3]); “it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”.

But truth be told, I think I could live in Tel Aviv.

One of the reasons being;  the amazing street art. It is witty, funny and often poignant. I have  wondered if it was sanctioned or simply tolerated but on reading the city’s official website, I am thinking it is in fact, sanctioned and perhaps even encouraged.

Tel Aviv has an official “brand” and the municipal council lists the brand’s values[4] as:

PLURALISM – Multi-culturalism, accepting and promoting those who are different.

OPEN – A city that believes that it will become a better place if everyone will be able to be who they truly are.

FREEDOM – Freedom of thought, of expression, of choice and of creativity. Above all: the freedom to be yourself.

INNOVATION – A city that leads in all fields shaping the face of Israeli society.

URBAN CREATIVE ENERGY -The place where everyone can express themselves.

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The urban creative energy is evident in the street art. It is EVERYWHERE. I have spent several days playing “Search for Sened”.

 

For me, looking for the cute, cubic cartoon characters that are only about 10 cm high is better fun than Pokemon Go! Often in out-of-the way places they pop-up unexpectedly, but once you have your eye in, you see them everywhere.

 

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These wings, in Jaffa, have an email address next to them. The artist encourages you to take your picture then email him the photo.

The street art is  truly art  – well executed, well planned and colourful. There seems to be very little mindless graffiti or tagging for tagging’s sake. I would recommend a walking tour. Have a look here for a suggested itinerary.

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After a while you will begin to recognise particular artist’s styles.

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Don’t be afraid to head down some darkened corridors – you can find some great work there too.

It is an ever changing canvas, although I have never seen anyone actually doing the work. My next goal will be to find an “artist” at work.

[1] https://www.tel-aviv.gov.il/en/Pages/ArticlePage.aspx?WebID=9336473c-1537-4ab6-8a69-d299b5db8bcc&ListID=b4eda22c-a69a-4bef-9479-05d5a832ad16&ItemId=70

[2] https://www.tel-aviv.gov.il/en/abouttheCity/Pages/history.aspx

[3] Seriously – you should come and visit!

[4] https://www.tel-aviv.gov.il/en/abouttheCity/Pages/TelAvivBrand.aspx