Tag Archives: beach

Postcard from the Dragon’s Back and Shek O, Hong Kong: another side of the island


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Hello from Hong Kong! I’m here for a few days on my way back to Italy from Australia, and it has been an excellent stop over. While here, I have been following a new year diet of large meals plus multiple snacks every day (diiiiiim suuuuuum) but today I temporarily tore myself away from the food to go hiking.

Yes, hiking in Hong Kong. I didn’t realize you could do that, either.

The Dragon’s Back ridge is on the eastern end of Hong Kong island, and the hiking trail that runs across it is super popular, for good reason. On a clearer day, you’d get views across to the massive apartment buildings of Kowloon, but even on a hazy day like today I saw smaller islands dotting the bay, quiet beaches and granite boulders. (I also saw a couple wearing broad-brimmed sun hats walking the opposite direction to me, and I couldn’t resist saying “hi” to them, knowing exactly what accent they’d reply with; it’s pretty easy to spot Australians from a distance once you know the tells.)

At the southern end of the trail, I hopped on the bus to Shek O, a beachside town that at this time of year was mostly host to couples taking engagment and wedding photos next to the ocean swirling against the shore.

PS: More postcards from


Practial notes for future reference: I followed these very useful directions to walk the trail north to south, starting at Chai Wan MTR station. The only thing I would add is that the walk along the road after you’ve left the cemetery isn’t looooong but the trail head isn’t quite as close as I would have guessed — you can’t miss the trailhead though, so just keep walking.

The trail over the ridge is quite exposed to sun, you’ll want to wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water. There’s nowhere on trail to get water. I was there on a warm winter’s day and I wish I’d brought a full litre of water rather than 500 ml.

I found myself walking against the flow of traffic on trail, not sure if that was because of my timing or because more people start at the southern end and walk northwards. I did the trail on a Monday, it was certainly populated, but not ridiculously so. The weekend might be a different matter…

When you get to the southern end of the trail, there are bus stops for buses to Shek O and Shau Kei Wan MTR station. While Shek O is within walking distance of the southern trailhead, it’s along a winding road without shoulders much of the way so you’re better off catching a bus.

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A photo a day in December: days 26-31


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Happy new year! I am chilling out at my parent’s house, having stayed up until 2 last night and then driven the 400-ish km from Albany to Perth today — in fairness, I only drove half of that, but at any rate I am cactus. Also, I never got around to taking a photo on the 27th, so I only have 5 photos to finish off the photo a day  challenge…

  • Perth skyline. I would love to know what the story is about the vacant block I took the photo from: it’s been empty since I was a kid but it must be worth an absolute fortune;
  • A paperbark tree near Ocean Beach in Denmark;
  • Rubbish bin, park bench, and very bright shed in Kojonup;
  • Rocks and the ocean at Cosy Corner beach, near Albany;
  • Albany itself — or at least, Middleton beach.

So there we have my 30 photos in 31 days. Actually, I took 213 photos in 31 days, most of those with the hope of getting a good shot to post here. (And, ok, some dorky selfies.) I definitely wouldn’t have taken so many photos if I weren’t challenging myself like this (neurotic over-achievers represent!) and I definitely got some decent shots I wouldn’t otherwise have, so I’m calling this photo-a-day malarky a success.

PS: You can check out my other posts from the challenge here

Taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses

I went to Salone del Gusto and the only photo I got was this taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses. (I am such a bad blogger.)

My extremely glamorous expat life right now is more like my extremely busy life, so it might be a while before I write a coherent narrative blogpost again. Also, I am a terrible blogger anyway — Thursday evening I spent a couple of hours wandering through Salone del Gusto, an internationally-famous food show (aka obviously a good blog topic, slap bang in the middle of my “Turin life/food/things I do as an expat but wouldn’t have done back in Australia” niche) but I was too focused on free samples of cheese and booze to take any notes or photos for a blog post.

(I wrote about Salone 2 years ago, but this year they’ve moved it from the ugly horrible exhibition centre in Lingotto to outdoors in the centre of Turin, which is definitely a nicer setting. If you’re in Turin this weekend, you should go!)

For now, some notes on the rest of my life…

While every season is food season in Italy, autumn is even more food season. A couple of Sundays ago was our traditional pilgrimage to Asti for the Festival delle Sagre, a huge festival of Piedmontese food. Imagine an open space dotted with stalls, each representing a village in the area and selling one or two of that village’s specialties, plus wine at 50 cents/glass. And then throw in a Ferris wheel (why not), folk dancing demonstrations, and thousands of happy Italians with paper plates in their hands and wine in tumblers in holders around their necks.

WINE HOLDER

WINE HOLDER. Genius.

This is the third year in a row I’ve been. Traditions have started to form, like starting the trip with friciula (fresh fried bread-y-pastry-y with lardo) from Mombercelli. “You reckon the friciula stand is in the same place this year?” “Come on, what do you think? We’re in Piemonte.”

(The friciula stand is near the centre of the festival grounds, as it always has been and always will be.)

Meanwhile, Facebook’s On This Day strikes again: a couple of days after the festival it reminded me of photos from the first time I went, 2 years ago. Of the group that went then, only 2 of us were there this year, because everyone else has since left the country. (Come back guys!!)


Two weeks ago, I had the bright idea to get back into running for stress-relief. No tracking distances or times, no pushing myself, just getting out there in the autumn evenings for fresh air and feeling less like a brain in a jar.

In those two weeks, I have already started noting distances run, decided it would be cool to work up to running 10 km comfortably in time for my birthday in November, and googled a bunch of 10k training plans… ZOE, NO.


But maybe I am getting better at relaxing? Earlier this month I went to the beach with some friends and actually enjoyed it rather than getting there, going for a swim, then drying off and going “uh, can we go do smething now?”

Beach near Finale Liguria

Possibly the secret was that these friends have two small children and I can attest the beach is much more fun if it’s socially acceptable for you to build over-engineered sand castles and collect a lifetime supply of mildy-interesting rocks. (Oh wow, that is a brown rock, isn’t it? Shall I put it with the other brown ones?)

(Practical note for future reference: we went to the private beach of Hotel del Golfo in Finale Liguria — the big advantage being that you can throw money at your problems and pay for parking, rather than drive up and down the Ligurian coast for hours looking for a spot. There’s a patch of public sand on the same beach as the private section, so you don’t actually have to pay for a chair if you prefer to bring your own. Parking/beach use is open to non-guests according to availability.)

Cornwall

Portreath to St Agnes on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 3 of the walk — Go back to day 2 (Lelant to Portreath).

I left Portreath and went back to the clifftops via the road since the foot path from the harbour was closed due to landslip risk. My legs were a little stiff, but the steady climb got me moving again. Most of the way to Porthtowan, the next village, I walked in the space between fenced off land and the cliff edges, and was constrained to a single path through the heather. If I looked to the fence on my right I felt hemmed in, but the ocean was always open on my left.

Once up on the cliffs, the walk to Porthtowan was flat, with just a single dip where a stream emptied out to the ocean. It was still fairly early and I hadn’t seen anyone all morning, so at the bottom of the dip where the prickly heather and gorse finally gave way to grass I ducked into as hidden a corner as I could find — but still rather open — to have a pee. (No bushes to go behind!) Of course, it was just after this that I saw an oncoming walker at the top of the other side of the dip, and I was glad of my timing. Continue reading

Cliffs in Cornwall

Lelant to Portreath on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 2 of the walk — go back to day 1 (St Ives to Lelant).

“I’m spending 5 and a half days walking from here to Padstow,” I told my dorm mate at the hostel in St Ives, on the west coast of Cornwall.
“For charity?”
“Nah, just for fun,” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s important to do these sorts of things because you want to, isn’t it?”

If I’m honest, I was also walking 110 km along the Cornish coast to see if I could. I’ve done some solo day walks over the years, but the last overnight trip I did was in high school in 1999. Last summer I didn’t walk at all, put off by the occasional dizzy spell I’d still get in the months after my accident. This summer I’ve been hiking again, but always with friends. Could I set my own pace? Could I stay motivated all day? Could I walk 20 km then get up the next day and do it again? Continue reading

Beach near Oslo

Sun and sea… in Oslo, Norway

One of the first things H. said to me when I arrived in Oslo yesterday was “This is a perfect summer day, the kind we’re lucky to have here.” Oslo’s been having a mild, wet summer this year, but there was no sign of that when I got there yesterday morning. Blue skies, 20 degrees C (about 70 Fahrenheit), a slight breeze off the harbour. After a grey week in Helsinki, it was a welcome change. Continue reading

Beach in Gallipoli, Puglia

Gallipoli, Puglia. (No, not that Gallipoli. That one’s in Turkey.)

True confessions time: when people ask me if I’m travelling with someone else, I always say something vague and polite about “Oh I don’t know anyone on the same schedule as me” but what  I really mean is, “I love travelling alone and I’ve sort of forgotten how to travel with other people anyway.”

But travelling to Lecce and the surrounding region with B. was great fun. It helped that we had a logical division of labour — she has the history knowledge to make sense of the places we saw, I have enough Italian to translate informational plaques about them. Or this sign at an altar in the basilica at Gallipoli, clearly posted by someone who’s Had It With These Tourists:

IT IS ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN TO MOVE THE CANDLES, ESPECIALLY FOR TAKING PHOTOS

Continue reading

Mandurah foreshore, Australia

Continuing the great Aussie road trip tradition. Also, a jigsaw puzzle museum.

Taking a road trip has become something of a Christmas/New Year in Perth tradition for me. Never anything too ambitious, just get together with friends, pick a spot a few hours away where we can stay cheaply, pack a car, and get out of town for a couple of days.

I think the low-key expectations are important here. It’s easy to imagine some kind of movie scene, with the open road, perfect weather, background music exactly matched to the emotional tone of our conversations. Of course, the actual experience is more like mad traffic on the freeway, stonking hot weather and a broken car stereo.

Or, in the case of 2013’s trip, a 5-hour BONUS PICNIC STOP when we broke down 10 km from the nearest town and about 150 km from the nearest tow-truck operator open December 30th. Fortunately, we had a shady spot to wait on the side of the road, an esky full of food, and the people in the house up the hill brought us cool drinks and made sure we were ok. Unfortunately, there was some kind of decomposing animal in the gully just behind us and every time the wind came from the north, we got a good whiff of it. Also, by the 2 hour mark we’d exhausted most of the possibilities of “I spy” and couldn’t think of any other games. (“I spy” only made it to the 2 hour mark because “star picket” took a very long time, since there was only one of them visible in the whole area and it was halfway behind a tree.)

RIP, B.'s mazda :( You were great until your head gasket blew and cost too much to repair.

Turns out cars need functioning head gaskets to go anywhere.

This year, between “I’ve been there twice in the past 6 months” considerations, “I don’t want to drive that far” considerations and “I don’t want to camp but we need to stay cheap” considerations and the general unavailability of places that met those contraints, we wound up staying in a cottage on a property not far from where last year’s breakdown happened. Fortunately, Donnybrook is much nicer if you’re staying there deliberately.

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Our digs. 5000% better than sitting on the side of the road.

In fact, we seemed to avoid mishaps entirely. The biggest problem we encountered was that at our designated leaving time I was still at the bank trying to sort out access to my money. My card had been reissued 6 months prior and because I’d never used the new PIN, I’d forgotten it. And then they wouldn’t let me change the PIN in person, I had to get them to mail a new one to me. Which they did, except to my Italian address. Let’s just say my bank genuinely tries to have good customer service and I would recommend them to anyone based in Australia, but they are not set up for expats.

In the end I borrowed some money from my parents (want to feel decades younger? hit up your parents for cash) and we were off. And the late start gave us an excuse to stop for lunch in Mandurah, which has an unreasonably nice foreshore. (Am I allowed to say that if I’m from Perth?)

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Too bad no-one can afford to buy property here any more.

Once we arrived, a lot of our time was spent hanging around playing cards and admiring the local wildlife. By which I mean my friend A. — who is very much a city person — valiantly survived her fears about the numerous spiders, moths, large ants and small lizards to be found in rural Australia. We did also see a kangaroo. This did not make up for the other animals.

But a road trip isn’t a road trip without some oddball attractions, so the next day we went out for lunch (and some post-lunch cider tasting) and then wound up in the Bridgetown Jigsaw Puzzle Museum.

Worth it for the carpet alone.

Worth it for the carpet alone.

Those pictures on the walls? Are all jigsaw puzzles.

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One of the less intricate ones.

Look, I’m not saying you should travel all the way to Australia to visit the Bridgetown Jigsaw Puzzle Museum, but I am going to point out that it’s entry by donation and it kept us occupied for far longer than you’d expect. Which is more or less the opposite of most world-famous museums, where you pony up 15 euro and get bored after 20 minutes. Just saying.

On our drive back to Perth the next day we detoured to the coast at Busselton, a town with an amazing beach and an amazing lack of a good route into/out of town. Well, it’s probably fine most days, but none of the roads are designed to take a lot of traffic and on New Year’s Eve it seemed everyone in the south west wanted to be in Busso. We got stuck in the only traffic jam of our trip, complete with people driving on the footpath to get into the turning lane (WHO EVEN DOES THAT?), but it was worth it for this:

Good spot for lunch on New Year's Eve.

Look I know there’s only, like, 5 people on this entire beach but there really was a traffic jam to get there. Australian beaches are just magically empty.

Aw yes.

Practical info for future reference: We stayed here and would definitely recommend it as a quiet getaway spot. (Power comes from solar only, so be prepared to go low-tech!) Beds were comfy and the kitchen was well-equipped. Also, a road trip tip from my sister: if your car has a cd player, whenever you’re at an opshop (thrift store/charity shop), keep an eye out for 90’s hits going super cheap. No road trip can’t be improved by Backstreet Boys.

Trogir, Croatia

Sun and sea and ancient cities — Trogir and Split

Some more notes from Croatia.

  • Spent 2 nights in Trogir, which is more or less a suburb of Split, but on an island which is neat, even if it’s only an island that you get to by bridge, not an island you get to by boat. The name “Trogir” will never not make me think of “Trogdor” — why yes I have moved in nerdy circles for at least 10 years, why do you ask?

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    This is actually the new town. Now imagine how nice the old town is. You have to imagine; I didn’t bother to take any photos.

  • The hostel in Trogir is next to a small square, with a big shady tree and a tiny church. At night, the hostel guests sat around on the plastic chairs under the tree, drinking beer from the nearby convenience store and smoking and swapping notes on where they’d been. The local kids would play soccer in the square, using the church doorway as one of the goals. The hostel owner would sit and chat and occasionally arbitrate in disputes between the kids. “You should send the parents the bill for babysitting,” I joked. “Oh no way,” he said. “Then I’d have to be responsible for them!”
  • There’s not much to do in Trogir once you’ve walked through the old town, except find a beach and relax and watch the planes fly into nearby Split airport. As I learned while drinking beer under the tree, the secret to finding a good beach is to slather on the sunscreen and take a walk to the far side of the island, to where the locals go. I failed in the first step and got horrendously sunburnt, but the perfect clear water more than made up for it.

    Ahhhhhh...

    Ahhhhhh…

  • I only gave myself a morning in Split, figuring it would be over-touristy and underwhelming. It was certainly full of tourists, but if you treat it as a sort of Disneyland for ancient Roman nerds, it was rather fun. I had enough time to climb the cathedral tower, which was an occupational safety nightmare with 2-way traffic on steep, narrow, slippery stone stairways. But they kindly let me leave my heavy backpack at the bottom, and the views were amazing.
    Behind the pretty facade lurk terrifying stairs...

    Behind the pretty facade lurk terrifying stairs…

    ...but this sort of view is why you climb it.

    …but this sort of view is why you climb it.

In fairness, what I’ve left out of this write-up is that the area is somewhat industrial, the suburbs of Split do sprawl, and if you go to the beach in the wrong spot you’re liable to have a ciagrette butt float past you. Dare I say it, the beaches are cleaner and prettier in the south-west of Australia (but oh my goodness the water is so much warmer in Croatia!) If I were to travel here again, I’d rent a car and head further along the coast until I found somewhere a bit less crowded. But I would also spend some more time in Split and try to see it properly, and I’d definitely drop in at Trogir in the evening and see if the kids have managed to work out who’s goalie yet.