Go By Train: Toyama to Takayama and back

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Train travel in Japan is really wonderful. You can reach almost any place and the trains are fast and clean. We used bullet trains (shinkansen) and the regular local services to go from Toyama, near the coast, to a little city further south called Takayama. Hopefully these photos convey just some of how lush, green and lovely the scenery was, winding over rivers and past mountain villages with little gardens, all impossibly bright in the hot sun.

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Takayama itself is quaint and friendly with plenty of streets and buildings just as they were centuries ago. We stayed in a traditional hotel called a minshuku, with sliding doors and mats on the floor.

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On the way back, I got the view from the other side of the train. Lucky me.

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At the Owl Café, Tokyo: Fukuro no Mise

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I’m in Tokyo with my mother. I would not have known that such a thing as an owl café existed if it was not for my friend Chelsea. Apparently there is more than one owl café but this is the one that I was able to find directions to online. It’s called Fukuro no Mise just across from Exit 10 at Tsukishima Station. I dragged Mum along early in the morning, only to find that it opened at 2pm, only to find THEN that we had to make a reservation, pay 2000 yen each and come back 2 hours later. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT.

There’s really nothing to explain. For the price of entry you get to spend time with calm and mysterious owls for an hour, and have one drink, although beer is an extra 200 yen. The owls can sit on your hand, head or shoulder and you can pat them on their little heads too.

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baby owls in a box

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owl party

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these two were getting along well

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in the next one you can see how the one on the right moved to be with its friend so they could pose for a photo

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these ones had the softest feathers

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in a flap

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managed to sneak this photo as I was being pushed out the door, asahi still in hand

 

About half of these photos were taken by my mother Isobel. She didn’t want an owl on her arm so she was happy to be the photographer.

Here’s more info about the Fukuro no Mise owl café.
 

Condobolin, NSW, November 2014

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I took the train to Condobolin for a few days. It was a calming experience. The train leaves from Central Station in Sydney and goes all the way to Broken Hill. I ate a finger bun and drank some instant coffee. I felt in touch with the Australia of my childhood.

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When I got to Condobolin it was all regal buildings, wide streets, sun, silence and a big Australian sky.

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On Mount Tilga

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Gum Bend Lake

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Utes In The Paddock! It’s a big, evolving public art project.

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Goodbye to North America

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I took this photo today at the Santa Monica Pier. I rode there and back from Hermosa and it was hot and sunny and blazing. Afterwards I jumped into the sea, and then lay down on the sand and listened to the waves and chatter. This is the last piece of sky that I’ll see in North America, for now.

Five months ago I took off by myself hoping to discover new places. I have. Some of them I’d go back to and stay forever, some I was happy to leave behind, all of them I’m glad to have seen. I know that I’ll have an ongoing relationship with this whole continent and a solo trip wasn’t a bad first date.

There have been plenty of ups and not too many downs. I haven’t been lonely. People everywhere are interesting and interested. The thrill of getting onto a long-distance train armed with only a backpack will, unsurprisingly, never dull for me.

There’s probably much more I could say about it. Meeting people on the road, independence, culture shock, solitude, top ten places to visit in Canada, etc. But the reason I came here again to California, my first love, was to switch all of that off. Just the sea and the sun and, weirdly enough for Los Angeles, the peace.

I’m fine with coming home. See you soon, Sydney.

 

“New York City”

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This is the only photo I will be posting of my time in New York City. It shows me with my hair going everywhere due to the wind on the Brooklyn Bridge. If you want to see what New York City looks like, it should be easy enough to figure out. Every square metre of this city has been photographed, filmed, analysed, blogged and turned into its own web series. So yes, I’m eating bagels and drinking cawfee and walking around Williamsburg and riding the subway and all of that. I went to MoMa and saw some stand-up in the Village. Lots to do! But that’s all I’m going to say about it.

Have a nice day!

Those falls at Niagara

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It’s fun to be a tourist sometimes. And it would have been absurd to leave North America in a few weeks without having seen Niagara Falls.

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Two hours from Toronto by coach, the falls straddle Canada and the USA and since the Canadian side is soaking in Americana (a Hershey’s store, Elvis impersonators, a Coca Cola milkshake shop and Planet Hollywood), I can only assume that the American side is covered in red and white maple leaves. (Unlikely.)

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Yes, the town is tacky and I didn’t bother seeing any of the wax museums – my only wander into a casino was a disappointment. But the falls themselves really are vast and loud and stunning, and on a hot day like yesterday, the cool spray felt a bit like a blessing.IMG_1614 IMG_1624 IMG_1629 IMG_1631 IMG_1635

Festival review: Nachtdigital 17

I had the opportunity to attend the exclusive Nachtdigital festival in Olganitz, Saxony, from August 1 to 3.

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one-of-a-kind graphic design

It’s all electronic, held in the German countryside in the summer and I say “exclusive” because only 3000 tickets are ever released and the event is consistently sold out straight away.

Olganitz is a village not far from Leipzig and it made for a very lovely drive south from Berlin.

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Most people camp but there are bungalows available too, in the “Bunga Bungalowdorf”.

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My party was camping. We brought enough food and beer for a small army and divided our time between our little tent town and the main stage areas, which, owing to the petite size of the whole operation, was only a three-minute walk away.

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The stages (one main stage, one inside a big tent and a smaller one by the water) are set by the lake, and the weather was hot and perfect for swimming and splashing around. It was a really beautiful place to have a music festival.

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The music was minimal in general – the heavier stuff in the small hours of night and the more ambient at sunrise and during the daylight. Being Europe, music starts in the evening and goes right through until 11am, although a thunderstorm did make everyone stop for an hour or so on the second night.

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I think this is Siriusmo

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Around the grounds there were little hideaway places to party, like this miniature mirror booth.

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And at night the place was lit up by flashes of colour.

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I had no expectations for Nachtdigital but I had heard many positive things which all turned out to be true. The overall pace and buzz was warm and relaxed – everybody was in a good mood. There was something really exciting about beats echoing out through the fields at night, before it was time to see the early European sunrise.

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And no reason to stop dancing, except to soak up the rays.

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Music: The festival’s specialty is exposing lesser-known and underground DJs from around Europe. My highlights were Siriusmo, Robag Wruhme & Roman Flügel, Heatsick (who I have now seen on three different continents), the Doumen Records showcase and the very unique ROD, who unleashed his terrifying bass right after the thunderstorm.

Crowd: Smiley and relaxed. I didn’t see any “antisocial” behaviour at all. The majority of people were young and beautiful and seemed to mostly come from Germany and The Netherlands.

Food and drink: Guests can bring their own booze into the campsite but not the main stage area. The food for sale was actually pretty tasty, with lots of vegetarian options. Drinks were also not through the roof. But if you plan well, you can survive the whole three days without spending any cash at all.

Grounds: A lovely and unique location, in the fields near a small lake surrounded by woods. Toilets were nothing special (portaloos) and the “shower” was just a cold hose with some curtains around it. Luckily, the weather was really warm!

Nachtdigital has quite a following, and I can see why. I’m still listening to this kind of thing, reminiscing.

 

Halfway Point

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Montreal brunch – luckily I wasn’t meant to eat all of this by myself.

Two and a half months ago, I flew out of Kingsford Smith on my way to North America. Alone. It’s been, in the majority, a solo trip since and assuming all goes to plan (no September snowstorms), I’m halfway through.

It feels like much longer. My memories of California and Mexico are like a colourful dream sequence now, and that was only in April. I’m hearing an odd mashup of accents when I open my own mouth. Like everything, I’m sure that the next half of the trip will be intense and fantastic when it’s happening, and be over far too soon.

Along the way I have met dozens of solo travellers and I always feel like we’re part of a special club. We’ve discovered the thrill of going out into the unknown, armed with only wits and charms. Yes, there are a million blog posts already about how travel opens your mind and the romance of leaving home with only a few pairs of clothes and some good books. So everyone gets it. But there is something to be said about deliberately turning yourself into a complete stranger.

For one thing, people are impressed by it. You really came here all by yourself? Do you have family here? Friends? Wow! You’re brave! (And I smile to myself.) I don’t feel overly brave or adventurous, really – it’s Canada. They speak English here. I’m a dual citizen so I don’t need any scary immigration paperwork. Everyone is friendly. But I am proud of one thing – conquering my fear of being alone.

On my 25th birthday, which was a few weeks ago, I got a manicure. Then I went to a Japanese restaurant, by myself. I splurged on an expensive ramen and a beer. After that I walked over to a tiny theatre for a film screening I’d read about online. When the film was over, I made some friends by chatting about the rain and offering some chewing gum around, and we went out for more beers. It felt good to be a grown-up woman who could find her own entertainment and meet new people.

I’m planning on writing a separate post a bit later about the act of a woman going into a bar to drink alone. But it’s not too much of a stretch to say that for me, getting used to that has been one of the most rewarding treats of the whole exercise.

Maybe being happy alone is a skill that can only be learned through experience. In any case, I think that mastering it can only be useful for all the trials and errors of an interesting life.

Sometimes, in idle moments – and there are many – I think about the singular burn and sparkle of the Australian sunlight. The way everyone’s skin looks shiny after the sun sets on a hot day. Wattles, and jacarandas, and espressos and Coopers. It’ll all still be there, and I’ll get to enjoy it with all the people I miss. But I’m blessed to be young and healthy and I know who I am, which has been a wonderful thing to discover.

If you’re a woman (or man) who has travelled alone, please share your thoughts about it with me.  xx

At the CN Tower

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“Everything changes after three weeks.”

So said the Englishman who had been here for six. That meant that I should have been two days already into the rest of my (Toronto) life. Well, let’s say you get a few extra days for the weekend. I thought about whether it was that particular evening, warmer than most of the ones I’d had before, that was going to be pivotal.

But it was the whole disappearing day, really, that was a little bit special. I had spent three weeks (and two days) in Toronto, and had very little to show for it. Up until my arrival, every few days held the promise of a new city and new people to meet. I had moved to a new city for real and now, it was all up to me.

As happens so often in life, I shouldn’t have worried so much. Although I didn’t realise it except in hindsight, it was indeed around the three-week mark that my new (temporary) life started to come into focus. My street and my home began to feel familiar. I made some friends and started having things to go to in the evenings. I started to memorise streetcar routes and subway stations. I was able to sleep.

I look at the CN tower every day. So far up in the haze above the streets, it often has a unreal quality to it.

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If I was only staying in Toronto for a few days, enjoying one exciting day after another, I would have visited the CN Tower already. So I decided to go up.

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My place is over there somewhere.

Even though I had to push my way through hundreds of squealing children, it really was beautiful up there. You can ever-so-slightly see the curvature of the earth, off in the blue distance over Lake Ontario. IMG_0943

It’s expensive, as you’d expect – about $35. Especially because I chose to pay an extra $12 to go up a few more storeys to the Skypod.

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However, although it wasn’t advertised, the $12 includes some peace and quiet.

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On the main level there is a glass floor. I was excited to stand on the glass floor, until it came to the point where I had to step on it. IMG_0957My heart was beating incredibly quickly. There were other grown adults who were obviously terrified, and I don’t blame them. The fear of plunging to our deaths from incredibly high buildings unites us all, I guess.

So I had finally visited the CN Tower. I had seen a Sight, and was determined to see some more. I wanted to be excited about Toronto, every day that I spent there. And it was that evening that I met the Englishman, and realised that he was right.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

IMG_0891 “We say there are two seasons in Saskatoon: winter and ‘construction’,” said my prairie friend Steph. The idea, of course, being that all the building and roadwork that accumulates during the long winter must be completed in the brief burst of summer. When I arrived in Saskatoon, construction season had begun. The skies were clear and the bright sun was smiling down at the flat, dusty landscape. There was reason to celebrate. In winter, temperatures colder than -30 celcius are commonplace. My mother was born in Saskatchewan and has relayed stories of locals tying a rope between their front door and their front gate in order to find their way through the yard in a blizzard. My grandfather has told me that a person ‘snowed in’ in their car would probably die – if the car was off, then of cold; and if the car was on, then of carbon monoxide poisoning.

But enough of that misery. Saskatoon in the sun was a delight and it was showing on everyone’s faces. I could only imagine the whole place covered in ice, but it showed few signs of that on the day that we walked along the South Saskatchewan River. IMG_0866 IMG_0867 IMG_0873 IMG_0874 IMG_0875 IMG_0882 IMG_0877   There is a sculpture park close to the banks. IMG_0883 IMG_0884 IMG_0888IMG_0886 The Bessborough is one of the oldest buildings in the area. Very stately. IMG_0892A beer, liquor and food festival called Top of the Hops attracted a whole lot of locals and was pretty raucous fun. As it turns out, the province has plenty of breweries and distilleries – and people who love to have a good time. Little glimpses of old-world prairie life are there, too – like the “two-step” that everybody started dancing at the end of a Friday night. I might be returning in August – the summer festivals and parties will be mostly over, but the open space and friendly spirit will surely be the same. IMG_0891