Monday, 5 February 2018

What am I doing in Venezia?

I'm taking a three week solo trip to Denmark and Northern Italia this June. It will be early Summer up there, and therefore not too touristy, compared to July or August. I've built the trip around Venice. Why am I doing this? Do I need a reason? Well, yes ...

As it happens, there is an exceptionally rare academic conference being conducted in Venice this year that is 'bang-on' my research interests, hosted by England's Warwick University, with key academic experts relevant to my area of specialisation. It's a very niche topic, and I've never seen any conference with this focus happening anywhere else, and I doubt I'll see it again for at least seven years. My PhD Supervisors tend to agree, as does everyone who looks at the conference theme, explanatory blurb and agenda. So, I must attend. It's being held at the 'Palazzo Pesaro-Papafaro' - a gothic architectural delight, on the water's edge. I've checked out all the online images and it looks very special as a host venue.

I've registered for the conference attendance component, and am currently waiting to learn if they've accepted my proposed paper, which is directly relevant to my PhD research on 19th Century Ballarat in Victoria, Australia.  They invited me to submit, and I'd discussed my preliminary ideas with the administrator, so I think I stand a reasonable chance of acceptance, but if not, well, hey, I'll just listen and learn. That said, I would like to present, as I'm possibly the only Australian delegate there, or if I'm not, I'll certainly be in the minority. It's such a unique opportunity, all related to professional academic development.

I've booked a gorgeous and ultra-affordable cave-like bedroom in a small, but ambient looking, 2 b.r. AirBnB, staying with the resident art-inspired eco-chick host, across the main river in the quiet part of Guidecca. I'll be catching the Vaporetta (water-craft) over to San Marco each day, so it should be magic. Even though I'll have seven nights there, I'll be spending three full days at the conference and one day on an independent theatre research excursion to Vicenza and Padova, so I'll actually only have two full days free in Venice for exploration. I've already booked a street market and foodie tour for the morning of my first full day there. But there's so much to squeeze in to the remaining 1.5 days I'll have free!

I want to visit Doge's Palace, St Marks Square Museum & Bascilica, Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nationale and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, not to mention a bunch of other sites which I am obviously not likely to be able to see at all, let alone scratch the surface of. Last time I was there, I just wandered around oblivious to these wonders, as a backpacker does at 19. I certainly absorbed the street and canal ambience, on a philosophical level, but only took a few steps into the entrance of the Basilica! So, anyway, this time I am doing my research and will cram in as much as I can.

I'll arrive at my Venice pad at about 3pm, and I should be bright as a bunny, as I'm only flying in from Copenhagen which is meant to be a relatively swift flight. But then again, I've travelled enough to know how often things that seem simple in principle go pear-shaped in practice! When I eventually reach my destination, it's in a teeny weeny alley, the width of just one average framed human body. It is such a treat to have Google Earth which enables perspective on where one is staying. On some level, it dilutes the surprise element, but on another it offers just enough certainty to alleviate silly worries.

I have so much prep work to do, and it's less than four months away, so I figure blogging is a good way to rev myself up, make it all the more real and motivate myself to tick all of those 'to do' boxes prior to departure. I just hope my readers enjoy sharing the journey with me!

Time for New Adventures

I haven't updated this blog since 2016, but as it's now less than four months til my next overseas adventure, I figure it's time to recommence my 'blah blah' ...

On 31 May I fly to Denmark, of all places. It's not somewhere that's ever been on my A, or even B, list, but when opportunity strikes, one must run with it. A very good friend from my teenage years, who grew up to be a banker, lives there now, as her hub is a banker, and they have a contract to work in Copenhagen for a few years. As chance has it, I happened to attend a seminar in Melbourne recently on all the museums of Copenhagen, of which there are an astonishing amount. I therefore feel confident there will be much for me to occupy myself with while my friends work their day jobs. They have a guest room with an en suite, in which they are kindly accomodating me, and I'm feeling very excited and privileged to be able to spend 5 nights with them. This will enable me to get through my initial jet-lag, and catch up with them in the evenings, while visiting museums galore and a palace or two during the daytimes.

After that, I'll fly with Scandinavian Airways to Venice for a week. That's the whole point of the trip, and the reason I'm going, so I'll write more about that rationale soon.

I last visited Venice in December 1985, as a solo backpacker, so it's been a while. .. When I eventually leave Venice by train, I'll spend two nights in Verona, two nights in Bergamo and three nights in Milano. Just a 3 week trip away, from tip to toe, but it should be good. Better than good, in fact! A professional development trip, basically, and a rare chance for 'time alone'.

Having recently survived a 'big' birthday, I also figure it'll be a belated milestone birthday treat, and very good for the soul. I have no doubt that it will be amazing, and I am sincerely thrilled to be able to do this thing. More deets to follow ...

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Visiting Historic Cities on North America’s East Coast

I've just written these 2100 words for a local community newspaper, so thought I'd also share it here as well.

In June of this year, our little family of three had the most amazing holiday; our first ever ‘big’ holiday overseas together. Now that our daughter is twelve, we figured this was a good time to do it, as she’ll remember it forever more, and she was also willing to sleep on the couch some of the time, saving us a fair bit of money with accommodation!

My husband and I seem to manage one 4-week holiday in the Northern Hemisphere once every seven years, with somewhere closer like New Zealand or South East Asia in-between, at around the 3-4 year point if we’re lucky. These things are expensive so we take it pretty seriously and plan every detail as carefully as we can, to make sure we get the greatest bang for our buck.

This trip was initially a holiday built around my intention of attending an academic heritage conference in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. For this reason, I booked our flights a full year ahead, so we could get the cheapest deal. I made sure I included all the cities on our ‘B List’ of historic cities to visit in North America (mainly because I’ve achieved my personal ‘A List’ already, having been to NYC, Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans in the past).

We’re very much independent travellers, so I also booked all our accommodation in what we considered the most ambient places in the best locations for our budget on Air B’n’B, a year ahead. I even booked our house-sitters in a year ahead, and they planned their flights and all their arrangements around this too.

But life being what it is, the sponsoring Universities then pulled the dates for the conference forward by one whole week! Being completely self-funded I was gutted, as the cheap flights I’d bought us were totally non-changeable. But once I picked myself up off the floor, I soon came around to the idea that it was meant to be, and we may as well just run with it and have a fabulous family holiday. So, that’s what we did!

We flew United Airlines from Melbourne straight to Montreal via a few hours change-over in Los Angeles. This was my sixth change-over at LA Airport in my lifetime, yet I’ve never left the terminal. I haven’t really seen the need to. It’s a long haul to Montreal, about 30 hours door-to-door, including all transit aspects, so we got to our two story loft apartment by about 11pm, and let ourselves in using the key codes on the front and internal doors.

We had a whole week in Montreal, founded 1642 (because I thought I’d be attending that critical heritage conference!), but it turned out really well because we got to know that beautiful, user friendly city in significant detail. We stayed in the historic Old Port District, but travelled all over the city, exploring its various nooks and crannies on foot and via subway.

It must be said that going on holiday with me is like a tourism boot camp, because we walk ourselves ragged each day. There’s always so much I want to cram into our time away. We’re mainly interested in exploring culturally diverse urban neighbourhoods, historic homes, museums, galleries, parks, bookshops and trying good quality local food wherever we go. That’s our idea of a great holiday. We catch local trains and buses, and staying Air B’n’B also means we get to go to local supermarkets, stock up on unfamiliar produce, cook our own dinners, and save money imagining we live wherever it is that we’re staying.

After Montreal, we caught a train for just two hours over to Quebec City, the oldest fully walled city in North America, claimed by the French in 1608. After that we flew down to the Deep South to spend 3 nights in Charleston, South Carolina, settled 1670, home to the slave trade and the start of the Civil War. Next we hired a car and drove down to Savannah, via two grand plantation properties and the sweetest coastal town called Beaufort. (where 'The Big Chill' was filmed in the early 1980s). We spent 3 nights in Savannah, Georgia, settled 1733, then flew North again to Boston, Massachusetts, settled 1630 by English Puritans, where we spent 5 nights.  While there, we also caught a fast ferry two hours North to Salem, and spent an extraordinary day there learning about the witch trails of 1692. These five incredible cities (plus the day trips to Beaufort and Salem) were the heart of our holiday.

On the way back we flew over to Denver, Colorado, settled in 1858, and stayed for just 1 night and finally Los Angeles, California, for 1 accidental night, courtesy of United Airlines’ multiple stuff-ups with our connections. It was the most extraordinary trip, so I thought I’d share a bit about it here just in case any of you have an interest in these places. Here’s my take on the places we went:

Montreal was thoroughly enjoyable and we feel we did justice to its diverse offerings – So much so that we never need to return. A week there was the perfect amount of time. We went to inspired museums, caught a Cirque du Soleil show, ate absolutely incredible food in the Jewish district and the most sublime oysters in the Italian district, inspected extraordinary churches which almost blew our minds, watched the city brace itself like a well oiled event machine for the Grand Prix, and did so many cool things that there’s not enough space to rattle on about them all here. We walked until our hips ached and our feet blistered. We saw and experienced so much, and would highly recommend Montreal to others, though only in their Summer! This is a city of extreme cold most of the year, hence the mammoth underground labyrinth of shopping malls, some of which we explored on our way to the Museum of Fine Arts (five extraordinary buildings connected by a web of underground galleries). Montreal deserves its accolades.

Quebec City was both fascinating and very old-fashioned. Their approach to tourism seems stuck in the late 1970s somehow, which they say is when the locals discovered that their quirky old city might be of interest to outsiders. This fortress city has a long and bloody history as it sits at the start of the Saint Lawrence River  at the strategic gateway to French Canada. The city is dominated by a fairy-tale style grand hotel called Chateaux Frontenac with an enormous wide wooden Promenade that has an 18th Century feel: It doesn’t seem right that everyone’s wearing modern clothes! We stayed in an ancient street in the old Port district and had to hike up and down the hilltop many times in order to see everything we wanted to see. It’s a very interesting city with breath-taking architecture and we’re very glad we went, but it has an odd vibe; a tension you can actually feel.

Charleston was unbelievably hot and sultry when we were there, and we almost melted. The saving grace was the iced tea we bought on multiple occasions at the city markets for a couple of bucks. We did a horse and carriage tour around the old city’s heart and the most delicious foodie walking tour, savouring many local specialties including shrimp biscuits and grits. We also toured three Civil War mansions while in Charleston: one preserved in it’s original condition (that was the most pr,ofound experience), one partially restored and one fully restored. We also wandered along the Esplanade where they used to bring all the slave ships in and contemplated the park where they hung many poor people from trees once upon a time. This is the heartland of people who still speak of the ‘War of Northern aggression’ (rather than the Civil War) and home to the horrific massacre that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church  exactly one year prior to our visit. It was being commemorated all over the city while we were there. We enjoyed Charleston immensely and like each American city we visited we dearly wished we had another night there, so we could see everything on our wish-list.

Savannah is an entirely seductive city full of 23 or more charming urban parks, draped with Spanish Moss on 'Live Oaks', with the most famous being Forsyth Park, which we used as our basis for meandering about. We even went to a Sunday morning service at Savannah’s first Southern Baptist Church to sway to the singing of the gospel choir. We sat with the mainly Afro-American congregation and listened to the Preacher, who was quite enlightened and moved me to tears at times. Savannah was also home to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, so the spiritual heritage of Savannah is deep. Having a car during our stay there was also very handy for driving to Bonaventure Cemetery, where we did the most incredibly haunting and powerful two hour walking tour with a very talented story-teller. Our daughter had a yearning to visit the beach while in Savannah, so we also drove out of town to spend an afternoon where the locals go: grey sanded North Beach on Tybie Island with an old Lighthouse,  where I sat and read on an adult sized swing while my family went swimming in the strangely brown seawater. Despite the weird low-country swamp beaches, this was the one city we could actually imagine ourselves living happily in – It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful with lovely ante-bellum buildings and supermarket checkout chicks who say things like “Y’all be blessed” when you buy your groceries.

Boston is a highly civilised and historic city, beautifully set up for visitors to enjoy. We stayed in the centrally located Beacon Hill next to Boston Common, and found we could walk to almost everything we wanted to see: the Italian North End, Waterfront, Back Bay and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Fenway. We caught a train a couple of stops over to MIT and then on to Harvard University and did a guided tour of the campus. The highlight for me though was visiting Boston’s oldest surviving wooden house, built in 1680, and home to American Patriot Paul Revere and our private tour of the neighbouring Pierce/Hitchborn House, the oldest surviving brick home: Both so wonky and wonderful. Trekking about the charming and steep cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill admiring the brownstone architecture was also magical. We just loved Boston, and would return in a heartbeat.

Denver was surprisingly uplifting. It was flat as a pancake, despite the fact that it sits a mile high, underneath the great Rockie Mountains. We only had one evening to enjoy dinner on our hotel rooftop and a morning to do a historic walking tour of LoDo (Lower Downtown), but every moment was an absolute pleasure. After the tour of the mammoth brick warehouse and distribution district, we went back to several of the places our guides told us about: the landmark Cowboy retailer store, the authentic Art Deco Prohibition Bar, a cavernous ambient book barn, and so on. At first glance Denver seems a dry and barren place, but give it a second glance and you catch its pulse palpitating all around you. It’s quite amazing and we wished we had two more nights there. They have some great looking galleries and museums too, but we didn’t get to see any of them.

Los Angeles was exactly like we thought it would be: sprawling suburbs as far as the eye could see, an unattractive mishmash of buildings and palm trees smothered in visibly grey air pollution and it’s distinctly unglamorous as an overall urban landscape. However, it was interesting to get a peek of Venice Beach, West Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Hollywood Boulevard and the original multicultural Farmer’s Market. The residents are tremendously spirited and proud of their drab city which sparkles brightly in their mind’s eye. There’s a lot to see and when we have the opportunity to revisit I’m sure we’ll happily fill a week doing fascinating things.

The final thing I’d like to say is that the quality of the food everywhere we went was simply superb. Gave us so many new ideas for how to approach daily meals! We're very privileged to have had the opportunity to plan and take this incredible trip, and hope this reflective overview may be helpful to those interested in any or all of these destinations.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Amusing one's inner travel bug...

The problem with coming home is that if it was a really great trip (which it absolutely was), all one can think about is where to go next. I'm shocking like that. I have a long track record, stretching back to the 1980s, of wanting to book the next trip the moment I get back from the last.

True to form, I have done this already, conceptually, at least. We arrived home nine and a half days ago, and about two nights ago, I identified our little beachside get-away for Summer - That's six months away, which is actually quite late for me, in terms of just starting to plan it now.  I usually book things a year ahead, which is weird, I know, but it's the way I work best. I'm not at all spontaneous with regard to holidays. I like to know I've got something to work towards and look forward to, and having that concept locked in helps me buckle down and work as hard as I can to pull the funds together for whatever it is, whether it's that very occasional big overseas trip, a small interstate trip or even just a few hours drive down the road. This tendency means I almost never have the opportunity to take advantage of those 'seasonal specials' which are far too short notice for me.  Because location is important to me, this is another reason I like to book things in early, so as to also secure a style of place suited to my taste and price-range.

Anyway, what I intend to book for Summer is just five nights by the South Australian coast, as that's my home state. The climate there is always several degrees warmer than it is anywhere on the Victorian coast and a whole lot less crowded. The Air BnB place I've found is a simple, stylishly appointed, one bedroom brick unit, half a block from the beach, for half the price it would normally cost to lease a tiny, grimy beachside cabin in a caravan park at that time of year! J can sleep on the couch. If we book it in by August or so, and for some reason we change our mind (which we won't), we get a full refund, bar the booking (service) fee. From my perspective, having that peace of mind makes it worth the punt.

In any case, it will probably be another seven years until we have a big, by which I mean 'long-haul', trip overseas like we just had. When we do it will involve Scotland and certain parts of Europe. It has to. I've lived far too long to have not yet been to the homeland of my ancestors - I need a full two weeks in Scotland, at least!

In the interim, there's quite a list of Australian destinations we'd like to get to over the next bunch of years, for one reason or another. I'm also hoping to go somewhere special (and cheap!) in South East Asia for my milestone birthday at the end of next year. It's good to have goals - It makes you work harder. And of course, there's a whole lot of domestic and mortgage related goals we have as well, like most people do.

The other problem with coming home is that if you don't have any time to actually recover and recuperate properly, and I haven't, you get knocked out by the first contagious affliction that comes your way. And so it is that I have contracted a particularly mean cold & flu, which I want to kick a.s.a.p., so I can get on with all the things I have on my 'to do' list. I've got work to do, and study too.

I may not blog again for a while, as I have a lot to get on with. So thanks for reading! When I next travel somewhere interesting, I'll be sure to return to this li'l blog. Come to think of it, I'm going to the Bendigo Writer's Festival next month, so maybe I'll type more then. Who knows?

Monday, 4 July 2016

A fast afternoon in Los Angeles

At 4am (according to our Denver time clocks) we opened the door to our room at the Marriott Courtyard (the hotel United Airlines placed us in for two nights accom, so that we could sleep all day if we needed to, following their protracted torture of our good selves, via extensive time-wasting and sleep deprivation).

The Marriott is a great standard hotel in the immediate Airport precinct, so I was relieved to learn that's where we were headed. It's worth about AUD$265 p.n. retail sale value. While it's not somewhere I would choose to stay personally, it's good because it's totally reliable, safe, professional and you know exactly what you will get. It reminded me very much of the four business conferences I've attended in the U.S. in the past, as my Company often used the Marriott, or similar chains. So anyway, we undid the sofa bed for J and she went straight to sleep.

L & I were too hyped up to sleep, and in any case I felt compelled to do some fast research into what on earth we wanted to see in LA in our one unexpected afternoon there, and how best to approach it, without spending a bomb. The irony was that I have a whole detailed list of things I want to see in LA on my home computer, but here we were in LA, by accident, and with no idea what was practical to squeeze into 5 hours. I also wasn't sure how we'd wake up after such an ordeal. I decided to set the alarm for 1pm LAX time, meaning about 10 hours sleep for J and 8 hours for us. In actual fact we woke up at about 11am, and fuddled about having showers and doing things.

When my friends found out we had some time in LA they were full of suggestions that were absolutely perfect for me, and I actually found it quite touching how well they know my tastes and preferences.  The unanimous advice was 1) The J Paul Getty Museum; 2) Santa Monica; 3) The Last Bookstore on 5th Street. These are all places I would dearly love to go, along with Universal Studios and Pasadena, but it wasn't all about me. We're a trio, and I had to take that into consideration. Given how much travelling we've done in a condensed period of time, and how weary we were, I knew my loved ones would have little ability to focus in on one of the western world's most abundant museums and its extensive contents on our surprise afternoon in LA. All we thought we'd be doing by then was sleeping at home in our own beds! So, even though the Getty Museum is one we would sincerely LOVE to see, there's no point going there when in a spent state.

I did think about travelling by public bus to Santa Monica, for $2.50 return each, and having a quiet, relaxing time walking around the pier, the fun park and admiring the local art deco architecture. That was my personal preference. But then, there's still that dimension of selfishness there, which I had to acknowledge. If it happens that we never have the chance to come to LA again in our lives, who am I to deny my hub and kid the opportunity to drive through Beverley Hills, to see that Hollywood sign on the hill and to stand on the stars on Hollywood Boulevard?

So with these thoughts in mind, I gave L the go-ahead to book a half day tour of 'whatever' the mainstream tourism industry thinks we need to see. So that after 25 days of completely independent travelling, we could for once just get into a limo van, and be taken around, without having to think for ourselves. I battle with that sort of thing, coz I always feel I could do it better myself, because I could (!), but in this instance, it was important for me to let my hub and kid have a go at the easy way. So off we went, on a five hour, fully programmed tour of effectively just three hotspots across LA. But it did mean that we saw way more than we ever could of on our own in just one afternoon.

Having missed lunch, dinner and breakfast over the preceeding 24 hours, at 1pm we had the downstairs bistro manager organise a BLT with turkey for each of us, even though they were actually closed at the time. I had a word with four different staffers, and they soon realised they'd best offer us something freshly made. It was delicious and felt replenishing, so we did tip them generously.

At 2pm, as scheduled, our black limo van arrived and swept us off, along with two Australian couples who were already in the vehicle, drawn from nearby hotels. As LA is so spread out it takes time to drive from place to place, which for us was fascinating viewing of the city's vast residential areas of no particularly visual beauty most of the time, but interesting to us none-the-less.

We were taken straight to the notorious Venice Beach, a place I've always believed I'd be happy to get a glimpse of, but for which there is no need for me to go more than once. Even though we only had twenty minutes there, of which about eight minutes was taken up getting to and from the main Esplanade, I do feel satisfied I've seen it and need never return.  It seemed so grey and polluted to me, which L says is unfair of me to say, as I'm spoilt by the pristine white sands of the Australian beaches. But, I do have to call it as I see it. It's also full of dead-beats, looking for their next scam. I've been thinking about it quite a bit, and I think it is the air pollution that puts me off the most - The grey haze of smog, as far as the eye can see. It doesn't inspire me at all. Hong Kong has the same problem, obviously, as do many places, but when it's apparent by the ocean, it's particularly sad.

After that fast leg-stretching episode we were back in the van for another hour or more, being given a narrated tour of Beverley Hills. Our driver was no tour guide of any great capability, but he was basically well intended and clearly very proud of his city. Eventually we were given 40 minutes to get out and move around again on Hollywood Boulevard. We raced about feeling a bit too busy and almost giddy, due to the sudden intensity of people and hub-bub. We raced through throngs of people to ascend four flights through a complex shopping mall, to find that particular arcade spot where you can see the Hollywood sign far off on the hill-top. The entire shopping complex was full of ice-cream parlours. I've never seen a whole complex devoted to so many various dessert oriented businesses. It would have been too tempting if we'd had any time to meander, which we did not. We had to race off and stand on some cracked stars ... It was kinda fun ... I guess.

We also spent fifteen or so minutes charging around LA LA Land like pinballs. It's a big, bright, neon-lit, souvenir shop of the pulsating and magnetic type. It sucks you in and you have to buy tacky t-shirts, sweaters, mock Oscar trophies, key-rings and baseball caps, whether you like it or not.

After this (frankly) frantic stop we got back into our van and were told there'd be only one more place to look forward to. That was 'The Grove Farmers Market'. I was sceptical, as I'd never heard of it. However, when we got there, we realised that from a purely tourist-ish point of view, there were a lot of options there to satisfy all sorts of interests. We were not at all interested in the generic 'shopping' options, which exist all over America, but we were into the quaint, labyrinth of rather smokey food halls that were semi-outdoors, and seemed to showcase all sorts of international cuisine, in the way that only America does: Not upmarket, but somehow authentic and impressive if you take the time to stop and comprehend it all. Anyway, we had barely enough time to swill some beverages and buy a square of toffee, but we do know that when we one day return to LA we will revisit this great food market, but next time we will do so at dinner time!

Anyway, we got back to our hotel room at 7pm, had one hour to clean up our act, and then we were out of there, on our way home to Australia. I do not regret taking that weirdly time consuming grab-bag of a tour, because we still saw a whole bunch more than we would have if we'd not done it, BUT... We can do things so much better independently, if allowed a few fresh moments with which to plan things.

I have enough on my 'Must See' list for LA now to comfortably fill a full week there, and so ... One day in the future we will do that. A quality experience requires planning and consideration. But it was amazing, however weird, to have this unanticipated opportunity to grab glimpses of LA, and we are thankful for that.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Explorations of Denver...

Our day started well. We had a delicious fast breakfast at our Art Hotel where we could see the Rockies from our breakfast table. L & J were like "Wow" whereas I just thought they looked almost exactly like the Adelaide Hills. J actually rolled her eyes when I said that. Hello adolescence!!!

The Art Hotel gave us a courtesy car ride to Union Station to meet our tour guides (which we'd organised independently, so this was good of them). Our two absolutely delightful 'docents' (which means volunteer guides) from the Denver Historical Society were there at the flagpole to meet us with warmth, enthusiasm and professionalism. Diane and Bobbie wore logo'd polo shirts and co-hosted our tour. We were the only ones on it, so we had the best experience. This was a heritage architecture tour of the LoDo District surrounding Union Station, opened in 1881. It was the hub of the new railway push into the Western Frontier, and the wealth of well constructed and supremely sturdy warehouses and distribution centres in the area is quite extraordinary.

Within ten minutes of starting the 90 minute tour our guides had completely transformed our understanding of what we were looking at. The streetscapes all around us came to life in a new way. Once we got a grasp of their architectural vernacular, and their purpose, it was terrifically exciting. We learned so much, about brick work, in particular, and we greatly enjoyed it. I was particularly interested to find similarities in appreciation of aspects of built heritage such as 'Ghost Signs' which we in Ballarat are also developing a keener interest in recently, or at least more explicitly than previously.

Denver is an amazing city. It's a mile above sea level, which explains my tight chest and my being short of breath - I was pretty worried last night and this morning, but once the women explained it to me, I'm like, "Oh, phew... So I'm not about to have a heart attack." Turns out J was having the same thoughts. And it's hot and dry here. It was 37 degrees today, in the shade, but felt more like 47. Big, bright blue skies and a sense of unique conditions. People here are pretty zesty. It's a city with a pulse. That much I've worked out. Locals here are mad keen on scooter riding, which struck me as very hip. There are scooters everywhere you look!

Anyway, we toured the oldest hotel in Denver, the Oxford, and had a private peek at their hyper Art Deco Cruise Room Bar, shaped like a wine bottle, illuminated in watermelon pink light, with all the trimmings, including booths, circular bar stools in chrome and a jukebox. It opened the very day after prohibition ended in America, and is the most authentic, kick-arse, cool bar I have ever seen in my life, with music to match. 

After the tour ended we felt compelled to visit a few of the places the women had pointed out on the tour. This included the iconic store Rockmount Ranch Wear, owned by a man named Papa Jack.  He actually invented those press dud buttons everyone had on their western shirts in the 1970s.  We spent about 30 minutes in there admiring everything and learning all about the legacy of the man who lived to be 107. This was the best cowboy and cowgal store imaginable.

We went back to the main wooden clad and general bar area of the Oxford, with it's ornate, gold pressed metal ceiling, for refreshments and a light bite to eat, because air conditioning is important to experience whenever possible. It was impossibly hot outside. I had a cocktail called a 'Kentucky Smash' and shared some lobster nuggets with J. Both items were utterly delicious. We figured it was our last (mini) meal in America. After that we visited the bookstore we saw on our tour called the Tattered Cover. That was an absolute barn, and so ambient with dark wooden shelves and lush, soft chocolate leather lounge chairs. The aesthetic of Denver is highly appealing to us.

I realised by mid afternoon, that I would really love to comeback here and spent four nights, so I can visit all the museums and galleries, and do a whole lot more. I'd stay AirBnB and plan it really carefully, but regardless of whether or not that ever happens, I am so glad we were able to come see and touch this place. It's one of America's the fastest growing cities.

We made sure we checked out Larimer Sqaure before we left, and then we grabbed the free shuttle bus all the way down 16th Street, to Broadway. That was eleven big city blocks we did not have to walk. Next we walked just four blocks across to 12th Street, past the grand civic square, with monumentally impressive state buildings at each end of the square. That was populated mostly by the homeless, and therefore not frequented by many other people. Just as we got to our mirrored Art Hotel, ready to take the private limo service we'd booked (it's only $4 dearer than a taxi, and so much nicer) I saw the sign that made me feel ill. 

The Colorado History Museum which looks and sounds superb in all dimensions, especially re digital  and interactive displays, was directly opposite our Hotel and  open all day!!! I sware I checked the opening days of at least four or five museums I wanted to visit and they were all closed on Mondays. And now, having left downtown Denver at 3.30pm to be fully on time for our flights home to Melbourne, Australia, our departing flight was delayed nine times, and is now scheduled to fly at 12.30am, arriving in Los Angeles two hours later. So we've missed our international flight home, and we will have spent 8.5 hours today at the Airport. So I could have gone to the Colorado History Museum after-all!!!  Growl.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Dipping into Denver...

This morning we bid farewell to beautiful Boston, and grabbed a cab to the Airport with a nice Muslim driver.  Were pleased with our time in Boston and especially with how comfortable Boston felt. I really did not expect it to be so warm, in all senses of the word.

Upon checking in we found our flight had been delayed, again. Originally I booked this particular flight because I wanted to leave at 10am and arrive by midday (thanks to time changes) so as to create a full afternoon to explore the art galleries of Denver Colorado. Most American galleries are closed on Mondays, but i figured so long as we had the Sunday, I could at least visit the one closest to our hotel, the Art Hotel. Right? Wrong. It was changed to 11am a few months ago, then 12 midday, now 1pm, and by the time all was said an done it had been delayed again, and we finally left at 1.45pm. Thanks United! No art gallery for me today.

For months I've wished I'd booked 3 nights in Denver to maximise the chance to check everything out. But the cost of changing my bargain priced tickets was insane, so we're stuck with what it is: one evening and most of tomorrow through until almost 4pm, when we need to leave for the airport again.  Still, it shaves 4 hours off the trip, which is worth it, rather than adding to the massive journey. Furthermore, if we had been flying to Melbourne tonight, we would have missed our onward connection, so would be pretty stressed by now. Have to just hope tomorrow's planned departure is on time. If not, we may get that Los Angeles stopover we'd contemplated after-all!

When we landed at Denver Airport, I expected to see the Rocky Mountain Ranges, but no. I was reticent to grab a cab, given how many complete clowns we've encountered when taking a random cab from the Airport, but Laurie thought it remained the best option.  We had a guy from Haiti or the Dominican Republic, wearing a Pork Pie hat. The Airport is way out in the middle of nowhere, but as we got closer to the city and entered the outskirts it all looked rough and rugged, and we saw several clusters of homeless people under bridges, in little parks and at the intersections.  One was holding a cardboard sign by the road side saying "Give me anything but watermelon."

We arrived at the Art Hotel by 6pm (which for us was 8pm Boston time, as we've gained two hours). Once we'd checked out our room, with it's 'city views', which doesn't mean much at all, we ate the complimentary nut mixes and all puzzled over how it could have taken ten whole hours to travel from Boston to Denver door to door.

This evening we had a couple of bevvies and some eats on the Terrace, and called that dinner. Had a great waitress. A major law firm were having a function on more than half of the Terrace area, so we had the benefit of enjoying their string sextet. We're pretty tired from all this travelling, and Laurie is looking forward to going home. This hotel seems perfect for one night. Doesn't seem 'arty' to us at all, but architecturally the externals are fairly post-modern and wild. As for the internals and general decor, however, it's just a simple, contemporary approach. I've only seen one artistic piece in the foyer - a sculpture of a horse - that's it. Well, that's not technically true. There are a few other pieces here and there and a few paintings on the walls in public areas. There is also a catalogue style booklet outlining all of the art displayed (sparingly) throughout the hotel, which I presume is by well established artists. I haven't had time to read the detail on that just yet.

I've stayed at three 'Art Hotels' in Australia's Victoria; the Olsen, the Larwill and the Schaller, all part of the same chain (and completely different to this one obviously). I like them, and they are at least somewhat arty! I also find them very clean (partly because they're often in old hospitals - either that or they're quite new!) and respectful of everyone's privacy. The rooms are full of peppy and uplifting appointments, they serve excellent quality food, have good magazine and book areas, stylish lounge areas, complimentary jars of confectionary and generally speaking everyone who stays at them looks reasonably interesting. These are a commercial take on it all, but at least they have their heart visibly in the right place. That said, I've stayed at plenty of Arty Hotels, that are not labelled as such, in Sydney, Canberra and Wellington. We also stayed at Moira Mirka's Tolarno hotel in St Kilda a few times, and an early entry art hotel in East Berlin in 2001. Anyway... All I'm saying is that this here Denver hotel is great, but it has very little to do with promoting the arts in general!

Tomorrow we're off to explore Denver, so I look forward to reporting back on our findings.

What am I doing in Venezia?

I'm taking a three week solo trip to Denmark and Northern Italia this June. It will be early Summer up there, and therefore not too tour...