Travelling

Week 18 – Texas

I finally left California this week and headed east to see the real America. The America of Republicans, cowboys and all you can eat buffets. Yes, I’m in Texas y’all!

Austin

My first stop was Austin. I had heard it bucked the trend of Texan cities, being liberal, cycle friendly, vegetarian and has a live music scene. It didn’t disappoint. One of the highlights was a huge outdoor spring fed outdoor pool. It was weird swimming amongst salamanders, rocks and plants but cool too. The pool is massive, it must be over 200 foot long. It is called Barton Springs and is highly recommended on a hot day.

Barton Springs

A history of Texas

Another highlight is the Bullock Texas State Museum, where you can learn all about the history of this huge state. I found out that Texas was originally called Tejas, when it was part of Mexico.

The Mexican republic was created in 1821 when ‘New Spain’ broke away from Spanish rule. The Mexican republic had a ‘recruitment drive’ to populate the republic. Over the next few years, lots of new people moved to the area, mainly those of European descent. However, over the years a wedge was driven between those of Spanish descent and the Anglo population.

The state subsequently declared independence from Mexico and the Republic of Texas was born. Then Texas became part of the USA in 1845 and the USA became involved in the US/Mexican war over Mexican interests in the area, which the USA won.

A slave receipt

Texas joining the USA was controversial, as it was a slave state and the northern states did not want another slave state joining the federation, as it gave greater weight to the idea that slavery would remain. Subsequently this led to the American civil war. I saw in the museum a ‘receipt’ for a slave woman who had been bought, which was shocking to see.

An 1846 Stars and Stripes flag

I also saw one of the early stars and stripes flags. In the early days there were no real guidelines as to how the flag could be represented, and you can see from the photo above the stripes are different and the stars could’ve added in any way.

Next stop, San Antonio, location of ‘The Alamo’.

San Antonio

The Alamo

San Antonio’s biggest attraction is The Alamo. The infamous battle of The Alamo in 1836, which saw the death of the famous Davy Crockett, happened in an old Spanish Mission from the 1770s. The entire army defending The Alamo were killed by the Mexican army. The Alamo has since become a totem for Texan liberty and freedom.

San Antonio has some great architecture. During the late 1920s-1930s, due to the depression, a large public works programme happened across the city, leaving San Antonio with a legacy of some great art deco style buildings. It also has some earlier Victorian era buildings.

The Bexar County Justice Centre (1896)
The Tower Life Building in San Antonio (1929)

Art

San Antonio has a really great art gallery, and I spent about two hours there. You can walk there from Downtown along the river. The gallery has impressive collections of Egyptian art as well as some really interesting art from south east Asia. A few of my highlights are below.

Marcus Aurelius, AD 140
Yogini, early 11th C
Medicine Buddha sand mandala, 2001
Dog, China, Han Dynasty 206 BC

Houston

Last stop on the Texas leg was Houston. Just for one night which is enough! Houston is huge. It’s the 4th largest US city. It’s pretty scary in parts too. I went trolling off looking for a vegan restaurant and landed in the middle of mugging central. Pretty sure most tourists don’t venture where I went!! Houston has a serious homeless problem it’s very sad.

The restaurant was great though had a great vegan salad & green juice. Maybe not worth dying for though haha!

Houston skyline

Next stop, New Orleans!

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Weeks 16 & 17 – a Californian Christmas and New Year

I flew back into LAX from Auckland on Thursday 22 December, arriving approximately 10 hours earlier than when I took off. LAX is quite the assault on the senses/worst airport ever/full of the rudest people known to mankind. Luckily my friend Liz was ready and waiting to whisk me off to the relative calm of Orange County.

It’s been great being back in Laguna Beach, particularly at Christmas time. People really make an effort to decorate their homes and it’s great walking around at night seeing the lights.

However, adjusting from the height of southern hemisphere summer daylight to the depths of northern hemisphere short days has been quite tricky! I went from the sun setting at 9.45pm to the sun setting at 4.30pm in the space of 24 hours. I immediately felt the need to hibernate.

Christmas Day

A Laguna Beach Christmas Day was sort of like a British Christmas day, in that we opened presents in the morning, played Christmas songs and went for a walk. And ate too much. Main difference was it was nice and sunny and we walked on a lovely sandy beach. But pretty similar. Christmas in the US kind of ends on the 25th, which is a shame I think, as they do not have Boxing Day, everyone goes straight back to work. I tried to explain Boxing Day to an American friend and failed miserably. What is it??

 

Week 15 – Auckland 

Auckland is home to approximately one third of the population of New Zealand. I spent three nights here which is more than enough time to explore the city.

I think Auckland is quite faceless, doesn’t have any real identity or know what it wants to be. The city is chock-a-block full of roadworks too so maybe there’s a grand plan to improve it, who knows. 

Apparently one third of the city is now made up of Asian immigrants and since I was last here in 2005 it feels like it’s morphing into another Asian city like Singapore. 

The Sky Tower is the main architectural site and you can see it wherever you go and they do a good job of lighting it up at night.

SkyTower by day
SkyTower by night

The art gallery is free and had a good collection of Maori portraits as well as twentieth century international Impressionism. 

Rangi Topeora by Gotfried Lindauer

Vanessa Bell Pregnant by Duncan Grant – 1918

Portrait of Anne Howard-Vyse by Tilly Kettle – 1780

My other highlight was The Academy cinema which I visited three times and it shows a great range of independent world cinema.

I saw the sci-fi film ‘Arrival’, the Japanese anime film ‘Your Name’ & the Australian film ‘Girl Asleep’, all of which I really enjoyed and recommend.

Having travelled across the whole country I have to say that Auckland would be the last place I’d settle if I had the choice, though I guess the majority of jobs are here.

New Zealand’s best qualities are the stunning & unique scenery and the friendly people. I hope to return one day soon…

However, I’m excited to be returning to my second home today…..California!

Week 14 – Fjordland, Aspiring National Park, Westland and Abel Tasman

Leaving the very southern tip of New Zealand behind me, I headed west towards Fjordland. This began a leg of my trip with many long days of driving. Getting anywhere in New Zealand takes a while. That’s mainly because there aren’t many straight roads and because there are usually quite a few mountains in the way! On average I think I must have driven four hours each day.

Fjordland

Fjordland sounds like a theme park, and in some ways it is, a natural one. Judging by the numbers of tourists there, it felt like one too at times. The area is very famous for Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. I didn’t make it that far due to time restrictions, but I did explore some of the area. I came across a beautiful meadow area with thousands of wild flowers (see photo below). It reminded me of Tuolumne Meadows in California. I had the place to myself, which was great, as I cannot stand going to overly touristy places with thousand of busloads of Chinese tourists ruining the experience.

Fjordland meadows
Fjordland meadows
Fjordland meadows
Fjordland meadows

I also visited Manapouri and Te Anu, both of which are lovely small towns on two different lakes. I like to go off the beaten track if I can and experience places where New Zealanders live, and not just where the tourists go. New Zealand is much more popular than when I was last here in 2005 and I fear the change is eating away at what made the country great before.

Queenstown, Wanaka and Mount Aspiring

The next day I drove to Wanaka, via the popular mountain town of Queenstown. The two places couldn’t be more different. Queenstown has become a party place, bucketloads of teenagers all looking for their next McDonalds. It is still beautiful, but it’s not for me. I was glad I chose to stay in Wanaka, which everyone says is like Queenstown was twenty years ago.

Whilst there I drove into Aspiring National Park, which is such a great name! Again, I had the place to myself, with great views of huge snow-capped mountains. The town itself has a beautiful backdrop of mountains, see the photo below.

Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka
Mount Aspiring
Mount Aspiring

The West coast

Leaving Wanaka I drove across the Aspiring mountain ranges. I stopped at this amazing places called the Blue Pools. Glacial water is fed down into deep pools which are so clear you can see the bottom. Everywhere you go in the South Island you stumble across majestic waterfalls, mountains streams, rolling hills, it almost becomes commonplace!

River in the Aspiring Mountains
River in the Aspiring Mountains
The Blue Pools
The Blue Pools

I then hit the west coast and glacier country. There are two famous glaciers here, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. They were discovered in the mid-1800s and have been tourist attractions ever since.I stayed in Franz Josef town, and you quickly realise what a tourists trap this area has become. Helicopter flight after helicopter flight ferry people up to the top of the glaciers. That really is the only way to see them these days as they both are rapidly retreating. You can only think this is solely down to climate change. You cannot get anywhere near to Fox Glacier due to rockfalls.

Hokitika
Hokitika

I heard that in a few years they’ll both be gone, and then what will become of this area? It is dependant on tourism. Whilst it is interesting, it is nowhere near my favourite place in the South.

One of the things I love about this country is all the diverse wildlife. At Cape Foulwind, near Westport, I saw families of fur seals with tiny baby seals in tow!

Cape Foulwind
Cape Foulwind

The north coast and Abel Tasman National Park

My final stop in the south was the Abel Tasman area. I stayed in a lovely small town call Takaka, and this allowed me to access the park from the least busy side. Driving into the park, I pretty much was on my own. I found a beautiful beach to have my lunch, with white sand and crystal clear sea, it was amazing. I even had a huge skate glide past me! I hiked up to an amazing waterfall in the hills and then walked on the beach in Golden Bay, it was all pretty idyllic. I could’ve been in the Caribbean.

Abel Tasman
Abel Tasman

I am flying up to Auckland tomorrow, which I am looking forward to, but I’ll be sad to say goodbye to the South Island. It has been my third time here and it’s as beautiful as ever. If you ever get the chance, come see what all the fuss is about.

Week 13 – Christchurch, Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula and the Catlins rainforest

Flying back into Christchurch last week, I was reminded of how much I enjoy spending time here. It is my third time in 16 years visiting New Zealand and I love it more than ever.

Christchurch

Christchurch is a city that’s still recovering from the huge earthquake that hit the city in February 2011. I last was there in 2005, and returning in 2016 I could barely recognise the place. The city centre was devastated by the quake and one of the main buildings, the cathedral, had it’s spire toppled and is still in a state of ruin. I was surprised how long the recovery work is taking, but it is happening slowly, the whole city is a building site.

The ruined cathedral
The resilience of the people however is amazing, and chatting to them you see that they have optimism that the future is bright. They have created a temporary shopping centre made out of shipping containers which was pretty cool and even built a temporary cathedral made predominately out of cardboard!

The cardboard cathedral
The old city is still there is in parts though, the River Avon still flows lazily through the city, and you can still be punted along, it kind of reminded me of the city where I was born, Stratford Upon Avon.

Punting on the Avon

Christchurch tram

Dunedin and the Otago peninsula

After I left Christchurch, I headed south to Dunedin. Dunedin translates as ‘Edinburgh of the south’ in Gaelic, and it certainly does feel very Scottish. Lots of Scottish place names and British looking buildings. Lots of the south of New Zealand was settled by the Scots, including the other city here, Invercargill.

One of the architectural highlights of the city is the railway station, photo below. It also a great art gallery, a great vegetarian cafe called ‘Pou Pourri’ and I also found a fantastic second hand bookshop called ‘Dead Souls’!

Dunedin railway station
I then headed off on a drive around the Otago peninsula, just outside the city. It takes about two hours to drive around, and it is definitely worth it. I got up very close and personal with some sunbathing seals, spotted an albatross soaring in the sky above me and saw some dramatic seascapes, cliffs and rolling hills too. Oh and I also saw a rare yellow-eyed penguin. There are only 6,000 in the world, so that was a good spot I thought!

Otago Peninsula

The Catlins rainforest

The Catlins sit between Dundein and Invercargill. I don’t think many people know about the area. It is very remote and very beautiful. I saw some stunning waterfalls, remote and empty white sand beaches, three hawks swoop past my car, fields and fields of amazing wildflowers and much more.

Waterfalls in the Catlins

Remote beach in the Catlins

Invercargill and Bluff

Invercargill is probably even more Scottish feeling than Dunedin. I spent the night here, and it was blowing a gale when I arrived, so it felt even more than Scottish than I had anticipated!

I drove south to a small town called Bluff. This is the most southerly settlement in the country and probably one of the most southerly places in the world. I arrived there on 11 December 2106, exactly three months since I flew out of London to begin my trip, so it felt a fitting place to mark the milestone. From here on in, the only way is north….

Weeks 11 & 12 – Perth and Melbourne

Perth

Perth is often cited as one of the most isolated cities in the world, and it feels like it. It’s the capital of Western Australia, though everyone just calls it W.A.

Little Britain

It took nearly five hours to fly to Perth from Sydney, about the same flying time as London to Dubai! Perth and the surrounding suburbs are as British as they come. It’s like stepping into Little Britain. I am not really sure why so many Brits have moved here, but it’s kind of weird – in some places you hardly hear an Australian accent at all!

Perth skyline
Perth skyline

Kings Park

One of the highlights of Perth is Kings Park. It is huge and I am told is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It has some great views of the city, a botanic garden, a outdoor theatre, a war memorial, and art gallery and lots more. I spent a great afternoon there sheltering from the intense sun. And the flies.

Perth as seen from Kings Park
Perth as seen from Kings Park

Northern Perth

I spent a lot of time up in the northern suburbs of Perth. There is a huge building boom going on, with huge new estates being built all over the place. You really get a sense of how W.A. is booming. There are some beautiful beaches, including a natural lagoon called Yahchep Lagoon.

Me at Yanchep Lagoon
Me at Yanchep Lagoon

Melbourne

I love Melbourne! I lived there for six months in 2005 on my working holiday visa and this was my first time back in 11 years. Not much has really changed. It is still very friendly, still has great architecture, and is still a great city to stroll around taking in the sights, which I did for four days.

Luna Park
Luna Park
Melbourne cycles
Melbourne cycles

I stayed on St Kilda Road in the Prahan area, a great location to go south to St Kilda, north to the city and east to Prahan and South Yarra. Christmas preparations were in full swing, Melbourne sure does love Christmas. I saw a great illuminated Christmas light show projected onto the old post office, a clip of which is in the video above.

Christmas illuminations
Christmas illuminations

Melbourne art

I also visited a fantastic museum and art gallery in the city. The National Gallery of Victoria is wonderful and has a great permanent collection of 19th and 20th century Australian art. The collection is split into two galleries, one international, one Australian. These are some of my favourite painting from the collection. Similar to most galleries in Australia, it is all free too!

Julian Ashton, The Corner of the Paddock, 1888
Julian Ashton, The Corner of the Paddock, 1888
Sydney Long, Farm Landscape, 1905
Sydney Long, Farm Landscape, 1905
Charles Blackman, Lovers, 1960
Charles Blackman, Lovers, 1960

Tennis, tennis, tennis

Anyone who knows me knows I love tennis. I therefore had to do a guided tour of Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open. I went into the men’s top 100 changing room, saw Andy Murray’s locker too! We got to go onto Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and saw the men’s and women’s champions trophies. It’s a great tournament and I only wish I was there in January to see it.

Rod Laver Arena
Rod Laver Arena
The ladies trophy
The ladies trophy