Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

Hey! Welcome to the new look BigTrip website! After complaining of not having enough time to update the site, I've felt guilty and given the site a bit of a makeover. Hope you like the new 'features'... like the great mugshot. lol

I'm getting quite a bit of traffic now, so if anyone would like a link to their website let me know. I've also got some context-specific ads on the site. So stuff about travel and donating to good causes... and maybe snakes? ...or diy? ...or beer? who knows. (no further suggestions required!!)

So, latest news is... I've been to the dark side. Yes, I finally encountered the much feted Melbourne. And met up with my sometime travel companion Adrienne. Really pleased with some of the pics we got - all the 'outdoorsy' shots in this blog are from the Great Ocean Road - an amazing two day coastal drive between Melbourne and Adelaide.

The Great Ocean Road stretches from Melbourne to Adelaide and is famous for it's outstanding rock formations, dramatic cliffside beaches and beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Adrienne and I hired a car for two days and drove down to the Twelve Apostles, one of Australia's most famous natural attractions. The Twelve Apostles is a collection of limestone stacks towering above one of the Road's more remote beaches. They hit the news a couple of years ago when one of their number, originally 50m in height, collapsed into the sea leaving just a pile of rubble.

There were only ever nine to start with, and a few others were looking precarious when we were there so my advice would be to get there now...

Victoria seems just as sports crazy as New South Wales. We stopped at Bells Beach to watch the local leg of a national surfing competition.

The surfing looked pretty good to me from what I saw. It was certainly better than the live MOR rock on offer, which seems to be popular all over Australia. Zzzzzzz...

Anyway, we clocked up about 1000kms and took a huge number of photos so pretty successful all in.

Melbourne itself is another great attraction. After arriving on the first flight on the Saturday morning, first stop was the 90,000 capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground where Richmond (Melbourne) Tigers took on Sydney Swans in a highly charged Aussie Rules Football game.

Wow. Four quarters, 6 points for getting the ball between the big
posts, 1 point if it goes in the sides. Erm... yeah, you can run with the ball but you have to bounce it now and again and you can't throw it but you can kind of punch it i think. You can also kick the ball and if you catch a ball that's been kicked the play stops and you get to kick it yourself... but not when it's been punched i reckon. and there are about 15 dudes on each side... and two referees and loads of linesmen. Really it was just chaos as far as i was concerned but fairly entertaining, helped by a friendly vociferous crowd.

So I, erm... remain to be convinced that 'football' as Australians call this game is any match for the beautiful game. But at least at $20 entry fee, or about eight quid, it's certainly better value than a trip to deepest Paisley for a St Midden v Dundee United game.

So what did I reckon to the Sydney Melbourne rivalry? I certainly have to agree that Melbourne has a well deserved reputation as Sydney's classier rival - if what is meant by that is a lack of beaches and a focus on parks, European style streets and cafe culture. The museums and galleries are excellent, not least the museum of moving images and technology where I was even able to play Horace Goes Skiing in the museum of gaming (happy days!).

The nightlife was pretty atmospheric too. The Melbourne comedy festival had just started and Adrienne and I had the pleasure of seeing the inimitable Ross Noble. I've seen Ross before and knew that we were in for a couple of hours of ball-bouncingly funny improv. I have to say, he has never been so good. I cried like a baby for most of the two hours and had a sore face afterwards. What a genius.

(Two evenings on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, and two amazing sunsets.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Festivals and Park Life

(This week I 'ave been mostly taking pictures in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.)

It's a weird thing but the more I want to concentrate on regularly updating the big trip site and the more enjoyable I find writing blogs and trying to catch some great photos to stick on here, the less often the site gets updated.

Actually, it's not a weird thing. I'm just too busy and distracted... And when I do find myself in front of a computer I just have a whole host of other things to do, and always plenty of emails to get through - which is a good, nay great, thing (thanks to all of you who are keeping in touch and apologies for any tardy responses on my part).

Anyway, enough excuses...

Big event for me in the last week was the V-festival. Australia will always struggle to do music festivals the way the UK can as most bands have quite a bit further to travel. In fact, Sydney's festival 'season' has tended in the past to be dominated by The Big Day Out, which I managed to miss by about a week when I arrived here in January.

Fortunately for me, this year saw Australia's first ever V-festival. And in spite of the aforementioned travel issues, the line-up was pretty impressive. It was great to be a festival-goer again and Beck, the Rapture, the Pixies and Nouvelle Vague were the highlights for me. Graeme, i have to say NV were very impressive live. I think it helps to have two gorgeous French singers in your lounge-fi band.... ...The Dead Kennedies have never sounded so alluring.

(some 'varied' photos of the gig will follow as soon as I can find an internet cafe that will accept a connection from my phone... honestly, updating this website is sometimes a labour of love)

Thanks to Ed for his cocktail-themed after-party. I have never drunk anything quite so green in all my life.

(Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park has some famous aboriginal engravings, which got me thinking on how the aboriginal people must have felt when, after 50,000 years of isolation, they first saw sailing boats appear on the horizon. I've tried to capture the expanse of the ocean and the sudden appearance of land. I'm not sure about the origin of the boat or what it was doing there but it gave me quite a nice shot.)

In other news, I met up with Alan, an old friend from the Scottish Executive last week. A few jars turned into a scramble for the last ferry, so a pretty good evening's drinking and catching up... Alan is making his own big trip with his girlfriend Rowenna and they have just arrived in Sydney. They have only been travelling for a couple of months so far, but already have a number of hairy stories from their trip round Africa, including broken ankles and truck crashes... check it out at their website:

Talking of Africa, I've made a slight refinement to the big trip plan. Life here in Sydney is going so well that I've decided to prolong my stay here, providing that John Howard agrees to extend my tourist visa. This will allow me to carry on with the work I am doing here at Opportunity International... which continues to go well. I have now completed the two articles on India that I was originally taken on to write. I've also been involved in a couple of other projects and they must like what I'm doing to some extent as I'm now moving into the strategic services team. This means I'll be working more on implementing projects than assisting with marketing the charity's work to donors.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I'll need to extend my visa to stay here and finish off the work. I still have some sponsorship money left over and I hope no-one objects if I use some of that to finance my application for a visa extension - John Howard is charging me an eye-watering A$205 for the privilege!! He obviously fails to appreciate the economic contribution I'm making to the Australian brewing industry...

The downside of this is that I'll have less time elsewhere. I've shortened my tour of Africa from 73 to 51 days. Lost time is mainly in Kenya, and I also won't be able to go trekking in Uganda to see the gorillas in the mist, although that's been less attractive anyway since I realised that I wouldn't actually be guaranteed to meet Sigourney Weaver as part of the experience.

(I've been scaring the wildlife again...)

Talking of wildlife, my exploration of New South Wales continues apace. I've got into a routine of working Monday to Thursday and being a tourist on Fridays (and Sydney socialite Saturdays and Sundays). Last Friday I went to a national park which is literally at the edge of the suburbs of Sydney. One minute you can be strolling down a city street and the next minute you can be almost stepping on a brown snake. And, erm... that's exactly what happened. I'd just nipped off the path for a second to answer the call of nature when this brown thing almost two-foot long (steady!) went shooting out from virtually under my foot and disappeared into the brush. Once again I almost very nearly literally had an accident in my mankini.

The brown snake is highly poisonous and the most aggressive snake in Australia. It has been known to chase people through trees and across open ground! No photo of the snake this time, but the couple of shots here can testify to the amazing wildlife opportunities within an hour of the city centre...

(What the heck is this fella?)

Off to Melbourne this weekend and at last getting to see the inimitable Ross Noble, and possibly even a game of Aussie Rules Football... the next update should also include mention of an appearance on Australian national TV (can it top the Bolivian debacle?) and further media exposure back in the UK!

(A tree.)