Where Have Gary & Julie Been?

I notice I haven’t posted for more than a year. There is a reason of course! This is a Travel Blog and I haven’t been travelling, sort of. I had planned to travel around Australia again in 2016, this time with my brother and sister but instead we spent five months in Perth helping out with my son Stuart’s family. We were living in our caravan but not travelling far, except to take the kids to school, that is.

We have started the the return trip to Sydney. Since I haven’t written about a cross continental Nullabor crossing before, I shall try to write it up. I think I better get around to changing my masthead too.

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Here are the reasons for our stay in Perth, our grandchildren Shayna, Mason and James.

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Stuart Julie and Gary with the children in front of the house in Armadale a suburb of Perth.

Touring with a commercial bus company

One essential for a good bus trip is a great driver – not just competent behind the wheel but also calm, friendly and with a sense of humour. I nominate Alan!  He was standing in the car park near the Franz Josef Glacier walk indicating the way to the bus for the returning walkers. This was his response to my comment that he was the most animated road sign I had seen for a while.

Julie and I qualify as seasoned travellers – not in the number of trips or places we have been but in our forms of travel. In this order we have camped, caravaned, river cruised, railed and bused in Australia and overseas.

I’d like to consider what goes into making a good bus trip. When we have been travelling around Australia we have found short bus trips ideal ways to get places you can’t manage without 4 wheel drive car and driving experience. Examples of great 1 day trips were into the Bungle Bungles and from Broome to Cape Levique. Overseas we found bus tours, either the hop on/off kind with a recorded commentary or those led by a real guide are great introductions to a city. I prefer the second sort even though they are more expensive because you get the chance to interact with a real person.

We are now entering the 3rd week of a New Zealand Coach Tour with AAT Kings. We chose this because of the fabulous experience we had with a 11 day tour of Italy with Trafalgar had convinced us this was the least stressful,  most time efficient way to see a country in a short time, although certainly not the cheapest.



Another essential is a good Tour Director. Those who followed my blog through Europe might remember Barbara who was excellent. So is Vaille, here demonstrating one of his prime responsibilities – that of keeping us awake on the bus! An interesting commentary is essential, as is answering crazy questions in a credible manner, sorting out the schedule, being always polite to the passengers, staying calm when others aren’t and most importantly NOT LOSING LUGGAGE OR PASSENGERS.

Aside from the Driver and Director who are essential, these are some things that help make a tour successful.

  • Bus not too crowded – a few spare seats make a big difference.
  • A variety of travel companions who are friendly, flexible and prepared to help each other out.
  • A range of nationalities makes things more interesting.
  • So does a range of backgrounds such as work. A bus full of all school teachers (or whatever) would be bad!
  • Understanding the different needs of single people travelling as part of the group.
  • Some space in the schedule to separate and chill out.
  • Regular stops, not just for food and toilet but to do something and move.
  • This might seem inconsistent but Age differences do count. I have seen adult children travelling very successfully with a parent but most of my two coach tourists have been 50+ and I suspect that travellers younger that 40 would probably struggle to fit in.there are coach companies that specialise in young groups
  • Good weather helps.

On being a Pro Photographer



Waiting for the shot to arrive is World Cup Cricket stringer sports photographer Matthew outside a Napier Motel. He is hoping for a shot and interview with star players from the Pakistani team.

One of the good things about travelling is that we seem to have a greater freedom in speaking to strangers. Our single night in the East Coast town of Napier coincided with a World Cup Cricket Match. Sure it was between the worlds least likely cricketers (The United Emirates) and Pakistan (who haven’t been performing well) but it’s always a big deal to host an International.

Returning from an evening walk I saw a young bloke, equipped with pro camera gear, sitting on our hotel wall checking his laptop. We had a 10 minute chat about his last minute assignment from a Pakistani Insurance Company to follow that team throughout their World Cup Campaign and photograph one of the star players before and after each game as he gives interviews. The Pakistan team are staying in our hotel. These photos then  appear on the Company website and social media within hours. Sometimes the photos might be taken up by other media if something noteworthy happens or is reported from the interview.

We talked about Sports journalism – photography in particular. I have had experience as an amateur but have worked as a Media Assistant at Olympic Games and World Cup Rugby tournaments. It looks glamorous, exciting to be a travelling the world watching sport but I think it’s a hard life. There are a hundred stringers like Matthew for every one with a secure job. My local paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, sacked more than half their photographers last year and now use agencies to save costs. So many photos now come for free via social media and the ubituous camera phone. In 2015 everyone has a camera and thinks they can be a photo journalist. Good luck Matthew!

Christchurch – Four Years Dealing With Crisis

We only spent 12 hours in Christchurch – long enough to teach me something! It is approaching the fourth anniversary of the major earthquake here where I remember a solid week of media attention on the devastated city, the 185 people killed, the dissection of what causes earthquake, appeals for charitable responses and post earth quake stories about emergency services travelling from all over the world to help out.



This was not our hotel in Christchurch, which was mostly surrounded by flattened building sites, but an entire wrecked street about a block away.

We were certainly not aware of what was still happening four years later though. Frank, our driver from the airport, summed it up “It took 120 years to build this city and 30 seconds to flatten it. We’d like it fixed right now but realistically it won’t be right for 10 years” it’s not just economic costs either. Entire suburbs are still without sewerage and running water – those underground services take so long long to plan and rebuild and the 10,000 aftershocks the city suffered made it so dangerous to safely get started. Rebuilding costs? Forty billion dollars and rising. The populations dropped,  entire industries have moved, and difficult decisions made on abandoning iconic landmarks – even the question “is this place, on a fault line, too dangerous for a city altogether? had to be considered

The lessons for the people of Christchurch continue daily but I hope what I learned today will remain with me. Our daily news cycle now includes a staple catastrophe story. Sometimes it’s a natural disaster like tsunami, bushfire or earthquake but often it’s human in origin like atrocities, terrorism and war. We recognise that emotionally we respond more to things that affect us, or people like us, or are close to us geographically, and this is reflected in the space the media allocates. This explains why a terrorist incident in Sydney consumes the news for a month and a mass slaughter in Africa hardly rates a mention. 

However we are being trained by the media to have such short attention spans! Why don’t we demand to hear the end of the story as well as the beginning. It might not be as exciting to consider rebuilding as demolition but it’s just as important for us to know what happened next.

Where is Gary? – in France of Course!

The Fishing boats of Pavalas les Flots , the closest Port to Montpellier

The Fishing boats of Pavalas les Flots , the closest Port to Montpellier

It is nearly 2 months since my last post and the question is – have I like my American friends been stuck in Venice? Many of my travelling companions from the USA were let down by their airline and had to stay a couple of extra nights in Italy, while Julie and I hopped on an express train to Milan and then took advantage of a European Travel pass to catch local trains to the Italian Border and thence via Marseille to Montpellier  with our eventual destination being Paris.

This planning does not explain the absence of posts of course. Two months ago I volunteered to produce a fund-raising calendar as part of benefit night for an ex student, friend and gym instructor who went from being a new mother to a widow in a period of two weeks. Three hundred people  are gathering for this benefit on the 8th of November and we are looking forward to a lot of fun but it’s been a lot of hard work.

The most fun was photographing 12 different trainers in class and trying to capture their different, quirky characters. These photographs do not belong here but you will find them at this address on my stay at home, photo/writing blog – http://gymeagary.tumblr.com.  Take a look and leave a comment if you like.

This break has put a dent in my intention to wrap up my travelling blog by Christmas, but it has definitely moved me from Italy into France at last.

We have no regrets at choosing to use trains and forgo the convenience of a guided bus tour as we had with Trafalgar in Italy but it had some disadvantages. The trains were comfortable and reliable but using the local lines meant waiting sometimes for hours for a connection. Travelling slower than a “Bullet” meant we got to see a lot more of the countryside but it is very frustration for a photographer to pass by so many images while looking through a dirty window from a swaying train! We had hoped to reach Montpellier in one hop from Milan but stops to change trains in Genoa and Ventimiglia (the border town between Italy and France) meant we had been travelling 12 hours when we got to Marseille so we broke our trip and found a hotel. Compared with our Italian accommodation this was definitely One Star. We also didn’t have a bus and the wonderful Barbara looking after us so had to find a cab and somewhere to eat ourselves – all part of the adventure but not much fun when you are exhausted.

The next morning we rolled our bags over cobbled streets back to the station, caught the next train to Montpellier, with only a single change at Nimes and were there by lunchtime. Since we had no accommodation booked we found a tourist office, booked two nights by the beach at Pavalas les Flots and took instructions on how to take the Light Rail and then the local bus to get there. We found the locals extremely helpful. The Image above is from the fishing village a half hour walk from where we were staying.

Venice – a City of Boats and Bridges

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The city of Venice is made up of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. It is located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches along the shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piav Rivers. The city and the lagoon are listed as a World Heritage Site.

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Many tourists arrive in gigantic tour ships towed through the shallows by tug boats

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Gondalas are now mostly used for the tourist trade. We had an excellent look through many of the narrow canals and stopped to be serenaded and drink champagne to celebrate the occasion.

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Only one Bridge is covered, the Bridge of Tears which leads to the court room where many a Ventian was sentence to death.

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The local equivalent of a taxi took us for a cruise of the main canals.

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The local garbage boats are limited in their pickup schedule by the tides as are some of the “buses”.  At high tide they cannot get under the low bridges and have wait for the water to drop.

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BoatsandBridges05Behind the boat stop is Venice’s main link with the outside world is via the train station in the background which travels via bridge over the lagoon.

There are many other islands in the lagoon that are not part of Venice because they are not linked by bridge to the original 118 Islands.

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Traffic jam in the main canal.

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Deliveries by boat. The only artificial Island in the lagoon is a huge car park and docking area where daily hundreds of semi trailers are unload onto delivery boats like this one.

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Another boatload of workers head home.

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A wave from a taxi driver for our Tour Director Barbara.

A Last Look at Florence and Tuscany

Tuscany from the top of the Tower

Tuscany seen from the top of a tower. This image, made from six frames, covers about 270 degrees which explains why the horizon is curved.

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In an earlier post, more than two months ago while still in Italy, I commented on the relative size of David’s hands and was reminded of this by an artist friend, roddyewrecka, recently. Here is the proof, if you can raise your gaze to the hands!

This is one of two replicas of the David. This one overlooks the city from a large car park, the other is in the main square, while the original is in The Gallery of the Fine Arts.

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The Medici’s patronised contemporary artists and architects and collected great art works of antiquity.

Centuries of weathering and pollution of works and acts of vandalism of produce damage on these masterpieces.

In the factory above an original is repaired and cloned. The copy goes back outside while the original is kept safe in a museum or gallery.

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If you want a souvenir you can pretend it is great art.

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The architecture is impressive 

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Cars are tiny and in this case electric – check out the charger.

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A spot of local colour