Perth’s Playground




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Back in 1984, Perth businessman Dallas Dempster had a smart idea. Let’s get rid of this dump! Burswood Island, an island in the Swan River just a couple of kilometres from Perth’s city center, was the site of a large landfill. Dempster suggested to the Western Australian government that the site could be better used for a resort casino. The government agreed and Dempster and a Malaysian business partner were granted a casino license in 1985. The plans called for a casino, a 400 room hotel, a golf course, a convention and exhibition centre, an amphitheatre and more.

The casino, of course, was finished first and opened in December 1985. The third largest casino in the world at the time, it was an immediate success, so popular it netted $1 million a day in gross profit in its first two months of operation! The rest of the complex was finished over the next two years. This included the ultra-modern Burswood Island Hotel.

The Crown Metrepol, originally the Burswood Island Hotel, features a covered courtyard with bars and restaurants and a set of external elevators.

The casino was expanded and the theatre renovated in the 1990s. Further expansion in the 2000s saw another hotel added (a Holiday Inn, now the Crown Promenade) as well as some residential apartment complexes nearby. The complex underwent various ownership changes as well, ending up in the hands of Crown Limited in 2007. In 2011 the resort was rebranded as Crown Perth to coincide with the building of the Crown Melbourne resort. $750 million was pumped in to refurbish the resort. And in 2012 a third hotel was announced, the Crown Towers, which opened in December 2016. (The photo heading this article is of the Crown Towers and Crown Metrepol as seen from across the Swan River.)

The lobby that forms a hub connecting Crown Perth’s hotels and various ballrooms, convention centers and the Crown Theatre.

Crown Perth is the jewel in Perth’s entertainment business and Janis and I had the pleasure of staying a couple of nights there recently to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary. The place is world class with over thirty restaurants, several convention centres and ballrooms, a first-class theatre, spas and swimming pools, several upscale shops (including Paspaley Pearls and Rolex Watches), a night club and, of course, the casino. We had dined at three of the restaurants on previous trips, the top-notch Silks Japanese restaurant, the Merrywell and the fabulous Epicurean which serves a buffet on par with the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, maybe even better. During our stay we dined at three more including the Modo Mio Italian Restaurant and a couple of moderately priced restaurants. For an inexpensive but superb meal, I recommend the 88 Noodles oriental restaurant which is inside the casino. We also had drinks a few times at the Lobby Lounge in front of the Crown Metrepol.

Janis and I relaxing at the Lobby Lounge.

We’re not much into gambling but we did spend an hour at the slots coming away ahead by $30. Not bad since we only played two cent slots.

The best part of our stay was the production of Disney’s Aladdin at the Crown Theatre. In its previous incarnation as the Burswood Theatre, it has featured a wide array of entertainers as well as major productions like Cats. Aladdin was a Broadway touring company production and was amazing. The staging and choreography were excellent.

The theatre itself is on par with Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre and similar venues. I liked it a bit better, actually, because each seat has a generous amount of legroom.

Lobby of the Crown Theatre Perth. There are snack and souvenir shops on the second level as well as this one.

Not far from the Crown Perth complex there used to be a domed stadium known as the Dome at Crown Perth, formerly the Burswood Dome. This venue had a long history of performances by such stars as AC/DC, Kiss, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Pink, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Iron Maiden, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, The Black Eyed Peas, Guns N’ Roses, Christina Aguilera,  Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Roger Waters. It also hosted major sporting events. The Dome was demolished in 2013 to make room for a parking lot for the new Optus Stadium which opened on January 21, 2018.

The new Optus Stadium opened in January 2018.

The stadium was built on part of the old golf course. The remaining part of the golf course now forms a park between the stadium and Crown Perth. It is about a twenty minute walk to the stadium.

Part of the stadium project included the building of a pedestrian bridge across the Swan River connecting the Burswood Peninsula to East Perth. The bridge is a beautiful piece of architecture. Three interlacing arches of white and black form the bridge. The Matagarup Bridge, after an indigenous name for the area, was opened to the public on July 14, 2018 so we were fortunate to have arrived back in Australia just after its opening.

The Matagarup Bridge connecting East Perth and Burswood. Perth (Optus) Stadium is at the other end.

Some have said the arches resemble swans. In any event, each arch has a staircase going up it and plans call for the stairs to be open to the public. The center span soars 72 metres (256 feet) high and is about half a kilometre in length. Scaling bridges must be an Aussie thing as the Sydney Harbor Bridge is famous for its accessibility by visitors. (See my earlier article on Sydney for pics) There will likely be a charge to scale the bridge but I’d certainly do it. Maybe on my next visit it will be open for climbing! Oh…I should mention that they are also considering adding a zipline from the top of the bridge to the ground! Wouldn’t that be cool!

Stairs to the top of the center span may be accessible to the public in the near future.

Perth’s downtown business district is served by several free bus services known as CAT (Central Area Transit). There are two lines that run along Waterloo Crescent just up Nile Street on the other side of Gloucester Trotting Park. About a ten minute walk from the stadium, a half hour from Crown Perth. Crown Perth and the Stadium are both also accessible by train on the Perth-Townslie line though the Stadium Station is only open when events are on at the stadium. If the weather is nice, it is a great walk and free. The train will set you back $3.20.

Here are a few more photos of Crown Perth and the bridge.

The Crown Metrepol has a sloping glass window covering the courtyard.
The other side of the Metrepol. There is a large parking lot there and last Christmas they had huge tents set up for a children’s Christmas festival.
One of the lobbies at the Crown Towers. The place reeks luxury.
The stairs going from the lobby to the outdoor swimming pools.
The elevators at the Crown Metrepol
One of the ballrooms
The front of the Matagarup Bridge. There is still some work going on as of this writing but the bridge is open to the public.

 

The Gloucester Trotting Park, home of harness racing in Perth and just across the river from the Perth Optus Stadium. Nearby is Perth’s cricket pitch.

Crown Perth

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Rottnest Island




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Australia is a biologically distinct continent with many species of both plant and animal life that live nowhere else in the world. These include, of course, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the koala, the Tasmanian devil, the emu, and a wide variety of snakes and insects.

Some of these flora and fauna are particularly limited in their range. One of these is the quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a large cat that looks something like a miniature kangaroo.  The quokka is found only in Western Australia, and only in a limited range in the southwest of the state.

The quokka, a rare marsupial found only in Western Australia

The largest population group, estimated to be between 8,000-12,000 is on Rottnest Island. A smaller group of up to 1000 live on Bald Island near Albany. And about 4000 live on the mainland in scattered colonies in the Margaret River region.

Rottnest got its name because in 1696 the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, thought the creatures were rats and called the island Rotte Nest (rat’s nest). Its native name is Wadjemup.

Today Rottnest Island is a nature preserve with about 100 permanent residents, but it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists with around 500,000 visitors annually. It can be reached by high speed passenger ferries from downtown Perth, Fremantle, North Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour. Visitors are not restricted to day visits as there is a hotel on the island as well as cabins for rent.

One of the fast ferries to Rottnest Island

The island lies 18 kilometres off the coast from Fremantle. The nineteen square kilometre island has three plant species endemic to the island including the Rottnest Island Pine. The only predators that prey on quokkas on Rottnest are snakes, including the poisonous dugite. The mainland population was decimated with the introduction of dogs, cats and foxes.

The fast ferries land at a pier in Thomson Bay. On shore you’ll find the visitor center and a small collection of shops and restaurants. You can walk to many of the sites popular with visitors or you can book a bus tour of the island. You can also rent Segways, take guided walking tours and even board a small train.

On both of our visits we opted to walk around taking in the scenery before embarking on a bus trip to the other end of the island.

Walking along the streets around Thomson Bay

Our first priority was to see a quokka and we did not have to wait long. They are everywhere. They are not afraid of people and it is easy to approach them, though feeding them is prohibited. Local businesses sometimes find them a nuisance and one shop featured a sign with a stylized picture of a quokka with a “No” slash across it.

Daughter Sarah petting a quokka while Janis snaps a photo

Not far from the town is the Bathhurst Lighthouse, one of two on the island. The lighthouse overlooks a spectacular beach and the shoreline is a beautiful melange of sea and wind sculpted rock.

The sculpted shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Janis and Sarah on the beach near the Bathurst Lighthouse

The island has a varied history. It was at one time a penal colony, a military installation, and an internment camp for enemy prisoners during both World Wars. The island also has several salt lakes and was, at one time, the largest producer of salt in Western Australia.

The penal colony was used to house Aboriginal prisoners and closed in 1902. About 3700 prisoners aged from eight to seventy had been housed there over the lifetime of the colony. 369 died there including five who were hanged.

Lomas Cottage was used to house just one prisoner, John Lomas. His is an unusual story.

After exploring the area between the dock and the lighthouse, we hopped on the bus that takes you around the island. It’s a hop on, hop off affair with a number of stops along the way. We were only there for a day each time so we got off at the far end of the island near Cape Vlamingh.

This is a spectacular venue where you easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There are two sites to visit here. One is Cathedral Rocks. These are a series of small rocky islands just offshore that are home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals.

New Zealand fur seals on the Cathedral rocks

These playful creatures love to frolic in the water, often swimming on their backs with their flippers in the air, doing rolls and otherwise cavorting in the waves. We also saw a king’s skink on one occasion.

Cavorting for the tourists

A few hundred yards away is Cape Vlamingh. A wooden boardwalk leads to a lookout that commands a spectacular view of Fish Hook Bay as well as the open ocean at the west end of the island. The surf is strong here with rolling breakers crashing on the reefs and pounding through various nooks and fissures carved into the shoreline.

Surf crashing onto the shore at Cape Vlamingh

After catching the next bus back, we headed along the north shore of the island, passing the Wadjemup Lighthouse and the salt lakes before arriving back at the town.

One of the salt lakes with the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the background

In town we passed the old salt house, once a center of commerce on the island. And we passed the Rottnest Island Hotel, which used to be the summer home of the Governor of Western Australia.

The Rottnest Island Hotel

We decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the island on our first trip. The cafe had netting surrounding the large patio to keep quokkas out. While we were eating, the little fellahs would poke their noses up to the netting at our feet begging for handouts. One managed to get through the netting at one end and a waitress spent some time chasing the critter around trying to shoo him out. I asked her why she didn’t just pick the animal up and carry him out since they were relatively tame. She replied that it’s best not to touch them as they can carry salmonella. Oops – we had petted one earlier. Good thing we washed our hands!

This restaurant’s patio is surrounded by netting to keep the quokkas out.
But that didn’t deter them from visiting diners seated near the edge of the patio. I think they know how cute they are and use it to advantage.

On our second trip to Rottnest we encountered a special treat along the shore of Thomson Bay. Lots of boats tie up here, and the beach is popular with tourists. We saw a bit of a commotion nearby and went to check it out. It seems a stingray had swum right up to the shore, which amused a crowd of onlookers.

A tourist checks out this stingray that swam up to the edge of the beach.

There is a lot more to see and do on Rottnest and one could easily spend a week or two here checking it out. There are, in fact, 37 beaches on Rottnest. There are two military installations with  fortifications and big guns at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point, both open to visitors. There is a golf course and a wind turbine. And there are lots of cabins as well as campgrounds and the hotel for visitors wanting to stay longer. It even has an airport if you’d rather fly in.

A wildlife refuge and a summer playground, as well as a step back into history, Rottnest is a terrific venue for the explorer. Check out the additional photo galleries linked below as well as the official Rottnest Island website. You can just scroll down to the photo galleries if you are on the front page.




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Photo Gallery: Rottnest Island East End




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Here are some additional photos from the East End of Rottnest Island.

Overlooking Pinky Beach from the Bathurst Lighthouse
The Bathurst Lighthouse
Sculptured shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Some local residences on Rottnest Island. Some are available as rentals.
No quokkas allowed! 
Perth seen from Rottnest Island, 19 kilometres away.
Salmon Bay – actually not east end but more like the middle of the island.
The Wadjemup Lighthouse is also in the middle of the island overlooking Salmon Bay to the south. This photo is taken from the salt lakes west of the lighthouse.
The old salt store on Rottnest Island
Some outdoor seating near the Rottnest Island Hotel
Sarah and Janis head down to the beach on Thomson Bay
Lots of boats are moored on the bay.
Checking out the stingray that swam up.
The stingray
And a last look at one of those cute little quokkas!



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Photo Gallery: Rottnest Island West End




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Here are some additional photos from the west end of Rottnest Island including the Cathedral Rocks and Cape Vlamingh.

Janis and Sarah checking out the seals at Cathedral Rocks
Seals at Cathedral Rocks
A seal shows off
A king’s skink
Closer look at the king’s skink
Fish Hook Bay
Janis and I at Cape Vlamingh
Waves crashing through a rock cavern
Rock formations and waves

 




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Les Jardins de Versailles




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My last post covered our visit to le Château de Versailles.  That grand old palace, built by Louis XIV, and now a museum is certainly amazing. But equally extraordinary are the surrounding grounds and gardens. The entire estate covers over 800 hectares or almost 2000 acres.

That’s about twice the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park or Perth’s King’s Park. It’s also larger than San Diego’s Balboa Park (1200 acres) or New York’s Central Park (843 acres).

Louis the XIV commissioned the brilliant landscape architect André Le Nôtre to design the gardens and work began simultaneously with the Château. It took forty years to complete. The picture at the top of this article is an aerial view taken from a drone flown by ToucanWings and available through the Creative Commons. Below is an earth view Wikipedia map of the site so you can navigate around it.

The gardens are in the classic French design – sculptured and symmetrical with many paths and flower beds. There are also a great many fountains as well as Greco-Roman sculptures.

This tremendous undertaking is described at the Versailles website: “Creating the gardens was a monumental task. Large amounts of soil had to be shifted to level the ground, create parterres, build the Orangery and dig out the fountains and Canal in places previously occupied solely by meadows and marshes. Trees were brought in from different regions of France. Thousands of men, sometimes even entire regiments, took part in this immense project.”

We caught our first glimpse of the gardens as we were exploring the north wing of the Château.

The North Parterre seen from the 17th Century Galleries of the Chateau.

The photo doesn’t do it justice. We saw more of the gardens as we continued our tour of the Château and from the fabulous Hall of Mirrors, we could see the whole landscape laid out before us.

The gardens as seen from the Hall of Mirrors. In the foreground is one of the two pools of the Water Parterre which is flanked on either side by the North and South Parterres. In the distance is the Grand Canal.

After completing the Château tour we exited near the North Parterre and started to explore. Behind the Château are two large pools on a plaza and directly behind that is the Latone Fountain, one of many to be seen here.

Overlooking the gardens from the Latone Fountain to the Grand Canal. Since we were there, the gardens just beyond the fountain have been rebuilt in the French formal style.

While the gardens cover a large area, an even larger parkland lies beyond, transected by the Grand Canal, a large man-made waterway in the shape of a crucifix.

We’ll come back to the gardens flanking the Château and plaza, the parterres, later. But first let’s wander through the gardens below and see some of the sights.

Flowers abound, set in symmetrical beds surrounded by paths and  manicured lawns. A blaze of color.

Manicured lawn and cultivated flower beds abound. These have since been redone in the classic French style.

 

Flower bed in the garden below the Latone Fountain

We strolled leisurely down the Allée Royale, two wide paths with a lawn between them and flanked by groves on either side, to the large lake and fountain that separates the chateau’s gardens from the Grand Canal and its surrounding woodlands. This fountain is truly spectacular. It shows Apollo driving a chariot pulled by mighty horses emerging from the water. Circumnavigating the fountain we get a spectacular view looking back at the Château.

The Apollo Lake and Fountain with the Allée Royale and the Chateau de Versailles in the background.

Below is a video of the fountain in action.

After grabbing lunch at one of the two restaurants at this end of the Grand Canal, we strolled back up the Allée Royale and over to the Collonade Grove. It features a circle of thirty-two marble pillars surrounding a statue at its center. The circle of columns has a diameter of forty feet. Built in 1685 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, it replaced the original Spring Grove built by Le Nôtre.

The Collonade

The marble statue was created in 1696 by master sculptor François Girardon. It depicts famous scene from Roman mythology, The Abduction of Proserpine by Pluto.

Statue of Prosperpine Ravished by Pluto in the Collonade Garden

The story of Proserpine explains the changing of the seasons in Greek and Roman mythology. Her mother was Ceres (Demeter in Greek), the goddess of agriculture. Cupid’s arrow inspired Pluto to come out of Mt. Etna with four black horses to abduct Proserpine and take her to Hades to be his bride. Jupiter, Pluto’s brother, sent Mercury as an envoy to order him to release Proserpine. Pluto complied, but not before he had fed her some pomegranate seeds. These compelled her to stay six months of the year in Hades. So she apent the summer months with her mother who made the world fruitful. Then she returned to Hades for six months and her mother withheld her bounty from the earth.

The paths through the various groves are almost maze-like with high hedges enclosing various spaces. We were wandering through the groves to the South of the Allée Royale when we came across the Bacchus Fountain. There are four such fountains representing the four seasons, Bacchus represents Autumn. They’re located at crossroads within the groves.

The Bacchus or Autumn Fountain. Note the tall hedges lining the walkways.

As we walked along we noticed a crowd had gathered to watch some dancing waters. The place was the Bassin du Miroir or Mirror Fountain, actually a good size lake.  We got closer and watched as the waters danced in time to the music coming from nearby speakers.

We made our way back to the Latone Fountain and the flower beds nearby. Then we wended our way to the South Parterre.

Gardens below the Latone Fountain with the Chateau in the background. This was reconstructed in 2015 as the Latona Parterre, a more formal garden in the French style.

The South Parterre sits above a large building called the Orangery or Orangerie. I’d never seen or heard of the idea until our trip to Europe where Orangeries sprang up in the 17th to 19th Centuries. They are large conservatories where ornamental shrubs, trees and plants imported from warmer climates could be housed during the winter. We saw an Orangery beside the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

This is the South Parterre seen from the Salon of Peace in the Chateau. The Orangery is beneath this garden.
The South Parterre built in the formal French style.

Wandering to the edge of the South Parterre we come to an overlook and some magnificent gardens below. These gardens are the Orangery Parterre. The lake beyond is the Lake of the Swiss Guards.

These gardens are below the South Parterre and directly in front of the Orangery which you don’t see because we are standing on top of it.

From there we went back across the plaza of the Water Parterre to the North Parterre. Our schedule showed that the daily display at the Neptune Fountain was soon to begin. The Neptune Fountain is a large fountain found at the end of a broad path down the center of the Parterre.

The walkway down the North Parterre leads to the Pyramid Fountain and continues past it to the Dragon Fountain and the Neptune Fountain.

Te Neptune Fountain is huge. Like all the major fountains, the water show is set to music.

Although we spent most of the day at Versailles, we only saw a small fraction of the sights to be seen, both in the Château and on the grounds. We did not venture far up the Grand Canal and we did not see the Grand Trianon, which lies part way up the canal. It is a large estate that includes the Petit Trianon, a smaller residence that was used by Marie Antoinette as an escape from courtly life – a private sanctuary.

The Château and grounds are also illuminated at night. So when we return to Paris, hopefully in the next year or two, we will definitely see Versailles again. It is truly one of the wonders of the modern world.

If you’re on the main page of this blog, scroll on through for an additional photo gallery. Otherwise click on the link below.

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The Forgotten Island




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When we think of the Bahamas we think of the cities of Nassau and Freeport and maybe of the fabulous Atlantis Resort. We also think of an island archipelago with many sandy beaches.

The Bahamas, in fact, has over 700 islands of varying sizes. One of them used to be the home to an American Naval Facility which operated from 1957 until decommissioned in 1980. This island also used to be a playground for the rich and famous – mostly Americans, mostly Hollywood types, who maintained vacation homes there.

Now that island is largely forgotten. Tourism is still its mainstay, but it is a permanent residence to just 11,000. We happened across it by chance as it was the first stop on a cruise we took in January 2015. Our cruise was with Princess Cruises and the stop was at a place at one end of the island called Princess Cays Resort. As far as we know, it is an exclusive stop for Princess Lines. No other cruise ships visit here.

The Ruby Princess at Anchor at Princess Cays
The Ruby Princess at Anchor at Princess Cays

The island is Eleuthra, a long boomerang shaped island 110 miles long and just a mile wide at its narrowest point. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish who left the island decimated, its native population routed by disease and the remainder carried off as slaves to work the mines on Hispaniola.

It remained largely unpopulated until rediscovered by Puritan colonists who called themselves the Eleutherian Adventurers. They had originally settled in Bermuda but refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown. They struck out for a place they could practice their faith free of persecution in the late 1640s (some time between 1646 and 1648). They were the first settlers of the Bahamas and gave Eleuthra its name.

The Adventurers were led by William Sayle who had created a constitution of sorts. Dissension in the ranks led Sayles and his followers to retreat eventually to New Providence where the city of Nassau is. But it is said that if Sayles had been successful, Eleuthra would have been the first independent democracy in the Americas, some 130 years before the American Revolution. Sayles later became Governor of the Colony of South Carolina.

On our cruise, we were taken by tender to the small dock at Princess Quay. There, as is usual with cruise ship stops, we had a variety of options open to us, including just lazing on the beach. We opted for a bus tour that would cover about half the island.

Our guide gave us a short history of the island before we came to our first stop – a small church sandwiched between the highway and the shore near Rock Sound. It was a Sunday so services were in progress at the time.

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Anglican church near Rock Sound

Our next stop was the Blue Hole. Our guide called it the Blue Hole but apparently its actual name is Ocean Hole. Blue hole is the generic term for such geological features. It is not far from Rock Sound.

The Blue Hole near Rock Sound on Eleuthra
The Blue Hole near Rock Sound on Eleuthra

The hole is a salt water lake a mile inland from the ocean. It was stocked by locals with salt water sea life many years ago. It is said to be bottomless and it rises and ebbs with the tides so there must be a subterranean connection with the ocean. Jacques Cousteau, who used to live on Eleuthra, tried to find the connection but failed.

Feeding Fish in the Blue Hole
Feeding Fish in the Blue Hole

We continued on to Governor’s Harbour, about half way up the island. There we saw Government House as well as a number of homes boarded up while their owners were away. There were also some abandoned buildings. Our tour guides sang the Bahamian National Anthem for us on the steps of Government House.

Our tour guides sing for us in front of Government House
Our tour guides sing for us in front of Government House

On the return trip we stopped at Tarpum Bay, a small and picturesque fishing village along the way.

Tarpum Bay
Tarpum Bay seen from the dock

Then it was back to Rock Sound where we stopped for lunch and entertainment at a seashore restaurant. Most of the staff and entertainers were black and I discovered that black culture has a long history in the Bahamas.

After the American War of Independence, many Loyalists to the Crown fled the United States, many of them settling in the Caribbean. Thousands settled in the Bahamas. They brought their slaves with them. The Bahamas became a haven for freed slaves and formally abolished the practice in 1834. Today descendants of freed slaves and free Africans make up 90 percent of the population.

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Junkanoo musicians and dancers in their colorful garb

We very much enjoyed the Junkanoo parade put on for us. Junkanoo is an annual festival and parade with colorful costumes, dancing and music.

Some locals also demonstrated how to prepare conch as a meal. They showed how to remove the live conch from its shell and then prepare it in a salad.

Making conch salad
Making conch salad

All in all, we very much enjoyed our trip to this fascinating island.

Below is a link to an additional photo gallery as well as another link of interest.

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Photo Gallery: Eleuthra




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the island of Eleuthra in the Bahamas.

Our tour guide on the bus tells of the history of Eleuthra
Our tour guide on the bus tells of the history of Eleuthra
During the ride we were shown how to make some crafts, including this headband made from reeds
During the ride we were shown how to make some crafts, including this headband made from reeds
A house shuttered against storms while the owner is away
A house in Governor’s Harbour is shuttered against storms while the owner is away
Myself at Tarpum Bay
Myself at Tarpum Bay
Tarpum Bay homes and businesses
Tarpum Bay homes and businesses. I believe the blue building is a small hotel.
A pile of conch shells
A pile of conch shells
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How to extract a conch from its shell
Extracting a conch from its shell
Slicing up a conch to make a conch salad
Colorful Junkanoo dancers and musicians
Colorful Junkanoo dancers and musicians

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Rome’s Colosseum




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The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and a must-see highlight of any visit to Rome. We spent a day there before taking a Mediterranean cruise in 2011. After the cruise we spent another day in the city.

That first day had us take a hop on/hop off bus around the city and one of our hop off points was the Colosseum. We grabbed a light lunch and then walked around the perimeter.

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This photo is a merge of two others. It captures the immense size of the Colosseum.

It is an ancient building and in remarkably good repair considering it is almost 2000 years old. Construction started under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. He died in 79 AD and did not see the building completed the following year under his heir Titus. Financed by the spoils of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was built with the slave labour of 100,000 Jews captured and spirited off to Rome.

Made of concrete and sand, it was large enough to accommodate 50-80,000 spectators, averaging around 65,000. Like modern stadiums, it was a venue for mass entertainment which included battling gladiators, wild animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, dramas based on Classical mythology and public executions. Yes, Christians were fed to lions here. In fact, the Pope marks every Good Friday by a Way of the Cross procession that starts at the Colosseum to honour Christian martyrs.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.
The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.

Interestingly enough, twenty years after its construction, the poet Juvenal published his Satire X which includes the following lines:

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Juvenal is lamenting the practice of gaining political office by bribing the voters with free wheat and mass spectacles. It marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Walking around the perimeter we were impressed by the vastness of the Colosseum and its great beauty. The two millennia since its creation have left it weathered and eroded. It underwent extensive renovations from 1993 to 2000 at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire (US$19.3 million).

End on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum
This end on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum captures its great height. The outer wall is shored up by supports built during renovations.

There were originally two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall remains largely intact but only a small portion of the outer wall remains. It is shored up at both ends by sloped concrete supports. But even with all the renovation, you can see cracks in the facade at various places, not to mention large stones at the base which have fallen from the structure.

Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn't seem to phase the tourists walking below.
Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn’t seem to phase the tourists walking below.

We saw some men in gladiator garb posing with tourists on our walk as well as a wedding party. It is a popular locale for wedding photos.

The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos.
The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos. Did you spot them in the picture of the Arch of Constantine above?

After our cruise we visited the Colosseum once again, this time paying to go inside. Well worth the money. The inside is as spectacular as the outside and well worth the visit.

As we entered we passed a recently recovered partial statue. There is continuous archeological work going on around Rome. This partial statue was probably of a horse and rider, but we were amused by it because all that remains is, how shall we put it, a horse’s ass.

The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.
The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.

Inside you get a terrific view of the hypogeum, a series of underground passages and rooms, and a partially reconstructed stage at one end. The staging, made of wood, covered the entire subterranean level during the Colosseum’s heyday. Many spectacles were staged that involved lifts and hoists moving animals, actors and stage props from below to the arena floor.

The interior os the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.
The interior of the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.

The hypogeum was a later addition to the Colosseum and in its early years, at least two mock sea battles or naumachiae were staged there. This involved filling the basin with water and bringing in ships. One was staged by Titus when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD and another by Domitian in 85 AD.

It must have been quite the spectacle. Some experts figure that water supplied by aqueducts and a series of pipes and channels could fill the basin to a depth of five feet in just 35 to 76 minutes. These battles were considerably bloodier than the gladiatorial battles often staged in the arena. They involved many more people, 3000 in the event staged by Titus. Condemned prisoners were used and they fought to the death.

Shortly after the last naumachia,  the hypogeum was built which precluded staging more of these spectacles.

Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.
Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.

Up to 80,000 people filled the stadium in its prime but  little seating remains. There are many sloped angular buttresses which held the seating at one time, but now stand alone. There is a little bit of seating extant above the renovated stage area. I’m not sure if this is original or recreated for tourists.

Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.

One of the things we noticed in the Colosseum was the large number of feral cats. We noticed them outside on our earlier visit and now again inside. Not sure what it is with ancient ruins and wild felines, but we first encountered them in the walled city of Cadiz in Spain and we later came across more of them at the ruins in Ephesus.

Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.
Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and can only imagine how it must have been in its heyday, the scene of great and bloody spectacles. The fact that these extravaganzas were staged with real people fighting to the death or even put to death in contests with ferocious beasts gives one chills. But even today gore fests remain popular in movies and television shows, though these are non-lethal make-believe. In less civilized parts of the world, live beheadings and stonings of the condemned remain popular with the masses.

I’ve included an additional photo gallery as well as links to a couple of articles on naumachiae.

 

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Where Two Oceans Meet




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How many oceans are there and can you name them? Most people can come up with three – the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They are, in fact, the largest. But there are two more – the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean is sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. It is so-called because it blankets the southern hemisphere, encircling the continent of Antarctic. The boundaries, however, have shifted over time.

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By Cruickshanks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The first map published by the International Hydrographic Association in 1928 had the northern boundaries touch Cape Horn, the southern end of Africa and the entire southern portion of Australia. That’s the area marked as the Great Australian Bight on the map. Since then the boundaries have been progressively moved south. Australia, however, still considers the body of water to their immediate south as the Southern Ocean.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

In any event, the last place we visited on our Margaret River road trip in March 2016 was to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse near Augusta. This historical beacon was opened in 1895. Today it is a fully automated lighthouse. While the tower itself is closed to the public, the grounds are not. For a nominal fee you can get headphones for a guided audio tour.

The colorful history of the site is related on the audio tour as well as on signs along the way. The numerous outbuildings are explained. They include the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

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The lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Now just a relic as the lighthouse is fully automated.

But what is of particular interest is that Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly point in Australia. It marks the point where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet. Like the folks who denounced the deplanetification of Pluto, the Australians will tell those who deny the Southern Ocean borders their country, “Bight me!”

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Although you can walk around the lighthouse, you cannot go up the tower. But there are walkways all around.  And signage describes the history and the landmarks to note.

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Two oceans meet. That’s no ocean, you say? Bight me!

We took the steps down to the rocks below. Access is blocked but it is easy to get through the fence. The wind and the waves are a beautiful sight.

Looking out at the junction of two oceans
Looking out at the junction of two oceans

On our walk back we once more passed an interesting piece of pop art – a cow with a telescope. It’s called Moorine Marauder. A nearby sign tells the story: From March to June 2010, 85 cows were positioned across the Margaret River Region as part of the world’s largest public art event “Cow Parade”. In July 2010 the cows were auctioned off with the proceeds going to regional beneficiaries and charities.

Moorine Marauder
Moorine Marauder

Similar pop art festivals have been held in Vancouver and other cities. Of the 85 cows, a great many ended up in the town of….. Cowaramup, of course. Pictures will show up in a future post.

And always with an eye out for the weird and whacky, it seems their were some hippy wannabes visiting the lighthouse. At least if their van is anything to go by!

The Dope Fiend Van. Note the good advice on the back panel.
The Dope Fiends Van. Note the good advice on the back panel. A company called Wicked Campers rents out these colorful vehicles.

The lighthouse marked the end of our road trip and we headed back to our rented house for the night and back to Perth in the morning. But we encountered one more interesting sight on the drive back. Tree huggers! Literally! We were driving through a heavily forested area and came across several dozen people standing in the woods hugging trees.

A bunch of tree huggers! Literally!
A bunch of tree huggers! Literally! Note the two at the far right.
Cutaway close-up of two tree huggers from the earlier photo.
Cutaway close-up of two tree huggers from the earlier photo.

We didn’t stop to chat, just snapped a couple of quick pics as we passed, so I don’t know what this was all about. There was a parking lot with some cars and a bus. A school outing perhaps? Some eccentric back-to-nature group? We don’t know.

We’ll close off with a few more photos. We enjoyed the drive out to Augusta. It’s only about 50 kilometres from the town of Margaret River but much of it is windy road. And there are other stops along the way. On the way out we stopped for lunch at a berry farm that sells home-made jams. More on that with pics in a later post.

Looking up at the lighthouse
Looking up at the lighthouse
A spectacular and rare two ocean view
A spectacular and rare two ocean view
Another view of two oceans
Another view of two oceans
Looking back at the lighthouse from the rocky shore
Looking back at the lighthouse from the rocky shore
A plaque commemorating early Dutch explorers to the region
A plaque commemorating early Dutch explorers to the region
A last look at the forest full of tree huggers though only a few are visible here
A last look at the forest full of tree huggers though only a few are visible here

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An Epistle About the Ephesians




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You may recall the New Testament book called Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. The Ephesians were the people of an ancient city called Ephesus. Today its ruins have been well excavated though new excavation continues to this day. This archaeological site is about twenty kilometres from the Turkish port city of Kusadasi.

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The ancient city of Ephesus lives on through its archaeological ruins.

Built in the 10th Century BC, Ephesus was a flourishing Greek city for almost a thousand years. The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, (around 550 BC) was near here. Little of the temple remains today.

In 129 B.C. the city fell into Roman hands. In 88 BC a short-lived revolt brought self-rule to Ephesus  but two years later it was back under Roman control. There was also some Egyptian influence in the city. King Ptolemy XII Auletes retired there in 57 BC. And Mark Antony visited there with Cleopatra in 33 BC.

Ephesus was made the capital of Proconsular Asia under Caesar Augustus around 27 BC as it entered a new age of prosperity. “It was second in importance and size only to Rome,” notes Wikipedia.

The Gate of Augustus
The Gate of Augustus

In the 50s AD Christianity made a profound influence on the city as the apostle Paul lived there from 52-54 AD. The city is referenced in Paul’s epistle, the Acts of the Apostles and in the Book of Revelations.

Sacked by the Goths in 263 AD, the city was rebuilt by Constantine the Great who built the new public baths. It remained the most important city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantine.  But the city declined after an earthquake in 614 and conquests by the Arabs and later the Turks. By the 15th Century the city was completely abandoned.

Much of the archaeological site is Roman, one of the largest Roman archaeological digs in the world.

When we arrived in Kusadasi, there were lines of buses to take everyone on their excursions. Most were going to Ephesus. Our guide was a genial fellow who told us a bit about the history of modern Turkey as our bus wended its way on the twenty kilometre trek to the site.

About fifty buses were parked cheek by jowl on the pier aaiting tourists.
About fifty buses were parked cheek by jowl on the pier awaiting tourists.

Our guide was very proud of Turkey. He explained that Turkey does not have many of the troubles so common in other areas of the middle east. The reason, he explained, was because the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, set out to recreate Turkey as a secular state, a modern, western state. He served as the first President from 1923 until his death in 1938. His reforms included recognizing the equal civil and political rights of women, taking them out from under the yoke of Islam. He abolished the caliphate and sharia courts. He reformed education introducing mandatory secular schooling. He encouraged Turks to adopt  western style clothing.

ataturk
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Ataturk’s attitude can be summarized in this excerpt from a 1925 speech: “In the face of knowledge, science, and of the whole extent of radiant civilization, I cannot accept the presence in Turkey’s civilized community of people primitive enough to seek material and spiritual benefits in the guidance of sheiks. The Turkish republic cannot be a country of sheiks, dervishes, and disciples. The best, the truest order is the order of civilization. To be a man it is enough to carry out the requirements of civilization.”

Turkey remains a democratic, westernized country though its majority religion remains Islam. Wikipedia notes that according to a Gallup poll on Religiousity, 73 percent of of Turkey’s Islam adherents are “irreligious Muslims” and only 7 to 13 percent think religion should have any influence on the law. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists and radicals have engaged in the occasional act of terrorism in Turkey trying to swing it to an Islamic state.

In any event, our guide was most informative and very proud of Turkey’s secularism and western traditions. He also got off the bus and was our guide through the ruins of Ephesus.

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Our tour took us down this roadway to the Celsus Library.

Along the road to the landmark Celsus Library, we passed a number of other landmarks including the Temple of Hadrian. Hadrian was the Roman Emporer best known for building Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

The Temple of Hadrian
The Temple of Hadrian

Another landmark were the baths built by Constantine the Great. Ephesus was a large and modern city and had running water. The baths were surrounded by public toilets which opened onto a channel of running water to carry the effluent away.

Public toilets near the baths.
Public toilets near the baths.

Further along we came to wide plaza in front of the famous Celsus Library. This library was built between 100 and 110 AD for the senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Destroyed by an earthquake in 270 AD, some remnants of the facade remained and it was rebuilt between 1970 and 1978.

Our guide delighted in telling us that the city’s brothel was located near the library and many a Roman would tell his wife he was going to the library when he was really pursuing less intellectual endeavours.

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The Celsus Library – just a facade now

We passed through the Gate of Augustus beside the library and emerged onto a wide thoroughfare where we watched a recreation of the visit of Antony and Cleopatra to Ephesus in 33 BC. Here we also came to a large amphitheatre.

Janis and I in front of the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus
Janis and I in front of the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus
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Modern day concerts are sometimes hosted in the amphitheatre.

Ephesus is an ongoing archaeological dig and there was a huge crane near the amphitheatre when we were there, part of a continuing excavation project.

The archaeological dig continues.
The archaeological dig continues.

Soon we were finished our tour and arrived at a market where you could get camel rides and souvenirs. We laughed when we saw a shop labeled Genuine Fake Watches. But apparently the shop is so renowned it shows up on Google maps of Ephesus.

Genuine Fake Watches!
Genuine Fake Watches!

Our bus ride took us back to town where we were taken on a tour of a carpet warehouse. A woman demonstrated the ancient art of carpet weaving on a loom for us. Each row of the carpet is made by tying individual knots, then tamping them down and trimming them with a scissors.

The carpet folks brought out many magnificent carpets and spread them out before us, inviting us to touch and examine them. Some were quite pricey, especially the silk carpets. We ended up buying a small 15 inch by 26 inch decorative piece as a wall hanging for $200.

The Turks are superb salesmen. After the carpet place we had time to walk around the market stalls near the pier. We didn’t get past the first shop. A fellow standing at the entrance greeted us and invited us to come see his shop. We declined but he went into a spiel about Turkish hospitality and how his feelings would be hurt if we didn’t at least look around. We relented.

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A cluster of shops borders the cruise ship terminal.

He then took us through a maze of aisles and displays to a back room where there was a coffee table and some comfortable sofas. He invited us to sit down and we were brought some wine. Then he talked about his product – leather coats. Now neither of us had a leather coat. We always thought them to be a bit pricey and extravagant. But man, this guy was a smooth talker. He kept bringing out coat after coat, asking me if I didn’t think my wife would look lovely in this coat or that? Didn’t she deserve the best? And so on. He finally brought one my wife rather liked.

One down, he then said I also deserved a fine coat. Well I did and he found one I liked. We then dickered on price. He gave us a price. We countered with a lowball offer. He countered. We negotiated and finally came up with an agreement. And we went back two leather coats richer and around $600-$700 poorer. Benny’s Shop if you’re looking for a nice leather coat while in Kusadasi. We still have those coats and still use them today, six years later. We spent more money in Turkey than any other port we ever visited but consider it money well spent.

We very much enjoyed our visit to Turkey and to Ephesus. The Turks are a friendly people and the country is beautiful. The ruins at Ephesus were amazing.

I’ve added two photo galleries of additional pictures linked below. If you are on the front page, just scroll on down. If you are not, just click on the links.

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