Travel Stories

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Florence, Italy: A long way from Footscray

6 Sep 2010  |  2 min read

The instructions on how to get to her hotel were quite specific: she said they were located directly opposite Cartier. Which was true, but it might have been equally easy to describe it as being just down the street from the enormous Palazzo Strozzi which dominates this block in central Florence 10 minutes walk from the Major Attractions: the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo and so on. The... > Read more

Ireland: Ancient stones and pathways

5 Sep 2010  |  3 min read

As an example of Kiwi understatement it was masterful. As he emerging from the 5000 year old tomb, blinking into the bright Irish sunlight, the strapping lad from Taranaki was asked what he thought of it. “Yeah, pretty good, eh?” he said, then strode off purposefully, leaving behind him one of the most ancient and breathtaking sights -- and sites -- in Ireland. Little... > Read more

Oregon, USA: Night of the Hunters

1 Sep 2010  |  5 min read

Sonny -- that's what the big bellowing men called him -- runs a restaurant in Klamath Falls, a town in central Oregon halfway between San Francisco and Portland. His place, the Dynasty, boasts "authentic Chinese food". Sonny is from Taiwan. This town was originally called Linkville, but a century or so ago the locals decided they wanted a more dramatic name for their home on the edge... > Read more

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah: Headlong into the future

22 Aug 2010  |  4 min read

Curiously enough, the place I know best in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah on the northernmost tip of Malaysian Borneo, is the airport. In the course of a few days I was there five times; while going to and from Brunei, then the city of Sandakan where I went to see orang utan and took in a city tour, and finally when I flew back to KL, Kuala Lumpur. But being familiar with the airport... > Read more

EUR, Italy: The facades of fascism

21 Aug 2010  |  3 min read

The view at sunset from these steps is spectacular. Old men have gathered to smoke cigarettes and silently watch the orange orb sink below a horizon punctuated by distant spires and domes. The view the other way is more problematic. And pretty ugly. This is EUR -- Exposizione Universale di Roma -- a district on the southern outskirts of Rome created when Mussolini's fascist dreams were... > Read more

Cameron, Louisiana: The stink of shrimp and petroleum

16 Aug 2010  |  2 min read  |  3

In 2005 smalltown Cameron in southwest Louisiana was washed away by Hurricane Rita and I suppose battered to hell again by Hurricane Katrina. It seemed tragic and . . . Well, let me tell you my memory of Cameron, a place we stayed in for one very long night while driving the Gulf Coast before heading up to Breaux Bridge then on to New Orleans. Cameron is in shrimp and petroleum country --... > Read more

Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville Cats

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

The cliche and joke about Nashville, the country music capital of the world, is that every bus driver, real estate agent, waitress and desk clerk is an aspiring songwriter. Spend more than a minute in their company and they will be pressing their demo tape on you just in case you can be useful to their career. I'm not sure what Roger thought I could do for him -- we were both at a sleazy... > Read more

Chinatown, Singapore: Life in the lens

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

Among the trinkets and souvenirs at the Chinatown Heritage Centre in Singapore the photograph caught my eye: a lone boatman, standing up in his small craft, is rowing between some other vessels as dawn light catches in the ripples off his oars. The image, obviously taken many years ago, has a strange golden tone and in the ripples the camera has captured the instant when shadows made... > Read more

Miami Beach, Florida: The goofy gunman

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

In the fuzzy Polaroid I am standing next to a short, goofy-looking guy with a curly blond Afro. He is holding a multicoloured cocktail. And I have a parrot on my head. It was at a travel industry function in Miami Beach some years ago and representatives of various countries, every American state and dozens of major cities, and many small tourist operators, were there to sell their... > Read more

Guam: Lost in the outposts of America

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

The two places I thought I'd never go were Guam, and a Hard Rock Cafe. Guam -- essentially an island-cum-aircraft carrier for the American military in the north west Pacific -- just seemed well off any track, and a Hard Rock Cafe because turning revolution into marketing, with a side order of fries, isn't my idea of progress. As with Planet Hollywoods -- where some people seem to think... > Read more

Gold Coast, Australia: The singer not the song

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

The night we scattered my mother's ashes on the Broadwater at Surfers Paradise where she had lived, Silvio sang to us. I recognised him as soon as we entered Fratelli's restaurant, he had sung to me in another place in Surfers a few years back. The story then as I remember it was that it had been one of his sons' restaurants and Silvio, a lifelong restauranteur and with an Italian's love of... > Read more

Nga Trang, Vietnam: He wears my ring

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

Within an hour of us meeting, Mama Thiu was knocking me up for money. Then her brother had a go. It was at Nga Trang in Vietnam and Mama ran a small, outdoor restaurant at the northern end of the gorgeous beach close to the port. Mama's place was near the centre of town but it wasn't a favoured area with tourists who headed for the quieter sands further down. So Mama struggled, which made... > Read more

Rome, Italy: When in Rome

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read  |  1

I don't know his name, never did, and it isn't important anyway. Let's call him Big Marco because that's who he looked like. I arrived at Big Marco's small hotel in Rome early one morning having been directed there by a sad-eyed gentleman at the hotel bookings booth in the nearby railway station. I had said all I wanted was a cheap room, with a bathroom if possible, somewhere near the... > Read more

Grimes, California: Tales of the riverbank

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

The fact was, when you walked from the cool, fresh air of the Sacramento River into the restaurant at the RV park you could barely breath for the smell of cooking oil. It coated the tongue and hurt the eyes, and penetrated your clothes instantly. You immediately felt like you had spent a day working over a vat of simmering oil. Emily didn't seem to notice. I guess she was just used to it.... > Read more

San Francisco, California: Feeding the inner man

25 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

He didn't give his name and it didn't matter actually. My guess is he just wanted someone to listen. So I did, and it wasn't a pretty story. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday in the 21 Club, a bar in the rundown Tenderloin district of San Francisco with a handwritten sign which read "No bicycles inside" on the battered glass door. Outside broken and damaged people pushed... > Read more

Innsbruck: The imagined mountains

14 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

For about four years, from when I was maybe 10, I carried a photograph of Innsbruck in my wallet. Of course at that age I had very little else to put in a wallet and I can't remember what else might have been stashed in the thing. But the picture of Innsbruck I can still conjure up. It was highly coloured -- the sky an impossibly vivid blue -- and showed a view down what I took to be the... > Read more

Glencoe, Scotland: The past on the wild wind

8 Jun 2010  |  3 min read

The plaque at the reception of the Clachaig Inn at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands reads: “No hawkers or Campbells”. It is amusing -- I’m sure Naomi would be welcome should she show up in this beautiful but largely unpopulated region -- but it also reminds you of a fault-line of deep feeling that runs through Scottish history. It was here in these once remote... > Read more

Nye, Oregon: The man who could draw air

2 Jun 2010  |  2 min read

He introduced himself at breakfast as Hippie Mike -- his business card had a nuclear disarmament sign on it -- and told a story. "One time I walked into this bar with my walking stick, wearing my big hat, and moccasins and the whole place went silent. You could hear a pin drop, man." I believed him. Mike stood two metres tall, had long thick greying hair down to the middle... > Read more

Natchez Trace, Mississippi: The highway like Heaven

24 May 2010  |  6 min read

One of the guidebooks we took on a recent drive across America wasn't particularly helpful when it came to scenery. Then again, the Rock'n'Roll Traveler USA was always going to be more interested in directing you the field in which Buddy Holly's plane crashed, and the Taliesyn Ballroom in Tennessee where the Sex Pistols played the second concert of their notorious and short US tour in 78.... > Read more

Guangzhou, China: The sour sound of respect

30 Apr 2010  |  2 min read

When you travel to foreign parts it is good to be respectful of local customs, and usually they are common courtesies or pretty obvious: you don't wear shorts or a halter-top to St Peters -- or in various Muslim states -- and you should always take your headgear off (or put something on, depending on the faith) when you enter a place where people communicate with their God. In parts of Asia... > Read more