Photo Journal: Tasmanian road trip – Hobart to Port Arthur

I decided to go with a bit of a theme for the next week; Port Arthur.

Unfortunately, Port Arthur gained attention for all the wrong reasons 20 years ago, in 1996, as the site of Australia’s worst massacre. For personal reasons, that’s not something I want to write about… Instead, I want to talk about what Port Arthur should be known for; it’s one of the absolute most stunning places I’ve ever seen, and the site of one of Australia’s best-kept convict colonies.

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More of that soon, but first we have to get there! We drove from Hobart, which is only about a 90 minute drive, but we decided to drag it out and stop off at as many sweet little towns as possible on the way  : )

We had quite a few stops, including…

Sorell
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Forcett

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Copping
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Bream Creek
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The Federation Chocolate Factory (!!!)

Pirate’s Bay

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Tasman Arch and the blow hole
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Honestly, this was one of the best parts of the trip. Having the car meant that we got to stop off whenever we wanted. Any beautiful photo op we noticed (and there were a HEAP of those!), we pulled over and captured it. Any beautiful scene we drove through, we stopped to enjoy it. Yes, you can absolutely get there quickly; hell, you can even do it as a day trip from Hobart if you want, but why would you when you can take the slow path and enjoy every step?!

Urban paradise: Milton Lee Olive Park, Chicago

It’s incredible how well hidden this park is in plain sight… It’s not like it’s particularly small, and it’s right near Navy Pier, yet when we visited, we were the only people around; it was completely deserted.

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Located just north of Navy Pier and just west of the purification plant, Milton Lee Olive Park is a beautiful little urban paradise. It’s the perfect spot to escape the city craziness of Chicago, while simultaneously enjoying one of the most beautiful views of the city over the water. The sand of the beach was spotless, the bare trees were beautiful in their own skeletal way, and the water was the most gorgeous shade of icy, winter blue.

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It always amazes me to find such perfect little paradises like this so empty and barren… I guess it just goes to show that city dwellers everywhere probably need to take a little more time to escape the hectic, fast paced lifestyle and take a little time to sit back and enjoy the beauty of a big city from a distance every now and then.

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Cycling the islets of Hoi An, Vietnam

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Sib and I have always been pretty healthy and active – she grew up a head taller than the rest of the kids and excelled in everything she did, particularly basketball. I’m no where near as naturally athletically gifted, but still somehow wound up with a degree in Exercise Science, a great 8 year career as a personal trainer and a black belt martial artist. After having been repeatedly told that the best way to see Vietnam was by bicycle, we decided to actually do a proper day-long tour, rather than just hiring bikes for an hour. Sib’s a good rider and really enjoys is. I can ride, but am prone to freaking out if I have to ride in traffic. We figured this lovely tour around the quiet, secluded islets of Hoi An was a good way to do it.

After an afternoon of online research, we found Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours (http://www.vietnam-bicycle.com/). We read glowing review after glowing review from very happy customers, and decided on the 23km “Real Vietnam” tour. Our itinerary read as follows:
After a boat transfer, of approximately one hour on the Thu Bon river, you will arrive at a small village in the middle of the delta where you will begin your cycling tour. The morning will be spent cycling 14km across the countryside and rice fields. You will cross from island to island taking the unusual bridges made from wood or bamboo. A short boat crossing will bring you to a small island where you will enjoy lunch in the home at a local family. In the afternoon you will continue the same route as the “Countryside Bicycle Tour” and discovering local crafts. This tour includes crossing the river on a local ferry, visiting the crafts workshops, crossing a floating bridge, and a bamboo bridge, and several other stops along the way.

Our tour cost only AUD$47.00 per person, and included our lunch, bike and helmet hire, our guide and assistant (I’ll get to them, they were AMAZING!), and a few visits along the path. We were pretty happy with it all and booked on the spot, paying via PayPal, which made things very easy.

The morning of the tour, we caught a taxi to Heaven and Earth’s head office and walked up the front stairs with anxious excitement. After a quick confirmation that we were indeed paid and on the tour, we grabbed a helmet each and went outside to meet the girls who helped us pick out and adjust our bikes. Once the whole group was saddled up and ready to go, they handed us each a 1 litre bottle of water to clip to the back of our bikes, and led the way for a short peddle from the office to the water where our boat was waiting for us.

We spent an hour on the brilliant blue, calm water, weaving in and out of the fishing nets, getting to know our family for the day.
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There were just 8 of us, plus the two amazing women who led us, educated us, looked after us, and quickly became our friends. Trinh and Nahm – you ladies are absolutely amazing! When you book your bike tour around Hoi An (and you’re crazy if you don’t), make sure you ask for these girls.
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Once we hit dry land, we rode on and off for the rest of the day. The girls were really fantastic – Trinh leading the way and Nham holding the fort at the back of the pack, making sure everyone was accounted for, comfortable and managing the ride in the blistering heat. They stopped us regularly for water and photo breaks, always letting us know how far we’d come, how far our next riding stint would be, what our next stop would entail, and what kind of terrain we’d be encountering.

Instead of writing about everything we saw and did, I’m going to let the photos do the talking – no words could possibly do the truly breath taking natural beauty of this place justice 🙂

After riding a few kilometres through the most perfectly green rice fields you’ve ever seen…
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.. we made our first stop in a gorgeous, colourful neighbourhood to learn how to make rice paper.
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We rode a little more through some surprisingly diverse landscapes…
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We also got stuck at a few of these very old bamboo bridges. We were told we could try cycling across if we felt brave. I did not. I walked.
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Next stop was another beautiful neighbourhood, where we met two women who wove the traditional Vietnamese mats. You could feel the mood change, you could almost touch the sadness we were all overcome with, when we were told that these beautiful, large, intricate mats that took 4 hours each to make sold for only USD$5.00, and the women earned only USD$1.00 per mat. To see these kind, smiling women, bent over in manual labour was hard enough. To imagine them doing this for 8 hours a day and earning only $2.00, was beyond the scope of anything we could imagine. It was a really humbling moment for all of us.
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We rode only a little further before stopping for lunch – home cooked and unbelievably good! We were then invited into the home for an explanation about some of the traditions that still hold in Vietnamese homes.
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Next up was a stop on the water to learn how to and try to paddle the little round basket boats.
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We also had stops to see how incense sticks were made, and also met a man who carved out the tiny detailed mother-of-pearl patterns that are inlaid into wooden products.
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It was a long day in very hot, humid weather (we left our hotel at 7.30am and didn’t get back until around 2.30pm), but it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re in Hoi An, even if you’re not particularly athletic, please do yourself a favour and jump on a bike with Heaven and Earth!

Photo Journal: Positano, Italy

This is a city perched precariously on cliff faces, with countless stairs to climb, and the most stunning views. It’s relatively cut off from the rest of the world, therefore prices for almost everything are a lot higher than they should be, but it doesn’t seem to stop the tourist hoards from taking over in summer. We visited in the cold, and it was every bit as stunning, if not more so. The cold left only the locals; we were two of the very few visitors to the city, which made me very thankful for the ability to speak Italian – no one much seemed to be bothered with foreigners and their languages. We walked until we couldn’t possibly take another step, then glimpse something like a tiny little greengrocers up an absurd flight of stairs, find our second wind, and take off to buy some food. There were “picnics” on our hotel room balcony, rugged up against the biting cold, giggling away as we ate our prosciutto and Parmigiano cheese, sipping Italian wine, and playing an Italian card game I quickly taught husband. We were seriously living the life we had always wanted, and we couldn’t stop laughing, because we were in shock that we’d finally done it.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

So, how about those pyramids?!

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It seems only right that I start this venture with the main event that was the catalyst for the change in course of my life…

I was a dork of a kid, truly. While the other kids were out shooting hoops and jumping rope at lunch time, I was sitting on the side lines, either nose-deep in a book, or scribbling furiously in a note book. Even as a little 5 year old, grade prep. In fact, the only way mum could get me over my separation anxiety and back to school in prep was with a cool, spiral, sticky-note pad and some equally cool pencils. I took them with me, like a security blanket, and wrote and drew while the other kids were playing.

In, I think it may have been grade 3 or 4, I learnt for the first time about Ancient Egypt.  We learnt a basic little of the history and mythology, that they had gods and goddesses who governed all facets of life. It was a truly modern civilization that outdated anything else I’d ever heard of (which, at around 8 years old, was basically just the “Jesus era” we learnt about in Sunday school). We saw some pictures in books and on a projector, and something clicked inside of me. I was going to go there. Buggered if I knew how or when, but as sure as I knew the sky was blue, I knew I’d be going.

Over the next few years, I read more than a primary school aged child had any right to on Ancient Egypt. I distinctly remember one afternoon, mum, dad and my sisters going out with family friends, and I politely declining the outing to the park, as I’d just checked out a new book on Egypt from the library, and, devoid of any copiers, scanners, or other such devices (hey, it was the 90s!), I wanted to stay at home and copy information, diagrams, maps and pictures onto lined paper that I kept in a folder, along with the other information I was slowly collecting. I was 11 years old at the time.

Flash forward 14 years; I was 25 years old, had been married 6 months, and we’d been living in our new house all of 16 months. We went on a camping trip at Easter time in 2011, just the two of us, just two nights, just somewhere fairly local. We’d been a bit on edge for a few months, neither of us really knowing why. Over the camping trip, a completely life-changing conversation occurred. Lying on our blow up mattress in our tent one night, talking non-stop, we discovered that neither of us were happy; we didn’t want to be living in a big, beautiful 4 bedroom home on a third of an acre. We wanted a smaller house, closer to the city, that we could leave to travel at will. We both thought the other were happy in our big, beautiful, new home. Neither of us were. Our lives changed from that point.

We spent the next few hours talking about where we wanted to travel to, and the next day coming up with a budget and savings plan to get us on our way. We tossed up between a big USA trip and an Egypt/Euro trip; because I’m a stubborn little Italian and my husband is a saint, I won out, and we started saving in April 2011 for what was dubbed “EuroTrip 2013.”

We saved an absolute truckload of money over the next two years, put our house on the market to downsize, and I started work as a travel agent, and on March 15th 2013, we departed Melbourne for a four week trip around Egypt, Italy, Barcelona, London and Paris. My husband and I had been together for 8 and a half years at this point, and he knew what this trip meant to me – it had been my life dream for almost 20 years, and I’d saved and sacrificed, planned and studied my ass off to get us here.

No doubt I’ll write a lot more about my time in Cairo and Egypt in general in later posts, but this one has to be about the pyramids. They are Egypt. They are the first image conjured in the minds of the masses when they hear the word “Egypt.” And I was going to see them.

Driving through Cairo, we passed piles of garbage, stacked in gutters along the sides of the roads. The government and politics were shaky at the time of our visit, and our guide, Medo, told us that the government had shut down the garbage collection service at that point. Still driving through what seemed to be suburbs, he asked us what our first impressions were of the pyramids. “What are you on about?! We haven’t seen them yet!” He pointed out the window of our cosy little minibus. Our five jaws dropped in unison. There they were, towering over the now pathetic, small bridges and buildings we were passing. Holy crap… there they were.

Approaching the pyramids was surreal. Husband kept asking if I was ok because I was so quiet. Yup, I was ok. I was in shock, but I was ok. Was I seriously doing this? Me, who has been mediocre, average, extraordinarily and definitely NOT special my whole life, was I seriously here achieving my life goal? Yeah, I’m ok honey…

After viewing and photographing them from the viewing plateau, we made our way down through the maze of tour buses and sock-and-sandle clad tourists, to come up close with these … I’m not actually sure what word would sum them up to be honest! The individual blocks they were built from were bigger than me but an extraordinarily long way… they were truly something to behold.

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We were both speechless, as we stood before these monstrous monuments of a time long past. Long past, but still so vivid and clear. Made even clearer upon entering one of them… the small, precisely cut tunnels, the exact, right-angled corners of the rooms and inner sanctums, the elegant simplicity of the alter we saw.. Conspiracy jokes aside, maybe they did have some help from the aliens! How these magnificent structures were built by hand is truly incomprehensible.

Nothing could take away from this incredible experience for me – not the stinky camels, the pushy salesmen, the children looking for your money, not a damn thing.

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We climbed up a few blocks into one of the beauties, just sat there quietly, taking it all in… it was one of those incredibly rare moments in my life, maybe one of the first true moments, that I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be, and that in that moment, everything was perfect.

There I was, on the other side of the world, at the age of 27, having truly achieved the dream that started at 8 years old… Against all the odds, I’d done it. And in that moment, endless possibilities opened up…