The excess of Christmas continues to despair me. Such a waste. Such misguided expression. Such a perpetual feeding of our consumer driven world, and a distraction from the things that matter - family, love, hope, and humanity.
So I wanted to share some of the places we could all direct our spending, to do some good in the world instead, or as well, as the excess. For people who most need it - those faced with little hope.
With the glow of the Season's Greetings lights across Victoria Harbour on my recent visit to Hong Kong, here are my current Top 5 better places to throw your cash this Christmas:
SisterWorks - a Melbourne community group project working on empowering asylum seeker, refugee and migrant women, to find employment, and ultimately support them to gain the better life they dreamt of. Microfinance is something I really think is helpful for many people around the world, and the value of the additional emotional support goes without saying!
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, also in Melbourne, is a community organisation that provides me with hope of a better Australia everyday. Their work in advocacy and real support to the people who need it blows me away all the time. The ASCR Christmas Appeal supports their ongoing work, of which 95% of funds come from community donations. These funds go to help with providing meals and groceries, legal assistance and case support, employment services, education and development programs, as well as a much needed accessible health service.
A friend of mine does a monthly grocery drive for the ASRC Food Bank, which I am impressed with every time she posts about it. I would love to be part of one. Give me a shout out if you want to form one together!
The situation in Syria is the world's current tragedy that makes my eye leak the most over this past year. There is so much that is needed for the people of Syria, but whilst the war rages, the basics are really the only realistic thing you and I can help with at this time. Assistance for some 6 million displaced people is what's needed, which is a mammoth task. The UN World Food Program was facing a funding crisis in their ability to continue to provide basic food supplies to those in need in Syria, and thus launched this appeal to call for funds to keep this vital assistance available. So, here is the link for the Syria Emergency UN WFP Appeal.
Closer to home is the need for disadvantaged Aussie families, and the gift of the joys of childhood - books, being read to, and having toys to play with. Buy a book for a child in need, through the Smith Family Toy And Book Appeal.
I always add a goat, or a cow, or something useful from the Oxfam Unwrapped Christmas Gifts to my Secret Santa wishlist, but never get one! No one thinks I am serious, but I am. A sustainable gift to a community, to help them feed and support themselves, is always a wish of mine!
These are the things that would bring back some of the idea of the Christmas spirit to me, and I'll be spreading donations across these 5 amazing causes over the weekend to try and bring me a little cheer as we read of the horrors going on in the world. May 2015 be a year where we win, more than we cry for humanity.
Please feel free to add any worthwhile causes YOU feel passionately about this Christmas, in the comments, for us all to consider, and give!
Like walking into the Colluseum in Rome, walking into the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens seemed to have a sense of ceremony, and an echo of a whisper of an ancient wild and full crowd roar. Even on a hot Summer's day in June, with only a handful of other tourists around, and a pretty modern and formal looking function being set up in the centre of the stadium!
I got to this stadium of dreams and memories, and the place of the Opening Ceremony of the Athens Olympics, whilst I walked from ancient ruin to ancient site around central Athens. The entry fee was next to nothing, which included a free audio tour, and free reign to wander the stands and the under-passage entrance to the field.
The marble Panathenaic has been reconstructed, but is the stadium which held the first modern Olympics, back in April of 1896. Here, 14 countries competed, with all male competitors. The first medal was awarded that opening day, for the triple jump, and the Marathon, which finished in the Stadium, was the first win by a Greek.
These two royal boxes are the only variation around the stadium of seating - now for 45,000 but once at an 80,000 capacity - but are actually the second version of these, after the view was thought to be better in the middle of the hairpin design rather than midway through the longer section.
The double headed herms in the middle of the track are striking, said to be gods overseeing the athletic pursuits set to happen around them. According to some, the heads are that of Apollo and Dionysus, traditional Greek gods of arts. The audio guide spoke of them representing young and old.
The vaulted passageway was another feature to stand out in this uniform stadium of marble seating - as a visitor, I could trace the steps of athletes ancient and recent, as this was the entry for competitors for the first and most recent Olympics here. Inside the tunnel, there was an exhibit with some further history about then events that have been held here in this great stadium of the world.
As a sports fan, a visit here to the Panathenaic was pretty special. All that history and sense of occasion held within the horseshoe bowl of seating. The hopes and dreams of athletes and indeed nations, all whisper around here, with sport still being a great social equaliser. A meaningful visit this European summer.
One of the most beautiful sunsets in the world is usually seen from two top vantage points on the Greek island of Santorini - this is the town of Fira, one of these places, getting ready for the sun to dip into the water. The whites seem more brilliant as the sun gets closer and closer to the sea.
The octagonal marble clock tower of the Roman Agora in Athens is striking, and enchanting. It has a weathervane, and a sundial. The deities around the top are wind gods. Inside was a water clock, which was triggered by the water running down from the Acropolis above. Ancient science is fascinating!
Apparently the ARIAs happened in Australia this week, although I feel pretty removed from the First World whilst here at work. Still, I usually do a Top 5 Favourite Albums of the year post around this time, so here it is....
1 Chet Faker's Built On Glass - loved it from the first listen, and have listened to it pretty consistently since. Chilled,
2Stay Gold by First Aid Kit. Love this sound from the Swedish female duo. So beautiful, and some very poignant tracks.
3 Dan Sultan's Blackbird was probably my most played tunes over this year.
4 Black Keys and their Turn Blue, followed me around this year in my iPod, and all around on my travels. Loved it!
5 Tough call, because again I have been pretty removed from new music and new albums this year because of travel and work. I would have to put Slow Dancer's Surrender here. Former guitarist for Oh Mercy, I loved these tracks from the moment we heard them live when he played as support to the band, and the album release this year is very good.
End of November is always good, as it's the end of the hard slog for NaBloPoMo - although this year was another fail, with 2 posts planned but not completed and published. Just way too hard here at work!
Having watched the process as I waited for my flight to leave, I can tell you that someone mans the gate just outside the airport, and when they receive a radio-ed message from the air traffic control tower, they close the gate.
Planes land on the strip which has ocean at either end of it, just after the main road, and rumour has it, just 50 metres to spare in terms of regulation length based on the class of planes that land.
Here is an Our Airlines plane landing, obscuring the parliament buildings on the island.
Once the plane has landed, and taxi-ed into the airport building, the road remains closed because the plane will off load people and cargo, then reload and take off again.
It's a pretty unique experience, and pretty amusing the first few times!
After the ceremony, and drinks and photos, the gathering for Jessica and Heath wedding made their way around the corner to the Queen Victoria Market Deli Hall.
Greeting guests were the amazing catering staff for the night, and a spread of cheese and antipasto that was sensational! More mingling, great food, and champagne.
This most beautiful venue was so unique - only one other wedding has been held here, with the light from the skylights as the sun was fading, and then the lit up stores along each of the two main corridors of the Hall. Just stunning!
Heath and Jessie entered the Hall and joined the party. Their speeches began the night.
Starters were served, and before I knew it it was time for me to make the family speech on behalf of myself, sisters, Mum and Dad. Max followed me, for Heath's family.
Then mains were served - the food was so very good!
Next was the traditional cutting of the cake, which was served as dessert, and then the bride and groom hit the dancefloor!
A totally romantic dance ensued, with the two of them having so much fun, and delighting the adoring audience. And then the rest of the party was invite to join, and the playlist kept people there. There was a moment when all the girls from Jess' Hen's took over the space in the Hall for dance, with the vaguely remembered moves for The Look.
It was such an incredible day and night, for such a lovely couple. A day so very them, with all the details. Everything ran perfectly, and it was such a happy occasion. So lovely!
I wandered through Syntagma Square in Athens while getting around the city taking in the sights, but didn't time it for the changing of the guards at the Parliament Building. Nonetheless, I got to see the guards, and their pretty uniforms, being pestered by a throng of tourists trying to get selfies with them. They stayed as stoic as they are supposed to - stern and still. Check out that pompom at the tip of his shoes - how can they take themselves seriously with that there!?!
I can't tell you how excited I was to discover so much Athens street art - it was scattered throughout the neighbourhood I stayed in, and then would also pop up in my wanderings around the city, sightseeing.
The top one, which echos Picaso, was a couple of doors down from my apartment building entrance and helped me know I was home. The hatted purple man was also a similar landmark for my stay and wanderings, and I was always happy to see him, meaning I was on the right path of laneways and little streets to get home!
After traveling to world for some 15 years now, predominately solo, and visited 54 countries and counting, there are a number of cities across the globe that I love, and yearn to go back to. And several of these I do go back to, frequently. One is the place I consider home, as much as life at the moment allows that notion.
My Top 5 Favourite Cities:
1New York. This raging metropolis has been top of my list right from my very first visit back in 1999 - and I have been back 5 times now, with my last visit an opportunity to show it to my little sister. The magic of the Brooklyn Bridge, the wonder of wandering different neighbourhoods and getting totally different vibes for each, and the fact that there is always something happening somewhere, all appeal. The frantic bustle, the buzz and energy, and the possibilities, all make me dream of living there one day.
2 Tokyo - the Asian New York. But Tokyo is more perfected, more precise and efficient. So easy to get around, the food is amazing, the people are so cute, hip, and super friendly. I loved the energy and the cultural polar opposites at every turn. I'd love to return one day.
3 Phnom Penh. A city and country that got under my skin when I lived and worked there as a volunteer some 12 years ago now, and always feel a yearning to return. I would live and work there again in a heartbeat, for the right role. Going back early last year, the elements that I loved and hated about living in the city were ever present, reminding me of the buzz of the place - the amazing people and the killer traffic and pollution, the feeling of humanity from the way most people live and then the huge disparity between the rich and poor, the sense of rebuilding and resilience and then the evidence of the persistent corruption. The food, the buzz of new places to patronage, the feeling that just being there amongst it gives, as if you are somehow in the middle of something happening, something good and real and reborn.
4 Toronto. Just three months living there, admittedly over Summer (I am not sure I would survive a Canadian Winter!), was enough to know that this is a city that feels very much like home. And it IS very similar to Melbourne in many ways - the multiculturalism, the notion that there is always a festival going on somewhere, there is a great music scene, and different neighbourhoods are different little pockets across the city.
5Melbourne, of course. One of the world's most livable cities, so the city finds itself claiming every year - and where I would sit still if the planets aligned again for that to happen (Hmmm, I am not sure what that would take, though!). The city that is my benchmark for everywhere else, in terms of what I want in a city - good sports events, a buzzing music scene, easy to get around, neighbourhoods that are unique from each other and have their own distinct character. Multiculturalism is what makes Melbourne so vibrant and full of so many amazing and diverse events, all year round. Good food, and always something new to discover and track down.
One of the most popular buildings for Open House Melbourne, for many years running now, is the Russell Street Substation. The opportunity to go underground in the city, and check out a live electricity zone substations, gets an almost constant line up for the weekend. It's worth waiting to get a look, and the full personalised tour, to this unique part of our city!
Once at the front of the line, in the alleyway off Little Collins and Bourke Streets, you need to kit up for the experience. This means full length industrial grey jackets and a hard hat over a hair net! Not everyday you would donn such an outfit, unless working in such a place is your day job.
For the guys for whom this is their day job, you can tell it is a labour of love the moment they begin the tour, for which they have volunteered their weekend to deliver all day, both days of OHM. Their enthusiasm and knowledge, and obvious joy at showing off their little hub of electricity, is brimming.
Once down on the level below, the tour groups are taken through the rooms below, which house the equipment which was part of the first public electricity supply in the southern hemisphere. It it also the last substation to supply DC to local businesses, as last as just 8 years ago.
But the gem of the visit, along with the quirky electrical conductors and transformers, are the blue glowing mercury arc rectifiers. Looking like something from an outer space alien movie, these illuminated glass bulbs (turned on and off by tour participants) are still running just for show, and given their age and lack of actual use now, when they go out or break down, that will be the end of them at this location.
Worth going along just to see this weird and strange science in Melbourne, that cannot be repaired when it reaches it's natural end. But the dress-ups and the fun tour guides make this a don't-miss for Open House Melbourne.
Being in Hong Kong this week, I managed to walk down through the Occupy Central site, where tens of thousands of students are camping out to protest the democratic process in Hong Kong, whereby they can vote directly for their Chief Executive, rather than having a group China approves for election. This pro-democracy fight is to seek to be governed by the people Hong Kong choose. This protest began in September, and is now into it's 55th day today.
The symbol of the umbrella, and the vision of one protester walking through a cloud of tear gas with an umbrella raised, has been likened to the image of Tank Man in the Tiananmen Square. Powerful stuff!
Walking through the protest area was pretty easy, as many people were walking in, and very many office workers were sitting eating lunch around the tents. Lending their support.
The set up of the site is pretty impressive - there are recycling waste stations, there are several First Aid tents, and all the way through there are structures build to allow safe passage across the usual road barrier between lanes. There is a Social Work tent.
Students are the majority of those camped, and so in the middle of it all there is a study tent and library, which seemed to hold the most people when I walked through.
In addition to all this are the amazing art displays, and powerful and inspiring slogans of peace, hope and freedom. The Lennon Wall is a stairway covered in post-it notes filled with messages.
The umbrella symbol is used everywhere in the pro-democracy signs and messages. And then, it's also used in art, such as this sewn-together canopy between two of the city's elevated walkways.
It was inspiring, walking through the protest. So much symbolism, and the sheer volume of people camped was so impressive! Many people, of all ages, were around making art or gathering in discussions in tents or communal areas.
The camp sprawls along a major multi-lane city arterial, and then creeps through side streets to position in front of several key government buildings. It has disrupted traffic, and access to many buildings, for all these months.
The day I was there was the first day where protesters where ordered by court order to move some of the camping set ups, for access to certain buildings. Bailiffs were reportedly moving some people along, who were peacefully complying. An article that I read quoted one of the organisers of the protest as saying that perhaps it was time to start moving along, and beginning a new direction for the pro-democracy movement.
I saw police gathered, moving barricades in a certain area. A heavy media presence was there, and added security in the same area.
I hope things from here remain peaceful, as is the aim, as well as the continued voice and fight for Hong Kong democracy. In a world that seems so often politically apathetic, this protest has reminded me that people can stand up for things that matter, than mean something, with the right, motivated leaders.
I was sent this petition after posting some of my photos on Instagram - check it out and throw them some support.
Admittedly, I didn't know what there was to see and do when I planned my trip to Athens, I just knew that I wanted to go. Checking pictures of the city online, I could not really get a handle on the city sprawl with the old ruins sitting on the mountain in the middle of it all. It looked pretty unreal!
My first stop on my first day of exploring was to get up to the Acropolis, to see what it was all about. I got the Metro to the foot of the hill, and made my way up with all the other tourists of the day.
Walking through the chaos of the entrance, through the hoards of tour groups, I made it up the stairs, past the amazing Temple to Athena Nike, and through the arches and columns to the top of the hill. Taking in the size of the Parthenon - 17 columns down, and 8 across - the obvious craftsmanship and detail, before sweeping my eyes across the view of Athens city all around, below.
Walking to the back of the open section on the Acropolis hill, I could take in both impressive ruin structures, in addition to spotting each of the other ancient structures dotted around below, as far as the eye could see. It gave me a good idea of what to aim for next in my Athens sights exploring, and map out a bit of a path, in real visualisation.
Once I made it back down the hill, and past the Theatre of Dionysus halfway down, I followed my mapped out directions and found a much needed shade break with lunch, along a pretty tourist street between the Acropolis and Hadrian's Arch - an ancient arch sitting next to a very busy modern intersection of traffic. Old meets new!
Back to walking, and crossing the road at the arch, I got to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, with a number of columns still standing to give you an impression of the size of this structure in it's day. The massive park space showed off ruin pieces of the structure, and one columns was left laid when it had fallen, showing the sections making up the tall column - was pretty cool!
From here I wandered to the Panathenaic Stadium, before returning to go into the new Acropolis Museum, before climbing the Filapappou Hill for a spectacular sunset.
The next day, I continued with the ruin trail, getting to the other side of the hill and seeing more of the works from the Ancient Greeks. These columns along the wall are the strongest ruins left of Hadrian's Library. The ones below are those found at the Roman Agora and the beautiful Temple of the Winds.
These sights were fascinating, and impressive. Plus, walking around to see them allowed me to get a feel for the city around these ancient ruins. A perfect city visit for me!
Serious Tip: Each of these sites are walking distance from each other, which is how I got around to see them - in the heat. Several gelato stops were needed, of course, and there are plenty of places to stop and rest, and take in the views of the buildings of the Ancient Greeks, and indeed the modern Greeks too!
Time Spent: Across 2 days of walking, and stopping for meals, and to be home before it was too dark, I managed to get around to each of these. You could cram them all in in one day, if needed.
At the beginning of this month my sister Jessica got married! She and Heath had such an incredibly gorgeous day, with every detail so very them! The beautiful ceremony was held in the atrium of the Mercat Cross Hotel.
The girls stayed in a hotel just down the road in Williams Street, and so once hair and make up for all had been done, and glasses of champagne consumed along the morning's preparations, it was take to make our way together to the ceremony.
We took the tram! The looks from people on this quiet work day in the city as bride, 2 sparkly bridesmaides, and Mum and myself and Melissa made our way to the tram stop were pretty funny!
Once at the stop at the Queen Victoria Market, we all walked through the laneway through it, in blazing sunshine.
After final moments of readying at the bottom of the stairs, each of us took our positions - each of her sisters, Mum and Kelly were positioned along Jessie's walk to the front and to where Heath stood.
As Jessie made her way up the stairs, through the gathering of loved ones, she collected a section of her gorgeous bouquet from each of us - as Viv sang Mango Tree by Angus And Julia Stone. It was magical!
Once at the top, with her completed bouquet tied up by Mum, the ceremony commenced. Dianna conducted the ceremony, making it even more special and personalised.
Vows, tears and laughs, sunshine and music. Angus And Julia Stone's The Wedding Song, and Bella, played as they signed the registry. And then they were married!
The gathering mingled, chatted, drank and met each other. They came and congratulated the new married couple, and I got to catch up with family. The Bridal Party and families went across the road to get some more formal photos taken, while the party began in this beautiful space.
Once back from my portion of photos, I got to mix with the crew and catch up with people I haven't seen for ages. Daggs and I took over some champagne and water to the wedding party as they had more photos taken, which looked like they were having such a great time!
Before long, the word was passed along that it was time to make our way around the corner to the reception venue. Such a lovely start to this most beautiful day.