Friday, October 31, 2014

Pakistan Plays Australia In Dubai

A tour for Australia to play Pakistan in the UAE sounded like the perfect excuse to catch some cricket, and visit my first Arab land in my travels, in the absence of tours getting to travel to Pakistan in the current, ongoing political climate. I managed to get along to just the first 2 days of the test, around my other commitments around the world!

The Waving The Flag group caught a mini-bus from our hotel to the ground. The Dubai International Cricket Stadium - or Sports City as it had emblazoned on all signs, was by the highway loops in the desert inland from the Dubai Marina. An unusual view coming into the cricket group - sand and desolate space. Despite the free entry to the ground for all patrons, our small group was half of the attendance for both days, sadly.

The Aussies lost the toss, and were send out into the field in the blazing heat - with a cracking start! A wicket each from pacemen regulars Johnson and Siddle in the first 4 overs gave our Aussie flag wavers something to jump out of our seats and make some noise about.

But that's really where Australia left it, with the Pakistani batsmen having their way with our 2 debutante bowlers, piling on the runs. The first day ended with the score at 4/219.

Day 2 was much of the same - hot and many runs from Pakistan. The most interesting part of the days play was seeing the blood spill from Zulfiqar Babar, after receiving a sharp ball to the glove. He retired hurt as a result, and then shortly after at Tea, the "home side" finished their First Innings at 454.

The Australian openers got a start before losing their first wicket, and the end of the day's play had Warner set for a Ton on tour the next day.

I was flying home for Days 3, and probably Day 4 too, and upon hearing the scores, wasn't too sad about that! Pakistan finished the game on Day 5, defeating Australia by 221 runs. The next test begins in Abu Dhabi this week...the Aussies hoping for a better show!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Views Above And Across Hobart

Tasmania has just been listed by Lonely Planet as one of the top regions of the world to visit in 2015. In my visit to the Apple Isle of Australia in the middle of this year, I took the chance to pop down to Hobart to visit 2 of my favourite people in the world - and they showed me these amazing Winter views of their city.

Mount Nelson was the first of the high points. Driving up to the Signal House, we got out into the chilly morning air - so fresh! - and took in the cloud covered valleys below. Further outward, the view included the point where the Derwent River mount meets the sea, off into the horizon.

Next, we made our way up the windy roads to get to Mount Wellington. Here, the morning sun once again gleaned off the waters below, and highlighted the clouds lingering around the river valleys.

Stunning, natural views of Australian landscape. Fresh air, Aussie bush smells and colours. One of the many reasons for Tassie to make such a worldwide travel list!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beautiful Building In Neighborhood Athens

Athens was such a surprise to me - I am not sure what I was expecting, but it had it all. This gorgeous building was in the neighbourhood of the AirBnB apartment that I stayed in, and caught my eye. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On Top Of The World - The Burj Khalifa SKY

From the highest viewing platform in the world, inside and out on a balcony of the tallest building in the world, you can see for miles and miles. The spread of Dubai's buildings, the sea and the desert, all at your feet.

I had agreed to going along to the At The Top experience with the girls, which reached the 124th floor; but then heard that a higher level was just opened at the Burj Khalifa a mere 5 days before we rode the elevators to these heights. 148 floors up, with an outdoor viewing platform, and an added view at the 125th floor - the At The Top SKY. So I did both!

The difference between the two was immediately obvious (apart from the price tag), when we were ushered into a plush Departure Lounge within Dubai Mall for the SKY experience at our designated visit time, and introduced to our personal guides. We were served Arabic coffee and stuffed dates, before we were split into smaller groups to take the ride up.

Walking past the crowds lined up for the At The Top experience, we were taken through the Fast Track lane, past the many screens and boards of information about the building of the great building, and to the specific elevator to the 125th floor. Once at this level, just 1 minute and 20 second after leaving the ground floor, we changed lifts to ascend to the 148th.

Greeted by a plethora of staff at this lounge in the sky, offering juice refreshments and morsels of treats such a tiny macaroons and baklava, we then took in the sweeping views from the floor to ceiling glass windows.

Taking a seat by the window and enjoying the service was the height of luxury, much of one half of this level felt like a posh hotel lobby, rather than an observation deck.

Taking ourselves away from the beautiful seating, we all started working our way along the windows in an anti-clockwise direction, picking out the bits of Dubai we had become familiar with from our touristy days prior.

We could see the buildings of Sharjah, and Bur Dubai, and then worked our way along the sea edge view.

Possibly the only vantage point of The World was found here, other than boarding a light plane for the experience. The World is the man-made island formation off the Dubai coast, a resort to resemble the continents of the world.

Looking out towards the Dubai Marina skyscrapers, and the iconic Burj Al Arab, we had the sinking sun as a backdrop for this, making the view even more magical.

Reaching the other side of the building, we could venture out onto the balcony and feel the heat whilst looking down on the world below. Here, the decked balcony had seats to comfortably enjoy the view - and railings along the edge, if needed! Watching the traffic flow around the spiderweb of roads, and the movement around the Dubai Mall fountains, felt like eavesdropping on the world below.

Once we had had our fill of the cracking view at this level, and enjoyed another juice to cool off, we took the elevator back down to floor 125, for some more views.

This level is pretty much empty space, letting the outside vistas speak for themselves. From here we could look down to the balcony on the 124th level, and all the people taking in the city views from there.

The shadows the Burj Khalifa made upon the ground all that way down below were very impressive.

The very top level available to the public (we were told there are office spaces and the like all the way up to the 160th floor) was far superior to the 124th experience. The higher level wowed, when I actually expected it to be fairly similar. Well worth the added cost, for the extra ear-popping elevator experience, and breath-taking views - in addition to the personalised service right through the experience.

Jouljet Notes
Serious Tip: Tickets for either level should be booked in advance online or at the ticket office in Dubai Mall, slotting into a specific time.
Time Spent: The information stated that we would have just 30 minutes at the top level, and then as long as we liked down on 125. In reality, no one moved us along from floor 148, and we enjoyed a generous amount of time up there, taking in the views.
Cost: The At The Top SKY experience is 400DHS, or around $124
Quirky Tip: It helped to have a bit of an internalised map of Dubai from my day of being a tourist in the city, which meant I knew what areas and buildings I was looking at from all the way in the sky.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Booze For A Cause, On My Birthday

A combination of some of my favourite Melbourne things are coming together on Monday night - one of my favourite bars, Los Barbubos, is hosting a Scarf fundraising event. This will support the initiative to assist young people struggling to find employment to develop skills and confidence in the hospitality field. A real leg up to people who need it, to get their working lives started.

Oh! And there is a food truck!

It also happens to be my birthday, so that sounds like the perfect way to gather and mark the occasion! See you there! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hanging Around - Kids In Honiara

These kids were just hanging in this tree in the afternoon I happened to visit the US War Memorial in Honiara. The memorial has many marble upright slabs, telling tales and displaying the names of those lost in battles that have occurred around Guadalcanal - the main island of the Solomon Islands.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Exploring The Shipwreck Of My Lady Lata II

Swimming above and around the rusted hull of My Lady Lata II, and it's rusting companion off Pangaimotu Island off Nuku'alofa in Tonga was like something straight out of the footage of the Titanic - on a much smaller, and up close scale, of course!

I went along with a couple of lads from Fafa Island Resort, and battled through my non-swimmer status to be able to float around the impressive half-submerged ships.

There are two of them, but My Lady Lata II is the most well-known, stuck indefinitely just off the edge of Pangamotu, which makes for interesting viewing from the basic visitors resort and restaurant on the shore. My Lady Lata II was caught up in a cyclone some 12 years ago, and there she has stayed, half exposed to the air. The second ship that you can see, just next to the upended Lady, ran into mechanical trouble, and there it remains some 7 years later.

Having the railings of the deck of either vessel appear in my snorkelling goggles was well worth battling my fear of drowning, and swimming in the depth of the ocean.  Rusted, but still essentially intact, the light from the sun shining down gleams through the windows and doorways, in an eerie way. Even from the surface, I could see the details of the stairways and ladders, and also the new life forms of fish and the like in and around both hulls.

There is a strange beauty in seeing a man-made object abandoned like this, with nature continuing around it, and making it home.

Jouljet Notes
Serious Tip: I went across with staff from Fafa Island Resort, who were on a day off - however you can get across to Pangamotu via a daily boat in the morning, returning in the afternoon, from Nuku'alofa wharf. Many daytrippers do this each day, but especially on Sunday, when then rest of Tonga closes down for church.
Time Spent: We went across the Pangamotu from Fafa for a couple of hours to include lunch, but our swim was probably about half an hour to 45 minutes, being as long as we could stand the idea of the itchy little jellyfish like organisms in the water all around us near the ships.
Cost: A day trip across to Pangamotu from Nuku'alofa is $20.
Quirky Tip: A better swimmer than me could get closer, and swim in and around the cabin of the ship, which looked pretty amazing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Miss Nughu On A Sunday

She followed me around with her friends, when I walked through her village on Nughu in the Solomon Islands. I went to see the village, and what the people were up to on their Sunday. She then returned to her job for the day, bringing vegetables home for the family dinner, wrapped in big banana leaves - but stopped for just a moment for a hello, and a photo. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hibiscus Of Fafa

Throughout the tiny island of Fafa, two different colours of hibiscus floated down from the trees dotted around, and appeared in my path across my week there.

On both sides of the island on the beach, and also dotted along the path through the centre of the island, which was dense in parts with rainforest foliage.

These flowers often lined my path back to my fale from the restaurant or shared facilities, or lay around my private accommodation area, below the hammock and around the banana lounges.

A reminder of how tropical the island was, these flowers added to the overall special feel to the island getaway in Tonga - peaceful, pretty, and perfect!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Urban Workshop - Open House Melbourne

Melbourne manages to mix the modernity of new, sleek skyscrapers with the history and beauty of the previous structures in many instances across the city - The Urban Workshop in Lonsdale Street is one such example.

Glass and newness is the appearance of this building from the street, but stepping into the foyer for a peak into the secrets of the building during this year's Open House Melbourne, I was greeted with timber-featured cafe, and the stone interior marking the history of this block. Little did I know that there was so much more to the space, as my tour took us through all the quirky details.

Walking in from the street, I noticed the wording under foot in stone - and was later informed that this lettering is an ode to the former slum and red light district of the large city block - Little Leichardt.

Within the foyer, as our tour commenced, we were taken to see the cesspool artefacts, held in a circular display cabinet. We were told of the extensive archaeological done on this site, in the early 2000s - which my little sister was involved in around her studies - before the tall, new building was built over the top of it.

This area was one of the first, vibrant neighbourhoods of Melbourne, with homes and businesses, and brothels, within the grid of narrow back alleys.

Our guide showed us the round plaques around the new modern foyer of this city building, where clusters of things were found during the excavation, such as a concentration of dolls, for example, where they know a family cottage once stood.

Then the cabinets in the centre of the foyer displays the array of bits of bobs also found during the dig - everyday living tools, from household items, to coins, and even preserved plant forms. From this, the dig team have pieced together much of the life from those days, a major part of the history and beginnings of Melbourne.
From the ground floor, our tour was taken up to the 33rd floor, where we were allowed to check out the office floor of Australian Super - the sweeping city and Dandenong Ranges views from the board room and their open plan office space, to the bird's eye view of the CBD from the break-out lunch and break room end of the building.

How would anyone get any work done with such a view?

Another great behind-the-scenes look into a Melbourne building - although many of the ground floor features of this could be seen by walking in off the street, for the very curious.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Mapu'a'aVaca Blowholes - A Stunning Ocean-Crashing Phenomenon

Waves crashing into the shore, and seconds later spraying up into fountains, for as far as the eye can see. These are the blowholes on the north-western edge of Tonga's Tongatapu island, and definitely worth a look. Stunning and surprising, there is such beauty in the way that the ocean and coral formations play together, at every wave.

Part of my day trip around the main island of Tonga took in this sight, and with no or low expectations of the sight from the guidebook, I was captivated by this wondrous natural sight.

Running for at least 5kms along the coast, there is a viewing platform, but our guide had our small group stand along from that, to get closer to the water. From here we could see the rock shelves and little pools between the waves. The colours, and depths were beautiful, and then a wave would come in, and seem to explode with water up into the air!

We had a child in our group, and he was at first interested, and then scared at the unpredictability of the water fountains - they varied so much in height and volume. The rest of us, however, were fascinated, and could have watched for hours.

Jouljet Notes
Serious Tip: Get down and close to the rock edge, to see the full coast of blowholes, for the full effect.
Time Spent: It was about a 45 minute drive from Nuku'Alofa, through villages, to get there. We stayed for about 30 minutes, but definitely could have stayed longer.
Cost: Part of my day tour from Fafa Island, so difficult to pin point how much this was for me. But I am sure you can negotiate a driver/taxi from town, to bring you out to see these.
Quirky Tip: Going along to see these with such low expectations made this natural phenomenon even more magical, because I had no idea what we were seeing and why! That's what makes travelling so amazing!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Island Transport

Simple, but effective. The fishing boat tied up just before the village on Nughu Island, in the Solomon Islands. From our beachside huts for the weekend, we could see convoys of these heading out in the late afternoon, in search of dinner for the evening.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Churches Of Nuku’Alofa

Tonga is one of those places with a church on every other corner.

On my first wander around Nuku'alofa, I discovered many of them around town, and stopped to take them in. All so diverse, and yet all a form of deep Christianity that runs through the Tongan way of life with such strength. 

Reading up on my visit to Tonga, one of the most recommended things to do was to attend a church service on a Sunday. As it happened, the week I was in the country was the week of the funeral of one of the King's cousins, as my plane-mates informed me on the flight over.

A day trip arranged by my Resort, myself and a family who was also staying on the island, were taken to the Centennial Church in Nuku'Alofa. As I arrived back on the main island of Tonga from Fafa, I could hear the bells of the many churches ringing out across the small capital, signalling Mass would commence shortly.

This is the church that the royal family attends in town, and the expectation was that the King and Queen would attend. Not the most architecturally impressive church, like the one pictured above which is the Free Church of Tonga, the Centennial was open doors all the way along, and perhaps the biggest in town.

Being a week of mourning, many locals who were connected in some way wore black within their traditional Sunday best. This combination of white or black, and the grass thatched wrap, made for a beautiful sight within the congregation.

As more and more people poured into the church and filled the rows, the choir dressed in white gathered in the front and centre section. Being a few of the only foreign intruders at church, we sat to the side of the proceedings, but ensured we had a good view.

Suddenly we noticed that the Royal section was filled with both the King and his wife, ready for the Sunday service. They had arrived without ceremony, just as everyday members of the congregation.

And then the service began, and the singing filled the huge white room.

The service, of course, was all in Tongan, however the incredible singing did not have to be in any particular language to be amazing. The room of harmonising voices soared as each hymn was sung, by the whole room.

As with any Christian service I have ever attended, we followed along with the examples around us about when to stand and when to sit.

The choir of the youth of Nuku'Alofa had such beautiful singing voices, and made the service a memorable experience. One of those travel moments when you can't quite believe you have been fortunate to be included in something so local and real, and so special.

After church you could witness what the term "community" is all about, as with any church service around the world, with people catching up, chatting, and meeting with the elders within their congregation. Such a beautiful experience.

Jouljet Notes
Serious Tip: Our tour got us there early enough to watch people arriving, as well as being present for the service. Locals were friendly, and more than happy to engage with us as foreign intruders.
Cost: Church was free, but a contribution to the collection tray when it comes around is a nice way to give back for the experience
Time Spent: Sunday service was about an hour in length
Quirky Tip: People watching is the best here, watching as people within the community and extended family catch up at their weekly ritual. But also the fashion is so interesting! Watching the kids play outside during the service is also worth the distraction!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Happy Team At Hawthorn Go Back To Back - Premiers 2014

Amazingly, we got tickets in the Members' ballot for the fourth time and made our way very early last Saturday to the MCG for the big game.

This was after the week build up, which included the final training session out at Waverley, and then the GF Parade through the city, and many drinks afterwards to prepare for the big day ahead.

In the Standing Room bay as early as the gates opened, to ensure a spot at the front, we were in for a long, nervous wait.

As the times before, these hours did while away pretty fast, and before we knew it Sir Tom Jones was singing, then the teams ran out, and then the Australian anthem was sung. And then game on!

Hawthorn verses Sydney again, but this time with Buddy having switched teams. Bad luck for him, as it would be. Poetic justice, really!

The Hawks shot out of the blocks right from the first quarter, and played the game of their lives! A 63 point win in the end, and so many great individual stories! Hodge, and his second Norm Smith Medal. Clarko's illness during the year, and Bolton's caretaker role with a perfect record for the 5 games coached. The journeys of Langford and Spangher. The joy goes on!

Once the siren sounded we celebrated in our section, singing the song, and then cheered each of the Hawks as they went up to collect their medal from the day. We then joined the boundary line for the lap of honour.

Incredibly, we were at the very spot where Gibbo and Spangher jumped up over the fence with the cup for this exciting moment:

The night at the 'G continued as the entertainment was featured again, before the team was presented to the adoring crowd of Happy Hawthorn supporters. Another amazing premiership. Awesome to achieve the back to back streak.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Fafa Island Paradise

I found an island paradise when I was in Tonga, and it's too good to keep a secret!

Just the week before I traveled to this nation of islands, I had helped a client of mine look up the word paradise in the Arabic-English dictionary, after someone had used it sarcastically – little did I know that my following destination could very well have fulfilled the definition perfectly. Fafa Island is just a 30 minute boat ride from Nuku’Alofa on the main island of Tonga, and a world away from everything. A tropical oasis in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

When I arrived on the tiny island, my bags were taken to my fale, as I was introduced to the friendly Resort staff, and then the features of the traditional Tongan wooden hut that was to be all mine for the week. The king bed was clad with a mosquito net, and so comfortable. The bathroom was an enclosed open-air space to the back of the fale, and showering was like you were out in the jungle.

The staff took time to learn my name, greeted me each time they saw me around the island, and checked in to see if there was anything I needed. Being the last guest to arrive at dinner one night, one of the restaurant staff had said that they were just about to come and check in with me when I arrived, to ensure I didn't miss the kitchen hours - now that's service!

The island is environmentally conscious, with rainwater and solar panels keeping the amenities running. Everything was clean and simple, keeping the island as pristine and natural as possible.

A massage therapist is on site most days, based on bookings made the previous evening, and I took advantage of her services at the beginning of my week to ensure the worries of the world were completely gone. Day trips were also on offer, back to the main island and also to an adjacent one for snorkelling and swimming.

Each fale was enclosed from the other, so you truly felt like you were away from the world. A path down from the door to the water’s edge was provided, along with a hammock and pairs of deck chairs both in front of the fale and out at the sand and ocean.

Walking through the bushtrail in the middle of the island, I discovered rainforest-like coverage, and little entrances to the beach on the other side of the island. Tropical plants and flowers dotted the way, as did bird calls and fallen coconuts. The occasional spider web across the path told me how much I had this space to myself.

The morning light and the birdcalls were the only thing to wake me, and then each morning I found that a jug of hot water had been delivered to the table in front of my fale, for coffee. The oil lantern was also returned to the table just as darkness was falling, to light my return back from dinner at the restaurant not far along the beach.

The only thing to worry about each day was when meals were served in the restaurant. The decking overlooked the ocean, and at night oil lanterns lit the edges. A changing menu each day, the local starter was always a treat – banana wrapped in bacon was a winner! – before a three course meal was on offer. Once per week there is a Tongan cultural night, where a full BBQ buffet is on offer, as well as local dances put on my the staff, showcasing the different traditions of many of the islands around Fafa.

Originally, I had booked for a few nights, with a vague idea of researching the notion of exploring some of the other Tongan islands further afield. But once I had found this paradise, there was no need, nor desire, to leave! A week of walking around barefoot, spending time lazing in the hammock, lazy swims at high tide, snorkelling above the fish life and coral so close to the island edge, and taking a walk through the middle, or around the perimeter of the island most days – a much needed rest!

Jouljet Notes:
Serious Tip: The staff are amazing, and nothing is a hassle to them to help you enjoy your stay. Transfers to the island from the main island will be arranged around your needs.
Time Spent: One week. It is a half hour journey by boat from Nuku'alofa to Fafa, and the Resort will arrange this.
Cost: My fale was $259 per night, which is well over and above my usual style and budget for travel. But was worth it!
Quirky Tip: Watch out for the little treehouse in the middle of the island (I don't think you can get up to it, mainly because it doesn't look like it would hold anyone anymore), and the swing in the middle of the rainforested area.
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