As I focus on the light, my thoughts are with Paris.
I’ll admit I can be annoying to travel with. Usually I’m the first to shower and get dressed; I’m ready to go, walk, and explore.
But there are times when something slows me down enough that I instinctively reach for my camera.
It happened on a recent October morning in San Francisco. The view from the hotel room had me from the time I woke up until my reluctant trudge out the door. See the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and Alcatraz? Now, imagine watching them rouse as the light changes from semi-dark to pink to bright white.
Seeing San Francisco from this point of view gave me a whole new appreciation for the city. It was also a good reminder to stay in the moment.
If you haven’t been to St Petersburg, I encourage you – and even those vaguely interested – to get up and go. National Geographic Traveler recently named the city a top spot to “see now” based on the increased problem of flooding that affects a low-lying downtown. While this is a sound reason, and flood-control precautions are in place, it’s a beautiful city to visit just for the richness of culture. Travel for travel’s sake.
In my opinion, any time is a good time to go, but you’ll be able to fit in more during summer’s White Nights.
I wrote the following itinerary for The Daily Telegraph but please let me know if you’re planning a trip! The best things to do in four days in St Petersburg | DailyTelegraph
Cubans like their coffee short and sweet.
It’s called cafe Cubano, that shot of coffee covered with a rich layer of crema created by beating in sugar to render the liquid smooth and syrupy. This is what makes the coffee a Cuban one. And yes, it packs a punch. A shy, young girl on our culinary tour had a headache, but after a couple of shots from the local ventanita on Calle Ocho (Little Havana’s “Main Street”), she was buzzing about like a social butterfly. Coffee does that to you. Or maybe Little Havana was rubbing off on her. All I know is that I’d like to return for an empanada.
Today’s sweltering temps in LA remind me of an especially hot day my sister and I experienced while trawling a Louisianan swamp in Lafayette.
It was midday and 16 of us were seated in an open boat, called a crawfish skiff, melting under the sun but eager to spot some of the wetlands’ wildlife. I was just dying to see alligators — maybe because as an Australian I’ve never seen a crocodile in the wild. The cold-blooded creatures sun themselves on land to warm up, I heard the guide say from the back of the skiff, usually because their temperature drops after months of not eating. Today, however, they were proving elusive. Perhaps it was just too hot for them.
We traversed the swampy swamp for an hour, spotting egrets, hooting owls, American lotus flowers, and hundreds of dragonflies; even a pair of full-buttocked ancient cypresses, some 300 years old. Fanning myself with a flimsy piece of paper, I internally pleaded with the clouds to give us some respite from the sun’s rays. I was itching to stand up and growing agitated that I hadn’t yet caught a glimpse of the reptilian beast.
And then… two beady protrusions surfaced at water level. A ‘gator’s chartreuse coloured irises. They flicked with ambivalent curiosity as we all stared back at it. I tried locking eyes, but the ‘gator wasn’t having it. While taking photos, as if on cue, he gave us a peek of his scaly back. As the scarediest cat of all, I was hardly fazed. The mind is good at playing tricks like that. Apparently, it’s only when provoked that alligators attack.
When the alligator grew bored of us, we searched for more treasures, and encountered a throaty frog, scores of lily pads, multi-coloured lichen, little blue herons, and as luck would have it, sunbathing baby ‘gators. By the second hour, I was growing rather restless and secretly hoped the boat would pick up speed to cool us off.
With the tour finally coming to an end, and alligator spotting checked off my to-do list, I noted three takeaways from the experience:
One: Overcome fear by staring it in the face. See you later, alligator. (If it makes you feel better, apparently the alligator brain is the size of a peanut.)
Two: When in the Deep South, carry SPF at all times and reapply constantly.
And, three: In summer, wait until sunset to take a swamp tour, otherwise you’ll end up sitting in one yourself.
It doesn’t seem like it from up here, but over 110,000 people visit Las Vegas every day. With views like these, who needs a crowded casino floor?
For me, one of the best things about coming home after a long period away was feeling like a tourist. Suddenly, I wanted to do the touristy stuff listed in guidebooks. I managed to coax various family members into strolling the sights with me. Ultimately, some of my favourite moments were spent on, or in, the city’s landmarks including: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the botanical gardens, the Pacific Ocean, and hotel lobbies. I absolutely love the Westin Sydney’s lobby — it’s a microcosm of everything that is good about the city: spacious and sunny thanks to the glorious high-ceiling atrium, with great food, wonderful service, beautiful traditional architecture married with modern touches (it’s part of the redeveloped former General Post Office in Martin Place) and a high tea fit for two mad hatters –or chatterers — like us Chetner girls. Enjoy the views.
SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE
If Bridgeclimb is too pricey, climb its sandstone pylon. Thirteen dollars, plus 200 steps, later and you’re treated to 270-degree views that span the North Shore, Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and The Rocks — a historic precinct.
My dad, sister, and I were led by the experts of The Rocks Walking Tours on a rainy Monday morning. That didn’t dampen our spirits, however. Over 90 minutes, we learned so many quirks about this 1788-established settlement — also the site of Sydney’s first Chinatown — that to this day, my dad continues to rave about it.
Fact: Had it not been for a green ban instigated by residents in the 70s, this precinct would’ve been demolished.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
By the harbour, smack-bang in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, and a quick stroll from the Opera House rests Australia’s oldest botanical garden (it will be celebrating it’s 100th birthday in 2016). This bounty of natural beauty is a sensational spot to get some fresh air, traverse flourishing gardens, relax on the lawn, and just take in the city views. After getting some sun, I recommend hitting the city for a spot of high tea at the Westin in Martin Place…
After so many years of popping in for after-work champagne and cocktail peanuts at the Westin, my sister and I opted for the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. White-gloved service, Ruinart champagne, a bustling lobby bar, and much to catch up on… it was a wonderfully drawn-out day tinged with lots of nostalgia.
Though I went school and university oh-so-close to this area, my return heralded my first-ever walk from famous Bondi Beach to Coogee. No wonder it’s the site of the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. The oceanfront stroll is stunning! A good couple of hours were spent musing, photographing, and scribbling notes. It’s a must do, and I wonder why it took me so long to get there.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain