Our great weather experience continued as we woke up to sunny skies. We headed over to The Inn restaurant at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Jasper Inn & Suites and Suites for an excellent buffet breakfast. What a great start – scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes, French toast, hash browns, assorted yogurts, fresh fruits and juices, oatmeal and cereals and coffee and teas.
The highlight of our day was heading over to Maligne Lake, which is about 50 km’s from Jasper but well worth the drive. In fact, this was the highlight of this leg of the trip. The drive from Jasper followed a rushing river that was spectacular and provided great opportunities to wildlife sightings. With 7 of us in the car there were lots of eyes peeled for bears, caribou, moose and deer. Despite all the eyes, we only saw one deer on the drive up.
Maligne Lake is gorgeous and we got to see it first-hand on the boat cruise, which was recommended and booked, for us by the great staff at the Best Western Plus Jasper Inn and Suites.
The ninety-minute tour took us between two mountain ranges with close up views of glaciers, avalanche tracks, and a quick ten-minute stop at Spirit Island where we hiked the trails. Being one of the biggest glacier fed lakes the water is extremely frigid – it only get s to a high of four degrees. We were told by our tour guide, Josylyn that if you have the unfortunate experience of being submerged in these waters it would take no longer than ten minutes for hypothermia to set in. Our family stepped into the water for a picture so just being ankle deep in those waters was cold! The water is the most spectacular colour – a green-blue that they refer to as “emerald” in these parts. It’s really something to see and experience.
After the ten-minute hike we boarded the boat again for the ride back and we all stood on the back deck and took in the panoramic mountain views. It was quite the experience to be out like that experiencing the water and mountains so closely.
Too soon the boat tour was over and we were back on Maligne Road to Jasper. The ride back turned out to be quite the wildlife experience where we witnessed a couple deer and a black bear cub eating berries and grass at the side of the road. We stopped to take pictures from our van window and didn’t dare get out of the car. We figured a mother bear may have been looming close by but a few drivers did get out of their cars to snap some pictures. For the record, getting out of your car to take a picture of a bear is strongly discouraged!
Then is was back to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Jasper Inn & Suites where we tried their dinner special which included three courses for $26. I had the Caesar salad with New York Sirloin with mango-berries cheesecake for dessert and it was a really great deal. The service was fantastic as we reminisced about the great day we had just had.
After dinner, the kids got suited up for a swim in the pool and I joined them to work off that dinner. It was a perfect close to a perfect travel day.
What wildlife have you seen in your travels?
Today is the last day of the trip. I’ve got to ride from Pittsfield, Massachusetts all the way to Queens Village, New York before 3:00 pm to return the Electra Glide and catch my flight home.
Over eggs and sausage in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN Berkshire Hills Inn & Suites, I study my maps and brochures. I flip through the local newspaper, and notice that there are numerous local attractions to consider.
Nearby in Lenox is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops. The complex has both indoor and outdoor music venues, and is a fantastic place to hear music, see performances by major artists like Diana Krall, Garrison Keillor, Bernadette Peters, James Taylor and more.
Lenox is the year-round home of Shakespeare & Company, a major theatrical and educational institution for over 35 years. Shakespeare & Company is famous for its actor training program, and also produces new plays, revivals and classics with major actors and directors.
I focus on one cultural institution that I’ve always wanted to visit: The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. I know, he’s not classical music, he’s not Shakespeare, but I have always been enchanted with Rockwell’s work. The term “illustrator” is not derogatory in my mind. Rockwell was a working artist who produced work strictly on commission for most of his life. Illustrating and painting was his job — which doesn’t make his work any less “art.”
I’ve decided: I want to see some of Rockwell’s work in person, so I check out of the BEST WESTERN, fill the Electra Glide’s bags with my gear, and ride to Stockbridge.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is not an enormous place, just five or six galleries with probably a hundred works total on display at any one time. The museum’s collection includes 998 original paintings and drawings, and over 100,000 items in the Norman Rockwell Archives, but only a portion of that work is on display at any given time. The centerpiece of the museum is a central gallery that currently displays the original paintings from his most famous four-panel work, The Four Freedoms (1943). You’ve seen these iconic images, originally produced for the Saturday Evening Post and the United States Department of Treasury to stimulate the sale of war bonds. The most famous image, the family Thanksgiving dinner (Freedom from Want), is said to be one of the most reproduced works of art in history. Seeing it in person, any criticism of Rockwell seems high-minded and pretentious. This is a great painting by a master of his craft, and hundreds of years from now, people will still be admiring it. I’m glad I got to see the original with my own eyes.
Rockwell’s studio has been moved onto the grounds of the museum, and is open to the public between May and December. It’s a perfect little outbuilding for an artist, with fantastic light and few distractions. Many of Rockwell’s own painting tools and personal items have been staged in the room, and it feels like he just stepped away from the easel for a minute and will be back at any moment. After seeing Rockwell’s paintings and drawings, a peek at his studio is thrilling and moving.
Reluctantly, I have to leave the museum to get back to Queens Village. The ride is actually quite beautiful for much of the way. I pick up Route 41 and ride south, where I briefly ride in my seventh state in seven days, Connecticut. Even though I’m only in the state for minutes, it counts. If only I had detoured into Rhode Island a few days ago, I would really have something to brag about.
Now we’re getting in to commuting distance for New York City. There are many people who choose to commute in to Manhattan from as far away as Danbury, Connecticut, spending an hour or more in each direction on the train (or in their cars) every day for the privilege. I work out of my home now, and I don’t miss commuting at all. I marvel at those who choose that way of life, and I wonder why more of them don’t ride motorcycles. Imagine how much less crowded our roads would be, and how much easier everyone’s commutes would be if 10% of commuters switched from SUVs to motorcycles? It could happen — you never know.
I merge onto the Hutchinson River Parkway, and follow the tangled knot of highways toward Queens, across the Throg’s Neck Bridge and onto the Cross Island Parkway, with a toll or two along the way. Finally, I exit at Jamaica Avenue, and glide up to the EagleRider building at 2:30 pm, safely on schedule. They open up the garage. I park the Electra Glide, retrieve my suitcase and unload my gear. EagleRider is kind enough to call a car service for me to get back to JFK Airport, and I’m on my way home.
After seven days on a motorcycle through New England, I’m full of nostalgia. I’ve lived on the West Coast for over a decade, and I had forgotten how fantastic summer in the Northeast can be. I fled the winters, and now I’m longing for the summers. I wish that I had another week or longer just to explore Maine, which really took my breath away. I would love to ride all the way along the coast, and all the way inland to Caribou and even into Canada.
Maybe next summer?
Miles ridden: 151.9
Total Miles Traveled: 1,092.3
In January 2012, I went with G Adventures to the Falkland Islands. It was the first stop on a trip which included South Georgia Island and Antarctica. The Falklands is one of the places you seldom hear about unless it is in a news story about its disputed status between the UK and Argentina (who called it the Islas Malvinas). I found the Falklands to be a wonderful if not isolated, remote and barren collection of islands where penguins vastly outnumber people and tourists seldom visit.
I hope you enjoy viewing the photos as much as I did taking them.
Photo Essay : The Falkland Islands
The Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Opera House, The Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. Everyone has heard of these iconic places to visit in Australia and they should be on the travel bucket list of Australia experiences.
But, Australia’s diversity stretches across a country almost as big as the US and is filled with adventures and off the beaten path destinations that few international, and local, tourists venture to.
What if you could share the stories about your trip to Australia of beaches that you shared with sun baking crocodiles, nights spent sleeping in underground homes, or camping where koalas and kangaroos freely roamed around you?
Well now you can create those unique Aussie travel experiences.
15 off the Beaten Path Australia Experiences
1. River Red Gum National Park, NSW
I cannot rave enough about the River Red Gum National Park.
Kangaroos and koalas running freely in the wild, a national park all to yourself, free camping, kayaking the Murrumbidgee River, Australia’s second longest and mountain bike riding under the canopy of huge river red gums.
The River Red Gum is located near Wagga Wagga, NSW and close to the Victorian border and is a truly unique flora and fauna Australia experiences.
2. Glenworth Valley, Central Coast, NSW
Glenworth Valley is only a 20 minute drive from our home town and only an hour north of Sydney. We visited for the first time last month. and spent the weekend horse riding, quad biking, abseiling, kayaking, and camping in the beautiful valley.
Glenworth Vally is one of the Australian experiences where adventure meets the tranquility of nature.
Do not miss the horse mustering early in the morning.
3. Gibb River Road, The Kimberly, WA
This is the Australian 4WD road trip experience you most want to have.
The Gibb River Road runs through the heart of the Kimberly region in Western Australia, one of Australia’s last wilderness fronteirs.
You can free camp alongside waterholes where another soul can’t be found and spend your days exploring gorges and waterfalls, savannahs and bushlands, and if your game you can even swim with freshwater crocs. Apparently they don’t bite!
Very high on my Australia bucket list is Tasmania. I have never heard anything but high praise heaped upon it as a truly unique and beautiful Australian experience.
Tasmania is known as the natural state with pristine wilderness areas to explore, overland tracks to hike and some of best fresh produce in Australia to enjoy along the way.
Hobart, Australia’s second oldest city, retains so much of its historical and heritage buildings and atmosphere and has the stunning backdrop of Mt Wellington.
5. Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, NSW
Newcastle has everything Sydney has but on a smaller scale and is only 2 hours north.
It made Lonely Planet’s must see destination list of 2011. Newcastle has amazing dining experiences, great surfing beaches and a laid back lifestyle.
It is also the gateway to a fantastic destination experiences such as The Hunter Valley for wine tasting; Stockton Beach for dune buggy fun; and whale watching in the aquatic playground of Port Stephens.
6. Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth, Western Australia
Ningaloo Reef is The Great Barrier Reef of the West Coast, except this one is unspoilt and unpopulated.
You can swim from the shore line at Exmouth onto the reef. It is also the place where you can experience the once in a lifetime swim with the gentle giants of the sea: the whale sharks.
7. Coober Pedy, South Australia
If you like it hot and quirky then head to Coober Pedy.
Coober pedy is the opal capital of the world and It’s so hot that much of the town is underground. Sleep in an underground cave, explore underground museums, mines, and churches and play a round of golf on the desert course – not a blade of grass to be seen.
Enjoy a beer in a undeground bar and listen to the stories that come from the 3,500 people from 45 nations who live in Coober Pedy- Colourful!
8. Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
Craig recently experienced Kakadu National Park on his photography trip to the Northen Territory with Canon and highly recommends it as a place to get off the beaten path and experience the Top End of Australia.
Kakadu is one of the few places in the world that is World Heritage Listed for both its cultural and natural values.
Kakadu is home to one of the oldest living societies on Earth, the local Bininj and Mugguy people, as well as hundreds of salt water crocodiles other reptiles, birds, fish and mammals and more than 2, 000 plant species. Kakadu has six different landscapes and habitats and six different seasons.
- Sunset at Ubirr
- Yellow water cruise (Cooinda)
- Gunlom waterfall
- and the Nourlangie Aboriginal rock art site.
9. The Central Coast, NSW
The Central Coast Region, our home, is just 90 minutes drive north of Sydney. So be sure to come visit us when you arrive.
One of our favourite spots is Terrigal Beach is a small coastal town often visited by celebs and famous sports stars.
It’s quiet and surrounded by surfing beaches, a lagoon for stand up paddle boarding and paddle boats, and The Haven for picnics, rolls down the Skillion and spectacular sunset views. Take your wine and cheese and crackers and enjoy the magic.
Other highlights include:
- Bouddi National Park coastal walk
- Avoca Beach
- The Entrance
10. Port Macquarie, NSW North Coast
Port Macquarie is the total package for off the beaten path Aussie experiences. Uncrowded, miles of surfing beaches, an 8km coastal walk, wild dolphin and whale encounters, vineyards, activities for families, and the most magnificent sunsets.
Enjoy the sunsets on a Sunday with $10 jugs of beer at the Beach House on the waterfront. Magical…
11. Phillip Island, Victoria
Phillip Island, Victoria is a car-free outdoor adventure land and is the perfect off the beaten path retreat. Small sleepy towns, coastal scenery, wild surf, and wetlands.
Most people head to Phillip Island for the penguins who march out from the sea at dusk each day to burrow down for the evening in the sand dunes. Too cute.
12. The Grampians, Victoria
I first heard about the Grampians, Victoria from my Swedish rock climbing friend. He’s rock climbed around the world and said the Grampians was his favourite, not just for the challenging rock climbs, but for the beauty and the peace and tranquility that comes with it being an off the beaten path Aussie experience.
And it’s only a few hours drive west of Melbourne.
You decide- adventure or chill out in the mountains? Oh heck why not have both?
13. Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
A truly unique Aboriginal cultural experience would be a visit to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. It’s not an easy journey and definitely not a regular tourist destination. Facilities for visitors are limited and you need a permit to enter.
Arnhem Land is a highly protected area and is governed by the Aboriginal elders of each of the small coastal communities. It’s definitely a rewarding off the beaten path experience for culture and untouched beauty.
14. Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
Jump in your 4WD and explore the narrow peninsula of Cape York at the tip of Australia.
Cape York is only accessable by road in the dry season between May and November. The Coastal route via Cape Tribulation, the Daintree Rainforest and the Bloomfield Track to Cooktown requires 4WD and is incredibly scenic. (You’ll get rainforest and reef in the one place!)
The Cape York Peninsula is a land of few people and prolific wildlife, amazing fishing, stunning scenery and many ancient aboriginal cultural sites. Jump on a ferry over to Thursday Island to experience rich history and indigenous culture.
15. Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Known as ‘Australia’s Galpagos‘ Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, is rich with wildlife and untouched by humans.
A vast majority of the island is a protected National Park and wilderness area. It is a place to relax and unwind and see native animals in their natural habitat.
Kangaroo Island is the place for 4WD exploration with much of the island only accessible with this vehicle.
Are you looking for travel tips on what to do in Denver, Colorado?
As part of our city guides series we interviewed John Andrew who is a Denver native, born and raised, leaving only to spend a few years away at university.
John share’s with us his insider tips on what to do in Denver for those looking for the best things to see and do, where to eat, stay, drink, and play.
Take it away John…
Why Visit Denver?
Denver maintains an air of the unknown; most visitors only see it on their way to or from the legendary ski resorts in the Colorado Rocky Mountains – if they see it at all. It does not have the robust tourism industry of some other American cities, but it is a city with new surprises waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveller.
First and foremost, Denver is an active city. It is consistently ranked at the top of ‘healthiest city‘ lists and it is the capital city of the least obese state in the United States, Colorado. Denver residents love the outdoors and take advantage of the abundant sunshine and access to world class hiking, cycling, rafting, rock climbing, and skiing in their own backyard.
Denver is a city that seeks adventure, and the best way to experience Denver is to get outside – run the trails, cycle the roads, or take a kayak down the rapids that run right through the middle of downtown.
What to Do in Denver?
Denver has many of the same attractions and amenities of most major US cities with the added bonus of being at the foot of the largest mountain range in North America – reaping all the benefits that go along with that distinction. There are a few ways to experience the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains while staying close to the city.
Red Rocks Amphitheater – A world famous concert venue located in the hills above Denver. Towering red rock formations create a natural amphitheater with amazing acoustics. Some enterprising individuals added seating and a stage to turn it into one the most unique concert venues in the world.
The stage has seen countless legendary performers including The Beatles, U2, and Jimi Hendrix. Though a concert is the best way to experience the venue, it is open to the public for free when there aren’t any concerts.
Mount Evans – Colorado is home to 53 14,000 foot (4260 meter) mountains and is often referred to as the ‘Roof of America’. Though you can summit every one of Colorado’s ‘14ers’ via hiking and climbing, Mount Evans offers the unique distinction of offering a road to the top.
Visitors can hop in their car and summit one of the tallest mountains in North America with their automobile. Along the way there are numerous scenic overlooks and plenty of wildlife including the famous Mountain Goats who are always willing to pose for a picture.
Confluence Park – Located right downtown, confluence park offers a scene of nature in the middle of the city. Located at the confluence of the Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, Confluence Park offers a kayaking course, city and mountain views, running and cycling trails, and the flagship REI store, a mecca for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Best Neighbourhoods to Explore?
Capitol Hill – A vibrant and funky neighborhood southeast of downtown that is also one of Denver’s most diverse. Around the gold-domed state capitol building, stately 19th century mansions mingle with mid-century apartment buildings and punk-rock clubs line the same streets as high-end restaurants.
The neighborhood is flanked by two of Denver’s best parks, the Greek Revival styled Civic Center Park and the spooky Cheesman Park – which still contains many bodies buried underneath from its past life as a cemetery.
Lodo – The oldest neighborhood in Denver, Lodo is where Denver started. Old brick warehouses have since been converted into eclectic restaurants, trendy nightspots, high-end loft apartments, and boutique retail shops. The 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian-only shopping district and general hub of activity connecting Lodo to the Central Business District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods.
Highland – The Highland neighborhood is adjacent to downtown but offers a more residential experience than some of its other neighbors. Historic turn-of-the-century brownstones stand side by side with ultra modern multi-level town homes along the broad, leafy avenues that characterize the neighborhood. Quiet coffee shops, neighborhood bistros, and pubs each claim their share of regular local visitors.
Where to Eat in Denver?
I’ll be the first to admit that Denver is not a food city; food is simply not one of the city’s strengths. But there are still plenty of unique Denver cuisines to try and restaurants to visit. Mexican food and wild game are local specialties, with green chile being the quintessential Denver ingredient. Rocky Mountain oysters (deep fried bull testicles) are a regional delicacy, though we usually only order it for our out-of-town guests to watch them squirm.
- Tocabe – An American Indian eatery where the speciality is fry bread tacos served with shredded bison. Topped with hominy and corn salsas, these tacos are unlike any others.
- Cherry Cricket – A landmark dive bar/burger joint that stands as the lone blue-collar joint in the Tony Cherry Creek neighborhood. It is a favorite of locals and visitors alike and offers some of the best green chili cheeseburgers in town.
- Biker Jim’s – A food cart-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant, Biker Jim’s serves up the best sausages in town. Meats like pheasant, bison, reindeer, wild boar, and rattlesnake are seasoned and stuffed into sausage before being topped with cream cheese and onions caramelized in Coca-Cola.
- Santiago’s – This ubiquitous Denver-based Mexican chain is a staple for city residents. The food is authentic, the prices are cheap, and the green chile is hot – just the way Denver locals like it.
- Buckhorn Exchange – Denver’s oldest restaurant proudly displays liquor license #0001. The Buckhorn Exchange specializes in wild game including ostrich, yak, elk, quail, bison, and alligator. The walls are covered with old western memorabilia and stuffed animal heads from all over the world.
- Casa Bonita – The Disneyland of Mexican restaurants, Casa Bonita was already famous before it made a cameo on the popular television show ‘South Park.’ While the food is nearly inedible, visitors come for the experience. A jungle atmosphere, caves, roving mariachi bands, live shows, and a three story waterfall with cliff divers make Casa Bonita a delightfully kitschy experience.
Where to Drink in Denver?
Denver is a beer city. It constantly ranks as one of the top beer cities in the nation and plays host to the Great American Beer Festival. Even the former mayor (and current Colorado governor) is a former brewpub operator. Because of this, there are plenty of great places to drink beer in Denver.
- Wynkoop Brewing – The first brewpub in Denver, founded by now-Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Wynkoop offers great beers and an incredible atmosphere in an old brick warehouse in the heart of the Lodo neighborhood.
- Great Divide – One of the oldest and largest breweries in Denver and located right downtown. Tours and tap room tastings are offered every day of the week.
- Falling Rock – The best beer bar in Denver (and possibly in the US, according to some), Falling Rock offers a wall of taps and an extensive bottle list providing craft beer aficionados with all the obscure and hard to find beers they crave.
- Williams & Graham – Denver’s newest speakeasy offers a prohibition-style secretive drinking establishment (you enter through a faux-bookshelf door). Classy cocktails are served the old-fashioned way with hand chipped ice and panache from some of Denver’s best bartenders.
Best Area for a Night on the Town?
Lodo is a popular place for the young and the young at heart. Bars like The Sports Column, The Tavern, and Jackson’s pack their rooftop patios after Colorado Rockies baseball games while locals and visitors alike fill the upscale clubs and restaurants that line the fronts of Blake and Market streets.
While Lodo has the densest concentration of bars, restaurants, and clubs, every neighborhood has its own commercial strip giving visitors a great way to get a taste of local Denver life. Highland Square, Pearl Street, Colfax Avenue, Lohi, and South Broadway all provide refreshing local alternative nightlife scenes.
Where to Stay in Denver?
The Brown Palace – An elegant and historic hotel in the heart of downtown. It has played host to presidents, royalty, and pop icons. For those such as myself who can’t afford the elegant prices that come with it, a visit to the afternoon tea ceremony in the lobby is a suitable alternative.
The Curtis – A much more affordable hotel that offers a unique and whimsical alternative to the high class of The Brown Palace. Each floor has a unique pop culture theme (think one hit wonders, sci-fi, etc.) that is carried through to all of the rooms.
Any Shopping Districts Worth a Visit?
Larimer Square is a unique Victorian era street that offers boutique shopping and dining in Lodo. Just a few blocks away sits Rockmount Ranchwear, providing a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Rockmount introduced the first Western style snap button shirts and is still the premier supplier of the iconic clothing to clients in Hollywood and all around the world.
Just down the street from Rockmount Ranchwear is The Tattered Cover Bookstore. Located in an old warehouse, the independent bookstore is one of the largest of its kind. It’s an incredibly atmospheric store with ancient hardwood floors, exposed bricks, and plenty of comfy chairs and hidden corners to settle into with a good book.
Major Events and Festivals in Denver?
As I mentioned before, Denver is a beer town. Part of this reputation comes from the host role the city plays to the Great American Beer Festival each year. The festival is the brewing industry’s top competition and public tasting session and there is no other place in the world where you can find more beers on tap.
Every October, More than 450 breweries come together to pour more than 2200 different beers to thirsty festival goers. Visitors can find EVERY type of beer at the festival and many types they never even knew existed.
Getting Around Denver?
Denver has a comprehensive bus system and an expanding light rail and commuter rail network, but the most fun form of public transportation are Denver’s community bicycles.
Denver was the first city in the United States to find sustained success using the bicycle as a large-scale form of public transportation, and bicycle sharing stations have been popping up all over the city since. For just a few dollars, guests can pick up a bicycle at one of the check-out stations and ride it all over town before checking it back in to another station.
Best Time of Year to Visit?
Late summer in Denver is spectacular. In early September, the city is still in full on summer-mode with residents flocking to the outdoor cafes, rooftop patios and the parks in the largest public park system in the United States.
But within a short drive, the mountains are beginning to show the signs of autumn. This is the time when the aspen leaves flash their vibrant gold hues, lighting up the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Visiting in late summer provides visitors with the best of summer and autumn in Colorado.
Favorite side trip away from the city?
Rocky Mountain National Park is the most accessible national park from Denver and it couldn’t be more different from the city experience. Visitors are treated to majestic mountain views, unique wildlife encounters, and amazing hiking opportunities amongst the alpine wilderness.
Icy glaciers, glassy lakes, and the iconic Longs Peak all compete for attention along the continental divide in one of the crown jewels of America’s National Park system.
Getting There and Away?
Denver is incredibly isolated – the closest big cities are Phoenix and Dallas which are both more than 14 hours away by car. Thankfully, Denver has one of the largest and busiest airports in the United States.
Three major airlines use Denver International Airport as a hub – United, Frontier, and Southwest. This competition helps keep the prices in and out of Denver relatively cheap.
Best “insiders” tip for travellers?
Denver has an excellent music scene. While it might not be as famous as Austin, Nashville, or New Orleans, there is a growing folk/Americana movement with groups like Paper Bird and singer/songwriters such as Danielle Ate The Sandwich and Patrick Dethlefs.
Additionally, the indie scene is healthy with bands like Tennis and Hindershot gaining traction.
Denver has also recently been a launch pad for larger, mainstream acts as well. Groups such as The Fray, One Republic, The Lumineers, and The Flobots have all found international fame after recognizing popularity locally in Denver.
Visitors can check out the music scene firsthand by stopping by one of the many independent music venues throughout the city. The Hi Dive, The Walnut Room, Larimer Lounge, and The Marquis Theater are all great places to check out the local music scene. Alternatively, visitors can turn their radio dial to 1340 am for Open Air Colorado, a Colorado Public Radio station that plays local, independent music.
I love Denver because ________ ?
The city seeks adventure. Work comes second to play as residents take ‘powder days’ off from work to hit the slopes on exceptionally good snow days, pack their backpacks for extended camping trips, or strive to summit every one of Colorado’s 53 14,000 foot (4260 meter) mountains. Denver offers the best of both worlds with all the amenities of the big city and the Rocky Mountains as its backyard.
The head of the dragon welcomes us as we enter the Chinatown gate. I’m hoping it sprinkles us with an extra dose of luck – it is the year of the Dragon after all.
We’re on the busy 1.5km Yaowarat Road which weaves through the heart of Chinatown, Bangkok, creating the figure of a dragon on it’s way through.
Craig and I lived at the Golden Mountain on the outskirts of Chinatown. Despite living so close, our exploration was limited to a quick walk down to our favourite food stall of an evening for take away noodle gravy wrapped in butchers’ paper.
Chinatown is full of unexpected surprises like that.
I was looking forward to what I would discover with my fellow Friendship to Friend travel writers, on our walking tour through the food markets of the dragon’s body, down to the quieter walking streets of its tail resting in the Chao Praya River.
The Dragon’s Belly
Chinatown buzzes with frenetic activity which can overwhelm and frighten you if you don’t just let go to accept and embrace the madness.
The heart of Chinatown is not spared the chaos of Bangkok traffic.
Cars and buses spew forth choking-black smoke and fight for space on clogged roads; tuk tuks sit idly at red lights anxious to be the first off the mark to burn around corners on one wheel; motorbikes dodge in and out pushing their way to the front and making everyone else seethe with jealousy (Well Thai people don’t really seethe)
We step out amongst the chaos, my Thai friend steering my elbow protectively, like I am her five year old daughter. I remember this is the Thai way and exchange my independence for gratitude. We cross to enter into the labyrinth of alleyways that is the dragon’s belly. The place of food and trade.
Even in the tiny lane ways vehicles and people struggle to push through the crowds to purchase their goods for their restaurant and store needs, or simply for the family meal this evening.
Bikers balance with two feet on the ground move their mopeds through the alleyways bustling with locals buying their wares, ogling tourists, and cyclists tooting their whistles to make way for their overloaded bags of ice.
We continue to slow down the frenzied beat, jarring movement to take photos tubs of tea, controversial shark fins, bowls of phallic sea cucumber, whole fish in iced buckets, and fruit with bees crawling all over them. Flies devour the tofu that sits waiting for a happy eater to later devour it.
Irritated vendors step out from behind their bench to shoo, not the flies, but the pesky tourists, shouting the only English words they know: “No photo.”
Lowering the lens with an apologetic nod we move turn right down another side street to move to the next photo opportunity.
The next laneway glows in red. Rows of Chinese lanterns and lucky tokens hang from the steel poles of the plastic roofs of the stalls.
I’m tempted to chat with the Chinese medicine doctor we pass sitting watch over his glass jars of herbs, spices, lotions and potions. “What magic and good fortune do you have for me today?”
The magic lies in the exploring one of the oldest areas of Bangkok.
The belly of the dragon is full and pulsating and after the heavy jostle through the crowds it was time to start eating it the food surrounding us.
If I had of been on my own I would never have found my way out of the market maze to an eating place. The dragon’s luck remained with us in the shape of David Thompson, our expat local guide for the day.
Australian born Thompson owns the world famous Michelin-starred Nahm restaurant in London and The Metropolitan on South Sathorn Road, Bangkok and is an expert on Thai food.
He offered to show us the back roads of Chinatown, a place he loves to go to buy products for his own restaurants, to discover what lies in her hidden back alleyways and to come in the early hours of the evening for a feed at any one of the restaurants that never sleep.
“If you find the right place, you will be in heaven. The food in Chinatown is excellent.”
Oyster Omelette – A Chinatown, Bangkok Specialty
The right place was one of his favourite Chinatown dishes, an oyster omelette. He leads us to an unassuming hole in the wall, Nai Mong Hoi Nang Tort at Talad Gao.
The chef stands over his wok at the entrance to the small resturant, the oyster omelette shrouding him in a haze of smoke. He reaches for the eggs, cracks them and starts the process of creation again, never breaking his rhythm to stop and smile or talk.
I like an oyster or two, and an omelette once or twice a year. The omelette was stuffed with oysters and garnished on top with another handful. The chili sauce did little to tone down the overbearing flavour and I turned to my sprite to help wash it down.
I was happy to leave and continue walking through the dragon’s belly, under the electrical wires that dangle across the streets like strings of spaghetti.
Finding Peace Amongst the Chinatown Chaos
A white-robed nun sits outside the wall of a Chinese temple squashed in the small alleyway. The tables of the food stall hugging the temple walls are filled, no one noticing the nun nodding with sleep and nearly toppling off her chair.
An elderly man pushes me “keep walking huh” he rasps rushing to a spare space in the corner behind me hocking up his clogged chest onto the ground. Spitting, hocking up, and smoking over the bags of food is a common sight and sound.
I stand on the street taking a photo of an old Chinese building opposite. A car waits patiently for me to finish so he can move on. There is no honking of the horn, no middle finger or head leaning out the window calling me a nasty name as you would hear within two seconds in Australia.
People have learned to live with the chaos and to make space for everyone in their lives. There is a rhythm of consideration and peace that people in Bangkok gently move through.
The Dragon’s Tail
The fullness of the belly soon spews us out into the tail. The street is much wider with cars passing by only now and then. I relax with a sigh.
It is Sang Wat St, one of the oldest streets in Bangkok. Signs point to walking street and I wonder if that is where we came from, where we are going, or where we now are.
The air is much freer here. There’s no fear of being run over by a motorbike or hocked up on by a phlegmatic elder.
David takes us down side streets that have laneways running off them; places I’d never find without our guide or the willingness of my feet to get lost.
Down a small alley lies an ancient crumbling building; gnarled and knotted roots of trees ensnare it trying to lay reclaim the land that was once their own.
Chanting prayers ring out over the fence. Our gaze turns up to a window of the modern white building behind it; bodies stand and then drop in unison with the calls of worship.
I forget it is Friday, the Muslim Holy Day, and that I am a woman in short shorts. I wander around the back of the mosque to explore the cemetery and tranquil gardens behind it.
My senses return and I scurry back out on the street before my luck diminishes, bowing my head apologetically to the men washing their hands outside in preparation for their Friday salah.
The chanting slowly dies away as the tail of the dragon flicks us to the river, the end of our walk exploring the Bangkok dragon.
Chinatown bustles with diversity and the richness of living. It’s an explosion of sensory discovery and an area of Bangkok that offers a different insight into the depths of the Thai culture.
Ramadan in Qatar
Ramadan is a holy month observed by Muslims which involves a number of lifestyle changes. The aim is to bring oneself closer to God through behaviour.
Qatar is just 1 of the 50 countries where Islam is the religion of the majority. Here, the Muslim faith is everywhere. People live and breathe it, so when Ramadan arrives, the habits of the whole country are affected.
Many People who observe Ramadan go without pleasures such as food, drink and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset for a whole month. Nothing passes their lips – the really devout don’t even brush their teeth!
Just to give you an idea of what a commitment this is: in 2012 in Qatar, Ramadan will start around 18 July. The average temperature at this time will be 45°C. The sun will rise at 4.30 am and set at about 6.00 pm. That means many are going 14 hours in the searing heat without a drop of water for an entire month.
And while it might sound dreary and demanding, those living in the Arab world see it as an auspicious time of great celebration. It’s a happy time. Sure, during the day it’s all very solemn, but come sunset it’s all about eating, drinking and generally being merry! Families pray and eat together every night and gifts are given.
Ramadan in Qatar: Expat Challenges
As if moving from Australia to live in Qatar wasn’t a big enough culture shock, I experienced my first Ramadan less than a month after my arrival in Doha. The idea of it filled me with trepidation.
Other expats merely shrugged it off – it seems that 1 Ramadan is enough to prepare you for all future ones. But I had so many questions: When will I be able to buy my groceries? What do I have to wear? Will everyone still be working? How can anyone go a WHOLE DAY without eating?!
So, how does all this affect the non-Muslim visitor and expat?
To be honest, it can be pretty tense. Non-Muslims are expected to follow many of the customs of Ramadan. Our clothing must cover us from wrists to ankles, we’re not allowed to touch in public and we’re expected to tone down our general demeanour.
Maintaining these standards can be slightly arduous, but then again, Ramadan in Qatar is a great experience and fantastic reminder of where we are. For 1 month our lives are turned upside down.
High- and low-lights of Ramadan in Qatar
No eating or drinking during Ramadan
The good news is that non-Muslims are allowed to eat and drink but just not in public. If we’re eating at home we are urged to close the windows and not cook anything too fragrant, so we save the curries for another time!
Many restaurants close during the daylight hours and any that stay open keep curtains drawn so that food cannot be seen from the outside. At my work they use hospital screens at the entrance to the staff cafeteria to hide all the coffee addicts! In times of desperation I may or may not have been known to hide out in the bathroom for a cheeky sip of water!
During Ramadan, Qatar dries up. The single alcohol shop in Doha closes for the month, as do all hotel and restaurant bars.
If you want to drink, you need to have stocked up in the months before. Absolutely do not even think of leaving your house or hotel if you are intoxicated. I just hate to think what would happen if someone found out!
Work hours/business hours
Ramadan is a time for contemplating your relationship with God. It is NOT a time for working! Plus everyone’s just exhausted and cranky from hunger. So, official work hours are reduced, even for non-Muslim expats. For an entire month we work just 5 hours a day, usually from 10 am – 2 pm. Not a bad deal, really!
Since many people try to restrict their activity during the day, businesses also switch up their hours during Ramadan. Many supermarkets, malls and banks are only open from the late afternoon until 1 am – it’s as if night has become day.
This is definitely a big factor for any visitor contemplating a trip to Qatar during this time but it’s not necessarily a bad thing – a bit of midnight banking never hurt anyone!
The first rule of Ramadan: stay off the roads between 5.30 and 6.30 pm. Why? Low blood sugar and driving do not mix!
Picture this: it’s 5.45 pm. It’s been over 12 hours since your last meal. Your stomach is hollow. Your mouth is dry and stale. The sun will set any moment which means that you are minutes away from food and water. The only thing standing between you and a plate piled high with food is the 20-minute drive to the mosque. If traffic is good, you can do it in 15 minutes. If you speed, 10.
This is the mentality that fuels the infamous Ramadan road rage. It’s statistically proven that there are more road accidents during Ramadan than any other month which means that we expats stay housebound at sunset.
Iftar in Qatar
One of the traditions that makes Ramadan a treat is the nightly Iftar that marks the breaking of the fast. Every restaurant in the city host a decadent buffet with serving stations offering unlimited quantities of food from all over the world.
Often these feasts are set up in special tents, lavishly decorated with lanterns and carpets where traditional Arabic music and dancing is performed. Anyone is welcome to attend and all 30 nights are big events on the Doha social calendar so bookings should be made well in advance.
No singing, dancing or music
In order to preserve the piousness of Ramadan, music is forbidden during the day which means expats need to be sure to turn down the speakers in their cars and homes. Even in the malls the music is turned off, leaving us with nothing but the dulcet sounds of children crying!
As if to fill the silence, the call to prayer is amped up during Ramadan, often playing throughout the night. There is a mosque on nearly every block in Doha so when the chanting starts, the air is filled with a cacophony of voices from every direction. Those who do not want to be woken by the nasal resonations of their local Imam at 3 am get used to wearing earplugs pretty quickly.
So now you’re prepared for Ramadan in Qatar, but how do you know if these new rules have actually kicked in? Well, it’s tricky. The start of Ramadan is dictated by the appearance of the crescent moon. It must be physically seen before Ramadan is officially ‘on’.
The news is then announced by a viewing committee. So, basically there’s about a week where we are all left guessing. Plus, as Qatar expats, we don’t tune in to many of the Arabic communication channels so we’re usually the last to know!
All in all, Ramadan is a great time in Qatar. There are a few extra rules and some can be a bit of an inconvenience but in the end it’s all part of the adventure of being in the Middle East.