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Where on earth?

Where on earth? (2011)

156 pages

Like most of us, a good deal of my life was spent hostage to a mortgage. In 2004, at age 47, I realised that there was more to life, got my first passport, and began working hard to fill it up.

One consequence is that nowadays people frequently ask me "So what's your favourite destination?" I find this difficult to answer. The world is such a diverse place. Saint Augustine's famous quote is getting a little hackneyed these days, but it's still just as true: The world is a book, and those who don't travel read only one page.

So rather than just give people a vacant look when they pop the question, I thought I might arm myself with this book, which endeavours to respond in a structured way. It may cause some to come to regret their polite curiosity, but at least it will go some way towards answering the question. Where are the world's friendliest people? Grandest buildings? Best food? Cleanest toilets? It's all here ... and much more.

Itchy Feet

Itchy Feet Volume 1 (2014)

228 pages

A small paperback book featuring over a hundred of the author's favourite photographs from the four corners of the world.

Silk and Sand

Silk & Sand (2011)

80 pages

There have been many remarkable feats of human endurance over the centuries. The early trade routes between the east and the west would undoubtedly rank among them. The network of routes, which linked the Chinese capital city Chang'an (now Xi'an) with the Roman empire and the great cities of Constantinople and Cairo, was referred to by the nineteenth-century German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen as the "Seidenstrasse", or "silk road". And although silk was important, so too was the trade in spices, gemstones, glass, perfumes, incense, gold, ivory, coral, furs, ceramics, and much more. Gunpowder, paper and printing, invented in China, were introduced to the west, and music and religions spread east. The trade routes covered some of the most inhospitable parts of the earth, with searing deserts and blinding sandstorms, to frozen high mountain passes. Camels and horses were suited to different conditions and used over different sections. Settlements along the route often provided caravanserais for shelter, although tents made of felt and wood called yurts would be carried and used where necessary. Often hundreds of men and camels would make up a caravan, the numbers providing some degree of protection from marauders. This lavish coffee table book, full of spectacular photography, is printed on highest quality paper.

Pining for the fjords

Pining for the fjords (2014)

64 pages

Few places on earth are blessed with the natural beauty or the striking contrasts of Scandinavia. Right up toward the North Pole, many places experience several months of the year in cold, perpetual darkness, with frequent visits from the eerie green aurora borealis, or "northern lights". In summer there's the spectacular beauty of the lush green forests, lakes, mountains, gushing waterfalls and fjords.

This large, coffee table book, printed on highest quality paper, is made for those who, like Monty Python's infamous dead parrot, are pining for the fjords!

Australia and New Zealand

The coffee table book of Australia & New Zealand (2011)

70 pages

A large (33 by 28 cm) book on special high quality paper, comprising photographs from all over Australia and New Zealand over several decades.

Peregrinations

Peregrinations (2013)

238 pages

Can't decide? This book features the very best of all the author's travel books up until December 2013. Lavishly illustrated with over a thousand colour photographs. An ideal gift!


Impressions of Europe

Impressions of Europe (2004)

France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, 158 pages

Europe

On a short walk around the village to get our bearings, we noticed about fifty pine tree branches attached to the sides of buildings on the edge of the road, to create three- or four-metre Christmas trees. We remarked how much nicer they would be with some decorations and lo, within an hour, a squadron of French children arrived and proceeded to hang silver and gold baubles, tinsel and gifts on every tree.

Ut'll Luft

Ut'll Luft (2005)

New Zealand's South Island, 66 pages

New Zealand

In our three weeks touring New Zealand's South Island, only once did we wake to sunny blue skies. But the Kiwis are an optimistic lot. Whenever, as we checked out of our motels, we mentioned our disappointment, we invariably received the response "Ut'll luft." And often it did ...

Travels in Western Canada

Travels in Western Canada (2006)

British Columbia & Alberta, 58 pages

Canada

One of the most dramatic walks we undertook climbed from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley and on to Sentinel Pass. The upper sections were still well covered by snow, but we went most of the way, and took a diversion to Eiffel Lake, looking across at dramatic views of the Ten Peaks. Weather changed dramatically from broad areas of blue sky to brief light snow flurries, and on occasions an icy wind whistled up the valleys.

Remember Your Manners

Remember Your Manners (2006)

England, Wales & Scotland, 120 pages

UK

They seem to love the colour red. Red phone boxes abounded, often in groups of two or four on every street corner. Red post boxes, often the cylindrical pillar box type, were also abundant. Guards' uniforms at Buckingham Palace and elsewhere were predominantly red. And then there were the hundreds of red double-decker buses and red mail vans. But the London black cabs were, well, black. Except for the ones that weren't.

The Wild West

The Wild West (2006)

South-west Western Australia, 46 pages

WA

We put our names down for a free wildflower walk in the late afternoon. I was expecting perhaps two or three kilometres, possibly five, and judging by the daypacks and water bottles they arrived with, so were the other twenty or so takers. As a matter of fact, during the two hours of the walk we didn't stray more than twenty or thirty metres from our starting point. If anyone had told me this beforehand I might not have bothered, but our extremely knowledgable and enthusiastic host kept us riveted for the entire time.

Third Time to Tasmania

Third Time to Tasmania (2007)

56 pages

Tasmania

Two nights at the campground in Cradle Valley was very relaxing. There was time for some extended walks. A powerful thunderstorm was a demanding test for my dear little tent ... it passed with flying colours. There was an abundance of wildlife around the place, and one often wondered as one lay in the tent at night what particular fauna was making the scratching noise just centimetres away.

Big Nosed Buddha

A Big-Nosed Buddha's Impression of China (2007)

72 pages

China

There were some Mandarin phrases that we learned very quickly. The first was pronounced "Buyao", and it was used to ward off the hundreds of pedlars we encountered, selling everything from fake Rolex watches to hats, postcards, roller wheels and shawls. And then there was the haggling. In the Beijing silk markets, where we were actually dragged by the arm a number of times, we asked how much a painted artwork was and were told 440 yuan. By the time we walked away, having decided not to buy it, this had dropped to forty.

Destination Vietnam

Destination Vietnam (2008)

86 pages

Vietnam

Had I been born just a few years earlier, my first visit to Vietnam may well have been in a khaki uniform. But in February 2008 I was armed only with a camera, on an organised tour with seventeen other Australians, anxious to see a resilient country looking boldly to the future. Nevertheless, the sight of old helicopters peeping out from the semi-cylindrical concrete hangars at Saigon airport was our first eerie reminder that history will always hang heavily over Vietnam.

Je ne Sais Quoi

Je Ne Sais Quoi (2008)

Paris & rural France, 104 pages

France

Alsace, in the far north-east is an area of half-timbered houses, wine, storks, Munster cheese and tarte flambee, all with a distinct German feel. We lodged in a flat in the village of Riquewihr, directly over a bakery which, like most bakeries in France, made the most wonderful crusty bread. Then a week in Provence, in a renovated inn in the ancient stone village of Saignon. We were too early for the lavender and sunflowers but saw plenty of poppies, roses, and freshly budding grape vines. There followed a week in a modern cottage in the lush green countryside near Sarlat, in the Dordogne, land of truffles and foie gras, where we were lulled to sleep by the therapeutic sound of crickets and owls. And finally a week in the rugged north-west, at Plougasnou, Brittany. We stayed in a rudimentary wellhouse on a farm, and explored the salty coastline, dining on seafood, artichokes and crepes. Three nights in a bed and breakfast on a farm near Tours in the Loire valley enabled us to do the "chateau circuit", and indulge in the lovely food and wines of this beautiful region, including the plump white asparagus that was in season.

Change of Direction

A Change of Direction (2008)

Berlin to Helsinki via Poland, the Baltic states & Russia, 110 pages

Baltics

Though things have changed and assuredly will change further, it's clear that many people, especially the elderly and middle-aged, still carry a lot of Russian baggage. This really hit me when I stood holding the door open for a succession of about a dozen people at a cathedral in Riga, Latvia. Fresh from a month in France, where a little smile and "Merci" was de rigueur, I noted the silence and stony faces of these unfortunate people. And the grim communist attitude of shop assistants and officials has changed little since the days of ration coupons when hours each day were spent queuing.

Fourteen Megametres

Fourteen Megametres (2008)

Northern & central Australia, 80 pages

Australia

The earth would go from grey to yellow to dark chocolate, from tans to deep russet, bright red and dark maroon in places, foliage on trees went from steely grey to yellow, vivid orange, lush lime greens, blue greys and browns. Even the barks of eucalypts come in an enormous variety of hues, from vivid white to silver, peaches and reds. There was snowy white grass, bright yellow grass, and various shades of green. There were blossoms every colour of the rainbow, and the native birds put on quite a display as well. All this with a backdrop of deep blue skies and some of the most spectacular sunsets you'd see anywhere. You meet some colourful characters on the road too, when you pull up at a rest area or roadhouse.

Road to Samarkand

The Road to Samarkand (2008)

Western China, Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan, 86 pages

Central Asia

Is it a sign that you've come of age as a traveller when you start visiting places you've never heard of in countries you can't spell? Or is it just an appetite for the smug satisfaction of being a tourist who goes where tourists don't go?

Tourism is increasing in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but for now they are largely untouched by McModernism, retaining a lot of their original flavour from their long history as a crossroads on the great Silk Road. Camel caravans took silk, satin, rubies, musk, diamonds and pearls on a network of routes between the South China Sea and Constantinople, and even as far as Venice and Rome.

Travels with Mummy

Travels with Mummy (2009)

Egypt & Jordan, 74 pages

Egypt & Jordan

You don't have to be particularly interested in history and archaeology to appreciate a trip to Egypt and Jordan, but it helps. You don't just go to these places for the scenery. After a week or two, your head will be bursting with pharaohs, hieroglyphs, obelisks, hypostyles and cartouches. By the end of your tour it's hard not to be in awe of the mighty accomplishments and perseverance of these ancient civilisations.

Land of the Thunder Dragon

Land of the Thunder Dragon (2009)

Sikkim & Bhutan, 90 pages

Sikkim & Bhutan

Bhutan has only had schools for half a century, roads for about the same time, and television for just a decade. Cigarettes and plastic bags are illegal, giant penises are painted on the sides of houses, men wear tunics to work, and Gross National Happiness is considered more important than Gross National Product. And the King of Bhutan is just 29.

My Holiday in Ruins

My Holiday in Ruins (2009)

Greece & Turkey, 120 pages

Greece & Turkey

Which brings me to Santorini. Not a ruin in sight. And beautiful Mediterranean spring sunshine. Sales of white paint around here must be astronomical, followed closely by blue. Santorini is the most visited of the Greek islands, probably because it's arguably the most attractive. It does feel enormously good to perch yourself in an al fresco restaurant on the top of a cliff and enjoy a moussaka and a local wine, while savouring a gentle zephyr and watching the cruise boats way below.

Uniquely India

Uniquely India (2010)

132 pages

India

How can a nation with such alarming levels of poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition have one of the world's leading space research organisations or be one of the fastest growing economies in the world? How can its richest man be building a billion dollar house? How could so many of the women who live in a nation of filth and squalor dress so beautifully and colourfully, and send their kids to school in the most immaculately pressed British-style school uniforms? Why is almost everyone you meet so charming and affable? And why do people of my acquaintance who travel widely keep returning to India, believing it to be one of their favourite destinations? The best way to figure it all out was to throw myself in at the deep end, and do a four-week organised tour encompassing most of the country.

Silk Turnstiles

Silk Turnstiles (2010)

The Silk Road through China, 92 pages

China

There have been many remarkable feats of human endurance over the centuries. The early trade routes between the east and the west would undoubtedly rank among them. They covered some of the most inhospitable parts of the earth, with searing deserts and blinding sandstorms, to frozen high mountain passes.

That was then. This is now. In 2010 there is a four-lane divided highway most of the way from Xi'an to Kashgar. The few bits that don't have it soon will. Tourists step out of air-conditioned buses through turnstiles into theme parks that in some cases are beginning to resemble Disneyland, with everything from concrete camels to coloured lights, and the inevitable souvenir shops. There were times that I wished I'd done this trip twenty years ago.

Tangos & Sambas

Tangos & Sambas (2010)

Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, 112 pages

South America

Apparently the best way to provoke a heated argument between a Chilean and a Peruvian is to raise the matter of the pisco sour. Both nations claim it to be their national drink. Pisco is derived from distilled fermented grapes, and has an alcohol content around forty percent. Pisco sour results from a mix of half pisco, a quarter sugar syrup and a quarter lemon juice ... or so we were told in Chile. The pisco sours we had in Peru, later in the tour, also had egg whites and a dash of bitters, and to our palates were rather nicer. By the time we'd finished our trip, we'd developed quite a liking for the beverage, regardless of who claimed ownership of it, as we were frequently offered it as a welcome at accommodation places and restaurants.

A Taste of Thailand

A Taste of Thailand (2010)

96 pages

Thailand

A lot of guidebooks are written by naysayers who advise against eating any street food in Asian countries. The advice may be well intentioned and judicious, but it also means forgoing what can be one of travel's delights. Our guide on this tour constantly bought us all sorts of unfamiliar street foods to sample - hot foods, fruits, sweets - and this greatly enhanced our Thailand experience. And no one died.

From Paella to Couscous

From Paella to Couscous (2011)

Spain & Morocco, 110 pages

Spain Morocco

Of course, you can't go to Spain and not attend a bullfight. Can you? Mixed feelings on this, both among tourists and Spaniards. We were assured that a bull suffers less in a bullfight than in an abattoir. Bullfighters train for seven years. At the end of the fight the bull must be killed swiftly and relatively painlessly. The bull's dignity and respect must be maintained. But this didn't gel with what we saw.

Colours of Cambodia and Laos

Colours of Cambodia & Laos (2011)

92 pages

Laos Cambodia

Each of the nations in Asia's southeast has its own distinctive character, its own flavour. Landlocked Laos and Cambodia are not as wealthy or as visited as their nearest neighbours, but in 2011 I was pleased to be able to fulfil a long-held desire to visit, and to discover some wonderfully friendly people, lovely scenery and beautiful cuisine, all still relatively unspoilt by tourism.

Prints of Persia

Prints of Persia (2011)

Iran, 110 pages

Iran

"Hello, where you from?" is a familiar line to international tourists the world over. Often it's a prelude to a carefully rehearsed and well worn routine by pedlars or pickpockets, but in Iran, relatively unspoilt by tourism (and with virtually no pedlars or beggars), it's meant more sincerely. People enquire out of curiosity, delight in starting a conversation, then wish you a pleasant holiday when you eventually move on. In a bazaar in Isfahan I told my two interlocutors that in many places in the world I'd feel uncomfortable walking alone with my large, expensive camera, but here I felt remarkably safe. "Yes, it is very safe," they concurred.

On Safari

On Safari in Namibia & Botswana (2012)

72 pages

Namibia Botswana

Some tour operators subscribe to the view that you haven't experienced the "real" Africa unless you've spent a day or two "roughing it". And so we headed off in a 1976 International four-wheel-drive vehicle on to rough sandy trails to a remote campsite in the Moremi game reserve. These campsites are set up from scratch at a number of locations, and have no running water or electricity. The only concession to comfort is a stretcher with a mattress on it. There were portable toilets and showers in their own separate tents, the showers supplied by buckets of heated water hanging in trees. You wet yourself, soap yourself down, then use a little extra water to rinse off. If you run out, tough luck.

Bohemia to the Balkans

From Bohemia to the Balkans (2012)

12 nations, 114 pages

Bohemia to the Balkans

Cliches such as "the pearl of the Adriatic" have been used to describe Dubrovnik. George Bernard Shaw once said "those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it". Thankfully its walled old town and port on the seaside were relatively unscathed during the city's siege and war of independence in the early nineties, and remain beautifully preserved as a world heritage site.

Mexico Cuba

Impressions of Mexico & Cuba (2012)

116 pages

Mexico and Cuba

I grew up with the Warner Brothers Speedy Gonzales cartoons, but other than those stereotypes I had little idea what to expect in Mexico. I kind of expected they'd do Mexican food well, such as tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, beans, mole, salsa, chicken itza ...

No, hang on, I'm getting confused. That should be Chichen Itza, something entirely inedible and rather large that we saw later in our trip. It was built by the Maya people, who incidentally had confidently predicted that the world would end soon after we got home (convenient, as I don't think our travel insurance would have covered it!).

Scandinavia

Scandinavia in White (2013)

Sweden & Norway, 68 pages

Scandinavia

January 2013 had seen record heat in much of Australia, including 46 degrees Celsius in Sydney. At the time, I was packing gear for a February trip to the frozen Arctic, where temperatures could be expected to be up to eighty degrees colder. (And they were!)

On arriving in Lulea, Sweden, we set off into the night during a particularly beautiful fall of large-flaked snow. Cottages along the roadside had little lamps and other decorations in the windows, which cast long shadows onto the metre-deep snow outside. It was as though we were in a fairytale snow dome that someone had just given a particularly vigorous shake.

High Altitude Europe

High Altitude Europe (2013)

Switzerland, Slovenia & Austria, 116 pages

High altitude Europe

Somehow on my previous trips to Europe I'd always seemed to avoid two of its most beautiful countries, Switzerland and Slovenia. So in 2013 I set out to make amends.

A bite of Ethiopia

A bite of Ethiopia (2013)

100 pages

Ethiopia

A lot of people think Ethiopia is dry, brown and flat. True, much of it is, but other parts are green, rugged and scenic. And there are wonderful old churches to see, many hewn from solid rock, and often containing beautifully colourful murals. See why Ethiopia is an emerging tourist destination.

Sakura ... in search of cherry blossoms

Sakura ... in search of cherry blossoms (2014)

Japan, 50 pages

Japan

There are two special times to visit Japan: cherry blossom time and autumn colours. Both are very ephemeral, but especially the cherry blossoms, or sakura. They're at their best for only a few days, before the petals begin to flutter away in the wind like confetti, or light, flaky snow. Through poetry, music and art, the Japanese associate their beauty and brief life with human mortality.

Scandinavia in green

Scandinavia in Green (2014)

Denmark, Norway, Finland & Sweden, 100 pages

Scandinavia in green

I was rather rapt in Scandinavia when I visited in February 2013, in the depths of winter. This time it was summer, most of the snow was gone, and I was looking forward to seeing many of the bits I hadn't seen last time, including four capital cities, colourful Bergen and the fjords of southwestern Norway. And the far north: about as close as most of us will ever get to the North Pole.

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