In the red hot centre

1 04 2012

waiting for sunset at Uluru

Despite having lived in Australia almost my entire life, I had never been to the Northern Territory prior to 2008. My family, as English immigrants, had spent every school holiday for my entire childhood driving about the countryside visiting almost everywhere except the Northern Territory and Tasmania. So when my then-workplace sent me to Alice Springs for a conference, I was thrilled!

I took the opportunity to visit Uluru (formerly called Ayres Rock) and Kata-Tjuta (formerly the Olgas), as well as attending the conference. Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park is 461km from Alice Springs – you can get there by flight, bus or driving – I opted for bus, which was a whole-day experience, leaving very early in the morning and getting back about midnight (because of course you have to stay and see the sunset over Uluru).

The Centre lived up to its reputation. In Alice Springs, don’t forget to pop into the bar Bojangles which is a tourist icon – every spare piece of wall or ceiling has something nailed to it – old farming implements, hats, horse-shoes, whips, animal skulls, skins etc. I suggest going early in the evening as it has a reputation for getting a bit rough later at night. And there are many galleries selling original Aboriginal artworks ranging from about $40 to $40,000 – a price for every pocket! Make sure you get authentication papers with whatever you buy.

Enjoy!

Table-top mountain on the way to Uluru - flat horizon

Singing (and piano-playing) Dingo at a road-house on the way to Uluru

first sighting of Uluru from the bus

rock formations that look like faces in profile, carved into Uluru

The following photographs are of Kata Tjuta – a rock formation consisting of 36 “forms”, approximately 50km from Uluru.

Kata-Tjuta on the horizon (from the bus)

the flat horizon from a gorge in Kata-Tjuta

from the bus - farewelling Kata-Tjuta

Then we headed back to Uluru to wait for sunset. The rock is reputed to change colour several times during sunset. The postcards you can buy display these changes very effectively. The colours were not so strong when I was there (no bright rose-red or blood-red). No filters or effects have been used on this photographs.

waiting for sunset at Uluru

"not alone" waiting for sunset at Uluru. We were in fact parked at a bus carpark and lookout, surrounded by other buses and barbecues as we all enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and a sausage, while setting up our camera shots.

the horizon glows...

almost dark

The conference dinner was set up at a venue slightly outside Alice Springs as a venue called Ooraminna Station Homestead (thanks to Shelley for reminding me of the name). The venue had buildings around the edge built like farm out-houses but were actually the kitchen, bar, shelter for the band and the toilets. It was surrounded by some high-land which protected it from the wind, but it was still freezing cold at night, as deserts are. However, set up for a silver service dinner setting and with candles and fairy-lights, it was an amazing venue.

Conference dinner venue - near Alice Springs, under the stars

Comedian Anh Do, his brother and former Young Australian of the Year (2005) Khoa Do and my friend Shelley. The Do brothers talked about their journey from Vietnam to Australia as refugees and making their lives here.

Like some more photos of Australia? Try…
At the Edge of the Ocean

Life is a Beach

Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium

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Versailles

28 01 2012

magnificent golden gates shining in the morning sun

What visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to Versailles. A short train trip from central Paris, Versaille is of course famously the former residence of Queen Marie-Antoinette.

The queues to get into Versailles were phenomenally long and move incredibly slowly – and we had already purchased our tickets in a small shop in the adjacent town. I won’t bore you with the pictures of cobblestones, pigeons, and the queue, all taken as we tried to maintain enthusiasm as we waited to get in. You are never alone in Versailles – a sentiment I believe shared by Marie-Antoinette!

But Versailles is definitely worth the wait. It is grand – gilded and carved marble relief, the ceilings painted with spectacular tableaux. The sharp edges of the marble staircase are worn smooth and rounded, from the feet of many traipsing up and down inspecting the rooms – it would be interesting to know how much of the wear is from tourists and how much already existed. The rooms are set up as they were in the times of Royalty with amazing furniture.

The gardens are also magnificent. Neatly manicured forests, geometrically perfectly clipped hedges, vast reflecting ponds, fountains with elaborate statues. And of course Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, the private houses of the King and Queen, also set in the gardens. Much smaller and much less gilded and gaudy, they are none-the-less, still luxurious and beautiful.

If you would like more information on Versailles, and some fabulous photographs without tourists in them (!) I can recommend the following books:

Versailles

and

The Palace of Versailles

main entrance

queues waiting in the courtyard entrance

Room of Thrones

Hall of Mirrors

ceiling detail

ceiling detail

Napoleon's throne

gilded detail of the roof

Grand Trianon

Petit Trianon - Marie-Antoinette's favourite

courtyard inside Petit Trianon

kitchen

Folly at Petit Trianon


If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette





Napoleon’s Tomb

21 01 2012

The distinctive gilded dome of Napoleon's Tomb shines in the early morning mist of Paris. What an amazing place for a children's playground, surrounded by grandeur and history

Having crowned himself Emperor, Napoleon set about establishing himself and his family in a grandeur that the recently deposed and beheaded French Royal family would have been quite comfortable with.

So when he died – rumoured to be murdered by the English in his enforced exile on the Island of Elba – his resting place back in Paris, L’Hotel des Invalides, would be a grand and ostentatious affair.

the gilded dome of Napoleon's tomb

The Military Museum, at the back of Les Invalides - the golden dome peeks over

elaborate marble floors

vaulted ceiling domes with gilded touches shine a golden light throughout the tomb

the coffin of one of Napoleon's relatives

elaborate marble floors

Napoleon's sarcophagus, viewed from the upper (entrance) level

Napoleon's Sarcophagus, viewed from the upper (entrance) level

elaborate marble floors

the coffin of one of Napoleon's relatives

paintings in the vaulted ceiling dome

one of two towering statues guarding the entrance to the tomb chamber

one of the tableaux surrounding the tomb chamber which illustrate the many achievements of Napoleon, from trade, law, industry, technology - as well as his military battles

Napoleon's sarcophagus

looking up at the ceiling

looking upwards from the viewing area surrounding Napoleon's sarcophagus

Napoleon II, Roi de Rome


If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe





Pilgrimage to the Mont

19 08 2011

Mont Saint Michel is on the west coast of France on the border between Brittany and Normandy. One of the most recognisable built landmarks in France, I have always wanted to visit it. It didn’t disappoint.


The sand flats that surround the island are notoriously dangerous, with sudden tides, fogs and quicksand. It is easy to imagine how religious pilgrims travelling to this sacred Abbey atop a rock “close to God” would have considered this last stretch of their journey, where the earth might at any moment open up to swallow them or their fellow travellers. Truly a test of faith and courage!

Today a causeway with a sealed road and a carpark makes access much easier and safer.

looking upwards from the base of the town ramparts

Narrow roads wind around the base of the rock. The quaint town of stone and tudor-style houses is now restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops but the charm remains.


Atop the island, built onto the base of rock, is the Abbey of Saint Michel – the Archangel Michael. It is the golden statue of the Archangel defeating a dragon that is on the highest spire.

stone replica of the statue of the Archangel defeating the dragon. A gilded version catches the sunlight atop the highest spire.


The final ascent to the Abbey.

Centuries ago, part of the old Romanesque Abbey fell away. By the time the church had raised enough money to replace it, styles had changed and hence the missing part was replaced in Gothic Style (above and below).

the exterior of the gothic end of the Abbey

Courtyard within the Abbey, surround by double row of intricately carved cloisters

detail of the stone carving decorating the cloisters


This human-powered wheel was used to lift heavy rocks building supplies and other supplies up the steep sides of the island to the Abbey. Monks walking inside the wheel wound up the long ropse to which the supplies were attached.

Mont Saint Michel has had a long and varied history. As well as being an Abbey (and having been under seige during the 100 year war, hence the rampards), it has also been a state prison, and during World War Two it was used as a resort for the occupying German forces. As a result it received relatively little damage in WWII, but was badly damaged during its period as a prison.

Au revoir, et bon journee, a Mont Saint Michel.