Looking ahead

I suppose I shouldn’t apologise for this post being overdue. I mean, it’s March; that’s technically still within the first quarter of the year. Umm, just. I did mean for it to come sooner though. However, to be honest, I didn’t plan on the year to date being such a slog. My health has been wretched; chronic fatigue ebbs and flows but right now it’s a deluge. My mental health has just as bad; lots of little stressors have been taking their toll and even though they’re comparatively small things like job applications, doctor appointments, and being proactive about intimidating things, the sheer number of them is overwhelming when I’m already on the back foot, health-wise. In summary, chronic fatigue and anxiety are one formidable tag-team.

But anyway, without further ado or excuses: I love to overthink things – though I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that this is ultimately a better option than not thinking at all – so naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of mulling over ways to improve my knitting in 2018. And by that I mean not only working on my technical skills and the quality of my finished objects, but also improving my relationship with the craft. After pondering and brainstorming on and off for a while, these are my knitting priorities going forward.

More selfish knitting!

2017 was not really a bad year as far as knitting goes, but as I mentioned last post, a lot of the knitting that I did was for other people. I don’t want to say that that’s a bad thing, because it isn’t. I love knitting for people, as long as the knits are appreciated and used. That said, it’s a sad state of affairs when your craft starts to feel like a chore or another pressure in your life, and unfortunately I did cross that line a few times last year. And it was always in the pursuit of knitting for others. I don’t regret every gift project, but there were a few undertakings that really never ever should have happened.

I should point out that this is not because people make unreasonable demands of me. Unlike a lot of knitters, I’m rarely beset by people asking for hand-knits. It happens, but honestly not all that often, and when it does happen it’s often requests so laughable* that even I let the asking party down gently right away. My problem is that I volunteer myself. It’s completely my own fault. I don’t even know how this happens; probably a bad combination of social anxiety and compulsive generosity. Someone mentions that their friends is having a baby and suddenly my mouth is open and I’m offering to knit something. Again, this isn’t a problem if it only happens now and then, but I am apparently a serial offender. The other problem? I always end up regretting offering in the first place, usually because my energy nowadays is so finite that knitting gifts for other people ends up turning into a chore. And that doesn’t work for anyone. The people for whom I’m knitting surely wouldn’t want that for me. I don’t want that for me.

As such, in 2018, there will be less offering to knit for others. And these projects will be limited to fun-to-knit patterns in yarn I actually like. *nods* I’ll also consider giving things away when I’m done, but no more creating obligations for myself.

* I’m sure that a lot of people wouldn’t consider an adult size pullover an unreasonable request but I’m sorry: unless you are a member of my immediate family or one of a tiny, tiny handful of friends that might as well be family, I am not knitting you a jumper. Especially not one with all-over cabling. I won’t laugh at you for asking, but I’m sure as hell not doing it either.

Treating knitting like a chore, every once in a while

Okay, so I know that in the last paragraph I said that it sucks when knitting begins to feel like a chore. Well, that’s true, it does. The thing is, however, that it’s necessary in moderation. Hear me out.

I tend to do this thing where I’ll knit furiously away on a new design (because it’s inevitably when I’m winging it without a pattern that stumbling blocks happen) until I reach the part where effort is required. “Effort” in this case meaning doing something challenging, doing something that requires thought, mathematics, research, troubleshooting, etc. You know, the things that I’m hoping/assuming everyone puts off now and then. The problem is, if you don’t tackle these things now and then, you never get anywhere interesting. Your projects get put down in favour of something shiny, new, and easy. You lose your momentum. The project gets put in the “I’ll finish it someday” pile, never to be seen again. It’s not ideal.

As such, I’m going to try to have a couple of sessions per week where, for lack of a better phrase, I treat knitting like a chore. I take the measurements. I crunch the numbers. I teach myself the proper cast-off. I sew the seams. I make the decision to rip back and do it over. And so on. The thing is, none of these things are terribly unpleasant. On the contrary; when I sit down and make myself do them, I actually find myself engrossed quite quickly. They’re not terrible tasks; they’re just ripe ground for procrastination. And this year, there’s going to be less of that.

Having an easy option

Speaking generally, if I spent a lot of 2016 coming to terms with the fact that, for better or worse, chronic fatigue is now a thing in my life, then 2017 was my year of learning to manage. This is a good thing; my health is more stable now, and frankly I’m a lot happier when I am tackling problems proactively rather than just dwelling. But it’s also meant making some pretty tedious lifestyle changes, getting better at picking my battles, and sometimes just reconciling myself to the fact that some days are a write off. That sometimes accomplishment needs to take a back seat to rest and self-care.

How does this relate to knitting? Well, while I’d love to spend all of my days churning out complicated projects and new designs, that takes brain power that I don’t always have after I’ve slogged through the day’s mandatory activities. Chronic fatigue takes it toll on mental energy just as it does physical. Sometimes the two coincide, but sometimes they don’t. Because of this, there are days when I have the physical energy to knit but not the mental energy to think too hard about it. I know that some people hate endless stocking stitch but sometimes, it’s exactly what I need, usually when I just want to be soothed by the process and feel productive at least in some small way. Too often over the last year, there were times when I wanted to just knit but didn’t have a correspondingly easy project on which to work.

It’s a terrible shame to let the desire to create go unsatisfied, so this year I’m going to try to have at least two projects going at any given time; one a little more challenging, and the other something simple that I can pick up when I just want something simple. While I can see myself applying this strategy to knitting up some of those voluminous scarves that I always seem to crave when it’s cold, right now I’m doing my best to knit through my backlog of sock yarn. This is my current favourite pattern; I’ve been churning out pairs of comfortably oversized socks to wear in bed and around the house once autumn turns into winter. For all that I don’t really wear my hand-knit socks out and about all that much, there’s nothing better for snuggling up indoors in inclement winter weather.

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In related news: am I the only one who actually really liked Kureyon Sock? I know it was a bit scratchy, but it got lovely and velvety after a few washes, and the yardage was incredibly generous. I honestly wish I’d hoarded more of it.

The above socks were churned out on my recent holiday; my work offered the contract staff some time off during a quiet period, so my brother and I managed to sneak off to my favourite haunt on the mid north coast of New South Wales for a couple of weeks. To say I appreciated the break would be a little bit of an understatement.

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My health was not the best so I didn’t manage to make it to the beach quite as often as I might have liked, but I still managed a good few swimming sessions. And for the days when I wasn’t up to it, there was lovely local wine, sock knitting, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not to mention the consistently lovely sunsets.

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So there it is. My 2018 knitting goals are a lot more general than their predecessors, but sometimes a little less by way of specifics is just what you need, especially when it comes to creativity. I look forward to seeing if this approach makes any difference to what I actually produce this year. I suppose we’ll see!

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A 2016 grab-bag

While we’re on the topic of the passing of the last year, there’s some other things about which I would like to write.

I always find it useful to look back over the previous year, examine the things that I did, the things I didn’t do, and the things I enjoy. A habit I’ve picked up over the last several years is keeping a simple little list (nothing elaborate, or for public consumption) of the media I’ve consumed over the previous year. I have one for books read, movies watched, television series viewed, and one for computer games played. It may seem a neurotic habit, but it’s always nice to look back and remember when you did things, what you did, and how that informed the choices that came next.

For each month that goes by, I also write a brief list of words and and sentences, reminding myself of the things that characterised my time during that month. Nothing too poetic or elaborate: often it’s just a mismatch of the weather, the music to which I listened, the things that I was obsessively eating, what my mood was like, anything special that I saw or felt.

These things sound small, self-indulgent, a bit silly, possibly a bit obsessive, but it’s actually a habit I’m very glad to have acquired. It’s a bad cliché that as you get older, things speed up. Months and years blur together and sometimes you raise your head and look around only to discover that three months have passed in a blur of work and routine. You try and remember what you’ve been doing, but it’s all a bit hazy. You find yourself able to stutter out something about work, something about catching up with friends, a few comments about relaxing and hobbies, but the details get lost, it’s just the skeleton of your year. Keeping little notes, little lists and reminders, adds flesh to the bare bones. All the more so because the vast majority of the time when I read over my lists, I remember the little parts that I had forgotten, and it makes me smile. Because the little things – the week that it was unseasonably cold so I took up the habit of making blanket nests in that particular chair, the week I burnt my hand while bread baking and went stir-crazy from not being able to knit, the fortnight where I had a near permanent craving for lemon curd on toast – are the things that are me, that make my life different and mine.

I won’t bore everyone with the full list, and at any rate I prefer to keep it private, but in the spirit of the miscellaneous bits and pieces, here is a random grab bag of the little things that I enjoyed the most in 2016, the little things that took me by surprise with how much I enjoyed them.

Homemade bread and soup

Look, I did say “little things”. So, I like to cook. And I make a lot of things from scratch because of the dietary requirements of my household. But I also don’t tend to talk about it all that much, mainly because it feels too much like tooting my own horn (wow, that sounds like an analogy for masturbation, now I think of it) and it makes me feel like I’m crafting the image of an existence that is way more domestically idyllic and crunchy than it is. Things make me kind of uncomfortable. So usually all that makes it to Facebook is an annual blurry photo of bread accompanied by several lines of self-deprecation.

My dubious relationship with social media aside, in reality, I bake bread all the time. Especially over the last year, since due to illness I’ve had more down-time in which to pursue undertakings that are time consuming but low effort (i.e. bread). And it’s made me really happy, for a number of reasons. Fresh crusty bread is delicious. It’s nice to see my friends and family getting so much pleasure from something I’ve made. And bread (fresh or toasted) pairs very well with soup, something that I cook weekly without fail, regardless of the season, just because soup a) contains vegetables and b) can be reheated when I’m feeling too wretched to cook. If I have soup and bread in the kitchen, I know I’m safe from resorting to cereal for dinner (great as an occasional indulgence, but it becomes a little disheartening when eaten regularly by necessity because you’re too exhausted to cook).

Sitting down to a bowl of homemade bread and soup makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. And when you’re sick, unhappy, or otherwise ill-at-ease, this is a nice feeling to have. The feeling that even if the advanced things are escaping you, you’ve got your basics covered. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s nice.

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Radical Face

Because the name doesn’t give much away, Radical Face is the name of a musical act comprising of an excellent fellow named Ben Cooper. I started listening to the first album of the artist’s Family Tree project when I was travelling alone in 2015, and I spent a lot of 2016 listening to the entire trilogy once the final album of the project was released.

I’m really bad at and super self-conscious about discussing music, lacking the technical knowledge and vocabulary to say anything intelligent. But any account of my 2016 would be incomplete without a reference to these albums. So I’ll just say: the Family Tree trilogy stole my heart clean out from under me, it’s excellent, and you should give it a listen (and if you do, check out the website as I loved following the cast of characters and stories behind the songs).

Mojitos

So, even though I’ve always been into citrus and mint, I never really thought myself a fan of white rum. I was wrong. Mojitos are amazing; hands down my new favourite cocktail for when it’s too hot and sticky to move. The version that we make is close but not identical to this recipe, though now I’ve read about it I can’t wait to try the grapefruit version here.

Mass Effect:

So, just throwing it out there because I don’t know if it’s come up on this blog before: I play computer games. And not just in a ‘Candy Crush Saga while I wait for the train’ kind of way. In an ‘I used to have a Diamond league Starcraft ranking’ kind of way (though full disclosure: we didn’t hold it long). I haven’t blogged much about it, but gaming is a major interest of mine, and certainly occupies as much of my time as the hobbies that do get blog coverage (knitting, travel, etc).

I don’t bring this up out of nerd elitism (which I loathe; the stigma against casual gaming is ridiculous) but just to warn people that I’m about to deviate from standard content, and with mouth-foaming levels of enthusiasm, no less.

I used to struggle to play story heavy RPGs. They often feature a lot of cut scenes and down-time generally, and my attention span had been completely trashed by the aforementioned Starcraft habit. My mindset was that with a few exceptions, if I was gaming, I wanted to be 110% engaged at all times. However, a few years ago I realised that I could very profitably knit through any extended cut-scenes. This turned things around completely, and kick-started my (ongoing) love-affair with Bioware games.

In 2015 I played the Dragon Age series (a fantasy RPG series full of amazing world building, complex characters, and simply terrible hats) and, minor quibbles aside, I loved it in a big way. When 2016 rolled around I thought that I’d try the Mass Effect trilogy; three sci-fi setting, third person shooter games released by the same studio. I’d never really been one for shooters, but figured that as my love of Dragon Age had been pretty, ahem, slavish, it might be worth trying a game where I couldn’t throw fireballs at the bad guys. Which is kind of funny in hindsight, considering how much I grew to love my sniper rifle.

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Just look at this cool alien and his cigar. Why wouldn’t you play this game?

I really enjoyed the Mass Effect games for a number of reasons; the writing is wonderful, the world-building is detailed, the game-play is fun, and so on. But what makes them actually important to me is harder to nail down. A lot of it is being able to play a female character; thankfully this is not as rare as it once was, but I’ve been gaming for decades now and tell you what, I’m still grateful as hell when the option is there, and even more grateful when it’s as impeccably executed as it is in these games. Having weathered many years of playing (otherwise excellent) games where the female characters were at worst just eye candy and at best sporting a confusing lack of weather/combat appropriate clothing compared to their male counterparts, getting to play as a female character where your gender is not an issue within the game universe, where having sex and being sexy and romance in general are completely optional, where your competence is respected from start to finish (and not just up until the point where you suddenly need to be rescued) was, well… Honestly, I didn’t realise how badly I needed it until I played these games.

Being a card carrying feminist who has been gaming for a long time, I had gotten super good at rolling my eyes at the chain mail bikinis. I wasn’t thrilled by them but I wanted to play the games so I just shrugged, continued playing, and rolled my eyes when other Diablo II players would insist on naming their trade games things like “Oiled Melons”. I got really good at rolling my eyes and ignoring it. Mass Effect reminded me of how good it feels when you don’t have to do that, when you don’t have to put up that little bit of extra mental distance between yourself and the game.

A lot has been written about women and video games in recent years and while it’s certainly a topic on which I like to weigh in, this post is long enough already. And I certainly don’t want to imply that this is the only video game series that’s done things well on the gender front. But suffice to say, it was one of the things that made the Mass Effect series great for me. Though definitely not the only thing. In addition to the above, the character writing is also amazing. I am one of those people that, with a few notable exceptions, does not normally get emotionally involved in the things they’re watching/playing. But these games got me good; by the end, there was barely a single character to whom I wasn’t fiercely attached. Anyway, so if you like the idea of playing a game where you get to befriend excellent aliens in between punching them with your space magic, I’d highly recommend this game. In the mean time, I’ll be over here counting the days until Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out… *drums fingers*

Battlebots:

One of the things that I’ve been trying to do this year is think critically about the reasons why I like the things that I like. Partly because overthinking everything is my jam, but also to help me make good choices in the future, and to inform my own creative efforts. While I won’t bore everyone with the details (often), I am usually pretty good at figuring out the things that appeal to me. Except in this one specific case, which continues to mystify me completely, much to my utter delight.

When I was a kid I adored watching the British television show Robot Wars, so when my household discovered BattleBots (an American robot fighting tournament series) I was keen to wallow in some delicious nostalgia. I was not expecting to get nearly as excited about it as I did. We don’t really go in for sport at our place (I am a very bad Melbournian who has a benign disinterest in AFL), but this is as close as we get. We certainly treat it like a sporting event, complete with heckling and constant homespun commentary.

Why do I like watching robots destroy each other? No idea. I’m not really into spectator sports. My engineering/robotics knowledge is nil. I am not a competitive person. Yet I have watched every episode multiple times now and I am still trying to get my (long-suffering) friends to ‘come and watch robots’ with me. I’m so confused, though also very gratified that some things can still take me completely and utterly by surprise.

Tahini:

Despite always liking hummus and loving halva, I never thought I liked tahini all that much. It was bitter and a little gritty and I always ended up scowling at it. But then I realised that I could bake with it to great effect (the blondies, seriously). And then, inspired by this, I also discovered that I could just mix a wee bit of tahini with honey to taste and eat it with a spoon. So, umm, that’s a thing that I do now. Calcium? Or something.

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)

So I was lucky enough to end up in Bangkok twice over the course of 2016. Which is pretty awesome, because Bangkok is amazing fun and probably my favourite food destination, period (it’s just so good). There are plenty of interesting things to see and do – it’s a big place – but one attraction that took me pleasantly by surprise was the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. It’s a contemporary art gallery near the National Stadium BTS station, right next to the infamous MBK Centre (go for the discount shopping and stay for the food court!). We went there on a tip from my brother, and I was blown away by how good it was.

The exhibitions change regularly, but don’t get too hung up on what’s on; just go. I’ve never seen a bad show there; there’s nothing but interesting, beautiful, and accessible contemporary Thai art. If that doesn’t convince you, well, it’s free and air-conditioned and there’s an amazing ice-cream shop inside. Convinced now?

Taking my tea for a walk

Okay, so it’s not always as scenic as the below picture (Goolawah Beach in NSW, for the record). But when you’re going for a brief walk, it’s very nice to drink your tea outside. I’ve even been known to just carry my mug with me when a suitable bottle is nowhere to be found; it’s not the end of the world to just toss it back in your bag when you’re done.

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Flan

So, at some point this year I noticed that La Tortilleria (an adorable tortilla factory/Mexican eatery in Kensington, my stomping ground for a few years) gave the recipe for their flan to Broadsheet. What a discovery. I have only made this 3-4 times this year, but that’s because nobody in my household can control themselves when it’s around. Even my brother, who doesn’t typically go in for desserts. Even me, and I don’t even typically like creamy custardy things. This flan is ridiculously easy, will make you extremely popular, and you should go and make it immediately.

SERIOUSLY, GO AND MAKE FLAN, LIKE, RIGHT NOW.

Spotify’s ‘A Sudden Rainstorm’ playlist

Hours of rain noises. Making it 30% more pleasant to collapse into bed. Am I weird for being into this? Those ASMR videos do nothing for me (they actually make me feel a little uneasy, no matter what my friends say) but who doesn’t love rain? Perhaps it’s novelty; making up for all the rainy nights I missed due to the country being in drought for so much of my adolescence/early adulthood. Either way, it’s a godsend for insomnia and just deliciously soothing in general.

And finally… the monstrosity blanket

What? I thought I made myself abundantly clear re: my love for this ridiculous rainbow behemoth. No? I love it. Rather a lot. I may still run away with it. I love you, silly blanket!

So that’s it: my 2016 in miscellany. For anyone who actually bothered to read to the end of this post, I’m impressed. Maybe it’s a bit much to hope that you learned something relevant, but thank you for indulging me! Next post will have actual knitting content, I promise!

Here and there and everywhere: the last leg

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to return home when I’m away. However, when it comes to this tendency, I’m never quite sure where Crescent Head falls. It’s not home, exactly – Melbourne takes that honour and I suspect it always will, as it’s a pretty excellent place to call home – but it’s surely the next best thing. I mean, I know where the light switches are without looking. If that’s not home, then…

But I suppose categories of home/not-home aren’t particularly important here. Long story short, I didn’t want to leave. I never do. Well, except for that one year with all of the flooding and the beach-turned-black-gurgling-maelstrom. But at any rate, home was calling so we savoured our last few days of New South Wales sun and made some plans for the trip home.

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After tearing ourselves away from the sea long enough to pack and clean up, we piled back into our long suffering chariot and began the long drive south. After a brief stop-off in Port Macquarie to pick up some coffee, the rest of the drive was uneventful, bar my inexplicably managing to get lost in the outskirts of the Sydney on a road that I’ve driven countless times before. What can I say? I’m gifted that way.

We stopped in a side-street to get our bearings and were ambushed by a toddler who sneakily dropped a decapitated lizard into my brother’s pocket. To add insult to injury, his babysitter then proceeded to give us blatantly incorrect directions. I suppose I should be grateful as she was trying to help, but having already proved that I was more than capable of getting lost on my own, further assistance wasn’t really necessary. At least the lizard was memorable.

Headless reptiles and poor directions notwithstanding, we made it into Wollongong with enough time to scoff some delicious Thai food before collapsing for the night. I’d never visited Wollongong before, and we didn’t really stay long enough to get a good feel for the town, but after that morning I can definitely vouch for their beaches.

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After a bracing beach walk, we went in search of breakfast and ended up in… ummm, the industrial area of Port Kembla. What can I say? I’m a nervous driver and I get lost easily. Serendipity was with us though; we actually found a lovely little cafe and I ate a delicious mushroom toastie that I have spent the last several months joyfully doing my best to replicate. Appetites subdued and adequately caffeinated, we continued on down the coast before stopping at Kiama.

Kiama is clearly fake. Surely it’s not possible for the grass to be so green (in the middle of summer – this poor little Victorian is astounded), the water to be so blue.

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The thing is, not only was it real, it was also populated by amazing wildlife. We found this excellent guy down by the boat ramp. I made exclamation marks at him, and also swore profusely with sheer excitement. You can’t take me anywhere.

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After I calmed down about ray and let the others coax me back into the car, we knuckled down and slogged a few hundred kilometres further down the coast until we arrived in Eden. By the time we arrived I had developed a wretched headache – a situation that wasn’t aided by the large number of (ordinarily charming) bell-birds flitting around our accommodation – but thankfully Eden was pretty enough that I was able to distract myself with scenery. And pictures of orcas. Everywhere. Eden used to be a major player in the whaling industry way back when that was a thing that was done in this country. Nowadays the whales now migrate up the coast relatively unaccosted, but Eden’s passion for orcas is apparently undiminished. I didn’t get any photos of killer whale chic, but the sunset wasn’t half bad.

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The next morning we piled into the car, bolstered ourselves with an amazing breakfast at Sprout, and drove on to Mallacoota and Croajingalong National Park. I hadn’t been to Croajingalong since I was young enough to be seriously unnerved by the number of lace monitors gadding about the place. Times have changed in some ways, but not others. The monitors are still there, but now I’m happy to see them. Hey there, scaly buddy!

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Unimpressed looking reptiles aside, the national park was as gorgeous as I remembered. As we had to press on to Melbourne, we only had a few hours set aside for hiking, but we put them to good use and had a lovely wander around the coast. The colours of the rocks at Bastion Point were just amazing!

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The less said about the remainder of the drive home, the better. I was feeling sick but the other driver wasn’t feeling any better, so I drove on. I have a vague recollection of eating grapes in a carpark in Lakes Entrance, inside the car as it was raining too hard to get out. The fact that this was the highlight of the second half of the day probably speaks for itself. At any rate, we eventually arrived home, safe and sound, and fell happily into the arms of the first decent internet that anyone had had for weeks. It was a great trip – I can never really get enough of this beautiful country – but you can’t knock renewed access to YouTube and computer games. Apparently I’m all about the up-side.

Here and there and everywhere: the way back

It’s easy to get complacent about the return journey. Once you’ve reached your destination, it’s hard to get too excited about the way back. It’s retracing your steps. You no longer feel like you’re blazing a new trail. It often seems shorter, less auspicious. Either that or interminably long. It’s rarely infused with the same sense of adventure as when you’re on the way to a new place.

Thankfully, we took all of that into account for this trip, and left plenty to do on Waterfall Way en route back to the coast. Not that we had much of a choice. For all that I’d like to paint it as foresight, the truth of the matter was that there was simply too much to see on our way in, so we had to leave some for the trip back!

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First stop was Wollomombi Gorge, in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. The gorge’s waterfall was not particularly impressive – not enough rain around the time of our visit – but the lovely setting hardly needed the added boost. We had a nice little hike and then piled back into the car.

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Next stop was the gorgeous Point Lookout in New England National Park. By this point we were running out of time, so we didn’t get to do any hiking in the park, but I suppose you have to save something for next time. And there will be a next time.

We picked our way through the unsealed roads and back onto the freeway… only to get stopped again for around 20 minutes because of roadworks. Thankfully, the workers were nice enough to come and give us an estimated wait time, so I was able to turn off the engine and scoff some chips. This was after they told us they wouldn’t let us through unless I paid them $20 (because this is Australia and we have a grand history of trolling), and after I responded by laughing in their faces, because while I’m a bad Australian in some ways, I understand and appreciate the fine tradition of the piss take.

At least the roadside scenery was pleasant, if not quite as dramatic as the other things that we’d seen on our travels.Could almost pass for idyllic if not for that pesky soft-drink can.

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Our final stop for gorgeous scenery was Ebor Falls, in Guy Fawkes River National Park. We barely had to even turn off the freeway for this one. And by ‘this one’ I mean these two, because Ebor Falls is a two-for-the-price-of-one dealio.

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Just to check: everyone is now pretty clear on why it’s called ‘Waterfall Way’, right?

After Ebor Falls it was a straightforward drive back to the coast, along a now familiar route. Or that was the plan. It would have been straightforward had the brakes on our (long-suffering) car not overheated on the way down from Dorrigo plateau (a bad combination of a steep descent and near constant hairpin turns). I discovered what had happened the nerve-wracking way: i.e. trying to slow down from 100kmph, only to discover that the car had other ideas. Thankfully the brakes weren’t completely out and thanks to presence of mind and a comparatively empty road, we were able to pull over for a while to let everything cool down for a bit. We limped sadly into Bellingen 20 minutes later and consoled ourselves with a delicious late lunch. Luckily, by the time we were done the car had decided to behave itself again, and we made it home without further incident.

Next post: the trip back and a bit of a round-up!

Here and there and everywhere: Waterfall Way

Our trips to the mid-north coast tend to get a little samey. In the best possible way, of course, because you don’t really need to stray further afield when you have two amazing beaches a figurative stone’s throw away. Though perhaps it’s inaccurate to say ‘samey’ because one of the things I love about the coast is that even when you visit the same beach, it’s always a slightly different experience. The tide is higher or lower, the sandbar has subtly shifted since the last time, the cloud cover has altered the colour of sea, and so on. So samey is, rather delightfully, never something about which you need to worry.

So perhaps it’s better to say that we’re stuck in our ways. Or that we need to get out more. ‘Out’ in this instance being defined as more than a half hour drive away (when you need to drive 20km for groceries, 65km to the nearest cinema, etc, the definitions of ‘out’ get hazy). And ‘need’ being defined as ‘probably should since you’re in a beautiful part of the world and you’re only experiencing a tiny, admittedly gorgeous, piece of it’.

However you want to describe it, what all of these nebulous emotions boiled down to is: we went for a jaunt. An excursion was had. Snacks were acquired, notes were taken, maps were collected, about a half kilogram of loose sand was vacuumed out of the car, and we were on our way, heading up along the coast for a ways before turning sharply inland to tackle Waterfall Way.

Waterfall Way is a very appropriately named road that links Coffs Harbour and Armidale. The drive is only 185km (I know, I know, “only”, but as Australian road-trips go, 185km is a pretty meagre distance, really) but manages to pack in an amazing variety of landscapes, national parks, and some lovely towns that are well worth visiting. And also waterfalls. Duh.

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We kicked off the trip with brunch in Bellingen, a lovely little riverside town only a short drive inland. The first time I visited Bellingen I was a little confused as to how a small town that wasn’t really that close to anything could maintain a) such an overall impression of being so hip and artsy, and b) its ratio of cafes to residents*. I still don’t really understand but now I just shrug and enjoy it; the food is great, the vibe is chilled out, and it’s just generally a pleasure to be there, however they manage it.

After brunch and a brief post-ice-cream chill out session down in the long grass by the river, we hopped back in the car and pressed on to Dorrigo National Park.

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Dorrigo National Park is a delicious little chunk of World Heritage Gondwana rainforest that’s a (comparatively) short and extremely scenic drive from Bellingen. One of my fellow road-trippers was full of scepticism (and car-sickness) as we drove the last stint to the Rainforest Centre, as by this point there were paddocks on both sides of the road and precious little evidence of rainforest. Thankfully, his doubt was completely abandoned once we got him out of the car and coaxed him out onto one of the walks. There are both long and short loop walks that leave from the Rainforest Centre; we picked the longer 6.6km walk that took us past both of the nearby waterfalls, Crystal Shower Falls and Tristania Falls.

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You can even walk behind Crystal Shower falls. Although I think I must have played too many computer games and/or read too many fantasy novels in my time, because I can never quite shake the expectation that the space behind a waterfall will hold either a secret hideout or a chest with a magical weapon.

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After our walk, the weather started to take a turn for the ominous, so we scurried back into the car and continued west along Waterfall Way. For a whole ten minutes, before we stopped again, because a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop us from ogling Dangar Falls.

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After clambering – slightly rain splattered – back into the car we drove on to Armidale. After a brief wander and an extremely fancy kebab dinner, we returned to the hotel and passed out in front of a David Attenborough documentary. It’s amazing I didn’t dream of prehistoric fish. I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t, frankly.

The next day we made a brief stop at the visitor information centre, because I am a shameless tourist. I wasn’t sorry; one of the lovely staff members furnished me with a pamphlet about bird-watching in the area (thanks John!).

Our next stop was Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and the Threlfall walking track. This trail follows an historic hydro-electric scheme from the nineteenth century (really!) and then spits you out alongside Gara Gorge.

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It was only a 5.5km loop, so the walk wasn’t too challenging, or wouldn’t have been if not for the fact that we were (foolishly) doing it in the middle of the day in high summer. Doable, yes, but not exactly recommended!

One of the things that is amazing about this part of the country is the diversity of the terrain. Walking this trail, you wouldn’t believe that you are only a couple of hours’ drive from lush rainforest; we were slogging through tinder-dry bushland. Thankfully, the view was more than worth it, and I suspect that evening beers at The Welder’s Dog tasted all the better for having been earned by all of our traipsing through the dust and flies.

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Here and there and everywhere: Crescent Head

After returning from Japan I stuck around in Melbourne for a time, doing Melbourne things (the long awaited, the fun, the boring and practical, and everything in between), but as the weather got warmer the Hume Highway started to call, as it inevitably does at the end of the year. And I am nothing if not a fool for the lure of the Hume Highway. So in December, we packed up my long-suffering old car and drove north for a couple of days until we found ourselves home again.

While I will always remain loyal to dear old Melbourne, the mid-north coast of New South Wales is, in my opinion, both gorgeous and hugely underrated, and I’ve spent so much time there over the years that it honestly feels as much home as anywhere else. I’ve posted about the area before, so I won’t go into detail (other than to say that it’s about four hours’ drive north of Sydney and if you’re heading along the Pacific Highway and have some spare time, do yourself a favour and visit), and at any rate, it wasn’t that sort of trip. No list of sights to tick off, and no rushing from place to place. Just a whole lot of sun, beach, trees, and good food. In summary (though ‘summery’ also works): I am one lucky bastard. Lucky to be able to visit such an amazing area, lucky to know about it in the first place, and lucky that it’s still as beautiful now as it was when I was a child.

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And for anyone who remembers balcony snake from last year: there were no actual snake sightings this time around, but there was certainly evidence that our little friend is still about!

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Maybe next year!

(insert joke about weird, snake-loving Australians here. Because, you know, guilty as charged)

Here and there and everywhere: Japan, Part 2

Travelling with friends and family is fun – provided you choose the right people, of course – but I’ve always had a soft spot for travelling alone. This is probably unsurprising; while I generally dislike labels, most people wouldn’t hesitate to call me an introvert, and I’ve always been good with my own company. However, my appreciation for solo travel goes beyond my need for plenty of quiet time. Travel is a completely different beast when you’re on your own. Things slow down, you have more time to notice the things around you, locals and other travellers are more likely to approach you, and you can set your own pace and prioritise the things that you want to do (i.e. you can throw off the shackles of compromise and be completely selfish!).

Of course, solo travel is perhaps not appropriate for every trip. There are some holidays I wouldn’t consider taking alone for a number of reasons; security, budget concerns, logistics, or the fact that some experiences are best shared. But when the opportunity arises, I do tend to leap upon it, and that was exactly what I did in Japan. My companions needed to be back in Australia because of work and study obligations, but this was not the case for me, so I decided to stay on for an extra 10 days. There were plenty of things I still wanted to see, and Japan is a very easy country in which to travel on your own, so when my fellow travellers booked their tickets back to Tokyo, I dug out my Kansai Wide Area Pass (highly recommended if you’re travelling down to the Kii peninsula) and hopped on a northbound train.

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First off, I spent a couple of days in Osaka. While there aren’t as many big/historical attractions in Osaka as there are in Kyoto – and I had already visited several of the more popular tourist destinations on a previous trip – it’s still a big and boisterous city with plenty to do. I spent plenty of time just wandering, though my favourite sight from this trip was easily Minō Kōen.

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I’d never heard of it before and it wasn’t in my guidebook; rather, I read about it while researching nice nature walks around Osaka, and thought that I would give it a go. I’m so glad I did. After having visited, I’m amazed that it’s not more popular with tourists. It’s nothing revolutionary; just a really lovely park, where you can take a walk through the forest to a sweet little waterfall, but it’s perfect for when you get tired of high rise buildings and want some quality time with the trees. It’s also very accessible, with a well paved main path, and it’s only about 20 minutes on the train from Umeda/Osaka station, though it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re that close to the middle of the city.

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I also spent plenty of time wandering around Osaka Castle Park. The thing I like best about this area is that it always feels like there’s something going on whenever you visit. Sometimes bands are playing, another time there was a craft beer festival, and during my final visit I saw a crowd of people standing around with various birds of prey perched upon their arms. Still not sure of exactly what that was – some sort of hawk and owl fanciers meet-up? – but as I said, there’s apparently never a dull moment in Osaka Castle Park.

After my time in Osaka was up, I hopped on a train bound for Kobe.

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Kobe was a very pleasant city that I sadly neglected; I came down with a virus shortly after arriving and spent a lot of my (brief) time there attempting to rest up and recuperate. I did however manage a wander around the port area, and a short hike partway up Mount Rokko to Nunobiki waterfall. I was greatly amused by the fact that the trail to the latter departed from the basement car-park of the shinkansen station. At least it was easy to find!

Once my time in Kobe was up, it was time for another train trip west, this time to Okayama. I’d never visited Okayama before but had always been curious, as I’d taken the shinkansen through a few times and had always wondered what I’d been missing. The city itself was smaller than my last few stops, but quite nice; I loved the little tree-lined canal that ran through it!

My first stop was Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle. I had high expectations for the garden, as it’s said to be one of the top three in Japan, though upon visiting I have to admit that it perhaps wasn’t as much to my taste as Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. I think I just have a distinct preference for tall trees and moss over manicured lawns and neatly pruned hedges! Nevertheless, it was a very lovely garden, and it was far less crowded than Kenrokuen, so I was able to take my time and wander slowly, enjoying the peace and quiet.

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Okayama Castle was also lovely, and came with the standard excursion-full of adorable Japanese children who inevitably wanted to wave at the enormous white tourist. I was, as always, more than happy to play along.

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I also managed a day-trip out to Kurashiki, where I spent a lovely few hours getting lost, wandering around the canals, buying fabric, and cooing over the cat sprawled outside of the toy shop.

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After departing Okayama, I spent a lovely few days in Hiroshima. I’d visited Hiroshima before, but only as a day-trip from Kyoto, so I had been really looking forward to getting to know the city a little better.

I’m sure that many people think of one thing and one thing only when they hear of Hiroshima, but there’s a lot more to the city than that one event in its history. Hiroshima is a gorgeous city, with beautiful parks and tree-lined avenues, and while obviously there are museums and monuments dedicated to the A-bomb and its aftermath, it’s unfair to write off the city as a dark tourism destination and nothing more. The parts of the city that memorialise its tragic past also serve as centres for anti-nuclear campaigns. When you leave the (admittedly harrowing) Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, you are immediately provided with the opportunity to sign petitions to abolish the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons, and locals were handing out fliers in the area around the A-bomb dome. So while there is an emphasis on the city’s past, there’s also an optimism and a focus on the future that is very endearing.

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Aside from the above sights, I also visited Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien, one of the city’s lovely gardens. If Okayama’s Korakuen had been not so much to my taste, then Shukkeien at least was a very pleasant surprise. It was small but very beautiful, and I spent an entire afternoon just wandering about, pausing often to sit and peek at the sunbathing turtles.

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Near the end of my time in Hiroshima, I also took a day to visit the island of Itsukushima (also known as Miyajima), famous for its iconic enormous floating torii.

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I’d visited before for a general wander around (and had my map partially eaten by one of the island’s ubiquitous deer) but this time I had a goal: to climb Mount Misen. I took the Daisho-in path, which is apparently the least steep of the three hiking trails, though I had definitely had my fill of stairs by the time I reached the top (for the less energetic/masochistic, there is also a ropeway). Thankfully, there was plenty of gorgeous scenery along the way to keep me distracted from my tired legs, and the view of the inland sea from the top of the mountain was more than worth the hike.

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Despite the length of the trip, I was still sad when my time in Japan came to an end. When I was younger I tended more towards homesickness, preferring shorter trips, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself reaching the tail end of holidays thinking “but I’m not quite finished yet”, and the feeling tends to arise completely independent of the state of my to-visit list. Perhaps it’s because you never know what’s going to happen on a day when you’re on holiday, or because as I get older I have more appreciation for the simplicity of my days when I’m travelling (residing in a small room, living out of a single bag, rather than feeling overwhelmed by choice like I often do at home). It’s probably high time that I take note of these feelings, not so much for future trips, but for changes I can make to my day-to-day life. Though it’s not like I’ll ever say no to future trips either!

Pretentious sounding introspection aside, I was sorry to leave Japan, but I had a pretty sweet consolation prize: a ferry ride! There is no good reason for me to love boats as much as I do, given my role as that token character that suffers from seasickness, but love them I do. There’s something about taking a ship that makes you feel intrepid, even when this feeling is completely and utterly unfounded. It’s not just a trip, it’s a voyage. You can all stop laughing at me now.

Anyway. I needed to find my way back from to Tokyo, and it turned out that taking a boat from Hiroshima across the inland sea to Matsuyama in Shikoku, from where I had snagged a dirt-cheap domestic flight back to Tokyo, was way cheaper than taking the train. Plus, you know, this way a boat was involved!

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After this point it was all endless airports, a night in a hotel that I barely remember because I literally did nothing but shower and sleep, hasty bowls of udon, and the purchase of a fine selection of plane snacks that left me feeling all smug and organised (it’s easy when the airport has a well stocked and reasonably priced convenience store… and people wonder why I love Japan so much). I was sad to go but frankly, I know myself far too well to believe for a second that I won’t be back again. Let’s face it; where Japan is concerned, I’m completely incorrigible.