Category Archives: Travel

Early Morning Plane Spotting and Thoughts on MH17

Being a night owl, I rarely get out to the airport in the early morning. But on Thursday, I was on pick-up duty, so I dragged myself out of bed a little earlier to make it down to my favourite spot before I was due at the Arrivals hall. Vietnam Airlines Lost parcel Botany Bay It was the morning before we heard the tragic news about MH17. As I watched the stream of airliners touch down at Sydney Airport, I guess — in retrospect — I was happy.  I stood alone at my favourite spot, a rusting chain link fence separating me from the runway a few metres away. I silently thanked the person who had strategically left milk crates so I was able to get a clear shot of the beautiful machines between the fence and the recently added barbed wire on top. Without my favourite lens and shooting directly into the hazy Sydney light, these photos weren’t going to be my best, but I didn’t care. I was out doing what I love, admiring the grace of these planes as they raced by me in the pink-tinged morning light, past the golden grasses and the calm waters of Botany Bay. Yet another moment to bottle for posterity. Qantas747Sydney Tower Sydney Airport Korea777 Planes, for me, are inherent symbols of freedom and adventure. They’re stunning pieces of man-made technology and seem to have distinct personalities. I love to know where they’re heading, thinking about who could be onboard and what they’re all going to do at their destination. It’s partly an exercise in imagination, and it makes me appreciate these machines on a more human level: as a vessel for hundreds of tales of love, loss and adventure. Each of those on the flight leaves behind or are arriving home to the big, juicy hugs of loved ones. They’re all of varying age, education, social status. Some are mere babes in the safe arms of their parents, others are enjoying the twilight of their youth, others for business. Some travel alone, others in groups. But they’re all valid, and real.

As I processed these photos, I thought about what is left after a tragedy like MH17. What it means for the people involved, but also for those on the ground and those left behind. What society will lack without these people. SydneyAirport34L JapanAirlines777 Over the last few days, we’ve heard a handful of the stories of those onboard. The half dozen of notable AIDS researchers aboard the flight, men and women who had devoted their lives to helping others. A grandfather ferrying his three grandchildren home from a family holiday in Europe so the parents could have a few days to themselves in Amsterdam. Six members of a Malaysian family who were relocating back to KL after living in Kazakhstan for three years. And a Queensland couple who — through enormous odds — lost both their son and daughter-in-law in the disappearance of MH370 in March, and now their step-granddaughter and her husband on MH17 this week.

Each of these passengers on MH17 have had their stories cut short in a most brutal and tragic manner. Their family and friends are left to grieve and to close their stories as best they can into a neat little bow. Though such an ending could never be classed as neat. The macabre details and images that have been documented serve to remind us that these people existed, but none have taken the time to put the tragedy into context, preferring only to reveal gruesome photos for shock value. We’re doing these people a disservice by only reporting part of their story.

I feel we should be trying to understand that each of these bodies unceremoniously strewn in fields thousands of kilometres from home represented a person, a life. Events like this ask us to consider what is important to us. And it’s also a not-so-subtle reminder that we — just like those passengers on MH17 — could be taken at any time.

Memento mori: remember that you will die.

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My Chicago: my new short film

I’ve been home for a few months now and thoughts on my experience living in Chicago have had time to crystallise. As they took shape, I found I was inspired to make a short film — my first solo effort — and one I call ‘My Chicago’.

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Initial thoughts about Chicago

For me, Chicago was always a ‘why not?’ destination, instead of a ‘YES!’ destination. I stressed about the cold, the snow and the ice; wondered how people were able to go out and perform daily functions, such as commuting to work and grocery shopping in the middle of blizzards. I had little idea how I’d manage living in a climate vastly different to what I was used to, but I was willing to give it a red hot go.

Initially, I found the city abrupt and unforgiving and it appeared the feeling was mutual. But I gave it some time, and before I knew it the city grew on me. It grew on me far more than I could have every imagined. I made myself a life in yet another new city, learned to dress for (and deal with!) the cold and make new friends. I dove into the freshwater Lake Michigan, ran down the Lakefront trail and visited the animals at the free Lincoln Park Zoo only five-minute walk from my apartment. I spent nights at Kingston Mines, afternoons learning yoga, and weekends playing netball and watching baseball. I went to museums, navigated the public transport and spent countless hours wandering Lincoln Park to photograph the row houses. And after surviving the Polar Vortex, I can survive anything that’s thrown my way!

The people are what make Chicago extra-special

I encountered wonderful people in Chicago — real, like-minded people — who were so friendly and welcoming of me. These are the kind of people who stop you on the train to tell you that you’re looking good, those who say what they think and those who love a laugh. After those initial tough first weeks, it was like a giant hug from the Midwest acknowledging that it was glad I was here. I feel indebted to the great people I met at #703 and the Chicago Netball Club and who made my experience so memorable.

I cried when I left. In fact, I cried a lot. I was incredibly emotional leaving it all behind and that surprised me. Elements of Chicago had become part of me, and I’d like to think elements of myself had also been exchanged in return. That’s the mark of a great city: somewhere you’re sad to leave. I stand on this side of the experience and love the city as though it was my own.

Acknowledgments

The Hanovers — thank you for those initial weeks and for a wonderful Christmas sledding and eating and laughing. I miss having you guys so close!
The Williams Family – thanks again for your hospitality, the opportunities and for the loan of that phenomenal winter jacket.
To Olivia and the girls (and guys) at the Chicago Netball Club – thanks for your friendship on and off the court. It was great getting to know you all, and I hope to return soon to play another season.
To #703 – thanks for all going out of your way to make me feel a part of the team and for being so patient with my millions of questions. I enjoyed my time with you all immensely, and really miss working with each of you. And my taste in music has undergone some refinement after closing regularly – I listen to a lot more Robyn and Chvrches!
And to Kat — thank you so much for taking a gamble on me. I really made your apartment my own and was thankful for having met you. I think you’ll see just how much I enjoyed my time at St James in my film.

My Chicago

I dream of returning to live in Chicago again, one day.
But perhaps just for the summer months …

So, without further ado, here’s My Chicago:

Climbing Pigeon House Mountain, NSW

IMG_4931aWhen I was studying a few months ago, I taped a list of things I wanted to post-uni to my wardrobe door. I added to it when inspiration struck and it gave me an extra push, knowing that I could achieve all of those marvellous things once I was finished. And one of these grand plans was hiking Pigeon Mountain on the south coast of New South Wales, three hours from Sydney. My sister and I hatched a plan for Easter and cleared our schedules. Now the time had come to finally tick it off my list.

We were up at dawn, the earliest I’d seen of the AM hours in a while. My sister – a morning person – drove. The first half of the journey was filled with sleepy-headed silence and nostalgia of all the trips that had come before it. The field beside the highway where giant sunflowers used to bloom now lays sadly idle.

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We passed through a town that gave way into small rural allotments, then small farms. We saw cows crossing, lawns of lavender and the beehives that produce the Pigeon Mountain honey I love. The wide open paddocks were the shades of vibrant greens after the previous month’s record-breaking rains – a rare sight in a drought-prone nation. The sealed road gave way to a wide dirt surrounded by protected bushland. This marked the start of our off-roading journey.

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“The first part is hardest. So we’ll power through and then take a rest when we get to next section of the hike,” she said as we pulled into the car park. We were in the southern section of the Morton National Park, 27km down a dirt road, and miles from civilisation. We were effectively in the middle of nowhere and it felt like it.

The rating on the trek from the National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was ‘hard’ and suggested four hours each way for the journey of 5km.  There were to be no sherpas on this expedition so I was conscious of not overpacking. I settled for some food, four litres of water, a first aid kit, a camera and a light jumper.

It was a chilly 12 degrees Celsius (53F) and the sun had not yet reached us on the south-western face of the mountain. We each put in our ear buds, and set off with little ceremony or fanfare.

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The first section of the trail was steep, the track was wide. The NPWS had formed uneven steps into the terrain to assist hikers and help prevent erosion. Trees stood at arms length from each other as though they were fearful of contact. But this soon changed as we climbed higher, giving way to more dense eucalypt and ash forest and small grey boulders to scramble around.

We climbed in silence, each listening to the music that motivated us. I listened to a mix I’d made to run along the Lakeshore Trail in Chicago, so I spent the first part of the climb reliving recent memories and trying to recall the sights and sounds of my regular run. The volume on my iPod was turned way down so I could (potentially) hear the slithering of snakes on the path and the clomp of oncoming groups. Being that I was in two places at once, this section passed pretty quickly.

We emerged at a slight clearing and stopped for some water. Just off the main track was a large boulder, and so we ventured out on to it to soak in the view. We caught sight of our destination – Pigeon House Mountain – rising up before us, but it looked so far away.

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We resumed our steady pace and in a few minutes came into what was definitively the second stage of the trail. It was mostly flat, scrubby bushland that ran the length of the natural ridge that led up to the next stage of the hike. In spring, this section of the track is wall-to-wall wildflowers, but in autumn, the only spot of colour came from a handful of orange grevilleas.

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The scrub gives way to heath along the third section. As we climbed higher, the trees became taller and more dense, the track less sandy. This part of the trail was more of a muddy, temperate forest and it was here I was able to test out the waterproof quality of my new hiking boots.

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This was my favourite part of the trail: still steep-ish and entertaining but with interesting views through the canopy. It was up here we heard the call of a lyrebird. I’d recently watched a documentary that showed the phenomenal ability of the lyrebird to imitate the call of other birds as well as human sounds (such as the click of a camera, a car alarm and a chainsaw), so it was special to be able to hear it in the wild.

At the base of the sandstone cliff face that made up the peak was a series of ladders. This was final stage of our ascent and we were making great time. An old man we passed on the trail spoke of his memories hiking Pigeon as a much younger man, when the only way to reach the peak was via a series of ropes. I’ll take ladders over ropes any day!

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The ladders were ice-cold to the touch (which is always preferable to red-hot) and relatively easy to manage even though we both struck our shins on them multiple times. Two of the original steel ladders are still in use today.

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At the top of the ladders, we had to scramble over a few boulders to reach the summit. It was a relatively clear day and we could see as far south as Tuross and as far north as Jervis Bay. From above, the Budawang Valley looked similar to the Blue Mountains – with its wide valleys, long plateaus and colours.

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We had reached the summit, but I was not as enraptured as I thought I would be. Few things are as enjoyable in the moment as they are for me in memory. But I took five minutes to commit the views and my feelings about achieving this to memory, snapped a few photos and turned for home.

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The return journey was fast, comparatively, and we passed plenty of groups on their way up: young couples, old folks, families with young children, and one ultra-marathoner. When we set out, the carpark had only three other cars and over 20 when we returned. We weren’t the only people with this idea over the Easter long weekend.

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We made great time on the trail, too. Instead of the return journey taking us 8 hours, we managed to complete the trail in 2h16m (perhaps the NPWS were just erring on the side of caution?).

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When you rely on cars or public transport every day, the simple act of using your own feet can bring a great sense of achievement. It’s a great reminder for me to use my abilities to achieve bigger things, more often.

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Thoughts on Change and Evaluation

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Just outside my window are two very large trees. They provide shade and colour and a home for the unnaturally loud flock of cockatoos who seem to have taken up residence there. These trees have been here as long as the house, perhaps even longer. The life force in these trees is strong. I look out at them when I awake in the morning, when I do my sun salutations, when I pause while writing at my desk.

But April has arrived, and soon the green leaves will slowly turn yellow, then a brilliant shade of orange, and eventually into a deep red. They will fall on the gentle breeze that blows through the valley here, and everyday I will sweep them up until there are none left to fall. Change happens continuously, no matter what you’re doing.

Whether it be rhythmic like the turning of the seasons or violent like a thunderstorm, change is inevitable. We learn and grow and change through our environments and our experiences. And I have returned to Sydney — the city I was born and raised in – and being home has shown me just how much I have grown within, even if my external features have not altered. I have become more quiet, more observant, more reflective than the version of me who left here all almost eight years ago. I have developed the resilience I always had in far-reaching ways. I have battled bureaucracy, injustice and hardships, and learned from my mistakes. I have seen and lived and loved. Travel has shaped me in ways I struggle to fully comprehend.

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From where I am standing, Sydney looks refreshing, inviting and unafraid to show her true nature. She knows I will tire of her easily and she’s accepting of that. She helps me recharge. I always return.  But this time it feels different. I don’t understand the particulars of why or how or what, but I feel as though I am on the precipice of something… big? Momentous? Different? I’m not sure. But the winds of change have brought me back to Sydney for a reason. And I am trying to interpret what it’s whispering to me. A few weeks ago, I read ‘The Alchemist’. The lessons have stayed with me, even if I was not truly inspired by the writing. I now understand why certain people recommended it to me.

“[M]aking a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”
– Paulo Coelho, ‘The Alchemist’

I made a choice to travel, to embrace the unknown. I sought a different life from the traditional model laid before me, one full of adventure. And when wrapping up these past seven and a bit years, I see I have done that. I had no idea that I would develop a connection far greater than I ever imagined to San Francisco. Or that I would come to understand how much sunshine means to my health after living in the rainy and permanently overcast west of Ireland. Or that I could manage to travel alone throughout Eastern Europe, at my own pace and on my own steam. Or that I’d experience first hand the impact a piece of art would have on me at the National Gallery in London: the Execution of Lady Jane Grey. Finding a small town in New Zealand to show me how to slow down and appreciate the elements central to life: love, family, food and time. That my time in South East Asia would be so colourful and so varied, ultimately reaffirming my need for distance. Or that I would move to Chicago on a whim and find that it would influence me more than I imagined. Already, I’ve lived some great adventures. I wonder what comes next?

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I am starting to view my life less as a series of planned adventures and more as a path, a journey with twists and turns and unexpected hiccups and fortuitous events. And even though I haven’t changed on the outside, I’ve done a hell of a lot of growing on the inside. There’s still plenty more to do, but I can’t help but smile at myself when I think about all I have already accomplished, and all that I am on the cusp of achieving. Here’s to plenty more adventures – both home and abroad.

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It’s all head-down-bum-up at the moment as I finish my classes. I have an obscene amount of work to achieve in a very short amount of time, and my technique at procrastinating is second to none. As you can see!

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I wanted to share this pic of a cute little place I stumbled across on a walk around SF a few weeks ago. It’s tucked up a little alleyway on Nob Hill, and looked so inviting with the red door, grey paint, white trim and red geraniums outside.

Well, must get back to it! See you on the flip side.

Doing Backflips in San Francisco

Last week, we shook off the minus double digits of the Chicago winter in favour of sunny, clear 23C in San Francisco.  We spent some time wandering my old ‘hood. A few things had changed, but not much.

San Francisco is still a place that makes my heart do backflips. It possesses a natural beauty, but there’s much more to the city than a bunch of buildings on a peninsular surrounded by water. There’s a vibe, a magnetic field. I feel real there. I feel like me.

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 “San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.”
– William Saroyan

SF is still my favourite city in the world. I’ve found nothing else that compares.