Monthly Archives: May 2012

Docklands & Port Adelaide

“On paper it sounds great but the reality is sterile.”  That’s Lonely Planet‘s summation of Melbourne’s Docklands.

Just beginning a second decade, its own website overstates, “From one of Victoria’s first ports to an industrial wasteland in the 1990s, Docklands today is being transformed into a modern residential, commercial and visitor destination in the heart of Melbourne.”  Well, it wasn’t much of an attraction for this visitor.

The free City Circle tram makes two stops at Docklands, so Ruth and I decided to jump off and check it out.  Granted, we were there during an afternoon with no event in Eithad, a nearby multipurpose venue with over 50,000 seats (!) for sports and entertainment.  The only venue of this size in the Southern Hemisphere that has a fully retractable roof (!), Eithad hosts AFL (Australian Football League) matches, cricket, rugby, and Barbra Streisand (!).  There was nothing for us to do other than tour a replica of Endeavor, explorer James Cook’s ship, which was in the harbor only until April 29, 2012 (!).

There were few people strolling the boardwalk, and most of the restaurants were closed either for the afternoon or permanently.  Harbourtown, Docklands open-air shopping center, was not especially enticing.  With store names like Tunzafun, Rainbows, and Bra’s n Things, Harbourtown looked like a not-so-successful venture and I felt sorry for the idle employees.  But again, perhaps Tunzafun’s busy on weekends and during events.  But I doubt it.

The same general lassitude is also true of  Port Adelaide, another victim of overripe promotion.  “Take a deep breath of fresh sea air and get ready to experience South Australia’s maritime heartland,”  one Adelaide tourist booklet said without the usual exclamation point.

Although it was about  half an hour north of Adelaide’s go-go downtown (!), the Port’s description made it sound exciting but, then again, tourist lit always hypes.  Dolphins!  The finest Victorian buildings in Australia!  …climb the old ketch and ride the steam train!  ….see live seahorses!

Well, the reality of the place was, The Seahorse Museum had permanently closed, cruise boats didn’t seem to be operating, and the only visitors around in the entire precinct were some not-well-supervised, bored school kids on a field trip.  We followed them to The Maritime Museum, which was open, but it looked like a cramped space that no one sane would want to share with a rowdy school crowd, so we skipped it.

In the area were also the Australian Museum of Childhood (!), the National Railway Museum(!) and the South Australia Aviation Museum (!), but we had generally lost interest in Port Adelaide after our walkabout.   Adelaide, a tourist guide, described the lighthouse in the picture above as ICONIC! and said about Port Adelaide, “There are great local cafes…and pubs!   We even have our own brewery hotel!”   No thanks.

 Adelaide’s Best Attractions promoted fun and friendly markets! on the first Sunday of each month. So maybe that’s the best time to visit Port Adelaide. It certainly wasn’t on a weekday April afternoon.  We left to explore Glenelg (Adelaide’s favorite beach!)


Oregon’s North Coast Beaches


Oregon’s beaches are not like those in the Caribbean.  They are incredibly scenic and usually with coastal range backdrops.  But they’re not  places to vacation if you want to swim.  They’re windy  and the water is just too cold.  Every year there are stories of mostly young people who misjudge rip currents and sneaker waves and drown.  These beaches are for wading, picnics, beach combing, sometimes sunning, and feeling wary about the ubiquitous tsunami warning signs.

At the town of Warrenton, Fort Stevens State Park has many activities including a historic, super military site and museum.  Because the Park’s beaches are on a triangle of land jutting north to the mouth of the Columbia River and its treacherous Bar, they’re usually not crowded.  In fact, when we’ve been there no one was around.  Because there are no trees or mountains adjacent and no services, they seem wilder and more pristine than those further south.  Here, beach walkers can enjoy the simple freedom of ocean and sky.

Gearhart Beach is equally empty, but its backdrop is a quiet, affluent town of mostly longtime,  summer residents who are most likely the ones you’ll find on this beautiful beach.

Seaside is a very popular, congested vacation beach adjacent to a carnival-like town with every  amenity.   Think of a Left Coast Atlantic City.  It even has a promenade.  You can fly a kite, eat saltwater taffy, ride a carousel, etc.

Just a bit further south is my favorite, Cannon Beach.  But that’s because….,well, here’s the story.

Cannon has a Sandcastle Festival, this year from June 8 to 10.  The festivities include a dinner, a bonfire, a concert, etc.   But the main event is the sand castle building contest on Saturday afternoon. I didn’t know about this when new to the area and on Cannon Beach with 2 very young grandsons.  Digging in the sand, we heard an announcement about the end of the in-progress contest.

“Can we build a castle?” Alexander asked.

“Run over and find out.”

Nicolas did and the answer was yes, so the 3 of us used pails and shovels to excavate what looked like a futuristic moon colony.   While Alexander and I scooped out roads for LEMs, Nicolas ran around collecting bird feathers to stick in every geodesic dome.

The judging began and two grandmotherly ladies came over to examine, very seriously, our humble layout.  After they took notes, one asked, “What do you call it?”

“Feather City!” Nicolas announced.

The ladies smiled.

Awards were soon being given for things like best traditional and best team effort.  By the time the announcer was down to the final award, we had not been mentioned.   Understandable, I thought,  since we were a late entry and our effort was hastily done and childlike, unlike the monster castles created by large, experienced teams.

“And the award for Best Overall goes to…Feather City!”  cried the announcer.

So OK, I have to admit that I’m a bit prejudiced when I say that Cannon is the best North Oregon Beach.


Lisbon’s Fado Museum

For Ruth and me, holiday weekends aren’t usually relaxing so I didn’t get to the Sunday New York Times Travel section until late last night. As soon as I saw that rickety yellow and white tram coming down the narrow street of that rather ramshackle neighborhood, I knew exactly where I was–Lisbon, the city of small, culture-explaining museums.

At one point the article’s writer, Frank Bruni, says, “In Lisbon it occurred to me that maybe our favorite places are simply those in which our expectations are routinely exceeded…” That nails it perfectly, and I immediately flashed on el Museo del Fado.

I knew very little about fado, Portugal’s equivalent to our country music, when I entered this museo, but I exited with lots of scribbled notes, a love for it, and a Mariza CD.

Fado was created on the seedy Lisbon waterfront in the 19th century as street music about the kind of men with tattoos of anchors and ships on their arms who use their fists instead of their mouths to speak and the woman who tried to turn them into lovers, husbands, and fathers. In other words, it’s music about hell and heartbreak.

By the end of the 19th century, fado had spread beyond the waterfront into vaudeville theaters, operettas, movies, and especially into fado houses, night spots where fans could listen to anguished men and women sing, have some port, and get both depressed and excited. By 1927 the lyrics needed to be censored by law.

Over time, like rootsy American country music, Fado became more professional and widespread. The early lyrics, which were anonymous and mostly from oral tradition, became more like poetry. A quote on one display seemed to capture this best, “Fado is a poem that can be heard and seen.” A rather art deco looking fado guitar evolved out of the English guitar with a father and son, Cardosos & Gracios, perceived as the most artful makers. Fado went international in the 30s when Brazilians and others became fans.

I learned all of this in 1 hour as I gaped at museum-quality guitars, studied fado paintings and posters, and plugged into listening stations. Among the many great fadistas, one seemed to stand out–Mariza.

Born Marisa dos Reis Nunes, she grew up in Alfama where there are many fado nightspots that are best visited in security-conscious groups. We now have 3 Mariza CDS and plan to get her most recent, Fado Tradicional, which is easy to find on Amazon.

Lisbon’s Fado Museum is in an old waterworks pump house in Alfama. It opened in 1998 but is so lovingly maintained that it looks like it started business yesterday. Donations from fado performers got it going and visitors might be lucky enough to catch a live performance.


Why Travel?



On this holiday weekend as June approaches, I’m thinking back over travel so far in 2012.

People often ask Ruth and me why we spend so much time on the road.  We have taken 5 trips so far this year.

Well, there’s really nothing wrong with staying at home.   There’s comfort and satisfaction in our routines.   Sort the laundry, finish the book, make dessert for company, check the credit card statement, etc.

But if I hadn’t gotten out of my comfortable chair once a month since the year began and headed down a road or to PDX (Portland International), I wouldn’t have:

driven through Death Valley’s majestic Titus Canyon on a one-way road in a Jeep

seen Las Vegas’ new Smith Center with our good friend Keny and then the line of people waiting to get into the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop where Pawn Stars is made

stared at pictures of some of the 828 bulging Yucca Flat subsidence craters at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas and had chills

gone into St. Louis’ 5 Compass Moto Museum’s repair facility and seen a rare 1954 Maico Mobil motorcycle made in Germany

heard the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra at the Krannert in Urbana, Illinois

laughed until it hurt at Cameron Dobbs, a new play that deserves many productions, being performed by the excellent West End Players in St. Louis

applauded the winners of the a capella competition in Eugene, Oregon, with my equally excited grandson Nicolas in the seat next to me

experienced near hypothermia at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery south of Vancouver, BC, while I learned what an impossibly hard life its workers endured; then Ruth and I crossed the Canadian-US border into Point Roberts, a weird little gap place where the kids have to cross two international borders to attend school

taken photos of workers installing an enormous Chihuly glass sculpture in front of the about-t0-open Garden and Glass at Seattle Center

talked about the coming Summer Olympics  on an airport shuttle in Los Angeles with a delightful couple from London

watched actor Hugo Weaving stare at Ruth in dismay when she dozed off during his truly fine performance in Dangerous Liaisons at the Wharf Theatre in Sydney because she was so jet-lagged after what amounted to 3 days without sleep (I was in the row behind Ruth since we couldn’t get two seats together many months before)

learned that there is still a reasonably priced, really well-run, customer oriented airline–Virgin Australia

walked through a stunning dahlia garden in another Portland, the one in Victoria, Australia, and  talked to the chief gardener who was getting a floral display ready for ANZAC Day

stood with John on a high promontory on the Fleurieu Peninsula taking photographs and spending too much time watching the ferry come into the harbor from Kangaroo Island

Is it any wonder that Ruth and I have five trips planned that will take us into autumn?

Happy travels.




Adelaide’s Hogwarts

A museum of economic botany sounded just offbeat enough to be interesting so, while in Adelaide, South Australia, Ruth and I headed for the Botanic Gardens northwest of the central business district.  Sometimes an attraction can be instructive without being physically appealing.

Although it looked  to me like a Harry Potter classroom that a team of house elves had just blown the dust off of, the Santos Museum of Economic Botany had a major restoration in 2009.   The lady in charge, who was engrossed in a book, told me that it was closed for 18 months.  Its website said 12 and noted that MEB is one of the Garden’s treasures.  It opened in 1881 and, in my opinion, still looks like it probably did on its first day.  Now it’s open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.

High ceilings, low Victorian cabinetry, and displayed plants that have been gazed at since the MEB opened made for a less than 5 compass experience.  Almost everything was classified and grouped unattractively under glass, and I had to lean forward and down to look.  This got tiresome.  After a brief time, Ruth decided she’d rather go sit in the park until I was done.  I don’t know how the 130 year old plants are being preserved, but they looked like if I touched them they would disintegrate.

According to one sign, there are 3,000 objects on display, which is 99% of the existing collection. Even after being there and checking MEB’s website later, I’m still not sure who collected them.   I assume they resulted from the passion of German Richard Schomburgk, the 2nd director of the Botanic Garden who became head honcho in 1865.  Schomburgk did correspond with like-minded botantist all over the world and ask for seed samples.

A quote right above the reading lady sounded promising.  In 1871 Baron Ferdinand von Mueller said, “A few plants speak often more strikingly for the nature of a country than a mass of descriptive explanation.”  So, if I understand what a country is growing, eating and exporting, I can learn a lot about it.  Sounds reasonable, but I saw little proof of that here.

After looking at every display, what I did learn, however, was kind of  fascinating.

One display called drugs and medicines noted that natural curatives and poisons are often separated by a fine line.  Belladonna and opium, for example, are antidotes to each other.

There are 2,600 species of palms and this plant family claims the distinction of having more uses than any other–brooms, landscaping, thatching, oil, etc.  This really made me scratch and think.

The rose family includes apricots, almonds strawberries, and the apple.   Besides botanists, who knew that an apple and an American Beauty are sisters?

The mallow family includes okra, durian, cotton, and cocoa.  I didn’t know what durians were until I saw women fighting over them in a Shanghai market.  Now I know why they say they stink but taste great.  They’re related to chocolate!