My Favourite Places in the World

***Under Development***

Here I’m trying to list my favourite places that I’ve visited. I’ll add to this list as I think of places. I hope it inspires you to try visiting them at some point.

Bitter Springs, Mataranka, Northern Territory, Australia:

Mataranka is a small town approximately 100km south of Katherine that’s main claim to fame is that it is the town that was featured in the book We of the Never Never. And doesn’t the town know how to cash in on a good thing? All the streets are named after characters in the book, and there are even statues of the characters in the park in the middle of town. It is also home to the world’s largest man-made termite mound… although why anyone would even think to make that is a bit beyond me.

Bitter Springs, Mataranka
Image courtesy of Caitie K

Mataranka is also home to a number of thermal springs. The most famous of these is the Mataranka Thermal Spring, but whilst the water was nice, I found it to be too much like a swimming pool seeming the edges have been concreted and stairs installed to allow easier access for the multiple grey nomads that frequent it.

Bitter Springs is a small thermal spring located past the opposite end of town. It’s name is due to the acrid taste of the mineral water that arises from the spring. This spring, however, maintains a natural appearance. Stairs have been installed at the beginning and end of a section of the river flowing from the spring, which allows visitors to gently float with the current down the river. The water is startling clear and blue, which makes its depth rather deceptive. It’s also a thermal spring, which means the water is a nice temperature all year round.

I have to say I loved it. It was so much fun floating down the river I did it a few times. Mind you, you have to remember to wear shoes while you do so, otherwise you have to walk up a gravel path back to where you left them. Ouch! This was probably my favourite part of my entire trip through the Top End.

Doo Town, Tasmania, Australia:

Doo Town is this tiny town south of Hobart in Tasmania with a population of about 230 people. It’s near this place named Pirate Bay, which I think is just about the most beautiful spot that I’ve ever been, and about 15-30min away from Port Arthur. It doesn’t really produce anything, and the scenery is no where near as beautiful as Pirate Bay, so you’re probably wondering why I’ve placed this little town on my list of favourite places in the world.

Well, there are two reasons:

1. All the shacks that make up the town have one thing in common – they are all named. Not only that, they have the word ‘Doo’ in their names. Doo Nothing, Didgeri-doo, Doo F*** All… It’s so deliciously kitschy and a uniquely Australian idea. Driving around and reading all their names gave me a good laugh.

2. There’s a geological structure on the coast at Doo Town called the Blowhole. It’s a sea cave that when the tide comes in, spurts water high in the air like a blow hole. That’s not why I think Doo Town is cool, though. No, the reason why it is awesome is because of this little caravan that sits in the carpark at the Blowhole. It serves snacks to coming visitors, and my God, isn’t it good? When I was there, I had fresh berries covered in berry coulis, cream and icecream, and it was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. And the thing is that it’s so incongruous coming from this dingy caravan in the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure that I would go back to Doo Town just to eat there again.

East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia:

I love living and working in East Arnhem Land. I’m currently on my third placement here, something that I never expected would happen when I originally visited here four years ago.

Mind you, me ending up here at all was a bit of a fluke. When I was studying second year medicine, we had this thing called Rural Community Week. It’s were we were sent out to rural communities for a week to complete a survey of the population there as part of a research project. Largely it was just medical tourism to inspire our interest in rural health – not that I needed any help in that department, anyway.

Even though most of the placements were in rural South Australia, there was an option for a select group of us to visit the Northern Territory. This would involve a written application as to just why exactly we should be chosen. I wanted to go. I had never been to the Northern Territory before, and seeming one of my life goals is to visit all seven continents and all states and territories of Australia, I thought this was a good opportunity to go. But I didn’t want to go on my own, so I enlisted a friend of mine to apply with me. I didn’t really care where in the Northern Territory I went, so I allowed my friend to decide our preferences out of Katherine, Alice Springs and this place I’d never even heard of – Nhulunbuy. My friend said she wanted to go to Nhulunbuy, so we both put it down as our first preference.

Here’s the thing – I was chosen to go and she wasn’t.

So I went with three other medical students to a place I had no idea where it was or what it was about. We traveled there on a small plane filled with miners and land at this airport shaped like a bird, then drive up kilometres of bush road into a small town and deposited in the miners village, each given a small demountable to live in.

And I loved it.

We spent the week exploring the town, meeting the other medical professionals in town and interviewing the townsfolk, including members of the Indigenous population. Looking back on it, they must have had a laugh, watching this extremely shy and white girl trying to ask them what they think about provision of health services in their area. No wonder they were laughing so much.

After leaving Nhulunbuy, I knew I needed to go back. I just needed to find a way. I was ecstatic when I found out that there was an option of going for three months in our final year of study as part of this thing called the Northern Territory package, where we would be placed in Nhulunbuy for three months and Alice Springs for three months. I wasn’t really all that fussed about going to Central Australia, but if that was how I was getting back to Nhulunbuy, I was going. So I recruited the same friend I had applied for Rural Community Week with and we applied to go together again.

Once again, I get in and she doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, she did get offered a spot, but seeming I had more ‘Indigenous experience’ than her, I could go to Nhulunbuy first whereas she had to start with Alice Springs. I did try to swap to Alice first so we’d stay together, but the administrative people were insistent that I go in first term, so I ended up agreeing. Anyway, another friend of mine was going with me, so I knew I’d have at least one person I knew there with me.

Once again, I loved the three months I spent in Nhulunbuy. I got to visit a lot of the surrounding communities, including Dhalinbuy, Yirrkala, Marngarr, Gan Gan and Ramingining. I got to go on mediretrievals and got to do so much that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had remained at my large city hospital. I felt like a doctor. Don’t get me wrong – looking back on it I was a very naive student – but at the time I felt like hot sh**.

I traveled around the surrounding areas as much as I could, and I have explored some of the most beautiful coastline the world has to offer. It’s both wonderful and bittersweet. The water up here looks so inviting, but you can’t go swimming. There’s a constant threat from Irukanji, sharks and salt water crocodiles. I still remember the time we got stuck on an island offshore when the tide came in and had to swim back. At the time we didn’t know that stretch of water was known as Crocodile Creek! I was certain our supervisor was about to expire or explode when she heard! She still tells that story to every new student to enter Nhulunbuy, who proceeds to relay it back to me. Oh well, at least I was memorable.

Medicine up here is both wonderful and tragic. Our patient population is largely made up of Indigenous people, so we have to deal with all the health problems they have that are largely absent in white Australians. It changes your focus. So now I’m a little bit of an expert on rheumatic heart disease, post-streptococcal glomerular nephritis, scabies, failure to thrive, etc… all of which we hopefully don’t see back home. It’s horrible watching people die of chronic disease in their forties. But it’s also wonderful meeting these people and gaining even a small percentage of the world view they have.

I don’t think that there is a single grumpy person living in Nhulunbuy. Correction – I know there are grumpy people, but they’re the minority. Everyone here is very welcoming and do their damnedest to make you feel part of the community. The last time I was here, my quiz team won the annual Rotary quiz night – and an island holiday on Bremer Island. This time I’ve been mildly involved in volleyball, been out to watch a play, and generally hang out with a lot of people I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life.

The three months I’ve spent here as a junior doctor do not feel like enough, and I very much hope this is not the last time I’m up here. I will write more about my time up here, but I’m going to leave it for when I leave, so keep an eye out for it!

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom:

coming soon…

Harrods, Knightsbridge, London, England, United Kingdom:

Okay – so I feel a little bit shallow for putting a shop as one of my favourite places in the world. But you have to admit – it’s an awesome shop. Last time I was in London I spent half a day here, and even with that much time there I didn’t see the entire place.

I’m a little bit of a softie when it comes to soft toys (forgive the pun), and the toy department in Harrods is one of my favourite places in the world. It has life-size toys of some animals, including giraffes, western lowlands gorillas and a rhinoceros! It also has a large collection of Steiff, including a Steiff Sooty! I don’t know about you, but Sooty was one of my favourite TV shows as a child. I was so tempted to buy it, but unfortunately this was my last day in Europe and I knew I was already well over my luggage limit.

It was also a great opportunity to buy a Harrod’s Christmas bear. My grandmother and I have been collecting their annual Christmas bear ever since I was about twelve. Unfortunately I’ve had to miss the last couple years due to the fact that the people we usually bought them through stopped importing them because Harrods launched their online store. Now, that wouldn’t have been such a tragedy except for the fact that the postage price for a bear was about AU$70! I couldn’t justify such a price, so I had gone without. I was lucky that they were still selling their Christmas bear even though I was there in January, and yes, I bought one. Screw excess baggage – it was mine! And yes, I did buy one for my grandmother too.

I think you can pretty much buy anything in Harrods. Not only does it have a large food market, clothing section, jewelery department, cosmetics department, luggage, electronics etc etc… it also has a pet shop (the most expensive pets you will ever see in your life – 1600 pounds for a Daschund puppy) and you can even buy a Ferrari – yes, the car.

It also has an icecream bar, which is where I had lunch. Yes, I had icecream for lunch. I was on holidays – so shoot me. It’s trying to have this lolly-shop 1950s look, and has icecream glasses as lighting fixtures. The icecream was delicious. Well worth the calories.

While most of Harrods was lovely, I did have to admit I found the stairwell rather tacky. Yes, I understand it’s owner is Egyptian, but having false Egyptian statues with the faces of Princess Diana and Dodi was just a bit cringeworthy. It’s also the only department store in the world that has a live opera singer regaling it’s shoppers.

Hobbiton, Mata Mata, North Island, New Zealand:

I’ll admit it – I’m a nerd. I love all things Tolkein, and I just about wet myself when I met Sir Richard Taylor scraping out gutters outside of Weta Workshop in Wellington (yes, that actually happened). I can’t wait until the first of the new Hobbit movies come out, and I am trying my damnedest to try and be in Wellington for the premier. I may have even bought toe shoes for the event (yes, shoes with toes. awesome, I know). I’m even more excited that the new films star not only Martin Freeman (Bilbo, Watson and Arthur Dent = legend) but also has Sherlock himself (Benedict Cumberbatch) in it!

Anyway, back to Hobbiton – When I finished medical school, I decided to go on a holiday to New Zealand (see Orokei Korako below). This decision was made in no small part thanks to the fact that The Lord of the Rings was filmed there. A friend of mine had been to visit the set of Hobbiton earlier in the year, and she told me that I had to go. I knew that there were some residual structures from the original LOTR films, and my inner geek desperately wanted to visit Nerdvana. Around the time I was planning my trip was when the Hobbit filming was having all those troubles. Peter Jackson was arguing with unions and whether the film was going to be made in New Zealand was up in the air. Guillermo del Toro had just quit as director. There were still questions being raised on whether the film was going to be made at all.

But I went on my pilgrimage to Hobbiton anyway. I arrived at the Shire’s Rest Cafe – which had a toilet made to look like a Hobbit hole – where I was greeted with a confidentiality agreement to sign. Supposedly Hobbiton was being developed as a filming site, and as such, whilst we were allowed to take photos, we were not allowed to distribute these by any means. This was overwhelmingly exciting. Without hesitation, I signed the agreement, and then we took the bus to the film site.

Hobbiton
Image courtesy of Caitie K

It turns out they had been preparing the film site for quite some time by the time I visited. The majority of the Hobbit holes had been completed, and they were just allowing them to mature before filming. They were still making the scale versions, though. I was in heaven. It was just like how I had always imagined Hobbiton in my head as a child, and here I was, walking around it. I took so many photos it wasn’t funny, all of which have just been sitting on my computer for my personal use since. However, I have since received an email from the friendly people at Hobbiton saying I’m allowed to publish these photos, so I might include one for you guys to look at.

I strongly recommend any Tolkien fan to visit Hobbiton if you ever want to know what it feels like to be in Middle Earth. I’m told that after filming is finished that they plan on keeping Hobbiton intact as a tourist destination. I might have to make a return trip.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany:

After I finished my undergraduate degree in 2006, a friend and I spent the next three months travelling around Europe. Actually, it’s a rather interesting story about how we came to the decision of travelling to Europe. You see, I was over at my friend’s house one day, and we spotted this travel brochure that her older sister had brought home so we decided to look at it. Anyway, there was this article in it about – wait for it – Big Macs. There was a list of places from the most to least expensive places to buy a Big Mac. Turns out, back in early 2006, the most expensive place to buy a Big Mac was Iceland, and the least expensive was Morocco. Well, my friend and I thought it was funny that someone had actually felt this topic was important enough to write an article – even an ironic one – about it. She said “That’s it! We’re going to Morocco!” and I had enthusiastically agreed.

Thing was, she was serious.

So my friend and I decided we were going to Morocco. We bought guide books and went to travel agencies to look at brochures and see what tours were available. We’d even picked which tour we wanted to go on and everything. Only problem was that our parents found out. Now, back then I was 19 and my friend was 18. Our parents, who also happen to be best friends (which is why my friend and I have known eachother since I was 9), were not at all happy with two teenage girls travelling to Morocco, not even if we were going in a tour group. Their veto meant Morocco was no longer an option, so we had to rethink where we wanted to go. We went back to the travel agency and saw a brochure with Neuschwanstein Castle on it, and we figured that going to see a fairy tale castle would be pretty cool.

And that was it – we were going to Europe. My friend and I spent the next couple months planning our trip, which included a bus tour around Europe and a few weeks where we would be spending in London and taking ourself around Great Britain.

But it was Neuschwanstein Castle that inspired this trip, which to date was the most amazing travelling experience I’d ever been on.

So let’s get the important details out of the way:

Neuschwanstein Castle is a romanesque revival castle in Bavaria which was commissioned to be built by Ludwig II as part of an elaborate memorial to the operas of Robert Wagner. The castle was never completed due to Ludwig II’s death, where he was found floating dead in a lake. Whether this was suicide or murder was never established.

When my friend and I arrived in Hoenschwangau (the town below the castle), it was the middle of winter, raining/snowing and freezing. Due to the wet weather, the bus was not able to drive up to the castle so we had to walk up the hill. It also meant that the viewing area where the famous view of the castle is from was closed (not that it stopped other members of our tour group from going). So we slogged it up the hill, stopping at a tourist stand about half-way up, where I bought a keyring (I collect keyrings of places I go – small, cheap and amusing souveniers) and a silly German hat. My friend thought the hat was ridiculous and that I would never wear it, so we made a bet that I could wear that hat for the next two days – which I did. I thought I looked pretty cool going to the Hoffbrauhouse in Munich with my pigtail plaits and that hat. Besides, we were on the other side of the planet. I was never going to see these people again, so there was no point being embarrassed.

Anyway, back to the castle. Even with the appauling weather, Neuschwanstein Castle was just as beautiful as the pictures. The inside is amazingly theatrical, with caves and grottos and rooms dedicated to swans and stages for performing operas on. All of this was dedicated to the composer Wagner, whom Ludwig II obviously had an inappropriate attachment to. My friend and I joked about this tunnel under the castle being his secret Wagner tunnel, where he could sneak to and from the composer.

What was shocking was seeing the vast empty spaces and unfinished rooms in the castle. After Ludwig II died, construction on the castle was ceased as it was seen as an extravagance. It seems almost sad that something so beautiful was never completed just for the sake of money.

So this castle is one of my favourite places in the world not just because of how amazing it is, but for the journey it inspired.

Orokei Korako, North Island, New Zealand:

I have this bad habit that after I finish something, I run away overseas on a holiday. I did it after year 12 (Asia), after my undergraduate degree (Europe) and after my internship (Europe again). When I finished my medical degree, I decided to travel around the North Island of New Zealand. Largely my decision was made based on my finances at the time and proximity, but it still turned out to be an awesome trip. I’ve since been back to New Zealand, and I plan on going back to explore the South Island when I have some holidays at the end of this year around the time the Hobbit comes out. Hmm… I might have to go to the North Island as well!

So after I finished medicine I took two weeks and drove around New Zealand with my mum. I went to many fantastic places, including Auckland – at the same time that The Rocky Horror Show was on with Richard O’Brien narrating! (maybe I’ll write about that later) – Waitomo Caves (caves, underground rivers + glow worms – awesome), Hamilton, Hobbiton (Mata Mata), Rotorua, Lake Taupo, Tongariro National Park (Mt Doom :-D), Napier, Hastings + Wellington. And as much as I want to write about everything I did while I was there, that’s not the purpose of this particular blog.

Anyway, while I was driving from Rotorua to Lake Taupo, I see this sign on the side of the road pointing to a place called Orokei Korako. I asked mum what Lonely Planet said about it, seeming she was sitting there reading it at the time, and she said it was a geothermal wonderland that was also known as ‘the Hidden Valley’. I thought that sounded pretty cool, and we were making pretty good time, so we decided to go and check it out. I mean, there was a sign for it on the main highway. It couldn’t be that far away, could it?

Forty-five minutes later and we still haven’t arrived. The roads are getting smaller and more windy, and I’m starting to worry that I’ve missed it somewhere along the way. But every now and then, there will be a sign saying it’s this way, beckoning me. Well, we’d invested too much time and effort to turn back now, hadn’t we? So on we drove.

Orokei Korako
Image courtesy of Caitie K

Eventually we came across what appeared to be a lake with a small group of buildings set on it. We had arrived! And wasn’t the journey worth it? You get to take a small boat across a body of water across to the geothermal area. It’s conveniently boardwalked, allowing you to walk among the amazing geothermal formations including some of the world’s largest silica terraces.

Orokei Korako
Image courtesy of Caitie K

Now, if you’ve ever been to New Zealand, you would know that it’s filled with geothermal areas, many of which I had already been to. I definitely think what you find at Orokei Korako is more than comparable to the more popular ones. In fact, I preferred this one to any of the other ones I visited whilst in New Zealand. I’m not sure if it’s down to the fact that it’s less touristy than the other ones, or because of its isolation, but I thought it was fantastic. I would definitely go back.

Pompeii, Italy:

Pompeii
Image courtesy Caitie K

My entire life, I have dreamed of going to Pompeii. I have always been fascinated by its history, and I cannot even tell you how many documentaries on it and it’s sister city Herculaneum I have watched in my life. So when I decided to go back to Europe after finishing my internship, I had to go to Pompeii.

Seeming I don’t speak a word of Italian, I decided the best way to go about it was go on a day tour from Rome. I’d been to Rome before, so I was fairly comfortable making my way around that city on my own. Also, because of the high number of tourists, most people working in central Rome speak English anyway.

Pompeii
Image courtesy of Caitie K

So I went on a day tour to Naples and Pompeii, and I have to say it was just as amazing a place as I had always imagined it. Not that the way I had always imagined it lined up at all with how it actually was. I had always thought that seeming Pompeii was a coastal town that it would, you know, be on the coast. However, I completely forgot to take into account how shorelines change over time, and it’s now very much an inland city. Not only that, it’s on a hill! I also had no idea of how large it actually was. In the hours that we were there, I doubt we even covered a tenth of what was there.

Takeaway shop – Pompeii
Image courtesy of Caitie K

So what were some of my favourite parts? Well, all of it. Apart from not having their roofs, the buildings are mostly intact. They have a shed where they’ve put some artefacts and some of the famous casts of the people who died in the disaster. What was relatively amusing was the sheer volume of brothels in Pompeii. These were indicated by carvings of phalli outside them. There were also pornography drawn on the walls inside – a menu, if you will.

What was funny was that there’s a takeaway shop in Pompeii. I wonder if it was contemporary?

Prague, Czech Republic:

Back in 2006 while I was travelling around Europe on a Kumuka tour, we spent a few days in Prague, which is about as far into Eastern Europe as we got. Back when I went I’m fairly sure it hadn’t joined the European Union yet (don’t quote me on that one), as we had to go through boarder control and get new currency. The Czech krona was hardly worth the paper it was written on, and the first thing we did once crossing the boarder was stop at a shopping centre to buy lunch. Beer was very cheap, as evidenced by everyone else on our bus buying lots of it. However, I was more excited by the price of icecream. A Cornetto was the equivalent of AU$0.30! I was not the only one who felt like they needed to buy one in spite of how cold it was.

We also happened to arrive in Prague the day before New Years Eve. We spent our first night in Prague at a Schnapps distillery, where we got to try a variety of schnapps flavours and absynthe. We were also staying in a hotel that looked like it came out of the eighties. I kid you not, there were large portraits of women with large perms and equally large shoulderpads in satin shirts – and they were new. I found that the Czech republic in general was like being in the eighties.

So the next night was New Years Eve, and our tour group spent the evening on Charles Bridge. The amount of people there was amazing. It was not possible to have any personal space. What was even more exciting was the fact that fireworks are legal in the Czech Republic, which meant that the general populace was setting them off unsafely in crowded areas. Made the whole experience sort of like being in a warzone. I still remember the explosions, and my glasses were broken in the incident, and one of the other members of our group was punched in the process. It was still one of the more fun evenings of my life.

Prague itself is beautiful. There’s a large castle on the other side of the river, and the central town square is amazing. The town hall has been in the same location forever, but has outgrown it’s original building so sort of absorbed the buildings it’s attached to like some sort of cancer. There’s also the Jewish Ghetto, that Hitler had set aside to be a Jewish Museum once he had wiped the Jews from the planet. It was one of the saddest places I’ve ever visited, only narrowly beaten by Terazin concentration camp (also in the Czech Republic). Jewish people could only be buried in this one cemetary, so they had to bury their people on top of one another, which meant that the base of the cemetary is approximately 4m from ground level.

Onto happier memories. We went on a ghost tour whilst in Prague, which was very cool. Our tour guide was very theatrical, and although I’m probably remembering it wrong, I could have sworn he was wearing a cloak. There are also great markets in Prague, where I bought a marionette which I still have to this day.

Rome, Italy:

Rome is an amazing city.

With over two and a half thousand years of history, it is impossible to trip over in Rome without stumbling across something amazing.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to Rome twice so far:

Vetruvian sign

The first time I went was late December 2006 during my grand tour around Europe. We were also lucky to be there for New Years Eve and were able to go to midnight mass. My Irish Catholic grandmother was so proud. Mind you, I don’t think she would have been as proud if she knew that we spent half the night with Brazilian tourists trying to chat us up! We had planned on taking the bus home afterwards, but it turns out all the bus drivers decided to take the night off. We spent an hour after our bus was scheduled waiting for it before we decided to walk back to our hotel on the outskirts of Rome. I can honestly say that I have walked the Seven Hills of Rome – although not by choice.

The second time I went was sort of thanks to a confluence of events. I had decided to go to England at the beginning of this year and was investigating the price of airfares when I learnt that Heathrow has the highest airport taxes in the world, so I decide that I would fly into Europe on a cheaper flight. I Googled a little bit, and found that Paris was cheaper, so decided to spend a week in Paris. Then I found out Rome was even cheaper, so decided to spend a week there, too. Funny thing is, I actually ended my holiday from Heathrow, so didn’t really save that much money. But at least I got to visit Rome again.

My second time in Rome was fantastic, in no small part because I had been there before so knew the highlights. I also had a lot more time there this time around (a week as opposed to two days), and it was past the holiday season so a lot more stuff was open than the last time around. For example – the Sistine Chapel. The first time I was in Rome it was shut for Christmas. I didn’t get to see it until the second time I visited.

So what were my favourite parts of Rome? Well, I guess the Vatican Museum was very awesome. There is just so much stuff there! The same can be said about the Roman Forum, the Colosseum… actually, the whole of Rome itself. As I mentioned before, Rome has accumulated a lot during its two and a half thousand years of existence. The only problem is, viewing so much of anything can be quite fatiguing. You start off by going  – Oh, wow! It’s a real DaVinci! – and end with – Oh God… Not another DaVinci…

Hot chocolate on Tiber Island

So what would I recommend for a person planning their visit to Rome? Stay central and walk the city. That way you have the chance to stumble across the many hidden treasures in the backstreets. It’s how I found the Torre de Argentina ruins with their cat sanctuary, Tiber Island with their amazing hot chocolates and half the island covered in a hospital (I still can’t believe a prime piece of real estate like that managed to keep a hospital. In SA, it would have been bulldozed and filled with bureaucrats long ago!), the Temple of Hercules, a bascillica in some unassuming side street, and allowed be to fulfill a life-long ambition and run the Circus Maximus.

So would I go to Rome again? In a word – yes. And probably again after that. It’s just such an amazing place.

Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland, United Kingdom:

Rosslyn Chapel is a small chapel in Rosslyn, approximately 20km out of Edinburgh, that is yet another place that I have dreamed of going my entire life. I guess it’s most recent claim to fame was it’s appearance in The Da Vinci Code, although that is not the reason why I’ve always wanted to visit here.

I first found out about Rosslyn Chapel when I was about twelve. At the time I was going through a whole religious history stage, and was reading a lot of scholarly books on the subject. During my reading on the Knights Templar, I found out about Rosslyn Chapel, and also about the Temple Church in London (where I have also been, and also think is amazing). Rosslyn was a private chapel that was built for one of the wealthy Scottish families, but for some reason is covered in hundreds of carvings depicting religious scenes and also the Green Man. No one quite knows why there are so many carvings in Rosslyn or what the significance of them are, but it is an architectural marvel, and yet another building that was never finished.

When I first went to Edinburgh in 2007, I didn’t have enough time to go visit Rosslyn as we only had two days in the city and we’d also pretty much run out of funds. So when I went back to Europe at the beginning of this year, I knew I had to go back to see Rosslyn. To make sure I went, I even booked a tour which was meant to take me there and to Melrose Abbey. So I head to Edinburgh, but the day before the tour is meant to happen I get a phone call from the tour company saying not enough people had booked on to the tour so they were cancelling it. I was devastated. I gave them the whole sob story about how I had come all the way from Australia specifically to see Rosslyn, but they didn’t change their mind. However, they did look up the information on the public bus that went to Rosslyn from near where my hotel was, printed it out and brought it to my hotel room for me.

So the next day we headed out and caught the bus to Rosslyn, and I have to say the chapel lived up to everything that I had ever imagined. I spent hours there and I still don’t think I saw every single carving that was there. There was also a very informative tour on the carvings as well. I was interested to hear the story of the mason’s apprentice. At the altar, there are two large pillars. The one on the left carved by the master mason was very nice, but the one carved by the apprentice was spectacular. Supposedly the apprentice had a dream of this pillar and carved it even though the master was meant to carve that pillar. When the master saw the pillar supposedly he went in to a jealous rage and killed the apprentice, a crime for which he was exectuted. Whether or not this story is true is doubtful. This story is a reflection on a number of folklores and religious tales, but either way it adds to the ethos of the building.

Wellington, North Island, New Zealand:

I shouldn’t love Wellington.

Wellington is a city at the southern-most point of the North Island of New Zealand and is also the capital of New Zealand. It’s a compact city split between a flat coastal area and mountainous surrounds. If you ever visit, you’ll find that the streets immediately in front of the mountainous part tend to be named as Quays. This is because that when Wellington was originally settled, they were.

In 1855, the Wairarapa earthquake – an 8.2 magnitude earthquake which is also the most powerful earthquake recorded in New Zealand – raised an area of flat land from the harbour. Some bright spark thought all this new flat land might be useful, reclaimed it and built a city on it.

I don’t know about you, but something about building on an area that used to be part of the sea floor somehow doesn’t sit quite right with me. I tend to attract disasters. It seems every time I travel, something horrible happens somewhere in the world.

Take the following examples:

  1. 2002 – High school trip to Canberra/Original Bali Bombing (202 dead)
  2. 2004 – Holiday around Asia/Boxing Day Tsunami (>230 000 dead)
  3. 2006 – Holiday around Europe/South Australian bushfires
  4. 2010 – Trip to NZ/Pike River mining disaster (29 dead)
  5. 2012 – Trip to Europe/Costa Concordia (30 dead)

Even though I know this is just a coincidence, understandably I get tetchy about going to places where disasters – natural or otherwise – are likely to occur.

So why do I love Wellington?

Oh, there’s lots of reasons. It’s a beautiful city set on the ocean that has stunning mountain views along with a gorgeous coastal boardwalk. It’s also compact enough to be able to walk around the entire place in a day.

There is so much to see and do in Wellington.

Take the museum – Te Papa. I love museums, but I must admit I’m fairly disappointed with the quality of Australian museums these days.

When I was a child, the Museum of Queensland was my favourite place to visit – yes, even compared with the theme parks on the Gold Coast. It had so many fascinating exhibits, at least one of which had changed every time we went to visit. Fast forward ten years, and it’s a disappointing shell of what it had been. Not only was it only about a third of the size – the rest of the building having been reclaimed to house the Science and Technology building or something – it was only filled with politically correct exhibits. If you wanted one-sided views on global warming or an exhibit on NRL, this was the place to go. Gone were the roman mosaics, dinosaur footprints and animatronic giant lizards of my youth. The only dinosaur in the whole place was the Muttaburrasaurus guarding the gift shop.

The rest of the museums in Australia have sadly met similar fates, although not as stark as the one in Queensland. Adelaide Mueseum, after it’s revamp in the mid-2000s, did get a bunch of new exhibits including a relatively descent paleontology exhibit housing the oldest known fossil in the world. However, it did halve in size, and the exhibits really haven’t been updated that much since (admittedly, I haven’t been there since 2010, but I doubt it’s changed). When we visited the Museum of Australia in Canberra in 2006, I was disgusted by the lack of what I considered to be museum-like exhibits. It was crowded and colourful but lacked educational material and was filled with of-the-moment politically correct exhibits. Admittedly, I did get to see Big Ted there, but I don’t think that’s what museums are really for.

So that’s what makes Te Papa so wonderful. It actually has bright, modern museum exhibits that covers culturally, historically and scientifically important topics. It also frequently changes its exhibits, meaning that each time you visit is a new experience. It also has a great gift shop.

Another thing I love about Wellington is that it and it’s neighbouring area, Miramar, are home to Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop. Yes, this is where The Lord of the Rings is based. A trip around Wellington and its surrounds takes you to any number of places featured in the movie – if you know where to work. There are giant sculptures from Weta Workshop in Cambridge Terrace, and I have been informed that there is a Wellywood sign near Wellington International Airport. Weta Workshop is a fantastic place to visit, and is just around the corner from Peter Jackson’s studios and Roxy Cinema – an art deco cinema that Peter Jackson bought and restored and now shows films.

It is also an architecturally beautiful city – a blend of old, Deco and modern architecture. I find it that a lot of cities don’t manage to blend the old and the new well, but Wellington does. Old St Peters is a beautiful wooden Gothic church well worth a visit, and the Old Houses of Parliment are worth a visit for the simple reason that they are made out of wood, even though they look like painted stone. The Beehive – where parliment now sits – is an architecturally-interesting structure, although I may just like it because I like circular buildings.

I would also recommend a trip up the old cablecar and a walk to Zealandia – a nature park that specialises in New Zealand wildlife, including kiwis and tuataras. I would then recommend going back to the cablecar and walking down the hill towards parliment. The walk past the observatory and through the gardens is beautiful, and the walk through the cemetary is fascinating. They even have free guidebooks to direct you to the more interesting graves. The one that sticks out in my mind is of the family who had eight children die in two years from diptheria. Take that, anti-immunisation people. (Sorry! I’m not getting started on that minefield – at least not here).

So in summation, yes, I love Wellington. In fact, I love it so much I’m actually going for my third visit in November – which coincidentally also happens to be when the world premiere of the Hobbit is. Yes… coincidence…

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