Things to do in Cairns Queensland
The weather has been so perfect here that I decided to take the chopper out for a spin …
Oh wait, that’s not mine – I get so easily confused these days. Alas, I was on foot on Friday, headed firstly towards Canopy Arts Space on Grafton Street to find out all about Inkfest initiatives (awesome!) + Inkmasters as part of Festival Cairns.
Inkfest is an innovative addition to Cairns Festival showcasing the fascinating and diverse artform of printmaking 17 August – 2 September, 2012. The Inkfest program includes a number of inter-related printmaking activities, for indigenous and non-indigenous artists, emerging and experienced professional artists, and community engagement. It includes two exhibitions, at the Tanks Arts Centre and Canopy Artspace (pictured below), where some of the best local print media artists will be showing works alongside Australia’s most celebrated printmakers.
Visitors are welcome to drop by the gallery on Grafton Street – it’s huge, interesting and informative. Well worth it!
Next on Friday’s adventure …
It’s not as scary as it looks. A bunch of travel journalists and I visited James Cook University’s Cairns campus to explore some uniquely ‘Tropical North Queensland’ areas of education.
Baby Nemo! :-)
We went behind the scenes of a marine research centre that is used to film nature docos including the BBC’s The Great Barrier Reef that aired internationally earlier this year. And we discovered impressive research into the Eliminate Dengue project.
It was actually really interesting to hear about this research, and we did learn that mozzies are attracted to those of us who have ‘hotter body temperatures’ or people wearing dark clothes – so be warned.
The aim of the experiment is to breed the dengue gene out of the mozzies that have it, then all these new mozzies are released into the ‘wild’ to hopefully breed with the other evil mozzies. Such amazing stuff – but we don’t envy the poor guys at JCU who are continually getting bitten!
All this talk of mosquitoes made me thirsty, so we decided to nip out for a quiet Friday afternoon drink at The Pier Bar. A few champers later and it was time to dance, so we visited one of my fave clubs in town, The Attic. Even discovered an awesome new mix of Super Bass mixed by Liam Keegan (love it).
Attic DJ you *rock* for sharing Liam’s details with us! Cheers to you :-)
OMG… empty much?
Panic over… thank you kind lady. BTW these fab cocktails (think Appletinis, Cosmos, Martinis) are all just $6 at The Attic on Friday nights – they have a new menu and are testing it out. Bargain!
We’re looking to reno our bathroom soon (too much The Block for us, methinks) so paid a visit to Status Plus‘ fabulous showroom in Cairns on Saturday morning. Good timing too – they were hosting an outdoor broadcast with Zinc FM, there were cook-offs, demonstrations and much more. Big thanks to Shar’ron for all her knowledge and help during the morning. One such delight we discovered was this magic tap – the stream is blue when it’s cold, and red when … you guessed it, hot.
Beer o’clock (actually, we were waiting for Cooper’s mum who got lost among the Cairns shops – as you do), so we decided to take a quick pit stop at The Courthouse, sipping on $4 Coronas under the winter sunshine. .
On Sunday, after a little morning clean up and walk with the dog, we took a drive to stunning Paradise Palms Resort & Country Club for a catch-up with some friends and family. Nice day for it too.
There’s a beautiful under cover dining area, and Sunday was blissful here. We ate, drank and were merry.
Then? Time for a nap!
Are you considering a tour such as the one I’ve just been on with Back Roads Touring in the UK? Cooper and I are fans of tours because put simply, if you’re short on time / on your own / not travelled much / don’t want the hassle of getting lost or stuck in dreadful accommodation, then generally with a tour you can’t go wrong. There are however, some important factors to remember if you’re embarking on a tour. Further to this, if you begin a tour in London but are a first-timer in the city, here are a few tips that may be of use…
Top tour travel tips London and UK
11 tips/preparing for a tour + first time in London:
- How long will you be in London – is it worthwhile buying an Oyster (transport) Card? My rule of thumb is that if you’re going to be commuting in London for over three days then buy a ‘weekly pass’ – it’s MUCH cheaper than ‘topping up’ all the time and allows Tube and bus travel in all the areas you’re going to need. If travelling within the city for just a day or two, buy a ‘day pass’ each day, unless you literally are only planning one trip on the Tube for the day (unlikely).
- Consider day tour options around the city – it’s huge with lots to see. The ‘big red bus’ hop-on-hop-off option is always a good one.
- Be careful when commuting on buses and the Tube – while these services are efficient for familiar users, sometimes visitors will find the rush of busy passengers overwhelming and insensitive. Be aware that buses can pull off without warning.
- PLAN what you want to see and where you want to go – Tower of London, Kensington Palace etc. Organise passes in advance. London is vast, and it can be arduous and tiring to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the city.
- Most pubs and cafes offer free WiFi, so if your hotel is charging through the roof for this service, chances are there is a free option within just a block or two of your location.
- On tour, always be on time back to the coach – it is only fair on the driver/guide and fellow passengers, and it’s very stressful for everyone if people have to wait and/or come searching for you.
- Never go anywhere / leave the coach without a credit card and your passport, as well as contact number(s) for your guide and other emergency contact details – just in case!
- In the UK, Orange Mobile offers inexpensive pay-as-you-go SIM cards (easy to top up at any ATM) that can be utilised in most mobile phones, iPhones, and even iPad / tablet options. Orange or T-Mobile shops are all over London.
- Don’t over-pack! Inevitably everyone who ends up with too many (large) bags admits they’ve brought too much, and it becomes painstaking trying to get from one place to another. Also, take clothes that you can mix, match and layer. It helps to bring clothes you can wash together too – you don’t want to be doing ‘separate loads’ on the go. If you’re stopping somewhere for two nights, do your washing as soon as you stop which leaves ample time for drying. Wrap washing in a towel and ring as much water out of it as you can, then hang washing around the room or on coat hangers. Jeans are serviceable, but can be quite heavy if you take too many.
- Ask your tour guide where the nearest supermarket is, and buy your water in big bottles which is far cheaper.
- If you see a person travelling on their own, include them in your outings. The more people you embrace, the better. You’ll also get more out of your trip by talking to and getting to know your co-travellers.
Travel with: Back Roads Touring UK and Escape Travel Australia
Do you have other tips to add? Please share them with us in the comments below :-)
Visiting Boston and Salem, Massachusetts
Regardless of drizzly weather, the city of Boston (one of America’s first big and important cities), to us had a lovely feel; a nice vibe with very friendly talkative locals, rich and influential history, and a bounty of exploration options. In fact, three days wasn’t nearly enough time in the region – just so much to see! Even aside from the city itself, there’s Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, numerous New England excursions, The Hamptons (playground to the wealthy – Revenge, anybody?), Rhode Island and Harvard University on Boston’s outskirts.
Boston is a popular US ‘walking city’, and much of the centre is accessible by foot. We chose a combination of walking, trolley tour, and public transport (using a weekly pass – called a ‘Charlie’ ticket – approx US $15) to make our way between famous landmarks including America’s first public park opened in 1634, Boston Common; School Street and the site of the very first public school in America (established by Puritans in 1635), and along The Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads to 16 nationally significant historic sites. Each stop along the Trail showcases an authentic American treasure, often with importance relating to the American Revolution. We dropped by the Cheers Boston (yep, the original 80s series’ pub!), and wandered along the city’s waterfront, through Chinatown and colourful markets.
Ask a local what the best free, fun things to do are, and they’ll suggest ideas like keeping an eye out for television or movie filming, visiting Boston’s Italian quarter on Hanover Street to sample authentic Bostonian fare; or instead of paying for a tour to a well-known (ie. expensive) beach-front hotspot, utilise the convenient ‘T’ (metro system) and take a train to a seaside town like Rockport, or to the fascinating and ‘bewitching’ town of Salem – ‘witch’ is exactly where we travelled on our chosen day-trip from the city.
Saturday was appropriately grey as we ventured up the coast towards Salem, a small city founded in 1626 and critical to America’s east coast because of its strong military and shipping history (along with witches of course, but we’ll get to that soon enough). Little kids were all decked-out in their wet-weather wellies, dogs out for a rainy weekend walk, and townsfolk dressed as, you guessed it, witches, ghosts and other Halloween-esque characters.
Salem – it’s the city renowned for the witch trials of 1692, upon which many books, plays and films, in particular The Crucible, are based. Throughout October everyone gets into the ‘spirit’ of Halloween, and I must admit to battling an overpowering urge to purchase ‘lucky’ trinkets, fancy-dress costumes, tickets to psychic readings, magic sparkly things, and dancing witch dolls (complete with straw broom and striped-socks) from the many celebratory ghoulish shops around town.
Jest aside, we did visit the memorial for those accused throughout the hysteria of Massachusetts’ infamous witch trials. Unlike regions of Europe where in some cases this type of frenzy lasted for many years, witch trials only remained for a year in these parts – but they were renowned. Today the stories stand as a lesson of tolerance. The memorials are surrounded by engraved fragments of final pleas of innocence: the missing words are to symbolise the sad fact that in the end no one was listening.
We’d recommend a ride on one of Salem’s trolley tours which takes visitors around town to interesting sites. One of these is Winter Island, a popular camping ground formerly the site of Boston’s last public execution when a young boy was hanged for stealing a horse. Another is Dead Horse Beach, a terrifying place where many people and horses who drew fire-carriages perished in a shocking fire. The horses were taken out to sea and ‘buried’ at low tide, but then floated back up again at high tide – bones are still found today, a hundred years on. We viewed the famous witch museums, extraordinary ‘old town’ areas where homes are engraved with the year they were built – oldest homes we saw dated back to early 1700s; House of the Seven Gables, the oldest surviving original home connected with the witch trials, is appropriately painted all-black.
Salem was home to America’s first billionaire, as well as to the founder of Harvard Law, and America’s oldest candy company, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, which was developed by Mary Spencer – an incredibly poor mum who started the candy business as a way to take care of her children. Long story short, it worked and she became very very successful. Oh, and incidentally she is also a direct descendent of Lady Diana Spencer, aka Princess Di.
Another interesting Salem fact is that it’s the town where the Parker brothers (Parker Bros.) developed games like Monopoly and Clue, and in fact it was their company that kept this region afloat during the Great Depression earlier in the 1900s. They employed most of the townsfolk at that time and paid using Monopoly money when there wasn’t any real money to go around. The town businesses accepted Monopoly money when times were tough, which kept the economic wheels turning. Amazing, don’t you think?
As in all supernatural tales, the sign of ‘3’ appeared out of nowhere. I arrived in town, we met a dog named Sarah and then promptly happened across poor Sarah Good’s memorial (she was one of those famously accused of witchcraft); I’m the third Sarah – am still unsure as to whether all this is a good sign or bad omen, but nothing has seemed out of the ordinary, so far…
It’s late afternoon, I’m happily fed (thanks to Ali, our fabulous Expat Explore tour guide who made a delicious pot of pasta for anyone who happened to wander by her chalet); champagne is chilling in the freezer and it’s time now to reflect on our wonderful experience in Rome.
We’ve spent three nights and two days in this incredible city and it’s definitely a place I’d like to come back to because there are just so many areas to be explored. Yesterday I did in fact throw my coin into the Trevi Fountain (or ‘The Fontana di Trevi’), right hand over left shoulder – because as legend has it, this means I will return to Rome one day.
Travel through Rome with Expat Explore
We’ve been staying at a terrific little place called Camping Village Roma which offers tent and caravan facilities, as well as cabins and chalets which made up our Expat Explore accommodation. The complex features a restaurant, bar and pool area as well as laundry facilities and supermarkets, but the best part about it is that the chalets are positioned in such a way that we’re essentially ‘neighbours’ with our coach-mates. Consequently, afternoons and evenings are spent together by the pool and on our front decks enjoying dinner, drinks and laughs. Some, of course, enjoy later nights than others, but what happens on tour stays on tour, you know…
As with all of our stops on this Expat Explore adventure, we were introduced to the city via a walking tour which took us by famous landmarks including The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia as well as the grand Il Vittoriano building which dominates its precinct; plus the awe inspiring ‘symbol of Rome’, the Colosseum, originally nicknamed as such because of its ‘colossal size’.
We learned that during World War II the Pope ‘struck a deal’ with ‘both sides’ which meant that the city of Rome was left out of any major battles, and so the ancient centre remained undisturbed throughout this turbulent time. I’ve also discovered that the construction of new train lines takes years to complete because of artifacts which are continuously unearthed! The buildings and ruins in Rome must be seen to be believed. Evidently this society was industrious, intelligent and ambitious and the remains of its fascinating civilisation leave so many interesting clues as to how our predecessors lived here.
Today we had several options: a trip back in time to Pompeii, a guided tour to a whole other country within the walls of Rome – The Vatican City; or the option we pursued, which was further ‘free time’ to explore the city.
I’d read about a popular meeting place called Piazzo Novano which is accessible via a ‘number 40 express’ bus from Termini train station. We found the stop without too much hassle, but actually had no idea where to get off. After about 15-minutes drive in a very hot, sweaty and crowded bus, we decided to jump off at a point where it looked like something exciting was going on. Turned out we were right near the enchanting Castel Sant Angelo on the banks of the river Tiber.
We explored this area for a while and followed our city map across the delightful Ponte Sant Angelo Bridge a few minutes up the road (and through some very romantic, and importantly, uncrowded Roman streets) to discover Piazzo Navona! On a sightseeing roll, we strolled through back streets towards the Pantheon, where we stopped at a quaint local restaurant, Pantharei, tucked subtly down a side street away from all the crowds. Here, for just €7 each, we enjoyed a buffet of local Italian vegetarian dishes which proved to be substantial, delicious and healthy.
We meandered towards the imposing Il Vittoriano which today we entered and discovered it’s fantastic for a brilliant view of the city. There’s also a free, interesting cultural and military ‘museum’ to browse. Before home we popped back over to the ever-impressive Colosseum. On the way ‘home’ to our campsite we also alighted at Ottaviana and walked around the outskirts of The Vatican City. The line to get in was looooong but it was nice to be able to see the elegant architecture and art, and there is nice shopping in the area too.
The city is contemporary and engaging; easy to navigate by foot and public transport (which is actually quite inexpensive, in my opinion), although the tiring August heat has hindered our adventures in a small way. If you’re visiting, keep a map handy at all times and just see where you end up! Also be wary of entertainers on trains and anyone dressed up in Gladiator attire – while they are amusing, they are most definitely after some of your purse change, so don’t assume anything is for free.
I must comment on the spectacular trip into Rome, which is such a worthwhile experience by road. We cruised through gorgeous green Italian countryside, over mountainous ranges, by grape vines and sunflowers, in and out of tunnels, and past little towns dotted in the valleys below, cliff-side castles and houses of orange shades perched on the hills above. Can’t wait to see what Florence offers next!
Travel tip (thanks Frank from Cairns): Trying to cool alcohol quickly in the freezer? Wrap bottles in a wet towel before freezing – they’ll chill faster!
Expat Explorers: Basically everyone did something different but fun today – add your comments, suggestions and tips for other travellers to enjoy.
By Sarah Blinco | View our travel galleries on Flickr
Bratislava and Vienna
On the road again and aiming for three countries across two days – major stops – Bratislava (Slovakia) and Vienna (Austria)!
By midday we had reached the sweet little city of Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. An informative walking tour through the city centre meant we learned about the city’s rich cultural and musical history, that the average capped age of citizens is 35 years, that this place is responsible for producing Volkswagons and Porsches, and that the country is currently ruled by its first ever female prime minister – a blonde – so no blonde jokes please.
The ‘new’ and ‘old’ (dating back beyond the 13th Century) streets within the city are lined with beautiful contemporary alfresco dining, cafes, bars and clubs, and in our experience we found the locals to be friendly and customer-service orientated. Clever pieces of art and sculpture also pop up all over the streets and even within eateries – one popular instalment is a statue of famous artist, Andy Warhol (parents originally from Slovakia) sitting at a table in a restaurant; and another is a very old statue of unknown origin (but it has been dated back to the 1500s), of a little naked boy peeking around a corner – legend has it that he was sitting on the loo when he heard a procession of Royalty outside and out of curiosity he jumped up to look out the window.
A lovely sculpture of St. George stands in the old town square. He is the basis for major town celebrations towards the end of April – evidently he conquered a 3-headed dragon one April 24th, and saved the region – good timing, right before my birthday on April 25 – might have to come back one day to join their annual local celebration!
The newest bridge in the city, the Nový Most, was erected in 1972, and was actually one of the earliest suspension bridges built in the world. It boasts a feature lookout/restaurant in the shape of a spaceship – hence it is referred to as ‘The UFO bridge’ – love it! From the lookout (and even from some angles on the ground) you can actually spot the Austrian mountains, which is positive because it means we’re heading in the right direction for our next stop, Vienna.
Our Austrian accommodation, Hotel Congress, is yet another lovely surprise. Although located slightly outside the city centre it is stylish and comfortable, with food and transport amenities conveniently located nearby.
Following dinner we head three train stops into the centre of Vienna, capital city of Austria and host to many major international organisations such as the United Nations and OPEC. The city is actually older than Prague but maintains more of a contemporary edge; architecturally stunning and long regarded as a centre of high culture and modernism. What can I say but ‘wow’! This city is truly breathtaking – from its main square with luxury designer stores and street performers, to its churches, museums, State Opera House, cathedral (in particular the masterpiece that is St. Stevens) and palaces such as the Hofburg.
To see this city at dusk (or at any time, I suppose) is nothing short of magical. If you can imagine what it might have been like for Cinderella to arrive at the Ball, well, Vienna is that – think opulence, grace, sculpture, masquerade balls and beautiful gowns. Church bells chime in the distance and chic locals rollerblade around in front of the palace to a soundtrack of cool upbeat samba, while behind them elegant horses + carriages gently trot through the streets. It’s the romance of the old world set in 2011; truly one of the most beautiful places I have seen. Does anyone know how I can get my name on the door for the next glamorous Vienna Masked Ball?
Tour guide Ali tip: In Austria the locals speak German, and as in Germany we’re required to more or less ‘play by the rules’ – basic things like no J-Walking will keep you in the good books here. Also, ‘prost’ means ‘cheers’, but remember that it’s the local custom to try to maintain eye contact while ‘cheersing’ – it’s the polite thing to do. Enjoy!
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