Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Is The Bitter End

Sorry, but I could not resist the play on words. I have written about New York City’s famed music venue, The Bitter End on more than one occasion on The Compleat Traveller, and I am returning to the topic again today.

During my August 2012 visit to the venue I recorded the Israeli singer, Bat-Or Kalo kicking off the fortnightly Bitter End All Star Jam, along with drummer Mark Greenberg, and bassist, Tony Tino. I recorded most of the opening set, and now, almost a year later, I have finally gotten around to editing the footage and producing half a dozen clips of the performance.

I spoke to Bat-Or Kalo at the end of the evening to give voice to my appreciation for her musicianship and performance, and she immediately handed me a flyer promoting a crowd funding campaign for a new album she was hoping to record. She just happened to be using Kickstarter to raise money for the CD, and since I had supported other crowd funding campaigns via Kickstarter, I promised to make a donation. A promise I honoured the next day.

I'm delighted to say that Bat-Or Kalo's Kickstarter campaign was a great success, and that she continues to work on the album, while touring and performing across the United States.

I have not embedded all the videos here, but I have included two of my favourite performances from the night, Bat-Or Kalo singing Blue Chevy, and the eight minute rocker, Like It Or Not.

Blue Chevy

Recorded at The Bitter End on Sunday, August 12, 2012. Video features Bat-Or Kalo (guitar/vocals), Mark Greenberg (drums), and Tony Tino (bass),.

Like It Or Not

Recorded at The Bitter End on Sunday, August 12, 2012. Video features Bat-Or Kalo (guitar/vocals), Mark Greenberg (drums), and Tony Tino (bass),.

You can see more videos on my YouTube page.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

My Bucolic Rural Idyll

Early morning fog at Mt. Crawford
I have just completed a two week house sitting gig in the Adelaide Hills, near the delightful hills town of Gumeracha. To be more precise, the property was located at Mt. Crawford, and to be even more precise, I was pet sitting rather than house sitting. I suspect the area would have been isolated enough and safe enough for the owners of the property to simply lock the house up and leave it for two weeks, but having a very active and friendly house dog necessitated having someone live on site and care for the canine, and since it was there―the house.

Not that I’m complaining.

Actually, I will complain now that I think of it. I woke up most mornings bloody freezing (if I may be permitted to use the Great Australian Adjective). While it is not quite the middle of winter right now in the southern hemisphere, it has still been cold enough to freeze the you-know-whats off a brass monkey. Especially at Mt. Crawford.

Alert coney grazing close to house
Still, despite the cold nights and even colder mornings, I did enjoy my brief bucolic rural idyll. Every morning the day was sung in by a bevy of magpies and kookaburras which seemed to be competing with each other over which species could make the most noise at 5:30 in the morning!

By the way, as well as being referred to as a 'gulp' or 'murder' of magpies, the collective name for a group of magpies also includes 'A tiding' or 'charm' of magpies. Maybe this accounts for their early morning carousing and carolling. There doesn’t appear to be a collective name for kookaburras, so may I humbly submit ‘a comedy of kookaburras’ in honour of their distinctive ‘laugh’?

If I got up early enough―I never did, of course―I might have been lucky enough to see several rabbits gambolling about near the house. How do I know there were rabbits gambolling about near the house? Because they also liked to hop about just as dusk was approaching, as long as they couldn’t see or hear either myself or the very active and friendly house dog.

A trio of kangaroos working their way across the lower paddock
Along with the rabbits, the magpies, and the kookaburras, early morning and early evening was the perfect time to observe a mob of kangaroos as they slowly left the nearby forest and grazed in the property’s lower paddock. Actually, the kangaroos left the relative safety of the forest in the evening, and by mid morning they could be seen eating their way back towards the trees again. In between their evening exit from the forest, and their morning re-entry into it, they often spent the night working their way right up to house, grazing as they went. This I knew from the many droppings they left behind, just metres from the back patio.

I know there are deer roaming wild in the Mt. Crawford forest, but only once did I observe several of these beautiful creatures leave the forest one evening, and graze well away from the main house.

My bucolic country getaway. Early morning fog greets early morning sun.
On a previous house sitting gig for the same owners, I was lucky enough to see an echidna while out walking the dog late in the afternoon. Australian echidnas (sometimes known as spiny anteaters), are small, solitary mammals covered with coarse hair and spines that resemble the anteaters of South America and other spiny mammals such as hedgehogs and porcupines. Unlike hedgehogs and porcupines though, which give birth to live young, the echidna (which is a mammal) lays an egg! According to Wikipedia:
Echidnas and the platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes. The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg 22 days after mating, and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes place after 10 days; the young echidna then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches (monotremes have no nipples) and remains in the pouch for 45 to 55 days, at which time it starts to develop spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the young, returning every five days to suckle it until it is weaned at seven months.
Here endeth the lesson.

Now I am back in the cosy confines of my suburban retreat, again close to shopping centres, cinema multiplexes, fast food franchises, and within easy walking distance of cafés, coffee shops, and freshly baked muffins. As good as it was to spend two weeks in a rural setting, I am happy to be back in the burbs writing this. Don’t get me wrong, I am also more than happy to return to Mt. Crawford to house sit again―but only when the weather is another twenty degrees warmer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Apollo On Ice, Palace of Versailles, France

Apollo On Ice, Palace of Versailles

I must admit I was not prepared for the grandeur on display at the Palace of Versailles. The size, scale, and opulence of the place is quite overwhelming when seen for the first time.

Once the home to generations of Kings and Queens of France, the Palace of Versailles stands as a stark reminder of the many excesses of King Louis XIV (14th) in particular, and that of his heirs and successors. Excesses which became exposed for all to see with the onset of the French Revolution in 1789.

It’s not just the 700 rooms, the 6,000+ paintings, 1,500 drawings, and more than 15,000 engravings. Nor is it the sight of 2,100 sculptures and around 5,200 pieces of furniture and objets d’art, which overwhelms. No, it is all these and more. Including the 800 hectares of woodlands, landscaped gardens, fountains, Grand Canals, and many nooks and hidden corners, which surround the main Palace building. Then there are the Grand Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s estate, numerous copses and groves, fountains and open-air salons, the King’s Garden, the Apollo Baths, the Ornamental Lake of The Dragon, and other locations large and small.

I walked around part of the massive Palace grounds on a freezing December day, with the snow crunching underfoot, a light mist clinging to the ground, and my warm breath hanging in the air.

I took many photographs that day under a dark, grey sky, and the image I’ve selected for this post captures that setting very well. In the image we see the Sun god Apollo, mounted on his chariot, emerging from the frozen waters of the Apollo Fountain (located in the Grand Canal). The horses themselves seem to be springing out of the icy water, following close on the heels of the bugler leading them.

The work of Tuby, after a drawing by the French artist, Le Brun, this monumental sculpture was designed and cast between 1668 and 1670, then transported to Versailles and installed and gilded the following year.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Photos: Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ

Montezuma Castle National Monument 
Montezuma Castle National Monument is located in Arizona, approximately 140 km (87 mi) north of Phoenix, and about 80 km (50 mi) south of Flagstaff. I wrote more about my visit to the monument here, so for my Friday Photos feature today I thought I would post some more images from that amazing site.

Click images to view full sized
The Native Community
Numerous information panels provide interesting historical and cultural facts about the cliff-dwellings, and the surrounding landscape.

Mysterious Departures
The five-story stone and mortar dwellings contained 20 rooms and once housed about 50 people.

View of brickwork and roof supports
Neither part of the monument's name is correct. More like a prehistoric high rise apartment complex than a castle, the site was abandoned by the Sinagua 100 years before Montezuma was born.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

No access to the ruins themselves has been allowed since 1950 due to extensive damage of the dwelling, and the unstable nature of the limestone cliff face.

Diorama of cliff dwellings
This architecturally correct diorama gives visitors an idea of the internal layout of cliff-dwellings.

Diorama of cliff dwellings
Montezuma Castle National Monument was one of four original sites designated National Monuments by President Theodore Roosevelt in December 1906. The Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October, 1966.

Spectacular Cliff Dwellings in the Southwest 

Click images to view full sized.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Apple’s for Adelaide. Better Late Than Never?

A wall of glass greets the faithful to the Adelaide Apple Store
How many years has it been since Apple Inc began setting up their Apple Stores around the world? According to Wikipedia: “On May 19, 2001, Apple opened the first official Apple Retail Stores in Virginia and California. As of November 2012, Apple maintains 394 retail stores in fourteen countries as well as the online Apple Store and iTunes Store.”

To answer my own question then, it has been 12 years since Apple opened their first store. And make that figure 395 retail stores and counting. I mention this because a few weeks ago (May 25, 2013) Apple Inc opened its first Adelaide store in the heart of the city in Rundle Mall. I wish the venture every success, but I can’t help wondering if it may be arriving a little too late. I mean, it is not as if Apple products are impossible to find here. Not when pretty much every telecoms shop, Harvey Norman, JB-HiFi, and Dick Smith store sell Apple products. And let’s not forget every major department store, and a host of other outlets. Oh, and of course, there are the stores that specialize exclusively in Apple products such as Next Byte and others.

And just to show how my timing is off―as usual―the Adelaide Apple store opened less than a month after I traded in my old iPhone 3GS for the latest Galaxy S4. Oh, well. Better late than never, I guess. Good luck Apple. It is good to see you here, at last.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TED on Tuesday: Janine Shepherd: From Paraplegic to Pilot

Australian speakers seem to be few and far between on TED, so I was particularly pleased to watch this talk by the former cross-country skier, Janine Shepherd.

Janine was aiming for an Olympic medal―until she was hit by a truck during a training bike ride through the Blue Mountains (60-90 minutes from Sydney). Shephard’s doctors did not expect her to survive, and when she did, they warned her that she would never walk again. But she not only learned to walk again―she learned to fly.

Janine focused intently for years on healing both her broken body and crushed morale. A turning point came watching small planes flying overhead. She decided: “If I can’t walk, I’ll fly.” While still in a full body cast, Janine was lifted into an aircraft for her first flight. Within a year she had her private pilot’s license. Later, she earned her commercial pilots license and instructor’s rating. Janine recently served on the board of Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and became its youngest­―and only―female director.

Despite being a walking paraplegic, Janine Shepherd is also a pilot and aerobatics instructor, as well as a powerful motivational speaker and author. In this TED talk she shares her inspirational story about the human potential for recovery. Her message: you are not your body, and giving up old dreams can allow new ones to soar.

Today, Janine is the patron of the Australasian Spinal Research Trust and is committed to helping find a cure for spinal cord injury in the near future. In the meantime, she seeks to inspire those coping with physical disability. She is the author of five books, including Never Tell Me Never. And while doctors told her after her accident that she would never have children, she now is a mother of three.

This 19 minute TED talk was first posted in November 2012.

“It [doesn't matter] what you look like, where you come from, or what you do for a living. All that matters is that we continue to fan the flame of humanity by living our lives as the ultimate creative expression of who we really are.” ~ Janine Shepherd

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Armchair Travel: The Beat Of New York

Screenshot only

TIM HAHNE is not only the founder of StereoScreen, but also a multi-talented visual artist who loves to combine style and content with a very unique pictorial language. Tim started his professional career in 1994, and has mainly been working as a director, but also shoots, cuts, writes and composes music.

His film “24 HOURS in 19500 FRAMES” about the 24 Hour Nürburgring car race was an international success in 2010. Following that, the BBC Top Gear program gave him the nickname “Car Telly Guru.” However, today’s Armchair Travel video seems to be the short film that helped propel him into the limelight after it was first posted to Vimeo in January 2010. Since then, The Beat Of New York has become a benchmark for modern editing, mixed with contemporary sound design. Since its début Tim’s Vimeo site has attracted millions of visitors, with this video itself gathering more than 600,000 views.   

About The Beat of New York, Tim writes that Thomas Noesner, the Director of Photography for StereoScreen, was in New York for a Mercedes shoot. Right after the job, he took his camera and strolled through the bustling streets of New York City. Tim adds, “While screening the pictures of a drummer in the tube station, I had the idea of creating a remix of the recorded drum sequence to use it as a soundtrack for the film. That’s when our sound designer Toussaint came into play. We simply composed a track around the drum beat of this guy. Watch and listen to the beat of New York!”

Want to see more? Last year, Tim co-directed the most watched commercial in U.S. television history―the 2012 Superbowl ad for Cadillac, which you can see here on YouTube. And make sure you visit Tim’s Vimeo page to see more of his excellent work.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hotel Brunswick, Lancaster, PA

Updated April 2016. Please note, this review refers to the former Hotel Brunswick in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in no way reflects or refers to the new Hotel Lancaster which today occupies the same building. At the end of this review I wrote, "... the current owners/managers must pay more attention to details, and push staff to provide a better, friendlier service - and they need to do it soon, or the hotel may continue its decline beyond the point of no return."

That 'point of no return' occurred in late 2013, when the hotel was closed down and taken over by new owners who have refurbished the building and rebadged it as the Hotel LancasterThe transformation from the old rundown hotel into an updated and renamed hotel seems to have given the building a completely new 'lease of life', so much so that the reviews on TripAdvisor and other sites are today overwhelmingly positive, whereas once they were almost all negative. I was tempted to delete this post, but have decided to keep it for historical purposes.
- o0o -

The Hotel Brunswick in Lancaster, Pennsylvania promotes itself as “A full service hotel with a three-star rating to accommodate all your needs while travelling. We boast 221 spacious rooms and over 12,000 sq. feet of meeting and banquet space for conventions and family gatherings.”

I like to make a point of being as honest and as positive as possible with my reviews, but quite frankly I had to work hard to be positive reviewing the Brunswick. The hotel website is full of beautifully presented images that do not always reflect what I saw during my five night stay during August 2012. In fact, on initially viewing the website I thought I was looking at a completely different hotel.

An image on the hotel website shows a group of uniformed, smiling staff who look like they are bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and who want nothing more than to please hotel guests. I suspect this is a stock photo image, or at best reflects much better days for the hotel. I saw no uniformed staff during my stay, and while the few staff I did see carried out their duties well enough, reception staff came across as mostly bored and indifferent. However, my stay was not a disaster by any means, and I even extended my initial three night stay by an extra two nights.

Room 912 bathroom had plenty of towels, mini shampoo, and hair dryer, etc
LOCATION: The Hotel Brunswick is located in the heart of historic downtown Lancaster. Within walking distance of the hotel are many restaurants, the city’s famous Central Market, Fulton Opera House and numerous shops and art galleries. The hotel is also directly opposite the local bus station which is perfect for travellers (like myself) who don't have their own transport. Note: the Greyhound/Amtrak terminal is about 3/4 of a mile away at the end of North Queen Street. For those visitors with their own vehicles, a privately run parking garage is located right next to the Hotel Brunswick. Separate fees apply when using this facility.

Room 912 general view
FACILITIES: Room 912 had everything most travellers would expect to find in a typical hotel room and while I have no complaints about the size of the room or its amenities, it was immediately obvious on entering (judging by the bits of paper and other detritus on the floor), that the carpet had not been vacuumed for what seemed like several days.

Other facilities listed on the hotel website include:
Free Wireless Internet service [which worked fine for my purposes]
Cable TV and Showtime Channels [umm, can’t remember much about these]
Voice Mail [if it was available, I never used it]
Coffee Maker, Ironing Board/Iron, and Hair Dryer [yes]
Individual Climate Control [yes, if they mean the ability to adjust the air-con yourself. In fact, the air-con unit in my room was so efficient that I had to turn the temperature up to warm the room. And this was during August.]

BREAKFAST: Breakfast was passable (two cereals, bread for toast, frozen waffles, mini-muffins, coffee, apple and orange juice, etc.), but the service was very poor. Sometimes there were not enough plates, and at other times, no napkins, or the coffee had run out. To cap it all off, no one appeared responsible for cleaning tables after they had been vacated, which often meant tables were smeared with jelly and butter, or covered with food crumbs of one type or other.

Large comfortable queen size beds
GENERAL IMPRESSIONS: According to the ‘History’ section of the hotel’s website, “The property operated under the “Hotel Brunswick” name until June of 2001 when it acquired the “Ramada” flag and was named the “Ramada Inn Brunswick Conference Center.” In February of 2005 the hotel was purchased out of bankruptcy [my emphasis] by a California based company and the “Ramada Flag” was removed. The hotel owners decided to keep the historic name of “HOTEL BRUNSWICK.”

Clearly, the hotel has seen better times, and even though it apparently underwent some renovations a couple of years ago, it looks like it has never quite recovered from the financial crisis that hit in 2010. It is possible that renovations are still taking place at the hotel, albeit very slowly, which might account for the very divergent reviews for the Brunswick that can be found on TripAdvisor and other websites. The website advertises an on-site restaurant but it was not operating during my stay, and I would venture to say that the restaurant has not operated there for quite some time, although the dining area was being used as the breakfast space.

Room 912, general view
I checked the hotel website while writing this entry. Under the ‘Dining’ tab, the site states clearly that, "Our restaurant & lounge are temporarily closed.” However, under the ‘Guest Rooms’ section of the website, I found this: “The Hotel Brunswick offers an on-site restaurant and versatile meeting rooms.” I can’t vouch for the meeting rooms, but I am prepared to guess that the restaurant and lounge are still closed. It seems little has changed in that respect in the ten months since my stay.

Despite everything I have written, the Brunswick was not the dump some reviewers seem to think it is. Yes, the escalators leading to the reception area were not working while I was there (and still appear to be out of order), however the lifts were and still are operational.

The view from room 912 overlooking Lancaster Square
The excellent location and the great price make the Brunswick a perfect place from which to explore the city of Lancaster and the surrounding Amish country. However, the current owners/managers must pay more attention to details, and push staff to provide a better, friendlier service - and they need to do it soon, or the hotel may continue its decline beyond the point of no return.

Here is a short video I put together from footage recorded just after my arrival in room 912:

151, North Queen Street, Lancaster, PA. Ph: (717) 397-4801
Stay: Five nights (August 24-August 28, 2012).
Rate: $52.75 (average/night incl. tax). Room: 912.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday Photos: Morning Glory

The Morning Star, Venus, hovers above a rising sun
My photographs today, feature a selection of images taken during the early morning hours, either before the sun had risen above the horizon, or soon after. In the image above, you can see what is popularly known as the ‘morning star’, although the planet’s official name is of course, Venus (also known as the ‘evening star’).

Early morning countryside. Mr Fox is out there somewhere.

Early morning country field somewhere along Australia’s Mallee Highway (Route B12), not far from the Victoria country town, Ouyen. I remember watching as a fox slowly loped across this open field, while presumably on its way back to its den after a night out foraging for food. I had pulled into a parking bay along the highway the night before where I slept in the back of my station wagon.

The Mulwala Bridge linking Victoria and New South Wales

Early morning at Lake Mulwala, where the twin towns of Yarrawonga (in Victoria), and Mulwala (in New South Wales) are joined together by the Mulwala Bridge, seen here soon after dawn. The name, Yarrawonga, is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place where the wonga pigeon rested’. Mulwala derives its name from an aboriginal word for 'rain'.

Early morning fog haze over Sydney

The early morning sun is rising through a haze of fog in the image seen above. This, and the photo below was taken during a visit to Sydney in 2009. In the image below, the sun has risen higher and is burning away the morning mist to promise a beautiful day out and about on Sydney Harbor.

Early morning Sydney skyline

Someone to watch over me. My early morning 'angel'.

And finally, the early morning sun throws my shadow 50 feet just before continuing my 2009 road trip from Adelaide to Sydney.

Click images to view larger sizes.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Boy Who Cried, Wolf!

“Look at the dog chasing the man,” said the boy, who seemed to be around seven or eight years of age.

“What are you talking about?” asked his mother in obvious confusion.

“There,” said the boy, “see, there’s a dog chasing a man?”

It was late on a Friday evening in mid-September, when I, and a group of 20-30 international and American visitors, gathered close to the edge of Grand Canyon’s south rim to watch as a perfect autumn day drew to a close, and long shadows began to rise and stretch across canyon walls away to the north.

The young boy pointed off into the evening haze, and dozens of curious visitors followed the direction of his outstretched hand to look for the ‘dog chasing the man’.

Eventually, even the oldest pair of eyes watched in wonder as the two shadows seen in the image above slowly grew, stretched and changed shape as the sun settled lower in the west.

I don’t know if the child’s parents had ever told the lad the story of The Boy Who Cried, Wolf, but memories of that old folk tale come to mind each time I look at this image, and I remember the boy who taught me once again, the simple pleasures of looking at the world through the eyes of a child.
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