Phnom Penh – day 363

Happy birthday Jayne!! Feeling slightly guilty that I had nothing planned like she had done for my birthday, the least I could do was give her a day full of her favourite foods – so to start, not quite an Irish breakfast roll, but close enough… A full English breakfast! Absolutely stuffed and barely able to move, we shuffled down to the street and slowly began making our way to Central Market, stopping en route to pick up some more water as we sweltered in the heat! 

The Art Deco building that houses the Psar Thmei (central market) has a huge domed hall that resembles a Babylonian ziggurat and some claim it ranks as one of the 10 largest domes in the world. The market has four wings and we wandered up and down the stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, dodgy watches, clothing and other items. The food section, as always, was our favourite and we spent ages gazing at different produce that we had no idea what it was!!Continuing north, we walked through the streets, avoiding the endless cries of ‘TukTuk’ before arriving at Wat Phnom. Set on top of a 27m-high tree-covered knoll, Wat Phnom is on the only ‘hill’ in town. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong River and discovered by Madame Penh. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga balustrades. 
Predominantly used as a place to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs, the temple was full of offerings, such as a garland of jasmine flowers or a bunch of bananas (of which the spirits are said to be especially fond). We wandered around each level of the grounds for a bit, finding a quiet shady spot to sit and enjoy the tranquility of the temple complex before heading over to the river front. Walking past a group of old men playing chess from a set where most of the pieces had been replaced with water bottle tops. The river front was beautiful and deserted! With no shade at all, it was only stupid tourists like us who were walking down the promenade. 

Knowing that the Royal Palace wouldn’t open until 2pm, we looked around for somewhere to have a cold drink whilst we waited… Surprisingly, we found a Costa Coffee and I treated Jayne to a birthday smoothie! Enjoying the free wifi and air conditioning a bit too much, we reluctantly left and headed to the Royal palace. With its classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding, the Royal Palace is a striking structure which bears a remarkable likeness to its counterpart in Bangkok. Being the official residence of King Sihamoni, parts of the massive palace compound are closed to the public. We were only allowed to visit the throne hall and a clutch of buildings surrounding it. The throne hall is topped by a 59-m high tower inspired by the Bayon at Angkor. It is used for ceremonies such as the presentation of credentials by diplomats many of the items once displayed here were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Leaving the palace complex, we entered the Silver Pagoda via the north gate. The Silver Pagoda was so named in honour of the floor, which is covered with more than 5,000 silver tiles weighing 1kg each! The staircase leading to the Silver Pagoda is made of marble. Inside, the Emerald Buddha (not made of emerald but possibly Baccarat crystal) sits on a gilded pedestal high atop the dais. Along the walls of the pagoda are examples of extraordinary Khmer artisanship, including intricate masks used in classical dance and dozens of gold Buddhas. There were a few other structures located inside the complex however we were both feeling the heat at that point and the only one we remember most was Phnom Mondap, an artificial hill with a structure containing a bronze footprint of Buddha from Sri Lanka. The reason we remember it was the security guard with his toddler son who happily sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to every tourist who walked past! It’s like he knew it was Jayne’s birthday!!We headed back to the guesthouse via the Wat Botum park and the Cambodia-Vietnamese Friendship Monument before heading past the Independence Monument and the UNESCO building. Trying our luck, we headed inside and were introduced to Philippe, an archaeologist from Belgium who worked for UNESCO, restoring their monuments. A brief explanation of our travels and we headed off with his email and an instruction to get in touch about doing an interview or writing an article for them. 
Had a cold drink at the guesthouse and played Scrabble before heading out for dinner. Meal number two of Jaynes favourite food was Dominoes pizza! Fortunately, it was the Cambodian equivalent of ‘Two for Tuesday’ (which they refer to as ‘Crazy Tuesday’) so we tucked into two, very small, medium pizzas whilst I presented Jayne with balloons! Heading over to the Blue Pumpkin bakery, I picked up Jayne’s birthday cake – a Black Forest gateau – which was personalised. Had to wait whilst he redid the message biscuit as they had missed out the ‘a’ in her name. Took it back to the guesthouse and enjoyed a slice (or two!!) of cake whilst we watched Jayne’s birthday present – downloaded episodes of ‘Quantico’ from iTunes. Tuesday 4th October 2016

Port Arthur – day 327

Unfortunately, the only free parking in Hobart is on the street between 6pm and 8.30am. Not a problem as we managed to find parking straight outside the YHA last night but slightly inconvenient as it required us getting up early when, quite frankly, we both just wanted to stay wrapped up in bed. After eating breakfast and making sandwiches for lunch, we headed to our rather lovely bright red Kia and headed onto the ‘freeway’ to Port Arthur Hostoric Site, which is considered to be one of Australia’s most important heritage sites and tourist destinations. The drive was quite lovely as we drove through the scenic Tasman Peninsula on the south east of Tasmania to get to the ruins of the former penitentiary. 

Using our YHA membership cards, we managed to get a concession price into the site – those cards are fantastic and have more than paid for themselves ten times over. Well worth the $25!! Treated ourselves to a guided tour of The Isle of the Dead too (also at a concession price). We where given a playing card each which corresponds with a convict that had resided at Port Arthur. As we had 45 minutes to wait until our harbour cruise and tour, we went into the museum to find out the fate of our convicts. Mine was from Cork, Ireland and was sentenced to transportation for stealing. Fortunately, my convict was a blacksmith so spent his time in a ‘decent’ job and environment within the prison. Jayne’s convict didn’t far so well… He was from Norfolk, England and he was also convicted of petty theft. He was given a job as a shoe maker and cobbler and spent his days making prison shoes until he was caught stealing again… He was then ‘demoted’ to the chain gang to chop and carry timber. A dangerous job as the logs were often dropped and men were crushed from the rolling trunks. We then went into the beautifully gardens and ground, including the reconstructed Commandant’s Garden which was originally planted in the 1850s, to explore the timber and stone church, constructed in 1836-37 and a lasting tribute to its convict builders. Built on high ground to overlook the convict settlement, the church could accommodate over one thousand souls at its services. The building was never consecrated, due to its use by prisoners of different denominations, but was representative of the authorities’ goal to reform the convict population through religion. The building was destroyed by fire in 1884 and has undergone repeated conservation work throughout the 20th century.Before we jumped onto the catamaran and started our cruise of the harbour. The MV Marana took us past the Dockyard, the Isle of the Dead Cemetery and the Point Puer Boys’ Prison. A really interesting cruise with the guide explaining bits about the islands that we passed and the history of the whole site, introducing us to the maritime history of Port Arthur.Jumping off at the Isle of the Dead, we began our guided tour which provided an insight into the live and deaths of some of Port Arthur’s past residents. The tiny island cemetery holds the remains of over 1,000 people, convicts and ‘free’ (guards etc), although there is supposedly space for over 2,000 bodies. Between 1833 and 1877 over 1000 people were buried on the Isle of the Dead. The island has two distinct burial sections; with convicts buried largely in unmarked graves on the low southern end, and the free and military burials marked by headstones up on the high northern end. The reason convicts were in unmarked graves was because they were considered criminals and, it was believed that, in their death they should be forgotten. After 1850, some of the convicts ended up with headstones but only if their family and friends could afford to purchase one. We got to hear the personal stories of convicts transported half way around the world, the soldiers who gave their lives to guard the prison, the men in positions of responsibility, and the families who followed them to the ends of the earth. The story of the convict tombstone engraver who made his friends (and partner in crime) tombstone the most ornate one in the entire cemetery was incredibly moving. 

Back on the boat, we made our way back to the port and were able to capture the iconic photo of Port Arthur before we began our free walking tour of the site which provided an introduction to the most significant parts of Port Arthur, giving us a great foundation to continue exploring the rest of the site on our own.Finishing the tour and heading over to the imposing ruin of the Penitentiary which was constructed in 1857 as a flour mill and granary. The flour mill and granary was converted into a penitentiary, capable of housing over 480 convicts in dormitory accommodation and separate apartments when the convict building became overcrowded. Flanked by the Watchmen’s Quarters, the building also contained a mess room, library, Catholic chapel, workshops and ablutions complex. The building was gutted by fire in 1897 and lay derelict until a conservation program began in the 1960s.

We walked around the various other buildings, including the reconstructed homes of important people. The building we both enjoyed the most was the Separate Prison. In 1848, harsh physical punishment within the prison was rejected in favour of punishment of the mind. Flogging gave way to solitary confinement and the Separate Prison was built at Port Arthur in 1850. Cruciform-shaped, each of the four wings comprised a central corridor flanked by rows of solitary confinement cells. Separated by thick sandstone walls, it was hoped that the convicts would benefit from contemplative silence and separation. So much so, the guards weren’t allowed to wear shoes or talk to each other when working so that the convicts heard no sound whatsoever. Even the chapel continued individual cells so no one could see each other. As we entered the Prison, a voice read out the Rules and Regulations of the Separate Prison as they were read to each man who was imprisoned here. It was also written on the wall, highlighting the strict solitary confinement that was ahead of each prisoner. Our echoing steps walked along the central hall to A Wing, and the cells where the men spent their days—sleeping, waking, working and eating. We then went into the narrow exercise yard, where we were surrounded by by high, imposing walls, revealing a sliver of sky – the convicts only link to the outside world.

We even tried the additional solitary punishment cell, used for convicts who broke the rules of solitary confinement (usually by making noise!). The cell was located through four doors, each one could be individually locked, and each inner wall was a metre thick – 4 meters to lock out every sliver of sunlight – when we each shut the other person inside, the darkness was so imposing. I couldn’t even last a minute inside, let alone 23 hours a day for a couple of days. Having already spent five hours wandering around the site, we decided to head to the Coal Mines Historic Site which was Tasmania’s first operational mine, established as a much-needed local source of coal, but also as a place of punishment for the ‘worst class’ of convicts. During its busiest years almost 600 prisoners with their jailers and their families lived and worked at the Mines. While the underground workings are no longer accessible, we were able to visit the picturesque ruins of houses, barracks, offices and punishment cells. As we explored the evocative unspoiled landscape, we were able to appreciate something of the isolation and hardship that the convicts had to endure.Knowing we had a three hour drive ahead of us to Coles Bay, we didn’t linger too long at the Coal Mines. Heading down the main road back towards Hobart, our sat-nav directed us down another main road to save us driving all the way to Hobart and back out again. Well, I say a main road… Within 5km the sealed tarmac road turned into gravel and then, slightly further on, dirt! Not exactly the same quality of main roads we are used to!! Seeing the funny side of being reduced to driving along this road at about 30km we kept a close eye out for wildlife as the side of the road was littered with roadkill. We came across loads of live animals as we drove for nearly an hour down the road – kangaroos, wallabies, possums and I even saw a Tasmanian devil but it disappeared easily before Jayne spotted it. 

A much longer drive than anticipated as, even back onto the proper main road, I was too worried about hitting anything to drive fast. Especially as I witnessed the car in front hit a possum. A slight difficulty finding the YHA due to confusing road signs, we grabbed our key that had been taped to the reception door and headed to our cabin (the hostel was closed for repairs). In a cabin with three others, a couple from Italy and a German girl, who were all huddled around a little electric heater whilst Jayne made pasta for dinner as I let my heart rate and adrenaline levels settle down!

Monday 29th August 2016

Brisbane – day 297

A lovely lazy morning enjoying the view of the city from the rooftop terrace and soaking up some sun! Having decided to skip the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary for three main reasons – it was expensive, we had seen loads of wild koalas, and it was the weekend so was going to be incredibly busy – we had to decide on a plan of action for our one day in Brisbane. Decided to head for a walk around the CBD and along the riverfront towards South Bank. I was in charge of navigation today and got us lost within the first ten minutes of walking… Oops! A quick map check and we were back on track for Central Station. Our first stop was the sobering Shrine of Remembrance which is located above the edge of Anzac Square. The shrine itself was beautiful with its ‘Eternal Flame’, the Shrine is a war memorial dedicated to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The whole area was calm and peaceful and the gardens surrounding it were full of bulbous boab trees, which Jayne impersonated, and some wandering ibises. We continued down the street, using the pedestrian subway to cross the road to get to Post Office Square where we went down an alley to visit the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The 19th Century, neo-Gothic building with a modern extension built in 1989. The cathedral houses sculptures and has a beautiful collection of nineteenth century stained glass windows from Germany, France, England and Ireland.We walked through the grassy courtyard, stopping to peek inside the adjacent chapel, before sneaking through the Eagle Side Pier shopping complex to get to the river. Another slight bit of mis-direction on my part(!) which meant we were able to enjoy the views of the river for that much longer… Also got to see where the 2011 flood waters came up to – must have had such a devastating impact on the restaurants and businesses down on the riverfront. Having corrected myself, we were down heading in the right direction for the City Botanical Gardens which is the city’s oldest park, originally planted by convicts in 1825 with food crops to feed the prison colony. The gardens include ancient trees, rainforest glades, exotic species, a bamboo grove, weeping fig avenue, mangrove boardwalk and ornamental ponds. We even saw a giant lizard lazing around by the pond which we pointed out to some, very grateful, Italian tourists. Walking around the gardens, we spotted some people abseiling at Kangaroo Point across the river, before crossing the Goodwill Bridge, a dedicated footbridge that links the Brisbane River’s north and south banks, connecting South Bank with the city at Gardens Point. It is just under 500 metres long but the brief walk along this structure gave us a whole new perspective on South Bank, the Brisbane River and the city. At the end of the bridge was The Queensland Maritime Museum which features the historic warship Diamantina. Berthed in a dry dock, the Diamantina has been restored to her 1945 condition and she is the only one of her kind left in the world. We didn’t go into the museum as it was too sunny to be inside, but it was great to see the Diamantina, the steam tug and the lightship from the walk way. From here, we headed north into the South Bank Parklands. Nothing at all like the South Bank back in London, this beautiful green strip is home to performance spaces, sculpture, buskers, restaurants, cafes, bars, pockets of rainforest, barbecue areas, pagodas, an epicurious garden and hidden lawns. The best attraction by far was the Streets Beach, a kitsch artificial swimming beach that resembled a tropical lagoon… If only we had brought our swimmers!!Crossing back over the river on Victoria Bridge, coming off just outside the gorgeous Treasury Building before going down an alley to walk along the shops on the Queen Street Mall. Found a tourist shop to try on a typical Australian hat…We finished off by admiring the towering City Hall and it’s attached clock tower which was built between 1920 and 1930, and has recently undergone a $215 million restoration. Headed back to the hostel via Coles to pick up some food for our dinner with Dennis. So good to catch up with him over dinner and wine on the roof top. He tried to explain ‘Pokemon Go’ to me and even managed to catch one of them on the roof of the hostel, although (sorry Dennis!) I still have no idea what is going on!! He then, very kindly, drove us to Mount Coot-tha lookout. Mount Coot-tha, which is 287 metres above sea level, has the highest peak in Brisbane and the lookout gave breathtaking panoramic views of Brisbane City and as far out as Moreton Bay. Back at the hostel for a quick scan of FaceBook and check of emails before heading to bed, Jayne reading a trashy magazine whilst I read a trashy novel…

Saturday 30th July 2016