Wild Coasts, The northern edge of South America

We spent over three weeks traveling through the Guyanas (in colonial days called French Guyana, Dutch Guyana, British Guyana).  Today, they are Guyane, a department of France, Suriname, and Guyana. This is the unique linguistic enclave of South America where one hears French, Dutch (Netherlands), English, and Creole. I also heard Sranan Tongo, which I came across in a Sociology course long ago at the University of Minnesota.  In those days it was described as Taki-Taki, a derivation of English Talky Talky unless it was more formal, then Dipi-Taki (Deep Talk) was used.

Travel was a little tricky.  There is only one flight a week from Belem, Brazil to Cayenne the capital of French Guyana. There are no flights from Cayenne to Parimaribo capital of Suriname.  We booked a share taxi for 4:00 AM to Saint Laurent de Moroni, the river port across from Suriname.  A share motorized long boat called a Pirogue took us over the river.  There another share taxi took us to the door of our host’s apartment. Three others made the trip with us all the way from Cayenne. Along with getting in and out and watching our bags, we went to French immigration to get our exit stamp at the ferryboat port in Saint Laurent and stopped in Albina, Suriname to show our visitor card and passport.  The visitor card we obtained for 35 Euros from the Suriname consulate in Cayenne.  This gave us one of the few chances to show our Yellow Fever certificates. We flew from Paramaribo to Georgetown in Guyana.  The Suriname airport was built many years ago 40 km from the city on solid land away from the marshy savannas.  Similarly, the International airport in Georgetown is an hour drive to the city.

This sampling of photos shows coasts and colonial houses typical of the region.

Cayenne, Guyane Française (French Guyana)

Side trip to Kourou, Guyane Française

We rented a car for one day to drive down and tour the Space Port. It is a huge complex.

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Launch pad in preparation for the Ariane Rocket Launch that occurred two days later

Paramaribo, Suriname

Georgetown, Guyana

Impressions

There are many national forests and parks that we could have visited that are still quite natural and rustic.  Mostly, they must be visited on tours or using a personal vehicle.  These are not popular enough to have regular bus service that allow independent travelers to visit.  There were a lot of flashbacks to my early days traveling around southern South America in the 1970s. This trip was a mixture of unique experiences that keep alive the memories of the so-called “colonial backwaters.”

 

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Parasol Days

The 21st of June came, and we were still below the equator. In Belo Horizonte the nights were chilly and cool days marked the beginning of winter.  When we left for the airport, it was just 13C, 55F. When we arrived a few hours later in Belem (state of Pará, Brazil), it was 29C, 85F. The low temperature at night was warmer than the day temperatures in Belo. Still, we had not crossed the equator into summer. Belem sits just south of Latitude 0 and the mouth of the Amazon River. The first week of April in Iquitos, Peru was the last time we had weather this hot.

With rain predicted every day, we carried our trusty umbrellas. Often at noon, there would not be a cloud in the sky. With few awnings, the shadows disappeared from the streets.  I opened by umbrella and Voila, it was a parasol. Some of my photos capture these hot days and some of the old mansions from the 1890s. Note on naming, Belem is named after the city where Jesus Christ was born, in English, Bethlehem.

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Beautiful Horizons

The story of the name of Belo Horizonte Brazil proclaims that the founders, looking for a more central location to establish a central capital in the state of Minas Gerais, came to an area that was lined with a beautiful landscape of mountains and valleys. Thus a beautiful horizon. In truth, it was a modern planned city inaugurated as City of Minas (Mines) in 1897.  Only in 1906 was Minas was renamed Belo Horizonte.

The are many museums in Belo or as locals say BH, (Beh-Ah-Gah in Portuguese. Many of them are free for seniors, even foreign seniors). One we really enjoyed was the Museum of Arts and Crafts, Museu de Artes e Oficios. In this case the crafts are the traditional pre-industrial revolution farm and village crafts such as weaving, milling, furniture making, and cachaça brewing. I took lots of pictures of looms, but forgot to get one of a hardwood gear wheel, where the cogs were separate pieces of wood. This allowed replacement of a broken gear instead of labor ing on a whole new replacemnt wheel. The working examples of the Brazil wood machines shows the durability of that wood once shaped.   

 

This post is a little awkward as I post from a tablet, not from the PC.  Some of the sharing options are missing.   

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How to be a Carioca (step one)

In 1992, Priscilla Ann Goslin published the book How to be a Carioca. We found a discount copy (the cover was printed upside down) when we lived in Brazil during 1994.  Oddly, her biography states she was born near Sand Lake, Minnesota. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe it is a personal joke in her family, or maybe it is a means of keeping anonymity as there are a lot of Sand Lakes. To me, born near Lake Winnibigoshish sounds better.

What one learns from this book is that the Carioca (resident of Rio de Janeiro Brazil) is the original “happy-go-lucky” spirit, where “no” is not an option, “on time” is a concept of Einstein physics, and the letter “s” is pronounced with inflexion.

So the first step to being a Carioca is to go to Rio de Janeiro.  We were there for ten days hitting lots of iconic tourist venues around the Copacabana Beach, Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açucar) and the Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer).  We also met up with our friend Jose Antonio who we had not seen for 25 years.  He took us around to some really interesting spots like the National Library, coffee at the Colombo, unique restaurants. It is his knowledge of so many fascinating stories that made our trip unique and let his Carioca character shine.

Here are a few photos we snapped along the way.

We spent one morning looking at street art in the renovated port area.  Some are just amazing.

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One of the largest murals in the world for the Brazil Olympics

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French Patronage Exhibition

In one typical Carioca outing, JA spontaneously encouraged three others we met in a parking lot to continue up to Pedra Bonita. This twenty minute hike turned out to be a pretty arduous hour climb for me.  We walked down in the night and were trying to figure out how to get back to civilization when a car pulled up and asked us where we wanted to go.  We were six, so five in the back, and one in front (wife crammed on my lap). The driver knew all the best spots to see Rio at night.  It all worked out, even listening to traditional samba, and nothing was planned. In his way, JA knew it would all work out.  Amazing. And the hike? I would do it twice more. New friends, old friends, hang gliders, hidden views, thanks to everyone who made this possible.

Step 2. Go find a Carioca and go with the flow.

 

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Sao Paulo: Highrises and Street Art

We stayed one week in Sao Paulo, Brazil having a base near the Anhangabau, a central point which allowed us to walk to many familiar places like Liberdade, Se, Luz, Republica. This was the first time staying right in the heart of Sao Paulo.

We were able to meet up with an ex colleague from my time in International Support.  It had been almost 25 years.

We enjoyed searching out interesting vistas.  Here are some examples. One note on Beco do Batman, a couple of small streets dedicated to street art.  Around the football world cup, the residents / artists got fed up with the noise, vandalism from too many tourists that they repainted the walls grey.

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Santa Cruz de la Sierra

We are in Brazil now but here are three shots from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to tidy up our last stop.  We were happy to relax in Santa Cruz with warmer weather.  The city square is nice with lots of locals sitting around chatting, playing chess, eating salteñas. It is a commercial / industrial city which does not boast many unique tourist venues, but holds the title of fastest growing city in the world.  For us, it was a time to relax and catch up on reading and planning.

The Cultural Center just off the main square exhibited three artists using distinctly different medias.  I liked this one by the Bolivian artist, Magenta Murillo. It is nice that they used a violet (not quite magenta) background for her paintings.

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A bit north east of the main square there is the Museo Historico Militar Heroes Del Chaco (A military museum about the Heroes of the Chaco).  This documents the Bolivian view of the Chaco War of 1932-1935. We listened to a Corporal giving a tour to a high school class. In 1973, I spent two weeks with my friend Alexander and his family in Mariscal  Estigarribia, Paraguay. Ever since seeing the actual territory (a green hell of desert cactus and bramble) I have been interested this history. The honest assessments by this Corporal added a lot to my understanding.  His dramatic descriptions of the soldier’s experience provided entertaining and realistic perspectives. The sad part is that like all wars, mankind has not learned any lessons.

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Finally, the Cruceños consider their city the center of South America.  We found the park but it is under construction . Here is the photo taken over the barriers showing the distances to the other South American capitals.

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Downhill to Cochabamba Bolivia

Putting our bus days on hold, we flew from La Paz to Cochabamba.  We were there for May 27 when Bolivia celebrates Mother’s Day.  This honors the heroines of Cochabamba who died on this date in 1812 in a battle of colonial liberation. We climbed the hill south of the city which has a monument to these brave women, who fought the Spanish alone. The banner photo was taken from the hill looking north.

Here are two individual commemorations

Manuela Gandarillas – A nearly blind grandmother who raised the call to arms.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuela_Gandarillas

Juana Azurduy de Padilla. A commander of the Bolivian Liberation. For her service, Simon Bolivar is quoted as saying the country of Bolivia should really be named Azurduyia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juana_Azurduy_de_Padilla

Pasaje San Rafael with mosaics paying homage to a wide range Latin American women.

View along the main square with its neatly maintained facades.

We enjoyed visiting the market and the plazas, along with general exploring of local streets. The leisurely pace, the warmer weather, and moderate environment contrast with our experiences in La Paz.

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One, two, three: La Paz, Bolivia

Traveling a week in high altitude exhausted me.  At the end of our bus trip, we spent five days in La Paz, Bolivia.  Apartments have little heat so the inside temperature never surpassed the outside highs of 16 deg centigrade (60-61 deg F).  Even so, we enjoyed our time finding some unique attractions.  Here are three:

Cable Car network took us all around the city.

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Bird’s Eye view of El Alto Market

Clean streets

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Public Toilets are easily spotted.  Although this one might not be wheelchair friendly

Zebras in the Zebra crossings

A few things to note:

  • La Paz and the suburb El Alto have altitudes of around 4000 meters (12000 feet).  La Paz airport has the highest commercial runway in the world.
  • Even after a week of acclimatization, I was still huffing and puffing as we walked up and down the streets and stairs.
  • In the autumn and winter (April – September), La Paz is dry with low humidity.  We saw few clouds and felt the strong rays of the sun. I should have used more sunblock.
  • No matter how you arrive or encounter La Paz, it will be an amazing experience.
  • It seems everywhere we turned, there was an interesting view.  Here is one looking down a street in our neighborhood.

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Hopping between Peru and Bolivia

With retirement, our travel is pretty casual.  Mostly, we spend a month in one place, then a few short trips or maybe a week in each place along our itinerary.  We learned about the long distance hop on / hop off experience in South Africa.  The reviews for PeruHop were positive and provided useful details.  The suggested itineraries allow for a thorough Peruvian experience in seven or eight days.  We ended up spending 14 days by stopping at every city for two or three days.  What an incredible two weeks.

Our trip consisted of eight different buses from Lima, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia.  For me it was the trip of a life time. Forty years ago, I was in Santos, Brazil planning a trip by train from Sao Paulo to Bolivia.  This had to be cancelled when my stomach aches required an immediate operation for appendicitis (sometime, I need to blog about our adventures getting sick on the road).   I was never able to schedule a journey to Bolivia until this trip.

There is so much variety and so much to see in Peru and later Bolivia that we ended up with a million photos.  All of them are fascinating.  I post one or two from each place attempting to show a variety of experience, not necessarily the most perfect photos.  A couple of notes: Links are provided to the Wikipedia explanations.  Second: I will use the word “Quechua” as opposed to “Inca” to refer to the Andean empire and culture of the 1400s to 1600s.

Tambo Colorado

Ruins of a 15th century city using Quechua and Chicha building techniques.

 

Paracas

The city is famous for its bay and beaches.  PeruHop includes a tour of the National Reserve highlighting the desert dunes and the natural cliffs along the coast. The natural reserve of the Ballestas Islands features sea lions, penguins and other natural diversity similar to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

 

Huacachina

A historically, natural oasis famous for its sand dunes.  We hiked up to get a perspective of the city and watch the sunset.

 

Ica

Wine country in the middle of the desert.  The grape juice is distilled to make Pisco brandy.  There is a small natural history museum which has a few amazing artifacts from the early cultures discovered here.  There were quite a few visitors as it was free Sunday for Peruvians.  Nice to see the excitement of the children.  Sorry, no photographs allowed.

 

Nazca

Historically spelled Nazca, now officially Nasca is famous for the lines etched into the desert depicting animals and astrological markings. In 1996, the city was devastated by a 7.5 earthquake. Wife experienced her first earth tremor when a 5.5-6.0 earthquake occurred about 80 km away.

 

There are many interpretations of the Nasca Lines.  My theory is the that the straight ones were created to identify seasons when rain is likely.  The pictures are pranks made by teenagers tired of redrawing the straight lines in the desert one more time.

Arequipa

Our bus left Nazca at 7 PM arriving at 5 AM the next morning.  This was the only overnight we took. It was comfortable enough but it might have been interesting to see the curving roads from the coast.  This begins the real mountainous region with Arequipa at 2335 meters (7661 feet) above sea level.  Still desert climate, this marked the farthest south we went. There is a strong influence of Spain in the architecture. During the colonial period, Arequipa was one of the most loyal cities to Spain. Extinct (for now) volcanoes dominate the Northern skyline.

 

Puno

We left Arequipa at 6 AM heading toward Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca. The air was thinner as we crossed the divide near Lagunillas at 4400 meters (14400 feet) and it began to getting colder. The Puno side of Lake Titicaca is famous for its floating islands made of stacked reeds in a crisscross method. The sensation is like walking across a marsh.

 

 

Copacabana

On the eastern shore of lake Titicaca, the village of Copacabana is dominated by the Basilica of our Lady of Copacabana.  The name may come from Quechu, “Kotakawana” the God of fertility who ruled in Lake Titicaca. The basilica is located on the site of the original temple. We arrived by BoliviaHop after getting our visas at the border.  For US citizens it’s complicated with copies of passport, itinerary, hotel reservations along with U$S 160. Since Wife and I have different last names, they weren’t sure about the hotel reservations that only mentioned a double room with only my name.

La Paz

We arrived to this amazing city at 10:30 at night.  Our adventure here will be covered in the next post.

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Our first day out

 

 

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Lima: Walks and Ruins

Waiting for my passport pickup day (even though it was ready quickly, I had to wait for the day the Consulate assigned), we spent Catholic Holy Week and the week after in Lima. We watched our neighborhood processional. On other days we hiked over to Pre-Incan ruins, around parks, and down along the beaches on the Pacific.

 

The windsocks in the banner photo are used by Paragliders and Hang gliders at the Parapuerto (Paraglider Airport) of Miraflores.

 

 

 

 

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Hot and cold, High and Low

From Lima we made an isosceles triangle trip, North to Iquitos, South to Cusco, with a side trip to Machu Picchu, then back to Lima. Peru is clearly a country of colors and contrasts.  The photos show some that we discovered.

Iquitos

At the junction of the Itaya, Nanay, and Amazon rivers, it is only reachable by boat or by air.

Cusco

The capitol of the Inca empire.  Its altitude of 3400 m (11200 ft) makes Cusco one of the top ten highest major cities in the world.  On my first visit many years ago, it was written Cuzco. Quechua versions of Qusqu are still used. Discoveries in the last ten years about the Killke culture made our walk to Saksaywaman ruins a worthwhile effort.

Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes

The restored ruins exhibit the skill of the artisans 600 hears ago. It’s called a Citadel but really functioned more as an Inca Lord’s estate. Machu Picchu was promoted as the lost city of the Incas.  Academics now believe Vilcabamba was the last sanctuary of the Inca emperors.  Aguas Calientes, the city at the base of Machu Picchu, was our base for exploring for three days.

 

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Out of Pages in Peru

Nope, not lost in Lima.  Instead we will spend over a month in Peru.  Our plans require several visas which require passports to have 1 or 2 blank pages per visa.  With some stamp happy immigration officials in the last few years, I only have one page left.  We arrived on a Wednesday and I submitted my application on a Friday.  With the Good Friday holiday, it takes four weeks to get a new passport.  Our first week was orienting in Lima and Peru.  Later, I will post about our two week exploration of other sides of Peru.

For now, here are our first impressions of Lima.

Answer to previous trivia question:

Why does the Boca Juniors Stadium look like an IKEA Store?

Stadium and Supporters

From Wikipedia: “Legend has it that in 1906, Boca played Nottingham de Almagro. Both teams wore so similar shirts that the match was played to decide which team would get to keep it. Boca lost, and decided to adopt the colors of the flag of the first boat to sail into the port at La Boca. This proved to be a Swedish ship.”

After that Boca sported the Blue and Yellow of the Swedish Flag just like IKEA.

There are other legends but all end in Boca Juniors having to change their colors to the Blue and Yellow of the Swedish flag.

 

 

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Recorrido de Argentina (no translation)

I’m getting way behind in posting.  This post documents our two week adventure around Argentina.  On March 4, we took a bus from Santiago Chile to Mendoza, Argentina crossing over the Andes mountains passing Mount Aconcagua.

From Mendoza we flew to Buenos Aires and stayed in the center for a few days. We enjoyed the different architecture on our walks.  I made the pilgrimage to the Boca Juniors Stadium.

 

We flew to Ushuaia, the city furthest south, or should I say, closest to the South Pole.  This took us beyond the straits of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego. For the beginning of Autumn, March 21, the weather favored us with amazing views everywhere we walked.

We returned to Buenos Aires for a stay near Recoleta.

Then, back to Santiago for a day before flying on to Lima.

Today’s trivia: Why does the Boca Juniors Stadium look like an Ikea Store?

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A few views of Santiago and Valparaiso

Before moving on to Argentina, here are a few more photos. We found so many pleasing views during many walks and excursions on our month in Santiago.

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Santiago, Chile – New Memories

Two main reasons for me to write this blog are first to record thoughts on travel and second to understand the context of the experiences I’ve had. The recording has been pretty satisfying.  The understanding of my experiences is still maturing.  I felt this especially on returning to Chile after 45 years. So much history, so many stories.

It was interesting to see the International Women’s Day demonstrations. Getting around Santiago was easy using metro subway, buses, and walking, and we wandered around neighborhoods both near and far. Nothing reminded me of my journeys so many years ago. What I am left with are amazing visions of street art, open air sculptures, monuments, and a garden in the foothills.

We spent several hours wandering around the murals of the San Miguel neighborhood Museo a Cielo Abierto or Open Air Mural Museum . I loved every mural both official and unofficial art works. I uploaded many so click on the ones you like.

A few more inspirations from the streets.

There was also time to reflect on my younger days and an earlier September 11 in 1973.

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Overland Oamaru to Auckland

Whenever we can, we like to travel overland.  One of our first ventures on this retirement trip involved traveling Zurich, Lugano, Trieste, Ljubljana, Zagreb and the rest of the Balkans all the way to Istanbul.  Then after a short flight to Izmir, overland through the center of Turkey including Konya, Cappadocia, and Trabzon on to Batumi and Tbilisi in Georgia.  Finally, taking a Marshrutka (shared van) to Yerevan, Armenia to catch a flight to Dubai and India. These two sculptures by Botero provide nice bookends for our trip of the last four years.

In New Zealand, we flew from Auckland to Christchurch and then worked our way back up to Auckland.  In Christchurch, we rented a car for four days to simplify seeing some of the East Coast and the Southern Alps.  Then by train and ferry from Christchurch to Wellington.  After three days exploring Wellington especially around Victoria University, we sat in the front seats of a double decker to Rotorua.  Rotorua is a hotbed of volcanic activity as evidenced by the sulfur smell around the city and bubbling mud springs.  After another three days, we continued on by bus to Auckland for a night before flying off to Chile.

 

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No Shakes, No Quakes, No Tummy Aches

After a few days in Auckland, we spent a month starting mid January in Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand. As it lies in the heart of the Canterbury plane, our initial impressions of flat dullness contrasted with our expectations of rich scenic views associated with New Zealand travel. Christchurch was heavily damaged by two earthquakes, one in 2010, and the other a few months later on 22 February 2011. After nearly two years of sorting out the damage, recovery is now in full swing with new buildings and openings of renovated areas. We were happy that  some of the original container restaurants and coffee shops still exist as thriving memories.

The location for day trips was ideal.  The local buses took us to Lyttleton, New Brighton and South Beach, Sumner and Taylors Mistake.  We booked a bus day trip for the three hour ride to explore Akaroa, .  Renting a car for a few days took us down to Oamaru and up to Arthurs Pass and across the divide to Otira. Lots of interesting sights and experiences as we discovered neighborhoods of Merivale, Papanui, Riccarton, Hagley Park.  Clearly, my photos don’t do justice but provide nice reminders.

We left Christchurch on the Northern Coast Railway taking us to Picton for the ferry crossing to Wellington.  We purchased our tickets in advance through TripAdvisor.  A new experience but it all ran smoothly.  We stopped by the station a few days before which insured we had seats that faced forward.  This line was affected by the Kaikoura earthquake of 2016 and had only returned to service a few weeks before. Photos of sea lions on the beach taken from a moving train did not turn out.

From the Christchurch Canterbury Museum I learned there were many tremors everyday around New Zealand, none strong enough for me to feel.  Happy about that.

 

 

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Tramping on the North Island

The first week of the New Year, we left Melbourne and hopped across the Tasman Sea to Auckland, New Zealand. We tramped around Auckland finding a nice library, botanical garden, and cat cafe. Our hotel room was tiny so the library was useful to spread out as we researched our next adventure. There were also several historical exhibits about women’s rights including the right to vote and to go tramping. The Wintergardens in Auckland Domain exhibited some tropical plants I had never seen. Barista Cats was well organized and populated with well cared for cats.

 

One day we took a ferry to tramp around Waikeke Island. The banner shows the Auckland quays and central district as we departed.  Wandering over the island on foot, we found picturesque views of the ocean, rock outcroppings on the beach, and trails through native vegetation.

 

Next, we will be tramping around the South Island.

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Three things from Melbourne

We have moved on after our month in Melbourne.

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Here are three things that stay with me.

 

And the Yarra River.

 

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Pilgrim Days

Does an outing ever feel more like a pilgrimage than sightseeing? As we scour travel blogs and tourism websites looking for activities that interest us, some places are recommended as the best in the world.  One time was in Cape Town, South Africa almost two years ago.  We traipsed across the city admiring architecture, street art, and gardens on our way to Truth Coffee for the best coffee shop in the world.

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Last week in Melbourne, we set out for the best croissant in the world and the best book store in the world. We found the first at Lune where we waited in a line that ran around the corner. After our croissants and coffees, we headed over to Readings. It is smaller than I expected, but apparently with very loyal clientele, many arriving on bicycle.

How do I feel? First, I enjoyed these experiences.  The service, the professionalism, the attention to detail can really take the ambiance to another level.  Second, I wonder how a place can be judged “best in the world.”  My mind does not work that way. Even making a top ten list for me is difficult. Third, no place is perfect, each has its character both positive and negative. This frequently depends on my frame of mind rather than the venue itself. Fourth, after so much travel, I still enjoy searching out the well known places and the hidden gems.

The banner in this post consists of posters from some of the many Australian Rock’n’Roll bands in the last 50 years. An exhibition at the Arts Centre Melbourne dedicated a gallery to memorabilia and video memoirs of the music scene in Australia.

 

 

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