On A Train To Ballarat

Long Overdue Reunion With Best Friend

Waiting for the train to Ballarat

Taking a train to Ballarat in regional Victoria gave me time for some quiet reflection on the events of the last few days. One day I was thinking about unpacking from my recent trip to New Zealand; the next day I was in Melbourne, on a train that was taking me about an hour and a half out of the city to see my best friend.

We met in our first year of high school, and have been best friends ever since. We’ve managed to keep in touch over the decades, despite our lives having taken different directions as we each pursued our dreams. And now, despite the vast geographical distance between us, we are still as close as we ever were.

I knew that over the next twenty four hours – all the time that we had to indulge our memories – the old and the new would flow; memories merging with the tales of new trails blazed. While walking to Southern Cross Station I spotted an old building, still beautifully preserved, but surrounded by new construction. It reminded me of the journey of our friendship.

The Old And The New

The memories of old are the central focus amid the construction of the new.

The new lives we have carved out are built on the strength of the foundation of the early days. Our teenage years were filled with the usual events – a weekend train trip to a distant destination; falling in and out of love; and both of us marrying at a young age – my marriage to a member of the Australian Air Force, and hers ‘to’ the Royal Australian Air Force. She decided that if I was going to be travelling around the country on postings, she was coming too; sadly, we were never on the same base. And neither marriage stood the test of time.

My dream to become a teacher eventuated, and in true kindred spirit, my best friend followed. At least this time we both landed jobs in the same school. For the best part of two years we were inseparable. We taught together, we planned together, we laughed together, and we consoled each other through the rough patches, and believe me, there were some rough patches.

Miraculously, both of us came out the other side, relatively unscathed but in search of bigger and better dreams. Dreams that were vastly different and led us to places that were further away from the little town we grew up in. My dreams took me around the world; hers took her to Victoria. She was always the more grounded one of us.

Best Friends Forever!

I can’t say that our different lives haven’t changed us, because they have; after all, it’s our life experiences that mould us into who we are. But the essence of our beings, the very core of who we are, is heavily impacted by the experiences of our formative years. They are the solid foundation from which the new becomes possible. The memories will be the old, surrounded by the new that our different lives have created.

That is how it is with us, and that is how it should be.

Posted by Maureen in Blogging, 0 comments
New Zealand: The Land Of The Long White Cloud

New Zealand: The Land Of The Long White Cloud

New Zealand – In All It’s Beauty

In true Gypsy style, my travels are dictated by circumstance, and the trip to New Zealand was no different. When a friend said “Hey, why don’t you meet me in Wellington in a few weeks from now?”, I couldn’t pack fast enough!. It’s good to know that the Gypsy in me is alive and well.

The ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ used to be an accepted term for the North Island of New Zealand, but now the term generally refers to both North and South Islands. I hope to introduce you to some of the charm of Wellington, on the North Island, through this post.

Leaving home from Coolangatta Airport.

The impending landing into Windy Wellington

Windy Wellington

I should have known what I was in for, weather-wise, when the flight landed at Wellington Airport. The engines were shut down, the seatbelt sign was turned off, and the passengers were lined up in the aisle, waiting to disembark through the front door. Exiting through the rear door was not an option, we were told, because it was too windy to open it. And the plane starting rocking, from side to side, while we waited. In wide-eyed bewilderment, I asked the Cabin Crew behind me if it was the wind causing the plane to rock. And yes, it was. “Oh”, they said, “it was much worse around 1 o’clock today”. Well, it seems like four and a half hours can make a huge difference in the weather in Wellington, and I really should be grateful for small mercies, I thought.

Mental note to self:

“Avoid the 1pm flight to Wellington in future travel”. The mind boggles at how the earlier flight would have felt – given how much the plane was rocking at 5.30pm. I’m surprised they’d been able to keep the aircraft upright. I’ve since learned that only pilots with special training are allowed to land in Wellington. I think I can see why. I can also see why my travel-buddy opted to land in Auckland and take a night bus to Wellington, a few weeks earlier. Smart move – but maybe that vital piece of information would have been better shared with me, before I booked my flight. Still, I made it, intact, so in the great scheme of things I probably have nothing to really complain about.

Bucket List Of Places To See

My pre-conceived ideas of what New Zealand would be like had kept me from adding it to my Bucket List of places to visit. I imagined the country to be a lot like the East Coast of Australia, and the inhabitants a lot like Aussies, based loosely on the fact that Kiwis speak a similar form of English to us. Not English like Americans or British, but average English, give or take a few variations on the vowel sounds. I’m not a big sports fan, but I have heard that Kiwis play cricket, and some form of chasing a ball around a football field, almost as well as their counterparts on the other side of the ditch. But I can’t be too sure of the accuracy of that – not being a sports fan.

How could New Zealand, the Land of the Long White Cloud, be so different to Australia?

One of the most prominent differences is the architecture, particularly in the beautiful city of Wellington. The mixture of old, new, timber, steel, glass and colour, add up to the diversity that makes the city outstanding.

Magnificent old buildings are in abundance, nestled amid the construction of the modern buildings in the city

In the architecture, the old meets the new, on either side of the in-between. I am just a little obsessed with interesting shapes, angles and lines in photos, and Wellington gives me unlimited access to it all.

The hilly nature of the city is depicted by the steep stairs on this street

The steep hills provide fabulous shots of the architecture, coupled with fabulous angles and lines. And I constantly find myself saying, “this place reminds me of San Francisco”. The bay windows, the steep hills, the clouds. Okay, in San Francisco it’s called fog, and here, well, it’s just cloudy, but it looks the same to me, as it hovers over the hills.

On a drab day, the vibrant colour of these buildings really stands out

An apt halo shines like a beacon in this beautiful old church

Cultural Hub

In keeping with the magnificent architecture, the many churches in Wellington make their presence felt. Dotted throughout the city, they provide more than just spiritual guidance to Wellingtonians and multi-cultural visitors.  Rather than just a spiritual home for Sunday gatherings, many of the churches offer lunchtime concerts for city workers, time-rich locals and visitors (like us).

Concerts held in beautiful old churches capture the lunchtime crowds in the city.

Classical music, played by accomplished students of the local School of Music, rang out of this beautiful old building at a lunchtime concert. And with free admission, compensated by a voluntary donation, the concerts are very popular. Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch, making it an ideal lunch break activity.

A Cello concert attracts the lunchtime crowd in a downtown church.

View From The Top

We had a birds-eye-view of the eight extraordinarily talented Cellists, having been offered seats in the Choir Gallery upstairs. The acoustics were amazing and the level of accomplishment of the seven music students, and their teacher, was outstanding.

My travel buddy and I agree that this is a city we’d love to come back to and spend a lot more time in. There is so much to see and do, and the people are amazing. The biggest difference I’ve noted is how quiet the people are. When we take the bus to and from town, we are usually the noisiest travellers on board. We tend to strike up conversations with the people around us and generally ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ at the diversity of architecture and scenery  we pass along the way. No trouble spotting the tourists on our bus: We’re it! It’s us! Hey, here we are!

The Friends We’ve Made Along The Way

One of the great benefits of travelling is the friends you meet along the way – and we’ve met lots of new friends on this trip: Alexis at The Churchill; Alan on the night bus from town; another Alan at the Light House Cinema in Petone; John on the bus at Waikanae Beach; Annette on the Number 7 bus from Kingston; Jet from Rinski Korsakov’s and too many more to mention in this post. Alan (from the night bus from town) has become a special friend because of his impeccable taste – he shares our love of Rinski Korsakov’s – our favourite coffee shop in Berhampore. We’ve swapped contact details and I trust we’ll stay in touch. Alexis (from The Churchill) is another new friend that we’ve shared contact details with, and when she visits Australia later in the year, I hope we’ll be able to help her with advice on traversing our great Coastal land.

The Churchill; a great place for coffee and food.

Did I Mention The Food?

A stroll down Cuba Street opens up a world of culinary delights – equal to none. From Thai, to Wisconsin Burgers, and everything in between. The Ugly Bagel is my favourite, just a few steps down a laneway, opposite Cafe Eis.  Most cafes have a neat little bench across the front window, where we love to sit and solve the problems of the world, while viewing the passing parade of interesting people. Then there’s the Laundry, a fantastic Bar that has the greatest Hot Chocolate and Pecan Pie – I know – it’s a Bar – but since I don’t drink the strong stuff (apart from coffee), Hot Chocolate and Pecan Pie are my thing, especially on a cold and lazy Sunday afternoon.

The only way to spend a cold, lazy Sunday afternoon is at the Laundry

Travelling On

And on that note I leave the Land of the Long White Cloud, otherwise known as New Zealand, for now, with a promise of uploading many more of the thousands of photos I’ve taken so far. We are taking the ferry to the South Island on Saturday morning, and will drive to Christchurch for the weekend, arriving back in Wellington on Monday night. I wonder what the landscape will be like on the other side of the water?

extraordinarily talented Cellists.
Posted by Maureen in Travel, 2 comments
Nature’s Mirror To The Sky

Nature’s Mirror To The Sky

When the water is so crystal clear that you can look across the river and see the sky, the clouds, and the trees mirrored on the surface, you are seeing nature at its best. That’s what makes the Tweed River so spectacularly beautiful. As you drive along the Tweed Valley Way, with one eye on the road and the other on the sun glistening on the water, you will be mesmerised by its beauty.

Nature uses the mirror of the river to reflect her beauty

The colours of the water mirror nature’s palette of colours. It’s as if Mother Nature has spent the dark hours of the night mixing the vibrant blues and greens, for those lucky enough to see her masterpiece in the morning light. Artists and photographers try to capture the beauty, but few can do justice to what nature provides for us, free of charge. Just look in the mirror and see the beauty of nature.

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
Southbank, After WordCamp Brisbane 2017

Southbank, After WordCamp Brisbane 2017

When The Doors Closed on WordCamp Brisbane 2017 –  Southbank Beckoned!

That bittersweet moment, when you are tired enough to want to go home, but inspired enough to want more. A sad farewell to old and new friends and a promise to stay in touch. Only then did our thoughts stray to dinner, and Southbank beckoned. In search of a quick and easy meal, and to ensure the early night we’d promised ourselves, three of us headed across the bridge towards Southbank, on Sunday night.

Crossing the bridge towards Southbank

Looking back at the Treasury Casino from the bridge

The lights shimmering on the river made us forget about food…

….just long enough to capture the beauty of this part of the city.

The Brisbane Wheel gives a birds-eye-view of the city, especially beautiful at night

The shimmer of lights on the Brisbane River was spectacular

Southbank, Brisbane, is a vibrant hub of activity, even on a Sunday night. In search of food, of the quick and easy variety, the splendour of this waterfront corner of the city opened up. Pop-up markets, with a vast array of Asian food, had enticed a large crowd. You would have to wonder if the crowds at the Night Noodle Market were locals having an easy night, or out-of-towners, like us? Either way, the relaxed atmosphere held us captive, for a while. But in need of a quieter atmosphere, we walked on. There are more permanent restaurants along the streets of Southbank, and we found the perfect place. Quiet, warm, peaceful, and enough choices to satisfy all our priorities – even Vegetarian options for me.

The beauty of the Brisbane city night sky

Taking the long way back to the bridge gave us another spectacular light-show

Fed, weary, and in desperate need of rest, we made our way back to our respective hotels.

If Australia WordCamp 2018 doesn’t come soon enough, we’ll look to foreign shores to get our WordCamp fix. The WordPress family comes together at WordCamp, and we can’t wait to meet again.

and
Posted by Maureen in Travel, 2 comments
On A Cold Dark Night, In Brisbane

On A Cold Dark Night, In Brisbane

Compared to its southern counterparts, Brisbane’s winters are mild. But even Brisbane’s mild winters feel cold when you’ve been north of the border for a few years. Besides, I had just walked two blocks from Edward Street to George Street.

Even Brisbane's mild winters can feel cold

Brisbane on a cold, dark night

Why was I walking around Brisbane on a cold night?

Because WordCamp starts tomorrow and the Welcome Drinks were at the Stock Exchange Hotel on Edward Street, and I’m staying at a Hotel on George Street – two blocks away. But it was on the last block, on Charlotte Street, that I realised how nice Brisbane looks at night.

How did we ever manage before we had Smart Phones with great cameras built into them? And how many ‘Kodak’ moments did we miss because we didn’t have our camera with us? In an instant I was poised, iPhone in hand, ready to capture the moments of the night.

Could a tube of superglue be holding this together?

An old facade, cleverly incorporated into the new.

It’s Only A Facade!

I’ve walked along this street many times, and I’ve never noticed that sign on the wall. A quick bit of research has revealed that John Reid & Nephews was an engineering firm. The front of the old building is the only part that’s left, and it has been cleverly glued to the front of the new Telstra Building.  Now there’s a novel use for super-glue.

Open 24 Hours a day

The Pancake Manor

One of my favourite places in Charlotte Street is the Pancake Manor, which is housed in an old Anglican Church. The food is good and it’s open 24 hours a day. Great for  early morning brekkies, and midnight snacks.

The camera is drawn to the lamps like a moth to a flame

The line of lamps illuminate the dark laneway between the buildings

Lights, on a dark night, draw a camera to them like a moth to a flame. I couldn’t resist the neat line of lamps illuminating the laneway between the buildings, that I’m guessing are part of the Treasury Casino.

How long will these old relics survive?

The new and modern, dwarf the old and historical

And who could resist this? As I turned the corner into George Street, the beauty of the old buildings summoned me to go closer. The stark contrast of the old, dwarfed by the new, leaves me wondering how long these relics of the past will survive? Will our grandchildren and great grandchildren wonder what life must have been like in the old days? Will the only link be an album of aging photographs?  I hope not; but, I will capture as many moments as I can, on a cold dark night in Brisbane, just in case.

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
China – The Good, The Bad And The WOW!!

China – The Good, The Bad And The WOW!!

Reminiscing – The China Trip – October 2016

Let’s start with the bad

Days on the China trip were filled with great activities, and tours were not to be missed. The very clever organisers (Thanks, Julie and Suzy!) had planned alternating  ‘chill-out’, and ‘out-and-about’ days that provided just the right amount of rest, in between hectic tours. But the one thing that put a damper on our travels, whether it was an ‘in’ or ‘out’ day, was the weather.

Great Weather For Ducks…

It rained! And it rained. And it rained. Not enough to stop us from doing anything, but enough to cover a lot of the photos I took with ‘drops’. Some photos would have been fantastic – if you could have seen through the raindrops on the window of the bus, which is where I took most photos from. There wasn’t enough time to stop for photos at every bridge or building along the way, so I had to rely on my iPhone camera to capture moments as we sped by. This usually worked, but not when the windows were covered in raindrops.

The colours of Shanghai shone through the rainy night

Shanghai, through a rain misted window

But I learned a lot about umbrellas and weatherproof jackets on that trip. Did you know that Starbucks at Zhujiajiao have little bags to put your wet umbrella in? It beats the heck out of water dripping all over the floor because you don’t want to leave your favourite (or only) brolly in the container at the door.

Now That The Bad Is Out Of The Way, Let’s Move On To The Good

Our first big excursion was from Shanghai to Nanjing on the Bullet Train. Nanjing is the capital of the Jiangsu Province and is also known as the Southern Capital, with Beijing being the Northern Capital. The replica of one of Admiral Zheng He’s Treasure Ships, reportedly built in the 15th Century, was amazing. The beauty of the wooden structure conjured up images of ancient seafarers travelling the high seas, risking life and limb. I wonder what they would think of the luxury liners we travel on now?

Sailors must have been brave - back then

A replica of the 15th Century ship

Replica of the 15th Century ship

As old as it is, the design is still beautiful

Shanghai City

Another big day out turned into three big days (and two nights). Shanghai is a big city! There are more people living there than in the whole of Australia (2016).  We didn’t meet them all, but we felt like we’d seen most of them. They were driving on the highways. Nearly all of them! Well, it certainly felt that way as we made our way slowly through the traffic.

The population of Shanghai is higher than Australia in 2016

It was a slow trip through Shanghai traffic

Our accommodation for two nights, while exploring Shanghai, was at the Radisson Blu, a seriously nice hotel. The famous Bund was not far away and a coach was at our disposal to get us around the city, which is just as well because it rained!

Shopping Vs The Harbour

I’d heard the shopping was good at the Bund and was looking forward to checking it out, but we sacrificed shopping for a spectacular view of the harbour at night. The view was the better deal because the rain held off long enough for some great photos.

Window shopping in Shanghai

Shopping in Shanghai was sacrificed for a view of the Harbour by night

The colours of Shanghai Harbour light up the darkness of the night

The lights from Shanghai Harbour on an overcast night

And Now For The WOW!!

One of the highlights of the trip was a day in Suzhou, one of the most popular tourist towns in China. I thought that Zhujiajou was spectacular, but Suzhou was even more so.  A boat ride along the canals of this ancient town exceeded any expectations I had of what China had to offer. It was like looking over the back fences of the neighbourhood. Seeing locals going about their daily chores; kids waving from the pier; barges hauling their cargo. There is no better way to get up close and personal with Chinese culture than skimming past their back door on a boat. It was magic!

Water Towns of China are a must-see

We drifted slowly by the homes of local people

One of the Water Towns of China

One of the canals in Suzhou

There are eight significant Water Towns in China and my Travel Bucket List now includes visiting each one of them. But that’s another adventure, for another time.

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 3 comments
WordCamp Is Nearly Here!!!

WordCamp Is Nearly Here!!!

WordCamp Is Just Over A Week Away!!!

22-23 July 2017

QUT Gardens Point Brisbane

I’m Attending WordCamp Brisbane 2017

The Countdown Is On!

Less than 2 weeks to go and I can hardly wait to get there!!!

  • transport is sorted
  • accommodation is booked
  • iPad and iPencil are fully charged
  • spare batteries – packed
  • camera – packed

Why is WordCamp exciting? Because WordCamp is a two-day conference filled with inspiring speakers, generous sponsors and lots of like-minded people, and because the cost of this amazing event is incredibly low! In fact, you won’t believe how low it is.

WordCamp is about WordPress, and WordPress is probably the easiest website building tool on the planet! WordPress has made the process so easy that even I could do it. You start by downloading the WordPress software script from WordPress.org, and you start building. You can have anything from a simple blog site  – to a money-making online business site. The choice is yours.

When I started on the journey of building a website in 2016, I booked myself into WordCamp Sunshine Coast (Queensland – Australia) for my first WordPress live experience. I was hoping to have a lot of questions answered over the two days – only to discover that I didn’t really have the questions clearly formulated – they were kind of swimming around in my head without any specific words attached. It’s kind of hard when you don’t know – what you don’t know. The one big question of ‘How do I Blog?’ was put on the backburner during the first few sessions at WordCamp, when I found out there are a lot more important things to learn before you get to the blogging stage. First I had to overcome my fear and just start building my sites and start my blog, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. One of the outstanding presentations at the conference was a successful web designer who admitted her initial fear of building her first website, and how WordPress had helped her gain the confidence she needed to start building sites for others. I guessed the secret was to just roll your sleeves up, get in, and get it done, regardless of the fear.

WordCamp has its own cute Logo (Photo from 2016.sunshinecoast.wordcamp.org)

Why Would You Want To Go To WordCamp?

Because these days, it seems that everyone has a blog. And thousands of people read them! When we are looking for information about a specific topic, we type a word or phrase into our favourite search engine and Oila!, more information than you can poke the proverbial stick at. And somewhere in those search results, we’re sure to come across a blog.

Popular blogs include information about:

  • Shopping
  • Reviews – products/services
  • Travel – where to go/how to get there
  • Food – including cooking information/recipes/
  • ‘How To’ Guides
  • Money Making Ideas
  • DIY ideas
  • Fashion – what to wear/where to get it
  • Self Improvement
  • Health
  • Technology
  • Sports
  • Writing – fiction/non-fiction

Whatever it is that gets you fired up, you could be sharing it with the world, on your own website.

Once you’ve downloaded the WordPress Software, you’ll need a quirky name for your new website. I found the domain name for my site from GoDaddy, one of the sponsors of WordCamp Brisbane 2017, but there are lots of sites offering domain names. You simply type in a quirky name for your site, and if it’s available, you can (usually) buy it for a really low annual fee (you certainly can with GoDaddy). Then, you need to find a hosting company, and there are plenty around at very affordable prices. The hosting company puts your site out there, on the Internet. That’s not very technical, but you know what I mean. It’s what makes your site ‘findable’ on the Internet. There’s not much sense in building a fabulous website if it just sits on your desktop and nobody ever sees it, right? Right! There are lots of hosting companies to choose from, including:

What Does Building A Website Have To Do With WordCamp?

Lots!
When you buy your ticket to WordCamp Brisbane 2017, you are buying access to two-days of top-notch speakers (professional and newbies) who are well-versed in website building and sharing their stories about how they’ve progressed through the WordPress journey – the trials, tribulations and successes. The most inspiring are the ones who had no experience before building their first website and who, through WordPress, have gone on to build a successful blog or online business. Your WordPress site can be as easy, or as customised, as you want it to be.

Over a coffee or lunch, you’ll be able to meet and mingle with the speakers and ask any of those questions you didn’t get a chance to ask in the sessions. You’ll also meet other attendees who are on the same web-building journey as you. Perhaps they have the same interests and can share tips and tricks to save you time and effort in your journey?

You just need an idea of what you want to create and the time to ‘play around’ with the site until you develop what you need. The support provided by WordPress will have you sharing your web-address with family and friends in no time. WordPress online training will help you get started, and then lead you down the road of web-development until you reach your destination – your very own website for your blog – or maybe an online business. You don’t have to know anything about Code (HTML, CSS etc.) to build a website with WordPress. There are plenty of Themes, Widgits, and Plug-Ins that are built in or easily accessible. But I guarantee it won’t be long before you are wanting to tweak your site with a few extra quirky bits. I’ve recently discovered the value of adding a little code here and there, and I’m loving it. When  you know a few basics, it makes the job a lot more fun.

When you start building a website in WordPress, you become part of an extended family. While most earthly families get together over lunch on Sundays, or the family bbq, the WordPress family gets together at WordCamp.

WordCamps are held around the world and provide support and encouragement at every level of your development, in all things ‘website’. From humble beginnings at the novice level, to the most accomplished web-design tools for professional web-designers; there really is something for everyone with WordCamp.

Speakers include:

Just Do It!
Presented by Robey Lawrence
Basically a story about how opportunities can open themselves up to you when you make the decision to overcome your fears and anxieties and ‘Just Do It!’.
Starting from the beginning of how he got into the WordPress centred career he’s in today, by punching his fears in the face and putting himself out there.

HOW TO MAKE GOOGLE LOVE YOUR WORDPRESS SITE
Presented by Kate Toon
In this presentation, Kate will tell you the tips, techniques and tactics that she uses to help make sites 100% Google lovable, including:
The impact of hosting and domain choice
Integral set up steps that boost SEO friendliness
My top 10 Plugins to improve SEO
Easy peasy content formatting
What to consider when offering on going SEO packages

Normally, a conference with such qualified and informative speakers would cost a fortune, but not at WordCamp. Value for money puts WordCamp way out in front.

The Total Cost of WordCamp is just $50!   

What you get for your $50 is:

  • access to two days of informative speakers
  • a t.shirt and lanyard
  • lunch on both days
  • lots of coffee
  • after-party (yes, that includes the Saturday night party!)
  • networking opportunities – you’ll be surprised at the people you’ll meet
  • the opportunity to ask lots of questions of both speakers and sponsors over a cuppa, or something stronger at the After Party

Getting your Swag at WordCamp

Photo from Brisbane WordCamp website

Oh, and there are usually give-aways by the sponsors who proudly put their support behind this fabulous event.

Now, There Are Only Three Things Left To Do:

      1. Download the Free WordPress Software
      2. Start building your website
      3. Get a ticket to a WordCamp near you

      At time of writing – tickets to WordCamp Brisbane 2017 have sold out, but watch the site for a possible release of more tickets – no guarantees – but you might be lucky.

      See you online and at WordCamp!

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 1 comment
The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Our last day in India and what better way to spend it than at the Taj Mahal.

A very early 5am start from our accommodation in New Delhi meant that with a bit of luck, we’d beat the traffic, the heat, and the crowds and also ensure enough time to shower and change before making our way to the Airport for the flight home that night.

It worked!

Agra was a welcome sight at the end of the long bus ride that necessitated a coffee stop along the way. Not exactly Starbucks, but not bad compared to the coffees I’d had over the past two weeks. The tea drinkers loved the variety of teas in India, but sadly, good coffees were not to be found, anywhere.

Before we could get close enough to the magnificant buildings, we had to negotiate our way through the maze of vendors selling guidebooks and a range of memorabilia and souvenirs. As if by magic, a golf-buggy pulled up beside us and we were ushered in for the drive down the boulevard towards the entrance. I had spotted the horses lined up across the road when we arrived and was a little disappointed that we couldn’t be driven down the boulevard in style instead. But the golf-buggy was fine and it delivered us safely into the hands of more vendors close to the entrance. Since I hadn’t packed a hat for the excursion, some brightly coloured umbrellas caught my attention. My stray gaze towards them wasn’t wasted on the seller, who proceeded to pursue me while bartering the price, which had dropped to a mere Rs 100/-  by the time I’d caught up with the rest of our group at the entrance. Money was quickly exchanged and I was assured of a shaded walk around the Taj Mahal.

Once we were through the security formalities we were free to wander, as long as we met back at the gate at the designated time. The thought of having to be at the Airport later in the day for the flight home was forefront in my mind. I’m not the most relaxed traveller when it comes to the day of flying to or from a destination, and being a few hours from New Delhi made me nervous enough to make sure I would be where I had to be, at the right time.

The next few hours consisted of taking photos and just being in awe of actually being in and around such a famous World Heritage site. Words can’t do justice to the age and beauty of the structures.

I  think the Indian Government has it right with the entry fee. Locals pay Rs 40/- and tourists pay Rs 1000/-, although the ride to the entrance is only included in the tourist fee.

The beautifully romantic story behind the design and construction of the Taj Mahal in the 17th Century is far better explained on the Indian Government site than I could recount here. Since photos are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal, for obvious reasons, the following photos only depict the outside and surrounding buildings. And these photos can’t possibly do justice to the feeling of actually being there. If you haven’t journeyed to Agra yet, make sure you put it on your Bucket List and spend a day, or longer, soaking up the history and magnificence of this amazing place. And with incredibly low airfares to India offered by Scoot Airlines, I know I’ll return one day to stand in front of the Taj Mahal again.

And again, a huge Thank You to Mohinder Singh from the Amritsar Diocese for being there for us every step of the way. From meeting us at the New Delhi Station on our arrival from Shimla, to being our guide at the Taj Mahal, and then helping us negotiate a better price for the souvenirs that were bought along the way back to the bus.

Thank You Mohinder!

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
Crossing The Border

Crossing The Border

Okay, we didn’t cross it, but we did get to see some European and local travellers, loaded up with backpacks and luggage, who were making their way across the border in one direction, or the other.

Let me go back to the beginning so this makes a little more sense.

One of the highlights of the trip to India was our attendance at the Wagah Flag Ceremony, between the India and Pakistan border, at sunset. Even though the ceremony takes place every day, apparently thousands of people cram into the stadium each time to witness the event.

The flags of each country are taken down simultaneously at sunset and secured for the night, but not without a theatrical performance by each army on both sides of the heavily armed, razor-wired fences that divide the two countries. To say the routine was spectacular is a gross understatement. The thousands of spectators on the Indian side shouted their national pride in chants and cheering, egged on by a white-shirted man at the front of the stadium.  The patriotic atmosphere was felt as well as heard. Behind me, a young boy spontaneously led the chant at one point; just a small single voice ringing out the cry, to be followed by thousands.

The roads were choked with traffic as we approached the border. All modes of transport ferried the crowds in: buses, pedal-power, horse-driven carts loaded with families, Indian version tuk-tuks, and tractors. If it was capable of moving, it was fully laden, with bodies packed in it, on it, or behind it.


As guests of the Bishop of the Amritsar Diocese of the Church of North India (CNI), we were very lucky to be given an escort into the parking area closest to the ceremony, and seats in the first few rows,  giving us an ideal opportunity to witness the event up close and personal.

As we sat patiently awaiting the ceremony, the awe of being on one side of the border, watching nationals on the other side just as patiently awaiting the same event, struck hard. We were in India – they were in Pakistan.  The pomp and ceremony began. The Indian soldiers marched quickly across the parade-ground towards the border gate, in pairs and/or individually, at a very fast pace, and finishing with a high-kick that brought their well-heeled boots in danger of collision with their fan-shaped headgear. This was followed by a shake of fists towards the Pakistan Army in a movement reminiscent of the Haka that we are witness to at any international sporting event involving our Kiwi neighbours from across the ditch. The process was replicated on the other side of the fence by the Pakistani’s, in similarly costumed uniforms. The Indian Army wearing red turbans or black berets, and red fan-shaped headwear – the Pakistanis wearing dark blue. The process was drawn out, to the delight of the crowd who cheered uproariously from the Indian side at each step of the way. The spectators on the other side of the fence were a little more constrained in their show of appreciation of their Army, or maybe it was just that there were fewer spectators.

When the moment came for the flags to be brought down from the top of the very tall flagpoles, on opposite sides of the narrow patch of middle ground between the gates that I assume is neutral territory, the show of pride by the Indian spectators was indescribable – you just had to be there. Caught up in the moment was every other nationality privileged enough to witness the amazing event. Something as simple as lowering a flag had flamed the national pride of a nation.

This well-trained dog joins the cast of Military Personnel in the ceremonial presentation and takes a bow towards the stadium.

The flags are finally lowered and respectfully marched into the enclosure for safe keeping until the morning, when they’ll be raised again at sunrise, albeit, without the ceremony of the previous evening.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Amritsar, make the Flag Ceremony a priority on your itinerary, but make sure you book through a reputable tour group. Going solo isn’t a viable option for this event if you want a seat, and trust me, you want a seat. The sun was beating down, the dust was thick and the ceremony was long and drawn out. You will also need a hat and water bottle, although roving vendors provided some relief with the sale of water, soft drinks and ice-creams. A fan might also be a useful addition but there will be no shortage of fans, hats, flags and umbrellas thrust at you by hopeful entrepaneurs as you arrive at the venue in whatever means of transport you choose. There were many deals struck through open windows as our bus made its way through the traffic on the way to the gate.

The Flag Ceremony will remain etched in my memory forever and I owe a huge debt of thanks to Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy and Mohinder Singh for making it happen, and for being there with us.

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
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