Part two of my best bits and bobs from last year’s peregrinations. (Click photos to zoom.)
6. Bali, Indonesia
Whereabouts: Bali’s Bukit Peninsula
Day five of a fantastic holiday in Bali with my family found us poolside at a villa complex called “The Edge”, a place I had grudgingly accepted the task of reviewing for work. This stint in Bali was our first outside the well-trodden haunts of Seminyak and Ubud. I loved the Bukit Peninsula for a change, especially with its 180-degree view of relentless, pounding surf, and even more especially for its total lack of retail outlets.
7. Byron Bay, Australia
Whereabouts: In a tent at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival
My first Writers’ Festival as a “writer” also happened to be in my home town. I’ve discussed it before on this site, so I won’t go over old territory. But seeing a pile of my books in the merch tent was one of many small moments of satisfaction over the three or four days of the event. That’s my Dad’s hand holding a copy of Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany in the photo, just before he placed it back on the pile and wandered over to buy one of Gideon Haigh’s cricket books instead.
8. Phang Nga, Thailand
Whereabouts: On the shore of a coastal estuary
North of Phuket lies Phang Nga province, quite possibly the next big thing in Thai tourism (though it’s still a bit of a backwater at this stage). This beachside estuary, just 30 metres from the ocean, meanders through pine forests into the interior, passing a few small temples on the way. Monsoonal weather meant that the sea was off-limits, so this was the next best option. In the photo, Gill is just checking with the boatman that we won’t encounter any Deliverance-style scenarios as we head upstream.
9. Paris, France
Whereabouts: Sacre Coeur
This was my third time in Paris but my first with decent weather. Not just decent but majestic (more pics here). On my previous visits in 1989 and 1994, the Eiffel Tower was closed, its top half completely shrouded in fog/drizzle/cloud. (Instead, I joined the other teens and twenty-somethings at Père Lachaise Cemetery and slunk around the sodden grave of Jim Morrison looking angsty.) This time, the sky was cornflour blue and the view from Sacre Coeur stretched as far as a billion baguettes lined end to end. Or something like that.
10. Taj Majal, India
Whereabouts: On a red-brick step in the Taj complex
Do a Google search for “Taj Mahal”, then click “Images”, then just keep scrolling down and down and down. Crikey. How many times can a thing be photographed? I was sure I was going to be disappointed in the Taj, like I was to a degree with the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, simply because I had seen it a thousand times and knew exactly what to expect. But it’s brilliant. Don’t miss it, if you get the chance. (The fetching shoe-covers are to protect the centuries-old marble floor of the building.)
Finally, I thought I’d finish up with a mention of my most memorable dish of 2012. I’m not much of a frog’s legs guy – especially not after watching an elderly Chinese woman go to work on a bucket of live bullfrogs with a pair of rusted tin-snips in a market in Guangzhou a few years ago. But these delicate morsels (below) served up at the Michelin-starred Pont de l’Ouysse restaurant in Lacave in southwest France were a whole different kettle of amphibians. Perhaps my appreciation for the dish was enhanced by the fact that I’d just hiked for 20km through cold, rain and mud (and, quite probably, frogs). All I know is that the floral, herby flavours of these tender ribbit-niblets really hit the spot.