Rijksmuseum – The well-stocked kitchen

The Well-Stocked Kitchen – painted 1566

In 1566, the painter Joachim Beukelaer warned us about the dangers of Facebook, Pokemon-Go and distractive technologies. Perhaps not literally, but he illustrates the point beautifully in his painting: The Well-Stocked Kitchen. In this painting, we are drawn first to the kitchen maids in the foreground, then to the abundant display of food.

The Well Stocked Kitchen

All of this is designed to show us how easily we are distracted from perhaps the more significant scene deep in the background – which is a representation of Christ visiting Martha and Mary. But of course our attention has been drawn by the brighter colors, the shiny objects, the sensual world, and it would be easy to miss the figures in the background and their significance.

Modern sources of distraction

So too, today, we are easily distracted by the latest car, the latest smart device, the most colourful and shiniest of toys. All of which can easily blind us to more basic human values, and the actual world around us. How often do we see people sitting together deeply engaged in text communication with other people, far removed.

Now, there may be good reason for such behaviour at times – when we simply can’t be physically present with our significant other, or perhaps there are urgent arrangemements to be made, that simply can’t wait until after our companions have departed.

Perhaps our attention is so arrested by the succulent artichokes and onions and meaty delicacies embodied in a 60+ Hertz refresh-rate on our screens, that we fail to notice our companions have each fallen silent and that they too are gazing and tapping like urgent woodpeckers on their smart devices in deep communication with others not physically present.

There is clearly a place for such technologies. The challenge is to know when to switch them off and foreground those who willingly share their presence with us despite the lure of the endorphin-inducing screen – or a well-stocked kitchen.




Amsterdam Segway tour – the other 2 wheels


Amsterdam is very bike friendly and you can hire bikes at reasonable rates – or buy a used one from €50 – and maybe sell it at the end of your holiday. There are special lanes for bikes (which are also used by motor scooters(!)) and they seem to mostly have right of way. Amsterdam is also pretty flat so a push bike can be a pretty good option – if you can stay aware of the tram lines!

But there is another 2-wheeled option – a tour by Segway – these are the self-balancing scooters with side-by-side wheels. And they are very intuitive and great fun to ride. The only requirement is that you are able to stand for about 2 hours – for this reason the tour companies have both a lower and an upper age limit (16-70 years).

Segway

Bookings are essential and the meeting place is on IJDok near the Centraal railway station. I took the tram to the station. Trams are another great way to travel since they are modern, quiet and comfortable. And soon I joined the tour leader, his student and the other tourist (it was a week-day).

After a few minutes practice (both of us on the tour had ridden them before) we had a safety briefing then off on a follow-the-leader tour. We broadly followed the path of one of the main canals – with some detours to places of interest. We explored the ‘golden age’ architecture and headed into the museum quarter – including a run through the tunnel that goes through the Rijksmuseum where we could see the box designed to lower Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ to safety in the event of a fire or flood (much of the Netherlands is below sea level).

Honestly, the Segways are so much fun it almost didn’t matter where we went as long as we could glide along leaning gently in whichever direction we wanted to go.

Our host gave knowledgeable and amusing commentary on the highlights which took in many canal crossings on small bridges, down narrow streets with cafes and shops, and on some streets which were filled-in canals. One we stopped at was filled in because the river flowed much faster than the canal water – which stagnated and stank so much the locals petitioned to have it filled in.

There was a story of how Amsterdam’s flag came to be – it is three XXX with a line through. The story goes that the three Xs (or Saltires) refer to the three ‘Dangers’ faced by old Amsterdam – fire, flood and bubonic plague. Apparently a fire in the 1300s led to an ordinance mandating that all subsequent buildings were to be in brick – so there are now only a couple of timber buildings left in the whole city.

There was also a story of Napoleon’s occupation in the early 1800s. Napoleon gave the Kingdom of Holland as it came to be known, to his brother Louis to govern – thinking it would be a puppet kingdom. But Louis found the Dutch more to his liking, and he increasingly came into conflict with Napoleon for taking the Dutch side over his brother’s.

We saw Anne Frank’s house and the old Jewish district, as well as the Chinese quarter. We also passed the Vondelpark – the famous green belt with its ponds.

And so we glided from place to place, taking in the views and the stories until it was time to head back – definitely €65 well spent. In this case the tour operator was ‘BestDam Segway Tours‘ – which has consistently received good reviews on Tripadviser.

I thoroughly recommend this tour (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with this company and received no benefit from them).

Segway Tour Amsterdam



Singapore’s Colourful markets

You can taste the air, thickly laden with moisture and heat and frangipani, as soon as you step off the plane in Singapore’s Changi airport. It was quite a contrast with the minus 3C we experienced flying out of Canberra’s Winter chill.

Orchids

Singapore is ideally placed to be a global market situated at the cross-roads of the Malacca Straits. Something like 80 percent of the world’s trade passes this spot, making it the ultimate strategic location for trade.

Here you can choose to shop for major brands in air conditioned hyper-malls – in which the act of shopping as entertainment becomes an experience in its own right. But while you could literally spend days in the malls, you would be getting only part of the experience of Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands

Time to venture into the local markets where in many ways you meet the ‘real’ Singapore.

Market stall Singapore

It is hot and humid, and the air in places smells of fish, algae and durian fruit. Durian fruit is an experience all by itself. You encounter it first as a cloying sweet rotting smell, as though some small furry animal had died in a vat of custard – no wonder it is not allowed on buses, planes or inside hotels!

But it is surprising how quickly you become accustomed to it and the smell is soon part of the background, mixed with orchids and jasmine and frangipani and exotic spices.

Rambutan

It is here you begin to see the the true richness of the markets – amazing foods; wonderful flower stalls; and exotic fruits lusciously presented in stacks on the market stalls.

Flower seller

Picture dragon fruit and star fruit and fresh coconuts alongside oranges and tomatoes and many varieties of bananas (not just the plain Cavendish ones we see in supermarkets!).

Dragon fruit

This is where Singapore comes alive for you. Why not strike a bargain for some fresh produce, or just soak up the atmosphere with a friendly smile. Venture out, eat where the locals eat, and encounter the true richness and diversity that Singapore has to offer.

Fish seller




Balladonia and the space station

On to Balladonia.

We passed the Western end of the Nullarbor Plain and celebrated with a photo and a happy dance before heading on to Balladonia 🙂

Nullarbor sign

And neared the end of the Ninety Mile Straight.

straight road

Balladonia at the Western end of the 90-mile straight seems an unlikely place to host a well set up museum including several large pieces of the SkyLab space station which de-orbited over the Nullarbor in 1979. The roadhouse looks much like many others, with a restaurant, fuel pumps and ablution facilities and of course a bar. But the surprise comes when you go inside.

Redex Trials

The concise, neat museum is well laid out, with serious thought given to the displays. Amidst the old tools and wool press, a car seems to be caught in the act of crashing through the wall into the museum. This marks the REDEX Trials display. In the 1950s an endurance round-Australia car rally was staged, sponsored by the manufacturer of Redex oils. The cars were unmodified standard street cars – which everyone could relate to – and the event attracted some big-name racing drivers of the time.

Redex car at Balladonia

The Nullarbor road at that time was unsealed and presented significant challenge to the cars of the day. You can still see remnants of the original road near the modern sealed highway – a daunting prospect!

Original Nullarbor Highway

Skylab

And so to the space station. Balladonia seems an unlikely place to be associated with a piece of space history, but such is the case! Skylab, America’s first purpose-built space station was launched in 1973. The space station included a workshop, a solar observatory, and other systems necessary for crew survival and scientific experiments.

Skylab’s useful life concluded in 1974 after three manned missions, but it remained in orbit until 1979 with plans for the forthcoming Space Shuttle to boost it into a higher orbit to enable operations to be extended. But delays to the shuttle program sealed Skylab’s fate. So NASA decided to bring it down in a controlled de-orbit rather than let it decay and fall randomly. It was set tumbling in the hope that it would break up as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.

But it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t breaking up as planned and this meant the intended splashdown into the ocean would not happen. It finally came down in a spectacular display over Australia with debris spread between Esperance and Balladonia and further afield. Miraculously,  no-one was hurt despite several large pieces weighing several tonnes reaching the ground. Two large pieces are on display at Balladonia.

Skylab fragment

 

Balladonia, like Eucla, was settled in 1879. Balladonia was one of the repeater stations on the Perth-Adelaide telegraph line. As with Eucla, the telegraph station operated from 1897 to 1929, when the line was relocated further north along the railway line. It was said that the coastal line was being short-circuited by salt spray from the Southern Ocean.

The supply of fresh water is still limited, providing a stark reminder that this is an arid country.

drought sign

At the museum, we read newspaper accounts of the Redex Trials – which included an account of one of the cars having an extra passenger – the driver of an abandoned burnt out citroën. Fortunately, on today’s road, our citroën was behaving faultlessly and was taking the distance in its stride.

Citroen

 

 
You can have these posts delivered to your in-box by entering your email address and clicking the ‘subscribe button to your left, then respond to the confirmation email in your in-box 🙂




Packing for the Camino de santiago

The Camino de Santiago (French way/Camino Frances) is an 800km/500 mile trek. It is a traditional Christian pilgrimage route from southern France, over the Pyrenees, and across northern Spain. The route is open for anyone to walk, whether for fitness, tourism, spiritual or religious reasons.

The distance is not to be undertaken lightly and it is important to keep your backpack as light as possible – after all, you will be carrying it for around one million steps over a wide variety of terrain and weather conditions.

Walking in solitude

Accommodation is typically in municipal or private albergues, or hostels. So at least you don’t need to carry a tent or your own cooking utensils, but by all accounts, it is a not insignificant trek.

I made a video showing what I have chosen to pack – your mileage may differ (see below) 🙂

Some people view the Camino as an opportunity to unplug from the world and escape the frenetic pace of contemporary society. Indeed some are critical of those who stay in touch through social media. For me, social media provides a means for my family and friends to follow our progress; and a chance for me to share with others this great experience – and perhaps inspire others to consider walking their own Camino.

One of my passions is photography. Most people take a phone/camera or small point-and-shoot camera. These can produce great images, especially in good light. But for me, they are not great in low light, and many interiors such as churches or museums challenge those cameras. So my one concession to weight is that I will be taking my DSLR camera, albeit with just one lens.

Pilgrims in past ages would travel from place to place and keep journals, write letters and maintain such communication as they could with those back home. So I see no contradiction in taking some light technology to help deepen the experience through providing access to information, translation of menus, or simple navigation, as well as to communicate with those close to me but distant geographically. For me, there is no distinction between a modern pilgrim asking for wifi and the medieval pilgrims who asked for paper and ink.

I hope this video helps others considering a long trek, such as the Camino – and I welcome comments here or below the video on YouTube 🙂

You can have these posts delivered to your in-box by entering your email address and clicking the ‘subscribe button to your left, then respond to the confirmation email in your in-box 🙂