Imposing and peaceful Tintern Abbey, Wales

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark (I haven’t aged at all since I first wrote this introduction) and I proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC).

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC travelled from Bristol to the Wye Valley in Wales to see Tintern Abbey, on the recommendation of a coffee vendor we met at the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

My impressions? The mix of fallen and still-standing walls is strangely effective in conveying the grandeur and peace of the place.

Word of the day

Abbey is the word of the day. The word stems from the same root as the Aramaic אבא (‘abbā), the Hindi abbā, and the Arabic ab, all of which mean “father”. An abbey is where the abbot lives, the abbot being the head of a group of monks. ABBA is also the name of a rather well known Swedish pop group. The group’s name is formed from the first letters of the singers’ names.

Travel tip

Pay heed to coffee vendors and other wise folks.

The book I’m in

Alaskan Fire, by Sara King. A good read, although slightly less sophisticated than this author’s other works.

The photos

Me taking in the sights from a window at Tintern Abbey:

The Welsh name for the abbey is Abaty Tyndyrn. The tourist brochure says Tintern Abbey is Wales’s best-preserved abbey. In Welsh, that’s “Yr Abaty sydd yn y cyflwr gorau yng Nghymru”:

Play this video to hear the sounds of Tintern Abbey:

The first buildings that formed the abbey were built in 1130s. Most of the original structure has disappeared, and what we see now was built in the 400-year period leading up to 1536. Then King Henry VIII passed a number of laws that put a stop to monasteries and the monastic life in England, Ireland, and Wales. The abbey fell to ruin:

Flowers and poetry grow from its walls:

Symmetry and sky greet you as you enter:

The pantry has an imposing ceiling:

Do not climb on the walls, written in English and Welsh:

This worm has noticed that the plumbing is often a high point in ruins. The abbey is no exception – the drainage system is lauded in the tourist information:

Me and Peg checked out the bathing facilities:

The view of the hills probably hasn’t changed much in the 850+ years since the abbey was built:

Farewell gracious abbey:

That’s all for today, folks.

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Hobnobbing with high society in Kensington

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark (I haven’t aged at all since I first wrote this introduction) and I proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC).

Today’s travel notes

Me, Peg, and the TC, are in London. We hobnobbed with high society today, strolling along Prince Consort Road and drifting around Kensington Palace. I found the time to grace fans with my presence at the Royal Albert Hall too, hanging out at the stage door with Peg.

My impressions? The British know how to throw a good building.

Travel tip

Beware the traffic. There’s very little distinction between the pavement and the road on Exhibition Road.

Word of the day

Hygge is the word of  the day. It means coziness, an atmosphere where you feel hugged, somewhere welcoming, a feeling of belonging.

The book I’m in

De Zoon, by Jo Nesbø. A gritty tale of good gone bad, and bad gone raw. The TC has chosen to read this book in Dutch, because she wants to brush up her skills in that language, and the original book was written in Norwegian anyway. This worm appreciates the good translation. The quality of the translation is essential to the flavour of the book.

The photos

Me and Peg hanging out at Kensington Palace gardens:

At the start of our route up Exhibition Road towards the palace, the TC inadvertently took these two shots showing man imitating art. The little walking man on the traffic signal is red and stationary. The real man seems to mimic his pose:

The little walking-man sign is green, and…

Well, the TC found that amusing anyway. Bless her cotton mittens.

Here’s the rest of the shot that the TC was intending to take. Hygge in a square on Exhibition Road, near Thurloe Place, Kensington:

The sky photobombed this picture of the Natural History Museum on Exhibition Road:

The Victoria & Albert Museum:

Columns and dormers and spires on Prince Consort Road, Kensington:

We approached the Royal Albert Hall from the backstreets. The frieze around the roof is 800 feet long and covers 5,200 square feet:

Peg and I hung out for a while at the stage door, giving our fans the opportunity to see us in the wild. The TC did a good job of keeping them civilised, though there was one enquiry from a concerned security guard who wondered if we were supposed to be there.

“Is that supposed to be there?” he asked.

“Yes”, replied the TC. “He’s a famous blogger. This is a photo op.”

“Ah,” came the reply. “On the Internet? Right, carry on then.”

And so we did:

I gave my fans another photo op at the Albert Memorial:

Guards on horseback were there to keep the crowds safe:

A trapeze artist arched through the air in Hyde Park:

The clean lines of Kensington Palace sit cosily on the green. Royal hygge, perhaps:

The entranceway to Kensington Palace reminds me of a glasshouse (a gezellig one):

An English country garden, fit for a queen:

Going back to the plebs via Queen’s Gate Terrace:

That’s all for today, folks.

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark and can proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC).

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC have just returned home after a week-long trip to New Zealand’s South Island. It was a trip of adventure, beauty and magnificence. For this worm, the high point was a trip up Fox Glacier on the island’s west coast.

The TC and her clan did the “Fox Trot”, a half-day walk up to and over the glacier. This worm went along for the ride. I now have a certificate to prove my prowess at glacier scaling. Photos below.

My impressions? Bizarrely beautiful shapes. Cold. Danger enough to add a delicious tingle of fear.

Travel tip

Take a few layers of clothing. You’ll feel warm while walking through the forest on the way to the glacier, freezing cold in the arctic wind on top of the glacier, and various temperatures in between.

Recommended accommodation

Westhaven Motel in Fox Glacier Township. The manager is delightfully hospitable, the broadband access is free, the rooms are spacious and comfortable. This was the best accommodation of our New Zealand trip.

The book I’m in

Clean Cut, by Lynda La Plante. A good cop and crim yarn, with a gritty ending.

The photos

Me approaching Fox Glacier:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Mark Wordsworm nearing the foot of Fox Glacier

Our guide described the hazards of the cave at the foot of the glacier and the dangers of getting too close:

A view of the glacier from above, showing how it curves around a corner and up the further slope. There’s more over the horizon too, though we didn’t see it:

Climbing Fox Glacier, New Zealand

A view of Fox Glacier from above

Zooming in to see two tour groups already on the ice:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Two tour groups on Fox Glacier

Now it’s our turn. The TC hung back to take this shot of our group climbing up the stairs hacked into the ice. See the weird and wonderful shapes the ice has formed:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Our group climbing up Fox Glacier

I made it! Me on the glacier:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Mark Wordsworm, conqueror of glaciers

Shapes and colours in the ice:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Shapes and colours in the ice on Fox Glacier

Sorbet, anyone?

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Looking down into a crevasse, with a glacial stream of water at the bottom:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

The TC venturing down into the crevasse:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

The TC venturing into a crevasse

At the bottom of the crevasse, beautiful and scary:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

A crevasse on Fox Glacier

Me and Peg, perched on a stone and leaning up against the TC’s boot. Ah yes, did I neglect to mention that Peg was there too? I’m avoiding contact with the ice itself. Nasty wet cold stuff, not very compatible with cardboard folk. Note the crampons strapped to the TC’s boot, inelegant but functional:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Me, Peg and the TC's crampon-fortified boot

Our guide carving a path for us:

Every now and then we heard the clink and clatter of a chunk of ice breaking off somewhere in the ice below us. Scary? Oh yeah! Every now and then the TC stuck her stick into a stream or a hole, and the stick went down and down and down as far as it could reach. Scary? Oh yeah! We stood on platforms, stepped to the next one and looked back, to see we’d been standing on a thin sheet of ice with not much below. Fun? Oh yes indeed.

Looking up towards the point where the glacier turns a corner:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

As far as we could see:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

The furthest point we could see when up on the glacier

Climbing down off the glacier:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Climbing down off Fox Glacier

Walking away from the glacier. The flat valley floor and extremely steep sides are characteristic of a valley carved by a glacier. In past centuries, Fox Glacier has been much lower down and created the valley we see here:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Walking away from Fox Glacier along the valley floor

This is to certify that Mark Wordsworm did visit the mighty Fox Glacier, did brave the inclemency of the South Westland climate and did endure the rambling discourses of the guides:

Climbing Fox Glacier in New Zealand

Certificate of this worm's glacier-conquering prowess

That’s all for today dudes.

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark and can proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC have not been doing much travelling recently. You may have noticed the dearth of posts from this worm. What have we been up to, you may well ask?

The TC has acquired a new toy, somewhat unimaginatively named the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS. We call it the SuperZoom. It’s a point-and-shoot digital camera, with a 35-times zoom lens, going from 4.3 mm wide angle to 150.5 mm telephoto. The equivalent in 35 mm terms is 24 mm to 840 mm.

Have your eyes glazed over already? Do you feel the sudden urge to rush off into the traffic or jump over a cliff, or find some other way to put the zing back into life? Now you have the tiniest idea of what things have been like chez TC recently.

The TC ummed and ahhed for months before buying the SuperZoom. She consulted DSLR experts, read reviews and agonised over the choice. Go for a DSLR with quality “glass” (that’s a lens, folks) and total control over all aspects of the photo, but requiring a number of lenses that are expensive, cumbersome and finicky. Or go for a point-and-shoot with a single zoom lens, possibly compromising on the quality of the picture because a one-size-fits-all solution is often a compromise.

Then Canon produced the SX30 IS at around the same time as the TC decided against a DSLR. Decision made, and in the process the TC had learned a whole lot about just why the DSLR enthusiasts were worried that the SX30 IS might yield disappointing results.

F-stops and apertures, exposure times and ISO speeds, bracketing and exposure bias, focal length, depth of field… It’s fascinating stuff. Especially when you realise that most of the terminology and skills were developed to suit photography done with 35mm film, and that folks now just kind of morph the same terminology into the digital world, where it kind of works. Yes, fascinating stuff. So the TC tells me.

My impressions? For a details-oriented person like the TC, this photography lark looks to be an interesting occupation. From the point of view of those around her? Well, it keeps her out of our hair!

Travel tip

When travelling with a camera, or a camera-wielding TC, be prepared to stop and shoot at a moment’s notice.

The book I’m in

How to Do Everything: Digital Camera, by Dave Johnson. This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to learn about photography and digital cameras.

This worm had a narrow escape recently. I was spending some time in a DK book on photography that the TC took a violent dislike to. Ask her about it, then duck!

The photos

Me with Peg and a piece of bark that’s recently fallen from a Sydney Red Gum tree:

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/4
Exposure time: 1/125 sec
ISO speed: ISO-80
Exposure bias: -1 step
Focal length: 4 mm
Max aperture: 2.875
Metering mode: Pattern
Flash: No flash, compulsory

The TC has discovered that the camera and Windows both store a number of interesting facts about how the picture was taken. To keep her happy, I’ve copied the details below each photograph in this post. She’s been experimenting with the options available in the camera’s various modes. Even thought it’s a point-and-shoot, it offers an impressive flexibility for those who care to click and flick various buttons, wheels and knobs.

A jumble of bark at the base of a Scribbly Gum:

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/4
Exposure time: 1/50 sec
ISO speed: ISO-400
Exposure bias: 0 step
Focal length: 11 mm
Max aperture: 4
Metering mode: Pattern
Flash: No flash, compulsory

That looks like a secret code on some ancient rolled parchments, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s the work of grubs living in the bark of the tree.

The trunk of a Scribbly Gum:

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/4.5
Exposure time: 1/40 sec
ISO speed: ISO-100
Exposure bias: -1 step
Focal length: 18 mm
Max aperture: 4.34375
Metering mode: Pattern
Flash: No flash, compulsory

Two dragonflies mating while one chomps a cicada:

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/4
Exposure time: 1/250 sec
ISO speed: ISO-100
Exposure bias: 0 step
Focal length: 12 mm
Max aperture: 4
Metering mode: Pattern
Flash: No flash, compulsory

Talk about hostile mergers and acquisitions! Did you know that dragonflies are carnivorous? This worm did not, and neither did the TC.

Before we go any further, I have to admit I’m not sure that the happy couple are dragonflies. Their wings are parallel to their bodies, not at right angles. They don’t look like damselflies either, though. These critters were large: about 4 cm long. Do you know what they are?

One of the pair has a cicada firmly grasped in its legs. The trio was very mobile, and flew up and around the TC twice while she photographed it.

Another shot, where you can see the cicada more easily:

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/4.5
Exposure time: 1/160 sec
ISO speed: ISO-160
Exposure bias: 0 step
Focal length: 29 mm
Max aperture: 4.34375
Metering mode: Pattern
Flash: No flash, compulsory

A kookaburra, shot at maximum telephoto range (150 mm, 35x zoom, equiv. 840mm):

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/5.8
Exposure time: 1/80 sec
ISO speed: ISO-400
Exposure bias: 0 step
Focal length: 150 mm
Max aperture: 5.0625
Metering mode: Spot
Flash: No flash, compulsory

The TC is inordinately proud of that shot. It was tricky to keep the bird in focus at such a long distance. She played around with the depth of field (there’s another of her newly acquired terms) and exposure, took a number of shots, then chose the one she liked best.

We’ve already covered trees and birds, two of the TC’s favourite subjects. Here’s the third:



F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stops and focus and zooms, oh my!

F-stop: f/3.5 Exposure time: 1/60 sec ISO speed: ISO-250 Exposure bias: -1 step Focal length: 8 mm Max aperture: 3.625 Metering mode: Spot Flash: Flash, auto, redeye

That’s all for today dudes.

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark and can proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC are back in San Francisco for a flying visit. The TC is working here for a week, so this worm has tagged along as usual, keeping her book warm and generally looking after her. Today, Sunday, is her only day off on this trip. So we all got in to a Smart Car and drove over the Bay Bridge, to see what happens outside San Francisco.

My impressions? Oakland and Berkeley are worth the drive, if you have time on your hands, if only to see the Bay Bridge and the view of SFO from the other side.

Travel tip

Smart Cars are larger inside than you may think.

Recommended restaurant

Pakwan restaurant, corner of O’Farrel and Jones streets, San Francisco. Quite outstanding. See photos and words below.

The book I’m in

Gone Tomorrow, by Lee Child. The TC hasn’t had much time for reading, so I’m still stuck in the same book as when I wrote my previous post. No matter. I’m quite attached to the book!

The photos

Me with Peg and the food at the Pakwan restaurant:

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

The Pakwan restaurant is on the corner of O’Farrel and Jones streets, San Francisco. It offers “Pakistani-Indian authentic cuisine”. The space itself is not all that impressive, but the food is simply delicious. The price is very reasonable too.

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Me with the Smart Car that we hired for the day. I’m attached somewhat precariously (as usual) to the aerial:

lackadaisical

lackadaisical

Me and Smarty Tyres are parked in the grounds of the University of California, in Berkeley. Here’s one of the attractive buildings on campus:

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Next we drove down to Oakland. Surprise, Jonathan was there! Here he is, admiring the view from Oakland docks of the mist coming down over San Francisco:

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

That’s all for today dudes.

In and around Darwin

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark and can proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Darwin is an interesting place to be. I suspect it’s a city of many faces, depending on when you’re there and who you’re travelling with. One thing is guaranteed: the heat. At 12 degrees south, it’s decidedly tropical. Darwin is in the Northern Territory, at Australia’s Top End. The TC and I were there in May, soon after the start of the dry season. If that’s dry, this worm would prefer not to be there in the wet.

My impressions? It’s a bit warm in Darwin.

Travel tip

If you plan to walk down Stokes Hill Wharf, take your time. It’s a long wharf and, in case I haven’t mentioned it, Darwin is a bit warm.

Another tip for free: Go looking for the crocs. I wrote about them last week.

New word of the day

“Calenture” – a tropical fever suffered by sailors, who think the sea is a green field and want to jump into it.

The book I’m in

DON’T TELL MUM i WORK ON THE RIGS she thinks I’m a piano player in a whorehouse, by Paul Carter. This book is full-on, extreme energy. Paul Carter tells tall tales of his many years spent working on oil rigs in and around Australia. Adventure and danger, funny and nasty, they all rub up against each other in this book. Highly recommended.

The photos

Me hanging out on a Darwin city street:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

I promised a devoted follower that my next post would tell a tale of peril. Here it is. The TC wanted to show the enormous size of the ivy leaves in Darwin. Note her lamentable lack of regard for my safety. Now you see me, now you…

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

… don’t!

Truth be told, Darwin city centre is not much to write home about. This picture is taken from the corner of Mitchell and Knuckey streets, looking up Knuckey. It’s all happening, folks:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Here’s The Mall on Smith street:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Darwin is “one of Australia’s most modern capital cities”. That sounds pretty impressive, and even more so when you learn why it’s true. The city has had to be rebuilt twice in recent history: once after the Japanese bombed it in World War 2, and then again after Cyclone Tracy hit in 1974. Tracy just about flattened the town hall (originally the Palmerstone Town Hall). The Darwinites have preserved the ruins, to remind people of that blustery Christmas Eve in 1974:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Tracy was quite a ruthless gal. She holds the record for being the most compact tropical cyclone ever to hit Australia. Indeed, she was the most compact world-wide until Marco in 2008.

Not far away from the town hall ruins, this old man banyan tree stands in Darwin’s Civic Square:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Banyan trees are fairly ruthless in their own right. The banyan starts life as a seed, eaten by a bird and then deposited on another tree’s branch as part of a bird dropping. The banyan starts growing and sends down roots to the ground. The host tree becomes cocooned in banyan roots and branches. Eventually the host dies and the banyan lives on. With good reason, banyans are also called “strangler figs”.

Cyclones and stranglers aside, it’s peaceful around the great banyan now, with birds tweeting and lizards scurrying:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

This debonair traveller took a close look at the strangler’s roots:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Later we moseyed down Stokes Hill Wharf. The TC confessed her disappointment at not finding the wharf littered with plaques and other memorabilia related to Baz Luhrmann’s film “Australia”. Between you and me, I will point out that she would have been the first to complain if we’d found hundreds of tourist traps. The wharf is also the place where many Japanese bombs fell during the WW2 attack on Darwin. Wikipedia says that more bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. Here’s a view of the wharf today, just before the TC and I started our long walk:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Some of the locals are a trifle scathing of the new suburbs springing up around Darwin. People say the new houses are built without regard for “natural air conditioning”. Evidently the earlier houses were better built to take advantage of breezes. Take it from this worm, there’s precious little breeze to take advantage of. What air there is, is moist and warm. It licks your face like a bulldog’s tongue.

The TC professed admiration for many of the new buildings. The new suburb we saw had direct boating access to the harbour and the Timor sea. Here’s another interesting tidbit, courtesy of this worm: the tidal variation is 6 to 8 metres. That means that the water level drops by 8 metres when the tide goes out. So there’s a system of locks to keep the boats afloat.

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Outside Darwin there’s a tiny place with the picturesque name of Humpty Doo. (Yes, really.) Close by we spotted these eery constructions:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

They’re about the same height as the TC, about 4 feet across, sharp on top and only as wide as the TC’s hand. They all face in exactly the same direction. Seeing them, you feel restful and tranquil because they’re just there and they’re so neat. And yet, underlying the tranquillity is an unease. They’re weird, because they’re so neat.

They are magnetic termite mounds. The termites build them all facing in the same direction, more or less exactly on the Earth’s north-south axis. Boffins say that the termites do this to keep warm, by catching the sun’s rays. This worm finds it hard to believe anyone would need to catch more warmth in Darwin. Here’s a closer look at one of the mounds:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

While we were at an Aboriginal art centre just outside Darwin, the TC was given a baby wallaby to hold. Sally is her name. A car hit Sally’s mother while Sally was in her mother’s pouch. Sally survived and is now thriving on bottled milk and tender loving care of one of the staff members at the art centre. Here’s the obligatory cute snap:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

One of  Darwin’s “must do” activities is a trip to the Mindil Beach Market. It happens every Thursday and Sunday evening during the dry season:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

You can buy all sorts of things there, including dinner. The TC found the food “ordinary”, but she has expressed some enthusiasm for the smoothies. Best of all, though, is to be there when the sun goes down.

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

Drift down to the beach, just the other side of the stalls, and watch the sunset.

Me doing just that:

In and around Darwin

In and around Darwin

That’s all for today dudes.

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark and can proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Peg, the TC and I have all been in Darwin, in Australia’s “Top End”, for the past week. The TC, bless her cotton socks, booked herself on a Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise. As is her wont, she took me along. I consented to pose in front of the bus for the obligatory snapshot, then retreated to the safety of my book nestled deep in the TC’s bag. Peg was nowhere to be seen. She’s a very together type of gal and knows when to keep herself out of harm’s way.

My impressions? The Northern Territory’s salties are horrifyingly beautiful.

Travel tip

Believe it when they tell you not to put your arm out over the side of the boat.

The book I’m in

Past Caring, by Robert Goddard. Definitely a “the thot plickens” type of book. This worm recommends it whole-heartedly.

The photos

Me and the only type of jumping croc that I allow anywhere near me:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

We were lucky enough to have the one and only Rod as our bus driver and guide. He knows a great deal about the bush, the swamps and the history of Darwin. I was sorry when the tour ended, because he’d only been able to relate a fraction of the stories he knows of Darwin and surrounds. The photo below shows us driving over the dyke at Fogg Dam. Rod told us all about the doomed Humpty Doo rice project, of which Fogg Dam is part. People built the dyke to control the water in the Adelaide River wetlands, so that they could grow rice. Alas, after the first big wet season most of the rice ended up in the Timor Sea. Did you notice the crocodile toys on the dashboard? We were very soon to see the real thing!

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

A pretty little Jacana bird wanders through an idyll soon to be shattered:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

A late-blooming Lotus lily lures and lulls the unwary:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

But wait. Take a closer look at those low-lying dark humps at the middle right:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Oh yes, the TC has spotted her first crocodile.

Next stop, the reception room for the Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles Cruise:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Then out onto a reassuringly solid-looking boat:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Gotcha! We walked straight on through that boat and onto the much more intimate craft that would ferry us around the croc-infested banks of the Adelaide River:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

The TC, of course, was delighted. So much more real. So much more opportunity to get close to the crocs. Better photographs. Yada yada yada.

Sure enough, we were but a couple of metres off the mooring point when this charmer hove into view:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

That was when yours truly, the Travelling Worm, huddled deeper into my book and did my utmost not to attract the TC’s attention. It’s at times like this that she’s apt to whip me out and parade me in front of whatever’s going on, to snap that killer photograph. (Aah, bad choice of words on two counts, worm!)

From this point on it’s all go:

For the faint of heart, here’s a still of the same crocodile:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

For the tender of heart, here are some baby crocodiles. They’re hatchlings, about 6 inches long:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Aah, so cute! Beware, mum is not far away:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Isn’t she gorgeous? Here’s the video:

So, if you ever see a footprint like this:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Then look out for a poser like this:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Now I’m back home in the arms of my loved ones. Drool has had his nose put out of joint by my tale of creatures more prehistoric even than he. Peg is, as so often, my anchor:

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

Jumping crocodiles near Darwin

That’s all for today dudes.

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark and can proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC hit Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and drifted around Hollywood for a day. I bumped into a couple of stars. The TC took the obligatory photographs. Then we moved on.

My impressions? Woah! I was surprised how tacky Los Angeles is.

Travel tip

Spend as little time as possible in LA.

The book I’m in

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s not as gothic as I was expecting, but I reserve judgement because the TC still has me lodged half way through the book.

The photos

Me and Peg hobnobbing with a star:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

“Walk of Fame”? Bah humbug. To be honest, I didn’t meet anyone who carries quite the same cachet as I do myself. Here’s another star. Don’t ask what that dark liquid is, encroaching from top left. I’m sure you can guess. The TC plonked me and Peg down right next to it! Poor old Peg could hardly keep it together, such was her chagrin:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

The Walk of Fame runs along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. If you’re anything like this worm, you probably think the Walk of Fame would be in a glamorous area of Hollywood, with glitterati peering out of every gold-framed doorway. Think again. It’s scruffy. Dusty. Urine smoulders in the corners and dribbles over the stars. People accost you, offering to guide you to a specific star — for a fee of course. Dudes, the neighbourhood is not quite the ticket:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

We headed for the hills:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

At least from up there, the city has a smoggy allure:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

We did a guided tour of the Warner Bros. studios. This worm highly recommends the tour. Lasting about two hours, it’s fast, interesting, professional:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Here’s one of the “backlots” inside the studio grounds. The buildings are just facades, customisable for each film that is currently being shot:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Here’s the ambulance bay for “ER”:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

And here’s what it looks like from the other side:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

The Warner Bros. tour includes a visit to the museum. The TC, bless her cotton socks, was entranced by the garments and other accoutrements from various films. Here’s Harry Potter’s Ford Anglia:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

See the green screen on the left of the above picture? Tour participants are invited to pose in front of it for a photograph. Later, photographic wizardry replaces the green background with an image of the Gryffindor common room. Naturally, the TC and TC-once-removed could not resist that opportunity. Here’s the somewhat predictable result:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Television afficionados will recognise this room:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Yes, it’s Central Perk from “Friends”.

The Warner Bros. tour guide also took us round the props warehouse. This worm found it the most interesting part of the tour. So much stuff, some genuine and some look-alike. Here’s a massive Egyptian statue nestling up to a stunning Tiffany lamp. The studio has had the lamp squirreled away for years and has only recently discovered its value. It’s one of two genuine matching Tiffany lamps:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Here’s an even more valuable standing lamp. It’s made of Baccarat crystal and recently valued at 3 million dollars. The studio has its twin too, worth the same amount of moolah:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

In the evening we made it to Universal Studios. Glitz and glamour were more in evidence here:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

The guitar in the distance marks the entrance to the Hollywood Hard Rock Café. Inside, a car turns languidly above your head, chief raft in a flotilla of memorabilia:

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

Hobnobbing with the stars in Hollywood

If you’re in Hollywood around Halloween, go to the Universal Studio Halloween Horror Night. We did.

That’s all for today dudes.

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

This is the blog of a 25-year-old bookmark. I proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

In which Wordsworm explores the importance of horror, gore and pumpkins in the American psyche and discovers that there’s a lot to blame the Irish for.

Me and the TC have just got back from California, USA. We drove from San Francisco to LA, through a countryside in the throes of pre-Halloween pumpkinitis. We hit Hollywood just in time to catch the Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios.

My impressions? To paraphrase Obelix, “These Californians are crazy”. To pacify the TC I’ll add, “But in a good way”.

Travel tip

Don’t turn around. The zombie behind you just may be Irish.

Recommended restaurant

The Hard Rock Café on Universal Citywalk, Hollywood. Good food, bluesy atmosphere, dangling car and wall-hung rock memorabilia. No obvious Irishmen.

The book I’m in

Still Life with Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins. This worm finds the content contrived but passably amusing. From the cover blurb: “[This book] reveals the purpose of the moon… examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism… It also deals with the problem of redheads.”

The photos

Me, Peg and the Great Pumpkin. Hey Linus, I found it:

Halloween, horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween, horror and pumpkins in California

It was the week before Halloween when we drove down the Californian coast. Pumpkin patches littered the countryside. What is it with pumpkins, ghosts and the American psyche? This worm has done a bit of research. It’s said that the Irish brought the tradition of Halloween and jack o’lanterns with them to the States. Originally, jack o’lanterns were made from the humble turnip. There’s a confused story of a drunken Irish farmer called Jack who couldn’t get in to heaven or hell, so he had to stagger around purgatory for ever after. To light his way, he hacked a hole in a turnip and put a burning coal into it to form a lantern. For some reason best known to themselves, the other villagers decided that if they made their own turnip lanterns, this would scare away Jack and similar undesirables. Well, they were Irish of course.

When the settlers came to the States and discovered the magnificent pumpkins in their new land, they started using pumpkins instead of turnips to make their jack o’lanterns.

This is the picturesque Webb Ranch Pumpkin Patch near Palo Alto:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Not all pumpkins are the same, you know. Only the very best will become worthy jack o’lanterns, fit to ward off the Halloween witches and spirits. When you see one you like, hang on to it with all your might:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Night falls. Mist rises. The Hollywood streets undergo a frightening metamorphosis. Chainsaws thrum. Screams chill the bones. Bones clatter over the screams. It’s Universal Studios Halloween Horror Night:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Oh, for the comforting glow of a pumpkin now:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

If you scream, you’re fair game:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

There’s no escape:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

They’re everywhere:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Some poor souls didn’t make it:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

This guy should have tried a pumpkin as a coach:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Dude, you’re just tall:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

The only one who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

But day dawns, justice overcomes and pumpkins prevail. Me and a panel from the door of the Santa Barbara Courthouse:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Actually, pumpkins don’t have it all their own way. Me with a soon-to-be-extinct slice of pumpkin pie:

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Halloween horror and pumpkins in California

Oh-Oh, spaghetti-o. Linus, I fear the TC ate the Great Pumpkin.

That’s all for today dudes.

On top of Table Mountain

This is the blog of a 25-year-old bookmark. I proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC) .

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC have been in Cape Town, South Africa, for the last week. While we were there, we went up Table Mountain.

My impressions? “The purpose of evolution, believe it or not, is beauty.” (Joseph Brodsky.)

The TC is feeling philosophical at the moment. This is affecting me and all who travel with her. The top of Table Mountain is a good place for quiet reflection.

Travel tip

To boldly go where no man has gone before — that’s “marvellous”, as the TC’s father would say. This worm adds: Do split those infinitives and question other rules that may prevent you going where you need to go.

The book I’m in

World without End, by Ken Follett.

Dedication

For Peter and Kay, the TC’s parents, two travellers dauntless and generous.

The photos

Me and Peg on top of Table Mountain, near the cable car station and looking out over a fog-covered Atlantic seaboard:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

We went up the mountain on a day when the city and coast were shrouded in fog. At first we thought the cable car would not be running. But as we drove up Kloof Nek Road we rose up over the fog bank into the bright sunlight.

Here’s a view from inside the cable car going up, seeing the other cable car coming down to meet us:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Below is a closer view of the top cable station as we approach it. Those last few metres are very steep. The cables creak and grind and the ground falls away on both sides to reveal a breathtaking view of Camps Bay as well as the city. When they’re not covered in mist, that is:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

The top cable station is at an altitude of 1067 metres. Take a look at the cables that anchor the station. The man sitting on the wall next to the cables gives you some idea of scale:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Here’s another view of the cables with the back of the top cable station behind them:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

The cable car going down, with the top cable station on the left and Lion’s Head (the round mountain top) on the right:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

The cables leading downwards, with Lion’s Head (669 metres) on the left and Signal Hill (350 metres) on the right:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Dassies on a rock overlooking the Atlantic seaboard beyond Camps Bay:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

What is a “dassie”, you may well ask? It’s a cute fat furry creature, about the size of a cat. And it’s the elephant’s closest living relative! You’ll see many of them sunning themselves on the rocks on top of the mountain, especially on the side that overlooks Camps Bay. They’re not too bothered by humans but if you get too close they disappear into a crevice. Here’s one that we saw on the city side of the mountain top, taking advantage of an empty bit of path at a viewing site:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Starting from the top cable station, we walked along the top of the front table with the Atlantic seaboard on our right. The vegetation up there is lovely:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

The Cape Floral Kingdom is famous for its diversity, and Table Mountain in particular is home to many unique and lovely species.  There are only 6 floral kingdoms in the world, and the Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest but richest. The vegetation is called the “fynbos”, which means “fine bush”.

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

It really is flat on top of the mountain. Most of the plants are short, because the soil is shallow and the mountain-top climate is harsh. Still, even up there, you see some beauties like this protea overlooking an empty dam:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

A closer view of the protea:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Another bit of fynbos that caught the TC’s eye:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Still overlooking the Atlantic side, here’s a view of Hout Bay:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Now you’re looking over the eastern side towards Fishhoek and Simon’s Town, except that they’re covered in fog today:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

If you’re more energetic than the TC, you can walk up the mountain via Platteklip Gorge or one of the other gorges. You do need to be careful, especially if it’s misty. Every year a few tourists simply walk off the edge and fall to their deaths. The mountain seems friendly because it’s right in the middle of the city. But it’s a mountain after all. One of the gorges is named “Skeleton Gorge”, appropriately enough. Here’s a view of Platteklip Gorge, at the point where you would emerge if you walked up it:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Below is another view over the top of Platteklip Gorge. The TC’s sister Tracy crept to the edge and attached me and Peg to a meagre bush overhanging the precipice. It seems that that ruthless desire for adventure-by-proxy, with this worm as the proxy, runs in families!

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Back to the mountain-top restaurant safe and sound, and a rock pigeon joined us for tea:

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

That’s all for today dudes.