Painting: A Random Story

Welcome to the latest post in the A Random Story feature, where I ask readers to share some of their favourite and most random memories.

Nick is currently wandering and blogging his way around India and South-East Asia and through his writing hopes to inspire others to do the same.  His travels are primarily focused around adventure, exploration and nature and you’re much more likely to find him amongst the jungles and mountains than at temples or man-made monuments. You can follow his adventures over at The Boy Wander.

I asked Nick to tell me about his favourite memory involving a painting and his story can be found below.

Help by Graham Gillmore
It was Vancouver Art Gallery early in 2011 that I had to hand in my long-sported badge of ‘art-narcissist’. I had long been of the mindset that art was over-priced, over-hyped and generally just a huge self-congratulatory echo chamber, but let’s back up a little bit.

My earliest memory of art galleries and perhaps the catalyst for my lengthy boycott of such places was a school excursion we took to the Art Gallery of NSW at nine years old. The sticking point from this visit was one painting in particular. It was a large square canvas about 1.5m x 1.5m square painted solid blue. Okay I thought, a blue square, I don’t ‘get’ it. No big deal maybe I didn’t have enough artistic intellect to understand it but what made it more absurd to my nine year old brain was the $40,000 price tag. I was banking like $5 a week maximum, IF I kept my room clean, so $40,000 for a blue square was enough to make my head spin. Besides, I had made finer pieces of art on Microsoft Paint (also available for the bargain bin price of $20k).

Fast forward 11 years and I had barely been back to an Art Gallery, but after 4 months of snowboarding in Canada I found myself with a friend in Vancouver. Exploring cities was new to me then and we figured we should go get ‘cultured’, that’s what you do right? 

Vancouver Art Gallery biggest drawcard for me was the Mirror Maze installation by Ken Lum; a huge maze of mirrors with the 12 signs of depression spread throughout. It was enough to get me in the door and once inside I found myself strangely interested in many of the pieces. 

There was one piece in particular that really grabbed me though. It was Help by Graham Gillmore. The piece itself had thought provoking questions and statements written vertically and horizontally in coloured marker on old railway employee pay sheets (If I remember correctly). Simple but brilliant. I stood in front of it reading and thinking about the questions for over an hour before turning to my friend and saying ‘Dude, I think I ‘get’ art now’. 

The questions that seem to stand out in my memory are 'How to recognise compatibility time bombs?’, 'Are you still doing time in that emotional prison?’ and 'Are you treating the symptoms and not the causes?’. 

Although the questions were a straight-forward way to elicit an emotional response from me, it opened my eyes to how I responded to other pieces of art and I left Vancouver Art Gallery with not only an acceptance for art but a new-found passion for it. Art galleries have become one of my favourite experiences in new cities and I feel that the more I explore them the more I start to truly appreciate them. 

Thank you so much to Nick from The Boy Wander for sharing his story with us. Be sure to check out his blog for more great reads.

If you want to get involved and share your random story on Ever Changing Scenery, please get in touch and I will send you a topic.

What is your favourite memory involving a painting?

Leap Into The Land Of The Loughs

I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again; whenever my family goes to Ireland, we always end up doing the same things.

But this year, we decided to rebel.

We were on the ferry crossing with two hours to waste and very little to entertain us when the idea was formed. The parents has just bought a new road map from the little onboard gift shop. We were looking at all the places we always go, when it came to us. We were going to hijack a day and take everyone to somewhere we'd never been before.

After scouring the map for a little while, we discovered one area that had three loughs in close vicinity; that had to be good right? Flipping back and forth between the map's key and the chosen destination we could identify castles, viewing points, boating activities. A plan was formed.

All that was needed now was a name. We toyed with Magical Mystery Tour, but thought it was a little generic. We tried to make it rhyme, but that didn't get us anywhere. Eventually alliteration got thrown into the mix, and Leap Into The Land Of The Loughs was born.

The day soon arrived and despite our good intentions we still didn't really have a clue what we were going to do. Between us we had a gang of eight family members with high hopes for the day. The pressure was really on after we'd complained so much about the 'family heritage trail' my mum had dragged us on the day before, which basically involved visiting a lot of graveyards.

After a hushed conversation in the back of the car we declared the first stop, the Lough Earne Exhibition Centre. This would be the perfect place to pick up a few leaflets about other attractions in the area and finalise the details for the rest of the day. Only problem is, it doesn't seem to exist anymore, if it ever did. We went to the exact point it appeared on the map and there was not a single sign it had ever been there. I made a mental note to complain to the map company (this was a brand new map after all) and moved on.

With a quick reference back to the map, we declared Castle Caldwell Forest the first stop. The name should have given it away, but this was more about the forest than the castle. There were lots of paths signposted for a forest walk, one of which we did follow for a short while, but we're not really a walking family.

The castle itself was a little unusual, as it was covered from head to toe in ivy. Other than a few bits sticking out here and there, if the sign hadn't told us there was a castle, we could have missed it altogether, hidden amongst the green of the surrounding forest.

We were heading back to the car when we spotted an abandoned building opposite the car park. This in itself is nothing too unusual in Ireland; with so much empty land it's fairly common for people to just build new houses wherever they like and leave the old ones to go to ruin. The unusual thing is that you could get straight into this one.

Call me strange, but I've always had a little bit of an obsession with exploring abandoned buildings; my ultimate dream is to explore an old theme park. While this building had nothing on the abandoned mental institutes and high rise buildings I've read stories about, it quickly became the highlight of my day. As we tip-toed across the creaking floorboards littered with broken glass, it was rather eery, but I couldn't help but smile as I imagined myself being a brave explorer.

The outside of the building was just as intriguing, with the same ivy that had taken over the castle staking it's claim on this much newer building.

It was soon back to the car and with another quick look at the map we established that the best place to stop next would be Castle Archdale. This castle had a little more going for it, by which I mean you could actually see the walls. But after reading the brief information sign and snapping a couple of photos we'd pretty much done it all.

Luckily we know how to make our fun and before long we were climbing on the walls and scaling up the surrounding trees. I would say there was a competition to see who could climb the highest, but there was no competition; the boys were the clear winners.

Remember those 'boating activities' that were dotted all over the map? Well, it was now time to find them. I had visions of hiring a rowing boat for a little paddle or jumping on a tour boat for an hour and hearing about the sights around the edge of the lake. But apparently it was not meant to be...

We arrived at the first place the map indicated, only to find it was just a place to moor your own boat. Without our own boat this was not much good. Never fear, there were plenty more boating areas dotted across the map and we still had high hopes. But another hour or so later we had established they were all for private boat owners.

It was getting late in the day but there was time for one more stop; Enniskillen Castle. This was the sort of castle we had been looking for all day. Nestled in the small town of Enniskillen, for a small fee you could enter the well maintained castle, walk through the rooms the high and mighty had once lived in and learn all about the history. But, as you might have guessed, things did not go to plan. The castle was closed.

Once again we managed to have our own fun though, this time sitting on the banks of the castle and making daisy chains.

Was the day a roaring success? Not exactly. But did we have more fun than on the previous day's 'family heritage trail'? Without a doubt.

We did something different and had lots of fun along the way, so it doesn't really matter that nothing went the way we envisioned!

Have you ever planned an adventure only to find nothing goes as expected?

6 Awesome New Travel Blogs

Exactly six months ago today I published my very first blog post. Six months! I cannot believe it has been that long already. Time flies when you're having fun!

I am not the only one that has been having an amazing six months though, and to celebrate my anniversary (if you can really call it that), I'd like to share six awesome new travel blogs with you - all of which started in the last six months!

1. One World One Year

Britnee and Mark, a couple from Utah, recently quit their jobs to travel the world for a year. They might have only started their travels four months ago, but they've already got some great stories to tell! So far they have been to Japan, China and Mongolia, but I'm looking forward to reading about their upcoming travels in Europe, South East Asia and South America too.

Charlie is a fellow Brit who has recently started her 'indefinite travel adventure' in South America. While most of the blogs listed here I discovered while searching specifically for new travel blogs, I have been following Charlie's blog for a while and was actually stunned to discover how new it is. The blog looks so professional and the writing is impeccable, with a great mix of stories and plenty of advice for fellow travellers. 

3. Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

They say first impressions count, and this blog has certainly got that covered - I just love the name and the cute logo you can see there above. The writing lives up to expectations too! As well as more personal posts, this blog is great for really in-depth destination guides, covering all the the attractions in a given area and everything you might need to know to prepare for a visit.

4. Olivia Explores

Olivia always wanted to be an explorer, and she is making that dream a reality by squeezing in as much travel as she can between university assignments. I love her insider's tip on London as well as the posts on places further afield. Olivia has managed to fit in a good amount of Western and Eastern Europe as well as a bit of India so far, which is very impressive considering she hasn't started travelling full time yet.

5. Kristina Meets World

Kristina started her blog the day she arrived in Melbourne five months ago, and has been sharing the stories from her day to day adventures in Australia ever since. Here you can see the world through her eyes as she explores national parks, visits local attractions and discovers native animals and plants. 

6. Hannah On The Map

Hannah has been teaching English in Brazil for the past year and sharing her experiences with the world via Hannah On The Map. As well as advice on things to do in Brazil and tips for teaching English as a foreign language, here you can find stories from Hannah's adventures in other countries, including Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay.

What are your favourite new travel blogs?

Why I Love Family Holidays

Every time we go on holiday with the family, we always end up doing the same things.

Let's take Ireland for example.

We always end up going to a famine museum or folk village.

We always stop for a pint at Biddy O'Barnes and admire the surrounding countryside.

We always throw rocks into the river and laugh at the dog as he tries to 'rescue' them.

We always make some attempt at building a sandcastle and flying a kite.

We always stop at every viewpoint we pass, only to get battered by the wind and end up freezing cold.

But while it might get a little repetitive, I still love our family holidays!

Like many teenage girls, I went through a phrase where I wasn't the greatest fan of my family. But times have changed.

I now think I have one of the greatest families in the world. So it goes without saying that the family holiday is always one of my favourite times of the year.

Going to the same places and doing the same things is just part of the fun.

We always plan to get up early and seize the day. Ready to leave at 9am! Shoes and coats on, by the door! 

If I have a penny for every time I've heard this phrase, I'd be a millionaire. On the other hand, if I had a penny for every time we'd actually been ready for that time, well, I wouldn't have any pennies at all!

It's normally more like midday. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

There's always squablles about who'll sit where in the car and whether we should go to a museum or a beach, but we almost always have fun anyway.

I say almost, because we've never quite forgotten about the seashell museum that mum dragged us to when we were younger - but that's a different story.

After a (half) day of exploring local attractions or lazing on the beach comes the best part. The drinking.

Out comes a pack of playing cards and a stack of board games. After a few too many we sometimes move on to the kind of games that are normally reserved exclusively for fresher's parties.

I'll never forget the look on my mum's face when my sister, who couldn't have been older than fourteen at the time, had to down the 'dirty pint' in a game of Ring Of Fire.

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that we never make it out of the door for 9am.

We might have a lot of fun, but let's be honest, the main reason that I love family holidays is because the parents are always there to pick up the bill!

What are your favourite things about family holidays?

Ireland's Hidden Gems (Or Should That Be Emeralds?)

What do you picture when you think of Ireland?

Guiness? Leprechauns? Shamrock? Green meadows full of knee high grass? Rolling hills dotted with sheep? Winding country roads leading to nowhere?

What about beaches?

Ireland is not well known for it's beaches, but that does not mean it hasn't got them.

Every photo you can see here was genuinely taken in Ireland.

Soft, deep sand, as far as the eye can see, like a golden blanket hugging the shore. This is what you'll find on Ireland's West Coast.

While you're enjoying a dip or catching some rays, you can enjoy the views too, with picturesque cliffs jutting out into the sea.

The problem is it doesn't have the weather to match. It would be a lie if I told you that Ireland's beaches were glorious all year round; the truth is that most of the time you will be greeted by drizzly skies.

But when you do find a sunny day, it's just perfect.

The moral of the story? If you're going to Ireland, don't forget your swimwear.

Have you ever discovered amazing beaches in an unexpected destination?

Coffee: A Random Story

Welcome to the latest post in the A Random Story feature, where I ask readers to share some of their favourite and most random memories.

Karyn is from Melbourne, Australia, and blogs about travel with a strong focus on environmentalism. She is in the process of setting up a location-independent lifestyle, so that she and her fiancé can travel indefinitely. You can follow her journey at Not Done Travelling.

I asked Karyn to tell me about her favourite memory involving coffee and her story can be found below.

I am from Melbourne, Australia, a city reported to have the best coffee in the world. This is certainly arguable, as everyone’s tastes are different, and there may be a lot of cities that wish to challenge Melbourne for this title. But, nevertheless, the coffee in Melbourne is pretty darn good. In fact, it is so good that Starbucks recently announced it is closing its stores here as it just cannot compete with our baristas.
Because of this, I tend to think that I’ve been spoiled when it comes to good coffee. It’s easy to take for granted just how available it is here.

With this in mind, you can imagine how Melburnians, and Australians in general, struggle to find our idea of a good cuppa when overseas. Sometimes we find it; sometimes we don’t. However, in general, any place that thinks that tourists like their coffee strong will present quite a challenge.

Not that there’s anything wrong with strong coffee. Strong coffee can be a complete work of art. Melbourne has the highest population of Greeks outside of Athens and Thessaloniki, so super-strong Greek and Turkish coffee is everywhere. Served in tiny cups, it is like a punch in the face and keeps you up until next Tuesday. Delicious.

But you know what good strong coffee is not? That horrible, acidic, burnt-tasting, three-times-too-many-beans excuse for a beverage that is found in so many hotels and resorts throughout Southeast Asia. 

My fiancĂ©, Michael, and I spent 3 months in Asia at the end of 2012, and we could not find any good coffee anywhere. There was always plenty of coffee around, but none of it was good. Now, don’t get me wrong – we were in Asia to experience the local culture, not to try to recreate our own (we’re not those travellers). But occasionally you do want a little respite, am I right? Occasionally, it’s nice to treat yourself with a reminder of home. 

From time to time, we would pop into chains such as Black Canyon, and found some joy there, but we never really explored their hot coffee range. We tended to duck into their air-conditioned comfort to get out of the sun, so being hot and sweaty, we would usually go for a frappe or something chilled.

Our other alternative when looking for hot coffee was to drink from the pots in our hotel restaurants. These tasted like they had been on the burners all night, and frankly, they could well have been. Memo to catering managers: It is not my idea of pleasure to start my day with a cup of some reheated black stuff that tastes as if it has been filtered through a dirty sock. Come on, guys. I mean, who is drinking this horrible stuff? Who told them this is what Westerners want? Are my tastebuds all alone in their objections?

Had it been local coffee on offer, I would have jumped on it. Throughout Asia a lot of regional coffee styles have sprung up and they are great. For example, Vietnamese coffee, made with condensed milk using a drip method is reportedly delicious. But hotels rarely offer their own regional brew. Instead, they give you with what they think you are used to.

I am sure that it is all related to preparation methods, as well as logistics and budgeting. If it is cheaper to serve a certain kind of bean in a certain kind of way, then it is understandable that the hotel management would choose that option. It’s just that it’d be nice if the quality was a little...improved.
I can heartily say, however, that when we finally did find a good cup of coffee, it was most unexpected. We were in Bali, on our way to Taman Ayun Temple, when we stopped at a coffee and tea plantation. We were not expecting anything special, but they offered us some kopi luwak – for those not in the know, that is the famous “cat poo coffee” that is so expensive in Western countries. Michael is a try-anything-once kind of guy, so he ordered a cup, and I had a sip. It was delicious! 

Luwaks are not actually cats; “luwak” is the local name for the palm civet. The civets eat coffee beans and somehow an enzyme in their digestive system just does something to the beans. I don’t understand how it works, but that coffee tastes good. It is still incredibly strong, but there is a smoothness to the flavour that I didn’t find anywhere else in Asia.

Unfortunately, I won’t be drinking kopi luwak again. Since leaving Bali, I learned that the process of making the coffee is quite cruel. Originally, beans were collected from the droppings of wild civets, but now most kopi luwak is produced using animals that are confined to relatively small cages for their entire lives. So even though it tastes nice, as a blogger who focuses greatly on conservation, I can’t recommend it.  

Despite all of that, it has certainly put our previous search for a good cuppa into perspective. I mean…think about it. 

We spent 3 months agonizing over our inability to find good coffee in South East Asia. In the end, it came out of a palm civet’s backside.

Thank you so much to Karyn from Not Done Travelling for sharing her story with us. Be sure to check out her blog for more great stories!

If you want to get involved and share your random story on Ever Changing Scenery, please get in touch and I will send you a topic.

What is your favourite memory involving coffee?

In Photos: Killybegs, An Irish Fishing Port

Killybegs is a small town on the south coast of Donegal, which has grown over time into an industrial fishing port. While it still holds its charm as a scenic harbour, it is actually the largest fishing port in the whole country.

It might not feature high on the list of Donegal's top tourist destinations, but that doesn't stop it from being top of the list of places that we head to every time we are in Ireland.

At first glance it might not look too exciting - a few rusty old boats, bobbing up and down on the water, and that's pretty much it - but if you look a little closer and pay attention to the details, there is an unexpected beauty about the place.

The patterns in the rust and the peeling paint make each boat completely unique. The fishermen in overalls work away and I can't help but imagine each of them has so many stories to tell from their time out at sea. Then there are thick, twisting ropes and sprawled out fishing nets, frayed and knotted after years of use. It cannot be denied that this place is full of character and intrigue.



Have you ever discovered beauty in an unexpected place?