Category Archives: Travel and tourism

CELEBRATING AUSTRALIAN FILM AT THE ANNUAL VISION SPLENDID OUTBACK FILM FESTIVAL

As a proud Aussie stuck here in Canada, it’s frustrating not being able to go home, hang out with my family and meet up with friends in the film industry over these past 15 months of Covid travel bans. But I always have my eye on what’s happening in the Down Under film and television industries and unashamedly admit to being obsessed with Indigenous superstar Aaron Pedersen (pictured below, left) whose performance as Det. Jay Swan in the film Goldstone is nothing short of Oscar-worthy! It just so happens Goldstone was filmed in the outback town of Winton, in the state of Queensland, as was his award-winning tv series, Mystery Road, based on his character Jay Swan, first introduced to us back in 2013 in the original film, Mystery Road, written and directed by Ivan Sen.126961990_10164102171740478_5870466753728279799_nWinton is also home to the newly opened Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a massive outdoor exhibition of the bones and fossils of extinct creatures that once roamed the country…imagine Jurassic Park without the scary man-eating beasts! It’s also the birthplace of the world’s leading int’l airline, QANTAS and where the song Waltzing Matilda was first performed some 100 years ago.  But it’s the unique cultural experience of watching movies under the stars – and boy those southern hemisphere starry skies are fantastic – that will be drawing me back home next year  to join film lovers, filmmakers and film media to the VISION SPLENDID OUTBACK FILM FESTIVAL.Royal Theatre Winton Image - Photographer Alan MathiesonThe opening feature film this year (June 25th) is the much-anticipated documentary about Australia’s legendary leading Indigenous actor, David Gulpilil (below – photo by Miles Rowland), who is now battling cancer yet has kept working as much as his health allows. Other films include June Again, starring award-winning actress of screen, tv and stage Noni Hazelhurst, and Rams starring another favourite actor of mine (and great wine maker, too) Sam Neill. The full festival programme, tickets and related events available online at: www.visionsplendidfilmfest.com 

I had the opportunity to chat online with Festival Director, Mark Melrose, who told me all about the Festival’s history, the stars who have attended and all the exciting Festival related activities…and of course, how to get there.

Congratulations on the upcoming Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival – please tell me a little about the genesis or inspiration for the festival, who was Butch Lenton, how long it’s been running and why Winton for a film festival location considering, in colloquial terms, it’s back o’ Burke, beyond the black stump and up Woop-Woop (i.e. the middle of nowhere!)  Vision Splendid was the brainchild of Clive Kitchen, a local businessman. He started discussions in 2013 with the then Mayor of Winton, Butch Lenton, following the success of the film, Mystery Road. In June 2014, the inaugural Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival took place, and it has grown ever since.Winton Royal Open Air Theatre 1 - Photographer Maree AzzopardiLenton was the major driving force behind Winton being what it is today. He had the vision to push for films to be made here on location and the drive to make it happen – sadly he is no longer with us to see how the Festival has grown – it’s a testament to his hard work in creating a film-friendly town that will ultimately create a new industry for Outback Queensland. There are several reasons Winton is the home of the Festival, but mainly it’s due to the fact several feature films and TV series have been shot there in recent times, including The Proposition, Mystery Road, Goldstone and Total Control. Its unique landscapes and vast open spaces cannot be replicated in a studio.

How has COVID-19 impacted the festival and what precautions are you taking to ensure audience safety this year?  Of course, COVID-19 has meant more precautions and risk mitigation elements have come into the festival. The 2020 Festival was postponed, thankfully not cancelled, until September as we found a window to push on with the event. Thankfully we did, as the event resulted in the best of the Festival’s short history with a 36% increase in crowds from 2019. The COVID safety plan included reduced capacities in the theatre and Town Hall, cleaning of the venues between each screening, all tickets being pre-purchased and not available at the door, contact tracing via ticketing and QR codes, and social distancing markers on the ground for queues. These elements will be in place again this year.

Since the Festival’s inception, which attending filmmakers or celebrities have caused major excitement with media and audiences alike?  There have been several filmmakers and celebrities that have caused a ‘stir’ in the media and audiences, including Ivan Sen (director/writer) and actor Aaron Pederson for Goldstone, Michael Caton and Mark Coles Smith for Last Cab to Darwin, Gyton Grantly for Beneath Hill 60, Margaret Pomeranz for David Stratton: A Cinematic Life, Roy Billing as the Festival Patron, Steve Le Marquand for Locusts, and Nicholas Hope for Book Week.last cabDr. Greg Dolgopolov is the Festival Curator and Creative Director and he kindly answered a question for me: How do you choose which films to showcase and what forgotten cinematic treasures to celebrate?   As the Creative Director, I am tasked with selecting and curating around 50 films each year –documentaries, shorts and feature films. These are mainly new films but every year we feature some classics – either silent films that are brought back to life with live musical accompaniment or films celebrating a significant anniversary. The guiding principle for the festival is that the films have to be Australian and sometimes that could include a film that has an Australian involvement, such as a film directed by an Australian but produced elsewhere or a foreign film that stars an Australian actor. Majority of the films are made in Australia and the Festival features a selection of the best available films made recently. The other guiding principle is that the films need to engage a mainstream audience. That means that we are looking for great crowd-pleasing films. I tend to program a few ‘testing’ or art house films as one thing that I have learnt over more than 15 years of curating is that you can never predict what audiences will like and that there are clearly different audiences for different films.

I try to curate in a representative manner capturing different communities and different ideas. The Festival tries to be democratic but not in some crazy quota system but just the best films possible across genres, themes and ideas and I do tend to lean towards outback stories featuring the Australian landscape as part of the drama largely because of where the Festival is located. The origins of the Festival were in presenting Mystery Road in 2013 in the town where most of the filming took place, so the Festival is very connected to the films that have been shot in the Winton area and regional Queensland more broadly. The Festival is intensely committed to drawing new productions to the region and in developing new and emerging filmmakers. Every year about eight new short films are made during the festival by the next generation of filmmakers, and we are confident that when they start helming major productions and need a rugged outback location or a remote rural community, they will come straight to Winton.EZGihnLWkAI4mx6Curating Australian ‘cinematic treasures’ is an art form in itself – sometimes it’s a films’ significant anniversary that justifies its inclusion in the program. Sometimes it because we are featuring a digital remastering of a classic or because one of the Festival guests is bringing their new film and we want to highlight their body of work in the program, so audiences can get a taste for what they have done in the past. Getting a sense that the selection was right by judging the mood in the room is incredibly satisfying as a curator, as well as bringing people together to discuss what they have seen in more robust ways than they would at a standard cinema experience.  That is the great thing about Winton – there is that time and opportunity to have a yarn with others about your experiences and we have a strong group of regulars who are not afraid to voice their opinions and that is just great for the dynamics of having a little festival in the middle of nowhere, but that continuously draws such huge crowds every year.

Back to Mark….The festival also actively involves film students from Griffith University Film School (GUFS) and the University of NSW (UNSW). How do they participate and why do you think it’s important for them to get hands-on experience at the festival level?  Having students involved is immensely important for a number of reasons: they request to travel to Winton for a two-week Outback Filmmaking Bootcamp where they create a short film in two weeks in an extremely remote region. This allows the students to experience the highs and lows of filmmaking – what it means to make a film without all the creature comforts available in the big cities; the highs of creating something seen by an audience in a short period of time; and getting used to working in groups of people across disciplines.  From an economic point-of-view for Winton, there are 60+ future filmmakers in town who now know about the locations and what Winton has to offer and potentially will make a feature film there in the future. The town opens its doors to the students, filming in houses, workplaces and the main streets. They are immersed with Indigenous Culture working closely with the Koa Aboriginal Corporation on the importance of the land and historical significance. The students are also volunteers for the festival and get some experience as to what it takes to put a festival together….and the need of volunteers to make it all happen.film studentsThe town of Winton has been the location of some of the most exciting films and TV shows, including one of my favourite films, Goldstone (directed by Ivan Sen and starring the great Aaron Pedersen) – what does Winton offer incoming productions apart from long days of great natural light and friendly people?  There are exciting things in the pipeline for Winton that, should they fall into place, will offer more incentives to shoot in this unique location. It already has the spectacular outback vistas, the town setting, the friendly people, but in 6 months time, we hope it will have two or three more major developments to bring in more filmmakers and cement the industry here in the Hollywood of the Outback.Winton Sign - Photographer Peter LikHow difficult is it to reach Winton from, say, Sydney or Brisbane? And what sort of guest accommodations can be found for overseas festival visitors?  It’s not that difficult to reach Winton, it just takes time. There is only one flight a day from Brisbane into the town of Longreach and from there Winton is a 2 hour drive (177km). There is a bus that departs Brisbane daily and a train that departs Brisbane for Longreach twice a week.  There are several hotels and motels including the North Gregory Hotel (where Waltzing Matilda was performed in public for the very first time over 100 years ago), and the Outback Motel to name two. There are also four caravan parks if that is how you are traveling.via airhotelGood luck for this year’s Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival – is there anything else you’d like to share with international film fans?   Thank you. We are excited to be able to operate during these bizarre times, however, we do miss our international friends. We can’t wait to open the borders and welcome you back  for (hopefully) next year’s Festival.  If you’re a filmmaker looking for somewhere different to make a film, check out Winton. We don’t call it the Hollywood of the Outback for nothing!Winton Royal Open Air Theatre 2 - Photographer Maree AzzopardiThanks to photographers Alan Mathieson and Maree Azzopardi for the amazing shots of previous Festivals. I’m sending my best wishes to Mark, Greg and all the wonderful volunteers and folks of Winton. I can’t wait until I head Down Under next year. There are so many activities for all the family including a daily kids club, “breakfast with the stars” each morning, local Indigenous storytellers and there are even silent movies being shown, too. Let’s not forget there’s great food and drinks as well as shopping – you gotta take home some great Aussie outback souvenirs!  If you can’t make it to Winton this year, I’ll see you there in June of 2022!Winton

“WILD AT HEART” TAKES READERS ON AN EXCITING RIDE WITH 3 AUSTRALIAN BRUMBIES & 1 BRAVE HORSEWOMAN

Having all this Covid lockdown time to explore online stories from home (Australia), I was thrilled when I came across a Facebook post announcing the launch of an exciting new book, Wild at Heart, by French-born Aliénor le Gouvello, who undertook an intense and challenging solo journey stretching an extraordinary 5,330kms from Healesville in Victoria (the s.e. corner of the country) up to Cooktown in the tropical far north of Queensland; she had three horses that were once wild brumbies (the Aussie equivalent of mustangs) as her only  companions.151677445_3743509249096164_5844396051903961977_nThroughout her grueling trek across some of Australia’s most spectacular terrain, Aliénor battled both isolation and the harsh elements, but she forged a close bond with her horses Roxanne, River & Cooper, as well as experiencing unexpected life-changing discoveries. Surrounded by wildlife that included deadly spiders, snakes and crocodiles, she also suffered tropical illnesses and injuries but pushed on to complete the ride and join an exclusive club of those few who have triumphed before her. Her sturdy bush horses all live with her now in peaceful  retirement on her cattle station in outback Queensland.59788288_2167293760051062_5017374520239980544_nAs a child, Aliénor dreamed of travelling and having adventures around the world. When she decided to take on the Bicentennial National Trail – Australia’s longest non-motorized, self-reliant trek – she had already completed a horseback trek in Mongolia as well as a sidecar motorbike expedition across Asia and Europe from Siberia to Paris. At the time of making the decision to mount up and trek the breadth of Australia, she was working in an aboriginal community near Uluru (the giant red monolith in the heart of the country) in the Australian Central Desert. She had recently fallen in love with Australia’s wild brumbies and hatched a plan for her most ambitious solo expedition to date; the adventure would also draw attention to the plight of Australia’s wild horses. The horses were originally brought in with the settlers, helping build the country and even taken with the troops to fight wars abroad; they are part of the country’s heritage and culture. Australia now has the largest population of wild horses in the world. They have adapted to all sorts of environments and can be found all across Australia. Their plight has been controversial in the media when the government has resorted to aerial culling as a mean to manage their population, a cruel method that leaves horses to bleed to death for days. Alienor’s trek was dedicated to bring a light on these very resilient horses and promote better management of them.  These tough equines were perfectly showcased in The Man From Snowy River movie from back in the 80s – if you get a chance, do watch it and witness some of the most exciting horse chases ever recorded on film.29572387_1613619402085170_1085232860379005776_nAs Aliénor said in a recent ABC television news interview about her book, “It was the longest and most challenging trek I’ve done so far but also the most rewarding and amazing experience I have had with horses,” she said. “I pushed my limits further than I could have imagined, you discover strengths you didn’t even know you have.”  Wild at Heart tells of her physical and mental challenges of being a lone traveler and having to be so self-sufficient along with caring for her horses along the deserted track but the book contains some spectacular photographs, courtesy of world-renowned adventure photographer Cat Vinton.

Since her book launched last month, she’s been busy attending bookstore meet-n-greets (yes, Australia has mostly come out of Covid lockdown and gatherings are permitted) and giving numerous media interviews; in fact, Aliénor has become something of a “folk hero” and a champion of the brumbies.165438475_3828394140607674_6649526619257448360_n 169076026_3845201365593618_8839215924954813680_nInternational sales of her book are available from the Book Depository website (yes, they ship around the world):  https://www.bookdepository.com/Wild-at-Heart-Alienor-le-Gouvello-Cat-Vinton/9781922419200
Watch for my article/review in the June issue of THE RIDER newspaper (www.therider.com) and you can follow Wild at Heart on on social media at:  www.facebook.com/wild.at.heart.australia

WILD AT HEART
By Aliénor le Gouvello, Photographs by Cat Vinton
Format: Paperback | 288 pages
Publication date: 30 March, 2021
Published by Affirm Press, Mulgrave, VIC, Australia
ISBN10 1922419206
ISBN13 978192241920022310472_1447770742003371_766571780966721878_n

ENJOYING A SHORT WALK AMONG THE SPRINGTIME FLOWERS IN DOWNTOWN TORONTO

As our city enters its third week of stay-at-home restrictions, how lovely to enjoy the spring air, free from the confines of my apartment in downtown Toronto. With no other way to get exercise or see daylight, I chose to take a quick stroll away from the main thoroughfares this Sunday afternoon. Although I’m surrounded by concrete and glass high-rise office buildings and condos, there are a few secret pockets of turn-of-last-century townhouses with their beautiful little garden patches as well as a parkette or two.20210418_121409 (2)I first dropped by my neighbours across the street – the spectacular office building that’s headquarters to the Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Co.  Carefully reaching through the wrought iron fence, I snapped a few pictures of their flower beds, most of which are still slumbering…but there were a couple of early risers!20210418_115317Around the corner, there’s a delightful little parkette that never disappoints at springtime. Usually full of red tulips and bright yellow daffodils, this year there’s a blanket of tiny blue flowers…not bluebells but something just as pretty…wow!20210418_115826 20210418_115757Behind the parkette, there’s a modest little cul-de-sac lined with row houses from the 1900’s, all beautifully maintained and reno’d. The houses on the north side of the street back onto the Rosedale ravine and at the end they’ve created a lovely area with wooden railway ties as benches and the wild gardens are filled with birds singing. I frequently go there just to sit and relax and…breathe!20210418_120709Looking down onto Rosedale Valley Road from my perch above…..

Walking back along the little street, I enjoyed several of the perfectly-kept flower beds and pots….20210418_12143520210418_121439Time to head home as the skies grew a little overcast but not before I snapped a few shots of the planters along my home-stretch of Bloor St East, featuring my favourite little flowers, pansies. Aren’t they lovely?20210418_122955 (3)So get outside and enjoy the sun, the fresh air, the flowers and birds…forget about Covid for half-an-hour and be grateful for all these beautiful things we’re given for free. But please keep your mask on when passing by your neighbours.20210418_123006

VISITING THE PEN @ KINGSTON AND OTHER DAY TRIP FUN STUFF

Regardless of the overcast, rainy weather yesterday, I boarded the www.ShortTrips.ca bus bound for Kingston, Ontario – so nice to get out of the city and see the beautiful red and golden leaves along the 401 highway heading east from Toronto.

The first couple of hours were spent wandering around the historic downtown core…I hit the waterfront first while the sun was poking thru the clouds…20200930_115310I then headed to the town square behind city hall…they have lots of colourful chairs to relax in as well as tables and chairs for casual take-out dining and meeting up with friends – all safely socially distanced.20200930_115847 (2) 20200930_134003 (2)I spent the first hour shopping, dropping in on several charming boutiques and injecting some $$s into the local economy! I particularly enjoyed Amanda’s House of Elegance, Send in the Clowns and All Good Things where I discovered all manner of treasures not found back the city. Won’t post pics here as I have a few Christmas pressies for family and I know they read this blog. If you’re visiting Kingston, do stop into www.amandashouseofelegance.ca   www.sendintheclowns.ca   www.allgoodthingshomeshop.com

I discovered this laneway leading to the famous Chez Piggy (below) which was not open at the time20200930_124129 (2)…but I did find this awesome diner, Morrison’s, with its fabulous mid-century signage out front and super deelish food inside. Established in 1921, the restaurant has flourished and has been owned by the same family for the past 30yrs. I had a scrumptious BLT, French fries & gravy….yummmm20200930_133926 (2) 20200930_130048The restaurant is located directly behind the town hall so you can’t miss it. The historic building looked beautiful even with grey clouds above. I did manage to snap a quick pic out front with blue skies before the downpour.20200930_134221 (2)20200930_115023The old Kingston train station has been transformed into a tourist hub complete with a vintage engine – isn’t she lovely?20200930_134625Back on the bus and off to the Kingston Penitentiary – now closed (whew!) and a major tourist attraction. The grey walls and guard towers loomed over us, but the tour guides and staff offered a warm welcome.20200930_143550 (2) 20200930_144226(1) 20200930_144623 20200930_150332 (2)Although the 90-min tour was packed with historic facts and escapee trivia, it was quite depressing to think that men and women were incarcerated in such primitive conditions. I was, however, impressed with the beautifully crafted architecture and stonework done by the inmates themselves….just look at this flying staircase. 20200930_152538The prison finally closed on September 30th of 2013, fortunately after many improvements to the original 1835 prison.  Check out more at www.kingstonpentour.com20200930_160526 (3)As our bus headed back to Toronto, the heavens unloaded and our driver, Gord, did a brilliant job of navigating through rain so heavy, I don’t know how he saw the road. Thanks also to our bus hostess/guide, Anna Maria, who shared levity and smiles throughout the day-long trip. Everything on-board was COVID-safe; the interior was sanitized between stops and there was social distancing on-board with vacant rows separating us. Definitely recommend you check out www.ShortTrips.ca for upcoming day excursions as well as 2 and 3 day out of province tours, too.

 

ADVENTURES IN SCOTTSDALE OLD TOWN – Pt. VI

So this was my last day in Scottsdale Old Town – I’d got all my souvenirs and gifts purchased, toured all the cultural hot-spots so all that was left was a visit to the fabulous Museum of the West where I’d spent a few happy hours last time I was in town. https://scottsdalemuseumwest.org/ They have spectacular sculptural installations inside and out…20191219_110813 20191219_110845The museum has multiple levels/floors, all easily accessible, displaying artifacts and memorabilia covering the history of Arizona, stunning artworks, native American culture and even film/TV cowboy ephemera, vintage saddles, spurs…and a wonderful collection of photographs from the late, internationally renowned State Senator Barry Goldwater, pictured below with his wife in the lobby. 20191219_111800Following are photos that are pretty self-explanatory but they showcase some of my fave displays of western art and native artifacts that I had previously discovered. I sincerely recommend a personal visit to experience the awe and wonder of Arizona.20191219_112137 20191219_112157 20191219_112827 20191219_112942 20191219_112900 20191219_113511 20191219_113058 20191219_113904 20191219_113932There’s a spectacular sculpture garden courtyard and they had changed the pieces since my last visit (you can search my previous blogs dated last April to see those pics). These are the stunning works currently on display – all life sized or larger.20191219_114403 20191219_114455 20191219_114528 20191219_114539 20191219_114606There’s a gorgeous rusted and tarnished wall installed as a backdrop…just look at this:20191219_114619 20191219_114642 20191219_114655Back inside, I found even more fab paintings from Arizona artists. I love the donkeys below, and of course, my beloved saguaro cactus…20191219_114135 20191219_113343 20191219_113245 20191219_113253Before I left the museum, I had to visit the gift shop and say hello to my friend Jeffrey who reigns over the souvenirs, art prints, books and touristy nic-nacs. He’s full of cool information about the museum and the local area, and made me feel so welcome last time I visited, I just had to bring him a wee Christmas moose from the great white north! I think he liked it…LOL20191219_111414If you ever visit the  museum, please go inside the shop and say hi to Jeffrey.   Afterwards, I decided to walk back down to the main centre of Old Town, passing more cowboys…20191219_121541…and popped into the beautifully restored Mission church.The stained glass windows were created by local artisans many many years ago.20191219_131825 20191219_131852 20191219_132103 20191219_131907I spent some money on souvenirs there and dropped a few $s into the donation box, hoping to be blessed with a safe journey home….and I was. Less than 15hrs later, I was speeding away from Toronto’s Pearson Int’l Airport in a limo, home to my downtown apartment, a bit sleepy but thoroughly invigorated by my 8 days in sunny Scottsdale Old Town.20191220_072900If you take a trip to Old Town, here are 2 great transportation companies that will get you out and about, and to-and-from your hotel and airport:
Local tours courtesy of Quick Silver Golf Carts: www.ridequicksilver.com   and for affordable taxis & town cars, contact Scottsdale Sedan-Taxi (call Frank at 602-714-9833).  I can recommend both. Happy trails, dear readers…..20191219_113220

ADVENTURES IN SCOTTSDALE OLD TOWN – Pt. V

My 2nd last day in Arizona so time to work off some of the calories amassed over the past week’s indulgences…LOL…but first I needed another good breakfast at Denny’s to start my day off. Got the courtesy van into town and this time, I headed straight for the Civic Centre grounds (above) and the Scottsdale Contemporary Art Gallery which was easy to find: just follow the sounds of birdsong….

I followed the sparkly laneway embedded with glass and coloured stone and into the front door….20191218_125954The gallery was spacious and cool and the exhibitions were extremely “contemporary” featuring native American artworks, photographs and video imagery. It also showcases architecture and design exhibitions as well as the innovative outdoors “singing bells” installation. www.smoca.org   I then sauntered around the corner up to Main Street on my way back to Barista Brothers, when I noticed some great old buildings with vintage blacksmith & farm equipment on display (below).20191218_132509 20191218_132524Across the road was an old building (it looked old but was, in fact, a relatively new build) that housed the Scottsdale Rodeo Museum – I had to go visit!  Inside I was greeted by friendly museum curator Dave Alford (below) who kindly gave me a first class personal tour of the exhibits.20191218_133543A retired rodeo cowboy himself, Dave was a mine of information on all things rodeo. He introduced me to El Diablo, one of the winningest bulls in local rodeo history…20191218_133512 20191218_133649..and showed me some past photos of him riding rodeo beasties. That’s his red competition chaps hanging next to the photos.20191218_134146So much to see in this modest museum that’s packed with history and cowboy memorabilia. There were even pics of legendary Lane Frost, a young bullrider who was killed in action – his life and career was memorialized in the movie “8 Seconds” where Frost was portrayed by the late Luke Perry.20191218_13420720191218_13343920191218_134436 20191218_135759Thanks for the great tour, Dave, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. www.ScottsdaleRodeoMuseum.com

By now I definitely needed some cooling down so off I went to Barista Brothers to indulge in some frosty gelato.20191218_143601Time for a little more shopping, this time in the Golden Bear jewelers and fashion accessories store.  https://goldhouseaz.com/  I was welcomed into the large boutique by the lovely Marina (below)20191218_163824…who showed me around all the sparkling showcases, finding a number of pieces including the stunning fox turquoise and spiny oyster earrings that eventually found themselves in my suitcase, along with a stunning Larimar & silver ring (below). OMG, my credit card got quite the workout with Marina!!20191231_170242Lots of beautiful art glass as well as home decor and all those gorgeous gems!20191218_163836 20191218_16385220191218_164021After working up a healthy appetite shopping for bling, I chose a fabulous cantina with a sun-drenched upper patio with nobody else there. I think it was called Vines or something like that, but oh boy, the yummy fried catfish was deelish!20191218_151209 20191218_145535With tummy full and feet sore, it was time to call for a ride home and more R&R on my sunny balcony so tomorrow, my last day in Arizona, I’ll have lots of energy for my trip to the Western Museum and a visit with my friend Jeffrey who runs the shop there.  He was so sweet last spring when I visited that I brought him a little surprise from Canada. I waited for the van next to the big Christmas tree in the main square…ho ho ho – I’m finally getting in the spirit!20191218_164342That night was a little chilly so I snuggled up on the bed and watched tv in my warm hoodie that cowboy Dave gave me as a memento of my visit to the rodeo museum.20191218_175030

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADVENTURES IN SCOTTSDALE – Pt. IV

I’d been enjoying lots of cuisine choices since I’d arrived in Scottsdale Old Town but I had been really looking forward to this next place since my last trip: Hula Modern Tiki Lounge! Located in the heart of the tourist area, Hula kinda sticks out from the usual cowboy-themed diners and resto-lounges. I love my tiki bars – I’ve enjoyed many around the world, my fave being the now-deceased (!) Trader Vic’s in Waikiki. In Toronto we have the fabulous Shameful Tiki but ever since I found it on the ‘net last year, I’ve wanted to visit the Hula Tiki Lounge and I was not disappointed…20191216_163627 20191216_163711I felt like a real old fart as it was only around 5:30pm – too early for a real dinner – but this golden girl decided on an early-bird special. As it was “happy hour”, I chose a few appetizers plus my fave tropical bevvie, a Painkiller, which the bartender kindly served in a mermaid tumbler. Wow!20191216_163248 20191216_164019 20191216_170728I topped off the meal with a slice of tropical coconut cream pie (more like a cheesecake) and Kona coffee. Yummm – I definitely recommend you drop in and indulge when you visit Old Town: www.hulasmoderntiki.com

I then went for a stroll around town afterwards – needed to walk off the calories, LOL – and viewed the Christmas lights.20191216_174855 20191216_174746The next day, I opted for a fab American full-on breakfast and dropped in to the Denny’s a block from the hotel. OMG, it was deelish – I ordered the Lumberjack special and yes, I cleaned the plates.20191217_094026Had to go back to my room for a nap to sleep off all the carbs, but it didn’t take long to get my ass in gear and head to the second touristy area of Old Town where I’d previously visited with AJ and enjoyed the “galloping horsey fountain”.20191217_122013 20191218_121010A team of “groomers” were busy cleaning the fountain and decorating the stunning equine sculptures for Christmas. I made sure to drop in to Berdena’s Cafe across the road for a fresh squeezed orange juice. AJ and I had a pleasant time there in April and I loved the fresh, bright decor and friendly servers. www.berdenas.com20191217_120025The cafe is located in a small plaza and as I walked through, I spied a storefront that had been turned into a “campaign HQ” for the “Save Old Town Scottsdale” movement. So what’s this all about?20191217_120930 20191218_120903Apparently a local developer (with tons of $$s) wants to tear down a huge section of this quaint tourist destination and turn it into a wall of hi-rise condos and chi-chi boutiques and has subsequently driven up the rents on the mom and pop retail stores. Yes, there are quite a few of the traditional souvenir shops but there are so many classy boutiques and jewelry designer stores there, already along with beautiful cafes and galleries. If this development goes ahead, they might very well all be wiped out. I was crestfallen – Old Town is my “spirit home” and I care deeply about the charm and uniqueness of the area. Plus I’ve made lifelong friendships here…I have to get involved, I have to contribute and support somehow….Beverly and Brian Moore of Earthen Rare told me how!20191217_125604Beverly is a very talented designer of leather and hand-crafted bead jewelry and Brian, her husband, works closely with her in creating unique pieces. They are very involved with the campaign and suggested I videotape a plea for petition signatures & support plus my observations on the situation from a tourist’s perspective. So I did – I recorded a “call to action” that has since gone out on social media and I hope it helps. www.standupforoldtownscottsdale.com

But back to Bev and Brian – what a beautiful studio/store they run…the positive energy is palpable and the two of them are the nicest people you could ever want to meet. I spent a great deal of time with them, chatting about the current social and political climate in town as well as browsing the display cases. And yes, I made a couple of purchases there, too, including something very special for my sister back in Australia who, I know, will love the artwork and superb quality. Check out Earthen Rare’s beautiful treasures (below)20191218_121648 20191218_121656 20191218_12184320191218_121746So another full day of sight-seeing, local engagement and making new friends was done…whew! I was exhausted. Another big day tomorrow so let’s call the hotel van for a pick up and home for some R&R on my sunset balcony.20191218_173347

 

 

ADVENTURES IN SCOTTSDALE – Pt.III

 

 

Sunday Dec. 15th dawned sunny, as usual, and I was excited to see my friend AJ (below) and his husband Tom who were meeting me for brunch at the famous Valley Ho hotel. Poor pneumonia-plagued AJ had mustered enough energy for a couple of hours of catching up, enjoying a great meal and showing me his and Tom’s fave hotel in Old Town.20191215_132650 20191215_132736 20191215_132708We saw a gingerbread version of the famous mid-century modern hotel (above) on the way into Zuzu’s cafe for our brunch. Isn’t it cute?  After our deelish meal, the guys showed me around the property, much of which has been preserved in its original form, complete with colourful wall tiles on each balcony, sexy lounges and outdoor courtyards….20191215_133514(0) 20191215_133255 20191215_132831 20191215_13305420191215_133607After being dropped off by AJ & Tom, the remainder of the afternoon was spent out on my balcony, enjoying the sunshine and watching the palm trees “dance the hula” in the high desert wind.

Next day, I decided on what genuine touristy experiences remained for me to explore so off I went for my morning latte at Barista Brothers to plan the next few days before returning to cold grey Toronto.20191217_11211320191216_135603bac12bdaf26e0111784ffb89e3c2967bI just walked around and watched for interesting photo opps, like this one of the colourful buildings surrounding the Civic Centre:20191218_125015And checked out the artful sidewalks near my hotel (below)…such civic pride makes me wish that Toronto took as much care with their public spaces.20191218_084500Just a few more days remaining on my holiday – I wonder what adventures remain?

ADVENTURES IN SCOTTSDALE OLD TOWN – Pt. II

The second day in Scottsdale dawned sunny and with clear blue skies…as usual! Based on the recommendation of friend AJ, I headed out to Merci, a cute little French bistro located in an unassuming plaza about 10 minutes from my hotel. Off I went in the courtesy van….20191213_092841…and walked into the cute tiny boite where I enjoyed THE best Quiche Loraine and refreshing salad. www.mercifrenchcafe.com20191213_095146 20191213_100019Did a little shopping for family & friends then returned to the hotel for a swim in the heated pool and some sunbathing…had the perfect balcony for catching rays…and I stayed out there until the sun started going down. What a wonderful relaxing afternoon.20191213_143347 20191213_162438Day 3 started off brightly (again!) so I headed downtown Old Town and landed smack in the middle of tourist heaven – in front of famed Bischoff’s gallery & store where even their grounds contain stunning sculptures. I spent a great deal of time there on my last visit…20191214_103501 20191214_103337 20191214_103430I love their lemon tree out front and surprisingly, nobody steals any fruit so here it is, laden with lemons, surrounded by sculptures and cacti.  www.bischoffsgallery.com20191214_103717I hadn’t previously explored all the parkland behind so imagine my surprise when I discovered the Scottsdale Civic Centre located there along with several chi-chi restaurants, a performing arts theatre, the contemporary art gallery and so many fountains…20191214_104504 20191214_104954

The famous LOVE sculpture is also located there…20191214_105820After hiking around the grounds for over an hour, it was time to head back to the hotel so I could get ready for dinner, so I enjoyed another hour of sunbathing on the balcony and as the evening drew close, I was thrilled to see these amazing clouds that went from soft fluffy white cotton balls to gold. 20191214_161513 20191214_172133Dinner was amazing – I went back to Merci French Cafe to try their Beef Bourguignon and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve never tasted anything so good. Mmmmmm. 20191214_181436Tomorrow, Sunday, I’ll be enjoying brunch with friends AJ and Tom.  AJ’s pneumonia was finally on the mend so he is making the heroic effort to get dressed up and come downtown where we’ll celebrate an early Christmas.

Adventures in Scottsdale Old Town – Pt.I

Having had such a wonderful time there last spring, I decided to again visit the friendly Old Town Scottsdale as a Christmas/birthday gift to myself – and it was the bestest gift ever! Last time I stayed with my old Aussie mate, AJ, with whom I worked at a Toronto TV station back in 1999; this time I booked myself into the Holiday Inn Express Suites (pictured below) located close to all the tourist action and very affordable for an 8-day stay.20191218_113254 20191218_113219I took a late night flight out of Toronto and arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport around midnight and after a 15 minute cab ride, checked in and slept until dawn, and this is what I saw when I pulled the drapes back in the morning…..sunshine,palm trees and the pool!!20191213_162438After a quick breakfast, my Day One adventures commenced…the hotel offers a courtesy van that takes you to and from whatever destination you request within a 3 mile radius and my first trip was straight into the touristy hub where I dropped in to say hello to Diana at the Scottsdale Jewels store where I previously purchased some great bling…I wonder if she would remember me?20191212_110646You betcha she remembered! What joy to be welcomed back with a big hug. Diana showed me lots of new fine pieces, native American handcrafted silver and gems and yes, I did quite a bit of shopping there including rings, earrings and even some mini Kachina dolls (currently sitting on my kitchen island bar, waiting to be located somewhere special along with some Navajo “fetishes” I picked up at the Gilbert Ortega Gallery).20191221_175325There’s so much to see, try on and buy at Scottsdale Jewels and Diana is always happy to give shoppers a tour of the turquoise, silver, coral, spiny oyster and even introduce you to the bears!20191212_110609 20191212_11115220191212_11061820191212_110604 20191212_111200Check out their website: www.scottsdalejewels.com and if you visit, tell Diana (and the bears) I said hi!

Next, it was down a couple of doors to the wonderful Mexican Imports souvenir store…so much fun & soooo much to see. Picked up a few souvenirs and the lovely ladies there remembered me from my previous visit. They have very affordable trinkets and nic-nacs. You can see more on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MexicanImports20191212_134155

Time for a sit down and a latte and I was thrilled to discover Barista Brothers, a modest little cafe & gelato shop run by fellow Aussie, Chase. When Aussies connect, it’s time for a real chin-wag (chat) about back home, what we miss food-wise, etc. and he was kind enough to let me sit and upload pics & posts to my social media…thanks, mate.20191212_140039More wandering around, checking out all the touristy stuff, before finding somewhere for a late lunch…20191212_142607 20191212_143223 20191212_142632…and lunch was fabulous at the kitschy but deelish Sugar Bowl diner- a legend for frugal foodies!20191212_144603 20191212_144834I had the turkey dinner special with all the fixin’s, thanks to recommendations from fellow tourists I met outside. Looked like something out of Happy Days…all pink vinyl banquettes and kitchen chairs – I definitely recommend a visit. www.sugarbowlscottsdale.com/

Once my hunger was sated, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for “Art Walk” in the evening – every Thursday during the cooler months, the gallery district hosts open galleries and artist studios, welcoming art lovers  with wine & cheese soirees, live music on the street and all sorts of “meet the artist” events. Oh my, there must be at least 50 indie galleries in a 3 or 4 block area, all offering contemporary and native American paintings, sculptures and stunning hand-crafted jewellery and silver work. So much to see and photograph, although the dark night and modest illuminations made it difficult to really capture the colour and energy of the event…but here goes:
20191212_193751 20191212_194757 20191212_201652I started at the Wilde Meyer gallery (below) where I had already purchased a miniature I saw online a couple of months back (see last pic in this series) – they have lots of beautiful works on display so join me on a photographic tour of their gallery:20191212_19221920191212_19234220191212_19231220191212_19251320191212_19270320191212_19253420191212_19245620191212_193248Thanks, Laura, for greeting me and wrapping up my darling little saguaro cactus painting for a safe trip home.  www.wildemeyer.com

I also loved visiting the R.C. Gorman gallery featuring the work of the late artist of the same name. And I fell hard for the local Navajo fine jewellery – I just had to buy a beautiful ring that kept calling my name! www.rcgormannavajogallery.com20191215_13503120191215_13495620191215_13501520191218_150712I must have spent nearly 3 hours wandering the streets that night, stopping to enjoy the music from artists such as Mike Randall pictured below doing his best Buddy Holly, along with his lovely lady in the most beautiful red & white poodle skirt.  www.comebackbuddy.com
20191212_190645 20191212_194518 20191212_193903Thanks to all the gallery owners & curators, artists and entertainers – I had a blast meeting you and dropping a few $s into the local economy, too!  Back to the hotel for a well-earned rest, all set for the next day’s adventures….