A golden place to visit

30 Aug

The streets aren’t quite paved with gold in Kanazawa but if someone wanted to take the saying literally and actually make a golden street, Kanazawa would be a likely location.

The city of half a million people in the capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture is also the gold capital of Japan, well the gold leaf capital that is.

Ninety-nine percent of Japan’s gold leaf is made in Kanazawa.

Gold leaf is the end product of a stretching process that spreads a tiny amount of gold into incredibly thin sheets.

How thin exactly? I didn’t have a ruler with me on my visit but I’m told it measures one 10,000th of a millimetre!


‘Kanazawa’ literally means ‘marsh of gold’.

Legend has it that a peasant who was washing his potatoes in a well in the area came across gold dust in the water and that is where the name of the city came from.

Not only does gold leaf look pretty cool but it has played an interesting role in Japan’s history.

It has been used for hundreds of years on porcelain and lacquer objects and was seen as a sign of power and wealth.

At one point in the past the government outlawed the production of gold leaf in an effort to get a better control on the country’s economy but those in Kanazawa secretly continued producing gold leaf.

Nowadays there aren’t any restrictions on the production of the shiny material.

South West of Kanazawa, in Kyoto, we even visited a Kinkaku-ji temple or the Golden Pavilion where Kanazawa’s famous gold leaf is used to cover the building’s exterior.



Visitors to Kanazawa can watch a demonstration or even take part in a gold leaf gilding workshop to see how the delicate material can be used for decorative purposes.

The city is even home to a museum dedicated to the shiny stuff, the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum.

While I’m cynical as to whether gold leaf has any cosmetic benefits, there was no end of gold leaf beauty products available to purchase in Kanazawa, the one I saw most of was the gold leaf beautifying face masks.

Gold leaf is also edible.

The Japanese love to drink tea, so of course you can buy tea with gold leaf flakes in it, which is said to aid digestion and make those who drink it feel rejuvenated.

We tried the gold leaf covered soft serve ice-cream cones.

Now you are probably wondering what the gold leaf tasted like, especially considering those ice-creams cost more than a chocolate coated double cone with a flake from a regular Mr Whippy.

Well, anyone with a gold tooth would be able to answer that question, it doesn’t really taste at all.

And, the gold leaf apparently doesn’t have any nutritional value either.

Ah well, at least the photos look kinda cool.


It’s been a while…

24 Aug

About two years actually.

Sometimes things turn your life upside down and it takes a while to get back to doing all the things you love doing, like writing and travelling and writing about travelling.

But I’m back!

I’m working on some posts about my recent trip to Japan, so stay tuned.

In the meantime here are some pictures of my littlest travel buddy in Tokyo.

She is two years old.


What surprised me about Gallipoli

24 Apr

I visited Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula about seven years ago as part of wider travels within the country and I got a lot more from that visit than I ever did from a history book.


It was only when arranging transport from Istanbul that I realised the Turkish people actually call it Gelibolu, not Gallipoli- which is our anglicised version of the word.

The name Gelibolu takes its origins from the Greek word ‘kallipolis’ which means beautiful town.

Historically the area had had a big Greek presence.


We may have anglicised the name of the place and taken on a story of what happened here into the national psyche, however a visit to Anzac Cove and the surrounding battlefields and memorials will remind you that there is always more than one side to a story.

The area is also significant to the Turkish people.

Our Anzac forces (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, as part of World War I, in the hope of opening up the Dardanelles to the allied forces.

For the Australians and New Zealanders it was the courage and mate-ship shown by our forces that formed the basis for the notion of the Anzac spirit.

We remember the determination of those soldiers who despite having landed along the wrong part of the coast and having to face tough conditions and massive casualties- fought on bravely.

For the Turks- this campaign was one of the country’s biggest victories of the war.

Turkish people also come in droves to visit memorials and learn about their country’s past.


The tour guides who take you around the battlefields and memorials will try to paint a picture of what war was like.

Hearing this and seeing the trenches where the soldiers spent their time and fought their battles from was an eye-opener for me.


I had no idea just how close the opposing forces were when in battle.

Perhaps it had been mentioned in a history lesson at school but when you walk around and see the trenches as close as 15 or 20 metres apart from one another, it’s only then that it starts to sink in.

I was surprised to hear the stories of the Turks and the Anzacs interacting during certain stages of the campaign trading cigarettes for raisins by throwing the items over to one another.

After all, not everyone who went to war were savages- they were brothers, husbands, sons, classmates and friends, similar to the ones you and I know.

I’m sure everyone has different responses to the place, but for me- my visit to Gallipoli made me question the idea of war and really think that with so much loss and suffering on all sides- any move towards war should be carefully considered.

Lest we forget.







Backpacking in Sri Lanka

13 Apr


I recently met a woman and her son who’d come to Australia from Sri Lanka to leave behind a sad past, one where a number of her family members were killed or disappeared- never to be seen again- all as a result of what went on during the country’s civil war.

Much of what went on during Sri Lanka’s civil war has only recently been revealed and the investigation of war crimes and promotion of reconciliation is ongoing.

For some reason Sri Lanka was a place I really wanted to visit when I spent my year backpacking back in 2008.

During this time, the country was still experiencing civil war, a war which was ongoing for about 25 years as a result of ethic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority.

While the country was not on any of the generic round-the-world flight itineraries, I was able to divert a bit from those and had flights added on so I could visit the country formerly known as Ceylon.

Call me dumb or naive but I had not worried too much about the civil war affecting my travels as I knew it was mostly confined to the far northern part of the country- which I planned on avoiding.

Hearing news of two bombings in Columbo in the months before I was due to fly in to the city scared me a little but I think being in backpacker-mode (I think I’d been travelling solo for about nine months before getting to Sri Lanka) and not hearing too much more about safety issues in Columbo somehow reduced the concern I may have otherwise had.

Luckily, the heavily armed soldiers in Columbo, which were a frightening enough sight for me were the closest I got to the war.

I didn’t spend much time at all in Columbo, maybe a couple of days.

Travelling via local bus and train I don’t remember meeting any other tourists, like I had in every other country I had visited.

I’m sure there were some but the small guest houses I stayed in did not prove to be the social hubs that the budget accommodation I’d  stayed in while in other parts of the world across the previous nine or so months- had been.

The lull in tourism activity did mean however that my hosts were always extra friendly and keen for a chat.

Highlights of my time in Sri Lanka were the train rides, which were a great way of taking in the country, including the country’s famous tea plantations, also visiting the Pinnawala elephant orphanage, the beautiful beaches and a trip to the Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy.

There was also the few days I spent at a Buddhist meditation and yoga retreat called Nilambe- but that’s a whole story in itself.

While the war technically ended in 2009, the country continues to have divisions as attempts are made to move the country forward.

Here are some photos from my travels…

IMG_3487 IMG_3543







IMG_3382 IMG_3360 IMG_3351 IMG_3348 IMG_3306 IMG_3311IMG_3643 IMG_3807 IMG_3818 Picture 088



The island built by hand

20 Jan


When people ask Serah Kei how she managed to build her own island she tells them “it’s not an overnight thing, you have to work for many, many years, little bit by little bit”.

IMG_4509The place that is today known as Serah’s Hideaway, in Malaita Province in the Solomon Islands was nothing more than some mangroves growing up out of a lagoon 25 years ago.

Serah’s determination saw her build an island for her and her three children to live on and then go on to extend it day by day, so she had enough space to welcome tourists.

She began building her project as a young woman of about 21 years of age.

While her first husband helped with the initial planning stages, the pair went their separate ways not long after beginning work on the island.

At that point, some single mothers with three young children aged five years; three years and nine months might give up the project but not Serah.

While most Solomon Islanders live a subsistence lifestyle, Serah had seen the benefits of income generated through tourism as a child.

IMG_2506When she was growing up around the lagoon in the late 1960s and 70s, there were a couple of places that offered accommodation to tourists and she hoped one day she could do the same.

In the Solomons there are often issues over land ownership, so when Serah initially spoke with her father about where she could build, they discussed the option of her building her own island.

Her ancestors, the Walla people had built their own islands from coral, which people still lived on and added to but in the late 1980s when Serah set out to build her place she had never seen anyone build an island from scratch.

No new islands had been created in the area for years.

IMG_2396Serah said some people thought she was crazy when they saw what she was trying to do.

It was also strange for locals to see a strong independent woman working on such a project, making her own money and providing for her family.

“In the Solomons men dominate the country,” Serah said.

“It is rare for a woman to work so hard building an island.”

Serah made shell money; round carved beads made from shells that are a form of payment traditional to Malaitan culture, which she used to pay for materials to build her island and the structures on it.

“I have to travel to other provinces to get the materials,” she said.

“Back then things are not easy. Like transportation is very hard, so if I go to other islands I have to wait when the ship comes, I load the raw materials, put them on, give money to the local women in the village, they help me to make.”

IMG_2401Serah did not have the help of machines, or the aid of materials such as cement, she simply used existing corals as well as purchasing large coral bricks to create her island.

“Because the lagoon is made up of coral, as you can see there are lots of mangroves, there are lots of stones under the mangrove trees,” she said.

“So I’d go during low tide, break the corals, they have to clear the mangrove first and then dig underneath in the mud.”

Serah described the process of building an island in water as similar to that of a jigsaw puzzle.

She said each piece had to be carefully positioned in order to create a stable base.

“If you just put the rocks after one another, they fall out easy when there is an earthquake and when there is a rough sea,” Serah said.

IMG_2378“When you build, when you finish the height that you want the stone wall to stop then you have to do little corals, in between so they are stuck in between, and gravel from the corals in the sea, so we fill it up and put more gravel and it sort of holds it together.”

It is an ongoing process, with constant maintenance required to keep the base of the island stable.

“As years go by you have to put more and more,” Serah said.

Plants such as trees and flowers that she has planted help to hold the coral that makes up the island in place.

The tides have helped in the building process.

IMG_2374“I work with tides, when it’s low, I put the stone where the tide reaches, as the tide comes up- I lift it because it’s light to lift with the water.”

It took Serah three years to complete her initial home and the area under the house and another 22 to get to where she is today.

She opened to tourists in 2006.

The island now has two bungalows for tourists and is connected to a couple of smaller decorative islands joined by a floating bamboo bridge, perfect for snorkelers to set out from.

Serah’s tourism operation not only provides an income for her but for others in the area.

IMG_2417If visitors want to take a canoe around the nearby islands, they can rent them from locals and other activities such as shell money making can also be arranged with locals for a fee.

While Serah has done most of the work on the island by herself, she has had help in recent years.

One of her first guests, an international traveller, ended up staying longer than expected and the pair married in 2008.

Her now husband helped her build their new home on the island.

They are not the only ones that live there.

Serah has expanded the island to make space for her brothers and sisters and their families.

She enjoys the quiet life living on her own island has afforded her.

“I love to be with the nature, to dive with the fish and to be on the island,” Serah said.


Wanna stay at Serah’s? email her: Serah Kei serah_kei@yahoo.com.au

Melbourne street art

5 Jan


Starting near Flinders Street Station, we walked a jagged loop of Melbourne’s laneways exploring the designs, patterns, captivating images and quirky details that make what could otherwise be mundane cityscapes, a little more interesting.

One of the first places we came upon was Hosier Lane, which is connected to another couple of lanes, all of which seem to have layers of spray paint, with overlapping pieces in every direction.

As well as street art created with an aerosol can, there were also stencil pieces (well designed paper cut out- cut and paste onto walls) and others including a lane full of ordinary looking street signs with thought provoking statements.

I IMG_3358especially liked the small details in pieces that you might not see if simply walking past. A squashed soft drink can- presumably on the ground when the artist arrived, was incorporated as part of the canvas in a painting of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Our walk took us up through China Town and back down towards the train station again.




A burger worth lining up for

8 Dec

We’d checked out of our hotel, almost maxed out our credit cards and still had a few hours until we needed to be at the airport to fly out of the country so we thought what better way to spend our last morning in Queenstown but to wait in a line for a burger.

Our hotel wasn’t far from Fergburger and each day when we’d walked past mid-morning, the line was already back out the door and part of the way down the path.




This morning however was a little different, staff were buzzing about inside cleaning furiously and we were told they were hoping to open about 11am.

My husband and I came back just before 11am and a couple of groups of people were already milling about.

We jumped in line and watched people join the queue behind us, until at its peak the line snaked for a distance of about 20metres.

The few seats out the front of the store have filled up and I’ve been quick enough to snap one up.

From my seat near the door I could see all the merchandise under the counter- $85 for a hoodie saying “Ferg loves you” and $10 for a sweatband- or you could buy a pair of ferg undies for $29.

With such merchandise you might think the hype of fergburgers must’ve been created with the help of a number of franchised stores- but that’s not the case,  there is only one Fergburger outlet and this is it.

It’s popularity has however seen an expansion, with the Fergbakery opening next door.




As we waited for the store to open we watch as staff came in and out from the bakery, bringing in stockpiles of receipt paper rolls, lots of napkins, heaps of sauces and handfuls of paper menus- as if preparing for a busy day.

Watching the many staff members in the kitchen and at the counter later, it was obvious with such a constant stream of orders coming in, there would be no time for mucking around getting more sauces from out the back when they ran out.




We found out that the reason there was so much cleaning going on inside the shop was because the staff had held their Christmas party in the store the night before and quite a bit of mess had been made.

It must’ve been one hell of a party because the team cleaned like crazy before opening about 11.30am.

The store usually operates 21 hours a day, only closing for three hours a day in the morning for cleaning but reopens each day at 8.30am.




By the time first orders were taken most of those in line had taken their selflies in line and selfie sticks had been put away.




The menu had been perused and burger choices made.

While some might opt for ‘The’ Fergburger with Prime New Zealand beef, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish, there are plenty of other options.

Among the names of the burgers on offer are the Tropical Swine, Sweet Bambi, Cock Cajun, Bun Laden, Godfather and the Chief Wiggum.




Those who like a challenge can give the Big Al a go.

With half a pound of prime New Zealand beef, bacon, cheese, two eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish and aioli, those with a big appetite might consider it a value for money burger.

Once customers made it to the entrance of the store, they passed under the door way, over which hangs a large wooden plaque that reads “In Ferg we trust- since 2000”.




Watching the workers – organisation is a matter of precision and planning- each worker has a place to be in the kitchen and on the floor dealing with customer orders and they work with military organisation to ensure everything runs smoothly and customers get fed.




Dine in or takeaway it’s all the same, there’s no difference in prices and all burgers are served in a brown paper bag with the face of Ferg on it.




When ordering, customers are given a receipt with a number on it, which comes up on screen inside when orders are ready- there is also a staff member who brings out burgers to those waiting out on the street.

Many take their brown bags over the road where there is a small open space with benches for the public.




The burgers all come made with slightly toasted large white bread buns with sesame seeds on top and are made fresh when ordered with top quality produce.

The best thing about the burgers is while the buns are pretty huge, the fillings, including the ever-important sauces, are spread across the whole on the bun evenly, making every bite a good one.