Friday, 30 January 2015

A Rocky Mountain high

"Whatever you do, don't joke about John Denver in Aspen.  He's a local hero," a friend warned me before this trip.

How could I?  I love John Denver!

Songs like Rocky Mountain High, Thank God I'm a Country Boy and Take Me Home Country Roads have inexplicably been a soundtrack to my life.

They're those songs that I don't know how and when I came to know them; they've just always been there.

I remember John Denver being on The Muppets a lot.  Or perhaps the episode with him in it was repeated a lot.

I was talking about John Denver in the office recently and I was stunned to discover that some of the "younger ones" had never heard of him!   The outrage! (Seriously!  I think they just walk around with their eyes and ears closed).

John's songs evoked the peace and natural beauty of Colorado long before I came here.   It's no surprise that Rocky Mountain High has been made one of the state's official songs!

The snow-covered John Denver Sanctuary
So on this visit to Aspen, I was keen to discover the John Denver Sanctuary, tucked in the corner of a downtown park by the Rio Grande.

I find the sanctuary blanketed in a layer of snow, with only scattered boulders and a icy pond poking their way through the white.

Further in, a boulder points to John's Song Garden, a section of the sanctuary where the words to some of his most famous lyrics have been carved into stone.

The garden consists of a tight cluster of boulders standing by the frozen stream.

Sanctuary seems to be the perfect word for this place.  The afternoon sun in streaming down before it falls behind Aspen Mountain and plunges the town into shadows.   The only sound is the trickle of the river underneath the snow and ice.

Some of the "classics" are here like Rocky Mountain High, Perhaps Love (personal favourite) and Sunshine on My Shoulders, but I can't seem to find Annie's Song (which I know is here somewhere, but perhaps buried under the snow?).

I like that Aspen have chosen to remember John, not by the usual statue or plague, but with a natural space through which you can wander.   It's particularly fitting given John's support of environmental causes during his life.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Australia Day in the Highlands

Just as cane toads have infested Australia, so too have Australians overrun the world.

Further proof of this Aussie invasion emerged today, when even here in Colorado's Rocky Mountains the slopes pulled out all the stops to celebrate Australia Day.

They're clearly no strangers to Australians in these parts, but it was surprising to see so many Americans getting in the Australia Day spirit.

It started soon after sunrise when the local television channel had Neil Perry on to discuss Australia's (ahem) contribution to global cuisine.

After declaring that Aspen was his second most favourite place in the world after Sydney, he then tried to explain the concept of Vegemite to the bemused hosts.

Clearly bedazzled by our culinary offering, one of the hosts then enthused that there would be meat pie tasting competitions and barbecues across the slopes today.

Adding to the festivities, the ski lifts started an hour earlier today (because god knows we just love an early start).

Sadly, I was not out of bed in time to take advantage of this.  But when I did stumble into my ski boots, it was to catch the bus to nearby Aspen Highlands.

Aspen Highlands

Here, the lifts were adorned with Australian flags, INXS was blaring on the speakers and an inflatable kangaroo was keeping watch.

Further up the hill, many skiers had Australian flags tucked into their helmets.   I was surprised to find that many of these flag wavers weren't actually Aussies, but happy to get into the spirit anyway. One lady was from Austria - that's kind close enough to count.

Cruising into one of the lifts, the attendant, looking resplendent with an Australian flag (hopefully temporary) tattoo on his face, offered me a Tim Tam.

"It's like a Twix," he reliably informed me.
One of the key things you need to know about Australia... we have the highest price of electricity?

Aspen Highlands covers a ridgeline, with runs falling off the spine.   There's a lot of double diamond and diamond runs here, but for me it was the rolling blue lines that kept me occupied.

Looking at the map, I initially thought I would only spend a morning here, but the sunshine, uncrowded lift lines and endless Australiana had me captivated for the entire day.

Pulling in for lunch presented another opportunity to re-connect with the Motherland.  Dingo Burger anyone?  Mmmm, just like the ones we have at home.

The afternoon allowed more exploration of the mountain, assisted by a guy dressed as a kangaroo.

The guy in orange is a kangaroo... obviously
As I unclicked my boots at the end of the day, I had the startling realisation that Americans celebrate Australia Day better than we do.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

When nature fights back

The heat and humidity is high and so is the grass.

Taking full advantage of the Queensland summer, the backyard has gone feral.

With each passing day the trees, bushes and weeds visibly climb.

So too does the risk that we'll lose some unsuspecting passerby in the urban jungle.  Perhaps we already have?  We'll only know when the mower man comes and carves a temporary path through the greenery.

Nature's fighting back.

While we might put concrete over it, crank up the air conditioning, and try to choke it, nature always has the last laugh.

It's always been this way.

Centuries ago in Cambodia, kings and kingdoms once thought they'd tamed the jungle too.

The temple Ta Prohm, featured in the Tomb Raider movie staring Angelina Jolie, shows that while nature might move slowly, it will win in the end.

There are scores of temples across Cambodia's famous Angkor region.  Workers tireless keep nature at bay every day by cutting back the trees, grass and weeds.

But at Ta Prohm, archeologists decided to leave it in the condition they found it.   They noted that the temple was one of the most imposing in the region and had begun to merge with the jungle.

It seems they too were meserised by the tangle of trees and roots, and how nature, slowly but surely, had taken control of the temple.

Vines strangle the temple's walls and trees sprout out of its collapsed roofs, while roots prise apart each brick.

In its heyday, Ta Prohm, dating back to the 12th Century, was a hive of activity, serving as a monastery and university.  Ornate bas reliefs on the temple walls and doors tell its story.

In recent decades, the temple has regained a legion of followers (with a bit of help from Angelina).

On the hot and humid day I visit Ta Prohm, we're joined by a group of Buddhist nuns who've also come witness the spectacle.

But even as hordes of tourists (including me) trample over the site, we all know that nature still reigns supreme here.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Proposal pandemic

Everyone is getting married.


At least that's what my Facebook feed has told me during recent months.

Clearly my friends are hitting that stage of life when it's time to "get serious", "settle down" or whatever other euphemism you'd like to use.

Whichever way you look at it, love is in the air.

But this marriage caper is serious business.

Not too long after the proposal comes the wedding planning.

It's a time when at least of one of the two involved pretends this is the first time they've ever contemplated their wedding day (but just happens to have all the suppliers booked and draft event running sheet completed the day after the proposal).

There's the venue (church, garden or other?), the catering (sit down or cocktail?) and of course the costuming to be considered.  And just who is going to sit next to newly-divorced Aunty Joan and listen to her waffle on about how Uncle Barry has run off... with the butcher!

Yes indeed.  There's some big decisions to be made.

I'm a fair distance from wandering down the aisle myself (unless it's by myself), but any talk of marriage reminds me of Lake Bled in Slovenia.
Lake Bled in the Julian Alps

Honeymooners may want to waft around Venice, but Lake Bled seems to be a magnet for marriage.

And for good reason.  It's ridiculously pretty.

Fortunately (for me) you don't need to have a ring on your hand to visit.

Slovenia has always struck me as a strange country.   It seems to always be mistaken for Slovakia and initially you're tempted to put it further east in Europe than it actually is.  I cruised through it from the Croatian coast on the way to Vienna in Austria.

But being slightly forgotten or misplaced on the global scene hasn't dampened its appeal.

Lake Bled epitomises the mountainous and watery beauty Slovenia has in store.

For newlyweds, it's Bled Island, with its centuries-old church, overlooked by medieval Bled Castle, that is the main drawcard.

Bled Castle overlooking Lake Bled
Bled Island on Lake Bled

Bled Island

The church and bell tower sits at the top of a Baroque stairway, featuring 98 stone steps dating back to the 17th Century.

The steps of Bled Island
Boats ready to head to Bled Island

Local folklore dictates that it is good luck for a groom to carry his bride up these steps before ringing the church bell and making a wish.  As a result, it's not unusual for the island to look like some sort of  formal bootcamp as suited guys throw their wives over their shoulder and charge up the steps (or at least try to make it to the top).

Lake Bled is also one of those unique locations that looks good no matter what the weather.  While all couples hope for blue skies on their wedding day, on a rainy day the lake becomes more intimate as the clouds close in and the lake becomes a giant mirror.

Lake Bled on a cloudy day
By the water's edge
Friendly local
There's not too many instances in wedding planning where I'd condone bridezilla behaviour, but couples take note - Lake Bled is one place that's worth putting your foot down and throwing a tantrum for.

And for single onlookers, the memory of grooms dropping their brides on Bled Island's steps (and the ensuing first fight as a married couple) will be your cheery companion for many years to come.