Monday, 8 June 2015

My Great Wall

Next week construction begins on a project set to rival the Great Wall of China.

More than eight years in the making, the rotten and rickety lattice fencing around some units at my apartment building will be replaced with proper timber fencing.

This fencing is unlikely to be seen from space... but then again apparently neither is the Great Wall of China.

Given the time and energy it has taken to get the project to this stage, you can forgive me for comparing a dozen or so metres of timber fencing to the 8,850km of structures that comprise the Great Wall of China.

After all, to get here it's sometimes felt as though I've been climbing metaphorical mountains with stone bricks in hand.

Surely building the Great Wall of China was a much simpler task that didn't require herding other owners, mustering tradesmen for quotes, navigating body corporates or extracting funding?

While there will be a great sense of accomplishment when "my wall" is completed, I suspect it won't be quite as awe-inspiring as the one in China.

I've been fortunate to visit the Great Wall twice, with each visit as memorable as each other.  It's one of the few big ticket tourist icons that is better than you imagine it to be.

Sure you can take a gondola to the top (as those tourists who wisely wore high heels did), but to fully appreciate the work of the wall's makers, I chose the stairs.   It's a surprisingly easy climb given how high up you feel when you're walking along the wall.

Naturally you see glimpses of the wall from below as you approach it, but once on the wall itself you can see how it snakes its way along the mountain ridges.

You can almost imagine it's the spine of a gigantic sleeping dragon that stretches far off into the horizon, regularly punctuated by tall watch towers.

Despite its fame and popularity, it's surprisingly easy to to find a quite patch of wall for yourself and quietly contemplate how daunting it must have appeared for invading monguls on the other side.

And if you're lucky, you may even escape Beijing's smog and catch a glimpse of the horizon.

Even though I'm on one of the "restored" sections of the wall, crumbling stonework, uneven ground and some pretty high stair tread depths reaffirm that this wall has withstood centuries of weather, hostile attacks and some fairly basic construction techniques.

Needless to say, I can only hope my great wall will last just a fraction of this time.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Sweden calling

The immediate post-Eurovision period is always a bleak and desolate time of the year.

Having gorged ourselves on a feast of pop, culminating in the Grand Final, we're suddenly forced to go cold turkey.  

I'm irritable, fatigued (after those 5am starts for the live telecast), have lost my appetite and am just a little depressed.

Now I know what heroin addicts must go through.

This year's symptoms are particularly severe having experienced the high of Australia's first (and only?) participation in the contest.

But if I'm forced to be a little "cup half full", then I can at least take comfort that next year we're all off to Sweden for Eurovision.

Hello Sweden!

Sure, we weren't there that long ago thanks to Loreen's Euphoria.  

On that occasion Sweden's third-largest city Malmo was the host.   While the host city has yet to be confirmed, Sweden is one of those places that deserve multiple visits.

The capital Stockholm is a surprising delight in itself, spread across 14 islands.

Wandering around Stockholm, you can't help feel a little bit envious of the Swedes.  They seem to have uncovered the secrets to the good life.

While they pay some fairly high taxes, if the global surveys are correct they also enjoy some of the world's highest standards of living, free healthcare, free education and are generally happier than the rest of us.

To rub salt into the wound, now they've snared Eurovision for the sixth time!

At Stockholm's heart is Gamla Stan, or Old Town, consisting of cobbled streets and narrows lanes (including one that is less than one metre wide).

Gamla Stan

Nearby is the Royal Palace, one of the homes of the popular Swedish Royal Family - surely big enough to host a Eurovision or two.

Outside the Royal Palace

But perhaps it's the Royal Family's other home, Drottningholm Palace, that might be a more suitable venue for 2016 Eurovision.

Built on its own island, this palace is a short boat ride away from downtown Stockholm.

It's a handsome palace, complete with its own theatre, church and Chinese Pavilion, and surrounded by sprawling grounds.

Drottningholm Palace

It even has a bath house the size of a normal family home for those wanting to take a dip.

While the palace is still used by the Royal Family, you're more likely to run into hordes of tourists than King Carl XVI Gustaf and his wife Queen Silvia.

Whether Eurovision returns to Stockholm or another city has yet to be decided, but regardless Sweden always seems ready to welcome the world and give it a good show.