On your Vespa…

I’m always banging on about life beginning at the edge of your comfort zone… So recently I walked the talk. Well, rode it really.

We’ve bought ourselves a Vespa to take with us on our travels in the Douglas Albert.

It’s a 250cc, so we had to do a day of training and assessments to get our bike licenses.

For EB, this was destined to be a pushover, but I was trembling in my boots… and gloves… and helmet.

Well, I am five-foot-nothing and reaching the ground on a motorbike or scooter is a challenge in itself.

But how hard could it be, I thought. It’s just a scooter, right?

Ah yes, but you still have to do those tricky tight figure eights, lane-width u-turns, slaloms weaving through witches hats at 25kph, full-speed emergency braking, slow rides travelling along a narrow 4m strip at a snail’s pace (designed so you don’t drop your bike in car parks!), road rides and more.

From the very beginning, there was no way I was ever getting that slalom. Except I did, it was brilliant fun, and (girl power) I beat the heck out of the blokes!

Have you challenged yourself lately? Have you been thinking about trying something new, but you’re feeling the fear and stuck on the ‘what ifs’?

I reckon now is a great time to give it a go! Because there’s nothing better than taking on your own fears.

Well, except getting on your Vespa and taking the scenic route…


A wild, chilly day on Kingy beach…

Along Cudgera Creek, stingrays glide past fish doing some weird breeding or feeding pirouette on the creek bottom, pelicans skim the surface like flying ships…

Down on the beach, distant whales breaching, a pod of dolphins fishing, sea eagles on the hunt, indigenous people working their nets…

It’s a wild life at Kingscliff this chilly day. Love this place.

Copyright: Louise Ralph


What’s your excuse?

Here’s five for Friday…on Wednesday

Copyright: Louise Ralph

the silver path less travelled…

EB and I are always talking about one day… that mythical time when we take the plunge and go off on our golden gap year to cycle through Europe or travel around Australia.

But (and there’s always a ‘but’) there are so many reasons (excuses) why we can’t shake off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbour

Here are our ‘bowlines’ – maybe you recognise some of them?

  1. Employment – we can’t give up our businesses just yet, it would be too hard to start again or get another job, and we have to keep earning…
  2. Money – we need to pay down debt, sell our properties, eat, save to support ourselves in our old age so we’re not a burden on our…
  3. Family – because being FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) parents and grandies sounds fun and exotic but it’s heart wrenching being away for a long…
  4. Time – because we never have enough of it, our schedules are crazy, it’s never quite the right time, and…
  5. What if… we throw our lives up in the air and it all comes crashing down in a heap, and we can’t rebuild it and we live to regret it.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Regrets. In the end, we would regret NOT doing it, which would define us more than money or business – or existing for our family (who want us to do it, if only so we’ll shut up about it).

So when I look at our list of bowlines (reasons or excuses), they seem pretty lame really.

Even family, because how inspiring would it be to know your parents or grandparents were out there in the world somewhere, living the life they’d imagined?

How much nicer to arrive bearing gifts, and leave while they’re still clapping…?

Perhaps the real questions are: Do you want to keep earning money to pay for a lifestyle you don’t want? And if not now…when?

What’s holding you back from your adventures?

Winter beach escapes…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The tourists have gone, the cafes and shops are quiet, and the camping areas are almost empty except for intrepid grey nomads on their way north to escape the southern chill.

A crisp wind sweeps the beach, where only the locals brave the elements to fish, walk or give their dogs a run.

Surf and sun are definitely big drawcards, but winter is my favourite time at the beach.

When our kids were little, we’d wrap them up  all cozy and warm and we’d go to the beach to play – to search for shells and other treasures, make icy sand castles, brave a paddle, throw a ball, look for dolphins.

Here in northern New South Wales, from June to November, humpback whales are coming and going along their migratory highway. Seeing them breaching and playing just off the beach makes you want to wait forever for each magical glimpse.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

But there is plenty to do around here that doesn’t involve the beach – or practicing your whale whispering techniques.

Try an early morning climb – with that last chain-assisted scramble – up Wollumbin (Mt Warning), the remnant central vent of an ancient volcano and an icon of the region.

Or slightly easier (with goosebumps of a different kind), paddle up the river towards the mountain. Along the way, you’ll see raptors riding the thermals above you. Last weekend, we counted twelve raptors, possibly square-tailed kites, in one breathtaking group…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

If you’re not into chilly water sports or ‘hill’ climbs, there are so many forest walks around here – and so many stories. Like the walk to Protestors Falls on Terania Creek near Nimbin, the birthplace of Australia’s environmental movement in the late 1970s.

Or head down the trail in Springbrook National Park to the Natural Bridge, created over millions of years by water tumbling through the roof of a basalt cave.

For something a little more civilised, the Taste of Kingscliff is a delicious foodie fest in July 2014. We’ve booked in with a bunch of friends for the Long Table feast under the stars, so more on that in July…

Then there are weekend markets, the Mt Tambourine wine trail, theme parks, the Currumbin Sanctuary, places for golfing and cycling, cozy bars and cafes, music, and more.

This is the kind of place where, once you dig your feet in the (now chilly) sand, you never want to leave. For too long, anyway…


Curious kookaburras…

You’ve got to love those lazy Sunday mornings when some curious kookaburras come to hang out in your tree… a kooky trifecta!

Copyright: Louise Ralph



Copyright: Louise Ralph



Copyright: Louise Ralph





From tagging to masterpieces – street art in Brooklyn

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise RalphIn New York, like so many cities around the world, graffiti or ‘street art’ has risen from the subways to urban spaces, becoming more fashionable, accepted and even collected…

It’s the organic, transitory nature of street art that makes it so fascinating to me. And it has an edginess you don’t get in other art forms.

Maybe that’s because much of it remains illegal, with artists fined and potentially jailed and their work buffed off at a high (and resented) cost to the city.

No surprise then that one of the highlights of our trip was the New York Graffiti and Street Art Tour in Bushwick, a working class district on the north side of Brooklyn.

Our guides Izzy and Mar took us on a fascinating journey into this artform – from tagging to masterpieces and beyond.

TAKI 183 is recognised as the one who started it all in New York City, with his simple signature (tag) attracting the attention of a New York Times reporter.

The story ran in 1971 and TAKI 183 became the ‘father of contemporary graffiti’*

If the street art in this city started with TAKI 183, he did the place a service (although I’m sure many would disagree)! Here are some of the works you might catch in Brooklyn – if you’re quick.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…and some ‘shoeffiti’

We highly recommend taking the tour… and when you’re done, stop into the Rookery in Troutman Street, where the atmosphere, service, food, craft beer and wine really hit the spot. Try their signature comfort food dish Oxtail Sloppy Joe (not recommended for vegetarians!).

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Never let go…

* Read the NYT article here and TAKI 183 bio here

The (sea) eagle has landed

Travelling is always enlightening, often life-changing and mostly awesome. It also opens your eyes to the things you love about home.

Like family, friends… and little things you love about where you live. Like walking along the beach at dusk and coming across a sea eagle having a fishy feast…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise RalphThese eagles have landed too (which thankfully didn’t involve fish gizzards).

It’s a long flight from NYC to Australia – even longer when you get a bonus three-hour wait on the tarmac at LA airport. Not that we’re complaining about technical difficulties with fuel tanks being solved before take-off!

New York was amazing… there are more stories to be told.

And more adventures to be planned. Because this trip confirmed what we’ve always believed in –>

Take a walk on the wild side…in Central Park

Copyright: Louise RalphThere may have been flash flooding in New York City last night, but today the sun is out in full force – and so are the people. Everywhere.

Definitely time to escape the seething sidewalks and get back to nature in Central Park.

Yep, there are a lot of people here too, but it’s not as frenetic (well, except for the joggers and cyclists and power walkers).

If you want a break from the touristy stuff and the crowds, head to the northern end of the park where there’s a little more breathing space and plenty of wild creatures out and about.

Which suits me, since I am a certified freak for nature! Here’s a sneak peak at the wild side of the city…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Catching some rays, turtle style


Copyright: Louise Ralph

This clever American Robin built a nest right over the path about two feet above eye level – but nobody (except us) looked up.


Copyright: Louise Ralph

Hollows make cozy nesting places. Some wildlife won’t breed without suitable hollows to nest in…


Copyright: Louise Ralph

And after all that action, it’s time for some R&R…


This is New York, baby

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The streets of New York City are an assault on the senses – the traffic, the noise, the seething masses, the cocktail of odours.

But if  you want to get into the spirit of New York, you really need to cast off your tourist hat and walk in a New Yorker’s shoes for a while. Or, in NYer speak, go ahead and just do it…

  • Ride the subway at peak hour – but be prepared to make like a sardine. It doesn’t matter if the carriage is full, people just keep ‘getting on in’, making it an interesting balancing act between crushing up against people and maintaining your personal space (which is clearly more of an attitude than a reality)
  • Walk the streets, fast. Because he (or she) who hesitates is lost – and possibly shoved in the back and told to move aside. Seriously, NYers have places to be and they get pretty annoyed with dawdlers or someone who stops dead in front of them, oblivious to the human pile-up behind them
  • Wear flats. I’m guessing this is where the corporate wear + running shoes look took off. Today, ballet flats are the shoe of choice for getting places. If you’re going to wear heels, make sure you can walk at pace and negotiate grates and uneven pavements – or things could get ugly
  • Tune out to the sirens, horns, vendors and people trying to get tourists to take a city ride. And turn a blind eye to the trash on the streets and the construction going on absolutely everywhere…
  • Catch the lunch hour buzz at one of the eateries in Pearl Street, between Hanover Square and  Coenties Alley in the Financial District, or get ‘on the line’ with office workers at the best street vendors or food outlets in the area
  • …and who can argue with this? A sign outside an East Side bar in New York City

    …and who can argue with this? A sign outside an East Side bar in New York City

    Check out the dog walkers – and the dog parks dotted around the city. Some off-leash areas even have water features you’d normally see in a kiddy pool, with water squirting up out of holes in the concrete. The dogs love it… and New Yorkers clearly love their dogs!

Most of all, stay positive – NYers are remarkably cheerful considering every time they hit the streets they have to negotiate streams of locals and tourists.

We’ve found them to be mostly polite, helpful, and always up for a laugh – and that’s not something we

So walk fast, be friendly and eat well… this is New York, baby

Snapshots of New York City

Going with the flow of New York City, here are some snapshots of this frenetic city… with some of the calmer bits thrown in.

Heading to the top of the Rock

The Rockefeller Centre is pretty awesome, considering the risk John D Rockefeller Jr took to finance and build it himself after the stock market crashed in 1929. What vision and what a view!

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Centre

The history of the plaza is fascinating and the views from the top are stunning, especially of the Empire State Building. It’s something you might consider missing when you visit New York City, but don’t. It really is worth the ride…

Copyright: Louise RalphCruising the Hudson

You can take the free Staten Island Ferry out to look up at the Statue of Liberty, or you can jump on one of the Circle Line sightseeing cruises for a fee and see the lady and the city from a different perspective.

The great thing about the cruise is that you get to hear all the stories of the city.

…like the cliffs that apparently inspired Bill Finger’s Bat Caves.

…or the Pepsi Cola sign that was the first neon sign in Times Square but was preserved and moved to Long Island City.

…or that Times Square was once called Longacre Square and cattle were grazed there. Cattle, who would’ve thought…?

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The pepsi sign at Hunter’s Point

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Loving Lower Manhattan

If we were going to live in New York and dollars weren’t an issue, Greenwich Village would be our first choice.

It’s our kind of place, with its eclectic atmosphere, boho history, old-time jazz bars, cozy bars and cafes, and bookshops you could hang out in all day.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Three Lives & Company book store In Greenwich Village

Copyright: Louise Ralph

And then there is nearby SoHo, an enclave that got its name from its location south of Houston Street.

Wander the cobblestone streets, watch shoppers on a mission or do some power shopping yourself, and take in the beautiful wrecking-ball-dodging restored buildings.

A leisurely lunch at the Antique Garage is the perfect place to kick back and recover over some delicious Mediterranean food…

Kicking back at Birdland

When it opened in December 1949, critics and nightclubbers said Birdland wouldn’t survive for more than six weeks. Sixty years later, it’s still here.

Charlie Parker once called it ‘the jazz corner of the world’. There’s something about this place that makes you believe it.

It may be almost 11:00pm, but we can’t walk past Birdland when the exceptional Maria Schneider Orchestra is about to come on.

Okay, we can’t pretend to be jazz aficionados but critics use words like evocative, majestic, heart-stoppingly gorgeous to describe Maria’s music – so in we went.

Oh wow…Maria writes the music – feels the music with every fibre of her being (I do not exaggerate!) – and her orchestra delivers it with precision and soul. Their respect for her – and each other – is truly remarkable, clearly the secret to such perfection.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Maria Schneider Orchestra at Birdland NYC

At the risk of exhausting you – and myself (which happened days ago), I’m going to leave it there. For now.

Because EB has just arrived back from the gym (I kid you not) and it’s time to get ready for dinner. No doubt we won’t be back in until early tomorrow morning…




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