Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Home again.............

Twelve months have passed since Katrina and I left Aus for Oman. That means its holidays - yippee and as my contract includes annual airfares, coming home to Australia for a while seemed the sensible thing to do.  That and it's time for Katrina to finalise the thesis and hand it up.

So here we are, a week and a bit ago we landed in Sydney and made our way to Canberra. Courtesy of Michelle (who is now in the UK) we have somewhere to rest our heads.  The Etihad flight home was pleasant enough and the return flight in early April will surely be as good.

The first few days in Canberra were great, beginning to catch up with some people, there are many more to come in the next days and week and a bit.  Katrina has immediately buckled down to thesis work and I have immediately buckled down to holiday mode! Yay.

After running around Canberra for a few days I hit the road and went to Melbourne. For many years I had been meaning to go to a Grand Prix, so this year Albert Park it was......  What can I say? Noisy, smell that fuel, and FAST - so fast that the auto focus never stood a chance. So it was prefocus, try to track and time the shot.  In the end I just put the camera into sports mode and pressed the shutter for multiple shots. Meant I ended up with lots of empty frames, but they're easily deleted.
Mr Webber practising.
Being the cheapskate I am I had only paid for general admission -which of course meant that I was not tied to a seat and could roam the circuit looking for the right place. For me that meant around turns 11 and 12 - something they called a fast chicane.

The good things about going to a Grand Prix? Well the noise, speed and party atmosphere and the spectacle. Quite outrageous just how fast these things are. If you try to watch them you very quickly end up feeling as if your head is on a swivel and wondering just when the safety mechanism is going to give way allowing your head to simply spin off......

The bad - well the crowds, how far you are from the interesting bits of track, all the catch fencing (which makes photography rather difficult) and the fact that you see much more at home. For much of the race I had no idea who was leading - turned out to be a Finn, although I had worked out that the Force India had to have been leading for quite a while!

Saturday turned out to be rather dismal by the time qualifying rolled around. Wet and to my current sensibilities rather cold. But because I had chosen the right spot to spectate from I saw almost all of the incidents. Massa hit a wall - but kept on going, Perez pirouetted behind Button, a Force India spun, Webber had a moment and Guitterez hit the same bit of wall as Massa - but a bit harder and as a result shed bits of carbon fibre everywhere. But of course I have no shote of Guitterez going in, as my camera called it quits.
That's a jet, not a boat, despite all the water washing over it!
I did say it was raining......
And then it was just too wet, so I made the sane call (well before the stewards did) and took off for drier climes.
Sergio "I can't keep up Mr Button" Perez demonstrates a spin.
And then it was race day. So where was I? At the camera shop saying why won't this work? Being told "yep its not working - and in dying it fried the battery too......"  So I earnt lots of Katrina grumpy points by buying a new camera body, so I could go to the circuit again and photograph the race.  By the time I got there all the support events were over and it was simply find a spectator place and wait. At least it wasn't raining.
Ferrari vs Mercedes
Race came, race went and while I enjoyed it I don't see the need to front up to another. Well not unless someone gives me seats in a well appointed corporate box! - Not likely.

So after a feed of Melbourne fish and chips - OH YEAH how I have missed decent fish and chips this last year.  Grilled not Fried, with a twist of lemon.

It was off to Geelong and a short visit to the ancestral seat.  Caught up with a collection of parents, brother and his family (most of). And of course on Monday it was overcast and drizzly. By midday it was time to do something. So Mum, Dad and I jumped into the rental (VW Golf) drove to the beach and walked most of the Geelong Bollards.

Bollards I hear you ask. Yes Bollards - those big lumps of wood used to tether ships and give them something to bump into, rather than demolish the wharf.  And what's so interesting about old bollards? Well when the Geelong waterfront was re-developed a whole bunch of well used bollards (newly surplus to requirements) were given to an artist.

The result is 47 installations stretching from Limeburners Point to Rippleside Park. The Bollards are carved and painted to represent elements of local history. They have been there for quite the while now, must be close to two hundred bollards all up in those installations, as while many are a single figure others are in groups of up to six or so. Eminently walkable but a few kilometers in all.

The third bollard represents Cristovao de Mendonca a Portuguese explorer who is believed to have visited Limeburners Point in 1522.
Grand Dame of Society
Sailor and????????
A real life Gnome no less!
There have been enough artefacts found around Geelong to show that something certainly happened. So much so that folklore provides an explanation for the old kettle found washed ashore, believed to have brought the original "little folk settlers" to the region, well in advance of the white settlers.

And then with family visited it was time to go back to Canberra and be there to help Katrina (mostly just by being around) and see young Robert and help him with a few house things. But of course the trip back had its own twist. A few Kilometers out of Holbrook the VW threw up a warming light. Sigh. Pull over (in Holbrook) outside a rather nice bric a brac store, which Katrina benefited from to the tune of a black lace parasol. Two hours later the nice NRMA man, sent by the rental company, had me on the road again.

So alls well and all that...

Friday, 1 March 2013

Muscat Festival (Did I mention the drumming?)

From the frequency of my posts you might have thought that we had been hibernating since Christmas. Far from it.  Katrina is working mighty hard on the thesis, she is in the final lap and is due to submit on the 2nd of April.  No ifs, buts or maybe's.

So the plan is that we will go home to Canberra for a few weeks in March so that Katrina can submit.  We should be flying out on the 10th....  That is of course dependent on work booking my tickets.

I must say that Muscat in Winter is absolutely glorious, mid to low twenties every day and teens overnight. Blue skies and all that. But with Katrina locked away I have kept weekend venturing to a fairly low level. That and a quick weekend in Dubai to say hi to Megan, Jamie and kids as they moved from Sydney to Manchester. And then the week in Brussels.

Mattrah from behind - corniche, Portuguese fort
and on the right the Sultan's yacht.
Oh and of course wandering through another of Oman's Geotrail walks. This one took me from the back of an amusement park across some rocky spurs and into a wadi with an abandoned village and out through the back of the Matrah souq. Fabulous isolation and it was interesting at midday to go from complete silence and solitude to hearing the mosque calls coming in from all directions and bouncing off the cliff walls. The walk then finished by following a small stream to a pond and a quick, but very steep scramble across a spur.  Along the way there were some excellent views of the old Matrah souq and port area.

Silver harness, singing and parading, who says you
 have to be demure on horseback!
At the end of January the Muscat Festival kicked off and finishes tonight (the 28th of Feb). It's kind of a mix of a Royal Show and a cultural fair. We went to two of the three sites - to be honest the events at the third didn't sound all that interesting - light shows, concerts and a food court. And of the two sites we went to one was wasted for us - no kids.

Greater friendship hath no man...
But Al-Amirat Park was well worth the two visits we made there and the Traditional Horse sports on the local beach turned out to be a lot of fun as well. So the Muscat Festival was in the end well worth the visits and next time we will be back for more!.

The first thing we went and saw was the horse sports. Nice being so close to home, so we took the 4wd down the beach, parked behind a bit of a dune and wandered into the spectator area.  The whole thing happened between 4pm and dusk, which was a little after 5:30.

Drums ahoy!
To note that things were about to start a local traditional music group of drummers, bagpiper, shell player and dancer/singers paraded in.  What a racket, but they had a great time and we were all entertained. To us this quickly became the signature of the Muscat Festival, frantic drumming with an underlay of horn (sea-shell) and pipes.

Brave is all I can say!

The start was a parade by all the horses and riders that would be participating, numbered some two to three hundred horses and riders in all. Made an impressive sight as the horses were lined up, by colour, maybe 20 wide and paraded down the beach to acknowledge the viewing pavilion   (Men inside, women outside. I got told off when I went over to give Katrina my hat, but when I explained what I was doing the attendant was suitably understanding.)

And then they were off - mad careening charges down the beach.  At first they simply charged by (well apart from the guy with the trick saddle that opened proceedings.) But it wasn't long before they started coming down at full tilt two and three abreast, holding hands. This led to hands on shoulders, rubbing noses and finally standing - all while riding at full tilt. That there was only one fall was rather amazing, he tried solo standing, lost his footing, almost recovered and Katrina thought he was going to bowl me over as he came off and bounced. Not a bit of it, but I did get a half decent shot of him coming off. It was with much relief that I watched him stand up and run off after the horse, but that lasted about ten paces before the body said hang on I really, REALLY HURT! He did leave unassisted later, but obviously in second-hand condition.
Horse sports are over, time for more drumming.

Did I mention there were drummers at Amirat park?
And then to Amirat. This was fabulous, traditional food, dancing, singing, did I mention the drumming? and arts and crafts. A Bedou camp, camels, weaving, woodwork, frond-crafts (basket-weaving) and so on.  Labnah (Yoghurt) making, grinding grain, decorative sewing... and did I mention the drumming?
The camels at dusk.
Lady crafters at work.
Interestingly there are a lot of woven baskets, or flat bowls that have goat leather sewn on the outside. Apart from making them look good, the real reason is to waterproof the woven baskets so they can carry water or goat/camel milk in them. Amirat park was to a large extent all about the ladies. They were out in droves, dressed in the traditional colourful Omani garb. (Which sadly will gradually disappear as summer arrives and they all go back to wearing the black Hijab.) Women did most of the crafts and "manned" the stalls where fresh traditional food could be bought straight off the griddle, for next to nothing.

Traditional guitar played in the Bedou camp.
We had a great time poking through the stalls and talking to the crafters and others putting on the shows. Last night we went back for a final look see, to cover off the bit we missed before. Glad we did as the first thing we stumbled into was the Ministry for the Traditional Arts and Crafts pavillion.   Yay.  We went a little mad buying things managing to burn through a couple of hundred Rial - almost all of it on local handicrafts!. Coupled with our earlier visits to the Muscat Festival, I think we more than held up our end of the bargain.

Moroccan Craftsman hard at work.

Muscat Festival at night
 But then all too soon it was time to leave and as we left the fireworks started up. So we watched from the car park for a while, before deciding the show was over, only for the spectacular finale burst behind us as we hit the road. But did I mention there was drumming?
It's all over!