Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Let there be light!

We may not have snow or chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but Brisbane does know how to put on a Christmas light show.

For the second year, some friends and I joined the crowds in King George Square to watch the Brisbane City Hall transform into a Christmas wonderland.

This year, the projected light show tells the story of the Nutcracker.

With the facade of City Hall as the stage, there's a lot going on.

When midnight strikes, young Clara's enchanted Christmas gift leads her into a wonderous world.

With the valiant Nutcracker by her side, Clara defeats King Rat and his giant mice, and journeys to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.

There the Sugar Plum Fairy bids everyone to dance in her honour.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fake festive scenes

The fire is roaring and it's snowing outside.  The scene couldn't be more idyllic.

Importantly, I haven't let the fact that I'm sitting in a unit without a fireplace in the middle of summery Brisbane stand in the way of my desire for a white and wintery Christmas.

Once again, Netflix is delivering where Mother Nature, geography and wealth has not.

Imagine my delight while scrolling through Netflix's Holiday Favourites to discover Fireplace For Your Home.

Yep.  That's 60 minutes of flames.   Well, actually 3 x 60 minutes of flames as you have three options (complete with their provided descriptions).
  • Crackling Yule Log Fireplace
    • This edition includes a crackling yule log set to holiday favourites such as Joy to the World and We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Crackling Fireplace
    • This instalment includes an old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace.  enjoy the bright and cheery flames and the real crackling of the fire!
  • Crackling Fireplace with Music
    • This program offers the next best thing to a cheery, crackling fire, enhance with a tasteful accompaniment of music to set the right ambience
I like the fact that there are captions - just in case there's any confusion about what's going on.

I also like the fact that there are options without Christmas music.  After all, pyromaniacs need something to watch during the year don't they?

Sure, it was pretty exciting when that other piece of wood caught fire about 13 minutes in, but for my money I pick the Fireplace For Your Home's stable mate: Winter Wonderland for your Home - snow scenery for your television.

No prizes for guessing what this one's about, but as the description reads:
Setting a wintery mood has never been so easy.  Snowy background scenes appear every few minutes and are accompanied by holiday music.

Wait for it... a scene change!

It's full of "surprises" and "action" as it shifts from a range of snowy scenes.

Oh, the river

And then the mountains

And the lake
Why all this snow at home is enough to make me want to cancel my upcoming ski trip.  Why leave my living room when it's all right here?  I must be mad!

Finally, should you be feeling a little bit "bah humbug" about the whole season, then there's some other non-Christmas options for you:
  • Aquarium - Goldfish
  • Cascade Mountain Stream
  • Aquarium - Saltwater Reef
Netflix.   It just keeps giving.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Caught between a rock and a hard place

It could be my perfect hermit home.

Tucked into a fissure in a Welsh limestone cliff, you'd need to know the tiny building was there as it can barely be seen from land or water.

And even if people did somehow decide to drop by, they'd need to navigate the 52 slippery and uneven stairs down.
My new home?  St Govan's Chapel

Importantly, St Govan's Chapel was previously home to another hermit so you know it's fit for purpose.
St Govan's Chapel tucked in a small cliff fissure

Consisting of a single room measuring about 6m by 4m, St Govan's Chapel must be one of Pembrokeshire's tiniest churches.   But what it lacks in stature, it makes up for in quirkiness.

A home with a sea view

It clearly wasn't built to manage the Christmas and Easter worshipping hordes.  In fact, you could swear it's pretty much designed to keep people away.  You can see the appeal.   If it had windows, doors, heating and wifi I'd be moving in.
Inside St Govan's Chapel 

The little chapel dates back to the 13th Century and is apparently built on the site of a cave that was once sanctuary to St Govan.

As the tale goes, St Govan was an Irish monk travelling to Wales when pirates attacked him.   The cliff magically opened up and left a fissure big enough for him to hide in.   The pirates left, but St Govan stayed on to live in the small cave.

Like all good stories there's plenty of conjecture about whether his body (or his silver bell) is buried here, but otherwise the chapel itself is a blank canvas.   A small well nearby, now dry, was also believed to have special healing powers.

The well (now dry)

But maybe St Govan's Chapel isn't as quirky as it sounds.  You see in this corner of the world, churches seem to come in two sizes: super small or super big.

A little further west are the ruins (and a modern remake) of the small St Non's Chapel.  It marks the birthplace of St David, who, as patron saint of Wales, is a fairly big deal in these parts.   In real estate terms, it's a fixer-upper, but to you and I it doesn't have a roof or many standing walls.

Ruins of St Non's Chapel
Just steps away is a modern remake of the Chapel.  You could probably get married or have your funeral here, just be sure you don't have many friends as it's pretty small.

The rugged Pembrokeshire coastline

The modern version of St Non's Chapel
In complete contrast is the mammoth and ornate interior of the nearby St David's Cathedral, in the town of St Davids.

The imposing St David's Cathedral
Inside St Davids

Despite its size, it's mostly hidden from view because it was designed to be tucked away in a valley below the village to hide it from marauders (don't they just sound annoying!) sailing along the coast.

Tucked away in the valley

St David's bones are also believed to be kept here, adding to the allure of the place over the centuries.

Shrine that's home to St David's bones

St David's Cathedral seems ridiculously large given the size of the tiny village it sits in, but in medieval times this was one of the most important shrines of medieval Christendom.

Back then, two pilgrimages to St Davids was equivalent to one to Rome.

Either way, it's a long haul for this antipodean hermit but well worth the hike.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Bring me Bota Bota

It seems everyone's in the same boat, and that small boat it leaking, taking on water fast and very, very slowly making its way towards Christmas.

With any luck, we'll all make it to shore alive on 25 December... maybe without having tossed a few people over the side along the way (either to lighten the load or just because we feel like it).

It all gets a bit frantic and crazy at this time of year doesn't it?

This weekend, I was craving some time out, but felt even flopping on the bed just didn't cut it.

I needed a place where I could go for a few hours and completely switch off.  I needed a place like Bota Bota.

Bota Bota - a boat with so much more

Sadly, Bota Bota is in Montreal, Canada, but that won't deter me from torturing you and myself reminiscing about this amazing place.

Bota Bota is a day spa, but so much more, located on an re-purposed boat permanently moored in Montreal's Old Port.

The boat itself is a black beast of a thing, sitting among the old industrial port that is gaining new life as an urban recreation wonderland.

Stepping aboard Bota Bota
Sure, Bota Bota has massages, treatments and all the usual trappings of a day spa, but what I signed up for was the Nordic bath circuit.

In short, this is a self-paced rotation through dry saunas, steam baths, cool plunge pools and outdoor hot tubs.

This circuit is ridiculously relaxing, with the hot and cold treatment melting tense muscles and leaving me slightly light headed.

You can spend as little or as long as you want in each place - no one is there telling you to move on.

In fact no one is saying much at all.

Bota Bota with downtown Montreal just steps away
One of the rules at Bota Bota is that talk is to kept to a minimum (a tick of approval from me already).  Any mobile phones, cameras and other electronic devices are left in the bowels of the boat along with your clothes (you are wearing your swimmers and a white fluffy robe).  

So no one's taking selfies, and no one's talking on the phone to friends.   It's peaceful and quiet.  Just bliss.

In between sweating in the sauna and freezing in the plunge pool, I take some time out in some of the indoor and outdoor spaces throughout the boat designed to chill out, relax, or in my case pass out and sleep.  

One of the chill out areas - the lounges on the deck
What makes this place so phenomenal is how utterly relaxing it is - all while being just footsteps away from Montreal's Old Town.   I can see the bustling city right in front of me from the bubbling hot tub, but I feel so detached it's as though I'm watching it on a giant television screen.

Even more amazing is the price.   This isn't a lifestyle retreat with a hefty price tag.

You can lounge around for as long as you like for as little as $45 for three hours.      There's also a bar and cafe on board should you want to make a day of it.

If I had my way, Bota Bota would pull up its anchor and motor on up the Brisbane River.  I'd be there every weekend.