The Camino Way

St Jean Pied de Port“The Camino de Santiago known in English as The Way of Saint James among other names, is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organized tour groups” – from Wikipedia

BiarritzFor those who follow my Twitter account (@JohnOhOfSydney) you will know that I was lucky to be booked by a client to join her for a few days walking The Camino de Santiago from the South of France down into Northern Spain earlier this year.

It was a fabulous trip – filled with beautiful scenery, physical challenge, and the solitude of wild places.

Golden eagle on the French PyreneesI am not a religious or spiritual person, but you don’t need to be to enjoy this trek and to grow as a person from the experience. I had the opportunity to practice my photography skills along the way and I can say that the scenery was truly stunning – like nothing that I have ever experienced. I love Australia and the Australian landscape, but I have always had a strong reaction to the deep and vivid greens of European lands and forest.

Camino way Pyrenees forestSomething that surprised me was discovering that there was very little animal life – other than domestic animals – as we walked over the French Pyrenees Mountains. There was some bird life (including golden eagles which were most impressive), but I literally didn’t see a wild animal until we reached Pamplona – and that was a solitary red squirrel.

The food in southern France and Northern Spain was surprising to me. It was probably the biggest cultural difference from Australia. The local food was very limited in its variety. A lot of bread, cured meat, and cheese – and quiche! I love all of those things, but you can have too much of a good thing…

Lunch at OrissonIt emphasised to me how much Australia has benefited from migrant culture. We have such diversity in the food available to us on any given day on in any place. There will always be Asian food, European food, American food – the list goes on. And our fresh produce is, I think, second to none in the world, and that makes a huge difference to the quality of dishes.

The walking itself was serious and requires preparation. The first day from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles is approximately 27kms. Forest path near RoncesvallesIt would be a long walk just on flat ground, but this part of the trip climbs 1,200 meters over the French Pyrenees and down another 500 meters into northern Spain. It’s a walk that many people split over two days rather than one, but we did the whole thing in one go. It was quite an achievement and a spectacular experience.

For anyone contemplating this walk, I would definitely recommend that you take your time. Don’t rush to get to your next destination. Walk slowly. Stop often. Look around. Take lots of photographs.

There is always another days walk ahead, but taking the time to really enjoy where you are (and will likely never be again!) is invaluable.

If you are contemplating a trip and would like a companion for your travels, then please seem my Travel Page for rates and conditions.

John.

Well, it’s been a while!  I realised today that I haven’t posted anything to my website since June is year (!).

So in the spirit of not being so slack, here is a photo that I took some time ago at the Brick Pit at Sydney Olympic Park.  I’m have posted other images of the Ring Walk in the past, but this one showing the artificial lake that has become home to endangered golden bell frogs and much more wildlife is one of my favourite images.

Brick Pitt lake, Sydney Olympic ParkClick the image to see the full sized version.

It seems like only yesterday that it was January and I was having some time off – the year has truly flown by for me.

In recent times, I have been lucky enough to travel to France and Spain to walk the Camino Way with a client and to spend several days in Tasmania experiencing the best food, wine, art, and culture that Hobart has to offer.  It has been an amazing time – if tiring!

I am still working to process the photos that I have been taking in my travels and I will post more about my trips in due course.

John.

Shoalhaven River walk

My job as a male escort for women is never dull.  I have said many times that I consider it the best job I have ever had. In large part this is because I regularly meet new and interesting people and often do things that I may not have the chance to otherwise.

A case in point is a trip that I have been asked to take with a client who is fulfilling a dream to walk the Camino Way in France and Spain.  I am going along for the first few days of her odyssey then flying home while she continues on across the mountains.

It will be my first time in both France and Spain and I am looking forward to experiencing new places and cultures, not to mention the views of the Pyrenees Mountains – which we will be walking over.

To that end I need to be in good hill walking shape, because – while the Camino Way is a well worn route that thousands of people walk every year, it’s still a serious climb!  So, in preparation I am varying my normal exercise routine – mostly riding my kickbike around the very flat Olympic Park and its surounds – and adding some serious hill walking.

My first walk was down to the Shoalhaven River in the Southern Highlands in New South Wales, a couple of hours south of Sydney.  The Shoalhaven River sits in a very deep gorge that it has carved for itself over the millennia.  And the walk in and out is steep.  The views are beautiful, in that understated Australian landscape way and despite the cold and wind on the valley rim, it was calm and warm down by the river.

It made for an excellent walk that definitely taxed me!  I will be doing similar walks again a few times before I go, and based on the challenge of the first walk it should stand me in good stead for walking the Camino Way!

John.

The ghost of Melbourne (and a life) past

Flinders St station - Melbourne

Flinders St station – Melbourne

I lived in Melbourne before I moved to Sydney. Specifically in Richmond, and before then Prahran when I was at university.

Back then Prahran was the poor cousin to, well, just about every other inner Melbourne suburb. The process of gentrification hadn’t really taken hold and it was still a cheap place to live. Affordable to students and just a short walk from where I studied. But the area was somewhat down at heal. Most of the pubs were still typical inner city dives – dark, smelling of beer, and inhabited by people there to drink away the day and forget. It wasn’t an inspiring landscape.

When we look back on our lives, we have pictures in our heads of the way that places were when we knew them. But nothing stays the same. Everything changes. Life moves on. Especially so in cities. But memories are comfortable places. They don’t challenge us, or ask us to change, or better ourselves. In fact they can be excellent excuses for not changing. For staying the same.

Last week while I was in Melbourne, I was lucky enough to have time to walk down Chapel St on Saturday night. Chapel St (for those of you who don’t know Melbourne) runs from Richmond, all the way down to St Kild. Through South Yarra and Prahran.

When I lived there, Chapel St had two faces: the glamorous South Yarra end and the down-at-heal Prahran end. Walking from one end to the other was to see a (certain) cross-section of life and culture in Australia.

The dazzle of Chapel St on Saturday night

The dazzle of Chapel St on Saturday night

Not any more.

I was truly stunned by what I saw. I had intended to only go half way down Chapel St, then turn right and head back to my hotel. But when I reached the half way point I was amazed to see that the glitter of South Yarra now spilled on into Prahran. Even the South Yarra end was more alive. More restaurants, more people, more activity – More life!

I blame Fifty Shades... but not too much

I blame Fifty Shades… but not too much

And it just went on and on… The further I walked, the bigger the change. The few restaurants in Prahran and the dingy shops have been replaced with more eating places than I could count – it seemed like every third shop front was a restaurant. And the shops themselves were now much more up market. And everywhere were people! Masses of them. When once Chapel St was a bit of a desert, even on Saturday night, now it was positively crowded! Tables full of people clogged the footpath, security staff stood guard at door after door of trendy pubs, clubs, and eateries. And everywhere were people going too and fro.

It was like nothing I ever expected to see in my old home.

And it was invigorating!

Chasers nightclub still exists?  25 years later?  How is that still 'cool'?

Chasers nightclub still exists? 25 years later? How is that still ‘cool’?

Not expecting to see anything of note, I didn’t bother to take my camera and sadly my phone battery died as well, so I only have a few photos to share. I tried to capture the moment, but it’s not an easy thing to do with such a brief photo essay.

Having walked the length of Chapel St and confirmed that my favourite theatre (The Astor) was indeed still there, I turn off Chapel St, walking past my old university (much renovated and upgraded I saw) and into the comparative darkness and quiet of High St, heading back to my hotel.

The walk gave me time to think. And the lesson that my exploration of Chapel St was trying to teach me was this: life is about change – or more to the point: life should be about change.

Especially when we are talking about ourselves. Places that stay the same, that don’t evolve, don’t challenge us. They allow us to be comfortable with who and what we are. They allow us to not grow. The extreme changes in Chapel St made me realise that not only were the memories that I had of that place no-longer current, but that my attitude toward that place was not even relevant any more! It made me stop and ask the question of _who_ I really am. Am I the person who went to university there? Are the ideas and attitudes that were shaped by that place – that doesn’t even exist any more – still useful and relevant? Was I living in the past? Did I need to look harder at myself?

The answer was and is: yes. We always need to be looking at ourselves, asking ourselves whether the ideas and beliefs that we hold are still relevant? Or are they holding us back from doing and being what we need to be? Are we letting the past dictate our future? Is it time to build a new life that gives us the things that we really want?

I wouldn’t expect Youtube to throw up instructional life lessons, but someone there threw up some ideas that mesh well with my exploration of Chapel St. He said words to the effect of: you need to stop regularly and ask yourself “Am I doing the one thing that I really want to be doing with my life?”. If the answer is no, then that is what you need to do.

Of course not everyone can simply change the course of their lives. We all have commitments and history that place limits on us. But the lesson is sound: we need to be constantly assessing ourselves and our life and making the changes that we need to make to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

This about the hardest, most scary thing that most people can do. We are hemmed in from day to day by responsibilities, by “conventional wisdom”, by expectations, by our own fear of change. But we can’t let that stop us.

We have to be brave – because the world simply WILL NOT WAIT for us. It will change around us. It will not care how difficult life will become. So it is up to every one of us to take on that challenge and find a way to thrive.

John.

Stop and smell the roses – we only get one life

Tasmania is beautiful. If you have never been there, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to stay on the east coast, near Feycinet National Park (pronounced frey-sin-ay) for three nights recently. It is a truly magnificent area with rugged mountains, beautiful beaches (with rather cold water this time of year!), fabulous fresh produce, beautiful wildlife, and much to see and do.

I will share below, some photos that I took, but I also want to talk about how it made me feel. Sometimes trips away can be exhausting, but I truly found this place to be a pleasure to visit and for reasons that I can’t explain, it was a relaxing and refreshing experience. No hustle and bustle perhaps. Fresh air and good food. Exercise, but no grind and stress. I came home feeling truly invigorated by the experience and curious to see more of Tasmania one day.

The lesson that it taught me is that the world is a remarkable place. Worthy of exploration. Worthy of protection. And as people we often forget this. We are wrapped up in lives that don’t afford us the time, energy, or money to really appreciate the beauty  and fun of the world.

The same can be said for sex and our sexuality. Like quiet enjoyment of nature, being able to enjoy sex means that we need to be able to put aside the worries of the day and of life and truly be in the moment. Not an easy thing to do in a busy world where everything else takes priority in our lives – and society is so often busy sending us mixed messages about sex and what part it should play in our lives.

I hope that you enjoy the photos below.

John.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

The Hazards

The Hazards

Coles Bay

Coles Bay

Swanwick Bay pelicans

Swanwick Bay pelicans

Tasmanian devil

Tasmanian devil

Wineglass Bay from Cape Tourville

Wineglass Bay from Cape Tourville

Wineglass Bay from Cape Tourville

Wineglass Bay from Cape Tourville

The Nuggets

The Nuggets

The Tasman Sea under leaden sky

The Tasman Sea under leaden sky

A Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) over Carp Bay

A Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) over Carp Bay

All good things must come to an end, but this is hardly a disappointing place to fly home to!

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour

A grand day out!

It’s spring in Sydney, the weather is fine, and it’s time for the beach.  What could be more grand than that?

WARNING
this short film contains nudity and is NOT SAFE FOR WORK

If you would like your own grand day out (or night in) with me, then drop me a line.

John.

Canberra in July

2016-07-21 21.12.45Two weeks ago I was in Melbourne. This week I’m in Canberra for a couple of day!

2016-07-22 10.16.28 20160722_110630I haven’t been so lucky with the weather – it’s pretty wet and blowy down here today – but it just makes it a nice day to sit in a cafe, drink tea, and write. Something of a luxury really.

The aesthetic of cities changes with the season. Having lived in Canberra a couple of times, the thing I remember most about winter is the stark beauty of the European trees, stripped of their leaves by the cold…

Walking to the cafe this morning I saw a bus with a bike rack on the front (and two bikes attached). I have never seen this before and it struck me as a very clever idea! Especially in a city like Canberra where public transport and you intended destination may not line up well. Being able to take your bike “on” the bus seems like a splendid idea.

A black truffle

It’s truffle season here in Canberra – and while I am not traditionally a fan of truffle oil – I have been sampling some fresh truffle and found it quite delightful. If you love truffles then Canberra is a great place to be in July, not just to eat truffles, but I am told that there are people who will take you out truffle hunting in a Truffière (the French name for a truffle orchard).

Since truffles grow underground on the roots of trees (often oaks), the hunt is conducted by truffle hounds (yes dogs! What can’t they do I ask you?) – or some people I have heard off use pigs (who love truffles too). The dogs can smell the truffle from above ground and lead the hunters right too them. It’s a rather quaint kind of industry, but given the price that black truffles fetch in restaurants (up to AUD$3000 per kilogram), it also a very serious business.

So, if you were thinking of a trip away somewhere for a weekend and are happy in a cool climate then I think that a truffle tour in Canberra would be a lot of – tasty – fun.

John.

A clear Melbourne winter day

For some reason the last few months have seen lots of bookings for me in Melbourne.  It’s nice to come down here, even in winter.

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It’s been a fun weekend, with a variety of Melbourne weather as one would expect.  I came prepared though and have remained warm and dry.

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I had forgotten just how beautiful Albert Park can be!  It’s a lovely spot.  I used to cycle around Albert Park with a cycling group when I lived in Prahran once upon a time.  It’s hard to forget the crisp Melbourne mornings.

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The things you see from up high!  The office building beside my hotel was in the process of being smashed apart, very slowly.  It’s strange to see buildings that seem perfectly useful being demolished.  It’s a similar situation around Olympic Park where I live – the office buildings being slowly bought up and then knocked down to build apartment blocks.

20160709_131533If I had a dollar for every time I have peered down a tram line trying to decide if that dot is actually a tram…  I miss Melbourne trams.  They really are part of the culture.  And so much more civilised than buses.

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It was a crisp sunny morning in Melbourne, the trees bare, and a cold breeze, but the sun keeping things warm!

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An excellent chance for a trip to the National Gallery of Victoria!  I haven’t been in years.

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The water wall at the entrance of the NGV is one of my favourite pieces of architecture.  It really is compelling.
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And this is why you should never sneak up on a Volkswagen Beetle!  Needless to say it’s not good for your resale value…
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I really have to say it’s a fabulous piece of art!

Next I spent some time walking through the Asian art collection.  I love seeing functional objects that are also made beautiful.  Asian cultures seem especially adept at this.

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Then we have the…

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I found the preponderance of religious iconography, heavy guilt frames, and sheer weight of oil rather oppressive and claustrophobic.

There were some gems though, including a Turner seascape,

20160709_142331this Monet,

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And some rather handsome marble busts.  I never cease to be amazed by what a capable sculptor can do with marble and some tools.

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If you have been following the news in NSW, then you will know that grey hound racing is being banned due to the appalling training practices of some owners, and the high number of dogs who die simply because they are too slow to race.  This detail (of a much larger painting) encapsulates why I agree with the ban.  Domesticated dogs can’t help but love humans.  They do whatever they can to please us.  So that puts the responsibility on us to make sure that their loyalty and love isn’t abused.  So if you are thinking about a dog, why not adopt a grey hound?

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The NGV has some rather nice restaurants these days.  I had a lovely lunch with a view of my favourite window!

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The Yarra River may have a poor reputation, but it’s a lot cleaner these days and you can’t deny that it’s beautiful on a crisp sunny morning!

I love this stretch particularly beside the boat sheds where I used to row.

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The old…

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And the new…

And with that, I am heading home!  It’s nice to visit Melbourne, but there’s no place like home and I am ready for my own space and most of all, my own bed!  So good bye Melbourne.  I will be back in September!  If you would like to book, please contact me, or keep an eye on this site for my travel dates.

John.