Travel-inspired paintings

With more time after retirement, I decided to teach myself to paint.  I found I have no inborn talent and the key is practice and persistence.  But we also like to travel. That steals time available to paint and tends to create “art inertia.”  Once stopped, it is hard to get going again.

Ideally to paint a portrait, I would: do drawings of the model, take a bunch of photos; go back to the studio; do the basic painting; and then bring back the model and create the final work.   Instead, I work from photographs.  I often see interesting people on our travels, but while I can get permission to use their photos, I can’t bring them to the studio.

Here are a few photos and the paintings they inspired.

Click on photos to enlarge.


Clearly I need more practice, but as much as I enjoy it, inertia has set in yet again.  An unfinished painting sits to my left begging me to get back to it as I type this.

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Corregidor and a Jimmy Carter look-alike

The Manila Hotel, site of General MacArthur’s headquarters.

Manila Bay is huge.  It is forty-eight kilometers from the dock to Corregidor, an island in the mouth of the bay.  The Manila Hotel where General MacArthur held court on the fourth floor was not far from our 2011 ship’s dock.  By 2011 they had added a high-rise wing.

We are history buffs and are old enough that World War II was still “recent” history when we were in school.  Therefore on our first day in Manila [see last week’s post for more about Manila.], we took a boat to Corregidor, now a national shrine dedicated to the Pacific War.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Curiously, construction of most buildings and fortifications on Corregidor began during World War I using Japanese cement.  Japan invaded the American-occupied Philippines on 8 December 1941, ten hours after the bombardment of Pearl Harbor.  They occupied a small island the same day and began the attack on Luzon December 12.  By January 1942, American and Filipino forces had withdrawn to the peninsula of Bataan where they held out for three months before surrendering and suffering the horrible Bataan Death March to prison camps.

I was not aware American and Filipino forces on Corregidor held out so long after the fall of Bataan, just a couple miles across the water.  Many gun and mortar emplacements fought back although most were aimed the wrong direction because the designers planned to defend attacks from the sea.  We saw “Way Battery,” a mortar battery, that had 70% casualties, whose wounded commander continued to fight with the help of his wounded lieutenant until the last mortar overheated and froze up after 12 hours of continuous firing.  He ripped the telephone off the wall so that he could not be ordered to surrender.

“Battery Hearn,” on the top of the island, was able to fire at the Japanese on Bataan, but it also was subject to fire from them, and the Japanese had the advantage of being higher.

A tunnel under the center of the island provided protection from the Japanese bombardment.  We saw a recreation of a hospital ward as we walked through it.

Unfortunately, our very pleasant guide seemed to make up “facts” when he didn’t know the answers, but it led me to go back and do some research.  The battle started with bombardment on December 29, 1941.  Bataan fell April 9, and Corregidor was surrendered May 7th, 1942 after significantly delaying the Japanese conquest of the South Pacific.

Our Guide “Jimmy”

Date of our visit: 3 Mar 11

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They took our temperatures before we were allowed to disembark in Manila.


No, they weren’t worried about COVID-19; this is another post about the 2011 cruise that led to my becoming a blogger.  I don’t recall what their concern was that year.

The Philippines has 7107 islands but just about 2000 are named, and most people live in one of eleven major islands.  After 400 years of Spanish Rule, most are Catholic except Mindanao which is Muslim (five percent of the total population).  We assumed Spanish was the business language, but as a result of American occupation from 1898 to 1946, it is English.  They adopted the U.S. school, political, and legal system.  The local Manila newspaper had comic strips, half in English and half in Tagalog, the dominant native language.  English comics included “Dennis the Menace,” “Mother Goose and Grimm,” “Marvin,” and “Dagwood.”  There is no “f” in the Filipino alphabet, and the use of that letter also comes from the American influence.

Public transportation includes pedi-cabs (foot-powered tricycle cabs), the famous Jeepneys, cabs, buses and a metro.  The Jeepneys were originally surplus World War II Jeeps wildly decorated and used to provide very cheap transportation over regular areas.  Now, they are custom-made with fronts that resemble old jeeps but with extended bodies that hold ten passengers (ten Filipino-size people but they still expect you to squeeze in ten people even if some aren’t Filipino) and Japanese diesel engines.

Click on photos to enlarge.

We were in Manila two days and took a tour of “Modern Manila” which is indeed very modern.  The city has grown to encompass many surrounding towns.  The beautiful American Cemetery, which seemed to be in the “country” when I visited  on business in 1991, is now surrounded by huge expensive high-rise condos.  The cemetery itself, however, is still impressive even on a rainy day.  There are 17,000 graves and the names of 38,600 missing in action are engraved on marble panels.  The landscaping is beautiful, and large mosaic maps describe the Pacific war.

We then went to the Ayala Museum, funded by a local entrepreneur.  It had a wonderful exhibit of native gold objects produced between the tenth and thirteenth centuries.  The work was much finer and more delicate than the South American gold we have seen.  Indeed, it was as good as modern jewelers can produce.  The museum also had models of wooden sailing ships and dioramas depicting Philippine history as well as a special exhibit of pottery and textiles showing ancient trade with the rest of Asia.  It was nice for us that everything was labeled in English.

After a quick stop at a tourist trap in the old walled city, the “Intramuros,” we went back to the ship where we were entertained by children from the orphanage Hospicio de San José which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2010.  The children sang and danced, and the Mayor of Manila, who was himself in the orphanage for nine years, spoke to us.


Date of our visit: 4 Mar 11

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An unexpected adventure in Northeast Australia.

Last week’s post mentioned meeting our “courier” in Cairns.  Frequent flyer programs in 1986 were much more generous.  I soon accumulated enough miles on business to fly coach from Newark, New Jersey to Cairns, Australia.  We signed up for an AAT Kings tour that began in Cairns and would take us to the north, center and south of the country.

Then the surprises began.  Continental had no direct connections to our destination.  We left Newark November 16th and flew to Denver, then to Los Angeles, then to Honolulu, then to Auckland, then to Sydney, then to Brisbane, then to Townsville and finally to Cairns.  We were en route 42 hours spending 27 in the air before we arrived at the Cairns Tradewinds Outrigger hotel.  We decided to have an early dinner and go to bed.  The dining room was empty, so only the waitress saw me fall asleep as I watched her bring our meal across the room.

Tradewinds Outrigger, Cairns

Refreshed the next morning, we went outside expecting to board a large tour bus for next two weeks in Australia.  Instead, we were surprised when Kevin Walker said he would be our courier, our driver.  In all, there were only four other passengers in our Toyota Landcruiser.

Heading north toward Port Douglas, we saw sugar cane fields near Trinity Bay.  North of Port Douglas, we entered the Daintree Rain Forest on a dirt road.   We stopped along the way to look at tea orchids, swing over road on a fig tree vine and scout for crocodiles in the rivers.

We were told that five things could kill us if we swam at Cape Tribulation: sharks, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, stonefish, and crocodiles.  A dive master once taught me to swim with sharks, but I chose not to swim there.

The road beyond was closed to all except those who had permits and, like our vehicle, it also offered surprises.  Our courier demonstrated bouncing rocks and floating rocks [very light weight lava].  Later, we needed to winch a car driven by German tourists out of the Bloomfield river.  Kevin asked us to watch for crocodiles while he waded out to hook the winch to their car.

Click on photos to enlarge. The photos are digital copies of 1986 slides from a inexpensive camera. 😢

After spending the night in Cooktown [In 1770 Captain James Cook beached his ship, the “Endeavor,” for repairs near there.], we moved on to Butchers Hill, a 12,000-acre peanut farm, where we saw ghost gum trees, skinny cattle, red tailed black cockatoos and wallabies.  On the way, we swam in the Annan River where Kevin assured us we were above the falls and therefore safe from crocs.

After a night in a horrible bed, we headed back for Cairns on red dirt roads with huge potholes filled with “bull dust.”  We passed giant anthills and saw bustards and kites.  We stopped at Split Rock and looked a Guguyalangi aboriginal cave paintings and at Quinkan Reserves and Mossman Gorge.

The next day we took a catamaran to Great Barrier Reef where I made two scuba dives off Hastings Reef and Green Island. But Alie saw more sea-life walking through the Green Island underwater observatory.  [As there were only two of us diving, my guide asked if I would mind diving outside the reef where he had never been – but waves had scoured away most plants and animals.]

After taking the train to Kuranda the next day [subject of last week’s post], just the two of us flew on to Alice Springs for a few days and then to Sydney for the last part of our Australian visit.  We continued to have some great experiences, but it was all aboard large typical tour buses with no more “surprises.”

Dates of our visit for the courier portion: 19-23 November 1986

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Cairns and Kuranda, Australia: back then and then again.

1986 road from Port Douglas to Cookstown through the Daintree rainforest.

We passed through the beach resort town of Cairns, Australia twice in 1986, first to meet our “courier” who would drive us around the Northeast tip of Australia and then back to catch a train to Kuranda.  That was thenThen we visited again on our 2011 cruise.

In 1986, Cairns was just a small town where a two-story structure was considered a big building.  I was astounded that our restaurant charged the same for chicken as it did for rack of lamb.  We chose the latter.

High above Cairns, Kuranda was an even smaller mountain village surrounded by rainforest.

Kuranda was settled as a mining and logging town in 1855.  A rail line from Cairns to Kuranda was completed in 1891.

Before the completion of the railroad, Kuranda residents were often stranded when the muddy trails became impassable.  We were told it averaged 100 inches of rain a year and in 1979 had 109 inches in one 6-day period.  This was of particular interest to us in 1986 because we were there at the tail end of the dry season in a year of drought.  They only opened a dam when the train passed by Barron Falls so that tourists could see it with water.

Click on photos to enlarge.

In 2011, we had a difficult time recognizing Cairns.  It was much larger and had several high buildings and a casino.  Both times, a road led to Port Douglas where one can get boats out to the Great Barrier Reef.  But the small two-lane road in 1986 had become a four-lane thoroughfare with 16 roundabouts each with connections to beach communities along the way.

Sugar care, the major industry of the 1980s, still prospered.  It was not good weather for a beach community, however.  It rained all day.  Sometimes it was just a mist, and sometimes it poured.

Instead of taking a train to Kuranda, we rode a Skyrail Rainforest Cableway gondola up through the rain and clouds.  This time, as are gondola passed by, Barron Falls was a raging torrent, but the rain was too heavy for photographs.

Kuranda began to promote itself as a village in the rainforest in the 1970s.  It was rather bohemian in 1986 but was completely dependent on tourism by 2011.

Rather than shop, we walked the Jumrum Creek Trail.  We think we walked the same trail in 1986, but by 2011 it was paved.  When we reached the creek we once walked across with dry feet, the water was twenty feet wide and passed over the trail in a series of rapids.  On the way, we saw several rain-soaked “bush turkeys” which looked like bedraggled buzzards with red heads.

Back in Cairns for the evening, Alie and I went out into the rain again to the “Night Market,” a really tacky indoor flea market that offered everything from jewelry to massage.

Dates of our visits:      23 Nov 1986; and 24 February 2011

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the “Coat Hanger Bridge”

Before I blew a knee in 2007, I would jog around a new city when I arrived.  So on our second day in Sydney in 2011 [see last week’s post], I just walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Commuters walked and joggers were running on the bridge with cars and double decker commuter trains.  Ferries bustled back and forth in the harbor below carrying even more commuters.

Then I walked around “The Rocks,” an area where settlers first landed in 1788, by 2011 a fashionable area of pubs, restaurants and shops.

Later Michelle joined Alie and I for another walk.  We passed the posh Intercontinental Hotel in a building that started as an 1850 stable and later became the Treasury Building.

An entrance sign to the Royal Botanical Garden encouraged us: “Please walk on the grass.”  We looked at roses and huge trees and had our picture taken by a gigantic Moretown Bay Fig.

Outside the 1788 Sydney Hospital is a bronze boar with a sign that said donating a coin and rubbing its nose brought good luck.   The nose was rubbed shiny as was another part.  The current hospital building dates to 1811.

Click on photos to enlarge.

At the New South Wales Gallery of Art, we made our way through heavy crowds of school children and other visitors to see the special exhibit of Qin First Emperor Terracotta Army figures (210 B.C.) from China with fourteen of the actual figures and a chariot and horses.  Unfortunately, photography was prohibited.  But you have probably seen photos of the life-sized statues each with unique features.  I doubt we will ever see the more than 8000 figures at the site in China.  But despite the lines and crowds, we were glad to seize this opportunity to see at least a few of the actual figures.

Back on board, our day was rounded out with a great sail away party.  When they stopped the ship to disembark an Australian brass band, I got a great view of a square-rigged replica of the 1606 Dutch ship “Duyfken” which discovered the north coast of Australia.  Holland America had hired it to escort the Amsterdam out.  We also saw a ten meter “America’s Cup” boat under sail.

As I have often written before, cruises don’t give you an in-depth time anywhere, but they do take you to places you might never otherwise see.


Date of our visit: 21 Feb 11

Prior to this series about the 2011 cruise that led to my first blog post, I wrote two other posts about stops on that cruise: Chinese Gooseberries [here] and Madang [here] .

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The Blue Mountains, Australia

We opted for the least expensive sea-view cabin we could get.  It had a porthole on the lowest passenger deck.  But after a night at sea, I opened our curtains and there was the iconic Sydney Opera House.  The Opera House, opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1973, was derided but is now one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture and engineering in the world.  What do critics know?

We docked in Circular Quay, the ideal location to see Sydney. On the other side of the ship was the “coat hanger” bridge built in 1932 and still the world’s widest bridge.

1986 view of Sydney with the Opera House in the upper center and the “Coat Hanger” bridge beyond it.  Our hotel that year wasn’t in as good a location as our 2011 ship.

We took a bus tour of the “Blue Mountains,” actually steep valleys cut into an ancient sandstone plain.

Going out of town, we crossed the ANZAC bridge, the only place in Australia that flies both the Australian and New Zealand flags perpetually.  The bridge has two high pillars holding up two massive sets of triangular cables; it was locally known as “Madonna’s Bra.”

“Madona’s Bra”

We stopped at the 2000 Olympic stadium, site of a recent Rolling Stones concert; Our guide referred to the band as the “Strolling Bones.”  Nearby was a field of poles inscribed with the names of seventy-five thousand volunteers who helped during the games.  The old press and media quarters were now used for annual cattle and sheep shows which struck me as particularly appropriate.

The “blue” in the mountains, like the U.S. Blue Ridge Mountains, comes from a haze, but this haze is aggravated by the presence of eucalyptus oil from the hundreds of varieties of eucalypts.

It is a very suburban area.  The boundaries of Sydney extend an hour and a half out from the main harbor on a main road, and driving up the hills through villages reminded me of I-78 coming out from New York through the towns of New Jersey.  These towns, however, faced the danger of huge brush fires fueled by eucalyptus oil.  [Fires subsequently burned 46 million acres in 2019-2020.]

In 1994, they found a stand of 38 Wollemi Pines which previously had only been seen in 65-million-year-old fossils; they were thought to be extinct.  Genetically identical, they seem to propagate through stems and new cuttings.  Since 2006, the Australian government has made cuttings available, and we later saw one near Circular Quay.

We stopped at Echo Point, a look out where we saw the steep canyons on the western side of the mountains and the “Three Sisters” rock formation before going on to lunch at “Scenic World.”  Despite the obvious tourist trap nature of the place, we had a wonderful buffet lunch and then took their funicular, at fifty-two degrees the steepest in the world, down into the valley for a walk through the temperate rainforest.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The cars drop 206 meters over a 415-meter track starting down through an 80-meter natural tunnel.  As we entered the tunnel, speakers played the theme from “Indiana Jones.”

In 1878, there were about forty coal mines at the bottom.  As we walked along the trail, we saw a magpie, the ruin of an old mine and a rusted out “rope car” used to haul up oil shale, and a fascinating ribbon gum tree.  The bark of the tree naturally peels off in ribbons – another contributor to fierce brush fires.

We ascended by way of a modern cable car and went to the touristy town of Leura whose buildings all seem to date from 1910 to 1920.

Unlike most cruise ports, we were docked in Sydney for two days.  That evening we took a cab to Sydney’s Chinatown for dinner at the New Tai Yuan Restaurant,” a restaurant that had more Chinese than tourists which we considered to be a plus.  Then we walked to see the bright lights of Darling Harbor, an old port area that has been renovated with restaurants, bars and entertainment.

Date of our visit: 20 Feb 11

We spent a few days in Sydney in 1986.  It was interesting to see the changes, especially the vibrant Darling Harbor area.

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Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, a nice place to visit, but I’m glad I didn’t live there.

Model of the prison complex at Port Arthur

What is now just a large open-air museum at Port Arthur had been a horrible penal colony in the early 1800s.  It was a “punishment station” where they sent second offenders, those who had already been transported and then did something else, even simply stealing some food.

Point Puer, on a nearby island, was the first English “reform school.”  Three thousand boys were imprisoned there between 1834 and 1849, some as young as nine years old.

There were no women convicts.  Those were sent to “Cascade” in Hobart where the severity of their crimes was indicated by the length of their hair – the shorter the hair, the worse the behavior.

Once at Port Arthur, further infractions led to worse punishment: flogging with a cat ‘o nine tails up to 100 lashes (Norfolk Station gave up to 300); being put on a human treadmill that was used to power the flour mill; or in last resort being put in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day with one hour of exercise per day – alone.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Port Arthur is on a peninsula whose narrow neck was guarded by large hungry mastiffs.  Of each 100 soldiers on guard, 12 were allowed to bring their wives.  By 1840, the military quarters were so crowded, they were sleeping on the floor with less space than the convicts.

For the time, however, Port Arthur was supposed to be a model of enlightened prison reform.  There was a hospital, a church and vegetable and ornamental gardens.  The convicts worked 12 hours and went to school in the evening.  Many learned some of the 42 trades taught.  220 boats were built in the boatyard (which must have been a special mental punishment for those working on them).  There were 13,2000 books in the library.  Altogether, 162,000 men, women and children were transported.  73,000 went to Tasmania.  About 7500 prisoners served 12,500 sentences at Port Arthur (some had more than one).  The Isle of the Dead in the harbor is said to have the graves of about 1100 prisoners.

They stopped transporting convicts in 1853.  Port Arthur became an asylum for the old, the frail and “lunatics” in 1860.  It closed in 1877.  Fire, theft and recycling of the building materials gradually reduced the place to ruins.  There wasn’t much to our tour: forty-five minutes of lecture and a twenty-minute boat ride.  Had we known, we would have just walked around on our own and read the explanatory signs that were everywhere.

As it was, after our tour, we visited the Commandant’s House which sits among huge old trees.  There had been ten commandants from 1830 to 1877.  The house survived because after the prison closed, it was used as a hotel and a boarding house during a brief attempt to create a town, Carnavon.

Sometimes we are dismayed at the state of our world.  But aren’t we lucky to live now rather than in the first half of the 19th century when an abscessed tooth was a common cause of death and transport to Australia was seen as a viable alternative to English prisons, debtors’ prisons, and workhouses.

Date of our visit: 18 Feb 11

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Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


Tasmania, an island with 3300 kilometers of coastline, is about the size of Virginia but has only a little over a half million people.  Of these, about forty percent live in the capitol area of Hobart.  Hobart was founded in 1804 as a penal colony.  Tasmania’s early history under the English, like most of Australia, is a grim tale of exploitation.

Leaving Hobart, we passed through the “glebe,” land set aside to support the church, now a suburb.  We then traveled north and east up the Derwent River valley.  Along the way, we saw many black swans in the river, but it was hard to get a picture from the moving bus.

We stopped for a break in New Norfolk.  Founded in 1807, it served as a mental asylum for convicts prior to the 1860s and was a true “frontier town.”  Today, it resembles something out of the U.S.’ 1950s.

Suburban housing quickly gave way to a broad agricultural valley with a great variety of crops including cherries and other fruits and berries, dairy, sheep and cattle, and grain.  Blue gum and pine trees provide pulp and lumber.  In the north, they raise tulips exported to Holland in the winter.  White cherries are sent to Japan for the Christmas season.  We saw fields of garlic whose tops I originally mistook for opium bulbs.  We were told, however, Tasmania is the largest producer of legal opium.  They also produce 70 percent of the hops for the Australian beer industry.  Hops start as small plants and are trained eight feet up strings to wires overhead.  We saw field after field of them at all stages.  Beer and opium: one wonders if they have moved on to marijuana now.

Click on photos to enlarge.

We took a quick walk to Russell Falls in Mount Field National Park.  It was a lovely walk through a temperate rain forest with huge trees: large “fern trees,” gigantic eucalypts and myrtles.  The parking lot had vehicles from all over the area including campers from New South Wales brought over on ferries.  Tasmania, like New Zealand, is an “outdoors” place.  They have the highest percentage of boat owners in Australia, and we were told some of the biggest stores in Hobart were sporting goods stores.

After hours on a bus with only short stops, we were beginning to think rather badly of the tour when we arrived at Bonorang Park, a wildlife rescue park.   We saw up close, and occasionally even held or petted: a ten-month old wombat (we were told they are “horrible” as adults); a kookaburra in a tree; a blue-tongued lizard who stuck out his inch long bright blue tongue regularly but always too fast to catch in a photo; several Tasmanian devils (in the wild, they are being killed off by a communicable cancer); koalas, a Tawny Frogmouth; wallabies and kangaroos; Sulfur Crested Cockatoos including one that was 48 years old (we had also seen them in the wild); brilliantly colored Rainbow Lorikeets; a Potoroo, the smallest wallaby; and two echidnas, the only creature other than the duck-billed platypus that lays eggs and suckles its young.

The wildlife rescue park rescued our day; it made all that riding worthwhile.

Dry dock for 120-meter long catamarans; a zinc works in the back.

Date of our visit: 17 Feb 11

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Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand

Michelle and Alie kept warm in their blankets while waiters offered hot cocoa and cider.

We have been fortunate to sail on fjords in Alaska, Norway, Chile and New Zealand.  That is an advantage of cruising, but in New Zealand, as was often the case, we only saw them from our ship.

Fiordland National Park is a “World Heritage Site.”  It gets twenty feet of rain a year.  Milford Sound has 182 days of rain a year.

It was overcast while we sat on deck chairs covered by tartan blankets and a waiter served us hot chocolate and cider [another advantage of a cruise].  We cruised through Dusky Sound around Resolution Island and then through Doubtful Sound and around Secretary Island.  There were high distant waterfalls and the marks of landslides.

Dusky Sound

Along the way, we saw much smaller ships including the Oceanic “Discoverer” which was taking on a launch as we passed.  Cruising on a smaller boat might be more interesting because it could get in closer to the rocks, wildlife and waterfalls.

In the afternoon, however, the sun was shining as we entered 512 meter-deep Milford Sound.  It was truly spectacular with steep walls and wide five hundred- and six-hundred-foot-tall waterfalls.  Planes and helicopters flew from the little village at the end of the sound but were just dots along the walls of the fiord.  Seals played on shoreline rocks and an albatross flew overhead.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 14 Feb 11

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