Sculpture garden wows kids – big and small – in St Louis

Giant white rabbits and an invisible man clad in a lolly-pink suit were the last things I expected to see when wandering around downtown St Louis, in the USA’s state of Missouri.

I had stumbled upon Citygarden, two blocks of lush parkland set amongst office towers featuring 24 sculptures by internationally renowned artists, including Tom Claassen, Igor Mitoraj and Kan Yasuda.

The sculptures are thoughtfully dotted around a tranquil space filled with native Missouri trees, exotics, evergreen hedges, wildflowers and water features.

The big kid in me was drawn to the sculpture of Pinocchio by Jim Dine, while my former art student side appreciated the head titled “Eros Bandato” by Igor Mitoraj. His work also appears at the main entrance to the British Museum in London.

Aware that sculptures are tactile creations that we are drawn to touch and feel – I never see a public sculpture without a kid climbing on it –  the Gateway Foundation, which funded the Citygarden project, avoids “do not touch” signs.

Just a few blocks from St Louis’ famous Gateway Arch, the US $30 million Citygarden even features a lawn-covered mound for children to roll down.

The three-acre garden was designed to ensure that those with disabilities will find it easy to navigate. Citygarden is open all-year round, with the look of the garden evolving with the changing seasons.

Creating panoramic shots on Instagram

Instagram favours vertical shots set at 4 x 5 ratio which show well on your phone screen. But what if you have a terrific landscape shot? You don’t want a tiny horizontal photo!

Here’s one editing technique that allows you to create two or three continuous panoramic shots. I use Photoshop, but it should work if you can set ratios on your editing app or program. This is the method I used for the above panoramic shot of frosty Austrian fields posted on Instagram as bestholidayspots2:

  1. Open up Photoshop or your editing app.
  2.  Decide if your landscape-shaped photo would look best as two or three shots. Here I decided on two shots which meant that some of the sides, top and bottom of the photo were cropped out.

For two shots:

  • Open up your landscape shot. Set your crop ratio to 8 x 5. As 5 is the ratio for the vertical side, this means you have allowed for two side-by-side shots at 4 x 5 ratio.
  • Choose your most interesting horizontal section, then crop this photo and save this shot as a jpeg labelling it 8 x 5. Close the shot but DO NOT save the changes to your original image.
  •  Open up the 8 x 5 jpeg. Set your crop to 4 x 5, then move the crop outline so that the section from the left border to the middle of the photo is outlined, then crop. Save this shot as 4 x 5 left and DO NOT save the changes to the 8 x 5 image. You might also like to reduce the 4 x 5 left image in size for Instagram. I save mine as 800 wide x 1000 high. I then save this final left crop as 4 x 5 left insta.
  • I then open up the 8 x 5 jpeg again and repeat the process for the right side of the shot.
  • When you load the two photos on Instagram, they will magically morph into one continuous shot.

For three shots:

When you have more information that you want to keep from your landscape-shaped photo, you might decide on three shots in your Instagram panorama.

  • First, open up your shot. Set the cropping ratio to 12 x 5, then work out what you most want to keep in your shot, then crop it. Save this shot as a jpeg labelling it 12 x 5. Close the shot but DO NOT save the changes to your original image.
  • Open up the 12 x 5 jpeg. Set your crop to 4 x 5, then move the crop outline so that the section from the left border to the middle of the photo is outlined, then crop. Save this shot as 4 x 5 left but DO NOT save the changes to the 12 x 5 image. You might also like to reduce the 4 x 5 left image in size for Instagram. I save mine as 800 wide x 1000 high. I then save this final left crop as 4 x 5 left insta.
  • Then open up the 12 x 5 jpeg again. The crop outline will naturally choose the centre of the shot. Repeat the process for the middle side of the shot and save as middle. Then repeat the process for the right hand side of the shot.

After you have finished one panoramic shot, it gets faster! Good luck!


Symi: island of saints, sinners and stunning scenery

At 10am, the spacious lounge area of the large inter-island ferry docked in the commercial port of the island of Rhodes in Greece has taken on a party atmosphere. It brims with three generations of families enthusiastically meeting and greeting friends.

I join the pilgrims accompanying the icon of the Virgin Mary and child to the Monastery of Panormitis on the island of Symi, a 90 minute cruise and more than 40 kilometres north-west of Rhodes.

Panormitis Monastery, Symi

Like the island of Rhodes, Symi is part of the Dodecanese, Greece’s southernmost island group. The Knights of St John conquered the island during the Crusades in 1309; it was then taken by Turks in 1522, then by the Italians in 1912, before being united with Greece in 1948.

In the ferry’s lounge area, people queue to kiss the glass protecting the framed icon sitting prominently on an easel. The portrait icon of the Virgin Mary and child is worked in the traditional Greek style, the faces painted and the head and upper body covered in hand-embossed sterling silver.

Icon of the Virgin Mary and Child

The Monastery on Symi is famous for its chapel containing the miracle-performing life-size icon of Panormitis, the Archangel Michael. With his body clad in a gold-highlighted embossed  silver suit of armour, complete with silver wings and carrying a sword, he looks like a winged warrior. According to legend, if you ask a favour of Panormitis, you must give something in return.

Panormitis, also known as the Archangel Michael
Panormitis, also known as the Archangel Michael

To aid their prayers, some passengers have brought candles as thick and long as walking sticks to light outside the chapel and place in a large sand-filled stand.

Lighting candles at Panormitis Monastery
Lighting candles at Panormitis Monastery

Others have brought straw household brooms for Panormitis so he can sweep away their sins. Legend has it that, very late at night, the sound of sweeping can be heard around the monastery as the Archangel gets busy. Common household straw brooms are prominently displayed for sale at the corner shop for those who haven’t brought their own. The monastery shop features dustpan-sized brooms, the latter perhaps to whisk away smaller-sized sins.

Brooms for sale for the Angel
Brooms for sale

As the ferry nears the Monastery’s dock, hundreds of passengers gather around the gangplank in anticipation. A blonde-haired woman in her early twenties drops to her hands and knees, her palms and jean-clad knees covered in padding, and heads slowly towards the chapel and up the stairs. When I ask her whether she is a pilgrim she looks puzzled then says, “I do it for the saint.” A local woman, Maria, suggests she may have someone sick at home so she needs a grand gesture to ensure help.

Penitent on lengthy trip to the Monastery...
Pilgrim heading to the Monastery to ask a favour of Panormitis

Over the next hour-and-a-half, the crowd flows like a slow-moving stream of treacle into the tiny chapel. Its arches and walls are covered in frescoes of saints painted in colours muted by years of candle smoke. Taking photos is forbidden. Inside the chapel, the faithful buy and then light small tapered candles, and large squares of bread are handed out. There is much kissing of smaller icons on the way towards the main kissing event at the back right-hand wall of the chapel where the Archangel’s icon sits next to another of the Virgin Mary.

Waiting to enter the chapel of Panormitis
Waiting to enter the chapel of Panormitis

By the time I finally edge my way into the chapel, brooms of all shapes and sizes – enough for a witches’ convention – are stacked around the icon. Then the ship’s horn sounds, urging a speedy return to the ferry and the next leg of the journey to Symi’s port town, also named Symi, 50 minutes’ cruising north.

Harbour at Panormitis Monastery, Symi
Harbour at Panormitis Monastery, Symi

As the ferry enters the horseshoe-shaped harbour of Symi’s tiny port, many on board – myself included – snap endless photos of the town’s renowned tiers of elegant two- and three-storey neo-classical houses in pastel shades of peach, terracotta, lemon and pistachio. These houses, remnants of an affluent past, rise up the steep slope behind the waterfront which is lined with small fishing boats and yachts.

Symi harbourfront

The harbour has a deep anchorage enabling the giant ferry to simply back in against the pier by the elaborate clock tower. Again, the gangplank descends and hundreds of passengers surge off in search of lunch at one of the many cafes lining the waterfront.

I stroll past shops selling sponges, vestiges of the former major industry on the small island which has a permanent population of only 3,000 on its 58 square kilometres.

Sponges at a Symi shop

Waiting to take soak up some of the visitors on a tour is the egg-yolk yellow and terracotta pink tourist train.

Symi tourist train

Just past the train and overlooking the water is a statue of a boy pointing a wand, looking like Harry Potter, minus the glasses. Originally the work by renowned Greek sculptor, Kostas Valsamis, was of a fisherboy, but the lower part of his fishing rod went missing.

Harry Potteresque statue of a fisherboy

I wander up and up narrow laneways and steps, finding yet more Venetian-style villas, some in a state of ruin, their gardens running wild. Even houses with flaking paint and faded blue or sea-green doors have their own charm. In crevices of rocks, cyclamens grow wild.

Symi cyclamens growing wild
Cyclamens growing wild

Every turn offers glimpses of the harbour below and gardens filled with poppies, daisies and oleanders. Above the right arm of the harbour, on a rocky ridge, are the remnants of several stone windmills.

Sneaker washing day in Symi

Returning towards the waterfront with its clear sparkling water, I join the rest of the population for lunch. I head back towards the clock tower, turn left, and find a table metres from the water under an umbrella, and order a mix of regional favourites: meatballs with tomato sauce and fried cheese balls.

Symi waterfront cafe

With time left for shopping I find tiny corner stores and shops selling Symi specialities, including hand-made jewellery, elegant clothes and shoes, leather work, and tourist trinkets. And of course, more sponge varieties than I knew existed.

Symi silver shop
Symi silver shop

Soon it is time to head back to Rodos, leaving the rest of the island and its small rocky beaches to others to explore with vehicles. The ferry blasts another warning signal for passengers to return for the trip back.

This small island, four kilometres away from Turkey across the Aegean Sea, is a haven for those seeking a visual feast, solace for their past sins and help for loved ones.

Symi is regularly serviced by ferries from Rodos and Kos operated by Dodekanisos Seaways. The trip from Symi port to Rhodes takes just over an hour.


Halki: A perfect Greek island escape

An hour and a quarter ferry ride from the Greek island of Rhodes lies the picture-perfect Instagram-ready island of Halki – no filters needed. At just 28 square kilometres in size and lacking the cruise crowds of many islands, it is perfect for a short Greek island break. Or for day-trippers like me to take time out from being a tourist to simply chill out by the water.

In the petite horseshoe-shaped harbour of the island’s only town, Emborio, freshly-painted pastel-coloured villas flow down the slope to the water’s edge.


From the harbour front, I explore the labyrinthine maze of narrow paths so typical of Greek villages. In late Spring, whitewashed walls spill over with bougainvillea in shades of fuschia pink, orange and white.

At 10am one fortunate couple are ensconced in deck chairs at a table on the terrace of their boutique hotel, polishing off the last crumbs of their croissants, straw hats shading their faces from the warm sun. Lapping a couple of metres below them is the crystal clear water of the bay, accessible via stainless steel steps adjacent to the terrace. Meanwhile, a few villas along, five middle-aged ladies practise tai chi in synchronised moves on their terrace.


Villas become less immaculate in appearance and the paint less freshly applied the further up the slope and the more distant the villas are from the water. Some down-at-heel villas are for sale,  the owners’ phone numbers painted on raw stone walls which have crumbled with the passing seasons. Yet even these have charm, their derelict doorways framing enchanting harbour views.

Derelict stone house overlooking Halki’s waterfront

Eventually the passageways come to a dead end. From the stony slope above, sounds drift down of chickens chuckling and the clanking of a goat bell. I return towards the harbour via winding paths, heading towards the clock spire on the right hand side of the bay for more views.

Gathered by an outdoor bread oven, a knot of four women is chatting. As I stop to literally smell the roses spilling over a wall, two of the ladies invite me to visit the adjacent 200-year old Traditional Chalki House, as its sign states. For a few euros, I temporarily step back in time to their ancestral family home, furnished in late 1800s style in the open-plan design. The younger of the two women provides a lesson on the forgotten use of some antique kitchen implements. Up the steep stairs is a spacious whitewashed bedroom complete with antique iron bed and cot sitting on wide-planked pine floorboards, with hand-worked linen spilling from the open wooden trunk. As I leave, the two ladies usher me out with smiles and a wrapped lolly to go.

Inside the Traditional Chalki House

Further around on the right arm of the bay is the clock spire. Up some steep steps from the clock tower, just below the brilliant white town hall, is one of the best views in Halki. It is being enjoyed by Jane, an Englishwoman soaking up the sunshine on her villa’s terrace. She confides that, although she holidays with her family in Halki five times a year, retirement here is not an option as the town of around 400 residents virtually shuts down during winter once the tourists depart.

Following the laneway around and up to the right, I continue down a bougainvillea-lined path, passing the three windmills on the ridge above, and come to a sign indicating the way to Ftenagia beach and a tavern down a gravelled path. I follow it for 10 minutes to find that the path ends at a taverna and a beach that would be a strong contender for a “prettiest tiny beach” award.

Prettiest tiny beach award: Ftenagia beach, Halki

Past some shingle, a small strip of sand leads into transparent waters in colours graduating from pale aquamarine, to vivid topaz blue, Ceylon sapphire, finishing in deeper water in the royal blue tones of Australian sapphires. My polaroid sunglasses enhance the colour transitions to breathtaking effect.

At the tavern I order coffee then, with several hours left to kill before the ferry arrives returning me to Rodos, hire for three euros one of the blue banana lounges with its own umbrella. I zone out admiring the water for a couple of hours while two hardy northern Europeans brave the “no, it’s lovely, not cold at all” water. If it wasn’t for a coolish breeze and the sparse vegetation, I could imagine myself in the South Pacific.

Deck chairs and umbrellas for hire at Ftenagia beach, Halki

Finally, I head back into town, hoping to sample the Halki pasta mixed with caramelised onions and fetta cheese I have heard so much about. But in late May, still early in the tourist season, at 2.30pm the tavernas along the waterfront are almost devoid of tourists.  At one deserted waterfront café, the owner suggests that she could rustle up the local specialty if I was in no hurry. Although there is plenty of time before the ferry returns at 5.45pm, my stomach is more impatient. I head for the only taverna showing signs of life and order a dessert and a large coffee.


While I wait, a group of a dozen English artists-in-training rearrange the tables for a drawing class. Appearing from nowhere is a young Greek man clad in traditional black vest, pants and cap, contrasted with a white shirt. He allows the teacher to arrange his pose. “Make sure you don’t include his feet,” the teacher says, gesturing towards his non-traditional white trainers.

There is still time for another walk around the harbour front, and photos of the fisherman patiently untangling metres and metres of fishing line in front of the row of small colourful fishing boats lining the harbour. He allows me to photograph him with a smile.

Halki fisherman repairing a net

Still time for one glass of red wine for two euros – cheaper than the coffee – and more information about the island from Nico, the tavern owner. I discover that one main road runs most of the length of the island, that some beaches are only accessible by boat, and that there is a Venetian Castle dating back to the era of the Knights.

In the distance, I see the ferry to Rodos returning. In typical Greek fashion, everyone clusters by the dock edge, surging in the moment the metal gangplank touches the dock. Even though I was near the front of the crowd, I just make it to a seat when the ferry departs. No wonder the ferries in Greece’s Dodecanese islands run on time!

 Aegean Air runs connecting flights from Athens to Rhodes, with regular ferries to and from Halki. There is also a twice-weekly ferry to the port of Piraeus, Athens’ port.

It’s not just about the journey…

Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to travel. When asked my career aspirations when I was a child, I would lispingly respond between the missing teeth taken by the tooth fairy, “to become an air hosteth.”  I had visions of my well-groomed grownup self, breezily landing in exotic locations.

I have been fortunate to visit many countries I dreamed about…strolled on beaches littered with 1,500-year-old pottery shards in Greece…gazed on lush fields from the ramparts of castles in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland… listened to 17th century music in a 16th century chapel in Croatia….snorkelled on brilliantly-coloured coral heads in Vanuatu.

Travel is not just about the journey…it is about the destination. And about the wonderful people from myriad cultures who enrich your experience along the way.

This blog is the result of the inevitable collision between my three main joys: travelling,  photography, and writing, the latter of which I’ve trained in via a career path that led from advertising, to public relations, a brief journalism stint and a long haul as an academic. I hope you enjoy my stories.

Fleecy felons on the “lamb”

Driving down the hill after a day on The Remarkables ski slopes close to New Zealand’s Queenstown, we spotted three sheep grazing on the roadside, well beyond any farm fences.

P1130464-The Remarkables ski resort

My companion, a former sheep farmer from outback Australia, estimated that each escapee carried a heavy two seasons’ worth of wool, evidence that they were “on the lamb…er…lam” from a local farm.

Their woolly state was still a far cry from that of New Zealand’s shaggiest sheep, nicknamed Shrek, who evaded the shears for six years by hiding out in caves on a farm north of Queenstown. This wily merino male, looking like a giant dirty puffball of wool, carried 27 kilos of fleece, enough to obscure its vision.

P1130530-three sheep

We left the cunning trio of fleecy felons enjoying their freedom, grass and views opposite a natural lookout over Lake Wakatipu.

Ljubljana: This jailhouse rocks!

Central Ljubljana, Slovenia. I am sitting on one of the two single bunk beds in a spartan jail cell, peering out through a thickly barred metal door – the sort you see on TV prison shows. The kind with the slot to allow the prison guard to pass your food through.

My first floor cell, number 108, features whitewashed walls and a heavily-barred window open to the warm summer evening. Luckily there’s a fan because Europe is in the throes of a heatwave.

This is my first prison stay. Ever. Luckily it is at the cool and funky Hostel Celica, a former jail for political dissidents, reincarnated into a hip hostel.


The building, more than 130 years old, was rescued from demolition by the local arts community. Both local and international artists placed their creative stamp on the rooms. Some cells, like the blue cell pictured above, feature wall murals. As well as a variety of cells of different sleeping configurations, the hostel has dormitories and rooms with ensuites which are popular with friends sharing and young families. Metal-backed wooden doors, each carrying the name of  famous past inmates, close over the prison cell doors at night, ensuring privacy.

From under my cell window on my second night come the sounds of a classical violin being superbly played in a scheduled concert. This is followed by a medley of other music, luring me downstairs. Some young female guests decide to perform an impromptu duet, slightly off-key, but to eager applause. It is a typical night at the colourful Hostel Celica (pronounced Celitza).

Ljubljana-Oriental cafe

Downstairs there are a variety of eating/meeting/drinking areas. In the Slovenian tavern or gostilna there’s Slovenian honey brandy and pizza is on offer in the café. Other inmates are meeting up with friends in the outdoor lounge area.

As the hostel tosses in breakfast and internet access, it is great value for its central location, just a short walk to the town’s historic centre, cafe area and Castle, and 10 minutes walk to Ljubljana station.