We found a new romance in the south of France, right in the heart of the Languedoc Region. Our first impression of the port town of Sète, situated on the Mediterranean coast, was of a rather unremarkable seaside village. However, during our two week stay, Sète revealed its unspoilt charm and divulged its raw beauty, its casual, relaxed vibe and a deep sense of French culture. Now we repeat our liaison every year. Sète is slowly making the transition from its historical roots as a working port to a popular tourist destination. Trawler boats still fill the harbour, along with the raw, salty smell of fresh seafood, wet nets and the sad wail of supersized sea gulls. But during the summer months the tourist numbers swell and the town becomes the epicentre of festivities.
Bruges has been on our bucket list since seeing the 2008 crime thriller In Bruges in which Irish hunk Colin Farrell (Ray) and Brendan Gleeson (Ken) hid out in this gorgeous Belgian city. The sleepy canals, decorated with white swans and small stone bridges, are framed with colourful flowers, lending the cityscape an unexpected tranquility. Like Ken we fell in love with medieval Bruges. Its beauty and serenity are distinguished by its meandering canals, cobbled stone streets and ancient, intricately decorated buildings. Bruges can be overrun by tourists daily, so the earlier you arrive the better. On our short visit we spent about three hours wandering the streets of this compact but stunning city. Around every turn there was another amazing photograph to be captured.
Timor-Leste (East Timor) has some unenviable credentials. It is the third poorest nation on earth, 70% of its population are subsistence, it has the least tourist visitors of any country in the world not at war and has 50% unemployment. Aside from that the Timorese are known to be open, friendly and generous people, as we found on our brief visit. This fascinating country has huge potential with an increasingly educated youth population, a wealth of natural resources and an equatorial climate. Since 2017 they even have a Gay Pride which includes people from the LGBTI community, members of the clergy, tribal folk, students and government officials. Timor-Leste is a leader in South East Asia for gay rights, although unfortunately, it still has not enacted laws to protect its LGBTI population.
Darwin is Australia’s top end capital city. Although remarkably small, its quiet, relaxed vibe is a natural gateway for those seeking adventure in the Northern Territory. Attractions like Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks, Katherine Gorge, crocodile spotting and outback desert experiences await unsuspecting visitors. This time however, we were not in Darwin for any of these reasons, rather to catch a cruise ship to Singapore which also happened to coincide with the celebration of our first wedding anniversary. We arrived on a Saturday to spend two days before our departure and to sample what surprises Darwin had to offer. The weather was at its best, perfect early days of August were dry, mildly hot, low humidity and brilliant sunny, blue skies stretching endlessly into the ‘never never’. Our Uber driver said, “It doesn’t get better than this in Darwin”.
Palm Springs is one of North America’s premier gay destinations. Its harsh, arid, desert setting offset by the surrounding snow capped mountains certainly make it a unique stop on the tourist trail. Sun, sun and more sun, a host of clothing optional gay resorts and a bumper crop of gay bars create a perfect sandpit in which gay men can play to their hearts content. Our two hour drive north west from San Diego was relatively easy, through spectacular desert landscapes and hillsides covered in vivid orange and yellow wild flowers, a product of the unusually plentiful spring rains. Visitors to Palm Springs soon learn the city is no metropolis. A small CBD with wide open spaces and light traffic flow make it very easy to negotiate, even for newcomers.
It was 8 am and we were ready to explore the world’s largest sand island just off Hervey Bay in Queensland. Strapped into our off-road, four-wheel drive bus we were soon hurtling through the Australian bush on the narrow, rough, sandy roads of Fraser Island. With names like ‘the rollercoaster’, these tracks into the ‘never never’ were sure to provide plenty of thrills. First stop was Lake McKenzie. This spectacular rain-filled, crystal clear blue basin of water floats serenely on powder white silica sand. No swimming for us on this cool morning but it didn’t stop the intrepid tourists from Norway. Central Station was our next stop with towering 400 year old Fraser turpentine trees, exotic stag horns, and ancient, rare ferns growing in Wanggoolba Creek, a truly pristine environment.