Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the Millenium

Yes, I know it's New Year's Eve 2013, but that's not what I'm talking about here. For the past....actually, I can't remember how many years....for a long time, I have religiously gone to Mark Crowther's The Week in Chess site once a week to download the files of chess games he compiles. Actually, I go there a lot more, as his coverage of chess news is excellent, and the site even allows one to follow live games.

Well, today I made my weekly visit to TWIC and noticed that we're on issue number 999. If you're a chess player, and you've never used The Week in Chess, then make a resolution for 2014 and start. If you do start with the first edition of 2014 (due out in a week's time) then you will be starting with issue 1000!

Congratulations to Mark Crowther on creating, and maintaining this phenomena, and on reaching this truly amazing landmark. And remarkably, these games have been on the internet for free all this time. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would happily pay for this fantastic chess resource.

So, here's a game from the latest TWIC, number 999. We all love a king hunt, and when it happens between top Grand Masters it's even better. Here, the loser of this game has the modest rating of 2622! He was, however, playing someone rated 2705 who was prepared to sacrifice to expose an uncastled king, and then drag it to open area of the board. Enjoy :)

Monday, December 30, 2013


Around the Christmas and New Year time, the thoughts of most British chess players turn towards the traditional Hastings event. In the past Hastings has produced some memorable tournaments, and a who's who list of winners from the greats of chess. Like many other chess festivals the tournament has a number of sections with the top section having been traditionally a round robin event. Things have changed a bit, and the top section is now a swiss event, but a pretty strong one nevertheless. There have only been 2 rounds so far, which means that the top players haven't really come into contact yet. That doesn't mean there haven't been some interesting moments.

Harvey-Gordon from round 1 where black is definitely in the driving seat. However, I'm guessing most of us below master strength would be thinking of how to attack white's weak pawns and a plan of 1..Nc5 2.Kc2 Rf1 might come to mind. GM Stephen Gordon preferred to create a mating net in the endgame. 1..Nb4! 2.Kc3 Kc5! [with the threat of Rd1-d3] 3.Bxe6? Rd1 and now mate is unstoppable.

Apparently all the World Champions from Steinitz to Karpov (except Fischer) played at Hastings over the years. I seem to remember Bent Larsen as a star attraction one year I was playing back in the 1980's. It was great as the main tournament was held in the afternoon while the other events (like the one I was playing in) happened in the morning. That meant players like me could play and then watch the top players and follow the commentary. It was a great inspiration, and I hope that one day Hastings returns to its former glory. Still, there are a fair number of Grand Masters and strong players in the tournament, and plenty of interesting games, and upsets, like Martin Schuster's (2209) first round victory over IM Joerg Wegerle (2431) in a rook ending that looked drawish to me. I'll talk about this ending, and a couple of others in a future blog post (see, I haven't lost my procrastinating skills).
But how about this first round effort? In a wild game, Jens Kipper as white saw a way to mate against Francis Rayner. White played the stunning 1.Rb1!! and won after 1..Qxb1 [allowing mate, but nothing else is good anyway] 2.Bxf6+ gxf6 3.Qxf6+ Ke8 4.Nd6+ and black resigned before getting mated on f7.

This position (Burnett-Halfhide) arose from a Queen's Gambit Declined Exchange Variation. I personally like playing the black side of this opening as often black gets the chance to attack on the king side which suits the way I play. Here, Black has sacrificed a piece and hasn't got nearly enough for it. Black has just played..f5 and the question is, should white take the pawn? Unfortunately Burnett saw nothing wrong with the capture: 1.gxf5? [1.Rc3 holds things together, but maybe white had little time] 1..Rg3+ [This must have come as a shock, though we should be on the lookout for checks] 2.Kh2 [2.Rxg3 is obviously met by 2..Qg3#, while 2.Kxh4 is mate in 2 after 2..Qf4+, so white's move was the best except now a discovered check picks up the queen]
2..Re3+ [with an amazing turn around. Black is winning and won after] 3.Kh1 Rxe2+ 4.Rxe2 e3 5.Nf3 Qd1+ picking up more material.

I haven't looked at much of the second round yet, but a 300 point upset victory caught my eye. White just gains a bit of space, develops quickly, letting his higher rated opponent take a poisoned pawn, and then goes for it. Enjoy :)

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Having not written on this blog for about 6 weeks, I guess I could be accused of procrastinating. Procrastination refers to the state of putting off more important tasks for less important and possibly more pleasurable ones. So I guess I could respond by saying that this blog, which is after all a bit of fun, is a form of procrastination in itself! Whatever, the fact is that I enjoy writing, but have been either too busy, or too involved with other things to put much effort into this blog. That is about to change.

I expect 2014 to be another eventful year for me. I intend to start playing chess again, and writing about it here. I'll be at the Australian Championship in the role of a coach from the 2nd of January and will be blogging about the event here. One of the things I've been doing over the past weeks is work on my own game in preparation for my resumption of play, but I've also been working on preparation for my classes next year, and found some interesting ideas that I will be sharing here. Do I have plans and aims for my chess? Indeed I do, but these will have to wait for another post (more procrastination!).

I also have some trips planned, both chess related and not. I very much enjoyed turning this into a travel blog, and my future excursions will be documented here. For instance, just before Christmas I traveled down to Hobart to help coach at a chess camp organised by the Hobart Junior Chess Club and the Tasmanian Chess Association. It was a great success, the kids working throughout the weekend, and progressing even during the weekend. This is the 4th or 5th time I've been to Tasmania to help run one of these camps, and what makes the camps so special is the amazing scenery.

Mount Wellington from the Hobart Chess Camp

The view towards Bruny Island
I'll also be writing about other things that interest me (I have tried to get others to write on this blog, but it looks like it's going to be just me, so I'll write about whatever I feel like) and that includes running (yes, I've set some goals for that too), reading and drinking good coffee around my home town of Melbourne. This isn't procrastinating, but rather diversifying. Chess players who come to this blog for chess content will have to accept that sometimes I feel like writing about other things, and those who come for other subjects will have to accept that this blog has a lot to do with chess.

Expect 2 to 3 posts a week from now on, the next one coming tomorrow, possibly the day after. Now that's procrastination!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Excitement of Chess

I'm not usually into Sarcasm, but I'll make an exception for this World Championship!

Hopefully tonight will bring a result, whoever wins. However fighting the chess may be, draws are not what the public want. I heard an interesting idea that draws should be replayed at faster time controls until a result is found, which would give the chess public their desire for classical time controls, but would give the general public some excitement in watching rapid and blitz games. Finding a format that makes chess generally appealing is the challenge that faces our chess leadership, and they are currently not coming up with ideas which are growing interest in the game.

For us chess fanatics, however, the game will always hold an appeal. For me seeing odd moves, or plans, or techniques are the thing which sparks an interest. Like yesterdays position.
I asked what white played here. In fact, white played the amazing 7.Ng5 putting his knight on a square where it can just be taken. The idea is clearing the d1-h5 diagonal for the queen, which is a common theme in a lot of openings (eg 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6? 3.Nxe5!). The move Ng5 appeals to me as it reminds me of Karpov's Ng5 against Korchnoi's Open Spanish.
This famous position is from the 1978 World Championship match between Karpov and Korchnoi. In the 10th game of the match the position above arose, and Karpov came out with the amazing 11.Ng5!?. Of course, the knight can just be taken, so it looks like a complete patzer move, but after 11..Qxg5 white has 12.Qf3 with unbelievable complications. Funnily enough, that game ended in a draw so perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh on the current combatants. In fact, the epic 1978 match stated with only 1 result in the first 10 games but it still is seen as one of the most hard fought in the history of the Championship. So I still have hope for the 2013 match, though with only 12 games, something really needs to happen soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Return To Play

I've slowly come to realise that part of my lethargy since coming back from holiday has been due to a lack of playing chess. Yes, I admit that I'm missing playing chess tournaments and over the past few days I've come to a decision. In 2014 I will be listed on the FIDE list, and will be playing events again. Have I been inspired by the World Championship match? Probably not, though I have been following it. I'm personally not sure that a match is the best medium for selling the World Championship to a wider non playing audience (if this is even possible), and I'm not sure whether it is the best way to decide on a champion, though of course there will always be problems with any system. Certainly the most exciting World Championship events in recent times (probably since Seville 1987) have been the tournaments in 2005 and 2007 played under the double round robin system and maybe the fact that there are more than 1 game played each day allows for more excitement per round.

Anyway, getting back to my return to chess, I have made a further decision. It seems to me that if I can be bothered to pay out to play chess, then I should make the best of it, and try to improve my game and return to the 2200+ level, and maybe even to the 2300 level. Is it possible to do this in my late 40's? Have I got it in me to up my game a level? I guess only time will tell, but I feel that I need to try. So my return to chess comes with an aim to regain my best chess, and that means working on the game. That is good news for this blog, which will begin to see more chess content again.

Another issue is how I'm going to relist on FIDE. I have to choose between a) paying a membership to the English Chess Federation (something I didn't want to do); b) paying FIDE to transfer my federation to Australia: c) playing under no flag and paying a fee per tournament I play. Of these, I'm leaning towards the first which might prove to be the most expensive in the long run, but will mean me giving my money to a national federation (the ECF) rather than FIDE. It means I will have to play under the English flag, but that is better than not playing at all in my opinion. I would much rather transfer to Australia, but I really have an issue with the transfer fee imposed (250 Euro's) which basically covers changing my fed from ENG to AUS on the FIDE site and is a blatant money grab by an organisation which is a blatant money grabber. Funnily enough, this is a one off payment and the Australian Chess Federation do not charge their members directly, whereas the ECF do, so over the years I would probably pay more for being a member of the ECF. I know, I'm irrational, but the year off chess had made me think about how I want to participate and who I want to support in the world of chess, and FIDE are not an organisation near the top of my sympathy list. However, it's difficult to play much quality chess in Australia outside the FIDE rating system, so I feel I have to join if I want to play the tournaments that I enjoy. Ok, rant over.

And while I'm not happy with chess politics (like the European Chess Union threatening chess servers with legal action if they broadcast live games from the European Teams Championship without their permission), and while I was hoping for more action in the World Championship (the games have been fascinating, however) the game itself is still fantastic. Have a guess what 2543 rated Cuban IM Yuri Gonzalez played after the moves 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nc6 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nd7 6.Bd3 f6 in a game at the Panama Open last week.
What is worse, the move he chose has been played well over 50 times before. Chess really is a great game, and I'll confirm your suspicions of what white played next time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Unexpected Day Off

I had a day off today, and an unexpected bonus befell me when my wife's scheduled shift was cancelled. This meant that my 1 day off of the week was shared with my soul mate. The only problem is that this can lead to plans and schemes. To start with we had a late start and went for a late breakfast together in one of our favourite cafe's in Albert Park Village. The Dundas Place Cafe is friendly, spacious and comfortable with a great menu and great coffee. My favourite breakfast is porridge with butterscotch bananas, which is what I had this morning.

Caroline on our recent roadtrip

While we were at the cafe we were discussing things ranging from novels we have read and want to read, to what we should have for dinner later, and how amazing our holiday was and where we would like to go to in the future. We have plans to go back to New Zealand next year to wonderful Queenstown in the south island. Then we were thinking of another roadtrip but this time to Europe. A trip to France and Italy to experience the historical and culinary sounds fantastic. In fact, it sounded so good that our dinner tonight was inspired by this. We drove round the short distance to South Melbourne Market to buy the vital ingredients for a French Onion Soup which I then came back home to make. I used a recipe from the Not Quite Nigella site that I follow, though winged it a bit as well. Besides the ingredients in the recipe, we had:

1. French Stick
2. Triple cream Brie (not for cooking, we bought some Gruyere for that)
3. Bottle of Arrogant Frog Cabernet Merlot (partially for cooking with)

Tonight's French meal, Onion Soup with Gruyere, Brie and French bread

This rounded things off pretty well, but we talked of another plan. My bucket list the other day included a trip to India, and Caroline entered the spirit of things at the Cafe saying how much she'd like to go to India. But it's a big place so where should we go? I would love to see Everest and it was Caroline who suggested he go to Nepal and Kathmandu. This started us thinking and looking at the East of India. Kolkata seems like a main hub, and probably a good place to fly to, and then there are places such as Puri on the Bay of Bengal and Varanasi in central north India. We'll see where we go with the planning of this trip but the Ganges and Everest are starting points.

I guess that reading 'The Accidental Apprentice' by Vikas Swarup put thoughts of India foremost in my mind. This was a beautiful novel from the author of 'Q and A' which most of know from the film, Slumdog Millionaire. It is written as a modern day fable, and follows the exploits of a young woman who is given the chance of a lifetime to become the CEO of a multi billion dollar empire. She has to pass through some tests and these bring our attention to some real issues in Indian culture, such as the treatment of women in rural India, religion, corruption and bureaucratic procedure. The plot twists wonderfully and the ending is powerful. However, if every time I read a book about a different country it makes me want to go there and start planning there will definitely be some places that miss out. The latest novel I read is possibly my favourite of the year so far. 'The Messenger' by Australian author Markus Zuzak is another fable and wonderfully written. The main character is so believable, especially for us who live in Australia. That the things that happen to him are so unbelievable doesn't matter, because the characters who he meets and interacts with are just as beautifully created. The interactions bring laughter and tears to the reader and this is one of the few books I've given 5 stars to this year on the Goodreads site.

So to sum up today, my wife had the day off and I spent it with her when I didn't think I would, I went out for breakfast when I didn't think I would, I planned a future adventure when I didn't think I would, I cooked a meal that I didn't think I would. It's always good to be prepared to expect the unexpected in life.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

World Chess Championship

We're on the verge of one of the most eagerly awaited World Championship matches ever. So what were the great matches, and which ones were eagerly awaited? I mean, Capablanca-Alekhine was a great match, but I don't think it had much of a build up as the only person who gave Alekhine a chance before the match was Alekhine himself. The all Soviet matches were probably eagerly awaited in the USSR, but it wasn't until we get to Spassky-Fischer that things really started to heat up. After that epic match, there were the cold war follow ups of Karpov-Korchnoi, and then the Karpov-Kasparov battles. Ok, since the 1993 split things have been a bit shonky. In fact, the matches since 1993 have been so unappealing that the latest New in Chess Magazine fails to mention the 2010 Anand-Topalov match in its list of World Championship matches without Russians/Soviets.

To be honest, I am looking forward to it and I'm not the only one. The number of articles about the match, the players, and anything else nearly related tot he World Championship or chess is cranking up every day. I've personally read articles by Shipov (New in Chess), Giri, Sasikiran, Negi, Kasparov and Harikrishna and have an article by Rogers to read (I've just seen a tweet by Nigel Short about a new article he has written). Nigel Short tweeted a couple of days ago that

already feels like the biggest title match in years - and they have not yet begun!

Tomorrow will see the opening ceremony and the games start on Saturday. And if one top game a day isn't good enough the European Team Championships starts tomorrow, though the Norwegian team aren't quite at full strength. It is an unbelievably strong tournament with over 20 players above 2700. Russia are the favourites, but Armenia and Ukraine are always good at team tournaments, while I'm hoping that the strongest English team in years can put on a good show.

One last thought about World Championship matches. If you're like me, then an upcoming match makes you think about previous events. And if you're like me, then there will be some matches that you know a lot about, and some that you know hardly anything about. For instance, I've not really looked much at the 3 Botvinnik-Smyslov matches from the 1950's. I'm not sure why, as these were full blooded contests. The first match in 1954 ended in a 12-12 tie with only 10 draws. Combative openings such as the French and the Grunfeld were regulars in this match. Smyslov won the next match in 1957 by 12.5-9.5 and this time there were more draws, though the play was still hard fought. The next year saw a rematch and Botvinnik bounced back to regain his title 12.5-10.5 in a sharp see saw match. So that was nearly 70 games in the space of 4 years with a slight edge to Smyslov overall. If you want to see combative, check out this game. It was the final win for Smyslov in his winning match of 1957. Botvinnik was already 2 points down and played the sharp Winawer to try to create complications and draw closer in the match. Instead, Smyslov saw his way through the complications and won the game (Botvinnik resigning after the first time control) and effectively the match. Let's hope that the oncoming 2013 match produces some breath taking, memorable games as well.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Instead of the Melbourne Cup

Melbourne has a public holiday on the first Tuesday in November each year for the 'race that stops the nation', The Melbourne Cup. The thing is, what do you do if you're not into horse racing, or getting pissed, or wearing fancy dress? Today is still a day off from work but what is there to do if the Melbourne Cup is not your thing?

Well, of course, you can just sit around at home and chill out, or clear up, or plan for the future, or even catch up with things that should have been done. There are days out which avoid (mostly) the Cup such as heading into the country or to the beach. Then there is just imagining that the day isn't anything special at all, and treating it much like any other day off work. That has been my approach to this year's Melbourne Cup Day.

A year ago, this is the view I woke up to, on the Murray River, Mildura. No thoughts of horse racing.

Last year I managed to avoid the whole shabang as Caroline and I took off for country Victoria with our friends Nick and Zoe to spend a week on a houseboat in Mildura. As much as I'd like to be doing that again, I'm not really complaining about missing out after just coming back from America. However, thinking about these things does bring to mind typical 'bucket list' thoughts. I'm rapidly approaching 50 so I guess time is running out for me to get everything I'd like to do completed. So here's 10 things (not in any particular order) I'd like to do before I get too old:

1. Have a book published (I'd love to write a novel, but I think I have more chance of writing a chess book if I can think of a worthy subject)
2. Go back to New York
3. Travel India (I would love to see Mt. Everest)
4. See the Northern Lights
5. Roadtrip Europe (this is already in the planning stage)
6. Run a marathon (I'm planning a half marathon next year, but the whole thing is the big challenge)
7. Touch every continent (Never been to Africa or South America, while Antarctica may be a problem)
8. Visit Japan
9. Go to St Petersberg
10. Roadtrip USA II (north of where we just went, Glacier National Park and Alberta, Canada)

This seems like a good starting list. Is there anything else that should be on this list? And are any of these things on anyone else's bucket list? You might have noticed I have no chess ambitions. I never really have had any, maybe get to 2200 FIDE which I've already done. I would like to see my students excel and become as good as they can, but I'm happy just to play and think about the game a bit.

Oh well, apparently the race is over now, so I guess the fancy dress will start deteriorating as the booze gradually flows more and more. My evening will be spent reading (Markus Zuzak's, "The Messenger"), going for a run, and chilling out. I'll prepare a bit for the classes I have this week, which is pretty much what I'd be doing on any other Tuesday. I'm grateful for the day off, but have no interest in the horse race.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writer's Block

I apologise for not updating this blog recently. Since coming back from my roadtrip to the USA I've had a lethargy, a kind of post-holiday blues. The whole experience was so amazing that I've found it difficult to readjust to everyday life. However, I think I'm finally getting there and with under a week before the World Chess Championship it's none too soon. But I've also decided that this blog will not be as concentrated on chess as it has been. It's still going to have a fair deal of chess content, and there'll still be a heavy emphasis on the local scene in Melbourne and Australia. But chess isn't everything, and I thoroughly enjoyed relating my travels in the USA, so expect more non chess posts from now on. Though maybe chess will take centre stage during the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match.

Recently my tips have been pretty good with Svidler winning the Russian Championships, so I'll take a shot at the upcoming match. I'm going to choose Carlsen to win the match with at least a game to spare. I have nothing against either of the players, and would like to see a great competitive match, but I think that Anand will struggle to maintain his strength of play for the full match. If it is a close match, then it will be interesting to see how Carlsen copes with the nerves towards the end, and should the match be decided on tie break, then anything could happen.

As for me, I'm still defying FIDE and their events. I did wonder whether I should pay off FIDE and just start playing again, but it won't be happening this year. Without serious competition I'm a bit directionless when it comes to studying the game. It seems rather pointless to work on repertoire and technique when I'm not going to be using it anytime soon. I've hardly looked at any chess, though I have been playing a load of games on chess.com. Some of these have been in thematic tournaments, so I'll try to post some ideas from these openings in the near future.

In the meantime the Melbourne Chess Club was the last place I played and there are currently 2 big events in progress. The regular Monday night event is currently the MCC Open, and I tipped IM Mirko Rujevic to win this. Mirko then went down to Justin Penrose and it looked like my tipping curse might remain intact. However, since then Mirko has bounced back and with just one round to go, he leads David Hacche by half a point. Both have black in the final game, and Hacche's draw seems a bit tougher as he plays Penrose (half a point behind Hacche, so theoretically can still catch Mirko), while Mirko has Tom Kalisch who has had a pretty respectable event up to now. Tom sits on a group of players half a point shy of third. This long weekend sees the MCC staging their annual Cup Weekender. The 9 round swiss started Friday night and has 2 games per day over the holiday weekend including the Monday which is not officially a public holiday. This year the tournament has attracted a decent sized field with a strong top end. Among the 64 players are 5 IM's and after 5 rounds the tournament is being led by local Master James Morris on 5/5. Should he win, James will be an incredibly popular winner, but he is facing tough competition with FM's Luke Li and Bill Jordan half a point back, and IM Max Illingworth, FM Dusan Stojic, Karl Zelesco and Jack Puccini on 4/5. And with another 4 rounds still to go, players further down the field will still fancy their chances.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Classic Album of the Moment

Are you of a generation that can remember buying vinyl records? Or even cassettes? If you are, then you probably can recall getting home with your new record or tape and playing it to death again and again until every word, melody, riff have permeated your mind. You will have sung along to the singles, but more deeply appreciated the album tracks, and if it was one of those albums that had no singles, then you could lose yourself in discovering the new music. I'm sure this is still possible in the post CD era of i-tunes and MP3 players (and probably gadgets that I don't even know about...God I'm getting old) but with so much music free (or cheap) to stream on apps like Spotify and youtube the mystique of buying an album seems to have disappeared.

Anyway, true to my younger self, I'm going to indulge in discovering some albums that I wished I'd have bought when I was younger but never did. Yes, they will be on CD, but I will listen to them again and again until I have immersed myself in every thing they have to offer. There'll be no Greatest Hits Albums here, though I have nothing against them. I want to hear some album tracks, some tracks that are new to me.

My favourite Beatles album (from beatlesbible)
So where to start? I've got about 50 years worth of popular music to choose from and some of the albums I may have heard before, but not for a long time. I recently lost myself in Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. I must have listened to it 100 times this year, with Tangled Up in Blue possibly my favourite Dylan song. Time to move on. I've played the Beatles Revolver a few times recently. It really is a fantastic album with some beautiful songs, and was an early popular psychedelic creation. It's easy for us in 2013 to forget how innovative and trend setting the Beatles were. However, Revolver was released before I was born (only just!) and I was thinking more of my own recollections from when I was starting to buy records, or at least ask for them as presents.
The Jam's 1978 Album
I started secondary school in 1978, which was a pretty exciting time for music. Besides the fact that rock music was becoming more accomplished (Pink Floyds's 'The Wall' was released the year after) punk and new wave were taking over. An album that I wish that I owned but never did was The Jam's All Mod Cons. (Coincidentally, the Jam used The Beatles 'Taxman' guitar riff for their number 1 hit 'Start', Taxman being the opening song on Revolver).

The album was apparently influenced by British 60's invasion music which is most notably seen in their cover of the Kinks track, David Watts. As I could also listen to the Kinks and that brand of 60's music, this is the perfect album for me to start reminiscing about. According to Q Music, All Mod Cons is the 50th greatest British album of all time. The list is headed by Revolver!

Monday, October 14, 2013


What is it you want to do? And where do you get your inspiration from? I obviously have a passion for chess, and I remember seeing a program on TV in the 1970's called The Master Game which inspired me to carry on with the game through my teenage years. Yesterday I was also playing chess, but inspiration came from a different event. Yesterday the Melbourne Marathon was being held. Nearly 7000 people participated with the best runners producing world class results. It has been a while since I last ran, but I took inspiration from yesterday and went for a brief jog today after work. It was hard work, as I knew it would be, but I enjoyed it immensely, and plan to carry on with running in my own modest way.

Setting goals and then making plans is always a good way to achieve results. I have set myself 2 targets. One is simply to lose the weight that I gained on holiday in America, and since getting back when I did very little. This is about 3 kilo's, though the more the merrier. The other is to run a half marathon, and I've set myself the target of running the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon which is held in May. That gives me 7 months to build up to the 21 km distance and I currently feel pumped up to take it on, even if I am a little puffed after my 5 km run earlier.

I also read a fair amount of fiction and am inspired to read new authors and new titles. Joining the online site Goodreads was great for building up ideas, and I must admit that I've read novels this year that I wouldn't have done if not being a member of a book club on Goodreads. If talking about books with other book lovers, comparing ideas and critically discussing books isn't inspiration enough, tomorrow sees the 2013 Man Booker Prize winner announced. While I'm not usually swayed by what awards novels and their authors may have won I must admit that I've hardly ever read a novel shortlisted for the Booker Prize that I haven't enjoyed. Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize winning "The Remains of the Day" is still my favourite novel, and I'm currently reading "The Yips" by Nicola Barker which segues between acerbic dialogue, strange encounters, and some of the most beautifully written descriptions I've ever read. In fact, earlier today I was stunned by the power of feeling that a particular passage evoked. And this novel wasn't even shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012. In fact neither was "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce which is probably the best novel I've read this year so far.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a literary snob who only reads award winning high literature. I'm happy to read novels from almost any genre: historical, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, detective, thriller etc. In fact, labeling novels under certain categories can sometimes be a little misleading. I guess a good example of this is the rise in stature of books labeled 'Young Adult'. This covers a massive range of books, spanning all kinds of subjects and genre. Earlier this evening on Twitter, I discovered that one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris was labeled as 'Chick-lit'. Before seeing her tweet I never even knew there was a chick-lit genre, let alone what it entailed. Joanne Harris' reply to this categorisation has been my final inspiration for this evening. Don't just sit there and take the crap that people give you.

Sorry, did I say my final inspiration? I just found out it's National Chocolate Week in the UK. As an expat I feel it would be remiss of me not to participate. Unfortunately, I was unaware of International Chocolate Day which was on September 13th, but it's in my diary for 2014 and next September 13th will be eatchocolatetillimsickday!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What We Miss In Our Games

There is some truth to the idea that the strength of a player can be judged by the things they miss. Today I played in a tournament for the first time in a year and although I did better than  I expected, in all of the games I missed fairly obvious things. The tournament was played at the Melbourne Chess Club and involved groups of 4 players in round robin format. The event is called a "quad" and, assuming the players are of an equal strength, is an excellent format for a one day tournament. Today, 8 players turned up so there were 2 sections played at a rate of 60 minutes + 20 seconds increment per move. Although this is a fairly fast time control in longplay terms, it is still long enough for the games to be rated on the ACF standard list. So these were the first games I'd played that were rated under this system for the past year.

To be honest, it felt good to be back at the MCC in a playing capacity. There have been times during my self imposed exile when I've considered caving in, coughing up the money to FIDE, and playing again. Then the chess world does something to make me wonder whether I really want to contribute to it and I feel good about myself. The latest news story involves Andrew Paulson, the guy who was supposedly hired by FIDE to arrange, organise and set up the Candidates matches and World Championship with great promises of increased interest in chess from the wider world. Well, something happened that is somewhat mysterious, but the end result is that Andrew Paulson now has nothing to do with these events, or FIDE it would seem. Except that yesterday, he was elected President of the English Federation. Now I have no problem with Mr Paulson, but why are the English Chess Federation electing an American as President, when there are plenty of good English administrators around? I hope that Mr. Paulson will do good for English chess, but the cynic in me can't help feeling he has his own motives in becoming President of the ECF, and I guess we'll see what they are in the next year.

Anyway, enough moaning and on to the chess. In the first round I played pretty well as black against Dmitry Partsi, and was probably better when I allowed a perpetual. So I can notch my first 'miss' of the day down to not looking at all my opponent's checks.

Black to move, and though I spotted that white is threatening Nf5 forking g7 and d6, I didn't notice it was also hitting h6. The best move is probably 1..g6, but I played 1..Rfc8 2.Nf5 Bf8 when a draw was agreed due to the h6-f7 knight check perpetual.

No worries, the other game between Jack Puccini and Sylvester Urban was also a draw so we were all tied after one game. In game 2 I had white and was lucky that my opponent, Sylvester Urban blundered an important pawn early in the game. Even then, I missed a check later in the game and was lucky to be far enough ahead for it not to matter.

As White I'm 2 pawns up and thought that I just need to develop my last 2 pieces. I played 1.Bd3 and was lucky that 1..Nb3+ wasn't enough to pull Sylvester back into the game. Instead I should have played 1.Qg5+ covering the d2 square. Then after a king move, I can play Bd3 and if black plays Nb3 I can just move my king to b1.

Never mind, I should count myself lucky to have missed 2 such simple moves and be on 1.5/2. At this point I found myself equal first with Dimitry who had beaten Jack Puccini. In the final round the 2 leaders both had black and both of us lost. I don't know about Dmitry, but I was smashed! This time I missed a pretty nice blocking manouvre which completely destroyed my king's meagre shelter.

To be fair, my black Najdorf has already gone pretty badly. I have to defend f7 and chose the least wise option 1..0-0. I had some grovelling ideas in mind when I suddenly saw that Jack could play 2.Rf6 and I was completely busted. It didn't take long for Jack to notice this, he played it and the game finished soon after.

So not bad for the first real chess in a year. I won one, drew one and lost one, missing one rather monumental move for my opponent in each game! The tournament was great fun, and the fact that it ended in a 4-way tie for equal first was pretty fitting as no one was dominant. The second section was jointly won by Ben Frayle and Endre Simon 2/3 ahead of Surjeet Singh 1.5, and Daniel Dobos .5, and looked to be just as fiercely competitive.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Too Much Chess?

The chess world is gearing itself up for the World Championship next month, but in the meantime there is no end of chess. In fact, there's so much chess it's hard to keep up with it all. Back in the day, the Soviet Championship always used to be among the best tournaments of the year, and now the Russian Championship is also pretty hot. World number 2 and ex World champ Kramnik is in action in a very strong field currently being led by Peter Svidler.Svidler has won the Russian Champs 6 times, more than anyone else, and if the Soviet Champs are also included, then he equals the 6 wins of Botvinnik and Tal and will go one better if he stays ahead in this one.

To be honest, the tournament of the moment should be the Masters Final tournament in Bilbao. It's strong with Aronian, Mamedyarov, Adams and Vachier Legrave in a double round robin, but not as strong as one would expect a masters final to be. However, with the World Championship taking away 2 potential players, and Kramnik playing in Russia, this is still a pretty good field. I'm glad to see the Englishman Adams leading early on. He's a great player, who might just be having his best year to date, knocking on the door of the top 10 in the world again after an impressive win in Dortmund this year. Another small double round robin is happening in Romania. The King's Tournament is a 5 player event with another strong field, Caruana, Ponomariov, Wang Hao, Radjabov and Nisipeanu. Caruana started with a win in the first round, but the tournament has only just started.

It's amazing that 3 world class events should be happening simultaneously. It wasn't that long ago when 3 world class tournaments would make a good 3 month period in chess or even longer. And it wasn't that long ago that a tournament like the Chigorin Memorial with 150 players including 3 over 2700 and over 20 players rated 2600 would have attracted a deal of attention. Now it is passed over as the fourth most important event of the moment. And the 5 player GM tournament in Spain (Rapport, Cheparinov, Bruzon, Salgado, Granda) and the GM section of the Budapest First Saturday event currently being led by English GM Stephen Gordon barely rate a mention.

Is it good that so much chess is happening at the same time? Does it diminish from the worth of one tournament that other tournaments of similar prestige are scheduled at the same time? I know some people would say that you can't have enough chess, but at the moment I'm not sure which event to look at, and I find it hard to keep up with all the top events, let alone the local tournaments here in Melbourne and Australia. Perhaps it would be better to play instead of watching so much. I'm currently playing online at chess.com trying to knock out some games every day, and playing about 20 turn based games at a time. However, when I look at the quality of my play, it's no wonder I watch others! Enjoy :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jet Lag

It's that feeling you get when you've traveled a long way, especially across time zones. Jet lag is a condition which many people suffer from after long flights and it's basically to do with our internal body clocks and biorhythms. Since I returned from the USA 4 days ago, I've felt tiredness, a bit groggy at times, occasionally disoriented and lethargic. Apparently it takes about 1 day for every time zone crossed to readjust. How this works with going across the International Date Line I'm not sure. All being well, I hope to bumble my way through this week and then be ready to start life properly again next week. Luckily I have had a staggered start back to work, so things haven't been that hectic for me, though from next week things look full on. Apparently scientists in Japan are working on a pill to remedy the effects of jet lag, though I'll believe it when I see it.

I am presently using the tried and tested method of "grin and bear it" to make it through the week. Meanwhile my running program has been put on hold, but will be renewed this weekend as I become inspired by the Melbourne Marathon which is on Sunday. I have no great desire to run a full marathon, but I would love to give a half marathon a go. Maybe I need to set myself the target of 2014 Melbourne Half Marathon? Meanwhile I have friends who are cycling the week after in the Round the Bay in a Day event. Caroline is putting me to shame by riding in a women's group that are taking on a 50 km ride, while David is going for the full thing I think which is well over 200 km. I'll be a cheerleader for them, before sneaking off for a coffee in a non bay suburb!

Engrossing reading, detective novel, Navajo style

What I have been able to do is read a lot. While gradually wading through a 1000 page fantasy novel, I am breaking things up by reading other books at the same time. I just finished a book called Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman. I bought the book in a second hand bookstore in Flagstaff. We had just passed through the Navajo nation on our roadtrip and a detective novel set in modern day America but based around the Navajo culture appealed to me. This novel also touches on the religion and culture of the Zuni and coincidentally, I bought another book from that shop on Zuni Fetishes.

Flagstaff, Arizona's cool second hand bookstore (image from yelp)
As for chess? I'll be posting about that next, but I was interested to see Kasparov throw his hat in the ring for the 2014 FIDE leadership campaign. If you're not into chess, then FIDE is the world governing body of chess, and our president is a crazy guy who claims to have been abducted by aliens, and who chummed up to General Gadaffi so as to hold a chess tournament in Libya (among other things). Suffice to say there is a lot of discontent with the current leadership of the chess world, much as in the real world of politics. Will Kasparov make a difference? No doubt he will, though since retiring from chess the ex world champion has been trying his hand at politics in his native Russia. However, he has found that Putin doesn't play fair, and Kasparov is now one of his biggest critics. If the last election campaigns was anything to go by, these will be great fun to follow over the next year. :)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Back to Chess

I have been on a chess free vacation for the past 2-3 weeks and it is time to get back into the swing. It seems while I was away I missed much in the chess world, though there is now so much top class chess happening and being reported on that it doesn't really matter much. It was no surprise that Yifan Hou regained her World Championship, though perhaps the ease with which she defeated Anna Ushenina was. And while I was away there were men's and women's Grand Prix tournaments, that now seem to happen so frequently that they are just more of the same old thing. This time round, Koneru won the women's event, while the men's tournament was jointly won by Caruana and Gelfand. The World Junior Championships were won by the top seed in the boys, Yangyi Yu while my tip for the girls title, Aleksandra Goryachkina won the event. It is reassuring that one of my tips has come through, though I probably know more about girls chess than the top level of chess at the moment.

Personally, I am about to start playing again. Next week I am playing a small one day event at the Melbourne Chess Club. The MCC Quads are designed for players who have little time but want to play long play chess. Players are allocated into 4 player groups and have to play 3 games of about 60 + 20 in a day. I think it is a great idea, and while I know it will be tough to play at a constantly good level for 3 games, I am eager to play some rated chess again. In fact, it will be interesting to see how far off my play has dropped after not playing any serious competitive chess for about a year. I certainly expect a bit of rustiness, especially tactically. The question is, how to prepare for the event? Should I try to play loads of online chess? Should I study some openings? Should I be trying to solve as many tactical puzzles as possible? Hmmm, I guess I'll just continue to do what I normally do and play as best I can on the day. I'll be blogging some things here over the next week, so you'll see some of the things I'm doing to prepare.

One thing I'll be doing is following the games from the Russian Championship Final which started yesterday. The men's event is really an amazing field with Kramnik the top seed. Inspired by the fact that I recently got something right, I'm going to go for Peter Svidler for this event, he always seems to pay well at the Russian Championships. Yesterday, in the first round he started with a win, but then again so did Kramnik on a day when all the games were decisive. Number 2 seed, Karjakin lost though this was with black to Andreikin who proved just how good he was in the recent World Cup.

Finally, did I say my tipping had improved? Not really, I got one right and this has gone to my head a bit. Well, to come back to earth, I also suggested that Mirko Rujevic was going to be tough to beat in the MCC Open. Tough to beat he no doubt is, but not impossible as was proved last week by Justin Penrose. The previously unbeaten Rujevic is now on 3/4 with a large group of players while Penrose takes a half point lead into the 5th round played tomorrow. The tournament is still wide open, and Mirko must still be considered one of the favourites. Round 5 sees Penrose playing black against Dizdarevic on board 1, while the top 2 seeds, Rujevic-Pyke, play on board 2.

Right I'm off to do some preparation for next week's tournament. In America I bought a book and am going to find a good coffee and browse through it. Hopefully some of the games will get that far.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cities and Deserts

Our last day and the view changed from mountains to desert
I am currently sat at home, in the comfort of my bean bag, writing this post. It seems like only yesterday I was in 29 Palms, California driving to LA to catch my plane. In fact, the last stage of the journey was an exhausting effort, starting with a fairly easy 3 hour drive, but then taking on a 16 hour flight before landing in Melbourne. And on the way we crossed the equator, going from Autumn to Spring (though the Californian autumn was definitely friendlier than the Victorian spring) and the International Date Line meaning we lost a day.

29 Palms is a town on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park. Unfortunately, we never entered the park because of the US government shutdown that looks to be worse than originally thought. I was reading on a news website that this shutdown might run through till the 17th October when there is a deadline for a bill to raise the debt limit of the USA. I'm not 100% sure what all this means, but I do feel for the people who are out of work while the Democrats and Republicans play a game of brinksmanship politics to try to earn points in the polls. I said before that we were lucky as we'd already covered most of our holiday before the shutdown hit. I'm sure there are going to be plenty of people who's plans have been ruined by this shutdown. Even at this last point, our luck held out. While we missed the cultural and educational centres in the park we did get to see the trees that give the park its name.

Joshua Tree

Seeing this part of America really rounded things for us. Virtually everything before 29 Palms had been at relatively high altitudes for us. Consequently, the temperatures were pleasant, and there was plenty of greenery. Even before we hit California, the scene changed to that of a desert with sandy landscapes dotted with scrubby trees and shrubs. It was a landscape that I expected to see more of in the west of the USA, but I guess we were too far north for most of the time. The temperature was in the 90's on this final day so it might have been a good thing that we couldn't do too much sight seeing.

From 29 Palms we drove directly to LA airport where we had to drop off our hire car. The drive was pretty nightmarish. After spending so much time in the countryside, and considering 3 cars waiting to get in a national park as heavy traffic, driving through LA was a sharp reminder of city life. LA is covered in smog, and from a long way out this is visible. The roads were busy from a long way out too, and the driving became less considerate and more competitive as we drove through the outlying towns, the suburbs, and into the metropolitan area. It felt bad to me, though I know my view was clouded by the fact I'd driven through some of the most beautiful countryside America has to offer. And LA isn't alone. All cities move at a faster pace than their neighbouring countryside, and are dirtier and more competitive. That was the main reason for our itinerary  which avoided cities wherever possible. While we were planning we'd thought about spending some time in San Francisco as it's a city we'd both like to visit, but this wasn't the time to do it. This journey was about experiencing the American west, seeing some of the great countryside, and learning about how it has become the place it is today. We've touched the surface of this, learned much more than we knew before, and have areas we want to follow up on and learn even more.

Back to civilisation, LA airport
But every cloud has a silver lining. Even in LA, after dropping off the hire car and waiting for shuttle bus, we saw a beautiful hummingbird duck into a bird of paradise plant. Funnily enough, once we dropped the car off, things became really easy. We emptied the car, took a shuttle bus to our terminal, checked in, sat around, boarded a plane (about 15 minutes late, so no big drama), flew 12 hours to Auckland, transferred, flew 4 hours to Melbourne, got our bags, went through customs (a long queue, but it moved quite quickly), got picked up and driven home. Though we left on Wednesday night in LA, our 12 hour flight arrived in Auckland on Friday morning due to crossing the International Date Line. It has been an absolutely amazing journey, probably the most enjoyable I've ever done, and just makes me want to start planning the next road trip.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pinch, Punch...

Sunset of our roadtrip
Bizarrely, the 1st October has seen a crazy situation in the USA. The House of Representatives and the Senate have not been able to agree on a budget for the financial year, and as such, the US Government has partially shut down. The average American that we've talked to today has been either mystified, sad or angry about the decision, but the unanimous feeling is that the decision makers in their countries are a bunch of idiots. So in this respect, the average American is not far different from British or Australian people.In real terms what the shutdown means is that close to 1 million American government employees who are considered non essential will be furloughed until the situation has been resolved. These people will not be paid during the lat off, and may not get back pay. This is unbelievably unfair when the politicians are receiving their pay of over $3000 per week, especially seeing they got the country into the mess in the first place.

How will it affect Caroline and I during our holiday? Well, not a great deal to be honest, though we have considered ourselves remarkably fortunate as the main reason we came to the USA was to see some great countryside which is maintained in the National Parks system. Well, today all National Parks were closed. We were sat in a diner in Flagstaff before driving west and a guy came in who was supposed to be working at the nearby Grand Canyon National Park. Instead he was laid off, and apparently state troopers were turning back those who were trying to enter the park. Another coffee drinker at the diner said that Flagstaff was full of coaches that couldn't get to where they were supposed to be going (presumably Grand Canyon) and there were a lot of pissed off coach tourists milling about. We said that we'd been lucky, but would miss out on the Joshua Tree National Park. This great guy advised us to head south, pass through Jerome and go cross country to our final destination in 29 Palms, California. So we had to make a choice, straight across on the interstate, or the longer but prettier route? So far our traveling motto has been 'luck favours the brave', so we carried on with this and went cross country. We weren't exactly sure on the route, or on how long this would take, but what the hell, it's our last full day.

Jerome, an historical hillside town

The view from Jerome

First stop was Jerome. Another place we'd never heard of before. It is an amazing city built on a mountain, that was once a mining boom town, then when that dried up, it became a ghost town, until it was rehabilitated by artists into a wonderful off the beaten track tourist spot. Historically, it is fantastic, but it a visual pleasure with great views down into the valley. It is perhaps the most surprising point of this holiday. The fact that Arizona should have an artists community in a hillside town that wouldn't seem amiss in Tuscany was just unbelievably wonderful.

Jerome, a quaint hillside town brought back from the dead

From Jerome we drove. The drive crossed mountains covered with pine forests, mountains covered with granite rocks, mountains covered with cacti. We drove through meadows, through desert, through forests. We even managed to cross the Colorado River yet again as we passed from Arizona into California. It has been the last full day of our trip here, and we finally had a fabulous sunset, driving through California. Before we reached our destination of 29 Palms, on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park, we stopped because we were also treated to a light free area where we could see the most amazing star filled night sky. It really was a perfect final day to a holiday. And it comes down to the positive attitude that we've been taking throughout this whole trip. The easy thing to do would have been to allow the closure of the National Parks to finish our holiday, drive via the interstate to the last spot and accept that we'd already experienced a most  memorable roadtrip. But we didn't let them get to us, and just went with the flow again. I once again had to pinch myself to make sure that this is actually real, it has been so great.
We've been through the mountains, and today came the desert

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see" - G. K. Chesterton

Snoopy Mountain, Sedona

Our trip through the Western states of the USA has been amazing. While Caroline and I have been to some incredibly popular places (Yellowstone, Zion etc) we have been fortunate to have avoided anything too touristy. When we were planning this trip, we wanted to see some stunning parts of America and to learn about the cultures which have lived there. We tried to avoid cities, and anything that sounded too much like a tourist trap. And generally speaking we have succeeded. While we have been tourists, more of the time we have been traveling. We have been wowed by the landscapes, the wildlife, the history and the local cultures, whether they be Native American or not.

Today was another day of fantastic landscapes. We drove from Flagstaff south to Sedona through the beautiful Coconino Forest. Dense pine forests cover mountains, and permeate the air with a fresh, wonderful aroma. The forest then gradually is replaced by mountains of the deepest red I've seen so far on this trip. A picturesque river valley follows the road into Sedona. That's where the fairy tale ends. Sedona is the most ghastly tourist trap imaginable, a town that is in an absolutely beautiful part of the world that has decided to cash in on its position. The friendliness and openness that we've experienced throughout this trip was replaced by ignorance and commercial materialism. Prices are hiked, and the customer is just another source of income. Coach loads of tourists were teeming along the streets, making this the busiest place we've been to so far.

The scenic road into Sedona

Sedona sits at the bottom of this river valley
To be honest, Sedona was a disappointment after all the amazing things we've experienced this roadtrip. We spent probably an hour in Sedona before just turning around and driving back to Flagstaff. Flagstaff, by contrast, is a fantastic little town. Situated on Route 66, Flagstaff has an easy feel to it. The historic downtown district is full of restaurants and bars which would suit every type of person from businessmen, to the most alternative hippies. We are staying in an amazing hotel which has housed a number of celebrities. The Monte Vista Hotel, central in downtown, has seen Hollywood superstars like John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and Debbie Reynolds as well as modern stars like Freddie Mercury, Jon Bon Jovi and Anthony Hopkins. Their name plaques are on the doors in which they stayed, and sometimes pictures of the stars also adorn the doors, and some are even signed.

Historic Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff
Not all the rooms have name plates on, but ours does. Not that I'd ever heard of George Babbitt before. However, in this part of the world, the Babbitt family are pretty famous. I found a brief biography here, and in the photo above, on the far left side the Babbitt Store stands.

We have one more full day tomorrow before flying home to Melbourne. We have had a great set of experiences so far, but this journey will lead to more exploration when we get back. I have learned much on this trip, though I'd like to learn more about certain aspects of it.

Stunning Sedona background. Is it just my imagination or does the big rock resemble Australia? Snoopy is lying by its side!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Navajo Nation

Today Caroline and I traveled across the Navajo Nation, from Page in the north of Arizona, south to Flagstaff. The trip took us directly past the Grand Canyon, so we were obliged to take some spectacular pictures.

Grand Canyon from the eastern Desert View.
Our first stop was in Tuba City. Never heard of it? Neither had we until we started looking into this trip. Actually, there is a very cool Navajo Museum there, but unfortunately it doesn't open on Sundays. Is it Sunday? We've lost track of time, date, day and even time zone on this trip. In fact, we go through a daily ritual of trying to remember things that have happened before on this trip. When we realise that we can't recall what happened the day before yesterday we give up and just go with the flow for another day. At the end of the day we check our journals, and ooh and aah about the things that we've done and learned.

The Navajo have an interesting philosophy on life, including the desire to learn something new every day. They feel that we are one with the earth and that life and death are all part of the same thing. When we die, we become one with the earth and help to rejuvenate the land. Their outlook on life is very organic, down to earth and reflects their surroundings. Navajo art and jewelry is equally representative of their surroundings, with animals and dreamlike stories depicted. Community is important and activities like weaving and rug making are deemed communal and therefore important.
Tuba City Navajo rug representing Storms
From Tuba City it is a short hop to Flagstaff which seems a really cool little town which I'll talk more about in days to come. Suffice to stay we're staying in an iconic hotel (thanks to Caroline's booking skills) which has housed stars like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Debbie Reynolds and Jon Bon Jovi. The Hotel is an amazing old building which is apparently haunted if you're into that sort of thing, and after passing through the spiritual Navajo Nation, one can believe almost anything. But before getting to Flagstaff we took a short trip to the Grand Canyon. Actually, we didn't go the whole way, partly because we were exhausted and partly because Caroline is freaked out by heights, But she braved some views from the eastern Desert View of the Canyon especially for me. It is an amazing spectacle, about 10-12 miles wide where we were, but getting up to 18 miles across in places. One of the bonuses of travelling in from the east is that you get to see the canyon of the Little Colorado River that, to me, was just as spectacular.

The Little Colorado River Canyon

Grand Canyon, grand view!

Watchtower at the eastern end of the National Park
What more is there to say about this trip? Well, I'm currently sat in the bar of the historic Monte Vista Hotel drinking another great American beer, oak amber creek. I'm absolutely exhausted physically, but totally invigorated spiritually and mentally. I remember saying about 2 weeks ago that this sort of holiday is not for everyone, but for me it has been perfect: stimulating, invigorating, challenging, educational, and spectacular from a sensory point of view.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Amazing Sights

Horseshoe Bend in the late afternoon

Caroline and I have spent the day in Page, Arizona. Page is situated on the edge of Lake Powell, a reservoir that was created in the 1960's and now a beautiful playground for water sports. Page is also situated on the edge of the Navajo Nation, and there are many areas sacred to the Navajo in the region. To top things off, Page is also right next to the Colorado River, and more importantly for tourists, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. So there is plenty to do for a day around Page.

Our first trip was to Antelope Canyon, an area sacred to the Navajo and one of the most photogenic areas in the world. It is illegal to go to the canyon without a guide, so we booked on to a tour and were driven along a dry river bed to the canyon. While there are tours going through the canyon all day, apparently, the best time to go for light is at 10.30 am. Photographers will understand what I'm talking about better than I do! We were very lucky to pick up 2 spots on today's 10.30 am tour, as I don't think there were many more left! Our guide Rob was excellent, showing us how to use our cameras optimally, and directing us to the best spots for taking photo's. Even a duffer like me managed to get some good pictures. Caroline, who is an amazingly good photographer would have some fantastic images, though we'll have to wait until she gets home and processes them before seeing them.

Colours and a glow in Antelope Canyon

The light shines through into Antelope Canyon
This excursion lasted about an hour and a half, though the time flew by as we were engrossed with the sights in the canyon. It truly is a magical place, worthy of worship and a must see for anyone who is visiting this area.

After Antelope Cnyon we took a walk to Lake Powell, and then to Horseshoe Bend. The road to Lake Powell had been broken, probably by flooding, so we had to walk the 4 mile round trip, and it was pretty hot. Catching views of the lake was worth it. Then it was another hike to Horseshoe Bend, an overlook into the Colorado River from way up high. Today has truly been a day of spectacular views, which I don't think can be topped. I suppose the Grand Canyon tomorrow might stand a chance.

A rocky road to the beautiful Lake Powell

Saturday, September 28, 2013

And Into Arizona

Today, I read in a brochure "Most people come to this part of the World to see the Grand Canyon, but there is so much more". We have a couple of days before we're due to see the Grand Canyon, and it better be all it's cracked up to be, because we've seen some wondrous things so far. Today we started off in the town of Springdale, Utah, which is a gateway town to Zion National Park. To be honest, I wasn't too fussed about this part of the journey before we left Australia, but today I saw the light. Zion is a beautiful combination of rocks and valleys, a blend of colours that bring nature vividly to life. The only down side to the area was the lack of running rivers. We're at the end of a dry summer and things were looking pretty arid. Saying that, it was still magnificent.
Multicoloured mountainsides of Zion National Park

The rivers in Zion were very low
Beautiful fir trees cover the lower slopes in Zion
We then headed back east to Page in Arizona. Page is situated next to Lake Powell, a reservoir created in the 1950's and 1960's after the building of Glen Canyon Dam. We had to cross the dam today, and got our first glimpse of the mighty Colorado River running through enormous red faced cliffs. Tomorrow is our main day of exploration around Page as we're staying here for the day. Moving out of Utah, we have headed on to the borders of the Navajo nation, which we'll enter tomorrow. It is very obvious that Page has been shaped by the Navajo culture.

Sitting in front of 'Checkerboard Mountain'

The Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam