Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Queer Paranormal Road Trip: Brickfield Hill Bed & Breakfast

I had every intention of discussing at least one haunting in Sydney while I was visiting in the first few days of December. Due to limited internet, that never happened. And with the realization that three days hardly was enough time to cover my list of places to see I regretfully never paid a visit to Brickfield Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn (originally my first choice of accommodations but it was booked solid by the time my trip was finalized). I hope to remedy this next time I'm in Australia and still intend on devoting a fair amount of time on it in the next LGBT ghost book.

As Sydney sprang up from the wild landscape of New South Wales in the late 18th Century, a need for more permanent buildings arose. The earliest brickmakers, among them Londoner James Bloodworth, took advantage of clay deposits in the region and began producing bricks in earnest in a village which came to be known (obviously) as Brickfield. Today it is part of a popular restaurant and entertainment area named Surrey Hills. Here you will find the heart of Sydney's gay and lesbian life on nearby Oxford Street. And in a row of historic Victorian townhouses along Riley Street is a small but beautiful gay-owned inn called Brickfield Hill Bed & Breakfast.

The four-store terrace dates back to 1885 when it was built as a boarding house for Lydia King. Traces of this past were unearthed during restoration work by present owners Ivano and David. The four guest rooms are beautifully decorated with antiquities and simple elegance. Yet this is not without the modern conveniences, including free wireless internet and LCD televisions complete with DVD player. Surprisingly, given how expensive Sydney can be, they are very affordable and far less expensive than any hotel room you can find. But a hotel won't provide the same historic surroundings... or rumors of a ghost.

Both Ivano and David are staunch skeptics when it comes to ghosts and spirits. That hasn't stopped guests from reporting unusual experiences while staying at Brickfield. People have reported hearing fabric rustling and catching a glimpse of "a tall woman walking in a long black sateen dress" at the inn, most often on the stairs outside the dining room and or the upstairs landing. Even the innkeepers have heard footsteps on the stairs on more than one occasion while the building was empty yet they dismiss it as likely sound coming from the adjacent rowhouses. This cannot explain why a number of overnight guests have come out of their suites in the morning to ask what "the maid" was doing in their room in the middle of the night. There is no maid on staff, although this and the woman in black could be the same individual.

Perhaps Mrs. King is still keeping watch over her boarders from beyond the grave. Or maybe it's dark cast shadows in a creaky old Victorian, mixed with the excitement of a different city and too much Carlton's, which fuel the imagination. Whichever you choose to believe the question might be answered after spending the night—or an extended weekend holiday—in a room there. Even if you don't get a visit from "the maid" you can be sure to find plenty of spirits at the nearby Oxford Hotel or Colombian Hotel. Just remember that tipping in Australia is often included in the price (and the bartenders are better paid than in the states) so there's no need to fumble for a $1 coin.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Ghost of 2010...

The Christmas holiday season has once more come to an end as another year slowly fades away. Following the excitement-filled trip earlier this month, my actual holiday was extremely subdued. In Victorian times, Christmas (not Halloween) was a time to tell ghost stories. While I did pass some of the 25th reading about haunted places, there was a larger shadow looming over the day. The ghost of 2010.

Everyone is haunted. It may not be my a specter making its presence known in your house or workplace, or even a chance encounter somewhere in the world. It's the memories of what we have and haven't done which can keep us awake at night or bring a smile to our faces seemingly for no reason at all. For me 2010 was yet another tumultuous year or changes, experiences, and chances. I've looked out across the Pacific from both sides. I've pushed myself to achieve and let fear come in the way of new possibilities. I set out to fulfill a few dreams and didn't let anything stop me. And I've closed a few doors that were necessary for my own well-being. It's hard to fathom everything that has happened. In the past two years I've felt more alive than I allowed myself to be for quite some time.

As always, there are some regrets. A life lived without any regret is nearly impossible. Everything we do requires making decisions and choosing one path over another. Unless we settle into a mundane, constant routine without wavering even the slightest bit life is a journey not an observation. The more we forge ahead and blaze new trails, the more frightening and uncertain it becomes. I made a decision that my life should be an exploration fraught with challenges and new experiences. Not every one has been pleasant but I wouldn't change my decisions for the world. It's an indescribable feeling to be in a situation you've played out in thoughts and imagination many times and think, "Wait a minute. This is really happening. Wow."

Already, 2011 is going to be another year of continued growth and adventure. In just a few more weeks I'm starting back at my old university, finally taking steps toward a degree I've postponed for so many years now. And in my mind I have tentative travel plans to a few selected places, some of which will hopefully happen. Travel is one of my biggest driving forces in life. It's not enough to sit back and read about the world. I want to engulf my senses in foreign lands, dine with the natives, and absorb everything imaginable. Even with the paranormal I need to see, feel, and hear the sounds of those places that for so long have been notes scribbled on paper or flat photographs on a screen.

If I have one wish for 2011 it's that more people do the same. Yes, these are uncertain times for many of us. Life can become a challenge just living day to day. But nothing is impossible. With enough desire and creative calculations, all of us can make small steps at making our lives exactly what we want them to be. Dreams aren't just silly thoughts to be cast aside or ground out by harsh realities. They are points on a map that require careful navigations. No ambition is too silly or absurd. Often the biggest obstacle for us is believing others when they tell us our dreams are impossible, stupid, or unrealistic. Doubt is a powerful force. And too often it leads to stagnation and forfeiture.

We can learn a lot about life from the lives of those who passed away and perhaps even haunt the buildings and houses in your neighborhood. Great things have been accomplished by people we've never even heard of. Not every ghost story is a lamentable tale of regret or self-imprisonment. Some spirits have lived more than we could ever imagine. Don't allow the dead to have more life than you. Remember that where you are is only the smallest speck on a huge sphere whirling around at 600 mph. There's so much life out there, so much to interact with. Don't wait for life to come to you. It's all around, waiting for you to take notice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Looking Back at My Australian Adventure...

Australia definitely didn't disappoint me when it comes to the paranormal. Although I didn't set out to make my trip all about dead people, I did find a little time to seek out the bizarre, the otherworldly, and the creepy in the land far away. But first, a word on jet lag. I haven't traveled across this many time zones in a decade, and even then it was only a five-hour difference. This time, it was 14 hours. After a whole five days back in the states I still can't get myself sleeping normally again. My mind is awash with thoughts, memories, and reflections on the two weeks on the other side of the world. And no amount of caffeine can get me feeling human (and alive) quite yet.

Still, I plod on. And there are so many wondrous things to tell about Australia. For those of you who wonder, no I didn't meet Oprah nor did I even cross paths with her entourage. Thankfully. That's no disrespect for her or her audience. But the experiences I had were vastly different from the McCafe-drinking, Outback-hiking, "G'day mate" schlock tossed around in a tourist-driven tour. This was the "choose your own adventure and get lost several times in the process" type of travel that I've grown to love. It's being out of your element and often a bit fearful of what could happen. Stepping out of your comfort zone and into the reality of a city, far from the tourist maps and beaten path, can be the best way to see a place for the first time. There's not much room for illusions and false pretenses. It's not wandering around the rim of the volcano, it's diving in head first and hoping you aren't burnt to a crisp.

Sydney was my first stop and where I wearily landed on the first day of December. It is the wettest December in 20 years. Seeing my friend Joel waiting at the airport did improve my mood but there wasn't much time to waste. The journey was on after a long bus ride to the hostel. Rain or shine, when you only have a few days in a city you have to make the best of it. We did quickly realize that there wasn't any feasible way to see everything on my list in three days, but I did get a good taste of the city. And I can mark another item off my Bucket List: walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge. And it turned out to be a beautiful day for it too! Still, Sydney did leave a mark on me. The sun is a lot stronger there than I'm used to so on the ferry to Manly I developed a rather nasty sunburn that peeled off during the remainder of my stay. Somewhere in Sydney, there's still part of me floating around undoubtedly.

Another day went by picking up Joel's car, stopping by a few out-of-the-way spots including Campbelltown (home of the Fisher's Ghost Festival), visiting the lovely Sam and Deb for lunch in Wollongong, and a treacherous foggy drive to the capital Canberra. Another three days went by quickly visiting the sights and museums and staying with Joel and his boyfriend Brett. I want to thank both of them for their gracious hospitality and good company. I'm forever in their debt for everything. I met even more fascinating people during those days and learned about a few tragedies from the past. A very helpful staff member at a museum even took the time to give me a detailed account of all the ghosts and paranormal happenings in and around the building! I'm not even sure if it's mentioned on any ghost tours so I felt quite honored to get a taste of haunted Canberra.

Following that leg of the journey, there was a while day of travel in store. Unfortunately, navigation doesn't always go according to plan. Somehow on our attempt to take the scenic route along the ocean via the Princes Highway, we found ourselves lost in the Snowy Mountains. We passed through part of Kosciuszko National Park (home to the tallest mountain in Australia of the same name) and caught several glimpses of mountain snow still clinging to the highest points of land before getting directions and taking the shortcut toward our destination. This meant taking a terrifying drive on a stone-and-dirt mountain road through the Snowy Mountains for a few hours before returning to civilization. We reached Inverloch at nightfall where we stayed the night before heading to suburban Melbourne the next day. In light of our adventure I felt a day of shopping would be better than more long drives and sightseeing.

Melbourne went by the fastest. I'm not sure if it was the overexposure to ideas, restaurants, places, and people flooding me at the speed of light or the fact that the trip was nearing its end. I met up with the curator of Melbourne Museum (and we exchanged signed books), stopped at the Haunted Bookshop, and saw some remarkable old buildings. Given the tight budget I was on the final leg had its moments. And tensions did run high at times. For anyone who has ever spent two solid weeks with a friend, traveling or not, you know that nothing is ever all sunshine and lollies. Perhaps it was just my own perspective but I felt that toward the end, Joel needed a break from me. I know I needed some solitary time myself and my emotions went rampant a few times along the way from the lack of quiet alone time. But I like to think that there wasn't any permanent damage done to the friendship. Even if things had gone smoothly the entire time, I'd worry. It's just my nature.

I took a bus back to Sydney to give Joel a break from the insane amount of driving he did during the trip. Then it was a matter of catching my three flights back to Cleveland and arriving six hours after leaving Sydney. Hence the jet lag. When you travel for 24 hours and only six hours actually pass, it's natural for your internal clock to pop a few springs. I landed wearily at Hopkins International with a head full of experiences and thoughts as well as luggage filled with souvenirs, pamphlets, and mementos. And a new hat. And a zillion ideas on reviving a novel I started years ago only this time set in Australia. And don't forget the bit of uneasiness about possibly leaving with unresolved emotions between myself and my dearest friend. Not in that way; I mean emotional casualties of too much time in close quarters combined with a frantic, fast-paced sojourn.

Overall, it was an incredible experience. Seeing so much of Australia in two weeks was amazing. Having that time together with Joel did more for me than I ever thought too. And it wasn't exactly how I had imagined it all going. For one, there were fewer iffy moments than I anticipated. And secondly I actually enjoyed meeting his boyfriend! Perhaps that's all I really needed. Seeing Joel in person for a change, having some good and not-so-good moments together, and watching them both interact together to see that yes they both were happy together and life was good. though all that realization did make me feel awkwardly in the way on my final day in Canberra before going to Sydney for my departure. I wanted them to have some time together and felt a bit guilty about Brett's non-involvement in the whole experience. Yes this was to be my first true vacation in as long as I can remember, but the last thing I ever want to do is be "in the way."

I know this all seems like an abridges version of the trip, and it is. But I wanted to give a short version of events and not go in-depth on every day, every moment. It would simply take too much time... not to mention become too dangerously close to being a diary instead of the blog I intended to have. I did see plenty of haunted places but during daytime hours. This was intentional, though. Ghost tours weren't in the budget (not would there have been much time for them) and I wanted to photograph several places in good light. I will be sharing a lot more about the hauntings in the future, though. Australia is still my favorite place in the world. And on March 1, 2011 I'll be giving a presentation at Cuyahoga Falls Library at 7:00 PM regarding many haunted places, famous and obscure, in the land down under. I'll also toss in a few moments from my trip, share a few souvenirs with the audience, and fix some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about Australia. But for now, let's just try to survive the holidays...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From Tropical Spirits to Frozen Entities...

I successfully managed to neglect my blog the entire trip. It wasn't intentional. Having just two weeks to explore so much new territory was a challenge enough without fitting in some writing. I'm still trying to digest everything. Plus I made some fascinating discoveries, had a few unintentional adventures, and mat some wonderful people along the way. It really was a great experience. While not every single moment was perfect, I don't regret it. Even the less-than-wonderful moments made the trip more real. Not the Oprah Winfrey trip of misinformation and touristy things. The real Australia. And I've left with wonderful memories and a few ideas for writing work that I'll start on in the coming months.

Since I didn't get to write about the trip on here (and did get to take notes in a diary I kept with me) I'll be sharing some things from Australia on here in the next few weeks. I also have to get to work on a library talk on Australia ghosts that will be happening this winter (more details to follow). I do want to thank everyone I met for making the trip not only a positive experience but even possible. The budget was incredibly tight and without my friend Joel (as well as friends of his who graciously made accommodations open to us) this wouldn't have happened. I know with being together almost non-stop he's a true friend for tolerating me as much as he did. lol I fully admit I have my moments...

It will take a few days to get my sleep back to normal, adjust back to a colder climate, and shuffle through the countless notes, pamphlets, and things I brought back. But I will. And now that Christmas is fast approaching, there's so much to do before the year is over. This time, however, I will have a chance to jot down some things here.