Down Under Wrap-up

Happy New Year and the best of everything in 2018—Darcy, Bullet, and Pat.

Cruising Milford Sound.

Today I’m wrapping up my Down Under blog series and want to share a few parting photos that I hope you will enjoy. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, I am not writing a travel blog per se. I only post about locations that will appear in future Darcy and Bullet thrillers. So yes, I do plan to set a novel Down Under, and many of the countries in my current posts will be settings for forthcoming books. 

Cruising the Milford Sound

a glimpse into my 2018 blog posts: in the coming months I will post about my Canadian trip and my St. Barth’s visit, also settings for new Darcy and Bullet novels. After these travel posts, I will do a series on art and architecture. Why, you might ask, would I write about these? Because both subjects are dear to Darcy’s heart and mine. Watching a talented person create a work of art, design a structure, or write a book is inspiring unto itself, and art and architecture play a part in my thriller series.


Let’s start with those cheeky keas, heralded as the world’s most intelligent birds. Dubbed “the clown of the alps,” and the only alpine parrot in the world, the kea is native to the forested and mountainous regions of New Zealand’s South Island. The screeching cries of “keeeaa” alert you to the presence of these highly social and inquisitive birds.

Although I haven’t had the privilege, I’ve been told that if you see a kea in flight you will never forget it. The birds transform from olive green to brilliant flashes of orange, scarlet, yellow, blue, and turquoise.

Keas are hardy birds that tolerate a range of temperatures, and they thrive on everything from berries, fruits, roots, and leaves to even carrion. They also loiter around picnic sites—an easy source of junk food. Insatiably curious, charismatic, and mischievous, these natural sleuths are bold, relentless, and downright destructive, but so cute. Easy for me to say when I haven’t experienced their fondness for rubber—destroying car door seals or chewing through wiper blades. I did get a kick out of seeing several board a bus during our tramping tour.

According to a British tourist, he had his passport stolen by a kea. The passport was stored in a brightly colored bag in the luggage compartment of a bus headed for a boat tour of Milford Sound. The kea struck when the bus stopped and the driver was busy in the luggage compartment. The driver startled the kea, which flew away with the passport.

Years ago, when a kea was spotted attacking a live sheep, the birds were branded as killers and a bounty was placed on their little green heads. Tens of thousands were killed, but today they are a protected species.

But why all the signs warning people not to feed them? Besides the bounty, their love for high-fat junk food very nearly killed them off. So for their sake and ours, do not feed the keas.


In the wilderness of Tasmania’s Southwest National Park, the history of its first inhabitants, and later its mining explorers, is being preserved at Melaleuca—renowned for its world heritage area and also for its mining history. A small mining settlement was established in the region in 1930s, where high-grade alluvial cassiterite (tin oxide) was mined. 

While digging deeper into the history of tin mining during my research on Sir Henry Jones, I discovered the life and accomplishments of Charles Denison “Deny” King, an Australian naturalist, ornithologist, environmentalist, painter, and the first tin miner in Melaleuca. To read more about him and the Deny King Heritage Museum,  http://tasminerals.com.au/news/news/about-deny-king-and-the-deny-king-heritage-museum,-melaleuca/

I also discovered during a conversation with one of the “birdies” from our tour of Melaleuca that they were not in search of “simply a green parrot” but were on a heated search to catch a glimpse of “the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot that breeds only around Melaleuca.”

The Melaleuca was originally part of the homelands of the Needwonnee Aboriginal people, and the Needwonnee Walk shares the stories of these original custodians of the land. Photo left: On the Needwonnee Walk.

Black swans at Melaleuca

Today’s Melaleuca is still virtually untouched, with only six thousand visitors each year. Due to the remoteness of the region and limited accessibility—by foot, plane, or boat—the area has maintained its wildness. Visitors’ facilities are intentionally rugged, catering to trampers, bushwalkers, day-trippers, and bird-watchers. As I wrote in a previous post, we flew into the small airstrip and then traveled on foot and by boat to tour the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Sadly, this wilderness area suffered a bad bushfire in 2016.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3429623/Tasmanian-World-Heritage-area-devastated-bushfire.html  


The infamous staircase at The Henry Jones Art Hotel

A last word on Sir Henry Jones. While Jones had a reputation for frugality, he was a very generous man who simply disliked spending money on “fripperies.” Rather than use first-grade timber to panel the Top Room at the Henry Jones hotel, Sir Henry preferred to reserve the high-quality wood for the crates that would be used to export his IXL jams around the world.

This grand staircase, also in the Henry Jones Hotel, has four carved newel posts, which support the handrail. Three have been decorated with stippling. When Jones walked by and saw a young lad from the factory floor working on the last post, he sent him back to work packing crates—an example of Jones’s abhorrence for needless expense.


From the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to bridges in Melbourne and Sydney, love locks have been cut off footbridges, melted, recasted, and refiled. In some cases, they have become works of art with the proceeds donated to charity. From a previous post of mine: https://patkrapf.com//2015/06/18/europe-2013-the-notre-dame-bells/

My last shot of Australia as we flew back to the Unites States from Sydney.

For now, I will say a fond farewell to the land Down Under, but I will see you soon, Aotearoa—the Maori name for New Zealand, which translates as “the land of the long white cloud”—for we are already planning a repeat visit.

Writers Walk in Sydney.

You will notice I use famous quotes in all of my Darcy McClain and Bullet thrillers and I’ll leave you with one now from Eleanor Dark. “Silence ruled this land. Out of silence mystery comes, and magic, and the delicate awareness of unreasoning things.” The Timeless Land (1941).






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California Book Settings: Napa

Gardens and lake at Chateau Montelena.

Early the next morning, we made a quick stop at Starbucks for drinks, then strolled Fisherman’s Wharf. The only early risers were runners, cyclists, people making deliveries, someone power washing the sidewalks, a lone skipper loading fishing tackle into his boat, and us saying goodbye to the sea lion colony on our way to Ghirardelli Square to window-shop.

Bright sunlight warmed us as we walked back to the Hyatt to check out. Our destination? Napa for a half day of fact-checking and a full one of fun.

It was close to lunchtime when we drove into St. Helena, and we had our sights set on Gillwoods Cafe for lunch. After we ate I set to work on my to-do list.

Hilltop Cellars, the fictitious winery in Genocide, is a combination of wineries in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. The main house at Hilltop Cellars is constructed from memories of a Calistoga bed and breakfast I discovered years ago, but the Mediterranean-style house sold to a private party before I could book a reservation. The wine-aging cave at Hilltop Cellars was inspired by the hillside aging cave at the Kunde Family Winery in Sonoma Valley.

I returned to the location where the Mediterranean bed and breakfast had once stood, hoping to glimpse the house from the quiet lane that stretched in front of the residence, but no such structure was anywhere to be found along the dead-end road. I assumed it had been razed. Disappointed, I cruised the highways and byways of the valley, verifying facts, but there was little to update in regards to Genocide.

The sun was low on the horizon by the time we checked into our hotel, but as soon as we changed clothes we went in search of Ninebark. Again, don’t get excited about this restaurant. According to the news, it closed temporarily in July 2016 but is now permanently closed. Ninebark opened in late 2015 in the space formerly occupied by Fagiani’s Bar, the scene of an infamous murder.

We arrived early at the restaurant and made our way to the rooftop bar to enjoy drinks, the view, and the warm evening, cooled by a soft breeze drifting off the Napa River. Within the hour we were seated downstairs in a quiet corner near the windows, and our server was prompt and friendly.

The menu headings at Ninebark were interesting: Provisions, Market, Appetizers, Plates, and Etcetera. For starters, we ordered salt cod beignets with garlic aioli and honey; meatballs of beef, pork, and lamb with goat cheese and a three-day red sauce; and Dungeness crab toast with Sichuan chili, pickled rose, and grilled citrus dashi. The portions were small and we shared. When eating out I will rarely pass up duck, and that night was no exception. It was charcoal roasted and served with lavender honey, heirloom spinach, and grilled lovage sabayon. Dave ordered the flatiron steak with fresh Napa chimichurri, koji barbecue sauce, and grilled baby scallions. For dessert I had a tawny port, and Dave, Calvados.

For the record, the best duck I’ve ever eaten was at the Black Cat Bistro in Cambria, California. Another dish I love is risotto, and by far the best was at the Boscolo Milano hotel in Milan, Italy. A close second was the seafood risotto at Artisan in Paso Robles, California.

We had another full day ahead of us with more fun was on the agenda, and while the reader may not find these wineries or restaurants in Genocide, look for them in future Darcy McClain and Bullet thrillers.

Chateau Montelena was the first winery we toured on our honeymoon and has remained a favorite—not to mention it produces excellent vintages. The Franks, who once owned the property, had emigrated from Hong Kong, which accounts for the Chinese gardens and Jade Lake, home to wildlife and weeping willows and a sanctuary for all, including people.

In the early 1970s, Jim Barrett bought the land, and under his leadership the vineyard was replanted, the chateau outfitted with modern winemaking equipment, and wine made for the first time. Today Barrett’s son Bo is at the helm of the family-owned business.

We didn’t have time to visit another of our favorites, Grgich Hills, but a stop at Chateau Montelena always reminds me of Grgich’s success as a winemaster and his impact on the wines of Chateau Montelena. In 1976, at a blind tasting held in Paris, a small number of Napa Valley chardonnays were included in the sampling. When the scores were tallied, the French judges were shocked to learn they had chosen a 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay crafted by Mike Grgich as the finest white wine in the world. Mike emigrated to the US from Croatia. You can read more about him in my blog post titled: EUROPE 2011: Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia.

Our next stop Clos Pegase, designed by architect Michael Graves, who passed away in 2015. Construction of the winery was completed in 1987, months prior to our first visit in the same year. The architectural design is postmodern with a touch of ancient Mediterranean: dramatic shapes and bold coloration, and the gardens are xeriscape. According to House and Garden magazine, Clos Pegase “has raised two ancient arts—architecture and winemaking—to a height that resonates with echoes of the ages.” While Dave joined the wine tasters, I shot photos. From Clos Pegase we drove to Rombauer to sit on the deck and savor a glass of wine while we took in the view. Koerner Rombauer was once a commercial pilot for Dallas-based Braniff International Airways, an airline I flew on many times from Miami to South America en route to Africa. Braniff went bankrupt in 1982. Our next destination was Sterling Vineyards. The starkly white hilltop estate was designed by Martin Waterfield and is a Mediterranean-style stucco structure inspired by the dwellings on the Greek island of Mykonos, where the winery’s expatriate owner once lived. Since its opening, Sterling has been sold several times and is now owned by Treasury Wine Estates, an Australian firm.

Famished, and with ten minutes to spare, we entered Morimoto. As the name implies, the restaurant serves Japanese fare. Our table had an unobstructed view of the Napa River. We sipped cold sake while we waited for our sushi and sashimi to be prepared and laughed about our experiences with San Francisco taxi drivers.

On the first night in the city, our cabbie had no idea where Volta was located and ended up dropping us off eight blocks from the restaurant. The next night we got wise and located Benu on our iPhone in case we had to give the cab driver directions. Good thing, because he had never heard of Benu. Politely, I asked, “Are you new to the city?” He replied, “No. I’ve lived here for fifteen years and I’ve always been a cabbie.”

As our last day in northern California drew to an end, we strolled along the riverfront to our parked rental and then retired to our hotel, for we had an early flight out of San Francisco back into DFW International.



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Europe 2013: The Louvre

Looking down on Paris from the Jules Verne

Monday morning dawned cool and gray, but the weather wouldn’t affect our plans for the morning, because we had reserved a tour of the Louvre. However, we hoped the skies would clear by early evening as we had dinner reservations at Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower and were looking forward to a panoramic view of Paris.

The Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselBreakfast at the Hôtel Duminy-Vendôme was on the bottom floor in a former cellar. Wine cellar, perhaps? Unlikely, since I had read the building was once a bank, and it had one of the smallest elevators I have ever been in. Our server led us to a quiet corner in the delightfully decorated room with a vaulted roof. I took in the soothing black-and-white decor while Dave perused the breakfast buffet. Mindful of the time, we ate, then left to meet our guide at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

As we had done in Versailles, we opted to “skip the line” in favor of a guided tour of the museum, a good decision considering the size of the Louvre and all it has to offer. Our feisty French guide was organized, personable, and knowledgeable in both art and history, so she had no trouble keeping her small group entertained and engaged for the hour-and-a-half tour. I had my list of must-sees, even though I was still suffering from a slight case of visual overload after our visit the day before to the Château de Versailles.

I.M.Pei’s PyramidApproaching the museum, I immediately zeroed in on I.M. Pei’s Pyramid, a seventy-one-foot-tall, interlinked steel structure sheathed in reflective, tempered glass—a masterpiece of design. Once inside, I, of course, had to photograph Pei’s self-supporting helical staircase that curls around and down from street level to the subterranean courtyard. The stair treads are of white stone with polished metal supports and the balustrade of clear glass and stainless steel. The staircase curves around an elevator that disappears completely once it has descended. Reluctantly, I left the staircase, sorry I didn’t have the chance to see the elevator in operation, and caught up to the tour. But I’ve since watched it in operation on YouTube.

I.M.Pei’s staircase

We began our tour on the lower ground floor. Many people aren’t aware that beneath the world’s most-visited museum lies the ruins of a once magnificent medieval fortress constructed in 1190 AD. During the forty-three-year reign of Philippe Auguste (1180–1223), a rampart was built around Paris, then Europe’s biggest city. To protect the capital from the Anglo-Norman threat, the king reinforced his defenses with a fortress built on the banks of the Seine. The fortification became known as the Louvre. The castle was a fortress but not a royal palace, our guide was quick to point out. At the time, the monarch’s Parisian home was the Palais de la Cité. The fortress Philippe had built was an arsenal with a moat, bastions, and defensive towers. In the center stood the massive cylindrical keep, the Grosse Tour, a fortified tower within the fortress walls, usually the last place of refuge when defending the castle. In 1527 the medieval keep was demolished to make way for a Renaissance palace. Fascinated by this bit of history, I hung back to examine more closely the ruins of the moat and the model of the original castle, which was on display.

On the ground floor, I took my time viewing the Arts of Africa exhibition, my interest springing from the years I had lived on the continent. And I spent quite some time photographing and enjoying Michelangelo’s Captive.

Napoleon’s dining room (Napoleon’s Apartments)

On the first floor, while Dave was absorbed in checking out The Winged Victory of Samothrace, I was busy photographing the Napoleon III Apartments. He approached to tell me our guide was giving a brief history of the Mona Lisa. I broke from snapping photos of Napoleon’s opulent furnishings for my first glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. I had to wait for the hordes of tourists to clear from my viewfinder before I could take a picture.

On the second floor, Dave strolled from one painting to the next. My attention, however, was fixed on one, Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, created at the age of twenty-two. Dürer was born in Nuremberg, but his parents were Hungarian. Not only was he a painter, but also an engraver, and his attention to small details was what drew me to his work. During his lifetime he produced numerous drawings in silverpoint, chalk, or charcoal. However, in his later years, he produced little as an artist and concentrated on authoring two books, one on geometry and perspective and the other on proportion and fortification. They were published in 1525 and 1528 respectively.

Two hours later, we were ready to escape the tourist crowds at the Louvre for a relaxing walk through the Tuileries Garden. We sipped hot chocolate and drank in the tantalizing scent of orange trees in bloom, the citrus plants recently set out after wintering in an orangerie.

In the late afternoon, we made one last stop to see Sainte-Chapelle, a medieval Gothic chapel opened in 1248. It is located near the Palais de la Cité. The interior is eye-catching with its high buttresses, steep, rib-vaulted ceiling, and over six thousand square feet of stained glass windows in deep reds and blues. As we left the Gothic wonder, Dave commented that we had combined tickets, which allowed us access to the Conciergerie, Paris’s oldest prison, where Marie Antoinette and later over two thousand leaders of the Revolution were held for execution. I was told that normally there are no lines, but this wasn’t the case at the security check, so we bypassed the chance to see Marie Antoinette’s cell (not her real cell anyway) and headed to our hotel to change for dinner at the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower elevator ascensionChamps de Mars, taken from the Jules VerneI don’t care for heights and never have, but in the past few years while traveling to many destinations overseas, I’ve done my best to overcome this fear by concentrating on anything, but the ground below. So as we ascended in the Eiffel Tower’s private elevator, I focused on photographing the tower itself, astounded by the engineering feat of building such a massive structure. After the short ascent to the second floor, which is one flight above the highest observation deck, the elevator landed and we were shown to a window seat in the restaurant. We had a breathtaking, panoramic view as the sun set over the City of Lights. I switched off my flash, so as not to disturb the other diners, and snapped at least a dozen photos of the city and several of the Parc du Champ-de-Mars that stretched out below.

We ordered à la carte. For starters, we had lobster in a sabayon broth, and duck liver with fig jelly and brioche. Within the week, we would be eating plenty of fish, so that night we chose meat for dinner—pan-seared beef tournedos with soufflé potatoes and a Périgueux (rich brown) sauce, and saddle of lamb from the spit, artichokes, and a meat sauce. For dessert, a chocolate soufflé and savarin with an armagnac cream. Full, we walked off our meal along the banks of La Seine, then retired for the night. Next week, we board the TGV, France’s high-speed train, to Dijon, where we will rent a car and begin our tour of the Burgundy wine region.


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