London, You Call This a Heatwave? Travelling With A Milestone Around My Neck – Part 1

Q. Why did the 50 year old mother of two cross the world?

A. To get to the other side of course and because there was absolutely no reason to wait for tomorrow to do something she was passionate about. The other reason was to follow the chicken to Budapest which had gone before her so they could have an encounter that involved paprika sauce and cucumber salad, after which one of them would not survive.

But more about Budapest later.

Turning 50 can be daunting. I think the lead up to the actual event was worse than the event itself and the aftermath. At least that’s what I found, but I realise I am only a fledgling when it comes to 50+ living. That said, I decided to celebrate this achievement, rather than mourn the passing of something and to do it in a way that had meaning for me.

This meant a recent four week family odyssey to Europe and the Middle East. And we all know what happens when you cross travel with a blogger. A blog series about travelling called “Travelling With A Milestone Around My Neck”.

Welcome to my first ever blog series outside the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Over the coming weeks I will regale you with stories of beautiful architecture, amazing culinary delights, delightful characters and possibly the odd travel tip or two as seen from the lens of an independent traveller. This series will be about experiences rather than facts and figures, so come and join me for the journey of a Milestone.

Part 1

Travelling from Australia to Europe is not for the faint hearted. From door to door it involved each and every one of the plane, train and automobile or multiples thereof, only to arrive in London at 6.30am. Who other than the cleaning crew and potential thieves can get into a hotel room at 6.30am?

Not us, not after 26 hours of flying. After catching the Tube from Heathrow to our Hyde Park hotel, we sleepily deposited our bags and ventured out to kill about 8 hours. We arrived to the wonderful news that London was experiencing a heat wave. Wonderful because we had left winter. The morning was cool, but then again it was only 7am, so we were anticipating being washed over with warmth as the sun revealed itself more during the day.

Image from Alberto Vaccaro Flickr phostostream

Image from Alberto Vaccaro Flickr phostostream

Somehow in our  travel world, killing time generally equated to eating and so we went in search of food. What we discovered was that generally London does not wake before 10am, particularly on a Sunday and that after 26 hours of flying one’s sense of adventure is not at its peak. So we settled for some local eminently forgetful offering and then set off towards the Shakespeare Globe Theatre. This was a special request from my eldest, who is passionate about writing and poetry.

The theatre is located on the bank of the Thames and is built in the style of theatre as it was back when Shakespeare was a playwrite. The performances are performed outdoors rain, hail or shine and there is standing room and seating depending on the price you are prepared to pay. We had a wonderful 90 minute tour of the theatre and watched as the stage was being prepared for that afternoon’s performance of Antony & Cleopatra. At various times, the actors would appear to familiarise themselves with the theatre acoustics and exercise their throats in readiness for that afternoon’s performance. Not being sure we would stay awake for the performance we didn’t buy tickets. Please be assured, dear readers, this had nothing to do with Mr Shakespeare’s writing prowess and everything to do with travel fatigue.

It was a beautiful sunny day in London and the sun starved Londoners were out in force along the Thames. Buskers, food vans, town, friends, lovers, families and tourists all contributed to an active, lively throng with a fantastic vibe. This was enough to lift our travel fatigue, which was a good thing because there was another 5 hours yet to go before our eyes would clap on a bed. We were seeing London at its jolly best. I have been to London before in Summer, but I had never seen it this carefree, this animated.

Strolling along the Thames it was inevitable that we would come to the Londoneye. The Londoneye is a mega ferris wheel for tourists where on a clear day you are treated to an amazing vista of London. On this day, there was a mega queue to ride the mega wheel so we settled into a mega wait, which thankfully didn’t turn out to be mega at all. I’m generally not one for pre-buying tickets, because that locks you in to being somewhere at a certain time and that’s not what holidays are to me. 40 minutes later we were in our hermetically sealed bubble along with about 20 others marvelling at the beautiful London landscape. At this point I would love to show you a picture of that vista, but I have to ask for a little patience as I sort through the technical glitch with the photos. In the meantime, here’s a stock photo.

Having safely reached terra firma once more, fatigue again set in and I could encourage the kids no more to keep going. The good news was that we only had half an hour before our hotel room would be ready.london eye view - wikimedia commons

And so we made our way back to the hotel via the London Tube. This has to be the greatest invention known to man. A train every 2-3 minutes to whisk you away to practically any point in London and so easy to manoeuvre around  even a 50 year old can work it out. Try as it might, Sydney just can’t replicate this sort of efficiency.

After retrieving our room key, we were shown to what had to be the smallest closet hotel room in London. For four of us, two of whom were teenage boys! Nevertheless, said teenage boys were asleep in 10 minutes. The Italian Stallion and I went in search of some shops to get the basics for our trip. 34 hours without sleep so far.

And the heat wave? A paltry 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 Fahrenheit). As Mick Dundee famously said in the movie Crocodile Dundee “You call that a knife” so I will famously say ” You call that a heat wave?” Bah, to an Aussie 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) plus is a heat wave.

Nevertheless, it was great to see Londoners out and frolicking about, even if they were tempted to sunbathe in a park in the middle of the city. A rather amusing habit to an Australian who along with most other Australians gravitates towards a beach for that purpose.

With the vision of bikinis and speedos in parks, I could fight the sweet siren call of sleep no more.

Next up: Pomp, circumstance and popping my B&B cherry in France

 

Cut From The Same Cloth

Every closest has a deepest darkest recess. Yesterday I ventured into mine. Not lightly, but it had to be done.

This was not a cleaning or clearing expedition, it was in fact a hunt borne out of a little desperation.

Only a little, mind you.

I decided I was going to wear a proper suit to work.

Now, I work in an office and have been wearing tailored gear, so it’s not as if I haven’t been dressing up. It’s just that what it means to be a professional has changed for me. At some point I reached that zone where being good at what I do is less about convincing others that I am and more about projecting my self-worth and confidence in knowing I am good at what I do. This is not hubris or arrogance, I know there are ways I can do better and I consciously put myself in positions where I have to learn every day. It’s just self belief. Guys tend to be quite good at it. Women, not so much, we tend to only put ourselves out there when we have ticked every box. Guys maybe tick one box or tend to have a go when they think they could tick at least one box if given the opportunity. There are masses of women’s publications devoted to this very topic trying to nudge women to move away from perfection.

Whatever you want to call it, self belief was a lesson that took me 40+ years to learn.

And with it came a wardrobe (and job) change.

Now my work wardrobe reflects who I am. Whilst I have never been tempted to pull out the little pink sequined number with purple Doc Martins ahead of a business meeting, manly because I don’t own any of these, I have given myself permission to move away from the classic suit. It has been quite the liberation.

One small step for mankind, a huge leap for the Curtain Raiser!

But back to the bowels of my closet and suit day. I’m not sure why the reason for the suit, there was no high powered meeting or function. I just felt like it, and that’s a revelation in itself.

Hey pal, how many of those grey numbers do you have?

Hey pal, how many of those grey numbers do you have?

So I gingerly approached my closet’s bowels and starting pulling out suit options. First one, then another and then another trying to figure out which one would work. I hadn’t laid eyes on these for a couple of years, so there was a short period of reacquainting and reminiscence.  And as I began laying them out in a row, a pattern began to emerge.

It hit me like a plank to the side of the head. These suits that I faithfully wore over the last decade were all the same. Oh, there might be slight variations in style as in pants versus skirts or charcoal grey versus navy, but they we all made of dark fabric and had pinstripes.

There laid out before me was evidence of my blind conformity. All in all, was I just another brick in the wall? (With apologies to Pink Floyd)

Gaaaah!

It’s amazing how the myriad of little decisions we make everyday weave together to make the tapestry of our lives. Any one of these decisions in isolation probably has little consequence, but put together and laid out like this, it’s a page in the book of your life. A page I have firmly decided to turn.

It was heartening to see in those suits confirmation that I had moved forward.

Speaking of moving forward, time to head to my closet and then to work. Uniforms need not apply.

 

To my regular readers: My sincere apologies for not yet posting about my travels. I have had a few technical glitches with photos. Will hopefully get to it soon.

 

Life Under the Iron Dome, MH 17 and a Tonne of Gratitude

Well, here I am back in the land of the roo and once again pumping out my words to the blogging kingdom.

And I am grateful, so very grateful.

I will be blogging in more detail about our trip over the coming weeks. Each place we visited had its own unique hum and gifts to share and each is worthy of a mention. I could talk about the food, the architectural beauty, the culture and our experiences, but not in this post.

Today, I want to write about geographic boundaries, dodging missiles, coming home and gratitude.

When I left these Australian shores a month ago it was with the knowledge that I would be vigorously attacking the travel part of my bucket list. There were places we visited and almost visited that have been in my personal bucket for decades and they were finally going to be red penned with much excitement.

Travel is inherently risky. We could talk about statistics and probabilities and compare travel to other activities, but that would mean reducing feelings to numbers and introducing too much logic into what ultimately is a personal decision. Whatever the case, it’s a risk I have always willingly accepted.

For the first two weeks of our travels in Western European countries, we ate, we walked, we toured, we ate, we saw, we ate, we slept and we ate. This is not to say that all we do is eat on holidays. It just seems to be that when travelling one tends to have more encounters with food than usual. So I have a perception that I ate a lot, although my clothes seem to have forgiven me.

route map

During the third week however, the news about the conflict in the Middle East became more extensive and urgent. For the most part we were stuck with the BBC news coverage, which seems to be the English news service of choice amongst our chosen innkeepers. We also knew that we had to make a call at the end of that week as to whether we would continue with our planned flight to Israel, a flight we booked a year ago. Making this decision for oneself is hard enough, but to also have to make it for your children raises the degree of difficulty exponentially. I can only imagine what decisions Palestinian and Israeli parents have to make for their children every day.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict, we were about to head straight into it.

I have discovered that Government travel advisories are only of limited assistance if you want to live a life wrapped in anything other than cotton wool. So I felt we were largely on our own in having to make the decision.

After considerable deliberation and angst we decided to proceed, having stored the email address and contact number of the Australian embassy so it was close at hand. Four air raid sirens and rocket blasts later, we observed and experienced what life was like under the Iron Dome.

And we flew out of Tel Aviv richer for our experiences – ALL of them.

It would take three flights and about 30 hours to get home to the other side of the world.

One of my favourite pieces of inflight entertainment is the route map. I love watching it in the warmth of cabin darkness, seeing the passing of time and passing of names of cities which roll off the tongues of our local news presenters with some effort. Names like Kandahar, Teheran and Jaipur. Then there are names of cities I had never heard of like Sevastpol in the Ukraine, adjacent to the Black Sea.

We were in the air at the time MH17 went down. We were one or two hours out of Singapore headed to Sydney  – a seven hour flight. There was no indication of the tragedy that was to unfold over the Ukraine skies at the time we last tapped into the news during those precious final free WIFI grab moments at Changi airport.

Touching down in the cold of a Sydney’s winter day at 6 am in the morning, we felt tired and excited whilst feasting our eyes on the familiar. Turning on my local phone, we learned of the fate of MH17 whilst collecting our luggage from the arrival carousel. A luxury not afforded to the passengers of MH17.

And then came the swift realisation that we had been flying over the same region, if not squarely over the crash site, some 8 hours before the MH17 tragedy.

We are grateful to be home, we are grateful to have had the ability to wait for our luggage at the point of arrival and we are grateful to live in a land of peace. Our thoughts are with all of the families who lost members during the last month in each of these conflicts. One has to believe that humanity will ultimately prevail.

As always, I welcome your comments on my posts. However, I have no wish to turn this into a political debate about the conflicts referred to in this post or the political views about any country referred to in this post and I would ask that you respect that. I am merely relaying my personal recent travel experiences which happen to collide with current affairs.

 

 

 

Travelling Like Its 2014

Gone FishingThe big day has finally arrived and the bags are all packed together with our family’s anticipation. In a couple of hours, we will be taking to the sky for what will be a 24 hour ride to the Continent. Thankfully that 24 hours is broken into 3 legs, because 24 hours straight in a sealed steel capsule is no one’s idea of fun except if that capsule happens to be the International Space Station.

It’s all a little surreal since the planning and booking for this trip took place about a year ago and it has all come down to this last few hours.

As a family we tend to do holidays well together. Some families implode in this thrown together 24/7 situation. We explode. We explode with mirth and banter and the need to pull together for a common goal. In some ways we work better together out of our natural environment than in it. Whatever the case, it works for us. And for the first time we are travelling with one of our children officially classed as an adult.

This is not the only first. There will be a lot of firsts in the next 4 weeks. First time in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany and first time we drive in a foreign country. First time I celebrate a belated birthday in another country and first time we will be in a nation other than Australia during a World Cup. And many more.

We will be covering a lot of ground in the time we have. If you have to travel a full day to get to anywhere you have to make the most of it.

The top 10 things I’m looking forward to on this trip:

  1. Poking around the Normandy region and checking out the D Day beaches.
  2. Seeing the remnants of the Berlin Wall.

    image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

    image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

  3. Not having to cook.
  4. Belgian Chocolate and the Last Post in Ypres.
  5. Petra.
  6. Amsterdam – all facets of it. Heard so much about it, time to check it out.
  7. Being with the family.
  8. Not having to cook.
  9. Visiting a friend in Denmark.
  10. Budapest.
  11. Not having to cook (hoping you aren’t noticing this is number 11)

And so much more.

I’m not planning on blogging during the trip, but will write about it once I return.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a great month.

There’s only one thing left to do and that’s to say see you all on the flip side!!

Living The World Cup Life

WARNING: This post contains opening game of the World Cup spoilers.

I’m not sure where the last month has gone. I have looked high and low.  I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. It was not my intention to lose a month of blogging, but I’m reappearing briefly before disappearing again to lose myself in European adventure.

soccer ballBut not before setting out my observations on the opening game of the World Cup. If you have to ask which World Cup, you are clearly not a soccer/football fan, because there is really only one World Cup and that’s THE World Cup. Before I start, a warning to the football purists, I grew up in a soccer world. That’s right, a soccer world, not a football world. My dad was a soccer fanatic. Born of European origin he transplanted his passion for the game to his adopted country. This meant I grew up on a steady diet of weekly soccer games at which dad would discuss soccer politics and yell at the ref. He would also buy a bag of peanuts to eat during the game and at the end of the 90 minutes, we would find ourselves knee deep in peanut shells and exit the ground to the sound of underfoot shell crunch. Once at home, he would talk more soccer politics to his friends and they would solve all of the competition’s soccer ills over a few glasses of spritzer.

This is what I grew up with and to me “soccer” is the name of the world game played with the round ball. Football on the other hand was something that Aussies played with an egg shaped ball whilst chasing each other around a paddock. Commonly known as rugby – whether league or union –  that was and is the dominant sport in this country. It’s really only in the last decade or so that the term “football” has been also used to describe soccer, bringing us in line with the UK and other soccer playing English speaking nations (are there others?). So soccer it is in this post.

I have just finished watching the tail end of the opening game of the World Cup. An exciting matchup between Brazil and Croatia, with the home team coming away with the win. Love the colour, the spectacle and the knee-high socks that stay up against all odds. I might even admit to admiring the odd highly toned striker/midfielder or two, but only because of their *cough* fancy footwork, *cough* grace and *cough* athleticism.soccer bonding

The game had the usual volume of on field machinations. It set me to thinking about what would happen if we applied some of these techniques in our day to day lives. So, what if we could see more of the following:

  1. The own goal recovery – Brazil is one of the classic soccer nations. Kids learn to dribble a soccer ball, well… before they learn to dribble and every kid dreams of making it to the national team playing in a world cup. Of course, this current one also happens to be before a home crowd on home soil with the eyes of the world watching. The anticipation and drama around Brazil being ready to host the event have been building and the opening game is finally here. And the first goal scored? An own goal by one of the Brazilians. Can you imagine the thoughts that would have run through that guy’s head at the moment? I’d venture to suggest that “oh crap” doesn’t come close. However, there were no open recrimination, the dude got a tap on the back by one of his team mates, they avoided the psychological black hole to win the game. What would life really be like if team work was more than a term in a managerial manual and people actually lived by that credo?soccer team
  2. The Clayton’s foul –  A stray foot or hand and suddenly there’s a player on the ground acting as though was run over by a semi-trailer. All in the hopes of scoring that penalty to give his  team the edge. And when the ref flashes that yellow card he is more than half way to victory. The recovery rate and speed of these players once a penalty is awarded is nothing short of miraculous. Coupled with that if every soccer player had the injury he enacted on the field you would need 4 times as many players to complete the 90 minutes of game time. Perhaps we should all have academy award training for unintended slights, paper cuts and directed passive aggression. Thankfully, this is not the way most of us live our lives, although we have probably encountered people who do.
  3. The goal scoring pile up – this is my favourite. One of the guys scores a goal and he is squeezed, squashed and piled on. I’m sure this is a macho technique to hide all of the hugs, kisses and tears that is the consequence of a goal having been scored. You don’t fool anyone, guys. We know you just bonded in that 10 second pile. Imagine what life would be like if every time you had a small victory your “team” came and piled on top of you? Might be a mother of sons thing, but I think the pile is a very under utilised technique for showing appreciation.

Soccer fans are in for a real treat over the next few weeks, with many more Oscar winning performances to come.

Australia will face its first opponent, Chile, in the next day or two. We are the firm underdogs. But there is something to be said for being privy to a great Aussie pile. May the Aussie boys experience their fair share in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I will be watching for more pointers to add to my life manual called Living The World Cup Life.

Food Labelling Nonsense: How Intimate is Your Lunchbox?

I may be lunchbox friendly but am I label friendly?

I may be lunchbox friendly but am I label friendly?

Have you ever wondered what happens inside your lunchbox after you shut the lid? I know I have lost endless hours of sleep and sanity thinking about this very thing and more importantly as a mother thinking about how I may be affecting my kids by what I pack in their lunchbox.

OK, given the ages of my kids I don’t really pack their lunch boxes anymore, but I did for years and found it an eternal struggle. Struggle in the sense of keeping the lunchbox interesting so that its contents actually ended up in the kids’ stomachs rather than as a science experiment two weeks after it was first packed. We parents have all witnessed that experiment at one time or another and have acknowledged how creative Mother Nature really is by coordinating so many pretty colours of mould. And like me, I am sure you were often in fact packing lunches for other people’s kids because lunchtime was just a big swap meet. To ensure your kid maintained playground status it was important to always pack swap worthy, interesting items. Your kids may not have appreciated the nutritious, smelly salami sandwiches that you lovingly packed every day, but little Johnny whose parents were vegetarians certainly enjoyed your daily efforts.

I’m glad those days and the lunchbox pressure is now over.

Roll the film forward to lunch time today and I was lucky enough to have been offered a  muesli bar by a friend. It hit the spot right in the middle of four hours of uni classes. As I was breaking open the packaging about to savour the delicious flavours of strawberry, yoghurt and oats, I noticed that the labelling on the packaging proclaimed this muesli bar to be LUNCHBOX FRIENDLY.

Since when did muesli bars become aggressive and mean? Mind you, I have had my suspicions. Every time I used to put a muesli bar into my son’s lunch box the apple core would come back bruised and the mandarin beaten to a pulp. Coincidence? I think not.

If I was putting together a lunch box today for my sons I would have to consider not only the nutritional and freshness retention value of the food together with the ever changing palettes of my offspring, but also whether the food played nice with other food when the lid came down. And if not for the food label how would I ever know if a particular food was friendly and compatible? I mean trying to catch unfriendly food in the act is a bit like trying to peek inside the fridge door without making the light come on.

Needless to say the expression LUNCHBOX FRIENDLY came with a little ^ after it, meaning there was more to this friendship story. After chasing the little thingy around the bottom of the packet and squinting so hard that I almost burst a blood vessel, I found this explanation:

We care about you and your family and are committed to helping Australian families make easier choices for the lunchbox. That’s why we now make all of our muesli bars with a no added nut recipe* ensuring the range is now lunchbox friendly.

*This product has been made on equipment that does not use or handle peanut or tree nuts. Whilst we have taken these nuts out of our recipes we cannot guarantee that the other ingredients in this product have not come into contact with tree nuts or peanuts.

So having chased a ^ and * around the packet, I found that this friendly muesli bar didn’t hang out with nuts, but some of its ingredients could have. It certainly is a sign of our times that 40 or so words have to be used on packaging to avoid potential litigation or bad press around nut allergies.

I sympathise with any parent who has a child with a food allergy. I am not sure though whether introducing the label of LUNCHBOX FRIENDLY is the clearest way to warn consumers. That expression can mean a host of things to a host of people, if it means anything at all. My first reaction was that lunchbox friendly meant less fat, less sugar.

My second reaction was lunch boxes must have gotten a whole lot tougher than when I was a kid. My third reaction was to check the pantry for other nonsense labels.

The message seems to have gotten lost in the attempt at clever marketing. How many people would pause long enough to chase the symbols around the packet? It seems preferable to simply state NOT MADE WITH NUTS given the caveat about other ingredients possibly having socialised with nuts.

Why use 4 words when you can use 40?

Have you ever come across nonsensical  labelling of foods?  Do you read the food labels on packets?

Reflecting Imperfectly: Looking back on the #atozchallenge 2014

A-to-Z_Reflection_[2014]

Another year and another Challenge over. There is no doubt, that the A to Z April Blogging Challenge remains my favorite. I think it’s because of the structure, the camaraderie and the rest stops during the month. I needed them this year with the pre-Easter week working, blogging and academic assignment crunch.

April generates an incredible blogging energy with two thousand participants all plugging away to take the journey from A to Z. I find it really uplifting and motivating. Often times I had the seeds of an idea for my post on the morning of the letter, which would germinate throughout my working day, ready to flower in the evenings when I wrote my posts. I tried starting writing my posts before April but it didn’t feel the same, without that participant energy. By choosing my theme for the Challenge, I felt my posts had to bear some of my personal experience and thoughts, in short, show my authentic self. As there are days when I am plagued by doubts about my own self development and I didn’t want to bury that. So the posts worked better in real time. That was a whole lot tougher than I anticipated, even having winged some of the Challenge posts last year.

This year’s Challenge was the toughest so far. For all of that, I now have a good body of self development posts to add to my portfolio and felt I reached out to more than a few bloggers who could identify with the issues I was discussing. In a lot of ways we are not so different from each other and knowing that we all have doubts and go through periods of questioning is comforting.

As always, I met some fantastic bloggers along the way this year and became reacquainted with other bloggers I met two years ago during my first Challenge. There is some incredibly creative talent out there not to mention passion and focus. The support I received from some of my fellow Challenge bloggers in retweeting and sharing content was incredible. I have also added valued members to my blogging community and I look forward to continuing to add to their communities also.

Thank you to all of you who read, liked, commented, shared and supported. It makes a real difference to the Challenge experience and enhances it beyond measure.

A final thank you to the Challenge co-hosts and all of the Challenge assistants. Another fantastic job by Arlee Bird and the whole team, with this year seeing the introduction of the #AtoZChat on Twitter – a great way to get to know Challenge participants ahead of time.

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