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

 

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!!

The W of Living Imperfectly: When Wanderlust Refuses to Wane #atozchallenge

As a general rule, travellers are selfish. They pay little attention either to the comforts or distresses of their fellow travellers ; and the commonest observances of politeness are often sadly neglected by them. In the scramble for tickets, for seats, for state-rooms, or for places at a public table, the courtesies of life seem to be trampled under foot. Even the ladies are sometimes rudely treated and shamefully neglected in the headlong rush for desirable seats in the railway cars.

Making acquaintances in the cars, although correct enough, is a measure of which travellers generally appear to be very shy. There is no reason for this, as acquaintances thus picked up need never be recognized again unless you please. If a stranger speaks to you, always answer him politely, and if his conversation proves disagreeable, you have no alternative but to change your seat – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

W Challenge LetterI’ve written posts before about how much I love to travel. The wanderlust I acquired through my parents has refused to wane even through marriage to a perfectly content homebody and parenthood. But the spirit and the soul cannot be denied forever and this is the year I plan to feed both through travel.

From my very first trip overseas at the age of five when I got stuck in a Parisian bathtub that could hold the volume of Sydney Harbour together with its average boat traffic to my honeymoon in Thailand when I found out that drinking milk in a hot country on a public bus was not a good idea and what being married really means, I have loved all of my trips.

Travelling with young children or travelling when a parent of young children is never easy. When the boys were young, the only real travel we did was when work required it. Back in those days the Italian Stallion did most of the work travel, leaving me at home to cope with a demanding career and parenting duties. As the boys grew older we ventured out with them as far afield as New Zealand and Noumea. There was also a trip to America just after no.1 turned two. We have since tackled Europe and America as a family.

Travelling parents tend to be an emotive and polarizing subject. The debate about whether parents should take vacations or travel without their yearn for adventurechildren seems to elicit much debate with strong views on either side. In researching the Web for this post, I was amazed to find the number of blogs that have been written to justify a blogger’s stance on why leaving children behind to travel is right for them. Whatever the case, travel like sleeping arrangements for children is a personal issue for each family and they should do what is right for them.

It is only recently that I have given in to my wanderlust and have starting roaming without my family. I would love to have them come with me, but now the boys are at a stage where they tend to have their own lives and what do you do when your husband prefers to stay close to home? To be fair to the Italian Stallion, I can coax him overseas every so often, but it would never be his first choice of activity just as cooking wouldn’t be mine. It’s a good thing for the Italian Stallion that cooking has to occur every day and that travel is an occasional thing. But I figure after a couple of thousand meals, an overseas family vacation is a fair trade.

There are arguments both ways as to whether being a parent means you should take your kids with you every time you travel. I have done both and will do both this year. People are generally inclined to cut you some slack as a parent if you are going away with your husband for a special occasion, say a wedding anniversary. We did just that not so long ago and it was wonderful and the kids had a good time back home by being coddled by their grandmothers.

But mention going away without kids, without spouse and for pleasure, you tend to get utter disbelief and a whole lot of judgement.

Whether it’s disbelief in daring to travel solo as a mature women or having the temerity to leave your family to fend for themselves whilst you actually do something for yourself, I’m not so sure. But why does this notion push people’s fear buttons so?

Good travellerI don’t really have an answer because none of this scares me. I have more confidence and a higher sense of adventure than I have ever had before so none of this makes any real sense to me. I also have utter confidence in the survival skills of my family, after all isn’t it a mother’s job to raise humans who can think for themselves and be independent?

Two weeks of me being away will do wonders for us all. My boundaries will get the stretching they so clearly are screaming out for, my family will discover a whole new temporary dynamic and the heart in all of us will grow fonder of each other.

If living live perfectly means burying my wanderlust in my middle age then I want no part of it. Instead, it’s time to be energized by adventure. And if that amounts to being selfish, then so be it.

With this post I have pressed that publish button 200 times. Hitting this milestone during the A to Z Challenge can only be described as imperfectly perfect.

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No Snakes On This Plane, There Was Only Mags

It’s amazing what can happen in a sealed capsule hurtling through the stratosphere at 30,000 feet.

storm pic

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I had just one of these experiences earlier this week on an interstate trip. Because on this flight I sat next to Mags (not her real name).

The experience started tentatively enough after a two hour delay in departure time due to weather at the destination. Apparently in these situations the destination air traffic control can determine the take off time at the point of departure. And so it was.

I dutifully boarded the plan after killing two hours watching bad television and reading even worse gossip magazines and settled into the window seat in what was a two seat configuration. Then along came Mags, worry lines on her pale English Rose features carrying three bags. She stopped in the aisle  to check her boarding pass, causing a blockage to the people behind much like a cork stopping the flow of fizzy champagne refusing to be tamed.  Oblivious to the swarm behind her, Mags checked her seat number and looked at me, before starting to unload her luggage. She looked at me again and having sensed  that she was to be my flight companion for the next hour or so I said hello as she settled herself.

“I really don’t want to be on this flight” explained Mags.

“Oh?” I asked

“I don’t like flying and now its raining and storming and I don’t understand why they are letting us fly.”

“They did say the weather was clearing where we are going to land, I wouldn’t worry so much”

“I don’t like it and my web mail is iffy, I don’t know whether my friend who is meeting me got my message that we are going to be late”

“I’m sure it will be fine”

“I hope so, my friends told me this trip was risky.”

Mags then explained that she was on the solo trip of her dreams, lasting 6 months. She had been away from her English home for mature aged travellerabout a month now and had taken off to the other side of the world to explore Australia and New Zealand. She was flying into Sydney to meet some friends before undertaking the Indo Pacific train trip to Perth (a three day journey) and would then be visiting New Zealand’s south island for a month. Being a travel tragic, I was keen to hear about everything she had planned for her travels and her expectations about her experiences so I asked her a few questions. At which point  the conversation really started to flow.

We covered all sorts of topics, England, Australia, travelling in general,  marriage, men, divorce ( Mags was a divorcee), parenting (Mags was also the mother of two sons), health (Mags had had a hysterectomy just as her husband left her), study (Mags was a late blooming student, having attended university after she had children), friends (Mags had many – it was not hard to see why), ageing, and being adventurous to name a few.

About a quarter of the way into our conversation, I knew Mags was my kind of woman.

We stopping talking only briefly with the announcement from the pilot that the plane had to circle just outside of Canberra due to delays in Sydney. And we only stopped then because we could not hear each other over the intercom.

Mags was incredible. Here was a 70 year old woman who was travelling solo on the trip of her dreams, having taken out a personal loan to do so. She was doing this despite her comfortable life back home and the advice of her friends who would never dare to embark on such a journey. On this trip she would be staying with former lodgers or family of former lodgers of hers all of whom had helped Mags pay the bills on her home to save it from her husband who tried to take it away.

This was a woman who despite her fear of flying had more courage and grit than a lot of people I know.

At the start of the descent, I turned to Mags and said ‘I’m sorry, we’ve been talking for two hours and I don’t even know your name, I’m Judy.”

“I’m Mags, I am so happy to have met you, I would have been very stressed had I not been able to talk to you.”

And with that the wheels touched down on the runway below.

My short time with Mags had come to an end. In two hours I had told Mags more personal information than a lot of people I had known for two years and felt that Mags had done the same. Maybe we both felt safe in the knowledge that apart from this brief encounter we would never meet again, maybe it was because of the brief moment of connection we had shared or maybe because Mags just needed to be distracted during the flight.

Whatever the case, I will never forget Mags. Right about now, she should be getting ready to board that train to Perth, no doubt talking the ear off the person next to her.

Mags made my trip. Her pluck, courage and welcoming visage were a gift.

And dear Mags, you thought on that flight I was doing you a favour. Ha!

Have you ever been touched by a stranger?

Today I Give Myself Permission to Explore and Experience #atozchallenge

Letter EA couple of days ago I gave myself permission to be curious. I’m now going to extend that curiosity to the physical, by giving myself permission to explore the word and open myself to new experiences.

One of my passions is travel. I am grateful to my parents for instilling in me a sense of adventure and for exposing me to other countries during my childhood years. I have tried to do the same for my children and we have a few more family trips left in us. Time is precious and each trip now together as a family takes on another dimension and a sense that this is something special.

When I first had children, I remember receiving a pamphlet from the pharmacist which said something along the lines of:

Your children won’t remember their ironed clothes, but they will remember your shared experiences

The notion has stuck with me ever since. I’ve been busy creating shared experiences for the family (Oh, no not again!!!), but also now at middle age, solo experiences for my own memories. The realty is that my health can only decline from this point and there is a whole lot of living left to be done.

So here are the highlights of my exploration and experience bucket list. I’m getting itchy feet just thinking about these!

Egypt A

BMorroco

IstanbulC

DGreek islands

tomatina festival SpainE

Cable beachF

A = Egypt, which has long been a fascination

B = Marrakesh, Morocco

C  = Istanbul a city spanning two continents. Take me to the Grand Bazaar…

D = The Greek Islands, especially Santorini

E = Tomatina festival in Spain. Get down and salsa!

F = Sunset camel ride in Broome, Western Australia

There’s a whole lot more as well. The world is now truly a playground.

Right now all of my work colleagues are planning overseas trips within the next 12 months. There’s a lot of planning and travel talk, glossy brochures and yearning on my part and I’m living my vicarious travel dreams through them.

In the meantime I content myself with road trips within a two to three hour vicinity and create my own local experiences. After all everything can be an experience, depending on what you make of it.

It’s time to get busy making memories!

Do you yearn for farawy places and experiences? What places are on your exploration bucket list?

Let’s Phlog Monday: Patience and Persistence To Reach Magnificence

I am thrilled to be able to bring you this Let’s Phlog Monday post after such a long Monday Phlogging hiatus.

Last weekend I had the good fortune to visit the Wombeyan Caves. A large network of limestone caves, the Wombeyans are located in the Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve, about a 3 hour drive south of Sydney. It includes the Fig Tree Cave, which is generally known as the best self-guided cave tour in New South Wales.

The trip was made more exciting because it was totally spontaneous.  A friend and I had been in the area for coffee and decided to use the afternoon to explore. After seeing a turnoff with a sign that the Caves were sixty six kilometres away, we decided to do the Thelma and Louise thing and just go for it (without the death plunge, of course).  A mere two hours later we arrived after braving the (unbeknown to us) winding unsealed road. The drive was well worth the effort.

We chose to take a ranger guided tour through the Junction Cave, which is known for its colours, flowstones and shawl formations. There we met the Mango. John Mango was our ranger guide and he made the cave come alive. There are some people you meet and you can’t help but admire the passion they have – this was The Mango, a ranger of twenty years experience in the area who clearly had an affinity with nature and the beautiful formations that lay before our eyes. The Mango’s enthusiasm and dramatic (almost poetic) commentary gave the afternoon another dimension. Better yet, we had The Mango to ourselves as we were the only tour participants that afternoon.

As we wandered through the cave, The Mango played with the lighting to create the most dramatic effects. Looking at the structures, I marveled at how unique magnificence can be built drop by drop with patience and perseverance. All around me there were new stalactites and stalagmites forming, and reaching for each other.  The drop before supporting the drop that would come after. And when the two “ites” meet a column would be formed.  Mites and Tites reaching out to each other willing to connect.

One of the most magnificent formations was a large shawl, nicknamed, streaky bacon grandma shawl. The colours were amazing along with the horizontal layering effect. Each layer representing change in the morphology above the ground.

The area and the caves certainly had a mystical quality to them and we will be back to explore them further.

 

Patience
Persistence

Drop by Drop

Structure

Connection

Enduring Magnificence

 

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All of these were taken with a smartphone camera, no flash.

Have you ever headed off the beaten track on a whim? Do you prefer sponteneity in your advertures or would you rather pre-plan everything?