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

 

IMG_1398

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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?

U is for Underwater: Getting Reacquainted With The Dive (#atozchallenge)

photo from flikr -
chrisinplymouth's
photostream

Is there anything more soothing and magical than the ocean?

I have always been drawn to the ocean and consider myself lucky living in a beautiful harbourside city with amazing beaches. The rhythm of the breaking waves, the blue azure of water on a sunny day and the glinting of the sun all combine to seductively draw me to its presence. Even just walking along the cliff tops, gazing out at the Pacific Ocean, letting my mind wander is incredibly cathartic. Occasionally, the water throws up one of its inhabitants in the form of a dolphin or a whale to remind me of Mother’s wonderful nature.

About 18 years ago, the Italian Stallion did a PADI dive course and obtained our open water diver qualification. This enables us to dive to 18 metres. We have not dived as much as we have liked as we put diving on hold when our children were born. But the lure of it is ever present.

There is nothing like a dive, particularly in tropical waters. We have been lucky enough to dive in a few tropical locations and snorkel in a few others, including the Great Barrier Reef. Tropical waters are warm and clear and the visibility is amazing and that’s just the start! Then there’s the marine life, spanning the spectrum of nature’s palette, a world of grace and action, beauty and terror.

Great Barrier Reef - Australia

Our last diving experience was in Morea, Tahiti in the lagoon. We decided to take it slow with an introductory dive to reacquaint ourselves with this wonderful activity after our parenting hiatus. I remember the day vividly. I woke up nervously questioning whether diving was like riding a bike and whether I could really just jump back in and pick it up. We were the only people on the dive that morning, being escorted by Pascal, a  handsome fifty-something year old silver-haired Frenchman who spoke no English. Luckily I had five years of schoolgirl French in my repertoire and between a lot of hand gestures, bad French (on my part) worse English on Pascal’s part and miming we established basic communications. I think I must have inadvertently communicated my nervousness because Pascal looked as though he was stuck with a skittish nerveball on his hands wondering how he we were all going to survive the next two hours.

To do an introductory dive, you have to pass two underwater skills. One is to take off your mask and put it back on without it ending up full of water and the other is to put the breathing apparatus (called a regulator) back in your mouth once it has fallen out. We all jumped into the water to do these skills. I had done them before of course, but that was over a decade back. Hitting the water, I started to panic breath. Panic breathing (short sharp bursts of gasping breath) is not a good thing on a dive as it quickly consumes precious oxygen. Pascal tried to calm me down in his gentlemanly French way holding me in a death grip, liability firmly etched in his face.

Dive skills

Within minutes I started to listen to my breathing, found the rhythm, focused on the length of each breath and watched the bubbles. I was back!! Pascal was relieved and gave me the OK sign with his fingers. Quickly dispensing with the skills we set out to explore. The kaleidoscope of colours was amazing, the fish life incredible and the thrill of spotting a shark energizing. But what I will particularly remember is getting reacquainted with the slow and deliberate movements of the dive. You kick slowly and deliberately, you turn slowly and deliberately and you breath slowly and deliberately. There are not too many opportunities in life to just be slow and deliberate. I also remember the euphoric feeling afterwards and this huge jolt of confidence in my abilities.

Awesome

I am hoping to one day dive the Maldives and Palau, possibly with the children. In the meantime, I am content to explore the underwater world by snorkel from above confident in the knowledge that diving really is like riding a bike….. you never forget. Oh and it really does help to have a handsome silver-haired French diving expert and the Italian Stallion egging you on.

Are you a water person or a land lubber?

K is for Killer Wildlife: Kangaroos and Koalas (#atozchallenge)

photo from flikr
chrisinplymouth
photostream

I have been reading some fantastic blogs on my travels through the A to Z Challenge. One of them is by Geoff Maritz, who lives in Capetown, South Africa. Geoff’s concept for the Challenge is to write about his home in Africa, including its wildlife. You can find Geoff’s blog here: Geoff’s Blogs. He has a killer post about Kilimanjaro today – great K word, Geoff!

Geoff has inspired me to write about some of Australia’s unique killer wildlife. Let me show you a couple of our natives.

Kangaroos

Kangaroos are native to Australia and are marsupials. The name ‘kangaroo” is derived from the Aboriginal language. “Kangaroo” was originally “gangurru” and was  the native’s description of the grey kangaroo. Groups of kangaroos are called mobs.

Some kangaroos can jump 30 feet and and can hop up to 45 kilometres and hour. The largest kangaroo, the Red Kangaroo, can grow as high as 6 feet and weigh 200 pounds. Something I didn’t know and just found out was that kangaroos can’t move backwards and they can’t move their back feet independantly on land. However, when they swim they can kick with one foot at a time. Baby kangaroos are called joeys and are born after only 31 – 36 days of  gestation.  They are basically tiny,  pink, hairless animals that don’t come off of their mother’s teat for weeks and live in their mother’s pouch.

That’s gotta hurt!

Kangaroos are strong and males usually box. Usually this is playful, but can be part of a show of dominance. You do NOT want to be kicked by a kangaroo, although it is an amazing feat of strength and balance. A kangaroo will rear up on its tail and then kick with both feet at the same time. If you are a male of average height, that usually connects with your pride and joy. Great subject for a family video, but you would only want to capture that frame once!

Kangaroos essentially sleep during the day and feed at night. Contrary to popular belief, there are no kangaroos hopping down the street in urban areas, although in some parts this can happen in times of drought. Most urban dwelling Australians see kangaroos by the side of the road – either alive or as road kill or in a wild life sanctuary, just like tourists.

Koalas

Koalas are only found in four states of Australia: Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. The word ‘koala‘ comes from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘no drink’. Koalas mostly eat eucalyptus leaves and this provides them with the water they need. Therefore, they do not, or only rarely, drink water.

Koalas are not actually bears, they are marsupials, which means they carry their young in a pouch like kangaroos. Adult koalas measure between 64 to 76 centimetres in length and weigh between 7 and 14 kilograms.

Koalas have a great life, they basically eat and sleep and seem constantly in a languid satiated state. The reason Koala’s sleep so much is that it takes a lot of energy to digest eucalyptus leaves, which are tough. They are also poisonous to other species.  Male koalas are solitary animals, like their man caves and often live alone.

Most urban Australians will see koalas only in the wildlife sanctuary just like tourists. Sometimes, you can catch a glimpse of a colony of koalas living in trees in rural areas, but in my experience this is occasional at best. Unfortunately koala habitat is on the decline and they are also under threat from cars and dog attacks.

just hanging around

So, come on down and see the natives. They are cute, entertaining and we really don’t bite….much!

A is for Australia: Think Aussie with these 5 Tourist Tips

April 1st has finally rolled around bringing with it the start of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge . Good luck to all the participants – whether you’re a first timer and new to blogging like me or a seasoned blogger and Challenge champion. And a big thank you to the A to Z Challenge gods for giving my blog a shout out in their weekly wrap up  last night. It means much.

Living in this time zone, I guess I am one of the first cabs of the rank… so let the alphablogging games begin!

Australia is my homeland and I am an Aussie. Aussies tend to refer to Australia as the lucky country, with good reason. Leaving politics aside, Australia is truly blessed with natural beauty (and beauties), a terrific climate, unique killer wildlife (the beauties aren’t included in that statement) and wonderful freedoms. I am truly grateful to be living here.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were just over 500,000 visitor arrivals to our fair shores in January 2012, the majority of which were from New Zealand (75,000), China (77,200) United Kingdom (57,000) and United States of America (38,000).

If you have ever travelled to a country for the first time, you know that there’s a fine line between fitting in and looking so much at home that you are asked for directions by other tourists! No tourist wants to stand out with a big “T” on their forehead. So here’s my 5 tips on how to do Australia like an Aussie:

1.       Do your tanning on the beach – Australia is blessed with some of the most amazing beaches in the world. Crystal blue waters and soft white sand abound. If you are visiting a coastal city, do your tanning at the beach and not in a mid-city park. The only Aussies who wear a bikini in the park are those visiting a public swimming pool located there and those coming home after a big night on the town, having lost their clothes. Besides, you haven’t really experienced tanning until you have had sand in your cozzie (Aussie word for swimming costume) and crevices.

2.       A temperature of less than fifteen degrees Celsius does not a summer day make – Australia is blessed with amazing weather. Summers are hot and winters are temperate. However, to most Aussies a temperature of fifteen degrees does not constitute a day worthy of shorts and a tank top. Appropriate dress for fifteen degrees is jeans, a jumper and a neck scarf!

3.       Treat the possibility of a shark attack with the same caution as the possibility of a car accident   - most Aussies are acutely aware that there are killer sharks swimming in our oceans. This does not stop us from enjoying the surf. News of death by shark attack is rare and reports of shark attacks seem to be greatly exaggerated by overseas media.   

By contrast, treat the possibility of a crocodile attack seriously. For some reason, they particularly like the taste of European tourists.

 4.       Give everything a short, pithy nickname  - Aussies tend to shorten the name of everything and everyone. Any word with more than three syllables is too much to say after a few drinks. For example, ” McDonalds” becomes “Maccas” (you’ll probably really need to know that one after a few drinks), Barbeque becomes “Barby”, “Kimberley” becomes “Kimbo” and “Politicians” become “a waste of space” er… I mean “Pollies”.

5.       Savour all of our amazing food – Australians love to eat Aussie food. We love our  pizza, yiros, pad thai, and donner kebab. Any dish which contains pineapple is considered Australian even if it originated from another country.

Now that you have had a taste of my homeland I hope you’ll come on down. Follow these tips and you’ll be tourist savvy in no time.

[photo of the letter A from flikr - Leo Reynolds]