challenge: a to z of travel

I visited my luvverly friend Bron’s blog a few days ago, and found this (via Andrew Petcher) and I thought “Holy A to Z Batman, I’M gonna do that too!!!”.

So here it is! My A to Z of travel:

A: Age at which you went on your first trip abroad

I would have been about 11. My folks took me to the UK for a 6 week jaunt through the countryside. I remember one night when we were staying in a B & B (a converted barn near some woods – very quaint!) I couldn’t sleep because something was plaguing me; I got up, went to see my parents (who were enjoying a glass of red wine by the fire) and asked “Does Santa Claus really exist?”. They were a little drunk, and didn’t hold back on the truth… Sadface.

Something else I remember about this trip was having a glass of orange juice on the flight between Singapore and Heathrow and throwing up all over myself. There was a group of high school kids on the plane on an excursion and one of them made a tiny fluffy toy koala for me, to make me feel better. It really helped…

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where

ANY beer in Asia is the best. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s the worst beer ever, there’s something refreshing and thirst-quenching and delicious about an icy beer on a sticky, humid afternoon. It’s even more delicious if you’re on the beach, or in a hammock, or both.

C: Cuisine

The most memorable meal we had on our latest adventure was probably at Robinson’s in Croatia. The only way to get there is by boat (or 4 hour hike) and it’s on the most amazing rocky beach… There’s no electricity, so everything is cooked either on a BBQ or in a wood-fired oven (somehow they keep their beers and wines cold, which were equally delicious in the hot afternoon sun!); tables and chairs are set up under the trees overlooking the water. You order your food (freshly caught fish, crabs, prawns, mussels), order your drinks, go for a swim, then you’re called in when your lunch is ready. It was SO delicious and so flipping beautiful…

Our lovely friends Sarah & Ben, waiting for lunch

Some bobbing swimmers

Fish, squid, prawns: nom, nom, nom

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite, and why

Iceland is definitely up there with the favourites – I’ve never been to the moon (does that surprise you?) but I kind of imagine it to be like Iceland. No trees, just rocks and moss and crazy bubbling pools of mud. The peeps are friendly and wacky and hilarious (and super styling too), and their sense of culture blew me away – I loved how knowledgeable everyone seems to be on their ancestry (so many Icelandians have VIKINGS as distant relatives!!).

Least favourite… Hmm…. Umm… I would say Caracas, and I would say that as a copout. We didn’t actually leave the airport, but had to spend a few hours there on our way to El Yaque. We had NO local money on us, there were no ATMs in the terminal and no money changers (though a LOT of people came up to us, whispering ‘Cambio? Cambio?’. We later discovered that Venezuela has two currencies – the official currency and the black market currency); I hadn’t eaten all day, was hangry and tired and on the verge of a major hissy. After trudging around the terminal we FINALLY found an ATM, got some cash, but when we went to get food, THERE WAS NOTHING VEGETARIAN!!! I settled on a packet of chips and a ginormous cup of lemonade and that tided me over.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”

We arrived in Oslo on a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk to get some lunch and our bearings. After a salad and a  coffee and a weird pastry near the central train station, we walked further up the hill, turned a corner, and were suddenly in front of a church surrounded by a sea of roses. I’ve never seen so many flowers; the ones closest to the church were brown and withered, while the ones nearest to the street were vivid shades of red, yellow, white. The bombing and shootings at a nearby island had taken place a few weeks prior; I’d had no idea we were staying so close to where the bomb had gone off. Seeing the flowers, the written messages to lost loved ones, the Norwegian flags, the open displays of grief, made my jaw drop. I had to spend a few moments alone after seeing this; it was an absolutely devastating sight.  F: Favourite mode of transportation

Riding a camel through the Saharan desert is pretty incredible. A bit bumpy and terrifying (you’ve definitely gotta trust your camel!!) but amazing when all you can see for miles is red sand and your camels shadow.

camelwalk

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

The greatest – and most terrifying – feeling I felt was not knowing what was around the corner. You get on a plane or a boat or a bus to somewhere you’ve never been (and often somewhere you know very little about) and when you get there, and you see the sights and smell the smells and hear the language and the voices and the laughter – even the cars honking – and it’s really exhilarating. And you’re kinda in the hands of the Gods most of the time as well – you get sick and you miss flights and you can’t find accommodation – and learning to let go of the need for organisation and heaps of planning and all the jazz, just going with the flow, is what makes you a traveller and not a tourist. Don’t you think?

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to

Like Bron said, Melbourne gets pretty hot (it was 47 degrees a week before our wedding a few years ago); Morocco gets pretty boiling. New York summers are pretty revolteh hot too!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and why

Definitely Abel and JC and all the porters on our Inca Trail adventure. Their gift of the gab, kindness, hilariousness, bag carryingness, cake bakingness (not to mention all the other incredible meals we had each day), and (gulp) the whole ‘carrying me down the hill’ thing was really above and beyond.

J: Journey that took the longest

Ha. Definitely the Inca Trail. That counts, right? 42 kms up and down, through sickness and health, hot days, cold nights, squat toilets, bruised toes and ALL THOSE STEPS it was definitely the most epic journey I have EVER been on!!!

K: Keepsake from your travels

Probably this blog. Awwww. And maybe this tattoo on my wrist, that I got on a trip to London when I was 23. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was having my first ever overseas ALONE trip (I started in Japan, then had a few weeks in London, then had a week in Barcelona – with minimal skillz in Espanol); I decided I needed to document the trip (this was before the days of blogging), so popped into a tattoo parlour in Soho. I met an artist called Dingo, who flat out refused to tattoo my wrist. He held my wrist up to me, like I’d never seen it before, saying “No! I won’t do it! I won’t mark this lily-white skin…” (yes, he actually said that) “… what about your job? What are they gonna say if they see a tattoo on your wrist??? What if you want to go to the RACES???” (I’ve never been to the races in my entire life, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon). I finally wore him down, explaining that it would be inconspicuous, it wouldn’t be garish or bright or over the top, and he agreed. Before he started, he looked at me and said “Now listen darl, if you want to yell and scream and call me a motherf****r, that’s OK. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last”. He was a nice fella.

No need for name-calling

L: Let-down sight, where and why

The Amazon. BECAUSE WE DIDN’T GET THERE!!! Does that count?

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel

My first trip with Rich cemented how rad travelling is. My solo sojourn mentioned in K was great, but I struggled a bit on my own (more out of loneliness than any actual struggle). Travelling with Rich has always been easy and fun and having someone to share the sights and food and cocktails with, for me, is the bees knees.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Rich and I had a super lah-di-dah trip a few years ago to the Maldives. It is SUPER cray, yo. Over-water huts, white sand, clear water… you get the drill. We were picked up from the airport in Mali at around midnight, then got in a speedboat (that smelt like frangipanis) and were given refresher towels THAT WERE ACTUALLY TOWELS AND NOT BABY WIPES and bottles of water, and then we sped out into the black night. After about an hour of sailing the high seas at high speeds, the lights of the island came into sight. We were met at the jetty by a man in a golf buggy, who drove us to our hut (which was actually bigger than our house… and then some). There was a plate of antipasto on the table, along with a bottle of champagne and some flowers. Neither of us are hugely into champagne, but we guzzled that baby back, despite the fact that it was after 1am and we’d been flying for over 17 hours. After our champagne and antipasto feast, we took a moonlight swim in our own private SEA GARDEN under our hut which was amazing (but a little bit scary). During the day, puffer fish and baby sharks bobbed around in our sea garden (hence the whole ‘fear’ thang). The staff were divine, the food was amazing, and the digs… well…. I don’t think we’ll ever stay somewhere that fancy ever again, but it was so bloody amazing!!

Are you a postcard? NO! You're a photo from the Maldives!

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking photos of when you travel

Dogs and cats. Hands down. I have hundreds of cat and dog photos. One dog, eight angles.

O hai cat!

Wass that?

Just chillin'

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where

I got a fancy e-passport just before we embarked on le world tour, but I still have a pretty nifty collection of stamps – from the start of my p-port to the back, we have: Indonesia, UK, Iceland, somewhere called Dobova, which I think is in Slovenia and I think we got this on the train, Norway, Singapore, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Croatia, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Peru, MACHU PICCHU, the USA is in there somewhere too (but I can’t find it – yikes!).

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

Blood Manor.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience

Hmmm…. The White Night Hike in Iceland is definitely a must (provided you’re there during summer). Strolling around in the daylight AT NIGHT is definitely rad, not to mention eating soup and cake and drinking wine in your bathers in a hot spring. Do it!

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking out money for when travelling

I have no problems at all forking out cash for an experience you couldn’t have anywhere else; riding a camel and camping in the desert, learning how to make ceviche in Peru, going for a hike at midnight in broad daylight – spending money on things you couldn’t experience at home is important, I reckon.

Ceviche. I MADE THAT!

And. Food and beer. Not all the time. But I think you’ve gotta have at least one amazing meal in each place you visit, and you definitely need to try the local brew (or wine, or cocktail – whatever takes yo fanceh!!).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

I feel like it’s kind of impossible NOT to do touristy things in New York. The city that never sleeps is the perfect place to take cheesy photos, eat ridiculous food and immerse yourself in BEING A TOURIST rather than a traveller. Hire a bike and ride around Central Park (and stop to watch some beat-boxers or break-dancers or a weird dance troupe who seem to rely on flexing their pecs and psyching out their minimal audience with intense stares and glares); go to Serendipity3 and try to finish an icecream sundae (you can’t); go to Rockefeller Plaza and pretend you’re Liz Lemon; eat a slice of pizza in Greenwich or a bagel from a street vendor; revel in the accents (“I think that baby lady done want her some SOO-SHI”, said a man handing out fliers for a Japanese restaurant in Times Square, when Eva went to take a pamphlet but decided against it…). NYC is the greatest place in the world to be touristy. Yay!

U: Unforgettable travel memory

We had a stupid amount of fun when we were on le world tour, and I’ll treasure every single second it (even the annoying times were unforgettable), but my absolute favourite travel memory is definitely my birthday in Slovenia. It made my love for Rich multiply by about 80,000 (which I didn’t even think was possible but IT DID!!!!).

V: Visas – how many and for where

Just one. For Brazil. And look where that got us.

X: eXcellent view and from where

When we climbed onto the roof of an art gallery (that had a tree growing through it) in Rio and looked out over the favella, my breath was well and truly taken. In a sea of mostly brown and grey square, squat dwellings, there were blocks of red, yellow, purple and green buildings; I’d liken it to a magic eye puzzle, but I feel like that lessens its awesomeness. I’d also liken it to a patchwork quilt, but I feel like that makes me sound like a derb with no skillz for adequate descriptions.

Y: Years spent travelling

32 (age now) minus 2 (age started) equals 30. From those long drives as a kid to visit family in Queensland to my first time riding a horse on the New South Wales Central Coast, to visiting Beatrix Potter’s house in England (clad in my knitted “people finger” gloves), to espying a tank of baby turtles at a market in Tokyo, to moving to Canada to further my career in the film industry, to moving home again because I was too in love with Rich, to the Maldives and Bali and the Philippines and Vietnam, to…. the world tour. Travelling is definitely in my blood. I’m happy to stay put though… for now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

I feel like Y & Z should really be reversed, because Y is kind of a nice point to finish on. And because the only sports fans I encountered were at a baseball game in Toronto, and… well… I was expecting WAY more out of control fandom and I just didn’t get it. Short of singing their teams song, hand on heart, balancing hotdogs and beers and giant tubs of popcorn on their knees, that was about as passionate as they seemed to get…

Do you wanna have a go? You should! Epic list, BUT FUN and a great way to remember past trips… Woot! Let me know in the comments if you do it on YOUR blog!

strolling to duck lake

On our last morning in Nipissing, we took a stroll up to Duck Lake with Sherry, Yan (the other half of Piebird) and their friend John. Duck Lake is a 30 minute stroll behind the house, down the river bank, across the river (in the dreaded canoe), up a hill (a long one!!), across a gravel road, past the alpaca farm (Yes!! Really!!) and through the woods. When you get to the top, you cross a boggy road (with great difficulty – it helps to wear gumboots) and voila – you’re at Duck Lake!

The banks of the lake are marshy and boggy and there’s a cranberry patch growing there. Sherry and Yan and John picked berries and I ate one and I’ve gotta say, fresh cranberries are not very nice. No sirree.

On the way back down the hill, we passed a great, big BEAR POO!!!! Eeeeeek!!!!!

Across the river

Past the alpaca farm (hai guyz!!)

Through the woods

Across the boggy path (this raccoon wasn't wearing gumboots, I don't think)

Last stop, Duck Lake

Cranberry harvest

Cranberries (taste better in juice or jam or muffins)

O Canadaaaahhhhh!!!!!

hai chipmunk!

On Sunday morning, while strolling about on the farm and patting some goats, I heard a strange, scratching, scruffling sound. Looking around, all I could see was flowers and grass and blue sky and goats. And a suspicious looking sunflower, that was bobbing about all over the place.

Moving closer, I found the source of the strange, scratching, scruffling sound.

This little guy, busily nomming away and filling his cheeks with seeds. Muchos cuteness!!

piebird

When I visited Toronto two years ago, I got a little over the city life, and sought out a weekend away in the Canadian wilderness. A quick google search turned up this place: Piebird, a vegan farm in Nipissing, a tiny town in northern Ontario.

When Rich and I started planning the Adventures, I put my hand up, edge-of-my-seat, primary-school-style, for a return to Piebird.

 After a non-delicious breakfast and dishwatery coffee at an egg-themed cafe opposite the bus station (it had a hilariously punny name, like Great Eggspectations or Eggsactly What You Want, or something. Canada loves a good pun-incorporated into their business names, like Curl Up and Dye [hairdressers] and I Feel Like Crepe [crepes and martinis]. Anyway, breakfast at this place was anything but Eggscellent) we loaded up on snacks, boarded the bus, and settled in for a 5 hour trip north.

Sherry – half of Piebird – met us at the Powassan bus stop, where we picked up some supplies (like a loaf of cheese and jalapeno bread -??!!) and we were soon on the road to Nipissing, home of Piebird.

It’s such a beautiful, amazing, superlative-inducing place. A huge green lawn precedes the house, fringed with a row of tall pines. A herb tea garden grows in the middle of the lawn – if you’re feeling like you have a tummy ache, or are low in iron, or are having trouble sleeping, you can stroll out to the lawn with a cup of boiling water and pick some herbs (usually prescribed by Sherry, but you can freestyle too) and pretty soon you’re enjoying a hot tea and your ailment is on the decline.

In the next field, there’s a farm FULL of vegetables – beans and sorrel and tomatoes and sunflowers and carrots and beetroot. This is where nearly all the Piebird meals come from. There’s something really special about picking your dinner and then eating it straight away. Tis delicious, and sticklers like me don’t even flinch at an insect-munched piece of lettuce or a split tomato.

Monster carrots (delicious though!)

There’s a pen next to the vegies, and that’s where Ginger, Billy, Sadie, Sunshine and Pepe live. These guys are the most spoilt goats I have ever met in my whole entire life. They all know their names (and come running when you call them). They get cuddled to sleep at bedtime. They enjoy face massages and tummy rubs. They are so tame and friendly I was pretty sure they’d break into song or ask a question about how many Roald Dahl books I’d read.

Billy and Sadie, enjoying the serenity

Two cats roam the farm – Chapeau and Pinky. Chapeau is a tabby (and is enormous – he’s like a panther) and he does this creepy thing where he lies on your chest and sucks on the shoulder of your jumper (if it’s woolly). He gets this delirious look on his face and dribbles all over your clothes and it’s kind of disgusting but pretty endearing as well. I’m a cat person, so I had no qualms with this.

The river behind the house is dark and slow and is home to muskrats and otters and beavers and the occasional splashing crashing moose and bear… On our second day at Piebird, Rich and I went for a canoe adventure up the river to the dock (mebbe about 40 minutes away). Getting into the canoe was a struggle. Keeping balanced in the canoe was a struggle. Getting out of the canoe was a struggle. But it was a fun paddle. A little bit ‘Deliverance’ – the river is edged with thick woods, that are so quiet they give off a creepy, who’s watching-kinda vibe… We were passed by a few speedboats filled with fishermen who kindly turned off their engines when they spotted us – there was one youth-filled boat who sped by who did not slow down; they leered at us menacingly when they passed us, which added to the ‘Squeal like a pig, boy’ atmosphere. Eek! We made it safely back to the Piebird banks without tipping out of the boat. Until, of course, when I actually tried getting out of the canoe. That was when I misjudged the depth of the water, and my gumboot sunk deep into the submerged mud and I lost my balance and fell face-first onto the muddy banks… Oops. Splash.

Rich, of course, emerged unscathed, white shoes (not even gumboots – how hardcore is he??) untouched.

After spending the last few weeks in bizzy ol’ Toronto, it was SO ace to just laze around and do nothing. Sleep in; read books; wander about the farm; cuddle goats. Four days of this was what we both needed (Rich didn’t really explore the goat cuddling to the same extent as me).

Getting the bus back to Toronto on Sunday afternoon was a little bit like leaving school camp. For the first hour we chatted about stuff we’d done, and the people we’d met, and the food we’d eaten, and how great it would be to just up-sticks and move to the country and start up a B&B farm and learn how to successfully get in and out of a canoe. Then we had an hour of quiet reflection; staring out the window, thinking ‘Really? Could I really actually do something like that?’. And the remaining three hours (yes, THREE HOURS) were spent rolling our eyes at the two Beavis & Butthead, food-throwing, squeaky-voiced teens at the back of the bus. Urgh.

back in bizniz

When we left Turkey, I thought to myself “We have had so many adventures and there hasn’t been enough time to sit down in my cave/on my farm/in my log cabin to write about them all. Luckily I’ll have plenty of time in Canada to catch up and be up to date and spread the word of ‘the adventures’.”

But that didn’t really happen. Being in Toronto kinda slipped me into a bit of a city trance, and I seemed to spend my days wandering around, watching movies, and researching the next legs of ‘the adventures’. I’ve been to Toronto a coupla times – I lived there for a few months in 2007, and came back for a visit in 2009, and now again on this trip, so I feel like it’s a bit of a second home for me. In that way, ridiculously, I feel like “How can you have adventures in a place like this? A place that’s so familiar?”

Rather than having adventures in Toronto, we had moments, that were funny and silly and amazing and great. The Moments of Wembolina doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though they are just as important as adventures.

Like the flashmob at Megan and Giancarlo’s wedding, where, midway through the speeches, someone stood up and started singing. After their line, someone else got up, and within a minute, 30 people around the room were on their feet, singing passionately, and Megan was sobbing and shaking in a state of shock and bewilderment and awe. I can’t even put it into words; it was amazing.

Meeting Lainie and Brian’s newborn twins was pretty incredible too. Lainie was induced the day after Megan’s wedding. Lainie was part of the flashmob. Lainie was dancing at the wedding at midnight. In fact, Lainie was jumping up and down and took part in a choreographed dance with the bride; at the end of the dance, it was agreed that they would both fall to the ground. Which they did. Within seconds, Lainie was surrounded by a crowd of concerned onlookers, scrambling to help her up. The twins look a while to come out – they were cosy in their tummy-home – but they’re perfect and beautiful and both destined for great things.

Last Monday we went to the Polaris Prize – Arcade Fire unsurprisingly took home the oversized cheque for $30,000 (which I was a little disappointed about – I really like that band, but I always thought that the Polaris was for more indie bands. Arcade Fire have a Grammy and a Juno and countless other awards… I was really hoping to see Austra or The Weeknd win). During the show, we were sitting next to the drummer from Austra’s mum, a beautiful Polish woman who told us all about the Iron Curtain and moving to Toronto and her relationship with her daughter. I think I enjoyed chatting to her more than I did the event.

Rich and I have seen a ton of movies while we’ve been in Toronto too (Rich more than me); ‘Beginners’ was definitely my favourite – it seems to have a heap of strange parallels with my life, which was a bit weird and creepy but amazing as well (mental note: seek out Mike Mills’ email address; send fan letter to be equally weird and creepy). We saw ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ last week (pretty bad, but I like all the Melbourne shots) and when we left there was a throng of middle-aged women and camera crews and reporters in sequinned dresses in the Scotiabank Cinema foyer, waiting for Hugh Jackman to arrive for the ‘Real Steel’ premiere (now THAT looks like a great movie… sheesh). I saw a familiar looking blonde chattering away into a camera and realised it was Mrs Hatzilakos from Degrassi! THAT was exciting.

But most of my favourite moments in Toronto happened on walks; walking around the city with Rich; strolling to the beach with Cynthia and her dog and eating olive bread and drinking iced tea; dawdling along Queen Street East, enjoying the most delicious ice-cream I’ve had in ages, escorted by a huge Bernese Mountain dog called Dylan (many of the best moments, not just on this trip but in life – for me – involve food and animals) …

Toronto – you and I did not get off on the right foot when I first visited you a few years ago. But you’re a nice place, and I hope I’ll see you again soon.