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!

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earworms

It seems that with every stop we have along the road of our world tour, a song or phrase gets stuck in my brain and goes around and around until we leave. It’s frustrating. But also kinda funny to see what earworm will come next.

When we were in Oslo, I constantly had “The cat from Norway got stuck in the doorway” in my brain. Have you read that book? I loved it when I was a kid – “My cat likes to hide in boxes”. Full of great lines like “The cat from Greece joined the police” and “The cat from France likes to sing and dance”… Good times. I saw no cats in Norway, and definitely no cats in Norway stuck in doorways….

When we were in Sweden, every thought I had was with the voice of the Swedish chef from the Muppets. At times I was tempted to grow out my eyebrows and wave ladles and spoons about wildly, but there were no utensils at hand. And growing your eyebrows reeeeeally long takes time and effort… And ain’t the most flattering of looks.

When we were in Croatia (and this was the MOST annoying), every time we saw a cat, I would get the theme song from the Snappy Tom ad stuck in my brain. Only instead of ‘Australia’, the earworm sang “The cats of Dubrovnik have made their choice, Snappy Tom”. And the earworm had a thick Balkan accent…

Now that we’re in Turkey, there are THREE earworms on the loose:

In another Muppets reference, “Istanbul not Constantinople” has been doing the rounds (the one that’s sung by the rats – weirdly I can only find this Spanish version on You Tube, but it’s still the same song)

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes on a business trip and Marge arrives and finds a turkey behind the bed? And he sings “O Margie, you came and you found me a Turkey…. On my vacation away from work-y”.

That’s been in my head A LOT.

Today we arrived in Cappadocia, and as soon as we saw the first sign into town, the earworm started to sing ‘California Love’ by Tupac only that stupid worm replaced the opening “California love” with “Cappidociaaaaahhhh”.

Be gone, earworm!!!!

Do YOU have any earworms you’d care to share? Like…. when you’re in your car at the traffic lights, do you ever break into J-Lo’s “Waiting at the Lights” “Waiting for Tonight”? Or sing MC Hammer’s “Pyjamatime” “Hammertime” when you’re getting into your pyjamas? Do tell!

midnight forest sausage show

Yesterday I ate so much food I couldn’t sleep. As I lay in bed, tossing and turning and bemoaning the second bowl of rice consumed at a Malaysian restaurant at dinner (after I polished off a massive bowl of salmon linguine, salad AND tiramisu at lunchtime), it occurred to me that I hadn’t mentioned the midnight forest show we went to in Olso a few days ago. And as I was pondering this, I thought “how great would it be if I titled that particular post ‘midnight forest sausage show’?? Geniusly great!!!”

Clearly the chilli tofu I had for dinner and fried banana dessert had made me feverish and delirious.

But I couldn’t let it go. So here it is.

At midnight on Friday, after a long day of strolling, cherry-eating and festival-ing, the Oya delegates (Rich) and tag-a-long-er-ers (me) were herded into a bus and driven into the dead of the Norwegian night.

Our destination? A forest, just outside the city, for a secret live performance.

The moon was full. Tis a wee bit scary being in a supposedly troll-filled forest at midnight while a full moon hangs low in the sky. There was talk of a showdown between the trolls and the werewolves. Our guide, Siggi, warned us “If anyone starts to get itchy palms or notices hair where there wasn’t hair before, please let me know immediately”.

Sounds like puberty to me, but also a sure sign you’re having a Teen Wolf moment – arrrooooooooooooo!!!!!!

We walked along a candle lined gravel path, deep into the forest, until we were met by three Norwegian folk musicians (guitar, a drum, and a bit of a witchy-poo singer) standing around a bonfire. With a glass-like lake alongside, it was quite a magical moment.

After a short set of four songs, a BBQ was lit and sausages were cooked over the open fire. I am dubious of meat cooked in the dead of night where the only light comes from the flame and the full moon – how can you see if it’s cooked properly? The light of the moon is not really strong enough to detect any salmonella-y pink bits in the middle, is it? It’s not really, but I bit the bullet (well, sausage) and did not really enjoy it very much, but hey, when you’re in a forest in Oslo in the middle of the night, you’ve gotta take what life throws at you. In this case, a sausage.

After the BBQ, a few brave souls swam in the lakes’ trolly waters, before we all got back on the buses and zzz-ed our way back to Oslo in a smoky, sausage-induced haze… I slept well that night. Maybe I need more meat at midnight? Perhaps I went wrong yesterday by going down the fish and vegetable path…

 

 

young dreams

If you need some more music in your life, you should check out Young Dreams. They played in Oslo a few nights ago at Bla (I don’t think it’s pronounced ‘Blah’ – I think it might be ‘Blor’ or ‘Blew’ or something – it sounds better if you flick your wrist a little as you say it) as part of Oya Festival’s club night – we were told that EVERY band in Oslo, regardless of talent, plays on club night, because they can get free tickets to the festival. With this news in mind, we were not holding out much hope for seeing anyone particularly good…

But Young Dreams were totally surprising. In a great way. In a pretty fabulous way, in fact.

A bit Beach Boys, a bit Fleet Foxes, a bit Kanye, a bit Vampire Weekend. Good-lookin’ fellas, smily yet broody, dishevelled yet preppy, baseball caps and flatcaps, checks and tees. A violin. A big weird percussive coconut thing. Instrument swaps after every song. Cute, catchy and fun.

Bla is a crazy venue that, along with the band, I wasn’t holding much hope for. Described as a ‘jazz venue for jazzy bands’ I was expecting a dark room with lots of velvet and black & white snaps of trumpet players and smokin’ (and smoking) babes. But. Bla is a warehouse on the river, seemingly in an abandoned carpark.

A deck with lights strewn about the place.

Lots of killer graffiti on the walls outside.

A huge outdoor chandelier on your way down the lane to the entrance.

Inside is dark (tick) but spacious, with a low stage (but not too low) and amazing sound. At times it felt like I was having a Milli Vanilli moment and the band were actually miming, but no, twas definitely the real deal.

After Bla, and Young Dreams, we picked up some fellow music peeps and moseyed down the way to Revolver for some dinner. Along the way we passed a park, and of course, it had a treehouse in the middle of it…

Oslo, you crazy town – what will you throw at us next??

the grassy knoll

Have you ever taken a stroll to a beautiful park, enjoyed a cup of coffee and a biscuit, then sat down on the grass (yes, beautiful grass too) to read your book in the sunshine?

Only to be told that no one is allowed on the grass, and you must move to the designated sitting-on-the-grass area immediately?

I have. Yesterday. In Oslo. With Rich. The designated sitting-on-the-grass area was nice (though not as nice as the grass we had been reading on) but within minutes of sitting down a sunshower started, followed by a HUGE crack of thunder and torrential rain. We sought refuge in the Munch Museum and watched a rather saucy doco on his life (with re-enactments!! Of kissing!! And a little bit of nudity!!! Is there a similar doco on Sidney Nolan, I wonder?).

We ambled through the museum, listening to the rain teem down on the roof, wondering how we were going to make it back to our hotel without drowning… I bought a postcard. And ate a tuna sandwich. And as suddenly as it had started, the clouds parted, the sun shone out, and the storm had passed.

One thing I have learned about Oslo is that it rains. A lot. You should take an umbrella with you wherever you go.