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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my part in the 10 million

The day after the best birthday ever, Rich and I embarked on another Slovenian tour – this one touted as the ‘Alpine Fairytale Tour’. Micah, unfortunately, was not our guide. Our guide (whose name escapes me) was a young, single guy and spent the entire day talking about ‘the ladies’. Ladies he had taken on dates, ladies he wanted to take on dates, ladies he took to French restaurants who would not kiss him at the end of the night, joking with ladies about marrying them and then not doing any work around the house, ladies he took out in his dad’s Audi, which he pretended was his. What a catch.

I digress. We took in such sights as:

The Vintgar Gorge (amazingly beautiful clear blue river, crazy twisting boardwalk above it, good ice-cream at the end, lots of dogs)

The castle at Bled (which was a little bit boring, to be honest… but had an amazing view of the lake and the town)

A traditional Slovenian restaurant on the side of the road in a quaint little town (I ate a ridiculously inappropriate-for-the-30-degree-weather veal goulash with bread dumplings – delicious, but not the greatest choice on a boiling hot day)

And finally, the piece de resistance, Lake Bled.

Our luvverly friends Ryan and Mel, when asked last year where in the world we should go on our world tour adventure, immediately answered “Lake Bled – go to Lake Bled”.

It is indeed a beautiful place. Castles, churches, forests, geraniums (I am LOVING all the planter boxes in Slovenia!!), and the lake… It’s breathtaking.

The rest of our group went on a boat tour to the island, while Rich and I lay on the banks of the lake, reading our books, swimming a bit, soaking in the sights…. So luvverly….

When the group returned, Ol’ Batch (aka Bachelor, aka our tour guide) took us to a nearby cafe for a famous Bled Cream Cake. Along with the fairytale castles and lake, Bled is famous for having these crazy cream cakes (a bit like a vanilla slice, only creamier). EVERY cafe and hotel in Bled claims to make the best – I only sampled one, so I can’t attest to a winner, but I can say that the cakes we had were pretty flipping good.

I can’t remember the name of the cafe, but there was a sign above the bar, announcing that this establishment has sold over 10 million cream cakes since 1953. 10 million. In 60 years. That’s like… 170,000 a year. 14,000 a month. 450 CREAM CAKES A DAY!!! For one cafe. That’s a lot of cream cake. Yikes!

While Rich went to order coffee, and I enjoyed my cream cake, Ol’ Batch tried putting the moves on me, poking me in the belt (yes – a poke. In my belt area) saying “What is this? Crocodile skin?” to which I replied “Umm… no… just leather” to which he replied “Looks like crocodile. What you think of cream cake? What you boyfriend think of cream cake?” and then he rattled off some nonsensical weirdness about ‘women’ while I polished off my cake  and moved my chair a little further away.

Bled – Go for the lake. Stay for the cream cakes. Avoid sleazy tourist guides.

the best birthday ever

It was my birthday on Sunday. Our first full day in Slovenia. Happy birthday to meeeeeee!

I set my alarm early – not because I was filled with excitement at the prospect of turning 32, but because I didn’t want to miss out on breakfast (7.30am until 10) and we had an 8.30am bus to catch for a day of sightseeing.

There were a few hiccups.

Firstly – breakfast didn’t actually start until 8. In my eternal quest for eating as much as possible, I had imagined the 7.30am start time. I had just enough time to chow down a jammy croissant and a coffee (and pack a banana for the road). Rich took a more leisurely approach.

Secondly – we had trouble finding someone at the B&B we could check out with. It’s tricky to do a runner with 20kgs of luggage, and we’re honest peeps, but waiting around for someone was a little bit stressy…

And then… After we finally checked out, with about 4 minutes to spare after arriving at the bus stop, we realised we hadn’t packed our sightseeing vouchers.

As Liz Lemon might say: “What the what?”

Rich ran back to the B&B while I anxiously waited at the bus stop.

8.28am: No Rich. No bus.

8.30am: No bus (due now). No Rich. Probably a good thing.

8.31am: Rich is back!! With our vouchers!!! But no bus.

Minutes pass.

8.40am: No bus.

8.45am: No bus.

I said to Rich “We must be in the wrong spot. The bus must have left without us. The bus must have forgotten to get us. This is the worst birthday everrrrrrrr.”

Rich said to me “Calm down derbrain, it’ll be here soon.”

8.47am: No bus. I get a little welled up…

8.48am: A bus!!! Hooray!!!!

All anxiety and stress and angst vanishes like a swiftly eaten croissant, and we pile into the bus. Well, minivan. We are the last people to be collected, so we get to sit up front with the driver, Micah. Up front is the best place to be because you are less likely to get carsick, you get the full benefit of the airconditioning, and you get to ask lots of dumb questions about Slovenia (like “What should we eat while we’re here?” and “Where are the best cream cakes in Bled?”).

Micah was hilarious. He said “Have you heard of dark sausages?” and I said “Yes, I think so – what’s in them? Bits of guts and offal, yeah?” and he said “Best not to think about what’s in a dark sausage until AFTER you eat one.” We laughed.

Our first stop was Predjama, which is a crazy castle built into the side of a huge rocky mountain, and has a backyard (so to speak) of a bat-filled cave. It also boasts geranium planter boxes on all the windows and a torture chamber – quite lah-di-dah. An obese beagle wandered around with a bone in his jaws, adding to the illusion of ‘much death has occurred here….’

The castle, with geraniums and a backyard cave

Torture chamber : "Halp, I have rope burn!!"

"Now where did I put my bone?"

Next up was a visit to the Skocjan Caves; around 6kms of chambers and winding paths and huge canyons right under our feet. I was half looking forward to the 2 hours in the cave (I’d seen a LOT of pictures of happy hikers smiling under stalactites and putting their arms around stalagmites) but I was also half dreading it. You may already be aware of the fact that I am a bit of a sissy and the closer we got to the mouth of cave, the more I thought “I’m going to fall into the canyon; I’m going to get stuck in a narrow crevice; There’s going to be an earth quake and we’ll all be trapped like the Chilean miners and it would fall on me to sing Elvis Presley songs – and we’re going to trapped with all these screaming children and rude peeps who talk over the top of our guide.”

The thought of being trapped with the rude peeps was actually most terrifying.

In we went. Down a dark, twisting corridor, deep into the bowels of the earth. Constant temperature of 12 degrees. Everyone around us started putting on jumpers and Gortex vests. And they all had hiking boots on. And they all looked at us in dismay: no jumpers. Rich in thongs. Me in Keds. I’m sure I saw a few headshakes…

The first chamber had a steep, downward slope and was referred to as The Silent Chamber. I would have thought this would be the time when everyone stopped talking, and kids stopped screaming and crying and hitting their siblings. But the cavernous space and echoes it created made peeps wanna talk and scream and cry and hit even more. Just to hear the echo.

We learnt the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite and I started thinking about those monsters in The Descent. *shudder*

Down and down, deeper and deeper, we entered the second chamber, which was twice the size of the first, and even more astonishing. The ceiling was covered in shards of knife-like stones, and crazy clam-like rocks and formations covered the floor. I grappled with the notion that a space like this could be anywhere… That is IS anywhere. And everywhere. That below the surface of the earth, there’s this…

No panic attacks now. No palpitations or shortness of breath. Just sheer amazement.

More steps down and around and through and we found ourselves in the third chamber. If I was amazed and astounded before, no words can even describe the feeling I got in here. Huge. Absolutely. Positively. Totally flipping. Ginormous. With a river in it. And the river was 140 metres below us. And there was 100 metres of space above us. And we were, at this point, about a bajillion metres* below the earths surface.

Ah. May. Zing.

No Elvis required...

How could the day get any more spectacular than this?

Maybe not a natural wonder of the world or UNESCO heritage listed site, but our next stop was probably my favourite of the day…

Micah dropped us off at the top of a steep hill in the seaside village of Piran for lunch and a swim. Rich and I hot-footed it straight to the waterfront for lunch (remember I’d only consumed one tiny, jammy croissant and, given it’s my birthday, I have the perfect excuse for non-stop eating, right?).

We sat down at the first place we saw. Rich ordered two icy margeritas, and we discovered that this was a BAR, not a restaurant. No food here. Just beer and cocktails. Which, on your birthday, or any day when you’re on holiday, or any day when it’s above 30 degrees, kinda makes sense.

Halfway through my margerita, I made the most of the bars wireless internet and skyped my bestie back in Melbourne…. Bliss…..

While I was chatting up a storm with Wa, Rich moseyed inside and ordered… TWO MORE MARGERITAS!!! Flaps up, homies!!!

Feeling refreshed, rehydrated, albeit a little wobbly, we headed off in search of food. A seafood platter, to be precise.

In a town like Piran, it aint hard to find.

A short walk later, there we were. A waterfront restaurant, full of people, shady and cool. Noice.

Two giant beers, a seafood platter for two, a green leafy salad. My fella. Me. Twas absolutely perfect…

Birthday noms...

We agreed that lunch would actually be dinner today (we didn’t end up eating until about 3.30pm) and that we’d have a special birthday dessert once we got back to Ljubljana later that evening. Rich asked what my ideal birthday dessert would be, to which I replied “Tiramisu, I think. It seems like a good day for tiramisu”.

Rich replied “Tiramisu? Slovenia doesn’t seem like a very tiramusi-y kind of place…”

No less than 5 minutes later, a tiramisu, covered in heart-attack-inducing whipped cream, arrived at our table. With a candle in it.

Again. What the what????

Rich hadn’t left the table. The waiter hadn’t been over. Yet here was this creamy, ridiculous tiramisu with ‘Happy 32nd Birthday’ piped on the plate with chocolate sauce.

Amazing man, is Rich… He’d teed it all up when we arrived, and had taken a punt on the tiramisu angle. What a good egg…

After lunch, we had a quick swim in the Adriatic (holy cow, so heavenly), which may not have been the wisest choice given we were full of fish and dessert and beer, but we managed to stay afloat and it was kinda the most perfect way to end a pretty amazing day.

We met Micah in the town square, and made our way back to the city.

And that, my friends, was the best birthday ever. Adventures with my fella. A chat with my bestie across the seas. Amazing food and drink. And a surprise tiramisu.

*Not actually true. More like mebbe 300 metres…