Bucket Listings

When you wish upon a star..

Have you ever waited years for a wish to come true?
In this world of instant gratification it doesn’t seem to happen that often anymore. And yet when it does,  after such a long time, my appreciation seems to reach an unparalleled value… well, at least for a while!

My travel bucket list is pretty extensive but ever since hearing about the entombed terracotta warriorsTerracotta Warriors in Pit 1 discovery while I was studying art back in my tertiary ed days, I had wanted to see them ‘en masse’, up close and personal. Yes, just like Mr Attenborough studying his obsession, I had my own natural curiosity to explore these unique objects within their natural habitat.. and so my objective was always to one day travel to Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, China and visit the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

On my Travel Bucket List it was listed right between
24. Visiting Uluru at midday, dusk and dawn
26. Enjoying Oktoberfest from midday, past dusk until dawn.
I still have to tick off 24 but yesterday I was lucky enough to tick off 25. See the Terracotta Warriors at Xi’an accompanied by my very knowledgeable, young, local guide Maggie. She was wonderful!
Advertisement: if you ever need a great guide on your next visit then let me put you in contact with her.

What did I think? 

It still amazes me sometimes how all my acquired art appreciation skills can desert me and instead my instincts for the mundane shines magnificently through clear as dawn to dusk.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it surely wasn’t the aircraft carrier size hanger like building that covers each pit full of warriors. Makes sense I guess but for some reason I mundanely thought it would all be outdoors.

This kneeling archer was found whole.

This kneeling archer was found whole. It’s only this photographer that cut off his head.

I’m guessing it was worked out pretty quickly that tourist numbers drop off on wet days. Today however was just cold inside and the dust from the diggings hung noticeably in the air.. but I did notice it was less dense than whatever was hanging in the air outside.

Maggie gave me all the stats on numbers, size, weights, years and then put it in context by explaining it was from the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) who had commissioned.. or just encouraged.. artists and local ceramicists to produce with crafted detail these 8000 more than life size individual figures weighing between 100-300 kg each, to be buried alongside him… along with his concubines, wives that hadn’t given children yet and various other lucky courtiers chosen to help him out in his next lifetime. Oh the joys of calling an emperor ‘best mate’!

I wandered around the three huge covered pit areas trying to take it all in; the way the jigsaw pieces 2-Jigsawwere found when dug up; how they had been lovingly restored and proudly displayed; the painted colours; methods; rankings; horses; bronze castings and adornments.

My brain buzzed with an overload of creative and statistical info…                                                             ….and so I did what all good tourists do in front of one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century, UNESCO listed world cultural heritage site and one of my own personal obsessions…

I took a bad selfie! 

Selfie.. yes, I did!

Selfie.. yes, I did!

Needing a break, we wandered off to enjoy lunch followed by a tourist tea ceremony,

Tourist Tea for Two

Tourist Tea for Two

a visit to the Banpo Neolithic museum showing a matriarchal cleverly run local society more than 6000 years ago. Yep, we’ve been running things well forever ladies!

And finally, I finished my day on a high note of kulcha with a last minute whim booking for dinner at ‘a very special only in Xi’an’ dumpling banquet and spectacular show of costumed singing, twirling, whirling, dancers, musicians and assorted performers on an ever changing cherry blossomed stage.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms



It was a full day of memorable touristy experiences… tick, tick, tick and tick.

But my appreciation for the warriors is still what’s keeping me warm today.

I am currently writing this as I enjoy my bucket list #67 Ride a bullet train anytime of day. Yes, I’m heading to Beijing, a super city with a population approximately the same size as Australia!

Wherever I May Roam

‘And the road becomes my bride. I have stripped of all but pride. So in her I do confide. And she keeps me satisfied. Gives me all I need… ‘   Metallica

Have you ever noticed that when there are two of you travelling together, that nobody offers tips on how to play those age old fun tourist games of ‘Which Way Up Is The Map’ or ‘Let’s Try That Direction’ … but when travelling alone, the locals willingly and regularly gift advice and smiles?

I frequently find silver linings when I observe my solitary glass is half full.

Flying solo allows me to go wherever I like, whenever I like and for as long as I like.


It’s the ultimate self-indulgence, with no need to apologise to a long suffering companion for another excess, to spend an entire afternoon aimlessly wandering through a park or walking in circles around a gallery that I accidently found when I first wandered left instead of right down an unknown back street while looking for the promised exotic aromas of a local produce market.  

Travelling alone lets me eat when I choose; to dine out… or in; on previously untried local delicacies… or on welcoming home reminding comfort foods; on a plan… or on a whim. I don’t have to discuss it with anyone else… well, as long as my hotel has 24 hr room service.

‘And the earth becomes my throne. I adapt to the unknown. Under wandering stars I’ve grown. By myself but not alone…’

But travelling by myself can also bring out a few self-preserving, ‘little girl lost’ insecurities and fears:

  • Is this airline I’ve never flown with before going to be better than flapping my arms astride a large fat duck?
  • Am I standing at the right departure gate? I better check it for the fourth time in the last 10 minutes.
  • A 6 hour marathon of Big Bang Theory in Chinese isn’t so bad? Ok, keep looking for the English translation button.
  • Did I hear the heavily accented translation over the loudspeaker correctly and will I fall asleep in this Transfer Hall while I wait for my delayed connection?
  • Will my tour guide still be waiting for me even though my connecting flight won’t arrive now until 2am in a place I’ve never visited, where I don’t speak their language and the alphabet may as well be hieroglyphics?
  • Am I worried because there’s nobody on the front desk at the hotel I was booked into?
    Street at midday

    Street at midday

    No, just follow my very patient guide into the thick, grey smog and around the corner to the hotel’s more expensive Big Brother and get out the visa card.

  • Blue skies

    Blue skies

    I wonder what health risks remain after an Air Quality Index reading of orange (unhealthy151-200) instead of green (healthy 0-50)?

  • Should I have changed my hair from blonde? It just seems blonder, for some reason, today.

    Follow your own path

    Follow your own path

‘Less I have the more I gain. Off the beaten path I reign. Roamer, wanderer, nomad, vagabond…        

Call me what you will…’

And so my new adventure has started!

I have arrived in Xi’an after 18 hours of travelling. I am tired but not from flapping my arms. I have spent my first day wandering around getting my bearings and now I’m looking forward to remeeting my guide tomorrow morning and visiting the Terracotta Warriors.

Education or Indulgence

Is a love of travel or new experiences just a new form of consumerism? When the obsession is not brands, but culture, does that excuse the excess? 

How will my travel experiences benefit anyone?
Am I educating or just indulging myself?

I have watched with interest, and yes *sigh* even participated in that all time favourite game of my Baby Boomer generation ‘Live Life to the Max Today Because You Deserve It All Now And Damn the Consequences to Following Generations’. We did it bigger, louder and longer than others before and then took on commercialism with such a passion that the only rules were to out-buy, out-decorate and out-own everyone else until now it appears the competition is about how much of our past lives are stashed in storage.
I also need to ask..  why is everything so big and brash? Were we ever subtle? Is it our insecurity that makes our commentary on life so loud? Or our confidence?

I love my generation.. I proudly believe we’ve contributed some world changing occasions, thinkers and inventions during my lifetime. We broke down the wall, flew to the moon, connected everyone on the internet, built bionic body parts, used celebrity musicians to unite the masses globally, grew Mandela, Obama, Oprah and my personal whimsy.. Johnny Depp.

But now it appear the boomers have arrived at a new stage where many have had an awakening.. our life is no longer about possessions.
Yes, minimalism is the new black!
Life is not about having.. but doing!
And so it is with a brand new gusto that we have swathed ourselves in our new mantra… ……’life is about experiences’.

The travel/tourism industry must be thrilled with so many boomers holding 50% of all spending power and many of them about to have more time on their hands to spend their grand children’s inheritance. Tourism has marketed the idea well that we need to spend the rest of our lives enjoying every better and lesser known corners of our planet.

I love travel. I have always loved it! The new scenery, people, food, music, art, language, customs.. the whole cultural experience! I love having my eyes opened to how others think and why they don’t always agree with or understand my point of view. I love walking in their shoes. There is nothing better than explaining Oz idioms to other cultures and having them explain theirs to me over some late night local beverages. It makes me aware of our differences.. and our similarities.
But is that enough?
Does it really benefit anyone else but me?

And so friends, what are your thoughts?

Challenge On!

With 2014 just starting and new adventures about to begin, I thought I’d revisit a post from travels past. My intention is to crank up ye ol’ blog and start writing again. I hope you enjoy it!

I didn’t want to like Balzano!
Bolzano with the Dolomites behind

Bolzano gateway to the Dolomites

Bookings had already fallen through and I could tell the instant that I left the security of the train that I was going to have to think. Welcome to Italy!

Crossing the Alps

Crossing the Alps

I had just enjoyed fabulous snowy scenery on the trip from Munich and I didn’t want the dream to end and so it was with some trepidation that I walked back from the lampost and into the wardrobe.

There was nothing wrong with the square outside the station so I walked around it… twice.  Where was the promised 10A bus as described online by the only hotel with a room still available? Where was the tobacconist who could sell me a ticket? Where were any directions at all?

Autumn dripped everywhere

Autumn dripped everywhere

I found the bus stop for 2,3,5,6,7 &11 and there were taxis nearby but I wasn’t quite ready to accept defeat this early in the game… so I continued to search for the 10A stop. I walked around the square again dragging my bag in that typical tourist dance before finding myself back at the station. Ok, I’d give them a second chance!

Success!  Tobacconist found, I requested a ‘ticket autobus’ and the woman behind the counter asked ‘where’?

I had no idea really but responded by showing her my ‘10A bus’ online note. I think she then signalled the town centre. Well, her finger moved in a circle around an imaginary city centre… or stirred a fictitious pot. ‘Si! Gracie!’ said I and paid a couple of euro.

With such a success and feeling on a roll, I thought I should ask again where I could find the 10A bus. Actually, I showed her my note again that clearly stated 10A autobus.  She looked at me blankly… obviously she sold tickets and not directions and so I left with my insecurities clearly intact.

Streets and alleyways are lined with quality shops for every desire

Streets and alleyways are lined with quality shops for every desire

I walked outside to a now very familiar looking square and confidently walked in the opposite direction convinced that miracles can happen if you look at life from a different perspective. Zap! I came to the taxi rank. Defeated? Yes, I jumped in a cab and was at my hotel in five minutes… passing the illusive 10A bus at its stop on my way.

The hotel didn’t really speak English. Hmmm, and clearly I didn’t speak Italian until 3am and after several reds. They also did not have tour brochures. I then discovered that the whole town does not have tour brochures or in fact, tours at all.

Apparently… that’s its charm! You discover it for yourself. A whole new kind of tour where you make it up and have to think!

Challenge accepted!

Chestnuts roasting on a cold Autumn day

Chestnuts roasting on a cold Autumn day

The next day I woke at the crack of noon and wandered back into town to find the markets. I wandered slowly, shifting down a gear to soak up all the rich colours and intruding aromas. Strolling down the promenade of speciality shops, I smelled the leather and imagined myself draped in poise and charm… just like all those beautiful intimidating women I saw around me.

Medieval castle overlooking the valley

Medieval castle overlooking the valley

Eventually (don’t ever believe an Italian map) I found the modern art gallery and was so underwhelmed that I decided instead to give my art history side a go and visit a medieval castle with murals dating back to the 12 century. Smart move! This was wonderful!

Rustic charm

Rustic charm

The bus had dropped me at the bottom of the hill so I climbed the obligatory cobblestone pathway past hillside vineyards to the castle entrance where I drank my fill of medieval  dreams and lifetimes before dining on three different kinds of dumplings and local wine and deciding to amble back along the riverside with autumn dripping on either side and with snow-capped mountains painted into the background.

In Bolzano, I drank the best coffee of my life, dawdled over beautiful wines and historic art, enjoyed wonderful food in a mediocre hotel but I also had the chance to imbibe the locals for two bella days and niotti in Northern Italy. Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight it, you just get lucky!

 Yes, I had to think!  I might try that again one day!

We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For

‘Science is now discovering what artists have long understood: that nurturing our feelings is vital to the quality of our lives and that intellect and feeling are intimately connected.’ – Sir Ken Robinson

At the start of a new year I, like many others, reflect on the environmental, social and economic changes our world appears to so rapidly have been going through over the recent years and while good government leaders recognise that education is a top priority, I need to question if our education systems have prepared our children adequately to deal with our constantly changing world.

 ‘The social and economic costs are incalculable. At one end of the spectrum there are the huge numbers of people who are chronically disengaged at work or in school because they find it all pointless and unfulfilling. At the other are the jaw-dropping numbers who are critically addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs as a way of stimulating or suppressing their feelings.’ – Sir Ken Robinson in his most recent blog for The Huffington Post, As Science Turns Its Attention To Feeling.

I believe we desperately need the next generations to get smarter and more adaptable to successfully deal with these changes. The education plans of the past that relied on students all achieving the same answers doesn’t seem to be helpful anymore. Students must learn to think laterally, find many answers or solutions, create original ideas and new approaches to solving problems…  and the only way I can see this being achieved is to change the focus and format of our current education systems.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for… we can find the solutions if we can change how we think.

We need to get creative… and think like artists!

Who Would Have Imagined?

Just in time for Christmas!

I have been pleasantly surprised to find this recording by a young friend who I am watching grow. Creativity has been highly valued in her family and is nurtured daily alongside her academic and social growth.

I first met Lilia as a budding visual artist when she was only 8 years old and recently she opened the Operation Art exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW and spoke about how this program and the arts had impacted upon her life. Here is Lilia’s speech. She is a confident young teenager now who continues to be excited by life’s challenges. I am watching her grow in so many ways and constantly learn from and enjoy her achievements.

My original post about Lilia is at: http://fionasteel.edublogs.org/2010/07/24/the-heart-of-operation-art-lilias-story/

Now, for your enjoyment…while you can’t see her here, you can enjoy Lilia singing ‘Who Would Imagine A King’.

Happy Christmas!