Countdown

What things do you look forward to when you’re heading off on a trip?

I’m about to escape from an Aussie winter and wing my way to where the cockles of my heart shall be ignited by a young friend’s gorgeous summer wedding in London. The plan after that is to just play castaway for a while and laze in the sun on some idyllic Greek Islands before touring with a friend to discover the ancient and aromatic delights of Turkey.

So what am I excited about?

What things kindle my sense of anticipation??

What burning desires flare up my will for a travel thrill???

Here’s my COUNTDOWN… of  5 things.

countdown- of things

    5. The Little Thing

♫♪ I want to get away ♫♪♫ I want to fly away ♫♪  

Just the idea of leaving every little thing behind and not having to care about mundane chores or everyday living is my most basic joy in taking a holiday or travelling away. Once I’ve devoured any English mad cows, Greek salads or Turkish delights then I won’t care about what happens to the plate… yes, it’s the little things… I am really just looking forward to not washing up!

4    4. The Hidden Thing

♫♪♫ Food glorious food, we’re anxious to try it ♫ Three banquets a day, my favourite diet ♫♪♫

There is nothing better than chancing upon a busy restaurant full of locals enjoying a meal, buzzing with life and taking it all for granted. That’s when I walk right on past those golden arches, head for a back alley and get lost looking for a little hole in the wall eatery and the opportunity to savour a native delicacy or spend a long afternoon imbibing on the local interpretation of a good red.

3    3. The Familiar Thing

♫♪♪♫♪ Exit light. Enter night. Take my hand. Off to never never land… ♫♪♫ ♫

Even before Metallica took me by the hand, my dreams had always been about visiting faraway lands. I looked forward to overdosing all my senses on the exotic, bizarre and exceptional; all of which were a complete contrast to where I lived at home. Travelling does give me an appreciation for the strange and different but it also teaches me gratefulness for the familiar. So now I’m a fully-fledged travel junkie and while I’m addicted to the dream… I equally crave my return home! “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchet

2    2. The People Thing

♫♪ People. People who need people ♫♪♫ Are the luckiest people in the world ♫♪

I have a fondness for people watching. I enjoy meeting new people. I love ‘walking in their shoes’. I really appreciate having my eyes opened wider to how others think and I relish any opportunity to discover our similarities and to understand our differences. It’s the contact with people that starts a process of education. “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

1     1. The Challenge Thing

♫♪ It’s my life. It’s now or never ♫♪ I ain’t gonna live forever ♫♪

This first world lifestyle has made me very comfortable and to truly appreciate how really fortunate I am at having won life’s lotto then I feel I need to be challenged; to push my contented boundaries; to extend my complacent self. Yes folks, I feel I am now ready to once again take on the greatest travel challenge of them all…

… surviving 23 hours of mind numbing, boring, brainless inflight entertainment!

          ♫♪  ‘Cause it’s my life! ♫♪ 

From Russia With Love

The Best Bits
Coats and boots street fashion
Coats and boots street fashion

CLASSIC CLOTHES – in particular…coats, hats and boots! European women wear their intimidation with classic styling while Russian women just nonchalantly wrap themselves in it before putting their best boot forward and strutting their confidence.  Note to self: I must buy some intimidation and confidence!

St Basil's
St Basil’s

FABULOUS FOOD Portion sizes are half the size of our traditionally upsized, over salted, extra added sugar, huge heart attacks on a plate. They also don’t offer up for consumption any super polished, genetically altered experiments with a required preservative list that allows left overs to glow in the dark or on the shelf for the next fifty years; instead they seem to be opting for taste in every small mouthful. Imagine!

AMAZING ARCHITECTURE It doesn’t matter if it’s a city cathedral, local church, historical house or the backyard fence… somehow they all encourage or include clever design, individuality and colourful embellishment.

Snow
Snow

SNOW It is just everywhere, powdery and sparklingly beautiful!

Moscow Metro
Moscow Metro

MOSCOW METRO It’s like you never have to step outside your own chandeliered palace to get to work. Costing less than one dollar to go anywhere at any time, this train system truly services the public in the best possible way.

Hmm, now there’s a tax payer, fact finding jaunt for an Aussie pollie… please go and see what is possible!

Beluga Caviar
Beluga Caviar

CHAMPAGNE & CAVIAR First impressions: pretty good… but I’m not sure I have tasted enough of either to critique with credibility. I believe I must keep sampling more until I can comment with true understanding.

HISTORY A diverse range of characters have interwoven throughout the fabric of Russian time to create a rich, historical tapestry. Dynasties of tsars, tsarinas, dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses have ruled divinely and often with excess. Bolsheviks encouraged change through revolution and Soviet leaders marched on a Cold War world stage. The times have been a changing for a while now and I’m watching fascinated now to see if this new era’s leaders have learned from the past or whether they’ll just revert to it. Sometimes moving forward can be the most difficult.

The Hermitage
The Hermitage

ART Is the Hermitage the best museum in the world? In my opinion, I think the  19th/20th century French painting collection is probably the best of its kind that I have ever seen anywhere… but I am no expert.

Me & Matisse
Me & Matisse

Yes, there is a room full of Rubens and another of Rembrandt. Leonardo and Michaelangelo get a pretty good look in too. But do they really come alive for me? Hmmm, maybe I just need ‘A Night in the Museum’…please!

PEOPLE What a proud, fascinating people! Yes, it is hard to tell when a Russian is happy but once the vodka is opened it gets easier. Most of them speak far better English than I speak Russian, although my ability with charades and speaking s.l.o.w.l.y  i.n  E.n.g.l.i.s.h  is coming along just fine, thanks. They are independent, interesting… and have some of the best dressed dogs that I’ve ever seen.

Best dressed dog
Best dressed dog

   Wonderfully generous and welcoming….

                          I can’t wait to come back one day!

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!