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!

Q&A: Siberian Sojourn

Seven Questions Only                    

Listvyanka is a fairly typical village
Listvyanka is a fairly typical village

What did you expect to see?

Gulags, frozen peasants and snow! Ok, so I needed an update since watching Dr Zhivago but isn’t that why we travel?

Snow icing everywhere
Snow icing everywhere

What did you find?

Not a gulag or peasant, frozen or otherwise, in sight! It’s a wonderfully modern, diverse, interesting and quite prosperous Russian oblast (state/province) that destroyed every ignorant, preconceived stereotype I may have held.

 

Was there snow?

Old world charm
Old world charm

Yes! Yes! And more yes! But my idea of snow was so limited. I don’t believe I could ever have imagined how much snow there was or indeed, how beautiful it would look to my dusty Australian eyes. Rooftops on gingerbread houses were iced with thick, heavy layers of freshly fallen snow; larch trees on hillsides stood firm and dusted in white powder that glistened like sugar in the late afternoon sunlight; fallen, wooden paling fences sank deep into the snowline all the time outlining quilted downy fields that reflected the myriad pinks splashed down abstractly by the setting sun. Falling asleep to this fairytale scenery we travelled from Asia on the train for four nights before awakening, 5200kms to the west in Europe, to the same snow covered story. It is an immense and beautiful part of our planet!

How did you fill your days?

We wandered around the village where individuality and old world charm oozed together from the wooden fenced backyards, public corner wells and winding streets.

Dog sledding through the forest
Dog sledding through the forest

Crossing a snow encrusted bridge we spied an old Russian Orthadox church at the end of a lane and entered wondering what kind of faith we might find. Dedication to service was worn on the sleeve of the young nun who greeted us at the door; a timeless story of sacrifice and love was revealed in the murals that elaborately adorned every corner of the 170 year old timber structure that had survived a religiously oppressive political time; multiple candles burned for loved ones while icons were sold in a corner of this ritualistic space. We moved on.

Outside we found a dog sled company and paid the tourist price for a local experience. I can’t complain. It was great fun!

Which was the best part?

Without a doubt… walking on the frozen Lake Baikal.

Aussie tourists dancing on Lake Baikal
Aussie tourists dancing on Lake Baikal

This  is the deepest (1637m) lake and holds approx. 20% of the world’s freshwater supplies. Snow covered turquoise ice blocks piled up across the surface hint at what lies beyond.

Bubbles and cracks caught in layers below
Bubbles and cracks caught in layers below

The lake is covered by a 50cm layer of clear ice that magnifies the dark depths below. Because the water below is so clear we could just make out the rocks up to 10 metres below on the bottom of our bay. It was fascinating to see whispy veils of cracks in the ice and various size bubbles trapped below while Aussie tourists kicked ice footballs or danced the cancan and etched abstract markings onto the glassy surface.

How was the food?

Fish at the markets
Fish at the markets

We were welcomed with warm piroshky (fish or meat pasties) and our fingers frozen numb from the unforgiving winds outside slowly thawed as they wrapped around bowls of steaming solyanka (meat soup). Our taste buds reveled in the delights of Russian champagne and local caviar on toast before we dined heartily on smoked fish and potatoes before celebrating late into the night like real Russians with vodka shots, beer and the occasional Georgian red. It is easy to party hard when you feel so satisfied and warmly welcomed.

What did you learn?

I realize that past generations here at various times have suffered harsh realities and oppressions that I will never fully comprehend and also atrocities that I choose not to contemplate… but I also realize this is what has made the contemporary people who they are today. They are not dwelling in the past but are learning from it. The modern Siberian is aware of their many indigenous peoples and rightfully proud of their heritage. They have big hearts and are a modern, vibrant part of Russia today. While my contemporaries here grew up under extremely different circumstances and restrictions to myself, our children are growing in similar worlds now that are connected, blended and full of opportunity. I wonder only about who will squander their opportunity.

Lake Baikal snow covered turquoise ice
Lake Baikal snow covered turquoise ice

What would I like to say to Siberians?

Spa-see-ba = Thank you!

Das ve danya = Goodbye!

Selfie on the dog sled with driver
Selfie on the dog sled with driver

Nas da rovia = Good health!

Genghis Khan and other Fun Facts

Top travel tips for Mongolia…

Genghis Khan – pronounced and written Chinghis Khan but born ‘Temujin’; founder and Great Khan of the Mongel Empire;

Genghis Khan - never allowed pics so while all conquering, uniting good bloke..  probably wasn't big on the facebook of his time.
Genghis Khan – never allowed pics so while all conquering, uniting good bloke.. probably wasn’t big on the facebook of his time.

born about 1162 and died August 1227; was buried in a secret place and 600 horseman rode all over that place to erase the exact spot… then all 600 were killed. Now that’s public servant dedication!

Temperature – any temperature below minus ten (-10C) is irrelevant because nose drips have already formed icicles from the tip of the beacon illuminating from the centre of your face and Rudolph and Santa have conscripted you for work on Christmas eve.

Mongolian ger at sunset
Mongolian ger at sunset

 

Elves – I have never seen one but I hear they enter a ger throughout the night at 11pm, 2am and 5am to stoke the fire and add coal to create that ‘on the streets of Dubai temperature’ we all hanker for during March in Mongolia. It’s always a lovely contrast to the -35C outside. I would like to take an elf home.

Food – Vegetarians need not apply. Mutton is good. Mutton soup is good. Mutton dumplings are good. Muttonballs with anything are good. Mutton barbecues are great. Potato is the vegetable and potato cutlets are a highlight. Yes, mashed potato, crumbed and cooked like mutton.

Cashmere walking
Cashmere walking

Wine – a corkscrew is essential for fine dining and to accompany mutton masterchef moments.

Goats – cashmere walks before you wear it.

Fashion – The ‘Terrorist Look’ is in!

The 'terrorist' fashion statement.
The ‘terrorist’ fashion statement.

Clothing – getting dressed for that middle of the night toilet dash is a simple affair. Here are the layers I recommend:

  1. Wool knickers
  2. Thermal long johns – bright, colourful patterns optional
  3. Socks – 2 pair of woolen or possum at the least
  4. Jeans – optional
  5. Snow/walking boots
  6. Merino singlet
  7. Polypropylene long sleeved top
  8. Fleecy jumper
  9. Lip balm on
  10. Scarf – wrapped around head and across face at least twice
  11. Beanie – on top of scarf

    Princess Fiona and her Khan.
    Princess Fiona and her Khan.
  12. Long arm woolen mittens
  13. All weather duck down jacket/parker – collar turned up and zipped to your nose      
  14. Hood over beanie
  15. Sunglasses –  to keep cold off eyeballs. Yes they fog up but it is warmer!
  16. Antiseptic hand wash – in pocket to be used after because water in pipes are frozen.
  17. Now… run!!

What a wonderful experience to have visited this ancient land.  I feel like Princess Fiona has  definitely soared! 

My golden eagle ride.
My golden eagle ride.
View from the meditation centre in the clouds.
View from the meditation centre in the clouds

 

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!