Tales of a Passport

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I am a person who can be described as ‘quite attached to’ her passport. I recently got a new passport as my old one expired and I wasn’t excited about this at all. This was not only because it cost me close to 450 Aussie dollars, but because my old one is just fine thank you very much. Sure, it’s starting to get a bit ratty and damaged, but so am I with 10 years and more than a few long haul flights added to my life. I was mortified when they cut my passport in front of me – so flippantly damaging a document I have protected better than I have protected myself or any other possession for the last decade.

My last passport was my first passport as well and you tend to think fondly of anything that was your ‘first’. Perhaps now it should be called my ‘inaugural passport’. I remember trotting off to Aussie Post during my lunch break as a 22 year old, making sure my hair and make up looked ok (I still ended up with lumpy hair!!), so I could get my application in and get myself off on my very first overseas adventure. Ironically and now hysterically I took myself very seriously and thought I was a bit too ‘old and mature’ for a Contiki trip, but nevertheless I was excited beyond belief about finally leaving the shores of our big old Island and jetting off to see how the others live.

It is amazing to think back now about how much has changed because of this one little 35 odd page book that came completely empty save for my lumpy hair and intentionally sour faced photo. It is now filled with stamps, visa’s and dates which are all memories and stories from adventures in different corners of the world. It more than keeps a record of the entry and exits, but represents the places I have visited, the things I have seen and learnt about the world as well as myself, the amazing people I have met, the weird and wonderful foods I have eaten and all of the places I have left a tiny piece of my heart.

I compare the inaugural photo with it’s successor (somehow STILL with lumpy hair!!) and instead of thinking about how excited I was about the anticipation of my upcoming adventure, the guy at the photo shop had to take about 5 shots because I literally could not stop smiling, laughing and looking around. This could very likely be because I am that kind of smiley easily distracted person regardless of the activity, but I think the fact that I love my life and that as the saying says ‘I will never be the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world’ is one of the reasons I cannot wipe the smile off my face and that the girl in my inaugural passport photo, could never have imagined the fun that was ahead and the adventures she had to look forward to. She would never in her wildest dreams have imagined a life so great, a life so full.

So, based on that, I now look at my new passport a little more fondly and think ‘oh the places we will go’.

First stop, Paris, because as Audrey says ‘Paris is ALWAYS a good idea’.14408994_10154973830031490_1019860392_n

 

Picture Perfect Jordan

I have what’s known as cover photo choice dilemma. It’s a delightful problem to have and it’s a problem most commonly suffered by lucky people who travel a lot and indulge in a little (too much?) photography. I’m happily overcome with this issue and as mentioned before, happily infected with the travel bug.

One of my recent big trips, also happens to be one of the most photogenic destinations I’ve been to was Jordan. If you’ve been paying attention (and I would never judge you if you confess that you have not), you’ll recall I’ve mentioned this before and moreso I mentioned how excited I was!!

Although I am very often described as an ‘excitable type’, I am always nervous to get too excited about upcoming trips as I think this has the propensity to heighten the expectations and lead to disappointment. With disappointment not being something I am a fan of, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Jordan lived up to and exceeded my expectations – and I suspect that even if I had researched it to death, I’d still be saying that!

This low expectation thing for me (ironically as a Travel Agent) extends to pre-planning and research of a destination in detail, again so I can continually be in awe of what I am doing/seeing and learning about a place. This is one of the reasons I book group tours. Small group adventure tours to be more precise. I’ll confess, I barely even read the itinerary of the tour I booked, I saw that it went to Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and a few other surprises (Jerash, Amman and Madaba) and said yep that sounds perfect. I picked a tour with ‘On the Go Tours’ as I had been recommended them by a friend who had travelled them and thought that Jordan was a place I might like the 4 star comforts, without having to be on a 40 seat coach with 70 year olds taking photos with their Ipads or hungover 18 year olds. I got all of this as well as a little company for this solo social traveller!

As always, I don’t have the attention span to sit and tell you all about the in-s and out-s of our itinerary and to be fair, no matter how knowledgeable our local guide was, I couldn’t tell you what year Moses was buried at Mount Nebo, but I can give you a few of my highlights and insights and of course a few snaps I took along the way!

  • Stuff in Jordan is really really really old. We were bandy-ing around words like ‘BC’ , ‘old testament’, ‘Stone age’, ‘Iron Age’ ect – you literally cannot comprehend it sometimes and furthermore, that it is so accessible, you can walk right up and touch ancient artefact and mosaics
  • Jordan is really really quiet at the moment. With the current ‘situation’ in the Middle East, tourists are hesitant to visit Jordan. There has been a decrease in visitors (and bear in mind Tourism is the industry they rely most on) of 80%. Although I understand somewhat why people are skipping it for places perceived to be safer, I can promise you I never once felt unsafe. We drove right up to the Syrian border and past some of the refugee camps where some of the 2 million refugees they have taken in live and not once did I feel threatened or uneasy. In light of this, it did mean that for a majority of the time, we had place what felt like to ourselves – there were even times in Petra (granted not directly in front of the infamous treasury building), that there was not a soul around other than us, so if you ask me, now is the BEST time to go!
  • Jordanian people are some of the friendliest, most curious and gentlest people I have ever met. As a people lover with a genuine curiosity for different cultures, I feel like you might suggest I say this every time I visit a new country, but I can vouch for myself (and I often do), that in Jordan, they couldn’t be more deserving of this title. Jordanian culture deems nothing is too private, so be warned, they will ask you just about anything! Unlike in many touristic countries, those working on market stalls, will accept no thank you from and then just have a little chat (or tell you how far you have  left to go up the 500 steps up to the (amazing) monastery in Petra while you are huffing and puffing and considering stopping to buy a scarf just as an excuse for a rest after all). I never once felt harassed at tourist sites to buy – quite unbelievable for a country with one of the ‘Seven New wonders of the World’.
  • As a woman, I never felt uncomfortable at all in Jordan. Both in the smaller towns and the big cities. I always dress conservatively when in a Muslim country, not just because it helps to minimize any unwanted attention as a western woman, but because it is respectful. I do have to say however, that this did not seem to be a major factor on this trip. Women are very liberated in Jordan and can do/wear/go anywhere they wish.
  • It’s not a cheap destination (especially if you like a drink), but it couldn’t be more worth it! My big tip again is to book a tour where there are a few things included and your guide can help with the tipping and buying of entry tickets as it’s hard work and potentially more expensive otherwise. Our guide took us to places where the food was a little cheaper (amazing local food to try as well!) and told us when to stock up a on alcohol before heading to the pricier destinations.
  • The Dead Sea is amazing, weird and something you absolutely have to experience.

You can check out the full itinerary we did here. Its unusual to come back from a trip and feel like I had enough time and saw everything I wanted to see, but I found this to be true when I came back from Jordan. I loved it eleventy billion out of ten and my genuine recommendation is to get yourself to Jordan soon and to run, don’t walk !

 

 

Un-expec-vacationing

It’s Easter Long weekend! I am here in London and I will outwardly pretend that it is because I don’t agree with paying the higher prices to go away at Easter or that it’s because my grand vacationing plans fell through, but secretly (and this is just between you me and the lamppost right?), it’s because I was kind of disorganized and didn’t plan anything. I mean in my defense, Easter kind of snuck up on us no?

Now don’t sit there are feel sorry that I am not gallivanting around Europe or surfing in wales (Jodie!), because I have been having myself an unexpectedly great long weekend. Completely self-indulgent and with the making of plans stopping precisely at the immediate future. (disclaimer: Not too dissimilar from how I like to live my life anyway, but again, lets keep that between us!).

What I have noticed is that if you relax, let life lead itself and turn down the speed of life a bit, you notice some pretty funny things that happen around you. You also eat at weird times.. but that’s another blog all together.

So far this weekend there are a few things I have literally gone ‘I absolutely was not expecting to:

  • see the sun to come out on Good Friday in London; but I am so pleased it did. It’s been some time since I have been able to sit for as long as I feel soak up some rays, try and attract as many puppies to steal a pat from them and I literally feel both happier (yes it’s possible!) and healthier for it! It’s unusual for the sun to stay out longer than you can here!
  • hear my friend to say “hold this while I turn my coat into a carry bag”
  • absolutely love doing yoga at the top of a 525 Foot building nicknamed the ‘Walkie Talkie’ (http://skygarden.london/news/sky-high-yoga) (refer images one and two)
  • find a fabulous new hairdresser who at close to 60 years old was telling me she recently did the walk of shame home after a night out at one of London’s biggest clubs and for her to be surprisingly less trashy than I’ve just made her sound
  • accidentally over-mustard-ed myself to the point of tears with a (delicious) Salt Beef Sandwich at borough market that had cheese melted onto it with the teensiest little blow torch you ever did see
  • see a perfectly (polka dot) gift wrapped present sitting neatly in the fridge, recipient un-known (refer image three)

Based on the amusement I have had so far this weekend, I am pretty pleased that I have two more days to do with as I please. I’ll start the rest of it by making myself about the eleventy-billionth cup of tea.

Happy Easter peeps! Hope the bunny is kind to you tonight and you eat your body weight in hot cross buns if that’s your thing!

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A little bit of Morocco a whole lot of memories.

I mentioned I might get the motivation to tell you about my recent travels? Today as quoted from my expert Londoner friend, I am well and truly being an amateur Londoner….. It’s Sunday and it’s raining and I cant think of a thing to do in the rainy weather…. Well, truthfully I can (my expert Londoner friend can think of alot more than me), but I only want to do activities I can do from my bed… I can very comfortably blog from bed and tell you about the sunny places I have been recently….

It’s very Sunny in Morocco, which is only one of the reasons I liked it.. correction LOVED it. Such a diverse and amazing country, which makes it right up my alley. Mountains, beach, desert, culture, sounds, smells, food, amazing people, goats up trees (YES really!) and Moroccan tea… don’t forget the tea.

Have you ever been blessed to have that sad feeling when you have been somewhere, fallen in love with the country, its amazing sights, it’s people and you know you have to get on a plane and leave it the next day without knowing if and when you will be back? Well the night before I left I wanted to throw the biggest wildest 4 year old style tantrum you have ever seen and refuse to leave Morocco. (on a side note, I did have too many ‘Walk me down’ cocktails (recipe for disaster for those of you following at home – vodka/tequila/gin/triple sec/aigre-douce mixte/blue curacao and don’t forget the sprite) with my travelling companions and almost did miss my early morning flight.. thankfully the driver who came to collect me rang the doorbell which woke the whole hotel up and made sure I got there..). But seriously, when I was saying goodbye to my fellow adventurers, I really did want to stamp my feet and say that I was not leaving and you can’t make me. There is a little piece of my heart in Morocco and I will never be the same again.

I am not going to give you a blow by blow run down of my trip, but I will give you some of my highlights. Although I loved every waking moment of my time there, even I cannot be bothered to write it all down for you and make it feel like you are at some kind of slideshow night. No worries here if you want to skim read too, most people know that although I am always talking, there is no rule that you must be listening 🙂

I will admit, I was a bit nervous about travelling to Morocco on my own. It’s made out to be some kind of scary dangerous place to be as a western woman travelling on her own. But as soon as I arrived, I realized that as long as you were sensible, it is very safe. I did also book a tour. Partly because travelling solo is far less fun than travelling with other adventurers, but also for safety. Intrepid Tours have amazing local guides who will let you know where it is safe to fill up your water bottle and keep away all the snake wielding, silver selling, direction giving tourist hunters; though my ‘get stuffed I am not letting you near me with that thing’ look does tend to keep them at bay as well, sticking close to a local is extra insurance. The Tour I chose was the ‘South Morocco Discovery.

We started off with a group dinner in the Jamaa El Fna Square in Marrakech for dinner at one of the stalls. UNESCO recognized the square as a significant cultural place in 2001. It is a place very full of life and energy. Story tellers, dancers and other performers put on a show full of sounds, colour and huge crowds gather and get involved, it is an amazing place to experience and an excellent introduction into the way of life for Moroccans. I have a video which is not suitable for uploading, but all you can hear is a mixture of beating drums, chatter, motorbikes, horns, horse hooves and many different languages being spoken. If I close my eyes while I listen, I remember standing there and thinking, this place is so full of life, I LOVE IT and I am sure I will love the rest of my 2 weeks here!IMG_7256 IMG_7260 IMG_7262 IMG_7261DSC_0176Intrepid offer a ‘get you off the beaten track and mix with the locals’ kind of experience. This was quite evident on the first morning of our tour when we headed for the beautiful Atlas Mountains and heard that we would need to leave the mini bus here, hike to our guest house and that a mule was to take our overnight luggage up to Aroumd. It was absolutely amazing! Unfortunately the photos don’t show you exactly how amazing it is as Morocco’s famous sunshine took a little holiday itself that day. There are very few things more amazing than being in a traditional guest house, surrounded by stunning mountains, only accessible by foot and not a chance of seeing another tourist. I looked up the name of the guest house just now to give you more details and rather than an address, it has only GPS coordinates. We took another little hike up further into the mountains that afternoon which was equally incredible and on the return journey, our guides took us back ‘the goat track’ that the local shepherds use. It was very tight and being scared of heights, I closed my eyes A LOT. I wanted to close my eyes when we had to cross past a small waterfall with a sheer drop off the side…. I may or may not have squealed a little on that crossing, but I will never forget the experience and stunning views. Aroumd is a place of magnificent scenery and a peaceful place where locals live their day to day life seemingly without a care in the world for the things we worry about. It is a lovely reminder that we create a lot of stress for ourselves with things that seem somewhat trivial when you see how happy and relaxed these people are. We would perceive that they ‘have nothing other than their basic mud walled homes and loving families’… perhaps they really have everything that really matters?

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The next highlight for me was the Kasbah of Ben Haddou. A Kasbah is kind of like a Moroccan Castle. Big mud built walls for protection and many families lived together inside. The Kasbah is very grand and has been in many movies and TV shows. Most recently in Game of Thrones. In true Intrepid style, we arrived using the stepping stones over the creek rather than the walking bridge that was only a few hundred meters up the river. I loved it here and there was no difficulty smiling for the photos!

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The next major highlight was the overnight camping in the Sahara Desert. This was one of the big reasons why I booked the trip (that and I had some time to kill before I started work in London – a great problem to have!). Unfortunately I was hit with a bit of travellers sickness that morning, so I wasn’t doing as much cartwheeling around the desert as I usually would have been, however I still absolutely loved it and put this on my list of one of the most amazing places I have ever experienced. There was some camel riding to begin with. I hopped up on a camel for the photo, but because I was not feeling so amazing I stayed back and passed out in a room in the middle of nowhere on my own thinking I might need to be put down as I was surely going to die anyway (not dramatic at all ;-). After both my camel riding companions and I survived that, we 4×4’d our way into the desert. I have done some time in four wheel drives in the past, but this was a pretty full on ride by anybody’s standards. These trucks would not have a long life ahead of them. We bumped our heads on the roof every time we went over a bump (which was every few seconds) and were hanging on for dear life for the full 2.5 hours. Despite how fun that was, we were all very excited to have arrived at our nomad camp! Not a soul around other than our group, simply incredible. We hiked up to the top of the Erg Chigaga Dunes – the highest sand dunes around and watched the sunset. To use a very overused cliché, there really are no words or photos which can capture that. You can see sand dunes as far as the eye can see, all golden and orange in the sunset, this is something I will never forget. We all pulled our beds out to sleep under the stars that night, competing with who could see the most shooting stars. This absolutely tops my favourite camp ever – even being sick! We were at least 2.5 hours from the nearest town and a world away from everything.

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IMG_7404IMG_7389IMG_7398IMG_7369DSC_0386The night after the desert, we stopped in a fairly standard little village, we were just there to rest and relax. I don’t know if it was because we spent 4 hours four wheel driving back from our desert camp (with no shower facilities) and then another 6 hours in the bus, but the Riad was like heaven! We had a lovely dinner that night, but some of the best laughs I have had in a long time were also shared in the dining room. One of the things I love about travelling with a small group (we had 12 including our guide and driver) is how quickly they become like a little family to you. The inside jokes, banter, the fact that they have seen you tired, sick and un-showered and don’t care. The group we travelled with were amazing and they make the trip equally as special as the sights you see.

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Next up was Essouira. I could spend a lot of time here and I do plan on going back. It’s a quirky beachy place which is kind of a mix between Morocco, France, Spain and Greece. It is unusual for me to love a place which is so touristy, but it just has this special relaxed kind of vibe. It’s all about seafood and wandering. There are markets and lovely bars, laneways and interesting doors. It’s also another famous movie filming location.. most recently also a sight for Game of Thrones. It was also the perfect way wash off the desert and to finish off our tour.

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DSC_0443DSC_0438IMG_7461IMG_7450IMG_7446IMG_7466IMG_7421Some of the other consistent highlights in Morocco was the food. When we started the tour, our guide told us that we can expect two types of food; ‘Tagine and Couscous’ .. lucky for me, I like both of those and always finished it off with Moroccan tea. The honey is something which was surprisingly amazing also, such a strong flavour, always available on crepes for breakfast. They also love bread and will have it with every meal, or as the meal dipped in olive oil.

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They call tea ‘Moroccan whisky’ and they have it pretty much all the time. I loved watching them make the tea, so relaxed and calm, watching the teapot in anticipation of their favourite part of the day, a very lovely daily ritual. It is quite a process to get it just right and it does not taste the same unless you do every single step. You also should pour it with as much height as you can manage (without spilling it all over the table like I did!).

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I left Morocco with so many lovely memories and learning’s. The Moroccan people are some of the most beautiful people I have come across. So calm and happy. Their lives are so simple, but yet so full of love. Their daily rituals are all built around family and tradition. In the villages, they do not want for the same materialistic things that we spend our whole lives working for. They just want food to share with their family and friends they keep close and good quality tea… I think that really is what life is all about?

 

 

The lovlieness of an unexpected bumpy trip

Anybody who’s been watching knows I’ve been to some places this year, some amazing places and I’ve planned a few quick trips. My most recent has been one of the most unexpected, strangest, quickest and yet one of the best so far.

If you’d told me at the beginning of this year that I would take a very spur of the moment drive out to Wandoan in Western Queensland in a bumpy, noisy old Ambulance AND that I would enjoy it, I wouldn’t have believed you… but then again, it’s just the kind of thing you need to do sometimes. a trip like this, to a place most people don’t even know the name of, heading west into the heat, with the windows down in a Troopy that squeaks and creaks really makes you feel alive. It’s a treat for the eyes as well, to stop, watch and listen to the land. They do say adventure is the best way to learn and appreciate.

To sit for a moment in a town with a population of around 400 people and watch local people go about their day is as humbling, invigorating and interesting as it was to sit as a stranger in a locals cafe in Paris, to stand on a midtown subway station in NYC with the people of the city and even as it was to walk in the wrong direction along the city streets of London’s banking district a 9am on a Monday morning. It reminds you how diverse we all are. We happily live in different places, want for different things, choose different kinds of lives and are all equally as interesting.

Sitting in the sunshine, with the window down and crusing along with your best friend beside you is one of the sweetest treasures in life, a lovely way to sit and appreciate living, love and my country. We drove for hours, without music, just chatting about what we saw and what an interesting and vast land Australia is. This is what we looked like as driver on the left (concentrating and unware he is meant to be posing) and a happy smiley passenger to the right.

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The coutryside changes significantly from the coast all the way through to Wandoan. The contrasting colours of fields, clouds, rain, sunshine and towns.

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There is some lovely architecture out west too. More of a feast for our eyes. We lunched in Toowoomba, drank with locals in the Criterion pub in Dalby and stayed in a country motel by Myall Creek. I’d recommend this trip to anybody.

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I went to bed last night feeling exhausted, happy, feeling incredibly lucky and more alive than ever. The saying ‘not all who wander are lost’ feels very true to me right now. (yes enough to make me fire up the blog again which I haven’t done in months!)

Bali!

Arriving in bali it wasn’t long before we were confronted with the heat, humidity and South east Asia. The driver of the Tarmac bus swerved to miss a suitcase that fell off a luggage carousel which was promptly picked up by a guy on a bike.

After an uneventful trip through customs, we were picked up by our transfer driver and trekked through the streets in our air conditioned mini bus. Watching all the usual Asian behaviours – cars everywhere, whole families on mopeds, mopeds sharing the footpath with pedestrians. Aussies wandering the streets adorned with bintang singlets, Balinese men sitting on the sidewalks, hawkers selling everything from handbags, clothes, knives, dildos, Viagra and tasers. When we arrived at our resort (after a search by the gate security) in legian, it really was a haven.

The Padma resort is a highly recommended sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the streets. We dumped our bags and headed for the beach so I could ‘earth’ myself – I need to get my feet in the water and reconnect with the ocean ( this was not as pleasant in queenstown in winter as it was in bali!). After a swim in the pool and a few (!) free cocktails in the VIP lounge, I realised why Aussies flock here – it’s paradise in its own right. Anything goes, we can do and have anything we want here.

Today we have dedicated to a bit of shopping – but here is a taste of my favourite topic – breakfast! It’s as interesting as I hoped. Western breakfast is there, but so are the curries and noodles and tapioca porridge and tropical fruits ( yellow watermelon!) and soups and I suspect anything I would care to dream up, they would get for me. So here is some pics from this morning! Yes I had curry and pancakes on the same plate and yes this is corned beef hash – I know I was excited too!

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