As I get myself ready for my trip to London next week, I reflect on how my feelings in life were all so numb prior to venturing out on my first adventure back in 2008. I was numb to what was right or wrong, what made me feel happy or sad, and every other emotion under the sun. I ‘put up with things.’ I accepted that ‘that’ was life. I didn’t have opinions on things, because whenever I did speak, my voice was often squashed, so I sat on the sidelines watching and waiting for whatever I was doing to finish. I accepted that this was my life… a life that meant nothing to anyone, especially me.
But then I took a trip to London and Paris and discovered something about myself. I was ALLOWED to feel. I was ALLOWED to enjoy something. I was ALLOWED to immerse myself into the culture, the music, the architecture, the smells, the language, and the beauty of my surrounds. I was ALLOWED to make my own opinion because I was by myself, most of the time, to just be swallowed up by where I was. And it really makes you think… What was I doing for the past 34 years? HOW did I get to be in this position where I DIDN’T MATTER?
That’s the magic of travel. You go outside your boundaries to discover your inner self. You become yourself… not a mother, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a work colleague, a charity worker, or whatever you are ‘labelled’ as… you are YOU! And no one can tell you otherwise.
Next week, will be the first time I have travelled without my boys in four years. It’s only a short trip, but I know it will help me reconnect with my inner self, my passions, my desires and my intellect and my soul. I am looking forward to the 26 hour flight, being tucked away in my seat and being left alone with no phone or internet interruptions, only the occasional food tray, some music, some movies and some focused writing time. I’m looking forward to motivating myself again to be the best I can be, for myself and my children, and my dearest friends.
So, I beg you all, at some stage over the next year, GIVE YOURSELF a minimum of 5 days in a strange land to discover your true self and find the happier you.
Last night, I attended my first Interactive French class at a place called ‘A French Journey.’ It’s a sweet little set of studios at the back of a French patisserie in Hampton. I have always wanted to learn French fluently. I studied it in high school for 4 years, I had a Swiss pen-pal in those years who wrote to me in French and I wrote to her in English (I met up with her for the first time last year in Geneva but her English was so far more superior to my French). I will admit, I let some of the learning fade away over the years, but some of it stuck with me, and last night, it was like all these words and memories were coming back to me like they were all inside me waiting to be set free.
The romantic in me was hoping that there would be some beautiful single man either teaching the class or attending the class… but no… sorry to disappoint me again! The French teacher was a 29 year old French native from Biarritz in the south of France named Sarah, who is just beautiful in every way and the class was two old high school friends in their mid 50s, one who brought her whinging husband along, and a very quiet 44 year old woman only 6 weeks away from her trip to Paris.
Our first class was about introducing ourselves… hence the reason why I know the ages of my classmates! We learnt formal and informal greetings and ways we can talk about ourselves, from what we do, where we are from, if we are married/single, how many children we have, if we have a pet, what our name is, how old we are, etc. All the masculine and feminine articles came back, but we were given a few hints on how to recognise the gender of the words, which I never got at school. Also there were some helpful hints in pronunciation that I don’t recall getting from school.
At the end, we were given a little slice of French cake – it was like a chocolate hazelnut mousse, with a slice of lemon tart and sponge cake all in one. Very yummy, but very decadent. I actually requested to be part of a French and food class, but unfortunately, they didn’t have the numbers to substantiate a class, so I joined the Interactive French class instead (I would have preferred to have been cooking and trying out different French foods!)
I read something the other day, that learning a language in your adult years is better than doing all those brain games on Lumosity, Brain Training, etc, and actually stops you from developing diseases like Alzheimer’s etc. As I said, I would love to be fluent in French, and I hope I can keep it up to become fluent, then immerse myself in the French culture for a year or so in a provence in France. But that’s the dream… one day, it will (I will be positive)… happen!
Last weekend, we went to Christchurch. The last time I was there, was almost 6 years ago, and the city has been rocked with earthquakes since. I also had my own car and a GPS this time, so I was able to hone in on places I visited 30+ years ago. The one thing I loved about Christchurch is it’s ability to stand tall. Even though the streets looked like a war zone of witch’s hats and crumbling bitumen, somehow a community is still working, still going to school, still shopping and still enjoying their town… and it is still a very pretty town in places.
Our first stop for the morning was the Christchurch CBD. We parked in a metered parking area with no meter, just outside a make-shift retail sector created completely out of shipping containers. It… looked… awesome!
One thing I realised while I was in Europe was the difference in the ‘city’ people vs the ‘country’ people… There are definitely many wonderful people I met while I was in the city, like the lovely man who was in the busy rush of the London Tube helping me carry my luggage up the steep staircase, and the sweet French man who gave us extra special attention in a Parisienne bistro, but they were few and far between… the Romans were rude, the Amsterdammers were just too busy dinging their bicycle bells riding way too fast and expecting you to get out of their way and most the Parisiennes were either begging for money or seemed a little sly. I will admit, the Londoners know all about what courtesy and compassion for a stranger is… however, the country people no matter where I am in the world, just warm my heart.
And it’s no different to what I find in Melbourne versus what I find in provincial Victoria. Unless you know someone in Melbourne, they don’t want to know you. Even when I’ve been to the States, those who live in the smaller towns give you more attention than those in the rat-race cities. I guess it’s true… life is slower in the country… slower to actually make an effort for people whether they are friends, family or strangers…
At lunch time on Saturday, my friend and I drove up to Mansfield and walked through the Farmer’s Market, listened to the school kids singing and enjoyed some of the local delights. You could tell the difference between the Melbourne tourists and the locals, just by the way they treated you.
On Saturday night, my friend and I hopped down to the Boat Club to see what the local watering hole was all about. Admittedly, most the people were over fifty and there really wasn’t many people there… but the view was spectacular and the people were so keen to who these ‘two new ladies’ were… especially the ‘committee’ members. So after a brief chat, letting them know that I’d just bought a new home down the street, they told me that I must come up on Cup Day to enjoy a feast of champagne and chicken with my boys (I’m sure they will be on the lemonade), to get dressed up and join in the local festivities. It was really nice to be made feel welcome. I signed up for a ‘horse’ in the sweepstakes and said I will be there… and they convinced me to get up next Wednesday morning at 5am to make the drive back to Melbourne instead of driving back Tuesday night…
On Sunday we packed up and got the house ready for our first paying guests. I’m lucky to have some local people who are happy to be my home’s caretakers… they will mow the lawns for me, clean the house after guests come, and just help me with all the little bits and pieces which are still puzzling to me with the new house… especially since the only services it has is electricity and phone, and everything else (water, sewerage and bottled gas) is tied to the land. It’s all a learning curve for me, but I’m willing to understand it all.
And it’s amazing how slow time actually goes in the country.. how you can fill your day and realise by 1pm that you still have half the day ahead of you to enjoy. My little lake house is a joy to go up to and makes my working week easier to get through. I’m so thankful we have been welcomed so warmly. I’m so thankful my boys love it and enjoy every part of it… maybe we were supposed to be country people too! 🙂
It’s 3.58am, 37 hours after we walked into our home. In some ways, as it always is, it’s bittersweet… For a long time now, Melbourne hasn’t felt like the ‘home I want to come back to.’ When we were on the train coming back from the airport, I looked at just how disgusting our trains were, remembering how negative I was about the dirt in the Paris Metro, the streets in Rome and Naples (understandably Naples is in a league of its own), but in some ways, the dirt is here too, we just have to look deeper. At least we came home to fairly pollution free air and just the very rare cigarette in sight, the very things that were constantly giving my little one itchy eyes throughout our trip.
My boys and I agree that our favourite places were London, Provence and the alps in Switzerland. You can’t beat that crisp clean mountain air. London people are considerate, helpful and easy to be around in the crowds. Provence was relaxing, beautiful, charming, friendly and a gorgeous climate. Whereas, Melbourne people are truly snobs – there is no ‘hello’ in the streets as you walk by (where in France, you heard ‘Bonjour’ and saw a sweet smile wherever you went), there’s anger on the roads as everyone is eager to get somewhere – didn’t have any of that on the 8700kms I drove around Europe even when everyone was in a standstill on a Sunday afternoon on a German autobahn for a good hour, and I truly felt embarrassed walking the 25 minute walk with our luggage up the hill to our home with my boys dragging behind because there was no bus or taxi sitting at the train station to bring us home, and that was the last bit of detail I didn’t think about, after we travelled from Brussels to Paris to Beijing to Bangkok to Melbourne in 36 hours… I was embarrassed because I was worried what people would think of me in our tired last hour (and I did bump into two people I know as we walked), but also embarrassed for our public transport system that doesn’t have connecting buses so that people can continue their journey with ease, like we experienced so much around Europe.
Whereas in Europe, I didn’t care one bit about what people think of me. I was my own person with my beautiful kids, doing what we wanted to do, and people didn’t have judgment, only acceptance. Where as there is a certain expectation you have to live up to in Melbourne. I truly did not miss Melbourne… and coming home to a much colder temperature with a broken ducted heating system and a tree fallen blocking most of our walkway to the car isn’t much fun either.
What we do like about being home? Our own beds and space, but really, we adjusted well to all the beds we slept in, except for the occasional one with bed bugs. Constant and consistent internet and not needing to worry about overseas charges on my phone. And my boys were worried about being away for so long that their friends would forget them and move onto new friendships, but they have been welcomed back with open arms. When I was overseas, I missed listening to English, but now that I’m here, the Aussie accent isn’t doing it for me and I wish I was back in France, or a French speaking country (like Switzerland or Belgium). Oh how much I would love to learn conversational French… might be the next thing on the bucket list to conquer.
I’ve already ordered some of our favourite French boisson (drink) – Orangina to hopefully be delivered for someone’s birthday tomorrow, I’ve organised Belgian Waffles for his birthday breakfast and a few other little surprises based on our trip as presents for my soon to be 12 year old. But I guess that’s what you do when you go on holiday… everything ‘there’ is always better than home and you just want to embrace it more when it’s all not there anymore, and just in the memory bank.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely people in Melbourne, once you get to know them, but strangers are less accepting. And unfortunately, that is also the world’s perception of Australians. It just takes us awhile for us to let people we don’t know into our lives, even if it’s just a passing ‘hello.’ It really is shallow… I just don’t know if that’s for me, hence the reason why I don’t feel like it’s ‘home’ – or the home I want to come home to.
I have friends all over the world, and just knowing that, it’s comforting to think that this world is my home… not just a city, a defined point of location. There truly is too much to see and experience in this world to be stuck in one place, hence ‘home’ to me will always be wherever I feel happy in my own skin.
We’re sort of in wind down time, ready to go home. Our enthusiasm for being tourists have waned, so pics have been few and far between, driving has been just the motorways to get anywhere faster, and the boys are just keen to hang out in the hotel room. We’ve got 3 more nights and then we are going home… While we are all getting along really really well, I think we are ready for some normalcy.
From Vienna, we drove to Salzburg in Austria, then to Stuttgart via Dachau where we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. The camp recommends only 12 year olds and up to visit, as there are some fairly graphic images of dead bodies lumped together in a mass grave, extreme starvation and concepts of inequality including imprisoning homosexuals, the disabled, as well as the Jewish and other religious sects, as we know. It was a stark reminder of how far we have come in the western world in regards to equality and freedom, which I think is a valuable lesson for my boys to understand how bad things really were. It was quite humbling, yet also such a huge reminder in how some laws are still so inhumane in terms of civil rights and how drastically the governments need to change them as quickly as possible.
Over the last 3 days we have been visiting Austria. Our first stop was in Graz, and whilst a pretty city that is predominantly populated by university students thanks to the six universities in the city, we didn’t get to see much of it due to a fairly busy work week in Melbourne (yes I am still continuing doing my day job as we float around Europe!)
Austria is a little bittersweet for me… as a child growing into a teenager, I was bombarded with classical music from this sweet country from my Mum, but also from playing the violin for ten years. In that time, I really wanted to visit and be inspired by the music that came from this richly cultured country, and maybe that led to me actually marrying an Austrian… which grew my passion for the country more, but we all know how that ended. So coming here now, with my now, lack of passion for classical music and more so lack of passion for the Austrians I know, I feel it’s a good opportunity for my boys to understand some of their heritage, but also good for me, to accept that the country is more than just classical music and bad marriages.
Our first impressions of Austria (after being completely beaten up in a thunderstorm as soon as we entered the country) is that it’s clean… especially after being in Italy which, in general (especially the west coast) is extremely dirty. I will call it ‘conservatively pretty.’ It’s pretty for all its evergreen forests, geraniums in planter boxes on window sills, the homes that are all plain but house proud and the Villages with the mountains in the background make it chocolate box sweet. The roads are all perfectly maintained and the rivers are crystal clear. It truly is amazing the contrast a border can make between countries.
I really didn’t want to get into the ‘classical music’ scene, as it’s not in my heart anymore, and my boys have no idea about it, so it would be difficult to get them excited about going to a museum about someone who lived two-three hundred years ago. So we started in Graz, and the last couple of nights we’ve been in Vienna in this gorgeous little self contained apartment literally fifty metres away from an outdoor piazza of restaurants and beyond to a street market, surrounded by 19th century buildings which are so damn cute. One of the buildings on the corner has a headstone of Josef Schubert, the composer, so I guess I had my ‘touch’ of classical music in Vienna. I was struggling to work out what to do with the boys in the country’s capital, but I found the ultimate playground for them… The Prater.
The Prater is considered to be the oldest amusement park in the world… with documents suggesting that its mentioned as early as the 12th century. It was made an area that was free to the public in 1766 as a retreat area, that soon attracted taverns, coffee houses, swings and carousels. In 1895, the giant ferris wheel was erected, similarly for a world event like the Eiffel Tower, and for some reason, has never been pulled down. It is considered to be the oldest ferris wheel operating. It also has the tallest chairoplane in the world officially reaching heights of 117 metres, giving you spectacular views of all of Vienna. It has a Madame Tussauds, a 5D Vampires of Vienna show and is free to enter, open 24 hours, 7 days a week. That’s what the program states… which in reality is true, but the rides and restaurants don’t start opening until 10am and really don’t kick in until about 11.30am. Our mistake… we got up early to avoid the crowds (as you know how much we ‘love crowds’ cough cough), and after getting lost for about 20 minutes circling around the massive parkland that surrounds it after we struggled through the peak hour traffic, we arrived there at around 9am to what seemed like ‘not a lot happening.’ At least we didn’t have the crowds!
So while we waiting for everything to open, we walked around the giant amusement park to work out which rides we would go on. Most the rides the boys wanted to go on were for 12 years and over, or had height restrictions of 150cm or more… And my policy with amusement park rides is that if one can’t go on, then they both don’t go on. Some of the rides said 10 years and over, and we managed to get away with my youngest by not saying a thing (he’s 10 next month).
Once the boys got on the rides, their faces were beaming with excitement.
Today we drove to Venice and it was the perfect day. The skies were cloudless, the sun was shining and there weren’t too many crowds. We arrived in Venice around 1.30pm, caught the Vaporetto to our hotel in San Samuele and were in awe of just how much of a treasure Venice really is. It’s simply beautiful… Makes you warm and fuzzy inside…
We arrived in our hotel, and behind a wrought iron door we found this…
Ok ok, so we have now found some pretty places in Italy. Yesterday, we travelled down the Amalfi Coast within the height of tourism on a Sunday! And today, we travelled over to the east coast of Italy and found a sweet paradise without the crowds in Falconara Marittima, near Ancona.
Unfortunately, even though we drove through the popular villages of Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi, there was no way we were able to get a park… but there were a few unknown towns in between the major three that had just the same beauty without the heavy traffic. We found a place called Praiano which was just delightful.
I really thought Italy would be better. I dedicated 9 nights to it, and so far, the only place that has stood out is seeing Florence. In Melbourne, Italians are known for being concreters, tilers, their coffee and restaurants, gelato and being Catholic… and it’s all the same here. The houses of concrete arches, mission brown or orange brick with mission brown trim, roller shutters on every window so you can’t let the world in, just makes it feel blah and stuck in the Seventies. Tonight is actually the first hotel in five that we don’t have a tiled floor in the bedroom. We have seen plenty of Fiats and Vespas on the road, and were actually trailed through Tuscany by five red Ferraris lead by the club car burgundy Ferrari which brought a little excitement to the undulating hills of the olive groves and grapevines, but otherwise, it’s a fairly dirty, inconsiderate, unfriendly place to be. The French and Swiss say ‘Bonjour’ to everyone, which is so nice to hear… in Italy, I’ve only heard a complete stranger walking passed say ‘Bongiorno’ once. The locals don’t have a sense of happiness or pride in the air… it’s a really shame.
Our first night was in Torino where we only ventured to the local pizzeria to have our first pizza in Italy. Who knew that pizza was pretty much all we would be eating. We then went to Switzerland for 3 nights (which, as you know, was amazing!).
Milan felt boxy and full of shopping malls for the fashionistas who need to say ‘I bought this shirt/skirt/scarf/frock/pantsuit/necklace/watch/whatever it is from Milan’ and hope their friends think they are special. We essentially stayed in our glammed up hostel which had shitty internet and the safest thing to do was order pizza in rather than walk the streets hoping to find a decent restaurant (and from what we heard overnight with all the yelling and fighting in the streets, it was definitely the safest thing to do).
We drove to Pisa on our way to Florence, which I will admit, was beautiful, but full of shonky salespeople trying to sell you tacky souvenirs or rip off sunglasses, handbags or watches.
Florence was charming… We got to our hotel around 2.30pm and left at about 3.15pm to catch a tram into the city. We felt safe in Florence and got back to our hotel around 8pm… We walked to Ponte Vecchio – the iconic bridge with loads of jewellers on it, I found a ceramic studio that had a turtle (I collect turtles from around the world as my memento of each place – some places, I don’t expect to find any, as a turtle, by nature, is a tropical memento, but so far, I found a marble one in the Lakes District in England, an antique Art Deco wooden one in Provence (and a pair of salt and pepper shakers in typical white glazed ceramic turtles in Mougins near Cannes) and a hand-painted one in Florence….all my favourite places. We had dinner overlooking the Palazzo Vecchio towards the mock Statue of David in this cute little ristorante where – hallelujah, I was able to get a beautiful salad and the boys had a nicely made hamburger with salad on the side.
We drove through Tuscany to get to Rome. Had to throw the Ferrari pic in there!
Rome was dirty, but in some ways, fairly cheap. A bus/train ticket is 1.50 Euro for 100 minutes. We found another pizzeria where we could buy pizza by the kilo. For the three of us, including drinks (and I had a beer), we paid 12.60 Euro… so we went back the next night too. On our day trip to the heart of Rome, we checked out the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Pathenon… but really, I couldn’t stand the crowds. We also discovered one of those gelato places you hear about that they con you inside their doors to buy a gelato, and before you know it, you pay 25 Euro for one ice-cream. But I was smart… I checked out the menu before ordering and asked for the 3.50 Euro gelato, asked what we could get for the 3.50 Euro price and got our 3.50 Euro gelato. But a lady who came in after us, was given her gelato, went to pay for it, was told the 25 Euro price and handed it back, refusing to pay. There was a huge commotion between the staff and the customer, but the customer just walked out. I must admit, they do make a pretty display of cones to lure you in!
So today, we drove down to Pompei with an end stay in Naples. We arrived in Pompei as the sun was shining, but there were dark clouds looming in… so much so, that we traipsed through the relics in a massive thunderstorm that created plenty of flash flooding in the streets. We were absolutely drenched, but the boys had fun! We are in a nicer hotel tonight with fabulous internet (it’s been since Switzerland that we have had decent WiFi, hence the reason why it’s been a while between blogs). I’ve been warned that Naples can be a little rough, so we will stay confined to our hotel room, and there is a restaurant on site. But tomorrow, we will drive along the Amalfi Coast and see the beauty Italy really has to offer!