Travel with a twist

What is your favourite genre for reading? Romance novels? Crime thrillers? Biographies? Cook books? Sport? Chick Lit? Vampire Romance? History?

The genre I most like to read does not fit easily into a cute sticker-size description or book shelf. You will find these books interspersed amongst travel, self help, culture, adventure, biography, geography, fiction, poetry, health and well-being. I like to read personal accounts about people who set out from their known, safe worlds, and travel off with some purpose in mind – a quest perhaps. It is done with a spirit of adventure, challenge, and personal discovery. The single word that comes closest to describing this would be “exploration”. Or perhaps “journeys” – although the word “journey” has been cheapened in popular colloquialism.  Exploration of the world, life, culture, the individual.  It is travel with a twist.

In no particular order here is a list of some books I’ve read and loved that I think fit into this genre:

Dead Koalas

I see dead koalas. Probably at a frequency of one per week. Their fat round fluffy grey/brown/white furred bodies don’t flatten easily apparently. Sometimes I glimpse a leathery black nose amid the gory mess as I speed by on my way to work.

The Princes Highway is the A1 highway that loops completely around Australia. This particular stretch of this major highway is rural, coastal, farming, open and bare to the prevailing cold sea winds from the Antarctic. Wind turbines are multiplying along this coastline.

So where do the koalas come from? Go to? Live? There are some treed areas but often I’ll see a dead one in an area that has no native trees, only Cyprus trees planted by early settlers.

I worry about them. As well as being cute in appearance, they are non-threatening and gentle creatures. They are an endangered species. Sure I see lots of other road-kill such as kangaroos, wallabies, foxes, rabbits, and birds. But it is the squashed koalas that upset me the most. I often see a mangled mess of fur and flesh and blood at the end of black skid marks from car tyres. It is far more gruesome than a Twilight movie. (But that’s not hard).

I hope I never see a live one on the road before my car. Would I swerve and dangerously cause an accident? Or would I plough straight through it? I hope I am never tested. A common topic of conversation in this region is about people who have damaged their cars from collisions with kangaroos and koalas.

Then today on my way home from work I was glad to avoid running over a huge snake sliding across the highway. It wasn’t a brown or black snake – maybe a tiger snake. These too are protected species and I’m glad the one I saw lived.

Finding bliss

Fourteen blissful moments stand out from my busy tour of Europe; moments where my soul was filled with joy, awe and contentment. This was the beauty I was aching for and found in these moments. Each experience stands alone complete in itself as if within a glass bubble – a diamond.

  • Discovering the Lion of Lucerne which sits upon a ledge on a cliff in a quiet grotto amidst the busy city streets of Lucerne. I stood spellbound as I felt the sorrow and serenity of the Lion’s message.
  • Seeing the huge statue of Jesus with outstretched arms accepting all, as he stands on an outcrop on the lakeside at Lucerne. We spend a quiet moment taking in the bliss while drifting on the calm green waters.
  • White swans and brown ducks paddling briskly on the rapid moving crystal clear Alpine water of the Reuss River that runs through Lucerne. Children feed the ducks at the water edge on steps below the Roccoco Cathedral perched on the banks. An old roofed wooden foot bridge crosses the river and is adorned with flowers of purple, white, yellow and pink. Meanwhile colourful flags flap in the summer’s breeze heralding the Yodeling Festival that has attracted crowds of people dressed in traditional costumes. We wander.
  • Seated on a balcony at Engelberg I listen to birds singing tunefully and sweetly (no Aussie squawking here). I also hear the rushing water of the swift Alpine stream that runs through the town. The church bells chime for the 6am call to prayers at a nearby monastery. Cow bells clang from the fields nearby. The warm air stirs the red and white Swiss flags atop the chalets. The sun has risen and strains to penetrate its rays into the darkened valleys and forests, still working to melt the remaining snow upon the mountain peaks.
  • Returning to Innsbruck from nearby Rinn we travel down the mountains listening to “The first time ever I saw your face” by Roberta Flack on the bus sound system. The sun slips behind snow-crested alps, glowing golden swords of light that swathe the already picture-perfect landscape into an impossibly more beautiful scene.
  • Burano is a tiny residential island in the lagoon near Venice. Casanova once lived here. Canals wind through the village. The houses are painted different colours, traditionally so that the fishermen could identify their own house when returning by boat in the frequent fog. Our stomachs full and content from a fantastic local seafood feast, we wander along the canals in the hot afternoon sunshine, looking in shops for souvenirs.
  • Seeing the masterpiece of Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel I sit with my back against the wall gazing up like the crowds of people gathered to do the same. The paintings glow with the bright colours looking as fresh as if Michelangelo had just left the room. How lucky I am to see the paintings now after recent removal of decades of built up grime.
  • Tony’s Bar in Sorrento stopped us in our tracks and we succumbed to the quirky and inviting makeshift bar set up on a cobbled carpark. The animated Italian waiters offer us seats, drinks, music and conversation. The ladies have Bellinis and the men drink beer. We listen to Dean Martin sing That’s Amore and watch with amusement as the crazy traffic of small cars and mopeds whiz by.
  • We queue outside the Galleria Acadamie in Florence waiting for our turn to see the Statue of David. The street is narrow, hot, grimy, and the wall beside us is covered with graffiti. An unlikely home for David I think. Inside though the first glimpse of his glowing white perfection is stunning. How did Michelangelo create such a beautiful image of man? It has such grace and beauty and emotion and there must be no finer work of art on this Earth.
  • Sparkling summer rain fell gently as we took shelter in a tiny shop entrance in the hilltop town of Saint Paul de Vence in France. The artfully arranged cobblestones glistening in the wet. Exquisite art, jewelry, lace, weavings, clothing fill these unique ancient stone shops. We share a Croque Monsieur, talk to the shop keepers, buy some gifts, and feel happiness that communities like this still exist in our multi-national corporate world.
  • We rested in the shade sitting on the grassy river bank beside the Pont d’Avignon. Free from vendors and the hustle and bustle of the busy streets we watched people walk to the end of the ancient arched bridge where it ended in ruin mid-stream. Meanwhile black dogs swam after brown ducks in the water. Boys paddled yellow canoes and cruise boats motored up and down the river.
  • The French experience enveloped me at Beaunne, a small quaint stone village in the wine region of Burgundy. We sat drinking coffee outside a café watching locals shop, read newspapers, walk small dogs and deliver goods. I speak French to the shopkeepers. We buy local red wine and gaze at displays of frois grois, snails, terrines and pates in shop windows.
  • Laugh, laugh laugh! The weird French acrobat/comedian had me laughing the minute he appeared on stage at the cabaret show at Nouvelle Eve in Paris. His act was not original but the practiced skill with which he delivered his silly antics was masterful. He milked the audience and I was hysterical, tears pouring down my face. After his final bow I gasped for air, exhausted from the laughing, my cheeks sore from the strain.
  • Blue lights twinkled on the Eiffel Tower. We stood on the bridge nearby where the small Stature of Liberty greets visitors who arrive on the Seine. The hand of the statue reaches up towards a small half moon. We group together in the warm night air under street lamps helping each other try to capture that perfect image of the twinkling Eiffel Tower at night with our digital cameras. We all hoped for a special image that would help our memories preserve this unique moment forever.

Staying connected

While on holiday touring Europe I tried to stay connected to my family via email. I found that the variables with internet facilities were as ubiquitous as the variables in bathroom plumbing. Everywhere presented different systems that needed re-negotiation.

 

Not all hotels offer a PC with internet connection. Some are free to hotel guests while others require payment, either by coin in a slot, or credit card logon. And the fees vary.

Internet shops can be found here and there, but not everywhere. Again fees vary considerably.

 

Browsers and keyboards differ from what we are used to. Software systems are usually in the language of the country and sometimes there is no address box for typing in URL’s. MS Windows is worldwide so it is easy to recognise familiar icons. A lady in Italy asked me to help her with her PC because she assumed I could understand Italian from my apparent familiarity with the Italian browser. Keyboard arrangements differ too according to the language of the country, so familiar typing habits can hinder the speed of writing an email and inevitably cost you more money. Imagine “q” for “a” and “y” for “z” and the “m” moved entirely. Finding the “@” key can prove to be a challenge every time.

 

Deqr familz,

It is Summer in Europe so the weqther is hot qnd sunnz. We hqve seen the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chqpel, the stqtue of Dqvid qnd the Monq Lisq.

Be home soon.

Xxx

 

 

 

 

 

I managed to send and receive emails in Engelberg, Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris and London. Accessing Facebook was not always possible, but I updated when I could. Hearing news from Australia on TV or in the newspapers is almost non-existent. We Australians do not rate in the world’s thinking. Even world weather reports ignore us altogether. I think this is a good thing though and hope it remains that way. “Where the bloody hell are you?” spoken by a young Aussie lady in a television commercial for tourism, wondering where all the tourists are, could be more accurately expressed by most residents of the Northern Hemisphere when asked about Australia.

eGadgets

Once upon a time there lived an Industrial Designer named Sue. Like many designers Sue loved gadgets. Unfortunately this was before the digital age and before the invention of the GUI.

 

Nowadays Sue works as an eLibrarian, so when the new interactive whiteboard was installed in the library Sue’s eyes widened with glee.

 

What a fantastic tool these are for teachers. Utilising the functions for optimum success is a challenge for teachers, some of whom may only see them as expensive projection screens. Get hold of a light pen and play!! The possibilities are only limited by ones imagination. For an inspirational glimpse of the not-so-distant future watch Perceptive Pixel by Jeff Han.

 

This weekend I flew interstate with my husband to visit our son who turned 21 years of age. The egadgetry of commercial flying is outstanding and I love the whole experience.  I love jets and airports and taking off and landing and watching my own personal TV. I like to watch the progress of the plane on the diagram that shows the altitude and speed. I love looking out the window at the land formations below and the sun light illuminating the clouds inventing new colours and shapes. The organisation of moving masses of people and their luggage, thousands of miles every five minutes is amazing. Our flights were smooth and enjoyable and we were even put on an earlier flight home which was very convenient.

 

By The Way I saw another dolphin yesterday quite by chance in a completely different part of the world. Not this one standing beside my son but a real one in the marina entry just outside the restaurant.

Planning my trip

In three months I will visit Europe for the first time. It will be a three week whiz around Europe. I wish it could be longer.

In anticipation I have been using the web to look at the places I will be staying, the routes I will travel, and the places of interest I will visit.

Google Maps and Google Earth are fantastic tools for this task. How far is the Eiffel Tower from my hotel in Paris? Google Maps will tell me in a flash. What does the scenery look like from The Rialto Bridge in Venice? Google Earth offers great photos uploaded by other keen visitors.

I can plot my trip on Google Earth then fly around the route to gain a spatial awareness that will aid my navigation skills when I’m actually there in this unfamiliar territory.

The itinerary of my trip becomes enriched by this online research using these clever tools.

Others jokingly comment to me that I won’t need to go now as I’ve seen it all online. Well that’s where I clearly appreciate the difference between the online environment and the REAL world.

I long to submerge my physical being into other cultures. I crave hearing foreign languages as incomprehensible song. I want to be dwarfed inside historic cathedrals where light streams in from above illuminating art by the masters. I want to meander along cobblestone alleyways too narrow for cars. I want to be tempted by the smells of different foods that I am yet to taste. I want to get a real sense of my own insignificance in world history by standing in places where men and women stood, fought, died and left their marks. I want to soak in the richness of the colours and textures of beautiful European landscapes searching for the inspiration felt by the great artists. I long to gaze about in open-mouthed wonder.

I can’t do that sitting at my pc.

Meanwhile in anticipation, I can dream, imagine, and visualise the trip online, just to whet my appetite for the REAL thing.