LAST week we had the exciting news that Australia has been awarded entry into the prestigious Eurovision competition, being held in Vienna in May. And I have been invited by Austria Tourism to cover this event. Equally as exciting, this year marks 50 years since The Sound of Music was filmed. I’ll also be heading down to Salzburg to ask the big questions such as, how do you know if you’ve fallen into the Von Trapp family trap?
1. Climb Every Mountain
Faced with the fresh alpine air, lush, green grass and the distant tinkle of cow bells, there wouldn’t be a traveller alive who hasn’t been atop a mountain, somewhere on the planet, who hasn’t felt a sudden rush to frolic on the mountain top while singing The Hills Are Alive. It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary and like the Nazi occupation in the movie, it is also unstoppable.
2. Seeking Refuge In Sacred Sites
OK, so a bunch of nasty Nazis are unlikely to be following you anytime soon, so hiding behind gravestones is probably not on the cards, but what traveller hasn’t sought solace in a sacred site, such as a church? Cathedrals are remarkably good places to rest your weary travelling bones, particularly if it’s a hot day. And if you’re lucky, there might be a service on at the same time, which means you could partake in Holy Communion and get a free wafer and a sip of red wine. Dinner and a show, what’s not to love?
3. How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
If you think life on the road is all beer and schnitzels, think again. Travelling is hard work. And from time-to-time, you will be confronted with all sorts of problems, from lost luggage to delayed transport and overbooked hotels. So, your problems may not be as critical as those faced by Mother Superior, who just wasn’t sure what to do with that wayward Maria, but they feel pretty big at the time. Sit down, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, what would Mother Superior do?
4. You’re Wearing Your Traveller’s Clothes
Remember the scene towards the end of the film where the Von Trapps have turned off the car engine and are trying to sneak away without performing in the big concert but they get caught in the spotlights of the Nazi party sympathisers? At this point, Captain Von Trapp points out that the entire family is not dressed in “travelling clothes” but they are in fact costumes for the performance. Yeah, right, we’re all tried to tart up that old t.shirt on a fancy night out overseas. Doesn’t work.
5. You Sneak Out Half Way Through A Concert Performance
Who hasn’t been on an overseas trip and someone, usually your host, suggests you join them for a bit of Strauss at some symphony orchestra? And we all know how fun that is, particularly when all you really want to do is be at the buzzing pub you passed on your way to the national theatre hall. Just pull a Von Trapp and half way through, disappear. That’s right. No need for lengthy goodbyes. By the time they realise you’re missing, you’ll be halfway to another country.
6. You’re So Desperate For Clean Clothes, You’ll Wear Anything
Yes, even a curtain. Turns out Sister Maria was quite the seamstress. We’ve all been there. You’ve been on the road for weeks, your travelling clothes are tatty and tired. You lay awake at night daydreaming of the day you can burn those khaki shorts, never to be worn again. You hate that t.shirt you wear every day with a passion. And then you look around the room in which you are staying and are overcome with the urge to whip up some lederhosen from the curtains. If only you’d packed your Singer sewing machine.
7. The Sound Of Shrill Whistles Make You Run
Captain Von Trapp was really onto something with that whistle-blowing caper. I mean, who speaks to their kids anyway? And when you’ve got so many in your massive mansion, how the heck are you meant to locate them all? Whether it’s some amorous men in Italy, or your inter-country train departing the station, you hear the sound of a whistle anywhere in Europe, and you are bound to sprint.
8. You Are 16, Going On 17
Like the actress who played the lovely Liesl, you are actually 21, possibly even 41, pretending you are 16 going on 17. There’ s something about travelling overseas which allows you to reinvent yourself, after all, you are never going to see half the people you meet again (regardless of the empty promises you make to stay in touch). Whether you lie about your age, your job, or your nationality, we’ve all lied to impress the listener. Even the lovely Liesl.
9. You Take A Vow Of Celibacy
Well, we all know how well that worked out for Maria. About as well as it will work out for you. Yes, yes, we all vow we are going travelling to “find out more about ourselves” and to “learn and grow as a person”. And that might be true. But I challenge anyone who has spent any time at the Munich Oktoberfest to come back and tell me how that vow of celibacy worked out for them. Yes, didn’t think so.
10. You Act All Cute To Get What You Want
You might have thought you got away with it, Greta, all chubby cheeks, blonde hair and lispy tugging at the apron strings: “please don’t go, Sister Maria”, but I was on to your little caper. Having said that, the youngest Von Trapp had a travelling lesson for us all. Whether you are begging for an upgrade, or just the last bed in the youth hostel late at night, it doesn’t hurt to turn on a bit of the Greta to get what you want. You might want to lose the lisp.
To book your own Sound of Music escape to Austria, go to http://www.austria.info/au
I’VE never been accused of being a “shrinking violet”, but the term “socialite” has been levelled at me many times. So it’s fitting that I am sipping a buzzing cocktail of that very name this fine Friday evening, having shunned the far more retiring purple concoction on the drinks menu. I am at Brisbane’s New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites dating back to the 1920s, which is also quite perfect, as I’ve always fancied myself of that elegant era, squeezed between two World Wars, wearing a flapper dress and smoking long, slim cigarettes while surrounded by a bevy of male admirers. Yes, a girl’s got to dream and this is the perfect establishment in which to do so. In fact, had I been really clever, I would have ordered the good Doctor Thompson off the cocktail list instead, as this is what I feel is in order the next morning after a night of pure decadence.
Built during the 1920s, if the walls of The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites could talk, they would whisper some very salacious details indeed. For this heritage-listed hotel, up on Wickham Terrace, was once a medical centre. This tale actually dates back to the 1880s when immigrant Dr John Thomson chose the site to build his personal residence and named his home Inchcolm after Scotland’s Inchcolm Island, which was later replaced by the current building.
And the story becomes even more interesting, as the current owner and iconic Brisbane developer Peter Flynn was actually born in the building during its days as a medical practice. Flynn first had a vision to create a New York style boutique style hotel and in 1998 opened The Inchcolm Hotel. Now, following an $8 million refurbishment and restoration, The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites is the latest art deco darling on Brisbane’s social scene. And what a darling she is.
Guests who stay in the original building can expect their room to be unique, as few rooms are the same configuration due to its previous incarnation as a medical centre. There’s even the MacArthur Suite from where American General Douglas MacArthur’s personal physician worked while MacArthur was stationed in Brisbane during World War Two. Meanwhile, the new loft-style hotel suites capture all the charm of the era with art deco furnishings and fittings. About the only thing missing on this particular evening is a group of merry maids to assist me in dressing for my evening of indulgence.
I swan down to the sophisticated Socialites Bar and order a beer first up. In my defence, it had been a hot day and I really wanted to try the local Newstead Beer on tap and also in my room’s “maxi bar” which I am happy to report also stocks New Farm confectionary items. Modern day darlings of Brisbane’s social scene K1 and K2 arrive soon after, and order The Socialite – spiced rum, pear liqueur and ginger liqueur with fresh pear and crystalized ginger. This promptly sends this beer-drinking flapper well, into a bit of a flap (what the hell was I thinking drinking beer for God’s sake?), and I, too, order the same cocktail before our party of eight retires to the Foxtrot Room (next to the Charleston Room) for a private dinner. By this stage, I’m beginning to feel like I’m in a real life game of Cluedo….the travel writer, in the Foxtrot Room, with the butter knife.
Drawing on inspiration from the menu in the hotel’s Thomson’s Reserve Restaurant, our five-course degustation is a juicy journey in itself, which starts with an amusing Amuse Bouche and ends with white chocolate, fizzy honeycomb, orange curd, citrus & golden cherry meringue for dessert. In between there’s a host of delicate dishes including the Sous vide rolled Wagyu petite tenderloin with smoked gnocchi, carrot variations and nut butter. As fate would have it, the handsome waiter serving us looks incredibly familiar and I spend considerable time pondering this fact. Finally he reveals he once worked at Brisbane’s fine-dining steak restaurant Cha Cha Char where it turns out he was my waiter when I was once trapped on yet another disastrous internet date with a bloke who ordered a $100 steak in order to impress me with the size of his wallet. Yes, Brisbane is indeed small and salacious, just like this establishment.
Our meal comes to an end and I float back upstairs to my loft bedroom, memories of beef and blokes swimming around my mind. I fall into the kind of deep sleep I imagine a socialite of the 1920s era would and, while somewhat disappointed it’s actually 2015, I awake refreshed and ready to take on my contemporary city again. If art deco decadence is your kind of thing, escape to The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites, it could be just the medicine you need.
The Global Goddess was a guest of The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites – http://www.mgallery.com/TheNewInchcolmHotel
THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indigent politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched into your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
I penned these words a year ago on my fourth trip to the rustic and incredibly beautiful River Kwai region, pondering what it was that kept drawing me back to this part of the world. I still have no answers, but the pull to return there has emerged again, and this year, I’d love to take some of you with me. And so, I am delighted to announce I have launched a new tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess. In early August, we will be meeting in Bangkok where we will spend two nights in a luxury five-star hotel, before we embark on our journey to the River Kwai. And along the way, we’ll be observing, day dreaming and writing about our travels.
If we’re lucky, we’ll bump into my good friend Sam Season, about whom I have written before. I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
Last time we parted ways, on the banks of that beautiful river, Sam had plans to spend the year perfecting his English, so he can gain a mechanics scholarship in Australia and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. His plans included professing his love for Jaytarmon and asking her to wait for him and his love. Those of you who know me personally, or have met me through my words alone, know that this will be a journey of humility, heart and humour – the three cornerstones I believe make a great writer, and good human being. Please come and join me in one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done. It will change your life.
For more details on my tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess, please click on this link: http://theglobalgoddess.com/joinmythailandtour/
A COMBINATION of heat stroke, boredom and the usual malaise, which strikes every January, led to me rejoining a dating site last week. (I may or may not have also been looking for a blog before I start travelling again for the year). I elected to go back to BoganDating.com (not its real name) to see if things had changed in the year since I was last desperate enough to sign up. They have not. In all fairness, in the deep dark recesses of my mind, and with yet another Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I may also hold some grim hope that the man of my dreams is lurking somewhere in the shadows on BoganDating.com. He is not. But it has certainly been an amusing week.
This time around I named myself after a popular travel site to at least see if anyone out there possessed a sense of irony. They don’t. At the time of writing this, I have attracted 209 views, 29 kisses and engaged in 1 email conversation. I think the rather low ratio of views to kisses and actual conversations may have had something to do with the fact I stipulated I am not interested in one-night stands, thus knocking out the majority of participants. Yes, “Fairdinkumkiwi”, “Gazza”, and “DancingandRomance” were all scared off by that one. “ChristopherB”, 27, was an interesting entrant in the game, particularly given I stated I was looking for a man aged between 40 and 50.
“Paul3000” was not looking for “anything serious” nor a “one-night stand” but just “regular fun”. I’m pretty sure we all know what that means. Yet Paul was quite the serious sausage himself, stipulating: “Please read my profile carefully, and only respond if you do want to chat and do like what you have read. Sorry for sounding like a grouch, but it has been getting annoying.” I’m believe Paul actually lives in a garbage bin and his real name is Oscar. “RhythmLover”, aged 64, also viewed my profile. He wanted to “encounter a friendship of epicurean attraction…a curious glance across a shared vintage…the chink of glass, one hand upon another…mmm”. I think RhythmLover has just finished reading 50 Shades of Grey. He is, however, keeping his options open, stating he wants to meet anyone between the ages of 18-120 and, most reassuringly, stating “my iPod remains young.” Phew. Can’t date a dating iPod.
“Charlie” was not interested in “pushy women” but definitely wanted someone “with their own mind” (I’m SO confused). “RichobytheCoast” went straight for the sales pitch, leading his profile with “I have just bought a beachfront apartment at Kings Beach”. Unfortunately for Richo that is the most exciting thing about him. I actually responded in the affirmative to “Devoted2U” prepared to overlook the corny name, as he said he wanted a woman he could “spoil”, one who was “independent” and “one that knows how to put a man in his place”. Devoted, you had me at hello! Unfortunately, Devoted’s idea of “spoiling” a woman, seems to be actually responding to her email. He has since gone walkabout.
Walkabout seems to be the theme this season, as was also the case of a detective who also went missing in action for three days, straight after I emailed him back. Which made me wonder. Had he been killed by a Gold Coast bikie? Was he on a secret assignment? Or did he do a criminal check and discover I got a speeding fine on New Years Eve? In my defence, Your Honour, it was a scorcher, I had a hot roast chicken in the car, and I needed to get the chook home. And no, I don’t condone speeding, but I thought it was a 60 zone in which I was clocked doing 65. And yes, the chicken ended up costing me $227 and 3 demerit points. Lesson learnt. And so, too, may my lesson be learnt on this dating site.
Now, before I sign off, I have been speaking with a close male mate and he too has been dabbling in the whole dating disaster site business. And, remarkably, he has similar tales to tell of the female of the species. Like me, the minute he contacts them in the affirmative, they tend to disappear off the face of the planet. His worst tale is of a self-confessed spiritual guru who expended considerable energy painting a picture of what they’d do when they next caught up, and even spoke of an overseas break with him. And just when he was about hooked, she then revealed she had “reconciled with her partner”. We both don’t believe her but thanks for playing around with someone’s heart, lady. So, I am none the wiser on what makes this dating business tick. Or why there are so many imitators playing this particular game, but if the survival of our species relies on men and women actually forming healthy relationships, then we’re all doomed.
AS you read this, in various destinations around the world, 35 women are into their fifth day of a 21-day private self pleasure challenge. That’s right, 35 women from Australia, England, Chile, America and the Netherlands have signed up and paid $US89 to participate in conscious masturbation every day for three weeks. How do I know this? Because last week being a relatively quiet start to the working year, I stumbled across a Facebook page called The Self Pleasure Revolution. And, as you can imagine, I was more than a little curious about what this all meant. For me, a night of self pleasure means a bottle of cheap red in bed watching Better Homes and Gardens and marvelling at the fact anyone could possibly take Tara and her creepy craft-making seriously. (I still have not recovered from the time she found an early model computer, you know those big boxy ones, and shoved a cat in it and called it a cat box). But it turns out on today’s blog I’m talking about pussies of a different kind. And how to discover your own pleasure.
I tracked down the architect of The Self Pleasure Revolution facebook page and website, Elise Savaresse, and found a softly-spoken French (now, there’s a shock) woman, in her mid 30s, living in Perth. Elise, a life coach, has lived in Australia for 8 years, and launched the first Self Pleasure 21-day challenge in August last year.
“I’ve been exploring pleasure and self pleasure for a while and I’ve been interested in exploring how the mind works,” she says.
“A lot of studies show it takes 21 days to develop a new habit and to change neural pathways. I was driving one day and thought this concept might be something interesting to try.”
At this stage I should point out I, too, have lots of thoughts while driving – like whether there is enough chocolate and wine in the fridge waiting for me back at home – but the thought of launching a self pleasure revolution has never ever occurred to me.
Elise established her website and last August, 20 women from around the world signed up to the challenge which includes a welcome package; an opening ceremony; pleasure inspiration list; self pleasure guideline; daily emails to support and inspire; and techniques. Women are also encouraged to reclaim words such as “yoni, cunt and pussy”; and are supported by three “pleasure filled Goddesses” (including Elise) as well as a community of women who are reclaiming their bodies. Interestingly, women are also given a “live demo” to help them in their practice, which Elise says is conducted fully clothed and shows various positions and practices. For those who are a little bit more reticent to dive into the deep end, so to speak, you can download a free eBook from Elise’s site – Self Pleasuring For Women: The 7 Biggest Barriers.
On Friday, 35 women started the second 21-day challenge – which women can join at any time – and which Elise hopes will grow to 1 million followers around the world.
“A lot of women still hold a lot of shame about touching themselves. Self pleasure is very masculine. This is all about listening to your body and it is a totally different approach,” Elise says.
“In my job as a life coach I work with empowering people through self love and it is really important to work on the physical aspects of that as well.
“From my own experience, I think the French are a bit more open to talking about their sexuality. I can feel there is a heaviness in Australia.”
Elise, who has a partner, says whether women are in a relationship or not, the benefits of self pleasure are enormous including learning to understand your own body, being comfortable in your own skin, and being able to share what feels good for you. Even those without partners will benefit from the stress relief that regular self pleasure can bring through those happy hormones released upon orgasm.
“A lot of women feel that pleasuring themselves means they don’t love their partner and that their partner is supposed to be giving them pleasure,” she says.
“But it is psychological. We are always looking to understand ourselves, to be present and loved. When you pleasure yourself you are holding that space for yourself.”
I haven’t yet signed up for this 21-day challenge, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind for the future. After all, I’m up for anything that adds a bit of spice to life, and I’m pretty sure I can’t find that in a computer cat box.
Elise will be spreading the love around Australia with workshops in Byron Bay, Sydney and Melbourne in February and March. To find out more about the workshops, 21-day challenge or the concept overall, go to http://www.theselfpleasurerevolution.com
(All photos in this blog courtesy of Elise’s facebook page The Self Pleasure Revolution)
Cheer up, sleepy jean
Oh, what can it mean
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen (Daydream Believer, The Monkees, 1967)
I HAVE a confession. I am a daydreamer. If I could, I would spend all day in my head, conjuring up salacious stories about the world around me. But in a bid to take a break and get out of my head for a bit over the Christmas period, I embraced Instagram with gusto. Just a few months ago, when I joined Instagram, I had a total of 13 followers, which was pretty remarkable, given I never posted anything. Yes, somewhere out there on the planet there were 13 insanely optimistic people, just waiting with baited breath for me to post something…anything. Quite the enigma was I. But things have changed, I’ve attracted a stack of new followers, and I’m now looking through the world through my eyes as well as my head – and most importantly my heart. And so, I thought I’d share a few images of what I’ve been up to this summer. If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, you’ll find me @aglobalgoddess
Possibly my favourite pic all summer was of the University of Queensland pool on a hot summer day. Few things excite me more than a cool body of water when the mercury is sky high. I got lucky and the water seemed to dance for me as I snapped this photo, while picking up the shadows on the bottom of the pool, and framed by the lane ropes.
Someone told me that people like food pics. Personally, I think they can be a bit indulgent. It seems strange to me that a bunch of overweight white people take photos of their food while half the world is starving, but I gave it a shot and received a ravenous response.
This melting moment presented itself as I was leaving a pub on a hot summer night. I love the way the wax formed these patterns and it seemed to sum up the scorching day.
From candles to cushions and cars, I fell in love with colour and so have been searching for as much of it as I can find in everyday items.
I reminded myself to look up, as this photo of the Brisbane Powerhouse on a later summer afternoon attests…
And look down. I took this sneaky pic of this woman’s feet sitting opposite to me in the hairdresser. And I also experimented with black and white.
Never forget your own backyard for beauty, as my perfect bunch of frangipani flowers proves.
And some days, even the subjects will pose for you, as Tilly proved up at Tamborine Mountain.
Which was your favourite pic from my summer collection? What would you like to see more of? I’d love your feedback. And please remember to follow me @aglobalgoddess
I’ve been to Nice and the isle of Greece where I sipped champagne on yacht, I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed ‘em what I’ve got. I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that a woman ain’t s’posed to see, I’ve been to paradise…Charlene (1977)
FOR me, Christmas is a time to reflect. It’s when I briefly stop travelling, slow down and glance back on the year. It would be so easy in my job as a travel writer to stumble from destination to destination and chase the rush of the next story and adventure, discarding the last place I’ve visited as simply a fuzzy memory. Recently, while filing a piece to camera for my colleagues over at TravelThereNext, I was asked what I “collect” on my travels. And it’s pretty simple. I collect characters. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in every corner of the planet. I try to capture them in my stories and in the quiet corners of my mind. Store them up for those rainy days when I need reminding that the world is truly a remarkable place. And so I present to you some of the great characters I’ve met of 2014.
I began my travelling year in Bali in January where I met Cekorda, 85, a respected medicine man. “How old are you?” he asks as I sit with my back against his knees, his wiry fingers probing my skull. “43,” I respond. “Not so young,” he mutters to himself, much to my amusement. He then asks me my problems. “I have a broken heart,” I reply. I lay down on a mat and he presses between my toes with a stick. My third toe on my left foot hurts and I yelp. “Your broken heart is healed. It is your mind. You have self doubt.” Cekorda then stands above me and traces his magical stick over my body to clear my aura, before announcing that I no longer have a problem. He turns to an Western bystander who speaks Indonesian. “Women are very complex,” the bystander translates for Cekorda. I laugh all the way from Bali back to Brisbane.
In February, I’m up in Thailand, where I return to the River Kwai and meet up with my young friend Sam Season, a traditional Mon Man who works on the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. Sam has two big dreams: to gain an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Australia and to marry the love of his life, Jaytarmon who lives in a neighbouring village. I ask him whether this mysterious girl with the long black hair is still beautiful. He doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, awesome. I want to listen to her voice.” He pulls out his iPhone until he finds a photo of her, laying dreamily on a bed with her hands in her chin. “I look at her photo every night before I go to bed. I have to make her believe in myself and trust in myself. When I finish my education I will be ready. I have to show her ‘can you wait for me?’ One day, when I have an education we will have a good life and then we will marry.”
March finds me back in Brisbane, struck by the sadness of the drought which is consuming my country. My journey takes me a few suburbs away where I catch up with Tom Conley, 3, who was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods and ironically now bakes for drought relief with his mum, Sally Gardner. “Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl, We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”
In April I return to Bali, to spend Easter alone at a yoga retreat and to recover from yet another disappointing relationship. Purely by chance I select OneWorld Retreats Escape The World program in Ubud where, along with twice-daily yoga sessions, I am challenged to sit with myself for one glorious day of silence. Claude Chouinard, who runs the retreat with his partner Iyan Yaspriyana, reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is. “For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself. What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe. Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
May is chaotic and colourful as I spend nearly a month in Europe chasing a range of stories. And I meet a range of those fabulous characters I so treasure….A sultry Slovenian who compliments me on my “good English” when I reveal I’m Australian; Skanky from Mumbai who eats one gigantic meal a day as he doesn’t wish to “get sick on German food”; Suzie, the Filipino Canadian whose love of Schnitzel knows no bounds; Calamity Jane from Chicago who wanders the streets of Berlin pointing at every single wall and asking our tour guide whether it is a piece of the Berlin Wall; and a jolly gay guy from Wales.
June is spent in Christchurch, which was devastated in February 2011 by an earthquake in which 187 people were killed and 1000 buildings destroyed. At the C1 Espresso café I speak with owner Sam Crofskey, 37, who not only lost his original café across the road in the quake, but his house as well. Sam was working in his high street café when the earthquake hit. “I was a little bit confused. The coffee grinders fell off and landed on my legs and the power went off and then I could hardly stand. We needed to get rid of the customers, the staff and then ourselves. We had more than 100 people in the café at the time. Out on the street everyone was distraught and I thought everyone was over-reacting. I thought we’d come back tomorrow and clean everything up. It took a lot more for me to understand the city was actually gone. When you are here with no power or phone you have no idea what’s going on. I was like, my business if fucked, my house is fucked…that’s annoying.”
The mercury had plunged to minus 2 degrees out in Southern Queensland Country in July when I ventured to the Dalby Cattle Sales in search of myths and men. I spend two hours chasing cattle and cowboys around the cattle yards before I decide to leave. On the way back to the car, I hear a voice behind me. “So, have you got your story?” a cowboy says, following me quickly out of the cattle yards. “Yep. I don’t have all morning to be chasing you boys around,” I say defiantly. “Where are you staying tonight?” he directs this question at my breasts. “Chinchilla,” I say. He stands and considers this for a moment, calculating whether I’m worth the hour drive to the next town. And just as I’m about to turn to leave he says: “Well, I guess I’ll see you around then.” The interaction keeps me entertained for several days and hundreds of kilometres later.
I spend the most perfect August day with a close mate where we escape to the Sunshine Coast and the Eumundi Markets and Noosa. We stroll and laugh. Steal languid pauses to smell the roses, or in this case, the pungent soap on sale. Chat to a stallholder about his carnivorous plants. Try on eclectic outfits. Resist the seduction of sparkly jewellery. Wander through aisles of books. Observe the colourful characters. Pat a camel. We stumble across a “Willy Washer” and spend some time discussing its purpose. There’s a male fairy guarding some jewellery that resembles the young man selling the silver, fashioned from old knives, forks and spoons. An ancient typewriter has been dismantled, somewhat to our dismay, and crafted into trinkets. Colourful hand-woven handbags remind us of our travels around the globe. We discover Noosa Reds – plump, juicy tomatoes bursting with the distinct flavours of this fertile region – deliciously packed in crunchy brown paper bags. A giant gecko mural hugs a pole. There’s glass-blowing and some beaut ukes. And all the while, we keep winding through the marketplace, unravelling our lives.
On a stunning September afternoon I find myself staring at boobs and Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, at a High Tea to launch Kim McCosker’s cookbook Cook 4 a Cure to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and to celebrate the opening of Australia’s newest resort brand ULTIQA Resorts. Guest speaker Mark Wood volunteers his time to speak about breast cancer after losing his wife Annie to the disease seven years ago, and says one in eight Australian women will be told they have breast cancer at some stage. “Today, 37 women will be told they have breast cancer. To think that’s happening to 37 people today and the day after is far too many. And seven people would have lost that battle today. My wife got a death sentence but my daughter, who was 12 at the time that Annie died, got a life sentence losing her mother so young. Twenty years ago, 37 per cent of women diagnosed with the disease died, but that’s now been halved through awareness and education.” All of a sudden I feel tired and emotional, but as I furtively glance around the room, I find I am not alone. There’s not a dry eye in the house.
October was spent in Fiji at the Australian Society of Travel Writers Awards where I won Best Food Travel Story for a piece I wrote about a group of six hardcore Wellington prisoners who were being rehabilitated through a cooking program “From Prison Gate to Plate”. Talk about collecting characters. And the words of celebrity chef Martin Bosley, who runs the program, still ring in my head. “I didn’t realise what a loss of freedom truly meant before I went in there. As a community we need to change our perceptions and be prepared that one day these men are getting out and we need to pick up where prisons leave off and reduce re-offending.”
I returned to Hawaii for the first time in 22 years in November, where there were characters galore including the mythical menehune. Sheraton Kona Cultural Tour Officer Lily Dudoit explains these little red men. “Everywhere in Hawaii we are known for our myths and legends. We have the little people who only come out at night to do their work. We call them Menehune and they are said to have reddish skin colour. There was a couple who had their wedding photo by this tree and when they had the photo developed there was a Menehune peeking out from behind the tree. They like to make trouble. Sometimes things go missing or they move something. You don’t find them. They find you.” I spend the rest of my time in this land of rainbows searching for possibly the most intriguing men I will meet all year.
Which brings me to December. While many leave Brisbane and Australia, this is the time of year where I sit on my back deck with a cold beer and warm memories. There’s movies and coffees and catch ups with friends and family, the all-important support cast of characters in my life. Thank you to everyone I have met out there in the big wide world this year, to those who have come on the journey with me, and to those who continue to love and support me back at home. Sending you love and light this season and may we all experience peace on earth.