PLONKED against the bar at 30,000 feet, I am most unreliably informed by an English woman that I have a British accent. And I can’t even blame the roar of the plane engine for her remarkably missing my distinct Australian twang. For I have the ultimate fortune of not only flying on the peaceful A380 aircraft between Brisbane and Dubai, but I am sitting among the rarified atmosphere which is Emirates Business Class.
Not for me the hoi polloi with whom I normally associate, seat 10K has my name written all over it and I intend to make the most of my 14-hour journey to Dubai. So excited am I by this unlikely twist of fate, that I scoot through security, haplessly leaving my computer on the conveyor belt. But Lady Luck is mine tonight, and I remember it just before I officially pass through Immigration. Not even the dour demeanour of Australia’s Border Farce (Force) Officers (is that a forbidden apple in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?) can dent my passion this evening.
Normally I sit among the Beryls and Darrens from Logan in an airline bar, observing with the same fascination one would a wildlife documentary, as they sink as much alcohol as is humanely possible. Bez and Daz then stagger onto the plane and it’s ultimately me and the scent of Bundy Rum seeping from their pores, in seats 70K, J and H to Europe. But not tonight. It’s privacy screens and Veuve all the way for me.
It’s challenging to stay cool when one is elevated above one’s station in life, but I handle it with all of the aplomb of the absolutely fabulous Patsy and Eddie combined. In fact, Emirates Business Class lounge is so ab fab, I could essentially live there nestled among the prawn canapes, but on I push, boarding the plane directly via an air bridge to the upper deck and straight into Business Class. My only regret is that I don’t get to see the stricken faces of Bez and Daz as they pause longingly at my lie-flat bed as they make their way to economy. I know that look, I invented it.
What to do first? Order from the five-course dinner menu? Sip a Perrier from the private mini bar in my seat? Select a program from one of more than 2200 on-demand channels of my 20 inch HD LCD screen? Paralysed by choice I dash to the bathroom to gather myself. And it’s not my fault, but at the back of Business Class, on the way to said toilet, sits Emirates’ Onboard Lounge. Yes, a sky bar. And while I did truly intend to simply go to the bathroom, I would be lying if I said I didn’t spot a bottle of Moet and settle in for a drink and conversation with the English woman to whom I referred earlier who mistook my Aussie accent for something far more refined.
I also meet two lovely women on their way to South Africa, such is the beauty of travelling on a world-class airline which flies through a major hub, but alas, the man of my dreams was not to eventuate on this particular journey. You’d think up here you could just open a bottle of champagne and, like a genie out he’d pop, but nothing. Not a puff.
But a lack of love is not going to destroy this magical evening and after dinner, a movie and a few more sneaky drinks, I sashay into my lie-flat bed and stare at the constellation-like lights on the Emirates ceiling. Permit me to make one small criticism, and that is while the beds are sublime, the Business Class bedding is not as good as some of the other carriers on which I’ve been fortunate to fly. The pillows are small and flat and it’s a slightly meagre blanket, rather than a plump doona, in this scenario. But the world-class service more than makes up for these tiny irks.
I arrive in Dubai refreshed and relaxed and head straight to the Emirates Business Class lounge where breakfast is being served. It’s my second brekkie for the morning, so I opt for a heart-starting Bloody Mary (or two) instead. I’m enroute to Vienna and then Monaco, researching Royal and Imperial luxury European stories, and it’s the ultimate start to a work trip. I have no idea where Bez and Daz were headed on this airline’s vast network, but knowing Emirates, even in its award-winning Economy Class, I’m sure they had a great flight too. But just for once, I’m glad I didn’t have share in every detail of their journey.
The Global Goddess travelled Business Class courtesy of Emirates – http://www.emirates.com and stayed in Vienna as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office – http://www.austria.info/au and in Monaco as a guest of the Monaco Government Tourist & Convention Authority – http://www.visitmonaco.com
“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
IT’S almost mid-June and my itchy traveller’s feet are already becoming tetchy, niggling to get back on that road, so soon after I’ve just stepped off the beaten track. After a big six months of travel, I’m taking a brief pause to recalibrate, but it’s not a simple task for me. My body says stop, but my mind roars like those four Rolls Royce engines upon take-off, constantly conjuring up all the possibilities out there in the big, wide world awaiting me. But it’s important to stop, however briefly, if nothing else but to breathe. To indulge in that most sinful of sins, sleeping in one’s own bed.
I started the year with a few domestic trips, out west to Ipswich where I rode in a helicopter to a winery and took my first hot air balloon flight – both of which were pretty big deals for this travel writer who hates to fly. I explored Brisbane’s southside and discovered a Buddhist temple and a whole new side of my pretty city I never knew existed. As Alain de Botton argues in his book The Art of Travel you don’t even need to leave your own home to travel. Much of it is a state of mind.
Things became a little crazy in March with a big trip up to Papua New Guinea but what a delightful visit to this South Pacific frontier it was. I came home with armloads of stories and some beautiful new friends. I was home for three days, enough time to wash, dry and repack my clothes, before I headed off to Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, all in the space of a week. I was sick as a dog on that trip, but sometimes you don’t get a choice to slow down, and it’s amazing what you can do when you really need to.
A long weekend in Noosa, part work, part pleasure followed and I started to dream of the following weekend when I’d be back on the Sunshine Coast for Easter with my sister. But fate had other plans and torrential rain forced the cancellation of our Easter holiday on the Sunshine Coast, but determined to get away, we fled to Fiji instead, where one of our best Easters unfurled among coconut cocktails and South Pacific church services.
Shortly after that, I was in Cairns and Port Douglas, exploring the beautiful tropical north of my state. I hired a car for this trip, switched the radio to some superb 80s tunes, and sang my way along the Captain Cook Highway north. There was a moment of truth when, all alone on a remote beach eating my lunch I though “I’m all alone” with a tinge of fear and sadness. But that was rapidly replaced by jubilation: “I’m ALL alone,” and I skipped back to my rainforest cottage with pure glee.
As fate would have it, I returned to Port Douglas a week or so later for another story. Funny how you don’t go somewhere for 15 years, and then you return to that very destination within a short time frame. I wonder what Alain de Botton would make of that? It was a completely different trip which evoked vastly different feelings, proving it’s the journey, not the destination, which makes the place. As de Botton would say: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.”
I was on the Sunshine Coast a week later, at Rainbow Beach, a place I’d never been, scratching my head as to how I’d missed such a Queensland gem. I spent the night camping at Inskip Point right on the beach while the wind howled outside, and trying to imagine that a week later I’d be in Austria, covering Eurovision. I arrived in Vienna, a city I last visited 20 years before as a backpacker, and hardly recognised the place. It made me realise that while I was fitter two decades ago, I was also very young and, according to de Botton: “A danger of travel is that we see things at the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.” And so it was on my previous trip to the Austrian capital, but not so on this journey. I returned to Salzburg where seven years previously I had gone in search of the Sound of Music magic. I found it again on this trip, and more.
On the long journey home from Europe to Australia, I paused for 10 hours in Bangkok, one of my all-time favourite destinations. Due to the length of my layover I had just enough time to leave the airport, find a hotel, have a Thai massage and sit by the pool in the early evening humidity to eat a Thai curry washed down with a cold Singha. And even then, I found it alluring, tempting myself to stay on, trying to find a loophole to avoid getting on that midnight flight to Brisbane.
I’ve been home two weeks tomorrow and if I’m really honest, it took me about four days till I was climbing the walls. But it’s a necessary climbing journey. I need to write, reset, catch up with friends, go to yoga, attend meditation and, if I’m lucky, go on a date or two. It’s winter Down Under and it’s time to pause and reflect, if just for a little bit. Oh, the trips are already mounting in the coming months, there’s Noosa, the Whitsundays and Mount Isa, followed by Uluru and Canada. I hope to get to Sri Lanka. And that’s just what I know now. And so I sit, write and regroup, but it’s not without its challenges. As de Botton wrote: “And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?”
IT’S a Friday morning in Vienna and I am standing in an inner urban garden watching a man pleasure a snail. Yes, somehow I have stumbled across a mollusc masturbator in Europe. Allow me to explain. I am in the Austrian capital as one of 1700 global journalists covering Eurovision, but before we receive our tickets, Vienna Tourism has sent us on a Race Around The World style treasure hunt of this pretty city. My team consists of myself, a fellow Aussie journalist, an enthusiastic Londoner called Sophie and a mysterious Russian named Vera, who appears not to speak a word of English.
We complete our first task with pleasure and ease…drinking wine and learning to yodel with a bloke called Butter. Butter is dressed in a purple dinner suit and sparks my first suspicion that the entire Austrian capital may be gay. But more on that later. Our second stop is at the inner urban garden where we are met by a gregarious gardener who asks us each to select a snail, places them in a circle to race, and explains that one of the losers will be required to rub the snail slime on themselves. My fellow Aussie wins the race with her snail called Guy, but mine, whom I’ve dubbed Conchita, just turns around in circles occasionally bumping into the snails of Sophie and Vera, and thus one of us has to be slimed. I watch, with a mix of horror and fascination, as the gardener “tickles” the underbelly of the snail and empties its trail into a glass and then before anyone can say anything, I push the Russian towards the mollusc masturbator to be slimed. I figure she can’t understand English anyway, and probably thinks it’s a quaint Austrian ritual.
We stumble around this charming cobbled city for hours, pausing to delight in its street art and café culture, while I yet again daydream of moving to Europe, falling in love with a well-dressed European man who may or may not be gay, and imagine a life where I spend half my year in Europe and the other in suburban Brisbane. Because I am a woman for all seasons. My daydreaming is interrupted when we arrive at our next challenge, where I have to sit in a barber’s chair, hold a balloon painted with Conchita’s beard, and the Russian has to shave Conchita with a sharp blade. At first I was afraid, yes, I was petrified, until I realised that Vera was scarily nifty with the knife, and we completed the challenge in record time. I made a mental note to say sorry for the snail slime incident.
Despite our best efforts, we didn’t win the challenge (in fact I think we may have lost) but we had a gay old time. Which is essentially the theme for my week in Europe. In typical Goddess style I jumped into this assignment feet first, thinking I may find several stories and a husband, but what I didn’t consider was that it was Eurovision, making Vienna possibly the gayest place on the planet last week. I lusted after Lars from Stockholm for several days before I finally realised he was gay, but he was kind enough to let me snatch a snap of his banana.
On several occasions Australia’s entry into Eurovision, Guy Sebastian, stalked me at a number of events which may or may not actually have been in his honour. I did fantasise about making Guy my Guy, but apart from the fact he has a lovely wife, I do not think I can ever hear his song Tonight Again, again, after last week. Yes, he was brilliant, and also a nice guy, and the Aussies were thrilled when he came in fifth, but there’s only so much of a good thing you can have. I did sneak into the Eurovision dressing room before the show and considered nicking Russia’s costume (below) and wearing it as my outfit, and had I known how dangerously close little miss fake cry baby was going to come to winning, I may have done just that. But thankfully Mans from Sweden brought it home. And yes, I am a hero of my time, and I am dancing with the demons in my mind.
Full of song, and resigned to the fact that I’d now turned Europe gay, I pushed on to Salzburg to celebrate 50 years since the Sound of Music was filmed. It was here, I hoped, I would meet my Captain von Trapp. Given the blokes of Brisbane still think it’s perfectly all right to wolf whistle at me from construction sites, I figure living with the Captain and his whistle would be a cinch. I even got to sleep in the real von Trapp family home, Villa Trapp, where I sunk into delicious dreams about the Captain and me climbing every mountain. Yes, Captain, my hills were alive. There’s even a love lock bridge in Salzburg and for a brief moment I considered setting up my own bridge, for sad singles, where you hang a lock with your phone number. Yes, call me.
But there was no time to be lonely on this trip, my straight woman’s gay tour of Europe, and I gobbled with gusto these two cities. It was a schnitzel, schnapps and sausage fest and while I left Austria as single as when I arrived, in the words of the lovely Conchita, I am going to Rise Like a Phoenix, and continue on with my search for love.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Austria Tourism http://www.austria.info/au
AS I write this, all of my gay male friends, of which I am fortunate to possess quite the gaggle, are insanely jealous of me. Why is that, you ask? Well today I board a flight to Austria to cover their version of the Olympics. That’s right, I’m off on assignment to report on Eurovision. And if that’s not enough to ensure my name is scrapped from every gay wedding invitation for the next decade (who am I kidding, Australia doesn’t believe in gay marriage), I am following my time in Vienna with a trip down to Salzburg to cover the 50th anniversary of Sound of Music. Yes, the gay boys are so jealous, anyone would think I’m sleeping with Captain Von Trapp himself.
From my perspective, I suspect I’ll be spending the next two weeks explaining that I’m from Australia NOT Austria, to a group of baffled Europeans who can’t quite fathom why we remain a nation obsessed with ABBA. Now, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, aside from writing copious words for various media outlets about Eurovision and Sound of Music, I intend to spend the next two weeks finding myself a European husband. Aside from the fact I am prepared to offer the very attractive proposal of their very own Australian passport if they marry me, I have always had a hankering for an EU passport, which in my opinion, is travelling gold.
And I’m not looking for any old Euro trash to marry me, I’ve decided they must be royalty. And before you scoff at this suggestion, I have two words for you. Princess Mary. Yes, if it’s good enough for the former real estate agent from Tassie, it’s good enough for a travel writer from Brisbane. And while his Royal Hotness Prince Harry has been in Australia lately, for some inexplicable reason he left Brisbane off his itinerary.
But, the good news is my friends at Cheapflights.com.au have come up with the perfect selection of possible suitors for me. And so, let me present the following five prospects, and how you too, can meet them (once I’ve selected the one for me).
1. Denmark – Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark
This one is a bit tricky as apparently the youngest son of King Constantine of Greece and Queen Anne-Marie of Denmark has a double title, despite Greece being declared a republic since 1973. He may also be a bit hard to meet on this European trip, as not only is he media shy, but he’s based in New York where he works on Wall Street. I could live in New York. Not sure about the economy of Greece right now, however.
(To meet him, Cheapflights.com.au has return flights between New York and Sydney from less than $1200)
2. Liechtenstein – Prince Wenzeslaus
Despite his name being practically unpronounceable, this fella is looking good. Not only is he age appropriate at 41, he’s just down the road from Austria, to use Aussie parlance. For those who don’t know, Liechenstein is nestled between the mountain ranges of Switzerland and Austria (where I will be, remember). And get this…his family is considered the richest monarchy in Europe. Vince the Prince, or Vincent, as he prefers to be called, has never married, but has been known to date the odd Victoria Secret supermodel. I feel we are the perfect match and will be sending him a copy of this blog as soon as it’s published. Call me, Vince.
(To attend our wedding, Cheapflights.com.au has return flights from Australia to Switzerland for less than $1500)
3. Dubai – Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum
If you like hot, dry countries, you could do a lot worse than this bloke. Sheikh Hamdan is apparently a poet, accomplished equestrian rider and amateur skydiver. He uses the pen-name Fazza and writes poems about romance, patriotism and family themes. He may only be 33 but we can probably overlook that minor detail. He’s also a graduate of Sandhurst military college and the London School of Economics. Someone call me a camel. If it doesn’t work out with Vince, I’ll be making a stopover on the way home in Dubai.
(Cheapflights.com.au has return flights to Dubai from Australia from less than $1200)
4. Luxembourg – Prince Sebastien Henri Marie Guillaume
And I thought Vince had a tricky name. This is a boy for the younger girls. At just 23, he loves to travel and is a keen sportsman and apparently adept at climbing, skiing, swimming and rugby union. I’m only really good at swimming, so there could be some long winters waiting by the fire on a bear skin rug for a man whose name is too long to pronounce. If you’re still keen, he’s fifth in line to the throne and is the youngest son of Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria. Go for your life. I’ll attend the wedding…with Vince.
(Cheapflights.com.au has flights to Luxembourg from less than $1400)
5. Brunei – Prince Azim
Closer to home, Prince Azim is a bit of a party prince who is renowned for throwing lavish celebrity-studded soirees. At 33, he’s also third in line to the throne. The UK paparazzi likes him for obvious reasons, but he attempts to temper his wild child image with philanthropic work with charities benefitting women and children. But in a country which rejects homosexuality, Prince Azim holds little appeal to me. I mean, no point getting married if none of my gay boys can come. Again, go for your life if he appeals, just don’t expect Vince and me to attend your wedding.
(Cheapflights.com.au has flights to Brunei for less than $900)
For other great deals around the world, go to http://www.cheapflights.com.au; And if anyone is looking for me over the next two weeks, I’ll be in Austria with Austria Tourism http://www.austria.info/au I may or may not return…
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