I POSSESS the dubious fortune of being born under a lucky star and by dubious, I mean weird stuff happens to me all the time. By fortune, I mean that I have not only managed to find a way to laugh at most of this whacky business, but I somehow make a living out of it. Unlike one of my sisters, who is a nurse, when things go wrong in her profession, she can kill someone. When things go wrong for me, people pay me to write about it.
And so I am delighted to announce that I am now a regular columnist for Jetstar’s inflight magazine! Yes, you will find me, on the back page, or Row 57 (as we like to call it in the airline business…yes, I like to think I’m a pilot now too), telling more tawdry travel tales among a small stable of regular writers. Trying to be entertaining in 400 words is as challenging as watching those people who pack too much hand luggage, attempting to shove it into the overhead lockers. (Learn to pack properly, people). Please enjoy my debut column, out now on all Jetstar flights.
TALES FROM ROW 57*
WHEN TRAVEL RHYMES WITH UNRAVEL
For some who journey, it’s a jungle out there, as Christine Retschlag knows all too well
I AM WRITING this having just “showered”, crouched under the tiny faucet of the bath tap in my Cairns hotel room. I would have preferred to stand under a gushing flood of water like normal people, but not for the first time in my travels have I been unable to work out how the shower nozzle actually works. We’ve all got that one friend for whom the world is a big, scary place where inexplicably weird things happen while on holiday. I am that friend.
I once took my sister on a “relaxing” holiday to Queenstown, and I distinctly recall her scoffing as I grabbed two bottles of Duty Free Whisky as we dashed to the plane. Fast forward to the next four days among which included two of our tour vehicle’s four wheels precariously spinning over a cliff ledge; me being carried down a mountain in a white-out by not one, but two sherpas, and on our last day, at a seemingly sedate farm visit, a ram breaking free from the pack and charging straight at us. Drink? We were opening those whisky bottles for breakfast by the end of that trip.
Once, on a work trip to Phuket, I accidentally stole the room maid’s shoes, believing they were the hotel slippers. It was only at dinner that night, having pranced around the resort in those slightly worn orange wedges, did it become apparent that my colleagues had not been “gifted” the same footwear. From Cambodia to Coolangatta to the Cook Islands and everywhere in between, I’ve left similar stories of destination destruction.
Back in Australia, I recently tried to furiously open my Noosa hotel room, only to eventually realise I was on the wrong floor. This wouldn’t have been so bad had there not been a group of frightened tourists inside, staring through the peep hole at a complete maniac slapping at their door.
I am yet, unlike one friend who possesses similar dumb luck, to lock myself out of my hotel room, stark naked. In his case, he stole The Australian newspaper conveniently outside another guest’s room, and used it to cover his vitals while he sheepishly approached reception for a spare key.
I’m sure that day is coming and when it does, I intend to take this copy of Jetstar Magazine with me, and hope this tawdry travel tale adequately covers all of my sins.
*Row 57 is the last row of seating on Jetstar’s 787 aircraft. To book a Jetstar flight or holiday go to http://www.jetstar.com
HERE is my confession. I have never been to an ANZAC Day dawn service. I have been to numerous war sites around the world, I’ve played two-up with Diggers in my local RSL on ANZAC Day, and watched them march on the streets of Brisbane, but I have never risen before the sun to listen to the hauntingly beautiful Last Post, which honours our soldiers who have died in global conflicts.
As a young backpacker, I followed in the footsteps of my peers and made the trek to Gallipoli to see where so many Aussie lives were lost on that impossible stretch of beach. I have stood in the trenches where they bled out and died. I remember the undeserved awe in which the Turkish regarded my pilgrimage, so astounded were they that so many young Australians would cross the oceans to honour their dead. I’ve visited the Egyptian pyramids from where the Aussies did some of their training in preparation for Turkey.
I have knelt in the gas chambers of Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz in Poland and wept at the futility of war itself. I have scanned the piles of suitcases, teeth, hair combs, reading glasses and shoes, and tried to imagine how those captured by the Nazis endured their fate. Tried to fathom the stroke of dumb luck that makes one person survive a war and another perish. I have sauntered through Switzerland and marvelled at how a country so tiny, and in the midst of all the combating countries, could remain neutral.
In London, I have stayed in the Savoy which miraculously only sustained minor damage during the bombings of World War Two, retained its stiff upper lip and kept trading, and from where Winston Churchill regularly took his Cabinet to lunch. It is believed Churchill made some of his most important decisions regarding the war from the Savoy, whose air-raid shelters were considered some of London’s toughest. And like so many Aussies, I have stood in the London Underground and tried to imagine its role as an air-raid shelter.
I have sat on the shores of Pearl Harbour and imagined the Japanese fighter planes overhead. On the other side of Oahu, I have seen the beaches from where local Hawaiian kids fled when they saw the jets overhead, before racing inside and crowding with frightened family members around a simple transistor radio to try to understand what was happening to their peaceful paradise.
In south-east Asia, I have witnessed the effects of war and the cruel regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the torture chambers of Phnom Penh and on the streets littered with the limbless in Siem Reap. I have visited the many war museums of Saigon in Vietnam and crawled through part of the Cu Chi Tunnels before becoming overcome with claustrophobia. In Thailand, I have visited the River Kwai many times, and walked along the railway sleepers, the construction of which claimed the lives of so many Australian soldiers. I have paused on the site of Singapore’s Changi Prison and attempted to feel what it must have been like to survive the heartless humidity and the chaos of capture.
As recently as last month, I was up in Papua New Guinea where I learned that it was actually in Rabaul that the first Australian soldier lost their life in any global conflict back in 1914. There’s war history galore there and I walked into in one of the tunnels which the Japanese forced the Aussies, along with other Allied soldiers, to build so that the enemy could store their food, weapons and themselves during air raids. I visited the Bitapaka War Cemetery, funded by AusAID, which pays homage to thousands of soldiers, many of them Australians. There’s even a remaining tree there from which the Germans are said to have climbed to shoot at the Aussies during World War One.
Thanks to the ANZACS, I’ve been granted the freedom to travel the world and to experience their stories. Because of them, I live in a free and beautiful country. On this ANZAC Day, and not just because it’s the 100th anniversary since the ANZACS tried to steal Gallipoli but because it’s high time, I intend to set my clock, rise before the kookaburras, and tip my hat in their honour and of all of those who have perished in war. Lest We Forget.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
If The Global Goddess was getting married, she’d be more than a little excited about this package being offered by The Rees Hotel Queenstown in New Zealand. This luxury hotel is now offering exclusive Heli-Wedding packages in conjunction with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters to remote mountain-top wedding ceremonies for those who want to tie the knot against one of the world’s most dramatic backdrops. The package, valued at NZ$2998 per couple, includes a raft of things including two nights’ accommodation in a Lake View one-bedroom apartment at The Rees Hotel Queenstown. There’s also breakfasts, wine, chocolate, champagne, celebrant and a wedding photographer, but the highlight is a return helicopter flight for the bride, groom, celebrant, photographer and two guests up to the Remarkables or Cecil Peak for their alpine wedding ceremony. Not for the first time this year, I find myself thinking that I need to just find a fella. http://www.therees.co.nz
SEX ON THE BEACH
While Christmas is almost upon us, it’s never too early to be thinking about Valentine’s Day (if you know what’s good for you). This week, The Global Goddess enjoyed the sultry sensation of an aphrodisiac cooking class at the Sofitel Broadbeach’s Room 81 restaurant. We’re talking dishes such as freshly-shucked cupid oyster in a veuve clicquot champagne granite; seared nova scotian scallops with cauliflower silks with asparagus, morel mushrooms and a truffle vinaigrette; and a cherry soufflé, chocolate sauce and coconut sorbet. This class was to preview this luxury Gold Coast’s hotel’s raunchy and romantic Valentine’s Day/night package. To book this six-course feast, which includes a wine package of Australian, New Zealand and French varietals, priced at $225 per person; or the Deluxe Valentine’s Room package for $795 per couple, which includes an overnight stay and breakfast as well as the six-course dinner, go to http://www.sofitelgoldcoast.com.au
CARING ABOUT CAMBODIA CALENDAR
In May this year I penned a blog about Australian photographer Danielle Lancaster, who owns Blue Dog Photography. Danielle has been travelling to Cambodia for years and can’t shake her bewilderment at how the Pol Pot regime had ravaged its own people, the effects of which are still being experienced decades later. In 2011, she gained sponsorship to produce a calendar, the proceeds of which meant they could build two new classrooms and desks with a white board for local school children. In 2012, Blue Dog Communities was formed with the sales of last year’s calendar going towards replacing the school’s palm frond floors with cement for the children. This year’s calendar is ready to go to print, and in exciting news at Global Goddess headquarters, a photo take by me (pictured below) when I was in Phnom Penh last year, will also be featured. To order a copy of this calendar, which will go towards more valuable community work, please go to https://www.facebook.com/bluedogcommunities and to find out more about Lancaster’s annual photographic tour to Cambodia, go to http://www.blue-dog.com.au
IT’S A KIND OF MAGIC
The Global Goddess is pretty good at pulling a rabbit out of the hat, particularly when it comes to tight deadlines, but this bloke takes the cake. Acclaimed Australian illusionist Michael Boyd will open the famed live magic extravaganza Mystique at Sea World Resorts Ocean Theatre on the Gold Coast from January 1 to 31. Taught by his magician grandfather all the tricks of the trade by the age of 13, Boyd’s show will feature some of the world’s most impressive illusions as well as jaw-dropping escapes, levitations, transformations, special effects and mind-blowing disappearances. Since it premiered in Melbourne in 2009, more than 100,000 people each year have seen this show packed with new acts and extravagance. Shows will run from Tuesday to Sunday at 7.30pm plus special matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. http://www.SeaWorldResort.com.au
A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE FOR GLOBAL GODDESS READERS
Speaking of magic (or what I’d like to call a Christmas miracle), The Global Goddess has a surprise in store for her followers. Details to be announced early next week! http://www.theglobalgoddess.com
NOTHING BUT THE BREAST AT RAFFLES
Raffles Hotels & Resorts around the world will be turning their competitors, and their properties, pink with envy this October to help raise awareness and money for Breast Cancer charities. Think pink cocktails, indulgent spa treatments, fashion shows and fund-raising dinners at five establishments including Raffles Singapore; Raffles Maktai, Manila; Raffles Dubai; Raffles Praslin Seychelles; and Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Global Goddess has sipped on a Singapore Sling in Raffles Singapore and has enjoyed the grand fortune of staying a night or two in Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, in Siem Reap, on the edge of Angkor Wat, and I can tell you, it’s all luxury with a Capital L. That Raffles is contributing to this good cause is simply (pink) icing on the cake for this elegant brand. For more information on Raffles or to support breast cancer awareness, go to http://www.raffles.com
BE SEDUCED BY SEABREEZE IN SAMOA
Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember I was in Samoa earlier this year, interviewing Samoan men about romance South Pacific-style, while gallantly try not to peer at what was (or in this case, was not) underneath their sarongs. As part of my trip I was incredibly lucky to spend an afternoon at Seabreeze Resort, lazing by the pool and drinking fresh coconut juice, which culminated in a delightful dinner with the Booths – two Queenslanders who own this boutique place. Seabreeze has just been named Samoa’s Leading Hotel at the 2013 World Travel Awards – the Oscars of the tourism industry – held in Dubai. And The Global Goddess concurs this gong it is well deserved. This 4.5 star resort with just 11 air-conditioned villas is luxury personified. http://www.seabreezesamoa.com
EVERY WHICH WHALE BUT LOOSE
If there is anything more stunning than watching a humpback and its baby frolicking in the warm, clear waters of Queensland, than The Global Goddess would like to know what that is. But, be quick. You’ve only got until the end of October before these gentle giants of the deep begin their journey south again to the colder waters of Antarctica. Arguably the best destination in Queensland from which to witness this spectacle is at Fraser Island. Make a journey of it and stay at Kingfisher Bay Resort, good friends of The Global Goddess who can confirm they will look after you during your stay. Until the end of October, the resort is offering a special for $379 per person twin share which includes 2 nights resort hotel accommodation twin share; hot buffet breakfast daily; return passenger ferry transfers ex River Heads; Half-day whale watch cruise. And you receive a bonus third night free including breakfast. Also during October, guests can enjoy a $90 Refresh Spa Special at Kingfisher Natural Therapy. http://www.kingfisherbay.com
ROCK YOUR OCTOBER AND EXPLORE YOUR LIFE PURPOSE
It was purely by chance (or was it?) that The Global Goddess stumbled across her Monday meditation class. That was 15 months ago and I couldn’t be more grateful for my discovery. Run by the beautiful and holistic Rhia Valentine through her Universal Change Group, classes are open to anyone who wants to explore what makes them tick, reduce stress, and discuss life issues in small, supportive groups. Rhia offers a range of classes for, beginners, kids, busy parents and the more advanced, in several western Brisbane locations. At the same time, Rhia also conducts a host of healings designed to upgrade your system to its maximum potential. During October, she is offering a discount of her Life Purpose Activation sessions. Normally priced at $100, those who book and pay this month, can receive a session – which can be held via distance, or in person, for $77. Looking at how enlightened The Global Goddess is these days, how could you refuse? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0450 520 438 to book or for more information.
GET HOT THIS SPRING
Continuing on her self-improvement journey, The Global Goddess also undertook her first hot yoga class five weeks ago. When it’s 32 degrees outside in Brisbane and 35 degrees inside the classroom, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve gone a bit mad. But the benefits of hot yoga are many and varied. According to Toowong’s Zama Yoga studio where I practice, hot yoga helps you detox, burn fat and stretch further, something to which I can attest. I can also say that from day one I started sleeping better, had more energy and felt generally healthier and happier. But hot yoga is not for everyone (even this Goddess has been known to curse the heat under her breath from time-to-time). At Zama, you can also undertake warm classes – where the studio is heated to 28 degrees – or cool classes, at room temperature. And like many studios, you are not confined to one teacher or one style of yoga. I’ve been going five mornings a week and a typical week includes hot vinyasa, hot power, zamalates (pilates), warm yin, and hatha. Like many studios offer, I took advantage of the $25 for the first week of unlimited classes to see if it suited me. I’ve since been hooked. To find out more, go to http://www.zamayoga.com.au. And please leave a comment below, telling me about your favourite studio or style of yoga, anywhere in the world.
LONG after the humidity, dust and noise have reluctantly retired for the night – or at least taken a brief reprieve – it’s the stench of poverty in Cambodia that remains etched beneath your skin. Beneath the chorus of whirring fans and clucking geckos, images of the limbless, the orphaned and the blind coil, like an endless movie reel, around the mind.
Somewhere around the bewitching hour – about 3am when the mosquitoes chopper in – arrives the rude realisation that almost the entire Cambodian population is under the age of 30…a deep and brutal scar of the Khmer Rouge regime. And most of its people are dirt poor.
I penned these words several years ago, after my first trip to Cambodia and Siem Reap and after I had visited the Sunrise Children’s Village where beautiful orphaned children had been taken under the wing of big-hearted, flame-haired Australian Geraldine Cox. One little girl was suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. A little boy in the orphanage had seen his father killed by a land mine, and was too frightened to even step on the ground, so had to be carried everywhere. Other little girls and boys had been sold by their starving families across the border into Thailand’s sex trade.
About a year later Cox was in Brisbane addressing a business women’s lunch, when she described one of the most horrific images I will never forget. She talked about how she was in the Siem Reap markets and there was a baby orphan boy, who kind of belonged to everyone and at the same time, no one. Cox looked into his big bright eyes and told him that when she returned from her latest trip to Australia, she would take him into the orphanage. She did return and what she found sickened her to the core. Someone had cut out the baby boy’s eyes and sold them on the black market. I defy anyone who travels to a place like Cambodia not to be moved by its story. Australian photographer Danielle Lancaster, who owns Blue Dog Photography, is another person touched by Cambodia’s soul.
Lancaster first started travelling to Cambodia about seven years ago prompted by an interest in history, Buddhism and a bewilderment at how someone like Pol Pot could kill his own people.
“How can someone walk one million of his own people out of a city in one night and horrifically torture them? Nearly every monk was killed and there were about 4000 doctors at the start of the Pol Pot regime, and only 4 left at the end,” she says.
“Friends of mine had worked as war photographers there and I started to go back every year. I met a tuk tuk driver who was a young fellow who took me to his village and I got to meet his family. We became good friends and I met more Cambodian people but at that stage you hardly saw a girl in secondary school because selling girls into prostitution was so big.
“I met a lady whose daughter was working in hospitality and she was paid $2 for her. Yes, her daughter was working in hospitality but she was not serving tables. I started to look at the high school and said ‘where are the girls?’.”
So struck was Lancaster by this beautiful country and its story she started buying basic goods such as underwear and books for the children and talking to the community about the importance of educating its children. Lancaster, who also privately sponsors two girls and works with a local orphanage, gained sponsorship in 2011 to produce a calendar, the sales of which meant they could build two new class rooms and desks with a white board. In 2012 Blue Dog Communities was formed.
“Last year I was just like ‘bring it’ and we had the school full of girls. They clasp the chalk like it’s gold. Last year I realised this is working, we are getting the girls into school and they are staying at school,” Lancaster says.
“From the sales of our 2012 calendar we are replacing the palm frond class rooms with cement so the kids don’t have to sit there with mud on their feet. It is a big project but our foundations are down.
“The community needs to be able to see the business happening. This is a population that has had a lot of promises of aid, they’ve got no natural resources. It was so torn apart by Pol Pot and the arms’ trade during the Vietnam War and everybody just has forgotten about it.”
But not the likes of Lancaster. As part of her commitment to the community, Blue Dog runs an annual 7-day Photography & Cultural Workshops journey to Siem Reap. The tour includes experiencing a Cambodian floating village; temples; Angkor Archaeological Park; schools; silk and lotus farms; a private monk and private traditional dancer photo shoot; photography workshops; and grassroots activities such as helping villagers build chicken pens and dig vegetable gardens.
Along the way, this professional and passionate photographer will critique your work and assist you in getting the best photographs possible, such as those shown in this story. At the end of the week, not only will you have done something amazing for your fellow humans, but will have some terrific pictures of your journey.
“When I go there I have this wonderful sense of calm that comes over me. It is just an extremely rewarding experience,” Lancaster says.
“In Cambodia, there is just something that got me in my heart and soul. I believe it is a life-changing experience.”
The next Blue Dog Photography & Cultural Workshop to Cambodia will be from June 30 to July 7. To book a tour or simply donate to their community work in Siem Reap, go to http://www.blue-dog.com.au
WHERE in the world are all the men? As a travel writer I have trekked the globe looking for good stories and good blokes (usually in that order). Sure, I can always stumble across a decent yarn, but finding a fella is not so simple. Some people have even accused me of becoming a travel writer JUST so I could find a man. If that were the case, I’d be a spy. Far more glamourous. Then again, who am I kidding? I can’t keep a secret. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and spilling the beans, let me tell you where you CAN find a man. But first, here’s some places you might wish to avoid.
I stumbled across these two nice boys one late afternoon at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Unfortunately, despite their snappy fashion sense, they advised me they were already in love. With Buddha. So I moved on.
This one I found at Montreal at the Comedy Festival. Unfortunately, it was summer, and I like my blokes to be brave, so unless he can handle a bit of cold weather, he's not the one for me.
In Salem, I discovered there are actually more witches than lawyers. Still, that’s pretty handy if you are getting divorced and want to cast a spell on your ex. But I was unable to conjure up a boyfriend.
In Dubrovnik, this lovely old man looked like a prospect. Until he told me he was waiting for someone. Much younger than me.
In Brisbane, things are so dire, you’d think every man was dead.
So, where in the world are all the men?
NEW ZEALAND! According to a report released yesterday, a stack of hot tradies have been flocking to Christchurch to rebuild the city after its 2011 earthquake. Things are so good there for single women, there’s four men for every woman. That’s right, I’ve travelled the globe and they’ve been sitting right under my nose all along. So Happy Valentine’s Day. I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got a plane to catch.
TIRED and a tad emotional from visiting Cambodia’s torture centre and killing fields, I arrived back in Brisbane this week to find a swag of men waiting for me…well on my dating site at least.
First there was Marek, a 38-year-old Slovakian whose photo has him hugging a big dog. He ticked the first box – an unusual name (and he appeared to like big dogs). And possibly the second – that he came from an unusual country. His English was a bit broken (he said he wanted to meet the “women” of his life) but I could forgive him that, given it does appear to be his second language, and let’s face it, my Slovakian isn’t all that crash hot either. So I replied to Marek in the positive. I haven’t heard back from Marek since and am a little concerned he does actually think I AM Secret Agent Natascha from Minsk, as my profile jokes, and not plain old Miss Chris from Brisbane. Upon reflection, Marek did also mention in his profile that he wanted to “stay in Australia”, so he may also be struggling with the fact that Natascha from Minsk may not have a permanent visa either.
Next victim was a good looking man who called himself Slow and Steady. Slow and Steady, 37, seemed to be the Captain to my Tenille. He seemed sensible, measured and did I mention, good looking? He may have been a tad too sensible, as he said the only risks he takes are when he tries a new beer. I had hoped he was joking, so again, I replied in the positive. Now, if Slow and Steady was any more slower in his reply, I’d be checking for a pulse. Put it this way, it’s been almost a week and several countries later in my world, and still no sign of this slow poke. Maybe he’s still trying to decide on which risky beer he’s trying next?
While waiting for Slow and Steady to respond, I took some initiative and contacted Leo, 37, who describes himself as a “very energetic father of one who likes chick flicks”. Could he be the perfect man? The one, I wondered? Unfortunately, Leo didn’t think I was as smashing, and replied in the negative. I’m trying to tell myself it’s because he lives on the Gold Coast, and not because he doesn’t think I’m utterly lovely.
I also contacted Single Fit Guy, 41, who said he doesn’t “have a beer gut”. Although, in retrospect, he’s probably too sporty spice for me, so I’m not altogether crushed that he hasn’t responded.
And then there was today. A man who calls himself the Merchant of Venice (really?) contacted me. Given he lives on the SunshineCoast, I reckon he’s stretching the truth a bit there. Apart from calling himself an “optamist” his profile reads like this: “I ain’t looking to block you up, shock you up, analise you, catagorise you, finalise you, all I really want do is, baby be friends with you.” He also states he can “sometimes be a bone head who can sleep with the light off”. Merchant of Venice is 49, so one would hope he can sleep with the light off. But I can’t date a bad speller. Even if he is an “optamist”.
So, it’s back to the drawing board I go. As they say in the classics, there’s plenty more fish in the sea. Or should that be Merchants in Venice?