Between 1991 and 1995, while the Serbian-Croatian war raged, I was a young journalist, cutting my teeth in newsrooms on the Gold Coast, Hong Kong and London. Watching the nightly news of bombings in Dubrovnik and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, it was a conflict in a place far away, somewhere with which I could not connect and would never likely visit. Next year marks 25 years since the war in former Yugoslavia ended. Last week, on a trip to Croatia, I fell in love with this country and its people, many the same age of me, who have endured so much.
I AM flying from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, soaring above the dazzling Croatian coastline, whose aqua waters don’t even wear a wrinkle on this diamond day. It’s high summer when I land in Europe and my driver weaves around the Adriatic Sea, past cosy coves and quaint villas with their red-tiled roofs, rebuilt after Serbia bombed Croatia. I drag my plump suitcase into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, along polished sandstone streets, pushing past the throngs of tourists in their floaty summer frocks that they will wear to a fashionably late European dinner. There’s no rush in summer in Croatia, where the sun rises around 5am and plunges into the ocean about 8pm.
From my third-floor loft apartment in a 600-year-old building smack bang in the Old Town, I slip straight into summer in Europe with its long, lazy evenings. By early evening I sit on a shady terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea while I feast on a salty seafood risotto and clutch a crisp, local beer. The outside air temperature is 32 degrees, the water temperature is 26 degrees and the ice-cream is melting along with the tourists. Later, as I drift off to sleep, I’ll hear laughter bouncing around the walls of this seventh century city.
I rise, glide down the steep, timber stairs of my attic apartment with its sloping ceilings. It smells of fresh pine and reminds me of my family in Germany and this is the Europe I adore. I climb a set of steep, cobbled stairs for breakfast, dining on a Dalmatia, or omelette with pungent Gardana cheese and parma ham. I wash down a buttery croissant with a strong coffee. Locals mistake me, a woman on her own who has slipped so effortlessly into this magical morning, as a Croatian and speak to me in the local dialect. I simply smile, nod my head and say “da, da”. Sated, I wander the old, stone walkways which sing to my soul.
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve visited Dubrovnik, another woman in another life, and one magical moment remains etched in my memory, a story my spirit has souvenired for years. Way back then I was walking the Old Town when a sudden summer storm struck. At that point, the store owner threw up her hands, snatched a bottle of grappa from the shelf and insisted I sip and sit out the fury. On that day, so many moons, travels and personal lifetimes ago, I bought a hand-painted egg and it has hung on my bathroom door since.
Last week, just when I’m about to surrender on ever finding this shop again, I stumble upon it by chance, as I’m about to depart the sanctuary of the city walls. I recognise the owner, more than a decade older, and remind her of this day. She smiles and say “Would you like a grappa now?” and we laugh, and sip a home-made rose water grappa. It’s 10am. She tells me this grappa is not for tourists, but for friends, and that I should not leave it another 10 years before I visit again.
I skip out of her store smiling like a fool. These are the reasons we travel. To connect with the world. For a brief moment, to remind ourselves what it is to be human. And the Croatians know what that means more than most. I join Cruise Croatia for my eight-day boat journey from Dubrovnik to Split and meet Nikoleta, my Cruise Manager. She tells me she’s 42. I do the mental maths. At just six years younger than me, she was a teenager when the Serbs invaded her homeland of Bosnia in 1992. I’m intrigued. How could a woman so like me, modern, passionate, direct and open, have survived so much?
“The war didn’t start straight away but you could feel something was going on. There was some weird energy,” she says as we sit on the back of the boat one sunny afternoon.
“My father came and collected us from school and said ‘I want you and your mother and sister to go away for 15 days to Vienna’.
“On the bus journey, a soldier got on the bus and asked if there were any Bosnian-Serbs on the bus and if there were, he would slit their throat. My mother was a Bosnian-Serb. I looked at my mother and a woman next to her said ‘no, there are no Bosnian Serbs on this bus’.
“Two hours after we left Bosnia, they started bombing. With a bag packed for 15 days we stayed away 5 years, leaving Vienna and coming to Croatia.
“My dad stayed in Bosnia to protect the property we had. He was a truck driver driving humanitarian aid from Croatia to Bosnia. It was very dangerous.”
Nikoleta says when they arrived in Croatia after Vienna “everything was different.”
“You always expect the worst things and you found them. There were many refugees from Bosnia,” she says.
“People had no money. You are getting humanitarian aid from all over the world and some are getting rich and some are getting poor. It was a very tense time.
“My mother, she was amazing, she would get canned food but she didn’t want her children to eat bad food. She would go to the local markets and trade the canned food for local products such as milk and cheese.
“Everyone was trying to survive. Everything was destroyed. We never entirely recovered.”
Nikoleta made a return visit to Bosnia but said she cried every day.
She applied to study economics in Austria and stayed for 12 years. Now, for the past 17 years, she has been a tour guide in Croatia, living on the beautiful island of Korcula.
“I lived my life to the fullest. I lived in Switzerland, married a Nigerian man but I got tired of moving around,” she says.
“I thought I should go back home but I went to the Croatian island of Korcula as Bosnia still didn’t recover.
“My husband came with me but his priority was money so we separated.”
Despite the huge changes in her life, she remains optimistic.
“Either you are satisfied with your soul or you are not. I decided to stay in Croatia because the quality of life is really good here,” she says.
“I often hear young people talking about the war and they have extreme ideas and I ask them ‘how old are you? Have you seen that?
“My life taught me there is never reason enough to fight a war.”
I am trying to wrap my mind around our different lives, despite our close ages. I tell Nikoleta that when I was a teenager, I was listening to Whitney Houston and trying on lipstick. That what happened to her was not fair.
“I was doing that too. But I was also worried about being hungry. And whether my father was alive in Bosnia,” she says.
“These days I take life as it comes. If I sit down and think I would have many reasons to cry. It definitely affected my life and destroyed it in some way.
“But I am never looking back and thinking.”
It’s time to wrap up the interview and we both look at each other, knowing that something has shifted in both of us. Two similar women from two separate worlds. More than a week later, as I sit back in Australia writing this, her words, her directness, still swirl around in my head as I try to make sense of it all. When Croatians speak, it’s a shouty jumble of consonants, like they are screaming at each other in rapid gun fire. And in many ways they are. But underneath this facade, they hide huge hearts. In their history, they’ve only ever known 45 years of peace and that was between World War Two and the Serbian-Croatian war. Next year marks 25 years since their last conflict. May these gentle, generous souls finally know peace.
The Global Goddess travelled with Cruise Croatia, Australia’s leading dedicated Croatia small ship cruising operator – http://www.cruise-croatia.com.au
Before the cruise, stay in Dubrovnik’s Old Town at Apartments More Dubrovnik. These charming apartments, smack bang in the ancient city, are 600 years old and are central to all of the key tourist spots.
After the cruise, fly directly from Zagreb, via Dubai, to Australia. Stay in the Croatian capital’s gorgeous Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which dates back to 1925. https://www.esplanade.hr
The cruise ends in Split. Take a day tour with Portal Split to Croatia’s stunning lake’s district to Plitvice Lakes, ending in Zagreb https://split-excursions.com
ON a sassy Southampton Saturday evening, I am stalking screen siren Sophia Loren. Let me repeat that. I am stalking Sophia Loren, the acclaimed Italian actress. Sure, it’s not my usual Saturday night, back in Brisbane, clutching a bottle of shiraz and what’s left of my dignity while I watch Disney movies, but life as a travel writer sometimes takes you to the most unusual places, where you are plunged into the most unlikely scenarios, and on this particular Saturday night, this is precisely where I find myself.
I am in the UK, at Southampton Port, to be precise, covering the launch of the world’s newest cruise liner, MSC Bellissima which claims to be the most beautiful ship in the world. And I am sitting front row of the media throng, on the dock, having just watched Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo perform on stage. The gargantuan ship sits in the background, attempting to provide a buffer from the gale-force winds that have whipped up on this evening. But just as Ms Loren is about to appear on stage, and cut the all-important ribbon before a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull (a waste of plonk, in my humble opinion), all 2000 guests in the marquee are told to urgently evacuate themselves back onto the ship. The winds have become wicked, and a little dangerous in this tent, and so we “Brexit” back onto the boat. I am reminded of one of Ms Loren’s famous quotes: “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. We have so much in common.
Amid the confusion, my new Kiwi mate and I make some swift decisions. Turn left and we follow the confused crowd. Turn right, and we are in a mad mosh pit of VIPS. We take a sharp right, and walk straight past a waiting Mercedes Benz. The windows are dark but we know who is in there. It’s Ms Loren, but we have no time to loiter as the crowd shuffles us in the rain and wind, back onto the boat. We snatch a champagne from the bar while we contemplate our brief brush with fame. Meanwhile the heads of this Italian shipping company, bless them, rise to the occasion.
“Everybody, have a drink,” they declare as only Italians (and possibly Aussies) in an emergency can, and 2000 people scatter among the ship, awaiting details on what to do next. I stand with my Kiwi mate, hoping to catch a glimpse in the distance of Sophia and strategizing as only two desperate Antipodeans can, on where we think she’ll do the launch.
I am dressed to impress, in a faux fur I’ve bought online from China. But I was no longer worried about embarrassing myself. The previous day, I locked myself out of my cruise cabin wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Shoe-less and bra-less, I complete the shuffle-of-shame to the ship’s lift, descend five decks below, and saunter through a bar full of well-dressed Europeans to reception to order a new key. In order to stop my breasts from jiggling, I cross my arms over my chest, as if I’m about to abandon ship and jump into the seas below. Hell, who needs a bra when God has given me two perfectly good arms? What was I thinking all these years?
On this evening of Ms Loren, I am wearing a bra, shoes and my fur and impressively, in less than 15 minutes since the disruption, the show is ready to resume. If you can judge a cruise company on how it handles an emergency, MSC comes up trumps. I am pondering all of this when something spectacular happens. Inexplicably, I turn around. And right behind me, within hugging distance, there she is, in all of her Italian glory. She’s 84 and as elegant as ever, in a shimmering gold gown and giant crucifix. I frantically snap shots as she saunters past. She sashays and steals centre stage, mid ship. The “godmother” of MSC Cruises, she makes some comments about the beauty of cruising, before she heads back my way. I want to reach out and touch her, tell her that Australia loves her, but I simply stand there in giddy adoration. A month before, a fortune cookie I had eaten during a Chinese New Year celebration in Sydney had predicted “Your life will soon be graced with the presence of stardom.” And there she was.
One day, when I’m 84, the age that Sophia is now, I’m sure I’ll be telling these tales to unbelieving ears. By then, I’m pretty sure I will also be wearing QANTAS pyjamas full time and locking myself out of my room on a regular basis. Who will ever comprehend that I flew to Europe for less than a week, jumped aboard the world’s newest cruise liner, and bumped into Sophia Loren? Such is the crazy life of a travel writer. Amid all of the fog of jetlag, those long, lonely hours on the road, the anxiety of deadlines, the uncertainty of where the next word or pay cheque may come from, come these magical moments. A good mate recently reminded me that as travel writers, we have a backstage pass to the world. And if my job has taught me anything, it’s this: just like this ship launch on this wild, windy evening, life never works out as you had planned. But sometimes, it can be better. So travel as much as you can, turn right when you should turn left, and wait for the wonderful.
The Global Goddess was a guest of MSC Bellissima – http://www.msccruises.com.au
THREE weeks ago I returned to Europe to explore the Royal and Imperial elements of Monaco and Vienna, tracing the footsteps of the Grimaldi and Hapsburg empires. Did I find my prince? No. But I did discover that despite all of the bleak news coming out of Europe in recent times – Brexit; the Greek Financial Crisis; the Refugee dilemma – old, stately Europe still exists. And it’s a Europe laced in luxury. Today’s photo blog pays homage to European elegance.
1. The sweets were sweet
2. And the suites were sweet
3. The summer flowers were in full bloom
4. The berries were bright and brilliant
5. You don’t have to be in Italy to stumble across a vibrant Vespa or two
6. The watering holes were cool and varied
7. And there’s nothing like arriving in style
The Global Goddess travelled to Europe 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
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
THIRTY years ago I experienced my first encounter with a European train and was instantly hooked. I had just journeyed some 36 hours from Australia on what was also my first ever plane ride anywhere, and arrived in Frankfurt to catch the train to Hamburg to meet what would be my new German “family” for the next three months. It was winter, I was wearing an entirely unsuitable pink tracksuit and ugg boots for a Queensland teenager who’d never even seen snow (I mean, who do you think introduced Europe to the ugg boot?). As I alighted the train they asked me about my journey. “I’ve been travelling for 36 clocks,” I declared, delighted to finally practice my high school German on real-life Germans.
Despite murdering their language, somehow they fell in love with me and I with them, as well as travelling by rail around Europe. The only other train I’d ever been on before then was the Ipswich Line from Ipswich to Brisbane, or the “big smoke” as we called it back in 1970s country Queensland. Apart from that, my transport options had been limited to the gold Kingswood family station wagon for our annual holidays to Coolangatta. Oh yes, we were living the dream back then. As the youngest of four children, I even got the best bed in our two-bedroom holiday flat…two seats pushed together. And they wonder why I’m bitter. So imagine my delight when not just one, but many countries I’d only read about in books instantly opened up to me with the flourish of a rail ticket.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, European trains have run late over the years, which isn’t great news when you are backpacker on a strict budget and need to snaffle that last hostel bed in Vienna or sleep at the station. Then there was the time back in the days Aussies needed visas to cross almost every bloody border in Europe, a conductor had unwittingly taken mine out of my passport as we nicked the corner of a country, only to attempt to arrive in the Czech Republic a week later to find not only did I not have a visa, but was considered a criminal. My passport was taken, I was forced to sit in a room for 12 hours without food, and I cried hysterically (yes, because crying always helps) until a train arrived late that night forcing me back into Poland that I had attempted to leave. Believe me, it was a long journey at midnight with a bunch of gypsies in my carriage asking for money every five minutes as the train headed towards Germany, and I was a little exhausted from all that crying. But it has become one of my best travel stories over the years.
And that’s what travelling by train around Europe is all about, as regular readers have seen in my most recent blog posts. It’s real and it’s romantic. Nothing used to beat the glee only an impoverished Aussie backpacker can feel at catching an overnight train in one European country (hence saving on a night’s accommodation), only to wake up in the next. One night, on a train journey from Munich to Hamburg, my boyfriend at the time and I even covered our backpacks with sheets and pillows and pretended they were two extra people in our carriage to ensure we had the compartment to ourselves.
And now, fellow Aussie bloggers have the chance to win their own Rail Europe adventure. Looking for creativity and inspiration? This is your big opportunity to unplug and daydream. Simply enter the #TailsOnRail competition at http://www.raileurope.com.au/deals/talesonrail and you, too, could be enjoying a trip to Europe. This is a great prize, which includes a flight to Paris, and a one-week train journey with Rail Europe from France to Switzerland. That’s right, flights, hotels, food and your rail tickets are included. Check it out, it could be your chance of a lifetime.
For those who don’t win, or are considering a trip with Rail Europe, here’s some benefits to travelling by train around one of the truly great continents. By the way, Australia is the top-selling country for Rail Europe tickets.
1. No check-in queues, meaning you can rock up 10 minutes before the train departs (unless it’s the Eurostar, which requires a little bit more time).
2. City centre to city centre connections – no expensive cab charges and traffic.
3. Comfortable and spacious seats in all classes plus lots of legroom.
4. Power points for charging electronic devices – tablet, laptop, camera or phone.
5. No baggage limit, meaning great for shopping, though it’s not advisable to bring on too much or more than you can carry to ensure a comfortable journey for all.
6. Exposed to Europe’s stunning scenery throughout the journey.
7. Go wherever, whenever – a lot of flexibility with Passes.
8. High-speed services often trump flying or driving (no traffic, no queues plus all of the other benefits listed here).
But wait…there’s more!
9. Cost efficient – tickets are cheap, especially when bought in advance – up to 70% off the regular price, bookable up to 120 days in advance.
10. Family friendly – certain trains have kid friendly carriages. In Switzerland, children under 16yo travel for free when accompanied by an adult and on the Eurail Pass, children under 11yo travel for free with a guardian.
11. Environmentally friendly – a lot less carbon emission than air travel or driving.
12. Convenient for day trips to neighbouring towns or wine region (no worries about drinking and driving!).
13. Travel overnight (save on hotel costs).
14. See Europe off the beaten track (with 240,000km of track, rail reaches to almost every corner of Europe that’s not accessible by road).
15. Great way to meet locals – Europe has an extremely efficient rail system used by most locals.
16. Good onboard dining services.
17. A wide of discounts and bonuses come along with the passes (check online).
To find our more, go to http://www.raileurope.com.au. All photos used in this blog are courtesy of Rail Europe.
SOUTHERN Germany is seducing me with a magnificent Monday afternoon. It’s uncharacteristically sunny, 14 degrees Celsius and t.shirt weather. And I am observing this all unfurl from the luxury of my First Class train seat aboard German Rail, part of the vast Rail Europe network.
The train winds its way south from Munich, along languid lakes flanked by gregarious Germans, who have flocked outside to sun themselves in the spring sunshine. It’s been a long, cold winter but Germans know a thing or two about being in the wilderness, not only literally but politically, the legacy of two World Wars still a part of the national psyche. But I’ve been travelling to Germany for almost 30 years, even before the Berlin Wall came down, and have had the pleasure of watching Germany blossom.
For nearly three decades I’ve discussed Germany’s politics and social issues with my close German friends – whom I regard as family – as well as strangers. Back in 1987 we were talking about the Berlin Wall, never imaging a few years later we would be discussing its welcome demise. We’ve spoken about the flood of refugees from the east into the west after this globally significant event, the social and economic implications of this, and the rise of neo-Nazism.
On my return to Germany in 2007 we waxed lyrical about World Cup Soccer, which Germany hosted in 2006 and in which they placed third, and I returned in 2014, the same year Germany won the World Cup. My friends told me for the first time they felt they could legitimately be proud to be German and had finally shaken off the shackles of the past. And this sentiment resonated on every street corner.
On this trip, we spoke about Chancellor Angela Merkel, terrorism and the Syrian refugees. And it’s a topic on the tip of almost every German’s tongue. Scratch the surface and while many admire their left-wing leader, there’s mounting concern about what to do with the flood of refugees in a country which already is bursting with a population of 80 million. Right-wing views also exist, with some strangers blatantly offering their opinions that refugees only wish to migrate to western Germany, ignoring the less wealthy east.
Even Merkel herself is said to be backing away from her open-door policy. Some admire her stance of bailing out the Greeks and their financial woes, when other countries have wanted to flee the problem, others says she is too lenient. German National Tourist Board CEO Petra Hedorfer, at an international press conference I attended on this trip, admits that challenges to the nation’s tourism include refugees (and the negative impact on infrastructure); border controls in the Schengen area (which allow free movement between European countries); and reassignment of hotels, trade fair halls and leisure facilities to immigrants. Hedorfer also says terror attacks, racism and Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), also pose challenges.
My train journey takes me from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where I am writing some nature stories for a travel magazine, to Nurnberg, and north of Munich, where I have the delight of sampling Bavarian beer, for a major Australian news organisation, for the best part of a week. I visit Magdeburg, a former East German city, for the international German Travel Mart, before I again catch the train to Bremen, to visit my close friends, and then finally on to Berlin, to fly home.
German Rail boasts a reputation of being on time, but long-term travellers say its standards have slipped and on one of my tight connections, where I had just 10 minutes to spare between trains, my train arrived 5 minutes late, making for an uncomfortable race through the crowded station with 20kg of luggage. Days later, my train is 20 minutes late on my journey to Bremen. And then 30 minutes late on my last leg from Hannover to Berlin. Deutsche Bahn Head of International Sales Dr Tobias Heussler admits standards have slipped and for the first time since 2003, the company has made losses. This now-private company intends to invest 50 billion Euro by 2020 into infrastructure. But for the most part, it deserves its efficient reputation and is still tracks ahead of many rail systems around the world. (Queensland Rail, are you reading this?)
Even small train stations such as Garmsich-Partenkirchen have rail offices where you can request a print out of your daily itinerary, including the platforms from which your next train departs, which is extremely helpful when you have only short connections between some trains. While the smaller trains don’t offer a food or drink carriage, larger inter-city trains such as the ICE do. While the beer is good, the food leaves a little bit to be desired.
My train journey ends in Berlin, which is fitting as this is where my conversations about Germany began some 30 years ago. I’m staying for one night at the Hotel NH Collection Berlin Friedrichstrasse – part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts group – which is one easy underground stop from Berlin’s main train station. This 240-room hotel overlooks the Altmarkt and captures the essence of Berlin with its funky art depicting city scenes and landmarks. It also offers a free “lazy Sunday” 5pm checkout. I’ve fallen in love with Berlin over the years and this brief afternoon is one of the world’s truly great cities is no different. From my hotel, which is smack bang in the centre, I easily amble in one direction along Under der Linden towards the Brandenburg Gate which epitomises historical Berlin. I then wander in the other direction past the Berlin Museum towards the city’s modernised quarter of Hackeschehofe, home to countless alleyways bursting with eclectic art. Around me, there’s an invisible line where the Berlin Wall once stood.
All too often, when Australians dream of travelling to Europe they speak of the “sexy” destinations like Italy and France. And yes, Germany has weathered its seasons of major challenges and will continue to do so while it remains one of the powerhouses of European politics. But history has continually proven that this is a strong, smart country capable of overcoming great adversity. Check it out. Spring is in full bloom and Germany is in the wilderness no more.
The Global Goddess travelled on a first-class German Rail Pass (5 days within one month) as a guest Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.com.au. She stayed in the NH Collection in Berlin – http://www.nh-collection.com/de/hotel/nh-collection-berlin-friedrichstrasse, part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts group (www.preferredhotels.com), thanks to the assistance of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. For more information on Germany contact The German National Tourist Office – http://www.germany.travel
I know you all think I’m all sleek sophistication when I travel…who am I kidding, NONE of you think that. So it shall come as no surprise that quite often, in fact, I stuff things up. Particularly when communicating in another language. Yes, foreign culture and communication are tricky business. Have a read about how I managed to mangle both on my most recent German trip.
I am a lover, not a fighter, so imagine my utter delight to discover that when I’ve been sprouting the phrase “Deutschland Uber Alles!” on not only my social media sites, but to a few German friends, it has mysteriously fallen fatally flat. What I thought was akin to “Vive la France!” turns out to be a phrase favoured by the Nazis. I only discovered this on my last day, when my German friend and I were making a video message of us to send to her elderly parents. And at the end, in some kind of triumphant punctuation mark, I declared: “Deutschland Uber Alles!” The video captures her turning to me horrified and saying “Don’t say that, that’s a Nazi phrase” and the terrified look on my face at this realisation. Good times. I also currently now have several neo Nazis following me on Instagram who believe I am a sympathiser. Awesome.
2.Read the Signs
Following on from my previous point, sometimes I get things wrong. Seriously wrong. There I was, checking into the gorgeous NH Collection Berlin Fredrichstrasse Hotel. The Guest Relations Manager admitted that the hotel was full, so he had most kindly upgraded me to a king suite. And just as we arrived at the door, I waxed lyrical about what a wonderful name my suite had on the door, pausing for several moments to purr, out loud, the word “Haustechnik”. Turns out I was standing in front of the “housing technology” or utilities cupboard and my actual suite was two doors down.
3.You, you or you?
In some ways, the German language is relatively easy to master, as many of its words are similar to those in English (eg: Bus and…well, Bus). However, there are certain specific rules that make it a tricky language for native English speakers. One which has been tripping me up for nearly 30 years is the word “you”. You see, Germans don’t have just one word for this, but three, and it depends on with whom you are speaking as to which one you should use. In fact, your entire manners are judged on this. Unfortunately, for me, my brain switches continually to the “impolite” or “casual” form which is “du”, which in my head sounds most like “you” and I am constantly offending complete strangers in the street and during business transactions. Essentially I am declaring to all an sundry I am a Brisbane bogan who eats with my hands.
Don’t wet your pants over this headline, as they don’t really exist. Despite asking this question many times to both strangers and friends, no one can give me a definitive answer on what, exactly, Germans do, when they need to go to the toilet when they are out and about. Remember that scene from the movie Bridesmaids where they ate the dodgy food and were all struck by a sudden urge? This happened to me twice in two weeks. After indulging in a stodgy diet of meat, potatoes and beer, constipation became my constant travelling companion, until my bowels made the sudden, and urgent decision to empty. The first time, I was “lucky” enough to be in a shopping centre, but fumbled furiously with my wallet searching for a Euro coin to enable me to enter. The second time, I raced into a café (this is apparently what Germans do) only to find a long line of people with similar issues. On a cold day in Berlin I broke into a sweat and started hopping from foot to foot like those slap slap dancers at the Munich Oktoberfest. Unfortunately, for me, no one gave the proverbial.
5.Magnificent Merkel and Awesome Obama
Australians have a bit of a love affair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama, which, frankly, is pretty understandable when you see the successive idiots who have been in charge of our country. But apparently, not all Germans agree with our assessment of Merkel and Obama. In fact, both are a bit on the nose. So, if you’re thinking of befriending a few German strangers with a conversation along the lines of “how about that Angie?”, be aware she’s rapidly losing popularity among her own people for her lenient stance on refugees and for bailing out the Greeks. Obama was also in town when I was in Germany (coincidence? I think not), and his efforts to convince Germans to participate in a trade agreement was met with mass protests. On the plus side, if you’re looking for hordes of hot cops, head to any major train station during one of these protests.
It kills me to say this, but German humour kinda deserves its poor reputation, particularly the more you head towards the former east (where I’m also pleased to report that double denim is still all the rage). I was posing for a group photo in Magdeburg when one of the tourism representatives suggested a “funny phrase” to make us smile. “Say, double cream cheese,” she laughed outrageously. I told her I didn’t quite understand why that phrase was particularly funny. “It’s not just cream cheese, it’s DOUBLE cream cheese,” she said, slapping her thigh. Thus proving that some things have no translation.
Almost as flat as east German humour are German hotel pillows. They are like giant pieces of ravioli that someone has forgotten to fill. In order to have a decent sleep, you must first fold this pillow several times. The doonas are also a mystery. You don’t get one big doona on a double bed, but two separate doonas. In some hotels, they even remove one of the doonas if they know there’s just one guest in the room as if to sadistically point out that yes, you are single, and yes, you are all alone. Your empty life with your empty ravioli pillow.
8.We’re missing a Ms
So, I’ve spent the past two weeks getting all haughty with hoteliers who have insisted on calling me Frau Retschlag. I am not, nor have I ever been, Mrs Retschlag. It was only when I queried this phenomenon with my German friends that they explained there is no German equivalent of “Ms” and that any female over a certain age is automatically referred to as Mrs. Like a burqa in the Middle East, I guess I’ll just have to wear this one. Or find a husband…
The Global Goddess travelled on a first-class German Rail Pass (5 days within one month) as a guest Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.com.au; NH Collection in Berlin – http://www.nh-collection.com/de/hotel/nh-collection-berlin-friedrichstrasse; and The German National Tourist Office – http://www.germany.travel
I’M in Southern Germany researching a nature story on Germany’s highest mountain and also looking for love. I am seeking an Alpine attraction with a Bavarian boy, having long given up on the bad-spellin’ fellas of Brisbane and their Southern Cross tattoos, motorbikes and drunken manners . And it seems I have come to the right place, as the region in which I find myself is where every decade they stage something known as a Passion Play. While I am actually four years too early for the next play, which was first performed in 1634 as a vow to God to spare inhabitants from the bubonic plague, and now held in years ending in zero, I take the name itself as a good sign.
I am in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, about 1.5 hours south of Munich, and it’s my first stop after a typical epic journey from Brisbane to Europe. What stuns me most is that I appear to be turning heads among the male populous, which suggests either there is a serious man shortage in Germany or I look incredible after 32 hours of travel from door-to-door. Even in the bar, where I sit shovelling schnitzel and beer into my mouth (hey, jetlag makes me ravenous), the waiter begs me to stay to talk to him. He even offers me free drinks, which I politely refuse. And when six gorgeous German women closer to his age walk in and order a round of drinks, I gesture to them and say “Ok, there you go, I’m free to leave now.”
“No, please don’t leave”, he says, adding, with a wink, that his shift finishes at 2am.
Safely back in my room, I re-activate Tinder to my current location where I discover I have 12 new German boyfriends running consecutively. I feel a little like Jesus and his disciples, and based on my knowledge of men around the world, there’s at least one Judas among them. Yes, there’s one or two weirdos, including one wearing the straps to lederhosen and nothing else, but for the most part they are respectful and ruggedly handsome, standing atop mountains, skiing, hiking and riding mountain bikes. And their names are oh-so-German. There’s Helmut and Hans, Holger and Heiko, Wolfgang, Markus, and even a Gander, Gerhard and Geronimo. One is even called Tinder, and I’m not sure if he’s being ironic or if he’s actually called Tinder. I draw the line at Adolf.
My most likely prospect is Markus, from Garmisch-Partenkirchen where I have just spent two days researching a story on Germany’s highest mountain. We don’t have the chance to meet, and just as I’m leaving Garmisch, Markus is headed to Majorca on holidays. He asks what I’m doing the following week, adding that he would like to show me around his hometown. Unfortunately, I’m headed north to Bremen and then on to Berlin before flying home. Markus seems to think there is too far a distance to travel to meet me, pointing out that “distances in Australia are different to distances in Germany”. From my perspective, in Australian parlance, it’s just up the road. We’ve hit our first relationship roadblock.
I am on an international press trip, which means I am in the company of 19 other media from around the world for the next week. I rapidly form an alliance with two Americans and one Canadian. There’s an over-enthusiastic Chinese girl who not only shoots every word uttered by our tour guides on her iPhone, but simultaneously, and loudly, translates it into Chinese. At a Schnapps factory I turn around to find her stroking my hair and filming this encounter while speaking into her microphone. “So soft,” she says lovingly pointing at my locks. Just my luck to come all the way to Bavarian to pick up a Beijing girl.
I head on to Bremen where is appears there is an over-abundance of women, if Tinder in northern Germany is any indication. There’s only about three prospects that pop into my news feed, and one of them is wearing a pink tutu and appears to be slumped over, drunk. If I wanted that, I could just go home to Brisbane. In Berlin I am even less popular with members of the opposite sex. Could it be the longer I stay in Germany, the less appealing I become, or does my entire sex appeal lay in the southern states?
As for Markus, I never hear from him again, and picture a guy back in Garmisch bent over a world map scratching his head over how I could expect him to travel “so far” to meet me. My plane departs Berlin’s Tegel Airport on a cold, grey day, bound for sunny Brisbane, and it’s with a bittersweet feeling that I gently delete our match. Markus, mate, you’ll never know what you missed.
The Global Goddess travelled on a first-class German Rail Pass (5 days within one month) as a guest Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.com.au; NH Collection in Berlin – http://www.nh-collection.com/de/hotel/nh-collection-berlin-friedrichstrasse;
and The German National Tourist Office – http://www.germany.travel
Head straight to Long Shan Temple in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Here, you can gamble on God, dice with Dharma and bet on Buddha all at once. In what is essentially a game of Taiwanese two-up, you first take a stick with a number on it. Then, in your head, you tell Buddha your name, where you are from, and what you are asking for (eg: the love of your life). Then you take two blocks of wood and toss them. If they both land face up, Buddha is still thinking about your request. If they both land face down, your request will not happen. If one lands face down and one lands face up, your request will come true. The good news is that one of mine landed face up and the other face down. The bad news is that I am still waiting to meet my “man of honour” that the wood promised. But if I do, I am told I must return to the temple with him.
In Saigon I managed to attract lots of love interest. Just none of it from members of the opposite sex. Rather, it was older Vietnamese women who appeared enamoured by me here, something which became apparent from my first night. While enjoying a Vietnamese omelette stuffed full of prawns, pork and spices, an old lady, who was at least 100, walked into the restaurant carrying a pile of books as high as her head. She pointed to Fifty Shades of Grey, asked, “You want to read” and then punched her first into the air, laughed and said “Boom, Boom!” In the beach resort town of Nha Trang I had a Vietnamese massage where my masseuse slathered me in oil and then proceeded to slap me hard on the buttocks. At one point I thought I’d entered the Red Room of Pain in Fifty Shades. Back in Saigon, I was befriended by a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl who gave me a small doll as a gift, before telling me that her ageing aunt thought I was “beautiful”.
You can guarantee seduction in Samoa, at least by this Pacific island nation if nothing else. For this is a land of tsunamis, tragedy and triumph. Of man over Mother Nature. And it’s also about tribal tattoos, tradition and testosterone. Head to the Samoan Tourism Association Cultural Village in the capital of Apia and you can witness local men partaking in the manhood-testing tradition of a tribal tattoo. I was reliably informed that the only part of a man’s body from his middle back to his knees that is not tattooed is his penis. Curious types like me can go there hoping for a gentle breeze to lift a lava lava to prove this point. You’ll fall in love with this country, which has survived its share of cyclones and a devastating tsunami in 2009 which claimed 189 lives in the South Pacific, many of them children. This is a land of loss, lore and love. And the men are handsome too.
One of the greatest love stories of modern time, and which I’ve been furiously following, exists along the River Kwai, better known for its war history. Here, overlooking the emerald mountains of Kanchanburi exists a young man named Sam. Sam is a Mon man from the displaced Mon people, considered one of the earliest tribes to live in southeast Asia. Sam, 22, a tour guide at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts, is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon in a neighbouring village but he doesn’t own a boat, so access isn’t easy. And then there’s a girl from his own village who is also keen on Sam. Yes, even in the jungle, love is complicated. While you may not find your own love story along the River Kwai and her floating raft hotels, you’ll adore this bridge between the old and new worlds, and this enduring and evolving tale of the heart.
I’m reliably informed that Bali is a hunting ground for cougars but if you’re a reformed cougar, like me, then all hope is not lost. I was once accosted by a Balinese waiter who asked from where I hailed, to which he replied: “Oh, Australia, kangaroo, kangaroo very sexy.” When he saw my baffled expression at the thought of Skippy being a sex God, he proceeded to draw an invisible outline in the air of a curvy bottle of Coca Cola. He then pointed at me and said: “Coca Cola, very sexy.” While my outrageous laughing may have put paid to any love interest, for the rest of my stay, if my girlfriend was looking for me in a crowded pool, she only needed to visualise a kangaroo drinking Coca Cola and up I’d pop. Or should that be hop?
It took me all of five minutes upon arriving at Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan, to realise that Arab men are as sexy as their reputation. I don’t believe I’ve floated through airport immigration anywhere in the world with such outrageous flirts. At my hotel every morning, three young waiters would actually argue over who got to bring me my morning coffee, and be rewarded with a smile. In the end, all three each brought me a cuppa, so it was more like a maniacal grin from me. Charm is everywhere here, with male shopkeepers saying things like “Your lips are like honey”, or “I can see Sydney in your eyes” despite the fact you live in Brisbane.
Back on home soil I’d love to say I’ve cracked the code to attracting an awesome Aussie male, but that would be a lie. However last year I did go to the Whitsundays for the annual Airlie Beach Race Week. Think: 74 islands and 800 horny sailors in town. Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print, which states that old salts like their calamari young, so to speak, and I’m more of a barracuda. When not staring out at the horizon, I’m told sailors have quite the roving eye. Airlie Beach itself is a backpacker party town, so should you wish to meet a hot, young man you’ll never see again, and are prepared to spend the night in a bunk bed, this is the place for you.
Like her Samoan sister, Fiji is teeming with attractive people, including the women. Which is just as well, as a woman twice the size of both my mate and me dragged us both up onto the dance floor, and then watched our inherent lack of white girl rhythm as they played the funky music. A much better bet, and a lovely day trip, is out in the Sigatoka Valley and to Naihehe Cave. Here, you wade through cool water and pass through three chambers including a tight spot known as the pregnancy passage. If you get stuck, it means you are pregnant. Which makes for an interesting souvenir to take back home.
Every time I skip across the ditch to New Zealand something strange happens. Last year I went into a Wellington prison to interview six “lifers” who were involved in a Prison Gate to Plate cooking event. Yes, the only thing standing between me finding true love was the New Zealand parole office. The earth did move for me there, but that’s only because there was also an earthquake. A few years prior I was in Queenstown researching what non-adventurous souls such as myself could do in the world’s adventure capital. Adventure ended up finding me, and caught in a white out somewhere up on The Remarkables, I managed to enlist two kiwi men to actually carry me down the slippery mountain while I cried hysterically. Needless to say, there’s nothing attractive about a woman with frozen ice tears on her face.
Think like Australia’s own Princess Mary and snaffle yourself a Prince. Hey, if it’s good enough for a real estate agent from Hobart…And there’s a few single blokes on the market including Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark, who is actually based in New York and does look after Greece, whose economy isn’t so hot right now. You could try Prince Sebastien Henri Marie Guillaume of Luxembour who, at 23, loves to travel and is a keen sportsman and apparently adept at climbing, skiing, swimming and rugby union. For my money, I recommend Prince Wenzeslaus of Liechtenstein. 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 which makes him simply perfect for the average Aussie sheila.
This blog post is part of The Global Goddess’ entry into the Virgin Australia Top Travel Tips ProBlogger competition. #pbevent @virginaustralia