Saluting the Anzacs

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

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I’ve been to Nice and the isle of Greece
 where I sipped champagne on yacht, 
I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed ’em what I’ve got. 
I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that 
a woman ain’t s’posed to see, I’ve been to paradise…Charlene (1977)
FOR me, Christmas is a time to reflect. It’s when I briefly stop travelling, slow down and glance back on the year. It would be so easy in my job as a travel writer to stumble from destination to destination and chase the rush of the next story and adventure, discarding the last place I’ve visited as simply a fuzzy memory. Recently, while filing a piece to camera for my colleagues over at TravelThereNext, I was asked what I “collect” on my travels. And it’s pretty simple. I collect characters. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in every corner of the planet. I try to capture them in my stories and in the quiet corners of my mind. Store them up for those rainy days when I need reminding that the world is truly a remarkable place. And so I present to you some of the great characters I’ve met of 2014.

First World White Girls, who performed at the Judith Wright Centre, reminded me of how fortunate I am.

First World White Girls, who performed at the Judith Wright Centre, reminded me of how fortunate I am.

I began my travelling year in Bali in January where I met Cekorda, 85, a respected medicine man. “How old are you?” he asks as I sit with my back against his knees, his wiry fingers probing my skull.
“43,” I respond.
“Not so young,” he mutters to himself, much to my amusement. He then asks me my problems.
“I have a broken heart,” I reply.
I lay down on a mat and he presses between my toes with a stick. My third toe on my left foot hurts and I yelp.
“Your broken heart is healed. It is your mind. You have self doubt.”
Cekorda then stands above me and traces his magical stick over my body to clear my aura, before announcing that I no longer have a problem.
He turns to an Western bystander who speaks Indonesian.
“Women are very complex,” the bystander translates for Cekorda. I laugh all the way from Bali back to Brisbane.

Bali medicine man Cekorda

Bali medicine man Cekorda

In February, I’m up in Thailand, where I return to the River Kwai and meet up with my young friend Sam Season, a traditional Mon Man who works on the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. Sam has two big dreams: to gain an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Australia and to marry the love of his life, Jaytarmon who lives in a neighbouring village. I ask him whether this mysterious girl with the long black hair is still beautiful. He doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, awesome. I want to listen to her voice.” He pulls out his iPhone until he finds a photo of her, laying dreamily on a bed with her hands in her chin. “I look at her photo every night before I go to bed. I have to make her believe in myself and trust in myself. When I finish my education I will be ready. I have to show her ‘can you wait for me?’ One day, when I have an education we will have a good life and then we will marry.”

Sam Season

Sam Season

March finds me back in Brisbane, struck by the sadness of the drought which is consuming my country. My journey takes me a few suburbs away where I catch up with Tom Conley, 3, who was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods and ironically now bakes for drought relief with his mum, Sally Gardner. “Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl, We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”

Tom Conley

Tom Conley

In April I return to Bali, to spend Easter alone at a yoga retreat and to recover from yet another disappointing relationship. Purely by chance I select OneWorld Retreats Escape The World program in Ubud where, along with twice-daily yoga sessions, I am challenged to sit with myself for one glorious day of silence. Claude Chouinard, who runs the retreat with his partner Iyan Yaspriyana, reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself. What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe. Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”

Iyan Yaspriyana

Iyan Yaspriyana

May is chaotic and colourful as I spend nearly a month in Europe chasing a range of stories. And I meet a range of those fabulous characters I so treasure….A sultry Slovenian who compliments me on my “good English” when I reveal I’m Australian; Skanky from Mumbai who eats one gigantic meal a day as he doesn’t wish to “get sick on German food”; Suzie, the Filipino Canadian whose love of Schnitzel knows no bounds; Calamity Jane from Chicago who wanders the streets of Berlin pointing at every single wall and asking our tour guide whether it is a piece of the Berlin Wall; and a jolly gay guy from Wales.

A bold Berliner

A bold Berliner

June is spent in Christchurch, which was devastated in February 2011 by an earthquake in which 187 people were killed and 1000 buildings destroyed. At the C1 Espresso café I speak with owner Sam Crofskey, 37, who not only lost his original café across the road in the quake, but his house as well. Sam was working in his high street café when the earthquake hit.
“I was a little bit confused. The coffee grinders fell off and landed on my legs and the power went off and then I could hardly stand. We needed to get rid of the customers, the staff and then ourselves. We had more than 100 people in the café at the time. Out on the street everyone was distraught and I thought everyone was over-reacting. I thought we’d come back tomorrow and clean everything up. It took a lot more for me to understand the city was actually gone. When you are here with no power or phone you have no idea what’s going on. I was like, my business if fucked, my house is fucked…that’s annoying.”

Sam Crofskey

Sam Crofskey

The mercury had plunged to minus 2 degrees out in Southern Queensland Country in July when I ventured to the Dalby Cattle Sales in search of myths and men. I spend two hours chasing cattle and cowboys around the cattle yards before I decide to leave. On the way back to the car, I hear a voice behind me. “So, have you got your story?” a cowboy says, following me quickly out of the cattle yards. “Yep. I don’t have all morning to be chasing you boys around,” I say defiantly. “Where are you staying tonight?” he directs this question at my breasts. “Chinchilla,” I say. He stands and considers this for a moment, calculating whether I’m worth the hour drive to the next town. And just as I’m about to turn to leave he says: “Well, I guess I’ll see you around then.” The interaction keeps me entertained for several days and hundreds of kilometres later.

Dalby cowboys

Dalby cowboys

I spend the most perfect August day with a close mate where we escape to the Sunshine Coast and the Eumundi Markets and Noosa. We stroll and laugh. Steal languid pauses to smell the roses, or in this case, the pungent soap on sale. Chat to a stallholder about his carnivorous plants. Try on eclectic outfits. Resist the seduction of sparkly jewellery. Wander through aisles of books. Observe the colourful characters. Pat a camel. We stumble across a “Willy Washer” and spend some time discussing its purpose. There’s a male fairy guarding some jewellery that resembles the young man selling the silver, fashioned from old knives, forks and spoons. An ancient typewriter has been dismantled, somewhat to our dismay, and crafted into trinkets. Colourful hand-woven handbags remind us of our travels around the globe. We discover Noosa Reds – plump, juicy tomatoes bursting with the distinct flavours of this fertile region – deliciously packed in crunchy brown paper bags. A giant gecko mural hugs a pole. There’s glass-blowing and some beaut ukes. And all the while, we keep winding through the marketplace, unravelling our lives.

A Eumundi Fairy

A Eumundi Fairy

On a stunning September afternoon I find myself staring at boobs and Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, at a High Tea to launch Kim McCosker’s cookbook Cook 4 a Cure to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and to celebrate the opening of Australia’s newest resort brand ULTIQA Resorts. Guest speaker Mark Wood volunteers his time to speak about breast cancer after losing his wife Annie to the disease seven years ago, and says one in eight Australian women will be told they have breast cancer at some stage.
“Today, 37 women will be told they have breast cancer. To think that’s happening to 37 people today and the day after is far too many. And seven people would have lost that battle today. My wife got a death sentence but my daughter, who was 12 at the time that Annie died, got a life sentence losing her mother so young. Twenty years ago, 37 per cent of women diagnosed with the disease died, but that’s now been halved through awareness and education.”
All of a sudden I feel tired and emotional, but as I furtively glance around the room, I find I am not alone. There’s not a dry eye in the house.

Kim McCosker

Kim McCosker

October was spent in Fiji at the Australian Society of Travel Writers Awards where I won Best Food Travel Story for a piece I wrote about a group of six hardcore Wellington prisoners who were being rehabilitated through a cooking program “From Prison Gate to Plate”. Talk about collecting characters. And the words of celebrity chef Martin Bosley, who runs the program, still ring in my head. “I didn’t realise what a loss of freedom truly meant before I went in there. As a community we need to change our perceptions and be prepared that one day these men are getting out and we need to pick up where prisons leave off and reduce re-offending.”

Fiji School Kids

Fiji School Kids

I returned to Hawaii for the first time in 22 years in November, where there were characters galore including the mythical menehune. Sheraton Kona Cultural Tour Officer Lily Dudoit explains these little red men. “Everywhere in Hawaii we are known for our myths and legends. We have the little people who only come out at night to do their work. We call them Menehune and they are said to have reddish skin colour. There was a couple who had their wedding photo by this tree and when they had the photo developed there was a Menehune peeking out from behind the tree. They like to make trouble. Sometimes things go missing or they move something. You don’t find them. They find you.” I spend the rest of my time in this land of rainbows searching for possibly the most intriguing men I will meet all year.

Hawaiian Kids

Hawaiian Kids

Which brings me to December. While many leave Brisbane and Australia, this is the time of year where I sit on my back deck with a cold beer and warm memories. There’s movies and coffees and catch ups with friends and family, the all-important support cast of characters in my life. Thank you to everyone I have met out there in the big wide world this year, to those who have come on the journey with me, and to those who continue to love and support me back at home. Sending you love and light this season and may we all experience peace on earth.
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Northern Exposure

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ALWAYS on trend, I spent last month indulging in my own little version of Eurovision but rather than it being all about the music, it’s been all about the men. Oh yes, I went all Euro trash on you and spent the best part of May “observing” the male species of the northern hemisphere in the vague hope they may differ somewhat from those blokes south of the Equator to whom I’ve already devoted too much ink, sweat and tears.
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It all started in Berlin where I was researching and writing a story about 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In my spare time (and because I am extremely gifted at doing two things at once), I fumbled into a bar one night and stumbled across Jerry. Jerry, possibly not his real name and of South American extraction, was the official entertainment claiming his skills lay in “music and magic”.
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I was with several newly-discovered friends: Calamity Jane from Chicago; Mike, a jolly gay Welsh man; and Eva “I’m just a poor girl from the Czech Republic”. It was Calamity’s birthday and she insisted we stand at the bar, a bit like Russian prostitutes, and drink wine until Jerry started up with the musical part of his two-pronged performance. Mike’s suspicion that Jerry was lip-syncing turned out to be true, as part-way through one of his love songs his voice kept crooning while he simultaneously whispered in Eva’s ear that he would “see her in an hour”. Our poor Czech girl scuttled promptly back to her room, followed soon after by Mike – the jolliness rapidly draining from him.
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Which left Calamity, me and Jerry, who paused to say: “Ladies I have some bad news, there’s two of you, but only one Jerry”. As it was Calamity’s birthday I insisted she receive the spoils and I was content to do my own interpretive dance in front of strangers I hope I will never see again. I may or may not have been a little rusty the next morning when after breakfast I returned to my room to find not one, but two Romanian men standing there. I assumed they were the cleaners, such as they were grasping some of my most intimate items, and so I spoke to them in German, to assure them I was just popping back to clean my teeth and then I’d leave them alone. They just stood there looking scared and confused. So I spoke to them in English. Again, more confusion. To this day I remain unclear on whether they were the cleaners or two Romanian robbers but they did line my shoes up nicely when they left.
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In the sexy Saxon town of Leipzig, Calamity and I snuck out half way through a Strauss Concert to hit the bar street, where we spent several pleasant hours drinking beer in the company of two young men, one of them who claimed to be Germany’s third-best dancer and quite possibly a distant cousin of Jerry. But we had little time to dance and so we headed on to Bremen with Mike and Eva in tow, and where I promptly fell in love with a Passionate Pole. Women around the world will attest to the fact it’s always the bad boy to whom we are initially drawn, and so it was with the Pole. I was absolutely delighted he had randomly chosen to join my tour of the Bremen Space Centre the next morning. So delighted was I, that I insisted he sit next me on the bus. He even told me the photo on the fake ID I used to get into the Space Centre (bereft was I of my passport or driver’s licence at that particular point) was very nice and the most interesting thing he had to say all trip.
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Yes, it took me no time to realise that, like all bad boys worldwide, he really had nothing to say and was actually a Greasy Pole, so I shuffled down to the back of the bus at which point I turned to my right and happened across the Hot Hungarian. His first name was unpronounceable but he said I could call him “Andrew” which didn’t really fit with his gravelly deep voice, thick curly hair and bushy beard. I actually invested several days in fantasising about the Hot Hungarian, sitting at the back of the bus staring at his head, imagining crawling up into his beard for a nap. Things got a little sticky when he actually caught me taking a photo of him standing at the port at Bremerhaven but I simply pretended I was happily standing in the freezing cold, taking a photo of the unimpressive wharf.
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As luck would have it, I made friends with a Hungarian woman called Suska who offered to act as my wing woman and asked me what I’d like to tell the Hot Hungarian. The only phrase which came to me was “I want to see your Hungarian sausage” which I’m sure is sexy in several languages. But it was not to be. On our last night in Bremen I noticed the Hot Hungarian had attached himself to a gorgeous German with whom I could never hope to compete – all long wavy dark hair and bad-ass boots. So I conceded defeat and amused myself with the plethora of wing women I had accumulated along the way.
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When I eventually dragged myself back to the hotel lobby, I bumped into Suska, my Hungarian wing woman, who happened to be sitting with the Hot Hungarian himself, all traces of the gorgeous German gone. At this point, he leapt to his feet, handed me his business card and asked for mine. “It’s such a shame you won’t be coming to Budapest on your European travels. I would have loved to have shown you around,” he said. “And if you’re ever in Brisbane, I will show you around,” I said, taking one last lingering look at that beard before I turned on my not-so-bad-ass boots and walked straight for the lift.
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Just when I thought my adventure was surely over, into the lift appeared another man from absolutely nowhere. And he started to speak rapid-fire German to me. I was tired and asked him to repeat himself in English, at which point he declared he’d love to have a drink with me, before proffering his business card. His name was Gerhard and he was a Lufthansa pilot, or a cousin of Jerry masquerading as a Lufthansa pilot. Exhausted and confused I just keep repeating: “But where did you come from?”. Gerhard was not fazed and asked me to call him during my Bremen stay. It was tempting Gerhard, particularly the thought that sometime in the near future there might be a Lufthansa upgrade with my name on it, but I’m in love with a Hot Hungarian. The bushy boy from Budapest, whose name I cannot pronounce.
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The Global Goddess travelled to Germany as a guest of the German National Tourist Office. To experience your own German escape, go to http://www.germany.travel
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Mamma Mia…Here I Go Again

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THE hour hand is nudging midnight when I eventually arrive at my Stockholm hotel and for the first time in weeks since I touched down in Europe, I find myself in a less than sparkling mood. In terms of travel days, it hasn’t been the easiest, but you’re bound to strike one of these when you’ve been on the road for several weeks, tackling different countries, airports, time zones and languages.
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It all starts while I’m still in London, where I mistake the British two pound coin for a fifty pence piece, and hence tip the driver the equivalent of $AUD8. He deposits me near Victoria Bus Station where I order a red wine and pizza before my trip to the airport. The colourful Italian feast arrives at the very moment a small child walking past suddenly violently vomits all over the footpath right alongside the outdoor café at which I am dining. Not only can my churning stomach not face the pizza, I fear I may never eat again. I watch in horror as other travellers drag their suitcases through the pavement Picasso.
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At the airport, the budget carrier on which I am travelling is supremely strict about the two kilograms extra weight my luggage is carrying (if only they knew how much lighter I was before my schnitzel and beer tour of Germany), and I am forced to creatively repack in front of an angry queue, who it seems is bemused by my cache of colourful comfy undies. Finally at the other end, the instructions I’ve been given for the bus from Stockholm airport to my hotel are incorrect – as I’ve arrived at a different airport – and after I’ve paid the insanely high taxi fare and refuse to tip the driver I alight from his cab, both of us cranky. As the driver flings my luggage onto the pavement, comfy undies threatening to spill everywhere, a strange Swede appears in the dark from absolutely nowhere, offering to buy me a glass of wine. For a brief moment I think it’s Gerhard, the gregarious German who popped up out of the blue in a Bremen lift a few weeks earlier, and who I will write about in next week’s blog about European men. And if only I’d known at this late hour there would be no food or wine in the entire hotel when I do check in, I might have said yes to the sleazy Swede’s offer. Heck, at this point if he’d possessed a stale bread roll, I would have married him.
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My pilgrimage to see the museum which pays homage to the best band to EVER strut the planet – ABBA – has not launched with quite the bang a boomerang I was expecting. I am feeling less Super Trouper and more Chiquitita. But after a dinner, which consists of the four chocolate marzipan love hearts my German friends have secretly hidden in my suitcase and a glass of tap water from the bathroom, I tell myself things will look better in the morning. And they do.
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Stockholm has turned on a dazzling day, 20 degrees, warm and sunny and I elect to sit atop a hop-on, hop-off bus to familiarise myself with this city in which I have just 24 hours. And I know one of the stops is at ABBA The Museum. I impatiently sit through 13 other destinations which outline the historical buildings for which this city is famous, my mind on Stop 14 and the real reason I find myself taking a side-step to Sweden. There was nothing to do growing up in 1970s country Queensland except listen to ABBA and my three sisters and me were virtual Dancing Queens. Such ABBA tragics are we, that one of my sisters still has the collector bubble gum ABBA cards, including a list of the ones she is missing, in the unlikely event she should meet a like-minded person who happens to possess the others, and this strange quirk should come up randomly in conversation. I was more of an end-of-the-skipping-rope singer, fighting with my best friend over who got to be the “blonde one”. My darker-haired bestie looked more like Frida, so it all worked out in the end, at least as far as I was concerned.
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And on this sunny Stockholm day I wish my best friend or sisters were here, as I discover ABBA The Museum is much more fun in a group, if the funky Frankfurters dressed as Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida are any indication. But I delight in watching them prancing and dancing and their European enthusiasm is infectious. I may only be a one-man band, but one of us is not lonely, and pretty soon I’m partaking in all of the interactive displays, including standing on stage and becoming the fifth member of the band. It’s not every day I fly to a country solely for the purpose of visiting a museum. The immigration officer at Stockholm Airport was incredulous when I told him my reason for visiting his country and demanded to see evidence of my return flight out of the Swedish capital. At one point I thought I might need to start singing Take A Chance On Me in order to enter the country, but he eventually understood my insanity. And the trip was worth every Kroner. I fly out to Berlin the next morning, the lyrics to The Winner Takes It All swirling around in my head, my Super Trouper ready to tackle the long flight back to Australia.
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The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Stockholm and stayed at the comfortable Ibis Styles Stockholm Jarva – which does indeed have lovely food and wine if you arrive at a decent hour – on a media rate – http://www.ibis.com. She visited ABBA The Museum courtesy of the museum – http://www.abbathemuseum.com
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From Berlin, with Love

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THE sultry Slovenian peers at me from beneath her glasses. “Where are you from?” she demands in a husky accent. “I’m Australian,” I answer matter-of-factly. “You speak good English,” she replies, before taking me aside and, in a conspiratorial tone, tells me the people on our respective Berlin tours look “old and boring”. Then, with a wink and a wave, she says she’ll see me in a few days in Bremen, where we can “catch up”. I’m not entirely certain, but I think I may now have a Slovenian girlfriend.
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I’m in Europe for the German Travel Mart in which Germany is demonstrating to the world why it’s one of the global leaders in the tourism game. And this year is perhaps more important than most, coinciding with 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down and this country’s two halves became whole again. And I’m travelling around Berlin with a gaggle of international journalists and travel agents, each as interesting as the next to which I’m introduced.
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Shanky, from Mumbai, is not a small lad, and over a breakfast which consists of six pieces of toast, mushrooms, eggs and strawberries, confesses he’s eating a big meal as he will only eat once and doesn’t want to “get sick” on the German food. The irony of his words lost only on the Indian himself, and throughout the trip I spot Shanky constantly grazing on vast quantities of food. Shanky also asks me how hotel staff know whether you have consumed anything from the mini bar, leading me to wonder how much of a party he’s had in his room.
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Which leads me to Suzie, a Filipino Canadian, who only seems to stumble across strife when she is alone in her room, late at night, a little inebriated. On our first night, Suzie found herself taking a late-night dip in the hotel pool, on the second, she awoke at 3am fully clothed and made up, by the third she’d floundered around in a late-night bath and when last we spoke, she was caught smoking in her pajamas in the hotel stairwell, after consuming a midnight schnitzel.
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Kathy, from Chicago, loves Australians far more than she loves technology and has forgotten to switch off her global roaming, thus ensuring a $50 bill on her first day. Kathy wanders the streets of Berlin constantly discovering random, unrelated walls emblazoned with graffiti and asking our tour guides whether they are part of the Berlin Wall. “Yes,” I answer dryly on their behalf, “we are in Berlin and this is a wall.”
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Then there’s Peter, a softly-spoken Bostonian who once managed to miss a kangaroo but hit a bus while driving through a particularly remote stretch of Australia’s Outback. Peter, who says my accent is alluring, collects dirt when he travels. I endear myself to another American, Ellie, by telling her how much I despise George Bush before I accidentally spill a glass of fine Austrian red all over her beige trousers.
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Jenz, our tour guide, runs a tight ship with clichéd German precision and is prone to saying “OK” by which he means “it’s time to go, NOW” at random moments. Add to this a Croatian who looks and sounds like Count Dracula and likes to tell long-winded stories about the minutiae of his life, a jolly gay guy from Wales, the Italians and Spaniards who constantly complain about both the food and the time of dining, a happy Hong Konger who sneaks off to shop, and you’ve pretty much got the picture. The two Lee’s from Beijing are the last to arrive, and for a week I think they are both named Lee, until I realise that’s their last name, but they remain delightful nonetheless.
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These days you’ll find a Berlin that is buzzing. Visit some of the historical sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the gorgeous Gendarmenmarkt and Checkpoint Charlie before you explore some of the city’s new. Take an eTrike tour along the historical trail of the Berlin Wall on these new eclectic and electric bikes which whizz around the capital’s streets at 25km/hr. You’ll find some interesting spots in which sections of the Wall still stand, and if you use a little imagination, you can picture what life was like in the old east. There’s 155 museums in this city alone, some amazing shopping and designers, and incredible food and wine.
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It’s been 26 years since I was first in Berlin, a high school student standing on both sides of the Berlin Wall, with a group of other Aussie teenagers, who were as diverse and delightful as this straggle of strangers with whom I now find myself. We didn’t know it back then, but a year later, the Berlin Wall would be torn down, East and West would be reunited and a whole chapter would be written in German history.
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Before I boarded the flight to Europe this time last week, I was a little apprehensive. It’s a long way to go from Australia to spend a week with complete strangers with whom you may have little in common. But I need not have worried. In Berlin, it seems, walls are always coming down. And so I, too, write another chapter, in my history.
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The Global Goddess travelled to Germany as a guest of the German National Tourist Office. To experience your own German escape, go to http://www.germany.travel
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Snakes and Ladders

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DEPENDING on how you view life, it is either a massive coincidence, or pure fate, that Julia Baker now lives in a street called Olympus, in Brisbane. For it has taken this 45-year-old a Herculean effort to get to this point. And if you wish to stretch the Greek mythology a little further, if you’d never met Julia before this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking she may look a little like Medusa, not because this softie would turn you to stone, but because of her love of snakes. In the Snakes and Ladders game of life, of one slither forward and two back, Julia is emerging triumphantly, as Brisbane’s very own Snake Sheila.
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But it’s been quite the journey. Born in Australia to a German father and English mother, Julia spent her formative years in Europe, vacillating between England and Germany where at the age of 10 she moved with her family, learned the language and went to school until she dropped out at 16 to do a baker’s apprenticeship.
“I wanted to become an actress, but it wasn’t really a job back then,” Julia says, not knowing that one day, that dream would come true as well.
“The baking apprenticeship was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, lifting 50kg of flour and 2am starts.
“I still can’t believe I’d get up in the freezing cold and blizzards, but my dad never let me give up and I also completed a confectionary apprenticeship.”
But Julia’s birthplace beckoned and lured her towards an incredible life journey that would be peppered with both the bleak and beautiful.
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“Everyone is besotted with Australia overseas, it is this mysterious country that has no neighbours. I used to dream about Australia all the time and wonder what it would be like if I lived there,” she says.
“I came over here with $2000 in my pocket but because I had such good qualifications I walked into the Hilton Sydney and got a job in a day.” Julia climbed her way up through the chef ranks, working for a number of big name hotel chains. She met husband and gave birth to two girls, before moving to Brisbane 15 years ago. And in the Snakes and Ladders game of life, her marriage broke down, sending her into a downward spiral of depression.
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“I’d never really thought about what I wanted. You get married at a young age and you are never really allowed to dream. You do everything everyone else wants you to do,” she says.
“But you reach an age where you think ‘I’ve done everything everyone wanted me to do and it’s still a disaster’. I could see this pattern of pleasing everyone. I was attracting the wrong kind of people into my life. I looked at my two girls and didn’t think I was a good role model.
“When I split up from my husband I went through six months of depression. I thought I was a loser.” But Julia stumbled across a couple of self-help books and, while not academically minded, something resonated. And she began to dream.
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About 10 years ago, dreaming and visualising her future, she went to Australia Zoo, saw a massive boa constrictor, and “fell in love with snakes”.
“I was watching all the people in the queue and they were carrying on like the snake was some kind of monster,” Julia says.
“I kinda felt that it was like me and they couldn’t see that underneath it had a really good heart. When they put it around my neck I almost cried.
“I thought ‘sod you, I’ll show you’. It just set me off and every time I’d go and see snakes I’d be drooling and I decided to get a pet snake.”
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Julia now has not one but three pet snakes, two pet blue-tongued lizards and a frilly dragon. And then she met someone with a snake catching licence and decided to follow her passion, undertaking a snake-catching course and getting her own licence.
“I started to get call outs and before I knew it, I became the preferred catcher for the Brisbane City Council,” she says.
“I don’t claim to be the best. I have a massive passion for them and what makes me different is I really enjoy people and recognise that they have a fear. I understand them and I try to educate them.
“In the past five years I’ve had a real taste for feeling alive. (Julia also rides motor bikes, acts in plays, performs puppet shows and is a motivational speaker).”
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Then, three years ago, with her life almost perfect, she sat down and wrote a list of her ideal man. Two weeks later, a Scotsman called John walked into her life.
“John is just perfect. He embraces me for being chaotic and worships every little bit about me,” she says.
“I can be me and I don’t have to apologise. On our second date I said to myself ‘he needs to be alright with snakes’ and I flung a snake around his neck while I went to answer a phone call.”
John is not only alright with snakes, he now also has his snake catcher licence.
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Julia’s next big dream is to become an international speaker, and her Snakes and Ladders game continues on its upward trajectory. Brisbane-based documentary makers FlickChicks have just signed with a major international broadcaster for a 10-part series on the Snake Sheila, with filming slated to begin this August, just in time for snake season Down Under.
“My big vision is the TV show and the underlying message you can be in your 40s and get some passions in your life,” she says.
“I will not fit into what society wants me to do again.”
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For more information on any element of Julia’s work, please contact her on 0400 140 800. To find out more about the Snake Sheila series, visit FlickChicks at http://www.flickchicks.com.au
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