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
IT seems incongruous, but I am sitting down to pen my last blog for 2015. Equally unbelievable, I know, is that I’m still as single as when I sat down to write my first post this year. Yes, desperate and dateless as the New Year dawned, and staring down the barrel of yet another looming Valentine’s Day, in January I rejoined Bogandating.com (not its real name) and attracted the likes of blokes such as “Fairdinkumkiwi”, “Gazza”, and “DancingandRomance”. At this stage of the year/game I’d like to say (and kids, look away), based on my experience of dating sites in 2015, there is NO Santa Claus.
Purely by coincidence in January, I also interviewed a woman who launched The Self Pleasure Revolution. Yes, 35 women from Australia, England, Chile, America and the Netherlands signed up and paid $US89 to participate in conscious masturbation every day for three weeks. While I admired their tenacity, I indulged in my own self pleasure revolution of going to the bottle-o and consuming vast quantities of wine…a semi-conscious decision which has lasted much longer than three weeks and cost far more than $US89, but each to their own.
In February I explored my own backyard, covering stories in Brisbane where I stayed in the New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites dating back to the 1920s; sauntered down to Brisbane’s south side to explore its heart and soul; and west to Ipswich where I went to high school more than two decades ago. Apart from taking my first hot air balloon ride over the Lockyer Valley where I grew up, on Brisbane’s south side I discovered the Chung Tian Temple at Priestdale where the hum of Buddhist chants blended with the intoxicating sounds of silence. Here, I partook in an ancient tea ceremony where I learned that not only that tea is good for you, but apparently so is red wine. Just sayin.
Just as the weather started to cool down in Brisbane in March, my travel schedule started to heat up. In one week I visited Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. In Indonesia, in my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagined I was an Indonesian High Priestess. I arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remained chipper, for I was to sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa, skinny dip under the stars, and have several Asian women touch me inappropriately during a number of massages that wonderful week.
I was home for a grand total of three days…enough time to wash and repack my undies… before I was on a plane to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Having exhausted every possibility or hope of ever finding the man of my dreams in Australia, I cast the net wider. While I was in PNG writing a series of travel stories, never let it be said that I waste any opportunity to find love. What I really adore about my travels is that no matter in which new country I find myself, I merely need to tell a local that I’m looking for love and they are immediately on the case. In this instance, the lovely Lucy, a 50-year-old PNG woman who works at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, instantly became my latest wing woman. Every day Lucy told me that I was beautiful and that I even looked like her daughter “she has a sharp nose like you”. She said when I returned to Rabaul I must come and stay with her in her village and she’ll find me a man. I am planning a return visit any day now.
In April, my sister and me escaped to Fiji for a short Easter break where we indulged in snorkelling, swimming and sunshine while gracefully fanning away hot weather and men who were hot for us (the last element of that sentence is simply not true). Weeks later I was up in Tropical North Queensland at Thala, out on a nature tour with Head Gardener Brett Kelly. The highlight of this three-hour tour occurred Brett husked a coconut for me to drink. It did not take much for me to disappear into fantasyland, picturing the man of my dreams clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. Sensing my sexual fantasy, the happily-married Brett promptly disappeared in the rainforest, never to be seen by me again.
While there were a number of domestic trips in May (back to Port Douglas and the Sunshine Coast), the absolute highlight was travelling to Vienna to cover Eurovision. Despite being in the gayest city of Europe at that point in time, I viewed this trip as a chance to snag me some single European royalty (and a much-coveted EU passport). And I had my sights set on Liechtenstein’s Prince Wenzeslaus. Not only was he age appropriate at 41, his family is considered the richest monarchy in Europe. Vince the Prince, or Vincent, as he prefers to be called, has never married, but has been known to date the odd Victoria Secret supermodel. I felt that we were the perfect match but apparently he didn’t receive my emails alerting him to my European escape. I still hold out hope.
In June, I took a brief break from overseas travel and relished the chance to catch up on some big writing projects. I interviewed the fabulous Feather from Byron Bay who was the subject of Natalie Grono’s award-winning photo: Feather and the Goddess Pool. Natalie had just received the People’s Choice award for this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize. Feather, in her 70s, invited me to join her for some topless sunbaking and told me:
“I’ve got TMB – Too Many Birthdays. Men who are 80 and 81 look at me and say I’m too old for them. They can’t do anything and they are ratshit and I’m not really interested in being a cougar.”
Fabulous females continued to enter my life in July when I met Brisbane Trike Tour owner Chrissy McDonnell and her black three-wheeler The Bling Queen. On a crisp winter day in which we took a spin down to Canungra in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Chrissy told me how she quit her job at an insurance giant last December to follow her dream of running her own business. We spoke just last week and things are going gang busters.
Up at Noosa in July, another new tourism business operator Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes paddled with me into the mangroves of the Noosa River where we partook in a beautiful floating yoga class to the sounds of the birds.
“I want women to feel strong and confident and I think there is lots of space to really empower women to feel strong in their bodies and focus on what they can do rather than how they look,” Kelly told me on this spectacular Sunshine Coast day.
In August, I held hands with a man for the first time all year out at ReefWorld on the outer Great Barrier Reef. I was participating in a learner’s dive and, as fate would have it, it was just me and a handsome Spaniard for 30 glorious minutes. I was mesmerised by his brown hair which floated in the water like sea weed and spent the entire time dreaming of us having to share the same oxygen hose. But perhaps the most interesting character I met all year was out at the Mount Isa Rodeo in Queensland’s Outback. Here, Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight as part of Fred Brophy’s travelling boxing troupe.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants,” Beaver told me one dusty Outback afternoon. For the record, Beaver you are still my BFF.
I took a journey to Australia’s spiritual heart of Uluru in September but anguished over how to capture its magic in words. Instead, I relinquished my role as a writer for one entire afternoon, and took a cycling tour of the red rock. It was my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I emptied my head, opened my heart and clutched the handlebars. The words, well they came later. Shortly after, I found myself in Canada’s Nova Scotia covering a “sausage fest.” Yes, it took one classy sheila from Brisbane to point out to the Canadians that the term meant something entirely different back in the cosmopolitan Queensland capital.
October found me in Sri Lanka and most notably Kandy where I went in search of my Kandy Man. My best chance presented itself at the Kandy Cultural Show where one of the acts included “10 male damsel drummers in harmony”. There was even one fine fella in the show who smiled at me and dropped his tambourine, such was my sex appeal, but our interaction ended there. I also had a Sri Lankan yoga teacher instruct me to rub “special herbal cream” on my face and boobs. Turns out his special cream was actually Vicks Vapor Rub. My boobs still sting at this memorable travel moment.
I spent early November on the Gold Coast hunting and gathering a series of stories and allowed myself to indulge in childhood beach holiday memories. These messages in a bottle floated up every day…mum on Greenmount Beach tanning her back against a rock, dad driving our gold Kingswood around Kirra bend when he finished work on a Friday afternoon. Cream buns at Coolangatta. Shifting sands. And regular readers will recall it was only last month that I returned from the Solomon Islands, where, still no closer to snaring my solo man, I interviewed the locals about love. Panda, 37, told me Solomon Island men were good lovers because “they like the girls”.
“They love the white skin. There are lots of good boys around. If you come to me I can help you to find a good man. I think you will be the boss and he will do everything for you. He will think ‘I’ve got a white lady’ and he will treat you like a Queen,” Panda told me. Inexplicably, I returned home single.
It’s now December, and this week I fly out for three weeks in Indonesia, where a girlfriend and me intend to flop and drop on each of the Gili Islands. There will be snorkelling, swimming, yoga, beer and plenty of daydreaming. A huge thank you to all of the tourism bodies, PRs and editors who supported my travels this year, the terrific characters I met along the way and to you, my loyal followers and readers. I wish you all love and light this Christmas and may we all find peace on earth in 2016. See you then. x
IT’S a Friday morning in Vienna and I am standing in an inner urban garden watching a man pleasure a snail. Yes, somehow I have stumbled across a mollusc masturbator in Europe. Allow me to explain. I am in the Austrian capital as one of 1700 global journalists covering Eurovision, but before we receive our tickets, Vienna Tourism has sent us on a Race Around The World style treasure hunt of this pretty city. My team consists of myself, a fellow Aussie journalist, an enthusiastic Londoner called Sophie and a mysterious Russian named Vera, who appears not to speak a word of English.
We complete our first task with pleasure and ease…drinking wine and learning to yodel with a bloke called Butter. Butter is dressed in a purple dinner suit and sparks my first suspicion that the entire Austrian capital may be gay. But more on that later. Our second stop is at the inner urban garden where we are met by a gregarious gardener who asks us each to select a snail, places them in a circle to race, and explains that one of the losers will be required to rub the snail slime on themselves. My fellow Aussie wins the race with her snail called Guy, but mine, whom I’ve dubbed Conchita, just turns around in circles occasionally bumping into the snails of Sophie and Vera, and thus one of us has to be slimed. I watch, with a mix of horror and fascination, as the gardener “tickles” the underbelly of the snail and empties its trail into a glass and then before anyone can say anything, I push the Russian towards the mollusc masturbator to be slimed. I figure she can’t understand English anyway, and probably thinks it’s a quaint Austrian ritual.
We stumble around this charming cobbled city for hours, pausing to delight in its street art and café culture, while I yet again daydream of moving to Europe, falling in love with a well-dressed European man who may or may not be gay, and imagine a life where I spend half my year in Europe and the other in suburban Brisbane. Because I am a woman for all seasons. My daydreaming is interrupted when we arrive at our next challenge, where I have to sit in a barber’s chair, hold a balloon painted with Conchita’s beard, and the Russian has to shave Conchita with a sharp blade. At first I was afraid, yes, I was petrified, until I realised that Vera was scarily nifty with the knife, and we completed the challenge in record time. I made a mental note to say sorry for the snail slime incident.
Despite our best efforts, we didn’t win the challenge (in fact I think we may have lost) but we had a gay old time. Which is essentially the theme for my week in Europe. In typical Goddess style I jumped into this assignment feet first, thinking I may find several stories and a husband, but what I didn’t consider was that it was Eurovision, making Vienna possibly the gayest place on the planet last week. I lusted after Lars from Stockholm for several days before I finally realised he was gay, but he was kind enough to let me snatch a snap of his banana.
On several occasions Australia’s entry into Eurovision, Guy Sebastian, stalked me at a number of events which may or may not actually have been in his honour. I did fantasise about making Guy my Guy, but apart from the fact he has a lovely wife, I do not think I can ever hear his song Tonight Again, again, after last week. Yes, he was brilliant, and also a nice guy, and the Aussies were thrilled when he came in fifth, but there’s only so much of a good thing you can have. I did sneak into the Eurovision dressing room before the show and considered nicking Russia’s costume (below) and wearing it as my outfit, and had I known how dangerously close little miss fake cry baby was going to come to winning, I may have done just that. But thankfully Mans from Sweden brought it home. And yes, I am a hero of my time, and I am dancing with the demons in my mind.
Full of song, and resigned to the fact that I’d now turned Europe gay, I pushed on to Salzburg to celebrate 50 years since the Sound of Music was filmed. It was here, I hoped, I would meet my Captain von Trapp. Given the blokes of Brisbane still think it’s perfectly all right to wolf whistle at me from construction sites, I figure living with the Captain and his whistle would be a cinch. I even got to sleep in the real von Trapp family home, Villa Trapp, where I sunk into delicious dreams about the Captain and me climbing every mountain. Yes, Captain, my hills were alive. There’s even a love lock bridge in Salzburg and for a brief moment I considered setting up my own bridge, for sad singles, where you hang a lock with your phone number. Yes, call me.
But there was no time to be lonely on this trip, my straight woman’s gay tour of Europe, and I gobbled with gusto these two cities. It was a schnitzel, schnapps and sausage fest and while I left Austria as single as when I arrived, in the words of the lovely Conchita, I am going to Rise Like a Phoenix, and continue on with my search for love.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Austria Tourism http://www.austria.info/au
LATE yesterday afternoon, while trying to make sense of the Sydney siege, I stood on my back deck in Brisbane for a bit of quiet time and noticed this little bird watching me as I watered my plants. I walked inside and grabbed my camera and for the briefest moment he paused, posed and then flaunted his freedom and flew away. This little bird reminded me of the best thing about living in Australia: our freedom. Sending love and light to all of those involved in the Sydney siege, and my deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones early this morning.
Twas the night before Christmas
And all through Brisbane
The Global Goddess continued
Her hunt for some men
Her stockings were hung
On the back deck with care
With hope she could catch
Saint Nick in her lair…
MY Christmas tree is older than me. And, if possible, even daggier. This story begins some 46 years ago, when my parents were first married and bought their first Christmas tree. Every year that tree would come on holidays with us to the Gold Coast, shoved into the Kingswood with me, my three sisters, and our budgie. And every year it would return home with us. Until one day, one of our uncles gifted us a brand, spanking, new tree, and our original tree was retired.
Some years ago, I somehow stumbled across it and adopted it like a long, lost family member. I am not a particularly nostalgic person, and yet I love this tree. It speaks to me of sublime summers on the Gold Coast, hot, scratchy nights with sand in the sheets, sunburn on the skin and mozzies. Of bleached hair, sandcastles and waking up on Christmas morning to new summer swimmers, pink pyjamas and adventure books. That’s the thing with memories. You can’t muck around with them.
The other day a friend was telling me about a sad scene he encountered while out shopping. Picture two little kids and their mother in a wheelchair. The kids were skipping along the path, excitedly chattering about the new clothes they were about to buy for Christmas. Until they arrived at the store and it was closed. The store was St Vincent’s de Paul and, being run by volunteers, was operating on limited hours. But these little kids didn’t know this and started crying. Their wheelchair-bound mother had what appeared to be a slight seizure. My friend froze. Impotent with the scenario unfolding before him and, with a wallet full of credit cards but no cash, unable to assist. He came home and wept.
An acquaintance of mine talks about his work Christmas party the other night. In a bid to survive the bullshit and big egos which have dogged him all year, he decided to bring his own festive cheer in the form of an illegal substance. It was this illegal substance which he was casually dipping into his drink when his bully of a boss came over, demanded my acquaintance hand over the drink to his boss, who couldn’t be bothered to wait at the bar for his own. Apparently, the boss was in an uncharacteristically jolly mood for the rest of the evening.
Everyone I talk to seems to speak of a tough year. The headlines have been peppered by sadness, loss, tragedy. Global economic conditions seem to have spawned a new breed of bully bosses. More and more people such as that woman in the wheelchair are buying their children clothes from charity shops.
But I also believe it’s a season for hope. I’ve personally asked Santa for a hot tradie under my daggy old Christmas tree, which, if it happens, could possibly constitute a break and enter, if not a miracle. It’s a time to rejoice and to reflect. Look towards the future with optimism. Try to be a better person. Express a bit of gratitude.
On that note, I wish to thank everyone who has followed, read, laughed and cried with The Global Goddess this year. I’ll be back in 2013 with more stories, more travels and, if Santa knows what’s good for him, maybe even a bloke or two.
If you have your own Christmas story to share, I’d love to hear it, via a comment below.
In the meantime, I wish you peace on earth.