“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
IT’S almost mid-June and my itchy traveller’s feet are already becoming tetchy, niggling to get back on that road, so soon after I’ve just stepped off the beaten track. After a big six months of travel, I’m taking a brief pause to recalibrate, but it’s not a simple task for me. My body says stop, but my mind roars like those four Rolls Royce engines upon take-off, constantly conjuring up all the possibilities out there in the big, wide world awaiting me. But it’s important to stop, however briefly, if nothing else but to breathe. To indulge in that most sinful of sins, sleeping in one’s own bed.
I started the year with a few domestic trips, out west to Ipswich where I rode in a helicopter to a winery and took my first hot air balloon flight – both of which were pretty big deals for this travel writer who hates to fly. I explored Brisbane’s southside and discovered a Buddhist temple and a whole new side of my pretty city I never knew existed. As Alain de Botton argues in his book The Art of Travel you don’t even need to leave your own home to travel. Much of it is a state of mind.
Things became a little crazy in March with a big trip up to Papua New Guinea but what a delightful visit to this South Pacific frontier it was. I came home with armloads of stories and some beautiful new friends. I was home for three days, enough time to wash, dry and repack my clothes, before I headed off to Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, all in the space of a week. I was sick as a dog on that trip, but sometimes you don’t get a choice to slow down, and it’s amazing what you can do when you really need to.
A long weekend in Noosa, part work, part pleasure followed and I started to dream of the following weekend when I’d be back on the Sunshine Coast for Easter with my sister. But fate had other plans and torrential rain forced the cancellation of our Easter holiday on the Sunshine Coast, but determined to get away, we fled to Fiji instead, where one of our best Easters unfurled among coconut cocktails and South Pacific church services.
Shortly after that, I was in Cairns and Port Douglas, exploring the beautiful tropical north of my state. I hired a car for this trip, switched the radio to some superb 80s tunes, and sang my way along the Captain Cook Highway north. There was a moment of truth when, all alone on a remote beach eating my lunch I though “I’m all alone” with a tinge of fear and sadness. But that was rapidly replaced by jubilation: “I’m ALL alone,” and I skipped back to my rainforest cottage with pure glee.
As fate would have it, I returned to Port Douglas a week or so later for another story. Funny how you don’t go somewhere for 15 years, and then you return to that very destination within a short time frame. I wonder what Alain de Botton would make of that? It was a completely different trip which evoked vastly different feelings, proving it’s the journey, not the destination, which makes the place. As de Botton would say: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.”
I was on the Sunshine Coast a week later, at Rainbow Beach, a place I’d never been, scratching my head as to how I’d missed such a Queensland gem. I spent the night camping at Inskip Point right on the beach while the wind howled outside, and trying to imagine that a week later I’d be in Austria, covering Eurovision. I arrived in Vienna, a city I last visited 20 years before as a backpacker, and hardly recognised the place. It made me realise that while I was fitter two decades ago, I was also very young and, according to de Botton: “A danger of travel is that we see things at the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.” And so it was on my previous trip to the Austrian capital, but not so on this journey. I returned to Salzburg where seven years previously I had gone in search of the Sound of Music magic. I found it again on this trip, and more.
On the long journey home from Europe to Australia, I paused for 10 hours in Bangkok, one of my all-time favourite destinations. Due to the length of my layover I had just enough time to leave the airport, find a hotel, have a Thai massage and sit by the pool in the early evening humidity to eat a Thai curry washed down with a cold Singha. And even then, I found it alluring, tempting myself to stay on, trying to find a loophole to avoid getting on that midnight flight to Brisbane.
I’ve been home two weeks tomorrow and if I’m really honest, it took me about four days till I was climbing the walls. But it’s a necessary climbing journey. I need to write, reset, catch up with friends, go to yoga, attend meditation and, if I’m lucky, go on a date or two. It’s winter Down Under and it’s time to pause and reflect, if just for a little bit. Oh, the trips are already mounting in the coming months, there’s Noosa, the Whitsundays and Mount Isa, followed by Uluru and Canada. I hope to get to Sri Lanka. And that’s just what I know now. And so I sit, write and regroup, but it’s not without its challenges. As de Botton wrote: “And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?”
IT’S a Friday morning in Vienna and I am standing in an inner urban garden watching a man pleasure a snail. Yes, somehow I have stumbled across a mollusc masturbator in Europe. Allow me to explain. I am in the Austrian capital as one of 1700 global journalists covering Eurovision, but before we receive our tickets, Vienna Tourism has sent us on a Race Around The World style treasure hunt of this pretty city. My team consists of myself, a fellow Aussie journalist, an enthusiastic Londoner called Sophie and a mysterious Russian named Vera, who appears not to speak a word of English.
We complete our first task with pleasure and ease…drinking wine and learning to yodel with a bloke called Butter. Butter is dressed in a purple dinner suit and sparks my first suspicion that the entire Austrian capital may be gay. But more on that later. Our second stop is at the inner urban garden where we are met by a gregarious gardener who asks us each to select a snail, places them in a circle to race, and explains that one of the losers will be required to rub the snail slime on themselves. My fellow Aussie wins the race with her snail called Guy, but mine, whom I’ve dubbed Conchita, just turns around in circles occasionally bumping into the snails of Sophie and Vera, and thus one of us has to be slimed. I watch, with a mix of horror and fascination, as the gardener “tickles” the underbelly of the snail and empties its trail into a glass and then before anyone can say anything, I push the Russian towards the mollusc masturbator to be slimed. I figure she can’t understand English anyway, and probably thinks it’s a quaint Austrian ritual.
We stumble around this charming cobbled city for hours, pausing to delight in its street art and café culture, while I yet again daydream of moving to Europe, falling in love with a well-dressed European man who may or may not be gay, and imagine a life where I spend half my year in Europe and the other in suburban Brisbane. Because I am a woman for all seasons. My daydreaming is interrupted when we arrive at our next challenge, where I have to sit in a barber’s chair, hold a balloon painted with Conchita’s beard, and the Russian has to shave Conchita with a sharp blade. At first I was afraid, yes, I was petrified, until I realised that Vera was scarily nifty with the knife, and we completed the challenge in record time. I made a mental note to say sorry for the snail slime incident.
Despite our best efforts, we didn’t win the challenge (in fact I think we may have lost) but we had a gay old time. Which is essentially the theme for my week in Europe. In typical Goddess style I jumped into this assignment feet first, thinking I may find several stories and a husband, but what I didn’t consider was that it was Eurovision, making Vienna possibly the gayest place on the planet last week. I lusted after Lars from Stockholm for several days before I finally realised he was gay, but he was kind enough to let me snatch a snap of his banana.
On several occasions Australia’s entry into Eurovision, Guy Sebastian, stalked me at a number of events which may or may not actually have been in his honour. I did fantasise about making Guy my Guy, but apart from the fact he has a lovely wife, I do not think I can ever hear his song Tonight Again, again, after last week. Yes, he was brilliant, and also a nice guy, and the Aussies were thrilled when he came in fifth, but there’s only so much of a good thing you can have. I did sneak into the Eurovision dressing room before the show and considered nicking Russia’s costume (below) and wearing it as my outfit, and had I known how dangerously close little miss fake cry baby was going to come to winning, I may have done just that. But thankfully Mans from Sweden brought it home. And yes, I am a hero of my time, and I am dancing with the demons in my mind.
Full of song, and resigned to the fact that I’d now turned Europe gay, I pushed on to Salzburg to celebrate 50 years since the Sound of Music was filmed. It was here, I hoped, I would meet my Captain von Trapp. Given the blokes of Brisbane still think it’s perfectly all right to wolf whistle at me from construction sites, I figure living with the Captain and his whistle would be a cinch. I even got to sleep in the real von Trapp family home, Villa Trapp, where I sunk into delicious dreams about the Captain and me climbing every mountain. Yes, Captain, my hills were alive. There’s even a love lock bridge in Salzburg and for a brief moment I considered setting up my own bridge, for sad singles, where you hang a lock with your phone number. Yes, call me.
But there was no time to be lonely on this trip, my straight woman’s gay tour of Europe, and I gobbled with gusto these two cities. It was a schnitzel, schnapps and sausage fest and while I left Austria as single as when I arrived, in the words of the lovely Conchita, I am going to Rise Like a Phoenix, and continue on with my search for love.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Austria Tourism http://www.austria.info/au
LAST week we had the exciting news that Australia has been awarded entry into the prestigious Eurovision competition, being held in Vienna in May. And I have been invited by Austria Tourism to cover this event. Equally as exciting, this year marks 50 years since The Sound of Music was filmed. I’ll also be heading down to Salzburg to ask the big questions such as, how do you know if you’ve fallen into the Von Trapp family trap?
1. Climb Every Mountain
Faced with the fresh alpine air, lush, green grass and the distant tinkle of cow bells, there wouldn’t be a traveller alive who hasn’t been atop a mountain, somewhere on the planet, who hasn’t felt a sudden rush to frolic on the mountain top while singing The Hills Are Alive. It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary and like the Nazi occupation in the movie, it is also unstoppable.
2. Seeking Refuge In Sacred Sites
OK, so a bunch of nasty Nazis are unlikely to be following you anytime soon, so hiding behind gravestones is probably not on the cards, but what traveller hasn’t sought solace in a sacred site, such as a church? Cathedrals are remarkably good places to rest your weary travelling bones, particularly if it’s a hot day. And if you’re lucky, there might be a service on at the same time, which means you could partake in Holy Communion and get a free wafer and a sip of red wine. Dinner and a show, what’s not to love?
3. How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
If you think life on the road is all beer and schnitzels, think again. Travelling is hard work. And from time-to-time, you will be confronted with all sorts of problems, from lost luggage to delayed transport and overbooked hotels. So, your problems may not be as critical as those faced by Mother Superior, who just wasn’t sure what to do with that wayward Maria, but they feel pretty big at the time. Sit down, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, what would Mother Superior do?
4. You’re Wearing Your Traveller’s Clothes
Remember the scene towards the end of the film where the Von Trapps have turned off the car engine and are trying to sneak away without performing in the big concert but they get caught in the spotlights of the Nazi party sympathisers? At this point, Captain Von Trapp points out that the entire family is not dressed in “travelling clothes” but they are in fact costumes for the performance. Yeah, right, we’re all tried to tart up that old t.shirt on a fancy night out overseas. Doesn’t work.
5. You Sneak Out Half Way Through A Concert Performance
Who hasn’t been on an overseas trip and someone, usually your host, suggests you join them for a bit of Strauss at some symphony orchestra? And we all know how fun that is, particularly when all you really want to do is be at the buzzing pub you passed on your way to the national theatre hall. Just pull a Von Trapp and half way through, disappear. That’s right. No need for lengthy goodbyes. By the time they realise you’re missing, you’ll be halfway to another country.
6. You’re So Desperate For Clean Clothes, You’ll Wear Anything
Yes, even a curtain. Turns out Sister Maria was quite the seamstress. We’ve all been there. You’ve been on the road for weeks, your travelling clothes are tatty and tired. You lay awake at night daydreaming of the day you can burn those khaki shorts, never to be worn again. You hate that t.shirt you wear every day with a passion. And then you look around the room in which you are staying and are overcome with the urge to whip up some lederhosen from the curtains. If only you’d packed your Singer sewing machine.
7. The Sound Of Shrill Whistles Make You Run
Captain Von Trapp was really onto something with that whistle-blowing caper. I mean, who speaks to their kids anyway? And when you’ve got so many in your massive mansion, how the heck are you meant to locate them all? Whether it’s some amorous men in Italy, or your inter-country train departing the station, you hear the sound of a whistle anywhere in Europe, and you are bound to sprint.
8. You Are 16, Going On 17
Like the actress who played the lovely Liesl, you are actually 21, possibly even 41, pretending you are 16 going on 17. There’ s something about travelling overseas which allows you to reinvent yourself, after all, you are never going to see half the people you meet again (regardless of the empty promises you make to stay in touch). Whether you lie about your age, your job, or your nationality, we’ve all lied to impress the listener. Even the lovely Liesl.
9. You Take A Vow Of Celibacy
Well, we all know how well that worked out for Maria. About as well as it will work out for you. Yes, yes, we all vow we are going travelling to “find out more about ourselves” and to “learn and grow as a person”. And that might be true. But I challenge anyone who has spent any time at the Munich Oktoberfest to come back and tell me how that vow of celibacy worked out for them. Yes, didn’t think so.
10. You Act All Cute To Get What You Want
You might have thought you got away with it, Greta, all chubby cheeks, blonde hair and lispy tugging at the apron strings: “please don’t go, Sister Maria”, but I was on to your little caper. Having said that, the youngest Von Trapp had a travelling lesson for us all. Whether you are begging for an upgrade, or just the last bed in the youth hostel late at night, it doesn’t hurt to turn on a bit of the Greta to get what you want. You might want to lose the lisp.
To book your own Sound of Music escape to Austria, go to http://www.austria.info/au