“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?”
AS I write this, all of my gay male friends, of which I am fortunate to possess quite the gaggle, are insanely jealous of me. Why is that, you ask? Well today I board a flight to Austria to cover their version of the Olympics. That’s right, I’m off on assignment to report on Eurovision. And if that’s not enough to ensure my name is scrapped from every gay wedding invitation for the next decade (who am I kidding, Australia doesn’t believe in gay marriage), I am following my time in Vienna with a trip down to Salzburg to cover the 50th anniversary of Sound of Music. Yes, the gay boys are so jealous, anyone would think I’m sleeping with Captain Von Trapp himself.
From my perspective, I suspect I’ll be spending the next two weeks explaining that I’m from Australia NOT Austria, to a group of baffled Europeans who can’t quite fathom why we remain a nation obsessed with ABBA. Now, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, aside from writing copious words for various media outlets about Eurovision and Sound of Music, I intend to spend the next two weeks finding myself a European husband. Aside from the fact I am prepared to offer the very attractive proposal of their very own Australian passport if they marry me, I have always had a hankering for an EU passport, which in my opinion, is travelling gold.
And I’m not looking for any old Euro trash to marry me, I’ve decided they must be royalty. And before you scoff at this suggestion, I have two words for you. Princess Mary. Yes, if it’s good enough for the former real estate agent from Tassie, it’s good enough for a travel writer from Brisbane. And while his Royal Hotness Prince Harry has been in Australia lately, for some inexplicable reason he left Brisbane off his itinerary.
But, the good news is my friends at Cheapflights.com.au have come up with the perfect selection of possible suitors for me. And so, let me present the following five prospects, and how you too, can meet them (once I’ve selected the one for me).
1. Denmark – Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark
This one is a bit tricky as apparently the youngest son of King Constantine of Greece and Queen Anne-Marie of Denmark has a double title, despite Greece being declared a republic since 1973. He may also be a bit hard to meet on this European trip, as not only is he media shy, but he’s based in New York where he works on Wall Street. I could live in New York. Not sure about the economy of Greece right now, however.
(To meet him, Cheapflights.com.au has return flights between New York and Sydney from less than $1200)
2. Liechtenstein – Prince Wenzeslaus
Despite his name being practically unpronounceable, this fella is looking good. Not only is he age appropriate at 41, he’s just down the road from Austria, to use Aussie parlance. For those who don’t know, Liechenstein is nestled between the mountain ranges of Switzerland and Austria (where I will be, remember). And get this…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 feel we are the perfect match and will be sending him a copy of this blog as soon as it’s published. Call me, Vince.
(To attend our wedding, Cheapflights.com.au has return flights from Australia to Switzerland for less than $1500)
3. Dubai – Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum
If you like hot, dry countries, you could do a lot worse than this bloke. Sheikh Hamdan is apparently a poet, accomplished equestrian rider and amateur skydiver. He uses the pen-name Fazza and writes poems about romance, patriotism and family themes. He may only be 33 but we can probably overlook that minor detail. He’s also a graduate of Sandhurst military college and the London School of Economics. Someone call me a camel. If it doesn’t work out with Vince, I’ll be making a stopover on the way home in Dubai.
(Cheapflights.com.au has return flights to Dubai from Australia from less than $1200)
4. Luxembourg – Prince Sebastien Henri Marie Guillaume
And I thought Vince had a tricky name. This is a boy for the younger girls. At just 23, he loves to travel and is a keen sportsman and apparently adept at climbing, skiing, swimming and rugby union. I’m only really good at swimming, so there could be some long winters waiting by the fire on a bear skin rug for a man whose name is too long to pronounce. If you’re still keen, he’s fifth in line to the throne and is the youngest son of Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria. Go for your life. I’ll attend the wedding…with Vince.
(Cheapflights.com.au has flights to Luxembourg from less than $1400)
5. Brunei – Prince Azim
Closer to home, Prince Azim is a bit of a party prince who is renowned for throwing lavish celebrity-studded soirees. At 33, he’s also third in line to the throne. The UK paparazzi likes him for obvious reasons, but he attempts to temper his wild child image with philanthropic work with charities benefitting women and children. But in a country which rejects homosexuality, Prince Azim holds little appeal to me. I mean, no point getting married if none of my gay boys can come. Again, go for your life if he appeals, just don’t expect Vince and me to attend your wedding.
(Cheapflights.com.au has flights to Brunei for less than $900)
For other great deals around the world, go to http://www.cheapflights.com.au; And if anyone is looking for me over the next two weeks, I’ll be in Austria with Austria Tourism http://www.austria.info/au I may or may not return…
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