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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
ONE year ago today I stepped off the plane in Brisbane after 14 months of living in Singapore. People sometimes ask me how long it took me to adjust to being back in Queensland. I knew I’d arrived the moment those two tiny Qantas wheels left Changi’s tarmac.
I moved to Singapore one month after Queensland’s devastating 2011 floods. I was battling a personal torrent of my own and needed to shake off those last, pesky, stubborn crumbs of my broken marriage. I, like Queensland, had some healing to do. Suffice to say, it’s been a rocky road for both of us, plagued by potholes and the occasional melt down. That’s the thing about healing, it takes its own damn time and you can’t rush it. And then there’s those inevitable relapses, as Queensland saw again in January this year when the flooding rains returned. As for me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have some crawl back under the doona days.
But I’ve just spent the past two weeks on assignment out in the Queensland countryside in which I grew up. We were barefoot through the bindi patch kids. Dirt on your cheeks types who didn’t come inside until after dark. Cycled our daggy pushies without helmets, rode in the Kingswood without seat belts, got a scratch and fixed it with a bit of good old-fashioned spit.
And in the past two weeks, I fell in love with my state all over again. Southerners often mock Queensland. They say our weather is too humid. Humid to me is living in Singapore – 100km from the Equator. They say Brisbane is a big country town. If sitting outside by the river on a temperate evening eating food designed by world-class chefs makes us a big country town then yes, we’re epic. Sure, we don’t have daylight savings and our politics are ridiculously conservative. But that just breeds the underground movement of creatives and larrikins I so love here. In Brisbane, strangers still chat to you in the street. Thank the bus driver when they alight. Let your car squeeze in during peak hour traffic.
In the past fortnight, I experienced in spades the friendliness for which Queensland is renowned. In the South Burnett – Joh country – I stumbled across characters, entrepreneurs and optimists. Shirt-off-your-back people where dogs with names like Merlot are the stars of an Australian book about Wine Dogs. A place of dappled sunshine and dimpled smiles.
I met wine makers and farmers’ wives. Ate the local smoked pork, drank the new world Italian reds they are planting out there. Stayed in century-old cottages on hillsides overlooking charming valleys. Did I mention it’s emerald green out there? Yep, after all that rain that so scarred our state, it’s left a legacy of lushness. I took the time for a good old chinwag.
Last week, my travels took me to the Darling Downs. But not the Toowoomba I knew from my childhood – one of haberdashery shops and picnics in the park. Sure, they still exist, but walk past an inner city lane and there’s graffiti art and pop up coffee shops courting the trendy set. Toowoomba is finally embracing its organic food scene. I ate salty olives, fancy French cuisine and slept in an elegant mansion. I stumbled across eclectic art galleries and small designer stores. Had a cuppa with the locals. They keep me honest, no room for egos out here, just kookaburras, galahs and king parrots.
Queensland and I are both a little older and wiser after the past few years. Sure, we’ll always carry our scars, but we’ve also got fire in our bellies. Yes, people sometimes ask me how long it took to adjust to being back in Queensland after Singapore. To be honest, I don’t think I ever really left.
The Global Goddess travelled through Southern Queensland Country as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland. To plan your own escape, go to http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au
I CAN’T pinpoint exactly when, but at some stage in the conversation, Chris Solomona gets straight to the point. Of his penis to be precise. More so, the fact it’s the only part of his body from his middle back to his knees that is not covered in tribal tattoos, thus ensuring I spend the rest of our meeting trying to peek under his lava lava for confirmation. But this is not a story of sex. It’s one of seduction. A tale of tattoos, tradition and testosterone. Of tsunamis, tragedy and ultimately triumph. This is my tale of the South Pacific, welcome to my Samoan seduction.
The tattoos, deeply etched into Chris’ cocoa-coloured skin, scream of centuries of culture, tradition and the ultimate test of manhood…soul-searing pain. They speak volumes of this South Pacific paradise in which I find myself talking intimately with a man, whom I’ve never met, about the most delicious of subjects. Finding love, the Samoan way.
“We are still intact and alive in our old ways. We have a Council of Chiefs and laws you must abide by. The most common law is it is taboo to think about marrying a girl from your own village. If you marry outside your race you will get a slap on the back. They will say ‘that a boy’,” Chris says.
“There is quite a process that a man has to go through in order to get a date. Back in 1999, I was drinking kava and I saw a beautiful woman come into the market and I asked people for her name and some woman told me it was Nora. So I went home and cooked all this food such as taro and a roasted pig. On the way to her village I stopped and bought two bottles of beer. There was no way I was going to do this sober.
“I walked in to her house and I put the pig on the floor and then forget what I am going to say. I can see two girls but I can’t see Nora in this room and I am wondering if I am in the right family. It turns out she was in the kitchen cooking and when she came out and sat next to me and I felt like I was eating broken glass.”
“Two to three weeks later I spent the weekend with her family but there was no privacy. We went out for one year and there was no touching. I’m a modern male and this is paradise but we’re not that perfect,” he laughs at the sexual frustration.
Fourteen years later and the couple now have five children, all traces of sexual frustration seemingly erased. Chris, who manages the Samoan Tourism Association Cultural Village in the capital, may be a modern male, but traditions such as tattooing run deep within his veins. When the missionaries arrived here in 1830, they tried to stop tattoos but the Samoans refused to relinquish this crucial piece of their culture designed to test bravery and courage. But don’t be fooled. Chris describes the procedure, which takes several months, as “a world of hurt, pain and suffering you cannot explain”.
“It is pure pain and torture and something that no man in their right mind would go through. Coming out of it is like a second chance at living.”
A second chance at living is what this charming country knows all too well having survived its share of cyclones and a devastating tsunami in 2009 which claimed 189 lives in the South Pacific region, many of them Samoan children. Samoa is a land of love and loss. Of triumph over tragedy. You can’t have paradise without pain. The Samoans, who ooze charm, character and beauty, know this maxim all too well, for this is a country with soul.
According to Chris, if you want to find a Samoan man, first you need to find a Samoan woman.
“You find a Samoan woman and stay with her in the village and you mingle. Then, all the men in the village will be watching. In Samoa, you just sit back and wait and all the pieces will fall into place. Actually, waiting in the wrong word. You will be hiding,” he laughs.
I spend the rest of the day lurking behind coconut trees, practising my “hiding”. At the bar, at the beach, at the pool, behind coconut trees.
And I’m in luck. The very next night I stumble across my Samoan sista-in-crime in the form of Natasha Tamasese at Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa on the South Coast. What I don’t know at the time is that Natasha has married into Samoan royalty – the Tamasese name synonymous with one of the paramount chiefs of the country and highly revered. Yes, in terms of a wing woman, I’ve hit the jackpot. And best of all, I’m told there’s one unmarried brother in the family who lives in Queensland. Yes, you heard it, right under my nose. I’d reveal more details, but then I’d have to kill you all.
Aside from the opportunity to dine with the Tamasese’s, Sinalei is also home to Spa Tui I Lagi, named after the resort owner’s wife who died in the 2009 Tsunami. Even in languid Samoa, time marches on and tries to heal the deepest wounds. Joe, the resort owner, has found love again and just announced his engagement to Tammy. Yes, love, loss, tragedy and triumph. I contemplate these concepts during a massage at the resort’s oceanfront spa the next morning on the most perfect of days. My spa therapist mentions the sound of the waves breaking casually against the reef outside. “You can hear its voice,” she says simply. Even the ocean here is a seductress.
And so, too, is the language in this country. When Samoans speak in their native tongue, they tend to slowly wrap their mouths around each word, pronouncing every consonant and evocatively elongating vowels. On the flight home I fantasise about two things: learning to speak this lovely language to my new husband who is yet to learn of my existence, and a return trip to the South Pacific. Yes, you too, should wrap yourself around Samoa. I can guarantee, it will seduce you back.
The Global Goddess travelled to Samoa as a guest of the Samoan Tourism Authority. If you, too, wish to be seduced by Samoa go to http://www.samoa.travel for more information. Virgin Australia flys direct to Samoa from Brisbane once a week and several times from Sydney.
Spacifica Travel is offering a number of last-minute Easter specials to Samoa from $1449 per adult and $779 per child flying Virgin Australia from Sydney. The price includes return airport transfers, 7 nights for the price of 6 in the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel in Apia, and continental breakfast daily. http://www.spacificatravel.com
I’VE awoken in a Surfers Paradise hotel room and I have a swollen eye. The Surfers Paradise part I can explain, even to myself who takes a few minutes to remember what I’m doing on Australia’s Gold Coast. But I have no idea how I’ve acquired the swollen eye. I check my hotel bathroom for a baby, a tiger and Bradley Cooper.
The last thing I remember was playing Putt Putt golf with some friends before having a few drinks. Unless things have changed in the past 20 years, Putt Putt, from memory, is a pretty tame affair which doesn’t result in swollen organs.
I decide to take Quasimodo out to breakfast, acutely aware this shall not the morning I will be meeting the man of my dreams. When I head back to the 22nd floor my room key is no longer working. Which would not be such a problem were it not for the strange grumble my stomach has just made. Just when I think my morning can’t get much worse, it does. The cause of my swollen eye suddenly becomes apparent. I’ve overindulged in oysters at the seafood buffet the previous evening, I’m having an allergic reaction, and now my gut is about to explode. In the lift. Full of women attending a beauty conference.
I break into a cold sweat. By now, I’m frantic. It occurs to me that I’m about to resemble an Australian footballer, and crouch on the carpeted hotel hallway with my swollen eye and do the unspeakable. I telephone my friend whose room number I can’t remember. “Open your door,” I scream down the line, “O-p-e-n. Y-o-u-r. D-o-o-r!” A door swings open down the hall by which stage, I am crawling like one of the crabs which is causing all the commotion inside me. I burst into what I hope is her hotel room, and not that of some poor Japanese tourist, and dash to the toilet.
My retro weekend in Surfers Paradise has begun with a blast. My friend, Corina, has decided our next adventure should be cycling along the beachfront to the Southport Spit. It’s going to be so simple, bikes are even delivered to our hotel room. Corina is wearing her trademark high heels, tighty whitey pants, and a koala backpack we’ve nicknamed “fluffy”. I am having visions of my own loveliness, dressed in a long white skirt, hair blowing in the sea breeze, riding along the oceanfront like something out of a feminine hygiene ad. Dame Alison, our other friend, has wisely decided to take a limo transfer to meet us for lunch. I take off and make it to the first corner when my skirt becomes entangled in the bike chain. Corina falls off her bike. We are covered in grease when we limp in to lunch at the old Southport Bathing Pavilion which is now a café. A bloke called Chico offers us a Chicko roll. Things are looking up.
That evening, Corina has planned a special surprise. A trip to the Wax Museum. The operators resemble the Adams family which is more than we can say for the actual wax exhibits. Barack Obama is white. Michael Jackson is black. Whitney Houston looks like Bobby Brown. The whole display is creepy and just little bit scary. We leave abruptly. We need a drink.
We decide our trip to the glitter strip isn’t complete without a Chinese banquet and head to the Focus Chinese Seafood Restaurant with our new-found friends, Cade, Caitlin, Shae, Grant and Maggie. Full of Peking duck, we decide to eschew a trip to the old haunts – Melba’s and Cocktails and Dreams – in favour of an early night. I go to sleep smug in the knowledge we’ve had a pretty tame night. Even my eye has almost returned to normal.
On Sunday morning I awake to find a game of Two-Up in last night’s handbag, a Meter Maid’s business card and bum muscles I didn’t know I had, courtesy of our bike ride. I ponder this as we board the Aquaduck for an amphibious adventure on the Broadwater. There’s no suspension on the vehicle and we bounce along the Esplanade, as do our boobs. Corina tells me to “get ducked”. I tell her to “duck off”. Back at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Dame Alison sits near a farting man exhibit while the museum owner catches me stroking a male fertility statue. “Be careful, you’ll get pregnant,” he warns, before adding, “but of course you have to have sex to do that.” Just my luck to be the second woman in history to conceive by immaculate conception.
By the end of the weekend, I realise something I’d long forgotten. Surfers Paradise is tawdry, tacky and terrific, just like my friends. It will pick you up, twist you around, dance with you and gently put you back down. But dull? Never, ever.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of The Outrigger, Surfers Paradise, whose carpet, she is pleased to report, remains intact and whose bathrooms are to be commended, in whichever room you may find yourself in a panic. To experience your own retro weekend, go to www.outrigger.com.au