I AM sitting in my hot Brisbane office dressed in a leopard-print summer dress, reflecting on my life as a travel writer in 2016. Let’s not beat around the boiling bush, it was always going to be a quirky one after I kicked off the year in January at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast where I spent an hour in a one-on-one mediation session with a horse, of course.
Yes, Jack, the 22-year-old horse, was quite the listener and as it turned out, I was a good learner, discovering more about myself in that paddock than years of therapists have been to unravel. Working with my breath, and the fact horses are instinctive creatures, I was able to go from having Jack walk away from me (apparently I hate rejection) to have Jack trotting around the ring by the end of the session, based purely on my inner calm and emotions. He even stopped on cue when I exhaled. In that one crowded hour I learned I am prone to being a bit of a bull at a gate, and expecting others to join me on my crazy schemes, without first checking that they’re on board. Jack, you taught me a lot.
In February, and in the name of another story, I plunged into the warm waters off Lord Howe Island for Ocean Swim Week with World Ironman Champion Ali Day and Pinetrees Lodge. I’d never swum out in the open ocean before and learned that it was far more different and difficult to the university pool in which I try to carve up a daily 1km. Swimming among reef sharks and over fantastic coral, I also learned I could overcome sea sickness in rough swells and complete an impressive 2-3km a day. I also learned I’m incredibly stubborn once I push through an initial lack of confidence. Salty and stubborn. And I wonder why I’m single.
March saw me in Fiji, working with the fine folk at the Outrigger Fiji Resort and writing stories about some innovative and compassionate community projects in which they are involved, building new kindergartens and maternity wards. That kindy opened last week and it was heartening to know I was there at that pivotal point in history with people who have so little, but find so much reason for joy. Want perspective on your life? Head to the South Pacific. Sit under a coconut tree and pull your head out of your proverbial. It will change you, I promise.
In April, I was in Germany on a beer tour, also in the name of research, and if you think I had to train for Ocean Swim Week, it’s like I was born for Beer Week. And to think successive maths teachers over the years said I would never amount to anything. Add to that a dash of Mother Nature where I summited Germany’s highest mountain…and by summit I mean taking a gondola to the top and promptly order a beer and goulash. Because I’m hard-core. I explored my animal instinct here by taking to Bavarian Tinder and I was quite the hit in Germany. Not that I had time to actually meet any of my Bavarian boyfriends, but I got the distinct impression they were different to Brisbane boys and not once did anyone send me a photo of their penis. #winning
May turned out to be a journey of a different kind where I had some long-awaited tests and surgery for health symptoms that killed a fellow travel writer last year. While my tests turned out fine, the surgery laid me up for four weeks in incredible pain, and it was a time to reflect and go inwards, something I’m not particularly good at. But when Mother Nature speaks, sometimes you have to listen and it was a good life lesson. I did have a moment of truth while awaiting those test results, questioning myself on whether I was living the life I wanted. And the answer was yes. By June, when I was back on the road in Vienna and Monaco, exploring Royal and Imperial Luxury Europe, I was thrilled. I may have even danced around the house just prior to leaving to Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Because I have an excellent taste in music.
In July, I braved a chilly Toowoomba trip to explore the city’s sensational street art. And it blew my socks off. Not literally, as that would have been unpleasant in the cold, but metaphorically. I also took my first trip to Darwin and again, was thrilled by the Northern Territory capital with its outdoor cinemas, national parks, and great dining and accommodation offerings. This is a city which celebrates its sunsets, with hundreds of residents and tourists flocking to the beach to watch the sun plunge into the ocean and that, in itself, was a magical moment. A destination which sells tickets to its annual festival out of an original caravan used to house homeless people after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy? You’ve gotta love that.
August saw me at Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge in South Africa on a luxury safari and yes, I was lucky to experience the Big 5, plus all the rest. Mother Africa and her beautiful people stole a piece of my heart and I came home reeling from Jo’Burg’s street art to Robben Island where the mighty Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. There’s usually about one month of the year where I try to stop, pause, reflect and recharge and it was September this year, which also turned out to be my birthday month, and what a delight it was to be a normal person again, catching up with friends, going to yoga classes, and just “sitting with myself” as we say in meditation.
In October, I was out on the road again, on my longest trip of the year to Canada where I started in Vancouver, sitting in a traditional indigenous sweat lodge with an elder, talking to our ancestors. But the absolute highlight of that three-week journey was the opportunity to go on a walking safari with the polar bears with Churchill Wild. I discovered that the Lord of the Arctic was to be respected, not feared, and that if we don’t manage the way we treat the planet, polar bears may be relegated to the history books.
The conservation theme continued into last month, November, when I jumped on a plane to the Maldives Outrigger Konotta Resort and spent a fascinating few days talking with a marine biologist who is trying to resurrect the reef with innovative coral planting strategies. On a monsoonal Monday I sat on the edge of a jetty weaving coral necklaces from coconut rope that would later be implanted on the reef, in a moment I will always remember when my fingers are no longer nimble and I’m too old to travel. From the Arctic, where the ice is melting, to the Indian Ocean, which is becoming too warm, I had the immense privilege of experiencing the impacts of Climate Change first hand.
Which brings me to December. In two days I’ll be boarding a plane for my last travel writing assignment of the year. And yes, this trip has another animal theme. I’ll be boarding a sailing boat and exploring beyond Bali to the islands around Indonesia, before we arrive at the land of the komodo dragons. Along the way we’ll be snorkelling with manta rays and sharks. And I cannot wait. Yes, it’s been a big year, and moments of great challenge, times when you are so jetlagged you want to weep, a deep-seated loneliness from long weeks out on the road, and a disconnect from normal life. I didn’t find the love of my life, but I know he’s out there. And when I’m out in the world, doing what I love best, hunting and gathering stories, there’s no better feeling on the planet. I wish you a Happy Christmas and may 2017 be everything you dreamed of and more.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who joined her on the incredible journey that was 2016. See you out there in 2017.
THREE weeks ago I returned to Europe to explore the Royal and Imperial elements of Monaco and Vienna, tracing the footsteps of the Grimaldi and Hapsburg empires. Did I find my prince? No. But I did discover that despite all of the bleak news coming out of Europe in recent times – Brexit; the Greek Financial Crisis; the Refugee dilemma – old, stately Europe still exists. And it’s a Europe laced in luxury. Today’s photo blog pays homage to European elegance.
1. The sweets were sweet
2. And the suites were sweet
3. The summer flowers were in full bloom
4. The berries were bright and brilliant
5. You don’t have to be in Italy to stumble across a vibrant Vespa or two
6. The watering holes were cool and varied
7. And there’s nothing like arriving in style
The Global Goddess travelled to Europe Business Class courtesy of Emirates – http://www.emirates.com and stayed in Vienna as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office – http://www.austria.info/au and in Monaco as a guest of the Monaco Government Tourist & Convention Authority – http://www.visitmonaco.com
PLONKED against the bar at 30,000 feet, I am most unreliably informed by an English woman that I have a British accent. And I can’t even blame the roar of the plane engine for her remarkably missing my distinct Australian twang. For I have the ultimate fortune of not only flying on the peaceful A380 aircraft between Brisbane and Dubai, but I am sitting among the rarified atmosphere which is Emirates Business Class.
Not for me the hoi polloi with whom I normally associate, seat 10K has my name written all over it and I intend to make the most of my 14-hour journey to Dubai. So excited am I by this unlikely twist of fate, that I scoot through security, haplessly leaving my computer on the conveyor belt. But Lady Luck is mine tonight, and I remember it just before I officially pass through Immigration. Not even the dour demeanour of Australia’s Border Farce (Force) Officers (is that a forbidden apple in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?) can dent my passion this evening.
Normally I sit among the Beryls and Darrens from Logan in an airline bar, observing with the same fascination one would a wildlife documentary, as they sink as much alcohol as is humanely possible. Bez and Daz then stagger onto the plane and it’s ultimately me and the scent of Bundy Rum seeping from their pores, in seats 70K, J and H to Europe. But not tonight. It’s privacy screens and Veuve all the way for me.
It’s challenging to stay cool when one is elevated above one’s station in life, but I handle it with all of the aplomb of the absolutely fabulous Patsy and Eddie combined. In fact, Emirates Business Class lounge is so ab fab, I could essentially live there nestled among the prawn canapes, but on I push, boarding the plane directly via an air bridge to the upper deck and straight into Business Class. My only regret is that I don’t get to see the stricken faces of Bez and Daz as they pause longingly at my lie-flat bed as they make their way to economy. I know that look, I invented it.
What to do first? Order from the five-course dinner menu? Sip a Perrier from the private mini bar in my seat? Select a program from one of more than 2200 on-demand channels of my 20 inch HD LCD screen? Paralysed by choice I dash to the bathroom to gather myself. And it’s not my fault, but at the back of Business Class, on the way to said toilet, sits Emirates’ Onboard Lounge. Yes, a sky bar. And while I did truly intend to simply go to the bathroom, I would be lying if I said I didn’t spot a bottle of Moet and settle in for a drink and conversation with the English woman to whom I referred earlier who mistook my Aussie accent for something far more refined.
I also meet two lovely women on their way to South Africa, such is the beauty of travelling on a world-class airline which flies through a major hub, but alas, the man of my dreams was not to eventuate on this particular journey. You’d think up here you could just open a bottle of champagne and, like a genie out he’d pop, but nothing. Not a puff.
But a lack of love is not going to destroy this magical evening and after dinner, a movie and a few more sneaky drinks, I sashay into my lie-flat bed and stare at the constellation-like lights on the Emirates ceiling. Permit me to make one small criticism, and that is while the beds are sublime, the Business Class bedding is not as good as some of the other carriers on which I’ve been fortunate to fly. The pillows are small and flat and it’s a slightly meagre blanket, rather than a plump doona, in this scenario. But the world-class service more than makes up for these tiny irks.
I arrive in Dubai refreshed and relaxed and head straight to the Emirates Business Class lounge where breakfast is being served. It’s my second brekkie for the morning, so I opt for a heart-starting Bloody Mary (or two) instead. I’m enroute to Vienna and then Monaco, researching Royal and Imperial luxury European stories, and it’s the ultimate start to a work trip. I have no idea where Bez and Daz were headed on this airline’s vast network, but knowing Emirates, even in its award-winning Economy Class, I’m sure they had a great flight too. But just for once, I’m glad I didn’t have share in every detail of their journey.
The Global Goddess travelled Business Class courtesy of Emirates – http://www.emirates.com and stayed in Vienna as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office – http://www.austria.info/au and in Monaco as a guest of the Monaco Government Tourist & Convention Authority – http://www.visitmonaco.com
THIRTY years ago I experienced my first encounter with a European train and was instantly hooked. I had just journeyed some 36 hours from Australia on what was also my first ever plane ride anywhere, and arrived in Frankfurt to catch the train to Hamburg to meet what would be my new German “family” for the next three months. It was winter, I was wearing an entirely unsuitable pink tracksuit and ugg boots for a Queensland teenager who’d never even seen snow (I mean, who do you think introduced Europe to the ugg boot?). As I alighted the train they asked me about my journey. “I’ve been travelling for 36 clocks,” I declared, delighted to finally practice my high school German on real-life Germans.
Despite murdering their language, somehow they fell in love with me and I with them, as well as travelling by rail around Europe. The only other train I’d ever been on before then was the Ipswich Line from Ipswich to Brisbane, or the “big smoke” as we called it back in 1970s country Queensland. Apart from that, my transport options had been limited to the gold Kingswood family station wagon for our annual holidays to Coolangatta. Oh yes, we were living the dream back then. As the youngest of four children, I even got the best bed in our two-bedroom holiday flat…two seats pushed together. And they wonder why I’m bitter. So imagine my delight when not just one, but many countries I’d only read about in books instantly opened up to me with the flourish of a rail ticket.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, European trains have run late over the years, which isn’t great news when you are backpacker on a strict budget and need to snaffle that last hostel bed in Vienna or sleep at the station. Then there was the time back in the days Aussies needed visas to cross almost every bloody border in Europe, a conductor had unwittingly taken mine out of my passport as we nicked the corner of a country, only to attempt to arrive in the Czech Republic a week later to find not only did I not have a visa, but was considered a criminal. My passport was taken, I was forced to sit in a room for 12 hours without food, and I cried hysterically (yes, because crying always helps) until a train arrived late that night forcing me back into Poland that I had attempted to leave. Believe me, it was a long journey at midnight with a bunch of gypsies in my carriage asking for money every five minutes as the train headed towards Germany, and I was a little exhausted from all that crying. But it has become one of my best travel stories over the years.
And that’s what travelling by train around Europe is all about, as regular readers have seen in my most recent blog posts. It’s real and it’s romantic. Nothing used to beat the glee only an impoverished Aussie backpacker can feel at catching an overnight train in one European country (hence saving on a night’s accommodation), only to wake up in the next. One night, on a train journey from Munich to Hamburg, my boyfriend at the time and I even covered our backpacks with sheets and pillows and pretended they were two extra people in our carriage to ensure we had the compartment to ourselves.
And now, fellow Aussie bloggers have the chance to win their own Rail Europe adventure. Looking for creativity and inspiration? This is your big opportunity to unplug and daydream. Simply enter the #TailsOnRail competition at http://www.raileurope.com.au/deals/talesonrail and you, too, could be enjoying a trip to Europe. This is a great prize, which includes a flight to Paris, and a one-week train journey with Rail Europe from France to Switzerland. That’s right, flights, hotels, food and your rail tickets are included. Check it out, it could be your chance of a lifetime.
For those who don’t win, or are considering a trip with Rail Europe, here’s some benefits to travelling by train around one of the truly great continents. By the way, Australia is the top-selling country for Rail Europe tickets.
1. No check-in queues, meaning you can rock up 10 minutes before the train departs (unless it’s the Eurostar, which requires a little bit more time).
2. City centre to city centre connections – no expensive cab charges and traffic.
3. Comfortable and spacious seats in all classes plus lots of legroom.
4. Power points for charging electronic devices – tablet, laptop, camera or phone.
5. No baggage limit, meaning great for shopping, though it’s not advisable to bring on too much or more than you can carry to ensure a comfortable journey for all.
6. Exposed to Europe’s stunning scenery throughout the journey.
7. Go wherever, whenever – a lot of flexibility with Passes.
8. High-speed services often trump flying or driving (no traffic, no queues plus all of the other benefits listed here).
But wait…there’s more!
9. Cost efficient – tickets are cheap, especially when bought in advance – up to 70% off the regular price, bookable up to 120 days in advance.
10. Family friendly – certain trains have kid friendly carriages. In Switzerland, children under 16yo travel for free when accompanied by an adult and on the Eurail Pass, children under 11yo travel for free with a guardian.
11. Environmentally friendly – a lot less carbon emission than air travel or driving.
12. Convenient for day trips to neighbouring towns or wine region (no worries about drinking and driving!).
13. Travel overnight (save on hotel costs).
14. See Europe off the beaten track (with 240,000km of track, rail reaches to almost every corner of Europe that’s not accessible by road).
15. Great way to meet locals – Europe has an extremely efficient rail system used by most locals.
16. Good onboard dining services.
17. A wide of discounts and bonuses come along with the passes (check online).
To find our more, go to http://www.raileurope.com.au. All photos used in this blog are courtesy of Rail Europe.
“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