Golden Oldie and tribe do Bari

We arrived in Ancona early in the morning (after a reasonably decent nights sleep in a small cabin for 4 on the ferry) and straight onto the train to Bari.

Tip:

Trains in Italy are reasonably easy to figure out, you just need to stop, take your time  and read the information on the ticket machine. Alternatively if you have no Italian at all arm yourself with some useful phrases like ‘Good Morning do you speak English?’ so you can buy tickets at the window or get one of those voice translators, they can be very helpful. Luckily I had enough Italian to understand, and the boys also managed to work a lot of information out.

This meant that we arrived in Bari 2 days early. Having no idea where our hotel was we parked ourselves on the University steps, Nick strummed his newly acquired guitar (from Gatwick) while Ginski went off searching. Hotel found we decided to check whether they could accommodate us, they did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough initially we were happy it did cause a heck of a lot of hassle at the end and cost me money so I would recommend being aware that changing your itinerary at the last minute could have challenges, not the least of which is added expense. Actually, now that I’m travelling on my own I prefer not to book too far ahead, as a solo traveller you can take that risk but as a group you run the risk of not finding rooms, especially in high season

The rooms weren’t tremendous anyway and mine had a problem in that t

he bathroom floor was flat all the way through, so the shower recess (or what in a normal bathroom would have been a recess) had no lip to keep the water in the shower area. As a result the water  bypassed the drain and ran into the bedroom (luckily a tiled floor in the bedroom) , seriously! No matter what I did the water kept flowing straight past, I got into trouble because the woman decided that I’d put the mat over the drain and caused the water to by – pass, there was no explaining it to her, obviously they had never showered in their own rooms, and just as obviously this problem had been happening for a a while as there was a note on the wall saying not to put the mat over the drain! Perhaps checking why it kept happening may have been useful on their part.

The whole 2 days early thing caused a problem because although we stayed 2 nights they complained that we had to pay for the original booking of 2 nights as well’ oh dear, a lesson learned.

Bari is quite a pretty town really with a port (lots of the ferries to Greece and Croatia leave from there) and it was all dressed up for the festival so at night it was very pretty indeed.

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The whole 2 days early thing caused a problem because although we stayed 2 nights they complained that we had to pay for the original booking of 2 nights as well’ oh dear, a lesson learned.

However the good part was, that being 2 days early we actually made it to the St Nicholas parade and official part of the festival (what we saw of it, the crowds lining the street made seeing anything much quite difficult). Had we arrived on the due date we would have missed the parading of the St Nicholas icon through the streets on a boat starting at 9pm, after a mass at 6pm, and then being delivered to the church of St Nicholas at midnight. I don’t think the kids were very impressed but at least they saw something different and got to walk the festival and see more of the old town. The parade was all in period costume and the whole process was acted out, it was quite interesting really.

Parading the boat with the icon                                                                                                                                              The crypt with the relics

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Crowds and stalls on the wall road                                                                                                                                         Delivering the icon to the church at midnight

The festival of St Nicholas is held to commemorate the following;

The basilica was built between 1087 and 1197, during the Italo-Norman domination of Apulia, the area previously occupied by the Byzantine Catapan of which Bari was the seat. Its foundation is related to the stealing of some of the relics of St. Nicholas from the saint’s original shrine in Myra, in what is now Turkey. When Myra passed into the hands of the Saracens, some saw it as an opportunity to move the saint’s relics to a more hospitable location. According to the justifying legend, the saint, passing by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place. There was great competition for the relics between Venice and Bari. The latter won, the relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Muslim masters, and on May 9, 1087, were safely landed at Bari. A new church was built to shelter Nicholas’ remains and Pope Urban II was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089.  (information taken from Wikipedia)

I don’t think that the kids were crazy about Bari but they did go for runs and we did lots of walking in the old town, and Nick did get to see the church that houses his patron saint’s relics and we took silly photos of him trying to copy the Saints pose, mission accomplished.

I noticed something weird in the feel of the place. Back in 2006 when I was there for just one night and one day, the town felt vibrant, as we wandered the streets of the old town we came across ladies, young and old, sitting outside their doors making pasta, it felt and was very charming. This time there were no ladies making pasta and the mood of the town seemed a little stagnant, even though it was festival time. A real shame because we all had expectations (based on my stories) and they didn’t really come to fruition. Sometimes, perhaps it’s best not to revisit places, or maybe it’s just the whole economic climate of Italy because I noticed a similar feeling everywhere I went in that country in the early part of my trip.

We found the best icecream ever in Bari old town. The shop was packed! Just shows how good it is, the brand is Martinucci, yum yum yum! It is so popular that, to deal with the crowd you have to pay first and get a ticket, then stand in line to be served!

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The dressed up alleys

 

 

 

 

We walked a lot, ate a lot and wandered the old town till midnight of the festival night, as always there were stalls selling all sorts of things, from food to clothes and everything in between. Once the main part of the festival was over andI had done what I’d come to do (show Nick the church and burial site of his patron saint) there was really no reason to stay on.

 

 

Wednesday 7 May

After 2 nights we were off to Naples, 2 days early which actually was good because we had a day to spare in case of bad weather.  If the seas are high or the weather rough you can’t get to the Blue grotto on Capri (I found that out in 2006 when I spent 2 nights on the island but couldn’t get to the grotto). An extra day in Naples was going to give us the opportunity to all be together to visit Pompeii an
d Herculaneum as well as Capri. So off we went. Of course this is where the hotel hassles kicked in and eventually it was easier to forego the money than argue – you’ll never win an argument with an Italian, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time and energy on it – I wasn’t prepared to stress over this, I wanted a nice family holiday not arguments.

The trip to Naples was reasonably uneventful, the boys played cards most of the way, we read, listened to our ipods, on occasion talked and generally just killed time.  The only (almost) hitch was that we left the container of Mum’s ashes on the train when we got off, luckily the boys remembered and Nick had to make a mad dash back on the train, grab Mum and get off again before it moved – that added a touch of excitement!  I think she would have had a good laugh herself over that one. In fact Mum’s ashes have had an interesting journey, more on that later.

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The Golden Oldie goes to Split

London to Split May 2 2013

And so the morning for the trip to Split arrived. First noticeable thing? The seats on Easy Jet are wider,  Yay! No bruises.

Arrived in Split airport about 9.30am and caught the bus into the town. I can’t say that the scenery was very spectacular on the way. Split itself  though is a lovely town, clean and reasonably organised so you can actually orientate yourself and find your way around.  I say reasonably’ because of course there is the ‘old town’ which is full of alleys  that can only be manoeuvred on scooters or on foot. We were staying at a place called Elena Rooms  on a street called Radunica #16. Not knowing where exactly this was we thought we’d take a cab as dragging all our luggage was a bit daunting.  So off the bus and head towards a cab, the driver’s response was ‘no it close, Radunica closed to cars’ or words to that effect. So, with question marks in our heads, map in hand and two sons to orientate us we set off on foot. OK so it was closer than any cabbie would be prepared to drive in any country but a bit of a hike for someone like me, and then there was the alley and steps. Between us though we managed all the luggage and I made it, unfit as I am, and my back didn’t complain too much.

So tip #1 for this section: If you are going to a place like Split, which has a large area of ‘old town’ with little alleys and steps, forget the romance of staying in the old part, go for a more modern place with a lift (elevator), located on a bigger street where taxis can go, unless of course you are terrifically fit and are happy to drag your luggage up and down steps. Had I not had my kids with me it would have been a struggle to even find the rooms, let alone drag the luggage.

We had 2 rooms there, actually 3, it’s sort of an apartment for a larger group, one apartment has 2 rooms (one with a double bed the other with 2 single beds) the other room has 2 single beds.  Each has it’s own bathroom. I’m not sure how it would work if unrelated people were staying in the rooms as the hot water governor is in the 2 roomed apartment as is the modem which required rebooting relatively often. The rooms were lovely and spacious, we could have really done with just the 2 roomed apartment though as it ended up being 4 of us not 5 as originally planned, not to worry we had heaps of space to spread out.

I would highly recommend those rooms for spaciousness. Elena herself is a lovely lady  and all transactions were honest and friendly. The rooms are not far from the greenmarkets so it’s all very convenient. They are a reasonable walk away from the port but then that’s like everywhere else, it all depends on what you want to be close to. If you have difficulty walking or climbing steps then (as mentioned in my tip above) you’d be better off in something else but then almost all the apartments in the old town are similar, located in alleys. You would need to do more research to find something more modern where a cab could pull up at your front door.

The markets were great and we had a lot of fun foraging for fresh fruit.

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Grapes the size of small plums, Strawberries so large and sweet that one or 2 were enough for a little while. The place is very colourful and the choices are

remarkable. If you plan to stay for a little while, get accommodation with a kitchen and you can live very cheaply and healthily while you explore the area.

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The old town is built within the crumbled walls of Diocletians Palace and in some cases parts of the palace form parts of apartments.  One of the things I’d heard about and really wanted to see was an international flower show that is held in the substructures of the palace. No-one seemed to know anything about it so I was on a mission to find it. The first challenge was to find the entrance to the substructures. We had wandered around quite a bit and had many theories few of which were helpful, but then found directions. The palace has four gates called Silver, Bronze, Gold and Iron. It is built in a square , the southern gate facing the water is the bronze gate and the entrance to the substructures, but it’s not very obvious so you have to keep your eyes open.

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We found the entrance to the substructure and wandered down, there is an entrance fee of course , which I was happy to pay, seriously, how many times do you get to do this? And off we all trotted to check out how this place was built. I suspect I was the most excited , it’s interesting  travelling with the 20 and 30 somethings who have a totally different travel focus. I have to say, it is very well worth while, no matter your age, to wander through these sites if you have any interest in history and archeology and are amazed at what could be built in the days before digital technology, then it is a must, along with all the other archeological sites of the world.

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After going through the substructures and oohing and aahing at the construction I still wanted to know where the flower show was. Finally found a lady selling tickets who spoke English and what was the answer? Wouldn’t you know it! This year, for some unknown reason, the flower show wasn’t happening.

So,  tip #2  and I’m not sure how you resolve this, but if there is something you really want to see (especially if you are going to a place specifically to see something in particular) find a way of contacting the organisers and find out if it is really on. Luckily we were going to Split anyway so it wasn’t a major deal but I would have been massively unhappy if I’d gone there just for the flower show.

I wandered through the cathedral, the kids opted out. Everything costs money, even to see various parts of the cathedral cost extra money, so be prepared to constantly shell out money, if you haven’t budgeted for it then choose what is essential and leave the rest, in Europe there are very few free museums or galleries but there are a lot of them, so you really need to know what you want to see otherwise you could easily get carried away with the choices and not only blow your budget but also wear yourself out.

Always look up
Always look up

 

We wended our way on to the Golden gate, where a statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin) is located. ‘Gregory was the bishop of Nin and as such was under strong protection of King Tomislav. At the Synod in 925, held in Split, Gregory lost to the Archbishop of Split, he was offered the Sisak Bishopric, but he refused. After the conclusions of the first Synod Gregory complained again in 927/8 but was rejected and his Nin Bishopric was abolished, Gregory himself being sent off to the Skradin Bishopric, after which he disappears from the annals of history.’ Extract from Wikipedia. It is said that if you rub his big toe your wishes come true – well what did we find? Good ol’ Grgur was all boarded up for renovations  and inaccessible, darn it! Does that mean some of my wishes won’t happen now? Nah! I guess that as it was still off season I should have expected that some of the tourist attractions would not yet be available.

Friday 3 May 2013

Birthday boy!

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Along came the 3rd of May Grisha’s (Ginski’s) 35th birthday. What to do to celebrate? We decided to go to the island of Hvar , so off on the ferry we went. You’ll need to check on current prices but it only cost us 47 HRK (that’s less than AUD10.00) each for the return trip. The islands along the Dalmatian coast are well worth visiting, they are beautiful with lots of walking and of course that lovely clear water, still too cold for me in May to bother getting in the water but Nick and Kirra did, braver souls than I. Be prepared though, these are not the Australian sandy beaches, mostly they are pebbly so walking along the beach is a challenge, but fortunately there are excellent footpaths to follow.

As we were in Hvar in early May the season hadn’t kicked in yet. The party atmosphere that the boys talked about (which was their experience on their first trip to Hvar in 2006) wasn’t there yet. However that meant that we weren’t dealing with massive crowds and you could saunter along at your own pace and even be served in a restaurant pretty quickly.

We found an awesome restaurant for lunch (Dalmatino) The waiter kept bringing out samples of drinks for us to try. We had the best stew thing with prunes for lunch it was so yummy, we all loved it, and the subject of the stew was mentioned  for days afterwards. We were happy to have followed the waiter’s advice. So be prepared to take a gamble on the food, you just might discover something really wonderful. I just wish I had written down the name of the dish to share with you all.

    Hvar from across the bay

Hvar from across the bay

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After another walk around,  panting my way up a few inclines in the residential area, photographing some of the beautiful old buildings, and being told by a policeman that lying on the ground in the square was not OK we  caught the bus to catch the last ferry back to the mainland. To make your stay more enjoyable, it would be a good idea to stay on the island for at least one night, but we just did the day trip.

We spent the evening with more foraging for dinner, I do believe we ended up with Burek again! Seriously worth trying. I grew up with those flavours and style of food as did my kids, but if you haven’t tried it before and you are in Croatia, go get some. Very cheap street food, you won’t find it in any restaurant. Basically it is layers of filo pastry with either a meat or cheese filling (sometimes vegetables) and baked, a bit on the greasy side for some people because of the olive oil used to keep the sheets of filo soft, but it’s just wonderful.

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Above is one of the street food places where we found Burek late at night. While I’m on the subject of restaurants in Croatia, you won’t find any Turkish’ coffee in any cafe or restaurant here either. Apparently it is only drunk in the homes, no-one would make me one in a cafe! Perhaps if you can find a place away from the tourist areas you may be lucky, I wasn’t. An evening of playing cards and drinking lots of cheap beer followed by a good nights sleep and we were ready to do it all again.

The next day we hired scooters. Kirra and I were pillions. That was a lot of fun Went up the hill and found a  park with a restaurant and ice cream seller so of course ice cream was a must, then back down the hill and further down the coast to a couple of beaches. All great fun. Beautiful water, places to sit and chat. The Dalmatian coast is a little different to the rest of Europe in that they are OK with providing some seating after all it is a pretty social type of culture so sitting around chatting is a good thing. Split lends itself beautifully to riding around on scooters (if you re OK with operating one) the coastline is lovely and well worth tripping up and down. The boys dropped us off at our rooms and then returned the bikes. This was followed by another walk for dinner then more cards and sleep. We are getting through heaps of beer too and lots of Burek, well you just have to balance out all that beautiful healthy fruit w eat in the mornings and on our walks.

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Sunday 5 May

The day we came here for, to take Mum’s ashes to Omis. She was born in Split but the harbour wasn’t an appropriate place and the village up the coast where they were taken as children for school holidays appears to have an oil refinery close by, according to Google Earth, so also inappropriate. Instead we took our luggage and hopped on the bus to Omis. It’s a good bus service and really cheap too so you could easily make that another day trip, just not on a Sunday, almost everything is closed in Omis.

It was all a bit weird when we got there. I’d booked an apartment with a woman, but I had to call her mother who turned up with a friend to pick us up from the bus stop. They could only fit 2 of us in at a time. So  we ladies went first with most of the luggage and then the boys. I figured out why the mother suggested we girls go separately, apparently on the way to the apartment with the boys she offered them female company! Anything to make a buck. Then we found out that the ferry we wanted to catch to Ancona on Monday night wasn’t running so we either had to go today or wait till Tuesday, which wouldn’t have worked with our bookings in Bari, so, as we didn’t really like the apartment anyway and I wasn’t comfortable with that owner we decided that we would do our river trip and the little ceremony with Mum’s ashes then leave, and forfeit the money so we could catch the ferry that night.

Tip #2 Do as much research as possible on your accommodation. Of course the research is only as good as the information on the net, so sometimes as in this case things can go awry, no matter what you do. It’s all part of travelling and being aware that sometimes you may have to change your plans suddenly. So always be prepared for the unexpected, it will always happen no matter what form your travel takes.

Nick and I had gone for a walk and found an old couple that hired out boats. What we found out when we went back to get it was that we got the old gentleman as captain as well. As it turned out that was a good thing as the river had shallow parts and submerged rocks, so we would have had a problem on our own. His name turned out to be Orlando Orlandini, Italian father who migrated to Croatia. Cool guy, great name.

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He took us up the river for an hour to where there is a restaurant  for the hikers and people riding the rapids. All the way up there we were trying to figure out how to do mum’s ashes without upsetting Orlando. As it happened he didn’t care. We didn’t want to stay  at the restaurant (he thought we’d stay and have lunch but time was against us) so we got him to take us back and on the way we picked a pretty spot for mum. Nick with his much better Serbian (which is so very similar to Croatian) asked Orlando to shut down the engine and we just quietly put about half of mum’s ashes in the river and took photos of the spot. It’s exactly 20 mins up river from the boat rental house with beautiful trees on the bank. We discovered that Orlando spoke Russian and German as well so between us all we managed to explain everything. Having some languages is very helpful but you can get by pretty much everywhere with English and good body/sign language.

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Omis is a lovely little town to visit and the trip up the river is a must. The town is on the coast backed by massive grey cliffs. The river flows through a stunning gorge of cliffs with stone buildings from the pirate days, and beautiful forests as you go further upriver. The view of the town as you drive in is enough to take your breathe away. Go there, seriously, and if you are a photographer go up the river, if a walker, also go up the river. There is quite a history to the place and apparently the cliff buildings were also used by both Germans and Italians during the war.

That done, we went back to the apartment, packed up and headed for the bus and back to Split to get on the ferry.

We had a sleeper on the ferry so the night passed quickly, after we stopped wandering around the ferry taking photos of course.

What did I learn from this part of the trip? Pretty much the same thing I learned when training to be a staff trainer – Rule #1 – Always expect the unexpected! I also thoroughly enjoyed being with the young ones and cherished every moment as I knew it wasn’t going to last long.

And so I’ll end this part of the saga here. The Italian experience deserves a section of it’s own – if only for clarity of places.

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Till next we meet, when the Goldenoldie goes to Italy.

And so the Golden Oldie gap Year Begins

Why am I writing this Blog?

Good question! When I decided to go on my ‘Senior Gap Year’ I had many creative thoughts of how to catalogue it. One was to write a book on my experience of travelling on my own and getting beyond the results of some major stresses in recent years – then I discovered Eat  Pray Love! First thought was ‘Darn! it’s been done’ but then I thought there are other things I can do and the idea for a blog was born. Yes I know there are millions of them, but if this blog helps even one person get out there and change their lives I’ll be happy.

Why bother with a blog when there is Facebook and Email to stay in touch with friends and family?

Weeeellll, Partly it’s to have a place where I can put more detail and description of places visited and the experiences I had, mainly it is with a hope that as a solo older female traveller I may be able to motivate others who would like to travel but perhaps do not feel secure enough to do it on their own and partly it’s because there isn’t much information out there for the solo older traveller, that I could find, other than cruises and tours.

Now, cruises and tours are fine if that is your thing, in the main it’s not mine, and I know that there are many out there who also don’t want to be told when, how, what and for how long they can do anything and be charged mega bucks for it. Those who like cruises and tours, please don’t be offended, it’s just not my thing unless I am going to a place where it is not advisable to be on your own no matter what age you are or it’s a place that is difficult to reach by public transport or it’s a very special cruise or tour that captures my attention. There has only been one of those and even so I have decided not to do it at this point because of the massive expense and the difficulty of getting to the island where it starts and finishes.

And so let’s get started……………….

First piece of advice to anyone travelling is, as always, planning. Lists are really important. We all have great ideas and dreams in our heads but until we put those ideas on paper it doesn’t become real.

I know that many a young person has dropped everything and just gone off travelling with minimal (or no planning). In the main they seem to get through OK (one of my sons is testimony to that). But as a female in my 60’s I wouldn’t recommend it for my age group.

What to list

Get yourself a great big piece of paper, butchers paper or newsprint – whatever it is called these days and write down every single place you have ever wanted to visit. I mean, EVERY place and don’t bother with putting them in any sort of order, just keep writing until you come to a stop and you can’t think of any more. That includes places in your own country as well as abroad.

Now, that done, you need to write down how much you want to spend, how long your holiday will be and what sort of accommodation you want. The length of your trip may be governed by your finances or how much you spend may be governed by the length of your trip.

For me personally, I prefer to spend money on seeing and doing more than on fancy accommodation. So I am prepared to use hostels and dormitories for most of the trip and use hotels sparingly. Mind you, I am on a gap year and there is no way I could do a trip for so long if I were to stay in hotels all the time. Also. remember that hostels these days can be quite up-market and you can even get private rooms in many of them. Hostels are a great way to meet other travellers of all ages and in the main you will find people are happy to share their experiences. On this trip, so far, I have stayed in both hotels and hostels and in the main I have enjoyed the hostels much more.

There are also home stays but we’ll get to those in a minute.

Next thing to decide is the purpose for your trip or the type of trip you want to do, you know, things like adventure, nature, beach, archeology, history, music, art, volunteering etc etc etc. Or maybe you just want to find one place that feels nice and stay there relaxing for a couple of weeks. Whatever you want to do, write it down, without that information you could be floundering.

My year long trip has several purposes but I’ll go into that bit later.

Back to those home stays for a minute, there are opportunities to do one or both of 2 things and that is get a TESOL certificate and teach English. There are many places around the world where that learning is needed and in some of those places you can live with a family and teach them English while they provide you with a room and board and you can pick up on their language (one such opportunity is in the South of France in Montpellier), or alternatively you can go and learn their language and stay with a family, this is pretty popular in Central America. Most of the information on this can be found through STA or Student Flights and sounds like it’s only for the young, but it’s not, feel free to consider that as an option.

Then of course there is the house swap thing, there are web sites where people join up and you swap houses for holidays. I haven’t gone down that path either, but it’s a viable method, just make sure you research it well.

Prioritise

Now that you have your overall information you need to prioritise and bring the whole thing down to a manageable list. So here starts your research on destinations, finance and accommodation. Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time on this. By the time you finish your research you will probably be feeling ready and raring to go on this trip. In general for both destinations and accommodation a combination of Wikipedia, Wikitravel and a few sites like Trip Advisor or Expedia should give you a good idea of the quality and conditions. With accommodation always read the reviews especially the longer ones. I tend to mistrust the short ones that give 100% for everything, it has been know for accommodation places to sneak in their own reviews to bring the rating up. The longer reviews will tend to be more real and will give you the negatives and the positives. After a while you get to learn to recognise the good places more quickly, it’s a bit like reading dating sites, you have to learn the language to sort out the real from the cheats. It’s fun though, I like the planning process almost as much as the travel itself.

Organise your home:

The final thing you MUST organise, especially if you will be away for a length of time is to have a trusted friend take care of your mail, your house and your rubbish bins. Always leave contact details with that person, be in touch with them by email or skype phone or Facebook, don’t just vanish with people not knowing how to get hold of you.

Also (for Aussies) fill in the Smart Traveller forms with Foreign Affairs and get travel insurance, you’ll need to shop around for that on your own, I can’t recommend anyone it will all depend on your own needs.

If you really want to go abroad but are concerned about how you will cope and how to get around on your own and you haven’t travelled in a long time, then I suggest a couple of short trips in your own country either with one friend or go somewhere to meet up with a friend. I’m quite used to travelling especially for work but had only been overseas twice and both times I was with a friend. So off I went on my own by train to the Australian Outback for a week to catch up with my dear friend Shirlee (you can read about that in a previous story), then I went to Thailand to finish the dental work that was started the previous year when I travelled there with a girlfriend (this time going on my own), and then another girlfriend and I went to Tasmania for a week, that was followed by a week in Queensland where I mainly stayed with friends and family but travelled on my own. Now I was really primed for the big trip.

Packing

Once you have decided on where, when, why and for how long you are travelling the next list  you need to make is your packing. I’ve read that the golden rule of packing is to pack then pull it all out of your bag and halve it. Yes that’s fine, but still keep in mind the essentials. Be aware of the weather conditions you are going to, be aware of weight restrictions on flights (don’t be fooled by the 23kgs + that sometimes you are given on overseas flights, because your next flight might have a 20 kg restriction and you’ll be 3kgs over). Seriously only take essentials, do you really need a hair dryer, a curling wand (or a straightener) AND hot rollers? probably not, unless you are planning to be going to a lot of black tie balls. And hey, most countries have hairdressers for that. Shoes take up a lot of space so be frugal, unless you are going to dressy events just take a couple of pairs of good walking shoes, you’ll be pleased you did.

So here is what I did to prepare for my trip (which includes a little self disclosure otherwise this whole trip won’t make sense):

Purpose – 1) for my sons and me to take my mum’s ashes back to her birthplace,

2) to get away from the daily rut of retired life when you are not only left an orphan but your whole family of origin has passed away, there is no partner and your children have their own lives,

3) to get away from reminders of the stresses and the losses of recent years. I knew that if I were to stay at home I would never come to terms with myself and the rest of life would be just a dreadful waiting room for the next life. Not only that but I’d be of no use to anyone.

4) to realign my body – mind – and  spirit so I could come back in 12 months a happier, more productive person and actually be able to make a difference in the world again and

5) to have some fun, life hadn’t been a lot of fun in ages.

The budget and the packing were a real challenge and I have to admit that a real budget with finite numbers never eventuated because the decision was to spend 12 months away and spend as little as possible. It’s a little hard to put down a firm budget when so much is open to on the spot decisions.

Packing! Oh my! What to pack when you are going for 12 months to 3 continents and you know that a lot of the time you have to drag your luggage around by yourself? Clothes I opted for mainly summer clothes (t-shirts, leggings, light jeans and 3 long sleeved tops). The only warm thing was a cape that I could use as a blanket on planes, trains and buses. In hind sight I should have brought a warm jacket. I also took my technology with me – for me that means a laptop, my ipod and 2 cameras. Most people would be happy with an iphone and possibly an ipad but not me! I knew I’d need the strength of the laptop for photo manipulation and just a small camera was’t going to be good enough for the types of shots I wanted to get. So although heavy I’m dealing with it.

So off I went…..

First leg of journey:

The whole first 2 week was always going to be easy because my kids were going to be with me ( as it turned out I had one son for a whole month)

Tuesday 30 April 2013 Canberra to London.

Nick, Kirra and I were flying Virgin Atlantic to London. I had booked the flights months ahead tobe sure that we’d be together on this first leg as our return journeys  were quite different and of course as usual in the last week glitches appeared. It took me 3 days to finally get hold of Virgin atlantic Sydney to sort the itineraries out and get new ones emailed to me.

Lesson #1: when booking flights through an Australian office of an overseas airline and the website says open 24/7 – NO THEY ARE NOT! What is open is the phone line, so when the Sydney office closes at cob, the phone goes through to Britain (Wales to be specific for Virgin Atlantic) and they can’t do anything about an itinerary set up by Sydney, it took me 3 days to figure that out.

Flight out of Canberra was a little delayed, was supposed to leave at 9:00 am but left at 9:30 (originally we were booked on the 9:35 but they moved that flight to 9:00 however we left at 9:30 – weird). Made it to Sydney in 25 minutes – I don’t think I’ve ever had a 25 min flight to Sydney!

Left Sydney at 2.30 and on the way to Hong Kong managed to catch up on quite a few movies I had missed at home. Long flights are great for catching up on movies, especially as I don’t get to the cinema very often so got to see Anna Karenina (very good) Hitchcock (very good) Hyde Park on Hudson (so-so, they missed a great opportunity to make an excellent movie, just didn’t quite make it).

Tip #1: I used to like the window seats but as an older person I’ve decided that when travelling on my own I’d rather have an aisle seat, that way you don’t have to climb over people to go for a walk.

Tip #2: I’m OK with long flights but remember if you are at all concerned about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) then wear your stockings and go for regular walks up and down the plane.

It was a  smooth transfer at Hong Kong.  On the London leg started watching Lincoln but sleep unfortunately took over. That was inevitable as we were up until 3am putting finishing touches on my house, so only 3 hours sleep before going to the airport. There was another movie I started watching  but slept through that too! Got to see Ice Age 4 (Continental Drift) always good for a giggle.

Gave up on movies and started on music. Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic has a reasonably limited choice of movies and music but I did find the Mavericks to listen to. An awful lot of it is geared to the young – as usual. That’s about the only negative other than I don’t know how anyone larger than me  can fit into their seats. Yes I have added more weight than is healthy  but I don’t have the same seat width problem with many other carriers, ended up with a bruised and painful thigh from the seat arm.

We arrived in London on time (5.25 am) the 3 of us had massive coffees at the airport then bought tickets for the National Express coach to Gatwick (25 pounds one way, this city isn’t cheap, but then it’s pretty expensive on the Sydney airport train too) the only way to get directly from Heathrow to Gatwick. Kirra suggested hiring a car (which we did, it appeared cheaper than catching trains and cabs, didn’t quite work out that way apparently). The car idea started off well, we drove to the Gatwick Belmont Hotel in Horley (about 5 mins from the airport) . Too early to check in so left the car and wandered into Horley village for breakfast. Charming little place. As it was 11.30am the pub wasn’t open yet so there went the idea for pub food (apparently pubs open at 12 midday and not a minute earlier). Ended up in a little bakery eating homemade soup, bread roll and a turnover type thing housing tomato, bacon and a sausage, nice homey type food.

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We wandered across the road to have a look at a musical instrument shop and found a left-handed guitar that Nick liked, a little later they went back to the shop and bought that guitar while I stayed in the Hotel dining room sending emails, Facebooking and waiting for our room to be ready as well as for Grisha to arrive from Miami.

After the guitar purchase Nick and Kirra drove into London for a meeting (there started  their problems, driving around for an hour looking for parking and a parking fine because they parked opposite Buckingham Palace!).

Lesson #2: for the rookie driver in London – don’t park in front of the palace, no matter how appealing it may seem!.

Meanwhile, finally, our rooms were ready and I took our luggage up (in hindsight not a clever idea). The 2 rooms that we had were separate to the rest of the hotel, up a very steep flight of steps which almost pulled you backwards as Grisha found out (esp with a back pack on).

The Gatwick Belmont is a quaint old English building in a street of similar aged buildings. The inside is in tones of red and brown (as you would expect). The staff are friendly and helpful, there is a free airport shuttle, although we didn’t need it thanks to the car. Our rooms were comfortable, Grisha and I shared one and Kirra and Nick had the other one. So I woud happily stay there again if it were necessary.

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Once Grisha was in (arrived around 2.30 after his flight from Miami) and organized we walked to the train station to catch a train to London to meet Nick and Kirra we had agreed to meet at Big Ben at 6pm.

The train trip was a little interesting as part way to London we discovered that it was going to London Bridge not Victoria St so we hopped off and  searched around for a while and ended up on the same train  and got off at Liverpool St to catch the underground to Victoria St. Quite an adventure and I never did get a handle on which train, where and when – a total mystery to this day, I just followed Grisha.

Finally we got to Victoria St and walked up to Big Ben taking lots of photos of Parliament, Big Ben, the Eye and Boadicea. I put Grisha in charge of my big camera, he is, after all a professional.

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Met Nick and Kirra and after a few more photos we walked to Leicester Square, what a walk that was, past Trafalgar Square and lots of familiar street names, I felt like I was walking on a life sized Monopoly board!

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The pint of Peroni (and a chair to sit on) at O’Nealls in Leicester Square was a much needed relief after that walk, my back was killing me. We then had to walk all the way back again to the Eye because that was where the car was parked! Groan! My idea of factoring in stops along the way of any walk wasn’t working very well at that point.

Lesson #2: when travelling with young people, be sure they really understand the need for at least little sit down breaks if you have the sort of body that needs them.

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Getting out of there and back onto the right road was a bit hairy even with the GPS. Poor Nick wasn’t doing well being so tired, but a bottle of red bull seemed to help him focus a little more. So, even though they drive on the correct side of the road in England I don’t think I’ll ever bother, it seemed all too difficult even for the young ones, but to his credit Nick got us back safe and sound.

We settled in back at the hotel and had a good night’s sleep. Up early to get to the airport, return the car and get to our flight on Easy Jet to Split Dalmatia.

That folks is the first brief leg of an epic adventure so hold on – the rest will be flying in on a date in the very near future, till happy travels to one and all.

The Australian Outback

The Australian Outback

Finally! I’m catching up on the Outback story, only about 8 months late. Thank you to my dear friend Shirlee who took me to all the interesting places, and knows so much about the Outback that the trip was so much more than I expected and I learned heaps.

When I told people that I was going ‘Outback’  to Cameron Corner for a week I was stunned by the number of people who said things like ‘Why? There’s nothing out there?’ Even the girlfriend who lives out there and was to be my ‘tour guide’ (and loves the Outback) was concerned that I would get bored! How could I possibly be bored with Shirlee as my guide? I wondered.

Given all those comments I took the precaution of taking my iPod and dock for musical entertainment in case it was needed. Needless to say I only had it on once for a short time.

The Australian Outback, certainly the part I went to, is incredible. Of course it is quite possible to go out there and miss everything. You have to go and keep your eyes and ears open for subtle changes of environment, for hidden fauna suddenly appearing from their camouflaged hiding places and the unexpected flora to be hiding among the spinifex or bull dust. (For those who don’t know what bull dust is, it’s the red thick dust that covers everything!)

If you would like to look my trip up on a map here is the list of places starting from my home town of Canberra. Canberra – Sydney train to Wellington – coach to Dubbo – coach to Bourke – 4 wheel drive to Wanaaring, Fords Bridge (4 houses and a pub), Wanaaring again, White Cliffs, Pack Saddle, Milparinka, Tibooburra, Cameron Corner, Tibooburra again, back to Wanaaring, Muella Station, Fords Bridge, Bourke and the return trip home to Canberra through Sydney, stopping for a night at the Central Station YHA.

If you ever go to Bourke and stay at the Port O’ Bourke Hotel, just ask them about the crazy woman who turned up at night and fell face first into the pub! And that was without any drinks! Yes, they’ll never forget me at the Port O’ Bourke! I just thank my lucky stars that no-one had a camera.

The thing about the Outback is that you just don’t know what to expect. Mostly it depends on the weather. Things change depending on the amount of rain, sun, length of dry periods and so on. The wildlife also depends on the weather. Where I stayed for a couple of nights (just up from the Warrego river) had resident frogs in the shower and in summer there is a resident brown snake. Luckily it was ‘winter’ so the snake was nowhere to be seen, so the frogs lived happily in the shower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so on to the road trip. First major stop was White Cliffs, about 580kms from Fords Bridge. Now that is an interesting place, an opal mining town, so it looks like giant moles live there and have dug the place up. Some buildings are on top of the ground but many are underground, dug into the rock that hides the opal. It’s hot in the Outback, in Summer it can get to 50 degrees centigrade so even the red wine is refrigerated. We stayed in the Underground Motel, a must experience, as Shirlee said it was like waking up in a giant pavlova.

In White Cliffs as in all mining towns you can of course do a tour of a mine, it was fascinating, I even had a go at a hydraulic digger, rather fun. It’s a typical Aussie Outback town, with it’s range of interesting characters, a pub, friendliness and the obligatory town dog wandering the wide roads. As well as a massive amount of history from the early settlers and meeting lots of travellers (mainly from Victoria) heading to the Birdsville races.

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On the road again to Pack Saddle, pretty much just a pub in the middle of nowhere, no better place to stop for lunch and a few beers.  Good food, cold beer and like everywhere you run into people you know and others you don’t, but you always have some great conversations.

Onwards to Tibooburra with a quick stop in Milparinka. There are no residents there any more and the pub is closed but the town is kept running as a tourist spot by volunteers from all over Australia and the world. There we saw the original gaol, school, police station etc Life was tough in those parts and although technology and the wheel have improved things, it’sOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
still tough.

Tibooburra next stop, fascinating area. Up until that point there was a mixture of bull dust and low growing greenery, suddenly, as you close in on Tibooburra you find yourself in something that can only be described as a rock farm. There are rocks everywhere of all sizes, making the area look something like a moonscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARocks, rocks and more rocks. It was also the place I finally saw real Sturt’s Desert Pea in flower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then came Cameron Corner. A bumpy ride through a national park (mainly of course bull dust and low growing greenery with wildlife in places) as a passenger in the Outback you have a job and a title – so I got to be the ‘gate bitch’, yes that means I got out to open and close all the gates along the way. There’s not much at Cameron Corner but it is important, the dingo fence runs through there and there is an awesome pub (if you go there, take a spare cap, apparently visitors leave a cap in the pub, so there are whole walls of caps from all over the world), other than that there is the official mark where 3 States meet (and a toilet block).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so back to Fords Bridge, I saw so much along the way that if I mention it all this will turn into a book so suffice it to say that I got a very good idea of what our famous poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson wrote about and why they were so passionate about the area (both positively and negatively). All that is left is to give you some photos of wild life and to mention that something one must do outback is stop by the side of a good piece of flat dirt road, pick a lot of paddy melons and have a game of paddy melon bowls, awesome fun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo come visit the Outback, and keep your eyes open as you drive around, the wildlife has a tendency to jump out in front of you when you least expect it.

Sunny Queensland

A brief but lovely stay in Coolangatta Queensland in July. I gave myself a treat and booked an apartment all to myself for 2 nights. When I walked into apartment 71 on the 14th floor I couldn’t believe what I had booked. Now you have to know that in the main I travel on the cheap staying hostels, 3-star places or with friends and relatives. On rare occasions if there is a good deal I’ll go for the upmarket place – well this was a great deal and a little gift to myself. The apartment was massive! Who needs a gym when there are apartments so big that I got lost finding the bathroom! An the best bit?

THE BEACH! right there outside the lounge room window and the bedroom window.

Coolangatta is my favourite, it’s not just one beach, but might as well be. I’m not keen on the rush and noise of Surfers Paradise and gladly leave that to the younger crowd, give me the openness, surf and clear waters of the beaches at Coolangatta and the lovely village feel of the town. Everything is in walking distance, heaps of cafes, restaurants, clubs and pubs for food and drink at all hours. The biggest antique shop I have ever seen, full of all sorts of bric-a-brac and a great ice-creamery. Lovely walks along the beaches of Kirra, Coolangatta, Rainbow Bay and a few others is just a delight, the water a clarity I haven’t seen since my working holiday on Lord Howe Island, that particular beautiful aqua of the Australian waters.

I was told there were both dolphins and whales there the day I was on my beach walk, I wasn’t lucky enough to see them that day, maybe on the next trip up.