Q is for Questions

So far A-P has been all about me. Now I want to hear from you!

Because polls and surveys are so much fun, why not have a go and fill out this one, just for kicks? I’m not doing any research or collecting personal data (all answers are anonymous), I’m just interested in hearing about you and your experiences with travel. Some questions are just for fun, and others I’m generally interested in hearing your thoughts on.

I’ll post the results on the Storytelling Nomad Facebook Page in the coming weeks, as well as some of the more creative answers, if you feel like getting inventive.

Silly answers welcome, but keep it clean, children.

Take the Storytelling Nomad Q is for Questions Online Survey now! (Fear not! This link will not bite or infect your computer. It will, however, open a new page)

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P is for Pizza, Pasta and Pigging Out

Look at that menu. I mean really look at it. As if choosing a pizza isn’t difficult enough without three folded pages of small print selections. Just in case you were wondering and don’t possess my inquisitive procrastination skills to justify counting how many pizzas there actually are on that menu, I’m happy to inform you that there are eighty seven.

87!!

I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last, to declare that Italians know how to cook a good meal. I mean, hello, any country that can even think of 87 pizza toppings, clearly knows what they’re doing. They’ve got skills I tell you.

Now before we begin, let’s get a couple of things straight. I love food. Eating to me is less a survival skill than it is an activity I look forward to participating in several times a day. With food comes cooking, which I love, and socialising, which I love, and just the general enjoyment that comes with eating yummy yummy things.

Fact number two. I am a fussy eater. This presents a slight problem for someone that likes to eat several times a day. I never got over that phase where you stick your nose up at vegetables and poke around at lumpy mashed potato. Yep, I’m one of those. 

My host mum serving up her amazing lasagne. Love her.

So, to find a place where I can pick anything from a menu and 99.9% of the time immensely enjoy it, is no small victory. But it is a victory that Italy can claim as its own.

I’m always very spoilt in Italy.  The benefit of staying with host families and friends, is that you get cooked everything traditional style. Every time I visit my host mum, Marilena, she makes a point of cooking me the local dishes and Italian faves. Lasagne, Gnocchi with Ragù, Pizza, Bean Minestrone, and my favourite, Cappellacci di zuca – a kind of ravioli filled with pumpkin and served with ragù. Buonissimi!

This trip was no different, and I’m sure the scales can prove it.

Home made salami chillin' out in the garage

What I did during my week in Italy was determined according to a well-thought out plan of what food I needed to eat and where: Marilena told me which days she wanted to cook me her specialities; two special trips were made into town to an amazing pizza place called Arcabaleno, which sells hot squares of pizza for about 1 Euro wrapped in paper ready for you to eat standing up there and then; I met up with a friend at a restaurant well known for its Cappellacci; and I even made a trip out to the Italian countryside while my High School friend, Maurizio, and his family made me home made pizza, topped with the home made salami they had hanging in their garage.

It really doesn’t get more authentic than that.

One night I met up with a group of friends at a bar for what they call an aperitivo. Basically what this involves is complimentary snack food on the basis that you’ll be buying drinks. Now, I’m not talking peanuts in a cracked bowl. I’m talkin’ smoked salmon, olives, prosciutto, fresh bread, cheeses, pieces of pizza and savory pastries.

My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

This is what cappellacci di zucca looks like. Thanks to Google for the image (it never stayed on my plate long enough to get a photo of my own)

Needless to say, I pigged out in Italy. The flavours and the care the Italians put into their food is evident in the enjoyment one experiences at every meal. On serving, the cook always waits in anticipation for appraisal, but I personally have never had to force a polite “it’s delicious” without genuinely meaning it. In fact “it’s delicious” would be an understatement for most of the meals I’ve had the pleasure of feasting on in Italy.

Like I said, they’ve got skills.

I have tried to replicate recipes back home, but they just don’t have that same oomph about them. I can only conclude that a) I’m a terrible cook or b) I need to go to Italy more often. It’s a tough call, but I’m leaning towards door number two.

Either way, I ate my way through Italy. Many a time I had pizza cheese dripping down my chin and pasta sauce splashed on my cheeks. I inhaled every meal like it was going out of fashion and whilst my table manners were probably appalling as I spoke with my mouth full, there simply was no time to concentrate on anything else but devouring and savouring that mouthwatering food.

And I’m happy to say that the Italians, they love it. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone enjoy something you’ve created from scratch. And in that, I’m more than happy to oblige.

Buon appetito!

Maurizio's Dad making pizza bases

Very excited about the lasagne I'm about to inhale

Being served pumpkin gnocchi with ragù

O is for Old Friends

Italian High School reunion

One of the best parts of travelling is catching up with old friends that have either dispersed themselves sparingly (and at times inconveniently) across all corners of the globe, or who have stayed exactly where you first found them, patiently awaiting your return.

In Italy I was able to meet up with my old Italian school friends. It had been about 3 years since I’d seen most of them. In Edinburgh I stayed with my beautiful High School friend Beatrice, also from Italy, who I hadn’t seen in 5 years. In Berlin I stayed with the loveliest German girl you’ll ever meet, Nathalie, who I met whilst she was studying in Australia a couple of years ago. And Simon in Hamburg, the funniest German guy you’ll ever meet, who I first met about a year ago in Australia whilst he was studying at university here with my brother.

5 year reunion with Beatrice

They are the type of friends you can spend years apart from, but as soon as you meet again you pick up just exactly where you left off, having a laugh and chatting away as if it were only yesterday that you last saw each other.

To me, these are the best kind of friends, and all of them have played their own part in wonderful memories of travel and friendship.

But, while all special, none of these reunions quite compare to the one I had in London.

I moved to Australia from England close to 17 years ago now. I was 10 years old at the time, and never really considered the possibility that I may not see any of my friends again, or at least for a good long while. Even at that young age I was a traveller at heart, and I looked only to the new horizions that awaited me, waving goodbye to my friends with not a worry in the world.

Of course, this was at a time when Facebook was not yet a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. If you wanted to keep in contact, you wrote letters of the snail mail kind. I wrote loads of letters, taking special care that my handwriting was neat and pretty-looking. I bought postcards too. And gifts.

What I’m terrible at, is sending letters. Sending postcards. Sending gifts. In my defence, I was 10 and totally engaged in immersing myself and fitting in to a new country, school and culture. But nonetheless, with unsent letters comes lost friendships, and by the time I was old enough to really put any thought to getting back in contact, I wasn’t sure how, and was even less sure that I would be remembered if I tried.

Then came social networking.

After finding and reminiscing with a few friends here and there from my childhood, there was one in particular who I never forgot over the years. She had been my best friend right up to the day I left England.

We caught up as best as you can through online means and filled each other in on the most significant bits and pieces of the last 17 years. But when I knew I’d be stopping in England for a week this year, we decided it was time to catch up properly.

When I first saw Naomi standing outside the London pub waiting for me, it was all totally surreal. I still remembered her as the 10 year old with glasses, my perfect nerdy friend who would play gladiator with me in the playground and refer to everything as ‘twee’ and ‘beardy’, which we later puzzled over with no definite conclusion as to why.

I still saw her as that sweet little 10 year old, but also as the much taller, more beautiful adult version.

We caught up, we chatted, we laughed. We spoke of school days and scandals, exchanged memories and took a time machine all the way back to the early 90s. The most amazing thing, however, was the following discovery:

  • Naomi is an actress.
  • She studied at acting school and now performs at the Leicester Square theatre with her stand-up comedy group Improbabble.
  • Her best friend in England is a writer and a linguist.
  • She also does some transcription work for a bit of extra cash to support her creative endeavours.

Okay, before you ask what this has to do with the price of eggs, let me tell you a bit about me.

  • My best friend in Australia, Mel, is an actress.
  • She studied at acting school and now performs on stage, film and in theatres.
  • I am a writer and a linguist
  • Sometimes I do transcription work for a bit of extra cash to support my creative endeavours.

We obviously took our separation quite hard all those years ago, because we have subconciously replaced ourselves with in-country counterparts! Not only that, but we now also both support our low-income creative lifestyles with the same non-related professions. I find it totally fascinating, and it makes me wonder at the sort of people we are each drawn to, even at a young age. Do all our grown up friends mirror our childhood ones? Perhaps despite how much we may grow up or ‘change’, we still seek to surround ourselves with people of the same qualities.

We ended up talking for several hours and were so busy catching up that we even forgot to get a photo of the occasion. But no matter. It was an amazing reunion with my best friend of old, and we said goodbye promising not to leave it another 17 years before the next one.

And Naomi, if you’re reading this, thank you for staying the same beautiful friend I remember from my childhood. I’m convinced that had we grown up together, we’d still be best friends today.

Until next time, old friend.

Naomi and I at 8 years old

N is for Nostalgia

I can’t help it. Whenever I’m away travelling, no matter the fun I’m having or the things I’m learning, there’s always a small part of me, even if it’s the tiniest little spark in the deepest depths, that misses home.

As one with nomadic tendencies, it is in my bones to want to keep moving and see new places. I thrive on the new and the unknown, but that isn’t to say I don’t also yearn for the safe and the familiar.

If you’ve read my published article, So, Where are you from? you’ll have some idea of the slight identity crisis I had a few years ago when I realised there was no place I could truly call home. Moving from place to place may seem remarkably exotic, but it definitely has its drawbacks.

That said, when it comes to matters such as these, I think with age often comes a certain clarity. Though I’m unquestionably still a kid at heart and even now long to find the lost boys of Neverland, I also realise as I get older that home isn’t, and never really has been, a place, so much as a people.

When I’m away I miss my family. I miss my close friends. I miss my people.

I sometimes also miss my bed and the garden and my bookshelf and my computer, but it’s not quite the same kind of longing.

Which makes me realise that it doesn’t matter if you only moved into your house a year ago and still can’t figure out the trick to unlocking that damn shed door. Or that there are parts of the garden that you’ve never actually been in. Or that the house smells unfamiliar, or you don’t know how to get to the local post office, or that your own suburb sounds unfamiliar on your tongue.

What matters are the people.

Cliché? Absolutely. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

So, when I say that I miss home when I travel, what I guess I really mean to say is I miss people. I miss the friends and family in my life that together make the walls and ceilings and white picket-fenced garden of my own little country cottage that exists inside my head.

Like any home, I can’t bring it with me on a plane, across seas, over mountains, through countries near and far. And I certainly can’t take it through Customs.

But with each little spark of nostalgia that flickers while I’m away, I have only to remind myself how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life. People that are only a phone call away and who will be waiting to keep me safe and put those walls back up again when I return.

To my friends. To my family.

To my home.

 

M is for Music

I’ve been looking forward to this post because by golly did I hear some good music while I was frolicking across Europe. And no, I’m not talking the latest pop rocking rapping top 40 hits on the radio. I’m talkin’ the stuff you hear in the streets; local live folk music, buskers and the like.

Get excited.

First stop, Krakow, Poland, where I stumbled across these two amazing fellas playing and singing their little hearts out. Not only are they so adorable in their little outfits, but even though I have no idea what’s they’re singing about, I just want to sing along too. Observe:

Next stop, the streets of Edinburgh.

I swear, my ears are fine-tuned to catch the sound of bagpipes from afar. I liken it to the Sirens of Greek Mythology; the sound lures me closer and closer until I’m practically playing those bagpipes myself. Of course there’s no deadly rocks and imminent death involved, which is certainly a positive, but you get the idea.

I like bagpipes.

It may have something to do with my time at university during my undergraduate degree. Somewhat isolated in the Northern Tablelands, Armidale is the home to the University of New England, a 6 hour drive north of Sydney, its sweeping landscapes and natural beauty are something to behold. While there I lived on campus, which was a 20 minute stroll to the university campus along a quite spectacularly scenic elm-lined road overlooking grass fields. It was during my afternoon walk home that I would often hear the faint sound of bagpipes, which would sound louder with each gust of wind that carried the music close.

It was quite beautiful to see the lone shadow of a student practicing in that far away field by sunset. The poor kid had obviously been banished to the fields, for really, what could be more irritating than trying to study, nap or watch television in your dorm room with the deafening sound of bagpipes next door? I see the dilemma, but it worked out quite well for me. I could almost imagine I was standing in the Scottish Highlands.

In any case, this guy may not be playing in beautiful fields by sunset, but it still had the desired effect. Observe:

Last stop, we remain in Edinburgh but head to a narrow, dimly lit pub one cold winter’s night. My host, Beatrice, tells me I must experience a taste of live Scottish Folk Music before I leave.

On entering the pub, we squeeze through the crowd past the bar and find two rare seats by a table occupied by a group of drinkers, all with instruments. They were chatting away over large mugs of beer and I observed through their conversation that they didn’t all know each other. It all looked very casual, but when the music started it was nothing short of magnificent.

In what seemed to me a mix between wonderful improvisation and perfect synchonisation, this group of mismatched characters played their fiddles and bagpipes and tin whistles, and I could not help but tap my feet and smile.

There was no ceremony or formality. Every now and then one of them would just stop and turn around to chat with a patron or fetch another drink. They each played when and how they pleased and yet somehow managed to sound like a perfectly orchestrated troop of musicians. It was spectacular.

I’m sorry about the poor quality of the video. I was seated behind one of the musicians and was trying to subtly take my video without being the overtly conspicuous tourist that I am.

Enjoy.

L is for London

The London Eye

What is there, really, to be said about London that hasn’t been said before?

It’s a city that doesn’t feel like a city. Somehow Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Piccadilly, The London Eye, Trafalgar Square, they all make this modern metropolis feel like a venerable kingdom. Not to mention that English accent I once possessed and now soak in hungrily in futile attempts to retrieve it.

I mentioned in a previous post that cities intimidate me. The hustle and bustle and pushing and shoving doesn’t make for a pleasant day, in my opinion, but for some reason I always feel at home in London despite all that. There’s just an air of opportunity about it.

I get the feeling that if I was looking for something, I would find it in London.

Apart from one remarkable event, which will be detailed in another post, I have little to report on my short stay in this celebrated city. I saw the sites for the upteenth time, and for the upteenth time I enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed food as only the English enjoy food, stuffing myself with fish and chips, pub meals and a special outing at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Jamie’s Italian. To top it all off I was graced with unseasonably mild weather and blue skies.

For that, London, I thank you.

I am such a tourist

Clouds sweep over London

The Palace of Westminister and Big Ben under blue skies

Dinner at Jamie Oliver's restaurant

Trafalgar Square

The tube

K is for Krakow

When my friend, Hayley, and I, were looking at places to visit during our travels, Krakow was not the first place that came to mind.

I had never been to Poland, and neither had she, but when we realised we were practically on its doorstep in Germany we made a last minute decision to spend a few days there. Our primary point of interest was Auschwitz, but of Krakow – the nearest city to Auschwitz – we had absolutely no idea what to expect.

After boarding the plane in Berlin we spent about half an hour getting over the fact that the woman with garish blue eyeshadow, in jeans, a puffer jacket and wearing a bright hot pink cap, was actually our air hostess. Oh and look, there’s another one. Though we had booked with Air Berlin, we assumed Air Niki and it’s fashion forward hostessed were partner airlines. Gulp.

Welcome to Krakow! We were told that temperatures are known to reach -20, so we considered ourselves lucky

At any rate, after some deliberation we came to the conclusion that yes, we were on the right plane, no, we were not going to die, and holy crap, we’re going to Poland where we don’t speak the language or know anything about the country.

With this in mind, on arrival we found the first strangers that spoke English and, naturally, agreed to walk with them down a deserted unlit road in the middle of the night to find the nearest “train station” (I use air quotes because it wasn’t so much a train station as a bus stop next to what looked like train tracks). Admittedly, this wasn’t the smartest of moves, but fear not. Our new found friends were the loveliest Irish couple you could meet on a deserted road in an unknown country. And really, if you can’t trust an Irishman then surely the world is doomed anyway.

By the looks of the overgrown weeds sneaking over the train tracks and that eery silence you get when you just know there’s no train coming for a good long while, we agreed that we could potentially be waiting for some time. It was at this point that a taxi drove up, assumedly anticipating hopeless travellers such as ourselves, and offered us a lift into town at a very reasonable price. A price that was later revealed to be ridiculously high for Poland, but never mind.

Krakow by night

We arrived in town safe and sound and said farewell to our Irish companions. To get to our hotel we had to walk through the centre of town, and thank goodness we did.

By night it was breathtaking.

The Christmas markets were still out, as were the festive lights that lit the cobbled streets. People were gathered in friendly groups around food stalls and warming themselves with mulled wine. It wasn’t busy, but neither was it empty. The main square felt as if it were a large garden party, where everyone knew each other and all were just casually catching up on the latest gossip or taking pleasure in good food. They walked around serenely, admiring markets and chatting away in Polish. The atmosphere was wonderful.

Most of our time in Krakow was spent wandering around that main square and down the streets that snaked off it. The old town reminded me of Edinburgh, with its beautiful architecture, cobbled streets and historically preserved character. I was enamoured by the statues that stood tall outside churches and was captivated by the legend of the city being built on the ashes of a great dragon.

Grilled cheese at the markets

During one of our trips through the markets we noticed everyone walking around eating these odd little pastry-looking things. Now, I’m willing to admit I’m a fairly fussy eater, which means I’m not one to jump at trying new foods. But Poland had worked its magic on me and I decided to try one, with no way of asking or understanding what it was. It turned out to be grilled cheese. So simple, and so delicious. It came served with cranberry sauce, and I have no idea if it is particular to Krakow or Poland, but it comes highly recommended by this fussy eater.

After that I tried everything, and surprisingly liked everything. It wasn’t difficult to do when prices in Poland are ridiculously cheap. And I mean cheap. One night we ‘splurged’ at a fancy restaurant, buying the most expensive thing on the menu, which also happened to be the best piece of steak I’ve ever had. It still only came to $10.

Schindler's Factory

We also partook in one of the free walking tours of the Jewish Quarter, where we were taken to Schindler’s Factory, places which were used in the film Schindler’s List, as well as to Synagogues and a particularly heartbreaking square, where the Jews had been rounded up before being taken to concentration camps or to be killed.

We were shown a building at the corner of the square that used to be a pharmacy. During WWII the Germans told all the Poles to move from the quarter so they could contain the Jews there. The Pole who owned the pharmacy requested that he stay under the premise that he could help the Germans with medical supplies, but really so he could help the Jews. We were told that he would regularly bare witness from his shop window to Jews being shot in the square, and even more tragically as they were taken away and asked to leave their belongings behind with no idea that they would never be returning to collect them. He wrote a book called Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy, which I have yet to read but which I hear is quite a moving account of one man’s attempt to aid a few.

Empty chairs stand in this square in the Jewish ghetto Podgorze to represent the Jews that once gathered here to be taken either to concentration, working or death camps. They were told to leave all their belongings behind. There are 68 chairs, each representing 1000 Jews. 68000 Jews used to live in Krakow; there are now only 200.

The square is now a memorial to all those who suffered there.

What I found amazing was that the Jews were once treated very well by the King in Poland, before it was infiltrated by the Germans who spread lies and encouraged the Poles to disassociate from them. Of course its proximity to Auschwitz is an unfortunate reminder of what took place there less than 70 years ago, but in a city where 68,000 Jews used to live happily, there are now less than 200. Two hundred! The mind boggles at the ramifications that still echo from the brutality that took place during the Holocaust.

Despite this tainted part of Poland’s history, it far from dampened my visit there. On the contrary, I felt it a very friendly and cheerful place and could have hugged each and every one of them that spoke perfect English, which was practically all of them.

Krakow was definitely the surprise treasure of the trip. It came second only to Edinburgh of my favourite places and I only wish I had spent more time there to discover its secrets. But really, what better excuse than to one day return?

Also on Krakow and Poland:

A is for Auschwitz
C is for Castles

Love padlocks on a bridge in Krakow

You can't see it in the photo, but it was snowing!

Beautiful architecture and statues in Krakow

An angel outside Wawel Castle

More statues in Krakow

Another delicious Polish delicacy. Pancake type ravioli filled with potato and cheese, and served with sour cream and little bits of pork crackling.

More snow that you can't actually see

Streets of Krakow

J is for Jet Lag

Yes, I take my pillow when travelling.

Arguably the most painful part of travelling.

Living in Australia definitely has it perks, but unless your overseas holiday is in New Zealand or Antarctica, it can take anything from 7 to 30 hours to get anywhere. And no, that isn’t by boat; I’m talking jumbo freakin jets.

My first experience with jet lag was when I was 16. I had the mild sensation that something wasn’t right, but it wasn’t until about two weeks after arriving at my destination (when some sense of logic returned to my weary head) that I realised solid ground wasn’t supposed to move under my feet. It was something akin to standing on a rocking boat and every now and then I would suddenly feel as if I needed to catch my balance. By the time I realised what it was it was over, but it was unpleasant all the same.

Since then I have had the ‘rocking boat’ sensation only one other time, thankfully not on this trip.

The Sydney to Hamburg trip took just over 30 hours, not including the time spent waiting at the airport beforehand, which is probably the real killer. The waiting.

I hear some people get by on jet-lag pills and remedies, knocking themselves out with medication, or, brace yourselves for this one, just falling into a deep slumber allowing them to arrive refreshed and ready to take on the world.

Signs of jet lag: Wild, delirious look on face; Raised eyebrows that say "put the camera down or else"; Massive plate of food substituting inability to sleep; Unbrushed hair; Risk of using sharp three-pointed objects as weapons against humanity; Smiling against the odds.

Nuh uh. That aint me. I think it’s all about the sitting upright. I just can’t sleep in an upright position. I’ve heard about those strange people that can sleep standing up and don’t get jet lag and I’m convinced they must be part alien. Or something.

But I digress.

Of course on arrival the not sleeping at the appropriate hours is a bummer when you’re working with a short holiday. Staying awake all night and sleeping all day is hardly the best way to see the sights. But eventually your body adjusts and all is well and good for a time.

Until the return journey home.

And this journey home was probably the nightmare of all return travellers.  It began one chilly (-4) Sunday morning in Ferrara, Italy. Things were packed and suitcases were overweight, but I was ready to leave. We were at the local train station by 11am. The train left around midday for Bologna, which took just under an hour. We then had to get off and wait another hour before hopping on a two hour train to Milan. This was followed by another hour’s wait at Milan train station before the shuttle bus left for the airport, which took another hour. At the airport we then had to wait 3 hours before we could check in and another 4 hours after that before take off.

Then the flight was delayed an hour.

After a 7 hour trip we landed in Dubai, where we had to wait another 3 hours. This was where we also found out that our direct Dubai-Melbourne flight wasn’t quite so direct with a stopover in Singapore. That would take about 17 hours including the one hour stopover.

On arrival in Melbourne I had another 3 hours to wait for my plane to Launceston, which was fine because I knew I was nearly home. YES! I boarded the plane and buckled up with a sigh of relief. The plane rolled down the runway and started to speed up when suddenly the breaks went on and we were slowing down. Great.

We circled back to the starting point and sat on the plane for an hour while engineers came to fix the problem. By this time I should have been home.

Eventually we were ready for take two. We started picking up speed down the runway when, yep, you guessed it. The same thing happened again. At this point we were told to disembark and wait at the gate for further instructions.

This pretty much sums up how I was feeling. Probably how I was looking too...

After one hour and then two, I asked the lady at the desk if there was a possibility I wouldn’t get home tonight. When she responded with ‘yes’ I think a little (read:big) part of me died inside. I had been awake for almost 50 hours and I was starting to get emotional. I just wanted to get home. Like, now!

After another hour 5 names were called out. Mine was one of them. Some divine being saw my need and managed to shuffle me onto a seat on the next flight out. I sighed with relief as I heard the following announcement stating that there were no more seats left and all remaining passengers should head to check in to collect their bags and be sorted with accommodation for the night.

Of course I then had to wait another couple of hours for that flight, which was then delayed because not one, but two out of the two toilets on the plane were broken. They couldn’t fix them in the end but after some deliberation decided not to cancel the flight and send us on our merry toilet-less way. THANK YOU.

Needless to say, I held my breath in anticipation at take off, but thankfully we made it in the air and within the hour were safe in Tasmania.

I arrived home at 7pm that night. Tuesday. It had taken over 2 days to get home.

Of course, the jet lag that ensued was a different experience all together. The following week I found that I couldn’t sleep morning or night and I just wasn’t tired. I think I heard my body saying “Well hey, you kept me up for 2 days and now you wanna sleep every 12 hours? Make up your mind already”.

Two weeks on and while all is now well and good, I have decided that for my next trip I’m going to do some research. It will involve looking into becoming part alien so that I can sleep whilst sitting upright with fluorescent lights in my eyes and babies screaming behind me and old ladies coughing in front of me and old men snoring across the way.

Sayonara jet lag! I’ve got my eye on you…

Seeing my first Australian sunrise in a month

I is for Inspiration

Bridge of Venice

There’s a funny thing that happens when you travel.

Every sense is heightened by unfamiliar places, foreign languages and new experiences. Something as simple as a woman pushing her pram is somehow more interesting as she skillfully navigates the bridges of Venice.  A man paying for his groceries at the supermarket is enthralling when you understand none of the Polish that he speaks but at the same time recognise that he is participating in friendly banter with the checkout woman as you decipher facial expressions, hand gestures and body language.  Doorways become portals. Statues become sentient. People become characters.

The Edinburgh School of English inspired to get creative with their sign.

The mundane suddenly becomes fascinating.

When you watch the world through a traveller’s eyes, I am convinced that inspiration is at your unlimited disposal. With sight, sound, smell, touch and taste all intensified through being surrounded by the unknown, this naturally precipitates a different perspective on not just the extraordinary things, but the standard, run of the mill everyday stuff too.

What could be better fuel for the imagination?

If you have read E is for Edinburgh, then you’ll have some idea already of the impression it made on me. Not least of all was being able to follow in the footsteps of successful writers such as J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith to the Elephant House cafe where they each, at one time or another, went to write parts of their novels. Or seeing the belongings and original works of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns in the Writers Museum.

I have already expressed that I am in no way surprised that they were inspired by such a beautiful city, and though it wasn’t just Edinburgh, it was there that I understood something probably quite significant to my future as a writer.

J.K. Rowling writing Harry Potter at the Elephant House cafe

As I looked at the photos of J.K. Rowling sitting in the cafe writing Harry Potter, I realised that once upon a time she was like the rest of us aspiring creatives. Before Harry Potter was a household name, she sat in that cafe writing her novel, probably never knowing if it would ever see the light of day, wondering if she could afford that fourth cup of coffee. I’m sure that later on when she received her 1st rejection letter she felt as dejected as we all feel when are work is not recognised or loved as much as we love it. I’m even more certain that she felt worse after the 2nd, the 3rd, all the way up to the 12th rejection letter.

All these thoughts led to a small epiphany, all relating back to the big question: How do you know if you’re a writer?

I don’t think I’m the next J.K. Rowling, Tolkien or Robin Hobb. I don’t believe that my stories will survive the ages like the greats of old, or make me loads of money like the greats of today. I am not even convinced that I write particularly well or skillfully.

What I do know is this. If I practised every day I could probably play the piano fairly sufficiently. If I trained morning and night I might be able to make it as an athlete. If I tried really hard I might be able to learn all the things there are to know about accounting and become an accountant. I could probably succeed at many things if I put my heart into it.

But what I have discovered is that I am never going to be any good at any of those things. Why? Because I don’t care enough for them to put in the required effort to try.

Writing, writing, writing!

And then there’s writing.  I wake up every day looking forward to it. Without getting paid for it or ever expecting any monetary remuneration, I sit at my desk and I write. I edit and I perfect as if it were a thesis awaiting submission, and then I click save and sometimes never look at it again. Sometimes it’s hard and I get disappointed when the words don’t accurately reflect the idea in my head, which leads to frustration and misery.  But every day I still go back to it.

It’s the 9-5 job that keeps me in the office from 7am until midnight without a lunch break, and yet I never feel compelled to complain.

And I think that is what maybe, just maybe, makes me a writer. Not my skill with words or my chances of success. Nor any likelihood that it will ever amount to anything more than a little blog called Storytelling Nomad and a few published ramblings.

But like that ordinary woman sitting in her little cafe writing about an unknown wizard called Harry, I’m willing to keep at it every day because I’ve always been told that if there’s something you are truly passionate about, then you won’t care how long you spend working at it or how little you get paid for it, because the undertaking itself will be reward enough.

So I is for Inspiration. Be inspired, not by the people that have already ‘made it’, but by the average Joes like you and me, the ones that may or may not make it, J.K. Rowling circa 1990. I think we can learn the most from these people, because they are the ones that are willing to put their heart and soul into doing the thing they love most with only the smallest of hopes that it may one day amount to more.

Try and see the world through a traveller’s eyes and be inspired by the ordinary. Because if you do it right, extraordinary will certainly follow.

Sunrise in Scotland

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

If, like me, you share a love of books, writing and stories, then watch this beautiful short animation that has been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. You won’t be disappointed.

Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.

Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a new narrative experience that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is one of five animated short films that will be considered for outstanding film achievements of 2011 in the 84th Academy Awards ®.

EDIT MARCH 2012: The film ended up winning the title of Best Animated Short.

H is for Hamburg

Fountain at the Town Hall in Hamburg

After a 24 hour flight from Sydney to Frankfurt, one stop over in Abu Dhabi, one security pat down, and a 4 hour train trip, we finally arrived in Hamburg.

I confess, I knew little about the second largest city of Germany before turning up on its doorstep. I arrived jet lagged, tired, and very keen to find the nearest comfy bed to lay on for an uninterrupted, oh say, four days. Five?

But what prevailed was my excitement at seeing my little brother, Harry. Following in his older sister’s footsteps (me!), he took part in a student exchange program to Germany when he was 16. Ever since, he has gone back and forth between Australia and Germany to visit his host family, friends, and for study. In 2010 he decided that he would like to make his stay in Germany a little more permanent, and moved there to find a job, which he did.

Consequently, it had been a while since I had seen him and I was excited.

Sibling reunion on New Years Eve

I arrived at Hamburg station to see Harry waiting on the platform, waving a nicely sized German flag in one hand and in the other, holding a Hawaiin-style wreath of flowers to put around my neck on my arrival. I don’t know about your little siblings, but this is typical Harry behaviour and it was well-received.

It was then that I noticed it. The noise.

You see, what I have not yet mentioned is that we just so happened to arrive on New Years Eve. In Germany they have decided that fireworks are illegal, except for on New Years Eve. The result is many drunken people lighting fireworks pretty much EVERYWHERE, and not really knowing what they’re doing.

Naturally, we had to have a go.

So, after dropping off the suitcases, having a quick shower and promising the very enticing bed that I would be reuniting with it very soon, we set off. This was when Harry gave me a demonstration in the art of setting off fireworks.

He held that rocket high above his head and we admired from afar as it shot in the air and burst beautiful colours into the sky. Wow.

My turn.

“What do I need to do?” I asked.

“Hold it straight up in the air and don’t look at it,” Harry replied as he passed me the stick with the rocket on the end, lit it for me and ran back to watch from afar with the others.

Now, I’m very good at following instructions. I held that thing so bloody straight in the air, and by jove did I not look at it.

What Harry forgot to mention was that when the firework starts to pull, um, apparently you have to let go.

I was concentrating so hard on holding that thing straight that by the time I heard the screams “LET GO!”, it was almost too late. At the last second I let go and it banged frighteningly close to my head.

Okay, so that is why fireworks are illegal. Because people, like me, have no idea what they’re doing and little brothers, like Harry, don’t know how to give a detailed instruction.

Canals of Hamburg

Thankfully I lived to tell the tale. I now know that the stick is part of the rocket (and actually meant to be stuck in the ground or in a bottle when setting them off) and while I was always told as a child not to play with fire, I probably should have learned instead not to play with fireworks.

I met my bed that night with welcome arms and missed the midnight fireworks by a couple of hours.

But to be honest, I think I’d had quite enough of fireworks for one evening.

The next day was spent sleeping and the following spent walking around the beautiful city, with Harry as our tour guide (While he may be a pretty average firework instructor, he’s a pretty damn good tour guide).

I admired the canals, which I had no idea existed beyond Venice and also went to the Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn, the largest (and most impressive) model train exhibition in the world.

The city itself is spacious, elegant and clean, lit at night by the Christmas lights and decorations that still remained post festive season. There were some impressive buildings, such as the Town Hall, as well as many beautiful statues and monuments dotted around the place.

Harry’s host family treated us to a traditional German meal and gave us a warm welcome to their country.

It was a quick stop over in Hamburg, and a slightly hazy one at that, what with the jet lag and the near death experience. But I had a glimpse of the sparkle that attracts people to the city, and can see exactly why Harry is so keen to stay.

Tolkien themed boats on the canals in Hamburg

A scene at the Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn (check out the iron man lifting the car, and what's going on in the bushes!)

 

At the Model Train Exhibition

 

Santa being pulled up the hill by cows

The Alster Lake by night

G is for Galaverna

After spending a relatively mild few weeks in Germany, Poland, Scotland and England, countries usually known for their cold winters but which struggled to hit below zero whilst I was there, I arrived in Italy expecting much of the same. The forecast was for sunny skies and a tame 10 degrees.

Of course, it turned out to be the most bitterly cold of them all, with a top of minus four during my trip to Venice (but that’s another story).

Whilst the cold was moderately off-putting in terms of getting dressed into layer upon layer and mustering an enthusiasm to leave the house of a morning, it did provide for this wonderful phenomenon: galaverna.

Galavera in Ferrara, Italy

Galaverna. Galaverna. I kept hearing the Italians throw the word around but I’d never heard of it before and had no idea what it meant.

What in the bloody hell was galaverna?!

After several people tried to explain it to me using unfamiliar Italian words, I came to a rough understanding that it was a build up of frost from the weather being so damn cold over many days and not being able to thaw. I then proceeded to explain that there simply was no word for it in English.

Of course I was wrong.  The dictionary told me that ‘hoarfrost’ is the English translation for the Italian galaverna, and though I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it, perhaps those of you living in countries that annually reach temperatures below zero have.

For those of you who, like me, haven’t, it is described by the faithful online dictionary as:

Frozen dew that forms a white coating on a surface.

Yes yes, that’s all very good, but what the definition doesn’t explain, is just how beautiful it is.

The trees and bushes turn white with the build up of this ‘frozen dew’, which becomes more and more prominent as the days continue in cold succession.

What it ends up looking like is snow. Snow without all the slush and mud under your feet. It is, quite simply, stunning to admire as everything turns white.

While both hoarfrost and galaverna are two words I’m not familiar with, I find it fascinating that they exist at all. Not content with calling it ‘a build up of frozen dew’ or ‘frost pretending to be snow’, somewhere, sometime in history, someone actually gave it a name. I don’t know why this amazes me so, but it does. To be able to give a name to something so beautiful, really is quite gratifying.

That said, I have to admit that galaverna just sounds so much better on the tongue than hoarfrost. Don’t you think?

Galaverna in Ferrara, Italy

Book Depository 24 Hour Sale

24h offer. up to 80% off. Great Discounts at The book Depository

…is back. Every hour from February 2nd a new book will be up for grabs with discounts of up to 80% and free delivery worldwide. The last 24hr sale was hugely successful, with the 500 or so copies they had on offer each hour being snatched up within the first 10-15 minutes.

While last time there were admittedly a lot of cookbooks and sewing books in the mix, there were a few fiction bargains if you were patient enough to wait for them, and if I remember correctly were usually selling for between $4 and $12. The three that stick out from memory were:

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

I do all my book shopping here (apart from my Aussie books…support your local writers people!), because they are just so cheap, with or without the sale, and can’t recommend them highly enough.  If you do pick up a deal, don’t forget to drop back here and let me know!

Sale starts at

7 am EST (-5)
12 noon GMT
11 pm AEDT (+11)

http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/

F is for Ferrara

Once host to the House of Este dynasty, Ferrara is now admired for its medieval beauty and cultural importance.

Situated in the North-East of Italy, just an hour south of Venice, Ferrara has for the last 10 years been my second home.

Exterior walls of the Piazzo dei Diamanti - the diamonds at the bottom of the palace are tilted slightly downwards, those in the middle straight on, and those on the upper half of the building slighty upwards, to give the illusion that the palace is bigger than it actually is.

The centre of the city is full of treasures, with its magnificent castle, charming narrow lane ways and Romanesque cathedral.

The Palazzo dei Diamanti is one of the most influential examples of European Renaissance architecture, with its exterior walls covered with protruding diamond-shaped marble blocks. Legend has it, that a real diamond was hidden in one of the blocks, but though many have tried, none have discovered it, if it does indeed exist.

Dating back to 1135 and stretching over two kilometres long, Via delle Volte is one of the longest still existing medieval streets in Europe. A picturesque street, it is named for the volte, or arches, that join the buildings on either side together. They were once used as passageways to join the merchants’ houses on the southern side to their warehouses and shops on the northern side.

Via delle Volte

While Via delle Volte is certainly the most famous of the streets in Ferrara, it is most definitely not the only one of its kind. All the narrow streets of this city are archetypal of the colourful arched cobbled lanes that Italy is best known for.

But whilst the city itself is a beauty, it is the people that keep me coming back.

As I mentioned in C is for Castles, I first travelled to Ferrara as a 16 year old exchange student. It was my first time travelling alone and I was both anxious and enthusiastic to meet the host family that would replace my own for the following three months.

I arrived in the European winter of 2001, not long after the 9/11 attacks, which very nearly saw my parents calling off the trip altogether. I am so grateful they didn’t.

My host sister, Sara, and I, 10 years on.

I was greeted by my beautiful family, the Maietti’s, who cared for me as one of their own, and perhaps even more importantly, fed me as one of their own (Italian food, naturally, gets its own post). I was placed in a school where I was likewise greeted with open arms by a bunch of the nicest people I think I’ve ever known.

My classmates were so very interested in Australia and our way of life, and just as interested in making sure I was happy and at home in their classroom. My closest friends also did me a great service during my first week of class, making sure I was well informed of every swear word the Italian language had to offer.

Since 2001, I have returned to Ferrara every few years to visit my host family and classmates, and each time I am greeted as if it were my first; with many cheek to cheek kisses, warm embraces and smiling faces.

This last trip was no different, and while I did spend some days reacquainting myself with the city, it cannot be denied that I spent the majority of my time catching up with old friends, eating AMAZING food, and spending time with my second family.

The Piazza in Ferrara

 

Il Duomo - Ferrara's Cathedral

The Piazza