Here is how Pat introduces her article: "In September 2004, Les and I set off to travel through Europe. Our journey began with our son, Grant, and his wife, who were living and working in London. Grant introduced us to his friend Alon, who was living in the Netherlands, and he kindly assisted us in purchasing a small mobile home. We travelled through many European countries and, whilst in a caravan park in Hungary, we met an English couple who could speak Dutch. They read our green card and advised us that our green card allowed us to travel into Bosnia and Kosovo; the radar went up and away we went."
Trivia question of the week: what is the capital of Myanmar? Answer: Nay Pyi Taw.
Second trivia question of the week: how many of these places have you heard of – Heho, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, Pindaya, Pyin Oo Lwin and Yangon (this being the roll call of places in Myanmar that Dianne went to)?
(Guy's answer: 1, Mandalay, but I've only heard of that one because my parents used to listen to Frank Sinatra singing On the Road to Mandalay.)
In March, 2003, on the fringe of the SARs pandemic, I travelled alone to Italy where I was to meet up with friends and would spend three weeks travelling, sometimes.
During three days in Florence I stayed with a woman called Bruna, a beautiful little Italian lady. On my second morning there, she put me on a bus and sent me to the city centre with firm instructions to return before my ticket elapsed late afternoon. She explained that there was no special consideration for tourists and that fines were high for expired fares.
It was a beautiful day, I was on my way to discover an equally beautiful place and, hopefully, to buy a bracelet charm to take home for my mum back in Melbourne.
I kept a travel journal, below are some passages referring to that day.
The Ponte Vecchio is known for its jewellery stores. On either side of this ancient bridge, tiny shops sell a variety of trinkets, from the priceless to the gaudy. More gold than silver, some fine, delicate threads and others heavy cords. Some sparkled, others glowed, but nowhere did I see a silver bracelet charm.
That day I walked through central Florence and back again. I went into churches, galleries, saw familiar renaissance paintings and sculptures – a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the baptistery bronze doors – The Gates of Heaven (another copy) and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Some paintings I recognised and the style of others was familiar.
I absorbed the atmosphere of the city and, as the day progressed and the sun rose in a blue sky I mingled with the bustling noisy crowd of tourists who concentrated more on their maps than their location.
I bought a gelati at a gelataria close to the Ponte Vecchio; it was enormous, delicious, but so expensive! With the apple I had brought from Bruna’s, it sufficed as lunch. I ate, looking out over the water of the Arno River at about 2pm, alone, tired, maybe a little overwhelmed by the city with its treasures, its people, its bustle and its buildings. It was six days since I had seen a familiar face.
There was a quiet piazza outside the tourist area. It had a plain church and a fountain surrounded by garden. Only a few people sat near the fountain and at the tables outside a bar. I sat too, on the grass by a tree.
Suddenly I was startled by a flock of birds, pigeons which swept around the corner of the church, low and fast, a cloud that climbed and spread and within a moment, dispersed. I waited with camera ready for another flock, but they didn’t come. How could I be disappointed when that picture would always remain in sight?
Eventually I returned to the throng and slowly made my way back to the point by the Arno where I had alighted from the bus that morning.
Here is a sample paragraph from the article: "The first impression was one of live music, dance and colour. Every restaurant and cafe, no matter how small had their own band with singers and dancers. The salsa is the dance of Havana and the men relish in it. We were often invited up to dance with them, which several of us enjoyed. I noticed that even two or three reluctant Australian men were enticed by the rhythms and were willing to 'give it a go'. The other immediate source of vivid colours was the 1950s cars. Sun yellow, lollipop pink and emerald green Cadillacs, Plymouths, Chevrolets and Buicks filled the roads. The USA trade embargo since the 1940s has resulted in few cars arriving after this date. How magic, every road is filled with stretched, gleaming limousines. The owners are justly proud of them and keep them together with tape, smuggled parts and paint. Over the 8 days, most of our party had at least 2-3 rides in a classic car."
Here is how Pat introduces the article: "In the early to mid 1980s, I worked with a young chap and we became good mates. He was from New Zealand and he told me how his mother was taken to hospital when he was just 10 years old and never came home. Not having been able to say good bye to his mother had a profound effect on him. His father, later, moved him and his brother and sister to Australia. His brother’s name was Gary Cunningham one of the 5 journalists killed at Balibo in East Timor. And so I became interested in the story and have followed TV reports, etc. I wanted to see Balibo and eventually dragged Les to this country."
Here is a list of the animals that Maree and husband Greg saw: penguins (gentoo, chinstrap, adelie); other birds (albatrosses, gulls, petrels. skuas); seals (elephant, leopard, weddell, crabeater, fur); whales (orca, minke); and dolphins.
Here’s the mouthwatering itinerary: Naples – Sorrento – Capri – Ravello – Pompei – Rome – Orvieto – Assisi – San Gimginano – Viareggio – Cinque Terre – Florence – Venice – Murano. When is the next plane to Italy? Can I book now?
As Dianne says in her introduction: "Many old buildings we visited have had several buildings on the same site; often changing use from abbey to store of arms during war and then cathedral or grand family home. Some of the original walls are still obvious. Cathedrals, abbeys and castles abound. Some are just ruins, some are being restored so they do not decay further, and others are being completely restored. Pubs and churches are by far the most common buildings around – in equal numbers."
Dianne and husband Graham started their holiday in the Autonomous Region of Madeira in the north Atlantic Ocean before travellng through some of the main towns of mainland Portugal: Coimbra, Lisbon, Porto and Sintra.
Many gardens in Nillumbik feature the Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) plant, with its unique blue flowers with red stamens. Now you know where it came from.
During their holiday, Pat and husband Les visited six countries, some of which you might not even have heard of: Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname. And, as you might guess, they had a great time.
As Dianne says in her introduction, "Arriving in Anchorage was a bit of a shock, it was like stepping into a cold version of the wild west. The airport, hotels and restaurants are all decorated with stuffed animals, animal heads or antlers. Taxidermy is alive and well up here. We also had some difficulty understanding some of the accents and making ourselves understood. Even so everyone is very friendly."
Dianne begins her story by saying “It is hard to know where to start when describing our trip through Morocco. The sights, sounds, smells and experiences were diverse and fascinating.” and she end it by saying “Our 10 days were full of different sites … all in all it was an amazing experience.” In between, she gives lots of photos and vignettes.
I thought it was paragliding not parasailing I'd signed up for but … what the heck!
We rattled up a rough, narrow excuse of a road with impossible hairpin bends and steep drops either side. We all agreed we would do anything to avoid the return trip – even jump off a mountain.
My nerves impacted my bladder at a critical time. By the time I got out of the loo, the spunkier pilots had already teamed up with the other women, all younger than me. There was only one left, a stocky one – slower off the mark perhaps. His eyes fell when he realised he was stuck with me – almost literally, it turned out.
I could hear the other pilots speaking to their passengers reassuringly, giving them instructions in fluent English as they strapped them into harnesses. My pilot was silent and stony-faced as he fiddled, obsessively it seemed, with the harness. "What do I do?" I asked in a querulous voice, to break the ice. No response.
One by one, the others jumped off the mountain with their pilots. I raised eyebrows at mine. He just frowned and went on fiddling with the harness. He called someone else over. The two of them pushed and shoved me, conversing in animated Turkish. Repeatedly I heard a word that sounded like 'problem'. Perhaps we could just …er…call the whole thing off?
Suddenly, my pilot stopped fiddling and barked, "run!" I ran as fast as my jelly-legs would go. I heard, "now!" and stepped into the void. I think he had just exhausted the sum-total of his English vocabulary.
The thermals lifted us so high I thought my ears would burst. We spiraled and hovered and spiraled again over the unbelievable blue of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas far below. Is this what it feels like to be a bird?
By the time we landed, I was grinning broadly.
Later I asked our guide, "There's a Turkish word that sounds like 'problem'?"
"Same word", she said, "'problem'." I’m so glad they fixed it!
Travelling around Bulgaria by train, we'd settled into a compartment with several strangers. The smiles they'd bestowed on us quickly froze as another man entered. They then beat a hasty exit. Curious, we watched him load his suitcase on the luggage rack above. As he reached, his jacket rose revealing a large gun in a holster at his waist. We sat motionless, in fearful silence, while the man observed us carefully and scribbled in his notebook. "Mafia?" I mouthed to my partner. We discovered later that he was, most likely, a member of the secret police. Members of the Bulgarian Mafia don't deign to travel by train, apparently.
A conductor arrived to inspect our tickets and – to my consternation – he also asked to see our passports. Mine was in my money belt, under my clothing, along with all the cash I'd brought for our time in Bulgaria – ATMs being in short supply – and my plane ticket. I tried to extract it without showing the man with the gun just how much cash I was carrying.
Later, I needed to go to the toilet – just a hole in the floor through which the track whizzing past below was clearly visible. Job done, I re-zipped my pants. Clunk! I examined the floor to see what had fallen. Nothing? Instinctively, I patted myself down. Bugger! My money belt was gone. I hadn't re-fastened it properly, in my haste to stuff it back out of sight. But where is it? My eyes lit on the hole. Oh no! Without much hope, I peered down. But there it was, lodged at the very bottom. Out of reach? Almost.
I gingerly extended my arm through the less-than-savoury hole and using a pincer action with my outstretched fingertips successfully retrieved my money belt. One false move or an ill-timed bump and my worldly wealth and only ID would have been deposited in the middle of a train track somewhere in Bulgaria. Plan B didn't bear thinking about.
It was three days before I could bring myself to confess to my partner. He was upset because he'd accidentally left his favourite fleece jacket somewhere. "Never mind", I said, "things could have been worse – much worse".
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador and you can only get there by plane from mainland Ecuador. Some of mainland Ecuador is in the Amazon. So, if you're going to the Galapagos Islands, you might as well also go to the Amazon. Guy Palmer went to both in 1996.
We’d been trekking for five weeks. I was looking forward to a relaxing bus drive, followed by a shower and a comfy bed at a Kathmandu hotel.
The bus that arrived to pick us up was ancient – its tyres were polished smooth. I tried not to think about the steep drop to our left, as our driver skillfully negotiated the narrow mountain roads. I focused instead on the rhododendron bushes – shiny green leaves garnished with the occasional scarlet bloom.
Light snow began delicately frosting the green and red. It thickened and we were forced to stop and clear it from the road. At first, we tried just kicking it aside. Our cooks offered pizza tins to be used as shovels. We cleared a bit, drove a bit, cleared again. Progress was painfully slow but the work kept us warm. We implemented a system for calls of nature – men in front of the bus, women behind. The weather showed no sign of abating. Finally, the driver stopped the bus and announced, "I’m not going to drive any further. I don’t want to die!" Fair enough – we didn’t either.
Our Sherpa guides spotted a farmhouse deep in the valley below and we carefully picked our way down there. We were grateful for the dinner of plain lentils and rice that they shared with us. Eight of us stretched out top-to-tail on a hard wooden bed covered by a straw mat. It was too cold to sleep so someone found in their pack a large digital thermometer and placed it onto the sill of the glassless window. We amused ourselves by placing bets on how low the temperature would fall. It hung around minus four. I wondered where the couple who’d given up their bed for us were sleeping. I hoped they’d been well paid.
We resigned ourselves to the possibility of spending several nights there, but in the morning we were greeted by clear blue sky. We completed our journey uneventfully. We’d forfeited our night of luxury accommodation in Kathmandu but gained instead a precious glimpse of how other people live.
Note: A longer version of this article was published in The Age Travel section under the heading The Big Chill in 2005.
Did you know that there are 8,222 islands around Australia? That the largest three islands are Tasmania, Melville Island and Kangaroo Island? And that the smallest islands are Ashmore and Cartier Islands Territory (off Western Australia)?
Guy Palmer recently went to Coober Pedy, which is in the middle of nowhere in South Australia. If you go to this link on Google Streetview, you will be standing outside the hotel that he stayed in. You can then walk around the town, just like Guy did, only virtually rather than physically.