Nom de Plumage

July 25, 2013

On The Trail of My Heroes In The Somme

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How can anyone ever really be ready for the magnitude of war? Can anyone who has had the great privilege to visit war cemeteries, not be affected somehow by the masses of perfect white headstones; many unknown. I defy anyone who says they experience no emotion. I have dreamed of one day undertaking this pilgrimage and naïvely believed that I would comprehend the scale of the human cost. No way! There is nothing that can prepare me for what I am about to see.

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Amiens cannot be described as being picturesque or quaint, and yet it does possess some charm and beauty. It is the cities geographical position within the Somme and its gothic cathedral, where her claim to notoriety lays. I have no personal patriotism towards any city or cathedral, but my host does, and believes that Amiens cathedral is more superior to that of its famous sister in Paris. Admittedly, Amiens cathedral is larger and the intricate façade at the entrance is very beautiful. But within the stone walls, lays a cold and almost bare building, lacking any character. Notre Dame of Paris maybe smaller, but she packs a stunning impact and its fame is well deserved. Although something wonderful to ponder, is that the façade of the cathedral has only recently been discovered to have been constructed using colour. All the figures and scenes depicted on the stone walls, came to beautiful life as you would expect from a painting. Over the years, the colours faded and then disappeared, lost in knowledge and admiration for the skilled craftsmen who built such a place of worship.

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The gentle green hills of the Somme valley is dotted with war cemeteries. Gone is the mud and stench of death and in the spring, the fields come alive with poppies. But it is winter now and although there are no flowers in bloom, the sun is shinning, the sky is a radiant blue and the fields are lush. I am taken aback by the beautiful scenery and the serene atmosphere. If there is one cemetery within France that holds a special place within Australians heart, it is Villiers Bretonneux. Countless times I have seen it on TV, but nothing can prepare me for the real thing. Situated within the heart of the valley, the beautiful stone monument that reaches for the heavens, has the names of soldiers that perished in the Great War. I walk alone between the many rows of white headstones, reading and wondering who you are and did you know what horrors lay before you? There are many headstones without names and even though I know not their identity, I thank them all for their sacrifice.

I have never been to an ANZAC ceremony in Australia, nor can I see footage or photo’s of both wars without feeling great sadness and anger for the millions of lives lost. I am of a generation who can never understand or imagine the sacrifices  made or the horrors faced by the men and women. But as an Australian I write, my tears are late and decades have passed, but my heart is full of admiration and pride for the thousands of men who sacrificed their lives and future for the freedom of France and the world. What makes driving through this valley very special, is the proud display of the Australian flag in the window of homes, at schools and in the small villages.

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A few kilometres up the road, is Le Hamel; another war memorial dedicated to the Australians. On the site of the battlefield that our hero General Monash fought some of the bloodiest turning point battles of the war. The trenches are still visible but have long ago been reclaimed by mother earth. It was interesting to read detailed stories of the battles fought here and the courage and sacrifice of all involved.

We stopped at a lake nearby for a picnic lunch of sandwiches, foie gras, fruit and tea.

A short stop at Pozieres and another Aussie war memorial before we headed to the mother of all memorials at Thiepval.

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Nothing can prepare you for the magnificent stone structure that consists of sixteen four-sided pillars with the names of 76 000 men lost from France and Britain. This memorial also has white headstones and wooden crosses from both sides, identifying soldiers killed. But it is the names carved into the faces of the pillars, lost forever, that catches my breath. What is even more scary, that the figures are only a fraction of the true cost of the war. Of all the memorials, this is the most impressive and there is also a fantastic bookstore and museum on site.

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Our last great war memorial is Beaumont Hamel. This one is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Canadian and Scottish soldiers that perished. Unique, because this is not a memorial with headstones, rather an intricate trail of trenches that are now covered with a thick green carpet of grass. I walked through some of the trenches and failed to even imagine what life was like among the mud and stench of this place of refuge. Many trenches and parts of the battlefield are out-of-bounds, due to live shells and bombs that lay dormant among the trees and hills. The Canadians have dedicated an impressive bronze statue of a caribou that stands proud on a hill overlooking the trenches. The Scots have erected a beautiful bronze statue of a soldier in traditional costume (kilt), protected by lions as they also overlook the trenches.

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The sun was slowly setting and we both realised just how full our day has been. But it was not over yet. We have saved the biggest to the last. Unfortunately, I could take no photo’s of this site, but to do so, you would need a plane/helicopter to fly high above and get the full-scale of this thing. At La Boiselle is a gigantic hole called Lochnagar Crater. At an impressive one hundred metres across and thirty metres deep,  this awe-inspiring crater was created by the relentless bombing from the enemy. If the result is impressive, what was it like to actually witness this phenomenon first hand and survive to tell the tale.

We drove home exhausted and full of emotion. My host prepared our final dinner together and then afterwards, it was a leisurely evening of eating our dessert in front of the fire and watching Inspector Barnaby in French. A real hoot!

To end…..

I was honoured to have  the special privilege of walking through the valley and among the resting place of the thousands of ‘digger’s’ who have left an indelible mark in our history. The word ‘digger’ is a special name given to the men who have seen war and it gives them a very honoured place among the hearts of all Australians. Lest we forget…….

 

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May 31, 2013

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 1:55 pm
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For those of us lucky to live in the southern hemisphere, we have the unrivalled delight of experiencing the world different to those in the north. Australia does not get affectionately called ‘Down Under‘ for no reason and maybe this adds to the charm of a country that is predominately desert. I know that I can safely write that most Australian’s dream of experiencing a ‘white christmas’ at some stage in their life. I am no exception. For us, Christmas is not celebrated  in winter woolies, but in shorts, t-shirts and swimmers. We do not traditionally sweat near an oven baking turkey and all the trimmings, but outside beside our BBQ cooking seafood. The summer weather ensures hot days of sweat and humidity; the beach our favourite afternoon destination to cool-off and spend quality time with the family. It is all so surreal to the many cultures up north who experience bitter cold weather and snow on the most celebrated day of the year.

So here I am, travelling through Europe during winter, alone and Christmas Day upon me. I arrived in Luzern last night after an epic journey from Den Hague in the Netherlands. The weather is bitterly cold and although snow has recently fallen, there is no guarantee it will come to the party tomorrow. You see, I was once fooled twelve years ago when I lived in Germany for eighteen months. It snowed before and after Christmas, but never on the day and not wanting to get my hopes up, I have no expectation of what will eventuate on the day. When I wake (not being able to help myself), I walk over to the large window and pull aside the curtain and this is what I see…….

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A thick white blanket of snow covering everything and I squeal with elation and relief that finally I will experience a dream. My roommate Nellie cannot understand what the fuss is about because for her this is normal. We are both alone and decide to spend the day together somewhere we can hopefully eat a wonderful hot Christmas lunch. No easy feat because most places here have closed  down. While I wait for Nellie to get ready, I go downstairs to the foyer and find another young Chinese couple who are in need of companionship. I strike up a conversation with them and quickly invite them along. We make our way by bus to the city and Nellie is confident she knows a place that will be open. Unfortunately, so does every person in Luzern and although full, Nellie is able to secure a table for us within fifteen minutes. The power of language and persuasion. The menu is expensive but the food is delicious. Honestly, I could have eaten anything as I am elated  to have friends and out of the cold.

When I write cold, I mean freezing. The temperature plummeted to minus fifteen degrees and my boots failed me completely. Only of thin leather, I had not prepared myself adequately for the sudden onslaught of winter and my feet froze. After lunch we walked around the city and try as I could, my smile quickly faded and  replaced by pain. My feet have never been so cold and it felt like solid blocks of ice. Numb and in pain, I desperately needed to thaw and parted company with my friends and went back to the hostel.

Back at the hostel, warm and thawed, I meet a new friend. Lana arrived late in the evening and we instantly became friends. She is from Australia and we have a lot in common, not just because of our country, but our love of yoga, meditation and spiritual awakening. The next few days will prove very interesting.

 

January 28, 2013

So Much Beauty and Culture In Vienna

sightseeing. I know, that no matter how many days or weeks I stay in any given city, it will never be enough to see all that I want. So not to  whinge on what I have missed, I am grateful for what I have seen. Plus, I like to believe there will always be a next time. This morning, my room-mate hampers my departure, with a kind offer of driving me into the city. I unwisely said yes and was left waiting for 45 minutes before we leave the hostel. But we eventually leave and I finally arrive in the city just before 10 am.

My first day in any new city, is a day of exploring, with no agenda or sites planned. It may seem a day wasted and yet, I see it as a day of freedom to experience the joy of discovering things that are  in any ‘guide book’. It is such a beautiful city and so easy to find one bearings, that I never fear that I may get lost.

Hofburg Palace Christmas Market entrance

Hofburg Palace Christmas Market entrance

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The ever impressive Town Hall in the background

Vienna spoils my senses, for it not only has one of the most beautiful of Christmas Markets, it has three vibrant huge markets, all within proximity of each other. I choose the biggest (of course) at Hofburg Palace. Crowded with tourists and locals, the ever presence of smells, colours and all things Christmas delight my senses and I start my tour with a stop at a food stall for a delicious hot chocolate and banana crêpe accompanied with a glass of hot gluwien. I have to say, that my diet since I have started my travels, has all but disintegrated and how can I help it, with all the tempting food on offer. I love good food, not the cheap nasty take-aways full of fat and sugar, but the rich mouth-watering flavours of Europe. And here is the best part, I have actually lost weight, not gained and that it attributed to all the walking and food.

The massive grounds of the Hofburg Palace are directly opposite the Town Hall. You enter this élite world through a massive gate and walk the wide driveway past the impressive architecture that gives a whole new meaning to splendour and wealth. A royal family who dominated Europe through the ages, is all but a memory now, but their glamorous world of power and politics is on full display for the ever impressed tourist. I for one, am not immune to the sights before me and can only wonder at the glory days that are sadly no more. There is much to see and do within these grounds, that I decide to leave it for tomorrow and continue my walk through the back entrance and into a boulevard of shops and delights.

When you live in a country such as Australia, where the architecture is more modern and the buildings are  predominately of glass and steel, you really come to appreciate a city that is built for beauty and to survive the ages. Buildings that are centuries old and carved of stone. One of my favourite stone carvings, and one that is shared with Budapest, is above and around the main entrance to a building,  chiselled men/women in fine detail, with the expression of either pain or exertion on their faces, as they hold the weight of the buildings on their shoulders. Utterly unique and so tender to witness these faces that I have never seen before and believe never will. St Stephen's Cathedral

The cathedral of St Stephen’s is at the end of the very long and wide boulevard of shops. But when I got my first glimpse, I was again confronted by my bad luck again of a major tourist sight undergoing renovations. So I was left with a poor expression of something that I could only imagine are very beautiful. The ravages of war have left their black charred mark on the outer façade and from the pictures within the cathedral of what the true impact of the war really did, I was grateful that there was something left to see and appreciative of the continuous renovations and dedication of the many people involved in the preservation for future generations. The interior of the St Stephen’s is very dark and gothic and where elegance and grandeur of Italy’s cathedral is to be admired, the simplicity and humbleness of this icon is not  less diminished.

Speaking of simplicity, my dinner is purchased at a bakery. There are times when a sandwich of fresh salad, cheese and ham on a crusty white bun, accompanied with a traditional Viennese pastry, is all that one can dream of after a long day of walking. Too much richness can spoil the waistline and blow the budget and with my dinner purchased, I make my way back to the hostel for another three-hour marathon of torture by my room-mate.Superman in stone.Wonder woman  in stone.

January 8, 2013

Enter The Black Dog

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Or more commonly known as – depression.

One of the fastest growing illness in the world, that touches the lives of many. One can also assume, that depression touches the lives of almost everyone. It may be the individual who has suffered a tragedy or it may be a loved-one who has it, either way, it has a profound affect and it changes your life.

Personally, my depression has lay dormant for years, slowly festering and waiting for the opportunity to rise and knock me hard to the ground. I only ever denied the problem or was so busy dealing with other peoples dilemma’s, that I could forget my own troubles. Well not anymore. It goes without saying, that travelling solo can either make you or break you and I had no one elses problems to deal with but my own. So the situation I had placed myself in was perfect to let my ‘black dog’ loose.

After spending an amazing day touring the sights of Budapest with Warren, I awoke already feeling like I had fallen into a deep hole and could not breathe. I lacked any motivation to do anything and felt so emotional, that tears would swell into my eyes for no reason. The walls were closing in and I needed to get out.

I walked the cold grey streets of the city in no apparent direction. There was no place I needed to see, no one I needed to be with and no energy to propel me anywhere. My steps were heavy and my body numb and the only thought I had was to place one foot in front of the other. Life was going on around me, but I saw and heard nothing. I cried with each step taken and had never felt so alone, helpless or afraid in my entire life because it was then, at that moment, I wanted to die. Thoughts raced through my mind as to how I wanted to end it. I tried willing the concrete paths to open up and swallow me whole or hoped a bus would pass and end my misery. Never, had these thoughts ever crossed my mind before and they frightened me. It was here that I finally admitted that I needed help and that I have depression.

You know that feeling of always being strong for others, for just waking every day and getting on with life and never admitting defeat or that you cannot do it. Then that moment of admission. That incredible feeling of relief, the emotions that rise and release and the burden that you finally throw off your shoulders, can only be described as enlightening. To finally admit I have a problem and to release years of pain, was the salvation that I so desperately needed. This journey was something I desperately needed. It made me come to grips with my mental state, my life and direction and the most profound of all, that I am number one for me,myself and I. Do you know what the hardest word to say in the English language is? NO! Two letters, but so painfully hard to say. Why? You want to make others happy. You want to please others and you want them always to think the best of you. You want praise, affection and the ‘thank-you’ at the end of the day. You give, give and give. At what cost? The cost of one’s health or sanity, is a high price to pay and I may never have come to this conclusion if not for a tarot reader telling me of a journey that “I had to take”. In two days my life had changed. Two days, one amazing soul and one amazing city, changed my course in life and set me on a new path.

I had no camera to document my day, nor to remind myself of a day I would never forget and so I kept walking. The incredible monument dedicated to the men from the past, who helped create and shape Hungary was on full display. It is the only thing worth mentioning, for I saw nothing else today. I stood below each statue and looked up, wandering what miseries and burdens that they carried to bring about unity and peace to a once troubled country. That their troubles were so much greater than mine and yet here I stand, tears streaming down my face at my own miserable existence. It does not get more pathetic than that. When I recommenced my walk, I chose a wide boulevard full of humanity and noise. I needed companionship and something to focus on. But all in vain. I was embarrassed by my tears and so bowed my head and became lost once again in my thoughts. So lost in fact, that when I came to to my surroundings, I realised that I had indeed become lost. I had no map to guide me and thought I could keep going and I would eventually make my way back into the city. But the more I walked, the more lost I became and panic slowly started to emerge. When finally that feeling of defeat hits and knowing that going forward is a surety for failure, stop and turn back. It was all that I could do. I retraced my steps until I came to familiar surroundings. Having wasted my day on getting lost both mentally and physically, I realised that I had not eaten anything and was hungry. A quick stop at a cafe to eat a late lunch, I headed back to my hostel for much needed writing.

The hostel was quite and I had the communal computer all to myself and so I sat down to write an email to my cousin in Australia. For me, writing has always been the best therapy. It has ever been my best way of communicating, expressing my emotions and getting my voice heard. It soothes me and invigorates me at the same time. It brings out the best in me and it saved me. I wrote the mother of all emails, every emotion, every thought I wrote down and some. Drained, I retired early to bed and felt saddened that tomorrow I was to leave Budapest and leave my new friends. But it is a journey and I need to continue……………

October 15, 2012

The Wise Man of Budapest

 

Several years ago, I did something so out of character, hoping to find answers to my my life’s purpose and direction. I was in a depressed state and needed help. So, I turned to a tarot reader. I have never been to one prior and so I had no expectation of what to expect. Maybe, this was not going to be the answer, but I needed all the help I could get. She was a lovely woman and made me feel at ease. Her description of my character, was spot on, but what I really needed to know was where to next? She emphatically kept saying that I need to travel (which I have done) and secondly, that I will a man who is ‘king of the mind”. Why is this introduction so important? You will see.

My story continues……..

Warren arrived early with the promise of showing me the sights of Budapest. I explained to him that my camera had just recently died in Italy and I was therefore without one and vey upset that I would not be able to capture the beauty of Budapest. He was very kind to offer his fancy Canon camera for the day. So, it is thanks to him that I have some photo’s and what’s more important is that the photo’s are sublime. Amazing what a great quality  (and expensive) camera will do.

               

What I would really like to do, is write down the amazing stories that Warren related to me about his life. But I cannot because they are not my stories, nor is it my life and therefore I have no right. Plus he promised me a signed  copy of his biography.What I can write, is that Warren is a photographer, who left Australia at a young age to pursue his dream. He has seen the ravages of war in raw and Afghanistan and miraculously survived the 2004 Tsunami and remained to help with the relief effort. He has met inspirational people and done some amazing humanitarian work.This is all but a snippet of this mans amazing life. Only in his early forties, he has lived the life of two men. I have never felt so overwhelmed and insignificant, as I did then. My life is so boring compared to his.

Exploring a new city through the lenses of a photographer, he was able to show me the beauty in everything. An old abandoned Turkish Bath, is nothing but crumbling rubble and yet Warren made me see the beauty in the old wooden doors and beautiful stone walls. Facades on old buildings that I would otherwise walked past, he opened my eyes to the scars of WW2 and the bullet holes left deep in the walls and in the memories of many. Through his love of humanity, I would see the homeless not as ugly drunks, but people with humour and intelligence.

               

There is nothing more compelling than to walk the sights of Budapest with your tour guide, who is actually a foreigner and yet can relate with passion and conviction, the history of his new country. Warren could relate tales and show me sights that no guide book would mention and for that, I felt very privileged. We went to St Stephen‘s Bastion, a symbol of beauty and history that overlooks the city below. Gellert Hill is perfectly situated high above the city and here the outlook over the whole city was breathtaking. But below within the caves of Gellert Hill, the homeless dwell, out of sight. The weather cooled dramatically so high up and I was cold even though I wore a thick jacket with a scarf. But Warren, was dressed in shorts and T-shirt. I know not what kind of blood pumps through his veins, but I wish I had some because my hands and feet are perpetually cold all year round.

                          

After all the walking and talking, Warren did promise  lunch – albeit a late one, the mother of all creations – langos. How can I describe this icon that all Hungarians love. Forget Goulash being the national dish, this should be the national dish. In a nondescript street, in an obscure little shop, is one man who makes langos. How to describe this delight? It is the fatty fuel that late night drinkers need to stop their cravings, it is the national food that all Hungarians salivate over and it is something that all tourists should experience. It is all things fatty and delicious. Savoury dough, flattened and deep fried to a golden fluffy crisp the size of a small dinner plate, then laden with fresh garlic, sour cream and grated cheese. It is disgustingly delicious. But, I am ashamed to write, that I could barely eat three quarters of this monstrosity, as it sunk straight to the bottom of my stomach and just sat there. I did not eat for the rest of the day, but it was so worth it!

To end, I would like to share an unbelievable moment in this day. Warren and I spoke of many things in our lives and I related many things about me. But when we stood overlooking Budapest below, Warren asked me the most profound and life changing question. “What am I going to do about my writing?” I stood in disbelief because of everything that I have mentioned about my life, I never mentioned my dream of becoming a writer. I asked him how he knew and he replied that everything about me is writing. I speak writing. Nobody has ever observed that or even told me that. It is thanks to Warren, that I am writing this blog and relating my journey for people to read. My journey is not more special than the countless travellers that have come before or after me, but it is my journey and that is why is is special. He made me realise that and through his encouragement and belief, I have started to write.

So to go back to the beginning of this blog. I mentioned that the tarot reader said I would meet a man who was “king of the mind”. Well………. I will let you be the judge.

To you my friend……..thank you.

 

October 7, 2012

Budapest

 

First,I wish to apologise for my lack of photos in this post, but if you remember, my camera died yesterday and I needed to buy another.

A reoccurring theme on my travels, is rain and today was no exception. A heavy mist blanketed the city, giving it a romantic look to it. I had made no real plans today, only that I wanted to walk, explore and see what I can discover. It was all to be so exciting and I allowed myself the pleasure of getting lost. And yet, I felt at home because surrounding me were people speaking a language that was so familiar to me, more so than in Australia because there the dominate language is English and we would only revert to Hungarian in public, when we would want to bitch about someone – as you do!

The Danube, a silver ribbon that meanders and divides the city is so close to my hostel that it is here that I decide to start my journey. It truly is a mighty river and so symbolic to the romantic ideals of the city. Bridges unite the two halves and there on the very foreshore, is undoubtably the most beautiful of all Parliament Houses. The red dome, very much a Renaissance symbol, dominates the skyline. I walk past the building, only to be stopped by a disgruntled elder, who needed to vent his frustration about politics. My ears, although being small is size, absorbed the barrage and I left a little later, knowing that I did a good deed, even though I said barely anything. Really, what could I to say?

St Stephen’s Cathedral is a place of worship that my family has spoken about numerous times. It was only fitting that I should discover it so easily. Beautiful outside and within, it certainly lived up to the hype and personally for me, one of the most beautiful of cathedrals thus far. I say one because the Italians still have the upper hand in that department. Surrounding the cathedral are countless tourist shops and I venture into just one for a peek. Wow! I discovered so many wonderful and precious hand-made needle-craft, ornaments, clothing and so much more. It was all so tempting and so was the price-tag. Nearby, was a cafe and the Hungarians are famous for their pastries/cakes that I thought it only my duty to stop and sample one. There was only one cake that I really wanted and that was the most famous of them all. The Dobos torte is an icon and it was delicious. Something that I found unsettling in Budapest, is the size of the toilet rooms. Once you enter the tiny compartment, you can barely close the door and then the truly difficult task of sitting down because  your knees are squashed up against the door. Now, I am considered and average size woman in height/weight and struggled, so what about taller people???? Hmm… the mind boggles!

The most famous of all streets and precinct in the city is Vaci Utca. Famous for the cafes and the legendary Gerbeaud Restaurant and also as the “red light” district. I would have loved to have eaten in Geabeaud’s but the restaurant was full and the price was also a big deterrent. The district is full of shops of all kinds, but it is also home to the Christmas Market. Today, was the official opening of the season and it was so special to be a part of it. Although, there is no snow yet, it certainly did not take away any of the festive atmosphere. There was so much delicious food to be had, that I decided to stop here for lunch. I went to a stall to ask for a plate of some traditional food, only to stumble on my words. The man was very polite and asked “English or Hungarian” and I quickly replied Hungarian. He smiled, realised that I was not a local and served me some food accompanied with hot mulled wine. I sat at a long communal table and just enjoyed the atmosphere and food. But reality is never far behind and a wake-up call on how privileged I am. A homeless man was going through the garbage bins in search of food. It is something that would reoccur many times here in Budapest and one underlying factor is the amount of homeless people that roam the streets. And let us not forget the other’s that roam the streets and give Budapest the name of “sex capital”.

At the end of the very long Vaci Utca, is the Central Market. Again, this is an institution and comes high on the tourist recommendation list. A massive two storey market dedicated to all things Hungarian. The lower level sell food in all formats – cold meats, fruit and vegetables, spices, cakes, alcohol, cheeses, fresh meat etc. The upper level sells hand-made needle-craft in the thousands and then on the other side are the stalls selling hot food. I bypassed that section as I have just eaten lunch, but it was so tempting. With winter slowly approaching, the days are getting shorter and night comes early. I make my way back to my hostel to catch-up with my new friends.

lldiko is a beautiful girl and she is at the reception desk when I arrive back. We start talking and she tells me that her boyfriend is from Australia. Not much time passes, when the “Australian boyfriend” arrives. Warren sits down and we all start to talk like long lost friends. After what felt like minutes, was in actual fact several hours, Warren offered to play tour guide tomorrow as well as lending me his camera. The offer was too surreal to pass up and with that decision made, we said our goodnights.

My life was about to change and Warren would become the most influential person to enter my life.

 

 

 

 

October 1, 2012

Farewell Italy

 

A day that finally came and one that I am reluctant to face.

I have always had an affinity with all things Italian. I sometimes wonder if in a past life, I may have been Italian? My four weeks have been amazing and I have seen some of the great wonders of the ancient world, met the world’s greatest artists, eaten delicious food (not to mention all those gelato’s), marvelled at the great architecture and those who built them, witnessed the finesse and elegance of the people and met some truly wonderful people along the way. My travels have only just started, but damn, Italy will be so hard to beat.

Suzy and I farewelled each other early in the morning. It was not really a goodbye because we made plans to meet up again in December in Strasbourg. That was something to look forward to. I was left to pack my bag and then leave them at the hostel, while I explored a little more of the city.

The river was just holding out and although the threat was not completely over, it had abated somewhat. It was still a little frightening and something I did not want to face being caught in a flood. The rain had stopped and Italy shone beautifully. My only regret here in Vincenza, is that I did not get to see more of Andrea Palladio‘s buildings. Most of them where closed down for the season, but I did get the chance to see one of his finest.

Teatro Olympico is a masterpiece and one of the most beautiful theatre’s in the world. Small and very old, I sat upon a wooden bench, savouring the delicious smell of aged wood, with a strong fusion of mould. No photo’s allowed, unfortunately. It is a unique theatre and one that has stood the ravages of war, decay and centuries, to be still standing and in prime condition.

              

                    

And then my camera died – AGAIN! That is officially number two.

I reluctantly left Vincenza at 5:30 pm, bound for Venice and my overnight train to Budapest. It would be a long wait at the train terminal for my 9:20 pm departure, but it gave me the chance for some much needed rest and catch up on my reading. After several hours waiting, I walked down the long platform to my waiting train and nearly dropped my bags in horror. I think they stopped making new trains after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 because this thing was old. But not to be deterred, I walked up to the conductor with my ticket and it was here that I could use for the first time, the language of my ancestors. Hungarian is the language spoken by my parents and it is one that I know relatively fluently. Although, English is my predominate language, spoken in all aspects of my life in Australia, Hungarian is what is spoken at home. So with pride, I converse with the conductor who recognises my Hungarian name, albeit Australian passport. The cabin I am conducted to, is small and with only two beds. I am to share it with a woman from Finland by the name of Tua. She is lovely and we talk for some time. Our train departs and it is not long after that we both prepare for some much needed sleep.

I would like to write that I slept like a dog, but the truth being told, I slept poorly. The train rattled and rolled the whole fourteen hours of travel. To combat matters, I suffer from motion sickness and it did not help the situation when I had to lay down in the dark and be constantly thrown about in my bed. Then came the fun part. At 3:30 am we were woken for a passport check, then at 4:00 am,  6:00 am and finally at 6:30 am. Through the former country of Yugoslavia,  the border checks were at Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and finally Hungry. I was not amused! Tired and pissed off, when we arrived at the third check, the woman guard stamped my passport and I thanked her in Italian. What the……? I understood enough of her comment to her partner, that I have an Australian passport, Hungarian name but spoke in Italian. Even I laughed at how habits die slowly. With our last check over, we got back to sleep for a few hours, only to be waken for the last time for breakfast.

To try and freshen myself up, I attempted to use the tap at the little basin and when I turned it on,a greasy something spewed out. Thankfully, Tua bought bottled water and I was saved from that hell. The remaining hours passed along the mighty Balaton Lake- the biggest inland lake that went on and on. We arrived in the capital right on time at 10:59 am (not bad for the old-timer) and Tua and I departed accidentally. I got side-tracked with a persistent taxi driver and before I knew it, Tua was gone. The driver and I argued a fee and with the agreed sum finalised, he drove me to my hostel. It was an interesting few minutes because he was most happy to impart historical information of his most beloved city. It did fill me with pride listening to him speak and seeing the beautiful Budapest for the first time. I was dropped off nearby and was left to walk the short distance to my hostel. A little hard to find because it is in an apartment block and not well advertised, but thankfully a local saw my confused look and directed me.

I arrived tired and in desperate need of a shower.

My host and part-owner of the hostel, Heidi, greets me and shows me to a huge room that I have all to myself. I shower, have some lunch and spend the rest of the day resting and talking to Heidi who is fascinated with my Hungarian accent and my life in Australia. A great start to my three day sojourn of my ancestors.

 

April 11, 2012

Four Tourist Use Profanities Along Lake Como Walking Trail – It’s Called Aussie Slang!

Although the weather is warm during the day, it cools dramatically at night. I lay shivering in my bed last night, waiting patiently for the blessed heater to turn on and warm my weary bones. Thankfully it did around 10 pm and from then on, I snored like a fiend.

Breakfast in any hostel consists of the staple diet of bread, margarine, jam, a piece of fruit (if your lucky) and coffee/tea. At this hostel the same rule applies, but the bread is fresh and the coffee is made by the host, the proper way – cappuccino with a thick silky froth on top. After breakfast, I asked my hostess for day trip recommendations and she politely informed me of a 12 km walk along the lake with stunning views called “the green way”. It sounded great and so with my bus ticket in hand and walking shoes on, I started my day.

Lake Como is a massive lake with the modern marvel of having a narrow two way road that traverses the very edge of mountain and water. By taking the bus to my hiking starting point, I had no idea that I would be handing my life over to the very capable bus driver? Thank God for health insurance! The road is very narrow and winding, through villages, under bridges and through mountains. Shared by cars, buses, motorbikes, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians, all done with the greatest of ease and not a angry or aggressive motorist in sight. Although a hair-raising experience, I could not help but laugh at the sheer danger and yet normal life of the residents. Welcome to Italy!

I missed my stop and hurriedly got off the bus and walked back to the starting point. It was here that I passed three tourists with the distinctive and very welcoming Aussie accent. I had to stop and before I knew it, the four of us joined as a little group and started the hike together. I cannot express how delighted I was to have companions, but ones from Australia was extra special.  May I introduce Rob, Emma and Trenta from Port Stephens. Need I even write that we spoke fast, cracked plenty of Aussie humour and slang and just talked about home?

My camera being cheap and nasty, did no justice to the magnificence of the day. The sun shone brilliantly, the lake sparkled and the scenery laid out so magnificently before us, delighted all and every senses. We walked and talked and at no time did we feel tired. We passed villa’s nestled high up the mountain or situated perfectly on the water’s edge. Villages dotted the track and silently we passed through them. What really amazed me, was that houses lay right beside the road and front doors opened onto the road. I have never witnessed such close proximity and lack of space and privacy between dweller’s and yet, this has been their way of like for centuries. Peaceful and at harmony.

One part of our journey lead us to a historic site that left us a little confused. Etched into a stone wall was an inscription dedicated to Mussolini. Not being able to read Italian, we could only assume it was the residence of the famous dictator or something to do with his arrest? Still, it piqued our interest and got our fingers clicking for those memorable photo’s.

The one important thing that we forgot to do, was stop and each lunch. In hindsight it was silly because we passed so many places to stop and eat, but we just kept walking. We believed that once we got to the end, we could stop and then eat. But this was to prove a mistake because firstly we over looked how late we would finish the walk and secondly, by the time we back tracked to the nearest cafe, lunch was over. I was ravenous and knew that I would have to wait until dinner to eat. 

The four of us, defeated and hungry, caught the bus back to our respective accommodation. We travelled about half way together before my new-found friends got off the bus. I was sad to say good-bye, but thankful in meeting and enjoying such a beautiful day with some Aussie’s. When I got back to the hostel, I relaxed in my dorm awaiting desperately for some dinner. It was here, that I met Valerie, my room-mate from Brazil, who spoke perfect English and was so friendly, that we started up a new and continuing friendship.

Dinner at long last came. I opted for the filling pasta and red wine again and it was during dinner that I met another Aussie guy named Tom. My first full day in Lake Como and how things are changing!

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