Nom de Plumage

August 2, 2013

Reflections

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Today is a milestone, for it is six months since I have left home and it is also the day that I shall be leaving the European continent, bound for Britain. It is then only fitting, that I should reflect on my adventures and prepare myself for new ones.

My three-day visit with the French woman did not entirely play out as planned. Although, I did get to see spectacular scenery and fulfil my dream to see the Somme Valley and the war cemeteries, it was not without some dramas. I did something very out of the ordinary and excepted an invitation from a stranger to stay in their home. I have always felt uncomfortable about such things and hence the reason it took so long to confirm my visit. My hesitation was in tune with my intuition and I should have listened to it. Without going into too much detail, basically the woman suffers from severe depression and made me feel very uncomfortable and through her jealousy and insecurities, she judged me unfairly. It was hard to overcome such ill-treatment, but I am wiser for the experience and leave France sadly on a sour note.

I experienced something also that I believe many travellers, regardless of their sex or age must experience, and that is pursued by someone who is married.  It is while I was in Lucerne that I met a man who worked in a bar and throughout one evening he flirted. This time, I listened to my intuition and decided against returning any flirtation because of my imminent departure and eventual return to Australia. I ask advice from some friends and they all said that I should not have been so quick to fob him off and that I should go back and see where it will lead. It lead to my finding out from a third-party that the man is not only married, but has children. He did nothing to deny it and could only muster a sheepish smile. Thankfully, nothing happened and if not for the fact that I regretted wasting the money to return to Lucerne, it did save me embarrassment and eliminated the dreaded ‘what if’ ?

My three-month Eurail Pass has now officially expired and it is with a wonderful sense of achievement that I store the pass away as a reminder of my unbelievable destinations. Before departing on each train journey, I needed to fill out the form (to validate each journey) on the pass. I had used my pass extensively, that while in Berlin, I needed another form. The two attendants at the train station, were in shock that I requested another form, so much so, that they read the form to see what countries I have visited. Impressed, they laughed and handed me a new form and wished me well.

If you had asked me just one question before I even left Australia about what I fear most on my journey, you will be surprised to know that it is the fear of not being able to communicate with people. True! It is because I knew that I could not learn every language of the countries that I shall visit. I have read and heard countless stories of locals being rude to tourists who will not/cannot communicate in the language of the people, that I was very nervous. And for what? I will not lie that I did not meet a few rude people, but once I had made some attempt to communicate in their language, the language barrier dissipated and communication (either verbal or hand) is established. Funny, that even though I could not understand the actual language spoken, I somehow could understand the meaning behind the words. It is the unwritten law of communication and it surprised me that with some effort, we understood each other. Unfortunately, I missed not being able to read everything that surrounded me, or even have a meaningful conversation with the locals.

Of all the train stations in Europe that I travelled to/through, it is undoubtably Gare de Nord in Paris that was the station I visited the most. Not my most favourite of stations and yet it is fittingly the last station that I visit as I leave Paris bound for Britain on the Eurostar. I make my way up the stairs towards the UK customs and it is with relief when the customs officer speaks to me in perfect English. Ahhh! We spoke while he was processing my ticket and then he stopped and shook his head while he was flicking through my passport. The dreaded stamps from Berlin! I tried to make light note of it and although he laughed and informed me that many tourist also make the same mistake, he reiterated politely and strongly the foolishness of my actions. What now makes perfect sense, then seemed sensible. In fact, for a five euros and five stamps, each of countries that now do not exist, I had in fact committed an offence. He assured me that I will not have my passport confiscated because many other tourists fall into the same trap, but he warned me to think twice about my actions and that passports are legal documents that must not be tampered with. Point taken!

I believe that I may have had high expectations of the Eurostar train and it was only when I enter the train, reality hit. In fact, the train was very cramped, leg space minimal, luggage space minimal and the decor is a faded and worn grey colour. The journey itself was barely two hours long, but it was the experience of travelling under the channel that I was anticipating the most. Twenty minutes; that was all it took. Barely a blink and I was on British soil.  I exited the train at St Pancreas station, and became euphoric at the sound of the English language. My journey got that much easier simply because I could put the fear of not being able to communicate behind me, to a world where I could read and communicate perfectly. Bloody marvellous! My journey on the London metro was not so easy, especially when it is almost peek-hour. But it also does not help when I am carrying a very big back-pack and the metro train is very cramped and narrow. I was very taken back and had to contend with being jostled about.

At my destination, I had no idea where my hostel is. The hostel is operated by a private company and they do not provide directions. I tried looking for a taxi and could not find any or the taxi stand, so I went to ask someone at the station. The guard directed me to a place around the corner and still I could not find it. Went back to the station and he informed me again what I need to look for. It is in fact, a tiny shop (without a sign) and when I peered inside the large window, there was a large group of men of many different ethnicity playing cards. I hesitantly walk in to ask if this is where I can get a taxi. A quick discussion of whose turn it is next, a little Jamaican guy jumps up and takes me to his taxi. No sign and no meter. I am nervous and he senses my hesitation and assures me that it is a flat five-pound fee.

When I reach my hostel, I knock for about ten minutes before someone eventually hears me and opens the door. I had to telephone the office that I arrived and they inform me that they emailed me informing me that I have to go to another of their properties. Thankfully, the secretary comes to pick me up and it is only a short drive to the hostel. It is more like a huge house, clean and very comfortable and full of Aussies. I feel right at home and in good company.

 

February 11, 2013

The Small Pleasures in Life

For the Ladies nice!

  For the Ladies – nice!

My wickedness overcame me and before I knew it, I was taking photo’s of a very nice tush. Now, I make no apologies for this lovely and very cute bum  as it is displayed most splendidly in a public park. Stadt (city) Park is dedicated to Vienna’s most famous son’s, honouring their genius in music and opera (which has withstood the centuries) and is still loved and played in the 21st century. Honestly, not sure who belongs to this fine specimen and God forbid, that is should belong to composer of respectability displaying his assets, but let us dream nonetheless.

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A place that brings back wonderful memories for me, is none other than a restaurant called Maredo‘s. Back in 1999, my brother and I lived in Germany and it was our regular haunt for some succulent Argentinian beef and an amazing buffet of fresh salad. So you can imagine my delight, when I rediscovered this memory right here in Vienna. My fear aside of dining alone, I order and dine with confidence, enjoying my need for some much needed protein and fresh greens, all accompanied with a glass of red wine. The food is ever the same, just as enjoyable as I last remembered it.

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When travelling in a foreign country, you are surrounded and inundated with language and signs/directions that are very unfamiliar and confusing. It is all part of the experience and you learn to embrace and enjoy it. But secretly, you find pleasure when you discover a bookstore that sells English books or a cinema that dedicates their programs in English. When I found an English cinema, it just seemed like a perfect way to spend my last night in Vienna and let me also be honest – an evening away from my irritating roommate.

To really celebrate my final night, a little park next to the cinema had a small Christmas market that sold just food. There is always time and money when it comes to some traditional comfort food of a massive krapfen (vanilla custard donut) and a belly-warming orange punch. Hot and alcoholic (you all must think I am an alcoholic with all these hot punches?),  it is enjoyed as the snow fulls lightly, laughter and good cheer envelope me and Vienna wishes me a fond farewell.

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……………

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