Picture atlases. Remember being 8 years old and cracking the spine of a shiny new picture Atlas? They were always too big for little hands and arms to hold so had to be spread on the floor. There I am, on the rug with my knees tucked up under my chest, opening the cover to the bright colours of kids from all over the world. This one’s Chinese; they have black hair and wear shiny dresses. This one’s from Paris; wearing a beret and holding an artists’ brush. Germans wear braces, Italians eat pasta and Spanish have pet bulls. Ignoring the obvious stereotyping, how thrilling it was to think of a world with pockets of Different Sameness. Where everyone was Different to me but the Same as each other.
I was on a train in Paris a few weeks ago, surrounded by Parisians and, well… everyone looks the Same. Actually, Different obviously, in the way that each individual is different; there’s dark skin opposite my seat and light hair next to me. A sad brown face in hippie clothes by the door watches the businessman in a polo shirt read his newspaper. The lady wearing a head scarf across the aisle quiets her boy toddler wearing mini Converse Shoes and a fake leather jacket. It’s just that these are the same kind of differences you find in people on a train in Australia. And Italy. And Portugal come to think of it. I could have picked up that carriage and put it on a line from Surry Hills to Parramatta and it wouldn’t have been out of place except for the language.
It seems we have lost Different Sameness and instead just have the Same Differences. Admittedly I’ve only travelled Western countries so perhaps it’s a phenomenon affecting just those cities. It was bound to happen, I guess, what with the rise of globalization and the inevitable multiculturalism that it brings but I can’t help just a little bit of me being sad and mourning more of a culture clash experience. When I’ve found it – usually in discussions with a group of locals who have also travelled around a bit – Different Sameness has changed my perspective. In Stockholm, I talked with two American guys for hours in a cafe about how they wished for the lifestyle focussed culture of Europe rather than the pressures of ‘getting ahead’ Americans seem so obsessed with. Sweating it out in a Sauna in Finland, Jouni explained that there are two words for happiness in Finnish – long lasting happiness (sort of like contentment) and short lasting happiness (like just a fleeting feeling). One of my favourite memories is of a Greek explaining in a loud voice and with large gestures why the world owed Greece the EU bailout and why he absolutely refused to sleep with any Germans this Summer because of the austerity measures imposed. We all wear the same clothes and listen to pretty much the same music but fortunately there are some cultural norms the rest of the world hasn’t adopted from America.
I just googled the image for this blog, looking for something with all the children in their traditional dress holding hands around the world. To my shock, the images of the kids holding hands around the world are there but they’re all wearing the same clothes! Now I’m mourning the demise of my picture Atlases too. Hopefully by the time my children are old enough to travel, we would have discovered life on another planet. That way there’ll be some Different Sameness to experience. Makes me wonder what the picture atlas for my grandchildren will look like, aside from 3D, interactive and downloaded directly to their brains. Whose Same Differences will have won?
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Stayed at the GSpot Hostel in Lisbon, Portugal and laughed so much at the clever marketing I had to interview the owner about it to share with all my entrepreneurially minded friends back home… I hope you all find the GSpot!
Interviewing and editing skills need some work but you get the idea 😉
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“The City of Love”. I want to vomit.
In my pre-arrival state of mind, Paris is possibly the most hyped up city in all of Europe. I’ve heard the Eiffel Tower is ridiculously overrated (5 hour queues for a not-very-high view) and I’m fully prepared for shopping malls and hot dog stands where there should be beret’d artists and quaffed poodles.
Our first night, surrounded by the cozy smell of crepes, we round a corner of Trocadero Square and the Eiffel Tower smacks me in the face. A whoozy feeling shoots through my lungs, around my heart and down to my feet. Bright, white lights dance from the top of the tower, high-fiving and cartwheeling down to the bottom before racing up to do it all again. Fountains reflecting the lights become shooting stars as the curved edges slide down to a frame of topiary trees, statues and manicured gardens spread around the base. I am enraptured. It’s simultaneously magnificent and intimate; a mesmerising monument I want to pick up and put in my back pocket.
This first glimpse just so happened to be during the 10 minutes of every hour when additional lights are turned on. We met a friend underneath it the next day and I can’t express how grateful I am that my first sight of the Eiffel was with those lights. It’s just not the same in the daytime. We order a chocolate and banana crepe and settle on the edge of a monument for a longer look. It’s basically a giant Christmas tree. You can just sit and stare and stare and stare. Then, after glancing at the moon strung in the sky next to it like from a baby’s mobile, stare some more. I’m addicted. My plan the next night, if I can’t find Kendyl and friends at the club we’re supposed to meet at, is to go back there and lie upside down on my sarong, contentedly mesmerised for a few hours.
Eiffel Tower. Not overrated.
I do find Kendyl the next night though and we are treated to an early morning scooter ride through Paris by new friends Thomas and Charles. I tie a scarf around my neck so it can ride the wind with my hair as we speed past the Notre Dame, the Louvre, under the Tower (lights off), down the Champs de Elysees, through the Princess Di tunnel (goosebumps), along the River Seine and up onto the pavement outside Charles’ apartment. The four of us sip Rose on a balcony overlooking Paris’ rooftops. We are presided over by the moon which, though competing for attention last night at the Eiffel, is tonight the pis-de-resistance of our little tableu.
It was disconcerting then when, on our last night in Paris, the first act of the Moulin Rouge show “Feree” resembled a drunk rehearsal of an impromptu choreography session from a year 12 common room. I swear I saw one of the girls miss a beat (again) and turn to one of the other girls for a giggle about it. But what it lacks in performance finesse and originality, it makes up for in half naked bodies and costumes. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence but it’s true. Furry, red apples explode into spider tendrils to swish across brazilian bikini-d backsides. An amazon woman wrestles in a giant see-through pool with what my limited understanding of the animal kingdom tells me are phythons. A man plays the drums by blowing ping-pongs from his mouth. Half naked heeled women dressed as pirates, sailors, lions and their tamer, butterflies, dominatrixes and (sadly) clowns all parade the stage, lip syncing to French love songs until finally… the CanCan!
Now, I’ve watched Baz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge enough times to recite it backwards. And it is my professional opinion that Cancan dancers are better fat. After all the naked girating of the past few minutes, skinny girls lifting their skirts just wasn’t the cultural experience I was expecting it to be. And ladies, you’ll be pleased to know that not even a professional Moulin Rouge dancer can get up off all fours in a heeled lion costume without looking a little like a drunk giraffe. Just saying.
Moulin Rouge. Only a little overrated.
Overall though Paris is, quite simply, beautiful. Even in Rome and Greece, ‘old’ has an underlying current of tired and dirty about it. Not in Paris. Every building is fresh, balconies lining the streets above trees and postcard worthy bars. Every corner boasts a lamppost, a garden, a statue…
“The City of Love”. I want to come back with a lover…
Gawwwd but I’m sick of ‘Hot Boys’.
What I want is a dirty boy. A Heath Leadger look-a-like with longish wavy hair, wearing a sweatband around his wrist and a beat up old guitar on his back covered in half worn off stickers of bands that are way too cool for me to know. He would have an aura of ‘fuck the man’ confidence and tell wickedly hilarious stories about his year traveling the outskirts of India with a pack of mountaineers. I’d fall for his deep eyes across a bonfire, we’d have a hash-fueled love affair and then he would write a song about me.
What happened to the ‘rogue travellers’, the artists and adventurers? How did they all turn into DT wearing, tan attempting, peacock strutting accountants?! Where’s the guy who rocks a six pack from his yoga addiction under a slightly ripped shirt he found in an op shop in Cambodia? Not sitting on the beach in Cannes today, I can assure you, cos I spoke to the only non-clearly-insane man with a six pack there and he was a “Salesman slash Model”. He took five photos of us together because the first four he was concerned his smile showed too much of his teeth.
Another guy Kendyl met had photos of him and a girl on his Facebook wall. The girl was pretty cute so we did the womanhood thing and stalked her as well. She was born in 1995. 1995!!!! 16 years old?!?!? Quite literally, a DECADE younger than me. She probably has no idea who the Care Bears, Captain Planet or Animaniacs are. How can I possibly have anything to say to a guy who managed to hang out with someone with that level of cultural unawareness for an entire day?!
I did actually see a boy like the one I’m describing in the street the other day standing next to a rubbish skip. Travel pack, bandana thingy in his wiry longish hair, tanned, broad, could eat a bear… It seemed a suitably unromantic situation to walk up and say “Oh thank God, you don’t whiten your teeth. And is that a rip in your shirt? What are you doing later? Let’s sit on the beach and pretend we know what philosophy is all about.”, but I’m just too shy.
I’m doing the wrong sort of travel for meeting these types of boys, evidenced by the fact that my “backpack” has wheels and I am carrying no less than 7 pairs of shoes. What I need to do is buy some tie-dyed fisherman pants, learn to smoke without coughing and hitchhike my way through Slovenia in search of a bonfire. Plan.
“I have to sleep. Anywhere. I need a pillow. Something to put my head on. Now.”
I consider the soup I’m eating. Somewhere in the back of my brain a voice says that it being a liquid could be a bad thing but it’s drowned out by the front of the brain screaming that it’s warm. And squishy. Like a pillow. Also, I wouldn’t have to expend the energy of dipping the spoon into the soup and bringing it to my mouth. I could just close my eyes, stick my tongue out, and lap it up. Win, win.
I need to read everything. Posters in the alleyways, signs on train doorways saying ‘Attention: in case of emergency, press this button”, pamphlets discarded underneath the bench I’m sitting on… it’s like my eyes need to draw a mental line through anything representing a sentence before they can rest and just take in the scenery. After a couple of days, reading the Italian language is doing my head in. Most of the ‘general public’ Italian words read just like English but in a heavy Italian accent. “Grande Centrale Stazione” for instance, though clearly simply ‘Grand Central Station,” is said in my head by a 50 year old Italian bolognese chef waving a spoon around the kitchen; “GRRAN-deh sen-TRRA-leh sta-zy-ON-eh!!!!!” The chef says everything and won’t stop waving his spoon at me; “at-TEN-zione!” “twoi-LETtte?” It’s gotten to the point where the chef says my own english sentences for me; “Wherra IZ-za mi FON-na?!!!!!”
It’s not 100% full proof though. “Lavenderia” is NOT, as you would suppose, a shop all about lavender, which is clearly worth risking your life crossing a busy Italian street to see. It’s a laundromat.
On arriving in France I said “Si, Grazi” to the hotel concierge and checkout girl at the local supermarket instead of “Oiu, Merci”. Switching from one language you don’t know to another one you have not the first idea about is hard work. Also, we’ve made an attempt to understand basic words in the local language, such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘oh my god where’s the nearest bathroom?’. It’s pointless though. The 10 words I know in Italian (5 of those numbers), every single Italian person knows in English. Peppering complete english sentences with the word ‘cinque’ instead of ‘five’ is not aiding comprehension.
In Nice, France though, I was thrilled to the edges of my pink painted toenails to say “Excuse–moi?” in a full french accent to two girls attempting to push in line for the tram. It just sounds so… catty.
…in public places cost money. It seems a little opportunistic to charge 50c for the relieving of bodily functions. At Toulouse, on a stopover to Barcelona, the toilets didn’t open until 6am. Our train arrived at 5:30am. The last 10 minutes of that half an hour are the longest 10 minutes of my life. I practically threw the money at the operator.
Kendyl keeps getting stuck in bathrooms and I keep getting walked in on in toilets. The latter situation is because my Clair Brain forgets to lock the door in restaurant and train bathrooms. We’re not sure why Kendyl keeps getting stuck… but it’s damn funny to hear the little whimper behind the cubicle door again!
I’m standing by the side of a road, at 8am, not wearing any underwear. We got out of the jacuzzi an hour or so ago, chatting with two of the ten Norwegians renting the mansion overlooking Nice, France until it was time for the bus to arrive.
When we board, I can feel more than a bit of itching from the seat. A seven year old boy in shorts and socks to his calves gets on. Going to school. I haven’t slept since I woke up at 11am yesterday morning. His perfectly combed hair and tiny, polished black school shoes rebuke my lack of underwear, sleep and decorum for the entire bus ride.
Kendyl and I can’t stop giggling.Read More
I come back from the bathroom in Skala restaurant, Santorini, to a scene straight from “Eat, Pray, Love”. A big corner table directly overlooking the ocean is crowded with characters from all corners of the globe; Biljiana, a blonde and energetic Macedonian sits next to Sheena, a Gold Coast babe with long, black hair and real (expensive!) boobs.
The owner of the restaurant, 60 year old Stavros, has his hand on Kendyl’s back and is attempting to convince her to go to the island of Eos with him to his resort for a couple of days. Despite the promise to return her to us in Mykonos by Sunday, she’s not convinced and laughs him away every few minutes. Our guests this evening are Kamal and Thyme, businessman and actor/producer respectively who live… I can’t remember where. Maybe LA but they’re in Santorini for a cool 6 weeks just ‘hanging out’. Kamal’s from Melbourne and has a place just down the road from my favorite little dancing haunt Boutique. It’s bizarre coming halfway around the world to find so many people from so close to home.
I’m sitting next to our host, George, who has developed a little crush and says ‘Wow!’ while staring at me intensely whenever I turn my head in his direction. He ordered us lobster spaghetti (my first taste of lobster) to go with the array of seafood dishes Stavros’ kitchen keeps bringing to the table. I can barely move I’ve eaten so much and George’s constant offers to feed me lobster on a fork are not helping. To his left are four local Greeks, an older couple and two 30-something women. I don’t understand a word they’re saying but it’s loud and apparently funny. It’s midnight, a nearly full moon is reflecting on the ocean and a warm breeze flickers the candles…
Beauty is worth living for.
Bedtime is now 8am. Dinner is midnight. Brunch is around 5pm before an afternoon siesta. I’m not sure where the hours of 8am – 5pm go, they don’t seem to exist in Europe. I wake up, wander the streets in search of food and when I next look at the clock it’s evening.
Right now though it’s 7am in the morning and I’m soaking wet, standing in a café outside Cavo Paradiso Club in Mykonos. I lost my bra inserts (affectionately known among womankind as ‘chicken fillets’) doing a backflip into the pool in my underwear about an hour ago, but the dress and heels are intact. Every table we visited tonight had a different drink; Moet, vodka & peach, whisky and coke, tequila shots at the bar with the manager and two crazy looking lesbian women. One had wiry red hair sticking straight up from her head and bright sea blue contacts in her eyes. It’s a scary sight at any time of day but particularly harrowing at 3am in the morning surrounded by pulsing blue lights. The manager wants to know if I’d like to come back, live above the club and jump into the pool every night next summer. Tempting.
I’m attempting to order a salad from the menu; SALATA. Italian. I got this. Prosciutto, Formaggio, Tacchino. I read these words loudly as if I know what they’re saying. Sounds like a good salad; ham, cheese and mushrooms. I’m pretty impressed with a place like this having salad and even though I can’t see fresh anything, I order a number 11. The owner moves around the counter, pours some batter onto a hot plate and fills it with ham, turkey and prosciutto before asking if I want it takeaway. Hang on; I’m supposed to be getting a salad. I start reading out the ingredients to him again from the sign before he interrupts and asks why I’m not reading the menu in English right next to the Italian version. Shoot. Apparently SALATA means ‘salty’, which I think is the Greek idea of ‘savoury’ and in this café means Crepes. Drunk Confidence strikes again. I take the crepe with only a slight grumble about the fact that ‘salata’ is clearly ‘salad’ in anybody’s language.
Mykonos is living up to its reputation as a party town, though Santorini is the surprise runner up. We meant to have two days of relaxation and liver cleansing in preparation for Mykonos but George, the Hotel Manager of Armeni Village and a connection of a local Greek friend Demi-(licious!), had other plans. It only took a complimentary bottle of wine to convince us to head into Thari, the main town of Santorini, for some partying with him that night. We were looked after all evening, crashing after sunrise to be woken by a complimentary continental breakfast. We took quad bikes around the island that afternoon, scored some more drinks and a delicious local dessert of chocolate and banana deep fried in a crepe at a beachside cafe and rode home in our bikinis under the setting sun.
Life’s pretty good.Read More
I’ve had locals laugh in my face twice now.
The first time was my virgin attempt at the Italian language. I’d heard the waitress at the coffee stand use a delicious ‘Grrraaat-zi’ at the end of every order and thought I’d give it a go with the girl behind the counter at the public transport desk after we bought our tickets. It’s nerve-wracking speaking another language you don’t actually know anything about. Personally, it all has to do with accents. I love rolling my rr’s. It’s a huge source of disappointment to me that English has no rrr-rolling, hence why I’m trying to learn Spanish. Any opportunity I have to roll my rr’s, I take; I just love how it feels on the tongue. You feel like a bit of a nuff doing it in Australia though, like “Look how cool I am, I can say the word with the proper accent.” So I usually don’t. The question is, once you’re actually in the country and clearly a foreigner, how hard are you allowed to roll your rr’s??? What about the lyrical Italian lilt that peppers every word, as if it is being picked up then dropped back down again? Do you say the word casually like you’re a pro or make eye contact, smile as you say it and intone slightly up at the end as if asking a question; “I’m a stupid tourist, is this how I say this basic simple word in your language?”
I end up opting for the casual, full rrr-rolling version. Mistake. After speaking in a heavily Australian-accented English for the past 3 minutes, I was clearly a novice. Possibly my slight breathlessness at actually speaking another language to a local in another country gave it away as well. I was rewarded with a smirk and then an outright laugh on eye contact and walked away blushing.
The second local laughing at me was worse though. I’m almost too embarrassed to tell this story but it’s possible my life purpose is to serve as a warning to others, so here goes. We were in San Marco Square, the main tourist attraction in Venice, when I approached three young people in orange ‘San Marco’ shirts and asked them the way to Doge’s Palace; the second most famous tourist attraction in Venice. Now I’m curious to know, Australian readers, how you pronounced ‘Doge’s’ in your head. Possibly some of you who took History class in school know the right way to pronounce it. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not ‘Doe-g-z’ with an ‘o’ like ‘throwes’, a hard-g and ‘z’ sound for the s. “Doagz…” The three Italians stared at me for a second, confused. So I made that classic foreigner faux pas of repeating your stupidity in a slightly louder tone. ““do-jshes?” the girl finally asked with a beautiful soft d and g.
Of all the Asians attempting star jumps in front of St Mark’s Basilica, the Americans yelling their questions at retailers and the Russians buying gaudy hats and t-shirts saying ‘San Marco’, I was the stupidest tourist in that square. And there were a lot of tourists in that square. The two boys could barely contain their laughter as the girl pointed in the right direction and I slunk off with Kendyl, face burning from more than just the summer heat.
I blame the Australian education system. I am a Neanderthal.Read More
We’ve not been in Venice 3 hours before we’re standing atop a cobblestone bridge, licking melon and lemon gelato, watching a tanned Italian in an open white shirt drive his polished boat under our feet. He blows us a kiss before disappearing down the canal, his little dog turning circles on the driver’s seat.
I’m in love with every 40-something Italian water taxi driver. They are seriously gorgeous in their polished wood and white boats, tanned skin and salt and pepper hair. I tried to take a photo of one but he was shy…
Our second night here we wind through back streets, away from the main streets to Campo San Margherita, where we’ve heard the young people hang out. Trinket stores thin out, hotels turn into residences and the noise in the air quiets to nothing. We pick our way alone through a maze of cobblestone streets, stopping occasionally to take photos of classic Venice spaces; old wells lit under a curving stone staircase, wrought iron gates next to flower boxes of bright pink geraniums or a gondola resting underneath a little bridge.
Campo San Margherita provides a delicious 10 euro, two course meal and spritz; an orange alcoholic beverage had for ‘aperitif’ (pre-dinner drinks) that we tried twice before confirming that it does indeed taste like Methylated spirits mixed with Fanta. Young student locals are sitting around the square in little groups, chatting as the sun goes down. After our three days of partying and meeting randoms in Dubai, Venice feels very sleepy and demure. With reluctance we purchase a gelato (1.30 euro!) and begin the meander home.
Before long though, four guys spill out of a laneway into the street, greeting us with “Ciao Bella!” before bounding up ahead. They turn into a side street to knock on a door where pop music is blasting out of an upstairs window and we keep walking by, regretting not having struck up a conversation in order to be invited to the party.
Life’s too short for regrets though and we’re in Europe! No one knows who we are and we’ve nothing to lose. So, nervously, we turn back to where the guys disappeared deciding that if they’re still hanging around the front of the entrance we’ll ask them where the party is and if not, it was a sign that tonight was meant for beauty sleep instead. Until we actually walk back a block, hear their voices and realize they’re coming back down the laneway to our street! We stop awkwardly, both turning away, me lounging against the wall, and reach automatically for our phones to pretend we’re not stalking them, hearts beating. (We’d make such great spies!). They practically collide into us, confused for a second until I ask “Where’s the party?” and we’re all on the same page. Or at least speaking the same language, which isn’t hard as they speak about five. We’re invited back to Campo San Margherita for some Sambrouka under the statue, which apparently is as wild as Venice gets on a Tuesday night and make it home by 2am. Win. 😀
Euro 2012 Football (soccer) match we stumbled across in a one of the squares .
Lots of locals yelling at the screen!
“Travelling Faux Pas #1, DUBAI: Asking the taxi driver how long the current President is in term for. Turns out he’s more a King / Ruler sort of thing…”
This particular taxi was pink, complete with a female driver in a pink abaya. Welcome to the religious conservatism underpinning the majestic shrine to capitalism’s power that is Dubai; what else could turn a desert into an epicenter of the world in just a couple of decades? This juxtaposition of traditional Muslim culture with modern Western ideals never quite disappears during our three days here; black hijabs mingle with Brazilian bikinis on the beach and the mall is filled with clothes you’re not actually allowed to wear to the mall. The appropriateness of my clothing was a constant a thread of stress I was glad to leave behind this morning.
Our driver is Sri Lankan, talkative and has (I cringe to say it about the only female taxi driver I’ve ever had) zero sense of direction. She moved to Dubai a few years ago for the better pay and lifestyle than her previous work in Indonesia. I heard later they live in large dorm style rooms and are bussed in and out every day. Taxi drivers are at the bottom of the food chain here, with each nationality typically taking a rung on the ladder; Indonesians and Sri Lankans drive taxis, Philippinos and Latinos work in retail and restaurants, other Arabs and Westerners work in construction and private enterprise with local Emirates rounding out the pyramid at the top with cushy Government jobs at four times the pay rate of everyone else. They can’t be fired and get a “marriage bonus” as well as a home loan as part of the deal (provided they marry another Emirate of course). Local Emirates only make up 10% of the population; meaning that literally 9 out of every 10 people you meet are foreigners. Probably more, as the locals consider themselves something akin to royalty, keeping to themselves in large mansions outside the city. All other nationalities are basically ‘hired help’ to build the sprawling wonder of business and architecture that is tax-free Dubai.
That’s nothing a bikini can’t solve though and I managed to convince one of the Emirate locals to take me for a spin on his jet ski at Basrati bar our first afternoon here. Zipping around in the heat, making jumps off the wake of party boats, a big hazy sun ruling over the tall buildings either side of the water, which stretches out to the horizon… I could definitely get use to Dubai! Especially if I can have as many apple shishas as I want. Can’t think of any way to describe these except (mum and dad close your eyes) a fancy bong. Very relaxing.
We’re staying at Kendyl’s friend’s friend’s sister’s apartment (which is just the best thing about travelling, basic strangers extending their hospitality – amazing!). It has a pool and a gym so I get to work on my tan; only 8 days til Croatia Yacht Week and my skin currently reflects the sun! We do Friday brunch, Dubai mall, a couple of pool parties and see the tallest building in the world. It’s really tall.
Our last night here was spent doing the typical tourist desert Safari. Dune driving, camel riding, a serenading tourist guide, the very worst belly dancer I’ve ever seen and a five minute black-out to gaze at the night sky. Lying under the stars in an Arabian desert, I thought of all the friends and family back home under the same stars. Then I got confused about whether they were the same stars…
On a final note, WHAT is this supposed to be for!?!?! The logistics boggle my mind…