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Wonderful Canberra 4 September 2013

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It is amazing what three weeks can do in Canberra.

Blistering cold winds, rain, clouds and grey have been replaced with the big blue skies that makes me all sooky for Australia, warm, sunny days, with a light summery breeze. Not quite spring, but on the precipice.

Blossoms everywhere, crocuses popping their head through the grass. And the rose bushes in front of my house, which I only pruned back to nothing in the beginning of June are visibly growing buds every day. Yesterday, they were buds, today they are two centimetre long leaves and stalks.

What an amazing turn around. Soon there will be ducklings galore. Lunches outside. All those wonderful spring activities.

I bought a motorbike. And two weekends ago I rode it to Uriarra Reserve. A perfect ride of about half an hour. Gorgeous scenery. Windy roads. And a picnic with friends at the other end of it all.

And this weekend, I went with my partner to the south coast to celebrate his birthday. We brought our push bikes, and rode them along the beach. Ate fish and chips and had one of the best Thai green curries we’ve ever had. It was only for two nights, but it felt like a holiday.

So bring it on, Canberra. I can’t wait to run and cycle along your paths. Familiarise myself again with you after what felt like a short and rainy winter. Bring it on 🙂

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Vietnam gets under your skin 30 April 2013

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I saw Anh Do’s stand up show last night, in which he draws on his experiences to make an audience laugh and choke up in equal amounts. It was a rather strange experience to see a comedy show (?) where the comedian himself was touched to tears talking about his family. It was strange, but warm and close. And strangely familiar.

Anh Do came to Australia from Vietnam as a refugee many years ago. He identifies as Australian, and is proud of Australians that faught, but his story is so interwoven with Vietnam that he is still distinctly ‘immigrant’, too. His accent is but faint, but still very much there.

Snapshots from Vietnam were shown on a screen behind him, and at one stage he played a traditional Vietnamese song over the top of some images. Instantly, I could feel the oppressive heat, the smells (and stenches), the blossoms. The noise, the motorbikes, the food, the language.

Vietnam has got under my skin. And I missed it so much last night.

It is indescribable. I have been thinking about it all day – that longing that Vietnam conjures up in me that I had never envisioned. Never.

I now have a fascination with the country that I never thought I would have. I devour all news related to Vietnam, I read books about it. Books I never read leading up to going there or while I was there.

What a mysterious, magical country. No wonder the Vietnamese are so proud to show it to you.

Washington D. C. 9 January 2013

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After San Francisco, I started my trip towards London. Having a bit of time six weeks before the next engagement there, however, I decided to meander my way via a few places I always really wanted to see. First stop, Washington DC.

I conveniently know a couple of people there, which I sincerely recommend. Travel to places where you know someone. And I don’t say this to make you all into moochers, because I don’t mean for free accommodation. But experience tells me that even in cities like Warsaw, which can be cold and its history sad and oppressing, you can end up with fantastic memories if you have someone to show you the sights, tell you what they like about it, and feed you in their favourite restaurants.

And ask questions – about their lives, what it’s like to live there, where to go. If they know you, they are also able to recommend things specifically for you.

And if you know people somewhere, contact them on advance and tell them you’d like to take them out for a coffee/ beer/ meal (depending on their budget) to pick their brains. I have found this to be a more valuable investment than a Lonely Planet. Although of I travel somewhere where I don’t know someone, I don’t go without one, of course.

So, Washington was… At the risk of sounding corny… Grand.

There’s a real sense of the importance of politics, democracy, and the people behind it all in the capital. The wonderful sense of the processes and indeed the celebrations of freedom.

The massive buildings, the memorials. The institutions (I took a picture of the IRS offices for a friend, as I think she’s spoken to every single person in that building at one point) and museums.

I was lucky with the weather, too. Mild, almost warm. Blue skies. And grey squirrels everywhere.

One of the highlights for me was Alexandria, an old town outside of Washington which was supposed to have been part of District of Columbia, but ended up as part of Virginia. It is quaint, pretty, and somehow quintessentially American. I enjoyed walking the little streets with my friends, soaking up the Christmas atmosphere. I had Mac and cheese for the first time in my life and felt like I was having an all round American experience.

I also loved walking everywhere. I thought the city very manageable, and although the distances are not for the faint hearted (the mall is 3 km from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol) there is plenty to see. I took lots of photos, and simply enjoyed seeing all those sights I have seen in movies; Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Memorial. I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Forrest Gump where Jenny runs through the water in the mall.

The museums are clearly among the best in the world and far too plentiful for me to sample all of them. So, I simply chose things that sounded interesting to me. I went to a miniature train exhibition at the Botanical Gardens which was probably meant for kids more than me. Little train sets were set up in a fairy land with mosses and mushrooms. I’m not sure if I should admit to this, but I loved it.

I also went to the Museum of Natural History for the dinosaurs and got completely drawn in by their gems and precious stones exhibit. And the Air and Space Museum! I swear I should have been born a boy, because between the trains, dinosaurs, fossils, rocks and space shuttles, I was in heaven. I could have spent days in these museums alone, so I only scratched the surface of what was on offer.

The nerd in me also had its fancy tickled as I went to the National Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its many amendments.

I loved Washington. It was a fun, manageable city. I had delicious winter cocktails with Asian-Mexican fusion food (it strangely worked really well) and good friends to keep me company in the evenings. I went to an improv theatre performance and generally had a wonderful time.

As I left on the train to go to New York, I genuinely wanted to come back to Washington some time. Perhaps even to live!

These holidays were going well indeed.

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San Francisco 6 January 2013

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I am on the road again.

2012 was a busy year for me, tourism-wise.

At the end of November I had a family occasion in San Francisco, and another one lined up in the middle of January in London. I could thus either fly from Australia, where I am currently based, to San Francisco, stay for a week, fly back, then fly to London in January and then back, or, travel around the world.

After a slight moment of hesitation (slight in this case being about a split second) I thus chose to take six weeks off and travel. As you do.

First stop San Francisco!

I have always wanted to see San Francisco, but instead of flowers, I spent most of it with rain in my hair. I have a few friends there, although they conveniently were away while I was in town… Apparently, Ghana and Japan are far more interesting than sticking around to show me around.

But, having said that, San Francisco was magnificent. It had everything to tickle my fancy.

I went to the cable car museum for the nerd in me. It is a small, central museum where the engine rooms for the cables that run the famous cable cars are. It stunk like engines and oil the moment we walked in, but the massive cogs and wheels turning and the sheer old school awesomeness of the place made it completely worth it! If you are into steam punk, cogs and old school, this is totally up your ally. If you are not into that, you should still go.

I went to Alcatraz because of the must-see nature of the place. I was a bit worried that I might be disappointed, as everyone was talking it up so much, but the morning that I decided to go, the sun came up and it was a glorious day. And frankly, I would recommend it myself. The prison part is really well done, with an audio guide literally telling you where to go and what you are looking at. It does create a weird non-interaction between the tourists who all walk around intently listening and looking, with only footsteps heard when you take the headphones off. I also experienced that if you, like me, run off to look at something outside of the audio tour, the tour was inflexible and didn’t really allow any fast forwarding or rewinding. Stick to the script and you won’t get lost! The surrounds are also worth having a look at, and the historic occupation of the island by Indian tribes had a special interest for me, as I am currently working on Indigenous issues in Australia. All in all, it was a really nice morning.

I also was lucky enough to be asked along to a bike ride of the bay, which went across the Golden Gate Bridge. Yay for lovely people who take pitty on a lone traveller, and invite them to things. It is one of my absolute top advice if you travel: when travelling alone, be open for experiences when they arise, or if travelling with people, take heed of the lone traveller and befriend them! Again, we had amazing weather that day, and cycling across the bridge was an experience I will not soon forget. It was leisurely, but with amazing views.

Food-wise, San Francisco did not disappoint. I went down memory lane with fantastic Vietnamese banh mi (sandwiches), Argentinian steaks that melt in the mouth and wash down well with Argentinian wine, and a Dutch pancake cafe. I tried Asian fusion and a wonderful 7 course meal with great company and wine.

All in all, I think I drank as much in San Francisco as I probably have for a long time. But holidays must be kicked off in style, right?

So I recommend the hilly city. Walk it as much as you can. Jump on a cable car even though it is horrendously tacky and touristy. Go for a bike ride and eat. Then eat some more.

Next stop – Washington DC.

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Buenos Aires 18 May 2012

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Today, I had a chance to discover some of the city that is Buenos Aires. I’ll just leave the pictures I took.

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Iguazu 17 May 2012

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Iguazu national park, with the amazing waterfalls spanning the border of Argentina and Brazil, was well worth the visit.

Crossing over to Brazil especially to do the helicopter ride, but then getting motion sickness so badly that I missed all the vistas and thought my guts would literally come out through my nose, not so much. But at least my brother enjoyed his birthday present.

No pictures of the latter are included, as I obviously could not take any…

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Cemeteries in BsAs 17 May 2012

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Buenos Aires is a hustling and bustling city, with people everywhere. There’s also a healthy fascination with death here, which means cemeteries are a centra part of the city.

I thought I would visit the most famous one, the Ricoleta cemetery on my first day out and about. It is a tiny city within the city, the place where the rich and the noble bury their dead. The tombs are elaborate with statues and ornate glass windows, sometimes covered in cobwebs or in states of disrepair.

Apparently, the per square metre prices for a plot of land in this cemetery far outstrips the real estate prices elsewhere in this most expensive suburb.

The rich and the famous have been laid to rest here, which sadly showed my lack of knowledge on the subject of the rich and famous of Argentina. I found the final resting place of Evita, which was the only name I recognized.

But the walk through the streets lined with death was fascinating and even slightly creepy. I’m just not used to this much death in one place, and after a while I felt I had seen more than enough coffins and memorials for the day.

That did not, however, stop me from walking to the far larger cemetery in Chacarita the next day. This one had been established when yellow fever swept the city, and was less crowded (the streets between graves had car traffic going through it) but far, far larger.

One part almost matched Ricoleta in opulence, with tombs the size of houses. But then there were the far larger areas with simple wooden crosses, and the ‘pigeon hole’ graves along the back wall. Underneath the cemetery was also a type of catacombs, sometimes up to four stories down. On the surface, all you could see were the air vents servicing the graves below.

Much of the fascination with death escapes me. But it was very clear that to have such a large population in one area, which seems to favour some sort of monument in the afterlife, does create a very lovely area in the middle of cities.

If you plan a trip to Argentina, swing by some of the cemeteries to see them for yourself.

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Argentine staples 12 May 2012

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Before arriving, I knew Argentina was famous for beef. So my first night here, I was taken to a regular restaurant, where the pride of the country was grilled and served.

And it truly is amazing; succulent and flavorsome. And getting the right cut is (apparently) quite important, with restaurants serving pretty much every part of the cow you might like. Argentina certainly is not the place to be for staunch vegetarians who can’t even stomach other people eating meat!

The next night, we went on a wine tasting adventure at a local wine merchant in Palermo. Absolutely wonderful wine from Mendoza (a region in west Argentina) including the famous Malbec wine, which is expensive, but heavenly. It was absolutely worth it, and a most cordial of evenings.

I also discovered I understand quite a lot more Spanish than I had expected. Bonus!

After wine, we ordered delivery of Empanadas (hot pockets of meat in pastry) which is another Argentina must-have.

I am so far loving the cuisine, and am dying to try more. I think brorsan’s fiancée said it best when describing the local cuisine as an enormous kids’ menu: everything is grilled and fried, delicious and unchallenging (so far)! But perhaps not exactly the healthiest.

But I am sure I will have a chance to find something more challenging soon (like vegetables?) so we’ll see. But good holiday so far.

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Airport pickup 12 May 2012

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So, after yesterday’s predictions of a bumpy ride, I have been off to a fine start. On my way to the airport, I realized that I did not know whether my brother would pick me up at the other end. Having neglected to have that conversation, I sent off a text in the hope that he would still get it before I boarded my flight.

Lo and behold, it being in the middle of the night in Argentina, I was not that lucky. So I set out on my holidays not knowing whether the excellent brother, who I know is majorly run off his feet at the moment, would be there at the other end. Or whether I needed an address to get through immigration. Something I did not have either.

The flight was delayed quite a bit in Sydney, as a passenger fell ill and needed to disembark the aircraft. In the mean time, I am hopefully staring at my phone waiting for a sign of life from my brother. When we finally take off, I still don’t have an address or a confirmation that he will be there.

Silly me.

To top it off, when I finally arrive in Santiago de Chile, I realize that probably should have brushed up on the old Spanish skills, as I cannot communicate with anyone. I feel like a total noob as I try to explain to a restaurant that I want a chicken sandwich. I end up with a chicken sandwich (score) and a strawberry juice (what the? But delicious! So double score!). Then onwards to Argentina.

At the airport, I had the most painful immigration officer who had no sense o humor and no patience. Luckily, I had plenty of both, despite having travelled for about 24 hours by this point. And no need for an address to get through (phew)!

Bag arrives without drama. Through security, and voila, I am in Argentina.

¡Hola!

Hopeful, I train my little neck to look around.

No insanely tall person is visible above the crowds. I take a little turn around the entrance. Hope is fading fast. No brother. I even check the seats in case he is sitting.

Nope.

So plan B – I must find a phone to call him.

Soon, I’ve got him on the phone. I am thrilled that I actually have a number for him, because this could have got ugly. And sure enough, dear brorsan is not at the airport. He’s sent the details on how to take a taxi to me after take off. So taxi it is.

When I finally get to brorsan’s apartment, I’m exhausted. Door to door, the trip took 26 hours. But I’m here! And I’m glad to see my brother, finally!

Now for the jet lag…

Travel hiccups 11 May 2012

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When travelling, there’s bound to be a few hiccups. Things don’t go to plan, or simply don’t work out. Sometimes, though, it can feel like things have simply got off the wrong foot, and that nothing could possibly go right.

As I prepared for my sojourn to Argentina, it has become apparent that I may cause some unnecessary trouble for myself. Hopefully, this will not become a sign of what is to come for these holidays…

Firstly, I managed to walk away from my handbag with my wallet, credit cards, money and iPhone in it in a restaurant the night before flying out of Canberra. I did not even notice, until the police contacted the person I was with at the time (having contacted the last few recently called people on my list, including dad). Luckily, and to the credit of the police, they were not only able to reach me, but also able to return all my stuff (without anything missing from the bag) that very same night. Thanks goes out to “Matt” who found the bag and took it to the police station intact.

Then, the next morning, I had to take a train to commute from the domestic to the international terminal in Sydney. Dragging two bags with me is not usually my forte, and getting through a turnstile with one bag in front and the other behind while putting my ticket through the ticket reader caused the turnstile to close with one bag and one leg on either side of it. My reaction was

“well, that went well!”

Which caused a lady nearby who was trying her best not to laugh, to snort loudly. She was embarrassed to find so much mirth in my misfortune, although I was giggling, too.

Hopefully, these events are not an indication of my holidays to come.