Tag Archives: adventure

Wandering your way

Walking is an integral part of traveling. Even if you’re on a tour bus or a cycling tour, you will still do your share of walking, let alone if you are a true backpacker or a pilgrim of some sort.

For those of us who live at home in suburbs, or rural areas, with cars the main means of transport, staying in the middle of the ‘old town’ of a European city and walking everywhere is a pleasant novelty.

I grew up in a hilly area and find there is something I dislike and even distrust about flat country. I want to be able to get a view out over the countryside (maybe it’s some throwback military instinct to look out for enemies from high places). However I have to admit that flat places make for easier, although ultimately less rewarding, walking.

Wandering is a special sub-set of travel walking. At home when I walk I don’t often just take a meandering path and wait to see what kind of people, places or events I can stumble across – when you’re at home you don’t tend to want to just wander until you happen to come across a hairdresser, supermarket or train station – but when I travel I often wander. Of course you can do research and plan out your route ahead of time, or you can take the more risky route of the wander. The wander may mean you miss meeting times, see dud ‘attractions’ – and fail to see major ones – or that you suddenly find yourself in a ‘seedy’ part of town. But you may also meet helpful random strangers, discover surprising sites and be forced to use your initiative and problem solving skills to get yourself out of a situation.

I’m a fan of the fantasy genre novels that involve some kind of quest where a motley band of would-be heroes must walk together across varying terrain to save a friend, confront an enemy or find a treasure that will prove their royal pedigree or fulfill their destiny. In The Legend of the Seeker, the TV adaption of Terry Goodkind’s novels, The Seeker travels with his Confessor and Magician: they flee enemies, save innocents and seek treasures that they believe will confirm their own roles and help tip the scales in favour of good. These heroes don’t exactly wander, but all the action of their stories comes from the people & places they encounter on their travels.

Growing up we were partial to the TV series Monkey (1978-1980) and avidly followed the questing but wandering Monkey, Sandy, Pigsie & Tribitaka (Monkey did have the advantage of being able to call his cloud and travel that way at times. As kids we used to practice trying to call the cloud – but sadly failed).

Bruges has a great (flat) old city in which to wander. You can wander along paths by the water ways, over bridges and always come across museums, churches, fabulous doors, a lolly shop, somewhere you can drink cherry bear and random happenings, such as art installations. While wandering a few years back I came across a Polish group of friends who thought I was a local and asked me for directions. We ended up having an informative discussion about Ghent and they showed me some videos (while standing in the pathway). Luckily for them I was also able to give them directions. Unfortunately I’m yet to make it Ghent, but it was a nice random interaction and I was travelling alone at that point, so the people contact was welcome.

Once on the Japanese island of Ojika I ended up going for a long day’s wander along roads, past rice fields, and came across the shrine to a very round stone in a hole by the sea. I also came upon a lone rural vending machine at the crossroads of the rice fields and accidentally ordered a daytime G&T in a can due to a language misunderstanding.

I also (probably ill-advisedly) took a road down to a supposedly nice beach. The route turned out to be quite long and steep and not all that scenic and as I laboured back up a local woman stopped her car and offered me a lift to the top. I’m not a usual hitchhiker but she seemed genuine so I gratefully accepted a ride. Had I not been meandering, I may not have exposed myself to the need for the kindness of random strangers (who thankfully weren’t also random serial killers).

When we travel with a very fixed itinerary, our expectations of what we’ll see and do each day are high. Inevitably attractions sometimes disappoint and we can’t fit in all we wanted to do and getting lost frustrated us as we miss our goal (the opening hours of a museum or cafe). When you wander l, experiences tend to come to you as a bonus, whatever you discover, and you come across things you may have otherwise missed. Of course you can also encounter bad situations (and there are countries and places where you would definitely not be advised to wander), but a wander in a relatively safe space with your wits about you can be spontaneous and special. As many of us live highly scheduled lives, I heartily recommend engaging in some travel wanders.

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The art of packing: leave the sausages at home with the bathtub

Hand bag on top of wheel-along suitcase seen from above against a tiled floor with one foot

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go” – I’d love to be able to sing that right now, but unfortunately it isn’t true yet. I’m packing for travel at the moment (or supposed to be packing). The more you travel, the more you realise there is an art to the packing – having lugged a sleeping bag around in the European summer for three months and never used it, I know you regret every excess kg in your bag when you’re on the move. There may be people out there who love to pack, but I wouldn’t say I’m one of them. I tend to leave it until the last moment so that it’s super stressful, and yet I still want every new fangled slash-proof-water-resistant-bag-container-contraption and every super-dry-wicking-bamboo-hemp-hybrid-hyper-lightweight-piece-of-clothing to be just right.

If I’ve learnt one thing from friends’ mishaps it is never travel with fresh food. Confiscated moon cakes, sausages in the suitcase that went off during a three-day monsoonal detour, leaked chilli-full fermented cabbage Kim Chi in the bag and soft cheese confiscated due to its apparent similarity to explosives all tell me to leave the food at home if I want to preserve sweet smelling (or at least neutral-odour) clothes and belongings and not have to go through the heartbreak of seeing perfectly good food thrown in the quarantine bin.

What can we learn from the great travellers of yore about the art of packing? I’ve been reading a biography of Gertrude Bell recently. She did a lot of travel in the middle east, as well as climbing a number of peaks in Switzerland. Of course she had one thing I don’t: an entourage. If you want to bring your own china tea set or bath on your desert travels, it’s recommended that you engage a team of strong, dedicated helpers with their accompanying pack beasts, and you probably won’t be able to manage 5 cities in 10 days if you want to travel with the ultimate comforts of home.

Packing is really distilling life down to its essence, working out the bare minimum possessions you can survive with day to day. I always find something freeing about leaving my house behind and living only out of what is in my suitcase, it makes me realise what is important in life and how much I relish experiences, places and people, and how much possessions and caring for them can hold me back. I have many possessions I treasure, but in the end I find being able to leave them and get out into the world a richer, more engaging experience.

Music to pack by

In an effort to get myself to achieve anything, I normally need to think creatively and turn whatever the task is into a project. For example, I could pack a bit everyday for the time it takes to listen to one of my Packing Songs.  I can’t say any of my previous playlists have been dedicated to the art of packing, so this is a venture of the moment and I’ll see what I can come up with that isn’t just incredibly twee. There are a number of packing, moving and travelling playlists already out there, so I’ve just got five songs here that are meaningful to me. If you are packing to travel like me, or packing to move: here’s to packing and traveling light:

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Social justice rock ‘n’ roll, rugby league & archaeology: Heroes from childhood

Stained glass window with image of knight, Tower of London

Who are our heroes? Who do we look up to and why? The strong? The talented? The verbally skilled? The Everyman/woman? Who inspired you when you were a child? Kings, knights, super heroes, princesses, librarians, veterinarians, chefs or vegetarians? Here are five of my disparate childhood heroes. Who were some of yours?

1. Katharine Hepburn 

To my mind she was a woman and an actress ahead of her time: she wore pants a lot in the movies when the other women wore dresses, after her initial short-lived marriage, she never married again, but had a series of unconventional relationships. In movies she was sporting (Pat & Mike), opinionated (The Philadelphia Story) and spirited (Bringing up Baby). Her appearance and her voice were a bit out of the ordinary – she was striking with her pronounced cheekbones and sharp voice and had a strong presence on screen. Personally she had her fair share of tragedy, but she had a long career of roles spanning nearly 70 years, from roles of naïve young women (A Bill of Divorcement) through to elderly (but still spirited) women (On Golden Pond). Her long life included her lengthy and unconventional relationship with Spencer Tracy, who she also played opposite in a number of great movies, including Desk Set, from which film I learnt incidentally all about what a palindrome was! And it never hurt that she also made a number of her earlier films opposite the charming and handsome Cary Grant. To me she was a unique and versatile actress and a role model for women.

2. Peter Sterling

In a completely different vein, I believe my mother was horrified when I got into rugby league as a child (I started watching it because it came on TV after my regularly scheduled viewing of Nancy Drew). Peter Sterling was the half-back for the Parramatta Eels rugby league team during the main period in which I watched rugby. I was drawn to him because he was small and fast (not like some of the players in the other positions who were big and bulky and built for scrums) and he seemed to be everywhere on the field weaving in and out and scoring points. Even if he was tackled by someone larger, he always seemed to come out fighting. During the 1980’s when Parramatta won a number of premierships, he was a star player and I always wished girls could play rugby league too.

3. Spy vs Spy

Sydney indie ska/rock band Spy v Spy were amongst my childhood rock and roll heroes. As a kid I really questioned why everyone seemed to write those ‘boring love songs’. Why were so many songs about love (or sex)? Wasn’t there anything else in the world to write about other than broken hearts or love hearts? Spy vs spy wrote and sang about individual and social injustice. With their rock guitar sound, they put power behind the plight of murder victims, the homeless and marginalised and asked questions about our society. I had all their albums on vinyl and got to see them live once. The combination of the energetic, powerful guitar and drum-driven sound and their political message drew me in, and I thought Doc Martens were cool after having a poster of the Spies wearing Docs on my wall. I wanted to grow up to play rock guitar in a band and sing about the world’s injustices.

4. George from the Famous Five

I always thought Anne was wet: she did dishes and made meals and was kept out of the ‘dangerous’ aspects of the Famous Five adventures by her older brothers, Julian and Dick. They tried to keep George out too, but she embraced adventure and refused to conform to stereotypes of obedient young women of the time. Coming from my own time, I was incensed that the boys would try to exclude her from adventures and that she would be expected to instead attend to domestic matters. She was a tom boy, a spirited heroine who spoke her mind and, with her dog Timmy, she ran headlong into the heart of any mystery. She never wore dresses and I went through an anti-dress phase, seeing it as a form of anti-feminist oppression. I’ve since reconciled with dresses, but my admiration for George’s spiritedness lives on.

5. Indiana Jones

When I got to University and first joined the Archaeological society, I discovered that along with me, most others had been inspired to study archaeology after we were brought up on a childhood diet of Indiana Jones movies – especially Raiders of the Lost Ark. During the course of studying archaeology we learnt that what Indiana Jones was doing was actually ‘treasure hunting’, where he looked for particular objects and scandalously ripped them from their cultural context with no regard for stratigraphy. However, he made history and archaeology seem cool and brought the past to life, so he remained my dusty book-learning, action-embracing hero.

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Time to bloom again

Well I seem to have had a substantial blog-cation, but I’m back to live life’s adventures in 2014 by quitting my current job, studying part-time and earning less, and therefore needing to buy less. I’ll be blogging as new spaces open up in my life and I wrestle to change old habits to live a more sustainable and fulfilling life. Image

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