Sunday, 7 April 2013


I am working today.

I had planned to come to this town for five nights, leaving the weekend to escape to the country and mountain air, but those plans were cancelled in a mess of paperwork, and in a fluster I had not shortened my trip.

The sun is out, the sky is blue, and the temperature rests at a breezy 32 degrees, something my hometown did not experience all summer last year. In two days when I fly home, there will be so much snow my flight will be cancelled.

I am glad to be here, but I have done my work and I am ready to go home. My feet are blistered and sore from twelve-hour days of cracked pavement pounding, and sit swollen and plump crossed underneath my chair. When I place the balls of me feet on the cool concrete floor, it’s soothing.

The desk has been cleared of fussy hotel ornaments and my own bottled water, purchased for a fraction of the hotel price, are chilling in the fridge below it. Piles of papers and dog-eared books lay half crumpled on the desk, catching their breath after being freed from the stuffy pockets of my carry bags and pockets.

I’ve switched the air conditioning off, and instead have let the warm Caribbean air in through the large double doors you normally find in this sort of quasi-posh hotel room, the newest and most lovely hotel in town. I know how special it is that I stay here in this new, slightly empty hotel. But staying in the newest most expensive hotel had long ago ceased to impress me. The room was comfortable, the staff were polite, the hotel was central, and that was enough.

The balcony with its grimy dirty floor looks out over a grimy dirty street buzzing and pulsing with large chunks of pedestrian traffic. I am on the third floor, allowing some privacy, and the primary function of this balcony for me is to slip out to check the time on the clock tower on the important building lining the square.

Sometime after lunchtime, the band walk through, as they do every day, alongside the stilt walkers in brightly coloured stilts; a slow spectacle that fills the room with pomp and drama before drifting slowly away into the abyss.

I love the noise, but do not enjoy looking down on the people below- the tourists with their big cameras, the locals off to work, the spruikers and tour groups and beggars and thieves. I prefer to be down amongst them than looking down at them, despite the weary fatigue of being hissed at by men on every solo walk alone every day this week.

Instead, I look across to the tin roof where thin ragged moggies slumber peacefully amongst the din. Across is a shady garden restaurant filled with trees, and happy conservation travels up through the leaves tickled by the wind.

I have no plans today; no last minute places to go or see or inspect, no appointments or need but the occasional plate of food, and even then I am too full and fed to care to disturb this tranquillity.

The cool sea breeze occasionally wonders through the door to say hello. My notes and scribble and tapping and transcribing occupy my time. Finally it feels like my time.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Rotterdam: The city without a heart

The couple at the tourist office ask very politely where the Old City is. The one that looks like Amsterdam, filled with the picturesque waterways, the elegant centuries old buildings and proud canal houses?

The lady at the front desk blinks once or twice and then pulls out a map, pointing out the Town Hall and old Church.

“There’s not much left” she tells them. “It was all destroyed during World War Two”.

No city in the Netherlands suffered as much as Rotterdam did during World War Two. In May 1940 the Germans bombed the city: 80,000 were made homeless, 900 were killed. The city was leveled. 

Reminders of the devastation of this one event are everywhere. One of the city’s best-known sculptures is Ossip Zadkine’s The City Devastated, located by the Maritime Museum at the entry to the harbour. It depicts a man twisted in agony, his palms thrust upwards, his face toward the sky, and his heart missing from his chest. It’s powerful, evocative and heavy, and an absolute must see for any visitor. 

At night, a series of white and red lights glow in the pavement. If you’re treading along a trail of these, you’re following the fireline, the places where the bombs dropped. It’s only when you’ve covered most of the city on foot or by bike that you realise the extent and ferocity of which the bombs were unleashed. The city was saturated in bombs.  

Today, Rotterdam is world-renowned for it’s risky, envelope-pushing architecture. It’s respected the world over for it’s eclectic, modern skyline and is home to the Netherlands Architecture Institute.

But it’s hard to look at how the city has physically reshaped itself, with it’s shiny yellow cube houses built to resemble industrial trees, it’s bizarre lust for ultra modern, futuristic architecture and experimental design, and not see it for what it really is: a desperate attempt to search for a new identity after the devastation of war.   

Rotterdam is still known as the city without a heart. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Before Midnight, anticipation and travel

When I was a teenage girl, one of the many movie posters that hung on my wall was Before Sunrise. The slow-moving romantic tale of two strangers who meet on a train and decide to spontaneously spend the night walking around Vienna had a profound effect on me in my teenage years.

I hadn’t travelled much then, really at all, and this was, for me, the idealised encounter I dreamed of having on a Eurail train ride around Europe, something  one day I’d hopefully do myself. The film seemed to capture the feeling travel seemed to promise to a girl who had never left Australia; romance, freedom, choice, connection.

The follow up film, Before Sunset, came at a different time in my life, and showed something different- the characters had grown up, become a little more realistic, disappointed and cynical, but had also not abandoned entirely their dreams of romance, love, adventure and hope. Most of all, that chemistry and understanding and comfort they and the audience had felt in the first film was there in the second; the characters had grown, and the audience had grown with them.

The hopefulness- that promise that there was something more out there- some simple magical ability to pick up and be comfortable with those we love despite the passage of time, flooded through the film and onto the screen. When I saw Before Sunset at the cinema I was in my 20s, and a little lost and hopeless in a bad relationship I’d fully committed to, the film filled me once again with hope (along with another whopping urge to visit Paris).

The ambiguous ending of Before Sunset- similar to the first film- once again spoke to the heart of the films premise: if you’re a cynic, you believe they didn’t work out. If you were a romantic, you sincerely hoped that Jesse would miss that plane and stay with Celine.

17 years since the first film, and a good 15 years since I saw it as a teenage girl, I’m able to look back on the film and see the effect it had on me. The girl who’d never been on an airplane and dreamed of meeting the love of her life in Europe is now a woman with serious frequent flyer points, a career as a travel writer living in Europe and a happy relationship (just like Jesse in Before Sunrise, on a whim I invited a guy I didn’t know all that well to come “check out the town” and it worked out pretty well).

Over this summer, rumours began to swirl they were doing another Before film, rumours that were swatted away by the actors and director. But it piqued my interest again, and over the summer we watched the Before movies again, and last weekend in Paris I picked up the Before screenplays from Shakespeare & Co, which featured in the last film, drinking in the words as a train whipped me back across Europe to my home in Holland.  

Just last night, the rumours were confirmed: not only will there be a new film, called Before Midnight, but it has also just wrapped principal photography in Greece.

The news fills me up with excitement and a little fear. The Before movies are special to a lot of people, and the second one was executed so brilliantly that I honestly don’t know how it can live up to the bittersweet brilliance of Before Sunset.

But I can’t wait to find out. I have goosebumps at the thought of this film. Set in Greece, very little is known about the plot, save that it stars both of them and it is set nine years on from their meeting in Paris.

And here’s the thing: I trust the director, the actors and writers. I know they will deliver something special, and I’m grateful that they’ll allow me a chance to take one, and possibly final peek into the world of Jesse and Celine. Although I don’t need them to inspire me anymore, it’ll be like catching up with old friends.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Little Note....

Horseriding in Finnish Lapland- pic by Chris van Hove

Today it’s my birthday, so I hope you’ll all forgive me this little self indulgent post. The last year  has been very good and very challenging for me, the typical 'that’s life' mix of good and bad things. I got engaged, did some incredible bucket list trips, and made some really tough decisions.

One big thing that I wanted to reflect on is my health. During the late winter and spring I was quite ill for three or four months; irritating colds and flus and fever and upsets that severely dented my workload and it was pretty much on the verge of becoming chronic illness. I took a big step back from the work I had on (something I’m very afraid I’ll feel come to bite me in the next few months) and rested up. I even headed back to Australia to sort out what was going on after no luck with the doctors here, and by fluke, managed to get a diagnosis.

While I’m not prepared to spill my entire guts to the net just yet, I have been diagnosed with a serious condition. It basically explains about 15 years on on-going, (non-life threatening) niggling, unexplainable, health issues.

The good news is it’s completely manageable with changes to my lifestyle. Given an old colleague I knew who was younger than me died last week from cancer, I’ve gotten out very very lucky with my diagnosis.

 The bad news is it means a complete change to my lifestyle- for the rest of my life. And I like being a fathead, food-obsessed travel writer. Luckily, the changes I have to make won’t get in the way of me travelling and writing and doing what I love.

The even better news is the changes I’ve been making the last few weeks means I’m already feeling better than I have in years. I don’t feel fatigued anymore. The bags are gone from under my eyes. I wake up raring to go at my day like a jack in the box. My fiancé says it’s like night and day with me. It’s an incredible feeling to actually feel well. Its going to take a while for my body to heal, but I’m churning through work and I’m generally far more pleasant to be around.

I’m trying my best to make lemonade from lemons- and particularly given the storm that is brewing over the journalism world in Australia (along with all the chicken-littles running around claiming the sky is falling), it’s a good time to get a better attitude.

The climate in Australia for journalism is undergoing massive shifts. Both privately and publically, a lot of writers and freelancers I know are worried. Some are readying their parachutes. Others are fastening their seatbelts for the long ride.

 I’m taking a good measure of what’s going on at the moment and having a think about how I want to play the game. I honestly believe there is a market for good quality writing and unique story ideas. I do believe there will be paying markets for content that can meet this criteria.

Now I’ve got my health back, I’m feeling more match fit. I have a few projects that will emerge in the next few months. I feel like I can only be positive about the opportunities these changes can bring- and that those who emerge in a few years from this time period are the ones who can adapt to change.

So this is kind of a preview to a few new projects I’m working on. I will be jumping the great divide and starting to publish online in a few different capacities (expect some changes!). I’ll still be writing both online and in print across a few different markets and continents, and I’ll be expanding on doing video work.  The future will be what I make of it.

And as a last note, I couldn’t have gotten through the last few months without a lot of support. I have a few editors who were understanding when I had trouble getting the work done. Even some people on twitter made me feel better just by sending a quick DM asking how I was- I appreciate you reaching out. Most of all I couldn’t get through it without the care and effort of my family in Australia, my good friends (who fed my email box with daily musings, cooked me roast lamb dinners, made me pots of tea or were forgiving when I was incognito in Sydney) and most of all my fiancé. Without him I can’t even imagine having the strength to get through this with the right attitude. You mean the world to me.  

Venice with C. Sick but happy then, now available in new & improved healthy version

I can only feel gratitude for everything I have. 


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Indian comfort food, a decade later...

India is one of those places that polarises people. Back a decade ago when I first backpacked through Rajasthan, I met an older backpacker who had been to India ten times, and had returned to study palm reading. Sensing I was a little fresh off the boat and wild-eyed at my new surroundings, she kindly had lunch with me, suggesting I try some Indian comfort food- Dal Makhani.

Dal Makhani is known as "Mother's Dal". Although their are many ways of preparing it, basically it is thick black beans or red kidney beans, cooked in a clay pot in the tandoor overnight, and served with butter and a lick of pouring cream. I ate it with fresh naan- the first fresh naan I'd ever tasted, and boiled rice. It was mild and thick and delicious, and I loved every spoonful of it.

Later, my new friend read my palm. I never believe in that sort of thing, but she made some observations that turned out to be fairly true; that I was a writer, a teacher, a traveller, I would find my true love after a false start.

Flashing forward to my second trip back to India ten years later, I had four hours in my hotel suite before heading to the airport at 1am for a 4am flight. I'd been driving since 9am, and had to get some food into me, quickly. I ordered the Dal Makhani from room service- and it didn't disappoint.

Once again,the delicate gravy of beans and lentils, lightly spiced and delicately slow cooked managed to make me feel at ease. Teased out with butter and cream, and served with rice and buttery naan, it was the perfect meal to farewell India.