Long term travel isn’t what it used to be

The last time I left Australia for any considerable length of time was 2009. I spent nearly a month in China on an Intrepid tour. Later that year I spent three months in India.

The Intrepid tour in China was a group of 16. Two weeks of our time in India was on a road trip in tandem with six other travellers.

We all had one thing in common. A very heavy guide book.

The Lonely Planet Guide to India was my bible for three months. It gave me an idea of what things should cost, how to reach places, the kinds of facilities that should be included in accommodation, cultural differences to adhere to, the history of different regions, and of course, the important things to see at each stop.

This book (when it was whole) weighed nearly 1kg and shaped like two bricks. That’s bloody heavy when you’re carrying it around during the day with your water, sunscreen and camera. Especially when you’re travelling with a male who refuses to carry a bag.

The book suffered a slow and painful death on our tour around the country, each chapter ripped out as soon as we left town in order to lighten the load.

India 2009. Big heavy book = big heavy bag.

India 2009. Big heavy book = big heavy bag.

The weight around my neck has been considerably lighter this time around. All the information I need is in my phone. There are a group of apps I use, some daily and all free. While I think I could get by without them, I’ve seen and done so much more with confidence because of them.

 The apps I use daily

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Venice: When the cheapest thing to do is drink

They say the population of Venice has dropped from 120,000 to 60,000 in the last 30 years. As younger people continue to leave in search of employment prospects outside the tourism industry, it is expected the island will be a floating museum in the next 20 years, rather than the thriving port it used to be. That said and done, it will still be well worth a visit. It took me half a day to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. The best advice I can give with Venice is this: Get lost. Don’t try and tick off tourist attractions – if you get lost, you’ll see them anyway. And you’ll see everything else as well. At first it seems really annoying that you can’t just walk along the Grand Canal. In order to make you way down it, you have to walk down a maze of back streets. But there in lies the beauty.

The most fun you will ever have getting lost

The most fun you will ever have getting lost

I only really had a day and a half in Venice. I arrived in the afternoon, stayed two nights and left the next morning. One extra day would have been plenty.

View from Academia Bridge

View from Academia Bridge

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Vernazza – left foot, right foot, lift fork to mouth

After four nights in Rome, it was on to Vernazza. The Cinque Terre was the first place I decided to go when I booked my ticket. As a result, I knew plenty about it and now that I’m beyond it I’ve realized I should do a bit of reading about the other places I am planning to go!

selfie vernazza

The view alone was the reason I decided to go to Vernazza

See?

See?

I had a really pleasant train ride from Rome to La Spezia (the closest major train station to the five tiny fishing villages). The only downer was hauling my stupidly heavy pack through the train station, up and down steps and trying to get it in the rack above my seat. I knew when I packed it that it was too heavy, but I couldn’t work out what to cull. The culling has begun in earnest.

Vernazza is one of five very small fishing villages in the north west of Italy, on the Ligurian sea. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site known for hiking and fishing, and thanks mostly to an American travel writer named Rick Steves, it is unashamedly touristy. There are yanks everywhere.

Literally everyone I met that was not running a business was American. Most were retired, which I believe to be Steves’ key demographic. It didn’t matter. Everyone was lovely. It was kind of hard not to be in a place that looks like that.

The general idea of the Cinque Terre is that you base yourself in one village and hike between them. Or, as a day tripper, start at the bottom and work your way up, then move on to Genoa. The stretch between the five towns is just under 20km. There is a local train if you’re not a walker or if the weather turns. As it turned out, two of four trails were closed when I was there, due to instability after a mudslide.

The first morning I walked from Vernazza north to Monterosso – the most northern town of the five. This was apparently the most difficult trail. I didn’t think it was terribly hard, but it certainly wouldn’t have passed Australian safety standards. There were a lot of areas on the edge of steep cliffs with no handrails or fences.

The trail actually reminded me a lot of the Great Ocean Road. As you come around the bend towards Monterosso, it feels a lot like driving into Lorne.

Walking to Monterosso reminded me of the drive to Lorne

Walking to Monterosso reminded me of the drive to Lorne

The trail took about an hour and a half – traffic was good – I got going at about 8:30 and didn’t see anyone for the first half an hour – other than locals tending to their veggie gardens and olive groves over their morning pipe. They love it when you say good morning in Italian. The worse your accent, the more they love it.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day. Part two.

I was wide awake again at 4am on day two, so I decided to just get cracking.

I’d guess I walked about 10km around the city. My intention was to start with the Roman Forum and Colosseum and see how I was going to for time and energy for anything else.

On the walk over I met another very friendly policeman – Simon (no photo of this one). He wasn’t interested in where I was going or helping me get there, he just wanted to know where my ‘amici’ was and why I was out alone. And of course, did I want to have caffe with him?

I pretended I knew exactly where I was going (and told him my amici was in bed with jetlag) and came around the bend to find this.

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Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

This is what I loved about Rome. Every time I turned a corner, I found something I knew nothing about that made me stop and stare for 10 minutes. The building in the picture is the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. In English, the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II or Altar of the Fatherland. It’s a World War I monument. I tried for quite a while but couldn’t really take a photo that did it justice.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day. Part 1.

Before I booked my ticket, I’d heard a lot of mixed reports about Rome.

Mixed reports and graffiti (it’s excessive) be damned. I love it.

I arrived on Tuesday night at about 9pm – suitably stuffed. I went three doors up from my apartment to grab something to eat (spinach and mozzarella Panini) and completely forgot I was in another country and started speaking way too fast in English.

After a solid sleep I improved quite a bit the next morning and ordered my coffee in Italian in a little espresso bar up the street (I’d been practicing) and the man started offering me pastries in Italian, assuming I spoke it. I was pretty happy with that.

I was only in Rome for three full days and one of those (Friday) was a public holiday when all the holy and archeological sites would be closed, so I made sure I ticked quite a few boxes in the first two days.

I got going pretty early (I’d been awake since 3:30) and the streets were pretty quiet.

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About 7:30am, no one around.

The sites

On my way to Vatican City I was walking across a large footbridge when I was approached by a policeman. I’d seen him staring at me already. He pointed at me and said ‘Italiano?’ People can’t work out my nationality here. We started chatting – me in completely broken English, him completely in Italian and mostly with his hands. I don’t think either of us know what we talked about.

My friend Mario, the Policeman.

He asked me if I’d like to go into Castel Saint’ Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel – which was said to be protected by Michael the Archangel), which we were walking past on the way to St Peter’s. It wasn’t actually a monument I was planning to visit or knew anything about. He took me ahead of the line and got me in for free.

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a quick trip to indonesia

A while back I went to Bali. Just for a week. You could argue that isn’t long enough (it’s not), but I had some leave that I was told needed to be used, the flights were cheap, I had a friend who wanted to come … a month later we were there.

Even though two weeks would have been far more relaxing in the grand scheme of things, given the short amount of time we had, our first choice of accommodation was perfect. The moment I walked through the door I was able to forget about the to do list on my desk and just enjoy my surroundings.

I was so impressed I wrote a review for Trip Advisor (my first, I hope, of many) and thought I would share it with you here.

the bali people need to see

I knew we were staying somewhere special the moment we arrived at Tri Sandyha Villa. From the sign on the door that said ‘Welcome to your home’ to the smiling faces of our hosts, Sharon and Made.

Though our stay was short (3 nights) we managed to pack plenty in thanks to Sharon and Made. Following a lovely breakfast and massage by the pool (for $10!!!!) we were helped with cabs and restaurant recommendations in town. The following day we booked a tour with Made and spent the day seeing temples, rice patties, the volcano at Kintamani and other parts of the island we would not have been able to get to on our own.

It was a real honour seeing the temples with Made, who took the time to explain rituals as they were happening and encouraged us to get involved, rather than standing back to watch. Sharon dressed us in traditional clothing before we left and we were also provided with offerings to take, which made the experience as authentic as possible.

Bali water temple

Praying at the water temple…

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…with 300 people waiting in waist deep water behind me

Bali water temple 2

Colder than we look!

Tri Sandyha itself is stunning. It’s own little jungle oasis, it is quite intimate, with just two rooms available. The room we stayed in was lovely, well appointed and spotlessly clean. It had a fantastic tropical feel with netting around the four poster queen bed and an outdoor shower (and an indoor one as well if you prefer).

The Villa is short drive out of Ubud, which added to the tropical feel. The cabs were cheap and readily available. Tri Sandyha also has a scooter for hire – not my thing, but handy for those who are confident on two wheels.

We were served a hearty breakfast each morning of fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs and pancakes with traditional Balinese coffee. Many of the staff are Sharon and Made’s family – and you can tell. The place is very relaxed and friendly. It really feels like you’re at home – only warmer and far prettier!

I felt so comfortable there I would be happy to go back on my own.

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Tri Sandhya Villa Ubud

more to come

I plan to write plenty more of these kinds of posts since I have recently made a purchase of the one way variety. Stay tuned.