Moving beyond old limitations.

I had an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago. I was getting a massage treatment when the masseuse realised that one of my ribs was in fact, dislocated. It wasn’t a recent development, there was no accident in which it had occurred. It was just my rib cage and it had always been like that. My bottom right rib, raised up jutting out a little from my body. The masseuse promptly took the opportunity to try and put the rib back where it was supposed to be.

Now let me say this up front, having a rib slot back into place isn’t a pleasing experience. In fact it’s a fairly crappy experience, especially when it has been out of place for as long as one can remember. As people, I have found that we often build much of our identity around who we are and what we can do, especially physically. In my case the rib has always been something I have disliked about myself and something that has caused me much distress over the years. It led to me feeling very self conscious about taking my shirt off. Subconsciously I felt exposed on some level and as a result I hunched and developed a curvature of the spine, I also had a massive discomfort at the idea of anyone touching my chest region. As you can imagine, over my formative years this must have had an impact on my social and personal development.How could it not? Whenever I looked in a mirror I saw something that was ugly and freakish about me.

I am lucky though. I’ve never had any pain from this problem and my body functions well enough to let me do all that I wish. For that I am grateful, but it has been one of those things about myself I have been trying to fix for over twenty years. On this day though the problem was seemingly identified and sure enough though the rib went back where it was supposed to go. In moments this freakish aspect of myself was no more.

When it happened there was a lot going through my head. Why after all the people have I seen over the years for various conditions, (including fractured ribs that required x-rays), had no one realised until now? A sort of mental anguish washed over me. An action so simple had rectified this problem. Something so simple that if it had been done twenty years ago, I had to wonder if I would have been the same person I am today. Would I have kept the same friends? Pursued the same studies? Might I have been more active in sports if I subconsciously wasn’t always protecting myself.  I often muse on the idea that who you are today is a result of the things that occur to you over your life. Sometime there is a specific event you can pinpoint, other times it is a random moment lost in the shroud of time.

It may not even make a difference. After all, perhaps we are at this moment who we are at this moment and everything else doesn’t exist. There is so much to consider when you reflect on yourself, especially in the aftermath of profound change. I always thought my of my problems were fixable, contrary to the opinions of specialists, did that have an impact? The desire for self healing and change can be powerful. It can move mountains. Gautama Buddha said “With our thoughts we make the world.” and even though I remember this because it was at the start of the old TV show Monkey Magic, the statement still rings true to me.

It can be hard to change yourself, especially when it comes to those aspects of you that have been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. It can be harder changing when everyone says that is just how it is and sometimes the problem is that which you can’t clearly see. I remember reading somewhere, and it is something that I have often repeated, that the one constant in everything in your life is you. You need to accept that you are in charge of you and being able to make better decisions about your own life you would think, would have to include being aware of yourself as much as possible.

So a new chapter begins and it will be interesting to see how much of issues in my life that I am dissatisfied with will start to shift with the physical changes. Will my interactions with other be different, even the way I use my body in the day to day must be affected. Then there is all the physical things that I do in life. They will certainly be affected by the change. That is part of the fun when you have those real moments of change. Shifts in old patterns and behaviours, recognising what you do and why you do it. It is those moments that open a new world of possibility and make you start to wonder if other things can be changed too. It only took twenty years to sort this problem, I am certain I can solve the next one a lot faster.

Smelling the roses.

Every morning I run the gamut of coffee shops on the way to work. The throngs of people that clog the walkways and obstruct people who have already got their morning beverage trying to get to their desks to show that they are on time and ready to do their company’s bidding.

Pre-made food slapped on a hot surface speedily heat it to a point that it becomes palatable. Coffee in its various configurations. Sugar enriched snacks that will give that rush that allows you to smile as you enter the room that you will spend the next 8 hours. It is a curious thing that somewhere along the way, even though we have all the technology, all these things that make life easier, life seems to be speeding up.

When I was in Croatia, a person I had met decided she wanted to get a take away coffee from the local beachside café. The staff member looked slightly confused, though to be fair this could have been a slight language area, but dutifully went off to prepare said take away cappuccino. The staff member returned moments later with a cappuccino prepared in a plastic see through cup that you would more often see at a children’s birthday party and sticking out of the coffee in the plastic cup was a straw. A coffee on the go, it seems is unusual in a country like Croatia.

On my travels I visited many places where the day’s work coexists with enjoying the day. When a shop is empty, the vendor sits out the front of the store playing chess with another vendor who has an empty store. Coffee in Turkey and Croatia is a social event rather than something that must be consumed on the run. In fact, many countries seem to take longer to do things. Turkey, it’s hard to find an open café before about 9am. Slovenia still clings to that slightly slower pace but a leisurely morning is slowly being absorbed into a more EU approach. Someone is certainly benefitting from earlier mornings, longer days and 24hr access to their staff but you would be hard pressed to prove it is the rank and file workers.

Over the years I have work more than my share of jobs in more than my share of industries. I have seen innovations come and go. Open plan offices, hot desks, flexitime. It all seems like good things but consider the next time you are at the office, when you arrive and do a little extra before you officially start work, sit at your desk and work through your lunch break or stay a little later to sort out that one last issue so your team can make service, consider that many employers count on workers doing that. Think about how many hours you are contributing each year to a business and not being compensated for. Some smaller businesses will certainly appreciate it, but when you work for a company that posts a $6Billion profit for 6 months, if they really cared that the work you are doing in your free time got done, they could most certainly pay you to do it (or perhaps even hire enough staff to do it).

It’s hard to break a cycle like that. In a world of constant pull, I have been finding it harder to hang on to those moments of quiet reflection. Those moments where you just get to sit and enjoy your lunch, a coffee or a meal with a friend. I’m a morning person, I admit it. Though not always the most alert, for the most part my body functions well enough in the wee AM to allow me to get into a day a little earlier than most. When I wake up, I stretch, (if my body doesn’t tell me to go forth and multiply) I like to cook myself some breakfast and then sit and have a coffee. Getting up a little earlier to enjoy the day is a little counter intuitive if you love a cosy bed and hitting that snooze button but not having to madly rush everywhere is also pleasant. I had also noticed of late that I found myself constantly refreshing my Facebook while I was on the train, needing a constant stream of activity to fill up the minutes of the day. I have started forcing myself to relinquish the hold my phone has on me. Not bringing it to meals. Only refreshing once every hour. They are little things but they seem to make a difference.

Everyone has to make their lives work for them as best as they can, some escape into a class of some sort for an hour or so, some cook (or watch cooking shows) and some never stop long enough to think if they could use some slowing down. Allowing yourself to take the time to enjoy something is important, I really believe that. At the end of your life you certainly wont be looking back and remembering that instagram update, or even this blog, but you may remember an amazing sunrise, a good meal with a friend where you sat and talked for hours or a leisurely walk somewhere.

 

Rebuilding and Determination

Germany has a wide and varied history and World War Two had an impact on how it changed. Not just the war years but the post war years where living in a fractured country provided a stark contrast into the development of the country and most recently, the reunification, all comes together in a melting pot of places that develop their very different flavours. Dresden is one of those places. The city is split into two separate parts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The statue, made of gold was too heavy for the bridge it was supposed to go on.

Old Town and New Town. (Interestingly, due to the bombings in World War 2, New Town has more original and older buildings than the Old Town.)

The city has an almost fractured personality, that old school art, culture and business and then the other side of the river with a distinct contemporary artistic and hippy vibe. There is a distinct joy jumping from one side to the other. Both beautiful and fascinating, it creates an experience that pulls equally at you. Fashion, food music, urban art and even the time places closed are deeply affected by the part of town you occupy. If nothing else, it really is a great example of how diverse people are when they get the chance to express it.

I love the space in these large cities, perhaps a little excessive when you are doing most of your travelling on foot. (Too cheap to hire a bike and I still love pottering on foot.) The weather fluctuated between good Sydney weather and then the next day average Sydney winter weather. The people make do and go about their lives with the same determination and occasional smiles in the old town and with those same smiles and a subtle look to the nearby cafes and bars in the new town. Dresden was a city where it seemed you could really chase your desires and still make a go of it. (I guess that comes from the same determination that rebuilt some of the amazing structures after the war.)

Leipzig was my destination after

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Street art in Dresden

Dresden and that too was a contrast, though more in the difference between cities than people. Certainly being a smaller city, Leipzig was a more comfortable fit for me. I could easily wander the streets looking for interesting places and people as well as exercising my desire for a little stability and routine when I wished to write. I found a place for breakfast overlooking the main market place in the mornings and watched people prepare to begin their days. There are fruit and vegetables, truck drivers, musicians and other students. You see a person sneaking in a 9am beer before work. When you find a perch, life can be a very entertaining spectacle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bach. 

Leipzig is an interesting place with lots of history. A major trading town over the years, and you can see it everywhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leipzig, where even the modern churches are breathtaking.

It’s also interesting to see a place that has such an amazing musical culture. It was incredible to listen to music coming from all corners. Not just classical but a mixture of everything. I was in one of the museums and heard Bach coming from the sound system, it was perfect and beautiful and actually from the buskers out on the street. Another time a major dance party in a market square drowned out the classic with techno and still the same people enjoyed their beer listening to very different sounds with the same enjoyment.

I sat and wrote, I drank coffee and ate schnitzel that was so big I wondered from what prehistoric animal the meat had come from I found myself slowly getting into the rhythm of Germany and this quiet but beautiful city. I visited Colditz castle and read up on the crazy stories about all the escape attempts. Fails and successes, I found that people are amazing and determined and it is always a nice thing to see reminders of this in trying circumstances.

Sitting at a keyboard isn’t always a win for me. Often it is a frustrating endeavour and its hard not to place the blame squarely at my own feet so when you see places that were levelled and rebuilt, people who almost escaped to freedom but were caught and sent back to the POW camps or even cities finding a balance between the creative and the practical, it is encouraging.

Travelling, you always find great stories and with several weeks left on my travel clock I look forward to finding several more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Because if you are going to escape from a POW camp do it in style.

Hitting the wall (Another bloody church)

Most people who have travelled for a prolonged period can tell you there is a point you reach where you have seen enough old ruins, enough ancient cities, churches, temples roadside food vendors, every single mode of public transport and even your own luggage. It can be hard to sypathise if you are working a 9-5 job, trying to pay your bills, dreaming of being anywhere than stuck in traffic listening to some overpaid DJ to tell you that the song that was just played on the radio is the artists finest work in years, (Despite him saying the same thing about last years album.) but it isn’t a cry for sympathy, it just something that can happen when you travel.

I’m certain some psychologist has coined a term for this and written several books on said topic but at the end of the day, thoughts of family and friends creep in, you start missing little things and then one day you enter a beautiful old town considered a piece of a nations cultural history and you really couldn’t care less. It doesn’t happen in an instant. Sometimes it’s a gradual build. For me, I had seen an old friend, chatted to another, had plans to see my sister and her husband who were on the road and heading to Zagreb and on that bus from Rijeka I just felt a little tired of travel.

Whilst it sounds unthinkable and a little stupid it does have the benefit of forcing you to look outside the usual things to find ways to enjoy and explore. My growing appreciation for the local graffiti has been a result of this fatigue. You also start to look for ways to get involved more in the local’s day-to-day existence.

I got to know the wait staff at Aktuell Cafferteria. Petar, my dealer, ensuring that I recieved

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My caffeine dispenser

enough coffee to keep writing. Occassionally supplementing fresh juice and the odd iced coffee if it was too warm for my regular fix had been at the job a while and helped me with my Croatian, especially in the slow patches of his day or when I was in procrastination mode.

In Split, my local bar, Marcvs Marvlvs had a poetry night. The owner himself a poet is always open to these sorts of events and I thought it might be a good experience. It was an intimate affair, (as suits with the vibe of the place) and upon my arrival I was asked if I would be able to contribute a poem or two. Not to be intimidated, I grabbed a good sized glass of the local red and set to work. Having slept through the poetry aspects of my English classes in high school, I asked Tin what are the rules for poetry. Nothing, was the response. I started on the wine and creating. Said poems are below:

Wandering with a glass half full

I have gotten lost,

stumbled, fallen,

Yet the glass and its contents remain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What tourists?

And the second:

I charge to damage and wound

The absence of malice irrelevant

The rhythm of the feet a drum

The blood rises, the fever overtakes

I fly and the fire explodes

Sanity returns

The fever subsides

I press off the ground and charge again

Now I am fairly certain that Keats or Yeats, have nothing to fear but it was fun. More fun was when I was describing the meaning behind the second poem; everyone who commented had vastly different interpretations. So what I do remember about dissecting poems and such in English class and questioning if we can really tell what the poet was trying to say was well founded.

By the end of the night we had roped in most of the attendees in the bar, whether there for the poetry or not. An English girl performed a poem from Marilyn Morningstar and did it with such gusto on her first attempt that one could have been confused as to if she wrote it. An English man, traveling with his girlfriend performed a poem he had written a few years earlier about the humble Emu. It was made all the more fun when we learned that he had never been to Australia or seen an Emu in real life.

In Zadar is was a visit to the sea organ and watching the sunset. The organ is not visually impressive by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if it weren’t for the sounds it would be so very easy to walk over it and never realize it was there. The music though, oddly compelling and you may find yourself spending a very relaxing hour just listening to the oddly hypnotic sounds as you watch the sunset. (In my case I did it two nights in a row.) The Sun Salutation was another one of those places that was a surprise. If you see it in the daytime it looks not overly special. Only once the sun has set does it really come into it’s own as something quiet beautiful. A café bar full of Uni students, studying, drinking, chatting, subsisting on cheap pizza and attacking all manner of conversation with gusto is just fun to be around.

In Zagreb I just walked around the city streets and had a coffee. (And in Zagreb you have plenty of choice. I read somewhere that they have over 4000 coffee shops in Zagreb.) Along the way, I met up with some interesting locals and just enjoyed some company where we just talked about whatever came up. No attempt was made to do much more than

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ultimate badasses

just spend time with local people and drink a little too much coffee and write. It was a good couple of days and very necessary. I did after a few days start to explore the cultural aspects of Zagreb and it certainly had a life to it. I saw Rodin sculpture “The Thinker.” And I am pleased to say that I have now got a clear idea of the pose. I can also say that it was incredible along with the sculpture of the kiss. (Yeah I am getting sentimental in my old age. It took over an hour to really view all the sculptures and a couple of times I even had tears.) It’s hard to imagine what drives someone to obsessively create, especially something like a sculpture. The details need to work from all angles, there are small versions and the work grows in size and scope along with the problems that come with making things bigger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another bloody church

I even dragged myself to see some of the churches. For anyone interested in visiting Croatia, it is impossible to avoid. Nearly every town, city and half the hiking tracks have a church dropped alongside. Some are incredible, dramatic and a reminder of times past. The good news is that as you travel and get overwhelmed with the traditional sights you start looking for interesting alternatives.

In Zagreb it is even easier as it is more your traditional city. There are a few tourist attractions, but mostly, it is a place that really embraces the summer for residents and tourists alike.

When I was there, there were concerts, clowns, fashion parades, all outside and all bringing to life this capital city.

Either way, when you hit the wall, remember that there is always a way around it and you may just find a few special sights.

Yoga and Pilates on the go.

I’m not the fittest nor most fanatical yogi out there. Honestly, I did it in Bondi originally because a friend suggested it as a means of repairing the damage years of doing martial arts badly had inflicted on me. Over the years I have dropped in and dropped out of regular attendance depending on everything else that has been going on with me.

When I left to go see the world, I was in moderately good condition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A spot of yoga anywhere inappropriate.

I had been at the gym, a little swimming and a ton of walking. My good friend Tim, Osteopath to the Star’s, (or at least the Bondi world), had made certain I was aligned to perfection and was ready to strap on my heavy pack. Certainly I was ready for whatever the next few months could

throw at me.

Welcome to economy travel. Planes, trains, buses, automobiles. Hours upon hours that required me to contort my body into badly formed pretzels. The Indian Evil Knievel Tuk Tuk driver, who wanted to show me that the Tuk Tuk chase in Octopussy was a performance by rank amateurs, the coach ride in Nepal from Kathmandu to Pokhara where not only was I contorted by seats that were made for Nepalese people, but the drivers constant swerving and my own panic locked my muscles in such a way that if it wasn’t for the fact he was scaring the crap out of me, I would have been constipated. Hell even the flight from Lukla airport to Kathmandu was more a rollercoaster ride than half the fun parks I have been to.

That brings me to Yoga and also Pilates. When you are on the road, looking after yourself is unbelievably

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ashram food. Lot’s of it and keeping you healthy

important. Food can be hit and miss, you need to drink enough water, (and in some countries that can be a challenge.) the diets can vary according to what is accessible. Yoga and Pilates can also be hit and miss, but the spread of both these systems means that you will get a fairly good basic workout and stretch. The miracle of Google means that so long as you have an internet connection you should be able to find a class near where you are staying, (or in the case of India and Nepal, you can often find the place to stay offering a yoga class. (See my earlier blog on my time spent in the Amand Prakesh Ashram – https://wanderinggrz.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/amand-prakesh-yoga-ashram/ )

I have tried to find places to do either Pilates or Yoga when I plan to be in an area for a while. (In Nepal, I hiked to Everest so I had the exercise angle licked but other places I have been able to find classes.) When you are traveling with your world (25 odd kilos or 55 odd pounds) you really want to look after your spine, hips, general alignment and both of these are great for that. There are a few other benefits that people don’t consider though:

It helps in learning the language. Doing Pilates and Yoga tend to have a similar sort of flow and if you have done either in your native language you will quickly be able to pick up the words for postures and movement. Even when they do the class in a version of English, they throw the odd local dialect into the class and this can help with your language development. Granted inhale, exhale aren’t the most useful words but countdown from five in any language never hurts when trying to pay for your meals.

You find a reason to not party too hard. Morning Pilates is a good way to ensure that if you do go out the night before, you don’t hit it too hard. Every traveller knows the feeling of not being able to drag themselves from their bed in the morning after a big night and then the regret later in the evening when you realize that you didn’t do much that day. I didn’t do Pilates every morning, but having it several times a week meant that I kept the early rising habit and got to do a little more with each day. It’s the same with evening classes. Having to be somewhere can be a great benefit when you are trying to

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Showin’ a bit of ass!

explore.

You get to meet the locals. Some classes are all tourist but the people who often run these classes, and some of the attendees are inevitably locals. In Split after class when people would sit around, I was given shopping tips for cheap clothes, restaurant recommendations and places to check out (and often more importantly, places to avoid.)

You get to deepen your practice. This is a surprising one but often as you are out of your comfort zone, you tend to watch the instructors more closely. You are trying to ensure that you are doing things the way that they want it done and as a result, you are paying a lot more attention than perhaps you do in your regular class. A slight flex of a particular body part can change what you get from a posture very quickly and you might never have noticed as you become familiar with your regular teachers. The teachers also will often just keep an eye on the new foreigner and may and try and move you more into the posture as they may not always be as confident in your language and find it easier to just assist you.

You get out of the tourist traps. Many of the places I have been are a little bit out of the maddening crowd and you get to see places that might have slipped past your radar. I found so many interesting places that were full of local graffiti and slices of daily life.

It keeps you from getting gathering too much holiday fat. Let’s face it. Many of us have returned from a trip overboard with a little extra holiday pudge. One trip I put on so much that I could barely fit into my jeans. (A big shout out of thanks to the dodgy water on the fruit at the KL airport and the subsequent bout of whatever the local version of the Delhi Belly is. By the time a week had past and I had regained control over all facets of my body, I was back to pre holiday levels)

Anyway, I have a lot more travel and have already started checking out the local schools as I wont have a chance for Tim to once again work his magic for some time yet and there are several bus rides in my immediate future.

Bodies at rest.

A restful evil.

The Croatian coast is really beautiful and after the preceding 20 odd days in which I covered over 4000kms (2500 miles), I arrived at the hostel that I determined would be my home for the next couple of weeks. I got settled into my room, my locker, my bed, (insofar as a bottom bunk in a dorm room can be mine.) and slept the sleep of the exhausted.

There is no denying that Split is a truly beautiful place. Beautiful clean beaches, sunshine, good food, great coffee, and a relaxed atmosphere that is the perfect place to settle and work on a few writing projects that my last few weeks of chaotic travel had neglected. I awoke the following morning after my late arrival moderately rested.

Having planned to spend a few weeks in one location really changes the way you look at a place. The need to see every piece of history, every tourist nook and cranny, to try every local specialty in the allotted window colors the way you plan your days. With the absence of any pressure, I went for a wander around the old town to soak it all up.

The stallholders at the vegetable markets trying to offload their produce before afternoon siesta time yelled me at, in Croatian. Apparently the Croatian genes on my father’s side are enough to make me look moderately local and certainly the lack of fashion sense doesn’t hurt. (My Croatian is on a very slow climb to being moderately functional but I have mastered enough to say “No thank you.”) I stumbled through some of the alleyways and tried to get off the map highlights path to see what the regular tourists were missing. By the time the day was done I was satisfied I was getting a sense of the town. Relaxed was that sense.

I remember in college having to write an economics paper on the Australian budget that had to be ten thousand words. We had about three months to do the document and of course I was up the night before working on my first, second and final draft. (Long before the Internet, kiddies so of course facts never entered into it.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Afternoon delight.

I guess if I had been more observant, I would have realized then that fiction was going to be my chosen class of literature and I might have gotten a healthier start on my chosen path instead of some of the crazy deviations that come with uncertainty. (Though that will be a topic for another post, I am certain.) Upon reflection the path seemed pretty clear, the only other student with a flair for the fictitious was a friend of mine whose Biology teacher had nicknamed Tolkien after his magnificent work on some of his papers.

Much of my life has been done in bursts of last minute activity and to some degree it has led me here so I can’t really complain however I will also concede that it hasn’t always been the best approach to life. Consideration and planning have often yielded far better results in tasks I have attempted, but here I sit. Not being in a rush to explore certainly opens up new avenues and adventures. I have discovered one of the few places in Split that does an amazing octopus stew with home made pasta and a sauce to die for. I have found a man that makes his own souvenirs and an Argentinian bar owner with a Croatian grandmother who writes poetry and runs an awesome little library/café/bar in the old town. I found a yoga/pilates studio in the suburbs far enough from the tourist side of town that it feels like a place where people actually live their lives. (It seems that diversity is a key to business survival in Split.) A drunken Englishman told me of how he was passing through, met a girl and never managed to get out of Split after that. He was drinking alone so I have a feeling that his story is far from over.

It is the start of the tourist season here and slowly more people come through on their way somewhere else. “I only have one day, what should I see?” is a very common question. I have no idea how to answer it so usually I just give the traditional, “Walk through the Old City” response and that seems to satisfy them. (I’m fairly certain that is what they had planned to do anyway but why complicate things.) I still wander through the old city. I have three coffee shops that I frequent depending on the time of the day. Tin, the Argentinian that runs Marcvs Marvlvs (my favourite of the three)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My local

told me last night as I was finishing my glass of wine, that he probably wouldn’t be opening till about six the next day and so not to come too early. I found it nice that he was thoughtful enough to mention it and that life here is so flexible that one can just change the operating hours of ones business over a glass of wine. It is stuff like this that you don’t get just on a one-day wander through the old city.

The downside is that you have to not get too complacent. I find that I have to keep making lists and mark points on maps to ensure that I am not neglecting all the tourist stuff. It attracts tourists for a reason and is often worth the visit. Just the other day, poking through the back streets I came across some advertising for an exhibition of Rodin’s sculptures a short walk from where I am staying. This was on a day where I had forced myself to go exploring. So many people start moving but end up settling in a place where they are comfortable and for a time and miss so much of what is around them. Having experienced both sides of the coin now, here are a few of suggestions for the traveller taking a break in a single location for a period.

  • Find some form of exercise other than walking. (Bodyflow Yoga and Pilates in Split is the place for me.) I got the monthly membership as an incentive to do morning and evening classes. I don’t sleep too late, I have a window to get things done in and I get to meet people and practice the language with locals.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Parade time.

  • Walk around the area at dinnertime. See where the locals go to eat. Good food doesn’t always end up on travel guides.
  • Don’t drink yourself into oblivion every night. Take some time to explore the place when the tourists aren’t around. Places take on a new life early in the morning and in the later evenings.
  • When you arrive, get a map and mark out everything you want to see or places you want to visit, then make an effort to cross off a couple of things every day.
  • Take a random day to do nothing at all. One of the joys of staying in one place is the chance to recharge.
  • Eat food outside of your comfort zone. You never know what is out there if you don’t jump in headfirst and you are on the road for the varying experiences.
  • Give yourself a departure date (Even if you end up extending it.) Nothing like a deadline to motivate you to do as much as you can.

Surprises and extra lube.

One of the joys of my travels has been stumbling across places that I had no idea about. Some of the surprises were good, others less impressive but all paint a picture and add so much to one’s travels.

My plans in India had always been fairly loose.  Aside from hitting Delhi and getting the hell out of there I really had no idea what I was going to do. I had previously considered doing yoga in the southern regions of India. Perhaps, just finding some beach time and writing in or around Goa. Drinking tea in Darjeeling. My unplanned journey was filled with possibilities.

By the time I was done in India I had ended up on a much larger tour of the Indian desert region in Rajasthan. I had spent time with guides that showed me to destinations that I had never considered. Saheed showed me an abandon fortress and filled my head with stories of elephants crushing prisoners as a humane alternative to hanging. He showed me secret passages where the Sultan could sneak his mistresses from his harem and take them down to watch the sunset in the tower constructed on the corpse of his favourite criminal squashing elephant. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A reading a snippet about the time the Beatles were in India I ended up doing that yoga practice I had wanted, but instead of the warm tropical climate, it was in the cool mountain air of Rishikesh. From there the plan for beach time rolled into a trip to the glorious lands of Nepal and a jaunt to Mt Everest base camp. A week by a lake in Pokhara.

Anzac Day in Gallipoli, Turkey was a locked destination but from the time I hit Turkey my plans were constantly changing. After the peace and quiet of Cappadocia, I read about a town up north called Safranbolu. The little blurbs I had come across made it sound interesting so I hopped a bus with a three day accommodation booking. When I arrived and stepped from my bus, I realized it was not a place for me. Certainly not for three days. I went for a wonder and adjusted my plans, Amasra was a short bus ride, and it turned out, my sort of place. I instantly regretted that I only had time for a brief stay. I had stumbled onto a place that didn’t receive many non Turkish tourists. (A fact confirmed by the requests I had from locals for photos and interviews with groups of school children. (Seriously, I must have posed with locals in a dozen random photos as the strange tourist that was muddling around Amasra.) I wrestled to adjust travel plans on the mountain side overlooking the town as I waited for the sunlight for a decent photograph and cursed the fact that I had never bothered to arrange a Turkish mobile phone and internet plan. I also never got the shot OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I wanted. Alas a late sunset and necessity meant that I left Amasra feeling short changed, both in time and never getting the shot I imagined.

When I finally met up with Mark, it was serveral furious days of travel, coaches, plans, trains. A local on one train ride, tactfully tried to combine his checking to see if the toilet was working with a pop quiz on if we spoke English. He grabbed the door and gave it a wrench, but finding that the toilet was closed he followed up with the traditional Turkish response. “Fucking shitter is fucked.” Recognising the traditional Australian greeting, Mark and I spent a good deal of time speaking to the former hostel owner who had received more than his fair share of Australians over the years. He gave us some travel tips and pointed out to us the correct station.

Mark and I moved through that small part of Turkey at breakneck speed, seeing ancient cities that less than six months earlier were unknown to us both and helped bring alive all the text books that we had loved and studied in our younger days. It was pretty amazing and we developed an appreciation for a country that had, until recently, not spent that much time in either of our consciousness.

When Mark returned to his family, I was left in Turkey and trying to figure out what to do next. A cheap flight to Montenegro was the easiest way to get myself to Croatia. The next roughly planned destination on my tour. Podgorcia is not much of a place to fly into. A city that seems to exist where it does, primarily because in a land that looks like it has had it share of geological upheaval, there is no mountain to fall on it. The airport has one luggage belt and two passport control people that seem to do everything. I got through with no hassle OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and the customs guys decided I really wasn’t worth the trouble to inspect, especially as it would have interfered with his ball scratching. (If this becomes an Olympic event, the competition between Turkish and Montenegro men will be fierce.)

Experience is a good teacher, and I had known enough to Google Podgorcia, confirm it was the sort of place that was great to leave as soon as one could and make arrangements. I got onto a coach going to Kotor. A place that I had never heard of but had regular buses going to Dubrovnik. How bad could a night in this place be I thought as I boarded yet another coach. The coach ride wasn’t so bad. Not really a coach, but more a packed commuter bus. For my two hour trip I had made the rookie mistake of picking the side that got all the sun and was unfortunate to have a large lady wrapped in a heavy coat squeeze into the seat next to me forcing me to spend the two hour trip pressed up against the warm window. My sweat and drool leaving a piece of modern art on the warm glass as I watched the countryside pass by, minute by agonizing minute. By the time I had gotten off the bus at the Kotor terminal, I was hot, sweaty and could not feel my left ass cheek. The bus station didn’t inspire confidence either but I had figured one night could be no worse than a night in a hostel in Delhi.

That’s the thing about travel. It’s full of surprises. I headed toward the signs that I couldn’t read, figuring the more impressive the sign the more impressive the location. (Nope, I had no map or idea of distance from the bus station to the part of town I was staying in. Just the name of the hostel.) In full “Little Mule” mode, I strapped my packs and started walking. I ran into two Italians looking for the bus terminal. It turned out that they had just left the hostel that I was staying in that night so a trade was done and I had a path to walk.

Kotor was a surprise. On an inlet, a beautiful and well preserved old city. (Not ancient greek old but similar vintage as Dubrovnik. The walls stood firm, the city had been looked after and the guys that ran the hostel were incredibly friendly and social. Again, I felt that I had missed out on a more amazing adventure by not giving myself more time.

That’s how it goes sometimes. You toss a coin and win the prize. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you randomly win a boat. Travel creates a flexible mindset if you allow it too and a desire to make the most of the time that you have. (Mark and I probably walked in excess of ten kilometers a day when we were travelling and neither of us regretted it for a minute. Well we probably could have done with a little less chaffing but that is the trade off.) Anyway, just remember to keep an open mind, a lot of space on your camera, and for those who don’t mind walking, something for the chaffing.