Category Archives: Travels

Summer holidays

June 1 is not summer. Summer doesn’t happen until the 21st or 22nd and while it doesn’t annoy me that people get it wrong, I had a serious ‘Oh?’ moment when I found out that Australia had abolished the alignment with the natural world and the movement of the sun (solstice) and had set summer and winter to the 1st of the convenient months. How utterly sad.

There’s something quite beautiful about changing your perception in rhythm with the world. There’s a full moon eclipse on June 4 and the sun slips into Cancer on June 22. But that’s Australia for you. They are now in winter while the windows in our flat are constantly open because it is so warm inside even when it isn’t so warm out there.

When I was growing up, we used to go on summer holidays to the coast somewhere. For a while it was to Eden in New South Wales where we would set up a tent, have barbecues and go swimming in the beach off the campsite. As Mersina grows up, I hope she has some memories of summer vacations but they aren’t going to start this year. I can’t afford to go on holiday and I can’t even say I miss the idea much because it isn’t even in my line of thinking.

Our holidays are weekend travels to a park or something eventful outdoors. We go to visit her grandparents whether in London or Athens and soon we will be going more regularly to Explore AtBristol since we are now members.

I got thinking about holidays and the possibilities this morning as I was browsing a site about camping in Devon. I don’t have a car and I won’t carry a tent and a baby so perhaps holiday lodges in Devon at Woolacombe Bay? That even sounds Australian. We went to Warnambool one year and that was wonderful although my only memories of it are eating at a restaurant and driving by beaches.

I think I’ll just add the pictures to pinterest for the time being and then wait until I have a bit more money and take Mersina.

I wonder if redefining holidays as a play in the park is as bad as Australia defying the natural moments of heavenly bodies. Maybe just this one summer it won’t be so bad. We can start building memories from next year.

Our Bristol summer holidays at College Green

My little traveller and my favourite book

Have you read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace?

The opening scene has Hal, one of the protagonists, attending an interview for admission to the University of Arizona. He remains silent for the most part while his uncle speaks for him. The panel become distrustful and frustrated and ask his uncle to leave.

At the start he remains silent. ‘I have been coached for this like a Don before a RICO hearing.* … I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear.’

The panel have documentation that describes Hal as a savant of some type, intelligent beyond his years and a proven, outstanding, tennis player. Yet he sits silent before them.

‘Look here, Mr. Incandenza, Hal, please just explain to me why we couldn’t be accused of using you, son. Why nobody could come and say to us, why, look here, University of Arizona, here you are using a boy for just his body, a boy so shy and withdrawn he won’t speak up for himself, a jock with doctored marks and a store-bought application.’

‘I cannot make myself understood’ is Hal’s last thought before beginning to speak and then he tells them everything they need to know.


“‘What in God’s name are those…, ‘ one Dean cries shrilly, ‘… those sounds?

Wallace then proceeds to describe the scene that takes place. I’ll let you read it if you choose to. There’s something so sublime about his writing that if I could recommend only one more book in my lifetime, then this would be it.

The slightly futuristic or just technologically alternative setting and the descriptions, stripped of sentimentality, provide a style reminiscent of Philip K. Dick. Only the words, the thoughts, the actions are left to provide proof of the human condition.

That sentence spoken by one Dean stayed with me for a while. When I was flying back from Athens to Bristol, especially, it resounded my head from the time I was on the plane until I arrived home. My tired 10 month old daughter, Mersina, who I had been carrying for nine hours, and who had been cooped up with me in our narrow plane seat, when she wasn’t in her baby carrier, happened to be the source.

She had managed the initial ride to the airport. We enjoyed a muffin and coffee at Starbucks before flying from Bristol to Amsterdam and going through one security check at each end of that journey. An additional three hours in the air to Athens were then followed by five days at my mum’s apartment.

Mersina met a cat. Mersina scared a cat. Mersina spent time with my mother, which was lovely. She met her great grandmother for the first time, which was wonderful. She had a mostly fun trip and even saw from which locations Elgin stole the marbles from the Parthenon. The Acropolis museum is spectacular, by the way, and I will write more about the actual trip itself on Ephemeral Baby and post some pictures.

The tough part however was the trip back home. Because of the time difference we didn’t get back until it was around 1.30am for her. She had begun screeching and screaming at infrequent but not too spaced apart moments on the three hour and 15 minute, fully packed, flight from Athens to Amsterdam. She punctuated the sounds by bursting into tears as the passengers all stood, once we landed, in a queue to exit the plane. The ones around us very sweetly tried to cheer her up by clapping and whistling and waving but to no avail.

She had some space to play with her toys from Amsterdam to Bristol so that wasn’t too bad but once in Bristol it all felt too long. She was hungry and tired and kept screaming while we waited for the bus and I couldn’t find my ticket. A fellow passenger asked why I was running back inside and I told her. She then explained to the bus driver and he let me on without one. Amazing. I ended up nursing her while we were on the bus and she was in her carrier strapped to my front.

Athens is not really that far away and we had a lovely time. However, at the very end of it all, before arriving back with wasabi cheese, Glenfiddich whisky for me and a comfortable and familiar bed for her, there were ‘those sounds’, as the Dean said. It was just those sounds.

*Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C. § 1961)

Melbourne, all the memories ‘Eat Me’ didn’t write about

My lovely friend Martin came back from London recently and brought me a magazine with a feature on Melbourne. Now bear in mind that I haven’t been back ‘home’ since the Sydney Olympics and nostalgia doesn’t take long to hit.

The writer, Ruby Rockwell, spent seven days documenting her eating adventures in a lovely little article. I think I could have done a better job, so any editors out there, if you’re looking to commission a piece then feel free to get in touch:

The following is a list of only some of the things that I could add.

Melbourne Airport – I practically grew up there. My mother was station manager at an airline and my sister and I would spend our Saturdays or Sundays there. I once found a game of Frogger with unlimited credit and had the most amazing afternoon.

Lygon Street – Pizza by the metre and New Zealand waffle cone ice cream. On hot muggy nights, we would drive to Lygon Street and just get out and about.

Carlton – a particularly European area and I know we visited many family friends there but can’t remember if we stayed in a flat on top of someone’s shop for a while in between moving houses.

The alleyways in the city centre make up some of my favourite memories. Book stores, boutiques, jewelry stores, domed roofs and amazing tiles. Coffee shops and restaurants and windows with displays of lingerie.

Bourke St, Melbourne

By 小强@Melbourne

St Kilda with its Luna Park where I’ve been at least once and ridden on the roller coaster. I also went to a Simply Red concert with my sister just near there.

Queen Victoria Market is where my dad used to take us and we’d come away with a box of manderins and Spanish donuts. There were so many aisles and so much food

China town. Swanston Street. Westfield. Chadstones with my grandparents. Phillip Island to see the Penguins (not quite Melbourne obviously but still).

Myers, David Jones and the food hall for the fudge and random treats. Brunch on Keilor Road. Coffee at Pellegrinis.

Brunswick Street in Fitzroy became cool only after I left in 1993 but my sister showed me around and we went for a drink at a bar on a terrace. Smith Street has much the same feel to it, nothing to me, but plenty of cool for others. Vague familiarity with Clarendon Street in South Melbourne.

loving the light

By mugley

A quirky thing about Melbourne that could keep me entertained for days was the price of petrol. There is no (or at least there was no) blanket pricing schedule with slight variations. There were dramatic differences between service stations and days of the week. Petrol could be 70 cents a litre at one station and up to 90 or down to 50 cents in another.

Another Melbournian peculiarity is that pizza from local places has a layer of ham – not flat slices but small cut up bits. Bizarre.

Favourite memory of going to the independent Cinema Kino and watching Gas, Food, Lodging and then having lattes in small water glasses, as was the fashion, somewhere in the city with my sister. We also saw My Mother’s Castle.

Eat Me on Facebook and on Twitter.

Transported: to the end of the line

The Monday that just passed, brought back memories of previous long queues, and the usual feeling of relief, as I tended to pass by with my monthly ticket. This time there was less satisfaction as I had to wait along with more than 80 other people, some outside the side door of the station. With 10 minutes before my train left, I knew I’d missed it but I did gain some time to think about why the queues were so long and clustered around certain days.

While there need not be a significant relationship between the clusters of people and the time or day, randomness does love clusters after all, there appeared to be an association, so what to make of it? If data were available on ticket purchases by date and time I could analyse it in a way that identifies significant relationships. I could then survey passengers and with a sample  large, and random, enough I could infer the results onto the general population of train travellers. This would be the way I would plan it if I was looking for a definitive answer but I was pondering more than seeking certainty.

There were four windows open with cashiers ready to serve, and four automatic machines but they don’t provide all of the services you get at the windows. The staff are usually good, so any potential slowness is not the problem. The reason that had me personally queuing was the inability to purchase advance season tickets. There are various times when I have wanted to be organised and tried to buy my monthly or weekly ticket in advance but was told I could not do so.

When contacted, the Stage Coach Group said that the rules governing the advance issue of season tickets are common to National Rail and are as follows:

New Tickets

  • Starting on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday (or Tuesdays following a Bank Holiday Monday): Tickets may be purchased from 12 noon on the Friday before.
  • Starting any other day: Tickets may be purchased from 12 noon on the day before.


  • Starting any day: Tickets may be purchased up to 7 days in advance.

* You are required to surrender the expiring ticket at the time of purchase and there must be no break in validity.

The rules in place are designed to strike a balance between the requirements of season ticket customers to renew tickets at less busy times and also to minimise the potential for misuse of season tickets in advance of the validity start date. All existing ticket issuing systems throughout the National Rail network work to the same specification, in that they encode only the expiry date of the ticket – this is primarily a limitation imposed by magnetic ticketing design.

These rules and limitations are in place to prevent me buying a monthly ticket for the end of the year and being able to use it at any point until it expires and before it is valid. I can see the reasoning behind this and while it doesn’t solve the problem it does suggest an area to look for a solution. Is it a problem limited by technology because there are no better ticketing systems available?

The South Coach Group said they are trialling a Smartcard ticketing scheme for South West Trains. Initially, this is only going to be available for a limited range of but within a couple of years, they are hopeful that this could be extended and make ticket renewals more flexible.

Bristol transport are getting a ‘smart card’ system soon and this could be the same thing. Jon Rogers, Bristol’s councillor in charge of transport told the Bristol Evening Post in May 2010, that the card will initially work on buses but will also be extended to be used on trains, ferries and the proposed bus rapid transit network. If it has the same functionality as the London Oyster card then it may save some time but we will have to see.

St Catherine’s, on the side

St Catherine’s, on the side, originally uploaded by still awake.

La Boqueria

Monday afternoon, nearly closing time for the Boqueria market and it is the first place I stumble upon on my visit to Barcelona. Two fruit juices are being sold off for one euro and I sip on a dragon fruit / coconut one first and a watermelon juice next as I walk around the various stands.

Even with most market traders gone, I love the atmosphere of the market and it brings back memories of Queen Vic Market in Australia. The latter also serves churros (Spanish donuts) although with powdered sugar rather than chocolate.

The churros are the next day’s breakfast, however, and on Monday night I head off from the middle of the Ramblas and continue my exploration of the touristy shops and Barcelona Port. The next day I return to the market for breakfast and juice and then the following day I go back for lunch and a carajillo. The market is busy on both days and the food on display is colourful and varied.

La Boqueria started off as a travelling market situated in the Ramblas, the famous tourist destination. It was initially an open-air market, in front of one of the gates of the old city wall (Pla de la Boqueria) where fruit and vegetable traders from local towns and farms nearby would sell their products. Its history has been full of changes with additions of bird shops and fishmongers not happening until the early 1800s. The metal roof was inaugurated in 1914 and from then there was a host of modernisations and improvement of sanitary levels.

Some of the treats now available are fresh fish and seafood; salty fish; tinned food; butchery and offal; birds; game and eggs; fruits and vegetables; herbs; delicatessen; breads and pastries; restaurants; frozen items; artisan products; charcuterie; farmers’ shops; wine; and even a Greek and an Italian hand made pasta stall.

When visiting Barcelona there is no better place to pause, peruse or just pursue some culinary pleasure. It is a market that comes highly recommended and not just by me. Try it, you’ll like it.

Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville, originally uploaded by still awake.

Lonely traveller

Lonely traveller, originally uploaded by still awake.

One more traveller sitting and contemplating in front of the Hotel de Ville

Plus one

On Monday I was in Brussels to meet the rest of the bloggers / students / journalists that are taking part in the TH!NK3 Development competition. I attended a conference on Tuesday and by the afternoon I was waiting at the Grand Place for my sister and a lift to the airport. I sat on the kerb in front of the pretty white building and either took photos or just listlessly waited, head on hands. Now and then I caught the eye of a guy sitting a little further down from me and also on his own. We were two among many tourists sitting around and he came up to me and asked if I was travelling alone like him and whether I fancied exploring a bit. He said that he had just arrived today and it was getting boring already being on his own. I knew what he meant but I was leaving, so no shared exploring in our foreseeable future. He was from Argentina but lived in London. He had quit his job and had started travelling for the next six months. Now on his own in Brussels he wanted some company with which to share his experience.

I remember feeling the same way on my last day in Barcelona, being so tired at the end of a three day trip mainly involving walking and having no one with whom to share it. Not sure if it was a lonely feeling but there was something lacking, an empty space. Sitting at the Old Vic last November, holding on to the second ticket for a friend who never showed up, more empty space. Trying to find someone to use the spare ticket to Alphabeat last October, the Miserable Rich / Random Family, Two Door Cinema Club, failing to see the Counting Crows in London a few years back, and on and on. Well, I recently gave up with the idea of a second ticket. I’m not buying them anymore. If there’s something I want to see I will go on my own.

At breakfast with friends recently, we were talking about how there are certain events for which you need company. Going to bars/pubs, a restaurant, what’s the point of coffee on your own? Not sure that I agree with all of those. When going for coffee on my own I can linger for a few hours with my notepad / laptop for company. There is so much to do, to write, to think. There is no irritation at the silence, no one demanding attention and no one rushing to head off. After a while (months, years) of doing just that I can see that it’s not that easy. There’s a whole different niceness to lingering with someone else. Alone is nice and company is also nice. My compromise is to enjoy the company when it’s there, and indeed be more than excited by it, while at the same time stop worrying about that empty seat. Next goal is to accept, embrace and acknowledge the space by going somewhere like New York. Barcelona faded into a slight emptiness but I came away with over a thousand pictures to play with. Not a bad consequence of travelling alone. Now just have to sort out the pictures from Brussels and create some space for the ones from my next trip.

¿Habla Español? Poquito

Early winter morning and the woman at Dashi prepares my vanilla soy latte as we chat about summer and holidays. I mention a trip to Barcelona that I’ve always wanted to make. She tells me about her last trip to the Catalan city and how an inadvertent slip-up in coffee ordering had her drinking brandy at 8 o’clock in the morning. That sounds like my kind of town and trying the beverage makes its way up on my list of things to do.

The trip to Barcelona has been up there since high school due to a going away party for a friend’s brother. I’d never talked to him before but we spent the night dancing and the last few minutes saying goodbye. He is off to Spain to become an architect and I find the possibilities of long-distance romance quite enchanting. I write inspired letters with song lyrics and Spanish poetry. He writes back on one side of a torn out notebook page and adds the lyrics to Take My Breath Away on the back. The clichéd failure sits badly along my persistent inability to recognise his voice when he calls so the amazing romance never takes off.

The intrigue with Spain remains however and over a decade after the dance and two and a half years after the morning at Dashi, I arrive in Barcelona for a three-day trip on my own. Spain is hot and the journey begins with Lady Gaga singing the first and last song I remember hearing, ‘Just dance’.

I choose a stop too hastily on the way to the hotel. I walk down the Gran Via during the very warm siesta time and it takes a while before I get to my hotel but it’s one road and it’s straight. I am out the door soon after I check in and my biggest challenge is being comfortable alone in a city that’s not home.

I take my camera with me and it’s a brief few minutes before my focus shifts to my surroundings and not the glances. I disappear and take in only the streets and the buildings. Backpack in front, and camera around my hands and neck, I stop being a person of interest and become just one more tourist. So easy to get lost in a stereotype and I’m happy to oblige.

I take photos of everything and I barely pause to eat as that would take too long. Flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo is my favourite  snack along with Spanish coffee con leche, ‘no leche’. I tell people it’s because I forget that leche means milk but the truth is I don’t know how to say black coffee in Spanish – is it nero like in Italian or negro? I plead ignorance.

By the second day I need a new memory card for my camera. Habla Ingles I ask her behind the shop counter and she answers poquito. With some pointing and nodding we get along just fine. A friend in Barcelona gets in touch and over tapas that night I explain to him my quest for a coffee with a brandy and he tells me that I’m looking for a carajillo. We eat tiny baby octopus and various tapas followed by a dessert which gets drenched with a type of liqueur. A bottle of wine and a mojito later and I’m back at the hotel drifting off.

My walk to La Bocqueria on my last day is overloaded and weighed down. I sit at a bar and I order the pimiento and some seafood. I ask for the carajillo and encounter a language problem that I can’t resolve by pointing. He has a follow-up question and I can only assume it’s about what type of brandy to use. I stare blankly and shrug a lot, he stops asking and I get my drink. Success tastes strong, sweet and fragrant and Spanish coffee is a reason I would move there in a heartbeat. I smile when the man behind the counter indicates that the coffee is a treat from him and I walk away feeling tired. One thing off the list leaves space for something new but I put off thinking about that until winter comes along.

January 2010 and Dashi closes down in Bristol Temple Meads. Falling sales and rising prices. I buy my final coffee the day before it shuts but I don’t know that it’s the last time. I am out for dinner at El Puerto a few days later and the final item on a board just past the door is the carajillo – coffee with flaming brandy.

It’s not on my list anymore but I was right about the long distance love affair, it is utterly enchanting. Time to start learning how to order a café solo before summer perhaps. Love is a nice way to start the day.