Camping holidays

I used to go camping a lot  – many years ago that was what you did either for long Easter breaks or in the summer holidays or sometimes just for a weekend.  My family used to go camping around Lake Eildon (in Victoria).  Back in those days you could just go bush, find a nice spot and set up camp.  We would generally camp near a river (stream actually) and my uncle would fish for trout.  He taught me how to fish.  Mostly I got the fly tangled in a tree but sometimes I caught fish.  I liked the solitariness of fishing in a stream, just walking along and casting.  Whether or not I caught a fish was beside the point, it was really just an activity. If I did catch a fish I would have to unhook it and then clean and scale it.  All part of the process. Even putting live worms onto the hook was OK.  But I was a kid then.  Not sure that I could do that now.

When we were young we used to travel all the way up from Melbourne to Hervey Bay in Qld (some 2,000+ miles) in the September school holidays. 5 of us (3 kids in the back) in a Holden station wagon fully laden with tent and camp beds and food and god only knows what else. We didn’t pay attention to the preparations, we were just keen to get on the road. It was a long, long journey and my dad would drive pretty much non-stop, fuelled up on coke (as in coca-cola) and ‘no-doze’.  He would stop by the roadside in the early hours of the morning for a couple of hours’ sleep and then would drive on again.  We’d usually stop in Brisbane overnight with some relatives and then be back on our way.  I remember how long and flat that journey was – nothing to see but the occasional billboard and lots of telegraph poles.  We’d count them (out of boredom) and we would play hangman and noughts and crosses and I spy.

In those days the tents were huge, heavy canvas things with wooden poles – usually one in the middle of the tent and eyelets that had to be threaded around the corner poles.  Our tent didn’t have a floor.  But we had those old camp beds.  I suspect they were really army cots. And no sleeping bags – mum always brought plenty of blankets and sheets.  We camped right on the foreshore: crowded with tents so close to each other that you could barely move between them; as kids we didn’t care. It was exciting to be able to wake up early to the sound of the pounding surf and go and swim – at 6am!  I think we lived in the water.  Evening times were magical too, with the ending of daylight and the descending quiet  – distant chatter and occasional raised voices of kids and adults – and the preparation of food and smell of sausages and chops cooking.  I don’t think I ever appreciated the effort that went into that exercise. Our main activity as kids was playing on the beach and reading.  We always sought out the local second hand bookstore  and spent many hours lying around reading.  It was simple but blissful.  Not a care in the world.

When we camped in the bush there were usually a group of adults and I remember fondly how at night, in our tent we would hear the adults talking and singing around the fire and playing cards. When you’re camping there’s really nothing to do – walks, cards, books, swimming. I don’t think we were ever bored.

As a young adult I once travelled all the way along the east coast of Australia from Warrnambool to Darwin, camping along the way. Sometimes just stopping at a beach for a night or two and other times in little campsites in a little tent with not many provisions or accessories.

More recently I’ve had camping trips to the Snowy River and a number of canoe trips, packing our canoe with everything we needed and finding a nice place to stop.  Sadly, now there are so many restrictions on where you can camp and you can no longer  just go bush.  You have to be in a designated camping ground.  These can be horrid and don’t appeal to me.  One time we canoed to a lovely little spot and set up our little tent only to find the next day a helicopter circling around and then the water police coming to tell us that we couldn’t camp there – too dangerous:  a branch might fall.  Despite our pleas that we were well aware of the risks, we were moved on.  And so we packed everything into our canoe (the water police watched to make sure we left) and paddled to another place.  Again the next day a ranger came and told us we couldn’t camp there.  We explained that the camp site was way too full and besides, we didn’t have much stuff with us and would take all our rubbish away with us, that we had already been moved on and were only there for another day.  The ranger relented and so we spent a gloriously quiet time by the water, doing very little – eating, drinking, reading, swimming.

But for a number of years now we haven’t camped.  Instead our holidays have become more exotic, travelling to various places in Asia – India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali – or to Europe, Morocco, and more recently to the UK.

This year for our anniversary we decided to go camping.  Our daughter and her girlfriend had been camping to Seal Rocks (Myall Lakes) and stayed at a place called Camp Treachery (!) with lovely vast camping spots and gorgeous beaches. A couple of other people I know said they’d also been there and thought the place was perfect.  So off we went.

My daughter had bought a big tent – large enough to stand up in which was a first for us – so we borrowed that and planned our meals, bought our provisions, packed the car and off we went. We took everything that we thought we needed (including some nice champagne and champagne glasses) and my daughter’s double blow up mattress, sheets and pillows, chairs, a hammock, our Weber as well as one of those little portable butane burners which used to be only in the Asian shops, but can now be found in the mainstream supermarkets. We even took coffee and a camping coffee plunger. Luxury.

But of course, despite making careful lists and pre-prepping dressings, marinades and rubs, there were things we forgot.  Main one being a salad bowl. How to make salad without a salad bowl.  The small cereal bowls we took were too small.  So my creative problem-solving skills came to the fore.  I mixed everything in a plastic bag, added the dressing and voila! Problem solved.

We arrived on Friday afternoon – although we meant to leave at 10am to get here by 2pm there were, inevitably, last minute things to take care of.  I decided I wanted to take our hammock, which necessitated the search for some extra ropes.  And then there were the last minute food purchases – some coriander, fresh fruit etc.  But finally we were on the road and arrived soon after 3pm.  All good; time for a swim once we’d found a good spot to set up the tent and camp site and then we could settle in and have a G&T before making dinner.  What we hadn’t factored in was the setting up of a tent we had never used.  Fraught, to say the least.  I think it took us nearly an hour to figure it out.  The instructions were vague (and I suspect translated from Chinese – never a good thing).  But at last we were done and the tent was up, the bed inflated and made up and our food stuffs and drinks packed in ice.  And so to dinner – seared salmon with a tomato, pomegranate and roasted lemon salad. I had roasted the lemons at home as well as the pomegranate dressing and the chilli-lime salt for the salmon.  Simple and perfect. And then there was nothing to do but sit around the fire and drink red wine. No wifi, no service = no phones, no iPads.  Blissfully relaxing.

Around the world in taxi cabs

We’ve caught taxis in most places around the world, an experience that is unique to each locale. In India the taxis are quaint old fashioned Ambassadors but you can also hire drivers with more ‘modern’ vehicles. Doesn’t really make a difference because the experience is hair-raising either way. And noisy. Indian drivers beep their horns all the time. I think its because no one really bothers to obey the road rules (if indeed there are any) so drivers are constantly making their presence known by way of their loud horn. But maybe its also a male macho thing (“my horn’s bigger/louder than yours”?). Similarly in Vietnam, but there it appears to be some logic to the madness and because people don’t drive fast, they seem to be able to cope with negotiating cross roads etc without lights and passing by. It still makes me incredibly anxious – I can’t bear to look out the windows, I have to occupy myself by reading or doing something. Either that or taking a chill pill (does help). In Malaysia its much more ‘civilised’ and organised but even so, drivers pay little attention to lanes: a 3 lane highway can easily become 5 and I’ve even seen drivers driving on the shoulder in order to bypass traffic. Still, I felt relatively safe in taxis in Malaysia. In London, one of the things I wanted to do (as well as riding on the top of a London bus) was take one of those traditional black cabs. They’re very different from our Aussie cabs: roomy in the back – enough room to put your suitcases in with you or to fit 6 people: 3 on the backseat and 3 on the pull down seat opposite. Plus they have individual settings for air con and music. Now that’s civilised. One of the things I noticed was the protocol of getting into a cab. You hail one, and then you talk to the driver about where you want to go through the front left side window, and only then do you get in. Here in Australia, you just jump in the cab and say where you want to go. I always sit in the back – I don’t think that in London people sit in the front. In Singapore we were amazed that you couldn’t just flag down a taxi. You have to wait at a designated taxi pick-up place. One time we saw a taxi stop at the lights and ran across 3 lanes of traffic and jumped in. The taxi driver was horrified. You just don’t do that there. He gabbled on and on about how we couldn’t just jump in. Finally I asked him if he didn’t want the fare and and should we get out? Eventually he clamed down and explained that it was illegal for him to pick up people in that manner and he could be fined. We found that very strange indeed. So regulated. But that’s Singapore. People queue and they never venture beyond that white line. Oh the freedom of being in Australia where you simply hail an empty cab and just hop in.

Parisian hospitality

So often I have heard people complain  that Parisians – more generally, French – are rude and inhospitable; up themselves. I’ve not encountered this. In fact I’ve been pleasantly surprised and delighted with how friendly and customer service savvy they are. You can’t enter a shop or department store or indeed any section of a store or a cafe, bar or bistro without people saying hello. Bonjour Madame. So nice. And they look you in the eye and are all too happy to engage with you no matter what your level of French or their English. And there’s always a friendly bonjour, merci, au revoir at the end. I love the French. They don’t make me feel like an outsider; they make we feel welcome. I only wish I could speak the language fluently. I would so love to be able to banter and converse with them. They have a sense of fun – a joie de vivre.

Back in London I found myself saying “Bonjour monsieur” etc only to realise I was in a different country now and nobody really greeted you or cared. Somehow saying bonjour/bonsoir monsieur/madame has a nice ring to it.  Its not just ‘hello’ its an acknowledgement.  But I can’t imagine anyone in Australia saying “good day madam”.  Just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  So vive la France!

Holiday bathing

One of the things I like to indulge in is lying in a bath, sipping a white wine and reading my book (kindle).  We often stay in hotels that have great baths in the bathrooms and they always have good products – shampoo and conditioner, handwash, shower gel, body lotion, but never anything to put in the bath. This perplexes me.  I’m a real fan of bath additives: electric soda, lush bliss balls, bath salts, essential essences, all manner of foaming, good smelling products to make having a bath a truly luxurious experience.

I always wonder if I should take along some bath products when I go away but inevitably I don’t because its just one more thing to pack and packing is challenging enough: no matter how long or short the journey/trip my luggage is always crammed full of stuff – the “I might need this” or the “just in case” items: one too many pairs of shoes or extra tops that inevitably don’t get worn.  But then there’s also the risk of not packing enough – and then having to tramp all over the place looking for an extra t-shirt/gym shorts/socks, walking shoes etc.  Items that you wished you’d brought. Travelling dilemmas.

At the moment we’re staying in a beautiful old mansion in Oban (Greystones) that is deceptively large and modern inside.  We have a huge bathroom with an enormous shower and a really big stand-alone bath.  Its deep and perfectly proportioned so that I don’t need to  hang on to the sides of the tub to stop myself from sliding under (have you been in one of those large marble bathtubs that are so deep and curved  that you have to hang on for dear life?  It doesn’t make for a relaxing experience).

So off I will go to purchase some bath salts or something to make the water soft and enhance my bath time experience.  Note to self:  next time, do bring the bath stuff.

5 star spas

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I’ve become a fan of 5-star hotels. How could you not? King sized bed with pillows that make you feel that your head is resting on clouds and doonas so light you feel that you’re in heaven and never want to get up. Turn down service. Bathrooms with the biggest fluffiest towels you could ever wish for and all the amenities you could ever want. Room service that is prompt and friendly and nothing to do but relax. This is holidays. I think that spending a week (or even just a few days) in a fabulous hotel is a holiday all on its own – never mind the journey or the destination.

And then there’s the hotel spa. Sure they’re expensive (sometimes incredibly so) but it’s an indulgence well worth the price. I badly needed a massage. A long flight followed by hours of walking, pounding the pavement in shoes not meant for more than prettifying my feet and a serious morning work out in the gym gave me a sore back and tight shoulders. In Kowloon I thought I’d just go to one of those cheap massage places the city has in abundance but on reading reviews of massage places it turns out that many of them are fronts for brothels or else they’re so dirty (report of one where a dead mouse fell on to the head of the masseur) that I had to rethink the proposition. My husband suggested I just have a massage at the hotel. I thought it was too expensive but he persuaded me – we’re on holidays so may as well indulge. And so I rang and booked a session. I was asked to come in 30 minutes earlier in order to have a sauna and relax in the warm spa pool before hand. What bliss. The massage was exactly what I wanted/needed and without a doubt this was the best spa/massage experience I have ever had. I’m now won over. Bypass the ordinary and go for luxe. Your body is worth it.
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Resort wear – the dilemmas of packing

I generally pack too much when I’m heading off on holidays – and these are summer holidays I’m talking about not winter ones where you need lots of warm clothes and boots and layers. Summer hols in tropical climes where really the only things I need are a skirt some tops a couple of es sa pair of sandals, thongs bathers and sarongs and of course either yoga or gym gear depending on where we’re headed. But it’s the mix and match thing that always has me flustered: this top to go with this skirt and these sandals and that dress really needs those sandals and if we go out somewhere special… you get my drift.

My husband experiences no such dilemmas. He just packs some lungis (pure white fine cotton Indian sarongs that males in South India wear), a couple of shirts, a pair of trousers, bathers, birkenstocks and he’s done. His stuff fits neatly into one small section of our suitcase. The rest is taken up by my things. And always I realise at the end of our trip that I packed too much. I could have survived with half my clothes. So this time going to a one stop place – a resort where there really wasn’t anything to do – I packed light:

  • one all purpose day dress
  • one grey silk casual dress but also suitable for evenings
  • 3 sarongs
  • 3 singlet tops that could be worn with my sarongs and also double up for the gym
  • 3 pairs gym shorts
  • 3 gym bra tops
  • gym socks
  • one pair sandals
  • thongs
    and at the last minute  threw in two white t shirts.

I also took a white muslin scarf that could double as a shawl. Oh and one long dress because there was to be a fancy cocktail night. And that was it. With a sense of triumph I thought at last, I’d mastered the art of packing light. Didn’t even bother with makeup ( except one all purpose eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, tinted moisturiser and blush – just in case an evening out would require some glam). Travelling light. Proud of myself.

But what I found is that people wear resort wear here. I’ve even seen someone with a matching resort style bags – different outfits, matching bags each day. And one woman in a very short cocktail dresss and high heeled shoes (neither of which she should be wearing anywhere anytime, but there’s no accounting for taste or lack thereof). I’m feeling decidedly underdressed. Except really, who cares? I have nice accessories – a couple of pairs of earrings, two rings and something to drape around my neck.

But what I hadn’t considered was the weather. I had only packed for a hot and humid beach resort. But then it rained. And rained. And continued to do so day after day. And instead of hot, hot, hot it was decidedly cool. Still, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. But the bulk of my packing was swimwear. Pool side garb. Again, I thought, I’d got it wrong. All those bathers lying in the drawer and of no use.

I had had often thought how liberating it would be to go somewhere where all you needed was a sarong, bathers and perhaps one dress. But looking around me at the various outfits people wear I see that the whole point of going to a resort is to dress. For breakfast, lunch, cocktails by the pool, cocktails in the lounge and dinner in the various restaurants. But common sense has prevailed and I’ve managed very well with my few well chosen pieces and haven’t felt either under-dressed or  like I’m wearing the same things day after day. And isn’t the whole point of going to a resort that you are liberated from the need to be worrying about what to wear? Besides, all those extra clothes would just mean more washing back home.

Packing solved. Liberated at last.

Holidays- lazy days

On holidays and feeling a bit like a widow. My husband has his head buried in one of his devices – either reading the news on his iPad or a book on his kindle. We sit at breakfast and he reads the news. This is nothing new – Michael will read anything – even the back of a creal box – and generally we don’t talk at breakfast but either read the papers – I still like to read the printed papers on the weekend – or do whatever people do on their iPads (I shop/browse for all those things I really don’t need).
But here on holidays when the weather is wet and we’re limited in our activities I find that where I want conversation, Michael is happpy to read. At night, when I get tired of reading I go to bed. Michael stays up late reading. In the morning I find him out on the balcony – reading.

At breakfast there’s chatter all around us but at our table all is silent. Even my head is silent – there doesn’t seem to be any point in having a conversation even in my own head. Perhaps my brain has taken a holiday and retreated into peace. Except that I don’t feel at peace. What I need is some yoga to restore balance. There’ no yoga here. Sure I could do my own practise but truth is I’m feeling lazy. I don’t even go to the gym every day despite having packed enough gym gear for the entire stay. My intentions are good – each night I am determined to wake up and do a workout before breakfast. But on waking my body feels too tired. Lazy. Still, I go every other day. And given the amount of food we eat – breakfast, lunch, dinner, pool side snacks, this is the least I should do. Then again, I’m on holidays and alternating gym with massage seems reasonable.
Holidays – my goose is getting fat.

Homecomings – the journey’s end

Holidays are as much about the excitement of travel as the destinations:  the anticipation of  the flight out, the unknown destination, exploring, finding places to eat and drink, shopping, packing, unpacking and packing again, flights and connections; journeying. Very rarely are they about being homeward bound.

While we were sad to end our holiday we felt we’d had a wonderful time and were relaxed and ready to come home.  We were also glad that we booked the return flight to arrive on Friday morning, thereby giving us an extra day to recover before going back to work.  Even if its not such a long flight and time differences, there’s still the lack of sleep to cope with and all the unpacking, not to mention the inevitable need to shop for essentials once home.  Monday seeems to come around much too quickly – the desire to just do nothing and sleep and laze is weighted against  the need to shop and attend to all the other little things that are necessary to ensure that getting back to work is smooth (like checking the 3000 emails on both the home computer and the work webmail).

We arrived home early Friday morning having been whisked through the airport courtesy of an ariport wheelchair operator.  She even wheeled us out to the taxi stand charging to the front of the queue.  We were home an hour after having landed.  Now that’s service. A  quick and cursory unpack, shower and into our own bed.  Despite the fact that the bed was freshly made and the apartment nice and clean, it felt a bit strange. I missed the wonderful big bed at the Grand Millenium and the fabulous huge duck down pillows. They were heaven-sent and one of the things that keeps me coming back to the hotel; pure luxury (that and the turn down service which also includes a quick tidy up and towel refreshment).

So sleep, wake, shop for essentials to re-stock empty fridge and something for dinner and then back home to a very late lunch  (a bottle of champagne to celebrate return, oysters and some seared scallops) and a laze before dinner.

As I was preparing our little repast I found myself at the clean and empty sink  thinking:  what’s a sink?  I hadn’t been near one in 21 days.  It was a strange sensation. Going back into the bedroom I wished that we had turn-down service at home.  Making up the bed and tidying the bedroom I was acutely aware that our holiday was well and truly over.  It would be me who had to make the bed, tidy the room, clean the bathroom and wash the towels from here on in. Ah, holidays.  Its the little indulgences, the small luxuries that make them so worthwhile. In the hotel in KL I fantasized about how good it would be to just book in and do nothing but stay in the room, sleep and order room service and have everything with  a quick call to housekeeping.  It sounded like the perfect way to re-charge. The reality of course would be very different – for me, anyway – I would go stir crazy and need to get out – to the pool, to the gym, to the shops, to my favourite little Chinese eatery.  But it is a nice fantasy.  If only air travel was less expensive here in Australia.  Perhaps I’ll put it on my ‘to do’ list – the list ofindulgences  and experiences that are always possible but never acted on.

Have iPad can blog – but maybe not upload

One of the things I’m finding difficult while travelling is posting my blogs.

Working on a mini iPad creates its own sets of challenges, especially if you want to upload photos in a particular sequence or create bullet lists or in fact anything that requires using html.  The tap screen keyboard is just too difficult. To an extent I have resolved this problem by purchasing a little Logitech keyboard (I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to discover they made them for minis) but its hard to get used to the small (tiny) keyboard and it makes the tap screen function not work properly.  It also drains the battery on my iPad (because the keyboard connection is via bluetooth).

The other difficulty is being at the mercy of hotel wifi connections.  Often they’re either too slow or not available in certain areas.  We stayed at a lovely Balinese bungalow in Ubud set at the back of a rice paddy.  It was a gorgeous setting – we had to walk through beautifully laid out gardens with little shrines and ponds and fountains to reach our bungalow but it meant that the wifi didn’t reach that far, so we were limited to the lobby area to do anything wifi connected (pardon the pun).

Here in our hotel in KL up on the 14th floor the wifi is slow, so uploading things takes ages or else just doesn’t work “bad connection” or “unable to connect to server”. grrrrr.
So I’ve been sitting in the rather plush and very comfortable lobby deeply immersed in trying to rectify upload problems while my poor husband sits patiently opposite me.  Truth to tell, he’s always got his head in his iPad, reading news and commentary.  We must look like a strange couple, sitting not talking to each other, merely tapping away or staring at our devices.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps we epitomise the modern couple: ensconsed in our own little worlds, communicating via one or another iGadget.

The worst thing about this was that we had ordered a lovely bottle of New Zealand pinot and I was most of my way through my second glass without even noticing!  What a waste.  I made sure my last glass was duly attended to.

Progress in paradise

Nobody seems to walk anymore. In Melaka the streets were congested with cars; their one way systems didn’t help but I was astonished at how many cars there were on the road and how few people walked. And even more surprisingly how the city was designed for cars, not people. Most of the main roads didn’t have pavements that people could walk on – as we discovered. And whenever we asked people for directions they actually didn’t know how to get to where we wanted to by foot. They could give us directions to drive but to walk? Not only did they have no idea of how (so inevitably we took the long way round instead of the pedestrian shortcuts which we soon discovered for ourselves) but how long that would take. Invariably everything was just 20 minutes away.

In Ubud the thing I notice is how many scooters there are: everyone rides a scooter, locals and tourists alike. And the locals have scooters that are huge – they’re like the Cadillacs of motor scooters (not big motor bikes but those wide, motor home type scooters). At the Yoga Barn there are often signs advising there is no more parking and on some days they even have a parking attendant! You can see this endless line of parked scooters. Even one year ago this wasn’t the case.

With the increase in motor traffic comes the increase in noise; sitting in a cafe in the Main Street conversation is almost drowned out by the interminable loud drone of bikes going past. Occasionally you see someone riding very fast (unusual here where top speed is usually less than 25 kph), more often than not a Westerner. What strikes me also is the number of big 4 wheel drives on the road and how immaculately clean they are. I imagine they’re the pride of people’s possession and indeed it must be a sizeable chunk of investment, in a place where the average wage is $50 per month.

Just like cities the world over, development has come to Ubud and it is no longer the tranquil little village it once was. We met some people the other night who have been coming here for years and they have noticed the extent to which rice paddies have reduced: 3 out of 4 rice paddy blocks across Ubud (and probably the same across Bali) have now gone to development. Hotels and villas and mansions and gated enclaves are emerging, yet they’re not filled with people and nor are they available to the local Balinese – they can’t afford them. Its a sad indictment on progress. On the one hand you want to be able to visit a country to experience its unique cultural heritage and way of life, on the other, the more people who want to do this, the more it places demands on the locals and gives a green light to developers to make money and build more resorts, more expensive villas and in turn ruin the very thing that people once sought. Still, people will continue to come and the Balinese will gain employment and hopefully be able to send their children to school. And if progress results in better education and more opportunities for the local, so be it.

Tania Layden