The lone traveller

image image image image image

As some of you already know, I’m in Bologna travelling ALONE for a few days, for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

It’s been a long time since I travelled alone. I haven’t done much without children and/or husband since having a baby 6 years ago.

And that’s how I’ve liked it. I’ve never really been very good on my own. I’m an extrovert, in the sense that I need people – or at least feel like I do. And it’s not about feeling scared or something. It’s more about company.

Even before having kids, I was rarely alone. I spent three days alone back in 2006 when I first moved to Melbourne from London, waiting for my housey to move in. I hated it! And spent every minute either on MSN {do you remember that?} or visiting people.

But taking the troops to Bologna wasn’t an option. So here I am.

I’m sharing an AirBnB room in an apartment not far from the fair. My roomies are smokers and although it’s bearable, it’s not ideal. I don’t really fancy sitting around my room ALONE for hours in the evening. I want to experience a bit of Bologna while I’m here. And at the very least, eat Italian.

After a busy day at the fair, instead of walking 800m to my apartment, I opted to catch a bus into the city for dinner.

A day of taking photos of beautiful books left my phone battery empty. I was furiously trying to get the public transport route on maps before phone died and fair closed. Then I gave up, and talked to the nice lady at the info booth. She gave me a map – a real map – and pointed me in the direction of a really nice area near the university.

Catching the bus then walking in the early evening, surrounded by glorious Italian architecture, feeling confident about my sense of direction – that was a good feeling.

The place that was recommended was fully booked {good sign}, so I wandered around for a bit through the narrow ancient streets. I found an incredibly beautiful vintage shop – way out of my league, but fun to walk around. And a kid rode past on a mini four-wheel motorbike.

I made my way back to Via Mascarella, where the local hipsters seem to hang. There’s a couple of beautiful bookshops there, a cinema and cool bars and restaurants.

I found a little outside corner table at Moustache and ordered tagliatelle ragu and red wine, and it was great.

Everyone else had their jackets on. But after Northern Europe I found the temperature perfect. So sat out in a sleeveless dress for at least a couple of hours, reading and atmosphere soaking.

Funny trip back. Missed the last bus. Got vaguely lost trying to find the other bus. Sense of direction obviously not as good as previously imagined. But everywhere in Bologna, a befuddled lady tourist  seems to attract the attention of helpful Bolognese. So I was chaperoned back to my apartment on the right bus.

Unlike many mothers clamouring for time without their sweeties, I wasn’t really looking forward to the break. But as it turns out, lone wolf travelling is actually really fun. And my own company isn’t all that bad. I can sit in a restaurant by myself, with no phone, and feel content. I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks when I like. I can feel brave and trepiditious and 20 again.

Do you like travelling alone? What’s the last trip you did unencumbered?

Visiting London with kids

london

london

Changing of guard at Buckingham Palace

Changing of guards

friends

brighton

London

The last ten days, we’ve been whizzing around the south of England. Surrey, countryside, Brighton, Guildford and three days in London. I lived in London for about a year, eleven years ago. Gregor lived there for six. And with me being half English, we had lots of friends and family to catch up with.

We were welcomed into many homes during our stay. And people were so generous. Each home came with not only a bed, and warm, delicious food, but at least one new best friend for the girls. And in some cases, two or three.

I loved that once through the door, bags down, bed selected, the girls virtually made themselves at home; holding hands with their host, accommodating to their hosts’ way of life, and chatting incessantly.

How lucky I am to have not one, but two adaptable, easy going girls to haul around various parts of Europe. Soon, it will be them hauling me, as they rush to catch up with another new and wondrous friend.

Generally, I like England. I had to convince Gregor, though, that the fields were green {not brown}, and subways are not that terrifying.

As we neared each subway station, his clutch on our girls increased. I could almost hear his heart beat faster.

I wonder how suited we are to London life. Maybe it’s a life you become accustomed to over time.

We wandered through busy London streets, dropping by Queen Elizabeth, to see if she’s home {she wasn’t, but she kindly arranged for a marching band and a bunch of guards to walk in formation, when we arrived}.

There was no dog poo on the streets, like there tends to be in The Netherlands, but still, the streets were fairly grimy.

My girls stuck close, thankfully, but their sweet little bumpkin selves were in slight contrast with a certain abruptness on the streets. My eldest would enthusiastically smile and wave at passing red buses. She was very disappointed when no-one waved back. Or even smiled.

Skipping and singing up the stairs of the subway, a rough English un-gentleman almost pushed both kids over. He was so mad to be stuck behind such frivolity.

On streets, drivers wagged angry fingers, and grimaced, if we crossed roads incorrectly.

When my daughter ran across a busy Brighton street, on a red light, I nearly chocked. Thankfully, she was okay.

Having said all that, we really did make the most of our time there, visiting the blue whale and the almost live t-rex at the Natural History Museum, and wandering through spaceships and various other awesome inventions at the Science Museum.

We ate curry, and almost visited the Queen. We ran through daffodil gardens and restrained from feeding hungry birds in St James’ Park. We paid our respects to Big Ben.

While my husband was perhaps a little anxious about losing small children, and aggressive punters, I felt fairly relaxed in the big smoke.

I think if I had to write a guidebook for country pumpkins visiting London, or any equivalent city, I would include this:

Bring child carrying equipment

I ended up carrying my youngest most of the way around. At some point, I remembered to bring the sling, which she has completely grown out of, but I have to say, made my life easier. Even if it meant I had one less child to think about. A pram or stroller could be even better.

Spend time in gardens

If the weather is reasonable, there are plenty of gardens to puddle about in, and escape from the big smoke and the grime. We spent hours hanging with the birds in St James’ Park. For a moment, I didn’t have to worry about a child getting run over. And they can get their fill of chlorophyl and possible vitamin D.

Use GPS

I have done quite well not having a sim-card whilst in Europe, and relying only on wifi. But in England, I am really glad I had access to Google Maps. I used it to find subway stations, get my bearings, and find my way home. Driving in London would have been impossible without Maps.

Visit museums

If you are like us, and struggle with the weight of the pound upon your shoulders, possibly give up converting currency, and also hang around the wonderful {free} museums. I cannot believe these amazing collections are fully subsidised. There is so much to see, and of course every punter on the streets is thinking the same thing {so keep sight of your children while you are there.}

I recommend dropping by the incredible blue whale and the t-rex in the Natural History Museum. We didn’t make it to the mummies at the British Museum, but I know that would have gone down well too.

Make a back-up plan

On the subway, I was haunted by a Louie episode, where one of his daughters gets left on the platform as the train door closes. It has to be a parent’s, and child’s, worst nightmare.

We were paranoid such a thing would happen to us, so talked about what would happen if it did. Our plan was to get off on the next platform, and wait.

Avoid peak hour

Not only do trains get more expensive at peak hour, they get hectic. It made our trip twice as long, as we stood among hoards of busy commuters waiting for a space in a packed train. Way more chance of losing a child.

Try not to do too much

If I was on my own, I could have made a dense itinerary of Liberty visits, independent bookshop visits and meandering through Chelsea. With kids though, we tried to minimise our mission. And when kids were too tired, we knew when to quit.

Sing Disney songs

Actually, this is my trick for travelling with kids anywhere. Singing Disney songs, like Colours of the Wind, and Whole New World is not only my personal pleasure, it is to the delight of my children. When children are tired and grumpy, and you are struggling up the hill towards home, I recommend belting out a rendition of Hakuna Matata.

Have you been to London with kids? What are your tips?

A little empty house

man with suitcase

Boxes are packed away. The shed is nearly full. A life accumulated, easily stacked, and we are left with just what we need.

10% of our worldly stuff. And it is enough. More than enough.

Our house feels as it should be. It’s a little place. A ‘cottage’ my grandma called it. And I didn’t think I had much stuff, until I packed it all away, and realised most of it is unnecessary.

Even, dare I say, my delightful teacups.

We have altogether about five toys in the house. And it’s perfect. The girls play happily with those, and any other bits and bobs they find. It’s true – kids really don’t need toys.

We have a third of one drawful of cooking utensils. It’s plenty.

Our adult book collection is non-existent – I never re-read adult books, but somehow, storing them in the house seems like an important thing to do.

Our kid book collection is distributed across the northern rivers, with only a small shelf of favourites left.

There is a slight echo in our little empty house. But it’s quickly filled with laughter and chatter, and is hardly heard at all.

So, because it is a sensible idea, we will continue to pay weekly to store 90% of our life we live happily without. I am not exactly sure why, and am told by friends who travel or move home, that more likely than not, when we get home, we’ll want to get rid of most of it.

In a week, we are moving overseas for a little while. On the precipice of adventure and a new, continental life, we pack as little as we can. One bag each.

My mind eases into the stuff-less void that is travel. The void filled with experiences, and memories and just what we need. Rain jackets. Jumpers. One pair of shoes each. Toothbrushes. Sparkly tutus. The essentials.

The girls have excitedly picked out the one toy {or maybe two} they are taking with them. And through the advent month, they’ve collected a bag of fun stuff to make with.

It feels like the right way to end the year – to fly into the next, literally, with just ourselves.

Image from Eddy Van 3000

On the road :: Part II

We didn’t leave Sydney until after 3pm. Hitting the road mid afternoon with kids? Not sure if that was the best idea. The plan was to make it to Newcastle before dark. But with kids… you know, pee stops, and petrol stops, and food stops… A two-hour drive becomes well over three.

At least the pee stops were pretty.

on the road

IMG_6127

IMG_6143

We spent the night in a loft apartment in Hamilton, Newcastle, which happened to be around the corner from Macleans Booksellers, where I was Too Busy Sleeping-ing the next day.

Newcastle is lovely! Such sweet little workers cottages. And the bookshop was terrific. Amanda, who’d organised the event, was so warm and welcoming. My old school friend Hannah brought her entourage, so we had a good crowd. We had a delightful picnic in the park, while the kids played. The perfect thing to do before setting off again.

This time, we were on the road by 2pm.

We took the inland route this time, heading up the Pacific Highway, then skirting inland towards Stroud. Such magical landscape. And the villages along the way were very sweet.

Spotify chewed up all my data in On The Road Part I, so we were relying on the few tracks I had previously downloaded onto my iTunes. Thank goodness for Justine Clarke and John Williamson, keeping our children happy as we pushed along.

IMG_6154

IMG_6156

IMG_6159

IMG_6161

‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ came the calls from the backseat.

‘It’s a long way yet.’ Collective sigh.

Kids minded it, maybe, but I certainly didn’t. Long car trips definitely used to seem forever. But now, as a busy adult, and especially as the passenger, they are bliss. Stare, stare, stare out onto country roads forever. My country bones stirred. My country heart fluttered.

IMG_6165

IMG_6167

IMG_6172

IMG_6198

By Walcha, it was growing dark. I had a smidgen of reception, and called ahead to the Inverell Motor Inn. ‘Have you got a family room?’

‘Sorry, no. Everything in town will be booked out. Mini World Soccer. We suggest you move on to the next town.’

Or stop at the town before. The kids were itching to get out of the car. We hit Uralla, and luckily found the last available family room in town. It was perfect. And it even had a shower curtain, so my girls could live out their Eleanor {Too Busy Sleeping} fantasies of hiding behind the shower curtain.

IMG_6204

IMG_6208

Uralla is a very pretty little town. I went to school in Armidale, so am a little familiar with it. My eldest and I took a little village stroll early in the morning. We listened to what we called the popcorn frogs making funny popcorn noises on the bank of the creek. We looked in antique shop windows, and wondered about the Hunting & Toy Shop on the main street – a strange mix between hunting gear and baby toys.

IMG_6212

IMG_6216

IMG_6218

IMG_6221

I was keen to get back to my home town, Inverell, early, so we’d have time to mooch.

Gregor reckons the rocks along the way are from the Ice Age. I don’t know about these things, but I do wonder at the sudden change of landscape between towns. Stroud to Walcha. Walcha to Uralla. Uralla to Inverell. All so different.

This is Thunderbolt’s Way. Listening to John Williamson as we drove, even Gregor felt the nostalgic pangs of growing up in the Australian bush. And he’s from the other side of the world.

IMG_6222

IMG_6238

IMG_6249

We arrived in Inverell mid-morning. We went straight to my old primary school, Ross Hill, and had a look around. It’s so little! And so familiar. There’s a couple of new buildings, but most things are where they should be.

We drove out to Sheepscombe, the property I grew up. Again, the house was so teensy! All my dreams are set in this landscape. I wanted to take a photo, but thought it might be a bit creepy for the new owners.

The most astounding thing was driving the highway which I walked along when I was about seven, with my little brother. I used to hate nap-time, so woke him up one weekend, and convinced him to walk with me to the lolly shop in town. I made business cards with our name and number on it, in case the police stopped us, and I’d be too nervous to talk.

Driving along the highway, I realised how far we made it! Just two little kids, two kilometres or so from home. Quite an achievement for kids around my daughter’s age.

We ate lunch at a yummy cafe in town. ‘Look, Elka, this is where I did ballet!’ ‘Look, this was my dad’s old surgery.’ ‘This is where we drank lime milkshakes after school!’

‘Yes, yes,’ said my family.

‘Well, I was born in Vienna,’ said my husband.

‘Yes, yes,’ I said.

The bookshop in Inverell was very sweet. The Dust Jacket. Full of good books – and people! I have never seen so many people per book in one bookshop before.

I read, and caught up with some people from my childhood. One friend, who I’ve become good friends with through Facebook, brought her two little kids. When I finished reading, one of her kids burst into tears.

‘Again!’ she cried desperately. ‘Again!’

Oh, my heart. What a sweetie.

IMG_6252

IMG_6257

This time, we hit the road 4.30. A very late departure for a long journey. The plan was to make it home. The kids had had enough. We all wanted our own beds.

Now that our coughs etc had finally subsided, this last leg ended up being the easiest.

IMG_6265

IMG_6277

IMG_6282

IMG_6293

Last stop, just before Tenterfield. I put my littlest in her jammies, and she soon fell asleep, only to stay asleep the rest of the trip, and the rest of the night. The other one listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the whole journey home, so she was content.

I love this drive so much. I can’t count how many times I did it as a kid. A dormant part of me awoke as we drove this landscape. The part that is passionate about this land, and all its stories. If there’s one thing I hope I can give my children {other than the obvious ingredients, like food, shelter and love}, it’d be a love of the land. And as Jackie French says, they only love the land if they know it.

Our lovely lent Ford Kuga MKII was a little dusty and grimy on its return. We have loved it well. It’s been safe, and reliable, and relatively economical, with its Ecoboost. And luckily we didn’t have an accident, but if we had, it calls emergency for you with Emergency Assist. It’s all about looking after little families. We felt safe, and comfortable, and not at all car sick on our journey on windy country roads.

We are a bit sad to give the car back on Monday.

This post is part of the #FordThinking #Voicesof2015 Kidspot challenge. 

fordthinking

On the road :: Part I

Here we go. This ol’ familiar road.

on the road

IMG_5847

Driving 1000ish km – Alstonville to Sydney. I’ve done it loads as a kid. The sweeping sugar cane fields. The wide rivers. The nostalgic country town pitstops.

Something about this Australian landscape sucks me back to thoughts and imaginings of my childhood – gazing out the car window – coming up with stuff. Thinking of stuff. Before technology like smartphones, and Google maps, I didn’t have much else to do but gaze out the car windows and dream and think. I miss that depth of thought – that boredom induced dreaming. Or do I just miss childhood?

On this trip, we curved inland, and stopped at Grafton library, where I did an event at the new Grafton library. Spent the morning chatting with some really cool kids, finding out how they live, and where, and what games they like playing, and books they like reading. One of them made me a letter.

Despite driving past the turn off a million times, I’ve never actually been into Grafton. It was nostalgic, because it reminded me a lot of Inverell, where I grew up.

We took the long and windy road inland towards Dorrigo, where we stayed with friends. Spotify dropped out at some point. So we listened to each other. One child slept in the back. The other drew on her feet and legs.

IMG_5849

IMG_5850

IMG_5855

IMG_5859

IMG_5860

IMG_5863

IMG_5887

Dorrigo was a quiet, peaceful, homely little place. I say homely, because I could imagine living there. We spent the night catching up with one of my old school friends. I love how years can pass, and your connection with a person can be as strong as ever before.

Bellingen the next morning was also very familiar – an intersection between Bangalow and Mullumbimby maybe. We sat on cozy couches and sipped coffee from thrifted mugs.

IMG_5865

IMG_5870

IMG_5872

IMG_5874

I didn’t much feel like taking pictures for the rest of the trip. My head was consumed with stuff. On-the-roadness – and this stinking cold which has been lingering in my chest. But mainly some sad family news, which I can’t stop thinking about. We lost a family member last week – and this road – this stretch of Pacific Highway in particular made me think a lot about him. You can take your little sunshine family on the road, but your grief comes with you.

Between sad conversations, my husband played with cruise control, and the lane keeping system in the car. I am always scared to use cruise control, and automated stuff – I hate surrendering control to a machine. But Gregor says it’s really great – and the car automatically breaks as you near the car in front. He also liked the blindspot information system. A little light comes on in your side mirror when there’s a car in your blindspot.

Requests from the backseat were fairly constant – ‘Story!’ ‘Song!’ ‘Wiggles!’ ‘Not loud enough!’ ‘Food!’ ‘Not that food!’ ‘Dropped the crackers!’ I have to say though that despite the occasional whinge, my kids are very good travellers.

IMG_5890

IMG_5901

My husband and I started talking about long trips we did as a kid. He drove 16 hours or so down the autobahn in Germany several times a year in a tiny Renault. We too did loads of long trips up and down the Great Dividing Range. How did we do it? There was no Spotify. I don’t remember all the snacks. We just did it. And our kids just do it too.

We ended up in Nelson’s Bay early evening. The sun was setting as we arrived. Clouds clustered over the lake. How pretty. The girls played in the wild and windswept beach as pelicans gathered. They were pleased to be free. The kids, I mean. Maybe the pelicans too.

IMG_5914

IMG_5918

IMG_5924

IMG_5934

IMG_5943

IMG_5951

IMG_5964

IMG_5973

IMG_5991

Early next morning, I had to do a meeting for work, so needed internet. It was raining, so hanging around the holiday park wasn’t a very good option. Luckily, local libraries are amazing, and provide great WiFi, as well as shelter from the rain, and books for my kids. I love that my kids will happily spend two hours sitting in a library. No questions. Raised on books.

The final leg of our trip was short. We made it to The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft early afternoon. What a sweet little store, full of good books and good people. I gave Anna Pignataro another hug. We chatted. I am so glad we’ve got to know each other. Paul, too, from the bookshop, was also so warm and welcoming.

IMG_6016

IMG_6005

Driving across Sydney that evening to where we are staying, my nearly-three-year-old quipped: “Mummy, I am a very tired little muffin.” She surely was, because moments later, she was asleep. Little darling.

IMG_6019

We were lent at Ford Kuga MKII for this trip as part of the #FordThinking #Voicesof2015 challenge. And we were very pleased to travel so comfortably all the way to Sydney! Thank you Ford for the lack of car sickness, and the extra leg space. Muchos appreciated!

fordthinking

css.php