Tag Archives: Australia

An Ode to India – travelling with disability

For me the decision to travel to somewhere new is usually immediate and always filled with excited anticipation – sometimes perhaps with a hint of nervous anticipation. For me the world is large with so many places to visit and so many experiences to have but the world is also small. Nowhere is any more than a few days travel time away. If the world is so small, why not see as much of it as I possibly can in the 80+ years I will spend on this planet?

Everyone is different etc etc, but seriously I don’t get those people who are happy to stay put and never do anything that is out of their immediate knowledge and comfort zone. Seriously, that would be ridiculously boring. I’m guessing, especially if you are a regular reader of my blog, that you feel somewhat similarly.

Now I get that circumstance, personal or financial, can sometimes make having great adventures more difficult or impossible. Having been in the personal circumstance where any form of travel was physically impossible – I get it. I also get just how frustrated I was. I may not have had the ability to do much more than sit on the couch but I still watched travel documentaries – do it via somebody else if that is all I could do.

For me it was obvious that when I moved to India, many (although by no means all) of my friends would excitedly think, ‘Whoooo, whoooo, just the excuse I need! I’m off to India!’,  expecting my friends just to inform me they were coming rather than even waiting for an invitation or permission! Now Colin visited me in October although only for one night – he was here for work. While amazing to see him, I don’t think that is what I had in mind.

The first friend to visit me however was unexpected – well kind of! She has got a just go for it attitude so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when she informed me she was coming on a visit. Her visit however could never have been a spur of the moment decision for her and for purely personal reasons. There was no way she could have just booked her ticket and then thought about the trip later. I can do that, my friend Sarah who I mentioned in a previous blog can do it – but not Gillian! Her decision required bravery and determination.

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Why? Gillian has Cerebral Palsy and this brings its own challenges – walking, balance and fatigue to name just a few. This blog however is not an ode to Gillian – although her bravery and determination indeed justifies an ode to her! This blog is an ode to India.

India can be so unutterly frustrating! It can bring the very worst out in you. You get so frustrated at short-term thinking, false promises and under-achieving, never mind the ‘it’s not my fault’ lack of responsibility taking. Seriously, why I haven’t been jailed for killing somebody in the year we have been here sometimes astounds me!

India however has done itself extremely proud! It can hold its head up as being one of the best countries in the world. Gillian is from the UK, has a German mum and has travelled around Europe and Australia. Without doubt, she says, India treated her better overall than anywhere else she has ever been. Now she’s not referring to the great access everywhere and the smooth pavements – well now she couldn’t really could she, given they don’t exist. She is talking about the people.

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Datta, our driver, is ready and waiting when Gillian arrived

From arrival to leaving she was met by extreme care from friends and strangers. Nobody but nobody on the streets or in shops / restaurants made her feel uncomfortable or made her life more difficult. On arrival in Mumbai, my driver anxiously helped the very, very tired and stiff Gillian into the car in Mumbai. He then spent too weeks worrying that he had touched her because knowing she prefers to do things herself, I had silently indicated to him to give her space. While Gillian will just remember this (if indeed she can) as somebody seeing somebody struggle and doing what they can to help.

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Maggie making Gillian a yummy traditional South Indian breakfast!

My maid, Maggie, the first morning after she arrived went out of her way to tell Gillian that anything she needed at all to let her know and then made her a gorgeous breakfast.

We went to lunch in Ram Krishna restaurant in Camp, the waiter without saying anything or making any form of fuss pulled the booth table out as far as it would go so that Gillian could walk to the seat and not have to slide around. Now Gillian is more than capable of sliding around but that instinctive / spontaneous act was heart-warming.

She wanted to try a pair of trousers on. When she got into the changing room there was no stool but within micro-seconds one arrived – not a word was said, it was just left in the room. Again no fuss. Just a recognition that there was something they could do to make her life easier so why not!

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Rashid sitting as he explains about a temple so Gillian could also sit

When we did a walking tour of old Pune (Chalo Heritage Walks – my lost blog was about this tour), Rashid Ali, the tour leader, couldn’t have been kinder. He constantly found places for her to sit and rest, when she had to take her shoes off to go into a temple, he got down on his hands and knees to put them back on.

There was a really high step into the temple and initially Gillian struggled to get up it. Seeing her struggle, a lady ran across the temple and offered to help her.

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This was the lady who stopped Deborah so Gillian could get by

Later in this same temple, my friend – Deborah (the photographer from my last blog) said that as she was leaving the temple an old lady stopped her so that Gillian could get by. Again, not really necessary but very sweet.

A few days later with Rashid, we went out to Bhigwan Dam which is a nature sanctuary – amazing, if you live in Pune you need to do this. This required the use of a fishing boat. The boatman without saying anything moved his boat so there was an easier spot for Gillian to climb in. When we were required to get off the boat and walk to where we could spot some flamingoes, the boatman first scouted the flamingoes – just to be sure that Gillian wouldn’t walk all the way and not see anything.

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Our very kind boatman

On return, he moved the boat a little further so that she would have to walk less. Rashid jumped into the mud and got himself filthy so that Gillian could climb off the boat a little easier. When her stick made a small section of the boat dirty where she would have to put her hands, Rashid used his own hands to clean the area – again with little thought just spontaneous action.

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Rashid cleaning mud off the boat so Gillian wouldn’t get dirty

We saw the flamingoes but they were just too far away for my camera to take a good shot and Gillian was struggling to see through binoculars – this requires balance and good use of both hands! Rashid initially tried to help her hold them but on spotting a man with a huge lens on his camera, I asked him if he would take a photo to show Gillian – he did it with enthusiasm and a great smile!

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Big lens! This enabled Gillian to see the flamingoes a little closer up

In Goa, we walked to a restaurant along the road but we wanted to go back along the beach. To get to the beach however we had to go down some steep steps without a handrail. Gillian got a little scared but the waiter ran over and gently took her arm and led her down the steps. Again no big deal, it was just what you do!

I could list and list and list all day and all night the amazing individual things Indians did to help make Gillian’s trip a success but perhaps it is best summarised by Gillian’s own insight. She compared her experience her to her experience in Australia. In both situations she felt she got the same treatment but the difference was the motivation. In India, she genuinely felt it was instinctive when people stepped up to help her. In Australia, she felt it was because people were motivated by the understanding that you should help people – there was little instinct behind it. In India, she felt Indians didn’t feel like she was any trouble while in Australia she felt people thought she was making trouble for them.

The thing that had worried me most about Gillian’s visit and therefore was the greatest surprise was staring. I had warned her and warned her that she would be stared at and photographed – perhaps even more than I am on a regular basis. It is far from unusual for me to suddenly have blank strangers around me and somebody else taking a photo, sometimes with permission but often without. Gillian is used to being stared at in the UK but I was worried that here it would be too much even for her.

I was particularly worried about visiting the Gateway of India in Mumbai. I had been there only a few weeks early with my friend and it was the most intimidated I have ever felt in India. We were simply sat down and then suddenly there were 20 plus men taking pictures of us and they simply wouldn’t go away. We had to get up and walk away ourselves. Wherever we were around the Gateway people stared and stared at us. This was on a Tuesday, we were going on a Sunday when it was busier – I was worried!

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Gillian in front of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Picture taken at the Gateway of India – nobody is staring! Seriously, nobody!

So before going to the Gateway, I warned her again. I really wanted her to be prepared for it – she even suggested that we didn’t go. I wanted her to see it however so we went. I couldn’t believe it, not a single obvious stare and not a single photograph!!! Indeed, that can be said for the whole trip. Her whole trip in India there was no staring or photographs! Honestly, I was stared at less over the two weeks that she was here than I have ever been. Clearly, I need to get my stick back out – it appears to make you invisible!

I lie, there was one occasion where she was stared at and stared at so badly that she felt so bad that she left. I live in a very expensive apartment block (society). The people who live her are 50% expats, 25% NRIs (so people whose parents were born in India but they weren’t) and 25% very well off Indians. People in this society as a whole are well off, highly educated and highly travelled. Yet, it was these very people who stared so hard that Gillian didn’t want to hang around in our garden anymore! I was thoroughly disgusted.

In my ignorance, I expected the poorer, less educated elements of Indian society to be the starers – well they surely haven’t received the same education about disability or perhaps even the same exposure, have they? The people who stared shouldn’t feel proud and these people shouldn’t hold their heads high – in contrast, they should hang their heads in shame. For they were the only people in two weeks who didn’t do everything they could to make India proud of them.

Gillian’s experience of travelling with a disability in India was just an isolated experience, perhaps she was lucky or perhaps that is just the way Indians are. Somebody did tell me that Indians would look at Gillian with lots of respect because despite her disability she was still here! I have no idea if you are disable or your child is and you travel to India will you have such a hugely positive experience but if you are thinking about it, I would say from my experience with Gillian – go for it! India is not an easy place to travel never mind if you are travelling with a disability but I genuinely feel that you don’t need to fear how people will react to you being here.

India is definitely somewhere to book with excited anticipation (but just a little bit of nervous anticipation!).

Finally, India thank you. Thank you for being a major part of my friend’s holiday of a lifetime. Thank you for consistently showing her what an amazing country and an amazing people you are. Thank you.

Damn You, Kazza!

Wineglass Bay is considered to be the most beautiful bay  / beach in the world so visiting it during our stay in Tasmania was an absolute must.

IMG_4645 My first blog post from Australia was entitled: Not a Kazza in Sight! That turned out to not exactly be true. Kazza definitely came along for the ride. We managed to keep her in abeyance a lot of the time but we couldn’t help her coming to the fore from time to time.

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You see climbing up a mountain(ish) pass (to Wineglass Bay Lookout) and down the other side (to the beach itself) is hard work for a girl with a breathing problem but even worse for a girl with a competition problem. I constantly compete with myself (and some would say others too) and consequently get quite frankly pissed off with myself if I can’t do things. Which we all know is of course ridiculous!

IMG_4674So getting upset that I struggled to walk up a steep hill when I could barely walk to the end of the road this time last year is crazy. Getting upset because I was exhausted at the end of an 11km walk is also ridiculous but I just can’t stand to fail. I can’t stand to admit that I am not invincible which of course is how we got into this stupid mess, September 2013!

Australia was spectacular and was without doubt a holiday of a lifetime – I will always remember pretty much everything we did over those three incredible weeks. Every day brought a new adventure and a new sight that was unforgettable.

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The consequence of this incredible holiday from a health perspective however is that I returned exhausted. My week off to recover afterwards barely touch the sides of my exhaustion (largely because I filled it with activity everyday!). My week off rather than constituting doing nothing, constituted doing lots just not running! That, I convinced myself was a week off.

I had begun to recover and had even done a successful yoga class when our shipment arrived. This involved two solid days of hard work lifting and carrying and packing of boxes. Without leaving my house, I managed to accrue the guts of 20,000 steps a day and burned about 4000 calories! This was not what my body needed. We won’t even get into the psychological impact of lots of wedding presents getting smashed!

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Of course mixed into all of this was more issues with our washing machine which I of course had to deal with while still trying to direct hundreds of boxes to vaguely correct rooms around the house! Exhausting both physically and mentally.

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Note water gushing over the top!

Of course that washing machine repair failed (shock horror) and so it required, a few days later, another fight with a plumber over the course of three hours that water shouldn’t be dripping out of the hose pipe that, unlike what he claimed,- this was not ‘normal’. Every failed attempt to get me to agree that the leaking hose was fixed led to a phone call to his boss and every conversation started with him in Marathi / Hindi explaining that, ‘mam says there is a leak but there is no leak’ quickly followed by my saying (in English), ‘don’t say there is no leak when there is a leak!’ His boss seemed to inform him each time to fix it again! We got there in the end but it did take three hours! Once again, mentally exhausting.

Now that little adventure was followed by my deciding I would get a guy in to clean my windows inside and out. They were beyond filthy – still covered in the construction dust from when they were built a year ago. In places, it was difficult to even see out the window! I agreed to a price and when he would come. I didn’t on the other hand grasp the fact that it would take about 6 guys and about 9 hours of work (over two days) inside in the house and another 2 days to clean the outside of the apartment (on ropes from the roof!). Why would I ever have considered that it would take this long?! Sure our apartment is big but good lord it’s not that big!

While the guys are here, you have to hang around – I can’t exactly leave them unsupervised but it means you can’t really rest. I feel too uncomfortable with having people in to do such jobs to lie on the sofa and watch TV or with them moving around the whole time – go to bed for a few hours. So I continue to potter about, convincing myself that unpacking those boxes or carrying that heavy load is ok when really I am doing exactly the thing I shouldn’t be doing!

These adventures of course are unusual. They are in addition to the everyday challenges that you are faced with here. Where can I buy fruit? Where can I buy vegetables? Where can I buy meat? When will these places be open? When will I have the car to go and get them? What price am I willing to buy the rickshaw driver who is trying to rip me off? Where can I get big black bags for the dustbin when all I can find are little ones? Where do I find cat litter that isn’t vile and disgusting because the cats are hating what I got for them!? Where? When? How?

Over the last week therefore I can categorically say I have begun to feel again the way I did 18 months ago. I am reminded again about the difference between fatigue and tiredness. I am not really tired, I am seriously fatigued. A blog, many months ago now, talked about how I had to walk the tight rope between doing too little and doing too much. Too little and I would make myself too physically unfit to deal with my illness and psychologically do damage by isolating myself from the world but equally doing too much would make me physically more ill and make it harder for me to psychologically deal with my illness (my brain gets tired just like my body does).

cropped-20140318-0801571.jpgThe tightrope is back and once again nobody has given me any safety ropes. While I feel I am in a much better position than I was back then, it does without question scare me. This feels like the worst relapse I have had since I seemed at least on the outside ‘to be better’. Just like I coped before I can cope again.

And here, far more than back in the UK, will help me recover. Here, I have lovely Maggie who comes and cleans my house. The weather is warm and that always helps. I don’t have the pressure of trying to return to work. I can cheat and buy my meat from a 5 star hotel and order my vegetables online (even if the price and quality isn’t the same as buying them elsewhere). I have a driver so I don’t have to worry about not being able to drive or getting the energy together to use public transport. There is also an incredibly supportive group of people here that will help me to look after myself (just like I had back in the UK).

So, rather than seeing my current state has something traumatic and worrying, I see it rather more as a warning, a reminder of where I have come from and where with very little trouble I can go back to if I am not careful. So I will be careful (well, I will at least try).

I didn’t write this blog to worry people but more as my way of saying – ‘Please, those who have been on Karen Duty in the past, can you return to your posts’ and ‘those who are new to Karen Duty, can you please look out for me and be bossy and tell me off for doing too much and understand if I don’t do as much as I was.’

The Australian Wag

I have promised my husband that this blog will not be published until we have left where we currently are. He is firmly (and probably correctly) of the opinion that if both sets of parents were to read it before we left they would have kittens. So this blog will definitely be out of date by the time you read it. Don’t be too upset – the other option was our parents have kittens to look after and some very difficult explanations as to where they had come from!

This blog is thoroughly motivated by my personal desire never to forget the best quip I have ever heard!  Delivered with such spontaneity and heartfeltness that you know you were most definitely not included in the quip itself – a resounding ‘phew’ upon realising that! Before I get to the quip itself though a word on something that I just thoroughly love about Australians.

In Ireland we always refer to a ‘wag’ with respect. Now a ‘wag’ isn’t what a ‘wag’ is in England or other countries so nothing to do with ‘wifes and girlfriends’ of footballers or those who aspire to such heady heights. No, a wag is simply somebody who has a witty wisecrack available at every opportunity but usually not in an aggressive or (totally) disrespectful fashion. Somebody who can very quickly understand a situation and summarise it perfectly in just a few cleverly funny words!

Now the Irish pride themselves on their ability to be good ‘wags’. Most difficult / challenging / embarrassing situations will be met by a good quip. The Welsh and Scots are quite good at these too but I have to say (in my experience) the English just don’t quite get it! Sorry English people – you’re great at other things, I’m sure!

The question then is whether Australia has developed their own brilliant ability to be wags from its history of huge Irish settlement or whether it is simply a product of its own unique environment and history.  If you do associate the Australian wag with the Irish, then I guess it is no surprise – 20% of all convicts sent to Australia were of course Irish and these people can only have been those most capable of living life on the edge, of fighting through difficult times with ingenuity!! Whatever the reason, Australians are just fabulous wags!

This ability to be a great wag doesn’t just come from unofficial sources, we loved how even official government signs had their own sense of being a wag. Under an official sign for the very tiny Wye River – another official sign stated, ‘because its bigger than a creek!’. You’ve got to love people’s ability to laugh at themselves. People willing to laugh at themselves tend to make just great people I always think! That goes for countries too!

Well that brings me right back to the beginning of this blog! What was the quip that I heard that surely has to be the best quip ever? Also, under what circumstances could we have heard it that needs to temporarily be kept from our parents?

IMG_4425On arrival in Hobart, Tasmania, it was clearly a lot colder than Melbourne. A quick trip to an outdoor shop procured a pair of gloves to go with the hat that  had proved necessary in Melbourne. By the way, before you accuse us of a great lack of planning, I should point out that our sea shipment from the UK to India (containing all our winter kit) is now running more than 6 weeks late and so I didn’t even have jeans upon arrival in Sydney!

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Sunset at Honeymoon Bay, Freycinet National Park

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Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park, considered one of the most beautiful places in the world.
So Hobart was a little chillier. We then proceeded up the east coast to Freycinet National Park – an entire other blog will need to be dedicated to that spectacular place! We then moved on to St Helens. A pretty but as it turned out very dead (it is winter after all) seaside town!

Our initial plan was to drive across the Central Plateau to the centre / west of Tasmania to a fabulous hotel called Pumphouse Point, Chris managed to find via Google Maps (google map it and see if you can spot how Chris found it!).

Now that plan proved unproblematic until a park ranger in Freycinet upon asking about our travel plans advised us to check road conditions before heading inland. Like the sensible people we are, we kept an eye on road conditions and realised that several very large dumps of snow had closed ALL the roads to our next destination. Again being sensible people we visited the St Helens police station to check that our understanding was correct. The policeman there however assured us that if we had a 4×4 we would have no problem getting to Pumphouse Point!

Great! Pumphouse Point was the one place that Chris (and I) really wanted to go when we were planning our Tasmania adventure so if there was a chance of getting there we were going to take it. To enable this to happen however we had to drive three hours south to Hobart to swap our car for a 4×4 (A Nissan Pathfinder nicknamed ‘Thug the Truck’). IMG_4923Now our journey if we had gone directly should only have been 3 hours so we were aware of new time constraints, it was essential we were not driving in the dark in the snow!

Before leaving Hobart, I did a supermarket sweep ensuring we had plenty of emergency supplies! We had been following the news and knew that the police were taking the approach of: if you get in trouble, sort yourselves out if you can. We have enough idiots to deal with that will freeze to death without us! An overnight in the car was therefore on the cards should we have a problem.

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You can understand our doubts that the road would be closed!
All was well for the first 90 minutes or so – well rather it was official!Meaning that despite warnings that the road was closed
from a village called Ouse all the way to our hotel – we gaily drove through the village in brilliant sunshine and green fields – thinking seriously the road is going to close!?
IMG_483420 miles or so beyond the village we began to see lots and lots more snow, slowly it
began to accumulate on the sides of the road and then the road began to noticeably narrow as the snowy verges leaked onto the road itself. Then spots of snow began to appear on the road until the road really became one lane and we finally began to understand the policeman’s insistence on a 4×4!

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As the road entered the mountains, it became more twisting and the ascents and descents became steeper. Our speed decreased considerably and while the road was definitely still passable for most vehicles, we reckoned that if we had kept our previous SUV we would by now be more than just a little bit nervous – yet the road was still open – we were confident all would be well.

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Taken as we returned from the area – two days later – snow had more or less melted
Then we were met by a Y junction – slow realisation hit us that the fork we needed was indeed that very fork with two bright yellow police barriers – saying road closed! Road closed! A quick perusal of the  map made it clear: it was this road or no trip to Pumphouse Point!

Now Chris has done a season driving 4x4s in Norway and Sweden with the army and lets be fair that was on hillier and snowier mountains! We stopped and thought about it for a second – could we just go around the barriers – a quick check showed that others had definitely done it before us! Our car insurance was already void as we had gone above the snowline (a state clearly not used to lots of snow!) and so that wouldn’t change if we went onto an officially closed road. Looking down the road it was clear that it had actually been ploughed! We were in Thug – we went for it. A little dubious about just how much trouble we’d be in if the police spotted us – Australian police seem quite chilled though so we reckoned on perhaps a telling off but no more!

For about 10 miles the road was perhaps just a little snowier than the open road we’d been on  – the problem that had closed it however was clear – a) it wasn’t suitable for anything other than a 4×4 and b) lots and lots of trees had fallen onto the road which had to be removed. OK, we were on an officially closed road but hey we really reckoned on it not being a major problem.

10 careful miles later we spotted a snow plough coming towards us so carefully pulled out of its way – giving it as much space as we could. As the snow plough passed us, he stopped, wound down his window and reassured us that we’d be fine but did remind us that the road was officially closed. Chris asked again, would we be ok in Thug – again – ‘just take it easy and you’ll be fine’ – reassuring to say the least.

Then this friendly ploughman (can you call him that??) asked us to stay where we were so that the ‘’tool drivers’ coming up behind him could get by. ‘Oh yes, indeed we will,’ we thought – these people are crucial to the roads staying up – imagining men with big tools to chainsaw through trees, to put back up power lines etc – essential emergencies services. Yes, priority must and will be given to these people.

As the cars started to roll by, we couldn’t help being a tad confused – a Mini, a Toyota Corolla, followed by at least another 8, well not exactly vehicles suitable for dealing with emergency snow conditions!

Then it dawned – our friendly ploughman had quietly called these drivers ‘tools’ – in other words – ‘behind me you will find lots of idiot drivers who should have their driving licences thoroughly revoked for quite simply being idiots who have wasted my time and the time of the second emergency vehicle that is following on behind them! I should be keeping roads open not escorting idiots off roads they should never have been on in the first place – so yeah watch out for the tool drivers!’

It was brilliant! Hilarious in its very simplicity! it will remain forever my very favourite quip! Genius! You have got to love the Australian wag!

So you may ask what happened for the remaining 30 mies of our journey – in summary – nothing! in a 4×4 it was thoroughly passable. Yes, the driving was slower and more tiring than the average journey but in Thug we weren’t quite invincible but at the very least we were more than a fair match for what Tasmanian mountain roads could throw at us!

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We did cause an element of surprise when we arrived at Pumphouse Point – one of the managers had literally just been driving a few miles in front of us (along the closed road too) having had to do an emergency supply run 2 1/2 hours south to Hobart and she didn’t expect any more guests to be arriving! Chris told me afterwards that he had seen before we headed out that they had officially closed the hotel to any new guests! He somehow forgot to mention that one!

IMG_4884Once we settled into our fabulous room, we headed out along the jetty to the Pumphouse to meet lots of guests who were all several nights into extended stays having arrived in cars that now quite simply couldn’t and shouldn’t go back on the road (including a Lotus!). This led to a real congenial atmosphere further heightened by the shared meal later that evening.

IMG_4884 So I guess you could say our first night in Pumphouse Point was not spent with ‘tool drivers’ but rather those that listened to the advice of those who knew better and settled back with a nice glass of wine and some good local cheese to endure the hardship of another night in this spectacular place! They’re a tough lot those Australians!

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IMG_4900On second thoughts perhaps tomorrow we should stay here! Surely, going back on the road will make us ‘tool drivers’ too. Yes, I think we should ignore all news reports and just assume all roads are closed. Yes, we too can endure!

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Two days later, we left in a mini-convoy. By the time we left St Clair National Park the roads were more or less clear.

Great Ocean Road

This blog is now over a week old. For most of the last week we have had no internet connection, inherently not a bad thing! I haven’t  changed it however so for those of you following our adventure via Facebook / iPhoto – panic not! 

My loving husband, Chris, can in many ways escapes the jagged edges of my criticism. If you were to meet him, you would find him kind, caring, highly intelligent and funny. If you were to observe him from a distance when he little realises that he is being watched, you would also find him silly in a really great fun way.

There is one area however that Chris is difficult and that is time keeping! Now, he is never late for anything – in fact the very opposite, he is always early for anything he does. Now, I’m never on time either, you can always guarantee that I will want to leave for somewhere far too early also.

There is one location however that his earliness is always a little testing even for me: the airport. So today, I find myself in Melbourne Airport, ‘patiently’ waiting the three hours required for our flight to Hobart. At least it gives me time (lots of time) to catch up on my blog that I have had little time to touch in the last five days! Silver-linings and all!

IMG_4280The last five nights have been spent travelling overland from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. A friend in India has asked me to advise her on what to do on her upcoming trip to Australia she is trying to plan. Now, I am definitely no Australia expert but including the Great Ocean Road on her itinerary to me now seems obvious.

Year in, year out, Chris and I end up going on holidays to places at, shall we say, the least traditional times of year. Seville in mid-August where afternoon temperatures ranged into the 40s, Stockholm in the summer (well is it ever really warm there?!), Iceland in July (so chilly but no snow) and now Australia in the winter. Time after time on this trip, people have been astounded that we have chosen to come to Australia – ‘you did realise it’s winter here didn’t you?’ ‘You did realise it isn’t hot in Australia all year round, didn’t you??” Well yes we did but we live in India so … which as you can imagine sends the conversation off on a completely different track!

The Great Ocean Road therefore in winter is an experience, an incredible experience. One compounded by the fact that a storm swept along the coast while IMG_4279we were driving it. 120 km/hour winds were reported at various stages. We were able to reliably depend upon the fact that as soon as we arrived at a lookout, we
would see beautiful blue skies. By the time, we reached the furthest possible distance from the car however we could guarantee the arrival of the same black, black cloud (seriously it was very black!) giving us just about enough time to say ‘Wow, look at the view!’, snap a few photos and then have to run headlong to the car while being pursued and regular caught by torrential rain or even hailstones or sleet!

IMG_4317The weather resulted in three major outcomes. Firstly, amazing photos – wow! Even those taken by a simple iPhone were spectacular. Secondly, ridiculous wet coats, hats and scarfs! Finally, lots and lots of fun. Fighting your way onto some of the viewing platforms against winds that threatened to fling your backwards; clinging onto railings while trying to move along a lookout path; watching women’s hair streaming backwards in near horzontal lines; even getting wet over and over again was simply fun! Exhausting but fun!

IMG_4311The Great Ocean Road wasn’t quite what I expected. In my head, we would travel for mile upon mile along a road that probably twisted and turned along the edge ofthe coast. Reality was that that was the reality from Apollo Bay to near Geelong however the first few days were IMG_4337spent on roads that twisted up and down mountains; through coastal rainforest; and through barren heathland. At times, the sea was only metres away but not visible through the trees. Somehow therefore when you emerged from the rainforest or heathland and saw the sea it dramatically increased the impact of the view.

When I lived in Warsaw, Poland, I used to always say that Warsaw was more beautiful than Krakow. Unlike Krakow, Warsaw’s stunningly beautiful buildings were interspersed with ugly communist blocks but that this allowed you to see just how beautiful the buildings were because you had something to compare them to. The same goes for the Great Ocean Road coastline. As a result of not always being able to see the beauty of the coastline, it was more shockingly beautiful when you could. On the other hand, what we did drive through was also stunningly beautiful just different from expectations! Unlike, of course, the ugly communist blocks of Warsaw! IMG_4275

By the time we had reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, the term ‘holiday of a lifetime’ had gained currency and greater clarity of meaning. I had never really believed in the concept of a ‘holiday of a lifetime’. Surely that was a very sad concept, a bit like how your wedding is ‘the happiest day of your life’. Well if this holiday is the best it is ever going to get then that is a very depressing thought.

I now understand what it really means. It means a holiday that will stay with you for the rest of your life. A holiday that little things that you see and do into your long-term future will fleetingly remind you of that great three weeks of your life. it is a holiday that has more meaning than the average one, that has had more impact than the average holiday. Australia has become our ‘holiday of a lifetime.’  A ‘holiday of a lifetime’ that we can be assured will never be diminished by the other ‘holidays of a lifetime’ we will have in our future.

The Iconic Indian-Pacific Railway

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This week we went on an iconic train journey – the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Adelaide. It lead to a new style of writing for me but I went with the flow and wrote what I felt. It’s not a style I feel comfortable with but hey I didn’t feel comfortable writing a blog at all when I started so perhaps I just need to be brave and give other styles a go!

Sydney to the Blue Mountains

The train draws ever upwards from the city, dragged as if by an irresistible urge towards the almost indigo haze of the Eucalyptus covered ranges of the Blue Mountains. As sunset falls, the mountains seem to shimmer with a blueness so familiar from the thousands of photos you see of Australia – iconic by their very existence.

Each mountain range getting fainter and fainter as the train twists away from them higher and higher until they fade into the distance: leaving but a faint trace on the distant horizon while others steadily appear to only disappear with the others.

The light turns from an almost daffodil yellow to a pale mustard, criss-crossed by moody dark clouds, blackening in the failing sunlight. The light merely strengths the blue shimmer that has staked its claim over the mountains.

Blue Mountains - not one of my own pictures! It was too dark to take anything successfully
Blue Mountains – not one of my own pictures! It was too dark to take anything successfully

As we enter the Eucalyptus forest, the trees march forward – the Birnam Wood of Macbeth’s nightmares. Encapsulating the train with their dark shadows and magical outlines, they will you to  go further, deeper into their home. Gaps between the trees silently remind you that the vista below welcomes you, welcomes you in. It is a strange combination of darkening menace and sunset glory.

The sharp outlines of Sydney’s CBD seem long gone despite the ever smaller glimpses of its shiny towers that appear in the furthest of far distant views at increasingly rarer moments. A land of contrasts is opening its arms to your warm embrace.

Night falls and the land outside finally turns off its dimmer switch and lies silent and dark except for the bare shadows of trees from the train’s passing halo. Its world will remain hidden from me until morning. The day has turned its back on me as if to say, “that’s enough for now, you don’t need to see anymore, we will be fine without you. Sleep well.” The journey goes inward, melancholic perhaps as you gaze into blackness.

The Outback

Throughout the long lazy morning, the land stretches onto a concept of horizon previously inconceivable: to the horizon of your imagination and then further. Hour after hour passes as the scenery slowly, imperceptibly changes until what you gazed out upon has been altered utterly from its incarnation of just 30 minutes ago.  IMG_0157
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The soil moves through every shade of red, from the lightest sandstone to the deepest and richest of rusts. Colours artists fear to use, colours so distinct from our everyday experience that our eye deems them unnatural / synthetic at first glance. Grass moves from bare existence to failure to survive back to a lush fertile verdancy and back again to a mix of scrub grass and rust.

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The sky, reluctant to be left out of this ever changing scene too plays along. Morning broke in deepest, deepest fog – impenetrable for more than a few feet. Then suddenly, with little or no warning, it disappeared. An invisible fog proof fence perhaps stretched across the wilderness, a fence no fog dared to breach.

The absence of fog allows for a deep richness in the lapis sky at times pairing up with the verdant grasses to create a welcoming land of imagined fertility and prosperity. At times, this sky is in great contrast to the stony desert that stretches in front of me – the very antithesis of fertility and prosperity – a land where under the cold winter skies man scraps a living or leaves.

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Mankind too has played a role in the shaping of this rich and varied land. It too has said, “I’m here, let me play a role in the

Again not one of my own photos.
Again not one of my own photos.

beauty around you too.” As the plains turn to hills, man has grasped the opportunity to build their own Birnam Wood army of sentries standing tall – seemingly protecting their plains below. Their white wings circle and swoosh and communicate with the wind, adding to the land’s beauty not taking it away.

The Indian-Pacific was once in its day a plush luxury rumbling through the wilderness, today it is a tired old beauty but the journey however remains as iconic as ever. It opens up its arms to you and welcomes you to see a part of Australia that not many if any get to see.

Not a Kazza in Sight!

18 months ago, my husband and I decided that once I was better, we were going to go on a once in a lifetime trip to celebrate my return to health. Our discussion of potential destinations ranged across the world and considered a wide range of possibilities. For various reasons, we settled on Australia.

At that stage we had little idea about whether this trip would ever happen but it provided us with something to dream of, something to look forward to, something that would help retain hope that one day I would be well enough to do it. There were minutes, hours, days, weeks and even months where such a trip seemed ludicrous – such things would never and could never happen again.

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The most spectacular sunrise over the Australia outback – the land was on fire!

Sat therefore on the plane to Sydney and now sat in a fabulous coffee shop drinking gorgeous coffee, I can’t help being continually reminded of how far I / we have come in the last 18 months. Our world has changed inconceivably in the last 6 months and trips such as this remind me of just how grateful I am for whatever enabled that changed: part me / part miracle. Whatever caused it, I hope I will spend my life being incredibly grateful while at the same time, I hope I can start to allow it to no longer play such a powerful role in who I am today. It has changed me utterly but it is now time to begin to forget it happened.

My health has not returned to the point where I do not have to be still a little careful on this trip – so forgetting completely is not advisable – not too many big nights out followed by long days on my feet but we have a wonderful three weeks ahead of us and I, for one, am incredibly excited.

Having had my first day in Sydney and walked almost 17km during this time – no KazzaIMG_3961 appeared! Kazza is the name Chris has given to the Karen that appears once I get too tired to continue! She is tired, grumpy and lacks determination! So far, no Kazza! Kazza’s absence would have been inconceivable even a short few months ago!

The other outcome of my illness is a newly re-found love for writing. My husband, Chris, is a continual encouragement to me in this regard. He loves that I have finally found some sort of creative outlet. In order to provide both motivation and practical ability to do even more writing, he has bought me the Macbook this blog has been written on.

Collected yesterday from the Apple Store in Sydney, I no longer have the excuse that our laptop is slow and difficult use. I no longer have any excuses not to write – that is to say the very least a little intimidating! I now need to just get on and do something.

Although let’s be fair, Chris’ only hope is that I will write such a huge bestseller, he no longer needs to work and I shall be able to keep him at the standard of living he intends to get used to – no pressure then!

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