ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


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between worlds (a pictureless post)

Recently arrived “home”, from another trip home home… and that pretty much sums up life right now.

I’ve also just written, and discarded, an embarrassingly long winded, nonsensical stream of nostalgia, which was open to various angles of misinterpretation, about the (sigh) trials and tribulations of being an ex-pat Melbournite trying to reconcile a semi bohemian existence in financially critical Spain with the expense of a café latte on her home turf…

Blame it on jet-lag (or more likely, some kind of emotional come-down), but the post had the working title Corazón partido, a telling indicator of the melodramatic tone and direction it was taking. Mercifully I trashed the thing, after a much needed head-clearing run (on a crisp winter’s day in Madrid’s Retiro Park).

Now I’m left with nothing but the lingering, nagging sensation that I should still be writing something about my multiple trips to Australia in 2014…they were a big deal for me.

In January last year I did post about my first Return to Oz, summarizing my impressions of Australia after being such a long time away. Although I have no further quirky observations to add to this entry, my most recent visit home was still quite thought provoking.

I primarily went back for two important weddings, or, as I saw them, massive reunions of all my (no longer) nearest (but nonetheless) dearest family and friends.

Although I grumbled about the flights and the timing, I have to say, the time at home was good for me, and I’m glad to have been there not just for the weddings, but for the beginning, middle and end of what was an epic (and exhausting) year for many. It never ceases to amaze me how complicated, dramatic, heartbreaking, hilarious, inspiring, and tough everyday life can be… even in cushy middle-class-first-world-lucky-country-inner-city Melbourne. It felt like there were reality checks coming at me from every direction, and I’ve subsequently come back to Spain feeling quite “recalibrated”.

This time, rather than going out for breakfastcoffeelunchcoffeedrinksanddinner in a desperate attempt to catch up with everyone I’ve ever known (like the first trip at the beginning of 2014), I was able to spend a bit more time just hanging out (ok, geeking out) with my closest friends. I’d forgotten how nice this is… I’d love to move home at some point and do more of it.

However, it seems I’ve shot myself in the foot in terms of work options, as both my chosen career paths (teaching ESL, and writing) are, for the moment, unviable in Australia. This means that for the next little while, doing what I love doing will be keeping me away from the people I love most. Which sucks.

So anyway, this was the second time I’ve said goodbye with no idea of when I’ll next be going home. The first time was at the beginning of an exciting new chapter. Three and a half years ago I left on a one way ticket to two months travelling Europe in summer, an eight month work contract in a remote village of southern Spain, and who knows what next but it was bound to be an adventure. This time, leaving Melbourne airport, that feeling of adventure was gone. I don’t know when I’ll see my family again, but I do know what homesickness feels like and that it’s inevitable, that it’s going to be a long winter, and that I need to work harder than ever this year.

That’s not to say I’m not excited and I can’t have any fun. Coming back to Spain is not such a hard task; life here, in general, agrees with me. I have unfinished business in the capital, and a lot to look forward to  But while the memory of Australia is so fresh and close, I acutely feel what I’m missing out on, and (at the risk of sounding conceited) that some people are missing me.

All this leads to one conclusion; that I’d better make it worth it.

Bring on 2015!!!

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the return to OZ

Was a fully saturated, action packed, emotional rollercoaster whirlwind of a visit – powered by vegemite, sunscreen and sushi.

Being at home again, after over two years away, was always going to be a bit of a surreal experience. The strangest part however, was that so much felt completely normal. My parents seemed unchanged, my little brothers still towered over me, even my brother’s fiancée (whom I’d never met before) was exactly as I expected, a natural addition to the scene awaiting me at the airport.

After a 36 hour journey with virtually no sleep (there was too much food and entertainment to indulge in during the flight), meeting and greeting the family, and ‘checking in’ to my parent’s place (again, unchanged), I had a shower and a quick siesta, and then went straight to a friend’s 30th birthday in Princess Park.

Prinny was my old stomping (and running) ground, just around the corner from Melbourne Uni. I arrived late to the picnic/BBQ to find my ‘north side’ friends clustered around a bunch of eskies and a fold out table laden with dips and mostly eaten birthday cake. They were sipping cider and bubbles and wearing summery clothes, as though that’s what they’d been doing ever since I left. Obviously that’s not the case – many of them have been busy being lawyers and having babies and doing PhDs in disciplines I can’t pronounce the names of. But this Sunday afternoon was super casual, yet picture perfect, and it instantly made me feel as though I hadn’t missed a beat.

Anyway, ‘off the plane and to a party’ pretty much set the pace of my entire stay. Except for when I was at a music festival, hiking, or on the road to visit rellies interstate, I was busy in Melbourne catching up with groups and individuals over breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee, walks and dinner. Unfortunately for me, in early December almost everybody was still at work in the real world, so there was a fair bit of visiting people on their lunch breaks. It was actually quite nice to see where they worked – mostly in impressive looking glass high-rises. One morning I even begrudgingly met up with my brother at 7.30am, ‘the only time his schedule would allow’, which was a shock to my system and a telling reminder of the differences in our lives. Fortunately, despite the career disparity, we still got along as well as we always have, and fortunately this was the case with just about everyone. I’ve invested a lot a of time and effort into keeping in touch with people while away, and it was a relief to realise it’s paid off. Not once did I feel like a stranger.

Meredith, my favourite festival in the bush

So what were the highlights? Well there were too many to mention, and it wouldn’t be fair to single out one over others. Besides, this was a purely social holiday, and I doubt my personal life has anything new to offer the blogosphere.

Instead, to summarise my trip without having to write properly, I’m going to be very Gen Y and put my observations into lists; of things that surprised me, things that I’d missed, and things that I learnt from my visit to home.

Things about Melbourne that surprised me (or that I’d forgotten about)

  • Increased prevalence of beards – notably the full-blown Ned Kelly ginger bush variety, which I’m not particularly sold on, but is now ubiquitous in the northern suburbs and at hipster music festivals. (I don’t mind a bit of respectably trimmed scruffle though, and it was nice to see a lot of that around too).
  • Prices – despite having free accommodation, being cooked for, shouted, taken out, and chauffeured around, this was still one of the most expensive holidays I’ve ever had. I’d forgotten just how pricey Melbourne was. Ten dollars for a pint of cider? That’s a three course meal in Spain!
  • Internet and phone app dating – seems to now be the norm. I suppose that makes sense in such a modern, proactive society, where people know what they want, are ruthless in looking for it, and time is at a premium. However seeing this change (and meeting all the new +1s) made me realise not only how old fashioned I am, but just how incredibly passive my attitude is toward the whole question of finding a partner is.
  • The Australian sun – how it burns! I’d forgotten about the ‘no ozone’ thing, oops.
  • Trendy hipster trendiness (bluntly described by a friend as a ‘big w*** fest’, which is definitely one way of looking at it) – everything seemed so fancy, so designer, so elaborate. Especially what comes on your plate. I used to work in hospitality and I thought I knew all the food words. But things have changed. It’s been taken to another level, damn master chef and everyone wanting to be a ‘foodie’.
  • Urban sprawl – Melbourne apparently now spans over 100km. You can drive and drive and the city never ends.
  • My mum has become a cricket fan – Now this was a shock. She was always a kindred ‘non-cricket’ person, but now she leaves the TV on all day when the cricket’s on, and speaks cricket language (all fractions and innings and names of people I don’t know). I feel betrayed.
  • Public transport – a tardy, lumbering embarrassment. It’s hard for me to believe I used to spend up to 3 hours a day on trams (to get from one ‘inner city’ suburb to another), and never thought much of it. Compared to the metro of, for example Madrid (also 4 million people), Melbourne is light years behind. I’m not sure what the criteria are for ‘world’s most liveable city’, but given that Melbourne has won it, public transport clearly isn’t one of them.
  • Meat – at almost every meal. Seemed like a lot, in comparison to my usual passive-semi-vegetarian diet. I eat meat in Spain if it’s served to me as a tapa, or occasionally in a menú del día, but these are tiny portions compared to the quanity of meat served in an Australian main (at home or dining out).
  • Bigger people. Just sayin’
  • Strange new words like ‘totes’ (totally) and ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out).

Nice stuff that I’d missed, and some new pleasant surprises

  • Home-style Aussie food – all those yummy things that sound weird when you try to explain them to foreigners, like curried eggs, curried sausages, cucumber dip, yo-yos, Pavlova, and chicken Parma. Even Vita Wheats got me excited.
  • Lemon lime and bitters
  • Real milk – none of that UHT nonsense
  • Asian food – is so much better in Australia than in Spain. Or maybe it’s just about what you’re used to. I must be specifically hooked on ‘Australian style Asian food’, cos I’m sure it’s different in Asia. Anyway, I did my best to eat my fill of sushi, Bombay By Night’s ‘Chicken Makhanwalla’, and every kind of stir-fry, dumpling, mooncake noodle goreng I could get my hands on. New Year’s Day involved an epic Yum Cha feast…I think I’ve now had enough chicken’s feet and Shanghai pork buns to last me until 2015.
  • Variety, variety, variety – Segovia is a hot spot for ‘traditional Spanish food’, so that is what 99% of bars and restaurants serve. But Melbourne offers food from every continent (well maybe not Antarctica). It was refreshing to be able to choose what type of cuisine I felt like eating. Bless multiculturalism!!!
  • Jobs – In Melbourne it seems like every one has one, and most students even work part time – something unheard of in Spain, where about 50% of my age group is unemployed.  I know that my Australian peers work incredibly hard, and not all of them have ended up in their chosen fields, but I really hope they understand how lucky they are.
  • Gardens – I’ve missed back yards!
  • The music – Aside from friends and family, good music in bars is probably the single biggest thing I’ve missed about Australia, and the terrible music in bars (as in ‘discotecas’, the places you go after 3am cos you want to dance) has been the single biggest disappointment of Spain*.
    *at least the Spain I’ve lived in. I know there’re plenty of famous Spanish clubs that are renowned for their top notch DJs, but in your everyday venues where the normal people go, it’s latin Top 40 plus Rhiannon, at deafening volume, with nobody dancing… so it was really nice to sit around and listen to ambient electronica, at a volume that still permitted conversation, and realise it was so beautiful I never wanted to leave
  • Cider – As much as I loved my Asturian experience, I’ve got to say, I prefer cider the Australian way: on tap, with the bubbles already in it.
  • Coffee – I know I’ve already complained about Melbourne’s overly expensive and overly trendy bar and cafe scene, and coffee is one of the biggest culprits in regards to this. But the endless cupfulls of creamy swirly works of art were really quite delightful, and possibly even worth the price.
  • Nice looking bars – awesome decor and design. With mood lighting, great music and hypnotic coffee swirls, you can disappear into another world. Cool.
  • Beaches – I went for a morning run along a beautiful beach near my Great Aunt and Uncle’s place on the east coast, and I was the only person there, bliss! Even though I’ve never been a surfer/swimmer/beach babe type, I’ve missed living by the sea. Two years inland is making me feel a bit, dunno, claustrophobic.

Things I learnt (or think I learnt)

  • That I can still finish a whole chicken Parma, even when topped with kangaroo fillet. (Thanks Pub Club and the Napier Hotel)
  • That as much as I like bushwalking and I like camping… bushwalking and camping at the same time is not for me. Even when the boys are carrying the tents.
  • That eating “scroggin” (fruit and nut trail mix with MMs) whilst hiking is a sure fire way to not lose weight whilst hiking.
  • That inflatable mattresses need to be inflated, if you want them to adequately serve their purpose as a mattress.
  • That it’s impossible to spot koalas when you’re looking at your feet.
  • That Melbourne has it’s own special variety of cold, that gets into your bones and makes it feel at least 15° colder than it actually is. Why else would I be shivering myself to sleep on a 20° Melbourne summer evening, and, upon my return, finding a 10° Segovian winter night “balmy”.
  • That Emirates are overrated.
  • That I’m a lot more materialistic than I thought I was. Many of my peers in Melbourne have nice stuff (cars, houses, iPhones), and I began to notice envy creeping in, something I hadn’t felt in a while. And when my suitcase was delayed for 3 days on the way home, I started to overthink and worry about what would happen if I lost all my things. Perhaps I’m not such a free spirit after all.
  • That at home I feel much more susceptible and reactive to…everything. It’s not just jealousy. The terrible public transport stresses me out. Elevated prices disgust me. The new government’s policies revolt me, make me angry and ashamed for my country. On the flip side, the positive aspects (such as good music, art and produce, beautiful gardens, and friends and family doing inspiring things), make me swell with pride and joy and optimism. When I’m overseas, it’s much easier to detatch. I don’t feel subject to pressures (not that anyone pressures me at home) or responsible for shit governments (not that I’m responsible at home). I just take things for how they are and then choose if or how much I want to engage or react emotionally. Perhaps an attitude I should work on maintaining next time I’m in Australia.
  • That seeing people one-on-one, and catching up with large groups of people in which you want to talk to everyone at the same time, are both very exhausting, but in different ways.
  • That being ‘on holidays’ at home, with all your family and friends, is awesome. Ex-pat or not, I recommend it to anyone! (stage your own disappearance for a few months, come back, and everyone will buy you beers!)
  • Most of all, I learnt that I had been denying to myself the extent to which I missed everyone. I tried to convert it in my head to “missing situations or moments”, such as watching QI on Tuesday nights at my parents’ house, playing scrabble with friends in winter, or getting Thalia Thai or fish ‘n chips on hangover days. Wrong. I missed people – my parents, my brothers, and my friends. With or without QI and Thaila Thai. But I guess that’s a good thing, and I’m lucky to have people to miss. Very lucky.

a pretty nice view to brush your teeth to, at Wilson's Promontory National Park


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On the road again*, still.

(*with international basketball superstars, and a couple of “social” badminton enthusiasts)

***

Two years ago on the 8th of August, I got on a plane with a one-way ticket to Rome. My vague ‘plan’ was to travel (you know, around), become ‘fluent’ in Spanish, build a romantically bohemian, semi-nomadic life for myself, and somehow write (or at least think about writing) something a lot more creative and ambitious than this blog.

Italian fruit and wine shop, with dream vespa and vine-clad apartmentSo how is it going? Not too bad! I’m getting by, by teaching English and occasionally translating, both of which I enjoy immensely. The travel is happening, semi-frequently, though not always when and where and how I’d plan it (had I unlimited time and a mysterious benefactor – currently taking offers!). My Spanish is slow and steadily improving, though it’s an infinite task and I doubt I’ll ever be content with my level. And as for the real, really infinite task…well my writing is so far, um, not progressing. It’s currently limited to this blog, some stream-of-consciousness diary entries (even more nonsensical and narcissistic than this blog), and a focus-less (oh dear) smattering of half baked creative/journalistic bits ‘n pieces, that are possibly unreadable and definitely unpublishable. (So what I’m kinda getting at, dear friends, family and humble followers, is that I hope you’re not holding your breath!)

But life is good (in fact, it’s great), and I’m happy to continue along this wandering trajectory for quite a while longer.

My only real complaint is that Australia is too far away. Unfortunately, not much can be done to remedy that. Skype and email and facebook (and even real letters and postcards) are all wonderful, but there’s just no substitute for face to face conversation or sharing a bottle of wine over a game of (real) scrabble. No number of European kisses will ever be substitute for a heartfelt Aussie hug.

It’s been two years since I’ve been home, and I’m finally starting to feel it. Call me cold and insensitive (you wouldn’t be the first), but since I left, I’ve barely felt homesick. Of course I miss my friends and family (and a lot more than they think I do), but for me, this sacrifice has become the main incentive to make the most of my time here. Why give up so much, to mope around feeling mopey? There’s no point in marring one experience because you’re bitter about missing out on another. So try not to dwell on it.

At least that’s what I tell myself, and most of the time it works. However, a few weeks ago, I felt my first serious pangs of homesickness. My dad (who’s a painter), had a big exhibition opening. It was at a regional gallery, and literally hundreds of people made an overnight trip from Melbourne to give him their support. The opening was a huge success, as was the party afterwards. As I watched the speeches via Skype, the momentousness of the occasion struck me. Dad spoke so well. I felt so proud, and so sad. In the photos that came after the event, I recognised both faces and paintings I hadn’t seen in years. It seems that everybody, from friends and family, to industry professionals and total strangers, has been raving about the show and the night. Everyone except me. It really, really frustrated and upset me that I couldn’t be there. Perhaps it was the significance of the event, or that I’m getting soft (or tired and emotional), or perhaps it’s just been too long. Despite having missed two Christmases, and numerous weddings, births, footy matches, parties, and much needed hugs, this is the first time I’ve seriously felt as though I was missing out on something. I should have been there, and not just for myself.

Señor Cigüeña, Mr Stork, I wanna be like you...

However, since the exhibition, two things have made my ‘Antipodean dilemma’ a lot more bearable.

The first is a recent spate of catch ups with Australian friends and relatives over here in Europe. Most importantly… my mum!!!

Mum arrived in Madrid about three weeks ago… and it’s impossible to put in words how wonderful it’s been to see her, how much fun we’ve had, and how flat out we’ve been – travelling, talking, and socialising. Using Segovia as our home base, we spent time in Madrid, Granada, Cordoba, and Hinjosa del Duque, the tiny middle-of-nowhere town where I lived during my first year in Spain. I introduced her to as many of my Spanish friends as possible, and we also caught up with a number of Aussies who were serendipitously in Madrid at the same time. Then, we flew to Rome, where we spent a lovely couple of days with Mum’s English cousin and his partner. After that, we went an ideal travel companionto Florence, to visit my favourite building in Italy (Il Duomo di Firenze) and further our quest for the perfect pistachio gelati (which we still haven’t found, though we did accidently hit upon the world’s yummiest walnut bread). Currently we’re in Turin, with my twin aunts and my aunt’s basketball team. They’re here to compete in the World Masters Games, which is kind of like an open Olympics for mature athletes. The basketball girls are seriously good, and have been competing in international competitions for years. Just for fun (and in order to be eligible for competitors’ rates on luxury accommodation) Mum and my other aunt have entered the social badminton competition. Up until a couple of months ago they’d never played it (or anything else) in their lives. But they’ve really embraced badminton (particularly the social aspect) and have had the chance to compete with athletes from all over the world…  it’s been surprisingly fun to watch. So with basketball, badminton, and 11 other Melbournian women all bursting to enjoy Italy (go shopping, make days trips, and eat and drink and eat and drink), it’s been a busy ten days of competition. The group have been so lovely and welcoming, and Turin has almost become like home… it’ll be a shame to leave and get back on the road again tomorrow.

Back to Mum’s visit. I loved showing her Spain, and sharing what I love about the country; the lifestyle, the scenery, the Alhambra, the food, the wine, the prices, the weather, the people. Now she can put names to faces and I find it reassuring to know that she’s reassured (and can see that I’ve ‘fallen on my feet’, that I’m happy with what I’m doing, and that I live in a safe environment with good people). Mum’s marvelling at everything has also refreshed my own outlook. I was beginning to take things for granted (such as old buildings and free tapas), but it’s hit me all over again just how lucky I am to be where I am and be able to live how I do. Mum is an easygoing and fun travel companion, and took to Spain like a fish to water (not everyone does), embracing all the best things whilst graciously turning a blind eye to issues like food safety (not easy for a nurse-come-health-inspector). We’ve still got a couple of weeks to go in Italy (it’s a hard life), before she goes back to the real world and I go back to Segovia… but all I can say is, so far so good… I think (I hope) this trip has been exactly what we both needed.  I for one feel strengthened and reaffirmed and ready for whatever the next few years bring.

And now, the second thing that makes my yearning for Australia bearable… is the promise of a trip home! I’ve finally booked my ticket, and providing all things go to plan, will be back in Melbourne for nearly a month over Christmas.

!!!!!!

Between now and then, there’s a lot more to see, do, and look forward to. I’ll certainly need to upload some photos of our Italian adventure, and we’ll see if I can manage to squeeze out a haiku, or something.

But given the rate at which time is speeding along, I guess I can say to some of you, see you soon!