On turning a dream into reality

“People dream. They talk about escaping from it all. Their friends and family diligently listen and politely ignore it when the ruminations fade into oblivion. So quite a few eyebrows went up when I made this trip a reality.”
– Kristine K. Stevens

The objections people will come up with when you tell them you’re following your dream to escape it all are always the same. “What about your job?” “Who’ll pay your mortgage while you’re gone?” “Aren’t you a bit old? Isn’t it time you settled down?” All valid, responsible, grown up points that, ordinarily  I would take pause to consider. But, whether it was divine intervention, a quarter-life crisis, or the warning light of an imminent nervous breakdown, I finally hit my responsible adult threshold a few years ago and started taking my dreams a bit more seriously.

I think it was the sheer number of miserable ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ people I saw around me that set it off. It is so easy to talk, so simple to say “if only,” “one day.” And its polite to smile and nod along when people talk about the fantasies you both know they’ll nevet fulfill. It’s the gracious thing to do, to raise a toast over the dinner table as your dear friend, fueled by a little liquid courage, announces their desire to quit their office job, escape the rat race, and finally pursue a career as a musician. We lift our wine glasses with a pitying smile for the poor fool.

But once in a while, a flight of fancy sprouts wings. Someone quietly works away on a dream when no one is paying attention. They’re planning out logistics, squirreling away money, formulating plans and contingency plans, all in the name of escaping it all. Maybe its a temporary escape, maybe its forever. Regardless, it does happen. It happens behind closed doors  with quiet confidence, while others go on belly-aching and complaining that it simply can’t be done.

For months I took great offense to everyone who doubted me when I said we were taking four months off life to travel the world. I got angry when they questioned the state of my career, finances and maturity. What I didn’t understand until we got on the road was that they weren’t actually questioning me at all.

They weren’t really losing sleep at the thought  that my husband and I might struggle to meet our mortgage repayments. They weren’t actually concerned that our jobs wouldn’t still be there for us when we got home. They in fact did not worry that we were being immature and irresponsible by up and leaving. They were suddenly very aware of the fact that they weren’t willing to do what it takes to turn their own dreams into reality. Their raises eyebrows weren’t about me at all.

From my travel journal: Barcelona, 2017

To kill a little more time, we walked to the Mercat de la Concepció for a light lunch. We found a decent food market with a cute little corner stall with a little counter, again run by a sweet little older couple. We had beer + wine, with some potato tortilla & albondigas (meatballs) – absolutely phenomenal food! I’ll take those cute little lunch counters over a fancy restaurant any day. And it was a local market, no tourists = even better!

Project Cookbook complete: Meet THE KITCHEN PASSPORT!

Well this is mighty exciting to be able to finally post… Say hi to the little book I put together:

THE KITCHEN PASSPORT:
Getting Around The World & Bringing It Back To Your Table

The little passion project I started two years ago got a little out of control and ended up as a kind of cookbook / travel guide / journal hybrid, almost 170 pages long, with 63 recipes, full colour photos and notes from around the world, and I’m pretty excited to say is finally finished and ready to fly out into the world!

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Let me tell you a bit more about it and why I decided that I wanted to share it…

This book is a collection of recipes inspired by meals I’ve enjoyed on my travels, as well as some of the stories behind them, the places I first ate them, the markets I visited, and the people I met on the way. My hope is that anyone who does find themselves with a copy can use it as part cookbook, part travel guide, part voyeuristic look into my diary.

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Food plays such a huge role in cultural identity and is one of, if not the best ways to get to know a new city. It has the power to bring together strangers, to communicate entire histories, and to create amazing memories which will still be with you as you eat that same dish 10 years later. My greatest travel memories can be recalled so easily through the senses of taste and smell; through food. I want to give others an easy way to either recreate food from their travels, too, and others still (and maybe more importantly) a way to taste a bit of the world they haven’t visited yet.

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I’m neither a professional chef nor writer. I have no training in photography or visual design. I’m just another girl who wants to leave behind some of that which I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. I hope this little book inspires some to travel and brings back fond memories for others. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed taking the adventures that are behind it.

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If you’d like a bit more of a preview of the book, or to actually purchase a copy, follow the link and head on over to Blurb Books, where it’s being sold in hardcover, softcover (unfortunately printing “real” books these days isn’t a cheap venture, I’ve done my best to keep the costs down!), eBook and PDF formats, with pricing (ex GST & shipping) below:

Hardcover: AUD$55.15
Softcover: AUD$38.79
PDF: AUD$9.99

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And if you do end up with a copy, I really, truly do hope you enjoy the escape from reality and return of fond memories while reading and cooking from it 🙂

Melbourne Writers Festival 2014 – Reading list of Tony Wheeler and Don George

I made the great decision of attending a few sessions of the Melbourne Writers Festival over the weekend, and being obsessed with books, writing and travelling, it was money very well spent. There were a heap of sessions that I wanted to attend, but time and budget constraints meant I had to narrow down the pretty long list I originally had. I was most keen on food and travel writing sessions, but because the food writing sessions were at times I couldn’t attend, I ended up choosing two travel writing sessions – Reading On The Road, and the morning Book Passage session.

On Friday night, I attended the Reading On The Road session with Tony Wheeler (co-founder of Lonely Planet) and Don George (travel writer extraordinaire), discussing their favourite travel writers and books. It was the perfect session for me, because I’ve been collecting and reading a ton of travel books lately, and was so excited to find out what some of the greatest minds in travel writing had been reading. More coming on that session over the next few days, but what I thought I’d post this morning was something special I took away from that session – the reading lists of Tony Wheeler and Don George. I have this list now saved to my phone so that I can start to hunt these books down when I visit my favourite book stores. Also, I must add that this is not the complete list – I’m pretty sure I missed a couple of books while I was furiously scribbling away, but I did my best!!

  • Naples ’44 – Norman Lewis
  • The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
  • Swallows & Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  • Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Paddle To The Sea – Holling C Holling
  • The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
  • A Walk In The Woods – Bill Bryson
  • Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe – Bill Bryson
  • The Lost Continent – Bill Bryson
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby
  • The Inland Sea – Donald Ritchie
  • The Lady and the Monk – Pico Iyer
  • Pass the Butterworms – Tim Cahill
  • The Road to Oxiana – Robert Byron
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • Blood River – Tim Butcher
  • Radio Congo – Ben Rawlence

So, how about those pyramids?!

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It seems only right that I start this venture with the main event that was the catalyst for the change in course of my life…

I was a dork of a kid, truly. While the other kids were out shooting hoops and jumping rope at lunch time, I was sitting on the side lines, either nose-deep in a book, or scribbling furiously in a note book. Even as a little 5 year old, grade prep. In fact, the only way mum could get me over my separation anxiety and back to school in prep was with a cool, spiral, sticky-note pad and some equally cool pencils. I took them with me, like a security blanket, and wrote and drew while the other kids were playing.

In, I think it may have been grade 3 or 4, I learnt for the first time about Ancient Egypt.  We learnt a basic little of the history and mythology, that they had gods and goddesses who governed all facets of life. It was a truly modern civilization that outdated anything else I’d ever heard of (which, at around 8 years old, was basically just the “Jesus era” we learnt about in Sunday school). We saw some pictures in books and on a projector, and something clicked inside of me. I was going to go there. Buggered if I knew how or when, but as sure as I knew the sky was blue, I knew I’d be going.

Over the next few years, I read more than a primary school aged child had any right to on Ancient Egypt. I distinctly remember one afternoon, mum, dad and my sisters going out with family friends, and I politely declining the outing to the park, as I’d just checked out a new book on Egypt from the library, and, devoid of any copiers, scanners, or other such devices (hey, it was the 90s!), I wanted to stay at home and copy information, diagrams, maps and pictures onto lined paper that I kept in a folder, along with the other information I was slowly collecting. I was 11 years old at the time.

Flash forward 14 years; I was 25 years old, had been married 6 months, and we’d been living in our new house all of 16 months. We went on a camping trip at Easter time in 2011, just the two of us, just two nights, just somewhere fairly local. We’d been a bit on edge for a few months, neither of us really knowing why. Over the camping trip, a completely life-changing conversation occurred. Lying on our blow up mattress in our tent one night, talking non-stop, we discovered that neither of us were happy; we didn’t want to be living in a big, beautiful 4 bedroom home on a third of an acre. We wanted a smaller house, closer to the city, that we could leave to travel at will. We both thought the other were happy in our big, beautiful, new home. Neither of us were. Our lives changed from that point.

We spent the next few hours talking about where we wanted to travel to, and the next day coming up with a budget and savings plan to get us on our way. We tossed up between a big USA trip and an Egypt/Euro trip; because I’m a stubborn little Italian and my husband is a saint, I won out, and we started saving in April 2011 for what was dubbed “EuroTrip 2013.”

We saved an absolute truckload of money over the next two years, put our house on the market to downsize, and I started work as a travel agent, and on March 15th 2013, we departed Melbourne for a four week trip around Egypt, Italy, Barcelona, London and Paris. My husband and I had been together for 8 and a half years at this point, and he knew what this trip meant to me – it had been my life dream for almost 20 years, and I’d saved and sacrificed, planned and studied my ass off to get us here.

No doubt I’ll write a lot more about my time in Cairo and Egypt in general in later posts, but this one has to be about the pyramids. They are Egypt. They are the first image conjured in the minds of the masses when they hear the word “Egypt.” And I was going to see them.

Driving through Cairo, we passed piles of garbage, stacked in gutters along the sides of the roads. The government and politics were shaky at the time of our visit, and our guide, Medo, told us that the government had shut down the garbage collection service at that point. Still driving through what seemed to be suburbs, he asked us what our first impressions were of the pyramids. “What are you on about?! We haven’t seen them yet!” He pointed out the window of our cosy little minibus. Our five jaws dropped in unison. There they were, towering over the now pathetic, small bridges and buildings we were passing. Holy crap… there they were.

Approaching the pyramids was surreal. Husband kept asking if I was ok because I was so quiet. Yup, I was ok. I was in shock, but I was ok. Was I seriously doing this? Me, who has been mediocre, average, extraordinarily and definitely NOT special my whole life, was I seriously here achieving my life goal? Yeah, I’m ok honey…

After viewing and photographing them from the viewing plateau, we made our way down through the maze of tour buses and sock-and-sandle clad tourists, to come up close with these … I’m not actually sure what word would sum them up to be honest! The individual blocks they were built from were bigger than me but an extraordinarily long way… they were truly something to behold.

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We were both speechless, as we stood before these monstrous monuments of a time long past. Long past, but still so vivid and clear. Made even clearer upon entering one of them… the small, precisely cut tunnels, the exact, right-angled corners of the rooms and inner sanctums, the elegant simplicity of the alter we saw.. Conspiracy jokes aside, maybe they did have some help from the aliens! How these magnificent structures were built by hand is truly incomprehensible.

Nothing could take away from this incredible experience for me – not the stinky camels, the pushy salesmen, the children looking for your money, not a damn thing.

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We climbed up a few blocks into one of the beauties, just sat there quietly, taking it all in… it was one of those incredibly rare moments in my life, maybe one of the first true moments, that I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be, and that in that moment, everything was perfect.

There I was, on the other side of the world, at the age of 27, having truly achieved the dream that started at 8 years old… Against all the odds, I’d done it. And in that moment, endless possibilities opened up…