Tag Archives: travel

Carbis Bay, Cornwall

St Ives to Lelant on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, following the South West Coast Path. I started writing a summary post about my week in Cornwall and it got very long, so I’m doing a post a day… This is day 1 of the walk.

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Not the most auspicious start.

It was drizzling lightly as I set out from St Ives on my first day. The plan  was to walk 6 miles (10 km) to Hayle, then catch a bus back to St Ives to spend a second night there before bussing to Hayle the next day with my full pack to set out in earnest. Even though my full pack wasn’t heavy — I wasn’t camping at all — I was glad to have a short day with a light bag after a long trip the day before, travelling from Turin to St Ives, with an 8 am flight followed by 4 hours in London followed by what was supposed to be a 6 hour train trip that turned into a 7 hour train trip followed by a shared taxi ride with fellow travellers after trains in Cornwall were disrupted by a tyre fire in St Erth.

(“Service disruptions in St Erth due to a track-side fire” they said in London, and I assumed they meant some kind of grass fire that would be dealt with by the time I got to Cornwall. No, it was a literal pile of tyres that had been burning for 24 hours with a plume of smoke that was said to have been visible 30 miles away. No wonder they weren’t so keen on running trains directly next to that.)

Despite — or perhaps because of — the inconvenience of the trip, I’d spent the day thinking about why I travel. On the train from Luton airport into London, I realized I felt at home. Not because I feel at home in England (I don’t), but because I feel at home on the move. Not that I’d want to always be on the move, I decided. After all, I’d had just as strong a rush of feeling of being at home a few weeks prior as I’d dished up poached eggs in tomatoes to a couple of friends at dinner around my kitchen table. But I hadn’t travelled much recently, and this trip felt like a good way back into that.

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Somewhere near Exmouth. One day…

I also pondered the idea of paths not taken. Four hours in London wandering the canals next to Paddington Station made me wonder why I hadn’t planned a couple of days in the city. As the train sped past red sandstone cliffs near Exmouth I wanted to jump off at the next station and go take a closer look. Early on while thinking about summer I’d considered a trip to Spain, and going to Cornwall was instead of that. This week I’d be taking one path — literally. Well then. Continue reading

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Postcard from Conca del Pra: enjoying the foothills of the Alps

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Went hiking with some friends and their kids yesterday in the foothills of the Alps. It was a sunny day and it was hot work following a narrow valley up, until we came over the ridge and found ourselves in the open space of Conca del Pra, a basin surrounded by jagged hills. On our walk we saw waterfalls, and wild roses, and cows, and raspberry patches, and flowers growing from the rocks that were reminiscent of hattifatteners, and entrances to mysterious caves where the air was cool and underground streams emerged. Our 4-year-old guide would probably want to add that we saw plenty of cool rocks and sticks and also he found an old shoe lace.

PS: More postcards from…


Practical information for future reference: We parked at Villanova, which is near Bobbio Pellice, which is a bit past Pinerolo as you head into the Alps in that direction from Turin. It was a popular spot — the tables at Rifugio Willy Jervis in Conca del Pra were full of people having lunch — which is not surprising considering it’s a beautiful place only 50 km from central Turin. There are 2 trails from Villanova to Conca del Pra, one that is a dirt road with a few shortcuts to save on tedious switchbacks, and the other that follows the other side of the stream and is much steeper and rockier (but definitely rewarding). We took the gentler route up and the steep route down, my knees today feel like that was maybe not the best order to do things… It’s also possible to drive up to Conca del Pra and use that as a starting point for hikes further into the hills.

Fountain at Place des Jacobins, Lyon

Speaking French and buying wine in Lyon

I spent the last week in Lyon, France, for a work trip. To be honest, the most exciting part of it was that my hotel room was a lot quieter than my apartment (which is on 3 tram routes) and had airconditioning. “How was your conference?” people have asked me. “It was amazing,” I’ve replied. “I slept so well.”

In Lyon, I discovered that if you speak French to me, I will automatically reply with perfect Italian. Like, better, more fluent, Italian than I have ever used in Italy. I feel like I have discovered a brilliant language-learning strategy here. Pretty sure if I spent a month in France I could come back and write a novel in Italian.

The annoying thing is that I do have some French… At least, I studied French in highschool. To be fair, Australian highschool French is not much, and it was far and away my worst subject, but still. Well, and ok, by “worst subject”, I mean a language assistant once laughed at my accent. But still.

The thing is, in Italy if you’re not obviously fluent in Italian and you’re speaking to someone who does speak English, in my experience at least they’ll switch to English for you, without you asking. (Which is frustrating if you’re trying to practice!) Whereas in Lyon at least, people would often keep going in French, even with me. I went to a tea shop one afternoon and went through the stage of saying I wanted a black tea, and into the stage of indicating I quite liked Darjeeling tea even though I couldn’t remember any conjugations of plaisir, and was well into the oh my goodness when will we end this awful charade that the nonsense coming out of my mouth is French stage before I finally apologized for saying instead of oui for the 10th time because j’habite en Italie and the shop assistant finally offered to switch to English.

At least I got some French practice in.

Apart from the tea shop, my other French shopping experience was wine. In a foolishly generous mood I had texted a friend saying, “you want me to get you any food from France?”. I was thinking about chocolates or biscuits or a tin of pâté or something. The reply came back: “How about a bottle of wine, red or white, anything up to 20 euros and I’ll pay you back”.

I know nothing about French wine. (Actually, any wine.) So then I was asking every French person I know for wine recommendations, and not getting very far. Who knew I knew so many French beer drinkers? Eventually I triangulated what information I had and put myself at the mercy of the guy in the wine shop — who didn’t seem to understand when I said I was looking for a wine quite different to Piedmontese wines, possibly because he didn’t believe that Italian wine could really be called that.

But I wasn’t too worried, since I had a backup plan. A colleague had pointed out that the conference organizers were giving out a free bottle of wine to all attendees.
“So you can tell your friend you have a wine that was recommended by French people,” she said. “You can even say you saw other French people with this wine.”
“And I’ll say it cost me 19 euros,” I added. “Turn a profit.”

I really did buy a 20 euro bottle of wine, I swear.

Postcard from vallée Étroite: How is this even possible.

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Earlier this week, a friend sent out a group message that she and her family were going on a hike on Saturday, anyone was welcome to join them, adding “it’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever seen”.

She wasn’t wrong.

“How is this even possible?” we asked ourselves, repeatedly, as we walked through alpine meadows with walls of dramatic jagged rock formations above us and a clear cold mountain stream running next to us. We saw a herd of cows, an enchanted lake with a million shades of green algae growing on the bottom, half a dozen marmots, a pond with tadpoles, wildflowers in pink and yellow and purple and orange, and new views opening out to us every time we climbed a hill.

At one of our many pauses for photos, I asked one of the guys if he wanted a photo “with that stuff over there.”

“Stuff?” he laughed.

“I’ve run out of words.”

 

PS: See more postcards from…


Practical information for future reference: vallée Étroite (valle Stretta in Italian) is just over the French-Italian border from Bardonecchia. We drove from Turin, which takes 1.5-2 hours on the highway; parking near our start point of Rifugio i Re Magi (website in Italian) was 2 euro for the day. We walked from 1780m  above sea level at Rifugio i Re Magi to 2500m above sea level at Refuge du Thabor (website in French), a distance of about 7km each way on well-marked trails — just make sure you follow the signs to Refuge du Thabor and not Mont Thabor itself. You can buy lunch at Refuge du Thabor or even sleep the night. I was glad of my waterproof shoes for the stream crossings but everyone else got on fine in running shoes.

 

Postcard from Monte Galero

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Went on another hike this weekend, this time in Tanaro Valley near the border between Piedmont and Liguria. A hot morning, followed by an afternoon of dramatic skies, rain showers, and thunderclaps in the distance (disconcerting when you’re on the top of a hill!), followed by an evening on the Mediterranean coast eating takeaway pizza while standing around a concrete block used as a makeshift table. In between all of this we also read the gospel of Matthew start-to-finish — I’ve been going to church all my life but somehow the Bible becomes new and unfamiliar when you read it in long sections while sitting on a picnic blanket in a beech forest rather than a paragraph at a time in a church service. Highly recommended.

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Postcard from Valle Varaita

I’ve come down with a rather tedious and inconvenient head cold, so no writing from me this week — I started trying to write this post and got bogged down in Uggggh what even are words. But enjoy some photos from a day spent in Valle Varaita recently with friends from church.

(Not to make you jealous or anything, but it was basically a perfect summer’s day.)

PS: See more postcards from…

Hills in Barolo

Wine and pancakes and sandwiches.

So besides winning the War on Pigeons (I am still proud of myself), what have I been up to recently..?

  • Went wine tasting a couple of weeks ago with some friends on a gorgeous Spring afternoon. Rolling hills, rows of vines, magic light as the sun got lower. I hadn’t realized how much I’d needed to get out of the city until I squatted, absentmindedly patting a friendly farm dog, my eyes drinking in the open space in front of me. Turin is a beautiful city, but sometimes you need a distant horizon.
  • (You’ll notice that’s a description of wine tasting that doesn’t say anything about wine. That’s because the current status of my sense of smell is that a lot of red wines are very pleasant to me, and I could even tell the ones we tried were better than my usual “what’s on special at Da Marco?” bottles, but the only note I can positively identify is the smell of olives. Which I smell in every red wine. Pretty sure a basic requirement for sommeliers is being able to distinguish the scent of wine from olive oil.)
  • My friend C. and I tried to go out for brunch one Saturday, but brunch isn’t really a familiar concept here. “How about we host our own pancake brunch on the Monday public holiday?” I said. So we sent out a group message and got a handful of people saying they’d come.

    “But you’d think the idea would be more popular!” she said… so we went on a bit of an invitation spree at church and suddenly we were spending the Sunday afternoon thinking about what we’d do if the number of people coming greatly outnumbered the number of chairs in my apartment.

    In the end, we made pancakes for 15 people (only 3 in excess of the number of seats!), using 5 batches of this recipe which is the best (I know 3.5 tsp of baking powder sounds ridiculous, but it works! and you can’t taste it). We had a lovely brunch/afternoon of sitting around chatting with old friends and new. I even busted out my emergency Tim Tams later in the day, which is a sure sign of a good party.

    After everyone left, we spied the dregs of a bottle of sparkling wine, and toasted our brunch-hosting success. (Moral of the story: always host parties with C!)

  • Was at dinner on Saturday night with another friend A., and partway through a couple sat down at a table near us. The woman was so! familiar! I spent the rest of the meal wracking my brains, How do I know that woman? Should I go over and say hi? On the bus ride home, Does she live in my building? Or maybe she’s a friend of a friend? I’m sure I know her, I hope she didn’t see me and think I was blanking her. Finally, as I was lying in bed… Oh that’s it! She works in one of the lunch places near my work. So probably a good thing I didn’t go and say hi, since the full extent of our prior contact is “Prendo un panino” and “3 euro 50”.
The Alps from a plane window

Sometimes travel days are their own stories.

Hello from Baltimore!

I’ve been here since Saturday night, for a work junket conference, and I will write something about the place, I promise! But for now, I have enough to say just about the trip over here…

Let’s start with a moment of triumph that will make sense to everyone who’s ever had to get by in a language they’re less-than-fluent in. Normally, when I check in for a flight in Italy, what happens is I say “Buongiorno”, hand over my non-Italian passport, and the person working at the desk replies, “And what is your final destination today ma’am?” But on Saturday, something different happened, for the first time ever: the check-in guy asked if it were ok to speak Italian, I said, “ok”, and off we went.

That sounds like the dumbest moment of triumph when I write it down (and there’s no shortage of Italian people who have done business transactions in English while in Australia!) But considering how often I’ve encountered Italian customer service people who switch to English because of my Australian accent, I’m going to assume I said buongiorno really really well that day.

After that minor ego-boost of a start to the day, the flight looked like it might be a disaster. It was a day time transatlantic flight, I was surrounded by a group of early-20s guys going on a trip to Miami, and American Airlines seemed to think it was ok to put us all on a plane without any personal entertainment systems to keep these early-20s guys occupied. (90’s time warp!) The main screen was showing The Good Dinosaur, to which they said various things that helped me expand my vocabulary of Italian swear words.

But American Airlines had one secret weapon: a 60-ish Italian guy working in the cabin crew, who managed to charm every single Italian person on the flight. He had the kids giving him hi-5s, the adults chuckling at his commentary on the American food on board, and the guys around me absolutely entranced — by doing card tricks and cup-and-ball tricks and making napkins appear from their ears. I wish I had thought to get a photo of these guys, wide-eyed and leaning out of their seats to see which card would appear. It was brilliant.

Landing in Miami, passport control was barely-contained madness. The US now has automatic passport reading machines. Like the rest of the world! Except, unlike the rest of the world, everyone — US citizens, too — has to go through the machine and then line up to talk to a person like they’ve always had to. No-one I spoke to had an explanation of how this was going to make Immigration run faster.

Also slightly inexplicable: when I finally did get to an Immigration officer, he and I ended up having a great old chat about a documentary he’d watched about the physics of light and general relativity — never mind the hundreds of people waiting in line behind me. What was confusing though is that I’ve never ever encountered a friendly Immigration officer anywhere in the world, especially not in the US, which made me suspicious the whole thing was an attempt to poke holes in my claim I was going to a physics conference. Never in my life have I so nervously said, “Yeah, general relativity is really fascinating, isn’t it?”

Art in Castello di Rivoli

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Castello di Rivoli edition

Last week I had a stomach virus, the week before I had a flu. My goal for this week: do an actual five-day work week. (You mean I have another four entire days after this??)

Some other notes from my extremely glamorous not-at-all-moping-in-bed life:

  • I went with some friends to Castello di Rivoli on Saturday. I’ve been once before, I should go more often. It’s a Savoy palace! It’s got contemporary art! On a clear day, it has amazing views to the Alps but even on a cloudy day like Saturday it has views to Rivoli and down Corso Francia to Torino.
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    We were almost the only visitors there, and possibly the guards were a bit bored because they’d follow us from room to room, not even in a subtle way, just following. On the top floor there’s a viewing platform and we tried to get a group selfie with the scenery behind us — “Never mind, a guard will be along in a minute and we’ll get them to take a photo of us,” we joked.

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    Also, how fabulous is this ceiling?

  • I’m starting to vaguely plot and scheme some fun things to do in spring, which officially isn’t for ages but this winter has been so mild it’s felt like spring since about mid-December. Last spring was a bit crap, and listing fun things to do is my overplanner’s way of trying to make this one better. Ideas so far:
    • Do something “cultural” in Milan. I’m there semi-frequently for work, but all I ever see of Milan is Stazione Centrale, the subway, and the office. Pretty sure that, as a major city, it contains more than that.
    • Brunch! (Easter brunch?)
    • Start eating gelato again. I’ve only stopped because everywhere seems to be closed in January. (Yes, “eat gelato” is indeed something I resolve every time I decide to make resolutions.)

    Other suggestions?

  • These peanut butter oatmeal cookies are delicious. I had been limiting my use of oatmeal in baking because I was having trouble finding it in Torino, but a couple of months ago I got a tip-off to try the Chinese shops in Porta Palazzo. For whatever reason, they have 1kg boxes of Quaker oats for something like 3 euro. Yessssss. #expatlife
  • And I discovered a few weeks ago that some crazy people from New Zealand have a recipe for homemade golden syrup, which produces something not exactly the same as golden syrup you’d buy in Australia but ehh whatever it’s near enough. I am totally going to make Anzac biscuits one of these days.

Practical tips for future reference: To get to Castello di Rivoli from central Torino, take the metro to Paradiso then catch the #36 bus to the end of the line. From there, just keep walking uphill through the historical centre of Rivoli.

Winter view of the Alps from Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: back to Italy

I got back to Turin last Monday. Walked through my front door, put my bags down, and thought, I love my apartment.

Partly, I think, because it’s the first place I’ve lived by myself for more than a couple of months (which I enjoy a lot), but conversely because the space is touched the people who have spent time here. Looking around my kitchen now, I can see postcards from friends who have travelled onwards, a beer bottle with my name on it that was left over from a party and I can’t bring myself to put in recycling because umm hello it’s a beer bottle called “Zoe”, a tin of Taiwanese tea that a friend brought back from her trip home there one summer, a pair of rain boots sitting near the door left by a friend who moved away, which I still haven’t used because it still hasn’t rained yet this winter.


My trip back was uneventful in the way you want inter-continental travel to be, but I did get a full 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur in between flights so I got to do a bit of wandering around.

I arrived in the evening and stayed in a backpackers hostel. You know how all those “how to travel” articles carry on about “stay in hostels! you’ll meet people to hang out with!”? I always stay in hostels; I never meet people. But Back Home in KL seemed to magically be a hostel that was social but not a party hostel, and I spent the next day doing a hop on hop off bus tour with a girl I’d met at breakfast, who was from the Netherlands and on her way from New Zealand to India.

Traipsing around an unfamiliar city with a total stranger is definitely an experience I’d recommend — if nothing else it was fun to see where our perceptions converged (“ugh it’s so hot!” “yes!”) and diverged (her: “it’s so clean and orderly here!” me, having just flown in from Perth: “I guess…?” her: “well, I suppose I’m comparing it to Jakarta”)

I’m not totally convinced the hop on hop off bus was really worth the money, but it did take us past the KL Tower, which we went up and which was worth it just for the feeling of looking across the skyscrapers and highways as if we were playing a giant game of Sim City.

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Things I have explained about Australia in the past week:

  • yes, Random Guy in a Cafe, as far as I know, if you want a longer working holiday visa in Australia you have to work on a farm, but I’m really not an expert on these things and I do hope you manage to find someone better to ask…
  • yeah, Work Colleague, you are right to think that pretty much the whole of Australia has been on fire at some point this summer, except for the bits that flooded.
  • me: pass the chips
    friend: you don’t call them crisps?
    me: no, that’s the English
    friend: so then you call the other things ‘fries’ like the Americans?
    other friend, also Australian: nah, they’re also chips
    friend: …
    me: or if it’s not clear from context–
    both aussies, laughing: “hot chips”