Traveller vs Tourist: Things that make you go, hmmm

I have long subscribed to being a traveller over being a tourist.

When I ran tours in Europe in the 90s, I’d start each one with the First Day Spiel. It took a couple of hours and ate up the time it took the coach to get from London to Dover. Much of it was around logistics – these were the days before (most people had) mobile phones and the Internet and the Euro. Travel in Europe was tricky at best and tetchy at worst. We changed money, we crossed actual borders, we used fax machines and phone cards. It was HARD.

But, I’d still finish my FDS with a little pontification about the value of being a traveller over being a tourist.

Travellers embrace differences – cultural, culinary, climate, cash. They are patient, observant, engaged and interested. They’ll understand when the Greek ferry is late and when the only thing to eat is day-old bread and iffy cheese. They will try to learn some of the local language, and will be equally thrilled to see locals zipping about Rome on Vespas as the Colosseum.

Tourists, on the other hand, should just stay home and watch Netflix – or perhaps the Travel Channel. They complain, whine, whinge and generally make life miserable for everyone around them.

For the most part, I had travellers on my tours – I am still friends with some of my former clients – but there were the odd tourists.

So, what category do I fit into this year? I have lived like a local, I have travelled, and I have visited family and friends. I’ve been a digital nomad and for most of the year have had my traveller hat pulled firmly over my brow. BUT, there have been a few tourist moments, when I have devolved into an ugly version of my travelling self – when it has all gotten a bit too much and I’ve indulged in a bit of a whinge.

Bali

IMG_20180508_083431
Campuhan Trail, Bali

Beach and pool clubs in Bali will try to rip you off when it comes to Happy Hour. It’s 2 for 1 drinks, right? Well, that means you get 4 drinks every time you order 2. So, when Ben and I would each order a cocktail, thinking that they were half-price, WRONG! 4 cocktails would show up and we’d be expected to pay for two (not one). It happened so many times, we started clarifying with staff what we were ordering and how much we’d be expected to pay – and even then, they’d still try to dupe us. We’d just send the drinks back – all 4 of them.

Ireland

IMG_20180827_154500
Cliffs of Kerry

I got sticker shock when I got to Ireland – and that was coming from England. Everything – and I mean everything – cost a lot more than what we’d typically pay in the US, the UK and Australia, especially public transport, food, drinks, coffee, groceries, accommodation and care hire – you know, basically everything.

I kept doing the conversions in my head – which travellers definitely don’t do – sending myself into the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma. A day-pass on public transit within the Dublin area capped out at 9 euros-something cents. The equivalent in London is 6 pounds-something pence – for London. By the way, that’s about 2 pounds cheaper to travel around London, one of the world’s largest and (I would argue) best cities.

England

IMG_20180915_134734 (1)
Prime Meridian, Greenwich

Ahhh, the land of inconvenience. That’s what my dad calls it and he’s English, so he’s allowed. As a half-English, half-American Aussie, I am also (technically) allowed to disparage the sometimes ridiculous inconveniences of England.

Going to the supermarket, for example, is an exercise in futility. Filling the basket or the cart is fine – there are a lot of choices – LOTS – but checking out is AWFUL. At ALDI – yes, the same discount box chain found all over the world – they won’t start scanning the items until you are fully unloaded, because there is literally nowhere to put them once they’re scanned. You must unload, then dash past the cashier with your bags at the ready, so you can catch your groceries as they fly off the conveyor belt. It’s like something out of a Japanese game show.

If this doesn’t appeal to you, try Tesco or Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, where you could gestate a brand new human being while you wait for the seated cashiers to slothenly (I’ve made up this word especially for them) pick up each item, examine it carefully to determine the whereabouts of the bar code, wave it over the scanner and then place it down with far more care than could possibly be required for a box of dishwasher tablets. They should have free WiFi so you can do your taxes while you wait.

The US

MVIMG_20180526_102249
Seattle

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise and I will risk getting slightly political, but entering trump’s America (note the on-purpose lack of proper noun capitalisation), is super NOT FUN for a non-American, especially one who is on sabbatical for a year, writes books, and doesn’t have a current employer.

I saw three immigration agents on the way into the US at LA. Three!

How long am I going to be here? 89 days (the visa waiver program allows 90 days and I am giving myself a day’s buffer). How did I get my employer to agree to let me travel for that long? I don’t have one. That’s when I was redirected to a supervisor.

So, how are you able to afford being here that long? I work for myself. Uh-oh. Back up the truck. Warning, Will Robinson. You’re working here???

That’s when I got to see the secure room where they take your phone off you.

Fortunately, the supervisor’s supervisor was a reasonable human being and he understood that a digital nomad is essentially self-funded, but may work for clients they have back home from time to time. I was released back into the wild that is LAX. 

New Zealand

Ben and Sandy 4

Nothing – it’s perfect. Duh.

Mid-way through our mid-career sabbatical

 

MVIMG_20180526_102249.jpg
Last day in Seattle

At the end of 2017, I posted about our 2018 sabbatical. Ben and I embarked at the beginning of February, so last week marked the mid-point of our year of living abroad. In that time, we have visited friends and family, explored new locations, lived life like a local and have worked remotely.

Here are some of my reflections and lessons learned from the mid-point of our sabbatical.

img_20180717_142838
Exploring northern MN with the Doctor

Home (really is) is a state of mind

Just before we left the US to begin our UK/EU stint, I fell very ill and had to spend a night in hospital. After 40 hours in a hospital gown, my vitals being checked every two hours, and being tethered to an IV stand, all I wanted to do was go home. At that stage in our travels, home was Ben’s grandmother’s house, and when I arrived back there – still, weak, tired, and yet to fully recover – I was ecstatic. I was home.

Home has been various places in our travels. With my bed count for the year sitting at 27 (Ben’s is 26, because he hasn’t sleep in a hospital bed), home really has become a state of mind. That’s not to say that all of those beds felt like home; it means that when we have taken side trips for a few days and returned to our longer-term accommodation, I have had an overwhelming sense of returning home – and that feeling is marvelous.

So, at our mid-way point I continue to subscribe to the ‘wherever I lay my head’ philosophy I posted about here.

mvimg_20180807_175615
Chicago with our dear friend from Bali days, Kelley

It’s possible to get a lot done while you’re travelling

When we meet new people or catch up with family and friends, we invariably end up discussing the ins and outs of sabbatical life. The most frequent clarification during these conversations is that taking a sabbatical is not ‘being on holiday’ for a year.

Ben and I both have our own companies in Australia and consult for clients – Ben in an ongoing capacity and me on project-based work. There have been many weeks where we’ve worked full-time, or close to it. This type of work suits us both, as we can carve out the time to do it around our larger plans, we can take advantage of coffee-shop WiFi, we both enjoy working in a variety of environments, and – to be frank – it helps fund this year abroad.

Additionally, since we left Melbourne, I have written and published my second novel. And I am soon to start my third! I love writing, I love writing novels, and I love writing ‘on the road’. Plus, each new location, each new friend, each conversation with a loved one, each excursion and adventure could be the kernel of an idea for book #4 – and the ones after that.

img_20180809_200447
Meeting my favourite author, Lindsey Kelk (Birmingham, UK)

Things are just…things

When we left Bali in May, we left behind many of the things we’d bought to make Bali life a little easier – storage containers, coat hangers, food staples, Costco-sized toiletries. We did the same thing when we left Minnesota, with the addition of some red wine glasses, a life-time supply of sunflower seeds we barely made a dent in, and a yoga mat. We also filled a large bag with summer clothes which we dropped into a charity donation bin. Clothes I previously had ‘loved’ were tossed aside without any remorse.

It’s just stuff – and we’re travelling light.

00100dPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20180813125611947_COVER
With my nephew, Alexander (UK)

It’s going fast

I truly cannot believe we’re half-way. Since leaving Melbourne, we’ve been to New Zealand, two other states in Australia, Bali, three states in the US, and the UK. Next week, we’re off to Ireland and we are starting to firm up our plans for Scotland, Amsterdam, Paris and Portugal.

I know that before we know it, we will be on our way back to Melbourne for Australia Day 2019 (January 26). That date is important, because Ben will be attending a citizenship ceremony to become a fully-fledged, dinky-di Aussie (I am so proud).

The speed with which this year away is rocketing by, means that we must continue to seek out and enjoy the small pleasures. We must continue to take every opportunity to explore, live like a local, see people who are dear to us, meet new friends, and accomplish great things.

Because, ultimately, that’s what this year is about – living life to the fullest.

IMG_20180331_165018
Secret Beach Day Trip (Bali)

 

When in ROAM…

We’ve spent the last two months living in Ubud, Bali at ROAM. And while we have explored Bali during our stay and done some short side trips, the majority of our time has been living and working in a co-living space that’s perfect for the digital nomad lifestyle.

IMG_20180330_094001

The ‘hood

We’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighbourhood of Penestanan, with it’s winding, busy roads and its pathways between the rice fields. We found our local coffee houses, A.R.A.K. (close to ROAM) and Dharma (close to Bintang), our spot for Happy Hour, Element (2 for 1 cocktails and they’re ridiculously tasty!), and some cheap and cheerful places to eat, such as Bayu’s kitchen, Ibu Putu’s Warung, Sri Ratih, Cafe Vespa, and Bamboo Spirit.

We found the ‘back way’ to Bintang supermarket via the pathways, as well as the ATMs that give out 2.5M rupiah (some max out at 1M or 1.5M). We’ve enjoyed some nicer meals at Pacha Mama, Bridges, Elephant, and Roots. We’ve frequently popped across the street to a little convenience store for snacks, Cokes, and cold Bintang. There is a yoga place 5 min away and a gym 15 min away, which is small but affordable and has enough equipment to get the job done. There is also a fantastic running trail, the Campuhan Ridge – the start of the trail is closer to Ubud, but it’s still part of our ‘hood.

The people

ROAM is about people. Since we’ve been here quite a while, we’ve met and said goodbye to many people who have become dear friends – people from all over the world – Greece, Austria, The Netherlands, Ireland, the US, Australia, the UK, Germany, Russia, Canada…and many more places around the world.

We’ve broken bread – both here at ROAM and at various restaurants around Ubud – we’ve taken day trips, sat by the beach, held workshops, done yoga together, hung out, shared drinks and stories, played Cards Against Humanity, and helped each other professionally and personally. We’ve been a family – and just like any family there are those you love, those that you find intriguing, those you learn from, and those who get on your last nerve. 😉 Think of a group of colleagues who work and live together. That’s the ROAMILY.

There also is an incredible team of locals who literally keep ROAM running, including a Community Manager who brings us together, handles any issues, and creates community events.

And last, but definitely not least, there is Lu (Princess Lu, LuLu, Miss Lu), our dog.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-28,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

She is not technically people, but please don’t tell her that. Unfortunately, there are those that want her gone. This is maddening and upsetting to many of us, as she is as much a part of this family as we are, but there is a plan to re-home her in California with a former ROAMIE. If you’re so inclined, you can donate to help get her there.

The work

While we’ve been here, Ben’s been building an app for a client – which just launched on iOS (Congrats!) and is soon to launch on Android, and I have been both writing and doing some contracted editing work. The writing is going extremely well and I have added nearly 70,000 words to my manuscript, which is the sequel to the book I published last year. It will be ready for a July publication!

There’s a shared work-space on the upper deck, a conference room for quiet and air conditioning, and it’s been fun to work from our little deck or poolside. I’ve also popped out to the coffee house for a few hours at a time for a change of scene. And, we have often taken our work with us when we’ve had day trips, which is a really lovely way to work.

The day-to-day

Certain domestic concerns have been taken off our hands here at ROAM. We don’t wash our towels and sheets, we don’t take out the rubbish and nor do we clean our rooms, which are serviced weekly. The pool, the grounds, the common areas and the plants are all taken care of. Alleviating these tasks frees up an enormous amount of time – at least for me.

We do wash our clothes, shop for and cook our own meals (if we want to eat in) and we clean up after ourselves in the kitchen. ROAM supplies bottled water, but the water in the rooms and kitchen is filtered, so we can brush our teeth with it and wash our fruit and veggies with it.

We share all the common areas – not just the work spaces – so try to be respectful of other people. Laundry is only done on a 20-min cycle, for instance. We each have our own shelves in the fridge and in the pantry, and we share some community food, such as fresh eggs daily, milk and fruit.

There are also weekly events organised by the Community Manager to ensure the community meets new arrivals, gets to see Ubud and other parts of Bali, and gets to experience the community feel that makes ROAM unique.

Would I come again?

In a heartbeat.

Sunset from ROAM

With thanks to Ben Reierson for additional photos, including ‘Sunset from ROAM’ above.

 

Wherever I lay my head…

The expression, ‘wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home’ has never been as relevant for me as it is now. As I only wear a hat on occasion, however, I think of it more in terms of wherever I lay my head.

Since we handed over the keys to our apartment on Feb 2nd, Ben and I have been on the go – first to New Zealand and currently in Western Australia where we’ve been visiting family and friends. We have stayed in 13 different places in the last 6 weeks, and in each one we’ve found a way to think of it as home – even if it’s only been for a night.

Nesting

I am a nester. I am being told by spellcheck that ‘nester’ is not a word, but I have been a nester for as long as I can remember so I will respectfully disagree, spellcheck, thank you very much.

As a nester, I will always unpack certain things from my luggage even if we’re only there overnight. These things help the location to feel like home. I plug in my electronics, I unpack my toiletries, I pop something familiar on my bedside table. Instant ‘home’.

Drawers

If we’re somewhere for a few nights or more, my nesting goes to a whole new level. I put things in drawers! Imagine that!!

I am especially looking forward to Bali (our next stop) because we will be in one location long enough to unpack completely and put our luggage away. Since Feb 2nd, we’ve been travelling with packing cubes. They are excellent for keeping things organised and mean that I don’t have to go rifling through my whole suitcase every time I look for something –  they’re kind of like drawers for your luggage.

But this morning, after the seventieth time one of us opened or closed a zip, I realised that I was done with the sound of zippers for now. Drawers! I am ready for actual drawers.

Tahoe and Squirt

We’ve been travelling with Tahoe (he’s the bear) and Squirt (he’s the turtle) for over a decade. They’ve been everywhere we’ve been. Even when we’ve travelled alone (for work or play), Tahoe and Squirt have gone along. They’ve been to places I’ve never been, like Ireland and Argentina. Having them with us makes wherever we are feel like home – and they’re very adventurous travel companions.

P1040241
Ready for a massage in Mexico
P1000760
Looking out the window in Vietnam
P1020199
Twin beds in Italy

Ben

Ben and I have lived together since December 2008 in four apartments in two cities. No matter where we are in the world, he is now my strongest connection to feeling like I’m home. He is my home.

So, until 2019, until we sign a new lease and get a set of keys again, wherever Ben lays his head, that’s my home.

P1010920
Bali 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Take, Chuck or Store?

Over the past few weeks and months, Ben and I have been playing our own version of Shoot, Shag or Marry – only with our stuff. We have literally handled and considered every item we own and have asked ourselves, ‘take, chuck or store?’ That’s every darned thing.

When we originally talked about taking this sabbatical, we discussed options at two extremes of the continuum: either get rid of everything and start from scratch when (if) we return, or sublet our apartment fully-furnished.

We opted for something in the middle. We rented a 2m x 3m storage unit for a year, set a moving date and started playing our ‘fun’ new game.

Take

I am proud to say that I have pared back to 5 pairs of shoes – and that includes thongs (flip flops). Those who know me will understand the extent of this miracle. Let’s just say, I have just a touch of Carrie Bradshaw in me. So, what made the cut? Thongs, sneakers, trainers, Birkenstocks, and ballet flats.

I also packed a small pouch with what I call, ‘very useful things‘. These include a small chef’s knife, a stash of zip and twist ties, command hooks (with two-sided tape), a sewing kit, Blue-tac, a portable clothes line, and carabiners. As, I said, very useful things.

Add to the shoes and very useful things, Summer clothes, a collapsible backpack, my stack of technological rectangles (laptop, iPad, Kindle, phone) and chargers, enough underwear for a month, a small stash of my fave (but not expensive) jewelry, and toiletries, and I am good to go!

Chuck

While going through all the things we own, we made the easy decision to off-load the bedside lamps that I’ve never really liked, and the more difficult decision to sell our couch, which was cherry red and made to order. I loved that couch, but am pleased to say it went to a good home.

IMG_20180106_152150
Much-loved couch

In the end, we sold off, gave away, donated and binned about 1/2 of what we owned.

Hard rubbish inherited an array of things including my desk, which broke into three pieces when we tried to move it, our well-used and somewhat abused BBQ, our bedside tables which were on their last legs, and every chipped or mismatched cup, plate, bowl, glass and teapot.

DSC_0829
Discombobulated IKEA desk

We even managed to eat through the bulk of our pantry, fridge and freezer in the weeks leading up to the move, which resulted in weird meals, like Dim Sum with Greek salad. The rest was bagged up and taken to our friend’s house to fill (clog) up their pantry and freezer – thanks (sorry), guys!

DSC_0827
Who else has 3 open packets of sesame seeds in their pantry?

Store

Deciding what to put into storage – or rather, what we would pay to store – was perhaps the hardest set of decisions, but we quickly discovered what I will call, ‘the second drawer factor’.

Every kitchen has a second drawer, the drawer filled with random, often costly, utensils and useful kitchen things. Some are used daily, some rarely, but when you’re paying for storage, setting aside 1/3 of a small box for these items is a lot cheaper than replacing them when you next set up house. I’m talking about you, ice-cream scoop, pizza cutter and citrus reamer. The same goes for other small, useful household items and tools. They essentially cost next to nothing to store and a lot to replace all at once.

Clothes were a little trickier. I kept quite a few of my work clothes, mostly because I tend to buy items that don’t date and that I look after. They’ll be great for those 2019 job interviews. We also sent a box of Winter clothes, coats and boots to the UK for the last 1/3 of our trip which will be in cooler or cold weather.

Art, artifacts and memorabilia were a no-brainer. When we travel, we buy souvenirs – paintings, photographs, ceramics, books and such. We also each have a collection of childhood memorabilia. These things will make our new home feel like ours.

Anything else we had room for: When I commenced packing, I started with books. Books are easy to pack; they have uniformity and you can stack them. I was really proud of my first few boxes – so neat, so organised, so easy to label: ‘books’.

By the time I finished packing, my labels read like this: ‘iron/hair diffuser/decorative rock/greeting cards/board game/lamp/place-mats’. It became less about ‘like things together’ and more like a real-life game of packing Tetris. In the end, we had the room, so I started to be less stringent with the culling. If we liked it and if it still worked, it got packed.

DSC_0835
Final trip to storage after living in a near-empty apartment for a few days

The (real) lesson

When you start to sort through your stuff, and when you do a complete audit of everything you own, you tend to realise that we exist everyday with far too much stuff. We are each about to travel for a year with only a suitcase, a carry-on and backpack or handbag. No doubt, we will continue to do some ‘chucking’ along the way.

 

 

 

 

The Devil’s in the Details

We are now in the T-minus state of departing Melbourne, and then Australia, for a year. As in, T-minus: 17 days of work left. And T-minus: 33 days until we fly out of Melbourne. And T-minus: several hours until I lose my damned mind.

I woke up at 4am last night (or this morning). I finally drifted off to sleep around 6 – for an hour – and then staggered out of bed at 7. My body is exhausted, but at 4am my brain is doing gymnastics. It’s the details, you see. The details are both exquisite and excruciating.

For example, I decided at around 4:30am, that I should print and laminate a little credit card-sized card that says, ‘Hello, we’re staying at ROAM in Ubud,’ with the address and ‘thank you’ – written in Indonesian, so we can give it to taxi drivers while we’re staying in Bali.

It’s a brilliant idea, I agree. So, I did that today on my lunch break. But, did I really have to come up with it in the middle of the night???

In the past week, I have made multiple messes in our house while clearing things out. For some reason, everything I’m sorting through needs to explode and cover every surface in the entire apartment in order for me to make order from it. I have subsequently thrown out, gifted or sold around 1/3 of what I own. I keep reminding Ben and the cat to move around so I don’t accidentally put them on EBAY.

And the lists! Every time I check something off the ToDo list, I get to enjoy about 30 seconds of satisfaction before my mind starts panicking about the 75 million other things I need to do.

I keep reminding myself that in just over a month, none of this will matter. It will all be done – or it won’t – and I will be on a plane with my carefully-curated luggage tucked safely beneath me in the luggage compartment.

And then, the real adventure begins…

 

 

 

 

Why I’m taking a mid-career sabbatical

DSC_0036
Outskirts of Ubud, Bali 2015

“Let’s trade a year of our retirement for 2018,” said Ben. We’d been toying with the idea for years, but he was giving it a time-frame, making it concrete. Initially, my stomach clenched at the thought, but I took a deep breath and said yes.

Ben and I have long described ourselves as ‘location-agnostic’, but in the truest sense of that term, we won’t really be location-agnostic until 2018. Up until now, it has meant that with no children and no mortgage, our lives are relatively portable. Yes, we will always have the hoops of immigration laws to jump through – he is American and I’m an Australian with a soon-to-be-much-less-useful British passport – but we have already lived together on two continents, and next year we’ll add two more.

What is the plan? In 2018, we will travel to several destinations where we will stay for 1-3 months, unpack, live like locals as much as possible, and essentially be location-agnostic. First stop, mother nature permitting, is Bali. We will be staying at ROAM, a co-living space designed for digital nomads – another moniker we’ll be trying on for size.

After a couple of months in Bali (a once-renewed visitor’s visa gives us a maximum of 60 days in Indonesia), we will head to the US and Canada. I get 90 days in the US, including any hops out and back in to Mexico or Canada, so we will spend a few weeks visiting family and friends, and then a significant amount of time living by the lake at the family’s cabin. After the US is England, with travel to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. And we’ll likely finish out the year with a few months in Portugal, or somewhere equally beautiful and affordable in Europe.

What will we be doing? We both have some contract work lined up, mine in writing and editing, and Ben’s in mobile app development, but the aim is to make time each day and week to immerse ourselves in our surroundings, to go, see, do and experience. Importantly, I will write for myself – first the sequel to the novel I just published and then other ideas that have been percolating for (it seems like) eons. And of course, there are the people – people we know and love who are scattered all over the world, and the people we haven’t met yet, ex-pats like us, friends of friends, locals. We’ll take photos and write, and share our year. We’ll embrace opportunities as they arise, promising ourselves to say yes more than we say no.

Why are we doing this? The simplest response – which is both contemplative and realistic – is that ‘life is short’. The more complex response involves the label we have long self-identified with. Will we actually want to live a location-agnostic life long-term? Are we going to retire in 10 years, sell off our possessions, and flit about the world being ‘homeless’? Can ‘home’ really be wherever we lay our respective hats and/or suitcases?

We will see.

How are we preparing? With lots of research, lists, and spreadsheets. Between us, we are figuring out what to store and what to sell, what phones we will use, what insurance we should buy, how we can maximise our collective frequent flier points on 6 airlines and across 4 continents, who is prepared to put up with us for a night or 3 or 8, and other fun logistics. We’ll be frugal when we can, so we can go, see, do, and experience as much as possible. We’re teeing up contract work, and making professional connections. We’re buying lightweight travel versions of things. We’re only packing clothes that go with everything else we’re packing. We’re shipping winter clothes and boots to England. We’re busy!

What do we hope for? I will only speak for myself here. I am hoping that time will start to slow, that the creative juices will flow, that I will take (better) care of myself, that I will relish the time with Ben and other loved ones, that I will embark on new friendships, that I will embrace challenges and adventures, and that I will get less attached to things and routines.

And in 2019? Again, we’ll see…

 

Where the winds take you

A year ago, Ben and I were about to embark on a journey back to the Greek Islands, revisiting some of the places we discovered together in 2006 – when we met.

Our skipper from the sailing trip in ’06, Patrick, would be at the helm again. We’d get to see new places, we’d make new friends, and we’d celebrate a decade since we first met on the pier in Santorini.

This is about where the winds take you…

There’s something rather magical about going where the wind takes you, quite literally. The cares and stresses of everyday life ebb away, and the present becomes everything. Briny air, inky blue swells, and a wind that carries you and your fellow sailors to the next port. It’s freeing.

Seven people, one yacht, five Greek islands and one incredible week.

Group pic - sailing trip

Day One

We meet with eager faces at the port of Vlychada on the southern coast of Santorini. The marina is abuzz with energy as dozens of people chatter loudly and mill about between the dock and their vessels, a mixture of pleasure craft and fishing boats. The weather is a perfect 28°C with a warm breeze and only a few clouds in the vibrant blue sky.

Our Skipper, Patrick, shows us to our boat, the Argo, and we take turns to climb aboard and explore below deck, unpacking what we can into cubbies and stowing our luggage. The Argo will be our home for the next week. I take off my watch and stash it away, because I won’t need it today. Time moves differently when you’re on a boat.

Our boat

We are seven, including Patrick, our ages ranging from mid-30s to mid-50s. We are across industries and continents in our everyday lives, but for the next week we will be the Argonauts, as dubbed by our Irish boatmate almost as soon as she is aboard. Both her laugh and instant camaraderie are infectious.

Tonight, we will anchor just off Akrotiri on Santorini, as the winds will be more favourable for our sail up to Ios in the morning. None of us mind. The view is beautiful and we enjoy swimming off the boat in the deep Oxford blue water. Colours, particularly of the water, will be important to the Argonauts, because every day we sail, the Aegean will reveal its vast palette and we will discover that the waters off each island are distinctive.

We watch the sunset over the island, and then break into two groups for a short ride to shore on the tender. I’m in the first group and we pull up at a restaurant where the tables are surrounded by water on three sides. A tall waiter sees us coming and hurries to help us ashore, a task that sounds simpler than it was, with the water line 3-feet below him. Patrick returns to the Argo while four of us get settled and devour the menu with our eyes.

When the others join us, we order practically one of everything and chat amiably over fresh seafood, deep red and delicious tomatoes, and tangy dips with crusty bread. We drink table wine, which is surprisingly drinkable. We don’t finish everything on the table, but we are full and when the sun completely disappears, we make our way back to the Argo. It takes only a few minutes to get used to the gentle rocking as we drift asleep.

 

Day Two

Sailing through the caldera offers a magnificent view not just of Santorini, but also of Thirasia, the island sitting opposite, and the ever-evolving Palea Kameni which is situated in the caldera’s centre and was site to the cluster’s most recent eruption in 1950. Looking up at Fira and the other towns that cling to the rock faces, you can’t help wondering how they stay there and what feats of engineering got them built in the first place. It’s stunning.

We moor for lunch in a cove just off Thirasia with a perfect view of Oia, the town perched on Santorini’s northernmost point. The water here is cooler than off Akrotiri, but after a simple lunch of tomatoes, bread, tzatziki and cheese, we swim off the boat until we’re called back aboard by our Skipper. For the first time, we will be solely under sail as we begin our trip north to Ios.

Patrick gives orders to his crew of civilians with the ease of someone who has done this many, many times before. With his guidance and good humour we make ourselves useful, raising the sails and setting course for the port of Ios. Once underway, he directs several of us to sit on the windward side of the boat. It will make us sail faster and is also a better spot for those of us with seasickness. Some of us – me included – do not have our sea legs yet.

The undulating sea is mesmerising and the seasickness does recede as we talk about nothing and everything. We will find that we form friendships quickly with so much concentrated time to get to know each other. Every once in a while, as we change tack, there is a burst of energy as we’re all given something important to do.

Ios emerges in front of us through a low haze, and before long we can make out the brilliant white of a church standing guard at the entrance of the port. As we get closer to our destination, we erupt into action as we make ready to dock. The port is crowded, but we ease into a berth between a luxury yacht and another sailboat, its Italian skipper lending a helpful hand as we secure our moorings. I am fascinated by the easy camaraderie of the two skippers despite being strangers and not speaking each other’s language.

Docked in Ios

Ios is bustling. It reminds me of Fira, only the crowd here seems to be mostly of twenty-somethings. We’re here for dinner, then to sleep the night and we will be off after breakfast. In the interim, we must shop for the following four meals, and will be on water rations until we reach another serviced port in two nights’ time. Patrick’s promise of a spectacular and secluded spot to spend our third night has us intrigued.

Dinner that night is close to where we have docked – we can see the Argo from our seats – and we order cheap, traditional food. Once again we don’t clear our plates, because it is so plentiful. Ios is alive. Children play loudly nearby as we eat, adults laugh and toast each other, and there is a thrum of energy. At a time when I would typically be asleep, it seems like Ios is just getting started. After dinner, we seek out the ice cream parlour and wait in a long, but fast-moving line. The ice cream is excellent and more reminiscent of gelato.

I wonder at being able to sleep aboard a boat docked in such a busy marina, but lull of the rocking sends me off peacefully.

Day Three

The supermarket is busy, extremely busy. The narrow aisles are crowded with goods and tourists. We have a long list and four of us are navigating with two trolleys. We need four meals, snacks, bottled water and drinks – wine and beer. One of us knows a bit about Greek wine and is scouring the wine aisle for some good picks. We check out having spent far less than we’re all used to spending in our respective home countries, and the frenzy of the market will prove a vast contrast to the second half of our day.

We are heading towards a secluded bay on the island of Dhespotiko, a spot Patrick found on his last trip. The sail is shorter than yesterday’s and I find that I am acclimating to the rhythms of the Aegean and finding my sea legs.

As promised, the hidden bay is incredibly beautiful. The island rises sharply from the water on either side of the narrow bay and is covered in reddish rocks and tufts of green. We anchor just off a small sandy beach and are the only boat in sight. The water is clear and we can see to the sandy depths. One of us, David, is a diver and he gears up to set our moorings below the water. The rest of us swim or prep for dinner.

P1020146

It takes a few runs with the tender to ferry all of us, along with the fixings and tools for a BBQ, across to the beach. Tonight, we will eat by moonlight, a selection of meat, seafood and vegetables grilled under the stars. The warm water laps at the tiny shore and we mix cocktails of spirits and juice, sipping from plastic cups as we watch the sun go down. The food is incredible, as is the reflection of the moonlight on the small bay. We laugh and talk and poke sticks into the fire. Late at night, Patrick ferries us back to the boat for a very quiet night’s sleep.

Day Four

We are in no hurry to leave the unnamed bay the next morning, all of us wanting to get the most out of this unique location. Some of us swim, others set off to climb the giant hill that overlooks the beach. Even from only half-way up the vantage points will produce some incredible photos. The Argo is a long white sliver in an arrow head of vibrant blue, both cupped by rugged red earth. After following a goat track back down the hillside, I leave my camera, shoes and clothes in the tender and swim back to the boat from shore. It is exhilarating being in this water. I want to stay all day.

P1020153

Eventually, it is time to leave and we say goodbye to what our Irish boatmate has now dubbed Artemis Bay, in honour of the moon goddess who provided such great lighting for our beach party the night before. Our next stop is the port of Vathi on Sifnos.

Again we sail with only the power of the wind, four of us taking our places on the windward side. I love this spot on the side of the boat, watching each swell approach. Some of the swells break against the hull and send a wave of cool water over us as we laugh and squeal like children at a water park. We arrive at Vathi salt-crusted, sun-warmed and eager for dinner at the waterside restaurant that Patrick has suggested.

We anchor in the middle of the bay surrounded by calm water, and even though there are a couple dozen other boats, it is peaceful here, a nice contrast to the vibrancy of Ios. Two tender rides from the Argo and we are all onshore. The water laps at a narrow shoreline as we walk – sometimes in the water – around the bay to a lovely restaurant under the trees. It has a perfect view of the setting sun.

We order from across the menu a wide selection of Greek specialities – lamb, octopus, squid, stuffed vegetables, tzatziki and olives. We are particularly impressed with the wine selection, and the first bottle of Assyrtiko is so delicious we order a second bottle almost straight away. Around us, families – many of them Greek – enjoy the serene setting, delicious food, and warm evening breeze. Under the table, I cheekily feed a ginger cat who has hungry kittens in a nearby tree. It’s a lazy, enjoyable meal. We walk even more slowly back to the tender, full from our feast and ready for bed.

P1020169

P1020162

Day Five

It will just be a short jaunt today, around the coast of Sifnos to Kamares. Kamares is a larger port than Vathi, with a wide sandy beach of golden, glittery sand and whitewashed buildings that climb up the hillside from the water. We moor in the middle of the bay and Patrick ferries us to shore on the tender for a day of exploring. Not knowing our destination, we follow Patrick onto the local bus where a few Euros each will get us across the island to Platys Gialos.

P1020177-edited

Sifnos is just beautiful. The roads to Platys Gialos are winding, and the bus rises to the top of hills and dips into the valleys. There are homes, farms, small towns and windmills – some working, some decorative. We share the crowded bus with travellers and locals, and at each stop the passengers manoeuvre up and down the aisle trying to get off or find a seat. I hear “excuse me” in many languages.

When we emerge from the bus the sun is high in the sky and warm on our faces. Collectively, we are parched and hungry. Fortunately, and I am guessing this is by Patrick’s design, we are across from a row of restaurants that back onto the beach. We choose the closest one and from our table we can almost dip our toes in the sand. The beach, unlike Vathi the night before, is brimming with people, mostly Greek families. This is a popular travel destination for Greeks, especially those from the mainland. Our waitress is delightful and the menu offers an array of fresh vegetables and seafood. I cannot resist the fried anchovies, so don’t. They are delicious.

There is a laziness to the afternoon, and we eat leisurely before heading back to the bus stop to catch a bus in the other direction. There is another stop on our itinerary before we will go back to the boat and get changed for dinner. Patrick promises us there will even be time for a swim later that afternoon.

Two busses get us to Kastro, a fortress town perched high on a hill and with views on all sides. We walk the perimeter of the town, Patrick in the lead, and see Roman-built walls too old to fathom, amongst the whitewash and bougainvillea. Stray cats gaze at us lazily from vantage points. As we round a corner, we see a tiny white church balanced on an outcrop of rock far below us and just above the sea line. Waves crash close by, and we can just make out the path that leads to it from the town.

P1020173

The tour is quick, as it is not a large town, and we await the next bus – more than an hour away – at the Dolci Café. It overlooks farms that dot the valley, and the cocktail list is impressive. So is our waiter, who is rightfully arrogant about speaking five languages fluently, and an entertaining conversationalist. The cocktails are excellent and the time passes quickly.

Two more busses deposit us back in Kamare and Patrick is right, he has left us enough time to swim before changing for dinner. The water is warmer here than anywhere we have swum before and we can see a nearly-full moon rising over the hills before the sun even sets.

Dinner that night is in Apollonas, a gorgeous town in the heart of Sifnos. It is reminiscent of Mykonos, with whitewashed buildings and cobbled pathways leading off the main square in a tangle of walkways and alleys. Families, couples, groups of friends, travellers and local alike, fill the town with an intoxicating energy. The shopfronts boast beautiful wares from artisans and jewellers, and clothes in flowing fabrics and vibrant colours.

The choice of bars, cafes and restaurants is overwhelming, and thankfully we have a reservation where we will sit on a terrace overlooking the excitement. The wine is great, the food is fantastic and collectively, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. We will split up after dinner, some of us to shop, others to grab a drink at a local bar. Late that night we meet back at Kamare to ferry to the boat. It has been our busiest day, and it has been exquisite.

 

Day Six

A day of sailing to Kythnos where we will moor in a beautiful cove surrounded by jagged rocks and caves called Ormos Kolona. It is a popular spot, but the beauty of sailing is that even with neighbouring boats – big and small – the cove is peaceful and the atmosphere friendly. The water here is so clear we can see straight to the bottom, and several of us swim to shore to indulge in the natural hot springs.

We commute via tender to the only restaurant in the area, a lively place where you can meet your fellow travellers and even dance, if you feel like it. The moon is full now and hovers over the cove, with long milky fingers stretched across the water. It is our last night together and we enjoy a nightcap when we arrive back at the boat after dinner.

20160818_211124.jpg

 

Day Seven

To Athens. It is a long day of sailing, but we are well and truly seafarers now, deftly moving about the boat executing the Skipper’s orders. We sail via Cape Sounion, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece where the Temple of Poseidon reigns from on high. It’s a perfect spot to stop for lunch sheltered from the strong winds that have carried us back from the islands.

 

As we get closer to Athens, civilisation emerges in small increments, and soon enough we are sailing past the long beach and apartments blocks of Glyfada. Athens spills out across the valley in front of us, climbing part way up the surrounding hills. Soon we can make out the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. The marina that welcomes us is the busiest place we have seen in a week.

20160819_175226

We dock, we pack and chat, and when it is time to say goodbye, it feels like we are leaving family. There are hugs and promises of emails and photo-sharing to come. As my partner and I climb into the cab that will take us to the airport, I feel contented. It was an incredible week of exploration, relaxation, adventures and just being. Wonderful.

 

With thanks to Ben Reierson for some of these images.

 

 

 

 

NZ ’13

I was a lucky bugger and I won a trip – an all-expenses-paid trip – to New Zealand. 25 words or less on who I would take to NZ and why, and a couple of months later Ben and I were winging our way to Wellington. This is a retrospective of our 7 night, 8 day adventure along the New Zealand Classic Wine Trail. Kia Ora, New Zealand!!

P1000369

We arrived in Wellington where it was a little windy and wet and the locals kept apologising for the weather. Settled in at the Wellesley Hotel rather quickly, we then made our way to the Te Papa museum for a private tour. At both places we were expected and were greeted with, “Are you Sandy and Ben?” We decided that we could get used to this treatment, which we received at many of the places on the rest of the trip – others seemed to have forgotten that we were coming (oops). Either way, though, the Kiwis are lovely and gracious people and we were generally treated like the rock stars that we think we are.

Te Papa, by the way, is phenomenal – NZ’s history, culture and natural wonders encapsulated in one impressive structure. I was particularly struck by the Colossal Squid exhibit.

index
official photograph (not mine)

The next morning, we drove north-east for about 4 hours to the Hawke’s Bay region.

P1000209P1000208_edited-1

The sun was high in the sky as we pulled into Ash Ridge winery for lunch – the first of MANY wineries.

P1000215  P1000217_edited-1

After lunch it was into Napier, a town on Hawke’s Bay that was destroyed in 1931 by and earthquake and completely rebuilt. It has one of the world’s finest collections of Art Deco buildings and architecture. We were taken on a walking tour of the town by the Art Deco Society.

 P1000238_edited-1 P1000239_edited-1 P1000230 P1000233

Back at their HQ, the Art Deco Society showed us a film about the town – with footage from the ’30s and gifted us with some souvenirs. How lovely!

P1000245_edited-1

The next day we were driven out to Cape Kidnapper’s to see the gannets. Actually, when we arrived at the appointed time, we waited (and waited) and finally decided to call our contact. Her immediate response when we said we had arrived for the gannet tour was, “But the gannets are gone!” Then she realised that we were “Sandy and Ben – the prize winners” and roused her hubby out of bed to drive us out there anyway.

We were on private property most of the way – it’s a working farm and golf course owned by an American billionaire. The views are ridiculous. And there were a few gannets waiting for us at the cape – the late bloomers who had yet to depart for the winter.

P1000277_edited-1
Gannets
P1000251_edited-1
This little guy kept a close eye on us.

P1000252_edited-1 P1000257_edited-1 P1000261_edited-1 P1000264_edited-1 P1000272_edited-1

After Cape Kidnapper’s (so-called because when Cook arrived, the Maoris mistook one of his crew, a Tahitian, for one of their own and kidnapped him. Cook and his crew got him back and sailed off around this cape and he named it at that time), we were due to collect bike for a 1/2-day ride, but instead we found Clearview winery.

P1000288_edited-1

We were greeted by a lovely lady who took us on a guided tour of their tasting menu and then deviated from it a few times. She and her partner had found a couple of unlabelled cases the day before – and ’00 cabernet and an ’02 cabernet-merlot – and she gave us a pour. Holy guacamole. She said she would price them while we had lunch – which we thoroughly enjoyed – and we bought a bottle of the ’02. Pricey, but we’ll save that for a special occasion.

We did end up grabbing the bikes for a couple of hours when we got back to Napier. We rode 8kms to the closest wineries – Mission Estate and Church Road – and bought a bottle from Church Road (a Riesling). It is easy to excuse yourself from buying when you’re on bikes. And it is a little harder than you might think to ride back into town after tasting at only two wineries – not that we were too tiddly, but after a few days of no exercise, lots of sitting and lots of wine, the body can protest a 40 minute bike ride (each way).

The next day we drove south, heading towards Greytown where we would have $100 to spend at Schoc chocolates.

P1000308_edited-1

At a place where the 75g bars are $11, this took less time than you might think, but we tasted our way through their menu too – and found some great selections. Dark chocolate rose – yum.

And on the way we saw some cool stuff, including 2 giant kiwis and a Viking (for Ben’s mum, who barracks for the Minnesota Vikings – and for Ben, who is descended from them).

P1000293_edited-1 P1000291_edited-1 P1000292_edited-1

We even met this little gal, at Loopline, one of the first wineries you will come to heading south on the 2, just before Greytown.

P1000299_edited-1

She rushed out to greet us at this beautiful  place.

P1000296_edited-1

It has a simple tasting room, where you’ll meet the winemaker and his lovely dog, whose name we never caught. Still, we bought a bottle of their Riesling, because it was dry and delicious.

Into Martinborough, which is a lovely town reminiscent of small towns in the south-west of Australia, like Bridgetown, we were shown to a spectacular suite, which had an equally spectacular bathroom.

P1000310_edited-1P1000312

We just had a night there, and popped across the road to the local where we had great wine, and great food – and met the locals! Packing the next morning was a little tricky – we had a kilo of chocolate, 5 bottles of wine, we still had Marlborough to go, and we were getting on a ferry that afternoon.

We headed towards Wellington, and miscalculated the arrival time at the (not so) stunning ferry terminal, so got to spend 3 hours there. On the ferry we were treated to the executive lounge, and had a lovely late lunch and wine as we headed to Picton on the South Island. The views were rather gorgeous.

P1000324_edited-1 P1000325_edited-1

That night and the next we were at the Marlborough Vintner’s Hotel, where we woke up both mornings to stunning sunrises over the vineyards.

P1000331_edited-1

Our full day in Marlborough we were treated to a private winery tour, with our guide (other) Ben. He took us out to Cloudy Bay.

P1000337_edited-1

And then he took us to Cloudy Bay.

P1000345_edited-1

We got private tours and tastings at 6 wineries, and stopped for lunch at Wither Hills, where – again – we bought the Riesling. Seeing a trend??

P1000354_edited-1

The next day – my birthday – we returned via ferry to Wellington (back to the Wellesley), where we were greeted with champagne and a Devonshire Tea. Did someone mention it was my birthday? We decided to skip Zealandia, which was supposed to be our afternoon activity, but the weather was not great for an outdoor nature experience, and we really just wanted to go shopping. Wellington is a hip city, reminiscent in many ways of Seattle, although (sorry Seattle-ites) the Wellingtonians dress FAR better than the average Seattleite. The 40 and 50-somethings had the coolest style. Diggin’ the Kiwi vibe.

P1000356

That night we decided on a cocktail (no more wine, please!!!) at Matterhorn and then dinner at Monsoon Poon. Both places gifted me with a complimentary cocktail (thanks!) and the salmon at Monsoon Poon was crazy good. We even got a massive booth, with some cool signatures lining the walls.

P1000365 P1000366 P1000367 P1000368

How’s that for a cross section of celebs? Sachin Tendulkar, Nora Jones, and Gordon Ramsay.

The next morning, we began the long journey home.

Thank you as always to my darling travel companion, Ben, with whom I row merrily.

P1000364_edited-1