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On the road again

Apr 28, 2011

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What do you do when you’ve been given a Notice to Vacate your suburban Melbourne home? Why, pack up your stuff and buy an old motorhome for an epic road trip across the USA, obviously. That’s what the Jonai do.

Who are these Jonai? I’m a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne investigating the role of food in a cosmopolitan, sustainable society. Stuart is the family brewer, baker and preserve maker, who has a business in solar thermal equipment catering to the DIY market. We are supported by a crew of interesting and interested kids — Oscar, Antigone & Atticus, ages 11, 9 and 7.

And so we’re off — lengthy tours of America and Australia have been on our list of Amazing Adventures to have with the kids for years. An unexpected eviction, Stuart’s plan to attend the 2011 National Solar Conference in North Carolina, and mine to be at Food and Agriculture Under the Big Sky were all we needed to send the gypsy Jonai off on the officially named RoadTripUSA. Continue reading “Hop on board for Road Trip USA”

An Expat Opinion

Apr 22, 2011

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I confess it was coincidental, but it happened to be the Anzac day weekend that we visited Wolf’s Lair, in Poland’s north. While Hitler had a number of bases, this is where he spent by far the most time — 800 days altogether. But I’ll confess that it’s only because of the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie, which immortalised the attempt on Hitler’s life that took place here, that I’d even heard of it.

Driving there from Warsaw took five hours, the majority of the trip on winding roads through the gorgeous Mazury district. It’s a region famous for big, freshwater lakes and forests of silver birch, fir and pine. Where cute little rustic inns advertise ‘fresh fish straight from the pan’, and where Poles, Germans and the odd Australian expat might go for a week in summer to swim or canoe, or spend a few days in autumn looking for mushrooms along forest trails. In early spring, wildflowers carpeted the forest floors with dainty little white and yellow petals. The words ‘idyllic paradise’ spring to mind.

Which makes it hard to reconcile the surroundings with what was going on here. Because it was in a clearing in this beautiful forest that Hitler spent around 800 days of the war, making plans that would end the lives of millions. He chose to locate here partly because, being far in the east of occupied Poland, it was too far for allied planes to reach. A rationale which, in this day and age, seems as quaint as the inns that now dot the nearby lakeside shores. Continue reading “An Expat Opinion: Visiting the Heart of Darkness”

France

Apr 20, 2011

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Freelance writer Troy Wilkinson writes: For most of my life, G T C Williams was nothing more than a name. I wasn’t even aware of my great-grandmother’s brother existence until a family road trip aged 12. At the War Memorial in Canberra my grandfather found the name of an uncle he never met on the wall of the First World War Roll of Honour.

A general interest in genealogy grew within my extended family over ensuing years, but by that time it was already too late to ask anyone who had personally known George (or Clyde, as he preferred to go by) Williams, so it was his military record that has provided us most of the details of his short adult life.

Born in Tasmania in July 1893, Clyde was the second of nine children born to Annie and George Williams Snr. At some point after the outbreak of the First World War, Clyde joined the AIF as Serial Number 3808 and was assigned as a Gunner in the 5th Battery of the 2nd Brigade of the Australian Field Artillery. After undergoing combat training in Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt, Clyde was sent to Gallipoli, arriving there in July 1915, some months after the initial Anzac landings. His withdrawal from that now infamous peninsula came in November of that year, when a case of tonsillitis necessitated an evacuation to Malta, whereupon he returned to active service in Egypt. Continue reading “A personal Anzac journey: finding a fallen family member”

Cambodia

Apr 18, 2011

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Unlike the layer of sweat ever present upon my forehead, the shine and glitz of Phnom Penh has begun to wane. What Crikey readers might view as an interesting odd spot most likely serves as a mundane daily annoyance to me.

Take shower heads for example. I concede I’m slightly tall, six foot or if I’m feeling really confident 6’1″ but I’m yet to find a nozzle that sits higher than my chest. This poses a problem as I thoroughly enjoy imagining I’m under a waterfall while I shower. I enjoy arching my back and thrashing my head as I run my hands through my thick wavy hair . The Decore shampoo commercial of the late 80s not only make a mockery of one of my favourite songs, Duke of Earl, it also parodies my showering experiences.

Squatting in the bath, (most baths double as showers) is awkwardly dangerous for someone of my height. I constantly worry that my feet will give way in the soapy water sending my legs into the air and my head towards any sharp edges below. One day I imagine being discovering tangled in a bloodied shower curtain, as the Duke of Earl plays loudly in the background. I take comfort in knowing my thighs will appear athletic after hours of squatting.

Speaking of squatting I’d like to turn your attention to bidets. Every bathroom worth its salt in Phnom Penh has a bidet. I’m all for using the bidet to wash floors but what really irks me is the user profiling my mind processes every time I reach for the trigger. Note to my mind: I don’t need to visualise the thousands of people who may have used this device, in close proximity to their privates no less, before my own personal use. Continue reading “Phnom Penh: less charming quirks, more daily annoyances”

Lithuania

Apr 14, 2011

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Freelance writer Laura Soderlind writes: Nostalgia and resentment walk hand in hand through the picturesque amusement park known to local Lithuanians as ‘Grūtas Park’. Travel-braggers such as myself, however, use the far catchier ‘Stalinworld’ when describing the bizarre collection of Soviet statues and artwork which are scattered within a wooded lakeside property in southern Lithuania.

During the Soviet era, street corners, city squares, town halls, opera houses and museums were ornamented by busts of Lenin or Trotsky, black metal statues of noble proletariats or your neighbourhood role model, like the most productive cow farmer in your agricultural district. When Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, these communist relics were dismantled and discarded with much celebration. Viliumas Malinauskas, a Lithuanian whose fortune was founded through his mushroom business, rounded up these statues and bought a chunk of forrest near the Belarusian border to showcase his collection.

As it exists now, the Stalinworld visitor walks along several paths through a birch forest, beside streams, and over little wooden bridges, before turning and finding themselves face to face with a studious Lenin, or a stern Stalin on a pedestal. To make the experience extra-sensory, loudspeakers are scattered amongst the foliage, playing the musical strains of 1950s Russian propaganda. Continue reading “Stalinworld: communism meets capitalism in the forests of Lithuania”

Turkey

Apr 13, 2011

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Nicola Heath writes: Possessed of a vast history and sitting at the border between Europe and Asia, Istanbul, Turkey exists in popular imagination as both exotic and cosmopolitan. It’s a place where you can feel ok to be a tourist because Istanbul is a city that has attracted tourists since day dot.

Yet it so cold when we visit, with the weather often best described as ‘revolting’, that I know this won’t be my last visit here. Meaning, I don’t have to try to make this the definitive Istanbul experience, although I have found perfect accommodation in Beyoglu, the arts centre of the city. We stay in a little self-contained fourth-floor flat on Yeni Çarşı Caddesi, looking over the ramshackle rooftops. When we return to Istanbul after a few days driving, we stay in the same building again, but this in an even better flat two storeys down. Although ‘’m not normally an accommodation enthusiast, generally happy to take whatever budget option is available, I love where we stay in Istanbul. It adds authenticity to my fantasy that I live here.

A first-time visitor has plenty of big ticket sights to see in Istanbul. Continue reading “Istanbul: eat a borek, wander bookstores and soak up the exotic”

An Expat Opinion

Apr 11, 2011

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People planning to visit us in Poland usually run their draft itinerary past me. And at some point, they almost all pause and sigh. “I suppose I should visit Auschwitz, shouldn’t I?” they ask. I always wonder how I should answer.

Should you visit Auschwitz?

Nazi concentration camps are certainly something you can choose to visit when you’re in this part of the world. The Second World War began with the Nazi invasion of Poland, and several towns in Poland have found their names transformed into some of the most chilling words in the world’s history books: Auschwitz. Birkenau. Treblinka. Majdanek.

I visited Auschwitz. I walked under the arch marked “arbeit macht frei”, a cruel trick of the Nazis to make people think that they could actually be freed if they just worked hard enough. I filed past the cases filled with hair, shoes, suitcases, and silverware. Removed, collected together and catalogued with inhuman precision. Each item with a history. My eyes pick out a high heeled garden party sandal. Red. Someone, somewhere, packed it in a little case once and imagined wearing it again in the summer. Instead, it ended up here. Where’s its pair? Continue reading “An Expat Opinion: Should you visit Auschwitz?”

Syria

Apr 4, 2011

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Sure, it’s not the calmest or safest country right now, and we’re not suggesting you hop on a plane tomorrow. But file this away for when things have settled in Syria. It’s also nice to remember that there’s beauty in a place where currently only bad news emerges.

Travel writer Margaret O’Connor writes: Let’s cut straight to the chase. Syria is one of the greatest value travel secrets in the world. Particularly if you are the sort of person so obsessed with history that you would turn down a date with George Clooney if it clashed with that SBS documentary about the Mongol invasions of Russia or the American Civil War that you have been looking forward to all week.

(Yes, I know that’s disturbing, and maybe these theoretical, hypothetical people — ahem — need the pleasure centres in their brains rewiring. But they are out there, trust me.)

Syria’s affordable, especially with the rise in strength of the Aussie dollar, populated with friendly and helpful types, and, with frequent and reliable bus services going everywhere, easy to traverse. Most of all, it is filled with amazing history, history, History, HISTORY, I tells ya.  Layer upon layer of the fascinating stuff.

Neolithic. Epipaleolithic. Paleolithic. Bronze Age Iron Age Babylonian Persian Hellenistic Roman Byzantine Early Arab Crusader Late Arab Ottoman. The modern era, and the beams of sunlight penetrating the bullet holes in roof of the Damascene Souq Al-Hamidayya bazaar, souvenirs of the 1925 revolt, and the Hotel Baron in Aleppo, stuck in a delectable 1930s time warp….

Syria is blessed with some wicked Roman ruins. The pinky-gold desert city of Palmyra, located approximately two hours east of Damascus and half way to the Euphrates, is a monument to one of history’s most enigmatic and fascinating figures, Queen Zenobia of the Palmyrene Empire. Zenobia and her army rebelled against the Roman Empire in the third century AD, invading Egypt, Anatolia, Lebanon and Palestine. (Go, girl.  The rebellion very nearly got up, too, before it was crushed by Emperor Aurelian.)   Continue reading “Syria: the greatest travel secret for history buffs”

Belgium

Apr 1, 2011

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Jean McBain writes: Andrew and I decided to spend our first year of married life travelling in Europe. Something we’ve always looked for in our travels is interesting food experiences and over the last ten months we’ve certainly had some memorable meals, both for good reasons and bad (one word: airports).

Sometimes self-catering means you get the best view.

Throughout our trip we’ve done a lot of self-catering. This is good for the budget, but food shopping is also a great entry point into a new country or culture. Strolling through markets, grocers and supermarkets across Europe has been fascinating and challenging at times.

That’s the introduction, now for the preface (wrong order I know!)

I grew up on an almond farm. My Mum grew a lot of our own vegetables and my first job was helping on our stall at the Willunga Farmers Market (the best farmers market in Australia). Buying seasonal, local produce is therefore not so much a philosophy for me as a habit. In recent years I’ve also started to learn about, and consciously identify with, the sustainable food movement.

What this all boils down to is that shopping for food is something I think about, something I pay attention to. So here are some of the experiences and challenges we’ve come across in food shopping across Europe. Continue reading “Markets, mandarins and figuring out the seasons: a (food) tour of Europe”