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Destination Nowhere

I love airports— they are full of promise. I had to learn to love them as I’ve spent so much time waiting for my flights, and now the wait is one of my favourite parts of the trip. For me, the moment I leave home for the airport, my trip has begun— I am in tourist mode, even when I’m just travelling interstate for the day for work. I refuse to drive myself to the airport. I normally catch a shuttle which is jam-packed with another six or seven people juggling bags and umbrellas and newspapers. It seems that everyone in a shuttle is in holiday mode and they’re all chatty and excited. Especially me. I have made friends for life on those shuttles— well it seemed that way but I forget to maintain contact after a few days.

I arrive extra early as I’m always delayed in security— I have dark hair so I am explosives checked every time. Maybe I just look dodgy? I’m not sure— I tell myself it’s because of my foreign looks. Once I get through security the fun begins; I am free to explore every inch of the airport. Not quite— I don’t stray too far from my terminal, but I do have a nice little routine.

Firstly, it’s about coffee, but before I select the cafe, I need to go to the magazine store and buy a new journal and pen. I am obsessed with notebooks, and I tell myself that writers must have a notebook and pen on them at all times. It’s a lie. I save every idea in my phone, but that doesn’t stop me from buying a new journal or notebook. The paper has to be just right. I don’t even care too much about the cover, as long as the paper is thick, with beautiful lines, and the book itself must open fully so I can lay it flat on a surface to write. The pen nib must be neither too thick, nor too thin. Then it’s coffee time.

I have these romantic notions about myself sitting in a coffee lounge in the airport sipping a flat white and writing frantically what will become the next best-seller, but that’s far from the truth. Airport coffee shops produce some fantastic coffee so the reality is me sitting there chugging through three espressos, running back and forth from the bathrooms as coffee is a diuretic, and writing a shopping list in my $30 dollar notebook. But it doesn’t matter— when one is at the airport it is about what could be, not what is.

After the three coffees I’m normally wired so I decide it’s time to stretch my legs. The feet attached to those legs are usually wearing heels as I travel a lot for work, so the walk becomes a limp after the first 400 metres or so. But I refuse to sit right before a flight as I know I’ll be cramped uncomfortably in a seat only big enough for a ten-year-old child for the next couple of hours, so in my heels I kind of lean on a wall and change feet occasionally. Heels and a pencil skirt are part of the romantic notion I regret every time, especially when I’m freezing to death mid-flight and I attempt to wrap my blazer around my feet to stop the chilblains.

Then there’s the food at the airport. I love airport food— so many little nooks to try. Overpriced nooks, but exciting ones. Chicken nuggets taste divine at an airport, especially the cheesy nuggets. I have eaten those more times than I dare to count, but I also try a range of other places. When at airports in other countries, I always try a restaurant or cafe with local food. At Phoenix airport I had the best blackened shrimp. In Hawaii I ate their pulled pork with pineapple. In Vancouver I had Tim Hortons. My imagination really kicks in and I pull out my new notebook and pen, packed into my bag with ten other notebooks and pens, and I write about my meal. I take photos as well, imagining that one day I will have a world-class food blog, but once my stomach is full and I leave the restaurant, all is forgotten. I still have one more thing to do— go to the little airport convenience store.

I love airport convenience stores. I can stock up on packets of tissues, mints, hand lotion, another pen and notebook, some local t-shirts that are always too small when I get them home, a cap with I Heart Hawaii on it, the occasional psychology book that I’ll never read, a magazine and newspaper, and various other bits and pieces that I simply must have. It’s like I lose my mind in those stores. I know I can get the tissues for $1 at the supermarket, but they look so special under the bright airport lights and worth the $6 I paid. They must pump stupidity through the air conditioning at airports and I’m particularly vulnerable to it.

I spend so much time on my airport routines that I have been very close to missing my flight a few times. I’m normally the last one to board and on the way back from Honolulu in February, someone had incorrectly assumed my seat was free and had set himself up quite comfortably in it. My stern look and bulging bag of airport goodies was all the warning he needed to move along.

I don’t think it would be possible to enjoy my travels as much if it wasn’t for the sheer joy I derive from the airport— a veritable playground. Admittedly, they’re not so fun on a six-hour layover after a 13 hour flight and another 4 hours ahead, but even then, a long nap across a row of airport seats makes for a decent snooze. It’s all about how you imagine it!

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When In Rome

We become so used to what we say and the things we do, that we rarely stop to think about them. We accept that within our culture and the people around us, we’ll be understood. One thing that travelling has taught me is to never assume that I’ll be understood, even when speaking the same language.

I have had so many instances of being misunderstood that I couldn’t possibly relay them all, and what I found surprisingly difficult was trying to explain what I meant, or what I wanted to someone who speaks the same language, fluently. Firstly of course, there’s accent. In the south of USA, my Australian accent was deemed amusing, and it’s not even broad. I was often asked by curious wait staff where I was from, and when I asked them to guess, it was always, England. A few times Jim and I would notice the waitresses hanging around closely, cleaning and recleaning the same tables, until one of them would be brave enough to come and ask where I was from. We’d laugh over the girls admitting that they just loved listening to me speak, and were all trying to guess where I was from. I found their accents just as endearing, and the broad southern accent is probably my favourite American accent of all. It’s so musical. 

Jim and I visited an old museum in North Carolina and I spent a few minutes chatting with an older southern gentleman in his cowboy hat. He was incredibly polite, and rather than tell me he couldn’t understand me, he simply said, “ma’am?” every so often, which I found utterly wonderful. That one word, presented as a question, was all I needed to slow down and think of different ways to express myself. But ordering food was another story in itself.

Australians are lazy speakers—we clip the end of our words off, modify as much as we can, and don’t pronounce R’s on the end of our words. Everything ends in an ‘uh/ah’ sound. My American son-in-law used to say to us, “What is that sound you make? My mouth can’t even make that sound.” So at any type of restaurant, when asking for water, we say ‘wartah’, or if we want butter, we ask for ‘buttah’. Americans simply cannot comprehend that, and understandably so when you consider how differently we say those words. And then there’s the entirely different pronunciations such as parmesan versus ‘parmigian’, or aluminium versus ‘aluminum’. I especially struggled with cuts of beef— at a steakhouse I want a scotch fillet, but Americans call it prime rib. I ended up having to ask what body part the meat was cut from so that I could order steak. And what on earth is broiled? Grilled. It’s grilled. I thought broiling was boiling something in water and then baking it to crisp it up. I know— totally clueless. Restaurant experiences can be quite the challenge.

Then there’s supermarkets. In Alaska I wanted to make some good old Aussie grub for our hosts; meat pies and a trifle. Firstly, there were no sheets of puff pastry. Pastry comes in a large piece and you have to roll it out— lucky that Grandma was back at the house with her rolling pin. No such luck for the trifle. I wanted custard and couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked a store attendant where I could find the custard. She looked at my mouth as I repeated myself, “Can you please show me where the custard is?” Total confusion crossed her face and she said, “I don’t know what you’re saying.” Okay then. I’ll make a pavlova instead. 

I learnt pretty quickly in America that when you need to go to the bathroom, you don’t simply ask “where’s the toilet?” like we do here in Australia. We call bathrooms, toilets, and Americans call them restrooms. The look of horror I received when asking for the toilet was enough to remind me to call them restrooms from then on. I also learnt that what we call a holiday, they call a vacation. A holiday in the US is a ‘holy day’, like Christmas, not two weeks away at the nearest caravan park. A carpark is a parking lot, a boot is a trunk, a shopping centre is a mall, and the list goes on. Same language, different words, and oftentimes, different meanings we need to consider. What we consider rude here may not be so in the US, and vice versa.I think that the ultimate take away of it all is that we need to expect that there will be differences that can be tricky to learn. My attitude used to be that I am Australian, and I speak how I speak, but I now see how silly that is. If I want to be heard in another country it only makes sense to learn to communicate in a way that will help others understand me, and that means adapting. My accent will remain with me, and I’m happy about that as it’s very much a part of who I am, but I will go to the store at the mall, use the restrooms, put my groceries in the trunk of my car, pull out of the parking lot into the gas station, and pump gas. 

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Would You Like Curry With That?

What would a travel blog be without a piece about Bali Belly, otherwise known as Travellers Diarrhoea? Well this is that piece, so buckle up on an empty stomach and read on.

This bout of Bali Belly has nothing to do with Bali, but instead, Malaysia. I couldn’t wait to visit Malaysia; glossy travel brochures showing tropical forests, lush foliage, and the smiling faces of local peasants. It promised to be the holiday of a lifetime! I had pre-booked a long bus ride through the Cameron Highlands, over 700-square-kilometres of stunning green land with tea plantations, lavender farms, English Tudor-style hotels, and strawberry farms. Sir William Cameron, a British colonialist founded the highlands and he modelled them after an English village, and they are a must-see for every tourist.

I had booked a week in Kuala Lumpur and had a packed itinerary of sight-seeing, shopping, and the piece-de-resistance, a bus trip through the Cameron Highlands. I imagined myself having high-tea in a fancy English hotel whilst looking down at the workers in the tea plantation, smiling and waving up at me. Now for the reality. 

The first couple of days in Kuala Lumpur were fabulous. I’d been warned not to drink the water, nor to brush my teeth in it, so I was fastidious about only drinking bottled water and eating cooked foods. From day one I was loving the curry flavour that the savoury dishes had, as I love curry. Day 2 was okay too; even though the curry flavour had started to wear on me by evening, I knew I’d get used to it. Day 3 arrived and I woke up with a rumbly tummy; best to skip breakfast I thought. Despite skipping breakfast the stomach cramps hit me and I made a few trips to the toilet. It’s okay, I told myself, I’ll adjust. I had been told about the shopping in Chinatown so after a bit of a stomach cleanse, I headed out with a map and my credit card.

Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is an array of colour; clothes, accessories, fresh produce, arts and crafts. Not the cleanest place on earth, but beautiful fashions and the heady aroma of street food being cooked before your eyes. I shopped hard; Italian leather shoes for a few dollars each and a variety of gorgeous dresses, jackets and souvenirs. My hands were full when my stomach started the uncomfortable rumbling. It’s okay, just find a bathroom. Easier said than done.

Let me tell you about public bathrooms in Malaysia. Firstly, you have to pay to use them. Secondly, they are ‘cleaned’ by being sprayed down with water, and nothing else Thirdly, they are holes in the ground you have to squat over and you use a hose to clean yourself. But I was desperate so off I ran, carrying masses of plastic bags filled with my lovely purchases. When I arrived at the restrooms there was a long queue as the toilets were being cleaned. I waited uncomfortably for ten minutes, paid the old lady and headed to a free cubicle. Problem one; it had just been ‘cleaned’ so everything was soaked. Muddy water had pooled on the ground so I couldn’t put my bags down and unlike Australia, there were no convenient handbag hooks behind the door. I also had a heavy backpack on and a smaller bag strapped to the front of me with my passport, credit cards and cash. I was busting by this stage, so I had no choice but to use the hole in the ground despite being loaded like a pack-horse. With some jiggling and astounding acrobatics I was able to undress and use the ‘toilet’, but of course, no toilet paper. The hose was lying to my side, crusted in fresh excrement, and I was gagging whilst trying to hold the cleanest part of it so I could clean myself. If you need humbling, I suggest a trip to the bathrooms in Chinatown in Malaysia. I was so nauseated by the experience that I hurried back to my hotel and showered immediately. 

The diarrhoea continued and I was nervous. I was struggling to leave my hotel room but I needed food (no fancy room service in my hotel), and I had the upcoming trip to the Cameron Highlands. I had to somehow manage my sick stomach. I decided to stick to basic non-curry flavoured foods, like McDonalds. In between bathroom bouts I walked to McDonalds and ordered a cheeseburger and apple pie. I was weak and hungry, desperate for a taste of home, but I knew better than to stay away from my hotel bathroom for too long. I took my prize back to my hotel room and bit into the cheeseburger. Ugh, it was curry flavoured, so I spat it out and threw the remains in the bin. Ah, but I still had an apple pie; it would have to do. It only took the smallest of bites for me to recoil in horror; even the apple pie had a strong curry flavour. I was traumatised, hungry, weak, and sick. I didn’t know what I would do.

There was a small pharmacy down the street from my hotel, so I went in search of medication. The kindly pharmacist took pity on my tears and descriptions of foul diarrhoea, so he gave me a packet of diarrhoea relief pills. I was so grateful; the Cameron Highlands trip was the next morning and I was determined not to miss it. I stopped at a general store on the way back to my hotel room, and picked up a couple of packets of Cheeto cheese snacks. Yes, you guessed it; even they had a strong curry flavour. 

I slept remarkably well that night and my stomach was a lot better; not entirely relieved, but manageable. Although I felt unnaturally tired I boarded that old bus and headed out to the Cameron Highlands. The journey was amazing; lush landscapes in the richest green imagineable; those travel brochures did not lie! After thirty minutes I couldn’t stay awake, so I thought I’d have a quick nap. I awoke two hours later when the bus stopped for morning tea, having missed so much of the scenery. I couldn’t understand why I was so exhausted, and my stomach was starting to rumble again. I queued up at the toilets of the strawberry farm, waiting for my turn while the other tourists bought fresh strawberries and chatted with the workers. My stomach was still queasy so I took another couple of pills and boarded the bus again. This time I woke only by being rocked and poked by the tour guide. I had slept through the entire day, missing high tea, lunch, and incredible scenery. I showed the tour guide the tablets I was taking and in broken English he informed me that they were sedatives as well as antidiarrheal medication. I had no choice, I had to keep taking them so that I could eat something, curry flavoured of course, and eventually hop on a plane and fly back home. So what’s the moral to the story? If you don’t like curry flavoured apple-pies, don’t go to Malaysia. If you don’t want to clean your backside with a hose dirtier than the toilet, don’t go to Malaysia. But most of all, take some non-drowsy stomach medication with you and do that trip through the Cameron Highlands. I can’t wait to go back!

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Trouble In Paradise

Tahiti truly is one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. The two-hour ferry ride from Papeete to Moorea had me spellbound. Crystal blue waters stretching out for miles, and as we approached the small island of Moorea, the lush green foliage covering the island was so startling a sight, I gasped. Everything seemed to be in technicolour; every shade so deep and vivid, so clean and inviting— the beauty caused an emotional response that surprised me.

The resort I was staying at was a half-hour drive from the ferry wharf, and I absorbed the incredible scenery as we sped down the road in a mini-bus. Driving past Club-Med, I craned my neck to see the beautiful people enjoying the resort grounds, and crossed my fingers in the hope that the much cheaper resort I’d be staying at would offer some of the same elegance. My hopes went flying out the window as we drove down a dusty driveway to a tired looking hotel, but I was in Tahiti— who cares if the resort needed some work? My room was comfortable and clean, and the hotel had its own private beach, so I was more than happy.

My days were filled with swimming and tours of the island, and as all my food was included in the accommodation costs, I tried to eat at the resort as much as I could. The food was great— lots of fresh fruit, salads, and home-style meals. They didn’t have much in the way of snacks between meals, and after hours of walking and swimming, I’d developed quite the appetite. I decided to take a walk down the road, under the palm trees with coconuts hanging threateningly over my head, to the little take-away caravan. Everything was written in French, but I recognised the blackboard that said, les pommes de terre frites— french fries! Ah yes, that’s exactly what I wanted. In poor French, I ordered some fries and stood patiently waiting for them. The young woman looked at me in annoyance and pointed to a small bench seat. I got the message, loud and clear, and went and sat on the bench. The minutes passed. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, and no fries. What was going on? Had they forgotten me? I went to ask what was happening and again I was shooed over to the bench. After forty long and hungry minutes, I was called over, and handed a piping hot package of fries. I found a nice spot on the grass and sat down to enjoy my highly anticipated meal, and unwrapping them, I could see why they took so long. When I ordered them, they painstakingly peeled the potatoes, cut them up, and deep fried them. Nothing was prepped beforehand. Those fries were so delicious, I wanted more, but after the agonising wait, I decided against it.

Every day from that point saw me loitering around the not-so-fast-food caravan, waiting for yet another serve of fries. I had become quite embarrassed about my new addiction, but the fries were so good, and no one in Tahiti would see me again after this trip, so I ignored my self-recriminations and ordered more and more fries. I hated thinking about the blisters developing on the hands of the poor worker peeling those potatoes, but I just couldn’t stop.

As had become habit, shortly after breakfast and a swim I would head down for more fries. But on this one particular day, I walked up to the van to place my usual order, and it was closed. Closed. I  felt real fear coursing through my veins. What would I do? A sign on the door advised that they were closed for the day, so I had no choice but to head back to the resort. Hold on! There’s a general store another half a kilometre or so down the road. I remembered seeing it on the way to the resort from the ferry. Maybe they had some snacks. I realised I hadn’t had any chocolate since I arrived, and once the idea formed, I knew I had to make it happen. I set off down the road and it was a very humid day. There was no shade on the road and I was dripping with sweat when I arrived. Thankfully the store was open, and I scoured the shelves for some delicious treats. Nothing. It was all tinned food and fresh produce; no chocolate anywhere. Dejected, and on my way out, I saw a few Milo Chocolate bars on the front counter. Milo is an Australian thing, a chocolate malt powder mix you add to milk, and utterly delicious. Not quite the chocolate bar I was dreaming of, but it would suffice. I almost choked when I was told the price— twenty Australian dollars, but I was committed to the plan and had to see it through. I handed over my money, left with a smile, and slowly unwrapped the chocolate malt treat. One bite into it and all of my illusions were shattered— it was old and stale, probably years past its use by date. And as pathetic as this is, I wept tears of disappointment all the way back to the hotel, and ate a banana.

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A Better Biscuit

Every time I plan a trip, I research the local food. It doesn’t matter where you go, even if it’s just a two-hour drive away, there is always something that the local area specialises in. I have a travelling philosophy which is, ‘eat where the locals eat, and eat what the locals eat’. You can learn so much about people and places by the food.

I went to North Carolina a few months ago and I was pretty keen to try biscuits and gravy. To me, biscuits just look like scones, which are a very English thing; fluffy and slightly sweetened, served with jam and freshly whipped cream. Utterly delicious. I watched a few Southern cooking youtube videos and learnt that American biscuits are definitely not scones, and I was excited to try them. 

Jim took me to Cagney’s Restaurant for my first biscuit. He ordered the big breakfast, but still on Australia time my stomach was telling me it was asleep and I’d regret anything heavier than a glass of water. I decided to go light (by American breakfast standards) and ordered one biscuit with a side of gravy. Not sausage gravy mind you, just the white gravy. The waitress seemed a bit offended— surely that’s not enough food she exclaimed! When I explained, in my Australian accent which amused her, that I wanted to experience my first biscuit and gravy, she was very happy, assuring me I’d love it. It arrived at the table in minutes. It was huge! So fluffy and light, warm and inviting. The gravy didn’t look that appetizing, but as we all know, looks can be deceiving. I broke off a small piece of the warm biscuit and put it in my mouth. It was delicious. A similar texture to a scone, but lighter, and a more buttery flavour. The gravy was also ridiculously good; what I would describe as a white sauce— floury, but the perfect mixture of salty, savoury, peppery, and creamy. I asked Jim how he liked to eat biscuits and gravy, and he showed me how he liked to pour the gravy on top, and use a knife and fork to eat them. I don’t like anything soggy, and I didn’t want to lose the fluffy texture of the biscuit, so I simply broke off bits of biscuit and dunked them in the gravy. Occasionally I’d just use a spoon and eat the gravy like a soup. I was hooked from that point on, and looked for biscuits everywhere I went.

At Charlotte airport, as I waited for my flight back to Honolulu, I had enough time to grab a quick breakfast before boarding. It was about 6 am, and although not overly hungry, I knew I wouldn’t be provided breakfast on the trip. I had a quick look at the food options at the domestic terminal, and walking past Bojangles, which I’d never been to before, I saw a pretty, dark-skinned woman making biscuits behind a large window. I was mesmerised! She kneaded that dough with such care and expertise, and would occasionally turn to take a fresh batch of biscuits out of the oven. I had to have one. Scouring the menu, I chose a hot cinnamon biscuit and a large coffee. After placing my order I waited off to the side, and within minutes I was handed the most incredible smelling biscuit drizzled with a cinnamon glaze. I was drooling like a rabid dog as I carried it to the closest table, and stuffed it down like my life depended on it. At that point, I think it did. I washed the sugary treat down with a disgusting cup of coffee, but hey, it was caffeine, and I had a long flight ahead of me.

Biscuits are my new favourite thing— a real treat, and I wonder why they haven’t taken off in Australia. I am keen to return and try a fried chicken biscuit, but I can guarantee it won’t be for breakfast. Until then, I will enjoy scones with jam and cream, and dream of Bojangles, the cinnamon delight, and that delicious gravy.

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Hair in Hong Kong

The vibrancy, and sheer magnitude of people in Hong Kong is something that needs to be experienced, to be believed. Everywhere you look, there is action. The streets are filled with people, the roads choked with traffic and noise, and the sunlight blocked out by the gigantuan buildings. I donned a onesie and backpack, screaming, TOURIST!, and set out to explore. After a short walk in the stifling humidity, I reached a street littered with row upon row of shopping centres. All different shopping centres, and at a cursory glance, I couldn’t tell what the difference was between each of them.

It didn’t take long to discover that each centre had a different theme. One for the young and trendy, one for the sophisticated shopper, one for the nerd, one for the music lover, and so on. Tiny little boutique shops filled with apparel or jewellery or electronics. Many in the same centre were very similar, and I wasn’t sure how each of them could sell the same things and still make a living. I walked past a teensy hairdressing salon, and a small Chinese lady came running out, grabbed me by the arm and told me she would ‘fix my hair.’ I couldn’t say no to an offer like that; afterall, if I looked so hideous I had to be manhandled into a salon, I needed to heed that advice. 

The tiny lady told me in broken English that she would wash and trim my hair. Okay, I could manage that, I thought, but where was the hair basin? I looked around, confused, wondering if there was a secret door out the back to a room with hair basins, but no. The woman pushed me towards a chair and told me to sit. I complied instantly. She whipped out a spray bottle of water, wet down my hair, shampooed it, and skillfully rinsed it clean with the same spray bottle! I was stunned. She applied a leave-in conditioner, trimmed my hair, dried it, and sent me off for little more than ten Australian dollars. I would have paid double for the experience, and to this day, I marvel at the ingenuity of the little lady in Hong Kong, who had mastered the basin-less hair wash.

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Bearly There

Despite living in Australia with some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, I’m terrified of grizzly bears. Part of the problem comes from watching too many episodes of, I Survived; a TV series about people who’ve survived horrific animal attacks, telling their story while you sit mesmerised and terrified of their mangled faces and scalps. It was always the bear attacks that bothered me— the brutality of scalps torn off, and deep teeth marks puncturing the sides of the human skull. Here in Australia I can use bug spray to maim a deadly spider, and then whack it dead with my shoe. You’re unlikely to survive a bear attack without a cannon.

I’ve heard the Alaska bear stories and I must say, I’ve never been impressed with them. Yes, the locals go salmon fishing near the grizzlies and they just leave each other alone, but that for me, is what nightmares are made of. I just can’t do bears!

When I visited Alaska, I was on high alert for bears everywhere. I was there at the end of summer and I knew the grizzlies were looking for the last morsels of food before heading into hibernation. I didn’t want to be that extra bit of winter padding. Alaska is incredibly remote, so I was constantly anxious about running into the deadly creatures. In order to allay some of my fears, my kind Alaskan tour guides took me to the Alaska Zoo. It was a lazy afternoon and the bears lay resting at the far end of their enclosure. Right in front of the fence was a large sign giving instructions about how to navigate a run-in with a bear. There are certain signs, like body language and demeanor which help you read the mood and intent of the grizzly, and then instructions on how to deal with it in any scenario. In the ’red zone’ which is extreme danger, they simply say, ‘fight for your life.’ Um, not sure how well I’d fight between bouts of wetting myself and passing out. 

A few days later we headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. It was one of the many highlights of the trip, offering spectacular scenery, and an incredible array of local wildlife; bears, moose, reindeer, buffalo, wolves and so much more. We made it in time for a feeding demonstration with the grizzlies, and an informative talk about each of the resident bears. It was a fantastic insight, but being so close to the bears and marvelling at the sheer dimensions and power of these creatures, only served to deepen my fear. But it’s that strange type of fear that keeps me fascinated, going back for yet another look, another photo, another heart palpitation. I don’t ever want to run into one in the wild, but I can’t stop looking at them. Even now, as I plan my next trip to Alaska, I can feel the knot of anxiety growing in my stomach. Part of me thinks I should face my fears and do the grizzly in the wild tour, with a guide, carrying only a stick for defence, but I do recognise that I’m not really a risk-taker, and my screaming and paralysis would just make me a sitting duck for a grizzly attack. No, I think I’ll enjoy the majestic beasts up close and personal in Gwennie’s Family Restaurant; stuffed and stiff, whilst eating a chicken fried steak.

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That coffee hit

I am unashamedly addicted to coffee. I take mine strong, with one sugar, cream, and milk. Each night I look forward to waking, and having that first cup of steaming hot coffee. If I don’t get the coffee exactly right each morning, it can make or break my day. Well that’s an exaggeration, but I really do enjoy that first cup of the day.

Australia has a coffee and cafe culture. We love our coffee here, and I believe we have some of the best coffee in the world. I like a good barista coffee, but I’m also partial to instant. No, not that $4.00 a jar rubbish, but a good quality, dark roast.

I’m not a fan of drip coffee, but as I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the US, and I’m marrying an American later this year, I have had to learn to tolerate it. My fiance, Jim, loves the McDonalds drip coffee and buys big containers of it from Walmart. On my last trip to the US a couple of months ago, I started out small— half a mug each morning, and slowly built up to a full cup a day. I may not have been able to get my hands on the good Aussie stuff, but I needed the caffeine hit so I didn’t hurt someone, or myself. Lucky I built up a taste for it, as once I arrived in North Carolina, every food establishment refilled my coffee cup at least fifteen times in one sitting. Unlike Australia, where you can beg for that second cup, I had to beg them to stop the refilling. Even if I hadn’t taken a sip from the last refill, the waitress still managed to pour in a couple of extra drops every time she passed the table. I was too scared to put my hand over the mug as I was sure she’d just pour straight onto it out of habit. I was struggling enough to sleep with the jet lag and time zone changes, but added to that, I was also wired from all of the coffee.

As much as I may complain about drip coffee and the automatic refills, I do love how much Americans love the stuff. There’s something homely and comforting about the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen, and the joyful sound of the coffee machine letting you know it’s ready. The constant refilling of your cup in any food establishment is a little reminder of home comforts, and who knows? Maybe I’ll be slamming them down as fast as they can pour them once I’m Americanised. 

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Dreamtime

After visiting the mainland for a while, I met up with my daughter in Waikiki for one night, so we could fly back to Queensland together. By the time I arrived at Honolulu airport I was thoroughly exhausted, and starving, as usual. From the airport we stopped in at the Cheesecake Factory, (which is my new favourite place on earth, besides Walmart), and had yet another incredible meal, and then headed back to the Airbnb room we’d booked. I know I talk about how tired I am constantly, but long haul flights are exhausting. Travelling through changing time zones, climates, layovers in different airports, and sitting next to tanned young Californian women wearing white jeans, who drink beer all night instead of sleeping, leaves you thoroughly fatigued. By the time I got back to the Airbnb room, I thought I’d die.

This was no luxury room, as they are out of our price range in tourist central, Waikiki. Instead, it was a tiny little studio apartment with a bed, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. It wasn’t particularly clean, or pretty, but it was in a great spot, and affordable. I dropped my suitcase and flung myself onto the bed. I planned to just lie there for a minute, but it was like dropping onto a cloud of feathers. I was out like a light. I remember voices in the room as my daughter loudly discussed the non-working wi-fi with the apartment manager, and the banging of doors, but I didn’t care. I slept as though I was in a coma I refused to come out of. I slept so well that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was that one sleep that you compare every other sleep to, forever. And it was the mattress that made it all possible! There was no light in the bedroom/kitchenette so you had to rely on the dim glow from the bathroom. There was only one powerpoint. The bathroom door didn’t close properly. The verandah was narrow and dangerous, dangling over a busy street, and if you wanted wifi, you had to go down to the fifth floor and hang over the pool. But the bed! That bed was so spectacular, that even now, the Airbnb symbol triggers feelings of euphoria. 

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A fork of bliss

There’s nothing extraordinary about being someone who loves to eat— most of us do. I love food, but I can’t eat unless I’m hungry. I flew from Honolulu to LAX late in the afternoon, and American Airlines didn’t provide a meal. By the time the plane pulled in at LAX, I had an hour before my connecting flight, and I was starved. I’d never been to LAX and it was almost midnight when I arrived. I ran through the empty maze of tunnels from one terminal to the next, growing hungrier by the minute, but nervous about finding the right gate. With a little help I finally arrived at the gate, and had forty-five minutes till I could board. Perfect! Just enough time to source some food, or so I thought. So close to midnight, many food places had closed, but there was a bistro style cafeteria brightly lit up and smelling great. I selected a dry looking beef casserole with brownish coloured mashed potatoes, as most of the hot food had been sold, and I didn’t fancy a gutful of curry right before a six-hour flight. I sat down with my food and a bottle of water, warily eyeing off the people around me. I was nervous. Small time Aussie girl in Los Angeles airport alone, at midnight, and I was feeling a bit anxious. I couldn’t tell if those around me were male or female. Everything was different; clothes, style, accents, body language. I was exhausted and emotional. 

With the first mouthful of my dinner, everything changed. That was no dried out beef casserole and dodgy mash; that was bliss on a fork. The casserole was rich and meaty, and the potatoes were thick and buttery. I groaned at how delicious the combination was. I wanted to call out to someone, “You must try this casserole!”, but it wasn’t the right crowd. No one at LAX cared about how much the white, middle-aged, average woman was enjoying her dinner. Once I polished that off and boarded my flight, I remembered that I was in America, and food in America is good.