澳大利亚的内陆地区:昆士兰卡穆威尔 派特•麦克弗森

 

 

     

          在澳大利亚,牧牛人是一个标志性的形象,在诗歌、民谣、绘画及文学中得到不朽传颂。

           在澳大利亚的内陆地区,牧牛人就是这里的传奇,这种关系就如同牛仔在美国西部所刻画出的标志性形象那样。

           但是如今在内陆地区,真正的牧牛人已经为数不多了,取而代之的则是公路列车和直升机。

           我的朋友,现年82岁的卢克•麦考尔(Luke McCall)就是那些为数不多的传奇的牧牛人之一。在半个多世纪里,他和成千上万头牛马一齐穿越澳大利亚广袤的大地。他热爱这样的生活,也深爱着他的这些伙伴们。他从未把这样的生活视为流离失所、危险重重或者与世隔绝。

           我的老朋友当卢克•麦考尔经常会讲他牧牛的经历。曾经有一段时间,他连着九个月每天都要坐在马鞍上,每晚都要轮流看守牧群。

           但那些已经是过去的事情了,而现在卢克也是澳大利亚仅剩的不足80位牧牛人之一。每年,这些剩下的牧牛人都会前往昆士兰的卡穆威尔(Camooweal)参加一年一度的“牧牛人扎营节(Drover’s Camp Festival)”。每年八月的第四个星期的周末,他们都会千里迢迢赶来参加这个活动。

           每年我都会开车送我的朋友卢克去参加这个活动。

    卢克最近非常喜欢赶时髦。但是对我来说,这是一趟7000公里的旅程,耗时大约三周。我们会住在我能找到最好的汽车旅馆里,同时得保证卢克每天都能有两次透气休息的时间,一次是吃午饭,另一次就是每晚来一顿不错的晚餐。他的那些在内陆的睡在地上、就着茶吃干面包的日子已经一去不复返了。他也发现到他这个年纪,是该稍微享受享受了。

           “牧牛人扎营节”纪念的是卡穆威尔作为全世界规模最大的牧牛群中心所流传下来的传统。当时这里的牧牛人会把1000至1500头牛从大型的牛场(驿站)一路驱赶到澳大利亚西北部的金伯利地区、北领地以及昆士兰。 牛群们走过2000公里,穿越最恶劣、最炎热、最干旱但同时也是澳大利亚最美丽的地区,从西澳到昆士兰州及南部地区,最后到达铁路和肥沃的土地。

           牧牛人有数十月的时间是在旅途中渡过的,他们经历了常人无法想象的困难。他们仅靠牛肉、干面包和茶度日,同时还要与严寒和烈日作斗争。

           这样的牧牛方式持续了一百年。但是在20世纪60年代的时候,这种方式骤然发生了改变。在短短的几年中,牲口的铃铛声就被摩托车的响声所替代了。叫做公路火车的长卡车被引进,从而取代牲口成为拉货进出市场的工具。那些由牧牛人带领牲口驮东西的日子已经变成了历史…… 但是,他们并没有被人们所遗忘。

           在卡穆威尔,人们产生了一种情结。它是由多个元素所组成的,包括一片室外的活动区域、一座纪念牧牛的博物馆、一个放置从前牧牛人肖像画的画廊以及一片扎营的广场。每年,年老的牧牛人都会聚集于此,重现那些值得回忆的日子。成千上万的人都会前来加入他们的队伍,参加各种庆典活动。

           我们欢迎每个人来参观。您可以借此机会见见这些传奇人物,感受一下澳大利亚内陆地区的文化遗产。尽管这个活动一年只举办一次,您可以在一年中的任何时候前来参观这里的博物馆,同时这里还有很多其它的活动,可以带您领略澳大利亚不同的内陆地区以及牲口驿站。

    欲知更多内容,请访问droverscamp.com.au

    派特•麦克弗森(Pat McPherson)是维多利亚州一名退休的护士。20世纪60年代,她是西澳金伯利地区Fitzroy 红十字会“澳大利亚内陆任务(Australian Inland Mission)”的一名护士。她定期会前往被她视为“内心故乡”的内陆地区。

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    女人在巴黎

    坐在墨尔本郊区的一家咖啡店外,我和两个女性朋友正为即将来临的生日举杯庆祝。此时的天气阳光明媚,雅拉河(Yarra River)的风景美不胜收。树木郁郁葱葱、骑自行车的人精神饱满、河里划船的桨手也充满着活动,周围的一切都很美好。朋友们不经意间说起她们想去巴黎,问我是否愿意一起去。她们的话还没说完就在一旁咯咯地笑了起来,我看得出她们觉得这是个非常好的想法,但实际上却有一点不切实际。

    一趟去巴黎的旅行,我试着按照她们的想法想象了一下,为什么不去呢?

    在短短几周的时间内,我们不安地打电话、发短信,为的就是能让三个女人能够有两个礼拜的时间可以“私奔”去巴黎。要知道作为妻子和九个孩子的母亲,我们忙得不可开交,现在终于能够找到一个既能让老公满意又让孩子乐意的方法,这真是个奇迹。

    在做了一些功课和跑腿活之后,我们很快订好了机票和住宿。我们马上就要开启去巴黎的冒险之旅啦!!!

    飞机上的大部分时间我们都在庆祝终于可以逃离现在的生活开始这段异想天开的旅程。我一直在感叹没有家庭的旅行如此轻松,虽然我的家庭幸福美满,但是没有了吵吵闹闹和繁重的责任,这样的平静和恬静是如此令人向往。巴黎,我们来了!因为这是我第一次来巴黎,所以从出发的时候我的眼睛就睁得大大的。

    对于我们使用的那些并不存在的法语词汇,巴黎人的忍耐度算得上是非常高的,这一点我感到特别吃惊。

    在接下来的文章里,我列出了巴黎的十大地方和大家分享,里面的内容并没有先后之分。

     

    Musée d'Orsay, Paris

    Musée d’Orsay, Paris

    1. 奥赛博物馆 (第9区)

    一趟旅行下来,这个美术馆成了我的大爱。由火车站改造而成的奥赛博物馆里收藏了大量的艺术珍品。馆内有两个很棒的咖啡馆,大家可以在选择去哪个前两个都进去看看,我们选了一家价格合理东西也不错的咖啡馆。在博物馆外,我们误打误撞地看到了更有味道更奢华的咖啡馆。不管你是否进去用餐或喝咖啡,探个头进去看看内部漂亮的装饰也是值得的。

     

    Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Montmartre, Paris

    Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Montmartre, Paris

    2. 蒙马特(第18区)

    在这里有很多可看和可做的事,包括圣心大教堂(Sacré-Coeur)的长方形大厅、正逢展出的达利展以及琳琅满目的旅游商店,在那里可以收获到很多有价值的小东西。天色随着日光的褪却逐渐暗下,标志性的黑色路灯照亮了街道,给夜平添了几分暖意。蒙马特高地的地理优势让我们从远处看到了美丽的城市风光。夜渐深,城市也开始朦胧,但那份韵味却仍在。

     

     

    Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen: Parisian flea and antiques market

    Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen: Parisian flea and antiques market

    3. 巴黎圣旺古董市场:巴黎人的跳蚤和古董市场(就在第18区的北边)

    只要稍微再往北一点,也就是坐几趟火车的距离就能到那儿了,你会觉得不虚此行。想象一下,狭窄的走道旁挤着几十个市场摊位,摊位上放着各式各样的法国古董。我多么希望我能在巴黎有一套公寓,里面摆着这些法国古董。我想着如果所有的法国古玩店老板在这尽可能多的买这些古董,然后再运到墨尔本像是Armadale和Malvern区里昂贵的商店里会是什么样的场景。漂亮的灯具,桌子和小家具,还有各种银器,古董海报等收藏精品。正如这里卖的古董,摊主们也个个充满魅力、如此实在。如果不是因为天气极冷外加持续下雨,我觉得我可以一整天都待在这里。从这里步行一小段距离还能发现另一个更加传统的市场,那里有卖衣服,食品,包包等很多东西。

     

    Musée Rodin

    Musée Rodin

    4. 罗丹美术馆(第七区)

    美术馆的主体部分不幸关闭整修,但是花园还是开放的,里面有许多罗丹的雕塑非常高雅地成列在那里。这非常容易让我联想到如果在温暖的季节,如此美丽的花园中肯定会呈现出更美的景色。现在光秃秃的玫瑰花丛一定会在那时发芽开花,繁花似锦。还好这里有一个咖啡厅,虽然位于临时的大楼里,还是为我们在寒冷的季节提供了舒适的庇护。

     

    Marais District, Paris

    Marais District, Paris

    5. 玛黑区(第四区)

    通常被称为“老巴黎”的玛黑区位于塞纳河右岸。来到这里就必须在那些由鹅卵石铺成的街道上走走。这里的氛围和巴黎市中心那种保守的氛围相比显得更活泼俏皮。这里有很多精品店,我的信用卡就是在这里遭殃的。还有许多时尚和珠宝店(或许是因为我碰巧把注意力都放在了这些商店上?)我也记得其它许多小型画廊和不显眼的庭院。这里是巴黎著名的犹太区,我们参观了犹太博物馆,还在位于蔷薇街32至34号的 L’As Du Fallafel吃到了最好吃的炸豆泥三明治,填饱了我们的肚子。我们下午三点半才到,这就意味着我们不用在门口排长队了,并能马上入座一家已经挤满当地人和游客的餐厅。

     

    Laduree Patisserie, Champs Elysees, Paris

    Laduree Patisserie, Champs Elysees, Paris

    6.  6. 拉杜丽(Ladurée)糕点铺和茶室 (巴黎有三家店)

    在巴黎的最后一天,我们起了个大早,穿着自己最迷人的衣服就这样去了大名鼎鼎的拉杜丽(Ladurée)吃早餐。如果想来一顿高大上的下午茶,这里也绝对是首选。根据我们的观察,拉杜丽的室内设计绝对是法式风格,大量镀金的成分及镜子只能用华丽来形容。防止对其豪华内饰的破坏,这里是不允许拍照的。在这里喝茶吃饭真的是一次很棒的体验,不管是银具、茶杯、餐具,甚至是餐巾和食物的摆设,我们都十分钟爱。我们的服务员是一个年轻的歌剧演唱家(不幸的是,他不能在客人面前表演。他曾经是可以这么做的,但是由于这会让他忘了自己服务员的本职工作。)对了,不要忘了抬头看看这里的天花板,洗手间装修的宏伟程度也非常值得一去。这里一定需要提前预订座位(一般一两天就可以,但是如果恰逢周末或者旅游旺季要提前预订。),最好预订楼上的位置。拉杜丽楼下还有一个可爱的小店,离开的时候可以买一些包装精美的糕点作为礼物。

     

    Patisserie in Paris

    Patisserie in Paris

    7. 橱窗欣赏糕点

    连我这个糕点都不怎么吃的人都控制不住一直往橱窗里看。我们经过的每一个糕点或巧克力店我都要停下来欣赏橱窗里的糕点,而且这里的店又那么多。所有的糕点看起来都又精致又好吃,有一种非常巴黎的感觉。我的朋友向我保证,他们吃起来和看起来一样好。

     

     

     

     

    La Terrasse, Paris

    La Terrasse, Paris

    8. 当地酒吧

    在巴黎几乎每一个街角都有一个酒吧或者餐馆,而且酒吧里大多都用红色的椅子。我们在这里找到了最爱去的酒吧,在从火车站回公寓的途中我们大多会去坐坐。服务员认出了我们,并把我们安排到常坐的位置,送上我们常点的饮料和小吃。尽管我们总是叫它“红沙发”,这家酒吧实际上叫La Terrasse。这里的服务和氛围都不错,是个放松的好地方,我们一边看着当地人和游客来来往往,一边聊着当天的战利品,十分惬意。

     

    Chateau in Loire

    Chateau in Loire

    9. 卢瓦尔河地区(虽然不在巴黎但却值得一游)

    这是一个遍地是葡萄园、花园和城堡的地方。

    我打算如果下次再去巴黎就要在这里多待些日子,而不是像这次只挤出一天的时间。我们乘火车大概花了三个半小时到达了这里,所以只留下半天可以参观两个城堡(这里其实有很多可看的地方)。城堡非常好看,一路上的田园风光也绝对让人赏心悦目。我可以想象下次来的时候在这里骑个自行车多待上几天,那得有多舒服。(当然了,如果我很有钱的话我甚至可以租一个小城堡来住)。

     

    Jackie Pila at Eiffel Tower

    10. 艾菲尔铁塔(第七区)

    我们是晚上到这里的,但夜色绝对没有给这里的美景打半点折扣。晚上没有人排队,所以整个游览的过程只花了不到一个小时。

     

    一些其它的建议

    虽然没有进入我们推荐的10大目的地,但是位于第20区的拉雪兹神父公墓(Père-Lachaise cemetery)值得一提也推荐一去。这里很大,你会发现很多游客在找寻名人的墓碑,包括吉姆·莫里森(Jim Morrison)和丽塔·海华斯(Rita Hayworth)。

    我发现还有一个鲜为人知的地方非常有韵味,那就是位于第五区的莎士比亚书店(Shakespeare and Company Bookshop)。如果你正在游览巴黎圣母院,这里绝对是个好地方,因为位于第四区的书店就在西岱岛的东半面,跨过桥就是。书店虽小,但却传承下了最初的传统。这里不仅有二手书也有新书,虽然狭小得快连转身的余地都没有了,但从踏进来的那一步我便觉得自己书香气息十足。注意哦,这里的书大多都非常的重!

    一定要在塞纳河上坐游船!在上面你可以看到风景如画的城市风光,也可以有很多拍照的好机会。

    在游览的第一天如果能大概了解这个城市的情况对旅行是非常有帮助的,你可以通过乘坐观光巴士达到这个目的哦。

     

    巴黎旅游小贴士

    *地铁是出行的一个好办法,而且也非常人性化。我们购买了十张单程票。(这比单独买票便宜)。我们到最后才学会把这些票和信用卡分开,不然票的磁性会被消掉的。

    *接下来是一个非常重要的贴士,那就是不要在卢浮宫门口排队进去!我们是在附近地下商场的一个出口先把门票买好的。或者你也可以购买巴黎通票(Paris Pass)或博物馆通票(Museum Pass)。在这种非旅游旺季,我们的方法把排队的时间缩短了一个半小时。

    *千万不要用自拍杆,这非常的不时尚!

    *有可能的话就在淡季去巴黎.在较冷的月份去绝对是值得的,因为这意味着最短的队最少的等待(除了卢浮宫,我们基本没怎么排过队)。这也意味着我们的航班和住宿都相当便宜,可以留下更多的钱来购物!只要确保你有一个非常非常暖和的外套,这绝对是必需品。

    *使用谷歌地图来帮助自己定位,找到目的地(我们觉得当地的纸质地图看起来太困惑了)。

    *事先约定一个后备会合地点,以防在手机没电或失灵的时候走失或走散。我们当时约定的会合地点是博物馆的商店。

    *别忘了带上自己的充电宝,因为使用谷歌地图和拍照很快会把手机的电用完。

    *在巴黎法国长棍随处可见。入乡随俗的你一定要养成这样的思维方式,那就是早上买一根法棍,下午或者晚上再买一根新鲜出炉的。在法国如果你晚上吃着早上买的法棍可是一个大禁忌。

    *穿着要时尚。如果身着运动装,你最好是在跑步或者锻炼。在这个时尚之都,穿着运动装走在大街上是不能够接受的。

    *如果你喜欢逛大型百货公司,就千万别错过位于第九区的老佛爷百货公司。虽然我个人比较喜欢小而独特的精品店,但老佛爷百货公司也是很多人的选择。那里有一个穹顶非常好看,而且你还可以在顶层一览城市的风光(我们错过了这个地方)。老佛爷百货还会时不时的举行时装秀,你可以提前打电话询问下详情。在这里购物可以获得10%的增值税退,但在购物时必须要排队进行一些繁琐的书面工作,到机场的时候还必须出示购买的商品,这样一来一回,有些人就未必还想要这退税了。

    *在巴黎机场的免税店购物也出奇的不错,这里是给朋友买礼物最后的机会。

    *我相信对于大多数人来说这已经不是什么新闻了,但是不管你的旅行社是如何给你打包票的,你还是要确保在航班间预留至少一个半小时的时间。这样能够大大增加你和你随身物品准时到达目的地的概率。

    *如果非常不幸地你的行李没有和你在同一班飞机上,你有权要求赔偿。在我们到达巴黎的时候我们就进行了索赔。

    *还有几家非常可爱的小铺可以去看看,包括玛黑区的Merci(在Beaumarchais大街111号),这是一家酷酷的生活小铺;还有Monoprix (巴黎有三家),这个店非常好玩,有价格适中的家居用品、食品和时尚单品。

    *最重要的是为你的下一次巴黎之旅列一张“必做”清单。
    我为下一次旅行写下的一些想法包括:住在玛黑区;在卢瓦尔和波尔多地区多待上些日子(而不是像这次只能一日游);去蓬皮杜艺术中心(Pompidou Centre)(周二不开);游览凡尔赛宫和卢森堡公园(这次没有时间了)。

    *还有一条建议。当你在飞机上的时候别忘了监督好你的乘务员。特别是当他把热饮递给你邻座的时候,一定要确保他是在你前方递过去的而不是在你的上方,这样就可以防止一不小心一整杯热咖啡洒到你全身和椅子上的意外。

    如果你正计划着去巴黎,那么,祝你一路顺风!

    ******

    Jackie Pila是一名墨尔本的社工和艺术治疗师,同时也是一位热衷于旅游的妈妈。业余时间,她喜欢拳击和巴西柔术。此行给她提供了一个逃离日常生活的机会,也给了她一段美妙的法国之旅。

    Woman In…. Esperance, West Australia

    Our Road Trip

    Esperance is a seaside town on the south-eastern coast of West Australia. To get there, my daughter and I set off on a road trip from Perth, and in one day, drove 730 kilometres  through the lower belly of West Australia.

    On our journey on National Route 1 and on smaller local roads, we passed through a great inland sea of wheat, salt lakes and remote towns.

       

      My daughter has lived in Fremantle in Western Australia for the past three years and will be returning to Victoria later this year, so before leaving the west she was keen to see more of the state. I work from home as an editor and at the time I had no looming deadlines so I was free to join her.  So we decided to visit Esperance and Cape Le Grand National Park.

      In spite of the air conditioning being on its last gasp, ‘Olivia’, my daughter’s trusty old  all-wheel drive Subaru was in good mechanical condition, a must for travelling the roads of West Australia. We had extra water and snacks as a precaution. Even though we weren’t going to be travelling in extremely remote areas and the roads were all sealed, it’s always wise when driving in rural West Australia, to take extra water and food in case of emergencies.

      Picnic at Yilliminning Rock

      Our first stop was Narrogin where we bought lunch and decided to stop along the way to have a picnic. About 20 minutes from Narrrogin we pulled onto Birdwhistle Road to follow a sign to Yilliminning Rock, where sure enough there was a concrete picnic table and an information board. Keeping an eye out for snakes and our feet up on the bench-seat away from large hungry ants, we ate our lunch in a cocoon of heat and bush silence;  I took my first long, relaxed breath since leaving my home in Melbourne five or six hours earlier.

      Yilliminning Rock is a granite rock rising about 50 metres from the surrounding farmland. The 10-minute climb afforded a lovely 360 degree view of the plains through which we had travelled and were yet to venture. Tiny pins of heat stung the skin on our backs, somehow finding their way through the threads of our clothing. It was time to get back in the car, with a change of driver.

      Through the Wheatbelt and a Milkshake at Lake Grace

      For most of the 730 kilometres we were shoulder to shoulder with straw coloured walls of wheat, the West Australian wheatbelt. While some might find the kilometres of wheatfields tedious, I didn’t. I was fascinated by the very largeness, the weight of blue sky, and the silence, and I entertained myself imagining what life on the land would be like. I enjoyed the memories from childhood of similar journeys my father took us on into the Australian bush. We stopped for a close-up look at the wheat, and the dry, red aridness dispelled any romanticism. A kind local woman stopped to make sure we were OK, as we were pulled over on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere.

      We drove on stopping for petrol and coffee and a milkshake at Lake Grace. We visited the gallery next door to the café and discovered that the town had a vibrant arts and crafts community. The locals had been busy knitting and a gush of red knitted poppies filled the median strip dividing the highway running through the town.

      About nine hours after leaving Perth we arrived in Esperance, and found our accommodation, a barn-like holiday flat called Doo Drop Inn. Quaint, but it had everything we needed.

      Esperance and the Whale

      Esperance is a small seaside town with comfortable accommodation choices. You probably won’t find five star rooms, and certainly not five star restaurants but you will find hospitality and somewhere to fill your tummy at the end of the day.

      We discovered three highlights of Esperance (there would be more but we only had a short stay). The first was the development of the waterfront, including a path winding through low indigenous planting. Even in its incomplete stage the path was interesting and relaxing to walk. It was the local jogging and exercise route.

      The second highlight was a beautiful sculpture of the tail of a breaching Southern Right whale, at the centre of this redevelopment and at the entrance to the Tanker Jetty. The piece stood meters high and was made from steel and wood, inlaid with coloured glass. We later met one of the artists, Cindy Poole, at her studio, Section Glass Gallery, (a must visit) who told us the story of the sculpture. The brief was to incorporate the elements of the local area and she and another artist decided on a whale to represent beauty and the migrating whales that pass the town, steel and wood for industry and the port as well as fishing vessels, and glass to reflect the colour of the area. The sculpture is one of the most beautiful pieces of public art I have ever seen.

      The third highlight was a coastal route that takes you past some stunning ocean scenery and swimming beaches. We stopped for a swim in the aqua waters of a Twilight Bay, just out of town. On our return we stopped on a cliff top to watch a storm approach over the ocean. We longed for the cool and wet of the storm, and hoped it would reach the dry fields inland.

      The next day we would leave for Cape Le Grand National Park.

      Cape Le Grand National Park and Frenchman’s Peak

      At 50 kilometres south-east of Esperance, Cape Le Grand National Park is an ideal day trip, or if you have camping gear or a camper van you can stay as long as you like. At Lucky Bay camping ground, where we stayed for one night, there was an outdoor kitchen, BBQs, clean amenities (toilets and showers) and ample sheltered space for tents, with a separate space for camper vans. There is no power and you will need to bring your own drinking water. There is a small charge per night.

      On our way into the park we stopped to climb Frenchman’s Peak (262 metres). I resorted to crawling on hands and feet for a short section early on, however the rest of the climb, while needing endurance, wasn’t difficult. The rock faces could get slippery so I wouldn’t advise this climb during or just after rain. Having said that, it rained lightly while we were at the top so we took extra care on our descent.  The 360-degree view from the summit is beautiful. On one side we watched the rain approach. From the height we could see the perimeter of the rain cloud, and it moved like a swarm across the land, over us, then out to sea. Looking in the opposite direction, the colours and formations of sea and sky mirrored each other and we could not tell where one started and the other stopped.

      After setting up camp we used the clean outdoor kitchen to cook dinner. More campers arrived during the evening, many of them young people and families from overseas. There is a ranger’s cottage nearby the camping area, and even without this we felt safe and comfortable. Lucky Bay is famous for kangaroos that come down to the beach, and it was very strange seeing kangaroos lying around on the sand. We saw a group of people who had been four wheel driving along the beach to get to remote fishing spots, but most people were there to bushwalk. There is a main 15-kilometre walk (one way) that can be done in a day, or broken into smaller walks, which are around three hours one way. We kept our activity to beachcombing as we only had one night available.

      Before heading the 800 kilometres back to Perth, I woke early for a walk and to watch the sun rise over this natural, unspoilt corner of Australia.

       

      *  *  *  *  *  *

      Photographs – Jacinta Agostinelli

      Jacinta Agostinelli is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She also works pro bono on the management committee of a local community organisation, cares for her granddaughter, and grows vegetables and raises chickens using organic and sustainable methods. She enjoys spending time with her family of five daughters and husband, especially in far away places.

       

       

       

      Our Woman In….Havana

        One of my favourite ways to prepare for travel to a country, particularly one that is off the beaten track, is to read the country’s literature and newspapers. So before heading to Cuba earlier this year, I downloaded Everyone leaves (Todos se van), by contemporary Cuban author, Wendy Guerra.

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        The book was set between 1978 and 1990 during the revolution, in a region in southern Cuba and in the bohemian quarter of Havana preferred by the intelligentsia of the time. It is about artist Nieve Guerra and, as the title suggests, about how the people she loves gradually leave her. Central to everyone’s leaving is the unrest and uncertainty of Cuban society during the revolution—which is the part that interested me the most. Putting aside any romantic notions of Che Gueverra and of revolution, I am fascinated by how people live during revolutionary times. The book gave me insight into the lives of Cuban intellectuals and artists who opposed the revolution and its curtailing of individual freedom.

        By the time we arrived in Havana I knew which streets I wanted to walk and which localities I wanted to stay in.  When we reached our casa particulare, (a room in a private apartment or home rented to travellers and international workers) in a faded, blue-painted, concrete block of apartments in Vedado, Havana, I knew about such apartment blocks in this, the choice suburb of the intelligentsia.

        I knew to question the closed up and condemned apartments we passed on the stairs on our way up to where our host lived; from my reading I was sure these were once the homes of people who were extradited for their political views during the sixties and seventies. Our host confirmed my suspicions with a shake of her head and a finger to her tightly closed lips.

        I knew about the Bertolt Brecht theatre, which joy of joys was across the road from our casa. I knew about the famous Malecon, the stretch of water the city of Havana is built alongside, and the path on its edge leading from the suburbs into old Havana, for my heroine, Nieve, had walked the Malecon in winter, summer, day and night. I was determined to find the real Havana beneath the buzzing layer of hustlers, taxi drivers and self-proclaimed tour operators—although these too added a certain excitement to our adventure!

        Travel guides gave conflicting advice around accommodation, from ‘don’t stay in the casas’ to ‘don’t stay in the hotels’! So we spread our time in Havana between staying in a casa particulare with Adele, who had Spanish origins, and her family—her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson—and a hotel in Old Havana. We booked from Australia and the confirmation we received from Adele was a bit like Clancy of the Overflow’s thumbnail dipped in tar! Once in Cuba we were quick to realise however, that Adele’s access to email was a feat in itself as no-one had internet connection to the outside world, and even the big hotels had rationed and unreliable connections. Informal, non-official looking emails are the norm, not a sign of dodginess.

        The casa was terrific. Adele provided our meals and cleaned our room, and helped us with transport—her son-in-law owned one of those old American cars Cuba is legendary for—and suggestions of what to do. Cuba is not a wealthy country and the people have the bare essentials. They are on rations for some foods, they line up to do anything from going to the bank to buying ice-cream, and the government has only just given families permission to supplement income by renting out a room in their private home to travellers, so we were pleased to give Adele our business. But it was hard going because she spoke no English and we spoke a few words only of Spanish.

        Adele booked us a bus trip to a holiday town, which happened to have a festival running the weekend we were there. Cubans love their festivals and this one went all night. Between the cracking thunder of a storm and the vibrating thud of the music, nobody slept much! But we were in one of those quaint, brightly painted houses with a rocking chair on the front veranda, so we were happy.

        Adele had also booked us a horse ride to see traditional cigar making. Off we went, through the muddy back lanes of the town, over a creek swollen from storm the night before.  The horses swam across the creek and we dare-devilled along a plank while holding tightly to a single support wire which had far too much slack and wavered with us as we tried to balance. We continued up and down gullies tortured with erosion, to a dark, old shed where our young strapper made us a Cuban drink and showed us how they used to make cigars. Not quite the sanitized tour wrapped up in occupational health and safety compliance one would get in Australia, but it was typically Cuban. As it rained for most of the ride we were wet through and my sandals clogged with mud but we knew the inner workings of a cigar!

        Perhaps the most defining moment of a trip is not one that is planned or found in a tour guide. Returning from our horse ride on the wet Sunday morning, we passed an ordinary looking apartment block, and it was the singing and chatter coming from within that struck me. We barely stopped, but I nudged my husband and said “listen”! Such apartment blocks in Australia are mute, but here in Cuba they sing! An unassuming moment but I’ll not forget it.

        Considering their poverty you would be surprised to know that Cubans are among the most highly literate populations in the world. I was intrigued by the accessibility of art, theatre, history and music. While we were in Old Havana it was International Book Day so we dawdled around the streets lined with makeshift bookshelves and bought ourselves a pirated copy of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, a delightful send-up of British intelligence and espionage pre-Cuban Missile Crisis, set in the very bars and street blocks we were passing.

        We went to the Museo de la Revolucion (Museum of the Revolution), the most sacred building in Havana, where a young guide told us an absorbing story of Cuba’s history. The spectre of Che Guavera and the legacy of Batista can be seen throughout Havana, and of course we brought home the obligatory red scarf and Che T-shirt. Cubans are proud of their history and they can all talk about it. This museum was one of the highlights of our visit.

        Old Havana was once a grand, old, Spanish colonial city. It has block after block of ornate buildings in all manner of disrepair and if the parts and materials needed for restoration or repair come from America, then an embargo means there is no immediate hope that the repairs will be done. The elevator in the Museo de la Revolucion, for example, had been broken for a year and as the parts come from America it will stay broken for some time yet. Scaffolding erected with hope around some of the old buildings is covered in vines. One day soon Cuba will open its doors and capitalism will move in. The Old Havana may be restored to its former glory, but I suspect this will come at a social and cultural cost.

        Did I find the real Havana of Todos se van? Not in the sense that we met like old friends over coffee, but yes, the real Havana was there, just in passing.

        *     *    *    *

        Photographs by Jacinta & John Agostinelli

        Jacinta Agostinelli is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She also works pro bono on the management committee of a local community organisation, cares for her granddaughter, and grows vegetables and raises chickens using organic and sustainable methods. She enjoys spending time with her family of five daughters and husband, especially in far away places.

         

         

         

         

        Woman In … Lake Balaton, Hungary

          Woman travelling with extended family.

          With two grown-up sons, their partners  and a grandson living in London England, my base being a couple of hundred miles north of that, and a husband working in Hong Kong, it’s hard to get us all together for an extended piece of family time away from the day-to-day (i.e. me in the kitchen). Hence most years,  I’ve taken to booking a large comfortable villa (more of that later), somewhere close to the UK via a budget airline.

           

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          Our age range is 3 to 57 years,  so I’m looking for somewhere that’s family friendly with the potential for a bit of gentle sightseeing, when I can drag them away from the pool. We like warm but not sweltering; much hotter than 30 degrees and we Brits melt. This year’s criteria also included a venue outside the Eurozone, as, until recently, UK travellers were taking a hefty currency hit against the Euro.

          Joe, my eldest and dad to Theo (3), is my holiday guru.  Despite being half my age he’s seen twice as many countries as I have and he suggested that Hungary fitted all our criteria. He’d visited Budapest a couple of times,  loved it and he’d heard about the beauty of the Balaton area. Hence, after a couple of hours flight from London on Ryanair, and a further  1.5 hrs drive from Budapest airport, we found ourselves  a few minutes’ walk from the shores of Lake Balaton.

          All sorted.

          Views over the lake are certainly stunning; it is the largest inland body of water  in  Central Europe and a haven for bathers and small yachts;  speedboats and jet-skis being verboten.

          I say verboten because it turns out that the Balaton region is a magnet for tourists from the old East Germany. And whilst the lake may be beautiful, looking back towards land is no less spectacular; the grassed area which forms the shore (there’s  no proper beach)  is where they all hang out during the balmy summer days.

          And it really does all hang out. Everyone from aged 8 to 80 years, men and women, opts for the skimpiest swimwear.  Think Helmut Kohl in Speedos! My body is more Angela Merkel than Claudia Schiffer, so my idea of beachwear is nearer to the burka than the bikini: strappy maxi dresses, a tastefully draped sarong.

          Unfortunately the Soviet era vibe continued to our accommodation which had looked first-class on the website and was pricey (twice as much as the fabulous villa in Turkey we’d booked the year before). When on holiday I want to stay somewhere AT LEAST as comfortable as home.

          I know that there are intrepid women out there at this moment, setting off with two pairs of knickers and a T shirt in a rucksack, the jeans they stand up in and a sleeping bag that won’t see the inside of a washing machine for a month, …… but I’m not one of them.  I want deep mattresses, Egyptian cotton sheets, thick towels and gallons of hot water beating me into submission after a dusty day.

          In 1994-ish  I went to East Berlin as a guest of a visiting Professor at the Humbolt University. He booked us into Humbolt student accommodation.  It was very basic, but clean, with a surprisingly good bathroom. Our villa turned out to be of a similar standard, but without the power shower.

          A good meal was called for! So we headed to what we were assured was the best local restaurant. We English have a reputation for awful food (once richly deserved, but no longer). However this was truly terrible. Suffice to say that this was the first time I’d been served canned potatoes in about 40 years.

          Thankfully, after this, things started to look up. We found excellent supermarkets with good fresh food and local wines that wouldn’t embarrass an Australian vineyard, but at prices Australians can only dream about. 1000 Hungarian Forint (about five Australian dollars) bought us a very quaffable bottle. We kept eating out to a minimum – a sandwich at lunchtime – and cooked cracking BBQs around the pool in the evenings.

          We got into a groove – in the mornings a swim either in the pool or the lake, followed by a lazy breakfast. Then everyone into the hire car to explore the region.

          Highlights included the Tihany peninsula which is accessible by ferry. We walked up the hillside to the magnificent Benedictine Abbey with wonderful views of the lake. The still-functioning abbey was founded in 1055 AD, although its church was rebuilt in the Baroque style in 1754. It was a blistering hot day so on the way down we ambled into a shady bar and availed ourselves of ice cold Hungarian beer served in terracotta mugs. The local food might not be great , but the ale is awesome.

          Keszthely is also a must. Its centrepiece is Festetics Palace,  a Baroque palace set in parterre gardens which contains a magnificent library.  The palace  is a venue for evening classical concerts and houses a puppet museum. However, there  are tiny museums down every alleyway, including a display of pornographic waxworks! My sons visited it (in the name of research for this article, obviously) and assured me that the Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky exhibit is very lifelike…

          We also spent a very pleasant afternoon in Badacsony, a hillside region scattered with small vineyards and wineries. The owners aren’t as geared up for visitors as Australian vintners, but they were very welcoming to tasters and justifiably proud of their wines. These are small concerns producing boutique wines which aren’t available in large stores and the prices reflect that. Nevertheless, we were sufficiently impressed to bring home a few bottles as presents.

          We had five nights in the Lake Balaton region, before moving on to Budapest which is a whole different story – a magnificent city with an international vibe.  Once we’d found our feet in Balaton we had a thoroughly enjoyable, very relaxing family break and I would certainly recommend the area to families looking for something similar. However, on the basis of our experience I’d be aware that accommodation and restaurant standards can be below par for westerners. Choose your villa carefully and stick with a BBQ washed down by the excellent local hooch!

           

          Sue Robson-Catling is English. She has run a Stage School and stood for election to the UK Parliament, amongst many other ventures. She is currently a company director of a management consultancy working for Airlines. Despite having flown many thousands of miles, for work and pleasure, she still never gets on a plane without thinking that aviation is a modern miracle.

           

           

           

           

          Woman In…Patagonia

            “Oh, that’s impossible, I can’t do that!” This is what I would have said, if I had known what I was about to embark on beforehand. But I didn’t know. And so, when my daughter asked me to go with her to Patagonia, I agreed. Although this remote part of Argentina and Chile had never appeared in my travel imaginings, I knew that I was going on a 60 kilometre trek of medium difficulty over five days, and I knew I could do that.

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            So off we went, first to the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, and then to El Chalten in Argentina. We set off happily on our first day shouldering backpacks with six to seven kilos of bare essentials, our sturdy waterproof walking shoes, a map, water- and wind-proof jackets, and the promise of experiencing natural beauty which an American trekker we met in the base town of Puerto Natales told us “nothing can prepare you for.”

            The natural beauty

            The American was right. The mountains of snow and ice, the blue lakes (paine is the native word for blue) and the painted skies were endless. Natural tracks that were not manicured but still safe and easy to follow, lead us around the mountains, through wooded areas and over trickling waterways. The sky was a great empty plain and we could hear the rumble of avalanches falling miles from where we stood. There is only one path to follow so it is impossible to get lost, and yet you have the sense that you are lost from the rest of the world. I am privileged to own such rare,unique moments.

            The refugios 

            On the Torres del Paine trek you take a day to walk from refugio (lodge) to refugio. The path is well marked, and there is enough time to make the distance without having to hurry. You measure distance in time because the terrain has to be considered. Pre-booking is essential to make sure you get a bed, and we did all our booking from Australia. There are lots of companies online. I was unsure what to expect from the refugios as they are remote and Patagonia isn’t economically wealthy. We had dormitory sleeping arrangements and I hadn’t slept like that since I was young. But the lodging surprised me and it was always exciting to arrive at our new lodge, each one warmed by a stove and the sound of exhausted, hungry and happy trekkers. Food was delicious and ample, and we ate at long mess tables, so you always had company while dining. We collected a picnic lunch and snacks in the morning when leaving, which meant we only had to carry food for the day.

            Fitness

            I am in my mid-fifties and if referring to age and fitness, I was in a minority. Most of the trekkers were under thirty-five. Some were extremely fit and I swear some of the young men who galloped past us were cloven-footed, their feet barely hitting the ground. But there were still plenty like me, moderately fit and young at heart, and we managed steeps ascents and the distances. Perhaps it was the curiosity of what’s around the next corner that kept me going, but mostly my strength of mind compensated for my lack of physical strength, and meditating on the present kept ‘what if it’s too hard’ thoughts at bay. I would have liked to have been fitter. It may have made the difficult stretches easier, although I have no lasting ill effects on my knees or ankles! However, be aware that once you leave the drop-off point and head into the mountains, there is no vehicular access. If you injure yourself you will rely on the goodness of strangers to carry you out or on the availability of a donkey.

            Other trekkers

            While there are many welcome ‘alone’ times, you are never lonely. We met women travelling on their own, families, dads carrying their small children in backpacks. We met an artist returning after ten years; people of all ages from around the world. So many interesting people and conversations.

            El Chalten

            Just when we thought it was safe to hang up our trekking shoes, we arrived by bus in El Chalten and Los Glaciares National Park – the trekking capital of the world. We hired a local taxi driver – enterprising young people use their own cars to provide a taxi service – to drive us out of town to a starting point for the Laguna los Tres hike. This day-long hike was the most difficult of all the hikes around El Chalten – but the most beautiful. At the bottom of the steep ascent to view FitzRoy Mount was a sign warning that only trekkers in top physical condition should attempt the climb. I knew by now that I always had one more step in me, so off we went. We climbed for an hour or so, the people on the rocky slopes ahead of us like a thin trail of ants. I treated it as sacred, my treading on the aloofness of mountains.

            The weather

            We had expected strong winds and rain, which are daily occurrences in Patagonia, particularly in March. But the gods were smiling on us and we had still, sunny weather for four out of five days. It was cold but it was a clear sunlit cold that is ideal for trekking. And being cold means the paths and lodges are less crowded.

            And in conclusion…

            Now back in Australia, I want my steps to stay slow, the silence of mountains to stay in my mind and their grandeur impressed on my imagination – and the impossible to remain possible.

             

            Jacinta Agostinelli  is a Melbourne-based writer and editor.  She enjoys spending time with her husband and five daughters, and travelling to far-away places.