Augustine

I cannot fathom why even the third time around I love Italy so much. Partially I think it’s because it reminds me of my Grandfather, Augustine Koprda.

I’ve travelled extensively over Western and Eastern Europe, including the teeny tiny Slovakian village he grew up in – but strangely the people that remind me of him most are the Italians.

He was the European cliché – tall, dark, charming and too handsome for his own good. Passionate, loud, fiery but with a huge heart. Always a twinkle in his eye, and a spark of mischievousness that three wives perhaps attested to.

His heavy European accent was poetry to my ears. I was always darrrling. Everyone was always darling to him.

Maybe his Europeaness was exaggerated over time, in a fear of losing his culture.

Maybe it was the more than 50 years spent in the Italian communities of Australia, that he seemed to merge so effortlessly into.

Whenever I visited we’d be at the Italian or the Greek club, eating Mediterranean cuisine and I’d be getting lessons on life a la Europe.

“What are these shoes your Mother sends you in? No we must get you proper shoes, Italian leather.”

I know there was never anyone I looked up to or admired more. Maybe I saw a little of myself in him.

I remember as a kid being obsessed with this one book my mum had brought home from Slovakia, searching through the photographs for people that looked like me.

I never felt like I looked like the other kids at my virtually all Caucasian primary school. I was too olive, my hair too unruly, my eye brows too straight and too thick. My face too square, my features not quite dainty enough.

The first time I went to Europe I remember searching for faces like my own. And I found them. In Sleptany. A tiny village. My grandfather’s brothers, and their sons. They had identical eyebrows and eyes. It was uncanny. They cried when they saw me as the resemblance was so strong. I looked like a Slovakian man!

I remember going to Australia to visit my Grandpa a year later. The last time I saw him before he died. I played him a video I’d edited for his birthday. Little clips of his brothers, sisters and family in Slovakia.

I have no idea what they said, but he wept and wept like a broken man. Remorse for the family he’d left behind. The sacrifice he’d made for a new life. The old one he seemed so keen to leave behind.

Maybe that’s why he embraced the Italian way of life. La dolce vita. It was all the best of Europe, the sweetness without the darkness, deaths and horrors that were permanently etched in his mind from Communism and the Soviet rule.

As the story goes, he was almost shot when he escaped the border, swimming down the Danube river into Austria. His father was tortured by officials trying to get his whereabouts. It’s all hearsay now, as the very person I could’ve asked found it too painful to talk about.

But sitting in a square in Italy I think about him for the first time in years. He comes back so vividly, playing through my mind. Ironically he hated my love of travel, always telling me to stop wasting my money.

But the lure was too strong, the pull to explore this side of my heritage. There’s a darkness and sadness to his past that contrasts so starkly to Italy’s flamboyant lightness that would best be described as bitter sweet. My favourite type of gelato.20150802-093011-34211362.jpg

Memoirs of a Keisha

I wanted a European date. Several. Surely it was a crucial part of the European experience. Yet I’d been away for a month and seemed to be doing a rubbish job of achieving it. After meeting far too many drunken Australians and Kiwis at hostels there had to be a different way. Tinder?

I’d tried it for a very brief 24 hour period in New Zealand where I ran into the Ex, as well as virtually every single guy in my industry. I quickly swore off it. Europe however was surely a different ball game. And so the social experiment begins.

Phase 1 – Voyeurism
I’ve always been fascinated by how people from different countries look. What better way to get a broad scope of the locals look?
Phase 1 was purely swiping. Screen grabbing a few good looking candidates to message girlfriends with a chuckle.

Phase 2. Chatting.
Well, I am single I reasoned. I may as well do something with this new found singledom. Like talking. Yes talking, I seemed to be good at that.

I sent a Finnish guy what I thought was a hilarious message.
“I’m doing research into how many Finnish men have blonde beards”
I was instantly unmatched. Dammit. My great humour clearly wasn’t appreciated.

I also needed to work on the frequency I checked my messages. I always seemed to be exactly 500km away by the time I was replying to someone’s message.

Phase 3. Meeting.
It was time to go on a European date. All for research sake I told myself, think of the great stories to tell! Candidate 1 was to be an exceptionally cute Spaniard. I’d already charmed him with my exceptionally average Spanish.

Getting on a bus at Lake Bled, and who is about to get off but him? I catch his eye in a moment of recognition. Do I smile? I decide on blue steel. I sneak a look, he is beautiful. Dammit should have smiled.

“You creep!” my friends proclaim, “How did you recognise him”?

“I’m good with faces”

“He is so your type”

It turns out I apparently do have a type. Where did this strange fetish for beards and hipsters come from?

A few hours later I’m having dinner with the girls and get a message
“Hey I think I saw you today”

My blue steel was recognised!

“You look pretty and familiar”

The girls shriek with delight, and I swoon a little.

“What did you think of me?” He asks.

“You look like the actor from Motorcycle diaries.” It’s true, he does.

“So shall we get a drink?”

Next thing I’m on my first ever Tinder date. He’s wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “sorry ladies I’m in the night watch.” Interesting choice.

He’s lovely. And I receive an invite to visit Barcelona, but unfortunately my travels are taking me in the other direction. Next stop Italy.

Ahhh Italia!! I nannyed here many summers ago and became so besotted with the country itself. Maybe I’ll forgot all about my desire to go on dates. Maybe.

And a brief look at men around the world…

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Lithuania

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Slovenia

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Finland

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Croatia

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Latvia

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Estonia

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Spain

Nudity & Nature in Montenegro

“Super ste”
“You’re great” we were told by the 83 year old Montenegrin Grandpa. Day 1 in Montenegro. I had a feeling it was going to be a super stay.

A leathery brown blonde bomb shell in her fifties was stark naked perched on a cliff. Her downward dog beamed to the swimmers below. She slowly took a drag from her cigarette, her head resting on a pillow she’d brought from home. A 12 year old girl walked past nonchalantly, unfazed in the slightest by the extreme butthole tanning.

We were at Montenegro’s infamous “Ladies Beach” that proclaimed to be Europe’s first women only nudist beach. Good to see a country so aligned with women’s rights.

Its sulphur mineral springs were deemed to be an elixir of women’s health enhancing fertility. Women travelled far and wide to swim in the mythical waters, or more specifically to swim around a rock three times and leave a bikini piece on the rock’s swimsuit shrine.

The novelty of being completely naked and painted head to toe in the magical mud for €3 may have been another draw card.

But what struck me most about this women’s haven was the intricate tanning positions. Women’s of all ages would bend in all sorts of angles to get their crotch exposed to the sun. Did they put on sunblock down there? I dare not ask. I did however question a local on the bizarre tanning techniques.

“It feels good” she explained.
“There aren’t many chances to feel the sun there”

All was well in paradise until an elderly man accidentally snorkelled into the cove. I heard shrieks and looked over to see an older women hitting him on the head with his snorkel. He quickly swam off, a mistake he might be willing to make again.

Perhaps surprisingly this all took place in Ulcinj – a heavily Muslim influenced town close to the Albanian coast. Churches had turned into Mosques, and Montenegrin into Albanian.

Rewind a day, zigzag across the mountains and we were in a totally different world. Sitting on a lake side beach in the tiny village Godijne, listening to a symphony of crickets in harmony with a local playing his accordion.

No tourists seemed to make it to this quaint place set amongst Kiwi fruit and Grape vines. As we meandered about locals cheerfully called out:
“Dobre dan”
“Good day”

We were staying with Drazen and Sanja through Air BnB. His Grandmother cooked us the local speciality, a fish dish that was cooked for a casual 20 hours. Obviously I asked for the recipe. The Carp was dried overnight, then cooked for 8 hours. I felt no further instruction would be required.

Our feast was followed by shots of “Brandy of Kiwi” so strong it was hard to believe it was his 83 year old Grandfather’s recipe.

Fast forward through countless beaches, each more stunning then the previous, and it was our last day. We road tripped through Montenegro’s fiords, northern national parks, mountains and lakes.

My Belgian friend Valerie, a die hard New Zealand fan was even impressed by the scenery.
“Shit, this is f a n t a s t i c”
“As good as NZ?”
“Almost as good”
I sigh and laugh.

All the days in between were your usual travel tales.

Sharing a 12 bed dorm with 10 Australian guys, the drunken snoring symphony was fantastic!

Scaling hill fortress ruins in 36 degree heat with a 73 year old man we picked up along the way.

Perusing beautiful old towns and taking copious amounts of photos.

Complaining the food was too heavy every time we put on a bikini (everyday)

Montenegro is definitely a contender for my ongoing contest of favourite country ever (Valerie, always philosophising, tells me our generation make a habit of always using superlatives)

It was the best weather. The most beautiful beaches. The kindest locals. One of the cheapest countries. And because of its small size, in one week we saw a large and varied selection of the country.

Next stop, Croatia. We arrived slightly less glamorously then imagined. The air conditioning was broken on our bus, so the three hour journey was spent in near 40 degree heat sweating in ways I never thought was possible. I look forward to the looming heat wave, it’ll be the hottest ever perhaps.

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The Baltics

The land of insomniac summer nights, medieval old towns, fir forests and tall beauties.

“You’re going where?” Everyone back home asked.

“The what?”

The Baltics. A trio of countries in North-East Europe wedged between Russia and the Baltic Sea.

Since gaining independence from the Soviets, these states seem to be swiftly gaining tourist momentum. And yet they still feel so old school Europe, like medieval times weren’t perhaps quite so long ago.

It’s still possible to dine out and get a beer for €2, and a meal for under €3.

The summer days seem to last forever with the sun up until midnight, disappearing only to rise again 4 hours later.

I had a mere two week Baltic teaser – zigzagging across all three capitals: Vilnius, Riga and Tallin, as well as Lithuania and Estonia’s small coastal towns.

My favourite country was for sure Lithuania. I may be slightly bias to the fact it’s renowned for having the best looking men.

Sure, anyone with an ever so slight perchant for tall, urban, bearded beauties will be in voyeurism heaven. But of all the capitals Vilnius is the most quaint, hardly touristy and has sweet bohemian vibes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if men preferred Estonia, as it’s rumoured here the women are the most beautiful.

A bit of eye candy certainly does help decorate the streets. But of course there is so much more to a country then beautiful locals.

And they definitely charmed me. I feel for the Baltics’ quaint aesthetics, folklore traditions, dreamy landscapes, colourful history and endless summer days.

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L o s t in the world

If a girl screams in the forest and no one hears her, does it make a sound?

If you go into the woods today you might get a big surprise…

But let’s not spoil the ending, we’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve done short bursts of solo travel, but never such an ambitious trip. I guess you could call it a cathartic journey.

Post quick fire break ups it wasn’t just that I wanted to escape into the oblivion of travel bliss, it was that the very core of me was screaming for the need to be alone – in fresh scenery, with head space.

People rave about the merits of solo travel. The autonomy, the freedom, the sense of accomplishment -navigating across new cities and countries alone! But no one speaks of the challenges.

Solitude is a two edged sword, and sometimes with it comes a bitter loneliness. And yet when you come face to face with it, it’s not as bad as anticipated.

Perhaps it was for this very reason I was drawn to countries off the beaten track, minus the hordes of backpacking revellers – forever looking for their next drink and their next root.

Lost in the world, but purposefully so.

I thought my lowest point was stuck in a Latvian hospital for 5 hours, awaiting a brain CT scan after a bicycle incident where I didn’t remember hitting my head.

That was until I spent a night in a cabin in the woods clutching my nail scissors. They were sharp, but not as sharp as I would’ve liked.

I’d found a travel oasis. Solo cabins, surrounded by beautiful forest beside a beach on one of Estonia’s western islands. Only €15 per night. There were no other travellers there, just a handful of local families on holiday. Initially I revelled in such a find off the beaten track, but then as night drew in a sixth sense told me this was too isolated. I was too obviously foreign and too obviously alone. All the empty cabins seemed to be watching me as wandered past. I decided the next day I’d leave for Tallin the capital.

Tired still from the remnants of the concussion I went to sleep early. Something snapped me out of my deep slumber. The door handle jerking? My patio light was on and a tall man was standing there looking in. How long he stood there I do not know. Watching me sleep? I didn’t know his intention but I knew it wasn’t good. I’m not sure if I moved, or if he saw my eyes snap open but he swiftly disappeared into the night.

After what felt like an eternity, I slowly reached over and checked my phone. 210am. I checked my surroundings, trying to devise a plan if he came back. The only exit was the glass door where he’d been standing. The window to my left had no openings. I debated whether I could throw my phone through it and climb out. My toiletry bag? That was heavy. It was going to be a long sleepless night.

Maybe I should call the police? I cursed myself that I didn’t know the number and hadn’t gotten around to topping up my phone. Idiot! 911 – that was universal surely? Next thing I was being transferred to an English speaking operator. And before I knew it two policemen were outside my cabin.

“There’s no one here.” Obviously. But there had been.

“The light. The censor light came on” I stammered. Why wasn’t it on now then I wondered? The policeman raised eye brows at each other, obviously thinking the same thing.

“There is no one here. Go back to sleep. Lock your door”

As the 4am sun rose, I fell into a fitful sleep clutching my phone and nail scissors wondering if I’d imagined the whole ordeal.

When I awoke I noticed the patio had a light you switched on from outside. So the creep had been watching me sleep, and that explained how he dissolved into darkness so quickly.

Counting my blessings I googled the next bus out of there.

The moral of the story? It’s one thing to be utterly absorbed in a new world, it’s another to go so far astray you might not be found.

For all my soul searching and radical adventures across the Phillipines, China and the Baltics, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 2nd half of my trip had somehow been interspersed with good friends from home.

Whatever it was I’d been trying to prove to myself, I guess I had proven it.

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iPhoneless

Without my much loved iPhone 6 by my side I feel naked. I keep reaching out for that reassuring touch, and then find it missing.

I feel isolated, disconnected… like I’m yearning for something that’s lost.

I miss it’s beautiful gold exterior, it’s superior camera and the way it connects me to an endless virtual world.

I hear my familiar text sound, then realise it’s not me. Just someone else. It’s a crushing realisation.

I think back to that fateful afternoon when it slipped into the depths of the pool. I can see it in slow motion falling through the semi salted water. That days selfies lost in time. No amount of rice or warmth would bring the iPhone back to life.

I have such fond memories of all the times we spent together. So many photos taken together. Memories itched forever into it’s internal memory.

I try use iMessage and Facebook Messenger on my Mac but it’s not the same. I miss the constant sense of connection. The companionship. Me and my phone by my side. Hanging, chilling, whatever.

I know with time the feeling will fade. They’ll repair my phone or I’ll get a new one. But for now, the feeling of the space is like an elephant in the room.

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The Art of Indecision

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I have very much mastered the art of indecision. but you too can star in your own Sliding Doors fantasy.

Why lock yourself down to one decision, when you could have several options continually available to constantly mull over in your head. You’ll never get bored.

And if you do finally make a decision, then there’s always the option to second guess it. Then you can be truly sure that every decision is exactly what you want… you hope.

The true art to indecision is to learn to ignore you gut, that inner voice that speaks softly and sweetly to you. Once at this stage, things will become very confusing and you’ll need to look to others for guidance.

Friends and family will love you. Everyone likes a little bit of good entertainment, and there’s nothing more riveting then listening to someone hypothesise every possible outcome without drawing any concrete conclusions.

It makes them feel great, because they can demonstrate their decisive superiority and it makes you feel great because you made someone else feel great. It’s a win win.

The other good thing about shopping for advice, is that it lengthens your list of possibilities. Then you can also consider trying to appease everyone else with your decision making. Layers of complexity are great.

Another key skill to master is avoidance. Once you master avoidance, you’re half way there. If you avoid something for long enough often the decision makes itself. Which really takes a lot of the responsibility off your shoulders.

To summarise:

Never stop second guessing
Learn to ignore your intuition
Discuss potential decisions with as many people as possible
Keep it complex
And master avoidance

Indecision is the key to flexibility. Why read fantasy novels when pondering decisions can keep you equally entertained? Happy undeciding!

Indecision

BUCKET.

This year felt different. I wanted to feel alive. Fresh. To explore. And so I wrote a list. I think I’ve done quite well.

 

TRAVEL SOLO TO COLOMBIA TO VISIT ONE OF MY BESTIES

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GET MY HAIR BRAIDED ON A CARRIBEAN BEACH

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CASUALLY FLOAT DOWN THE AMAZON RIVER

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BOAT FROM ONE COUNTRY TO ANOTHER

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DO SOME LONE WANDERING THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA

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TOUCH DOWN IN THE USA

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In hindesight, I probably should have added these things to the list…

 

GET PAINTED LIKE JAGUAR IN THE MIDST OF THE AMAZON JUNGLE

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DRINK COCONUT WATER AU NATURAL

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POOP IN A TROPICAL TOILET

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MAKE A HUMAN PYRAMID ON A DESERTED ISLAND

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ACCIDENTALLY LIMIT ALL MY POSSESSIONS TO THIS

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ADOPT A KITTEN IN A CLUB

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TAKE A PHOTO LIKE THIS

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Life is short. Make it sweet.    peace-sign-hand-peace-sign-1

Serial Flat Viewer

Flat hunting is just like dating. But 8 flats and a few weirdos later I think I’ve mastered the art.

Know what you’re looking for and get out quick if it’s not.

Of course when there’s a future flat mate questionnaire to fill out it would be rude not to partake.

Yes, no joke, this was mandatory including a self portrait. I was told I could write a haiku poem about myself instead if I preferred. Luckily I proved to have exceptional drawing ability. The questionnaire was a novel idea, but did they really need to know my deepest darkest secret?

At another flat I was subject to:
“She’s here, quick put on the song…” After an awkward wait Tic Tok by Ke$ha was played upon my entrance. That was for a call back.

Yes, flats do call back interviews these days. I undertook a 1/2 hour interrogation that delved into the psyche of what I was looking for in a flat and what type of flat mate I would be.

Probably a good thing we went there, as I’d confused liking the flat with actually just liking the ensuite. It’s important to know what your priorities are.

And intuition. Listen to it. When something screams NO there’s still that awkward moment where you wish you could excuse yourself immediately. I haven’t quite mastered this, and so I usually stay for the appropriate amount of time feigning mediocre conversation.

Like yesterday, sitting in a house that stunk of BO and cigarettes, listening to two guys explain that they don’t like drinking and please don’t judge them to being big stoners.

Clearly it comes down to doing better research beforehand. Facebook stalking should never be neglected.

And so while I’m still in search of a home, I feel all the wiser.

I should probably work on wit, haiku poetry and memorise a few of my favourite things.

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Stillness

Since returning home I’ve felt an intermittent sense of boredom, restless and loneliness.

Friday night before a long weekend and I scrawl the net in search of a beach side oasis. No luck. Damn all the organised folk who book ahead.

I awake on Saturday morning to a sunny sky. I text a few people. They too have already made plans. Damn.

After a moment of self sympathy I decide a bit of Kesha time is actually probably a good thing right about now.

Since returning I’ve been torn with indecision. A few life changing decisions I can’t quite get clarity on.

A conversation with my father this week started with “well at your age”… as he reminded me that I was no longer 20. As if I needed reminding. And besides I completely disagree with him, my age is the perfect time to be taking risks.

I drive aimlessly blasting music that sounds how I feel. I find myself at Ponsonby central with a Mayan fire smoothie in hand and a piccolo in the other. Next thing I’m chatting to an elderly European man who’s selling me a cransky and Balkan relish.

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Contented with my treats and buzzing market atmosphere I head to the beach.

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With 4 books in tow I lay in the sand feeling my body soak up the relaxation. Crickets and birds chatter, boats hum and yet there is a stillness around me.

Life slips from mind, and I feel happy with today and the little things. My only regret is my severe lack of a bikini and water bottle.

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