Denise Leith, 'What Remains' ...

I flew today, waking at 4am for a 6am flight from Stavanger to Copenhagen, Denmark.  And I have to confess, I love this feeling of the world making itself real as I travel.  Norway and Denmark were places that confused me back in New Zealand during those long-ago geography classes but today I learned where they were, having bravely taken a window seat, no longer fearing there may be dragons at the edge of my known world.

Copenhagen ... on an island so flat, or so it seemed from the air, that it looked like one big wave might roll over the city and cover it. 

But as I flew, I was reading.  Devouring one of the best fictions I've read.  'Best' because it was well-written ... best because it was written by a war journalist too, and their stories are the non-fiction genre I read most.

Denise Leith has a Ph.D. in International Relations, which she teaches part time at Macquarie University in Sydney. Her special interests are the politics of war, human rights and humanitarian action, peace keeping and peace enforcing, Middle East Politics, the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations and US foreign policy.

Denise has two published non fiction books, The Politics of Power: Freeport in Suharto's Indonesia (University of Hawaii Press 2002) and Bearing Witness: The Lives of War Correspondents and Photojournalists (Random House 2004) and the novel What Remains (Allen & Unwin 2012). She is also a contributor to the anthology Fear Factor: Terror Incognito (Pan Macmillan and Picador 2010) and 'A Country Too Far (Penguin 2013).

I was reading her book, What Remains, and I read as the plane climbed up out of Stavanger.  I read, glancing just briefly out as we passed over fiords in Norway.  I read as the pilot flew low over the North Sea, landing at the airport in Copenhagen.  And I read as I snacked there, breakfast, and continued to read after boarding that second plane returning me home.

And while I was curious about the view from those plane windows the book held me fast.  I dove into the story of Kate Price and war zones, of Pete McDermott, and a big love. 

I read the closing chapters on the 45-minute bus ride from Brussels Airport to Antwerp, wiping away the threat of tears while reading it right through to the end.  Then, still not quite home, I spun back to the start, just to be sure of what I had read there ...

I fell into bed here in Belgium, slept for 2 hours and was woken so that I would sleep tonight, only to realise I was missing the story that had carried me across a small part of Europe.

Denise Leith also knew the journalist, Marie Colvin, who was killed while reporting in Syria.  She has included an interview she made with Marie.  It appears in her book Bearing Witness but that particular interview is there on her website.

If things are never spoken of, if people accept all without informing themselves, then incredibly horrific things can happen.  I so very much admire those who go out and bear witness for as long as they can.  The price is huge.  I'm recommending Denise's book ... so very highly.

Meanwhile, I'm still playing with my new photo-editing tool.  I was out on the Stavanger fiord yesterday and took the shot below.  It was stunning out there.  Just stunning.


It's been on odd going away on adventures not of my own making ... to places I hadn't dreamed of but it's been grand.  Absolutely excellent, in fact.

I've spent most of these last two months traveling, oftentimes feeling like Alison in Wonderland.  So ... if I haven't been exploring beautiful new locations and meeting most excellent people, I've been unpacking and preparing for the next big adventure.

Nicaragua was mentioned today but I have heard stories of wildlife I don't care to meet there and so now it is that I must prepare to face a Belgian winter ... it's here.  Oh how Belgium embraces that rotten season, wringing every last drop of greyness and misery out and dumping it over us here in the flatlands.  Our previous winter lasted into July, more or less, if I'm telling the story. 

I feel gloomy today, as darkness began descending much earlier than I recall it descending way back in August when my travels began.

Belgians have already told me of yesterday, that sunny day I spent in Paris ... was pure misery over here in Antwerp.  I feel like I should stockpile some vitamin D, and buy up all new material that slightly superb Australian, Tim Minchin, produces during this new season that I do not, in any way, enjoy.

Rebecca Solnit, The Art of Not Knowing Where You Are

A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return. There at last the metaphysical journey of your life and your actual movements are one and the same. You may wander, may learn that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it, become lost, spin about, and then only after the way has become overwhelming and absorbing, arrive, having gone the great journey without having gone far on the ground.

In this it is the opposite of a maze, which has not one convoluted way but many ways and often no center, so that wandering has no cease or at least no definitive conclusion. A maze is a conversation; a labyrinth is an incantation or perhaps a prayer. In a labyrinth you’re lost in that you don’t know the twists and turns, but if you follow them you get there; and then you reverse your course.

The end of the journey through the labyrinth is not at the center, as is commonly supposed, but back at the threshold again: the beginning is also the real end. That is the home to which you return from the pilgrimage, the adventure. The unpraised edges and margins matter too, because it’s not ultimately a journey of immersion but emergence

Rebecca Solnit, extracted from The Art of Not Knowing Where You Are

I am loving this woman's writing.  Reading her is something like devouring a beautiful feast.  This one essay alone is truly exquisite.

She goes on and talks of empathy: The root word is path, from the Greek word for passion or suffering, from which we also derive pathos and pathology and sympathy. It’s a coincidence that empathy is built from a homonym for the Old English path, as in a trail. Or a dark labyrinth named Path. Empathy is a journey you travel, if you pay attention, if you care, if you desire to do so. Up close you witness suffering directly, though even then you may need words to know that this person has terrible pains in her joints or that one recently lost his home. Suffering far away reaches you through art, through images, recordings, and narratives; the information travels toward you and you meet it halfway, if you meet it.

Few if any of us will travel like arctic terns in endless light, but in the dark we find ourselves and each other, if we reach out, if we keep going, if we listen, if we go deeper.

Awake ...1.29 am in Italy

I did the crime ... an Italian espresso at 5pm in Venice.   And although it was in celebration of finding our way out of the maze that is Venice, it seems I must do the time.  It's 1.29am and I'm still awake.  Wide awake!

Today has been all about leaving Trieste, then impulsively stopping for an hour or two of wandering through Venice, and driving on afterwards, another million miles towards Milan then Lake Como.

An impulsive couple of hours in Venice that became 4 hours when we were lost for a while on our way out of that ancient city. 

And Venice ...!!!  I'm not even sure how to write up the experience.  Not yet.  But tonight, once we found our way to Bellano, Italy, there was this dinner consisting of this divine smokey cheese, provided by our lovely Air B&B hostess, and a bottle of Italian red wine we had been carrying since Budapest.

Julie made herself pasta but it felt too late for me to be eating something so serious and anyway, I was still recovering from The Most Delicious pasta dinner I had ever tasted ... the previous evening, back in Trieste.  Something to do with mushrooms, a cream sauce, and pasta at Al Barattolo.

If you find yourself in Trieste, I can only tell you that you must eat at Al Barattolo because the food is divine. The house red wine is also delicious but that's a whole other story.

That said, tonight's pasta did inspire Julie to write up a blogpost about our roadtrip so far.  But our journey is almost done and tomorrow we're off to the airport.  I'm heading back to Antwerp while she's continuing on her long journey home, with Athens as her next destination.  

I will miss that cousin of mine after almost 2 months of living and traveling together.  We do have the most excellent adventures though.  Always.  Last time we wandered all over England, wondering about speed limits and road rules as we went, occasionally phoning home to seek wise counsel on these serious matters.

We drank wine with mercenaries on that journey.  I actually went through a stage where I met 3 different groups of them socially ... by chance and yes, I found it bizarre.  We also managed to accidentally walked out of a cafe without paying, realised, then found a branch of the same chain in another town over there, confessed, felt the love ... well actually, their surprise that we were so honest.  I think they might have been stunned but anyway, they'd written it off, much to our relief.  And so much more.  It's never sedate when we get together.

Anyway ... tonight finds us in a lovely Air B&B in Bellano in Italy.  It seems to be located on one of the arms of Lake Como, not Como itself though.  Everything we've viewed online tells us it's lovely however ...spending time lost in Venice complicated our arrival here and made us some hours late, in fact, after darkness had fallen.

The light was fading fast when we began driving the 50 minutes alongside Lake Como to Bellano.  Darkness AND there were masses of tunnels, some as much as 5kms long.  And while The Homer Tunnel experience in New Zealand last year, seems to have cured me of my previously intense dislike of tunnels, I wasn't the happiest creature when I realised we had driven an extra 16kms beyond our destination exit road, due to our troublesome GPS losing its satellite connection while in those very same very long tunnels.

But arriving here, meeting Laura - our lovely B&B hostess, settling in, drinking the last bottle of red wine Julie and I will share in a while ... somehow everything took on a rosy restropective glow and voila, we were happy again.

We are fortunate, it doesn't take much to right our sometimes wonky worlds.  Well ... I could have done without the whole 'sleepless in Bellano' thing but you wouldn't have this post and nor would you have this small glimpse of a scene I spotted in Venice.

Budapest ...!

I loved Budapest!

Julie had found us an Air B&B apartment located directly behind the opera house and just off Andrássy Avenue.   There's a photograph of the exquisite interior courtyard at the end of this post.  We were two floors up, 6 flights of stairs but honestly ... worth it.

Things I loved about Budapest: the ruin pubs, most especially Szimpla.  Jennifer took us to both Szimpla and Instant ruin pubs and honestly, loved them.

Coffee.  Again we were wandering in a city with excellent coffee.  Favourite cafe was The Párizsi Nagyáruház.  As with so many of the delightful finds made in Budapest, Jennifer was responsible as we went there after I did a small portrait session with her.  Then I took Julie back while we discussed whether she should replace her dead Apple laptop with an iPad.  She did.  (A couple of days later and I can report that she is supremely happy with her iPad.)

Komédiás Kávéház was a delightful find - again, introduced to us by Jennifer.  Fodor's pretty much have it covered when they write, Also called Café le Comédien, this ravishingly elegant little café in the heart of the main theater district, next door to the Thália Theater and near the Opera House, has live piano music daily from 7 PM and has an impressive cherry-wood-like staircase leading up to its small second-floor room.

On the second night, Jennifer found yet another treasure and there I ate a Hungarian dish called Sztrapacska, a dish that will go on my top 5 dinners in the world so far.   She has superb taste in wines too and so it was that we had another delightful Hungarian red wine with our food.  It may be that she will cross-post a Hungarian wine post for me here.  We really enjoyed all that we tasted.

And the food has all been very affordable. 

Budapest impressed me for so many reasons. Andrássy Avenue became familar very quickly, the Opera House too.  We ended up using a hop on/hop off bus, attempting to cover as much of the city as possible during our two nights there.  We crossed the Danube on the bus and it took us up into the hills of Pest ... or was it Buda?  Buda I think.

Up there we met Iain, a fellow kiwi who wandered over and asked us if we were kiwis.  It was lovely to meet someone from home.  The accent still gives me the most delightful jolt when I hear it unexpectedly.  We chatted a while, up there on the hill and then later, said hi when we met up with him and his Spanish traveling companions in the ruin pub.

And once all this traveling is done, I hope to hunt down books on the history of the city, and the characters who helped create it, most particularly Matthias Corvinus, 1443-1490.  He seems like he might have been a fascinating man.  As a Renaissance ruler, he established education institutions, patronized art and science, and introduced a new legal system in the Kingdom of Hungary. In the era of his kingship, Matthias strongly endeavored to follow the model and ideas of the philosopher-king as described in Plato’s Republic.

There were sad stories too but they're for another post perhaps.

I would like to return and explore some more of this country called Hungary. I was intrigued, fascinated and impressed by the people, the cuisine, the city of Budapest.

Road-Tripping ...Things I'm Learning

The best random car radio I've heard anywhere in the world so far was between Rijeka, Croatia and Budapest, Hungary.  I guess it's music I know so perhaps there was some nostalgia from the 70s and 80s involved but honestly, excellent music for that 4+ hour journey.

If you have a rental car that doesn't charge your GPS as you travel, chances are you might have some challenging experiences when attempting to reach your destination

First hint of trouble was in Verona.  Many people were approached for directions to our final destination in the heart of the ancient city.  Rijeka, and voila, although we tried to leave the GPS alone and simply rely on it for the complicated city-leaving and arrival parts ... the GPS battery started to die about one kilometre from our destination.

About then we became suspicious of the coincidence of the destination flag appearing and the battery warning appearing.  Maybe it had some kind of bug in the machine. 

Budapest ... about a kilometre from our destination, having really rested the GPS, up came the battery warning along with the destination flag. We were caught in a long traffic jam on the other side of the river.  Julie laughed.  I was not amused.

We crossed over into Austria yesterday and barely used the GPS.  No flag appeared as we neared our Vienna destination ... the 'bug' in the GPS suspicion is over.  The rental car has a faulty charger.  We shall proceed with caution, relying mostly on the big highway signs.  It's Trieste today and a longer journey that will take us through Slovenia.

But back to other things learned ... be clear on destinations programmed into the GPS. We had hoped to call in for lunch in Zagreb but managed to miscommunicate on programming that idea in.  We passed by and realised, after a conversation, that we love the journey as much as the destinations so we continued on.  4+ hours of road-tripping was a really excellent Plan B, although we did detour to a secondary road and visit a lake before leaving Hungary.

Budapest, brilliant city.  Loved it but more to follow in another post. 

Julie's handbag.  The one that sits behind us on the floor of the backseat.  Yes Julie, it is a marvellous bag that holds so much but ... let's be sure that I pull out your sunglasses, your normal glasses, your lip balm, your iPod music player (although that's more useful if charged), and every other thing I have had to grapple with on the road trip while you have driven us across Europe.

But okay, yes, perhaps it would have lacked a certain sense of achievement had we been that organised.

Air B&B, a great way to travel. We've stayed in local homes and apartments, met excellent people that I have to write more about when I have all the information and life isn't about the journey.  I'm writing this from a student flat in Vienna, where one of our hosts is a lovely Croatian guy studying architecture.  He was just in Rijeka last week.  They are a delightful couple and we're glad that we did it.  Julie organised it all and she has made me a convert because I do love meeting people where ever I go.   

It's another big old apartment complex with at least two inner courtyards.  The Budapest apartment was my favourite so far ... directly behind the opera house and truly exquisite, inner courtyard, beautiful ironwork on the inside and that delicious sense that you are experiencing something of an everyday life in each place.

Learned while living in Istanbul ... always look for cafes and restaurants that are full of locals. Do not be tempted to do anything else.  If you know someone, all the better, ask them where to eat.  We have eaten divinely while traveling.   It's been less about expensive and upmarket and so very much about good local food.  Hungary has been my absolute favourite so far. 

If in doubt about where to eat, stop someone who looks like they might eat in places you would like to eat in.  Asking politely worked every time.

Wines ... some countries you can barely go wrong, other countries have a wine culture to be explored with caution.  Perhaps that's as specific as I'll get but I do love countries where I can find my beloved Italian red wines. We enjoyed this Croatian red wine.   And were really impressed by Hungarian red wine ... absolutely lovely.  Thanks to Jennifer.

Men from Manchester on stag weekends in Budapest ... very friendly, quite naughty but with a lovely humour that meant we always wandered away on laughing.  We met 3 groups on our second night there.  Yes, they made us laugh.

Croatians in Rijeka speak beautiful English.  We were told by the lovely wine guy that they start studying it in fourth grade.  Hungarians in Budapest also speak beautiful English. 

Maybe that's enough for this post.  I wanted to finish up with a photograph of the most divine fish and chips I've had any place so far ...located on Andrássy Avenue, we would absolutely recommend The Bigfish restaurant because their cod and chips were sublime.

This Morning in Rijeka

One of things I love best when I travel is developing a sense of ease and familiarity in each new place and so, when Julie woke with a headcold this morning and I woke with a desire for a good espresso, we agreed I should coffee and she should drink her tea and wake slowly.

It's a crispy autumn morning here in Rijeka, tons of sunshine ... I needed my jacket and scarf.  We're right on the sea here, so the air is clear.

We have a favourite cafe here in the city.  Just below us, on the Korso, and we love it for all kinds of reasons. The espresso is superb, the food is good too, and the staff are friendly and speak impeccable English.  I would recommend the Filodrammatica Bookshop Caffe here in Rijeka without resevation.

Sitting there in the sun watching the world go by got rid of the last of yesterday's headache.  And a good night's sleep did the rest.  We're off to Budapest today, with me still feeling a little like Alice, that girl who fell down a rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

But first ... we must find out how to rescue the car from the carpark we left it in.  There's the small matter of a lost carparking ticket.  Here's to it ending well.

A Quiet Afternoon in Croatia

The sun is shining here in the city of Rijeka, and although  we went wandering this morning ... finding a market, a park, and a beautiful coffee-making cafe, I have returned to the apartment to write a long-promised post for another website I admire.

And I'm nursing a headache.   One of those ones that come from an old neck injury that doesn't respond well to this thing and that thing ... maybe one or many of those things I have done these last few days. I'm hoping to 'rest' my way out of it here in the quiet of the apartment.

Meanwhile Julie's off to climb 500 steps to the top of a hill that we were told we must visit. She has her camera. I shall live vicariously through her images.  And the sun is pouring down on me as I sit here, next to the window, about to begin working.  Adele is singing.

Tot straks.

Room With A View ...

We moved locations yesterday, driving some 250kms, heading for the foothills of the French Alps.  And I am quietly excited because, after so many years of reading climbing literature, I shall finally visit Mont Blanc.  A testing point for so many of the climbers I read.

This new gite is a quirky little cottage, 3-stories high and about 3 metres wide.  It's more like a wilderness cottage in New Zealand, in some ways but still, there's a log fire burning, we cooked dinner in the tiny kitchen, we have free internet and there's tv too.

But more than anything, I am stunned by how like the Queenstown/Fiordland area this place is.  We arrived in 27 celsius yesterday, I was completely destroyed by the huge pollen count - late Springs can do this they tell me.  Our car was coated in pollen when we parked in Annecy.  Thankfully the rain rolled in, we've even heard some thunder roll around in the mountains beside us ... and rain, blessed rain.  It took the temperature down to 13 celsius and washed away the pollen. 

But my idea of mountains, much to Gert's amusement, is that they should always be draped in fog and clouds.  They're at their best that way.  There's a creek running near the house, the rain beat down most of the afternoon, the birds sung, taking over from the cicadas who had greeted us. 

Nature is alive and well in this corner of France and I have to admit, I'm really impressed by it all.  The photograph was taken from the top floor of the cottage.  Tomorrow and Tuesday shall involve much exploring and, quite probably, many more photographs. 

Au revoir.

Bourgogne, France

After 4  days off-off-line, here I am ... posting a snapshot of a dinner we made in Bourgogne, France.

This region is beautiful.   Really beautiful.

I'm using my small travel laptop and I'm really not sure about the screen.  I know there's a problem with a strange kind of film over all of the images I view on it so ... I will post snapshots, tell you some stories, and wait to process the best of the beauty when I am home again.


I flew over to Genova last Friday and immediately, upon arriving ... stories began to unfold.

It was a madly-busy, exquisitely-joyfilled 5-days.  And I couldn't reach the back-end of my website for some reason but honestly, I had no spare time. 

I stayed with the kindest friends out at Arenzano.  And I met their friend, the talented artist Giorgio Bormida.  Actually, I wanted to cook dinner for Francesca and Beppe before I left, and ended up cooking for Giorgio too.  It was only as I began dinner prep that I thought ... 'What have I done??!  Cooking isn't really my best thing'.  But they were all very kind.

I caught up with some of my favourite people there in the city but completely missed out on catching up with others.  It was lovely to catch up with Stefano, the owner/operator of Righicam, over lunch.  And with Francesca and Norma, from Le Gramole.

And then there was that 24 hours spent working with Diana, staying at B&B Baur with her and Micha.  It was sublime ... photographs and words to follow in the days to come.  I heard my first cuckoo as I sat by the open window in the morning.  And the views  ...

The kindness of Genovese strangers stunned me and ... well, it made me smile.  A lot really.  I met a lovely guy at a concert in Palazzo Ducale, who kindly explained all that was happening, to Outi and I.  But Outi and I is another whole story.

Meanwhile, here I am, just in from an 11-hour day of traveling.  It was a day that involved a train, a taxi, a plane from Genova to Rome, a bus to and from the plane, another plane to Brussels, then a bus and a tram home.

I shall return with photographs downloaded, with a mind rested and ready to tell you some stories.

A Short Walk in Genova ...

Really, it was just meant to be a very short walk through the city, with a stop for coffee at my favourite cafe, Caffè degli specchi - on Salita Pollaivoli 43/R, then back to work on the book ...

That was THE PLAN.

3 hours later, and I returned home, having met the most interesting Genovese along the way.  I'll write more on them in other posts but it was delightful.

I talked with the man who imports beautiful furniture from India, goods that have been made ethically, both in terms of labour and wood, and sells them here at his shop - Safarà.  You can visit his website here.

I chatted with a designer creating the most exquisite clothes.

I bought my pesto and gnocchi from the women who make the best in the world ... or so says I, this ignorant straniero.

Then down to Bio Soziglia, in Macelli di Sozigli,a for a bio lettuce and 2 tomatoes ... I also popped in at Le Gramole Olioteca while I was down there and bought the most exquisite mozzarella.  I asked for instruction on how to look after it, mostly because I felt slightly intimidated by the quality of it ...  Francesca was kind and explained.  And I was right ask, I didn't know that the cheese can taste better if served at room temperature, nor how long I could keep it for after opening it.

And on back up the hill, for my focaccia from the forno on via Ravecca.  The focaccia is good enough to walk a distance for.

A ciao to Lorenzo at cibi e libri and home ... to eat some of the food I had hunted-gathered. 

A good day, and now ... the book.

Diana Baur, a meeting

At the weekend, and thanks to the kindness of Stefano and Miriam, I finally met one of my favourite bloggers, ceramic artists and B&B owners ... the lovely Diana Baur.

Diana and her husband run a beautiful B&B in Acqui Terme, Northern Italy, and it so happened that I discovered that they were located just a few kilometres down the road from where I was spending the weekend. 

I will use their words, already written, to introduce you to their beautiful B&B in Italy: B&B Baur is a top-rated inn, located in the beautiful Roman Spa city of Acqui Terme, in Piemonte, Italy.  Surrounded by history and thousands of hectares of wine hills,  Piemonte is known to gourmets and wine experts from all over the world as Italy’s premier gastronomic and enological region.  To read more ...

Diana showed us around on Sunday, explaining the renovations, and talking with Stefano and Miriam of NYC.  A place much-loved by all three of them.  

Anyway, I can't recommend this beautiful place highly enough, and Diana and her husband are delightful hosts.  You can get a sense of the B&B via her photographs here.

Her art and ceramics can also be viewed on her website.  And she has her first book being published soon but you can read more of that on her blog - A Certain Simplicity.

Grazie to everyone who made that meeting possible.

Just a note really ...

Life goes on, here in Genova.  It's 20 celsius, as I write this, and I can hear the beautiful hum that this city makes, as people end their day of working and meet for aperitivo.

I've been working at the kitchen table that looks out over the street here, window open ... washing drying in the beautiful weather.  I can hear the Swallows playing their kamikaze-like games out in the skies.  They squeal as they chase each other up and down streets.

I found a wonderful art gallery today. We couldn't talk because we lacked language but I loved the work I saw there.  It's not the photograph, which is beautiful anyway, but what the artist does with the photograph afterwards.

The lion you see on the home page inspired me to visit with the lions of San Lorenzo as I passed by them today but I just discovered my TIM connection is too slow here, in Genova ... I  can't load my image.  Perhaps I'll stop by at the internet cafe tomorrow anyway ... ciao from Genova.