city of cats…

**I just reread this and realised how lazily it’s written… might have to edit this at some stage . Sorry about that – jmc**

Has it really been a month already? Sorry about that – I’ve been busy doing and not writing about doing for a change.

Lets catch up. Hows life with you? Great to hear!

Me? I’m currently in Istanbul, Turkey taking the long way home via Turkey and Nepal before heading back down to Antarctica in late October for the summer season. Yepo, so that’s definitely happening – more on that later.

So why Turkey you say? A fellow traveler in Romania planted the seed of a visit to Istanbul on my long, meandering trip homewards (cheaper to get home via Istanbul/Nepal than a direct flight from Bucharest). and so far its been on of those completely unplanned pleasures that makes wandering this planet so much fun.

Although nearing the end of week 3 now in Istanbul alone, I’ve only just started to settle in and really see the historic heart and troubled soul of this incredibly complex city.

Istanbul is just so breathtakingly beautiful at times you have to pinch yourself to remind yourself its real.

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where real men fish… (off Galata bridge)…

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and the street cats rule…

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…but first things first.

Last time we chatted I was in Romania, and I flew from Bucharest to Istanbul late last month.

The flight was cheap and uneventful – it was a little sad to leave Romania but it was finally time to move on I guess before I got too comfortable.

Flying TAROM Air, Romania’s national budget carrier – everything went smoothly despite all the negative reviews they get, and I arrived at Istanbul’s Attaturk Airport (on the Asian side) late in the evening.

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The airport wasn’t particularly busy, but it was stifling hot and stuffy. Immigration was a breeze and the lines moved fairly quickly but I was a sweaty mess by the time I got to the barrier (never a good thing), but I guess everyone is here so they just stamped my passport and waved me through.

I’m glad I printed out my E-Visa and had it handy though – some people with an electronic version had trouble at Immigration.

Right. I’m in. So far so good!

First stop at the Attaturk Airport (once done running the Duty Free gauntlet) was to get some local cash from an ATM (easy peasy) and then find a local phone sim. I’d decided to just stay with Vodaphone (sheer laziness) instead of the recommended TurkCell. It was late and the Vodaphone reseller was the first shop I came to.

The language barrier became apparent as soon as I landed as I had done NO prep for the Turkish language at all. The Vodaphone sales rep gave me the whole sales pitch in stilted English as I tried unsuccessfully to keep up using Google Translate. In the end I gave up and just went with his recommendation.

BIG EXPENSIVE MISTAKE.

End result – I got a prepaid sim with 17GB data and 1000 minutes of calls for about 370 Turkish Lira ($80 AUD). That is SUPER expensive (compared to the 5 Euro 50GB/unlimited calls/texts I got in Romania). Turkcell at the airport wasn’t much better.

Lesson learned? DON’T BUY A SIM FROM THE AIRPORT, and definitely don’t buy Vodaphone in Turkey. Go Turkcell and get it once you hit Istiklal St.

Anyway, I had connectivity and navigation now, which made life much easier and I could kick myself for lack of preparation later. It was late – 10pmish – and I had another hour on a bus to get to the Hostel. Ahhh the bus. now where was that shuttle to the City?

After a bit of fluffing around trying to find the right shuttle bay, I found the bus to Taksim, paid my 12 TL, and settled in for the ride. Resting my head against the glass window, the vibration of the bus soothing the jarred airport nerves, I watched the city lights slide by and noticed the traffic building. We crossed a massive suspension bridge, it’s wires and cables glowing a bright crimson red; unbroken streams of honking traffic and flashing headlights flowing relentlessly across its 6 lanes.

‘Wow…busy’, I thought.

Then the bus arrived at the Taksim Square stop.

JEEZ LOUISE!

After the relative quietness of Bucharest (never thought I’d say THAT), landing in Taksim Square, Istanbul was a sensory punch in the face. I’d basically landed in the centre of THE tourist hotspot of Istanbul on a Thursday night and it was a little…hectic.

Bustling and noisy and crowded and everything that I wasn’t expecting (idiot), it took me a few moments to adjust before checking Google Maps and heading off towards my hostel, weaving through back streets and narrow alleys before finally turning on Istiklal Street.

WTF! TOO MANY PEOPLE.

Istiklal Street stopped me in my tracks as I tried to adjust to this new level of chaos. It was a swirling tidal wave of babbling humanity, people coming at you from every conceivable angle, bumping and thumping or elbowing past.

I was drowning slightly in this swollen flood of people and the sheer energy of it all was ferociously overwhelming. Pushing my way to the edge, I swam across the human rip and finally slipped into a sidestreet to escape the crowd and get back on track.

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Ahhh…so close! Just down this dark narrow alley.

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Only 2 streets off the chaos, down an eerily silent and deserted back alley,  I find my little Jumba hostel, a wonderful family run Hostel snuggled in between cafes and antique shops and my home for the next 3 weeks.

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After a bit of a ‘Mission Impossible’ session to find the right door, enter the access code, find the hidden keys in a bookcase and figure out the trick to open the Hostel door, it was a self check in to a quiet, empty Hostel and a massive sigh of relief. I was finally here.

11.30pm Thursday – I’m in and can try to get some sleep before heading out to explore my new home bright and early tomorrow.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

5.30am Friday morning, a call to prayer blasts me awake from the mosque right across the street…oh well I’m not getting any more sleep so why not. It’s a nice way to wake up actually, and a perfectly beautiful day to start exploring 🙂

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So what to do on Day 1? It was stinking hot and humid by 7am so the first port of call was coffee.  All I had to do was find a decent coffee shop closeby, and MAN was I in luck.

Staying in the heart of Beyoglu was pure luck as its full of art galleries, boutiques, cafes and third wave coffee shops…I’m in caffeine heaven here at the moment, and I soon found Kronotrop roastery about 3 minute walk away. BRILLIANT coffee and a quick double espresso plus croissant got me started for a long way of walking.Istanbul.

Now you’ll remember that I did virtually NO research on Istanbul. What I didn’t realise is that this city is built on 7 hills and is much like the hilliest parts of San Francisco pretty much all over.

If you walk, its a hillclimb all the way.

The first day I walked 17kms and by the end of it my legs were cramping and I was exhausted. But I felt AMAZING and had walked all over my neighbourhood to get my bearings, then headed farther and farther afield. By the end of the day I had a good grip of where I was and the layout of the city (at least this part).

Day 2 and 3 were me realising how massive this city is and how I cant possibly hope to explore it all even in 3 weeks (especially on foot, as Day 2 was over 20kms of city hiking, day 3 close to 24km).  My “dont have a plan” plan wouldn’t work here.

So I made a list : what were the touristy things to see and how could I get them out of the way first.

Galata Tower, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Museum, Grand Bazaar, Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Bosphorus tour. These were the dot points that every other 3 day backpacker hits when they come to Istanbul, so I set out with a plan to cover them all off over the next few days and then dig a little deeper once I scratched that “tourist” itch.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday I walked close to 100kms around this city from dawn til dusk, at first ticking the tourist boxes and then getting purposefully lost. If I recognised a street, I’d turn off it just to see where the new road led.

Getting lost in a new city with no time constraints is a wonderful luxury and the best possible way to explore. Pretty soon I was heading out into areas that the tourists didn’t go. To the not so pretty areas, to the ruined derelict buildings and the garbage filled empty lots filled with streets cats, barking dogs and rotting refuse.

To the tourist free parts of town where life happens.

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I learned that the street dogs with the green ear tags are rabies free and that the others aren’t. (soooo many street dogs). That the street cats here are actually well loved and cared for (it’s a City of Cats and its just wonderful).

I discovered that street food is safe and plentiful and I that need to try the stuffed clams and the fish sandwiches. That Gosleme and Manti are super easy to make and that a shot of aniseed flavoured Raki will blow your socks off. That Turkish standup comedy is hilarious and Open Mike Nights in English here are a lot of fun. That the roar of the city wide Call to Prayer is ‘live” here and not recorded, that the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia ‘sing’ to each other at Prayer Times, and that the Romans actually did actually do amazing things here that persist today (like the massive Basilica water cistern under the city and the 12 miles of aqueduct that supplied it)

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I also learned that the Internet is heavily monitored and censored by the government, that using VPNs is illegal here, and that negative online comments about the country and it’s leader can land you in prison. I wandered along discretely with the now-banned weekly ‘Saturday Mothers’ protest, snapping away quietly until the plainclothes Police began arresting people and the Riot Police moved in with water cannon trucks and tear gas; eventually getting noticed, picked up and questioned by the uniformed Police about being at this protest – ‘Who are you, what are you doing here, give me your camera…” – *more on this later.

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I was bewitched by the beauty of the Hagia Sophia and the Suleiman mosque, and the history on display at the Museums and Galleries, and found more of this city’s Roman and Byzantine history that is ever mentioned in the tourist brochures, and what I discovered delighted me.

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to be continued (once I’m in Nepal…)

stinkyman… (2 carriages : 1 bitch part 2)

… so where was I?

OK. Oradea.

Stunning place.

I step a long half meter down to the platform – Ms Shittypants has waited til last to leave as well. We carefully avoid eye contact as we hit the concrete: thankfully she is quickly lost in the crowded station.

The station is tiny!

Pushing through the milling throng waiting to get on the train, I headed for the ticket and information office to find out about my connection – due in 35 minutes.

Luckily it’s seems quiet and no long queues.

The arrivals and departures are in Romanian – pfffft no dramas – Google Translate nails it but I can’t see my train listed.

IR263 from Oradea to Cluj-napoca.

Nothing even close.

Ok…

So what about the clicketty clack board showing the next 4 arrivals/departures?

Not a sausage.

“Dammit!”

Where’s my connection?

I line up at the Information window and wait my turn quietly (Romanians are the best at queues, like Canberrans only better).

Finally I get to the window and slap my ticket up against the glass.

“Salut !” says I merrily, with the now patented dumb tourist smile. “which platform is IR 263 to Cluj please?”

The lady damn well eyerolls me!

She looks at the ticket, looks at the train about to leave (the one I just got off) looks at me and says “that one – platform 1 – you have 1 minute!- GO!”

“FUCK what!!!!!!”

“Merseeeeeeeeeee…” I call as I run out the door into the platform and can feel her second eyeroll penetrate my back like a bullet.

I sprint to the train as the doors close but my tiny brain monkey 🐒 “ooks” at me…

“Oook! Hold on a tick…”

I stop and run up to the poorly uniformed unshaven guard at the door, already knowing that he speaks no English. I show him my ticket and point to the train just about to leave.

“Da? Nu?” I ask.

He shakes his head “nu” and I run back inside to the ticket counter.

“The guard says no” I tell the lady.

She eyerolls me a third time and jabs a inch long bright red fingernail at the train on platform 1.

“Why do you mean he said no. THAT one!” and stabs a finger again to the train I just got off.

Her drawn on eyebrows almost pop off her head, she raises them so high.

“FUCK! / oook! ” say my brains in unison.

I run out and punch the green open door button on the train door and move up towards first class, back to where my seat was.

There’s a new lady sitting there now, but someone well dressed and under 40 so English hopefully!!! I smile dumbly and show her my ticket.

She says kindly, as if speaking to a child “let me see…No, not this one…”,

“I should get off?”

“Yes you need to get off”

A whistle blows from the platform.

“Merseeeeeeeeeee!!!” I call over my shoulder while running at the door, punching the green button and jumping off just as the train starts to move.

*Bet she eye rolled me, just quietly.

Now alone on the platform, I take a long breath and blow it out like the steam train I wish I was on.

“Whew that was lucky!”

Now what? Do I book another ticket? Is there another train?

The train pulls away, and I wander inside just as a clackitty clack starts clackitty clackiting just above my head and I glance up.

The sign changes slowly, like a spinning wheel on a old fashioned poker machine, but instead of fruit or cards it is spinning letters and numbers.

Sure enough… one character at a time, IR363 : 17.55 clicketty clacks into view on the board. Platform 3 in 20 minutes.

Perfect.

Time for a quick wee, so I wander up and pay 1 leu for the privilege of a 10 second wee in Oradea, then buy a Romanian knockoff Cornetto for 3.5 leu and find a spot on a square wooden planter to sit quietly and contemplate the next leg of the journey.

Quite interesting so far! I should take trains more often!

Munch munch munch on my fake Cornetto.

I notice an odd smell; sniff at my armpit and shirt, then discretely scratch my ass to check if I’ve somehow shat myself.

Nope, not today!

What’s that sm….

<something in Romanian Romanian Romanian> mumbles a voice in my ear, and I turn to see the filthiest man I’ve seen in quite a while carefully place a steaming dirty paper cup on the bench behind me and move to take a seat next to me.

In my head I hear the buzzing of many flies.

He smiles through a mask of grime and tries to strike up a conversation, but it’s no use – I’m tired and hot, but even sign language won’t save this chat as the smell is overpowering, like a dead cat dipped in dogshit and left in a plastic bag for a week.

I apologise and wish him good evening in my bad Romanian ( buno siéra is as close as I get), shook his hand (wish I hadn’t) and headed for the platform just as my train pulls in.

Excellent timing!

I check my carriage number against the hand written sign stuck to the train window; a lovely lady in a white dress and floppy wide brimmed hat, dragging a zebra suitcase and looking like a Parisian cafe dweller punches the door button and struggles with her bag – I help her up the half metre step up … (of course I do 😉 – I’m a gentleman)

“Merci…”

“No worries…”

She turns left and vanishes to the posh end of the train and I head right for cattle class and an unexpected surprise…

The train is lovely!

A second class ticket gets me a window seat and working aircon, the carriage is virtually empty and the group across from me are deaf so it’s practically silent except for the gentle slapping of hands as they sign to each other.

It’s also cooler as we climb into the mountains, just now following the course of a large river. It’s absolutely beautiful out my window, but nearly 9pm : a total shame it’s getting dark just at the best part of the journey.

The remainder of the train journey was lovely – darkness whipping by outside my window, cool  aircon, quiet cabin, and that gentle regular clicketty clack, clicketty clack that puts you to sleep putting me to sleep 💤.

I recharged my phone and didn’t make eye contact or mime with anyone.

Ahhhhh…..

So what next? 10 minutes from Cluj, Then a short half hour walk to my Airbnb in the Old City ( yeees I’m treating myself) where my host is waiting to let me in, and I’m going to sleep in a comfy bed and not a hostel for a few nights.

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, nothing! My new digs are slap bang in the middle of the Old City, and it’s a quick 25 minute walk from the train station last some of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals and statues I’ve seen yet.

The apartment is super small – almost like a tiny house but it’s perfect : quiet, comfy and just enough room for one.

The host meets me at the door, hands me a key and buggers off, so that’s it!

I’m out for the night, 12am.

Gnight all.

Exploring Cluj tomorrow!

** yes I know my tense is all fucked up. I’ll edit it later. I’m tired.

2 carriages – 1 bitch…

So First Class travel eh?

Sure I’ll give it a crack!

Romantic visions of every movie I’ve seen about luxurious European train travel flickered through my mind as I booked the ticket online through the Romanian Train Ticketing system.

Chuffing through the dark Romanian forests and winding through the fairytale Carpathian Mountain tunnels, white smoke billowing from the tunnels mouth as the train chuffs through…maybe even a murder!

For $30 ! Yes please.

So…?

Well Chief…missed it by THAT much.

The reality is all commuter train and allocated seating in our cosy little first class Hell; it’s glass, 32+ degrees outside and blazing sun; the compartment is full, the aircon doesn’t work and we can’t open the windows.

I burst immediately into a lathering sweat as soon as I sit down, as do the rest of the passengers.

Not quite what I imagined but it explains the raised eyebrows and mild amusement when I mentioned to Oana that I was traveling by train.

Awesome: we may die of heat exhaustion but at least the train left on time 🙂 …my seat mates are an older couple that speak no English and a younger lady that does but is totally occupied with staying cool cool cool and her Iphone.

I say ‘Hi’ and she gets up and leaves, heading down to 2nd Class where the aircon is working and takes the last spare seat.

Dammit, wish I’d thought of that.

It’s super hot today (Europe’s having a heatwave, not a tropical heatwave, but a heatwave nonetheless…) and being sealed in this train is not fun at all so far as the drippy layer of whole body sweat slowly dries out and my poor self acclimatises to the oven-like heat in this 2 carriage glass coffin.

Even the locals in First Class are suffering from heat fatigue and they ask the Conductor about it.

He shrugs and walks back into the air conditioned drivers cabin.

There may well be a murder yet.

It’s baking out there!

Let’s try distraction.

Train travel allows for the rare luxury of writing and going somewhere simultaneously and not having to drive!

The landscape flashing by is much like where I come from (🇦🇺 Australia) and strangely familiar: expansive rolling hills and fields of mown green grass fringed with low trees blurring to groves of stone fruit orchards – nectarines, cherries, peaches – flicking to expansive stubbled deserts of dry straw haystacks pebbled with brown-green hay bales flipping to endless green and yellow seas of sunflowers 🌻, all wilting slightly in the summer heat, heads down like an old man having a snooze after a big dinner and a snifter of brandy.

What is surprising though are the number of small hamlets and marginally larger towns dotting the way – every few kilometers there seems to be a new little village with a tall steepled church and a little railway siding, a few tall red brick or metal and concrete grain silos, and little red roofed 🏠.

So many villages!

It’s super duper rural in places though and here the sunflower fields and tall corn literally seem to vanish over the horizon.

At each level crossing, the train 🚊 lets loose a blast or two of its tinny whistle – a somewhat half hearted and rather breathy “MEEeeeep…” – to shoo cars and carts and the odd cow off the track (by causing them to roll away laughing I expect)

So what the Hell am I doing on a train?

I’m in my way to Cluj Napoca, Romania’s 4th largest city but I’ve decided to travel by train via Oradea ( in the North) and then cut through the mountains ⛰ to see what’s what – I should be in Cluj by 10pm.

So 6 hour train ride and free sightseeing tour! Yay!

Let’s go live!

Ticket inspectors move through the cabin, punching tickets and checking ID – I’d been warned about these guys and I think I have everything in order. Surprisingly they give only a cursory glance at my photo ID and printed ticket so after a quick hand written notation by the inspector, they move on.

*More than a little disappointed I think that he couldn’t find anything wrong with my ticket or credentials and so couldn’t fine me.

He’s not done yet though and gives the older man across from me a hard time about his ID and a bit of an argument occurs about something (I know not what) and THEN has a crack at the older mans wife.

Uhoh.

There’s are mildly raised voices, wavy hands and pointy fingers as it escalates to when they get issued a fine (i think) – in any case they get handed another type of ticket by a satisfied looking ticket inspector and they are not happy about it.

The man digs out his wallet and pulls a few extra bills out. Hands it to the Inspector, who writes out a new ticket and gives it to the man, who is still not happy, and gives he Inspector another mouthful.

Dammit!

I’m getting flicked in the face by the sweat off both men’s wildly waving hands and the argument continues – I’m trying to ignore it and typing this up as they argue about 2 feet from my face.

Something is dripping on my neck, and I look up – a bag in the rack over my head has sprung a leak – other passengers and a sloppily uniformed conductor, in his red hat and poorly fitting uniform, see it and try to find where it’s coming from.

Of course they point to my stuff first.

Uh no sorry guys – my water bottle is in the opposite luggage rack. It’s this black pipe here that’s leaking, not my bag.

So they fluff around and surprise surprise – it’s not my bag, but rather leaking condensation from the aircon pipes – the aircon that apparently doesn’t work.

At least the drips on my neck are cooling me down.

The older couple across from me are having a moment. He’s in trouble.

Poor guy. I’ve been there. He’s stuffed up and his wife isn’t happy, gazing quietly out the window as hubby tries to explain what happened. I’ve heard that tone many times with my own parents when Dad did something silly and Mum had the shits.

Hell I’ve used that tone myself.

“It’s not my fault” , “I did check the ticket”… or ineffective words to that effect.

“Hmmm” says the wife, quietly gazing out at the scenery.

She stares, he explains, the train stops at and they get off at Vinga barely an hour into the trip.

My new seat mate is an older lady with bags of shopping, and wants to chat but I’ve had to revert to Google Translate as I dont speak Romanian and she doesn’t speak English.

It’s working so far, well I’m assuming it is anyway.

We fumble at introductions, fail, and settle in for the next few hours.

She shows me some pictures of her daughter, son and a new baby. She’s going to visit them, she mimes.

“I’m a stupid tourist, travelling around Romania by train” I mime back to her, and show her some photos of my family. She smiles – I don’t think I had to explain the stupid part.

Now what? I’ll take some photos for this blog!

The slim youngish mother lady across from me is getting the shits with me taking pictures out “her” window, scowls and points out my own window – a clear ” this is my window, use your own”. Even my patented dumb tourist smile does nothing and she scowls each time I look out her window.

“I’m just taking photos of the countryside!” I try to smilingly explain.

Nothing.

I try to mime “I’m just taking photos of the countryside” but she just glares and points at my window.

Meh…

It’s so not worth it so I turn my back as best I can. I take photos out my window, directly into the blazing sun.

Great.

We are heading slowly north towards Arad and the scenery breaks into flat farming land but now with factories scattered instead of silos.

Ok wow!

Lady Shittypants has gone and found the ticket inspector and has complained about me taking photos out her window – he comes over and asks to see my phone (as I’m typing this) and so I show him – no big deal. He wants to see the video and photos I’m taking.

“Ok. Sure. Here tis! Fill your boots”

So I show him: unlock and hand him my phone – he flicks through my photos and the few seconds of video of the town I took just when the train whistled.

I can’t see the big deal really. Neither can he – we look at each other and shrug … Meh? Meh.

All you can see is what’s outside window in bright sunlight and dark foreground figures in silhouette.

He turns and shows the lady what’s on my phone, she looks across at me with snake eyes and says something quietly in Romanian to the guy …then he comes over and asks me to delete the photo and video.

Suddenly she can speak English.

It’s a miracle.

“I ask him to take photos out his own window” she says waving a pointy finger at me, a none too subtle note of victory in her thin, shrill voice.

The Inspector turns back to me.

“Delete, please” – there’s a barely discernable sigh and a subtle silent pleading in his eyes that says – “please… just do it, I don’t want to deal with this woman”

“Yeah sure” says I, big dumb Aussie tourist smile … he holds my phone as I delete the video and a wobbly photo in front of him…

“There you go mate! No problems!”

Satisfied, he returns my phone and turns back to the lady.

She is still giving me a smirky stink eye so I smile and apologise yet again. Loudly, so folks can hear.

“Sorry” says my smiling mouth but my eyes flash “Bitch!”.

The ticket inspector moves on to hassle another older couple about their ticket.

It’s so hot now people are getting weird.

The older grey haired chatty lady taps me on the leg and smiles, and makes that swirly finger motion at her temple : “she’s crazy- don’t worry about it love”, her gesture says.

She points to the Inspector, rubs her index finger and thumb together and winks at me. Ahhhh – he wants a bribe from the older couple.

Same thing happened in Tunisia in ’16 after taking some innocent photos of a big 🌵 at a remote soldiers checkpoint near the Algerian border.

“You! Delete the photos now”

“Sure ! sorry ! See all done! no problems, sirs”

They didn’t check the Iphones Deleted Items folder either…

Screw you lady.

The journey continues..

We stop for a quick smoke break – the smokers leap off for the chance to shave another 15 minutes off their lives and the cabin fills the aroma of rich cigarette smoke from outside through the open doors.

The older lady sits on the floor to try to escape the sun that’s slowly cooking her, but the guard makes her go back to her seat. She isn’t doing too well, and she signs to me that she is 70.

We’ve worked out a combination of sign language and mime plus stilted English and Romanian via google translate, and have found out that her daughter has had new baby and her son is either a chef or manages a restaurant (dammit i can never spell that word first go – it’s a mental block for me – always has been)

The poor lady is not coping well with the heat though so I offer my water bottle, filled from the hundred year old fountain in Unirii Square. Such good water in Timisoara!

We share my remaining water and she drags out a crumpled plastic coffee cup to drink from. I make her have another cup of water before taking a drink myself, and try to communicate again.

It’s harder than I expected (and as I’m typing this whilst conversing admittedly I’m not giving this conversation my full attention).

I bail – it’s too hard – the heat finally getting to me and I disengage, staring absently out the window and almost directly into the sun. My arms and face are burning even through the heavily tinted windows.

Almost at Oradea. A 40 minute stop to change trains and then head to Cluj.

Let’s hope the next leg goes smoothly…we’re here!

Orodea… breathtaking…

Not really.

Dare I take a photo through the front of the train?

Sure why not…let’s see what happens.

Almost at the station then next stop… Cluj-Napoca!

What could possibly go wrong!

To be continued…

Roam-ania…

Yep there’s a good reason I haven’t been writing lately: too many Dad jokes and awful puns bouncing around in my brain.

I’ll quietly get them out of the way while I check out a coffee shop Oana recommended – OVRIDE coffee in the Timişoara City Centre. It’s buzzing here, almost as much as my caffeine high – their La Encanta Peruvian blend is making my brain sparkle.

I like this spot. Great coffee and super friendly. The boss is passionate about his coffee – if only the owners wife would let him buy a coffee roaster (no, it will take up too much of his time from his other job) 🙂

Wait what? Romania? …I’d better bring you up to date.

Anyhoo, I hadn’t been traveling all that much since March – well, at least compared to usual, anyway. Some time in Canberra and Melbourne, a few weeks in Thailand – barely enough to feed the ravenous travel beast that howls within.

Waiting on the next contract to go down South again for the 2018/2019 summer had me frustrated and spinning my wheels back in Dubbo (ugh) – medicals done, and no psych testing required this year I was just waiting waiting waiting and walking walking walking.

*Selling my car a few years back may not have been the best move as it kinda screws you when you live in regional Australia.

It also meant that I had nothing but time on my hands – a luxury that I hadn’t placed much value in until only recently. SO…what to do with this time?

Well cleaning out the family storage shed was something that needed to be done, so my sister arranged for a garbage skip, and I set to work over the course of a week or so going over the poorly boxed contents of our parents house – the result of 60 years of marriage and a lifetime together – and figuring out what to keep and what to discard.

Every book, box, envelope and slip of paper had to be examined to determine worth, and then either kept or chucked out. It was surprisingly tough to revisit the memory of my parents, especially all the photographs and hand written notes, personal letters and cards that they kept.

Some of the small things stirred powerful emotions. Dad’ s old California crutches – the ‘clickey clack’ sound they make evokes memories of him. His 4 pairs of hearing aids, his 3 pairs of glasses, his pocket knife and the other little things he kept on his person at all time in his bulging shirt pockets.  I gave them all to the Salvos (except his pocket knife – I kept that)

All the little items that they’d scrimped and planned and saved for, the minutiae of their everyday life that was mostly only valuable now as a historical reference and a curiosity for later generations. What wasn’t thrown out was all neatly boxed and packed up – an entire lifetime in a dozen boxes.

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The whole ‘clean up the shed’ exercise showed exactly how much I’d been avoiding their deaths however and was a chance to acknowledge that. To linger with their memory and say goodbye.

What about my own crap! I started on my own stuff. The remaining physical baggage , boxes and reminders of things from my past best cut away and left far behind. Hoarded for almost 30 years. I could be more ruthless with this.

Keeping photographs and some old primary school books (covered with comic book covers, full of mopey teenage letters, short stories and self indulgent writings from when I was a little kid right through to High School), it was fun to read through them all, get a glimpse myself before: a good kid but a little too serious. Most everything else went in the bin.

In hindsight this ‘cleansing’ was important though, decluttering and simplifying my life even further than I had before.

And then it was done. Shed cleaned, decluttering complete.

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I was a little bit empowered.

Next…

Training? Sure! There was a Data Cabling certification that I needed to get for this summer to be considered for the Antarctica role – easy peasy! A week in Canberra (thanks Lou) , a 2 week vacay in Chiang Mai that I’ve told you about already, then another week in Melbourne (thanks Steve) and the certification was done.

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Qualified Data Cabler? Check.

Now what?

I scored another day as an extra on a TV show over in Mudgee, which was great fun as usual and I got to see the crew that I’d gotten to know of the last year or so.

**On a side note, the series is Doctor Doctor – its actually a decent show! I finally watched a few seasons on the flight here.

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Next…

Shit. It’s winter. Even the kangaroos were wondering why I was still here.

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WTF dude.

The prospect of spending a few more months in a wintry Dubbo was not filling me with boundless joy, and due to my general uselessness I’d stuffed up the dates for attending a friend’s birthday in Spain by almost a whole month  (Sorry CB).

All was not lost!

Chatting to another yoga buddy from a Svastha course last year, I’d been promising to come visit in her home city of Timisoara, Romania for a while.

So I thought, why not? I’ve never been to Romania and it would be only my second time in Europe. Another glass of wine, and ticket booked! I’d arrive the week after my friends birthday (see, told you – shitty timing) and right in the middle of their summer.

So I hit the airways again…

Travelling lighter and lighter these days and am getting a little too used to this lifestyle I think. 7.1kg of carry-on luggage for 3 months travel. Who does that. Jeez.

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Dubbo>Sydney>>Hong Kong>Frankfurt>Timisoara – just on 30 hours with short layovers.

So here I am – enjoying sunny 30+ degree days in Timisoara Romania – an elegant, modern and vibrant city: a restoration ‘work in progress’ in parts but with such beautiful bones.

The old Roman era and later versions of Timisoara are still here once you dig deeper or get outside the city centre, but the new?

It’s a University city and a Tech hub, with a healthy Cafe and budding Coffee scene, a decent Theatre and Arts community and a politically engaged younger population – not so long removed from the stifling effects of Communism – angry at the corruption issues plaguing the country today.

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I’ve been here for about 10 days now and have spent the bulk of it roaming around the city exploring every nook and alley, meeting some lovely people, failing a lot at Romanian, but generally trying to immerse myself in the day to day of life here – yes, largely just an observer but I’m so very keen to learn more.

It’s absolutely fascinating here – my first experience in an ex-communist country and I’m loving at least this part of Romania so far…

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So with the roaming come the words apparently!

All this walking is shaking something loose and I’ll be telling you all about it very soon.

Stay tuned…I’m reinstating my rule of once a week posts again.

This writing thing is good for the soul.

🙂

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More bloody ghosts!

Let’s change pace again – no pics or pith…just words before I forget them.

There’s something about Thailand that mashes up my subconscious like a banana in a blender.

My sweet Thai dreams last night were again haunted by weirdness and spirits from the past.

It wasn’t a bad thing, and the haunting this time was not in a clanky chain “lock you in the house” or “muddy footprint 👣 at the bedroom door”scary kinda way – more in a “ooo look I found a secret place” kinda way.

No cryptic messages or foreboding of any form.

Hmm in retrospect I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing to have routine visitations. It always seems to happen here.

What the Hell is going on in this brain of mine lately?

So anyway – it went something like this : I was talking to a unknown guy in a house I was renting (I think) and we were talking/arguing about rent or cleaning or something stupid like that; I saw someone I knew just walk on by – a former housemate – and I was trying to talk to her. She didn’t answer, but just walked on quickly, turning around the corner of the house.

A little annoyed, I followed and turned left onto a long misty pathway lined with tall green trees and covered in vines – all backlit theatrically with a shimmery golden light- and then boom! there they all were! A long scattered line of figures stretched out the path before me, all just hanging about, chatting to each other and doing their own thing.

Then I realised they were mostly people I knew that had passed away.

My Mom was there! She was the first one I saw, just standing on the corner in her hospital gown. She looked right at me but didn’t seem to see me, busy talking to someone else. It was Mom of 20 years ago, before the dementia and strokes robbed her of movement, expression and speech.

So I kept walking, super curious now but strangely not surprised to see her.

Behind Mom, there was an old childhood crush of mine (who is still alive Thank God) – I called out her name and rushed over to hug her close – weird but even as I write this I can still feel her on my fingertips; it’s so weird – a lingering sense of the small bones of her spine and toned back muscles from where my hands touched her.

She didn’t speak but just hugged me back.

I let go and kept on walking.

Further along that weirdly lit road were other people from my past – aunts and uncles, friends and long dead distant relatives, some barely remembered from childhood. All dead and gone now but most I hadn’t thought about for a long long time.

Curiouser and curiouser! (thanks Alice). I simply walked past them all, down along the pathway, acknowledged their existence but still none of them seemed to see me.

There were strangers there as well but they were background players – all blurred edges and gossamer-like, in a perpetual soft focus a bit like the aliens at the end of Close Encounters.

I kept walking slowly down that golden gravel path into what could have been a perfect Bali sunset.

No it wasn’t like a movie or in slomo or all dramatic and shit. It just was.

I just walked as far as I felt I could but didn’t see anyone else I knew.

Then I simply woke up – instantly and with a silent WTF and the tingling sensory echo of that hug on my fingertips.

I am now quickly tapping this out before I forget the finer detail that I’m already losing so I’ll pretty it up later.

Let me head off some questions.

No Dad wasn’t there, which made me sad in the dream.

How did I feel? Confused, then happy, then elated (esp when I saw B)

What did they say? Nothing to me, at least – they we’re all engaged with each other.

How did I feel on waking?

Happysad.

It’s the lingering feeling on my fingertips that has me puzzled. Did this actually happen?

Did I travel backwards or forwards in time, space , whatever? Did I die a little? Was it the future?

I love a good crazyarse unexplained dream!

Anyhoo pull that apart, dream therapists and psych buds!

Weirded me out a bit I gotta say.

Later.

🙂

*SPOOKY UPDATE :

So I fly out of KL for Sydney late at 11.40pm, window seat, surrounded by massive purpling storm clouds snarling with angry lightning teeth, and the start of a monsoonal rainstorm hammering on the outside glass of my tiny window.

The packed jet takes forever to taxi out to the runway…waiting waiting waiting. It seems we are driving to Sydney, not flying.

The serious guy in front of me is shifty : I get a bad vibe from him and he is constantly looking around, avoiding the stewards, signalling other passengers, changing seats, and just doing things…wrong.

Upsetting the carefully scripted protocols of normal airline travel.

Rules are rules.

It puts me on edge and I watch him carefully.

Finally we reach the end of the taxiway, the jet turns onto the brightly lit strip, a long unending row of gently strobing runway lights stretching out into infinity.

As we turn the angle of the lights change, and with the smears of oil and rain on the window blurring reality, the whole runway shifts like a kaleidoscope; spins and settles then finally transforms into a sparkling golden pathway of diffused light.

I get a very bad feeling about this – hits me instantly in the pit of my stomach with a sharp stab of recognition.

This could be my dream!

Shit. That ain’t good.

The captain guns the engines. With a jolt we’re away fast and picking up speed. I’m smashed back into my seat with that glorious acceleration but my eyes are flicking from the runway lights to the guy in the seat ahead and back.

Glad I wore the brown pants today.

Deep breath.

Get ready for anything.

Here we go…

*it was all ok in the end. The shifty guy was just a nervous flyer, just too much caffeine for me and we easily avoided the storms. Got home fine although I was on edge all the way.

**really should’nt have had that last coffee before leaving Chiang Mai.

***see couldn’t help myself – had to turn it into a story 🙂

**** my Aunty G passed away quite suddenly yesterday – Thursday, the day after this dream – and I can’t help wonder a little more now about the meaning.

…cages

So, how ’bout this ‘freedom’ thing that all the cool kids are talking about lately – WTF is that about?

<warning – this is a bit random and ranty as I’m having a day – continue at own risk>

Freedom to travel, do, see, taste what you please when you want to without any real consequence or interference from anyone (well a minimum of interference anyway – gotta keep it legal, kids).

Immersing yourself in this freedom is so totally addictive that once you get a taste, you’re basically fucked for normal life (whatever that is).

While only dipping my toes in it for the past few years; gaining some confidence in the safe, yellow-streaked, floating Disney-bandaid end of the kiddies pool –  the recent experience in Antarctica has really thrown me howling off the highboard into the freezing alien blue-black depths of the grown-up area.

So electrifying to move outside of what is considered normal.

When you consciously remove yourself from the polite but suffocating grip of ‘society’, an awareness develops of the boundaries of the cage society itself has become.

It’s just a control mechanism after all.

Making a choice to chew through the cage bars and squeeze out into a really real world: experience this in all of its fleshy, sweaty, squelchy and uncomfortable forms is what revitalises the flagging spirit, jolts the compromised soul back to life.

So terrifying to move outside of what is considered safe.

Is this really being free?

Having virtually endless choice and relative freedom of action can be daunting.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

So the cage door opens, the once wild animal inside fears to come out at first; unaccustomed to this new experience of choice it keeps diving back into the safe dark corners of the cage.

It could be happy there forever if it doesn’t know of any other existence.

This happens time and time again.

Until it doesn’t, or the animal remembers.

Free.

Of the first cage, at least, and once you are out you will never willingly go back in.

Leading a life limited by an external agent isn’t really freedom anyway.

These cows aren’t free, just in a larger cage than most.

Their cage of choice is survival driven : food, water and a safe place.

Are they happy?

Probably, at least as as happy as cows can be, but free? No I don’t think so, they probably don’t care as long as their basic physical needs are met.

Humans want all this and so much more more. Food, water, a home, safety, a loving partner, a family – a purpose. We also dare demand to be happy.

So what about an internal cage, or an emotional cage?

How do we escape from something of our own creation? (Created either consciously or unconsciously).

No idea!

I’m not a cow, obviously, so I can only speak for me : my cage of choice is an emotional mind.

It has many warm, safe and secure hiding places but it’s really a trap: like a black hole exerting enormous emotional gravity it drags you inside and keeps you there – it takes enormous efforts to escape.

Exhausting.

So much easier to go with the flow – dive back in, cut yourself off, internalise everything. So warm and safe and familiar.

Mmm cosy…

It’s hard to escape from yourself sometimes and stay outside in the world.

Blah blah blah blah blah …

OK that sounds a little (totally) wanky/crazy (I really shouldn’t reread this stuff) but things like this have been on my mind lately and I’ve talked about this before for sure.

Choice is hard. Adulting is hard. Freedom is hard.

Meh. Again I know I’m fortunate blah blah blah and it’s the current price I’m paying for my life choices.

Choice! Talk about spoilt!

Too many paths I can take, too many roads to travel. How to know which one is right long term or even right for now?

This current paralysis that comes with next level freedom halted my forward motion recently and has caused a massive stumble and a lot of self doubt.

It’s kinda still happening at the moment: presented by many forks in the road I’m lost, the maps in Chinese and my damn iPhone battery is dead.

I’m quite confused.

How do you make a decision on where to aim your life’s arrow when it’s a target rich environment and your aim is bouncing all over the freaking place.

Book that flight? This month or next month? Move to a new country? Move to a new state? Take that job? Don’t take that job? Buy a car? Buy a motorcycle? Where will I live? Stay or go? Call her or not?

Bounce.

Reality check: Watching the finite resource of my bank balance dwindle steadily is sobering and drags me back to the present.

Then safe Jamie returns – ‘hmmm better nail down that spending some more. No more travel. No diving. Cheapest options. Take any job they offer you. Eat cheap. Don’t rock the boat. Go back to Dubbo. Suck it up. Get back to work’

Shut up, safe Jamie.

Bounce.

Two new job opportunities – once back in the familiar cage, one just outside but not far.

One on the horizon but months away.

Bounce.

Can’t someone just tell me what the ‘right’ thing to do is please?

Maybe it’s just the sleepless nights lately or the excessive caffeine intake stressing me out a bit. A couple of challenging days just gone for sure.

Maybe its being challenged on my lifestyle choices by my daughters mother last night – she only ever contacts me when she wants money or just to remind me how useless a father I am or just to unload a hateful text rant about <insert anything about my life>.

I’ve blocked her so many times before but she manages to find open channels to make me feel like a piece of shit. It gets her off I think.

She’s a bit of a cunty person like that.

Anyway.

Hi Renee… 😉

<wow breaking new ground here blog wise – the ‘c’ word and slagging the ex – feel free to unfollow me>

Lately though it’s doubts and thoughts and questions like “Holy WTF !!!!  What am I doing? Who have I become? Where’s the middle management career public servant/overplanner who had a plan A, B and C. and a solid course plotted for the future.

Sorry – he can’t come to the phone right now.  Please leave a message.

I kinda miss that guy sometimes, even though it was just an illusion of control (which was ultimately holding me back) it was still a warm comforting illusion.

Another cage to escape from.

The core of the frustration that I just realised I’m venting today is that I don’t like having to rely on other people and right now, I kinda have to.

Independence is all great and that,  but it can become a barrier to growth as well – learning to open up and let people in is a necessity both in a practical and an emotional sense- this very thing has just cost me another relationship I think.

A cage of indépendance but locking people OUT rather than me in.

Man, too much of a stretch – I’m digging my way out of this rabbit hole now!!

Anyway, shaking off some of this paralysis, today Ive booked a flight home’ (wherever the fuck that is now), booked my Cabling Endosements (look Ma, I’m a Licensed Data Cabler now) 4 days course in Melbourne for early June, let the AAD know when I’m available for Medical And Psych testing (yep still shortlisted), got my dental work done (clean bill of health and no real work to be done), and just had a nice breakfast at The Larder – waaay too much coffee.

I’ll come back to this later after a calming walk and a think….maybe edit this mess and make this less freaking weird.

Too many random thoughts at the moment.

too many coffees :/

* as it turns out, a 2 hour motorcycle ride up into the mountains was all I needed to clear the head.

** I think I will buy another motorbike when I get back to Australia.

*** apparently here’s a best selling book out – “the fine art of not giving a fuck” that pretty much spells out in print all the hard lessons I’ve learnt. Great 👍 this guy has read my mind but it would have saved me a lot of time and pain if it had come out years ago.

Whodathunk

Tuesday.

I’m just back at the Winston for dinner ( Beer and burger) before hitting the cinemas again to see Black Panther – the late show.

They do brew a damn fine pint.

( oh and weapon of choice tonight again is the Winston burger REMIX: sheer genius for you burger connoisseurs out there. This is basically a bacon double cheeseburger served in a Cinnebon but add fries and a horseradish/wasabi sauce …. mmmmmm kill me now I die happy)

… skip to 9.30pm – Beer and burger buzz installed successfully. Just waiting for the film to start and I’m the only one here.

🙂 perfect.

Hey let’s chat!

So what’s new?

Im glad you asked!

…after a relatively breezy Monday of debriefs and goodbyes, I thought that all this talk of readjustment issues on return from Antarctica was a load of bunk.

It’s only been 4 months!

What could possibly change!

Well! Let me tell you …

I now have super powers ( at least temporarily)

Whodathunknit!

1. Super Hearing – In the 10 story apartment block I’m in, I can hear a constant hum of conversation all the time – like hundreds of voices gibbering in my head – except they are not in my head ( God at least I hope not – can you hear them, Frank?).

I had to leave a cafe today as there was a group of people talking extremely loudly and it was massively unsettling.

2. Super smell – the vehicle exhausts, petrochemicals and even cigarette smells are driving me crazy.

3. Super Chatty (shut up, you) – I can’t stop talking to strangers. My shopping rounds today took all day as I bloody well introduced myself to people in shops, randoms in cinemas, and many cafe people and had a damn good chat.

4. Super Confidence – I’m 10 foot high and bulletproof at the moment.

5. Super tired – not sleeping at all (See 1.)

6. Super restless – I can’t stop moving. 20km walking around town yesterday, 10km today so far. Crazy! (See 7.)

7. Super Caffeination – I can’t get enough good ☕️. Yum.

8. Super Preparedness – all packed and ready to go to Macquarie Island.

9. Super Luckiness – to have worked with so many awesome people.

10. Super gratefulness – to be handed these opportunities and have the life I have.

Not a bad top 10 of super powers, I reckon.

So I have powers now, and as with great power comes great responsibility, I promise to use them for good and not evil purposes.

(Unless it’s all because of the caffeine, in which case it’s every person for themselves)

Sorry World but I’m fairly certain it’s less Antarctica and more the caffeine… mwahahaaa

Now all I have to do is get on the ship Friday morning and not fuck it all up for the next few weeks.

Totally and honestly, I’m loving life at the moment.

*chatted to my lovely and intelligent daughter Isabel today ( she’s the coolest, smartest, most quick witted chick I know – giving me shit for an inaccurate Bitmoji )

**bought a syndicate entry in the 30 million $ lotto tonight – if you don’t hear from me again, I’ve won.

***there’s a new Jack Reacher novel out!!!!

****AND I saw The Shape Of Water finally – so beautifully moving moving, original and a wonderful film – I’ve fallen in love with cinema all over again – thank you Guillermo 🙏🏻

Happy days!!!!

🙂