Apr 132016
 
 Posted by on April 13, 2016 travel No Responses »

The use of social software while traveling can either enhance travel or diminish it, depending on the meaning and frequency of the messages. It has become super-easy to send messages to friends or family from almost anywhere in the world, but this shouldn’t be similar to sending an everyday message from a café or bar close to where you live. Exploring the world independently is a major undertaking that comes with a whole set of new perspectives, challenges, and responsibilities. It is important to communicate these in a meaningful way and be considerate of your audience who may not understand the context in which you are writing.

Australian Modernism on the move! Collins St, 5p.m. 1955, John BRACK Australian Modernism on the move! Collins St, 5p.m. 1955, John BRACK

The first thing to consider is the frequency of your messages. Yes, it is important to stay in touch with people when you are away, but this shouldn’t be too regular, maybe every week or two is enough, depending on the length and nature of the journey. If you post messages too often, your audience becomes accustomed to it, demanding more of your time and focus when you could be doing much better things. Frequent, bumptious messages from far-away places may also alienate your audience in an online medium with many competing, everyday concerns (and they may ditch you, then you will really be off the grid).

Posting undue, expeditious messages also means you have less time to think about and craft your message, so you are more likely to send shallow self-indulgent snaps of you sitting in a hammock or swimming on a palm-tree-infested beach as though every country of the world, other than your own, only exists for the narrowest of Euro-centric pursuits (in Australia in the 1970s this was called the ‘ocker fantasy’ and we have a whole genre of films of Aussie blokes on beaches in Queensland chasing blonde, scantily clad girls, so if this is your idea of the world, it has been done before so no need to broadcast it again).

Another consideration is the significance of the message. If you only blog or publish a set of photos ever week or two you have time to choose the most significant things you did in this period and reflect upon and write about them. Did you learn anything new; about the world, about yourself (be honest, dark and light and shadows)? Was it humorous, risky, rewarding, or dull? Everyone has a unique perspective, but it may take a while to find it, through reading, through talking to nice, or not-so-nice, people and through challenging and extending yourself by doing activities you wouldn’t normally do. What ‘normalised’ cultural perspective of the world are you traveling with, are you learning through un-learning, are you traveling with too many pre-conceived, instrumentalist ambitions.  I come from the world’s ‘most civilised, uncivilised country’ to paraphrase the Australian Modernist painters of the 1940s and 50s and some countries do have more culture and less modernity than us but they also have more bacteria in their cheese that will make you sick.

There is a reason that most people don’t travel, in search of better cheese. They are scared of the bacteria that will make them sick and are satisfied by the cheese that will make them fat (like the orange cheese in the US). It is the orange cheese people you don’t want on your social feed every day, they will stress you out!

 

Mar 172016
 
 Posted by on March 17, 2016 art, travel No Responses »

The availability of inexpensive, digital communication devices has aided the lonely traveler on the long and absconding road to fresh perspectives in a myriad of ways, but then again, if used unwisely, they can diminish travel and make it yet another expression of day-to-day ordinariness (so leave grumpy cat at home!) That said, travel is not really about where you go, but what you take with you, it is about moving away from familiar perspectives into new and challenging ones and trying to understand and cope with them, inescapably, through references to previous knowledge and experiences.

Otto misses his mobile phone!  (from  Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008).

Otto misses his mobile phone! (lifted from
Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008).

The same could be said about ‘travel’ in the broader sense, of moving about the myriad of cultural/social/economic contexts in large complex cities. To be effective at this, one must fully recognise that there are in fact innumerable social/cultural/economic contexts, each with their own set of hierarchies, notions of winning and losing, of geographic and social mobility, language, values, religion, consumer patterns, Queen Bees etc. (and some people believe there are only two cultural contexts, ‘us and them’).

The problem with all mobile communication devices is that they are designed generically with little or no appreciation of moving through cultural complexity and far from being advanced and sophisticated, if used indiscriminately, they make one look like a mass-produced zombie, dragging their knuckles on the pavement, walking up London’s Stand drooling and gawking at the red buses in amazement, ringing other zombies on the telephone and telling them about how amazing red buses are. In other words what can appear to be technically advanced can also be culturally primitive, there is a balance to be struck and that balance starts with a curiosity and willingness to understand the cultural world in which we live, zombies and all

Apr 212015
 
 Posted by on April 21, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  12 Responses »

The Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) is a pilgrimage in Southern Europe that begins in countries like France, Spain, Germany, England and Portugal and ends in Santiago de Compostella in Spain. There are many different routes that pilgrims take to walk the Camino, and some of these routes are over a thousand kilometres long and take many weeks to walk. It’s one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimages in Christianity, dating to about 813 AD, and meanders through some of the most culturally rich parts of Southern Europe. And apart from all the churches along the route, there are lots of pastries and cakes, espresso, beer and wine to enjoy (and the Portugués have a beer called Superbock that I am developing a spiritual relationship with that is growing by the day)

I only had two weeks to do the Camino, so decided on the Camino Portugués from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain (a distance of about 240 KMS over 14 days). Anyone can do the Camino for whatever reason, you don’t have to be Christian, you can be a tourist, a health conscious person, or just curious like me (but do remember, this is a Christian pilgrimage). And if you are wondering what a pilgrimage is, I found this excellent definition in a book of maps of Camino Portugués by John Brierley.

All of us travel two paths simultaneously; the outer path along which we haul our body and the inner pathway of the soul. We need to be mindful of both and take the time to prepare ourselves accordingly. The traditional way of the pilgrim is to travel alone, on foot, carrying all the material possessions we might need for the journey ahead. This provides the first lesson from the pilgrim – to leave behind all that is superfluous and to travel with only the barest necessities. Preparation for the inner path is similar – we start by letting go of psychic waste accumulated over the years such as resentments, prejudices, and outmoded belief systems. With an open mind and open heart, we will more readily assimilate the lessons to be found along the ancient Path of Enquiry.

Day one: Porto

image

I started the Camino Portugués in Porto, which is the most attractive place to start this particular route, but some pilgrims also begin in Lisbon (but I am told that there is a lot of walking on roads from Lisbon to Porto). Porto is one of my favourite cities in Europe, built in a river valley with a old town centre of cobblestone alleyways and beautiful mosaic-decorated houses and public buildings, including the main train station (and I have a long, black Porto cape, similar to what the students wear, that I don on special occasions).

The first day of the Camino from Porto is pretty dull as it takes almost the entire day to get out of the city through the endless suburbs. It is best to get the Metro to Vilarinho and start the walking from there (but I didn’t know this at the time, and I wish that I had spent one more night in Porto at the Tattva Hostel instead as it is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed. Hostels have come a very long way, and Portugal has some of the best ones).

Day two: Mosterio de Vairao
image

After the endless walk out of Porto, and feeling a bit grim, I came across this big spooky monastery where I spent the first night. Pilgrims stay in places like this that are called Albergues and they are very affordable at only 5-6 Euros a night. Only one other person was staying at the monastery, an older Spanish man who spoke no English (and I have no Spanish nor Portugués language skills). And almost no one speaks English in this part of the world, so I reluctantly prepared for the inner journey of the Camino!

Day three: Barcelos

image

image

The Camino got a lot more interesting after Mosterio de Vairao as the path wasn’t all ashfelt, suburban streets. The Camino trail is clearly marked with neat little yellow arrows that are painted on rocks, fences, houses, signs, and almost any inanimate object. In Spain yellow shells are used as well; the symbol of the Camino.

Day four: Lugar de Corgo (Casa de Fernanda)

image

The Camino today followed some original Roman roads that wound through many old school villages and wineries (and notably, the population is likewise, pretty old in this part of the world). I stayed in a private alberque for the night which was a homestay run by a friendly lady called Fernanda who cooked fish and potatoes for dinner and provided some great Portugués port and conversion. This was excellent for my “inner Camino” because I hadn’t talked to anyone in four days, only pointed at pastries and bottles of Superbock in cafés.

Day five: Ponte de Lima
image

image

This is an idyllic Portuguese town, built around a town square and a stone bridge. I got to Ponte de Lima in the early afternoon so had plenty of time for cakes and beer. All the town squares in Portugal have free Wi-Fi, so it is possible to check the dating apps to see what all the Christians are up too.

Day six: Pedreira
image

I stayed in a wonderful private Alberque this night called Quinta Estrada Romano, which was new and only had one other guest. In the private Alberque ‘s, dinner and breakfast are usually supplied, and they are much better than the Association Alberque ‘s which tend to be a bit stern (and have 10 PM curfews and no Superbock). Still, the Camino is all about walking and this day I walked 33 KMS. The physical walking isn’t that difficult, but geeze, I am doing some hard, lonely soul work).

Day seven: Valenca (Portugal) Tui (Spain)

image

image

Today I only walked about 10 KMS because I stumbled across two of the most beautiful towns so far on the journey, Valanca in Portugal and Tui in Spain (that are close to each other, separated by a river and a national border). Valenca’s old town is within a fabulous fort, entered through long tunnels in the fort’s wall. And Tui is built on a hill around a cathedral and square.

Tui was having a festival this day, so I sat in the town square and drank some Superbock, watched a paramilitary/religious parade, and saw a lot of Spanish dancing (the Spanish seem as though they want to break out and dance at any moment). I ate a hamburger because it was the only thing on the menu I could recognise, and it turned out to be a foot in diameter. I will be the only person in the entire history of the Camino to put on weight!

Day eight: Mos

image

Today I woke at 5 AM because, for whatever reason, the psychopathic Alberque in Tui turns the lights on at this ungodly time. Thus, I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but at 5 Euros a night, who am I to complain. I started to walk at 8 AM and forgot to go to a cafe for breakfast and couldn’t find one for a grumpy two hours. I had croissants and espresso, then continued my journey. Spain is a lot different to Portugal, there are a lot more people, and it has industrialised in an uglier way (I suppose we call this richer in the Modern world). At least, this is the bit I saw today as there were a lot of industrial and commercial estates to walk through. After walking a respectable twenty KMS, I arrived at the alberque in Mos at 2 PM and thankfully, there were no other annoying pilgrims there. This was good as it gave me the space to read and write, some of the best aspects of traveling (and I am just beginning to like my company).

Continue reading »

Jul 242014
 
 Posted by on July 24, 2014 post card, travel No Responses »

14764192504_b578c0bae7_oI am sitting in my little room overlooking the strand. The room is on the corner of the Strand and Waterloo Bridge and despite the size of the room, the view is large. And this song by the Kinks is running through my head.

“Dirty Old River must you keep rolling, rolling into the night. People so busy makes me feel dizzy, taxi lights shine so bright. But I don’t need no friend, as long as gaze on Waterloo Sunset I’m in paradise…”

Overall, it is coming to the end of my trip. I do think that this has been one of my best trips ever, but it is hard to tell because I have had quite a few! Travel is exhilarating, but it is also exhausting in the sense that there is so much to do that it is important to manage ones energies. There are so many wonderfully unique and renewed perspectives that I have gained on this trip, especially here in London. Travel is about exploration, but also renewal (or revisiting afresh). It is like reading a book, if you don’t plan to read it again, don’t start reading it in the first place (to paraphrase Wilde).

So, on my last day of London I’m feeling pretty grand. I have had some wonderful experiences on this trip, and with most developed world travel, the gaps between the highs and the lows haven’t been that great.

My gut feeling tells that going to South America for a whole year next year is a really good idea, but for a new and exploratory trip like this one , I possibly need to re-visit SE Asia and India on the way, because if I don’t re-visit them, I will keep going to the same place over and over again.  I change my eyes, not my cities!

Jun 212014
 
 Posted by on June 21, 2014 post card, travel No Responses »

tallinn_tortureI arrived last night in my charming hostel in the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia. I was greeted at the airport by my friend Jaan who I worked with in Melbourne a couple of years ago. Estonia is the 42nd country that I have visited and I am  not sure why I count how many countries I have been; it seems a little crude, but it is on a very basic level, one of may things that motivates me to explore new places. I have wanted to come to this part of Europe for many years, I have only been in Eastern Europe a couple of times, and never this close to the Russian Border. I was walking in Old Town last night and my friend Jaan pointed out a plaque on the wall of an expensive apartment building that stated that this is a place where the KGB tortured many Estonians.  I certainly evoked my imagination, especially in terms of wanting to learn more, but I don’t have that much time in Tallinn and travel is necessarily superficial. I first started traveling the exact time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the ghosts of the Cold War have been following me ever since.

Mar 232013
 
 Posted by on March 23, 2013 travel No Responses »
Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet travel books.

Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet travel books.

I am attending the Australian Festival of Travel Writing this weekend at the University of Melbourne. I have never been to an event such as this before and I am finding it extremely useful as I feel as though two important life narratives; travel and education have come together. In my case, they have never really been linked except that a love of independent learning and learning for its own sake led to a love of traveling and traveling for its own sake.

There is a lot of wisdom at the festival. And this I find this very attractive, especially if it is a wisdom that manifests itself in a love of life and knowing that a love of life requires one to make uncommon choices. There are so many traps out there that prevents people from traveling, in the broader sense of the word; traveling geographically, traveling intellectually, traveling culturally, and traveling socially. Fear and cynicism, class based prejudice, the fear of leaving ones comfort zone of pyrrhic successes.  And these limits on traveling are not unique to traveling; one could apply them equally to any sphere of achievement or at least, the fear of achievement. Achievements based on a love of life are always the greatest successes, and if one doesn’t love life, one can never be truly successful (well, at least not a success that is true to oneself).

Feb 112013
 
 Posted by on February 11, 2013 gadfly, travel No Responses »
1989, California, USA

1989, California, USA

A personal project that I have been working on in my spare time over the past few months involved locating, digitising, tagging, and putting into neat little country boxes (on Flikr) all the photos that I have taken on my travels since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And there are a lot of them, about 5000 photos taken in 40 counties (41 if you count Australia). And some of the countries like Germany, Thailand, the UK, and the US I have visited up to 9 times.

I have wanted to do this project for quite some time as I had difficulty remembering how many times I had visited particular countries and I was not sure how-many I had visited in-total (not that ticking-off countries is what I originally set out to do).

And in reflection, I suppose I am fairly typical of my (x) generation. The world opened-up considerably after the fall of the Berlin Wall with many former Communist-block countries lessening restrictive visa requirements and welcoming snoopy visitors. I was in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) a couple of months after the fall of the Wall and since then have been to numerous ex-Communist countries like Hungary, Vietnam and the Czech Republic. Also, an important factor to consider, is that in all the time that I have traveled, airfares have remained pretty constant (and even become cheaper).  My first air-fare to the UK in 1989 cost $2200 economy fare, not too dissimilar to what it costs today. And average wages have increased 3-4 times in this time in tandem with the Australian GDP.

I am perhaps the last of the generation to do the coming of age ‘big-trip’ in my early 20s. For many Australians before the 1990s, it was not possible to travel from Australia regularly through-out ones’ life because the costs made it prohibitive. The ‘big trip’ involved saving for many months or even years to get the money together to buy the plane ticket and then have enough beer money once you arrived. And pretty much the only country in the world where Australians could work (and in particular, young working-class Australians) was in the UK.  I am not sure if this is still the case, but the importance of the UK to my own personal development and mobility has­ been extraordinary.  It is crucial to have special working visas and discounted fares for young people to explore the world in their 20s. The individual and country grows immensely because of it, as does the world and the sophisticated interpretations of it.

When I was younger, I also visited many countries over the summer months whilst studying at University. These were primarily in Asia which is geographically close to Australia and relatively inexpensive to get to and travel within. I mostly traveled the ‘hippy-trail’ opened up in the 1960s and 1970s by the baby-boomers; well-trodden and documented by Melbourne’s own Lonely Planet travel books.

India possible changed my thinking about the world more than any other county. Australians, like Americans and Canadians, are ‘Modernists’ (if I can be so reductive and general). We can’t be anything other than Modern and I have never quite understood how one could live their entire life in this otherwise wonderful country and be totally oblivious to the stifling level of conformity imposed upon us by our restrictive and somewhat unresponsive Modern industrial system. We have perhaps lost much more than we have gained (although we never really had it to start with and the more I travel, the less unique the Australian Way seems to me…well, at least from a Modern perspective). India opened me up to alternatives. It is a cultural superpower. It is the most culturally rich place I have been anywhere on the planet and I am sure India can take a crude Aussie Modernist like myself (with his victorious flushing toilets), in its stride.

More recently, I traveled quite a lot for work, but this was for collaboration with fellow ‘Modernists’ so was focused, instrumental, ‘de-territorised’ and I am not sure I gained a lot from it from a travelers perspective. Still, a few stolen days here and there either side of a conference or workshop are always welcome and I am lucky to have had this privilege in my career so far. Still, I have met many academics and business people who travel every-other-week and it doesn’t seem to impact upon them in any enlightened or positive way. Perhaps they approach the world and its magnificent, diverse cultures in the same way they approach other aspects of their lives (ie banally!). I prefer to change my eyes not my cities.

And speaking of such, the World according to Craig is not just about going somewhere and seeing something for the first time, it is how you experience it as a whole person in a different and enlightening way that makes the process worthwhile for you and others. In other words, it is not where you go, it is what you take with you that counts. If you are an Aussie Modernist, you probably aren’t going to get too far away from Hong Kong or Singapore. And you may even think that they are the ‘same-same, but different’. But with the right amount of prodding from some of the World’s great authors; Kapuscinski, Hess, Rushdie, Eco, Gregory David Roberts, Murikami, and Calvino you might just discover yourself and a whole world in the process.

We never travel alone, on a winter’s night there is always Herodotus and we are always the midnights children of the historical narratives that as we grow older, we inextricably absorb into our subjectivity.

And what have I learned so far? The world never gets smaller, only people get smaller.