Category Archives: Travel

Congestions, Delays and Detours!

Odd, how life makes twists and turns. I never would have guessed that I’d end up where I am now, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade this path I’m on for the whole solar system, for that matter. If I’ve learned anything these last several months, it’s that sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.
– Angela Blount –

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I was meant to fly back home to the Sunshine Coast yesterday. The alarm went extra early to ensure that we could negotiate Melbourne’s traffic mayhem, and get to the airport in plenty of time for my 10am flight. But, alas, even at 6.30am the freeway had already ground to a standstill. My quick thinking partner took a detour, weaving in and out of tiny streets through sleepy suburbs. Then the phone went with a text message. My flight had been cancelled. I tried to call the airline to change to a different flight and was placed on ‘hold’. We listened to repetitive announcements and the jingle of ‘hold’ music for over an hour. By the time someone eventually picked up we had just arrived at the airport.

The person on the line was not helpful. Referring to the airline as ‘they’ it became obvious that the delicate job of dealing with irritated customers had been handed to some contract group. They showed no mercy. No, I cannot catch another flight that day as they were all fully booked! No, they won’t allow me to detour via another major city! No, they do not compensate in any way or form. You have to find your own accommodation. By the time I put the phone down I was in a frightful fury and we took the long trip home – stopping for strong coffee, as it was too early for wine!

After I managed to downgrade my feelings towards a rude airline encounter from ‘cold hatred’ to ‘loathe entirely’, it occurred to me how much of life was represented in those few frustrating hours. We plan our life journey: how we will travel, what we will do when we get there, and the people we will meet and greet … and then we wake up to life with all its detours, congestion and cancelled travel plans. Have you noticed that?

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Sometimes life feels so congested that we need to be reminded to breathe. We frantically look for a different way and venture on a random detour through uncharted territory. Our congested, helter-skelter life has flung us into some unknown suburbs that we have never heard of or thought we would visit – perhaps an oncology ward? Or an interview for a totally different career? Or surrounded by strange tribe of people that quickly become friends and people we love deeply.

There are times we are caught totally unaware. We thought we were bound for an exotic destination, only to have our dreams and hopes ‘cancelled’. We furiously dial the ‘God’ line – but it feels like God has placed us on hold and taken a liking to elevator music!! We desperately look around for a comforting word from the people around us, but they have been kidnapped and replaced with distant, look-alike cousins that mouth robotic, religious cliches that once held meaning.

Life is full of congestion, detours and delays. To expect anything else is to live with constant disappointment or frustration. It is not a matter of whether you will encounter these travelling companions but rather a matter of where and when. At any moment, life can grind to a total halt and we sit on the freeway and wonder whether it will ever go back to ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ means. We cannot force things to start moving again, we just need to sit and wait. What a terrible dilemma for all of us addicted to our own adrenaline in a hurry-sick, congested world.

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So I was stranded yesterday. I treated myself to a pedicure and read my ‘Slow‘ magazine. Sitting in the corner of that bustling little store I remembered to be grateful. It was a begrudging sort of gratitude at first, but gratitude nonetheless. As I leant into breathing, being mindful and grateful, I reflected on my life. My whole life has been a set of detours, congestion and delays. I have walked paths I never dreamt of walking, I have met people I never thought I would have the privilege of meeting, I have been in spaces that were thin places – and so many of these encounters happened because of … you guessed it – detours, congestion and delays.

Most of the time we do not know why life can get so awfully complicated. We feel helpless and vulnerable when circumstances come into our lives that we have no control over. But there are a few things we can do. We can remember to breathe. We can practice mindfulness. And we can be grateful. May your delayed, congested and detour-filled life also be filled with unexpected joy, a sense of purpose, wonder and gratitude, dear Pilgrim.

Idyllic Iceland – Part 4 (Finale)

“Adventure is worthwhile” – Aesop

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I was wrong! You know, this bit from Part 3: “But if you are after a fast, busy, techno holiday with smoke and bubbles – Iceland is not for you.” I wrote that after circumnavigating most of Iceland, but I hadn’t arrived in Reykjavik. And two thirds of Icelanders live in Reykjavik! And in summer they never sleep!

After leaving heavenly Skalanes, we headed south. The roads become wider and there were noticeably more people and tourist buses on the move. At our accommodation near Skogafoss, another beautiful waterfall, a local informed me that Iceland tourism has been growing 20% per year over the last five years, and it is putting tremendous pressure on the infrastructure. In 2017, Iceland is expecting over two million tourists . Not only is that a new record but that is a heck of a lot of people for a tiny country of around 330,000 people.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

The south is beautiful. Walking on the Vatna Glacier, Iceland’s largest ice cap, with its eerie stillness and black, white and blue colourings, felt like I had been transported into the fantasy realm of Narnia. I could have spent hours staring at Iceland’s most visited tourist destination: the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

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We took time to visit Geysir (meaning gusher), with its spectacular geothermal pools and diva of a geyser, after which all other geysers are named.

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All history and geology buffs should visit Thingvellir. So much of Icelandic history and identity was shaped here. It is also the meeting place of the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates. I walked through the middle of the rift and marvelled at the wonder of our world.

Our last few days have been spent in the island’s capital, Reykjavik. We arrived in time for the Annual Jazz festival and settled ourselves in a little apartment in the middle of the city. Our stay co-incided with a weekend, and it feels like the whole city centre has become a giant street party that really only gets going after midnight. Icelanders don’t settle down in one pub for the night, they crawl from one to the next, getting progressively louder as they do. I am very in love with my industrial ear plugs right now!

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja

The time has come to pack and take the long journey home. Iceland has been a blast and I am so very grateful to have shared the time with my most favourite human and partner-in-crime of 30 years.

I highly recommend this part of the planet to all who have a sense of adventure and wanderlust.

I will leave you with a few more travel tips:

1. Book your accommodation ahead of time. In summer this tiny island takes a tourist beating. Don’t expect to book last minute. Even with my partner’s careful planning, there were some areas that were nearly booked out … and that was months ago.

2. Alcohol is very expensive here. If you enjoy a glass of red, I suggest you buy a bottle at the government run ‘Vinbudin’. The restaurant prices are ridinkulous!

3. You can save money on meals by ensuring that your accommodation includes breakfast. Also, many of the small supermarkets around the country have delicious fresh sandwiches for sale. These made up most of our lunches. Find out where the locals go out to dinner and eat there. Many of the highlighted restaurants are simply run for the large tourist buses that roll in.

4. There are so many amazing geothermal pools right around the island. Some are free. Others are part of a local swimming pool and the entrance fee is minimal. Speaking about swimming pools, these play a major role on any Icelanders recreation list. You will find locals speak with a sense of pride about their pools. We avoided the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. At €65 ($94 AUD) per person with towel and locker hire, that was beyond premium! We chose a local pool with hot springs and paid $11 for both of us 🙂

Here ends my Icelandic iPhone travel rambles. Wherever your travels take you, pilgrim, may you feel humbled at the grandeur of the planet we call home.

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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. – Martin Buber

Idyllic Iceland – Part 3

… Continuation of Icelandic rambling Part 3 – coming to you via my iPhone  … And thanks to Iceland’s rich supply of free & fast WiFi even in the remotest mountain region …

After a couple of days up north in Husavik, we headed east to the Skandales Mountain Lodge. Taking a detour, we stopped at the Vatnajökull National Park, Europe’s largest protected reserve. You could spend weeks here. We just had time to walk down to the gorge at Ásbyrgi and marvel at the vertical canyon walls. It seems that in Iceland, Mother Nature got totally carried away and threw some of her world’s most gobstopping spectacles on one tiny island.

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Dettifoss Falls was the next stop. At 100 metres wide and with a 44 metre fall it is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It is spectacular with a permanent giant rainbow as its crown. Thundering at such voluminous speed it sends up a permanent spray that can be seen for over a kilometre away. Do take care on the walkways, they can be very slippery.

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We then headed to Seyðisfjörður. A 27 kilometre road over the Fjarðarheiði mountain connects Seyðisfjörður to the rest of Iceland. If you see one place in East Iceland – let it be this place. Situated at the very end of a fjord, surrounded by mountains, it is decorated with colourful wooden buildings – the whispers of a past when this place was inhabited by Norwegian fishermen. We drove another 17 kilometres out of town, along a perilous dirt road with three river crossings to arrive at our accommodation – Skandales Mountain Lodge. This is about as remote as you can get – and is probably a visual display centre for what some would call heaven. If you ever come here, hike up the mountain – the hike took us about five hours return, we built a stone pillar on the very top … It may still stand there to applaud your effort when you arrive.

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A couple of travel tips and reflections:

One, the roads in Iceland vary. The main Ring road (1) that circles around the island is mainly asphalt, but on our trip south today there were also sections of gravel and some serious cliffs and turns without any barriers. Although roads are well built, they are narrow and elevated in order to handle snow and flood. You cannot become complacent on these roads. If you feel uncertain about driving here, or driving on the right side of the road, please consider a bus tour. It will be far more relaxing. And you probably won’t come to a screeching halt like we did when we spotted three reindeer casually strolling along the black coastal shores!

Two, Icelanders are hospitable, warm and informal. You feel very safe and welcome in this beautiful country of theirs. I hope that the increasing tourism treats them well so that the delightful innocence, that is part of this place like the fresh air, continues.

View from our room at Skalanes Mountainlodge

View from our room at Skalanes Mountainlodge

Three, Iceland is made for those who love nature and outdoors. It is a nirvana for any artist. It’s rich history and sagas will keep you enraptured as you travel to the different places. But if you are after a fast, busy, techno holiday with smoke and bubbles – Iceland is not for you.

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A Toast to Iceland

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

– Jonas Hallgrimsson

Idyllic Iceland – Part Two

My rambling Icelandic travel reflections continue …

We spent a couple of days in Nyp, exploring the stunning Snaefellsness Peninsular and the Strandir Coast in the Westfjords. Then it was time to head north to our next destination – the quaint little seaside town of Husavik, famous for its whale watching expeditions.

We took a scenic detour on the way Husavik. This included some interesting F roads. Yes, F roads! And they really are F roads. F stands for ‘fjall’, which means ‘mountain’. And these F roads are only for 4WDs. Please, believe me, you need a decent 4WD to go off the beaten track. We crossed many rivers, which was a huge amount of fun, but they would be real F roads with any other vehicle!

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And let’s just talk about those tunnels. Seriously, Iceland, how to scare the BarJebus out of your tourists. Some tunnels are one lane, very dark, and it feels like you are playing chicken with the oncoming set of headlights. One side of the tunnel has tiny turnout areas that the car travelling in that direction has to pull into in order to let the other one pass. It’s enough to get the adrenalin pumping … Personally, I think they should be called F Tunnels. Look out for them!

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Husavik is beautiful. We are staying in Husavik Cottages in the middle of natural birdlands and the view over the lakes to the coast and snow capped mountains is totally stunning. The place is quiet and you don’t notice any other humans … which makes it a paradise not just for birds but for introverts 🙂

View from the cottages in Husavik

View from the cottages in Husavik

Ok, whale watching – you have to go whale watching. We chose one of the original, old fishing boats, now converted into a magnificent sailing ship, to take the 4 hour journey, and it was so worth it. We saw humpback whales breaching across the glassy surface, smaller minke whales darting in front of the ship, and Puffins … Thousands of those comical looking birds with their bright orange beaks and feet.

Whale watching boats

Whale watching boats

For people like myself, who prefer these magnificent whales in the water, instead of on a menu at some restaurant to feed the face of an overfed tourist, check out the web (http://icewhale.is/whale-friendly-restaurants/) or download an app to support whale friendly restaurants. With all the food available to feed our robust bodies, please avoid eating whale. Avoid eating puffins too. In fact, it’s a great idea to become mindful of what we stuff into our mouths at anytime and the price paid for our indulgences.

Two more travelling tips:

One, is to invest in the Lonely Planet’s book on Iceland. This was a gift from one of our sons, and we have used it every day. It is jam packed with very helpful information on nearly every area in Iceland.

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Two, Iceland is expensive. We have planned this trip, which marks the momentous occasion of 30 years of marriage and my 50 years on planet earth, for quite some time. This is not one of those holidays that you take spontaneously and hope for the best. It is cold here – so you need to sleep somewhere warm. You will also need to eat (remember, no whale!) – accommodation and food is expensive. So plan and save for your Iceland holiday.

More Icelandic rambling coming your way shortly …

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Idyllic Iceland – Part One

Our trip through Iceland began a couple of days ago.  Touching down at Keflavik Airport, approximately 48 kilometres outside the capital of Reykjavik, we picked up our rental car and started on our 3 1/2 hour journey to Nyp – our first destination point.

Guesthouse Nyp

Guesthouse Nyp

It took a few moments to adjust the brain to driving on the right side, or the wrong side, of the road. This was followed by a minor panic attack as the GPS froze over. Then there was the major decision about how hot we wanted the car and then … well, then it hit me. I am in the land that inspired Tolkien. It didn’t take long to see why.

The sun was shining as we wound our way through a landscape like nothing I have ever seen before. It is like the moon, the Scottish Highlands, Norway, New Zealand and Mad Max all decided to make this their common room! There are waterfalls cascading over grey rocks and disappearing into green meadows. Glaciers tower over copper coloured mountain peaks playing solitaire on black lava fields. What is this place?! And why has it taken me fifty years to get here?

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I stop to buy a bottle of water. “May I suggest you don’t buy bottled water? It is a trick. Just use tap water,” says the lady behind the counter. I stare at her, stammer a “thank you”, and walk back out of the shop without a water bottle. Icelanders, as I had just found out, are fiercely protective of their beautiful environment!

Snaefellsness Peninsula

Snaefellsness Peninsula

Our kind hosts at Guesthouse Nyp make us feel very welcome. Thora, our hostess, serves a breakfast feast that should earn her a Michelin Star. She takes a moment to explain where everything we are eating was sourced from, most of it from her own garden. Then there is the dinner – freshly caught cod, homegrown salad and vegetables. I rave about her meal and indicate I will let people know on TripAdvisor. “Please don’t say a thing,” she says, “otherwise I will be cooking all the time.” I smile to myself. The people here are as honest and as much salt of the earth as the salt they harvest from their seashore.

It is summer here, but when those winds blow it is a no brainer about why this place is aptly named ‘Iceland’. So if you are planning a trip, pack warm, layered clothing. Make sure you have water resistant hiking shoes … and purchase some rain pants. O, and read ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent (more about that book in another post).

I will be back with another Iceland instalment in a few days.

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Travelling Light!

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

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Minimalism is about attitude. Perhaps it’s also about being honest. We don’t need all the stuff we think we do. And when it comes to travel, there’s nothing else that dampens the spirit of adventure like dragging a cargo load of overpacked suitcases around.

Over my various traveling expeditions, I have attempted to down-scale my suitcase size and the stuff I pack. Never once have I experienced a frightening, under-packed ‘situation’. In fact, quite the opposite. I return home with clothes not worn and gadgets that I never once took out the suitcase.

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So as we plan to embark on another journey, I am already preparing myself to travel light. This trip is tricky. Firstly, a conference where I need to look somewhat put together. Then a holiday, in which I will predominantly live in hiking gear. My plan is black. Black is brilliant.

I will take 2 pairs of black pants that can be used for the conference with a couple of nice tops. These pants will then be converted to hiking pants with long flannel shirts (hey, don’t judgtumblr_nm22l1On2W1ro4hejo1_500e the flannel). A light, black cardigan and black boots can be useful in both settings. I will wear my hiking boots on the plane. Black down vest when it gets chilly. The necessary gear for wet, cold weather – jacket, beanie, gloves, scarf. Not forgetting underwear, socks, bathers, a tiny emergency kit and toiletries. Done!

Now a few things that I have found useful:

Don’t Leave Your Packing to Last Minute.
 
You will stress and overpack. Or you will stress, overpack and forget stuff. Why not open your suitcase a week early and begin to throw in all the useful things you want to take: cords for your phone, giant hair curlers, coffee machine, nose-hair clippers, whatever takes your fancy.

Have a ‘To Do’ list in Place for Travel

If you travel a lot, why not write a list that you can follow in order to make the preparation time stress-free? Mine includes things like making sure that the humans that remain at home are cared for and informed, that the fur children are sorted, and that visas and passports are in order.

Talking about passports: Remember that some foreign governments require visitors to carry passports with at least six months validity beyond their planned stay. You may be refused entry if you fail to comply. So don’t be stuck on the doorstep of some exotic place, with your nifty, tiny suitcase, only to find you need to turn around and go back home! As the Penguins from Madagascar would say: “Well, that sucks!”

Think Looooooong Plane Trip

My partner thinks flying is a most wondrous invention (check out his blog on travel hints here). I hate it. I hate airports. I hate the long lines at passport control. I hate cooped up planes. I hate all the human noises on the cooped up planes. And there are not enough hours in the day to hate the plane toilets. Other than that, I am actually quite a positive person. So amidst all this hating, I have to prepare myself mentally before a flight!

My hand luggage includes something to knock myself out on for long, overnight flight (I mean legal stuff, right?!), a water bottle, face cream, deodorant, eye cover, EAR PLUGS (!), iPad and camera. I don’t wear makeup on flights. I am 50 years old and have earned the right to look as pale as Morticia if I want to. Also, if by chance you ever sit next to me on a plane – don’t talk and don’t make eye contact and we’ll be great friends.

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Money, Honey

Have you got enough cash for all the coffee table books you will buy and never look at again? You will pay a lot on extra charges using your credit card. You can also use a travel card. Just keep it all safe. There are many others who would love to share your earnings!

Trying out Suitcase Organisers

A friend recommended these clever little suitcase organisers. It appeals to my sense of German and order. And I bought them on sale which appeals to my sense of ‘tight arseness’. Will keep you posted on their success rate.

Essential Packing: A Sense of Wonder!

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When all is said and done, let us consider what a great privilege it is to be able to travel and explore new places (take note, grumpy-travelling-self!). Our ancestors would not even have imagined such possibilities. So let’s journey with a sense of wonder. And, friends, let’s not allow ourselves to be robbed of our moments and experiences by trying to catch everything on camera or feeding the relentless social media machine. Wonder can’t really be captured that way. Rather, it is a gift that only the heart can hold.

May your journey be blessed!
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“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

 

Iceland, Here I Come!

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.” – Stephen Markley

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Iceland! It’s been on the Bucket List for a very long time. In a few weeks, the beloved and I will be travelling to this isolated, under-populated island on top of the world … and I can’t wait!

If you are going to travel, my partner-in-crime is your ‘go to’ guy. He has meticulously planned our days from the time we arrive in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital city, to the car hire, accommodation, and cash conversion. I do not share his eye for detail or enthusiasm for travel planning. But over the years, and on our many travelling adventures, I can only say how grateful I am to this travel mastermind.

As a devout nature lover, Iceland has always fascinated me. It has a unique landscape, shaped by the forces of nature: geysers, mudpots, ice-covered volcanoes and glaziers. Locals and tourists alike fall in love with its green valleys, fjords and roaring rivers. As I write this, I glance at my hiking boots with great anticipation!

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Icelanders are obviously very proud of their beautiful piece of the planet. They have gone to great length to preserving their natural wealth through conservation and responsible fisheries management. According to the Environmental Performance Index, Iceland is the world’s greenest country. Renewable energy is a major focus and nearly every home in the country is heated from renewable energy sources. I do wish the powers-that-be in my own beautiful habitat would pay attention to reasoning and the actions of these Northerners!

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Then there are the books! Research shows that more books are written, published and sold per person per year in Iceland than anywhere else in the world. As a young child I was fed a steady diet of bedtime stories from Brothers Grimm, Norse Mythology and Icelandic Sagas. These sagas remain an integral part of Icelander identity. They also contain valuable information and record monumental events, like the discovery of a large island called ‘Vinland’ by Leif Erikson – an island later divided into two and renamed Canada and America! The sagas influence how we tell and read stories to this day … Tolkien would agree.

Ég tala ekki íslensku! But not to worry, there are some great apps to help with that problem. And, yes, my travel-wizard partner has already downloaded them. Icelandic is an insular language and has not been greatly influenced by other languages. It holds similarities to Norwegian and Faroese, but has changed very little from when the country was settled in the ninth and ticeland-quotes-1enth century. Icelandic is astoundingly difficult to speak and even harder to pronounce. Fortunately, most Icelanders speak English, so I won’t even attempt to demonstrate my zero Icelandic competence … and I won’t tell my enthusiastic travelling companion that we probably won’t use his freshly downloaded apps.

Let’s not forget the hot springs. Ingrained in Icelandic culture is the wonderful habit of bathing outdoors in volcanically heated pools – a tradition started by the Vikings. Theseblue-lagoon-569346_1920 geo-thermally heated pools, dotted across the country, have valuable health benefits. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon – in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula. My bathers are packed! If you hear some rumours about an insane Australian who missed her flight home because she found marinating in these pools more appealing than a gruelling plane flight home … that could be true!

Sjáumst!

I have a deep and ongoing love of Iceland, particular the landscape, and when writing ‘Burial Rites,’ I was constantly trying to see whether I could distill its extraordinary and ineffable qualities into a kind of poetry. 
– Hannah Kent – 
 

What can we learn from a Hobbit?

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea …

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Our family is Tolkien possessed. My deep appreciation of the writing of this wonderful author has fortunately spilt over to my partner and
children. So when Peter Jackson put the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit to film, you guessed it, we watched it … over and over again … extended version, of course.

So, we have just finished watching The Hobbit … again. It is always interesting how these books and films speak to us in certain significant
seasons of our lives. As I watched Bilbo Baggins, the unlikely travelling companion of a company of dwarves and a wizard, take the hazardous journey to the Lonely Mountain, I took away some reflections on what we can learn from a hairy-footed Hobbit …

1. Always be ready for an Adventure

Bilbo is rather reluctant to leave the comfort of his home in the Shire to travel into the unknown. His conversation with Gandalf reveals his
apprehension:

Gandalf: “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am
arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

Bilbo: “I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …”

Gandalf: “You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.”

Bilbo: “You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: “No. And if you do, you will not be the same …” 
 
Bilbo overcame his fears to take part in a life-changing adventure. Many years later, he would warn a young Frodo about the hazardous nature of adventures:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.
 
Bilbo would advise us to always keep our walking stick within reach – ready for an unexpected adventure.

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2. The Adventure is always bigger than You
 
Amidst a group of seasoned warrior dwarves, Gandalf’s choice of Bilbo to travel with the company was rather odd. Yet he managed to outsmart trolls, spiders, goblins, elves and dragons. He faced grave dangers. He was also carried on the wings of the eagles of Gwaihir to safety. Gandalf saw in this ordinary hobbit something else:

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo
Baggins? Perhaps, because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

Bilbo himself saw this as an adventure much bigger than himself.
Despite being desperately homesick for the Shire, he was on a quest:

“Look, I know you doubt me, I know you always have. And you’re right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books. And my armchair. And my
garden. See, that’s where I belong. That’s home. That’s why I came back,
because you don’t have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back, if I can.
“ 

Bilbo would tell us that “even the smallest person can change the course of history”. The adventure we are called to is always bigger than ourselves.

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3. It simply isn’t an Adventure worth telling if there aren’t any Dragons.
 
“Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear you breathe. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!”
 
Smaug! The mountain had been left desolate, no one would venture near it, because amidst all the gold and glitter, lay a sleeping fire breather. How dull Bilbo’s tale would have been without this magnificent, cranky dragon.

Life was so pleasant in the Shire. A peaceful rhythm of life. Yet for Bilbo, just like for each of us, there may come moments when, often by no choice of our own, we are called from the Shire to go on an adventure and to face adversity. Staring into the face of our fear we wish it wasn’t so – but we are the people we are today because somewhere in our lives a dragon came calling.

The lesson we learn from a hobbit other than to “speak politely to enraged dragons”, or to “never laugh at live dragons”, is that our adventure is all the richer because of dragons.

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4. There is a bond with the Friends you make on an Adventure.
 
“Goodbye and good luck, wherever you fare,said Balin at last. “If ever you visit us again, when our halls are made fair once more, then the feast shall indeed be splendid.”
“If ever you are passing my way,” said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!”
 
There is a ‘fellowship’ and an ‘unsaid knowing’ amongst friends who share in an Adventure. There are many dark and perilous journeys that we will take in our lifetime. How fortunate the person that gets to share it with friends. 

The lesson we learn from a hobbit is that to share our adventures with friends is “more than any Baggins deserves.”

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So, dear friend, take some time to reflect on the wisdom of hobbits. And just for you, the words of Thorin Oakenshield:

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

This post is dedicated to my travelling companion and adventure partner, who also happens to be the love of my life.

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Navigating the Great Unkown

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s
family, and go to the land that I will show you …” – 
Genesis 12:1
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I dream vividly every night. Some of my dreams are rather significant. Two years ago (yes, I keep a dream journal with dates), I dreamt that I was standing on the shores of a stormy sea. The skies were grey and menacing, the water green and dark, with white foam churning on top, creating the appearance of a bubbling cauldron. The wind was howling. I was holding a windsurfing sail, just the sail, no board. For whatever
peculiar reason, I waded into the water and began to windsurf over the top of the waves with bare feet – a near impossible feat. Flying over the water at the mercy of the wind, I began to noticbreakwater-379242_1920e dark shadows under my feet – the whole ocean, it seemed, was alive with monsters of the deep. I was terrified. Finally, I made it back to shore and stood there panting, with exhilarating horror … and then I went back into the water … to do it all again …
Fortunately, I woke up!

The dream was compelling. My subconscious was trying to desperately process what was happening in my life. It was a season of great risk, new defining moments, pivotal paradigm shifts, deep inner work, and I was staring down the path of an adventure that would take me into uncharted territory. A very similar place to where my partner and I are standing right now, as we face momentous changes in our lives. These times come to all of us; some through our own choice, some far beyond our control, and they all lead us to the mist-covered space of the Great Unknown.

Maybe you have been there? Maybe you are there right now – this murky, foreign place, where you wake up one morning and realise you are “not in Kansas anymore”. This new neighbourhood, perhaps filled with grief, most often with great fear and, at times, a sense of loss.
Perhaps you lost a loved one? Or you have been diagnosed with an
illness? Maybe it is a drastic shift in an area of tightly-held ideology or worldview? Or a literal geographical move? Everything within you wants to again feel the safety of the familiar harbour. Frantically, you search for that mysterious rabbit hole you accidentally fell down that took you to this faraway corner. When you find it you discover, to your horror, that it is locked and bolted. You cannot go back, you are not the same anymore. So, you have to gather your courage, grab your walking stick (or windsurfing sail), and take the first tentative step into the unknown.

Here are some reflections from a fellow pilgrim that may be of help:

1. You will feel lost and there’s nothing you can do to change or hurry that process. When Providence guides you to the Great Unknown, you will feel lost and disorientated. Familiar habits and belief systems are now under threat, or may even be discarded. You have been beckoned to a radical adventure in which you are asked to leave behind so much of what once brought you security and comfort. Lostness, after all, is a
hidden gift, for in the midst of it you begin to really wake up and pay
attention.

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2. You may discover some very awkward travelling companions: Silence and Darkness. How our modern world fears these friends. Look around, everything is geared for you to ignore them. But when you step into the Great Unknown, they are there, forever at your side. At first you freak out, then you ignore them, and then … then you become their friend. For Silence and Darkness are the womb of the Great Unknown. These are the friends sent to you at this time to confront the greatest of all fears – yourself.

3. You will leave some friends behind. Nothing tests friendship like the Great Unknown. Ask anyone who has travelled here: the ones suddenly unable to partake in ‘normal’ activities because of illness or an accident, the ones who have ‘lost’ job or finance and can no longer ‘benefit’ their friends, the ones who shift in ideas and thought that threaten others, the list goes on. The reality is, for whatever reason, the Great Unknown will show you that the notion that you will take everyone with you, is simply not true. We can get angry and bitter, or we accept this as part of what this space is all about. There are a few friends who stay at your side for a lifetime. There are others that cannot take the journey with you. There are also others who are sent to you at this time – a whole different group of travelling companions, bidding you welcome.

4. You are, and will continue to, change. There is no other place that quite exposes the raw nerve of false cliches and ego than the Great Unknown. The place where we stop pretending, where we realise that
paradox is part of being human, where amongst our friends of Darkness and Silence, we recognise the Grace that has brought us here. It is in this place, fearful and exposed, we discover that we are greatly loved, and we look at the world in a whole new way. “I took the path less travelled,” wrote Robert Frost, “… and it made all the difference.” The Great
Unknown transforms our lives.

If you, like me at this time, feel like you are surfing over deep, dark
waters with no surf board, know that you are in good company. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you. You, dear friend, are simply being called to an adventure of a different kind. May you find the courage to answer.

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an
adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf:  You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo:  You can promise that I’ll come back?

Gandalf:  No. And if you do, you will not be the same  

[The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien]

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Some Perfectly ‘Normal’ Christmas Traditions from Around the World

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Christmas is all about tradition – beliefs and customs that have been handed from one generation to the next, readily adopted without any question or comment. As a child, my family always had a ‘real’ Christmas tree, decorated with ‘real’ candles, that were lit on Christmas Eve so that the smell of pine needles would waft through the house. It was very, very confronting to visit my friend as an impressionable eight year old and for the first time discover a horrific intruder: The FAKE Christmas tree. How can you have a fake Christmas tree? With fake Christmas candles? Of course, years later I would have my own bogus shrubbery, because this counterfeit made life just a whole lot easier.

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My shock over the discovery of fraudulent firs was the result of not realising that other folk have different traditions. I assumed everyone celebrated Christmas like our family – the perfectly normal family with the normal, real Christmas tree. To this day,  people around the world celebrate Christmas in their very normal homes, thinking that everyone else will be doing exactly the same thing.

If you live in Ethiopia, you would shrug at the commotion that happens on the 24th and 25th December in some of the Western nations. Your Christmas is observed on the 7th of January and is called Ledet or Genna, stemming from the word Gennana which means ‘imminent’. You would be dressed in white and Christmas activities include a lot of dancing and games.

If you visit Slovakian relatives at Christmas time, there’s a great likelihood that you would have to wrangle the carp that is swimming in your bathtub into a bucket, before showering. Carp is  often on the Christmas menu and bought alive at the market. When you sit down for dinner on Christmas Eve, try not to act surprised when the father of the family casually throws a huge spoon of pudding at the ceiling. He is trying to ensure a bumper crop the following season. Remember, this is normal! Meanwhile, in neighbouring Ukraine, they have a whole love affair going with spiders, who, according to legend, spun beautiful webs on the Christmas tree of a poor family that could not afford to decorate it. Ever since Ukrainians decorate the Christmas trees with, you guessed it, masses of arachnids and webs … that would go down so well with some of my friends.

Then we have my tribe: The Germans. If we are not driving our cars at insane speeds on the Autobahn, or drinking copious amounts of beer, or designing some kick-ass new technology, we also like to traumatise our children. If Brothers Grimm doesn’t do it for you then just remind your wee offspring of ‘Knecht Ruprecht’, who is a sort of dark sidekick to Nikolaus (St. Nicholas). A charming, horned monster that scavenges around the countryside looking for the bad children to punish and then present them with a birch inKnecht Ruprecht[1]stead of presents. Other parts of Germany do not fancy Knecht Ruprecht. They prefer a delightful cherub called ‘Schwarzer Peter’ who carries a whip. Our Bavarian brothers and sisters, suffering from ‘Anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better’ syndrome, cover themselves in straw from head to toe on St. Nicholas day.
They cover their faces with fur masks and roam around Bechtesgadener Land with cow bells hanging from their waist to drive out evil spirits. This normal tradition is called ‘Buttnmandl’ run. On the 1st and 4th Sunday in Advent, in the same place, they dress up in Lederhosen and shoot thousands of rounds of ammunition into the air to awaken nature from its winter slumber … they are yet to analyse how effective this method really is.

Slide further south and our thrill-seeking Italian cousins like to ski down slopes carrying torches after Christmas midnight mass. They also don’t stop partying until the 6th January (the day of Epiphany) and finish up with a great feast (I love Italians!). Up north, our Norwegian friends hide their brooms on Christmas Eve, just in case a witch swipes it and take it for a joy ride. Frankly, I would not hide my broom – happy for them to have it and burn all the wheelies they like. It’s interesting that in Guatemala they can’t get enough of brooms on Christmas Eve. Neighbours sweep their houses, then create a sense of community by building a huge pile out of the combined dirt and burn an effigy of the devil on top of it.

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In Gävle, Sweden, patient folk have been building a Yule Goat every Christmas. Nearly every year the goat is destroyed by vandals, Volvo drivers (absolutely no surprise there) and arsonists (I suspect that would be the adrenaline-high, caffeinated witch on some stolen Norwegian broom). The peace-loving, non-assertive Brits, who hate to talk about war, have an age-old tradition of making sure every member of the family stirs the bubbling Christmas pudding in a clockwise direction, while making a wish. They also hide a silver coin in the pudding. This is a touching, nostalgic reminder of the sheer delight in the finding and keeping of treasure. But it’s Christmas – so the activity is limited to the pudding, not other nations.

donald_trump_2016_classic_design_with_photo_snowflake_pewter_christmas_ornament-re959202d654941b9bad1d8af1462f134_idxcc_8byvr_324donald_trump_2016_classic_design_with_photo_snowflake_pewter_christmas_ornament-re959202d654941b9bad1d8af1462f134_idxcc_8byvr_324*Sigh* … so much blog already, so many more countries. In China, people don’t really give a fig about Christmas, but they do give each other apples, because the Chinese words for ‘Christmas Eve’ is ‘Ping An Ye’ and the word for apple is ‘Ping Guo’ … the connection is obvious. In Japan, it is all too hard. You need to make reservations at Kentucky Fried Chicken so you can celebrate Christmas eating your tortured feather friends. Meanwhile, over in the US of A, people are reverently hanging their precious pewter Donald Trump Christmas Snowflake on the tree. That would be the tree that stands as a focal point in the house, right next to the safe filled with assault rifles, and the nativity scene of Middle Eastern Refugees seeking asylum.

And Australia? Well, we’re the lucky country, you see. We don’t give a rip about everybody else’s tradition. We are tough. In a global refugee crisis, we ‘store’ hapless humans on islands. And at Christmas we throw ourselves into the sea to find crustaceans that have run out of luck, and we throw them on the barbie. But don’t worry – our beaches are perfectly safe. We have a whole suppository of previous Prime Ministers who would don Speedos as a lifestyle choice, ready to defend this unsettled, or scarcely settled, nation against marauding lamnidae families … because “Shit happens!” All good, all perfectly normal.

Homo Sapiens do it again: We are the evolved, intelligent, normal species with wonderful traditions. Merry Christmas!

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”

– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone