I LEFT MY HEART IN YORK

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I’ve left my heart in more places than one.

It’s an inevitable side-effect of incessant wanderlust. I no longer feel like I have a “home” in Australia – simply a base to come back to and recharge. The idea of staying put in one place is incomprehensible to me. I can’t imagine a life without exploration and freedom.

I fall in love with some places more than others. There are some places I never want to leave; some places I feel innately drawn to. York has become one of these places.

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It’s simply magical. There’s something in the air, a feeling that I can’t describe in words. It’s something that you have to experience first-hand. There’s an energy of complete peace.

York is the quintessential English country town. It’s not small – it was the largest city in northern England for centuries – but it’s certainly not on the mass scale of London. I like this – rather than feeling lost in a sea of busyness and commotion, you are able to soak up the atmosphere. Rather than feeling like an observer, you feel like an active participant in the city’s life and history.

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And what a history! Walking around the streets feels like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s another world. The city actively restores and promotes it’s historical roots – museums take you back to the Roman and Viking settlements, and the current town still retains its medieval charm. It was so refreshing to see a city preserving its history rather than building upon it.

Perhaps my favourite thing about York (or at least on par with its historical charm) were the people! I’m not exaggerating when I say that York is home to the friendliest, kindest people that I’ve ever met in my life. Everyone from the bed & breakfast lady who made me vegetarian breakfasts and did my laundry, to the waitress and chef who spent a great deal of their work time chatting to me instead of serving and cooking… I met some of the loveliest people in the world in York. Like, over-and-above kindness. Bless them.

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I said earlier that I couldn’t see myself staying put in one place. While this is true, if one day I were to retire my tired old bones, I would retire in York. I would get a small farm just outside town, so I could keep my horses and dogs and 214 cats. I would go into town everyday and eat lunch at the vegan cafe I found. I would exchange small-talk with my fellow Yorkers on the street. I would meet my grandma friends for tea and scones at the tea houses. After a life of exploration and adventure, I would live out my days enjoying the peace and friendliness that is inherent in York.

Who knows? It’s a nice idea, but I have no clue what the future holds. For now, I know that I left a piece of myself in York. I know that I will return one day. Because when you leave a part of yourself somewhere, you will inevitably go back to it.

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MY TOP 5: ROME EDITION

Ah, Rome. The Eternal City. Romanticised in art, literature, music and film. And I know why. In Rome you are able to appreciate just how small you are, as you stand amongst centuries of history. It really is eternal; the time and space we occupy is but a fraction in the life of this city.

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Roman Ruins

No where else in the world can you experience and appreciate Roman history as in its birthplace. The city is scattered with remnants from its glorious past, but the most well-known (and deservedly so) are the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Seeing these ruins for the first time is awe-inspiring. You are face-to-face with the great Roman Empire. You don’t need to have studied Roman history to appreciate that this era was one of incredible innovation. But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

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Piazza Navona

One word: carnival. Piazza Navona is one of the liveliest, most colourful places in the entire city. From the occasional ferris wheel, to street artists, to those carnival games that are impossible to win – you will wander around in awe and amazement. Or maybe I’m just a child at heart.

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Vatican City

Rome has been the centre of Christendom since 323 when Emperor Constantine made it not-illegal to practice Christianity in his empire. Sure, there have been a few ups and downs, but historically the head of the Catholic Church has had his seat in St Peters, the heart of Vatican City. This is the epitomisation of Renaissance Rome. The highlight of the Vatican for me was the museums. Every historical and contemporary piece of artwork that the Papacy has ever stolen is contained here, now so graciously put on display for us laymen to admire. Everything from Greek to Roman to Medieval to Renaissance, even with some modern art thrown in. It’s art history Mecca. Except that it’s Christian.

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Castel Sant’Angelo

Originally the mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (yes, he built things other than the wall), Castel Sant’Angelo became a papal fortress and prison during the early Renaissance. It captured my attention long ago after hearing the stories of torture and death that occurred within its walls, but it’s bloody history is a stark contrast to the lavish papal apartments contained in the upper storeys. It’s a comfortable hiding place when the plebs decide to riot.

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Piazza del Popolo

This spot made the list for two reasons. First of all, the piazza itself is always bustling with activity. At night it turns into an amazing spectacle of insanely-talented street musicians and people wandering around with gelati. Secondly, if you hike up the hill right beside it, you will get one of the best views over the city. And you know how I love climbing.

POMPEII: WHERE PAST MEETS PRESENT

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men… People bewailed their own fate… and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore… I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.

– Pliny the Younger

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It’s a strange feeling walking around the streets of a city that was literally buried in time. Pompeii was lost in 79 AD, and it lay preserved underground until it was rediscovered hundreds of years later. Nothing had changed; time had just stopped.

Due to the 4+ metre layer of ash, the city is almost perfectly preserved. You can wander around the ancient city on the very streets that the people used to try and escape. You can explore their houses, their temples, their bakeries, and their public spaces. You can discover how they lived, right up until their last moments. You can walk in their final footsteps.

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And the really eerie thing is, they literally were their final moments. The plaster casts of people and animals as they lay dying take on a whole new meaning when you see them in their context rather than in a museum. The contorted postures reveal just how unbearable the heat and suffocation must have been. It’s a very strange thing looking at someone as they died in perhaps the most horrific way imaginable.

We can only imagine how horrific it must have been for them. They lived in a completely different world. Volcanoes only erupt like this once every thousands of years. It was certainly something the likes of which had never been seen by anyone remotely close to their generation. As terrifying as the situation would be today, it must have been a hundred times worse for them because they had no idea what was happening, Their whole world was ending.

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Looking up from the ruins you see a looming reminder of the events of 79 AD in Mount Vesuvius. Despite there being not a cloud in the sky, an eerie shadow remained over the mountain all day. There was a point where I was looking at the volcano from the remnants of the forum and I realised that I was looking at the very same entity that they had been observing, in entirely different circumstances.

Pompeii has been on my bucket-list for a long time – well before I studied it as part of my archaeology major. It’s always held a certain fascination for me, purely for the fact that it literally disappeared overnight. Everything that defined the city – buildings, arenas, forums, people – was buried along with it, frozen in time only to be discovered hundreds of years later. It’s one of very few places in the world where the past has remained untouched by subsequent developments and cultures.

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The fact that the site has become a major tourist destination is both good and bad. I think that history plays such an important part in crafting who we are as a society that people should be interested and want to learn about the cultures that preceded them. I think it’s amazing that we all share this fascination about the city that was buried alive.

However, hoards of tourists meandering through the ruins every year means that conservation is impossible. The city is falling apart. The respect for the site and for its people is, for the most part, non-existent. It’s a tough debate, but maybe there comes a time when, after we’ve discovered all there is to discover, we should rebury these sites and leave them as we found them. Maybe there comes a time when we should let the city and its inhabitants rest in peace.

MY TOP 10: FLORENCE EDITION

Florence will forever be my favourite city in the world. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve studied here twice, or maybe it’s just that amazing, but every time I come back it feels like I’m returning home. So this list was especially hard, because trying to narrow down a city as diverse and fantastic as Florence into a “Top 10” just can’t be done. This just scratches the surface of centuries worth of history, culture, art, architecture and food.

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Piazza del Duomo

Comprised of the Duomo, Campanile, and Baptistery, the Piazza del Duomo is probably the most iconic site in Florence. For centuries, this has been the centre of Florence’s religious life, and the iconic image of Brunelleschi’s dome is what distinguishes the Florentine skyline. Climbing the Duomo and/or Giotto’s Campanile will give you a fantastic view of the city and it’s immediate layout – just maybe don’t plan to do them both on the same day like we did, unless you relish that lactic acid!

Fratellini

If there’s only one place you go in Florence, make it Fratellini’s. Best. Panini. Ever. Seriously, these guys make the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life. Just go there, it will be worth it, I promise.

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Ponte Vecchio

Another iconic Florentine symbol, the Ponte Vecchio or “Old Bridge” is another must-see tourist destination. It’s the oldest bridge in Florence, and was the only bridge along the Arno that wasn’t destroyed in WWII. Historically, it has always been home to merchants trying to sell their wares; however now the expensive gold jewellery is a little out of my price range.

The Uffizi 

One of my favourite galleries in the world. For someone who studied Renaissance art, this is Mecca. Probably the most well-known pieces to marvel at are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and La Primavera, and my personal favourite, da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi… Which I still haven’t seen in person because for the last 3 years its been under restoration. One day…

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The Oltrarno

Many people forget that there is another side to Florence. Literally, the city continues on the opposite banks of the Arno river. Historically, this was the poorer side of town, and perhaps this is why many people skip it today. However, it’s home to some must-see sites, including Palazzo Pitti and the enormous Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo, and my personal favourite, San Miniato al Monte.

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Santa Croce

If you’re a history nerd like myself, this will fast become one of your favourite churches. This is where anyone who was anyone in Florentine society was buried. From the likes of Michelangelo to Raphael, and Galileo to Machiavelli, this Franciscan cathedral contains all your favourite Florentines in one convenient place. No really, the fact that all these historical figures are metres away is really mind-blowing. Eerily fascinating.

The Accademia

If you only go here to see Michelangelo’s David, it will be worth it. The man is freaking perfect. Seriously, I’ve never seen such perfection in my life. It’s possible to spend hours sitting in awe of this one sculpture. The rest of the gallery isn’t bad either.

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Piazza della Repubblica 

Florentine nightlife comes alive in the Piazza della Repubblica. Ferris wheels, temporary displays and workshops, Champagne tasting, and people trying to sell you weird light-up flying mechanisms… This place has it all. It’s bright, it’s bustling, and its the gateway to some amazing restaurants.

La Spada

So I’ve eaten here each time I’ve been in Florence because the food is so delicious, and this time was no different. La Spada is home to the best waiter in the world, Ivan, who will go above and beyond to make sure you have the best culinary experience ever. And we did. So we went back twice more! Best service I’ve ever had. However much Ivan is being paid, it isn’t enough! I seriously cannot recommend this place highly enough.

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San Miniato al Monte

This spot is on the list not so much for the 11th-century church, but for its panoramic views over the city. However, if you’ve made the trek, you might as well see the Romanesque church too – it’s beautiful. Hike up here at sunset, the lighting is perfect. And if you feel like braving the cold, staying after the sun goes down and the lights come out is definitely worth it. This will forever be one of my favourite spots in the world.

IN FAIR VERONA

I’ve had a love affair with Verona from about the age of 11, when I first discovered the glorious specimen that is Leonardo DiCaprio. Though I didn’t understand a word of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation at that time, the appeal of the star-crossed lovers was enough to romanticise fair Verona.

Fast-forward three years and I was studying Shakespeare’s tragedy at school. I still question the judgement of whoever thought it was a good idea to give 14-year-olds a story about kids falling in love after an hour, getting married the next day, and killing themselves after a series of extremely frustrating twists of fate. Not to mention our school’s attempted censorship of the sex scene in Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation starring Olivia Hussey and the Zac Efron lookalike.

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If I had to pick one word to describe Verona it would be magical. The city still carries it’s Shakespearian charm, and tributes to Romeo and Juliet are everywhere. The old city walls bear a plaque famously quoting that “There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself”. And busts of Shakespeare. Everywhere.

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Although I’m about as far away from the lovelorn tourist as you can get, you absolutely cannot go to Verona and not go to Juliet’s house, Casa di Giulietta. Let me preface this by saying that Juliet probably didn’t live here; yes, the Shakespearian tragedy is fictional. However, the house did belong to the Cappelletti family, whom the story is likely to have been based upon. Despite the extremely distant connections, tourists flock here to post their letters to Juliet on the walls in the courtyard, and to stand on her balcony and await their Romeo. So we did. When in Verona, right?

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But Verona isn’t just a pilgrimage site for romantics. Any history nerd will feel right at home, with remnants dating back to the Roman Empire. The Veronese Arena is at the centre of the city, and still hosts entertainment for its citizens. Sure, it’s not the bloodbaths of ancient Rome, but if you don’t mind more sedated events like live music… If not, you can tour around the arena by day like we did, all the way from being spectator in the top tier to walking through the archway to begin a glorious and bloody fight to the death.

And just a side note on why Verona will forever by one of my favourite cities: vegetarian heaven. I’ve never seen so much vegetarian and vegan food in my life! As a vegetarian in Italy, I’m usually limited to pastas and pizzas (not complaining), but it to have vegan food that was based solely on vegetables and legumes… Freaking amazing. And you know how everything tastes better in Italy? Vegan food does too.

MY TOP 5: VENICE EDITION

Venice has always held a magical allure for me, and my second visit to the city was just as incredible as the first. There is no place like it. It’s the place where east meets west, and where the land meets the sea. It’s an amazing little piece of Byzantium in Italy. I hate choosing favourites, and my list was endless, but I’ve managed to narrow a busy itinerary down to my five top picks.

(These are all fairly touristy, and to get a real feel for the city you actually need to get lost in it’s maze of alleyways, but this will inevitably happen anyway!)

Piazza San Marco

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No visit to Venice would be complete without a visit to the tourist destination of Piazza San Marco. The square itself is the ideal place to sit and eat and people-watch. San Marco would have to be my favourite Italian church, possibly because it’s unlike any other Italian basilica I’ve ever seen. Inside it is a golden mosaic masterpiece, more Byzantine than Italian. Next door is Palazzo Ducale, the palace of the Doge. If you enjoy art, or if you simply want to step into the shoes of the uppermost echelon of Venetian society, the Palazzo is not to be missed.

Ponte Rialto

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The Rialto bridge is a Venetian icon. It’s the main causeway connecting the two islands that comprise the city, and has arguably the best vantage point from which to view the Canale Grande in it’s romantic glory. Although the boutique shops along the bridge are a tad pricey, wandering the streets around it you will find some incredible examples of Venetian craftsmanship – from iconic Murino glass, to eccentric Venetian masks.

Ice Skating

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When people ask me why I travel to Europe in winter, I usually cite the reduced prices and smaller number of tourists. But perhaps the best part of Europe in winter are the outdoor ice skating rinks! There’s something magical about ice skating in winter. Maybe it’s because we have nothing like it in Australia. At any rate, when we stumbled across the rink in Campo San Polo, we knew we had to go for it. Despite being double the age of everyone else there, this was definitely one of my highlights in Venice.

Gondolas

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What epitomises Venice better than the gondola? The romanticism of the city surely lies in the icon of the long boat, commandeered by a serenading gondolier. It’s something you have to do at least once in your life. Seeing the city from the canals gives you a completely different perspective, and watching the gondoliers expertly navigate the narrow causeways is captivating. It’s a side of Venice that you’re unable to see from the land.

The Ghetto

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Venice is home to the first ever Ghetto. It dates to 1516, when the Doge of Venice so graciously allowed the Jews to continue living in Venice, so long as they were quarantined in their own tiny enclave. Wandering through the ghetto, which is still home to some of the Venetian Jewish population, it is the only place that actually feels lived-in. In a city that feels extremely touristy, it’s a welcome escape.

RESOLUTIONS

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Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

– Maria Robinson

Resolutions.

We all make them.

The New Year brings with it an opportunity for change, the promise of a new beginning. It’s a chance to start over, to create something new, to live with excitement, adventure and purpose. It’s a time to chase your dreams, to explore your universe, to discover yourself.

Many resolutions fail before January is even through. Suddenly, the hope and excitement for the New Year turns into guilt and self-punishment. You failed. And now you’ll have to wait an entire year to try again.

But change doesn’t have to happen only once a year. Every day provides an opportunity for a new start. Every day you wake up and have the opportunity to live the life you want. It doesn’t have to start on January 1st. Life begins every single day of the year.

Failure happens when we view resolutions as rules. When we break a resolution we break a promise we have made to ourselves, and the result is guilt and frustration.

I prefer to see resolutions as goals. They are made to remind us of the life we want to live, and their purpose is to help us live it. Every day we make progress towards these goals, towards our dreams. And failure doesn’t mean that we give up on resolutions. We get up the next day and keep working towards them.

A mindset like this also means that resolutions can change. Goals should be flexible and attainable. And flexible goals are much easier to adhere to and achieve.

You don’t need an excuse to set goals and resolutions. The New Year creates a time when we can look back on how far we have come, and see how far we still have to go. It’s a time for re-evaluation and rejuvenation. But it’s not the only time.

Imagine how much happier we would be if we made resolutions every day. 

THE BACK-UP PLAN

You have a good chance at making some of your wildest dreams come true. Most people don’t even try, sadly. Most people try and then stop or give up. Very few people try, and try, and try, or do, and do, and do, and never give up. And those are the people who ultimately succeed and win.

– Jared Leto

I hate the idea.

The idea of a back-up, a Plan B, a safety net… The idea that you need a ‘realistic’ or ‘achievable’ dream.

I’ve had people stress the importance of a back-up plan my entire life. I’ve always been a dreamer, a creative type, and this lifestyle scares people. I knew from about the age of thirteen that I didn’t want to settle for some nine-to-five office job that simply paid the bills. I wanted something more, I wanted to create, and I wanted to do what I loved and what I dreamed of.

As I got older, and had to start seriously thinking about my future, I squashed my creative dreams in favour of a back-up plan. The things people say can inadvertently cause you to doubt and question your ability. To me, when people suggested that I think of a Plan B, I assumed that my creative talents weren’t enough for me to pursue the life that I wanted.

Recently, I’ve come to realise that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you work at it. The first step is the most important one – so many people never take their first step toward their dreams, because they’ve settled for a back-up plan. I honesty believe that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. It won’t come easy – nothing good ever does – but it will be worth the effort. Pursuing dreams takes courage – it comes with the possibility of failure, and the greater the risk, the greater the fall. But if you don’t take that leap of faith, then you’ll never learn to fly.

People still try to convince me to settle for the easy option. To abandon what I really want to do with my life. I think people are scared of creative dreams. They don’t come with a salary. They don’t come with stability. But they come with so much more.

I believe there are two types of people: risk-takers and risk-avoiders. The risk-takers are the dreamers. The risk-avoiders are the pragmatists, the realists. There’s nothing wrong with being the latter – you’ll probably work in a well-paid job and own a lovely house and raise a beautiful family. But for the dreamers, this is not enough. There’s got to be something more. And you’ll never know unless you take the risk.

So I’ve abandoned my back-up plan. It’s never going to satisfy me. I’d spend my whole life wondering what could have happened had I just taken that first step. I’m chasing my dreams, and I’m not stopping until I achieve them. It will happen. I’ll make it happen.

Make yours happen too.

CREATING A TRAVEL MEMOIR

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I have a great memory. I remember faces, places, images, buildings, maps… Anything visual is imprinted in my mind. I wouldn’t call it a photographic memory – that implies some sort of superhuman remembering capability that I’m fairly certain I do not possess. But visually, my memory is 97% spot-on.

When it comes to anything aural, descriptive, numeric, or emotional… Well that’s a different story. I’ll remember a person’s face for years, but forget their name less than a minute after we’re introduced. I’ll remember a building’s location and façade, but have no idea of its name or function. I’ll remember how to navigate a maze of foreign streets to find my way back to my hotel, but I have no idea what the street next mine at home is called. In these respects, I have the memory of a goldfish.

This makes travelling both exciting and fairly natural for me, but it can also leave me feeling a little unfulfilled. Being a dominantly visual person, I always come home with thousands and thousands of photographs to sort through. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is a lie. A picture can’t tell you specifics – the name, place, date, function and history of a place. A picture also can’t relay the emotions that being in that particular location made you feel. It can’t remind you of the kind African man you met on the train and of the extremely sad and deeply touching conversation you had about his life. It can’t remind you of the woman feeding the cats behind you and your lens, nor of the charismatic old Italian tour guide who serenaded you with broken English love songs. These are the experiences that become the highlights of my travels, and never would have been if I hadn’t written them down.

This is why I journal. It doesn’t have to be long and boring, just a few sentences about what happened that day, the people you met, and the conversations you had. Some days you’ll be able to write pages; others you’ll have merely a sentence or two. Length isn’t important. But you’ll thank yourself six months down the track when you’re reading through, nostalgic about the experiences you had.

Journaling takes discipline. I can’t tell you how many trips I have taken and only made it a couple days in before giving up on my journal. In fact, it’s something I’ve only mastered in the last few years. I’ll let you in on my secret: routine. It’s so important to develop a journaling routine, and to stick to it! For me, I set aside some time before bed – sometimes only five minutes, but I’ll take however long I need to adequately describe the day I’ve experienced. Sometimes I miss days – sometimes I’m just too tired, or I’m out, or I’ve had a little too much vino – but the important thing is to pick up the pen on the next day and continue where you left off. The hard work is worth it, I promise!

So write your travel memoir – you’ll thank yourself for it later.