I fell in love with Moroccan tea last week. It’s minty and sweet and green and delicious. And so, after only 24 hours of friendship, the precious couple that hosted us in Rabat gifted me with yet another perfect metaphor…
My teapot runneth over.
It just does. It has. Time and time again.
My dad flew over from Virginia to join me for the last two weeks of my trip. And like the rest of my 7.5 month jaunt, the time overflowed in all of the ways:
Driving along the beach with the windows down, only to stop for happy hour with a view, feels like all of summer’s goodness. Perfection.
The castle in Sintra looks like Disney came to life. Magical.
There is no greater ‘office’ than a beach cabana in Portugal’s Algarve. Inspiring.
A box of Crayola’s exploded all over Chefchauoen, Morocco. Fact.
Portuguese bull fights are the most bizarre spectacle imaginable. Dislike. I❤️Bulls.
The leather tanneries and hand-made fabric weavers and pottery artisans in Fez are mind boggling. Souvenirs.
Germany feels more like home than I remember it feeling when it WAS home 10 years ago. Perspective.
The Lowenbrau Haus at the Munich Oktoberfest on opening night is where sobriety comes to die. Lethal.
I am now fiercely independent and so in that way, more like my dad than ever. Headbutt.
Despite headbutts, the irony is not lost on me that I was inspired to explore the world because of a man who broke my heart. And I’ll return home with one who would do about anything in his power to keep it whole. Grace.
Portugal and Morocco and Deutschland in two weeks…What else would you expect when traveling with the Colonel?
If you’ve read this, then you know how I feel about my momma. And if you read this or this, then you know how I feel about my cousins. So how flipping cool is it that they just flew across the Atlantic to do some Italy and Mediterranean adventuring with me?! I just had the sweetest two weeks with mamacita and my cousin, Morgan. And my sister. Oh, that sister of mine…
I don’t believe in perfect people or perfect places or perfect travels. But I do believe with every ounce of my heart that God gave me the.perfect.sister. Ten years my junior, we’re probably not destined to be in the same phase of life at the same time…not “supposed” to have a ton in common…Jordan’s in highschool. Still a babe. And I’m….not. But that girl is as much my soul sister as my biological one. And oh my gosh, did I need some sister time.
Two weeks with these three gals made my heart smile big…
We wined…We drank fresh table wine at small hole-in-the-wall Roman joints. We clinked bubbly [[or bubs, as we like to call it for short]] on the cruise ship, dressed to the nines, while a good ole Greek Isle view faded into the horizon. But my favorite wining was the proper wine tasting day…the most picturesque day spent in Tuscany filled up my soul. Our charming driver, Mauoro, shared his favorite three wineries with us. Wineries set amidst the olive trees with sweeping Tuscan vineyards that produce brilliant wines. But the best was no doubt, the last. Our host poured wine after wine after wine to test our pairing palates with the salad and cheese and minestrone and cured meats and aged balsamic and Grandma’s lasagna drizzled with truffle oil. It was a treat and a half; and a checked bucket list item for the books.
And dined…From Mom’s spaghetti scoglio, Morgan’s caprese salad, Jordan’s penne alla arrabbiata and ALL of our gelato, Italy is the home to ‘eat’ in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ for good reason. Don’t even get me started on cruise food. I’m still detoxing.
We walked…Mom and Morgan might disagree, but walking is just my favorite way to explore. You just follow your feet. Sometimes they find the Colosseum, sometimes they find the Bridge of Sighs and sometimes they find perfect Greek beach to cool off. I don’t know where we totaled in mileage, but I do know that walking time company with my girls was so appreciated.
And cruised…For as long as I can remember, Mom’s been telling my half Greek cousin Morgan that one day we’d go to Greece together. As moms do, she made good on her word, and Greece we did. In style. On the Splendour of the Seas. And as much as I’ve been on a completely different wavelength for the last 6 months of backpacking, I have to admit, easy, stylish travel felt really nice. It felt like a treat. It made me feel girly and clean. It was as it sounds…splendid.
We explored…Temmes are used to traveling. But not this way. Not my way. My new way, anyway. Exploring without agenda feels nice and natural. When you show up in Florence and have no idea what’s around the hotel and what’s best to do, you just go find the good. It’s that simple. I loved exploring little medieval Tuscan towns and winding Venice pathways and adoring the Roman doors and finding the perfect little Greek cafe with my ladies. May as well just call us all Dora from here on out.
And rested…The thing I’ve had to learn, to force myself to accept, is that rest.is.ok. Taking a nap is good for the body and soul. Sitting on a bench and people watching is often just as culturally enriching as racing around with a tour group in the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel might be. We walked and explored. But we also rested. And it makes the exploration that much lighter and appreciated.
But best of all, we laughed…that sister of mine keeps me in stitches. She is as witty as they come. She does goofy accents with me and let’s me call her ‘the half to my bruise’ when we happen to wear black and blue dresses to dinner. She does puppet shows with the towel elephants and calls mom ‘Bert’ or ‘Marge’ or ‘hey lady’ [to which my mom always responds…?!]
And laughed…We laughed like only sisters can laugh. Real deep belly kind of laughs. We laughed for 14 days straight. The Italians and Greeks probably thought we were off our rockers. And that’s why I love me some sister time.
I can only pray that when we’re 90 and 80, we find some really sweet old rockers [[preferably in Tuscany, for old times sake]] and laugh ourselves out of those ones too.
This trip has been four months chock full of dreamy, surprising and delightful, but I may have found the trump card here in northern Italy.
There’s this travel secret called Help Exchange [[there are others too, WWOOF & Work Away included]]. Why it’s such a secret, I have no idea, cause it’d have been about the coolest way to spend a college summer or 4 that I could think of. [[Get ON it, Joey, Phillip, Jess & Catie!]]. Truly, it might be the greatest thing invented since wine.
In a nutshell, travelers can apply to go volunteer with hosts from around the world who need any range of help–from feeding baby goats on a farm in Australia to working on a yacht in the Med, to sous-cheffing it up at an organic cooking school in Turkey. In exchange, hosts offer a range of comforts, mostly including lodging and food. It’s pretty much a win-win, no matter how you slice it, though I suppose the richness of the experience largely depends on the host / help match.
But with a little bit of luck finally on my side, I hit the HelpX gold mine of all gold mines on my FIRST try.
Yall, I live on a vineyard. THIS vineyard:
For at least the next few weeks. I live and work and play and eat and drink on a vineyard with the loveliest Italian couple and their incredible amount of pups. Twenty years ago, Paolo and Marisa bought this little chunk of land nestled in the northern Italian Alps looking out over the Valtellina Wine Valley. They built a gorgeous home, expanded the vineyard and created a total haven up here in nature. A haven which they now graciously share with me.
From my new favorite coffee / wine perch, depending on the time of day, I have an unobstructed view of their sloping vineyard, the valley and river down below, the snow-capped peaks, almost Switzerland and absolutely heaven.
It’s perfect timing too, cause the last few weeks have been filled with an unquenchable need to be productive. I know, that sounds crazy… ‘just relax and enjoy the dream you’re living right now,’ they say. For the most part I have, don’t get me wrong. But after four months of relative ‘downtime,’ it was time to entertain my Type-A for a bit.
And here, I find my balance.
I unpacked my suitcase for the first time. I have a room and bathroom to myself, thanks to my generous host family. I get to put my hands to work while I let my mind wander. I have ELEVEN gigantic and gorgeous playmates [[oh, as if Paolo and Marissa aren’t busy enough tending to 4000 bottles of annual wine-worth-of-vineyard AND working full-time, they’re also European champion Bernese Mountain Dog breeders…real life?!]].
I get to be in a kitchen again [[oh, how travel makes me miss this novelty]]. But I don’t get [[nor want]] to be the boss chef, cause Paolo may as well have his own cooking show too. Then we sit together, with that heavenly view, a heaping plate of authentic local cuisine, a glass of red harvested from the grapes not 10 yards away from our table [[10 yards, but 4 years prior]], and they entertain my incessant questions about wine making.
Around the table, I’ve learned all about the year-round labor of love that producing my favorite good requires. And in June, it’s vine-perfecting-time here at the estate, so I spend my ‘help’ time surrounded by baby grapes, with Michael Buble blaring, the sun tingling my skin, all the while making the vines do what they’re supposed to do and scolding the unruly.
What a life metaphor, huh? Unruly as things feel at time, with a little focused TLC, all things grow straighter, stronger and more fruitful.
Raising my coffee cup / wine glass to THAT, from my vineyard home in Italia today, friends.
If you know me at all, you know that two of my very favorite things to do are suggesting vacas and inviting people to visit me. Genuine as these suggestions always are, I’ve learned the hard way to not believe an RSVP till I see it. I guess years of Army-brat-hood instilled a tiny bit of cynicism in me…cause not everyone is gonna come visit you. And certainly, not everyone is gonna drop everything to do a massive vaca. Sometimes it’s just easier to not get your hopes up…
But yall, last week, these little suggestive worlds collided when an Arkansan proved me wrong on both accords.
I think our convo went something like this:
Ben: ‘Hey! I get out of the Army in April, where are you gonna be?’
Anne: ‘Probably hanging out in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand! Wanna join?’
Ben: ‘Yup. I’ll do it.’
Anne: [[thinking, but not saying… ‘yeah RIGHT’]]
He did it. Ben Trouble, as he’s formally called in my world, proved me wrong and met me in Saigon last week. So far, we’ve spent some days doing a lot and some days doing absolutely nothing but lie on the beach with a spiked watermelon juice in hand. All of those days have made me laugh though…
We both seem to be a bit directionally challenged in Vietnam. Whether it was trying to find the Cho Ben Thanh Market in Saigon during our first hour of travel, attempting to motorbike to the most movie-esque beach ever in Phu Quoc, or just hunting down a mini-mart, Vietnamese road signs have bested us so far. Luckily, Ben didn’t get lost in the Cu Chi Tunnels though. About 100 degrees hot, 1 meter tall and far too few inches wide, my claustrophobic butt was NOT climbing down into those tunnels, but I was still sweatin bullets hoping Ben made it out alive and didn’t get lost in the labyrinth of a Vietcong underground fighting city. He made it out, albeit sweaty and cramped. And we haven’t lost each other or our bags yet, so losing track of time and destinations is actually just a funny and welcomed part of the adventure.
Ben gets hit on by more men in Vietnam than I do. Yes you read that right. The Vietnamese men loooove them some Ben Trouble. Maybe it’s the twang. Probably the broad stance. Definitely the beard. Men are falling all over this little Arkansan and it makes me giggle every.single.time. The other night, while in transit between the Mekong Delta and a little piece of paradise off the southern tip of Vietnam, we found ourselves at a local restaurant for a delicious Hot Pot dinner. As the ONLY westerners in this packed joint, we felt a little circus-like to say the least. After all eyes on us for the evening, we got up to wait for a taxi when a small group of slightly inebriated locals walked up to get a closer look. They all just shook Ben’s hand and say ‘you so handsome’ and then they shook my hand and say ‘oh, congratulations!’ It is probably the definition of hilarious.
Then there are just the moments on moments on moments that prove, without a shadow of a doubt that we are indeed NOT in Arkansas anymore. Culture shock is always a funny thing. But its kind of funnier with Ben. From the Vietnam American War Museum in Saigon [[which is a humbling and horrific dose of recent history]], to the floating markets in the Mekong Delta; from the motorbike traffic insanity, to our new water buffalo friend on Unicorn Island; from a honeybee farm, rice noodle-making compounds and coconut candy making factory, to the live ocean creatures that they season, splice and dice right in front of you at the night markets for dinner, we’ve shoved a WHOLE lot of culture into a mere 7 days. Some of it could easily overwhelm, unless you soak it up and laugh it off instead. Case in point: our new friend and host in Phu Quoc pointed us to the ocean-facing Pagoda up the road and shooed us off for a visit. I hopped on the back of the bike and we tore off. About three minutes into the trek, Ben turns to me and yells ‘what the hell is a Pagoda?!’
So perfect. We definitely don’t know what we’re doing over here half of the time. But ALL of the time, we’re soaking it up and laughing.
Good luck getting that song out of your head…I hummed it silently for the duration of our all-too-short stay in Melbourne…but really, what a refreshing few days in a city that I’ve never been to, but that strangely felt familiar. Perhaps it wasn’t because of the city itself [[they still drive on the opposite side of the road, have adorable accents and cafes too cute for words]], but more because of how we spent our time in said city.
Katie, ‘Amazing Katie,’ as the American cousins have formally dubbed her, and her equally amazing mate, Gary, truly made us feel right at home. We read and cooked and worked out in a real gym [[!!!]] and did laundry and talked about our dreams and guilty pleasures and had friends over and did Tuesday night at a food truck and a local watering hole and explored the city by foot….
and….we did wine country…and it was amazing too.
The thing about wine country is that it really doesn’t matter where in the world you are, as long as your palate and mind are open to new grape varietals, the people you’ve trekked with were well chosen, the sun is shining and there’s cheese to be paired.
Yarra Valley is one of the great wine regions of Australia, where Chardonnays [[still not my fave..not even in Chardonnay land]] and Pinot Noirs take the cake, so you know it was dang near top of Kara’s and my list of things to do while in Melbourne. What better way to recoup from a great road trip, than indulging in a few tastings, afterall?
Indulge we did and at home we felt. Cheers to amazing people, amazing reds and a home away from home.
I think Kara and I agree that Cairns agreed with us and vice versa. A box full of favorite memories of our trek so far.
Karen and Gavin, our amazing hosts, rolled out a rain forest haven for us backpackin gals. We showed up to an empty villa with a view ready to be oogled, a pool ready to be dunked in, beds ready to be slept in and an OCD-gal’s dream kitchen ready to be cooked in. We missed K&G for the first 4 days or so, but they graciously allowed us to make ourselves at home….and so we did.
From snorkeling the Reef; to a Cape Trib and Daintree day trip with our favorite tour guide / Dutchman / photographer, turned friend; to a lazy day on Fitzroy Island; to sinking our hands back in to clean cooking and eating, we kept busy and lazy at the same time. Oh, dichotomies.
The part I love most about doing Oz is that I get to do it with family. We get to ask unabashed questions and dig in to politics and pick up on local secrets and cook ‘thank you’ meals like we’d do at home. Sure, we sneak in the ‘must-dos’ as any visitor would, but doing it with a local lean makes it feel more real, more sensible.
What a concept.
What a blood-boiling infuriation.
Here’s where I’ve landed on some Cairns-inspired sense vs. nonsense:
Sourcing, cooking and eating whole, local foods–makes sense and feels good. Gavin’s panko-crusted fish [caught and cleaned with his own two hands, right in his own backyard] is the most mouthwatering flaky white fish I’ve ever tasted. Doused with fresh mango / avo guac and a cabbage slaw, with a side of roast pumpkin, pine nut, feta salad. Yeah, go on and call it sensible palate heaven.
Preferences. Nonsense. Utter nonsense. That I can run for office in Queensland against Kara and Gavin, but Kara can have a side deal with Gavin to collect all of the votes he earns to count as her own is ABSOLUTE nonsense [[I’m sure you political junkies could point out equivalent neuroses in our American system as well]]. The things you learn over panko-crusted fish tacos.
Free community fitness classes down at the lagoon. Sensible. Smart. Hilariously entertaining, given that the class we watched was Aqua Zumba. But seriously, can you imagine all the local fitness clubs in downtown DC putting on free community yoga classes and pilates and dance classes on the Mall, for anyone and everyone who wants to join in? Move. Get healthy. Do it as a tourist or a local. Do it to feel rich and not get rich. Riotously sensible demonstration in CBD Cairns. We should jump on that bandwagon.
Media. Should be absolutely sensible, right? Should just be facts on facts on facts. But I’m learning that as in any country, media has more often than not, turned into a nonsense money-making business rather than an objective community storytelling service. It makes my public relations grounded spirit sad. Can’t we just tell honest stories as they truly unfolded, rather than splicing and dicing sound bites or covering atrocious behavior that rewards nonsense? We opted not to pay for cable back in our Woodinville Villa this year, but catching some news with the cousins and recanting stories of deplorable media behavior just reminded me how transactional our global culture’s become. Yuck. Big, huge yuck.
Then there’s nature, which we saw from both sides of the sense spectrum. We got to be at one with nature in so many ways this last week. We snorkeled with fish and just quietly observed their daily behavior, careful not to touch the coral and damage the thousand-year-old-Natural-Wonder. We saw a cassowary crossing the road through the juicy, thick Daintree Rain Forest. But then, at the top of ‘Killer Hill’ in Karen’s neighborhood, nature’s been corrupted by human hands. They’ve literally ushered in a pest by sourcing cane toads [a natural predator for some animal population they wanted to bring into balance], but unnaturally created a breeding frenzy for what’s now become a new nuisance. Just hundreds of cane toads scurrying from your foot before it squishes its guts. Nature’s a weird one that swings both ways, I think.
It was all just a glaring reminder at how seeing and observing and doing first-hand is truly the best way to learn—the best way to fuel an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Cairns, I just love you. You made me think. You made me do. You made me relax but aspire. You made my hair look a hot mess, my skin sweat beads like never before and nearly gave Kara a heat stroke. But you’re one hotbed of beautiful views.
Karen hugged me goodbye at the airport this morning and fared me well with a ‘you’ll be back; so we’ll see you later.’