Category Archives: travel

The Krakow Factor

This is just a quick dzień dobry to let you know that I’ve got a bite-sized travel piece on Crikey. It’s all about the amazing Art-Nouveau fantasy that is the Franciscan Church in Krakow, Poland.

What’s behind the door? You’ll have to head to to find out!

Purgatory is Heathrow Terminal 3

I thought about starting the title to this post ‘Hell is …’, but to say that Heathrow Airport excels at anything, even awfulness, is beyond me. In any case a stopover in Heathrow does offer hope of reprieve: I’ve got a long-haul flight to look forward to.

Like Dante’s penitents in purgatory I’m hunched in discomfort paying for my mistakes (can anyone say Italy to Singapore via London). The image of those poor souls endlessly carting huge stones on their backs is haunting me. What sin deserved that? I can’t remember and can’t find the answer—there isn’t even working wi-fi here.

Contrary to the medieval view, the people speaking in tongues are just about the only interesting or appealing thing about this place. I’ve been playing the ‘what language is that’ game constantly, but with my very Australian mono-and-a-half-lingualism it’s not a game I do well at.

This terminal is so cramped. Between flights there is nothing worse than having to sit right next to some stranger as you stare into the middle space somewhere in front of the departures screens. Oh, and the chairs in this place are awful. I’m sure some demented interior-designer thought the wooden laminate perfect, so aesthetically pleasing and hard-wearing (no offence to interior designers meant—some of my best friends are interior designers—well one of them anyway).

The seats sure wore us down, inspiring an expedition into the gate-lands to try and find a quieter, more comfortable camping ground. No luck, you need to flash a boarding pass to enter the gates. All we managed to acquire was a brief glimpse of the airline lounges. The class divide is painfully present in Heathrow.

Another boarding announcement. My concentration is broken. I go to the bookshop to get a bottle of water. Wondering if there is anything worth reading among the titles on display I move towards the shelves and find pastel-covered chick-lit, biographies of queens of England and live-and-tells from British eminents. One bottle of water it is.

Mid-afternoon and I haven’t checked my email all day. I bite the bullet and pay a pound for ten minutes of internet access at a fixed ‘kiosk’. The next five minutes are among the most frustrating in my life as I wrestle with the evil computer terminal. It won’t load anything, but my precious seconds of access time are ticking away.

Hopeless, total failure. Two more hours to go.

**Posted in rather delayed fashion. I could have posted this in Changi airport where there is abundant free wi-fi, but we were too busy going to the gym, showering,  having free foot massages and eating delicious food. Enough said?

a continent of migrant stories

This post first appeared on

Australia is a country of migrants, with an exciting mix of cultures and peoples that enriches our society and shapes our national identity. We’ve got nothing on Europe though.

Look at any historical moment in Europe over the last few millennia and you’ll find constant demographic movement. Well before the EU was a twinkle in the European coal industry’s eye, the Romans, Goths, Huns, Normans and others were happily marching across the European continent. In their wake they left, amongst other things, a swirl of languages, cultures and genes that have caused endless headaches for drawers of borders (just look at the town of Baarle-Nassau/Baarle-Hertog in the Benelux region).

Migration around the European continent (including the British Isles) wasn’t just in the form of marauding armies of course. An endless flow of individuals shifted from one region to another in search of work, opportunity or warmer climes.

Come 2011, and despite all of the supposed extra freedom of movement, travel around the European continent feels fairly restricted at times. Those times tend to coincide with moments of crossing the French borders, as a train full of passengers (including a number of migrants and activists) discovered last week on their way from Ventimiglia in Italy to Nice in France. The train was stopped before crossing the border, igniting a minor diplomatic storm between France and Italy.

Over 20,000 asylum seekers, primarily from Libya and Tunisia, have arrived in Italy since January. French authorities have been doing everything in their power to prevent these displaced people from moving into France, including closing the border to trains from Italy.

A week before this border squabble hit news headlines, my husband Andrew and I happily climbed aboard the first of three trains that would take us on the same route from Italy to France, on our way to Barcelona. We chatted happily about following in the footsteps of Hannibal, who crossed the Alps here with his elephants over two thousand years ago.

On the train from Nice to Marseille.

As we crossed into France the train stopped at a small-town station. A group of French police boarded the train and checked each passenger’s passport. A few minutes later I looked out the window to see a young man, flanked by police, being marched off to detention and, no doubt, deportation. I think he must have been younger than I am.

That young man, displaced in a foreign country, made me think about my own family; particularly another young man who seized on an incredible opportunity to escape the crippling poverty and oppressive class determinism of his home land.

Last September I got off a plane in Edinburgh, and a little tingle went up my spine as I realised that I was the first of my family to ever go back to Scotland. We were in Scotland to meet up with my parents on their odyssey to visit the family roots.

A few weeks later, stepping off a ferry on the tiny island of Shapinsay in the Orkneys, my father and I returned to the place where our ancestor, John Gillen Heddle, had left in 1857. He was seventeen, illiterate, probably illegitimate and very poor. He must also have been incredibly brave and unbelievably enterprising to take the opportunity he was offered: to migrate to the relatively new colony of South Australia, with a one-way fare provided by the South Australia Company. He had probably never seen a map, probably had no idea that he was travelling about as far away from his home as it is possible to go. He would certainly have known that he would never see or hear from his mother and sister again.

My ancestor John shows up on this census aged eight and already working as a servant.

As we walked around Shapinsay my mum and husband rhapsodised about how beautiful it was, how they would love to live here, how totally idyllic the landscape was. Dad and I stayed quiet, but at some point we looked at one another and realised we were clearly thinking the same thing – we just wanted to escape.


That tiny island off the top of the world was very nearly a beautiful, idyllic prison for our family, but the determination of one young man changed everything. He escaped, we escaped, thank anything!

The main town on Shapinsay. Utterly beautiful, but a little on the quiet side.

John Heddle’s story goes on to have an almost cinematically wonderful ending. On the long journey to Australia he became very ill, but he was cared for by a family also making the long trip south. The Tyley family, from Bristol, were of a different ilk to John. They were travelling to South Australia to buy land and expand their business. Their daughter Emily taught John to read and write while she nursed him. Emily and John married and had 14 children, while he worked as a groundsman and then supervisor of the parklands that still surround Adelaide’s city center.

Leaving the Orkneys, we travelled to other spots with family connections: Border towns where my Irving ancestors entertained themselves by stealing cattle from the English farmers over the border; Cornish tin-mines where the Trebilcock men scratched a living from mines that stretched out underneath the Atlantic Ocean. We even visited the austere street in Aberdeen where my paternal Grandfather grew up in a tiny overcrowded flat. He ended up in Australia after having illegally jumped ship in Fremantle in the 1930s, adding ‘Mc’ to the family name as part of his successful bid to avoid detection.

My family were all as poor as mud, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Thanks to their desperation and initiative they left their homes and grasped the opportunity offered by migration to another country. The very privileged life I lead is a direct consequence of their actions and a visit to their homelands gave me a huge sense of gratefulness.

After a wonderful week in sunny, beautiful Barcelona Andrew and I got on to the night train that would take us back to Turin in Italy. On the way we were woken by the French border control twice – as we entered France and again as we crossed into Italy. A week later, watching the Italian news report on the stopped train, my thoughts returned to that young man escorted away from his dash for freedom. How lucky we are, whose families were able to take their chance at a new life in the new world.

torta primavera

There are cars abandoned by the side of the road. Elderly men and women wander slowly, eyes down, feet shuffling gingerly. In the beautiful Piedmontese hills this isn’t the apocalypse – in fact it’s the start of Spring and these are the harbingers of the wild harvest.

The lovely Liz

Aiming to join in with this select group of foragers, Liz and I set of on Saturday morning to take part in a hands-on lesson in wild herbs and greens. We started in a hill-side field, and after some brief instruction set to picking dandelion leaves and millefoglie. A sunny hour later, the group moved into the nearby forest, where we learnt about bramble shoots, wild garlic, sambuco, cardo and pulmonaria.

Millefoglie and dandelion leaves.

As a way to spend a Saturday morning it was glorious, and the surrounding landscape was completely beautiful. I still can’t get over the mountains. On a clear day the Alps float in the distance, demanding attention and awe.

An Alp.

Foraging also turns out to be one of those activities that completely change the way you look at the world. On the walk and for days afterwards I looked with heightened attention at the local landscape. Instead of seeing a nondescript carpet of green I’d see individual leaves and plants, looking for anything potentially edible. It was a revelation.

In the afternoon Liz took her new skills into the garden and came back with a huge haul of edibles, including wild chives, violet and primrose flowers.

We’d already decided that morning to use the harvested greens in a savoury tart. The gist of the recipe is below. For those foraging in the supermarket rather than a Piedmontese hillside, almost any other kind of leafy green will work in this tart. Similarly regular garlic can be exchanged for the wild variety.

The wild greens (primarily dandelion, millefoglie and bramble shoots) turned out to have a flavour somewhere between spinach, asparagus and kale. The slight bitterness was definitely eased by the cheesy egg mix. The whole thing was underwritten by the wild garlic and chives and for an experiment the tart turned out remarkably well.

As the flower-strewn tart landed on the dinner table, my Italian uncle looked at it and exclaimed ‘Ah, Torta Primavera!’

to make

Blind bake shortcrust pastry to make a case for the tart.

Mix 6 eggs with a small splash of milk and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese or thick cream. Grate a quantity of pecorino cheese into the mix, along with a tablespoon of chopped chives and some black pepper.

Ready for the oven.

In a frying pan, wilt the wild garlic leaves and the greens. Add this to the egg mix then pour the lot into the pastry case.

Sprinkle more chives, grated pecorino and pine nuts over the top of the tart. Bake at 180º C until set (around 20 minutes).

La torta.

P.S. I also wanted to give a little update on the current kitchen situation. It’s a slight improvement on the last kitchen, in fact I’m fairly sure our whole room in Belgium would fit into Liz’s kitchen! Here it is:


our (food) tour of Europe

Andrew and I decided to spend our first year of married life travelling in Europe. Something we’ve always looked for in our travels is interesting food experiences and over the last ten months we’ve certainly had some memorable meals, both for good reasons and bad (one word – airports).

Throughout our trip we’ve done a lot of self-catering. This is good for the budget, but food shopping is also a great entry point into a new country or culture. Strolling through markets, grocers and supermarkets across Europe has been fascinating and challenging at times.


Sometimes self-catering means you get the best view in town.

That’s the introduction, now for the preface (wrong order I know!)

I grew up on an almond farm. My Mum grew a lot of our own vegetables and my first job was helping on our stall at the Willunga Farmers Market (the best farmers market in Australia). Buying seasonal, local produce is therefore not so much a philosophy for me as a habit. In recent years I’ve also started to learn about, and consciously identify with, the sustainable food movement.

What this all boils down to is that shopping for food is something I think about, something I pay attention to. So here are some of the experiences and challenges we’ve come across in food shopping across Europe. The focus is fruit and veg, but maybe another day I’ll step into the joys and challenges we faced shopping for meat and animal products here.


Our trip began in the north of Italy, where we spent three months with family. For anyone inclined towards a food philosophy that favours seasonal and local produce the Italian markets are a heaven of abundance and variety. You might think you know tomatoes or zucchini, but your average market gardener in Italy will be able to introduce you to a whole new world of shapes, varieties and flavours.


Lunch from a Florentine market.

The depth of variety aside, the kind of seasonal eating and types of produce available in the Italian summer weren’t that far a stretch for us southern Australians. We spent the summer gorging ourselves on melanzane (eggplant), tomatoes, zucchini and other summer favourites like the omnipresent melone (rockmelon).

Eastern Europe

The next part of our journey found us in the former soviet-block countries of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania. Suddenly trips to the shop became fraught with difficulty. I won’t even get started on the appalling excuse for milk which is the norm in that part of the world, but on our daily trips to pick up some fruit for our lunch or veg for our dinner I kept coming up against the same question – ‘What’s fresh at this time of year? What should I be eating in a central-European autumn?’


The Great Market Hall (Központi Vásárcsarnok) in Budapest.

Suddenly this question made me recognise the feeling I’d begun to have of being thrown completely out of the cycle of seasons. This had naturally begun with our two summers in a row – one in Adelaide and then the second in Italy – but the problem was greater than that. To put it simply, Polish Autumn is not the same as Australian Autumn. My seasonal instinct was thrown completely out and I didn’t know if it was time for apples or oranges, kiwis or cumquats. This was disorienting in a way that was completely unexpected.


In Britain we encountered another challenge in the labyrinthine megamarts that dominate the food supply there. In these, the food marketing and eat everything all-year-round ideology stripped away several tools in my shopping strategy. Imported produce dominated the shelves and mountains of packaging intruded between the fruit and my senses of smell and touch.

Feeling all at sea in this strangely sanitised version of groceries, the usual reaction was to just buy what we felt like eating, and deal with the disappointment with its tastelessness or false promise at a later hour.


At the Edinburgh Farmers Market.

Despite the respite of perfectly ripe raspberries and some truly delish veg bought from smaller grocers or farmers markets, I departed Britain feeling like my internal grocery clock wasn’t going have a chance of getting back in sync until we were back in Australia.


But then we went to Paris. Three weeks in Paris in November was mostly heaven, with the only down point being the two days I spent in bed with a bad cold. Through those two days, however, I received the best medicine a head cold could hope for – mountains of perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy mandarins. As the weather got colder, suddenly the citrus started asserting its presence and the French, knowing what’s good for them, embraced the first appearance of mandarins and oranges with celebration.


Our kitchen in Paris.

After recovering from my ailments I was able to accompany my nurse (husband) to the local green-grocer. There we happily select from the five or so varieties of perfectly ripe vegetables on offer and picked up another few kilos of citrus. Thus supplied we carried our loot home and filled our tiny apartment with the smell of soup-making and sautéing. Food shopping was suddenly simple again.

Belgium and beyond

That winter love-affair with our citrus friends reinforced for me why buying seasonal food matters. Moving from the increasingly cold Paris to the even colder Belgium, the burst of colour and Vitamin C offered by oranges or mandarins was a vital part of most of my days. In the office, my Belgian colleagues charmed me with stories about receiving mandarins for Christmas in their youth.

Unfortunately Belgium did mean a return to supermarket shopping and a return to one vexing question – where are the ‘local’ boundaries in a European context? I don’t think twice about buying bananas from Queensland at home in Adelaide – but they travel just as far as capsicums do from Spain to Belgium. Is that ok? I’m still not sure.

Fortunately I don’t have to work that out right now. We’re back in Italy, it’s finally Spring, and the markets are just down the road. I can’t wait to see what we can buy.