Be grateful everyday

Thanksgiving, the American celebration where people acknowledge the good in their lives and share a meal with their family is a worthwhile concept but sometimes I question its sincerity.

Just like Christmastime celebrations in the western world it seems Thanksgiving has been consumed by commercialism, greed and a desire to be better than others which is obscuring the original message of being grateful.

I think Thanksgiving/Gratitude should be part of our daily lives. Forget about  the appointed holidays be grateful and kind to others everyday.
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Special moments

gratful-thankfulSome days pass by unnoticed and others are extraordinary. Last Saturday was extra special making me thankful and happy.

At various stages throughout the day all three of our adult children spent unplanned time with us sharing stories of what’s happening in their lives. At the end of the day my husband and I talked about how happy it made us feel to have a close relationship with each of our children. This is the true definition of happiness for us.

Laura our youngest daughter celebrates her 24th birthday tomorrow. She is an amazing young woman who inspires, loves, creates and spreads joy. I saw this quote by Walt Disney and immediately thought of Laura. I’ve always thought of her as my magical Peter Pan.
Happy birthday Lawna.



gratitude and happiness

Reflections of a journey

travel quote in Cully

Flying from Melbourne Australia to Frankfurt airport then driving around Europe for seven weeks is the most daring and exhilarating thing my husband and I have done. As my first time traveling to Europe I loved feeling free while exploring the complete unknown. Our Europe trip awakened my senses, swept the cobwebs from my mind and made me feel alive which surprised me because initially I was reluctant to go. Breaking away from my routine life took courage as I was apprehensive about leaving my loved ones and fearful of uncertainty.

After 22 hours flying plus a three-hour layover in Hong Kong we staggered out of the plane at unimpressive Frankfurt airport. With minimal instruction we collected the car and were on our way. It felt like being in a car rally with wrong turns, dead ends and misinterpreted instructions from the unfamiliar GPS system. Miraculously and triumphantly we found our way to Sankt Goar our first destination.

One of my most vivid travel memories happened on the first day while enjoying a celebratory arrival drink on a balcony overlooking the Rhine River. As I sipped my glass of wine a wave of emotion washed over me with a mixture of exhaustion, bewilderment and exhilaration knowing I’d faced and conquered my trepidation.

Travel is about savoring unique moments that take your breath away. My favourite travel recollections consist of emotions, vulnerabilities, challenges and brief moments of clarity. The aim for tourists I saw visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a posed photo of themselves rather than appreciating the phenomenon of the building which I thought was disappointing. A famous icon I hold dear in my travel recollections is Michelangelo’s David that cast a mysterious spell and captivated my imagination at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. For an instant the world stopped as I stood transfixed and drawn to David’s majesty and light.

Switzerland was my favourite country on our trip as it appeals to my sense of beauty and tranquility. Her snow-topped Alps watching over the valleys, her endless rolling grassy hills, her widespread ordered vineyards,  her picture perfect houses with blooming  flower boxes and the serenity of her lakes make Switzerland a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. It comforts me to know that whatever else is going on in the world the cows in Switzerland nonchalantly keep munching grass and their cowbells never stop tinkling.

It was in Switzerland I faced physical challenge and proved to myself that a change of attitude can change an outcome. After a long-term knee injury and subsequent operation I’d become tentative about taking part in strenuous exercise. At Grindalwald I decided to hike a 10km mountain trek and resolved to face whatever the terrain presented. The surrounding scenery was spectacular and it’s beauty breathtaking. I was in awe of the imposing Alps standing proud in the sunny blue sky and believed anything was possible in such a magnificent setting. The track was uneven, steep and often precarious but my determination remained strong to the last step. Never did I doubt I would complete the trek. I went on to complete several other strenuous hikes and climbs on our trip but none are as memorable as the first conquest. Grindalwald will always remain my Everest.

Italy remains dear to me for its culture, rugged landscape, history and delicious food. We gained a wide-ranging perspective of Italy by driving and staying in the Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany and Lazio regions. I loved the vitality of Lake Como, the tranquility of the wine region, the history surrounding the medieval towns, the rarity of the rugged towns carved into rock at Cinque Terre and discovering city life in Como, Florence, Sienna and Rome.

Two waterside towns in Italy remain prominent in my travel highlights. The first is Lake Como where we caught the ferryboat from Cernobbio to Bellagio on a sunny day making the lake sparkle with life. It was a simple and perfect day spent taking in the splendor of the scenery, enjoying a delicious unhurried meal at a table right beside the lake in Bellagio then leisurely strolling through the town and returning on the ferryboat in the late afternoon. My heart swells with happiness knowing we shared this magical day together. The second waterside town I remember tenderly is Portavenere where we spent three glorious days exploring the Mediterranean seaside towns of Cinque Terre.

Traveling to Europe provided the chance to disconnect from regular life and shape an alternate mindset about the world and my life. During our adventures we shared many special moments that bind my husband and I even closer together than when we set out. I loved how traveling made us feel young and vulnerable again.


Not surprisingly everything on the home front continued to run smoothly while we were away and upon our return it felt like time had stood still. It took some time to settle back into everyday life because I did not come back the same person that walked out the door.

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Our trip 2014


Time flies

Europe Trip Day 33-44

What a difference four hours can make. After leaving our remote cottage in Rodello we arrived in sunny seaside Portovenere on the Mediterranean Sea. The change in ambiance was amazing. On our first night we devoured a delicious seafood platter at a local restaurant on the harbour. It was heaven after the lack of restaurants in the countryside.


On Sunday we took a boat trip to the Cinque Terre, a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera with extraordinary scenic landscapes providing a traditional way of life that has existed for a thousand years. The five tiny, picturesque villages Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are carved into the rocky coastline of Italy’s Liguria region. It is bizarre and intriguing to contemplate how these buildings were built centuries ago. The colour of the ocean water is astonishing, brilliant blue/green.


IMG_7551 One of the reasons tourists flock to Cinque Terre is to hike the rugged trails between the five villages. Unfortunately some paths were devastated by the 2011 floods and are currently closed for restoration. Visitors also like to swim in the sea and bask in the sun on the rocky beaches. Hundreds of bodies of all shapes and sizes seek out deck chairs and colourful umbrellas for hire in Monterosso.

On our last day in Potovenere we explored more of the town walking to the headland on the edge of the entrance to the bay to see the Gothic Church of St. Peter and the Doria Castle. Most tourists don’t bother walking up this far but we wanted to see everything. On the way we discovered Byron’s grotto where the waves of the Mediterranean spectacularly crash against the rocks. We continued walking through narrow alleyways and up flights of rocky steps to reach the summit and wondered how people live their lives on such steep slopes. The views over the sea and the town from the top are remarkable.


After a magical three nights in Portovenere we headed southeast toward Tuscany with a brief stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower and take some snaps with thousands of other tourists. Our next home was in an area known as Crete Senesi in the Tuscan region where the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape a lunar appearance. This landscape contradicted my perception of lush green rolling hills gained from the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. There are some green hills but many more what looks like fields of clay.


During our stay at Casetta we enjoyed scenic drives to discover several walled medieval hill towns including Siena, San Gimignano, Castellina in Chianti, Montepulciano and Asciano.



A day trip to the beautiful town of Fiorenze (Florence) was a highlight of our stay in Tuscany.  Florence’s museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. Seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia was a surreal experience for me. The light shines upon the seven-foot tall David and commands attention drawing your eyes to the smooth lines of the marble sculpture created in 1504. We soaked in the grandeur of the Duomo, marveled at the architecture and sheer size of the countless ancient buildings and strolled across the Ponte Vecchio in the late afternoon sunshine. It was a long and exhausting day after walking many kilometres but so rewarding. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience the majesty of Firenze (Florence) that is now embedded in my memory.



P1010570 P1010634 Our last port of call before flying home was three nights in Rome. The drive from Casetta took three hours and as we got closer to Rome the intensity of the traffic became hectic. Drivers have to be forceful to get where they need to go and people park cars anywhere they can squeeze them in. Graffiti is plentiful around Melbourne where I live in Australia but I have never seen such vast amounts of graffiti as there is in Rome. Beggars plead for money from motorists when they stop at traffic lights leading me to believe things are desperate in Rome.

The last two days of our 44 day journey were challenging. Huge crowds of people flock to Rome every day and we added two more people. The major historic sites are several kilometres apart spread across the city so lots of walking is required. Crossing the street is like a life threatening dash between cars, taxis, buses and motorbikes. There is no place for the timid in Rome.IMG_8164 IMG_8157

The Trevi fountain was a priority on my must see list and I was disappointed to discover it closed for renovation.  We saw the Vatican from the outside because the queues to look inside had a four-hour wait time. The magnificence of the coliseum commands attention and dominates the area. With so many historic buildings and statues in Rome, some dating back to 4000BC, it is difficult to take them all in. Illusionists, musicians and singers entertain the crowds in the plazas creating a vivacious atmosphere of fun.


There is no shortage of places to eat in Rome.  We ate at Sofia Restaurant on via Capo le Case, a lovely Italian restaurant that served delicious food and was a first-rate experience. The second day we had an equally delicious lunch at Il Papalino on Borgo Pio, recommended by my blogger friend Julie Cook. We walked for kilometres between the sites and each night arrived back at the hotel exhausted. It was two days of ups and downs, a perfect example of travel experiences. You learn to make the best of everything that comes your way. That’s life in Roma.

Tomorrow morning we board the long flight home to Australia. So much has happened in the last seven weeks my head is spinning. I’m tired and ready to go home now. When I return home I intend to write a reflection of my feelings about the whole journey.




Viva Italia

Europe trip day 22-32
After Liechtenstein we drove for three hours to arrive at our next destination Italy. For four nights we stayed in Cernobbio, a small village on Lago di Como (Lake Como), a lake of glacial origin in Lombardy. With an area of 146 square kilometres it is the third largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore.

Our apartment in Cernobbio, located on the fourth floor of a quaint building constructed in the 1800s has loads of character. The buildings in the villages are steeped in history, which fascinates someone from Australia whose history is young. I admire how people renovate but keep the original exterior appearance of the building and therefore maintain the history and character of the town. Where I live in Australia, it seems people knock down older houses and buildings to put up modern structures that in my opinion have neither character nor charm.


During our time in Cernobbio the weather remained sunny and warm every day making perfect sightseeing conditions. I always enjoy being by water watching boats traveling up and down the lake. Water is timeless and mesmerizing. The lake draws people down to the water’s edge to walk, sit, read, exercise their dogs and generally enjoy the scenery and fresh air.

IMG_7027We took the funicular to Brunate a small village overlooking the city of Como, 500 metres below. At the top we looked over the rooftops of the city and wandered along small steep roads through the village wondering what it would be like to live here. Como and Brunate are linked by a steep, narrow, winding road, and by the funicular.


Como has several sacred buildings including the Duomo built between the 13th and 18th centuries with a mix of gothic and renaissance features and an inspiring collection of tapestries. Not usually one for wandering through cathedrals I was amazed and moved by this place of worship that towers over Como city. I felt a sense of history while walking around the cobble stone streets looking at the various ancient buildings. Although people were around it seemed eerily quiet giving me a peculiar feeling like time was standing still.



Another of our adventures was a leisurely boat trip to Bellagio, a beautiful Italian lakeside village. We spent a magical afternoon in the sunshine strolling the narrow lane-ways after enjoying a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the edge of the lake. It was a perfect day I will cherish forever. Days like these explain why we venture away from our lives to travel to see other places.



IMG_7095On our last day in Cernobbio we drove to Tremezzo to see Villa Carlotta, a large mansion from the 17th century, to explore the majestic house and beautifully maintained gardens.


All too soon our time in Cernobbio ended and we drove to Rodello in the vineyard area of Piedmont, taking about four hours. The last hour of driving was on narrow roads that seemed like people’s driveways rather than public roads. The flowers and crosses attached to the railings along the way made us a little uneasy but we drove cautiously and made it safely.


Our home for seven days was a small country cottage in Rodello surrounded by vineyards. The hills surrounding Alba are home to some of the Piedmont’s and Italy’s best red wines. Within a relatively short distance of one another lie some of Italy’s best known wine towns. While touring the Piedmont area we visited Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba, Barbaresco, Bra, Neive and Castagnole delle Lanze, tasting the local wines and eating local ravioli and other delicacies of the area.

We visited Acqui Terme where 75-degree spring water flows in the middle of the town centre. We touched the water and it was boiling and had a strong odour of sulfur.  Local people fill giant bottles with the water that they believe has healing qualities.


It took some time to understand and fit in with the pace of life in the Italian countryside. The shops open in the morning until 12 then close and re-open at 3.30pm. Italy’s economy is suffering and we sensed the impact this is having on the local people who appear to lack vibrancy. We visited many small villages that seem sleepy and deserted and often asked each other “where are all the people?”


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Mixed emotions

Day 17-21

The euphoria and amazement I was feeling after the first two and a half weeks of our trip slowly started to lessen after leaving Switzerland and arriving in Liechtenstein.

Our drive to Liechtenstein took five hours but included a number of stops to look at things that peaked our interest along the way, which is the bonus of traveling by car. We found a delightful café to have lunch in Sacheln and sat soaking in the peace and beauty of the surrounding area just letting the world go by.


My expectations of Liechtenstein were preconceived and expectant due to family history as my father traveled there regularly for work in the 1960s to the mid 90s, sometimes with my mother accompanying him. They frequently spoke about the charm and beauty of Liechtenstein and shared stories of the people they met. I remember receiving postcards depicting colourful flower boxes on the windowsills of wooden chalets, people dressed in national costume and cows grazing in green meadows. As this was what I’d seen in the Swiss countryside last week (well not the national costume) I assumed it would continue in Liechtenstein but this was not the case. Some traditional buildings and houses remain but the majority of people live in modern apartments. The streets are busy with traffic and it seems to be more of a service centre with lots of industry. The major tourist attractions include skiing in winter and hiking all year round.


P1000581My Dad is now 88 and he asked us to visit the Hotel Sylva where he and my mother (who passed away 8 years ago) stayed when they visited Liechtenstein. Over many years they’d  become great friends with the owner Sylvie who always made their stay special.  We wanted to have a drink at the Hotel Sylva bar in memory of the wonderful times my mum and dad shared. The hotel looked old and dated. We went to the door and saw a sign written in German that we later translated as meaning ‘closed indefinitely due to family illness’. I felt an overwhelming sadness for my Dad.

After the initial shadow of disappointment I vowed to enjoy our five days here. We drove up the mountain to Malbun for a 7km nature hike, which was rustic and invigorating. The sky was clear and we could see right down in to the valley. While walking along we heard cow bells ringing louder and louder and realised they were being herded down the mountain behind us. We watched in awe and they plodded past us in a line.



We drove to Feldkirch, Austria to see the farmers market that is held in the old town every first and third Saturday. There was mouth-watering fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, meats, flowers and fish to buy. A great community atmosphere was in the air with people shopping, meeting for drinks and coffee and generally enjoying their Saturday morning together.

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We’ve discovered that almost everything is closed on Sundays in the places we’ve visited on our trip so far. This reminds us of Sundays 25 years ago in Melbourne, Australia when the shops were closed and the city streets were deserted.

On our last day we drove over the border to Switzerland to the mineral hot springs at Bad Ragaz to experience the healing effects of natural thermal water sprung from the Tamina Gorge since Medieval times. The 36.5°C water temperature stimulated relaxation, rest and harmony and was just what we needed after three solid weeks of traveling.

It’s difficult to explain how I feel about Liechtenstein, but I know I’m glad for the experience of  visiting. It was something I wanted to do in my lifetime and I sent a silent word  to my mum on the anniversary of her death,which fell during our time here, “mum I made it”.



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