5 Travel Experiences That Will Change Your Life… (One Way or Another)

Rome

As a child I would watch Tin Tin cartoons and dream of accompanying my hero and his dog Snowy through the ancient world as we discovered tombs and hunted for ancient treasures. While I still love Tin Tin and the odd Indiana Jones repeat, my love of ancient history bloomed in my adult years when I undertook a history under-grad degree. After university, I travelled through Europe for a few months and visited many of the cities and sites that I had spent years studying. From Pompei to the Acropolis, I relished the opportunity to put my knowledge into practice and annoy my friends with fact after fact. The pinnacle of this trip was the week I spent in Rome. After a couple of days dragging my mate around to old temples and archaeological sites throughout the city, I was encouraged to spend the remaining days on my own (the novelty of a free tour guide had well and truly worn off!). For me, Rome was, and still is the centre of the ancient world and provides a snapshot of the people who shaped the modern world as we know it.

15-09-2014 3-23-38 PMThe Roman Forum.
Family Road Trip Across the USA & Canada

When I was 15 years old, my parents, my sister and I packed our suitcases and flew to L.A for what would be the adventure of a lifetime. After a flight to New Orleans, we hired a car and spent three months driving from the deep south all the way up the east coast to the Canadian border and then from Montreal across to Vancouver. Obviously the sights that we saw along the way were unforgettable but the most precious thing I took out of that trip is the memory of truly getting to know my nearest and dearest. There were times when we laughed, there were times when we were at each other’s throats but in the end, spending all that time in a car and exploring towns and cities we had dreamt of visiting is something that I am truly blessed to have experienced.

P1050374NYC baby!
India

For those who have been lucky enough to visit India (or unlucky enough, depending on your outlook on life), you will understand that you do not return from this country without being changed in one way or another. I visited India as a 19-year-old and for me, the experience brought out the best and the very worst in me. I learned what it really meant to be trapped in a crowd. I learned how to be more tolerant of others. I saw what true poverty looks like and I experienced how an upset stomach can make you believe that you are in fact dying! While I have memories of being pick pocketed and staring into the eyes of a homeless child as they begged for my money, I was able to see the beautiful side of the place that over 1 billion people call home. There is no place like India. You cannot get that same feeling of complete chaos in any other place on this earth.

15-09-2014 3-29-09 PMFluro painted Elephant in traffic: You will only see this in India.
Cambodia

I once spent a few months travelling overland from Bangkok, through Cambodia, into Southern Vietnam and then up into China (all the way to Beijing). This trip had so many standout moments that I would need to write a book to include them all, but the one place that I still think back to more than the others is Cambodia. The islands off the coast of Cambodia are beautiful, the food is unique and the history is complex, but it is the Cambodian people who left their mark on my mind and my psyche. The Cambodian people have suffered through what ranks as one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history yet they manage to still smile. They welcomed me into their villages and homes and made me realise how lucky I am to live in a country where I am free to live a life of my own choosing. While they still struggle with the history of their fractured country and the genocide that they were brutally forced to live through, their outlook on life is second to none. They taught me that those things in life that make you happy cannot be bought.

15-09-2014 3-26-05 PMCambodia has its fair share of temples, but it is the people I remember most.
Road trip to Northern NSW

I have travelled a lot in my small amount of time on this earth however there are not many experiences that compare to a road trip up the east coast of New South Wales in Australia. I am lucky enough to call this area my backyard and try to get away as often as possible. The beaches, mountains and wildlife are pristine and seemingly untouched in a lot of places and for surfers, it doesn’t get much better than uncrowded waves all day long, followed by a few beers around a campfire of an evening. Over the years, road trips up the coast with my mates and my family have moulded my understanding of the world, given me an appreciation of the natural habitat and also some unforgettable encounters with wildlife. On these road trips over the years, I caught my first wave as a 10-year-old, I shared my first beer with my dad years after that and I hope to one day share these experiences with my own children.

20140422_173630Sunset on the NSW North Coast.

 

15-09-2014 3-22-38 PMRome’s Colosseum.

 

15-09-2014 3-24-08 PMRome: Giant Louie or little car?

The Week in Photos

Weather wise, it has been a mixed bag in Sydney lately. We have had three straight weeks of rain, wind and storms, however the sun has come out to play these last couple of days. You can see the change in people’s faces and everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step. I am definitely a summer person. Nothing compares to barbecues on the beach, swimming all day long and drinking beers in the afternoon sun. These last couple of days has me thinking of our approaching summer. There is a smile on my face :)

Below are some photos I took over the last week or so. They are a bit of a mixed bag, just like the weather we’ve had here of late. Enjoy!

:: Louie ::

5Maroubra: Rubix cube lefts and rights.

6Coogee: Just after sunrise.

3Mid-North Coast of NSW: The boys, panoramic surf check.

2Maroubra: So lucky to have this only a few miles from the CBD.

7Maroubra: Early morning rain…again.

4Mid-North Coast solitude.

 

What Oscar Said Rings Oh So True

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Take a moment to process this quote by Oscar Wilde. Read it again and then think. Think about what it truly means to live and to be alive.

As I get older, and hopefully a little wiser, the notion of living has become more prevalent and to a point, the main driver in my life. For each of us, the idea of what constitutes living is different. For some, it is spending time with family, for others it is fashion, eating out at up market restaurants or following a sporting team. For me, like many others, living is about exploring new places and cultures while pushing myself outside of my comfort zone so I can grow and become a better person.

For many people in this world, there is no choice but to simply exist. The daily struggle for food, clean water and basic survival does not allow the mind to dream. For those who are lucky enough to not be burdened with this reality, the notion of escaping the mundane nature of daily life is something that at one time or another touches us all. For these people, the basis to their happiness must be connected to the realisation that they are lucky enough to have choices in life. The choice to take their life in a direction of their choosing.

Up until this point, I have been lucky enough to see a lot of what the world has to offer. These experiences have ultimately changed me and shaped who I am today, for better or worse. While I am not one to give out advice, my one point to this post is this:

The fact you are reading a blog post probably means that you have some control over the activities you undertake in this life. Make the most of what you have. It might only be the ability to change your approach to everyday life, to look at it from a new angle or to increase doing those little things that make you smile on the inside. Whatever it is, stop planning, stop saying it is too hard, take it off your list of long-term goals and do it in the immediate future. Nothing in life is guaranteed. At the end of all of this, all you will have are your memories and hopefully a smile on your face.

Below are a few photos I have snapped over the years on the road. Enjoy!

2Tulum, Mexico: Live simply. No electricity or running water.

5Santorini, Greece: Step through doors other than those of your house and your office.

3Mexico: Tacos. Eat locally.

1Sri-Lanka: Take a train ride to somewhere different.

4NYC, USA: Don’t be afraid to look over the edge. Sometimes what lays beneath isn’t all that bad.

8Blue Mountains, Australia: Admire the view from a different angle.

6Hoi An, Vietnam: Appreciate what others do so you can live the life you have.

 

 

 

My Friend Rasheed

I once had a friend. We were close without knowing anything about each other except for the other’s name and from where we had both come. Our bond, one that was strong and built on mutual respect, was all that we had. Our ability to communicate was minimal if it existed at all. My friend’s name was Rasheed.

Rasheed and I met on a street corner several years ago in the Basque town of Donostia. In the summer, this sleepy town erupts with life as foreign tourists flood to the beaches and pintxo bars, but here, on this corner in the middle of February, the sun is still a few hours from rising and the snow has been falling all night. For the whole long and seemingly endless night.

As I stood, gloved hands in pockets, waiting for no one in particular, I noticed a shadow of a man rummaging through the bins in the park across from the corner on which I stood. As I crossed the empty street, the man stopped what he was doing and retreated backwards to somewhere between the light and the dark. This, I later learnt, was where Rasheed was most comfortable.

Scrounging together a grammatically putrid introduction, I softly told the man hiding in the shadows my name and asked for his in return. Waiting in silence, I was disappointed with myself that my paltry efforts to learn the local language had, again, let me down. Half way through making my mental note to attend my scheduled conversation class for the next day, the man in the shadow replied in a raspy voice, one that sounded as if it was starved of every basic need that a human being deserves. “Mucho gusto, mi nombre es Rasheed”.

Gingerly, I hoaxed the man from his comfortable shadow and offered him a pack of biscuits that I had in the pocket of my winter jacket. Unsure of my sincerity, he initially refused, only to accept upon my insistence. From that night on, our relationship centred entirely around food. Not as you and I enjoy food with our families and friends, but as a point of survival.

My mind has made its own version of how Rasheed came to be in that snow-covered park on that cold night from his origins in Northern Africa. The reality is, I will never know Rasheed’s story as he will never know mine. At times, I sit at my desk thinking back to that night and wonder where Rasheed is now, or if in fact he still is. The weathered skin, the missing teeth, the torn clothing and the dirty fingernails were not an accurate representation of the man who I came to know. The man who I respected. My friend Rasheed.

 

Daring to Dream

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Over the years, my bucket list has taken on different forms with the order changing and certain items dropping off, only to be replaced by something new to reflect my changing priorities and needs in life. While my bucket list has been somewhat fluid over the years, there are those certain ticket items that have not changed. For me, these items are located in the upper tier of the list and are those activities and goals that I have dreamt of since I was a boy.

My list is not entirely unique. It contains some items that are typically found in any given bucket list. I would love to one day jump out of a plane in a solo skydive. I want to actively monitor and take part in a sea turtle breeding program to increase the numbers of Loggerhead Turtles. I want to spend a week in the Rwandan rainforest tracking gorillas, just to lay there in silence for hours with nothing around to distract me from observing these majestic animals in their natural environment. While listing and describing my top 50 items may cause some of you to doze off or hurriedly click the close icon, I have decided to include only my top three items in this post. There is no timeframe on ticking these items off, except for that of my lifetime. I hope to one day, years from now, reflect on my life as I pass from this world to the next and smile as I remember all the adventures I had and the people I met and loved along the way.

Counting down from three to one, my bucket list looks a little something like this:

3. Free-dive with Tiger Sharks: Everything about this goes against everything you were ever told to do. The logical part of your brain raises a big stop sign and implores your rational self to say, “Come on now, let’s think about this before we do something stupid”, right? For those of you who have read my blog before, you will know that my life and world centres on the greatest life force on this earth: the ocean. We humans have been bred to fear the oceans greatest predators but I am very much of the opinion that these creatures are simply misunderstood. I am not saying that I won’t be laying on the bottom in complete fear when I get the chance to do this, but the thought of being accepted as a guest in the home of such a creature is something that excites me greatly.

juansharks

Photo Credit: @juansharks (Instagram).

2. Learn to speak Spanish fluently, quit my job and spend a year in the Basque Country writing: The very fact that I have even put this notion out into the public realm is a giant step for me. For you see, I was brought up in a world where a man was supposed to be a man. You didn’t have time to sit down and write out feelings and thoughts that you weren’t supposed to even have. You were supposed to build things, fix engines, drink beer and watch football. While I enjoy doing these things, I have learnt to balance them with my other passions: writing, photography and exploring other creative aspects of my life.

A few years ago, I spent six months living in San Sebastian (previous blog post found here), running a guest house and living what is commonly referred to as “The Dream”. I often find myself staring out the window dreaming of the day I return to this happy place. Before I get there though, I want to learn to speak Spanish fluently so I can chat with the locals instead of only throwing the odd broken phrase at them in between sips of wine and mouthfuls of Pinxos. I dream of renting a small apartment with a simple kitchen, a bed and a writing desk with nothing on it but a vintage typewriter and a stack of blank note pads waiting to be filled with my thoughts. This dream is not about making money or even publishing my writing. It is more concerned with the process of living the simple life.

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The simple life in the Basque Country.

1. Spend time cruising the islands of Indonesia with my father and my son surfing: OK, a little caveat here… I don’t actually have any children yet but I have always dreamt of the day when the three of us head off to Indo on a surf charter together. Three generations living simply, surfing perfect waves and exploring parts less-known. Obviously this list item is not anywhere near achievable at the moment since there is no immediate prospect of children on the horizon, but I am a patient person. In between now and then, I have a lot of other items to tick off my list.

The important thing to remember with any bucket list is to enjoy life in between ticking off your items. Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t all that exciting. It is nice to have dreams and goals to focus on to get you through these times.

clarkelittle1The grace and beauty of the Sea Turtle (Photo Credit: Clarke Little).

abcexploreMy Bucket List: Confronting my fears (Photo Credit: @abcexplore – Instagram).

Eveleigh Markets: An Organic Produce Mecca

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For the last two Saturdays running (and many previous), I have woken with anticipation, quickly brushed my teeth and hopped into the car to drive to Eveleigh Markets in the inner-city suburb of Redfern in Sydney. While the thought of organic produce, fresh bread and hot coffee is my main reason for the early start, a close second is the nightmare that is trying to find a car park.

Once you have somehow managed to squeeze your car into an undersized spot without the use of a shoehorn, the morning takes on a more relaxed vibe as you follow your nose and head towards the smell of coffee at Eveleigh Markets / Carriageworks. My morning meander around the market usually takes on a similar pattern from week to week. First, I line up at one of the few coffee stands and order my first heart starter, a double-shot flat white. As I sip and wait for the caffeine to take hold, I slowly shuffle up one side of the market looking at the produce, allowing the creative juices to flow while I plan out a meal for that evening.

Once the caffeine kicks in, my mind is made up and I purchase some Dutch carrots here, some fresh Pappardelle pasta there and a sourdough baguette for good measure. With all the colours, smells and freshness assaulting my senses, I feel the need to warm the belly with my one true love: dumplings. (See my previous post on The Wonton Production Line)

The dumplings at Eveleigh Markets are not just any old dumplings… They are made and served fresh every single week by the one and only Kylie Kwong (of Billy Kwong and more recently, Masterchef fame). Upon ordering, the dumplings are pulled from what must be the world’s biggest steamer, added to a small cup and then doused in a concoction of soy, vinegar, ginger and fresh chilli – the perfect thing to warm you up on a winter morning. If you are feeling particularly hungry or have a friend to share with, I recommend the fresh pancake; a mountain of fresh herbs and pickled vegetables on a fresh pancake and fried egg, to accompany your order of dumplings.

7The best way to start your day at Eveleigh Markets.

By the time I have finished eating, the urge to indulge in another coffee consumes me. With flat white number two in hand, it is now time to explore the remaining stalls, try the multitude of free samples and buy those things that catch your eye. Whether it be the Alpaca Sausages, the stall dedicated to Gluten-Free baked goods, the small servings of Vietnamese Pho, bottled Truffle oil or the fresh organic Falafels, there is something for everyone at Eveleigh Markets. My only advice is to get there early to not only secure a park but also to beat the dumpling rush as they sell out every week.

1Welcome, one and all!

5A view of all that is right with the organic food world.

8The ultimate belly warmer.

4The old Carriageworks at Redfern.

Exploring Parts Lesser Known

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I recently took a trip up the coast to my home away from home. For me, Crescent Head on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales is a place where I can get away from the big smoke of Sydney and reset. This quiet little town offers everything I need to recharge the batteries and deal with the fast paced life of the big city. I have posted previously (Crescent Head: A Heaven on Earth) on my love of this little town.

I have visited Crescent Head more times than I can remember, however every trip brings out the explorer within and with that comes new discoveries. If you are ever fortunate enough to be in this area of the world, I recommend a visit. Enjoy the miles of unspoilt beaches, pick up a meat pie for lunch from the local bakery and join the locals for an afternoon beer at the pub.

You often hear people say that it is the simple things that make us the happiest. For me, life in this part of the world is simplicity in its purest form.

I have included some photos of my latest trip. Enjoy!

30-07-2014 11-38-20 AMEarly morning surf check.

30-07-2014 11-37-51 AMMiles of coastline and not a person in sight!

30-07-2014 11-38-04 AMThe boys: Dressed to impress and taking in the view.

30-07-2014 12-01-57 PMMe: A little self-indulgent I know, but it is rare to get uncrowded surf in Sydney so this is a worthy inclusion.

30-07-2014 11-14-41 AMRacecourse doing its best to break.

30-07-2014 11-14-56 AMLooking back across the crystal clear water to town from the headland.

30-07-2014 11-21-52 AMWe were lucky enough to take the 4WD on the beach (Again, not a soul in sight).

Sydney’s Light Show & The Modern Day Commuter

Did you see the sunset last night? It was hands down the best sunset I have ever seen in Sydney! Unfortunately for me I didn’t get any photos of my own as I was on the bus on my way home from work. Yep, there I was, stuck in peak hour traffic when the sky put on what I am calling the show of the year.

sunset Sunset over Shelley Beach, Sydney (Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

In between city blocks, I was treated to glimpses of true beauty. As I looked around the bus, my fellow commuters did not seem to even notice the light show. “Were they all blind?” I wondered to myself.

As I continued to look around, I realised that 4 out of 5 people were totally engrossed in their mobile device. I chuckled to myself at the thought of these people “Liking” photos of the sunset on their Instagram or Facebook feeds.

Last night’s sunset provided me with one of those moments where you sit back and feel lucky just to be alive.

Just a note: These photos are not my own and while I do not usually post the work of other people on here, Murray’s photos are exceptional and worthy of the repost!!

sunset 1(Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

sunset 2 (Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

sunset 3 (Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

The Wonton Production Line

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I have a confession. My name is Louie and I am a dim-sum/ dumpling-a-holic. This is nothing new. I have been addicted to these tiny parcels of steamed goodness for as long as I can remember. Even now, I sit at my desk, enthusiastically hammering away at my keyboard, thinking about how the sight of a plate of dumplings makes me feel. It is pure joy!

Up until recently, my dim sum experiences have been limited to the various dumpling and yum cha restaurants around Sydney and throughout Asia. I have visited some of the biggest and the best, but I recently decided that the time had come to give it a go myself. making wontons appealed to me the most as they seemed to have the least room for error.

While the thought of making my own wontons excited me greatly, I must admit that I was a little hesitant due to the fact that most of my cooking revolves around less-intricate and fiddly dishes. But how am I to grow without challenging myself, right?

In order to generate the recipe, I incorporated my extensive experience in the eating of dim sum and also took on board some tips from one of my favourite food bloggers NotQuiteNigella.

If you can restrain yourself from eating the lot as soon as they are cooked, the wontons are a nice addition to a clear noodle soup. You can also freeze them away for later, however I don’t recommend storing them in the refrigerator as the wrappers will stick together.

 

My Louie Wonton recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

500g Pork mince

6 shiitake mushroom (finely chopped)

1/2 cup of finely sliced shallots

1/4 cup of finely chopped chives

1/2 tin of finely chopped water chestnuts

1 Tbs raw sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbs cornflour

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup of Oyster sauce

1 egg

2Tbs Sesame oil

Wonton wrappers

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Method: Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and thoroughly combine by hand (let’s face it, it is a lot more fun when you get your hands dirty!) Note: It is important to ensure that all of your ingredients are finely chopped so as to avoid sharp or pointy edges from tearing through the wonton wrappers.

Using a teaspoon, place one heaped spoon of wonton filling in the centre of a wonton wrapper and then wet the edges of the wrapper with water using your finger.

Fold the wrapper in half into a triangle and press the edges together firmly, ensuring that you remove as much air as possible from the parcel (this will prevent the wonton from blowing up like a balloon when cooking).

Fold the corners of the triangle into the centre to form a parcel shape, ensuring that the edges remain sealed.

Fill half a large saucepan with water and heat on medium to the point where it almost boiling and then turn to low (you do not want the water to boil rapidly as this can cause the wontons to fall apart while cooking)

Allow wontons to cook for approx 7-8 mins and remove once they have floated to the surface.

Serve with desired dipping sauce (I prefer soy and sriracha) and enjoy!!

 

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Roll up the sleeves and combine all ingredients.

wonton fold

It can get a little tedious, but there is great joy to be had in folding your own wontons.

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By this point, the reward is almost in reach…

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Dive in and enjoy the fruits of your labour!!