Lost with Louie: A week sailing in Croatia

2015-02-12_09-54-57

As I sit here on this windy, overcast Sunday afternoon my mind wanders back to warmer days filled with sunshine. The last time I was in Europe, my wife and I booked ourselves on a week-long Croatian sailing adventure. While we were on a budget backpacking holiday, the decision to splash out a few extra dollars for a week of sailing the Adriatic was well worth it!

The ever popular sailing route from Dubrovnik in the south to Split winds for some 250km through some of the most idyllic islands you will ever lay your eyes on. For seven days we meandered from island to island, pulling into a new port each afternoon to spend the night exploring the town before returning to our boat to sleep.

Some of the larger islands such as Korčula are the playground for the rich and famous. A place to tie up their million dollar yachts and party with other beautiful people. For me, it was nice to catch a glimpse into a world that I will never be able to call my own, but I felt more at home exploring the uninhabited islands of the national parks that are dotted along the coastline.

With the winter months closing in, I find my mind wandering back to that week sailing in Croatia. As I sit here listening to the wintry wind howl outside, memories of the warm breeze, the smell of salt in the air and the crystal clear water of the Adriatic are a distant memory. If you are heading to Europe then Croatia truly is a must. From the food and the parties to the serenity of the national parks, it has something for every traveller. Be ready to part with your hard-earned cash if you plan on partying the nights away with Europe’s elite but find comfort in the fact that like most other destinations in Europe, there are cheap alternatives for the frugal backpacker.

Looking down on the old town of Dubrovnik.
Looking down on the old town of Dubrovnik.
The terracotta rooftops of Dubrovnik.
The terracotta rooftops of Dubrovnik.
Scenes like this filled our week.
Scenes like this filled our week.
Diving off the boat. It's all in the technique!
Diving off the boat. It’s all in the technique!
Looking out the door of your room to an ever-changing landscape is a treat.
Looking out the door of your room to an ever-changing landscape is a treat.
This dolphin swam with us for half an hour.
This dolphin swam with us for half an hour.
Swimming off the rocks in Dubrovnik.
Swimming off the rocks in Dubrovnik.

Simple morning pleasures

Daylight savings wrapped up over the Easter weekend here in Australia, and now that I’ve had a couple of weeks to come to terms with the shorter afternoons, I am making the most of the cooler weather and the extra hour in the morning.

I am an out-and-out summer person but I do like this time of year. The beach is reclaimed by the familiar faces of the locals, the sand isn’t littered with rubbish and the cooler water and regular swell rids the line up of the learner surfers and weekend warriors who are only in it for the suntan.

The mornings have been a mixed bag of late. Some days I reluctantly slink out of bed only to get down to the beach to be confronted with an overcast display of various shades of grey. Other days I park the bike, go for a swim and spend the next half an hour watching mother nature put on a light show.

Mornings are my favourite time of day. Watching the smiles of the regular swimmers, yogis, beach runners and photographers reminds me that not everything in this world is doom and gloom. In a technological age where we have everything at our fingertips, it is refreshing to see that the simple pleasures still have a place in the world.

If you like my sunrise pics, feel free to follow me on Instagram @leftwithlouie

:: Louie ::

Early morning Maroubra light
Early morning Maroubra light
Coal coast sunrises are pretty special too!
Coal coast sunrises are pretty special too!
2015-04-15_15-12-41
Rock lines
2015-04-15_15-13-18
I could spend my life under this tree.
2015-04-15_15-14-00
Coogee sunrise.

Lost with Louie: Rome

Rome

For a history nerd it’s difficult to beat a visit to the ‘eternal city’ of Rome. After spending my university years studying ancient history for no other reason than I just damn well-loved it, I finally achieved a life-long dream when I jetted half way across the globe to Rome.

For my first few days in Rome, I was like a kid in a candy store! Standing in front of Trajan’s column, walking through the Roman forum and sitting in the square that overlooks the Pantheon, my senses were on overdrive. I spent one morning walking up to the Palatine hill where I sat and looked out over the city for a time before returning to my favourite cafe to sip coffee and eat custard-filled croissants as I watched the locals go about their daily routine.

After almost a week of walking, I decided to give myself a day off, for both my sanity and to let my feet recover. That day I wandered from one cafe to another, stopping every now and then to watch the world pass me by. I find Rome to be unique in that its fast-paced cosmopolitan lifestyle somehow manages to entwine itself with the slow, low-fuss nature of the old world. From ancient relics and historical sites to St. Peters Basilica and the espresso bars that fuel the modern-day inhabitants of the city, Rome holds a special place in my heart. It is more than a tourist hot-spot. If you stop for a moment and take yourself away from that well-worn tourist trail, the city will reveal itself in all its beauty and all its charm.

Rome is a modern city set amongst ancient wonders.
Rome is a modern city set amongst ancient wonders.
The Pantheon (my favourite building in the world!)
The Pantheon (my favourite building in the world!)
The Colosseum was one place I had dreamt of visiting since I was a young boy...tick!
The Colosseum was one place I had dreamt of visiting since I was a young boy…tick!

Capturing the last breath of summer

It has been a big month in the southern hemisphere as we farewell another summer, reluctantly acknowledge that the days are indeed getting shorter and begin to look at buying a new coat for the colder months ahead. In a bid to make the most of the remaining warmer weather, I’ve been hitting the beach early of a morning and getting away whenever possible on the weekends, soaking in all summer has left to offer.

As I look ahead to the winter and the rest of this year, I am filled with warmth and an anticipation of exciting times ahead. Planning is in full tilt and the reality of being on the open road and living out of a backpack again is becoming a reality. Of course I’ll be taking you all with me, so stay tuned.

Below are a few snaps from this last month. Enjoy!

::Louie::

2015-03-22_20-23-07
Checking the surf and taking in the morning sun.
2015-03-22_20-23-50
Coogee in all its morning beauty last week.
2015-03-22_20-24-21
Some mornings I roll out of bed and head down to the beach only to miss a great sunrise…this wasn’t one of those days.
2015-03-22_20-24-51
I’m lucky enough to live only a 2 minute drive from this hidden gem.
2015-03-22_20-25-37
The local washing machine.
2015-03-22_20-26-07
Swimmers following the light.
2015-03-22_20-26-50
Things were looking pretty good up the coast this month. Warm water and a few waves.
2015-03-22_20-30-04
Looking at the back of a wave while playing around with my GoPro.

Lost with Louie: Bosnia & Herzegovina in its raw beauty

2015-02-27_15-44-25

I found myself further east than I had ever been. The glamour of the last three months on the Mediterranean was now a distant memory. This felt different. This felt real.

Growing up, my mother gave me a book to read called Zlata’s Diary. This book chronicled the daily life of a young girl in the war-torn city of Sarajevo for the duration of the Bosnian war. I read of the years of pain and suffering as both sides fought ferociously as an innocent civilian population suffered. At the time, this war and the girl’s story seemed so far away from my reality that it hardly seemed real. And now, here I was.

The scars of war are till very visible in both the buildings and the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was in Mostar, a town only a scenic two-hour drive from the capital, Sarajevo. The town is surrounded by lush countryside with a picturesque river flowing through its heart. While otherwise idyllic, the natural beauty of this area is offset by the buildings riddled with bullet holes. On the outskirts of the city the graveyards lay silent, housing the thousands of who weren’t lucky enough to escape the fighting.

This scarred country left its mark on my psyche and my soul. I’ll never forget the uncountable crosses in the cemeteries marking individual tales of sadness. I’ll never forget the resilient nature of the old lady who opened her doors to me. I’ll never forget the natural beauty everywhere I looked. I’ll never forget the eerie feeling upon realising that there was a distinct absence of males who would have been of fighting age in the early 90’s. This was Bosnia and Herzegovina in all its raw beauty.

Bullet holes still riddle homes and buildings throughout the country.
Bullet holes still riddle homes and buildings throughout the country.
View from the Stari Most bridge.
View of Mostar from the Stari Most bridge.
Reminders of the war are everywhere.
Reminders of the war are everywhere.
For 60 Euros you can have the honour of jumping off the bridge.
For 60 Euros you can have the honour of jumping off the bridge.

Lost with Louie: Cambodian Reflections

2015-02-22_13-43-15

“Mister, mister. You eat one”, she screeched at me as the plastic bag she was holding squirmed and writhed around. In the other hand I could see a platter of what appeared to be cooked spiders, roughly the size of the palm of my hand. As I approached, she knew she had a sale and set down her wares for me to take a closer look. After squatting down next to her, she opened the plastic bag to reveal what must have been over 100 fury and very much alive spiders!

Being overly paranoid, I asked her for a fresh one as I handed over the few Riels it cost for my snack. She selected the victim an proceeded to flash-fry him in oil before pulling it out and promptly delivering it into my waiting hand. Looking at its rigid form for a second, I decided that this was one of those one-off experiences that I would likely never get again…

In the mouth and a few chews later, I was oddly satisfied with the taste, texture and experience overall.

When I began working on the Lost With Louie project, I had an overwhelming urge to share my reflections of the short period of time I spent in Cambodia in 2003. It has been some 12 years since I was in Cambodia and to this day, the people, the history and of course the food still sit at the forefront of my mind.

The smile on her face and her enthusiasm for me to try her food had warmed my heart before her delicious curry had the chance to warm my stomach. 

I arrived in Cambodia after having already spent three incredible months in South-east Asia. Life on the road was something to which I had grown accustomed and being so young, I thought I knew everything. For me, Cambodia was perhaps one of the first truly humbling experiences I ever had. The Khmer people are the most genuine and happy people I have ever come across. For a country and people who have suffered so much hardship, genocide and torture, to be as happy as they were is something that not only amazed me but made me understand the power of human nature to overcome absolute sadness.

Like most people who travel to Cambodia, I spent the majority of my time in Siem Reap exploring the numerous temples in the area. The history of the Khmer people was not one that I was too familiar with before traveling to the country but it is one that has amazed me ever since. The temples in the Siem Reap area were lost to the overgrown jungle that surrounded them up until not all that long ago, only to be uncovered by various French expeditions in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The obligatory tourist angle of Angkor Wat.
The obligatory tourist angle of Angkor Wat.

After Siem Reap, I passed through Phnom Penh on my way to Saigon by bus. The roads in Cambodia were amongst the worst in the world when I was there so this trip was not only uncomfortable but took a long, long time. Back then, Phnom Penh was a confronting place for a 19-year-old kid who was raised in the safety of Australia. There were a remarkable number of people begging for money and food, many of whom were missing limbs due to the land mines that were used in the war against the Khmer Rouge.

I remember eating Amok fish curry. Thinking back now, I can recall the vibrant mix of curry paste with lemongrass, ginger and other spices all set off by home-made coconut milk. I recall the restaurant in Siem Reap where I first enjoyed Amok curry. The old lady who ran the dirt-floored eatery served me the food on plastic plates. The smile on her face and her enthusiasm for me to try her food had warmed my heart before her delicious curry had the chance to warm my stomach.

Amok curry in all its glory!
Amok curry in all its glory!

 

I dream of returning to Cambodia one day. By all reports, it has changed a lot since I was there but the good news is that it has changed for the better as the people move on from their horrible recent history.

On a side note, apologies for the quality of the photos in this post. They are scanned copies of produced film photographs that have been sitting in my roof for over a decade.

One of the many temples around the Siem Reap area.
One of the many temples around the Siem Reap area.

 

The spider lady with her afternoon snacks.
The spider lady with her afternoon snacks.

 

A Khmer monk sitting and thinking. This shot is the first that comes to mind when I think of my time in Cambodia.
A Khmer monk sitting and thinking. This shot is the first that comes to mind when I think of my time in Cambodia.

 

Lost with Louie: Sri Lanka

2015-02-09_12-11-33

“Yes sir, do not worry one bit. My auto-rickshaw is the safest in all Colombo.” Who could argue with a claim like that I thought to myself as I climbed into the back of the smiling man’s three-wheeled death trap. As he started the rattling engine, smoke poured out of the back as the metal shell I was now enclosed in shook to life.

As he took off down the crowded street, weaving in and out of traffic without the use of an indicator or without even as much as a glance over his shoulder, I looked into the rear-vision mirror at the man who was still donning the same smiling expression. Holding on with one hand while trying to keep my long legs and knee caps in the confines of the rickshaw and out of harms way, I hollered for the man to slow down. The only response I received was another smile and an odd bobble of the head from side to side as he pulled the throttle back once more to blindly overtake a double-parked truck.

There are times in life when it is just best to sit back and accept that what will happen, will happen. This was one of those times.

Sri Lanka, a tear drop in the Indian ocean. The off-shoot in the shadow of the sub-continent.

2015-02-09_09-12-09The man whose smile haunts me to this day.

I visited Sri Lanka a few years ago on the way home to Sydney after a year and a half traveling through Asia, Europe, North America and glorious Mexico. The idea behind the stopover in Sri Lanka was to get a bit of sun en-route to an Australian winter and a 9-5 office job (I know right, why the hell would you swap traveling Europe for a life of sitting in an office chair!).

I had visited India some years earlier and had a pre-conceived notion in my head of Sri Lanka being similar to the madness of India, just with fewer people. To a point I was on the right track, but I was also a long way from imagining the reality and beauty of Sri Lanka. Arriving in Colombo after a 15 hour flight with a certain budget airline, with no food or entertainment to speak of, I was hungry! Once we dropped the bags off, the curry lover and chilli fanatic in me took over and saw me ordering the hottest curry on the menu from a busy roadside curry house. Note to anyone out there considering a scorching hot curry on an empty stomach: think twice before repeating my error… After recovering from the torture that followed, we ventured out into the streets to do a bit of sightseeing. This is where I met the smiling auto-rickshaw driver.

After a day or so in Colombo, the urge to see something new and get out of the city took over, so we made our way to the main train station and purchased two one-way tickets to Kandi, the in-land capital of Sri Lanka. The scenery while traveling into the mountains in Sri Lanka is second to none. The slow-moving train wound its way around mountains and through villages that would be missed if you closed your eyes for only a few seconds. Some parts of the journey see the old carriages clinging to the mountainside as tea plantations pass you by.

2015-02-09_09-15-35Train travel offers an insight into a country like no other form of transport.

If I have to be honest, Kandi didn’t do much for me. It was busy, hot and a long, long way from the coast. My most vivid memory of Kandi was the son of the lady who ran the guesthouse in which we were staying. He had two thumbs on his right hand. A fact I was only made aware of upon shaking his hand and looking down at his grasp due to something feeling amiss!

After a couple of days visiting different sites and The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, we hired a driver to b-line us down to the coast in search of cooler weather and a swim.

The southern coast of Sri Lanka is the kind of place that you envision when you think of traveling to an island nation in the Indian Ocean. It is laden with palm trees, beach shacks and fishing villages that offer great photo opportunities and some amazing food. Like so many villages in Sri Lanka, the resort town of Unawatuna was destroyed in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and has been rebuilt from the ground up. In the rush to secure the best beach-front views, the authorities didn’t set out guidelines for the rebuilding and unfortunately numerous hotels have been constructed so close to the ocean that some are falling into it! I spent a very happy 27th birthday in this little town, swimming in the Indian Ocean and eating roti and curries until I could eat no more.

2015-02-09_09-27-59

Traditional fishing near Galle.

Before arriving in Sri Lanka, the goal was to reach the east coast of the country and spend a day or two in Arugum Bay but time got the better of us, for you see travel is a long and arduous process in Sri Lanka. The roads are rough and the rail network is primitive. What seems like a short distance in western terms can take a full day or even more to travel. But I think this adds to the charm of Sri Lanka. It is hard to travel from one place to another in a short period of time. This alone is enough to keep a lot of people away.

I only spent a week in Sri Lanka and feel that I have unfinished business there. I often find myself thinking back to the food and people I met while I was there. I give Sri Lanka “three thumbs” up and recommend a visit to anyone who is looking for a relaxing travel experience that also offers a lot in the ways of culture and food.

Fast Five
The one thing you should pack when going to Sr Lanka is…
Plenty of t-shirts. The humidity will have you going through a few shirts a day!

Top 3 things to do in Sri Lanka

  1. Visit one of the Sea turtle breeding programs to get up close to these majestic creatures
  2. Indulge in a fish curry and a beer or two on the beach
  3. Travel by train through the tea plantations

The one thing to eat in Sri Lanka is…
Curry! Curry! Curry!!

The 3 words that best summarise Sri Lanka
Slow, relaxing, cricket.

You know you’re in Sri Lanka when…
You are in an auto-rickshaw hanging on for dear life while the driver smiles and ignores everything you say.

2015-02-09_09-29-51

Slow and steady wins the race on the Sri Lankan railways.

2015-02-09_09-26-07

Sea turtle breeding program in southern Sri Lanka.

2015-02-09_09-23-57

Local fishermen in Unawatuna.

2015-02-09_09-14-39

All aboard the 5:20 to Colombo!

2015-02-09_09-20-39

Friendly local.

2015-02-09_09-28-58Living the simple life in a fishing village.

2015-02-09_09-19-13

Sri Lankan countryside.

2015-02-09_09-25-12

This little fella was heavier than he looks.

Lost with Louie: New York City

2015-02-07_15-33-47Whether hearing the name of this city conjures thoughts of Sinatra, invokes memories of your favourite mafia movie or simply makes you think of your last trip to the city that never sleeps, one thing is for certain: New York has something for everyone! For me, memories of New York are abound with great food, an artistic scene that rivals any in the world and a history that is as colourful as it is rich.

As an avid lover of food, my first visit to New York as a teenager focused on pizza, steak and burgers. While there is much more to the NYC gastro scene than this, my dream as a kid was to eat a giant slice of New York pizza (I was easy to please as a youngster). Once my pizza urges were satisfied, my mind turned to steak, booze and mafioso in some of NYC’s famous steak houses. But more on that later.

For any food lover, I recommend watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on New York. Not only will you be dribbling uncontrollably, you will be looking to book a plane ticket with your next pay cheque.

My memories of New York are of walking the streets of Harlem in search of the diner used in the filming of Seinfeld. They are rich with the smell of steak in my nose, the calm of walking through Strawberry Fields and the awe of looking across the East River to Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge. For me, New York inspires me to eat, explore, write and follow my dreams, like so many before me who have visited this great city.

Getting around
New York is perhaps the major travel hub in and out of the United States. At the beginning of New York’s relatively short but rich history, New York harbour was the landing point for immigrants who ventured to the U.S in search of a better lifestyle, the promised American dream.

Once there, getting around is easy. There are the famous yellow cabs and the underground railway network, but my favourite mode of transport in the city that never sleeps is by foot! I’ve walked almost the length of Manhattan, from the Financial District in the south, through Harlem and into Washington Heights. The surprises and sights that you see while on foot are easily missed in cabs and on the underground. My number one recommendation for a walking tour of New York is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It is my favourite bridge in the world and offers amazing views of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

2015-02-07_14-48-01
Brooklyn Bridge looking back to southern Manhattan (photo courtesy of Phillip Klinger).

Food
The culinary options come at you in abundance in NYC. Whether you are after a New York Sirloin, dim sum in Chinatown, world-class Italian or modern cuisine, this city has it all. The food in Chinatown is good, but being from the Asia region, I’d prefer to visit Hong Kong or Singapore for my dim sum fix. For me, once I satisfied my craving for giant pizza, New York is all about steak houses. I am an out-and-out carnivore and NYC ticks all of my boxes when it came to getting my protein fix! Take your pick from any of the famous steak joints, but be sure to book ahead if you can. New York also offers a number of street delicacies, in the form of New York hotdogs and my morning favourite, the bagel.

When it comes to drinks, I have trouble locating decent espresso coffee at times, as the Americans tend to prefer filtered coffee. In saying that though, there are a number of good places worth visiting, you might just have to do your research beforehand. New York is full of bars. There are sports bars that show live sports round the clock, there are quieter wine bars and then there are the swanky clubs of the Meat-Packing District and other trendy suburbs. Be prepared to part ways with your hard-earned pennies if you plan on visiting someplace fancy. No matter where you decide to drink, always remember to leave a tip or you will have trouble getting served that second beer!

The locals
New Yorkers are very proud of their city. They are used to the hustle and bustle and they are also used to tourists. NYC is the city that never sleeps and its inhabitants are the people who never rest. There are all kinds of people who live in the city. There are bankers who probably use $100 bills as toilet paper, there are celebrities, there are artists and writers and there are the everyday folk just like you and I. While the dark days of New York being one of the mugging capitals of the world are behind us, it is still best to take care of yourself and your possessions when moving around the city. Enjoy what NYC has to offer, but do it sensibly.

2015-02-07_14-43-56
The Meatpacking District.

Culture
It seems that each borough has its own culture and rhythm. Like its food scene, New York’s cultural highlights are numerous and vary from musicals on Broadway to viewing the city skyline from atop of the famous Rockefeller Centre. For me, Ellis Island is worth a visit to get an idea of the mass-immigration into the city over time. As I mentioned before, traveling on foot is my preferred method of transport and a day long walking tour of the different boroughs and suburbs will have you seeing the sights and places of cultural significance. On my last visit to New York, it was the middle of winter and we went ice-skating in Central Park. Being from Australia, ice-skating in the outdoors is a novelty not to be missed!

Tips to save a penny or two
New York has the ability to drain your bank account and have you searching for that hole in your pocket that was responsible for you losing your cash. There are however a few tips for saving a dollar or two. I like to use Air BnB for my accommodation. You can find small apartments for a fraction of the price of the big hotels in the city. This allows you to cook your own meals and eat breakfast at home also which is a great saving. Walking instead of using cabs to get around will save you some money and eating at small, local restaurants and eateries is cheaper than the flamboyant fine dining restaurants that are in abundance in NYC.

Fast Five
The one thing you should pack when going to New York is…
A comfortable pair of walking shoes. You will earn the right to splurge on giant pizza after a day of exploring Manhattan on foot.

Top 3 things to do in New York

  1. Walk across the Brooklyn bridge and explore the borough of Brooklyn
  2. Eat a New York hotdog at a baseball game
  3. Eat steak and drink whiskey at Keen’s

The one thing to eat in New York is…
For me a New York Sirloin cooked to perfection at Sparks Steakhouse or any other ex-mafia hangout!

The 3 words that best summarise New York
Fast, Loud, Addictive.

You know you’re in New York when…
You know you’re in New York when at the end of the day your feet are sore, you need two hands to hold a piece of pizza and you couldn’t be happier than just sitting on a street corner watching the world pass you by.

2015-02-07_14-34-13
Empire State standing tall.

2015-02-07_14-36-55
Bow Bridge in a frozen Central Park.

2015-02-07_14-35-26
View from atop the Empire State Building.

2015-02-07_14-38-39
Radio City.

Project: Lost with Louie

2015-02-07_15-10-50In the pursuit of fulfillment and happiness, and in a hope to preserve my memories, I began working recently on the Lost with Louie project. Lost with Louie will consist of a number of destination reflections, focusing on those cities and town that I’ve traveled to over the years that left an impression on who I am as a person.

This project was conceived through my pure love of travel and the freedom that is only obtained through a life on the road. Living one day to the next, not knowing what the immediate future holds. Some people are more suited to living out of a bag than others. To those of you out there, I salute you and dedicate this project to your decision to live a life of wandering. There is nothing like being lost in the right direction….

…Stayed tuned.

:: Louie ::