Monday, June 28, 2010

The hills are alive... with the sound of cow bells (oh ohoh ohhhh)

When I first landed myself in the southern Austrian Alps, I must admit, I thought I was on another planet. And all I wanted to do was get back on that eight hour train and ten hour overnight bus right back to the tranquil waters of Croatia where the sun always shines and the people are friendly. When I arrived it was rainy and cloudy, I swear I didn't see the sun for the first 72 hours. And my first encounter with the locals was at the Grünhütte, a bar/cafe atop a mountain where a dirty old drunken farmer obviously well on his way to paralysis slurred some words in some weird dialect of German in my face and tried to put his hand on my knee. Needless to say, I put it right back where it came from and informed him that "Ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch", which in English means "Please stop talking to me, you dirty old farmer (figuratively speaking)". I was pretty glad to get out of there. So why did I bring myself to this strange land you might ask?

Well, it is all in the name of saving money. Same as I did Workaways in Italy, I decided leading some hiking tours in the Austrian Alps wouldn't be so bad. And it isn't. As I'm finding as I travel, when you tough things out, they only get better. Sometimes they can even be a highlight, as my sister Beth would say. This probably isn't a highlight, but it's not so bad. A few days later the sun came out and I even got to lead a couple of people on a hike (despite not even having walked it myself... it's okay, I can read signs). One of them turned around and went back a third of the way through, so the two of us remaining toughed it out, even though it was kind of rainy and it was all uphill. So the deal is I get 2 euros 50 for every person I take on a hike, and then at nights I work about 4 hours behind the bar at the Hotel. For this I get meals, a bed and unlimited beer, wine and soft drink.

Yesterday I had to map out a new hiking route. This new hiking route should probably take 4 hours, round trip. For me, it took 6 and a half. Now, before you think I am extremely unfit and ridiculously stupid, I was armed with a really crappy map (which I subsequently dropped in a creek when I bent down to get a drink of water... I nearly fell in trying to retrieve it, but in the end I got my soggy map) and there was a big chunk of the walk which was through a paddock and really badly marked. Then I tried to take a shortcut back to the hotel because it was getting late and I had to scramble through the bush getting stung by nettles and falling off rocks and logs (and can I just quietly say, THOSE NETTLE STINGER THINGS HURT.) I came out onto the main road, and I am sure I must have looked like Jane from Tarzan with dirt on my face and twigs in my hair... but I made it. And achieved my objective... to map out a new trail where no (wo)man has gone before. Sometimes I feel like I'm in Lord of the Rings, other times I feel like I'm in Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree (the trees even make that wisha wisha wisha sound... am I showing my age here?), sometimes I feel like Maria Von Trapp, but mostly I just feel a bit bored.

Another plus to being stuck out here with nothing to do is that I have finally opened my Bible. After carting it around for six months and opening it probably only once (in Vietnam on a sleeper train when I thought we were going to contract a disease from the beds) I have decided to read it from front to back. I realise I have never done this before in my life - all the stories seemed so familiar to me since being drummed into us in Sunday School and high school,etc. But to read the Old Testament in order and with fresh eyes is fascinating. In fact, I have found a lot of things in the Old Testament which really concern me, and I can't believe I have never questioned some of it before. I could write a whole extra blog on what I have found reading it, but I won't bore you all. If anyone has any insight into this, feel free to email me, because I find the God that exists in the Old Testament seems contradictory to everything I am led to believe about him in the New Testament and beyond. How could the Israelites trust in a God who turned on them all the time and condoned stoning, burning and stabbing people to death for some seemingly minor offences? And some of the justifications for making war with their neighbours seem similar to the excuses you hear come out of the mouths of fundamentalist religious people who think it is holy to blow themselves up. But anyway, it is certainly interesting reading. I found once I started, it became like one of those novels you can't put down, except that it's actually real history and really small writing and heaps and heaps of pages. Heaps and HEAPS of pages...

So anyway, this is what I dedicate my days to, I'm also getting better at speaking Dutch and German, although I always get the two confused. Oh, and Australia finally made the news here with our new Kath & Kim-like Prime Minister. I watched Rudd's speech on YouTube and it nearly made me cry... poor Rudd! And I watched Gillard's speech and it made me laugh because of her accent and the chicken head bobbing. But I think she might be ok, only time will tell. Although if she holds an election while I'm overseas it's kind of annoying because I have no idea how to vote... ah well.

Do do do do...

Look at the way these weeds and prickles taunt me... surely there is no way through this wilderness...

But nothing is impossible for Megan, Weed Warrior! Fear me, oh weeds and stingers (did I mention earlier that those things hurt!). Armed with my Scythe of Carinthia (I left my machete at home, unfortunately...) I will slaughter you mercilessly! Feel my wrath.

Check out the path I made. Suck on that stingers. Goodness wins again! Who needs a lawn mower? (or a real scythe, or a machete...)

By the way, before the comments flow in, yes I have been reading too much Old Testament, yes, I did enjoy that just a little too much and yes, I do have too much time on my hands :)

Stay tuned for more adventures of Megan, Weed Warrior.

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dobro Došli u Croatia

You may want to get a tea of coffee and get comfortable for this one, it's been a while between blog posts.

After finding my green thumbs in the Umbrian soil and farewelling my kind hosts, I ventured up to Verona to reunite with my long lost sister Beth. The city that inspired Shakespeare's tale of two households was an old and beautiful town and we visited the alleged balcony where Juliet allegedly called out to her Romeo. We were met at the hostel by a lovely and enthusiastic Italian lady who looked after us for the two nights we were there. After Verona, we both decided we wanted to get out of the cities for a while, so we randomly caught a train up to Bolzano, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites in Northern Italy. In fact, it was so northern it pretty much felt like Austria. We did a walk in the mountains after catching a cable car up and we half expected to hear someone yodelling or Julie Andrews twirling around in a grass field. The rocky Dolomites themselves still had snow on top, so we couldn't go right up there, but they looked cool, kind of scary and misty like something out of Lord of the Rings.

We then caught a train to Venice, a labyrinth city of crazy canals and narrow alleyways. It was a little surreal walking around the city you've seen so many times before in movies. It was our last stop in Italy, so after wandering the streets (getting lost more times than I can count), testing out the bar scene, eating our weight in pizza, calzone and gelati and scamming a few free rides on the waterbus (not to mention a "free" night at the hostel), Bonnie and Clyde aka Beth and Megan boarded a bus to our next adventure: destination Croatia.

I really didn't know much about Croatia before getting there, just that heaps of travelers had told us it was beautiful. So we disembarked at Pula not quite knowing what to expect. We walked for what seemed like forever to our hostel with our backpacks, getting accosted by old Croatian ladies who barely spoke English to see if we wanted to rent a room from them. We walked past an old Roman colisseum then up some gruelling steps to finally be greeted warmly by the lovely Croatian lady called Gordana who ran the hostel. After the tourist circus that is Italy, it was nice to stay somewhere relatively quiet and with the most motherly lady - she was so hospitable and welcoming, we didn't want to leave - "For me this is not job" she says "This is my passion, I love to meet the young people". So we booked three extra nights and proceeded to lie on the beach, sunbake, swim and lie on the beach every day. We also did a day trip to Rovinj, one hour north to lie on the beach, sunbake, swim and lie on the beach. Although, in Rovinj it was a little harder to enjoy the view of the islands and crystal clear waters as we were kind of distracted by all the nude people sunbaking, fishing and lying on the beach. Apparently there was a nudist island nearby, but I think some people had lost their way.

So then we farewelled Gordana ("I will miss you so much" she said) and moved on to Zadar, a lively student town with more crystal clear water. We were fascinated by the "sea organ" which was a set of steps with holes in them and somehow the wind and sea made a sound like a huge wood pipe crossed with a whale call... it was such a cool sound, but it took us a long time to figure out where it was coming from. We had the best gelati in all of Europe here (well, maybe) and watched the worst movie in the world (Sex and the City 2). Coming out of the cinema we nearly forgot we were in Croatia for a while. There are times like that where I have to pinch myself and remember that I am actually in Europe and all my family and friends are over the other side of the world. It's a bit crazy.

Next was Plitvice National Park, a place that could have come out of a mythical land like Lord of the Rings or something. Massive waterfalls, green moss, trees and bushes everywhere and the clearest bluest lakes you have ever seen. Unfortunately I forgot my camera, but Beth took heaps of photos. That night we went to a Croatian music concert in "town" where people were crowded around to watch geriatric rock bands and barbie doll girls lip sync their way through the night. They weren't even convincing... the guitar and bass weren't even plugged in. But it was a great experience nonetheless. An accordion player was the highlight of the night, playing his way through a medley of rock songs with a cheesy smile on his face the whole time. Beth and I decided it was official: accordions were now sexy.

We then missed a bus to Split... actually, the bus missed us, just deciding not to stop for some unknown reason... from where we caught a ferry to Hvar Island. Here we got some more chillout time and met some cool people to watch the World Cup with. Unfortunately, the Australian vs. Germany game was just embarrassing, so we went to some bars to drown our sorrows. The next day a group of us hired a little boat with a motor tacked on the back to explore another island. The guy who suggested it had never driven a boat, but the owner of the hostel agreed to hire it to us anyway. But the smile faded from his face as he watched our Captain crash into two moored boats and the jetty before getting out of the harbour. He seemed very relieved 6 hours later when we pulled back in without scraping anything and with the boat in one piece.

So now I am in Dubrovnik, a nice little town with some more beautiful beaches and islands. The hostel is once again the epitome of Croatin hospitality with a motherly woman named Milka who serves us all breakfast every morning and calls us her beautiful children. I really do love Croatian people. Yesterday we did a day trip to Montenegro - you know, another day, another country - and did some snorkelling and cruising around. But once again I am parted from my sister for a while. She goes onto Greece and I am about to board a bus to Austria, where I have lined up some volunteer work at a hotel in the Alps. They need someone young and fit to lead some hiking tours and serve some food. And I need to stop in one place and relax for a while, as I am feeling a little burnt out and am starting to take some of these amazing sights for granted.

Halfway home,