I arrived in Brisbane airport, one I am so very familiar with now, about 2 weeks ago. I was tired, and a bit hungover. I wasn’t sure what to expect – only that I was going to be suitcasing it up and down the east coast to tick boxes and fit everyone in as best I could before departing. Some I am certain I will see again, others I’m not so sure. Age plays a bit part in the uncertainty of repeat visits – but true to my word I made it back to connect with my Maltese family here in Brisbane.
Not being one to reveal myself, nor the identity and privacy of my friends, family or those I meet on my travels – It’s a little hard to express this visit in a blog.
What I wish to say though, was that leaving this part of my family after just three and a half days in their company – having met a number of people who I never knew existed – sharing stories, photographs and filling in the gaps of a bit of family history, was harder than I imagined.
I was treated like a long lost (which I suppose on one level is true) much loved member of the family. Stories were shared of my Maltese grandmother – the Aunt of the relative I was staying with – and her time here in Australia 60 years ago with my father and his father.
The three of them arrived in 1950, when my dad was just 8 months old. They arrived on a boat, as many did, as “ten pound poms”, as many did and left two years later, as some did. Their time was short, but the memories have held fast for many years. They left, but other members of my Nana’s family stayed, having permanently relocated here from Egypt. And so the Maltese side of my family set up their lives in Darra, Queensland.
I was so fortunate to be invited into this world, and welcomed so openly. I ate fabulous Maltese and Italian food (They are a Maltese-Italian family), drank homemade wine, fresh coffee, listened to Italian conversation and found a piece of myself in these people. I met a number of second cousins (My dad’s cousins), their spouses and their children and was told I had barely scratched the surface.
There are two sides of my family here in Australia. On my mother’s side there are my Grandmother’s brothers and their children. Many of these I had met from various visits over the years, and who I have happily reconnected with, as well as cousins I had heard of but not met until now.
But back in January last year, shortly after arriving from the UK after my Christmas break I’d had lunch with a cousin of my mum’s and was walking back to another cousin’s house where I was staying when it occurred to me that these weren’t the only people in my family who lived in Australia. I had no idea where my dad’s family were living, or even if they were still alive. I just felt I needed to do something – I thought it would be nice to locate the house my dad lived in as a toddler and take a photo of it, so I called him and asked if he could find the address. What do you know – the next day I had jumped on a train and was spontaneously knocking on the door of a total stranger to me, who I’d been told was my second cousin. After an understandable amount of confusion I was welcomed in for a cup of tea, and then sent to another house a few doors away to repeat the same speech to another cousin I hadn’t met before. It was a mad decision to jump on the train that day – with no notice and just arrive at someone’s door – but perhaps one of the best decisions I have made so far, as I unearthed a whole group of interesting, loving, caring souls who welcomed me as though we’d known each other for years.
It’s worth mentioning that I never came to Australia to specifically meet any of these people – I came on a mission of my own to find my own way, answer some questions and to see what I could do for myself here in Australia. Everyone that has come to me, or become part of my life here has been such a wonderful bonus that they deserve a place in my blog.
Brisbane from Mt Coot-tha where I was taken for a visit.
I am writing this in a notepad I bought in my boredom yesterday, as I am sitting in the most decadent teashop I have been in outside of the UK.
Devonshire Tea seems to be something rather popular here, although I often wonder if the Australians understand the meaning of such a delight. One in Bacchus Marsh (VIC) I delightedly pulled my hire car into a parking place outside a cafe offering just the same, hoping for a taste of England. Not knowing that ‘Devonshire Tea’ was a generic name for scones, jam and tea, I had asked excitedly where the proprietors were from, thinking I could bring up the Devon/Cornwall cream tea debate (jam the cream, or cream then jam). I was so pleased to see this taste of home – I had pangs of desire to sit on a sunny patio in a beautiful garden to enjoy what I was about to eat. Anyway – that particular ‘Devonshire Tea’ disappointed me tastewise and more so that the guy who served it had never been to England, let alone Devon, so had no idea what I was chirping on about.
This time, however, in this delicate setting, I feel quite at home and quite quite sure I won’t be disappointed. A Deja Vu Experience is the name of the tea shop/ boutique.
I am sipping Lady Grey tea out of vintage English bone china. My scones are fluffy and light ( unlike the rocks I manage to bake) and are complemented with crystal glasses of jam and cream. The cream, of course, is not clotted – I was told that that level of pasteurisation is not allowed anywhere outside of the UK!
The setting is idyllic. A shop draped in china, lace, glassware, floral crockery and lavender, rose and orchid products. I am sitting at a table with silk roses, a lace table cloth and listening to soft jazz. The other clients are also ladies, sitting here enjoying their scones and jam too. We are offered 15 different teas and 5 different types of scones, all for $11:50, which is very reasonable, considering that you might pay that in pounds at home.
Sitting in a place like this often makes me dream of the house I may one day have. Part of me would love to have a really English country garden cottage with cream floorboards, wooden furniture, white lace and flowers, and somewhere to sit and write. Who knows where I’ll go next though…
A pleasant mining town in the middle of Slovakia, 240 km, 3 ½ hours by bus from Bratislava acted as our host for a very relaxing weekend away.
The medieval mining town found fame the first time in the 14th century and is now a tourist attraction which UNESCO declared a world heritage site in 1972. It comes complete with epic views, tea houses, pensions, one hostel and steep picturesque cobbled streets.
Due to said steep cobbled streets, the bus drops you off a good mile out of the centre. By the time we’d lonely planet-mapped our way to the hostel we were well in need of a good sit-down. The journey here had been hassle free, making a seamless change in Ziar nad Hronom onto a local bus for the last 40 km, which wound up and down and meandered through hilly forest land with breath taking views before plonking us in the not-so-picturesque industrial part of town.
Arriving at the hostel there was a green post-it note addressed to me from Barbora, who runs Hostel6 telling me she was out the back gardening and to come and find her when we’d arrived. Her and Bucci, her dog, greeted me warmly, equally covered in mud and happy to welcome their new guests. After dealing with keys, dropping bags off and Barbora saying “Pay me when you want” we headed back down the cobbled streets with her map, towards much needed caffeine fix at “Crazy Lady” coffee shop – that’s a translation by the way. Time passes quickly in these places and afternoon swiftly becomes evening when you are pacing the streets of a town as charming as this: eager to turn every corner and look down every street. Alas we realised that by the time we’d done all the outside things in the sunshine all the indoor attractions had closed. Still, we had managed a walk around the old castle as an art festival was packing up its things and then hiked up to the new castle to admire more spectacular views, after visiting a wooden Bethlehem moving model and worked up a good appetite for bryndzové halušky, one of Slovakia’s national dishes. Hard to describe, but, the “Bethlehem is a small room with a miniature carved moving Bethlehem scene. I say miniature and I mean it takes up 3 walls of the room and details every type of worker and activity related to the nativity scene.
I had previously tried and disliked bryndzové halušky in Bratislava, likening it to overcooked macaroni cheese with very strong cheese sauce. Horrified by this description, Barbora sent us to a pension where I must try it again, because “this is where we make the cheese”. I am pleased I gave it another shot as this was a truly different culinary experience, which I had with venison, at a ridiculously cheap price. This didn’t seem right until I sat down and thought about the number of Bambis there are jumping around central Slovakia and was heartened by the fact that what was on my plate would have been running round a forest days before, not living in a factory. At least I hope so and please do NOT feel free to correct me on this one.
The next morning, after a later night than planned (wine at 1.50€/glass) we spent the morning (afternoon) on the terrace of a tea house which boasted 100 different types of tea. Again epic views over the town as we enjoyed a truly relaxing hour before heading to the bus station ( this time by taxi!) en route to our booking at Sklene Teplice – one of Slovakia’s many, very cheap, mineral water spas.
This was possibly the best 7.50€ I’ve ever spent. The whole village is basically a spa complex, with its selling point as the only cave bath in Slovakia. The description was slightly deceiving I have to say, as I was really hoping we would literally be crawling into a cave to have a bath! The Lonely Planet increased my disappointment by promoting it as a Splunking Spa, so when I stepped into a tiled pool, with one wall as part of a cave, I deemed rather less primitive than imagined. We entered the building, which was half cave, half modern spa. The assistant took our tickets and said something incomprehensible and to my surprise didn’t speak a word of English. She managed to relay instructions by mime and being good teachers we managed to communicate equally. Then pointing took over mime as some instructions were written in English. We showered and entered the “cave”. I say it like this as it only had one wall of cave, in which 42 C of calcium and magnesium rich water was running down and filling the pool. 20minutes was recommended but 42 degrees in a confined space meant I lasted a little less than recommended. The assistant showed us silently into the “relaxation” room, where we were wrapped in blankets, laid down and left to listen to relaxing music and enjoy a large fish tank on one wall of the cave. 20 minutes later we found ourselves sitting on massage chairs that I kid you not massaged everything from your head to your bottom, and your hands to your feet for 20 minutes. Feeling fully refreshed and satisfied on exit food was whole heartedly enjoyed before waiting for the bus in the sunshine to take us home…