I love being a silent observer: watching people move through their lives, bearing witness, yet devoid of the need to participate.
And I love having the freedom to move through life without plans or destinations in mind.
But I had a plan: a plan to be in India for 12 months, but for reasons difficult to explain my time in India ended, and despite the trials of getting there, leaving is something I am incredibly thankful for.
Rather than try to understand why it was not be, it can simply be said that I chose to follow my heart and release the weight placed upon me whilst being in India.
My decision to leave was made quite swiftly and within hours of doing so, I was ascending through the clouds on a Thai Smiles aircraft, leaving India and my unsettled feelings far behind.
The higher we climbed, the more elevated I felt.
I’ve always been one to follow my ‘gut’ and from the moment I stepped on Indian soil I felt an indescribable need to flee. I also felt confusion for I have travelled extensively through 3rd world countries without ever feeling such an intense need to leave.
I had hoped on arrival at the Animal sanctuary where I was to work, those feelings would melt into the love I could share with the animals. And although the love for the many beautiful beings who called the sanctuary home intensified, unfortunately so did my feelings of dread. All I wanted to do was run, I don’t know why and I cannot explain, in the end, I simply followed my instincts.
Trouble is, we broadcast our lives across the pages of social media: I do it, as do many others. It is not for ‘likes’ or acceptance, it has simply become a way of life. More so for me as a writer and photographer, as I find the opportunity to document fulfilling.
However the dark side of social media can often raise its venomous head. The need to portray one’s life as perfect – a life portrayed on the pages can sometimes be quite different from reality. And I probably fell victim to that, for behind the smiles and happy images, in reality I was filled with sadness and dread.
There were a few exceptions, I did absolutely ADORE Buff the water buffalo – he was simply divine! And I also felt peace with the beautiful Indian family who had warmly welcomed me into their home.
Their kindness is something I shall never forget: Sagar & Sahill you are truly gems – you made me laugh so much. A post entirely on your comings & goings and funny ways is sure to be in the making.
But despite my adopted Indian family, as the days lingered, my feelings of dread intensified and I knew in my heart I had to act. But where would I go?
A number of years ago, I was travelling through Europe and one afternoon whilst strolling through Paris without a destination in mind, I decided to follow the ‘little green man’.
To explain, when stopped at an intersection, I would simply walk in the direction of the flashing green man ‘walk’ sign. In doing so, I found myself wandering along side streets devoid of tourists, where Parisians adorned bars and cafes with their usual nonchalance and style.
However not having a little green man to follow in India, I chose the next best thing: Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ button. Once having typed a departure city, Skyscanner gives the option of choosing Everywhere, which brings up countless flights from cheapest to most expensive. And that’s how I ended up in Bangkok – it was cheap and easy to get there and having flown there often as airline crew, I knew it was the hub for numerous other destinations. Once there I used Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ again and found myself booked on a flight to Bali.
And by simply following my heart again, I stayed at the beautiful and tranquil Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, free of charge. In exchange for an incredible villa and meals I simply shot images for their website and social media pages.
Tomorrow I head to a villa in Canguu where I shall be spending a couple of weeks dog-sitting 3 fur-babes whilst their Mum heads overseas.
How is this is all possible? Through a site called Workaway, I wont go into detail, but click on the link to get more info. In a nutshell, you do a few hours work a day and in return, you are given accomodation and food. For me it is not about travelling on the cheap (although it certainly is that) moreover, it’s about having the opportunity to travel and be immersed with local people.
Unfortunately I will have to leave Bali by 18 Feb as I made a massive faux pas at the airport regarding my visa, but hey, maybe that’s the little green man making my decisions for me.
I’m starting to get a little concerned. Why I hear you ask? Well it’s like this.
I’m not sure if fate is preparing me for dealing with Indian bureaucracy, which according to a BBC report, is the worst in Asia, or my application for an Employment Visa is simply lying in a slush pile at the Indian Embassy silently screaming, ‘pick me, pick me.’
Whatever the answer, with December 27 approaching at speeds likened to a B777 at 37,000ft, I’m a little worried. For without visa in hand, or more importantly my passport, which is of course lying in wait with my visa application, I’m not going anywhere.
Adding to the mix, I fear the delay is also due to the fact the big, fat man in the red suit is on his way. Let’s be honest, the festive season invariably causes life outside of gift shopping to cease and only begins again when the contrails from his speeding sleigh have long since dissolved.
So where does that leave me?
Well that’s easy to answer, unlike my beautiful Oscar in the above image, I’m sending out positive vibes whilst patiently waiting, waiting, waiting.
WHEN imagining that quintessential French holiday, Paris immediately comes to mind. However take a look beyond the beguiling City of Lights, and you will find France is a country full of many beautiful places waiting to be explored. And the city of Annecy, about 5 hours drive south of Paris is just one of those places you should experience.
Nestled at the southern tip of the azure waters of Lake Annecy, and framed by the majestic peaks of the Haute-Savoie region, Annecy is a bewitching city that embraces the true French provincial way of life.
In the city’s heart, the medieval village houses countless cafes nestled among pastel coloured buildings that line cobbled-stoned streets. Aperitifs can be sipped while watching resident white swans glide across near-still waters of ancient canals that sweep beneath centuries-old footbridges.
Annecy is also home to one of France’s most photographed monuments, the twelfth-century, Palais de l’Isle. Built in 1132, this ancient building sits in the centre of Thiou, the city’s most famous canal.The distinctive Palais de l’Isle, once the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy, became a jail from the Middle Ages until 1865. Classified as a Historical Monument in 1900, today it houses a local history museum and is a willing model for both amateur and professional photographers the world over.
For market lovers, the medieval village in the old town quarter comes alive three days a week. Here you can forage among stalls loaded with local produce and a mouthwatering array of cheeses, wine and freshly baked breads.
Although Annecy is said to be one of the most expensive places in France, a visit to this picturesque place won’t necessarily break the bank. Affordable accommodation can be found in Gites, rooms or fully self-contained apartments in local homes. They are a great way to experience the local culture and the helpful staff in the Tourism office located in the centre of town can assist with bookings.
Annecy is a city that caters to all seasons. In summer, kayaking, canoeing, cycling, hiking or recreational swimming can be enjoyed. Or for skiing buffs, Annecy is a great base during the winter months.The Olympic city of Albertville, or resorts such as Chamonix and the ultra-chic Megeve are only a short drive away. Along the way you can soak up the charm of provincial life by visiting the many charming villages and castles that dot the landscape.
Regardless of when you visit, you are sure to be embraced by the charm and beauty of this magical French city.
HERE’S a tip when travelling to Los Angeles, hire a car and drive.
Once a regular visitor to the City of Angels, I found driving a great way to explore the city and its surrounds. Signage is easy to follow as freeways are labelled numerically and by direction, which makes getting around quite easy and when it comes to hiring the car, the range is as big as everything else in the US of A.
On one trip, I cruised Hollywood Boulevard in a sleek black Hummer, which was fitting as while driving this infamous road I found myself caught up in a media frenzy courtesy of the latest Terminator movie premiere. With red carpet laid out and barricades in place, super sized limos were lined up outside the Kodak Theatre depositing the beautiful. For a moment I thought they mistook my black Hummer with tinted windows and a mysterious air as containing someone of interest, but no, I was waved on without thought.
On another trip my friend and I were given the choice of hiring either a red Dodge or a silver convertible Mustang, our choice was obvious for our trip to Santa Barbara and so we were soon driving along the 101 freeway with the roof down, while Bob Segar crooned to us about his love of Hollywood nights. From LA proper the 101 carves through the hills framing the Los Angeles basin and eventually hugs the coastline. This route is a pleasure to drive, even if you don’t have the luxury of a convertible.
After a few hours exploring the sights of Santa Barbara we were headed back to our base at Long Beach when the Mulholland Drive turnoff caught our eye. As this road is home to many famous people, an exploration of this area beckoned. But instead of Mulholland, a wrong turn had us navigating the Mustang around the winding Topanga Canyon Boulevard through the Santa Monica Mountains. Being late afternoon on a clear spring day the view we were afforded was nothing short of spectacular. We chose to take advantage of a lookout which offered the opportunity to stop and further take in the view of Los Angeles and its surrounds without fear of plummeting off the road into a rocky canyon below.
Our unexpected exploration of the mountains ended when Topanga Blvd deposited us onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), just north of Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade where a myriad of shops and restaurants awaited our patronage. With stomachs rumbling we settled on dining at Bravo, a quaint Italian restaurant. A good Pinot Grigio accompanied by a delicious serving of bruschetta as local buskers serenaded us in the relaxed atmosphere was just what the doctor ordered. As night descended, fairy lights illuminated the tree-lined promenade creating a wonderful ambience. To walk off our meal, we wandered past shops such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Gap, H&M and Victoria’s Secret.
Without the luxury of a car, we would not have had the opportunity to experience LA as we did, so when you are next in LA, drive. And if you do happen to find yourself a little lost or daunted by the freeways, stay positive as you could find yourself having more fun than expected.
As we drive through the magnificent Allgau Alps region in the country’s south-west, fresh white snow blankets majestic peaks, which sparkle like huge diamonds in the afternoon sunshine.
Against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky, the effect is breathtaking. I am unable to take in the beauty that surrounds me for the narrow, snow-covered road snaking around the edge of the mountain demands my attention.
The road thankfully widens as we enter the quaint village of Tannheimer Tal, and without fear of plunging off the side of the mountain, I am finally able to take in my surroundings.
The village, nestled in the heart of the Tannheimer Valley is walled with ski fields which host a myriad of runs. As we watch, skiers and snowboarders weave tracks continuously through the freshly fallen, powder white snow. Traditional Austrian chalets dot the landscape. Wooden shutters frame windows adorned with bright red bows and fairy lights in obvious celebration of the festive season. From chimneys perched upon snow-capped rooftops, smoke lingers in the frosty air. The effect is homely and inviting.
Against the side of one chalet a brightly coloured sign announcing ‘Zimmer Frei’ (rooms available) grabs my attention. As we have no accommodation booked for the night, we decide to stay.
Later, as we dine on freshly crumbed schnitzel while sipping a superb local Austrian wine, I am joined by Isolde, the owner of Alpengastof Zur Post, and she tells me the guesthouse has been in her family for over 400 years.
The cosy dining room, with its carved wooden chairs and red chequered tablecloths oozes charm. Family photos dating back to the early 1900’s cover the walls, add to the feeling of homeliness and warmth. After dinner, we head upstairs where thick doonas lie invitingly across pine beds. From shuttered windows, the view is simply magical as moonlight showers the Alps and adjoining ski fields.
This region is the perfect place to base yourself for an Austrian winter holiday, as it is guaranteed to excite skiers and snowboarders, both novice and expert. Non-skiers can also delight in winter activities on horse-drawn carriage rides, ice-skating, and moonlight toboggan rides.
King Ludwig’s castle of Neuschwanstein along the famous Romantic Road is only a short 20 minute drive and the fabled city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen an hour away. But the beauty of this area can not only be found in the magnificent mountains, snow fields and crystal clear lakes, its beauty is also found in its people. They are friendly, hospitable and brimming with warmth, making your holiday in Austria a truly uplifting and invigorating experience.