Packing it all in

suitcase1I write to you from the land of the Kiwis, the home of the All Blacks and bottlers of the finest Sauvignon Blanc. Where chips are “chups”, sex is “sux” and lots of fun things “hair-pen” (happen…)

New Zealand.

It’s a bit of a mini-break. My husband had a few meetings in Wellington and I had a few dollars spare on my credit card.  Win win – for him, for me and for Westpac.

Wellington has more bars and restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the world. It also has more shoe shops. Walk down Lambton Quay, which is the shopping equivalent of the Queen Street Mall or Orchid Avenue in the 1980s, and you’ll get sore feet from walking in and out of shoe shops.

The only smart thing to do of course is to have a nice sit down on one of the comfy chairs in the shoe shop. And while you’re there, it would be silly not to try on a few pairs. Wasteful, really.

I know I’m not alone in saying that I love to travel. Hell I get excited at an overnight stay in the country to attend a wedding. By country, I mean Ipswich. I try not to go too far west of Kenmore.

What I’m not good at is the packing part. I’m not good at working out what I’m going to wear for the next few days or weeks and getting it all into a suitcase.

Sure I check ahead to see what the weather is going to be like. I see what functions and events we will be going to. I ask my husband to tell me what the baggage weight limit is on the plane.

Then I pretty much open my wardrobe and throw its entire contents into as many suitcases as required.

In the second Sex And The City movie, Carrie gets on the Abu Dhabi-bound flight wearing a hat so enormous it needed its own boarding pass. That hat is never seen nor heard from again. Yes yes I know it’s a movie but she sent a very clear signal that packing doesn’t need to measured or sensible.

What I tend to overlook is that for the most part, I’m travelling to places that have shops and credit card facilities and ATMs etc. If I forget something crucial – a particular lipstick in a fetching shade of rose pink or a pair of black tights – there’s always more at the shops.

The bigger problem is that I don’t leave room for any holiday shopping. That normally requires the purchase of an additional bag. And quite often the purchase of additional baggage allowance.

Travelling by car, whilst devoid of the whole international immigration clearance and duty free shopping fun, means that there’s no real limit on bags.

And it means I become delusional.

Say I’m going to the Gold Coast for a week. I get it into my head that I’m going to be all Mother Nature and Mrs Home Maker and cook a few recipes that are on my cooking wish list. This requires the packing of the wok, my knives, my mortar and pestle and goodness knows how many other kitchen gadgets.

Reality being that we eat out pretty much for three meals a day.

Once I was determined to embrace a healthy outlook and packed my juicer and all manner of vegetables. The juicer never left the boot of my car and the vegies went the way of the compost bin.

About 10 years ago, I was in Singapore with one of my best friends, enjoying this Asian hub’s sights, sounds and tastes. There was lots of fun things to buy, especially in the newly emerging electronics sphere. When it was time to come home, I couldn’t for the life of me get my bag shut.

In desperation, I held my bag firm while my friend bodily dove from one of the twin beds to the other where my case lay gaping, attempting to use the force of body weight to shut it. It is possible we may have been drinking when we came up with this Herculean idea. It didn’t work. I had to buy another bag.

Another time, in Europe, I was at a check-in counter in Slovakia being told that the baggage limit was 15kg or face horrendous fines.

I got the weight of my case to the prescribed limit, but only through wearing three jackets, draping two pairs of boots about my neck, throwing out my shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, and dragging two carry-on bags.

This trip is only a week but I think I’m doing ok. The test of course will be at the Qantas counter on Monday.

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Bali beauty

Bali’s been in the news a bit lately. Julia Robert’s outing in Eat Pray Love showcases the area’s tranquil richness. And Javier Bardem’s emanating hotness. And sadly, today, October 12, is the eight year anniversary of that horrific night of bombing where 202 people were killed.

It was only this year that I took my first trip to Bali. Long time listener, but first time caller. I’ve been fortunate to travel our gorgeous planet widely but for some reason, had never been to Bali.

Maybe because Australia’s Gold Coast is less than an hour away from me. Or perhaps I harboured concerns that my shopping purchases would require a charter flight back to Brisbane. Which kind of negates the purpose of all that cheap shopping.

And, I mean, of course, there’s that Schapelle/Bali 9 cloud.

Well, I fell in love with the place. I’ve been to other Asian countries, but this gem was instantly welcoming, friendly and happy. Its people may have been poor but they were happy. Laugh out loud happy. I think there’s something in that for all of us, don’t you?

Bali outwardly appears to have harsher sentencing regimes and criminal punishments regarding drugs (reference Schapelle comment above). No Australian-style resort prisons where you are offered three meals a day, in-room laundry service and a chance to study for a university degree.

But feel free to crack open a Bintang beer and suck down its brewed hops while you wander at leisure down one of Kuta’s multitude of shopping alleys.

Light up a fag as you flick through this season’s fake D&G singlets or Chanel sunglasses. Hell, feel free to flick the butt straight into the street.

Tidak masalah. No problem.

(Although I had to laugh at the stand of fake Christian Dior sunglasses that had the bling on the sides that read: “Diro”. I think someone forgot to do a spell check.)

Here’s the part I loved. Swan dive into the hotel pool and swim up to the pool bar to get stuck into happy hour. Enjoy your cocktail or three while splashing about on a li-lo or chatting with other holiday makers. (Check out the picture, that’s the place we stayed!)

When the dinner hour tolls, or if you’re just plain hungry, it’s out of the pool, a quick towel dry, don the crumpled singlet and shorts that have been sitting by the pool all day, then make your way barefoot to the restaurant. In Bali, they don’t care that your wet hair is dripping down your back or that the most make-up you’re wearing is a drunken smile.

They just want you to have a good time.

I caught the Bali version of White Knuckle Transport a few times. This involves sitting pillion on a 50cc motorbike sans helmet, hanging on for dear life, and dodging the other two million bikes, all intent on getting people and their purchases back to their hotels.

Whizzing down those narrow alleys puts the skills of F1 drivers to shame. These nationals know their bikes, know their roads, and know how to get you there. Cepat, cepat.

I visited the memorial, and stood at the sites of the two bombings. It is impossible not to feel the invisible horror of that night, and bow your head just for a moment and pray it never happens again.

The shopping was a hoot. I would guess that many of you reading this have made the trek down the filthy streets and snapped up bargains. I was traveling with someone who was a Bali regular so to watch him haggle was pure genius.

But just to refresh your memory, it goes like this:

Me: “How much for this handbag?”

Him: “Oh, that velly ‘spensive, that leather, but for you, ahh, I say 700.” (rupiah) This is about $80.

Me: (adopt look of offense and shake head) “Ahh, too much, too much.”

Him: “I have to feed my family, you no pay this price, I no feed my family.”

Me: “You have plenty of food for your family, I only pay 300.”

Him: (in mock offence posture) “You rob me, I no make any money if you buy that price.”

Me: “It is a fake piece of crap that will probably break before I get to Denpassar airport, it’s not worth any more than 300.”

Him: (again mock shock) “This is best stuff you buy, it genuine leather, here me hold lighter to material to show you no burn.” I am serious, this really happened, he tried to burn my bag.

Me: “ok, 400.”

Him: “600.”

Me: “No, no, no, too much, I’m going now.” And proceed to walk out of the shop and down the street. He chases me.

Him: “Mrs, Mrs, Mrs, wait! Ok, it hurt me but you have for 400.”

And so it goes on.

I amassed 23 sunglasses, two handbags, linen, t-shirts, singlets, scarves, dvds, necklaces, bangles, shoes, hair ornaments, knick-knacks, tops, dresses and a hand woven hat. Two of the sunglasses broke before the end of the day. The rest are doing well.

And I can’t wait to go again. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if I bumped into Javier Bardem while I was there!

** was using colloquial lingo regarding rupiah value, so where I say “700” the true value is “700,000”, however the point of my story was to be authentic and use dialogue of the locals, sorry if I have confused some readers… So 700,000 rupiah is about AUD80. 

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Border security

Getting from point A to point B by air used to be easy; whether it was Brisbane to Sydney, or New York to London. You went to a travel agent, they gave you this lovely old-fashioned thing called a ticket (remember, they came in triplicate?), which you safe-guarded until departure day.

You’d waltz into the airport and light up a fag while your baggage was being checked. Well, of course you could – your hands were free because you weren’t digging around looking for your drivers licence so you could prove you were the person listed on the ticket.

There’d be a few ratty old plastic chairs to sit on while you waited for your flight to be called. Maybe there was a bar – bonus points if so – or maybe you snuck a few voddies into your bag to make the wait more fun.

Either way, nobody minded.

Then off you went, scampering across the tarmac, umbrella aloft if it was raining, and into your plane, where you could continue smoking and drinking again. In those days, you were offered beer long before you were offered food. The seats had tiny ashtrays built-in. Anything that makes the long haul to Heathrow bearable.

Then somewhere between the launch of the world wide web and the terror of September 11, it all changed.

Bookings must be done online. Travel agents, the human ones, don’t want to talk to people. They want to talk to computers. Ditto the airlines. “People!” they bray, “those funny things that pay us lots of money so we can hold them up at horrible airports? Arrggghh shudder.”

You must print out your own ticket at home, memorise your booking reference number and do your own check-in. That’s if you can find your way through the hordes of smokers gathered around the doorway.

Today’s airport security means you need to allow at least another hour to your travel itinerary. I don’t fly all the time, but I fly enough to know a few simple rules:

1) Remove all solid gold jewellery prior to passing through security. Extend this to belts with a solid buckle. Which was ok for a number of years until I put on weight and now I have this one gold bangle which I can’t get off. It upsets officers in airports all around the world. I think they would rather have me amputate my own arm than pass through their detectors while wearing the offending item.

2) Wear thongs or slip-on sandals, heel optional. Never boots, never strappy shoes with a hundred buckles. They’re too hard to get off. Even if I am getting straight off the plane and commencing my walk up Everest, I will wear thongs. Even if I am getting straight off the plane and going to dinner with George Clooney, I will wear thongs.

When it first became essential for footwear to be removed before passing through detectors, the airport geniuses declined to provide seating. It took a number of times of me leaning against Lover Bloke while fumbling about trying to undo my shoes to realise that, much as I love looking glamorous in the air (and leaning against Lover Bloke), it’s not worth the pain of unbuckling strappy shoes in a vertical position. And putting them on again.

3) Don’t wear any form of metal hair clip. This one time I was off to Melbourne for something fabulous, getting a morning flight with a view to arriving at Lygon Street, dragging my hot pink hold-all, with that air of “Hey I do this all the time, just like my good friend Paris”. I’d spent ages that morning twisting my hair into this messy knot, secured with a hideously expensive diamante clip, only to have the security officer shug and say, “Sorry love, it’s gotta come out.” Do they think I have half a kilo of explosives in that clip? Where? Imbedded in the fake diamonds?

Last Easter, I was fortunate enough to spend the break in Perth. Being totally clued up, I made sure I had cleared my bag of anything that might eventuate with me in a maximum security facility. I had my thongs on. I had an elastic to hold my hair back. I wasn’t wearing a belt. I declared my laptop as they like us to do and I was jewellery free (save what I affectionately call the fat bangle). Couldn’t have planned it better.

Except the security fraternity still wasn’t happy with me. They wanted to get a little more up close and personal.

“Where are your little hand-held detectors?” I asked, as I watched some frighteningly overweight lady with frizzy red hair and one-inch fake fingernails begin to descend on me.

“Qantas now does initial body searches by hand,” she smiled. “Have you had a pat down before?”

“No!” I say. “Even that one time when I didn’t have sex for ages did I never went so far as to have a pat down.”

So right there, in the middle of the security quadrant she’s got her hands all over me, pat pat pat – ooh that’s some nice fat on your thigh – pat pat pat – ooh and some more around your tummy – pat pat pat.

Go near my boobs lady and I’m clocking you.

I eventually got to Perth. But clearly it is not where my bag wanted to go for Easter, since it ended up in Melbourne. Probably because the shopping is better.

For all the security in the world they still couldn’t get the luggage manifest correct.

I wonder how my bag fared at check-in?

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