Moroc’n’roll!

The last time I was in Marrakech I was 21, studying in Milan and flew in from Italy with a couple of friends. I remembered landing and realising pretty quickly that the city was very different to Milan. Food, customs, religion. All at opposite ends of the scale. I remembered Jema El Fna square being one of the most impressive places I have ever seen and hence was talking it up to all my travel buddies before we arrived in October. My reputation was on the line and I was praying that Marrakech would live up to expectations…well done Morocco, you didn’t disappoint!

If you do nothing else in Marrakech, get yourself to Jema El Fna. Fun fact, the name of this square translates to assembly of the dead. This may be in reference to the display of the heads of criminals executed there until the 19th century. Bit dark but interesting nonetheless.

Jema El Fna by night

Jema El Fna, for me, is my experience of Morocco encapsulated in one place. Someone asked me to describe Morocco in a sentence and all I could say was “It is an assault on the senses where at any moment, Aladdin could walk around the corner”. The hustle and bustle of the square, the cacophony of sounds, mixture of smells and the constant conversation with street vendors is overwhelming and exciting all in one hit!

Abdul and I met in the medina where he was trying to get me into his stand for dinner. We didn’t eat there that night but became friends over the few weeks we were in town and… here he is taking a selfie with my friend Trish, the rest of the staff and I!

It can be a struggle to get around the markets in Marrakech with everyone constantly trying to pull you into their shop. One thing I would recommend is if you want to get away from someone trying to get your attention just talk more than them.

Street vendor: “My friend, my friend, you hungry, come in, come in”

Me: “HELLOOOOO! (big smile) Man I am so glad to see you, your shop looks great! I just ate but we are here for a few days. Morocco is so beautiful. I will be back in this area tomorrow and will come back to see you. What number stall are you? Number 31. Perfect. This is such a good setup! See you tomorrow!”

Street vendor: “See you tomorrow my friend”

*Shake hands and part ways*

I am convinced that they are so bamboozled with what is happening they don’t know what to say or do. Always be respectful, shake hands and laugh with them. I made a few Moroccan friends this way.

Let’s not forget though that Morocco is not just Marrakech. I headed out to the desert with a small group of friends to see what it was all about (another post on that to come) as well as ventured to Taghazout to go surfing for a weekend. When I was out in the surf listening to the call to prayer in the afternoon I knew that this was one of those experiences I would never forget.

Shaka’s all round with the surfing crew

The month was not all smooth sailing though. As a result of some interesting restaurant food handling habits it was not unusual to have a little upset stomach here and there. However, the food was too good to turn down! Gotta say, I am ok with not seeing another tagine for a little while but I did enjoy my fair share of Moroccan delicacies!

Cultural immersion

Probably a highlight of the month though had little to do with Morocco and everything to do with just being a ridiculous person. Where we were staying there was an awesome, large pool. In the first week I was speaking to a friend of mine Ryan about what fun activity we could do down by the pool with everyone. A flat-out winner was obviously water aerobics. I can’t remember it exactly but the conversation went something like this…

Nick: “What do you reckon about doing something fun down at the pool with everyone?”

Ryan: “Yeah would be great! Some kind of workout or water sport.”

Nick: “Hahaha yeah, maybe something like water aerobics?”

Ryan: “So ridiculous, could you imagine!”

Nick: “So stupid!! Haha”

Ryan: “So are we doing it?”

Nick: “I think we are…”

Ryan: “Here come the Wetboyz!!”

And with that Wetboyz Workouts were born. We have held 2 sessions so far and are looking to have a third one this month in Buenos Aires. Who knew I had a love of aqua aerobics? Check out the video to see a few clips of the Wetboyz in action!

The Wetboyz – Come get wet, leave drippin’! (Thanks Dorothy for the photo)

The reflective stuff

I feel a place like Morocco can be really confronting for people. There is no way to ease into it, the country comes at you like a freight train. I remember travelling when I was younger and how this would really be a struggle for me. I didn’t feel confident just getting out there and immersing myself in what was going on. And to some extent, I still experience that now with new places. You are not used to this new place and you need to be street smart. What I learnt though is it is important to engage with exactly what is going on around you and not your preconception of it.

Walking into Morocco a few people I know were worried they were going to have a tough time. And, they did. When they came at it from that angle it was always going to be a struggle. Meanwhile others were happily surprised with how much they enjoyed the city due to their openness and willingness to let go of preconceived ideas. Don’t get me wrong, some places are not for everyone but make sure you give yourself every chance of liking a place before you count it out.

As always, take what you will from this post and I will see you soon.

Nick

 

 

Belgrade and chill?

As all my avid readers would know I had a pretty crazy 21 days leading up to my time in Belgrade. It was awesome but tiring nonetheless! As a result, I was pumped for a month of just staying put and chillin’ in a city. Which is how it turned out…kind of…

Belgrade is such an interesting spot. Seriously! Not what I would call a pretty city but it definitely has its charm. The scars of conflicts of the past really are apparent  with bombed buildings littered here and there around the city. The craziest part of which being, they were only bombed in the recent past.

Belgrade is a place that you really do need to dig into to find its gems. Unlike Rome which offers itself up to you, Belgrade you have to at least buy dinner first.

Belgrade from above. Not too impressive, I know, but don’t count her out just yet!

One thing that will really stick with me from Belgrade is the smell of smoke. People can smoke almost anywhere. One bar, Magic Garden, basically punched you in the face with a plume of smoke. Great bar but terrible for asthmatics. Bars and clubs on the river (Splavs) were no exception, the one thing all partygoers were guaranteed to take home was a set of clothes stinking like an ash tray!

Truth be told, Belgrade did a number on us on most weekends but during the week it was fairly smooth sailing. Probably the most awesome thing about the month was being a member of what we liked to call the Belgrade Party Penthouse. Made up of Ryan, Minho, Le and myself, this crew of housemates was awesome to have for the month. With an apartment overlooking the Serbian Parliament in the centre of town we had no choice but to live it up like the politicians do!

Having said that, we never actually had a party in the apartment… (the irony is not lost on me)

Our house was a sanctuary of good vibes, synchronised workout times with “dem funky beats”, Chinese degustation lunches cooked by Le in the tiniest kitchen in the world (I really hated that kitchen) and Saturday night debriefs on Sunday morning/afternoon.

3 of 4 members of the BPP. Myself, Minho and Ryan. Le was yet to arrive at this stage to complete the crew! We actually don’t have a photo of us all together…

After being in Sydney, I managed to bring a few delicacies from home which went down a real treat. Mint slice, iced vovos, pinapple lumps and, of course, Tim Tams were a hit! We even managed to hold the great “Mite-off” pitting marmite, vegemite and promite against each other. Promite, my favorite, won the hearts of the people confirming that vegemite and especially marmite are trash. It is official, you read it here first!

One of my favourite travel buddies Michelle coming to terms with the fact that Marmite is rubbish. As you can see, I am sympathetic to her distress…

We also had an Aussie night where we watched The Castle. It was an absolute pleasure to share this classic film with my friends from around the world. If you can think of another movie that is better than this masterpiece, you’re “dreaming”.

On a heartwarming note, you will see in the video that we supported refugee Aid Serbia and raised funds for hygiene packs to be distributed at some of the largest refugee camps in Serbia. Huge props Jana and Starz who are doing an amazing job in Belgrade!

The month was not all smooth sailing though. With construction in our apartment building for our 3rd and 4th weeks in the city, we were struggling to get anything resembling quiet time during the day, let alone gentle a wakeup. Our alarm clocks were the sound of steel being torn apart by a grinder a couple of floors down. Only yesterday I heard some construction work downstairs and got a message from some of the BPP members mentioning they are struggling from PTSD! I feel you brothers!

Not only that, the day before we were leaving, one of my housemates Ryan and I found out we probably missed out on meeting the loves of our lives. The old ladies who ran the bakery across the street managed to tell us in their minimal English that they wanted to set us up with a couple of girls who came into the shop the day before. The hits just keep on coming. Guess we just gotta go back!

Shoutout for the month goes to the Asian restaurant on the block behind us aptly named “Asian Food”. For $5USD you would be served a mountain of food. Half a kilo of Asian goodness. I don’t know how many times we went to eat there but I think my insides are grateful to no longer have this “restaurant” as an option.

The cheapest and most cheerful place in Belgrade. Asian Food restaurant, what a find! Enjoying it with Ryan and Big Daddy Le!

What a month it was but the travel train keeps rolling on. Marrakech, here we come!

I do have some sad news though, drones are illegal in Morocco. After some creative courier manoeuvres involving DHL and a visiting boyfriend of one of my travel buddies I will be getting the drone back in Buenos Aires (where I am currently) in the next week or so. Cannot wait to be reunited!

Oh and I forgot to mention, we also did a casual 5km colour run. Thank you Belgrade!

The reflective stuff

Travelling around the place has taught me a few things. One of which is your time in a city is heavily impacted by who you live with. Obvious, yes, but nonetheless, true! I have been fortunate to have some pretty cracking housemates these last few months but I have to say, living with the boys of the Belgrade Party Penthouse was something else!

Everything was super chilled, movie nights were had, days exploring the city and nights out were a blast. I can’t thank Ryan, Minho and Le enough for a fantastic few weeks at the one and only BPP!!

As always, take what you will from this post and keep your eye out for a Morocco post soon!

Much love,

Nick

Kissed on the d*ck

So a few months ago I was travelling with some friends through Sri Lanka on tuk-tuk’s. Those 10 days were awesome and would often ebb and flow between super exciting, intense moments to long stretches of quiet contemplation and conversation on the road.

One of the conversations that I had during these long driving stretches really stuck with me. I was in one of the tuk-tuk’s with my friend Sticks and we were having a moment where we were discussing how lucky we were and how awesome our lives have been. We have been able to travel, make great friendships, work in well paid jobs and most importantly been brought up in safe, loving environments. During this conversation Sticks talked to me about the theory of being “kissed on the d*ck”. This is where god, jehova, buddah, overall consciousness or whatever you want to call it, grabbed you before you were plonked on this earth and gave you a little kiss on the dick, blessed you with some amazing luck and sent you on your path through life.

Never was this more apparent to me than during my last weekend in Valencia.

For many years I have wanted to go to a Valencia CF match. I became a fan of the team as a result of making some awesome friendships with Pascual and Chimo, two true Valencianistas. The last few times I had been in Valencia there were no games happening at the hallowed home turf of Valencia CF, Mestalla. I am soon to be heading to South America and I was not going to leave this part of the world without getting to a game.

I booked tickets to fly in from Morocco on the evening of Friday the 20th of October for the Valencia vs Sevilla match on the Saturday afternoon. After getting picked up by none other than Pascual, we hit a few bars and then went to bed, getting a good rest in for the big event!

On Saturday I was pumped!! I had brought my Valencia jersey with me ready to wear in the stadium but Pascual told me not to worry about putting it on. We were going to meet with one of the official supporter’s groups (la peña Viachers) and would most likely all be wearing the same shirt together with them. Not thinking much of this we headed to have a couple of drinks with Viachers. They were really welcoming and kind of intrigued as to how an Australian becomes a Valencia fan. After chatting for a bit, I looked around and saw everyone in Valencia jerseys, including my friends Pascual, Chimo and Roberto. I started to get a little annoyed that I wasn’t wearing mine? What was going on?!

We left the Viachers and joined up with a smaller group of our friends at restaurant Mo for a classic paella. Again, everyone in Valencia jerseys! Pascual beckoned me inside to have a look at the paella being cooked. To be honest, I wasn’t really fussed to see it, I wanted to be wearing my jersey not the stupid grey t-shirt I had on! This was my first Valencia CF match for god’s sake!

I wander inside the restaurant and take a look at the Paella nonetheless. We had a laugh with the restaurant staff and then headed back outside to our table. At this stage, Pascual had taken my camera from me and was filming. Still completely clueless I see a package at my seat at the table. Now I am excited…

The boys start chanting my name in the typical celebration style of our group “La Brigada”. I open the package and see that the guys have gone out and bought me a new jersey for the day. Not only that, they also printed one of my nick names “Nickao” on the back of the jersey with the number seven to represent the size of my “pipa” (nose).

I was shocked and excited! I have no idea what I have done in a past life or my current one to have such an amazing group of friends anywhere, let alone in Valencia, on the other side of the world to where I grew up!

After a lot of hugs, words of thanks and some great food we went to the stadium.

Pascual, myself, David Villa and Mestalla!

The atmosphere was electric!! Valencia is coming second on the table, ahead of Real Madrid and just behind Barcelona. Sevilla is a long-time rival that historically has been at the centre of a few Valencia CF heartbreaks so the match was as big as they come!

We were chanting on the streets with the Viachers peña, meeting up with other members of our group and even dropping in to say hello to the Spanish national team’s most famous supporter, Manolo del Bombo!

Pepe, Pascual, myself and Joseka having the time of our lives before the game

While we were walking around, Pascual spotted a media team from Valencia Play TV interviewing people on the street. He mentioned that he had a friend here from Australia and they asked to interview me. I wasn’t able to do the interview in Spanish but they asked for my details and said they would be in touch. I didn’t think too much about it and entered the stadium.

The atmosphere was awesome. Young and old, families and friends, everyone was getting into it. The unity and excitement in the stadium was palpable. After a pretty even start to the game Valencia went up 1-0, then 2-0, then 3-0, then 4-0!!! Everyone was pumped, the chants continued and when the final whistle blew it was high fives all round!

We were the last ones in Mestalla, singing the Valencia CF anthem and savouring the moment. We then went out for dinner and enjoyed the victory along with everyone else in the city.

The hallowed turf of Mestalla. The calm after the storm…AMUNT!!

It doesn’t end here though…the next day I got an email from Valencia Play TV…

“Hi, this is Maria form Valencia CF official TV, we met yesterday outside of Mestalla. We are interested in interviewing you so you can tell us your experience as an Australian Valencia fan. Please let me know if you can meet up tomorrow. I know you are leaving Tuesday but it would be very cool to get to interview you before you head home. 

Feel free to email me or text me anytime, Thanks”

I couldn’t believe it! My incredulity was only outmatched by the excitement from the boys! Pascual couldn’t believe it, Roberto was shocked, Chimo was pumped for it, Yuyu was yelling “SAAAA GGUUUAARRAAASSSS” and Pepe just smiled and laughed saying “Nick, tio, es un escandalo!”.

On Monday at noon I was interviewed outside the stadium talking about my experiences as a fan, we then went into the stadium and walked around the inner sanctum. After telling my story and getting all the footage they needed I was invited to the team’s closed training session later that day!!

Taking a stroll through the change rooms

Again, the boys were flipping out, I was pretty excited and there was nothing left to do but be out there at the training pitch in the evening. Chimo has to be quoted here with the best call of the day saying “Nick, tienes una flor en el culo” (Nick you have a flower growing out of your ass”) that’s how lucky I was.

Pascual, Roberto and Chimo hanging out with the Australian Valencia CF correspondent

I went behind the security gates at the training fields and was closer than any of the media while the team was training. After after noting a few players who I would like to say hello to, I was told to wait until after they were done with the technical section of the session to have my photo taken with them.

Chillin’ with the team

I went to the bar outside the security gates and sat with the guys, we chatted and waited for this photo to happen. Our contact came out and we were ready to go…

Alas…

We couldn’t get in to take the photo. The team had much to do and the manager was not up for distractions. This I could totally respect so away we went to dinner with the lads but not before we saw Phil Neville pulling into the parking lot!!

The next day, about six of the guys showed up for a farewell lunch with me at none other than “La Pergola”, the best boccadillo place in the city. Pascual and I hugged each other at least 7 times before I left, it was very emotional but simply awesome. I am not sure when I will get to see him or the rest of the guys again but I cannot tell you how grateful I am to them all!

Later that evening, I received a message from Pascual saying:

“It was a great moment seeing you leave with my friends today! I have grown up with them and there you were with them!!! (Ok im getting too sentimental)”

To which I obviously responded with an equally sentimental message.

Yuyu and Jorge (Me Cago) took me to the airport, which was probably for the best as I am pretty sure there would have been tears with Pascual.

I love all these guys, y nada mas…AMUNT VALENCIA, AMUNT LA BRIGADA!!

The reflective stuff

I have spoken about the importance of connections with people in my last post. What I didn’t mention is the importance of luck in meeting these people and the importance of being open to these chance scenarios. Don’t miss the opportunity to do that random thing, meet that random person or be in a random place. Recognise those moments when you have been “kissed on the d*ck”, accept that kiss and be grateful.

I will let you know when the interview is up on the Valencia Play TV website!

As always, take what you will from this post and I will see you next time!

Nick

 

21 of the best!

2 continents, 3 weeks, 6 countries, 9 flights – 21 of the best days!

As we all know, time flies while we are travelling. Never was that more true for me than during the period of the 14th of August 2017 to the 3rd of September 2017. I went from Sofia to Milan, Milan to Barcelona, Barcelona to Sofia, Sofia to Sydney, Sydney to Belgrade, Belgrade to Hamburg and finally Hamburg back to Belgrade to breathe again. With all those flights, that is a total of 2 continents, 3 weeks, 6 countries and a lot of time on aeroplanes.

Why was I travelling so much ?

I lived in Milan in 2009 as an exchange student. In that time, I did a lot of growing up. It was a crucial period for me. Throughout those 6 months my Italian housemate Raffaele was just awesome. To me, he felt like my older Italian brother. I wanted to go catchup with him, meet his partner Lujan and his two kids Tito and Lisa. Yes, a lot has changed since our bachelor pad days of 2009. Crazy but awesome to sleep in my old room at Raff’s apartment which has now turned into a children’s play room.

Spontini pizza with my italian crew!

I also took a quick trip to see my uncle Peter and aunty Franca just outside of Bologna in a town called Imola. Not only this, I got to catch up with their daughter Olivia and her husband Marco and, maybe most importantly, got to meet Olivia and Marco’s daughter, Emma. I have to admit I laughed A LOT at their comments about how much of a whirlwind my mother was when she visited about a year ago. It is amazing how language barriers are just not barriers at all for some people! Just like my visit to see them in 2009, they took care of me like I was their own and I am so thankful. Grazie tantissimo!

Did someone say gelato in Italy?

As for Barcelona, I had an opportunity to meet with a great crew of people from across the remote year world for a weekend to talk about mindfulness and general headspace stuff. We stayed in a house in the Spanish countryside outside Barcelona, practiced some yoga, discussed meditation and just got real deep! The group was awesome and the connection with everyone was amazing. Have a deep and meaningful conversation with someone today guys. You will be better for it!

Sofia, well, it was my home base for the month and coming back when I did also meant that I could get to my friend Stevie’s birthday! I promised I would be there and what is a man if he is not his word! I then had to pack up my stuff and head out to the airport but not before a couple of cheeky fun nights out in the city and even a last minute run the day of my flight!

Sydney, well what can I say, I made the trip back home to be there for my father’s surprise 70th  and my niece’s baptism. Mum mentioned the idea of coming home a couple of months before the party and initially I wasn’t sure, it was a long flight and expensive. When she offered to pay…how could I not go?! The surprise was awesome, my father had absolutely no idea and I couldn’t have been happier to be home. I got to see a heap of people I hadn’t seen for the last few months and was especially excited to see my niece. Cuteness level – off the charts! I have to say, busting out on the dance floor with your 70-year-old father during an afternoon surprise party is something that everyone should do! (Check out the video)

Hanging with the fam!

As soon as I was back on Sydney time, it was time to fly back to Europe. But staying put would be silly! After arriving in Belgrade, I flew out the next day to Hamburg to go and see my friend Hans. Hans, like Raff, was a key figure in my time overseas as an exchange student, but this time from when I was studying in Copenhagen in 2011. Hans and I shared many awesome times together during our six months in Denmark. We laughed a lot, cooked mountains of pasta with pesto and even ran from the police once! We hung out just like old times (with less pasta and no run in’s with the police).

Hanging with Hans. No pasta or pesto in sight!

In Hamburg, I also got to catch up with a Brazilian friend Giovana who I met while travelling around Brazil during the World Cup in 2014. She is studying now in the city and has just been published for her research (massive fist pump!). Crazy how the world (and staying connected with people on facebook) can bring you back together!

Finally, I have to say that Hans and his girlfriend Jenny took great care of me and I am looking forward to being the honorary Australian godfather to their baby which is due very soon!! By the way, Nicole/Nicoletta/Nicky are all strong, beautiful names, just saying guys…

The reflective stuff

On all these flights, I had a lot of time to think about things. Three things really became apparent for me.

The first was the importance of connection with people. The old adage “people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel” came to mind. I hadn’t seen my Italian housemate Raff for 8 years and it was like no time had passed. We got to share a lot of special times together all those years ago and for both of us, I think it was an important time for different reasons. In the car on the way back to Malpensa Airport to fly to Barcelona, Raff just game me a little punch in the leg and said “it has been awesome to see you man” and I couldn’t have agreed more. These connections are what makes travel worthwhile. Forget the churches and the monuments. The people are what counts.

The second was that yes, things do change, but good friendships stay the same. We are all growing up! Yes you too. From when you started reading this post to the end of it, you will have grown up just a little bit more! Two of my close friends, Raff and Hans, are now either fathers or about to become fathers. When did it became normal for my friends to be fathers, I have no idea!?!? Having said that, hanging out with them was just like old times. On Sunday night in Hamburg I relaxed with Jenny and Hans and watched a 25-minute video of a road trip that we did back in 2011. We laughed about the trip and all that had happened years ago. I couldn’t be more grateful.

The third was about the importance of being where you should, and want to be. I wasn’t sure I would make it back to Sydney for my father’s 70th. It was a long way to get there, I was travelling around and weirdly, when I left Sydney, I had thought that I would be away from home for at least a year. For a moment there, I felt that coming back any time sooner would be a failure of sorts. How stupid this mentality was! When I told people that I was going home for 5 days some immediately asked, is everything ok? Presuming that I would be going to a funeral or there was something serious happening with family. It would shock them to hear that everything was great and I was going home for a party. What better reason was there to go home than to be present for my father’s surprise 70th birthday?

People also started to say to be careful that my dad didn’t have a heart attack due to the surprise. To which I responded with “well you never know, I could be coming back for a birthday and a funeral…” bad taste, yes, but he made it!! Love you Baba!

Out of all of this, what I found myself saying to people was. Come to my birthday, don’t come to my funeral. And that is what I say to you too, come to my birthday and have a blast, and if you do make it out to my funeral…have a blast too!

As always, take what you will from this post and I’ll see you next time!

Nick

3, 2, 1…JUMP!

So, one day a few years ago I made a pact with myself. A pretty simple pact that made me feel physically ill every time I thought about it…

“Before I turn 30 I will bungee jump”

I didn’t really tell anyone about this, nor did I feel I really needed to. I was 25 at the time and 30 seemed a long way off. It’s amazing how time flies, here we are in 2017 and my 30th birthday is only 5 months away!

I had food poisoning on the Saturday evening (as you may have read from my last post), managed to go mountain biking on the Sunday morning, napped for 5 hours on the Sunday afternoon to recover and had just crawled out of bed to eat something. In my feeble attempt to catch up on what had been going on with my travel buddies I saw that a few were going to go bungee jumping…in two days time.

I thought about it for a while. A long while. Deep down I knew I would do it. But by god I fought it.

I weighed up the pros and cons…

Pros – I was yet to turn 30, I wouldn’t have much time to think about it, I would feel great afterwards.

Cons – it is dangerous, the most common injury from bungee jumping was retinal detachment (I value my eyesight), I am not that flexible so this could throw my back out, Sofia is not a bungee hot spot nor known for safety, people don’t bungee jump on a Tuesday, this would be right over lunch, the planets were not aligned, I would have to delay my catchup on Game of Thrones…the list went on and on.

Nevertheless, in what can only be described as an out of body experience, I watched myself sign up on Monday for the jump the next day. In the time between agreeing to jump and actually jumping it was amazing the amount of aches and pains I felt, thus adding to my cons list. My neck felt really stiff, my lower back was not feeling great and my left hamstring was super sore. I had no choice but to pull out the sports massage cream and kneed it out.

The night before the jump I was walking home looking up at various buildings, trying to judge their height, trying to assess how high 62 metres was, but how could I possibly prepare for this when I felt so safe on the ground. I found myself standing in the street, putting my arms out to my side and pretending to fall, stopping myself by stepping forward at the last moment (yes, I know it is weird but hey, that is what happened!).

I tried to channel thoughts about flying and landing safely. One song that worked for me was by Simply Red called Stars. I have always loved this song and somehow when I sang the most famous lyrics to myself, I was comforted.

“I want to fall from the stars…straight into your arms”

So I’m a romantic, shoot me!

Lets not forget, this was a quick turnaround. Sick on Saturday, read about jumping on Sunday, sign up on Monday, bungee Tuesday. I am not sure I could ever truly articulate the way I was feeling while thinking about jumping the day before or while we were heading out in our van to the bridge to jump. It was an hour-and-a-half to get there so I had plenty of time to think about it. I might have put on a brave face however I was feeling anything but!

My trepidation was further exacerbated when I saw the setup of the bungee. Part of a dual lane highway going over a bridge was cordoned off with witches’ hats. A small pulley system was setup on the side of the road to winch us back up after the jump. The bungee cord was looking a little frayed and attached directly to the guard rail on the bridge. I knew that this rail was designed to withstand a car hitting it at high speed but for some reason this particular part of the setup was making me nervous.

One of us had to go first, turned out it would be me. My initial plan was to go second so I could have one of my fellow jumpers “test” the cord. Alas, this was not to be and my macho façade had to step up to the plate and get me ready to go, while my petrified inner-self was mortified to be dragged along for the ride.

One of the, what I felt, more considerate things I did just before I jumped was to get onto WhatsApp and send a simple yet powerful message to my family saying “I love you guys”. If I was going out, that was going to be my last text, I could deal with that.

I was then strapped up and ready to go. Our bungee “instructor” gave me the brief of what I needed to do. Basically, jump and then put my hands behind my head for the first bounce. He gave me a countdown of a very quick 3, 2, 1 and…

I didn’t jump. I paused…

It is the weirdest feeling ever to be voluntarily lifted over the side of a bridge and stand there looking out over the precipice with nothing in your way but clean, crisp, Bulgarian mountain air. Completely exposed, panicked, yet clear. There was only one thing to do…

I took a breath, looked at the trees below and imagined they were big green cushions…

Counted myself down…

3…

2…

1…

And flew. Well “flew” might be a little bit of a stretch. More like fell.

It was amazing.

I felt the pull of that cord and then bounced a few more times. The rush of free fall, even for a few seconds is just indescribable. Total cliché but nevertheless, true! I looked out across the fields I was hanging over and was super happy to be alive and have completed a tough, tough, tough goal of mine.

Everything was in-tact! I hooked myself onto the cable to winch me back to the bridge and that was that. I then got back onto WhatsApp and let my family know that I just bungee jumped (only my older sister Claudia knew I was doing it!). Sorry mum!

I then focussed on pumping some great tunes and spreading good vibes for my friends who were jumping. All of whom absolutely nailed it!

Geraldine was second cab off the rank and jumped like a pro. No nonsense, got it done even though she said she was shitting herself (cagada)! Sangeeta said on the way to the jump that she might actually need a push to get over the edge. True to her word she needed one, and I was there to help out. When was the last time you could say that you actually pushed someone off a bridge…and they lived? Rachel was nervous like the rest of us but flew like an eagle! Eric (MY BOY!!) confronted his intense fear of heights and jumped like a true legend! Seriously inspiring. And Ryan, what can I say about Ryan, he was cool as a cucumber, attempting classic “white boy” moon walks before swan diving off the edge.

The Bungee Crew (from left to right, Rachel, Eric, Geraldine, Sangeeta, Ryan and little old me)

On the way back home we all felt that if we could do that, we could do anything. And with what I saw on that day, there is no reason to think otherwise!

As always, take what you will from this post and don’t forget to subscribe!

Nick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So…who is Sofia?

After a week of being on a boat in Ibiza and Formentera, I was looking forward to chilling out for a while in Bulgaria before the craziness of 3 weeks which involved travelling to 6 countries, a lot of time in aeroplanes and a few cheeky surprises! (more about that in another post)

Just chillin’ at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The couple of weeks started out well. I was now back with my travel group and enjoying exploring Sofia and its surrounds. I had no idea how beautiful Bulgaria would be! Sofia is situated at the foot of mount Vitosha with plenty of camping spots, hiking trails and mountain bike tracks for the whole family!

Of course, I am completely clueless when it comes to this kind of stuff. As evidence of this, I went for a walk with my friend Ryan up the mountain. We followed a random track to a random campsite in the early afternoon. After resting for a while we realised that neither one of us were in the mood to continue walking in the summer heat so we decided to do the manliest thing possible, start a fire (with no matches). What ensued was probably the most intense exertion of energy the mountain has ever seen. For two hours we worked at building this fire. After about 45min of rubbing sticks together we were getting, dare I say, plumes of smoke coming off this wood, billowing off the log (seriously, we were!). We toiled in the fading sun, taking turns to keep the heat going. We could feel the fire coming, it was about to ignite up on the mountain and the celebration would have been heard in the city far below. In the end, after 2 hours, we were nowhere near a flame and the dream had died. We walked back to the city dejected but hopeful for more successful escapades into the wilderness in the future!

Sofia from Vitosha (no fire in sight, also, I might work on those pectorals)

Thankfully, the ability that we were lacking was more than made up for by Asen Velchikov from Balcanic Life. We were connected with Asen through our city team in Sofia and managed to get out mountain biking, go camping in the Bulgarian wilderness and even snuck in a traditional naked Bulgarian bath. The last one being a very liberating bonding experience with the lads! (sorry ladies, no photos)

I was also fortunate enough to meet up with Teddy, a friend of an old team mate of mine back in Sydney, to play some football. Teddy picked us up one afternoon and drove us to a university complex outside the city. I have to admit, for a second I was worried when we turned into some back roads with abandoned cars on the side of the street in order to get to where we were going to park the car. My concerns were ill founded! Teddy came through with the goods, Bulgarians vs Africans on a synthetic pitch at the university, followed by beers for a few hours afterwards. One of the best experiences in Sofia!

Enjoying a beer with Teddy after a solid game of football

Finally, we worked with T.R.A.P. (Trotoara Room for Angry People), a community organisation providing a space for the youth of Sofia to come together and work on creative arts projects. The group is just beginning and did not have their first space up and running yet. They did however have an old warehouse that was yet to be refurbished. We thought, “warehouse party!!!” and away we went!

With the $1,000USD raised from the party, T.R.A.P. now has the funds required to pay for new flooring, paint the walls, complete electrical installation and install air-conditioning. Their first common space for the kids is now on target to be completed by the end of October 2017. It’s amazing what the group is looking to create and it was really special to be a part of it!

Did I also mention that I struggled with food poisoning at one point during my time in Bulgaria…?

So, just when you think that you are going to have a chilled out few weeks you end up getting food poisoning, struggle through a few days with a testy stomach, hike in the mountains, camp in the wilderness, mountain bike through the forest, throw a warehouse party, make some awesome new friends (from both within and outside of the Remote Year group), check out a reggae club in the park and decide to go bungee jumping…

Bungee jumping!!! WHAT?!?!?! Hold onto your horses. You’ll have to check-in tomorrow for that story!

The reflective stuff

When I took a moment to reflect I realised how easy it can be to get lost in travel. I felt that I was constantly thinking about what I was going to do in the near future while at the same time reminiscing on what I had just done in the recent past. I was therefore missing some of the great things in the present moment. Just a reminder for us all to take a breath every now and then.

As always, take what you will from this post and feel free to get in touch!

 

Valencia – Que pasa nano?

So a lot has been going on since my last post! I continued to enjoy Valencia, visited Ibiza and Formentera for a week with the Valencia boys, moved to Sofia with the remote year crew and I am now in Milan visiting my old housemate Raf. Barring a weekend bout of food poisoning life has been awesome!

What happened in the last couple of weeks in Valencia you ask? Well that trip to the islands of Ibiza and Formentera will have its own post, I won’t even try to cover that here! However, Valencia itself had a heap going on.

Chillin with Carlos, Miguel and Pascual

We had nights on the beach, countless long lunches/dinners and we were often out until the early hours of the morning for no other reason than “this is Spain”. I didn’t mention in my last post that I was living in the BEST location in Valencia. We were right in the heart of Barrio del Carmen which meant that there was something on every night. And I do mean every night, Mondays and Tuesdays were not off limits. Somehow, I would find myself enjoying a bar or walking around the city late in the evening admiring the beauty of the city after promising myself I was going to take it easy.

I will say that this was not totally my fault. With the people that I know in Valencia I had no choice but to spend time with them. I was taken care of better than anyone could ever hope for in any city in the world. I would often be picked up at a moment’s notice by a member of the Valencian “Brigada” to be whisked away to explore some new part of the city. It was awesome, gracias a todos!

Seeing the sights with Pepo and Roberto

On another note, as part of our remote year experience, we as a group have taken on the challenge of contributing to the local community in some way during our time in each city. We have helped out at dog shelters in Split, taken tours with homeless guides around Prague and in July we visited Casa Caridad. This charity has been operating non-stop for 111 years, its dining room offers over 200 meals a day, temporary accommodation for more than 100 people as well as kindergarten services. Seventy-five percent of their income comes from donations.

I am proud to say that our group raised some funds to help out the charity and we had a great time playing football with the Casa Caridad team.

Some of the Remote Year crew with the Casa Caridad team

The reflective stuff

I have truly felt that I got to immerse myself in the Valencian way of life. Even to the point that I was running into friends randomly in the street. Basic things like buying Hawaiian shirts for a party with Pepo and Roberto and walking around the central market and grabbing supplies with Miguel and Pepe were special moments for me.

Stocking up on supplies for the Ibiza and Fomentera trip with Miguel and Pepe

To have these seemingly innocuous experiences in a foreign country really makes you recognise the beauty in the simplicity of everyday life.

When you are not fluent in the language things like ordering at dinner were always fun experiences especially when you have friends like Pascual teaching you how to say “thank you beautiful” in Valenciano, “gracies bonica”.

What is super special though is when you really feel you become part of a city. Kiosk La Pergola is an institution in Valencia. They are famous for their bocadillos, specifically their Super Bom Bon. Slices of meat, chips, sautéed mushrooms and special sauce on a crunchy bread roll make this a meal you won’t forget! Having said that, going there with the Spanish boys earlier in the month, showing them your last blog post with a picture eating in their restaurant and going there for lunch 3 days in a row helps to make sure that they remember you! It was awesome to be able to walk in there and wave hello to everyone. I truly felt like a local!

Another event that brought me closer to the city was going to see a bull fight (gracias Pepo for the tickets!). I know it is contentious and divisive, I don’t want to see any animal suffer but you have to admire the skill of the bullfighter and his bravery to get in that arena. It is definitely something that I wouldn’t do. It was also amazing to learn that many of the bullfighters raise and fight their own bulls. I am not going to get into any commentary about cultural customs and right and wrong here. All I would say is that it was a test of my own preconceptions and opened my eyes to something new.

So to sum it all up…Valencia has a lot of things going for it (as my friend Pascual reminds me of frequently). Pascual and I would talk about the beach, food, nightlife, architecture, history and his group of friends. I have to say that Pascual, his Tio Juan Carlos, his family, and his group of friends are what makes this city my second home. When you strip everything away, it always comes back to the people you meet, the connections you make and the shared experiences you have in a place that make it special.

I also have to say a big thankyou to Chimo, Joseka, Miguel, Andy, Pepo, Pepe, Yuyu, Roberto, Carlos, Jorge (Me Cago) and Hugo (LA DORA). You guys really made my experience in Valencia special and I will soon put together a piece on our epic week away on the boat together. Couldn’t have asked for a better crew! Keep an eye out for that one my dear readers!

As always take what you will from this post and hit me up with any comments, suggestions and requests. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Much love,

Nick

 

Could this be the best city in the world?

So I always knew I would love Spain. The food, the weather, the football and the culture…but there is a specific reason why I love Valencia. I have the best Spanish crew!

When I was studying in Copenhagen on exchange in 2011, I met a few Spanish guys. I am not 100% sure about the details of how we first met but my version of the event is very simple. I walked into an exchange student event, saw two Spanish guys, they asked me where I was from, I said “Australia”, they said “Great! Come hang out with us, all these Europeans are boring” and since then, Pascual, Chimo and I have been friends. Pim pam!

The Spanish crew were always great to spend time with on exchange. I then came and visited them Valencia in 2013 for New Year’s Eve. Fast forward another 4 years to a couple of weeks ago and Pascual was at the airport to greet me on arrival and within about 5 hours of landing I was eating a paella with the boys!

I feel proud to be so connected to Valencia. A city that some may say is the best in the world… and I have to say, they have a strong case!  Perfect weather, a beautiful old town and the beach.

Having said that, I also have a few other great Spanish friends from Barcelona, another awesome city! (Please stay part of Spain!) Alvaro, Inigo and Jordi are absolute legends. It was so good to catch up with them when we were in Barcelona for a weekend. We had Jordi as our own personal tour guide, chauffer and Catalan expert for the day. Met up with Inigo on the beach for a few cheeky beers and also managed to see Alvaro (the connection to Antonio and Neguin from one of my last posts) in the afternoon on Sunday to complete the “penya” reunion.

Jordi, Alvaro, Pascual and I in Barcelona. We were only missing Inigo!

In Barcelona, we also stayed with some of Pascual’s friend’s Elena and Elena, two of the best people you could be fortunate enough to meet. They took care of us, made sure we were well fed and as comfortable as could be on a mattress in their living room that they picked up from friends down the street! For me, this is what travelling is all about.

So much has been going on here that it is impossible to cover it all in one post. In summary though…

I made it out to Moraira with Jorge “Me Cago” Chornet, what a place!!  Everyone should get down there!
I have pretty much had dinner every night with the Spanish crew including eating at La Pergola. El classico!
Dinner with Pascual’s uncle Juan Carlos. He was my host when I was in Valencia years ago. Such a great reunion!
Chilled out for an afternoon at Carlos’ place. Carlos lived in Sydney for a few months and we had a great time hanging out in my home town
I have been shopping a few times down at Mercat Central to visit Pascual’s mum. She was worried when she didn’t see me for a few days and had Pascual pass on some fruit and vegetables. The best!

Finally, some key phrases to remember in Valencia. “Que pasa nano” which translates to “how are you man” and it is always important to be polite, so use the phase “gracies bonica”, this is Valencian for “thank you beautiful”

The reflective stuff

I know I have commented on this before but it just is so apparent to me now more than ever. You never know who you will meet that will define your experiences in the future. I met Pascual at a random university event and now, after 6 years, thousands of Whatsap messages, plenty of phone calls, one visit to Valencia and spending time with two of his friends in Sydney, I am now living in Valencia and have been adopted by the best Spanish group of lads I could ask for!

Last weekend down at the port. I looked to my left and saw Pascual, Carlos and Roberto from my Spanish crew, I looked to my right and saw Stevie, Michelle and Kyle from my remote year crew, I looked up at the fireworks display going on just above us and thought, “holy shit, this can’t be real”. I then hugged the boys and was so glad that it was!

As always, take what you will from this post and let me know if there is anything else you really want to hear about. I might even write you a special piece!

Stay tuned, next stop, Ibiza!

 

 

Prague – Month two is done

I’ll miss you Prague – my dear readers, I think you will like the story about the eggs at the end…

So, I meant to start writing this post while on a layover in Frankfurt, however I am now sitting in my friend David’s family apartment in Dublin putting it together (while listening to the cheers of thousands of girls as the Justin Bieber concert kicks off down the road. Much love to the Biebs).

In all honesty, what with writing this post and checking in with a few people when I arrived at Dublin airport, this has been the first time I have properly been on the go and keeping up with the show. It has been great!

Prague has been pretty awesome. After going on a walking tour, biking around the city and exploring the country a little it is hard not to become enamoured with it.

The impacts of World War II, the rise and fall of communism and the changing borders of this country are so very interesting. If you are wanting to read some more about an interesting dude that your history teacher wouldn’t have mentioned check out Jan Hus.

In my previous post, I mentioned how I went to my friend Tomas’s wedding out in the country. What I didn’t mention is how crazy it was to talk to people whose families were so significantly impacted by regime changes in the Czech Republic. Being from Australia we typically see things from afar. After speaking to my Czech friends and hearing their stories about how their lives changed for the better (and in some cases worse) when communism fell, it made things that I have read about and seen in the news very real.

What am I doing in Dublin? Well, I got a call from a very close friend David who was coming to Europe earlier than he anticipated. When he asked if I would like to come over to hang out in Dublin and visit his grandmother how could I say no!?

Just hanging out with Granny

This month has been huge with regards to reconnecting with friends from the past and making a few new ones on the way.

Carlos and I met playing football at a meet up group in Prague. He helped me with my Spanish and I helped him with his football…(he might argue he helped me with both but I know the truth)

Having said that, the reconnecting continues, we are now off to Spain and soon enough you will hear about the Spanish boys, much more on that in the next few posts!

The reflective stuff

Although not having an income is scary, I have no regrets. Over the last few weeks I have felt fully alive and able to explore a few things that I would have never found the time to do in Sydney. For instance, writing a blog…

As you may have picked up, I am interested in mindfulness and how we connect with each other. One example of this happened when I least expected it. We all know the drill at supermarkets and nowadays often don’t even talk to the cashier (if there is one). This is pretty awesome if you don’t speak the language but horrible in terms of human interaction.

Anyway, while I was at the supermarket checkout one day this elderly gentleman was scanning my items. He attempted to scan a carton of eggs but the scanner could not read the barcode. He attempted to enter the barcode numbers manually but after he entered a few numbers he paused, looked up at me and asked something in Czech. Obviously my Czech is a little better than a barnyard animal so we had run into an issue.

After a sigh from this man he gestured in a way that made me realise that his eyesight wasn’t what it used to be and he couldn’t read the tiny barcode numbers on the carton. Thinking fast I grabbed a black marker from his desk and wrote the numbers large enough for him to see on the back of the tag for my tomatoes. Problem solved…well kind of…

I glance up from packing my backpack with my groceries and this poor guy is looking at me with a defeated expression across his face. I look at the tomato tag and see he touched the glossy paper that I had written on and smudged the numbers. We ended up both having a laugh, I wrote the numbers again in large font on the egg carton itself, he entered in the details, we had a laugh together again, shook hands and went on with our respective days.

These seemingly innocuous things make travel awesome and are the things that I will remember fondly.

Oh and by the way, I finished writing this post back in Prague…

And now have finally published it while in Valencia…

I hope you enjoyed the read, as always, take what you will from it and soon I will be sharing more details about Spain, old friends and times in Ibiza!

How do you know these guys again? And…where are you?

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had an awesome time!

After moving to Prague on Saturday the 27th of May I only had one day in the city before I took off to Madrid to see friends. I then returned to Prague for a buck’s party (bachelor party for those playing outside of Australia), and last weekend went to the wedding for said buck.

Throughout this time, friends, family and my fellow Remote Year travellers typically had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I felt this was a good place to fill you all in.

What were you doing in Madrid?

Back in 2011 I studied in Copenhagen for 6 months on a university exchange. While I was there I became friends with Alvaro. Alvaro is a legend! We stayed in touch and he let me know that he had two friends, a couple, moving to Sydney.

About a year ago, Alvaro, his girlfriend Marta, these two friends Antonio and Neguin, and I, all met in Sydney. It was such a surreal and awesome experience to meet this old friend in my city as our experiences together were all based in Europe. I also gained two great friends in the process. Antonio and Neguin ended up spending Christmas and Easter with my family to name a few. While we have joked that I have stolen them away from Alvaro, they have joked about stealing my family away from me, especially while I am travelling. At least I think it is a joke…

Anyway, Antonio and Neguin were in Madrid and it would have been rude to not visit them in Neguin’s hometown. The jury is still out on which city is better, Madrid or Barcelona. I have yet to visit Barcelona but Madrid put forward a great case for top spot. Antonio being from Barcelona has other views about this though!

Also, I ran into a friend of mine Zeyd randomly at 2am in a bar on a Wednesday night while I was in Spain. We worked together about 7 years ago and it was great to see him and his buddy who he was travelling with. Needless to say, we went from closing up shop at 2am to kicking on until stupid o’clock!

Hanging with the crew

Who’s wedding did you go to?

Again, in 2011 while studying in Copenhagen I lived in the same dormitory and became friends with Tomas from the Czech Republic, or Czechia as it is now known (don’t belive me, Czech your google maps). For those 6 months Tomas and I, along with our two other friends who lived in the dorm, Hans and Emmanuel, pretty much hung out every day, checked out the Danish sights and ate way too much pasta with pesto.

Tomas is from a town about an hour outside of Prague called Benešov. We ended up having his buck’s party just outside Benešov in the best man Filip’s village of Soběhrdy, population 369. After a weekend of debauchery, we then had the wedding the week after.

I had to pinch myself that I was in the Czech mountains for one of my university friend’s wedding. Tomas now lives in San Francisco and we get to see each other pretty infrequently so it was really nice to be there with him, The wedding took place in Malá Morávka, near the Polish border. What the hell was I doing there, it was so surreal, so crazy to comprehend and so awesome!

Malá Morávka is kinda off the beaten track…

I was able to help out a little with the preparation leading up to the day and Tomas, his wife Jana and their families were so welcoming. We enjoyed the ceremony out in a meadow, walked through the forest to get to the reception and ate, drank and danced the night away. It was an experience that I will never forget!

The last ones standing at 4:12am

The reflective stuff

Pretty simple one this time. You never know how those you meet will impact your life, the experiences you are currently having or the places you will be in the future. I had no idea that becoming friends with Alvaro and Tomas would lead me to some awesome connections, hanging out in Madrid with locals, being in the Czech countryside for a wedding or potentially see me lose my family while I am away (I have my eye on you Antonio and Neguin!).

So be good to each other guys!

As always, take what you will from this post, don’t forget to subscribe and feel free to hit me up at nick@takewhatyouwill.com