Wandering and Wondering

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Arrival in Florence

Woohoo! After my initial idea to take a year off to study and travel over 12 months ago, I’ve just arrived in Florence, Italy, for the first part of my adventure. I had been umming and aahing about my decision for a few months, and it wasn’t until my friend Anna (another avid traveler) came to visit in Easter last year that I finally committed myself to making it happen.

I aimed to start writing this blog over a month ago, but trip planning along with Christmas and New Year’s celebrations all managed to get in the way. Even though I managed to squeeze in a bit of time for lazing around watching the cricket and tennis, it has seemed almost like a full time job over the last month just to get everything organized.

My last weekend in Sydney was particularly hectic, making sure I had everything packed up and stored away. After a final farewell dinner in The Rocks, I was up until 1.30am packing my car for the big road trip back to Perth. I finally hit the road at around midday on Monday the 18th December with my car fully loaded. There were a couple of boxes I had to leave behind at my flatmate’s place because there was absolutely no room left in the car.

Farewell dinner in The Rocks

It felt good to be on the road again. Must be my restless soul, but travelling is when I feel my happiest. Leaving the traffic of Sydney behind, I made my way to Dubbo where I met up with a good friend Geoff (aka “Horny”) who I used to play hockey with. Showing some country style hospitality, Geoff took me out to dinner (refusing to let me pay) and then let me stay the night at his place.

The next day I was up early for the long 9 hour drive to Broken Hill. The effects of 5 years of drought in New South Wales were glaringly obvious as I passed dry and dusty farmland. A few farmers had attempted to grow crops, but the results were saddening to witness. Broken Hill, on the other hand, was obviously doing well as part of the current mining boom. There were a lot of interesting attractions to visit in and around the town, my favourites being the Sculpture Symposium and Pro Hart’s art gallery.

Broken Hill sculpture symposium Pro Hart's car

The next stop after Broken Hill was the little country town of Melrose in the Flinders Ranges, which my parents had recommended. After spending the night in the caravan park, I got up early to hike to the summit of Mount Remarkable, which ended up being a 4 hour round trip.

Boxing kangaroos at Melrose Caravan Park View from Mt Remarkable

The next few days were fairly uneventful – just lots of driving across the wide open landscape of the Nullabor Plain. The coastal cliffs near Eucla were an interesting diversion from the flatness of the plain. On the last leg of my journey I stopped off at Doodlakine to visit the school where I attended year 1. Unfortunately the school was closed down a couple of years ago. I also stopped off at Brett (my Dad’s cousin) and Kris’ place in Kellerberrin, and they provided great hospitality as always.

Coastal cliffs near Eucla Nullabor Highway

I finally arrived in Perth on Christmas Eve. The next few weeks were spent catching up with family and friends and lazing around watching the cricket and tennis (gotta love summer in oz). I also did a lot of shopping, mainly stocking up on new gadgets – two new camera lenses (an EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 to use as a general walkabout lens, and an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 telephoto for wildlife photography in Africa), a new mobile phone and a new camera/laptop backpack to carry it all. I tested out the 17-55 lens in Wellington National Park while visiting my brother in Bunbury, and I tested out the 70-300 with some macro shots of animals and insects around the house.

Leschenault Inlet at dusk Bob tail goanna

My 4 weeks in Perth flew by quickly, and I spent my last few days packing. After my last couple of overseas trips where I was up until 2 or 3am in the morning getting packed, you would have thought that this time I would leave plenty of time, but true to form it wasn’t until 2am on the night before by 9am flight that I finished. My check-in luggage weighed in at a hefty 27kg – 7kg over the advertised limit for economy class. Add another 9kg or so for my carry-on luggage and I was a bit concerned that I may need to pay a hefty excess baggage fee, but in the end it didn’t turn out to be a problem.

On my way to Florence I stopped off in Singapore for a few days to catch up with Ash, Tara and Omar. Shortly after I arrived we hit the town for dinner and a few drinks (the tastiest being the lychee martinis at Harry’s Bar, mmm) before turning in for a relatively early night. The next morning I had a mild hangover, but we decided to go out to a Dim Sum restaurant for brunch. I then spent a few hours at the Botanic Garden’s with Omar and Omar’s/Ash’s mum. As per the usual after any sort of outdoor activity in Singapore’s heat and humidity, I arrived home nice and sweaty. The next day I headed out to Singapore Zoo to test out my new telephoto lens.

Ash and Darren in Singapore Otter at Singapore Zoo

After a final dinner of chicken rice at a hawker centre, I said my goodbyes to Ash and Tara before heading to the airport for my midnight flight. Coincidentally, Ash and Tara are moving to London in March (everyone is moving to London these days), so I’ll be able to catch up with them again at the end of my stay in Italy on my way to Africa.

The flight from Singapore to Florence via Frankfurt wasn’t the best of flights. No personal video screen and a lack of any decent movies on the shared monitors meant that I spent most of the 14 hour flight in complete boredom. At one stage I lost my glasses when they fell behind my seat. Searching for something in the dark and crowded cabin of a plane would be difficult enough normally, but without glasses it was even worse. I asked the cabin stewardess if she could broadcast a message over the plane’s PA system, and luckily enough the guy in the seat behind me found them before they were trampled on.

While transferring at Frankfurt airport I shared the departure lounge with a big group of students who were obviously headed to the same university in Florence as I was. Being almost 30 myself, while the majority of the other students were probably still in their late teens made me wonder how well I would fit in at the university. Am I too old for this? What was I thinking quitting a well paying job and leaving the country where all of my friends and family are based to go to a city and country where I don’t know anyone?

Most of my fears evaporated, however, when I arrived in Florence. It is such a beautiful city. I was picked up at the airport in my own private limousine, and we drove through the small winding streets, past the famous Duomo, and on to my apartment in the Sante Croche district. And so begins my slice of “la dolce vita”.

Ponte Vecchio


brett said...

Hi Darren, great to hear that you've arrived safely. Very interesting to catch up on the journey to get to Florence. Hope the weather their is ok - it's been bloody hot and muggy here for the past week with big fires to the west of Keller adding a smokey haze to the atmosphere.
This is my first time on a blog but this is the second response I've typed up as I only discovered the first time that I had to register, which by the time I'd done that I had lost the original message! Not to worry.
I'm back at work as of the 29th and kinda envy your freedom.
I'm looking forward to keeping track of your adventures. Take care.

By the way, do I log onto Google and check out your blog or do I wait for an email from you? This is all new to me. Might be a good idea to send an email and put me in the know?
Hi to anyone else who reads this.


Rachel said...

Darren, we know how you feel. Are you at FUA? Those kids are certainly young! Apicius folks are for the most part a bit older.

BTW, you've made me REALLY want to visit Australia. Sigh. Gotta get there.


Darren said...

Hi Rachel. Yes, I am at FUA. I agree that Apicius definitely has a wider range of people of different ages and from different countries. Let me know when you make it to Australia (I'm sure you will one day).