Ten photos … many stories!

Well I’ve just tallied up my holiday photos as I head for home after a wonderful few weeks in Italy, France and Portugal. I’ve snapped more than 1800 photos over the past 15 days and yes, I’ve shared a few on social media!

Thanks to those who have journeyed with me online and spare a thought for Megan and the kids as they might just get the look at the whole lot on Apple TV when I get home.

Snapping photos on my iPhone and writing words are soulful practices for me and when you get to combine them with international travel you do feel very fortunate. The fact that others provide feedback they enjoy my posts is a bonus.

I read a good travel blog before I went on leave and the author’s challenge – try and sum up a holiday experience with just ten photos.

Did he say ten photos? Yes, so that means a serious cull for me.

But it’s been good to sit and rest my feet for a while in Lisbon and now drink some strong coffee in Dubai and look back over the photos from the past few weeks and celebrate a great summer solo adventure. Special thanks again to Megan for her support in letting me take this abridged and delayed vacation, which had been planned for a few years back, before we moved to Melbourne.

So here we go – ten photos – ten images that capture moments in time – but that each tell a story – an immediate one and a bigger story as you step back and see beyond what is in the frame.

1: Savour the moment

The first shot was an easy one to pick!  It’s my French Alps’ morning tea photo as shown above. The morning tea wasn’t fancy, water, apple and a hotel muffin, but the view, five-star!

This photo represents so much of what this trip was about for me – walking, getting outdoors and exploring some beautiful places and spaces in Europe – with no detailed plans, but the opportunity to catch my breath and take in all that was around me.

I wrote a post last week at www.apilgrimpens.blog about how this holiday has provided a valuable reminder about the need we all have in life to slow down and appreciate the journey – be that in our ordinary day to day lives or in the extraordinary moments. So often in our hectic world we become overly destination focused.

The photo was taken after leaving Chamonix for a day of hiking. Path and lift closures meant I had to change my walking plans at the last minute. Suddenly I wasn’t sure about my destination. As I set off, Megan sent a text to encourage me to relax, remember where I was and enjoy the day! It was a such a timely reminder and it well and truly sank in as I sat on my morning tea bench, maybe one of the best positioned seats on the planet, looking down on Chamonix and across to the Mt Blanc massif.

For just for a little while this was my seat. And there was certainly something to savour!

2: Celebrate connectedness

A feature of this trip was getting to spend a few days with a special family in Rome. In my second shot you can see Eletrra and her father Ricardo.

Elettra stayed with our family six years ago as an au-pair, living with us at a stretching time in our lives, as Megan was diagnosed and treated for cancer. We formed a bond with Elettra and later hosted her brother Tom in our home. It has been lovely to stay in touch over the years and it was wonderful to finally get to connect with Ricardo, even better on his home soil.

Ricardo is a passionate Roman, still living in the inner suburban apartment where he was born. I had my own personal first-rate tour guides in Ricardo, Elettra and her partner Filippo. I will cherish the memory of a late-night summer meal on their terrace, lots of conversation, laughter, my pleasant introduction to suppli and farinata, washed down with some nice Italian vino.

People come into our lives – sometimes for long seasons, sometimes for short – and it’s a privilege to build and maintain connections that transcend geography and culture –  that remind us of the of joy of community, on our doorstep or the other side of the world.

3: Practice gratitude & curiosity

The third shot features a street food vendor Rodrigo. As I walked through central Lisbon there was Rodrigo, cooking seafood near one of the city’s main squares. He went about his trade humbly, but with a sense of theatre as he smoked his produce.

I gestured to ask if I could take his photo. He happily co-operated, turning to camera and lifting his pan. As I thanked him, we shook hands, he told me his name and that he had been cooking on the streets of Lisbon for more than a decade.

Whenever we travel, we can take those who serve us for granted – be that in a five-star hotel, Michelin rated restaurant, tour guide, airline steward, Uber driver or street food vendor. I have been struck again on this trip how so often affluent travellers can be so rude and condescending to those meeting their hospitality needs. There was a very rude and demanding traveller just across the aisle from me on my last flight and you had to feel for the steward seeking to respond to her beck and call.

Travelling on my own, without tight deadlines, has allowed me to engage with people like Rodrigo, Martim my hire car agent, a Newcastle [UK] soccer fan, who kindly gave me an upgrade, Annecy sandwich maker Robert, who hopes to soon travel to Australia and Reuben, a Canberra lad making probably the best coffee in Lisbon at his Australian-family owned. café.

In every interaction with those who serve us – at home or travelling – we have the opportunity to choose how we respond and engage. Rodrigo was a face in the crowd who caught my attention. Behind every face is a personal story, worthy of respect and validation.

Gratitude and curiosity make such a difference in any human interaction.

4: Eating simple and local

Photo 4 sticks with a service theme. It’s a picture of the very friendly Marco serving what Trip Advisor Cheap Eats rated the best pizza in central Rome. The small shop is tucked away in a cobble-stoned backstreet. Nothing flash in appearance and only two bar tables available for dining-in, but this little establishment knows how to make great pizza. You buy it by the weight and it’s old fashioned, authentic Italian style.

I found myself sitting on some steps on a street corner in the heart of the ancient city eating my two slices of pizza. It was my first night back in Rome in a decade and it was a simple moment to stop, look and listen as locals and tourists passed me by.

I’m used to travelling and eating alone given former work roles, but I’m not a fan of dining on my own in flash restaurants. On this trip my food aim was to keep meals simple and inexpensive and as much as possible buy from small local businesses. It was also great to discover local food markets in Annecy and Lisbon.

Thank-you Trip Advisor. You didn’t let me down in each city I visited and my love for simple street food grows stronger. [And yes, I discovered some good local wines and craft beers, which I could enjoy alfresco style and watch the world go by. One stand-out beverage moment, enjoying a cold Italian beer on a steamy evening as night fell in Milan and watching the amazing Duomo shine brilliantly in the darkness. That was a beer worth paying some extra money for.]

Photo 5: The captivating Lisbon

OK I have stretched the friendship here a little, combining four shots into one. There are so many photos I could have shared from my first visit to Lisbon. Some cities just get inside you quickly and certainly that is true for Lisbon. Gorgeous but gritty, this is a captivating place.

I’m not sure why, but for years I’ve wanted to come to Portugal’s capital and I am so glad I made it on this trip.

The four photos I’ve brought together capture the colour of this old city. The city’s architecture is a wonderful mosaic of bright colours and patterned tiles. I found myself walking the streets constantly looking up and snapping the city’s palette. Beyond its colour there’s a real sense of soul to this city and it’s a rambling place – uphill, downhill and around the corner, but with eyes open always something new to see.

If you’ve never been here, add it your wish list. You won’t be disappointed. 

Photo 6: Salt water therapy

I wrote a few days back about having been born just up the hill from Merewether Beach in Newcastle. From birth I think sea air got inside me and the coast has always beckoned in my life. I am one happy person when I have sand on my feet and salt water to swim in.

In photo six I captured a family at a distance enjoying the beach at the gorgeous Monterosso on the Italian Ligurian coast. This was a beautiful place to send three nights and I have been fortunate to also hit the beach in southern Portugal and Spain on this holiday. I also had my first freshwater Alpine “beach” swim at Lac Annecy and boy was it cold! I head home with some great beach memories.

As I looked down and saw the family having fun playing in the water I missed my clan back home, but also sat for a while to cherish a number of strong, personal coastal memories. I don’t know the people in photo 6, but as I snapped them from a distance, I paused to thank God for the refreshment and renewal that salt water experiences bring into my life and for the beauty of where I found myself.

Photo 7: A bucket-list day

Photo 7 is one of many I took on the tracks of Cinque Terre. I’d been there more than a decade ago for a day with Megan and we had hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza. Ever since, it had been on my bucket-list to go back and walk the five coastal villages in one day.

Thanks to some track closures, the result of landslides and rock falls, I ended up visiting seven villages on the day – two bonus smaller villages in the grapevine hills – clocking up 25kms and 280 floors climbed.

The stunning Manarola is featured in picture seven, my fourth stopover point on the day. The section between Corniglia and Manarola was the most stretching of the day and it was so good to cool down with a swim off the rocks in Manarola, before the short last leg to Riomaggorie.

As you explore each of the villages – one thing is constant – the church bells ringing out throughout the day. I smiled each time I heard them. Not only was I getting to tick off one of my big bucket-list dreams and celebrate the beauty of creation, I was struck again that the bells represent an ever-present and faithful God who walks with us on all the “treks of life” we experience individually and with our families.

I was very thankful to God for glimpses of his beauty as I walked the “five earths” – exhilarating and exhausting, but a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Photo. 8: A hidden gem

One of the bonuses of having a local travel guide is seeing things that you otherwise would miss. Only a few days into my trip Ricardo, Elettra and Filippo walked me up Aventine Hill in Rome and I saw a small queue of people waiting at some locked, uninviting doors off a small square.

I wondered what building we were set to go into, only to learn that the doors to the Knights of Malta HQ were not about to open. Rather we were lining up to look through a small keyhole in the door. Finally, my turn comes and I peep through and I see a perfectly framed view of Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was so not what I expected. It was so worth the walk and wait. You cannot capture this unique sight on camera, you need to see it in person.

Here was a hidden gem and it was a great reminder for me at the start of my holiday to keep my eyes open, to look in unexpected places, to get off the main tourist trails, to walk backstreets, to look around corners, to take some detours, to climb another set of stairs.

We can do that in our own backyard as well as the other side of the world. I love how much there is to explore in Melbourne and I want to keep finding hidden gems wherever I am.

Photo 9: An Atlantic Paddle

This photo was taken on the Portuguese southern coast, my first paddle in the Atlantic Ocean, as I joined a group of other visitors on a sea kayak tour of the breathtaking Algarve coastline.

The photo for me represents the opportunity to embrace new experiences and captures one of the key goals I had for this holiday – to get outside, on land and water, to stretch myself, to unwind, to take in gorgeous natural scenery.

I am thankful for all of these experiences and there are some that I sense are unfinished.

Lac Annecy was a late addition to my trip and it far exceeded my expectations. The lake is Europe’s cleanest and the city is full of bike tracks, walking paths and parks, with small townships dotted around the water as well as the historic city of Annecy. I walked a 20km section of the lake’s 50km circumference and I would love to return one day and do the walk the lake in two days.

I guess that’s what travel always does – it opens other doors, new possibilities, new adventures, unfinished business! I am keen to keep walking, hiking, paddling and exploring my own backyard and much further afield.

Photo. 10: A timely reminder

And yes, we have made it to photo ten.

I took this photo on Thursday in Faro in southern Portugal. I had taken a day on the road was driving a number of coastal backroads visiting different towns and villages.

Faro was my last stop before heading back to Albufeira where I was staying. There were glimpses of beauty and history in Faro, but it presented as a forgotten town. It had a neglected look. It lacked the vibe and colour of nearby Portuguese coastal towns. There were obvious signs of poverty.

As I turned a corner off the tourist track I saw a row of tiny houses, each painted white with a different finish colour. Some were run down, others were better kept.

Here was someone’s humble home. Tiny, but home. Clothes hanging to dry out the front. Inside was a family story. Inside I envisage was a story of struggle and challenge. From those on the street it was likely the residents of this home were from African origins.

In the backstreets of cities and towns around the world, away from the tourist scene, you see where real people live – you see some of the hidden issues – you see some of the challenges that aren’t addressed in the glossy brochures.

As I took this photo I was struck afresh of all that I take for granted. I was reminded that most of the world don’t have the privilege of travel as I do; that most don’t have the resources I do; that far too many don’t even have a home; that far too many live displaced lives; far too many live in refugee camps; far too many are feared for all the wrong reasons.

So, I head home – to a beautiful family – with all the blessings in my life – thankful for a wonderful holiday but challenged afresh to actively enter in and seek to make a practical difference in a beautiful but broken world.

And to keep taking snaps and writing words! Cheers.

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