Winter in Margaret River: Cabin Fever

I love going to Margaret River in winter; rugging up in woolly jumpers, cosy fires, tucking into hearty winter food, sipping stunning red wine, and even going for beach walks with the wind whipping your face, it makes you feel alive.

Cabin Fever from July 19 to 28 is the perfect excuse to get down south this winter. There are 35 events in the line up this year, which is impressive and I can’t wait to check it out.

Choose from events that embrace all the best food, wine and music of the region, laden with unexpected twists and turns. You’ll find winter feasts, rich wines, magnificent parties, live music and a wilderness that grows from the inside out. Choose from the weird, the decadent and the raucous – a celebration amidst stormy skies and open fires in the epic Margaret River region.

Cabin Fever

Last Minute Tickets

If you haven’t booked yet, check out this post – the Late Bookers Guide to Cabin Fever.

My pick of events are:

Smoke and Fire, Wise Wintery, Friday 26 July, 12pm, $80
Think wood-grilled king prawn, smoked beef brisket or smoked banana pie with honkey nut ice-cream. Yum! I’ve bought tickets to this epic five-course BBQ feast and lucky for us, we’re getting a crash-course in smoking and fire management so we can try smoking at home (meaning, so Zorba can try it at home).

Game On, Yarri, Friday 21 July, Sunday 23 July, $170

Two of the best in the business, old mates Aaron Carr (Yarri, 2 Chef’s Hat) and Matt Stone (Oakridge, 2 Chef’s Hat) are teaming up to bring the rich, earthy flavours of game featuring six courses of six different meats including kangaroo, emu, quail, duck and venison, all prepared on the open fire. They’ll be joined by Snake and Herring’s Tony Davis and Oakridge Estate’s Dave Bicknell (both winemakers) who will be pairing some of their delicious wines.

Arimia x Fervor Pop-Up, Golden Café, multiple dates, $145

This one sounds incredible. Two talented chefs, Evan Hayter (Arimia) and Paul Iskov (Fervor) join forces for a unique pop-up restaurant set in the heart of the Margaret River township at cosy Golden Café. The space will be transformed into an intimate dining experience where you’ll sample some delicious dishes, think locally raised pork and straight-from-the farm organic veggies, along with local marron, kangaroo, whiting, jindong macadamia nut, wattleseed shoyu, sandalwood nuts and bloodroot.  Paired drinks by Arimia, LAS Vino, Heretic, Beer Farm and Rocky Ridge (plus a few surprises). I’m trying to talk Zorba into going to this one on Sunday night…

Free Events

There’s also a swag of free events on, check out the list of free events here.

Visit www.cabinfeverfest.com.au

Photo credit: G Becker

Margaret River & Southern WA Tops Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia Pacific 2019

We all know how good Margaret River is. Now global travel authority Lonely Planet has today named Margaret River & Southern WA as the number-one Asian-Pacific destination to visit in the year ahead.

Expanded this year to include Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Best in Asia Pacific is Lonely Planet’s fourth annual agenda-setting list of the region’s 10 best destinations to visit in the next 12 months.

Prevelly sunset

Prevelly Beach in Margaret River, taken last week

Announcing Margaret River & Southern WA’s top-ranking, Fleur Bainger, writer for Lonely Planet enthuses: “Take one look at Meelup Beach and you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life: the West Australian bush parts to reveal ocean the hue of a Bombay Sapphire bottle, which is typical of the coastline stretching from Margaret River to the state’s south. Beyond the sand, some of the country’s slickest wineries, breweries and restaurants lie between tracts of tall-tree forest and kangaroo-dotted farmland.”

Bainger adds: “Locals have long felt their turf rivals the east coast travel trail; now, 17-hour direct flights from London to capital city Perth put it at Europe’s fingertips. Adding to the argument are coveted food and culture-amped festivals, from Gourmet Escape to Truffle Kerfuffle and Taste Great Southern. There’s also amazing surf, whales aplenty and DIY coastal hikes with paved sections, improving accessibility for all.”

“Asia Pacific has it all,” says Lonely Planet’s Media Spokesperson for the region, Chris Zeiher. “Its food delights the senses, its forests and seas teem with life, and its cities fizz with culture and creativity. Our experts have explored this vast region’s highlands, islands and everything in between to find the best places to visit this year.”

truffles in Manjimup

Me holding prized truffles after a truffle hunt at Australian Truffle Traders in Manjimup

Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia Pacific 2019 is available online, with accompanying articles to each destination, at lonelyplanet.com/best-in-asia-pacific.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia Pacific 2019

1. Margaret River & Southern WA, Australia

It really is a destination that has it all. Read my posts on the Best Winery Lunches and Best Brewery Lunches, you can also read my articles on Margaret River on MargaretRiver.com.

Not forgetting other parts of Southern WA, Manjimup for one is very close to my heart – I work on the annual Truffle Kerfuffle event which you can read about here.

 

2. Shikoku, Japan

“This somewhat off-the-beaten-path haven is finally being discovered by non-Japanese visitors, with an increasing number of international flights winging into the main cities of Takamatsu and Matsuyama.”

 

3. Bay of Islands & Northland, New Zealand

Northland is the cradle of the country’s culture and history – both for the indigenous Māori people and for the European settlers who followed them. The two formally came together with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, and 2020 sees the 180th anniversary of that key nation-building event.”

 

4. Singapore

Singapore was one of the brightest stars in the 2018 movie blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, and the Lion City is hipper and hotter than ever. 2019 offers a chance to participate in the city’s bicentennial, but also to celebrate more than 700 years of Singapore’s rich, diverse history.”

 

5. The Cook Islands

“A visit to the Cook Islands, 15 tiny islets, far-flung over a swathe of the deep-blue, breezy Pacific Ocean, is bound to rejuvenate even the most jaded. And locals on the main island, Rarotonga, are welcoming visitors off an increasing number of international flights to their Polynesian paradise.”

 

6. Central Vietnam

Hue’s vibrant cuisine showcases the city’s imperial legacy, while south in Hoi An’s storied laneways, local dishes include fragrant cao lầu noodles. Seafood stars in nearby Danang, and the city alongside the Han River is becoming one of Vietnam’s most exciting urban destinations.” Read my posts on Vietnam here.

 

7. Fiji

“From solar-powered resorts that serve locally harvested food to coral reef restoration projects and limited plastic usage, this vulnerable island nation has moved headlong into eco-tourism. October 10, 2020, will mark the island nation’s 50th year of independence, called ‘Fiji Day’

 

8. Palawan, Philippines

“These are the heady days when new air routes and upgraded roads make it easier than ever to explore the dramatic seascapes and wildlife-laden jungles of the slender 400km-long main island (also called Palawan) before it inevitably becomes more developed.”

 

9. Beijing, China

Beijing is changing fast as the new decade approaches. In a bid to battle the smog, an eco-friendly bike-sharing scheme has launched, and the rapidly expanding subway is expected to reduce traffic congestion. High-speed links will soon race passengers to the extraordinary, Zaha Hadid-designed, starfish-shaped Beijing Daxing International, the world’s largest airport, which is slated to open later this year “

 

10. Cambodia

“The skyline of Phnom Penh is on the up, bringing sky bars and designer dining; the Southern Islands are generating a beach buzz thanks to new boutique and luxury resorts; colonial-era vestiges are under restoration in Battambang and Kampot; and in remote areas like Koh Kong and Mondulkiri, wildlife spotting is drawing visitors off-the-beaten track. New airlines are making connections between Siem Reap and the South Coast smoother, with hydrofoils whisking people to the islands.”

What do you think about Lonely Planet’s Top 10 list? Do you agree?

How many of these places have you been to? Leave your comments below or on Facebook.

Every day I’m trufflin’ – Truffle Kerfuffle

One week to go!

If the 2019 Winning Appliances & Asko Truffle Kerfuffle were a music concert, who would be the lead singer, who are the real stars, who are the back up vocalists, the dancers and what’s the VIP experience?

 

1. Lead singer: Truffles

The lead singer, the true star of the show would be the ‘tuber melanosporum’, otherwise known as the black truffle, prized for its rarity and beguiling aroma. Truffle Kerfuffle is a celebration of one of the world’s most luxurious ingredients that fetch prices between $2 and $3 a gram, that’s $2,000 to $3,000 per kilogram, which explains how they came to be known affectionately as ‘black gold’. Truffle season is short, from June to August, and you only need a small amount to transform a dish from ordinary to sublimely extraordinary. Talented chefs will show you how to best use truffle during the free cooking demonstrations on stage at the Festival Village. Plus, there’s no better place to buy freshly unearthed truffles than at the Marketplace in the Festival Village.

Truffle Kerfuffle

Manjimup truffles

2. Back up vocals: Southern Forests Produce

Supporting the lead singer, the black truffle, would be the Southern Forests Produce. The Southern Forests region of Western Australia has clear, crisp air, fertile loamy soils, the purity of the rainfall and 365 growing days a year. From finger limes to potatoes, apples and the prized Bravo apple, pumpkins, persimmons and stone fruit, in fact, the region produces over 50 different types of fruit, vegetable and nuts as well as milk, beef, marron and a host of other food types.  As you savour the produce and you’ll know what the locals have known for generations, that Southern Forests Produce simply looks, smells and tastes better. You’ll be able to try and purchase direct from producers at the Marketplace, which is all undercover at the Festival Village. There is something magical going on in this gorgeous, pristine part of the world.

Truffle Kerfuffle produce

Southern Forests Produce. Photo: Jessica Shaver

3. Dancers: Chefs

Event goers are attracted by the lead singer (truffle), and the back up singers make the lead sound amazing, and that’s what hte Southern Forrest produce does to the truffle. But the dancers make it a show, they entertain, bring glamour, energy, colour, much like the chefs who prepare exquisite dishes with Southern Forests produce starring freshly unearthed truffle.

This year, the impressive line up includes Pete Evans, Poh, Anna Gare, Nicole Bampton (Capriccio Osteria, Sydney), Aaron Carr (Yarri), Russell Blaikie (Must Winebar), Tony Howell (Cape Lodge), Paul Iskov (Fervor), Scott Brannigan (Bread in Common), Chris Eales (Bread in Common), Amy Hamilton (Liberté), Sophie Zalokar (Foragers), Nic Wood (Santini), Melissa Palinkas (Young George), Sophie Budd (Taste Budds), chocolatier Sue Lewis, along with chefs from revered eateries Mary Street Bakery and Tiny’s.

Chef Tony Howell shaving fresh truffle

Chef Tony Howell shaving fresh truffle

4. The band: The Festival Village

Every concert needs a great band. In this analogy, the Festival Village is the band. Set at Fonty’s Pool, it offers amazing truffle experiences and it’s the perfect place to smell, taste, buy and learn about black truffle and Southern Forests wine and produce. There are free tastings, free cooking demonstrations all weekend, truffle dog demos, children’s activities and cooking classes, a chance to chat to producers, farmers and wine makers, live music and much more. The Festival Village is the vibrant hub of Truffle Kerfuffle weekend and offers a unique chance to indulge in black truffles at their freshest, minutes from where they are unearthed. The Festival Village is at Fonty’s Pool open 10am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday.

Truffle Kerfuffle Marketplace

The Truffle Kerfuffle Marketplace. Photo Jessica Wyld

5. Support acts: Demonstration stage

Like all good headline acts, they choose really great supports acts to get everyone in the mood. There are amazing dining events for truffle lovers to purchase tickets to (see below), but also loads of free activities once inside the Festival Village. All weekend the Winning Appliances & Asko Festival Stage will host non-stop cooking demonstrations featuring great culinary talent including Pete Evans, Poh, Anna Gare, Paul Iskov, Sophie Budd, Nic Wood, Amy Hamilton, Melissa Palinkas, Aaron Car, Nicole Bampton and Sue Lewis. Hosted by popular acclaimed WA chef Tony Howell.

Truffle Kerfuffle Festival Stage

Truffle Kerfuffle Festival Stage. Photos Jessica Wyld

6. VIPS: Dining Events

For a VIP experience, grab tickets to one of the decadent dining events at Truffle Kerfuffle. Take a seat at a candle-lit long table for a delicious dining experience prepared by renowned chefs. Last remaining tickets are available for Enchanted Southern Forests Feast with Pete Evans, Magical Manjimup Brunch with Aaron Carr and Mary Street Bakery on Saturday, L’Elegante Tartufo (The Elegant Truffle) dinner with Santini’s Nic Wood and Melissa Palinkas from Young George on Saturday night, Wholesome Winter Sunday Brunch with Pete Evans, and Poh’s Lunch Among the Karris.

Truffle Kerfuffle Long Table Dining.

Truffle Kerfuffle Long Table Dining. Photo Jessica Wyld

7. V-VIPs: Chefs Cabin

Amp up your Truffle Kerfuffle experience with a V-VIP experience, getting up close and personal with your favourite culinary super stars in the Chef’s Cabin Series. Popular with foodies and those wanting to be up close to learn more about using such a premium ingredient, chefs will be sharing recipes and knowledge with lots of tips and tricks. Gather around the kitchen bench of the limited Chef’s Cabin Series and run to grab one of the last tickets with Pete Evans, native food expert Paul Iskov from Fervor and revered Liberté restaurant owner and chef Amy Hamilton. Hosted by Gourmet Traveller’s Max Veenhuyzen, the Chef’s Cabin Series are renowned for personal connections, flowing conversations and include fine wine. Most of the Chef’s Cabin sessions are already sold out, so get in quick.

Chef's Cabin Truffle Kerfuffle

Truffle Kerfuffle Chef’s Cabin. Photo Jessica Wyld

8. Back Stage: Truffle Hunts

What’s it like back stage at a concert? Back stage is as alluring as the rare black truffle. Fossicking through forests of hazelnut or oak trees with clever canines hunting for truffles is the quintessential truffle experience. The remaining Truffle Hunts are selling fast with a few places still available. Choose from renowned truffle growers Australian Truffle Traders, Fonty’s Pool Farm, Silverwood Truffles, Timeless Hill and Millgrove Truffles for a truffle hunt. Tickets include shuttle buses from the Festival Village to the truffière.

truffle dog truffle kerfuffle

Truffle Kerfuffle trufle hunt. Photo: Jessica Wyld

9. The party: Masterclasses and Wine Shed

With good food, comes good wine, and leading wine expert Paul Edwards from Full Bottle Wine Education and Events will lead the Wine Shed Sessions presented by Winning Appliances & Vintec. The themed Wine Shed Sessions feature six tastings that will explore the best regional wine including texture, science, art and terroir in an informal long table format.

New this year are five intimate and interactive Beer and Spirit Masterclasses held across the weekend in the Jarrah Jacks Bar that will showcase how to perfectly pair delicious local beers with artisanal cheeses, beer with chocolate or whisky with cured meats, as well as experience the unique and interesting flavours of rum and learn about the art of making award-winning gin.

Truffle Kerfuffle Wine Shed

Wine Shed Session. Photo: Jessica Wyld

10. The After Party: The After Party

Extend your weekend and watch the sun go down on the ninth annual Truffle Kerfuffle. Gather by the fire, catch up with old friends and new, listen to truffle stories and toe-tap to fireside tunes. Tiny’s head chef Josh Gray will spit roast a sensational, simple and hearty rustic dinner that comes with a glass of something local. Rub shoulders with chefs, producers, locals and visitors and take time to unwind and reflect after an amazing weekend. And yes, of course there’ll be truffles.

Fonty's Pool night

Fonty’s Pool at night during Truffle Kerfuffle. Photo Jessica Wyld

Fact File 

Truffle Kerfuffle is held in the most prolific truffle growing region in the Southern Hemisphere and is a true celebration of Manjimup’s prized black truffles, sought-after by chefs across the globe for their consistent high quality, impossible-to-describe taste and heady, earthy aroma

21-23 June 2019

Fonty’s Pool, Manjimup, Western Australia

www.trufflekerfuffle.com.au

Disclosure: I’m managing the PR for Truffle Kerfuffle. Regardless, it’s a great food festival and I think you’ll love it as much as I do. Plus, truffles!

La Bella Vita, living in Italy

I came across this article I’d written some time ago, La Bella Vita, that never made it as a published story. It’s from 2007, about realising my dream to live in Rome and thought you might like to read it. My experience happened before Eat, Pray, Love was published, and in fact, I started writing a book much like said-best-seller while I was there…I should’ve finished it!

Grab un cappuccino and settle in xx

My first day of my new life in Rome, 24 April 2007

La Bella Vita

Where post offices are banks, where tobacconist sells postage supplies and dramatic chaos is the norm

Someone visits Italy. They return home only to bore their friends recounting stories of a magical time, how good the food tasted, the delicious wine they drank for just five Euro per bottle, the mesmerising history, the rolling countryside, the azure sea, how friendly and animated the locals were and how the experience has changed them. Their stories usually end with how much they love Italy, how they’d love to return, buy a villa and spend each summer in Tuscany / Umbria / Amalfi Coast / Puglia / Sicily. It happens so often it’s become cliché.

After my first trip to the Motherland in my early 20s, the country where my parents were born, I too became one of those people, for about eleven years in fact. I visited Italy multiple times in those eleven years and each time I felt a little more Italian, like I belonged there. The notion of living life in Italy grew stronger after each trip. I would breathe relief with a feeling of ‘I’m home’ every time the plane touched down, and as it lifted off the tarmac on departure, tears would involuntarily run down my cheeks. My soul wanted to be in Italy. Whimsically I’d dream that one day I would live there, one day.

It took a pretty big and emotional relationship break up in my mid-30s to decide to stop dreaming and starting living. It was a typical ‘girl-gets-heartbroken’ story, but for me there was only one remedy. Italy.

I put my life in Perth on hold. I was granted a seven-month sabbatical and I left for Italia, for la bella vita. My plan: find a job, a place to live, become a Roman and stay forever.

Travelling in Italy, 2007

Despite my trip not getting off to the best start – I was fleeced $500 at the airport for excess luggage – I left full of fantasies of what my new life was about to become. I had visions of taking la passiagiata, a leisurely stroll in the piazza every evening before a late dinner with new good-looking friends. I’d dream of wearing stylish clothes, perhaps a white linen suit with tan shoes, wandering the ancient city marvelling at the art and architecture.

Trastevere, 2007

My taste buds were anticipating the fruit-packed flavour of a daily gelato and the punch of ruby red tomatoes that taste like tomatoes should. I couldn’t wait to put my broken Italian into practice, to interact with a handsome local barista each morning before dipping my brioche into my lukewarm cappuccino. I was busting at the seams to fully immerse myself into daily life in Rome, a city that first frightened me with frenetic traffic but now excited me with the busy activity of a proper major capital. One never knows what to expect in Rome, and that’s what I love about it, daily surprises like seeing a well-suited middle-aged man cycling one-handed whilst chatting on his mobile to mamma explaining what he ate, or witnessing a nonna scolding a grandchild for not wanting to eat anything more.

Moving to Rome

Once my decision to live in Rome was made, the universe aligned. I picked up a two-week contract with an international event that started as soon as I landed. Perhaps it would set me up for longer-term work? Optimistic, I felt as if I was ahead of the game. Winning at life in Italy.

Working at Rally d`Italia Sardegna with Claudio Bortoletto who could be a relative, not sure – that’s another story…

After my contract ended, my supervisor let me stay at her beautiful apartment in central Rome for a couple of weeks in exchange for helping her improve her English. It was like living in the pages of Vogue Italia. Not able to freeload forever, I eventually found a room in an apartment in the uber-hip neighbourhood Trastevere, just over the Tiber River, sharing with an Australian girl who’d lived in Rome for eight years. She didn’t seem psychotic when I met her, and it was comforting to be able to speak English with a native. The room was so cheap, probably because it had a curtain instead of a wall to separate it from the living room. A bit like being a student again. It was in a great location, cheaper than a hostel and I didn’t need to sign a contract.

Trastevere, 2007

Working in Rome

In another universe-aligning moment, the American who moved out of my new room told me about a cash job available teaching English. I applied, was given an interview, the type of interview we refer to in Australia as ‘a grilling’, and hurrah! I got the job. It only took me an hour by bus to get to work, and I had short shifts of just three hours that paid ten Euro per hour. It was hardly a career move, but it was a start.

My favourite part of the job was Friday’s lessons: conversation. The rest of the week consisted of teaching a repetition method the school adopted, following textbooks that were decades old and subsequently teaching words that were no longer used in every day English. It felt fraudulent to teach these students how to be parrots rather than how to understand. The repetition method also consisted of using a non-stop assertive loud voice, constantly demanding they repeat what I say with no pause for explanation, questions, or discussion – hence my love for Fridays.  My head would be thumping after every non-Friday shift.

I’d been working for two weeks when July rolled around. It felt like someone had hit an ‘on’ switch in Rome. Every single day saw temperatures reach over 30 degrees with super high humidity – it felt like I was living in an open-air concrete sauna, constantly sweating. Spending two hours per day travelling on crowded buses without air-conditioning suddenly became unbearable. For ten Euro per hour, in the words of supermodel Naomi Campbell that I echoed, “I’m not getting out of bed for that”. It was ruining my la bella vita. So I quit.

Blogging and not really job hunting in a cafe with free wi-fi in Trastevere, 2007

I had my days to myself and I focussed on finding a proper job. With less than perfect Italian language skills, my choices were limited. Still, I remained hopeful and steeled my resolve to make my new life work.

Becoming official

I had an Italian passport, but I needed a Codice Fiscale, a tax-file number, to be able to work. There wasn’t a facility to apply online, so I went into the Italian Government office and took a ticket. I sat in a vinyl chair and waited. And waited. In those 209 minutes I tried to find amusement watching irate customers wave their arms about as their voices rose over the counter. I took note of everyone’s shoes; most sported American Converse or Nike trainers, the only exception being the over 60s.

When my number was called, I explained my mission to the official. He gave me a form and told me to fill it out and come back with identification. I protested, I had my passport with me, I’m here, now, ready, pronto. I tried to tell him I’d fill out the form right away. My dreams of la bella vita did not include sitting in a stinking boring waiting room for another day. Arguing was futile, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to argue in Italian with any effect. He buzzed in the next number and I was shooed away.

It took two full days of my life to get my Codice Fiscale. When it was finally issued, I was unceremoniously given an A4 sheet of paper with my number on it and told to keep it safe.

No.8 tram to Trastevere, 2007

Next on my ‘become a Roman’ to-do list was to open a bank account. A local had told me that the Poste Italia, the post office, was the best bank in Italy. Go figure. My ankles worked to stay upright walking along Rome’s ancient and uneven cobbled streets until I reached the 15th Century palace that housed a branch of Poste Italia.  I look a number and wait for it to be called. After an hour or so, I was ushered into an office. On the other side of the desk sat a smart looking but casually dressed middle-aged woman, her specs balancing on the end of her nose, a computer perched on the corner of her desk, and behind her, a wall that had been converted to a bookcase that was jammed with files.  She proceeded to get a form, a sheet of carbon, and a duplicate form that she placed on top. Carbon. This was 2007 not 1967. She passed me a pen, she asked me to fill out the carbonated form.  In my best, most polite Italian, I asked, “A form? Why not just enter it straight into the computer?”

She sighed, pointed to the files behind her, and said that it’s the way they did things. Manually. Italians have always been suspicious of the online world, one reason why eBay has never done well in Italy. Plus, eBay relies on postage – I’ll get to that in a moment.

It took two weeks to open a bank account, and two more weeks to receive my pin number and cards.

Job hunting

Whilst waiting to become Poste Italia’s newest customer, my job search continued. I would take my laptop and a fold-up chair up to the roof top terrace of my apartment building and walk around until I could find an unsecured Wi-Fi signal. The roof top was my secret Utopia. The distant umbrella pine tree-tops seemed nearer. The buzz of Vespas and other motorini was lessened, and I had the terrace to myself, only ever seeing a neighbour who would waste no time hanging out their washing before scuttling downstairs. It was also a way to escape the confines of the apartment and my neurotic Australian flatmate who yabbered about Gianni calling her fifteen times a day or not calling her at all, which all seemed to revolve around him wanting sex. She wanted advice. My healing-heart was in no state to be drawn into another person’s messed up affairs.

trastevere piazza san cosimato

The view from the roof terrace of my apartment building in Trastevere, 2007

The roof terrace had the best view of Trastevere and of Italian life below. On Friday mornings, I would watch the activity in the market in the piazza, of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, loud lycra clothes and cheap luggage. Other mornings I’d watch mothers walking their children to the nearby school, politely smiling and nodding to those they knew without breaking stride. Students with colourful backpacks, ripped jeans, and converse shoes gathering for a morning gossip, men dressed in orange trousers with navy or beige sports jackets and designer specs would walk purposefully to their destination, or stand with one foot up on a bench as they talked loudly on their mobile phone.

Italians love their mobile phones. At that time, Italy was the highest consumer of mobile phone devices per capita in the world. On average, each Italian owned 1.75 mobile phones. Children included. In any given café, the people on the next table would line up two or three mobile phones each – personal, work, and sometimes a secret phone that their wife / husband / partner didn’t know about.

Learning about Italians in Italy

I learnt that 75 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women cheat on their husbands in Italy. This interesting but somewhat disturbing stat was brought to my attention by Grazia magazine. That would explain the secret mobile phone. I owe a lot to the weekly women’s publication – their insight into Italian life and behaviour helped me with my Italian language skills. Every Thursday I would pick up a new edition and read it from cover to cover in a café with my Italian-English dictionary as company. I looked up words I didn’t know and contemplated what I was learning about real Italian culture, like the cheating stat, as opposed to the holiday version of Italian culture that tourists see.

Despite being shocked at how every-day infidelity seemed to be, I was just as shocked at the Italian fashion. Where had the smartly dressed Italians with chic handbags and stylish leather shoes gone? American fashion of jeans and sneakers was on trend. Casual, almost dishevelled reigned, rather than the stylish fashion I remembered, where even the ugly people looked good in Italy.

With some new and old friends in Rome, 2007

The Post Office

To match my new life in Rome, I needed new clothes, so I shopped for new things while waiting for a job. I’d also bought presents for family in Australia and headed to the post office to send them home. After taking a ticket, I waited 52 minutes for my number to be called. At the counter I was told that I needed a box to put the items in before I could send them. “Well, of course,” I said. “Could I buy a box?” That question was met with a stern, “No.” I was instructed to go to the Tabacci (tobacconist) to buy a parcel box and return.

I followed those instructions and returned a few days later. The cost to send my package to Australia was 85 Euro. The contents inside were probably only worth about half that. I asked if that was by sea or by air. I was told that only most expensive option was available, sending it by air, because they had run out of the forms required to send the parcel by sea. “Could you possibly print off another form so I could send it by sea?” Another stern, “No.” Frustrated, I had to walk fifteen minutes in the searing summer heat to another post office where there might be sea parcel forms. I quickly learnt that I had to allocate half a day to post a parcel to allow for eventualities such as running out of forms, buying envelopes or boxes elsewhere and other such Italian bureaucratic idiosyncrasies.

Even if it feels like an ancient cobblestoned-oven in summer, there are benefits to walking around Rome. Around every corner, in just about every piazza, you’ll find a church that’s one thousand years old or more and breath-takingly impressive. When the pavement feels like it could crisp-fry bacon, walking into a cool church is a relief worth thanking God for. Plus it’s free, and usually filled with incredible art. But mostly, it was a great way to give my sweat glands some respite.

Inside a Roman church, 2007

One day I stepped out of one such church into a pedestrian piazza and thought my ears were going to bleed, her shrieks were piercing. A hysterical woman was yelling and wildly waving her arms around and there was a carabinieri police car parked out of the front of a store. I asked the newspaper seller what the commotion was about and he said that the police car was parked in front of her store, making it difficult for customers to walk in. Nothing dangerous, no armed hold up, no theft, no hostages. The drama that ensued from a parked police car had nothing to do with policing at all. I burst out laughing, hardly able to believe the woman’s completely over the top reaction. The newspaper seller seemed confused by my reaction.

As the job search continued, my reality of la bella vita sank in. Daily life in Rome dished out moments of hilarity of such proportions one couldn’t possibly script, yet it was plagued with frustrations of systems that are designed to be difficult. I hadn’t even delved into the world of utilities, which every Italian can tell you story about.

The romantic notion of shopping at markets, daily interactions with Italians, breathtaking beauty, being surrounded by significant history, a new life in an ancient city evaporated as quickly as a spilled spritz on a cobblestone in summer.

Finding a career job in Rome in summer proved fruitless. No one was hiring. Every worker in every workplace seemed to be hanging on by a thread, watching the clock for August to arrive, the month when the entire population enjoyed summer vacation.

I have no idea who these people are. Rome 2007

My sabbatical period was coming to a close. I had to decide if I would return to life in Perth with its glorious beaches, clean air, obedient traffic, modern banks and practical post offices. Or stay in Rome, in a city that dealt unexpected rewards but felt like a daily fight to survive. My soul had yearned for Italy for so long and I didn’t have that same deep-seeded ache for Perth. My experience during the previous six months hadn’t diminished my love for Italia, but it had made me understand it better.

I was living in the coolest area of Rome, albeit in student conditions with a painful flat mate. To afford to stay in Rome and rent a room that had four walls and a window would require a salary that didn’t match my imperfect, but much improved, Italian language skills. In Perth everything worked. I had a well-paying job waiting, I could send a parcel with confidence and I could sort out most bureaucratic issues online or over the phone.

Taking stock, I viewed life from the roof top in Trastevere and breathed deeply, the slight taste of exhaust fumes coating the back of my throat. My romantic, holiday version of la bella vita seemed a world away from reality. With that, I decided to continue my love affair with Italy. To always visit Italy and enjoy the romantic offerings of the holiday version of la bella vita, but to live every day in functional, pretty Perth. With that decision, the cliché had been lived out and I took comfort knowing that I would never die wondering ‘what if….’. My soul had made peace.

Here’s a gallery of some photos from my time in Rome in 2007. I’m pretty impressed that I was taking selfies on a digital camera before selfies were even a thing!

Thanks for reading xx

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Lucky Melbourne: direct flights to the Kimberley

It’s good news if you live in Melbourne. For the first time, direct flights will commence between Melbourne and Kununurra. The East Kimberley Marketing Group, with the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley and Alliance Airlines, have confirmed that the long-awaited direct flights will commence in May 2020, creating a valuable new Western Australian link into one of Australia’s most iconic tourism destinations.

The trial air service will include three return flights per week from Melbourne to Kununurra, the gateway to the Kimberley region, providing east-coast travellers with a direct and affordable opportunity to experience the wonders of the stunning Kimberley region without the inconvenience of multiple lengthy connections.

The flights, scheduled to operate during the tourism season from May to August 2020, opens up access to iconic destinations such as the World Heritage listed Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungle), El Questro Wilderness Park, Lake Argyle, the Gibb River Road and the northern-Kimberley coast as well as iconic events such as the Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster.

Kimberley Moon Experience

Kimberley Moon Experience. Photo: Ben Broady

The service will utilise Alliance Airlines’ Fokker 70 aircraft, seating 80 passengers, and will be operated on a code-share arrangement with Virgin Australia, allowing passengers to connect through to other ports on the same ticket. Tickets will be available through the Virgin Australia website and will go on sale in the coming weeks.

The direct flights, that will be about four hours in duration, will also improve travel options for local residents, reducing barriers to connectivity and improving the liveability of the region.

Alliance Airlines

The East Kimberley Marketing Group recognised the need for improved connectivity to the region in a study conducted in 2016.

Michael McConachy, Chair of the East Kimberley Marketing Group, said that it was rewarding to see the direct flight service become a reality.

“The air service has been made possible through the continued and collaborative efforts of all of the key stakeholders, including local and state government, and the local tourism and business community, and it will be a game-changer for our region,” Mr McConachy said.

“The Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley is to be commended on their bold and progressive support of the direct air service.”

The air service will be underwritten by the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley, the Kununurra tourism and business industry and the Department of Regional Development.

David Menzel, Shire President of the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley, said it was clear that there continues to be significant and united community support for this service.

“The new air service will play a key role in attracting more tourists to the East Kimberley, driving economic growth to the region. It’s also expected to increase and create new business opportunities.”

The air service trial supports the Council’s other key strategies of improved connectivity to the region and the lengthening of the runway in Kununurra.

Ord River. Credit: Tourism WA

Tourism Western Australia has committed $250,000 towards a targeted marketing campaign which will showcase the Kimberley region to east-coast travellers.

The Melbourne to Kununurra air service has been further supported by major tour and cruise operator, APT, who have committed to the pre-purchase of a substantial number of the available seats, providing greater access to their guests.

The Kimberley, known for its remote location and untouched wild and rugged landscapes, has traditionally been a bucket-list destination for travellers around the world.

It is expected that direct flights between Melbourne and Kununurra will commence prior to must-attend event, the 20th annual Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster which was created 19 years ago to kick-off the tourist season in the region.

If you haven’t visited the Kimberley yet, add it to your list. It really is one of the most special places in Australia, and in my opinion, the world.

Useful links

Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley, visit https://www.swek.wa.gov.au/

For tourism information about the Kimberley region, click here

For tourism statistics on the Kimberley region – click here