Friday, December 23, 2011

From Russia With Love

If I had to explain Moscow in one word it would be “Chaos”.  I might have guessed that we were getting an insight into the Russian Psyche when our plane landed on the tarmac and people began running from the back of the plane to the front.  The plane hadn’t even slowed down yet, let alone turned off the seatbelt sign when all this chaos erupted. 

My first thought was that perhaps there was a bomb on board or something terrible had happened at the back and people were rushing to the front to get out of dangers way.  The air stewards jumped up and shouted to the crowd to get back to their seats and to fasten their seat belts, which promptly fell on deaf ears.  Those who could squeeze into the empty business class seats did so (without seat belts).

We arrived at Domodedovo International Airport, to a sea of Cyrillic letters and a bombardment of Russian men forcing themselves onto us and trying to direct us out the door.  We later discovered that these would have been taxi drivers – some legal, most illegal.

The 22 kilometer drive into the city took us just under two hours.  The traffic was incredibly busy and we were certain we would see an accident along the way, which might explain the delay.  Remarkably there were no incidents en-route and no explanation for the huge traffic jam.  The six-lane freeway was jam-packed with vehicles, both old and new, all converging into the city at the same time.

There appear to be no road rules, no speed limits and although there are an abundance of police around, there certainly are no law enforcement around traffic.

Our hotel, The National – built in 1903 - was situated directly opposite the Red Square and the Kremlin, a really beautiful sight to behold – especially at night when all the lights illuminate the buildings.

After settling into our hotel we were collected by our driver to take us to dinner.  We went to a very beautiful café/restaurant, stylishly renovated to look like an historic library style building.  The four-story building is as beautiful from the outside as it is inside, with old style deco and an old cage elevator, which fits no more than three small people in it.  It is quicker to walk up the stairs than to use the elevator, however the experience is good.

The food, which is all Russian cuisine, is very tasty and the meals are beautifully plated up.  Prices are exorbitant and if one reaches a certain price, a special “gift book” will arrive with the bill.  This gift book entitles one to choose an exclusive gift (at a reduced price).  I got the gift book, however I didn’t have the heart to spend more money after the meal price!

On our second day we did a tour of the Red Square, Alexandrovsky Garden, The Kremlin premises and GUM (pronounced goom) shopping center.  Our tour guide, who became rather loose of tongue after consuming a little alcohol, also took us to lunch.  She insisted that when in Russia, one has to make a toast with every sip of alcohol.  In fact everyone has to make a toast and each time it has to be a different toast.

We started off with a toast to “meeting good people”, to “great company”, to “excellent meal”…   Once her tongue became a little loose, we were able to ask her to tell us some of the truthful stories about living in Russia and once she opened up, we toasted “to the truth”.  We managed to toast good wine, good weather, a good tour and a successful life.  Our guide refused to leave until all the alcohol was finished – she said that in Russian culture it is rude to leave the table if there is still alcohol on it.  This meant that a bottle of wine was polished off rather swiftly!

That night we went to dinner on a cruise on the Moscow River.  The Moscow river cruise navigates along the banks of the city through the center, taking around 2.5 hours. The tour takes the patrons past some of Moscow’s most famous and historic sights.  There is a live band on board and dinner is included in the price.  The menu is extensive and the food is good.

Moscow has a mix of very upmarket and stylish shopping outlets.  The Gum Shopping Center is a classic example featuring any shops from Max-Mara to Louis Vuitton.  The basement level of the Gum Shopping Center has a very large deli, which will get any mouth watering and have anyone reaching for his or her purse to purchase something.  Coffee shops and café restaurants can be found on all floors and are a great place to meet with friends for a good old chin-wag.

Moscow has an eclectic mix of architecture, from lavish and conspicuous buildings dating back to the Stalin era to the very bland square high-density apartment blocks from the former Soviet era.  It is not uncommon to see a mix of these buildings side by side and of course most of the former Soviet buildings are dirty and ugly from the outside, some were equally as dreadful from the inside too.

At this time of year the city is drab and dark.  The cold weather begins to set in, bringing a dark cover of cloud with a mix of snow and pouring rain.  There is very little bright light in the sky and the darkness seems to sap the energy and happiness from its inhabitants.  I found Muscovites to be very unfriendly, hostile and very suspicious of everyone around them.

Guards are prodigious and man every building.  One cannot enter a building without first having to justify ones reason for being there and in some cases one has to even produce ones passport as identification.

A highlight for me was going to the Bolshoi Theatre to watch the ballet.  The Theater has recently been refurbished, so it looks bright and new.  The concert was lovely and it was great to sit in the audience at the end to hear all the men shouting “Bravo, Bravo!” while everyone else clapped and cheered.

I was taken on a tour inside the Kremlin, which has played a dominant role in Russian life for over eight hundred years. The Kremlin is a fascinating lesson in history.  I loved the Russian Armory, which boasted all the wealth of the city.  Sadly I was not allowed to take any photographs – not even a sneaked photograph because there were far too many guards around and I didn’t feel like being tortured in the apartment with the swimming pool!

I toured the Moscow House of Photography, a seven-floor display of old and new photography by well-known photographers.  There I was able to see photographs of all the well-known ballet dancers, including my childhood favorite, Michael Baryshnikov.

I spent more time in traffic jams than at any one place at one time.  One traffic jam was so bad that the driver of one vehicle climbed out and walked to another vehicle opened the driver’s door and an altercation ensued.  People in the vicinity dispersed and I was waiting for one of them to pull out a gun, but that didn’t happen.  Needless to say, I never felt very secure and could not let my guard down once. (no pun intended)

I took a ride on the metro, which is a sophisticated underground rail system.  There are no signs to direct people, only colors.  A different color symbolizes a different line.  Trains have no timetables they are frequent and efficient.  The Metro is beautiful; it is decked out in Marble, right down to the floors, walls and pillars.  Trains are old and dirty and but speedy and regular.

The entire time that I was there, it either rained or snowed or both.  I saw the sun come out for a total of about four hours on one day.  One of the people I spoke with told me that it was not uncommon for the weather to be so bleak for months on end.  She said that one winter Moscow had three days of sunshine in three months!

I had dinner at a very quaint and intimate restaurant.  When we arrived the restaurant was empty, except for three young people sitting in a corner smoking.

We were led to a table against the window.  The restaurant was by no means stylish, but it did have an old world charm about it and a cozy feel.  As soon as we sat down the three young adults stood up and began playing music for us.  Two girls played violins while the young man played the piano.  They were excellent and very soon everyone was in a party mood!  These young adults knew exactly how to get a party started.

I mentioned people smoking in restaurants… This was something that shocked me.  Most Russians smoke.  Smoking is not prohibited in any areas at all, in fact if one goes into any building one enters into a cloud of smoke.  I found it extremely difficult, especially when in restaurants and in my hotel trying to sleep.  Although I had a non smoking room, the smoke from the other rooms filtered through and I’m sure I was consuming a packet of cigarettes a night in second hand smoke!

English is not a second language to most Russians so it was rather difficult to communicate with anyone.  Departing from the airport was rather stressful for me because I was unable to understand anyone and none of the signs are posted in anything other than Russian.

While Moscow is not a place I would want to visit again soon, this is my own opinion – there may be many people who find this kind of chaos appealing.  I found that after a couple of days, I could romanticize the idea of Russia and so can you!

As usual, comments are always welcome.

~  Vanessa

Monday, December 19, 2011

Abduction or Good Samaritan?

I open my eyes.  The absence of light and my own inability to focus on anything in my immediate surrounds brings a chill to my spine.  I shudder.  My body feels cold and I recognize that my hips hurt.  I try to move my legs but they appear to be incapacitated and pain courses through my body.

I’m exhausted.  The last time I looked at my watch was at 2:45.  I was sitting inside the bus shelter and had already called a taxi three times, yet none had arrived and after walking around the city for the past 14 hours, I had absolutely no intension of walking a further 5 kilometers home.  I would wait.

My husband stood a few steps from me, doing a Google search for a different taxi company.  His cussing was proof that he was having no luck.

From my peripheral vision I could see a maroon station wagon speeding around a corner, no more than 100 meters from us.  It came to a grinding halt alongside my husband.

“Where are you going?”  the female driver hollered.  “To St Ives,” my husband replied, rather shocked, as he had not heard the vehicle approaching.

“Jump in,” the driver said, as her passenger opened the back door for us, “That’s where we are going too, we’ll take you home.” 

“Come on, Ness,” my husband called out to me, “get in.”  I was reluctant, however after having waited for more than an hour for a taxi, I realized one might not arrive at all, so climbed into the car.

I immediately felt sick to my stomach as I realized the enormity of what we had done by accepting a ride from two strangers.  Furthermore, the passenger sitting alongside the driver was a man whom I feared was probably the stronger one if they were considering abducting us. 

The backseat of the car was filthy and I immediately scanned my surroundings to see if I’d be able to open the door in a hurry if need be.  I couldn’t see the lock to the door, and the windows were electrically operated; the driver would control both.  My heart began to pound in my chest.

“You guys are very lucky we came along,” the driver was saying, “God knows there’s no busses well before midnight.  Where have you come from?”  “The city,” my husband replied, “and thank you so much for the ride.”

“What street in St Ives?” the driver was now asking.  We told her and she said: “Same here, it’s a real luck we saw you.”

I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable.  What are the chances of something like this happening, I was thinking.  Is it even possible that they are going to the exact same location and how is it possible that I then don’t recognise their vehicle or them.  I grabbed my mobile phone and prepared it for an emergency phone call. 

There was a strong smell of alcohol in the vehicle and I wondered if it was from our good Samaritans or us.  We had spent a night on the town but I doubted we had drunk too much alcohol.

“What were you doing in the city?” my driver was now asking.  “We met with a friend of ours who flew in from Canada.”  My husband replied.

“That must have been a long day,” the driver was almost musing to herself, “was there something special happening?”  “Excuse me?” my husband inquired, for he is a little hard of hearing.  The driver repeated herself, “Were you celebrating something?”  “No no,” I answered, “we haven’t seen him in a while, that’s all.”

“Where did you go to?” she now asked.  “We just did all the touristy things,” my husband said, “where have you guys come from?” he added, changing the focus of our conversation.

“We’ve just come from a three-hour-long rock concert, it was soooo long.”  I calculated back three hours and wondered where in the world a concert would begin at midnight for it was now after 3 am.  “It was a very long concert,” the passenger echoed, “very long.”

“So where do you guys live,” my husband asked.  “Right where you live.” The reply came.  By now I was starting to feel a little terrified and wondering what these two could possibly want from us.  I don’t believe in coincidence so doubted that they lived where we lived.

Again, my thoughts were interrupted.  “Did you visit any special places,” we were asked.  “No, nothing special at all.”

“How about fun?  Did you have good fun?”   My mobile phone beeped a message through and I almost cried when I read the taxi’s text announcing that it was approaching us.  If we were a tiny bit patient, we would not be in this situation.

Our driver appeared to be in a hurry as she drove over bumps at a fairly high speed.  Her passenger was clearly unhappy for he kept announcing that she should slow down.  Then he began to whistle, no tune in particular as he looked out the side of his window.  The driver then asked, “were you guys at a party?”  “No, not at all,” we echoed.

The familiarity of our street makes my heart pound even faster as the driver asked us which way to turn.  My husband announced that we were home and that she could stop the car.  She asked us to point out our property and we both pointed in no particular direction.  The car didn’t seem to slow down.

“You must be tired she said.”  “Yes,” we replied, “very tired.”  The vehicle came to a grinding halt and I held my breath.  I wasn’t sure she was going to stop.

We both thanked the driver and her passenger profusely and jumped out of the vehicle before she changed her mind.

“What the hell was that?” my husband asked as we tried to catch our breath.  “I’m not sure,” I replied, my body convulsing as a chill ran down my spine.  “Just get me home.”

Lying here in the darkness, I try to recollect my thoughts.  I’m not sure what happened.  It feels like I have been dreaming.  Were we actually dropped off or did something awful happen to us?

I stretch my hand out and feel the darkness until I reach a cord.  My hand works its way up the cord. I find a switch and press it as light floods the room.  I sit bolt upright and look around.  I am indeed at home and I am indeed safe.

My abductors turned out to be good Samaritans after all.

As always, please feel free to comment.

~  Vanessa

Friday, November 11, 2011

Viva Cuba!

I arrived in Cuba to a group of about 20 guards, standing fully armed all around the exit of the aircraft. I immediately felt like a POW and was sure not to make eye contact with any of them – just in case they thought I looked suspicious!

The guards lead us into the airport terminal and directed us to the booths ahead (customs and immigration). There another guard would question every individual as to reasons for entering Cuba, prior visits, etc. The word “interrogation” came to mind on more than one occasion.

Once outside of the terminal our large group was told to exchange our money at the money bureau and we were guided (amid more guards) to shuttle busses, which were waiting to take us to our respective hotels.  One feels an adrenalin rush and excitement at all the security, the huge rifles and the massive cigars hanging from their very ample lips – the thought of being ushered to a waiting police van by a guard with a rifle pressed into your back is very real, and I must admit, part of the excitement for me.

What fascinated me was that Cuba has two currencies; the Cuban Peso (which is the currency that the locals are paid with) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (a currency specifically used for and by tourists).

Tourists cannot use the local currency and the Cubans are not able to use the convertible pesos unless they take the money to the bank to have it exchanged (at which point they will be investigated on how they received the convertible currency). One Cuban Convertible Peso is equivalent to 25 regular Cuban Pesos. $1.20 CND will buy you 1 convertible Cuban Peso, yes that’s right, the Convertible Cuban Peso is a stronger currency than the Canadian dollar!

As you can well understand this split currency causes much bribery and corruption, particularly in the tourism industry, where tourist guides and hotel staff, including waiting staff are able to get tipped in Convertible Pesos and when they bank their money, there are no questions asked (by the government). The average monthly wage in Cuba is 18 Cuban Pesos a month - per person - regardless of age, or profession. People in more senior positions within a business unit are liable for a better income, i.e 2 or 3 Cuban Pesos more than the average worker, however any one person can earn a maximum of only 25 Cuban Pesos per month.

The Government provides housing. Residents who are able to live in their houses for 10 years or more are eligible to own it with no money being exchanged. Sadly if one moves around quite a bit the prospect of owning your own home becomes harder to grasp.  Each home is occupied by between 12 and 20 family members!

I spent some time in Havana – the capital city of Cuba. It was an incredibly hot and humid day, but a great day to be exploring. My port of call was Revolution Square, for a day of shopping... Girls, don’t get all excited here... there’s absolutely no fun in shopping since they have no shops to speak of. Certainly no Burburry, Prada or La Coste!

Havana is a beautiful mix of colonial architecture and distant memories of a once extremely opulent and highly wealthy country.  When visiting Cuba one gets the feeling that the entire country is still trapped in the fifties. 

Sadly after the revolution, the country was not kept to the same standard that it was previously in and it began to decline. The buildings still stand, however they are very dilapidated and grubby.  The streets are narrow and cobble stoned and there is evidence that the pavements were once tiled with high gloss ceramic tiles.

Dwellings are among businesses and because there is absolutely NO advertising it is hard to know which doors one can enter and which one should stay out of.  The difference, I noted was that if it was a shop of sorts, the doorway would be easily accessible, by contrast, the entrance to a dwelling would have a person sitting there obscuring your entry.

The main mode of transportation is bicycle. There are a considerable number of bicycles on the roads and an even larger quantity of bicycle taxi’s.  Incidentally, I saw very few obese people around!  There is also a high percentage of horses with carts, ancient cars and people operating wheel chairs.  The Medico (hospital) is in the center of Revolution Square, among shops, houses and dead street rats.

The average age of the Cubans is 35, with a 97 % literacy rate. There are only two pathways for any individual living in Cuba: the schooling pathway or rehab.  Most Cubans are very highly educated but due to the scarcity of jobs, there’s a strong probability that you could be served by your waiter who is actually a qualified doctor or lawyer.

The Government allows a certain number of positions a year for qualified students. They will announce that they have enough positions for 20 doctors, if there are 60 qualified doctors then the other 40 qualified doctors can either go on to study something else, or they can enter into the working environment in an entirely different position which is more sought after, i.e a gardener or cleaner.

Toilet paper is a rare commodity! Every trip out of the hotel we were advised to take our own toilet paper with us. The situation was so severe that when going to a washroom in the city (any city in Cuba) there is no toilet paper at all and if one goes into a hotel, one has to ask for paper – if you’ve forgotten to take your own... and in that event you are given three single ply blocks.

My favorite activity during the entire trip was getting a ride in a hang-glider, which had a rubber duck attached to the bottom of it. The hang-glider took off from the seashore and landed back on the seashore.  The driver (or pilot) took me for a 15-minute flight around the countryside, which gave me a great perspective of where I was staying.  I was also able to take my camera with me, so the photographs were great.

I spent time snorkeling in a marine breeding ground at the inlet from the sea into the estuary. The currents were wild and one had to hang onto ropes to be able to swim against the tide.

I went boating, twice. The first time was in the mangrove swamps. A beautiful area filled with air plants and orchids clinging to the mangroves. I also saw a humming bird perched on its nest about 20 cm above the water.  I saw an interesting animal called a Hutia, which is part of the rodent family but is much larger than a rat.  The Hutia is endemic to Cuba and ranges in size from 8 to 24 inches.  Some of the people who were on tour with me fed the Hutia Vodka and Orange!  I imagine it’s not the first time because these little critters were very partial to the poison.

The second boat ride was riding in convoy (two people per boat) and swapping drivers half way for the return ride. We did an obstacle course, which was awesome.

Bicycle taxi’s are prevalent throughout Cuba, so it was something I felt I should experience.   The taxi ride was spectacular, my destination:  Cigar Factory!  My taxi driver had his radio playing full ball with the latest Cuban music blaring, as it announced our approach.  The making of cigars is interesting to watch.  There are rows and rows of workers sitting at long desks rolling the cigars.  They look happy to receive visitors and one or two are keen to hand one a cigar when the supervisor is not watching!   I was surprised at how many underage workers they had, although my guide assured me that the kids were all of a healthy legal working age.

 My group took a steam train ride and went to a sugarcane mill, where the locals put on a show for the tourists, depicting the old days when slavery was very much en vogue.  We took a bus ride to the capital city of the province we were staying in – Ciego De Avila – about two hours drive from were we were at.  We were able to walk around the city, go into some of the shops and visit a local museum, displaying some wonderful pieces of antiques and displays of the way the people lived many years ago.

We went into a pub, which is actually an outdoor pub where the locals played music for us while we sipped rum punches.  The Cubans have amazing rhythm and cannot sit still when the music plays, they immediately jump up and dance a sultry number for all to enjoy.

One of the highlights of my trip was hiring a motorcycle for a day.  I rode all over the island, and was able to cover much more ground than I could by foot. I went to a city called Moron – pronounced “Morong” - the locals are highly offended if you call them Morons!

Spices are not readily available in Cuba, so understandably the food is rather bland.  If you’re holidaying at a resort, there will be a number of restaurants available for you to frequent.  It is important to book well in advance (or pay a top bribery fee) to get in at short notice.

The Cuban people are very friendly, with a quick sense of humor. Despite their history of communism and the reign of Fidel and Raul Castro, they are an extremely happy and proud nation.

They praise Fidel and continually tell of how fortunate they are to have him and Raul as their leader. They all say they are happy with communism and that they have absolutely no complaints.  One can however notice the corruption on the streets and in the resorts. The locals sell cigars on the black market, in fact they sell anything on the black market and they will do anything for a tip!

The countryside is very tropical with many palm trees, beautiful white beaches and aquamarine waters.  There’s an abundance of water sports available and if you’re an adrenalin junkie, then this is the place for you!

Facts on Cuba:

  • Ruled by Fidel Castro since 1959 for 49 years, Cuba finally handed over the reigns to his younger brother Raul Castro in 2008.
  • Cuba is the most populated country in the whole of the Caribbean.
  • Cuba is home to hurricanes and destructive storms since it lies on the path of violent weather.
  • The island of Cuba is the seventeenth largest island in the world by land area.
  • The total land area of Cuba is 110,860 kilometers square.
  • Cuba attracts around two million visitors per year.
  • It has a number of beaches, colonial architecture, favorable climate and a rich cultural history to invite tourists from all over the world.

~  Vanessa

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Obsessions: Are you Obsessed? defines an obsession as: fixation; consumption with belief, desire.

Today, people are becoming more and more obsessed with all kinds of things, be it their looks, their weight or even their success in life.  Society seems to focus on everything being perfect.  If we don’t have the perfect features or perfect weight then we begin to feel miserable and self-loathing sets in.

For psychologists today, we seem to spend a lot of time trying to build people up after they have become fixated with things like their looks or weight.  Let’s face it, no one likes to be overweight and no one likes to feel the burden of feeling ugly, but sadly the more society obsesses with looks and weight, the less we will be able to shirk off the feelings of inadequacy we have.

Let me ask you something; do you contribute to the problems society has with these issues or are you part of a minority group who seriously try to help others in their endeavors of getting over their psychological issues?

Seriously, if you’ve overcome something, stop obsessing about it!  The more you harp on about the topic the more you are obsessing.  Don’t you get it?  How can one on the one hand say that one has no issues with their weight or looks but on the other hand continue to rattle on about the fact that now they are able to eat ice cream every day or splurge on a decadent dessert?

Do they seriously think that by continuously talking about this that there is no obsession?  Obsessions, whether they are seen as good or bad (incidentally there are no good obsessions, because obsessions in itself are not good, it is balance we are after) are called obsessions for the simple fact that they cause people to be fixated on something.  When we become fixated we begin to draw on background noises, which are the negatives of the fixation and soon our minds are poisoned by bad thoughts and obsessions.

If you’re serious about overcoming something like a weight issue then stop obsessing about it and start doing something positive.  Take small steps towards your goal, if you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world.

Be authentic with yourself and others about how you are doing but stop obsessing.  Stop talking about how you’re going to lose weight or how you are now able to eat hamburgers or desserts and move on.  If you harp on about this you will never move on and never heal your mind.

~  Vanessa

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sofala, NSW Australia

Main Road in Sofala

Two days prior to St Valentine’s Day in 1851, a Charlie Brown by the name of Edward Hargraves discovered gold in Summerhill Creek!  One can just imagine the excitement Eddie must have felt.

Personally, I would have kept my mouth shut about this discovery until I had a fair stash of the gold, but it seems that Eddie was one prone to boasting and pretty soon there was a gold rush and the village of Sofala was born.

Sofala is located along the Turon River and is approximately 260 Kms west of Sydney and 46 kms from Bathurst.   It is one of the oldest surviving gold rush towns and is well worth a visit.  Driving up from Sydney one can hardly imagine what it must have entailed to get started up in this very remote place in the 1800’s.

I imagine in those days the prospectors would have been on camel back or horseback.  Once the word was out about there being a gold find, I’m sure there would have been quite the camel jam (as opposed to traffic jam!)

Royal Hotel
Soon Sofala grew to a town of about 10 000 residents and the township extended along the banks of the Turon River, some 16 kilometers long.  This is not evident when one visits the area today, however; there are only a few remaining houses, a school and a church left.  Today the town has two remaining main streets, which are lined with grand old wooden buildings, a general store, the Royal Hotel, the old Sofala Gaol and the Turon Technology Museum.

Of course every newly established town started off with a Royal Hotel, Sofala is no different.  Aside from the Royal Hotel, which was built in 1851, there were quite a few others but the Royal Hotel is the only hotel that is still standing today.

In 1854 only a few hundred prospectors remained and by 1948 gold mining finally ceased.

Today the town still stands and is a beautiful reminder of bygone days.  When walking up and down the two main streets, one is mentally transported back in time to what it must have been like then.  If the streets could talk one would probably be mesmerized by the goings on.

In 2006, census results revealed that there were 208 remaining residents in the quaint little town.

Sofala is also well known for the movie:  “The Cars that Ate Paris”, a Peter Weir film shot in 1974 and in 1994, the movie “Sirens” by John Duigan had a few village scenes shot here.

Sofala’s attractions include, prospecting, hiking and camping along the Turon River and cycling.  It is also a popular spot for motorcyclists to stop off for a drink and a great place for an historic tour and walk.

If you wish to be transported into bygone days, wish to spend a day out simply relaxing in nature and some very beautiful surrounds, then you can't go past Sofala in NSW.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

~  Vanessa

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Communication: Encoding and Decoding What Others Say

If we as a nation didn't have a problem with communication then there certainly wouldn't be so many books on the subject, there wouldn't be university courses on it and we wouldn't need any mediators or communications specialists to come to our rescue so often.

Why is it that we are all prone to suffering with miscommunication at some point in our lives, or for some, at every stage in their lives! Men and women seem particularly susceptible to miscommunication, but then again, teenagers seem at some point to go through this with their parents. The point is, if we intend to get along with everyone we either need a degree in communications or a degree in yesmanship.

I'm not going to go into being amenable, the type of communication I am referring to is quite simply decoding what someone has recently encoded for you. This is in fact the basics of communication. When I have a conversation with someone, I am encoding what I am saying. Likewise, when someone has spoken to me, I end up decoding what they have said to me.

The way I decode has a lot to do with the mood I am in, my environment, prior experience, and my impulses. There could be one more ... This one is age related and the fact that as we age, we tend to forget some of our everyday words, we call certain items by different names and we become frustrated by our diminishing memories.

Another important factor to consider is tone of voice and where we place the emphasis in our words. We've all played the game "Chinese Whispers" at some point in our lives, where a group of people sit in a circle or straight line. The person at the beginning of the line whispers something to the person next to them, that person in turn repeats word for word what was told to them by whispering it to the person next to them, and so it goes. When the last person has listened to the words, s/he will repeat what they heard out loud.

Usually at this point the conversation no longer even makes sense, and the reason is that the encoding and decoding process has broken down because someone in the group either heard wrong or understood the message to mean something different. In the same way, we fall short in our communication with others.

I recently moved house. When my furniture arrived, I explained to the removalists that I wanted all the boxes in one room only. I lead the way to this room with the head of the group so that he could see where I wanted everything to go. A short while later one of the delivery guys asked me if he was to take all the boxes up to the third level in my house. I said "No, they are to go to the second level". His reply was, "You mean you want them to go to the floor just below the third level?"

Wasn't that what I had just said? Who's wrong?

The reality is neither of us were wrong, but our interpretation of each others answers were completely different.

Next time you're having a conversation with someone, think about the message you are trying to get across and think about the way you are going to say it. Then, think about what impact it will have on the other person. Only then should you encode your words for the other person to decode.

If all else fails, you can always go back to arguing about what you really meant to say.

Happy communicating!

~ Vanessa

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I've always been one of those people who needs my internal equipoise to be in perfect equilibrium before I can respond to whatever the universe sends my way.

I hate cleaning, yet when I'm not perfectly happy that's exactly what I have to do to tame the lioness inside me. Consequently, you can eat off my floors - as long as you don't take the left overs that are in the fridge, because those have probably been there for a while... I don't like to waste, yet once I've put something in the refrigerator it will probably stay there indefinitely until someone else removes the product that my guilty eye will never look upon again.

Like me, the world is so full of contradictions. The developed world has an abundance of food, resources and wealth (now slowly beginning to diminish, thanks to the GFC), yet the undeveloped world seems to be in a constant struggle to fulfill even basic human needs.

In the developed world we seem to be fixated on the very things that the undeveloped world have no concept of. Technology, social media, fast cars, huge televisions and the latest "bundle" satellite offers... Imagine wondering where your next meal will come from? Or whether your children will be warm enough when the cold night arrives?

Imagine a vast open land with red dirt, no vegetation and no water in sight? Where would you begin when your child is dying of starvation and hyenas lie in waiting?

We all deserve a better deal in life, however some need far more than others. While the developed world kill each other over bad drug deals, hatred, lies and greed, the undeveloped world fight to survive for one more day.

I feel sick to my stomach when I listen to people complain about trivial things. We all have issues but certainly none as bad as those who have been affected by famine and drought, or those in war torn countries.

Let's try to put things into perspective. Next time your world feels like it's crashing down, spare a thought for those who would give anything at all to be in your world.

Feel free to leave a comment.

~ Vanessa

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hahndorf, South Australia

Located approximately 30 minutes drive outside of Adelaide City, Hahndorf is a quaint little town of German influence.

Hahndorf was founded in 1838 by Captain Dirk Meinhertz Hahn, who arrived by a ship named "Zebra" with 188 passengers and their belongings, plus crew.  The ship carried 100 barrels of pork, 100 barrels of flour, 65 barrels of fresh water, 17 hogheads of beer and vinegar, 14 barrels of herring, two boxes of boots and shoes and 40,924 bricks.

The immigrants loved the land so much and noticed how incredibly fertile it was so they decided to stay on.  The rest, as they say, is history!

Today, Hahndorf is very similar to what it was like back then and one can still see the architecture of the original surviving buildings.  The main street is filled with hotels, restaurants, galleries, gourmet food outlets and a large variety of accommodation.

Authentic German food is sold in Hahndorf, as well as Australian and European Cuisine.  The gourmet coffee shops also sell a variety of decadent cakes and desserts.

The Hahndorf Inn Hotel was built in 1863 and has retained most of its original features.  The Hahndorf Inn features classic German cuisine and pub style favourites in a cosy rustic setting.  For those interested in tasting the German beer, they serve beer by the litre and for a little extra one can purchase the glass as a momento!  Be sure to book a table if you are traveling a distance to get there because they are extremely popular and one will have to wait quite a while to get a table during peak times.

Because the Hahndorf Inn is a German hotel, they will be celebrating October Fest during the Labour Day weekend in Australia.  If you live around these parts or if  you're going to be there during the festivities, then make sure you pop in for a beer and to say "hi" to the locals.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rugby World Cup Fever in New Zealand

Most times I’ve traveled to NZ have been when there has been some kind of international rugby game on and the fever stakes are high.  I’ve never intentionally gone to NZ to follow or watch any of the games either, if truth be known I’m a strong supporter of the social scene not so much of the actual game.

I thoroughly enjoy going to watch a sports game from a corporate box, I think this is the only way to watch a game.  Let’s face it, from where the corporate boxes are situated there’s not a lot one can see on the field anyway, in fact anywhere other than the front row is at a disadvantage when it comes to football and then god help you if the players are on the other side of the field because you’ll have absolutely no way of knowing what is going on unless the supporters on the other side scream loud enough.

But this brings me back to the corporate box.  While I love the corporate box I find them so terribly disorganized.  The seating is usually outdoors, which is fine by me – get those screaming supporters out of the comfort areas, they don’t belong indoors!  My gripe is that the food arrangement is very poor. 

Corporate boxes compete when it comes to serving their guests great appetizers and at the same time the adult beverages are awesome, but I find it rather difficult when the young sparsely clad girlies walk around with the appetizers and expect you to take a couple in your one hand, hold your glass of poison in the other hand and then still find a fairly decent way to talk, eat and drink in a standing position!  How thoroughly awkward.   If you have a corporate box that is different in that people can comfortably sit down and socialize as well and drink and eat, I urge you to send me a complimentary ticket to do a review on it…. So far none have inspired me.

Which brings me back to rugby fever in New Zealand during the world cup.  Let me tell you the Kiwi’s know how to turn on the charm as well as host a wonderful event.  They need very little coaching when it comes to standing out in a crowd.  They have a wonderful fighting spirit and sport is in their blood.  When it comes to rugby or cricket, they are passionate and energetic.  The local pubs turn into a festive scene and one would be forgiven if one thought you were attending your own birthday party.

If you’re following the rugby world cup 2011 and are not in NZ at the moment, you still have time to grab a last minute ticket and get there for a couple of the games, and when there is not a game playing, one can always travel around the marvelous countryside, stop off at a couple of vineyards for an adult treat, or get into one of the many extreme sports they put on for us.

Enjoy the Rugby World Cup 2011, while I love New Zealand, it would be terribly un-Australian to support them when I’m a die hard Aussie, so good luck mates, but GO Aussies, go!

~  Vanessa