Pizza, Aperetivo and old things

Location: Ayr, Scotland
Temp: A balmy 6°c

Back in October when I arrived in Naples, I had a head cold, and as soon as I got off the train, within five minutes two strangers warned me to “watch my bags”. This would be the catch-cry of this visit…WATCH YOUR BAGS.
Then arriving at my hostel, my female roommates were telling me how dangerous Naples is.

And to be honest…I was confused.

I had turned up excited and felt no danger or reason for anxiety. And yet, I kept hearing this repetitive rhetoric of ‘thievery’ and ‘danger’. I heard it so much that I had to wonder if I had been naive. Should I have done more research? Should I be more concerned?

So…and I am embarrassed to admit this…I was on tip-toes for my first day in Naples and was nervous to go out at night. And I hate being restricted.

It turns out, that this idea of Naples being dangerous is absolutely not true. It is a really cool, grungy, upbeat city with a lot happening – cute bars, restaurants with amazing food and live music in the street every night. It has beautiful historical buildings, a gorgeous waterfront promenade and an ancient underground city (who knew! I didn’t.)

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Sure. It’s not as pretty as other Italian cities. It’s not so well lit. Enthusiastic motorcyclists drive their scooters a bit too fast for comfort down pedestrian streets. But that is just surface stuff.

And this made me reflect on the power of perspective.

The difference between what I saw and what my roommates saw of Naples was completely coloured by our attitude towards and perception of the city. They chose to be cautious and fearful. I (eventually) wanted to push past that and see it for what it really was.
Maybe they did this because they were expecting something different. Maybe, as solo female travellers they felt more vulnerable and were being extra cautious.
But I saw a vivacious city with great food and a fun vibe, and I wanted to get the most out of it.

Rome too was a place I was misinformed about. I was told not to spend too much time there because there is not much to do…this is where I throw my head back and laugh out loud. HA HA HA HA HA!

This is also not true.

I sadly only had three days to soak up the history and beauty of the city, but I wish I’d had more time. I only scratched the surface.

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Sure. If you’re not interested in history at all, you may not see the big deal about Rome. But Rome epitomises what Italy is all about – in every aspect of life they put thought, love and passion into it. Their food, architecture, music, urban design, fashion, conversation. And you can feel it everywhere you go. It’s an onslaught of history, culture and beauty, and it is awesome. Respect Italy. Respect.

And so, my time in both cities was an in-the-face lesson about perspective….this word again.

Everyone goes through life imprinting onto their experience. This is not a bad thing – it’s very normal. But I feel it’s key to remember this and be mindful of how we as individuals project onto our existence. And to also be mindful of the information we receive.
I definitely took advice on this trip, tucked it into my travel tool-belt, and went forth blind, using anything I’d been given only as needed, and forgetting the things I did not need. I’ve seen my own Italy and had my own experience and it was awesome. And I took this process with me to every city I visited after that.

You will have your own experience. Whatever that may be I hope you receive immense joy from it.

If you have ever visited a place and had an experience you didn’t expect, please comment below, I’d love to hear about it!


 

Naples Highlights 

  1. Pizza
    The best place for pizza that is also stupidly cheap is Pizzeria da Michele. Everyone will probably tell you to go here anyway, so you can’t miss it. They have only two types of giant pizzas for 4€ and I am told they are delicious. There is always a queue outside due to it’s appearance in the film Eat, Pray, Love. But it’s worth the wait.
    However.
    If you want (need, same-same) freaking amazing gluten free pizza, do yourself a favour and head to Dal Presidente Pizzeria. You won’t even be able to tell that it’s gluten free. Seriously.
  2. Ragu
    I totally forgot about the existence of this dish until I got to Naples. The city is known for it’s beef ragu. Make sure you sample it’s, it’s incredible.
  3. The ancient underground city
    Beneath the city are the ruins of ancient roman aqueduct systems and a forum which is now disguised by apartment buildings built right into it. It is interesting, darkly beautiful and otherworldy – definitely worth a visit. Tours are run regularly in different languages: https://www.napolisotterranea.org/en/naples-underground/.
  4. Pompeii
    The ancient site of Pompeii is an easy day trip from Naples, if you don’t want to stay for a day or two. All I can say is DO IT. It is a sprawling site with so much still standing you can almost imagine being there when it was a a living-breathing city. In fact, it’s so huge you may need more than one day…totally up to you. It’s always nice to have options.

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Rome Highlights

It’s tempting to say “everything” but that would be cheating…

  1. Altare della Patria
    Is a memorial to all fallen Italian solders from World War 1 and a tribute to Italy’s first king. It also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (many European cities have this. What does it mean?! Is it the same guy? Or a different unknown soldier in each country? Someone please explain.)
    Though the building of this monument was controversial at the time, it is incredibly beautiful and it has great views over the streets below.
  2. Colosseo & Foro Romano
    The Colosseum. Enough said. I cannot describe in words the feeling one gets when you jump on the Metro, and exit the station at Colosseo and there in all it’s giant glory is the Colloseum one has heard and read so much about. This famous and significant ancient site ‘just casually’ sitting in the middle of the city. Whatever.
    Hint: Go super early i.e. 8.30pm and buy your ticket that gets you into the Colloseum and the Forum from the Forum entrance. There will be NO QUEUES. You also get incredible morning light which really does the Forum a lot of favours. Give yourself half a day to enjoy these two sites.
  3. Walk along the River Tiber. It’s gorgeous. (Yes, everything is being described as gorgeous. Because it is. Prepare yourselves for the word “cute” to come up a lot in later blogs).
  4. The Pantheon
    Another ancient building “just casually” sitting in the middle of the city’s historical centre. It’s an incredible domed building with a hole in the middle of the ceiling. It sounds weird but it’s beautiful. See if you can figure out how they deal with drainage in the temple after it rains…

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Africa, Cous Cous! Morocco the Instagram Star

Location: Riad Nesma, Marrakech
Temp: 20°c

Morocco is fortunate enough to have a plethora of ardent followers on Pinterest and Instagram, lovingly framing, editing and saturating their photographs to show their friends back home how magical and exotic Morocco is. I’ll admit, I was caught up in this image as well.

You may think by my tone that I’m going to turn around and cynically bitch and moan about how it was all a lie, and it looks nothing like the Instagram posts.

Yes. And, no.
It’s true. I was not expecting to find what I did in Morocco. And it irked me when I realised how untrue a depiction of the country had represented online.

I believe that people arrive in Morocco, and stay in their 4 or 5 star Riad’s, go on shopping sprees, visit the opulent palaces and walled parks, eat and then go home. While perfectly oblivious or deliberately ignoring the dust, dirt and fumes on the street outside the front door, the obvious inequality between rich and poor represented on the street and loud, obtrusive prayer all every morning and 5am.
Shopping and staying luxury hotels is not why I visited Morocco. But happily I had opportunities to find so much more in the country.
I’ll start by saying, it is perfectly safe. Don’t confuse this comparatively liberal country with its Muslim counterparts in the Middle East.

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If you’re a woman, you’re not going to get “hassled” in the street either. Though this description may depend on your definition of “hassled”. But in all honesty, the attention I got as a woman was really no different to the attention I got when I was in Italy (another blog that will come next) – people staring from afar, saying hello, saying I was cute or beautiful, wanting to know if I was Moroccan. And all of this happened whether I covered my head or not. And all of it, perfectly harmless.

Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend travelling solo as a woman either (though some people do, do this.) Because even considering how safe it was, there were still many doors closed to me, and a lot of normal everyday things were difficult. And I really hate being restricted, especially by something I can’t control, like my gender.

One example, are the cafe’s that are filled with men. Seriously. Only men. Was I going to invite 100% attention on me by going in one? No way. There was no way I could relax and sip my coffee with people staring, and wondering why I was there.

While on my tour, our tour guide Mustapha looked after us very well and helped us navigate Morocco’s traditions and language, to get the most out of our experiences. Because of him, and the friends I made on the trip, I had a great time. But without his help, it was extremely difficult to get most things done, and there were days here and there that were not so great.

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However, country itself is beautiful! And so unlike anywhere I have been before. The smaller towns and the countryside delivered on physical beauty and authenticity which the cities could not meet.

Volubilis is a beautifully preserved and readily accessible Roman ruin on a mountainside, with an incredible view of the sunset.

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Chefchaouen is the famous blue city looking exactly like the pictures Instagram loves and adores, and better. When asked why the buildings are painted blue, our tour guide answered with “it depends on who you speak to”. Some will say it is to keep away mosquitoes (not sure about that one.) Others say it’s a Jewish influence. I’m not sure what is Jewish about the colour blue, but the rumour amongst the tour group was, that it was a genius way to get Chefchaouen on the map. Either way, I highly recommend taking time out to go to this northern town, because it is beautiful and the food is fantastic.

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The highlight for me was the Sahara Desert. Spending the night in a camp, with real Berber nomads who played drums by the fire and talked to us about their nomadic culture and how it is still lovingly preserved was a real treat. And that was after riding through undulating, sunlit sand dunes on camel back. My brain quite literally fell apart – I couldn’t comprehend where I was.

I’ll admit, the flushing toilets and mattresses provided for us in the camp was a bit disconcerting after expecting to be “roughing it”. But I’m not going to complain. The desert was cold in November, so being comfortable allowed us to enjoy the beautiful sunset and starlit night.

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Another treat was the Roses Valley. We were lucky enough that Mustapha was from there, so you can bet we knew anything and everything about the place before we left. With the rose bushes, orchards and rivers back-lit by the stunning Atlas Mountains and the African sun, it was a joy to see another side of Morocco besides the sand of the desert and the busy medina’s of the cities. The climb to the top of the mountain nearby also allowed us to chase another extraordinary sunset, and staying in a family owned homestead allowed us to meet real Moroccans who took care of us and let us have a glimpse into their life.

As for the cities…well, I’ll be honest. I didn’t care much for them. Casablanca was unimpressive, loud, dusty and dirty. It has the stunning Hassan II Mosque which is worth seeing. But other than that it didn’t capture my imagination at all. It sounds harsh, but I think many of my Moroccan friends would agree with me.

And Marrakech was a bit cooler than Casablanca, but still a chaotic, dusty, loud mess, akin to any southeast asian country where things are disorganised and everyone is trying their hardest to make a buck. If you want to shop, you can visit the souk next to Jemaa al-Fna square, or visit the more modern area that seems to be geared towards ex-pats and those inclined towards western culture called Gueliz. But again, you could enjoy it more if you’re a in a group, in a couple, or a man. So choose wisely.

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This blog is going to have a very dry and cynical tone. I’ll admit I had one particular experience, and others have and will continue to have different ones. The one point I wanted to make was that the real Morocco is not what you see in the pictures. And I always only want to see the real thing.

Considering everything else, I have come away from Morocco with a love and appreciation for the beautiful people I met there, both from within and outside of Morocco. A kinder, friendlier and more hospitable people you will never meet, and I have made two life-long friends with kindred spirits, who I would not have met if not for my visit to Morocco. My new Moroccan friends showed me their country and taught me about their people, which is really what I was looking for as I travel Europe and Africa. And for that I am so grateful.  


 

Useful Phrases:
Yellah – Let’s go!
Salaam – Hello
Shukran – Thank you
Shukran zef – Thank you very much
Azalim – Onions (if like me, you cannot eat onions. Moroccans are extraordinarily helpful with this)
Morocco Hints:
I’m not the best person to take hints from, but I did learn a lot from my new Moroccan friends that I’ll pass on…
  1. Tipping is expected, at least 10% of the bill or service cost. 90% of the countries wealth is in the hands of only 10% of the population. So the remaining 90% are trying their best to make a living where they can. Don’t be a stinge.
  2. Moroccans are the most hospitable, friendly and welcoming people. They want very much for you to enjoy your time in Morocco and feel welcome. So if you need something ask, and in turn, manage your expectations and don’t be rude.
  3. There is ‘Tagine’ and there is ‘Cous Cous’ which are two different dishes. Tagine is just meat and vegetables, without the cous cous.
  4. If you’re a woman, it is wise to keep your arms and legs covered if you don’t want to be ogled. But covering your head is not necessary. Neither is wearing a fake wedding ring. Unless you have dark skin, everyone can tell you’re a tourist and knows you don’t normally wear a headscarf and you stand out in the crowd regardless.
  5. People will say hello and ask where you’re from to start a conversation. It’s up to you if you want to have a conversation or not. They do not have any malicious tendencies.
  6. The tagine comes in two types – the plain clay tagine is used for cooking and should be very cheap. While the decorative ceramic tagines are to serve in only, and cannot be used for cooking. They also cost a little more. 
  7. If my tone still sounds cynical, dry and unenthusiastic, I apologise and you can slap me later.
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A love-letter to Greece

Location: Superfast II from Patras, Greece to Bari, Italy
Temp: 25℃

Greece was really good to me.

I was fortunate enough to slot right into the life and get an authentic local experience.

Thanks to the warm generosity of the different family members that welcomed me there (yes, cousins! The ultimate Greek cliche). They helped and guided me without question, opening up their homes and hearts to me as if years and geography had never separated us.

That is not to say that if someone else wanted to visit Greece, they wouldn’t have the same experience. It is this generosity that I found permeates Greece, even to the smallest detail. From a stranger on the street, or a new friend made – they are giving of their time, their money and their energy.

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An example. Any time I approached a person on the street, or staff member in a store to ask a question, they stopped what they were doing and gave me all of their attention. They took time to answer my question to the best of their knowledge and I never felt dismissed. Greek people have time.

Another example. If you want to spend two to three hours in a cafe (or five as my cousin Maria loves), and only drink one coffee, that is totally fine. You will not be ‘encouraged’ to buy more drinks or leave. You are at leisure to relax and chat with your friends or smoke your cigarettes in peace.

After a week or two, I realised I had not met one person I would consider to be shy or quiet. Everyone is sociable, friendly, has an opinion, and listens to the thoughts and statements of others. Nothing is not worth hearing or saying. New friends to a social gathering are welcomed without question and included. I asked my family about this and they couldn’t give me an answer – because it is just the way it is.
This is in stark contrast to my home of Melbourne. And so was made all the more obvious as unique to Greece with the obvious differences between cities.

What to eat for lunch or dinner is an in-depth discussion, taken seriously, and every effort is made to cater to every person’s’ wants and needs. I never felt my food intolerances were a burden. I was questioned about it, in a shocked, aggressive way true. But only because they were concerned for me. I mean after all, if I can’t eat bread or cheese, what on earth do I eat?

The time given to every little detail of life in Greece is something I really appreciate and is what I will take with me. Sure Greece is not perfect. There was the odd grumpy, stick-in-the-mud. Sure – young men with girlfriends would stare at me as I walked passed. Actually, old men without girlfriends did the same thing. Sure their government is a bit of a joke (their words, not mine), and administrative processes haven’t progressed passed the 1980s.

But I can’t ignore the great things I saw in Greece too.

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The last gift Greece gave me was citizenship and a passport. Of course, it took quite a bit of effort and fuss, but it was worth it. Now I feel part of a larger global community and it has given me more options. My “no restrictions” hashtag has been hard at work since.

If you haven’t visited Greece before, or ever thought of visiting, I highly encourage you to consider it. It is a beautiful country, not just because of its’ beaches, jade-blue waters and food. But because of its’ generous and nourishing soul too. It is infectious if you let it in.


 

Highlights:

Monastiraki – the area as a whole is super cool, with many great restaurants, cafe’s, bars and shops with a large majority of it pedestrian only.

Ρακομελο (Ra-ko-me-lo) – this is a white alcohol served warm with cinnamon and honey. Literally the best thing I have ever tasted, and that is considering things like chocolate and guacamole. I’m just saying.

Ancient Agora and the Acropolis – I have been asked this by a couple of people and yes, it is definitely worth paying and going to both of these. Prices have gone up, but there is nothing else like them, so go and see them. I recommend visiting the Acropolis an hour or so before sunset. There are far fewer people and the sun setting gives a magical quality to the place (and your photo’s).

Naxos Island – I absolutely loved this island. In September it was hot but not humid. It is beautiful and quaint with its’ cobblestone streets and cute little shops built into a hillside with the remnants of a castle remaining at the top. It has sunsets that rival any of it’s more popular sister-islands. It has a local community vibe and a gorgeous marina with a sort of ‘riviera’ consisting of restaurants and shops which always had a lot of energy. It was like the cooler younger sister of Santorini.

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Greece Hints:

  1. When you go to a cafe or restaurant, just sit down, you don’t need to wait to be seated.
  2. You can get many kinds of hot and cold coffees compared to Australia. A Freddo Cappuccino or Freddo Espresso is a cold coffee made with espresso coffee. A Frappuccino is made with instant coffee. Everything else is pretty straight forward. Greek coffee usually comes on it’s own, medium sweet, or really sweet.
  3. When you order in a restaurant you are always given bread. If you do not want bread, just ask them to take it away to avoid being charged.
  4. “Souvlaki” isn’t really called this in Greece. It’s called a “Yiros” and you either get a. Yiros which is the shaved meat off the spit in bread, or on a plate with bread, salad and sauce. Or b. Kalamaki which is the kebab version of Yiros on a stick. But you can also get actual lebanese style Kebap too. If you’re confused, join the club. Pictures on menu’s are your best friend.
  5. If someone offers you “Tsipuro”, say no.
  6. “Lamp” on the menu means “Lamb”. I promise.
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What’s going on ‘up here’?

Location: Plaka, Athens, Greece
Temp: 30℃

It’s funny the little traps you fall into. Habits of thought and pathways you go down without realising it, until you’re there.

Let me explain.

For the next five months I’ll be travelling around Europe solo. I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time, but to be honest, didn’t have the guts until now. Why am I doing this?
Because I crave new and different experiences. Because I like to push my boundaries and test my limits. Because I am constantly looking for high-sensory experiences. Similar reasons for which others travel long term.

At my first stop in Athens, I was excited to be here and finally doing this thing. But initially found something lacking. I asked myself “What is it? What’s missing?” I mean, I was here doing something and am in a place that is so different to where I was before, which is what I wanted…

…and that is the trap. The “different” thing.

We can get caught up in ‘getting away’ from something – a place, a person or people, a situation. Exploring something new, because what we were doing before didn’t fulfill us anymore. But in reality, it’s up to us whether we bring those things along with us or not.

Having been to Athens before, it wasn’t feeling different enough for my liking, and I had brought this idea of what it was going to be like, and what I was going to do with me, rather than letting things happen naturally. Going with the flow.

I realised my mistake. I arrogantly arrived here, thinking I was going to begin pioneering my own personal revolution on the very first day of my trip. But it didn’t happen. And that is ok. There is no rush for that ‘different’ experience to happen. You can’t make it happen (you control freak Maree). There will be plenty of opportunities for that to come.

Instead, I am enjoying it for what it is. I’m allowing myself to relax and not be busy.  I’m giving myself time and space to set myself up for the rest of my trip (anyone else tried to deal with Greek administration? You feel me. That shit takes time and endless patience.)
I’m resting, recuperating, touching base. In its own way it is – actually – a very different experience compared to what I had before: a hectic, active, yet full Melbournian life.

The rest will come in its own good time. Let it be.

What kind of mind shift have you had to go through? Leave a comment below and let me know.


Useful phrase/s:

For those with ‘special needs’ like me: Θα ήθελα μια σαλάτα χωρίς κρεμμύδια [tha ee-the-la mia sa-la-ta ho-riss kre-me-thi-a]. Which means “I would like a salad without onions”.

If you put χωρίς in front of anything, it means “without”. Other things you may want to be without in Greece are:

Γλουτένη [glu-te-ny]= Gluten
Σιτάρι [Si-ta-ree]= Wheat
Λακτόζη [Lak-to-zy] = Lactose
Γάλα [gala] = Milk
Τυρί [tee-ree] = Cheese
Κρέας [Kre-ass] = Meat
Καρύδια [Ka-ree-thee-a] = Nuts

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Welcome to Unearthed

Welcome to Unearthed, a blog for the thoughtful, the adventurous and the curious.

When I decided to start this blog, I had been mostly writing in a journal, privately exploring ideas, solving problems and delving into topics I thought no one else would be interested in. It turns out I was wrong! Ha! As a personal growth experiment I one day said to myself…”Fuck it. Just do it.” And so I’ve launched this blog.

At first, I conceived it as a travel blog for my upcoming long-term trip to Europe. To share travel information I was looking for online but couldn’t find, as well as a place to keep a record…to “edit” my trip, creating and keeping memories of my experience (noooo, not ANOTHER travel blog, amiright?)

But as I delved deeper into what I wanted this blog to be, I realised there was more I wanted to say and share  (it will very soon be evident that I am a sharer…but hopefully the TMI levels will be at a minimum).

It’s not just about the places, and the things to do and see, but also about the personal experience one has when you go out of your comfort zone. Travelling mindfully, and the incredible things that can happen when you challenge yourself.

Now I know there are many, many blogs out there. So why should anyone read this one?

Well, this blog will still share tips and tricks that may be useful while travelling, such as: phrases in the local language: iyi günler, ¿de donde eres?, Ξέρετε πού είναι η Ακρόπολη?; or ideas for staying in one place for a long time; or why the guy who owns the tiny καφενείο down the street has kept his business exactly the same for the last 20 years.)

But it will also explore things I learn about myself and about the people I meet along the way.  In sharing their stories and mine I hope this blog will essentially be about the one thing I find the most interesting…people.

If Unearthed only reaches one person, and we come together in a shared common experience…then my work here is done. As much as this is self-reflective, I hope that what I write brings something good to others too. Even if it’s just to know that experiences you (the reader) are having, are not isolated. There others out there feeling and experiencing the same things, and see the world the way you do!

It’s also a bit of fun. So please like, comment, be super honest and give me your feedback. I’m a big girl, I can take it. This is a safe, open, collaborative and nurturing space to share. And I would love to hear your stories too.

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