What’s in the bag?


And she’s open! What delights await …

Here’s a fun exercise: who were you four years ago? What were you into? What did you wear? What possessions seemed important? I got the chance to rediscover my 2013 self when I was reunited with a suitcase of stuff that got left behind after I relocated countries.

A good friend is someone who’ll look after something of yours for four years, even though it was supposed to only be a couple of months, and not give you any shit about it. So it was with the purple suitcase, ‘temporarily’ making a home with the legendary Caroline in London, patiently awaiting my return.

Rewind to mid-2013: a special time in my life where I technically lived nowhere and was trying to come up with some semblance of a new life plan. I’d packed up and shipped out of Canada, and was bunking with Caroline while trying London on for size. I loved London. It was a place I’d dreamed of living since age 17 when I spent three months there after finishing high school, and I was fairly confident that it would finally be my new home. That’s why it was no biggie when I left a few things that wouldn’t fit in my original suitcase with Caroline, because, you know, I’d be back in a few months.

Except I wasn’t. London turned in to Melbourne and a few months turned into four years. So it was with excitement and curiosity that I finally came to collect my suitcase at the end of a recent trip around Europe, finally relieving Caroline of the purple nuisance she’d so kindly taken in. Opening it up felt like Christmas, as I reacquainted myself with all the random items I’d deemed essential way back when.

I had a vague idea of a couple of things that might be in there, but the rest was pretty much a mystery. I definitely wasn’t expecting …

perfumes-etcThree different perfumes, one of which was practically an entire, full bottle. Score! Side note: turns out perfume doesn’t go off after four years if kept in a suitcase in the dark.

shoesBad shoes. Interesting how your taste in fashion can change in just a few short years. These spent four years in captivity only to be released into … the bin.


A baseball and phrasebooks. I went to my first ever baseball game in Toronto and that’s when I discovered that baseball … is the game that never ends. At least I took home this cool memento. Aaand this Italian phrasebook would have been really handy during the three weeks I just spent in Italy.


Target practice. Now this brought back happy memories — of the time I visited my friend Miriam in Missouri and held, and shot, my first ever gun. I imagined my ex-boyfriend’s face as the target and bazinga, bullseye. I think I’ll frame it.


A collection of 2013 inflight magazines. I guess it was research? I really wanted to be a travel writer back then (confession: still do) so I suppose I was holding onto these as an arsenal of inspiration. But let’s face it: magazines are way heavy. Plus, dated. Yep, ruthless 2017 Lani chucked these right in the bin.

The purple suitcase — half emptied of its 2013 secrets, then topped up with new items overflowing from my Europe suitcase — finally completed its journey. We’re currently calling Melbourne home.

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I’m sorry Jackson, Miss.

About one year later is a good time to write a trip review, right? Well that’s where we’re at, people. This time 12 months ago I had just returned from the ol’ US of A road trip that turned out to be simply the best, most epic holiday ever. It’s possible it’s taken me this long to be able to feel I can adequately convey just how special it truly was. Or I’m just incredibly lazy and the most highly skilled procrastinator out there.

Either way, I couldn’t let any more time slip by without sharing a true highlight of our weird and wonderful Americuh experience. And that highlight was Jackson, Mississippi.

We deliberately chose a few random stops on our road trip that weren’t the usual tourist must-sees. That’s why we ended up in places like Cherokee, NC — a dry county (cue awkward laughter as we realise that the motel receptionist that’s telling us this isn’t kidding). Jackson, we figured, had the whole Civil War, civil rights and gospel music thing going on, which was enough to make us book in for two nights and check out what the great city had to offer.


The mean streets of Jackson

Not all that much, it turned out. Jackson is no doubt a grand and beautiful city. We just didn’t expect it to be so deadGranted, it was the middle of summer, on a Monday. But as we wandered around the city streets, passing imposing monuments, historic plaques and column-flanked buildings, there was barely a soul to be seen. Lunch hour came and a smattering of office workers appeared, offering a bit of life for a brief 40 minutes, before disappearing again into their AC-cool hideouts.

And then there were the deserted, dilapidated blocks of abandoned shopfronts and closed-down cafes. Our hotel concierge had helpfully marked out a map of where the best night spots were, and had told us that Farish Street, which runs nine blocks across the city, would be a good place to start with a decent amount of options. Lucky we chose to do a daytime drive-by first, because it fast became apparent it was not a street we’d be keen to stroll down after dark. Unless it was lined with the sort of uber-cool clubs where you had to push the fourth brick to the right and whisper the latest password to make the door magically appear, there really didn’t appear to be much going on in the way of actual, functioning venues.


Beautiful but abandoned … a common Jackson theme

We soon discovered we weren’t completely alone, on our wanderings. As we hit up Jackson’s attractions one by one, we began to notice the same two girls there as well — just arriving, just leaving each place we checked out as soon as we did. They appeared to be tourists, too, bringing the total count to four of us within the whole city. Finally, that evening, when we headed to what turned out to be the one and only bar with anything going on (ie, staff serving drinks), there they were. It was time, we agreed. The shadowing had to stop.

After semi-awkwardly making a beeline for them at the bar (subtlety isn’t an option when you’re the only four in the joint), we introduced ourselves and proceeded to swap basically identical Jackson tourist stories over reliably potent southern beverages. It was quite hilarious. And somewhat comforting to hear that our weird experience of this city wasn’t unique. “Yeah,” we all asked each other, “what the hell is up with Jackson?”


Jackson boasts some amazing historic gems, worth a look


The grand contrasts with the crumbling on every corner

On our last night in town, we picked an Italian restaurant close to the hotel for dinner. The food was really great and the service was attentive just bordering on smothering. The staff were clearly very pleased to see us. Our waiter, in between generous grindings of pepper and a vigilant determination to never let our wine glasses go empty, attempted to explain the city’s current state — its struggle to rebuild itself, after an attempt at a revitalisation that stalled when investment got pulled.


Amazing food at La Finestra

It seemed strange to us, and sad, that a place full to brim with history and character could be so (unintentionally) unwelcoming to tourists. But it’s something that’s a reliable conversation starter today, recalling just how bizarre our experience was. And it wasn’t all bad — I definitely have a few special memories that I consider Jackson highlights:

  • Our beautiful hotel, The Old Capitol Inn, with our lovely room and its juliet balcony overlooking a goldfish pond, and the daily wine and cheese reception in the lobby (mostly the wine and cheese reception)
  • The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, and its excellent exhibits and helpful staff
  • And McAlisters Deli. I am thankful to Jackson for introducing me to McAlisters Deli and its Harvest Chicken Salad croissant, with a side of potato salad, because chicken salad and potato salad ARE REALLY HEALTHY SEE THE SALAD PART?

And … our hero shot, the chicken salad croissant



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Notes on a plane

Soooo I went on my trip. Like, four months ago. It was amazing and ridiculous and exhausting. Everything I wanted it to be, basically. And I fully intended — correction, intend — to include a couple of highlights of the adventure in this little blog. But life, as it does, swept me along and here we are. In December. Woah.

Anyway, the other day I came across some scrawlings I’d made in a notebook whilst up in the air, going slowly mental from lack of sleep and aircabin claustrophobia, and jotting down random thoughts — stream of consciousness style — collected from various flights. They are deeply profound. Here, as a way of easing myself back into writing, I share them with you.

  • Compression socks: are just really, really tight socks.
  • Compression socks: are impossible to put on whilst wearing skinny jeans. This requires an extremely awkward undressing manoeuvre in the plane toilet, which is probably more complicated to pull off than having sex in a plane toilet.
  • The dad in the front row has ordered his fourth JD and coke and is now past pretending not to notice his toddler leaning over the seats and poking the faces of the passengers behind, and is blatantly, boozedly, not noticing.
  • The 20-somethings in the exit row are also getting wasted. I thought one of them was doing that thing where you say something rude and disguise it as a cough, till I realised he just has a tourettes-style tic that involves coughing every fourth word. My bad.
  • I cannot get past $16,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, my inflight entertainment of choice. It’s so frustrating. But probably more frustrating for the people behind me who can see my screen and watch me consistently bomb out over obscure general knowledge questions. Once, on a flight, I swear I got to $64,000. You don’t believe me. I should have taken a photo.


    It’s just me and Little Dragon. Blah blah ‘cabin crew prepare for takeoff’ shhhhh.

  •  I’ve come up with my departure jam. I literally have it on repeat as soon as I’m seated and play it to zone out during the annoying period where you wait for everyone to get settled and the plane to take off. And, best part, it’s provided by the airline. Inflight entertainment wins again. Except when they rudely interrupt with various ‘important’ announcements. I promise to keep my seatbelt buckled like a good citizen as long as you wind this thing up in the next five seconds.
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Countdown to down south: roadtrippin’ USA

Is the best part of a holiday before you even leave? I don’t mean to put a damper on the actual going-away bit, but how great is taking three minutes out from your painful work day to daydream about that glorious upcoming vacation? Imagining the moment you step out of the office on your last day, forgetting all about the stack of to-dos scribbled on post-it-notes that have piled up on your desk. Knowing that soon you’ll be saying a sweet “Later y’all” to your jealous coworkers and the tedious dramas of the everyday grind. I like to help along that little fantasy with a visual aid. Behold:


Staring at this baby really helps me through the particularly trying workday period of 9am-5pm

Seventeen work days and counting, people. That’s when I’m saying a fond farewell to the wet and windy Melbourne winter and heading to the gorgeous paradise you see in the above pic — Key West. Yeah, I’ve been there seven times before but this time I’m bringing a posse of hot ladies with me. Look out KW, four Aussies, a Kazakh and a Kiwi will soon be descending on your fair shores, ready for cocktails, cuban food and all the goodness that the Conch Republic has to offer.

But the fun doesn’t end at Mile Zero. As a sort of sequel to our 2010 Euro Trip Extraordinaire, Sandra and I are also embarking on a three-week road trip around the southern US states. Four years older, absolutely none the wiser, we have no idea what’s in store for us but it should be pretty hilarious. We’ve got a rough itinerary, with plenty of room for spur-of-the-moment changes, which is a sensible way to do it, don’t you think? I mean, if the ruggedly handsome ranch hand/bartender we’ve recently befriended in a Tennessee back-country bar has an amazing insider tip on where we should detour to, who are we to ignore him? Yep, we’re leaving a lot to chance. But there are a few things I’m fairly sure will occur on this wee adventure, including the following:

  • We’re going to get   s  w  e  a  t  y.  We’ve chosen the peak of summer to head right down to the dirty, steamy south. I remember visiting Savannah, Georgia in May, and having to divide daily sightseeing duties into two parts, to allow for the requisite midday shower and change. So yeah, August? Moist. Thank Christ for American cars with jacked-up AC.
  • We’re going to see Elvis. Or, more accurately, many Elvises. Elvii? Our three-day stop in Memphis just happens to coincide with Elvis Week. I kid you not. A time when, apparently, thousands of die-hard Elvis fans including Elvis impersonators hit the city for an assortment of festivities. I don’t have any particular interest in Elvis, but dudes in bad wigs and tight white jumpsuits en masse is something I really, really need to see.

I wonder if there is a hierarchy of rhinestone bedazzlement …

  •  We will wait in long, long, long queues. But at least we’ll get to live out our witch/wizard fantasies. That’s right, our first stop after Key West is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and no, I feel no shame in admitting I am super stoked about it. I’m definitely buying a wand, and drinking a butterbeer, and riding the Hogwarts Express. And I will squash any irritating small child that gets in the way of any of those goals.
  • We will suffer many bad hangovers in New Orleans. I mean, it’s inevitable, right? We’re only there for four days, but I’m pretty sure that’s more than enough time to try our first Hurricanes, drink far too many Hurricanes, and then regret ever touching a Hurricane. Let the good times roll.

My liver just cringed in advance

  •  We will get lost while driving. I should admit at this point that while we are taking a road trip, only one of us will actually be driving. And that will be Sandra. Due to my inability to operate any vehicles whatsoever, I will take on the very important responsibility of being the designated map reader. It’s an unfortunate situation — that the person with zero sense of direction will be in charge of directing us everywhere, but that’s why we’re smart and have added on GPS to our car hire. I am perfectly happy to be backup map-reader to a computer. Between the machine and me, I’m hoping to get lost only an average of four to five times.



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Alf, Murray and the Australian dream

I’ve thought a lot about Alf recently. Alf Stewart, that is, the Home and Away living legend.

Enjoying a pretty true blue Aussie experience, a couple of weeks ago I got to visit the lovely town of Echuca, on the banks of the Murray River. I stayed in an actual caravan park (so Home and Away), and even saw my first ever Gallas. You’d know what a Galla is if you watched Home and Away (or if you’re Australian). Previously, I’d only ever heard of them when uttered in the classic Alf expression “Flamin’ Gallah!” which Alf likes to throw around when confronted with Summer Bay idiots.

Back to Echuca, the town’s tourism website would like you to know that it’s home to the largest riverboat fleet in the world, and yes, I can confirm there were numerous paddlesteamers based at Echuca’s port. It also refers to the area as Echuca Moama — ‘twin towns’ on either side of the river, which I guess don’t individually warrant their own websites. Sorry about that E&M. The beautiful paddleboats conjure up images of ye-olde-yesteryear, and appropriately enough the historic port is bursting full of tourist-enticing attractions, including a blacksmith, woodturner, and even a giant log. No, seriously, it’s a really big log. Check it out:

Giant logIf you think that’s special, wait till you see the Thong Tree.

Thong tree

I don’t know how a thong tree comes into existence, but now that I’ve seen one in all its glory, I feel my life is a little more complete.

After we wandered around the port, we headed to what would be the main event of the day — watching the footy at the local pub. It was the first time I’d ever watched a game, so I had the enthusiasm of the uninitiated, helped along by a few beers, naturally. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on, but the players were pretty and I cheered along when appropriate. Except that time I realised I’d been backing the wrong team. Sang was a little unimpressed with that one. I also had to have her explain what ‘carn’ meant, as in, “Carn the Bombers!” (Come on, apparently.) Australia, you have much to teach me.

Something I’ve definitely learned to appreciate is the Aussie obsession with parmas. It’s basically a national dish, on every pub menu and served in an assortment of tasty options. At the American Hotel in Echuca (delightfully Australian despite its name), you can order the parma half-size, which is perfect for those that don’t want a coronary alongside their crumbed chicken and chips. Most parmas tend towards the size of a dinner plate, and that’s without sides.


With the footy and an hours-long spell at the pub checked off the list, it seemed time to enjoy some of Echuca’s other attractions, perhaps even get off my arse and maybe get close to nature. A stroll along the river reminded me that we were in ‘the country’, and that reminded me that I was in Australian country, and therefore dangerously close to all the potentially life-threatening creatures that inhabit said country. I’ll admit I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t see any whopping great spiders, but I did see a seriously oversized ant. It might not sound that impressive, but woah mama, I swear I nearly tripped over that beast.

We did see some of these, however.

Carp corpses

European Carp, strewn all over the sand along the river. It was freaky, they were EVERYWHERE. Many were still alive, little gills fruitlessly expanding and contracting. Some had no eyes — pecked out by birds, we guessed in moderate repulsion. Turns out these carp are considered serious pests, so much so that if you catch one you’re officially not allowed to return it to the water, or you face being fined. Bummer. For you and the carp.

On a happier note, Echuca really is beautiful. It’s a statement of the extremely obvious, but wow, Australia’s landscape is unique.

Echuca tree

It’s all dry and dusty, all muted tones of silver, orange and dull green. It’s an exciting feeling, being somewhere new, in new surroundings. Echuca was my first real taste of Australia outside of Melbourne, and I liked it. Yesterday I received my Medicare card, now I can say I’ve stayed in a caravan park. I’m crossing things off the Aussie checklist, and I think Alf would be proud.


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I live here now for now

I’ve been in Melbourne for three months. Am I fully assimilated? Pfft, hardly. I can’t imagine a haitch ever passing my lips intentionally and sometimes I have no idea what Australians around me are saying. I just nod and smile. But I have found it surprisingly straightforward, slipping into a new life. Melbourne, it turns out, is a very easy city in which to live.

Being a recent arrival, naturally I still find everything a bit weird and wonderful. And because I know that you value my insightful observations and social commentary highly, I will share some of my thoughts on life here in Melbourneo. Enjoy.



Would I look weird if I started wearing one of those cork hats? Because I can really appreciate the logic in them now. Australian flies are persistent. They do laps around your skull as you walk down the street, and no amount of awkward arm flailing deters them. Just when you think you’ve lost the bastard, you stop at the street lights and bingo, he’s back, uncomfortably close to your nostrils. Does this fly actually just want to burrow into my head, I wonder, as I attempt to not look bothered that I’m feeling like a walking pile of fly-attracting shit. If I just resisted, would he buzz straight into my ear and make a cosy home in the soft tissue of my brain? And so on. I’ve yet to find an answer to any of these pressing matters.



But not just any old TV movies. TV movies about real Australians. Aussie semi-celebs, I guess. I don’t know what’s up, but when I first moved here two networks were head to head in an epic TV movie battle. The contenders? INXS vs Schapelle Corby, the latter of whom will probably mean little to anyone outside of Aus or NZ. But trust me, her story is juicy. Both were scheduled to air on the same night. What to do? How to choose?? I went with Schapelle, because I do love a good drug-smuggler scandal. Plus, points for being topical as this was timed to screen just before her release from Bali jail. If I’m honest I only watched the first 15 minutes and it was SO, SO BAD. But in a hilarious way. So, to sum up, Australian TV is fairly abysmal but I probably needed to spend less time in front of the box anyway, so it’s all good.




Right, so I am super pasty basically all of the time. And I guess I’m okay with that (I’m not really, I have lately become dangerously fond of spray tans). But considering I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy what’s been essentially three summers in a row, I’m still an annoyingly unexciting shade of freckly off-white. And this is probably the most tanned I’ve been all my life. I look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘yeah, not bad. Go forth, bronzed one’. And then I step outside. There are lots of people of Mediterranean descent here in Melbourne, who, at their palest, will always be seven shades darker than me. I give up.



How boring is it to talk about the weather? Let’s find out. I thought Toronto got pretty steamy. I recall a day a couple of years ago when it reached 51 degrees (with the all-important humidex, that is. Humidex sounds so nerdy, I love it). That was … interesting. But I have to say Melbourne’s recent record-breaking four-day spell of 40+ degree temps was a whole new, terrifying experience. At first it was a novelty. By day three I was set up five inches from the fan, with a bag of frozen peas on each foot and splashing myself from my glass of iced water every 2.5 minutes. Day four, by which point my blood had reached boiling point, saw me cab it over to Sandra’s where I camped out on the couch in her living room — the only room in the house that had AC — in order to get some sleep for a job interview the next day. That night came the ‘cool change’, a phenomenon I remember my sister telling me about when she lived over here, and which I always thought sounded pretty hilarious and typically colloquial. Now, I’m the cool change’s number-one fan. I felt it literally drop ten degrees in about half an hour, and that was the best half-hour of my life, no lie.


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The year of unexpected travels

In 2013 I went on 26 individual flights. That might add up to a sizeable carbon footprint, I guess, but I’m no frequent flying corporate executive, so I figure it doesn’t really count.


I love to travel as much as I can (most of us do, after all), but after my big NZ trip in March, I thought I was pretty much done for the rest of the year. Just shows how you never know what’s waiting for you round the corner. My way of dealing with a major life change? Make a large dent in the savings account and go on a ‘journey of self-discovery’. Or, more accurately, a journey of eating, drinking, merriment and serious distraction. It worked. I lived. I may now be a wee bit further away from any grownup life goals like a deposit on a house, but that’s a reality I’m okay with.

Now, eight months on, I’m ready to sort-of, maybe, almost plant my feet down for a spell. I picked an entirely new place to live, and I’m here, in a new flat, with new roommates, on a new, shitty Ikea mattress on the floor (just me, not the roommates). I think I’ll like Melbourne. I hope it likes me.

I — and my savings plan — never dreamed 2013 would be a year of so much travel, but I can only look back and be grateful I had the chance to go at all. It was a pretty spesh journey all up, and, while I might not have achieved as much as that crazy dude who just got back from visiting every country in the world WITHOUT using planes, I had me some times.

Things I won’t forget in a hurry:

  • Learning to shoot a gun! (And immediately prior to that, learning how to hold a gun, and prior to that, be in the same room as a gun without having a panic attack.)
  • Late-night truck rides across the country roads of Middle America, music a-blaring.
  • Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede
  • Getting my first (and last?) tick bite.
  • Look, basically everything about Missouri.
  • Pulling an all-nighter on my first night in London, after already involuntarily pulling an all-nighter on the plane ride over from Toronto. That’s a double-all-nighter. Or an all-double-nighter. You decide.
  • Winning the top-secret Hint Hunt challenge in London with mere seconds to spare.
  • The most amazing panna cotta I’ve ever eaten in Umbria.
  • Sampling tasty deep-fried zucchini flowers courtesy of Miss Elektra.
  • Look, basically all the food in Italy.
  • Losing my wallet, my camera, and possibly my mind in Barcelona.

2014, you’ve got some big shoes to fill.

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