Dream Tripping – Road Tripping

After being back at work for only a short time and the with whole year stretching out in front of me before another summer break I am inadvertently looking for a way to constantly re-live the summer each day. Almost subconsciously I found myself creating a play list in my iTunes… when I looked closer at each of the songs I realised that each song reminded me of a particular road trip.  Here is my summer memory road trip play list:

Sunsets – Powderfinger

Its New Year’s Day and I was feeling a little worse for wear – definitely not up for the 5-hour drive down the south coast to where my friends were camping. The weather was amazing, I spent most of the day at the beach putting off the inevitable drive until the last moment.  Finally, as the hordes of beach goers were starting to pack up their umbrellas and sandcastles I knew it was time to leave.  But how to make such a journey bearable?  Having forgotten to charge my iPod I was preparing for the worst trip of my life, when I spied a CD under a pile of semi important papers that I generally ignore – I grabbed it and hit the road.

On the way out of Sydney I tried to make the best of the radio for as long as I had it, but all too soon I was on the highway cruising easily in the outbound lane – in the other direction the traffic was at a near standstill as hundreds of family’s returned from a day on the southern beaches.   Suddenly as I entered a part of the highway that was covered with bush on both sides the radio dropped out… I sighed in annoyance as I stared patiently at the head deck to see if sheer will power would extend its reception – it didn’t.

I grabbed the miscellaneous mix CD – it was scuffed and scratched and for the life of me I couldn’t remember what was on it.

As the player ate up the CD the car drifted out of the bush and started to crest a hill.  The opening bars of Powderfinger’s Sunsets blew out my open windows as the evening sun blinded me through the windshield. I coasted down the hill, foot off the accelerator, picking up speed, my hair flying out the window – it was a fist pump moment and I embraced it!  Suddenly the road seemed wonderful and large, full of possibilities and grand destinations – I sang the whole way there!

Boys of Summer – The Ataris

When you’re seventeen every day is a road trip.  I don’t think any of our teachers actually expected their students to turn up for class when it was 38 degrees out and the river was beckoning.

Every day of summer my friend would come and pick me up in her dated light blue Datsun that had a pump clutch.  Her Dad had done it up for her along with matching seat covers for her birthday – it was the best car in the world!

The car was always hot, but we didn’t mind, as it was an excuse to have our windows down, leaning on the sill letting our hair catch in the breeze – we were young and vain.  If we weren’t at school we drove out of town to the river, there was one CD that we played constantly over the summer, and one song that we would pump up every time. The Boys of Summer by the Ataris – every time I hear it I can smell burning bitumen, sweat and river water – it was a sweeter time.

Little Lion Man – Mumford and Sons

I took a break between uni and real life and decided to do what most Australians never do – road trip the east coast.  Talk to any backpacker and I guarantee they have seen more of Australia’s great wonders than the biggest true blue bogan.  So naturally when I got to Airlie Beach I had to head out on a boat and see the Whitsundays (I was the only Australian apart from the crew on board).  Soon I was relaxing on a sailboat with 20 others, miles away from the cesspool of bars and camper vans.

It was a strange isolating freedom – floating trapped on a boat in the great expanse.

Our yacht - anchored while we went diving

Our yacht – anchored while we went diving

For the next three days we all bonded, drank too much goon, went scuba diving and sun bathing, walked along the most beautiful beach in the world (Whitehaven) and ate food that was shockingly tasty. Before we left on the first day the whole boat had been bought into “The End of the World Game”  (for those of you who don’t know what that is – it’s when you can’t say the word “mine” – if you do you have to drop and give 10 push ups NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE!)

Can you imagine spending three days with people constantly asking questions to trip you up – and we all failed (except one Scottish guy who no matter how much goon he consumed he never succumbed to the trickery), I did more push ups in those three days than I have in my whole life.

Finally sun burnt, covered in bites, exhausted, hung over and completely mellow the yacht headed back to Airlie Beach.  Half of the group was falling asleep in the fading afternoon sun; the other half had were already deep in their own dreams of hot showers and clean toilets.  Suddenly Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons started blaring through the speakers. As one we all woke up, dragging our minds out of the restful states to group together in the false camaraderie that only backpackers who have been trapped together for a length of time have.  The Scot lead the charge as he leapt onto an esky and started belting out the words – we crowded around him and let our croaked voices mingle with his. Singing at the top of our lungs the whole boat went silent at the line “Its not your fault but…” – as we stared into each other’s faces to see who would slip up – three days of the game had taught us to be careful.  To this day I can’t sing that whole line, and every time I hear it I feel as though I am back on that boat, exhausted and mellow!

Johnny Farnaham – You’re the Voice

Do you ever have those moments that feel as though they should be in a movie – or straight off Broadway?  Moments that are so surreal and cheesy that only Hollywood could do them justice.  Well who better to sing in a moment worthy of Adam Pontipee and his brothers than Johnny Farnham.

I was on a bus in Italy traveling from Genoa to Nice, it was the middle of summer and as always is the case when its stinky hot – the aircon had stopped working.  So you can imagine the groan that ricocheted around the bus once a traffic jam was spotted up ahead.  An hour and a half later and we had barely moved – the bus driver was on the phone to various people who were giving up updates on the jam.  It wasn’t going anywhere soon – there had been a fatal crash in the tunnel ahead.

Now the whole bus was sweaty, hungry and irritable so the bus driver did the only thing that was left for him to do.  He followed the train of cars that looked like they knew where they were going down a small side road.  Slowly the road wound back and forth as it began to climb over the mountain it had previously been trying to go under.  We all sat back in our sweat soaked seats and fell into the kind of stupor that only mind numbing heat and boredom can induce. As we climbed the radio that the driver had been blasting for the last several hours started to break up, he didn’t turn it off though just let it play broken songs from various stations as it moved through reception spots.

Suddenly the mood in the bus changed from lethargic to tense – on one side of the bus was a gigantic drop down the side of the mountain.  The road was barely large enough for the bus.  The bends became sharper and the bus had to do more than a few three point turns to get round them.  As the radio crackled the whole bus held their breaths – staring resolutely ahead, ignoring the drop to one side.

After an hour of this it seemed as though we had crested the mountain and begun down the other side.  As I realised this the radio suddenly came into tune – Johnny Farnham dulcet tones blasted down the bus.

This was that moment.  As I sat back in my seat feeling my muscles relax I began subconsciously humming along, within a few lines I was singing.  I looked across the isle and the girl opposite was doing the same – she smiled at me and we sang louder.  As the courus started I relaised that we weren’t the only ones singing – looking up the isle I caught the eyes of at least six others who were laughing and smiling (I assume that they were part of the horde of Australians invading Europe – though I never asked), my German neighbor was grinning at me.

As the bus picked up speed on a straight bit of road two Kiwi boys in the middle of the bus stood up.  Followed quickly by three girls at the front.  Within a heartbeat nearly the whole bus was standing and attempting to sing the song – even those who didn’t know any of the words or who Johnny Farnham was.  It was two minutes of a musical on a bus.

When the song died we all sat down, we didn’t make eye contact, we just sat back in our seats and let the heat wash back over us.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

My semester abroad was in San Diego (please don’t start quoting Anchor Man – heard them all) so for a weekend a few fellow internationals and me took a weekend trip to the big smoke.  The city of glamour and destruction – the city of angels – Los Angeles.

One thing you learn in America is that to take life by the horns – embrace it, absurdities and all.  So in the spirit of things we headed to L.A in my friends white convertible with a special mix CD specifically designed by one of my travel companions from the UK.  Every song on this CD related back to California – it was cheesy and poppy and quite frankly…Brilliant!

We did all the major sites, Rodeo drive where we met the town crier, Beverly Hills where I made everyone stand outside Ringo Star’s house for 20 minutes in the off chance he would take out the garbage, we walked along Mullholand Drive hunting for Serial killers – oh and looked at the sign.  On our last afternoon we trekked it down to Santa Monica for a perusal through shops we couldn’t afford.  As the afternoon wore on we slowly drifted towards the beach.  It was a big beach – and ridiculously flat from being combed constantly.  It was broken up by what we called Baywatch towers and the giant monstrosity at the end – Santa Monica Pier. Covered in Ferris Wheels and hot dogs it was simultaneously grotesques and awesome!

Walking on Santa Monica Beach

Walking on Santa Monica Beach

We sat on the beach and watched the beach slowly turn golden as one of California’s famous sunsets began to grow. Suddenly the Englishman jumped up “I’m going in the water” and like that he took off his shirt and ran into the water – an Englishman never wastes an opportunity to swim in the warm sea.

After a splash we began the long drive south to San Diego, the roof was down, the sun was setting, the Englishman was sopping wet in the backseat and the mix CD was playing continuously.

As we drove down Hollywood Blvd, Californication came on – the Englishman leaned forward and turned to volume up – this was California at its finest baby!

Sex on Fire – Kins of Leon

Ever been to Rockhampton? No? You’re not missing much.  We rocked into town around 4pm after a solid 8 hours driving.  The next stretch to Mackay was going to be another long hit so we decided to stay the night.  What to do?  Well there wasn’t many recommendation in Lonely Planet and our hostel owner looked at us like we were aliens – so we asked Google.  Goole advised us that there was a movie theatre just a few streets away – why not!

It was your typical movie theatre, there were teenagers making out in the lobby and pop corn on the floor.  I don’t even remember what movie we saw.  I do remember coming out of the theatre and being starving.  We drove around for about 15 minute and couldn’t see anything worth stopping at, so we did the typical Australian road trip thing – headed to the golden arches – McDonalds!

As my car didn’t have aircon we always had the windows down which meant we had to have the stereo up loud to combat the road noise. We pulled into the car-park with Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire blaring.  Quite possibly one of the most awkward moments of the whole trip.  In the car-park at 9pm, there were several families, teenagers drinking, adults drinking and just people loitering generally – and we rolled in like some punks. When we got of the car the half of Rockhampton was sitting there, they silently watched us walk into the building. After standing in line with the locals donned in trackies, ugg boots (or no shoes) and ratty hair extensions we grabbed our burgers and headed back to the car.

I hadn’t turned the radio down, when I started the engine Sex on Fire blasted the car park again. Now… I can look back and laugh!

Of course there are many more songs like – Scooby Snacks, Bohemian Like You, Walking on a Dream,  and pretty much anything by the Beatles will bring up an image of the long open road which is always just out of reach, beckoning for me.

The best Gelato… Really?

When a friend tells me about their upcoming trip I immediately seethe with jealousy that I find very hard to mask, in fact with my close friends I don’t even bother especially as I think they get a little kick out of making me jealous.  I am ten times worse when someone tells me they are going to a place I have already been and loved.  Like everyone, I start running a mini life movie in my head of my own experiences there and have to fight down the urge to blurt it all out, boring them for half an hour with my own travel stories.  For is there, nothing worse than talking to someone who has been where you are going and they say constantly “you have to do this” or “you have to eat here”?  It drives you nuts because: a) you are never going to remember and b) you want to have these amazing moments of discovery yourself and not because someone did it first and told you where to go.  I try to somehow swallow down all the words that are bubbling in my mouth while I sift through the video in my brain to pick out a few carefully chosen pieces of advice, things that are absolutely vital that they be passed on.

In particular I have a friend who is about to head off on 6 glorious weeks round Europe – the level of envy that I feel is un-containable – and I have been struggling not to tell her about the best cheap glass shops I found in Venice, or the best pub to sit and watch people in London, or the best order to visit the Cinque Terra’s (there are all in my opinion – of course others may disagree but when you find a place and have a great experience you naturally think it’s the best!)

There is one thing though that I can’t bite my tongue about – Gelato!

Tourists and indeed locals can argue for hours about where the best Gelato is, most people agree it can only be found in Italy, but there are a few who think that Germany has taken the art and perfected it, or that the chocolate Gelato in Denmark is notably richer. They are wrong; the best Gelato is indeed, in Italy.

I had been traveling round Europe for about four months, doing the whole gap-year-from-life thing with a friend from home.  We had been so excited before we left, about Gelato, that we decided to that we were going to have a Gelato every day to see which was the best.  For four months we had done exactly that – Gelato every day, and my jeans were definitely noticing.  We had traveled across the top of Europe, then a little in to Eastern Europe before arriving at the grandfather of Gelato – Italy.

Our first couple of weeks in Italy was spent around Venice where we set ourselves up just outside of the city.  Every day we would catch the sweaty bus into the city and walk through the winding streets exploring.  We would endeavor to find a different Gelato place every day, and would sit by small fountains that we found, secluded away in unknown Piazzas and lick the Gelato off our fingers as it melted out of the small cup.

Eventually we moved south and inland to the Capital Rome.  I fell in love with Rome within five minutes of walking through its white stoned streets; the whole place seemed to be bathed in sunlight (it was the middle of July and they were suffering from the biggest heat wave in 20 years with 40 degree days).  That first afternoon we arrived late and by the time we had checked into our backpacker campsite and caught the bus into the city everything was closing up.  It was about 7pm and we were had found a Gelateria place that was still open, I had chocolate and my friend had lemon, we took our little cups of Gelato and walked into the Vatican.  It was empty, the sun was setting giving the place an eerie glow with dancing shadows, and we sat in silence eating our Gelato in the dying sun feeling the relief of the cool night as it rolled in.  That was a good Gelato but I believe it was due to the atmosphere and not due to any special properties of the Gelato.

The next week we slowly explored the city, we lined up three separate times to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral and each time gave up after a couple of hours to go in search of Gelato (if I was a Gelato seller I would walk up and down that line with a little Gelato cart – you would make a fortune).  I loved looking at the overpriced shops alongside the ancient wonders, randomly walking around a corner and finding an obelisk, or eating McDonald’s under the Spanish Steps (we only ate there because of the novelty of eating UNDER the Spanish Steps).  Due to the soaring heat we were averaging three Gelato’s a day, I would switch between chocolate and choc chip or vanilla, my friend would switch between lemon and strawberry.

We were in no rush to leave and kept extending our stay.  On our 6th day in Rome we finally stumbled (I say stumbled because we had been thinking about visiting it for several days but had been side tracked until we walked around a corner…) upon the Trevi Fountain.  We fought our way through the crowds until we had a nice spot to sit and people watch.  We sat there for over an hour batting away the various flower sellers, watching the tourists desperately trying to get an unimpeded photo in front of the fountain.  Eventually the heat got to us so much that I went and drank from one of the fresh water bubblers that are all over Rome – apparently they were built in ancient Roman times as a source of water, as water is a basic human right that every person should have – plus its hot in Rome. As refreshing as this was, it wasn’t enough to cool me down – it was Gelato time.  We looked around the Piazza and there were plenty of places lining the walls but one quick look inside showed that they were all over priced.  Being the good little backpackers that we were, we thought to go a few streets back where there was sure to be a slightly cheaper place.

We walk down the first lane-way and see a man leaning precariously against his red Ferrari that was parked annoyingly in the way.  He was torn between watching girls walk past, in the hope that they will look at him, and between shooing away the dangerous tourists with bulky backpacks that could scratch the paint.  We laughed and stepped around the Ferrari only to see another Gelato shop, this close to the fountain we are about to ride it off as too expensive but an Irish tourists walked out spooning some Gelato into her mouth “My god this is the best Gelato I have ever had” her boyfriend tries to agree (we assume) but his mouth was too full to be comprehensible.

The best Gelato… really? If that wasn’t a challenge I don’t know what is!

Inside it was hotter than outside and I marveled at the how the Gelato behind the glass counter could still be frozen.  The man behind the counter was exactly what I imagined all Gelato sellers should look like.  He was large wearing a white shirt with an apron over the top, he had a giant moustache and floppy hair, his cheeks were red and sweat was funning down his face we he kept mopping away with a tea towel.

Under his glass cabinet there were more Gelato flavours than I had ever seen in my life.  I looked for my usual chocolate flavour… there were so many varieties that I became indecisive.  Then I spotted a flavour I had never seen before – Meringue! What could be better?  I love meringue and I love Gelato – combining them can only be success.

My friend went with her usual Strawberry sorbet flavour, and the gentleman serving us handed over giant cups overflowing with rich tasty goodness.  Quickly licking round the side of the up as we hurried back out to the fountain, elbowing our way back to our spot and settled down to eat our Gelato.

It was amazing, the light and fluffy texture combined with the sweetness of the flavour slipped down my throat.  My friend was likewise impresses as I realised that she was almost finished – “It tastes like real summer strawberries!”

We were very close to declaring this the best Gelato ever there and then, but thought we might just be caught up in the moment.  The next day we went on a wander round the Roman forum and had a Gelato for morning tea… it was nice… but not great.  After seeing Caesar’s grave, Nike’s arch and a lunch of tomato and boconccini Panini’s while sitting on another random fountain, we headed back to the Trevi Fountain Gelato Bar, to see if it was indeed as good as we had been talking about for the last 12 hours (several backpackers had rolled their eyes at us where we were staying).

I couldn’t resist the Meringue again so I got a combination of Meringue and Chocolate Chip, my friend combined, strawberry with vanilla… it didn’t meet expectations – It charged them out of Rome, dragging them behind its chariot in a wave of dust.

Yet we were still hesitant about naming it the best Gelato – It’s a big call after all.  We went back there every afternoon for the next five days.  Not once did it disappoint, didn’t matter what flavour or combination, the level of hunger or how hot it was.  Every time it was like licking frosted gold!

Since then I have done my best to tell every person I know about this little Gelato bar near the Trevi Fountain.  So next time you head to Rome be sure to visit the little Gelato Bar (pictured below in the screen shot I took off Google Maps) and please be sure to write and tell me if you have been there or indeed if you have had better Gelato – lets put it to the test!

Thanks Google Maps for helping me find my favourite Gelato bar in Rome