Phone down, but I’m not out

Bergen is a beautiful city, which I hope to visit again one day. Unfortunately, it will remain in my memory as the place where my phone crashed and I lost photos, videos and Apps.

I have a confession to make. Not only do I have a Windows phone, but I also love it. I realise it has disadvantages. I cannot access some of the Apps available to other phones, so I miss out on the Snapchats my family send to each other. But I can overlook that. I am comfortable with my phone. I know how to use it and, sometimes it even surprises me with an extra bit of functionality I hadn’t realised was there. My relationship with my Windows phone is a bit like that with my children. I know they all have shortcomings, but I love them regardless.

I am very rarely disappointed with my phone but in Bergen I got furious with it, threatening to replace it. In retrospect, it was probably my fault for not performing a hard reset when I upgraded to Windows 10. In my defence, that wasn’t clear in the instructions. Move forward several months, in a foreign country with no phone access and suddenly I can no longer contact anyone on WhatsApp as apparently there is no storage left on my phone. Why didn’t I have an SD card, you ask. I did, I say. However, although I made sure everything new was stored on the SD card and everything I could move to it was moved, I still ran out of storage.

Thankfully, I had also brought my Surface Pro with me, so off to Google I went. Most of the websites I found recommended performing a hard reset. Half of them suggested taking the SD card out first, which is exactly what I did. The hard reset fixed the storage issue, but the phone no longer recognised the SD card, even after performing another hard reset with the SD card in place. This was a problem as I had all my photos, videos and apps, including WhatsApp – my main communication source for this trip – on the SD card. All of it was lost.

What about OneDrive you ask? Some of my photos and videos were uploaded, but then, being slightly suspicious of saving things in the cloud, I changed the settings.

I searched everywhere for some sort of help which I didn’t have to pay for. Eventually I tweeted Microsoft help and they suggested I try the SD card in a different phone to see if it was still working. Unfortunately, none of my fellow travellers could help. I tried downloading WhatsApp and Viber again, but they require phone connections for SMS codes, so it is out of the question until I return to Australia and have my phone again.

Consequently, here I am on a train to Berlin, having managed to travel from Bergen to Amsterdam and stay there a few days, still alive, still well and still enjoying my trip despite the loss of communication capability. Instead of texting my fellow travellers with my whereabouts, in the mornings we arrange a time and place to meet for dinner. I still have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Twitter – what more do I need?

And, despite my threats to find a replacement, I’m going to keep my Windows phone. After all, you can’t exchange your children if they disappoint you, can you?

Stress less, travel more

But what do you do when the travel stresses you? For a holiday which was meant to alleviate my stress, I’m feeling more stressed than when I left!

First our flight from Cologne to Riga was cancelled. When I requested a refund, they rescheduled our flight to leave from Munich. Which is great, unless you are staying in Bonn, approximately 557kms away from Munich. And the airline refused to change our flight to leave from Dusseldorf instead. So, we had to book our own flights from Dusseldorf to Munich and a hotel at the airport in Dusseldorf to get to Munich in time for the morning flight.

Then, when we arrived in Riga, my suitcase was split open along one of the seams. So, I had to buy a new suitcase. Given that we didn’t know Riga at all, we stopped at the first shopping centre we found and bought a suitcase from the only shop selling suitcases. It set me back $329 which I hadn’t counted on.

On with the journey, still looking forward to our Scandinavian adventure. Riga was beautiful, as was Helsinki and Stockholm. Each city was special in their own way, I’ll try to write about our trip in greater detail down the track.

From Stockholm, we flew to Tromsø in Northern Norway. We had a transit stop in Oslo. When we arrived in Tromsø, we discovered two of our suitcases, mine included, had been lost in transit, presumably at Oslo airport. The staff at Tromsø airport were decidedly unsympathetic. Thankfully, the staff at the Radisson Blu were as helpful as they could be. We checked in, the two of us without luggage did what we could to freshen up and we headed to the Tromsø Safari desk to find out about our Northern Lights tour that night. They told us it had been cancelled.

Now, I totally understand that weather conditions cannot be controlled and it would have been wrong of them to take us on a tour when they knew we would be unable to see the lights. But coming straight after lost luggage, I was distraught.

The next day, our luggage had arrived at the airport but apparently the staff there had to wait six hours after 11.30am to deliver it to us. When the lady at the front desk of the hotel told me this, I did burst into tears. She was fantastic. She organised the airport to put our suitcases in a taxi there and then. Even though I had to pay for the taxi, I was grateful to finally have clean clothes to change into and the use of my Natio products. Lesson learned – always pack a few things in your backpack just in case.

Up till this point, although being tired and slightly grumpy, I still felt in control of the situation and determined to enjoy the rest of our journey. Tromsø was fantastic. On our second night we went on a Northern Lights tour to a husky farm and managed to see the lights. Then off to Bergen, which is truly a beautiful place and one I hope to visit again.

Except it was in Bergen my phone crashed and I lost all my apps, my photos, videos and all connection to any means of contacting anyone except through Facebook messenger. But that’s a story for next week’s post.

Travel Writing

I admire the travel writer who can discipline themselves to write while they are travelling. Those whose very passion for a destination can enthuse complete strangers to visit it, in the hope of enjoying the same experiences. The likes of Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux come to mind, along with the iconic Geoff Dyer who always entertains. There are also myriads of travel blogs, many of which I read before I booked our current European adventure.

In the days leading up to our journey, I had high hopes of filling this blog with the sights and sounds of the many cities we are stopping at over our six week visit to Europe. All of my hopes have now faded into nonexistence.

The fact is there is too much to write about. Each city or town we visit is filled with sights, sounds, architecture, food and culture foreign to those we see every day in Australia. There is simply too much which is different, or beautiful, or amazing, a complete sensual overload which is difficult to process on the spot. Then, after two or three nights, we have moved on and the experiences overlay each other until I’m no longer certain of where I saw that magnificent building, or tasted the wonderful dish or saw the wonderful murals.

Of course, there are some sights I can never forget. The palace of Versailles, the cathedral at Cologne, Riga’s streets filled with incredible Art Nouveau buildings will stay with me forever. But a few cities down the track and, I’m ashamed to admit, I am loathe to see yet another church or palace. Instead I try to find different experiences. Here in Stockholm, I’m lucky enough to have both friends and cousins. Yesterday was pleasantly spent at lunch with friends in a part of Stockholm I would never have visited on my own. Tonight, we will have dinner with my cousins.

Tomorrow we leave again, this time away from the big cities, to northern Norway where we hope to see the northern lights. It will be cold, much colder than I have experienced for many years, probably wet and no doubt extremely beautiful. As far as I know, there are no churches or palaces to be seen. It promises to be a very different adventure, one which I am both looking forward to and dreading. You ask, why dreading? To put it simply, I am not the outdoors type. My idea of camping is lazing around a glittering pool at a 5-star resort. Therefore, chasing the northern lights in a mini bus through the countryside in the dead of night, without a bathroom in sight, causes me to feel slightly anxious.

On the bright side, it will be very different from any other experience so far and one which I am certain I can write about!

A Story Told

There is something special about listening to someone tell a story, especially if their story relates to their own experience.

Over the last five years I have spent a lot of time researching World War II from the German point of view, to try to understand my father’s experience of the war. I have read books and essays; watched documentaries and movies; and read personal accounts I have found on the internet. I have travelled to Germany a couple of times and traced my father’s footsteps, all in the name of researching the book I am currently rewriting.

But the first time I went to Germany, it was purely for pleasure and to meet my family. It was 1987 and the Berlin Wall was still standing. In order to reach Berlin, one had to cross East Germany, in my case by train. For someone who has been brought up in democracies, it was a huge culture shock to see patrols of policemen with machine guns striding through the train carriages, checking passports. What a difference the western zone of Berlin was! But forever in sight or in mind was that wall dividing the city and the country. Still, I fell in love with the city.

In 1989, together with the rest of the world, I watched the Berlin Wall being torn down.

Three years ago I revisited Berlin. This time I stayed in what had been the eastern zone. Again, I toured what remains of the Wall. Every time I see it I am reminded of the attempts so many people made to get to the West, so many lives lost, so many families destroyed. Yet, until last weekend at our family reunion, I had never realised the true impact on my own family. In fact, I never knew that some of my family had lived in the Soviet zone.

Last weekend Germany celebrated reunification. It is a big holiday, which is celebrated each year in a different German city. This year it just happened to be held in Mainz, where we also had the family reunion.

On our last night together, although many of our family had already left, the ones who were still there gathered for dinner and a last few shots of vodka. Suddenly, one of the family got up to speak. In German, and then in English, he told his story of the night the Berlin Wall came down. When he finished another family member stood up and told their story, then another and another. If they didn’t speak English, someone translated for them, so we could all share in the moment.

As I said at the beginning of this post, there is something special about listening to someone tell a story. That night, the stories we heard were extraordinary, poignant and still raw. They made real a time in history I only knew through movies, documentaries or the news. I will never forget those stories, or those who had the courage both to live them and to stand up and tell them.


My father’s extended family is scattered around the world. Most of them are from Europe, but I can boast distant cousins in America, South Africa, England, Ireland and even Indonesia. Every two years a family reunion weekend is organised and held in different places throughout Europe, which is exactly why I am sitting cross legged on a hotel bed in Mainz tapping out this post on my laptop.

Fifty-five family members, from babies to retirees, have gathered in Mainz, Germany for this weekend. Originally around a hundred had indicated they were coming but, for various reasons, nearly half had to pull out. The weekend has been planned, the schedule circulated and each of us have been eager to catch up from the last time we attended, in my case four years ago. There have been tours of local churches, a cloister, a rose garden and the Rhein river. Each night there will be wine and food, no doubt a few vodka shots, and plenty of conversation and fun. Coincidentally, Mainz is also hosting festivities to celebrate the reunification of Germany.

But to me this extended family of mine means far more than a weekend gathering. Each member of the family is another connection to my past, a thread which joins me to my family’s history. And our histories, although similar in many ways, also differ. We all have stories to tell. In one way or another we, or our ancestors, have all been migrants. Some have been both migrant and refugee. Some have lived in two countries, some more. Some, like myself, have had parents from different countries and even cultures.

And as I search for stories of my father’s family, I have discovered I am not the only one interested in the past. I’m not the only one struggling with identity and belonging. Yet another thing which binds me to this family. Where I thought I was alone in wondering where I fit into this world, which country I could claim as my own, which heritage to identify with, there are others in my family who feel the same. In a strange way, this is comforting.

Those of us who wonder about identity and belonging might never get the answer we search for. But as one of my cousins put it, we can simply consider ourselves to be citizens of the world. And we will always be part of our family.