Category Archives: travel tales from faraway

I’m really proud of these little stories. One day there’ll be more :)

Searching for the perfect white truffle in the Temple of Tartufo.

It’s white truffle season in northern Italy. We know this because our friend Paolo, who lives just north of Genova, keeps taunting us with little facebook messages to remind us that very soon, he will be heading to the 83rd International White Truffle Fair in Alba, or as he lovingly describes it, The Temple of Tartufo, for his annual pilgrimage.

He and his wife, our Australian friend Louise, took us there in 2010 and it is A. Very. Big. Deal.

entrance to the truffle market in Alba

A very serious business, anticipated for weeks in advance. People travel from all over the world to enter the hallowed Temple of Tartufo. Paolo made us all raise our hands and bow down at its gates. It’s bustling and crowded, so crowded in fact that there was only room in this picture for Louise and Paolo and me and Sophia and part of Gérard’s nose.

entrance to the truffle market in Alba The Temple of Tartufo, Alba

We let Paolo off the leash and just like those highly trained truffle hunting dogs he was off …

Paolo The Nose

Sniffing. Negotiating. Trying to find the perfect white truffle.

The Negotiation

Bringing in reinforcements as he got closer to his prize.

The Sniff Test

Getting a second opinion from the Giudice di Analisi Senoriale del Tartufo which via Google Translate, is the Judge Sensory Analysis of the Truffle (you get the idea).

The Master Sniffer

And just in case that wasn’t enough, he took advantage of the official verification service that confirmed that our truffle was indeed, the real deal. You know what the Italians are like. They love their red tape. I told you it was a serious business!

Guarantee your purchase

50 euros worth of white truffle.

A Truffle in the Hand

We’ll let Paolo do the honours.

Paolo does the honours

White truffle, ceremoniously grated over fresh tagliolini, with a little fresh parmesan. I think that was it.

Fresh tagliolini with white truffle shavings Close up of a white truffle

The smell of a white truffle …hmmm … have you ever smelt teenage boys’ socks? …

The taste? Well it’s one of the most subtle flavours I’ve experienced but interestingly it lingers for ages after you’ve had it.

Worth 50 euros? mmm? I dunno. The spectacle, the day, the thrill of the hunt, the meal, the fun … most certainly worth every dime.

After we had mastered the art of truffle hunting Paolo gave Steve a lesson in how to talk Italian. “We put it in this leetle box, then we move it across and put it in that leetle box.”

Two naughty boys

And then we sit down and we have a leetle rest.

Two naughty boys with a great sense of fun.

Two naughty boys

Oh if I could whisk us away anywhere at the moment Hogey, that’s where I’d take you.

Louise and Paolo run Forest View B&B about half an hour north of Genova in a tiny village called Sottovalle. It’s just near Gavi and not far from the huge Serravalle Designer Outlet. We have a bachelor friend, “He Who Shall Remain Nameless”, who spent not one, but two whole days lost at the designer outlet.  He finally returned, utterly jetlagged, with a car load of clothes and sporting a pair of verrrry nice Italian leather boots reduced from 350 euros to 120 euros. “My friend,” said Paolo impressed. “These are verrrry niiiice boooots. Even I would go home with you with these booooots. But you would have to keep them on.” lol

Louise and Paolo offer truffle and wine tours for guests and friends. Apparently the truffle prices are amazingly good this year because it’s been a high yield season. I can also tell you that if you want an insider’s perspective to Liguria and Piedmonte you’ll find none better. They’re gorgeous.

We miss you guys. Happy truffle hunting. Bastardos! xx


It’s a small world …

(I have to write this to get the expletive from the previous story off the main headline … it’s killing the ambience and my sister-in-law thinks it’s bad for business.)

So …

Once upon a time, when I was a slender young thing, I spent 10 days on the south coast of Sri Lanka, just east of Unawatuna at a little place called Dalawella.

daliwela sri lanka

That’s me trying my hand at fishing. (I lasted about 20 minutes. The locals would be out there till three in the morning!)

I stayed in an old, wide-verandahed, Portuguese-built guesthouse that sat across the road from the beach and I often wonder if it’s still there after the 2004 tsunami or whether it’s all been developed. My God it was beautiful back then.

Every day I’d wander down to the beach and after a while I noticed that there was a guy doing exactly the same as me. We never spoke. We’d just nod and go our own ways.

Fast forward to the end of that little idyll >>  I find myself standing in a queue at the Galle Railway Station at 6am waiting to buy a ticket back to Colombo where I was due to meet a friend and fly on to Zurich. It’s early, I’m dopey, I’m staring into space and then I look down in front of me and notice a bagged up surf board with G. Gallard, Avoca Beach, Australia written on it. And I lean over G. Gallard’s shoulder and say “Gallarrrrd… what the hell brings … you … to the Galle Railway Station?!!”  We’d been school friends, hadn’t seen each other for years, and talked all the way to Colombo.

But wait it gets better… >>

Sal and I flew to Zurich and then made our way down to Genova on the Italian Riviera to stay with an Australian friend of Steve’s whom we’d never met. We walked into Louise’s little apartment in a backstreet of Genova and who is standing there, regaling them with tales from Sri Lanka … none other than my beach bummin’ boy from Dalawella.

You’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty cool small world story in the world of small world stories hey?

What about you? Have you got a goodie or know of one?

Maybe it only happens in Sri Lanka. Maybe that’s why it’s known as Serendip!


Is travel a middle class luxury?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

As some of you know over on the facebook page I’m virtual traveling my way around the Mediterranean in the hope of doing it for real in 2016. We’re in Libya at the moment and while I’m sourcing as many beautiful shots as I can of the country, bombs are going off outside the hospital in Benghazi.

I think about where I live in Australia and if bombs were going off in Sydney or Canberra we’d be watching it on the night time news too. We’d be feeling it more keenly because it’s closer to home, we’d be horrified, we’d be worried for our friends and family living there, but our lives would continue on, largely unchanged.

school bus in damascus

I often think about the people we met in Syria in 2010, in the countryside and in the cities. I wonder how they have been effected by the violence of the past two years. Are their hotels empty? Is there food on their tables? Is there still laughter amidst the chaos? Does the charming elderly professor we met in a dark Damascus alley at 2 in the morning still visit his sons in Germany? They were both studying to be doctors. Are they still? Is the manager of our hotel in Damascus – who was moonlighting as a waiter in a restaurant at night to put his children through school – is he still working two jobs? Does he have a job? Are his children still at school? Are they all still alive? I hope so. I so hope so.

Slowly. Ever so slowly I am making some online friendships in North Africa through Facebook. It’s happening. I can’t believe it’s happening. And still I have this gnawing feeling that travel is a middle class luxury – virtual or not – especially when a country is wracked by violence.

And then I stop myself and think friendship is friendship – virtual or not.

Children playing near Krac des Chevaliers, Syria 2010

The thing that I love most about travel is that it allows you to step into someone else’s shoes, or the Putting on Special Clothes Room as the case may be.

The sign for the Putting on Special Clothes room at the Umayyad mosque in Damascus

It can take you out of your comfort zone. It can challenge you. It can change you.

Marg in her special clothes in Damascus

How can I know what makes people tick if I don’t know the people. It could very well be a cursory, touristic version but with a little bit of local knowledge it could very well not.

If travel can broker a little more understanding, then surely that can only be a good thing – can’t it? 


Thankyou so much to the people in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya who have extended the hand of friendship so far.

Mine’s out there too.

I know it’s nothing more than a gesture at this point in time.

Let’s just hope we have that coffee together one day.

Are you free in 2016?

I hope so.


UPDATE 18.5.13: Stumbled on this thoughtful article in the Sydney Morning Herald today.  Louise Southerden’s tips on minimising your footprint abroad, while helping communities prosper.