Category Archives: travel tales from faraway

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

The problem with saying yes …

Is that you might find yourself in Rome.

Unexpectedly. Suddenly. Irresponsibly.

Walking a favourite walk.

At sunrise.


st peters rome

sunrise over rome

Away from the chaos of the city, just across the river, is our favourite corner of Rome, Trastevere. Above it – maybe a 25 minute walk up quiet early morning streets – is the Janiculum (Gianicolo) Hill, the site of a fierce battle in 1849 where Garibaldi and his make shift army defended the revolutionary Roman republic against pope-backed French forces.

Blood and roses.

Piazzale Garibaldi

Left over dreams?

Thanks but I think I’ll create my own.


Last time in Rome, we kept finding ourselves returning to this spot, to Bar Gianicolo, a short stroll from Garibaldi’s monument, just outside the city walls.

bar gianicolo

They open at 6. The cornetti are warm. Grab a serviette and help yourself.

In the afternoon they serve up tiny panini full of delicious savoury fillings.

I love this place … 16,000kms away on the other side of the world in Australia, when I find myself thinking about Rome, this is where my day dreams take me.

bar gianicolo

…wandering down Via Garibaldi and the passaggio pubblico.

passage publico

Quietly. Softly.


Home. To Trastevere. To the arched door on the right.


Discovering our feet are no match for the Roman cobblestones.

tired feet

This is what happens when you say yes.

Do you have a favourite corner of Rome?

We discovered a beautiful little spot to stay in Trastevere. Leo, turned out to be Elanora, and she was incredibly welcoming. Her ground floor studio apartment is in Vicolo del Leopardo, a quiet street one block away from the humming Via della Scala. This isn’t a sponsored link but if you’re like us you’re always looking for special little places to stay and this met our needs perfectly.

PS. Steve spied the shot of St Peter’s between the trees. Nicely spied indeed.



Speaking of turquoise – an interview with Claire Lloyd

As I look out my window this Sunday afternoon, the sky is grey, the roadside strewn with autumn leaves of every shade. We’ve had a shower of rain. The house smells of apple brownies. A snuggly day. A cups of tea and slippers kind of day.

I approached Claire Lloyd to do an interview early in 2014 and for various reasons it’s taken us this long to get it together. While I’m slowing down, giving in to the quiet rhythm of autumn, Claire is drenched in turquoise on the island of Lesvos, just off the western coast of Turkey. She’s an Aussie who has spent much of her life working in London but now calls Lesvos home for much of the year.

She has written a book called My Greek Island Home which really struck a chord with me. I found myself returning to it, reading it from cover to cover and drinking in the photos and the spirit of her little Greek village. It has heart, the sort of heart that can only come from living in a place and finding yourself slowly being woven into the fabric of the local community.

Wherever you are in the world, pull up a chair and take a few moments to drink in a little turquoise. Enjoy.

Walking Lesvos. Pull up a chair.

Margaret: I think there’s a part of us all – particularly those with wanderlust coursing through our veins – who would love to pick up stumps, and make the kind of move that you’ve made. I am intrigued how a city girl has made such a dramatic lifestyle change. When did you first visit Lesvos? How much of your time are you spending on the island these days and in truth, are there things you struggle with? i.e.: being away from family?  What blessings has it brought you? Could you live there full-time? Would you do it over again? Are you a different person in each location?

Claire: I travelled to Lesvos in June 2005 and it was on that very first trip I found the small village house that we now call home.

My partner, artist, Matthew Usmar Lauder and I spend the majority of our year on the island. Christmas is always spent in Sydney and there are the odd trips to other places.

Sometimes the winters can be a bit isolating but generally I couldn’t say I struggled. I do struggle with the language as it’s not one of my strong points. But communication is not a problem and I am lucky to have some very good Greek friends. There are a few things I miss: the cinema, Japanese food and not having my friends from the UK and Australia around me. I miss my family too but manage to see them regularly.

I am the same person in each location but my day to day life differs enormously. I feel fortunate to be able to move between different places it has never suited me to be permanently in one place.

Living in a Greek community has been a huge blessing. I love the way we have been accepted and welcomed into the community and love the slow pace of life and the very obvious seasonal changes. I especially love all our new diverse and interesting friends.

turquoise shutters

Margaret: I was interested that initially you thought that you might like to have a house outside a village, in the countryside. I know myself, having lived on a rural property, how isolating that can be. How important do you think your decision – to buy inside the village – has been to you feeling like you’re part of the local community?  Do you ever question that decision?

Claire: It was the perfect decision for Matthew and I and not a decision I have ever questioned, in fact quite the opposite. I have said to Matthew many times how I’m glad we chose the village life. It has enriched our lives in so many ways and our daily presence in the village has added to us being so well accepted. We really do feel like we are part of the village as we are treated as locals and invited to, weddings, christenings and have also attended funerals. The idea of being by the sea somewhere completely isolated still attracts me but being in a village community has been such a unique and wonderful experience. Matthew now has a studio overlooking the main square, it was once a butcher shop so that makes him a true villager.

claire lloyd my greek island home
matthew usmar lauder painting

Margaret: Can you describe the seasons for me? And how that impacts on the village community?

Claire: There is a rhythm that goes with each season, something I had not realised living in a city. The autumn is the start of a slower pace of life for the villagers. It is still usually relatively warm and there is also a lot of sunshine. The locals prepare for the long winter months ahead. Nuts are collected, olives are picked and either pressed for oil or preserved to be eaten the following summer. People gather what they need for this quiet time. Winter is a time for hibernation. The shutters are closed and the locals stay warm inside usually with log burning fires. I love the smell wafting through the village. The farmers still tend their sheep and goats, which is hard work as the weather can be quite harsh. There is generally a lot of rain at this time of year and snow is not out of the question. Spring and the shutters begin to open and wonderful new buds appear on the trees. Blossom lay heavy on the branches of the fruit trees. There is a feeling of optimism. Wild asparagus shoot up through the newly green landscape and there is an abundance of wild flowers that carpet the fields and the sides of the roads – the island looks extremely pretty.

People are excited and looking forward to the summer when friends and relatives arrive from not only other parts of Greece but Australia, Canada and America to enjoy the beautiful island life, swimming in the Aegean sea, eating delicious seasonal fruit and vegetables and joining in the many summer celebrations. People make the most of the summer and are really in need of a rest when the autumn comes around again to slow them down.

almond tree

Margaret: One of the things I enjoyed most in My Greek Island Home, is when you talk about the village co-op and how women come together there. Can you flesh that out a little for me? For instance, what is the co-op and how does it work? People wandering down and having dinner quite regularly at the cafes? Why do you think that whole kafenia scene and the co-op arrangement continues to be such an important part of village life? Am I overstating it? Is it because it’s baked into their society – this sense of coming together? I’m intrigued because I think a lot of us would love to have that sense of community here. If you moved back to Australia, to a similarly small town or village, do you think you could make it work? Somehow it always feels a bit tacked on, a bit unnatural here. Any thoughts?

Claire: The co-op is a great example of women working together side by side not just making delicious sweet treats and selling them but enjoying each others’ time and company. It is as much a social gathering as a working one. There are a number of woman that form the women’s co-operative and they take it in turns to work together six days a week, making biscuits, cakes and preserves. They also make other delicacies for weddings and christenings.

Places like this and the kafeneas are very important to the community they bind it together. They are places where locals gather not just for company but to exchange information and local gossip. Kafeneas are a great place for the men to meet and play cards or discuss current affairs over a coffee or an ouzo. Unfortunately with the current economic climate the people have less money to spend so it is affecting the kafeneas. Most men used to meet everyday at least once if not twice but now they may only go a few times a week, which I feel is impacting on community life.

I think this way of community living is unique in smaller communities where it has always been a part of their culture. It would be difficult to recreate this outside of these places.

greek photos

Margaret: Where do young people fit into island life? Greece has obviously been hit hard by the GFC. Is the island losing its young people to the mainland and are these traditions at risk of being lost? Is it having an impact on Lesvos?

Claire: Mytilene is a university town so there are a lot of students in the capital. In the villages it’s hard for young people especially if they want a career. Unless you go into your family business or work on family land there really is nothing much else. Because of the crisis the infrastructure is suffering so jobs are fewer and pay even less. Unfortunately the villages are shrinking as the young people have to go further afield to find jobs. Sadly traditions are being lost and Lesvos despite its self-sufficiency has felt the effect of the crisis.


Margaret: In the book, I also love the way you’ve given a really honest picture of people’s lives and what little we see of their homes. You don’t appear to have styled too many shots with the locals. Was that a clear intention when you set out to do the book, that you wanted to paint an honest picture, that is, not give a glossy magazine version? Having said that they’re all still gorgeous images, just not tricked up. They feel very honest.

I didn’t feel the need to style anything, to me that would not have been in keeping with the book I was writing. I felt the subjects I chose to photograph were perfect the way the were. This is a very honest and heartfelt account of people’s lives. To me it was important to show a real Greece Island village not a Greek Island holiday destination. Even the paper the book is printed on was deliberately chosen for its rough texture reinforcing the reality and grittiness of the place. This book is reality; it’s people’s lives.

dog and lace curtains

Margaret: That question kind of segways into my curiosity about you as a creative person and your own art practices. How much time would you spend each day/each week online? Does the internet play a role in your creativity? Do you find that you lead a more creative life on the island than you do elsewhere? If so, why is that?

Claire: I really don’t like spending a lot of time online as I find it confusing. There is a wealth of talent out there, some extremely inspiring.

But my creativity is simple and always has been. I find it wherever I am, just by observing. The island has certainly given me a new perspective and a different pace of life and with that has come a renewed personal creativity and a chance to concentrate on my own projects. That said there are still many daily distractions and being a person who is easily distracted I don’t always find it easy to focus. There are so many things I would like to explore. I feel I have not even scratched the surface of my creativity.


Margaret: You’ve taken all the photographs in this book and written the words and I think really succeeded in giving readers a very gentle taste of some of the joys and challenges you’ve faced in relocating. Not to mention the people who have touched your lives. Do you have a desire to do any more projects like this?

Claire: I have a huge desire to keep documenting and producing beautiful books and articles that capture in photographs and words my experiences. I can think of nothing nicer.

Margaret: What is your preferred camera and lens and do you do much retouching or do you try to capture your shots within the camera? What do you shoot your videos with and do you edit them yourself? Are you self-taught?

Claire: Yes I’m self-taught. I worked on magazines, in advertising agencies, design companies and had my own creative business so I have picked up all my experience along the way. I like using my Canon 100mm macro lens on my Canon 5D. I am a long way from being technical in fact I am probably the least technical person I know. I don’t do any retouching. Matthew is my re-toucher if I need it for beauty or fashion work. I grade my images to the look I feel suits each set of pictures I take. I shoot my little films on my cannon 5D or an old super 8 and I do most of my own editing.

guesthouse details

Margaret: You’ve lived in the fast lane of the west; you’ve lived on the island. Many people are looking for balance in their lives. From your experiences where do you believe contentment lies?

Claire: Contentment comes from within. It’s important to have a balanced life and important to understand what your personal needs are. Then you must try to fit these needs into your life. No one else knows what you need physically, emotionally and spiritually, only you. Living in London I had forgotten just how important nature was to me. It was not until I came to Lesvos that I realised I had deprived myself of this. Now I am surrounded by it. I know I also need the city for stimulation  and am fortunate to be able to move between both worlds.


Margaret: Do you ever get sick of turquoise?

Claire: Never!

As I look out my window, darkness has set in and I can hear the rain on the roof above. I’m reading Hugh Mackay’s latest book The Art of Belonging with a byline “It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s how you live.” And as I approach the final pages I’m reminded how important it is to remain connected with your local community, something that’s easy to forget when you’ve been working from home for over a decade. I’d go so far to say it’s an occupational hazard.

We wandered down town earlier this morning to the official launch of the B200 celebrations, a big week of events marking 200 years of European settlement in Bathurst. There was a huge turnout. Local Wiradyuri elders, Karen and Katchin refugees from Myanmar in full traditional dress dancing centre stage, oldies, littlies, families, singles, people from all over the world who have found their way here. To Bathurst. People like Claire and Matthew, who have hopefully been made welcome into our community.

That’s my takeaway from Claire’s beautiful book and this little interview. It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s how you live. And it’s important to play your part. In whatever shape or form that might be.

Thankyou Claire for taking the time to share a little of your story here.

Sending you autumnal hugs.

Have a beautiful summer.


Claire Lloyd by Carla Coulson

Photo by Carla Coulson

All images are Claire’s.
The one of her looking out the window was taken by Matthew Usmar Lauder
If you’d like to see more of Claire and Matthew’s work here are their links
Claire Lloyd


Matthew Usmar Lauder



Is the hike to Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest as hard as you think? And did she get to the top?

I’d been working myself into a sweat about this before we’d even left Australia – physically and mentally. The Tiger’s Nest … that iconic, ridiculously photogenic monastery wedged ridiculously high on a ridiculously sheer cliff in Bhutan, had become my Rocky Balboa moment (in my mind’s eye) and I was determined to a) get to the top b) not embarrass myself in front of the family and c) conquer my paralysing fear of heights.

So a couple of months prior, finally accepting that I needed a firm hand (ideally holding a whip), I engaged the help of a personal trainer. Many squats later, I believed I was ready to take on Taktsang Lhakhang as it’s known and revered by the Bhutanese.

Our trip to Bhutan was just a week and the hike was scheduled for our last day, so it sort of loomed over us me for the whole visit.  “How high is it?” “How steep is it?” “How sheer is the drop when you cross the bridge under the waterfall at the very top?” (I had imagined this for months as an ancient, see-through, rocking, fraying, ropey suspension bridge with nothing below it but a frightening 900 metre drop to the valley floor.)

The week had been warm so we planned to leave early at 6am. It was a great decision. We were first out of the gate and we had the mountain, the mist and the resident dogs to ourselves.

Walking to The Tiger's Nest, Bhutan

We often talk about how certain scents can transport you back to a time or moment decades earlier. The Australian bush has that effect on me, especially after rain. But walking in the Bhutanese mountains was completely unfamiliar. It was aromatic, damp and mystical and I could imagine it weaving its way into the hearts of the Bhutanese.

Nature is the source of all happiness

Normally from the carpark you can see the monastery high above but not this morning. The mist shrouded the valley and we tramped a quiet, firm, dirt path through the forest, the only sound a little stream making its relieved way through the valley, having survived the deadly drop up top.

The beginning of the walk to the Tiger's Nest

Prayer flags and stream at The Tiger's Nest

Initially the path was gentle but after just 5-10 minutes it moved up a gear. We quickly found ourselves zigzagging our way up the steeper parts and pushing off from our heels under the instruction of Penjo, who takes month long treks into the distant wilds of Bhutan.

I’d put up my hand the day before when he asked if anyone wanted walking sticks. That was a good decision too. Apparently they reduce the stress on your knees by 25% on the descent. They were great on the way up as well, helping you feel secure in unfamiliar territory.

An hour later we paused for a picnic breakfast and just as we finished, the mist lifted and there she stood, the Tiger’s Nest, in all her impossible loftiness.

Breakfast stop to The Tiger's Nest

Up, up, up. Steeper and steeper. Still we had the mountain to ourselves. No death defying drops or vertiginous stomach lurches as the path was surrounded by forest on either side.

Darcy in the forest

And then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Cue the fear. Cue the panic. Cue the stomach lurches.

The rock ledge of nothingness

Dogs overlooking the Tiger's Nest

By all accounts the view was fabulous. I was glued to the rock face admiring the minutiae of the grassy hillside.

You want me to walk that!

Step by step. Step by step. You can do this Marg. You can do this.

And I did.

A final down.

And then a final up.

glimpses from the tigers nest

The Tiger's Nest, Bhutan

And there we were at the entrance to the Tiger’s Nest.

First through the door. In a little over two hours. Da dahhhh!

Marg at the top of The Tiger's Nest

A tour of the monastery. A marvel of engineering and craftsmanship. It burnt down in 1998 and was completely rebuilt seven years later. I talk about it in more depth here if you’re interested.

The crowds started to arrive and it was time for us to go. We had had the best of it. The sun was getting up and the heat of the day upon us.

A last look with clear skies.

I climbed that! :)

The Tiger's Nest, Bhutan

Hot stone baths later in the day for all.

Enjoying a traditional hot stone bath scented with sprigs of valerian.

Enjoying a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath scented with sprigs of valerian.

A glass of red. Or three.

Gantey Palace

And a final night with friends of old.

Steve, Pek, Kinley and Marg

We had waited over 30 years to make this trip. She did not disappoint. The Land of the Thunder Dragon has left an indelible mark on us all.

As for the walk? Yes, it was challenging. There were a number of people we passed on the way down who were pulling out, happy to enjoy the view from the halfway cafe. But they were significantly older and it was quite hot by then. Go early, take some walking sticks and you’ll be fine. Maybe throw in a whip.

And the bridge? Heavy, wooden and wide. Not a shredded bit of rope to be seen anywhere.

Steve shot some GoPro footage right at the end of the walk. You have to watch the last bit with your head on the side but apart from that it great, puts you right there in the moment :)  Hit the little cog on the bottom right and watch it in HD.

That’s it from Bhutan.

For now (she says dreaming of future visits).

Hope you’ve enjoyed the posts. x

If you’ve landed here and would like to see the previous posts I’ve done on Bhutan here are the links.

Bhutan and a tale of walking a Himalayan tightrope. (a longer piece that reflects on the whole visit and the reason the trip had been over 30 years in the planning)
Nearly not getting into Bhutan
Punakha, Bhutan aka seventh heaven
Bhutan and the Thimpu Drubchen Festival

The Bhutanese airline, Druk Air is the only airline that flies into Bhutan from a number of hubs in Asia. We flew in from Bankgok and out to Kathmandu.

You have to travel with a guide in Bhutan. We used Yudruk Tours and Treks. They organised our flights and itinerary.

Every visitor pays a tourist fee to visit Bhutan. That fee, depending on group numbers, translates to between $200 and $250US per day and while that might sound expensive, especially for a family (which it is), it does cover everything – your guide, transport, accommodation, food and entry fees to all facilities. When you take into account that it also includes a $70 contribution to community projects it is not unreasonable. The only thing you have to put your hand into your pocket for is alcohol and gifts. Students are entitled to significant discounts and it is worth talking to different tour companies to try and negotiate the best rate because as we discovered, talking to other travelers, the discount varies dramatically from company to company.

Hope that’s useful. If you have any other questions please feel free to ask.

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    A sprinkler of creative magic.
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