Travelling with Avril...
Recently, Mills & Boon/HarperCollins UK—publishers of the book I co-authored with Georgia Toffolo, Meet Me in Tahiti—asked me to write something about my various travels.
The reason? Zoe Tayler, the wonderful heroine in Tahiti, is a travel writer, and I’ve travelled more than the average person, courtesy of my long career in global aviation.
What I didn’t expect was for that blog to unleash so many memories, and I thought I might as well do an edited/extended version here on my own blog, because…well, why not?
So here we go: Travelling with Avril, version 2!
I’ve done a hundred (exaggeration) jobs in my life, a thousand (another exaggeration) courses, and had a million (exaggeration—okay, let’s take it as given that I exaggerate when it comes to numbers) hobbies. But there’s one thing that’s remained a constant in my life since my teenage years: a need to say ‘Yes’ to any opportunity, and worry about whether I’m really up to the challenge later. It’s become my guiding life philosophy, and while it’s been a bit scary at times, it’s led me into some fascinating experiences.
At the core of that derring-do philosophy has been my abiding love of travel. Anywhere, anytime.
I’ve been all over the world, loved every place I’ve seen, made a trillion mistakes (er…what was that about numbers?) and learned a hell of a lot. Many of my best experiences have been touristic (I love being a tourist) but I’ve had my fair share of weird and wonderful less-obviously-touristy times as well. In the general spirit of all of it, I’m sharing a few reminiscences.
For a memorable few years, I left my family behind (talk about wrenching) to take a job in a place I’d never visited and where I knew not one soul—the United Arab Emirates—although I can happily say that my family not only survived my absence but absolutely loved visiting me while I was there, and I made some lifelong friends in the process. Note: my book, Now You’re Mine includes some real life conversations I had with my amazing, generous, wonderful Arab Muslim friends during my time there. What didn’t make it into that book is the time, when I was on the verge of returning to Sydney, a handsome younger man, while buying my iron (how mundane) decided it would be okay to suck my toes—not joking! But’s that for a future book… [That's me on the right up there, at one of my favourite places, in the Abu Dhabi desert.]
Visiting the Papua New Guinean highlands, in the middle of tribal skirmish, as an eye-popping platinum blonde who stood out a little too obviously. (There’s an hilarious side story to this trip involving a hair-raising tall-tale my travel companion and I told our hosts at a resort, which we then had to maintain for the duration of our stay, but I won’t share those details because that, also, may end up in a book).
A breathtaking trip to Egypt with my mother, during which a man offered her an array of camels in exchange for me. (I suspect she was tempted, but she’ll never admit it!)
A whirlwind global PR tour with the mesmerizingly charismatic John Travolta—oh my God, the eyes! Not. Joking! Never seen so many women melt so quickly and comprehensively. Yowzer.
A chat in a New York hotel bar with famous author Dominick Dunne, courtesy of an infamously fabulous friend, who was also responsible for me sitting in an ampitheatre on the banks of the Aegean in Thessaloniki, Greece, one year, watching the marvellous Nana Mouskouri in concert.
Being hit on by a Russian mobster in a bar (also in New York, a separate trip—ah New York, let’s not talk about the rest of that New Year’s Eve trip, though!) in front of my husband and the mobster’s mistress—yikes! (Actually, now I think of it, I have many stories of being hit on in the USA, including a memorable time in an LA airport bar when I was having a post-flight whisky and a millionaire gambler on his way to Vegas asked the romantic question: So, do you fool around? [Answer: no, I do not.])
I could go on, and on, and drearily on, but to cut this short, I’ll say that I’ve been at soirees (sometimes huge, sometimes intimate) attended by the likes of George Clooney, Hugh Jackman, Roger Moore, Dannii Minogue, Cate Blanchett, Katherine Heigl, royalty, high profile chefs, assorted sporting stars, government minsters and global CEOs and—yes, I will admit it—Fabio. And I've had hilarious alcohol-fuelled discussions with assorted journalists and TV personalities in various countries.
But of all these memories, one of my most treasured involved a crazy weekend on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. I was with one of my dearest friends and we were cutting loose after some bad news. I stole cigars from my then-CEO, leaving a note in the cigar box and sending him a photo of the two of us smoking them while perching on stools in the hotel pool bar, and we gatecrashed a wedding (to the bride and groom's delight) and…well, you get the picture.
Life lesson: there’s nothing like travelling with people you love. Which of course is why I enjoyed working on Meet Me in Tahiti, with its wonderful travel writer heroine Zoe. Zoe has had an amazing career traversing the globe, but she knows that her anchor is, always, her friends Victoria, Malie and Lily. Her anchor…and the tide, pulling her home. What a wonderful thing.
It’s very hard to name your favourite travel destinations—especially as I still have so, so many places yet to go. (Spain: I’m coming, get ready!) But I’m sharing my current top 10 as they come to mind. (In no particular order, and excluding Australia, and New Zealand where I almost met instant-death white water rafting—hmm, could be a story in that—because I’m talking away-from-home here!)
Italy – country of my heart. [On the right below, you'll see a signpost for my grandfather's birthplace in Calabria.]
Egypt – so much to love, but mainly the mystery of it, because there are so many amazing treasures beneath its cities that will never be discovered.
Turkey – breathtakingly gorgeous wherever you look, but I remember staying at a basic motel and swimming in what was an actual ancient Roman hot spring—I was swimming over the top of Roman ruins! Wow! I don’t even care that I’m in a thousand non-guest tourist photos, taken while I was swimming.
Scottish Highlands – not only for the rollicking time I had there one New Year’s Eve, but for the moving solemnity of Culloden Moor. [See left – so starkly stirring.]
India – the colour, the beauty, the outrageously excellent food, and I seriously cried at the beauty of the Taj Mahal (and I almost never cry).
Wyoming – for its physical majesty, and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a cowboy? Oh, Robbie!
Tokyo – the stories I could tell (but I won’t…except that karaoke and way too much booze may have been involved…and that was after I was accidentally and mistakenly ushered into a meeting with an ambassador about beef!)
Mexico – special shout out to El Fuerte, the birthplace of Zorro, but also Oaxaca, Mexico City, and the train to Copper Canyon.
London – to me, the most exciting city in the world. [Just look at it, right!]
Old Damascus, Syria – which I type with blood-tears in my heart. The most beautiful, interesting place I’ve ever been privileged to visit.
What the hell – I’m adding Ireland while I’m at it because I’ve just remembered the night drinking Guinness and whisky chasers with a priest in a pub in Limerick until we were booted out at closing time! So sue me, that’s eleven, not ten – but eleven is my lucky number so I don’t care.
And yes, I do have a Tahiti story in my past, involving a handsome French soldier in a hot tub—but like Tokyo, that’s a don’t-go-there thing! At least, not yet…
The Meet me series...
Meet Me in London
Meet Me in Hawaii
Meet Me in Tahiti
Meet Me at the Wedding (out April 2022)