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Absolutely Faking ItAbsolutely Faking It by Tiana Templeman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This travel book is about people as much as places. The travellers and the people they met, in grand hotels or dusty hovels around the world, found that it isn't the uniform or the smelly t-shirt that makes the person, it is the spark of friendship that counts.

Winning the holiday of a lifetime - stays in a dozen of the Leading Hotels of the World - with economy class airfare and enough spending money for a pizza now and then made for an entertaining trip. The holiday of a lifetime was certainly that, but perhaps not in the way originally envisaged!

Torture in Turkey, missed connections, encounters with assault gun-toting soldiers, lost luggage, sudden sickness, rustbucket boats and planes, soakings... This could be the holiday from hell!

But it's also fabulous views from vast suites, exquisite service, meals to die for, unexpected friendships, lazy days lounging around the pool, private tours of incredible sites. And sights.

This is a down-to-earth look at places most of us can only dream of, whether they are the Ritz or the Peninsula, waterfalls that make Niagara look sick or ancient cities stretching across the empty Syrian sands.

I learnt a lot about places and people from this book, and it's a pleasure to have a friendly Aussie guide.

Some readers have moaned a little about the trouble Tiana takes to try to fit in. A backpacker at the Ritz. Embarrassment and uncertainty are big themes in this book, especially at the beginning. But isn't that what this book is all about? If it was some jetsetter jotting down notes on the five star hotels along the way, it wouldn't be worth reading. It would be pretentious. It would be flung out the window.

The charm of the story lies in the unexpected serendipity of it all. The grand prize falling in the laps of two people who have to count every cent along the way.

As an aside, this book came to me quite by chance, at a Canberra meetup of BookCrossers, swapping books. You can always find the BookCrossing table - it's piled high with books, and the people who might have been strangers moments before are chatting about Jane Austen - or Dan Brown - and the adventures of the books rival the narratives.

The book was bought on a flying visit to Australia by New York based Cari. I first met her at a Canberra BookCrossing meetup, and since then I've gasped at her amazing travels. She's seen more of my country than I have myself, and when she showed me around Hiroshima and I was reduced to an emotional wreck, it was her fourth time and she was keener on capturing the pink perfection of the sakura cherry blossoms. Not unmoved, just making the best use of the moment.

It was fun to see her excited over being at the top of the Empire State Building. She pulled out her phone and called her Mom. Even though she was a New Yorker born and bred, it was her first time as much as mine.

And, in a fore-echo of this book, the last time I saw Cari was last July, when she took us out to a Mets ballgame and we showed her around our hotel room. Our room at the Waldorf-Astoria.

We might have checked in clad in cargo pants, our colourful nylon bags humbling us, smuggled in Subways and refrained from ordering room service coffee, but it was still the Waldorf, snapped up in an unbelievable online deal, and we HAD to show it off!

Since finishing this book, somewhere over the Pacific on a day made fuzzy by the dateline, Cari has passed it on to BookCrossers around the world. Netherlands, US, Poland, Japan, back to Australia... Absolutely Faking it

The book's travels mirror those of the author!

Bottom line? It's not great literature, and to tell the truth I find the sort of breathless-Aussie-girl-exploring-the-world style of travel writing a teeny bit irritating, but the story itself is well worth the reading. Why? Because why is that we've all looked at the competitions for these amazing prizes and dreamed of winning it. Well, Tiana won the prize, and she has shared it with us. We could be walking through those golden doors in our sweaty shorts and torn t-shirts, and the way she tells it, we are.

Here are the photographs that go with the book, including the glorious photograph that sealed first prize, taken by the photographer husband of the writing wife: Absolutely Faking It Photographs

And here is Tiana's travel blog. Looks like she has found her niche and loving it! Every Day is a New Adventure

View all my reviews
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The plane landed, the kids were there to pick us up, we came home, did a few chores and fell into bed. Some hours later, a BookCrossing meeting to attend, I woke up.

And I had not the foggiest notion of where I was. In bed, obviously. Time, date, continent, all a total blank. Was there a plane to catch? Could I roll over and go back to sleep?

Eventually my foggy brain analysed the geography of the room. By some miracle I was in my own bed, in my own home, my comfortable possessions - 90% books, 5% electronics, the rest bills of some sort - all around me in cheerful disorder.

It was a marvellous trip. I love making Kerri happy, and with three weeks of blossoms, parks, art and architecture, great meals and scenery, fine friends and shared adventures, she had a marvellous time.

Breakfast was often the best meal of the day. No mucking about with menus, just grab a plate, load it up, hop into the coffee and enjoy the moment.

Japan was weirdest and best. Our hotel had a range of fascinating dishes. Nothing jumped up and said "breakfast", except maybe the coffee and the yoghurt. The rest was unfamiliar vegetables, meats, fruit and grains. Even some sort of eggy thing. All eaten with chopsticks, except for the soup. Soup for brekky.

Europe was yoghurt and croissants, juice and jam, cereal and scrambled eggs, coffee and toast. Occasionally, there might be some small sausages and once there was bacon.

Switzerland was a struggle. The lady in her pyjamas gave us directions - in German - the night before, but the reality reminded me of one of those rats in a maze, being rewarded with a food pellet at the end. It was all twists and turns, fake rooms, lounges, smoking areas, a close passage past the kitchen and finally a bright open room full of breakfast smells. But definitely a challenge to find the place. Luckily it was all on the one level - if we had to deal with another floor we might still be wondering around calling out for coffee. Somewhere I've got a video of the route.

Switzerland was interesting. By this stage I was beginning to be able to understand reasonable amounts of German. Like one word in four.* But here there could be three or four languages in the one sentence.

There was some sort of spread available. Breakfast came with bowls of little plastic tubs of jam or honey or butter or milk. Often a challenge to work out what was inside without a reasonable picture on the lid.

We had some small triangular packages labelled Frühstücks Happen. I picked one up and showed it around. We had, after a few days, worked out that Frühstücks meant breakfast.

Melydia, bless her quirky heart, translated it for me.

"Meh," she said. "Magic happens, breakfast happens."

Fruhstucks Happen

*German. Sometimes there might be four words in one. Klemmerfahrtkrankenzeitungkinderslautern. Sometimes they manage to stuff a whole sentence in there.
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Looking at
this news story about a couple of women refusing to go through a full-body scanner and being refused clearance to fly.

I cannot believe that the British are being so boneheaded. The screening system looks through clothing, revealing the body beneath, as well as any concealed items. Hide some explosives in your undies, and they will be picked up.

Well, that’s good, in theory, but if the bad guys know this, then won’t they go the logical next step and hide the explosives some place where they won’t be detected? After all, they want to blow up the plane, and personal comfort isn’t high on their long-term list of priorities, given that they don’t intend to have a long term.
So, full-body scanning easily circumvented.

But these expensive bits of kit are going to be increasingly used, replacing the existing metal-detecting gates. Travellers have to go into a chamber, stop, turn around, raise their arms, turn around and walk out while someone looks at their bodies through X-ray specs.

Now, I don’t think anyone is going to be aroused by my sagging middle-aged body, but I dare say that my wife and twenty-something daughter could provide some salacious entertainment for the security staff weary of inspecting carry on bags for nail scissors.

What really bugs me is that I’ve organised myself with a web plastic belt and metalfree shoes to march straight through the existing security checks, and now I’m going to have to do all this extra stuff, sealed away, while my laptop, phone, wallet etc is open and vulnerable on the conveyor belt.

I went through SFO in October, and they were randomly selecting people to go through the detector gate or full-body scanner depending on which was next available. I was directed into the scanner, and I flatly refused. I don’t want to encourage these things in any way.

They pulled me aside, patted me down, took some stuff out of my pockets. Lip balm, comb and a few similar non-metallic things. They ran those through the scanner, while I waited, looking at other passengers reaching over my unattended valuables on the conveyor belt to get their stuff.

If I refuse again in Heathrow, where I have to make two transits, am I going to be refused clearance to fly? Or will I, presumably, grit my teeth and pirouette in the observation chamber, grumbling to myself about the numbskullery of it all while some basterd nicks my laptop?
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Yeah, I know. I've seen Ryan Bingham. I've heard the advice. I know you can travel light. Just carry on.

But not me. it doesn't work. Okay?

The clutter begins when booking things. Flights, hotels, cars, convention events. Each confirmation gets printed out, so I have something I can refer to when giving a taxi driver directions or standing at the checkin desk. This is what I ordered, this is what I paid, this is what I'll be doing tomorrow. Every bit of paper goes into a folder, one of those cheapie plastic collections of transparent sleeves you can get at Woollies for $1.29. One sleeve per day or destination, so I can flip through and find what I need.

I also have another folder for paperwork collected along the way. Hotel receipts, ticket stubs, maps, leaflets - all the little ephemeral bits that I want to keep but otherwise get mixt up together in one of my backpack pockets. If I ever get around to making a travel journal of the trip - and I'm pretty much backed up to 2008 at the moment - I can paste these things in for memory's sake. I know I shouldn't live in the past, but there are some life experiences I like to remember fondly, and my travels have so many of those moments.

One day, I'll be able to say I spent a fortune on a lifetime of happy memories. And then got Alzheimers's.

I prepare my travel wallet. A Levenger Road Scholar in red leather with "Skyring" embossed. I'm a total Levenger nut, and a big fan of their Bomber Jacket and Circa product lines.

This is where my passport lives, as well as my boarding passes, loyalty cards, Oyster and Octopus cards, a Space Pen, whatever foreign currency I've got left over from the last trip, a copy of my itinerary and anything else I could use, like a couple of Express passes for Oz immigration. This is in my hand when I'm going through security or boarding or any other crucial point. It's the things I need to make it all flow.

Bright red so I can spot it easily if I lay it down.

Bright yellow for my two checked bags. I have very few problems spotting my bags on a carousel, and nobody's going to walk off with them.

LL Bean rolling duffle in the biggest size. It's tough, holds a bundle of stuff, rolls and has a couple of pockets. In a pinch it can be carried. It's a bugger to take up and down stairs, and I have vivid memories of my first trip to Paris when I made several Metro changes in the morning rush.

Second bag is a big tote. This holds my books, and being a BookCrosser, I tend to have a LOT of books. It is super tough, holds about fifteen kilos of books, in a kind of square cube shape. No wheels. But brilliant for a book release walk through a strange city.

A light Crumpler daypack. Holds my laptop, camera, reading book, emergency toilet bag, a spray jacket, spare undies and socks, my travel folder, electronics cables and chargers. On the road it's my emergency kit in case my checked luggage is lost or delayed. I don't let this out of my sight.

Two toilet bags. A Kathmandu wetpack that holds my regular shaving gear, toothbrush, shampoo etc. That goes in checked luggage. An emergency kit that has small tubes and bottles (a lot of them from amenity kits), eyemask, bandaids, painkillers, light razor and toothbrush, all in an old Qantas First leather amenity bag.

Electronics. Mac Air for a good lightweight laptop. iPhone. Cords and chargers for both. Apple has a you-beaut set of plugs for various international sockets, very nice system. Camera is a small Canon with 10x optical. Takes rechargeable AA batteries and I have a travel recharger for those, as well as a good stock of spare batteries. Spare memory card. Couple of external hard drives for back-ups and photographs. The Air only has 80 gig - it can't hold everything, but USB external disks are cheap and the overflow goes onto these.

A few cables to hook everything together. Double adaptor in Aussie and a set of converters. All goes into a mesh bag with a zip, otherwise after the first few days everything turns into one unholy tangle at the bottom of my backpack.

Laundry bag with a portable pegless clothesline. As clothes are used, I put them in there, otherwise I'm reduced to sniffing undies to work out which ones are good to wear, and that's never a good look.

Guidebooks. I'm a big fan of the Dorling-Kindersley range. They are packed with maps, diagrams, pictures. I'm a very visual sort of guy and big slabs of text turn me off. A bit chunky, but worth it, especially for the mini street directories in the back.

Tim-Tams. Eighteen packets, stowed in some hefty plastic boxes. For better or worse, I've got a Tim-Tam reputation, and they are perfect as gifts for friends along the way.

Clothes. Spare undies and socks and hankies. Board shorts that double as sleeping wear. Polo shirts that I can wear just about anywhere. A light jumper. A t-shirt for sleeping in or wearing as a bottom layer. One pair of comfy shoes that are sturdy enough to walk around town and in parks. Second pair of trousers. Pair of sandals as a reserve.

Oh yeah. A light but warm Columbia jacket. April is pretty good everywhere, but sometimes it isn't!

That's mostly it.
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Three weeks from now, we'll be between Osaka and Helsinki. Somewhere over China, heading north.

This will be my seventh round-the-world trip, in addition to six thirds, where I've gone there-and-back to Europe once and America twice.

I think it will be Kerri's first RTW, but she has an impressive there and back record, including shared trips to America and Europe with me.

So much more fun travelling with a companion. Someone to share meals with, mind the bags while you dash to the dunny, point out the crucial signs leading to the taxi rank, walk through a park together, marvel at the oddities in foreign supermarkets with, and keep you awake on the long car trips.

Most of my travelling has been by myself, and while I'm more confident now at striking up a conversation with a stranger, it's still a lonely sort of existence. Especially now that I'm not quite as fascinated by the mechanics of flying and travelling as I once was. More inclined to keep my head inside the window watching some classic movie on the seat-back video instead of looking outside admiring clouds and the patterns of waves on the ocean far below.

Having a companion is just so much more fun!

This trip is, apart from a couple of new places, a compilation of cities that I have loved, and longed to show my wife.

Osaka I do not love, but Japan is endlessly fascinating, and I am sure that our two days in Kyoto under the cherry blossoms will be enchanting. Japan has an on way with cities. They do the most hideous jumble of apartments and office blocks, markets and train stations, all crammed in together on narrow streets, and then, just when you despair of any beauty beyond the microscopic attention to detail they do so well, a vast temple or park or shrine will open up, impossibly majestic, planned with exquisite taste, generous in grass and trees, a treat for the soul.

My fourth time in Japan, once with a guide, once just myself at an airport hotel, and most recently with my daughter, who is as keen an observer of the odd and delightful as I am.

Helsinki is just a stop, just another airport with a quick transit on the way to istanbul, where I once spent a night in a worrying hostel with a divine outlook. We've got better accommodations this time around, just a street away from the hostel, but a couple of stars up the luxury ladder. Fantastically ancient buildings, ruins, names. A city spanning two continents. The two great mosques facing each other across a great central square with tulips and wild cats. The bustling Golden Horn, alive with ferryboats backed by the busy waterway of the Bosphorus, the hills of Asia golden in the sunlight.

Amsterdam - with another quick transit, this time at Heathrow. More tulips in the springtime, canals, tall houses, great art galleries, markets and museums. For me, the BookCrossing convention, with its own delights, for Kerri, three days of sightseeing in what the guidebooks promise is a splendid city.

Heathrow again on the way to Boston, and with a four hour transit, I'm going to give The Champagne Bar in T5 a solid nudge. They will pour me onto the plane to America. Just as they did last July, when my daughter and I giggled our way aboard, full of nibblies and tipples, falling into an alcoholic slumber across the Atlantic.

A night in Boston, just to sleep before collecting the car from the airport. We're headed north via Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, over the border to Montreal. Ottawa the next day, staying with friends I have yearned to meet for years. Then Niagara-on-the-Lake, a delightful village where the Niagara flows into Lake Ontario. We're staying at a old inn, with haunted rooms and a wonderful pub atmosphere. I ate lunch there one April four years back, and resolved to return.

Big drive the next day, through Detroit and onto Chicago.

Chicago! What a city! It's big, it's full of skyscrapers, it's crammed with mouthwatering architecture, and several of my best friends live there. My fourth visit, and it will not be the last! We'll still have the car, and we will do the first few kilometres of Route 66, just for a laugh, a photo or two, and a taste of my planned roadtrip along the whole length next year.

And then the final stop, a place I have delighted in seeing and showing off. San Francisco! Is there a quirkier city in the world? One blest with grand views and merry people. Those little cable cars, halfway to the stars etc. I love it. If I had the money I'd move there in a flash.

I spent the best day of my life there in October. A magical day with two enchanting women as companions. This time around, I'll have a bit more time, and I plan to show Kerri some of the things that have left my heart quivering on Telegraph Hill. Book Bay, the Marina Safeway, City Lights, Coit Tower, the Bridge, Fishermans Market, Sausalito...

Two days won't be long enough. We'll fly down to LAX for the evening Airbus A380 flight to Sydney, losing a Friday completely, arriving home on Saturday morning.

And we'll have another trip to remember with sighs and happy smiles for years to come.
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I'm not the wunderblogger I should be. Time and Twitter are big obstacles.

The last two Saturdays, Kerri and I have been going to a massage course. More on that in a separate post.

My mate Ken has suffered a personal crisis, and this has caused a few long angsty sessions over coffee when I should have been out on the streets. More on that later.

I'm considering WordPress on my Joyent server that is otherwise going idle. That would let me consolidate a couple of blogsites. But that will take time. And skill.

Kerri notes that I'm rubbish at housework, cooking, looking after the garden, decluttering, tax, and a hundred other vital things, but when it comes to travel, I'm all enthusiasm.

Yeah. That's me.

Next trip is New Zealand for the BookCrossing convention. I've got tickets, cars, accommodation and excursions all booked, paperwork for same printed out - all I need do is turn up at Canberra airport next Sunday and let myself be swirled away.

A short transit in Sydney. One and a half hours to make the transit bus, go through security and passport control, and board the plane. Unless I'm very lucky, there won't be much time for hanging around the lounge having a decadent breakfast.

Oh well. Wellington in mid-afternoon, to be met by Discoverylover, on whose floor I shall be sleeping for two days with sundry other BXers.

Morning ferry to Picton, where our group will load into a couple of rental cars and drive down to Hanmer Springs to soak in the waters and do our best to monopolise a hostel.

Next day is whale-watching at Kaikoura. Pricey, but one of those once in a lifetime treats. I've seen humpbacks off Cape Byron and Surfers Paradise, and random whales and dolphins from Aurora, but this is probably my best chance to see the mighty sperm whale.

We finish the day by driving down to Christchurch. The others in the party will be staying with friends and in youth hostels, and honestly, I toid with the notion of sharing a bunk room with my friends, but two things stopt me. First, I snore, or at least there is the risk of snoring, and I am not keen on keeping my friends awake during the night so they don't enjoy the day.

Second, I'm up at odd hours, night and day. That's why being a night cabbie is no great hardship and why I never get jet lag - my sleeping habits are already screwed up. So, I'd be doubly disturbing my companions.

Usually I try to find a private room in a hostel, where I can keep my own hours, and if I want to go from two to four in the morning writing a blog entry, I can. I've got a room to myself in Hanmer Springs, for example.

However, all the private rooms in Christchurch's hostels were booked out - by people more organised than me - so I went hunting up to see what was available. There were some bargains available - one night in "Chateau on the Park" for $19 caught my eye, but eventually I settled on the Crowne Plaza, for its nearby location, reasonable rates, and the fact that I'm a member of their loyalty program.

(After making the non-refundable booking, I find that Newk has discovered a far nicer place, one that offers breakfast and evening drinks, for just a bit more. Oh well.)

Wednesday, we have to be in Christchurch in time for dinner at some swish China place. We'll have about three hours to make the 2:15 hour drive, checkin to our hostels etc and make dinner. Working out who goes in which car could save a little time. Luckily one of the cars doesn't have to be returned until Thursday morning, and I'm keeping the other until Monday, dropping it off at the airport.

Thursday is the Tranzalpine train trip over to the West Coast. Have to be at the station about 0745, and we don't get back until 1800 for dinner at 1900, so that's going to be tight again.

Friday looks to be a rest day, at least in the morning. There's a bookshop tour in the afternoon ("May be a small extra cost if we use public transport to get to the more far-flung bookshops. May be a large extra cost if you buy lots of books," according to the website.) Dinner at five, followed by the meet'n'greet.

Saturday is packed. Release walk in the morning, beginning at 0830, Presentations and talks in the afternoon, quiz night.

Sunday there's a live internet chat with the BC in DC group (and anyone else), followed by the farewell brunch. Afternoon activities include a wine tasting trip and a harbour cruise. I think I'll go for the wine trip, with an eye to writing a story. Very likely there will be some sort of dinner with the diehards.

Monday it all ends for me. My flight is after lunch, and there'll be a bunch of us going at the same time. Two hour transit in Sydney, and I get back home around dinner time. And then I resume work Tuesday arvo.

All up, it's going to be an expensive week for me, but this is exactly why I drive a cab twelve hours a night, five nights a week. There's also the chance to write some great travel stories.

But most of all, I'll be hanging out with my BookCrossing friends. Forget the fancy excursions and dinners - put a bunch of BookCrossers together in a bare room and we'll have a wonderful time.


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September 2010

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