Archives for January 2015

Australian Reading List

What to read on your Australian holiday.

When I’m traveling I like to read books related to the country I am visiting. I think it enhances my travel experience to engage with the country in both the real and literary worlds. (Plus, you can learn a lot of slang!) I know I’m not the only traveler who feels this way. Shannon at  A Little Adrift has a list of books by country here. I’ve also enjoyed browsing through Nancy Pearl’s selections in Book Lust To Go.

While I was in Australia, I did my best to read books set in Australia written by Australians. I called upon a few internet searches, my personal Australian expert Alli, and the Australian section at our local used bookstore to find worthy titles.

Most were hits but a few were misses. Here’s a list to get you started on your Australian reading.

My Top Picks – These books feel like Australia to me.

Australian Books


1. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough – A big, thick, enthralling Australian soap opera of sorts set in the outback during the early 20th century. The plot is honestly too involved to describe so just know that it’s the story of a family on a sheep station full of love (involving a priest!) and heartbreak. It’s a classic. It’s also a mini-series that I would love to watch.

2. Tracks by Robyn Davidson  – The true story of a woman who resolved to cross the Australian outback on a camel. I actually read this several years ago when I thought I might be moving to Kalgoorlie. It was recently made into a movie.

3. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey – One part coming of age and one part murder mystery. Protagonist Charlie is approached by Jasper Jones one night and taken to Jasper’s “special place.” What Charlie finds there sets the mystery in motion.

4. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – Another mystery. A group of female students set out on a picnic and disappear. This book intrigued me from the minute I read the blurb on the back. It was made into a movie in the ’70s.

5. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garimara – The true story of three girls (Doris’ mother and aunts) who were removed from their aboriginal families and placed at the Moon River Settlement. The girls escaped and followed the rabbit proof fence to travel the 1,000+ miles back home. It was also made into a movie.

6. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton – The story of two families sharing one house in Perth during the mid 20th century. Consistently voted to the top of Australian literature lists. Also made into a mini-series but I hear it strays from the book.

For Lighter or Beach Reading – Australian goodness with less brain power required.

Australian Books

7. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – The  classic story of seven mischievous children growing up in 1880s Sydney. It’s children’s lit, so it’s a quick read… but don’t let that fool you. It’s a powerful and emotional piece of literature. Also made into a mini-series.

8. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – A man slaps a child at a barbecue and everything sets off from there. Told from the viewpoint of 8 characters, The Slap examines family life in a pretty entertaining way. Made into an Australian tv series and an American tv series.

9. Dirt Music by Tim Winton – Georgie is living with the local legend in a small fishing town when she becomes fascinated with a poacher. The fallout of her illicit relationship leads the poacher to flee to an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia.

10. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson – The story of one girl shedding her innocence after she’s sent to boarding school in Melbourne in the early 1900s. While reading this I thought it was strange subject matter for a man. It makes much more sense now that I’ve discovered it was written under Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson’s pseudonym. It was made into a movie in the late 70s.

11. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – A very popular bestseller of the beach reading variety. The police are investigating a crime and the reader learns a new piece of the puzzle as different witnesses are interviewed. Honestly, this book could be set in any coastal city but it happens to be set in Sydney.

12. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – Another popular beach read. The story of three women who are put into impossible situations and how their lives are intertwined. There’s secrets, a murder, affairs, and an Easter egg hunt. The title is kind of terrible though.

Runners Up – Compared to the others, these aren’t quite my cup of tea. Perhaps they’ll be yours?

Australian Books

13. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – A bit of an Australian fairytale. A young woman’s beauty is known throughout the land. Her overly controlling and eucalyptus enthused father decides that the man who can name every single species of eucalyptus on his property will win her hand in marriage.

14. Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy – A fourteen year old boy in small town 1960s South Australia falls for his young and hip English teacher, Miss Peach.

15. The Laughing Clowns by William McInnes – The story of a middle aged man going home again (to Queensland). Truthfully, I chose this book because of the balloons on the cover. I don’t think I was the right demographic.

16. The Water Underneath by Kate Lyons – Bones turn up in a lake where a woman and her baby went missing decades before. This book had potential, but I found the plot very difficult to follow.

17. The Different World of Fin Starling by Elizabeth Stead – A magical story about a tiny town that’s affected by one small boy, Fin Starling.

18. Praise by Andrew McGahan – A classic of the grunge lit genre. Just a guy chilling in 90s Brisbane with not much to do and no ambition. I probably would have liked it better at a different stage in my life.

You may have noticed that there’s only one book on my list written by an aboriginal writer. The vast majority of books I found described the Australian experience through the eyes of people with European roots. I did a little more sleuthing today and found this list by the Guardian of works by indigenous writers and this more general list of Australian indigenous writers as well.

Do you have any Australian favorites of your own to recommend?

Happy Reading and Happy Australia Day yesterday!

xo, jill

*I generally like to steer clear of modern day travel writing. There tends to be too much navel gazing in it for my taste these days.


Another Look at Morocco

A different view.

The other night I couldn’t sleep and found myself scrolling through Mike’s Instagram account. Of course, I had seen all these photos before but only hurriedly as I checked my phone in the middle of doing this or that. Taking the time to look at all of the photos together, especially the ones from Morocco, made me realize just how much I love the images. It was like taking a little walk down memory lane but through someone else’s memory. I thought you might enjoy looking through them too and seeing our time in Morocco from Mike’s perspective.

MoroccoFrom Mike’s solo excursion to Fes

MoroccoClockwise: Tetouan / Koutoubia Mosque / Street singer / Horse Parking / Ben Youssef Madrasa / Ouarzazate 

MoroccoClockwise: From our roof / Boats in Essaouira / Majorelle Garden / Jema El Fna / Medina / Cats in Essaouira 

MoroccoClockwise: Passageway / Rugs in Marrakech / Pharmacy / Bougainvillea in Agadir / Orange Juice / Taxi

MoroccoClockwise: Marrakech Palms / Goats in trees / Tangier / Hassan II Mosque / Chefchaouen / Cat at mosque

Looking at these photos alllmost makes me want to go right back. It was a really beautiful year. Thanks for letting me share your photos, Mike.

xo, jill


Four Tickets to Paradise

A day I would happily live again (and again).

Paradise Valley was high on my list of places to visit in Morocco. I was determined to not let it whither on the “wish list” like poor old Fes. Although a popular spot for locals, Paradise Valley is not a super common tourist destination (yet). It’s just not as easy to get to as other places. Fortunately, I put my best researcher on the job (that would be Mike!), and we put a plan in motion. Adam and Katie joined us for what was easily one of my favorite weekends of the year.

Paradise Valley, Morocco

First, to get to Paradise Valley from Marrakech we took a Friday afternoon bus to Agadir. This turned out to be one of the strangest bus rides of my life. Our driver and another car began dueling on the road. There was a lot of fist shaking, fast breaking, and bus swerving. Finally, the bus and car pulled to the side of the highway to hash it out. About half of the men on the bus also jumped off to have a go at the car driver. When the bus driver returned, it was now the passengers’ turn to shout and complain at him. The woman in front of me cried, “Incroyable!” so many times I was beginning to wonder if that was the extent of her French vocabulary. Turns out, it was not.

We stayed the night in Agadir and enjoyed a nice meal near the water. Mike had to work Friday evening so he took a later bus and met me at the hotel. The next morning we arranged a taxi to take us to the nearby surf town of Taghazout. Our accommodation ended up being an empty hostel but that didn’t matter much. We were headed to Paradise Valley!

Paradise Valley, Morocco

Prior to arrival, we hired a car and guide to drive us out to Paradise. I would recommend this route over a drive-yourself situation. The rode was extremely rough. Plus, you’ll get to stop at an argan oil cooperative! (Ok, that’s a bit of a joke. Pretty much all tours, guides, and roads lead to an argan oil co-op.)

After parking the car, we grabbed everything we’d need for the day and hiked in. There are a couple of different spots along the river for jumping and swimming. Our guide took us to one place and explained, “If you jump here, you must jump here. Do not let the wind carry you forward. Here it is deep. There it is 3 feet.” We passed in favor of a safer place further along the trail.

Paradise Valley, Morocco Left: View from above / Right: Mike jumping.

Paradise Valley, Morocco

I wish I could say I jumped. But honestly, I was so scared I could feel it in my feet. I wasn’t scared of the jumping part… just the walking on wet and slippery rocks at a great height to get to the jumping part. I did, however, take my role as photographer quite seriously.

After lounging in the sun chatting with some young Moroccan hikers (who were backpacking with a pallet of eggs!), we hiked over to another more populated swim hole. For the record, I did get in the water here.

Paradise Valley, Morocco Can you see me?

Paradise Valley, Morocco

On our hike back out we stopped at (the only?) little cafe in the hills to enjoy our pre-ordered tagine and mint tea. It was a gorgeous place to relax, refuel, and enjoy each other’s company. Mike and I were so lucky to have Adam and Katie as our “couple friends*” who were always up for an adventure. With a little luck, one day we will all end up in a similar part of the globe again.

Paradise Valley, Morocco

Paradise Valley, Morocco

Paradise Valley, Morocco

All tuckered out, we headed back to Taghazout and then on to Marrakech the next morning.

xo, jill

*but individual friends too!

Thanks to Mike’s iPad for providing all these photos. 

In the Ourika Valley

Squeezing it all in.

Last June, a few weeks before leaving Morocco, some friends and I headed out on a day trip to hike in the Ourika Valley.  Turns out, we weren’t the only ones with that idea!

Ourika Valley, Morocco

Ourika Valley, Morocco

The valley is generally a few degrees cooler than the city, which makes it a popular weekend spot. The waterfalls only make the valley that much more appealing.

Ourika Valley, Morocco

Ourika Valley, Morocco

How’s that for waterfront property?

Before heading home we settled down to a satisfying meal in the middle of the river. There’s nothing like enjoying a tagine after a hike while chilly mountain water rushes over your feet.

xo, jill

Saving My Sanity in Italy: Lucca

A third day of charm.

Once I saw with my own eyes just how busy Florence is in June, I started looking for day trip options. After a quick Google search, I decided to spend the last day of the “Farewell to *Student’s Name*” tour in Lucca.

Lucca is an easy train ride from Florence (about an hour) and the station is located just outside the historic center of the city. Compared to Florence, Lucca was sleepy. It was the perfect little getaway within a getaway!

Lucca, Italy

One of the main highlights in Lucca is the city walls. The historic center of the city is enclosed by some of the best preserved walls in Italy. Once meant to protect the city, today the top of the walls are a public park and walking path. My first order of business was to walk the circumference of the city while peeking down into the buildings and courtyards below.

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

The only traditional “attraction” I visited while in Lucca was the Palazzo Pfanner, a gorgeous old manor and garden. The original building dates back to the 1660s, although it’s been greatly expanded over the years. At one point, the manor even housed a brewery! In 1845, the Duke of Lucca issued a decree requesting a “German brewer” for the town. In 1846, Austrian born Felix Pfanner arrived to take on the task and set up shop in the cellars. Eventually, Pfanner became so successful that he bought the estate. His family still owns it today. Thankfully, they’ve opened up some of the property for visitors and events.

Lucca, Italy

This staircase is the kind that makes you wish you were wearing a ball gown. It is also kind of a big deal. It’s been featured in a few movies, such as The Portrait of a Lady.

Lucca, Italy

The gardens at Palazzo Pfanner are particularly lovely. I especially loved the wide range of color in their hydrangeas.

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

After one more lap around the city walls, I headed back for my last night in Florence (which was uneventful except for a quite elderly Italian man who was telling me all about the best places to buy fresh fish in Marrakech and do I have a boyfriend??).  The next morning I headed back to Pisa to catch my flight. It was a rough one (though nowhere near as crazy as this flight). We were delayed a few hours on the tarmac and my fellow passengers had little interest in remaining seated. At one point the flight attendant yelled some much needed threats into the PA system. Finally, everyone returned to their seats and we were able to take off.

The “Farewell to *Student’s Name*” tour had come to a close.

xo, jill

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