Winter has officially finished and the festive season has begun…
Pick up a magazine or turn on the TV and you are flooded with pictures and stories of exotic places to visit and explore. Different cultures to experience and languages to listen to, streets full of foreign people going about their daily lives or haggling on the footpaths, shop fronts with foreign signs, exotic foods in the windows, the smell of spices and sound of music drifting through laneways and arcades. Spruikers call out selling their wares hoping to bring in customers.
Not all of us are in the position of being able to pack up our gear and spend our days exploring foreign lands at the drop of a hat. We can dream, but the reality is often a failed fantasy.
For the financially or time-challenged, an alternative is to explore the cities suburbs. If you pull out a map of your capital city and draw an 80km radius around where you live, you will be surprised to find a whole world on your doorstep. You don't need to worry about passports, exchange rates, keeping to an itinerary, bad fuel, shots before you leave, you don't need to pay off the police for fake speeding fines and you can even find a loo with toilet paper. If you are able, you can plan the trip during festivals when the suburbs really come alive to celebrate whatever they are celebrating. With an open mind, a camera and wheels, you can globe-trot in a day or if you can, over a weekend.
0-33.5Km Central Europe Breakfast under a clear blue summer sky is interrupted by the sound of a couple of Tiger Moths flying side by side over green fields; a typical Sunday Camden morning. Heading north from Camden brings you to central Europe where Serbs play chess in Liverpool mall. Mothers in cafes watch their kids climb the play equipment. Men dressed in old grey suites watch the people walk by or sit in groups discussing politics in the former Eastern Block.
33.5 -38.5Km – South East Asia
A little further on, South East Asia appears as I drive up John Street, Cabramatta. The street is packed with people along the street, regardless of the day of the week the place is busy. White vans fill the laneways delivering boxes to shops, crates of fish, fruit and veg spill out of arcades, buskers play Vietnamese folk songs in the mall and lanterns hang from shop awnings. A drive along neighbouring streets is slow with congestion. People live on top of each other in crowded unit blocks that are slowly falling apart. Tenants make the most of green space by planting veggie patches in the front of units and clothes dry in the sun hanging off balconies. Old folk push bicycles along the footpaths laden with food bought from the arcades.
38.5 - 42Km Southern Europe Following the rail line, East meets West at Fairfield. Spain, Italy, Asia and the Middle East all meld into one spot. Funny little coffee shops filled with men smoking their hookah-shisha pipes and playing cards. Shops sell spices and nuts, the smell of coffee and baked bread wafts along the road. Young guys mill around shops and street corners looking at the girls walking by, not doing much else while children kick a soccer ball in unit carparks pretending to be their heroes playing in stadiums.
43 – 52Km Sub-continent
Heading north brings you to the sub- continent. A kaleidoscope of colour decorates restaurants in Harris Park. Posters of Bollywood movies adorn shop fronts. Old cars line the street and brightly coloured sarongs are the norm for women in the shops. High rise units line the streets with washing drying on the balconies. In the back streets, groups of old men sit on the grass strips in front of units playing cards.
52 – 56.5Km Sub-Continent and North Africa
With the sound of a sitar fading in the distance, I drive toward Parramatta Road. Five km up the highway, spires of a mosque tower over terracotta roofs. Turkey is encountered as you ride into Auburn. Women dressed in hijabs and men dressed in grey or brown suits walk the streets. Posters of Turkish singers are glued to building walls and windows advertising concerts. A growing African influence is emerging here as well. Dilapidated houses and high rise apartment towers surround the business sector. Small workshops repairing cars and warehouses lay on the outskirts.
56.5 – 63Km Asia
Eight km to the east brings you back to Asia and into Korea as I come into Strathfield Square. Businesses specialising in Korean wares advertise in both English and Korean. There's no MASH unit, and that's probably a good thing. The major railway station brings people from all over the metro area here that keeps the place alive.
63 -76.5km Europe
Craving an expresso, you can't go past Italy with a drive through Five Dock, Haberfield and into Leichhardt. Vespas and Ducatis are parked outside the Piazza along Norton Street. Outdoor cafés, galleries and bookshops add to the European atmosphere with an air of elegance on the street. While there, a stop into Deus Ex Machina at Camperdown should not be missed even if it's just for a coffee and browse around.
76.5 – 86Km Southern Europe
Ten Km toward the coast lays a touch of the Mediterranean. Brighton – Le- Sands on the western edge of Botany Bay with its white sands and calm water is a little piece of Greece. Speed boats park onto the shore, kite surfers scream across the bay. A game of Beach volleyball is watched by an enthusiastic crowd cheering at each point. A cycleway runs from the edge of the airport to Sans Souci and groups of people stroll along its length. Some great restaurants are found along The Grand Parade and are always full on an afternoon. If the restaurants are busy, you can always end your trip by sitting on the sand munching on octopus and chips with a bottle of ouzo watching the jets taking off from the airport runway.
So there you have it. One day… three continents… seven countries…in 80 Kilometres. With school holidays approaching again, load the kids in the car and show them the world, every road trip is an adventure. You can't ask more than that.