Explore My World Passionate Traveller Blog


East Meets West at Vaucluse House: a Story of Women Supporting Women


Who would have thought that the most enriching cultural experience this year awaited me a mere 15 minute drive away from my home in Sydney’s east .

The venue was Vaucluse House, located in the affluent harbourside suburb of Vaucluse, the most unlikely location for a multi cultural gathering. On the grounds of this 19th century estate, which once belonged to the late colonial explorer and politician William Charles Wentworth, I shared a picnic lunch with 10 friends and 25 refugee and migrant mums, predominantly from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. How a travel blogger like me managed to co-organise a get together like this started with a simple conversation over a coffee with my friend Raja. 

In my capacity as Ambassador for the Real Madrid Foundation in Australia, I met Raja Yassine, community outreach officer for Holroyd High School, a school in Western Sydney that we were formalising a sports programme relationship with. Drawn to Raja’s warm ebullient personality and generosity of spirit, we became fast friends.

Over a coffee and chat one day, Raja reflected out loud on the struggles experienced by some of Holroyd High migrant and refugee mums: the trauma, the loss, the loneliness. A devoted mother of four herself, she expressed her desire to start a mother’s group to support them.

“I’d love to organise different outings for these women and give them the chance to meet other women from the community that they wouldn’t normally come in contact with,” Raja said, “ but I can’t do this on my own, Victoria. If I can get a group of our mothers together, can you invite some of the women that you know?”

With a firm belief in building bridges and not walls, I didn’t need to be asked twice. With her heart set on picnic lunch at Vaucluse House, the date was set for the 22 November. Permission was granted for the outing and transport was approved by Holroyd High’s Principal, Dorothy Hoddinott. 

Morning showers threatened to spoil the day. While the group made the hour’s drive from Merrylands station to Vaucluse House, 10 of my assorted friends/ family members and I busied ourselves with setting up picnic tables and fold up chairs on an idyllic grassy patch within the lush 10-hectare grounds, laying out the food that we had brought. And just like that, the sun shone as the tour bus arrived. 25 women piled out, most in hijab, all with huge smiles and enough food to feed half of Sydney. Embracing like old friends and kissing three times on alternate cheeks, we immediately got down to the business of communicating as women, whether we shared the same language or not. 

In the span of 3 and a half hours, we talked food and family. Some of us lent an ear and shed tears as tales of extreme hardship were shared. The Oxytocin flowed and emotional gaps were filled on both sides, the impact on both groups profound. All of us gained a sense of being part of a greater whole and that we shared in the same destiny. Exhausted and happy, we embraced as we said our goodbyes, already looking forward to our next get together, “Inshallah.”

'' Women hold up half the sky, '' according to Chairman Mao. The glue that holds the family together, she is the strength that buoys up her husband and children. When women are empowered, they are better able to play a full part in decision-making within the household as well as in the greater community. What our Vaucluse House get-together showed us was that when we lift our fellow sisters up, we uplift ourselves in the process.

* ABC Journalist Antoinette Lattouf reported on the story. Click here to read.

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 25th November, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Australia
Tags: Vaucluse House, women, Sydney, refugees

Travel as Healing



Our Tommy Bahama postcard
I’ve just come out of hibernation after a health crisis in late October. A skin cancer was cut from my nose and a skin graft taken from my left cheek .... There’s a travel story in all this, I promise! 

Let’s backtrack for a moment to the end of September, when my impending surgery hung over my head like a dark cloud and my imagination was going into overdrive. Despite knowing that I would be in excellent hands and that my condition was not a melanoma, I was nevertheless filled with an anxiety that I couldn’t shake off. Accurately predicting the state that I would be in, Peter and I had planned a visit in September to our favourite place on Earth: Maui.

Notwithstanding that we’ve been coming to Maui every year for the past 11 years, it always seems new, filled with limitless possibilities and magical coincidences. Swimming in the pristine waters off Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach, going to all our favourite restaurants, and getting an impromptu Reiki treatment at the Sacred Garden in Makawao, our routine is as intensely regenerative as well as an endless source of inspiration. Capping off our stay, we braved t he Road to Hana and stayed for 5 nights at a beautiful cottage just off Hamoa Beach, directly opposite the reserve where Peter and I married in 2013.  

Relishing a relaxed lunch and soaking up the holiday vibe at the Tommy Bahama restaurant (Wailea) one afternoon, the Manager handed us a postcard at the end of our meal saying: “If you’d like to write a message on it, we will send it for you to any part of the world”. 

Thinking that it was a fun thing to do, Peter and I wrote a lighthearted message to ourselves at the back of the card, addressed it to our home in Sydney, handed it over to our server, and then forgot about it almost as soon as we walked out the door.

Fast forward to Sydney two weeks later ... No sooner had I arrived home from the hospital after my procedure than I shuffled to the bathroom, dreading to see what I looked like. Struggling with the pain as the anesthesia wore off, I barely recognised myself in the mirror behind the swelling, bruising, and bandages over half my face. Feeling fragile and vulnerable, I stifled my tears for fear of them falling over my stitches. 

In a serendipitous moment, Peter walked down the hallways and cried out with delight: “Vic, guess what just arrived!” It was our Tommy Bahama postcard! 

Turning the card over, I read the message that we penned to ourselves in Maui: 

“ALOHA, VICKY & PETER! 
HERE’S A LOVELY REMEMBRANCE FROM MAUI, ONE OF OUR FAVOURITE CORNERS OF THE WORLD. HOPE THIS POSTCARD ARRIVES AT THE PERFECT TIME.”

And arrive at the perfect time it did. As I gazed lovingly at that postcard, all thoughts of  "woe-is-me" were replaced by beautiful memories. Thank you, Tommy Bahama and Maui, for putting a smile on my dial just when I needed it the most. Once again, the healing power of travel had done its job, not just during our journey but well after. Time and time again, the richness of our travel experiences leads us to rediscover the abundance and resilience we already hold inside. 

Safe Travel, always!

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 6th November, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Opinions, Hawaii (USA)
Tags: Maui, Hawaii, Travel

Sydney's Six Degrees of Bacon & the Ideal Travel Game



Reid Herbert, MD of Winning Moves Aust
An unremittingly glorious Spring day kicked off the start of the official Pass the Pigs Festival, held at The Greens North Sydney, overlooking a shimmering Sydney harbour. Presented by the iconic ‘Pass the Pigs’ game and impeccably timed for ‘International Bacon Day’, the bowling green was a sea of pink pig inflatables, fairy floss and piglets in a pen waiting for a pat. Squeals of delight emanated from the lawn where assorted kids’ party games were under way, deliciously colliding with the sizzle of frying bacon and the intoxicating aromas of pork shoulders roasting over a fire pit. Bacon-inspired cocktails, such as the ‘Makin’ Bacon Bloody Mary’, further titillated adult tastebuds.

Reid Herbert of Winning Moves Australia, the sponsor of the festival, says, “Pigs have been unappreciated for too long, it is about time there is a pig themed festival in Australia. Pass The Pigs is a classic game that has, and continues to deliver much fun for people of all ages, so we are excited to be hosting this inaugural event!”

Winning Moves Australia was founded by Managing Director Reid Herbert in 2012 and has grown into a cohesive 10-strong team. A branch of the global London-based Winning Moves which was founded in 1997, Winning Moves Australia is passionate about creating interesting, fun and unique board games for all ages, Other than Australia, Winning Moves has offices in France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Russia, Turkey and their games are sold around the world.


Pass the Pigs Game
Pass the Pigs, a classic beer & pretzels game for adults, makes an ideal travel game for kids aged 7 years and over. Stored in a pocket-sized travel case, it contains 2 pig-shaped dice, two pencils, and a scoring booklet and table. E ach turn involves one player throwing the pigs as dice and, depending on how the pigs land, points are scored or deducted. Scoring positions are given names such as "snouter," "trotter," and "leaning jowler", while the  "oinker" will cause you to lose your entire accumulated score and the "piggyback" will have you completely eliminated. A game for all generations, Pass the Pigs guarantees hours of entertainment and can be played anywhere from a spacious dining room table to a fold-out tray on an aircraft.

”We’re all just big kids with a passion for bringing people together and making the world a better place,” Reid Herbert says. “In a technology filled world where people interact less and less, board games encourage people to reconnect with each other and remain in the moment.”

Personally, I can attest that board games make kids of us all. No sooner had I unpacked my purse-sized Pass the Pigs game on our lounge room floor than our grandsons, aged 7 and 8, hovered over me in curiosity. Before long, a game was under way and laughter and good-nature shrieks engulfed our household, carrying us well into the night. The Pig had done its job.

Check out the latest licensed, custom and regional editions of the world’s hottest games by Winning Moves Australia by Clicking Here.

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Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 5th September, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Australia
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