Posted by: debrakolkka | June 25, 2011

Who kick started your desire to travel?

I am guessing that if you follow this blog you have an interest in travel. The person who inspired my desire to seek out far flung places was our neighbour when I was growing up.

We moved next door to Nancy and Aga when I was four and I lived there until I was 19 and took my first trip to Italy. Nancy must have been about 45 when we became neighbours, but she seemed ageless always. She died recently when she was in her 90s. I never really knew how old she was.  Aga was older and died a long time ago. She was the quiet one.

Nancy was wonderfully flamboyant. She was tall, had red hair and was very elegant.  She was handsome rather than beautiful. She had a lovely house full of treasures she had collected from her travels all over the world. In particular, she had a glass cabinet full of glass, marble and alabaster figurines from Italy, mostly Venice. I decided when I was very young that I too, would collect these fabulous things and I would go all over the world to do so.

Nancy threw the best parties. She was a great cook and a wonderful decorator and she would let me look before the guests arrived to see what she had prepared and how she had set the table or decorated the room. I was allowed to stay to watch beautifully dressed people arrive to be welcomed by those long arms flung into the air, followed quickly by a “Hello darling!” 

 I kept in contact with her until she died and made sure that I told her what a big influence she had been on my life. She liked to get postcards from my travels and to hear about the places I had been. I am very glad I had Nancy in my life. She is the reason I travel.

high above Italy

My sister has just sent me some photos from our childhood. We can’t find one of Nancy, but there is a great one of Mum and Dad as Fred and Wilma Flintstone at one of Nancy’s parties. It must be about 1961 0r 1962.

Wilma and Fred

We were quite cute as children I think. Time goes too quickly.

me with my brother Robert

Our mother was very beautiful.

Robert, Mum, me, Jeni and the new TV

We all loved the beach.

Mum with 3 of us

 Here we are showing off our toys.

I just love Robert’s pose

 The reindeer Robert is holding still exists.

How time flies – make the most of it.


  1. So nice to remember the people who touched your life. We always had people from all over the world at our house, since my mother missed her European connections, living in the States, and my father loved to welcome people who were lost or didn’t quite “fit in” – it was his only time to be an “extrovert”. I remember having a house full of Greek sailors over for dinner one evening, only one of whom spoke a language my mother knew a bit of, German. It was a lively event.
    Anyway, I always felt different from my American friends and always knew I would return to France one day, which I did at 18. And from there I discovered Italy, which to me has always seemed like heaven on earth.

    • We grew up at the Gold Coast and we had a steady stream of visitors.It was great fun.

  2. Lovely post Debra. Your neighbours sound like wonderful people to have kickstarted a young girls dreams.
    A kids book made me want to go to Venice and eat spaghetti, (I think I actually have a draft post sitting there from ages ago about it…)
    My parents also took us to Asia, and backpacking in India as a 12 year old that sort of thing. It always felt like, of course you could travel, why wouldn’t you! Their parents before them also did a lot of travel and living overseas so there has always been a lot of stories to be told.
    Travel is very important to me…so many wonderful places and people to discover.

    • Apart from my grandfather, who came alone from Finland when he was just 19, nobody in my family was much interested in travel. I also left home on my first adventure when I was 19.

      • Debra adding those family photos just made a post that I loved even better. Thank you for sharing them. I was at a vintage clothing fair today and I suspect all the clothing (40’s-50’s-60’s) would have suited those stories and photos of yours quite well…incidently I got an Italian cream knit for a bargain- I was happy 🙂

      • I will have to rat through Mum’s old photos and find one of Nancy and Aga. Well done getting a bargain today.

  3. What a beautiful blog post Debbie… the honour you give Nancy for her influence in your life is very moving. I don’t know if I had anyone who inspired me or influenced my life like Nancy did yours. My first taste of travel was simply to escape. A friend of long ago and with whom I’ve completely lost contact was returning to Sweden so I decided to travel to London. I had/have relatives there what with my dad being English. The journey was really more a search for something I couldn’t find rather than inspiration by any one person.
    Over the years I’ve met many people who I cherish dearly and have felt incredibly blessed to have met, many of whom are dear dear lifelong friends, many simply moments in time offering lifetime memories.
    I grew up when I first lived in London, still growing up. But I wonder if my desire for travel isn’t still flamed by the search for that which I have yet to find.

    • I’m glad that Nancy knew what an inspiration she was. She was an only child and had no children of her own. She led what I considered to be a very exotic life and I thought she was wonderful.

  4. I didn’t have anyone so elegant in my life, but my Great grandmother looked after me while my parents worked. This was the early 50’s and she had siblings all over Finland. We would regularly pack our bags and catch the train to where ever and knock on a door of some unsuspecting relative and stay a few days. This was a wonderful experience for a little girl, and I realised that I was very fortunate to get to know all these distant relatives. Due to these travels with Mummu, when returning to Finland as a 20 year old, I went to visit all these people again. Aahh what precious memories. I have tried to do the same for my daughter.

    • It sounds like great fun. I hope your daughter appreciates the opportunities she has been given.

  5. That’s such a lovely post. It must have been very special for Nancy to know that she had inspired you, and what a fabulously exotic neighbour for a young girl to have. My Dad unwittingly inspired my desire to travel – away: I landed in Australia as a thoroughly naive 21 year old. Long before I thought of coming to Australia I remember talking with a young and, to my mind then, exotic Australian girl who worked on the same newspaper as I did. I asked where she came from and she replied “Brisbane – it’s a hot, dusty, sprawling country town”. That must have been about 1967. I had no idea that I would end up living in that “sprawling country town”.

    • And we are glad you did! It is still hot, but I’m not so sure about the dusty bit. We have bitumen roads now.

      • I love the handbag!! You always complement your clothes with a great handbag.

      • It clearly started early. I’ve given up on the gloves though.

  6. Thank you for telling people of Nancy but there is more to tell – please also tell of Nancy’s short stories, the other interesting people we met via Nancy, the people who came to Nancy’s parties (incl. Robert Helpman before he was a Sir). Nancy had a profound influence on our lives. Growing up on the Gold Coast next door to Nancy was wonderful! When Nancy had a party, often fancy dress, we kids would lie on Mum and Dad’s bed, looking out the window and watch Nancy’s guest frolicking on the lawn.
    Nifta (Deb’s sister)

    • I think you have just told them. Nancy’s stories were wonderful, she had a special way with words.Some of her early work was published I think. I should drag out the photo of Mum and Dad and Fred and Wilma Flintstone and put it in this post. I think that was the night Mum drank quite a few Brandy Crusters, not realising they were alcholic. Perhaps that is why there was frolicking.

  7. Hello Deb,
    Just back from our travels to France and Eastern Europe and London, and enjoying your posts, especially about Nancy.
    A neighbour of ours when we were young, was instrumental in establishing a library in our small town. She involved my sister and I in this process of sorting, covering and cataloguing all the books – no high tech equipment back then. Africa was the country that held a spell over me at that age and in 2007 realised that dream of travelling there.
    We remained close friends until her death about 10 years ago.

    • Isn’t it great to have such wonderful influences in our lives. Nancy and Aga will never be forgotten.

  8. I think that, in my case, I was born with that fascination for travel and learning about other cultures. Then, fate also intervened and pushed us to different places. My family was very influential in fostering that love for cultural experiences and learning.

    • I love being a citizen of the world. I feel at home almost wherever I am, especially Italy, Australia and lovely Finland.

  9. They both sound like very inspiring women! I don’t know what sparked my interest in travel but we always did and both my sister and I are absolutely curious about people and cultures. In fact she does as much travelling as I do but on a purely recreational level!

    • I think I must be a bit nosey because I love seeing how others live.

  10. Deb, your mother looks very stylish and what about the lovely clothes she dressed you all in, slight competition from the well dressed dolls, no wonder you ended up in fashion.

    • Mum made all our clothes. I remember that black and white striped dress and my sister’s. I think it was brown and white check.

  11. What a lovely blog. I had to respond to this, even if it was a retorical question, as the person who instilled in me a love of travel, was a long time, flame red haired friend, Helen Close. She was always an independent traveller and used to love going off the main tourist trail to find the best shops and restaurants. We would all be jealous when she returned to show us what she had found. I had always wanted to travel, but didn’t go overseas until I was nearly 38 for the first time and Helen was our group leader. I remember standing at the top of the stairs of the aircraft at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and thinking, I think I’m in love with this place! Such a strange thing, when all that was around was aviation fuel fumes, flying machines and ugly grey asphalt, but here I am, many years later, a complete Italophile. I have been to many places since, but no place apart from my own beautiful Australia, gets to me like Italy and it’s people and the oh so musical language. Just got back home in May, after 6 weeks away and already I can’t wait to be back.

    • I know Helen, and she would be delighted to know this. She follows the blog, so she will. She has stayed at my place in Italy and lives nearby in Brisbane. Perhaps we will all meet in Italy one day, if not, West End.

  12. These are wonderful photos, and Nancy sounds like an incredible person.

    I had no real desire to travel – where I grew up, trips overseas where something ‘rich people’ did, not something I ever thought I’d be able to afford myself. And then, first year out of uni, I got an opportunity to go to Paris for a few weeks, sleeping on the floor of a friends hotel – she had been sent there for training in her new job, and the hotel didn’t mind freeloaders. After that, I was hooked 🙂

    • Nice to have you back. Travel really gets under your skin doesn’t it?

  13. I missed this one completely! Where was I? I don’t travel at all these days, so I read your blog for vicarious pleasure and while I like to be in other places, I am a very bad traveller, I think I like boats best of all. I did a little local travelling in Europe when I was younger and family visiting in Scandinavia, but in the last five years or so I haven’t been out of the country. So it goes. You can have my carbon footprint to play with xx Joanna

    • As you may have guessed, I love to travel. Thank you for sharing your footprint with me.

Leave a Reply


%d bloggers like this: