Whirling with the Ottomans & Other Faraway Exotica with Rosie Champness

The story of how a GAP year for Rosie Champness – Mosaic Travel – became the catalyst for one of the best out-of-the-office gigs on earth…

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. – Saint Augustine

MSCL hit it off with Rosie Champness of Mosaic Travel at the get-go. Not sure who mentioned one of our favourite travel destinations – Turkey – first up. But it was pretty much on like a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia at first light soon after.

And we discovered that Rosie and Mosaic Travel ‘do’ more that just Turkey, too.

MSCL talks Cuban cigars, Whirling Dervishes, and tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda with Rosie Champness.

MSCL – Hi Rosie! OK, so you know we want your job. Tell us how Mosaic Travel kicked off? How on earth do you get to travel the earth like you do – and for a living – for goodny’s sake? It sounds like a dream vocation too good to be true. 

We love a good back story. So give it all you’ve got!

ROSIE – It is a dream job, isn’t it? Some of my favourite clients love to remind me of a tour I did a few years ago. We were on a four-day cruise in a traditional wooden gulet boat in the south of Turkey. I woke up on the deck, had a stretch and a yawn, and said, “Well, I guess I’d better get ready for work. Wait – I’m already here!” – before jumping into the Med.

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished school, or uni – where I actually majored in French! I found a job on gumtree.com as a tour leader for a backpacker tour company based in Istanbul. The job was for five months – but I ended up staying for two years – leading tours in the summer, and teaching English in the winter.

When I felt the time was right to move home, I just couldn’t seem to shake my love of Turkey. The Portakal Tour – a 21-day boutique tour of Turkey, escorted by me – was born out of a desire to show Australians the real Turkey, my Turkey.

Mosaic Travel has grown and evolved over the years. We now lead small-group tours to other gorgeous destinations, too, like Croatia, Spain and Portugal, as well as offering our clients the full travel booking service – flight bookings, other tours, accommodation, et cetera. Mosaic Travel is a licensed travel agency – and I’ve been a travel agent now for seven years.

MSCL – Turkey – as you know – is high up there on the list of the most fascinating countries MSCL has tripped about. What do you love most about it? We could go on and on. But we’ve only scratched the surface, we’re thinking – after checking the itinerary of Mosaic Travel’s Portakal Tour.

The cave stay at Cappadocia was a highlight, for sure. Felt like extras on a Star Wars set. Breathtakingly spectacular doesn’t come close to cutting it.

We didn’t do the hot-air balloon thrill-seeker thing. Although some years after our visit, one MSCL family member – of the intrepid death-defying lunatic variety – couldn’t resist the temptation, or the adrenalin rush. Have you done it, Rosie? 

ROSIE – I love that you’re a Turkey lover too! I’ve been lucky enough to do a hot-air balloon flight over Cappadocia a few times; and I’ve spent many more mornings peeking out the window of my little cave hotel room, watching them floating effortlessly above the crazy rock formations. I thought it might be a big adrenalin rush, too, but I actually found it to be an amazingly peaceful, quiet and relaxing experience.

I love Southern Turkey on the Med – cruising on a traditional wooden boat; swimming and exploring the islands all day; and eating fresh seafood at night. I love exploring the little villages on the Lycian Way – think the Cinque Terre without the tourists. I also love Safranbolu, a traditional little town full of beautiful 19th century Ottoman mansions. And how can I not mention the magic of Ephesus; the solemnity of the battlefields of Gallipoli; and, of course, the crazy hustle-bustle of Istanbul. I could go on and on and on…

MSCL – What’s your favourite Turkish experience? And why? Hang on, and before you take off – We forgot to mention this bit. You speak Turkish?

ROSIE – I do speak Turkish! I was forced to learn very quickly, as most Turkish bus drivers don’t speak a word of English. In the early days, they’d try to tell me things in Turkish, to which I’d shrug and say, “I don’t understand.” They’d respond by saying the same thing louder and slower. Eventually – just by being around Turkish all the time, and practising every day – I started to pick up key phrases. I think some of the first things I learnt to say were “No smoking on the bus” and ‘Slow down”!

My favourite Turkish experience? Well, that would be a toss-up between two. Walking through the narrow streets between Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, which are filled with wholesale fabric and jewellery stores, and are always crammed full of people – the smell of kebabs and roasted chestnuts is in the air; and the sound of the Call to Prayer bellowing from the surrounding mosques. Magic.

The other is the experience of having a Turkish Bath, a Hammam. Entering an ancient bath house full of marble – and a full scrub-down by big Turkish mamas – is something you wont forget in a hurry!

MSCL – Before MSCL’s Love All Things Travel Troupe ventured into the land of the Ottomans, certain family members put their bib in – exclaiming aghast – “Oh my God, you can’t go THERE.” Mention of being kidnapped by white slave traders was bandied about at one point. Yes, believe it!

Come to think if it, we actually felt safer in Istanbul than we do in Richmond on a dark and drizzly night – or in broad daylight, for that matter. 

What do you have to say about the safety of travel – particularly for women – to places that are a little bit out-there and out of the way? 

ROSIE – I don’t think my parents were too happy – initially – about my love of Turkey either. Contrary to popular belief, women are highly respected in most parts of Turkey, and I’ve always felt safe. My advice to women is to wear modest clothing. It’s not expected – but simply covering your elbows and knees will make you feel more comfortable, and will earn you more respect from the locals.

A lot of people ask me if Turkey is safe at the moment. I think it’s really about as safe as anywhere these days. Like travelling anywhere – it’s always advisable to keep your wits about you, and to avoid large gatherings of people.

MSCL – Let’s travel to Uganda now. We’ve never seen anyone as up close and personal with the great apes of Uganda as David Attenborough. But you come pretty close. Tell us about the experience. 

It’s impossible to imagine what it’s like to actually come face to face with these remarkable creatures. And we know of no one but you who has done it.

ROSIE – Yes, I’m certainly a very lucky girl. The mountain gorillas can be found only in the wild on one mountain in Africa. Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo all share this mountain.

I’ve been lucky enough to see gorillas from both the Ugandan and Rwandan sides. To trek for the gorillas is a very highly regulated and expensive experience. Small numbers only are allowed to participate each day – and the permits cost a small fortune. But to see these creatures – who are so like us – in their natural environment, and to observe them for an hour, going about their daily lives, is a rare privilege. Aside from the attraction of the gorillas, Uganda and Rwanda are fascinating countries. I highly recommend a visit.

MSCL – And Cuba? We’ve never been. And shamefully know little about the place – apart from the embargo imposed on it by the US in the ‘60s. And more recently, former President Obama’s push to end it. Oh, and Che and Castro, of course. 

But MSCL is more interested in the exotic and a-little-bit-naughty things, like Cuban cigars and coffee – and flash-dancing. Does the coffee in Cuba match our Surf Coast brews? 

And have you ever heard Jackson Browne’s Going Down to Cuba? We think if you haven’t, that maybe you would like it.

ROSIE – No, I’ve never heard it. But just listened to it on Youtube – love it!

Cuba – what a fascinating country. Mosaic Travel’s tours to Cuba are led by the fabulous Nicole. She’s married to a Cuban man, and is in a Cuban salsa band! Our Cuba tours take guests off the beaten track, and into the heart of Cuban life – in fact, a feature of the tour is introducing guests to Nicole’s family members! Think private street party with musicians, rum, cooking classes, cruising around in classic cars, sunset mojitos, and music on the beach.

Coffee is very good in Cuba. But all the Cubans drink is café Cubano – a strong espresso – so you wont have much luck if you’re after a skinny latte!

MSCL – Of all your bespoke tours, which is your absolute favourite? Hard question. And not even sure why we’re asking it, but we thought we’d try you.

ROSIE – I love the diversity of trips my clients ask me to arrange for them. Recently, I’ve been working on trips to Antarctica, South America, Alaskan cruises, honeymoons to Bali, and the Seychelles. Mosaic travellers are pretty adventurous. My favourite bespoke trip to organise at the moment is an independent Southern Spain tour. We stay in gorgeous, quirky little hotels, and mostly travel by train. We explore the heart of each destination by organising interesting walking and tapas tours, flamenco nights and cooking classes.

MSCL – How many times in a year do you leave your home in Australia? And do you ever get homesick?

ROSIE – I never really get homesick; but sometimes I wish hubby could come, too! It varies from year to year, but I’m usually away for around three months a year over two stints. I can’t wait to go home at the end of a tour, and to settle into a routine again. Although, after about two weeks at home, I do start to get a bit antsy about my next trip!

MSCL – OK, Rosie – We ask everybody this! And we are particularly interested in your answers. What are you listening to right now? And reading? And watching?

ROSIE – For lighthearted fun, I’m watching Travel Man episodes on SBS. If you haven’t seen them, you must! Richard Ayoade – and a different comedian each episode – travel to a destination for 48 hours, and showcase all there is to do there. But I’m not completely travel-obsessed – well, I kind of am – but anyway! We’re also hooked on Broadchurch.

I’m struggling my way through The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, a history of the Silk Road. It’s ridiculously heavy going, but I am fascinated by that part of the world.

MSCL – Is there anywhere you have NOT been, where you would like to travel? We realise this may be a short list, as seems you have been pretty much everywhere, man!

ROSIE – Oh, so many places! But right now, Bhutan and the Northern Territory are at the top of my bucket list. I recently attended tourism industry functions for both destinations. We are planning a cheeky getaway to Bhutan soon, though, so watch this space!

I think I’ve been so hooked on travelling internationally for the past 10 years, that I’ve neglected my own back yard. It’d be just great to go on a big 4WD adventure to the Top End one day.

MSCL – Thank you so much for your time, Rosie – and for taking MSCL on some remarkable journeys, if even in our wildest imaginings. And for the healthy injection of wanderlust.

So it’s not such a lonely planet after all… 😉

Rosie blogs on her site, too.

MSCL loves this little read – Gorillas in the Mist – Searching for Rare Mountain Gorillas in Uganda

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