Australia: the story so far.

I’ve been in Melbourne for a month now. A MONTH. How has that happened?!!

I adore it. I’ve not been doing the normal travelling stuff here. I’ve been staying in one place for a start. I’ve not done a lot of sightseeing stuff. Or any tours. I guess you could say I’ve been living here rather than travelling. Which suits me just fine. I was about ready for a break from all the moving about. It’s been like going home without actually going home.

I’ve been staying with some friends who have just been brilliant. Made me feel right at home and have done so much for me; from giving me a place to stay to taking me out and about, to feeding me copious amounts of amazing food, to buying me a Christmas present and lending me a bike and all the gear so I can get around. Amongst other things. Not sure how I will be able to repay them!

I’ve not just been sat on my bum for a month though. Oh no. I’ve actually been quite busy. It’s hard work this travelling lark. What have I been doing? Read on.

I said I’d be back on the fitness stuff when I got to Australia, and OH YES I HAVE. Just check out my Runkeeper stats for the proof!! I’ve been running, walking, biking and running some more. It’s been GREAT. The weather has been much better for it (cooler, no humidity and a bit unpredictable. Just how I realise I like it!) and there’s so much opportunity for it here; it’s not an abnormal thing. I have to be careful to not do too much too soon though, so I’ve been trying to take it a bit easy but I’ve been so excited to get out there and get moving I’ve probably done a bit more than I should. I have to remember I’m probably not quite at the fitness level I was back in May 2013 before I left! My left knee is a bit whingey at the moment, and I need it to be on top form the next few weeks so I need to keep an eye on that. But most days I’ve done some kind of exercise. Whoop! I’ve biked, ran or walked to and around Westerfolds Park (beautiful) and Bundoora Park, along the Yarra River and Darebin creek. There are hundreds of places to explore here, all along bike and walking trails, so no need to go along any roads really. It’s just wonderful.

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So, what else?

I’ve been into Melbourne city a few times. It’s only 20 minutes on the train so not far away at all. I’ve had a good wander around the streets looking at all the buildings, done a bit of window shopping (I have neither the spare funds, space in my backpack or inclination to do anything more than that to be fair), went to the Botanical Gardens, took the City Circle tram and went up to the top of the Eureka Tower. I ate my lunch in the Carlton Gardens, walked down by the river where I watched people eating and drinking on the outside BBQ’s there (BRILLIANT facility) and marvelled at the Melbourne street art. I watched live music in Federation Square, got lost in the laneways, visited the State Library of Victoria and saw the famous Myer Christmas window display with Bob and La.  Melbourne’s great because the CBD is small enough to wander round really easily, and on a grid system so if you do get a bit lost you just keep walking until you come to a main road and you can soon sort yourself out again.

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I’ve ran in the city too. The first run was with the Run Bird Crew, a running group from a running shop in the city not long after I arrived in Melbourne. A nice bunch of people, I ran around 7km with them, at a pretty fast pace. The guy from the shop (who incidentally was a better looking version of David Beckham – yes, I didn’t know there was such a thing either. Phew.) said it was faster than they normally go. Well, my body definitely felt it. Although, it was good to be pushed, and great to be running with other people again. Even if I didn’t actually run with anyone much, and was last to get back to the shop, haha! I also ran around Albert Park doing my very first parkrun – you can read about that here. Still on the list to do is to run around the Tan – a bit of an icon in Melbourne and something I have to do.

Albert Park, parkrun #110

Bob and La had a Christmas BBQ to celebrate with all their friends before they went on holiday, so I got to eat loads of scrummy food, drink beer, chat with lots of interesting people and make new friends. In the sun. In December. Very cool.

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I went cherry picking near Red Hill, south of Melbourne. It’s is a popular thing here (very similar to strawberry picking in the UK), and one of Bob and La’s Christmas traditions. It was great to see the countryside around the city, as well as have a picnic and eat lots of mage cherries straight off the trees. Yum. On the way back we stopped at Frankston beach which reminded me of South Africa – bright blue sea and golden beaches. Stunning.

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Christmas happened. I’ve already written about that though. And of course, New Year follows Christmas. This year, for New Year’s Eve I got invited by a new friend to join them and their neighbours in a 6 course Japanese banquet and after party. Oh my word. So much food. So much good food. So much amazing food. It was a great atmosphere and I love meeting new people. It was wonderful to see this real life, slightly unconventional, community of family, friends and neighbours in a Melbourne suburb. And I met Australian people! Hurrah!

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I went for a walk with a new friend in Warrandyte which was just stunning. All trees and river and lovely scenery. These places that are technically in the city of Melbourne are just cracking and could have you fooled that you’re out in the countryside. Definitely a green city here.

I went hiking up and around Mount Dandenong with some more new friends. Spectacular views and a bit of a challenging walk. More fresh air, good exercise, one of my favourite things to do and good company. Oh, and we finished with tea and scones. Not bad eh?

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I went to Brighton beach on a hot day, again with some new friends. Lovely to get to know people who live here as I can experience Melbourne like a local. Experience life here. How else will I figure out whether it’s for me or not, long term? 😉 On this day it was supposed to get to about 38 degrees, so what better thing to do than hit the beach in a bikini? We had about an hour and a half of hot weather before I got to witness the famous ‘Melbourne cool change’! Where the wind direction and temperature changes, and the air temperature drops significantly within the space of a few minutes. Cue everyone on the beach trying to hold onto their umbrellas and day tents, avoid being blasted in the face with sand while packing everything up. Beach abandoned, we did what anyone would do and decamped to a nearby trendy pub to drink afternoon cider.

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I’ve watched quite a lot of films. I don’t feel like I’ve seen any for months (apart from the odd one on a plane) so it was nice over Christmas to sit down and watch a few. Especially when they were accompanied by some chocolate. Mmm. Chocolate.

When I was in Zambia last year I made a friend who was from Melbourne. Of course we said we’d have to meet up when I got to Australia. Back then, that seemed like ages away. And all of a sudden it’s here. And we met up. Jenny took me to the Sherlock Holmes Inn. Very English. We had fish & chips. Very English. I had two glasses of rose wine. Not quite so English. They were £5 each. For a small glass. Australia is expensive.

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I went to St Kilda for a walk along the beach and a wander round the streets. It’s a quirky little place, with lots of bakeries (yes, I resisted all those lovely cakes as part of my trying-to-give-up-sugar thing I’ve got going on), cafe and little shops. There’s also an amusement park called Luna Park, which reminded me of the fair at Skegness. It even had a theatre right next to it. just like the Embassy Centre. I had a walk to the end of the pier – there’s a cracking view looking back towards the beach with the city in the background. I love the skyscrapers of Melbourne’s CBD. Hopefully I’ll get to go to a rooftop bar or cinema before I leave Australia.

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I saw kangaroos and koalas at Healsville Sanctuary. I’ve not seen any in the wild yet, so this was the next best thing. It’s not a zoo, more a wildlife sanctuary where native Australian animals are taken to be looked after, rehabilitated and breeding programs are carried out to fight extinction for some of the country’s most endangered animals. I loved seeing all the animals, especially a platypus (which is much smaller than I thought, and very cute), kangaroos, koalas, wombats and tasmanian devils. Mainly because I’ve never seen any of them in real life before. And there were so many amazing birds too. Birds over here are really colourful. Healsville is out in the Yarra Valley, which is a pretty nice part of Australia. Quite quaint, lots of countryside and green stuff and very pretty. A popular place for people to visit and live. It also has a place called Badger Creek. I liked this. I’d move there, just to have an address that had Badger Creek in it. Bob drove back round Mount Donna Buang and through the rainforest so I could stop and see it, which was pretty cool. Not quite like a tropical rainforest; this one was a bit chilly under the tree canopy for a start, and all mossy and damp.

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I went out for Afghan food one night with Bob and La on Brunswick Street. Brunswick Street is a famous trendy street in the Fitzroy suburb filled with bars, restaurants and quirky shops. Luckily since I’ve been in Melbourne I’ve bought some ‘normal’ clothes so I didn’t feel too out of place. Although I’m never going to completely fit in somewhere uber trendy. Because I’m just not, well, trendy enough. But the food here was great. Really great. Not had Afghan food before but now I have. Would recommend.

I went to a BBQ at the next door neighbours. Hosted by Kieran, Anthea and their two kids. Oh, and a visit from Anthea’s mum Lorna who lives the other side. As my Film Club buddies pointed out, this was a real life ‘Neighbours’ situation. They were lovely. The food was great. Their house is beautiful; they built it themselves, so it’s all new, shiny and modern. Their kitchen island is to die for. Want. I’ll hopefully see them again when I get back from Tasmania as they are (or more specifically, Kieran is) convinced that this Pom will end up stranded or dead somewhere.

There’s been more. I’ve walked around the suburb of Ivanhoe and pretty much know where everything is now. I know short cuts to the shops and train station, and recognise where I am on the bike trails near the creek. I’ve taken the dog for many walks to Darebin Parklands where there’s a strange egg shaped sculpture near a hill and free dog poop bags. I’ve fallen asleep on the train but never missed my stop, bought a pear as a snack instead of a chocolate bar (progress) and woken up pretty much every day without an alarm. I’ve got to know my friends here more and have enjoyed seeing them in their everyday family life. I’m so pleased I’ve been able to meet their daughter, who is just the most wonderful little person. I’ve been made to feel so at home and welcome, which, after 6 months on the road, was so needed you have no idea.

My next adventure will hopefully start this weekend. I’m going to fly to Launceston in Tasmania with a bike, some clothes and a tent and spend a few weeks cycling down the east coast of the island. I’ve got a vague route planned out, but nothing booked or set in stone; keeping it flexible, baby. I’ll be covering an average of around 50km a day, which is around 30 miles. So not too far. I’ve got my padded shorts ready to go. I’m looking forward to combining some of my favourite things; a bit of fitness with a bit of adventure and travel. Excited? YOU BET. Bring it ON, mofo.

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Runs around the world #16

parkrun, Melbourne, Australia

I wouldn’t normally post about two runs around the world in the same city but this one deserves a post of it’s own. This is a special post. My very first parkrun. Ever heard of parkrun? It’s a free, weekly, 5km timed run that are held around the world and are open to everyone.

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They take place in parkland surroundings and people of every ability are encouraged to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; everyone is welcome. I’d been waiting for one in Lincoln for ages (it had been in the pipeline for a while) as they are such a good idea, but by the time I left the UK in May there still wasn’t one in Lincoln (there is now though, whoop!), and I’d not been anywhere on a Saturday where one was held to try somewhere else. So, I made a promise to myself that I would do the Albert Park parkrun in Melbourne when I got here. And so I did!

So, the second Saturday after I arrived (I was busy cherry-picking the first Saturday) I set my alarm stupidly early (although Albert Park is not that far away from where I’m staying it’s a bit of a trek to get to – walk, train then tram) and headed for Albert Park, a big lake near the CBD in Melbourne, surrounded by lot of lovely green stuff. I’d already been tweeting with one of the race directors so was great to put a face to a name and have a chat before the race.

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The actual run was bloody hard work. A fast 5km after months of slow short runs was bound to be hard. And also add in the fact I’d done a 45km bike ride the day before. The lake seemed to go on forever and when I thought we were at about 3/4 of the way round I realised it was still less than half. Gah! But, I soldiered on, despite my legs pretty much screaming at me, and ran all the way round for a time of around 26 minutes. I would have been happy just to get round in under 30 mins so I was pretty chuffed with that. It’s only about 3 minutes off my 5K PB so with a little bit of work I could be back up there, although, I’m not that bothered about PB’s and times these days. I’m all about the distance.

It’s a beautiful setting for a run. All the way around the edge of Albert Park lake, passing swans, palm trees and rowing clubs, with the skyscrapers of the city in the background.

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There’s a great atmosphere; as with any running community, everyone is so very friendly and happy. On that first run there was a couple who regularly go who were getting married that day. So them, and their whole wedding party turned up to do parkrun. On their wedding day. Commitment or what. The organisers had arranged a veil, tutu, flowers and bubbles to celebrate. See? Running community = awesome.

I managed to chat to a few people, although they were mainly English – there’s a lot of us out here! It was either people just on holiday like me, or people who had emigrated. But, great to meet loads of different, interesting people. I love how running is so inclusive for everyone, and especially parkrun where you see athletes running alongside kids, running clubs alongside pushchairs and everyone in between. You’ve immediately got something in common with all those people there. It was a great experience for me to join in with something I love on the other side of the world. It really is universal.

Love it.

Hello 2014.

For the past couple of years, the new year has kind of been a bit of a big deal. Not the actual celebrating, but the whole end of an old year, start of a new year shebang. I like looking back at what happened and what I did over the year, and I like looking forward to have a think about the kind of things I want to do or achieve in the next year. Although, I never used to ‘wait’ for new year to make a change or do something, I think if you want to do it, then whatever point you’re at is as good a time as any. But, I liked the definitive start and end point as an excuse to do a bit of reflecting.

This year is a bit different though, and I’m not really thinking about life in the same way this time. This year that kind of reflection and review is in line with my travel year. So, I’ll probably do my thinking when I finish my travelling in April/May. So much will happen or change by then anyway, there’s no point in planning or thinking too much. And I like that.

2013 has been a cracker of a year. A bit of a different year, but then I guess I could say that about the last couple of years for me too. So I guess there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ year any more. I’ve learnt so much, done so much, experienced so much in 2013 I wouldn’t even know where to begin to start writing about it. So I’m not going to. Much easier that way. All I’ll say is that there’s been mainly ups. No real downs. I’m healthy and happy and haven’t managed to injure myself, get robbed or lose any of my stuff (well, apart from a few bits of clothes in Cambodia). I’ve seen more of the world in the last 6 months than I have in the years beforehand, and have learnt so much about it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and I don’t regret it for a second. I’m having the time of my life and 2013 will be a year that stays with me for a long, long time. No doubt providing lots of great memories when I’m old and grey and can’t get out of a chair by myself.

 

Do I need to top that? There seems to be a bit of a view that each year should be bigger and better. Question is then, where and when do you stop? I’m not buying into that. I’m going to be happy with a 2014 that’s pretty much the same; filled with new experiences, new friends, good health, adventure, fun, laughs, exercise and all the other stuff that makes up my life. Which I’m pretty sure it will be, because after all, I’m the one that’s going to make it happen. Things aren’t just going to fall into my lap without me actually doing something about it.

I don’t really set myself resolutions, but I do like to have a think about things I might like to do or achieve, so I suppose you could call them goals, or targets. My only goals for 2014 at the moment are to:

  • Run more
  • Get back to the UK in one piece
  • Get a job/earn some money
  • Find somewhere to live

Enough to be getting on with I reckon. Once I stop travelling and figure out what to do next, I’m sure there will be new goals. Like I said, I don’t wait until new year to think about stuff like this. There’s a few fitness things I want to do, but I can’t really start thinking about or trying to do them properly until I’m in one place rather than bouncing around different places every few days. 2014 is also now the year that I get to go home. I’m loving travelling but I know that in a few months I’ll be looking forward to being in one place for longer than a few weeks. And looking forward to seeing friends and family again. I’m pretty excited about that, although not so that I’m wishing my time away. I want to make the most of this travel. And to not having a job, haha!

So, people out there, whatever you do, however you look at it, however you celebrate (if at all), I hope that 2014 will be happy and groovy for you all. If you’ve had a crap year, then I hope 2014 will be better. If you’ve had a great year, then make 2014 everything you want it to be.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!