Meeting people.

One of the nice things about moving to a new place was that I didn’t know anyone. Yes, even for a social bastard like me, I love my own company, so it was kind of nice to move somewhere and have a bit of anonymity after a few months of being almost manically sociable back in Lincoln. It’s kind of like travelling again; rocking up in a new place not knowing where anything is, not knowing anyone and having to explore and find stuff out. OK, I knew one person here before I moved but that’s not quite the same. It’s exciting to start from scratch.

I know a lot of people wondered why I wanted to move somewhere where I don’t know anyone. And I know a lot of people would hate it. But for me it’s all part of the adventure.

So how do you meet people?

Maybe you’d meet people at work; a lot of my friends are people I’ve worked with over the last couple of years at the Police and the Uni. But I don’t work in Cheltenham, so that’s out. I have got mates with my job now, but they’re based all over so it’s not quite the same.

So you kind of just have to go out there and talk to people. Yeah, you know, make an effort. Be chatty. You also need to be prepared for people to think you’re a weirdo, or to not like you. Or to get freaked out at someone being so forward. But that’s OK; you’ve got to cast a few nets to catch a few fish. As we all know, I do like to chat and have no problem with inviting myself along to stuff or being the person to make arrangements.

I know a few more people now, although to be honest, I’ve not made much of a proper effort. I’ve had a lot of visitors since I moved <which has been GREAT, of course> but it’s also meant that I haven’t had much time to get out and about and do stuff, or meet new people.

There’s a couple of clubs I’ve found that I want to join (running and cycling) and I’ve signed up for BMF (British Military Fitness), but I’ve just not had the chance to get along to any sessions yet. Am hoping to next weekend, so I should meet more people there.

There’s a few people I ‘know’ from an internet forum and twitter that I’m going to meet up with soon, when everyone can make the same date. I’ve joined a few groups on meetup.com (great site) and went out for drinks with a group of women last week which was much fun. Twitter is great for getting to know people – I’ve met many people in real life that I’ve known from Twitter, both here and abroad when I was travelling.

I’ve accosted most of my neighbours at one point or another and was out with the girl from the flat next door on Friday night, and have been out a couple of times with the guy from number 3, and often borrow milk off him or go round for a cup of tea. A bit like with Karl back in Lincoln, although I don’t really know him well enough yet to know whether he’d stop me falling face first into cat food or come let me in my house in the early hours of the morning. Still appreciate that Karl. Each and every time :D. I also realised that the guy from number 3 looks a lot like Big Andy from the Electric Bar from all those moons ago. Probably subconsciously why I asked him out for a beer.

I also met a girl in a whisky shop where we swapped numbers, and have been out a couple of times with her and her other half, and some of her friends. I did wonder whether she initially thought I might have been asking her out on a date when I suggested we should go out and swap numbers, but hey, if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right? That’s what I mean about making the effort. It’s also how I ended up having beers with the guy from number 3. You just ask people. It’s actually quite simple really.

Although, there’s always the possible confusion of whether something is a date or not, especially if it involves the opposite sex. As most people know, I’m mostly oblivious to this, mainly due to 1) having been in a relationship for so long, I have no idea of any dating etiquette and 2) I have lots of male friends so it’s normal for me to go for beers with men and it not mean anything. Which, as we know in the past has led to a few interesting/awkward/hilarious encounters. There’s always a story.

Oh, and for all the people that keep saying I should go on internet dating, the answer is still the same: NO. Or tinder. Although, I’ve got another blog and might have to do another tinder social experiment – although we all know how the New Zealand tinder experience worked out (interesting), but it will purely be an experiment and not for me. Because you see, internet dating to me is actively looking for a relationship. Which I’m not. Not at all. Still. If something happens or occurs naturally, then that’s fine. But I’m not looking, and I don’t want to go man shopping. I don’t want to read what is essentially a personality CV and shortlist potential applicants like some kind of job application. Seems a bit clinical and shallow. And tinder, well, I quite liked the swiping, that was fun, but I didn’t like it when people starting messaging me. Which is kind of the whole point. So yeah, it’s not going to happen. Oh, and I know it suits/works for some people, and there’s loads of success stories, so please don’t think I’m dissing it for other people AT ALL. It’s just not for me.

I guess in a way it’s not actually that dissimilar to meeting up with people I’ve met online in one form or another (twitter etc.), but the fundamental difference is that I’m meeting up with people on a non-romantic level, no awkward dating scenario where you’re checking each other out to see if you are anything like your profile, or whether you’d see a future with that person (yes, some people DO do that on a first date apparently, how you can tell I don’t know) or whether you want to sleep with them. Obviously that still happens in some cases, but it’s not the obvious primary objective, and certainly not mine. We all know much of a commitment-phobe I am now, haha.

My friend Sam is doing pretty similar stuff to me (maybe not the tinder experiment, ha) as she’s just emigrated to Brisbane with her other half, but I think she’s making a much better job at it and getting involved in so many more things. My effort is a bit piss poor compared to hers really, haha. But I’m doing it at my own pace. I keep reminding myself that I live here now and have plenty of time to do everything. When I first moved here I felt like I should do ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. I forgot that I wasn’t here for just a short while, think I was still in a travelling mindset where everything is temporary and I’d be moving on sometime soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with thinking long term, and still can’t plan anything too far in advance, and still don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I can relax a little bit. Just living in the moment. Just like my tattoo tells me.

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Sydney showdown.

There’s a bit of a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. People living in each city defend them loyally, each proclaiming that one is better than the other. Of course they’re biased. And I am too. I love Melbourne, you know I do. So, Sydney had to live up to something to impress me. And well, I guess you could call my time in Sydney a bit of an adventure. It’s hard to compare to Melbourne because 1) I don’t really want to, I don’t think it’s fair and 2) I was only there for just over a week, compared to two months in Melbourne. A week is not enough time to get a real feel for a place, and certainly not enough time to really feel like you’re ‘living’ there.

So, I treated my time in Sydney as a tourist. To see the sights, to tick off some things to see and do, to meet up with people and just have a jolly good time. Now, we all know it started with an accident. The second day I was there I broke a rib falling off a bar stool.

This did impact on my time there. Mainly that I was in pain for the rest of my time there. In fact, not just pain but agony. But, I managed to do everything I wanted to do. See everything I wanted to see. Meet up with everyone I wanted to meet up with (mostly, there was one person that I didn’t because I just ran out of time, sorry Mark). All of it just took quite a bit longer though, that’s all. Oh, and just to let you know it’s really quite hard work to carry two rucksacks (combined weight of probably around 18-19kg), walk and get on and off trains, buses, trams and such with a (at the time unknown) broken rib. It’s even harder when you don’t look injured but are shuffling around, can’t walk faster than a snails pace and get out of breath going up a couple of steps. People have no idea that you’re in agony unless you tell them. I felt very self concious crossing roads as I couldn’t speed up, or if people held doors open for me, I couldn’t do the usual British thing of practically running through it. I’m not always good at asking for help so there were occasions when I had to take my rucksack on and off (like on the train) and it either took about 5 minutes or I had to do it very quickly and nearly pass out with the pain. I did learn my lesson and started to ask for help, especially putting my rucksack on and off; people are generally very nice (I should know this by now of course). Things did get a bit better after I’d been to the hospital and got some very strong painkillers which helped dull the pain a little bit.

So here’s a quick run down of Tara’s Tourist Trip of Sydney:

  • Walking around circular quay. This is where the harbour bridge and opera house are. You know, that famous harbour view. And yes, they are as impressive in real life. Especially the bridge. Although, I was a little tiny bit disappointed with the opera house. OK, when I saw it, it wasn’t bright sunshine. But, still, it was kinda yellow. Little yellow tiles. Not white. I wasn’t expecting that.

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  • Bondi. I stayed with Jason in Bondi, and so I got to briefly live the Bondi life for a while. Which, for me, was buying beer at the liquour shop, having to sort out an order at Domino’s pizza that they got wrong, eating a fry up two days running, watching the Neighbours omnibus and seeing the beach and walking to Bronte along the cliff tops in the rain. Obviously if I lived there for longer I’d be a bronzed beach babe working out on Bondi beach and drinking green smoothies all day in the sunshine at a trendy cafe a.k.a what I think the real Bondi life is like 😉
  • Botanical gardens and Hyde Park. I had a lovely wander around these green bits of the city. I do love a good walk around a park. I saw a beautiful couple in their wedding togs having some pictures taken. They were a stunning looking couple, and the groom had a wicked fedora-type hat with his suit. I probably stared quite a bit.
  • Couchsurfing. I stayed with a guy called Johahn in his apartment which was near to Darling Harbour and had a great view of the bridge from his balcony. He was great fun and took me to a couple of tasty and traveller friendly (i.e. cheap) places to eat. He also re-introduced me to An Idiot Abroad, a show that I’d watched before and hated, however we watched it again and it was much fun. I surprised myself. Maybe it was because Mr perfectly-round-headed Karl Pilkington had a friend tagging along, making it Not All About Him. I like couchsurfing. If you’ve not heard of it before, it’s a website that lets you get in contact with people who offer their spare bed/floor/couch to other travellers. It’s a way to meet other people from all around the world and learn about other cultures, exchange stories and ideas and just expand your horizons and all that. I love it because I get to meet local people and not just other travellers, I find I get a completely different travel experience. I get to see a country in a slightly different light. I’ve done it a bit in quite a few of the countries I’ve been to and loved every minute of it.

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  • Manly and the Manly ferry. I took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. It’s the best way to see the harbour in all it’s glory, and a lovely little relaxing half an hour ride. Well, it would be if you don’t end up sitting next to an old guy who talks to you all the way (but you can’t talk back because he’s deaf and can’t hear you), and who slips racist comments into the conversation now and then. It was glorious sunshine on the ride over, which quickly turned into clouds and rain by the time I got to Manly. So all I did there was have lunch with Jo (and I also had my FIRST oyster. Surprisingly nice. I would have one again.) before she drove me up to the Northern beaches on a mini sightseeing tour. She also introduced me to Chai Lattes. Oh.Yum, yum, yum.
  • Home and Away filming. Jo took me to Palm Beach which is where they film H&A. I’ve not watched it in years but still got a little bit excited when I realised they were filming (at the SURF CLUB!!) and we could watch quite closely. We had NO idea who the actors were but I think they were probably some famous teen heart throbs in Oz. At least I like to think they were.

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  • Blue Mountains. I spent a few days here. I couldn’t really do much walking because of my rib, after only a few steps it would be agony and I’d not be able to breathe much. It was here that I had a little trip to A&E for the day, and where I found out I’d broken a rib. It actually ended up being a nice little relaxing break (the few days, not the time in A&E). I got to see the mountains and even managed a little walk in them (despite the pain). The hostel I stayed at was one of the best I’ve stayed it, just because it was so friendly and laid back, I met some great people there and it was just really homely.

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  • Wine tasting and a weekend with friends. I met up with some great girls for a weekend filled with fun, laughter, food and lots and lots of wine. I had a truly BRILLIANT time (so brilliant it warrants capitals) and have not giggled like that in ages. Which, when you’ve got a broken rib, is quite painful but I couldn’t stop.  It included airport delays and confusions, late night crispy bread, picnicking in a helicopter landing area, a pilot getting a telling off, innuendos with a wine seller, bridesmaids the film, the Australian national anthem, take out curry and an amazing breakfast. This was one great bunch of people who really helped make my last weekend in Australia a special one to remember.

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So Sydney, it was a bit of a whirlwind tour. I did the touristy bits (although I didn’t climb the bridge). I had a wander around your streets. I made it up to the Northern beaches and out to the Hunter Valley and Blue Mountains. I laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time. I drank more than I’ve drank in a long time and broke my first bone on your soil.

You’re loud, noisy and brash. You put your best bits out there for everyone to see and admire. And admire we do. Yes, you’re pretty, and you know it. You’re a bit of a nightmare to get around. You’re so big, and your transport isn’t all joined up. But, it doesn’t matter. I’ll let you off. Your beaches are stunning and you have some of the nicest people.

I had a great time, and although Melbourne still wins for me in the ‘where could I live’ competition, I’d gladly come back and visit for a while. I didn’t even scratch your surface, but I knew I wouldn’t. One day, I’ll come back for much more.

So, until we meet again, ta-ra Sydney!

The Truman Show – the Canberra episode.

Canberra. Australia’s capital city. It’s not generally a tourist destination, and in fact most people ask “why are you going THERE?” when you say that you’re off to Canberra. Followed by “there’s nothing there!”. Well, that’s not strictly true. Of course there’s stuff there. Just not big ‘look at meeeee’ touristy sights. There’s a couple of things that made me want to visit. First, the fact that everyone said I shouldn’t. I wanted to see for myself. I’m not all about the big sights, and love just experiencing places for what and how they are, not just for what sights they have (like the time I went to Mae Sot in Thailand). Second, to meet up (and stay with) some people (Paul (Daniels) and Debbie (McGee)) I had met in Tasmania.

Canberra IS interesting. But it’s a funny place. Nothing at all like other places I have been. It’s a planned city, made when it couldn’t be decided whether Sydney or Melbourne should be the capital of Australia. So, it’s all very organised and planned and everything seems to have it’s place. It kind of reminded me of the Truman Show. Everything is neat and tidy, all organised. The grass is all cut, there’s no litter, buildings are nice and shiny. All the different business are in different areas; all nicely categorised and grouped together. The cars all move (mostly) with ease on the roads, and people stream out of all the government buildings like suited clones all walking in a nice tidy line. Even the joggers and cyclists felt a bit like they were on a conveyor belt loop around the man-made lake in the centre.

Where I was stayed was actually outside the city. Paul and Debbie live about 30 minutes outside the city right in the middle of the bush, so this was a different experience to the city too. I got my own digs above the garage (thanks guys!), enjoy some fab home cooking (roo sausages anyone?) and got to see kangaroos bouncing around in the wild! It was great to stay with them and see what rural Canberra life was like. So, it wasn’t just a tourist sightseeing trip to the capital. But, as you know, that’s not quite me anyway. I like to get off the beaten track a bit.

I surprised myself here though; I had a couple of days of culture. I’m not a huge museum fan, but I managed to spend a whole day in the War Memorial museum. It was fascinating. And I’m not even being sarcastic. It actually really was. And then I spent a day in some art galleries. Again, really quite interesting. OK, so two days of culture was about enough. I also walked round the lake and went on a bike ride to get a bit of outdoors stuff in. Think I felt the need to balance it all out.

But, to sum it up, I had a great time in Canberra. It was great to see Paul and Debbie again, to spend time with some wonderfully friendly people. Great to get a bit of culture and do something different, and see a place that a lot of visitors to Australia won’t, mainly based on what other people say.

So, I’d say, if you like to see difference places just to experience what they’re like, then Canberra is worth a visit. If you like to visit museums and art galleries, then Canberra is worth a visit. But, don’t just take my word for it. Or listen to others. Why not visit for yourself and make up your own mind?

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Great Ocean Road.

Talking about Great Things, I nearly forgot to blog about the Great Ocean Road. Near Melbourne, it’s a 150 mile stretch of road to the West of Melbourne. It was built by returned soldiers and dedicated to soldiers killed in World War 1, making it the world’s largest war memorial. It’s also incredibly scenic, which is probably the main reason why people go.

There’s loads of different ways you can visit. Hire a car or a campervan, Camp along the way. Stay at hostels, B&B’s or hotels. Drive it all in one day, just stopping off every now and then, or take your time. Or take a tour. Do a google search and there’s millions of tour companies offering trips. I decided to take a two day tour with a company that my friend Moz went with about a year ago. They do the road back to front compare to a lot of tour groups, so they don’t hit all the spots at the same time as millions of other buses. Perfect for me, who’s not a huge fan of organised tours or being herded along like a sheep.

There’s not a huge amount to say about the GOR. It’s one of those things you have to do. It’s beautifully, stunningly scenic, and filled with wildlife. I saw kolas, emu’s, echidnas and roos in the wild, as well as all the funky birds in Oz (you know, the ones with the cool hairdos). If you’ve ever driven Chapman’s Peak Drive in South Africa, it reminded me of that (CPD is classed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and I was lucky enough to do it back in 2011).

Rock formations, amazing beaches, rainforest, wildlife, the lighthouse from ‘Round the Twist’; it was all there. I think photos can show more than I can try to explain.

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A love letter to Melbourne.

Dear Melbourne,

Thank you.

Thank you for a wonderful time. It’s gone far too quickly. There’s so much left unsaid, so much still to do. We’ve shared so much together; much laughter, wonder, amazement and so, so many good times. What a wonderful love affair; how can we possibly be apart now? 

You’ve introduced me to some wonderful people, people that I’m glad to be able to call new friends. You’ve given me so many different places and ways to indulge my passion for running and cycling. 

You’ve got a vibe. A good vibe. An arty, quirky, makes-me-glad-I’m-alive vibe. That’s good. I like that. You’re full of adventure, mystery and promise. You make people work for it, but the rewards are worth it. Especially those rooftop bars, hidden down graffiti art splattered laneways.

There’s more to you than meets the eye. You showed me the beach, the city and the countryside all within a day. You reminded me that variety is the spice of life, and it’s good to keep things a bit different, to keep things changing. 

You’re laid back, love the outdoors, sporty and friendly as well as cultured, educated and sophisticated. And a little bit different. My kind of place. And that is why I fell in love with you and will miss you terribly.

So farewell my love, until we meet again one day… 

Tara

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Touring Tasmania….on a pushbike.

Well, I said I wanted a challenge. And f*ck me, did I get that. With bells on.

Just a few things for you to consider before I start. 1) Tasmania is Australia’s hilliest state. 2) There was a record-high heatwave the first week I was there. 3) I’ve not biked anywhere near these kind of distances. 4) I’ve never done anything like this before. 5) I’ve never biked fully loaded with panniers full of gear/a tent etc. 6) I’m not that fit at the moment.

So, as you can see, I was totally fully prepared and ready to bike hundreds of kilometres. Not. My plan was to cycle from Launceston to Hobart, along the North East/East Coast of Tasmania. All in all, around 600km, just me, a bike and a tent. Yep, it’d be a breeze. Right?

HA! Nope. Although, I can look back now and think “hey, it wasn’t that bad, it was quite easy actually.” That’s due to the huge Dame Edna-style rose-tinted spectacles I’m wearing. Funny how once you’ve done something your mind can trick you about how it actually was. That’s why I deliberately made sure I thought about how I was feeling as I was going around (although, some days I didn’t have a choice, it’s all I could think about) and made sure I wrote notes every day. To avoid RTS syndrome.

That’s not to say it was bloody awful either; it was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I enjoyed every second of it (even the really, really hard tough bits). If I were to describe it in a few words, it’d be a mixture: Incredible. Amazing. Tough. Fantastic. Hot. Hard work. Gruelling. Relentless. Rewarding. Magic. Fun.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the idea came from, I’m not entirely sure. I think a mixture of wanting to visit Tasmania, to do something a bit different, feeling quite unfit and wanting a challenge. I’d been inspired about bike rides by a couple of people along the way on my travels so hey presto, the idea came together and voila!

If you’re interested, let’s start with a few biking facts and stats. Oh, just to be clear, these are just my biking days from the day I set out to the day I finished. I had a bit of time in Launceston at the beginning and a while in Hobart at the end with no biking.

  • Day 1: Launceston to Low Head: Total distance biked 66km (41 miles), top speed 55kph (34mph)
  • Day 2: Low Head to Bridport: Total distance biked 65km (40 miles), top speed 49kph (30mph)
  • Day 3: Rest Day (plus a slight hangover)
  • Day 4: Bridport to Derby: Total distance biked 55.5km (34 miles), top speed 57kph (35mph)
  • Day 5: Derby to St Helens (aka Gravel Hell Day): Total distance biked 76km (47 miles), top speed 47kph (29mph)
  • Day 6: St Helens to Lagoons Beach (via Binalong Bay): Total distance biked 70km (43 miles), top speed 53kph (33mph)
  • Day 7: Lagoons Beach to Coles Bay; Total distance biked 69km (43 miles), top speed 44kph (27mph)
  • Day 8: Rest Day
  • Day 9: Coles Day to Swansea: Total distance biked 28.5km (18 miles), top speed 38kph (24mph)
  • Day 10: Swansea to Orford: Total distance biked 62km (38.5 miles), top speed 54kph (33.5mph)
  • Day 11: Orford to Richmond: Total distance biked 56.5km (35 miles), top speed 68kph (42mph)
  • Day 12: Richmond to Hobart: Total distance biked 30km (19 miles), top speed 48kph (30mph)

So, there you have it. In 10 days biking I cycled a total of 578.5 km (359 miles) and reached a top speed of 68kph (42mph). I’m not normally one for shouting about stuff I do but I’m bloody chuffed with that. I’m sure there’s people who have done way more (like Valerie, the girl I met in Hobart who had biked all the way from Adelaide to Darwin alone – 3000 km in two months. Hats off to you girl!) but for me, this is a huge personal achievement.

I set out in a bit of naivety really, not really thinking about whether it would be difficult or not, knowing it would be hilly but not realising what that really meant (like what it would actually feel like) and being a bit blasé (oh it will be easy peasy) about it all. Well I got my reality check! Although, all the way through I did it with a smile on my face and still thoughts of, well, just how bad can it be? And there was never any question about whether I could do it or not. Ever since I decided to do it I knew I could. I guess the questions were how long it would take and how hard it would be. I guess it helps I have endless optimism and a bit of determination. That ‘mind over matter’ grit. Which came into play endless times. Like when my legs were so tired I had to force them to keep going. When my knees felt like they might pop out of their sockets from pain. When the hill seemed never ending and the sun was relentless. When I ended up on that gravel track, miles from anywhere in the baking heat, only able to go about 5kph and knowing there was another 40km to go. When my shoulders and back were so cramped up from having 10kg hung off them. When I knew I still had two big hills to go before I could stop. You get the picture.

So. Where to start? So much to tell. Hmmm. Ok. Let’s start at the beginning.

Well, actually, let’s start with a thank you. A big, huge, mega THANK YOU. To Bob and La, who lent me a bike, all the bike bits and camping stuff, along with a heap load of help and advice. They have been just truly awesome and this bike trip may not have gone ahead without them. Or if it had, I doubt it would have been even half as successful. I owe them so much. So a big thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart.

So my trip didn’t start out particularly smoothly. I got to the airport and realised I’d forgotten the bike helmet I’d borrowed. As it’s law to wear a helmet over here, it meant I would have to buy one when I got to Tasmania. It also meant I couldn’t really put my bike together at the airport and I’d have to figure out a way to get a dismantled bike in a box into the city. Top tip: When you write a list of things to remember to take, it’s helpful to actually read the list before you go. The next important lesson I learnt was that bikes in boxes usually weigh around 25kg. I got told this by the helpful lady who pointed out that I was 5kg over my 20kg allowance. I might have remarked that it might be helpful to put that on their website for people who had never flown with a bike before and had no idea how much it would weigh. Luckily, she was an actual helpful lady and offset the weight of the bike with my carry on and I only had to pay an extra $30 rather than $60. Top tip: Pay the extra $4 or whatever it is when booking baggage allowance on a flight to get a bit more than you think you need.

I also found out that Tasmania is a lot smaller than I maybe first thought. Or, that there’s a lot less people there. Oh, and shops and other places shut early. I got into Launceston just after lunchtime and most of the shops shut at lunchtime. I wandered around the streets (minus my bike box – I’d left it in a Mountain Designs shop) and it was like a ghost town. On a Saturday afternoon. Prime shopping time and nothing was open and there was no one about. I was on the search for a bike helmet and I knew if I didn’t get one now, then I’d be stuck in the middle of the city with a bike in a box and no shops open until Monday. Luckily, I managed to find probably the only bike shop that was open until 3pm and they hit me up with a nice shiny white helmet. I trotted back to Mountain Designs and started to put my bike together in the back op the shop next to the rucksacks. Oh, let’s be clear, I didn’t just start unpacking my box in the middle of the shop, the manager did actually say I could. I think she felt sorry for me. This was the first of many acts of kindness I experienced on my trip.

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In my first few days in Launceston before I started my biking, I’d already managed to compile a little list of do’s and dont’s. I’m not sure whether these will help anyone but me, but, well, you never know.

  • Do walk around a gorge for hours in a heatwave without water. You won’t get mega thirsty and be praying for a water fountain to appear at all.
  • Don’t look in a mirror when applying sun cream. Of course you’ll manage to rub it all in and most definitely won’t have any streaks of white on your face for the entire day.
  • Don’t take flip flops with you. This way you get to walk around on stubby grass in bare feet or have permanent grass-covered socks.
  • Do pitch your tent as far away from the toilet/shower block as possible. Especially up a hill and in full sunlight with no shade.
  • Do leave your tent flap open – you’ll enjoy sleeping with ants.
  • Do decide to walk to the supermarket to get food rather than going to Hungry Jacks. It’s only about 5km away and you won’t want to eat your own hand with hunger by the time you finally get back with some food.
  • Do go to McDonalds to get wifi. You most certainly won’t look like a weirdo lurker outside and it will work perfectly. (I must be the only traveller who has never been able to get MaccyD wifi to work. In any country.)

I had a couple of days to have a wander round the beautiful little quaint city (it is technically a city, but it’s so tiny it really doesn’t feel like one) of Launceston (pronounced Lon-ses-ton), and the wonderful Cataract Gorge. It was beautiful and I wondered what the rest of Tasmania would be like after this. I was getting an idea for the hills here and also starting to wonder what I’d let myself in for. I really enjoyed Launceston but I was itching to get going out on the bike. Once I’d had a broken spoke fixed (reckon it got broken on the plane coming over) and my assembling skills checked out (turns out I didn’t do too bad), I was ready to hit the road. So, off I went. For about 100 metres. Then, in traffic, my chain came off. Good start. I think it was the bike just letting me know not to get too cocky.

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So, first day of biking wasn’t too bad. It was hot, and I started to realise just how far I’d have to bike, and just how long it would take me. I’d never spent 5-6 hours on a bike before, and after I’d been biking for about an hour I really did think I should probably have got to where I was going. I got a little lesson in managing expectations here. I also thought it was hilly. Ha. How wrong I was. That was actually flat compared with what was to come. By the end of my trip I had discovered the real meaning of the Tasmanian hill scale:

  1. Flat – quite few hills
  2. Not too bad – quite a few big hills
  3. Hilly – mountains

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I got my first glimpse of the Tassie scenery that first day, cycling alongside the Tamar river through wine valley country. Very pretty, with cute houses overlooking the river which was as blue as you could probably get. I got to bike over the awesomely-named Batman Bridge, and rolled into a place called Georgetown only to realise that everywhere (apart from the one supermarket) shuts at 5pm. I came to realise that this is normal for most places on the East Coast. At this point I’d done about 60km and my left knee was complaining quite a bit. After another (slightly uphill, quite hot) 5 or 6km I finally arrived at a caravan park in a place called Low Head right at the top of the island. Not a lot here, just lovely views over the river (especially at sunset) and Bass Strait and an awesome couple called Colin and Linda who gave me a chair, a beer and some bacon & cheese cheddar things as soon as I rolled into camp. Very much welcomed. How friendly and generous? I know. And no, they weren’t some kind of weird swingers or running a sex cult. Just, nice, friendly Aussie travellers.

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Already now an expert in tent setting up and taking down, I was ready in a jiffy the next day to trot onto Bridport. Well, trot wasn’t quite the speed I went at. Not surprisingly, my legs were a bit achy. So would yours be if you’d just cycled 65km without any practice or build up. Also, my left knee was pretty much in agony. It was REALLY painful. More than I’d expected. It felt similar to how my knees felt when I first started running, but much worse. Deep down I knew it was just a ‘getting used to the riding and repetitive exercise’ pain, so I soldiered on, but, bloody hell. It hurt. The only way I kept going was to think in a few km blocks. Like, “I’ll see how it feels after 5km”. Luckily for me, after about 10km the pain went away. Just like that. And I had a pretty uneventful day, although a few things stood out for me on this bit of the journey: 1) There were no villages or towns or anything to pass through. Just rolling fields and bush. So no shops or cafes. Luckily I’d already figured out to always carry a bit of food. 2) It was really hot, as Tasmania was still in the throes of the record-high heatwave. It was like riding a bike in a sauna. I guess people pay good money for that kind of workout. 3) There was a lot of road kill. Tasmania is known for it, mainly because there’s loads of animals here, most of which like to go and play on the roads between dusk and dawn, so it kind of figures. What’s not so great is riding past all this roadkill (some quite big (wallabies) and most that aren’t quite, well, whole any more) in temperature that’s in the high 30’s at a slow speed because you’re on a bike. I was reminded of the smell of DEATH. Which funnily enough reminded me of my childhood in the country. 4) Logging trucks are actually quite big compared to a bicycle. And they don’t give you a lot of room on the road. I was living on the edge. Quite literally, on the edge of the road.

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After stopping to buy cherries from a guy on the side of the road (there’s a lot of that here. Proper Tasmanian cherries, and oh my word they are good. So dark and so sweet) I rolled into Bridport, my right knee now hurting just a little bit. But only a little bit, so I figured it was all good. Actually at about this point I thought that if I had to stop cycling now, it would be OK because at least I had tried it, done a couple of days and experienced what it was like. But I thought I’d maybe be OK. I’d decided to have a rest day here in Bridport before setting off again; I had plenty of time and no need to be rushing off and injuring myself in the process. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Bridport is a fairly big (by Tasmania standards) seaside town. A few cafes, supermarket, shops and a beach. That’s pretty much it. I was getting the impression that this was what I should expect for a big town in Tasmania. I’m guessing this is why it’s so laid back. It was a bit like stepping back in time. No wifi, no unnecessary tat shops, no fancy restaurants, no fuss. Just a place with a nice beach full of friendly people enjoying the summer. It was still hot and I must have looked pretty knackered when I rocked up at my pitch, because the couple next door looked at me with pity and then forced me to sit and drink beer with them. Paul and Debbie from Canberra. I remembered their names as I instantly thought of Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. Not that they looked anything like them. But they will forever be known as Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee to me.  Wonderful people, I spent a fab evening with them at the local pub where we ate good food, drank two rather spiffing bottles of Merlot and chatted about all sorts, including work stuff, as they own a computer consultancy company (who actually provide IT project managers etc), which actually, was much fun to swap stories. And realise that IT project management seems to be the same on the other side of the world.  When the time came to leave I found out they had already settled the bill and wouldn’t let me pay. Again, such amazing hospitality and generosity. Especially when we headed back to carry on drinking. I think we drank their alcohol supply dry, as the next thing I knew I woke up the next morning in my tent, no sleeping bag, still in my clothes (they were clearly not swingers or sex cult people either as I’m sure I probably would have woken up in either a) someone else’s tent or b) naked), surrounded by cracker crumbs (I’d obviously got the munchies). I have a vague recollection of trying to unzip my rucksack but not succeeding, mainly because it was already unzipped. I think it took me a good 10 minutes before I figured this out. Yes, I was that drunk, and I’ve not been that drunk for a loooong time. My rest day in Bridport turned into a hangover day. Have you ever tried to sleep off a hangover in 35+ heat in a tent? It’s not pleasant.

Back on the road again, I biked from Bridport to Derby (pronounced Derr-bee), stopping to have lunch at Scottsdale, where I got some impromptu advice from a Tassie local about getting a bike mirror from the shop round the corner so I could see the trucks behind me. I didn’t get one, but I guess it was nice of him to be concerned. It was pretty hot and pretty hilly again, but I’d started to get into a routine and it certainly didn’t feel as much as a slug as the first couple of days. I’m guessing the day off/hangover had helped in some way. And the stop to eat a trail bar in a graveyard.

Derby was a cute place. Tiny, tiny village. No shop but a couple of pubs, some B&B’s, cafes and a tin mine museum. I camped in Derby Park for freeeee and chatted to John and Nerryl who were on holiday from Adelaide. They fed me cups of tea and actually apologised that they didn’t have enough food to invite me for dinner. Sweet. I was alright with my tin of tuna and bit of bread though. Decided to go for a walk to the other end of the village to see what was about. It took me about 10 minutes. As it was about 6pm, of course everything was shut. Apart from the pubs. Heard voices coming from the one nearest to the camp site so I decided to go for a beer (yes, the hangover of the previous day was miraculously forgotten). Ever see it on TV where someone walks into a bar and the music stops, everyone stops talking and turns around to stare? Well, that happened. Apart from there wasn’t any music playing. But, if it had been, I swear it would have stopped. There was a handful of locals who clearly weren’t used to outsiders strolling in, cheerily shouting hello in an English accent. Mouths had actually dropped open and I got a bit of a steely stare from the landlady (who I later found out was called Betty) behind the bar, who, when I asked what beers they did, sarcastically pointed to the [one] draft pump. Boags of course. I ended up having a great night; getting to know the locals, finding out all about Derby and the pub’s history, and being bought drinks by Terry, the local ex-rocker who, after every drink, was ‘just leaving’ (and who was still there when I left….). The couple of young lads there invited their mates and everyone found it hilarious that I was biking around, let alone about to bike the two massive hills the next day, and wanted to know all about my travels. It was the kind of pub where you left your money on the bar and your glass just got filled up and money taken, no need to order or pay for a drink. I’m surprised Terry had any money left on the bar, the speed in which Betty would whip his empty glass away and refill. The kind of pub where you had to go behind the bar to get to the ladies toilet. The kind of pub that if Betty was out the back you just filled your empty glass up from the pump and put the money behind the bar. Proper local, honest and full of characters. In the space of an evening I went from being stared at to hearing cries of “No, don’t go” when I got up to leave. All in a day’s travel. This night is one of my fondest memories actually.

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More stranger kindness (honestly, I could write a whole blog post on it’s own about this. In fact I will. Soon.) followed the next morning as I had packed up camp, ready to tackle those two massive hills. A chap walks over with a box of Coco Pops in his hand and asks me if I’d like to join them for breakfast. Who could refuse an offer like that? Soon I was chomping on Coco Pops (not had those for YEARS) with Derek, Margot and Ruth. They even gave me a little chocolate bar to take with me for energy on the way (and unbeknown to me at the time, I needed it!). I also had a separate guy some over with some water as he’d seen me filling up my water bottle from the untreated water tap. Little did he know I have a Travel Tap which means I can fill up my bottle pretty much anywhere and it will filter all the nasties out. Even the Brayford Allister, although I never did try before I left the UK.

Derek also offered me a lift as they were going the same way. I knew I had two massive hills to get over. It was tempting. But, I decided that might be cheating. So, I told them that when they passed me later, to ask again. But, fate decided to intervene. Or maybe not fate but roadworks and bad road signage. This was probably the worst day of biking for me. It was the hottest and sunniest day yet (maximums of 35/36; pretty unheard of for Tas). I ended up on the wrong road (I’m still not quite sure how, as I didn’t actually leave the road. But still. One of life’s mysteries.) and only realised when I was about 10km downhill. Now, here’s the choice: do you a) go back 10km uphill to get back to where you’d come from and know that you still have two massive hills to climb, or do you b) see an alternative gravel road route that will take you to the same end place without really going out of the way? Looking back, I’d choose a). But of course I didn’t, I chose b). It seemed the best idea at the time, but then I’d never biked on Tassie’s gravel roads before. Now, it would have been OK if it was just a little gravel road, say, 5km? IT WAS 40. 40. 40km. That’s nearly 25 miles. 25 miles of rough, massive, bumpy, slow gravel roads. In 35 degree heat and no shade. With no passing cars and just state forest all around. Let’s just say I felt very isolated right then. And because it was such slow going (averaging 5kph) I was there for a LONG time. I actually didn’t know whether I’d get to the end of the road. Not in a dramatic “I’m going to die” but more a “shit, will I get a puncture or will the bike break it’s being shaken around that much” or “I’m going to have to camp out here in the forest” or “I wonder whether I’ll get heatstroke” or “I wonder if I should have taken that little road back there as I don’t know whether I’m going in the right direction” or “Have I got enough food”. That kind of thing. I can say the day that will forever be known now as ‘Gravel Hell Day’ certainly reminded me of Mind Over Matter. When you’re out in somewhere like that, only yourself for miles around, having to push on even though you’re running out of energy because it’s so hot and the road is so bumpy and hilly (oh yes, I avoided the two big hills but had to content with lots of [slightly] smaller ones), losing more fluids than you’re drinking, knowing that you’ve still got at least 6 hours more biking to go and no apparent end in sight, you have to dig deep and just Get On With it. So I did. There might have been a time when I told the sun to Fuck Off (sorry for the language Nan, but I was pretty hot and a bit irritable at that point!) but I pretty much managed to keep smiling. When I got to the end of the gravel and saw the tarmac, I very nearly got off my bike and kissed the ground. Nearly. What I actually did was laugh and pedal manically, rejoycing at how easy it seemed. Until I got to a hill and realised I had naff all energy. Cue the little chocolate bar I’d been given that morning! Gave me the sugar boost I needed to do the last 20km to St Helens before I collapsed in a heap at a hostel in a proper bed rather than a tent (only because it was cheaper to stay there than it was to pitch a tent – Tasmanian summer madness).

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St Helens is a bit of a funny place. Quite big, but not a lot there. A few shops and cafes (thanks Cafe Banjos for the free wifi) but not a lot else. Oh, I did get a guy with a 70’s porn moustache and a cowboy hat walk past me at night and drawl “Howdy” with a slightly creepy smile. Bit weird. Felt like I had biked through a portal and ended up in Southern USA. Not that I’ve been to the deep south but, it’s kind of what I imagine it’s like.

St Helens is more a launching pad for the beautiful Bay of Fires, which is actually lots of different bays which are stunningly pretty, especially in the sunshine. I had a ride up to Binalong Bay the next day before carrying on. Unfortunately for me, the weather decided that after nearly a week of record high sunshine that the day I bike to Binalong Bay was the day it would cloud over and be a bit drizzly. Thanks for that. Still, it was beautiful, even in the rain. And it gave me a good excuse to go to the cafe there and eat a chip mountain (literally, I am NOT KIDDING) and half a cheesecake (again, NOT KIDDING).

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And I can’t complain about the drizzle. After a week of nearly melting while riding, it made a nice change to have some cooler weather. Pretty sweet actually. Not so good to set up camp but as I was an expert tent setter-upper at this point I had it done in approximately 10.8 seconds*. *could be a slight under-estimation

More stranger kindness at the Lagoons Beach campsite. Trish, Richard, Barry and Molly (the self-named Grey Nomads) not only gave me beer when I arrived, they brought me a plateful of steaming hot chicken, potatoes and veg. Room service to my tent. Followed by chat, tea and homemade chocolates in one of their nice warm campervans (very welcome on a chilly damp night). How amazing is that eh? Australian’s are so damn friendly and generous, and these guys were just lovely and great to chat with. They also offered me a lift but again I said no. This bit is the flat bit so it definitely would have been cheating!

It was about now that I started bumping into old friends. Colin and Linda from Lowhead drove past so I had a quick chat with them. In a bakery in Bicheno I met up with Marc, a fellow cycle tourist from Canada who I met back in St Helens. Then Colin and Linda joined us in the bakery. Small island. This day I learnt about the phrase ‘on it’s last legs’. I was. Literally. You ever heard about the ‘Toxic Ten’? I first heard this when I started running. It was used to describe the first (and sometimes last) 10 minutes of a run where it would be really Hard Work. Well, I had the Toxic Ten and more. It was a nice day of riding but for the last few km my legs hurt. Really hurt, and it was such hard work to get to the end. I got to the campsite at Freycinet National Park and pretty much collapsed. My legs honestly felt like they couldn’t go much more. My last legs. That night I thought about walking up to Coles Bay to go and get some food but I just couldn’t face it. It was only just up the hill, but my legs really didn’t have any strength left in them. I’d already planned the next day as a rest day, which it would have been no matter what, because the next morning I just couldn’t face getting on my bike. I wasn’t going anywhere. The start of the walk to the famous Wineglass Bay lookout was about 5km from the campsite and I couldn’t even face getting on my bike for that, so I hitched a lift with a passing car.  Good job, because the walk up to the lookout and then down to the bay (which, by the way, is beauuutiful) and back was bloody tough. Some rest day eh. Obviously I rewarded myself with a snooze on the beach and two massive bars of Milkybar.

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Stranger kindness again? Yes, in buckets and spades here. I met a couple of families from Tassie on their annual holiday to Freycinet and they took me under their wing and invited me to dinner on both nights. I met Sue, Terry, Lesley, Sandy and Erica and, like everyone else, were just so friendly. They really welcomed me in and made me feel part of their family for a couple of days. I later stayed with Sandy, Lesley and Erica again in Hobart but that’s for another blog post.

Coles Bay to Swansea should have been a long ride back, along 30km of the same road because there’s only one way in and out of Freycinet. BUT. I was sneaky. I had achy legs, it was a mega windy day and I just couldn’t really face the thought of riding 30km along the same road back again. So, I diverted about 10km out of Coles Bay to a place called Swanick, which is just across the river from a place called Bagot Point, which, once you’re there, is about a 15 km ride to Swansea (rather than having to go all the way round and down again). Luckily for me two guardian angels appeared and after a quick chat, offered to give me and the bike a lift across the river in their boat. I will forever be grateful for that. My legs were so grateful, only 30km instead of a 70km ride. BONUS. Plus, the river and the ride along Dolphin Sands was so pretty. AND FLAT. With the most beautiful sky.

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Here’s a few random things I learnt along the way. 1) Everyone waves. I’m not sure whether it was because I was on a bike, but car drivers, lorry driver, pedestrians, farmers and everyone in between waved and smiled at me as I went past. Some also beep. It took me a while to realise they were just beeping and waving to be friendly, rather than beeping because I might have a wheel hanging off or something. 2) The spork that comes with the John West tuna lunch pack will hold you in good stead for a camping trip. You can (and will) use it for EVERYTHING. Of course, it might be easier to remember to take cutlery, especially when your friend offers you some from their camping gear. But, if you happen to forget, this makes a good tool and you’ll be very inventive with it. 3) I found biking alone for hours a day to be a bit like meditating. Lots of time to think, with random (and often strange) thoughts popping into my head. It was great to have that time and space though. And apparently I am not odd to make up games to play or start talking to the animals, other cycle tourists do it too. 4) It was inevitable I would fall over. But, it only happened twice. Once, as I stopped the bike and realised there was no ground to the left where I was leaning, so, plop, over I went. The other was when I was trying to put leggings on, over shoes, while standing up. Yep, I fell face first onto my tent, arse into the air. Top tip: Don’t be lazy and take your shoes off.

There’s loads of wildlife in Tasmania; I saw and heard plenty of it when I was there. Echidnas (very cute small spiky anteater thingys), wallabies (like kangaroos but different), possums (one tried to get into my tent one night), kookaburras (sound like monkeys), crows (sound like they are laughing), loads of different birds, including some birds of prey, and many many more that I either can’t remember or don’t know what they were. One of the great things about biking is how close you can get, and how you see, hear (and smell) all these things. Like the laughing crows. Probably wouldn’t have heard them in a car. They made me smile and laugh every time I heard them. Mainly because it just sounded like they were laughing at me cycling along. Either that or I had got sunstroke and had gone a bit delirious.

Swansea was a cute little seaside town, with a beautiful walk around the headland looking out over Freycinet, and the bike ride to Orford was really nice. Passed Spiky Bridge (an old bridge made by convicts) and some odd things like post boxes made out of toilet seats, and fences made out of trainers. Orford was a bit of a nondescript place, and I got there quite late so didn’t do much. I guess the only thing of note was that I stayed in a free camping place that had no toilets, and the nearest public toilets were a 15 minute walk away. Lets just say I had to strategically plan my evening and didn’t drink much. I’m pretty sure you’re finding this level of detail fascinating. Sorry, I felt the need to share. There might be people who are thinking of biking round Tasmania who may need this vital, important information.

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Onward to Richmond was only a tiny ride of only 30km. It felt like it was over before it began, it was that quick! Although, it did have the fabulously named Bust-Me-Gall and Break-Me-Neck hills which were pretty hard going upwards, but bloody good fast fun going downwards! Got to the bottom with no broken galls or necks. Another bonus. Richmond actually reminded me of a little English village, with lots of old stone Georgian-style buildings, rolling hills, meandering river, Australia’s oldest bridge and a couple of pretty little churches. And a bakery that did an amazing vegetable quiche (yes I like quiche now Mum, who’d have thought it? I also appear to like mushrooms and nuts.). But the most random thing about Richmond was Harmony. Harmony was, quite clearly, a man dressed as a woman, who was driving around Tasmania. Harmony told me that she (he?) had healing hands and proceeded to have a good look at my legs, have a bit of a prod/stroke around and tell me that I had a bit of a dodgy left knee at the back. It wasn’t far off where I had a poorly knee at the start of the biking, so maybe there was something in it. Either that or she (he) just wanted a feel of my leg. Either way, I seem to attract them. Remember my spiritual healing encounter in India?

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From Richmond I had my last day’s biking to Hobart. A great last day’s biking, with a couple of big hills which by now had become, dare I say it, easy. OK, maybe easy is a bit flippant, but I’d definitely say manageable. Bearable. I think my legs had got used to it. I think I had got a little bit fitter. A bit stronger. I’d found a rhythm and got used to getting somewhere when I got there, taking however long it would take. I no longer felt like crying when I saw a hill coming up.

Hobart felt like an assault on the senses when I got there. Loud, noisy and busy! It’s actually a very small city (population of just under 215,000) but compared to the places I’d been to it felt like a metropolis. It didn’t help that I ended up on the main dual carriageway into the city. There’s only three bits of dual carriageway on the whole island, and this was the busiest. For my friends back in Lincoln, it was like the Lincoln bypass. Yes, that’s a major road in Tassie!

I ended up spending about a week and a half in Hobart and fell completely and madly in love with the place. I could have stayed much longer. It reminded me of a mix between Lincoln (for the small, friendly feel where everyone knew everyone) and Cape Town (for the sheer beauty of the place, and the fact it was looked upon by a mountain and had the most beautiful harbour). I’m going to write about my time in Hobart in a separate post. There’s too much to say, and this post is too long already, and I’m sure you’ve either a) stopped reading or b) fallen asleep by now.

So, I guess I should wrap it up now. But I actually can’t think how to. I think I said it all in the beginning. So, I’ll leave you with this.

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Back to the fold.

I’m back in Melbourne now after my Tasmania adventure (and a little blog hiatus). And what an adventure. I had an incredible time; Tasmania is one of the most wonderful places I have been to so far. I fell in love with it and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back there one day.

I’ll be working on a blog post over the next few days, and I’m pretty sure it might just be an interesting one. Stay peeled! In the meantime, here’s a few photos to give you a bit of a taster…

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.

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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.

Runs around the world #15

Melbourne, Australia

First things first. HELLO cooler non-humid weather! Oh, how I’ve missed you. You are wonderful. Let me give you a kiss, you are that wonderful. You’re a little bit cold, but I’m not complaining. At ALL.

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Pretty much as soon as I landed in Melbourne I was raring to go out for a run. I didn’t go the first day though. I was a bit tired from all the flights and lack of sleep, plus I needed to go and buy some new clothes seeing as though the laundry place in Sihanoukville had lost half of mine. Including a pair of my running socks. Not that I’m still a little pissed off at that, oh no.

But the next day was a different matter. I woke up all excited, desperate to get my trainers on and get out there. So I did. For over 6 and a half miles. The longest I’d run in a long time. Since Hong Kong I think, which was the beginning of September. A long time ago. Whoop!

I didn’t plan to run that far. I didn’t actually plan to run any distance, I just wanted to go out and run. So I went to the end of the road and down by the creek, and just ran and explored. That’s the best way for me to run sometimes, not knowing where I’m going. Just running to see what’s round the corner, or just turning round and trying somewhere else if you find a dead end. You see all sorts by doing this. So, I got a good bit of exploring of Ivanhoe done on that first run. 

My legs didn’t like the last couple of miles, that’s for sure. I kept it nice and slow though, and I could actually breathe for once without feeling like I was breathing through a wet towel. I was pretty surprised how green it was around here and down by the creek. Loads of trees, grass and green stuff. My first taster of realising what a green city Melbourne is. There’s trees and parks and grass everywhere. Even in the city centre, most streets are lined with trees. 

I loved this run. It was great to be back somewhere it didn’t seem odd to be running. It was great to be somewhere I could run ‘easily’. It was great to be able to run somewhere where there’s clearly loads of different places to run (that aren’t on roads). I’ve got a feeling I’m going to like Melbourne for running.

I told you I’d be back on it when I got to Australia. Yes!

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