San Fun-cisco.

Thanks Ross Allen, TV creative extraordinaire, for inspiring¬†the blog post title ūüėČ

SF or San Francisco. People round here don’t tend to call it San Fran. Which is what most¬†tourists seem to call it. I spent a week¬†here. It was only ever just a stop off on the way back (because my flight tickets is a round the world I had to land somewhere in North/South America, and I’d always wanted to go to SF), I never really had any intention of travelling elsewhere. And, to be honest, by the time I got there I was just about ready to come home, so any longer than a week would have felt a bit of a drag I reckon.

No hostels this time, I stayed with a guy I met in New Zealand. Another brief meeting, I met this guy for all of 5 minutes at the hostel I stayed at in Queenstown. I was quite hungover and pretty tired; everyone else was drinking his Jack Daniels but I felt shit and went to bed early. But, in true traveller style, we swapped contact details and a month or so later he gave me his sofa for a week while I stayed here. That cool traveller hospitality. I also got to meet his very cute dog Tango.

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San Francisco is awesome. It was a bit of a culture shock from New Zealand. There’s a lot of homeless¬†people here. And a lot of ‘interesting’ people. The area I stayed¬†near is quite a hippy hangout so there’s a whiff of weed pretty much everywhere you go, and a lot of people talking to themselves (or people that don’t seem to be there) and just chilling/flaking out. On my first day I had someone tell me that they loved me and that I had pretty feet. Now, as soon as he said the latter I knew he was not quite with it. Pretty feet? I don’t think so. NZ is so laid back, so friendly and there’s not a lot of people that SF was a bit of a slap in the face. That’s not to say people aren’t friendly here; they most definitely are, but there’s also a lot of people that aren’t so much. Like the woman on a bus who was talking about if someone makes eye contact with her she finds it really rude and was quite specific about what she’d do to someone if they dared to look at her. I¬†didn’t look at her. Or the man who was calling the bus driver a ‘motherf*cking b*tch’.¬†Not¬†sure¬†what the driver had done to piss him off. Or the woman who¬†was shouting obscenities at someone she was pretending to be on the phone to “f*ck you asshole, you’re not my boyfriend” before jumping off the bus and running down the street with the guy who was shouting at the bus driver.¬†I liked going on the buses. They were interesting. Because it’s real life at it’s best. This is what it’s like people. This is real life. These people are real. They exist, they live, they travel. It’s not like my life, but that’s the thing about travel; you get your eyes opened to the world. I¬†like being immersed and surrounded by all kinds of different people; to¬†other people and their lives.

When I landed a heatwave started. Typical, of course.¬†Usual temperature should have been around 18 ish degrees. For the first few days I was there it was around 30. It was hot, but not unbearable though. What did surprise me was everyone around commenting on how hot and how awful it was. I didn’t think it was too bad, but I¬†remembered that this is an oddity for SF. Their temperatures rarely get that high, especially¬†for days at a time. It also made me realise that I had kind of¬†become accustomed to higher temperatures. This hopefully will bode me well should we have a hot summer in the UK this year.

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It also meant that there was none of the famous San Francisco fog for most of the week. So wherever I went I got great views. The place I stayed in had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I could see most mornings. The city is really pretty, I loved all the coloured houses on the hills and the steps up to some of the most amazing doorways I’ve seen. The place I was staying in felt very American. It had a laundry in the basement, a trash chute and the kitchen just looked like ones I’d seen on the TV in films, with a window out that faced the neighbour’s window which was in exactly the same place. For some reason I loved how American it was, I loved the little corner shop a few doors down, and the lovely little cafes and grocery store at the end of the road. The brunch of omelette and potatoes I had at one place was to die for. It also had outlets (plug sockets) that¬†constantly looked frightened. They made me smile every time I¬†charged my phone.

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I had quite a busy week. A mixture of sightseeing, normal stuff, a cheeky run, a fair bit of socialising and some lazing about. Here’s a brief run down.

  • Haight Street. A road¬†full of vintage shops, cafes, smoke shops, tattoo and piercing places and a few things in between, with all kinds of different characters milling about. A great place to just wander down and absorb the atmosphere.

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  • I went downtown (they don’t call it a CDB here) to have a wander round a couple of times. I sat in Union Square and ate my lunch, went to the Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s and walked all the way up Market.
  • I walked all the way along the Embarcadero from¬†Market to Fisherman’s wharf, stopping at Pier 39 to marvel at the tourist tat and sea lions, and gaze out over Alcatraz (didn’t manage to get round to have a tour as it was all booked up too far in advance).

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  • I went on a tour on the back of a motorbike with a guy I’d never met before. Thank you couchsurfing for the intro, and thank you¬†Brando for an awesome couple of hours. Great way to see the city and so¬†cool to¬†go down the famously crooked Lombard Street on the back of a Suzuki gszr 600.

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  • The Golden Gate Park was just a few blocks from where I was staying, so I hung out there a bit, and also managed to fit a little 4 miler in one morning too. Huge park. Well, this is America. Everything is BIG over here.
  • I treated myself to an end-of-travelling tattoo, a proper haircut and a new nose stud. I’d had my eye on a tattoo design for a while, although when I first went to the studio I left with a booking for a completely different design and size. However, when I went back we realised it might not work exactly how I wanted it so I went back to plan A. And the haircut was just fab. I went from straggly-haired-hadn’t-been-cut-in-a-year-and-a-half-traveller to nice-and-tidy-with-a-few-layers. It felt nice to do something normal and something that was a standard thing in my old life was turned into a bit of a treat and a luxury. Travelling makes you appreciate the little things.

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  • I drank¬†mint juleps on a roof somewhere downtown with Rodin and some of his workmates, in honour of the Kentucky Derby, a bit like an American Grand National. A mint julep is a bit like a mojito but made with bourbon. Basically bourbon, mint, sugar and lime. Surprisingly tasty, especially given that I’m not a huge fan of bourbon after drinking far too much of it when I was younger. I also got to check out a SF office where their conference room was called The Batcave, their kitchen was stocked with food, including nutella and cookie dough spread and they had a fatboy hammock in their meeting area. The whole place¬†was pretty groovy, although it was still an office, and still reminded me that I have to get a job at some point.
  • I had meatloaf for the very first time. I figured that as I was in America, I’d try something that I see mentioned on the TV all the time. It was in a trendy restaurant in the Castro area, so I’m guessing it’s maybe not like the one that everyone’s Mom cooks that isn’t that great. This was was bloody amazing!

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  • I rode a cable car. San Francisco is famous for it’s little cable cars that trundle¬†up and down some of the hills because they are so steep. They’re pretty cute and although they’re not that fast and there are cheaper public transport options, they’re¬†really quite handy to get from Fisherman’s Wharf to Market and are a must do for tourists.
  • I went to the How Weird Street Faire on the afternoon before I flew home. It’s a festival where anything goes. And I mean, anything goes. I saw all kinds of weird and wonderful things, costumes¬†and people, danced in the street to some wicked DJ’s, soaked up the great friendly vibe and just marvelled at some of the amazing¬†costumes. I loved how¬†expressive and accepting everyone was, and amused myself by trying to picture something like this being held in Lincoln. Maybe, hey? Who’d be up for it?

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  • And of course, no one can go to San Francisco without going to the Golden Gate bridge. The iconic piece of orange engineering separating San Francisco and Marin County. The Bay Bridge on the other side of the city is actually bigger and longer, but it’s not orange. It doesn’t have the same impact. I walked across the GG bridge¬†and back again (about 3.5 miles in total) and it was beautiful. The views up at the towers as you pass them are just¬†fab, and the views back to the city and across to Marin County are stunning. I was lucky it was such a clear and sunny day (although epically windy) and we got great shots in every direction.

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All in all, a fun filled week, filled with new stuff, new friends, new experiences and the excitement that I’d be going home at the end of it. ¬†It was hard not to try to wish it away the nearer my flight got, but SF is such a great city it was easy to keep myself busy and out of mischief. I could have stayed longer, but a week was about enough. I did everything I wanted to (and a bit more). Well, apart from Alcatraz, but I couldn’t help that. And besides, it’s always good to keep something back for next time.

Auckland and out.

Last stop in¬†New Zealand was Auckland in the North Island, which is the biggest city, but <boring fact alert> is NOT the capital (that’s Wellington).

I’d decided not to travel the North Island. Mainly because I found I couldn’t push my flights back (well, I could have, but it would have cost me a few hundred quid instead of being free) but also I’m not sure I really wanted to. I’m getting towards the end of my trip now, with only a few weeks to go and I’d done so much on the South Island I kind of felt done. So I decided to keep the North Island to do at another time, perhaps with someone else one day, maybe in a campervan and with more money.

So, I flew from Christchurch to spend a few days in Auckland before heading to San Francisco. Luckily I had somewhere to stay; with my friends Ross and Emma who I met in South East Asia.¬†We all met in Laos at the start of¬†the 2 day slow boat journey down the Mekong river. Unluckily for Emma (but luckily for us) she had been ill and they’d delayed their journey by a couple of days, meaning that we got to meet! Me and Nick then bumped into them (literally, while walking down the street) another 4 or 5 times after that throughout Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I then tried to arrange to meet up with them in Australia and the South Island but every time we tried to plan it we were always a few days out of being in the same place at the same time!

So what do you want to know about Auckland? It’s nice. Hmm, that’s one of those words that’s just a bit, well, shit isn’t it? But, it sums up Auckland perfectly for me. It’s a nice city. It’s got a good feel, there are some pretty¬†areas, there’s beaches nearby and hills to climb up to get a good view. There’s a decent amount of shops and loads of places to eat. I could live there. But, I don’t feel strongly about it. I don’t feel passionate about it. There was nothing that really stood out as it being different or totally amazing. But, there’s nothing really bad about it either. I suppose I’d maybe say it’s a bit indifferent, I don’t really feel one was or another about it. Well, I’m more positive for sure. And, I did find that the longer I stayed there the more I liked it. So maybe I would love it, were I to stay a while.

I didn’t do the whole tourist thing. I wasn’t out and about every day, filling each second with something (I’ve been there, done that, and frankly after 11 months of it, it’s exhausting and quite often unnecessary). It was nice to stay with friends in their apartment and just hang out. It was like being back with my friends in the UK. Get up, chill out, watch TV (especially the Come Dine With Me omnibus – YES, just like a lazy weekend at my brother and sister-in-laws), surf the net, eat, chat and repeat. Interspersed with little trips out for a few hours. Oh, it was bliss, and a nice little chill out before my last leg of my travels in the USA.

But, I did go to Devonport and Takapuna, Mission Bay and Mount Eden. I did go and watch a rugby game at Eden Park (Auckland Blues vs Sydney Waratahs), I did go up the Skytower for cocktails. I did go for a stroll round the Viaduct and CBD. Oh, I actually did quite a bit really. The best of both worlds.

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And so Auckland marked the end of my New Zealand trip. Just under 2 months here,¬†which has probably gone the quickest out of all of my travels. A magical wonderland with scenery that is so stunning it doesn’t¬†look real, and skies and clouds so colourful, vivid and clear they could be a painting. A wonderland filled with lovely, kind people and hardly¬†any¬†traffic. A land where driving is a pleasure; something to be enjoyed. A land¬†where¬†the pace of life is slow and relaxed, not rushed. A land where¬†life is lived, not viewed through a window because you’re too busy.

Thanks to everyone that I’ve met along the way who’s made it a trip to remember.

Now Dad, when do you want to go?

Recovery in Christchurch.

My first stop in New Zealand was Christchurch, flying here in 3 hours from Sydney. You may remember I broke a rib while in Sydney, so I was still in quite a bit of pain and discomfort when I got to Christchurch. Mike, a guy I’d met while travelling in Hong Kong, had arranged for me to stay with his mum in ChCh which turned out to be the best thing¬†EVER. She looked after me, gave me the comfiest bed in the world, cooked me food and helped my recovery no end. By the end of that week I was feeling loads better and ready to tackle the South Island in Mike’s ute.

I really enjoyed my week in Christchurch. I didn’t do a huge amount really, just relaxed and rested and caught up on some admin. I went for a few walks around the city, went out for lunch, went to the seaside and enjoyed the botanical gardens, felt like I got a bit of a feel for the city.

Like a lot of others, I’d heard about the 2011 earthquakes on the news, but it didn’t really register, mainly because back in the UK, New Zealand is so far away and I didn’t know anyone over here. It’s only when I got here that I could see the devastation for myself, 3 years on, and you realise how much of an¬†effect on everything there¬†has been. There’s roadworks everywhere, buildings being¬†demolished or sitting empty, building still half in ruins, and business relocating to the suburbs making the city centre feel a bit like a ghost town. But, there’s also a huge sense of opportunity. Of people making the best of it. Of taking chances to make things better. The city is littered with art and tributes, in some of the strangest places. There’s a mall made out of shipping containers which I’m not sure whether it’s a long term thing, but I¬†think it should be, it’s pretty ace.

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I was staying right next to Hagley Park, an ideal haven for runners but I couldn’t run because of my rib. So I had to be content with slow shuffles around it instead. Equally as lovely, it’s a massive park with the Botanical Gardens right in the middle of the city. I especially loved the rose garden, mainly because it smelled amazing, and it reminded me of the roses in my mum and dad’s garden back home.

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I feel a bit sad I never got to see Christchurch before the quakes, because by all accounts it was pretty immense. But, I’ve no¬†doubt that it’s set to become even more¬†incredible in the future. And I’m sure I’ll be back one day to see it.

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 ūüėČ
  • 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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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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Hobart hobo.

Hobart is Tasmania’s capital. As I’ve said before, I fell completely and madly¬†in love with the city.

Why did I like it so much? I’m not sure. Everything about it I think. It felt like a small city. Everyone knew everyone. When I first got there it felt massive. Busy. Quite noisy. A million miles away from the small villages and towns I’d been to over the previous two weeks. But, it’s not. It’s actually really small. It’s got¬†a population of just under 215,000. For a capital city, that’s not a lot (for a comparison, Lincoln has a population of just under 120,000).

Maybe because it reminded me a bit of Lincoln. The size, the layout, the small-town feel. I was lucky enough to stay with a few different people who lived there and got a good feel for real life there. And it felt a bit like my old life back when I lived in Lincoln. The friends nearby, the things to do, the walks, the old part of town. It feels very homely and cosy, just like I think Lincoln is.

It also reminded me a bit of Cape Town, my most favourite city in the world. Mainly because it was similar in that the city stretched from a beautiful harbour to the foothills of a giant mountain, which was always there, always present. Great for getting your bearings and knowing where you were.

It’s got a great laid back feel, lots of arty places around Salamancer Place (the place to be) and the harbour, with oodles of history on every corner. And the great thing was that there are loads of information boards telling you all about it. So I didn’t have to go to a museum to find it out, the info was there as I wandered around. And wander around I did. Lots. It’s a great place for that. You stumble across everything, because it’s just not that big and most things are in walking distance. And if not, then it’s easy to get buses or boats to where you want to go. I was lucky, as I also got taken around and showed a lot by all the great people I stayed with. Yep, more stranger kindness.

Quick run down of some of the stuff I did:

  • Ate the best fish and chips (well, nearly – the best fish and chips I’ve ever had was in Simonstown in South Africa but these were close) fresh from the sea.
  • Bush walked and climbed up Mount Wellington and Mount Nelson. Amazing views.

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  • Ambled around Battery Point, the Bailgate of Hobart. If I ever live in Hobart, that’s where I want to live, in one of the little old cottages there.

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  • Went to MONA, the Museum of Modern and New Art. Very ‘interesting’. Even if you think you don’t like art, you should still go visit, well worth it. Even just for the approach from the ferry which feels like you’re pulling up to a Bond villiain’s lair.

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  • Strolled around Salamancer Market. Loads of different types of stalls all crammed in Salamancer Place on a Saturday. You name it, it’s there. I will always remember the salmon sausages in foccacia served from an old retro caravan, and the stall offering free fudge for tasting. Great atmosphere and no tat in sight!
  • Took a day trip to Port Arthur, the historic penal colony. Beautiful place, learnt lots about Tasmania’s history (from way back when it was called Van Diemen’s Land) and was entertained in bucketloads by our driver/tour guide Mark who oinked his pig (not a euphemism) to get us to be quiet, and whose catchphrases were “eyes to the front” and “cabin crew prepare for landing”. One of those you had to be there tours.

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  • Read the local papers and stayed with local people. Got a real different view on life there, especially around things like attitudes to Australia Day and stuff that’s important to Aussies.
  • Watched Mystery Road, and Australian film that was on the TV one night. For some reason I ¬†wanted to watch an Aussie film while in Oz. Not quite sure why. And still not sure why.¬†It was weird, a bit rubbish and filmed in the same gritty way as a lot of Australian films seem to be but entertaining nonetheless.
  • Went to the Cascade Brewery and drank beer with Marc (the other cycle tourist I met from Canada). I’d recommend the Cascade Draught. You can do a brewery tour but we decided to just sit and drink beer.

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  • Took a dog for a walk along Kingston Beach. Not just a random dog, but a dog called Biscuit. I knew his owners, don’t worry.
  • Saw the end point of the Sydney to Hobart boxing day yacht race (judging box). Interesting fact: I now know someone who will be taking part in that race this year. Connected I am.

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  • Walked around Kangaroo Bluff (and saw a wedding ceremony) and along Bellerive beach. Walking barefoot along the beach made my feet ache. I clearly haven’t spent enough time barefoot for a while. In flip flops yes, but not barefoot.

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  • Went on stage at the¬†Theatre Royal, the oldest continually operating theatre in Australia. No, not acting (I’m sure my family remember my not-so-good performances in school plays. It’s not my forte.) but for a look round when it was closed. A stage is a lot deeper than I thought. Interesting fact: It actually looks just the same as the Theatre Royal in Lincoln.

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  • Driving round the Cygnet loop with Margaret, my wonderful host who I met in Thailand halfway up a vertical climb up a cliff face in a monsoon at Railay beach. We ate AMAZING cake at the Red Velvet Lounge and saw lots of scarecrows in the villages.

I stayed with some awesome people. Rob, Margaret and Ross in Kingston (who, as mentioned previously, I met in Thailand) who took me in, fed and watered me, did my washing, showed me around and who were just totally amazing and generous. Very comfy bed here too, it was absolute bliss after 2 weeks of camping! I started and ended my stay in Hobart with them, with them dropping me and my bike off at the airport.

Greg, Dorothy and Mary, cycle tourists who offer a place to stay in their beautiful historic traditional house to other cyclists. They took me out bush walking and made me feel like one of the family. They had the best muesli for brekkie and they fed me lots of vegetables which makes me very happy. I got to meet many more interesting people through them too, and also tasted the best ever home made lemon curd. Man, that stuff was INCREDIBLE.

Sandy, Lesley, James and Erica who I met in Freycinet National Park earlier on in my trip and who lived on the Eastern Shore. I got to stay the ‘other’ side of the Tasman Bridge, and drank lots of fabulous red wine with them. They also took me to their friend’s 50th birthday BBQ on Mt Nelson where again I was made to feel like one of the family. And eat great cake.

It’s the experiences like this and the people I have met that made it so hard to leave Tassie. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place filled with lots of wonderful, wonderful people and they all made my stay in Hobart one of the best couple of weeks I have had. They all made me feel so welcome, and I actually felt very sad to leave.

I still, even now when I’ve had time to think about it, can’t get over the kindness that I experienced in Tasmania. It was just incredible, and I just didn’t expect anything like that. I’m not quite sure what I have done to deserve it, but I know that all these experiences just make me want to do the same. To pass it on. One of the things I have in common with all of the people I have met is that we’ve all travelled in some way at some time or another. Have all experienced similar and want to pass it on. But, you don’t need to have travelled to spread the love. To be generous and kind.

Let’s pass it on, people. Start the revolution.

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? ūüėČ 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 #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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Captivating Cambodia.

Cambodia. A country full of character, history, scenery, lively people and good food. We had about 2 and a half weeks in this amazing country. The first and main thing for anyone going to Cambodia is to go and see Angkor Wat. Obviously a must. But. There’s much more to it than that. It could be said that Cambodia got a bit of a bum deal from us in terms of travelling time. We spent 10 days at the beach in Sihanoukville not doing anything. Not seeing anything, not exploring, not taking any pictures. Because, after all the other SE Asia travelling, we were worn out and ready for a holiday. So, yep, we ate into our Cambodia exploring time to be beach bums. But, it was worth it. I don’t feel like we missed anything, or sacrificed anything. In fact, those 10 days gave us some great times, great fun, new friends and even though Sihanoukville doesn’t feel like the real Cambodia,¬†we met some of the loveliest Cambodian people going. And still had plenty of time to go visit those Angkor temples and to find out more about the Khmer history, include the Khmer Rouge regime.

From Sihanoukville, feeling more relaxed than someone who’s spent a whole year in a spa, we made our way to Siem Reap on a hotel bus. What’s a hotel bus I hear you ask? Well, it’s kind of like a posh sleeper bus. Little compartments for two, with completely flat beds and pillows/blankets, separated to the rest of the bus by curtains with headphones and music (Dr Dre beats no less, although of course they are the fake ones you can get out here). Normally you have to pay extra for this compared to the normal sleeper bus but we ended up being upgraded onto this one for free.¬†Bonus. A pretty decent night’s sleep followed, and we wound up in SR in the morning surprisingly fresh and sprightly. When we originally booked our ticket the woman said she would organise a tuk tuk to take us from the station to the middle of town for free as part of our ticket. We were a bit sceptical, as you learn to take what people say about transport with a pinch of salt as it’s often not quite the case. So, we gave the name James Bond as a bit of a joke. But, sure enough, there was our tuk tuk driver holding up the sign JAMES BOND. I so wish I’d taken a picture but I was too busy fending off other tuk tuk drivers. Honestly, they’re like wasps round a jam jar as soon.as.you.get.off.the.bus. In your face. Literally. I’ve had to push some of them away before. They ignore what you say most of the time too.

The usual routine followed. I’m sure you know it by now. Find a guesthouse. Haggle for a good price. Dump bags. Get food if not eaten. Go for a wander. Find cheap beer. Drink beer. And that’s pretty much what we did the first day. We had our first beer at 11.40am. I don’t remember going to bed but Nick says I collapsed on my bed at about 9pm. We found a great bar on Pub Street doing cheap 50c beer where we sat for around 7 hours. We made some new friends from the USA, Doncaster and Ireland, and all sat there getting drunk. It was a most fabulous day, even if I don’t remember all of it. I do remember my foot bleeding a lot (I’d ripped part of my big toenail off somehow) and falling asleep in the hotel restaurant while waiting for a burger though. Just a usual drunken night out. Only this one cost us $7 each. That’s less than a fiver. For a 7 hour, 14 beer, drinking session. The next day was fairly relaxed, and I didn’t have a hangover.¬†Extremely¬†surprised at this. Either my tolerance level is back up or I was still drunk for most of the day. I suspect the former, the latter would just be scary. Walked lots. Suspect this helped.

The day after was Angkor Temple day. Whoop! You must have heard of Angkor Wat? Or the Temples of Angkor? If not, learn more here. It’s somewhere I’ve always fancied visiting if I ever got the chance, so I kind of woke up a bit excited. There’s bloody loads of temples in the whole complex, but there was three I really wanted to see: Angkor Wat (the main and most famous temple complex), Angkor Thom (the huge city, including Bayon which is the temple with the faces) and Ta Phrom (the one that’s overgrown with trees, as seen in the Tomb Raider films). So, after negotiating hard for a tuk tuk, we ended up with a sparky young lad as our driver for the day. For $6 he took us round. Little star!

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The temples were beautiful. All different in their own way. Seeing Angkor Wat for the first time, that iconic view that I’d seen so often in other pictures, was mesmerising. Made even the more better by bumping into some old friends we first met in Laos. What a spot for a final goodbye, as they’re off to Indonesia, Nick’s off back to Thailand and I’m off to Australia, so no more chances to bump into them. I’m hoping to meet up with them in Oz or NZ though, if the universe plays ball and dates and places collide. Angkor Wat is huge. Really, really massive. Loads of rooms, courtyards, corridors, nooks and crannies. It was also crammed with people, no surprise there. Lots of tour groups. Especially from Japan and China. Who always seemed to be going the opposite direction to me. Especially where there were steps or small doorways. One chap from a tour group even decided to use my leg as support when he fell up some steps. And I didn’t even get a thank you.

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In a way it reminded me of the Taj Mahal, although it’s not really similar in the slightest. I can’t quite explain why, it just does. Maybe the size and scale and, well, I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. It was also lovely to bump into some friends we made on our very first night in Laos, all those weeks ago. Ross and Emma, a permanently cheery, lovely couple have been a bit of a permanent fixture in Laos and Vietnam. We kept bumping into each other all the way round, in different places, which was lovely. But we all realised that this would be the last time, as we were all heading off in different directions after Siem Reap. Although, I hopefully might be able to meet up with them in New Zealand, if dates and schedules line up. It was a sad day, a realisation that the next adventure was soon upon us, which, of course while exciting, also means the current one has to come to an end.

Angkor Thom and Bayon were next. I liked these. They weren’t as restored as Angkor Wat, and were a lot less crowded. I didn’t get pushed or grabbed, or fallen on. Oh, although I did get rudely told to move out of the way while I was taking a photo, so someone else could take on. I may¬†have taken longer to finish my photo after that. Well. How rude.

I liked the faces of Bayon, they all seemed to have a bit of a self-satisfied dreamy smile. It made me wonder what they were thinking of. Yes, I know they’re not real but you know what I mean. Or, they could be magical mystical things that come alive at night when no-ones watching. You never know. ¬†Travelling means keeping an open mind, so, who knows?

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But it was Ta Phrom that I think I was most looking forward to. This is the one that’s all overgrown with trees. Where nature has been left to do it’s thing, and you can see how destructive and powerful it can be. Huge trees have grown into, over and through the bricks. The one that was used in the Tomb Raider films (apparently, I’ve never seen them). It was beautiful. Eerily beautiful. Amazing to see all the roots and how they spread. The trees were huge. Really, really huge. It does just remind me how we can be at the mercy of nature. Ok, so there’s no immediate danger to us from these trees (as far as I know they’re not killer trees), but it just shows how things you think are strong can be reduced to a crumbling heap by nature. It’s powerful. We should never forget that, and give it the respect it deserves.

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There’s so many more temples to visit, but these are the ones I wanted to see. I think any more and I would have been templed out. (This can be a common affliction while in Asia). It’s funny, the complex reminded me of Clumber Park (England), India and Mexico¬†in different ways at different times. The more places I go to, the more triggers of memories I seem to get. The joy of travel, eh?

Siem Reap was a great place to hang out. It had a great little vibe. It’s only really a tourist destination because of the temples, but there’s actually lots of other stuff to do too. We hired bikes one day and went out to a couple of the rural villages on the edge of the Tonle Sap lake. It was awesome. The villages were very rural, and it was clear the people who lived there didn’t have a lot of money. But, the people we saw, especially the children, we just lovely. Shouting and waving to us as we biked past.

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We also went and gave blood at Angkor Children’s Hospital. I wanted to do something to help, and I haven’t been able to give blood in the UK last year and of course when I’ve been away, so this seemed perfect. Everyone who can give blood, should. It saves lives, and is vital. I started as soon as I was old enough at 17 and have given as often as I can since then. It’s such as easy thing to do but so important. Seeing and hearing the children at the hospital when we went was heartbreaking, and so I’m so pleased I got this chance to help, just a little bit.

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After Siem Reap, I took my last bus journey to Phnom Penh. A long, bumpy ride, I was so over Asian bus rides by the time we got there. I’m glad it was my last. They’ve been fun, and an adventure, but, well, think yourself lucky with the potholes in England. There’s craters over here, and they don’t get filled in. I’m surprised my spine isn’t shattered and that my brain is still in my head.

Phnom Penh is the capital city. We’d already been there once but only for an hour on a bus changeover. We arrived here in the evening, and headed to the South of the city to try and find a place to stay. It was harder here; places were either full or¬†really¬†expensive (well, expensive in the context of Cambodia/SE Asia). As we were wandering around after having no luck for a while, a guy on a scooter stopped us on a street corner, introduced himself as Greg and offered us his spare room. Of course we said yes, hopped onto a tuk tuk and followed him to his house. Why wouldn’t you?

We stayed with him and his two house mates (Cass and Kip) for our last 3 days of the SE Asia adventure, and it was great. No checking in and checking out, they gave us free reign of the apartment and even fed us pizza. Man, it was awesome pizza.

That’s one the beautiful things about travelling. You meet people and you just know. There’s mutual trust. People offer things, you know it’s genuine. No half-arsed offers. I had a 10 minute conversation with someone in Thailand and now have somewhere to stay in Tasmania next month. And I will stay there. It wasn’t just a polite offer. ¬†You get to meet all kinds of interesting people. ¬†A wonderful thing. The world is small and people are lovely.

The real reason for going to Phnom Penh though (apart from me having a flight to Singapore) was to learn more about the Khmer Rouge regime. I’d heard of Pol Pot, but didn’t really know much about him. Now I do. ¬†We visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum which was originally a school, and then the S21 prison, where people were taken to be imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed. It was a haunting place, where blood stains on the floors and photos of the prisoners made it even more impactive. We also visited the Choeung Ek killing fields¬†just outside Phnom Penh, where huge numbers of people were killed. Both were moving experiences, although the overwhelming feeling I had was anger. Such hypocrisy, power, greed and insanity. Such a complex and twisted history. And these weren’t the only prisons and killing fields; there were hundreds all across Cambodia. In total, more than 2 million Cambodian people died. For wearing glasses, for being a teacher, for being educated, for being able to speak a foreign language. All under the direction of a professor and educated man himself who studied abroad. Go figure.

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I know a lot more now, and the more I learn about atrocities like these, the more I struggle to get my head around it. But the more I hope that things like this are in the past. That they will never happen again. That countries around the world will not let it happen. We must educate people so they are aware, raising future generations to stop this.

Cambodia has been a mix of experiences, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. It’s captured my heart and there’s just something about the country that is special. I can’t quite narrow it down to one thing; it’s everything. Everything that I experienced there.

So thank you Cambodia. You were wonderful.