Day #60 29.02.16

Working from home means decent breakfasts because I’ve got time to make stuff. Today was poached eggs and smashed avo on toast. For years I’ve not been able to get poached eggs right, despite trying so many different methods. UNTIL NOW. The other week Rick told me to add vinegar (the normal malt type) to the water, and also try it in a frying pan rather than deep saucepan. RESULT:

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Get in my mouth.

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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?

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.

Albert Park, parkrun #110

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Christmas Day in pictures.

I’d been meaning to do a day in pictures for a while, but not yet got round to it. So I decided, what better day to do it than Christmas Day?

My original idea for a day in pictures was actually to take a picture every hour, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stick to that. Time kind of ran away with me, and I wasn’t clock watching. So, this is my Christmas Day 2013 in pictures:

Chats with the family first thing (Christmas Eve night UK time):

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My traditional Christmas Day morning run (can’t miss that!):

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Going out for dinner so I decided to glam up a bit when getting ready. Not worn mascara for months!:

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Pre-dinner preparations, including champagne:

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CHRISTMAS DINNER! South African/Aussie mix of turkey, roasties, pumpkin, peach salad, beans, cranberry gravy and christmas pudding. YUM.

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New friends:

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Afternoon champagne after dinner:

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Later on, two bottles of champers down:

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We move onto Moscato. DELICIOUS!:

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Early evening, riding home in the sunshine:

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Chilled out evening watching National Lampoon with the cat and dog, eating pizza and Toblerone:

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Then some Google hangouts with some buddies. Karl wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken:

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Washing up. Got to be done:

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Then a mammoth FaceTime session with the family on their Christmas Morning (late Xmas Day night/early Boxing day morning here). I was in the iPad, propped up on the sofa and it was just like I was in the room for a bit. Lots of laughs and giggles. And I look orange because of THE LIGHT:

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Bedtime. Ok, so this was actually the early hours of Boxing Day morning but it still counts, as it’s the last thing I did:  

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Pretty perfect day.

Christmas from the outside.

This is kind of how I feel the run up to Christmas has been for me. Like I’m outside, looking in through a window. Not taking part, just watching everyone else.

Because obviously I’m not having a normal Christmas this year. I don’t have to do any of the normal festive stuff that I would be doing at this time of year. I’ve not been in the UK where the run up starts ludicrously early, like August. There has been no present shopping, no card sending, no Christmas partying, no food shopping, no need to get a tree. No thinking about to do lists or having a million and one things to get done ‘before Christmas’. Things this year don’t fall in the ‘before Christmas’ or ‘after Christmas’ time frames.

It’s made a nice change.

I’ve enjoyed the last couple of months without all the Christmas run up crap. Enjoyed SE Asia without any Christmas trees, products or adverts for stuff I don’t need. Even when I got to Australia it’s not rammed down your throat like it seems to be in the UK.

I’ve been able to sit back and watch everyone else ‘get ready’. Get ready for this one big day (or a few days if you’re lucky to have some time off work). And blimey, I’m exhausted from watching.

There seems to be this need for perfection. To have the perfect day and nothing can go wrong. A need to over do things. To buy presents that people don’t really want or need, just so they have a present. To buy food like it’s not available for weeks. The stress at trying to make everyone happy. To spend weeks preparing for such a small amount of time. To panic that there’s not enough food, or enough presents, or enough drink. It goes on.

Has the real meaning behind Christmas been forgotten? I guess in some ways it depends what the real meaning behind Christmas is for you. For some, it’s the religious aspect. For others, it’s just getting together with family and friends. For some, it’s a chance to get great presents. And of course for others it’s to eat and drink shit loads of great food and booze. Have all of these been overridden by commercial idealism? Do you feel guilt, pressure or just like there’s too much to do?

Is it really the most wonderful time of year?

For me, it seems to start too early. I’ve always thought this, and I think that’s why this year it’s been nice being away from it for a bit. There seems to be a huge build up for just a few days. It’s a special time of year, but there just seems to be so much…well, guff around it.

For some, it can be a reminder of what’s not great. People that have lost relatives or people dear to them. Missing places at the dinner table. People who feel under pressure to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas when they aren’t able to, for whatever reason. People forced to spend time with people they don’t get on with, just because ‘it’s Christmas’.

I know that soon though, I’ll watch and see all the lovely things. The good stuff about Christmas. The result of the hard work and preparation. People having fun, relaxed and happy. The excitement and joy at getting gifts. Kids excited about Santa Claus. People spending time with their favourite people. All the amazing food being eaten. So is it all worth it? Only you can answer that I guess.

For me, I love Christmas. I like nice food, spending time with some of my favourite people, twinkly lights, trees and Christmas parties. This year is different though, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. That’s because there’s nothing familiar really. I’m on the other side of the world to the people I normally spend it with and it’s warm here. The sun is out and it’s light until well into the evening. Very odd.

I’m not sad though. It’s not the first time I’ve not seen my family on Christmas Day, and I know I’ll speak to them at some point. And I’ll see them soon enough, so although I will miss them a little bit, I know they’ll have a fab time whether I’m there or not, just as I know I’ll have a fab time here. I’m not bothered about not getting any presents; this has never been a big thing for me. I will miss my sister-in-law’s 5 puddings though. They were fab last year.

I wanted to find somewhere to volunteer here in Melbourne, but all the places I contacted were either full or were only taking on regular volunteers. It’s something I want to do next year though, wherever I end up. Helping others who aren’t so fortunate. Those people that won’t have that perfect Christmas, for whatever reason. Those people who get forgotten, in the midst of all the jollity. I’d like to help make someone else’s Christmas just that little bit better. That little bit special.

So this year I’m going to go for my usual Christmas morning run tomorrow as it’s a tradition of mine, then I’ve been invited to a Christmas dinner feast by some friends of Bob and La’s here in Melbourne. The food they’re cooking sounds amazing and it’s a chance to make some new friends. So I’m looking forward to it; new experiences and a chance to see how other people do Christmas. Boxing Day might be spent at the beach, or on the bike. Something outdoors in any case.

So, Merry Christmas to you all. Whatever you do, wherever you are, I hope you have the most wonderful, magical and joyful few days. Don’t stress, enjoy the little moments and eat, drink and be merry.

Oh, and one last thing. The world has this way of making it look like everyone else is having the most perfect, wonderful time. Chances are, they’re all not. My thoughts go out to anyone missing someone this year, or not having a great time. You won’t be alone, even if you feel it. Do your own thing, whatever that is, to make it special for you, or just to be able to get through it. Tomorrow is another day, and 2014 is just round the corner.

Reason #5622795433 to love Australia.

Today I fancied some Maltesers to chomp on while I watched a film. So I had a walk down to the local supermarket to pick some up, but IMAGINE my disappointment (if you know me, you’ll know my love for Maltesers, so you’ll know it was high on the disappointment scale) to find the shelf was bare. Oh noes. They’d probably ran out due to the fact they were on offer and it’s Christmas in a few days time. Decided to ask the nice supermarket chap nearby who went to have a look to see if there were any out the back. There weren’t, but he said I could have a raincheck. For some reason I turned terribly English and said “I’m sorry, pardon, what’s that?”. Apparently it’s a little bit of paper which I can take in next time I go and I get the Maltesers for half price because they were out of stock. What?! HOW GOOD IS THAT.

So not only do I get half price Maltesers soon, I also HAD to buy a Toblerone instead. Double chocolate bonus. Although I may have made myself feel a little bit sick and got a sugar headache by eating too much Toblerone. Meh, oh well. It was so good, it was worth it.

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Australia, I lurve you.

A holiday from the holiday.

That’s what I had recently. 10 days on a beach, eating lots, drinking lots, partying, sleeping, sunbathing, paddling in the sea, a little bit of running and little else. Just resting and having a bit of a holiday.

You probably think, but you’re ON holiday. Why do you need a holiday? That’s just being greedy.

But you know, travelling is tiring. Travelling can be non-stop. Travelling can be hard work. Travelling can be stressful. Travelling is not really the same as a holiday.

Imagine the last weekend away you might have had, where maybe you went to a new city, or a new place. You’ll have to get there, right, so by car, or train or even plane. Then, you need to find your hotel, that you’ve probably already booked, so it’s just a case of finding it. Then, you spend a few days finding places to eat, visiting sights and attractions, lots of walking, taking pictures, new sights and experiences. Then you travel back, and get home and probably feel a little bit worn out, and maybe in need of a little rest.

OK. Now imagine doing that pretty much every day for a few months. Imagine not having any accommodation or travel booked, so all that has to be sorted out on the move or when you arrive in a new city. Getting to a new place and finding your way around. Learning new bits of a different language every few weeks. Organising visas and getting used to new currencies. Packing, unpacking and repacking. Figuring out who’s genuine and who’s trying to rip you off. Finding a laundry to wash clothes. Lugging a heavy backpack about. Getting on and off buses, trains or tuk tuks. Finding cheap places to eat, where you can try the local food without it costing a fortune.

I tell you, it’s a bit tiring. And I’m not knocking it one bit; I do enjoy every minute of it. And please don’t think I’m being ungrateful, I realise how amazing it is for me to be able to do what I’m doing. But boy, I didn’t realise how much I needed a break until I laid on that beach. A break from doing. No going anywhere, no sorting anything out, no photos or sights to see.

Sometimes, travellers need a holiday from the holiday. A chance to recharge, to stay in one place for a while, establish a little bit of a routine and just enjoy the art of not doing.

And oh, it was heavenly. It worked.

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By the border.

Mae Sot is a border town; it’s not really a tourist/traveller destination. It’s not visited that much, it’s a bit out of the way and doesn’t really have many attractions as such. So, that was kind of the attraction for us. Let’s check out what others don’t.

It had a very different feel to the other places in Thailand that I’ve been to. Being a border town, and there being a Burmese refugee camp nearby, there was a large mix of different cultures and people, and it felt a bit like a town with no purpose and no character. A bit soulless I guess, and the people didn’t seem to be as friendly or welcoming as other places we’d been.

I was in a bit of a travel funk in Mae Sot I think. A bit tired from all the travelling, the guesthouse we stayed in was really hot and the fan didn’t really do much apart from just circulate hot air, and I wonder whether I was just a bit fed up for no particular reason, so I’m not sure whether this affected how I viewed the place. I’m pleased we went to visit, I’m pleased we saw it and I did have a good time and enjoyed all the stuff we did. But, I wasn’t too fussed to leave and I wouldn’t go back.

It had a huge and bustling market, where you could buy pretty much any fish, meat or vegetable you wanted. I even saw Angry Birds on sticks. No idea what they were made out of, and I probably don’t want to know. We’ve visited loads of markets now, and they’re all the same but different. All the smells, the sights and the stuff they’re selling. The market community, the food and the hustle and bustle. No matter how many we’ve been round, it never gets boring or the same. We love it.

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We hired bikes to get out into the countryside, to do a bit of exploring. This was an awesome day. The sun was out, the countryside was pretty, a lot of the people we saw we friendly and smiley and there were a few hills for a bit of cardio exercise, which is something I’m still not doing as much as I’d like. Oh, and these bikes had a much softer seat than the ones in Kanchanaburi. I felt about 10 years old again, free wheeling down the hills with my legs stuck out and then remembering that the brakes were a bit shit. Luckily there wasn’t any traffic, bar the odd farmer or old man on a motorbike, who, incidentally, appeared to find the simple fact we were cycling down the road highly amusing.

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The couple of days was topped off by some smokin’ Japanese food out of the back of a pick up van and the fact that there was a beer shop next door to the guesthouse that sold cheap beer. Although, the fact that I was in a travel funk meant I didn’t join Nick in any beers. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention that we ate the cheapest meal we have had there. And cheap price did not mean bad food. Cheap price=very good food. 25 baht for a plateful. That’s 50p. 50p for a plateful of curry/vegetable/meat and rice. Ba-rg-ain.

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Like I said, I’m pleased we went, I’m pleased we experienced it, and I did have a good time. But, there was just something about the place that didn’t gel with me. But I can’t expect that everywhere will. I guess it’s just the first place that hasn’t really, and it surprised me.  

City surprise.

Bangkok surprised me. I spent two weeks there in total, which is nearly two weeks more than planned. Lots of people said it’s awful, noisy, busy and advised to just get out as quick as possible. But I found I loved it. It’s not really anything like you’d imagine. Ok, maybe there are seedy parts, dirty bits. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s a city. It’s certainly better than some cities I’ve been to (Delhi?). Maybe it was the area I stayed in; a Thai residential area. But I found it energising, friendly, cosmopolitan, bustling and vibrant. It’s easy to get around and is filled with lovely happy smiley people.

My second stay was when Nick came to join me to be my travel buddy for a couple of months in SE Asia. Nick’s first time in Thailand, we spent a few days walking miles and miles (literally; I think we covered around 40 miles in 3 days) around the city, eating lots of street food, trying to interact with the locals and take pictures. I met up with Rebecca again before Nick arrived for more food and drinks and a wander round a very wet and soggy Asiatique, a waterfront full of shops, restaurants and bars.

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It was strange having someone to travel with, especially someone I know from back home, after a few months of travelling by myself. It’s different, but in a good way. Someone to share stuff with. Like the experiences and sights that are being seen, but also the responsibility and organisation. Like remembering to take a room key, or figuring out which bus to get or doing a beer run. It’s making a nice change for a small part of my adventure. To share my adventure. We did a lot that week in Bangkok, here’s just a few examples:

  •  Had a few beers. Of course, it had to be done. And of course then I had to introduce Nick to the wonders of the 7/11 post-beer munchie food. Incidentally, there are 6500 7/11’s in Thailand. They are everywhere. Literally.
  • Stayed at the wonderful U-baan hostel in the Thonburi district ran by the lovely Joy (helped by her sister Jan). It’s a great place to stay at; we felt right at home and met some, erm, interesting people. Especially three Australian lads who were on a two-month rampage through SE Asia. The things they had already got up to in the few short weeks they had been travelling can’t really be written down here. And that’s just the things they told us about. The Dark Arts, as they called them, were not allowed to be shared publicly. I dread to think. But they were very sweet and very bloody entertaining. They left after a couple of days to head to a posh hotel nearer the centre of the action…god knows what they got up to.
  • Visiting Khao San Road. The backpackers mecca, we had an idea of what it would be like but we wanted to see it for sure. And it was exactly what we thought. Full of tourists, backpackers, english and irish bars, hawkers, cheap tat and fast food places. Pretty dire, and we were quick to make an exit. Not my kind of place, not my kind of travelling.

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  • Got interviewed by some Thai school children. I was in a shopping mall and I noticed a bunch of boys, probably about 11 or 12, giggling and nudging each other while looking in my direction. Eventually they came up and asked if they could ask me a few questions. I guess they were doing some kind of school project; they asked my what my favourite Thai food was, why and had a picture taken with me. It was all a bit odd but after a few months of being in Asia having your picture taken with people is kind of normal.
  • Discovered condensed milk on toast. Well yes, I know this sounds horrific, but, if you have a sweet tooth you may just be in heaven with this new taste sensation. Thick toast, butter then drizzled condensed milk. Oh. Em. Gee. I love Bangkok food courts. Where else would have a toast stall?
  • And staying on the condensed milk theme, Nick and I found a street pancake stall. A man with a little trolly making pancakes. This is quite popular in Thailand; a pancake with banana or egg (or both), drizzled with condensed milk and sugar. My advice? Try it without banana or egg. Just a pancake, on it’s own, with condensed milk and sugar. I may have died and gone to sweet food heaven.
  • And staying on the food theme, we ate and ate and ate the most amazing food. We didn’t go into a restaurant once; we stuck to street food. There were so many options, and the food was just so bloody good. Amazing flavours, so hot and fiery cooked and served right in front of you by happy smiley people. Street food all the way.
  • Talked to a lot of local people. We talked to loads of people. Well, talked/sign languaged as much as we could. Thai people are so friendly and so happy and so smiley. It was wonderful. I watched Nick make a paper aeroplane for a small Thai lad, we joked with people cooking our food and chatted with the people at the market.
  • Browsed the local markets. These are great places to go. All the foods, the smells, the sounds, the people. Makes all your senses come alive. Living, not existing.

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  • Took a sky train tour. One day we bought an all-day sky train ticket and just rode the train. When we got to a stop that looked interesting we just got out and walked around. I’d say with this and the walking we’d already done in the non-sky train areas we pretty much covered the whole of Bangkok. All the different places have a different feel; which we could really tell walking through them all.
  • Got grossed out at the Museum of Forensic Medicine. This was pretty gruesome but fascinating. Lots of exhibits and pictures of things showing what happens to the body after car accidents, murders, birth defects etc. A bit macabre but in an educational way. Apart from that all the writing is in Thai so we just had to guess sometimes.
  • Climbed a temple. We had to go to at least one temple so I chose Wat Arun. It’s a beautiful temple, you can climb to the top up really steep steps to get a great view over the river and Bangkok city. It looks like it’s made out of grey stone but it’s not until you get close up that you realise it’s covered in Bangkok grime and actually the stones are white and coloured.

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It’s amazing how we felt at home in Bangkok. It’s not because it’s a big city, because it’s not particularly westernised, although there are some areas where it obviously has parallels and home comforts. We tried to decide why, but couldn’t. I think there are too many reasons. Nick absolutely loved it, and will be coming back at the end of his trip. How long for, he’s not sure yet. But I suspect it has stolen a little bit of his heart.

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