Day #149 28.05.16

Empty tent = dancefloor to ourselves. Few beers, music, sunny weather, lots of dancing. Brilliant.

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Life after divorce.

Life after divorce (or a breakup). By the time you’re in your 30’s and having a relationship breakdown, marriage isn’t necessarily the default but chances are you’d got to a point in your relationship where you were the last ones in your friendship groups to tie the knot and both of you thought it was probably about time you spent thousands of ££ on a big party where you’d invite a load of people you probably won’t speak to 5 years on.

So, once you’ve paid out more thousands of ££ for solicitors to undo the bit that you signed before the big party, what do you do? Easy! Follow this guide* to getting through that breakup and starting life again (aka have a life crisis):

  1. Get your hair cut in a new and funky style by the junior stylist (because the divorce wiped you out and you cant afford the salon director any more). Exclaim “it’s fab! Just what I always wanted!” with hysterical gusto while crying silently inside and wondering what your head would look like shaved.
  2. Take up a sport. Doesn’t matter which one, just do something to help lose more weight in addition to the 3 stone you’ve already lost through stress and a diet of alcohol and biscuits.
  3. Shag someone at least 10 years younger than yourself. Just remember not to engage them in conversation. Unless of course you do actually care about Justin Bieber or Harry Styles’s hairdo.
  4. Go on Tinder and other online dating apps/websites. Spend a few days chatting to John from Peterborough because he’s the only person who has messaged you before you realise you don’t actually care about the steam engine show he went to at the weekend or how many cabbages he is growing. Realise you have lost all self respect and delete apps in a fit of self pity and loathing.
  5. Join an internet forum based on shared interests. Realise after a week you have not slept or showered or gone to work, but you do have thousands of new friends who ‘get you’.
  6. Wear short shorts. You’ve lost 3 stone through the breakup diet and realised you don’t give a fuck about anything any more.
  7. Do household chores without any resentment towards the lazy shit you used to live with. Realise you actually like housework. Skip around with the hoover like Mary Poppins! Get bored and fed up. Give up on housework and eat biscuits instead when you remember the mantra ‘fuck the fucking housework’.
  8. Eat pizza from the box. Because you can’t be arsed to wash a plate up and because your body is now craving carbs following the break up diet initial stages.
  9. Don’t get dressed for 2 days. No one will see you! No one will judge, not even Phil the Postman. And besides, he likes your onesie, he said so that time.
  10. Go to bed with your make up on. After all, you’ve given up dating after Peterborough John, so no one will see you in the morning. And besides, you’ve always admired the Absolutely Fabulous look.
  11. Go on a singles holiday. All your mates are still married or have kids so you have no friends left anyway, so why not join other desperate singles trying to appear like they’re just there for a holiday and not there to find someone else to marry to avoid being alone for the rest of their lives.
  12. Go on an activity holiday. You’ve given up on the singles holidays because Greg from Southampton mistook your ‘let’s have a nightcap’ drunken shout out in the bar for something completely different which then triggered an incident involving hotel security, a flannel, a bowler hat and some chocolate mousse. At least an activity holiday means you don’t have to pretend to be interested in Joanne’s stories from her time in the Accounting department at the local council because you’re too busy hanging off a rock the size of a pea on a cliff face while mentally chastising yourself for not making a will.
  13. Shag someone from work. If you really want to keep things amusing try either someone from your own department or your boss. Or your boss’s boss. This way meetings will be interesting as you’ll just be picturing them naked.
  14. Get a cat. Decide one cat isn’t enough. Get another one so they can occupy each other while you’re at work picturing your boss naked. Decide against getting another one because you realise you’re in danger of becoming crazy cat lady.
  15. Contemplate getting a dog because you read somewhere it’s a good way to meet people. Realise you probably can’t get a dog because you now have cats. Read about a cat cafe. Decide to visit one as an alternative way to meet people. End up just meeting lots of crazy cat women.
  16. Wonder how long your eggs have got left before they start shrivelling. Wonder about freezing them then realise how much that costs. Make a point of visiting friends with horrid children to put you off the idea of spawning.
  17. Rediscover (or discover) tequila slammers. Who knew how much fun some salt, a lemon and some incredibly foul tasting alcohol could be?
  18. Get hideously drunk at a wedding and behave inappropriately. Drink tequila slammers (because they’re fun, remember), fall over on the dance floor, fall off chairs, flash your knickers, kiss your friends uncle in front of the whole family including his children, leave your hand bag at the venue and make your friend homeless for the night, eat the whole cheeseboard even though you don’t like cheese and other things that you will never remember because you drank so much tequila. Just remember to mention you’re recently divorced/separated/single, because this may go some way to excusing your behaviour.
  19. Spunk £3000 on a bespoke, hand made in Italy, cream fabric sofa. Because your ex loved black leather.
  20. Spill red wine on sofa. Throw white wine on it. Clean it up as best you can. Realise it’s futile and that even if it cleaned up you’d probably just do it again. Go out and buy big cushions instead.
  21. Cry for 3 days solid. Realise you’re crying more over a sofa than your ex. Realise you’ve turned a corner.
  22. Try Zumba because Jill from Reception had a spare pass to the gym. Realise you have all the grace and finesse of a baby elephant but enjoy the hip wiggling and freestyle. Make friends with Claire and Sophie. Start going to fitness weekends at Butlins where you spend just as much time drinking Blossom Hill and dancing to 80’s tunes as you do going to Body Pump and Zumba.
  23. Eat bowls of broccoli for tea. Spice things up with a few chilli flakes every now and then. Pride yourself on this ‘quick’ tea that does not involve anything beige from a freezer. while overlooking the lack of other essential nutrients in this diet. Mention said meal to friends who then start inviting you round for dinner more in exchange for juicy gossip and scandal.
  24. Start to realise that life alone isn’t so bad. Ponder the thought that maybe you’ve had more fun in the last few months than you’ve had in a long time. Decide you’re in no hurry to get into another relationship, and that you and you alone are responsible for your own happiness.
  25. Book another activity holiday, this time with sky diving. Hope that Greg from Southampton is still banned from booking with the same travel company.

 

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*riseandshinepaps bears no responsibility to anyone following this (fictional, made up and completely tongue-in-cheek) guide and the characters above are completely fictional and bear no resemblance to anyone, living or dead (apart from 18. Yes, that was me. Oh, and 23.)

Day #58 27.02.16

The annual Zambia reunion (sadly minus the flakey Ciaran who screwed his dates up) took place today. No selfie sticks were used in the making of this picture. 

I was actually trying to lay across everyone as they said that would make a good picture, but I decided this one was actually better.

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Merry Christmas

It’s that time of year again. The time that you can’t really miss, especially living in the Western world, where it’s rammed down your throat by the fat-fisted media and advertising pretty much constantly since September. I am of COURSE talking about Christmas!

Hurrah!

Bah Humbug!

Which one are you? As we seem to be told we are one or the other. If you’re not skipping around filling your proverbial cup with festive joy then you MUST be a humbug. And if you’re not grumbling about it, then you must be a buzzing-to-the-eyeballs Christmas fairy ready to shake your tinsel wand at anyone who comes within 2 feet of you. Anyway, regardless of how you feel, there’s no escaping it, it’s only just over a week away. 9 more sleeps* until The Big Day. Not sure how Christmas Day has ended up with the same kudos as someone’s wedding day, but hearing what some people spend on food, presents and all the peripherals, it’s certainly going the same bank-breaking way.

*ah, while we’re here, who the fuck came up with this measure of time? What if I wake up and then go back to sleep? Is that 2 sleeps in one night? In which case it could be 18 more sleeps for me (I never sleep through the night, I’m like a bloody baby). Or more if I drink a cup of tea too late. Or watch a horror film just before going to bed. I have no idea when this became part of the English language, but on Heart (radio station) they even have a song about so many sleeps until Santa. Hmm.

What the chuff IS Christmas anyway? The whole point of where it came from is some Christian story about the Son of God being born to a virgin (more likely Joseph persuaded Mary it wasn’t really ‘doing it’ if he didn’t put it all the way in) in a stable where they then got visitors who had an excellent early-model GPS system and good visitor etiquette to bring gifts for a new baby. Now, if you’re religious, then I’m guessing that’s what your Christmas is going to be centred around, and carols and stuff. All the nice ‘Christmassy’ stuff but if you’re not religious, might not sit well. So then, there’s the other things that have become popular. Trees covered in shiny pretty things, the giving and receiving of presents and spending time with family. Which, for some people will be the best thing ever. And for some, the worst thing ever. There’s something about Christmas that, like weddings, that bring out the worst in people. I’ve heard of tears, manipulation and just general festive craziness. And let’s not forget the parties, the food and the booze. Over indulgence and just general hibernation-inducing activities. Eat more food in one day than you’d eat in a month; all food that should come with a health warning and doesn’t grow on trees or in the ground, then roll around on the floor with a full groaning belly (maybe that’s just me) thinking you’re never going to eat anything ever again, not even a stick of celery.

It doesn’t really matter how you spend Christmas really, as long as you’re doing what YOU want to do. Because really, who needs an excuse to be in massively happy mood, spend time with people you love and drink and eat loads of nice stuff? Let’s just take a minute though, to remember people who won’t be spending time with people they love, for whatever reason. Maybe they’re away from home, or it’s people who are no longer with us, or people who don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with. It can be a hard time for them, so let’s not forget that. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the preparation and parties and stress (yep, all that Big Day good times, like a wedding, take a lot of Organising. People want it to be perfect, and so get stressed out.) that people can forget there are others for whom Christmas isn’t great, it’s actually a bit shit, and they want the whole thing to just be over. As quick as possible. If you know anyone where this might be the case, maybe just take a minute to check if they’re OK. See if they want to join in anything. Just say hello, it will mean something, trust me.

The other big thing about Christmas is Traditions. These are a big thing. For a lot of people, Christmas is Christmas because you do the same things every year. And every family has it’s own things. When you have lunch, or when you open presents, or what you do in the morning, or what you wear when opening presents, or where you open your presents. Or maybe what you leave out for Father Christmas. For me, I haven’t done the same thing each Christmas for years now, and so Christmas doesn’t really FEEL like Christmas any more. I could take or leave it in a way, although of course I love seeing friends and family and all the partying. But it’s not the same as years gone by. When I was little, I loved Christmas. I loved the whole Santa thing, but not necessarily for the presents, just because I loved the fact it was magic. Go to bed, leave a mince pie out and BOOM, stuff appeared in the house in the morning! In our house, me and my brother would always wake up really early and want to get up at about 4am, but we’d never know what time it was as we didn’t have any lights until my dad went to turn the generator on (we lived in the sticks and weren’t connected to mains electric until a few years after we moved in) so the parentals would always persuade us to go back to bed for a while until poor Dad was made to trudge outside across the yard in the cold to the Engine Shed to make electric happen. Then, that’s it, we were awake and no stopping us! Until the 8am slump when all presents were opened and we ran out of energy.

Then came another Papworth tradition which was my utter FAVOURITE. Dad’s infamous Treasure Hunt. I later learnt as an adult this was a cunning plan to keep us kids occupied for a bit and out of the way of the kitchen, but as a kid I didn’t care. In fact, I loved them so much that every year since I’ve looked for the tell tale first clue in an envelope in the Christmas Tree and if I didn’t find one, I’d be disappointed. So much so that Dad actually did a couple about 5 years ago for me, as a late-twentysomething adult. There was much excitement from me then, skipping around the house and outside in all the sheds and my Nan’s house following the trail of clues. They were a bit harder to figure out that first year, Dad had to dumb them down the year after, hahaha! Well, Latin references Dad? COME ON, you know we’re not that clever!!

We used to have everyone over to our house as it was the biggest. Not that we had a massive family though, but more than just the 4 of us. Cousins, Uncle, Grandparents. One year we had to eat around a table tennis table in the junk room that had no carpet and bare plaster walls because there was a big group of us. One year, we had a full house for about a week, and I hated it when everyone went home. Because I loved having so many people to talk to, and play games with. I’m a social, the more-the-merrier creature really.

We never played games that much as a family outside of Christmas, unless I badgered them on a Saturday night sometimes. My dad was normally outside in his workshop working until late so I guess the last thing he wanted to do was play Connect 4 or Kerplunk with me after being on his feet making stuff out of wood all day. Although the board game playing could get out of control sometimes, so maybe I don’t blame him. Like the time we were all playing Monopoly and I got in a mardy and had a massive tantrum and threw the board (and everything on it) in the air/on the floor. And that was only last year. Ha! Joke, I was about 7. And Matthew was cheating. And I was probably on a massive sugar comedown and shattered from waking up at 4am. Mum tells me after I’d thrown the board I crawled behind the sofa and fell asleep and was later taken to bed by Dad. I’m not competitive in the slightest any more.

This year is different again, I’m in a different place (Cheltenham) for the run up, but have kept up my tradition of filling December with partying and drinking, which has been much fun up to now. Just one more weekend of drinking to get through, then I can relax and have a detox (never really drink on The Big Day, surprisingly), starting with my tradition of a Christmas morning run and a day with the family. And then Boxing Day I will spend the day with Best Friend Laura and her family, but instead of getting a bit drunk and being a bit bonkers and entertaining (according to Laura’s sister Holly), I will remain sober as later that night I fly off to South Africa for 3 weeks. It will be different, but kind of the same. Or as they say in SE Asia, same same but different. Still, every year I remind myself just how lucky I am. I’m happy, healthy and have fab friends and family. That’s what matters.

And then, that’s it, Christmas will be over for another year. And then comes New Year. I hate the whole NYE thing (this year will be a quiet affair in a pub in a small South African town), but I do love thinking about what I’ve done this year, and what might be to come next year. That’s another blog post but it’s been a bit of a whirlwind interesting year, and I don’t doubt that next year will be more of the same. I can let one little thing slip though, the Photo A Day Project, made famous in 2012, will be making a reappearance in 2016!

So until then, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the run up in my lovely little flat in Cheltenham, which is probably the cosiest, most ‘Christmassy’ (is that an actual word? Who cares.) place I’ve had. Easily my most favourite pad I’ve lived in so far. Happy happy days.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, whatever you are doing and whoever you are spending it with. And sending big hugs if you are finding it difficult, for whatever reason.

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Runs around the world #20

San Francisco, USA

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Where I’m staying in San Francisco is really close to The Golden Gate Park. As I’ve found everywhere, parks are [mostly] a runners heaven, and tend to be full of people doing all kinds of fitness-ey things. This one was no different; lots of walkers, runners, cyclists. OK, so there were also a lot of homeless people and people sat smoking weed, but this is San Francisco, where that seems to be normal pretty much all over.

If you know anything about San Francisco, it’s probably that it’s hilly. Now, when back in the UK, I didn’t mind hills really. I’d got used to running up them. I used to run home, which was up the top of a hill. I used to do hill sprints up Steep Hill in Lincoln (not easy, but I used to do them). I’m not as fit as I was, I’ve mentioned that before. I’ve not done as much running, and although I climbed a fair few mountains in New Zealand, it doesn’t mean they were easy (or that I enjoyed them). And I certainly didn’t run up any mountains in NZ (although I did run down one). Luckily for this temporarily lazy runner, the park is pretty flat.

So, I did a lovely little round route of 4 miles. From where I was staying, I ran down the hill (oh yes, I’m staying on a hill) to the park, through and round a bit of the park, then back up the hill. I hadn’t actually planned on running back up the hill, but I was nearly at 4 miles and I needed to get to a round figure on my runkeeper stats. I’m sure most runners can identify with this slight OCD-ness.

The famous San Francisco fog was around this particular morning, but there was also a bit of sunshine. But not too hot. Perfect for running really. I’d not run for probably about a week, and I’d been a bit lazy in Auckland and dipped out of going for a run with Ross one morning, and so really had to force myself to go here, but once I’d got going I remembered why I loved running. It felt great and I just enjoyed the pure beauty of running in a new place, not really knowing where I was going, just enjoying the new views and surroundings.

Whenever I run in a place with a lot of other people, especially people going the other way, I always feel tempted to high five them. I thought about it a lot on this run. I was in America after all, surely out of all the places I’ve been, this is the place for it? But, I chickened out, despite feeling mildly hyper/giddy/hysterical (it’s those endorphins you know) as everyone coming the other way just looked SUPER serious. Still should have just done it. I did chat to a bloke who offered to take my picture when he saw me taking a selfie after I’d finished. He then told me about some more trails up in the hills where there was poison oak. Not sure there was the need to lift his shorts up to show me where it had got him, but hey, this is San Francisco. Everything and anything goes.

I’m still surprised I can run 4 miles. I feel like I’ve hardly run at all over the last few months, so I’m glad there’s still something left in there. I feel really quite unfit so it’s always a nice feeling to have churned out just over 4 miles quite easily (including ending a run on a bloody steep hill). As I come to the end of my trip, I CANNOT wait to ramp it up now. I’m chomping at the bit. I do need to sort out my damaged shoulder though, but hey, I can still run, and that’s enough for now.

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New Zealand road trip: part one.

I’m writing this in Christchurch, having finished my little drive around the South Island. I didn’t blog at all along the way, mainly due to either a) no electricity/internet b) being hungover c) didn’t have time d) no motivation. So it’s all in my head now, waiting to be written. I’ll get there. Handily, my trip naturally split itself into different parts:

  • Part one: Christchurch to Queenstown
  • Part two: Queenstown and Wanaka
  • Part three: Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again)
  • Part four: West coast to Christchurch, via the north

A total of nearly 4000 km (just over 3000 miles) in 5 weeks.

But before I start on part one, I’ll tell you about how it came about. I met a guy called Mike in Hong Kong last September. We first met when I insulted him by asking where in Australia he came from. Back then I couldn’t tell the difference in accent. Now I can. Luckily, he’s a laid back guy and didn’t get offended, and we hung out for a couple of days before I flew to Thailand and he moved on to China. I happened to mention to him that I was going to New Zealand in 2014 and he offered to lend me his ute to drive around in. At the time I thought what an awesome offer but it was a long time to go until I would be in NZ so lets see how things go. Fast forward and we kept in touch, and lo and behold, Mike was a star and not only lent me his truck but also camping stuff AND arranged for me to stay with his mum while in Christchurch. Amazeballs. Just one more example of how great and kind strangers, especially in the travelling world, can be. Restores your faith in humanity somewhat, especially because there is no agenda, no reason for it other that just be be bloody nice. Sometimes you can never pay these acts of kindness back, all you can do is pass it on. And pass it on I will.

So, after a few days of sorting the car out (getting it re-registered, warrant of fitness etc) and picking stuff up from Mike’s house (and scaring his cousin’s partner half to death by appearing to be, on the face of it, a burglar), I was ready to rock and roll.

I hadn’t driven in over a year.  For a fleeting moment I wondered whether I’d remember how to do it, but then reminded myself not to be so stupid, I’ve nearly been driving as long as I’ve not been driving so forgetting how to drive would be similar to forgetting how to speak or dress myself (although you’d maybe question these two things if you’ve seen me at 3am after a night of tequila). I did get confused with the handbrake in the ute though. It’s a pull out lever thing, not a stick. Luckily, I got shown where it was. Pretty sure I’d still be trying to figure it out now if I hadn’t.

So, one Monday morning, 5 weeks ago, I set out from Christchurch with the sun shining, music on the stereo, a map and the open road. Just me, the ute and a tent in the back. There’s something pretty special and liberating about travelling alone, but even more so for me when I was driving myself around. I could stop anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. I made my own route with no time scales, no dates to be anywhere, no pressure.

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The first bit of the drive was through countryside that looked fairly familiar to Lincolnshire. Yep, if I shut my eyes I could have pretended I was back at home. Obviously didn’t do this, what with driving and all. But it didn’t last long, we don’t have mountains in Lincolnshire, and it soon started to get a bit hilly, and the scenery started to look like what I’d imagined the South Island to look like. I still remember the first photo stop I did. I don’t know exactly where it was, but it was a river that was stunningly blue, flanked by hills and trees. I thought it was beautiful. I soon learnt I hadn’t seen anything yet.

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My first proper stop was Lake Tekapo, where I camped for a couple of nights. Lake Tekapo is beautiful. Hang on, before I go on, let me say this: the whole of the South Island is beautiful. It’s more than beautiful. It’s stunning, amazing, incredible, inspirational, breathtaking, varied, different, outstanding, welcoming, magnificent, awe-inspiring, exquisite and fascinating. I, and all of the people I met along the way, regularly ran out of words to describe it. On more than one occasion I was speechless (yep, it does happen occasionally). So, I’m just putting them all out there right now, in an attempt to not repeat myself in the rest of these posts. It’s safe to assume that all the places I’m going to write about are covered in one of the words above.

Lake Tekapo: a turquoise lake surrounded by mountains, with lots of walks. Which is pretty much how I spent a couple of days here. It was the first outing for my new tent, which I put up in the rain. Amazing how quick you learn what goes where for an unfamiliar tent when it’s raining and your bed for the night is in danger of being waterlogged (maybe a slight exaggeration, it was only drizzling).

I climbed to the top of Mount John, where the world famous observatory is (Lake Tekapo is said to be the clearest place in the world to see the stars. I didn’t go up there at night, but on my second night the sky did indeed put on a pretty good show), sitting at the top for over an hour just admiring the views. My first time being almost overwhelmed with what nature had laid out before me (and well worth the bloody hard slog up the hill as my rib was still pretty painful at that point, making breathing a little bit difficult). I saw the Church of the Good Shepherd (maybe the church with the most picturesque view in the world) and walked around the lake in the morning eerie mist, with clouds shrouding the whole mountains and lake, making me feel like the only person around for miles.

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On the morning I left, I chatted to an older chap called Anthony, an extremely well spoken older gentleman in the wine trade, who had just been for a chilly dip in the lake. It was a most pleasant conversation, only made slightly odd when he proceeded to change out of his swimming trunks into his shorts and t-shirt under a very small towel, all the while holding a conversation with me. Not forgetting the part where he’d got out of his trunks and said he’d ‘drip dry’ for a bit. Awkward? Not really, I’m starting to see it all while travelling. Literally.

I headed onward to Mount Cook National Park. A pretty spectacular drive along blue Lake Pukaki, snow capped mountains in the distance. This is what I imagined it to be like. This is what took my breath away.

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Another couple of days here, just walking this time. There’s not a lot here; a very basic DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite and that’s about it, but it’s all about the walking. I did the Hooker Valley glacier walk (so very pretty), and the Sealy Tarns walk, 2200 steps up the side of a mountain. Amazingly hard work as I was still suffering breathing issues due to my broken rib but totally worth it for the view and the chat with Tim from Shropshire. Lovely chap who had come to NZ on his own, his first solo trip and was loving it. One of those people that you can just chat with for ages, about all kinds of things, and I had a lovely dinner with him and Oliver from Germany that night. It beat the night before where I ended up packing my tent up at 2am in the rain and howling gale force winds because if I hadn’t, my tent wouldn’t have lasted much longer. I abandoned sleeping outside and slept in the back of the ute, which was swaying about in the wind all night. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve had, but, while travelling, I’ve not had a proper good nights sleep in over a year now. I can’t remember the last time I slept the whole way through since I’ve been away. Well, apart from any night where tequila’s been involved anyway. See, tequila has it’s uses. Good tequila.

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Mount Cook to Arrowtown. Probably two of the most different places I’ve been to. Mount Cook: remote national park with huge mountains and snow and stuff. Arrowtown: small historic mining town that’s straight out of a country and western movie. Honestly. It’s like a film set. I actually loved it here, and ended up staying 3 nights. Spent the days walking, eating and just lounging about. Lovely little place to do it, especially as the sun was out (although, bizarrely, I had my coldest nights in the tent here). I also nearly ate myself into a sugar-induced coma due to the creme brulee fudge they sold in the sweet shop. Also, anyone thinking of coming here, get a pie from the bakery. Del-ici-ous. Just maybe don’t follow it with a huge block of fudge. Although really, as I’m on holiday, there’s no calories right? No wonder I have a nice little layer of travelling fat. I did try and make up for it by going on a little jog.

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Arrowtown is only just down the road from Queenstown, home to all things adrenaline; all those things I couldn’t do thanks to that drinking session in Sydney. Queenstown deserves it’s own post as my time there was certainly adventurous, although not in the adrenaline sense. That’s part two.

Hello 2014.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Vietnam vagabond adventures.

The second bit of my Vietnam adventure took in the cities of Hue (pronounced h-way, not huey, like the guy from Yorkshire on our sleeper bus insisted it was), Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (and a lot of loooooong bus journeys in between each one). We’d already booked our sleeper bus tickets in Ninh Binh before we saw on the news that the super typhoon was due to hit Vietnam right on the central coast – right on Hue, the next day – exactly the time we were due to get there. Hmm, not exactly ideal. Luckily for us, it decided to change it’s course and ended up missing the coast completely, although the first day we got there it was very rainy and windy all day (some remnants from the typhoon) so we could do nothing more but have a chill out day. Part of a rainy day in Hue for us resulted in an Indian FEAST because the local Indian restaurant was only a few doors down. Exactly what we did on the first day in Luang Prabang in Laos so we decided to make a tradition. I felt more stuffed than a shop full of teddy bears afterwards but, damn, it was worth it. After weeks of noodles and the like it was bloody lovely to have a change, and reminded me when I was in India back in July.

Hue is an old city with a lot of history, and an imperial city that’s not dissimilar to the Forbidden City in Beijing (although nowhere near as big). Over the couple of [dry] days we had there, we just spent a fair bit of time wandering around the city and hired bikes to get out into some small villages out in the countryside. It was one of my favourite places, mainly because I just had so much fun. My Hue Highlights:

  • Hiring bikes and getting out into the villages. We didn’t have a set route, we just set off down one of the roads out of the city with no map, just a vague sense of direction. We ended up biking through some really small little villages, where I guessed they don’t see many Westerners. Or indeed any at all, judging by the amount of children shouting hello, waving and running after us or taking photos of us and the adults who would nudge the people they were stood next to, and point and stare, mouths almost wide open. Which soon changed into big massive grins when we shouted “hello” to them in Vietnamese. Add to that pretty incredible scenery, the best hire bikes we’ve had so far, and you’ve got one of my most special memories of Vietnam. The real Vietnam.

  • The baguette lady just down the street from our hotel. She did the BEST egg baguettes for breakfast which were cheap as chips, and she was lovely and happy and smiley too. I don’t know what she did to the eggs to make them taste so good but I think it was all in the salt and pepper. We went there every day, and I might have even had two some days, they were that good.

  • The little cafe just down the street from our hotel. We managed to strike a deal with them to get cheap Bia Saigon. They even moved one of their tables and chairs for us so we could sit on the pavement and watch the world go by. We might have just gone there both afternoons for lazy afternoon drinking in the sun.

  • The hotel. We stayed in a really nice place. We managed to bargain the price down making it super cheap (around £2.30 each a night) but it felt like we had splashed out and treated ourselves. It was nice and clean, had air conditioning, the best shower yet, and they even came in every day to make the beds and give us fresh towels! The luxury!

  • The architecture and history. The city, especially the old citadel, is very pretty, in a bit of an old run down kind of way. Lots of old buildings and stuff to look at and photograph. Lots of flowers and green stuff too.

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After Hue, Hoi An was a completely different kettle of fish. Old and historic, but in a completely different way. Very French-colonial and quaint, with lots of old wooden and coloured buildings along the river covered in lanterns swaying in the breeze. It’s an UNESCO world heritage site, just like Luang Prabang in Laos, and it reminded me of LP too. Even down to how touristy it was, Yep, the few old streets near to the river were just full to the brim of tourists strolling round, and all the shops were either art galleries, tailors, handicrafts or bars and restaurants. Vendors from pretty much every shop would shout out as we walked past. When we sat down to have a beer or some food, people would try to sell you stuff while you were sat there, or even eating. I found it a pain in the arse, and I’m even more patient nowadays. Luckily we had learnt the Vietnamese for ‘No thank you’ and ‘I’m not interested’ so once you trotted that out they soon disappeared, but imagine saying it 50 times a day over and over again (and I’m not even exaggerating). Arrghhhh. That aside, it’s a very pretty place, but I couldn’t help but have the feeling that it wasn’t the real Hoi An. Those pretty 3 streets down near the river just all seemed to be geared towards the visitors. The real Hoi An was away from the river, which we managed to explore a little bit before the floods. We found lovely baguette sellers (the Vietnamese like their sandwiches), a smashing little cafe with the friendliest people and the cheapest beers (only about 15p each and buy 2 get 1 free) and the best food stalls for dinner. We never got to explore the beaches because of the floods which is a shame, but all in all I enjoyed my time here, and in fact those few days ended up being a proper little adventure, that I couldn’t have predicted, and that’s what makes Hoi An memorable for me.

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Heard of Saigon? Or Ho Chi Minh City? It’s the same place, a big sprawling city in South Vietnam. It was renamed HCMC in 1976 but it’s still commonly referred to as Saigon (which I think I like better). It’s a 24 hour bus journey from Hoi An. Yep, that’s right, 24 hours. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Really. It was actually two 12 hour journeys, split with an hours wait in the middle to change buses. After all my travelling this year, long journeys are now the norm. It’s short journeys that are out of the ordinary. My next flight, from Cambodia to Singapore, is only 2 hours. How exciting, I can’t wait! It’s going to seem like a bit of a treat, haha. I then have a 6 hour wait in Singapore before a 7 hour flight, but hey, that’s not the point.

HCMC is big, loud, brash, noisy, hot, dirty, a bit seedy and IN YOUR FACE. Just how I like a city to be. Well, maybe not the seedy part. The traffic is a nightmare, there’s thousands of scooters and trying to cross the road is like running the gauntlet. Moto drivers and bar owners constantly shout at you to get your business, and the usual baguette and noodle stands line every corner. I have to admit, I was getting a bit ‘city-ed’ out by the time we arrived here. Still, in true travelling style there was a big city out there to be explored, so we spent a few days walking lots, eating, finding cheap beers (naturally) and visiting a museum and war tunnel or two.

In no particular order, my favourite things about Saigon:

  • The scooters. Thousands of them. I love just stepping out into the road and crossing, having them all weave their way around you. I love watching as people transport everything under the sun on them, as well as trying to eat, drink, talk or text all at the same time. I love the scooter helmets and all the different designs.
  • The food. Oh the food. We found some places that were so good we didn’t really go anywhere else. I had one of the best chicken noodle soups I’ve had, only 50p for a huge bowlful, in a little local cafe that would show films opposite a glass factory and a place that sold ice. We spent a few afternoons just sitting, eating and watching Vietnamese life go on. We saw a woman delivering a massive pane of glass on the back of a scooter (at first glance you couldn’t see the glass and we just thought she was throwing her hands in the air like she just didn’t care). We saw the young guy delivering ice on the back of his scooter, dripping water and soaking from where he’d been sat up against the bags. We watched a bit of Terminator 3 and drank iced tea after our soup. We found a little family run egg baguette place where we’d go every morning; they’d bring stools out for us to sit on, give us water to drink, and sometimes a bit of fruit. While eating some of the tastiest egg sandwiches I’ve had we’d try and have conversations with them but none of us spoke much in the other’s language.
  • The war remnants museum. It was heavily propaganda-ised, however there was an excellent display of press photographs from the war and some related articles, which helped balance it all out a bit. After this last trip here I finally felt like I’d learnt what I wanted to learn about the war.
  • Cheap beer. We found a great little cafe on one of the main streets where they served cheap beer and we could sit and people watch from the tables outside on the street. We went here a few times; the first night resulted in many beers here, then to a lively bar where we drank loads of rum buckets, met some strange people and had a 5am bedtime. Another time we had to move from the front tables on the street because the police came round and were enforcing the pavement space rules (which seemed slightly strange, as the bar was opposite the police station and they saw the tables there every day, and then saw us get up and move the tables away while they were watching. A bit of a bizarre practice.).
  • The people. The local people in Vietnam are cheeky, spirited and generous to a tee. I very much enjoyed the interactions I had with them, especially some of the street hawkers that would come and pester us when we were sat outside drinking beer.
  • City wandering. We had a good old wander and saw parks, cathedral, the post office (we scoffed at people taking photographs inside until we went in ourselves and did the same thing – beautiful building!), statues, skyscrapers, Christmas decorations, posh hotels, the river and other general city stuff. Saigon has a lot of old and new architecture, and quite often both are side by side, and make quite a stunning view.
  • The Cu Chi tunnels. You can go and visit the tunnels made by the Vietnamese during the war, where many people lived underground for years. They were incredible. They’ve been widened by 35% and lights added but blimey, how people lived and used them is beyond me. They are really hot and humid, claustrophobic and even just going about 100m through them was enough for most of us. Seeing the booby traps they used to maim and kill American soldiers was pretty sobering too. A lot of people died in those tunnels. Hugely saddening.
  • Meeting people. We met some interesting people in Saigon; people who were travelling or just on holiday, and people who were living and working there. We also bumped into a few people we’d met in Laos previously. It’s a small travelling world, especially the North>South Vietnam trail so it’s not really surprising, and a wonderful bonus. I love meeting all different kinds of people when travelling; the conversations to be had can be anything from light hearted and fun, to serious, challenging and in depth. I get to find out about how people live in other countries, how they travel, what their beliefs are, what their viewpoints are and it just keeps on opening my eyes even wider to understand all the things that make the world go round.

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I loved Vietnam. I really, really did. I’ve wanted to visit for years, and I’m well chuffed that I now have. I learnt loads, had lots of fun, met some great people, saw some beautiful scenery and had a brill adventure. It’s been my most favourite SE Asian country so far but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Just a feeling. I think I’ll be back someday. There’s so much more of the country to explore, and maybe next time I’ll make it even more of an adventure. And get me one of those scooters.

Runs around the world #11

Bangkok, Thailand

First things first. Bangkok isn’t any less hot and humid than Hong Kong. Ok, well, maybe a teeny tiny bit. But not much. Second, night time temperatures are not that much different to day time ones. Which means any run is going to be on the warm side. But, well, I’m used to it now. Aren’t I?

Either way, I haven’t got a choice. If I want to run, I have to run. After a quick internet search and conversations with a few people, I’d been pointed towards Lumphini Park as a good place to run in Bangkok. A park with large open spaces and paths around the outside totalling 2.5km, it was an obvious choice for either a morning or evening run. I chose evening. I’ve mainly been running in the morning so wanted to mix it up a bit, and decided to go at about 7pm. Technically I figured it might be at least one or two degrees cooler. So, I hopped on the sky train and hopped off at the park.

There’s some kind of protest going on there at the moment although I’m not sure exactly what it’s about as all the banners and speeches and things are all in Thai. Something about justice though. I weaved my way through all the people gathered at the main gates listening to some speeches and music on a big stage and started my run, alongside other joggers. Following the path round the outside of the park, the first thing I noticed was that it was flat. No hills here. This was welcome.

I didn’t have a set distance in mind, but wanted to do at least 4 miles. I knew I could still run 6 miles after Hong Kong, so knocking out a 10K was probably an unconscious goal. I kept to a nice and steady pace, which back in the UK I’d consider slow, and actually would have struggled to run at (around 10 mins/mile). It still frustrates me that I’m running so slow, but, I know that it’s because it’s hot and I’m not as fit as I was. Dammit. And I still overtook some people, so I guess I’m not that slow.

As runs go, it was good. I managed to do 6 miles in total. The park was pretty at night, especially the reflections of the skyscrapers on the lake. There were many other joggers, including other westerners. I felt like part of a bit of an exclusive club. My legs generally felt good (although they started to get a bit tired at about 5 miles) and I guess I’d sum it up as a nice, easy jog with no major dramas. A very sweaty, nice easy jog. When humidity is high, it’s a bit like running in a steam room. The sweat just pours off. In some ways I quite like this; it feels like you’re actually doing something. Someone I know once said to me about running and exercise “if you’re not sweating with snot coming out your nose and feeling like you’re about to die then there’s no point in doing it”. And he’s got a point. And if you care what people think, then you’re screwed from the get go. The whole point of exercise is to get your body working. To push it. To keep going. Not to worry about what you look like or what other people think of you.

But, being sweaty doesn’t help your money stay in your pocket. At some point near the end when I pulled a wet, sweaty iphone out my arm holder to check my distance, I also pulled out the only money (a 100 baht note) I had on me. Unfortunately I didn’t notice, but luckily for me, a park ranger did, and cycled back after me to give it back. I could have kissed him; that was the only money I had to buy some much-needed water and food after my run. That water and the boiled egg off the man on the street never tasted so good.

I enjoyed that run so much I went back the next night to do it all over again. Only the next time I only ran 4.5 miles, and the boiled egg was replaced with the most amazing rice-chilli pork-fried egg combo street food. That meal, my friends, was one of the best meals I have had. Whether it’s because it was after a run or whether it was just mega tasty, I don’t know. And I don’t care.

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