We have moved…

21 10 2010

…to my new blog, to be precise.

I’ll be posting from there from now on. Thanks!

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Insert Harry Potter theme here

5 10 2010

Yes, at long last, my post announcing our arrival in Edinburgh. About time.

We boarded a bus in London, thinking ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ We’d used Megabus a couple of times in the states and they were brilliant – free wifi on board, power outlets, comfy reclining seats. The only similarity here was the company name, and the price. That was IT.

Admittedly, my first encounter with a Scot in the UK was not a happy one. Our bus driver was one of the scariest people I’ve ever come across. In between yelling at everyone about everything, he also threatened to throw peoples bags off the bus, whilst keeping the bus air conditioning at sub zero temperatures for the entire journey. I digress.

Edinburgh Castle

Doo dooo do do doo do dooooooooo dooooo! (That's the Harry Potter theme)

Arriving in Edinburgh on Thursday morning, we made our way to the Caledonian Backpackers hostel, which was to be our home until we found a flat. We had a good couple of nights there, but found a nice little flat off Leith Walk (about a 10-15 minute walk from the city centre) before the weekend, and moved in on Sunday.

As most of you who’ve kept up to date with our travels now know, it took Mark a couple of weeks to find a job, and me about 2 months (mainly because I’m fussy and didn’t want to settle for just anything). Mark is of course working as a barista for a specialty coffee company, and I’m working in SEO for a digital media agency. Kind of makes me ashamed about the lack of SEO work I’ve done on my blog *blushes*.

Mark and I also split up quite a while ago, but very amicably I’m happy to say, and we’ve stayed good friends despite the breakup. Anyway, on and up!

So that’s pretty much the end of the big chunk of traveling we’ve done over the past few months, now it’ll mostly be just little trips I manage to fit in between working, and the occasional inane observation from yours truly.

Feel free to stop reading now. (Please don’t stop reading – I’m desperate for attention.)





Jolly good show, old chaps (aka “London”)

3 10 2010

I don’t remember a whole lot of what went down in London.

Suffice to say there was a decent amount of Pimms involved. Man, that’s a tasty (and dangerous) drink. It’s all about the fruit, people!

Covent Garden

Dazed and confused in Covent Garden

I DO know I stayed in a hostel with about a billion other people. It also turned out to be a Scout’s hostel, which meant that although it was located in the very nice area of South Kensington, it also played host to a shiteload of tweens. Bit odd.

I had a delicious curry at a restaurant I can’t remember the name of on Gloucester Road. I had beer (and Pimms…nom) at quite a number of pubs, and experienced a feeling of mild surprise and annoyance (that I hear is quite common) when last drinks was called at 11.

I went to see Phantom of the Opera in the West End (no less wonderful the third time around), developed a solid relationship with Pret a Manger and Mark’s and Spencer, and spent hours wandering around Covent Garden and Camden Markets.

I stayed at another hostel in Belsize Park – a wonderful area that I could absolutely live in, and spent most of my mornings

Erin and Chloe...and Pimms

Erin and Chloe...and Pimms

discovering the wonders of the local gastronomy scene. Brunch is something I sorely missed – a tradition from my days in Adelaide that should be mandated around the world.

I saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and spent a lot of time hustling people on the tube, whilst trying not to snigger at their ‘hot weather’ warning messages (it was 26 degrees).

So yes, I’ve already been back to London since moving to Edinburgh, and I daresay there’ll be many more times to follow.





Eyjafjallajökull…gesundheit!

3 10 2010

I’m really terrible at updating this. Iceland was in May. It’s now (as you’ve probably noticed) October. Sigh.

Oh well, plough through, push on, and all that.

Ahh, funny how a little old volcano in Iceland could wreak so much havoc on the European transport network!

Now imagine what would have happened if Katla, the neighbouring (and much larger) volcano had erupted. Well, you may not have to imagine for much longer! In the past 1000 years, every time Eyjafjallajökull has erupted, it has been followed closely by Katla. All this fuss about air travel suspensions could be dwarved by an interruption lasting several weeks if Katla erupts. Take THAT, Eyjafjallajökull! Yeah!

Perhaps I should be more concerned. After all, there has been talk that ash from Katla’s last major eruption (in 1918) was found in Norway and SCOTLAND. What’s that, Scotland? Where I live? Uh, yep.

Perhaps I should start stocking up on cans of food…

Hrm. Anyway.

Iceland is amazing. Cold, and amazing. It was wonderful to be back in Scandinavia – and, much as I loved New York (which I DID), was such a nice change from the United States/Canada, which we’d been in for 2 months prior.

The view from up here

Flying over 'the moon'

Originally we were scheduled to fly up to Akureyri for our first night, drink ourselves stupid (Akureyri is supposed to have excellent nightlife, but I guess we weren’t destined to find that out this time around), then head back to Reykjavik for the next 3-4 nights before flying out to Heathrow. Clearly, that didn’t happen. Our flight out from JFK was delayed by 5 hours or so (thank you volcano), which was just enough to guarantee we’d miss the connecting domestic flight. We did however have a very nice lady check us in, who upgraded us to Business class for free. Hurrah!

So we found ourselves in Reykjavik, with no accommodation booked. What to do? Why, we booked ourselves into the Hilton! Was lovely, very nice to get a super-comfortable bed to sleep in, especially after having spent weeks in (some very questionable) hostels. We used that time to acquaint ourselves with the city centre, which took…oh, about an hour. The main shopping area is one street, with about 20 shops on it (many of them restaurants and convenience stores). Still, a lovely place.

The next couple of days were spent horse riding on Icelandic horses (adorable creatures, and something I would recommend to everyone visiting Iceland), swimming in the Blue Lagoon (apparently something that the locals don’t do, due to the number of people that go there purely to have sex – we found this out AFTER we’d been swimming there. Still, it was incredible), and pestering the Icelandic barista champion, Palmar, to show us around (which he did, and brilliantly too I might add).

Palmar, champ that he is, took us on an excursion to Gulfoss and Geysir. Gulfoss is a stunning waterfall that, much like the rest of

Gulfoss

Gulfoss...yar, it be pretty

Iceland, remains unspoilt by the tourism industry. We were the only people there. Such a contrast to Niagara Falls!

Geysir is really something to behold as well. Never having seen an actual geyser (there isn’t a lot of geothermal activity in Australia), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I definitely wasn’t expecting to escape being doused in boiling hot water by about 2 seconds. Generally you can time the eruptions pretty well – they happen about 10 minutes apart. Well, most of the time. We’d just committed ourselves to walking across the eruption site to get to the other side, when the bloody thing decided to chuck a hissy fit. So yeah, we ran.

Technically, we didn’t see ‘Geysir’ – the geyser after which all other geysers around the world are named. Geysir itself has been dormant for quite some time now. We saw it’s smaller brother, ‘Strokkur’, which is only slightly smaller than Old Faithful in Yosemite (or so I’m told). Still, it was pretty incredible.

On our last night in Reykjavik, we’d booked a tour to go and see the volcano erupting. Pretty incredible, hey? Well, at least it would have been if we’d actually been able to go. The weather foiled us, with its fog and rain. Apparently we wouldn’t have been able to see anything, so the tour was cancelled. Major bummer. So instead we went out for dinner, and spent the equivalent of a small country’s GDP on some pasta. To be fair, it was nice pasta.

I’ve decided that Iceland is a place to revisit at some stage in the not-too-distant future.

Stay tuned…





A town called Patty…

31 07 2010

Not really, but we did meet one of the biggest legends of the entire trip in this particular city. I am of course talking about Niagara Falls (Ontario), and our wonderful hostel owner, Patrick. What a guy!

For those of you who’ve never attempted it, carrying 20kg backpacks (plus hand luggage) isn’t most people’s idea of a fun, relaxing holiday. Surprise, surprise, it isn’t! It’s hard work. I’m surprised my shoulders and hips haven’t sustained permanent damage. Oh well, at least I have guns of steel. Get your tickets, people…

I digress. We had just hauled these backpacks up 2 flights of stairs, to be greeted by one of the most cheerful people I’ve come across since arriving on this continent. Patrick, an absolute unit, sort of reminded me of a long-haired Canadian version of the BFG. After giving us the most comprehensive introduction to any city I’d ever been to in my life, he gave us the keys to our dorm, which was to remain private for the duration of our stay. It was by far the cheapest hostel we’ve stayed in – at approximately $12 per night it was an absolute steal – and it was also one of the best hostel atmospheres. We could hang out with people if we were feeling sociable, or we could relax by ourselves if we weren’t. The breakfasts were INCREDIBLE – Patrick bakes muffins every morning, with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and chocolate chips. I’ve never had muffins that tasty in my whole life. This is on top of the tea, coffee, oatmeal, muesli bars, fruit and yoghurt that was all provided free of charge. Amazing.

The floral clock

Floral Clock, Niagara

Niagara Falls itself is beautiful – particularly Horseshoe Falls, but the city centre has been ravaged by the tourism industry. Horrible gimmicky stores line the streets – haunted houses, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums, arcades, mini golf, and all that Canadian junk food has to offer. The Niagara region on the other hand, is stunning. One of those idyllic areas of the country with lots of greenery, lots of flowers, lots of beautiful big houses – it’s wonderful. We did the ‘disorganised-organised’ tour with another Australian couple – it basically involved setting a price with a cabbie, who drove us around to a bunch of the major spots in Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake (where a lot of the wineries live). We saw the floral clock, which has a new pattern each year, the whirlpool (which looked much less ‘whirly’ than I’d imagined, but still treacherous water nonetheless), visited Lake Ontario and a couple of wineries. Our unofficial guide was surprisingly knowledgeable about the area, which made it seem much more authentic. Of course, we tried the famous ‘Ice Wine’ – which is quite unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. Ridiculously sweet, almost like drinking a much nicer flavoured honey (no, I don’t like honey).

We visited The Keg Steakhouse for dinner, which turned out to be AWESOME. The restaurant is on the 9th floor of the Embassy Suites hotel,

Still mooing...

Now THAT'S a steak!

 which sits right next to Horseshoe Falls. Patrick told us that we should order a steak to share, and that they’d bring us out a bigger salad, extra sides and an extra baked potato for free. He wasn’t wrong – one of the best tips ever! The steak was expensive, but it was melt-in-your-mouth prime rib that tasted a-ma-zing, so it was worth it. Plus, we asked for a seat overlooking the falls, and it was one of the nicest views I’ve ever had while eating dinner. Awesome stuff. It’s nice to treat yourself every now and again.

We of course did a few of the obligatory crap touristy things – seeing the falls ‘light up’ at night (tacky, tacky, tacky), and the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’. They made it seem as though Journey was like a guided tour where they take you behind the falls and talk to you about stuff. It isn’t. They take you down in a lift, give you a poncho, and then send you off into a tunnel with 50 million other people. You walk out to the end of the tunnel, which takes you onto a balcony where you get very wet while looking up at the side of Horseshoe Falls. Then you follow the tunnel around, to see a person-sized opening where the water is gushing over the falls. Then, a little further along, is another opening showing (guess what) EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Yes, it’s furious, yes it’s quite awe-inspiring thinking about how much water is going past the tunnel opening, but is it worth $12? Hell, no.

One thing that WAS worth its $12 admission fee was the Maid of the Mist. Being massive fans of the Office, we knew this was the setting for Jim and Pam’s wedding, so we were interested to see what it would have been like. Nigh on impossible! It was so windy from the falls that you really had to hold onto your (classy) blue poncho to stop it flying away, and it was WET. Not just a little spray of water on your face, but actual, swimming in your clothes kind of wet. Going past the American Falls (the less-exciting side), it was pretty wet, but we knew it was going to get a whole lot worse, as the boat goes right into Horseshoe Falls, and stays there for about 10 minutes, so you get properly soaked. Couldn’t hear a damn thing that was being said over the loudspeaker, apparently it was telling the stories of all the people who’ve gone over the falls (either in barrels – by choice – or by accident).  I believe 16 people have done it on purpose, and 11 have survived. Those aren’t really odds that would inspire me to have a crack at it to be honest.

Maid of the Mist

Swimming in your clothes

Anyway. I’ve been left with very fond memories of this place. I’d go back in a heartbeat, and I definitely wouldn’t stay anywhere else. ACBB Hostel is where it’s at, people.





The Canadian Melbourne

11 07 2010

AKA Toronto.

CN Tower...and smoke!

It's not every day you get to see this!

Yes, Toronto is very much like Melbourne – perhaps lacking in all the great side lanes that Melbourne is so famous for, but in the general ‘feel’ of things, there were many similarities.

Queen St West (which I liken to Bridge Rd, sorta)  is a dangerous, dangerous place for people like me (i.e. prone to spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need), home to many wonderful and unique shops – quality shopping for many hours, no problems whatsoever. Chinatown is GREAT, and so are the Kensington Markets (again, many opportunities to spend aforementioned no money).

David and Anne VERY kindly put us up while we were here, which was an enormous sigh of relief for both Mark and me. Having stayed mostly in hostels and hotels, with varying degrees of home ‘comforts’ (things that most people consider basic necessities, such as towels, hot water, a place to cook/store food), it was all kinds of wonderful to be staying in an actual home. Yes, we could cook, watch tv, use the internet without paying $5 for 20 minutes (I’m not pointing any fingers…VEGAS), and more importantly just veg out without feeling like we were ‘wasting’ the day in a hostel dorm. Bliss.

<commence rant to justify doing nothing for a week>

People often underestimate how difficult travelling can be. It’s not like going on holiday. At. All.

When you go on holiday, you generally plan everything, and plan to be in one or two places for a specific length of time. You plan some activities perhaps, or just sit on a beach and relax (unless you’re the kind of holidaymaker who likes to go trekking or other such ridiculously strenuous activities). Travelling, on the other hand, involves arriving in a place you’ve most likely never been to, finding your way to a hostel, then trying to cram as much of that place in as you can in the limited time you’ll be there. Then you pack (a huge feat in itself), get on a bus/train/plane, and do it all again with another place. It’s wonderful, yet exhausting. It’s exhilerating and you see some completely unique sights, yet it can be incredibly repetitive. You need to give yourself a break, but every break you have feels like a wasted opportunity. You end up fighting ‘travellers guilt’ – a term I invented (perhaps I didn’t invent it but I’ve never seen the term before so I’m claiming it as my own) to describe how you feel when you take some time off to do nothing. Oh, the guilt! Think of all the sights we could have seen today! We might never come back here, then we’ll regret not having done this! Your feelings are generally made worse when you meet other travellers who say ‘Oh, you’ve just been to <insert place of travel>? I loved it there! Did you see <insert sight you chose not to see in favour of resting>? It was INCREDIBLE.’

The ferocious 'Monster'

The cutest Monster I've ever seen...

I can feel your disdain from here. Oh, you poor thing. Travelling around the world sounds SO stressful and horrible in comparison to my everyday work life. OH you poor little cherub, shall I peel you a grape? Or something to that effect. Yes, I get it. I’m not saying it’s a bad lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination. I am saying it’s not quite the palm trees and beaches experience that everyone envisions it to be. We see amazing places, people, things every day – but damn, we had to work hard to see them. There’s only so much culture a person can take in before they start suffering from another travel affliction I like to call ‘travellers apathy’. Or to put it another way, ‘Yes, I can see the church. Yes, it’s beautiful. I just don’t give a damn any more. Oh, what’s that? Another goddamn museum? Wonderful.’ 

</rant to justify doing nothing for a week>

Travelling involves a certain amount of planning, then throwing yourself out there and seeing what happens. You have to. You just can’t plan everything, and if you do, it can end up costing you more than just money – you miss out on some amazing opportunities. So you really do need to leave yourself open to the possibilities.

HOWEVER. 

Things we have learned:

  • Don’t ‘wing it’ in a big city on a Saturday night. There’s a very good chance you MAY end up sleeping in a crackhouse
  • You really don’t need as much as you have packed. Really. And you’ll hate yourself for packing that much later
  • Travel towels can be a godsend – particularly when you get to a hostel, ask them about towels, and see their eyes glaze over
  • Megabus in the USA/Canada is amazing – cheap tickets, power outlets for your laptop and free wireless on board the bus
  • Greyhound, while insanely cheap, should be avoided at all costs. It’s cheap for a reason, people
  • Yes, it CAN be 6 degrees one day and 20 the next. Plan accordingly!

So yes, back to Toronto. We didn’t do a lot, but had a wonderful time nonetheless, and recharged our very low batteries.

Thanks again Dave and Anne, VERY much appreciated.





I want to be a part of it…

28 06 2010

Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New Yoo-ooorrrrrrkkk!

Yeah, so New York City was pretty great. (and yes I’m aware I just quoted two different songs).

Mark and I were both going a bit stir-crazy by this stage, as it had been a really long time since either of us had had a friend around. So you can imagine our relief when we arrived in NYC to be joined by Hannah. Insert MASSIVE sigh of relief here. Finally, we had someone to talk to besides each other!

That whole week actually went by in a bit of a blur. There was lots of shopping – far more than I should have allowed myself if I’m being completely honest. The area around Chinatown should be avoided at all costs when you’re trying not to waste your money on absolute crap. Far better to take a stroll down Fifth Avenue, where you don’t have a hope of being able to afford anything anyway. It’s a strategic move.

Of course, we went to MoMA – the tightarse way. That is, we lined up to get free tickets. Saw the Tim Burton exhibit while we were there, which was great but would have been way better if I’d been able to view the artwork without feeling sexually violated. Yes, there were that many people there. Oh well, it is New York – what can you expect?

It was a wonderful, wonderful place – one that I felt really at home in, and don’t think I could ever be bored in. It was also one of the cheapest places we went to, surprisingly. Yes, the accommodation costs are high, but if you’re smart, you can do a lot really really cheaply and have an amazing time without really spending much money at all. The subway is brilliant, and gets you across the city so quickly.

I wanted to go to the Magnolia Bakery in the West Village (where Carrie and Miranda ate pink cupcakes outside), so we did – it was absolutely packed, but the cupcakes were yummy, so that made up for it. I loved the West Village – it was very green and leafy, some nice parks and lots of the quintessential New York brownstones that the city is famous for. Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment is located here, too.

For all of the wonderful areas of New York, there are plenty of completely dodgy areas, too. On our second time in the city, we stayed with the lovely Penny in her Brooklyn apartment. One day we had to go to the post office, and we had to walk through an area of town where I felt as though we could be mugged at any point (and that would have been one of the nicest things that could have happened). I very nearly convinced Mark to get us out of there. That’s the side of America I really didn’t like – the darker side, where you can genuinely feel scared for your personal safety. That sort of thing makes me really appreciate how lucky we are in Australia – there are so few places like that back home, even in the roughest parts of the country they barely scratch the surface of the rough parts in the States. Made worse by the fact that guns are so readily available. People don’t get shot back home, they get stabbed. Not in the USA. It’s a sobering reality.

Aside from that one moment, I felt perfectly safe everywhere else. There are just so many people around that it’s difficult not to feel safe.

A guy we met while travelling said ‘if you can’t find something you like in New York, you’re doing something wrong. The city has everything.’

I’m inclined to agree.