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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

I've always relied upon the kindness of strangers

Arriving in Sydney over three months ago I knew one person. Not being particularly fussed if I didn't speak to anyone for four months I knew that I would be OK but would obviously prefer if I met some people in order to avoid me turning in to one of those people who laughs to themselves in the bus queue. Reader I think you can see where this is going...
People are great. 
This doesn't include the weird woman who sat on the end of my bed and scared the shit out of me but it does include (drumroll...) 
  • The girl who I used to work with who drove for an hour and a half to pick me up from Melbourne then put me up for the weekend and introduced me to her lovely friends. She also introduced me to tablets which you eat and they turn everything you eat in to sweet tasting things. Sweet tasting vegemite is very odd indeed. We also went for drive through coffee which pretty much blew my mind 
  • Two of my UK friend's sisters who again put me up and treated me like a Queen. 
  • An old school friend who met me for dinner despite not having seen me in years. Amazing company, lovely food and friendship rekindled. 
  • Friend of the old school friend who got in touch and met me for a drink. Lovely night and got to see huge flames go off outside the casino. 
  • Old work colleague who met me for a drink and we had a very pleasant afternoon in St Kilda. 
  • All the randoms I met in hostels and idled away days with. 
  • The very strange woman I met in a hostel who decided to give me a cat statue. I have to confess I left it behind in the hostel. It was a nice but not entirely practical gift. I did come of slightly better than the Dutch girl who was given a full set of table mats and coasters. 
  • My travelling tour mates from Melbourne to Adelaide. Helped me overcome my prejudice of organised tours. Not an unpleasant idiot among them. 
  • My new Sydney friend who introduced me to the greatest ice cream on the planet. 
  • My flatmates who made my re-introduction to communal living flipping awesome. 
  • All the new friends I have made who have put themselves out for me, made me feel so welcome. 
  • The old friends who have opened their home to me and made it feel like barely 10 minutes have passed since we last saw each other let alone 10 years. 
I suppose the culmination of this was an invite to a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. I have never been to a thanksgiving before but I enjoy eating. The friends that hosted it are wonderful (and American) and put on a hell of a feast. My only knowledge of Thanksgiving is from TV and film but I am sort of tempted to start including it in my autumn calendar. I'll ignore all the guff about pilgrims (I still don't think I've really grasped what all that's about). But I am pleased to say that we did do the thing where you go round the table and say what you're grateful for. I like that. And I like eating. 

I was thankful for the fact that four months ago I arrived knowing next to no one and there I was sat at a Thanksgiving dinner with people I know are going to be friends for life. It's not where I ever expected to be, but I was very thankful. 

Great Ocean Road and the Grampians

I am not by nature one of life's 'joiner inners'. As a child I lived in fear of being sent to summer play- schemes. Even now I feel a shiver of dread when someone says 'get in to groups'. 
I needed to get from Melbourne to Adelaide. On the way to Adelaide is the Great Ocean Road which I wanted to see. I could have rented a car and driven along it but I knew that I wouldn't really see much so I bit the bullet and booked a 'tour'. I assumed that I would either be with a load of eighteen year olds who would spend the whole thing binge drinking and being dicks. Or I would be with a load of pensioners. Although neither appealed I would have preferred the pensioners. 
Well goodness me. If I didn't end up having an absolutely amazing time. The tour guide was brilliant, the group of people were all in their early to late twenties and were all lovely, lovely people. We're now all friends on facebook. The trip was easily the highlight of my travels around the country.
We saw the lighthouse from 'Round the Twist' as the only English person on board I was the only person who knew what 'Round the Twist' was and I was VERY excited. I didn't treat people to me singing the theme tune but it was definitely going round my head all afternoon. We stopped at many places along the way but it ended with sunset at the 12 apostles (there are only 8 rocks, they just liked the name). It was a bit breezy so I popped my beautiful duck coat on. Then Andrea from the bus came towards me wearing the same coat. It would appear that good taste transcends continents. 
I'm not going to bore you with a day by day break down of what we did but I saw some beautiful sights, sights that I wouldn't have seen if I'd hired a car and driven myself. 
There were around nine nationalities on the bus and I was once again incredibly thankful that English is taught in schools all over the world. The only person who had limited English was one French woman (who we accidentally called by the wrong name for a day). Having heard all the Dutch, Norwegian, German, French and Swiss people casually switch between languages and saying that they had learnt all they knew at school I got a bit over confident. I sort of knew my Latin wasn't going to come in particularly hardy (even though it allegedly gives you an underlying knowledge of all modern languages) but I did French for five years. So I struck up a conversation. I think I started with the weather. "Il fait chaud ne est ce pas" I casually said. She clearly hadn't learnt French the same way I had. The correct answer (according to Madame Jones and the Tricolour book) was 'Oui ce est chaud" not the stream of incredibly complicated French that she came back with, which no doubt included the phrase 'and why the hell are you all calling me Renee? That's not my name." 
Inevitably we resorted to an horrific combination of French, English and mime. Which considering we ended up talking about the Normandy beaches was quite something. I claimed I'd been to Normandy. I haven't but didn't quite have the French to explain that we were talking and cross purposes. It also didn't seem right to mention it as she had taken this conversational segue as an opportunity to tell me about her father's experiences in Alsace Lorraine during World War II. All I knew about Alsace Lorraine was that it was a very popular location in my school text book and had a quiche named after it. Luckily our conversation could be cut short with a quick "ooh regard! Kangaroos" from me. Not a traditional conversation ender but in this case it was accurate. There were wild kangaroos bouncing around us. 
Bloody hell those things can jump high. No point building fences, they can go right over them. I tried (unsuccessfully) to try and capture one mid flight, then gave up and just watched them. 
It was 44 degrees the last two days we were there. We were meant to spend one afternoon marching up a mountain to a look out. This was postponed. Instead we got up at 6 the next morning to do it. It's not the way I usually think of starting the day but it was breathtaking. By the time we were coming down the route was full of school children dangling off ropes and having abseiling lessons. I asked their teacher if they were on a school trip. No, this was their PE lesson. You can't help but feel cheated when your PE lessons consisted of you dancing around in giant navy PE knickers to the hits of Bananarama (which was dated even then). 
I am now a convert. I would recommend everyone travel the world this way. Great people, great sights. My new life motto is now 'calm the fuck down and say yes to everything'. I think it'll catch on.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


From Canberra I flew to Melbourne. I flew drug free and so the plane was treated to me weeping and willing the plane to stay in the air. I was successful and we didn't die although it was turbulent. 
I was staying on Flinders Street at the YHA there. The person who had been in the room before me was so extraordinarily messy that I assumed that they were still staying there so I left a light on for them for a couple of nights until I realised they weren't coming back. I then took the toothpaste they left behind. I went for dinner with a couple of guys I met and we all filled each other in on our travels. One of the recommendations was the youth hostel from hell I had previously fled. I said 'I had a bit of a bad experience with one of the long term guests'. I said her name and the guy started laughing. Turns out she had tried it on with him and the only way he was able to escape her attentions was to pretend to be German and not speak English. I once again cursed my GCSE French and Latin combo. He then amused himself by texting all his friends to tell them he had met someone who knew the strange lady and then spent a good few hours trying to convince me that the strange lady was in Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup. 
I like Melbourne but although I've been there a few times I don't feel like I really know Melbourne. This is possibly because it's set on a grid and I can't work grid systems. I will always turn the wrong way and end up in a dodgy neighbourhood or on some train tracks or the local dump. In Melbourne I am constantly looking for the centre when in fact there is no centre and it is a warren on side streets and alleyways. 
I do however love St Kilda. Not just because it's where 'The Secret Life of Us' was filmed but because it's beautiful, fun and full of excellent pubs. 
 The picture to the left is my attempt at recreating 'The Secret Life of Us' opening titles. I meant to pop to St Kilda for an afternoon, mooch around and come back. I ended up enjoying it so much that I walked along the front to Brighton and beyond. The views were beautiful and it was lovely to turn back and see the city behind you. Brighton is famed for it's multi-coloured beach huts. 
 I walked and walked. It wasn't a warm day and was quite overcast. Whenever I say this to people now they nod sagely and say 'Oh yes, you have to be careful when it's overcast. I was not careful. I had sun cream on but it had been applied in a slightly slapdash manner. Luckily I had also worn make-up (something which didn't happen a lot on this holiday). On arrival back in the city people looked at me strangely. I assumed I was glowing with health following my walk. In fact I was glowing with the power of a thousand suns. I had branded myself. 
 My chest has only recently got back to a normal colour. My face had luckily escaped the worst, with one exception. Dotted along the walk to Brighton are water fountains. I had drunk from a few of them and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand. This meant that I had wiped the make up from my top lip and I now had an electric red moustache. Which makes a change from my usual ginger tash.

Friday, 7 November 2014


So it turns out I'm a city girl. Who'd have thought it? Not me. I thought I'd love two weeks in the wilderness with nothing to do but read, walk and write. Err no. Arriving in Canberra made me so happy. We were only on the outskirts, a bit which looks a little bit like Welwyn Garden City, but I already felt more at ease. Now admittedly it hadn't been the easiest two weeks in the rurals (see previous post). I'd also stayed in a place where the set up was a little weird and the place was shared with a campsite. You had keys to go everywhere. A little like a prison. But in theory no one could get in. Except the night when someone walked through, opened all the doors (and left them open) and turned all the lights on. Which was fun. 
It may be shallow. It may be a sign of the times but the minute I had full phone service, wifi and access to decent coffee I immediately felt better. I think I am used to English rurality. Cottages and nice pubs. Not back of the beyond where people haven't met anyone other than their own family. This may sound horrendous but I have never seen so many people with missing body parts. It was like a Cbeebies presenter convention. 
Everyone also seemed to think that they were living in a metropolis as well. Tour guides would advise you to leave half a day for a trip. Unless that trip included a nap and a four course dinner (bring your own, no cafes) it would take ten minutes at best. 
Don't get me wrong it is stunningly beautiful and I'm glad I went (lunatics aside) and I did get a lot of writing done, which was kind of the point but you do feel like the rest of the world is having a party and you're stuck visiting aged relatives. 
Luckily I met a really nice girl in one place who shared similar opinions to my own and we eventually gave up trying to be cultural and instead lolled on the beach all day. 
But on arrival in Canberra I got a shot of energy. Everyone had told me that Canberra is the most boring place on earth. I LOVED it. Now it could be that you could have dropped me anywhere that was vaguely concrete and I would have felt the same, Solihull, Wigan, Teran. But I genuinely think that Canberra is brilliant. 
It is such a young city and completely built from scratch. You do have to slightly forget that they trampled all over a lot of Aboriginal rights (not something the planners had a problem doing), as a result the city is in zones and built around a completely man made lake. 
The lake is stunning. I walked around the whole thing. All 28km of it. I sort of forgot that by the time you've walked half of it, you have to walk back. Towards the end I was walking very strangely. I watched a brilliant 1950s film encouraging people to move to Canberra and I really think I could move there. 
I went to the excellent War Memorial Museum, really interesting and beautifully set out. Everything seems to be set up to give amazing views. The Parliament Houses, both old and new, were incredibly interesting. Although I have to say I much preferred the old building. Mainly because I got a real touch of clock envy. But you also got a sense of power and decision making. The new one just seemed a bit glass and steel and airy. Like running a country from Lakeside Food Court. But I did like the fact that you could stand on the roof. 
I also met up with an old friend who I hadn't seen since school. It was lovely. Such a nice night and it was great to be shown a city by someone who lives in it. I would highly recommend Canberra to everyone. It's excellent. And if you've been told it's going to be dull and are worried about this, simply spend two weeks in the arse end of nowhere with a couple of nights fearing for your life.Paradise awaits! 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Incident

So whilst roaming around rural New South Wales accommodation options have been limited. So I've been youth hostelling. I have to say the youth hostels in the cities are excellent. I've met some lovely people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The rural hostels.. less so. If you have a love of haunted houses or perhaps recreating the life style of 1962 in a slightly backwards town then go for it. If not, steer clear. My stays in these rural backwaters have been interesting to say the least. 
I went to one place that was incredibly beautiful and out of the way. I am not going to say where it is as I don't think that is fair to the hostel owners. I arrived in the "town" (street) and walked to the out of the way hostel. I ended up sharing a room with a long term homeless person (not a problem). She also had quite severe mental health issues. Bit more of a problem. She told me all about the voices in her head, how everyone was against her and how the government was watching her via cameras. She also spent the night screaming. Waking up at 3am to someone shouting 'F*** off' repeatedly is not a way to wake up. I jammed ear plugs in and went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, she was standing at the end of my bed watching me. I didn't know if she was awake or not so I played dead. When I told the hostel owners this they told me 'not to engage with her'. 
Amongst some of the things she told me: 
- The government are watching her as she accidentally caused 'The White Australia Policy'. In her defence she she didn't intend it to be racist. 
- She's invented a form of exercise so good that they won't give her a licence to be a personal trainer as she'll solve the obesity crisis. 
- Everything she's ever written has been stolen and someone else has got the credit. This includes the Bourne Identity. 

I tried to get away from her but accidentally ended up playing board games with her. 
I thought I could put up with her but ended up staying away from the hostel for hours at a time. Which in a small, rural fishing village is quite hard. When you find yourself wondering whether you should walk around the lake in anti-clockwise direction as you've already walked around in the other way then you've run out of things to do. I went back to the hostel and was greeted by the mad woman saying 'They're having a town meeting about me, they want to take my wisdom teeth out and analyse my blood". At that point I checked out. There were no buses till the next morning so I spent the night awake in an armchair in the communal area waiting for her to come and kill me. As soon as morning came, I fled. Convinced she was coming after me. 
I still think she might. 

Monday, 3 November 2014


I am on my travels! I have a back pack (borrowed) and everything. First stop on my trip is Wollongong, which everyone has told me is horrible. I rather like it. I've been here three days and have probably exhausted all it has to offer but as a city goes it's quite pleasant. A bit 'twinned with Felixstowe' but nice enough. I am staying in a youth hostel. Pushing the definition of youth to it's outer limits but enabling me to see a lot of the country on a budget (I slightly over shot on the Gold Coast trip). I've had a room to myself for most of the stay but last night I was joined by an 18 year old called...something. I instantly forgot her name. 
She is here because she is going to University in Wollongong and didn't get in to student accommodation. So she is living in a youth hostel. She's is from a place called 'Young' which I have never heard of and it has a population of 800 people. She told me last night that she was unsettled by Wollongong as it was so big and there were 'so many cars and people'. You can walk the length of Wollongong in about 20 minutes and there are about four cars. 
Bless her. You had to feel for her. She asked me how you make friends at University. Whilst giving her the advice of 'Talk to everyone and then spend the next four years avoiding all the 'friends' you made in the first two weeks' I realised that she was two when I went to university. Me giving her advice on what to do would be like some hip cat from the 70s telling me to make friends at University by 'going on a peace march' or 'go to a sit in'. I have no idea how university works today. For all I know they sit around on facebook, cyber bullying each other before rushing off to a flash mob. I am no more equipped to give advise on University than I am on space travel. 
However since arriving in Australia I have been required to make new friends. Something which I have been moderately successful in and so I gave her the following advice; "Say yes to everything." You may end up doing some really strange things (which I have) but you might meet people along the way who you really like (which I have). 
Whilst in Wollongong I have tried in vain to walk the ring track around Mount Keira. On Saturday I went to find the path and got astonishingly lost. Australian's don't really go in for signage. Then I saw some people who were in walking gear getting out of their car and parking up. So I followed them. They were not walking the ring road. They were climbing the mountain. And on a pretty off piste route too. They had hiking boots and poles and stuff. I had trainers and my handbag. I followed them all the way to the top. I had to. I had no idea of the way down. 
Today I printed off a better map and set off. I walked about 40 feet in to the trail and there was a huge fence. No explanation, no alternative route, so I walked back. Although I have not seen the fabulous views from the viewing platforms that are dotted around the ring track I have seen a lot of the housing estate which lies beneath Mount Keira. I have admired the broken glass scattered in the subway you have to walk through to get there and I have delighted in the lack of pavements on the suburban roads. The Mountain is there but there is no way to it. 
Or no roads that I can find. Speaking from past experience there will be a huge signposted extravaganza about 3 foot away from where I was. The road will be lined with cable cars and helpful guides but I will be just out of reach. Then when I talk to people they will crease their brow in an all too familiar look of confusion and say 'You couldn't find the mountain? That Mountain there?" 
I'll shake my head 
Then they'll continue to question me 'You took the fairy dust lane road right?"
Shake of head
"Oh so you went the Princes Highway?"
"Oh. Well that is strange. We're there all the time aren't we?"
Well good for you. Perhaps you should draw the maps. 
I did however find the beach. 

Bye Bye Bondi

Well six weeks just flew by. I no longer live in Bondi, sob sob. The unit I lived in is now sold and I am on my travels. 
When I moved in I saw it as somewhere to be for six weeks whilst I got myself sorted in Sydney. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did and also make two really good friends out of my flatmates. I hadn't lived in a shared house for ages but living with those two made me realise how much fun it can be. I will have very happy memories of merrily slagging off Big Brother whilst Mike had a fire on the BBQ. 
Bondi itself is fantastic and I would highly recommend anyone to live there. This post is going to be mainly photos I'm afraid. 

When I first came back to Sydney I thought maybe I would try and live on the North Shore which is where I lived before. I am so glad I went to Bondi, an area I didn't really know. A lot about Sydney has changed ($5 for a coffee. $5.) and I am glad I started afresh rather than try and pick up where I left off. I loved being near the beach and loved the whole lifestyle of just wandering around and writing. I landed on my feet and was really lucky. 

I also loved the number of little cafes dotted around Bondi, who didn't mind if you sat there all day writing. Or if they did mind, didn't say anything. 

I will miss Bondi hugely but now I am off on my travels for a month......

Gold Coast

I went for a three day jolly on the Gold Coast. I went to Surfers Paradise which is, according to everyone I spoke to, a bit like Magaluf. I really liked it. The Gold Coast's slogan is 'Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next' and I agreed. A bit too many people walking around in not enough clothing but you can learn to live with these things. 
Sadly the thing I was most excited about was sleeping in a double bed. An actual bed. For the last 7 weeks I've been on an airbed. A very comfortable double airbed but I was acutely aware that every time I turned over it sounded like I was having a very loud and celebratory bowel explosion. Or a light wrestle with an elephant. I fully intended to make the most of having a proper bed to myself and planned to sleep at least eleven hours a day. Inevitably this meant I was up and ready to go by 7am every morning. 
I can't say I did anything of cultural significance whilst I was there. I went to the beach a lot. Saw dead jellyfish, didn't go in the sea in case their living relatives were still there. I did however miss a super storm in Sydney. The worst storm to hit in ooooh a long time apparently. I sat in 28 degree heat with my balcony doors wide open whilst I watched the news report on flooded stations, people trapped in cars and the terrible damage the storm had caused. Then a picture of my friends house came on the television. The house that I had been staying in the previous day. 
A tree had landed on her neighbours car. She sent me this picture. 

No one was hurt, don't worry. My helpful comment was 'who the hell do you call to deal with that?' We concluded you would have to call your insurance company. 
In the meantime I was enjoying this:

I also survived the plane journey there and back. I'm not going to say I enjoyed it but I survived without drugs. On the second flight I was distracted by a rather large lady who had to share my seat, she had her own but there was 'spillage'. 
On arrival back in Sydney I had expected it to look like a post apocalyptic nightmare. It didn't. Everything had been cleared away and everything looked exactly the same. Apart from the big hole in the ground outside my friends house. 
Oh and I also saw the world's saddest smoke alarm.