Before arriving in Italy i backpacked from Vienna to Bratislava and then Budapest. Both cities were sort of the ‘meh’ part of my trip, so I will tell the story in pictures:
Firstly, sorry due to a combination of no internet, laziness and the weather being too good i dropped the ball on keeping the blog going. However i can assure you that I have had the best summer yet which was full of ups and downs, and luckily i have kept a record of it, so here goes!
After amazing wedding times in Canada with the family i flew back to Inverness for a couple of days with Ross and one last DJ gig before heading off to Europe. The first night of my travels was an upsetting one. Messed up flights and £210 wasted later I arrived at Prague airport which seemed like a ghost town. Suddenly I realised how alone I was, this was a stark contrast to the wonderful family holiday id had last week. I somehow got the wrong bus (I should have realised when the only people traveling on it looked like airport workers) but thankfully there was a nice lady who explained that the bus I got is just going to take a little longer but I will eventually end up right outside the metro station. My bags were heavy and the hostel took a bit longer to find and I arrived at the Mosaic House Hostel feeling like a (sweaty and hot) lost lamb. My mood improved though when I saw the “dorm” I was staying in- it was more like a posh hotel. 3 bunk beds (with only 2 occupied) and an en suite that looked brand new, and most importantly there was AC! That night I wandered up to Charles Bridge and to the Old Town which hasn’t changed much since my last visit in 2010. When I got back to the hostel there was a friendly Brazilian girl there who I chatted to for a few hours before going to bed. In bed, I lay awake fretting and panicking about this big decision I have made to spend the next 4 months traveling. I felt incredibly homesick and very far away from the people I loved and considered just buying a ticket back the following day.
Thankfully I awoke the next day feeling slightly better, and hung around in the air conditioning until my bus to Brno to stay with Sue, a couchsurfer who is Czech and studying law at uni. As soon as I met Sue (and Gabriel, her friend from Bolivia) I was glad I made the decision to soldier on and enjoy my trip as much as possible. We got on like a house on fire, chatting about life and boys and everything in between. That night, we went to a local bar called Savoy where they had a swing dancing night. It was so different and fun to watch, and drinks there are so cheap! (About £1 for a beer). Sue introduced me to drinking Tonic Water on its own who turns out to be refreshing and hydrating. Since it was 36 degrees, it was a warm night in Sue’s flat, but her friendly cat kept me company until I fell asleep. The following morning we woke up early to explore the city centre, and catch a 45 minute train journey out to “The Caves.” Public transport is very cheap in CZ, and there is little hassle with ticket inspectors harassing you to see your ticket. While waiting for the bus to get to the caves I had an ice cream that was essentially strawberry puree that had been frozen and covered in thick dark chocolate, delicious!
We had an action packed day at the caves, and even though it was so hot we had a fun time. That evening, Gabriel came over and Sue made us potato rosti pancake type things which were very good, and I luckily the recipe is easy enough to remember so I will definitely be trying to recreate it. We went back to Savoy this time to watch salsa dancing, and also visited a tea house (Chai-Ovna) to sample some cold black rooibos and an apricot shisha and get to know each other even more. Sue and i got on so well, i couldnt believe we had only met a few days prior. She had an exciting summer ahead of her too, firstly spending three weeks in France and then volunteering at a flower farm in Ireland!
The following morning it was a scorcher again, so we decided to go to the public pool for a swim. It was only about £2 entrance, which was hours of fun in the twelve meter deep pool which was sparkling clean and very well run. Since it was still crazy hot we went back to the apartment for lunch and Czech this out, over there a typical breakfast would be a cheese and ham toastie, and lunch would be scrambled eggs! By this time I had gotten a pretty good feel for Brno, and I can only describe it as a smaller, tourist free version of Prague – you still have all the bars, restaurants, sights and attractions, its simply crowd free and cheaper. Winner!
After an emotioanl goodbye to probably the best host i will ever have I got the 2.5hour bus across the border to Vienna, and apart from a stop to get our passports checked it was a pleasant, luxurious and cheap journey.
Vienna was suffering the same heat wave as CZ, and I arrived to Martin’s flat in the east end of the city close to the Danube absolutely dripping in sweat. Martin is the brother of Robert, who stayed with me in Inverness in March with his friend and hails from Berlin. He is a typical German who loves beer and David Hasselhoff, and is an interesting and funny character. When I mentioned to him that I would be passing through Vienna he told me of his brother who lived there, and how miracle of miracles he was actually going to be there at the same time as me! Martin has a couple of flatmates, Seb, Dom and Jelli, and after I had literally walked through the door I was whisked away by them by bike along the river Danube for a BBQ. Despite the mosquitos it was tonnes of fun, and a good way to get to know the people I’d be staying with for the next four nights. Over the weekend there was a festival held on the island of the river Danube which had such acts like Amy MacDonald, Chase and Status and… Maximo Park! (My favourite).
On the Friday morning I woke up early after a pleasant sleep on the couch, and Martin, Robert and I hit the Historic Centre of Vienna to explore. Martin took us to a gelataria where the queues were out of the door for, so I knew it would be good. I settled for cranberry (it was really hot I wanted something refreshing) and GOATS CHEESE!!! It was really, really good! Very creamy and tasted like GC but it was sweet, an interesting concept. After a very hot stroll around the historic centre and seeing the university (Harry Potterville) I left Martin and Robert to do a sewers tour (apparently it was featured in The Running Man) and went off exploring on my own to find the Vienna Botanic Gardens. At this point of the trip I was feeling pretty reflective and ended up finding a spot in the shade to call home and also get in touch with Keldon and Cara in Perth, Australia. After a good catch up I found “De Spar” to get Martin and his friends a housewarming present. Now usually with couchsurfing it is polite to arrive with a gift, and since I was in such a flap to get from Brno to Vienna and then find the subway in Vienna I was too rushed to get anything and my shoulders ached so much (pro tip: PACK LIGHT PEOPLE!!!) and I felt really bad about arriving with no gift and I think they assumed I’d at least bring my own alcohol which I hadn’t had a chance to get either. So to make it up I got a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt, since it holds a special place in my heart due to Ross and my trip to the distillery in May. When I arrived back at the flat in time for dinner it seemed to go down well, although Seb suggested drinking it with coke… shudder. Martin and his girlfriend had cooked a huge bowl of spaghetti carbonara and the six of us had a nice summer dinner in the lounge, before heading out to the park (beers in hand of course) to play some table tennis and basketball. Parks in Austria seem to be seriously jacked up with table tennis tables, basketball courts, football nets… the works! Plus since drinking in public isn’t illegal there’s a great family friendly atmosphere, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a cloud of mosquitos hanging around. Poor Jelli broke her finger while playing b-ball, but for me it was great to play a sport that I was actually good at since I bombed at table tennis. After quick showers we headed out to the festival, which involved a riotous journey on the tram to get there with much singing and “ach JA’s!” The festival itself felt like a small scale Rockness, lots of food stalls and people teeming everywhere with big happy smiles on their faces and music coming from all areas. The first band we saw were called the Pharsyde or something, some big rap group from the 90’s who knew how to keep the crowd going. Then, after a beer stop, we went to the headline stage to see this German band (kind of like a Coldplay/Snow Patrol feel) which everyone went nuts for. It was a lot of fun and totally unexpected.
The next morning Robert and I headed out to the palace, which was like a huge scale version of Dunrobin Castle. The weather was still boiling hot but it was muggy and overcast, and a storm was definitely on its way. The storm arrived when Robert and I were in the Sacher Café sampling some sachertort. I have to say that considering you pay 5euros for a slice it is a total con. For that price I’d expect a chocolaty party in my mouth, and what I got was just dry, bland disappointment. Since everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been to Vienna told me to try it im glad I went but I would never do it again. That evening, I wanted to get a crate of beers for the guys but by 6:30pm literally EVERY shop was closed!! It was horrific! And they stay closed until Monday morning. So we had to make do with 1.30euro cans of beer from a street vendor, which apparently is a rip off (little did I know that beers in Venice are 6euros and I’d be crying for these kinds of prices again) and before heading out to the festival again we had some Glenfiddich and played ring of fire until the beers were gone, and then I got to see one of my fav bands of all time Maximo Park! They were great, and even though the guys weren’t familiar with them they seemed to enjoy it. After we went to a few bars and late night sausage vendors and walked home at about 4 or 5am.
The next day was definitely laid back, everyone slept in until about 12. At the park there is a church called the Mexican church and there was some huge what seemed like Latin American event going on which was a huge racket, and after packing my bags and saying bye to everyone I headed to the bus station to get the bus to Bratislava. I was sad to go, I could have happily stayed for another few days but I didn’t want to let my couchsurfing hosts down. In hindsight, I have learnt that if you are enjoying a place, stay! Because you never know what’s around the corner…
Before I start I want to tell you about the best flight I had of my life from Brisbane to Singapore. Being 6″1, flying can be a hit or miss experience. If I cant secure an emergency exit seat I spend those first 20 mins boarding the plane in trepidation, eyeing every overweight sweaty person walking up the aisle and praying that I don’t get trapped next to them. On the way over all three of my long haul flights had large important businessmen next to me, and I was expecting the same on my return. When I went to check in at Brizzy there was literally no one in the queue, I got a bit worried thinking I had gotten my flight times wrong, but I hadn’t. At the check in gate, there was only a handful of people milling about . I couldn’t believe it, was I really lucky enough to be flying on a near empty flight? No, I couldn’t get an exit seat for this flight but I got one better – a window seat with literally no other passengers in my peripheral vision. The Etihad cabin crew were so personal and incredibly accommodating, they kept walking past and handing me snacks and drinks off a tray. At one point I had two muffins and three drinks, the one guy kept walking past saying “Here, have some more” – which NEVER happens on normal flights! I was able to stretch my legs out and sleep a few hours and watching some mediocre films. One of the crew even tapped my shoulder while I was watching some Maggie Gyllanhaal one to have a discussion about the film. The only other similar experience I had has on a flight from Johannesburg to Amsterdam with KLM, where the flight was about half full and I got a whole middle 4 seats to myself, but this flight wins in overall experience.
I came crashing back down to earth (not literally) though when I arrived at Singapore airport where the flight to Abu Dhabi was crammed full of Filipino spiritualists all dressed in purple robes – the advantage being that the nun lady next to me was so tiny she only reached my waist, so she didn’t even have to get up from her seat to let me past, AND she didn’t speak a word of English so I didn’t feel bad about not making small talk. After 8 hours, the plane touched down in Abu Dhabi at midnight, and after an hours wait I got the shuttle bus to Dubai and arrived at Ricky’s apartment at 2:30am. Ricky is an old friend from Inverness, who has been working in Dubai for four years and lives with his girlfriend Myla. Back in 2005 we were both little emo’s going to gigs, taking road trips and generally being young and carefree – nowadays Ricky is a hotshot consultant and im doing my thing. Its fascinating how times change.
Since the last time I visited, Ricky and Myla have gotten a rescue dog- the most precious Pug called Dobby, who was snuffling a lot and seemed like a happy guy. After catching up and getting a good nights sleep the following day the three of us headed to the creek area of Dubai. Having spent the last three weeks in the Aussie lifestyle of just throwing a bikini and dress on it was difficult to adjust and be in heat and having to dress modestly, even though I wore a tee I still felt eyes on me because I was wearing shorts. Ricky assured me that people just stare because I am white, and in their culture staring isn’t considered rude. Ricky lives uptown in the Karama district, which was a strong indian demographic. Not only is it a cheap area to live in, there are also incredible little restaurants lining the streets that have such diversity: Korean, Ethiopean, Lebanese, Filipino – the list goes on.
Since my backpack was completely full (I was worried the zip would burst) I decided to spend the rest of my travel money experiencing the vibrant and varied food that Dubai has to offer. I wasn’t disappointed, for lunch we ate at an outdoor Lebanese restaurant that was situated right on the creek. I knew it was a good restaurant as soon as my drink arrived – fresh guava juice. It was the most beautifully refreshing drink I had tasted in memory, so cold and sweet. For lunch I had lamb kebabs, where the mince had pine nuts mixed into it and then it was shaped like a sausage and grilled, which was presented on its own mini bbq with some flatbread and tomato. This dish was outstanding, I don’t know if it was my jetlagged state or what but I was seriously impressed. Ricky let me have some of his baba ganouch which was so zesty and healthy tasting, and Myla had a chicken shwarma roll which had the same grilled deliciousness. The Creek area of Dubai is a quaint selection of cafes along the river, with gold and spice souqs nearby. When we wondered into the spice souq I was taken aback at how forward the hawkers were, they would hold out a pashmina/frankincense/bag of spice and force you to touch it. If you made eye contact they would start yelling at you about how you should buy from them. “Madam! Madam! Where are you from?? You like?” I couldn’t handle it. I felt awful ignoring the vendors and ended up keeping my eyes on the ground until we got out, since if you showed the slightest interest in anything the hawkers would descend on you. The sad part was that there were some interesting scarves and clothes which were dirt cheap, but I felt so worn down by the constant harassment that I just let it go. The insane part is that apparently these guys are tame compared to the ones you get in Egypt or Morocco, so god knows how I will cope with them if I visit there.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and after a quick nap at the flat we went to Bento-Ya for dinner, a Japanese restaurant near the stadium for an authentic bento box. I was horrified to discover that my jeans were suddenly way too small for me, damn all those wines and puddings in Australia! In Dubai, the weekends are placed over Friday and saturday, so a Saturday night in Dubai is very different to a Saturday night in the UK. There are still crowds around, but the streets and metro are quiet. After another excellent meal (chicken teriyaki bento box for mains and a matcha cake for dessert) we leisurly made our way back and I had another brilliant deep sleep. As far as first days go in a new country, it was pretty spot on! Ricky and Myla(and Dobby) are so accommodating and welcoming, and knowledgable about Dubai it was such a pleasure to spend time with them again.
While I was away in Sydney I really missed Caitlin and Clint, and I was so happy to see them again that night when my flight touched down in Brisbane airport. For dinner Clint had made us marinated roo kebabs, and I finally got to have the aussie speciality: The Sausage Sizzle. The sausage sizzle or sizzler as its known is a hot dog nestled in a slice of bread amongst fried onions and special sauce. It was everything id ever dreamed of and more! We spent that night drinking wine watching My Kitchen Rules and generally enjoying each other’s company. There is always an air of impending sadness in the days before a departure, and it felt like a blanket of melancholy had fallen on me in those last days of my Aussie adventure. It makes me feel sad that the people I hold closest to my heart, my family, live so far away (we span 3 continents).
On my last proper day there I spent the morning doing washing and preparing bits and pieces to pack. Clint had the afternoon off so we spent it together running errands and going to the pub (naturally). Clint’s got some incredible stories to tell for his 31 years of age, he should write a memoir – he’d give Hunter S Thomspon a run for his money! At 5pm we picked up Caitlin from work at the Princess Alexandria hospital, and went home to get ready to meet Ash and Kathy Rainbow (the family whose garden the wedding was in) in the city. After an eventful bus journey the three of us arrived in Brisbane’s West End, which reminded me of Glasgow’s West End slightly – it was trendy and vibrant. We had more than a few drinks at this bar called Hi Fi which was similar to Nice n Sleazys, full of loud music, rockers and hipsters and then we met up with the Rainbow ladies. We ate dinner at the Spaghetti House, an authentic Italian restaurant across the street, and I had a beautiful veal and gnocchi dish. The company, food and wine was excellent, and we continued the night with a pub crawl through some dive bars and ended up in a bar that wouldn’t look out of place in London’s Chelsea area. Clint bought everyone cocktails that were described as an adults lemonade, they were fresh and zingy and went straight to my head. Finally, since everyone was working the following day we left at about half 1am, and savoured a final amarula on the porch outside before going to bed with heavy hearts. In the morning I had an emotional goodbye with Caitlin and Clint, and Clint’s dad Lindsay took me to the airport so I could continue my journey to Dubai.
All in all, Australia was an amazing, memorable and life changing trip. I say life changing because I fell in love with it so much that I want to move there. The people and lifestyle suit me so well, I am a beach bum at heart. After spending 13 years of disappointing summers in Scotland, I *need* to live somewhere warm that doesn’t require 3 layers before leaving the house. I love how casual Queensland is, it’s perfectly acceptable to stroll around in shorts and a vest with no shoes, and hardly anyone bothers with make up or hair straighteners which suits me just fine.
This is why I love travelling, how do you know you are happy where you are if you haven’t experienced life in other places?
From the day i arrived in Australia my mum was asking me to visit her long known friend Phyllis Foscolo who lives near Sydney. I brushed it off since Sydney is 900km away and flights were expensive, but after considering it i realised that its an excellent opportunity – why travel across the world and not attempt to cram everything in, especially when I had an invite to stay with locals who were willing and eager to show me around.
So I found myself waking up at the ass crack of dawn on that Monday morning to get an early flight down south. It was raining torrentially in Brisbane, and i arrived in Sydney in scorching sunsine and blue skies – I knew i’d made the right decision then. Phyllis and her husbane Len were waiting for me, and the first surpise was that Len was Italian, who had moved over when he was 15, however his accent was still strong. We started the day at Circular Quay where you could get a clear view of both the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Opera House looked greyer and dirtier in real life, and I didnt realise each ‘sail’ was a seperate unit, nonetheless I was happy to see it. It is an overwhelming feeling looking upon a building in real life that you have seen in movie posters and on tv countless times (my head will explode if i go to New York), I believe it is one of the most important reasons for traveling.
I couldnt have finished visting Sydney without going to Bondi Beach, so i went on a mission to find out the bus times and how to get there. $4.60 later Phyllis, Len and I were on the bus trundling past the skyscrapers and hoardes of pedesterians on the pavements on our way to Bondi, and the closer we got to each stop the more bikini and boardie clad youngsters stepped onto the bus, with towels draped across their shoulders and my excitement grew. As soon as the bus cornered around Bondi Road and onto the top of the cliffs I couldnt stop grinning – it all looked so familiar since I am mildy obsessed with the TV show Bondi Rescue. The Beach was a dark golden colour, and the sea a mix of turqoise and dark blue, set this against a cloudless bright blue sky and you have paradise. Since it was a Monday the beach wasnt busy, there must have been about 200 people on the sand and another 300 or so in the water which was a relief for me since i was expecting hoardes of crowds. Phyllis and Len went to chill on the grass under a tree while i went exploring along the prominade. There was a camera man filming near the lifeguard tower for Bondi Rescue, and while I was standing at the rails watching, this brazillian guy comes up behind me and asks me to take a photo for him. We struck up a conversation about Sydney and travelling, and what we were both up to. Instances like this are perfect examples of why you shouldnt fear traveling alone, and since the lifeguards were holed up in their tower i got Mr Brazil to pose with Kermit.
After a while I had to tear myself away from the beach, since the journey back to Phyllis and Len’s house was 3 hours away. The train took us south down past Dapto, Wollongon, Kiama, Gerringong and finally arrived in Berry at 6pm. Phylis and Len bought a house 30 years ago that was dilapidated with an overgrown garden, and from scratch they created the most beauttiful smallholding I have ever seen. There was a gently sloping orchard at the bottom of the property which had about 50 trees of all sorts of fruits: apples, plums, lemons, limes, oranges, permissions, figs, pears, macadamia nuts – you name it they grow it. Near the house was a small vineyard that was bursting with perfectly ripe, juicy, dark red grapes which were getting picked the following week to make wine. Across from that there is an avery housing some colourful parrots, and a large chicken coop which was home to a handful of hens and a very proud cockrel. Len took me to feed the “sheeponis” in the field behind the house, and on the way we passed several beehives – in case you haven’t realised Phylis and Len like to live as self sufficiently as possible. Have I mentioned the vegetable patch? There is a large patch close to the avery which grew lettuces, tomatos, cucumbers, beans and an assortment of herbs. Phylis was upset because apparently it was 48 degrees C recently, and some plants had perished because the tops of their leaves burnt, but the garden looked immaculate to me. There are 2 pets as well, a 12 month of dog called Pippa who was still at that “naughty puppy” stage, and a tortoise shell rescue cat named Shelly who was shyer than Phillip Green is about paying tax so i didnt see much of her.
I spent that evening eating proper spaghetti bolognase(Italian husband) with salad from the garden, drinking homemade wine and listening to Phylis and Lens stories from the past. Both are fascinating and it is interesting to hear how they have built up their lives from the ground up, having both immigrated to Australia when they were children(Phylis was born in Glasgow). After apple pie for pudding and some of Phylis’ homemade liquer I collapsed into bed at half 9 and slept so soundly, since there are no street lights nearby and the place is completely silent… until the cockrel decides to wake up at 04:30am.
The following day I was up bright and early, and despite this Phylis had breakfast waiting for me of scrambled eggs from the hens, 4 slices of toast, ceral and fresh honey to spread on the toast. I think it is fair to say that Phyllis is a feeder! I dont think i’ve ever had such a filling breakfast, and with my belly stuffed full we headed out for the day in Phylis’ Ford Ghia. We drove to Berry, which seemed to have a bustling heritage centre, and then up to the mountain behind to a vantage point where you can see 180 degrees of New South Wales coastline and hinterland. The sight was spectacular, and the cunning locals had set up a restaurant and cafe at the view site which probrably boasts the best view of all the land. On the way back down we stopped at Coollangatta Winery to have a look around and to see the home of the founder of Berry, Alexander Berry. The winery is a popular wedding venue, which is dotted with holiday cottages. It was so hot that i was tempted to dive into the pool there to cool down but i resisted, since i knew that we were going to Kiama beach later. We had a quick stop home for morning tea where I was fed more of Phylis’ delicious homebaking and applied more sunscreen. Again, with a full stomach we hit the road, this time up the coast and visiting all the towns that i passed on the way down the previous day. This area relies heavily on tourism, and there were plenty of caravan parks and holiday homes about – I can see why it is such a popular destination. For lunch we had fish and chips literally on the beach. It was my first time eating this dish in a hot climate and I have to say, I much preffered it to eating it in the UK with your nose streaming into it because it is so cold. The meail came with some homemade tartare sauce and a huge lemon wedge, much more exotic than the bog standard salt and vinegar back home. We spent the afternoon in Kiama, and I got to cool off in the rock pool which was fantasticaly refreshing.
I remember last May my brother Kyle, his wife Kristen, my good friend Jenny and I went camping on the Isle of Isle on the west coast of Scotland during the Whiskey Festival. The temperature was only about 16 degrees but we were determined to swim, since the beaches are so stunning – pure white sands, clear aquamarine water and gentle lapping waves. If you saw a picture of it you’d think it was the Bahamas. Of course, the water was icy cold and we literally had to dip in and out and nearly caught hypothermia running back along the sand to get our towels. That evening, I hung my wet bikini on a wire fence to dry overnight, however in the morning to my dismay my costume was still nowhere near dry. Imagine the delight I got when emerging from the rock pool in Kiama, where it was pushing 30 degrees, my costume dried in about 15 minutes. Once you’ve had the bitter, the sweet is so much sweeter.
After the swim, Phyllis wasn’t finished feeding me yet. We stopped at a local ice cream shop and I enjoyed a cone with scoops of chocolate ice cream and macadamia nut ice cream – in case you haven’t noticed macadamias are popular in Australia since they grow so freely there. We had a barbeque that evening, with salad from the garden and a special bean salad that Phyllis was known for. Phyllis also showed me how to make delicious fried potato slices on the Barbie, a recipe that I will definitely take back to Scotland. After another walk around the garden sampling the odd fig here and juicy permission there, we settled down for the evening.
Wednesday 20 February was my last day with this wonderful couple, and we got up early to get the 09:30am 3 hour train back to Sydney. When we arrived we headed to St James park to have a picnic and a walk around. Phyllis and Len needed to go home so after an emotional goodbye I set off exploring with a map in one hand and a waterbottle in another (it was another hot day). I walked from St James park along to the Botanic Gardens and whiled away a couple of hours marvelling at the plants. One plant which was particularly memorable was this ground cover which was nicknamed ‘Cherry Pie’, since the flowers unbelievably did smell like cherries. Bizarre. Whenever I am in a new city I try to visit their Botanic Gardens, it is a comfort thing I suppose, since I spent many happy weekends of my childhood having family picnics at Durban Botanic Gardens.
When it was two hours before my flight I walked along to Circular Quay thinking that would be a good place to get the bus(a train ticket was $16, buses were only $8) since the guidebook said that it is one of the busiest but terminals. Wrong. Turns out that there are no buses there which go to the airport. After a mild panic I was advised to get 2 buses, the first one taking more than an hour. In a way I am glad that I got the bus, it took me through a variety of districts from the bohemian village of Surrey Hills to the suburbia of Waterloo and to the downright ghetto of Mascot. Eventually I got to Sydney airport, which by the way is pretty confusing to navigate, and it was a relief to finally sit down in the departures lounge and reflect on my previous few days. Wollongong and New South Wales in general is a haven for holidaymakers – endless beaches, blue skies and winerys. I am so grateful to Phyllis and Len for opening their home up to me and letting me stay with them, the memories I am taking away will last a lifetime and I will definitely be back if I move over.
I woke up on our day planned for exploring the city with bad cramps (thank you mother nature) so I wasn’t feeling on top of my game. The weather seemed to agree with how i was feeling and was humid and overcast. Karen, Caitlin and I went for a stroll through a soggy Botanic Gardens and waked over the Goodwill Bridge to the trendy South Bank area and after windowshopping and peeking at the empty artificial beach we got sushi for lunch. By this point the heavens opened and I was really not feeling well and just wanted to go hide under a duvet, but we stuck around looking through the rainforest and temple (in the middle of a city, bizarre) and got gourmet hot chocolate. As soon as the rain wore off the humidity maxed out, and i could feel my hair puffing up Monica style, I’m not going to lie im looking forward to being able to straighten it properly when I am back in Inverness. Eventually we accidentally got the longest bus possible home which took us through some interesting areas and i got to nap at home. On Wednesday night Clint and I were home alone and whiled away the evening with films, beer and guitar hero while Caitlin and Karen went to see Carol King perform.
Thursday was pretty “cruisy” as the aussies say. Caitlin, Clint, Karen and I spent the day chilling and running errands, and I made a Amarula chocolate cheesecake for valentines dinner that evening with Clints parents, Helen and Lindsay. We had a beautifully relaxed 3 course dinner at home, and Helen and Lindsay entertained us by regaling stories of when they were in their 20s and had just met – after all it was Valentines Day!
Friday to Sunday was dedicated “Caitlin and Karina time”, since Karen sadly left early on Friday morning to go back to Durban. We went on walks, shopped and hung out. I feel so lucky to have grown up with a cousin who is the same age as me, we have shared the same childhood and I am glad that we get on like a house on fire. Or should i say a bushland on fire… I already feel sad about having to go back to the UK and saying goodbye.
After a weekend of recovering from partying luckily i woke up on Monday back to normal, which was a relief since we had a massive day of touristing planned. Karen, Caitlin, Clint, Mark and i drove down the coast to Currumbin Animal Sanctuary to feed koalas, hold echidnas and watch crocs get fed amongst other things. The place was quiet until busloads of japanese tourists arrived, it was quite off putting. Fortunately we had seen enough and headed to Currumbin Surf Club for lunch. This was a restaurant perched on a big rock literally on the beach, with panoramic views of the sea. I had calamari for lunch, it was incredible eating fresh seafood looking out over to surfers paradise. Very memorable and delicious lunch!
We bid goodbye to Mark and headed to Byron Bay, which was an hours drive south. It was like going into another world. There were VW campervans and backpackers everywhere. Ive never seen a town that seemed to purely consist of young, chilled out hippies. There was even a guy sitting on his verandah smoking a bong waving at passers by. Clint had booked us into a shit hot holiday house for the night. This place was an incredible three bedroom house with a front porch, back patio, large lounge and kitchen and a big communal pool and BBQ area. Caitlin, Karen and I had a glorious early evening swim to cool down before cracking open the caronas and making a local pesto and chicken pasta for dinner. We spent the night playing frustration which is my new favourite card game, and drinking amarula. Everyone was so worn out by the sea air and days activity at the wildlife sanctuary that we were all in bed by 21:30.
The following day was just as hot and sunny and we made eggs benedict for breakfast and headed for the beach. Caitlin and i were reminiscing that when we were growing up we would take family holidays down the south coast of South Africa and stay in holiday cottages by the sea and have lots of family time, and here we were doing exactly the same thing on our own steam. The weather at the beach was sunny with dark clouds looming, and sadly because it rained overnight the sea was grey but it was still incredible to see all the drifters and vagrants on the beach. The beach sand in this country is so smooth and fine, i cant get over it. The current in the sea was mad strong, and as tempting as it was to get rescued by the hottie lifeguards i didnt stay in the sea for long. The girls spent a good few hours on the beach while Clint body surfed beyond the waves. At lunch time we took a stroll through the town and had a $12 cider and got fish tacos for lunch.
10 minutes north of Byron Bay sits Tyagarah nature reserve which is home to some natural tea tree lakes. In the car park there was a sign stating that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and what the number for the police hotline was. I thought this was weird but the reason became clear as soon as we stumbled upon the lake – it was nudist friendly! Bar the random naked old men this lake reminded me of the one described in The Life of Pi, a tangle of mangrove roots that opened out onto dark, deep water that had been warmed to bath water temperature by the sun. After overcoming my fear of snakes or creepy crawlies hiding in the depths i gingerly slipped into the water. These lakes are special because the water is infused by the fallen tea tree leaves so it is known to have medicinal properties – apparently aboriginal women would come down to the lakes to give birth. Creepy men lying on deckchairs touching themselves aside, it was a wonderful afternoon of lazing in the water and soaking in the tea tree goodness, I even got to read a few pages of my book! After a sleepy drive back to Brisbane we went to Leigh and Richie’s house for dinner. Leigh made delicious risotto and I brought along an amarula tiramasu for dessert.
Next post will be about my trip to the city centre, until then au revoir x