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:
Again, so sorry about keeping this updated. Here is what i had typed out in July a month after arrivng at my au pair job in Venice:
The last month has gone by so fast and due to difficulty accessing internet and quite frankly being too busy enjoying myself I have been extremely lax in updating ye olde blog, so please accept my apologies for this. Since recalling recent travels is quite a task I am going to take baby steps and tell you about the weekend I have just had while I gaze over the canal and sip extremely strong German beer.
On Friday the children I am looking after (3.5y/o twins, Marco and Anna) were well behaved and we had a day at the Quattro Fontane beach on Lido, which is two streets away from the apartment where the children and their mother, Silvia, live. I have a bedroom there as well which has two twin kiddy beds and two windows which usually have the Venetian (!) blinds kept down since it is so hot. At 6pm, I was free for the weekend! The weather in Venice in July is typically hot and sunny, with temperatures averaging 30 degrees during the day, and not much cooler at night. After attempting to straighten my hair I met up with Audrey, Leticia and Nia to go to one of the best pizzerias on the island. Audrey is a cute French girl who I met at the park on my first day au pairing who speaks good English and I feel that I am closest to since we spend a lot of time together. Nia is Welsh and lives in Venice and looks after an Irish family, and Leticia is Spanish and has only just arrived on Lido. Nia, Audrey and I formed the original “Nanny Gang”, which has now grown to 6 or 7 au pairs dotted over northern Italy. The pizza was incredible (mine was margarita with grilled vegetables), and at 8 euros is pretty reasonable. Unfortunately when you eat out you are often charged about 1euro for “cutlery”, and even water is 3.50euros so it soon adds up to UK prices. Alcohol in bars and restaurants is insanely priced – even the cheapest pint of Italian beer is 6euros…. I miss the 1.20euro steins of beer in Bratislava!
Of course after pizza you HAVE to have gelato, and I went for my favourite flavour pistachio as well as a scoop of chocolate (when in Rome…) and it was superb. We heard about a party on Alberoni beach and the four of us went on a mission to find it… which resulted in a 20 min bus journey and wandering around Mallamocco at 11pm at night where there wasn’t a soul around. We could *hear* the music but just not find it! After much hilarity and silly conversation we called it a night at 12:30 as we had an early start the following day to get to Verona.
On Saturday morning I woke up feeling hot, but ready for the day ahead. Audrey and I met at the vapparetto station, and got a water boat to Piazza San Roma at 9am, which unfortunately was on line 1 which stops at every single stop on Venice. Early morning in Venice is beautiful, the sun is high and perfect for photographs and there are very little crowds. The city absolutely reeked, and the reason became clear when we alighted at the stop for the train station – the canal was full of dead fish floating on the water in the canal K I have no idea why! Audrey and I met up with Nia and Joanne – a girl from Manchester who is au pairing in Trieste for a wealthy family spending the summer on their private beach in a 6 bedroom beach house – and since we missed the 10am train we got the 11am train to Verona. There was time to get some nutella donut things and a cappuccino at one of our favourite places to get gelato on Venice, and we boarded the train to Verona and found four free seats on an air conditioned carriage, and spent the next 1.5hours comparing families and discussing life back home and admiring the beautiful scenery of farm land and long thin conifers passing us. We arrived in Verona and met up with two more au pairs, a Polish girl called Angelika and an American called Amy, and the six of us traipsed around in the 33 degree heat looking for the famous balcony from Romeo and Juliet. Verona seems really big, with a lot of shops and people but it is absolutely stunning. It reminded me of Prague with its large river running through it, and often yellow coloured buildings. When I thought of the balcony I expected a large square with maybe a handful of tourists. In reality it’s a teeny, tiny square that you can only access through an alley that had its walls covered in scribbles and love hearts. Underneath the balcony there is a padlock of love thing which was jam packed with red and pink padlocks, and on the wall there was a mass of chewing gum which had peoples names scrawled on it. Oh, and about 100 people squeezed in to have a look! After photos, we walked up to the river and had a general walk around. Since it was so hot I got some delicious passion fruit gelato in a cone, which was the most refreshing thing I have had to date. Since Audrey and I had to be back in Lido by 7pm to babysit we rushed back to the train station and had a memorable journey back to Venice. After an “adventure” trying to get back to Lido on the water bus I arrived back to the apartment to look after the kids while Silvia went to the festival in Venice, which meant an eight thirty bedtime for me L
I was glad for the early night because on Sunday the whole family (Silvia, the grandparents and the children) and I got an early boat over to Lido to Jesolo, to spend the day in their “country house”. I didn’t know what to expect but after a 30 min boat ride we got to the island and collected the grandparents Mercedes and drove about 20km to the house, which is situated in a quiet road that has a lot of farmland. The house itself is nestled in a large garden bearing fruit trees and gorgeous flowers and is a large two story building with a lot of recreation space. Apparently the family spends two weeks at Christmas there, when it is cold and they have a beautiful fireplace in the kitchen which I can just imagine blazing away happily when its -5c outside. Silvia took me on a drive to give me a tour of the area, which reminds me of the south coast of South Africa – lots of campsites and supermarkets and you can tell that this is firstly a holiday island, apparently hugely popular with Germans and Dutch people. So much so that a lot of the signage was in German. We stopped at a supermarket to buy lunch and I was startled to see horse meat for sale in the deli – we are going to get some soon apparently! The house is close to a protected area that was for conservation bird life, and had a Culbin Sands vibe to it. I had planned to cycle over after lunch to take photos, but after a delicious meal of pasta, chicken and a tomato salad from the garden I slept for 2 hours and didn’t feel like a cycle when I woke up. Instead, we went next door and collected an absolute boat load of peppers, tomatoes and aubergines from the neighbour who always shares his crop with Silvia since she does free law work for him. The vegetables here are so deformed and fragrant and tasty, they taste REAL! Unlike the plastic GM veggies you get in the supermarket in the UK. Afterwards we got the boat back to Lido, in time for dinner which was speck ham, salad, tomatoes and ricotta – so so good! Since arriving I have put on a few pounds (can you blame me?!) so I went for a cycle down to Mallamocco on the beach path, and happened to cycle past Audrey and Leticia who were about to go to gelato. I resisted and continued my cycle whilst reflecting on an incredible, fun and relaxing weekend.
Hello! I am in beautiful, summery Canada and it is FABULOUS! Calum and i had a fairly arduous journey over driving from Inverness to Aberdeen, then getting an Air France flight to Montreal via Paris CGD. This was my first time flying Air France and i’d be hard pressed finding another airline that serves better food than it. We even got a mini wedge of brie with dinner, how cute! We spent the first two nights in Saint-Anne-Des-Lacs with a couchsurfer named Jonathan, who lived on a beautiful house on a lake with his parents. Over the next three days we had a BBQ, visited a wildlife park called Park Omega which was home to black bears, moose, elks, beavers and other Canadian critters, went to a fromagerie, saw a log Chateau that was built in the 1930s, jumped in the ice cold lake after a soak in the hot tub, cooked lobster and visited Montreal. It was an excellent first few days and Jonathan gave us the perfect welcome into Canada. Apart from one day so far the weather has been HOT, so i have been religiously applying sunblock to avoid getting burnt. I dont want to be the grooms creepy red sister at Kyle and Kristen’s wedding next week!
On the third day of the trip we met up with my mum and stepdad Dan who arrived in Montreal from Toronto, and after a nice rooftop meal at a steakhouse on the outskirts of Montreal with Jonathan we drove west to Quebec city, which ended up taking about 3 hours since we had to stop for Tim Hortons coffee along the way. Timmys is a chain of coffee shops all across Canada and is like a tastier, better, cheaper version of Starbucks. I have never had such succulent donuts and pastries in my life before, i shudder to think what they put in it to make it taste so good but i have already put on heaps of weight 😦
Quebec City reminds me of Fort George and Edinburgh rolled into one. It is super european looking and very french. Since i am trying to learn italian it has taken a few days to adjust to French, luckily people here can pick up from your stuttering bonjours and mercis that you arent local and they switch to speaking english pretty fast. We spent the day walking along the promenade and through the old town, the weather was a scorching, humid 32 degrees so everyone got a tan. After such a hot muggy day the clouds rolled in and i got to experience one of the longest, most intense thunderstorms i have ever witnessed – even after living in Durban!
I have been trying to read The Alchemist and so far i am about a quarter of a way in, as far as holiday reads go its pretty philosophical but i will keep at it. I like to think that i have learnt a thing or two about packing, and so far the most valuable things that i have packed on the trip are my camping water bottle – its freeing never having to buy plastic bottles of water and its a good way to stay hydrated during the day; my dylon travel wash which was only £1 and since ive brought such little clothes its great being able to do a load of washing in the sink at night; and my straw hat. I dont care about looking like a dork, as long as it keeps my precious skin out of the sun i am happy.
The next leg of the trip involves driving from Quebec City to Toronto where Calum and i will drop off Mom and Dan in Montreal along the way, and meet up with Dad and Cecily at Toronto Airport who are flying in from Durban. We are 4 days into the trip already, i cannot believe how fast time is flying! Until next time, au revoir!
The following day Ricky and Myla got up to go to work and I spent the day pottering around, going for walks and exploring more of Karama in the blistering sun. Walking around I was the only white girl in sight, and I got a lot of friendly, curious stares from passers by. A taxi driver even crossed a busy four lane street and followed me down a hill to offer a cab. When he saw how freaked out I was he backed away while trying to shake my hand and apologise – it must have been a funny sight! For lunch I had a beautiful chicken and spinach kaati roll, which is kind of like a filled chapati that is then grilled, with a fresh peach milkshake. Again, the flavours were out of this world, and I ate it while lamenting the fact that Inverness doesn’t offer such varied, delicious food. I’d arranged to meet with two UK friends that evening at the Marina Yacht Club on the other side of Dubai, an area which is known to house most of the expats. After struggling with picking through my clothes to find something modest to wear (settled on a knee length dress, vest to hide my chest and a long shawl) I got the metro at twilight, which was surprisingly busy with workers and shoppers. After half an hour of getting lost (I came out of the wrong exit and totally lost my perception, I thought I was facing the sea meanwhile I was facing the dessert, a thoroughly confusing ordeal), I met up with Vicki and Paula at the club who had wine waiting. The bar was on a terrace overlooking the Marina, and it was absolutely beautiful seeing all the boats lights twinkling, and the reflections of the surrounding skyscrapers on the still water. It was an absolutely stunning backdrop to while away the evening with drinks and dinner. Interestingly, the most substandard meal of my trip was also the most expensive – three times more than the prices in Karama. I had fried squid and dim sum, both were *ok* but so bland compared to the culinary delights I’d previously experienced. After a long watch up and gossip about men, work and holidays I left Paula and Vicki and got the metro back to Karama feeling happy and sunkissed from the day out in the sun.
On my final day in Dubai I wanted to spend it relaxing, after all it was the last day of my holiday. After waking up fairly early I walked to the closest mall in the refreshingly cool morning air and had an extended breakfast at Paul, France’s most famous Boulangerie which now has chains dotted around Dubai. Since it was sadly way too early to indulge with a tart au citron I settled for an iced latte, toast and a pain au chocolat. The iced latte was out of this world, so incredibly refreshing and chilled, and the breakfast filling which spanned over two hours since I had dedicated that morning to updating Mr Journal. After breakfast I strolled around the mall and visited the local supermarket, Spinneys. Considering that Dubai has a high concentration of American, British, Australian and South African expats among others, you can imagine what a melting pot of variety is on offer in the supermakets. They stock the best items from every country: Tim Tams from Australia, Black Cat Peanut Butter from South Africa, Lucky Charms from the USA and a raft of M&S and Waitrose products from the UK. I was particularly impressed with the South African Selection – there was rooibos tea, Milo, chocolate logs, OMO washing powder and Ceres fruit juices amongst others, and the best surprise was how reasonable the prices were. The fruit and vegetable selection was mind boggling as well with all its exotic hard to pronounce produce. After buying some loose leaf rooibos I headed to a Korean restaurant under Ricky’s advice and had some fried chicken, with a fruit falooda from the Indian juice bar next door. I reckon you could eat out for every lunch and dinner for a week in Dubai and not even touch the sides of what variety of food there is to offer, it’s so exciting. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing up and chilling with Dobby, and when Ricky came home from work at 6 we took him on a walk through Karama and I actually had to take a shawl with me since it was windy and dare I say it a little chilly (I later found out it was 19 degrees, talk about acclimatising fast)
When Myla came home from work that evening the three of us headed out to a Lebanese restaurant around the corner from the flat for my final meal in Dubai. These occasions are always tinged with sadness, and I felt slightly glum waiting for the hummus and flatbread to arrive knowing that in two days’ time I would be back at work in Inverness and back to reality. The only solace I gained from this was knowing that I would be back to work for 2 months only, before setting off across the Atlantic to Canada. Nevertheless, we had a fantastic meal of hummus, grilled chicken, olives and of course, baba ganoush and it was wonderful to see Ricky communicating to easily with the waiter with smatterings of Arabic.
After the meal, we strolled along to the Korean place I visited earlier that day to have some “bubble tea”, which is more a juice or milkshake with… balls of a different flavoured juice or milkshake at the bottom. The closest thing I can describe the balls is that it reminded me of those Persil Liquitabs you get for washing clothes – god knows what the skin around the balls is made of but it was a pleasant experience sipping the juice through a straw and getting the occasional pop of a new flavour. The guy who worked at the juice bar was a character who, when asked to take our photo, took great delight in snapping away from various angles and encouraging us to pose. Since I was so full from dinner I didn’t want a dessert, however in hindsight I wish I had visited the bakery nearby to get some cake, although at this point I was literally bursting out of my trousers and the guilt was setting in.
Eventually, it was time for me to flag a taxi to the Etihad offices in Dubai to check in, and I bid goodbye to Myla and Ricky (and Dobby) while leaving them with a bottle of Bundaberg rum I’d brought from Australia. The flight to Manchester was sombre and uneventful, apart from having a total weirdo elderly man sitting next to me who advised me as we were about to eat that he hopes he doesn’t black out while eating like he had done on the flight over 😐 Once in Manchester there was a delay for me crossing security to get into the domestic terminal because I didn’t have a print out of my boarding pass, which quite frankly was the last thing anyone wants at 6am after a long flight but I made friends with a border agent who was telling me all of his aspirations for the future. He hoped to get a transfer to work in airport security in a more exotic airport, such as Abu Dhabi (which is definitely more glamorous than Manchester!) but he had the usual fears and ‘what ifs’ that people hold that prevent them from taking the leap of faith to exit their comfort zone. I tried my best to encourage him and left him my business card, before finally getting clearance to go through and get my flight to Inverness.
My trip to dubai was a whirlwind stopover, which I was glad to have done since it eased the jetlag from Australia considerably. Thanks to staying with friends I feel I got to see a part of the city that normal tourists don’t see, and I am incredibly grateful for that. If you are visiting Dubai, I would heartily recommend visiting the Karama district for amazingly cheap and tasty eats, and friendly faces everywhere.
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.