Bratislava and Budapest

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:

I arrived in Bratislava mosquito bitten and hot, and walked to the couple i was staying withs apartment. After a nice homemeade meal we went for a walk into the center for a drink. Since is was a Sunday the place was dead!

I arrived in Bratislava mosquito bitten and hot, and walked to the couple i was staying withs apartment. After a nice homemeade meal we went for a walk into the center for a drink. Since is was a Sunday the place was dead!

 

The Blue Church. The weather stayed overcast the whole time i was there.

The Blue Church. The weather stayed overcast the whole time i was there.

 

IMG_5564

 

This is amazing smoked cheese which you peel off, puts 'cheese strings' to shame!

This is amazing smoked cheese which you peel off, puts ‘cheese strings’ to shame!

 

This massive tankard was 1.20euros, and apparently that was expensive! This beer is known as liquid bread since its so dense.

This massive tankard was 1.20euros, and apparently that was expensive! This beer is known as liquid bread since its so dense.

 

IMG_5571

 

Now onto Budapest!! I CS'd the first night and had a bad experience so i spent the rest of my time at the Wombat Hostel. Made some good friends there and the rest is history.

Now onto Budapest!! I CS’d the first night and had a bad experience so i spent the rest of my time at the Wombat Hostel. Made some good friends there and the rest is history.

 

Looking over Pest

Looking over Pest

 

IMG_5581

 

Catherdral

Catherdral

 

More cheap beer! This trip really got me into wiessbeer.

More cheap beer! This trip really got me into wiessbeer.

 

IMG_5583

 

Paprika chicken, ultimate comfort food.

Paprika chicken, ultimate comfort food.

 

I had to check out the thermal spas!

I had to check out the thermal spas!

 

Verdict: Success.

Verdict: Success.

 

Sachertort by the park. This was a fraction of the cost of the one in Vienna and tasted as good.

Sachertort by the park. This was a fraction of the cost of the one in Vienna and tasted as good.

 

Starters for dinner with a Russian friend i made called Marina.

Starters for dinner with a Russian friend i made called Marina. She was super nice and i wish i’d gotten her FB details.

 

Duck

Duck

 

We were on the mezzanine of this restaurant. Pretty nice place!

We were on the mezzanine of this restaurant. Pretty nice place!

 

IMG_5598

 

The river (still the Danube, i followed it from Prague through Vienna and now here) recently flooded so maybe that is why it was so dirty.

The river (still the Danube, i followed it from Prague through Vienna and now here) recently flooded so maybe that is why it was so dirty.

 

Cutie market.

Cutie market.

 

I will end the post with this, which was in market. It sums up Hungary's bizarreness pretty well.

I will end the post with this, which was in market. It sums up Hungary’s bizarreness pretty well. All in all i prefer Vienna or any other city in CZ over these places.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Verona and Venice

The Nanny Gang with the Bard

The Nanny Gang with the Bard

Getting Gelato in Venice - Nia, Audrey and I

Getting Gelato in Venice – Nia, Audrey and I

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.

DSCF3710

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.

Verona

Verona

The famous balcony

The famous balcony

With Juliet

With Juliet

Venice!

Venice!

Prague, Brno and Vienna

Vienna

Vienna

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…

With Sue my kickass host in Brno

With the gorgeous Sue my kickass host in Brno

Mmnnn Siskava(sp?)

Mmnnn Siskava(sp?)

I sent a postcard to my grandparents with this exact image

I sent a postcard to my grandparents with this exact image

BBQ time in Vienna

BBQ time in Vienna

Party time in Vienna

Party time in Vienna

Toronto and Ottawa

DSCF3601

Saturday 1 June was filled with a day of driving and not much else. Calum, mom, Dan and I left our hotel in Quebec city at half 10am, and had a slow 3 hour drive to Montreal to drop mom and Dan off at a hotel downtown, and Calum and I continued south east to Toronto, eventually arriving at 11pm that night, since we had a couple of stop offs along the way. It was a scorching 32 degrees and sunny, and it was heart breaking driving past houses which looked like they had BBQs going on in the garden. On Saturday night we stayed at a Quality Inn hotel near Toronto airport, I had arranged to stay with a couch surfer but after I realised how late we’d get in I cancelled as I thought it wouldn’t be fair to arrive, go to bed, then leave in the morning. Calum and I have gotten into watching the series “Archer”, and it was good to just veg out with a couple of episodes of that on the laptop. On Sunday morning we raced to the airport to collect Dad and Cecily, and it was so exciting seeing them again since it had been 6 months since we last met. Cecily had found us a cracking apartment (or condo as they say here) to stay in through AirB&B, which was in the Old Town area of Toronto. The streets in the area were a mix of old Victorian style factory buildings and modern skyscrapers, which felt like hipster central. The flat itself was a gorgeous two bedroom modern condo that was kitted out head to toe in Ikea furniture and had an incredible view of the skyline from the balcony.

Dad enjoying the view from our balcony

Dad enjoying the view from our balcony

Just along from the accommodation was a placed called George Street Diner, which was run by mainly Irish staff and had a very cool, homely vibe to it. We had brunch there, and I enjoyed a ‘Canadian Breakfast’ with fresh orange juice. It was great to catch up with Dad and Cecily again, family is so important to me. Recently I have been trying to cram as much family time into my life as possible, since I will be alone for 3+ months soon and will need happily memories to fall back on.

After a couple of hours of strolling around Downtown to get a feel for Toronto we headed back to the apartment for a scotch and scrabble match. Dad beat me by 7 points only, which isn’t bad since he is known as the scrabble wizard.

On Monday we woke up early to hit the road to spend the day at Niagara Falls. After introducing dad and Cecily to the Tim Horton’s experience (lattes and a box of tim bit donuts this time), we drove 2.5 hours to Niagara and suddenly were faced with the sight of the falls. Niagara has to be seen to be believed, on the Canadian side you are literally RIGHT next to Horseshoe Falls, with an incredible view of the whole area. At Niagara we met up with Beth, Cecily’s friend from uni who she hadn’t seen in 30 years, so it was great to see them reconnecting and reminiscing throughout the day. If you get tired of the breathtaking view you can walk up Clifton Hill, which is a street which can only be described as a 90s Disneyland in one place. There were attractions such as Ripley’s believe it or not, haunted houses, Guinness world records and a Coca Cola shop. It was truly bizarre walking through it; it seemed very weird to have all these flashy, slightly dilapidated attractions next to such a natural beauty such as the falls. After a rather bemusing walk through Clifton Hill we all had lunch at The Keg, which is known for its steaks. On Kristen’s advice I tried a ‘baseball’ cut of sirloin steak, which is so big and round it can only be cooked medium rare.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

After lunch and some interesting conversation we spent a few more hours in Niagara, having a famous Beaver Tail pastry, and some Hershey’s milkshakes in the process. Good thing we walked 14km according to the pedometer, since I have consumed so much sugar and fat on this holiday. I dread to think how I am going to handle living in Italy where I’ll face the temptation of pizza and pasta daily.

That evening was spent relaxing after a long day out, and everyone had an early night.

In the morning we left Toronto early, as we had a 5 hour drive to Ottawa. It’s crazy, when you look at a map you’d think it would be a short drive, but this country is so vast. There was some difficulty extending the hire car for another week and we wasted an hour and a half of a beautiful warm sunny afternoon in the Hertz offices in Ottawa before we could drive to the B&B, and we only arrived at about 6pm. This place was chosen and booked by my father, and as soon as we neared the corner of the street and noticed the long unkempt grass outside I knew something was up. The place makes fawlty tours look like the Ritz, my god I didn’t even take any photos it was so bad. The owner was always hovering and I took exception to being told as soon as I arrived to remove my shoes, since the floors were bare and filthy (and felt like they would cave in any way!). To make matters worse after asking us to remove our shoes he pointed to an old bucket full of dirty looking slippers and told us we were welcome to wear any of those. Shudder. The stairs were so narrow my fat ass nearly didn’t squeeze through at the landing, and the shared miniscule bathroom looked like it hadn’t been updated since the 1960’s. The ridiculous thing was that it cost more for one night than the fabulous modern condo we had left in Toronto for two nights. We left our bags upstairs in a hurry and went out to explore Ottawa whilst having a good chuckle about what dad had picked. “I wouldn’t even let a homeless person sleep in it”, Calum commented.

Hersheys Milkshakes

Hersheys Milkshakes

After a wander along the canal in the warm early evening sunshine we walked up to Main Street where we stumbled upon a hippyish book store. Inside it, I fell in love with a sock puppet turtle. So much so, that Cecily bought it for me to use as a tool to read to the kids when I am au pairing. He is so cute! A perfect companion for Kermit, I still need to name him though.

After days of rich, fatty foods everyone was craving a healthy option, and the answer to that was The Green Door vegetarian and vegan restaurant. It had a real Findhorn Foundation feel to it, with a self serve area where you could pile veggie lasagne, curries, daal, salads, vegetables and many other options onto your plate and you pay by weight. I had a fantastic meal with some organic red wine, followed by some yummy clean desserts such as chocolate cake made with spelt flour and sweetened with maple syrup, it was SUCH a relief to be eating normal, healthy food again! As we walked back we caught the sun setting on the canal, which cast an ochre glow across the whole city it was a real treat to walk home chatting with dad and Cecily and admiring the gorgeous houses along the way. After a hairy night in the B&B from hell we had a surprisingly good berry salad, yoghurt and fresh homemade scones for breakfast made by the owner’s wife. Too bad the owner was hovering and hinting that we had to leave ASAP since some workmen were coming into finish the garage. It has been a while since I’ve taken such an instant dislike to someone, and out of curiosity I found the place on Tripadvisor and the reviews are NOT good haha.

The next stage of the journey is the sole reason why I am in Canada, Kyle and Kristen’s wedding! There will be a few days of preparation where I will try to muck in as much as possible, and I am already doing a few bits for the desserts and wedding cakes. The weather seems to have dialled right down and we are back to averages of 16 degrees, which is too bad as now would be the perfect time to enjoy hot summery weather since I can bum around in farm clothes and really enjoy the heat. Until next time!

Ottawa Sunset

Ottawa Sunset

Hello Dubai Pt. 2

sunet

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. 

Unfortunately my camera is shocking and doesnt capture the awe of this scene

The Marina – unfortunately my camera is shocking and doesnt capture the awe of this scene

With my friend from the UK, Vicki

With my friend from the UK, Vicki

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)

Breakfast at Paul, most delicious iced latte

Breakfast at Paul, most delicious iced latte

Chicken and spinach kaati roll with peach milkshake, that green dip it came with was sublime

Chicken and spinach kaati roll with peach milkshake, that green dip it came with was sublime

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.

More yummy Lebanese food

More yummy Lebanese food

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.  

Bubble tea

Bubble tea

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.

Korean style chicken with a fruit falood -basically a lot of fruit spaghetti things with what tastes like semolina with chuncks of dried fruit and nuts, cream and turkish delight - a meal in itself

Korean style chicken with a fruit falood -basically a lot of fruit spaghetti things with what tastes like semolina with chuncks of dried fruit and nuts, cream and turkish delight – a meal in itself

The friendly server at the bubble tea shop, what a character.

The friendly server at the bubble tea shop, what a character.

Boat cat

Boat cat

Brisbane City Centre and a Few Days of Rest

The Artificial Beach at South Bank

The Artificial Beach at South Bank

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.

Interesting sculpture at the Botanic Gardens, bet it looks good when the sky is blue

Interesting sculpture at the Botanic Gardens, bet it looks good when the sky is blue

The Eye and a pretty bouganvillia walkway in South Bank

The Eye and a pretty bouganvillia walkway in South Bank

Come to Brisbane the Said, The Sunshine State they said.

Come to Brisbane the Said, The Sunshine State they said.

Sushi in the City

Valentines roast pork!

Valentines roast pork!

Hangover hike along Mt Gravatt, you may notice the blue and white Carona hat in a lot of pics. It was a freebie because C&C bought so much Carona for the wedding!

Hangover hike along Mt Gravatt, you may notice the blue and white Carona hat in a lot of pics. It was a freebie because C&C bought so much Carona for the wedding! Creepy wink unintentional.

Whats planned for 2013?

Thank you google.

Thank you google.

So after months of vigorous saving and squirreling away £500 each payday I have taken the plunge and quit my job to travel the world for at least 3 years. As you can see this is stage one, the attack phase, where my trusty backpack and i embark from May 2013 until at least March 2014. Gulp. The reason I want to travel is because I have always grown up with a wanderlust. Since my first trip abroad when i was 10 i have longed to see how other people in the world spend their lives, Now feels like the perfect time – I am at that age where i am still classed as young, but have enough life experience under my belt to get me through dealing with harassing hawkers/hostel creeps/scamming cab drivers/killer vermin etc, and I am currently debt free.

The list seems to be changing daily but so far this is what is on the cards:

Leg 1 – The Down Under Experience (Drop Bears Optional)
4 week trip that uses up the last of my annual leave.This is not technically classed as a solo backpacking trip since the reason I am going to Australia is because my darling cousin Caitlin is getting married, and I have the privilege of being a bridesmaid. Caitlin and I grew up together in South Africa before i moved to Scotland in 2000, and we are two peas. To get there I will be flying with Etihad Airlines for a gruelling 31 hours in total – i leave on a Thursday and arrive on a Saturday, but thanks to those helpful folk at reddit I have some great tips on how to deal with such an epic long haul flight. If they work i will make a post about it!
Australia has been on my list-of-places-to-visit (i REFUSE to use the phrase Bucket List, ugh) and I am lucky enough to be visiting one of the most tourist friendly parts – Queensland! I will be staying in Brisbane and I’ve been promised plenty of koala and kanagroo experiences.

On the way back since i am going via the United Arab Emirates, I will be spending some time in Dubai with Ricky, a friend from Inverness who works there, and his girlfriend Myla. I have only been to Dubai once before, and it was during Ramadan which was… an experience. Think smuggling bottles of water in my bag to drink in the bathroom since its frowned upon to consume anything during the day – even though the heat is in the high 40s, and walking around at night with what can only be described as a giant hairdryer blowing hot wind on the whole city.

Leg 2 – Canada (bitches!)
After two more months of work i will be flying from Glasgow to Toronto to have a 20 day tour from Toronto>Montreal>Quebec>Ottowa and South Mountain. Public transport in Canada seems extortionate compared to Europe, I can see why so little North Americans explore even domestically. Luckily there is the Megabus who can do one part of the journey for $10, and i may even try to hitch for the rest of the way (dont tell my mother.) Two years ago I visited Toronto and Ottowa, however they were flying visits and I didnt get to do anything touristy, so this time i am going ALL OUT.

This guy knows whats going on

This guy knows whats going on

Leg 3 – EUROPE!!
After months of awkward skype interviews and grafting with online profiles (i will write a post about it) I have secured a job in VENICE!!! working for 3 months as an au pair for a lawyer mum and her twins, 4 year old Marc and Anna. Since doing the school exchange trip to Tuscany when I was 14 I have had an affinity with Italia so you can imagine how thrilled I am at the thought of spending a summer there. I’ve been frantically trying to re-learn Italian but my host mom will be paying for me to do a course there so it isnt urgent. The hours are pretty sweet, during the week I will be looking after the kids while their mom goes to work, with all evenings and weekends off. This will be a challenge since the family arent completely fluent in English, but it should strengthen my Italian and any negative experiences I may encounter will be shelved as “character building”.
Before I start this journey I have planned a couple of weeks backpacking through Eastern Europe: Krakow, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. The plan is to do a mix of couch surfing and staying in hostels, with a possible Help Exchange job in a hippy aromatherapy retreat place in Austria. It would be a good wind down after all the inevitable partying in Krakow – where the shot girls at.

Leg 4 – Croatia and back to Italy
After my stint in Venice I have two weeks before starting my next au pair job in Turin, in the north of Italy, so i plan to tour Croatia with Sail Croatia. This will be towards the end of the season and *hopefully* a little cooler so i wont suffocate of heat in their cabins. Since Turin is a ski resort town I will most likely have to nip back to Scotland to swap my summer clothes for warm winter clothes. The family I will be staying with are comprised of two doctors and two kids, we have skyped a few times and they seem pleasant enough. By then my Italian should be passable, which will put me in good steed for any future plans.

During summer I plan to complete a TEFL course online, which could help me in 2014 when I move onto phase 2, ASIA! (maybe, or South America… Or fuck it i’ll most likely buy one of those RTW tickets)