Being a teacher certainly has its perks. When the Easter break came along I decided to head to Utopia for the week.
Utopia is a family shack that we bought at the start of 2011. The sign on the front of the shack labels the building ‘Utopia’ and from the rumours I hear, it is bad luck to change the name…so Utopia it is!
It is very much a classic old shack, crappy brown carpet, walls and ceilings that aren’t perfectly flat, and a bathroom you have to go outside to access. It is perfectly charming. As a family we have been there many weekends slowly getting the shack ship-shape. The plan is to rent it out as holiday accommodation, as well as enjoy it ourselves. So in bits and pieces it is slowly getting there.
I spent my week doing a few odd jobs but mostly just unwinding after a stressful start to the teaching year.
To start with, being the Easter long weekend, some friends and family also had time off. So my brother and his wife, as well as my friend Yvonne came up and spent a few days at Utopia. We mostly just spent the time lazing in the sunshine, reading great novels, walking along the beach and through the bush and kayaking in the Swanport river.
On a few occasions Yvonne and I also popped down to the local bakery to enjoy a coffee and some food – we timed this well with our friend Em who works at the bakery, so that we went just in time for her lunch break. We also found a few opportunities to visit the local tavern for a drink or two with our friends Em and Dave.
When the water was calm I took the sit-on-top kayak to the beach (all of 50 metres away), put Pippi in her lifejacket and went for a paddle. It was so relaxing to be out on the kayak, with the water glass, the sun out and complete silence. Pippi wasn’t overly fond of these outings, but I don’t think she hated it too much.
When I wasn’t out on the water or reading a book I was doing odd jobs about the place. I filled in some holes in the doors where door handles had been changed & painted over them, I pulled plants out of the bush garden to form a little path from the back of the shack to the back gate, and another one to the shed, I cleaned. Then I had this fantastic idea!!! Towards the back of the block is an open sunny spot that is kind of flat and I decided it would be a fabulous spot for a sunset deck. I had lots of old timber that could be used, but was lacking tools, skill and strength, at this point I asked my friend Dave nicely if he wanted to help me out with a project. Within a few hours we had made an awesome sunset deck/daybed. Its fabulous!!!!!!!
I also spent some time tidying the shack, putting linen on the beds and taking photos for advertising material. It isn’t a hotel or anything fancy, but it is nice to be able to provide people some info and pictures about the place if they are considering renting it for a holiday. So I made a cool Utopia Flyer with a description, pics and info (if you want to have a holiday at Utopia..let me know!!!)
I did have one rather entertaining incident… while sitting in the backyard soaking up some sunshine, I could hear lots of birds twittering around the yard. Then I heard a bird behind me, it sounded like the bird went into the shack. Cautiously I went to investigate, and sure enough a bird had flown into the shack and was terribly distressed. It kept trying to fly out of a closed window (many of the windows of the shack are painted shut…we’re slowly but surely fixing this). So I was thinking, “oh no what do I do, how do I get it outside?” Every time I got within a metre of the bird I freaked out … for those who don’t know me, I have this stupid irrational fear of birds!!! So after trying to get the bird outside and freaking out every time I got near it, I went across the street to my friendly neighbour Richard. Lucky for me, Richard was home and had no fear when it came to birds. Within a few minutes me problem was solved! Phew!!
The lesson I learned from this experience… don’t leave the screen door open!
After a week of relaxing (and one brief incident of terror), it’s now time to return to reality, until the next adventure…
Over the weekend I headed up the East Coast to stay at the shack with the family. My friends, Em and Dave who live up there had Saturday off, so the three of planned to hike up Mt Amos, then have a BBQ at Honeymoon Bay to re-charge afterwards.
We didn’t exactly have an early start to the day, it was a Saturday! Around 11 we headed to the Freycinet national park. Armed with camera’s we set off.
The walk/hike was marked out with painted yellow arrows, and headed straight up the mountain. It was consistently a fairly step gradient, sometimes clambering over rocks, a bit of bush bashing, and often walking up steep slabs of rock.
The rocks are all a very rich orange/red colour, on the big slabs of rock it is clear where the water runs down them, they are often streaked with white, yellow and black. Amongst the lush green bush with such stunning rocks, and looking down on the clear blue water and white sandy beaches – it was fantastic to soak up the colour rich environment.
After walking upwards for around 1.5hours we reached the top of the mountain and had an amazing view over Wineglass Bay and The Hazards.
We took a few moments to enjoy the view, supplementing our hard working bodies with water and tiny teddies.
In some ways it was unfortunate that it wasn’t a super sunny day since the colours would have been even brights, and made for better photos, but at least we didn’t get too exhausted in some crazy heat.
Being on top of the mountain, and getting later in the day the wind started to pick up, and getting a bit chilly, it was time to head back down.
So we mosey-d back down the mountain. On the Coles Bay side it was very exposed, and the wind was getting pretty strong. This meant we had to pay very close attention to what we were doing, it would have been very easy to fall and get a serious injury!
When we were very close to the bottom we passed a bunch of young men who were planning on heading up….I don’t think they would have gone far before heading back. They hadn’t expected it to be a difficult or long walk at all, so they were trekking up in flip-flops!!
Back down the bottom we headed a few km’s down the road to Honeymoon Bay where we sat down, had a beer and a BBQ.
What a great way to end a big adventure!
This has been my least exciting adventure to date…
At a few inconvenient times in my life, I received a notice in the mail requesting me to participate in jury service. On these occasions I was able to defer doing my jury service.
This year however, I received the notice once again and had no fantastic excuse. So it was time to do my duty.
Knowing that jury service was for three weeks and could continue longer if I was selected as a juror for a big case, I prepared three works worth of lessons for my classes (planned down to a T…knowing that I would have non-computing teachers teaching computing).
On March 8th I turned up to the Supreme Court, where they explained the procedure. We would turn up when told to, then a jury would be randomly selected. Once a jury was chosen the remaining people were expected to go back to work and continue on with daily life.
So every night I had to call the ‘Jury Hotline’ to find out if I was due back in the next morning, then send SMS’s to the teachers waiting to know whether they would be taking my classes.
After four appearances at the court house and being dismissed, on my fifth appearance my name was called…
Dutifully I headed to the court room and took my place in the jury box. The Judge then asked the two lawyers (prosecutor and defence?) if they wanted to dismiss anyone…and I was dismissed, sent to the back of the courtroom.
One by one, more potential jurors were called in, and either accepted or dismissed, until they had their final twelve.
Everyone who had been dismissed from that jury was sent home (to work) to play the waiting game again.
So after 3 weeks; hours of planning, hours of making appearances at the courtroom and lots of $$ on calls and SMSs – my jury service was a complete and utter waste of time!
When I was 16 my family did a road trip across the Nullarbor. When we were in South Australia my parents bought my brother a sky dive for his 18th birthday. I was so excited, I really wanted to do it too, but my parents said “When you turn 18….”
So I turned 18…and the opportunity never really came up. Then I wanted to sky dive over the great barrier reef and I would have to save heaps of money, so it still never happened.
So finally at the age of 27 I said bugger it, I’m not going to hold out for anywhere more scenic, I am just going to do it in Tassie.
In April 2010 was when I decided I was just going to go for it, then my cousin decided to come visit me from NL, so I asked if she wanted to come with me. Which she did. So we booked ourselves in for a skydive from 10,000ft over Swansea with SkyDive Tasmania.
Going up in the plane took 20 minutes, and I wasn’t too nervous, more excited. As we got to the right height the door opened and the air rushing past was so loud!!! I watched as my cousin got rolled out the door…I was just getting more and more excited. Then my tandem dude and I got up to the door, I put my feet out and then we were tumbling rapidly in the direction of the ground. It was so much fun, the wind rushing past, the freedom of falling…INSANE!!!!
After 45 seconds of freefall we pulled the chute and took the time to absorb the atmosphere, the experience and the view. It was absolutely stunning!! An amazing view of Coles Bay and The Hazards.
I found the whole experience to be exhilarating, a heap of fun and surprisingly fairly relaxing.
My friend Tim was most disappointed that he didn’t get to join in the fun..so some months later in December it was time for another jump!
December 29th we booked ourselves in for a Hobart skydive. All excited and ready to go, we turned up, but unfortunately for us it was too cloudy and rainy. So, disappointed we headed home and had to wait until the next day to try again.
December 30th, we turned up again. The sky was a bit cloudy, but there were enough gaps in the clouds to get the go ahead. So we kitted up and headed to the airport.
It took around 30 mins to get to height, and then to find a hole in the clouds. On this occasion I was the first to be out of the plane.
So at height, we opened the door. Again the deafening sound of air rushing past the door. The air was a lot colder this time, and skydiving over a city really puts the height into perspective. I put my left foot out of the plane and was suddenly overcome with that feeling of “Oh crap!! Not sure I am ready for this!”
Suddenly I was tumbling through the icy cold air at some phenomenal speed. All the buildings were getting closer and closer at such a fast pace!!
After a full minute of freefall, we pulled the chute…and suddenly things were a little calmer. Seeing Hobart from above was such an interesting experience..it all looked so different. It was quite windy and the air was chilly, but we slowly made our way back to the ground. Again it was an amazing view and loads of fun!
Comparing the two jumps I noticed a few differences.
Both times I wore earrings, but jumping from the higher altitude, my earlobes were flapping around in the wind and it felt like my earlobes were tearing off the side of my head – it hurt!!!!!
I was astounded at just how much more terrifying it was the second time – I thought it would be less scary, but I was very wrong!!!
Oh yeah – had a serious case of cotton mouth both times!
It was yet another fantastic adventure in my life, and I got to share both experiences with amazingly wonderful people.
Got up at 5am to fly from Melbourne to Sydney then Sydney to Shanghai.
The 11hour flight was pretty unexciting, I read my book, watched Shutter Island, ate, read my book, had a nap, ate, watched Dear John, read my book and ate again.
We arrived at the airport, where we were met by our guide for the next 10 days, Frank.
We were taken by van to hotel. It was about an hour drive and the drive through city was amazing!!! There is heaps of awesome/crazy architecture, and everything is amazingly lit up with changing coloured lights.
Got to hotel & checked in. staying on 14th floor. Its a pretty nice hotel. we’ll be here the whole time we’re in Shanghai.
We went for a wander down the street and bought milk for our morning cuppa.
We then had dinner at a funky looking restaurant, we ordered by pointing at pictures on the menu, and were pretty lucky – we ate chicken and cashew stuff, some weird bitter & salt omelette and deep fried sugar coated sweet potato sticks.. was a bit scary but otherwise good. I took a photo of my sprite can and pats cola can so that in future if I want to order a drink I can just get out my photo 🙂
Now its off to bed to get ready for meeting the tour group tomorrow and potentially some exploring. Sunday May 30
We all woke up at 5am…then went back to sleep, hopefully we adjust to the time difference quickly, it is only 2 hours!!
Went for a wander round the local streets and saw all sorts of random stalls, as well as some live food markets where you pick your animal and they slaughter it for you. we saw chickens, ducks, pigeons, fish, snakes, eel, turtles .. just to name a few.
We met up with the rest of the tour group and our guides for a western style lunch, before being let loose again for the afternoon.
With an afternoon free we caught a taxi to Yu Yuan Gardens. The cab ride was entertaining, no seat belts and either sitting jam packed in traffic or hurtling along the highway!!
The gardens were ridiculously busy but the old style buildings were fabulous!!
I did a little shopping, got some presents, a genuine solitary pearl ona silver necklace for Von (as requested – I don’t think she believed I would find it when she asked), got a cool t-shirt for me and one for Tim, and some other bits and bobs.
All the food stalls had the most weird and wonderful foods, but after having had a 6 course lunch, none of us were hungry.
I haven’t had a chance to write a proper update so will try a bit of a skim version…also haven?t’ had a chance to download any pics, so if you want to know what I am talking about you will have to google it!!
Yesterday we had lunch with our tour group, which ended up being a 6 course ‘western’ meal. It wasn’t very exciting, but we got to meet and greet and few people from the group.
In the arvo it was free time as we were still waiting for other group member to arrive, so we caught a cab into the old part of town where we went to the Yu Yuan Gardens. We had a look at the old pagoda style buildings which were really funky. It was ridiculously busy there!!
I did get a chance to do a wee bit of souveneir shopping, kicking myself now that I didn’t bargain more, but oh well, lesson learned. Did certainly find some funky stuff but you will have to wait and see about that.
In the evening we did a group thing again where we went out for dinner to another hotel for a westernised Chinese meal. It was very pleasant.
Monday May 31
This morning we had an early start, brekky at 7 and on the bus by 8. We headed out on a 2hour bus trip to the water city of ‘Wu Zhen’. Its this really old city, that?s built on top of canals. some real old people still live there. It was really random to be able to see into peoples houses in this really ancient little village and to see some of them still live traditionally where other have their big plasma tv’s – crazy!! Some people cruise down the canals on some long timber row boat type things, and they don’t have any motors, but a big oar at the bag, and the row by pushing this massive oar side to side, but kind of in a figure of 8. It required such big sweeping motions to get it all going, but I was really surprised at how fast they can go!!! (we didn’t get the chance to go for a boat ride tho)
It has heaps of narrow little streets, and it is crazy to think that half a million people pass through there every day. (google it for some pics, I haven’t had a chance to download any yet)
So we spent the first half of the day in Wu Zhen, and had a traditional Chinese lunch there which was really nice. Some bits of it were a little gross, like the hairy boney chunk of pork..ugggg!!!
But it was really cool to see the old village and old lifestyle.
We then bussed it back to the city where we went to The Bund, which is the old colonial section of town near the river. It had old western style buildings.. influenced by the germans and french etc. It wasn’t all that interesting, but as it was near the river the view across the river at the big city sky scrapers was cool, We could see the worlds 3rd tallest building from there, and the tv tower – the building with the balls on it (google a picture of shanghai and you will figure out what I mean).
The we headed to the French concession – a French part of town where all the swanky shops are, and we had an hour to relax before continuing on. we went to Haagen Dazs and had some super awesome jumbo ice creams.
Then we headed out for dinner where we had a Chinese hotpot. so you have a little hotplate in front of you and a pot of boiling broth, then the table has heaps of raw foods on it, and you pick what you want and cook it in your broth (kind of like the fondu dinner we had at mine where you cook your own food) it was heaps of fun. I have heaps of pictures 😀
After dinner we headed back down to the riverside where we had a night time cruise up and down the river, we had an amazing view of all the shanghai skyscrapers – they light everything up with fluoro lights and stuff – really fantastic to see!!! Some of the building just have lights, other have lights that change colours in some kind of pattern, and other buildings are almost like giant tv screens where an entire building might be showing a picture or animations, or just be coloured.. everything is constantly changing, but really fantastic to see!!!
So after leaving at 8am we got back to the hotel at 9:30pm and it has been a MASSIVE day, but we’ve seen heaps which has been really good. Tuesday June 1
Before I get too ahead of myself there are things I should mention about China.
1. Because the tap water is of such low quality/standards, we have to drink bottled water all the time. While that doesn’t sound too bad it also means that we have to brush our teeth with bottled water, we can’t accept any drinks containing ice blocks, and we can?t eat any cold foods as they are likely to have been washed/prepared in tap water. So you really have to stay aware of what you are putting in your body.
2. There is smog EVERYWHERE. The whole city is under a blanket of smog. Even though the days are nice, I have never seen a blue sky and all my photos have a very glary grey sky in them.
3. Anyone can smoke, anywhere, anytime. It’s not particularly pleasant to eat your evening meal with second hand smoke wafting into your face. Pat and I went to the internet cafe next door to the hotel last night and came back stinking of cigarettes.
As a comment on the smoking and the smog -his has resulted in all of us having a bit of a sore throat.
4. The breakfast buffet every morning is combination of western foods and Chinese foods, though its entertaining what the Chinese side has to offer for brekky – things like deep fried onion rings, deep fried salmon, pork dumplings etc. We ate a very strange assortment of foods for our first breakfast!!
5. The traffic. There are roughly 4 million cars in Shanghai and this number is increasing by 7000 each month. This huge number of cars is for he 20 million people who live in the city. People who do not have cars have bicycles or scooters. Traffic seems to have some rules, but in terms of merging its pretty much whoever shoves their nose in first – this applies with any combination of cars, bikes and scooters. From my bus window I have seen so many near misses I lost count. Pulling into the hotel driveway last night an old dude on a bike almost smashed into the side of the bus, and all he did was stop and then stare at the bus.. he was going to swerve round the front end of the bus but realised he wouldn’t have time.. he looked surprised/pissed off.
I will endeavour to take a picture of an intersection.. because its pretty crazy stuff!!
6. Most toilets around the place are squat toilets, so two footsteps and a hole in the ground. I can cope with that, but most Chinese people miss and aren’t very clean so they can be pretty rancid. The other bad aspect is that you usually have to provide your own toilet paper, and all used loo paper needs to go in the waste paper bin…you don’t flush it …ewwwww gross!!!!
Oh yeah, and we currently have two tour guides: Frank is our national guide and will stay with us the whole trip and Troy is our local guide, so will only be with us for the shanghai part. They’re both really nice, and Troy has been trying out all his jokes on us, the good and the bad.. its been very entertaining!!
So to get back to the story, today we started off with a visit to silk factory which was pretty cool and they showed us how they get the silk thread from a silk worm cocoon, how they develop it into sheets and then how they use it to make bedding. Most Chinese people have silk doonas – I found that surprising as I didn’t think they would be very warm, but apparently they are fantastic!!
We did a teeny bit of shopping there.. but you will have to wait and see what I got.
After that we went to the museum.. there was some cool stuff, but I am not really into museums. Some of the traditional clothing and the old ceramics were interesting but that was about it for me.
Then we headed to Jin Mao tower, I could be completely wrong but I think it is something like the 6th tallest building in the world?! So we caught the fast elevator to the 88th floor and got a real good view of shanghai. It was pretty awesome, I think the 88th floor was something like 340 metres up.
Shanghai itself is an absolutely massive city, I learned today that it is 6400 square kilometres in size!!! Just one city, how crazy is that?!?!?
Our next bonus for the day was a trip on the mag lev train (Magnetic Levitation). The trip to the airport takes 1 hour by car, and is about 30km, the maglev does it in 7min 21seconds with a top speed of 431km/h .. it was awesome!!! You can barely feel it move.. really amazing and fantastic concept!
So after that it was definitely time for some food. we had a small Chinese banquet in/on a floating restaurant. It was very nice. (lunch and dinner is almost always very much the same, so not much to report on there)
After lunch we went to the Yu Gardens, back in the old part of town. The three of us went there on our first day but just looked around the shops, this time we actually went into the gardens, and they were beautiful. It was mostly old buildings connected by narrow walkways, passing through small rock gardens, crossing bridges over little fish ponds, and wandering under strategically placed trees. It was really well designed – not functional design but intriguing. Just outside of the gardens we got time for some more shopping in that area. Then we were taken to the main shopping street of shanghai: Nanjing Road. This was mostly big department stores with big price tags, so we weren’t that into it.
After all of that we went out for another Chinese banquet which was really nice.
Now I am completely knackered, but at least we certainly got to see a lot of Shanghai.
Tomorrow we fly to Xi’An for the next leg off the tour.
So this is over and out for shanghai. Wednesday June 2
So we had a late start ..7:30am instead of 6:30 ..pity I woke up at 6 anyway 🙁
We had brekky, packed our bags and tottered off to the airport. After boarding our flight it seemed to be taking a long time before we took off, it turned out someone had heart trouble and had to be sent to hospital so it took them ages to find his bags. so we had about an hour delay.
After 2.5 hours of flying we arrived in Xi’An, because of the delay we didn’t get to do any sightseeing, and instead got some time to chill out. We went to a local supermarket and got some drinks – since we can?t drink the tap water we have to buy bottled water.
So by this time we got bundled back onto the bus, and headed to some fancy theatre where we had a dumpling banquet. We had 16 different types of dumplings.. not all nice, but I did try them all. As we finished up our dinner the dancing/singing performance started. So the style they presented dates back to the Tang Dynasty. They had amazing costumes and the dancing was truly mesmerising. The music…well it was interesting, and I now believe that Chinese music was written to scare away evil spirits…cos it was BAD!!!!! Thursday June 3
As we ran a little short on time yesterday, today has been insane!!! We crammed in so much stuff!!
We started the day by going to a workshop where they make replica terracotta warriors. It was quite cool to see the process from start to finish, putting the clay in the mould, taking it out and touching it up, firing it etc. We didn’t buy anything there because we were told we could get better quality models at the museum where the warriors actually were…
So off we toddled to the site of the terracotta warriors, about 1hr out of Xi’An.
At the site there are 3 pits and a museum or two. Pit 1 is the main pit that is full of heaps of infantry, archers, captains, some horses and a few generals. It was really amazing to see.
So when the tomb was originally made channels were dug into the ground. The floor of the channels was paved and the warriors were all placed. Timber rafters were placed aross the top of these channels, then matting was placed over that, then other stuff, then dirt etc. The site of the warriors is the two rivers (a choice made for feng Shui reasons), these rivers occasionally flooded, with the flooding and general moisture of the area, the dirt on either sideof the channels containing the warriors sank, but the paved area where the soldiers were didn’t sink..as a result all the warriors were crushed.
People didn’t know that these tombs existed until one day a dude was digging a well and accidentally came across the site. So soon after thaat they began excavation.
There was not a single warrior intact, and they are still very slowly excavating warriors and fitting all the puzzle pieces together to restore each soldier.
Another interesting point is that when they were originally made, each warrior was made unique, based on a actual warrior in the army of the First Emperor. So you will never find two warriors the same!!
Pit 2 & 3 are not excavated that much yet, the 3rd pit was the command center of the whole lot.
I took heaps of pictures – it was all so amazing to see!!!!
After that we headed off for lunch where we had yet another Chinese banquet, then we did a spot of shopping.
we headed back into Xi’An and went to the Wild Goose Pagoda, which was in a park and there were lots of pretty old buildings. It was really nice to chill out for the short time there.
In the park was also a giant bell, I got to bash it 3 times with a big timber pole. Ringing the bell is said to prevent calamities, and to bring happiness. The ringing of the bell (through sound) also carries your thoughts and love to your loved ones.
Then we went to the wall that surrounds the city centre of xi’an..like a mini great wall. It was amazing how they could make these massive structures way back when they had no machinery to help!!
Afer that we went to the muslim quarter where we checked out the mosque. Quite bizarre to see a chinese mosque! but it was beautifully designed and made. You just went from coutryard to courtyard through all sortsof different archways and buildings..absoluely stunning.
Coming out of the mosque we wandered around the bazaar had a look at some bits and bobs, but didn’t really buy anything.
The we headed to the restaurant where we had a buffet dinner (I didn’t think it was that great), then back to the hotel for an early night.
We left the hotel at 8am and got back at 9pm .. so sorry for the lack of detail about some stuff, but I am well knackered…so off to bed!!
Friday June 4
We started the morning by packing our bags, ready for an afternoon flight to Beijing.
After breakfast and check-out we headed to the Shaanxi Museum (the city off Xi’An is situated within the Shaanxi province). We had a quick look around but barely anyone was interested. I ended up buying some postcards and sitting in the sun in a courtyard writing some cards.
when our allocated time was up, we went out for lunch then headed to the airport.
The flight to Beijing was uneventful, I finished writing my postcards, read some of my book and looked out the window. About the only time you see blue sky is when you are up in a plane above all the smog and clouds.
I took a picture from theplane to show you just how gross it really is – you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it!
So anyway we got to Beijing and met our local guide, Eric. His english is really good and he has been telling us heaps of interesting stuff about Beijing.
As we arrived in the late afternoon we only got to fit in one little bit of sightseeing.
We went to the olympic park and checked out the birds nest and watercube (from a distance).
The birds nest looks pretty cool, but the watercube is pretty uneventful (I expect it looks heaps better at night time when it is lit up).
There were heaps of street vendors around and I think almost everyone in our group bought something..its always entertaining when you get back to the bus and figure out who paid what for what product. “I got 4 for 15 yuan” … “I got 4 for 10 yuan” … funny funny!!
So after that we went for dinner, and then checked into the hotel. The hotel is pretty swanky, only I am a little gutted there is no free internet. The last 2 hotels had free internet.
So my messages will be less frequent for the rest of my time away. Hope you will survive without me!!!
Pat and I did a quick (well, didn’t up being that quick) mission to get milk from the supermarket so mum could have a cuppa in the morning. We got a little sidetracked and had a bit of a look around the area, identified an internet cafe for when we have time to sit down and do some emailing, had a look at some street food stalls (we saw a soup containing intestines..mm yum!!), had a look at some quirky little shops, then eventually went to the supermarket to get mum some milk, and when we got back to the hotel she was already sound asleep!!! Saturday June 5
After brekky we headed off to Tiannemen Square. This was the big peoples square where the people used to gather when Chariman Mao made announcements. Its just a massive square that faces the south gate of the Forbidden City (A picture of charinman mao now hangs on the front of the south gate0. The Forbidden City is the walled off city where the emperor from the Qing Dynasty lived.
So yeah we started at Tiannemen Square, its just a massive square full of people. Formany chinese people it is a dream to come to tiannemen square to respect chairman mao. While he made some poor choices mao was very loved by the chinese people. At the other end of the square a mausoleum was built, and chairman Mao’s body was placed in a crystal coffin and put on display for people to come see. The queue was 2 hours long so we didn’t go with the tour group, but as we have extra time here after the tour finishes we may go later in the week (undecided at this point)
Our whole tour group had a photo in front of the south gate where you can see Mao’s picture, and we each got a printed copy of the picture in a book of Beijing. Its really cool.
So we had a bit of time around the square to have a wander and take some pics. At one stage Pat put me on his shoulders to try get a good photo of the mass of people in the square, and we suddenly became a tourist attraction, we had people come stand next to us and get there photo taken…I think I must have been photographed at least 100 times by and with random chinese people…apparently we’re a real novelty..it was rather funny!!!
By this time we were about done with the square and we walked through the South Gate into the forbidden city. As I said, the forbidden city was the emperors residence, it was a long series of gates and courtyards, and in the inner area were the buildings where he emperor, empress and concubines had their quarters, we saw the throne room and all that as well.
One of the servants was very taken with the emperor and she managed to get ‘promoted’ to become a concubine. The emperor though she was cute and all that and lucky her, she fell pregnant and bore him a son. Though the emperor had many concubines, and many children he only had one son. When the emperor died, his son was made emperor, the only problem was that he was 6 years old. So to rule the country he had a throne, behind his throne was a curtain and behind that curtain was his mother, in a throne of her own. So the woman ruled he country through her son (If you have ever heard of ‘the power behind he throne’ this is a good example). I have missed bits of the story but she later became known as the dragon lady, I think she may have used the power to her advantage in quite a nasty way (will tell you some more abouther shortly).
So many of the sights we have seen in China have been restored, he forbidden city was all the original buildings. They have last very well, and are quite beautiful. They do however only use two colours: Yellow, the imperial colour and Red, for happiness and longevity.
After about 3 hours of walking we headed off for lunch, then made our way to the Summer Palace.
The summer palace was a large ‘complex’- a big lake, garden and some buildings contained within some protective walls. It was designed to house the emperor & all his people for the summer months (April to October).
So these gardens were absolutely stunning, there were lots of bridges over little canals, walkways connecting courtyards and buildings, all very intricate and beautifully designed.
The dragon lady spent quite a bit of time here, for every meal she was served 128 dishes of food, she made a servant try each dish before she didjust incase it waspoisoned, and she ate with pure silver cutlery, as silver would turn black if it came into conact with poison.
The reason she had some many dishes was partly so that no one could ever figure out whathe favourie was, to be able to poison her.
The cost of all this food of a single meal would have supported 30 peasants for a month!! She had 3 meals a day and only ate a few bits and pieces from a few of the dishes.
She also liked the smell of fruit and would have 40kg of fresh fruit in big bowls every day..would never eat it, just had it there to fragrance the air!!!
Very wasteful woman!!
So anyway, i think the summer palace was probably my favourite of the day so far.
I think we may head back there to explore a little further, and to paddle boat across the lake.
It has been a really hot day, and after walking several hours through all these sites we went back to the hotel for a rest and to freshen up.
I might also note at this point that its really interesting just driving round the city on the bus, you get to see so much stuff, however since I am so exhausted I fall asleep almost every time we drive anywhere..oops!
After our brief interlude we headed out for dinner, yet another Chinese banquet, this one was slightly nicer than the last few. Then we headed for the Red Theatre to go see the Kung-Fu show.
The show followed the story of a young monk who was brought to a monastery by his mother to master the art of Kung-Fu. It followed his path to enlightenment, through the times when he was at his best and through all the rough patches where he turned his back on his religion. It was absoultely amazing and was a combination of kung-fu, dance and acrobatics, very well put togeher and supported by fanasic stage design and music etc.
I have the dvd so you will all get to watch it with me!!
During the bus trip we were told that chairman Mao once said “You are not a man/woman until you have climbed to Great Wall of China” .. so I am off to bed, to mentally prepare for becoming a woman… Sunday June 6
Wowsers, up at 5am!! so the aim was to get to the great wall early to beat all the car traffic on the way, human traffic on the wall and the heat of the day. It was a very smart plan!!
So at about 8:15am we started climbing the great wall at a section called Juyong Guan Pass. It was reasonably steep, it had large chunks of stairs then a small building/ tower, then stairs again, so the path was broken up with little flat sections. It took us about an hour to get to the highest point in the wall for the section we visited. It was really cool!!
Fantastically, there were quite a few people in our group who made it to the top. We had a bit of a photo session up there!!
On the way down a group of 5 of us stopped and got good bargain on some T-Shirts that say “I climbed the great wall of china”…and we walked back down the wall in our t-shirts. We got a big cheer from the peple on the bus when we got on!!
We found it really surprising that the wall is actually not very high, so if people attacked, they wouldn’t really have a hard time getting over the wall .. so we wondered if it may just have acted as a deterent. who knows?!
So now that I am officially a woman, I feel a little different..I am more tired now!!
After our expedition up the wall we went to a jade carving studio, we got a tour and then got shepherded into the shop, I wasn’t that interested and it was all crazy expensive.
we also had our lunch there. It was another Chinese banquet, it was a good one. Sometimes there are heaps of dishes I don’t like, but this time it was pretty good.
Then we headed back to Beijing where we went to the Silk Markets. It was a massive 6 or 7 storey building full of stalls/shops. Bottom level was shoes and bags, then there were two floors of clothes, etc etc, on the top floors were jewellery and pearls.
So I shopped it up, got some new puma shoes, and some tank tops and shirts. not everything I got was a bargain, but hey, you can’t win them all!!
This particular market was the most brutal we have been to so far, the sellers actually grab your wrists, and try to pull you into their stalls “Lady Lady you want Gucci bag I give you special price”
After a while you get really tired of the bartering, and sometimes you are bantering back and forth so much you forget what the money conversion is or how much you would have paid back home.
After that we headed to the Temple of Heaven, which is situated in a nice park. The buildings were really beautiful, and they were concentrated in a small area, which was good cos we were all knackered!!
So we stayed there for about an hour before heading off to see an acrobatic show. That was really good too, the chinese girls are so ridiculously flexible!! Some of the stuff they did was just amazing!!
My favourite thing in the show was the cage of death (I think thats what its called), it?s a giant metal mesh ball and a motorbike rides around in it, doing loops going round and round and upside down etc.
That in itself was pretty awesome.. then a second bike went in there too… then a third, a fourth and a fifth!!! 5 bikes all doing loops inside a metal ball!! It was insane, I LOVED it!!!
So to cap off our day we went to a restaurant for our farewell dinner where we had a Beijing specialty ‘Peking Duck’. I have photos to prove I ate it, but I didn’t like it much. The other dishes were nice though.
After exchanging emails and hugs we have said goodbye to most of our tour mates, and the tour has officially finished.
The few of us remaining will have dinner together tomorrow night, the after that its just the 3 of us. So I will still have lots of fun stuff to report on, but won’t be as ridiculously busy as we have been.
So I am off to bed now and looking forward to the fact that I won’t get a wake-up call in the morning. Monday June 7
Started the day with a sleep-in, to a huge 7am!!! We had a lazy breakfast, consulted our map and off we went.
We didn’t really do much, but it took up the whole day. We did a fantastic job of navigating the Beijing subway system!! The subway system is so easy to use, and is so quick and efficient! Also using the subway system all day only cost us $1.20 each. How cheap is that?!?
The hardest part about using the subway is that where you get out of the station you have to figure out where to walk to get where you want to go. Luckily though, we wrote a list of all the places we wanted to go, and got our guide Frank to write them down in chinese, so we just point to a word on a piece of paper and people point which direction we have to walk..it works a treat!!
So our first stop for the day was the Beijing Zoo. It only cost $4!! So the aim of going to the oo was to see pandas. we saw to Great Panda’s sleeping, they lay on their back with all their limbs splayed..looks odd. They were really dirty and yellowy brown but nonetheless gorgeous creatures.
In another enclosure were 3 younger pandas and they were playing around a little and munching on bamboo..way cute!! they were even play fighting over a piece of bamboo..so cute so cute!
We wandered further and saw some lions, tigers, jaguars, hippos, rhinos, and elephants. We saw a few other animals, but the main goal was just to see pandas.
It was quie disappointing the enclosures were very small, dirty and smelly. it was a bit distressing to see a jaguar pacing around a 4×6 concrete floored cell 🙁
Anyway, with the slow start to the day the zoo took up most of the day. When we saw the animals we wanted to see we hopped back on the subway and went to ‘cyber city’. A big department type store with 5 storeys of electronics. There weren’t gadgets or anything, a floor of phones, one of laptops, one of cameras, one of components etc.
I got an 8gb memory stick, a memory card for my camera and apolaarizer for my camera, all for about $90. not ridiculously cheap, but cheaper than at home.
I have been having issues with my little underwater camera,, so will try to fix it later..
Anyway being the geek I am it was fun to have a bit of a poke around the electronics. By that time though we had to scoot back to the hotel to meet some people for dinner. Rush, rush, rush we got back in time to meet the others. Pat headed off to a swing dancing class and mum and I went out for dinner with 4 others from the group who are leaving tonight.
So the 6 of us twaddled off tofind a restaurant, and ended up finding this really cool one where there are hot plates on the tables and you cook your own food.
So we looked at the pictures in the meu and ordered a few things that looked safe..it was of course hilarious attempting to order because we had all forgotten our phrasebooks, and no one at the restaurant spoke english!!
So out came all the raw food ready to be cooked, fantastic friendly service..I think they took pity on us, or maybe they couldn’t be bothered trying to explain what we had to do, and they cooked our food for us. we had some fabulous meats and vegetables.
There was this one meat that we all thought looked like chicken, but then when we ate it, it smelled funny, tasted funny and had a really odd texture. I had one bite and threw it away. I was guessing it was stomach or lungs or something..
After lots of drawing pictures, making animal noises and pointing at body parts we figured out that we had just eaten … OX TESTICLES!!!! ug ug ug ug ug!!!! Soooo Grosss!!! Oh well its in my stomach theres nothing I can do about it now!!
The whole meal was heaps of fun, even if it did have disgusting bits in it..the whole lot of food and drinks to feed 6 people costus 126 yuan … converted $24!!!!
Thats $4 each for a decent meal with a few glasses of beer to go with it!
So after our awesome meal we headed back to the hotel because the others had to leave for the airport. On the walk back we picked up some fruits at a street stall, and I got to try Mangosteen and Lychee. I wasn’t overly fond of the lychee but the mangosteen was yummmy!!!
So now its the end of the evening, I am writing up my story then am off to the internet cafe to finally send you all an email.
Good night!! Tuesday June 8
So with a relatively early start we met our driver for the day Mr Hou, and we headed off to a different section of the Great Wall. After a 2 hour drive we arrived at the Mu Tian Yu section. It was a very different section of wall than what we did the other day. With this section you couldn’t actually walk straight on the wall, you had to catch a cable car up. The wall followed along the peaks of a series of hills, so it was very up and down and windy around the corners which was really cool.
Getting the cable car up was fantastic because it meant that mum could get to the top as well. So we wandered around and took photos with the three of us, then mum found a nice scenic spot to sit, and Pat and I went adventuring.
We headed off in what might have been an easterly direction, there were big sweeping curves, flat bits, building things and super steep tall stairs, we walked for about half an hour before we got to the end point. When I say end point, I mean the point where the signs say you aren’t allowed to go further. They have restored sections of the wall for people to visit, but not everything has been restored. The sections that haven’t been restored are crumbling down and are overgrown with trees and bushes.
So being the explorers that we are we got to the end point, which was another building/watch tower, and jumped out the window to wander along an un-restored section of the wall.
we walked for about 20 mins, and it was really cool to see the original wall, it also showed how much restoration had been required.
So seeing another section of wall was not at all repetitive, the two sections offered completely different experiences, and we are so glad we did it. It was absolutely fantastic!!
By this time we had to head back down to the carpark to meet mum for a drink and lunch, so we caught a toboggan/luge ride down the mountain… it was fun but we weren’t allowed to go fast! I got yelled at by the guards on almost every corner, telling me to slow down. As you all know I can be a bit of a scaredy cat and wasn’t even going that fast!!!
Oh well, it was still fun.
So the we caught up with mum and ordered a big plate of yummy beef dumplings for a street stall, and chilled out for a bit.
After lunch we found Mr Hou and headed off to our second destination of the day: the Beijing 2008 Olympic Rowing and white Water Kayaking course. Pat was going to rent a kayak and test ride the white water course. Unfortunately though it was all dry 🙁
It was still very interesting to see how the course was designed and how it all works, so we wandered round for a bit. with the full sun it got a bit tiring and we found a shady spot to sit on the grass and watch some people learn how to paddle dragon boats (the rowing section, the lake, did have water). It was a nice relaxing afternoon.
By this time it was about 4:30 so we went back to the carpark to find Mr Hou, and he drove us the 1.5hours back to the hotel. (I managed a good sleep in the car between the wall and the water course, and again on the way to the hotel!!) Also by this time, having spent day after day in the full sun, I am looking slightly burned, not too bad though, should have a semi-decent tan by the time I get home 🙂
After a cup of tea and toilet break we headed back out. We caught the subway to a popular shopping street called Wangfujing Street. we had a bit of a wander down the street and looked at some of the shops, since that street was on our list of things to look at, but the main reason we went there at night time was that there is a popular night market in a side street. The night market has a few souveneirs and things but it is mostly food.
So food we ate: corn on a stick, fish balls, beef kebabs with spicy stuff on it, baby octopus kebabs, beef dumplings, banana dumplings, apple dumplings and a kebab of fruit coated in toffee. It was all pretty nice really.
Things we saw but weren’t quite game to try: Scorpion kebab, starfish kebab, seahorse kebab, spider kebab, lizard kebab, cocoon kebab, grasshopper kebab, baby chicken kebab (whole baby chicken) and fried stomach lining, just to name a few.
So we had a lovely night out, enjoyed some fabulous food and enjoyed looking at what freaky things Chinese people eat, then it was time to head home and have a nap. It as a 6am start with a midnight finish – fabulous but very tiring day!! Wednesday June 9
Started the day with a sleep in, then we started off on our list of things to do.
Our first stop was the Underground City. So we caught the subway to the nearest station, then with a combination of a map and lots of hand gestures slowly made our way in the direction of the Underground city. We thought we were getting close, then a guy with a bicycle tuk-tuk (if you don’t know what that is I will show you later) asked where we were going, when we told him, he said its that way then that way then that way, made it sound far away. So we were like, how much to get us there..he said 10yuan. So we’re like, yeah thats reasonable, and hopped on.
Then we got there and he said it was 10yuan each (30 all up), and I was like no you said 10..in the end we paid 20, he drives off, we go to enter the Underground city and are told that is closed permanently!!! Grrr!!
So we started walking back to the subway, realised very quickly that the dude with the bike had taken us the very long way round, and were almost already there when he picked us up. Oh well, the ride was a fun experience, and is a common mode of transport. So anyway we continued on our way back to the subway and our path took us through some ‘Hutongs’. Hutongs are the old buildings/ style of housing where all the Chinese people used to live. In most places these have been destroyed and replaced with apartment buildings, but there are still some areas where the hutongs still stand, and people still live in them. These were on our list of things to see as well, so getting taken for a ‘ride’ wasn’t all that bad.
After all that walking on a 32degree day we were all pretty knackered, and totally overheated, so we bought some cold drinks and teeny hand held fans, and made our way back to the subway to go to our next stop.
We got to the Lama Temple and within the grounds of the temple we found a park bench in the shade of a tree, and sat and watched the people come in and pray to buddha with their incense offerings. I find temples really interesting, to see which gods people worship, and to see how they worship.
The lama temple was designed with a courtyard then a temple, then a courtyard then a temple and so on. I think there were about 5 temples each with different buddhas.
So there are buddhas like past present and future, another temple had buddhas of longevity, medicine and …can’t remember.
The last temple had a giant buddha. The matriya buddha was carved from a single piece of sandalwood and stands 18 metres tall, with a further 8 metres going into the ground to keep it upright. It was pretty amazing to see!
So after looking at all these courtyards, temples and buddhas, we found another shady spot to sit and just absorb the atmosphere. One thing I love about temples is that they’re always so chilled out, everyone is relaxed, there is barely any noise and it just gives you the peace to stop and smell the roses.
After recharging the batteries for a bit we took the subway to Hongqiao Market, otherwise known as pearl market. We started off by getting something into our bellies and went to Dairy Queen and got a giant ice cream. I got a flavour called brownie coffee. It was coffee flavoured ice cream with crushed up brownies..its was soooooo good!!!
So we started the pearl markets by looking at pearls. We were told, by an American lady who we had met in our travels, to go to level 5, to Cathy’s shop and say we were friends of Laurie and her mum. So we did exactly that, and got ‘friend ‘ prices. I won’t say what I got, or how much I paid because there is a chance that I bought something for someone.
either way the service and prices were fantastic!!! We spent ages there!!
So after having seen enough pearls for a lifetime, we went down to the next level, pearls again so we kept going, pearls again so we went down again, this level had bags and shoes, so we had a bit of a wander. Mum bought a gorgeous bright blue handbag!
Then down another layer was watches, electronics, scarves etc. I bought some really cute watches (I got 3 for 25yuan, which is $5). I also got myself a ‘flip-flap’, I had been looking for one for a while and finally found it. when you come to visit me when I am home, it will be sitting on the windowsill of the kitchen.. then you can see what it is 🙂
By this time he day was about over so we caught the subway back to the area where the hotel is, and stopped into a restaurant on the walk back to the hotel. A few nights ago a group of us went to a restaurant where they cook all the food on hot plates in front of you (where we had the unfortunate testicle incident), and this time we went back there, took Pat with us this time and had another lovely meal. This time we ordered better and only got stock standard beef, chicken and pork. It was lovely!!
The we headed back to the hotel for a relaxing evening doing nothing. All this walking up and down to subways, walking long streets all in 30+ heat really takes its toll on us, especially on mum. Thursday June 10
Had a lovely sleep in this morning, then we all started the day by packing our bags, to figure out if we needed to buy anymore bags to get our stuff home (we’re all good).
We just kinda of pottered around for a bit then headed to the subway, we walked down the other side of the street this stime to see what shops were there. We found a baby shop which was good… Little kids here are dressed in pants that have a split through the crutch, so that they can just pee or squat any time they need to go. Its really quite disgusting, but also found it so funny that we thought we should get some as presents for people back home.
We continued on our merry way and caught the subway to the Summer Palace. We have been there before with the tour group but didn’t get time to look around much or go paddle boating. So we wandered around a bit, had an ice cream, absorbed the sun and relaxed atmosphere,ÿthen rented a paddle boat. We spent 2 hours paddling in and around Kunming Lake. It was awesome, very chilled.
By this time it was late-ish so we caught a tuk tuk to the nearest subway station and headed back to the hotel district, we went to a restaurant for dinner. We really struggled with ordering, then our waitress grabbed some Chineseÿlady who spoke English, and that lady helped us order. We ended up with sooo much food!! A meat & rice dish, a noodles & chicken dish, a plate of fried dumpling, and two plates of boiled dumpling (these had about 20 dumplings per plate). It was delicious.. but so much food!!! We couldn’t eat it all. All that food plus drinks (beer & coke)ÿcost us 69yuan…worked out to be $4.50 each!!!!
Anyway, it will be an early night tonight, we have to check out of the hotel at 4:30am tomorrow to get to the airport in time for our flight to Hong Kong Friday June 11
After hearing an alarm clock ringing in my ears we got up at 3:50am, quickly showered, packed the last few bits and headed to the airport. On the way there we saw something funny.. a van full of spring onions. Only the van was so full they didn’t all fit, so there were heaps of bunches of spring onions tied to the roof of a van zipping down the highway at 100km/h!!!
So check in and everything went fine and before you knew it we were on our way to Hong Kong.
The flight was pretty standard, watched a movie, got fed, and within about 3-4 hours we landed in Hong Kong. we got picked up by a coach and brought to our hotel – so it was a quick change of clothes before getting out to explore the city for the half day we had available.
We headed out into the stinking hot and humid day, sweating bucket loads within minutes, and headed down to the wharf area where we did a harbour cruise.
The harbour cruise was nice, it gave us a chance to relax. Also with our limited amount of time in Hong Kong it gave us an opportunity to see quite a bit of the city.
After the cruise we just kind of wandered the streets looking at shops, then we looked at a few markets, and by that time we had to haul our butts back down to the wharf to see the “Symphony of Light and Sound”. They play music over a loud speaker and light up he building on the other side of the river in time with the music, they have coloured lights, laser lights etc. It was pretty cool, but not as spectacular as I had imagined. Hong Kong is ridiculously smoggy, and I think that affected the light show a bit. But also after seeing shanghai all it up, even if it didn’t match music, Shanghai was much more impressive.
So after this it was time for some food so we wandered back to the markets (looking in a few shops along the way). We had dinner at a market stall. I had beef & pineapple, Pat had pan fried calamari and mum had razor clams. It was DELICIOUS!!! …mind you I tried the razor clams and hated them, but pats and my dishes were fantastic!!!
So after filling our bellies, we wandered through a few more market stalls before catching a cab back to the hotel.
Saturday June 12
We had an early start, got the airport and jumped on the plane to Melbourne. It was about an 8 hour flight. Food was bad but the flight in general was good. I watched ‘The Girl with the dragon tattoo’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I also slept for a good chunk of time so it was a good flight for me.
we arrived in Melbourne at about 8pm. We did some last minute duty free shopping, picked up our bags and checked into a hotel for the night.
Tomorrow we’ll be back at the airport at 6:30am,and should be in Hobart by 9am. It’s been a fantastic holiday!!!!
So for a few years I concentrated on work, started off by just getting a job and slowly worked towards getting the teaching job I wanted. So this meant time off from Travel.
2009 was a pretty rough year for me, and by the September term break I was desperately in need of a break, so the ideal solution was to go visit my bestie who lives in Darwin.
I had been to the NT before with a school trip, but we did Alice Spings and Uluru, this time I headed way up to the top end.
Having never been there before, I wanted to see everything, so we got a 4WD, a bunch of camping gear and headed off…
We did a bit of a round trip, we left from Darwin and headed South East towards Kakadu national Park. We checked out the rock art at Ubirr and witnessed an amazing sunset. We did the Yellow River cruise and saw some crocodiles. We kept heading through the Kakadu national park and checked out several waterfalls – Gunlom was my favourite. There was a campsite just near a billabong, and a waterfall fell from rocks high above into the billabong. There was a track you could hike up to get to the top of the rocks/waterfall, and up there were just an amazing series of rockpools with beautiful warm water, each pool had a little waterfall cascading into the next until it went over the edge. STUNNING!!
We continued on our merry way and reached Katherine, where we did a Kaherine Gorge cruise. Again, it was beautiful, the rocks are such rich colours and the water looks so serene but is scary at the same time – you always wonder what lurks beneath.
Katherine was our turning point, and from here we headed back in a northerly direction. Rather than returning via Kakadu, we decided to visit Darwin’s other major national park: Litchfield.
Litchfield was full of amazing waterfalls. Tjaynera falls were stunning as they were rather remote, and were very high falls. Wangi falls were beautiful, but being very accessible they were also very popular. Florence Falls was also gorgeous, but by far my favourite was Buley Rockholes. Buley Rockholes was again just a series of rockpools, one cascading into the next.
Heading back we went and checked out the jumping crocodiles.
Back in Darwin we checked out some local sights, the wave pool, croc-a-saurus cove, mindil market.
Soaking up some sunshine and enjoying the love of good friends was just what I needed!!
So in June 2006, after about 5 years of study, I FINALLY graduated from University. With a few letters after my name (BComp & BEd) it was about time for a vacation.
I booked my ticket and moved to The Netherlands (I have plenty of family and friends there so this was nothing particularly terrifying). I rented a room at a friends place and got myself a job as a teachers assistant. It was up to me to ensure that the teachers were actually teaching proper english. Though according to one of my colleagues “Australian is not English” and “I don’t know what language you people speak down there”. Good thing I was there to look out for the students, protect them against weirdo’s who think that the word ‘ramp’ refers to a speed hump!!
Anyway…working at a school, I conveniently got a week off from time to time.
During the first week off I jumped on the Thalys (fast train) to Paris. It was the middle of Summer, I went to Sacre Couer an overlooked the city, checked out the Eiffel Tower, Napoleans Tomb, the Notre Dame and of course Euro Disney. I had a fabulous time!!
I must admit – I am not ooozing enthusiasm because this was my third trip to Paris. BUT this was the first time I went in Summer. It actually made the experience much more pleasant, though Paris will still never make it to my list of favourite places.
I have always had trouble in Paris – even when I order food from a picture in the menu they refuse to serve me what I order, knowing that I can’t argue back. I’m not completely rude either, I do attempt to speak french and be polite, but my french is appalling!! So anyway, that was a fun week off work.
The second week off I flew to Ireland. Spent a few days in Dublin rented a car and drove down the coast to Dungarvan, and a quick look down as far as Cobh, then headed back up to Dublin. Went a bit inland rather than coastal, and went via Kilkenny.
Cobh was a gorgeous sleepy little town/fishing village in the side of a hill. The buildings were all very quaint and colourful and the people were so friendly.
Kilkenny was a small little town in the middle of nowhere, but adorable and with such an amazingly friendly, welcoming community. An interesting fact – kilkenny has 365 pubs. So you can try a different one every day of the year!!!
After working for a number of months I was a bit over it, so I quit my job, bought a 2 month unlimited access Eurail ticket and headed off on a grand (and very tiring) adventure!
Because I don’t want to bore you with the details, I will pick out some of the best bits.
Two months backpacking by train took me from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Bergen, Norway; Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; Venice, Italy, Florence, Italy; Rome, Italy; Nice, France; Barcelona, Spain; Madrid, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal then 40+ hours of train travel back to Amsterdam.
At the end of all of this, I flew to Austria for a week of R&R on the ski slopes of the Zillertal region – stunning!!!
My pearls of wisdom
DON’T bother going to Oslo, I was surprised at finding hookers and drug dealers within 2 metres of the main strip
DO go caving in Budapest, easily one of the most amazing things I have ever done!!
DON’T go to Pompeii as a day trip from Rome, it really is too far away for a day trip
DO a cooking class in Barcelona – heaps of fun, and you get taught how to make your own Sangria and can make/drink as much as you like!
DO go on a gondola ride in Venice, because otherwise you will regret it forever. However, make sure you are good at bargaining and don’t jump into the first gondola you see. Even with good bargaining skills it will still be a rip-off.
DON’T tour the Colosseum in Rome with a bad hangover, you don’t get the chance to really appreciate it.
DO go to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm – one of the most amazing things I have seen!!
DO ice skate whenever you can!
I backpacked Europe in the middle of Winter and had a blast – lucky for me it was the hottest european winter in 500 years!!