Life is good in Leeds. I’m sat at the kitchen table. Outside of the window the sky is weirdly yellow and there’s a feeling of anticipation in the air, like something is about to happen.
Anyway, a quick update from over here. Life has settled down to a gently post-wedding/honeymoon monotony. We are happy as clams. A few weeks ago I decided I needed to be more productive, and removing myself from social media felt like a good idea.
Things I have learnt since quitting social media:
There are so many hours in the day. As a self-employed music teacher, I have an unpredictable work schedule. Every day of the week is different, and I often have the off hour here or there which is free. I’d normally busy myself by doing one thing- like the food shop etc. and then the rest would get taken up with scrolling through instagram looking at people I don’t know stood on a beach in a bikini.
I don’t know most people on my Facebook. When I look through my friends list, and think “when was the last time I had a conversation with that person?” I usually can’t answer that question.
Life isn’t meant to be formed in perfect status updates or immaculate photos of your breakfast. I feel liberated now I’m no longer thinking of the way to retell an event online. I actually enjoy my experiences in the moment.
Social media is a form of entertainment that is systematically designed to be addictive. I watched a TED talk that describes exactly how a little “like” of your post gives you a tiny dopamine boost that becomes addictive.
Life begins when you put your phone down. I’ve been astonished how many people you see just walking along the street staring at their phones. It’s like a dystopian novel out there.
You can still communicate with friends when you’re not on Facebook. Initially I was worried I’d stop speaking to my friends, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. I speak to my friends more now that I don’t get daily updates on what they’re doing.
I’m aiming to stay off Facebook until Christmas. I’ll update you then with how I get on!
Hello again from the train! We are en route to Budapest.
I’m really enjoying writing away on these train journeys, it really passes the time. This trip will be about three hours. We paid a bit extra to reserve seats today, and I’m glad we did because the train is mega busy.
Vienna was stunning. We arrived, got the underground to the station nearest our hotel (let’s hear it for my lovely Londoner, although he did start marching at around 100mph with his backpack on as soon as he hit the underground, but he can’t help it. It’s in his blood)
The Flemings Hotel was super swanky. We did have hysterics when we opened the door to our room and found that the shower was in our room. I have no idea why.
Tom found a walking tour of Vienna online which we followed through the afternoon, stopping at five minute intervals for alcohol and icecream.
Vienna is definitely the most grand city I have ever been to. All the buildings are incredible. We found a beery restaurant that Tom had been looking for and I had some lovely dumplings.
(Above is the bar in the restaurant – Tom’s idea of heaven)
We discovered that we are really close to the town hall (rathaus haha) where there is currently a film festival. Here they showed films on a giant outdoor screen every night, and that night they were showing…. a Depeche Mode concert. We don’t know any of their songs but sat and watched a bit of it and soaked up the atmosphere. Then we went back to the hotel and watched “Ex on the Beach” very cultural.
The next day we had the most decadent buffet breakfast at the hotel, then went out on the very very sweaty tram to the Belvedere art gallery. There was an awful lot of religious paintings, or as Tom likes to call them “Loads of eye-rolling dickheads floating in clouds and pointing at the sun.”
But we finally managed to located the Gustav Klimt exhibition which I really enjoyed. I’ve always been fascinated by his work and was really happy to see “The Kiss” in real life. Beautiful. They also had some sections of the “Beethoven Frieze” but it was all split up and not as good as when I saw the whole thing at the Tate Liverpool. I’ve realised that art gallerys are slowly becoming like live concerts when you end up looking at what you’ve come to see through someone else’s iphone. Annoying! But we still had a great time.
We returned to the hotel, then went to a little restaurant across the road and sat in their garden for some food when the heavens opened which was quite funny. More deep-fried cheese for me and a beef goulash for Tom. We are considering an extra stop in Eastern Europe on the way home so we can both have a gastric band fitted!
We then got dressed up smart (or as smart as you can be when your clothes are bundled up in a backpack!) and went to the Mozart concert at the Musikverein, massive thank you to Mimi, Dan, Sam and Natasha for our tickets!
We entered a wonderfully ornate golden hall, and found our pre-booked seats…. in the second row! We couldn’t believe our luck!
Eventually the orchestra walked on, in traditional Mozart dress, including grey wigs, which was hilarious. Then we got a fit of the giggles at the conductor who was like Borat in a Mozart outfit, and the tenor who had the biggest bum chin I’ve ever seen. We are terrible. It was that silent/shoulder-shaking laughter where you’re digging your nails into your palms and trying so desperately to stop. But we eventually pulled ourselves together and enjoyed the rest of the concert in a sensible manner like the mature adults that we are.
We went back to the hotel and watched Ex on the Beach in bed (I don’t know why this has become part of our routine but it has!)
On our last day, we walked to the park that’s home to the Vienna’s iconic Reisenrad wheel. Thank you to Tim, Grace and Joe for our tickets for the wheel! We had a nice trip up which gave us some great views of the old and newer sides of Vienna.
Then we slowly wandered around the park, stopping on benches to people watch then went to a restaurant for lunch. Tom had this gigantic “pork knuckle” thing he’s been lusting over for ages and I had a salad…. and chips.
It was a really hot day. We’ve just been reading about the heatwave “Lucifer” on the news that’s currently hitting Europe, and we can definitely feel it. It’s usually over 35 degrees at the moment, not that I’m complaining!
We went back to the hotel, and then in the evening took a picnic tea back to the Rathaus Film Festival. That evening they were showing “Swan Lake Reloaded,” which I was decidedly dubious about, but it ended up being amazing! It was a screening of a live performance of a contemporary dance version of the Swan Lake ballet. I’ve never seen any contemporary dance before and it just blew me away, I was absolutely riveted. Loved it.
In conclusion, Vienna has been one of my favourite places so far. I love the Austrian people and the food, and the grand city provides an incredible backdrop to the history of Western Classical music.
I shall leave you with a haiku about Vienna from Tom:
Hello again from the train, this time we are en route from Salzburg to Vienna. Most of the morning has been spent fending off questions about the trains asked by strangers in German. I have always seemed to give off the air of someone who knows where they are/where they are going and I have no idea why.
Anyway, our trip from Venice ran smoothly to begin with. We had two changes, and were congratulating ourselves saying “ooh these train journeys are so easy”…
We arrived in Salzburg train station and couldn’t find the 28 bus recommended by the hotel. We went to the information point, showed the man where we wanted to go on our phones, and he told us to get the 180 bus. The bus driver also confirmed he could take us to our hotel, so we sat down.
30 minutes later we were getting further and further away from Salzburg. We consulted the maps app, and we were literally going off the map. I went to ask the driver, who kept nodding. I had a bad feeling though, so asked if he would be going back to Salzburg, to which he said no. So we decided to get off the bus. It was getting dark. We crossed the road to see the bus times back to Salzburg to discover we’d missed the last one. It was Sunday night, and everything was closed, with no one around. After a bit of tracking around with our backpacks, we found an open Italian restaurant. The staff didn’t speak English. Eventually a couple asked if they could help us. They said “Do you know where you are? You are in Bavaria! We can’t call you a taxi from here, you have to walk back over to the Austrian border and try there.”
We bemusedly walked until we crossed back over the border to Austria, found an open restaurant where the lovely owner spoke English, booked us a taxi to our hotel and poured us a beer while we waited. The taxi showed up, it was a mercedes and the fanciest taxi I’ve ever been in. 30 minutes later and our wallets 33 euros lighter, we pulled up outside our hotel. The staff were wearing traditional dresses with plaits and leiderhosen, showed us to our room and then we sat in the restaurant, ordered food and drank steins of beer. We could finally laugh. We’ve been lost all over the world but we’ve never ended up in the wrong country before!
The next day we saw our hotel in the light. We’ve been alternating planning the trip, so I booked the Venice hotel, and Tom booked the Salzburg one etc. So I didn’t really know what to expect but our hotel was in the sticks, a traditional building filled with weird objects, and it brews its own beer. Here are some of the weird things…..
(I like to think of the above as “Muppet Jesus”)
(The above became the “lucky toad” which we patted when entering and leaving the hotel)
Shout out to Kate, Melody, Fab and Brekke for our hotel stay, we had a wonderfully confusing but entertaining time!
We were filled with dread at the prospect of catching the bus again, but luckily we managed to make it to the centre of Salzburg without any unexpected border crossings. We wandered through the city centre, and paid a visit to the museum of Mozart’s birthplace.
(Massive thank you to Graham and Mike) I kept getting goosebumps looking at original manuscripts and learning all about Mozart’s early years, it was really interesting. We ate some chocolates called “Mozart’s balls,” which inspired Tom to write another haiku:
Eating Mozart’s balls
Get on a bus and get lost
Here! Have a schnitzel.
We then got a funicular up to the top of the hill above Salzburg where a big fortress stands. This gave us great views of the city and it was nice to learn all about the medieval castle.
We had a picnic lunch by the river, then got the bus back to the hotel. That evening we tried the restaurant across the road. We have FINALLY started to use the google translate app. In the past we’d enjoy picking at random from the menu. In the case of Japan, you’d still have no idea what you were eating even when it arrived…. but now I’m veggie I have to be a bit more careful (OMG FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS) anyway, I delightedly ended up with a grilled emmental and salad, and Tom had bratwurst wrapped in bacon with chips.
The next day we decided to have a “lazy day” we were pretty knackered from all the early mornings and travel. We chilled out by the pool, read our kindles.
and then Tom decided we should walk to the supermarket for lunch. This was a nice idea in theory, but in reality it meant walking for half an hour in 35 degree heat along the motorway passing through lots of industrial parks… not very glam. But we came back with a bag full of beer so that was okay.
We sweated our way back again, then played cards and drank the beer and went back to the restaurant across the way again.
I shall leave you with a closing limerick from Tom.
A couple went into the mountains,
To explore all of Salzburg’s fountains,
After drinking some beer,
It became clear,
That they were really in Bavaria
I am writing this in a Hogwarts Express style train carriage en route from Venice, Italy to Salzburg, Vienna.
Our journey from Leeds to Venice was fairly hellish… we took a silly train to Manchester airport which stopped at every small village possible. Then the flight was delayed, but that didn’t stop them from opening the gate and shepherding a flight’s worth of people into a tiny waiting corridor. Passport check in Venice took over an hour of standing in an unmoving queue (thank god for kindles) we then had to find a boat into the centre of Venice. There was a forty minute wait here whilst I lay on my backpack, mouth completely parched (no shops were open) eating a tea of the digestives I’d shoved in my backpack. It was quite nice in a way. It felt like travelling again. The boat arrived, it was pitch black by this point, and it took 1 hour and 45 minutes until we got to Saint Mark’s square. By this time it was gone midnight and we were exhausted with pounding dehydration headaches, Tom muttering that he was on the brink of drinking his own urine.
Anyway, this ranty bit has been the only bad bit of the trip so far. We walked across Saint Mark’s square, and checked into Hotel Noemi. Thank you so much to James and Nikk for the hotel stay, it was absolutely beautiful!
The next day we had a cheese galore breakfast in the hotel, then went to pick up our museum tickets from the Doges Palace. Shout out to my sister-in-law (!) Katie for the museum tickets! We spent a good hour gaping at the ceiling in the Doge’s Palace, then went around Saint Mark’s Bassilica, which was equally lavish.
The rest of the day was spent in and out of museums, with Tom stopping to browse EVERY SINGLE restaurant menu en route. (This made me laugh after months of him doing this all around Asia, despite the fact that we’d usually just eaten!) Most of the day was spent wandering little side streets, stopping along the way for gelato. Massive thank you to Linsey, Lesley Richard and Scott for keeping us topped up in icecream (lemon, pistachio, tiramisu, chocolate, peanut butter in case you’re wondering) I also ate a meringue covered in dark chocolate that was so big I’ve been put off meringues for a while. We won’t be getting married again soon because there’s no way I’ll get back in that dress haha.
We stumbled across a lovely little canal side restaurant a bit off the beaten track where we had pizza, pasta, prossecco and Aperol Spritz.
After being slapped with an obscene service charge we found a litre of limoncello in the supermarket for four euros, went back to the hotel and necked the bottle of wedding champagne Tom had popped in his backpack. We found the pub district…. (old habits die hard) and drank a few bevvies whilst people watching by the canal as the sunset. A beautiful first day! Thank you to Meg, Laura and Susie for the Italian cuisine money, we have taken eating and drinking quite seriously!
I’m interrupting this diary for a brief haiku written by my husband:
The sinking city
Made up of water and stones
Quick! Get in your boat
We got up fairly early and got a vaparetto to this island of Murano, which is famous for its glass-blowing factories. Tom was distinctly unimpressed by the glass shops saying “It’s all quite tacky isn’t it?!” But that didn’t stop me from buying a small glass goldfish in a globe…
We then got back on the boat to Burano, famous for its brightly coloured buildings. It was really beautiful, and great to see in the sun. The last time I came to Venice, it was November (I think) about ten years ago, and the light really does feel different at this time of year.
It’s most definitely high season, there are HORDES of tourists, but it’s still beautiful. I’d just like to say that there is a special level of hell reserved for the following however:
People who stop suddenly in doorways
People with selfie sticks
People who give wheelie bags to their children
In the afternoon, we went back to Venice, and hired a gondola. Special shout out to Leanne and Louie, and also the Bryers’ for their wedding gift. It was an absolute delight. I was concerned that we’d be just bashing into other boats but it was really serene, and so quiet compared to the rest of Venice, and a really great way to see little alleyways and entrances to swanky hotels you can only reach from the water.
Plus, I didn’t fall in or humiliate myself in any way…. until…
We were walking across a square and I could see the back of a buggy with what I thought was a curly-haired toddler sat in it. I said very loudly “WHO ON EARTH DOES THIS BABY BELONG TO?!” And then passed the buggy to see a curly-haired middle aged woman glaring up at me.
I’m not really sure
A) Why she was sat in a buggy or
B) Why I was so loudly concerned but oh well.
We bought a gigantic four cheese pizza from a takeaway shop and a bottle of bellini and sat dangling our legs by the canal and watched the gondolas go by. I’m not sure why we’re happy as larry like this despite being on our honeymoon… maybe it was getting ripped off a bit the night before, or maybe the backpacker mentality will never leave us! We waddled back to the hotel for a lie down then went back to saint Mark’s square to watch the musicians and devour a final gelato.
Venice was beautiful, I loved it.
Anyway, i was joking about this train having dementors on it, but there actually is one in our carriage in the form of a miserable old bint dressed head to toe in black who has just bollucked me in Italian for typing too loudly so that’s me over and out. Next stop: Salzburg!
It’s been a while hasn’t it? I’m writing this sat in the lounge of our house in Leeds. I’m fully dressed with my dressing gown on over the top because I’m refusing to put the heating on. I’ve got some candles burning to cheer myself up a bit, a mug of chai (standard) and Eva Cassidy/Joni Mitchell on in the background to stop my urge to put Christmas music on because I’m feeling really Christmassy but it’s still not December so I’m trying not to start everything off too early.
I haven’t blogged for ages but I’ve been missing it, and work’s still slow so I don’t really have that much to do, so I thought I’d give you all a little update on how things are at the moment. I also thought I’d do some cheeky subheadings for your viewing pleasure.
When we got back we saw our close friends Joe and Lauren get married. It was a lovely lovely day full of laughter. Tom pulled off his best man duties well, including a speech which had everyone chuckling. We are so happy for them both.
(That’s Tom below the feathers)
Our friends Kate and Ed announced that they are expecting their first baby, which is such wonderful news! I can’t wait to get my knitting needles out and make a start on Baby Robert’s hand-knitted wardrobe.
Tom and I celebrated a year since our engagement, and also our six year anniversary. Can you believe I was 19 and Tom was 20 when we got together? We were babies! Still are really… but we’ve got a wedding to plan! Far too grown up for my liking!
I’m at a weird equilibrium of still enjoying my home comforts whilst feeling the post-travel blues. I miss not knowing where I am for a few seconds when I wake up, but at the same time, I’m loving seeing my family, getting drunk with my friends and making up new songs to sing to my cats.
I’ve found a new lease of passion for decorating and changing up the house since we’ve got back. I think being away for a while gives you a bit of perspective and inspired me to make some changes.
I guess the biggest thing that’s happened is Gaby and Peter have sadly moved out. We loved living with them for a month when we got back! We decided to rent our room out via Airbnb. We used airbnb several times whilst we were away. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s a website where you can find spare rooms to rent, or rent out you own spare rooms. At first the idea of staying in a stranger’s home can be a bit weird, but we discovered it’s actually a great way to make new friends and a cheap way to visit new places.)
So we painted the top spare room and bathroom and put it on the website. So far we’ve had three sets of guests, and it’s going really well. Our current guest, Paul, has been with us for a few weeks and is staying until Christmas, and we all get on really well, so that’s nice. Luckily he’s quite understanding with my late night piano lessons plonking away right under his bedroom! Phew!
(Here’s the room – fancy, no?)
We’ve also painted the kitchen and dining room, and painted the outside steps. Tom fixed the doorbell, and I’ve just ordered an outdoor light, which makes everything much more inviting to my students arriving in the darkness.
I’ve been on a shopping rampage recently, and I’ve bought new knobs for the chest of drawers in our room and the Welsh dresser in the kitchen. I also discovered the website Desenio which is great for cheap prints. I went a bit bonkers and bought a tonne, but they’ve given the house such a lift. Our next step is painting our bedroom.
Tom has started working in primary schools doing music technology on iPads, so he’s doing that on weekdays. He also works in a pub up the road on some evenings and weekends, and he has a third job working for a local radio station.
In contrast, I’m not really working as much as I’d like. I have twelve private flute and piano students who I teach in the evenings, one daytime school teaching flute and recorder, and a Saturday music centre where I teach big groups of piano students, and a music theory class. Having seen that written down, I realise I’m working more than I think… It’s just taking a while to build up, but I accepted that when we went travelling!
(New prints above the piano too 🙂 )
We’ve been to a tonne of gigs since we got back: Kate Rusby, James Vincent McMorrow, Tom Odell, the Low Anthem, and we’ve booked tickets to see Bon Iver in January.
I love live music, and it’s a constant reminder of why I do what I do and love doing it! I must say, Tom Odell was truly mind-blowingly good. He’s my second favourite gig of all time. (Number one was José González at the Sydney Opera House, incase you’re wondering.)
I’m enjoying having Spotify working again. For some reason it gave up the ghost and refused to work whilst we were away. Can someone let me know if I’m allowed to listen to Christmas stuff yet?
This is getting a little dull isn’t it? Ha! Well, I like to think of this blog as my diary, so I know I’ll find it interesting in years to come, plus you may find some film/tv recommendations in here.
When we got home we were massively behind on our TV watching schedule. So we’ve been catching up on Orange is the New Black, Bates Motel, and Game of Thrones. New shows we’ve discovered and loved have included Stranger Things, Happy Valley, and the new series of Planet Earth.
I’ve been binge watching Outlander, since we met Dave who worked on the show when we were in Laos, and he told me all about it. I read the first book whilst we were away, and I’ve been watching the show since we got back. (I’d just like to add that it’s quite gory and not for the faint-hearted!)
Whilst I loved the convenience of having a Kindle whilst we were away, I’ve loved getting my hands back on real books. They are such a pleasure and comfort to me and always have been.
A few highlights of my general bookwormishness since we got back:
IT by Stephen King (I’m a massive Stephen King fan, and I’ve been meaning to read this massive tome for years. It took me a good three weeks but I bloody loved it. I also read this at the same time as we were watching Stranger Things and fell into an eighties nostalgia black hole. (I do realise I wasn’t alive in the eighties but yeahhh))
Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes ( Hughes is a beauty writer for the Guardian, and I’ve always loved her writing. I treated myself to a copy of her book and, girly as it sounds, it’s inspired me to change up my make up look. I always used to wear the same make up every day, but it’s so fun to experiment and try new looks!)
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett ( A beautifully written novel, about a hold up in a big country house in an unnamed country. The whole book takes place inside the house, and quickly becomes not about the hostage situation but the relationships that blossom.)
Into Thin Airby Jon Krakauer (Non-fiction account of a Mount Everest disaster. I’m obsessed with Mount Everest, and I’ve read other works by Krakauer, so this was an obvious choice. Definitely read if you’re wanting something that will leave your heart in your throat and appreciate the lengths human beings can go to.)
Quiet by Susan Cain (Currently listening on audible. A book about the power of introverts. I’ve now realised there’s an actual reason why I’m exhausted after big social gatherings and absolutely love time to myself – hello introversion. Weird that it’s taken me this long to realise, as I’m not a shy person! But this is a really interesting and insightful listen for me, and I’d highly recommend it!)
Wedding planning is going well I suppose. People keep saying to me “oooh how’s the wedding planning??” and I’m just like “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING”
SO the ceremony and reception are booked, I’ve found my wedding dress, we’ve sorted the bridesmaids and best men, working on bridesmaids outfits then colour scheme…. blah blah blah. I’m excited! I am absolutely over the moon about marrying Tom but I’ve realised I’m just not the right type of person who gets excited about wedding favours and all that bullshit. Show me the champagne.
Honeymoon? Now we’re talking!!
We’ve been through a million options… Cuba, transiberian railway, Madagascar. I think we’re settling on inter railing around Europe. Once the travel bug bites you’re never cured, and I can’t be doing with luxury lying on a beach all inclusive holidays – it’s just not for me. Gimme that backpack!!
Isn’t it funny, I’m normally in some exotic destination, but it’s good to be back. Really. Kind of. I really want to keep my blog going, so I’m going to try and update at least once a week. It’s a fun hobby. I’m going to come up with some kind of weekly posts about travel etc. I still haven’t got my proper travel pictures off the big camera so I’ll get some of those up here when I do.
Anyway. Time for a little update. Our flight home was fine, not very eventful. I was amazed by our brief stop in Dubai at 5.30am where it was over 45 degrees. It was like stepping off the plane and into a greenhouse. Even the water in the toilet at the airport was hot!!
On getting back to the UK we spent a week in London with Tom’s family, catching up and seeing friends. It was lovely. And sunny too! Then we had a weekend in Southampton with my brother and Charlie and my parents flew down to meet us. I also saw my aunty and Grandad. It’s been so great to see my nearest and dearest after so long. There’s still more lovely people to see too!
Some other things I’ve been doing….
OBSESSING OVER THE FACT THAT YOU CAN DRINK WATER FROM THE TAP AND IT’S DELICIOUS AND IT WONT MAKE YOU SICK.
2) Booked our wedding. No biggie. We will be getting married on the 8th of July next year! So expect to hear a bit of rambling about that in the immanent future.
Enjoying having my mac back and being a mac wanker again. 🙂 I’d also forgotten about the witty sticker I’d put on it. Thanks past Heppy. You are a comical genius.
(I am also pleased to see my flute and piano again but my current migraine is making this a little unpleasant.)
Obsessing over my handbag I bought in Bali and posted straight home. I’d forgotten how lovely it is. It was expensive by Balinese standards (about £20) after a loooong haggling session but I’m so glad I bought it!
Writing in my diary. I finished a moleskine journal whilst we were away and as I lifelong hoarder of empty notepads, this is quite an achievement. So I bought an empty one, and this journal prompt thing on my kindle. It’s quite cool if you’re stuck thinking of things to write about (now that you’re not waking up in a different exotic location each day… sob)
Obsessing over this woman’s hair like the creepy weirdo I am. (N.B these are photos from a magazine haha!) I think I’ll get this done after we are married, need to stay fringe free/not a goth until then.
Reading Rachel Brathen’s “Yoga Girl” for some inspiration to get me yogaing now I’m back home. And watching Girls. I love it.
I realise all ove the above make me seem very vapid, but I can’t post an image of how I’ve been spending time registering for an NHS dentist, booking the cats into the vets and calling the plumber to have a look at the boiler. Plus, it wouldn’t make very interesting reading would it?!
Welcome to what is probably the penultimate travel blog entry, because we fly home in nine days!! I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you to all of you have stuck with me from the very beginning. I’ve loved having the blog as a diary, and also a way to tell the stories of our trips to my friends and family.
Through the blog I’ve discovered a new love for writing, and as I’m almost a hundred posts in, it seems a shame to throw in the towel now. I’m going to keep the blog going even when I’m at home. Sure, I probably won’t have anything that interesting to write about (except wedding planning… Cough) but I’ve really enjoyed having a new hobby that I can do anywhere (hello international airports) and anytime (hello insomnia!)
So, the past week has been spent having a look around the south of Thailand.
It was really nice to return to Thailand. It’s been the first time we’ve “returned” anywhere on the trip, but it’s a relief to arrive somewhere and understand how it all works, and how to say “hello” and “thank you.”
Unfortunately on the way out of Cambodia I developed tonsillitis. I’d like to take a moment to share with you, and anyone who may or may not have had tonsillitis in the past, one of my favourite ever pieces of journalism: Charlie Brooker on the horrors of tonsillitis.
“It’s worse, far worse, than international terrorism and child abuse combined.”
Although the above quote is a slight over statement, I love to return to this piece every time I get tonsillitis and share it with anyone who doesn’t understand how FUCKING TERRIBLE IT IS.
So our flight to from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Phuket, Thailand wasn’t a fun one for me.
I went hot cold hot cold hot cold and I couldn’t wear my hoodie because it’s currently in quarantine after I slept in it in a bed full of bedbugs in Siem Reap. (But that’s a song I shall sing another day.)
We changed flights in Bangkok where we were delayed, but I was semi conscious so I didn’t really know or care that much about it.
FINALLY we got to Phuket and had some food (an ice cream for me) and fell asleep.
(Above is the only photo I took in Phuket! See, told you I was ill! Haha. Our room was really cool, it felt like we were staying in a church and I had a nice new dress on.)
The next day was a slow plod to an English-speaking pharmacy where I demanded antibiotics and then went back to bed with a nice little spittoon next to me. Special shout out to Thomas Copley (aka Nurse Copley) who is basically a SAINT. I seriously don’t understand how people can travel alone. There have been far to many occasions where I’ve been bedridden on this trip (hello Vietnam!) and I’ve relied on Tom to get food for me otherwise I would have died.
Anyway, nothing was achieved for 48 hours other than walking around the corner to visit that cat cafe. I love cats!!!
Then we moved to another side of Phuket, closer to Kata beach. We found our hostel, and as I got there I saw a little dog sat on the bar stool by reception. As I walked towards it to say hello (“sawadee ka!”) it stuck its paw out and gave me a high five! This was one of the best moments ever as it felt like an achievement to even make it there in my sweaty and delirious state!
The hostel was okay but the bathroom was grim and full of cockroaches so we had to knock loudly on the door and turn the lights on and off a few times before we could enter. (To scare them off into their holes) It was a bit hysterical really but I’ve got to the point where I’ll put up with anything!
We chilled by the beach for two days which was nice, and I began to feel better. What would we do without antibiotics?
After Phuket we went to Koh Phi Phi, which was really nice, more filled with backpackers so we felt a bit more at home and I was beginning to feel more human.
We basically lazed and wandered around for two days. Our hostel was really grim and the toilet was in the shower, but it was okay. We had a crazy thunderstorm one night. The thunder was so loud that it was like someone banging a drum in your chest.
(our lovely toilet in the shower, for your viewing pleasure.)
The next day we went for a very slow plod up to a viewpoint above Ko Phi Phi. To get there, we followed the tsunami evacuation route. It’s good to see that these have all been put into place after the 2004 tragedy.
We had a nice walk. It was very sweaty, but we met some nice kittens and the view was cool. On the way back down the hill, my foot slipped from underneath me and I completely stacked it. My knee was bleeding so badly that it was running all the way down to my ankles but I just laughed because it ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME. Tom said “you’ve taken to travelling like a duck with bricks in its pockets,” and then a German man shouted at me for wearing the wrong shoes. No rest for the wicked eh?
That evening we watched a fire show on the beach which was nice.
Next stop: Koh Lanta. We’d heard Koh Lanta was a nice chilled island to visit. We got a tuk tuk to our hotel which was literally just on a road in the middle of nowhere. Because it’s low season, “quiet” means “totally dead.” Also, we had overlooked that we were visiting a Muslim island during Ramadan. Most travellers rent motorbikes or scooters but because we’re both too clumsy (see above) and we’ve seen too many people covered in bandages we’ve decided against using them. This meant that we were in the middle of nowhere for 48 hours. Because it’s rainy season the weather has been pretty pants so we just basically did nothing! I didn’t take a single photo because it was literally just a dirt road in the rain.
Onwards! Krabi! This was one that I was really excited about because we’d booked somewhere faaaaaancy as a treat for Tom’s birthday. By fancy, I mean £50 a night, but it really goes a long way in Thailand! We checked into the Krabi resort, and Tom said “it’s my birthday tomorrow, is it possible to get an upgrade?” And it worked! Amazing. I need to be more assertive. “Britain needs serts!”
We were taken to our suite in a little golf buggy and the novelties didn’t wear off for the next 48 hours. Our room was stunning, and huge, and octagonal. We had a lovely bathroom bigger than many rooms we’ve stayed in with a sunken bath. The resort had two massive pools, all you can eat buffet breakfast…. Oh it was just paradise! I’ve never appreciated luxury so much! Tom’s birthday was great, we just spent the day eating and drinking and lying by the pool ordering drinks and charging them to our room which just felt amazing until we checked out and paid the ransom the next day haha!
(The birthday boy)
I leave you with the above photo to distract from my despair that the next time I write here we will be GOING HOME!!!😭😭😭
Okay time for happy thoughts, here are some things that have made me laugh so far in the Thai islands:
During our time at the Krabi Resort (posh hotel) there was a monkey on the loose who kept emptying the bin at the bottom of the stairs, looting all over the place, and generally causing chaos. The staff laid out a big trap filled with bananas but he wasn’t interested.
Also at the Krabi Resort there was a gigantic lizard who was about four foot long and was doing laps around a little posh moat area, making everyone who spotted him scream. Clearly the animals at the resort didn’t get the memo about it being a swanky place!
When boarding one of the boats between the islands there was a very official man in an official uniform making an official announcement…. By shouting through a traffic cone.
Hello from Phuket! It’s nice to be back here, and the weather is much cooler than when we were last in Thailand in April. It’s rainy season, and I currently have tonsillitis, which isn’t fun, but antibiotics are bloody cheap. Yesterday we bought a set of twenty amoxicillin tablets for me, fifty doxycycline tablets (anti-malarials, which cost £1 per tablet at home) some calpol, and some indigestion tablets for a grand total of SIX QUID.
So, dear reader, please put in any drug requests now! We are three weeks away from home. Speaking of home, will the UK still be standing when we get there? This is the worst political turmoil I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I’m so sad about leaving the EU. I love Europe. Plus the pound has already plummeted in value, which makes future travels more expensive, and I’m dreading another recession.
Anyway, happy thoughts please!
Last week we visited Angkor Archaeological Park, just outside of Siem Reap. I filled my phone with photos so I thought I’d post them all here.
First up: Angkor Wat!
Angkor Wat is the most famous of the many temples in the park. We got up at 3.45am and met our tuk tuk driver, Hip, who took us to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It was breathtaking. Other travellers had warned us that there would be loads of people there….but there wasn’t! A few hundred perhaps, but not the huge crowd I’d imagined. The silhouette of Angkor Wat was really familiar to us having been in Cambodia for a couple of weeks. It was incredible to see it in the flesh and watch the detail slowly appear as the sun rose.
(Above photos are from inside Angkor Wat)
(Made friends with a kitty. I told her she had the coolest house ever and fed her some pizza flavoured Pringles)
(The steps up the big “pineapple” made our hands mega dirty.)
Angkor Wat definitely has the coolest silhouette, but the other temples were way cooler inside!
Next up, Bayan Temple. This place was one of my favourites, it had loads of hidden faces everywhere.
I’m sorry that my photo quality is pretty pants – these were taken on my iPhone and then reduced in resolution so I can upload them easily with crappy wifi. I can’t wait to show you all some decent photos from the big camera when we’re back!
I can’t believe it wasn’t even 7am at this point!
I’m unsure of the name of the next temple. It felt a bit like something from Ancient Greece to me.
It was a muggy day, but it worked out well because it wasn’t too hot.
I really loved the temples that were a bit more rugged and unkept. They reminded me of The Jungle Book and really captured my imagination.
(Statues are often missing heads because it was once believed that they contained gold, and so the temples were sometimes ransacked.)
I firmly believe that the only good thing the Khmer Rouge did was to leave the temples alone. Thank goodness they left them. They’re such a joy to explore as a tourist. Also, they’re free to visit for locals, and we met a local family who told us that they go nearly every weekend for picnics. How cool is that?!
See – I did warn you I took a lot of photos!
We were totally knackered by the time we left, but it was a fabulous day, and one of my favourite sites in South East Asia. I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
Before I leave you, here’s a list of really mundane inanimate objects I’m excited for when I get home. Always appreciate the small things!
Heinz tomato soup
Pajamas without elastic around the ankles
The correct conditioner for my candy floss hair.
Tea making facilities
Not feeling ill.
That wasn’t meant to be a rant, I just know I’ll have the post-travel Blues so I’m getting myself excited for the small things that I miss a lot.
Our first stop after a suspiciously easy border crossing from Vietnam, was Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived in the evening, and the following day went to learn about Cambodia’s history.
This wasn’t an easy introduction to the country. I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing about the Khmer Rouge, because it isn’t easy to write about and it won’t be easy to read either. However the people of Cambodia want tourists to visit the memorials, and they want the world to know their history, so it only seemed right to get it down in words on my blog.
In the late 1970s, the Cambodian government was lead by the Khmer Rouge, whose rule eventually lead to a huge genocide. They orchestrated a mass famine, and wanted to create a “peasant nation.” They began by getting rid of educated people (I.e people who might have questioned their ideals) the first victims were scholars, teachers, and even people who wore glasses. The country was isolated, money was banned, religion was banned, and a huge percentage of the population were sent to work in slave labour camps.
Our first stop of the day was the Killing Fields Genocide Memorial. We were given handheld audio guides, which enables you to take a tour silently and at your own pace. The Killing Fields is essentially a mass grave, one of many all over the country. As you walk around, you step over pieces of human bone and clothing that rise through the soil every time it rains.
Cambodian people were brought here by the truck load, lined up at the edge of a huge grave and bludgeoned to death. (The Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste their precious bullets.) The workers would spread chemicals on the bodies to help eliminate the smell and also kill off anyone unlucky enough to survive the blow. I can’t write more. Yet there’s more. There are all the human skulls stacked floor to ceiling, more than you could possibly count, with holes in the top, or completely crushed. There was a killing tree. That makes my blood run cold to even think about it, I’ve got goosebumps all over my legs.
They hung huge speakers in the trees and played deafeningly loud patriotic songs all day, over the whirring of the generators. The audio guide played a sample of the sound, so you can imagine what people heard drowning out the death cries.
Next, we visited the S-21 prison. We didn’t pay extra for the audio guide this time round. I couldn’t face the descriptions of the torture methods. The prison used to be a school. Here, people were held and tortured for up to six months before being sent to their deaths in the fields. The floors still have bloodstains on them and there’s bloody handprints on the walls. It’s a very somber place, and I barely even heard birdsong whilst we were there.
For some reason the Khmer Rouge photographed each victim before they locked them up. In the museum, all the photos are displayed and make for very haunting viewing. I tried to look at every face as an individual, I felt like I owed them that much…but in the end…. There were too many.
Cambodia has broken my heart. This atrocity happened just over ten years before I was born. I almost can’t believe it’s real, yet walking around Cambodia, I’ve hardly seen anybody over the age of fifty, so it must be real, right? One quarter of the population was wiped out. The regime forced marriages that lead to many children (the people my age) being born of unhappy circumstances.
What I’ve taken from that day in Phnom Penh is an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have, and a growing urgency in my mind that I should never take it for granted.
We left Phnom Penh feeling a little bit like different people to the ones who arrived there.
Next stop: Kampot.
We had a nice time in Kampot. We were only there for one night. It’s a small town built on the banks of the river. We had a nice meal by the riverside watching the sunset.
After Kampot we went to Kep, which is by the sea. I always feel excited to be by the sea when we travel. I’ve always loved the ocean, but I think my love has been enhanced recently because the climate is so damn hot, a sea breeze does me the world of good.
I loved Kep! We were taken by tuk tuk miles from the town to our accommodation, which was a little bungalow in the jungle, run by a lovely French couple. We chilled out for two days, frequenting the local sailing club which had stunning views of the sunset over the sea. (And two for one cocktails) we wandered round, and just had a lovely relaxing time.
Then we hopped on the bus to Sihanoukville, our stepping stone to Koh Rong Island. After a night here we were off to island paradise.
We had a wonderful time. It was stunning! So here’s a little ode I wrote to Koh Rong Island (I had absolutely nothing better to do, we didn’t have wifi because the island hadn’t paid their bill and so got cut off by the supplier.)
Here’s to the peacock-coloured ocean drenched in turquoise, green and gold.
Here’s to waiting for it to be pitch black so you can swim amongst the glowing plankton that is so magical and sparkly that it almost feels like you’re swimming through space.
Here’s to sleeping in a bungalow on the beach, cooled only by a fan so you wake up with the sun, drenched in sweat. Here’s to your nighttime curfew being determined by the monstrous moths who come out at night, forcing you to switch off the light and listen to music instead of reading as usual.
Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.
Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.
Here’s to skipping meals because there’s no ATM on the island and we want to eek out the little cash we brought in order to stay as long as possible.
Here’s to stray dogs who dig themselves a hole in the sand under your sun lounger so they can sleep in your shade and company, only huffing occasionally when water drips on them because you went swimming.
Here’s to planning birthday surprises, being eaten alive by mosquitos and waking up to Tom doing a magical salsa dance stood on the bed whilst clapping the bastards to death.
Here’s to the sea that’s as warm and clear as a swimming pool, to cans of yucky cheap beer and getting accidentally sunburnt because the anti-malaria tablets make your skin more sensitive.
Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again.
….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.
That’s a mouthful isn’t it? HCMC is also known as Saigon. I’m scrabbling to stay on top of the blog. We’ve made it this far! So I thought I’d bring you up to date with recent happenings in a more summary kinda way with the help of lots of photos so that it doesn’t drag on too much. We’re heading to Cambodia on the bus tomorrow, and I must admit I’m totally KNACKERED. Over tea this evening, Tom and I decided to calculate how much travel we’ve done in Vietnam…. Drum roll please… Over 24 days we have spent 70 hours on public transport, which is over 11% our time here (that’s including time spent asleep) so I’ve given myself full permission to be exhausted haha. Onwards!
After Hue, we headed to Hoi An, (not to be confused with Hanoi!) which is a beautiful coastal town set upon the river. It’s an ancient trading port and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is really atmospheric and the influence from the trading with China and Japan is still apparent today. It really whisks you back in time, and it ended up being one of my favourite places in Vietnam.
We had a cycle to the beach one day, then the heavens opened and we sheltered in a restaurant (shame.) We explored the old town by day and by night, which I loved. Hoi An is also famous for tailoring and shoe making. Many people get suits made and sent home. Tom and I decided to treat ourselves to a pair of shoes each. Tom got a beautiful pair of leather and suede brown brogues made, and I went for a pair of sandals. What a luxury to have shoes made to measure for my narrow and high-instepped feet, my toes are singing! (They cost £17 which is much less than I’d normally pay for good shoes) Unfortunately I can’t share a pic of Tom’s shoes as he’s posted them home.
(They’re dirty already, fingers crossed that they make it home in one piece! Travelling is mighty hard on the old footwear!)
Other highlights of Hoi An were a wonderful musical performance including six musicians playing traditional instruments including a bamboo flute. This then ended up being a game of bingo (I’m not sure why) but we didn’t win…. Also I got a manicure and pedicure. What luxury!
I was then struck down with some diabolical food poisoning. (From a cheese sandwich, no less) I was very very sicky, so we had to spend an extra night there… Tom eating out in restaurants on his own, bless him. The staff at our homestay were so lovely to me, and kept popping to our room to check on me whilst Tom was out and about. Fast forward a week later and I’m FINALLY back to normal. Oh well…
We had a lovely ten hour train journey through the day to Nha Trang, which is further down the coast. The train was a nightmare for me, still ill, but I made it!
Nha Trang is a kind of beach resort-like town that is really popular amongst Russian people. This makes it quite surreal because a lot of the writing you see is in Russian, and you have a lot of Russian menus thrust in your face, which makes life even more confusing than normal.
I spent the day in bed recovering whilst Tom took himself to a brew house he found on the beach (I don’t feel too sorry for him, whilst he sent me photos of his pints haha)
The next day I made it to the beach and drank a coconut at the beach bar. Progress! In all honesty, I didn’t see much of Nha Trang, but I did like what I saw. (Apart from when I saw someone spit-roasting an entire crocodile in the street, which didn’t help my disposition.)
Next on the agenda was Da Lat, a town up in the mountains that is cool in climate and popular amongst the Vietnamese as a honeymoon destination. Our hostel was a real gem as they gave us free breakfast and dinner, we met some lovely people and the staff were really nice.
On our first day we walked to the Crazy House, a piece of bonkers architecture designed by a female local architect.
(Above photos are courtesy of google images, as I was still being dopey and forgot to take my phone or camera with me.)
The Crazy House has been a work in progress since 1990, and was really interesting to visit, although it didn’t feel very safe at some points (e.g. When we walked over the roof with a hand rail at knee height) I loved it though. The lonely planet describe it as “imagine Gaudi and Tolkein meeting up and dropping acid together.” Haha.
That evening we went the 100 roofs cafe, a bar by the same architect. This was literally like a maze and it took us a while to find the bar.
(The best bar I’ve ever been to!)
The next day we took a cable car across the valley to visit a monastery, which was wonderful to get a bit of peace, then we just chilled with people from our hostel and Ruby the three week old kitten who I had to try really hard not to kidnap.
We were up early for the bus the next day. I dubiously had my eye on the street butcher across from the hostel whilst I ate my breakfast. I then saw him pick up an entire cow’s head, snap the jaw bone open and then cut the tongue out. My new found vegetarianism is being reinforced by the day at the moment haha!
Ho Chi Minh City
Our final stop in Vietnam is HCMC. After yet another long-ass bus we arrived and found our hostel.
What followed was an interesting night’s sleep with rats running around the floor of our room. GRIM.
The following day we visited the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. These were used in the Vietnam war by the Vietcong so that they could hide from and attack the Americans.
We saw all sorts of horrifically tortuous booby traps created by the Vietnamese. We were then led to a shooting range where you could pay to fire a variety of guns. I wish I’m joking, but I’m not. Seriously. I was just thinking “why the fuck would you want to shoot a gun, here of all places?!” I’ve never heard gunshots before, and they were absolutely deafening and terrifying, and I didn’t like it at all. Then we were shown an American tank, which lots of members of our tour group posed by, smiling for photos and taking selfies.
I just find this whole mentality disturbing, and I was quite upset that people don’t seem to have a concept that they’re posing for a photo with a weapon of war, in a place where thousands died. Anyway. Rant over.
We then got to the entrance of the tunnels. We were told that it was a stretch of 100 metres, and we could get out at intervals of 20m. I’d been warned that they were small, but I wasn’t ready for how small the tunnels actually were! You literally had to shuffle along in a crouch. There were people in front and behind, and it was hot and so small. Panic started to rise in my throat, my breath quickened and my chest tightened and I said “sorry, I need to come out!” And had to go back and get out. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even go into the tunnels. I could feel a panic attack coming on and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’ve realised that I hate small spaces with people in them. I could have managed if it was just me and Tom, but the thought of there being people ahead and behind without being able to get out just…ARGH. The Cu Chi tunnels were an amazing place to visit, and I recommend them to anyone visiting Vietnam.
For the sake of the blog, here’s a description from Tom’s point of view of his trip down the tunnels:
“Claustrophobic, sweaty, dusty and back breaking.”
(My new flutey tute)
On waking in the second morning in the rat hotel I went to the toilet, got locked inside the toilet having made a horrific smell (thanks Vietnamese food) and then had to be broken out by the hotel staff. Mortifying!! To be honest, the hotel wasn’t exactly the best, hence the rodent problem.
(At least there was a gap above the door so I didn’t get Cu Chi tunnel claustrophobic a whilst waiting to be broken out)
I decided we deserved a fancy hotel with a bed that’s comfortable and no rats…. So spent 17 quid for a night in the Dragon Palace. Yay!
Our final day was spent in the war remnants museum, which was filled with some really harrowing images. I had a massive lump in my throat throughout. It’s crazy that the Vietnam war was one of the first that was documented by the media.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed our time in Vietnam. I feel most homesick when I’m poorly, so I did struggle with being ill twice. The country is a true mixed bag of crazy hustle bustle in the cities and beautiful countryside. I’m glad we came here.
Things that have surprised me in Vietnam
1) The bananas are green.
2) The oranges are also green.
3) People like crouching. On the streets of Vietnam, you’ll often see people crouched, smoking a cigarette, or chatting. They do it with their feet flat on the floor. I tried this in our hotel room and fell flat on my arse.
4) No one walks really. Scooters are the given mode of transport with locals driving from shop to shop, parking their bike on the pavement outside. This makes it a pretty tricky place to be a pedestrian.
5) Vietnam is home to possibly the world’s cheapest beer. 9p a glass makes a happy Thomas.
6) The gaps between the cities make for a lot of travel time. It’s easy to see why lots of backpackers choose to travel by motorbike. Having seen so many people covered in bandages however, I decided it’s not for me.
7) Families live together. Many generations of one family live under one roof in Vietnam, which is lovely. The Vietnamese are very social and many choose to spend the evenings sat on stools in the street. This makes me want to strive to spend less time in front of the TV when we get home!
8) There are over 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam today. I really enjoyed meeting some of the Black Hmong tribe whilst we were in Sapa. It was a lovely experience.