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Lately

Well hello,

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.

Celebrations

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.

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(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!

Home

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!

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(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.

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KNOB

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.

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Work

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!

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(New prints above the piano too 🙂 )

 

Listening

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.

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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.)

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(That’s Tom Odell jumping up and down on his piano, which I think you’re allowed to do when you’re as good as him.)

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?

Watching

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.

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(Stranger Things)

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!)

Reading

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:

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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 Air by 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.)

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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 Shiz

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.

Anyway.

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!!

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Week one in Cambodia

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.

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Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again. 

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….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.

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11 lessons I’ve learnt whilst travelling

We’re coming towards the end of our trip (NOOOOOO) with only seven weeks left until we fly from Bangkok to Gatwick. I’ve recently become reflective and I was thinking about the things I’ve learnt and decided to write a post about it before I’m sat at home on the sofa and I’ve forgotten everything. So here it is… Eleven lessons I’ve learnt whilst travelling.

1) Trust people

99% of people are kind and helpful. As I’m writing this, nothing bad has happened to us, so TOUCH WOOD… But we’ve had so many situations where people have been like “You’re going to Hiroshima? You’re on the wrong train! Get off quick!”
There was that time where we hitch-hiked in New Zealand and we’ve stayed in people’s houses we’ve never met before. When somebody says “I need to take your passport down to road to get your boat ticket,” just give them the passport!

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2) At the same time, be sensible and look after yourself

It’s important to look after your valuables, keep your wits about you and if you end up wandering around somewhere dodgy-looking at 3am, just get a taxi!

3) If someone invites you to do something, say yes

When someone I’ve just met asks me “do you want to play a drinking game?” Or “would you like to have dinner with me and my family?” My inner introvert panics at the thought of an impeding awkward situation and my instinct is always to make some kind of excuse. But I’ve learnt that you should always say yes, and good experiences always come out of it.

You’ll meet some amazing people who are equally as poor as you, and you’ll end up having a Box/chicken party It’s cheap!

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4) You’ll have crazy highs and a couple of crazy lows
Sometimes travelling feels like you’re in a happy musical. (No really, I literally twirled around and cried with happiness in New York and screamed when we saw the Hollywood sign.) And to balance life out, you’ll spend a few hours crying on the toilet because you’re so ill, and you’ll scream “what am I doing with my life??!!” in torrential downpour wondering why you’ve found yourself at the top of a slippy ladder in a pear tree.

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5) A smile goes a long way
There are places in the world where you’ll get hassled a lot. When it’s hot and you’ve got your backpack on it’s easy to get your feathers ruffled and want to yell “bugger off, I’ve been walking for half an hour and I can’t find my hostel!!!!!!” But I’ve learnt that to smile and say “no thank you” is the best way around it, and you won’t feel as stressed.

5) Living out of a bag gives you perspective about things
I’ve never been particularly materialistic and I’ve always preferred a good book over shoes, but living out of a 65litre rucksack for ten months gives you a good perspective on the stuff you don’t need. It took me a month or so to relearn what my face looks like without make up, but think I’m actually happier with less stuff. I feel calmer and less cluttered. Okay, so I totally didn’t have a meltdown when my favourite dress got a stain on it…. But yeah. Less is more when it comes to backpacking. Oh, and Kindles are one of the BEST things in the entire world. (That’s a sentence I never thought I’d say)

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6) You’ll also get perspective on stress an it’s effect on the body
Of all the places I’ve been, the ones with the fastest pace of life and visibly stressed people are America, Japan, and the good old United Kingdom. I honestly think we all work far too hard to save money for holidays and stuff we don’t need so we can forget about the rubbish climate. (Massive generalisation…I know. Maybe I’m just a summer person.)
When we’d been travelling for around a month, I felt the muscles in my jaw loosening. My eczema that I’ve had nearly all my life has completely disappeared and those paralysing migraines I get about once every six weeks? Well guess how many I’ve had in eight months?… One.
I’m not writing this to make anyone jealous, but as a reminder to my future self that stress is terrible for me, and I need to work on staying chilled. When I’ve figured out how to do that one I’ll let you know!

7) Travelling will change you in ways you don’t expect

Those of you who know me will know that I’m fairly easy-going but I am also a big worrier. I’m a little bit more relaxed now, mainly about travel situations. For example, I no longer check my passport a million times before boarding a plane. And if someone doesn’t give me my change straight away, I can just wait, knowing they’ll get it to me. I’m a more patient now, and less easily flustered.

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8) But mostly, you’ll stay the same.
I have chronic insomnia. I thought travelling would cure me, and dorm rooms would be a kind of therapy and I’d come home with the ability to sleep anywhere. Well, the truth is I still can’t sleep anywhere! I thoroughly believe there is a special place in hell reserved for people who snore and have sex in dorm rooms. Dorm rooms are my own kind of personal hell actually. One of the main things I miss about home is that I can get up and roam the house and play with my cats and make a cup of tea at anytime any hour of the night. Plus there’s always a comfy spot for me to go with my book. Whilst we’ve been away I’ve done a lot of reading on the toilet in the early hours so that I don’t wake Tom up!

9) Always go with your gut
If a person, or a situation gives you a bad feeling in your tummy, or if you find your trying to talk yourself into doing something… DON’T DO IT.

10) You will adapt to anything
When we arrived in Asia there weren’t any knives and forks. I’d used chopsticks before but found them fiddly and they made me eat incredibly slowly. Fast forward a week and I finished a plate of food and say “Oh! I didn’t even think about the chopsticks!” When we first went to Japan, the whole nude bathing thing terrified me. A week later I was strolling around naked happy as Larry.

11) push yourself, but also know your limits.
I can jump out of a plane at 15000ft

I can bungee jump off a bridge .
I will never drive a scooter/motorbike in Asia.
I will never go scuba diving.

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Never say never though. The scary things are the best challenges.

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Hong Kong

Hello from Kyoto Japan! It’s as wonderful and confusing as you’d imagine here. And we’re not very good at finding wifi so I’m a bit behind with the old blog. Here’s a post about our time in Hong Kong

So onwards we went on our Asian adventure. Next stop: Hong Kong.

The airport experience getting out of Kuala Lumpur was a total nightmare. I’m not quite sure why we got in such a pickle, but I think it’s because we’ve been flying a lot recently and were on automatic pilot mode (Ho Ho)
Basically, we arrived at the airport, did a self check in on a little screen, and then looked at the departures board and read “Gate 60” and just started walking to the gate. We went through several security checks, including the hand luggage scanner and we were a bit mystified as we tried to ram our big rucksacks through the small hole. We kept walking and walking, down a lot of moving walkways until finally we reached our gate. Then we were like “but wait, where is the bag drop?”

We’d missed it! Thank goodness we arrived at the airport mega early. We had to go backwards through all the security checks, including my personal favourite: the bag scanner where the bloke who was meant to be checking the X-rays didn’t even look up from his crossword… We were halted at one point and our passports were confiscated – that’s a good way to make your blood go cold. We were issued through to the bag check where the bewildered check in assistant said “but I can’t check you in if you don’t have your passports!” We were then escorted back through to find the passport man who had gone on his lunch break and left our passports with his buddy. Jesus. Anyway. We made it to Hong King exhausted but in one piece some how.

We got a train out of the airport (very big and very clean) and then a taxi to Tom’s godfather James’ flat. Unfortunately he was working whilst we stayed in Hong Kong so we didn’t see him, but it was so lovely to have a place of our own, with a bit of space and a comfy bed! We had a pizza (very Chinese) and went to bed.

 

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Day 1

We packed loads into our first day. We started off by getting the subway Mong Kok to the Ladies market. I’m not sure why it’s called the ladies market, as I’d describe it as unisex, but it was basically a heaven of waving lucky cats (I may have bought a few) clothes, phone cases, toys, bags: Everything under the sun for a haggle. Tom is really good at haggling. I’m too soft and feel guilty going really low haha! We came out with some goodies and then headed for some lunch.

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We then hopped back on the subway and went to Shat In. I’m not making these names up. We literally went to Mong Kok and Shat In! Hahaha!!!
Shat In is home to the 10,000 Buddhas. We walked up loads of steps. There were loads of dogs barking, and then something moving caught my eye and I looked up to see a huge monkey jumping across the rooftops. It was such a surprise, we had no idea there are monkeys in Hong Kong. They were different from the Balinese monkeys, they had no fur on their faces, which made them seem more human. A worker was wandering up and down the steps throwing oranges and apples to the monkeys.

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We kept walking until gold Buddhas started to line the steps. There were so many! Then we made it to the top of the hill where there was a beautiful monastery. Inside there were thousands of tiny Buddhas lining the walls. Unfortunately no photos were allowed so I can’t show you. There was also an enormous drum that had a sign on it saying “do not hit” and I had to fight against every fibre of my being to not give it a good smack in the silent room!!

Unfortunately it was very nearly 5pm so we had to leave before the gates closed. It was a fleeting visit, but I’m so glad we went. It amazed me how different it felt from the city, it was very leafy and the air felt calm and cool. Such a peaceful place.

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We then headed back down to the subway and to the night market. The night market was pretty cool, but a more seedy version of the ladies market. There were lots of shouty people pulling on our clothes and trying to drag us into their restaurants, shouting “WE HAVE DUCK. HOW MANY YOU WANT!!” In our ears. I also find it very disturbing to see little old ladies running sex stalls. There was a cool street where you could have your fortune read. I’m always fascinated by fortune tellers, but it was quite pricey so I didn’t bother. Besides, the palm reader in Whitby told me I’d live a long life, so I’m happy to stick with that!
We had some ominous dumplings and then headed home to bed.

Day 2
Easter Sunday! We had a bit of a lie in because we were bloody shattered, and didn’t make it out of the flat until 12.30pm. (Whoops)
We got on the bus to Stanley Market. (Another market, ha!) I was amazed again by how the landscape transformed. We were on the coast by the beach. It was very hilly and it felt and looked like the Amalfi coast in Italy. Such a change!
We didn’t buy anything at the market (probably due to the sheer amount of crap we’d bought the previous day) but we enjoyed wandering around and people watching. I was especially fascinated by the people we saw pushing their dogs around in buggies. Hilarious!
At one point we got surrounded by a film crew. We were told we were going to taste some food and we’d be on Chinese television… The first was a mug of hot ginger flavoured Coke which was quite nice. Then Tom was handed some mystery meat. When we asked what it was they said “roast! Roast!” So god knows what it was. He said it was nice. And then came the grand finale. A piece of what looked like liver. We reluctantly asked what it was and the response was “goose blood.” I refused to eat it, but Tom heroically poked it down. The best poker face I’ve ever seen. In true British style, he smiled and said it was delicious until we were out of view of the cameras and he grabbed the water off me muttering “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
Never a dull moment in Hong Kong!

Day 3
We started the day with a longer tube journey, and then got in the queue for the cable car up to Ngong Ping, home to one of the worlds biggest seated Buddhas. I was flummoxed to find that the queue was two hours long… But it was a bank holiday Monday so we got on with it and played a lot of solitaire on our phones. I may become a professional solitaire player when we get home. I’m good at original, three peaks and spider solitaire now!

The cable car was ace! It was about 25 minutes long, and went over sea to another island then up a huge mountain. It kept reaching little stations where I thought we were at the top, then it would just swing around a corner and keep going until finally the big Buddha came into view. It. Was. Massive!

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At the top were loads of shops, and then lots of steps up the huge Buddha. There was a monastery and the biggest incense sticks I’ve ever seen. It was lovely. Lots of people but we still had a great time. Back at the bottom, we headed into Hong Kong and legged it to the waterfront to catch the light show at 8pm. The skyscrapers light up and flash in time to some really naff music. It was pretty cool though.

Day 4
Disneyland. Need I say more?

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Day 5
On our final day we headed to a place called Tai O, which is a very old fishing village. We got a ferry and then a boat there. When we arrived we walked down winding streets full of stalls selling weird fish skins that were translucent and all forms of fish, including dried fish and shellfish. I was feeling pretty dodgy from the bus journey and there were points where the smells were making me feel very dodgy indeed. I really wanted to hold my nose because it was pongy but didn’t want to appear rude. One stall was selling huge shark skins. I asked Tom if we could buy one and make it into a sleeping bag but he said no.

After a walk we got a boat down the estuary and looked at the buildings built on stilts. They are literally houses with a big platform at the back where the locals fish and then they sell their catch at the front. It was really cool to see somewhere untouched by the British and nice to imagine what Hong Kong was like a few hundred years ago.

In the evening we caught the tram up Victoria Peak to view the city from the top of a hill. It was rammed with people and very smoggy but we still enjoyed seeing the cityscape in day and then night. We decided to treat ourselves to a “nice” meal because we had some Hong Kong dollars to spend. The meal was grim. I haven’t eaten anything enjoyable in Hong Kong, but never mind.

Things that have surprised me:

– Most things are translated into English so it was quite easy to manage. I was even handed a free English newspaper at one of the train stations. In Disneyland the songs were all English which made me feel a bit sorry for the Chinese children. I hadn’t realised that Hong Kong was under British rule for many years.

– queues everywhere. This was to be expected in Disneyland, but I wasn’t quite prepared for fully grown adults to elbow me out of the way!

– we found that Tom was fascinating to the local children. It was probably the beard, but we regularly got on the subway and had a journey where Tom was ogled at for twenty minutes. Hehe!

– people pushing their dogs around in buggies.

– on Sunday we saw loads and loads of women sat around the central station on cardboard having picnics. They were on their phones, well dressed etc so we knew they weren’t homeless. We did a Google search and apparently they are nannies and home workers etc usually from the Philippines and Indonesia who meet up on their day off to chat with their mates.

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Fraser Island

From Noosa, we embarked on a very uninformed trip to Fraser Island. Uninformed, in that we had no idea what we were doing really. The previous evening, we watched a briefing video, which explained how to drive a 4×4  in sand, what to do if your stuck in sand, how to adjust the tire pressure for sand, etc. etc. This all went completely over my head, and I hadn’t realised we were meant to be driving, so I had a bit of a sense of foreboding.

Anyway. We had a two hour bus journey to Rainbow Beach, where we were split into four groups and given a 4×4 each. Wow. There were six of us in our car; me, Tom, Luke, a Swiss French girl called Naila and two French sisters, Nadia and Dulia. We all got on really well, which was nice! Luke drove first, onto the ferry to the island and then for about forty minutes along the beach. We drove pretty fast, communicating with the tour guide who was in the front car via walky talky, which was really fun and reminded me of the 90s. (Walky talkies are equally exciting now, if you’re wondering.) It then began to piss it down.

 

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A running theme on our trip so far has been that it violently rains every time we spend money on an activity, and Fraser Island was no exception! Our first destination on the island was Eli Creek, a river of really pure drinkable water that you can float down into the sea. We were drenched to the bone from the moment we left the car, so it was quite fun jumping in the river, although it was freezing! The river was shallow, so we swam a little and walked too. There was one moment where I was walking along the sandy riverbed when I stepped into a hidden hole and disappeared, Dawn French style.

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We then headed back to the cars. It was so wet that there was no point even getting dressed so we were all in our swimmers getting stuck to the leather seats, which was a bizarre but hilarious experience. We then drove to a huge wrecked ship sat on the beach, which we ran to, took a photo of and then ran back. It was a tropical storm so wet that it’s almost hard to breathe because so much water was going up my nose!

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After that, we headed for a walk through the bush, down a gigantic sand dune and then chilled out by a big lake. The rain picked up again on the way to the hostel. We had a Chilean room mate who didn’t seem to own a shirt.

The hostel was nice, in that only people from our group were there. What followed was a very messy night, involving trying to “phone” eachother across the dance floor using the biggest item we could find. (We got shouted at for holding barstools to our ears) and some ridiculous dancing.
We were a bit worse for wear in the morning, but thankfully, Naila offered to drive first, taking us through the lush rainforest to Lake McKenzie. The lake is on a huge sand dune and is famous for its white sand. It was nice to chill out and sober up. The boys clowned about and did lots of belly flops, Luke did a good seal impression in the water, and I was just using the sand to exfoliate which I’ve been DYING to do since we left home. Clean skin at last! Then it came to my turn to drive…

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I’ve never driven a 4X4, on sand, or abroad before. So it was all a new experience. To be honest, it wasn’t too different to driving normally, other than the car felt huge. The difficult bit was being in the second car, and the leader would slow right down with no warning, so i’d have to try hard not to stall/rear end him, and when we drove on the squishy bits of sand, sometimes it would slip a little bit. We then headed back along the beach to the ferry. Luke drove and we had some songs on and had a sing. All in all it was a really fun trip and my favourite thing we’ve done in Australia so far.

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The Camping Chronicles: Part II

Here’s to tents flapping in the wind. To swimming in the sea because there’s no shower and watching baby ducks instead of facebook. To learning to speak German by playing cards by candle light. To airbeds and sleeping bags. To not looking in a mirror for three days and sleeping in all of your clothes. To sticking your head out of the tent to see the stars. Here’s to pasta and pesto, to kindles, and to spending thirty minutes boiling water for coffee before realising the gas canister is empty. Let’s hear it for eye masks, more sheep than people, finding forgotten chocolate santas, and cold beer. Here’s to laughter and hugs, shit weather in the summer, and drinking wine from a mug. Here’s to long walks. Here’s to jumping out of the ocean because you’ve seen a sting ray the same size as your tent. Here’s to pulling over at the side of the road to say hello to the seals. Here’s to good friends. Here’s to the bitter sweetness of homesickness. Here’s to a few days left before the plane journey. Here’s to joy.

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The Dolphin and Sick Encounter

After Christchurch, we headed to Kaikura for our much-anticipated dolphin swim. Kaikura, on the East coast of the South Island, is famous for its sealife and seafood.

For some reason, (I’m not sure who is responsible,) we had booked the 5.30am slot. Well actually, we booked it because this is the time when you’ll see the most dusky dolphins, as they’re heading out for their breakfast. This meant waking up at 4.15am, and packing up the tent. This was just as much fun as you can imagine it would be, and was made more enjoyable by trying to put a bikini on in the tent, in the dark. Breakfast was suggested, and I wasn’t at all hungry, but in hindsight, I’m very relived that I poked down a piece of toast….

We jumped in Simson the van, and headed to the Kaikura Dolphin Encounter Headquarters. (The venue also offers the more humorous sounding “Albatross Encounter” and intriguing “Cafe Encounter.”)
After filling out some health forms, me lying and saying I was competent at snorkelling, ho ho ho, we were ushered into the changing rooms and handed items of wetsuit, snorkels and flippers to wear.
Philine and I are both ridiculously tall so we found it absolutely hysterical trying to limber into a wetsuit designed for a much shorter person, ouch. We then sauntered sexily into the little cinema area where we all gathered and watched a briefing video. All seemed well, until at the end of the film when a staff member came through and uttered the fateful words:
“Okay! Great. We’ve been experiencing moderate swell and have had a few people suffering from sea sickness over the past few days, so I do hope you’ve all taken the appropriate medication. If not, we do have some ginger tablets for sale which might help.”
Tom and I looked at each other. We’re both hopeless when it comes to sea sickness, so I sent him off to get some ginger tablets with a great sense of foreboding.

We were all then ushered onto the bus that took us out to the water, where we boarded the boat. The boat took us out into the ocean, where we were scanning the waters for signs of the dusky dolphins. The sun was just coming up, and the boat was bopping all over the place in the waves. We saw lots of albatrosses, which were amazing. I’ve never seen them before; gigantic seagulls, about the size of a dog with a six foot wingspan. They were huge and fascinating. I loved watching them dive into the sea for their breakfasts, and how they just bobbed about on the waves, clearly completely unfazed by the “moderate swell.” We were then advised that once we’d swam, the blankets provided wouldn’t keep us warm if we didn’t get our wetsuits off first. I was like “well durrrrr” but little did I know…

The boat then let out a huge horn blast, signalling dolphins had been spotted and it was time to get in the water. I crammed my snorkel on, and whilst the lady was checking I’d fitted it properly, I saw dolphins doing backflips out of the water, it was so exciting! We made our way to the back of the boat and flopped into the water. It. Was. So. Fucking. Cold.

I stayed close to Tom. Everyone looks exactly the same with their wetsuit hat and snorkel on, but luckily Tom’s beard made him easier to identify. He had to put some vaseline in his moustache before we hit the water. I thought this was so his little face didn’t get cold, but it was actually to create a better seal with the snorkel. Haha.

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Anyway. We hit the water and there were dolphins everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of them swimming around us, circling and leaping out of the water. It was at the same time completely amazing and completely overwhelming. I was shocked from the cold of the water and also panicked by the waves and the snorkel so I had a little hyperventilating episode and then sorted myself out. Once I had recovered, I put my head under the water and there were beautiful dolphins everywhere. I started to sing through my snorkel to them (don’t worry reader, I hadn’t gone completely insane, we had been advised that this would get their attention.)

As I sang, the dolphins came right up to me, looked me right in the eye, circled me a few times and then headed off. It was too awesome to put into words. As I raised my head I could see the little guys jumping around. They don’t just leap out of the water, they do full on summersaults and backflips, slapping down into the waves. It was absolutely incredible!! After a while, the dolphin pod lost interest in us mere humans and headed off for some more breakfast.
The horn on the boat went, signalling us to come back onboard. I made my way back to the boat, tried to pull myself up and then abruptly fell back off again which made Kerry laugh. There seems to be a running theme on this trip of humiliation every time I go near a snorkel! I had a bright red float with me, which made me look even more silly. Anyway, I finally got on and we headed off to find the next group of dolphins. I was feeling pretty panicked by the waves and the snorkel, but managed to calm myself a bit. All the while a creeping feeling of nausea came over me…

 

 

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(Looking a wee bit worse for wear…)

The horn blew again and off we went. More amazing dolphins, we must have seen at least 800 dolphins all together. I kept taking deep breaths and daring myself to put my head under the water. Every time I did, there were dolphins everywhere. Beautiful. Unfortunately my body began fighting the waves and I felt sicker until I was just clinging to my float, staring into the water telling myself “don’t be sick, don’t be sick, don’t be sick.”
Finally the horn blew, and I made my way back. Back on the ship I identified Philine sitting opposite me (not easy with those masks on) I slapped my way across to her in my flippers, clinging to anything to keep me upright. The boat was bopping and lurching so much. I heaved myself next to her saying “oh my god I feel soooooo sick.” to which Philine replied “I’ve just been sick three times in the sea.”

Hilarious.

Somehow Philine went out again, as did all the rest of the group except me and another English girl who was feeling ill. Then it happened.
I was very sick into a bucket. After a while, the crew member said “we’ve got one coming home!” I replied, “Does he have a beard? If he does it’s my one.” She said no.
Then everyone started coming back and the girl goes “Oh look, there’s the beard!” I saw Tom on the other side of the boat looking very sick and with a huge bogey hanging out of his nose. I said “yep! That one’s mine!” Anyway, to cut a long story short, the rest of the trip was spent violently being ill into a bucket. Tom was doing it. Philine was doing it. People were being sick everywhere. Luckily they had enough buckets for everyone.

Kerry, however, was absolutely fine, sat around, smiling at everyone and drinking chicken soup. To do him credit, he did manage to take some photos and videos, which is really lucky, as the rest of us were in no state to manage it. I felt so sick that I couldn’t get my wetsuit off, to get my clothes on and warmed up, and I couldn’t get back inside. Philine was in the same state so we just sat there shaking with the cold, head in buckets, rubbing eachothers backs and waiting for it to be over. I’ve never been so cold, or felt so ill in my entire life.

I was delighted to be on dry land. We decided to rename the morning from the “Dolphin Encounter” to the “Dolphin and Sick Encounter.” And a “moderate swell”?! I don’t even want to imagine what a “major swell” would have been like!
Travelling is a funny old thing. One moment you’re nearly crying in awe of these beautiful intelligent animals, and the next your body is up shit creek without a paddle. But I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

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Christmas in the sunshine!!

Hello dear reader,

At the time of writing, I’m hiding from one of the biggest rainstorms I’ve ever seen in the TV room of our darling campsite. Unfortunately wifi only works on one device, and all my photos are on my iPhone, and I’m writing this on the iPad, so there will be no pictures to illustrate today’s episode. So instead I shall jazz it up with some interesting

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And also some emogees

On Christmas Eve we rose early in Wellington to catch the 7.20am shuttle bus to the ferry terminal. After nearly two months we were leaving the North Island!

We were efficiently shoved onto the ferry and then off we jolly well headed across the Cook Straight. The trip was fairly uneventful, with some beautiful Norwegian style fjord scenery.

We were both still pretty sleep-deprived so did a bit of napping and treated ourselves to some chips and a beer/cider… it was nearly Christmas after all!

Before arriving at Picton, I’d mentally prepared myself for the worst. Everyone told us that all the shops would be closed, and spending Christmas on a campsite sounded pretty grim. In my head I was picturing our cabin to be a bed with walls, and imagined surviving on supernoodles due to the shops being shut.

Anyway. It was great! The area Picton sits in is called Marlborough Sounds, and it was absolutely stunning. Huge hills covered in gigantic greenery falling into the turquoise ocean.

We found our campsite, and settled into our little cabin. It was bigger than expected and it had a little decking area that caught the sun all afternoon and evening. Perfect for festive drinking!

Once we’d settled in, we went into Picton, which was a small but pleasant town. We decided to do our Christmas shopping, setting ourselves a ten quid limit. How refreshing! I know it’s terrible, but I took great pleasure in not needing to stress about Christmas presents this year!

After that, we did the Christmas food shop – mainly barbecue supplies, rum, and bacon and eggs for breakfast. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without stuffing yourself silly, would it?! When we reached the checkout, we encountered what Tom now refers to as “The Fat Lady Who Ruined Christmas” – – a woman of the larger disposition who refused to take our driving licences as a form of ID despite it being Christmas Eve and my asking if Tom really looked like he was under 18 with the beard that he is currently sporting. Anyway. We stormed off back to the campsite and returned with the passports and all was well.

After our shopping extravaganza, we sat and played cards on the decking for a while and had some pasta for tea.

We woke up and it was Christmas!! There was a layer of snow all over the campsite, and I could see the footprints and tracks from Father Christmas’s entourage. ❄️❄️Only joking. It was about 25 degrees and I had factor 50 on all day. What a first! I opened my presents from Tom (a papau shell necklace and matching earrings and a puzzle book) and he opened mine (a bottle opener keyring shaped like a kiwi bird, and a bag of jelly “kiwi worm” sweets.)

The rest of the day was a blur of burgers with stuffing, chicken, salad, sweets, chocolate, mince pies, cider, beer and rum. Perfect. We put on our lovely santa hats too. It was so surreal to be chilling by the pool! A British family joined us and they were blasting some Christmas tunes by the poolside so that was really nice. (Given up on emojis now. Sorry.)

All in all, it was a lovely Christmas. I’m really pleased that we booked a cabin to have some time to ourselves. It was a Christmas that I’ll never forget, but at the same time it’s been one of the hardest days since we’ve been away because we both missed our lovely families like mad. That’s a good thing though. Imagine if we were like “well thank god we’ve got away from them at last!” Ha!

Stay tuned for the next episode, where we encounter the weka bird, watch TV in a vintage bus, and I try my hand at camping in the wilderness. ❤️❤️❤️

 

Windy Wellington

 

DISCLAIMER: this post was meant to have a lot more photos but the wifi is shocking and I’ve given up trying to upload them.

And so we hit the road once more.

Windy Wellington welcomed us with open arms after a five hour bus journey. As the bus trundled away from Hastings, I felt a bit like James Mcavoy in the final scene from “The Last King of Scotland” when he shrinks into his plane seat as he leaves Uganda. Anyway, there was no “STOP THE BUS!” that my overactive imagination had dreamt up, and we weren’t dragged back to the orchards. Phew.

We are still waking up fairly early, and also still achy and bruised, but we’re free!!! What an amazing feeling! We arrived into New Zealand’s capital and checked into our box room in the YHA. After dumping our bags, we had a wander round the city, and treated ourselves to a roast dinner. We felt that it wouldn’t quite be Christmas without one! After that, we went to bed and I was unconscious about thirty seconds before my head hit the pillow.

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(Very happy with his roast NZ lamb)

The next day, we decided to check out the city’s cable car. The pedants among you may wish to know that it’s not a cable car, it’s a funicular railway, but oh well, you can’t win them all!

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The cable car was actually pretty cool because they had installed a load of fancy lights in one of the tunnels and I got all excited thinking it was going to be like Space Mountain and we were going to fly up the hill at 100mph.

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Must stop getting so carried away.

It was a lovely sunny day, but we could feel that it was cooler and windier than Hawkes Bay, so better for sight-seeing really! The cable car takes you to the top of the botanic gardens, which have loads of themed areas, which we got thoroughly lost in, but we were so happy to be back to having no schedule and it not mattering! We wandered aimlessly down to almost the bottom of the hill, but then realising we’d paid for a return ticket on the cable car, we walked back up again to ride it back down the hill. We found a Henry Moore sculpture on the way so it wasn’t all bad.

After that, we went for a guided tour around the NZ equivalent of the House of Commons. Luckily it was only a 30minute tour which was perfect for my attention span. It was interesting to learn that any kiwi residents can go to parliament with a query. How funny is that?! I’d love to go to Westminster and strive to have macaroni cheese outlawed. Anyway, I digress. There was a really cool Maori room covered in hand wood carvings. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos as it wasn’t permitted, but here’s a photo from outside. It’s called “the Beehive,” or as Tom preferred: “one fuck ugly building!”

We went to the modern art gallery that was free entry (Wellington is great for free tourist attractions!) Tom got thoroughly pissed off by the contemporary art saying “it makes me furious! What’s the point in it!?” I told him it was there to cause a reaction and he replied “well I never want to go to an art gallery ever again!” Which made me howl! We also saw a Grayson Perry tapestry…. In the Deane Gallery. Spelt correctly and everything! Unfortunately I couldn’t take a photo because it was privately owned.

That evening came what we’d been waiting for……

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SO GOOD

The the next day we did a bit of shopping – my clothes are all a bit knackered so I treated myself to two new dresses. Tom really made me laugh because I asked him to get me the dress I was wearing, but in a different size, and he came back with a completely different dress. Love him.

It started to rain so we headed to the Te Papa museum, which is the biggest museum in the city and was bloody rammed with everyone’s kids. I came to New Zealand to escape everyone’s bloody kids but oh well it’s the summer holidays and all that. We spent a lot of time peering at this “collosal squid” which freaked me out a bit because I used to have a reoccurring nightmare about a huge octopus when I was a kid.

Thoroughly fed up with the ankle grabbers, we headed into the Gallipoli exhibition which was fantastic despite the amount of people in there. I didn’t know anything about New Zealand’s involvement in WW1, so found the exhibit really informative. It was titled “the scale of our war” and featured gigantic models of six of the people who died at Gallipoli. The statues were made by the studios who did Lord of the Rings and the hobbit, and were incredibly powerful and lifelike.

The rest of the day was spent in and out of the tourist office and department of conservation offices trying to book what we will be doing on the South Island. Yawns.

Today, we woke up in a fit of panic because we had a very important appointment to attend at 11am. After a catch up on FaceTime with Jacob and Charlie we headed to Sinatras Tattoo Studio. EEEEEE.

We had decided a few weeks ago what we wanted doing “don’t worry” and “be happy” in each other’s hand writing… Something to tick off the bucket list and a reminder to stop stressing would do me some good. All in all it took about ten minutes each and hurt about as much as I’d expected. I love the result!

 

The rest of the day was spent buying camping gear, a laptop bag and a replacement lens cap. Exciting stuff! Tomorrow we’re up early to get the 9am ferry over to the South Island for Christmas!

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