Thursday, April 29, 2010

Has it really only been two weeks?

* Warning: This will be a long post as its been awhile since i've had the chance to sit and tell you my stories. *

When my mum was 6 her family moved to England to live in Birmingham where she made friends with another littler girl. 50 years later these girls are still friends, still in contact and that is who I have just spent time visiting. Having visited Mums friend and her family a few times before our two families have a pretty special friendship and Im lucky that me and her kids get on so well. In my lifetime I have spent a total of 7 weeks with these people but they are my second family and I have adopted them as my new English family while Im away.

They live in a little village called Hawkesbury Upton which is about 30 mins away from Bristol. the few days I spent there were so much fun. First day involved a sunny pub lunch in a neighbouring village followed by a nap on the couch watching the in-betweeners (which is the most hilarious English show in the world). Following day we did the drive out to Stonehenge and Avery which were really interesting. As our hosts pointed out "why would you want to go look at some rocks in some grass?" but I was determined to see the sights. With an audio commentary and walk around and hour later I decided it really was just some rocks in some grass but worth a look all the same.

To break up our time in England we drove from Hawkesbury Upton up to Burton Upon Trent (ohh how i love english names for towns). We went to visit my Grandfathers cousin and stayed in their little cottage which was over 200 years old. In fact it was built before captain cook discovered Australia. It was the cutest little cottage with open fireplaces and ceilings so low at some points even I had to duck to get through doorways. On our full day there we went to Litchfield to see their cathederal and have a walk around the little village. What i love about England is that everything is only ever one or two hours drive away. It means you can spend the day seeing a sight, stop for lunch then be home in time for a nanna nap.

After a couple of days in Burton Upon Trent we headed back to Hawkesbury for a birthday BBQ. It was by far one of the best days i've had all trip because the sun was shining and it was hot enough to just wear a dress and pluggers. I even put on sunscreen because i was getting a little bit burnt! I tell you what though, Aussies are pretty famous for BBQ's but I must say the English could give us a run for our money. Not only did we feast like crazy but drinking lasted all arvo and night with many new fun drinking games. One included me running and stacking it but it didn't hurt due to the amount of cider I had downed before running. After the sun went down and it got a bit colder we spent the night in the conservatory playing more drinking games, having a sing along and basically just hanging out. It was really nice to hang out with a group of people around my own age as it had just been me and the family (where Im the youngest) for a few weeks and I was missing a bit of company.

After recovering from the BBQ on the Sunday (spent shopping, eating and watching a karaoke competition) the next day we did the drive out to Cardiff in Wales to see the castle. The road trip was fun but getting lost wasn't. Once we finally got there we did the walk around the castle and visited the house. It wasn't as good as the Blarney Castle and Im actually a little bit castled out for now but definately interesting. The best part of this was that I got to go to another country and while I was there I heard 'Land Downunder' playing. As it was our last night in Hawkesbury we all just hung out at home and had a few drinks down at The Fox which is the local pub. Luckily for me I get to go back and visit Hawkesbury in around a months time and Im looking forward to seeing everyone again and being able to stay in one spot for a few days.

Now while all this was going on a certain volcano in Iceland decided to erupt causing major delays to all air travel around Europe and the UK. Me and my dad were due to fly to Turkey and still didn't know if we could get a flight. Lucky for us they opened up the airports on the day we were due to fly out. Unlucky for us our Swiss Air flight was cancelled due to the fact they had no planes at heathrow. So we decided we would stand by for a Turkish Airlines flight into istanbul. They would not let passengers into the terminal unless you had a ticket for a flight on that day so we had to stand outside Heathrow Airport for four hours in the freezing cold until the check in closed for the flights to see if there were any spare seats. We got a seat and had 20 mins to buy a ticket, check in and get to the gate. Finally got on the plane and there would have been about 100 spare seats! Anyways in the long run we got to Instanbul on the day we were sposed to get there and we were lucky enough that we could meet my sister at the airport and travel to our hotel together.

At the hotel we met my uncle who had flown in from Paris and we headed around the corner to a local resturant to have dinner. The resturant was so much fun. We sat on the ground and ordered a round of their local beer which is EFES (and its not too bad). We feasted on hommus and other kinds of dips with turkish bread, then for mains we had shish kebabs and meatballs. While I was in Turkey I had a few nice meals but this one was definately the best.

The next day we had a free day before our tour started so we decided to walk around and see where the wind took us. We ended up getting a ferry across the Boshperous river/inlet/sea/imnotsure and went to the Asian side of Istanbul. After a bit of a walk around the local markets we then got another ferry over the the Europe side of Istanbul. Two continents in less then two hours! After that we headed down to the Grand Bazaar for a bit of shopping. Now im not the kind of girl who likes batering or being hassled while I shop so I didn't exactly enjoy that aspect but It is definately a really cool place to explor and have a look around. I would have liked to buy a lot because it really is very nice (especially the leather) but there was no room in my backpack and i need all the money i can get! I did end up getting a pashmina though and hopefully it lasts the distance because its now my new favourite thing in my backpack.

The next couple of days were with the tour exploring Istanbul and Gallipoli with the help of our guide. In Istanbul we saw the Blue Mosque and the Agia Sophia which were such stunning buildings photos dont do them justice. The mosaics inside them are thousands of years old and still perfectly stunning. We were lucky as we had a tour guide that spoke very good english and had a lot of passion about telling us stories, histories and interesting facts about Turkey. We spent our time at Gallipoli exploring battlefields and gravesites of signifigance to the Anzacs. The graves were beautiful and Im not ashamed to tell you that I started crying because I was so moved. When you see where they landed, the terrain they had to climb and fight through and then you see the graves row upon row of boys that were as young as 16 it just makes you so completely grateful for everything that they (and people in the defence forces now) went through. After this it was a quick dinner then a early night as we had to get up at 12am to leave for the service.

After the early start we arrived at 2am and had to find a seat. It was freezing cold (not as bad as i thought but still) and we had to wait until 5.30 for the dawn service to start. I definately had a bit of a kip although it was extremely uncomfortable. With hot chips and a coke for breakfast at 4am and a visit to the very very very very dirty port-a-loos I snuggled back in and waited. Around 5am they started this light sequence which woke everyone up and prepared them for the service. Its hard to describe the service as it was something you just have to be there to experience but it was definately worth getting up so early for. The speeches made by the dignitorys made you reflect and remember and the ode led me to shed more tears. After the service we did the 3k hike up to the top of Lone Pine where there was a second service for Australians (they also do a seperate service for Turkish and New Zealanders throughout the day). This service was good because it was a little bit more specific and I was a bit more awake. In the afternoon we headed back to the hotel in Istanbul and I tell you I've never been more glad to be back in a hotel.

Now the hotel we stayed at in Istanbul was definately nothing flash. In face it was so small me and my sister both couldn't open our backpacks at the same time, and we had a room on the corner of both streets with noise that went into the early hours. You had to practically get a ladder to climb into the shower and when you got breakfast you got tomato, cucumber, cheese and bread. Im telling you now that this place was practically a 5 star mansion compared to the place we stayed at in Gallipoli. Our shower had a door (although other rooms didn't) that couldn't close unless the bathroom door was open defeating the purpose of it at all. The airconditioner wiring was duct taped to the wall and when it decided to actually turn on it only worked at 18 degrees. Me and my sister ended up sleeping in our sleeping bags rather then actually touch the sheets (which had holes in them). So after that experience and spending a night on a cold seat at Gallipoli when we got back to istanbul we were grateful that we had a new room which had a decent hot shower, clean sheets and a bit of room. Due to the fact that we didn't have to get up early the next day I slept like a log.

The last day we had in Istanbul we decided to head to the spice market which is similar to the Bazaar except a bit more food based. We didn't get as hassled and I really enjoyed the browsing all the different things. After that we went back to the Grand Bazaar to pick up a few things that we didn't get the first time. This was followed by a lazy arvo sitting on cushions, drinking EFES and reflecting about the past months family holiday. We followed this up by visiting a english (or close enough to it) pub and eating a steak. Turkish food is amazing but its very limited to the types you can have and it will probably be a little while until I have a kebab again.

Since then I have spent the last couple of days in London with my sister. I was very sad to say goodbye to my Dad at the tube station but i was looking forward to hanging in London with my sister because last time we were here we had a blast. We decided againts doing any touristy stuff as we had done that before so we went to Portobello Road markets and followed by a visit to Oxford Circus (one of the main shopping districts). After needing a break from shopping we stopped into this little pub and ended up having a jug of Pimms. Yummy. It definately picked us up enough to fight the crows in Topshop, H & M and Primark. We were pretty tired after a full day of shopping so we stayed local and had a few drinks in the backpackers bar. It was a good night as I met a few people on my tour and played beer pong.

Today was me and my sisters last day together so we just roamed Camden Markets and did a big walk around Hyde Park. It was a good way to spend our last day because it meant we could chat and hang out without having to worry too much about taking in the sights. It was a sad day thought and I am still feeling pretty down. As I walked her to the tube station I was crying and as I walked all the way back I was crying and infact if there wasn't 10 other people in this room right now I would still be crying. I miss home. I miss my family and the comforts of my own room. I miss my dog. I miss my friends and important people. Im sacred and anxious about the tour to come and right now im freaking out about why I did this at all.

I know that its something I have to do to become a stronger, more mature and well rounded person. I know that i need to learn to be patient, to deal with things as they come, to grow up and stop being a cry baby, to learn how to pack a backpack properly and deal with having no clean clothes and no comfy beds or nice showers. I know i need to do it and I know im going to see some amazing sights and experience some very cool things. I just need to keep telling myself that I will be ok, that its all going to work out and its going to be fun.

Anyways enough of my whinging because after all I am in Europe. Im not sure when I will be blogging next but probably not for awhile. I apologize for the lack of photos and the extreme length of my post but im trying to keep distracted. Next time will be highlights and photos i promise!

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Stop - Ireland!

When you think of Europe you dont automatically think of Ireland (or at least I didn't) however as the first stop in my Europe tour I would have to say that it gives a great first impression. I loved each and every minute of the week I spent there and I almost feel guilty for not looking forward to it as much as the rest.
I stayed in a villge one hour south of Cork called Clonakilty. The reason that I travelled to this village (and the reason for the whole trip) was for my cousins wedding. My cousin is Australian but she is now married to an Irishman who used to spend his summer holidays surfing at a beach near the village. They decided to have a traditional Irish wedding and Im pretty happy they did because it meant it gave me a reason (well... an even bigger one) to come to Europe.

The first few days in Ireland were spent driving around the countryside seeing the sights. On the day we arrived it was 2 degrees, rainy and windy and all together miserable. Luckily for us the sun came out for the rest of our stay so as we drove around we got to see the best parts of Ireland with beautiful blue skies and sunny sunshine. There is a reason that when you think of Ireland you think of something green, the landscape is so full of trees and flowers (Daffodils grow wild on the side of the road!) as well as that kind of green grass you just want to lay down and cloud watch in.

Anyways enough about the weather and the landscape (what am I a grandma?) more about the sightseeing (and drinking). We visited Bantry house which was a huge old estate home that you can just picture Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet having a turn about the room in. We also had a day trip out to Blarney Castle which is where the Blarney Stone is located. It is said that those who kiss the Blarney Stone are blessed with the gift of eloquence. Which works out well for me because I want a job in communication and public relations and works out well for you readers because hopefully my vocabularly will double. To kiss the Blarney Stone you have to walk up to the top turrets of the castle, lie down with your head backwards, have an old man hold ur legs while you hold onto a railing and lower yourself down and kiss a bit of mankey old rock that thousands before you have kissed. Not the most hygenic or fun experience i've had but at least now I can say I have done it!

When we werent sight seeing we were often at our rented house in Clonakilty where the rest of our extended family were staying. We passed the time by having several games of cards and lots of drinks. One night all the Aussies (the 65 who flew over for the wedding) went out to dinner and had way to much to eat and even more to drink. A few of the family and friends stayed on once all the oldies went to bed and we all caught up and had a few drinks with the grooms family. It was a good way to get into the party mode and the first of many celebrations over the next couple of days.
The next day was spent as a hens party in a day spa. I was treated to an hour in a special pool that had different spas for different parts of your body and then to a seaweed wrap. As lovely as it made my skin feel afterwards there is something about laying (almost) naked while a strange girl wipes seaweed on you then wraps you up in plastic. Its just one of those things that I can now tick of my list, next time ill go for the facial. Got to spend the rest of the day having high tea in the lounge of a four star hotel and a walk along the beach.
The highlight of the week was of course the wedding. Now I'm no expert because I've never really been to a wedding before but I guess you haven't experienced a wedding until you have been to an hour and a half of full catholic nuptual mass in a church conducted by the grooms uncle (who is Irish and therefore a little hard to understand) followed by a 14 hour party. Yes no exaggeration there, the party actually went for 14 hours. Drinks at the venue started at 3pm, the reception offically began at 5.30pm. We had dinner, drinks and speeches then out came the band and we all hit the dancefloor - even the oldies! After the band there was a DJ and at about 2.30 he wound down and suggested we all moved into the reception lounge. At this time after drinking for 12 hours, dancing for 6, having a wardrobe malfunction (the zip on my dress broke and I got driven home by an old irish couple to change into a casual summer dress - it was a formal wedding - oh well!) we decided to head home but on last reports the straggelers were kicked out of the venue at around 5.30 after a session of more drinking while listening to an irish band. If that isn't a party I dont know what is.
I also should say that the service was beautiful and my cousin made an amazing bride. At the end of the ceremony they played 'Waltzing Matilda' on the harp and the reception venue even raised the Australian flag! The meals were delicious - especially the three different types of potato they served. (Most people know all the cliches about the Irish and they are exactly right about all the potato.) Most resturants served more potato then the rest of the meal and sometimes two different types! Anyways back to the wedding - All the Irish people I chatted to and met were so friendly and funny! It was such a great night and although my memories are a little blurred I will definately remember the night forever!

I know this post is pretty long and I hope I haven't lost you all on the way but we managed to fit so much stuff into one week its hard not go on. The day after the wedding we drove to a little town called Ballyduff which doesn't have a ATM but has four pubs! We went there to visit a friend of my fathers that he worked with about 37 years ago and who he hasn't seen in about 27 years. Alan was kind enough to put us up in a B&B which had a hot tub where we lazed around in the afternoon. He then took us on a bit of drive around the area followed by a pint at his local pub. This is where I tried my first (and most likely last) Guiness. One word. YUCK. After a couple of drinks we had dinner in his resturant and met some of his old friends. It was good to see my had to happy to see an old friend and it was nice to see a different part of Ireland.

That pretty much sums up my time in Ireland (I think) and I hope i've painted a good enough picture that you might want to visit there one day. Irish hospitality is some of the best I have experienced and I definately would love to go back. For now I'm in England visiting friends and family so I will hopefully update you on that soon. Most likely with more tales of drinking and eating and sightseeing- but really thats the best part of the holiday!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Where My Heart Is Now

Home is where the heart is. Currently my heart is residing with me in Brisbane, Australia but that is all going to change in about 3 hours when I fly off on a four month backpacking adventure around Europe followed by an indefinate stay in England (hopefully london).

Inspired by my friends blog* I thought this would be a good way to keep everyone back home updated on where I am and what I am doing. Its also going to give me a way of keeping track of my adventures in London so that one day I can look back and go 'wow I can't believe I actually did that!'.

Those of you who know me know that I have a passion for travel. Since my first time overseas when I was seven I have loved exploring the world and finding new things to experience. I love the different cultures, trying new food (although I still dont think I'll ever like olives), different atmospheres, beautiful old buildings, meeting new people, collecting knick nacks from everywhere I go and writing postcards home to missed loved ones.

I was lucky enough to visit Europe for a short time a few years ago and since then have wanted to go back and explore. This is my chance! This adventure is going to change my life... I just know it. This could be everything I have ever wanted and its at my fingertips. I'm not sure if my words are doing any justice to how excited I am. Im practically jumping out of my skin!

So, for now I say goodbye to my home and my friends and jet off to discover the world. Im not sure when I'll next be blogging but hopefully by then I will already have some exciting stories to tell.

* Thanks to sophie for helping me set this up otherwise it would be a boring thing to look at.