Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Where My Heart Is Going

For the next few months I will be taking a break from my London life and therefore Where The Heart Is... only because of another exciting adventure - a 75 day trip through India and Nepal.

Given the opportunity to take three months off work, my boyfriend James and I are off to explore the hustle and bustle of Indian cities, explore the national forests in Nepal and eat endless curries and drink many cups of chai.

You can follow our adventures here:

Adventures in Bronniewood

Postcards from India

I will be back in late 2012 with some new London and Europe adventures!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Back to Deutschland

I've been lucky enough to visit to Germany four times now and have always really enjoyed my time there. Even though after eight years of school lessons I'm completely rubbish at the language.

This time I got to visit the lovely city of Hamburg, thanks to my work writing my Bron in The Don's. I was sent to stay at, attend the opening and review the generator

After four months of backpacking around Europe and dozens of trips since, I consider myself a bit of an expert on staying at a hostel. I’ve probably stayed in all types – good hostels with great social areas but dodgy beds; 16 bed mixed dorms with noisy nightmovers; and even in a private room with an ensuite. I’ve had amazing service and great value for money as well as the complete opposite – dodgy hygiene and being ripped off. So when I got asked to visit Hamburg to attend a hostel grand opening, I jumped at the chance.

The hostel opening was for Generator Hostels’ brand new (well six months old) Hostel located in the heart of Hamburg. I say heart literally as it sits directly outside an exit to the central train station. I checked in and went downstairs to attend the welcome party where I met a representative and got given the grand tour. Previously a hostel, factory and a recording studio (The Beatles recorded a song there!), most recently the hostel had been a several yearlong restoration project, and I would have to say it was well worth the effort.

I got to view several types of rooms from six bed dorms, to privates and all of them were clean, fresh and welcoming. They even have female dorms and as a single female traveller this type of accommodation is always welcome. The best part about the rooms was that they all had individual bathrooms so no awkward waiting in hallways in your pj’s with your washbag.

Once the tour of the rooms was over, it was down into the party area where the celebrations were well underway. The social area is broken up into a café lounge, bar with outdoor area and sunken breakfast bar and games room. If you fancy getting online – there is a computer lounge (plus free wifi through the entire place) in the mezzanine so if you’re a single traveller or just want to meet new people there is no shortage of options.

The party was great fun and even with my dodgy German (i.e. non-existent) I managed to spend the night chatting away and enjoying the atmosphere. After a few drinks and some delicious food (schnitzel and pretzels canapés – how German!) it was time to head out and see some of the Hamburg nightlife. I’m not sure where we went as I was taken out by a German speaker but the club seemed like fun and we had a bit of a dance before calling it a night.

The next day it was breakfast at the hostel – a variety of cold cuts, cereal and toast for a reasonable €5.50 – before heading off to explore the city. Hamburg was great to visit as you can see much of it on foot. I set off from the hostel along the canal and like a good shopaholic discovered the Gansemarkt – the central shopping and café area. I spent a little while wandering around this area before weaving my way back through and finding the town hall. The ‘Rathaus’ as the Germans say is right by the canal and directly in front of a large square where you can find a perfect spot to grab a currywurst or bucket of frittes with a bier before settling down on the many steps and watching the crowds go by.

After a mid-morning snack it was onto the Lake Alster which is in the middle of the city and home to many boat tours and activities including row boats and sail boats. For €13 I jumped on a tourist boat and spent an hour being guided around the sites of the lake. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what these sites where as the guide was only German speaking but it was still a great way to explore a different side of the city and watch the rowing teams train, sailboats find their way across the lake and ogle some gorgeous old houses smack bang on the banks.

After my trip around the lake I stopped by one of the many Eis Café’s to grab an ice cream before jumping on the U-Bahn out to St Pauli. Home to the red light district, St Pauli is also home to St Michaelis Church. St Michaelis is Hamburg’s oldest church and has been on the site for several centuries however due to a series of unfortunate accidents the church currently on site is the third one after fires, war and thunderstorms had destroyed the others. The best part about these renovations means that unlike many other churches around London this one has an elevator to the top! Thankfully, for those who are unfit, it’s a €4 fee and a short elevator ride to the top for some perfect views of the city.

Heading up to the top meant I got the chance to ‘see’ the city with the short amount of time I had to visit. I was lucky that it was a pretty clear day so I battled through the wind to check out the 360 views of glorious Hamburg. From the cranes and containers of the docks, across the parks and into the city to the peaks of other churches and city hall, it made for a really pretty view.

After all the walking around and sightseeing it was time for a drink so I wandered down to the red light district famous for its bars and clubs and other kind of establishments. The district is quite long and as I walked along the ‘Reeperbahn’ I was jostled by many football fans on their way out to watch Germany in the Euro Championships. The bars nestled between strip clubs and peep shows were chock full of spectators which made for a fun lively mood. I found a cheap restaurant and grabbed a bite to eat and drink while I watched the game. While I am sure the rest of the red light district is good fun I decided to pass on any other activities and head back to the hostel.

Hamburg is a great place to visit and I was sorry that I only had a short time as this laid back thoroughly German city has a lot to offer.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Visit From Home

I've been really lucky in my time away from Oz that I've had visits from my family every year since I have been away and this year was no different when my Dad made it over to visit. My Dad is where I get my travel genes from as in his youth he spent a lot of time in London and Europe exploring new cities so he was a bit of an old hat when it came to London.

Thankfully for me (who has seen them all a million times) we didn't have to hit the tourist hot spots and instead got to do a few things in London I had been meaning to do for ages. First of all we visited the Imperial War Museum that was on my Top 100 list and that had been recommended by friends. I found it interesting to see some of the big planes and tanks that were used and listen to lots of moving stories however I found much of it quite confronting and gruesome. Overall it was worth the visit but definitely made me think and be very thankful to come from a free country.

To perk ourselves up after a bit of a depressing start we headed over to one of my favorite riverside pubs for a few pints in the sun while we tucked into some typical English food. Even though I say I have seen the sights a million times it is still pretty amazing to be sitting on the river with a view of St Pauls across from you. After our meal we went and visited the oldest pub in London - The Cheshire Cheese. Its tucked away down a tiny alley in Fleet Street and is so dark and dingy it seemed a shame to waste a sunny day.

We had plans that evening to visit the Making of Harry Potter exhibit but with a few hours to kill before we got there we thought we would take advantage of the Barclays Bika hire scheme and ride through London. I have to say after a couple of pints I wasn't the most athletic as I could have been but it was still nice to mosey around the quiet back streets of London and check out the city that is normally hustling with workers. We docked our bikes at the tube station and made our way out to Harry Potter.

By this time poor Dad was exhausted with jet lag and even I was getting tired after a busy day but we powered through and headed into the exhibit. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans - it is so worth it. Seeing the sets and costumes was amazing and we spent hours walking through and reading all the background facts about how the movie was made. We even got to stand in the Knight Bus and drink Butter Beer (it was gross)It just made me want to sit down and read all the books and watch all the movies all over again - and trust me. I don't need to do that! The final part of the exhibit was a model of Hogwarts and it was pretty breathtaking to even see the small one.

After such a big day its hard to imagine that we would have the energy to back it up but we did! Our Sunday was spent ticking off another Top 100 adventure but also something I've been wanting to do for ages and that was visit Lords Cricket Ground for a tour and a game. We were up bright and early for a tour of the grounds and we spent a couple of hours with a fantastic and enthusiastic guide learning all about the history of Lords and the traditions that go on there. We got to visit the away teams change room and got to see the names of many Aussies who have got centuries up on the honor boards. We also got to (sadly) see the Ashes trophy currently being held in their museum. We got to go up into the media centre and see the view from the pitch as well as even see the slope from a little back entrance. Overall it was an amazing tour and one of the best I have done in London.

In between our time of our tour and game we had a couple of hours to kill so we wandered down to nearby Marleybone High Street and tucked into a traditional Sunday Roast. It was nice to have a rest and sit and watch the busy street go by but it wasn't long before we were off on our next adventure which was to visit the famous Abby Road Studios and THE pedestrian crossing. We wandered up there and were confronted by lots of tourists trying to do the same thing - get THE photo of them walking across the crossing. The cars must hate it! We got a photo in the end but as there was only two of us it wasn't quite the same. Still its quite cool to walk where they have walked.

In the early afternoon it was time for the match and we got our seats in the stand to watch a twenty20 match between two county teams. It was pretty eventful with lots of big hits, roars from the crowd and some cheerleaders. Although for both of us after a long day it was hard to get into the swing of things and when one team was quite obviously losing we decided to call it quits for a quiet evening at home.

Unfortunately for me it was back to work after a great weekend but Dad continued his holiday with a visit to some family friends. Our time in London together was pretty short but only because we are off on a trip to Norway!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jubilee Celebrations

I've been lucky that my time in London has coincided with some amazing events surrounding the Royal Family. Firstly, last April when I stood in Hyde Park with thousands of other Londoners and watched Kate and Wills get married and more recently - the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.

Treated to a 4 day weekend many Londoners took the extra time off to get out of the city and explore Europe but I stuck around to enjoy the atmosphere. The weekend kicked off with a blue, red and white themed bbq at my house where those of us who were still behind in London celebrated her Diamond Jubilee by drinking some Pimms and having a good old bbq. Unfortunately the rubbish weather dampened our celebrations and we retreated to a pub instead to continue the celebrations into the night.

The next day was a more formal affair with Katie, Emily and I attending an organised garden party in the city. Unfortunately as it rained and rained and rained and was extremely cold we didn't last long. While we were there we we sipped on english cocktails of elderflower and gin and treated ourselves to a british burger and victoria sponge cake. Once we couldn't take the rubbish weather anymore we retreated back to the pub where we watched the regatta from the tv.

I had the sunday to myself so I spent it wandering around the V&A museum and pottering around the house as Sundays generally do. I did make it home in time to sit and watch the Jubilee concert with a glass of wine. It was great fun to watch but I wish I was one of the many thousands of people who had lined the Mall to watch from the many big screens. Watching everyone there waving their flags and having fun made me determined to get amongst more of the celebrations so on the Monday Siobhan, Emily and I made our way out to St James park to watch the procession through the streets.

Rather then line the streets we made a picnic in St James's park in front of a big screen and toasted to Queen Lizzie once again with some champagne and flag waving. It was a great atmosphere and the perfect way to round up a weekend of celebrations. The more you get into it the funnier it is and I has made me a big fan of the Royal Family and the amazing life Queen Elizabeth has lived. Here's to many more!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

One of my favourite things about London is that there is no shortage of things to do on a Saturday night and especially for a special occasion - like Lauren’s birthday. We discovered through a friend about a club night called Guilty Pleasures that is basically a club that plays lots of pop music and power ballads and isn't ashamed of it. None of this indie business for us - just pure old pop music and a good dance floor.

It was the beginning of summer so it was a beach themed party so armed with out lei’s and grass skirts we got all dressed up at pre drinks before heading up to Camden for a great night out. It was held at Koko which is a great venue with a stage, different levels and of course a huge dance floor. If there wasn't enough to see and do while we indulged in our guilty pleasures we were treated to a pretty interesting floor show with men in leotards shimmying across the stage.

The music was fantastic with a good mix of old school power ballads like ‘summer of 69’ and ‘don’t stop believing’ and also classic pop music such as ‘mmmbop’ and ‘hit me one more time’. We danced and drink and sang along until our throats were hoarse. We were a bit disappointed that we didn't get any Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls favourites as we were all 90’s kids who grew up with the boy and girl bands.

It was a great night out but its not hard to keep me happy - good music, good friends, costumes and a dance floor and I’m set! Highly recommend it as a night out in London and can’t wait for the next one!

Monday, May 21, 2012

33 Hours in Stockholm

I’m a sucker for a Ryanair sale and when I found flights return from London to Stockholm for £25 I jumped at them and encouraged my friends Ainsley and Lauren to tag along too. The only downside of these flights were that they left at 6am Saturday morning and got home at 11pm on the Sunday evening. This meant a wake up call at 2am to get a taxi to the bus station, a bus to the airport for our bleary eyed flight.

We arrived in Stockholm by 9am and were ready and raring to check out the city. The hostel we stayed at upgraded us to an apartment which mean not only did we get our own kitchen but we also had our own sauna. Tempted to stay in there we headed out to check out the city and we were lucky enough to get a gorgeous sunny day.

Stockholm is made up of many little islands so we wandered down and crossed over a bridge into the old town where we wandered the little streets, found a cafe and grabbed some food. Unfortunately it wasn't Swedish meatballs but a kebab as food in Sweden is expensive! We then decided to go on a boat cruise that sailed us around all the little islands so we could check out a few of the hotspots. After an hour on the boat we disembarked at ‘The Vasa' where we spent an hour or so wandering through the museum about the viking ship that was discovered in the Baltic Sea. It was interesting to see the viking ship, read about the history of the vikings and also the intense recovery of this historic vessel. It was one of the best things we did!

We got used to having our feet firmly on the ground so we decided to wander around the city centre to see what else we could find. It is a shoppers dream with the headquarters of H&M located there so there seems to be one on every corner. By this stage we were starting to fade so it was back to our hostel for a kip before heading out to dinner.

It was hard to get motivated to head out for dinner but we managed to wander through the city and it was really pretty at night time so it was worth getting up for. Once again it was no Swedish food for us and we headed into a Thai restaurant for a delicious meal. Both food and drink is pretty expensive compared to English prices so it is hard to get used to. I guess if you were living and working there and earning the Krona it would be much better as the city seemed to be full of cafes, restaurants, bars and places to hang out.

The next day we signed up for a free walking tour to get a bit of info about the city. Our tour guide was really informative and over the next few hours we wandered through the city and learned about the monuments, buildings and history of Sweden. We were lucky to get another sunny day so after the tour we headed to some flea markets we had stumbled across on the tour. We trawled through the stalls and found a couple of bargains before setting off to visit the Town Hall which is located right on one of the waterways.

We spent the afternoon chilling out by the river, sunning ourselves on the grass, chatting and people watching. It was a great way to pass the afternoon as we waited for our flight. We headed off about 5pm to the airport and i was sad to say goodbye to such an awesome city. I would love to head back there and check it out with a local guide and a bit more cash so I could splurge on Swedish food. 33 hours just isn't enough!

Sunday, May 13, 2012


It was Rugby Sevens time again and you may remember from last year that they are always themed ready for dress up shennangians. This year was disco themed so we got on board with groovy bell sleeved dresses, bright tights and crazy make up.

We arrived at the Seven's nice and early and ready for the first game. Of course it is a Rugby tournament but its more of a drinking tournament. The thing is you can't take booze in (of course) so you have to be sneaky and try and smuggle it in. Last year this was done with a bottle of booze down my jeans, this year it was plastic bags filled with vodka stuffed in my shirt. Got to say it works every time!

The only downside of this is you have to be pretty sneaky to drink it and still end up buying some mixers but it is definitely a lot cheaper then buying the drinks there. By the middle of the day most of our smuggled drinks were gone and we were up in our seats drinking, dancing and not watching the rugby at all. Its one of those things in London that everyone goes to so you can wander around and run into people you know or people you don't.

As always there is an after party somewhere and we headed out to Wimbledon to go crazy on the dancefloor. And we certainly weren't the only ones - we ran into a few more seventies people getting groovy.

The next day was a struggle to get there as we were all feeling a little worse for wear. But we powered through put on our (dirty stinky) dresses and went to the stadium. This time we did actually watch the rugby as we weren't so keen on the drinking and it was good to actually see what we went for in the first place.

The seven's weekend is always a good one! When you get that many people dressing up and drinking its like one big costume party. Lets see what next years seven's brings!