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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The End... Thanks For Following!

So here we are, the final blog entry. I've got about another 45 minutes sitting in Hong Kong airport until my final flight begins to board. I really don't want to fly... I've felt a bit sick in the stomach all day today and flying doesn't seem to help this feeling much. I've already flown 4 hours from Tokyo, and now I've got another 9 hours back to Melbourne. I'll try and sleep (I'm desperately tired, didn't sleep more than about 4 hours the last couple of nights, probably why I'm not feeling well) but with my track record of being able to sleep on planes, I won't hold my breath. Man, that would be amazing though, just to go to sleep and wake up in Australia! Fingers crossed...

So last time I blogged I was in Cambridge. The trip from Cambridge to Tokyo went by pretty much flawlessly. It's funny, I'd got myself a bit worked up the night before leaving, wondering how I was going to cope in Japan on my own. Strangely though though, once I was on the plane that anxiety left me for good, only to be replaced with excitement!

Tokyo is amazing! It's certainly not a "pretty" city, but wow, it's unique! I've never been anywhere like it and I'm so glad I was able to visit, albeit briefly, on this trip.

The Japanese people really do seen to live on another planet... An awesome planet that is so strange, quirky and fascinating! So many quirks to their culture, so many strange traditions.

I was a bit surprised at how few Japanese people actually felt comfortable enough to try and speak some English to me. I'd do my best "konnichiwa," "sumimasen" and, of course, "arigatou," but I didn't often get any English replied back to me, apart from the fact that English words are all over the city! I think they probably understand a fair amount but don't feel confident enough to speak it, for fear they might get it wrong, I dunno. The Japanese are almost frustratingly polite in everything they do. But yeah, Tokyo's a crazy, crazy place and I loved it!

Thanks for following along on my wacky adventures round the world! I'll wrap it all up now. As wonderful as overseas travel is, all travellers would know that feeling when your nose is just headed for home. To be able to sleep in your own bed, not to live out of a suitcase anymore, to have friends and family - you know, people to actually TALK to... I can't wait to be back in Melbourne tomorrow morning! It's been a brilliant holiday, I've had lots of new and exciting experiences, but it's definitely time to return to normal. Sayonara everyone!!

(I'll commentate on the following photos, as usual completely out of order. Silly Blogspot!)

1. This shop is called Super Potato, in the area of Tokyo known as Akihabara, or "Electric Town." Super Potato sells retro video games, so I was in a weird kind of heaven! Five storeys of bliss!!

2. Yesterday I decided to give myself a treat for the final day of the holiday and went to Disneyland... Well, DisneySEA, actually. This is the newer park next door to Disneyland, it's been open about 10 years. It's got a kind of nautical theme.

3. If you've ever seen footage of Tokyo before, you've probably seen this intersection. This is Shibuya.

4. Akihabara.

5. The Meiji Temple, where the spirit of the Emperor Meiji (reigned around the Victorian era, renowned for bringing Japan into the modern age) resides.

6. Sephiroth, resting underfoot at the Square-Enix store.

7. It's Totoro!! On Monday morning I visited the Studio Ghibli museum and had a wonderful time!

8. Outside the Meiji Shrine. These are giant decorated tubs of sake that are given as an offering every year.

9. Shibuya by night.

10. Inside the Meiji Shrine. Sacred trees.

11. Ghibli dead ahead! The problem with the gift shop in that place is I wanted to buy EVERYTHING!!

12. The giant robot-statue from Castle In The Sky, on the roof of the Ghibli museum.

13. Some sacred garden. Not sure of its significance.

14. Tokyo Tower. Ugly thing. Who's idea was it to paint it rusty-red??

15. Courtyard at Disneysea.

16. Oh, did I mention it was pouring rain while I was at Disney...? It was pouring rain.

17. View from the top of Tokyo Tower. You can just make out Mt. Fuji in the distance.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On To The Next Chapter!

Well, my U.K. tour has pretty much come to an end now. I've returned the car, posted off the sat-nav, replaced my suitcase. All that's left to do now is catch a few trains tomorrow morning, an hour to King's Cross, then on to the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow. (I swear Joanna Lumley does all the pre-recorded announcements on the Piccadilly Line...! If you're ever in London, see if you agree with me!)

Then it's a 12-hour flight (grooooaannn) to Tokyo. I will make sure to scoff down some of my knock-out drugs to ensure I get SOME sleep! I'm not staying in Japan long enough to be effected by jetlag!

The last couple of days I've been in Cambridge. Lovely place! I did a 2-hour walking tour today and feel like I understand the place a lot better. How amazing would it be to actually go to university here?? To be surrounded by only the smartest students in the country? Living and breathing the vibrant university city atmosphere? (And riding everywhere on a bike?!)

There's almost a Somers Camp level of crazy traditions and customs in the day-to-day life of the students. I just want to go back in time, make myself about 70% more intelligent and apply to come to university here. Perhaps I could join the King's College Choir! I went to the evensong tonight and listened to them sing. Incredible!!!

That's, strangely enough, the second evensong I've been to this week! (I'll be Anglican before you know it!) I also attended the one at York Minster. Man, that cathedral is just magnificent.

Between York & Cambridge I had 2 stopovers. Norwich was fine, but almost entirely unremarkable. Southend-on-Sea was more fun, there's a pier (world's longest, apparently) and a fun park. It's a great summer-vacationy kind spot, but nicer and not as busy as Brighton.

I do love England, and sometimes surprise myself at how strong a connection I feel towards the place. Visiting England feels like visiting an old grandmother that you don't see very often. Sure, she might seem a little old-fashioned and keep harping on about the past, but she's your heritage, she's your link to history. And even though you've moved away from her, she still loves you.

I'll just do a little commentary on the following photos:

1. Stain glass windows in the King's College Chapel.

2. The inside of the chapel. It almost seems insulting to call this a chapel, but the word simply means a "private church," as opposed to a public parish. The ceilings in particular are gasp-inducing. The building was started by Henry VI in the mid 1400s, but wasn't completed until during Henry VIII's reign almost 100 years later!

3. Speaking of whom... This statue of His Majesty at the entrance to Trinity College is supposed to be holding a scepter... He's currently holding a chair leg. This was apparently am ongoing prank by cheeky vandals unknown. Every time the College Master would have it removed, another would mysteriously pop up in its place. In the end it was decided just to leave it there.

4. Punting on the Cam! Although the weather here has been... well, horrible... (the wind destroyed my little umbrella today) the rain thankfully held off while I went on my punting tour this afternoon.

5. The outside of the King's College Chapel, queuing up to go into the evensong service.

A Farewell...

It's time to say goodbye to my poor old blue case. We've been on many, many adventures together, but unfortunately it's got some holes and tears that I just don't want to risk on the flights.

I'm pretty sure the hole in the bum (pictured below) was from wheeling the poor thing over the uneven cobbled roads of London. There's other breaks as well, so I thought it was time to bite the bullet and get a new case. And it's RED!! (Hopefully that means I'll be able to wheel it faster!)

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I went a little out of my way today to visit somewhere a bit special... ;-)

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Everyone watching the big event here in England this weekend? I watched a bit of the procession down the Thames on T.V. this afternoon, but eventually had to settle for a radio broadcast, since I had a lot of driving to do!

Since I last blogged I spent a couple of days in Bath, a lovely but rather small city. It was really nice just to stop for a day and not have to drive anywhere or do anything in particular. And just before I departed Bath, my rental sat-nav arrived! Hooray!! I can't tell you how much better I feel now that I've got a voice telling me exactly where to go and which lane I need to be in. The last couple of days would have been much more stressful if I didn't have little Tomtom.

Unfortunately because I had to wait around for a while for the sat-nav to arrive, I didn't leave Bath until midday, which meant I had to drastically cut short the list I'd made of sights I wanted to visit around the Cotswolds. I did visit Avebury, a quaint little village that just happens to have giant stones sticking up out of the ground from the Stone Age. I figured that as awesome as Stonehenge is, I've seen it twice already, so this time I'd visit a different stone location instead. Avebury is a great little place, but I wouldn't recommend visiting it INSTEAD of Stonehenge. The 'Henge is just heaps cooler.

After Avebury I raced towards Warwick Castle, not quite realising that it would be a 2-hour drive. By the time I finally got there, it was only an hour and a half before closing time, and all of the day's big events like jousting had finished. I did manage to see the trebuchet launch though, which was pretty spectacular.

What really surprised (shocked!) me about Warwick Castle is that this ancient fortress has been converted into... a family theme park! I didn't quite know what to make of it to start with. There's people dressed up in costume acting in character, there's "rides" and events, merchandise... On the one hand it all seemed a bit perverse and insensitive to the history of the castle. But on the other hand... I mean, why not? I can tell you now, all of the kids that I saw there were absolutely LOVING being in "medieval land," some of them dressing up, trying their hand at archery or meeting a dragon in one of the towers. If I was 8 or 9 I would have thought it was the best place ever. I could still walk around the castle grounds and soak it all in, climbing the ramparts and towers, etc... It's just not the kind of castle you go to if you're looking for a historical visit.

Today I called in to see Elsie, who I hadn't seen since I visited her here with my family FIFTEEN years ago!! That spins my head! It was great to catch up with her, and we both had lots and lots of stories to tell each other. She's got her aerial picture of Sandy Point up on her living room wall, and I was pointing out to her where the shops and house are. She still holds extremely fond and vivid memories of her visit to Australia back in 1994.

So now I'm in York, one of my favourite British cities. I'm so happy I've got back here. When Andrew & I breezed through York on the Stray bus tour 11 years ago I knew it was a place I wanted to return to. Only damper on the current situation is that the weather's turned lousy. Bleugh. I was driving through the rain all day today. I suppose it could have been worse... I could have been going down the Thames in a boat...

I've already been for a brief walk around the city and it's as beautiful as I remember it. Check out the photo below of The Shambles. (Third picture) Just amazing! And Yorkminster Cathedral is a sight to behold as well! I'm going to have a tour tomorrow. Apart from that, the city is my oyster. I'm going to just wander and see what I can see.

Happy Jubilee! :-)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"On the road again..."

It's been a few days since I last blogged. I've practically been on an internet blackout since returning to England. One thing that America does really well is free wi-fi spots. The U.K... not so much. McDonalds supposedly has it in every restaurant (if you can find one... not so common over here) but even then, you have to sign in, get them to SMS you a code, input the code... It's just messy, when it should be really simple.

The last two places I've stayed haven't had wi-fi at all, and thankfully my B&B in Bath (where I'm staying 2 nights) has it so I can surf and blog to my heart's content. Hurrah!

Now all this wi-fi talk might make me sound like a selfish yuppie, but it has actually had a serious effect on my holiday for a simple reason... I'm driving myself around the U.K. without a map...! I'm navigating by road signs.

I just took it for granted that when I hired a car it would come with a free GPS sat-nav. I was wrong. Thrifty don't even hire them out! So here I was in Maidstone, accepting the keys from the Thrifty lady, and she was suggesting maybe I could find a department store somewhere and buy a sat-nav? I wasn't very happy, but I figured that's what I'd have to do.

Thankfully across the road was a big Sainsburys, and they stocked them. When I took my Tomtom up to the service desk though, I read that before it could be used it had to be plugged into a computer to get all of the map data downloaded... Obviously I don't have a computer (I don't think iPads count) so that was that. The thought of having an automated navigator was out.

So if you can imagine for a moment, being in a place completely and absolutely unfamiliar to you (I'd certainly never been to Maidstone before!) with no idea which direction you're even facing, and having to find your way to a destination 50 miles away that's not on any road signs! Aaaarrrghghgh!! (I do happen to get a wee bit stressed in this kind of situation, but there was no way around it except through it...) Knowing that I needed to travel south-east, I found signs to Hastings, which I knew was south. So I took a fairly massive detour to Hastings, turned left and went along the coast until I hit Dover. Made it!

Dover itself was... quite unimpressive, but I came to see the famous White Cliffs, and they are definitely striking. Since I arrived in the early evening pretty frazzled though, I didn't pay them much mind. I figured I'd see them the following morning.

Well, the following morning was so darn FOGGY I couldn't see more than a couple of metres in front of my face!! So the White Cliffs were white all right... Completely hidden in the fog!!

I did the walk along the cliff edge anyway, it was actually pretty awesome with all the fog swirling up over the cliff, and I hardly saw another person on my walk, just horses and bunnies. (Who'd be that stupid to walk the cliffs at a time like that??)

After that I drove myself back to Hastings and this time visited the town of Battle and did the tour on the site where the famous Battle of Hastings happened a thousand years ago. I wasn't expecting much, but this ended up being one of my favourite parts of the trip so far! My main reason for touring England was to immerse myself in the history, learn about the past while walking in the footsteps of the people in the history books. And the audio tour at the Battle site is really great, it puts you right in the story as you're walking the fields where it actually took place. Very, very impressed by that one, I was like some kind of over-excited history geek! I see that they do an annual re-enactment of the entire battle once a year. That would be so cool to see! (or even be a part of!!)

Last night's bed-stop was Brighton. It's all very well to have the address of your hotel, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have a map of the town! First I had to find a place to park, pay the ridiculous amount of money (£3.50 an hour!! That's like 6 bucks!!) and then try and find an information centre, since not a single shop, cafe or restaurant seemed to be offering free wi-fi! VERY frustrating!! Finally found the info centre. It had just closed. Brilliant. Any ideas, anyone? Because I was fresh out, and I had to get back to the car before the parking ran out. (sigh) By absolute fluke I passed by a wall near the beach that had a big map of the city, which I scanned and scanned until I found my road. Huzzah! Then it was back to the car just in time to get stuck in peak-hour traffic. (Did I mention I had a really great day yesterday...?)

Finally made it to the hotel and walked along the famous Brighton Pier in the evening. And wouldn't you know it? Just as I was approaching, this massive fog rolled in from the sea and covered the pier so that you couldn't even see it anymore!

Today I drove to Bath via Southampton so that I could visit family friends Pauline, Lindsay and Jack. Once again I was cursing my lack of navigation. I could follow the road signs (and my newly acquired Britain road atlas) to Southampton, sure. But once I got there how was I supposed to find a specific address? I found a big shopping centre, went to the information booth (no wi-fi at all...) and asked the girl if she could look the address up. She jumped on Google maps and then sort of said, "Oh, that's really far away, I don't know how to tell you to get there." My response was: "Could you at least tell me what DIRECTION I need to drive in?" She squinted at the screen and then said, "Nnnnot really." *groan*

I went outside the shops, found a town map that pointed me toward the info centre. I walked there, only to find it apparently doesn't exist anymore.

My salvation came from Burger King. God bless you, Burger King!! They had free wi-fi, so I put the address into my mobile, it plotted a course for me, and I could drive to Brook Lane with a map in my hand! (As it turns out, I'd completely overshot the mark by about 10 minutes, but that was okay, I didn't mind doubling back as long as I knew where I was going!)

So I called in to see Pauline, Lins and Jack. It was wonderful to see them again, it has been quite a while. Last time I visited them was with Andrew back in 2001. I told Lins this, and he looked thoughtful for a moment, until I reminded him that Andrew was really sick. Suddenly a light bulb went on above his head. "That's right, and I took him to the doctors!" he said. They've got great memories, full of details. They were still reminiscing about the trip when we took them to Broken Hill, and I think that was back in 1986 or 1987!

I stayed and chatted for about an hour and a half, and then I had to hit he road again to get myself to Bath before peak hour.

So here I am! I've been for a quick wander around the city, couldn't resist going to the movies and seeing a preview screening of Snow White & the Huntsman. (comes out tomorrow officially) Really enjoyed it, definitely recommended. Not for the kiddies though!

With my wonderful internet here I have actually discovered how I can hire a Ready-To-Go Sat-Nav that will get delivered here tomorrow morning! Yay!! So from now on I shall have a navigator to tell me where to go. Phew! That will make things SO much easier!

Tomorrow I'm going to see some more of Bath, learn a bit of history, and then the day after I'm heading north through the Cotswolds to Wolverhampton.

I'm doing a lot of driving, but I don't mind too much. I think I've got to get some new CDs. I've listened to Newsies about 20 times now. The radio is great too. BBC2 is awesome. They interview lots of interesting people, play good music and there's no ads!

Oh, by the way, there's a small little celebration going on in this country this weekend. The Queen's Jubilee. Not sure how much they're talking about it back home, but here it's EVERYWHERE! Can't escape Lizzy's face! Massive to-do happening in London. It's gonna be crazy, glad I'm not there!

I wonder if anyone's actually read all the way to the bottom of this blog. If you have, hi! I've been long-winded, but it is pretty lonely travelling on your own. Often I just wish I had someone to talk to, so today that's YOU! :-)

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Last few shots of Ireland

I'm back in Dublin now. Can't believe it's really been a week since I was last here! I have seen a lot of Ireland's beautiful scenery, but more importantly I have learned A LOT about this unique nation, its tragic and violent history (both distant and recent) its myths and legends, its odd traditions, and yes, I now feel like I KNOW Ireland.

I must admit, I was kind of expecting it to be a lot like England. And in a sense, it is. A lot of the roads and shops are the same, etc. But this is a country (two countries, really) unlike any other, rich in history and tradition, a proud nation that's been pushed around by others for the past few thousand years.

My prayer is that in maybe 50 or 100 years, the North and South are once again united, free from both British rule and internal conflicts. That the people could look to the past with heavy hearts but look to the future with hope and the knowledge that in the end, their freedom was worth fighting for. I don't know how likely that is, but I can dream...

Here's a few final photos of the Emerald Isle. I'll comment on each one. I have no control over what order Blogspot decides to put the photos, so they will be chronologically all over the place. Nothing I can do, sorry.

1. This is a little pub we stopped at for morning tea. Can't actually remember the name of the town... It was featured in a movie called "The Field" starring Richard Harris.

2. This was on an island called Devenish. We went there by boat and got to wander around the 12th century monk ruins. Amazing stuff... And those monks must have been really short!!

3. We did a day trip to an island called Inis Mor (literally Irish for "Big Island.") It was a brilliant day. We hired bikes and rode all over the island. It's still fairly old-school there, and the people all speak native Irish. (Gaelic) This is me posing on top of a very tall cliff at the site of a prehistoric stone fort called Dun Aonghasa. This thing is thousands and thousands of years old!

4. The Giant's Causeway is something very, very strange. It's right up the very top of Ireland, and on the beach are these incredible stone structures, many of them perfect hexagons like this one. They Irish government has applied to have his listed as an official "wonder of the world," and it truly is. It has scientists stumped!

5. More of the Giant's Causeway.

6. Me at the Giant's Causeway!

7. Not far from the Giant's Causeway is the Carrick-a-Rede suspension bridge, which takes you out over a ravine. It's not a particularly LONG bridge, but it IS a very tall one! Not for people squeamish with heights! This is me standing on the cliffs beyond the bridge. You can actually see Scotland from there!

8. An old church on Inis Mor.

9. This was taken this morning in Belfast. Wow, there's a lot to say about that place! This mural in particular was of note because of how cleverly it's painted. No matter where you stand, that soldier is pointing his gun right at you!

10. Jumping back to the ancient monk ruins on Devenish, we attempted a group photo with timers. Mine didn't turn out too well, others did a bit better than me.

11. The gigantic wall that, to this day is there to divide the Catholics and Protestants in Belfast. What a horrible, horrible thing. I almost couldn't comprehend that these Northern Ireland conflicts could be real. And since it's such recent history, the city is still very raw. I felt a little uneasy around areas like this. Our tour guide told us that politicians talk of tearing the wall down, but the reality of the situation is, that would most likely just flare the violence right back up again. These walls have been built taller and taller over the years to stop people from throwing stones / bottles / explosives over them. It's all wrong. So wrong.

12. They love their murals in Northern Ireland. ("Norn Iron") It's almost like a kind of storytelling, a way to remember what should never be forgotten.

13. Okay, we're back to the Giant's Causeway. If there's a logic to Blogspot's ordering, I can't see it.

14. Here's the bridge I was talking about earlier.

15. Random ruin on Inis Mor. Taken from my bike.

16. I took this photo from the bus. This awesome castle had been built on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, but natural causes took place and the erosion of the cliff took part of the castle with it! No one's lived there since.

17. This was taken in a nice little village where we stopped for lunch one day and I can't remember what it was called. >_<

18. Blimey, it's St. Patrick!

19. One more shot of the monks' ruins on Devenish.

Sorry for the long-winded post, but I hope it's been interesting and gives you an idea of what I've been u to over the past week!