Argentina and Uruguay

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Hola Amigos,

Of all the places I’ve been of late, South America certainly has been the most exotic and adventurous. But once again, where to begin?!

The much anticipated reunion with Andrew in Buenos Aires was dampened by my 2 delayed flights, and my eventual loss of luggage (again), meanwhile stressing Andrew had given up waiting for my arrival as I had no means to contact him. Nevertheless, he was patiently waiting 4 hours at the gate, and it wasn’t his open arms I first noticed, but his golden tan. And from there on, the competition began to outdo him.

I had absolutely no expectations of Argentina, except I went in with 2 aims: 1. Like above, get a tan, and 2. To consume an entire Argentinean cow.

We initially spent the first 2 days in B.A, seeing the sights and feeling the summery delights. We then took a flight down to the southern region of Patagonia. Andrew had warned me it could snow. But my response was “pfft, dude, I’m coming from winter in London, I am quite confident I can deal with a summer in Argentina”. As we flew over the flat dark dirt of Patagonia, with its windy milky aqua rivers, I felt we were heading for the middle of nowhere. I was right. In amongst this nothingness, lay a little town called El Calafate, famous for being the nearest civilization to Periot Moreno Glacier. And then I felt the silly one, as I stepped off the plane to freezing conditions, in a mere singlet and shorts, while somehow everyone had been given the memo to deck out in snow gear.

The town was quaint… sprawling with ski shops, and crawling in inbred dogs, who had all obviously mated with the same short species, as even the labs were wandering around on sausage dog stumps.

We did a day trip to Cerro Fitz Roy in El Charlten (6 hr round trip, but AMAZING scenery). We walked for 24kms through stunning valleys, up hills, across fresh Puma tracks.

For my Christmas present, we also did a day trip to climb the grand Periot Moreno Glacier! Photos and words will never do it justice, but this “chunk” of ice, was spectacular. The waters below were a deep aqua colour, with bobbing icebergs. As you stand there watching the growing beast, you can hear from deep within it, creaking and cracking, then a thunder, as the side will just fall off, and plunge into the cold waters. It also glowed an electric blue, which we were told is just a trick of the light. We took a boat around to the base, and put our ice-hiking shoes on, and commenced our exploration. We had to jump over trickling streams, and avoid deep crevasses of glowing blueness. Then, before the decent, they served us whisky on top, with fresh ice from the glacier 🙂

Christmas Day was a little different to my Gunnedah tradition, but equally enjoyable. We went flamingo spotting and steak of course was on the menu.

We spent 7 nights in El Calafate, before flying north to Bariloche. Again, spectacular scenery, something I would have expected in Switzerland, not Argentina!! We managed to be there right over the top of their cold summer snap, so coupled with El Calafate, I was doing poorly in the tanning department. We filled our days with climbing Cerro Catedral (higher than Mt. Kosciuszko, we got pummeled by snow and wind, and I nearly froze to death on top the peak), bike riding around the lakes (uphill, I don’t recommend taking me anywhere on a bike that involves uphill), taking a chair lift up Cerro Otto, and horse-riding through the rugged mountains for my Birthday. Oh that’s right, I also turned old.

After 6 days of strenuous activity, we took a bus ride to Rio Cuarto. An 18 HOUR BUS RIDE! But they have this cool concept in Argentina, where the seats stretch back, so it’s like a bed. Still, not fun when you’re me, and get bored and impatient easily.

The long-distance buses
The long-distance buses

In Rio Cuarto we stayed with Andrew’s friend from exchange in Sweden, and were delighted to be apart of a real Argentinean backyard grill! The Aussie bbq doesn’t even rate compared to this stuff. We had a good time, despite the massive language barrier, but Andrew’s been brilliant in picking up Spanish quickly.

Next we took another bus ride.. This time, 29hrs in total before we reached our next destination, in Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay (it means ‘Headland of the Devil’). This “sleepy seaside village”, as described by Lonely Planet, was a real jewel.. Sand roads, thatched roofs, houses made from whatever washed up on the beach, and draped in fishing nets with buoys still attached. The beaches are wide, and beautiful, with fishing boats strewn along them. The locals wander slowly, and aimlessly, obviously zapped by the blazing heat, or stoned from the constant smoking of marijuana. But as night begins to fall (around 10pm), the beaches begin to fill, and the town comes alive with literally thousands of youngsters. A better description would be a ‘sleepless seaside village’. But great fun! So much fun choosing where to eat, and finally not caring if it’s unhygienic, as everything over there is!! And SO cheap.. a meal for two, plus drinks comes in around $15-20. But one disturbance was the fashion. Girls in bikinis deliberately giving themselves a wedgie, with a mug of local tea (mate) with a silver straw, and a large thermos in the other hand.. even despite the 35-degree heat, they still think it’s cool to drink hot tea on the beach.. crazy. We literally spent 5 full days of learning how to relax.. Sleeping in, lunch, read on the beach, ice cream, dinner, repeat… Needless to say, I did achieve my tan, although I got a little more than I bargained for!

Afterwards we headed to Montevideo for a night, then onto Buenos Aires, where we met with another of Andrew’s friends from exchange. We went to La Boca with all the colourful houses, and the famous soccer stadium. And of course, we ate more steak. I feel so healthy and strong now!!!

Before I knew it, I was waking up to the blankets of snow in London. The snow is nice, but the rain is not.

Germany-Netherlands-Belgium

Where does one start to describe the past 10 incredible days?

Conveniently Leah was finishing up her Irish adventures at the same time my mid-school term break was to start. Being a supply teacher means I can take days off when I want to without feeling guilty, so I took an extra day either side of my 1 week break.

So, from the beginning then..

Germany

This country is spectacular… and we really didn’t do it justice being there for only 4 days. I can not wait to return and explore the country in-depth. If only funds would allow..

We arrived on Friday, 23rd Oct into Munich. It was actually a really last minute decision to go to Germany, as I looked at a map and saw it sat next to our other two destinations, I thought ‘ what the hell…’ and flights were cheaper anyway. On arrival, it dawned on me, we don’t know German! Leah and I put together all the words we knew in German, and our grand total conversation amounted to: ‘Good morning’, the number ‘one’, and ‘I would like a cheeseburger’. Yes, we were prepared!

On our first full day we went out to the memorial Duchau Concentration camp. Duchau was the first German concentration camp, established in 1933. It wasn’t an extermination camp, rather a labour camp, although 42,000+ of the 200,000 prisoners there died. We had an incredibly passionate tour leader, who really got me thinking on some deep issues with the human race. The memorial centre has had to screen their tour groups, as last year a Nazi organisation came through teaching tour groups how to effectively run a concentration camp, based on Duchau. As we walked through the gas chambers and crematorium, it was so hard to comprehend what took place there.. or even that I was literally standing right where thousands of people were murdered. A bit surreal and removed from my comfortable life.

Maybe photos tell a better story..

We spent two nights in an adorable little town called Fussen. It’s at the base of the Neuchwanstein castle – the world famous one which Disney got its inspiration from.

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Disney Castle.. and me, covering up the scaffolding works taking place!

The town is incredibly beautiful and ‘so German’. We went up to the castle (didn’t go in – once you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all!), and got some spectacular views over the countryside.. .oh, I LOVE Autumn!! We decided to walk back to town, rather than take the bus, and we not disappointed. We came across mirror-image lakes reflecting the fiery Autumn colours of the mountains, set against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks and clear blue skies.. It even got so hot, the sun was streaming through the trees in the mountains, and we took time out on the aqua waters to sunbake on the white pebbles. We also had an entire house to ourselves, as it wasn’t the tourist peak season. Regardless, we both didn’t sleep as we’ve become insomniacs.

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Mirror Image, Germany
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We napped on those white rocks

Continue reading “Germany-Netherlands-Belgium”

Living in London

So I’ve had… nearly 4 weeks of real work since I last wrote. Yes, thrown in the deep end, I couldn’t agree more!

Fortunately, I haven’t experienced a school as rowdy as my first. In fact, I’ve had completely the opposite end of the scale – one in particular so very strict, that I myself was reprimanded and belittled to feel like a naughty school girl, merely for being time efficient and marking a student’s work in class. There was absolutely no joy in the school.. no one said hello, thank you or anything.. it was as sterile as they come! A horrid place to work.. and glad that I never have to go back there!

Other than that, every other school I have been to has been Catholic, so while one can never guarantee the quality of kids, at least the staff are always pleasant and willing to help me out. And I tell you – I certainly am familiarizing myself with S-W London! Although it was just last week I realised the reason I had no bearings was because I had been reading my AZ upside down. I’m still the same me.

Work has been fairly consistent the past few weeks – I’ve been getting between 4-5 days/week. And, I have been keeping myself rather busy on the weekends too. Looking ahead, my first free weekend doesn’t fall until Nov 21st! Yay to having a life again! Jayne has been a lifesaver.. showing me around all the important sites like a true local.. like, the markets and the huge, new Westfields at Sheppards Bush… We’ve also had our fair share of dates together, preferring the steak as it is our once weekly intake of red meat. I’ve also met up with new friends, through random connections that only London encourages. Plus, the girls I traveled to Croatia with have just arrived in London, so that’s another 5 instant friends to add to my list of reasons for staying here (Kate, Louise, Claire, Amanda and Kylie).

The housing situation keeps getting worse, but I am determined to stick it out until Dec. The girl’s have secured a house in Clapham South, which I would love to move into, but I don’t see the point right now, if I still have to give a month’s notice where I am, then I intend to travel for 2 months over Christmas. So fingers crossed they’ll be keen to have me after that!

The turn-over in my current house is fairly high.. I’m now sharing a bathroom (well, was.. I refuse to use it now) with 1 Asian guy (he’s ok), and 2 untoilet-trained Italian guys who repetitively urinate on the bathroom floor, and leave the seat up. Many a Saturday morning, I have to lug the heavy, stinking, urine-saturated bathmat down to the laundry and wash it, simply because the smell of it upstairs is so overpowering.. Then I wrote a kind note to please leave the seat down. It was repaid by throwing the note out and deliberately leaving the seat up. I seem to attract these sorts of housemates, if anyone can remember back to my uni days.. arghhhh! There’s never enough hot water and no one even says boo to each other when passing them up the stairs. Oh, and I haven’t even got started on them thinking it’s cool to leave prawns out on the kitchen bench over the weekend..

On another note, I have found myself a church to attend. It’s All Souls in the city (on Regent St I think.. yes, a green one on the Monopoly board..), a recommendation by the parentials, as it is John Stott’s church (he’s like.. famous I hear).. It was so encouraging my first week to have Stephen Lungu from African Enterprise speak. He’s spoken before at my church in Sydney. Hmm, I could read into this that maybe this is my calling… I will have to develop these thoughts AFTER my European adventures..  Anyway, 2 weeks later, Nathan Tasker played, and he’s an Aussie Christian artist, and the first CD I ever bought! This coming weekend I am actually going on a 20s and 30s weekend away to Kent. I haven’t met anyone from the church in that age bracket yet (despite it being 80% 20s and 30s).. I guess I’ve been hanging out in the uncool pews at church :p

The rowing club I never-quite joined has been a little disappointing. I get the impression they’re only keen for me to come down if I cox. And coxing isn’t fun at the best of times, but especially not when it’s a freezing day down on the Thames, and you’re coxing blind and wet with a crew full of ungrateful boys. Been there, done that before! When I told them I wanted to row,  I was assured “oh yes, I like to keep my fitness up too. You can just go on the ergs”. Haha.. no thanks.

I recently discovered – much to my delight – that the Thames is only a 5 min walk from my house, as is Chelsea Harbour. So I am actually living in a half descent hood! I have been religiously walking, every day 🙂

School holidays start in 1.5 weeks, and I am ever so excited, as I am in such desperate need of another holiday (jokes). So I have booked 4 nights in Munich, Germany, then taking the train to Holland, and spending 3 days there (Amsterdam and the Hague, as Andrew’s friend Tom lives/works there.. and we get a private tour of the Peace Palace!!), then down to Belgium for some hot chocolate in Brussels and Bruges.  Leah is coming with me too!! I’m so glad I bought a warm down/feather jacket!!

It has been getting increasingly cooler here. I nearly came home today to find my room burnt down because today was the day they decided to turn the gas heating on, which I was using as a giant coat hanger. Woops. Lucky teachers don’t work late hours or we could have been in serious trouble! And I tell you, I am in desperate need of some warmth, as I’ve developed such a lovely chesty cough, I keep everyone awake at night, and people cross to the other side of the road when they hear me cough from miles away.. all in the name of sharing I say..

Anyway, that’s about it until after the school holidays!

Portugal

Surprise! I didn’t think I’d need to write again for a while, but after teaching one day in London, I packed my bags and went on a much needed holiday – to Portugal!

I spent a week in London. Despite grand promises of lots of teaching work back in Australia, their English side of the company failed to deliver. I recognise it’s also the beginning of the school year so work is slow. But I managed to fill my time easily – shopping in Oxford Street, catching up with old work colleagues, watching Peter Pan the theatrical production in Hyde Park, attending some swanky parties in Fulham and Chelsea, and meeting members of my *soon to be* new rowing club at Hammersmith…

My only day of teaching was a Friday, and it was seriously, the most horrible experience of my life. I had a year 3 class, and I didn’t teach them a thing, rather tried to stop them from literally killing each other the entire time. I was sworn at in the first 5 minutes of the day, dragged children off each other as they brawled, tried in vain to explain why boys should not bash girls up…”but my dad hits my mum so it’s ok” … I had 2 students removed from my class, and had the principal come in at the end of the day to see if I was alright, because the kids are a known rotten group. Their normal home teacher is a big African guy, and as all but two little girls in my class were of African decent, I felt I had no chance of respect from the beginning.

So Portugal… I travelled with Nat, a colleague from 2HD/NEWFM, who later became my boss at NX/KO.

In general the country confused me as I tried to interpret it. Then I came to the conclusion it is Portugal that is suffering an identity crisis. Its culture has been so diluted by other influences, that it’s hard to know what the true Portugal is meant to be. The main cities are hilly, and it’s like someone came in, and paved the hills with small, shiny tile-like cobblestones, lined the streets with either cheap Asian imitation junk stores, or hippy Indian shops, dumped a couple of hundred healthy stray dogs, and inserted poky windows one street level up, so middle-aged Portuguese women can sit there all day long and overtly spy on the world…

The buildings are mostly rundown, with their pastel paint tearing off to reveal last century’s dodgy paint job. Undies are hung on makeshift clothes lines strung between windows for all the world to see, and almost every building had a singing yellow canary confined to a tiny cage, fixed onto the street-side walls.

We arrived in Lisbon and were utterly exhausted from no sleep the night before, but we still managed to drag our weary bodies around the Old Town of Lisbon. Being a Sunday, the streets were completely deserted, except for the beggars, of course. I found Lisbon dirty, but it did have some good architectural examples. We were only there one night before heading north to Porto – World’s port capital! Porto had a charm… the Douro River that cuts the city in two is lined on one side with seafood restaurants, the other with port distilleries. In between, are grand bridges, every 100-200 metres, that cross the heavily polluted waters. We went on a traditional boat ride up the river, sampled the delights of Croft Port, climbed a bell tower, and I had Portuguese chicken, every single day of my Portugal stay J

Next stop was south, to the Algarve region, famous for its stunning beaches and 12-Apostle-like rock formations… (and also for where Maddy McCann went missing). We stayed just out of Lagos on what is touted ‘Europe’s best beach’ (I beg to differ – the day we went, the wind rubbed me raw like sandpaper).

Lagos is much more suited to the tourist.. in fact, I don’t know if anyone actually even lives there.. no one works at least! And I’m fairly confident half of England were on holidays there.. Anyway, it was a nice place. We ate some really good food (the best Portuguese chicken in the world! Followed by the best salmon in the world!!), drank sangria in the sun, and sampled the delights of Portuguese pastries. One night, we were at a restaurant (the best salmon in the world restaurant), when a young Belgium guy took an interest in us, and convinced us to follow him and his friends to a grungy bar down the road. I like Belgiums. They are quirky and excentric, and I feel at home with them. They were the nicest group I’ve met on my travels. Admittedly, it was a farewell to the youngest of them, as he was on Uni exchange in Spain and got a girl pregnant, and next month he was going to be a dad, so this was his final “freedom tour”.

We stayed in Lagos 3 nights, then returned to Lisbon to fly home. Nat flies back to Aus on Monday, but then Leah and Liss are coming to stay on Thursday. I’m amazed by how many people I actually know here! I’ve been thinking hard about my next step – finding a new home (this one won’t do – there’s not even a lounge room, so I have to hang out in my bedroom, and everyone has a closed-door policy here except me), and what I will do about work. I’ve been offered work back with FrontRange in London, (my old company in Sydney), on the days I don’t get teaching. It’s the same set up as what I had in Sydney, just I’m on the other side of the world! London’s weather hasn’t been dreary yet, but I’ve been putting off admitting that in case I jinx it.. I’m trying to make friends here by making roasts, and so far, success!

Sailing the not-so-high seas of Croatia!

It feels like the dramas of leaving Gatwick airport tainted the rest of my month of travel! Here’s to Spain and Croatia…

In Spain, a bug I picked up in Morocco came back to wreak havoc, requiring some stiff antibiotics. This of course, made me more susceptible to the sun, so on my final day of sightseeing in Barcelona, I turned to a red crisp. My favourite part was the Park of Gruell, with Gaudi’s architectural work that looked like candy homes from Hansel and Gretle. We also went to his unfinished cathedral, which was spectacular, and I am impressed he finished as much as he did in his lifetime!

On our way to Croatia, we had a night stop over at Milan airport. Kate thought it would be fun. It wasn’t. We didn’t even make it first in line to check in, despite ‘sleeping’ in the line overnight! Fail.

We arrived at the Split in Croatia. Wow. If Croatia was a man, I would marry him. I absolutely loved Croatia, and would go back in a heart beat. We met out boat (25 in total – 14 were from our group!) and set sail on our 8 day voyage to Dubrovnik (takes only 3 hours to drive, but we were stopping off at little islands along the way). The landscape is characterised by high, sparse mountains, fringed in an aqua coastline, and deep blue (clean!) water…. The sun was hot, and we lay on deck sunbaking and reading, and jumping from the roof when the boat stopped.

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Chillin’ at Bol

Unfortunately for me, what I originally thought to be sunstroke from Barcelona, took a more serious turn, and I was confined to my cabin bed for the first 2 days of the sail. I literally didn’t even have the energy to raise my head to eat, so I lay there, honestly believing I was dying, and writhing in pain. Dad diagnosed me over the phone with the flu. Lying in bed isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my bed, was infested in bed bugs. The first 2 days on board, I suffered more bites than I could count, and they were horrendously itchy, and bled from the incessant scratching. By a complete miracle, I was healed from the flu on the 3rd night, and saw the sun again!

But the bed bugs continued to bite. By the 4th night, I refused to sleep in my bed, and begged my guide to take me to the nearest hospital and amputate my feet and legs. I attempted to sleep on top deck, but it was wet from wash down. So I set up camp in the dining hall. Around midnight, our whole boat woke to murderous yelling in Croatian and banging. It was our crew. I drifted back to sleep, before becoming increasingly aware someone was looking at me. I opened my eyes to see a Croatian crew member standing over me. He put his finger on his lips, motioning for me to be quiet (seriously, how loud was my sleeping?!). I started to get scared about his intentions, as I was the only person above deck. Then he disappeared into the night, and I heard more yelling and fighting. By this stage, I was terrified, and freed my legs from my sleeping bag, shoved it under my arm, and bolted back to safety of my bed bugs. In the morning we learnt that the chef had been drunk, and violent, bashing up the captain. The crew stepped in and bashed the chef up. The chef pulled a knife, the police were called, and as a result, we were now sailing chefless! (ironically, the food improved dramatically).

We stopped off at some great little coastal towns, with fascinating pirate histories. The building walls are still peppered in bullet holes from recent wars. We felt like the first tourists to many of the places we went.

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Makarska… beautiful!

My favourite towns were the party island of Hvar with its spectacular harbour views from the Fortress; Korcula, and it’s super cool tower turret bar that had a pulley system for hoisting up drinks (we watched an amazing sunset from up there), Mararska and its long, white pebble beaches, fringed in palm trees and great seafood cafes, and of course, Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic, complete with a set of fortified city walls.

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Makarska… sunset from our boat

I absolutely loved Dubrovnik. I did the near 2km walk along the city walls, soaking in the beautiful coastal scenery. The old town has amazingly polished stone walkways from frequent use. The food in Croatia is good too. 50cm pizzas, local seafood, black risotto dyed in squid’s ink, fresh mussels…

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Dubrovnik

Unfortunately for me, this is where my trip ends. I start work this week!! I found my house at 7pm, although no one was there to let me in, so I snuggled my bags until 11pm. It got cold, and I was getting worried… so I got my real fox scarf out to keep me warm. Then would you believe it, here in the centre of London, a giant fox comes running out of the darkness towards me!

Spain … and La Tomatina

I was rather relieved to return to Spain, although I did like landscape of Morocco and the potential the country has, I really felt the people let the country down from a tourist perspective. I just didn’t feel safe or comfortable traveling there as a woman.

Back in Spain we arrived in Valencia to commence our Fanatics La Tomatina tour (as in, the World’s biggest food fight in Brunol!) We had 3 full days before the event started, so we went to the Valencia Cathedral where the Holy Grail lies, ate some tapas, drank some sangria, and did some running around after Morocco (like buying antibiotics without a script!). In Valencia we met up with around 15 other kids from College, and some of their friends. It is so great being a part of a big group! The fanatics had about 850 people, and we all took over the city, wearing our bright yellow shirts… felt like we were in College again! Most were Aussies.

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The day of the event came, and we were all prepared, with our rip-proof clothes, we knew we had to throw away at the end of the day. Along with 20,000 others, we crammed into a boarded up street in Brunol, and waited for the onslaught of tomatoes. The even doesn’t officially start until a ham is knocked off the top of a greased up pole, so this took some time. We were hosed down continuously by giant, freezing water jets. We were in the wrong sport and were blasted more than everyone else. It got so cramped, that at times I was forced to stand on one leg because there was no room for my second foot! It was insane, and incredibly dangerous. We were squished up against complete strangers, and being short didn’t help, as this meant my face was usually smashed into some bare-chested Spaniard. Then the riots broke out. Spanish men crowded in around a girl and would rape her of her clothing, and soak it, then the clothes war began, creating a massive divide in the centre of the street, and clothes missiles were sent back and forth. This meant as the riot got closer and closer, we got more and more squished until there wasnt enough room to inhale and exhale! Several friends were urinated on by the locals. It was disgusting.

The road divided again, to make way for several large garbage trucks, loaded with rotting tomatoes. Men were onboard, throwing them at us, and would occasionally open the back of the truck and let thousands spill into the streets. The tomato fights began. In the eye, hair, mouth… everyone was a target. In the middle of it all, Spanish men continued to surround girls, and tear their clothes off. I was ready to punch any man in the eye that dared to take me on! One friend got surrounded, and she resisted violently, but they persisted, so she went in and grabbed his nipple ring! That put a quick stop to it!

The event only lasts an hour, but before it was even over, we were trying to make our way out. It wasnt fun anymore. But this is where it got messy. The street was now one giant tomato soup, deep enough that I couldn’t even see my shoes! A new lot of fresh Spanish men came marching in to create more problems. I think they see it as the one day of the year they can get away with anything. It attracts the worst of the locals. By the end, now caked in rotting tomatoes and absolutely stinking, we tried to find somewhere to hose off. The entire town was painted red, and grannies stood in their yards hosing off revelers. The rest of us washed ourselves in the river, which was rumoured to be sewerage, but hey, it didn’t stink as much as those tomatoes. Next, the street was filled with 20,000 half-naked people, as their clothes were no longer wearable! The riots continued by the locals, jumping on cars and rocking the occupants inside until they screamed. My like for Spanish men is now down there alongside Moroccan men, while my respect for Aussie men has sky rocketed!

It was definitely an experience I wouldn’t do again, but glad I was there to form an opinion!

I’m now in the more civilised Barcelona, and loving the city. We have had beautiful 36 degree weather here.

I said goodbye to Liss and Leah tonight, as around 15 of us are on our way to Milan tomorrow, then Croatia for sailing. Then, work in London 😦

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Morocco

First impressions will never tell the whole story, but for a traveller entering a new territory, it is the only basis for which to make an opinion. Sadly, for me, upon entering Casablanca, my first impression can be summed up in one word: a ‘dump’. On the way to the hotel, our taxi driver thwarted an attempted hijack as we waited at a set of traffic lights. A crazy man demanded the 3 of us out of the car with our bags. The driver gave him some money, and we were safe.

As a whole, Morocco was interesting… the country is beautiful in a very different way, but in my experience, the people are another story. We had a lovely tour group, and a not-so-professional tour guide. But that´s another story too! The landscape is depicted by scorched beige shades of pure barrenness, sprinkled in dry olive trees and fruit ĺadden cactus plants. There were also a few gum trees around! Temps were around 49 degrees celsius every day.

The highlights were the Roman Ruins of Meknes and Volubilis, and the night we spent in the Sahara Desert… camel riding at sunset, African drumming at dusk, and sleeping on the flat roofs at night to a violent, warm breeze… There were also some amazing oasis’ in the desert, filled with quince, peaches, and date trees.

The Fez medina was a crazy mess of narrow alley ways, cramped with donkeys, and stalls including everything from bee-infested honey treats to baby hedgehogs in cages.

As a city, Marrakech felt more equipped and tolerant of the tourist. In saying that, it still has a long way to go.  The incessant haggling at their world famous markets, and horrible things said to us when we didn’t buy, was enough to never return. At one stage I was slapped across the head for refusing to buy a $700 scarf which was identical to the 1-Euro scarves being sold on the streets of Spain. From a female, Westerner’s perspective, it was not a comfortable experience traveling through Morocco. The entire trip I was seen as a cash machine. We even had people shout out to us ¨I can smell your money! Come here!” and when we refused, we were sworn at.

I was religious about hand sanitizing, and became a vegetarian for the trip (although this didn’t stop me from getting sick!) I find it hard to eat meat while surrounded by hanging goat carcases – their black hairy heads still in tact, and body skinned all but to the tip of their tails, which included a puff of hair, like the skinner was shaping a show poodle.

Initially excited about the food, we were all really disappointed. As ‘vegetarians’, our only option was vegetable tagine, or cous cous, and after having that for lunch and dinner everyday, I physically couldn’t have it anymore. Fortunately my trusty travel-sized vegemite came in handy on the Moroccan flat bread.

 

This is a poem Leah, Liss and I composed as we traversed through the Moroccan countryside with our lovely little tour group:

 

Beige shades of barren land
Rolling dunes of hot, yellow sand
Sprinkled in cactus and olive tree
Lead by our Moroccan guide Ali
Sahara sunset by camel back
Gazing the night where shooting stars lack
Haggled for rugs we just don’t need
Tagine or cous cous our staple feed
Crowded medina with men and donkey
Unwelcome offers of marriage to be
Hard laboring women working the heat
While men lay at home, resting their feet
Some fun people we have met
Despite them dripping in stinking sweat
The Kiwis love their tonic and gin
While Belgium’s prefer the the pool for a swim
Our photos all have one common theme
Black plastic bags in every scene
At the end of each day we are a survivor
Thanks to our skillful Moroccan bus driver

The Adventures of Gatwick

Have you ever read the first page of your Australian passport? The part about ‘passing freely’ …?

Hello again!

Leah, Liss and I tried to leave London (Gatwick), for Madrid shortly after I last wrote. We were so excited to leave London!

After checking in, the plane was delayed, but eventually we got through after a couple of hiccups over not having a Ryanair ´recieved´stamp on our ticket (only after realising we’d checked our luggage through, they realised we must have checked in, and the lady at the desk had just forgotten to stamp it – she was new to the job). We were sitting on the plane with our belts on, when a crew member asked us to please leave the plane, the pilot was refusing to let us fly as we didn’t have the stupid stamp. Ground crew argued persistently with the pilot, that it was the airline´s fault because the check in girl was new. A baggage handler tried to sneak us onto the front of the plane. It all failed, and we were informed WE had to pay for new tickets, despite it being their fault…

So before we knew it, we were back in the terminal, waiting for security to escort us back through customs. The baggage handlers were so mad at the pilot, that they deliberately took their time getting our bags off – so long, it required a change of shift, and the flight was massively delayed!! We were pretty much dumped on the wrong side of the customs, and waited for 2 hours until any security member came to assist us. We were exhausted – it was now midnight. We had tried to get any official looking person´s attention – tried to march our way back through customs, if we had matches we would have lit a fire… Eventually on the other side, we collected our bags – well, all but mine, which was now somewhere in Spain! Ground crew were furious, as this is a breach of airlaw having an unaccompanied bag. But no one was willing to help us out! London city was an hour and a half away, so we had no choice but to spend the night at the airport…. in the airport´s chapel. But, turns out, it´s peak hour in the chapel between 1 and 4am, so we got no sleep. Beaten, we recommenced the day at 4am… Finally we got some help, and were offered a free flight on their next flight out – which wasn´t until 9pm that night, so another full day to kill at Gatwick airport! Then the plane was delayed… Oh, it was adventurous!

We finally arrived in Madrid. We´d missed a whole day of sightseeing. I went to find my lost bag, only to be told that the lost baggage staff had gone home for the day. I promptly burst into tears until I got my own way, and was reunited with my bag. In 8 hours time, we would be back at the airport to fly to Casablanca in Morocco…

Scotland and such

Hello again!

I think I last left you after just arriving in Sweden. Well, the last few weeks have been such a whirlwind! I have fallen in love, found a place I despise more than Sydney, treated and tortured my taste buds, and experienced some of the best the world has to offer….

Sweden was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. And, it was a good time to improve my Swedish language skills, after a year of learning back home, with only an Aussie-Swedish teacher!

We spent 2 nights in Uppsala with Ingrid and Pete, seeing the sights of beautiful Stockholm, then one night in Nykoping, and 4 nights on the west coast near Goteborg. I think my most favourite day of the trip so far was near Kykoping, where Pete took us out on his speed boat, cruising around the Swedish archipelago in the warm, glistening sun. We stopped off on a deserted island, and sunbaked on the rocks, eating strawberries and Egyptian grapes, and watching life literally sail by. Everyone except me went swimming, as I don’t like FREEZING cold water! It was such a perfect day, and I even got a tan!! 🙂 At Nykoping we also went for a lovely walk up a mountain, and ate wild berries till we nearly burst.

At Goteborg, we spent two nights 1 hour north of the town at Andrew’s host family’s Summer house (most Swedes have summer houses they live in only when it’s warm). It was amazing – right on the water, and we arrived to a spectacular setting sun. We were treated like royalty in Goteborg, feasting on 4-course meals, champagne and the best guest rooms. Mum and Dad – I’m taking you here one day!

After a week of bliss, we found ourselves back in London, and for me, the holiday stopped. There’s something about London that just makes it stressful. The culinary delights of the east came to a screeching stop, and customer service ceased to exist altogether. (Note – don’t believe restaurants when they claim to have “world bests”, like fish and chips – it’s all lies!!). I also had to say goodbye to Andrew, which was very hard, but we had a great final night, watching the musical ‘Wicked’ on stage in London.

Luckily, this was when Leah joined the trip! We’ve now just returned from a week in Scotland. (And were blessed with glorious sunshine the entire time – shorts and t-shirts!) We spent 2 nights in Edinburgh (and fell in love with the city we were supposed to live in…), 2 nights on the banks of Lochness at Fort Augustus, 2 nights at Inverness (with Shell – and covered the entire North coast of Scotland, nearly hitting some reindeer in our rented car on the windy one-way roads!), and a final night in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh festival. The Highlands were amazing!!! The mountains so green, spotted in patches of bright purple flowers, and dark, eerie Lochs. We did a 3 day Haggis Tour, and learnt so much about this amazing country, traveling through Glencoe, the Isle of Skye, past Ben Nevis (where the brand ‘The North Face’ is named after, and training ground for Everest), Fort William, and the battlefields of Culloden Moor (strengthening our case against the English!!). We also did an evening cruise along Lochness. As I peered into the black waters half listening to the safety brief on life jackets, I couldn’t help but wonder, does my travel insurance cover being eaten by Lochy? Hmm….

Now, back in London, Leah and I have become increasingly critical of the city, and we feed of each other, adding to our list of ‘English hates’ (it’s written in the back of my travel diary for anyone who cares to read upon my return). I can’t believe of all the places I’ve been, this is where I’m settling! I think it will be short-lived.

Another gripe I have against this city is the payment of toilets. I fail to see how employing a full time staff member and installing turn-style security is economically rational for the 20-pence it costs customers to use the facilities. Meh.

Yesterday I got a room though. It’s about the size of my walk-in wardrobe back home, and the house is shared with 5 others, from Italy, Hungary, Germany and France. I have no loungeroom, as that’s been converted into an office! But it’s in Fulham, in a gated community, and I don’t plan to stay long. At any rate, it’s not like I have many friend to come over an entertain! (Minus Jayne who lives 20 mins walk away). It was hectic being shown around rooms though. Some were absolutely filthy carpets jumping in fleas, floors littered in items I’m not even going to mention! When we naively asked when it would be cleaned, we were laughed at “haha, no! You clean yourself!” At least my place is clean(ish). I think my obsessive compulsive behaviour will get a work out in the next coming months… Can’t wait to sterilise it.

I’m getting to that point where I’m craving bed consistency, cleanliness and, my body free from bed bug bites.

Tomorrow Leah, Liss and I fly out to Spain (Madrid), followed by 8 days in Morocco, then back to Spain (Valencia) for La Tomatina (world’s biggest food fight involving rotting tomatoes! Yeah! They boarder off the street and for an hour we are pummelled in tonnes of tomatoes!), then to Barcelona, followed by an 8-day cruise along the Croatian Islands. I’ll try to write again when I get a chance, but I don’t know what the internet connection is like in the North African Desert!! 🙂

Sweden

I write from Sweden, where I’m staying with Ingrid, the daughter of one of mum’s school friends from India, who visited me when I was living in Terrigal. It has been good to catch up again! We are staying in Uppsala, a university town north of Stockholm.

So a little update since I last wrote, when we were still in Lithuania.

Latvia: another beautiful Baltic nation, overflowing in lush green, flowers and magical quaintness. We stayed in Riga for 4 nights. Riga, is a must-see destination… absolutely amazing atmosphere. A rather compact Old Town, but sprawling with cafes and restaurants, flower pots and statues. But, the city came alive at night (although the sun never quite sets, it has a constant blue glow in the sky for about 4 hours every night between 11pm and 3am). Talented street performers play from the darker corners of alleyways, and flood up the streets to where you’re sitting having dinner at 10pm (yeah, this kid is no longer in bed by 8 at night!)

We also went to Jurmala, to the North-West of Riga, and spent a day at the beach. It was a beautiful day – hot like Australia, and I got sun stroke!! (self-diagnosed!) Although the blessed Baltic Ocean was a little overrated – one giant septic pool!

Next stop was Tallinn, in Estonia (we’ve been travelling by bus between the capitals). The Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in existence, and while it is indescribably beautiful with an old city wall running along the outside, watch towers and old alleyways with ghost stories to tell, it is also strikingly modern with cafes and internet access even in holes in the ground (after all, this is the nation that developed Skype). It is also the PORK capital of the Baltics, so when I ordered my chicken pancake, much to my dismay, it came filled with slabs of pink ham instead. We were fortunate in that Andrew’s friend has married an Estonia, so we got to see more of the country and went driving outside of the capital. They also have an adorable 3 month old baby, so I was entertained all day long 🙂

We’ve done out fair share of climbing church and castle towers, reconfirming my absolute terror of heights (who would have thought it?!)

Each of the Baltic nations have their own unique history of occupation by the USSR and Germany, with KGB headquarters in each of the capitals, and memorials of lives lost. It truly is a historian’s playground. It’s hard to comprehend all the lives destroyed in these places.

The further north we’ve been, 3 things go up – longer sunlight hours (dark by 11pm – light again at 3am), more English speakers, and PRICES.

Which brings me to Finland. Finland was FREEZING! (not quite a ‘Summer’ holiday destination… but if it’s not warm now, it certainly isn’t any other month of the year!) And expensive! The city didn’t impress me as much as the Baltics (which I miss and pine over constantly..), but it does have some amazing architecture. We also went to the Olympic site of the 1952 olympics (the games before Australia had them in 1956). We went out to another island that had the fortress on it from the war. Finland – who invented the sauna – have 1 sauna for every 3 people in the country! And another educational point – nokia is a Finnish company, and they originally used to be a toilet paper making company till they decided to expand their product range! Good move I say! Oh, and I bought a real fur scarf! But to the animal activist, that fox was born to be a scarf, and a good one at that!

So now we’re in Sweden, for the next week (ah, the land of the Volvo, and IKEA). Spending 3 nights in Uppsala and heading to Stockholm with Ingrid and another friend Peter, then across to Gothenburg to where Andrew’s “family” live.