A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: advensha

In Summary

So that's it. Our advensha is over. I'm writing this while sat in my mum's living-room back in my hometown of Liverpool. We have been back for exactly one week now and it still doesn't feel entirely real. Every time I pick up my phone to message or call someone I do a little calculation in my head to figure out the time difference and whenever I look at the price of anything I halve it (thanks Australia).
It is taking some time to get a 'normal' sleep pattern back - I'm averaging about 5-6 hours of sleep at the moment but it is increasing every night.
It actually feels like we've only been away for a long weekend - mainly because nothing has changed back in Manchester and Liverpool. Actually that's probably a bit unfair; 3 of our friends have had babies, but aside from that, everything else is just as we left it.

I think it's going to take a little bit of time for us to really appreciate what we've done and where we've been. It's all a bit of a blur at the moment.
I've just re-read my 'The night before' blog post and it feels like I wrote it a lifetime ago. I said I was feeling numb, and to be honest, that's kind of how we feel right now too. We're in limbo - tired, confused, apprehensive and lost. We've been going through boxes of our stuff with a fresh and ruthless eye. After all we've been living out of a bag for 6 months so our definition of NEED has narrowed greatly.

I'm afraid I don't feel able to write a comprehensible 'conclusion' to our advensha, so instead I've done what I do best, formulated a list...

Best and Worst

Favourite country:
Aisha - India
Lauren - India

Favourite place:
Aisha - Bagan, Myanmar or Penang, Malaysia
Lauren - Udaipur, India or Penang, Malaysia

Favourite street food:
Aisha - Poh piah (Malaysian)
Lauren - Gobi manchurian and bread pakora (both Indian)

Favourite restaurant/café food:
Aisha - Annen Hoi in Hội An, Vietnam did the most amazing tomato tofu. Hui Yuan vegetarian buffet in Melaka, Malaysia was by far the tastiest buffet I have ever had. Also Capitol Satay, again in Melaka was both delicious and fascinating.
Lauren - The first place we had Thali in Jaipur, India. Also Millets of Mewar café in Udaipur, India.

Favourite people:
Aisha - Myanmarese
Lauren - Myanmarese

Favourite activity:
Aisha - Being sat in the sand dunes of Pushkar, Rajistan while watching a dance show, magician and the setting sun.
Lauren - Trekking through the rainforest of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.

Favourite swimming:
Aisha - In the crystal clear waters of the Andaman sea off Koh Ngai island in South Thailand.
Lauren - In the Arabian sea off Patnem, Goa, India.

Favourite accommodation:
Aisha - Jungle House in Vientiane, Laos followed closely by Tordi palace in Rajistan, India.
Lauren - Luna Villa Homestay in Hội An, Vietnam closely followed by Old Town Guesthouse in Melaka, Malaysia.

Favourite religious/spiritual site:
Aisha - Swedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar or Ta Prohm in Angkor Cambodia.
Lauren - Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where one of Buddha's eyebrow hairs lives (ahem).

Favourite journey:
Aisha - I loved the Indian sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in India. It was cramped, dirty and public but it was a great experience.
Lauren - The private transfer from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong (Thailand to Laos) in an air-conditioned, swish people carrier.

Favourite beach:
Aisha - Otres in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Lauren - Patnem in Goa, India

Worst experience:
Aisha - The scary stray dogs in Ayutthaya and my camera breaking for a second time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (it's still not fixed).
Lauren - Our experience in Mali Mali Guesthouse, Langkawi, Malaysia (pervy man).

Worst accommodation:
Aisha - Our hotel in Mumbai, India that had no windows, a toilet that didn't flush, a strong smell of petrol and there were ants everywhere. BTB Battambang hostel was pretty awful too - no security, really dirty and rude incompetent staff.
Lauren - Mali Mali Guesthouse in Langkawi - dirty (fungus growing in between tiles in bathroom) and unsafe (bedrooms were accessible from the main strip).

Worst food:
Aisha - Jaljeera juice in India - which was basically curry flavoured juice and the 'pork satay stick' on Vietnamese train which was covered in wiry hairs and was probably a week old.
Lauren - The poh piah in Kuala Lumpur mall food court that was drenched in sticky tamarind sauce.

Worst journey:
Aisha - The double-decker bus we took from Bangkok to Surathani with the crazy drunk lady and her boyfriend who ended up getting thrown off.
Lauren - The journey from Sihanoukville to Battambang on which poor Lauren was vomiting throughout.

What We've Learned

About ourselves:
One of the main things we've discovered is that we both love animals much more than we thought we did. Wherever we were in the world we always seemed to find a cat, dog or bird to cuddle and coo at.

That we love each other - a lot! We have spent 24/7 with each other for 6 whole months. We've not had to text/call one another for 6 months because we've always been beside each other. We've been together 2 years now so for a quarter of our relationship we've been travelling. And, aside from a handful of very insignificant arguments (usually due to hunger, exhaustion or being lost) we've loved every second with each other. And of course we've grown stronger as a couple as a result of all the experiences we've shared.

That although we do really enjoy architecture, history and art, we mostly love people - talking to them, learning about them and seeing things through their eyes if only for a short time. We definitely enjoy a good balance of high and low culture and there's also no denying that we appreciate our creature comforts and time to ourselves.

About each other:
Aisha - Lauren is far braver than she lets on and although she can be softly spoken and avoid confrontation, when she feels it's right she will stick up for herself and for me.
I already knew that a hungry Lauren was an angry Lauren but this has been cemented during the trip. Excessive heat also doesn't make for a happy Lauren; but to be fair sometimes the temperature was pretty unbearable even for the locals. Thanks a lot El Niño!

Lauren - Aisha was not as fussy or meticulous as I thought she would be. She was quite happy for me to make decisions about what we were doing or where we were going.
Aisha's also the best person in the world (besides my lovely mum Joan) at looking after me - my physical, emotional and mental well being.

About travelling:
We always managed to form some semblance of a base or 'home' for ourselves. I reckon this is part of our human survival instinct - to feel safe and secure. I (Aisha) was a little concerned that on days when I might be feeling down that I would struggle because I couldn't go 'home' to lock myself away, but thankfully this was never an issue. Our hostel/guesthouse/homestay always became our temporary 'home' wherever we were and, as such, we always felt snug.

Packing

Things we would have been lost without:

  • Keen sandals - Even though they gave us the most ridiculous Croc-style tan lines, these comfortable, waterproof and durable sandals were amazing and I must say, after a while we even grew to quite like their appearance too,
  • Stolen shampoo - If we were ever in a hostel that had shampoos in a dispenser in the bathroom we were straight in there with one of our empty tubs filling them up. I count it as a small victory that we didn't buy shampoo once in 6 months.
  • Pens - I found two mini biros before we left and put them in our passport wallets and they were invaluable.
  • Oats - Most of the breakfasts we had while we were away consisted of porridge oats with some local fruit and/or seeds and nuts that we made ourselves. Of course when free toast / pastries / yogurt was available we made the most of that too but we always made sure we had some oats and soya milk with us (neither of which were hard to find).
  • CEX laundry bag - The large drawstring plastic bag I got when I bought my mini laptop from CEX in India served as our dirty washing bag throughout the 6 months and, whenever we handed it over to launderers we always made sure we got it back.
  • Bench dress - Lauren brought a light cotton dress by Bench with her and it served as a brilliant nightie for when we were in private rooms without an en suite and needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. As it was so hot whenever we had the opportunity we slept naked which posed a bit of a problem when we were sharing a bathroom. This dress was the perfect throw-on item.
  • Tiger Balm - This wonderful potion (which was invented in Singapore) was an amazing for a whole host of skin ailments - insect bites, rashes, itchy bits, spots, blisters and even worked as a decongestant when we were bunged up.
  • Google Maps - As much as I hate to admit it, the internet, specifically Google Maps, saved us many times. Every traveller will tell you that getting lost is an inevitable and accepted eventuality and, without the help of Google Maps I'm positive we would have ended up stranded on more than one occasion.

Things we didn't end up using/needing:

  • The majority of the first aid kit - To be honest, this isn't exactly a bad thing, it just means we didn't have any major health issues. It's now going to live in my car.
  • Cable ties - I do think we used one or two of these along the way but, for the most part, they weren't that useful for us.
  • Pliable camera tripod - We should have realised that we weren't going to be attaching one of our expensive cameras to a random wall or pole away from us - we would have been asking for it to get stolen.
  • Travel notes - In the run up to the trip Lauren had handwritten some notes on places of interest and transit information for various countries we were visiting. Unfortunately these notes ended up packed deeply away in Lauren's backpack only to be found after we'd already visited the countries that the notes were on.

Things we wish we would have brought:

  • Sudocrem - The wonder-cream. Luckily we had Tiger Balm as a backup but I would have loved some Sudocrem too.
  • Dental floss - I did actually bring some of this but it ran out quite quickly. A lot of the foods we were eating had lots of 'bitty bits' in them - herbs, spices, veggies, fruit, meat etc so dental floss was a bit of a necessity to avoid tooth decay. I ended up buying a packet of toothpicks as dental floss was ridiculously expensive in Asia.
  • A proper hairbrush - We'd bought a small travel hairbrush that unfortunately broke after a few months leaving us with crap plastic combs we'd gotten free in a hotel. Thank god I'd had my hair cut short.

What We'd Do Differently
We wouldn't beat ourselves up as much about feeling fed up and bored sometimes. Losing momentum periodically is inevitable and not the end of the world. We've learned that it didn't make us ungrateful or dull - just human.
I (Aisha) do wish I'd have bothered to do some diving. We were in some of the most well-known diving spots and with hindsight I should have splurged on doing my PADI. The upside is that I'd now realised I'm interested in it and so can pursue it back at home and when I next go away.
There are also quite a few things I wish we could have done in Australia. We weren't really tourists in the country as we were mostly visiting people not places. If we'd have had more money (our budget only allowed $80 per day which is approx. £40) we'd have definitely visited the North of the country and seen the Great Barrier Reef. But this has at least given me a thirst to return and this time, in their summer!
Lauren wanted to add that if she could have, she would have gone around Southeast Asia when it was slightly cooler - but I do think it was a fluke that we were there while El Niño was throwing its weight around.

Stats

Have a look at our travel stats here: http://www.travellerspoint.com/stats/advensha/

Final Thoughts

As a final thought I want to express my thanks for everyone that had joined us on this journey by reading this blog and/or watching our videos on YouTube and looking at our photos on Facebook. I'm really proud of myself for starting and finishing this blog project. It has helped to build my confidence in pursuing a creative/media career in the near future.

I also hope that we have inspired one or more people to at least think about taking the leap to quit the job you hate and go see some of the world. We haven't regretted our decision for a second and as much as being unemployed for the first time in my adult life is fucking terrifying (especially for an overly sensible gal like me), I know in my gut that I've done the right thing - whatever happens.

For now we're going to give Bristol a try and see how it suits us. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you go on to have your own advensha!

Posted by advensha 03:06 Tagged adventure best travellers scary backpacking backpackers worst favourites final_thoughts list summary unemployed its_over Comments (0)

Singapore

overcast 30 °C
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First visit - 18th May - 19th May

The morning we were leaving Old Town Guesthouse in Melaka we were treated to some homemade fruit cake baked by Chua's girlfriend for breakfast. We got a taxi to the central bus station and soon found out that the next bus to Singapore wasn't leaving for 2 hours. Marvellous. AT least the station had chairs and a few shops to pass the time. The one thing it didn't have were spare plugs for us to charge our Kindles for the coach journey ahead.
We did eventually get on the bus and, it was an impressive one. The chairs reclined very generously and had in-built massagers as well as plug sockets! For first few hours I played Monopoly on Lauren's Kindle as the view outside was a little miserable because of the rain. We arrived at the Malaysian exit border and got through quickly and easily but, a few minutes later at the Singapore border we were faced with long queues full of people with less than content facial expressions and body language. We hedged our bets and chose one of 10 queues hoping we wouldn't be hanging around too long. After only a few minutes we noticed a few people and families queue-jumping which understandably was driving the Singaporean security guard absolutely crazy. One particular women was moving and climbing over barriers in the hopes of getting closer to immigration. Once she thought she'd secured herself a better position she would then gesture for her elderly parents and other family members to run over. I am not exaggerating when I say she tried this 4 or 5 times, often when the guard's back was turned. She eventually got a loud telling off and was forced to stay separated from her family - who actually ended up worse off in the queue stakes.

We did finally get through immigration after about 1.5 hours but then had to wait a further half an hour for the rest of our coach's passengers to get through and get back on. By the time we got to Singapore's city centre it was 8pm and we'd been travelling for over 7 hours, even though it was only supposed to take 4-5. Upon stepping off the bus and getting our bags we frantically ran to the first money-change shop we could see in order to pay for a taxi to our hostel.
It luckily wasn't too long of a drive to Green Kiwi hotel and we were promptly shown to our 12-bed female dorm. The hostel was very basic with very small bunk-beds, no proper lighting and a cramped and untidy bathroom. It certainly wasn't the worst hostel we'd stayed in but it was the most expensive - that's Singapore for you. At least we were getting warmed up for our next country - expensive Australia!

We only technically had one day in Singapore as our flight to Sydney was at 1am so we wanted to do something that was free or cheap but not too intense. After having a look through our guide book we decided to visit Haw Par Villa - an old 'theme park' set up by the Tiger Balm brothers. We figured out how to get there on the wonderful MRT system and off we went. The park (previously known as Tiger Balm Gardens) is an outside park covered in thousands of statues and dioramas depicting stories and legends from Chinese mythology. As per usual it was boiling outside and pretty humid too so we couldn't stay out in it for very long but we did spent a good hour wandering around marvelling and the weirdness. The most interesting area was the 'Ten Courts of Hell' cave where you could see just that - plenty of small figurines being tortured in various ways for various crimes (one of which was failing to pay your rent).
We had a late lunch at a little Chinese buffet just up the road from our hostel and not long after packed our bags to go to the airport. Again we made the most of the well-connected MRT system to get to Changi airport. Unfortunately the tube was packed so we were packed in like sardines - stood up with our massive backpacks on and sweating profusely. We arrived at the airport 7 hours before our flight was due to leave - only because our hostel didn't have a good communal area where we could hang out and the airport has loads of things to entertain us.
After watching Peanuts the Movie in the 'Entertainment Lounge' we tried and failed to find the snoozing area where there are apparently reclining seats where you can sleep for a while. We were deliriously tired and bored and so did the thing we love best - eat. Soon enough we boarded our Scoot Air flight to Sydney knowing we'd be back in Singapore in 7 weeks.

Second visit - 3rd July - 5th July

After a month and a half in Sydney we were back at good old Changi airport. The flight was fine but we did get a bit of turbulence. At one point I asked Lauren if she'd managed to sleep to which she replied "I'm not sure, I did have a moment when sleep came all over me". This resulted in me crying with laughter for a few minutes.

We got in a taxi and made it to my cousin Katherine's apartment block where we would be staying for the next two days. We did have a small issue in that I somehow had managed to not get Katherine's FULL address - I had the name of her apartment complex but not the actual block or apartment number. We spent 10 minutes or so chatting with the security staff at the front gate trying to determine where Katherine lived and how we could get in touch with her despite having no working phones or any WiFi internet. Luckily, anticipating our arrival, Katherine did come down to the front and meet us. We made our way up to her sixth floor condominium and plonked our scruffy bags down. The apartment was, as expected, lovely - very modern and roomy with a big balcony and great open-plan kitchen/dining room. Katherine very kindly prepared a delicious vegetarian homemade meal for us and her partner Sam and we sat on the balcony chatting about Brexit, food and our trip.

The next day we were more than happy to chill out while Katherine and Sam were in work. We first went to one of the two available pools on the complex for a swim and brief sunbathe (bearing in mind we'd been in an Australian winter for 7 weeks and therefore lost our tans). It was bloody glorious in Singapore (as it always is) - very hot but not too humid. The pool is ginormous and spans across 5 of the towers. One part of it has jets for massaging and another part has a white sand floor. There are also picnic and BBQ areas - all for the jammy residents (and even jammier visitors like us). There are also tennis courts and a gym on site but we obviously gave those areas a wide berth.
Our skin and bones were certainly happy to see the sun again (even if only for an hour). After a decent swim that left my legs sore for the next 2 days, we spent the rest of the day watching Netflix (the new season of Orange is the New Black to be precise). It was quite wonderful.

Then, as evening approached, we got the number 10 bus into the CBD and walked around the Marine Bay Sands shopping mall where everything was far too expensive and small-sized for us. At 7pm we met Katherine at the bottom of tower 3 and squashed into the lift with a load of Chinese tourists. Lauren and I had dressed as smartly as we could - which was difficult considering we only had the crappy clothes we'd been carrying round for 6 months. The Marina Bay Sands hotel is a rather fancy establishment that has a dress code so we were a little nervous about getting turned away in our flip flops and with our hairy pits. We were fine though - I think women always fair better in these situations than men.
We found ourselves a table at the end of the tower overlooking a truly magnificent view of Singapore. Katherine bought us all delicious cocktails as we watched the sun set over the Asian metropolis. We could also see the sky-pool on tower 1 which had lots of people positioned shoulders-over the edge looking out.

We finished our cocktails and made our way to Keong Saik road - an area full of restaurants, coffee-shops, bars, hawker stalls and cafés. We chose to eat at a Japanese restaurant called Neon Pigeon which has apparently won lots of awards. I started with a painappuru cocktail in an amazing samurai cup/flask thing. We ordered lots of sharing plates and all tucked in to a bit of everything. At the end of our meal the lovely bar-manager came over and did a 3-second-saké challenge whereby she poured the rice wine into our mouths for 3 seconds. I've had saké before and really disliked it but this one was actually very tasty.

For our last day we went for a swim at the other pool on the sixth floor which wasn't as dramatic but still pretty damn great. We got the bus into town again and met Katherine for a Lebanese lunch where we discovered the middle-eastern version of a yogurt lassi - Ayran. We then walked around a bit and ended up in a big Chinese shopping centre called the People's Plaza. There we decided to have full body massages which I enjoyed immensely but Lauren didn't. Basically I came out feeling like I'd been carried off to a wonderfully relaxing dreamworld where my body was voided of all knots and stress and Lauren came out feeling like she'd been in a prisoner of war camp for an hour.
We got back to the apartment, packed our bags, said our goodbyes and jumped into our cab heading to the airport.

Even though we didn't see or do much in Singapore we both liked it much more than we thought we would. Not only were we happy to be back in the sunshine but we were also delighted to get a feel for Asia again - even if it was really brief. The cuisine, the people, the streets and the shops - it was all nostalgic.

We definitely weren't so eager to kiss goodbye to the sunshine and we also weren't looking forward to the 15 hour journey we had ahead. But the silver lining was that we were going to gain a day back. Manchester awaits...

Posted by advensha 03:25 Archived in Singapore Tagged rain singapore bus clouds hostel border backpacking travelling dorm grey little_india coach stormy green_kiwi lesbian_couple Comments (0)

Australian Curiosities

Over the 7 weeks we were in Australia there were a few kooky things we picked up on that we found interesting and/or a little odd. Here are some of our favourites.

  • Proliferation of road signs.

For whatever reason, in urban/suburban areas in Australia there were a hell of a lot of road signs. It seemed excessive to us. For example on residential streets where there are parking restrictions, there would be a sign telling you the parking rules then another sign beside it with an arrow dictating where the authorised parking started, and then another sign with an arrow dictating where the parking ended a few metres away.
There were also plenty of 'beware wildlife' and 'stay left unless overtaking' along with the odd 'SPEEDING/TIREDNESS KILLS'.

  • European-ish junk foods.

Some of the most popular meals in the cities of Australia were weird European-ish dishes - chicken schnitzels were EVERYWHERE. Then there were chicken parmigianas - a bastardised version of the Italian aubergine dish that is essentially a chicken schnitzel with tomato sauce and cheese on it.

  • Ice cold beers.

I had heard of this before but hadn't fully realised just how true it was. Aussies like their beer VERY cold. We met a number of people that put their cans or bottles of beer in the FREEZER as the fridge just wasn't cold enough. Aussies really do think that us Brits drink warm beer.

  • Central heating just doesn't exist in homes.

In most if not all of the houses we stayed in there were no radiators. This of course makes sense as it's not super cold but, there were times when it would have been welcome. Instead, a lot of homes have a gas pipe that you attach a very retro looking three-bar gas heater to.

  • American style mailboxes are more common than letterboxes.

Yeah. Pretty self explanatory really.

  • Slang is used a lot in advertisements.

In a lot of adverts - TV and printed - Aussie slang is used, I'm guessing to appeal to the average Bruce and Sheila. For example companies like McDonalds would refer to themselves as 'Maccas' and car brands would use the term 'rego' instead of registration. Another language whimsy we noticed was the use of puns in the names of small businesses. Our all time favourite was a plumber we spotted in Tocumwal - The Turdinator.

  • Sports teams have hilarious names.

I'll just leave the names of some of the Australian teams here;
- The Socceroos (men's football)
- The Matildas (women's football)
- The Kookaburras (field hockey)
- The Wallabies (rugby union)
- The Dolphins (swimming)
- The Cockatoos (tennis)

  • Foxtel (the Australian name for Sky TV) doesn't have a watershed.

One lazy afternoon while we were watching television at Nick and Nic's house we innocently switched over to Geordie Shore (which the Aussies LOVE by the way) and all of a sudden we heard "SHE'S A FUH-IN COONT!". As it was midday we both were a little shocked to hear such expletives but we later found out that this is the norm unless you set parental controls.

  • Political advertisements on TV are just tele-visual shit-slinging matches.

At the time of our stay in Australia the federal and state elections were looming and so political adverts were ubiquitous - on TV, radio, posters and billboards. The television adverts were the best - they were actually quite hilarious. They only lasted up to 10 seconds and were usually just some words against a black screen along with a serious sounding voice-over. Here's an example of what you might hear; "Malcolm Turnbull hates your kids and pays no tax. Sponsored by the labour party of Australia". We never heard any party policies or success stories, only insults to their opponents. A bit like a pantomime you might say.

  • Cars are weird.

The majority of vehicles in Australia are automatic. A lot of them also have pull/push handbrakes. Oh and the indicator stick is on the right. Fuckin' weirdos.

  • Many bathrooms in oldish houses have a solar lamp that heats the room.

Despite my previous point about there not being any integrated heating system in most Australian houses, in a lot of bathrooms there is a solar lamp in addition to an ordinary light that is intended to heat up the room. We loved in especially on the cold mornings.

  • There are two very prevalent diet fads.

Almost everywhere you go in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide you will see restaurants, cafés, takeaways and even sometimes bars offering gluten-free and/or paleo friendly meals and drinks.

  • You cannot get sandwiches/lunch food in supermarkets.

In the likes of Coles, IGA and Woolworths you just can't get a sandwich or pasta-salad or any sort of lunch food - there just isn't a section for it. In fact I'm not entirely sure where you would get a sandwich other than a servo (petrol station).

  • You cannot buy alcohol anywhere other than an off-licence.

Unlike the UK you cannot buy alcohol in any old shop. Instead you HAVE to go to a specific alcohol shop (aka a bottle-o). No £3 B&M peach schnapps I'm afraid (upsetting I know).

  • The public transport system in Sydney is brilliant.

Like London, Sydney's public transport system is set up around a 'tap-on tap-off' card. It's called an Opal card and not only is it easy to use and top-up, it's also cheap. For us to travel on the train for over 1.5 hrs from Sydney to Narara it only cost us $5 (£2.50). It's not only the cost that's impressive, the frequency is also great and the routes are great. After our long night out on Oxford street we got a night bus back to Coogee (about a half hour journey) at 4am.

I'll finish this post with a video of one of the nifty features on Sydney's trains...

Posted by advensha 11:12 Archived in Australia Tagged culture australia unique aussie eccentricities different weird curiosities idioms ozzy Comments (0)

Australia: Narara and Sydney No. 2

sunny 15 °C
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On the morning of our departure from Melbourne Claire very kindly drove us to an area called Coburg to collect our next and final relocation vehicle. This time we were driving back to Sydney in one fell swoop - 860km, 8.5 hours. After a lively drive singing very loudly to Coolio's Gangster's Paradise and Warren G's Regulate (to which Lauren knows ALL the words), we finally made it to Coburg and to the Camperman depot.
This depot was smack bang in the middle of a grotty looking residential estate and also had a mechanics attached to it. After faffing with ID and paperwork we were shown to our vehicle; a huge 5-berth, 15 year old, manual (yay) beat up campervan.

We said our sad goodbyes to Claire and off we went into the Melbourne wilderness, me taking the first leg. Unlike the other vehicles we'd driven in Australia, this one, being an old bastard, had no USB charging points and so our satellite navigation device (Lauren's iPhone) wasn't going to last very long. We did have a radio but the button front had fallen off so you had to jam your finger into a small hole and press a tiny knob with your fingernail in order to change the frequency (that's what she said). The campervan was actually not too difficult to drive. Yes the gears stuck occasionally and it did roar quite loudly upon acceleration but once we were on the highway it felt quite smooth and nippy (albeit a bit of a gas-guzzler). We made a few stops (mainly because Lauren was feeling hungover from the copious beer from the night before) and had our main stop at a place called Taracutta where we'd actually stopped before on our original journey. I am conscious not to get too political here but during our drive the Brexit results were coming in. At one of our petrol stops, as we were strolling around the garage shop and café, I took a wander over to the small TV in the corner where some Australian fella was reporting on the UK's fateful decision. Here I heard the first rumbles of a leave result but at this point, still though remain would come out on top.

The weather was pretty on and off throughout, quite English really - drizzle and clouds quickly followed by blue skies and sunshine then topped off with torrential rain and darkness. We did eventually buy an expensive cigarette lighter USB charger (much to my dismay) in order for us to find our way to Coogee without ripping each other's hair out. At some point in the late afternoon/early evening we switched the radio over to what can only be described as Australia's version of BBC Radio 4 and heard the news; the UK had left the EU. Soon after we then heard David Cameron's resignation speech. We were shell-shocked. We'd both voted to remain (byproxy) and although we hadn't been in the midst of all the campaigning and polls and general public opinion we genuinely didn't think for a second that the result would be to leave the European Union. Our shock mixed with travel-lethargy, rain and most probably hunger (frankly the latter is perpetual) meant that we spent the last few hours angrily crying. I wish I'd have filmed it really - it would have made a great viral video.
We did eventually make it to Coogee at around 9pm and luckily managed to find a parking spot for our beast just up the road from Nick and Nic's flat. As weary and distraught as we were, as we stepped onto the pavement and started our walk to the house we were revitalised by the thought of our imminent introduction to Lauren's brand new niece Lily. And my god did she soothe our souls - what a gorgeous little baby angel.
After plenty of cuddles (with baby Lily and our bezzie Einstein the dog) and general catch-ups with the gang, we settled into bed for the night to rest-up for tomorrow's new destination - Narara.

Nick dropped us off at Central Station and we were soon on the train heading to the Central Coast where we were going to be staying with Lauren's friends Majella and Matt. The journey took just under 2 hours and as always I took the opportunity to sleep and drool all over Lauren's shoulder.
Majella met us at the station and took us to the open day at their local eco-village - the place she and her family will be building and living in a straw house in the next year or two. The site is amazing - a 100 year old horticultural institute with lots of heritage buildings right in the middle of bushland with trees as far as the eyes can see and a huge dam and just generally lots of green space. Look it up here if you're interested... Narara Eco Village

That night Majella and the two kids (Sinéad and Michael) went to Sydney for a birthday party the following day so making the most of having no kids around Matt (Majella's husband), Lauren and I went to the local RSL to watch an INXS tribute band. As you do. Ourimbah RSL was much like the Hellenic club we'd gone to in Canberra - a large 'function room' with small stage, dance-floor, lots of tables, two bars (one with cakes and slices from the day still on show), pokie machine rooms, 'bullet alley' where all of the military memorabilia is presented and lots more unknown space upstairs too. Drinks are cheap (for Australia) and the vibe is relaxed but buzzing - mostly white, Aussie middle-aged couples and parties letting loose on a Friday night.
After a few schooners I got a little cocky and suggested we have a go on the infamous pokies. We put $15 in the Cleopatra machine and after a bit of button-fiddling with Matt's guidance managed to win $42! I can see why these things are addictive! Not satisfied with one win, we then moved onto Keno - a national, 24/7 lottery/bingo that runs on its own TV channel in almost all pubs, clubs, bars, casinos, bookies and some restaurants too. As you could of predicted we lost all of our winnings and ended up with $8 left - a $6 overall loss. Not bad for our first go I guess.
We hung out at the RSL for a good few hours - chatting with some of Matt's friends, watching the cover band (who acted as their own warm-up band, they just changed their clothes halfway through), gambling, drinking, learning about the Australian socialising culture. In all the drunken enjoyment I even left my handbag at the pokie machine which ended in one of the door-staff calling out for a LAUREN JONES over the PA (I had her ID in my bag). We were so drunk/excited/stupid that when we heard this we thought we'd won some sort of jackpot and they were announcing it to everyone. Thankfully everything in the bag was intact - some honest member had handed it in. I'm sure this isn't the first time an Australian has had to assist its imbecile British cousin.

The next day we had a nice lie-in and then drove to Gosford market where, as per usual, Lauren and I made the most of all the edible free samples. The market was at the racecourse and we sat on the stands eating our various homemade goodies, reminiscing about the funny night before.
We then carried on to a small town called Woy Woy which has a bit of a countrified bohemian vibe. We had some fancy chai tea in a little caf (called Gnostic Mana) and then took a stroll to the local co-operative fishmongers where a load of MASSIVE pelicans were just hanging out.

That night Matt and Majella cooked us a lovely fusion meal consisting of various barbecued meat and veggies along with a ratatouille and egg-fried rice before retiring to bed.

For our last full day in Narara we chilled out with Majella doing chores while the kids were at school and Matt was at work. We decided to go out for lunch and Majella was keen to take us to a place she knew we'd like called Bamboo Buddha. We turned up to discover that it was closed on Mondays. Majella then thought of another place that was nearby and off we went again to find out it too is closed on Mondays. We'd been driving for over half an hour by this point so we asked Google to direct us to the nearest eatery and it only went and took us to a Christian bookshop café! We unanimously decided not to visit said café and instead stopped at an industrial park not far from the kid's school and popped into a small joint with a crap menu - at this point, we didn't give a shit. We all had an average meal but poor Lauren ordered the frittata which said it was veggie on the menu but as she cut it in half found lots of little ham chunks in it. Not wanting to cause a fuss or waste anything she just ate it - the pig was already pretty dead. We didn't hang around too long and soon set off to collect the kids from the Steiner school which was an amazing campus with hardly any hipster parents hanging around.
That night (our last in Narara) we ate Mexican - fajitas, re-fried beans, salsa, guacamole etc. We also drank quite a lot of wine which helped make our game of Australian Monopoly much funnier.

Before we made our way back to Sydney the next day, Majella took Lauren and I for a walk around Narara Eco Village, explaining where their lot was and how the community was going to be set-up. The weather stayed bright and crisp and we got to see a lot of the site including some native wildlife in the form of cockatoos and kookaburras.

At Narara train station we had a good laugh with some dodgy looking fellas who, upon noticing our huge backpacks and scruffy attire, asked us whether we'd seen Ivan Milat. For those of you that don't know, Mr. Milat was a serial backpacker murderer in Australia in the 1990s. Upon arrival at Central Station we spent a bit of time trying to find the right bus stop but eventually we made it to Coogee. We got off opposite the beach and comprehended the walk ahead of us to our Air BnB flat. After lots of wine and little sleep the night before, coupled with 20 kilos of baggage on our backs each, we weren't quite prepared for the 15% gradient hill that is Arden street. It took us a wee while but we made it to our spot for the next week. We were staying in an apartment owned by a lovely chap called Kwon. It was a small but very nice place with a big bedroom and comfy bed. The only issue was that Kwon had neither a TV nor an internet connection. It seems he just works, exercises, cooks, reads and listens to music. How odd. So our plans of vegging out in front of sensationalist Aussie TV (60 Minutes is my favourite) while mindlessly browsing the internet were well and truly scuppered.

Much of the next 5 days in Sydney (our last in Australia) were spent hanging out with little baby Lily - getting in as much Auntie-time as we possibly could. In between we did manage to go to my favourite (art deco) cinema The Ritz to see two kid's films - Finding Dory (alright) and The BFG (really good) - and fit in a couple of cheeky choc-tops.
Kwon was hardly ever in which was kind of nice but a bit of a shame as I'm sure we would have all got on very well.

One night (our penultimate) we got the bus to an inner-city suburb called Redfern. We had only heard slightly negative things about Redfern - that it's "a bit rough" and that there are lots of "drunkards and junkies". We'd also heard that the area had a large aboriginal population. Ignoring all that (as we often do) we made a visit to Redfern night markets that are put on monthly at a youth centre and have indoor and outdoor stalls and performances by local groups. It was a bloody freezing evening but we enthusiastically shivered around the stalls and tried to warm ourselves up with some Sri Lankan shredded roti and Nepalese dahl. After walking past the loukoumades truck our sweet pudding urges were awakened and so we bought a HUGE tub of them. Loukoumades are small Greek honey doughnuts and this particular stall offered them with various toppings. In our large box we got approximately 30 doughnuts; one side covered in white chocolate and desiccated coconut and one side covered in nutella and crushed nuts. After a quarter of the box we were close to hyperglycaemia but, as seasoned food-soldiers we battled on and finished the whole box, even scraping the dried chocolate bits up at the end. You could call us heroes.
We watched some talented kids do a few dance performances along with some singer-songwriter-guitarists playing their best stuff. Keen to walk off the million doughnuts we'd just inhaled we made our way to a little bar we'd found on the internet - The Bearded Tit. We arrived and it was full to the brim and, much to our dismay, seemed to be a hipster jaunt. We put our initial judgemental assumptions aside and got ourselves an expensive drink and a seat. The décor was, of course, dark, eclectic and busy - there were two old fashioned barber's chairs in the corner as well as lots of weird and wonderful paintings, wall-hangings and mirrors. Thankfully, the music playing was recognisable - 80s/90s hip hop and pop music - just to our taste. A bit cheesy but actually quite cool (in our humble opinions of course).

We waited and chatted a while until Zoe and Ash who were visiting Sydney for the weekend finally arrived to meet us. We hung around the Tit for a little longer but left as last orders were called at 11pm. We then thought it appropriate (being a quartet of lesbians) for us to pop over to Oxford street - one of the longest thoroughfares in Sydney and also home to its gay village at one end. We spent the rest of the evening (and morning), dancing, singing and generally being silly in The Stonewall Hotel club. We were 4 of 6 women in the whole club (if you exclude the drag queens) and we had an absolute ball. Quite irresponsibly I introduced the nasty 'spirit' Fireball to the girls which ended in us all drinking an impressive volume of the paint-stripper.
Impressively, at 4am, Lauren and I got a night bus all the way back to Coogee. We were quite inebriated but we were walking and talking without issue. The one predicament we found our drunk selves in was that I was desperate for a wee. So desperate in fact that every single step I took up the steep hill to our flat was painful. I knew I couldn't make it so we had a quick scan around for a public loo only to find that they were too far away and probably locked. The streets are covered in CCTV cameras and nowhere was open so I only had one option; to squat behind the wall separating the beach from the path. Like a dog, I weed in the sand and when finished, chucked some fresh sand over the top of my fluid.

For our last full day in Sydney we got up early as some estate agents were bringing potential buyers round to Kwon's apartment. As you can imagine the last thing you want after getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep is to have to welcome random people into your bedroom and smile at them while doing so. It was lucky I hadn't got back and pissed in the corner - it might have cost the agents a sale.
Anyway we got through the viewings and used the time to go through our bags and get rid of anything we didn't want to take back home with us. After the last viewing the agent thanked us and closed the cage door (that's in front of the front door to the flat). When Nick came to collect us to go for brunch not longer after we could not for the life of us figure out how to open the cage door. We tried all of the keys that Kwon had given us but we just couldn't get it open. In order to get out of the flat we had to open our bedroom window, climb out and shut it behind us. Thank god he lives on the ground floor so we could jump into the front yard.
All the commotion of trying to escape perked us up a little for the drive to the Northern beaches. We got out at Freshwater at Harbour Diggers RSL. We had some burgers at the Italian restaurant upstairs that had a lovely view of the water. At the meal Nick and Nicole presented us with a framed photograph of Lauren and I holding Lily and asked us to be godparents to which we obviously replied "NO SORRY, WE'RE ATHEISTS". Nah I'm only joshing with you, we of course were touched and accepted gleefully. On the way back we stopped at Manly - a gorgeous beach town that was teaming with weekenders enjoying the winter sun and sea view. Always eager for dessert, Nicole and I ordered sickeningly gigantic milkshakes from a café called Ground Zero.

By the time we'd gotten home, we could only fit in a 30 minute nap before heading out again to Newtown for our comedy gig. We were both feeling pretty fragile and totally unprepared for another evening out but we bravely continued and took our seats at Enmore theatre. We saw Steve Hughes's new stand-up routine Nervous Breakthrough and, despite our exhaustion, we laughed our heads off almost the whole way through. Before catching the bus back we picked up some much needed sustenance in the form of a chicken wrap (for me), corn on the cob and onion rings.

We had a better sleep that night, but it was still only about 6 hours before we had to arise to pack everything up ready for our flight. Kwon saw us off with a lovely bottle of wine as a thank you for hosting the estate agents which we immediately re-gifted to Nick and Nicole as we couldn't be bothered taking it through the airports.
Nick collected us and took us to the café where Jeanette, Nicola and little Lily were having breakfast. We said our tearful goodbyes and got on the road to Sydney airport for our flight to Singapore.
Only 2 days left. The North is calling.

Posted by advensha 09:05 Archived in Australia Tagged markets australia gay cute family baby redfern lily manly chickens freshwater coogee newtown newborn enmore eco_village central_coast narara woy_woy straw_house rsl ourimbah air_bnb stonewall_hotel oxford_road bearded_tit Comments (0)

Australia: Great Ocean Road and Adelaide

sunny 16 °C
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On the morning of Wednesday 15th June, Claire dropped us off at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport and there we met Julika - our own personal driver for the next 2 days.
We found an advert Julika had put on gumtree looking for ride-mates to join her on a trip from Melbourne all the way to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road. We had originally been looking for another relocation but there was nothing available so luckily gumtree, our last resort, came up trumps. Julika is 21 and from Germany. She is a show-jumper and dressage performer and after doing a bit of travelling around Australia she was heading to Adelaide to work at famous show-jumper Megan Jones's riding school.
We met at the airport and jumped in her jam-packed car - a car her friend had given to her as she was going back to Germany. I was sat in the one seat available in the back and was squashed in by copious bags, bedding, camping equipment and horsey stuff. Lauren sacrificially sat in the front and so had to embody the role of chief navigator and keeper-awakerer. True to character, I fell asleep after about half an hour - like I told Lauren I couldn't help it I felt like I was in some sort of stuff-cocoon.

We drove for a while before hitting the starting city of the Great Ocean Road - Torquay. Now I must point out that a lot of the towns along the famous coastal road have recognisable British names - actually a lot of places, monuments, roads, lakes and motorways do. As well as Torquay we went past Anglesea and London Bridge - but I'm getting ahead of myself.
We stopped for lunch at Apollo bay; one of many surf, swimming and whale-watching spots and had a lovely if expensive health-conscious lunch and cup of tea.
The panoramic views on the rest of the drive were truly breathtaking. Australia's coastline is inimitable; undoubtedly treacherous and unpredictable but unbelievably dazzling. We did stop occasionally; for the '12' apostles (a number of limestone rock formations of which there used to be 12), London Arch (another limestone structure formerly known as London Bridge until the bridge bit collapsed in the 90s) and Bay of Martyrs. There were lots of other viewpoints but it was quite clear that Julika was on a bit of a mission (don't mention the war).

We stopped for the night at the last town on the GOR; Warrnambool (pronounced Warnabull). We found the one hostel available in the area; Warrnambool Beach Backpackers and scoffed at but accepted the price of $60 per person, per night. The hostel was huge and all but empty safe for a few Spanish diving enthusiasts. We were in the 12-bed mixed dorm and discovered as we arrived at our bunk-beds that in Australian hostels you have to dress your own bed. Sure in Asia you had to try and not piss on your own feet when you stumbled into the spider-ridden, stinky squat toilet in the middle of the night but at least someone made your bed for you. Fucking liberties.
There were plenty of redeeming features to the hostel though; the owners were very friendly and kind, there was a resident cuddly cat, the common room was huge and had a massive television and DVD player and most wonderfully, there were vending machines for all your chocolate needs. Tummies rumbling we soon spotted a poster on the wall advertising a local pizza shop's 'backpacker deal'. It was $10 for a pizza with free delivery and a free garlic bread. Like a proper backpacker (and someone who gives a shit about their arteries), Julika rustled up a measly bowl of noodles and vegetables for herself from food she had in her car while Lauren and I, eyes and bellies wide, ordered two large pizzas. In the end we could barely eat half of the pizzas before our stomachs seized up but it did mean Lauren had some lunch for the following day.
We watched a DVD called Oddball - a film about the plight of Warrnambool's native fairy penguins on nearby middle island who a few years ago were almost wiped out by foxes wandering over when the tide was out. The penguins were saved by the introduction of Italian maremma dogs who instinctively guard them from the foxes.

The next morning we set off nice and early to get a head start on the remaining 608kms to Adelaide. Before we got on the highway we stopped to have a look at the aforementioned Middle island. It looked lovely in the bright winter's sun.
We were expecting to arrive in Adelaide in the evening but we somehow made great time and arrived to our stop - Port Noarlunga - by 4pm. We were met by a very friendly Julia (the sister of the lady who's house we were staying in just a few doors up the road) and all had a cup of tea before Julika set off again on her own to Hahndorf town were her horsey job was.

Julia took Lauren and I to our new abode that was on top of a pretty decent hill. The house (owned by my Dad's wife's cousin Carol) was MASSIVE; 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a utility room, a huge deck/balcony, 2 living rooms, a dining room, walk-in wardrobes, pantries and a large garage. And we had the whole place to ourselves. The balcony overlooked the port-town and you could see the nearby beach and gulf of St. Vincent.
We dropped our bags and pranced about contemplating which bedroom we should take. We decided on the downstairs bedroom and just as we were unwinding we realised that the water wasn't on - there was nothing coming out of any taps. We spent the next half hour desperately trying to find the stop tap. Now I will admit we're not the handiest of couples (one con of being a lesbian) but we did look in all the most obvious places - under the kitchen sink (all sinks actually), in the garage, in the utility closest, in the room under the stairs, we even had a look around the perimeter of the building.
We eventually swallowed our pride and went back round to Julia's who let us use her shower and said her husband Jim would come and have a look later. Julia then took us on a walk down to the pier and around the town. We saw the beautiful and vast sandy beach and deep blue gulf where lots of whales hang out. The town itself was very cute; pubs, antique shops, hardware shops, fishing and surf shops and restaurants.
Later on Julia and Jim took us out for dinner to a nearby Thai restaurant Ampika's Kitchen. The food was lovely and good and spicy too - like it should be and we all had a good laugh getting to know each other and telling stories about each of our travelling experiences. When we got back Jim popped over to help us with the water situation and instantly found the stop tap opposite the front door in between some shrubbery.

For our first proper day in Port Noarlunga we basked in our opportunity at doing absolutely nothing. We lay around watching TV, only heading out to get some food from a Coles supermarket nearby. We also made the most of having a proper kitchen to ourselves to cook; Lauren made us a delicious sandwich for lunch. We ALSO capitalised on the presence of a bath - a luxury we didn't know we missed until we saw it.

The next day Carol's daughter (Julia's niece) Liz and her little 1 year old Max came round to take us out for the day. We drove almost 2 hours to Gorge wildlife park, deep in the heart of Cudlee creek (cute I know). Halfway through the drive little Max woke up from his sleep to find us two strangers in his mum's car chatting away. This understandably caused him some distress and he started crying his eyes out. He just wouldn't settle so we stopped at a petrol station and Liz moved into the back and asked Lauren to drive the rest of the way. This was fine until we got to the valley and its dramatic winding narrow rounds with blind bends and sheer drops. With an ever-lengthening queue of traffic behind her, Lauren slowly and cautiously drove around the snaking roads - conscious not to prang this woman's car who we'd just met.
We made it unscathed and as soon as we were outside of the car Max made friends with us. So much so that for the rest of the day wandering around the park each of us took turns to hold him (he's not a fan of walking).
The wildlife park was great - better than the one we'd been to in Sydney and quite a few dollars cheaper. It was the perfect semi-wild environment for all of the animals - of which there were plenty - deep in mountainous valleys with lots of trees and other flora. We saw reptiles, amphibians, many big and small birds (including a gorgeous albino peacock) and of course hundreds of marsupials (kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, bilbys, quokkas etc.) We also got to swap our new baby friend for a koala which was a little odd because in New South Wales it's illegal to hold koalas but in South Australia (where we now were) it's absolutely fine.
We finished off our day by eating dinner at a local 'Asian' restaurant to eat and watch Jim perform (he's a singer-guitarist).

The following day Julia let us borrow her car as she had fractured her arm (what can I say we bring bad luck). We drove and parked at Port Noarlunga train station and head out on the train to Adelaide city, 40 minutes away. The views out of the window were pretty; along the coast and through a few provincial towns.
We got to the city centre and walked to Flinders street market where there were lots of vintage, homemade a crafty things for sale. We had a browse and munch at some free samples and then walked back to the main square to have a look at the big old buildings. The roads and pavements were nice and wide and it was cold and crisp but sunny. We then walked to Rundale market (a shipping centre) to eat lunch and finished our jaunt by visiting the Art Gallery of South Australia which was amazing. The format of the gallery was something I'd never encountered before; a complete mix of contemporary and classic art - paintings, sculptures, furniture and visual art - old and new. It was really different and interesting and we spent a good 2 hours there wandering around.

We managed to find ourselves another relocation to get back to Melbourne from Adelaide and so the next day Jim very kindly took us to the airport to collect our car. We got a great little Hyundai i20 new compact car that, to Lauren's relief, I was happy to drive.
For the rest of our last day Julia and Jim took us on a drive around the Fleurieu region. We stopped for tea in Strathalbyn town and then drove to Port Elliot. We stopped at Victor Harbour for lunch in a pub with live music on where as well as the food we paid for we also got free leftovers from a finishing function. At Victor Harbour there's an old horse-pulled tram that still goes through the town as well as a steam cockle train.
On our way back we drove through the McLaren Vale wine region - Adelaide is famous for its vineyards producing some of the best wine in the world. Although they weren't so lush as it's winter, they were very picturesque. At odds with the pretty sights for some reason we all got on the topic of famous Australian murders - lots of which have happened in Adelaide. Over the decades loads of backpackers have been picked up and killed. We were glad we weren't hitchhiking.

Although we didn't do much while in Port Noarlunga we thoroughly enjoyed chilling out in our very own pad and embracing the quiet beauty of South Australia. Only an 8 hour drive back to Melbourne...

Posted by advensha 07:24 Archived in Australia Tagged great_ocean_road gallery australia train 12_apostles wine sunny german penguins fairy roadtrip vineyards adelaide warrnambool murders ride_share port_noarlunga julika matyrs odd_ball fleurieu strathalbyn mclaren_vale victor_harbour flinders_street Comments (0)

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