All of Craig and Linda’s 2010 adventures compiled into one, handy, enormous post. Read about the Indie Travel adventures of 2010!
Sun 7/2: We went mountain biking around Mclean’s Island — a big mountain bike trail outside of Christchurch, New Zealand. Bike hire for one hour for 2 people was NZ$30, and we had a great time with family and family friends.
Mon 8/2: We spent most of today locked up in Kaiapoi working! Lots to try and get sorted in the next week.
Tues 9/2: Met with Steven at HotelSo this morning; we’re recording the Christchurch City guide there on Friday and organised a tweet-up in the bar. We took Anne’s car and drove down to Dunedin. It might be the most boring drive in the South Island, but it’s still stunning. We spent the evening with Katherine, Ben and Ezra at Elm Lodge, Dunedin Backpackers; came back from dinner early for a few Skype calls and a recording.
Wed 10/2: We’ve been looking for a jacket for Linda; trailed around all the outdoors stores in Dunedin. No luck — everything is too expensive and/or too heavy. After lunch at the India Garden ($10 thali!), Katherine drove us along the coast to Aramoana. Strange little township with interesting houses and amazing views across the harbour entrance towards the Gannet Colony.
And back to Christchurch again
Thurs 11/2: We wanted an early start, but ended up having a lazy morning, hanging out with Katherine and Ezra instead. At their recommendation, stopped at Moeraki township on the way north and had a coffee at Fleur’s Place. This might be my new favourite secret spot. We had a seal come up to play in the water and sun itself on the rocks right beneath our feet; stunning!
Fri 12/2: Now we’re back in Christchurch and we spent the morning working, before heading into town after lunch. Saw the Wizard in Cathedral square, Linda got caught up in some juggling busker’s show and we both wondered at the topless chick walking around. Raising awareness for breast cancer? Awareness for word one in any case.
Headed into HotelSo for recording, then a tweet-up with:
Us (@craig_martin / @lindajmartin / @indietravel)
Ian and Wendy – @ianandwendy
Eileen – @bearshapedspher
Nomadic Matt – @nomadicmatt
Liz – @kiwiwriter
Heather – @kiwitravwriter
Gold – @unifex
@hotelso and a few friends not on Twitter.
Followed that up with Dad and Anne: dinner on the Strip — great food at a place called Viscosity or something similar — then a few more drinks at Fat Eddies in Soul Square. Scribe — a local rapper — was there with a small film crew.
13/2: I wandered around nine holes of golf with Dad, then hit the malls that Christchurch is famous for with everyone. Linda found a new jacket at a the Kathmandu outlet store then we headed back to watch the opening of the Olympic Games in Vancouver. Wish we could have made it.
Enjoying the last of New Zealand
14/2 Sun: picked up Graham then headed to Riccarton Markets, the largest markets in New Zealand. I was pretty unimpressed; some interesting crafts and entrepreneurs but lots of second-hand rubbish and what was described as antique but was mainly broken old stuff. Really pleasant atmosphere though; worth a wander.
From there we headed to Riccarton House where a Scottish cultural festival was on. There were pipes and drums, whisky tasting and people dressed in Victorian costumes. Really fun and festive.
We finished the afternoon with a BBQ back in Kaiapoi.
15/2 Mon: We drove out to Akaroa for an afternoon at the little habourside township. Famous as a French enclave in colonial NZ, Akaroa remains heavily influenced by French culture. We decided against a cold, grey afternoon on a dolphin cruise and, instead, ate fish and chips near the harbour and tasted some rather average wines at French Farm winery. It was a great afternoon.
After a brief stop at home, we headed to the airport and humid Auckland.
16/2 Tues: A day of preparing and packing and running errands in Auckland, along with a new sponsorship deal agreed and the opportunity to be on TV tomorrow. We had a great BBQ with my side of the family and a few hours writing and editing before bed.
The longest Wednesday in the world
17/2 Wed: A really memorable day, and one that stretched on thanks to the beauty of timezones. We started with a TV appearance on TVNZ’s Breakfast before running some last-minute errands (Hi Jono and Holly!) and lunch with Linda’s family.
Over the next three months, we’re travelling with one of our best friends, Janine, so we met at the airport and headed off. A few friends came to say goodbye and we got off to a late start (as always, LAN?) at 5pm.
We arrived arround midday: Our first day in Chile! Our first steps in South America!!
Linda’s “imaginary” friend from italki, Moroni, met us off the plane and we bussed into the centre of Santiago. We had been surprised at the dry brown desert we flew in over, but were also surprised at how green the suburbs were. I don’t think water conservation is popular in Santiago.
We left our bags with Moroni’s friend and went for a walk around the centre of town: Plaza de Armas. We visited the Cathedral, a small market and saw a few other sights.
Moroni took us to meet our Couchsurfing host, Maria, at work. In a long day filled with new experiences this might have been the one we were most nervous about. After failing to handle a blisteringly fast Spanish conversation with her, we retreated to cafe while she finished work.
Things went much better after that: things were relaxed, Spanish slowed a little and our hosts proved to be super friendly and hospitable. We shared a meal together after walking through the nearby park to the supermarket. Although tired after the longest Wednesday in our lives, Linda and I stayed up swapping photos and stories with Maria Paz and Christoph until late.
18/2 Thursday: We slept in a little, headed to a local cafe to use the wifi, then headed into the city to meet Moroni. We visited the National Library and then climbed to the top of the fort at Santa Lucia.
There’s a small shop at the bottom selling a variety of interesting indigenous crafts but the treasure is the view from the top.
We wandered towards the Parque Forestal and into the Museo de Bella Artes. It had several great exhibition halls and I especially liked a temporary photo exhibition which was running.
I worked while Linda and Janine went shopping and prepared an awesome spread for us and our couchsurfing hosts. Bueno noche!
19/2 Friday: what a sleep in! We didn’t make it out of bed until 11. Another hour was burned online then we headed into town to wander aimlessly along the river. We went to the Precolombiano art gallery but decided to hold off until Sunday, when it’s free. We caught a bus back to Providencia — where we started — to down some beer, mango sours and mojitos before returning to spend an evening with our hosts.
20/2 Saturday: a much earlier start to the day and a very productive morning’s work uploading photos and videos as well as ensuring we had content ready for the next week. I’m not sure how much Internet access we’ll have over the next few days.
Some new couchsurfers arrived from Zaragosa and we went with them, Maria Paz and family, and Moroni for lunch in Bellavista; a fun bohemian neighbourhood.
Leaving them, we headed out to Renca, where we met Moroni’s mother and father and ate with them before heading back to the central bus station for a long overnight ride to Temuco.21/2 Sunday: We arrived in Temuco before 7 and caught a taxi to Moroni’s aunt’s house, where we also met two of his cousins, Pati and Mackarena. After breakfast — and a nap –we headed into town with Pati to explore the large food market, Mapouche craft gallery and and artisan market. We also dropped into a small local art gallery with some excellent works. We returned to the house for an excellent lunch then did a puzzle with the family while we waited for our couchsurfing contact to finish work. We met him, Felipe, around 5 and bussed to his house in an outlying suburb. He told us this was his first couchsurfing experience … And that his Mum didn’t know we were coming! All was well and we had an excellent night talking and downing Carmenere. 22/2 Monday: We made a reasonable start and caught the bus to Villarica, a small town focussed on the resort trade. We found the main street and walked down it to the lake front, the beautiful view terminating in the impressive sight of Volcano Pucon in the distance.
Then it was back into town for lunch, coffee and a look in the small but high quality market then on to the bus around the lake to Pucon.
Pucon is a real backpacker town, somewhat reminiscent of Queenstown, New Zealand. The adventure sport market focussed on the national park, the natural hot pools, the lake and, primarily, the Volcano. We didn’t stick around to do any of the tours though. We shoppedfor jewelery in the market and waded on the lake shore with a few hundred of our closest friends before jumping back on the bus to Temuco.
Felipe came to meet us in town and guide us back to his house where the girls started to prepare a thank you feast while Moroni and I were driven up to the station to buy tickets for tomorrow’s journey and also our final jump back up to Santiago.
The meal was a hit and we had another late night of eating, drinking and talking the night away with Felipe’s family. Not to mention celebrating his Mum’s birthday!
Our couchsurfing hosts have all been so kind, hospitable and generous to us; it’s been amazing and we’re loving it. The warmth of this small family was so precious and it was a real honour to be able to share it.
23/2 Tuesday: after a quick breakfast, Felipe drove us to the station and so started another long day on the bus. There were some good views along the road to Valdivia. There’s a strong German influence and we made the most of that with a visit to Kunstmann brewery and a tasting platter of 8 beers. That’s to be recommended, although food prices were a little high we indulged in the best layer cake I’ve ever had: Torte de ojas. (sp?)
The fish markets in Valdivia can be smelled before they are seen, but the family of sea lions who live and play in the river behind the markets definitely make the nasal assault worthwhile. and we finally bought ourselves some churros from a roadside stall. Finally!
Another longish bus trip — after our first long wait for a bus — and we arrived in Osorno to be collected by Tony, a Kiwi friend of a friend who is farming in Chile as part of a New Zealand sharemilking company. We talked expat life and farming politics late into the night with him and Tina while their two kids kept us entertained. The next morning we caught a taxi into town, looked around and spent some time online before the long bus trip to the island of Chiloe and its capital, Castro.
The trip highlight was the ferry crossing between mainland chile and Chiloe. Being able to get off the bus and stretch our legs combining with the blue sea and sky was really refreshing.
In Castro we were staying in a private guesthouse recommended on Twitter (Hospitaje Juana Barrientos, (65) 635 031, Spanish needed) and were collected by car at the bus station. It was still light enough to walk around for an hour or two. At the recommendation of our amiable hosts, we took the long way into town to get panoramic views of the township and waterways.
Plaza del Armas was interesting, with buskers and a few street vendors selling jewellery. We were caught by the church made from corrugated iron next to the shingled Fanciscan monestary (which we later found had been turned into tourist-focussed craft markets). We headed to the water and our first look at palafinos which are shanty houses built on piles over the water – a speciality of local architecture along with the predominance of shingled buildings.
24/2 Thursday: a morning of wandering town with highlights being the small museum, more palafinos, the waterside markets and lunch in a palafinos right next door. We ordered a local speciality: cuarao which is cooked in an earth oven simiIar to those found right through the Pacific. Our dish was mainly mussels and cockles washed down with a nice Sauv Blanc.
I spent the afternoon drinking the best coffee I’ve so far found in Chile (Caffe Ristretto) and working online while the others explored. In the evening all four of us recorded the podcast and Janine and I played our first game of the Settlers of Catan card game. (And yes, I won.)
25/2 Friday: We headed to the bus station for our short jaunt to Ancud, the biggest town in Chiloe. (note: Cruz del Sur is the cheapest bus company to travel to Chiloe with as they own the ferries. However, it’s cheaper to use the local busses on the island.) there wasn’t really much to see and an hour later we jumped on the bus back to the mainland and to Puerto Montt. Unfortunately, Puerto Montt didn’t offer much either. We found an OK restaurant in this sprawling port town before investigating the markets, which were the dullest and most commercial we’ve seen. Maybe I was just grumpy after a night disturbed by yapping dogs, but I wasn’t a fan.
Puerto Varas, just 15 minutes away, was another story: a beautiful lakeside town reminiscent of Wanaka … Nice restaurants on the water, a relaxed, affluent feel and lots of good bars and cafes with a vibrant small town friendliness. This is where we’re staying tomorrow until we head to Santiago again in the evening. We went for a late night photo walk before bed.
27/2 Saturday: We woke in the night to several minutes of tremors but it wasn’t until the next morning we realised what had happened: an earthquake hit Conception, 8.9 on the richter scale and devastated Chile’s infrastructure as well as several cities and towns. We had no power, but running water and gas. Moroni had a little mobile Internet from time to time, but we were starved for information and made several visits down to the bus station asking when our bus would be running. Some mobile networks were running, but we couldn’t make international calls on it or on any of the town’s payphones.It was mid afternoon when we got power: we switched on the TV and started to understand the scale of the earthquake … It was massive. As we saw the toppled buildings, fallen bridges and 2 meter cracks in the highway, we realised this was no small tremor. Since we had electricity, we decided there might be Internet, so Janine and I headed into town to buy lunch and find Wifi – having found it we spent an hour contacting friends and family outside of Chile and starting to contact our friends throughout the country.
The bus company systems still weren’t online, so we booked back into our guesthouse for another night, thankful we weren’t near the epicenter.
The following days…28/2 Sunday: today was kind of lost as we slept in, watched news and tried to make fresh plans to get to Santiago: home for Moroni and our bags and moving north for us. We considered getting to Temuco and doing some volunteer work and started looking for alternate routes and options. Power came and went, but the only noticable difference was the huge queues of cars, sometimes more than 30 vehicles long, waiting to buy petrol. Looting began in Conception this morning … The difference is staggering.
We were unable to draw out cash at several banks and were feeling a bit worried. Luckily, later in the day we managed it without prnlems. Big ups to ASB customer service who responded to my email for help within a couple of hours.
In the afternoon we moved to a couchsurfing host, Nico and Andrea, who have never fit 4 people in their small spare room. We lunched together and I worked through the evening while Moroni and the girls went to the beach. We sit around watching news together, wondering if it’ll be safe to head up to Santiago on the bus tomorrow night. Or even if the company will be able to run it.
1/3 Monday:A lazy morning, lunch with Nico and Andrea and preparation for the bus journey north, which is expected to take 3-5 hours more than normal. We spent some time walking the beach before discovering Pullman, our bus company, wasn’t running their bus! Until Thursday!! They just didn’t have any vehicles available; their logistics managers had made a huge mistake.
We quickly headed up to the Cruz del Sur offices and booked tickets to Temuco, where we’ll stay with Moroni’s Aunt.
2/3 Tuesday: a lazy day at Moroni’s aunt’s house doing lots of writing and recording, eating with the family and playing games with Mackarena and Pati.
3/3 Wednesday: A similar morning to the last, but headed to town in the afternoon to get online and buy a gift for our hosts. On the bus to Santiago in the evening.
Driving towards the damage
4/3 Thursday: The bus journey was surprisingly fast and smooth, although we were obviously on a secondary route for some of the journey and there were some really bumpy patches where the road was broken up. We were travelling overnight so didn’t see much, but the occasional large pile of broken bricks and corrugated iron on the roadside was a grim reminder of the recent earthquake.
Driving through Santiago, it seemed that little had changed. On the route that we took from the bus terminal to Renca, there seemed to be little damage. In Renca, however, several buildings were roped off with tape and the now ubiqutous piles of blocks on the sidewalk increased. At our host’s home, the building was fine, but there was a lot of damage to glasses, momentos, etc.
This morning was spent napping, a long lunch with Moroni and his family, then we went into town to buy our bus tickets to Antofagasta (we couldn’t buy them online) and to collect our bags from Maria Paz — our previous couchsurfing host.
Maria Paz and her family were all OK during the earthquake, but their tall apartment building had shaken greatly and large cracks now decorated the walls. A nearby office block which is being built had lots hundreds of large glass panes which had only just been installed. They cracked and fell from the 18-20 story building … Aparently the noise of the shattering glass could be heard over the shaking. We talked and caught up with Maria Paz and Christoph over the better part of a bottle of mango sours then back to Moroni’s for the night.
5/3 Friday: Today was our last day in Santiago. We spent the morning working at Moroni’s and spending our last few hours with him and the family. We headed into town and visited the Museo de Artes de Pre-Comumbiano, which was something I had really wanted to do since I read about it. The galley is a little expensive (3,000 Chilean pesos) but I found it really worthwhile. I knew nothing about the art or culture of Central and South America but came away with a good idea of the textiles, crafts, artwork and the shapes and colours used throughout the continent before Europeans arrived.
We had time for mote con huesillo and icecream in Plaza de Armas, then a coke and a quick shopping jaunt in the bus station before heading to Antofagasta on the bus.
April 26 2010
I must admit, we haven’t been doing well with the whole travel diary attempt, but we’re going to get back on the boat and try again.
Since we last wrote this section, we have been travelling with our friends Angela, Janine and Mark through Peru. Highlights have included the north, where we visited Trujillo, Chiclayo and Chachapoyas — where the impressive Kuelap fortress can be found near the world’s third-highest waterfall. Then the south where we passed through Ica and Arrequipa before spending three weeks in Cusco and did some hiking in the Sacred Valley.
Since then we’ve been hovering around Lake Titicaca, visiting the Uros Floating Islands amongst other things. We’ve just finished a week in Bolivia and are heading down to the salt flats where we plan to cross the border to San Pedro de Atacama then on to Salta in Argentina.
We’re finally back on board with the travel diary! This week has been a bit crazy, but that’s the way we like it.
26/4 Monday: It was our last day in La Paz, so we spent the morning at our couchsurfing home relaxing and trying some different Bolivian beers before saying goodbye to Mark. In the afternoon, Ange and I went on a mission to collect her passport and get an entry stamp and we had victory!
Unfortunately, on the way to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Uyuni, someone tried to scam Janine and Ange by squirting a smelly liquid them. Then, a well-dressed person tried to stop them by saying “oh, you have something on your bag.” We’d heard about this scam before – you take off your bag to clean yourself off, and someone takes off with it. So they just kept walking and we cleaned them up later.
27/4 Tuesday: It was incredibly cold when we arrived in Uyuni. We wandered around trying to find a hostel, and we were surprised that every place in town, regardless of quality, charged the same amount for a double room. We chose one almost at random and spent the rest of the day trying to decide which of the 64 tour companies to go with. After meeting Linda and John (friends of Janine’s parents) we decided to go on the tour that they had just arrived on – and I think it was a good choice.
28/4 Wednesday: Our tour started with a visit to the train cemetery just out of town, then we went on to the salt flat, which is enormous and very white. I enjoyed visiting Fish Island, which was covered in cacti, and taking hilarious photos which play with perspective.
29/4 Thursday: There was a lot of driving today, and we mostly spent time checking out the views of things like the tree of stone and the seven-coloured mountain. We also had lunch by a lake with lots of flamingos in it – I think this was a highlight for Janine.
30/4 Friday: The last day of the tour started incredibly early. First we went to see some geysers, and then had breakfast before a bathe in a hot pool IN THE SNOW. Yep, snow. It was crazy. Afterwards, saw some lagoons of different colours, then transfered to a minibus to re-enter Chile and go to San Pedro. We spent far too long looking for a hostel, then just relaxed for the rest of the day.
1/5 Saturday: After a slow start to the day, we headed out to meet a couple of Twitter contacts, Jonathan and Mahmoud. Then Sasha (a friend from NZ) and Oscar (from Antofagasta) joined us with three of their friends. We had an excellent evening full of wine and good food – I especially enjoyed catching up with Sasha again.
2/5 Sunday: The aim was to go to Argentina, but the snow we’d experienced on Friday foiled our plans. The pass was closed and the bus wasn’t running, but we had to wait around all day to find out if it would leave in the afternoon. It didn’t, which was great because it meant we could do the astronomy tour which hadn’t run the previous two nights because of cloud cover. It was a little expensive but excellent, we all learned a lot about stars and got to see some cool things in the telescopes. The jewel box and Saturn were my two favourites.
Monday 3/5: Today didn’t go quite as planned – the bus had been delayed due to snow the day before, and it was unclear if it would leave today either. We spent most of the day hanging out at the bus stop, and at about 2.30pm got the news that we were going to leave. We finally hit the road at 4pm, which meant that most of the trip was by night, and we didn’t get to see the promised gorgeous views. We arrived in Salta earlier than we expected (but still the middle of the night), and found a hostel that promised breakfast in the morning.
Tuesday 4/5: Our included breakfast was just alfajores, but we pitched together with Florencia (a girl we met on the bus) and ended up having a great breakfast of banana smoothies, bread and jam and coffee. I don’t think anyone ate any alfajores. We spent a lot of time buying a sim card (well, two sim cards) and managed to get in touch with our hosts Leigh and Noah. We had a great lunch and dinner with them and their other guests Aracely and Jason, and spent the afternoon in the city looking around.
Wednesday 5/5: We didn’t really get up to too much today. We slept in then did some work until 2.30pm when Noah had to take Lila back to school. Us girls hitched a lift and tried to hire a car, but were thwarted because we didn’t have all the drivers’ licenses and passports we needed. So we headed home and had a pleasant evening eating tasty tasty food, drinking good wine and having deep conversations.
The day started a little later than planned since we’d all been up so late the night before, but we managed to hire a car and hit the road by about 11am. The first part of the drive was slow and boring, but we soon hit the desert and there were some spectacular rock formations. The most interesting ones were often signposted, so we knew to look out for the window, or the castle, or the obelisk for example.
We made it to Cafayate early enough to do some wine tasting, so we visited four wineries before hunting out a hostel. Most of the wineries only let you taste two or three wines, and they were usually their lower quality stuff, which was a surprise. We only tasted one really good wine, and it was soooo good. At the hostel we chatted with Julian and Natalia from Buenos Aires before finding a traditional parilla restaurant and eating far too much meat.
Friday 7/5: We left relatively early and headed south towards the Quilmes ruins. We had to backtrack at one point because we were low on petrol – the company had given it to us half full. While we were driving, one of the tyres blew and we had to change it – it must have been in pretty bad condition though! The ruins were awesome, as were the empanadas we had for lunch. We also visited the Etchart winery, where they gave us a good tour of production and let us taste their four worst wines. It’s quite strange that very few wineries let you taste the good wine, they seem to be very entry-level tours.
We drove on to Cachi through some spectacularly gorgeous scenery, and found a very well-priced hospedaje with a restaurant across the road. This furnished us with some local specialities, and we watched a couple of episodes of 30 Rock before bed.
We had to make an early start in order to get the car back on time, and it was really cold outside. In fact, as we drove along, the temp gauge on the car got down to 0.5 degrees. It might have been because we were at altitude and driving through low cloud, but still. We didn’t really stop, and made it back to Salta with plenty of time to spare. This time was all wasted arguing with the chick at the car agency, who made us pay an astronomical fee for the ruined tyre. It’s quite a good scam – put bad tyres on the car, wait for them to blow while a tourist is driving, and charge twice as much as it’ll cost to replace them.
Our lunchtime empanadas were tasty and came with wine and wifi, but I had to rush mine in order to get to the bus station in time. We made it, waited for the bus, and then started our epic 24-hour journey to Iguazu.
Sunday 9/5: Most of today was spent on the bus, and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Both Janine and I slept pretty well (Ange and Craig always sleep well…) so we were all in quite good moods. We had to change buses in Posadas because there was a mechanical problem with the one we were on, but otherwise it was a smooth trip. We spent far too much time hunting out a hostel in Puerto Iguazu, but we’re pleased with the one we’ve chosen. Dinner was a bit disappointing – we went to a buffet, and for Argentina, the meat was very average. At least there were lots of salads!
10/5 Monday: We had to choose between visiting the Brazilian side or the Argentinian side of the Iguacu Falls, and since the transfer for the Brazilian side left later, we opted for that one. We’d looked into getting there independently, but it was going to mean catching three buses – and for an extra A$10 we could go in chauffeur-driven style.
Getting across the border was easy, though getting into the complex was a little harder – we didn’t have Brazilian real and none of our credit cards could be used for various reasons. Luckily there was an ATM! The falls were absolutely incredible, so powerful and extensive. We went out under them and got totally soaked, it was great.
We also visited the bird park across the highway, where Ange got shat on and Craig got attacked by a toucan. There were heaps of interesting birds, it was well worth the entry price of about NZ$10. We ate in in the evening and watched a bit of 30 Rock before bed.
11/5 Tuesday: We decided to have a day off, or rather a work day. It was strange to not be doing anything exciting and we all felt a bit blah. At least we had guacamole in the evening!
12/5 Wednesday: Today we went to Argentininan side of the Iguacu Falls. It was a totally different experience from the Brazilian side – there were a lot more paths and viewing platforms, but there were also what seemed like thousands more tourists. The views were incredible, on the Devil’s Throat platform we were standing directly over one of the falls. We also went for a walk through the jungle to a much smaller waterfall, and on this walk we saw monkeys, a tarantula, and some of the birds we’d seen in the bird park on Monday. We went to a parilla for dinner and ate far far too much meat (yum) and finished it off with some ice-cream.
13/5 Thursday: We slept in until just before breakfast finished, then us girls left Craig behind to go for a walk. We went to Arepuca, which was basically a house made out of tree trunks and a whole bunch of souvenir shops – not very exciting but at least a destination for our walk. After lunch we went on a wifi hunt, and Janine and I walked to the river. Then it was time for another overnight bus.
14/5 Friday: The bus was supposed to drop us off ten blocks from the bus station, and I suppose it did – if each block was a kilometre long. The taxi driver waiting there charged us whatever he felt like (it seemed like a lot) but it was seven in the morning and we didn’t have another option. At the bus station we discovered that we’d been given more wrong information – buses to Montevideo left twice daily instead of hourly, and were more expensive and a longer than we’d been told. But we made it across the border with only the loss of our mandarins, and arriving in Montevideo three hours late wasn’t a problem either – our host Matias’s girlfriend had been delayed too and arrived just five minutes before us.
We had a great evening with Matias, Josefina, and Matias’s dad. They have the traditional South American outdoor barbecue, and we spent the night sitting around slowly making hamburgers and drinking excellent Uruguan wine. And most of the conversation was in Spanish – which always makes me happy.
15/5 Saturday: After a long sleep in and a lazy early afternoon, we headed out to a bar to watch a football game. The bar was filled with kids having birthday parties, who all cheered enthusiastically, which made for a great atmosphere. We ate pizza and drank beer – it was awesome. Afterwards, we hit the road to go to Matias’s family’s lake house, where we spent the rest of the weekend. We cooked dinner over the fire, drank wine and chatted until late.
16/5 Sunday: Craig feels like we’re finally in South America – we’re eating lots of meat, drinking a fair bit of wine, and sleeping until midday. We had a long slow breakfast that started at about 1pm and finished at three, and which was partly cooked over the fire. After that we were joined by Matias’s friend Sebo, and went for a drive to Punta del Este, where we tried a typical Uruguan snack made of pastry.
Matias, Josefina and Sebo cooked an awesome dinner of lentils and rice (not over the fire though) and we spent the eveing drinking fernet and playing yahtzee.
17/5 Monday: After another epic sleep-in, we very slowly cooked dinner on the outdoor barbecue, then drove back to Montevideo. Matias had to go out to a concert, so the rest of us stayed in and played my first game of the Catan card game, it was epic.
18/5 Tuesday: Since we hadn’t really seen much of Montevideo, we went into the city to have a look around. The old town is really lovely and tranquil. We also visited a museum with Josefina – it was a museum of an Uruguyan Jewish artist called Jose Gurvich. His work is really striking and often colourful, it was well worth the hour we spent there. For lunch we had chivitos, a type of hamburger made with a thin piece of steak instead of ground beef. After finding our way home on the bus, we watched the final of an apparently very important football match, then moved to our hostel for our last night in Montevideo.
19/5 Wednesday: After a pleasant breakfast shared with a crazy Russian, we caught a bus to the bus station and from there headed to Colonia. The hostel was the most expensive we’ve stayed in thus far, and didn’t endear itself to us by charging US dollars. That’s okay in principle, except that when we wanted to pay in pesos (the local currency) we were given a less-than-favourable exchange rate. This didn’t put me in a very good mood – it totally goes against my inbuilt system of justice.
Our bus to Colonia was direct so we arrived nice and early, and found a nice hotel to stay in for the price of a hostel.
20/5 Thursday: It started out as a nice lazy day, we had a long slow breakfast and worked for a bit before heading out to find a late lunch. After eating just the right amount of meat, we wandered around and Craig and I found a cool outdoor chess set made out of soft drink bottles (I won).
21/5 Friday: Today was mostly a travel day. We got up really really early (8am hahaha) in order to catch our ferry at 9.30. It was delayed, so we arrived in Buenos Aires more than an hour late. The walk to the bus station was longer than we expected but relatively straightforward, and we booked tickets on a bus that left an hour later.
We were met at the station in Rosario by Daniela, the sister-in-law of Manuel, an ex-flatmate of Janine and Ange (need a diagram?). We’re staying with Manuel’s mum Elena, who is awesome – she’s so friendly and hospitable. We spent the evening (and by evening I mean from 10pm until 3am) with Manuel’s brother Camilo and Camilo’s best friend Federico. They took us to a couple of bars in the city and we had a great time drinking Argentinian wine and chatting. We also discovered the meaning of the phrase “te lamo” – it’s not “I love you”.
22/5 Saturday: The day was cut in half by our long sleep in, so we didn’t even leave the house until 3pm. We met up with Federico and his family and explored Rosario a bit – it’s a really pleasant city. We had some churros and a coffee then watched half of the concert in the Plaza de las Banderas – Argentina is celebrating 200 years of independence on Tuesday, so everyone has a four-day weekend. We’ll be in Buenos Aires for the actual day of celebrations, apparently it’s going to be pretty crazy.
23/5 Sunday: After another sleep-in Camilo and Dani collected us and took us to a lovely fish restaurant near the river. Our planned boat trip was foiled by the weather so we went to the shopping centre and had ice-cream. We finished the day with an excellent asado at our temporary home.
24/5 Monday: We spent the morning at home with Camilo and Dani, who came over to say goodbye. They dropped us at the bus station where we caught up with Pablo, an ex-student of Craig’s. It was great to meet him and his dad, even though we didn’t get much time with them.
The bus to Buenos Aires was uneventful, but getting to our hostel once we arrived definitely wasn’t! We walked from the bus station, and to get to the hostel we had to cross the Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the main streets – which was packed with people celebrating the bicentenary. It was great. After finding our hostel, we dove back into the fray to get street food for dinner.
25/5 Tuesday: Today was Argentina’s 200th birthday, so we there was a lot of partying going on. We took advantage of the free subway (called subte here) and wandered around the docks. In the evening we met up with another Matias to have dinner, and joined the crowd at the obelisk to party with two million of our closest friends.
26/5 Wednesday: Janine has been having trouble with her wisdom tooth, and since there’s been a four-day holiday she couldn’t get it sorted until now. Today she found a dentist who was willing to have a look at it, and we managed to convince them to take it out. It felt like an adventure from start to finish – getting in the building (and out again) was one of the challenges, and then there was a lot of fun with Spanish. There were five of us in the room for the extraction – me, Janine, the dentist, the dental assistant, and the receptionist. It was like a party – well, I had fun! (Not so sure about Janine, after all she was having a tooth extracted.)
We did a bit of sight-seeing in the afternoon – Janine, Ange and I visited Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. It’s a pretty amazing place, like a small city of tombs. In the evening we met up with Craig to go to “the best parrilla restaurant in BA”, La Cabrera. And it was awesome. The meat was tasty, and all of the mains came with a huge range of side dishes.
27/5 Thursday: We had to get up pretty early to hop in the taxi to the airport to see Janine off. It was a sad moment, seeing her being hurried through the gate by the security guard after she turned around to give us one last wave. Craig and I caught the bus back to the city, which took a spectacularly long time but at least was cheap.
The rest of the day was mostly spent working, though we did head out for dinner. We went to Pippo, which we later found out is a legendary local eatery.
28/5 Friday: Another work day today, though Ange and I did head out to buy bus tickets to Mendoza, and to try McDonald’s dulce de leche sundaes. I enjoyed chatting with Julie and Rhi via the wonders of the internet, and sushi for dinner was a major highlight.
29/5 Saturday: Yet another work day – we were having technical problems converting the book into a pdf. It looks amazing, we’re counting down to the release date on June 1. We’d hoped to get locro for dinner, which is a speciality of the region, but we left it too late and ended up having choripan from a street vendor. Well, Ange had a hamburger, which, unlike yesterday’s one, came with a bun – no salad though. We also got given food on the bus, but I really only wanted to eat the dulce de leche instant pudding. Why don’t we have that flavour back home? The movie was a bit insipid and we had a crying baby in front of us, but at least we got to play bingo! Otherwise, it was a pretty straightforward trip to Mendoza.
30/5 Sunday: We’ve taken a lot of buses where we’ve been woken up at 7am (or sometimes 2am) and told that we’ve arrived. But I much prefer the times (like today) when we can wake up when we feel like it and still have an hour or so to eat our alfajores and drift into alertness. We arrived in Mendoza at around 10.40 (right on time!) and had a coffee in a cafe before trying to find our hostel. Not as easy as you might think, since the street numbers change with the suburb, so there’s more than one place with this address. It made for a pleasant walk.
We worked for a bit then wandered around Mendoza, which seems to be 90% closed on a Sunday. We ate panchos and had hot chocolate and beer, and pretty soon we’re going to break open the first bottle of Mendozan wine – the first bottle here, that is.
31/5 Monday: It was a pretty solid work day today, with the girls’ guide coming out tomorrow. We enjoyed the pastries that Nico put out for breakfast, and had big hamburgers for lunch. Ange and I went for a long walk around Godoy Cruz and bought all sorts of groceries that we didn’t end up turning into dinner – although we did manage to eat some guacamole and drink some wine.
1/6 Tuesday: The day of the big launch! Last night’s dinner became today’s lunch, possibly a bit later than we’d planned to eat. Craig and I met up with a friend of a friend, who gave us some advice on wine-tasting and took us to an information office to get more info and pick up some brochures. We had coffee and medialunas for afternoon tea (at about 7.30pm) then met a couchsurfing contact for tapas at about 10.30; a very tasty day.
2/6 Wednesday: After three days in Mendoza, we finally managed to head out wine-tasting. We only tasted at one bodega, the second one we went to wanted to charge us 25 pesos for three tastes of 25-peso wine – we decided to go to the supermarket and just buy the wine. We also visited two places that gave us tastings of liqueurs, preserves and chocolate. We finished the day with guacamole and far too many episodes of 30 Rock.
3/6 Thursday: Ange and I left Craig behind in Mendoza to have a girls’ weekend in Santiago. The seven-hour bus trip was amazing – the views are absolutely stunning. I’d heard that people pay 100 pesos for day tours up into the mountains, so our 90-peso bus fare was definitely worth it. When we arrived in Santiago, I felt right at home … it was awesome how familiar and easy everything was. We spent the evening eating pizza and catching up with Maria Paz.
4/6 Friday: Today was one of the best days of the trip so far – Ange and I were on a high all day. We set off pretty early to catch a bus from Santiago to Valparaiso, and arrived there at midday. It was an epicurean journey – we started off in style with an enormous completo – an American hotdog smothered in avocado and a special salsa. Other gastronomic highlights were the churros, the sopaipillas, and the oddly-named Bilz soft drink.
We really enjoyed exploring the hills of Valpo – we travelled on three funiculars and followed three separate walking tours. The houses are all incredibly colourful and the street art is varied and widespread – everything from murals to stencil art, with a fair bit of banal tagging thrown in for good measure.
Maybe it was because we were two girls wandering around together, but we got a lot of male attention. Mostly regular guys just saying “you’re pretty” but one builder really won the prize with his two-minute tirade on our virtues.
We also visited Vina del Mar, before heading back to Valpo to catch our bus home (after jumping on the metro in the wrong direction). We were stoked to get back into the city in plenty of time for the last metro back to Maria Paz’s place.
5/6 Saturday: A good solid day of tourism today. We started with the funicular then had a menu del dia in Bellas Artes and an ice-cream from the best ice-cream place in Santiago. We’d arranged to meet Moroni at 8pm and it got dark at 6, so we filled the time watching the end of an excellent street performance of Macbeth and searching for coffee. We spent the evening in La Piojera, which felt like a sailors’ watering hole – my ass was grabbed more than once. It made for an interesting experience – and the Terremotos were surprisingly tasty.
6/6 Sunday: I think the journey from Maria Paz’s place to Moroni’s is just about the longest trip you can do in Santiago without actually leaving the city, and that’s how we started the day. At least we had a stop in the bus station to buy tickets for tomorrow! When we got to his house, I was put straight into the kitchen to make pebre (mmm pebre) and we had a pleasant lunch with his parents. I’m glad I got to see them again, I’d been thinking it wouldn’t be possible.
After lunch we headed back into town, where we spent a fair bit of time failing to find Pablo Neruda’s house and then deciding not to go in anyway. Instead, we had a coffee and an ice-cream in Bellas Artes, then watched an awesome procession in the Plaza de Armas.
We spent the evening with Maria Paz, Christophe and Chame, trying out almost all of our recipes – we had causa rellena, guacamole, pebre and devilled eggs … and a fair bit of wine. It’s pretty sad that we have to leave tomorrow, but it’s been a good trip.
7/6 Monday: We booked a later bus back to Mendoza so that we could have a nice lazy morning – pretty much all we did was meet Moroni for lunch, and the chorrillana we ate was very tasty. The trip back to Mendoza felt quite long since the weather wasn’t as nice as for the trip to Santiago, but at least we got back half an hour early.
8/6 Tuesday: Christophe and Maria Paz given us a present to give to their friends who live in Mendoza (as well as one for us, it was awesome) so we organised to meet up with them for a drink. I was excited because I managed to have another successful all-Spanish telephone call (the first was a restaurant booking), and it just got better. Mauricio and Sabrina don’t speak English, so our whole time was spent speaking in Spanish, and we all communicated really well. We ended up spending the evening at their place drinking wine, eating asado and talking until three in the morning – fantastic.
9/6 Wednesday: With the football World Cup about to start, Ange and I decided to get into the spirit by watching a pre-World Cup friendly game between Chile and New Zealand. It seemed appropriate since we’d just been in Chile. However, the game started at 8.30am, and since we’d hit the sack at about 4am we were understandably groggy. The game was great – NZ got to the 68th minute before conceding a goal. We’d planned to go wine-tasting later in the day, but I never quite woke up so it didn’t happen. We had an excellent asado at home in the hostel, and Gustavo joined us – it was good to catch up with him again.
10/6 Thursday: Mauricio and Sabrina picked us up early to drive us out to the mountains, and we had an excellent if cold day. The views were incredible and we got to play in the snow a bit. We had Mexican food for dinner before hopping on our final overnight bus, back to Buenos Aires.
11/6 Friday: It was one of those long trips where you wake up at 11 and still have a bit more trip to go – so we arrived in Buenos Aires pretty late in the day. Luckily, not too late to watch two World Cup games.
12/6 Saturday: Craig’s birthday was one of the worst we’ve had in terms of weather, so we postponed our sightseeing until tomorrow. Instead, we watched a fair bit of World Cup football and had a really nice dinner at the Japanese/Peruvian place. It was nice to be able to afford to eat as much sushi as we liked, unlike when we lived in Malta and had four pieces each to celebrate Craig’s birthday.
13/6 Sunday: The weather was a lot better than yesterday, so we finally managed to have a tourist day. We got up early to watch the end of the Slovenia-Algeria game, then headed out to La Boca to see the crazy houses and tango demonstrations. We stopped in at the San Telmo markets and also visited El Ateneo, which is the most beautiful bookshop in the world, housed in an old theatre. I managed not to buy anything, which has to be a good thing because I now have about seven books to carry around. We finished the day with some last-minute souvenir shopping for Ange, who is going home tonight. It’s really sad to say goodbye to her — but it’s the start of a new era for us all.
We’re going to be in New York for the TBEX 2010 conference and would love to meet up with anyone who’s around. We’ve arranged a casual meet-up for the Tuesday night.
14/6 Monday: It was strange to wake up in a four-bed dorm with two empty beds – we miss you, Ange and Janine! We stayed in bed for quite some time, it was raining and we’re both feeling a bit sick so it was nice to relax and not have to do anything. We watched a bit of football and did some work but otherwise just lazed around and ate empanadas.
15/6 Tuesday: Today was an important day for New Zealand football – our first match in a World cup since the year I was born. It was awesome, we played really well in the first half but Slovakia got a goal in the first few minutes of the second half. We were thinking: well, at least it’s better than Australia’s 4-0 loss when we scored a goal in minute 92! Fantastic!
After that we worked a bit then walked to the bus station to catch a bus south. When we were in Cafayate tasting wine, we met Julian and Natalia, who invited us to stay with them in La Plata, and we took them up on the offer. They met us at the bus station – we all arrived late so it worked out well.
They took us out to dinner at a cervecería where we ate too much and drank lots of specialist beers (I had a honey one and a fruit one). Julian has an awesome old car (I have no idea of the make, but it was built in 1928) and we got to ride in the back, outside. We felt famous because people kept pointing and waving.
16/6 Wednesday: My birthday was a bit of a non-event. We slept in then had to wait for the washing machine to finish its run so we could hang out our clothes, so we didn’t have a lot of daylight left. We found a cafe and watched the end of a game, then wandered around the city of La Plata, enjoying the architecture. In the evening we had gnocchi at home with Juli and Naty and stayed up late chatting and drinking wine.
17/6 Thursday: This was more of the day I had in mind for my birthday – we got up at a reasonable hour and went to the Republica de Los Niños, which is an awesome little town built on a smaller scale so that it feels like a town for kids. All the buildings are beautiful and it’s well-maintained. One of the buildings houses a doll museum and they have dolls in traditional costumes from many countries, but sadly not New Zealand (or any South Pacific countries, actually).
Next we visited the cathedral, which is immense and impressive. It’s built in a Neo-gothic style, so it’s really intricate, and there’s a museum about its construction in the basement. We went up the elevator to get some good views of La Plata.
One of my birthday presents was a trip to the cinema, I wanted to see a movie in Spanish. I was stoked that I could pretty much understand it, though I wasn’t so thrilled that the only option was a thriller. I definitely enjoyed the experience though. We finished the evening at Julian’s brother’s birthday party, where we ate asado, drank beer and chatted with Julian’s parents.
18/6 Friday: After a long sleep-in, Naty, Juli and I went to the museum – Craig was feeling sick so he stayed home and missed out on a ride in the awesome car. The museum was really interesting and it was great to go with Juli, who has a degree in palaeontology and explained everything as we walked through so I didn’t have to read the explanations.
We had dinner (empanadas) at Naty’s family home with her parents and brother, who are all really lovely. Then we went to meet their friends Angie and Juan, and go bowling (the weirdest I’ve ever played) and play pool. The evening didn’t finish there – we headed home to drink Fernet and chat, and finally went to bed at 7am. I think this takes the cake for the latest night of our trip!
19/6 Saturday: After our late night, we slept in until past midday, which didn’t leave a lot of time to do things before we had to hop on the bus back to Buenos Aires. We pretty much just packed our bags and had a bit of a chat with Naty and Juli’s neighbours. When we got back to BA we headed back to our old haunt Kaixo hostel, where we were welcomed like long-lost family.
20/6 Sunday: Our last day in Buenos Aires started well, with an awesome game of football by the All Whites – we managed to get a tie against Italy, the current World Cup holders. We spent the rest of the day working, with a bit of souvenir shopping thrown in for good measure, and we’re heading out soon for dinner and a drink or two with Corrie from Bueno Entonces.
It’s been an awesome week – three continents’ worth! Leaving South America was sad, but hanging out with Gail and Kevin in Chertsey was just like coming home, and we managed to overcome our dislike of fingerprinting to come to the US and attend TBEX. We were lucky enough to have a discounted stay at the Casablanca Hotel, which was incredible!
21/6 Monday: Our flight left at the not-unreasonable time of 12.15, so we didn’t have to get up super-early. It felt too early though, despite the fact that we hadn’t had a late night on Sunday. We hadn’t realised that we had a stopover in Sao Paolo on the way, so that made our trip that much longer, but it was otherwise pleasant.
22/6 Tuesday: With the time zone change, we arrived in London in the early morning and were collected from the airport by Kevin, who is awesome. The rest of the day was mostly a write-off due to jet-lag, though we did have a great BBQ and catch up with Gail and Kevin in the evening.
23/6 Wednesday: Whenever we stay with Gail and Kevin we do a bit of gardening (they call us the home help, it’s great) so I headed out into the sun to rake leaves and water plants. It was so hot, I couldn’t believe I was in England. We did a bit of shopping, had another barbecue for dinner, and met some of Gail and Kevin’s friends for a drink in a pub – ahhhh culture.
24/6 Thursday: On the last day of our ludicrously short stay in the UK, we did a bit more gardening, watched the NZ-Paraguay game (and were pleased to get a tie, even if we didn’t get through to the next round), then flew to New York. We had a taste of British bureaucracy at one end and American data-gathering at the other, and the trip itself was like going back in time. We flew American Airlines – the staff were friendly but the food and in-seat entertainment put AA right at the bottom of my long-haul experience. But then, we usually fly with awesome airlines like Air New Zealand and LAN Chile.
Getting through customs was easy (though I still strongly disagree with giving away my biometric data) but we had to wait a little while for our shuttle. Made it to Casablanca Hotel without any problems though. It has the best location – right in Times Square, and all the extras they throw in make it really special.
25/6 Friday: The very first thing on our NYC to-do list was to replace our aging Powerbook, so we found the Apple Store and made a very swift purchase – probably made the sales guy’s day. The store was immense, full of staff and customers and other people who were just there to check their email for free.
As part of our tickets to the Travel Blog Exchange conference, we got NYC passes – so we get to do all sorts of awesome stuff here for free. We decided to start off with the Empire State Building, so we met Chris Christensen (who is our good friend/competitor and who we’ve met once before) to go to the top. He was the right person to go with – he pointed out all the items of interest, rendering our audioguides superfluous. I listened to a bit of it, but Chris was more interesting (and possibly more accurate).
After a stop back at the Casablanca for a glass of wine, we all headed out to the speakers’ dinner, our first TBEX event (although apparently there had been some other escapades on Wednesday and Thursday that we missed). After that was the official kick-off party. It was incredible to see people like Sean Keener and Matt Kepnes again, and to finally connect with some amazing people we’ve known for years and count as friends but who we’ve just never met in person before – Sherry Ott, Gary Arndt and Kim Mance to name a very few.
26/6 Saturday: It was an early start on Saturday to get to TBEX on time, it was quite a long walk away. We’ve really been enjoying doing a bit more city walking, and New York is a good place for it, there’s a lot to see. TBEX (the Travel Blog Exchange conference) was great, especially the first two sessions on storytelling and video narrative. Lunch (put on by Australia, thanks guys) was tasty too. There were a couple of other events after the conference itself, they mostly involved drinking and failing to win an iPad. Certainly the highlight for me was talking to some of the other attendees – I’m just sad that there were so many people there that I didn’t have a chance to talk to.
27/6 Sunday: Another TBEX day. We packed up and left earlyish and made it to the conference on time. In the evening we had to change accommodation, so we took off pretty soon after the end of the official programming to move uptown. We planned to meet up with everyone later on, but the only hostel in our budget was far far away from where everyone was drinking, so we found a nice restaurant to have dinner in, and turned in for the night.
28/6 Monday After our relaxed Sunday evening, we weren’t too tired on Monday morning – which was good, because getting across Manhattan east to west (and vice versa) is a bit of a mission. We managed to leave the apartment at a reasonable hour, and were only half an hour late to meet Christopher at his place, where we stayed for Monday and Tuesday nights. Christopher is one of listeners, it was awesome to meet him — and he took really good care of us, starting with a traditional American diner breakfast.
After breakfast we chatted for a bit then Craig and I headed out to do some sightseeing – we walked through Central Park on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was closed (being Monday) so we had to rethink our plans. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was open so we sped through there, enjoying the Picasso more than anything. After a quick stop in the pub to be disappointed by Chile’s last performance in the World Cup, we headed up to the Top of the Rock viewing platform only to be drenched by a sudden downpour. Luckily it was warm so we dried off quickly. We spent the evening eating corn chips and watching 30 Rock – it was nice to be in the right city for it!
29/6 Tuesday We’d heard the Circle Line cruise was worth a go, and we had free tickets for it, so we set off early (for us) to make the 11.30 cruise. The guide was knowledgeable and descriptive, and we had some spectacular views of the city. It was a pity there were so many people on the boat though, and they all rushed from one side to the other every time there was something interesting to see. When we got back we ate bagels and deli sandwiches before finally visiting the Met, which was incredible. We only had two hours, and I think I could have spent all day in there. The variety and quality of art is truly amazing, and it’s all laid out in imaginative ways that displays the art to its full potential.
In the evening we went to Riverside Park, which runs along the Hudson River and is a lot more tranquil than Central Park. We were there for our ITP meetup, and it was excellent to meet some of our listeners, as well as to spend a bit more time with some other TBEX attendees.
30/6 Wednesday One of the things I really wanted to do in New York was to visit the new High Line park, which is built on an old raised railway line. So we headed that way in the morning, stopping en-route to have a coffee and a bagel with Anna, a fellow TBEXer and travel writer. The park was great, the designers have made really good use of the space – I particularly like the way the flower beds have fingers of space reaching out into the walkways, making the area seem more wild. Next we wandered through Chelsea Markets, Little Italy and Chinatown before heading back uptown to meet Christopher for a drink. In fact we were waiting outside his favourite pub at opening time, managing not to bang on the door. The Pony Bar is a fantastic place, it has a three-page beer menu and several cask beers on offer – a rare thing in the States. After that, it was time to head back to Christopher’s to pick up our stuff and hop on the subway for the long long ride out to the airport.
1/7 Thursday After arriving back in Chertsey at 10am, and not having slept on the plane at all (I watched a terrible movie, it was great), I basically just crashed out. Craig worked, apparently.
2/7 Friday Another lazy day. We did a bit of gardening, a bit of shopping, a bit of watching the World Cup, and a bit of work. Nice mix, actually. In the evening we headed to the pub to drink with Gail and Kevin’s golfing friends.
3/7 Saturday We slept in a bit, then had to hurry to pack our things for our train to Bristol. It’s not too far but we had to change trains twice which made the journey a bit longer – it’s a gorgeous journey though. We’re staying with Heather Cowper and her family — Heather’s a fellow travel blogger, and we spent the afternoon chatting with her. In the evening several of her friends came around and we had a really pleasant dinner party.
4/7 Sunday Today was a sightseeing day. We set off a little later than planned due to me sleeping in, then headed out to explore Bristol. We started with the harbour area, which I was already a bit familiar with, having seen Heather’s video on this subject. We visited a modern art gallery and saw the SS Great Britain, then caught a little ferry across the river to go to the Bristol Food and Wine Festival. I really enjoyed it – we went to a cooking display (and got to taste things), then tried a lot of wine in the wine tent. I particularly liked trying the English wine (and mead), it’s so great that the British wine industry is starting to take off.
After pie for dinner, Heather and Guy took us to see the Clifton suspension bridge, which is very impressive. It spans a rather deep gorge and there’s a little tower up on the hill behind it. We finished off the day with a drink in a pub nearby.
Another awesome week – we finally made it to Bath, spent a bit more time in Bristol, then headed back to Chertsey for the wedding. It was great to spend time with family and everything went well on the day. We’re now in France, relaxing in the French Alps.
5/7 Monday I’d been wanting to visit Bath for about four years, partly because I’d heard it was beautiful, and partly because it features heavily in Jane Austen’s books (which I love). Well, on Monday we finally made it. We took the train from Bristol, where we were staying with Heather Cowper, and arrived at about 11.30.
We headed straight to the Roman Baths then followed a Jane Austen audio tour around the main sights of the city – which lined up pretty exactly with what Heather had recommended. The Georgian architecture was incredible, and I finally got to see a haha. We had an excellent coffee at Colonna and Smalls before heading back to Bristol.
It was Heather‘s birthday, so in the evening we had a nice dinner with the family, then Heather, Craig and I ensconced ourselves in the office to record a podcast for Heather’s site.
6/7 Tuesday We had planned to visit the Georgian House and the Red Lodge on our last day in Bristol, but they were both closed for works. Makes sense, refurbishing in the middle of the tourist season … we walked up a nearby hill to see Cabot Tower – it was also closed. Amazing. We walked to the train station by way of Wetherspoons for a cider, and had an uneventful trip back to Chertsey.
After a day of work in Chertsey we headed into London for the afternoon and evening. We didn’t want to take on too much, so we just visited the museum of war which was nearby – not the one I would have chosen, but it was really interesting. We also visited the Tibetan peace gardens and wandered along the Queens Walk after a drink in the Hole in the Wall. There was a performance being held outside the National Theatre, and the audience were under the stage, it looked really interesting.
8/7 Thursday Like all weddings, there was a fair bit to do the day before, so we tried to help Gail and Kevin knock off some of the more important things. In the evening we went to the wedding venue for a pre-wedding dinner with Gail and Kevin’s family and closest friends, which meant we got to see most of Craig’s dad’s side of the family.
9/7 Friday Finally, the day of the wedding arrived. We spent the morning sleeping in then making ourselves pretty, then headed out to Foxhills where the wedding was being held. It was a gorgeous day and Gail and Kevin got married with no problems.
The reception went well too – the speeches were interesting and the food was good. We’d been given a room at the hotel as a birthday present from Craig’s parents, so we could spend time there in the gaps between events – in fact we recorded a podcast between the service and the reception.
10/7 Saturday After a comfortable night at Foxhills, we headed back to Gail and Kevin’s to set up for a family barbecue. It was nice to have an informal event with everyone from Craig’s dad’s side of the family, and the weather couldn’t have been better.
11/7 Sunday The last few days had been pretty busy, so we decided to have a lazy one – we got up, spent far too long packing our bags, and flew to France. Hmm, maybe it’s not as lazy as it could have been!
We got picked up at Geneva airport by Wink Lorch, we’re staying at her chalet in the French Alps, which is right on the Tour de France route, so we’ll get to see that go past on Tuesday. We spent the evening with Wink and her partner Brett, eating delicious Spanish food and drinking perhaps a bit too much local wine.
It’s been an excellent week, mostly spent in the French mountain village of Chinaillon at Chalet Balaena, but we also made it to Switzerland to spend time with old friends from home.
12/7 Monday Our first day in Chalet Balaena was a tranquil – we basically stayed in and worked all day, at least we got a lot done. We headed out in the late afternoon to explore the town of Chinaillon and buy “un pain”, and some food for dinner. Because the supermarket opens at 4pm, we had a very late lunch and a correspondingly late dinner – though not late by South American standards!
13/7 Tuesday One of the reasons we were in France was to watch the Tour de France go through the village where we were staying. Accordingly, we set off at about 10am with Wink and Brett to find the perfect spot to see the action – this was on the side of a hill, just over the col. We joined the small community of campervanners who had obviously been there at least overnight, if not for a few days – seems to be a popular holiday around here, to follow the Tour across France.
We were there in plenty of time to see the caravane go past – this is the procession of sponsors’ vehicles, from motorbikes to intricate floats, which precede the cyclists along the route. Many of them throw out gifts – I got two hats, some Haribo sweets and a couple of packets of laundry liquid. There was an hour’s wait between the end of the caravane and the cyclists coming past, but luckily Wink had come prepared and we had a glass of wine. The cyclists themselves whizzed past in a matter of minutes, surrounded by support vehicles. It was amazing to see the speed they go, especially downhill.
We headed home for lunch and an afternoon of work – it’s nice to work with the view of picturesque chalets with mountains in the background!
14/7 Wednesday Wednesday is market day in Le Grand-Bornand, the larger town which Chinaillon is technically part of (I think), so we headed down the hill to buy some apricots and have a look around. It was also Bastille Day but there weren’t any celebrations during the day, and the fact that there was no transport back up the hill after 6pm meant that we couldn’t stay for the evening festivities. Le Grand-Bornand is a very pretty town, with an incredible carousel next to the centrally located church. We had an ice-cream near the river before catching the cable car back up the mountain – sadly it doesn’t go straight to Chinaillon, but it meant we had a good hike home before a late lunch of reblouchon cheese, salami and tomato.
We had a nice relaxing afternoon and evening, I read a lot then we had a game of Catan. And of course, it was all accompanied by local wine.
16/7 Friday We had a nice lazy morning then headed through Chinaillon for a short walk in the hills before lunch. We ate at a small restaurant/bakery/ice-cream parlour, they put on an excellent menu del dia (it’s just called a “menu” here, I don’t think that’s descriptive enough). We had a quiche to start, followed by fish (being Friday) and a lemon meringue pie to finish up – I could barely finish it all, and we were so full that we had to spend half an hour at home before heading off on our longer hike of the day. This started at Chalet Balaena, went straight up for 200 metres, then circled back around through the village.
In the evening we had a drink with Wink, Brett, and their friends, then had a relaxing evening in.
17/7 Saturday Brett was driving into Annecy, and very kindly gave us a lift in – it was awesome, because getting there ourselves from Chinaillon would have involved two buses and a lot more time. We spent about three hours walking around Annecy, which is an incredibly pretty city built on the shores of Lake Annecy and canals feeding into it. Then we hopped on a bus which took us to Geneva, where we found our way to Paul and Kirsty‘s house. They’re old friends from home and ex-flatmates from our England time, who we haven’t seen for almost four years, since we left St Albans.
We got to meet their gorgeous baby Maia and went out for a tasty chicken meal, accompanied by local wine for us and local beer for Paul. Yum.
18/7 Sunday Ah, the perfect Sunday. We got up late and Paul cooked breakfast, then we sat around for a couple of hours playing with Maia before walking to the park. Craig and Paul played a game of giant chess, then we went to Kirsty’s favourite cafe to drink coffee, chat, and relax for an hour or so. In the evening we walked to a different park for a picnic – the weather was perfect (i.e. not too hot) and the only problem was Maia getting food all over herself. Awesome.
Another excellent week has drawn to a close! We’ve spent a lot of time with friends from home, work, and hiking and have enjoyed both scorching weather and the relative coolness of the last few days.
19/7 Monday Paul had to go to work, it being Monday and all, and Craig and I spent a lovely day with Kirsty and Maia. We did a bit of work in the morning then headed out to explore Geneva a little. It’s a beautiful, compact city and we enjoyed climbing the tower of St Peter’s Cathedral and looking out over it.
20/7 Tuesday It was sad to have to say goodbye to Paul, Kirsty and Maia, but at the same time it was nice to continue the adventure. We caught a train to Biel/Bienne in Switzerland to have lunch with two of my ex-students from Auckland, Barbara and Michael. It was great to see them again, this time on their home turf.
After lunch we went to Barbara’s place in Thun to drop off our stuff, then went to the river in Bern for a swim. Well, I say a swim but it was more like a float downstream in the fast current – you have to walk for a kilometre or two, jump in, and get swept down the river really quickly. There are special landing stations for getting out, you have to grab the pole and swing yourself around – it was fantastic.
It was the birthday of one of Barbara’s friends, so we went to her house for a party. Everyone was really good about speaking English with us – our attempts at Swiss German weren’t very successful!
21/7 Wednesday In the morning, Barbara took us on a tour of Thun, which is a really pretty town. We saw the castle, had a picnic by the river, and visited an old church with awesome paintings on its walls. In the afternoon we met up with Michael and went to Barbara’s hometown of Speiz, which is on the shores of a lake. We did a loop through the forest to its picturesque castle, and down through the vines to the lake, where we ate ice-cream and waited for the rainstorm to pass over.
In the evening, we headed to Barbara’s boyfriend’s place for a barbecue. It was nice and relaxed, and we tried out a drink recipe we’d learned in Rosario – lemon ice-cream and sparkling wine. Yummm. Plus, I got to speak Spanish with Fabian’s sister. Awesome.
22/7 Thursday More goodbyes – Michael headed south and we headed northeast to Berlin. It wasn’t what we’d planned to do, but with Eurail passes we can choose where we go. The train journey was long and comfortable – we have first-class tickets since we’re over 26, and we managed to get a compartment to ourselves for most of the trip. Since there was a power supply in the compartment, we managed to get a fair bit of offline work and study done. Awesome.
We stayed in a nice hostel that was somewhat spoiled by the drunk idiots who ran up and down the corridor most of the night, knocking on doors.
23/7 Friday We got up a little late, and managed to get some work done before heading out into the city. We’d decided to walk to the Hauptbahnhof to leave our bags in the lockers there, and although the walk was long, it was really pretty.
After leaving our bags, we had our first experience of currywurst und pommes, then walked along Unter den Linden looking at architecture and dropping into interesting-looking churches.
We’d been invited to stay with Claudia, who we met in 2007 on the West Highland Way. We stayed with her and her friend Holger at Holger’s parents’ place in Sauerland at the end of that year, but had pretty much lost contact since then, and it was really great to catch up again. She had to head out for the evening, so we ate kebabs in a local eatery then chatted with her until quite late.
24/7 Saturday We spent the morning working then headed out to meet Momo (an ex-student of Craig’s) for a coffee. Afterwards, he showed us around the city a bit, we visited the Parliament and saw a section of the Berlin Wall.
In the evening, Claudia took me to her intercambio with Antonio, a Peruvian guy who’s living here. It’s supposed to be half Spanish, half German, but since I don’t speak German almost the whole evening was spent speaking Spanish – great for me and Claudia, but I think Antonio lost out a bit.
For dinner, which we had at the rather South American time of 10.30, we visited Claudia’s favourite Thai restaurant.
25/7 Sunday A nice relaxed day. We slept in then visited the Mauerpark fleamarkets with Claudia and her aunt, who is visiting from Frankfurt. It was interesting to see the last stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still standing, and to see the space which used to be the dead zone between East and West Berlin. Now, it’s a pleasant park.
We had enormous kebabs for lunch and then Claudia and I went to a tango event near the Ostbahnhof. The dance space was awesome, in an old building overlooking the river.
Any week that includes meeting an imaginary friend and staying in a castle has to rate as awesome. Even if it did also involve a trip to the doctor and a lot of time changing trains.
26/7 Monday After a sleep-in in the morning, we met Benny the Irish Polyglot, who would be our host for the next two days. As a traveller and blogger, Benny is one of those people we’ve known of for ages, so it was great to meet up with him and spend some time with him.
We had a nice lunch in a Mexican place near the station (which played reggaeton in the bathrooms), then headed back to his place to drop off our stuff before heading out for a bit of sightseeing. In the evening we headed out to a Couchsurfing meetup and got to speak Spanish with some of the other Couchsurfers.
27/7 Tuesday We slept in a little, but managed to make it to our meeting with Paul from Slow Travel Berlin only half an hour late (after also getting lost). Momo met us there and took us to the East Side Gallery, which is an awesome outdoor art gallery of murals painted on a stretch of the Berlin Wall. We also had a drink at a beach bar on the banks of the River Spree.
We failed to buy Craig a new backpack, and joined in part of the walking tour we’d had recommended. But there were about 50 people in the group, so we piked out and headed back to Benny’s for a rest before dinner. Dinner was great – we met Benny, Claudia and Momo for a last drink or two and a huge meal at White Trash Fast Food.
28/7 Wednesday The day started with a very successful trip to the Hauptbahnhof to catch our train to Cologne – absolutely no missed connections, it was awesome. In Cologne, we had lunch with my language partner Andreas, who I’ve chatted with for about eight hours a week for the last eight months. It was great to finally meet him in person!
From there the train took us to Ghent, where we were met at the station by our friend Tom, who we met while walking the Camino de Santiago in 2008. It doesn’t feel like two years since we last saw him! He took us back to his castle (yep, a genuine castle, owned by the Duke of Flanders) and we spent the evening getting to know the bars of Ghent.
29/7 Thursday I’ve had a pain in my side for the last few days, so I finally got over my dislike of doctors and headed to the medical centre. Nothing to worry about, apparently, I just need more vitamins. And to not lift heavy things.
Apart from that, we spent the day in Ghent marvelling at its architecture and trying out a few more bars. And, since Belgium is famous for its waffles and frites as well as for its beers, we partook of a bit of both of those as well.
30/7 Friday Friday was a work day. In the castle, though – how awesome is that?
31/7 Saturday Tom dropped us off at the station, and we had a rather unsuccessful trip to Utrecht. The first train arrived in Antwerp late, so we missed our connection to Rotterdam. We tried to make the most of it by having a coffee in an outdoor cafe, but it rained. And finally, we got off at the wrong Utrecht station and had to call Floor for advice. But we did make it, and it was totally worth it.
Floor and her partner Bregje took us into the city centre for a guided gastronomic tour – when I mentioned that I liked streetfood, they promptly bought one of almost every type of deep-fried Dutch delicacy, and we gorged ourselves on those, in between beers in interesting bars near the canals. Oh, and we also saw some architecture.
1/8 Sunday Today was incredibly Dutch. It started with a Dutch breakfast – everything is sprinkles! Yes, those sugar sprinkles you put on cakes, they have dozens of types of them and you have them on bread for breakfast. Next we went for a long cycle in the countryside, with a pancake house as our destination, and our return trip was mostly in the rain. (Cycling in the rain is very Dutch, apparently.) We finished up the day with dinner at home and a Dutch movie with English subtitles.
2/8 Monday The last time we saw Sherry we had no plans to go to the Netherlands, so we almost didn’t realise we’d be here at the same time. Luckily Craig remembered and we organised to spend a day together in Utrecht. We wandered around the canals, regurgitating the stories Floor and Bregje had told us the day before, had an un-Dutch lunch due to the restaurant we wanted to go to being closed, and climbed the Dom, the highest tower in the Netherlands. We had a few drinks with some of Floor’s friends from uni then headed home for a South American-themed evening, complete with pebre and Chilean wine.
3/8 Tuesday After a lazy sleep-in, we met Guido, otherwise known as the Happy Hotelier. We’ve known him on Twitter for quite some time, so it was nice to finally meet him in person. He picked us up and took us for a drive into the country, we cruised along beside rivers and canals and had a pleasant lunch in a beach bar by the lake.
In the evening Craig and I went for a walk and Floor surprised us with a present – stroopwafels and Dutch licorice!
4/8 Wednesday Since Bregje and Floor had to head to work, we dragged ourselves out of bed to say goodbye to them. Our train didn’t leave until 11, so we had plenty of time to pack our bags and get to the station.
We’d changed our plans at the last minute and decided to stay in Hamburg for a night instead of going straight to Copenhagen. Luckily we found a couchsurfing host – Nadine and her son Killian were lovely to stay with, we played games with them until late in the evening.
5/8 Thursday Nadine had to leave early in the morning, so we headed into the city to explore. The weather wasn’t very pleasant, but we enjoyed seeing the architecture and relaxing in a cafe. Our train to Copenhagen was delayed by an hour, a time which got longer and longer … and the first-class compartment seemed to be full of loud children. Not the most successful train trip ever! We got a little lost trying to find our couchsurfing host Mona, but she’d prepared dinner for us – it was the perfect end to a day that had seemed full of problems.
6/8 Friday After a pleasantly productive work morning, we set forth to explore Copenhagen. It’s a really pleasant city, with lots of lakes and canals. We enjoyed looking at the buildings and had a nice hamburger each for lunch. In the evening we met up with Frej and Astrid, another couple of couchsurfers, and ended up going back to their place for dinner. It was a mix of flavours – I made pebre and tortilla española, and Astrid introduced us to typical Danish sausages, cheese and cold-cut meats. We finished the evening with my new favourite dessert – koldskaal. It’s a kind of thick milk that you crush special biscuits into.
7/8 Saturday It was the weekend, so we slept in. Not that we are very good at telling what day of the week it is, but to be honest we’ll find any excuse for a sleep-in. After a tasty breakfast of spicy fruity porridge, Mona took us out to show us her favourite parts of the city. We relaxed in the afternoon and had dinner on the rooftop terrace.
8/8 Sunday Although our train didn’t leave until 10.23, we still managed to be in a rush to get there. Luckily we made it, and our first-class tickets were very useful, since second class was packed – even the aisles were full of people.
We made it to Goteborg and were met at the station by our host Ola, who took us on a tour of closed restaurants before we found a nice Japanese place to have lunch. Afterwards we met our other host Therese, who had been working, and caught the tram back to their place through the rather spectacular rain.
We spent the evening playing a Swedish travel board game called Near and Far (or something like that) – it was definitely a good idea to choose the teams according to gender rather than just playing couple versus couple, since that meant each team had a good range of knowledge. Plus someone had to translate the questions from Swedish – who would have thought Craig would do such a good job at it?
It’s amazing, but we’ve managed to spend an entire calendar week in one country – who would have thought it possible? Sweden has been very good to us: wine is cheaper than we’d been led to believe but transport is just as overwhelmingly expensive as the rumors hinted.
9/8 Monday Unfortunately Terese was summoned into work so she couldn’t spend the day with us, but we headed out with her around lunchtime to explore on our own. Goteborg is a lovely city, full of nice neighbourhoods and parks – we visited the Botanic Gardens, a neighbourhood called Haga, and a fortress on the top of a hill that had nice views of the city.
In the evening, Therese and Ola took us for a walk around their neighbourhoood and we stopped to feed apples to some grateful Highland cows. Then they proceeded to cook us a tasty Swedish meal and we sat around chatting for hours.
10/8 Tuesday It was an earlier start than we’re accostomed to – we had to leave the house at 9am! We caught the tram to the ferry station, and cruised comfortably into the city, where we cafe-hopped in order to get some work done. We explored Goteborg a bit more then headed home to do laundry – which in Swedish apartments is apparently a bit of a mission. The evening was full of South and Central America – pebre, causa rellena, Argentinian wine and Cubatón.
11/8 Wednesday As always, it was a rush to get out of the house in time, and in our haste we left our beloved coffee machine behind. So it was with sad hearts that we caught the train to Stockholm. We stayed with Niklas, who we met in Lithuania in 2007, it was great to catch up with him again! He lives a fair way out of the central city, but we made the most of the location by going for a walk in the forest after dinner.
12/8 Thursday Since Niklas doesn’t have wifi at home, we couldn’t really work there, so instead we headed into his office for the morning. It was awesome, we got up, commuted, got to the office dead on 9 o’clock, and worked hard until lunch when we gave up on pretending and went to see Stockholm. We met Ulrike, a friend of Niklas’s, for lunch then wandered around the old town and harbour. In the evening we went for another walk in the forest – it’s so good to be hiking again!
13/8 Friday It was time for a sleep in, so we got up late then packed a picnic for lunch, which we ate on an island in Stockholm harbour, from where we could see the cruise ships setting off. We wandered around the island then took an old tram to the centre of the city, from where we got on the wrong metro twice before giving up and walking to a concert/dance competition where we were meeting more friends of Niklas’s. It was a free event and the outdoor auditorium was totally packed out – and although the dance style wasn’t really to our tastes there was a great atmosphere. We enjoyed chatting with Niklas’s friends then had tasty fish burgers from a street vendor before heading home.
14/8 Saturday Ahhh sleeping in is so good! We’d failed to record the podcast on Friday, so we did that then packed up another picnic – this time for the beach. Niklas took us to a gorgeous beach that wasn’t too busy, and we relaxed, swam and played frisbee before walking home through the forest.
15/8 Sunday It seems to be a theme – we left Niklas’s place in a bit of a hurry, but managed to catch the bus which took us to the central city. Finding a cafe with wifi was another mission, but we succeeded and were even on the train to Ostersund with six minutes to spare! Our couchsurfing host Benny met us at the station and took us for a long walk after dinner – since it got dark at about 11pm, we could stay out as late as we wanted.
Although planning our time in Norway was pretty difficult, we ended up having a fantastic time there. We also enjoyed our last day in Sweden, and our first few hours in Spain have been good so far.
16/8 Monday Benny had to work during the day, so we slept in with the plan of having a work morning. However, my laptop decided it didn’t really want to work and staged a rebellion – which Craig spent most of the rest of the morning trying to quell. I think I need a new laptop.
We had a light lunch then headed out to see Ostersund by day. We crossed over to the island and hiked around a bit, then found a coffee and failed to play minigolf since it had closed stupidly early for a summer afternoon.
We did manage to get a bit of work done in the evening, and Benny cooked us an amazing dinner – it was truly spectacular. We then proceeded to stay up far too late given the time we had to get up in the morning.
17/8 Tuesday New country! Planning our trip to Norway has been a bit of a mission, and having to catch a train at 7am definitely fits into the “mission” category as well. Madga and Nahikari had said we could stay with them in Selbu, a town 90 minutes by bus from Trondheim, and we’d accepted but found it difficult to work out how to get there. We had a choice of trains from Ostersund – the 7am one, or one that would get us to Trondheim too late for the last bus to Selbu. As it turns out, we could have just caught the bus to Hell (hehehe) and gone from there, but the internet didn’t want to give me that information.
The work was worth it though. We made it to Trondheim and had lunch by a canal and played Settlers of Catan in a nice cafe. Then Craig worked for a bit and I explored the city, which is a really nice relaxed one. We decided to make the most of our Eurail passes and caught the train back through Hell to Stjordal and from there to Selbu (via Hell). They say it’s hard to get out of Hell, but we were there three times in one day and it was all right.
Our couchsurfing hosts were really nice, they cooked us a pleasant meal and we sat by the lake for an hour or so.
18/8 Wednesday Selbu is in the middle of the forest and the forest is full of fruit, so we went for a hike and collected some of it. The blueberries were small but abundant and the raspberries were perfect, and they both tasted spectacular on waffles for dinner.
19/8 Thursday It was sad to say goodbye to Magda, Nahikari, and Selbu, but the walk to the bus stop was pleasant, as was the bus trip back to Trondheim (even if it did pass through Hell again). We hadn’t managed to find a place to stay in Trondheim – all the hostels were full and we were wondering what to do, but luckily Couchsurfing came to the rescue. A guy called Morten had started an emergency couch request group for Trondheim, and when I called him he said he’d be happy to host us. Unfortunately he had to work in the evening, but we spent a pleasant couple of hours with him drinking coffee and wine and discovering shared interests (notably coffee and wine).
The afternoon was tranquil – we went to see the fortress then relaxed on the hill in the sun. We got a couple of hours work done in a cafe then wandered around the city, weaving through drunk people on their way to or from an outdoor concert that closed off several streets. After kebabs for dinner, we watched a movie and a few episodes of Smack the Pony (which is my new favourite comedy show).
20/8 Friday We all slept in surprisingly late, and Morten had to head off to work again. Craig and I recorded the podcast then headed to Morten’s work for a tasty lunch – I think that was the best hotdog I’ve ever eaten. Yum. In the afternoon, we escaped the rain with a game of Settlers, then circumnavingated the isthmus that houses most of Trondheim. We ate in then caught an overnight train to Oslo.
21/8 Saturday The morning was a bit of a write-off after not sleeping too well on the train, but we found our second wind and a hotel to stay in, and visited the tourist information office before walking to our accommodation. We’d found it on LastMinute.com, and I’d seen that it was part of the hospital, but I hadn’t realised how much a part of the hospital it was. We couldn’t find it so we went to the front desk, where we were told to “follow the signs”. So we did. Through silent hospital corridors, past wards and departments, until we emerged at the hotel and were given a room with cemetery views. Priceless.
We only had a day in Oslo so we wanted to make the most of it – we visited the incredible sculpture park and had a coffee and a nap in the park before exploring more of the city. I enjoyed wandering around the waterfront and seeing the new opera house – it’s really impressive. On the way home we had a progressive dinner – hot dog, calzone, sushi and cake in as many establishments.
22/8 Sunday Oh, I slept so well, it was great! Hard to get up in the morning though, but we managed, and headed out to meet Sam Daams from Travellerspoint. We had a pleasant morning chatting with him, eating breakfast, and completely failing to catch the bus to the airport (it was full, they sent another one half an hour later). Despite the fact that we were flying Ryanair, we managed to get to Valencia without any problems – so we’re now in Spain! I’m so excited – I love Spain! We had a great meal involving wine and tapas are looking forward to our next week here.
A week of tomatoes, bloggers and overwhelmingly high temperatures – on the whole, a win.
23/8 Monday After a productive work morning, we walked through the park to the City of Arts and Sciences, which is a collection of impressively large and interesting buildings. It was hot though, so we had to stop and rest a fair bit – we spent ten minutes with our hands trailing in one of the moats.
In the evening, we met up with a whole bunch of travel bloggers – Christine, Suzy, Abbey, Joel, and Dave. They were all in town for La Tomatina, and it was awesome to meet, chat, drink and eat together.
24/8 Tuesday We’d mananged to find a nice, well-priced hostel for our first two nights, but the prices tripled for La Tomatina so we decided not to stay. However, on Monday we found a great deal on Booking.com – a hotel room for the same price as a hostel. Plus it had a pool. We worked in the morning then moved to the hotel, had lunch then went for a swim. It was bliss in the heat – it is truly so hot at the moment.
In the evening we wandered around the Old Town then met the blogging crowd for dinner again. The streets were packed with yellow-shirted teenagers in town for La Tomatina, so we chose a small place down an alley in the hopes of getting dinner sooner. It didn’t work. We missed the last metro home by a good hour, but it worked out because we met an Italian traveller called Luigi in the station and walked up the road with him, talking in an almost incoherent mix of Italian, Spanish and English. Priceless.
25/8 Wednesday It was a tough one, but we decided to go to La Tomatina. This meant a 6am wake up, 6.30 departure. The train station was thronged when we arrived by metro, but we made it on the next train and, on arrival in Buñol, wormed our way through the crowd until we could see the ham. (One of the traditions of La Tomatina is that people have to climbe a greasy pole and touch the ham on top.) We were in the centre of the action for the fight and got seriously tomatoed, it was awesome. We tried to get out of the crowd before the end though, and the crush was incredible. Also, we definitely damaged the camera and video camera.
26/8 Thursday We checked out at 12 and made our way to the station to catch the 1pm train. But everyone else in Valencia had a similar idea, and we could only manage to get seats on the 4pm train – and that was only because we have first-class Eurail tickets. It was a pleasant journey, we chatted with a Barcelonian couple and they gave us very detailed instructions about how to use the metro in Barcelona. We’d had to pay a hefty reservation fee for our seats, but it was worth it – we were plied with drinks and food for the whole jouney.
We finally arrived and met our couchsurfing host Ruben, who took us to the beach where we met his friends Danny and Jenny, who we chatted with in a mixture of English and Spanish for the rest of the evening.
27/8 Friday Ah, a sleep in. I always enjoy them. We recorded the podcast then headed out to Park Guell to see some of Gaudi’s work, then wandered through Barcelona seeing things and buying souvenirs. Later, Ruben took us on a guided twilight tour of his city; which included the Sagrada Familia, views from the hill, a magic fountain, beer, a plato combinado, and a pumping street party with a computer game theme.
28/8 Saturday Ruben prepared us a tasty traditional breakfast of chorizo, cheese and tomato rubbed into toast, then took us on another tour of the city. This one included the Arc de Triomphe, the Cathedral, a Gaudi building, beer, horchata, and grammar books. We had an early night since it was an early start in the morning.
29/8 Sunday Muh, getting up at 6.30am is not my idea of a good time. Our flight left at 11, but we had to leave the house at 7.30 to catch the metro, then the train, then the shuttle to the airport. The flight was uneventful, and we got to our hotel (S-bahn and tram) without problems. We welcomed ourselved to Vienna with cordon bleu for lunch and dinner – awesome.
Our five days in Vienna weren’t quite what we had expected – it turned in to a week of work and rain supplemented by illness. The major earthquake in Christchurch and the death of Craig’s Sleepphones didn’t help either … but at least we had a weekend in Slovenia at the end of it.
30/8 Monday After a painful morning of work, we enjoyed the hotel’s lunch buffet and a glass of Zweigelt then headed out to do some shopping.
31/8 Tuesday The rain and our worsening colds kept us inside most of the day – in fact, I think we just went out to buy dinner from the supermarket. The hotel put on another excellent buffet for lunch.
1/9 Wednesday We’re not used to this amount of rain and cold – we worked in the morning, had cordon bleu for lunch then watched TV in the evening. I went for a walk in the afternoon, but Craig was feeling particularly rotten and turned in early.
2/9 Thursday At least the weather was better today. We were staying quite far out of the city, and the rain and our colds had stopped us from going into town. I didn’t want to spend five days in Vienna and not see it, so in the afternoon I left Craig shivering in bed and headed out to revisit the sights of one of my favourite cities. It was awesome to see the impressive architecture of the central city, and nice to go back to old haunts like Vapiano and C&A.
3/9 Friday We worked in the morning, then settled the bill and – as always – headed out the door just a bit too late. We missed our first train but managed to make it to Wien Miedling just in time to hop on the 2.30 train to Villach – fantastic. We had another option but we were glad to be on the first choice, and spent the four hours of the journey chatting with a nice Aussie couple who are also Eurailing. We had no problems with our next connection, to a town called Kranje, but as we were crossing the tracks my phone started ringing in the depths of my bag. I dumped things in Craig’s arms in my effort to answer it in time, but finally succeeded.
It was Moroni, calling from Chile to let me know there had been a major earthquake in Christchurch – 7.4 on the Richter scale according to some reports. Since Craig’s dad and stepmum live there, we were really concerned, and spent the 15 minutes of our wait in Kranje trying to get in touch with them. We couldn’t get through, but I called my dad and he promised to keep trying to get in touch with them.
In the meantime, we had to catch another train, find the right stop, ask for directions and find our way to our couchsurfing host’s home – only to find that he wasn’t there. Luckily his neighbour let us in through the gate and sat with us until Robin arrived five minutes after us – he thought we were going to arrive a little later. We had good chat with him about NZ then thought we would try Norrie and Anne one more time – and got through! We were extremely relieved to hear that they were okay.
4/9 Saturday After a very welcome sleep in, we attempted to see Ljubljana. I say attempted because at first it seemed doomed to fail – we kept finding things that we had to do before we left the house, and then we had to walk for 2km to find a shop to sell us a card for the bus. Then, we missed the stop that we wanted and had to walk about a kilometre back into town. But in the end we made it and had a great lunch before spending a pleasant hour walking around the city. We caught the funicular up to the castle and saw as much as we wanted to before the weather packed in, quite spectacularly really. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the funicular back down, I think they weren’t running it because of the heavy rain.
We sat out the worst of the storm in a cafe with a limonada each, then went to see some more beautiful buildings and bridges, and a 2000-year-old Roman wall. We had more bad luck on the bus home (missed our stop again), but had a great evening with Robin, two of his friends, and two other couchsurfers that Robin had stayed with recently in Liverpool.
5/9 Sunday We didn’t have to get up too early, so we lazed in a bit and just woke up when Robin poked his head in the door to say goodbye. Knowing Italy, internet will be painful for the next week, so we tried to get a bit of internet-heavy work done before we headed out the door. The bus then train combination to Villach went smoothly and we had lunch in the main square, and played Settlers of Catan to fill the time until our bus to Udine. It was comfortable but we weren’t happy about having to pay a supplement for it on top of our Eurail passes – that wasn’t mentioned anywhere! But we made it to Udine and had a pleasant (if laden) walk through the town to our hotel, where we met up with some of the other people staying here and had dinner with them.
Now, I’m trying to finish this post and upload photos for it – I think I’m fighting a losing battle. I think I might just have to say: photos to come.
Italy – good for company and coffee, absolutely terrible for trying to get anything done. We had a pleasant week, if slightly marred by sickness, and we’ve decided that Italy would not be a good place for us to live long-term.
6/9 Monday Ahhh Italy, there’s nowhere like it. We spent the morning working and the afternoon looking for a cafe with wifi – and I am not joking when I say we spent three hours walking around trying to find one. McDonald’s has free wifi but you need an Italian ID and phone number to use it – eventually we went to the place we’d glimpsed from the bus window as we arrived on Sunday. Thank goodness, their internet was free and fastish and we got a fair bit achieved. In the evening we ate at the hotel and turned in early.
7/9 Tuesday Craig wasn’t feeling too well so I headed to the cafe with wifi alone. I worked for about five minutes when all went terribly wrong – the internet stopped working! I tried everything but to no avail, and stomped home in the rain. There’s wifi in the hotel, but it costs a euro an hour and is incredibly slow. We didn’t have much option though – I paid two euros and got about ten minutes worth of work done in the two hours. Awesome.
8/9 Wednesday The wifi cafe continued to fail us. We had a nice lunch up at the castle with Brendan and Helen though.
9/9 Thursday We finally got around to doing some sightseeing – nothing special, just a wander around the city. We’ve spent time in Udine before, so nothing was new, but it’s a lovely place to look around. Of course, our priorities are firmly established, so we stopped for a coffee and tasty snack along the way.
In the evening, we had dinner with the group of teachers then a bunch of us headed out for a drink in the centre of town. We went to a cafe that was having a “black” night as part of the rather low-key festival that’s going on at the moment. We all wore black but the dress code wasn’t very strongly enforced!
10/9 Friday Our last full day in Italy and our last day of frustration. We had lunch up at the castle with Brendan and Helen – this time we ate pasta. On Wednesday the kitchen had been closed and we just had (very tasty) prosciutto, cheese and bread. Dinner was pizza from a place down the road, and I sat around with the teachers chatting and drinking wine while Craig headed to bed early.
11/9 Saturday The Italian public transport system isn’t bad as such, but we did have to leave the hotel really early in order to be sure of catching our flight on time. All our connections went smoothly though – a half-hour walk to the station, a train ride (we used the last day of our Eurail pass on the 90 minute trip to Treviso) and a bus to the airport. There was time for a couple of games of chess before our flight (we won one each) and the flight was smooth and uneventful.
Getting to Leeds city centre was easy – there’s a direct bus – and we made the most of the free wifi in a Wetherspoons pub before being joined by a couple of locals who we talked to for an hour or so.
We’re couchsurfing here in Leeds, so we caught the bus out to Armley and had a little bit of trouble finding the street we needed. We asked a racist old man in the street, an unknowledgeable corner store owner, and three iPhone-armed cops before we found it.
Our hosts Anna and Joe are lovely, they took us out for a pint and we spent the evening chatting in their local pub.
12/9 Sunday One of the main reasons we came to Leeds was to meet Darren Cronian of My Life in Leeds and Travel Rants. We met him (a little late due to public transport issues) at the statue of the Black Knight and he took us on a grand tour of the city. It’s a really pretty place and we enjoyed wandering around looking at the architecture – a lot of styles are represented and the weather was gorgeous so it was at its best.
We had a tradtional English lunch, which being Sunday meant a full roast in a pub hidden down an alley. We also visited the City Museum and had a coffee in the Tiled Hall, which is an incredible room whose bright decorations were only recently re-discovered after being hidden by shelving in the sixties.
In the evening we managed to get a bit of work done, then watched a movie with Joe.
The weather has put on a show for us this week, in true UK style – we’ve had sun, rain, wind and almost everything in-between. At least the company we’ve been keeping has made up for what the weather has been lacking.
13/9 Monday Our Couchsurfing host Joe had to head out to work at 8am, so we hitched a ride into town with him and spent an hour or so giving Leeds one last once-over before catching our train to Edinburgh. We had the worst seats on the train – going backwards, window obscured – but at least we got a bit of work done.
Andy Hayes, a friend from the online world who we first met in person at TBEX, met us at the station and steered us home through the rain. The afternoon was awesome – we sat around chatting and working and were all really productive. Maybe there is something to be said for working in an office. Or at least, an office environment.
In the evening we headed out to a Nepalese/Indian restaurant where the food was great and the lassis fantastic.
14/9 Tuesday Although we’ve visited Edinburgh a couple of times, we’ve never climbed Arthur’s Seat, the highest, craggiest hill in town. Well, today was the day, and the views were worth it even if we nearly got blown off – Andy took an awesome photo of my hair trying to escape my head.
15/9 Wednesday Andy isn’t sure if it counts as couchsurfing if you sleep on the kitchen floor, but I think it does. Sleeping in on the kitchen floor possibly isn’t as luxurious as it would be in a bed, but it was still nice to lie in and spend a lazy morning hanging around with Andy, getting a bit of work done.
Later, we headed out to walk the Water of Leith walkway, then Craig interviewed Andy for a future podcast. Next, we headed to Bishopbriggs (a suburb of Glasgow) where we are spending a few days with Craig’s relatives on his stepmother’s side. It’s good to see them again – it doesn’t feel like two and a half years!
16/9 Thursday Ah, a sleep-in in an actual bed! What luxury! We made the most of the wifi and achieved a few hours of work, with a break in the middle for a walk into town to eat a pastry and drink sugary soft drinks. Classy.
17/9 Friday We’ve left getting vaccinations for Asia extremely late, but Erik our travel-doctor friend said it was still worth it. So we headed into Glasgow to give away lots and lots of our money in exchange for a pain in the arm and a box of pills each. Glory.
Afterwards, we walked to Kelvingrove museum, with a stop along the way in a cute little tea room. Not that we drank tea, of course – they had flat whites! We enjoyed wandering around Kelvingrove, then headed back into town to look at the shops. In the evening we ate Chinese food and watched TV before bed.
18/9 Saturday Jerry surprised us by cooking a full Scottish breakfast, which was a tasty end to our time with him and Margaret. After breakfast they drove us over to East Kilbride, where we’re staying with Craig’s grandmother – she met us at her house, then Craig and I went out again to do some shopping. An evening full of pasta, chocolate and comedy was a nice way to round off the day.
19/9 Sunday The weather wasn’t that great, so we decided to have a day in. At least we had internet access – we weren’t expecting it and there was only one (closed) network – but the password was “password” so that wasn’t too difficult to hack.
We headed out in the afternoon to visit Jim and Anne – Craig’s uncle and aunt on his dad’s side. And after dinner we caught up with Marjorie, Craig’s aunt on his mum’s side. So, all in all, a good week full of family.
Definitely a travel week this week, although we’ve only slept in two cities. London and Kuala Lumpur have both treated us pretty well, though.
20/9 Monday There wasn’t much to Monday apart from travel. We caught a local bus from East Kilbride to Glasgow (75 minutes), a coach to London (9 hours) and three trains to Chertsey (90 minutes). At least the coach had wifi so I used that for a couple of hours, but otherwise there was a lot of looking out the window.
21/9 Tuesday Today had everything – we got up a bit late and Craig started his day with work and I spoke with a couple of my Spanish-speaking friends on Skype. We ran out the door in a rush at 3pm in order to get into London by four to meet Dave Dean for too many drinks by the Thames. After that we met up with Kyle, a friend from school who we realised we hadn’t seen for three and a half years – but everything was still the same; it’s nice to hang out with old friends. We parted early but the train connections meant we got home late.
22/9 Wednesday It was a day of getting things done, so we stayed in and worked most of the day, with just a short jaunt into Chertsey town to be astonished at postal prices and to buy some groceries. Kev cooked dinner and we hung around with Gail watching TV before heading to bed – it was nice to actually see them before we headed off again!
23/9 Thursday Sleeping in meant the day was shorter, but we still managed to get a bit of work done before leaving at a run to catch the train towards London. All connections went smoothly though, and we didn’t have any problems getting on our Air Asia X flight to Kuala Lumpur – I was a little apprehensive since it’s a budget carrier and we booked our tickets almost a year ago, but my fears were completely unfounded. The flight was as okay as a 13-hour flight can be, except for the whiny Australian kids in the seat behind us — that was pretty unpleasant.
24/9 Friday Because of the time zone change, we spent almost all day in the air, landing at 5pm local time. Getting into town was simple but time-consuming (another 75-minute coach ride), and getting to our hostel was pretty easy too – Kuala Lumpur has a really good network of local trains and a monorail.
The hostel wasn’t great though – the “two-bed dorm” we’d booked thinking we’d get a bit of privacy was basically a bunk bed partitioned off from ten others by a flimsy wall. They were obviously trying to make use of a large empty space on the mezzanine, but it would have been better described as a 20-bed dorm with curtains. Only one toilet for everyone, too.
At least the location was excellent, right in the middle of Chinatown. This meant finding a tasty dinner of noodles and satay skewers was really easy.
In the afternoon we explored the Chinatown markets and had plans to go to a museum, but the torrential rain meant we didn’t want to spend too much time outside finding said museum. So we headed to Central Market, where we bought a few souvenirs and had a fish foot spa – that’s right, we put our feet into a pool of hungry fish and they ate off the dead skin. It was awesome. Definitely ticklish, but awesome.
We ended the day with a dinner out and a quick game of Settlers of Catan.
26/9 Sunday I couldn’t get to sleep on Saturday night so Sunday morning was a write-off for me. We packed up and sat in the hostel lounge, Craig frantically working, me chatting and trying to achieve small goals like: text Marisa. Marisa’s our new couchsurfing host, we’re staying with her in the centre of town until we leave on Wednesday.
After we arrived at her house at about 4pm, her friend Liu turned up with Marisa’s other couchsurfer Matieu. They’d brought snacks – pineapple, dragonfruit, and a weird gelatinous black snack that I don’t think I’ll be trying again any time soon. None of us had had lunch, so we ate in a great Indian restaurant near Marisa’s apartment, then started the mission to the drum circle.
Marisa had read about the Tugu Drum Circle in Lonely Planet – it’s a group of people who meet every Sunday to play percussion. The regular members had African drums, and Paul the facilitator had brought a bag of small musical instruments for others to play. We watched (and danced) for awhile, and then got a bit more involved – Paul gave Marisa and me a really good basic lesson on drumming. Almost everyone else had left by this point, and Paul invited us to eat with him, Wong, and Balan – the only members still around. So they drove us to a nice restaurant where we were joined by Susan (Balan’s wife), and sat around talking and eating for an hour or so.
Our first full week in Asia has been excellent, full of tasty food and good company – although we were uncharacteristically affected by time zone issues.
27/9 Monday Despite setting an alarm, we didn’t manage to get up until very very late, so we skipped breakfast and headed straight to a resaurant across the road to get a bit of work done. We spent the evening chatting and helping Matieu cook a tasty vegetarian dinner, then turned in.
28/9 Tuesday It took us a while to get there, but it was worth the effort to find the Museum of Islamic Art. Actually, it’s not too hard to find, but we definitely weren’t on form. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the exhibits of Korans, clothes, pottery and calligraphy, then headed back to meet Marisa, Matieu and Liu for dinner out. It wasn’t the best choice of restaurant, but we had a great dessert back home and all of us except Liu went for a cheeky midnight swim.
29/9 Wednesday After another sleep in, we packed up and started the trek to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time and had a short game of Catan while we waited for the plane, which was not only rescheduled by half an hour, but also late. On arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (otherwise known as Saigon), we decided not to mess around with buses and hopped in a taxi to the house of our Couchsurfing hosts Terrina and Matt. They thought we were coming the next day, but let us in anyway! After a tasty sushi dinner we hopped into the largest bed we’ve ever slept in, and were out like lights. (Jet lag = over.)
30/9 Thursday In the morning Terrina took us into Ho Chi Minh City central and introduced us to her favourite tour guides. We booked a tour for the next day and organised our tickets to Mui Ne as well – organisational glory! Terrina headed home and Craig and I wandered around, seeing the sights of the city, such as the Reunification Palace and the church of Notre Dame. Plus, we actually bought Craig a new backpack! It’s a little small but has almost all the features he wanted, so we’ll have to see how that goes. Terrina cooked a great lasange for dinner and we relaxed in front of the TV for the rest of the evening.
1/10 Friday We had to make an early start to meet our tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, but it was worth the effort. It’s a network of tunnels that stretches for kilometres and was built as part of the fight against the Americans during the Vietnam war. We got to go through some of the tunnels that had been enlarged to allow for the larger Western body, and it was still a tight squeeze – I can’t imagine going through one of the original ones with a diameter of 60cm.
On the way back to town, we were dropped off at the War Remnants Museum, which was a truly sobering experience. Outside there’s a collection of vehicles and a mockup of a prison, and upstairs there’s a “then and now” photo essay and a display of how the rest of the world supported Vietnam through posters and the like.
The most striking section was downstairs, in the main hall of the museum – a display of photos and artefacts from during and after the war. All the iconic photos are there, as well as others, just as moving. I found the section about the effects of Agent Orange the most disturbing – there’s lots of photos of people who have been disfigured by the chemical, and a malformed foetus as well.
We went for a bit of a walk before lunch to process all of this, then ate at Pho 24, which we’d had recommended. Then we did a bit of shopping and headed home to prepare dinner – I didn’t think the kids would like pebre, but they devoured it.
2/10 Saturday After a relaxing morning, we joined Terrina and Matt at a bar in the city for a cultural experience – drinking beer and watching the footy. Sadly, the footy in question was AFL but there was an Aussie there so that kind of made it all right. Darts was also involved.
Afterwards, Craig and I went to the local beauty parlour for a massage. It was intense – Craig even got walked on. My back is arguably more sore afterwards but I’m glad for it. In the evening, we ate hamburgers and watched the Amazing Race.
3/10 Sunday A day of supreme laziness and travel. We got up late, stuffed around for a bit, then headed into town for lunch and to catch out bus to Mui Ne, where we plan to spent the next three weeks (come and visit!). The trip took about five and a half hours, 45 minutes of which was taken up with driving around HCMC picking up passengers. It rained all the way but was otherwise uneventful; we checked in to our hotel, had dinner (with local wine!) and plan to go to sleep early.
At the end of our first week in Mui Ne, we’re feeling relaxed and settled in. Although it looks like windsurfing is off the cards, and the fates have it against our technology, we’ve got a fair bit of work done – and we’re enjoying the challenge of finding the best restaurant in town.
4/10 Monday Since we plan to spend three weeks here in Mui Ne, we wanted to find a nice place to stay, with all the essentials – a comfortable bed, wifi, and a way to make coffee. We booked in for another night at Mellow, whose facilities are a little basic, and set off for a walk to find our new home.
We actually only looked at three places, since the first guesthouse we stopped in had a really nice room available for a great price. There’s a private bathroom, wifi, air conditioning and a fridge, and it’s set a bit off the road so it’s not too loud. The owner provided us with a kettle and we bought a dinky filter machine for about NZ$1 to go with the coffee we’d brought from Ho Chi Minh City.
We also explored the town and beach a little, finding that the price of lessons somewhat destroy our plans to go windsurfing. It rained heavily in the evening, so we had dinner at Mellow and watched a couple of episodes of Glee.
5/10 Tuesday We checked out late and transferred immediately to our new home down the road. I pottered around unpacking then we went out for lunch – I’m trying the seafood noodles in all the local establishments to find the best ones. It’s a close competition! We also bought some essential supplies – namely soft drinks and water to stack the fridge with.
On the advice of Travelfish, we ate dinner at Lam Ton, about a five-minute walk from our place. It’s set to become our local since the food is tasty and cheap, it has beach views, and it’s close to the shop where I buy breakfast.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about breakfast – coffee’s sorted so Craig’s happy, but I have to eat. I don’t want to eat out because we’re doing that for lunch and dinner, and cereal is really expensive. But as we we walking home from Lam Ton we stopped at a shop that sells a type of coconut cake, and I bought two to try them out. Looks like I’m on to a winner! They’re tasty, filling, and cheap and we even have a fridge to keep them in.
6/10 Wednesday The first day of the new order went well. I got up early to speak with Julian on Skype, then woke up Craig to give him his computer back. He spent the rest of the day working on the laptop while I worked on my iPod. I’m planning to study Spanish half the time and work for the rest, and I’m really enjoying finding out what my iPod can do – it’s great for shooting and editing videos. It would be nice to have my laptop back, but we don’t have the technology – namely, screwdrivers. I did find the CDs Craig needs on an adventure that included speaking German, but apparently CDs just aren’t enough.7/10 Thursday Another work day. I couldn’t find anyone to speak with in the morning, so I played around with a couple of language-learning programs and made some new friends. Otherwise, we both did a lot of writing, Craig more than me. We went for a walk in the afternoon to check out a minigolf course, but we didn’t like the look of it and it was too dark to play anyway – it gets dark before 6pm here! Crazy.
8/10 Friday We’d planned to play minigolf in the afternoon (at a different course) but it started pelting down so it wouldn’t have been fun anyway. Ange was online so we talked to her for an hour or so then headed out for dinner and finished the day with Glee. Actually, the truth is that we’ve watched Glee every night this week and are going to run out of episodes very soon – and since there are 22 episodes, we have watched a fair bit!
9/10 Saturday I’ve been getting up early to use Craig’s laptop, which is working well for me – I like getting up at the same time every day but need to have a reason to do it. I spoke to Moroni for a while then gave Craig his laptop and coffee, and we worked until lunch. We finally managed to play minigolf at a course really near home; it’s a good course but really overpriced and completely empty of customers as a result. We had a great dinner at our other local (which is about 10 meters away from our place) then relaxed with Glee.
10/10 Sunday The idea was to have breakfast at our local, but Craig’s body wasn’t quite ready to ingest food so I was the only one eating. At least it was tasty – I tried the banana pancakes whose name is a synonym for travel in this area, and they were good. When we got home, Craig worked and I talked with one of my new friends for a while, which was nice. We went for a walk along the beach and stopped for cocktails at a leafy restaurant, and got stranded when it started raining.
It certainly hasn’t been an eventful week, unless you call rain an event – in which case, wow it’s been busy! We’ve basically just been working and enjoying the food in Mui Ne.
11/10 Monday The week started as it meant to continue, with lots and lots of rain. We went for a short walk on the beach after lunch, and ate dinner close to home in case the rain started again. I left Craig at the restaurant and went to buy my breakfast (mmm coconut cakes) but got caught in a sudden downpour on the way back, and got soaked despite having an umbrella. We were stuck in the restaurant by the torrential rain, which caused flooding in the streets – when we could finally leave, Craig had to give me a piggy back through a particularly deep puddle. And that was after the drain pipe above our table burst and showered me with its contents – definitely an adventure of an evening.
12/10 Tuesday Ah, a sunny day! We caught a taxi down the road to the fishing village to find a screwdriver so that Craig could fix my laptop. First, we stopped into the most insalubrious market we’ve seen on our trip so far, then decided to try our luck further down the road. We found two screwdrivers and picked up a few other things as well, in between being greeted wildly by cute schoolchildren.
Sadly, Craig couldn’t open all the screws on the laptop (since it’s pretty beaten out of shape) and I’m still without a computer – it’s lying in pieces on a shelf at the moment. At least we found a great place for lunch burgers!
13/10 Wednesday A great day for study for me, I spoke to quite a few people in Spanish (okay, two people), and one mentioned he was watching the Chilean mine rescue. We switched on the TV in time to see the second miner emerge, then left the TV on for the rest of the day – mostly on mute though, the commentary got annoying very quickly. In the evening we met up with Greg from startbackpacking.com and his partner Alex, and had a nice meal with them followed by cheap mojitos. Excellent!
14/10 Thursday Today was a pretty standard work day, accentuated by rain. We’d hoped to meet Greg and Alex for dinner again, but we didn’t fancy the wet walk down the road.
15/10 Friday Another work day. I felt pretty blah in the afternoon, which wasn’t helped by an attempted nap. At least I won Catan, which cheered me up a bit. We tried to meet Greg and Alex again, but managed to miss them! Instead we stayed in and watched a couple of episodes of The Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. It was hilarious to watch, mostly because we compared our experience of travel with theirs – we certainly didn’t have secretaries to help us prepare! But some of what they went through was just so familiar.
16/10 Saturday Today started pretty badly for me – I fainted. It was a bit scary waking up on the floor (in the bathroom, very embarrassing) and not knowing why I was there. I think I just tried to wake up too quickly. I’m fine now but had a fuzzy head for the rest of the day, and as a result turned down an opportunity to go to an outdoor concert with Greg and Alex. Instead we watched two more episodes of The Long Way Round.
17/10 Sunday Finally! We met Greg and Alex for brunch then said goodbye as they hopped on their bus to Nha Trang. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up again in Thailand, since we all should be there at the same time. In the afternoon we relaxed and worked a bit, then headed to the beach for a swim – the water was so warm we didn’t want to get out.
Our last week in Mui Ne was definitely characterized by rain. It rained almost every day, heavily on two of them. But on the whole it was a good week – we went on a tour, set up a whole bunch of new pages on ITP, and ate a lot of good food.
18/10 Monday Today was a good work day, we felt like we achieved things. In the afternoon, Craig did an interview while I went swimming in the warm but choppy sea.
19/10 Tuesday We spent the morning inside, working, then headed to one of our favorite cafes to work at a table for a change – it’s much easier to do grammar exercises on a table. Craig had another interview in the evening, so we headed out for a late dinner after that.
20/10 Wednesday The electricity is a bit erratic here and turned off for an hour or so in the morning, very annoyingly since I’d arranged to talk to Julian on Skype. When I went inside after failing to have a coherent conversation with him, I touched the socket that we plug our kettle into and received the second electric shock of my life as a result – poor Craig was woken by a deep sleep by my yell. The day didn’t improve much, dinner was disappointing and it rained in the evening – the power cut in the middle of the storm was impressive though.
21/10 Thursday The power was on when I got up, but turned off an hour later, never to return. Well, not during daylight, anyway. We weren’t prepared for this and the laptop and iPod were both out of battery, so we spent the day reading actual paper books. We ventured out to have a coffee and play pool during a gap in the rain, which of course started again with a vengeance just after our coffee was delivered to our outdoor table.
We played pool until we couldn’t see the balls, then raced home through the rain, across the front yards of a variety of shops and guesthouses – the road was under 40cm of water. We got soaked but it felt like an adventure, and having to shower in the dark added to the feeling. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we ate dinner close to home.
22/10 Friday Another relaxed day, but without the excuse of a powercut.
22/10 Saturday We finally did something touristy today! After a normal morning, we joined a tour that took us to the Fairy Stream, the white sand dunes, the red canyon, and the red sand dunes. Walking up the river to see the falls was awesome, and we got incredibly sandy sliding down the dunes.
In the evening we met up for a drink with Mark and Rupert, who’d been on our tour, and two friends of theirs. We sat on the beach, drank too much beer, and watched the bonfire – it was really nice.
24/10 Sunday After a bit of a sleep-in, we walked up to Joe’s for Sunday breakfast. It was so tasty – omelette, pancakes, fruit, coffee, juice … it had it all. We also managed to buy tickets back to Saigon and went for a walk on the beach, in between periods of productivity.
25/10 Monday We’d chosen the 2pm bus for a reason – so that we’d have time to pack up three weeks of life in Mui Ne. Of course everything took longer than we expected, especially at lunch – they brought me the wrong meal, then didn’t have change – but we managed to walk out of the guest house right on time.
The bus was waiting for us when we arrived at 1.47 and left three minutes later, and we had a smooth run back to Ho Chi Minh City – except for the 30-minute rest break we had after an hour on the road. But we got back in one piece, and had sushi before heading back to Terrina and Matt’s place – it was great to see them again, and to chat about their recent trip to Cambodia.
26/10 Tuesday Well, the food today was great – pho for lunch and delicious tacos courtesy of Terrina for dinner. The rest of the day wasn’t quite so good – we trekked around the city trying to find someone to fix my computer and Craig’s iPod, but to no avail. Then we headed in the wrong direction while trying to get to the bus stop, and ended up walking around in the heat for about an hour longer than we expected to. Fun. Stumbling into the Holland Village was nice, at least.
27/10 Wednesday After yesterday, we decided just to stay at home, with just a quick jaunt to the supermarket (with a stop at an espresso bar) to break the day up. We got a lot of work done and enjoyed hanging out with Terrina and Matt and the kids in the evening.
28/10 Thursday Another travel day. The trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh was nice and smooth, we chatted with a bunch of other travelers and ate lunch with an English couple after a really easy border crossing.
When we arrived in Phnom Penh, we caught a tuktuk to the riverside and had a beer or two while we waited for 7pm to roll around, when we could call our couchsurfing hosts – or we could have if our phone worked! I went on a mission and convinced a hotel receptionist to let me use his phone, and after some interesting negotiating with tuktuk drivers, we made it to Ruta and Tadas’s place. We really enjoyed chatting with them about the problems of the world before turning in.
29/10 Friday We slept in a little then Tadas and I headed to the markets while Ruta and Craig worked. Later we headed out with their flatmate for lunch at their favorite restaurant, which was an adventure in itself – they have one spare bike, not enough for all of us, so Craig took a motorcycle taxi while I braved the congested streets of the city – it was fun and I didn’t die!
Ruta, Craig and I wifi-hunted in the afternoon while Tadas went to an Internet cafe, and we all met up later on to watch some documentaries at the Metahouse (German cultural centre).
30/10 Saturday Another great day. Craig and I slept in a little, then tuktukked into the city where we visited the S21 genocide museum, which was an extremely sobering place. After lunch we visited the audiovisual centre, which houses archives of videos from as far back as 1899 – it was really interesting to see footage as old as that.
The final of the Bledisloe Cup was on in the afternoon, we couldn’t find anywhere to watch it live, but caught the delayed coverage in a pub with about 100 other Kiwis and Aussies. It was an excellent game, even if we lost.
After dinner at the night markets, we headed back for a couple of beers and a chat with Tadas and Ruta before turning in.
31/10 Sunday Our first stop of the day was the bus station, where we bought tickets to Battambang – only 20,000 each, what a steal! We wandered around the Central Market, where we bought Craig a cheap cheap cheap MP3 player to help him survive the bus trip tomorrow, then visited Wat Phnom, on the hill that gives Phnom Penh its name. It was Granny’s for lunch again, then we failed to get Internet access before visiting the Royal Palace in the afternoon. Now, we’re ensconced in the same cafe we found flat whites in yesterday, trying to get some work done before it gets dark.
What a fantastic week! Both Battambang and Siem Reap were good to us, full of touristy adventures.
1/11 Monday Getting up early enough to catch the bus was a bit of a challenge, but we managed. We even had enough extra time in town before the bus left to exchange Craig’s new MP3 player for one that worked, and to buy some tasty snacks for the journey. The trip was uneventful, characterized by long rest breaks in roadside restaurants with squat toilets, and many stops to pick up passengers from the side of the road. One guy, who sat in the aisle on a plastic stool, was carrying a puppy in a plastic bag.
On arriving in Battambang, the bus was thronged by touts and tuktuk drivers, vainly trying to get our custom. Craig noticed that the only other Westerner on the bus was also disembarking, and figured he’d be more organized than us, and asked where he was headed. We ended up sharing his tuktuk to the hotel he’d booked, and all three of us agreed to go on a tuktuk tour the next day.
Craig and I went for a short walk around town then had dinner in our hotel’s rooftop bar before turning in for the night.
2/11 Tuesday We started our tour a bit later than I would have liked, because our tuktuk driver, Coco, is still studying at university, and had a class in the morning. The sleep-in was nice though! We started with a ride on the bamboo train, a fantastic method of transport that the locals use for transporting goods. It’s a single-line track, so trains going in both directions have to navigate around each other – the drivers just take one of the trains apart and reassemble it. Since one train consists of two wheel axles and a bamboo platform, this isn’t too difficult!
We also went to Cambodia’s first and only winery, a Hindu temple at the top of a hill, and a cave that was used for the disposal of bodies during the Khmer Rouge regime. Quite a varied day, really! Coco was an excellent guide and our new acquaintance David was good company – a definite winner of a day.
3/11 Wednesday We had a very early start to catch the boat to Siem Reap at 7am (7am! Who thought that was even a time of day!). The trip was awesome, if a little long: about seven hours from start to finish. We had several stops along the way to buy food and drink or to drop passengers off at their floating homes – it was interesting to see other floating villages after visiting the one in Lake Titicaca.
The tuktuk ride into Siem Reap from the port was also longer than I expected (about 30 minutes) but cheap ($1). We found a hotel and got a bit of work done, then headed out for tacos for dinner. On the way home, we met up with Craig’s ex-workmate Tina and her husband Matt, and had a few beers with them while sharing travel stories and planning what to to together the next day.
4/11 Thursday We met Tina and Matt for breakfast at the civilised hour of 10.30, then went to see the Artisans d’Angkor factory. They employ a lot of disabled people, and train them in traditional crafts. It was amazing to learn how long it takes to make some of the things you see for sale! Later we took the free shuttle bus to the silk factory, which was a similarly enlightening experience.
We ate outside at a BBQ stall which had fruits and vegetables on display and reminded me of Cusco’s juice stands, then wandered around the night market. Matt decided to get a shave – and since he has a full beard this was a big decision! The rest of us tried ear candling, which was all right but nothing to write home about. It was a nice end to a fun day, though.
5/11 Friday Temple day! We contracted the driver Tina and Matt had used ($10 for the full day) and headed off to the temples. First he took us to the ticket office to buy our passes, then we went to Angkor Wat. At the gate, we let a guide convince us to hire him for a tour, which was interesting but not fantastic – we went back in after a coffee and enjoyed wandering around by ourselves more than we’d enjoyed the tour – but maybe the coffee had a lot to do with that!
All of the temples we saw today (Angkor Wat, the Angkor Thom complex, Ta Phrom and Ta Keo) were amazing. They were all in different states of preservation, and featured different architectural elements and decorations. I can imagine spending a lot of time exploring them in detail, but for now just a day was enough. We finished the day with an excellent dinner at Khmer Restaurant (one of the few in Siem Reap that’s owned by Khmers, apparently) – fresh spring rolls, fish amok, and chicken curry and steamed rice. And beer of course.
6/11 Saturday We’d been planning to head north to Laos next, but we realised it would be easier to go west to Bangkok and do a circle up through Chiang Mai, across to Laos and back around to Bangkok. And it helps that our friends at Stray have just started running exactly this tour … the tour starts on Tuesday, so we decided to spend a couple of extra days here in Siem Reap and head to Bangkok on Monday. And after yesterday’s busyness we stayed in and tried to get some work done.
7/11 Sunday Another relaxing day. We stayed in bed until quite late, I mostly chatted with South Americans while Craig listened to his ebook. We spent the afternoon working, and finally got around to buying tickets to Bangkok. Onwards to Thailand!
In other news, we were honoured to be the first interviewees in a new podcast, KiwiNation, which features “conversations with inspirational New Zealanders”. Awesome.
The weeks seem to be passing quickly at the moment, and this one was quality – though really really full of travel. We crossed the border between Cambodia and Thailand, had two long train trips, and headed into Laos, which so far is amazing.
8/11 Monday Somehow we managed to lose a day over the weekend, and today was our last chance to get to Bangkok in time for our Stray tour. We’d heard that the trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is fraught with scams, but we had no problems in the opposite direction; just had to take a taxi to a petrol station, then a small bus to the border, where we were accompanied across and piled into a ute, which took us to a restaurant where we finally met the coach which took us to Bangkok. And all for $8 each: not bad.
We wandered around a bit with our friendly bus-mates, trying to find the Stray office, and ran into Chom (the manager of the Bangkok shop) and Holly (a friend of mine from school who works for Stray NZ and is here to train up the team). After sorting out stuff in the office, we booked into the nearest guesthouse we found, then headed out for an indifferent dinner on Khao San Road.
9/11 Tuesday We had to make an early start to get to the Stray office at 6:45 for the start of the tour, but had a long wait at the train station when the train was delayed. We had a 75-minute trip in a jumbo tuktuk, which took us to Sukhothai, where we hired bikes and went to see some awesome Buddhist temples.
10/11 Wednesday We had the luxury of a later start today, since we were catching the same train we’d taken the day before, and it wasn’t scheduled to leave until 1:20. On the way to the station, we stopped to see another incredible temple, then visited the markets to buy far too much tasty food for lunch.
The train journey seemed interminable, though we had a trivia quiz partway through to spice things up a bit. We arrived in the dark and headed out to a rooftop bar for a drink. Along the way, we saw the decorations for the lantern festival which is coming up, and Franziska, a member of our tour, bought each of us a lantern to release. It was awesome.
11/11 Thursday Today was a scheduled free day on the Stray route, so we slept in then had lunch with Dave Dean and Christine, Drew and Cole, who are all in town at the moment. After a failed shopping expedition we had dinner with Team Chiang Mai, a group of expats who just can’t leave.
12/11 Friday One of the things I wanted to do this year was to spend some time with elephants, and 45 minutes out of Chiang Mai is an elephant camp, so we thought we’d take the chance and go for it. The elephants seemed well treated, and I enjoyed the demonstration of elephants painting — some of the paintings were really amazing.
The minibus left at 12ish and took us to Chiang Kong, a town on the Thai-Laos border, with just one stop along the way at Chiang Rai, where we saw an intricate white temple.
Not all of the group was staying together, so Craig and I headed out with Franziska and Simon (who were staying at the same guesthouse as us) for an incredible Thai barbecue. The server put a brazier of hot coals in the centre of our table, then a hat-shaped grill on top of that. We filled the brim with water to cook noodles and veggies, and stuck meat on the crown to barbecue. We could take as much as we wanted from the raw-meat table, and we all ate a bit too much – but it was so good!
13/11 Saturday The four of us piled into a tuktuk at 7:40am to go to the border, which opened at 8 and where we met the others on the tour. We took a small motorboat across the Mekong to the Lao immigration centre, which was a scrum. We all got through after a fair bit of jostling, waiting, and paying $31 for a visa, then met the Stray bus and three more members of the Stray crew.
Our first jaunt in the bus went well, and we arrived in Luang Namtha in mid-afternoon. We changed some money then headed out in the bus to see a waterfall. In the evening, we tried all the delicacies the night market had to offer, including maggots, though I enjoyed the dessert the best. Then, a whole group of us tried to find a place called “Happy Beer” up the road, but failed and had to settle for “just-okay beer” at our guesthouse.
14/11 Sunday Getting up early put me in a bad mood at the start of the day, but things improved as we drove through the misty Lao countryside. We stopped a couple of times, for lunch and a village visit, and arrived in Nong Khiaw at about 3pm. The rooms were basic but in an incredible location – on stilts over the river. Craig and I went for a walk then had a drink in the guesthouse restaurant – and I discovered my new favourite thing in the world: mint-lemon crushed-ice drink. Yum.
Dinner was Indian food, and afterwards we went to the most hilarious disco ever. The small basement room housed three tiny tables, around one of which were seated two older Lao men, who were watching a TV which was playing a DVD of Thai dancers. Later they put on some terrible hiphop music and everyone got up to dance – personally I preferred the Thai dancing!
Two overnight journeys, a boat trip and some family time combined to make this quite a crazy week – and the craziness hasn’t ended yet.
15/11 Monday We left Nong Khiaw in the misty morning and headed down the river in a slow boat to Luang Prabang, stopping at an amazing pair of caves that are full of Buddha statues. We fell in love with Luang Prabang, but didn’t feel like we had enough time there; we enjoyed having a beer or six with Graham and Emi from Stray, then eating out at the night markets with everyone else from the Stray bus. We finished the night with a drink at a nice bar on the waterfront.
16/11 Tuesday The day started painfully early so we could see the orange-robed monks receiving alms from people who lined the streets holding bowls of rice and other food. It was more of a spectacle of bad tourist behaviour than anything else, which was a bit sad. The drive to Vang Vieng was strikingly beautiful, the early-morning mist hung around until 9:30, cloaking the craggy mountains in a soft white.
We hated Vang Vieng on arrival, it’s the worst of all tourist towns and has made it to our “places we despise” list (which only had two other places on it before, so it’s quite an honour).
We decided to forgo drunken tubing and instead relaxed in the hotel before finding a restaurant that wasn’t playing American sitcoms at full volume, to watch the sunset and drink seriously bad Laotian wine. The wine at dinner was a lot better, and accompanying it with steak was a stroke of genius.
17/11 Wednesday After a lazy morning, we headed off in the bus to Vientiane. After arriving we didn’t do much, just relaxed then had a nice dinner at the waterfront with Seen and Carolin.
18/11 Thursday After waving goodbye to Carolin, Nicole, Jeremy and the Stray bus, Craig and I headed off to explore Vientiane using a walking tour from Travelfish’s guide to Vientiane.
At 3:30 we started the long journey to Bangkok – first a jumbo tuktuk, then a long wait in an immigration line (with compulsory bribe), followed by a short train journey across the border. We finally boarded the night train at about 6pm. The beds were comfortable enough, and I managed to get a bit of sleep, which was a nice change.
19/11 Friday After arriving in Bangkok a little late, we wandered around trying to find a hotel (with eventual success) then met Seen back at the Stray/Grasshopper office and headed out for an excellent cycle tour of the city. It was fantastic exploring hidden temples, navigating narrow alleys, and eating fresh fruit with salt.
20/11 Saturday Another early morning, this time to head to Ayutthaya to explore Thailand‘s second capital by bike and boat, courtesy of Ayutthaya Bike and Travel. The guides were amazing, and so were the ruins, the Buddhas, the temples and the lunch on the boat – all in all a fantastic day.
In the evening we met up with Alan Perlman for a fantastic street food dinner at the river, watching the barges float past and seeing people launch little boats to celebrate the lantern festival. A couple of beers were in order to end the day with.
21/11 Sunday My dad was in town for a press trip, so we met him at his hotel after collecting our bag from the Stray office (thanks Bhorn!). We headed across the river by ferry for lunch, then navigated back in the driving rain. It was so nice to see Dad, we haven’t seen him since we left in February.
We’d planned to buy a camera but decided to wait until cash-flow was a bit more favourable, so I just bought some headphones instead. It’s going to be so great being able to make Skype calls from my iPod without having to borrow Craig’s pair.
The trip to the airport was straightforward: we caught the train for 15 baht and arrived early. Check-in was fast but the line for customs was a punishment for something, I don’t know what I did wrong! And security – well, our tiny scissors and bottle-opener now languish in a plastic collection box, despite having been perfectly acceptable carry-on items for dozens of flights. And there was a secondary security check at the gate which meant we couldn’t take drinks from the airport onto the plane. All in all, Bangkok Airport reminded me of why I hate airports. Give me a train any day.
At least the flight, when we finally took off, was comfortable, and we shared a tiny bottle of wine to celebrate returning to the wine-drinking world. Now we just need to work out how to finance the habit!
It finally feels like summer! It was hot in Asia, sure, but in my mind it’s not summer unless you’ve got long days and sunny evenings to go with the high temperatures.
We’re enjoying being back in Australia, though there is a bit of a feeling of the big trip being over, since Australia’s basically part of New Zealand anyway. And we’re constantly surprised at how expensive everything is – the same price as it always was but comparing to Asian prices is a bit depressing! Time to look for a teaching job, I think.
22/11 Monday The plane touched down mid-morning Melbourne time and we spent a fair bit of time sorting ourselves out with sim card, tickets into the city and coffee (in the wrong order, in retrospect starting with the coffee would have smoothed the process along nicely).
We left our bags at our couchsurfing house and headed back to explore the city again. It’s always good to revisit old friends like Koko Black and ACMI, where there was an excellent free exhibition about the development of film and where I played Lemmings for half an hour.
Back home, Sarah cooked us a tasty risotto and plied us with biodynamic wine, and we spent the evening talking with her and Juan about travel.
23/11 Tuesday Wifi is not as easy to come across as we have become accustomed to, and we wandered around Brunswick for almost an hour before giving up and having a coffee in a nice French café, which, it eventually transpired, had wifi after all. Dave Dean met us there and took us to one of his favourite cafés in Fitzroy, where we had a tasty brunch (yummm Eggs Benedict). After a wander and a beer, Craig and I left to make our way into the city to meet my aunt and uncle. It was great to catch up with them.
We walked home from the city and an evening barbecue, complete with pebre, causa rellena and vegetarian sausages, rounded off the day nicely.
24/11 Wednesday We’d planned to make some video of the city centre, but it didn’t really work out. We went back to Brunswick’s café-with-wifi and got a bit of work done before deciding a change of scene was in order. We thought the wifi situation would be better in the city centre, but we wandered around for about an hour with no luck. Luckily Federation Square is home to a free network, so Craig worked while I played Lemmings at ACMI, after which we met up for a beer with Indie Travel Podcast listeners Warrick and Robin, as well as Colm Hanratty from Hostelworld. It seemed to take ages to get home and of course it started raining, but at least we got kebabs!
25/11 Thursday After getting stuck in rush-hour traffic we made it to Fed Square, where we tried in vain to work out if we needed to check in online to our flight to Adelaide with Tiger. Our booking confirmation gave no clue and the ticket breakdown didn’t specify what extra services we’d paid for, just how much said services cost.
Finally I noticed a “WC” in my ticket code and guessed that that might mean I needed to check in online (unless it meant I had toilet privileges) but when I tried to do it, I found it was too late – web check in needs to be done more than four hours before the flight leaves. So I got to pay $25 at the airport for two minutes of staff time – or less since Craig checked in at the same time. Fair price? I think not.
At least the service on board was above par -as we got on the plane the flight attendant said “you must be Anna’s sister!” and the pilot came out for a chat. My brother-in-law Mat works for Tiger and had texted the crew. It was hilarious, and very nice.
Anna and Mat met us at the airport and we finally got to meet my brand-new nephew Henry. He’s tiny, being only six weeks old, but is really aware of what’s going on around him. You can see that he’s going to be smart, but given his parentage maybe that goes without saying.
Anna cooked an amazing dinner and we ate on the balcony overlooking the ocean. Then she took us on an orientation tour of Henley Beach, pointing out the important features: jetty, library, ice-cream shop.
26/11 Friday It was nice to finally have a sleep in, and we spent the day lazing around and working, apart from a trip to the post office and another to the supermarket.
27/11 Saturday What a fantastic day! We headed out mid-morning and stopped twice on the way to the airfield – once to visit some friends of Anna and Mat, and once to pick up coffee and pies.
Anna and Mat’s Auster three-seater plane lives at an airfield about 40 minutes’ drive south of Adelaide. When we arrived, Mat prepared the plane for a fly then took Craig and me up for half an hour or so. It was awesome, the views were fantastic and the plane is so cool, it was built in the 50’s but has been really well looked after. Mat even let me steer it for a while, which was fun, I’ve never done that before.
Back on Earth, we decided to stop and visit Gemma, another of Anna and Mat’s friends, who we’d met at their wedding. The brief visit turned into a long one and we stayed for Thai food from a local takeaway, and eventually got home around 10:30.
29/11 Sunday Anna, Mat and Henry headed away in the morning, so we dropped them at the airport mid-morning. Craig had got up super-early to watch the All Blacks game so had to have a nap in the afternoon, but otherwise we both pottered around working and relaxing and watching the waves crash onto the beach and our clothes blow off the washing line.
The plan for these three weeks in Adelaide is to get a lot of work done and to enjoy the sun. We’re doing pretty well on the work front – we’re really enjoying the new community aspect of the site and Craig’s powering on with creating country pages – but the weather wasn’t conducive to spending a lot of time outside. We did finally get out on the water on Saturday, which was awesome.
29/11 Monday The week started cloudy and cool, so we stayed in and worked for most of the day. Well, Craig worked and I practiced my Spanish with some agreeable Latin Americans via Skype.
30/11 Tuesday After a morning of work and Spanish, we headed down the road to meet Michelle, an ITP listener, and her two kids. They were staying at a holiday park not far from us; we had a nice lunch of fish and chips, and chatted about travel for a couple of hours. Afterwards we picked up some groceries and I joined the local library, which always makes me happy.
1/12 Wednesday After another work morning, we headed out into late-afternoon traffic to visit another branch of the library that I’d joined on Tuesday, since the Spanish section is located there. Sadly, they have a grand total of only 12 books in Spanish, as opposed to the hundreds in Vietnamese and Ukrainian, among other languages. At least it’s better than nothing!
2/12 Thursday Another day of work, Spanish, and watching the sea from the balcony. It’s a good life.
3/12 Friday A work day. We went for a walk in the afternoon, but otherwise we just saw a lot of our computer screens.
4/12 Saturday The weather today was the best we’ve had, so after a work morning (and a visit from Anna’s friend Nev) we pulled out the kayaks and went for a bit of a paddle. The beach was packed and everyone was in a good mood – it was fantastic. In the evening we wandered down to the bottle shop to pick up a bottle of white wine, and had fish and chips for dinner.
5/12 Sunday Sunday started with a nice long lazy lie-in, during which Craig brought me breakfast in bed (and thus proved himself to be the best husband ever). During the day, I watched a bit of Chile’s Telethon while Craig watched the cricket and we recorded two podcasts – the Indie Travel one and a new one about audio books we’re starting up. In the evening we headed over to Michelle’s place for dinner, which was lovely, except for the part where the car wouldn’t start for the return journey. Michelle lent us her car to get home in and we’re looking forward to contacting mechanics tomorrow.
The car has occupied our thoughts this week – from not working, to being at the mechanic’s, to being kind enough to take us up to the Barossa. Cheers, car.
6/12 Monday I got in touch with my sister to see if there was anything magic we could do to get the car going again, but when we made it back to Michelle’s the tricks didn’t work. So we called the mechanic, and caught a lift back to Henley Beach with the towie. The rest of the day was quite lethargic – but at least we’d got to see Michelle in the morning, she was awesome with helping us out about the car.
7/12 Tuesday The car was still sick, so it was an inside day for us. It would have been anyway, because in mid-afternoon a spectacular storm arrived, which continued long into the night – complete with driving rain, wind, thunder and the best lightning ever. Apart from watching that and working, we finally got around to going to the op shop across the road, whose stock was less than inspiring. Sadness.
8/12 Wednesday After a worky day, the mechanic called to say that the car was ready to go home, so we walked over to pick it up. On the way home we did a supermarket run, and had the brilliant idea to buy avocados for guacamole – so we spent the early evening on the deck watching the waves crash in and eating guacamole. Awesome.
9/12 Thursday We wanted to get a lot of work done today to keep the weekend clear, so we spent a fair bit of time in front of our computer screens; writing shownotes, editing articles and recording the podcast. The wind was fierce but it died down enough for us to have a second batch of guacamole outside.
10/12 Friday The plan was to have an early start to head off the Barossa, but it didn’t quite happen. We even managed to get take a couple of wrong turns along the way, but eventually we made it to Jess and Nev’s house. They’re mates of my sister who kindly invited us to visit, and we had a fantastic time. Nev, Craig and I headed out to do a bit of wine tasting in the afternoon; we only had time to visit Penfolds and Saltram, but they looked after us incredibly well in both wineries – we even got to try the Penfolds Grange, which is almost the Holy Grail of Australian wine. I can tell you, it was very good. Very good.
In the evening Nev and Jess put on an awesome barbecue, and we got to meet their friends and family. Everyone thought I looked like my sister and Nev kept calling me Anna, it was hilarious. (For the record though, we don’t look anything alike. Obviously.)
11/12 Saturday The Barossa Farmers Markets are a Saturday-morning tradition for Jess and Nev, and we all even got up early enough to go! We breakfasted on bacon and egg rolls piled with condiments then explored the rest of the stalls – and oh, there were some tasty things on offer.
We all visited two more wineries, including Maggie Beer’s farm shop where Nev and Jess are going to have their wedding reception. It’s a lovely venue; the peacocks seem to like it, anyway!
After a quick stop for bread and dukkah and to watch an episode of Review (hilarious) Craig and I took off to the Clare Valley to explore the wineries up there. It was late in the day but we managed to get to three quite different wineries: Knappstein, O’Leary Walker, and Eyre Creek. The Clare Valley has a Riesling focus, so of course we bought a bottle or two of that, as well as a very nice Grenache from Eyre Creek.
12/12 Sunday Ah, a perfect Sunday. We both stayed in bed until quite late, though Craig eventually got up to obtain coffee and make me breakfast in bed (I’m so lucky!). It was one of those days where we both worked but not too hard, and we finished it off with Riesling and dukkah on the deck.
Adelaide is supposed to be a fantastic place to spend summer, but it has once again failed to turn on its charm for us. Another week of insipid weather meant we spent a lot of time inside, but at least we had good company!
After a day of work, Dave Dean arrived from Melbourne to visit us for a few days. He was suitably impressed by the house and the view; we decided to enjoy it immediately with beers, guacamole and pebre on the deck.
We all headed into town after lunch (pies!) where we met Dave from South Australia Tourism for coffee and a chat. Afterwards we headed to the Adelaide Markets and Chinatown for a snack, then to Rundle Mall – where we finally bought my new computer! It’s so beautiful and tiny and wonderful. Craig’s now jealous because my toys are newer and prettier than his ones.
Not too much to report today – we all sat inside and worked. Well, the guys worked and I chatted with South Americans – that counts as work, right? Actually, the evening was productive for all of us, there must have been something in the air.
December 16 is my dad’s birthday (happy birthday, Dad!) so I called him up for a chat, during which he reminded me that it was my half-birthday and sang me the half-birthday song. Dave and Craig were surprisingly reluctant to do the same, but my Chilean friend Luis (on prompting) sang me Happy Birthday in Spanish when we were talking on Skype later on.
Dave had brought his friend Beck with him from Melbourne, and she was staying with her brother in Glenelg. We decided that 8km wasn’t too far for a walk and set off to meet her in the early afternoon. We found a pub and had a few drinks then Beck’s brother joined us for Mexican for dinner. It was a fantastic afternoon and evening – Beck sang me a half-birthday song of her own devising and I think we covered all of the taboo subjects we could think of during our conversation at the bar. Plus I roped everyone into an impromptu Spanish lesson – priceless.
We felt like terrible hosts, but once again Dave, Craig and I sat around inside all day, working. In our defence, the weather was pretty terrible and we were quite productive. In the evening we watched Man on Wire, a documentary about the French guy who strung a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York, and spent 45 minutes walking across it before being arrested.
Dave headed off Melbourne-wards quite early, we got up to see him off but never quite woke up. Instead, we had a traditional lazy Saturday, lounging on the couch and watching the cricket … a genuine cultural activity!
Anna, Mat and Henry flew in in the late morning; we picked them up, dropped their bags at home, and went straight out for a Christmas lunch with the Women Pilots’ Association of South Australia and the Northern Territory, of which Anna’s the president. The food was amazing and so was the company – everyone we talked to is an inspiration.
Anna, Mat and Henry retired for a long nap after getting up at 2:30am Adelaide time to catch their flight; while Craig and I relaxed and listened to the wind blow.
What an amazing week. The weather cleared up, we set off on adventures, and Christmas was relaxed and pleasant. What more can you ask for?
20/12 Monday The week started with a classic work day. Craig spent a lot of time on the phone, organising what we were going to do for the rest of the week, and we had pies for lunch.
21/12 Tuesday After a bit of a sleep in, we launched into another work day… except that Anna was going to Glenelg to do a bit of shopping so I went with her. In the afternoon Craig and I met Michelle for a coffee and a windy walk along the coast path, and later Anna cooked an amazing dinner.22/12 Wednesday We were picked up in mid-morning by Haydyn from Bookabee Tours, and headed into the city for the Adelaide Aboriginal Cultural Tour. We started in the Botanical Gardens, stopped for lunch in Rundle Street, and also visited the museum and Tandanya cultural centre. Haydyn was an excellent guide and we learned an incredible amount about all aspects of aboriginal culture, especially about bush food. I found the tour really meaningful. Plus, since it was just us and Haydyn we had a bit of flexibility in the schedule, and stopped off to finally buy a new camera. Craig is stoked, he’s rediscovering a love for photography and has taken some amazing shots.
23/12 Thursday We had to start early to get out to Port Adelaide for our kayaking adventure with Adventure Kayaking SA, but it was worth it. We saw dolphins within five minutes of hitting the water, and they played around us for a good twenty minutes. We also paddled up a stream bordered by mangroves and saw the ships’ graveyard; kayaking back against the tide was a mission but made for a satisfying end to the tour.
In the afternoon I picked up a few things from the supermarket and we ate all our South American favourites for dinner. It was easily the best day weather-wise we’ve had since we arrived, perfect for kayaking and sitting out on the balcony to watch the sunset.
24/12 Friday Christmas Eve! It was another fantastic day, sunny and hot, and we headed up Mt Lofty with Ian from Escapegoat Tours to experience their Mt Lofty Descent tour. I really got the full experience, falling off my bike five minutes into the descent (how embarrassing!). Luckily after that the track smoothed out a lot and the rest of the trip was really fun. We stopped off halfway at Cleland Wildlife Park to see the koalas and feed the kangaroos and emus, who were very enthusiastic about the idea.
We arrived back in Adelaide at lunchtime, exhausted but satisfied. Escapegoat is the only operator allowed to take tours down Mt Lofty, so it was a unique experience.
In the evening some of Anna and Mat’s friends and their kids came over and we had fish and chips on the lawn, overlooking the beach. It was relaxed and pleasant, the kids provided free entertainment and the weather was perfect.
25/12 Saturday Christmas started slowly since Mat had to work in the morning. Anna, Craig, Henry and I went out on the jetty for breakfast (ham and cheese croissants) and spoke to our families on the phone. When Mat came back we piled into the car and drove to the Adelaide Hills to spend the afternoon at Phil and Gemma’s house. After ransacking their leftovers, Anna, Mat, Phil and Gemma hopped into the spa while Craig and I played handball with Phil’s kids Charlotte and Patrick. It was great, a classic outdoor-Christmas kind of afternoon.
We left in the late evening and drove to a nearby town to see the Christmas lights, arriving home at around 10:30 – when we finally got to open presents! Henry seemed pretty happy with his.
26/12 Sunday Five o’clock is not a time I like to see in the morning, but since we were being picked up at six to head to Kangaroo Island, it had to be done. Anna dropped us down the road, where we met Tony from Surf & Sun, our guide for the next two days. It took a little while to drive around central Adelaide to collect the other members of our tour, and the drive to the ferry took about 90 minutes.
The tour itself was awesome, we drove to a couple of main sights such as Prospect Hill and Pennington Bay, then went kayaking before lunch, which Tony cooked for us. We saw the Remarkable Rocks and visited Admirals Arch to see the New Zealand fur seals, and stopped off at a wildlife reserve to check out the kangaroos, koalas and wallabies before heading to our accommodation in a converted woodshed.
Craig and I got a little bit of work done before eating dinner around the campfire outside. We toasted marshmallows and had a go on the bongo drum and didgeridoo before turning in – we slept inside but about half of the tour slept outside in swags, they looked awesome scattered around the fire.
It was a full day, well planned and interesting. Plus it was nice to meet some of the people on the tour – I particularly enjoyed meeting Sarah from Spain because we spoke Spanish together.
I’ll put up photos of the tour next week, in the meantime, there are more photos from this week in the South Australia photo gallery.
Another week of sun and adventure, plus a new year to celebrate! It’s been awesome.
27/12 Monday The week started well, with our second day on the Surf & Sun tour. We went sandboarding, visited the Remarkable Rocks, saw the Australian sea lions, ate kangaroo for lunch after an excellent bird show, and spent some time at the beach – complete with beach cricket. We left the tour after watching the pelican show, then headed to our hostel for the night. The hostel was mostly empty but we managed to convince Lee, who was sharing our room with us, to come to see the penguins at the KI Penguin Centre with us. It was interesting to see the baby penguins, the parents coming home, and the moulting penguins all in one tour.28/12 Tuesday We were super unimpressed with our hostel, so we spent a bit of time in the morning trying to find somewhere else to stay, organising transport for our evening activity, and rearranging our schedule. In the evening we headed to Vivonne Bay to go quad biking with KI Outdoor Action – and it was awesome. It was dusk so there were hundreds of kangaroos about, and we saw two mother koalas with their babies. I was on filming duties so I rode shotgun with the guide (which was great anyway!), but Craig had a fantastic time hooning up hills and around sand dunes.
29/12 Wednesday It was an early start, but well worth it. Andrew from KI Marine Adventures picked us up and took us to Emu Bay jetty, where we hopped on a boat to find some dolphins to swim with. Andrew found some pretty quickly, but we had to wait awhile for the rest of the pod to arrive; when they did, it was amazing. At one point about 30 dolphins swam underneath me, only about two or three metres away. We had lunch in Kingscote after cleaning up back at the hostel (the owner turned off the bathroom light while I was in the shower; we remain very very unimpressed with his establishment), then caught the ferry back to the mainland. My sister Anna very kindly picked us up from the terminal and we had a pleasant drive back to Henley Beach.30/12 Thursday After several days without internet, we had to settle down to a bit of work. I spoke to my friend Julian in the morning, went shopping with Anna in the afternoon and played with Henry in the evening. A nice, balanced day.
31/12 Friday The last day of the year started with a fair bit of work, but we stopped in the afternoon to head to a BBQ at West Beach with some of (my brother-in-law) Mat’s workmates. Anna cooked an amazing dinner of enormous turkey legs, which we ate on the balcony, where Craig and I remained to see in the New Year. A quiet one, but shared with the most important person!
1/1/11 Saturday We didn’t stay up late the night before, but the first day of the year was marked by a serious sleep in. Craig brought me breakfast in bed, proving that he is the best husband in the world, but I eventually had to get up and do some work after all. Craig and I looked after Henry in the evening while Anna and Mat went out; I had fun playing Henry all sorts of terrible Spanish music – he likes Tito.
2/1 Sunday Anna dropped us in town early for our Barossa wine tasting tour with Groovy Grape Getaways. We visited four wineries, two of which I enjoyed and two I didn’t – Jacob’s Creek was a predictable disappointment. The guide was great, he cooked us a tasty lunch, and visiting the Whispering Wall was a fun added stop. I still prefer to do wine tasting in car-loads instead of bus-loads, but I can imagine that this tour would be perfect for someone travelling solo who wants an introduction to wine production and wine tasting. And all the people on the tour with us were awesome.
In the evening Anna and Mat took us out for Greek food for dinner, which was tasty though the service was a comedy of errors. (“What’s the difference between these two wines?” “Well, they’re just different wines.”) We finished the evening with ice-cream on the jetty and Henry’s first-ever spa – we went in too, to keep him company.
It’s sad that this is the end of our time in Adelaide, though we’re looking forward to the next adventure: the Northern Territory, a stop in Melbourne, then home to New Zealand.