Monday, 29 April 2013

The Dr Who Experience

I’ve always fancied visiting Wales and since a good friend of mine was currently living there it seemed a shame no to take advantage. Of course I would decide to visit her as the college term was coming to an end with many assignment and exams looming but since I would only be in the UK for a limited time (organised around a certain persons wedding) there weren't too many options for when I could visit. It was great to see her and she did give me a range of options for exploring Swansea and the surrounding area as well as offering the use of her bike. I did walk in to the centre most days and visit a fabulous little cafe for their delicious hot chocolate and cakes but mostly I watched Dr Who. I love Dr Who and only started watching it when it returned to our screen with the 9th Dr so I was delighted to revisit it by watching her box set from the beginning. It made me a little sad as it was Jonathan who insisted we watch them since he remembered the originals. Of course I was hooked right away so we then had to watch them all. Anyway, it’s a great show and I was happy to wrap myself up n a blanket and watch them only occasionally disturbed by the cat meowing at me as if her food bowl wasn't completely full or doing something incredibly cute.

Despite her heavy college load my friend spent her evenings entertaining me. One night we took a trip to a nearby beach which thought really windy was apparently not as windy as it could be and the views were spectacular. I know I've said it before but I really wish I had my SLR as I am sure I could have managed to take a few decent shots, well with that and a tripod to help battle the wind! The bracing walk was followed by a pub meal in a great little pub that had a surprisingly extensive specials board and made a properly decent burger and chips which I did douse in vinegar and made me feel quite at home.

On the Saturday we had a fairly early start and took the train to Cardiff for yet another attempt at finding a dress but first...... First we went to the Bay area and the Dr Who Experience. It was awesome and fabulous and so very geektastic. The walk through at the start was well thought out with references to many of the 11th Doctors adventures and enemies which finished with one of my better 3-D experiences. Then we spent a fair while looking round the exhibits at the old costumes and the evolution of some of the more well known enemies. I think I read every plaque and more than ever I’d like to see the original series. The true highlight was one of the staff taking my two stuffed companions and placing them on the TARDIS for me to take their photo. When she asked if I’d like her to do that I could only answer that she had no idea how much I would like it, I really am such a geek.

Finally I had read and photographed all I could and it was on to the shop where I swear if you could think of it they had a Dr Who version of it. I was tempted in to buying some 50th anniversary commemorative stamps thus probably moving from geek to nerd and my friend bought me a present of a Dr Who note book and pencil which will definitely be coming on my next set of travels with me.

Before tackling the dress shops we took advantage of the beautiful day to have lunch outside Cardiff castle where the food and rest left me almost ready to face the shops once more. Of course by now it was easier as I had a better idea of what would and wouldn't suit me though we still managed to gather quite a collection as we headed for the fitting rooms. Thankfully after only a few dresses we found the one. I didn't even bother trying on the rest as I knew I had found what I had been looking for.  Though technically my friend found it and a great but too expensive pair of shoes. Dress finally conquered we spent the rest of the afternoon window shopping before settling in a pub for a well deserved glass of wine as we discussed our dinner options. We eventually decided on Wagamama’s and were not disappointed though we declined desert in favour of the mini muffins back home. Once home we were greeted by an accusing cat, as if she hadn’t been asleep upstairs all day, she’s a gorgeous cat but she wasn’t fooling anyone.

Before long I was back in my usual place on my friends sofa with wine and cake which felt like a very fitting end to a chilled but too short visit. As much as I would have loved a longer visit I had a gig to go to the next day and she had a house to renovate and a job to work on not to mention a college course to get on with. Makes me tired just thinking about it! It’s a good thing I’m on holiday and I must make to most of it as during my visit I got an e-mail from a boat I’d like to volunteer on saying to keep in touch as they might have space round about the time I’m due back. It’s exciting but if they do as amazing as it would be I am sure I shall earn every dive.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Back in Sunny Scotland

Well the flight home was uneventful which is as much as I ever hope for in a flight. I read watched movies and even managed to sleep for a good 6 hours or so. The sleep meant that on arrival at Glasgow airport I was not the poor exhausted traveller expected but rather an admittedly crumpled but awake and surprisingly articulate traveller eager to talk about her travels. My priority was to get clean. I have been in the same clothes for almost forty hours and sitting in confined spaces for most of that. After the blissful shower and wrapping myself up it was on to the phone to speak to my parents and reassure them that I hadn’t missed either of my planes. Though sentences and word were sometimes difficult I nether the less managed to stay awake until a decent bed time and surprisingly beat the jetlag. I do like my new talent of being able to sleep on planes I feel it will come in very useful from now one.

My first day back in the UK and mostly I felt cold, it was so so very cold! The worst thing was everyone kept telling me it was warming up. It was amazingly good to see everyone but oh did I miss the tropical heat of Northern Queensland. My first four days in the UK were spent dining out mostly. My parents came down with some warmer clothes (thank goodness!) and we caught up over some wine and dinner at their hotel. This was followed by a day of shopping unsuccessfully for a dress but successfully for a new phone and a Pandora bracelet of my own. Now at least for a few tears my family would be able to send me a small present on birthdays and at Christmas that they could be sure I would have room for. Not to mention that the charm s are really cute and some of them quite pretty. Of curse after trying on all those dresses unsuccessfully wine was required, thankfully my dad was soon on hand to oblige before it was back to the hotel to meet with my brother and his fiancée for yet more wine and of course dinner. It was an interesting evening with the talk going between wedding stuff and Australia and diving stuff. Apparently they had gathered from a few of my facebook posts that I was slightly taken with the whole diving malarkey but that didn’t stop me telling them in person how fabulous an experience it is.

Since the dress shopping had been unsuccessful I convinced my brother’s fiancée to meet me for lunch and look at a few possibilities. Lunch was a success, I hadn’t had tapas in years and the food was lovely. Dress shopping was once more a failure as we only found one of the dresses I liked though it was my preferred option and it was given the bride-to-be’s stamp of approval.  Thankfully that was it for the dress for the time being and I was in definite need of an afternoon nap since in the evening both mine and Jonathan’s family were meeting for dinner to belatedly celebrate my 31st birthday. Dinner itself was a quiet but tasty affair followed by a quiet drink in a nearby pub. For me I enjoyed spending time with both my families thought the music in the restaurant made conversation a little difficult. Due to the number of us we had been unable to secure an earlier reservation so by the time we got to the pub it was late and one drink was enough. I wouldn’t have even had bothered but I had said I would go and felt I should though I think if I had been thinking clearly I wouldn’t have bothered as none of the people from my previous life were able to make it anyway.  Thankfully we were all happy to leave quickly and I returned home with my brother and his fiancée to drink their alcohol and watch some daft but highly entertaining films. I even managed to borrow some really comfy warm clothes which made my evening complete.

Finally the time had come to be lazy! I had to pack my bag for my parents to take north but apart from that my only task for the day was to watch as much criminal minds as possible. I did have t get dresses in the evening as my brother had offered to cook for me but the rest of the day was spent occupying my in-laws couch. I seriously cannot remember the last time I ate so well and this night was to be no different. The food and company were both lovely and whilst I was glad to catch up I didn’t stay too long as I was aware that both were working the next day.

Another lazy day followed though this time I did actually get dressed for most of it. More criminal minds and many cups of tea was the order of the day followed by a family meal and an earlyish night as I had an early start the nest day. Yup I was on the move again this time to Swansea in Wales, and I was worried the UK might be boring!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Rare Occasion

One of the hardest things about travelling is that I usually miss everyone birthday. Even when I manage to be in the right country the chances of me being in the right state never mind town are slim. Therefore I was determined to make it to my friends 21st this year. I knew the chances of spending any other birthday with her are slim but this one was possible. Not only was I in the right country I was flying out from her home city of Sydney. Therefore my last weekend in Australia was spent in the suburbs at my friends home with her family.

Getting there turned out to be a mini adventure in itself. The railways were working on the lines so instead of a simple train ride I ended up getting multiple buses in an attempt to arrive at a specific time which I failed to do due to traffic making the buses late and missing a connection. It was a bit awkward with all my bags but thankfully my friend came and rescued me at the final stages of my journey and on seeing her it was all worth it.

On arriving at her home I discovered that there are some advantages to being the eldest as this ensured me my own room and saved me from camping on the floor. I would have been happy on the floor but post party at 1:30am when some people were still going I was thankful to be able to wander off to a bed and get some much needed rest. The party itself was fabulous. My friends parents had organised a hoe-down theme and most people turned up dressed accordingly. I borrowed some boots and spent the night pilfering random peoples hats, well I am a backpacker.  The best part of the night for me was my friends surprised guests who are mutual friends and whom I also had not seen in a really long time. It was so good to catch up with them as well as some of my friends other friend who I had met on previous visits.

The day after the party was my friends actual birthday and when I finally woke up she was opening some presents then it was time for breakfast cooked of course on the barbecue  After the excitement of the last few days I was a little relieved that the day ended up being very chilled and relaxed with both of us even fitting in an afternoon nap.

My second stint in Australia was almost over but I had one last full day and we spent it with a mutual friend in Sydney where we had a pancake brunch followed by some random window shopping including a stop at the Pandora store so my friend could buy a new bracelet especially for all her 21st charms. Our other friend and I were both new to Pandora and had a great time admiring the detail in the animal charms by friend had been given. Too quickly it was time for the birthday girl to head back home. Our other friend and I took a walk to china town for some very tasty mini cream filled doughnut things which I had somehow missed in my many previous visits then it was time for her to head home too leaving me to head to my hostel for my last night in Sydney.

I had booked in to the same hostel I stayed in when I first arrived so though I didn’t recognise anyone I knew my way around. I considered heading out but it was cold and grey and I had the rest of the TV series I had downloaded in Cairns to watch. I stayed up as late as I could to get a head start on my jetlag and set my alarm for as late as possible. The other reason I chose to stay there is their late checkout time I had my bed until 11am but I still needed to get up and shower and repack the little I had unpacked for my overnight stay.

As I waited in the hostel common area I overheard some backpacker discussing farm work and visas so I went over and butted in giving them the advice given to me when I first arrived. It was so strange to think that I had finally got to the stage where I was the one going home. I remember feeling sorry for people like me when I first arrived. Of course I knew that I’d be going back. I had my return ticket booked and multiple plans to keep me in Cairns whilst I waited for a spot on a boat. Even knowing that on my return my stay would be short didn’t make me sad. I have my New Zealand visa and a whole new adventure waiting for me there. I love Australia and I will miss it and be sad when I leave it the next time but there is a whole big world out there and I’ve only touched upon the amazing opportunities it has to offer.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Meeting Friends Old and New

Every time I visit Sydney my perspective is different. When I first arrived it was my first impression of Australia. It was where I settled in to life as a backpacker the start of what turned out to be a year of adventure. Now it is the place I come to see friends and have a rest.

After leaving Cairns life was nonstop. I arrived in Sydney at 11:00 and was straight on to the train to my hostel. Though they were still cleaning the room when I arrived they were happy for me to go straight up and claim a bed and locker. The housekeeper was a lovely Argentinean lady who was happy to chat as she sorted out the other beds. I stayed out of her way and was straight online to find out the location of the Canon repair centre and how to get there so I could collect my camera which I had sent them over two months ago. A quick chat with the hostel staff and I was on my way to the nearest internet cafe to print the form necessary for sending said camera on to Hong Kong where hopefully it will be repair or replaced in time for my brother wedding, though I am not holding my breath. By 17:00 my camera was collected, boxed with form and on its way and it was time for me to get ready to head in to the city to meet up with some old friends.

I had arranged to have dinner with some friends I met when I first arrived. It was great to see them again and hear what they had been up to. One I had seen at New Years but the other I hadn’t seen in a year so there was plenty to talk about. After my busy day and lack of sleep and food I thought I would be tired but a few bottles of wine and I seemed quite happy to keep going. It turned in to those of those night where we talked absolute rubbish and I announced that I loved everyone I met and my friends most of all of course. It was a good night but I was disappointed in myself as I am still trying to limit my alcohol intake. On reflection though 4 hours sleep, no food and starting on the wine was maybe not the best way to go about that. I can;t say I regret it too much though as I did have fun and though I lost my camera it was returned to me the next day, all be it with a few extra photos on it.

The next day I had arranged to have dinner with a friend but she had to cancel as she was unwell which left me with a whole day to myself. This turned out ot be a good thing as my young German friend/co-worker/roommate from Cairns was still in town and it meant we could spend the day together. We visited the art gallery and I showed off my favourite paintings and introduced her to the wonders of scones with clotted cream and jam. Then we had an afternoon nap and met up in time to see the sunset at darling harbour and the clock striking the hour at the Queen Victoria building. She also agreed to save me some embarrassment by offering to collect my camera from the bar I had left it in the previous night. It was great to catch up and talk in the way we used to when we were both up north but we were both tired and she had an early start the next day so we parted early and headed back to our respective hostels. As early as it was I headed straight to the shower then bed as the next day I would be heading out of the city to the suburbs to visit my closest Australian friend not just to catch up but to help her celebrate her 21st birthday. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Return of the Backpacker

On my return from my final dive reality started to reassert itself. My evening was spent packing up the last of my bit and pieces so I could leave the staff flat the next morning. I had not long finished that task when one of my flatmates appeared and invited me for a drink with her friends. The three of them were Jananese and had varying degrees of English and my Japanese is non-existent but between us with various hand gestures and wine we had fun and it was a good end to my time as staff. It also cheered my up as packing up knowing I wasn’t working the next day meant that the reality if being unemployed and done at yet another job was sinking in. What on earth would I do with myself for the next two days??

In the end my last two days passed quickly though they were quiet. When I was ready to leave the flat on the Tuesday the room I was moving to in the hostel was ready so I could move my stuff straight away. I was once more a proper backpacker. Having claimed my bed I headed to the shopping centre for some last minute shopping and a sushi lunch with a friend. Not long after my return my two roommates appeared. One was a lovely American girl who loved to talk. Despite being jetlagged and having an early start she agreed to come to the Green Ant Cantina with me. I was happy to go on my own but it was nice to have company on my last visit to a place that had become a favourite retreat of mine. We lost our other roommate but he appeared as we were finishing and joined us. After a couple of drinks and some excellent food it was back to the hostel to watch the end of the Tuesday night film. Since alcohol always goes straight to my head i knew after the film I should sleep but since out American friend was sleeping by this point I decided to go online on my iPod outside of the room and ended up having a random chat with out of our long term guests who stopped by to say hello.

Though I headed to bed soon after the night wasn’t over. At 1am we had the excitement of the fire alarms going off. Fortunately it wasn’t a fire but an over enthusiastic alarm which was soon silenced. Of course Since i was living in a dorm the next morning the early departure of our American friend to her boat meant the early arrival of housekeeping. My much anticipated long lie bit the dust pretty quickly after that I had forgotten how much background noise there is in hostels with people coming and going all the time. Since it was my last day and I wanted to save money and not have to unpacked I had a very lazy day. I downloaded and started to watch the tv series Once Upon a Time which I had enjoyed watching before I left the UK . I managed to squeeze in one last lunch out but mainly enjoyed the air conditioning and watching TV in between finalising my plans for my time in Sydney.

Finally I was all packed up and ready to go. I put a small bag into storage and then headed out to the cinema fir the last time with my friend/manager. We hadn’t had much luck with films previously but fortunately we got it right this time. We saw the Croods and it didn’t disappoint. Whilst waiting I saw my friends photos from her day out at a local spot and we chatted as usual. It all felt very normal until it was time to say goodbye and it was all, oh enjoy such and such and let me know how this and that goes.  Back in the room I babbled excitedly at my roommate before my other friend dropped bye to say goodbye again. By then it was after 11pm and I had a 5am bus to catch but I was far too excited to sleep. Finally I managed it and I might have slept in except for the obliging smoke alarm which went off at 4:30 and was much louder than my own alarm. I silenced it once more before rushing to get dresses and strip my bed before the bus arrived. I was quick but not quick enough as the driver phoned me to find out where I was, of course then I had to find my phone to call him back to let him know I was on my way. He was a little annoyed but not rude and was very understanding once I explained that I had been slightly delayed by fixing the alarm. After all it’s not like I could walk out of the hostel with it still going off when I knew how to stop it. I was an unplanned and unexpected end to my stay in Cairns and therefore rather fitting.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Cairns Ending as it Started

Though my last day at work had been long and hard it hadn’t been a bad day and in reality it was like many other Sundays before which was why I always had Monday off. Therefore on my first day on my return to being a backpacker I didn’t feel like one. I got up at 6am and did what I had done on many days off before. I put on sunscreen, packed my bag and headed out to wait for my ride to a boat. The reef was calling and I was finally answering. I was finishing my time in Cairns as I had started it, diving!

Any remaining grumpiness from the previous day and early start soon dissipated with the spectacular views as the bus made its way along the beautiful coast road to Port Douglas.  Once there the marina was our first stop and I was soon in my element once more barefoot on a boat heading away from land. The boat was Poseidon and the food and crew were great however I did find it awful crowded which was odd because whilst there were more people than there had been on the sail boats I had been on it was also a much bigger boat with more space per person. I think I’m just a small boat person, which considering my dislike of large groups isn’t actually that surprising. One advantage f a new big boat is it’s speed. Poseidon got us to our first location in record time and we barely had time for the usually safety talk, form filling and dive briefing before we were suiting up and preparing to get in to the water. I did have one scary moment where my temporary card was questioned. My actual card was sent to the UK but my temporary card was only valid for 90 days. When I went out on Poseidon it had been almost three month and I was still within the 90 days however the crew were unsure about accepting it as there is no photo to prove it is me. Thankfully because I had learned in Cairns they were familiar with the company I learnt with and a few questions satisfied them that I was one of the many who came for a visit and ended up staying.

As with previous trips I found myself getting nervous as we approached the first dive site. It had been over a month since I had last been out and I had completed less than 20 dives. I was still a newbie! What if I forgot everything? Of course I didn’t and the crew ere obviously used to this as they reassured me that as soon as I was in the water I’d forget all that and of course they were right. As soon as I was in the waster my worries started to fade as the wonder f the reef took over. There were some nerves as we descended but our guide kept and eye on us and soon my confidence returned as I discovered that I did indeed remember how to dive. Despite the length of time between dives I felt that even my first dive that day was an improvement on my previous ones. The site was beautiful and I was soon snapping away with my underwater camera which I had thankfully remembered to borrow from the hostel the previous night despite the busy evening. Too soon it was time to leave the water and as we emerged I experienced and unfamiliar feeling, I was cold! I secured my tank and removed the first stage as quickly as possible so my air could be refilled then headed straight to the deck for some sunshine. Imagine my delight on discovering there were muffins and biscuits up there too! As many of us enjoyed the sunshine one of the crew appeared with some laminated enlarged photos and started telling us about the reef and the creatures who call it home, sadly before she was done it was time to gear up again. My disappointment at missing her talk was short lived though as the excitement of seeing the reef surfaced again. Getting all the gear on is never fun, the tanks are heavy, the fins are awkward to walk in and half the time I forget to unhook my tank thus anchoring myself to the deck but it’s always worth it the minute I’m in the water.

On our second dive our guide took us through a short tunnel system which was the highlight of this dive for sure. I had never been underwater and not able to see the surface and predictably I loved it, which is good news as I want to learn wreck diving as soon as I can. I managed most of it just fine only hitting my head once and mostly managing to avoid any surfaces. I even managed to stay close to the ocean floor without landing on it! After our second dive it was time for a fabulous buffet lunch before we moved on to our third and final location. I tried to ignore the fact that it would also be my final dive for sometime but it was on my mind as we geared up.

We didn’t venture far from the boat this time and I did feel that we were more crowed on this dive than the others. We were three groups of six divers including our guides and usually we ventured in different directions this time though we didn;t venture too far from the boat. This was obviously their playground fro their tricks. They fed fish scraps so that the fish swam close around and in between us. Then later the photographer coaxed a tame larger fish out of hiding to be stroked by us so they could take our photos. I would have disliked this last dive except for the part in between these events. We were right at the continental shelf in between the first and second fish ‘show’we saws our second reef shark for the day and the biggest ray I have yet to encounter. I also saw and managed top photograph  a couple of smaller rays who were obviously disturbed by our presence as they both got up and replicated themselves slightly before settling back on to the sand.


All together it was a fabulous day out and a great end to my time in Cairns and the tropics. The crew were fabulous and the food was great and the locations were as beautiful as I have come to expect. IN fact this worried me. I mentioned to my manager on my return that visibility hadn’t been so great, it had only been about 10m whereas on other days I had been lucky enough to experience 20m. I think that once I start diving elsewhere I am going to have to seriously re-adjust my definition f ‘good’ visibility. Before I get that far though I hope to dive the reef in the winter when I have heard the visibility can be even better than I have so far experienced, now that will be something worth seeing. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Another Last Week on the Job

Yup that time had come again, it was time to wrap up my life in my current adopted home and head back to Sydney. My final week at work was busy as the turnover of guests picked up in the run up to Easter and by the Easter weekend we were full once again. This was good news for me as it meant I worked my full shifts and made as much money as possible. As usual my efforts at saving hadn’t gone too well and, as usual, I’m not too sure where it all went. I mean I keep track of it in a spreadsheet but as long as I know that I’ll have a roof over my head and can afford to eat I’m content to let the particulars slide. I did buy a plane ticket back to Cairns. I had planned to claim my tax back then fly in to Perth and use the tax back to travel up the coast to Darwin but the lure of a chance to dive more proved too be too much. I still would like to travel the west coast and especially would love to dive the Nigaloo Reef but for now I am happy knowing that I have altered those plans by buying a ticket from Perth to Cairns in the hopes that I can volunteer on a boat on my return in exchange for diving. There is no guarantee and even though the hostel knows I am coming back they can’t guarantee me work. That’s though ok because I have a few back up plans in place. There could be some agency work, or a desperate restaurant needing and experienced waitress and there is always the credit card to tide me over until I get my tax and Super back. However that is all far in the future and who knows what will happen in the next six weeks.

My last week was also the second last week of one of the managers so we both worked extra hard to make sure the hostel looked as good as possible and that all the small jobs that could be done were done. Unusually for me I packed early as I had a Skype date with my mum to arrange what clothes she would bring me from home down to Glasgow so I needed to know what I had and what I didn’t have. Since the weather back home hasn’t been great and I would be going straight to Wales from Glasgow I reckoned I would need some properly warm clothes. Amongst all the preparations for leaving there was one very important thing I had to do. I had to visit the reef one last time but I decided to put it off until I had finished work so my days off during my last week were very chilled and relaxed.

I finished up on the last day of March which conveniently was a Sunday. I would like to say I had a great last day but it turned out to be long and hard. I had an early start with a busy housekeeping shift as I tried to get everything done on time. I had originally planned to visit the reef on the Tuesday but due to boat maintenance I was offered the Monday or Thursday instead. Since I was flying on Thursday it was Monday or nothing. That meant the cleaning I had planned to do on the Monday had to be done after my morning shift. Having cleaned for four more hours I then managed a quick shower and a short sit down and surf of the net before it was time to go to work again. It was Easter so we were kept busy and Sunday so it was movie night. By 9pm I was ready to go home but both kitchens had dished needing to be done. Though the hostel requests that the quest do their own if the guest don’t comply then it is our job to make sure that they are clean and away so the kitchen is in good condition for the other guest. Whilst I fully support the principle of this I can happily say I shall be glad not to wash up anyone else’s dishes for a while! Due to picking up a guest from the bus stop the film was late on and therefore didn’t finish until 10pm. This was where it was a great advantage to live in the hostel. After doing the dishes and tidying the hostel I managed a quick skype home before returning to put the DVD played and projector away. A number of guests did say it was a really good film and they enjoyed it so that made it worth waiting for. Happily I reminded the guest that 10:30pm marked the start of quiet time and requested they honour this to save me coming down to remind them as I had an early start the next day. Sadly they got a bit carried away so it took multiple trips downstairs and it was almost midnight before I got to bed, when of course I couldn’t sleep!! By this point I was really wondering why I hadn’t just cancelled my trip as a lie in was sounding very tempting. I love the reef and diving but I was concerned that I would be too tired to really enjoy it, which is why I had originally booked it for the Tuesday. I was worried about my ears which have not been quite the same since I first went out though they have always been fine when I went out before. Writing this I am aware that I sound like a spoilt brat but at the time I was tired and definitely grumpy. Thankfully as always sleep put that right and the next day all was right in my world once more.