Sleeping with ghosts

Europe ~ Republic of Ireland ~ Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork, Ventry, Galway

I stayed at the best hostel the other night. I stayed in a castle. With ghosts. And secret passageways. AND PUPPIES!!! Foulksrath Castle is just outside of Kilkenny, it was built in 1320 and modified in 1525. Since then its basically remained the same with very few modifications (although I’m happy to note that bathrooms and heating were two modifications I appreciated!). I rocked up on the last bus out to the castle (5.30pm, if you miss it you have to catch a taxi, expensive!), only to find no-one about. A couple of other travelers were hanging about, desperate to check in, but turns out that the caretaker, Jack, had decided to go fishing for the day. We amused ourselves until 8pm, when he rocked up, looked us over and said, “Right then, who’s for fish?”. Jack was happy to tell tales of the history of the castle over a whiskey or two, he told us about the tunnel that lead from the bottom of the dining room all the way down to the river (about a kilometre away) amongst other things. I didn’t hear or see any ghosts, but was more than happy to play with Jack’s dog’s puppies, cute little lab-cross-something-or-others.

Puppies fast asleep on my lap

Puppies fast asleep on my lap

While in Cork I took some time out to visit Blarney Castle. Arrived nice and early, I was one of about 8 people in the castle, which I’m told is unusual – when I got to the top I was the only one there, no lines at all. Kissed the Blarney Stone and had an absolutely horrid photo taken. I mean, really, how can you look half decent when you’re dangling umpteen thousand metres above the ground, over the side of the top of a castle, attempting to kiss a bloody rock whilst upside down? You can’t, although the models in the castle brochures do a pretty good attempt. People have been kissing the Blarney Stone for over 500 years, in the belief it will bestow the gift of eloquence on all those who kiss it. The grounds of Blarney castle are fantastic, boasting caves, fairy glades and even witches kitchens. It’d be awesome to be an 8 year old girl playing in these gardens, I know a certain 20 year old who had a blast.

The Witches Kitchen, in the rock gardens, at Blarney Castle

The Witches Kitchen, in the rock gardens, at Blarney Castle

Ventry was a heap of fun. I keep telling myself so I don’t notice the pain. From the beginning… I decided that the only way to really experience the Irish countryside was to go out to the middle of nowhere and hire a bike. Great in theory, not quite so good in practice. When I arrived at the cute little hostel late at night, it was pouring. My host tried to point out the sights as we drove into town, “that’s where the bay… usually is. And thats where the pub/grocery store/restaurant is”. Hmm. Luckily the next morning the rain had cleared up, so I borrowed one of the bikes and set off. The scenery was beautiful. I saw wild foxes, sheep grazing and heard the ocean crashing against the rocks. And then I came to the first small incline. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but they fail to mention how hard it is if you try to do it after nearly 5 years of no riding. I pushed on, seeing all sorts of sights. I stopped at a Celtic museum, saw an old fort and watched a ferry come into dock in between huge cliffs and dangerous rocks. I nearly gave up, but then decided that I’d find a pub for lunch, have a pint, and all would be good. So I kept going and going and going. Unfortunately, there were no pubs. None. Eventually I gave up and rode back to town, stopping at the pub to have a well-deserved pint. The day after I had a 6 hour bus trip. Very. Painful.

Apart from all that I’ve just been seeing the beautiful Irish country-side. One fun-filled day was spent on a tour bus, a very full tour bus, going around the Burren and the Cliffs of Mohair (pronounced ‘More’). Although everyone proclaims that the cliffs are spectacular and breath-taking, I found it more breath-taking just watching the tourists climbing over the rails, standing on the edge of the cliffs, just to get that ‘perfect’ photo. The burren was amazing, an area completely covered in rock, completely in contrast to what Ireland is perceived to be. I also spent a day at the Waterford Crystal Factory, which was great fun watching the visitors spend upwards of 600 euro (about $1100) on glass vases. Well that’s it for this side of Europe. Now we are going to go camp out at Glasgow airport and next stop… Paris!
luv Bobs

Living it up in Vegas

North America ~ United States of America ~ California ~ San Jose & Nevada ~ Las Vegas

Well, what a wild couple of weeks. Am now back in the U.K., but before I go into that, I’d like to explain a little of what I’ve been doing…

One of the girls that works at the shop, Remy, also works at a theme park called Paramount’s Great America, which is only 3 miles from home. She managed to get us free tickets, so mum and I spent a fun filled day at the park. We went on a day when the park wasn’t open to the public, it was a ‘school’s day’, where they focus on science and maths, and only school kids are at the park (although how a 9 year old can learn maths whilst on a rollercoaster is beyond me). So there were heaps and heaps of little kids under our feet. Luckily, the kids all left at about 4pm, so until 7pm we basically had the park to ourselves. We spent most of our time hanging upside down on various coasters and thrill rides. Whilst in the park we stumbled across Boomerang Bay, an ‘Aussie’ water park. There were ‘kangaroo crossing’ signs and toilets named ‘blokes’ and ‘sheilas’ everywhere…

One day was spent over the hill at Santa Cruz. There was a couple canoeing down under the wharf right next to the huge sea lions. It was great fun watching the sea lions come up next to the canoe and then dive under the canoe and just disappear. The faces on the people in the canoe were priceless… On the wharf we went to Stagnaro’s and had clam chowder… YUM! Didn’t get time to wander along the boardwalk, as there were absolutely millions of people about, but I’ve been there everytime I’ve been to the U.S., so I think I’ll cope.

Grandpoppa took me down to his Alameda, Santa Clara University last week. Was a complete culture shock. The university was gorgeous, really nice grounds. However, on the front lawns of the university there were girls sunbaking in bikini’s! Once we got past that we had to dogde girls and guys skateboarding their way to class… I’m not at all sure I’d be able to go to uni in California – I just don’t have the balance on a skateboard.

Las Vegas was fantastic. We flew up there on the tiniest plane I’ve ever been on, only 18 rows, with one flight attendant. Just before we got into Las Vegas there were heaps of turbulence, which was fun… Las Vegas was so hot compared to San Jose, definitely warmer than London! We stayed at the Boardwalk Casino, not one of the really well known ones, but still a great hotel. Each day we wandered along the strip, visiting Bellagio, Alladin, Caessars Palace, Mirage, Monte Carlo, Paris Las Vegas and the Venetian. My favorite was probably Bellagio, the lobby had a huge display of glass flowers covering the roof, made by a guy that mum and dad met a couple of years back. Paris Las Vegas is pretty cool too, inside the casino, the rood is made to look like the sky, it’s curved, painted light blue with clouds and has natural lights. As a result you lose track of time, and it’s a huge shock to walk outside and be greeted with the night…

It’s been a bit of a drag, as [legally] I’m not old enough. The legal age here is 21, which is a hastle. Whilst in Las Vegas I was only kicked out of one casino for underage gambling, not a bad effort I think! Oh yeh, nearly forgot. On my second day in Vegas I saw a real live Las Vegas Wedding!!! The pair got married in the tiny little gazebo in the ‘garden’ [read: 2 meter square lawn], at our hotel. Maurice and Petunia were really happy, or so the priest with the microphone proclaimed to the rest of us under-agers swimming in the hotel pool… Found another ‘under-age’ suitable venue that I quite liked – M&M World! Four storeys of m&m’s and m&m related products. They had one complete wall devoted just to m&m’s.

The rest of my time has been spent shopping, attempting to find a digital camera. My original camera stopped working back in India, so I just brought a cheap one there, but as you can probably see from the photos, the quality’s not that great. Now I have a better camera, so hopefully I’ll get some more photo’s up. I’ve also been catching up with all my family, seeing my cousins and so forth. My cousin Dave’s mate caught a pirana with inch long teeth last week in a local reservoir, bit of a shock to everyone. The fisheries department came in and confiscated it…

Well, hope everyone is having a dandy time back in Aussie. I’m now in Edinburgh (Scotland), I’ll be looking for a job soon, grr!

xoxo Bobs

Do you know the way to San Jose?

North America ~ United States of America ~ California ~ San Jose

A big howdy to everyone from the sunny state of California! Yep, I finally made it here. Plane trip was long and tiring. It all began when we had all just gotten ourselves onto the plane. The pilot announced that someone had checked in their luggage but failed to show up for the flight, so they had to take their luggage off the plane. That should have been the warning sign… Half an hour later, once we had been taxi’d out onto the runway, the pilot announced that the warning light had come up on one of the jets. Three hours later we were taken off the plane, whilst a new plane and crew was found. We finally left Heathrow seven hours after the original departure time, with a cheer rising from the plane. Arrival in San Francisco was interesting as well. At immigration I had my fingerprints taken with an ‘inkless’ pad (really more like a mini scanner), and I also had my photo taken!

California is the same as it’s always been, yet so different from all the places that I’ve been in the past couple of months. The streets around San Jose are so quiet, of a weekday there are very few cars on the road. A lucky thing too, since I’ve been driving around, trying to stay on the right side of the road! In the morning, squirrels play in the trees outside my Granpoppa’s house and of a day you can hear all the leaf blowers going. My Grandpoppa’s golden retriever, Traveller, is absolutely gorgeous. He loves to have his ball thrown for him, day and night. Of a day he sits at the gate, waiting patiently for someone to walk past the bottom of the driveway. When he does spot someone, he rolls his ball under the gate and down the driveway to the unsuspecting stranger. As a result, Traveller is always making friends who come back through-out the day just to throw his ball for him. The other day, mum and I decided to give him a bath. I went and changed into my old clothes, thinking of how difficult it is to wash our dogs back home. To my shock, Traveller walked into the bathroom, jumped into the bath and proceeded to lie down. Mum has trained him so that, provided the water is just right (not too hot, not too cold), he is more than willing to jump into the bath. The only problem is keeping him out of the water when she is running the bath for herself!!!

I’ve been out and about all week, seeing the ‘sites’ of San Jose. The other day, mum took me to one of the Asian supermarkets (they’re huge over here, not like the tiny little stores in Australia). This particular supermarket stocks everything, including a huge range of fresh seafood in tanks up the back. It’s as fresh as can be – you take it home still breathing. They also have the largest range of frozen dumplings I’ve seen outside of Asia, and as a result I’ve eaten Japanese dumplings for breakfast ever since. Last night we went out to a barbecue restaurant with Grandpoppa and some of his friends. Had a great time, munching away on beef sandwiches and jiving to real western tunes. I’m in my element over here – California has a huge range of Mexican restaurants, they’re dotted all over the place. The guy around the corner from the shop sells hot dogs and burritos, yum!

Mum took me to the famous San Jose Flea Market the other day, and we had a great day. The market was full of little Mexican kids racing around speaking Spanish, and stalls that sold burritos and tacos. Unfortunately we both got extremely burnt, so I’m a walking lobster at the moment… Another of my nights was spent down at the Indian Movie Center with my Granpoppa and second cousin. We saw an Indian movie, Avunna Kadana, which I’m sure would have been really interesting, had we been able to understand. Although there were no subtitles I managed to make up a dialogue in my own head…

Most of my days have been spent down at my Uncles shop, helping mum and the girls pack everything up. We’ve spent the week (and they’ve spent the past couple of months) selling presses, computers and other printing equipment. This week we’ve had schools and other organisations coming in to collect donations of card and paper. It’s hard seeing so much of my family’s history going out the door, but it’s very rewarding when you have someone who truly appreciates what they are being given. Even more rewarding is talking to my Uncle’s friends and business partners who come in to chat and tell their stories. Everyone has something funny and nice to say about Dave, it really makes me smile, hearing these stories. It’s so great to realise that Dave made such a positive difference in so many people’s lives.

Take care all, and let me know how you’re going.

xo bobs

Touring Rajasthan

Asia ~ India ~ Rajasthan

Well well well, it’s been a hectic couple of weeks. Have been to a million and one temples, forts, castles and mosques. We’ve been touring around the Indian state of Rajasthan, one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. We’ve seen many many beautiful Jain temples, made from marble, very cool on a hot summers day. Of course all the temples have there share of monkeys hanging around. We visited the Amber fort in Jaipur, which was quite impressive. To get to the entrance many people ride elephants (we opted not to, as we had already done the elephant thing in Thailand). Anyway, just getting to the entrance was a feat in itself, walking in between the massive elephants wandering along.

Whilst we were in Udaipur we didnt just go to the standard temples and forts, we also went to Shilpgram, a small crafts village. While there the local girls taught us to dance in traditional Indian style, and we taught them a few western moves!!! They were most impressed with my hair, just as we were impressed with their outfits!

Learning to dance

Learning to dance

We’ve still got Krish driving us around everywhere, thank god we didnt attempt to drive ourselves!!! In a standard day we do about 250 kilometres, which takes about 5 hours, if we’re lucky. Some of the things Krish has to deal with include camels loaded with huge amounts of hay, tractors plugging along with mountains of people in the back, children running across the roads without looking twice, goats, busses with people hanging off the sides, motorbikes with entire families (we’re talking 5 or 6 people) and of course the cows. The other day we were stopped by a herd of sheep, the women (all dressed in their sarees) were pushing them along. At the back of the pack was a small group of donkeys, perhaps 10 or 12 of them. The donkeys all had saddle bags on, with 3 or 4 lambs poking their heads out of the top of each one!

Sharing the road

Sharing the road

Prices would be really inexpensive here, if we weren’t eating at resturants every night. Krish is convinced that we’ll die or be harrassed if we step out with the general public, so its strictly hotel resturants for us. He said the other day that we might be able to go to McDonalds later. Hmmm. But to give you an idea, a bottle of pepsi costs 7 rupees, thats under 30 cents. Water is our biggest expense, we go through about 6 or 7 bottles a day (even more if the days temples involve climbing millions of steps!) Food is fantastic though, we have discovered a dish called paneer butter masala, its basically vegetarian butter chicken, with cottage cheese instead of chicken. Visiting the food markets is really interesting, so many different colours and smells, fruit and monkeys everywhere!

Something that has really surprised me is all the women wearing traditional dress. It is very uncommon to see a woman wearing western clothing, the saree has to be one of the most beautiful costumes. The women wear many many colours, often depending on what region you’re in. Bright oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, nothing is too strong! Tash and I had punjabi suits made, so we can *attempt* to fit in, they’re great, really comfy.

Well, better run, about to go sneak out of the hotel to find some real food. Hopefully our driver hasn’t got someone watching the door (he’s done it before!)

xo Bobs

Dilly Dallying in Delhi (and Rajasthan)

Asia ~ India ~ Delhi & Rajasthan

We’ve now been in India for four days, however it seems like so much longer! Everything is very fast and full on over here. Soon after arriving at our hotel, the manager talked us into going on a tour around India, wich turned out to be a great idea. More about that later though. As part of the tour, we were given a driver and a car for a day around Delhi, so we spent our first day in the hectic capital city. First stop was the Red fort, very big, with very interesting temples and arcitecture. But the squirrels – Nobody told me that there were squirrels in India! Then we wandered through the Theives Market to the magnificant Mosque in the middle of the city. After removing our shoes (we have quickly learnt not to wear lace up boots when visiting temples or mosques) we climbed up the tallest tower to the tallest room where we found … the princess. No, not really, but it was a great view of the whole city. Not that we were all that impressed, after stumbling (clawing?) our way up umpteen flights of narrow narrow steps. Maybe the photos will turn out well… We spent the rest of the day looking at all the tourist spots, including the temple that is shaped as a lotus flower (looks remarkably similar to the Sydney Opera House) and parliament house. Last stop was a textiles shop, where Tash and I tried on sari’s. I’m still trying to decide if I should get one…

The next day we started our trip around Rajasthan, ending at Agra (Taj Mahal). We have a car and driver (Krish, very funny guy) for 13 days. On our first day we covered 280 km, which took a bit over 6 hours. The roads are full on. As Krish affectionally puts it (he’s from Delhi), “Delhi drivers are very crazy”. Of course, everyone is crazy to Krish. Cows walking down the middle of the highway (we saw our first cow wandering through the international airport carpark) are skillfully dodged, not only because they are considered a sacred animal, but also because they would make a bloody big dent in the car! Likewise, goats, chickens, sheep, dogs and children are scooted around, with a loud beeping of the horn to remind them that they probably shouldn’t be in the middle of the road. Camel drivers, buses overloaded with locals, trucks even more overloaded, motorbikes, bicycles and auto rikshaws (like tuk-tuks) also have to be negotiated. On seeing our first camel, loaded up with bags and bags of produce, I scrambled for my camera, but since seeing so many of them, I just smile…

Elephants in India

Elephants in India

Anyway, first stop was Mandawa, which was really just a chance for us to rest. The next day we stopped at Bikaner, where we saw all the compulsary temples, mosques, castles and forts. We also wandered around the markets, which were full of colours, smells and things to see. The stalls with bags and bags of chilli’s, spices and currys was amazing, you could taste the chilli’s, just from the smell. My eyes are still watering. Other stands had bags and bags of coloured powder, used in the ‘holi festival’, a festival where colour is celebrated. Even the sacred cows get smothered in colour… On our way to Jodpu, we stoped at Deshnok, to look at the ‘Karni Mata’ Temple – also known as the rat temple. Rats crawling all over our feet is an experience I’m unlikely to forget. We even saw a white rat, supposed to bring good luck. Yesterday we arrived in Jodhpur (the blue city). It is known as the blue city as, in the olden times, people painted their houses blue to signify what caste they belonged to. Nowadays everyone paints their house blue, in keeping with the old times.

Karni Mata Temple

Karni Mata Temple

Today we visited the Mehrangarh Fort, set on the hill, overlooking the city. It was amazing. We were given little walkmans which gave us an audio tour of the fort, wic was founded in the 15th century. Apparently, when the fort was taken over from the original people, a curse was put on the place. They were threated with a lack of water, which is a big deal in this area (we’re surrounded by desert). The king asked his advisors what to do, and they told him that the only way to lift the curse was to give a human sacrifice. A brave man came forward (?? was pushed) and offered himself. There is a plaque where the man was buried alive in the walls of the fort. After the fort we looked around at some of the other sights of the city, including the city gardens, where monkeys roam around (really big, scary looking monkeys….) We also visited the local markets, which was fun, being the pedestrian trying to dodge all the ‘crazy’ drivers, cows and children!

Audio Guide at the Mehrangarh Fort

Audio Guide at the Mehrangarh Fort

Right now I’m contemplating dinner – the Indian food is great. Butter chicken or palak paneer – whatever we have theres sure to be heaps. They dont seem to believe in small portions here, we havent been able to finish a meal! Hope everyone is having a great time as we try and survive on the crazy Indian roads!!!

xo Bobs