Chester Backpackers Hostel (Chester, United Kingdom)

We stayed here in October, in a large dorm room. Facilities were great – the rooms were clean, so too were the bathrooms and the kitchen. The lounge was relaxed, a great place to meet travelers and watch TV. The problem occurred just after we’d gone to bed – at about 1 am a completely crazy guy walked into the room, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night yelling and swearing and getting onto his bed and off the bed. It was disturbing, to say the least. Apart from this incident, it was a decent hostel, although it kind of scared us off.

York Backpackers (York, United Kingdom)

We stayed here in October, in a female dorm room. There were no locks on the doors, but I put some belongings in the safe, and was impressed with the way they handled it (took my name, made me sign when it was returned to me, gave me a card with a number, much better than some other hostels). Rooms were clean, as was the kitchen, the toilets and the showers. Showers were ok, although the water pressure wasn’t the best in the world. Sheets were clean, although extremely hard to sleep in.

The location was good, a close walk into the main center of town. Overall, it is good hostel, worth the money. As a side note, I recommend the ghost tour that leaves from the Minster, was only £2 (student), very interesting and enjoyable.

Bath Backpackers (Bath, United Kingdom)

I stayed here twice in October, in a 10-bed female dorm room. The dorm rooms were clean and fairly big. Toilets and showers were clean, as was the kitchen. The TV room was warm and cozy, and had a great atmosphere. The internet wasn’t working when I first stayed; it was working the second time, but I didn’t get a chance to find out rates.

I returned to Bath to do a tour of Stonehenge (I did a Mad Max all-day tour and highly recommend it). Overall my stay was a great experience. The only problem was that there were no bathrooms on our level, so we had to go down (and then back up) two flights of stairs to go to the bathroom.

Mind the Gap

Europe ~ The United Kingdom~ England and Wales ~ London, Bath, Cardiff, Chester & York

Despite the standard complaint of lack of sleep, arriving back in London was great – it’s so relaxing arriving in a city where you understand the customs, and you know exactly how to get to your hostel. Even the loud broadcasts over at the tube telling us to ‘Mind the Gap’ didn’t bother us. However, the weather wasn’t quite so great. Am almost used to the cold – on the first day we set out and brought Tash a winter coat – the freezing weather was enough incentive to make her pick the first jacket she tried on. We also went and brough some winter trousers from a really weird place in Camden Town… We wandered into the ‘Gothic style’ shop, which was filled, floor to ceiling, with all sorts of gothic clothing, from black corsets to PVC mini skirts. The owner – a guy who looked and spoke just like a Russian mob boss, ordered the assistant to ‘take zem to zee second floor – you vill buy sumfing’. Sure enough, a bit scared with what was going on, we walked out of the shop with a pair of trousers and our pockets a bit lighter.

We took this last week together to explore a bit of England and Wales before we split up, and so that’s exactly what we set off to do. Unfortunately, we have gotten a bit blase about planning things, and so we chose where we would go by closing our eyes and pointing at a map. First stop was Bath, where we spent the day wandering about the ancient Roman Baths (yeh, go figure, we left Italy to goto England to look at Roman Baths…). Next stop was Cardiff, the capital of Wales. We arrived late afternoon to find that the hostels were all booked up – turned out the Cardiff Marathon was on the next day. Oops. Managed to get a double room above a pub – we paid 58 pounds (about AU$130) and were just relieved to have a room. We woke up the next morning to the sound of clapping – peering out the window we watched runners going right past the front of our pub. Getting to the bus station proved difficult – we had to try and get through the runners. We’ve crossed roads in Thailand with scooters racing all over the place, we’ve weaved our way between elephants in India, we’ve jumped on and off moving trains with all our luggage across the globe – I have never seen Tash look as fearful as the day we attempted to cross the path of the marathon runners.

Chester was a cute town on the banks of a quiet river. We spent our time marveling at the gorgeous houses and watching the swans (from afar). Unfortunately, our night didn’t turn out to be as pleasant – we had a loony in our room who spent the whole night swearing and yelling. I guess that’s the price you pay when you stay in hostels… Our last stop together was York, where we basically spent all our time shopping – we found the BEST 1 pound shop, fantastic. York was an interesting town, we took the time to go on a ghost tour and were pleasantly surprised (and spooked!). Our host told us of one set of ghosts that are regularly seen. Apparently they are dressed as Roman soldiers, and they march from one side of the basement to the other. The interesting thing is that you can’t see below their knees – it is as if their feet are below the floorboards. It turns out that the level they are marching at it where the old Roman highway used to be, many many years ago. Over the years, the land has built up, so we now walk around about 6 foot higher than they would have back then.

Main Street of Chester

Main Street of Chester

After leaving Tash in York, I headed back to Bath to take a tour of Stonehenge and the surrounding area. I ended up seeing Avebury, Castle Combe, Lacock Village and Bradford-on-Avon as well as Stonehenge. Although it isn’t as well known as Stonehenge, many people view Avebury as a much more impressive site. Indeed, it is the largest stone circle in the world, at 427m in diameter an area of some 28 acres. We got to wander about the stones, dodging the sheep. Castle Combe was a great example of the Cotswolds, the name given to a style of building. In fact, the first place we stopped was where the original Doctor Doolittle was filmed. Lacock Village is home to Lacock Abbey, where some of the scenes from Harry Potter were filmed. Stonehenge was our last stop, and it was spectacular. Although the site is right by a noisy highway, it didn’t take away the fact that I was standing there looking at such a well documented sight. Another one up there with the Great Wall, Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower. I’m now back in London, biding my time until I fly out for Tokyo.

Standing in front of ancient stone at Avebury

Standing in front of ancient stone at Avebury

Tash and I split up in York, it was weird to see her go. We’ve spent the best part of 7 months sharing almost every hours – sleeping and awake – together. She’s off to Edinburgh to try and make some money to further finance her travels, whilst I’m getting ready to go back home to finish my studies (as if I’ll ever finish…). It’s been a great couple of months, but I guess its just about time to get back to reality. Next time I write I’ll be back in Japan – yey!

xoxo Bobbi

Being followed by Crazies

Europe ~ Republic of Ireland ~ Dublin, Drogheda & United Kingdom ~ North Ireland ~ Belfast & Bushmills

What a fantastic country!!! Arrived in Dublin early in the morning, not really sure what to expect. Booked into my hostel, then set off on one of the open top, hop-on hop-off tours. Highlights of the day included Dublina (a cute little museum aimed at kids, certainly made it easier for me to understand!!), Christ Church and, of course, the Guinness Storehouse. YUM. The storehouse itself was a little disappointing – very manufactured, plastic-y, but the reward was the free pint of Guinness sitting waiting for you at the Gravity bar – right on the very top of the building. However, the amount of beer that was being thrown away would make grown men cry. Tourists were coming in, getting their free beer, having a sip and then leaving it basically UNTOUCHED. These beers were being poured down the sink. I almost had a bit of a sob myself!

Enjoying a pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar

Enjoying a pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar

After two days in Dublin I caught a [early] bus to Drogheda, to visit the famous Bru na Boinne. Bru na Boinne is an area that has three large pre-pyramid burial tombs (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth), plus many many smaller ones. They think that the tombs were created between 3500 and 2700 BC. Knowth was particularity interesting because of all the carvings on the stones – the guides were able to speculate what they were about, but no-one really knows. Newgrange is the more famous of the three tombs – we were able to go right inside the tomb, where the guide showed us a re-enactment of what happens on winter solace. The cave-like tomb is in complete darkness for the whole year, except for the 5 days surrounding the shortest day of the year. During these 5 days, at 8.58am, light enters a small ‘window-box’ above the entrance and lights up the tomb. I think the most spectacular of all this is the man-power that it would have taken to create these tombs – huge rocks were moved over large distances to get them into place, amazing to think about when you see the size and number of these rocks.

Next stop was Belfast. I intended to spend two days there, but was so disinhearted after one night that I left straight away. Nothing seemed to be going right and I wasn’t having a good time, so I though ‘Bugger it’, and moved on. Glad I did, because the next place I went, Bushmills, was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at… I had my own room, real beads (not bunks), ensuite… and, best of all, a BATHTUB. The luxury of it all… Spent the day seeing the coast, went to Giants Causeway. Giants Causeway is a section of naturally formed 4- and 6-sided rocks that look just like a pathway leading out to the sea. Legend has it that the giant, Finn MacCool, built it to visit his lady love in Scotland. Also stopped at Carrick-a-rede, a rope bridge strung 30 metres above the pounding ocean over to a tiny island. Whilst it was fun crossing the bridge, it was even better watching people pay 2 euro and then LINE UP just to cross a rope bridge. Guess I did it too, so who’s to judge?! After a day on the north coast, I moved back down to Belfast, where I enjoyed myself a lot more. Took a day tour of the city and found out all the nifty little facts. Like the Titanic was built in the shipyards there. Of course we went through the areas where the Troubles were most prevalent, down past the murals and all the churches and police stations with wire cages over them. Scary but intriguing too.

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

The people of Ireland are incredibly friendly. Almost all will chat to you over a pint, I’ve met a heap of people traveling on my own, locals and fellow travelers alike. Unfortunately, I also seem to be attracting the crazies too. On my trip to Newgrange, I noticed a guy carrying a little stick [wand?] with a feather poking out the end, waving it all over the carved rocks and bowing and whispering to them. This same guy turned into the hostel I was staying at. Turned out he was staying in my room. When we were all sitting around drinking later that night, he kept doing things like waving his feet over the glasses and mumbling to himself… My first night in Belfast, I was sitting in my room chatting to some of the other girls, when a guy walked in and proclaimed we were reading his mind. Turns out he was chatting to one of the girls earlier, he was completely nuts. And then in Bushmills, whilst waiting for the bus, an old guy came and sat next to me and chatted to me in what I think was Gaelic for about half an hour. My bus pulled up, and he said in perfect English, “There’s your bus”. Ahhh! With all this in mind, when I was on the bus on my way out to see Giant’s Ring (Belfast), and an older lady came and sat next me, I was more than a little wary. When she said to me that “I wouldn’t go there, dear, its not a nice place for young ladies to go by themselves, funny people go there”, I decided to take her advice. Had enough of crazies for the moment…

Cheers to all [said as I raise my pint of Guinness]
xoxo Bobs