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

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

Life is like a game of monopoly

Europe ~ United Kingdom ~ London

So long Asia, now we’re back to the land of English – or rather the Motherland… Arrival was full on, we got into the airport and lined up for immigration. We haven’t had any problems in any other countries getting through, but after 12 hours on a flight from Hong Kong, they decided to be difficult. After getting through the line (took about 2 hours), we got to the front, only to be questioned and then sent off for a health check!!! Turns out that as we had travelled through ‘tropical’ countries (Thailand and India), there was a possibility we had TB, so they had to check us out. In the end we didnt need to get X-rays or the like, as the nurses decided it wasnt worth it!

Our hostel is in Earl’s Court, nicknamed ‘Kangaroo Court’, due to the abundance of Aussies who have made it their home. The hostel is full of Aussies, Kiwi’s and South Africans. Most people are friendly, but there are a lot of politics flying around the hostel – such as who gets the kitchen first and so forth. We’re at the very top of the stairs – five flights up, everyone else complains about the climb, but we reckon its nothing – compared to Huang Shan!!! We’re sharing a room with a South African guy and an Aussie guy. Both are long termers and the room is decidedly male – from the sign on the door (‘MEN!!!’), to their choice in posters. All day they have a fan going, pointed at their shoe collection… But they’re nice enough, and the room is alot cleaner than some of the ones we’ve been in.

On our first day we caught a train (‘the tube’, hehe) down to Westminster, to wander around. Imagine us, we’ve just stepped off a plane from Hong Kong, tired and jetlagged, and we’re wandering around London, seeing famous sights such us Big Ben and chasing pigeons through Trafalgar Square. I feel as if I’m trapped on a Monopoly board!!! After wandering around the National Gallery for a couple of hours we set off back home to plan our next day. Ended up teaming up with a pair of Kiwi girls and a pair of South African girls and made plans to go out the next day. We sat on the steps of our hostel drinking the local drinks – we like to think that we looked like the old guys on Sesame Street…

2nd day was spent SHOPPING on Oxford Circus, and then we toodled off to the Tower of London, to see the sights. The Tower of London has a 900 year history as a Royal Palace and fortress, prison and place of execution, mint and jewel house. Lucky us got to see the crown jewels, and even sit on a royal gardenrobe (read: loo!)

Since then we’re been to many wonderful and amazing places – and of course done our fair share of shopping. By shopping I of course mean browsing, as the prices over here are so so so expensive that we can only afford to look! We went to Westminster Abbey to see all the famous graves – such as Queen Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, and Thomas Parr, a guy who lived to age 152 (?!). Also went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, lots of red guards with fluffy black hats running around. The London Dungeon was a bit different, bit like a horrorhouse, we got to see the more spooky history of London, from the black plague to Jack the Ripper. King’s Cross Station was worthwhile, we all got our pics taken standing in front of ‘Platform 9 3/4’, pushing a trolly through to the platform where Harry Potter caught his train to Hogwarts.

Shopping has been fun, we’ve wandered around the main shopping districts – Picadilly Circus, Oxford Circus (All have ‘circus’ attatched, any ideas?), and even Camden Town. Camden Town was interesting, magic mushrooms and marujana lollypops are sold everywhere. The mushrooms come in many different types (flavours?!) – from Cuban ones to good ol’ Tassie ones!

Apart from the sightseeing and shopping we’ve just been chilling in the hostel, and partying with our fellow backpackers. Nightlife is great, and everyone is so friendly. Only trouble I’m having is wrestling the remote control off the Aussie boys on the weekends – no-one here seems to care how much I HATE watching sports – oh well, they’ll learn quick enough. Take care all, am about to jetset off to the U.S., so if you’ve over there, watch out for me!!!

Hangin’ in Hong Kong

Asia ~ China ~ Hong Kong

Hong Kong is so incredibly different from mainland China that it’s easy to forget that they are technically the same country. Plane trip was uneventful, although we ended up sitting next to a uni lecturer from Sydney, he leads the perfect life. Teaches during the semester, then travels the world giving talks on his research. Our pilot on the Dragon Air flight was also Aussie, so once again we were surrounded by fellow Australians! Weather in Hong Kong is similar to India and Thailand, hot and humid. Coming from Beijing, where we were struggling to move under all our jumpers and coats, it was a bit of a difference.

First night was spent in the hotel from hell. We were so buggered from the traveling that we agreed to stay there, in retrospect we probably should have kept looking. But once you’ve taken off your huge pack (both of our packs gained about 4 kg from China), it takes a lot of effort to get it back on! We stumbled into our ‘double room’ (the bed was slightly larger than a single bed), moved the bed away from the wall, propped our very heavy packs against the door, pulled out our sleeping sheets and fell asleep. No chance that anyone was getting through that door, we could barely lift one pack together, let alone two of them stacked against a door. In fact, we laugh when other travelers lock their packs to train seats – as if anyone could actually lift our packs to steal them…

The next day we threw on our clothes from the night before and rushed downstairs to book into a new hotel. The room isn’t much bigger, but it has a nice shower, walls we’re not afraid to touch, and a tv. Our requirements for a hotel used to be a bar fridge and a bath, now its just a clean wall and a door between the toilet and the bedroom… The building that we’re staying in is called ‘Chunking Mansion’, a huge set of buildings which encompasses many many hostels/hotels. Turns out most of them are pretty grotty, but we stumbled onto a good one second time round, so are happy. The local news ran a story about the mansions last night, saying how they used to be a haven for crime, but they’ve increased security (read: a guy in uniform stands next to the lift…) and have less incidents since then! Our hotel is nice though, and the woman in charge of it seems to be really friendly and happy to help us.

Third day was spent at the Hong Kong Gifts and Premiums Fair, which was huge! A full day spent traisping up and down escalators, the exhibition centre in Hong Kong is massive, at least 6 floors high. The things that were being sold were interesting, from cutsie umbrella’s (a room full of them) to huge inflatable pepsi cans. By the end of the day we were ready to collapse and crawled back onto the ferry. Oh yeh, thats right, we took the ferry to get across to the trade show, we’re staying in Kowloon, and the trade show was on Hong Kong Island, ferry ride was interesting. Whilst waiting to get on the ferry, the green light goes on and everyone RUNS to get onto the ferry first, people in elegant suits and racing with the rest of them. We’re over that kind of thing, just like when we’re on the planes, we just wait till everyone’s gone and meander at our own pace…

The rest of our time in Hong Kong has been spent shopping and just wandering around. The markets are funny, prices aren’t cheap (well, not compared to Beijing prices), but you can bargain the store owners down. Apparently the average tourist doesn’t, so the bargaining is hard. I got a bag the other day, after bargaining, we had some foreigners watching us, amazed as they didn’t realise you could bargain! Bags and clothing seem to be the items of the day, but there is plenty of other stuff too. Camera and electronic stores everywhere, and tailors too. Its a bit like being back in India, the area that we’re staying in is full of Indian tailors, everyone grabs at your arm as you walk by, saying “come and see my shop, good price for you, you are my friend!”. We’ve been through India, we’ve handled the hawkers at the great wall, we’ve handled the hawkers in Delhi, so we handle it all with a shrug of the shoulder and steam ahead.

We’ve just packed up our boxes to send home from Hong Kong and China, as Tash pointed out our packages are getting bigger and bigger, the more countries we go through. Oh well, it will be the last package for a while, Europe’s going to be so expensive! [and cold…]

Take Care all, let me know whats happening in your corner of the world,
xo bobs