Travelling – day 340

Typical… The day we have to set an alarm is the day that I don’t wake up ridiculously early of my own accord. Really wanted to throw the phone against the wall when it woke me up with its shrill musical sound. Fortunately, Jayne was in a much more functioning and capable humour. Up we got, showered, dressed and packed up our bags, ready to start the adventure again after three days of practically being hermits. Took ages for us to check out as the reception lady had gone walk-abouts and the cleaner just kept repeating ‘2 minutes’ to us. Fortunately, we weren’t in a rush so used the opportunity of an empty reception to steal a few of the lychee sweets that were in the bowl. 

All checked out and good to go, we started walking towards the oriental ferry terminal. Now, I’m going to openly admit that in all the time we were in Australia we didn’t have any problems with anyone. Within five minutes of walking down the road in Bangkok, I had already been told that ‘I eat too much’ and that the ‘ferry closed on Sunday but TukTuk good price’… Oh, how I had blissfully blocked out the joys of SE Asia. Even though we’ve been here several times before and travelled this area for the 8 months prior to Australia, the culture shock was a huge smack in the face – as was the fact we had a culture shock to begin with!! Kind of assumed we’d slip straight back into the Asian way of travelling, but it might actually take a few days to get back in the swing! That being said, walking down the back streets of Bangkok was nice and the ticket man at the ferry terminal restored my faith in humanity by making me laugh. Kept saying he was from ‘wetland’ and did I know it?!? When I said ‘no’ he seemed really shocked. We then suddenly realised he meant ‘Scotland’.Jumped on the really crowded ferry that took us up the river. Clearly there has been a big push in recent years to clean up the river with a huge reduction in water pollution and signs everywhere warning of big fines for littering. Dropping all the other ‘white’ tourists at the Grand Palace, we were the only ones left going to Thonburi stop for the station. Jayne managed to navigate us via the hospital to find the station. Got our tickets and then waited for the train. Leaving me with the bags at the station on benches that looked like they may have been recycled pews from a church, she headed off to look around the food market. Couldn’t quite tell if it was a night market or a morning market but at the time we were there it was a little bit deserted. Bought lunch from a street vendor – papaya salad, rice and meat kebabs. Jayne described them as mystery meat but I recognised one of them as chicken hearts. Not sure what they others were but they tasted good, so who cares?!?The train journey up to Kanchanburi was pretty easy although we were both struggling with the heat and humidity. The scenery was lush and green, baring in mind it is the wet season, and there was plenty to occupy us for the three hour journey. A Thai gentleman kept walking past us and telling us that it was ‘hot’ and then sat down next to us to say that The Beatles were his favourite band. He then proceeded to sing the opening one line from a large repertoire of their hits… It was actually really sweet, except when we tried to join in and he didn’t understand our English pronunciation, so had no idea what song we were singing… It was slightly embarrassing!!!  Arriving in Kanchanburi, we walked the 10 minutes to our guesthouse and checked in. Payed a little bit extra to sleep in one of their ‘raft’ rooms which meant we were literally sleeping on top of the river Kwai. We also had an awesome view of the river so we spent some time on our veranda enjoying the soothing sound of the water and the gentle rocking of the deck… Until the jet skis and party boat went past!!Headed back into town to grab some water and breakfast supplies from the shop, then to the night market to get some food. An amazing array of sights, sounds and smells, we were absolutely spoilt for choice and were glad we were staying for a couple more nights so we could sample as much as possible!! Had a cheeky chocolate cake as we walked around the markets before getting a fried ham and cheese sandwich to snack on as we purchased our main meal. Bought a sample of Thai dishes to take back to the guesthouse and a slurpee too (I haven’t had one of those in ages!!!). Ate back in our room, enjoying the air conditioning before having a quick shower to rinse of the day’s grime from the train. We then snuggled in bed watching some episodes of ‘Friends’. 

Oh – Happy Wedding Anniversary to Mags & Tom and Cathal & Maur. 

Sunday 11th September 2016

Shepparton – day 331

Up the hill and across the road to the train station, we had Hungry Jacks for breakfast. The Hero Burger was beautiful and with a little self restraint we left without ordering more. I saw a little restraint… We went down a flight of stairs to Woolies and bought blueberry muffins for the train. The muffins and a banana (inscribed with Happy 4th Anniversary) were my presents for the traditional Fruit or Flowers wedding gift. A sign of true love is someone who hates bananas writing you a message on them. John and Florrie (Tracey’s parents) very kindly picked us up from the train station. So, we went an had an early lunch and killed an hour or two chatting. We shared loads of stories about travels and years gone by and enjoyed the unusual trio of dips with crunchy ciabatta bread and fine coffee. We had a bit of a comedy moment when John was all perplexed by the woman at the till whom wouldn’t take payment for lunch, the rest of knowing that I had already snuck off to pay for it. We were soon back at Casa de Hobbito and not long after dumping the bags we were having fresh hot showers. Tracey was pent up with excitement and energy when she got home. It would be nice to say that it was all directed at us, but truth be told only the dog really cared. Tracey was excited about her charity event that evening and we were ready and able to help. Outside and waiting for the taxi before it even sent a text saying it was around the corner we were at the Aussie Hotel close on 5 bells with 2 hours to set up. 

The event, Drags Aloud Bingo, didn’t need much prep-work. The two stars of the evening brought most of the stuff with them and we just helped carrying equipment, checking table numbers, placing the bingo cards around the seats, pens and such trivialities. People started flooding in at 19:00, and with all great plans, some people are always late. But, it checked off with a bang and it was a mega night. Tracey had a speech prepared and I’ll be honest, I’ve forgotten nearly every act from it, but was at the time astounding by the charity organisation itself and how much money it had raised since it’s founding. Tonight’s spectacular event raised $2,800 of pure profit. Tireless effort from Miss Tracey meant the Drag Queens, venue, advertising and food was all paid for and every bit of the proceeds was heading to the bank in the morning. Well done Tracey!!!

With 4 rounds of Bingo to be played everyone saw how the evening was shaping up. The first winner was ridiculed by the hosts. The spectators that made eye contact were picked on and those that Tracey had previously mentioned were singled out. Eventually everyone, including the ‘victims’ were in conniptions of laughter, and the tears were rolling down faces and folks smacking the tables or stomping their feet with glee. There was a moment in the evening where time stood still, the sweat glands opened and the impending doom lay upon me. I had managed to match all the numbers. The girls next to me were keeping tabs on my impressive array of dots, Katherine was shouting Bingo and pointing at me and all I could do, frozen as a statue was raise my hand with the booklet of numbers. The horror was looming, the questions, the mockery, standing up in front of everyone. I wanted fire alarms to go off. I wanted to run for the stair well and freedom. I wanted to award someone else the honour. No, I was dragged by one of the lovely hosts to the front and they went easy on me. Seeing what a mess I was, comparatively to how I was setting up the hall, they only asked name, where I was from, a few Irish jokes and I was free to leave.Back at the table I was a now dripping in sweat, shaking like a leaf and unable to speak. Much to the amusement of the others at the table I managed to drink some water and nibble some food and get the nerves back in check. So, able to put one leg in front of the other I went to visit the queens to see if they needed anything during the half time break. They were all good, and after a chat about their visits to Dublin, I requested that they wind poor Tracey up a bit during the next section. So it was that going around the tables and mingling with the bingo wings that there happened to be a phrase mentioned that set Tracey on edge. They were saying ‘Ridgey Didge’ and got the crowd involved. With so many admitting it was a real word and people used it regularly, it was said more and more often for the rest of the night. It was even mentioned to the taxi driver on the way home – after a few drinks with friends from the rotary club (an awkward conversation about being a woman, not a guy) – and pulling through Maccers for a late night feast back at the house. Food devoured we slinked off to bed. 

Friday 2nd September 2016

Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay – day 280

An early start to catch our 6.31am train from Shepparton to Melbourne. Tracey very kindly dropped us off at the station and it was an easy (and quiet!) 2.5 hour journey through the countryside, catching up on writing blogs and continuing our ‘spot-the-kangaroo’ game. Arriving in Southern Cross Station just after 9am, we headed straight to Thrifty to see if we could pick up our car rental early. A couple of signatures later, we had the keys and directions to find our small automatic car… It’s bright pink!!
Navigated our way out of the city with no problem and we were on the highway heading towards The Great Ocean Road. Driving through quaint villages, calm seaside towns, pockets of rainforests and vast expanses of green, the views of the sheer limestone cliffs were a perfect background to the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean. We stopped at several places along the route to Apollo Bay to look at the viewpoint and take photos, timing it carefully to avoid the sporadic downpours of rain.IMG_9721After about two hours of driving and photographic detours, we ended up at our first ‘official’ stop of the day – Split Point Lighthouse. Since both of us grew up watching the children’s television programme ‘Around the Twist’, it was a must-see for both of us to see the lighthouse and house that was used during filming.IMG_9725 The walk up to the lighthouse was beautiful, even though it was slightly soggy and windy! I did a tour of the lighthouse, climbing to the top and looking out whilst Jayne decided she’d rather keep both her feet on solid ground, especially after she scared herself last time she climbed a lighthouse in Cuba.

I learnt about the history of the lighthouse on the walk up to the top, ranging from the four different ways that they had lit the torch over the years, to where the lighthouse was made (Birmingham, England). I also learnt how they communicated with ships in the olden days, including a network of underground telegraph networks between lighthouses along the coast. I also learnt that this particular lighthouse had a special design of having 2 metre thick walls at the bottom and half metre thick at the top (something to do with sustainability and protection from the elements). The cast iron staircase was beautifully ornate and the lighthouse itself was in great condition. The view from the top was stunning – could see for miles, although the female tour guide assured me that the view wasn’t very good today. Looked out to sea in an attempt to spot a passing whale but the water was too rough to spot any definitive shape. Waved down to Jayne who was walking around the pathways taking photos.IMG_9835Back down at the bottom, we walked to various viewpoints nearby, looking at the cliff formation and admiring the volcanic rocks jutting out from the water. A walk along the beach exposed some caves in the cliff that the lighthouse guide said were safe to visit but the tide was still too high to go exploring. A quick mess around in the playground attached to the car park and we were back in the car and on the road again.IMG_9751IMG_9888IMG_9906IMG_9919Had been told to head towards Erskine Falls as, not only was there a beautiful waterfall, there was a chance to see koala bears and they had also had snow yesterday which made the place even more magical. The windy road though the forest canopies revealed no koalas but we had plenty of snow – we even made a new friend… Augustus the Australian Aboriginal Snowman – the twin of Henry the Himalayan Snowman Sherpa from Nepal.IMG_9931The road down to the falls were barricaded with signs saying ‘do not enter’ (which some people were ignoring). Decided that neither of us had decent enough shoes to navigate icy snowy paths that were already labelled as ‘dangerous’, so we got back in the car and continued on our way, still searching for koalas. Jayne got me to do a u-turn in the town of Kennett River as she saw ‘koalas’ flash up on her MapsMe app. 5 metres down a side road and we got out of the car and found four koalas hanging out in eucalyptus trees. They were so cute and fluffy, with gorgeous shiny black noses – I want one!! There was also an array of birds (cockatoos, king parrots, rosellas), clearly tame from tourists visiting the area as they perched on people’s heads if they stood still for too long… (e.g. longer than 2 seconds!).IMG_9963IMG_0006Drove the rest of the way to Apollo Bay and checked into our YHA hostel. Feels very weird knowing that we are going to be sharing a room with strangers after so long of being able to afford private rooms (thank you SE Asia for turning us into princesses!!!). Dropped the bags off in our dorm and headed over to the supermarket to buy supplies for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow. I think it is going to be kind of nice popping into the shop everyday to get something for dinner, although we are going to have to be careful that we don’t use each supermarket shop as an excuse to impulse purchase useless items, especially whilst we have the car and don’t have to carry our backpacks much!! Jayne made a lovely Thai green chicken and vegetable curry for dinner which we ate chatting to a Chinese girl who had decided to stay at this hostel for a month for free in exchange for work. Sat in the lounge warming up and watching the wood fire then heading up to our dorm to watch a couple of episodes of Modern Family before climbing into our separate bunk beds.

Total distance driven: 211km

Wednesday 13th July 2016

Melbourne – day 277

None of us were in a hurry to get up this morning, all waking up gradually around 9am. Pottered around, getting showered, dressed and enjoying the nicest hotel room we have stayed in during our entire time travelling and the room has probably ruined us for the rest our our trip around Australia, especially as we are only going to be staying in youth hostels!! Packed up our bags, including the champagne and chocolates that we never got around to consuming, before checking out and heading to the tram stop. Travelled down towards the Main Street in St. Kilda for a bit of good ol’ people watching. The Art Deco buildings were beautiful as we wandered down Acland street, looking at backpacker hostels sat beside fine dining restaurants and Polish bakeries next to designer clothes shops. Found ourselves a table outside one of the cafe bakeries and we each ordered the biggest fruit Danish any of us had ever seen – Jayne had raspberry, Tracey had apple crumble and I had blueberry. Clearly novices in the area, the ladies at the next table looked and laughed as we tried to organise our tiny table to accommodate our pastries, meringues and coffee – ending up with stuff balanced on our laps. We only ate the Danish and put the rest in our bag for later on. Feeling slightly nauseous from our brunch, we walked towards the beach passing by Luna Park. Built in 1912, it retains the feel of an old-style amusement park, with the creepy Mr Moon’s gaping mouth swallowing you up as you enter. It is home to the heritage-listed scenic railway (the worlds oldest operating roller coaster) and a beautiful baroque carousel. We kept walking along the palm-fringed promenade, looking at the market stalls that had braved the grey storm clouds to set out their merchandise. Crossed over the road and headed towards the beach, walking down the St. Kilda pier enjoying the beautiful view of the city across the water full of yachts and boats. We even saw some people snorkelling and swimming in the water whilst we spotted starfish from the pier. The kiosk at the end of the pier is an exact replica of the original which burnt down on 11th September 2003 (a year short of its centenary). We then walked amongst the rock wave breakers, looking for small penguins and rakalis that make their nests in the gaps between the boulders. Saw a rakali, a native water rat which is often compared to otters or ring-tailed possums.Got back on the tram to Southern Cross station and stored our bags in a locker for the day before catching the City Circle Tram. Designed primarily for tourists, this free tram service travels around the city centre, stopping at many sights along the way with an audio commentary. We fortunately got window seats straight away so enjoyed the hour long circle ride without being squashed as it got busier in certain sections. Hopped off one stop short of the full loop to visit the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. A really beautiful aquarium, it is home to rays, gropers and sharks, all of whom live in a 2.2 million-litre tank which could be viewed from a seated area and a see-through tunnel. Spent time chatting and eating our meringues on the steps whilst watching the fish swim by and teaching Tracey how to tell the difference between female and male sharks and rays. The aquarium is also home to one of the largest Australian saltwater crocodiles as well as two different types of penguin in the icy Antarctica display. We went to the recommended 4D cinema towards the end to watch ‘Ice Age: No Time for Nuts’ which was slightly strange as there was no relevance to the aquarium – seemed more of a money making scheme to get people inside (it was included in the admission ticket price). Not sure what our favourite display was as there were so many fantastic ones although it was nice to see a huge amount of walk through tanks and pop-up bubble sections throughout the aquarium for kids (or grown up kids like us!!). A quick stop in the gift shop at the end for the obligatory silly hat photo selfie…Ran out of time to visit the Eureka Skydeck as we needed to eat something proper for dinner (having consumed nothing but pastries and coffee all day). Headed back to the restaurant in the train station that Tracey and I went to the day of the AFL game, making sure we didn’t over order like last time! Caught the 18.30 train back to Shepparton, unfortunately having reserved seating so we were sat in the overcrowded carriage next to a bunch of cackling teenagers who squealed, laughed and were generally annoying for the 2.5 hour train journey. Tracey stuck in her headphones to drown them out with music and Jayne fell asleep (clearly still slightly broken) as I took the occasional selfie, much to the amusement of the Indian woman opposite us. 

Back at home, we watched a little bit of TV before heading to bed. 

Sunday 10th July 2016

Shepparton & Melbourne – day 275

A lovely lazy morning. Not sure either of us slept very well after being used to sleeping alone for the past three weeks – obviously both used to more room in the bed, we kept bumping into each other! Took our time getting up, washed and dressed before settling down on the sofa to watch TV. Jayne couldn’t believe how many adverts for selling products there were on ‘The Morning Show’ and I got to point out that they are the same adverts, clearly filmed on a Monday, that are broadcast all week long. Attempted to talk to Jayne about the upcoming weeks, trying to get some input into what we are going to do and if there was anything she felt I had missed in my planning. However, clearly jet lag was kicking in and it was similar to talking to a brick wall… Decided to cut my losses and started on the laundry that she had very kindly brought all the way across the world for me!!! Made us some noddles and cheese sandwiches for lunch as we both vegetated in front of the TV whilst I pottered around doing little jobs every now and again. Tracey’s parents came and collected us at 3.30pm and drove us to the train station to meet Tracey to catch our train down to Melbourne. Thankfully, we had unreserved seating so we were in a relatively quiet carriage which meant we had the four seats to ourselves. Sat chatting for the entire journey, looking out the window for kangaroos and basically laughing at Jayne every time she took a ‘power nap’ (if you can call it that when she practically passed out every so often!). Even though Jayne was in a semi-comatose state, we were still able to get some witty banter going between the three of us, so much so that as we got off the train, the lady opposite us said we had made her night cause we were so funny. She also told me that she absolutely loved my British accent and could have listened to it all night, which is a rarity because it is normally Jayne’s Irish accent that everyone loves. Once at Southern Cross station, we headed towards the Etihad stadium and found a relatively quiet spot on the bridge, looking out over the dockyards. There was no wind and it was a perfect evening to watch the winter dock lands fireworks. Tracey was right – it was missing some classical music to coincide with the explosions and flashing lights, however it was brilliant! Met up with Ashleigh and her boyfriend afterwards for a quick chat. They had missed the fireworks by minutes as they had gotten on the wrong tram… Said goodbye and headed ourselves to St. Kilda to check into our hotel. Tracey had won a two night stay in a studio at the Tolarno Hotel – complete with champagne and chocolates on arrival – it was perfect! After dumping our stuff and exploring the studio (with balcony) we grabbed our coats and went for a walk down the street. An eclectic mix of homeless people, drug addicts and young professionals, St. Kilda was an interesting place to be on a Friday night. Decided to go to the famous Topalinos restaurant for dinner, sitting by the window so we could watch the world go by. Tracey and I ordered the most delicious pasta dishes, whereas Jayne ordered possibly the biggest pizza ever! Washed it all down with a bottle of wine before stumbling across the road and falling into bed. 

Friday 8th July 2016