Shepparton – day 260 (K)

Having had a more ‘relaxed’ day yesterday, today was the day of productivity!! Woke up and Skyped Jayne before reading a bit more of my book (it’s already far too interesting and addictive!). Got showered and dressed before I got sucked in to reading another chapter and grabbed the duvet that Tracey needed washing and walked down the road to the laundrette. Now, I haven’t been to a laundrette since my university days a few years (ahem… 13 years) ago, however they are still the same… Brilliant old machines that object to the tiniest bit of dirt on your coins positioned next to tumble driers big enough to fit a fully grown human being inside! I put the duvet in the ‘big’ machine and stood in the corner (there were no seats) and tried to read my book. However, I got too distracted by the people coming in and out, carrying loads of clothes, towels and even someone with hospital uniforms. There was also a (very) pregnant woman wearing a thong (or worse… going commando!!) under her fully stretched, practically see through leggings. Thankfully the washing cycle was relatively quick and I managed to grab a tumble dryer before the laundrette started getting busy. 20 minutes later, the duvet was clean and dry! Walked back to Tracey’s house via the supermarket to pick up some essentials – cereal, toilet paper and more alcohol! The rest of the day was spent sorting out clothes washing, editing my Lonely Planet article and watching TV. Tracey came home from the gym and we had a dinner of left over food items and cheese whilst chatting about various things. Tracey’s colleague had seen the videos I have been sending daily of me singing to songs about loneliness and did her own, using a hairdryer as a wind machine… Bring it on – it’s now officially become a competition! Ate the rocky road chocolate apple as we watched a couple of episodes of ‘Orange is the New Black’ and caught the end of the AFL game between Adelaide and North Melbourne. I understand some of the rules now but still want to try and catch a live game whilst we are ‘down under’. 12 days to go!Thursday 23rd June 2016

Shepparton – day 259 (K)

A totally self indulgent day – I sat on the sofa. I watched crap TV, which mainly seemed to be reruns of old British TV programmes. I read my trashy book about a wedding pact between three friends, which I secretly enjoyed. I ate, mostly bread and m&m’s. And repeat!! All day – it was bliss. I didn’t go anywhere near the map or the plan as I feel slightly overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. In fact, this was my view pretty much all day. Took some time out of my hugely taxing schedule to throw the hoover around, removing enough dog hair to make a new smaller version of Chilli dog. I also wrote a short article that I’m planning to send in to the Lonely Planet (if I ever finish it and get the courage to actually email it). After my very productive day of doing nothing, I accompanied Tracey to the hairdressers after work – they couldn’t squeeze me in for a haircut at the same time – but it was just nice to get out of the house after being a hermit all day. Giggled and chatted our way through the whole appointment, although I did pick up a gossip magazine to read but it is not gossip worth reading about if you don’t know any of the people in the articles! Headed home for an evening of ‘Modern Family’, sitting on the sofa eating dinner, drinking baileys and munching on fruit and nut toblerone. Managed a quick Skype chat with Jayne and started a new book (‘Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children’) before passing out, exhausted from my day of doing nothing!! 13 days to go.

Wednesday 22nd June 2016

Shepparton – day 258 (K)

Another day by myself, resulting in a video being sent to Tracey at work of me lip syncing to the song ‘Lonely’ by Akon… Skyped Jayne as I woke up – still feels weird skyping her when she is going to bed and I am just waking up. Doesn’t feel like she is on the other side of the world at all, even though I miss her like crazy! Got showered and dressed before making myself a crumpet with blueberry jam for breakfast whilst watching a segment on early morning television about professional mermaids. Maybe I should reconsider my career choice! Decided to get out of the house for a bit, so I walked the 5km into town to do some shopping. Went into the laundrette at the end of the road to make sure they have washing machines big enough to take a duvet and checked costs etc. before continuing down the road towards the town. En route, I passed the Victoria Park Lake. It a beautiful park with play areas, a skate park and an outdoor barbecue section. The leaves on the trees have turned a lovely shade of orange which reminds me of Autumn back in the UK – if only there was a hot Starbucks in my hand…Went to Kmart and got some new underwear. What people don’t tell you about travelling is that your body shape changes so much whilst you are away – none of my underwear fits properly anymore and to make matters worse, I have no idea what size I should be especially since Australia has a different bra sizing system to the UK. Must have tried on about 6 different bras to find the right style and size to fit my new shape before picking up some toiletries and began the walk back to the house. Must have had luck in my side as it began raining not long after I got in. Had some left over spaghetti bolognaise from yesterday for lunch before continuing my route planning around Australia, this time mapping out a timeline to start working out when we needed to book greyhound buses, jet star flights, rent cars etc. Tracey came home from work and we chatted for a bit about my planning, checking that it fits in with her work schedule and her dog babysitters. Managed to squeeze in an episode of ‘Modern Family’ before we headed to the Rotary club dinner meeting. A social evening meeting, it was great to meet some of the other members, who were interested in Jayne and my UNESCO hunt around the world, many of them surprised by how many sites there were in Australia and that there were 1,007 sites worldwide (and counting!). Stuffed full of lasagne, chunky chips, salad and a coconut raspberry cake for dessert, we were back at the house watching the latest episodes of ‘House Rules’ whilst finishing off the remaining Baileys… Oops! 14 days to go!

Tuesday 21st June 2016

Shepparton – day 257 (K)

Tracey went back to work today and I was home alone. Eerily weird to walk around someone else’s house when they are not there – I still had to shower with the bathroom door closed! Made myself some breakfast and watched a bit of early morning television before I got started on my list of jobs. Some call it dreaming… I call it planning! That was my task today. Trying to assemble some sort of a route for our travels around Australia, hitting as many UNESCO sites as possible without making us bankrupt – it’s an impossible task! Spent time trying to work out what there was to do in each of the towns we wanted to visit and working out a rough price for each of the things we may want to do (FYI, every time I read the word ‘free’, my heart fluttered a little bit!!). Having covered our map of Australia with highlighter pen, circles, pen lines in to the sea and post-it notes (with a text to Tracey apologising for using up the majority of her post-it notes), I have a vague idea of where we are going to go and what kind of things we are going to do. Not going to be able to do all 19 UNESCO sites in Australia, which is kind of disappointing, but it equally means we’ll have to come back one day. Tracey came back from work, dropped off Chilli dog and went straight back out to Pilates whilst I skyped Jayne and showed her the current mess that I had created on Tracey’s dining room table. A dinner of spaghetti bolognaise whilst we watched the final episode of series 6 of ‘Game of Thrones’. Now, I have only ever watched the very first episode with Jayne, which was declared a ‘WTF is this?’ experience and I have never watched an episode since, much to the disappointment of Jayne who is a big fan. I won’t spoil it for anyone but this is how I watched most of the episode…Therefore, ‘Game of Thrones’ still remains, and possibly always will remain, a ‘WTF is this’ programme – think I’ll stick to ‘House Rules’ and ‘Modern Family’!! A quick Skype with Jayne before bed. 15 days to go!

Monday 20th June 2016

Dookie – day 256 (K)

Woke up early and I made breakfast – extending my cooking skills from cereal to fried eggs on toast. Slight scary moment where the eggs didn’t all cook evenly but flipped them over to double fry them. Phew! Crisis averted!! Got dressed for a walk, put Chilli dog in the back of the car and drove 20km to the town of Dookie. During the car journey, we had to keep the car windows open as Chilli kept letting fluffy off the chain (an Aussie way of saying she was farting – lots!!!). Parked the car at the start of the 9.4km circular trail, a very picturesque trail that starts at the base of Mt. Saddleback and crosses some of the Goulburn Valley’s most fertile farm land. The trail follows the old railway line to Katamatite which was constructed by the Yarrawonga Shire in 1890 and taken over by the Victorian Railways in 1892. The railway was closed in 1986 and the rails removed shortly after. The branch line from Shepparton to Dookie is still used by grain trains. Local residents formed the Friends of Dookie Rail Trail group to encourage the City of Greater Shepparton to take out a lease on this section of the rail corridor and the rail trail was completed in early 2010. The trail was relatively flat as we were surrounded by scenic views of rolling hills, olive and orange groves, vineyards, cropping lands and the most beautiful church ever. The trail was deserted and had a severe lack of bins as we had to carry a very smelly dog poo for over 7Km until we could throw it away!! Stopped off in the local pub for a glass of wine at the end of the walk, as passerby’s made comments about the size of Chilli – she is quite literally a cross between a dog and a Shetland pony!! As it started getting colder, we finished up, jumped back in the car and headed home for dinner with more wine. A hilarious Skype with Jayne, Clare and Martin back in the UK had all five of us in stitches as Chilli dog was passed out on the carpet next to us. She looked so peaceful that I had to have some cuddle time!! 16 days to go.Sunday 19th June 2016

Echuca – day 255 (K)

After breakfast, showering and getting dressed, we dropped Chilli dog off at Tracey’s parents before driving 80km to Echuca. Located on the banks of the Murray River and Campaspe River in the state of Victoria, the Aboriginal name for Echuca means ‘Meeting of the Waters’ and is kind of indicative of the role that the rivers have played in the town’s existence. Once we’d found a parking spot, we made our way to the port to organise our tickets for a paddle steamer boat ride. The port is home to the largest paddle steamer collection in the world, which includes the world’s oldest operating wooden hulled paddle steamer, the PS Adelaide built in 1866. Kept being called ‘young ladies’ by the lady in the kiosk, which (obviously) delighted us both, as we followed the deckhand, Alan, down the ramp towards our boat – P.S. Pevensey. Built in 1911, the P.S. Pevensey was a new design in riverboats with capacity to carry cargo as well as tie barges. One of a handful of paddle steamers that haven’t sunk to the muddy bottom of the Murray River, the P.S. Pevensey has been fully restored to carry tourists up and down a small section of the river. In its hay day, it held it the record for the most amount of wool carried out of the Murrumbidgee river (2000 bales in boat and on Ada barge).The boat ride itself was quite calm and peaceful, with the occasional engulfing cloud of steam if the wind changed direction. The paddles steamer still had its original layout and they had reconstructed some scenes in the room so you could see what it would have been like ‘back in the day’. It also had a sensory system so when you stepped into each room there was a little commentary about it… The Irish guy sleeping was a particular surprise!The steam ride lasted about an hour and we disembarked, had a look around the outside museum which had working parts of the paddle steamer engines so you could see what they actually looked like. A quick visit of the gift shop, resulting in two pressed coins for the price of one thanks to the broken machine! Headed outside to the ‘town’ which still has many buildings from the Victorian era. Spotted a very random tree that people had nailed flip flops to – some broken, some new but most with messages on. Was slightly concerned at first that it might have been a memorial to those who had drowned in the river but as we went around, we saw the usual ‘x woz ere’, ‘call ___ for sex’ and other timeless witty comments…The Murray Darling river system was Australia’s main artery of commerce in the late nineteenth century and the paddle steamers were its workhorses. Therefore, Echuca was a bustling town and the high street is still lined with original shop fronts from Victorian times. Over 100 paddle steamers, many of them built on the banks of the Murray, plied the waterways, rowing barges laden with wool, wheat, timber and other goods from the forests and pastoral attain and delivering people and goods back again. The shops tried to maintain the illusion of the historical heritage, with horse and cart rides being offered next to a shop were you could take Victorian styled photos in costumes.We stopped into the wine shop for some free wine tasting (as you do!), sampling a range of local wine – white, red and fizzy – before finishing it off with a bit of port (only me as Tracey was driving!). The drinking made the stop at the fudge shop next door slightly more expensive as, after the free tasting there, we both got ourselves some fudge… Headed further down the road to the chocolate shop, where I got lured by the sales lady to try the chocolate liqueur – I’m sure they are all in cohoots about intoxicating poor foreign tourists as I handed over $25 for my own bottle of chocolate flavoured port with a free bar of chocolate!!! Fortunately, the butchers weren’t giving out free samples and the sweet shop that proudly displayed a sign advertising British sweets had none… A look around a couple of book shops – I still miss real books – before getting back in the car and heading back to Shepparton. 

Picked up Chilli dog, chatted to Tracey’s parents for a bit before having a dinner of left over noodles, cheese, bread and dip. All was washed down with copious amounts of alcohol whilst we chatted the night away on the sofa. 17 days to go!!

Saturday 18th June 2016

Shepparton – day 254 (K)

Took me forever to fall asleep last night – my mind was clearly working on overdrive and it was weird being in a double bed alone (for the first time in years) which resulted in me making a Skype phone call to Jayne at 1am. Fortunately, that is 4pm back in the UK so I didn’t feel too bad as I was the only one yawning through the entire chat!! Woke up around 8am with the daylight streaming through the windows since I’d forgotten to shut the blinds last night… Got up and made breakfast for Tracey. Anyone who is familiar with my cooking ability, or lack there of, will now be concerned that I was preparing food for another human being (who I actually like!!). Fortunately, the offer of making scrambled egg was declined and I was allowed to prepare the slightly easier muesli, Milo cereal bars and coffee from the Nespresso machine. Deciding to be slightly more active today than yesterday, we were both showered, dressed and out of the house before midday! First stop, was a little drive around to find some kangaroos. We found some around the back of the motor museum. I have never seen a real kangaroo before, not even in a zoo (that I can remember). I have to admit, I was surprised at how big they were. Standing erect, the kangaroo was as tall as I am with massively powerful legs – even in slow motion jumping, that beast moved bloody quickly!! Don’t think I ever want to be at the receiving end of an angry one of those…As we headed back towards the centre of town we visited the Shepparton MooovingArt exhibition. Scattered across several of the parks, riverbanks, gardens, footpaths and public buildings in the area are some colourful 3D life-size fibreglass MooovingArt Cows. Prepared by local and internationally renowed artists, the art exhibit is designed to promote the Greater Shepparton region as the dairy capital of Australia. They sound ridiculous but they were actually quite special in their own way from Spider-Man cow to Shrek cow, from pirate cow to tourist cow. My favourite has to be hotdog cow whilst Tracey liked the skeleton cow. Apparently, every now and again, people drive around and ‘tip’ the cows. Whilst I don’t endorse this kind of behaviour, the thought of drunken youths walking around tipping fibreglass cows is kind of funny although probably not to the artist or the police… (who have their own painted police cow outside the station!).

Got back in the car and drove to the Last Straw cafe to get a latte. Clearly arriving at a busy time, we managed to grab the last table whilst an ever growing line of people waited to be seated. The back section of the cafe is literally in the kitchen part of the cafe. Drank our coffees and freed up the table before heading to the Chocolate Apple factory. Greater Shepparton produces 90% of the pears in Australia and 30% of the apples which you can see as you take a drive around the area – it’s back to back orchards. The 22-hectare orchard that is home to the Chocolate Apple factory is near to Tracey’s work, although she has never been! The owners of the orchard developed their products after some unfortunate natural events back in 2004 (drought, frost and hail). Inside the shed behind their house was a small retail outlet where we got to try some of their speciality chocolate apples – smooth creamy chocolate on the outside with a layer of soft caramel coating a crisp flavoursome Pink Lady apple inside. They are also beautifully decorated with more chocolate and other edible trimmings such as sweets, marshmallows, peanuts or Maltesers (to name a few). Obviously, after trying a couple of the different kinds, we both bought one each (sorry Jayne but don’t expect there to be any left when you get here!!). Also got some local produced apple juice with ginger before heading back into town to visit the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM). A small but lovely gallery with a variety of different art pieces – paintings, photos, sculptures, ceramics and prints. The exhibition of 80 pieces of art from their 80 years of collecting was a total eclectic mix of pieces, each interesting in its own way (although some I wouldn’t necessarily consider ‘art’). The main show stopper is the ‘Woman and child’ statue created by Sam Jinks. Incredibly realistic, the fact that you are looking at a sculpture and not living human beings is disconcerting to say the least. It is truly mesmerising and the detail is magnificent.  Upstairs was dedicated to a Chinese artist. There was a rather percular video of her sitting in front of a mirror, wearing a wedding dress, on a construction site having cake thrown at her whilst puppies ate what fell on the floor… Another one of the exhibits was an aroma installation with six scents to represent the town of Shepparton, both in its history and present day. The smells were of pear, green apple, wood fire smoke, eucalyptus, garlic and chilli pepper. Outside the SAM there are some more MoovingArt cows which we looked at, only to be approached by a local man who wanted to share his many conspiracy theories with us, ranging from 9-11 to Princess Diana… Stopped off on the way back to the house to pick up some noodles for a late lunch/early dinner. In the evening, we went to the cinema to watch ‘Finding Dory’. It doesn’t stray too far from the original film in plot and tone but, with the new characters, it is still full of humour and touching moments. Tracey and I even got to use our new joke of ‘I’m drying’ (the fish equivalent to ‘I’m drowning’) on two occasions! Back at the house to ring Jayne and HSBC before heading to bed. 18 days to go!

Friday 17th June 2016

Shepparton – day 253 (K)

Woke up at a reasonable hour (based on the fact my body is still on Bangkok time) and padded out of the ex-teenagers (now a sophisticated university student in Melbourne) bedroom that is now my home for the next 3 weeks until Jayne gets here. Wrapped up snugly in my new fleecy pyjamas, I made myself a coffee, flopped down on the sofa next to Tracey and chatted the morning away. Brilliant catching up where we both have so much that we want to talk about that we jump from one conversation to the next, without any logical flow or reasoning behind our conversation topics. If anyone was listening, we probably sounded like a pair of crazy old ladies jibbering away about absolute nonsense – I loved every minute! Started getting whatsapp messages from Jayne around 2am UK time (her body is clearly on Bangkok time too!!) as the morning turned into afternoon. Feeling slightly guilty about our total lack of activity, especially when Jayne has a list of jobs as long as her arm, I had a shower and got dressed before chatting some more whilst ‘Modern Family’ was on in the background (I’ve missed that show!). Headed out into town, stopping at the bottle shop to pick up some essentials…Also stopped in the RAC shop to grab a map of Australia so I can start planning our route to visit as many of the 19 Australian UNESCO sites as possible during our time here. Found out, randomly by accident, that Tracey is entitled to discounts at the cinema with her car insurance premiums so we picked up a few cinema and food vouchers along with information about other attractions around Victoria and New South Wales where she can also get money off – it might be a decider in some of the places we visit!!Next stop… K Mart! Desperate for some clothes that don’t have holes in them and some new underwear, I was slightly confused by a. my new body shape and b. the Australian sizing system!! Got some cheap t-shirts and underpants to try on over the next few days to work out what fits me properly and comfortably before impulse purchasing loads of stuff that was dotted around the store – haven’t shopped in over 9 months and you could tell… Had a great time trying on ridiculous hats and ear warmers, reminding me of when I used to do stuff like that with my ‘cousin’ Gaelle. ‘Who can find the ugliest item of clothing for the other person to wear?’ has become an essential game to play when you have some free time in a clothes shop!Headed next door to the supermarket where I must have seemed like a weirdo, picking up random bottles of jars and bottles before replacing them on the shelf, exclaiming loudly about them before continuing on my way. Have found that my British accent has come out much thicker and stronger as I am clearly, subconsciously, trying to convince complete strangers that I am not a total lunatic! A selfie with me and a MASSIVE tub of hummus may have made people think otherwise…Headed back to the house, to crack open the wine and there was serious talk of having another meal of cheese and bread but sensibility ensued and Tracey made Tacos instead (with cheese and sour cream though so almost the same!!). Started marking the Australia map after dinner with the UNESCO sites and cross referencing them with the Greyhound bus routes to begin figuring out where and what was feasible to achieve during our stay ‘down under’. Now I’ve got a vague route planned, I have to start researching accommodations and working out how long we can afford (time and money wise!) to stay in each place. Pyjamas went back on as we both collapsed on the sofa, topping up our wine glasses and finishing our meal with a desert of Mint Oreo Dairy Milk Chocolate (I’m in heaven – I love you Coles supermarket!!) and sweets whilst we watched ‘The Proposal’ and continued chatting about anything and everything. Still missing Jayne loads (although the Mint Oreo chocolate is easing the pain somewhat!!). 19 days to go!

Thursday 16th June 2016

Melbourne – day 252 (K)

Managed to get about three hours (light) sleep before waking up to the annoying girl shuffling around in her sleep next to me. Unable to get any more shut-eye, I watched the sun rise through the tinted windows of the plane and read my book as the air stewards gradually began waking people up in preparation for landing. Having arrived on time, I sailed through Australian immigration although, disappointingly, no visa stamp in my passport… Having watched ‘Border Control’ back in the UK, I was incredibly excited to see signs saying that they were filming for the new series. Having also seen the Australian customs be extremely tough on the TV show with imported items, I declared my Toblerone chocolate and my shoes (that may or may not have had traces of Nepalese dirt on them) on my immigration form. Directed to lane number 2 after picking up my bag to be searched by the guard only to be laughed at when I explained my food item was a chocolate bar and my shoes had already been cleaned. So, I clearly won’t be on an episode of ‘Border Control’ but at least I’d declared everything properly – it is their problem now if my Toblerone bar is harbouring some unknown virus… As I walked through the exit doors looking for Tracey, I suddenly saw a huge sign saying ‘Ninja’ running towards me. A stranger spotted it first, stating ‘that’s a big sign!’ as I said ‘it’s mine!’ before running to give Tracey a massive hug. 
Had a coffee at the airport and finding out that Jayne had just arrived in Cologne, Tracey and I chatted non stop. So much so, that it took us forever to leave the airport car park as we kept getting distracted and confused following the random ‘exit’ signs. Slightly disappointed by the lack of kangaroos on the road (which looks very similar to the Irish countryside), it suddenly dawned on me that I was in Australia! The furthest away I have ever been from home… EVER! Chatted the 2 hour drive to Shepperton away, looking through my ‘welcome to Australia’ gift pack and, in what seemed like minutes, we were parked up outside the house. Met the absolutely huge, but gentle, Chilli and had some lunch (ah, cheese! I have missed you so much!!) before heading out for a car tour around town. Had a cup of coffee around Tracey’s parents house (sampling her dads home made saki – it’s delicious but potent!) before coming back to the house to have a shower and get into my new fleecy pyjamas (thanks Tracey!).Spent the rest of the evening eating cheese, drinking wine, watching movies and catching up. Feels weird to finally be here in Australia but equally feels like I’ve been here forever. Missing Jayne so much – can’t what till she gets here. 20 days to go!

Wednesday 15th June 2016

Travelling – day 251 (K)

Having abandoned Jayne to head up to the departure lounge and waving at her through the slightly frosted window at immigration, I headed up to the observation deck. Slightly disconcerting to watch the crew on cherry pickers hover over her plane, especially as I kept getting whatsapp messages detailing delays… Because lightening had stuck (and broken) a plane window. As the more nervous flyer out of the two of us, there was a weird relief that it wasn’t my plane but a horrible sinking feeling that it was Jayne’s… Spent my time between 9.00 and 18.00 when I was finally allowed to check in by reading books, watching films and drinking Starbucks. Secretly hoping that Jayne’s flight might be delayed long enough for another quick kiss and cuddle, I was disappointed to see that it had taken off whilst I was making my way through immigration. As promised, I picked up my own Toblerone bar before getting some dinner and waiting at the gate.A slightly frustrating moment where I had to empty my life straw water bottle of water to go through to the departure gate only to be able to refill it immediately after they had checked my bag…

Got on the plane for an on time departure, sat next to a very loud and obnoxious Australian girl who, thankfully, took some drugs to put her to sleep so that ‘people around her wouldn’t have to hear her moaning about her ear ache for 8 hours’… Watched ‘The Danish Girl’ on my iPad before trying to get some sleep – not sure how I feel about the film. Some parts of it were incredibly accurate but it seemed, to me, to be missing some of the keys issues in the transgender relationship.

Tuesday 14th June 2016