A Different Night Out

Finding something to do in the evenings while you are travelling can be a challenge.  Especially if you are travelling on a budget – you don’t always want to eat out.  Likewise if you have a big day planned you don’t want to go out to the pub either.  Nor do you want to sit in your hostel or hotel room and be bored out of your brains watching people come and go – lounging around is only fun in your own living room.

It doesn’t have to be this way though, I am a big advocate of finding out what the locals do in the evenings and following suit.  Whether its going dancing, catching a show, hanging out by the river and playing games – whatever it is it’s probably going to be more fun than sitting back in your accommodation.

This was the attitude I had while tramping around Dorset and Devon with my grandfather. We decided to go to the seaside town of Sidmouth, a town more famously known for its contrasting red clay cliffs than for its night life.

Refreshing Breeze Along Sidmouth Seafront

Refreshing Breeze Along Sidmouth Seafront

We took a walk along the sea front in the bracing summer wind (seriously even in the middle of a heat wave the wind can still cut straight through you).  My grandfather told me about the geology of the cliff side and showed me the famous Jacobs ladder which leads up to the iconic Connaught Gardens – a place that I remember running around often as a child.

After the sea air had built up an appetite we headed for dinner at Sidmouth Tandoori Indian Restaurant a refreshingly tasty surprise where they kept the poppadoms coming.  It took all of my self-control not to fill up before my meal had even arrived.  When it did arrive the size of the helping was almost my undoing – the layers of flavour, the chicken just fell apart on my fork.

After we had finished I rolled out the door and followed my grandfather to our evenings entertainment.  The Theatre! I think local amateur theatre is some of the most underrated experiences, it’s a great night out and not just because of the half time ice creams.

The show playing at the Manor Pavilion was “Whodunnit” written by Anthony Shaffer and presented by Paul Taylor Mills. At first it seemed to be a run of the mill old fashion murder mystery set in an old English Country manor – but before the second act had even got into full swing I had gasped in surprise then burst out laughing with each new twist and turn.  The actors were anything but amateur, most of them had been run spells in some of London’s biggest theatres and more than a few had been in a couple of movies as well.

By the time the show was over and we sidled out I was sorely disappointed that I wouldn’t be in the area for the next show – as they do a different play every week throughout the summer! To top it all off you can purchase a ticket for only 14 pounds (also I need to note that my keyboard does not have a British Pound sign) – a great way to stick to that budget, especially when the intermission ice cream is only 1 Pound!

Granted I was the youngest person in the room by at least 40 years but instead of feeling like I was the odd one out – I was ashamed that more of my generation weren’t making the most of this great night out. Is the only way we know how to have fun in the darkened rooms of pubs or clubs? I certainly hope not, because I laughed out loud as the brilliant actors before me bought to life a well-rounded and ludicrous script and thought what could be more enjoyable than this?

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Dear England, Thank you for the Sunshine!

Dear England,

I would like to thank you for your lovely hospitality so far. I have particularly enjoyed being able to wear jumpers and jackets once again.  I think you are right in scorning summer as too much sunshine can turn you that nasty peasant brown colour which no one finds particularly attractive.

Also as pretty and practical as dresses are, all the bright colours do give me a headache so it is much better to be wrapped up in jeans and a hoodie to protect the eyes from the glare of bright oranges, yellows and greens.

There was that brief moment when I was exploring London with some friends that you let the sunshine break through. In that instance it was actually quite pleasant because there was still a little chill on the air.  This meant that we were able to walk around Camden Markets at ease with our jackets constantly in hand in case there were needed with only a moments notice.

However, I did note that the McDonald’s in Camden was rather hard to find.  I spent half an hour wandering past all of the delicious smelling food stalls with origins from every corner of the globe – I was struck with indecision… there is a thing called too much choice and flavour.  I did in the end make a decision to have a chicken and cheese tikka masala roti wrap, and as I was standing out of the way (in a small patch of your silly sunshine) I heard a woman remark ‘Where exactly is the McDonald’s?’ – clearly your fresh and delightful food is not too everyone’s taste – you should have more McDonald’s!

Spoilt for choice at the Camden Markets - would you like a giant wok full of paella??

Spoilt for choice at the Camden Markets – would you like a giant wok full of paella??

I am curious as to how your nocturnal animals manage to survive these ‘summer’ months with so much daylight? For my part after spending a few hours beneath ground with some friends in a quaint cocktail bar, when I emerged a couple of hours later I felt like a kangaroo caught in headlights. Indeed, I am assuming it is because of this effect that you allow your patrons to partake in their beverages in the street.  This is clearly a traffic hazard and if I had been able to drive at this point I am sure I would have been annoyed.  However, instead I was able to enjoy milling about on a cobbled street in daylight instead of being in a small dark pub.

I am very much enjoying my time here, and hope to spend my remaining time gallivanting round your southern counties – as long as you keep the sun away that is.

Arriving in Dorset to a glorious sunshine vista!

Arriving in Dorset to a glorious sunshine vista!

Thanks and regards,
H

Like an Old Friend

I would be lying if I didn’t say that three days ago I was a little nervous about my upcoming trip.  I was contemplating like a novice the thoughts and logistics of the next couple of days with nothing but fear and trepidation. 

I didn’t think I would survive the jet lag, lugging my pack across London or living constantly on the move again.

Yet the minute I arrived in Sydney airport it changed, I instantly became comfortable, greeting the travel experience like an old friend.  You know the friend – someone you can chat with and hang out with, who you may not see for two years straight and yet greet one another in exactly the same place you left off – usually mid sentence.

The inner backpacker in me re-surfaced, I relaxed when the man sitting next to me kept putting his elbows on my side of the chair – he had the middle seat after all which is never easy. At my stop over in Kuala Lumpur I made friends with some 18 year olds on their first trip away so that I could have a nap with someone kinda looking out for me.

When we hit a rough patch of turbulence I just picked up my cup so that it didn’t spill all over me while others screamed. When the plane over shot the run way because there was another plane still parked on it… I shrugged my shoulders and relaxed back into the seat while we circled around waiting to try to land again.

I successfully navigated my way across London with the help of some friendly tube staff who pointed me to the right stations, to meet my cousin. Slapped down the mistress that is sometimes known as jetlag with a delicious Pimms.

In true backpack style I didn’t have a minute to unwind but was up early the next day to bus across town to catch my flight to Croatia.  In Luton airport I did in fact meet up with an old friend who is coming with me to Croatia – and catching up with her was just as easy as shouldering my backpack once again. We bumped our packs together like sumo wrestlers instead of hugging, and then immediately started discussing the important things in life – lunch!

This is how travel should be – something that grows with you and is always there for you when you need it, something that makes you feel comfortable and yet a little out of your comfort zone.  For good friends always challenge you to be better!

Now here I am in yet another hostel, after having an amazing seafood risotto and making friends with complete strangers.  Looking forward to a good nights sleep even though its 28 degrees.  This is the life!

Stuff, Roll or Iron….?

(Just to avoid confusion through this blog please remember that I am Australian and that to me flip-flops – which is a ridiculous name for an item of clothing – are actually thongs)

Everybody has their system when it comes to packing – and no one is shy about giving sharing, after all saving space and weight is a serious subject and any helpful hints need to be shared.

My packing for this trip has been rather chaotic at best – well compared to others it may be organised but as I am a little bit of an organisation freak it has felt very haphazard to me. There have been several conflicts that I have had to work my way through… it has been a trying couple of days.

The life of a backpack!

The life of a backpack!

The Weather Conundrum: With a few friends keeping me company… or to be more accurate keeping my cheese company I began the labouring task of deciding what to take on my CUK trip.  Croatia – nice and easy, summer dresses, swimmers, sunglasses and a book.  United Kingdom, however, is another matter.  I asked my family to rate the weather from 1-10, with 1 being a blizzard, 6 is cardigan weather if you are particularly wussy and 10 being so hot that you are actually wearing a super-duper sweat suit that is self creating.  Their response was… the weather is “exciting” you can have all four seasons in a day – you never know what you get so its like weather roulette…hmmmmmmmmm

Stuff, Roll or Iron: Once the theme had been decided and I had divided my clothes up into little piles round my living room I pulled out the ironing board (this is pretty much the only time my ironing board has been used all year) because everyone knows that if you iron clothes they become smaller. My friend who was helping me devour cheese at this point scoffed at me “I just shove it all in, why bother folding and ironing it when its going in a pack”. A fair point it must be said, but I this way I can find things easily because they are in little piles and everything is nice and flat. Later when describing this packing session to another friend she paused and looked at me for a moment and then said “what, you don’t roll pack?” – I am not convinced on the roll pack method as I can’t quite see how it will save me space. Plus I like my little piles.

Where to Stuff my Socks: The clothes have been sorted out and its now time to consider the foot ware. First thought was that I would wear my trainers on the plane and pack my thongs (flip-flops) and heels but then I thought what will I do with my trainers when I am wearing my thongs? Then I thought how often will I be wearing my trainers anyway I pretty much live in my thongs anyway.  I travelled round South East Asia with only one pair of bright yellow thongs for footwear after my black ones were stolen (they also weren’t very yellow by the end…). I can hear my Grandfather moaning from here at the thought of me gallivanting around in nothing but thongs (flip-flops), don’t worry I have heels as well! A quick late night text to my Croatia travel buddy to confirm if we were planning any hiking “NO” was the response – I knew there was a reason why she is one of my favourites! Only problem was that I now have no where to stuff my socks… then I realised – I no longer need to take socks either!

Culling Maxi’s: I had nearly everything packed when I started to do the last-minute remembering – charger, belts, earrings, address book etc. Then I remembered beach towel for Croatia, I plan to do a lot of swimming and will need my quick dry towel for showering so a beach towel may be needed.  Problem is that my pack is already near bursting.  Over dinner I discussed this serious problem with a friend, she looked at me seriously and said “how many maxi-dresses are you taking?”… busted! Now I have to weigh up what is more important, taking my maxi-dresses of my beach towel.  She may have a point in that I can always buy more dresses over there, but it is so hard to choose which ones to cull – its like leaving behind a finger or a toe!

On Top: Finally I think I have everything in and packed… though I may wake up early tomorrow morning and pull everything out and then start again.  The only important thing to do now is to make sure my pyjamas are on top so that when I arrive in the weather elusive northern hemisphere I don’t have to worry about sifting through my brilliant packing before crawling into bed.

EXCITED!

 

Cheap Seats – Not Worth the Savings!

Trip planning – my second favourite thing after actually travelling.  I am in the midst of planning a trip at the moment to the UK and with a quick sidestep to Croatia for a little sun and fun.

I am heading there with one of my oldest and closest friends who has been living in Europe for the last two years (lucky much!) and so I have been treating her as the authority on how best to travel through Europe (it’s been a while since I was last there).

We did all of this over Skype over the last few weekends and despite Skype’s best effort at disconnecting us at the most inconvenient points we managed to book our flights.

It was a work of art on her part it must be said!  As soon as we had narrowed the field of dates she pulled up three different flight websites. First she looked at which were the best airports to use from London, then she fiddled with dates, then we reversed the trip (Dubrovnik -> Split became Split->Dubrovnik), went back to the original dates, changed London airports one more time and came up with two relatively good deals (considering the time of year we are flying that is).

It then came down to decision time – here were the options

Flight one – Hard to get to London airport, 6am flight, cheapest

Flight two – Hard to get to London airport, 2pm flight, not as cheap.

Our natural bargain hunting instinct was to go for the cheaper option – cheaper is always better! However, we paused for a moment and thought about it. The 2pm flight would be a lot more convenient for me, as I would have only arrived the night before and was hoping to have breakfast with my cousin, not to mention the trek I was going to have to do across London to Luton – the question then became was the 20 pound saving worth losing the convenience? Quick answer was no – problem solved, flights booked!

It did get me thinking though of all the trips I have done how the backpacker thrift mentality takes hold, bargaining down to the last penny in spite of my own personal preference.

When I was travelling round South East Asia I was pretty skint and so did as much of the trip on the cheap as I possibly could – however, in reflection, there were a few times when I wished I had spent a little more money to enjoy the experience:

Beds V Bugs: Rocking into Chang Rai we began the usual hunt of looking for a place to place our heads for the night, the first two hostels we looked at were charging the equivalent of $8 a night – we had just come out of Laos so this was extraordinarily high for us.  Eventually we found a place that had a room above a pub for $4 a night… bargain! In retrospect I would have paid the extra $4 to avoid sleeping on the suspiciously stained mattress above a juke box that played Black Eyed Peas “Good Night” over and over again – wasn’t a good night.

Groomed V Gross: All through Asia you can get great pedicure or manicure for great prices. Trick is to make sure you don’t fall for the allure of having your nails done by those lovely smiling ladies who come round while you are on the beach.  Sounds like bliss – lying on a deck chair sipping a cocktail while having your nails done – and it is for all of five minutes! Then you realise that there is no way they could have sterilised the utensils between doing your nails and the German man’s down the beach… ewww factor. Don’t risk infection – head to one of the salons, there are loads of them, they are still cheap but what you pay for is a little bit more peace of mind.

Slow Boat V Fast Boat: There is a scam in Thailand run on tourists heading out to Koh Phanang for the full moon party. Everyone knows about the it and naturally tries to avoid falling for it.  Basically there are two tickets, slow boat or for $2 more fast boat – the scam is that they are the SAME boat!  We bought the slow boat tickets and transfer to the wharf. SCAMMED – we ended up sitting in a little booking office for three hours while being bullied/conned into buying the fast boat tickets.  We gave in.  Wish we had given in sooner – because as soon as we did we were taken to the wharf where all the other travellers were lolling about waiting for the boat sipping beers and eating great food – $2 for three hours of my life, sure!

Bed V Bells: Jumping off the bus ride from hell in Luang Parbang we bargain down with the scalpers who met the bus for a great deal – a room with TV and air-con, close to the city centre, five nights for the price of three! Score! Except that across the street was a very big and special Buddhist Wat that was celebrating a festival – that was going on for 8 days.  This involved little gongs being played constantly (which eventually you could drown ignore) and a big gong being played sporadically ever hour or so (no one could have drowned this one out) – wish we had packed our bags and gone somewhere else – missing sleep is never a good thing.

Sometimes paying a little bit extra can save you loads of hassle in the long run – note to self don’t be stingy!

Running the Storm in Lyme

Mondays are the day I daydream the most, today I am thinking about being in England, particularly in a place called Lyme Regis!

Waiting for the snow storm to pass on the Boardwalk in Lyme Regis

It’s a quaint little sea-side village, which in the summer is invaded by thousands of tourists, or as the locals call them – Grockles.  The famous Cob and beach front wall are lined with deck chairs where the Grockles prostrate themselves bathed in tanning oils trying to catch a rare English tan.  Behind them the brightly painted houses blare in the sunlight with the ocean softly rolling along the beach below.  It is the perfect picture and the best place to relax for a summer holiday.  Well that is if you like sharing a beach with a thousand other tourists, tripping over deck chairs while you race up to the ice cream van, fighting the crowds as you walk up the hill to the best pubs and the never-ending traffic that doesn’t know that there is a back way out of the village.

This is Lyme Regis in summer – it is so beautiful that everyone wants to be here, before you know it, you can no longer see the quaint little village that was so famously pictured in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion through the heaving mass of oiled up lobster coloured bodies.

Like Austen I like to visit this Sea Side oasis after the season has turned when the crowds are gone and the locals come out of hiding.  The village is situated in the on one side of a cliff as it climbs out of a valley; the whole village is effectively built on a hill.  The cliff front is the home of the botanical gardens giving the perfect place to sit and have a picnic dinner during the summer, while looking out to sea.  That brings us to the iconic Sea Front and the Cob; both have become places of historical and cultural import.  The sea front is where Mary Anning discovered some of England’s greatest fossil hordes – because of the great fossil finds the coast line has now been added to the national trust or as its more commonly known as “The Jurassic Coast”.  Culturally it has been featured by writers like Jane Austen and John Fowels (whose novel A French Lieutenants Woman was also filmed here).  Others like Tolkien and the poet Tennyson (who went straight to the Cob on arrival and demanded to be shown where Louisa Musgrove from Jane Austen’s Persuasion fell) just came to visit and absorb the infamous atmosphere.

In taking all of this in it is no wonder that the place gets so crowded in summer, but like Jane Austen, I prefer to visit once the crowds have gone and the locals come out of hiding, the brightly painted houses may no longer shine in the sun, instead give off a small sense of warmth as the landscape around changes from the glorious green of summer to the rough shades of winter.

I think back on the last day that I went to Lyme; my grandparents who live in the neighbouring village of Charmouth took me there to look around while they buy groceries.  As we come into the village through the narrow high street they discuss the best logistics: it is decided that my grandmother and I will get out at the bottom of this hill and walk up looking at the shops and purchasing whatever groceries that are needed, my grandfather will park at the top of the hill and do the same walking down the hill until he meets us in the middle at the fruit and veg store.

As soon as we are out of the car and it has sped off up the hill at an alarming speed I am confronted by carol singers who are loitering around the giant Christmas tree that is at the bottom of the high street, I briefly marvel at their bravery in standing out in the wind and cold and continuing to sing, before my grandmother takes me into a coffee shop.  We sit by the window that looks out over the tip of the wall at the sea – I can see one of the iron canons that lines the wall in memory of when Lyme was turned into a fort against invading armies (there have been several – French, German, French, Spanish, French).  We sip our coffees slowly and I have a piece of cake, my grandmother doesn’t need any cake as she has just put half a packet of sugar in her coffee. I guiltily picture my Grandfather doing most of the grocery shopping and getting it all packed away in the car before we have even left the coffee shop.

Each store front is decorated for Christmas, with the soft lights glowing through the Victorian windows lighting up the whole street. My grandmother idly looks at various objects and asks me if anything would be suitable for one of my cousins, nothing is, so she leaves me to look in the book store while she goes into the grocery store.  I lounge in the warmth and spend more time looking out of the window than I do at the books.  The locals who are red-faced, meander past oblivious to the cold, they stop to chat to one another and watch the carol singers.  I can see my grandfather laden down with bags heading back up the hill to the car; suddenly my grandmother pops up in front of me and is given a good laugh after startling me.

I take the bags from her and head up the hill in search of my grandfather, despite the cold I love looking around at the village, if you ignore the cars you almost feel as though you could be slipping back to the 1700’s.  My grandfather has craftily parked right near the entrance to the botanical gardens, which lead down to the sea front and their favourite fish monger, my grandfather takes the shopping and hands me another scarf, he knows how much I whinge with the cold.

The botanical gardens are one of my favourite places, no matter what time of year you come they seem to be full of life.  Even this close to Christmas the grass is green and small vibrant bushes line the paths.  As we crest the hill and look down on the Cob my breath catches – giant magnificent storm clouds are rushing towards us.  You can see the clouds moving and interchanging as parts become dark and folded.  While I stop and stare my grandfather doubles his pace as its obvious a storm is coming, one look at the sea below which is churning up and pelting the Cob, tells even a storm novice like me that we don’t want to be caught in this.  Yet I feel so caught up in the contrast between the wild uncontrollable storm that is about to break on this picturesque village that I dawdle, my grandmother links her arm through mine as we walk slowly down the hill.

We catch up to my grandfather inside the fish mongers, he is chatting away with the man who is serving about the tides and the expected haul for the next few days.  In seeing my grandmother the man’s face lights up, he pulls out some prawns for her to look at – “all the way from Australia and still fresh”  – my grandparents both start laughing and look at me, my grandmother shakes her head “I can’t serve Australian prawns to an Australian” this of course turns the man’s attention on me “Oh you’re the granddaughter from Australia” we chat away as my grandmother decides on what nice English fish she is going to put in tonight’s pie.

My grandfather wants to show me the new life boat and take me for a walk out on the Cob but takes one look at how close the clouds are to the shore and turns back along the front.  We decide to walk along the front and back up through the village as the path through the gardens looks a bit steep and if the storm comes it will be wet and slippery. As we are about half way along the inevitable happens, the storm breaks.  I can see the edge of the storm lining the cliff as the first drops hit my head. I look up surprised; instead of the straight lines of rain I see swirls of snow.  It’s unusual for this time of year and on the coast –to me it’s delightful, as my grandparents rush for cover I swirl around, pretending that I am four.  I can hear my grandfather chuckling as I slip and almost fall, I give up then and join them under cover.  It’s then that I realise how cold, wet snow in your clothes really is. A quiet calm presses down on us as we watch the gentle snow falling into the waves which are now rising above the wall.

Snow falling on the Cob in Lyme Regis

Eventually there is a quick break in the storm and my grandfather scurries up the botanical garden path while my grandmother and I rush down the front to meet him once he has got the car and bought it down the hill.

Back at their home as I unpack the groceries I continue to watch the storm out of their kitchen window.  I hold the picturesque beauty of Lyme Regis being confronted by the overwhelming storm in my mind’s eye and somehow I get through Monday.