Lists, etc.

Some seafood I have tried of late:

*Mussel fritter at farmers’ market in Paihia

*Shellfish kindly shared with me by Taiwanese couple in hostel (reminded me of mussels but different shell)

*Snapper and chips, eaten on the beach in Devonport (short ferry ride away from Auckland city)

Things I am liking very much:

*Tree ferns and agapanthus, which I am seeing everywhere

*Walking in the sea, a tonic for mind and body (including the Famous Kramer Blisters)

*Being barefoot

*The clean air in NZ

*The colour of the sea

*Collecting seashells

*Devonport on Saturday, calm and perfect for exploration

*Being on the other side of the world from where I have always been before

What I’m up to…

Returned to Auckland today on the bus and after checking into my hostel decided to take the short ferry ride to Devonport and explore. There are two volcanic cones there so enjoyed a bit of a climb in the (hot) sunshine, paid off my nice views over the harbour and into the city. Walked along Cheltenham beach and picked up seashells and bits of volcanic rock. Had some fish and chips (snapper and chips, as noted above) on the beach and in the evening returned by ferry, chatting to some Americans from Kansas to pass the 12 minute or so crossing time. Ran errands in the city and returned to hostel. Typing this but should be climbing into bed – early start tomorrow to take the Overlander train down to Wellington. Read about the journey ahead of me here!

And for pics, try my Flickr photostream


In my element

I am up in the Bay of Islands now, staying in a place called Paihia. It is so relaxed here, and really, really pretty – pics to come when I’m on a better computer. Such a pleasant change from Auckland, of which I am not a huge fan, although I did enjoy the Auckland Museum, where I looked at Maori carvings and learned a bit of history, of the natural and human varieties. The Domain, where the museum is set, is a really nice park and the Wintergarden has some lovely plant houses you can visit.

But Paihia! I am staying in a nice hostel where I received a free upgrade to a deluxe dorm. I have the feeling the dorm will be full tonight and that it’s mixed – just heard a guy saying to reception that he’s moved into the room number where I’m staying. I hope he doesn’t snore, I had enough noise last night from the karaoke bar next door. Indeed. Well, today was easily my favourite day in NZ so far. I went on a sailing excursion: spent the day barefoot on a boat and on an island, helping to sail, beachcombing, walking, lounging, eating tasty treats. Plus I met people from all over the world and made a couple of friends (with the British contingent, of which I am a semi-member I guess). Again, pics to come when I am on a less annoying computer.

I promised to talk about the Blue Mountains. Well, I went on a little tour there, which was great because my feet, as I may have mentioned before, have been suffering and it was a really, really hot day. So being taken round some highlights suited me fine. Did you know there are 93 species of eucalyptus (gum) tree in the Blue Mountains? And did you know the Blue Mountains are more ancient than the Grand Canyon? Factoids of the day, amaze a friend. Some photos should be on Flickr, click below to see. I’m not sure my pics of kangaroos are there. Coming soon, like so much else? And I went on the steepest railway in the world. I aim to amaze.

Time for dinner now and then a drink with friends. Tomorrow I’m on an early coach back to Auckland…then down to Wellington on the train on Sunday!

Greetings from very sunny Sydney

I’ve been in Sydney for five days now. I have seen so much and been through some loneliness and jet lag, as predicted, but it’s been great.

So, about that 14-hour flight. It went really fast, believe it or not! I forced myself to “sleep”, using my silk and lavender eye shade (thanks, S!) to create a fairly continuous nighttime for an unfeasible number of hours. All I know is that soon enough it was time for breakfast (ugh!), thereby signalling the final three hours of the flight. I could go on and on about flying. Yawn. So I’ll cut to the chase. With one and half hours left I was full of beans (literally and metaphorically) and very excited to see Sydney. Later, we came in over the city and I had my first view of that famous opera house. Very cool.

I had booked a night in private room in a particular hostel, which I had later decided, before departing England, looked pretty grim. I was stuck with one night there (or lose my deposit) so went in with the attitude that it wouldn’t be great but it’d do for a night. And so it was.  The location was good, though. Moments from Bondi Beach.

Now Bondi Beach is full of the young and the beautiful. Which is outrageously intimidating if you’re me and you’ve just got off the plane and you’re stuck wearing your specs (and not your glam made-for-Australia-in-the-summertime sunglasses, boo hoo!) on day one because of a boring mishap involving contact lens solution. Plus everyone here seems to be into exercise. Well, they have the weather for all kinds of pursuits here. I went for a walk and there were even people (well-t0ned males) using pull-up bars and the like dotted along the walkway. But I’m getting distracted. Where was I? Ah, yes. So my first stroll took me to North Bondi and some rock pools. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the colour of the sea, the incredible heat and the sheer summeriness of everything around me.  Later I explored a shopping area, bought some organic nectarines and nearly had to take out a mortgage (didn’t someone tell me fresh fruit was expensive in Australia?).

Later on, jet lag strikes and I’m counting down the time til I’m “allowed” to go to bed. I go out for a makeshift dinner of pizza on the beach and then go up and down the beach barefoot, massaging the travel tension from my feet. Lovely. Then to bed in the scroungy, unfriendly hostel. Moving day tomorrow!

So Saturday I’m up nice and early and looking for trouble. I head to a cafe for breakfast and learn the term “flat white” (it’s how I like my coffee). Later I move my luggage to the new hostel (YHA Bondi Beachouse, which is lovely) and embark on the coastal walk between Bondi and Coogee. The walk is very beautiful but because I am me, the first thing I am going to tell you about is that I saw a sign that said “If you dog does a POO please put in the litter bin”. I like this because you wouldn’t see this in the official signage of either America or Britain. But back to the scenery. Have a look:

I do this walk both there…and back. Which is great but I am knackered by the end of it. But the walking and exerting is not over for the day. For I discovered, back before I even left Arizona, that it was Sydney Festival First Night on the 9th. Lots of free entertainment, a big party throughout the centre of the city basically. As I have decided to go, I feel I must go. So I go. And it is exhausting meeting the city after dark, while hugelyl crowded, and after having walked so much earlier in the day. But I get myself into these things, don’t I. I was disappointed to not gain entry to the venue where Al Green was performing – the Domain reached crowd capacity before I arrived. So I watched some fantastic circus performances instead, people watched, enjoyed the festival atmosphere. But I had to get back to the hostel, and this turned into a marathon search for the bus stop (my feet ache just thinking about it) and then being severely scolded for not having my money ready (well I’d only just then located your bus stop, you crabby Aussie bus guy, give a girl a break). When I entered my room I couldn’t see unless I put on the light and so then got scolded by a slumbering roommate for doing this (“You’re in a hostel.” Yes, dear, but so you are you, and seeing in the dark isn’t my superpower. That would be telling longwinded stories…and using lots of parentheses.) You have to laugh.

So having met Sydney on a festive Saturday night, I decided to go back for more on Sunday. By the time I’d dragged myself/walked/trained it in to the city, it was early afternoon and time for another flat white, this time just outside the botanic gardens. I then walked through part of the gardens and emerged with my first non-aerial views of the opera house and Harbour Bridge. Hurrah! Hackneyed shots but sometimes you just have to be a tourist. It’s fun.

I walked to Circular Quay and bought a ticket for the ferry to Darling Harbour. Then I walked to The Rocks where they have a fantastic market. I ended up buying myself a pretty sparkly thing for my hair. Costume jewellery is a bit of a weakness for me, but what a nice souvenir. Then back to the quay to take the ferry – what a perfect way to see the sights of Sydney. Insert more typical shots from typical visitor doing typical things. (It’s great!) Darling Harbour is full of colour and people. Children running through water features, making me wish I were several years younger, or at least wearing a swimsuit, so I could join in. Made it to Chinatown, had a quick look at the Paddy’s markets. Then collapsed in the shade somewhere and tried to get my blisters to disappear by denying their existence. This didn’t work but I waddled back to Martin Place station and took the train and the bendy bus in a well choreographed number I like to call “good timing”. Didn’t get told off by anybody.

The next day, after enjoying some time sitting near the beach reading a book, I went back into the city to visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I had a nice time but my feet were hurting quite a bit. I noticed I’d gotten well enough acquainted with this part of Sydney to not even need my map at all times. Back in Bondi I had a lovely, lovely dinner with a “connection” from home (thank you, Zee).

Then today I went to the Blue Mountains. I am running out internet time so that will come in the next installment. I’ve written quite a lot already and wittered on about some odd things. I have just received my five minute warning from the computer – will update again soon!!!

New year, new stuff

So here we are in 2010. On New Year’s Eve Mom and I ventured downtown to ‘First Night Tucson’, taking in music performances at various venues, some improv comedy, even an Ansel Adams exhibition at the museum of art. (Very cultured of us!) That New Year’s blue moon was beautiful. Here it is as it hung over downtown Tucson that night.

One of my early achievements of the year is this genuine crocheted ipod cover, which I fashioned with my very own clumsy hands. The photo makes it look like a giant (it’s not, I didn’t go that wrong.). It’s based on the one here, but with a big old button instead of a bow. Quirky, no?

I am both excited and jittery about my upcoming travels. I have fears, but they are just fears and, really, what a nice alternative to work and winter I face. Besides, I have done far scarier things. Four springs ago I moved to a city where I knew no one. My first days in Bristol were probably some of the hardest of my life. I have nothing to fear from travelling solo. Not jet lag, not loneliness, not the things that will go ‘wrong’. It isn’t that those things won’t be part of my experience – they will. It’s just that it’s worth it for all the other things I’ll experience.

I’ve been reading Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach. She writes about the time she took a year off from her job in America and headed to Europe. She includes the ups and downs of her travels and speaks of the adventure inherent in taking off for parts unknown. I like this quote from the introduction: ‘you are a woman in search of an adventure, said the voice inside. Take the risk. Say “Yes” to life instead of “No.”

So, tomorrow: I fly to southern California, where I will stay with my dad and stepmom. The following evening they will deliver me to LAX where I will board that 14 and a half hour flight to Sydney. Me, a backpack (which I carry with authority, I tell you, you should have seen me parading around the back garden the other day…), and a daypack stuffed with novels, food, a passport and other essentials.

I’ll take my trepidation with me too. But hopefully, like Alice Steinbach, I’ll be ‘guided less by expectations than by curiosity’.

I’m a swinger

So lately I’ve been taking little walks around the neighbourhood here in Tucson, and one of my routine destinations on these little meanderings is the local park. At the park they have a set of swings. And I love swinging so I often throw myself into it with gusto. Nobody in the vicinity need know that the sunglassed person sailing through the air is actually 33 years old. Shh. But who cares anyway? You have to have a pastime.

So today in the park I saw some other people out doing what they enjoy. There were two older gentlemen practicing the art of metal detecting. Oh yes, very cool. One of them had suspenders (uh, braces) holding up his pants (trousers). I sat on the swings, unobtrusively observing them as they exchanged tips on the best methodologies. You know, like at what angle you should hold your metal detecting thing for best results. Then Suspenders/Braces started talking to his device, sort of good naturedly scolding it for giving him false alarms. I smiled to myself, but in truth I often find myself not only talking to inanimate objects but having heated (one-sided) debates with them, so I shouldn’t poke fun at the guy.

There was also a man and a woman in the park with their dogs. The guy called out to one of the dogs, presumably for doing or going something or somewhere it shouldn’t. Made me think that perhaps there is a universal ‘Hey!’ used across the world for addressing one’s dog while out on a walk. I suppose the accents change but the sentiment is much the same, isn’t it. Sort of a shorthand for ‘Hey [name of dog], steer clear of those metal detectors and that woman sitting around waiting for them to move out of the way so she can take a photo of an empty swing set to adorn an entry in her oh-so-quirky travel blog…’

swing set

And just to prove that there are more exciting landscapes in these parts, and should swinging fail to excite you, behold some scenery from Tuesday’s visit to Mt Lemmon. (Those from Arizona need not be impressed. Those from elsewhere, now please politely ooh and aah. Well done, thank you!)


I have successfully arrived in the desert – not that I had to do much, aside from move myself from one mode of transport to another. On the other hand, my mom and brother had to brave dust storms to get to the airport to collect me!

The weather in the UK proved no obstacle, thankfully. I had heard one of the National Express coach guys saying all flights were cancelled out of Heathrow, which seemed like complete rubbish (and it was), but then the UK does have a habit of panicking when the weather gets more ‘extreme’ than rain so you never know.

Terminal 5 seems to have become more mainstream than last time I was there. The coach even takes you right to the doors. The convenience, I tell you! It wasn’t long ago they made you get out at T4 and take a city bus service to T5 (for free, granted, but still). After check-in, the next highlight was being specially selected as one of the passengers requiring frisking for sharp objects. They were watching us as we descended an escalator. I think it was the leg stretches I was doing in preparation for the long flight. (‘Stop that one – she’s obviously rearranging her collection of knives inside her trousers.’)

On board, I passed the time watching films and a spot of telly. After I lost interest in the BBC World News (shame) I put on Flight of the Conchords in honour of New Zealand. (It was the one with Jemaine’s Australian girlfriend, if you were wondering.)

So now I’m in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve eaten, I’ve slept, I’ve marvelled and blinked in the sunshine, which I really do think people who live here take for granted. I’ve seen a couple of hummingbirds today, which are always a pleasure. I also booked up some bits of my NZ itinerary for January, including a ticket on the Overlander service between Auckland and Wellington. It is meant to be one of the world’s great rail journeys.

But for now, time to enjoy Christmas with my family. And to try not to lecture anyone on the blessing of winter sunshine! (Nor to debate the meaning of the word ‘cold’…)

Ready to go

The time has absolutely flown since I made the decision to leave my job and go travelling. There has been so much to do to plan such a big trip at such short notice but somehow, and with the patience and wisdom of friends helping me along, I’ve now made it through the vast majority of my To Do List items. I have flights, insurance, a range of currencies (including the surprisingly water resistant Australian dollar), accommodation sorted for Sydney, and as I type this my bags are more or less packed.

It’s been stressful at times and I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time making phone calls about travel stuff. Then there was the threat of the British Airways strikes and things got all the hairier. Now, sitting on my bed in Bristol, surrounded by sheets of paper representing numerous travel tickets and accommodation bookings, and having said ‘farewell, see you in March’ to my friends in Bristol, I think I’m just about ready…

It was my last day at work on Friday. Leaving my job of three years was quite a leap but I feel happy. Change is good. I worked with some people who I really will miss, but we shall meet again!

I wrote the following during my last hours in the office. I think it captures the mood I was in.

It’s my last day at work today. I feel excited, and a bit mischievous. Like I’m plotting to play hooky. And I like it.

Walked to work as usual today. About 45 minutes through the frosty air, making my way round the ice-edged mud puddles. I tend to propel myself to work partly by virtue of the tunes on my ipod,  and today some good ones shuffled their way to my ears. But I could also hear the external sounds around me as I made my way, not feeling like I needed to hurry today, being mindful of my surroundings, taking time to notice.

When I got near the centre, buses were making their hissing, diesely noises in the street. Noises evocative of journeys. When I set off on this adventure from Bristol, those same sounds will inhabit the coach station where I’ll perch, ready to go.

Ah, bless, quite the little writer. But yes, here I am, ready for that journey tomorrow. First stop by air: Arizona.

Where I expect it will be a tad less snowy than it was here in Bristol today!

“Not all those who wander are lost.”