Monday, December 17, 2007

Quirky traveller tales..

One thing that strikes most Aussies that venture to Europe is that, yes, you might be millions of miles away from home on the other side of the world, but you can never, truly escape. You are probably more likely to bump into your best friend from primary school/old piano teacher/next door neighbour on the streets of London then you are in Sydney. Logical it's not, but it happens. Now, Europe is obviously a much bigger place again, but coincidences surely do happen.

So as you can probably guess, there is a story coming on. Recently I went to Spain with a friend of mine - a blissful tour starting on the Costa Brava and doing a loop through Andalucia and finishing in Majorca. As you can imagine, it was a sun-filled tapas and sangria fiesta and a lot of the indulgences occurred in the beautiful town of Seville where we spent a few days. When we arrived in Seville, we had already been travelling together alone for about a week and were hungry for some company, any company! We were out sampling some of the fine bars and tapas the region had to offer one night, when I spotted a couple of obviously-not-Spanish people I thought were staying in the same hostel as us. OK, so I had probably had a little too much sangria by this stage, but we all got chatting and had a fun night out (which ended up with me leaving a lot of my possessions behind at the bar, but that's another story).

Anyways, I didn't give a second thought to the guys we had been out with that night and we continued on our merry tour of Spain and I returned to London. Last week, I got home from work and got the shock of my life when one of them was standing in my kitchen! Turns out he is the 'friend' of my flatmates who came to London to stay with us for a week! Was quite embarrassing, but funny since it is such a massive co-incidence. It just goes to show, you are never safe...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas lights already?

I'm one of those people who denies Christmas is coming up until about the 10th December when I realise I have about five seconds to buy a million expensive presents for everyone. It's kind of hard to ignore though when such a fuss is made in London over something so seemingly small as switching on a few Christmas lights. Last week, Oxford Street was crammed for the traditional switching-on ceremony, with the switch-flicking being done by such 'high-calibre' celebrities as Leona Lewis (winner of the UK X-Factor) and Westlife. Admittedly, the lights are beautiful, even if every year they are centred around a tacky Disney movie theme (this year it is something called Enchanted I think, at least that's better than Ice Age 2, like it was last year). The lead-up to Christmas is definitely a beautiful time to be in London. Yes, it's dark and yes, it's freezing but there's nothing quite like walking down a frosty Oxford St in your coat and mittens with a million sparkling lights shining down on you. Try to ignore the frantic Christmas shoppers and it really is lovely.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nerd abroad

I just love London. Last night I dragged Paul along to a book event in Waterstones (read: gigantic multiple storey book shop) so we could meet Patricia Cornwell. Yes, it's somewhat embarrassing that I love these book events, but I have been a fan of her Kay Scarpetta novels for a good ten years. She has just released her 16th Scarpette book so a book tour (and apparently her only book signing in the world for this novel) was held. It was actually a really good night - although we did have to go for drinks afterwards since, unlike the last book event I went to, there was no wine provided at this one. (I know, disgrace, what do they think I paid my 3 quid for?!) Patricia Cornwell was great to see though - she is really down to earth although, somewhat strangely, talks about her characters like they are real people. To the extent of answering questions in the form of 'I'll ask Kay and let you know'. But it was all done with a sense of humour so I don't think she's a real crackpot. I guess the other excuse is that she has been immersed in these characters for a good 20 years, so can be forgiven for beocoming quite attached to them. She also had these two massive security guards, complete with earpieces. Must be the downfall of being a forensic thriller author - I can imagine she attracts a few psychos. Anyways, book events are definitely my tip for cheap, enjoyable nights out in London (if you're into this kind of thing). You only pay £3 and you get that deducted off the price of the book being promoted if you buy it on the night to get signed by the author. Not bad (especially when you get the free wine). Tonight Russell Brand is promoting his new book at Waterstones. but I can't be bothered queuing. I think he might just be a little more popular than PC.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Spanish highlights

One of the best, and most unexpected, delights of our fab trip was a visit to the Arab/Hamman baths in Cordoba. We were walking through the dusty cobblestoned streets when Kimberely spotted this mosaic oasis and suggested we go for a spa and a massage. Not being one to complain about these sorts of things, I raced back to our hostel to grab our cozzies and then returned to a blissful few hours in the most peaceful and relaxing place I have ever been. After a brief flashing incident on my behalf (seems these things always happen to me) we first spent 10 minutes in the warm pool you see in this photo. Then we moved on to steaming hot baths in a darkened room lit by candles (very nice but a little weird if you happened to be sharing the same bath as a hairy spaniard - we tried to avoid him). After the hot water opened the pores you then were supposed to go into the next stage of baths filled with freezing cold water. But since this was pretty unbearable, I mostly skipped these and went back to the warm baths (probably negating all the good things that were supposed to be happening to my skin!). if that wasn't blissful enough, we then had massages. All for a smart 28 euro! Bargain if you're spending pounds, and not too hefty in Aussie dollars either..

Check it out - Hammam Spain

Friday, November 02, 2007

Back from Spain

I've been really slack with posting lately - been too busy with work, life and holidays which is not a bad way to be I suppose! The last two weeks were beautifully spent sunning myself in Spain, a holiday I have been wanting to take for a long time and which was even better since it was spent with a friend from home that I had not seen in ages. I revisited Barcelona (could still go back there a million more times), then flew to Seville, train to Cordoba, bus to Granada and then flying back to Majorca and back to good old Gatwick. Although I will always hold Barcelona in a very special place in my heart (this city just has so much to offer!), I have to say that Andalucia is stunning and definitely worth a visit. The Islamic influence in the religious buildings, history, architecture and even in the shops is so beautiful and interesting, and of course the sun shines hotter in the south!

Some highlights:

  • The largest cathedral in Europe in Seville - this place is gigantic and is home to the tomb of Christopher Colombus and a tower you can climb up for a view over the whole city.
  • The BEST TAPAS IN SPAIN (yes I'm going to go out on a limb and say it). This place we found by recommendation in Cordoba was everything you want from a tapas restaurant - authentic, fresh, extremely reasonable and completely delicious. It's called Meson San Basilio. Definitely the best tapas I have ever had. The tomate con sal (tomatoes with salt) is possibly the most simple, yet most delicious dish ever.
  • L'Alhambra in Granada - a majestic Islamic-inspired palace which sits on the hill overlooking the city. Filled with stunning architecture, dramatic gardens, peaceful courtyards and outstanding views over the city.
  • Our Spanish villa in Granada, Vista Alhambra - rooftop views over the city and directly next to the Alhambra. Completely reasonable for a self-contained apartment and lovely people. Many an afternoon was spent basking on the roof in the beautiful sun.
  • Crazy nights out in Barcelona - if I had any idea the places I was, I would recommend them! Oh, and Arab baths in Cordoba (these deserve their own post - it will come soon)

  • The sumptuous lifestyle in Mallorca - could anyone say no to million-dollar yachts, a stunning poolside (and beachside) villa and the best Japanese restuarant to be found in Spain?
  • There are more, many more, but for now will just put some piccies:
The beautiful Alcazar (palace and gardens) in Seville:
On the Costa Brava:
Once I get my Flickr account sorted out, there will be more... Meanwhile back in London, the clocks have changed and we're settling down for a cosy winter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

World Cup? What World Cup?

We came, we saw and we....ummmm, tried really hard and failed to obtain the revenge we so richly deserved after victory was so cruelly snatched from us in October 2003, by a fetchingly handsome blonde man in some little white shorts. And that's all I will say on the matter. Fair play to England - they have done well and if they can manage to crawl back from the 36-0 earlier defeat to SA (or whatever it was) then they deserve to retain the cup. I just don't want to hear any gloating about it, at all. Having an English boyfriend, you can imagine this is quite problematic.

So, I won't have to put up with any of it this weekend though as I'm off to Spain! Considering there are still plenty of rays of sunshine to be caught at this time of year in the beautiful South of Spain, I am heading over for 10 days. Starting off in Barcelona and the Costa Brava, Kim and I are heading down to Seville, Cordoba, Granada and then back up to Mallorca to visit a friend. The days in London are wavering between cold and bearable, so it will be nice to get some sun. Seville, Cordoba and Granada in particular look beautiful and I'm very excited. The great thing about being a working holiday maker, is that I don't feel an ounce of guilt that I just got back from a two week jaunt in the US and am already taken myself off on another adventure. Love it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Another year, another 10k

Well, no matter what you say about Londoners, at least we know they will turn out and make an effort for a good cause. Thousands of runners and supporters turned up on Sunday for our 10k run for cancer research. It was a lovely day and I am proud to say that Paul and I raised just under £200 - ok so it's not that much but every little bit helps right? I was very thrilled because i ran the 10k in just under 61 minutes, beating my time from last year (and this one was run on grass, not concrete!) I feel a huge sense of achievement and am quite proud of myself, thanks very much! It was such a nice feeling though - all those people out to support you and cheer you over the finishing line (even though I was looking hideously red and exhausted by that stage). I'm sure they raised thousands, and since pretty all of us know someone close to us who has been affected by cancer, then it really is the least we can do.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sin City

Vegas - what can you say? It's nothing short of completely mental - the weirdest place I have ever been. But so, so cool. We were only there for two nights and that was probably long enough (considering I'm the world's worst gambler). Although my Nan taught me from an early age the best tips for pokie playing, I'm afraid I was a little out of my depth when it came to the hardcore gamblers that you see by the thousands in Vegas. I was more excited to wander around soaking up the atmosphere and seeing the bizarre sights of a rollercoaster in a casino, a complete replica of Parisian monuments, an indoor replica of Venetian canals and in fact the entire Italian city (see pic), snowlions alongside palm trees, tobacco chewing gallon-hat wearing texans playing roulette, the famous water show outside the Bellagio, and all the fabulous crazy sights that make Vegas the wondrous fantasy it is.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The City of Angels

OK, so I have been really bad at writing anything lately about my trip. I think because it was such a good time and we did so many things that choosing to write about any aspect of it is a little overwhelming!

Everyone is interested in LA I guess, so that's what I'll talk about. It's not as great or as glamourous as you would think. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, and there are so many cool things to see and do, but it's a bit of a pain to visit as a tourist, everything is massively spread out, and if you don't know where you're going, you're screwed. And Hollywood Boulevard is pretty tacky. I wasn't expecting the streets to be lined with gold or anything, but I was a little disappointed at how cruddy bits of the city were. But then there are the glamourous bits too - Rodeo Drive (great to wander around and pretend you can afford stuff), Orange Country (not technically LA but close enough), Santa Monica (verging on tacky but quite nice still) and lots of beautiful little boutiques (once you know where to go). I think LA is the kind of city you would appreciate much more if you actually lived there - it's quite difficult for a tourist to fall in love with in a few short days.
Although when I was sipping a Mai Tai cocktail in the lavishly decorated Ashton Kutcher-owned Geisha House, I definitely felt my affection growing. We didn't make it to Disneyland unfortunately, instead choosing to head to Orange County for some gorgeous beaches and cruising with the top down. It was actually at the next beach around from Laguna Beach (of MTV fame) that I took a proper plunge in the ocean for the first time in the holiday (everywhere else was too cold and I just froclicked by the water's edge like an idiot) and it was wonderful to feel that exhilaration you get from swimming in the waves. That feeling is definitely nowhere to be had in London!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Back to reality

Getting back from a holiday and going straight back to work is exhausting - I think I need another holiday already! At least I have some cool photos to look back on. I will put some here and upload the rest on Flickr when I get the chance. Unfortunately my pics from San Francisco aren't the best because my camera, which has served me loyally for four years or so, decided to pack it in on the second day of our holiday when we were on our way to Alcatraz. It's just died. Typical! Luckily we had a camcorder with us (yes, blatant tourists) which took some still, but they weren't great quality. So I used that as an excuse to go shopping and buy a new camera - after which my pics dramatically improved. These are some of my favourites from San Francisco - there's more to come, don't worry!...

Having coffee in the square on a Sunday, watching the art exhibition and passersby..
The sign that greets you when you enter Alcatraz...
The famous streets of San Francisco...

When I have uploaded some more, i'll put a link up.

In other news - since I got back, I have been frantically trying to go to the gym (when I say frantically, I mean twice this week) because Paul and I are doing a 10K run for charity in a couple of weeks and I don't want to collapse half way through. Paul is still trying to get out of it (I think two weeks of eating in the US has taken it's toll) but I am definitely still dragging him along. We are running 10K for cancer research UK on Sunday 30 September. Any support in the form of donations are muchly welcomed - as I want to feel like the blisters and pain are really worth it! If you are able to sponsor us, we have an online donation page here. Thanks for any support! And I will of course let you all know how it goes.

Friday, September 07, 2007

America, America.....

This will just be a quick one as I'm scabbing free internet in a library in Austin, Texas. Yes, I've been quiet the past two weeks cause I've been having too much fun in the US! We have been having the best time and I'm not exactly looking forward to getting back to 'real life' in London. Just quickly, some highlights (and there have been too many to mention here) have been:
- touring the spooky enclaves of Alcatraz in San Francisco
- clam chowder, fish tacos, fresh oysters in California...and wine tasting!
- singing 'take me out to the ballgame' and eating garlic fries watching the San Francisco Giants play ball (ok, so the garlic fries were NOT a good idea but at least they were memorable!)
- the breathtaking coastline between San Fran and LA: secluded beaches, sea lions, mesmerising fog, thick forests
- sunbathing in Malibu and imagining I'm in Baywatch
- touring Laguna Beach and the amazing beaches of Orange County and imagining I'm in a MTV reality series/The O.C
- cocktails in Ashton Kutcher's Japanese-inspired LA nightspot, Geisha
- penny slots in the Bellagio in Vegas! (I was too scared of the tables but Paul had a go)
- swimming in the natural watering hole in Austin and gorging on Tex-Mex food!
- shopping, everywhere

So much fun crammed into two little weeks. We still have a couple more days to explore Austin - the 'live music capital of the world'. I have to say, i have enjoyed the US a lot more than I thought I would. The friendliness and hospitality of the Americans is supreme (even more reason for me to continually berate, much to the annoyance of all my lovely friends, the appalling levels of service you get in the UK). And the heat! God bless the heat. I have bought lots of beautiful summer clothes that I'm sure the UK is already going to be too cold for, but I have been deprived of this kind of sun/heat too long and must take advantage :) I'm hoping I can still squeeze some more skirt-wearing into what's left of the UK summer - can't let this 'tan' (sunburn) go to waste.

Will put up some photos etc when I get back to London - on Monday. See y'all!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Four days to go...

Only four days to go till I hit the sunny sands of California! We're flying out of Gatwick early on Saturday morning and I can't wait. Who would have thought going on holiday could be so stressful though? I'm beside myself making sure everything is organised - hotels in four different cities, rental cars, insurance, tickets for various events, etc etc. Lets not even get started on packing. I might need another holiday to get over this one! It's the longest one I would have had in ages though. Since moving to the UK I have been the queen of mini breaks - managing to see countless cities and countries on weekenders and four dayers. My longest holidays have been only a week or 10 days, so I'm relishing two whole weeks of relaxation. I just hope Paul and I don't kill eachother - living together and holidaying for two weeks together are two different things! :)

We're flying out of Gatwick, so will avoid the protests going on at Heathrow against the construction of a new runway and the consequent affects on climate change. While so many people are bagging out the protestors and dismissing them as 'dirty, troublesome hippies' I for one are thankful that there are people out there making a stand when so many of us are too lazy to bother. As a traveller in complete appreciation of the wonders of seeing other places and countries, I still feel guilty about the impact all my air travel in the past year has had on the environment. And I think more measures should be put in place to reduce these impacts - and of course it is major operators like BA, other airlines and major airports need to think more about. Sure, I am feeding the market just as much as other people, but we use these services because they are available to us. If Heathrow needs to build another airport to relieve congestion - fine. If it's going to result in even more opportunities for air travel and more airlines, then no, it's not. Maybe we'll all just have to learn to take the train more instead.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Homesick...

Well - that's it. I'm all alone. My family has completely abandoned me. Not only did my sister choof off home from Germany in February but now my brother went and got his work permit rejected and flew back to Australia for good yesterday. How inconsiderate of them all. I guess it's perhaps my fault for choosing to live over the other side of the world...

Being apart from your family sux. And it's not like my family is a huge lovely-dovey/can't live without eachother entity - but it still sux being over a 20hour flight and a couple of time zones away from the people who've known you since you were a snot-covered, nappy-clad little brat and love you anyway. It's times like these when I have to focus hard on the cool things I am doing over here - my flourishing (?) freelance career, my impending trip to the US, etc. Getting homesick is definitely a big part of living overseas, for me anyway, although you will find plenty of people who it doesn't bother at all. Something tells me no-one would knock back a cuddle from mum/dad/the family pet every now and again though.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Land of Smiles

Since this is a travel blog, I didn't think it was too off-topic to spruik this cool little documentary my little sis has made. Check it out - Land of Smiles is a snapshot into life in Thailand and the refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border where she visited and worked for a few weeks.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Weekend in Bristol














The trip to Bristol was a massive success - and I'd highly recommend it for a day trip or weekend out of London. If you don't mind quite a smallish city, or students, I think it would also be quite nice to live there. Eight of us went there for a couple of nights last weekend - some by car and some got the National Express bus for about 15 quid return (if we booked earlier, the prices were at about 5 quid return - bargain!). We stayed near Clifton which is one of the nicest areas in Bristol, with endless cafes, boutiques and rows of stunning Georgian houses. There is also the world's first suspension bridge (see pic), which spans the river Avon and a massive green gorge - a landscape that reminded me of Australia. My photos from Saturday aren't that great as the sky was a bit grey - but we did do a little boat cruise around the canals of the city which was a great way to explore (and was only 4 quid - another bargain!). Friday and Saturday nights were spent frequenting the wide variety of bars/restaurants/pubs in the city (some definitely better than others) and Sunday was spent walking up to the gorge, and down it for those who could be bothered (not me). After stopping for a late morning Pimms at the beautiful Avon Gorge Hotel we then spent a really nice afternoon at the Bristol Zoo and Gardens (complete with a Calippo - something I always used to get when visiting Taronga Zoo as a little'un).

All in all, Bristol was better than I expected. It has some fascinating architectural sights and an interesting history - in the time it was basically the centre of the British slave trade and since this year celebrates 200 years since the abolition of slavery, there are a few interesting exhibitions and a lot of awareness being raised about the event and this part of Bristol's past. Bristol is also the home of the 'art terrorist' Banksy - and his great artworks/designs/graffiti (whatever you want to call it) can be viewed in various spots all over the city, most notably his design (see pic) which is on the wall of a sexual health clinic. It was a really interesting, fun weekend - so Bristol definitely gets my recommendation as an English destination.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sunny summer times

It's been a brilliantly sunny week (finally!) and obviously I've been too busy out and about to update my blog more regularly... This weekend, in our quest to help Ben see as many UK cities as possible in his last couple of weeks, we are off to Bristol. I picked this destination completely randomly, so I'm hoping it will be ok! I've heard some nice things thankfully and to be honest, all we need is a couple of nice restaurants, some bars and some sunshine and we'll be happy (although Shell is campaigning for a visit to Bristol Zoo). It's the children's magazine editor inside her.

Since he is departing UK shores in a couple of weeks, Ben has taken himself off to Edinburgh and Newcastle this week. He was a big fan of Edinburgh (I hope he did the ghost tour I never got to do) but I think he hasn't been that impressed with Newcastle! Ah well, there's only so much excitement you can get from a mini replica Sydney Harbour Bridge I suppose. I quite liked Newcastle but I think it's the kind of place that is better to go with a group rather than on your own (at least you could then compete with the hideous amount of stags and hens). London-wise he's still go to on the Eye, and we all went to see Avenue Q a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if I mentioned it, but it was brilliant! It is hilarious and well-worth seeing, but perhaps not with your grandmother. It's possibly the only musical I will ever see that involved a puppet sex scene.

There's also a new Dali exhibition on at the Tate I want to go see. So much to do, so little time....

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The day I met JK Rowling

One of the great things about living in a top-class global city like London is that there are always glitzy events and premieres happening on your doorstep! OK, so you may not always be able to get IN but chances are when you move here, you will spot a half-decent celebrity in a matter of months (and no, we're not talking Hayley from Home and Away standard - PROPER celebrities). Anyways, last week I had the joy of attending the UK launch of the new Harry Potter book at the Natural History Museum and met one of the hugest author celebrities of my time - JK Rowling. The four of us won four of only 1700 tickets and had the privilege (?) of queuing at intervals from midnight to get our free copy of the book and met JK herself. They even did the museum up to look like Hogwarts (see left). By 2am I was a little sozzled after some G and Ts in Soho, so I was severely struggling by the time we made it to the hallowed room where JK herself sat - at about 4am. But it was worth the wait. She was almost ethereal - and really is stunning up in person. It is captivating that she has produced fantastical stories that have travelled through the hearts and minds of children and adults the world over - and there I was completely toasted when she signed my (now very much coveted) book. oh well - this just wouldn't happen back in Sydney. Reasons why I love London #467

Thursday, July 05, 2007

When oh when will I go home...

Had some good news this week - got my passport returned to me with a big fat Residence Permit in it, thanks very much. Although the process is now quite smoother for people, it took me almost a year to organise my HSMP! Have to admit, this was not only down to the daft worker who miscalculated my earnings (causing my first application to be rejected) but the fact that I left it five months before applying for my Leave to Remain. But now I have it in my hot little hand - permission to stay until 2009. I know I probably won't be here till then, but it is so nice to have the option should I choose (especially since that without my visa, I would be shipped off home in a matter of weeks). I do feel like I have betrayed Australia a little -having 'UK resident' stamped in my passport. It does make me think about how much i miss home. I thought this was nice - towards the end. It's how I'm sure I will feel about Sydney when I go back.

In the meantime though - there is lots of fun in London to be had. Tomorrow night we are going to see a comedy musical Avenue Q which has been receiving rave reviews and has been recommended to me by countless people. It is supposed to be hilarious so am looking forward to it. Have also spent this week planning a farewell weekend for my brother in Bristol. Yes, I'm being abandoned by my big brother who is leaving the UK after two years to return home to Australian shores. So, Bristol here we come...

Snow (well, almost) in July

Now, don't want to put anyone off who is perhaps sitting around in an Australian winter looking forward to a UK summer - but it virtually snowed here this week. Apparently there was some surge in heat which contrasted with the quite cold temps we have been having, which resulted in a whole lot of snow-like hail being dumped over London (only in England, honestly!). This night I was on my way to try out a fab new bar in Clapham with one of my partners in crime, got off the bus and my completely unsuitable snow footwear was submerged in a pile of ice. See photos...


Most smart people are jetting off to Portugal, Croatia, Spain etc in the hope that when they return the weather will have improved slightly - while I am just sitting here looking forward to my two weeks in California (less than 8 weeks to go - keep plummeting US dollar, thank you!). I am trying to plan a weekend of camping in Cornwall for August (the beachy corner of England) and am currently looking into caravans and tent bookings. Takes me back to my childhood years running amok in Narrabeen caravan park - oh the memories!

Monday, July 02, 2007

A rainy day at Wimbledon

You must understand that getting up at any time before 10am on a Saturday morning is a big thing for me - I just love to sleep and there is no better time to do this than Saturday morning. So getting up at 7am to go to Wimbledon was a big commitment - but i was excited. I was excited...so chose to ignore the ominous clouds and smatterings of rain - perhaps this was not such a great idea. But we went to join the famous queue (even getting a sticker saying 'i queued at Wimbledon 2007' for our efforts) and we stood in the rain for two hours building with anticipation before finally entering the hallowed, manicured grounds of Wimbledon. I was thrilled to be there (albeit dressed in a fetching poncho I had procured for free with a purchase of the Daily Mail) so I didn't mind so much that it was grey, rainy and packed. Understandably, I was extremely disappointed when after 8 hours there, both drenched, we decided to call it a day having only seen 40 minutes of tennis. This sounds disastrous - and I have to say I wasn't the happiest camper - but believe it or not, I had a great day. There is something wonderful about finally actually visiting a place that you have heard about and watched on TV since you were a small child. And it does have a festival atmosphere - despite the rain, everyone was happily standing by the courts, devouring strawberries and cream or even standing by the champagne and Pimms tent in the rain. And there were plenty of Aussies around, draped in the flag or in green shorts and yellow clown wigs, there to join the Wayne train. So yes, it was a successful day. And, what makes it the best UK event I have attended so far? It rained, so we get our money back! Now you don't get that at Glastonbury! Best 18 pounds I've ever (not) spent!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tiger Tim and Wimbledon

Yes it's tough being a freelancer. I've currently got my feet up in the office watching Wimbledon streamed live onto my computer. Tim Henman is playing Carlos Moya and might actually win (he's known for being a bit of a choker). Everyone is quite excited as he is the only British hopeful - as Scot Andy Murray bowed out over the weekend with an injury. I love the 'popping' sound of tennis balls resonating around a silent stadium packed with thousands of people.
I'm praying for the sun to come out in force cause I'm planning to brave the queue for Wimbledon on Saturday. I think visiting the hallowed tennis ground, drinking Pimms and eating the iconic strawberries and cream is something every Aussie should do while here - especially since being Australian has meant that we're usually glued to the tournament every year since birth. Apparently you have to queue for a couple of hours - so it better not rain. We can't have soggy strawberries!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Paris for a day

It's got to be one of the best things about living in London. Paris is literally a short train ride away and you can, like Paul has done today, just head over for lunch and be back in London for dinner. The lucky bugger was supposed to be going for work but the guy he was supposed to be going to the conference with cancelled, so instead of letting the Eurostar ticket go to waste, Paul thought the sensible thing to do would be, of course, to go anyway. So while I'm whiling away the day staring at a computer screen, he is wandering down the Champs Elysses and drinking cafe au lait. As alluring as the Pret a Manger on Tottenham Court Road is, I think I know where I would rather be!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Weather forecast spells doom for Glastonbury

Good old UK - put on a festival and you're guaranteed a forecast of rain, rain, couple of thunderstorms and more rain. The famous Glastonbury festival is this weekend and according to BBC weather, it's not looking good. Due to my hatred of all things camping, I won't be attending this year, but Shell and Ray are heading off complete with new tent, gumboots, copious amounts of alcohol and a set of Travel Johns (I won't even go into what Travel Johns are - I'll let you do your own research. Lets just say Shell is also looking forward to the ShePee tent!) The line-up looks good (The Killers, The Who, Arctic Monkets, Kaiser Chiefs) and I'm sure it's going to be a fab weekend - if a muddy one.

The O2 Wireless Festival was this last weekend (and escaped the rain) - apparently it was another great fest. Upcoming is Hyde Park Calling, Reading Festival, Fruitstock (the Innocent Village Fete), Get Loaded in the Park etc etc etc... the UK is the place to be if you love to get amongst thousands of other dirty revellers! For some reason, I'm not attending a single one. Yes, a little bit dull I know - I've been trying to save money and just haven't got around to getting tickets to anything (and getting tickets to events like Glastonbury requires the same amount of effort as taking over a small country). If only I wasn't so lazy...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why I should have stayed working at Elephant & Castle

Working in a dodgy area with no shops or shiny things is sometimes a good thing. Now that I work about 5 mins from Oxford St, here is what I went out at lunch time to get:

1 birthday card.

This is what I actually came back with:

2 postcards
1 copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (which although I have read, apparently I need)
1 cappuccino frappe (I was thirsty)
1 pair of shiny new red shoes
1 birthday card

hmmmmmm...if only I had any kind of willpower, I could be a rich woman.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Berg pics and Planning US Adventure Part 1

I was very proud of myself and thought I had taken some great videos with my digital camera at the Berg, but I must have had a little too much beer because when I have actually looked at them on screen, they are too dark to see anything! So, in lieu of my video, I've uploaded a couple of photos instead. You can't really see much, but you get a bit of the idea ie beautiful, leafy Germany and thousands of beer-drinking revellers!


I don't know if I have mentioned it here before but my next BIG trip is to the US for two weeks in August/September. I am very excited. Although going to the US never interested me that much before, after travelling quite a lot in Europe last year (and a short jaunt to North Africa) I'm looking for travel opps further afield! So far, our itinerary is: flying into San Francisco, driving down to LA (taking three nights and leaving ample time to explore Californian wineries), driving from LA to Vegas (not that keen on Vegas but I guess you have to go once in your life - am steering Paul WELL AWAY from any little chapels) and then, on request from Paul, going to Austin, Texas for two nights. Everyone seems miffed by this last choice - Paul just wants to go because he has been once before and loved it - although I suspect he is having tobacco-chewing cowboy fantasies again. I have read into Austin a bit and it looks like quite a nice place so hopefully it will be ok! Will update when more plans are made!

Monday, June 11, 2007

A touch of Portugal in...Kennington?

Back at work now on Monday but had a lovely weekend - well, had a lovely Sunday since I had to work a whole day on Saturday (oh the things contractors are expected to do for NO extra pay above normal day rate....). Anyways, I'm still carrying a bug thanks to no sleep and lots of beer last weekend so was not feeling too peachy but we still managed to make it along to a bizarre but quite fun portugese festival in Kennington yesterday. Think hundreds of portugese families, topless men and scantily-clad girls in Ronaldo tops, the latest portugese pop stars belting their tunes out to the crowd, and plates piled high with chargrilled (black) chicken, sardines and chorizo. The beer and portugese wine was flowing (as well as some suspicious looking pineapple-flavoured soft drink thing) and it was a lovely afternoon in the sun. Thanks to some badly-applied fake tan (during the past year in England I have gone even whiter than i ever thought possible, even for me) I was grateful for the chance to bask in the rays and even up the stark line down my arm! The humidity has stuck around but it's gone a bit cloudy today - at least we have daylight till about 10pm now.

Started a new contract today so have gladly left the hideous roundabout of Elephant and Castle and am now loving working back at Tottenham Court Rd, a mere 15 mins from Miss Selfridge, Top Shop etc. Not great for my bank balance but a girl's gotta live..

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

In recovery...

Note: going back to work after a long weekend at a German beer festival is very, very difficult. Also note: flying back into London at 7am and then going to work is also not much fun.

But, yes, it was worth it. We had a mad weekend at the Berg in Erlangen and the fact that I can barely flutter my eyelids to awake mode right now is irrelevant. It is impossible to describe the feeling of standing on a bench looking down over a sea of thousands of Germans, all jumping, dancing, singing (some of them half-naked depending on the time) and all clutching to a giant stein of beer from the cellar of their choice (of which there are over a dozen to choose from). But it's not all about the beer - it's an entire carnival with sideshows, rides and of course the devilish German carb-pumped cuisine which I have come to love. I defy anyone who says they wouldn't enjoy munching into a giant pretzel smothered with Emmental cheese - or my fave currywurst mit pommes frites. It's enough to send the scales running from my bathroom but tasty, oh so tasty! I actually have a video to show of my travels this time (yes, i finally remembered to use this function on my camera - as the music, lights and drunken yelling of the Berg can not possibly be conveyed through stills....). I will upload soon!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another long weekend

I can't believe how many long weekends they have in this country. Not that I'm complaining - it's brilliant - and now I have only three days of work before we head off to Germany for the Bergkirchweih (three days of beer, beer and more beer...and then some giant pretzels). Only disadvantage of this is that because I am now a freelancer, I only actually get paid for the work that I do (and no paid holidays) so only working for three days means I only get paid for three days. But that's what budgeting is for I suppose. Thankfully the beer in Germany is cheap.

Have started playing netball again and we have our second game tomorrow night. Unfortunately at the end of last week I wrecked my ankle so don't know if I will actually be able to play anymore. We will see. I haven't been to the gym in about two weeks so better do some kind of exercise!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nae bother, just go to Edinburgh

Well the sun has come out in London again, but my new favourite place is Edinburgh. We had such a nice weekend there - it is beautiful, the people are unbelievably helpful and friendly (compared to London anyway), and there are plenty of places to visit, alleys to explore and great bars, restaurants and cafe's (obviously one of the most important attributes!). See my updated photostream-thingy down the right hand side for some pics of the castle and various other sites in the Georgian new town (which is really not so new) and the Old Town - the side of town where the castle and the Royal Mile is. We didn't really do much except walk, eat and drink, but it's exactly the sort of city where you can happily do nothing but. And if you get lost, there are plenty of people to help you out or point you in the right direction, along with a friendly "Nae bother!" (in London if you asked a bus driver for help he would just pretend he didn't hear you). Due to a mix-up with our booking, we were effectively upgraded to stay at the Canon Court Apartments which gave us a one bedroom apartment with huge bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room for a reduced rate (we deserved this due to the near heart-attack I suffered when I was told on Thursday afternoon that our booking at another nearby guest house hadn't been confirmed for the right dates - their fault - and that we didn't have a room at all. A few deep breaths and some frantic phone calls later it was thankfully solved).

On Sunday we took a short bus ride to Leith which is by the water and had a huge pot of mussels and a glass of wine at a beautiful restaurant by a lock. Absolute bliss - I must have put on about a hundred kilos though. Oh well! More on Edinburgh later - am going outside to enjoy the London sun!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

There's a mouse in the house..

We have a small hairy problem in our house. Apparently this is par for the course while living in London (and incidentally, next to a Chinese restaurant) and I guess I should be happy that this is the first time we have had this problem. Sim was terrorised my a small furry friend all last year - to the extent that she would come home and find the little mouse sitting on her pillow and munching on her clothes. And now we have a little rodent of our own - how nice. Shell's screams yesterday alerted us to the fact! Now apparently we must get mouse traps etc which I really want absolutely nothing to do with (I don't think I could handle if it I was the one to discover the corpse!). Perhaps we need a cat...

I am currently on a contract working for a government department which has actually been quite good and suprisingly well-paid. However I am suffering as it's now 4.30pm (yes I am working, shhhh) and normally about this time I would be contentedly sipping some tea. Yet this place (shock/horror/gasp!) does not supply tea and/or coffee and I am suffering severe withdrawals. You even have to bring in your own milk - I severely object.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Up in the UK Newie

We went up to Newcastle on the weekend - probably a good idea since the rain has come back with a vengeance (we knew this April summer madness couldn't last). Newcastle is waayyy up north and is actually not too bad a place. It sits on the River Tyne and has some nice coastal spots and even a mini Sydney Harbour Bridge (apparently it was built around the same time by the same architect as kind of a prototype - but I could be misinformed..) It is also (somewhat unfortunately) the stag and hen night capital of the UK so wherever you go, you can spot groups of sexed-up men or sad looking ladies in pink sashes and tiaras. The nightlife is pretty good though - we sampled it when I ventured up there in my first few months in the UK. This time it was a BBQ at Nicola's house for her birthday which was just as good, and involved around the same measures of alcohol. We stayed in Jesmond, which is a pretty, convenient area for anyone looking to visit Newcastle - there are a ton of reasonably priced hotels (but if you don't want to share it with a bunch of stags and students, maybe head elsewhere).

We also visited some nice coastline - like the beach at Tynemouth which if you close your eyes and squint, could pass for a beach down the south coast of New South Wales somewhere. Nearby is also the famous Hadrian's Wall which I didn't get the chance to see (ok, so it's only a wall but it's around 2000 years old and was built by a Roman emperor which I think is pretty cool). I really want to get around and see more of the UK this year - as there are some quality places to go which are so cheap as compared to London. I'm heading to Edinburgh this weekend which I'm very excited about. Got to make the death-haul to Gatwick but oh well - at least it is not Stansted! (I'm reserving that for my trip to Germany in a few weeks..).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pru and Kylie...

After all my huge ideas about how I was going to maximise my long weekend by going to some gorgeous, exotic destination - I ended up doing nothing but relaxing (and eating) for three long days. Which, I have to say, was actually quite enjoyable. I have made the resolution that I want to visit more museums in London, since there are so many good ones (all of them free) and since I first arrived here and went to a million in my first few months, I haven't really been to another. So the long weekend (and some quite dreary weather) was the perfect opportunity. I took a suprisingly compliant Paul along to the Victoria and Albert Museum (known as V & A for the cool locals) and saw the Kylie exhibition. I thought it might be a bit naff, but it was actually really entertaining. Paul got annoyed with me though as I kept incessantly repeating how I couldn't believe how tiny Kylie Minogue actually is (all her costumes are displayed on pint-sized Kylie mannequins). Now I'm the kind of size which people would class as slim and I am also a midget, and there is no way I could have fitted in some of those sequinned creations! The rest of the V & A is also fascinating (it's like a design/textiles/fashion museum) but we just didn't have enough time to see everything and so will have to go back. We also spent a good hour or so relaxing by the gorgeous lemon tree grove and fountain in the centre courtyard of the museum having a coffee in the sun, which took up quite a bit of time of our 'museuming'. The whole day was free, so you can't complain really!
Come on, i know you want to - here you can Dress up your own Kylie cut-out doll (I really hope this is aimed at children, otherwise it is just plain bizarre)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

London on the cheap

There's no shame to wanting to save a few pounds here or there while still wanting to enjoy the finer things in life. When you live in London and every £10 you spend could have gone on a flight to Paris/Berlin/Budapest you have to save the dosh where you can. A couple of weeks ago I had possible the cheapest evening I have ever had out in London while actually attending an interesting event (ie not just going to a bar and scabbing free drinks of everyone else). This may sound incredibly dorky, but I actually went to a book reading at my local Waterstones (a high street bookstore chain) and was pleasantly surprised. It was packed for starters, and the author was considerably famous - Marina Lewycka - who wrote the funny and sweet A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and has a new novel out called Two Caravans. She read excerpts from her latest novel, spoke about it and answered questions, and was thoroughly interesting. Before you think I've completely lost it, the other redeeming quality of the night was that there were free snacks and wine! I had dragged Shell along (she only came for the wine I suspect :) and tickets were only £3, which was subtracted from the cost of the book if you bought a signed copy. Not bad for a weeknight out I reckon.

While on the subject of wine and saving money, is it wrong that I have taken to buying wine online? This may sound like I am sinking into alcoholic depths, however it is incredibly economical if you get the frequent cheap deals from the major supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury's. And when you exist in a wine-drinking household such as hours, it is normal to expect that you are probably going to go through six bottles a month anyway..(right?), so why not just save the money by buying in bulk? Plus it saves you lugging the bottles back from the supermarket - a nice man delivers it to you! This is my money-saving tip for winos living in London anyway.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Plans, plans and more plans

With the Summer getting closer and the weather getting warmer, it has come time to start planning my summer holidays, my favourite part of living in London! With a lot to top from last year's travels (Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Germany - three times, France - three times, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Morocco) I've got to start planning! The whole month back in Australia obviously took the toll on my finances but I've been (kind of) good and can start planning more ways of spending my money! Next weekend we are off to Newcastle again for a friend's birthday and the weekend after that I am FINALLY going to Edinburgh for a weekend. I'm quite excited about this as I have been wanting to go to Scotland for ages. Flights were pretty cheap (£80 each return)and at convenient times, and I've found what looks like and hopefully is.. a cute B&B in the centre of the Old Town of Edinburgh. Accommodation also quite cheap: £68 per night for double room with ensuite in a "mid-range" centrally located B&B. Excepting Australia, this will be my first trip out of England since skiing Switzerland in January so I'm itching to go somewhere new.

Other trips so far planned is the annual trip back to Erlangen, Germany for the Bergkirchweih - sure to be a huge three days AND, the most exciting, two weeks in the US in August! Not sure if the US is quite ready for me, but nevertheless we are heading to San Francisco, LA, Vegas and Austin, Texas for two weeks and I can't wait. The Californian wineries are not going to know what has hit them! And Shell is clueing me up on the celebrity mansions I have to stake out in LA. Hopefully I make it back in one piece - I'll probably get arrested trying to tail Jennifer Aniston. More updates about our itinerary to come as they are actually planned (all we have done so far is book flights!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Happy ANZAC Day

Today it's ANZAC day, and if ever there's a day I'm going to be homesick, it's today. And then I see images like this one - which get me all choked up and wishing I was standing in front of the Town Hall with the rest of my family waiting for my Nan to march past (and laugh with surprise when she sees us all waving frantically even though she knew we were there all along). My mum will without fail be holding back the tears and afterwards we would all go to a packed pub (usually packed with a bunch of young sailors, ahem) and have a beer or play some 2-up. So I guess that not only is it an extremely important day for all Australians and New Zealanders, but for my family too. I wonder what happened this year - as I have read that it was pouring. So I hope my Nan was ok! She probably just brought out her trademark brolly and red shoes :)

i didn't make it to Gallipoli this year. I intend to go there one day - but maybe not actually on ANZAC Day itself.A lot of travellers did make it over there today though. I hope they don't get all the news stories back home about how they desecrated the place - some idiots unfortunately just use it as an excuse to go somewhere, be loud and obnoxious and get drunk.

The Aussie pubs in London will be packed tonight. Our compensation for not getting the day off.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More London BBQs and the post-weekend detox

All this sunshine in London must have gone to my head, as I'm still feeling a little dizzy from the weekend. My quiet, 'i'll-be-home-by-nine' drink on Friday night with Shannon in Clapham turned into a bar-hopping mojito-fest which saw the pair of us (plus Shannon's cousin) stumbling into a Brixton Club at about 2am on Saturday morning and emerging some time after they turned all the ugly-lights on.

I was then forced to endure the embarrassment of being the only ill housemate on Saturday morning (well, I didn't really surface until about 1pm, even then it was very reluctantly). BUT, full credit to them, Paul and my housemates didn't let the fact that I was looking about as charming and healthy as a toad detract them from their mission, which was to bring me along to the picnic they were having in the park. More food and booze followed (and boules!) which was actually lovely and distracted me from the little gnome pounding my head with a hammer. I thought Aussies had really got the whole picnic in the the park thing down pat, but I have to say the English would definitely give us a run for our money. In the UK they don't have the luxury of built-in BBQs in parks like we do back home, so they just bring their Webber along with them to the park, whip off their shirts, set up the inflatable pool/cricket pitch/boules pitch and voila - a perfect picnic!

A few glasses of sparkling wine (topped up with juice for me - i did make some concessions to my hangover) and we all headed back home for another BBQ. I could definitely get used to the endless BBQs! (especially since the boys do it all - woohoo!).

Sunday we all went for a walk and discovered a great beer garden in Barnes at a gorgeous pub called The Red Lion. More lounging in the sun and Pimms followed.... you can see why I was a little bit shaky on Monday.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sunshine and shopping

The weather is gorgeous! BBQ round two will definitely be occurring this weekend - combined with a boules tournament in the park I think! I am temping this week which has been great. I got a short contract working on some different magazines so it has been a nice change of scenery for me. Only bad thing is I am working near Oxford Circus in dangerously close proximity to Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Warehouse and many other shopping havens (ie deathtraps for paupers like me.) I haven't reduced myself to heading to the gargantuan new Primark on Oxford Street yet - the riot scenes when it opened (I'm not kidding) were enough to put me off for at least a few weeks! It is the size of a shopping centre on it's own for god's sake. For the Aussies - Primark is kind of like Target but cheaper, and with better clothes. Even though they have a lot of crap - really cheap crap - you can find some bargains if you are willing to search - jostling and grabbing may or may not be required at some branches (and one must always deny that the items they are wearing are actually from Primark - even though you are guaranteed to get comments on how cute you look on a budget!) Although, a lot of times I have found myself in this conversation with girls from work
Girl: "wow, cute top!"
Me: "um, thanks"
Girl: (hesitation) "um, is it from Primark?"
Me: (after deciding whether I know this person well enough to admit i am wearing clothes from Primark, and whether they actually own the identical top in another colour): "yeh! it was a bargain!!"
Girl: "I know! i have the same top in blue. I love Primark!"

And the friendship is born...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The BBQ is finally baptised

Yes we may have bought it back in August last year, but our BBQ is getting it's virgin run tonight (see it modelled beautifully here by Shell). The weather this weekend has been amazing and it would be criminal not to take advantage with some old-fashioned outdoor cuisine. I think everyone has had the same idea - Shell and Ray went to Homebase to pick up the missing part for our BBQ so we could get it working and apparently the BBQ section was crawling with happy punters! Temps hit a gorgeous 26 today which has just been bliss. This morning I was sunning in the overgrown, weed-ridden jungle that was once our manicured back garden - but with the sunshine Paul became filled with energy and did some mowing and weeding to return it to it's pre-winter state. I was cleaning up our side patio and was fishing plastic cups and cigarette butts from our house party last year out of the bushes (a clear indication that we haven't really been out there very much at all lately!). But our new outdoor furniture should be arriving next week and we are looking forward to lots of parties, BBQs and lazy Sundays in the sun. I love summer in England!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Did someone say 24 degrees?

Bring out the sunscreen, slap on the shorts and roll out the ice cream vans - predicted weather for tomorrow in London is a gorgeous 24 degrees! Scoff not, all you Aussies who think that just sounds like a warm winter day in Sydney, over here 24 degrees may as well be a sweltering day at the beach! I aim not to be a moaning Aussie who complains about the UK weather (and to be honest, you really do get used to it) but the thermometer going above 20 really is something to be celebrated at every opportunity. And 24 in April really is quite impressive - rest assured, I have a table by the Thames drinking Pimms tomorrow with my name written all over it. Summer's on it's way! (First I have to recover from my rather large night out at a charming little pub in Holland park last night - The Prince of Wales http://www.professorharbottle.co.uk/pub/londonwest/princeow3.html ) Ben is off to Brighton this weekend I think - it is going to be pumping with pasty English sunbaking on the beach!

Last weekend was of course Easter and it was also gorgeous weather then. We all went to the Cotwalds to get a nice home-cooked Easter meal by Ma and Pa Seddon and ended up doing quite a lot of reclining and relaxing in the sun and eating quite a lot of chocolate and cheese - perfect really! As it was Shannon's first time in this beautiful part of the English countryside we took her on a tour to some of the must-see hyphenated villages in the Cotswalds such as Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water (didn't make it to Stratford-upon-Avon this time as I have been there three times already and am really getting over it!). Of course had to stop by the organic dairy Daylesford and ogle at all the nice food we can't afford (well, we did buy some cheese - i've always got pounds for Daylesford cheese!). All in all, a very successful Easter weekend.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Rise in costs of UK visas - what do you think?

I'm doing a mini survey for the WORKgateways newsletter I write for, about the recent hike in costs of UK visas. If you are not aware, the prices of all UK visas has been dramatically increased, as of today. Working holiday visas and Ancestry visas which used to cost £85, now cost £200. The price of Entry Clearance for work permits and the HSMP has also risen from £85 to £200. Settlement visas which used to be £240, now cost a whopping £500.

UKvisas justification for the rise in costs is that they are 'aiming to improve the UK's competitiveness as a destination for travel, trade, migration and investment through programmes which prevent immigration abuse, deliver value for money and earn public confidence'. Read the full article here. One of the groups hit hardest will be working travellers from countries where currencies are getting weaker and weaker against the pound. UK Working visas for Australians and Kiwis now cost a huge $520 AUD/ $620 NZD (in comparison, British people wanting to work for 12 months in Australia pay $185).

As many travellers as there are out there who are fuming at the increase in costs, I'm sure there are also those who think it's a good thing (a few less Aussie's in Earls Court would probably be not such a bad thing!). If you have a comment, please feel free to post it in response below. Again, thanks to recent posts by certain Anonymous individuals, I am now moderating comments - but I will certainly publish yours if you have something valid to say!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Do they hate us?

Some interesting points - some of them extremely valid. New Yanks and Jafas - Why no-one likes Aussies anymore. My first foray to a Walkabout on the weekend for the first time since the AFL grand final last year, was thoroughly embarrassing. The point must be made however, that for every bogan, idiotic, ignorant and completely juvenile Aussie I meet in London (of which there were quite a few there on Saturday), I meet an educated, interesting and worldly Aussie to match. So perhaps Australia is like any country - you get the morons, and then you get the ones worth worrying about.

PS This is not an open invitation for 'Anonymous' individuals to write insulting comments about Australians on my blog. Thanks.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Getting the best seat in the house

This is a topic close to the hearts and minds of travellers everywhere - especially for me with my apparent genetic tendency to blood-clot! I had no idea things had got so advanced - and so competitive. It's no longer good enough to turn up at the airport early and ask for a window seat! Check it out - How to get the best seat on the plane

Thursday, March 22, 2007

NSW Election Day this Saturday - Iemma Vs Debnam

Either you're newly arrived in the UK and fresh from the NSW debates about de-salination VS recycled water, Debnam's budgie smugglers, Iemma's embarrassing "More to do...but heading in the right direction" campaign slogan and grumbles over the NSW transport and road systems, or you've been neglecting your Australian citizenship duties while you're living it up in London!

If you haven't voted already, today is your last chance to make your voice heard from an afar - it's the NSW election and even though you're in London, you can still cast your vote.

How do I vote?
Get down to Australia House today before 3.30pm to cast your postal vote! Find out more here

Help! I have no idea what's going on in Australian state politics!
Iemma and Rudd have just made their 'plea' to NSW to warn of the dangers of a backlash of protest votes (understandably the NSW public has been quite irate of late! - opening of the M2 tunnel anyone?). But opinion polls have consistently placed Labour ahead of Debnam's Liberals - prompting commentators to lament about the choice of picking 'the best worst one'.

To read more about the election, visit the Sydney Morning Herald NSW Election microsite or the NSW Election official site.

Monday, March 19, 2007

You can't beat the Borough

In the past year and a half, I've steadily been completing a comprehensive tour of all the great markets in London. Until Saturday, I hadn't yet ventured to Borough Market, and I'm very glad I finally did! Borough Market, minutes from London Bridge, is London's oldest food market and it is amazing - it's the most delectable smorgasbord of tastes, smells and sights and will have you breaking every diet rule in the book as you wander amongst all the stalls taste-testing all the wares. I actually didn't need to buy any lunch for myself as I was so full from sampling cheese, chutneys, tapenades, sausages, falafel, cured meats, muesli, chocolate brownies etc etc (it really is the perfect destination for skint working travellers in this respect!) Just watch out you don't spend as much money as we did on purchasing a gourmet selection of the things we sampled (hhmm, I'm thinking this is the whole point of taste-testing, no? Crafty buggers).

You can get every imaginable type of cheese (yes, I had a field day), all kinds of fresh produce from France, Switzerland, Germany and more, plus fine wines and pate's, and weird stuff like haggis, fresh hare and pigs feet - mmmmm. There's also some great deals to be had at the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, if you're over buying sick-looking veggies from Tesco and Sainsbury's. We got about 60 of the reddest, ripest, most delicious vine tomatoes for a pound - bargain! Will definitely be going back.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Beating the British Bulge - staying fit in London

I've lived here for over a year and a half so I can't really use the Heathrow Injection - the old adage that everyone piles on a few pounds once you walk through the gates of Heathrow - as an excuse anymore. These days my biggest problem is the pile of Tim Tams/Caramello Koalas/Cherry Ripes etc that I brought back with me from Australia 'to share' with my London housemates (let's just say there has not been much sharing).

Anyway, it's about that time of the year when it starts to get warmer and you start thinking about all those summer clothes you've got to squeeze back into in a few months. It's a little bit harder for working travellers in London who have been coping with the unfamiliar winter chill with cheap pub meals, pints and nights out in the capital. The good news is though is that there are plenty of (affordable) ways to beat the bulge in London.

Social sports
Now it's getting warmer, the outdoor social sports comps are starting again. I've signed up for netball again (£45 for 10 games in a social league) and my mates have organised a touch football team. There are heaps of comps and leagues across London and the UK where you can meet friends and get fit. I wrote about some of these leagues in the WORKgateways newsletter last year - check it out here

Gyms
Many travellers are astounded by the cost of gym memberships in London - for a decent gym in inner London you are looking at membership fees of between £60-£80 per month. You should instead look to smaller community fitness/rec centres which allow you to pay per visit or have lower fees (of course the equipment and decor of these places is not going to be as nice as the plush inner city gyms though). You could always just head to your local lido (the Brit name for an outdoor swimming pool) for a calorie-burning splash.

Gym deals
Having said how expensive gyms in London, you can definitely pick up some great discounts and deals so keep an eye out. PruHealth is currently running a promotion that if you sign up for health insurance with them (at a cost of £18-£25 per month), you can get six months free gym membership at Cannons health clubs. They also offer a discounted rate for Virgin Active gyms across London. Another loophole to saving cash, is that if you join up to PruHealth via the online cashback co-operative Quidco you get £115 cashback on top of your free/discounted gym membership (I did this myself in February so can guarantee it works).

Spectator sports
If exercise is not for you (and who are we kidding, there are a lot of us out there!), perhaps spectating is more your style. One of the most fun sporting events in London coming up is the Oxford and Cambridge Boat race, held on the Thames in Putney. It's on 7 April. Everyone over here is also getting excited about the Rugby World Cup, to be held later this year in France, and the Cricket World Cup which has kicked off in the West Indies. Go team!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Back in the UK...and Brighton

It's good to be back. Freezing...but good to be back. My jet lag is only just starting to wear off (I have been bouncing off the walls at 6am most mornings), and was combated by perhaps not the most effective method: denial. Adamant that I was fine I went about the weekend, planning dinners out etc. This has resulted in me being more than just a little space-cadet-esque for the past few days. We did go to Brighton though (my 'welcome back to the UK' treat) and although the winds were hurricane-inducing and the rain was torrential, it was still a very nice couple of days. I finally made it inside Brighton's Royal Pavilion this time too - a feast of opulent design and architecture. It really takes your breath away (last time we spent so much time in the fascinating museum nearby we never made it to the pavilion). Also discovered more of Brighton's delights in the form of the vegetarian and organic cafe's and restaurants (a great one we tried was Food for Friends) and of course browsed the local boutiques, art studios, and unique shops. Oh I love that place.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Farewell to Oz

Well it had to come to an end eventually, and I'm now on my way back to London after a fantastic month back home. My last day was spent having oysters and sav blanc at Watsons Bay, then cocktails at the Orbit bar at the top of Australia square, then more Sydney Rock Oysters and dinner with my family at Nick's in Cockle Bay. Drinks at Opera Bar with all my mates the other night was also a perfect send off. A perfect end to a great few weeks. And although I'm looking forward to the lights of London, I'm also immeasurably sad to be leaving again.

And so I came to the tearful goodbye with Mum and Dad at the airport this morning. I had to make a quick exit so as not to become one of those bawling idiots everyone stares at. I then continued to blub for most of the ten hour journey to Korea though - the ponytailed American beside me thought I was a little strange I'm sure (although I'm not sure he noticed between the 12 Budweisers he drank). My fragile emotional state was not helped by the book I was reading - the latest offering from my favourite trashy indulgence Marian Keyes (chosen specifically for my flight for it's light entertainment value and large print). It turned out to be one of the more serious and emotional of her books (though still hilarious) and despite the fact that it was embarrasingly emblazoned with a huge shiny 'Women's Weekly Great Read' sticker (a poor man's Oprah's Book Club if we're honest) - it was actually quite good. But also a bit depressing and touching, hence the idiotic blubbing me. Although I do admit that I do sometimes tend to cry at the drop of a hat (bingo: see the final two instalments in the tagging incident "things you need to know/didn't know about Pru" coming soon.)

ANYWAYS - one of the most important things I wanted to write here is some advice to fellow travellers going from Sydney to London or vice versa. FLY KOREAN AIR AND DO A STOPOVER IN SEOUL. This may be logical to all but me, but I have never done a stopover before, always choosing to get it over with and fly straight through. Oh my lord have I been missing out. Because it was the only flight I could get, I agreed reluctantly to staying a night here in Seoul in between. Not only do i get a proper night's sleep in a proper bed, but they have put me up in the five star Hyatt (which is divine), given me free dinner and breakfast (dinner was again, divine) and i'm now reclining in my hotel room (divine) in a fluffy robe with a glass of wine from room service, just cause i can! Triple divine! Sure beats battling against ponytailed Budweiser man (or the incredibly irritating Russian woman I got last time) in a tiny sweaty seat for some armrest space so you can try and get 30 seconds of nap after a feral meal (I couldn't even see the tiny movie screen - ripped off!). This is my new favourite way to travel. Another merlot please....and on to London.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I've been tagged

It only took me a month to realise, but I've been tagged. I didn't realise, and in fact didn't even know what this 'tagging' phenomenon was, until I was browsing over the Kiwi's blog and saw - hey that's me! And since I am constantly filling up these pages with drivel anyway, I thought I would abide by this virtual chain letter and bore/excite/annoy you all with 'the FIVE things you don't know about me'. Drumroll please....

1. I'm not a real blonde. (haha - REALLY surprised you all with that one didn't I!). I actually have no idea what my real hair colour is although I imagine it would be a sludgy light browny colour (lovely!) after all the peroxiding, stripping and highlighting that has been done to it since I discovered the wonders of NAPRO Live Colour in Year 8. It was only a matter of time until I then discovered the wanton pleasures of the hairdressing salon when a dye job by a high school buddy went wrong and i had to somehow fix my fluouro orange locks. Thousands of dollars and many, many years later, my hair is my greatest indulgence. Vain, moi??!!

2. I pervesely enjoy watching shark attack documentaries. OK, not exceedingly normal to enjoy watching people getting their limbs ripped off however something about these huge animals (the bigger the better obviously) simultaneously fascinates and terrifies me. Survival stories are the best, complete with bad reanactments and hilarious commentary: 'Bob had no idea when he dived beneath the waves that fateful morning, that something menacing was lurking in the waters that would change his life forever....' Cue Jaws soundtrack, flurry of movement where you can't actually see anything and then see water coloured red with food dye....brilliant!

3. I was a child thespian. Well, kind of. My aunt is in production and happened to have Life Education as a client (you know, of Happy Healthy Harold ilk?). I therefore starred, pink fluoro t-shirt and 80s headband and all, in a Life Education video when i was about seven, which then proceeded to be shown in every primary school in the state. After I'd made my screen debut, i also had a cameo on Heartbreak High - casually sipping a milkshake in the local hangout (forget what it was called - Shark Bar?). How cool can you get!

hmmmm, that's all i can think of for now. I think i'm supposed to tag other people now but that would involve more thinking which i am not inclined to do at the moment! PLUS, it's my second last day in Australia!!! Why on earth am i sitting at a computer - yes it's a bit sad isn't it. I'm killing time before heading off to Opera Bar in a couple of hours for some drinks under the watchful arch of the Harbour Bridge. I'll try and write some last Aussie words tomorrow.

Friday, February 23, 2007

From Africa to Australia

No I didn't just nip off to Africa while you weren't looking....but my friends Shannon and Simone just got back from a trip to the east coast of Kenya where they worked on a volunteer project for 10 days. Simone was doing it as her last trip before heading home for good to Australia, while Shannon is now back in cozy London re-embarking on her working holiday. They both said it was an amazing experience which I'm sure has thoroughly changed their viewpoints on the important things in life. Anyway, before Sim left London, Paul and I gave her some gifts to take to the kids in the school - just stickers, colouring books, crayons, pencils and stuff like that. Sim brought me back this photo of their new friend Ziggy enjoying his brand new colouring book! :)


And this is just a gorgeous pic of some of the kids they met.


I can't remember the name of the organisation which they worked with, but it's a wonderful thing to do. And so much closer to the UK than from Australia or NZ, so when working travellers head over to the UK perhaps it is something everyone should think about doing.

Monday, February 19, 2007

How to cram an Aussie summer into four weeks

Cricket, footy, tennis, beaching, white water rafting - who knew I was so sporty? I resolved when I got here to do as many Aussie-flavoured activities as possible while I could and I've ended up spending half the time watching/playing sport! (when I'm not out at a bar or in a restaurant that is).

The weather has been lovely - definitely a nice change from the snow London has been getting. I feel a bit guilty as everyone else is praying for rain because of the drought, and I'm whinging if it doesn't go above 25 degrees. I watched England beat the Aussies at the SCG last weekend after a Saturday of impromptu tennis, watched the Swans play a practice game on Friday night against Collingwood (beer and the footy - not many things more Aussie than that) and next weekend we're going white water rafting.

But there has been plenty of time for non-sporting activites. It was great to be back at Opera Bar last week sipping champagne under the Opera House overlooked by the Sydney Harbour Bridge (you definitely know you're back in Australia when everyone is calling sparkling wine 'champagne' again). Sunday night was also one of my favourite Aussie traditions - Tropfest. What could be better than sitting in the Domain (big park in the centre of Sydney city), on a rug with friends with nibbles and a glass of champagne? (ahem, sparkling wine).

I've been trying to upload photos but the internet connection is not befriending me and won't let me do it - so you'll all just have to wait!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Four months later.... the news is good!

Four months of agonising waiting and many weeks of preparation before that have finally come to an end. I got a call this week from my housemates in London who told me the postman I have been waiting for for weeks finally came, with a letter telling me I have qualified for a Highly Skilled Migrant Visa. This means that I have six months to switch into my new immigration category from my current working holiday visa. Which means that my time in the UK has been extended past my August deadline for up to another two years!

It still doesn't seem real since I have been waiting for so long to find out what's going to happen to me this year! I didn't think when I went to see a visa representative a year ago that it would take this long, with this many ups and downs!First I was getting sponsored, then I was made redundant, then I had to quickly (ha!) apply for HSMP, then the criteria changed, then it got rejected, then I appealed...and now I've got it! I still have to apply for my Entry Clearance and pay them a shedload more cash (another £350 or something thanks very much) but it looks like I'm finally on the home stretch. The good news for many out there is that I did my application myself - so you don't always have to pay hundreds for a representative (this really depends on your situation though!). And believe me, it was hard work and lots of research!

Being back home has definitely made me think a lot about what it would be like to move back here and it feels strange now to have so many new options presented to me. I don't know how long I want to stay in the UK, but it is definitely very nice (and a huge relief) to know that I no longer have the deadline of the 31st August looming over me - and no more work restrictions!

I would love to share my knowledge and experience of applying for this visa with anyone who needs help and advice - and I can do this either through this blog or through the forum I moderate for WORKgateways. Even though the criteria has changed since I applied, I still know a lot about it and might be able to help you. So if you have a question, drop in and hopefully I can offer some assistance, or at least tell you where else you can go. Visit the WORKgateways forum.

Lastly, thanks to all the people who have offered their love, support, assistance and advice over the past six months during my visa sagas. To all the people who read over my application, wrote letters for me, posted encouraging comments on my blog or just listened to my whining - I couldn't have done it without you all! Oh, and thanks to UK immigration :)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Speaking of...

OK, so I was a little bored today (it's too hot to move and/or go outside!) and I was browsing YouTube (ok, very nerdy but oh well) and I found this really random video of this old American dude doing surprisingly good impressions of the various English accents. I'm fascinated by the fact that in England/UK you just drive a couple of hours and suddenly everyone sounds different (and I said the other day that this is one of the things I would miss about the UK). This often presents problems for Aussies/Kiwis etc cause some accents are impossible to understand - the first time I met my boyfriend's grandmother, I had absolutely no idea what she was saying to me. Paul entertains me for hours on end with his impersonations, but I reckon this guy might even be a little better - although sadly my favourite Scottish and Irish accents are not represented. (Warning: there's a bit of language so be warned and please don't be offended)


More to come on Pru's Aussie Adventures later

Monday, February 05, 2007

Home versus Home

"London? Why would you want to live there? It's so bloody cold!". The conversation I had with a lifeguard on Maroubra Beach on Saturday went on like this for about 20 minutes (he must have decided I looked like a friendly person who was up for a chat). I've been getting that a lot in the past week since I've been back. Fair enough though - since we're in the prime of the Australian summer, beaches are packed, BBQs are in full swing, sun-soaked revellers sit at outdoor tables in cafes and restaurants, tropical fruits are ripe and luscious....why wouldn't you want to stay here forever? Lots of people just can't understand why there are thousands of Australians, Kiwis, Saffas etc trekking over to 'cold, grey, rainy, miserable England' (my lifeguard certainly couldn't). But the fact is, there are. There ARE thousands of working travellers making the break from the sun, surf and sand to head to the UK. So, what's so good about it and why are we all heading over there?

Well, anyone who has been reading this blog over the past year and a half, hopefully have got some idea of why I'm still living there! I was a little worried that coming home would make me start to resent England from keeping me away from all this Australianess, but it has only made me even fonder of both my homes. Of course I love Sydney and it's indescribably wonderful to be back with my family, friends, eating watermelon, hearing the cicadas, feeling the sand between your toes, getting sunburnt, hearing Aussie accents on the radio, shopping at Coles, eating chips and gravy; I'm also missing my other home in London and all the great things there that people who haven't lived there wouldn't understand (and plenty of reasons they would understand if they knew about them!).

While I'm back home I'm waiting to hear about a UK visa I have applied for and although coming home for good this year is a very real possibility and something I definitely could get used to; I would definitely be sad to leave my London home so soon (never thought I would say two years would be so soon!). I can't wait this summer for trips to Europe and the US, sunny afternoons in pubs by the Thames drinking Pimms, country Cotswold weekends, picnics in the park while dodging the Queen's deer, high street shopping in Chelsea (or Brighton!), musicals in Covent Garden, surfing in Cornwall (hopefully i'll get down there this summer!), McVitties chocolate flapjacks, £3 French wine, comaraderie between travellers away from home and the hugely varied Pommy accent. All these things I would miss!

Nothing compares to home, but who said you can't have more than one?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

First things first..



The first thing I did upon arriving back home in sunny Oz this morning (after visiting my Nan and kissing my dog)

(was closely followed by a peach, some grapes and I'm eyeing off a mango..) More comprehensive post to come when i'm not jetlagged as hell.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Halfway to Australia

I did mention that I'm going home for a month didn't I? With all the excitement of the past month I may have neglected to mention it (only a small thing really isn't it!). So yeh, I decided to take the plunge and do the infamous 'first visit' home, although mine has taken a little bit longer than others - it's been over one and a half years since I last graced Sydney shores. So stay tuned for updates over the next month. I'm actually sitting in Seoul airport at the moment, halfway there, feeling quite nervous (and extrememly hungry - god i hate airplane food, and they never EVER give you enough to eat!). Plus one of my friends just emailed to say she went swimming at Bondi the other day and the water was freezing - these are not things I need to be hearing! Bring on the sunshine!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Backtrack to my Birthday

So you all know how much I love my restaurants - and bitching about the service, the food, the way they pour the wine (or not), the way they include the tip on the bill over here, the way service is so much better at home etc etc ... (ok so perhaps I can be a nightmare when we eat out, but that's what four years in the hospitality industry will do to you). ANYWAY, after much drubbing from my friends who are sick of hearing me go on, and after living over here for a year and a half and getting used to 'way things are done in the UK', every now and again I come across a fab new restaurant, and in London there are definitely plenty to choose from (unfortunately there are also plenty of bad ones).

Anyway, I found a gem. Well, Ben found it. And we went there last Thursday night for my birthday dinner. It's a great French restaurant in Soho called Pierre Victoire. The food is amazing, the service (and the French waiters) stunning and there is even a piano player upstairs to add a touch of charm (even though I was already very impressed!). And handily situated near some trendy cocktail bars and pubs. Another fab night out in London!