Beginning in Bangkok

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If I had to sum up Bangkok in two words after my first three days there, they would be dirty and fun.

I left Scotland to 2•c and the threat of snow, but as I stepped off the Sky Train at Phraya Thai in Bangkok the wall of heat and humidity hit me hard despite it still being early in the morning. After about 5 minutes of walking in it, I started to seriously regret my decision to walk the 5km to my hostel to ‘stretch my legs’ after 20 hours of travelling.

I also quite quickly discovered that walking across Bangkok is nothing like walking around a city in Europe. The place is crisscrossed with highways 10 lanes wide, and if you try to take a short cut or a quieter street to get away from the traffic you easily get lost, end up at a dead end, or walking through someone’s home which has spilled out into the street. And so after many wrong turns and dragging my batter suitcase through some slightly unsavoury neighbourhoods, I finally stumbled into my hostel two hour later, a sweaty, sleep deprived mess, possibly still slightly drunk from the plane.

While in Bangkok I was staying at the Born Free Hostel on Samsen Soi 6, which is about a 5 minute walk from Khao San Road, so is practical but in a slightly less loud, touristy area. When I arrived it was too early to check in, but I was thankfully able to leave my bags and have the best cold shower of my life. My first thought after that was to go and find some real food after one too many plane meals. On the long walk over I had passed so much delicious smelling street food so that was the plan, but typically on wandering out of my hostel I couldn’t find anything that looked even halfway decent.

After getting to grips with the neighbourhood I thought I’d head towards the Grand Palace and find something to eat on the way. I was finding Bangkok fairly difficult to navigate, and while trying to find the place I bumped into two Austrian and two Canadian girls who had all also just arrived and were just as lost. We joined together and managed to find the complex which it sits in, and after passport checks and making sure we were adequately covered up we were allowed in. From there it was about a 20 minute walk to the Grand Palace itself, and only once there were we all told that we were still inappropriately dressed and forced to buy clothes to cover up more. I am now the less than proud owner of an ‘I ❤️ Thailand’ t-shirt.

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The Grand Palace

We had a look around the outside, which in itself is beautiful, but all of us opted not to pay to get in to the temple itself as we were all hungry, tired, and figured we would come back and see it properly when we felt more up to it. The plan from there was to finally get some food, but as we were leaving we realised we were night next to Wat Pho and that we might as well check it out while we were there and had the necessary cover ups. I have to say that despite all of us feeling awful it was definitely worth it and I’m glad we went there instead.

Wat Pho is best known for being the home of the giant Reclining Buddha, but everything else there is equally as impressive. The grounds with the mosaic encrusted buildings sparkling gold in the sunlight, all the small temples, the hundreds of Buddhas, it really is something special. We were even invited to listen to a monk who was giving a casual conversation  in one of the shrines we entered. By this point we had lost the Canadians, and me and the Austrian girls were really feeling the combination of heat, hunger and jet lag, so we decided to call it a day and went back to our hostels.

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Wat Pho

After another glorious cold shower I set off again with determination to find some food, as well as a place to sit and write my journal. But while looking at the food in one place, I saw some guys sitting outside a bar bartering over scorpions on a stick and, well, I had to watch them eat it. They asked me to join them for a drink and luckily there was a guy across the road making pad thai, so I grabbed some food, ordered a large G&T, and watched them bravely eat scorpions. The verdict – tastes like chicken skin with a very bad after taste. It turned out they were all new in Bangkok as well and the girls were even staying in my hostel so we figured we’d all spend our first evening together.

The girls wanted to go back and change, but me and the guys then spent the rest of the night bar hopping around Khao San Road, Rambuttri Road, and some of the small streets near my hostel, where we found this great little cocktail bar. As for Khao San Road itself, I have to say I don’t love it. It’s a laugh, and worth checking out, but if you actually want to be able to speak to people? Not a chance. It’s loud, it’s in your face, and we all had a much better time a time some of the other places we found. Eventually the jet lag kicked in for all of us though, and after a fairly impressively 60 hours awake, I finally got some sleep.


Cocktails & Khao San Road

After an amazing 10 hour sleep, I woke up the next morning feeling so much better and apparently not feeling the effects of jet lag! Without any real plan in place, I was just chilling in the lounge area of the hostel and started chatting to 3 guys who were staying there. We were all feeling the need for food, and they said that the hostel’s cafe across the street does the best pad thai ever. And it really does. Their smoothies were also amazing, and feeling much better (and a lot fuller) me and one of the guys decided to borrow the hostel’s free bikes and go for a quick cycle. I don’t think either of us counted on this becoming an 8 hour bike ride but hey.


Delicious, authentic Thai food at the Born Free cafe

I’m in 2 minds about cycling in Bangkok. On the one hand I’d say it’s the best way to get around. The city is almost completely flat and it’s big enough that walking isn’t always an option (and that’s saying something coming from me!). But the streets themselves aren’t the nicest for cycling. As I said before, it’s either massive highways or bumpy back streets, and it’s an every man for himself kind of deal in terms of safety and right of way. I wouldn’t let that put you off though, as long as you’re a confident cyclist it’s heaps fun.

We had a bit of a strange day in terms of what we actually saw. Originally we set out without a real plan, then chose to go to Lumphini Park. By the time we got there we were hungry (again. As someone who doesn’t usually eat much I seem to constantly be hungry but also spend most of my time eating. Definitely coming back a stone heavier.) Unfortunately there wasn’t much around in the way of places to eat, but we had just passed through a hospital and noticed it had a canteen so figured it was at least something. I went for the lighter option of a papaya salad, as we’d already had lunch but it was too early for dinner, and it was as average as can be expected from a hospital canteen. Although the milk teas we had made up for the food!

Once we had refuelled we went for a cycle around the park, where we  had a close encounter with a rather large monitor lizard who was just chilling by the stream, saw some cute wee turtles swimming about in the lake, and then were told that you weren’t allowed to cycle in the park after 3pm. Why, I couldn’t quite understand, but we were literally told to get on our bikes. Another idea we had had was to see Wat Arun from the boat at night when it’s lit up, so we set off in the rough direction of the river. On our way there we were passing down an alley where some really nice looking food was being cooked, so stopped for another quick bite and I finally got to try Thai sausages. Pretty damn good. We got to the boat stop and after a long time trying to figure out how the system even worked we were told that for health and safety reasons we couldn’t take our bikes on the boat. Bit rich considering where we were, but as much as we pleaded it was a solid no. So with no choice but to cycle the rest of the way back, we grabbed a couple of beers and found a spot by the river to see the temple from – only to discover that it wasn’t lit up. Still, it made a nice break from sitting on a bike seat all day and sometimes it’s nice to just sit and watch the city go by.

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The Chao Phraya River

The remainder of the trip back wasn’t actually that long, as getting around by bike here is actually really quick, but it was still 9:30 when we made it to the hostel. That probably would have been a good time to go to bed but instead I wandered out to meet the guys from the night before for a couple of beers. Afterwards they moved on to Khao San Road, and after two minutes in a club there it cemented my opinion that the place really isn’t for me and I headed back for some much needed sleep.

Despite going to bed at 2am the night before, I managed to get up early on Saturday with plans to go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This meant negotiating the Bangkok bus service, which still confuses and frustrates the hell out of me. Another reason bikes are better.

The market is huge; It spreads over 35 acres with more than 8,000 stalls. I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to buy apart from maybe some clothes and breakfast, but it is fun just to browse as you can buy pretty much everything there, whether it’s tacky souvenirs, art, or a pet squirrel. I got some mango sticky rice and a fresh lime juice for a bit of fuel and then spent the next couple of hours wandering the stalls. Even after that long I was sure there were things I’d missed, but it was getting to midday and the heat in such a crowded space started to become unbearable.

Once I’d got back to the hostel and showered again, I was getting some serious cravings for the pad thai from across the street so headed there for lunch. And somehow it was even better than the day before! I spent a couple of hours just relaxing, reading, writing & making travel plans, but after a while was itching to move. Admittedly there wasn’t anything in particular I really wanted to do, so when one of the guys said he was going to the market I just tagged along for something to do.

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Just a glimpse of the market

It probably wasn’t the best idea. Having to sit on the bus again, this time in heavy traffic, and then the torrential rain started. By the time we got to Chatuchak, the lanes between stalls were more like rivers and half of the market was inaccessible. We had a quick browse but it was pretty miserable, though we did get some coconut ice cream to make it a bit better. Turns out it was a localised rain storm as well and if we’d stayed near the hostel would have missed it, but oh well.

My plan for the evening was to just stay in, relax, and get a cheap dinner somewhere, but inevitably with hostel living plans never get stuck to. I got talking to a guy who had just arrived in Thailand and wanted to try some good Thai food. My first choice was the cocktail bar I visited on my first night, but we were too early for food so just went to the Born Free Cafe instead. As much as I’d have loved another of their pad thai, I felt like one a day was enough and that I should branch out, so had a Pha Ngan curry instead, which was also really good. Afterwards he wanted to see what Khao San Road was like, and two very young girls from his room wanted to come too. Having not ever wanted to go back there, I somehow found myself spending another evening on that street, but called it quits at 9 and came back for an early night, slightly wishing I had just spent the evening by myself. I’d been lucky in the people I met my first days as we got on really well, and had kinda forgotten that not everyone you meet in hostels will be your type of person.

Still it was sad to leave the place the next morning, although I decided to come back for my very brief stay after Chiang Mai. Overall, Bangkok was a lot better than I expected. Yes it’s a big, car filled city, and you never quite feel clean there. But once you accept that, it has so much to offer and something for everyone – great food, friendly people, fun bars, stunning temples, and endless shopping opportunities to name just a few. I’ve only just left but I’m already looking forward to coming back.

Barcelona

I had wanted to visit Barcelona for as long as I can remember. It always struck me as this colourful, vibrant, unique city – very different to other places in Spain but still with that distinct European city vibe that I love so much. With the art work, architecture, night life, beach and everything else, it just always seemed like a city with everything to offer. Yet again this was a very spur of the moment trip as a reaction to the seemingly never ending Winter we seem to be having, but this time we opted for a bit of sun and heat rather than embracing the cold season. We found affordable flights, an almost suspiciously cheap hostel, and a day later had our trip planned.

The hostel we ended up staying at was called Kabul. It’s located just off Las Ramblas in the Plaça Reial, a gorgeous palm tree adorned square lined with terrace cafes, and is apparently a famous party hostel. All we cared about was that it was €10 a night, included free breakfast & dinner, had a roof terrace overlooking the square and a bar with €1 sangria.

Plaça Reial
Plaça Reial from the balcony of our hostel room

The main downside with choosing the cheapest flights is horrendous flight times, so it was that at 5am on a freezing cold Edinburgh morning we set off to the airport, the promise of sunshine & sangria on the other side the only thing keeping us awake. We had a nice wee nap on the plane though and when we finally arrived in Barcelona around midday we were feeling slightly more alive.

After negotiating the public transport system and me realising that the Spanish lessons I took on my year abroad in France along my subsequent attempts to teach myself the language had apparently been completely useless, we had a nice walk through the city centre to our hostel. While being located by Las Ramblas is in many ways practical, we quickly discovered that it makes eating slightly difficult. Almost all of the restaurants and cafes in the area have hiked up prices and low quality food as it is the centre of the tourist district, but we were so desperately hungry that we didn’t have the energy to venture further afield and search for something a little more genuine. Our first thought had been to head to La Boqueria, a giant food market and one of the few recommended places to eat in the area, but as it was a Sunday this was closed. Eventually we did find somewhere semi-decent and affordable, though in no way authentically Spanish!

La Casa dels Paraigüe
La Casa dels Paraigüe on Las Ramblas

So we decided to make up for that with a bit of cava and some of Barcelona’s best ice cream. Heading down to the bottom of Las Ramblas, we took a left and headed along the harbour front, admiring the stunning architecture and lapping up the distinctly European feel of the city. We then cut inland and had a wander around the Gothic Quarter in our search for Tomo II, which apparently sold the best ice cream in Barcelona – I have to say, we were not disappointed. Although still touristy, the Gothic Quarter made a nice change from the busy main thoroughfare of Las Ramblas.


What more do you need?

Parc de la Ciutadella
El Parc de la Ciutadella

Armed with ice cream and a €2 bottle of very nice cava, we then made our way over to the Parc de la Ciutadella to while away the afternoon. The Parc is home to a zoo, the Parliament of Catalonia, and a very impressive fountain which reminded me of the Palais Longchamp in Marseille. I’m not really sure why but I actually felt like there were a lot of similarities between the two cities. We spent a couple of hours basking in the sunshine, recovering from the morning’s travel and enjoying some well-earned cava, before meandering back towards the hostel. Along the way we took in the Arc de Triomf, which looks like a traditional memorial arch but was in fact built for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. We also stopped by the Barcelona Cathedral, or the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, Barcelona’s lesser known cathedral taking second place to the famous Sagrada Familia. We decided to have a look inside and were lucky enough to do so in the middle of Mass, which was pretty magical.

Arc de Triomf
L’Arc de Triomf

La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia
La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia

For our first night in Barcelona we were pretty beat so we decided to hit up the supermarket for some more wine then headed back to the hostel for a chilled night of socialising. We also took advantage of the free dinner on offer, which although nothing special was a great option if you don’t feel like pounding the streets trying to find a decent place to eat amongst all the tourist traps.

After perhaps a few too many glasses of cava the tiredness hit and I decided to call it a night, but Ruth somehow made it out with a bunch of guys from the hostel and found a pretty funky little jazz bar – but in her state it was sadly never to be found again. God knows how she even found her way back to the hostel!

La Boqueria
La Boqueria

La Boqueria
La Boqueria

The next day we decided to head up to the Parc Güell. Rather than take the metro we thought we would walk the 6km and see a bit more of the city, stopping by the Casa Batlló, admiring some of the other stunning architecture such as the Casa Lleó Morera, and taking a wander through the neighbourhood of Gràcia. Before we got on our way though, we stopped by La Boqueria, which is worth it just to admire all the food displays even if you don’t plan on buying anything (though I would recommend the chorizo from the little stall on the left just before you enter).

Casa Lleó Morera
La Casa Lleó Morera

Casa Batlló
La Casa Batlló

Eventually we made it to the top of the hill that the Parc sits on, by which time the midday sun was significantly hotter. We had brought a picnic with us so sat and looked out over Barcelona while surrounded by the weird and wonderful products of Gaudí’s imagination and little green parrots swooped around us.


High up over the city.

Parc Güell
El Parc Güell

Parc Güell
El Parc Güell

The last time Ruth was there the Parc was completely free to enter, but they have since cordoned off a couple of sections which you have to pay and queue to enter. You can still get a decent view of these parts, and with the massive queues already waiting we opted to stick to the free parts, which is actually the majority of the Parc. After a couple of hours exploring, we headed back down towards the city centre and after a lot more walking found ourselves at the Sagrada Familia. Honestly, I can’t say I liked it. Gaudí obviously had some weird stuff going on in his head and as impressive as it is it’s not exactly pretty.

Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia

After a lot of walking, and seeing some of the back streets of Barcelona which most tourists probably wouldn’t stumble across, we were slightly dead on our feet and so picked up some beers and sangria and made our way back to the gorgeous Parc de la Ciutadella for a bit of recuperation and relaxation.

We had planned to go out for tapas that evening and had been on the lookout for somewhere affordable that looked like it sold decent food, but honestly nothing had caught our eye. As I already mentioned, being bang in the middle of the most touristy part of the city makes finding a decent restaurant difficult. With nothing really standing out, we were drawn to a chain called Itapa which offered all you can eat tapas for €14 – we should have known better, but by this point we were too hungry to really care. It wasn’t exactly my idea of genuine Spanish tapas, although they did do nice mussels and meatballs, and had a salad bar which was actually quite nice – but I wouldn’t recommend it and I definitely wouldn’t go back.

On our last day I was once again up with the birds after being awake most of the night thanks to the worst people I’ve ever encountered in a hostel. As usual Ruth was still sound asleep and blissfully unaware and had once again missed breakfast, so I went for a wee wander and picked her up some croissants from a local bakery. When I got back we headed off on a free walking tour of the Gothic quarter, which we had mostly explored ourselves but we got to learn a lot more about the history and politics of the city, as well as seeing a lot of things we had missed on our own.

Spanish Civil War Bomb Damage
Bomb damage from the Spanish Civil War

After the tour we explored a bit towards the other side of Las Ramblas, and came across El Gato del Raval, a giant and pretty creepy cat statue on the Rambla del Raval. We sat on the fountain in the middle of Plaça Reial to eat our lunch and watch the very talented break dancers who perform there, and then decided it was time to hit the beach. Barceloneta Beach is only a couple of kilometres from Las Ramblas, and a lovely walk along the harbour and through the neighbourhood of Barceloneta. We stopped in the neighbourhood for a drink before we reached the beach, and the difference in their attitude to tourists was striking. On the walking tour that morning we had been told that the people of Barceloneta can be quite hostile towards foreigners – even going so far as to put up signs telling tourists that they aren’t welcome. While it didn’t quite feel that bad, it was definitely noticeable.

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Streets of the Gothic Quarter

We made it to the beach, armed with a bottle of cava naturally, and whiled away the rest of the afternoon listening to the sounds of Barcelona beach life and soaking up some sun. Our final night was spent socialising at the hostel again, redeeming ourselves at pool (slightly), drinking sangria, and enjoying another free dinner with everyone else – which, while maybe not be haute cuisine, were a really nice way for everyone to get together and socialise.


Hanging with El Gato & enjoying the beach.

The next morning we had to leave, and it felt far too soon. Without a doubt I had fallen in love with this city and could have happily spent a lot longer discovering what else it has to offer. With only three days there, it felt like we had only just scratched the surface. Safe to say I will be going back some day, and I am already having serious withdrawals from the sun and the cava!

Sydney

Opera House & Skyline

Last weekend I jetted off to Sydney for a brief visit. When we booked our 6am flight there and 9pm return, we thought we were being really smart as it would pretty much give us 3 full days. What we didn’t take into account was that Jetstar flies from Avalon Airport – closer to Geelong than Melbourne – and that with both of us living in the suburbs, actually getting into the city and back at those times can be quite difficult. So despite our cheap flights, we wound up having to fork out for taxis, not to mention get up at 2:30am to get to the airport.

All of that aside, we arrived in Sydney at 7:30am on Friday, and one slightly crazy taxi driver later we made it to the hostel where we were able to ply ourselves with as much free food and, more importantly, coffee as we wanted. We were staying at the Hump Backpackers Hostel in Darlinghurst. Known as a bit of a party hostel, the emphasis was definitely on drinking and socialising rather than comfort and cleanliness, but it was perfect for what we needed and in a really cool and convenient area. After waking up and re-fueling a little, we walked into the city centre where we decided to do a free walking tour. These tours are run by I’m Free and I had also done the one in Melbourne a few weeks ago. They last around 3 hours and are a great way to get your bearings and a bit of an overview of the city, as well as getting heaps of information and tips from the guide. Unfortunately our first impressions of Sydney were slightly spoilt by the rain, though it was at least noticeably hotter than Melbourne!

Forgotten Songs
Forgotten Songs art installation

Queen Victoria Building
The Queen Victoria Building

After the tour we headed back to the hostel to check in, freshen up and dry off a bit. We had opted for a 4-bed dorm and were sharing with a German couple, which was definitely better than being in one of the 12-bed rooms. We ventured out again and decided to go down to Darling Harbour. It is one of the more touristy areas, being home to attractions like the Sea Life Centre and Madame Tussauds, but it was still a nice area to explore. Originally we were trying to find the famous Sydney Fish Market, but after a lot of searching and walking the exhaustion was starting to set in, so we made our way down to the area around Central Station in search of dinner. Lured in by the promise of $5 pizzas, we ended up at Scubar. The pizzas weren’t great, but you get what you pay for and we were so hungry we didn’t care. The bar itself was pretty nice though, as were their cocktails, so that kind of made up for it. Back at the hostel we had some more drinks and ended up taking part in a beer pong competition, which started off well but we quickly lost. Having been up for about 20 hours by this point we decided to call it a night, especially with our sights set on a trip to the Blue Mountains the next day.

Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains from Gordon Falls Lookout

With the weekend’s weather having turned out to be completely unpredictable and constantly changing, we didn’t know what we were going to wake up to but luckily the sun was shining so we quickly caught a train out to the small mountain town of Katoomba. The Blue Mountains are also part of the Great Dividing Range, which I ventured into last weekend in the Grampians, but the eco-system and plant life are so different you wouldn’t think they were in any way related. Most noticeable is that the mountains really are blue because of the way the light reacts to the dust and oil off the eucalyptus trees in the valley. We caught a bus from Katoomba down to Gordon Falls Lookout, and from there opted to do a bush hike to the Three Sisters. With the previous day’s rain, this felt a lot more like walking through a rainforest than the mountains. During most of the hike we passed a few other people, but it was nothing compared to the crowds when we arrived at Echo Point. Compared to the Grampians it was insanely touristy, yet everyone just seemed to come to this one lookout point rather than actually walking in the mountains which seemed a bit sad to me and also meant they were missing out on some of the best sights.

Leura Falls
Leura Falls

The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters

Despite a long day of even more walking, when we arrived back in Sydney we decided to walk across the Harbour Bridge to see the city by night, and oh my god am I glad we did this. From the previous day I was still undecided about Sydney – yes it’s nice, but I didn’t have that same instant attraction to it as I did with Melbourne. But walking around Circular Quay, through The Rocks, and along the Harbour Bridge on a hot, early Autumn night, I began to see what all the fuss was about. Sydney is definitely more of a Big City, and like New York or London I always feel like they look a lot nicer by night. The ugly skyscrapers which clutter the city during the day are transformed by lights at night, and the Opera House which I actually thought rather unimpressive and ugly when were first saw it looked so much more alive.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

The Rocks
The Rocks & Circular Quay

Back at the hostel we sat outside, enjoying the day’s remaining heat while chatting to people from all over the world, eating sushi and drinking cider, and I realised how much I had needed this little break.

Bondi Beach
Loving life on Bondi Beach

By the next morning the rain had cleared up and the sun was back, so we were able to do the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach along the coastal trail. If I had planned ahead and ignored the weather forecast of constant rain for the weekend, I would definitely have got some surfing in on Bondi but I guess I’ll have to save that for next time! The rest of the afternoon was spent revisiting some of the things we’d seen on our first day, like the Opera House and Queen Victoria Building, and a wander through the Botanic Gardens. We also went back to explore The Rocks properly and to visit the market. The Rocks was the first place that people settled in Sydney and used to be a fairly run-down area known for crime and prostitution, but now it has become a really cool, quirky area.

Bondi Beach
The Bondi to Coogee Beach coastal walk

Eventually it was time to head back after what felt like much too short a time in Sydney, which I was actually really starting to like though I’m definitely still a Melbourne person!

Frank Turner at the Corner Hotel in Richmond

Frank Turner

On Wednesday night at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, Frank Turner played his 1,663rd show. Having been in attendance at his 868th, 967th, 1,292nd and 1,524th gigs I can attest to the fact that he is a musician who only gets better. For many bands, playing so many shows results in a disconnection with the audience and a sense that they’ve stopped enjoying what they do. They get up on stage, perform a well-rehearsed and often very good show, but you feel like they’re just going through the motions. Yet even with so many shows under his belt, he still gives the impression of loving every second of what he does.

The night started with support from Lincoln Le Fevre, a Tasmanian folk-punk-rock singer, and the American Jon Snodgrass. The latter obviously being a good friend of Frank Turner’s, who was sitting by the side of the stage throughout his set and joined him halfway through for an impromptu and very casual jam of a few songs the two of them had written together. The atmosphere was a lot like watching a couple of your mates doing a gig down the local pub, as despite his fame and success Frank Turner always comes across as the most down-to-Earth, normal guy.

Jon Snodgrass & Frank Turner
Jon Snodgrass & Frank Turner

When he came back on for his own set accompanied by his backing band The Sleeping Souls, the energy that he brought onto the stage was contagious. From the very beginning the entire room was jumping, dancing and singing along to every word, and the momentum didn’t stop throughout the entire show. As it was their second night at the Corner Hotel, the band decided to switch things up a bit and divert from their usual set list by playing Turner’s 2011 album ‘England Keep My Bones’ in its entirety for the first time ever, before continuing with the usual songs. This has always been a really personal album to me and hearing it live all the way through was just amazing, if a little emotional.

Maybe it was the intimacy of a smaller venue, maybe it was being reminded of home while on the other side of the world, but this was easily my favourite Frank Turner concert to date. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to see him live before, I cannot recommend it enough as he gives some of the best shows I have ever seen. With his sixth studio album coming out later this year he has already promised another tour in the near future.

The Half-Way Point & a Slightly Muddled Post

I realised today that I’ve been in Melbourne for 6 weeks already, which I thought meant I only had another 6 to go but actually it works out to be 7. It’s still a shock that I’m nearly half-way through my time here already, and having fallen head over heels in love with this city I really wish I could stay longer. Although to ease the pain a little I’ve booked myself a little holiday in France just after I go back to the UK so that’s something to look forward to. And now I just need to knuckle down and get on with all the stuff I still need to do here!

Today was also Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. As someone who pretty much ate my way around Croatia’s ice cream shops last September & October, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a bit of an ice cream addict. I’ve already set about discovering some of Melbourne’s best (N2 in Brunswick Street and Saint Kilda’s Seven Apples are my top choices atm) but Ben and Jerry’s will always have a special place in my heart. Their Free Cone Day is an annual thank you to all of their customers, but living in Edinburgh where there are no B&J Scoop Shops I’ve never been able to go – until today, when I was able to head to my local on Chapel Street for all the free ice cream I wanted. My diet went out the window for the day but it was so worth it.


Indulging in some Coconut Seven Layer Bar & showing the love

Also a bit late on this, but I promised some decent photos of the Beach Boxes at Brighton Beach, which I visited again a couple of weeks ago, so here they are.

Brighton Beach Boxes

Brighton Beach Boxes

Brighton Beach Boxes

Formula 1, Brighton Beach & East Melbourne

Having been made to watch Formula 1 races many, many times over the last few years, I can safely say that it is about level with golf in terms of most boring ‘sports’ (which I’m sorry but neither of those are) to watch. But with the Grand Prix taking place in Melbourne this weekend and the whole city seeming pretty pumped about it I was willing to get at least a little bit involved, and when the offer of a free ticket came my way I figured why not. Which is how I found myself at the Albert Park race track on Thursday for what turned out to be a surprisingly fun day.

Albert Park F1 Racecourse
Pretty scenic for a racecourse

Admittedly I think we all enjoyed it because it didn’t really involved much of watching car races. As it was the first day of the four day event it was just qualifying and practice sessions, with the actual race on Sunday. But that meant it was less busy and we were able to see and do a lot more of the fun stuff like taking part in challenges and exploring behind the scenes. The free tickets came through Newbies International, a group which runs meetups for people who are new to cities, so as well as learning how to ride a Segway and change a race car tyre I also met some really cool people and will hopefully go along to some more of their events.

Saturday’s weather forecast promised a beautiful 30°c and sunshine filled day, so a few of us au pairs decided to make the most of what could be one of the last days of Summer and went to Brighton Beach. Famous for its multicoloured, artfully decorated beach boxes, Brighton Beach is actually really close to where I’m living (well an hour walk, but close by Melbourne standards) but I had yet to visit. After some initial complications which are inevitable when trying to organise a group of around 20 people, we finally made it and were not disappointed. My only regret is that I only had my phone rather than my real camera so couldn’t get many decent photos, but that just means I’ll have to go back soon! It was even warm enough to swim in the sea, possibly for the last time before Autumn really sets in.

After a long day at the beach we stopped by a little family run restaurant where I had a truly delicious vegetable pizza – and I’m not even the biggest fan of pizza in the first place. This is one of the things I’m learning to love about Melbourne; everywhere you go, you are surrounded by delicious smells and amazing food, and it’s all from small, independent places. Everywhere I’ve tried so far has had its own unique vibe and I’m yet to be disappointed. Which is great, although slightly bad news for my waistline and my wallet.


Brighton Beach Boxes – not the best photo but I will get some better ones!

On Sunday I headed in to Melbourne to do some exploring by myself. Apparently this is strange and antisocial and I should always be hanging out with my new BFFs (say the kids), but part of me loves getting to know new places on my own sometimes. I started with Fitzroy Gardens and East Melbourne, a gorgeous residential area just to the East of the city centre full of stunning Victorian houses. A lot of these houses were also home to many famous writers, actors and artists, so I spent a good hour or so wandering around soaking up the architecture and the culture of the area.

Victorian Houses
Victorian Houses in East Melbourne, starkly contrasted with cars & modern buildings in the background

From there I headed through China Town back into the city centre for some lunch (delicious of course) and some shopping (natch) before heading North to Carlton and Fitzroy. On my way I passed through Carlton Gardens, home to the Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibiton Building, two very contrasting but equally stunning buildings. From there I headed up Brunswick Street, which might just be my new favourite place. As I turned the corner onto the main road, the sound of a rocky jazz band filled my ears from inside a pub on the corner with all the doors and windows open onto the street, and that just seemed to set the atmosphere of the whole area. I didn’t even take any photos because I was so engrossed in all the little shops, cafes, bars, street art, markets and everything that was going on. Definitely a place I need to go back to! Eventually I stumbled upon a little Irish Festival going on in Edinburgh Gardens for St Patrick’s Day, which reiterated how multicultural this city is and which is one of the reasons I love it so much.

Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building
Royal Exhibiton Building

First days in Melbourne

Flinders Street Station
Flinders Street Station

It was never exactly going to to be the easiest start, flying halfway around the world and starting a job essentially the moment I got off the plane. On the one hand it was made easier by the fact that the family I’m working for are really, truly lovely, but on the other my first week was inevitably a bit hectic.

So I arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday around midnight, about 30 hours after catching the train to Gatwick airport at 4am on Monday, not something I ever really want to do again. I hadn’t been able to fly from Edinburgh so I’d headed down to London on Friday, which at least broke up the journey a little bit and I had the weekend to chill. My first day in Melbourne I wasn’t actually expected to work which was nice, but the thing with living at your workplace is you end up doing it anyway. So despite jetlag and only a couple hours of sleep I got up to meet the kids, who despite being a bit of a handful at times (as all kids are, especially when there’s 4 of them!), are pretty awesome.

The plan was to kind of slowly ease into things, learn their routines, get to know them, and generally settle in. The first few days were a bit out of the ordinary as it was, even without my arrival and their excitement around that, but then on Friday night the kids’ mum fell ill and she’s been in hospital since. So not the easiest start and it was certainly quite full on from the offset, but it’s meant that I’ve quickly settled in and already feel like I’ve been here much longer than a week!

Outside of work I have tons of free time which so far has mostly been spent exploring Melbourne and the suburb I’m living in. Last weekend was Moomba, a huge festival which takes place over the Labour Day long weekend, so I met up with some other au pairs who have just moved here and we went to that and explored the city a bit. There’s so much to do here I’m still feeling a bit overwhelmed and don’t really know where to start, but expect lots more posts including one about my unexpected trip to the Formula 1 Grand Prix!

Melbourne Moomba Festival
Moomba Festival along the banks of the Yarra River