The tale of the camino continues…

Day 2 – Vilar do Pinheiro to Rates

This 20km stretch is where I feel our pilgrim experience truly began. After an amazing sleep, we departed Vilar do Pinheiro at 7am, doubling back on a stretch of highway and cutting through to the country lanes via a  stone-walled path. The morning was crisp and clear, as were our heads as we had had our first alcohol-free night in weeks. We dawdled as our feet warmed up and we took photos of gnarled trees, impenetrable walls of corn and crumbling farmhouses that looked like they had been built according to the imaginings of a thousand idealistic city-dwellers seeking romance in the countryside.

Most of the landscape consisted of cornfields and rustic agricultural land, though we did pass some modern houses that contrasted sharply with their surroundings like businessmen at a bush doof. My memory is hazy but I remember the approach to Rates seeming quite barren and bright as the landscape changed and light reflected off limestone. Rates has the first albergue on this camino and is a more picturesque and historical place than Vilar do Pinheiro. Pilgrims who want to take the coastal route split from the trail here and head West towards the beaches (a far less marked and populated Way).We arrived in the early afternoon and went to receive our sello at the general store. We were expecting to have to pay for the albergue and it took a moment and some interpretation to realise that it was donation based and you just took a bed and put some coins in the wooden box when you left. We walked down the street to the albergue which was like the most basic, hardcore, pilgrimmy, sparse, nunnery-style hostel we had ever seen.

We slept in a room with 30 other people, most of whom were overweight retirees. The dorm was filled with a malodorous tang – a heady mixture of hiking boots, foot spray, bodies and poor ventilation. We spread our cotton ‘mummy’ sheets (I still don’t know why they’re called that), over the plastic-covered mattresses and passed out for a good hour. I woke up before El and decided to have a shower. As I walked outside to the shower block (which was huge and clean), I noticed a very tall, well-built man of around 35 walking around the yard in a pair of tight blue jocks. He was chatting away to a seemingly bemused older couple as he did his laundry (which for him appeared to involve a lot of bending over from the waist). I thought this was kind of strange… why would you not wear pants, particularly when your legs are like tree trunks and your height places your genitals roughly in line with short people’s faces? It was necessary that I pass through the male shower blocks to reach the women’s… something the builders had accommodated for by providing each shower cubicle with a dressing area for increased privacy. After a long and satisfyingly hot shower I dried off in the cubicle, got dressed and walked back towards the exit. As I did so, something caught my eye and I looked to my right to see Jock Man standing in the middle of the men’s area with one leg up on a stool, vigorously drying his balls. He glanced up, gave me a perfunctory nod and continued to assault my eyes.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not a prude (far from it), but I think people are entitled to have some say about whether or not they see a dick. Especially one that’s being jiggled about in an alarming manner (and is particularly huge!?). When I got back to the room, El was up and getting ready for a wash. Before I could tell her about Jock Man, she started telling me in hushed tones that one of the aforementioned retirees had stripped off his clothes and wandered around with his wang out… El being the only other inhabitant of the room at the time. Two penises in as many hours! Is it necessary? I manage to not be naked most of the time.

That evening we walked to the amazingly gorgeous town square and had dinner at a restaurant/coffee bar/internet cafe/pool hall/local hangout until around 10pm, when we headed back to get some sleep. To our absolute horror, the albergue was LOCKED. On the quietest of streets, in the middle of nowhere, with no one answering the door or responding to our hesitant calls, we were seriously thinking we were in quite a bit of shit. We trotted back to the bar in a panic and spied two girls around our age (well, my age as I’m 5 years older than El), who looked as though they might be staying there too. We explained the situation, they responded with “Oh SHIT!”, and we pulled together to perform the most pathetic-cutesy-girly plea for help to the bartender. He turned out to be the most lovely guy ever and drove us back to the albergue after calling the unimpressed owners and arranging to have us let back in. What a champ.

El went to bed and I stayed up smoking with Swiss and Tough Girl. Swiss had never walked a camino before and was describing the various ways her feet were killing her and how much she disliked Germans. Tough Girl had walked a 500km camino a few years ago with her boyfriend and decided halfway through that she would much rather be doing it alone. Which finds her now taking her tall, toned, lithe and graceful frame from Lisbon to Santiago with no less than 17kgs on her back (our packs were around 8kgs – two more than was recommended for our weights). Tough was absolutely stunning – a beautiful face, a healthy tan, spirit that oozed out of every pore and stories that made you fall in love with her on the spot. She was carrying a tent, and had camped by herself in the middle of foggy forsaken fields. One night when she had not been able to reach the albergue, she had simply knocked on someone’s door and asked for help as she was a pilgrim. The family had taken her in, cooked her dinner and given her a bed for the night. Where El and I were planning on walking an average of 25kms a day, she had been covering 40kms a day for over two weeks. I asked her how the fuck she was doing it… was she impervious to pain?! Was camping alone in the middle of a foreign country just no biggie to her?! After giggling at me (making my heart ache even more), she disclosed that there were days when the pain of walking became so much that she sobbed for hours. She had been terrified when she camped in the field but eventually was so exhausted she had passed out, awaking to find herself intact and facing another day. In an amazingly humble and helpful way, she tapped her temple and said “It’s all up here. I am determined to reach Santiago and to do this on my own. I don’t walk with others,  I don’t listen to music. I have to know I can rely on myself”.

As I lay in bed thinking about everything she had said, Jock Man entered the room and decided to rifle through his bag which was, of course, a couple of metres from my head. His blue-clad ass waving and straining in my face was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep.

Portugal

My blog entries are getting progressively more retrospective, but I prefer it because I’m learning such huge life lessons that it’s better to let things settle before writing about them.
So my last entry was written in the dorm of a beautiful hostel in Lisbon. I had wanted to visit Portugal for years and it definitely didn’t disappoint. As usual I did next to no research for the trip and just took it as it came… I knew to expect beautiful countryside, Middle Eastern architectural influences and delicious seafood. I learnt slightly more when I started gathering information about the Camino Portugués (the big pilgrim hike I mentioned early on), but that was more concerning the specifics of how to get from one place to the next rather than how Portugal works as a country or what its history is. Maybe that’s the wrong way to approach travel, but it has always worked for me and I like learning through experience and by making little mistakes. As soon as I arrive in a country I smile widely, try to use whatever phrases I know and generally make an effort to speak the language.




My friend El and I transferred our heavy drinking and partying-until-6am ways straight from London to Lisbon. We were staying in the middle of Bairro Altos (literally ‘high ground’); one of the party zones of Lisbon wherein an entire city block of narrow streets turns into an orgy of street life every night. Somehow we managed to choose a hostel that was staffed entirely by attractive, single Portuguese men. Again, whilst being as discrete as possible, I will mention that I enjoyed being unattached in Lisbon. When the day came to pack our tiny 30 litre backpacks for two weeks’ worth of hiking, navigate our way through the city in 30 degree heat to the airport to drop our suitcases at Left Luggage, find our way to the bus station to catch our ride to Porto then walk up hill and down dale to find our new hostel, we had both clocked up around an hour of sleep. I managed to have a snooze on the bus, but awoke after a couple of hours to find El with her fingers in her ears and fury on her face. The source: an elderly Portuguese man in the seat in front of us who honestly did not stop maniacally talking for the next hour. He seemed to be loosely directing his diatribe towards the bus driver, who was determinedly ignoring him. He was earning pissed off looks from the passengers in the surrounding seats, however words honestly did not stop tumbling from his mouth. El was getting particularly enraged by this… meanwhile I was finding our chatty friend and El’s reaction somewhat hilarious. When I suggested that she listen to some music to drown out the noise pollution, it was revealed that we had both left our earphones in Lisbon due to our shambolic departure. Goodbye $150 Sennheisers and hello cosmic slap on the wrist. We christened this day ‘Sweating and Regretting’.



We enjoyed our night in Porto, staying in another beautiful hostel and hungrily eating yet another amazing meal. We learnt that it was far more economical to share as the servings were inevitably huge (even the ‘half’ portions), and there were always the baskets of bread with butter, cheese and paté that would appear prior to the mains arriving. During our first week in Portugal we were under the mistaken impression that this was all free… ‘The Portuguese culture is so generous!’ we drunkenly cried. It wasn’t until a waiter explained BEFORE we ate an entire basket of bread and all the toppings that they charge for what is eaten. Again, a mistake that wouldn’t have been made if we had consulted a Lonely Planet… but how happy were we when we thought we were eating free cheese?
The next hundred or so paragraphs will be arranged according to the days of the Camino de Santiago. Common guidebooks used by English speakers are the ones written by John Brierley, that you can purchase online and which go into detail about the history of every small landmark along the Way as well as providing clear graphs outlining the inclines you will experience etc. Generally people will join a confraternity such as The Confraternity of St James and then arrange to buy a Pilgrim Passport (credencial), through them months in advance. I had left it too late to buy the guide online, and found it too expensive to join a Confraternity… so I joined an online forum, got directed to these free online guides, then rocked up to a beautiful church in Lisbon to be told that they had run out of credencials but there was a number that I could call to get some. You use your credencial to gain access to the albergues (pilgrim-specific dorm accommodation along the Way… some donation based but most at a flat rate of 5 euros per night), and to collect your sellos (stamps) at accommodation or restaurants etc. When you reach the Compostela in Santiago you show them your credencial with all the evidence that you’ve walked at least 100kms and you receive a certificate. In the late afternoon, after a sun-soaked and languid day at the beach, I had met with two absolutely lovely people from a group called Via Lusitana who sold me two passports for 3 Euros. They also gave me a shell badge (a symbol of the pilgrim), and a mobile number to call if I needed anything whatsoever. I had then merrily skipped off to be shown around the castle by one of the guys from the hostel. Good day.

Anyway…
Day 1 – Porto to Vilar Do Pinheiro


So, we started our hike from the Cathedral in Porto … at 10am… probably around 4 hours after the recommended time.  We used our city maps to get us there and then located our first yellow arrow (waymarking). As we followed that arrow down a narrow laneway we found the next one… and the next one… scouring the surfaces of every building to spy some hovering above our heads and some scrawled across crumbling curbs. We shared a sense of excitement and achievement that made us believe that we could actually do this! The process was very similar to the orienteering activities we did in school…. which made it awkward when we  realised that neither of us were ever any good at orienteering. We put that thought aside and forged ahead. There were 18kms on the cards that day, half of which required us to navigate our way through ancient city streets that were confusing and steep as they were beautiful and inspiring. The other half consisted of walking along the busy, straight main road out of Porto in the full glare of the mid-day sun. Many pilgrims skip this part of the camino, catching a bus and joining later to avoid this somewhat dry and depressing light industrial zone. I was starting to think that maybe they had the right idea, but then El turned to me and said “We just walked out of a major city… I don’t think I’ve ever done that before”. We looked backwards at the skyline of Porto, then at each other and smiled.


We did get to some pretty countryside and winding country lanes towards the end of the day although by that point our unfit bodies were protesting, so we probably didn’t appreciate it. The arches of my feet were especially painful despite the custom beds I’d had made for my hiking boots in New Zealand when I’d had money. There was also the stress of not knowing exactly how many kilometres we had walked because we just didn’t have a concept of how long each one took (and remember our guides were very minimal)! We really didn’t want to screw up and not find our accommodation the very first day. As it was, we found our pension (no albergue in this village), and paid quite a hefty sum for a private twin room.
We hobbled around, washed our clothes in the sink and laughed ‘til we cried about so many things that night. I realised just how discombobulated I had been whilst packing; El had brought along a strapless silk maxi dress to lounge around in when not hiking, whereas I had brought nothing of the sort and just had a whole bunch of overly practical clothes. Some of the darker things that had been bothering me for the previous months also came out for discussion… namely the body image issues I’d been dealing with. This was to be a recurring theme throughout the hike and I don’t think either of us knew how significant it had been until then.

Edinburgh!

I’ve stopped and started this update so many times simply because I have no idea how or where to begin describing my month working at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was so much fun yet so intense!!

I’ll start at the beginning I guess… I remember my first day being somewhat overwhelming: arriving on The Pleasance and meeting almost everyone working at the venue in a park. Some people  had returned from previous years or had arrived a couple of days earlier, therefore appearing to be a lot more at ease than myself. I went through my usual meeting-large-groups-of-people process wherein my throat closes up and I squeak out words until I lose my voice. Great! I needn’t have worried though, because the staff of almost 60 people turned out to be possibly the coolest, nicest, friendliest, most awesome… just greatest bunch of dudes ever. It was decided amongst the bar staff that the guy who does all the recruiting must be a secret social profiler. After a short time I was feeling very comfortable and we spent a few days before the shows started doing ‘get in’ (setting up the venues), and ‘bonding’ (read: partying). I also found out that the accommodation I was provided with in return for volunteering was amazing, and unlike many other people, I had my own room!!

My employers had three performance venues, all within a couple of blocks of each other, and two of those venues had bars and a coffee/tea lounge that I rotated between. As the Bar and Events team, we were responsible for selling drinks as well as arranging events at the Cabaret Bar. The bar shifts were fun and were only 7 hours long at the most, therefore I always had enough time to see Festival shows, sleep in and generally mess around. It did take extra time on top of that to arrange the events (and then attend them!), and that was enjoyable at first, but lost its sheen towards the end (perhaps the last 10 days or so). I’m still trying to figure out what it was that turned my attitude (as well as the rest of the bar teams’), from ‘sure-can-do’ to ‘this isn’t overly important anymore’. I guess I have a rebellious streak that sees me pushing boundaries (real or imagined), set down by authority figures, which I thought I had safely left behind at highschool (or University… or if I’m honest with myself, in the first couple of years of my career). It raised its ugly head towards the end of Edinburgh though and it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable to think about it. On the one hand, it was really nice to take off my serious ‘Jill the Speechie’ hat and go a bit nuts… to be anarchic, care-free and selfish… but I know I let certain people down. Having spent the last few years trying to please everybody, it’s a bit hard to take. I still don’t know how to find a balance between trying to ingratiate myself to the point where it feels that I’m compromising/conforming, and launching pointless passive aggressive attacks against ‘flawed’ systems. Well I do in my Speech Pathology career, but apparently not in the whole rest of my life. Bit of guilt there.

On a more positive note, it was so good to meet lots of people involved in the performing arts and to gain an insight into that world. While I had attended my fair share of performances, I had not spoken to many (if any)people who had ‘teched’ shows, handled front-of-house or box-office dramas, written their own plays, flyered for hours in the rain, built then dismantled entire venues or of course, performed in front of Fringe audiences every day for an entire month. I now have appreciation for a whole new realm of talent. I saw some amazing performances. It would be too hard to name all of the excellent ones, but my favourite was the Scottish Dance Theatre’s show ‘Matters of the Heart’. I had some friends come up and visit from Durham and we spent a day seeing comedy, which was not included in the program at my venue so it was great to get into a completely different head space for a day. It was really nice to catch up with the bevy of people I knew who came through Edinburgh for the Fringe. Some of my closest, oldest friends (originally from Perth but now flung around the world), came together and were in the Burgh at the same time, so we had a reunion which was lovely.

It would be remiss of me to write about my Fringe experience without mentioning the ‘romantic’ side, but it’s also difficult to do that and be discrete! So I’ll say that I had fun being single (although it was a bit weird getting back into all that stuff after making a concerted effort to avoid it for so long)… and I was kind of seeing someone throughout the Fringe, but not really, but kind of. Edinburgh during August is such a particular snapshot, brief-moment-in-time bubble that creates a false sense of compatibility… so when we met up with each other in London during the week that I was there after Edinburgh and before Portugal, things just weren’t the same. It ended on somewhat tetchy terms and it’s still a bit fresh to have a truly realistic perspective on it… it wasn’t so much of a holiday fling as much as it was an intense, SMS-heavy, love/hate pseudo-relationship involving fucking, fights, friendship and polystyrene cups of tea. Perhaps to describe the sense of compatibility as false would to be unfair… maybe it’s better to say that the Festival creates an opportunity for everyone to leave their normal selves behind and be whomever they want to be; to form unlikely partnerships that may never have legs in reality but for a brief few weeks, they provide the participants with something special and unique. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s a completely different playing field when two people are in holiday mode as opposed to one person being in their home, getting back into their routine, and the other person continuing to live each day as their whim fancies. Or maybe all of it just means I absolutely suck at relating to men. Either way… I know it’s best that I never see him again but damn, I’m spending my first day in Portugal missing him.
I made friends working at the Fringe who will be in my life for a long time – people that I clicked with ridiculously well. We did so much together during that month… we looked after each other, cried with laughter together, encouraged each other, gave each other the honest truth, colluded with each other, pulled each other’s heads in when they needed it… I actually love them. It’s been so long since I’ve made connections like that or felt that I could absolutely be myself without any fear of judgement. One night whilst drinking together in some bar, conversation turned to the months preceding the Fringe, when most of us were at home anticipating our travels. All of us expressed in different ways the same sentiment – that until about a week into the Fringe, we felt that our lives were stuck – that someone had hit the Pause button and none of us were acting in accordance with who we really were (even if being ourselves means being imperfect). One benefit of the Fringe is that we feel like we’re making things happen again rather than just coping with things that happen to us.

So… the last entry was left on a cliffhanger! A veritable feast of possibilities that left you hanging on the edge of your seat… or maybe not.

Well, to recap… I was one day into my month-long lease in Edinburgh when my recruitment agent told me he had a job that was perfectly suited to my availability (5 weeks), and to my interests (Autism Spectrum Disorder). The only thing: it was a 3 hour train ride from Edinburgh. Doncaster is in the south of Yorkshire and is famous for its horse racing. Despite being steeped in history (going back to Roman times), it is not so hot right now. To quote one of my housemates in Edinburgh – ‘it never really recovered from the slump in industry’. I’m not really sure what slump she was talking about, but I think she refers to more long-term influences than the recent Global Financial Crisis. Plus, the whole city centre smells like various bodily fluids and poop. Typically though, being the North of England, 99% of people I’ve met have been really friendly… even the prostitute who hangs out on my street smiles and says hello.

There is a really strange dichotomy of beautiful, kempt heritage houses on my street, and ones that have been allowed to disintegrate – boarded up and left to die. I thought my area was relatively safe until I went to the kebab place down the road and the owner looked deep into my eyes and pleaded that I not walk around by myself after the sun had gone down, as a girl had been dragged into one of the terrace houses nearby and raped. Today when I went to the pharmacy, I walked past genteel elderly folk tending their perfect rose gardens, and then had to wait in line whilst five twitching junkies did a needle exchange (one of whom was my prostitute buddy). In case you couldn’t tell, I’m still figuring out Doncaster, even on my last day.

In the midst of it all, like a beacon of hope, was The Balmoral Guesthouse. It’s over 100 years old and is the comfiest and cleanest place ever. I originally booked for 4 nights and ended up staying for the whole 5 weeks! The owner Paul upgraded me to a double room with ensuite when I only paid for a single room with a shared bathroom, and right at the end when he had to use my room for someone else, he upgraded me to an entire apartment at the same price! I’ve felt really safe and in the lap of luxury every day I’ve been here, so I bought him a nice bottle of cognac to say thankyou.

In regards to work… although I was quite tired for the first week, I attacked my work with gusto after being a free agent for 3 months. I was working at an Autism-specific highschool about a 40 minute bus ride from Doncaster, and it was really interesting. Despite only being there for 5 weeks, I felt like I made a difference… particularly as the school had not had a permanent Speech and Language Therapist for over a year. A procession of locums meant that the staff were a bit weary and the processes of the Department were not great. My fellow locum and I really tied everything together as well as upskilling staff in a way that didn’t annoy them at the end of their school year but still got the important points across. Win! The Deputy who hired me is now going to be one of my references for my CV which is great. The pay (as with most locum jobs), was awesome… plus my agency paid for half of my accommodation costs. Overall, the last 5 weeks have been totally worth it. I like seeing different places in the UK too.

I’ve relished the solitude/privacy of staying in my own room during the week. I’ve had books, a TV (with a film channel!), and plenty of time to relax and not talk to anyone. After I had gotten used to being alone again though, the novelty wore off and some of the old issues from home came up. I think it’s true what they say; going travelling doesn’t rid you of your demons, they just come with you. And they stay away (almost seem to disappear completely!), when you’re busy and having an awesome time… but during those quiet moments they creep up on you and have to be faced. The benefit of being away though, is that when you are confronted, you are removed from the everyday bullshit and have enough perspective (and quiet self-confidence), to deal with them. I have reached conclusions about certain situations that I never would have if I had remained at home, still grappling to hold onto something that I’m not. You only have yourself to answer to sometimes. This time has allowed me to feel OK about a few things, and to move on.

Anyway, that’s all pretty deep. Over the few weekends I’ve been here I’ve visited: York, Edinburgh (to return my key), Manchester and London. The weekends have provided me with enough fun and great people to prevent me getting too weird and hermit-like. Plus I got to see Portishead in London, one of my favourite bands…  and it was the best performance I’ve ever seen.

Tomorrow… Edinburgh!!

Auld Blighty and Auld Reekie

England and Scotland that is! It’s been a fair while since my last blog, and although I have had plenty of time on the internet of late, I guess I’ve been pretty busy at the same time and have been brainlessly and aimlessly browsing rather than blogging.

My time in New York ended with me feeling quite bereft after my good friend Jo went back to Perth. It’s a dangerous thing, having the comfort of a friend from home, then being cast adrift again. After staying in Manhattan with Jo for a week, I moved to a hostel in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) for the remaining 8 days. I ended up seeing some more amazing sights, making some new friends and getting back into the swing of travelling on my own again. When I was in Spain 3 years ago, I met my friend Becca who is an American living in Spain. We were in each other’s company for a grand total of 5 or 6 days, but we have been snail mail penpals ever since (albeit somewhat intermittently from both ends hehe). When she saw on facebook that I was in Brooklyn, she contacted her little sister and asked her if she had any time to show me around. Her little sis was so lovely and invited me to a party at her place (where I kissed my one and only boy since being away…!), and took me out for dinner in Park Slope. Really appreciated her openness. Looking back, I can honestly say that being in New York City for 2 weeks was one of the highlights of… my life! To see my New York City photos, go here.

I flew from New York to London, landing in the early hours of Sunday morning and arriving on the brink of madness at my friends’ apartment in Hoxton. Bianca and Nick are two of my oldest friends… I started working with Bianca when we were 15 and I met Nick at my 18th birthday party where I vomited on his shoes and got kicked out … nice. I stayed at their place for a week and after walking around New York for around 10 – 12 hours each day for two weeks, and moving nearly every day in New Zealand for over a month, I spent most of my days lying around their house while they were at work. We made dinners for each other most nights, and they went out of their way to show me around their neighbourhood and introduce me to the new friends they’ve made in London. It was a lovely week. Amidst the rest and recreation though, was a fruitless search for Speech Pathology work. I was going to stay in London if a job came up, but when none were forthcoming I decided to try my luck in Edinburgh before the festival.

After staying with Bi and Nick, I moved slightly south of Hoxton to Herne Hill, which is where my old housemate and good friend lives. She had just moved into her new sharehouse the day before I arrived, and she was still nice enough to let me stay in her room for four days! I won’t go into detail, but when her and I lived together neither of us were going through the best periods in our lives. It was so nice to catch up with her and share our philosophies on relationships and friendships, as well as our music collections! There’s just something about sleeping in the same room as a friend that leads to late night crying-with-laughter sessions… so good.

I departed Herne Hill bound for Harwich in Essex for the christening of Allie Jo Simpson; my cousin Vicky’s daughter. I first went to Essex by myself i.e. without my immediate family, in 2009. Prior to that I hadn’t seen them since I was a young kid. I stayed with Vicky and her husband Clark, and everyone had a great time at the ceremony and at the party afterwards. I love seeing my family and hearing stories about my parents… and also fufilling my role as an annoying Aunty/second cousin chasing the kids around and bugging them to have photos with me… can’t wait to see them some more.

After catching a train back to London and getting my luggage, it was off to Edinburgh via Peterborough and Durham. I caught up with one of the guys I met on the Kiwi Bus and did the Tongariro Crossing with in New Zealand; we had a coffee at the train station and it was interesting and nice to hear how he was going after getting home. I was grateful for the caffeine hit as I left Peterborough on the leg of the journey that saw me arrive in Durham. As I’ve mentioned previously, I lived in Durham for about 2 months, 2 years ago. I stayed there for two nights at a really nice B&B (my first B&B ever!), and caught up with friends that I had lived with (and who hung out in the house that I lived in!). I was really touched that everyone came out to have drinks, go out for lunches and have me around for dinner.

I was a bit nervous as I left Durham and took the East Coast train up to Edinburgh. I remember looking out of the right hand window of the train the first time I took that trip… it was late afternoon and there was a village sitting on the coast with a backdrop of beautiful dramatic clouds over the misty ocean… I’ll never forget that view. And when I arrived in Edinburgh I kind of fell in love with it; I remember walking around thinking ‘beautiful’ in my head over and over. So, it’s kind of hard to relive those moments again. I was also largely there during the Fringe Festival. This time did have a bit of a different vibe, and there was an undercurrent of seriousness throughout my first week because I was quite desperately looking for a job. The stress of depleted funds combined with staying in the worst hostel I’ve ever experienced, meant that I had a second ‘down’ point in my trip. I moved out of my awful hostel and moved to the BEST hostel I’ve ever stayed at, on the Royal Mile. I made some friends for a few days, found a flat to lease until the end of July, and moved in.

And then… da DAAAAAA…. as soon as I moved into my flat, I got a phonecall from my recruitment agent telling me he had a job near Doncaster in Yorkshire (around 3 hours train ride south of Edinburgh).

Which is a story for another time…

In reflection, it’s interesting how your identity as a traveller changes depending on the situations of the people around you and what your own objectives are. Being on the move and being with people who are in their comfort zone is quite different to meeting people when they’re moving around too. Still good, just different and requiring a lot of adjustments in quick succession.

New York

I have been thinking about the best way to describe the time that I have had so far in New York City… and I think it is to list my experiences and to say that at least once a day I go all misty eyed and feel so happy just to be here. I actually nearly burst into tears when the curtain came up at the Broadway show. It makes me worry that I may have a mood disorder, but it’s all working in my favour at the moment so whatever!

In the last week and a half I have; seen Times Square, drunk half a bottle of whisky at 4pm with a random Russian girl, eaten in a diner opposite Madison Square Garden with a lady off the street who asked if she could sit with me, met up with one of my best friends from home, learnt how to tip, seen Cuba Gooding Jnr, been chatted up by Batman, eaten juicy dumplings and Peking duck in Chinatown, caught the subway, caught a cab, been complimented on my whistle by a cab driver, argued with a cab driver, laughed with a cab driver, caught a ferry, seen the Statue of Liberty, asked directions, given people directions, eaten at famous Michelin starred restaurants, taken some cool photos, run into someone I didn’t want to run into, played scrabble, gotten angry about losing scrabble, apologised for getting angry about losing scrabble, cried about home, comforted a friend, seen Ground Zero, walked over Brooklyn Bridge, SHOPPED, eaten famous pizza in Brooklyn, given a waiter a kiss on the cheek, eaten a knish, eaten a cannolo (singular of cannoli), realised that cannoli are gross, had a hotdog in Central Park, seen Wicked! on Broadway, got booed at for going to the toilet during the show even though other people went in my row and didn’t get booed at, quietly hissed abuse at someone booing me for going to the toilet, made a conscious effort to let it go, succeeded in letting it go, bumped and grinded with my friend on the red steps in Times Square a la Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, learnt how to walk in ridiculously high stilettos, gotten used to being rained on all the time, done the Guggenheim Museum, done the Museum of Chinese in America, done MoMa, done the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, been particularly impressed by the special Alexander McQueen exhibition, seen art by some of my favourites, discovered new artists to love, walked the High Line, been too cold, been too hot, checked out an art installation in the Upper East Side at the recommendation of a friend back home, spotted Mr Big signing autographs on Broadway, gone to a house party in Brooklyn hosted by the sister of my friend I met for a week in Spain 3 or 4 years ago, survived the Rapture, eaten great food all the time even from the smallest delis or street vendors, SHOPPED, kissed a boy, been rejected by boys, rejected boys, had my lunch cut (or whatever that analogy is), seen ultra glamorous insanely well dressed people, seen every kind of people there are to see (almost), made friends, made dinner, made up for lost time, wanted to be on my own, wanted some company, missed my friend a lot when she left, still managed to spend a lot of time on the internet, been asked by cops if I was going to jump off the pier at Staten Island because I was standing on a small bench near the edge doing some calf exercises, laughed in a cop’s face, been told by even more people that I don’t look 27 (awesome!), felt cool in Williamsburg, felt like a loser in Williamsburg, SHOPPED, eaten oysters clam chowder and tuna sashimi in the Chelsea Markets, had breakfast in Soho, questioned whether I should go to a Baptist church in Harlem to hear Gospel, decided against crashing Gospel after reading forums about disrespectful tourists on the internet, seen the Flatiron building which I thought was called ‘Flatron’, nearly gone on a helicopter ride but it was cancelled due to bad weather, seen the TV show ‘White Collar’ getting filmed on location at Staten Island ferry terminal, wanted to pretend to be an extra but thought better of it, drunk really god-awful coffee, drunk really awesome coffee, had a meal in Little Italy, had a Mexican meal in Hell’s Kitchen, had tequila shots with random Australians in Hell’s Kitchen, been asked by both white and black Americans where I am ‘really really’ from and had to explain that it is pretty much normal for ‘oriental’ Australians to exist, been really tired, had heaps of energy, arranged some more of my year, been excited about travelling with my family in October (staying where ‘The Prisoner’ was filmed in Wales!), wanted my own bed, realised I don’t have my bed anymore anyway, been tempted to change my flight and extend my stay/apply for the Green Card lottery, realised that my flight may be cancelled for me by a volcano anyway, spent money wisely, spent money unwisely, waited for a great hot, clear day to go to the Top of the Rock… and it’s today… so I’m going!!

Phew, I think that’s all for now, but I will add another post before I leave and will list even more things probably. This year = best ever.

View from Brooklyn Bridge
Mr Big (apparently he has a real name too?)
Canal Street
Dinner at Buddakan (restaurant in Sex and the City movie)

It’s true

I am now in New York! This post is a bit late, I actually wrote it while I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant in Auckland, blowing my last New Zealand dollars on a nice meal – edamame, beef tataki , tempura udon and a beer of course. I will just leave it as it was and post about NYC later – favourite quote of today was when  I walked past a tough looking woman who said to her friend in a hardcore NYC accent “You don’t wanna fuck with an Aussie girl”. Damn straight.
My last post was completed in Napier – my time there was short but sweet – the farm owners had told me about ‘the Wine Experience’ at the Wine Centre in town (Hawke’s Bay is one of the main wine regions in New Zealand), so I went there and tried some red wines. The ‘experience’ started in a Scent Room – a room with 52 smelling stations showcasing the most common tastes and smells found in wine (including some of the non-preferred ones such as ‘horse’, which made me grateful I’ve never had the misfortune to drink a horsey bottle of wine). It was really enlightening (I never knew what the hell people were talking about when tasting wine)… I then went into a tiny theatrette by myself and watched a movie explaining the wine region’s features and showing videos of the winemakers tasting the wines and explaining the bouquet and palate etc. It was a pretty cool thing to do on a rainy day and I bought a nice syrah (or shiraz as we Australians know it). After that I wandered around the city looking at the cool Art Deco buildings – Napier was virtually destroyed by a major earthquake in the 1930s and when they rebuilt the town it was the style of the time.
Next I was back to Taupo for a couple of days – I did not attempt the Tongariro then because of my cold, but it did give me the chance to get some custom-made footbeds made for my hiking boots – sweet! My Kiwi Experience schedule then started again with the bus taking me to River Valley, a remote hostel in an amazing gulley, surrounded by rugged farmland. I had a good night, though the ‘vibe’ was different to my first bus with the people not as outgoing. I went horse riding which was fun – I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was a child and I have to say that cantering up a hill surrounded by rolling fields and hundreds of cows was pretty great. I learnt a new way to ride – ‘harness’ as opposed to ‘bridle’, which made me feel like a friggin’ cowgirl! During the night someone ate my food from the communal fridge which made me feel annoyed and confirmed my suspicion that there were some assholes lurking on my new bus. I did meet a great dude with whom I hung out for a few days in Wellington – we climbed Mount Victoria, explored Te Papa museum went to a comedy festival gig  – generally keeping each other company which was really nice.
After he left to continue his ventures south, I further explored Wellington which is the arts capital of New Zealand. I did some good op-shopping as well as making some more expensive purchases, like a new pair of high-waisted skinny leg black jeans yay! I was in a bit of a bad mood for a couple of days in Wellington – people from my recruitment agency in the UK were not getting back to me and were offering me really poor pay rates, and I was a bit unsettled after my less-successful second bus experience. My ex/friend called to listen to my woes and basically helped me vent, and afterwards I called the UK and told them I wasn’t happy… which resulted in someone contacting me straight away and organising a higher pay rate! The squeaky wheel gets the oil indeed. The girls in my dorm were lovely and together we caught the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, de-briefed about boys/men, did a full-day Lord of the Rings tour and went to a late night comedy festival gig that resulted in me being pretty hungover as my time in Wellington ended and I caught the Kiwi Bus back North. 

Kelly and I reenacting a scene from The Lord of the Rings at the actual shoot location on Mount Victoria, Wellington





As I was standing at the bus stop someone cried “Jill!” I looked over and saw two members of Team Filth (the name of the pub quiz team on my first bus), Tom and Chris. They are basically two best friends from a place called Peterborough in the UK, and are probably two of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. We’ve spent the past 4 days together moving through Taupo and Rotorua, and I haven’t stopped laughing the whole time. We did the Tongariro Crossing, which is a 19 km alpine hike across a mountain range… it’s cold and you carry your own food and water for the 8 hours you are on the hike (if you don’t finish in 8 hours you miss the last bus back to Taupo which is about 70km away). The first hour and a half is the hardest, with the notorious ‘Devil’s Staircase’ having to be tackled to get to a significantly higher altitude (one of the rare areas with a man-made staircase). One of my friends powered ahead as he has extensive climbing experience, but I had to stop after virtually every set of stairs to catch my breath and let my legs stop burning. One of the guys stopped with me every time (kind of needing the break too tough not as much as me!), but at one point I felt like I couldn’t go on (I mistook part of Mount Doom for one of the slopes we had to climb up before finishing the staircase). As he said, I got a bit melodramatic and told him to go ahead without me and that I might turn back. He basically wouldn’t go ahead and wouldn’t let me turn around, correcting my mistake about how much further we had to go… and I sucked it up and kept walking. I swapped my large stupid man-size backpack for one of their smaller ones because my neck was starting to hurt and my hand was tingling, with the boys insisting on taking the heavier things out of my backpack on top of that. It was such an amazing experience and I was so proud of myself for getting up there and so thankful to the guys for looking out for me. I kept offering to take my pack back once we got to level ground and they just wouldn’t have it. Completely lovely filth machines.

Frosty ground on the Tongariro 


Amazing view around an hour and a half from the end of the hike


Which brings me back to now… sitting in the restaurant and planning my catch-up with the group of people studying in Auckland tomorrow. I will be flying out in the afternoon to New York City… awesome!