Archive | March, 2013

Great Ocean Road Trip

29 Mar

The time has finally come; I am free of working on my travels (after a pathetic five weeks) and I can regain the freedom of being able to explore and do exciting things instead of reading a book all day in the sunshine just waiting to go to work (I am aware that this probably doesn’t sound that bad a way to spend a day considering it has been snowing for about 3 months straight in England, but it did get a bit tedious). I quit my job last Friday in time for a four day camping expedition to the Great Ocean Road with fresh-out-of-the-uk Laura, Lucia, Alex and Mel.

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Obviously because I had been put in charge of hiring the car, something had to go wrong; so our trip didn’t begin all that smoothly when we arrived at Thrifty to be told by the blonde (just saying) trainee that the $300 bond we were prepared to put down was actually going to be $3500. After a temporary existential crisis that I didn’t own the ability to organise a piss up in a brewery, and having accused the nice travel agent from our hostel of bare-faced lying to us about the deal; said travel agent took time out of his day off to sort the issue (a combination of miscommunication and an incompetent employee) and we went on our way armed with his personal mobile phone number in case anything else went wrong. (Thanks Josh).

The Great Ocean Road is a road that runs along Victoria on the south coast of Australia, famous for its surfing beaches and containing a range of exciting locations from the lighthouse in the kids tv program Going Round The Twist to the scene in Point Break where Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze have it out in the sea. It is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen, with winding roads in and out of national parks, up mountains and along coastlines.

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The beginning of our drive out of Melbourne wasn’t so scenic, with us driving for a good hour round and round the central business district because we couldn’t work out how to get out the one way system (and we had failed to provide ourselves with either a map or a sat nav). Our maze around Melbourne came to a head when we found ourselves in Albert Park, driving a lap of the Grand Prix race track. But then i’m sure that’s something people would actually pay to do, though probably not in a turquoise Mitsubishi that could house a sizeable family.

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Grand Prix track.

As with the rest of Australia, there are no original place names, so our first stop was Torquay (later followed by Anglesea and Peterborough). We stopped and ate our picnic by the sea before stumbling across a children’s playground that would turn out to be the bane of my trip. Thinking I was Beth Tweddle or some other Olympic gymnast I took to the monkey bars and proceeded to flip myself round, misjudge how far I was off the ground and land arse first on a wooden platform which catapulted me half way across the woodchip floor. It was one of those pains that is so bad all you can do is breathe in and resulted in a horribly bruised coccyx and an inability to walk or sit in any level of comfort. Far from ideal when we were on a trip that essentially involved sitting and walking.

After I had accepted that I was temporarily immobilised and there was nothing I could do about it, we moved on and found a campsite in a beach town called Lorne, where we ended up camping for two nights (although three of the girls cheated and slept in the car on the second night after declaring that the previous had been up there as one of the most uncomfortable sleeps ever). We did also manage to lose a tent somewhere between leaving the hostel and emptying the car, but that’s a mystery that still remains unsolved.

The second day of our trip was the most full, involving a trip to Erskine falls and a hike through the rainforest that was for ‘experienced bush walkers only’. Pleased with ourselves for gaining our new title as certified bush walkers we headed to a town that wouldn’t have been out of place somewhere in the American Deep South. There was a festival on where we sat on bales of hay, listened to some hicks playing live music, wine tasted and then took to the fancy dress tent and adorned ourselves in a collection of probably the most awful clothes ever to have been made.

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We had heard that there was a road somewhere in the midst of the Great Otway National Park where you were guaranteed to see koalas in the gum trees and kangaroos in the wild, so you can imagine our disappointment when, after a good 45 minutes of driving at snail’s pace through a deserted forest with our necks strained and hanging out the window trying to spot the bloody things in the 30 foot trees, we had seen bugger all. That was until we struck lucky (in a sort of mean way) and came across an injured kangaroo that hadn’t been able to bounce away quick enough at the sound of our engine. He seemed to be a good omen as then quite a few more kangaroos began to show themselves and I had an uncomfortable flashback to the time I’d eaten part of a roo burger a few weeks before.

We eventually found some Aussies having a BBQ at the side of the road (shocker) where Mel got out and eloquently told them we were ‘after some koalas’ and where could we find them. Following their advice to go 5km further up the road, we immediately saw numerous little balls of grey fur clinging on to the trees and were relieved that our safari hunt was finally over. They weren’t all too active to be honest, we got a yawn out of one and saw another lazily rejigging himself into a comfier position but that was about it. It got more exciting the following day though when we drove past a koala in a low branch and Mel and I contemplated climbing up there with it until we realised the tree was infested with red ants and that was probably a sign to leave the poor thing alone.

The pinnacle of the great ocean road is the 12 Apostles, a series of rocks that stand near the coast and were formed when parts of the cliffs broke away from themselves. There definitely aren’t 12, begging the question why on earth they got their name, but I won’t bore you with fruitless guesses. The coast did look incredible, but I couldn’t help feeling glad we’d done the trip the way we did as a longer camping break because if I’d sat on a coach for 5 hours just to get out, see some rocks in the sea only to turn around and come home again, and to be charged 100 or so dollars for the trouble, I think it’d feel a bit anticlimactic.

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London Bridge

Our last day was Tuesday; the only day the temperature reached well into the 30s, and also the day we had to spend almost entirely in the car driving back home to Melbourne. We did manage to stop at Apollo Bay for a picnic and a walk on the beach, and got out to see the Round the Twist lighthouse before finally getting back to the hostel in time for the Tuesday night free meal.

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The Lighthouse

This weekend has trumped my day out to the Mornington Peninsula as my favourite time in Australia so far, but now we are sad to be leaving Melbourne and more importantly Mel and Alex as we leave them behind to head up the east coast for a few weeks.

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I am writing this blog from the back of a campervan we have hired for 5 dollars a day on a relocation deal to get us to Sydney, feeling a little like an illegal immigrant and still vaguely nervous about the fact it is designed to sleep six people and therefore is the size of a small house on wheels. I’ll let you know how the rest of this journey goes when (if) I get there…

Cat xxx

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found

13 Mar

Before I came away travelling I was working (for free, very sensible given my dire need for finances at the time) as an intern at the New Statesman magazine. I did bits for lots of different departments including the culture desk where I was asked to transcribe an interview. The interview was with an author, Cheryl Strayed, about her book Wild and it was really interesting (to the point that at times I got so engrossed that I forgot I was actually meant to be transcribing and not just listening). When I told him how interesting she sounded, the culture editor gave me the book to read myself, which has travelled with me all the way to Australia, and I just recently finished it a couple of days ago.

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The book is a memoir of Strayed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo in 1995, after her mother died and she developed a dangerous penchant for adultery and heroin. The trail in its entirety spans the West coast of America from Mexico right up to Canada, but she only walked part of it: 1,100 miles (not to be sniffed at) from the Mojave desert through California, Oregon and Washington states, ending at the Bridge of Gods. The book is brilliant; funny and poignant in places. It’s been ages since I’ve actually stuck with one all the way through but I became so involved in this woman’s life that I couldn’t put it down. I got so engrossed that sometimes I catch myself thinking I can relate to Cheryl herself; my journey is very different to hers (mine’s more sun, sand and sightseeing; less blisters, dehydration and outright fear). But still, i’m sure the way I felt last night eating a chocolate malteser bunny that Lucia’s mum sent us from England was sort of comparable to the relief that Cheryl must have felt drinking a bottle of Snapple lemonade after only having been able to drink dirty lake water for miles. Sort of.

I intended to read the book and then do the sensible backpacker thing of leaving it in a hostel somewhere for somebody else to enjoy, but for some reason I have decided not to do that. It’s a book I can imagine enjoying just as much if not more when I read it again so instead I will lug the thing (all 336 pages of it) across the length of Australia’s east coast with me.

As far as I could tell from the interview, it’s being made into a film with the screenplay being done by Nick Hornby (of About A Boy) and I think Reese Witherspoon will play Cheryl. So read it! It’s a great one, even if it puts me to shame a bit that I’m not sure I could ever muster up the determination to do even a fraction of what she did. But then I guess I don’t have a heroin addiction to battle or a husband to cheat on. I have added the Pacific Crest Trail onto my bucket list now (maybe just a day’s worth though, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves).

In other news, I handed in my notice at work today. So I’ll be leaving Melbourne on the 23rd to do the Great Ocean Road with Lucia, Mel, Alex and Laura, and after that we’ll be off to Sydney and heading up the east coast! And we have the Grand Prix this weekend and St Paddy’s day, so I’m hoping it will be a good last weekend in Melbourne!

Cat xxx

A Long Post for a Long Weekend

5 Mar

I’m beginning to think I’m not doing very well keeping this blog up to date, so I thought I’d update you about my weekend, it was the best in a while! Thursday is the night in our hostel that everybody always goes out, but I had work (I chose the wine bar; I have hated it and then not minded it but now i’ve come to accept that my innately angry manager is just part and parcel of the job) so I got back and joined everyone at the hostel who were drinking home-made sangria with red goon (for anyone who hasn’t been to Australia when you can’t afford to drink real drinks, it is a 4 litre box of ‘wine’ that contains eggs, milk, and definitely zero trace of grapes among its ingredients list). The night turned out to be quite eventful, with Mel, Alex and I buying another box of white goon after lasting 10 minutes in the club because we thought we weren’t drunk enough. We went back to the hostel to drink it, where they proceeded to insult my (very sober, and quite unpleasant) German roommates for approximately an hour straight with a variety of their best GCSE German vocab including phrases such as “you are the ugliest dog in the universe”. The night culminated us consuming about half a kilogram of the risotto we had made the day before, an extraordinary reaction to fried eggs, and resulted in me throwing up in the Melbourne museum the following day (our trip there was by no means my choice).

On Saturday me and Lucia went to Chapel Street with Mel, Alex and Murray (one half of our new found Tasmanian friends), where we categorically ignored all the nice little independent cafes it had to offer and headed straight to Hungry Jacks for a stunner meal (burger, fries, drink AND a sundae all for $4.95, can’t say fairer than that). We made up for it my browsing all the ‘op-shops’ (vintage shops) and stumbled across a really nice little store which had so many interesting books and journals, including a ‘book of life’ which was roughly the size of a Bible and was designed to allow people to record their entire life by the seasons of each year; with spaces to write your favourite things, what you have learnt, what weight you were that year and a photo and lots lots of other stuff. I found it quite an interesting idea but then I couldn’t decide if it might just be a self-absorbed waste of time, so left it there (plus it was $94). We stopped for happy hour in one of the bars, or a Lager Moment as we would have said in Portugal, and had a drink in the sun. The weather picked up this weekend, I think I might have tempted fate in my last blog post, because all last week was rainy and pretty miserable, which has led to our development of an unhealthy addiction to the 4 pictures 1 word game. But it’s back on form this week, it’s 32 degrees today and getting even better later in the week, so I’m back to my usual past-time of sitting in a deck chair in Federation Square listening to music and reading for hours on end.

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Federation Square

Saturday night was spent eating home made nachos with chilli, while Mel and Alex prolonged their moving out of the hostel and into their trial flat for as long as possible (they eventually left at 10pm as opposed to their intended time of mid-morning). I didn’t want them to leave the hostel, and they didn’t particularly want to go either but that might be because one of their potential flatmates has a tooth gem. Lucia works most days so I liked having them around to spend time with, but the week is just a trial so they may be back in Greenhouse soon, and if not then they will be here more often than not anyway. It’s weird having people from home here, sometimes it makes me forget we are actually at the other side of the world, but I like having friends here and that we are able to share lots of our experiences. Mel worked out that this is the 5th country we have been in together outside of England in our 4 years of friendship!

I had been looking forward to Sunday and equally not for a long time because it was March 3rd – an entire year since I started going out with Mike (a massive achievement for me ha ha). I was determined to celebrate it even though he is thousands of miles away, and I had probably the best day I’ve had in Australia so far. I went on a day trip to the Mornington Peninsula with Lucia and Mel; I wasn’t really sure what was there to do apart from coastal walks but I had heard that there were vineyards and thermal springs. When we got there we headed to an information centre, which contained two old ladies who proceeded to bicker so extensively over the advice they were giving us that it was like we were in the middle of a comedy sketch. One thought it was too far to walk the width of the peninsula, the other rubbished that and said she had done it easily. One said we must be careful swimming on the beach because of the deadly octopuses (octopi?) that had been spotted recently, the other told her not to be stupid, she’d been swimming there just the other week. They were politely arguing amongst themselves through gritted teeth so much that i’m not even sure they noticed when we edged out of the building. We then walked down to a cliff edge where we sat and ate yet more of our famous risotto (we cooked the entirety of the 1kg bag of arborio rice hence it practically fed the 5000).

After lunch we headed down to the beach and decided to rent a pedalo boat. Whilst out in the water we came across a fishing boat with three Aussie guys, Benny, Zach and Jimmy (Benny and the Jets) who gave us a (cold!) corona before towing us out to sea and informing us that if we were lucky they could become our future ex-husbands. And they say romance is dead! After politely declining to give Benny our numbers we pedalled furiously back to shore as we were late in giving the boat back, but I’d forgotten we were in Australia and everyone is laid back about everything so they probably wouldn’t have cared if we’d been an hour late.

The rest of the day was so nice, we got ice creams and walked along the coast and on the beach and eventually stopped at a harbour. I always feel more like I’m actually in Australia when I’m by the sea because in Melbourne city centre I could easily just be in a European city with sun. We missed four buses in quick succession which delayed our return to Melbourne and the anniversary dinner Lucia and I had planned, but luckily by the time we got back the restaurants in Hardware Lane were still open and, awkwardly, we ended up sitting outside next door to the Italian restaurant I had done my shitty trial shift in on Valentines Day.

The restaurant gave us free sparkling wine, and I ate a bowl of spaghetti with bacon that I had been craving (because bacon costs about $9 here for a packet, slightly out of my price range). It felt nice to be eating the food and drinking the wine instead of serving it for once! Lucia made a bloody great replacement date for Mike until we can celebrate it properly when we go to France a week after I get back.

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Anniversary meal

So that is what I have been up to this weekend, lots of detail about stuff that probably isn’t even that interesting, but at least it means I will be able to remember it! I’ve decided if I could just sort of copy and paste my friends and family here it would be perfect, I know so many people would love it here and I wish they could see some of the amazing places we go to!

Also, I bumped into two school friends yesterday in Fed Square, what a small world. Well one does live in Melbourne and I did know that the other was here staying but still, weird coincidence.

We’re over a third of the way through our trip now. I’ve only been at work a week and a half but will need to hand my notice in in about a week’s time, I can’t believe how quickly it’s going! But I guess time flies…

Cat xxx