Travel

My Favourite Places on Earth

Over the years, I have travelled to over 20 countries and I’ve seen and done so many amazing things. But, there are a few places that I hold dear to my heart for one reason or another, so here is a list of my favorite places on Earth.

Bangkok

Bangkok City Views
Bangkok City Views

My home for the past three years, Bangkok excites me like no other city. Before I lived here, I never thought I would be a city girl at heart, but it turns out I am. It’s exciting because it is so diverse, there are traditional Thai temples, Hindu temples and Islamic mosques. Shopping malls that will make your eyes boggle at the sheer size and extravagance, some of the most delicious food you’ll ever eat, and rooftop bars where you can gaze in wonder across the city and almost touch the stars. The city has a fascinating history, part of which has European influences and people from all over the world call Bangkok their home. It’s a fabulous place for exploring and every twist and turn throws something new at you. It’ll take a long time to ever get bored.

Darling Harbour, Sydney

Darling Harbour at Sunset
Darling Harbour at Sunset

The first time I went to Australia, in 2005, I was wowed, I loved everything about it. The Blue Mountains, Fraser Island, travelling across the outback, but one of my favourite’s is a simple pleasure. I love everything about Sydney, but the best place to be is sitting in a bar, just as the sun is setting, in Darling Harbour. The day’s light slowly diminishes and the neon lights of the city and office lights of the skyscrapers, across the harbour, come on. It is, quite frankly, spectacular, especially when the lights are reflected in the water. I remember sitting there one day when I had a sudden rush of happiness and comfort, so much so, I had to ring my mum, back in the UK, to tell her how amazing it was.

Northampton

Northampton Family
Mum and Dad

Northampton is the place I’ve lived since I was 12, and it’s the place I go back to for holidays. It’s where my family are, and the friends, that know me the best, who welcome me home with open arms to pick up conversations, just like it was yesterday. My family are the single most important thing in my life, so I look forward to my annual trip, where I can spend time with them, eat some of mum’s delicious food, drink wine with mum and dad, and share more than a few laughs along the way. I get to see my gorgeous niece and nephews, who seem to be growing up way too fast, and spend precious time at Christmas with my sisters, brothers, and their families, it’s a fabulous time all together. Time that goes all too quickly, so it’s time to relish every moment spent with them.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Beach Views
Sri Lanka Beach Views

Sri Lanka is where I got married first time round, and it’s a place that I probably would never have gone to if it hadn’t been for my marriage. We spent two glorious weeks there before jetting off to the Maldives for our honeymoon. We stayed at a plush hotel, which has since been rebuilt, following the 2004 tsunami, and we had our wedding ceremony in the hotel grounds. On the morning of our wedding, we got into our wedding outfits, both in handmade sarongs and tops to match. We met each other in reception, and walked outside to the gardens, accompanied by a troupe of Sri Lankan dancers, we signed the register, fed each other cake, our arms entwined with silk ribbon, and then sat and watched the dancers perform a traditional dance, while we sipped cool champagne. After that we went to the beach and had photographs taken, and we spent the rest of the day in the pool with the few guests that had gathered to watch our special day. This marriage never lasted, but it’s still there in my memory. I’ve been back to Sri Lanka twice since then, and it’s always going to hold a piece of my heart.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Source: CC Search
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

I only spent a few hours here, but the reason I was in Mexico was for my husband’s sister’s wedding. We stayed at the Moon Palace, a palatial and beautiful hotel, and, apart from the odd day tour, we didn’t really see much of this part of Mexico. However, an evening out saw us in Playa Del Carmen, which, back in 2000, was a world away from the glitzy malls, bars and clubs of Cancun. The thing that I remember was hundreds of tiny streets, with restaurants filled with locals who were there to enjoy their evenings. I bet it’s a different story today.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi is another place that holds some fond memories for me. I was travelling in Thailand with my friends and they had the most wonderful birthday surprise in store for me. They had been plotting with my family for my folks to come and visit. It was nothing short of amazing when my family turned up at the bar we were having drinks at. We shared a wonderful week all together and it’s on record as the best birthday I’ve ever had.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur

I went to KL the first time in 2005, when I was on the way home from Australia. It was the first time I’ve ever travelled to the other side of the world alone, and I spent 3 days in Kuala Lumpur. I stayed in a lush hotel, which is, sadly, no longer there, and it’s there I dined alone for the very first time. I went to the bar to have a couple of drinks first and chatted to the bar man, who made me feel a little less nervous about being on my own. When I went to the restaurant for dinner, I remember feeling very self conscious when I first sat down, thinking everyone was looking at me, they weren’t. I ordered, and then the resident band sang a Robbie Williams song to me, making me feel even more uncomfortable, but then I relaxed, helped along by the wine, and started to enjoy myself, I even started singing along with them.

Fun Island, The Maldives

Fun Island, The Maldives
Source: https://www.villahotels.com/en/resort/fun-island Fun Island, The Maldives

Fun Island is where I spent my (first) honeymoon. The island was small enough to be able to walk around it in 10 minutes, pristine white sand, and private beaches to go with our private villa, such a romantic place, ideal for a honeymoon. The water was turquoise blue, and so clear and warm, we went swimming every day. We saw dolphins and sharks, and swam with the many other beautiful fish that made those waters their home. We ate good food, drank cocktails, and even paddled across to a smaller uninhabited island which we had all to ourselves, because no one else was stupid enough to wade between the two islands where the current swept our feet from beneath us.

Ibiza

Cafe Del Mar, Ibiza
Source: CC Search Cafe Del Mar, Ibiza

Ibiza was where I spent my (second) honeymoon, but first my boyfriend and I used to go there every year for at least 5 years prior to our wedding. We loved it there, the clubs are amazing, and the island, if you get out of San Antonio, is beautiful and we had many wonderful holidays there. We needed a holiday after the holiday, mind you, because of all the partying we did, but still, it was an exciting place. Not only did we spend our honeymoon there, but we got engaged, sitting outside Cafe Del Mar, watching the sun disappear below the horizon, followed by applause from everyone around us. They weren’t applauding us, they, as well as us, were applauding the sunset. It made the hair on my arms stand on end, and to add to that, we were sporting huge grins as we continued our celebration into the night.

Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide Family
Helen, Scott, Ernie

Adelaide is home from home. I have family there, my mum’s second cousin, Helen moved there over 40 years ago. Helen and her family all make me feel so welcome whenever I go and visit. And it’s in Adelaide that I made a life changing decision. I originally went there in 2005, because my second husband and I needed to have time apart to decide whether we should continue our marriage. It took many walks up the beach to come to the decision that would set me on a path that would, eventually, lead me to living abroad permanently. Whenever I’m in Adelaide, we share so many laughs together, I just love spending them with them, they’re like my second family.

Bundaberg, Queensland

Bundaberg, Queensland
Source CC Search Bundaberg, Queensland

My mum’s other second cousin, Gill and her husband Norm, live in Bundaberg, and the first time I visited them, we went on a road trip together to the town of 1770, Agnes Water and Fraser Island. They were so gracious and I was astounded at just how much Norm knew about everything, from the different species of trees to the history of Australia. They took me to the rum distillery and we watched bats fly off from the mangrove trees in town, we took a drive to Bargara for lunch and walked across their property in the countryside. I did so much with them in the short time I was with them and it was the first place I went to when I went travelling alone for the first time.

Uluru

Uluru
Uluru

Uluru is the place I got to sleep in a swag under the stars on the first night of a 6 day trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide. The whole trip was one of the best experiences of my life, but Uluru seemed almost mystical, once the sun left for the day, only the sounds of the outback to keep us company, and it’s around 600 million years old. From a distance it looks smooth, but get up close and you see holes and gorges, springs and caves, it’s just incredible. Throughout the trip, I did some amazing things, like walk around Uluru before sunrise, hike up Mount Ohlssen Bagge, and spend the night in Coober Pedy and Parachilna, but I also met some wonderful people who are still my friends today. And travelling through Australia’s outback was such a memorable adventure, I didn’t want the trip to end. In fact, when we arrived in Adelaide, we had one more night all together before leaving.

New Zealand

Lake Taupo, New Zealand
Lake Taupo, New Zealand

I spent seven weeks in New Zealand, travelling across the whole of the North and South islands on the Magic Bus. When I first arrived, I hated it. I had just spent five months in Thailand, I left behind some good friends, it was freezing, and I couldn’t muster a smile for anything. But when I started my journey around the country, I realised just how spectacular it was. The scenery is just stunning, especially in winter when the mountain tops and valleys are covered in snow. I hiked Mount Tongariro and Franz Josef Glacier, I went cave tubing, sand surfing and horse riding. I spent time with new friends and time alone, I even took a road trip and had waterfalls, gorgeous beaches, and hiking trails all to myself. When I left, I vowed I would never return, but I’ve since changed my mind and will go back someday. I learned a lot about myself there, like how to enjoy being alone, and it was New Zealand where I acquired a love of walking and getting out and about.

What are you favourite places on Earth?

 

Gill On Being a Jillaroo

Horses at Jillaroo School, Australia
Horses at Jillaroo School, Australia

A few years ago, I started my love affair with foreign lands but at the time I wasn’t sure whether I was brave enough to begin this journey alone, so I researched ways that I could travel but with like-minded people. What I found seemed right up my street. I’ve always had a love of horses, so the Australian Jillaroo/Jackaroo School was the perfect way to spend eleven days doing something different in Australia’s outback.

Horsey Games, Jillaroo School
Me and My Trusty Steed

Day 1
After a quick stop to buy cheap work clothes, hat and boots and the all-important booze for our nights on the ranch, we arrived at Leconfield, 50km east of Tamworth in New South Wales. We were shown our rooms, I was sharing with a woman called Emily, and we were over the moon when we found out we would be sleeping in the, fondly named, Penthouse.  Believe me, even though it was a dark and dingy shed, it was the best room on the farm, most of the others got housed in the sheep shearing shed. The one down side was that it was so cold at night and we wore socks, hats, and hoodies on top of pyjamas to try and keep warm. And getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet in the main house didn’t help things either.

The Penthouse at Leconfield
The Penthouse at Leconfield

Day 2
We got given our horses for the eleven days. I got a lovely bay stallion that went by the name of Lightening. Don’t believe everything that the name suggests because he was the slowest horse I have ever ridden. Actually, lazy is the word, no amount of geeing him on was going to make him go any faster.

Jillaroo School, Australia
My Horse, Lightening

Leconfield was a working farm and as such there was a roster of different jobs to do. One of those jobs was to get the calves into their shed at night. There were two calves and their mother and every day they hung out at the top of the field. It took us quite a while to get them down to their shed, arms waving and yelling, trying to make them go in the right direction. Poor things were probably scared to death! At one point, there were three of us racing down the hill after one calf but it decided to double back on us, so we had to chase it back up the hill only to start again. It was as if the cows were laughing at us racing back and forth after them.

Jillaroo School, Australia
Cow Chasing

Day 3
We had to get up at 6am to milk the cows. We had to sit on a small stool at the back end of the cow, not easy when the cow was stamping its feet almost knocking us off. I managed to get a few litres which, being a totally self-sufficient farm, was put in the fridge for use at breakfast.

Cow Milking, Jillaroo School
Cow Milking

In the afternoon, we rode two hours to the top paddock for our first cattle muster. A very hard task to learn, especially when you are on horseback and the cattle seemed to have other ideas. But we managed to herd them into a fenced off area where they were weighed for the owner, Brian. He was 85 years old and still riding horses, and managing his 4,600 acre farm. 4,600 acres seems huge but when you compare it to some of the other farms and sheep stations in Australia, it was actually quite small.

Cattle Muster, Jillaroo School
Cattle Muster

Day 4
Day four was spent in the forest chopping down trees which we had to debark and load onto a truck. No mean feat because we had to clamber up a slope to get the trees and the only way to get them down was to slide them down onto the dirt track. Trees are heavy! Then we had to strip them of their bark and load them onto the truck to take back to the farm.

Tree Fellng, Jillaroo School
Tree Felling

Day 5
We rode to a large field near the farm and practiced trotting and cantering which was great fun, even though it took me three attempts to get my trusty steed to comply. Rather than kicking with our feet, we learned how to control the horses with our knees, a slight squeeze is all that’s required to get your mount to move but I don’t think Lightening understood the concept of move!

Jillaroo School, Leconfield
Jillaroo School, Leconfield

Day 6
A well-deserved day off, so we went to town for more provisions, followed by lunch and a few cool beers at the local pub.

Day 7
Day seven consisted of mustering the sheep back to the farm. We caught three of them, sheared them and watched two of them get slaughtered. It was not a pretty sight but our lesson of the day was that the farm had no choice, the sheep were no more than food and wool. Even the dogs and horses had jobs to do and we were told not to pet them.  The remaining sheep looked naked after its recent shearing and appeared to be watching the massacre in terror, then it speedily retreated to the nearby field, safe for another day.

Day 8
Our second cattle muster, this time we had a go at throwing the calves. They may look very cute and cuddly but when we tried to catch them, attempt to grab their back legs and throw them on the ground, we soon realised how strong they were. We learned how to separate the male and female cows and calves in order to count them, so the farm knew they were all present and correct.

Cattle Muster, Jillaroo School
Cattle Muster

Day 9
With the trees that we had collected on day four we built the fence around the house. It was extremely hard work but thoroughly enjoyable. It was such a sense of achievement when the task was completed, even though I somehow managed to put my finger in between the hammer and the post. Ouch!

Day 10
Today’s lessons were calf branding and ear tagging. These calves were slightly bigger than the ones before, so they were much stronger. The animals were also ear marked, so they could be identified at a later date, which meant ripping a bit of its ear out. It wasn’t over for them yet because they were branded, twice if they were male, and castrated. I felt more than a little sorry for the helpless creatures.

Cow Throwing and Tagging, Jillaroo School
Cow Throwing and Tagging

Day 11
In the morning, we had a horsemanship lesson. We took our unsaddled steeds to the paddock and all stood in a circle. The ranch manager told us how the horse would respond if we gently ran our thumb from under its cheek to its shoulder, it would follow us without reins. We put it to the test by walking slowly back to the stables with the horses duly following. I think the real reason they were following us was that they knew it was feeding time! The afternoon was spent playing horsey games, egg and spoon races and races in and out of poles. It was great fun and I think even the horses enjoyed it.

I didn’t embark on this adventure thinking it was going to be a breeze in the park, it wasn’t but we learned a lot in those 11 days, not just on how to care for our horses but it was necessary to act as a team and to be able to communicate with one another. We were presented with a reference to say that we had basic experience in all the activities that we were involved with, so if I ever wanted to work as a jillaroo again then Brian’s reference was a good one to have. I had an absolutely fantastic time in Leconfield, yes it was hard work but I got to ride over some of Australia’s finest countryside and I had plenty of laughs along the way.

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How to Travel to a Destination Without Internet

How to Travel to a Destination Without Internet

These days it’s all too easy to use the internet to research a destination and find out about the country you may be visiting for things to do and places to go but what did we do before this new age of technology? I have a love hate relationship with the internet, it’s great for finding out about things and maps are especially helpful when you’re out and about but where is the fun in that? I like challenges, so here are my ideas about how to travel to a destination without using internet.

Travel Books

Invest in one or two good travel books like the Rough Guides or Lonely Planet, which really won’t take up that much room in your luggage. They are full of useful information from what a country or city is like to where to sleep and what to eat when you get there. You’ll be able to find out about the weather, the currency, practical telephone numbers and whether you need a visa. Everything the internet will tell you but isn’t it so much more satisfying to read a book and find out things that way? Maybe you’ll think differently.

Talk to People

When you land in a new country after a few days you’ll get your bearings and naturally start talking to like minded people you meet in cafes, bars or organised tours. Think of them as a resource of information and ask them about their travels so far, Where they have been? How did they get there? What did they think of it and is it worth going? They might tell you about somewhere you hadn’t thought of going yourself, so you’ll really be able to make the most out of a destination. Don’t forget chatting to the locals, they are the ones who really know what’s what so make friends and listen to what they say.

Go To a Destination Without Knowing About it First

You could pick a destination, go to the travel agent, book a flight and arrive without doing any research whatsoever. Look up places to stay in your travel books and just turn up. Keeping basic safety in mind, walk around the city exploring its many streets and alleys and see what you find, talk to others for help and advice, get on a bus to somewhere, anywhere and see where you end up. Generally just go with the flow and experience life as it happens.

Travelling without internet can be a liberating experience, you’ll become more aware of your surroundings and you’ll also experience the here and now. What an achievement it would be if we could find our way without relying on Google.

Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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Top 6 Parks in Bangkok

In the sprawling metropolis of Bangkok, with all its pollution and towers of concrete, who would have thought that there are pockets of green dotted across the whole of the city. The parks of Bangkok not only add to the diversity of this wonderful place but also provide a natural setting for the millions of people that call Bangkok their home to relax, exercise or simply to enjoy. Here’s a list of the top 6 parks in Bangkok for you to explore.

#1 Suan Luang Rama IX Park

Rama IX park is the most beautiful park I think I have ever visited and I go there a lot and out of the top 6 parks in Bangkok it’s my favourite. The park covers some 200 acres and has 2,300 plant species including trees, shrubs, climbers, foliage and flowering plants. The park is split into six different areas.

The Garden of the Great King with Ratchamangkala Pavilion at the centre with three ponds and different kinds of trees, plants and flowers lining each one. The layout reminds me of the Taj Mahal.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
The Garden of the Great King

The Botanic Garden where many species of plants are used for research, conservation and education and Thakon Phrakiat Pavilion, a beautifully ornate temple that sits, all alone, in the middle of a lotus pond.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
Thakon Phrakiat Pavilion

The Reservoir is a large lake created to reduce the effect of flooding in east Bangkok. People are able to enjoy boat rides on the lake or to practise Tai Chi on its banks.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
The Reservoir

Romanee Garden with flowers and plants that have been taken from other parts of Thailand and used to re-create the different environments that can be found here so that people can imagine that they aren’t in Bangkok.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
Romanee Garden

The Water Garden, a natural bog-like habitat which is home to a number of aquatic birds and animals including huge water monitors who lurk under the water waiting for their next meal.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
The Water Garden

The Sanam Rasdara is used for outdoor performances and, at the end of each year, the lawn is filled with flowers and plants for sale, as part of the Magnificent Plants that Beautify the Suan Luang Rama IX Flowers Festival.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
Sanam Rasdara

As well as these six areas, there is an International Garden which has different gardens from around the world. Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, English, French and Italian gardens have all been created to show the different garden styles of each country.

Rama IX Park, Bangkok
International Garden

Suan Luang Rama IX Park
Nong Bon
Bangkok
10250

Open: Daily, 5.00am-7.00pm
Admission: Free, 5.00am-9.00am and 5.00pm-7.00pm; 10 baht, 9.00am-5.00pm
Getting there: The easiest way to get there is to take the BTS to Udomsuk and take a taxi from there

#2 Lumpini Park

Lumpini Park is another favourite of mine. Located in the middle of Siam and Silom, it’s a wonderful place to relax if you are out and about. It is around 142 acres and, although not as big as Suan Luang Rama IX, it still offers a lake, where boats can be rented, paths for jogging, a wonderful variety of trees and flowers and around 30 species of birds. In the eastern corner there is a Chinese clock tower built by Italian architect, Mario Tamagno, for the Siamrath Phipitthapan Trade Fair that was held in 1925. Throughout the year Lumpini Park is host to a number of festivals such as the Bangkok Street Festival.

Lumpini Park, Bangkok
Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Lumpini Park
139/4 Witthayu Road
Pathumwan
Bangkok
10330

Open: Daily, 4.00am-9.00pm
Admission: Free
Getting there: From Sala Daeng BTS (exit 6) cross Rama IV Road

#3 Benjakitti Park

There isn’t much to Benjakiti Park, not if you compare it to some of Bangkok’s other green spaces, but located right in the middle of the city it provides some respite from the busy goings on of Sukhumvit and Asok. With a big lake in the middle and bicycle and jogging tracks that surround it, the 52 acre park sees exercise enthusiasts flock there each evening. For those that don’t fancy jogging there are bikes for hire at 50 baht an hour. There’s also a playground, skate ramps and swan boat rides for kids.

Benjakitti Park, Bangkok
Benjakitti Park, Bangkok

Benjakitti Park
Ratchadaphisek Road
Bangkok
10110

Open: Daily, 5.00am-9.00pm
Admission: Free
Gettingthere: From Asok BTS (exit 4) go down Ratchadaphisek Road and Benjakiti Park is on the right hand side

#4 Benchasiri Park

Located next to Emporium Shopping Mall is the humble Benchasiri Park. At only 11.6 acres, it is one of the smallest parks but, due to its central location, it’s still a popular place. Suan Benchasiri means Park Commemorating the Fifth Cycle Birthday Anniversary and it was built to honour the 60th birthday of Queen Sirikit in 1992. Surrounding a central lake, there are many species of trees and plants, as well as several sculptures, areas to skateboard for the younger generation and exercise or just to sit and relax.

Benchasiri Park, Bangkok
Benchasiri Park, Bangkok

Benchasiri Park
Sukhumvit Road (Between sois 22-24)
Khlong Toei
Bangkok
10110

Open: Daily, 5.00am-9.00pm
Admission: Free
Getting There: Phrom Phong BTS

#5 Chatuchak Park

Located in Chatuchak district, the park is around 75 acres and was opened in 1980, making it one of Bangkok’s oldest parks. There is a train museum in the park and a lake in the centre with a few bridges crossing it. It is a popular place, especially in the evenings, for people to go and enjoy the cooler temperature by the lake. It is situated right by the BTS and MRT stations and Chatuchak Weekend Market and JJ Mall are nearby.

Chatuchak Park, Bangkok
Chatuchak Park, Bangkok

Chatuchak Park
Chatuchak
Bangkok
10900

Open: Daily, 4.30am-9.00pm
Admission: Free
Getting There: Mo Chit BTS, or Chatuchak MRT

#6 Rot Fai Gardens

I happened upon this beautiful oasis by accident when I visited Chatuchak Park but it’s so much quieter than Chatuchak, almost as if not many people know about it. What used to be a golf course which was converted to a green space for the people of the city, there are actually three parks in one, Rot Fai Gardens, Wachirabenchathat Park and Queen Sirikit Park. It spans 150 acres and it feels like you are entering private property until the landscape opens up to green expanses with huge palm trees and flowers of every colour. There are fountains in the pools which dance to music and a butterfly garden, although there are plenty of butterflies fluttering around the park itself, as well as birds and other animals, like the water monitors that frequent these spaces in the city.

Rot Fai Gardens, Bangkok
Rot Fai Gardens, Bangkok

Rot Fai Gardens
Kamphaeng Phet 3 Road
Chatuchak
Bangkok
10900

Open: 4.30am-9.00pm
Admission: Free
Getting there: Chatuchak BTS. Walk through Chatuchak Park and cross over Kamphaeng Phet 3 Road

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A Short Tale of Ceviche

Cancun, Mexico
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beach_Cancun.JPG

In 2000, I took a trip to Cancun in Mexico, with my boyfriend and his family because his sister was getting married and they had chosen the Moon Palace for the venue.

The wedding was fabulous and the hotel was stunning with several restaurants, a huge pool, bedrooms with a hot tub for two, and ocean views. Most of the time we just hung around the hotel, but me and my bf ventured out alone a couple of times.

One day, we were chilling on the beach when we started talking to this Mexican guy who turned out to be a fisherman. As the day progressed he told us that he was going on a fishing trip the next day and would we like to tag along. Yes, of course we would, although the boat didn’t look up to ocean travel, we weren’t going to pass a chance up like this. We agreed to meet the next day and off we went all excited about the prospect of the day ahead.

The following day, we met the guy as arranged and he told us that we couldn’t go fishing because the sea was a little rough and it wouldn’t make for a very successful day’s catch. Although, we didn’t really fancy our chances in the tiny boat he had, we were so disappointed and we resigned ourselves to find something else to do.

The guy said, it’s okay you don’t have to leave, I have some fish that I caught already in the fridge, so why don’t we hang out and I will make you dinner. Our frowns turned upside down and we cracked open some cold beers. The beach was the perfect setting for our little impromptu day, the wind lazily blowing as we sat in deck chairs, watching the blue ocean crashing onto the white sand.

Our new found friend produced a tray of my first ever dish of ceviche, raw fish flavoured with lime, chilli and coriander, with potato crisps to scoop it up, so simple yet very delicious, I can still taste it now.

We had a fab day, ceviche on the beach, cold beer, sun shining, new friend=simple pleasures in life and some fond memories.

Stranded in Tunis

Tunis, Tunisia
Source: https://global.britannica.com/place/Tunis

In 1989, I took my first ever foreign holiday to Hammamet, in Tunisia, with my boyfriend, at the time. It was exciting, to say the least, to be going on holiday somewhere new and exotic.

The first few days we just explored Hammamet. We relaxed on the beach and took the obligatory camel ride. We even got dressed up, as Bedouins, to enjoy a traditional feast out in the desert. So far, so good.

One day, as we relaxed on the beach, a guy approached us. He asked if I had any European money, because, apparently, he could sell it on the black market for a higher price. Being a little naïve, I opened my purse and began rooting around for some change. Meanwhile, he was coming closer with a jacket over his arm which I hadn’t noticed. After a few minutes, we realised that he was going to try and snatch my purse and we chased him away.

Afterwards, we heard of the very same thing happening to others in the same resort. So we counted ourselves lucky that he didn’t manage to succeed.

A few days later, another guy came up to us selling oranges. When we told him we didn’t want any he ran off with my sunglasses which were lying on the sand. So, you can imagine, we were feeling a little bit hacked off with all this dishonesty. We asked ourselves:

“Why did we come here?”

“Why are people trying to steal from us all the time?”

So, in an attempt to forget about this and make the most out of what remained of our holiday, we took a trip to Tunis. The tour took us to the Medina, in Tunis, Carthage, to see the ancient ruins, and Sidi Bou Said, a beautiful seaside town with blue and white buildings. It would be a great day out. Or would it?

We got up for an early breakfast, excited at the idea of a day out of Hammamet.  We met the tour bus and off we went. The journey took around an hour and we arrived in Tunis late morning. The bus dropped us at the Medina and the tour guide told us we had a couple of hours to explore.

The Medina is the old town of Tunis, which is a tourist attraction in itself.  We went into the souk and wandered through its many alleyways, going this way and that. We saw stalls selling everything you can imagine. From jewellery and perfumes to books and kitchenware. It was full of colour, with traditional clothes and shoes, beautiful silks and blankets everywhere we looked. The smells of the fresh bread and spices found their way to our nostrils.  We were so engrossed in all the hustle and bustle that we almost didn’t realise what happened next.

My boyfriend was carrying a backpack, and he suddenly turned to me, and said:

“I think someone has slashed my bag!”

So we stopped in our tracks and checked the bag. Sure enough, there was a rip in the bottom of it. Luckily, his wallet was in the inner pocket of the backpack, so it was still there. The alleyways were so narrow that there was no choice but to brush up against people on the way passed them. So a thief had taken advantage of that and tried to rob us. Again!

By this point, we had been in the souk for a while and thought it would be best to leave and find the bus again, so we could go to our next destination. So feeling a little dejected at all this thievery, we backtracked and made our way out.

The souk had many, many alleyways, all going in different directions, so it was very easy to get lost. And we did.

We tried to find the way out, and every time we thought we knew the way, we came to a dead end or ended up back where we had started. It was like a maze. And knowing little of the language, our attempts to ask someone were thwarted. Panic was rising. How were we to get out? We had a bus to meet. Would the bus wait? Surely the bus would wait.

The bus didn’t wait.

We eventually found our way out and, thoroughly relieved to be out in an open space again, we searched for the bus. There were lots of buses. One of them must have been ours. No. The bus had left. We were stranded in Tunis.

How could the bus have left us?

What were we to do?

Our earlier feeling of dejection had now turned into one of despair. And our faith in the Tunisian people had all but gone. People had tried to rob us three times, and now we had been left in Tunis by the bus tour. We sat for a moment, tried to calm down, and thought about what we were going to do.

A few minutes later, a Tunisian guy came up to us and asked what was wrong. He could obviously see we were a little agitated.

“Are you guys ok?” he said. His English was perfect.

We looked at him and, trying to keep calm, explained what had happened.

“I can’t believe this,” he said, “I am sorry you have experienced these things when you are visiting my country.”

“Don’t worry. I will take you to find the bus.”

We couldn’t conceive what he had just said to us.

“We can’t expect you to do that” we replied.

“It’s OK. I want to help you. But first I have to go home and get changed. You go to the mosaic museum and I will meet you outside in an hour.”

So, off he went and we made our way to the mosaic museum which was close by. All the time we were thinking There is no way he is going to come back! There is no way he is going to take us to find the bus!

How wrong we were.

We went to the mosaic museum and an hour later we were outside. As promised, the guy met us there and took us for lunch at a local café. We couldn’t believe how kind he was.

After lunch, we got into his car and we drove to Carthage, which was the next stop for the tour bus. The bus wasn’t there. So we had a quick look around. Then it was back in the car to Sidi Bou Said.

The bus was there.

We couldn’t thank this guy enough. We couldn’t believe this complete stranger had come to our rescue and taken time out of his day to help us.

We exchanged names and addresses with a promise of keeping in touch, which we did for a while. And now, 28 years later, even though I can’t remember his name, I will always remember his act of kindness towards us. People like that really do restore your faith in the world.

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A Trip to Paihia

When I was in New Zealand, I caught up with a friend of mine, Triona, who I had met in Thailand. When we met for the first time, we hit it off straight away and became good friends in a short space of time. When we parted to go our separate ways, we were so upset but we knew we would see each other again.

Paihia, New Zealand

After Thailand, Triona went to Australia and I to New Zealand, but she was coming my way, so we arranged to meet in Auckland. On the day, I remember it so well, I was so happy to see her again, so much so, that I arrived at the airport to meet her way too early. I sat there fidgeting in my seat, standing up to look at the arrivals board countless times, and trying to contain my excitement. I think I had a huge smile on my face even before she came through, but, finally, after what seemed like a hundred years, there she was, running towards me, actually more like leaping and bounding, I was the same. We hugged and squealed like we hadn’t seen each other for years, it had only been about a month or so! Everything was good in the world.

Our first night back together consisted of walking down K Road to see if there was anything exciting happening, nearly falling over laughing because I said “I need a pew,” talking about a seat, but Tri thought I said “I need a poo!” and returning to the hostel and drinking vodka until 3.00am. The sort of things long lost buddies do when they get reunited.

After a couple of nights in Auckland, we boarded the Magic Bus for Paihia, in the far north of the North Island of New Zealand.

We checked into an average hostel and set off to explore, by renting two kayaks. We kayaked to a small island not far offshore, took a few photographs, did some beachcombing and generally had fun. It was easy to row on the way there, but on the way back it was a different story because the current was against us. We panicked a bit, we thought we were going to be stranded on the island unless we managed to row as hard as we could. But, we were strong and we eventually made it back and took ourselves off to the local bar to recover from our afternoon at sea.

 

At the bar, we were in for the treat of our lives. We met the locals! Two ageing gents, who went by the names of Fred and Alf. Fred was 76 and Alf was 80 years old. I thought I could drink, but, then, I had never met these two before. They kept buying us shots and matched us drink for drink. I hope I am still as sprightly as them when I get to that age. We had a lot of fun with them even though Alf kept calling me a pom bitch! His way of flirting I believe!

Paihia, New Zealand

The following day, we travelled up to Cape Reinga which is not quite at the northwestern-most tip of the Aupouri Peninsula, but far enough that the road ends and much of the journey was travelled along 90 Mile Beach. Reinga, in Maori, means the underworld, and legends have it that this is the place where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. It’s a place of, not just, rugged coastlines and huge sand dunes, but it’s also the place where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, causing huge swellings in the sea. Nature at its most spectacular.

Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meeting_point_of_Tasman_Sea_and_Pacific_Ocean.jpg

In the evening, back in Paihia, we met Fred, Alf and a new crony, Rose and we repeated the shenanigans of the previous night. Our trip to Paihia was made all the more memorable by having the privilege to meet these three wonderful people who, although they literally drank us under the table, made us feel so welcome. I really hope they are still there enjoying themselves.

 

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My Own Goan Experience

I arrived in Goa to find that it is green and beautiful but on the flip side, dirty, rubbish everywhere, potholes in the road AND it was the monsoon season. Hang on, why was I there again? Oh, yes, to see my friend, Nishant.

I stayed in Calangute, a seaside town on the southwest coast of India. It has a definite island feel, much like one of the many islands in Thailand. Palm trees swaying in the wind, shacks selling swimwear and souvenirs and golden beaches right by the Arabian Sea.

Goa was conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century and they ruled for 450 years. Reminders of this long history are everywhere from the brightly coloured villas and houses with their covered porches and verandas, to the Baroque style churches and palaces.

In fact, I was in awe of the houses and other buildings I saw; painted in every colour of the rainbow, contrasted with the lush green vegetation surrounding them. Goa was definitely growing on me.

Bearing in mind it was the monsoon season, there weren’t that many people about. I mean foreigners. There were plenty of Goan folks just going about their business; woman walking their children to and from school, peddlers on the beach, groups of men hanging out. As I walked passed, a couple of the men who were with their friends said “Alright darling” (Ha, they wouldn’t be brave enough if they had been alone); another was video recording me as I walked passed them on the beach. I wonder if they saw me scowling when they played it back?

As a single female, walking around alone (my friend was at work), even in the middle of the day, it’s quite disconcerting to get so much attention although, in fact, it’s nice when people say hello. I didn’t feel unsafe, not at all, but I definitely wouldn’t walk around alone after dark. Mind you, I wouldn’t do that in my hometown, it wasn’t just Goa.

Having spent the first evening having dinner and drinks with Nishant, I had the next day to myself. I had been reading up on single women travelling around India and, quite frankly, it got me nervous. There have been so many stories about bad things happening to women, I was really apprehensive about going out on my own.

As it happened, it was raining and I almost used that as an excuse not to go anywhere but, after a while, the rain stopped and I took the bull by the horns and ventured out on my own. And I am so glad I did.

I went for breakfast, had a wander around the town and went to the beach. On the way back, I had lunch and I befriended a waiter and the owner of the bar, Amit and Sunita. They were such lovely people. Sunita told me that during the high season the bar would be packed out all day, every day with tourists but in the monsoon season it’s a different story; everywhere I went there were hardly any people around.

Having been in Goa for a couple of days, I wondered whether I would still go travelling around India on my own. I think if I had landed in Delhi, which I imagine would have been more busy and hectic, I probably would have got on a plane straight back to Thailand. Thankfully, I have since changed my mind about this. I think it was a case of not having been there before and not knowing what I was doing; how to dress or behave, that sort of thing. Even though I had been reassured by Nishant who told me I would be absolutely fine. And I was.

The following day, Nishant had the day off so we went to Goa’s capital, Panjim. We had a full English breakfast to prepare us for our day out. Honestly, who goes to India for a full English? But I have never been one to eat the local delicacies for breakfast. I certainly don’t in Thailand, it’s cereal and toast for me!

We stopped at Miramar beach to take a few photos, went to visit some churches and temples that I wanted to see and drove around Fontainhas, the old Latin Quarter in the city. It’s really beautiful with quaint little lanes and beautifully coloured buildings. The ones that have been restored are stunning, and I saw many villas that I imagined myself living in. Even the ones that hadn’t been restored still had a certain charm about them.

From Panjim, we drove to Old Goa. There isn’t much to see there but the drive along the Mandovi River is fabulous. What we did see is the Basilica de Bom Jesus, a beautiful Baroque style church which is over 400 years old, making it one of the oldest churches in India. Inside, the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier lie. There is a public viewing of his body every ten years and a huge number of tourists come from all over the world to pay respect.

Across the road is Se Cathedral. This cathedral was built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese in 1619. It originally had two towers, but one collapsed when it was struck by lightning and was never rebuilt. The architectural style of the Se Cathedral is Portuguese-Manueline. The exterior is Tuscan and the the interior is Corinthian. It has a beautiful, white facade and it’s surrounded by green gardens. Inside, the gold reredos is stunning; carved with scenes from the life of St Catherine.

The last day I spent wandering around, I had lunch and a few drinks. In the evening me and Nishant shared a lovely meal together. One of the things I was looking forward to was the Indian food. I love it. I eat it as much as I can even in Bangkok. So I wasn’t disappointed to find that it was, obviously, more delicious than any I had tried anywhere else. The thalis were amazing.

All too soon it was time for me to leave Goa. It’s always the same, you look forward to something so much and then, in a flash, it’s over. But, having had doubts about India and thinking I wouldn’t go back there, I am definitely going back for more adventures at some point. As for Goa, that trip was unquestionably one for the memory banks.

An Airport Challenge

Airport Challenge, talkingthailand.co.uk

I have wanted to go to India for such a long time and I got the opportunity to visit a friend in Goa and when opportunity knocks you should jump at the chance, right? Well I did. I didn’t quite jump mind you, I deliberated-a lot. In the space of a few days, I was going, then I wasn’t going, then I was going again and it was only after approval from my dear mum (I still need her approval at my tender age!) that I decided life is too short for this much deliberation.

The journey was far from uneventful. I have never flown on an international flight followed by a domestic flight in one day before and it was confusing to say the least. When I checked in at Bangkok I asked the lady if my bag went straight through to Goa because I was to get a connecting flight in Mumbai. She told me it would but I needed to clear customs in Mumbai.

I didn’t really understand that but nevertheless I got to Mumbai with no problems. It wasn’t so plain sailing after that. I got to the arrival hall where there were signs for domestic transfer, so far so good. I followed them and it took me passed an office for diplomatic passports and, as it turned out, E-tourist visas, which is what I had arranged before my trip. The office was exactly the place I needed to be to clear customs but at the time I didn’t realise that. There were no signs for that!

Airport Challenge, talkingthailand.co.uk

Now slightly baffled, I asked someone which way I needed for domestic transfer and she directed me to the immigration queue. Now I realised what the lady in Bangkok meant by having to clear customs.

After about 10 minutes, I walked up to the desk only to be told that I needed desk numbers 4-6. Yep, you guessed it, the office where I had passed earlier. So, back I went and now I saw the sign for E-tourist visa, not a sign with an arrow but on the window. Honestly, who looks at those! Not me, apparently!

There weren’t many people in the queue, so I waited in line to be stamped into the country. I waited and waited. Each person had to have biometric tests done; fingers scanned and picture taken. But the scanner wasn’t working properly, so it was taking up to 15 minutes to get one person done and there were about ten people in front of me.

By this time I was starting to panic; what if I missed my connecting flight? I had a good two hours between flights but with all this delay the time was ticking on. Eventually, after an hour and a half I cleared customs and I had to race to the domestic terminal. It wasn’t over yet!

If you remember, the lady in Bangkok told me I wouldn’t see my bag until I reached Goa, so I by-passed the luggage carousel and queued at the bag-drop counter. B-A-G D-R-O-P! Still the penny hadn’t dropped. I stood there wondering why I had to wait as I had my boarding pass already, so I asked the lady if I needed to check my bags in. She told me I did.

At this point, I began to lose the power of speech. I babbled what I had been told in Bangkok. The lovely lady replied, “Yes, they do go through, but you need to drop them here. Go back and get your bag and come back here.” Time still ticking!

So, I ran back to the luggage carousel only to met by a large security man who asked, “What happened, ma’am?”

I could hardly get my words out. But he let me pass, only to find that my bag wasn’t on the belt. I felt like crying by this point. I am not going to Goa today I thought. I ran up to the desk and tried to explain, I am going to Goa, the delay, my bag, blah blah blah……….He replied, “Is that your bag?” I turned around and, lo and behold, my bag was sitting on the, now stationary, carousel looking as lost as I felt.

I could have kissed that guy. I rescued my bag and made my way back to the bag-drop counter. Before I got there though, I had to get my bag scanned but the security guard must have seen my face, nearly in tears, because he told me just to go through. As I approached the bag-drop counter for the second time that day, a guy came racing along shouting “Goa! Goa!” Now I knew I was on borrowed time. The lady quickly checked my boarding pass, I said goodbye to my bag once more and I walked, half-ran actually, to the domestic terminal. I got there still with ten minutes to spare.

Finally, I arrived in Goa in one piece, although I had to fight back the tears a few times. I actually consider myself well travelled and know what I am doing at airports but that day I was certainly put to the test. Thankfully I passed! Just!