Friday, 30 November 2012

Kathmandu - Day 1

Walking around wide eyed today. This city is an assault on your senses but a wonderful one. So busy, so hectic yet so welcoming.

A cooking class in the morning, a walking tour in the afternoon, some aimless wandering in between. An early night to come (thanks jet lag).

Monday, 26 November 2012

Disneyland Paris; My 31st Birthday

{Indiana Jones & the Temple of Peril, moi, Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain, Walt & Mickey inside Walt Disney Studio Park}
A 4:30am alarm.
A 5:00am taxi pickup.
A 6:18am Eurostar train from St Pancras International, London, to Gare du Nord, Paris.
Some confusion with the RER tickets.
RER B to Chatelet Les Halles.
RER A to Marne La VallĂ©e–Chessy,
aka  Parc Disneyland.

I had wondered in the lead up if heading to Disney was an age appropriate way to celebrate a 31st birthday.  I needn't have.  The excitement the five of us were generating was testament to it being a perfect way to celebrate.  Some Disney virgins, some Disneyland Paris virgins and some Disney lovers.  All adults, all as excited as kids on Christmas eve.

The first 15 minutes or so inside Disneyland Park was magical.  It was the happiest place on earth.  It was amazing, seeing the palace and taking it all in.  Minnie ears purchased, off to the rides. 
Collected a fast pass for Big Thunder Mountain, queue for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Eat magical popcorn (aka sweetened cinnamon popcorn) and a dirty burger for lunch, ride Big Thunder Mountain.  Scream in the dark.  Pose for photos. 

Head to Walt Disney Studios Park. Queue for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  Scream, nearly wet my pants.  Laugh.  Queue for Aerosmith’s Rock n Roller Coaster.  Scream some more, laugh some more. Buy more Minnie ears (this time sparkly sequinned ones), a few other souvenirs. Admire the over the top Christmas lights.

RER A to Chatelet Les Halles.
RER B to Gare du Nord.
A 8:13pm Eurostar train from Gare du Nord, Paris to St Pancras International, London.
Champagne on board. More laughs. A quick nap.
Arrive in London 9:47pm.
Farewell friends.
A tube and a bus, get home 22:35pm.

{champagne, ears and friends, aboard the Eurostar}
A seriously fantastic whirlwind of a day out. More time at Disney would have been great but the aim was always to keep it cheap and do a day trip and I wouldn’t change that. We didn’t get to go on many rides but we went on the ones with the biggest thrills and screamed a plenty! Space Mountain was closed as were the Teacups.  Another trip to a Disney may be in my future for there are still the classics to ride – Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, It’s a Small World, the Teacups, Pirates of the Caribbean etc.

A really great way to celebrate a birthday.  A really great way to say goodbye to friends and a fitting final weekend European jaunt.  Thanks friends, thank-you.

Have you been to any of the Disney parks?  This was my first time and I think I might be hooked now.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

And then it was over…


The view of the Shard from the end of my (old) street in Wapping.


As for what’s next?  I fly out to Kathmandu, Nepal tonight.  I’ve a month to spend in Nepal and India, flying from Mumbai to Cape Town at the end of December.

From Capetown, it’s up through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.  Stopping along the way, I hope to see Fish River Canyon, Swakopmund, Etosha National Park, the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, Matobo National Park, the Zambesi, the beaches of Lake Malawi, Zanzibar, the Great Rift Valley, Lake Victoria and mountain gorillas on a trek.

A few nights of luxury in Dubai on route and then home.  Melbourne.

Posting will be lighter than ever I imagine.  I’ll try and post as I go but the best way to keep in touch is through Instagram.

Friday, 23 November 2012

30: The Year That Was

Captions at bottom of post

Sunday marks my 31st Birthday.  What a non milestone huh?  Befittingly, I will be spending the day packing my boxes for the shippers to collect on Monday.  Still, it’s been a fantastic year so I want to get a few points down.

It started in the Czech Republic, hangover after celebrating my 30th friends until the not so small hours of the morning. It ends at Disneyland Paris (where I will be spending tomorrow with a bunch of friends).

It included a trip home to Australia, to stand beside my friend as she married her best, to parasail with my brother over Moreton Island, to wake up Christmas morning at the family farm.

It included some solo travel to places I’d longed to visit.  Solo to Cornwall, Guernsey, Denmark & Sweden.

It included some group travel when I wasn’t as brave or organised: Jordan, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan.

It included some travel with friends when the stars, our diaries and our interests aligned; Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Poland, Scotland, Croatia & Ukraine as well as around England.

It included walking across England, 320kilometres from coast to coast

It included returning to being a meat eater, albeit slowly and tentatively at first.

It included switching roles at work, a change I was thankful for and will hopefully help with the job hunt when I return.

It included my first (and most likely last) flying lesson.

It included lots of good food and coffee and indulgences.

It included more time on my own than usual.  A lot of solo time this year, time to think and read and make some big decisions.

And lastly, and probably of the most importance, all these things led to it including packing up and taking the steps to say goodbye to London, and this life I’ve carved out here.

Here’s to next year, and all that it brings.

Pictures are, L-R, top – bottom:
Prague | Brunswick Street, Melbourne | Parasailing off Moreton Island, Queensland | Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall | the Monastery, Petra, Jordan | Great Pyramids, Giza, Egypt | An ape overlooking Gibraltar
A watchtower at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Poland | the view from atop Ben Nevis, Scotland | out for a bike ride, Sark, Channel Isles | Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen
Turning Torso, Malmo, Sweden | Setting on a long walk, St Bees’s, West coast of England | Dubrovnik, Croatia | Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine
Durdle’s Door, Dorset, UK | Tup Kol, Kyrgyzstan, Aksu River, Aksu Zhabagly, Kazakhstan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

My London: Coffee


I’ve had more coffees at my favourite London cafes in the last few weeks than is probably good for me. It’s been a like a farewell tour of them all, visiting them all one last time.  And so that in a years time when I think back to now, I can remember the details on the cafes I liked, here is my guide to coffee in London.  This guide also is for a friend that will be visiting soon after I leave (sod's law right?  At least I will see her back in Melbourne).  She's not here long but she doesn't deserve bad coffee.  I've mapped them out at the bottom as well.

It’s getting better but the high street is still dominated by the big chains.  My advice would be to just avoid them.  Seriously, they’re pretty awful and in the more touristy parts of town, you're never more than a ten minute walk from a coffee (a coffee that is worth the walk!).  At a push Cafe Nero is better than Starbucks or Costa but really only at a push.  All do decent hot chocolates though if you find yourself there.

Most of the cafes I like are also chains, but much much smaller ones with 2 or 3 locations.  Some roast onsite, others don’t.  All are consistently good with their coffee.  My standard order is for a flat white but most have filter, aeropress and other brew methods.  Not all are opened Sundays so keep that in mind.

Ok, they are:

Monmouth Coffee
27 Monmouth Street | Covent Garden | London WC2H 9EU
2 Park Street | The Borough | London SE1 9AB

The queues at the Borough Market shop get a bit ridiculous but if you’re also buying beans you can jump ahead. Even with the ridiculous queues, I’d wait and get one. Single cup size, strong coffee. Their espresso blend was for a long time the beans I used at home.  They serve some food (pastries and cakes) but I’ve never eaten at their stores, only ever getting coffee.  Monday – Saturday only.

66 Great Titchfield Street | London | W1W 7QJ

A Kiwi owned and run chained, home to the best ANZAC cookies of my life.  Away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, they have some delicious salads and food as well as the brilliant coffee.  And, added bonus - OPEN SUNDAYS!! 

Tapped and Packed
No.26 Rathbone Place | London | W1T 1JD
No.114 Tottenham Court Road | London | W1T 5AH
No.193 Wardour Street | Soho | W1F 8ZF

I don’t know a lot about this company but I love going to their Rathbone Place store and I’d recommend you visit it as well.  Along with the tables for 2 and 4s, there is a long comfy bench for solo sippers like I often am. Monday to Saturday only.

Flat White / Milk Bar
flat white - 17 Berwick Street | Soho | W1F 0PT
Milkbar - 3 Bateman street | Soho | W1D 4AG

Two contrasting cafes owned by the same guys.  Flat white has gone with dark and gloomy/edgy interiors whilst Milk Bar is lightness and sunshine (I love the multi coloured fly straps painted on the door a la milk bars of my childhood).  Both do great coffee.  Milk Bar also have free sparkling/still water from a self serve tap (I can’t remember if Flat White does but given I love a sparkling water with my coffee, this pleases me no end!)

Taylor Street Baristas
Unit 3 Westminster House, Kew Rd | Richmond | TW9 2ND
1A New St | London (Liverpool Street) | EC2M 4TP
125 Old Broad St | London (Bank) | EC2N 1AR
110 Clifton St | Shoreditch | EC2A 4HT
22 Brooks Mews | Mayfair | W1K 4DY
8 South Colonnade | Canary Wharf | E14 4PZ

The most frequent recipient of my coffee custom.  This is an Australian owned company which brings the bonus of being able to enjoy an ANZAC, Tim Tam, lamington or cherry ripe with your coffee, if you so choose.  This has grown quite a bit lately so there are plenty of them around, yet it is nothing like the high street coffee chains.  I just did a barista course at their Bank branch on the weekend and it’s so easy to hear and see how passionate these guys are about coffee.  Expect queues but join them anyway.  Free wifi at the stores (with the same password as you go from one cafe to another – nifty!)  Sadly the city and west end ones are all Monday – Friday operations only.  They’ve a shop in Brighton as well serving a full food menu as well if you find yourself there (28 Queens Rd | Brighton | BN1 3XA)

Fernando & Wells
East Wing, Somerset House | Strand | London WC2R 1LA
73 Beak Street | London (Soho)| W1F 9SR
16A St Anne’s Court | London | W1F 0BH (closed Sundays)
8 Exhibition Road | South Kensington | SW7 2HF (out west and handy for the museums)

A strange company, specialising in a few things, coffee being one of them (ham being another).  Home to the stumpy (a small latte) and usually a pretty decent offering of food. Open late and on Sundays, these cafes are well worth a visit if you’re nearby.  Not all of their locations are coffee orientated but those that I’ve enjoyed are:

27 Clerkenwell Rd | Clerkenwell | EC1M 5RN
75 Wigmore St | Marylebone | W1U 1QD

Aussie again, Melbournians will be familiar with the former names.The Marylebone store was previously Sensory Lab whilst the Clerkenwell store was previously St Ali.  Clerkenwell does some amazing cooked breakfasts.  Both do some amazing coffee.  Hop to it, I love these cafes.

58 Redchurch Street | Shoreditch | E2 7DP

Roasting on site (in view, depending on where you sit) and super convenient to my old pilates studio, I love a strong coffee here.  Food offerings are limited but well done.

1 Granary Square (off Goods Way) | London (Kings Cross) | N1C 4AA

Not just coffee but lots and lots of food as well if you want it.  I don’t head here a lot but if you are in the area, it’s some of the best coffee nearby to my mind. 
31 St Martin’s Lane | London (right near Traf Sq) WC2N 4ER
36 Wellington Street | Covent Garden | WC2E 7BD

I love the interior of this one, especially the giant spider like light at the back of the store over the communal tables. Specialises in music and coffee.  Win win.  Right near the tourist hot spot of Trafalgar Sqaure and opened late, I like.  May pay to ask for your coffee extra hot though if it’s a cold day and you’re getting take away.  They’re served ready to drink immediately.

This list is just those that I love.  Joe & The Juice was unlucky to miss out but given I can't go past their smoothies, I don't think of them as a cafe.

My London Coffee Map...

View My coffee in London in a larger map

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Many Hats of Me

This isn't a post about the roles I play in life, the roles as a daughter, sister, aunty, niece, friend, foe, lover and ex.  This post isn't really about anything.  Anything other than my love of a good hat party.  

A housewarming last weekend came to life simply by the hosts adding "hats or wigs mandatory" to the invite.  This is just a snapshot of some of the headgear I wore.  The purple turban and grey rabbit fur Russian vodka hat are mine.  The purple wig is my favourite, I think.  Or maybe the ridic blonde afro.  What's your favourite look for me?

Hat and wig parties are my favourite.  So easy, so fun, so social.  Been to any lately?  

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Life win; Doing what I love

The Euromillions jackpot that was won on Tuesday was nearly £170,000,000. Some lucky people won it.  Imagine that?

Speaking to friends on several occasions, it came up – what’s one of the first things you’d do if you won the lottery? My answer, each time: Quit work and go travelling.

And then it dawns on both parties to the conversation.  I’m doing that. I’ve done that.  Work has been quit, travelling will soon commence. I am living my dream. And that feels fantastic.

What’s the first thing you’d do if you won?

That’s obviously not to say there isn’t a hell of a lot of good I could do with lotto money nor that the amount, style and length of travel that I could do wouldn’t change but given I don’t tend to buy tickets, my chances of winning are less than slim.

IMG_0641{My Friday night – trip planning. Aside from 2 nights in Kathmandu and 1 night in Mumbai, I’ve got a month to think about in Nepal and India. The African leg of my journey is mostly sorted.}

Friday, 16 November 2012

London List; Climb the Monument

Moments after posting about this London list on Wednesday, I looked outside and realised how clear a day it was. A perfect day to climb the Monument to the Great Fire of London (aka the Monument). I also realised I better boot scoot it along if I wanted to get there for sunset.

After a quick ride on one of the Boris bikes, I paid my £3 and climbed up the 311 stairs to the top. The Monument stands 62m tall and is 62m from where the great fire started in 1666.

Climbing those stairs wasn’t exactly fun but they were much more open and wider than I was expecting. On reaching the top, I was the only one there with great views over Greater London. 

That solitude lasted only a few minutes before it got really quite crowded on the viewing platform. Many photographers armed with big cameras turned up to capture the sunset and twilight. I felt a little out of place with my iPhone (yeah, didn’t even think to take my camera!) but I stayed up there for the best part of an hour, taking it all in and watching darkness fall.

If you’re in London and haven’t climbed the Monument yet, I’d heartily suggest it. If you have climbed it but not at sunset, I’d suggest you go again. Watching the lights of the city come on was amazing.

And some of the many pictures I snapped…

As you can see there is plenty of building work going on in London. I can’t help but think that very soon, the Monument will loose the best of its views. Go before that happens.

(Panoramas taken using DMD Panorama which I downloaded when it was free)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

London Love

I-love-London small
It’s now less than two weeks until I leave this city.  The boxes have arrived and I need to begin packing up from the last 4.5 years, ready to move on.

The decision to leave London has been a long time coming but actually doing it? That’s kind of scary.  I’m lucky enough to have a few weeks off between finishing work (31 October) and leaving (27 November).  I’ve spent this time so far being a tourist, revisiting my favourite restaurants, organising the move, organising travel (11 countries means lots of visas, vaccinations etc).  My moods swing pretty widly from pure excitment about Melbourne and the road I’m taking there to stress and panic.  Stress and panic about what I need to do, life admin, errands to be run, before I take to the road.  I’m really grateful though that I haven’t yet started regretting the decision to leave.  That decision sits so easily with me, so comfortably.  It is the right time.

Some of the more touristy things I’ve done, or want to do doing during this luxury month are:
London Detours Westminster Tour
London Detours City Tour
Visit the Science Musuem
Visit the Cabinet War Rooms
Visit St Paul’s Cathedral
Climb the Monument
Revisit Windsor
Revisit the London Transport Musuem
Visit Chislehurst Caves
Visit the source of the Thames
Visit the Museum of London.

And let’s not get started on all my favourite cafes and restaurants I want to visit one last time.  Or the people, my people, that I need to say goodbye to. 

This month is one I will long remember and be thankful for.

Have you been to London or is there something you know of that is must see that’s maybe not on my list?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Brighton: the Love Affair Continues

I’ve been away this week, spending some time with friend(s) down on the southern coast in Brighton whilst also getting some errands done.  A school friend lives down there and there’s very few places in England I enjoy more than this one. Ignoring it’s rep as a hen and stag do town, it’s a brilliant place. I never know what to expect on a trip down but I always love it and am sad to leave. None more so than this time, the last time.

Some of my craziest nights out have been there.  Some of the calmest nights in have been there.  There is great shopping, great food, great street art and something for everyone.  It’s home to the Royal Pavillion, probably my favourite royal palace to date, anywhere.  There is a thriving music scene, lovely old pubs, sweet boutique filled lanes and a beach.  Let’s not forget the pier either – a true English seaside pier. Oh, and the new Brighton Wheel.

Whilst I don’t know if or when I’ll ever return to Brighton, I think I will always love it.
Brighton, never change.

{Photos taken over the last 3.5 years}