Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Australia's Glass House Mountains

I couldn't finish my Australia posts without sharing these lovely pictures of the Glass House Mountains with you. The area is about 60 miles north of Brisbane so, yes, I should have mentioned them ages ago!

Guess what? Our friend James Cook discovered them! The little scallywag, hogging Oz's debut for himself. And being a complete genius, he named them the Glass House Mountains because their elevation reminded him of a glass house. No, I don't get it either.

Anyway, my camera is only average, but I hope the photos really convey just how empty - physically, at least - Australia can be. Although it's not completely my cup of tea, there are parts of the country that are very beautiful and steeped in intriguing history.

The mountains are basically what's left over from volcanoes millions of years ago. But indigenous Australians view them as an important part of the Dreamtime, which refers partly to what they believe to be the time of creation, but also represents a complex set of spiritual beliefs. A good resource if you want to learn more about this important and interesting facet of the country's culture can be found here.





You're also likely to spot some roos lazing around the mountains. Gorgeous.



Rafting, AKA the day I may have confused whiplash with a near-death experience

Once upon a time, there was a girl who could not swim very well. She decided to go rafting down the Tully River in Australia. Her and a friend booked in for what is known as "extreme rafting", which means the boat leaders do all they can to get participants in the water screaming their dear heads off. Why the girl decided to go extreme rafting is a mystery to this very day. She obviously never looked at footnotes four and five of this Wikipedia entry.

They were taken, along with about 15 other fair maidens and town folk, to the river, which is in northern Queensland. They were given all the right equipment for the voyage. A man, who in retrospect may have been mentally unhinged, gave them instructions for the day ahead. It all sounded like jolly good fun, the girl thought.

The water was very cold and the rapids were furious. Shivering was constant and the ongoing, immediate threat of having her teeth knocked out by a fellow rafter was a little burdensome. Such buffoonery was taking place in the other boats. But hey ho! She thought. The inpatient on day release who had distributed the rules was mischievous, pushing people off the sides of the dinghies when they were not looking and giving the local court jester a run for his money.

After lunch of some hearty cow and meaningless grog, the rafters set upon their journey once again. The crazy fellow leading the group pointed to a giant rock. Look! It's a giant rock from which we can jump! The whole group was mightily enthused. And little did she know, the girl was about five minutes away from what later turned out to be really rather bad whiplash and a hard lesson in never giving into peer pressure.

She jumped. Being only quite small, the height of the rock was frightening. And by accident, she jumped in a somewhat odd position, hitting the surface of the water with a loud - so loud it is possible the next town heard - smack. This is odd, she thought. There is severe pain in my shoulder and head. Be there a brick wall, rather than water, she pondered? No, it is water, and she faked wellness while climbing back on to the raft. Dizziness and intense throbbing followed all day and throughout the twilight hours. Be this my last sleep, she wondered? After all, concussion has been known to silently precede an even quieter death. With no method of telegram or carrier pigeon, she set her rooster to wake her up in the small hours of the morning, to check death had not arrived. But thankfully it had not, and she lived to see another day.

Cairns, Queensland

My last stop in Australia was Cairns. This is very common, as it's one of the furthest north places on the east coast that's "worth visiting" and has a "major" airport. I use "speech marks" rather than 'inverted commas' as I'm actually quoting what somebody told me about the "city". As you can tell, I've come to regard their opinions as somewhat flawed. The fact it's the last stop on many travellers' Oz adventure means you end up having numerous versions of the conversation mentioned in this post.

In the universe where I grew up, Cairns isn't a city. It's a town. It's small, full of very short buildings and may have got stuck in a time-space wormhole at some point during the 1970s, because a lot of it doesn't look like it has progressed since then.


Regardless. I actually had a lot of fun there! I learned a valuable lesson; enjoyment isn't always about where you are and the tools or money at your disposal. It's who you're with. This isn't always true and, yes, it seems like a really obvious thing to say. But I stayed at a really rundown, odd little hostel (about a 15-minute walk from the town centre), that turned out to be awesome! And all of a sudden I just relaxed again. Lovely.

Here is a delightful picture of the slightly odd room I shared for eight nights with three girls and two complete legends. Thanks to Emma for the massively unflattering photo.


I know you want to hear about Cairns, but let's consider what's really important here: Cheesy beans on toast. When I have beans on toast, I just whack a bit of cheese on top. But no. Emma truly changed my life when we were cooking in what alleged to be a hostel kitchen and she explained that you can mix the cheese in with the beans. Here is a picture of her doing what can only be explained as wizardry and/or mind/cheese control.


Just look at my amazed face and her satisfaction at altering the course of my existence forever.



Culinary magic aside, we did the following, among other bits and bobs, in Cairns:

1. Sunbathed - there is no natural beach, so instead, the centre of the city has a manmade lagoon. This is fab, because it's salt water and surrounded by lush grass and some sand, as well as little shops and eateries. The temperature, in Australia's WINTER, was about 31C every day.

2. Came second in a hostel pub-type quiz and lost by one point after I got a question about Manchester wrong. How was I supposed to know City now play at the Etihad Stadium? I said Arsenal. But that's the Emirates Stadium. Whatever.

3. Watched Emma have to get a gone-wrong piercing near-beaten/ripped out of her ear.

4. Said goodbye... to Australia and some amazing people. Despite my weird ol' time there, I'd go back to Oz. I'd like to visit Melbourne, for sure. Just maybe not for a couple of decades.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Yeah yeah I know quit your whining

So… here I am, more than two months after I got home… and no blog updates to speak of. I still plan to finish it and hope you still want to read it. If you don't, meh, I have it to remind me of everything and you can bet I'll still find a time to bore you with stories and photos one day. But in the meantime, the 30-or-so of you (don't be surprised, I can work Google Analytics) who do check in every time I post… well, I hope you enjoy the rest of it. If you don't, then… just humour me and lie to my face.

Why haven't I updated it? Um, turns out I forgot about a whole heap of allegedly obligatory stuff that constitutes the bulk of 'real life'. That's 'real life' in 'inverted commas' because for the most part, this involves me:

Working freelance

Watching Entourage

Losing my remote control (not a euphemism for marbles, I genuinely always lose my remote)

Moving house

Trying to get music from Mario Kart out of my head


Before I tell you about Cairns, I'll post something I've just found on my computer. I appear to have written it while at Hong Kong airport, right before coming home. I think I was highly caffeinated and needed to kill some time. I'll leave you to read it and then potentially delete my number from your phone.



This is how you kill 15 hours at an airport

I'm going home tomorrow! My last stop, which you'll hear all about in ooh maybe five years when I finally get round to blogging properly again, was Hong Kong - an absolutely fabulous city I had always wanted to visit.

Two small problems made my stop in Hong Kong a little more irritating than I would have liked.

Glitch #1: There are some hostels in Hong Kong and, as usual, I booked a few days in advance. However, using - the site via which I have booked most of my accommodation during my trip - I noticed that the addresses seemed all to be located in the same building, right in the heart of the city. That's weird, I thought. How can 15+ guest houses and hostels be in the same place? Oh look, they've all got different block numbers. I'll Google the building, Chungking Mansions, and see what comes up. Wait, that looks like a really rough council estate crossed with a sweatshop… a really bad sweatshop though, not like the knicker factory in Coronation Street (which was super legit). That can't be it. No, that's it. Weird. And what's this… universally bad reviews of every single hostel? Unsafe… expensive… DO NOT STAY HERE. Hmm. I'll keep on looking. (Roommate enters) Oh hi I don't suppose you've been to Hong Kong have you? You have? Where did you stay? Oh you did? Is it really that bad? You left after 45 minutes? Book a hotel? I guess I'll have to. Rundown I can handle, dirty I can handle, full of complete idiots I can handle, unsafe I refuse to handle. One thing I've learned while travelling is that no price is too high for feeling safe and secure, because I won't be able to spend the money I've saved if I wake up in the boot of a Ford Fiesta (or foreign equivalent) now, will I?

Glitch #2: It turns out there are frequent typhoons and tropical cyclones in Hong Kong and, according to the lovely receptionist at my lovely hotel, the height of the buildings in Hong Kong coupled with its geographic location make it a really unstable place when extreme weather hits. But I didn't know this, and had only booked two nights - the 28th and 29th - at the hotel, because my flight is due to leave at 07:35 September 30th and therefore I'd have to be at the airport at about 04:30ish. I figured meh, check out late on the 29th, do a little more sightseeing and then just kill a few hours at the airport after arriving there about midnight. They have showers and stuff too, so it'll be fine.

Famous last words. My plan has been well and truly foiled by the weather gods.

I checked out this afternoon and headed out to explore Kowloon, which is north of Hong Kong Island and home to lots of things to do. First stop: coffee. My coffee habit has worsened. I keep walking, really just taking in the surroundings, buoyed by a faboosh previous day yesterday during which I did loads of touristy things and marvelled at the city's spectacular scenery, culture and cosmopolitan vibe (and by cosmopolitan vibe, I mean the healthy number of investment bankers in sharp suits). The first thing I notice is that many shops are closed. I figure maybe it's because I'm walking through a market area - maybe the markets open late? I continue walking. Okay, so everything's closed. The ferries are closed. Heck, even tourist information is closed. There are a few bits and bobs open but nothing of interest and I'm gutted to see the Hong Kong Space Museum, which I reeeeeally wanted to visit, is shut. At this point I'm really appreciating the fact I did 90 per cent of my sightseeing yesterday. But I'm mildly panicking, because if everything's closed, how do I get to the airport (located a good 40 minutes away on Lantau Island) and what the frak do I do with the next ten hours?

I find a mall partly open and ask why the city looks like something out of Dawn of the Dead, minus the zombies… although for all I know, they're about to attack.*

Nice mall lady: "The typhoon. There is a typhoon warning."

Me: "But it's not even raining. It's just overcast."

And that is when the heavens open, which is kind of fun given that it's about 28 degrees C as well.

I don't mind, because I have on my funky rain jacket (thanks mum). But then I realise I have no choice other than to investigate getting to the airport and literally wait there. Wait and wait and wait. There is nothing to do if everything is shut and I don't want to risk waiting until dark. A hairy bus ride and an extortionate airport shuttle trip later, I arrive at Hong Kong International Airport… 15 hours prior to take-off.

Laugh all you want. But I'd rather be 15 hours early than a minute late, and unfortunately, I had no choice. There weren't even any cinemas open in the city. There was literally nothing to do except solo rain dancing, and I was way too tired for that.

It is now 18:50. I wonder how long my laptop battery will last? Oh look, the Wi-Fi at the airport isn't working! Fantastic. I have read a good chunk of my current book, even though it's complete rubbish. Heat magazine is HK$48 from the book shop. That's about £4. Is Heat even that good? I might crack and buy it. For now, I'm going to write a bit more of my blog offline. That should take up a little more time.

19:30 – I'm still blogging and the internet still doesn't work. The majority of flights are being cancelled or delayed. Yikes.

20:07 – Still blogging. Texting a few people, even though Vodafone will give me a massive bollocking.

20:22 – Still blogging. The woman next to me has an iPad. I really, really want an iPad, but they're kind of a cross between a laptop and an iPhone, both of which I have. Maybe I'll save up for a proper Mac instead. I wonder if she can get on the Wi-Fi? Or if she can see my screen? Let's see. HELLO iPAD LADY! ARE YOU READING THIS? No, nothing. She's obviously having too much fun on her iPad.

22:45 – I've got the Wi-Fi to work, so I'm catching up on emails, blogging some more, guiltily reading the Daily Mail online even though it's some of the worst journalism on the planet, and bouncing off the ceiling thanks to an ultra-strong coffee. Wheeeee!

23:57 – Skyped my sister and listened to the entire Bruno Mars album, because it's not like I haven't heard it about 40 times in the past month.

02:02 – Played 21 games of solitaire on my iPod. Won: 0 Lost: 21.

02:51 – My flight is delayed by 40 minutes. Brilliant. My mum suggested upgrading to Club and using the lounge. I'm sure Mastercard would have something to say about that.

I have no idea why I stopped writing, but I stayed awake until the plane took off at 08:00. Suggestions as to what you think I got up to in the comments boxes below please.

* This is not the actual phrase I uttered. I'd like to see what would have happened if I did though.