Saturday, 31 March 2012


I had an extremely lazy day today, just resting and taking tablets like the doctor told me. I finished a Jodi Picoult novel and watched some television and ended up vomiting quite a bit, probably because of the codeine, which I haven't done for quite a long time. It was just as disgusting an experience as I remember, but Belinda and Andrew took really good care of me. So I possibly will go without codeine for the rest of my (fingers crossed) recovery. I shall soldier on. Yahoo.

Friday, 30 March 2012


Luce went to New York at 1am this morning!! Exciting :) Later on this morning I woke up bright and early to get ready for a really fun weekend that Belinda and Andrew had kindly planned. We were going to see Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice and then go to Sherwood Forest and stay overnight in Edwinstowe, the rumoured home of Robin Hood. Then we were going to stay Saturday night in York. Instead, I got up and pretty much couldn't walk, or dress myself, or get down the stairs. It's finally caught up with me. So I rang the physio and Andrew drove me there at 9am. The physio helped me a little with my hip and then took one look at my knee and ankle and told me to see a doctor. So we drove to the doctors surgery and made an emergency appointment and waited, and then the doctor took one look at my hip and told me to get to casualty to get it x-rayed. So then we all drove to the hospital.

We arrived at about 1pm and left at about 8pm. It was an incredibly long day and Belinda and Andrew waited with me the whole time because they are lovely. Apparently there was a bit of confusion as to what department was going to look at me which accounts for the long wait, but once they'd got blood pressure and drawn blood and wheeled me off to a nice doctor who poked and prodded me for a bit, they took me for x-rays which came back....completely normal. The doctor was, in her words, flummoxed, but they gave me some realllllllly strong painkillers and sent me home with a sufficient supply and some crutches and told me to rest up. The painkillers seem to be working, so hopefully I'll feel better in the next couple of days. Belinda and Andrew bought me fish and chips for dinner and I need to go to bed now because the painkillers have made me really tired.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Electrical pulses

Apologies for the lack of blog over the last few days. The charger to my netbook has died and I am trying to conserve the battery power. Sean, being the lovely man he is, has arranged for a new one to be sent and it should arrive sometime today, so fingers crossed! The last three days we have had a continuation of utterly gorgeous weather. Weather that is too hot to wear jeans in, with completely cloudless skies and a very faint breeze. It's been unbelievably beautiful and I wish, wish, WISH my back/legs were feeling better because it's the kind of weather that makes you want to run around in a park. The last three days I have been for walks around Crosby, completing various errands, then coming back to the house and putting frozen peas on my knee and trying to stretch my hip. On Tuesday I went to a physiotherapist and he was pretty amazing. He gave me a very painful massage to loosen up my back and then put a machine on my back that sent electrical pulses through my muscles. The machine went for 15 minutes and it was about the most bizarre sensation I have ever experienced. My back felt like someone else's when I stood up afterwards, and for the next hour, I could still feel the same sensation after I left the physio's, but it definitely felt better than it had. I'm going back on Monday for a follow-up. Belinda and Andrew have been the perfect hosts, and it's been so nice to have home-cooked meals and a place that is not full of strangers while I am feeling so rotten. Don't get me wrong, I love meeting new people, but pain makes me anti-social. Since I had the crazy electric therapy, I have felt quite good once the day gets going. Mornings are the worst though, and that is what I am hoping will get better. Sean is having a great time with Tim and Helen and seeing a show every day. I miss him but I am really pleased he's getting to see stuff at his own pace rather than have to constantly be waiting for me. Today I plan to do much of the same - walk, sun, read, ice my knee, stretch. Until my next blog!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Crosby times

The last two days have been very relaxing and really good for my back. I have spent a lot of time lying down on a camping mat, reading and watching British television, but we went for a long walk today along Crosby Beach. It's difficult because I should be staying active to stretch out my back, but the pain in my knees and hips make it hard. Yesterday we went to lunch at The Courtyard (Mum, Dad, next time you visit Liverpool, you need to go here for lunch, it's gorgeous). Crosby is lovely because it's really close to the city centre, but it's also on the beach, and you only need to drive ten minutes or so to get to the country. It's the best of all worlds; all it needs is a nice mountain range. I hear Sean has been having an awesome time at the Dr Who convention, hopefully the weather in Cardiff is as nice as it is here. Brilliant sunshine the last two days - real beachy, t-shirt-and-shorts type skies. A really nice change from wintry grey :)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Liverpool again :)

I said goodbye to Kim and Sean today! Big hugs all round. The delightful Derry taxi system showed up for me without me even phoning. I had mentioned to a driver yesterday that I was going to the airport at 10am this morning and he told me to phone him. I was literally getting to my feet to call him this morning when there was a knock on the hostel door. It was a different taxi driver. The man I spoke to yesterday had been called away to something but he wanted to make sure someone was there to pick me up at 10. These people are so considerate and lovely. I had a great chat to the taxi driver on the way to the airport. We talked about Australia and Ireland and snow and our families mainly, and when he pulled up at the airport, he took all my luggage into the terminal because he could see I was having trouble with my back. It was a really lovely way to start the day.

Derry airport is tiny. It's about the size of the toilet blocks at Tullamarine. There were two gates, and the tiniest little lounge, and everyone was really friendly. I chatted to the nicest Liverpudlian who told me all about her family and her city and how much she loved it. The plane trip to Liverpool took 40 minutes, but I closed my eyes briefly and then felt this almighty crash. I thought it was the most mental turbulence I'd ever encountered, but I opened my eyes and we had actually landed, so I can only assume I drifted off to sleep as it felt like we'd been in the air for 10 minutes.

I took a bus to the city centre and Andrew picked me up and drove me to their house in Crosby. It's really nice to be back. I scared the living daylights out of Luce when she got back, but after that we spent the afternoon chatting, with me sprawled out along the floor which has become the custom. The lovely Belinda bought me fish and chips for dinner and we watched Sport Relief 2012. It feels hideously selfish to be whinging about a bit of back pain when children are dying of the most pointless and treatable illnesses. It really puts it into perspective. And I need to donate some moolah.

Later kids!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Lying on the floor for two days and other activities

The last two days have involved long stretches of lying on my side on the floor while reading. Not terribly exciting, but unfortunately, necessary. Nevermind, I am still managing to surf a lot of Net and read a lot of books. I've also done a lot of other boring jobs like washing, posting stuff home and printing off my boarding pass to fly to Liverpool tomorrow. I've had AMAZING curries for dinner both nights at the Wetherspoons pub which is this uber cheap and tasty chain throughout the UK, and last night we went to the Peader O'Donnell's pub for some traditional Irish music. It's full of Irish people who are excited to see tourists and they are really friendly and chatty. I got a kiss and told I was a 'gorgeous gal'. Ah, Ireland :)

This afternoon we went on a walking tour around the Bogside and the city walls. I did the same tour about 4 years ago and from what I can remember it was really different, and just as enjoyable. Tomorrow I am headed back to Belinda and Andrew's and Sean is headed to Cardiff, then London. It will be weird to be separated from him after living in each other's pockets for 9 weeks, but we'll be meeting up in Newcastle in ten days to visit his family, so it's not for long!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

I am the pincushion. Coo coo cachoo.

This morning I went to a physio about my back pain. It has been impacting too much on my plans and I need to do something, so today I took a taxi to the Back Pain Clinic. The taxi cost me 4 pounds and arrived at the hostel within 3 minutes of me calling them. Lift your game, Melbs! The physio was really nice, made me stretch a bit, then mentioned that he used acupuncture quite a lot, and did I mind? I asked if it hurt, he said you feel a bit of a pinch, like a normal needle. I said, well okay. I was seriously willing to try anything. So he stuck 4 needles in my hip and left them there. He was right, I did feel a bit of a pinch. A damn painful pinch with every needle, but then you sort of relax and the pain goes away. But I tried to move at one point and that hurt, so don't move if you ever had it. Then he went away for about 15 minutes and I got Sean to talk to me to distract me because I didn't want a repeat of the blood donation, where I thought about the fact there was a needle in me and cried. Yay. But Sean talked to me and I was pretty relaxed, and then the physio came back to turn the needles. That bit also hurt. Quite a lot. But again, only for a few seconds, then the pain faded. He gave me a really vigorous massage along my spine afterwards, and then stood me up. He wasn't happy with what he saw, so he put the needles in again, but this time only for about 30 seconds, then we tried again. It was really amazing. The pain in my back has improved significantly and he showed me some tricks with posture and core strength to help me manage it. Unfortunately, the pain in my legs is still quite bad, but I have a follow-up appointment on Thursday morning so I'll mention it if it's unchanged.

He told me to avoid sitting, and to stay standing and active if I could. Because of the swelling in my knee it's not too possible right now, so I pretty much have to lie on my side for long periods of time if I need to sit down. It's only temporary, but it's frustrating to say the least. Sean and I walked back through Derry in an attempt to stay active and found some cool shops, then I spent most of the afternoon lying on the couch reading. I got up to go to a restaurant for dinner with Sean then we had a drink with Kim when she finished her volunteering duties. We don't have any major plans for tomorrow, just washing and posting stuff home, but if we get that done, it'll be a big weight off my shoulders!

Monday, 19 March 2012


So this is an update for the last two days. I didn't write one yesterday because there was not much to say! We got home from St Paddy's day to discover my knee had swelled to the size of a grapefruit. Because of the back pain, I was favouring my right leg, and apparently it didn't like being favoured for seven straight hours on St Paddy's day. So I spent the day sitting down, uploading photos and reading and watching Gavin and Stacey (great show!). It wasn't a bad day, but it wasn't terribly exciting (except for Skyping Mum and Dad. It was wonderful to hear their voices!!). I went out that night with Kim and Sean to buy a book and have a pub meal, then went back to the hostel and eventually, to bed.

This morning we slept in, checked out and went to the main bus terminal in Dublin, Busarus. Again, I had to sit and read, but this time I chucked some frozen peas on my knee which helped with the pain a little. Then we got on a bus to Derry, which took about 4 hours. I sat next to this gorgeous woman, originally from Northern Ireland, but she'd lived in America for 30 years. She sounded completely American, but had moved back to Northern Ireland finally to get work. We chatted for most of the trip and during the bus ride she got a phone call offering her a job from an interview she had done last week. It was wonderful. She was so excited and began ringing all her friends and family to let them know and it was just so brilliant to see something work out so well for someone else. Once we got to Derry we took a 2 pound fifty taxi to our hostel and settled in. Paddy's Palace is a really nice place and it's a real shame I won't be here for the whole two weeks I had planned with Kim. We met some great people - volunteers and travellers and the Paddywagon tour coming through. A guy from our Haggis tour is on the current Paddywagon tour and it was great to bump into him again. We all went out to a great, cheap pub for dinner and had lots of food and conversation. I am pretty tired now, but I think I will head to bed and try to get an appointment at a physio tomorrow.

Blog soon! xx

Saturday, 17 March 2012

St Patrick's Day!!

This was it. The reason for my entire trip! Two Christmases ago I sat opposite Kimberley at the table and said 'Do you have any plans to be in Dublin for St Patrick's Day 2012?" 'No', she replied, 'Do you?'

And thus, the trip was born. We both planned our entire holidays around the fact that we would meet up in Dublin in the middle of March, in time to see the parade on the 17th. And we totally pulled it off like bosses. We were up more or less when our alarms went off this morning, in time to make breakfast and get ourselves greened for the festival of all festivals. There really is nothing like it in Melbourne. NYE comes close, but it's worldwide and of an enormous scale everywhere. St Paddy's feels like one big NYE in daylight, that stretches for a couple of days - and everyone is in costume. We used facepaint, temporary tattoos and big green hats to doll ourselves up before heading to O'Connell St, along with what felt like half the population of the world. We weasled our way into spots as close to the barrier as we could get and planted ourselves there for the next two and a half hours to wait for the parade. We met a gorgeous Irish woman who was so cheeky and entertaining. She stood with us the whole time and chatted to us about all things Irish and Australian and the time flew by much faster. We watched various Irish TV and sporting personalities walk past, and our new friend pointed them out to us. One very bright and bubbly TV presenter was impressed to learn we had come all the way from Australia just for the parade (I didn't mention the other 14 weeks...).

The parade began with a convoy on bikes and a car dropping off the Irish Prime Minister at the Grandstands, which we were steps away from. Then there was a marching band and after that I really couldn't tell you what came when. The next hour and a half was a huge flurry of colour and costumes and music and puppets and bands and dancers and flags and floats and fire-twirling and stilt-walking and all manner of cool things carnival. My feet and hips and legs and back were so sore by the end but I hardly noticed it because the spectacle was so enthralling. We were pretty much in the second row, pressed against the barriers with a wonderful view. I took heaps and heaps of photos and about two-thirds of the way through the parade my memory card filled up and my battery started to die so I had no choice but to ignore the camera and just absorb as much as I could of it.

When it finally finished it felt a bit bizarre, like, okay, where do we go now? First things first: back to the hostel to grab a warmer jacket. We had in fact been blessed with rare Dublin sunshine (and one brief, but heavy, rainshower), but it was now starting to get a bit colder. We sort of collapsed for half an hour or so while our feet slowly throbbed back to normal, and then we set off again, grabbing a kebab after a half-hearted check to see if there was any room at the pub. There was, in fact, none. We headed back to O'Connell St where we met Aaron and Katie, Kim's mates, and their friend, also named Aaron. We took a long walk down O'Connell St and then south of the river until we found a slightly less crowded pub. There was still no room to sit, so we stood again for the next couple of hours while we had some drinks and chatted more. Our limbs protesting fiercely, we finished the drinks and stepped outside to find somewhere to sit, but ended up just standing on the sidewalk and talking more! Great company and conversation meant that we didn't notice the pain in our legs too badly until we finally said our goodbyes and headed back. We stopped in briefly at Eason's, a huge bookshop on O'Connell St, but they were about ten minutes from closing time and we couldn't stay. We bought some groceries for dinner and headed back to the hostel, and I pretty much have not moved from the bed or the couch since. It was a wonderful, wonderful day and I am so glad it worked out so well. I don't think I have the energy to go out again tonight, but neither does half the city by the look of it!

Friday, 16 March 2012

St Paddy's Day EVE

This morning we didn't set an alarm and we all slept until 11. But I don't care, we clearly needed it! Then we got up and set off our separate ways. I aimed for the Writer's Museum, but the buses were delayed and my back was too sore to walk there and then a bird pooped on my jacket, so I ended up just waiting for a new bus and jumping on to do the round trip. The commentary is very entertaining, and it's peaceful letting yourself be driven around. I hopped off at Christchurch cathedral and went inside where I bumped into Sean. We saw 'Tom and Jerry' - the mummified cat and rat who were trapped inside one of the organ pipes for centuries. We saw the crypt and some beautiful architecture inside the church, then we met Kim outside.

Kim and I went to Dublinia, a historical museum that chronicles Viking Dublin, Medieval Dublin and archaeology and restoration in Dublin. We were a bit too tired and delirious to take much in but my goodness it was fun. It pretty much consisted of us wandering round looking at pictures, too exhausted to read anything, then finding a helmet or some chainmail or some stocks to step into and take photos of. Then I bought earrings in the gift shop. Oh yeah! Kim and I jumped back on the bus for another half-circuit and then got off to bookshop browse on our way back to the hostel. The highlights of this part of the day included Burger King and a book signing by Sugar Ray Leonard. I washed my hair when I got back to the hostel (exciting! It was truly rank beforehand) and then spent a good hour on the internet looking for shows to see. Then the three of us went for a huge walk through O'Connell St, Dame St, Temple Bar, Trinity College, Grafton St - and it was all packed and busy. We found an excellent little tucked away ice-cream store (I think it was called Murphy's?) and I had Baileys ice-cream and brown bread ice-cream. Both some of the tastiest ice-creams I have ever had. We bought some supplies for tomorrow and headed home. We need to set an alarm and be up bright and early tomorrow so I'm off to bed now.


Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fell asleep on a bus today.

This morning we were meant to go to the bus station at 10am. We were there just after 11, minus Sean because he was still showering, but it meant I caught up with all my photos! Yay :) We sorted out what we needed to do to get to Derry on Monday and then headed off to do our own thing. I planned to go to the Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship museum, but my back was sore and my legs were sore and there was really no reason why I absolutely had to go, so I went back to the hostel and did more of my photos and journal entries. I walked to the Old Jameson Distillery (and along the way found a great discount bookstore) and then met Kim and Sean to do a tour of the distillery. The tour was nothing exceptional, but the tour guide was lovely and Sean was on a team of volunteer tasters who compared different whiskies. We all got a glass of complimentary whisky, which I have never really enjoyed, but I had mine with cranberry juice and it was quite nice. We were going to head to the Guinness Storehouse but Kim and I were nearly falling asleep on our feet. So instead, we jumped on the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus that goes round the city with a running commentary. That was really enjoyable, but I managed to fall fast asleep anyway, in a big noisy bus heading down the centre of Dublin. After the bus we went to a small pub near the hostel for dinner and watched a football match, not something I have ever done, but I really got into it! Then we came back to the hostel and have literally spent the last three hours talking to a guy from Ireland and a guy from Morocco. Great times, hazy days. It's been a good day, and I am trying to psych myself up for a bigger day tomorrow!

Dubh Linn

We slept in again today. Yep, we sure did. So sue us! After a restful morning we went for a walk to find breakfast and grab a Dublin Pass from the tourism place for Kim. The lady at the tourism place was one of the friendliest, most helpful people I have encountered ever, and it was a really nice way to start the day. We walked down to the City Hall, where our Sandemans tour was to begin at 1pm. Our guide's name was Kiel and he was from Ballarat. Exotic! But he was really friendly and a good guide. This tour was easily the longest we have been on. It went for just shy of four hours and my feet were ready to curl up and die by the end of it. But we had fun, and I shall endeavour to remember everything we saw.

First we went into City Halls, and then the courtyard of Dublin Castle, as they are right next to each other. We heard about the failed Easter Rising, standing more or less on the spot where parts of it had occurred and glimpsed the different parts of the castle - the State Apartments, which have housed Bill and Hilary Clinton and Obama among others, the Records Tower, which is the only surviving medieval section of the castle, the chapel, and the statues of Fortitude and Justice. The only man to ever escape from the Records Tower, which was at times used as a prison, was Red Hugh O'Donnell, who has quite an interesting story of his own.

We then went into the Dubh Linn gardens, which are beautiful, and look on to the amazing Chester Beatty Library. The gardens have little paths that snake through that are meant to represent river eels from when the gardens were underwater. The words 'blackpool' translate to Dubh Linn, hence the city's name - Dublin. Kiel told us about Jonathan Swift, and what a long and varied life he led, and then we saw Christchurch Cathedral (including the remains of a Norman church) and the remains of a Viking settlement marked in the ground by stones. Apparently the new city council offices were built on a priceless site of Viking remains which caused an enormous backlash.

We then walked through the Temple Bar district and saw the building where a little, unknown band called U2 won a Battle of the Bands contest. They then went for a drink at the Clarence Hotel across the street where they were refused service for being a bit scruffy looking. So when they were rich and famous they bought the hotel, sacked the rude manager, and held a free concert on the roof, for which over 100,000 people showed up.

We crossed Ha'penny Bridge and saw a hoax commemorative plaque on O'Connell Street for a fictitious man called Father Pat Noise who was in a fictitious accident that saw him fictitiously drown in the River Liffey. We went into the courtyard of Trinity College, and saw Oscar Wilde's window and heard some of the more ridiculous laws of Trinity College. I think I will go see the Book of Kells on Sunday. Trinity College boasts some of the greatest literary minds as students, and also, Courtney Love. She was expelled for selling LSD to students. We then walked to St Stephen's Green (via Bram Stoker's house!) where we saw some incredibly moving sculptures and learnt the history behind them - Wolfe Tone and the Famine Monument. We were then told the story of Michael Collins and Ireland becoming a republic, which was a wonderful way to finish the tour.

Afterwards we went to O'Neill's with the tour guides, where we could get a meal bigger than my own head for ten euro and a free soft drink. I couldn't finish my fish and chips but we bought tickets for the pub crawl that night. We stopped home quickly with some groceries and put warmer clothes on then headed back out to the Workers Bar for our free pint to kick off the night. Then we headed to the Garage for half-price cocktails and pints, then to the Mezz for a bottle of beer and a shot of tequila for 5 euro. Then we headed to O'Neill's (again) for a free shot of Jager with any drink. This was easily my favourite bar as the guys playing the live music where playing traditional Irish songs. One played guitar, one played accordion and they both sang their lungs out and everyone was jumping and clapping and singing and it was totally amazing. Among such awesome anthems were 'Galway Girl', 'The Rattlin' Bog' and 'If I Ever Leave This World Alive'. Then we went to the Porterhouse Brewing Company for more free shots with any drink and the music there wasn't bad, and then back to the Workers Bar, which turns into a nightclub. None of us are really clubbers, so Kim and I walked home (via Burger King for some greasy food) and Sean wasn't too far behind. I didn't drink too much tonight (I certainly didn't take advantage of every free offer because that would be way too much for me) but I had a really great time at the different pubs. I would have loved to finish the night at O'Neill's - that had the best music and the best atmosphere, hands down.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


Phew, what a day! We were up at 6, and at the station by 6.45. Quick breakfast, then on a long train ride at 7.21, which I slept and listened to my iPod for most of. We arrived at Holyhead at 12.15 and had some lunch, before jumping on the ferry at 2.10. On the ferry we went to the cinema and watched the Muppet movie, which was just as good the second time round, and we were in Dublin by 5.30. A quick bus ride, and an even quicker walk and we were at our hostel!

Kim met us out the front and it was so good to see her! We pretty much chatted non-stop for the next four hours, during which time we set up in our room, went to a pub for a lengthy dinner, and stopped for a quick grocery squiz before heading back to the room. The hostel is not nearly as bad as we had expected. Due to Sean's unstoppable need to read reviews on everywhere we are staying, we had worked ourselves into such a state we pretty much expected to be sleeping in some sort of dilapidated prison. But it's totally fine. Not the best, but we have a private room and our own bathroom, and it will be more than fine for a week. Now to head to bed relatively early, so we can start on the sightseeing tomorrow!


Monday, 12 March 2012

Lazy days - still my fave

Sleep-in this morning! A completely rocking sleep-in. My back has really, really started bothering me in the last week, but I have worked out it hurts less if I sleep on my stomach. So I was quite rested when I finally got up. We went for a breakfast baguette and to book our tickets to Holyhead, before Sean went off exploring and I retired to the hostel to chill out.

Oh! And I am no longer backpacking around Europe. I am suitcasing, 70 hard earned pounds later. My back was really frustrating me, so I turfed my pack and went to M&S and bought a suitcase on wheels, that will hopefully help my back heal.

We went to a pub for dinner that had half-price everything on Mondays, and then went to Chippy Alley to get chips with curry sauce. I've wanted to eat these in Wales since the characters on Gavin & Stacey debated their appeal. They were quite nice! Gravy's better though...

I really like Cardiff. It's a pretty city, but it seems very quiet compared to a lot of other places. The people are friendly and there seem to be a lot of retirees. I could easily stay here a lot longer - maybe one day I will! We need to be up at 6am to catch our train to Holyhead tomorrow. Ew. Until then, readers! xx

Sunday, 11 March 2012


We shared the dorm with a really lovely couple from Barcelona last night, and we were up in plenty of time to check out this morning. That was partially because I had another crappy nights sleep due to my back, but I think I have worked out why it hurts the most in the mornings. While Sean went off in a fruitless beer-hunt for that uber-special beer he wanted to buy before we left Scotland, Dad called my from church and I got to speak to loads of people! Gee, it was nice to hear some voices from home, and nice to catch up on what everyone has been doing. It's hard to remember the cogs are still turning away as normal for everyone when you're in the midst of travelling. It's a surreal experience. We then hopped on a train to Crewe and then one to Cardiff. This took a big chunk of the day, but I got two novels read: War Horse and The Abortionist's Daughter - two extremely different books, but both very good reads. By the time we got to Cardiff it was quite late in the afternoon and after getting a wee bit lost, we eventually found our hostel. The riverfront of Cardiff is really pretty and it was so nice to arrive in a city that wasn't bursting with people. It strikes me as quite a quiet place and I really, really like that. We had noodles for dinner and I chucked heaps of vegies and tofu into mine, which was a nice change from burgers and chips! Now we are back at the hostel just chilling out and enjoying not having to rush off to do anything.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Belated post!

Apologies for the lack of posting! I am going to attempt to report on everything we have done in the last 48 hours, but I don't know how much I'll remember, so here goes:

We had a rocking time at the ceilidh pub - it looked pretty much like a normal bar, with a big dancefloor, and this huge Scottish guy played accordion and took us through the steps for all these different traditional dances. It was so lively and fun and really hard work! We were all completely knackered by the end of the night. A lot of the steps were really bouncy which wasn't great for my back, so I ended up just stepping them instead of bouncing them, but it worked and it didn't deter my enjoyment at all. I got some great photos of Sean dancing too :D We ended up back at the hostel at about 12.30 and were all up and breakfasted and on the bus by 9am the next morning. There was an awful lot of sleeping on the bus that morning. First stop was Glencoe, scene of the infamous Glencoe massacre. We were in a deep valley, also known as 'The Weeping Glen' because of the huge amount of tiny rivers and waterfalls that come down the slopes into the valley. It was stunningly beautiful in the misty morning. I have noticed with so many photos, but particularly today, that the quality of the picture just can never, ever replicate what I am seeing. A 2D print can't possibly convey the scope of the landscape and its a real shame because I want to preserve my memories as best I can.

We drove down through the Highlands along a road that the drovers used to use. We stopped at a small inn, really far away from many other things, and got to HANDFEED CARROTS TO WILD DEER. Ugh. Amazing. There was this enormous stag, and it was totally Harry Potter's dad, I could see it in it's eyes, and a smaller female deer, who the stag was kind of bullying, just taking all the carrots for himself. I kept surreptiously chucking carrots and the lady deer so she could have a bit. We actually didn't get close enough to hand feed them, but they stood right in front of us and ate the carrots we put on the ground. Our guide, however, was familiar enough with them to feed them. It was one of the coolest wildlife experiences I've ever had. We went inside the inn, which was really cosy and adorable and had tea and coffee. I started reading one of the second-hand books on their bookshelf and was enjoying it so I asked if I could buy it from them. The lady told me just to take it, which was really sweet of her.

As we drove back to Edinburgh, we saw a lot of beautiful scenery, as is quite common in Scotland of course, and we heard about a walk called the West Highland Walk. It's 96 miles and stretches from just above Glasgow to Fort William, and if I am one day lucky enough to be that fit, I am most definitely giving that a go. It usually takes 5-10 days, depending on your pace, so its something to aspire to once my back has sorted itself out. We also listened to some amazing music. Our playlist has varied widely over the last week, but today Dan played us some really stirring and patriotic Scottish music that almost brings a tear to your eye. (It certainly brought a tear to the eye of one Haggis tour guide who we were told about and who shall remain nameless because he is a big, tough man). The songs were 'Caledonia' by Dougie MacLean and a traditional folk ballad called 'The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond' (I THINK the version we listened to was by Runrig). The story behind 'Loch Lomond' and the different interpretation of the lyrics are really interesting. You should look it up! They are both really lovely, emotive songs.

We also spent a large portion of the bus ride watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which remains as hilarious as it ever was. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. We stopped at Duone Castle, which was used for various parts of the film and every year holds a 'Monty Python Day'. It was shut unfortunately, but we got some good snaps. We also stopped at Callandar for a quick lunch and Dan took us off the beaten track to a place he personally loves - a beautiful loch called Loch Katrine. We went for a long walk up one side of the loch and took more photos and read about the faeries that live there. Sir Walter Scott's poem 'The Lady of the Lake' was inspired by Loch Katrine, in particular a fugitive woman named Ellen (Helen) Stewart, who hid on an island in the middle of the loch, now known as 'Ellen's Isle'. Schubert's 'Ave Maria' also draws from this story.

Our last stop was in the town of Stirling, where we saw the beautiful Stirling Castle atop it's hill and the river that runs through the town. This was the scene of William Wallace's epic defeat of the English and there is an absolutely huge monument dedicated to him. It's quite a trek up to the monument and my legs were definitely feeling the strain. The views of Stirling when you get to the top are just stunning and you can see the entire town. We didn't go in the monument because it was closed but I got some good pics. We arrived back in Edinburgh about 6.30pm and checked into the High Street Hostel. We got into our room - 'The Lord of the Rings'. My bed is called 'Frodo', Sean is in 'Samwise'. Upon arrival, our ears were assaulted by the most bloodcurdling screams from the room next door. We listened for a bit, trying to describe if the screams were those of frivolity, passion or genuine terror. We couldn't really decide, but I was way too nervous that someone was actually having the stuffing kicked out of them, so we went down to reception and let them know. When we got back upstairs, there was actually bashing on the walls accompanying the screams, so we then asked to move rooms for the night. Reception went up to check later and apparently the screams were of an overly enthusiastic amorous nature, but I still think it sounded like someone was being slowly tortured. So we were in a much less ear-splitting dorm for the night, with some lovely people including an Aussie guy and an American who had been on exchange in Stirling. We had a burger at the hostel with a lovely woman, Janet, who had been on the tour with us, and she showed us a lovely quiet pub where we had a pint before bed. Janet has been travelling on her own for 9 months, really without any kind of plan, just going through Europe and Asia, and my goodness she had some great stories.

This morning we woke up and moved rooms, did washing (yessssss, clean clothes) and attempted some organisational emails etc. We were in St Giles Cathedral by 12noon for a daily service in which they read some passages from the Bible and say prayers for 15 minutes. It was so good to finally be at a church service again, and it was really peaceful sitting in this enormous, ancient cathedral, surrounded by so much beauty. Janet joined us for the service too, which was nice. Then we ran to Tesco's for some groceries before realising we were actually quite tired, and crashing in the hostel common room for an hour or so. Janet went off to meet her couch surfing host eventually and Sean and I walked to the train station to get our seat reservations for the train to Cardiff tomorrow. Dad also called to say hi and it was so good to hear his voice! Made my day :) I quickly ducked into the Writer's Museum, which is free, and in a gorgeous old house in Lady Stair's Close (it was actually Lady Stair's house). It focuses on the work of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. I decided not to go through it the whole way until I actually had proper time - next time I am in Edinburgh, whenever that may be. I washed my hair for the first time in 3 or 4 days and my goodness, that felt good, then my wonderful and talented man cooked an amazing chicken and rice dish for dinner. That was also a great feeling - eating food we had cooked ourselves, with a few vegetables chucked in. Then we hightailed it down to Greyfriars Kirkyard to meet our tour group for the Potter Trail, which is, you guessed it, a Harry Potter tour through Edinburgh! Our guide was extremely enthusiastic and gave us all wands to carry with us for the night. He took us through Greyfriars, as we had already done with the Sandemans tour, but we saw one gravestone we hadn't noticed before - that of Elizabeth Moodie...perhaps an inspiration for the name Alastor Moody? Then we walked down to McEwan Hall, where the students of Edinburgh Uni (including JK Rowling) graduate. Throughout the tour, our guide gave us some great information about JK Rowling and the development of the series. Being an uber-geek, I pretty much knew all of it, but it was nice to hear it in context. He also gave us some history of witchcraft in Edinburgh and some figures that may have inspired certain characters, such as Miss Jean Brodie (she is fictional, but could have inspired McGonagall) and a creepy schoolteacher whose name escapes me who used love potions to woo his beloved (Snape). We saw JK Rowlings handprints outside City Chambers to commemorate her Edinburgh Award and we saw the Elephant House Cafe and the Spoon Cafe Bistro (formally Nicholson's Cafe) where JK Rowling wrote the books. We also went to Edinburgh Castle, where JK Rowling hosted a party to launch Half Blood Prince and learned more about witchcraft at the Witches Well, which was created by the painter John Duncan in honour of all the innocents who were falsely accused of witchcraft and executed over the centuries. We also saw Victoria Street, a twisty little road, thought to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley. It was a fun tour, and not too long - an hour and a half - and it was tips-based. After the tour finished we toyed with the idea of going to see a movie, but ended up just coming back to the hostel to chill. Tomorrow we have a long train ride to Cardiff!


Thursday, 8 March 2012


After a dreadful night's sleep (I've had some sort of terrible reaction to my anti-inflammatories and my back is doubly sore) we hopped back onto the bus and went to Eilean Donan Castle to actually look inside. I was feeling so rotten I actually gave it a pass to sit on the bus instead, but it saved me 4 quid so it wasn't all bad. After this we drove a long way to Fort William, but I slept for most of it which was better. Fort William is Britain's wettest city because it's right under Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak, which really draws in the clouds. And it was perfectly demonstrating it today. It bucketed down for most of today. It didn't stop us getting a nice lunch in Fort William and when we got back on the bus we braved the weather and went to THE HARRY POTTER BRIDGE!!! It's a viaduct, the oldest in Britain (I think...) and the Hogwarts Express crosses it!! I had to walk up a muddy, rocky path in the rain, but I would do it again dammit! It was amazing :) After this we stopped at Inverlochy Castle, which are just ruins which are free to walk around. Again, it was rainy and muddy, but it didn't stop us and it was really cool to see. Then we drove to Oban Backpackers where will be spending the night. Oban is a little fishing village and we had some of the best fish and chips I have ever tasted tonight for dinner. Tonight we are going to a traditional Ceilidh pub for traditional dancing and music. I am so tired, but I don't want to miss this, so I am going for a bit.

Isle of Skye

Today we travelled from Fort Augustus at Loch Ness to the Isle of Skye. We made a few wee stops along the way, firstly to take pictures of a loch in the shape of Scotland, the most photographed loch of all, apparently. (Also, I forgot to mention the scenery we drove through yesterday was where J.M Barrie grew up, and is speculated to have been inspiration for Never Land.) We then saw the Five Sisters of Kintail and have spent the day dodging storms. Some rather spectacular hail descended on us in Skye, bookended by brilliant sunshine. It reminded me fiercely of Melbourne. We did have some wonderful walks up the moors, despite nearly being blown over the cliffs several times. There were a few slips and a lot of mud. We saw two castles today Eilean Donan Castle and Castle Moil. We saw a lot of countryside where the movie 'Stardust' was shot and a few brave souls, including me, dipped our faces in a river (I will also have to look up the name) which keeps you beautiful. Sweet. This is close to a giant hill (it's pretty much a small mountain) that hosts a competition every year to see who can run up the top of the mountain and back the fastest. The record is a mindblowing 42 minutes. We had lunch and a quick pint in Portree before heading back to our hostel for the night. We stopped at Kilt Rock on the way, which are beautiful cliffs that look like the pleats on a man's kilt. A giant sat there to think, and the weight of him made the imprints in the cliff face. Our hostel is close to the mainland, a place called Saucy Mary's and there will be more live music tonight, though I don't know how long I will last!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Inverness and everything in between

It's 7.05pm here and it feels about 4 hours later. We have had another really full day and we're all exhausted (in a good way). We were up and breakfasted and on the bus by 9am. We just did a day trip and are staying the night at Morag's Lodge tonight as well. We drove up one side of Loch Ness to Inverness and back down the other side back to the hostel. Our first stop was a little town called Invermoriston (we learned today that 'inver' means 'at the mouth of the river'. Hence, Invermoriston is at the mouth of the river Moriston, and Inverness is at the mouth of the river Ness). At Invermoriston we took photos with some resident hairy coos (Highland cattle, officially the greatest looking animals ever) and went for a wee walk down to some waterfalls. After this we had two short stops, one to take pics of Urquhart Castle and one a bit further down the road to go to a 'Nessie' gift shop, full of the cheesiest Loch Ness souvenirs you can imagine, and to see a big purple sculpture of Nessie on the bank. We also did an ancient and mystical ritual to summon the monster from the deep, that involved slapping our knees, pelvic-thrusting, and shouting stupidly. It was lots of fun. After this we drove to the Culloden Battlefield, the site of a terrible and bloody battle between the Jacobites and the English government that pretty much wiped out the Highlander clans. Despite the fact we were uncomfortably cold, this was an interesting place to walk around. It is essentially a mass grave, and monuments have been erected in the centuries since so it remains a place of solemnity. In nicer weather, I would like to walk further around here. After this, we drove to the Clava cairns, which are man-made burial chambers of stone that date back 4000 years. The architecture of these is mind-blowing; people 4000 years ago were able to make a structure that has never collapsed, perfectly in line for the winter solstice. Amazing. (Oh! Oh! And I saw a wild deer today. I also saw some on the way from Munich to Italy, but this one was much closer, bounding up a little hill.) Our final stop before Inverness was a clootie well, which is basically a well that's been around for centuries, believed to have healing properties. They were often near a church and thought to contain holy water. People would take a piece of cloth or clothing from the sick person, dip it in the well, and tie it to a nearby tree. As the cloth disintegrated, it was believed the illness too, would fade away. As a result, the forest surrounding this clootie well was FILLED with pieces of cloth. It looked fantastic, all full of colours, but it was really freaky, standing in the middle of a forest full of sick people's clothing. After this, we popped into Inverness for a leisurely and extremely filling lunch, before coming back down the other side of Loch Ness to the hostel. We only stopped once to take some quick photos because the wind had gotten a bit cold. We had chilli for dinner at the hostel and tonight will be treated to the smooth tunes of Donald from Skye, who is known round these parts as the human iPod. He has a harmonica, a guitar, a tambourine on one foot, and a microphone to use as a bass drum on the other foot and apparently does roaring renditions of such classics as 'Umbrella' by Rihanna, 'Sex on Fire' by Kings of Leon and 'Donald, where are your Troosers?' by Andy Stewart. Sweet!

Haggis and whiskey

This morning began early, but I was impressed at how fast Sean and I got up, dressed and ready. We met our Haggis Tour up the street, checked in and were on the road before 9am. We have one guide/driver, along with a trainee guide and two even babier trainee guides. Our first stop was the Firth of Forth near Fife, and the enormous Forth Bridge. Next was Dunkeld, with it's beautiful cathedral and tasty bakery. We drove about a minute down the road and went 'for a wee stomp' down to The Hermitage walk and waterfalls, which was quite picturesque and peaceful. Next was a quick stop in the town of Pitlochry, where I got ice-cream despite the weather. And I found a Christmas shop for Mum to visit! After this we went on a 45 minute tour of the Blair Athol whiskey distillery, taken by a really friendly guy who explained to us in detail about the process of making whiskey. And we saw otter footprints in the river of spring water! Afterwards we were treated to a complimentary 'wee dram' of 12-year-old Blair Athol single malt whiskey and it was incredibly fiery but smooth.

Then we drove to another picturesque walking trail Strathmashie Forest. It looks like Sherwood Forest (or, how I imagine Sherwood Forest to look) and is really lovely. The whole day on the coach we either had music playing, or one of the guides telling us about some Scottish culture and history. We stopped by Loch Laggan, where they film 'Monarch of the Glen' and drove to the Commando Memorial for soldiers who died in the war and where you can see Ben Nevis, Britain's tallest mountain. After this we drove to Fort Augustus, our home for the next two nights on the banks of Loch Ness!! Too exciting! We were dropped at the Clansmans Centre, where our host, Ken, taught us about the history of the Scottish clans and the way they lived and battled. And dressed. We were seated in a hut (I've forgotten the word for it) about 7 metres by 3 metres. Often there would be around 20 people living in it, plus livestock during the night. It had a dirt floor and a roof that leaked when it rained and about a million other disgustingly unhygienic features that would have made life quite a bit more difficult than it is today. Ken took us through a detailed lesson in how to wear a kilt using my ever-patient (and de-trousered) boyfriend who modelled it for us. A girl in our group also modelled the women's outfit and they looked extremely dashing. We were told after that the exact costumed worn by Sean and this other girl were worn by Mel Gibson, Guy Ritchie and Madonna. Wooo. Ken then gave us a particularly terrifying and gruesome lesson on weapons, using actual antiques that had been used in battle and killed people. Freaky stuff. These weapons are extremely heavy, but the people who used them would have been much fitter and stronger than us, having been used to a life of hard labour since they were children.

After our clan lesson, we walked to Morag's Lodge, our hostel. We had Balmoral Chicken for dinner, which was Queen Victoria's favourite dish. It is chicken stuffed with haggis in whiskey sauce with tatties (potatoes) and vegies. It was so good. I can't believe I am saying this about haggis, but it really tasted nice. It tasted like slightly spicy mincemeat, and I would definitely have it again. After dinner there was a very long and involved pub quiz that involved lots of music and antics and Sean taking his top off, which means the tour has pretty much seen all of him before the end of the first day. We're leaving early for Inverness tomorrow, so I'm off to bed now!

Wee ghosties

Last night we went on the Ghost Tour with Alan Sharp, a guy who has published books on freaky, paranormal activity in Edinburgh and looks like a cross between Hagrid and Braveheart. He was incredibly entertaining and informative. We began on the cursed North Bridge and made our way to the Old Calton Cemetery, that has an uber-freaky gravestone in it with a face on it in the dark. It was also next to the Old Calton Cemetery, right behind the wall where executions took place. This is, funnily enough, the most haunted part of the cemetery. Here, we heard about two unfortunate graverobbers who dug up a body to sell to the medical school. They went to saw off her fingers, because they couldn't get the rings off the corpse, when the corpse started screaming. She had been in a coma, and amputation was clearly severe enough to jolt her out of it. Ew. Then we headed up Calton Hill, which is apparently the entrance to the Scottish faerie realm. We learned about the Fairy Boy of Leith, as well as some more nasty types of Scottish faeries - the Red Cap, the Kelpie and the Half-Man. Further up the hill was the site of many witch-burnings, back in the day. Here we heard about a particularly creepy man called Major Thomas Weir and I saw my first shooting star!! The tour finished in the Canongate Kirkyard, where the supposed 'lover' of Mary, Queen of Scots is buried. Also, somewhere in an unmarked grave, is the mad Earl of Drumlanrig who ate an unfortunate scullery boy. Disgusting. Then we all went for a complimentary drink and argued about sport and Australian movies before going back to the hostel and bed!

Sunday, 4 March 2012


Okay, so I know I've said that I could easily live in Paris or London because I adore those cities so much, but Edinburgh is coming really close to beating both of them. When I was in the UK four years ago, I only came to Edinburgh for one day, and I knew instantly that I'd be back. Now I'm here I am kicking myself that I haven't booked a longer stay. This place is amazing. We are staying in a great hostel on Blackfriars Rd, just off the Royal Mile in the Old Town, easily the most picturesque part of the city. This morning we woke up in time to join a Sandemans walking tour and had a great guide called Neale (a Scotsman) take us around the city for 3 hours. We started on the Royal Mile where we saw the City Chambers and the Mercat Cross, the centre of the market where royal proclamations were made and thieves were nailed by their ears so people could come and throw rotten vegetables at them. We saw the beautiful St Giles Cathedral (I went back in the afternoon to go inside and lit a candle for my family. I couldn't take any pics but if I have enough next weekend, I'll buy a guidebook).

We saw the Heart of Midlothian, a heart made of cobblestones in the ground, which marks the site of the old toll booth and prison; as a result, Edinburgh citizens regularly spit on it. We saw a statue of the great philosopher, David Hume, and Lady Stair's Close, where Robert Burns lived and is now home to a Writer's Museum - one more for the itinerary! We walked down to Grassmarket for a tea break and heard about Burke and Hare, enterprising murderers, and Maggie Dickson, who was hanged for concealing a pregnancy. After her body had been cut down and put in a coffin, they drove her to a cemetery, but she woke up on the way there and lived for another forty years. After our break we went to the beautiful Greyfriars Kirkyard. Here we learnt about a loyal little dog named Greyfriars Bobby, who patrolled the streets of Edinburgh with his master, John Gray. When John Gray died, Greyfriars Bobby sat at his gravestone every day for twelve years. James Brown (not the King of Soul, a different guy) fed Bobby and looked after him during this time and is buried close by. There is also a monument, of course, to Greyfriars Bobby. This cemetery also provided J K Rowling with inspiration for the Harry Potter novels. McGonagall is buried here, as is the master of all evil, TOM RIDDLE!! Freaky stuff people, freaky stuff. Our lovely and obliging guide trooped up and down to show us rabid Harry fans the names on the stones. Just beyond the cemetery, you can see George Heriot's School which, combined with Edinburgh Castle, is the inspiration for Hogwarts. This cemetery also holds several additional unusual things - firstly, there are two 'mortsafes', which are low-lying structures that are like cages. They are to deter graverobbers, and were available to lease until your body had decomposed enough to be of no use to graverobbers. You were then moved to your own grave. Secondly, there is the haunted tomb of George Mackenzie. His spirit is said to have caused cuts and bruises on the arms of visitors who get too near. In 2003, an exorcist hired by the council declared the ghost 'too powerful' to exorcise. Right.

We then walked past The Elephant House Cafe, which is the birthplace of Harry Potter!! A quietly elated and intensely emotional moment followed. We then walked to the Princes Street Gardens, getting caught in a sudden hailstorm on the way. It felt just like Melbourne, and it had cleared up into brilliant sunshine within the hour. Yep. Melbourne. At the gardens, which were incredible beautiful, hail or no hail, Neale told us about the Stone of Scone, the coronation stone of Scottish monarchs. It has a long and colourful history, involving a lengthy stay at Westminster Abbey until it was stolen back by a group of university students in the 1950's. It's well worth looking this up on wikipedia - it's an incredibly interesting story. After this, the tour ended, but most of us followed our guide to a pub where you could get cheap meals. The people we met and sat with at the pub (international students from Preston - an American, a German, a Colombian and a girl from Finland...a Finlandian??) tried haggis and said it was nice...that it tasted a bit like shepherd's pie....hmmmm...I'm sure I'll get plenty of chances to try it this week, so I'll have a think about it...

After the tour, we headed back to the hostel, bought soup for dinner, I washed my hair and organised my blogs and pics and tonight we are going on a ghost tour! Spooky times. Then up really early to get on our Haggis Tour. Yay!!

Saturday, 3 March 2012


This morning Andrew cooked up a storm and we had a huge meal of bacon, eggs, sausages, beans, tomatoes and toast before Belinda and Andrew drove us to Liverpool Lime St. We spent most of the day on the train, changing at York to reach Edinburgh by about 4.30pm. The scenery was gorgeous; we through mountains and moors and along the tops of cliffs with the sea crashing underneath us. And I listened to my iPod heaps. It was very atmospheric. We are staying in the Old Town, thank goodness, as it is so unbelievably picturesque. We found our hostel quickly, and its our first time on this whole trip that we are sharing with strangers. However, the other people in our room have proved to be really nice. There is an Irish guy and an Australian girl who have both moved over here to look for work and Sean and I went for dinner with the Aussie girl. There is a great restaurant/bar in the hostel with some really decent meals. Then Sean and I went for a walk up the Royal Mile to the castle, looking in at a bar and watching tour guides with their tours. I am really quite tired, so I won't have a late night tonight, but we want to do a walking tour tomorrow and maybe the castle. Talk soon!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Crosby Beach

Our last full day in Liverpool! I actually surfaced before 9.30 today so I had time to Skype Dad for his birthday, then I headed to the doctor to just make sure I wasn't going to kill myself by accidentally taking too much ibuprofen for my back. Apparently I won't. Yay! Then Sean and I walked down to Crosby Beach to see Antony Gormley's 'Another Place' which are a series of cast-iron sculptures (100 in total) of men that stretch for 2km down the beach. It was beautiful, and not quite like anything I've ever seen before. Then we stopped for a truly epic hot chocolate (it was drowned in whipped cream and marshmellows and involved a mug of hot milk and a block of milk chocolate on a stick. You melt the block in the milk and it's delicious) and scrambled eggs, before heading back to the house to do some washing and veging out. When Andrew and Lucia got home, we took Luce for a quick grocery run and Andrew cooked an amazing roast for dinner. After dinner - more tea and conversation! I will miss this nightly routine greatly.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Waterstones is my favourite

Another glorious day, involving a sleep-in, washing my hair, breakfast at a lovely cafe and a two-hour trip to Waterstones (including actual purchases! Exciting!). We also did productive things, like buying toiletries and booking our train to Edinburgh and registering me as a temporary resident so I can go to the doctor tomorrow about my dicky back. Then Sean and I met up with Belinda and had curry for dinner before seeing A Streetcar Named Desire at the Liverpool Playhouse. I really enjoyed it, and that play is a favourite of mine, so I am usually hard to please. I thought Blanche was the standout, but Sam Troughton played Stanley and I have never seen him play a role like that, so that was enjoyable. And Monica from Shameless was Eunice! A grand evening all round. Also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!! I love you!