Category Archives: Travel

The Swanage Railway

I seem to have this memory from being a child under 8 years old of visiting the Swanage Railway and finding the steam trains there kind of magical.

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I travel on trains quite a lot – living in Ascot where no one else lives, you have to travel to see your friends – so you wouldn’t think rail travel would be that special to me.

Well, you’d be wrong.

At the end of March, I visited Dorset for Easter and my sister’s Hen Party and wedding (which were all fantastic!). These events meant that I was in Dorset for the better part of eleven days, which felt like my longest bout of freedom for a very long time. I therefore needed something to fill my time in between those exciting events and my memories of steam engines in the Dorset countryside came to mind.

Something I hadn’t realised until recently is that you can get the steam train from Swanage to Corfe Castle and back, which provides an excellent platform for a day out.

Having done this trip now as a twentysomething, I have to say I can’t recommend it enough. We parked in Swanage and walked over to the train station, just in time to catch the 11:20 train over to Corfe Castle. We went right to the front of the train and found these awesome Hogwarts-style compartments which we sat in, undisturbed by anyone other than the ticket officer (and not a Dementor in sight).

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At Corfe Castle station there is a museum which is pretty cool and retro; definitely worth a look, even if it’s just for 5 minutes while you wait for a train. The castle itself is a short walk from the station and, as a member of the National Trust, entry was free which is a huge bonus for a day out.

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There are some incredible views of the surrounding area, including a good viewpoint to watch the steam train chug off into the distance. For children, as with all National Trust properties, there is loads to do, including a little treasure hunt with facts about the castle. For adults, it’s fun to explore and on a beautiful day, like we had, there is so much to see. We’re total history geeks, but I think non-history geeks would have a great time too.

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There are quite a few places to eat in Corfe Castle, or you can head back to Swanage to spend more of your day exploring the town and enjoying the beach there. Instead, we took the ferry over from the Purbecks to Poole and went to the Kitchen at Poole Park for a late lunch which was totally delicious.

All in all it was a perfect day out and I can’t wait for my next visit so I can explore more of my childhood memories on the Jurassic Coast.

 

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Leaving Australia

P1000809Firstly, so many apologies for not writing anything on here for such a long time, I’ve had a really busy couple of months, which leads me to the subject of this post. I left Australia in February and I have been trying to get my head around what to do next ever since then.

I regretted my decision as soon as I got on the plane.

In fact, I think I had been regretting it much longer than that, but I couldn’t really change anything.

I decided I wanted to leave Australia at the beginning of December and within a week I had booked my ticket – it was very similar to how quickly I had decided to go to Australia in the first place. Thinking about things too much tends to make you regret those things, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing.

I had been talking about the possibility of going home for a couple of weeks and I couldn’t shake that feeling – friends at work kept coming up to me and saying ‘I heard you’re thinking of leaving, whyyyy?’ and at that time I thought it was strange because it was only a subconscious thing that I had mentioned to a couple of people. The more I thought about it though, the more I couldn’t shake the feeling. Something about England was calling me back and I didn’t know what.

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In the back of my mind, I had always had this idea to come home in February to surprise my dad for his birthday. The idea of travelling home without my family’s knowledge was exciting and being home for my dad’s birthday would be great.  When I looked at the flights, tickets seemed impossibly cheap and I took it as a sign. I thought that if I waited to be talked out of it, the tickets would go up in price and I needed to make a decision.

Another reason for leaving was that my contract with Octopus would have been up at the end of January and there was no guarantee of more work. I could either try my luck at getting my seasonal work out of the way – so that I could come back to Australia in the future for a second year of working holiday – or I could stay in Melbourne until July (when my first visa will end) and go home without the option to come back. One thing Florence and I discussed obsessively during this time was the need to get on with our lives; that being in Australia was great but we were somewhat in limbo because we couldn’t get permanent jobs there as we were not residents and it meant that we were just waiting until it was time to go home and get on with our lives.

P1000690One thing I found in Australia which I hadn’t really thought about before I left was that I was just having a constant holiday (oh I know, how terrible) but it meant that I was lackadaisical about work and didn’t work enough for what I was managing to spend each month – I didn’t factor in that I would need to earn money for rent; my savings couldn’t pay for it forever. It got to the point that even when I was working six days a week, I wouldn’t earn enough to do anything other than sit in my house and watch TV. I could have scouted around for other jobs that would give me more consistent shifts, but I would come up with the same problem I had when I first got there; I wasn’t a resident so people were reluctant to employ me.

Unfortunately, as soon as I booked my flight, I started having the absolute best time – I was living in South Yarra, which I much preferred to the Darling house and loved my housemates Lauren and Amy, I was hardly ever working, so I spent so much time at Port Melbourne beach soaking up vitamin D, I had a great Christmas with Erin’s family in Adelaide and I had a great group of friends around me, with whom I spent all of my spare time. The more I knew I had to let go of Melbourne, the more it clung to me until, on the 10th February, I said goodbye to our sweet little South Yarra apartment and was borne away by Amir and Florence to the airport.

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I actually had a bit of a stressful time getting onto the plane – I was informed, when I went to check-in, that my bags were overweight by 7kg. I would be allowed to have 2 free kgs but I would have to pay $150 per extra kilo. I did not have that kind of money so I panicked, but rational Lucy had been quite clever and included a folded up canvas bag in my hand luggage which I was able to transfer some heavy items into. With an hour and 10 minutes to go before my flight, I lined up in the passport control queue and waited, becoming more anxious with every second that passed. I was somehow convinced that I would miss my plane as the queue was talking longer than the time they allotted for it.

After 50 minutes, I went through to duty-free to find that my flight had been delayed – all that anxiety for nothing. Fortunately we were not delayed by long and I boarded the flight. I love flying with Qatar Airways; along with Singapore Airlines, they are my favourite airline. On both flights I had two free seats to myself and I was able to sleep for most of the time.

I arrived back in the UK after just under 24 hours of travelling and was met by Rachael who I used to live with before I left for Australia. This delay in catching a train to Weymouth was a great opportunity to catch up with Rachael, Steve and my almost-2-years-old godson Samuel. After spending a couple of hours with them, they gave me a lift to the train station. 4 hours and 2 changes later, I arrived in Weymouth, Dorset, where I caught a cab to my house, hoping someone was home as I had packed my house keys in the wrong bag.P1000840

None of the cars were there when I got home, so I did panic for a second that no one would be in to greet me and I’d have to wait even longer for my surprise. However, the door was open and my dogs came to greet me at the door (one of which I had never met) and they dragged me up the stairs where my mum was sitting doing some work in my sister’s room at the top of the house.

Needless to say there was screaming AND crying involved, although she swears she knew I was in the UK/coming home so that was nice. Next to surprise was my brother who was just coming home from work; he did actually look quite surprised which is nice. The final surprise of the day was for my dad who I surprised as he came in the door from band practice. He looked very shell-shocked but was very pleased to see me so it was a lovely welcome home.P1000829

We planned to keep the secret from my sister, Emily, until she visited the next day for my dad’s birthday and I honestly wish I had filmed it. Seriously, the video would have gone viral. Emily is absolutely gorgeous but she really is an ugly crier and the surprise and delight that was brought about by seeing me just showed up all over her face, as well as a high pitched scream which totally freaked the dogs out.

All in all it is pretty great being home but I miss Australia so much. My time there won’t stop me from going back, in fact it will only work to encourage me. My visa runs out next week so I unfortunately won’t be going back there to live but I’m enjoying being back in the UK for the moment and working out what my next adventure will be.

The Australian Open

P1000729I have always loved tennis. It probably sprouted from Wimbledon always being on in the background at home during the Championships and the hypnotic draw that the dull thud of a tennis ball on a racquet creates. From there, I would always yearn for us to play tennis at school during the summer months, but my school seemed to place much more importance on athletics, which I really had no interest in. A couple of friends of mine encouraged my interest in tennis during my teenage years and even let me hit a ball with them a few of times. 

My interest, however, really was in watching rather than playing, despite a couple of summers of coaching and casual games with friends and family members. Every year when Wimbledon came around, my whole attention would be on the tennis whether I was watching it at home on the TV, at school on a live stream or following the Twitter feeds whilst out and about. An interest that started with Wimbledon soon developed to span all of the Grand Slams and impacted some of my fictional writing too.

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The first year I really followed the Australian Open was in 2013 when Andy Murray reached the final for the third time. I’d followed Murray’s success almost constantly that year, along with the rest of the British public, willing him to get the country out of its tennis depression. I remember staying up until the early hours of the morning keeping track of the match and finally going to sleep after he was defeated by Novak Djokovic in four sets. I didn’t follow tennis as much during 2014 as it was a pretty hectic year from me; more responsibility at work and then moving to Australia meant that I didn’t have time to follow tennis thoroughly and therefore only paid attention via Twitter.

During December a friendship with a professional tennis player, John-Patrick (JP) Smith, reaffirmed my interest in tennis as I was able to watch him during the Wildcard Playoffs at Melbourne Park. A couple of friends had also approached me as someone who would come to the Open with them, as it was too hard to miss when living only 10 minutes away from Richmond, where the tournament is held.

One thing I have been impressed with since the start of the Australian Open is the sheer amount of Australian tennis players taking part. In the main draw, 10 Australian tennis players started out, and while one only made it to the second week, I think this speaks volumes of the wealth of tennis brilliance that will come from Australia in the coming years. The UK could really take note from Australia in the quest to produce players of a high enough standard to enter Grand Slams.

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I made a decision to attend the Open at the end of the first week as there would still be a lot of big names in the tournament and not all necessarily playing in the main arenas, where I, as a poor traveller, would be unable to afford a ticket. I instead opted for the 3-day ground pass, which allows you access to any of the courts other than the Rod Laver and Margaret Court Arenas.

To be honest, the first day was fairly intimidating. After watching JP and his doubles partner Omar win their first match, the heat of the day was beginning to get to us slightly. We therefore took cover in a nearby tent and rehydrated before making a plan as to who we would watch next. The problem with this was that all of the courts were in brilliant sunshine and because of the number of Australians playing that day; all the courts were essentially full with spectators.

P1000731We spent some time in the Garden Square where there is a big screen set up, which plays matches from the main arenas, just like Henman Hill at Wimbledon. Murray was playing, so we were content with sitting there for a while before making our next move. I wasn’t what we would call ‘enthused’ by the half of the draw we could have watched that day as there were a lot of new names there. We actually called it a day pretty early and I made the ten minute journey home, out of the heat and into my house where I could watch the matches unfolding in the main arena.

P1000747Day 4 (my day 2) was much more promising as John Isner was up on Show Court 2 at 11am, the first match of the day. Since winning the longest match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, I’ve had a soft spot for him. Isner beat Andreas Haider-Maurer in four sets, sending him through to the third round. Later that day, on the same court, I also watched Ferrer win against Sergiy Stakhovsky in four sets along with a women’s singles match. Being able to watch top ten players at the Australian Open was one of my highlights.

The next day was even better. JP and Omar were first up on Court 6; playing against Jamie Murray and his doubles partner John Peers. This was rather a conflict of interests as I had to decide whether to support a fellow Brit or back the Aussies. The underdogs won my support but unfortunately lost the match against the no. 16 seeds.P1000756

It was Friday at the Open and Day 5 so things were getting interesting. So many punters were coming through the doors and people were clearly desperate to get the best seats in the house. I thought it best to make my way over to Hisense Arena as soon as possible so that I could at least get a seat in time for Andy Murray’s match against Joao Sousa. Before their match began, there were two women’s tennis matches taking place. I’m not usually a fan of women’s tennis but watching it at the Australian Open gave me a better appreciation of it.

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The arena filled up during the afternoon, not only due to Murray’s match but also because, later that evening, there was an all Australian showdown to be played between Tomic and Groth. I was joined by two middle-aged Aussies who had links with the Australian Tennis League and they provided me with interesting conversation throughout the match as well as inviting me to join them again at the Open on the following Monday.

Murray won in straight sets and I left with the crowds to make the short journey back to my house to tune in to the evening sessions on Margaret Court and Rod Lever.

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Overall my three-day experience at the Australian Open was the best I could have hoped for and living so close to Richmond madeseem as if I was always in the thick of it. I must commend the organisers on how well they accommodate the punters and feel as if the other Grand Slams could really learn something from the ticketing system. I would recommend investing in a ticket, even if you are not particularly interested in tennis as the atmosphere and quality of tennis is enough to make you a complete enthusiast.

I really admire Melbourne for its sporting events, not only for the importance of AFL, but cricket and soccer also play an important part in Melbourne life. For anyone living in or visiting Melbourne, I would encourage getting along to some sporting events; find a footy team and really gun for them (ehm… Geelong), watch cricket at the MCG and get involved with the crowd at a Melbourne Victory match.

 

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Melbourne for Free

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Being a traveller means that you may not always have money. I know this to be the truth, especially over the Christmas period when you take time off work/work in hospitality and therefore are given no work until after January when the world has recovered from Christmas over-spending. During this time, then, it is prudent to find things to do for free. Luckily Melbourne, being such a diverse and cultural city, has so many things to do for free when money is tight.

The first free activity is something I have touched upon a couple of times before; Geocaching. Geocaching is like a worldwide treasure hunt which uses GPS in order to locate hidden treasure in random places you may never have thought to look. The treasure consists of waterproof containers with trinkets and cards inside which you can trade. You can also leave the treasure untouched and simply fill in the log book with your Geocaching name. There is a whole online world devoted to Geocaching where you can record your finds electronically, post a new location or review a cache that you have been lucky enough to find.P1000461

The caches are rated from 1-5 in difficulty and the person who planted the cache will leave tips or sometimes obscure clues on how to find the hidden treasure. With the use of an app on her iPhone, Stef has found almost 100 caches all around the world and got Dayna and myself hooked on it when we were looking for something to do one day. We spent around three hours wandering around the South Yarra area finding just under 20 caches in one day. It took us all over the suburb and to some incredibly obscure places, including one cache that was disguised as a boulder in a rock garden.P1000474

I recommend Geocaching on a sunny day, and remember to take some hand-sanitizer with you as you may well have to put your hand in some pretty disgusting places. For more information on Geocaching, and to look for caches in your area, head to https://www.geocaching.com/play.

If you are in Melbourne during December and are interested in tennis, may I recommend the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs? This is an exhibition of Australian tennis players who are outside the world’s top 100 competing for a wildcard for a place in the main draw at the Australian Open. Not only is it a great way to showcase young tennis players, it also gives them a chance to play in conditions they may not be used to playing in, on the iconic Melbourne Park blue tennis courts.

P1000653The location of these playoffs great; with the city looming over in the background and within easy reach of the city by train and tram and the time of year means that the weather will be pretty fantastic while you watch. On the day of the final this year, temperatures reached 33°C, and for a match that lasted about five hours, that was some intense heat to be sitting in for that long. I would therefore recommend bringing as much water as you can carry along with sun cream and an umbrella under which you can take cover from the sun.

One place I would say is completely underrated in Melbourne is Port Melbourne beach. Many people talk about St Kilda and how much there is to do there and how great it is, but actually St Kilda is filled with tourists and the beach there isn’t especially good. In St Kilda, I find you can’t walk for all the tourists which means that you find much of your time is spent becoming frustrated by the crowd. Port Melbourne is closer to the city than St Kilda is and much less busy so a more enjoyable place to be all around. There isn’t a great deal to do there but when you are trying not to spend money, that’s actually a very good thing.

If you are willing to branch out a spend some money on food, Bay Street is packed with good restaurants and bars, including Hunky Dory, a fish and chip shop with an enormous selection of fish, salads and combo packs for you to choose from. You can dine in or out depending on your mood and it’s a great place for people-watching.

P1000802From my new place in South Yarra, not only are we quite near to the city, but we are also close to the river and several places between here and the city are not only free, but also quite good vantage points from which to see the city. The Royal Botanic Gardens are one such place. It seems that Botanic Gardens are an easy feature of most cities; they provide tranquillity away from busy city life, but also give a refreshing garden scape in the sight of the urban jungle.

If you are someone who likes to read, or like to look at trees (there is an abundance of trees), the Botanic Gardens are the place for you. They’re free to enter, have activities going on all the time and there are ample places for you to sit and read, contemplate or create. The Melbourne skyline is visible over the trees and creates quite an interesting contrast to the lush green plant life and landscapes. There is also an open-air cinema with regular screenings of new and old films until the end of March 2015.

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All of these places are accessible by a short tram or train ride and therefore it shouldn’t cost you more that $7 to have a good day out – if you plan properly! If you have done anything for free in Melbourne which you feel is worthwhile, let me know in the comments below and I may just try it out.

 

 

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The Roadtrip Part Three

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We survived the night in the koala-infested outback – all of us kept our limbs too which was great news. The rest of the group continued to embrace the great outdoors while I yearned for a bit of civilisation. The weather, however, made it worthwhile as we ate our breakfast in the sun and prepared our picnic lunch.

The plan for the day was to dip our toes into South Australia by driving up to Mount Gambier on the border, where we would also be able to view the Blue Lakes. This was another place Erin and I had checked off on our roadtrip in January but I was looking forward to seeing them from a different angle.

The Blue Lakes earn their name by the colour of the water that resides in huge craters just above the town of Mount Gambier. Formed over centuries, the pools are fed minerals from volcanic matter that then causes the surface of the lake to be a vivid blue colour. During the summer months, the lakes turn from a turquoise colour to a bright blue, almost reflecting the blueness of the sky. While we were there in October, the pool was yet to change colour, but was still a pretty impressive prospect.

For any Geo-Cachers out there, this is also a good spot to make a discovery.

From Mount Gambier, we made our way to the Grampians and on the journey we were rewarded with stunning scenery. Some of the way, we drove along dirt tracks and long straight roads. The heat of the day was getting to us and we were desperate to get to our destination so that we could partake in some form of ice-cream. We had also been promised a waterfall with a pool beneath it which we could cool ourselves in.

After around three hours of driving, we reached Halls Gap, were the Grampians National Park tourist centre is located. We stopped off to see if we could find a map and more of an idea where we were going, and saw that the area had been recently devastated by bush fires.  The visitors centre at Halls Gap is dedicated to conservation, educating visitors to the area and providing advice and information to those who are looking to explore the surrounding ranges.

We hopped back into our van and drove up to MacKenzie Falls. On the drive we saw the extent of the bush fires in the blackened bushes and trees which covered the sides of the road. Other than the devastation, there were actually some beautiful views down the valley and to the surrounding flat countryside.

There is a gentle walk down to the bP1000645 2ottom of the falls which encompasses sights of the smaller falls that lead to the bigger falls. As with Erskine Falls, we met hikers coming up from the bottom of the falls warning us about the climb. They looked even more exhausted than those we’d met at Erskine and after our climb down, we saw why. It took around ten minutes to reach the bottom, but we were rewarded with a vast and picturesque fall. There was a pool at the bottoms of the fall which discouraged swimming. We did, however, take a dip into the pool to cool down from the long climb.

P1000645 3We were lucky enough that the sun started shining as soon as we had made it to the bottom of the falls and we were therefore able to stay there for a few hours, paddling and sunbathing. The walk back to the top was just as difficult as we had been told. Stef and I powered on, convinced we wouldn’t get to the top unless we got there as quickly as possible. It was a blessing to get back into the air conditioned van.

Back to Halls Gap, and to a popular Halls Gap institution, Coolas Ice Creamery. There are 24 flavours of ice cream to choose from, and I thoroughly recommend their home made waffle cone. While ice cream is perfect for a sunny Australian afternoon, it was actually pouring down with rain when we went to get our ice creams. It didn’t diminish the experience though.

We jumped back on the WikiCamps app and found a couple of possible sites to make camp for the evening. There first site we drove to, completely off the beaten track, was like something from the Blair Witch Project. The general consensus was that we didn’t want to stay there and instead we drove for another fifteen minutes to a rather more civilised looking campsite. We parked up and walked around to discover what the campsite offered and found a few long drops littered around the site along with bucket showers. Once again, I was unenthusiastic about the facilities but we made do.

P1000646After our final night in our van-top tent, we awoke to a glorious morning in the Grampians and prepared for our journey back to Melbourne. We packed up the tent, took care of breakfast and used the tap we had parked next to, to wash our hair, with the help of a plastic bowl. The day could have been incredibly boring compared to the past few days but we managed to pick up a puncture on the way back to Halls Gap. Luckily, some very kind men came over and help us change the tyre and directed us to a good tyre place in nearby Stawell where we could buy a new tyre and get it replace.P1000648

Using our feminine wiles (which was actually all down to Dayna and her ability to Highland fling), we managed to only pay $20 for the new tyre and the labour to get it replaced on the van.

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Our return to Melbourne was slightly against the clock as our puncture had thrown us off schedule, but we got back just in time and handed our van back over to the guys at Wicked Campers.

I would recommend that anyone who is visiting Melbourne should take the time to visit the Great Ocean Road. The places you visit whilst there and the things you see will stay with you for a long time after you leave. I enjoyed it enough to do it twice, in two very different ways; whether you travel the whole road in one day, or take your time, you are sure to have some excellent adventures.

 

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