Monday, 8 February 2016

Final post - What is normal anyway?

Hello loyal readers; it's been quite a while! Given I've become rather slack with the updates of late, I've decided to make this my final post on It's the Beginning, Not the End. That's certainly not to say I won't find something else new and exciting to write about in the future but for now, I feel this particular chapter of my life is coming to a close. My blog has certainly served it's purpose in more ways than one. I've come to accept and embrace that I'm never going to be completely normal but that poses my question of my final post; what is normal anyway? I've created my own new version of normal so I'm just going to keep rolling with it.

2 years post op
It's almost hard to believe but next week will mark my 28th birthday which will also mean I've been stomach-free for two whole years. Do I miss my old friend of 26 years? I could take it or leave it. To be completely honest, I think I've almost forgotten what it feels like to even have a stomach. I do occasionally forget that I am in fact, not made like everyone else and get a little optimistic with the amount of food I think I can consume. I have also, after many failed attempts, learnt that sugar is my enemy and must only be consumed after at least eating something else beforehand (my friends enjoy reminding me of a particular pancakes for breakfast incident).

To summarize living without a stomach and what it means for me in every day life:
  • I am constantly eating - I have breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, sometimes second afternoon snack, dinner, probably another snack. You get the idea. I love food so this actually works well for me. 
  • My body doesn't absorb calories like everybody else - I trialled calorie counting according to what an average person should eat a little while ago and lost 3kg in a week. Basically, if I eat well enough, I can eat a lot and won't get fat. Another positive. 
  • I get terrible hangovers - not sure if this is something to do with getting older or to do with my operation, but seriously. Awful. 
  • I try to avoid ever going to a new doctor to avoid having to go through my story all over again with the look of shock and disbelief on their faces followed by a ridiculous amount of questions. Not enjoyable. 
  • I appreciate growing older. When I turn 28 next week, I will have lived 6 years longer than my sister. In another 3 years time, I will have lived longer than my mother. These are horrific stats that make me grateful everyday for the information I was given and the choice I was able to make. 
The past 12 months...
They say that a change is as good as a holiday and over the past few years, I have come to know change like exercise (usually pretty good for me even if it does seem to suck at the time.. see what I did there).

A few months ago, I was made redundant in a job that I didn't particularly enjoy and was forced to make a decision about my career. Although a pretty big shock at the time, it turned out to be one of  the best things that happened to me last year. Presently, I'm in a job that I love, I've moved into a house that I love and haven't been happier in a very long time.

It wouldn't be one of my blog posts if there wasn't some travel involved. After being made redundant, I decided I needed some "me-time" to reevaluate and get myself back to a good frame of mind; so I booked a trip to Bali. It also wouldn't be a post of mine if there weren't some big travel fails involved.

Guess who was the idiot who booked a trip to Bali, mid-volcano and wasn't covered by insurance because it was a pre-existing natural disaster? You guessed correctly, that idiot was me. After days trying desperately to get a credit from Air Asia for my cancelled flight, I made a decision not to risk getting stuck in Bali and went to Thailand instead. I arrived at the amazing little boutique hotel in Phuket called CC's Hideaway and basically did yoga, got massages, drank cocktails and laid on a beach for a week. After a week I decided just one week wasn't enough. I managed to get a job offer mid holiday for my current role and one week quickly turned into three. It was the best thing I possibly could have done and amongst making new friends and non-stop relaxing, I came back a completely different person and ready to conquer the world again.

Thailand was only a small part of the past 12 months. I've had the honour of being asked to be a bridesmaid in my friends' wedding and with the help of my good friend, and new housemate Shannon, managed to throw Kristy a pretty damn awesome hens party on the weekend (yes, I do say so myself). I've had a few local Aussie adventures including Byron Bay for Splendour in the Grass last year, the Great Ocean Road, a couple of girls trips away, Derby Day at the races, a couple of Tassie trips, many a brunch, champagne and red wine. I've also discovered/re-discovered plenty of hobbies to fill the time when I'm not jet-setting around the world - yoga, drawing, painting, reading, seeing the odd musical and live band (remember I'm not claiming to be normal).

Adventures of 2016 and beyond...
To say I'm excited for the rest of this year is an understatement. In just over a month, I get to stand next to 2 of my best friends when they tie the knot and in only 2 months, I'll be on another plane to the United States for a 3 week trip including COACHELLA!!!! It had to be written in capitals because it is one of the biggest and all time greatest music festivals in the WORLD!! And I WILL BE THERE!! Also WEDDING (don't want my holiday to trump your wedding Kristy and Joe.. It's just as exciting).

Who knows what else the future has in store for me but I plan to embrace whatever it has to throw at me and continue living my imperfect and far from normal life with my wonderful friends and family. I don't plan to ever stop traveling and exploring the world and as my bucket list continues to grow, I'll keep checking things off.

Thank you to everyone who has followed my story to date and to everyone who has contacted me with words of encouragement or with your own personal stories - it has meant more to me than you could ever know. Take care and until we meet again, I'll leave you with some of my biggest fails of the past 12 months (that I can remember) and some photos because what's a blog without photos.

Failing at life one step at a time..
1. Booking a trip to Bangkok whilst in Phuket to see the infamous lantern festival only to discover that lanterns were, in fact, banned in Bangkok.
2. Arriving at the  Bangkok Airport to fly home to Melbourne to discover that there were actually TWO Bangkok airports and I was at the wrong one.
3. Booking flights to Bali mid-volcano without even realising.
4. Booking a hotel in America for April. Receiving an email from said hotel asking why we hadn't arrived and advising they would be charging my credit card. Realising hotel was actually booked for January.
5. More broken glasses, bowls, plates etc than I care to count.

Thanks again for reading!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Incurable Travel Bug

This time last year, I was about 2 months post op, had booked my flights to Europe and was in the process of planning the trip I'd been wanting to take for years. It's reached that time of year when others are starting to plan mid year trips away to escape the cold and chase the sunshine in far away places. It's fair to say I'm just a tiny bit jealous. After moving in to my own (rented) apartment and still paying off my Eurotrip credit card from last year, my next overseas trip could not seem further out of reach. 

For the first time since moving to Melbourne just over 3 years ago, things in my life are what I can only refer to as "stable". About 6 months after moving, my sister was diagnosed with her illness so my first year in Melbourne involved flights home every couple of weeks and then of course, trying to deal with the tragedy that followed. The 12 months that followed were a little bit of an emotional roller-coaster and then I received the news of my genetic situation and my looming operation. Across these 2 years, the unexpected had become a huge part of my life and "live in the moment" had more meaning than in ever had before. 

In the 12 months that followed, I had my surgery, recovered, quit my job, traveled the world, returned and started a new job, moved to a new area in my new apartment and things could not have been more different. It's now been a few months since things have settled down and I really should just be enjoying normality and routine. I'm not sure if it's because normality has now become something so foreign to me, or if I've just caught the infamous travel bug, but I've found myself itching for my next adventure and forever coming up with ideas of "what next". I love my job and my new place but I've found that without some sort of plan, or something big to look forward to, I start to become a little unmotivated and for lack of a better word; bored. To make up for not having a trip planned, I've been constantly keeping myself busy by going out for brunch, dinner, drinks etc. In the process I've been spending all of the money I could potentially be saving for my next big trip. So I've decided to make some changes and put a plan in place. 

Coachella 2016
As somebody who has always loved live music and festivals, Coachella has always been a dream of mine. Even more so after seeing all of the photos and videos from the last couple of weekends. After Sziget and Tomorrowland in Europe, it's time to tick another festival off my list so I figured, why not next year? I mentioned it to my friend Shannon who was just as keen and just like that, my next plan is in place! While we're at it, we figured we might as well check out a few places in the US and possibly even go on a road trip. After a huge stuff up with my flights to London last year, I have a $700 United Airlines voucher I have to use anyway. So things couldn't have made more sense!

I may have also been convinced to head to Splendour in the Grass in Byron Bay later this year (pending leave approval at work). This will definitely involve a strict savings plan and a lot more nights on my couch.. but 2 big festivals within 12 months is something I just don't think I can turn down!

Staying local..
Heading to Splendour in the Grass will mean I get to check out Byron Bay which is on my list of local places in Australia I'm yet to visit. After Europe I decided I should visit  more places in my own Country given most people I'd met traveling who had visited Australia had seen more of my own backyard than I had. One thing that I've decided I can do on my own over a weekend is to take a trip down the Great Ocean Road to see the 12 Apostles and the towns that cross my path along the way. 

This year, my friends and I also decided we should do a few girls weekends away. We don't necessarily go to places we've never been before but it's a good a reason to  escape the city and explore other parts of Melbourne. Our first little trip was to a lovely little house in Ocean Grove just a short walk from the beach and given it's starting to get a little colder, I decided what better place to spend our next trip than to check out the hot springs in Sorrento. 

With a few more girls weekends away, potentially Splendour in the Grass and Coachella 2016, I have plenty to look forward to and to be excited about. Bring on the next 12 months! 

Monday, 8 December 2014

It's all about the small things

Life After The Trip of a Lifetime

One thing I hadn't considered before heading away on my 4 month adventure was how I would feel when I returned home. I had a vague idea that I would get my travels out of my system and be happy to settle down and return to normal life. Anyone who has ever traveled would have been able to tell me that this certainly wouldn't be the case. I arrived home feeling a little bit lost and out of place. I didn't know what to do with myself. After my first day home, I wanted nothing more than to be in a hostel room with 8 other people or drinking terrible drinks at terrible bars on hostel pub crawls. This had become my new normal and being home felt completely foreign. So I was faced with a new challenge - how does one overcome the post traveling blues?

This wasn't such a simple question to answer. The trip that I'd been hoping to have my entire life was over. It was the idea of this trip got me through the hardest time in my life. So what next?

To ensure I continue to stay positive (at least most of time) and to avoid wandering down a path of complete misery and self pity, I made the conscious decision to shift my focus.  Firstly, this focus was to be on my new job. I must admit, I couldn't have stumbled across a better place to work. I have a team of really great people and after only being there a month, I'm joining the rest of the company in the Blue Mountains at the end of this week for our Christmas conference which also happens to include white water rafting and hiking. Oh, and the actual work side of things is going really well also.

Vacations & Getaways
After deciding I really like my job, I also realised that I probably won't be able to quit and go overseas for months at a time again anytime soon. It's not everyday you find a job you love. Instead, I've decided I'll try doing what the majority of the population does, and take smaller holidays. My current plan for my next adventures include a week at a time in both New Zealand and Vietnam and possibly finishing off the year with a white Christmas (location yet to be determined). Being someone who is terrible at committing to something too far in advance, these plans could change dramatically on a weekly basis. However, with these small goals in mind, I'll still have adventures to look forward to and will continue to tick items from my bucket list (which has grown considerably since traveling and finding so many other places I need to go).

I'll also be heading home to Tasmania for Christmas to see my family who I haven't seen in about 6 months which is something to look forward to in itself. My Tassie trip will be followed by a little beach getaway for New Year's with some friends to make the most of what will hopefully be a nice summer.

Music, music and more music
In addition to planning little getaways, I've decided one of the most important things for me to do at the moment is to enjoy the small things in life. Other than traveling, my favourite thing in the world would have to be live music. I've been going to festivals since the ripe old age of 14 and have forever since been in love with everything about seeing my favourite artists live. I've got quite a few concerts to look forward to already in the New Year (thanks to a few of my friends for being more organised than me in most instances) - The Temper Trap, Chet Faker and Alt-J (who I have been dying to see for ages!).

To try and get back into some sort of fitness routine, I've also joined a yoga school with my new work friend Brooke. This is not just any kind of yoga school; we are learning to do aerial yoga. For those of you who don't know what this entails, think along the lines of Cirque du Soleil or trapeze artists. Ok, maybe not quite so fancy...but we do hang upside down on pieces of silk.

On the theme of appreciating the small things, I am happy to say that stomach or no stomach, I'm sure doing my fair share of appreciating good food. Night Noodle Markets, delicious Vietnamese food, meatballs.. Melbourne really is the place to be when you love food.

Love is in the air
Lastly, but certainly least, two of my best friends and current housemates, Kristy and Joe (who you may remember from their massive 60km walk earlier this year), were very happy announce their engagement over the weekend. I could not be happier for them.

This year is well and truly turning out to be one of the best yet.

As always, thanks for reading.

Bucket List
For anyone interested in an updated bucket list, here you go! (Pictures of each item on my list to be updated ASAP).

  1. Backpack around Europe - DONE
  2. Greek Islands - DONE
  3. Paris - DONE
  4. See a show at the Moulin Rouge - DONE
  5. Nice & South of France
  6. Rome - DONE
  7. Venice - DONE
  8. Gondola ride in Venice
  9. Milan - DONE
  10. Amalfi Coast, Italy
  11. Amsterdam - DONE
  12. London - DONE
  13. Barcelona - DONE
  14. Valencia
  15. San Sebastian
  16. Grenada
  17. Seville
  18. Berlin - DONE
  19. Florence - DONE
  20. Istanbul
  21. Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia 
  22. Budapest - DONE
  23. Prague - DONE
  24. Stockholm
  25. Lagos - DONE
  26. Dubrovnik 
  27. Hvar
  28. Toronto - DONE
  29. Montreal
  30. Vancouver
  31. Euro Disney - DONE
  32. Sail Croatia - DONE
  33. Tomorrowland - DONE
  34. Oktoberfest - DONE
  35. Sziget Festival, Budapest - DONE
  36. New York - DONE
  37. See a musical on Broadway - DONE
  38. Stand in Times Square - DONE
  39. Miami
  40. New Orleans
  41. Chicago
  42. Austin, Texas
  43. Disneyworld, Florida (yes I am a child at heart)
  44. Go to a concert at Red Rocks
  45. Niagra Falls - DONE
  46. Mexico
  47. Rio
  48. Cuba
  49. Japan
  50. Vietnam
  51. Bali
  52. Capetown
  53. New Zealand
  54. Interstate road trip with a friend - DONE
  55. Bondi Beach - DONE
  56. See the rest of Australia
  57. Go on a winery tour - DONE
  58. Learn to ski or snowboard
  59. Go paint-balling - DONE
  60. Eat Gelato Messina - DONE
  61. Have a massive food party before my operation - DONE
  62. Play a gig to raise money for cancer research
  63. Sky dive
  64. Go ice skating 
  65. Go to Bounce (the room full of trampolines)
  66. See Pearl Jam live
  67. See Alt-J live
  68. See Coldplay live
  69. See Avicii live - DONE!
  70. See a really famous pop star live
  71. Road trip from East to West Coast (or vice versa) of America
  72. Experience a white Christmas
  73. See the Northern Lights
  74. Fall in love and get married

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Eurotrip Part 4 - The end of the trip of a lifetime

Home, bittersweet home. After 3 and a half months of traveling the world, I've returned home and it is a very strange feeling indeed. Towards the end of July, I was excited but extremely nervous to be leaving my job, the comforts of home and all of my friends behind to go and explore the world. That feeling of nervousnous was very quickly forgotten and reality of everyday life back home soon became a distant memory. Staying in rooms with 8 other people, having to catch a flight or bus on little or no sleep, figuring my way around foreign countries without speaking the language and meeting amazing people in every place I went soon became my new normal. There is a travel quote that says, "you will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place". This is basically exactly how I'm feeling after arriving home and I think it's going to take some time to get back to reality. However, I'm sure I have plenty of adventures still to come. In the meantime, here are a few stories from my last few weeks overseas. 

Of all of the places I visited throughout Europe, I have to say that Rome was probably my least favourite city as it's just so busy and so full of tourists (yes I know I was one of them). After arriving, I was incredibly happy I delayed my flight by a day and stayed in Budapest to go paintballing because after a couple of days, Rome was enough. That's not to say I had a terrible time. I explored the Colosseum and the Vatican and was reunited with my Canadian friend from Berlin, Brandon. 

As it turns out, I was lucky to even be let in to the Vatican. It was a hot day and I was wearing shorts and a singlet and arrived to see signs with crosses stating that anyone in my attire would not be let in. Having already purchased my ticket, I tried to make it look as though my legs were at least covered by tying my jacket around my waist. I was in luck and security let me through! I didn't know what to expect as I'm not religious nor am I a huge art fan but I was quite blown away by the Vatican and all of the artwork it holds along with the architecture of the buildings. Definitely something worth seeing.  
Brandon and I booked a day trip to the coast of Italy to climb Mt Vesuvias and explore the ruins of Pompeii. This was one of my favourite days! Climbing Vesuvius, an active volcano, was amazing and one of the best things I've done. We had about the most boring tour guide I've ever had for our Pompeii trip but it was still a great experience, and a little overwhelming, to see what remained of the city of Pompeii.

Florence & Venice 
After a few days in Rome, the beautiful city of Florence was a nice change. I'll admit, the majority if my time in this city was spent eating food and drinking wine.. Hence why I loved it so much! But that's what Italy's all about right?


It was in Florence that I ran into Luke who I met briefly in Rome. Luke is a fellow Tasmanian and we discovered we had a lot of friends in common. We also discovered that we had a very similar background and reason behind our travels. Luke had also lost his little sister to cancer. We bonded over our pasts and immediately became great friends. Luke and I found a great Italian food market with fresh pasta and delicious wine. We took our American friend Max there (so we could visit a second time) and found it to be a great place to get trapped when a thunderstorm broke out that night. 

Whilst in Florence, I also did a day trip to Pisa and the beautiful Cinque Terra. This whole day turned out to be a little bit of a disaster with out trains being constantly delayed but we made the most of it and got to experience one of the prettiest places in Italy. At the end of the night, waiting for another delayed train, we decided to buy some red wine to split amongst a few of us in the group. So the night ended with us drinking red wine from McDonalds cups at the train station (classy I know!).



After Florence I spent a night in Venice which was another beautiful city. One night was enough as it was a nice place to visit and to see but other that than, there wasn't a terrible lot to do and it was extremely expensive. After a night in Venice, I set off to London! 


I arrived in London and was reunited with my friend Katy whom I met in Greece. Katy and her housemates were kind enough to let me stay for the 6 nights of my visit. I was so grateful to have a bit of a break from hostels and just relax for a few nights. 

My first day in London was one I'd been looking forward to for quite some time - the Harry Potter movie tour!!! Growing up, I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter books (not ashamed at all) and had read them all about 10 times. This was such a great day to see how the movies were made and also to see a lot of the sets and props including Privet Drive and Diagon Alley. Katy and I also tried Butterbeer which turned out to be awful. But the day itself was amazing and everything I'd hoped for since I was a young muggle dreaming that someday I'd get to go to Hogwarts.



F.    The following day, Katy became a tour guide (a great one at that) and took me on a walking tour around the major sights of London - the London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace etc. We also bought tickets to see Once on West End which was a great show and had us both in tears by the end (typical girls). 



Whilst in London, we also managed to catch up with our New Zealand friends who we also met in Greece - James, Christian and Michael who had a house party one of the nights I was there. Prior to the party we'd been laying on the couch watching the Harry Potter movies after our movie tour.. But decided that seeing as I'm never in London, we should actually leave the house. 

I had such a great time in London but after 6 nights, it was time to head to New York! 

New York 
New York was not in my original Europe plans but I decided that it was much cheaper and closer for me to visit from London than it was for Austrlaia so I booked to go and didn't regret it. 


      My first night, I met up with some of my clients from back home in Melbourne who were away as part of their Christmas party. We had a really nice dinner and then ventured to a fancy rooftop bar in which I got an incredible view of the city. Having been backpacking for several months, I only had one pair of shoes - my Converse sneakers. I was a little nervous I wouldn't get into a fancy bar in these but luckily, they didn't seem to notice my feet!

Feeling quite jet lagged after the flight from London I had planned to sleep in the following morning but in true hostel form, had a room mate who set her alarm for 7am and didn't hear the alarm for about an hour. This happened 2 days in a row and lacking sleep, I asked to switch rooms but as it turned out, said roommate had to leave that day! 

New York was a lot of fun with so much to do. My favourite part was definitely Broadway. As a singer, I love any sort of musical performance so to be able to see a couple of shows on Broadway was a dream come true. I was able to get cheap front row tickets to The Lion King which I had been wanting to see for years and also saw The Book of Mormon which was the funniest show I've ever seen. I also ate dinner in a restaurant in which the waiters all sing whilst you eat your meal as practice for them to try and make it to Broadway. 

I saw a lot while in New York. I was staying in Brooklyn so it was a great contrast to see the trendy neighbourhood of Brooklyn compared to busy city of Manhattan. I also took a walk along the Brooklyn Bridge, saw the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and took a visit to Ground Zero where I was a little alarmed to see that they were charging people to enter a museum. It didn't seem right that such a tragedy had been turned into a means to make money from tourists. I also met a local named Teddy who showed me around Central Park and invited me out with him and his friends. 


After I'd seen a lot of New York, I decided to head to Canada a little earlier than I'd originally planned so I booked an overnight bus and arrived early Monday morning with my Canadian friend Steve waiting to pick me up. 

I stayed with Steve and his family in the suburb of Burlington, about an hour away from Toronto. Burlington was a beautiful place that looked like it was out of a movie with big colorful autumn trees and perfect double story suburban houses. It was a lovely little neighbourhood where everyone seemed to know each other and all of the neighbours were friends. Steve's family were some of the nicest people I've ever met and were extremely welcoming in having me in their home.

We spent a day in Toronto being tourist as visiting the CN Tower (114 stories high) and the aquarium.  

Glass floor at the CN Tower



Our next day as tourist was spent at the beautiful Niagara Falls; somewhere I'd always wanted to visit. We got a great deal that included accommodation, dinner vouchers, laser tag, mini golf, a mirror maze, a haunted house and a whole heap of arcade game vouchers (my Guitar Hero and basketball skills have improved dramatically). Fair to say, we had a lot of fun. And of course, I got to see the Falls. We visited at day and night so I could see them lit up at night as well as see them clearly in the day time. The Falls were as beautiful as I imagined.


I also got to meet a few of Steve's friends for Halloween in which I made great use of my Oktoberfest costume. I had been very excited for Halloween being it's not a huge event in Australia and was excited to see all of the pumpkins on everyone front porches throughout the week. Going to Canada, I was also hoping to see snow. On the day after Halloween I got my wish and it snowed first thing in the morning! 


The following day, I arrived at the airport to head back to New York and found myself in a bit of a pickle. As I'd taken a bus instead of catching my original flight from New York, the airline had canceled my return flight and it was going to cost me $300 to book another flight. So I was stranded in Buffalo, not really sure what to do. Eventually I managed to find an 8 hour train for $100 so I took this option. 

I spent 2 more nights in New York. I was able to catch up with another friend from Greece, Kara who arrived the day before I had to leave. Kara and I explored the shops of 5th Avenue, picked out our engagement rings at Tiffanys (yes we're both single and pathetic.. get in line boys) and took a walk around Central Park.


I also caught up with my new friend Teddy again who took me to a really cool restaurant where we got to eat in the wine cellar. 

The following day I got up at 5.30am to catch my flight back to London before heading to Paris the following day. I wasn't having much luck with airports because I turned up to find they'd overbooked my flight by 50 people. They couldn't fit me on the flight but booked me a flight directly to Paris later that night and gave me a $700 flight voucher.. So at least I won't have to pay for flights for my next holiday! I'm thinking maybe a white Christmas somewhere next year.


I was quite exhausted by the time I arrived in Paris and spent most of the first day sleeping. I did get up to go and see Notre Dame later in the afternoon and that night my friend Cyril who I was staying with for a couple of nights showed me the sights of Paris at night time.



      The following day, I relived my child hood and went to Disneyland. 


The next day I went to stay with an old work friend, Ollie and his girlfriend Lauren for my last couple of nights in Paris. During this time, they showed me some more of the sights of Paris including Sacre Coeur, a wall that had "I Love You" painted in every language and a delicious creperie where I had a Nutella and banana crepe.


       I also visited the Louvre and I went to a show at the Moulin Rouge. I was very happy to find that I was seated at the front row table at the Moulin Rouge. My little sister had always wanted to see a show at the Moulin Rouge so I'd promised myself I'd go, no matter what the cost. I think my sister was definitely with me that night as I got picked to go up on stage as part of one of the acts and had to pretend to be a ventriloquists dummie. My sister would have loved to see the look of horror on my face when I got called up on stage!



After a final breakfast consisting of fresh croissants, I said goodbye to Ollie and Lauren and made my way to the airport for my flight home. After 20 hours of flying, I arrived safe and sound in Melbourne and was met by my good friends Kristy and Shannon at the airport.

The best parts 
I still can't quite believe that my trip is over and as I've mentioned before, the best part about it was definitely the people I met along the way. It was absolutely the trip of a lifetime and I did everything I'd wanted to do (in saying that, I've also found so many other places to add to my bucket list). These are some of the highlights of the past 4 months (in no particular order). 

1. Paintballing, beer biking and open mic night in Budapest 
2. Sziget Festival
3. Niagara Falls
4. Seeing The Lion King and The Book of Mormon on Broadway
5. Moulin Rouge - the show and getting pulled up on stage
6. Spending a week on a yacht in Croatia
7. Oktoberfest
8. Scootering and quad biking around the Greek Islands
9. Escape room in Prague
10. Italy day trips - climbing Mt Vesuvius and visiting Pompeii plus seeing Cinque Terra
11. Zip lining in Portugal
12. Skinny dipping in Portugal (it was a first for me... Sorry readers)
13. Harry Potter tour in London 
14. Cycling around Lake Como 
15. Tomorrowland

      Thanks for reading everyone. Cannot wait for my next adventure!!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Eurotrip Part 3 - The Final Countdown Begins

Oh how time flies when you're hopping between countries and having the time if your life. I'm not even sure where to start with this post, it's been so long! I cannot believe two and a half months have already passed and that I'll be going home in less than a month. I never want it to end! But at the same time, it'll be nice not to share a room with 8 other people for a change. 

As I start writing this post, I'm sitting enjoying a glass of wine by the Grand Canal in Venice, watching the gondolas go by. Life could definitely be worse. Since my last post on the Greek Islands, I've visited quite a number of places so I'll try to skip all of the boring details and just write about the best (and worst) stories of the past couple of months. 

Here goes..

Most places that I'd loved up until this point were largely to do with the people I was with at the time. In Barcelona, I did meet some great people but I also fell in love with the city. It's such a beautiful place with amazing architecture, great food, a beach.. What more could you want! I loved Barcelona so much that I forfeited flights I'd already booked to Ibiza to stay longer. Plus Ibiza is supposed to be crazy expensive and didn't really sound like my type of place. 

In one of my typical travel fail moments, I booked a flight in the middle of the night and arrived in Barcelona at a ridiculous time of about 4.30am. I also forgot to save the address to the hostel in my maps. Luckily in the directions, they described the hostel as being next to "Topshop".. So some young girls I asked for directions were able to point me in the right way. Not having booked accommodation for the night, I slept on the hostel couches.

This was the first city I'd visited where (for a couple of days at least) there were no other Australians in my room. Us Aussies tend to be everywhere! Instead, I was lucky enough to meet a couple of lovely Israeli girls, Shay and Leanne. It was incredibly interesting to talk to these girls about their country and such an eye opener to hear that having to take refuge in a bomb shelter several times a day was completely normal to them. They also had to do a compulsory 2 years in the army after finishing school. Their culture was completely foreign to me and really made me appreciate just being able to feel safe in my home country. 

I explored the city of Barcelona on a bicycle with a group of Welshmen who were hilarious. I couldn't understand a word they said when they spoke amongst each other but it was a great day nonetheless. They were the first people of my trip to notice the scars in my stomach and ask me about them.. I also think they had the best response when I told them about my surgery in which they asked me "did you start making and selling crystal meth to pay for your treatment? Are you the real Heisenberg" (Breaking Bad reference for anyone who hasn't see the show). At this point, I knew they must be ok.

Cycling Barcelona with the Welshmen

I made a good friend in Barcelona - a French Canadian girl by the name of Shawn who is studying in Barcelona for the next few months. She has an extremely cool job and helps with camera work during the filming of movies (a little bit jealous). It was great to find a friend to hit up the beach with and we also discovered the BEST tapas in Barcelona by chance when getting completely lost.

Shawn and I

Tapas, tapas, tapas!

After 6 nights, I said goodbye to the city of Barcelona and took a bus to Madrid where I would catch a train the Portugal the following night.

Lisbon and Lagos
I arrived in Lisbon early morning after taking a night train and arrived at the hostel at the same time as a girl who was soon to become one of the best friends I'd make in this trip- Gina from Nebraska. Gina and I hit it off straight away and ended up spending the next few days together in both Lisbon and Lagos - we did a walking tour, we discovered some delicious cheese sandwiches (just cheese, yes), we had some delicious food cooked by "Mama" the lovely owner of the hostel, we climbed a mountain in Sintra to explore a castle and went zip lining through the trees, we did the worst pub crawl of our lives (walking at least half an hour between pubs), we lazed on the beach, drank some cocktails and for the first time in my life, went skinny dipping to celebrate our last day in Portugal together with a little craziness. Basically, we had an action packed few days in Portugal and had a lot of fun in the process. Just to clarify, the skinny dipping was on a deserted beach.. But when the waves started sweeping away our belongings, I looked up to see about 10 elderly people on the cliff watching down at us chasing after our things whilst trying to put our clothes back on.

Gina and I 

Castle in Sintra

Zip lining!

Beautiful Lagos

After Lagos, I took a bus back to Lisbon and flew back to Barcelona to then take an early flight to Munich for Oktoberfest. This was not my best travel day. I arrived at the airport and dropped my phone which stopped working completely. I then took a 25 euro taxi to my "airport" hotel and had to do the same thing the following morning back to the airport. The next few days would be the most expensive.. But some of the best days I've had so far this trip.

I arrived in Munich and went straight to the Apple store to try and get my phone fixed. Little did I know, the iPhone 6 happened to be released on the same day and hundreds of people were lining up outside the store. The chance of getting my phone fixed was minimal but somehow I did the impossible and convinced the staff that the fixing of my phone was of upmost importance and they performed a miracle and fixed it for me (at a cost of 150 euro of course). I then purchased my outfit for Oktoberfest and made my way to the campground.

I was a little nervous getting to a campground on my own but met a girl named Annie fairly soon after arriving who was also traveling alone. The atmosphere at the campsite that night was nothing I could have imagined. It made me extremely excited for what the actual festival would entail. That night Annie and I met James who introduced us to his group of friends and they embraced us as part of their group for the following couple of days.

The first day we woke at 5am to leave by 6.30am just to get in line to get into the halls and get a table. They let us in at about 9am and we then had to wait until 12pm for he beers to start being poured. After this, the atmosphere was absolutely crazy. I cannot even explain how amazing this day was. The beer was great (coming from a non beer drinker), people were standing on tables skulling 1 litre steins, everyone was in costume, we had a great waitress and by the afternoon, the beer hall was just full of having an insanely good time. This was easily one of the best weekends of my life. The second day was hard to follow the first but ended up being equally as enjoyable. This is something I think everyone has to experience to understand. 

View from the Ferris wheel 

The following day I took a bus to Prague and arrived so exhausted I went straight to bed. 

Prague is another of my favourite places to date.. Mostly because of the people I met there. Prague marked the start of the group that would then on be referred to as "The Commonwealth". The Commonwealth included members from New Zealand, Canada and of course, Australia. Being completely wrecked after Oktoberfest, I had to have a couple of quiet nights but the nights I did go out with The Commonwealth were so much fun that I ended up booking flights after I left to meet up with the guys again in Budapest. It was in Prague I learnt to play the infamous drinking game "Flip Cup" and also discovered that I had quite a talent for playing this game. I also learnt more drinking games in the hostel bar called "The Rave Cave" than any other place.

Prague was not just about partying.. I also completed my first ever escape room. For those of you who don't know, an escape room is basically a room full of clues that you have to solve in an hour in order to escape. I completed the game with a Canadian by the name of Steve and in our case, we had to solve our clues to stop a bomb (pretend of course) from detonating within the hour. We thought we were terrible at the game as we had to keep asking for help and realized we couldn't remember anything from high school like how to read a map or what Roman numerals stood for. However, we found out at the end, there are usually groups of at least 4 people trying to solve the clues and we'd picked the hardest room so as it turns out, we were much smarter than we thought. 

The John Lennon wall, Prague

Steve and I escaping our bomb room

Berlin and Amsterdam
I found Berlin to be a strange city. It's a huge city but so quiet in terms of it's inhabitants. I did a couple of tours in Berlin that included a lot if the war history. It was actually quite upsetting to see a concentration camp and hear a lot of the stories from the past. I visited the Jewish memorial museum which included a lot of letters to families along with the history. I found myself not being able to read any of these letters because, although under completely different circumstances, I know what it's like to receive a letter from my mother who I was never going to see again. At that point, I decided I'd seen enough of the war history. 

On a lighter note, I did go on a really fun pub crawl which took us on an unusual route and to places that wouldn't usually be included on a pub crawl. These included a bar that Rammstein used to own (very gothic and strange), an absinthe bar and an outdoor club. This was really cool and I made a few good friends including Brandon who I would later meet up with again in Rome. 

The Berlin Wall

After Berlin I headed to the beautiful city of Amsterdam. It truly is beautiful. I know it tends to be well known for another reason entirely but going on a walking tour and hiring a bike to ride around the city, I found Amsterdam to be one of the prettiest places I'm yet to visit. Once again I made the mistake of arriving at a ridiculous time of 5am; this time on a night bus. The bus driver seemed to drop us off in the middle of nowhere and pointed us in the direction to the train station. It took 2 hours to find my hostel but I made it eventually and ended up meeting a great group of people on my walking tour. Id also made a couple of fellow Aussie friends in Berlin who happened to be staying in Amsterdam also so I met up with them for a night out and a nice dinner. The thing I'm finding with traveling recently is that I keep running into people I've already met. It makes traveling alone so much easier as I never tend to actually be alone.


Budapest - Part 2. Commonwealth Reunited 
After 3 nights in Amsterdam, I caught a bus to Brussels to catch a cheap flight to Budapest and reunite with The Commonwealth. This has probably been my biggest failed attempt at travel planning yet. I arrived at the Brussels bus station realizing I had no idea how to get to the airport and couldn't find wifi anywhere (not even in the Starbucks I bought a coffee from for this sole reason). After an hour, I found the train to the airport, bought a ticket and almost boarded the train until I noticed at the last minute that my flight was in fact, from a completely different airport. I asked at an information desk who were not even 100% sure where I had to go but went for the best guess (which luckily turned out to be correct). As it happened, the airport id booked was actually almost 2 hours away from Brussels. Seriously this is a warning to everyone to never let me plan any sort of travel for you!

Eventually I made it to Budapest to be reunited with The Commonwealth crew and just in time for the Sparty. To explain, a Sparty is basically a giant party in a pool/spa. I wish I had photos to explain further as it's nothing like anything else but nobody was willing to risk taking their phones or cameras. After a couple of hours, things started getting a little too crazy at the Sparty and I witnessed some things in the pool I never needed to witness and felt as though I needed to shower for days. So I left. 

The next few days were probably the most fun days I've had in Europe yet.  We hired a Beer Bike which basically involves cycling around the city whilst drinking a lot of beer. I felt terribly sorry for the hostel receptionist who had to book extra night for each of us at the hostel which we chose to organise right after the beer biking. One of my fellow commonwealthers, Josh (a kiwi) and I later participated in an open mic night and got the crowd all singing along to some Britney Spears. I also witnessed a Jäger train which involved a lot of jäger bombs being tipped over wit a domino effect.  

I was supposed to leave Budapest after 3 nights but ended up extending my night to tick something off my bucket list that I've always wanted to do - paint balling. I didn't care how much it cost me to change my flight, I was going paint balling regardless. And I was so happy I did. We had SO much fun and I even got a couple if battle scar bruises in the process. Well and truly worth it. 

The Commonwealth! Beer biking

Josh and I singing some Britney

Paint balling 

After 3 nights out in Budapest, we were all pretty exhausted after paint balling and decided to spend a quiet night in with a movie. The movie of choice was Finding Nemo. The following morning I had to get up early and say goodbye to Commonwealth friends to catch a flight to Rome. 

I think this is enough typing for one day. I look forward to writing my next post on Italy, London, New York, Canada and Paris soon.. Although I really hope the time goes slowly because it's almost coming to an end! 

As always, thanks for reading!