Gone walkabout

Name: Stewart Jardine Born: 11th March Eyes: Blue Height: 6'3" Weight: 240 lb. Service: GE, seven and a half years; mustered out Last Known Address: Unknown Major malfunction: thinks he is Jack reacher
Living in: Unknown
  • Day1

    Its been far too long since I have had a reason to post on here so I'm stretching a little bit the concept of travel blogging by reporting on a short weekend Jaunt but I'm going to take it.

    After a morning at work (out in reading) I headed into London to meet my glamorous travel companion for the weekend, the lovely Miss Claire Rice. We met at St Pancras international Train station with enough time to have some lunch before boarding the train to Bruges. We wandered out to some street food trucks, in the blazing sunshine, had a little nose around, decided the queues were too long and we didn't want to eat out in the sunshine sat on the floor anyway and headed back towards the station, we passed a couple of places and were still wondering around when we finally settles on Carlucios for lunch... I only describe this in as much detail as we nearly ended up being late to check in for the train... serves us right for faffing about I guess.

    After a quick dash across St Pancras we checked in for the train and got through with plenty of time to spare. I'm not saying that Claire was sulking about not getting Percy pigs from M&S for the journey but her repeated refusal for me to get her some haribo star-mix and then subsequent demolishion of said bag (yes yes I helped) says otherwise. Regardless we were on our way! a direct train to Bruges in under 2 hours! how amazing is the modern world... all month I have been saying how amazing it is that the train goes straight to Bruges...it was a little over an hour and a half into the 2 hour train journey that I finally figured out the train was going to Brussels and not Bruges... Shit

    I am normally a fairly laid back and easy going person but I've had some personal stuff going on that has put me a little on edge, even at my best, however, I like to be in control and here I was hammering through the French countryside to a city I didn't know, in a country I'd never been too, with an airbnb host expecting us and the half assed wifi on the train and spotty mobile network signal conspiring to withhold information from me... I was...to put it delicately...on the verge of loosing my shit. Thankfully I had Claire along side me to calm me down and we figured it all out pretty easily in the end, a quick change at Brussels and we would be on a direct train to Bruges and get there only an hour later than expected.

    The unexpected transfer had its highs and lows; a quick discussion about the few children that had joined us at our end of the platform resulted in a very mutual decision to go down the other end so we didn't get "stuck in a carriage with a bunch of annoying kids"... the train arrives, a nice empty carriage on a slightly dated but perfectly comfortable train, perfection... Queue an entire class of school children under the age of 10, all with big camping rucksacks and some hilarious expressions on Claire's and I'm sure my face.

    Thankfully we had already secure window seats and could attempt to ignore them and soak in the Belgiumish...belgish....belginum... the country side in Belgium and also they left the train in Ghent, which is half way between Brussels and Bruges. Whilst the Countryside in Belgium is pretty similar for the most part to England we did notice a lot of interesting architecture, Brand new bespoke houses, side by side with old rustic brick houses and they complimented each other so well! apart from that it was an uneventful transfer and we got into Bruges a little after 7.30pm.

    Walking through Bruges on the way to our Airbnb I knew i was going to like this place. It felt very friendly, quaint and all of the buildings were beautiful. It took us bout 20 mins to walk from the station to our airbnb and that was only because we had to take a slight detour to avoid a square that had been closed off for some sort of musical event. The airbnb was spectacular, the location was perfect, right in the middle of everything and our host was very friendly when we arrived and we didn't actually see her apart from that, we did however wake up both mornings to find fresh orange juice and strawberries had been left outside of our room. The bedroom was spacious with a big bed, plenty of leaflets and a couple of very nice Belgian chocolates left for us, a brand new en suit bathroom provided a couple of showers and we were back out to go exploring (there was also a small kitchen and courtyard but that looked very nice but we never actually used them).

    Wondering around Bruges was amazing that evening, at first it was light and we got a good sense of the city, its canals and fascinating buildings and later after dinner in the twinkling evening lights and the spectacularly lit churches and cathedrals made it feel... to steal a phrase from the film In Bruges, feel "like a fucking fairytale"... I have to admit I may possibly have over used this phrase and felt at times my life was at threat from Claire if I continued to use it. Dinner was very nice, we thoroughly got into it, i couldn't wait to get my Mussels and Frites and Claire had a lovely Flemish stew. We wandered the city for hours, being grown ups and taking in beautiful architecture, being children and going for a slide in a park we happened across (which for any fans of the film turned out to be the one where Colin Farrell is stopped from killing himself by the man sent to kill him) and being immature taking photos of an art gallery window which had a selection of brightly coloured gnomes giving the finger! We slept very well that night.

    In the morning I was up and out early to go and find the Irish bar I had located in the city prior to flying out that would be showing the fated 3rd and final lions test, in a lovely twist of fate it turned out to be less than 30 seconds away from where we were staying and so I got down there bright and early to find out who would walk away champions of a very exiting tour... for anyone who doesn't know.. nobody won... the whole series was drawn, a good result for the lions but ultimately left everyone feeling flat. After the final whistle and a few seconds of sitting bleary eyed in an Irish bar in Bruges surrounded by Brits and kiwi's alike all looking at each other and trying to figure out how e felt about the result, I decided I had had enough of this surreal scene and went off to find Claire.

    We started the day with a walk through the main square, both of us commenting how many more people there were out and about in massive tourist groups and trying to figure out where they had come from and made our way to Boottochten Brugge (the best Bruges boat tour company judging by google reviews) and paid a very reasonable 8Euro each for a 30 minute tour of the canal networks which provided some lovely views after a nervy minute or two when the boat was being loaded and there was a definite feeling between myself and Claire that the boat was going to tip over to the left and our swimming would be put to the test.

    After our boat tour it was lunch time and we found a very nice little bistro around the corner which we chose in no small part because a) it was closest b)it didn't look overly crowded in the outside section at the front and most importantly c) all of the waiters were dressed in hilariously camp sailors outfits with not a whiff of irony! a couple of steaks and the worlds strongest G&T for Claire later (this was not how she ordered it just how they chose to measure it), it was time to pay up and continue our adventure, the lovely old waiter who had been serving me handed me the card machine and as I punched in the pin stated "moment of truth, time to find out if you will be doing the dishes?", thankfully the card came up a winner and a resigned waiter stated that he guessed he would be doing the dishes and wished us a lovely afternoon.

    Our next stop was the bell tower, somewhere that everyone says you should not miss because of its spectacular views and they are quite right! There is a bit of waiting around at the bottom, as the amount of people that can fit up and down the incredibly steep and narrow staircases is very limited. Despite our playful banter about how much we were dreading the climb to the top (banter.. yea, fat bloke who smokes... I wasn't joking) neither of us would have changed it, I believe it was the boat captain who said "the views are simply breathtaking, but so are the stairs" said it as well as anyone could.

    We walked out to see some small windmills on the edge of town, stopped for a lovely coffee on the way back and after a little chill out /siesta headed out into the lovely warm evening in search of dinner and chocolate, this was Belgium after all and to return without having eaten the chocolate is, I believe, a crime. We found a very nice relaxed café/restaurant next to a canal for our final dinner where I had a lovely but very filling fish stew and Claire upon seeing "giant vol au vent" on the menu under mains, said the following "that cant just be a big version of a vol au vent... I mean what would they even serve it with... it cant just be a big version... OK well I'm just gonna order it and see what happens", gotta love that attitude. We had a fun dinner talking about my past life as a film editor, a subject which apparently I've never mentioned to her before! and then went off to walk off dinner and perhaps find a waffle or some ice cream. We settled on some delicious ice cream at a small place just around the corner from the bell tower and after finishing that up realised in quick succession, it was pretty late, we were pretty tired and we had to be up and out relatively early and with that headed back for the last nights sleep in Bruges.

    However brief it was, it was absolutely lovely and thoroughly enjoyable and I would highly recommend it as a city to anyone and it has definitely peaked my interest in doing some short trips around Europe... or maybe I should just sack it all off again and get back out on the road hmm....

    p.s. the train back to Brussels... get off at Brussels south and not the next stop for Brussels central... no... we didn't, but we came very close
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  • Day171

    Wednesday saw me head back down to Sydney for one last visit with my Rachel before I head off into the unknown continent of Asia next week. It was a fairly uneventful journey back, hour or so drive down the beautiful “Captain Cook Highway” to Cairns, a relatively cramped (3 big shoulder blokes sat together) flight down to Sydney and then a quick train ride out to my airbnb.

    Thursday Morning I made my way back out to Manly Beach for my second surf lesson, it went a lot better than my first. Due to the high tide we spent more time paddling out to deeper waters and then surfing back in… and yes I was actually surfing at times… standing up for seconds at a time, steering the board and even consciously choosing when to get off instead of falling on a few occasions. I also happened to notice a group of extremely toned lads playing volleyball near where we were surfing who were all wearing matching St Andrews Cross Speedo’s… it was actually the Scottish sevens rugby team!

    Rugby was the theme for the next few days, Friday morning I made my way down to Alianz Stadium for day 1 of the HSBC world rugby Sevens to watch the England women do their thing! Its a nice enough stadium, the weather was all right… the beer and food were expensive oh and the England team suuuuuuuuuuuuuucked! They lost 2 out of the 3 games they played against teams they should have beaten and never really looked interested.

    Saturday was intentionally a very quiet day involving very little activity and plenty of napping because at 11:30pm I donned my old faithful white shirt with my favourite red rose that always makes me feel a foot taller and headed out to meet Rachel and on to the Casino (only bar allowed to be open all night) to watch the opening weekend of the six nations!! COME ON ENGLAND!! we spent the next six hours surrounded by various nationalities of rugby fans cheering on Scotland (well I was , Rachel not so much) and England to victory! We stumbled out into the dawn sunlight at about 6am after a great night, knowing that we would be meeting up a mere 5 and a half hours later to see if the England Sevens boys could do the business!

    There was a minor delay when I slept through… my alarm, a couple of messages from Rachel oh and 7 missed calls…. whoops…. so yeah we missed the first England game against Argentina but thankfully the boys managed to get the win done without us and we headed down to cheer them on for the semi-final and eventually the final as well! As sevens always is, it was a great party with great fans, the especially fun and loud ones being from Fiji and Kenya and England played really well and were unfortunate to get soundly beaten by a great South African team who were out for revenge from their loss to us in the pool stage. I could have also done without it being nearly 40 degrees for most of the day as I'm pretty sure I sweated through every piece of clothing I was wearing and probably lost more weight than a F1 drive during the Bahrain GP!
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  • Day165

    Tuesday was the my last day in port Douglas and my second day out on the boat where I would be assessed on my skills and either PADI certified or not. The day started out very much like my first day on the boat, with a 6.15am walk down to the dock, quick hello to all the crew and quick intros to the other passengers for the day. I had however taken some travel sickness tablets to try and stave off the condition that put a dampener on what was otherwise a spectacular first days diving.

    Unfortunately the wind was up and the ocean was quite a bit more choppy and the pills had little to no effect. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t puking my guts up and it wasn’t the worst I’ve ever felt but it was enough to lessen my enjoyment of the day. I did however get both of my dives done with much more confidence than the day before and successfully got PADI certified! I also got to take my camera down on my last dive and made a little video:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ul9155bwolfpzcz/2nd Dive.mp4?dl=0

    Whilst I am really happy I went out and did the diving and saw some spectacular things, the issues I had with the boat, which I am convinced are inner ear related (as it was more than 24 hours on both occasions before I felt completely back to normal) do mean that I will seriously think twice before doing any more.

    Port Douglas is a beautiful place with a great feel and I highly recommend it to anyone that finds them self in that part of the world. Again I made a video of my time there:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/c9f1dr0bfhg5lvy/port douglas whole.mp4?dl=0
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  • Day164

    Thursday was a full on recovery day, my head was spinning from the boat and the big old drinking session that me and Jess put in so nothing much to report except if you buy a roast/rotisary chicken from a supermarket over here it comes full of stuffing… come on England get it together they are showing us up!

    Friday I took the advice of a few people I’d met and headed north to a town called Mossman and their spectacular Gorge. It was amazing, tropical rainforests, clear fresh water rivers and waterfalls that you can go swimming in and amazing views. I made a short video : https://www.dropbox.com/s/ze0jkki0xvler84/walk in mossman.mp4?dl=0

    Saturday I thought I would go an explore “4 mile beech”, it is as its name suggests a 4 mile stretch of beech and in a stroke of genius local planning laws have not only restricted building on the beach any building adjoining the beach must be completely hidden by the tree line and set a fair way back. This means that the views are spectacular, the only issue being that during summer months the sea is full of stingers (Pretty sure that just meant jelly fish but I felt silly asking as everyone seemed to know) so the only place you can swim is in a netted area which was a bit small and the water was pretty murky. After a decent walk down the beech and back, a dip in the water and a walk back to the hotel I took advantage of the pool to cool off and then lay and read my book before heading into town for a steak lunch and an afternoon watching rugby 7’s down the pub.

    After the England rugby boys put on a great performance on Saturday I was inspired to head back down to the pub for Sunday afternoon and watch the rest of the tournament, I was later joined by Michelle (My dive instructor) and 2 of her friends, who's names I would almost certainly remember if me and Michelle hadn't drank through the end of the rugby and then for the whole of the Australian Tennis open final between Federer and Nadal… I remember the match being exciting but could give you 0 specifics…

    Unsurprisingly Monday was another chilled out day, bit of pool swimming and a lot of laying on the sofa watching movies, trying to build myself up for my second dive day on Tuesday.
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  • Day160

    So after a day of learning my basic skills in the swimming pool it was time to get out on the boat and give it a go in the ocean!

    The day started off early with a walk down to the dock at 6:15 am for a 6:30 departure, that time in the morning all of the bats were just getting settled back into the trees after a night out foraging and doing whatever big ass fruit bats do at night. To those of you that haven’t been to Australia you might be surprised to hear about how many bats live over here, even in Sydney you get quite a few but up north the trees are absolutely stuffed with them during the days and if you’re out and about as the sun goes down you will be treated to the sight of them all taking flight to go do batty type stuff. There are hundreds if not thousands oh and by the way “It is one of the largest bat species in the world, and has a wingspan of more than 1 m”!!

    I got down to the boat and met up with Michelle (my instructor from the day before), Brett (Californian Marine Biologist and Photographer) and the captain… who I’m pretty sure was called Pete (Australian, Ex Navy Mechanic) and after a quick coffee and brief introductions to the rest of the group we were on our way. The ABC dive boat is a really nice but small boat so there were only 10 of us total Including the crew. (A dad and his 2 kids who were out to snorkel the reef, a young couple from Sydney and the delightful Jess who I was destined to spend a night on the town with but didn’t get to talking to until after the diving was done for the day)

    Little but important sidebar here, Michelle is an English Girl about my age and after a bit of talking we discovered that we were both big rugby fans. I went on to tell her my rugby story, if we’ve ever talked about rugby you’ve heard it… My first proper rugby game that I was allowed to go to on my own, when I was about 13/14 and I took a load of mates, boys and girls to watch the cup final between Newcastle (my team and a good few hundred miles from the ground) and Harlequins (based a few hundred meters away from Twickenham where the final was held), so needless to the 75,000 seat crowd was 85%+ Opposition fans and all I knew at this point of my life was football fans, riots and pitch invasions from the news. With no time left on the clock Johnny Wilkinson scores a try for Newcastle in the corner right in front of me and then goes on to kick the conversion winning the cup! I am understandably going mental, jumping, shouting, cheering, when one of the 6’3” brick out house harlequins fans in the row behind me puts a mitt on my shoulder… at this moment I’m anticipating getting seven shades kicked out of me and I turn around very slowly to look up… way up… at the man behind me who’s teams defeat I was celebrating quite enthusiastically only seconds earlier. He looks down at me straight in the eye and then offers a huge grin and a huge hand for me to shake and says “wow, what a game!”…. that was when I fell in love with rugby and its supporters, anyway as I said if we have ever talked rugby before you’ve heard this story, it was during my usual telling of this story that Michelle not only remembers the game I’m describing but she was there!

    Aaaaaaaaanyway back to the boat, as we head out at a slow pace we’re given a quick safety instruction by Brett and told that we will be heading about an hour and a half out to sea before dive 1, moving to a second location, completing dive 2 and then time for lunch on board and some snorkling if we wanted it. Now its safe to say at this point I’m a little bit nervous… maybe a smidgen more than little… for followers of my blog or facebook you will know I’ve not had much to do with the sea/ocean/any open water and now I'm sat on a boat with a load of strangers about to be dropped into the ocean 8 miles off the coast with a tank of compressed air and some flippers… thankfully I was distracted from how I was feeling by the need to complete a short written test for my PADI qualification which took around half the journey out there and before I knew it we were anchored up and it was time to go in… Michelle told me afterwards I looked really calm and took it all in my stride… if only she could have heard the panicked swear words flying around inside my head.

    After successfully getting into the water and inflating my BCD (buoyancy control device…air filled jacket), Michelle signalled it was time to get under the water and demonstrate some of the skills I had learned the day before under the ocean… on my way down the first time i had to half fill my mask with water and then demonstrate I could clear it, it all went pretty well until I took my first breath after clearing and realised I had left a small amount of water in my mask, I took an involuntarily breath in through my nose and the panic really set in. After what felt like an eternity of not being able to catch my breath again I signalled to Michelle I need to get back up to the surface. All credit to her she managed to calm me down a little with just hand gestures and then swim slowly back to the surface. After a short while on the surface I caught my breath, gave myself a good talking to, manned up and told Michelle I was ready to go down again. I’m so glad I did, once I had relaxed into it, done my practical demonstrations and descended down to about 14 meters, Michelle took me on a tour of a spectacular section of the great barrier reef, where we spotted Rays, Sea Cucumbers, spectacular fish, Eels and Barracuda, all of which Michelle would point out to me and gesture for the type of animal I was thoroughly enjoying myself… and then…Michelle turns to me with as much of a massive grin as can be done with a regulator in your mouth and real excitement in her eyes and puts her hand up to her head to make the symbol for fin… in an unmistakeable attempt to tell me she had spotted a shark!! I turned to were she was pointing and signalling we should swim and sure enough, just a couple dozen feet away was a sodding shark! I am not at all ashamed to say I shat myself! Michelle later told me that by the time she turned around to check on me (only a couple of seconds) not only had I fallen further back than any other time during the dive but I had also Ascended a good few meters (this was not concious, this was my sub-concious saying… ERM no thanks I don’t want to follow you and swim towards a shark!). Michelle and I discussed this shark in great detail that day and the next couple of times we saw each other and I have slowly come round to the realisation that when she says it was just a wee baby reef shark she's probably telling the truth and the huge man eating great white I saw may have been somewhat of an over-reaction on behalf of my imagination.

    After the dive and back on the boat before the second dive I began to feel a little sea sick and unfortunately despite the wonderful things I saw on both dives it really put a downer on the whole experience. Having reflected on it I think the reason I reacted so badly to both days on the boat, despite taking sea sickness pills on the second may have had something to do with a problem I had with Labyrinthitis a few years ago that may have permanently impacted my inner ear.

    On the way back in I got talking to the aforementioned Jess about what she had seen, when she had done her PADI course back in America and her trip which she was doing alone in 3 weeks from New York through Auckland, Sydney, Port Douglas and was heading on to the west coast. We got on really well and as it turned out we were staying at the same place and had both accepted Michelle’s invitation to go for a beer a few hours after the dive we would walk down together. I think its safe to say we clicked instantly, she is a really nice girl with a cool attitude towards life and over the next few hours we talked about pretty much everything from how my travel was going, the fact that her girlfriend had turned down her offer to join her but that wasn’t the end of the world as she liked being alone, my love of America but dislike of new York, both of our childhoods, future plans…everything. By the end of the night we had become firm friends and it was unfortunate that she was heading off the next day but we became facebook friends and only decided not to get married so I could have an American Green Card for 2 reasons, 1 I don’t want to live in New York and 2 she’s gay and has a girlfriend… C'est La Vie, I’ve mad a new friend and if for whatever reason I loose my senses and go back to new York someone to visit!
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  • Day158

    Yesterday I flew up to Cairns from Sydney, Australian domestic airport security is freaking hilarious! So I got the train out to the airport and found myself a self check-in machine, tapped in my name and destination...here's your boarding pass...no ID needed? Huh, ok. Walk over to the self bag check scan my boarding card and drop off my bag...no ID needed yet...huh sure. After a quick smoke I head over to the "security" area, put most of my stuff in my bag and head through the metal detector, that goes off... Anything in your pockets sir? Erm cigarettes, passport (not that anyone seems to care), can you go back through and put them through the machine, as I do, back through, goes off again, and the security guards reaction ... "you're alright mate, on you go"....ecsqueeze me? Baking powder?...ok I'll be off into the airport then...wanna see my ID at least? No? Ok... After a quick breakfast I had to the gate where I show....just my boarding pass....I'm now on a3 hour flight across Australia because I knew someone called Stewart Jardine was flying to cairns oh and I repeatedly set off a metal detector and didn't even get wanded or patted down...love it

    After picking up a car I drove an hour up north to port Douglas, absolutely spectacular drive which I cut into a mini video ... https://goo.gl/photos/JbxKwMcZjvSvaDuYA

    Today I checked into the dive centre for my first lesson.... which by the way required a lot more forms and ID showing...and headed off with my instructor to pick up some dive gear and head to a swimming pool for my introduction. It was a good session, breathing underwater, filling, removing and clearing my mask, establishing buoyancy, removing and replacing weight belts and bcd(buoyancy control device) and falling to remember acronyms BWRAF (Bruce Willis ruins all films) ....as I write this I'm still struggling Rico remember...gonna go with breathing, weights, releases.....and.....and, something....and final check...I'll Google it later. Oh and also there's another one I didn't remember that I'll also Google...soooo yea I'm pretty confident for my boat trip at 6.30am tomorrow!
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  • Day150

    Today I woke up thinking I had a 3/4 hour drive to my overnight stop in Canberra, to but it mildly I was dismayed to learn that i had at some point decided that it was a good idea to do a a seven hour drive today... and not the fun kinda driving I had been doing, boring, motorway, average scenery driving... I would have had a look round Canberra but it was already 5pm by the time i got here, I hadnt eaten, not heard anything particularly interesting sooooooooo pizza hut, couple beers and chill out for a 7.30am start to get the car back to Sydney before mid-day ( I know from past experience they will charge you for a full day if you're a few minutes late), so wish me luck!.... *update* I did wake up at 7.30, I did make the drive and my total distance for the week is...............2,122KMRead more

  • Day149

    Thursday morning I drove the last few hours over to Melbourne and picked up the keys to my airbnb for the long weekend, after a bit of driving around I managed to find a cute little 1 bedroom apartment in the North Melbourne area and started making plans to catch up with Wayne (for those of you that don’t know Wayne is an old work friend from GE… and Wayne if you’re reading this I know u totally just got all excited about me calling you a friend ;-) ) . For some reason, possibly because I was talking to an English friend I made the decision to wear jeans instead of shorts when we headed out for a beer at around 5pm… what a numpty, a sweaty sweaty numpty. I met up with Wayne outside his place just opposite the Queen Victoria market after a bit of walking in the heat and an unconditioned Tram ride and Wayne being delightfully honest and forthright as I remembered made sure that one of his first comments was “JESUS you are sweaty! That's disgusting!” aww missed you too bud. The Queen Victoria market, for those of you that don’t know is a major landmark, the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the many many places I didn’t end up going to in what turned out to be a bit of a long weekend piss up…. oops

    After a couple of beers and a catch up at Wayne’s we headed out and walked down Elizabeth street towards the waterfront in search of a cold beer and a good catch up spot. We would have made it about 3/4 blocks in 30 degree heat with me wearing jeans when I decided to indulge one of my favourite new city past times and visit a “British” pub ( Charles Dickens Tavern for anyone that's interested), compared to Canada’s attempt this was pretty spot on, dodgy décor, sport on TV’s, Grumpy old Cojers sitting around moaning, I even got a relatively decent pint of London pride… The spell was only broken briefly when in a super thick Aussie accent some woman stated to her family “Look at this: bangers, mash and Gravy… that sounds disgusting”… silly people. Also side note, I did not enjoy the graffitied picture of Chris Robshaw when on the same poster Rooney’s ugly mug was staring at me…

    After a couple in the air conditioned little pub we decided we should find something a bit more Aussie and continued our walk down to the waterfront. We found a cool bar (Arbory Bar and Eatery) with a nice water view and tanqueray as a house gin…Ideal. A good few rounds and a decent amount of catching up later Wayne was remembering why he didn’t used to try and keep up with me when drinking and I was getting tired after a few days of driving at the such like and we decided to part ways for the night with an agreement that we would have a much bigger night on the Friday when Rachel got into town.

    After a bit of a lay in and despite a forecast of rain I decided I would make the 30 minute walk up to the Melbourne Zoo. As many of you know, and even more of you mock me for, despite my 6’3”, 30 year old bald guy exterior, when it comes to a few things I am a giant child, nothing more so than Animals and Melbourne zoo did not disappoint. Melbourne zoo felt spacious, the enclosures seemed large and well kept, it didn’t feel like they were constantly trying to sell you food, drinks and souvenirs (I’m looking at you London Zoo) and there were loads of animals. Check out my video here : https://www.dropbox.com/s/86ewh7zeowfqngz/melb zoo.mp4?dl=0 .I spent a good few hours there until my camera battery ran down, the drizzle turned into rain and I got peckish.
    Friday night saw the arrival of Rachel (I’m trying to train myself not to refer to her as Rach as it turns out she genuinely hates that) into Melbourne, I picked her up from the airport and after a couple of warm up beers in the flat we decided to head out for a night on the town with Wayne. We decided we would start with a place that had been recommended by both Aiden & Craig called Cookie (they claim its Thai food and cocktails)… we however could find no sign of the place despite standing right next to where google maps claimed it was! We instead wondered around the corner to the Exford Arms ( a place that would basically become our new local for the duration of the trip after we discovered reasonable drinks prices, free pool and free video jukebox (mostly 80’s power ballads) ooh and it was open until 4am! I wont bore you with the details but it was Wayne, Rachel, Wayne's friend Aimeree and me, pints, shorts, spritzers, shots and bombs, followed by a hungry jacks (its just burger king Australia, why u being silly with the name).

    After a well deserved lay in Saturday started ( I say started it was about mid-day) with a trip over to the Casino for some lunch, drinks and a bit of gambling. Lunch was good, drinks were expensive and the blackjack was going well until the following happened (if you don’t know blackjack skip to the next paragraph). I was down to $80 remaining and felt a good vibe so went for a $40 hand, I got 11 and the dealer was showing a 3! as a fine Australian gentleman I’ve known for a long time says “winner winner chicken dinner”, the only decision left… to double or not to double… he’s got a 3… its doubling time… it went downhill quickly, $80 on the table and my next and final card… a 2…dealer… draws to 18… time to go home… god I hate gambling, mainly cos I suck! To quote a little kiwi friend “I’m not saying Stewart’s unlucky but if he fell in a barrel full of tits he’d come up sucking his own thumb”

    After a consolatory pint and cigarette in the casino “beer garden” we decided to go for a walk down the south bank and to meet up with Wayne at our new local, maybe stopping for 1/2 on the way…. Again I wont bore you with details, I’ll just say Arbory Bar and Eatery, Young and Jackson Pub, The Carlton Club and the Exford! We er’d on the side of caution after that and picked up a take-out from china town which was very authentic and quite tasty.

    I have to say Melbourne is a beautiful city with lovely people and a great vibe and I would definitely visit again some time. It definitely has a bit of a hipster vibe… which explains soooooo much about Aiden! And was at its most evident at the place me and Rach stopped for lunch on my way to drop her to the airport where my pulled pork sandwich was not held together with a toothpick, but a needle-less syringe full of sauce…
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  • Day145

    Wednesday started off with a breakfast with a view (see photo) to give me the energy for a few hours driving after an interrupted night of sleep (no idea why). The café was just round the corner from my airbnb and I was hoping for some sort of view from a place called waterside café but jesussssssss! I mean... look at it! almost made up for the fact that the coffee tasted burnt and all of the fried things in my huge breakfast tasted like the same flavour of lard... I genuinely felt really sick and didn't finish it but being British paid in full and told them how much i enjoyed it... god we're a strange breed.

    As I headed towards the state border I final understood why its called New South Wales, if you ignore the type of foliage and you know... the sunshine it really could be Wales down there with rolling hills and beautiful views.

    Heading into Victoria it was immediately obvious that the state had decided that the first few KM were the best place to set out their stall when it comes to things you should not do on their roads... all the things you would expect but advertised on huge billboards with massive slogans like the double-wide billboard that just said "BUCKLE UP OR FEEL THE PAIN", or one of the many "DONT BE A TOSSER, report anyone littering" billboards and my favourite uber subtle "only a little bit over? YOU BLOODY IDIOT" ... not a joke, genuine wording!

    I'm not entirely sure of the landscape or area i was driving through but just after getting into Victoria i was beset with drissle and for the first time since leaving the UK i saw a temperature gauge read sub 15 degrees... in Victoria's defence i think i may have been up a mountain/big hill situation as by the time i got to Lakes Entrance it was mid twenties and sunny again.

    Lakes entrance is a charming little seaside village with spectacular views and i highly recommend it as a stop for anyone passing through the area... I would however also recommend against staying at the "Absolute Lakes Entrance Motel", it would appear that the word Absolute refers to the fact it is completely and utterly at one end of lakes entrance...up a steep 1.5km hill from absolutely anything else or perhaps the fact that it has an absolutely familiar vibe... if you've watched Psycho recently...
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  • Day144

    Tuesday morning started with a very steep drive up to Illawarra to do the "Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk" which was absolutely spectacular! made a little video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ssthzll3sk0shto/walking in the trees.mp4?dl=0

    It is a series of suspended platforms high up in the mountains with spectacular views that was well worth the short detour before heading further down the beautiful coastline stopping at a lovely café for lunch on my way to stay with Stuart, Manda and their 3 dogs at my next airbnb. It was a lovely welcome from all of them especially the 3 dogs (golden retriever, blonde lab crossed with something along the lines of a greyhound and for very obvious reasons my favourite a lovely black lab).

    I hung out with all of them and learned about Manda and Stu's adventures moving between Australia and Surrey over the years and was massively impressed with Stuart's upbeat and positive attitude with his relatively recent (last few years) diagnosis of MS and the fact that he has found a dive instructor who specialises in disabled diving so he can continue to scuba!

    I don't know if it was the fact that I offered one of my beers to Stu or the amount of time i spent playing with the dogs (totally selfish on my part but manda and stu seemed to appreciate it) but manda was very insistent that I join them for dinner, lovely bit of Thai curry.
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  • Day143

    Time to get on the road again! Monday morning I picked up a car (Mazda 4 by 4 type thingy) and got on the road south into Heathcote National Park.

    First up... driving on the left hand side of the road... haven't done that in a while! secondly, the middle of Sydney was not the best place to get started as its pretty sodding busy and oh that's right it has some weird underground motorway thing called the distributor... obviously I'm a very macho and confident person and was in no way crapping myself for the first 45 minutes of my driving experience...

    after 45 minutes I got out of the city and into the national park...WOW! absolutely spectacular area of national beauty as the road weaves through hills and forests and if like me you take a side road off for 15-20 absolutely spectacular beaches!

    I went down to Garie Beach for no other reason than I had picked it out at random from google maps! After a little look around I decided that the beautiful white sands and clear ocean was too much to resist and reassuring myself that I would never see anyone there again I got my board shorts on and the man boobs out! it was time to go play in the sea! I have given this some thought and I honestly cannot remember the last time I swam in the sea... I must have done it at some point but I do not remember it! It was a lot of fun, the waves were pretty decent so it was more of a wade out and try not to get knocked over while jumping through them than a swim but I enjoyed it! next time I need some sort of surf / boogie board!

    I did capture a little video (don't worry, not a man boob in sight): https://www.dropbox.com/s/ete4asdhvy7ixqs/faffing about in the sea.mp4?dl=0

    after drying myself off and attempting to remove all the sand... and failing, I got back on the road! I spent the rest of the day shaking off bits of sand and driving down to Warilla, stopping briefly for a schnitzel dinner (what the Australian obsession with schnitzel is I don't know but its on every single menu!) and on to my airbnb for the night.
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  • Day137

    So its 2017! happy new year to everyone, been a fun start to the year with the highlights being a day trip to the blue mountains, the new years eve fireworks and a day wandering round Sydney and exploring.

    The year got off to a fantastic start, fulfilling a 16 year dream of watching the Sydney harbour new years fireworks (you can see a video I made here: (https://www.dropbox.com/s/sahom83iqujm3mr/Untitled.wmv?dl=0 ) decided to go with a song from the year that i first told myself I would be here for it one day (2000).

    Whilst I wouldn't have changed a thing about the fireworks it was extortionately overpriced to do anything in Sydney that night, as it is in most places but when you're paying A$300 (£175, US$218) i would have liked a bit more than a picnic box (which was admittedly nice, but still cold picnic food and a bottle of water) and the opportunity to sit on a patch of grass with a great but still partially obstructed view. Like I said though, I'm glad i did it but it was a one off.

    On the 3rd I decided to have a wander round Sydney and get my bearings while Rach returned to work, I was also hoping to buy myself a reasonably priced digital camera so that I can take some better photos and share them with you lovely people. But unfortunately no-where had what i was looking for in stock and nothing in Sydney is reasonably priced so that didn't happen. I did however find some fantastic views including a great bar in darling harbour with reasonably priced Gin and lovely fried prawns for lunch where i spent a little while before walking on and eventually finding Barangaroo reserve which was lovely with a great view of the bridge and some lovely grass to sit on for a few hours a read a book.

    That day gave me a good opportunity to re-evaluate my views on Sydney, I do like this place a lot, as i did last time i was here, however its either gotten a lot busier or I have gotten a lot older and grouchy about crowds... I suspect its a combination of the 2. Don't get me wrong its no where near London busy or anything and I do still really like it here but its not quite the idealised picture i had in my head from 11/12 years ago.

    The 4th was a fantastic trip up to the blue mountains.. The day started with a trip to Featherdale wildlife park in the north Sydney suburbs which had lots of kangaroos, Wallabies, Koala's, Wombats and Birds. I absolutely adored this Koala that was a) fast asleep (unsurprisingly) but was b) snoring his head off! I've never heard a noise like it i think he may have given me and my dad a run four our money with the racket produced. After a quick stop for lunch in a small town in the lower Blue Mountains we drove on to the aptly named Scenic World for spectacular views from the paths, horizontal, glass bottom cable car, the steep cable car down to the temperate rainforest and the worlds steepest railway back up again afterwards. The whole day was topped off with a short boat ride down from Parramatta into Sydney, under the bridge and into Circular Quay just in time to meet up with Rachel finishing up from work! (video highlights of the day here: ( https://www.dropbox.com/s/t3xkg55h5erelbe/Blue Mountain tour.mp4?dl=0 ) .

    Last night was good fun as well, my measure of a good place is always its people and running into a random group last night and being invited back to one of their converted warehouse apartments and partying on their roof until the early hours reminded me why i love the people of Sydney!

    Next week I'm picking up a car on Monday lunch time and driving slowly round the coast to Melbourne for Thursday, Rach is flying down on Friday to spend the weekend and I'm driving back up to Sydney on the following Monday.
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