Tag Archives: travel

Quick Stop: Stonehenge

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I like old stuff.

Wait … let me qualify that statement: I am fascinated with the ruins left behind by people from another time in our relatively short human history.

Why am I telling you this? Because while I was in England I needed to visit Stonehenge. I do mean NEED. Going to Stonehenge was only second to breathing oxygen.

And every time I mentioned my desire to explore this mysterious place, it impressed me how many people tried to explain why visiting the site would not be worthwhile.

“It’s far from the city,” they said.

“It’s not that exciting,” they said.

“Your money is better spent elsewhere,” they said.

“It will be really cold out there in winter,” they said.

And my personal favourite: “There’s a fence around it,” they said.

Let me just take a moment to deal with this last comment. (Never mind that all of the aforementioned are silly things to tell a person whose heart beats with one singular passion.)

Yes, it is true there is a fence around Stonehenge; however, the rope “fence” is maybe a half metre tall. So, it’s not ruining anyone’s view or photographs. Sure, the fence might prevent me from sauntering into the centre of the stone formation, but I understand we can’t have nice things unless we take care of them. Plus, old stuff sometimes falls apart.

Now I’m off to pencil in a rough date with the Easter Island statues. Please don’t try to tell me why I shouldn’t go.

For more information about touring Stonehenge, particularly if the place sings to your soul, visit: www.thestonehengetour.info.

Welcome to London!

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All my life, I have been waiting ….

Big Ben

Big Ben!

After 24 hours of flying and a day-and-a-half of bear-like hibernation in my hotel room with the thermostat set to “Ecuador,” visiting the world-famous Big Ben serves as my official “welcome to London!”

Warning: involuntary regurgitation of factual information featured below this point. Turn back now if you are only in it for the pictures!

The story of Big Ben begins after a fire destroys the Palace of Westminster in 1834. The following year the reconstruction of the building is commissioned and a design competition is held. Ninety architects submit 400 designs and the winning edifice is chosen by committee.

The construction of the building, its towers and the clock prove problematic. There are several significant delays — one of these lasting seven years due to stringent requirements for the accuracy of the time piece — but success is eventually achieved nearly 25 years later. By May of 1859, the clock’s tower is finished and the “Great Clock” is installed and functional. The “Great Bell” finally strikes the hour for the first time on July 11, 1859.

The nickname, Big Ben, initially refers to only the Great Bell (13. 7 tons) that marks each passing hour. Where this moniker comes from is uncertain though it is thought to reference Ben Caunt, a champion heavyweight fighter of the 1850s, or Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works 1855 -1858.

The Great Clock has stopped on several occasions in its 156 years due to breakages, weather, workmen or …. birds. (Birds ruin everything!) The most severe breakdown occurred in 1976, and the clock was stopped for repairs for 26 days over nine months.

Now consider this: being responsible for resetting the most famous clock in the world on time-change weekends!

Home Is Where the Heart Is

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Traveling indefinitely is not always easy.

It has shitty moments — like you’re headed to the airport and your friend’s car breaks down leaving you stranded. And it has its finer moments — a perfect stranger stops to help and drives two hours out of their way to ensure you make your flight.

And juggling finances from day-to-day is always tricky business.

To save money and get by in leaner times (i.e. when I am not working due to exploring some new destination), I have lived or “crashed” in a number of places I never would have imagined calling “home.”

1) Hostels. Great places to meet like-minded travelers and while some of them are amazing, some are a bit less impressive. Regardless, all hostels offer budget-style accommodation with dorm-share or camping options (sometimes even couch or hammock options during busy times) being cheapest. I have stayed in 32-bed dorms on a few occasions to make the most of my dollars, and it wasn’t that bad.

All beds are not created equal.

However, all beds are not created equal.

2) Tent. To stretch my budget, there actually came a time when I intentionally set foot in a camping store and purchased a basic two-man tent for a mere investment of $40 AUD. This tent combined with an inexpensive air-matress proved one of the best make shift homes I’ve had on the road and it still lives in the boot of my car in case I must return to the wild.

Now let’s be clear that before I purchased the tent:

a) I had no clue how to set one up.

b) I hated camping and tents, and the idea of being dirty in nature whilst surrounded by horrible stinging, biting bugs.

Yet, my scientific experiment was successful. Camping is, in fact, a good way to conserve dollars.

And now, I am a wandering tent hobo.

3) Swag. This is something like a tent and a sleeping bag combined. However, the one I used in the outback of Australia was much more sleeping bag-esque with a thin mattress and pillow. It was OK after I convinced myself spiders and snakes didn’t exist …. Perhaps this is more for the rugged outdoorsman or woman. I’ll be sticking with my tent in the future.

swag

Image courtesy Google

4) Car. When driving long distances alone or when the weather is a bit too scary to ride out in a tent, I have found that sleeping in my car is the way forward. (In Australia, they actually prefer you pull over and nap at a rest stop then continue driving while tired and cause a crash.) Luckily, I am small enough to curl up in the back seat and snooze.

What my car was like before it turned pink. (Image courtesy Google)

5) Van. Sure, this is pretty closely related to the car. In Australia and New Zealand, many travelers rent or buy campervans. These vans serve as transportation as well as accommodation making them quite economical though I still have not stayed in one. Instead, I have stayed in a broke down passenger van sitting in my friend’s driveway. It was not really meant for sleeping in like a campervan; but after removing the seats and making use of my air-matress, it was alright for a week or so. And about halfway through my stay, the van’s slider door fell off. Oh well, what would life be without a few ridiculous surprises? Plus, I really needed to save money.

The sort of van meant for camping/driving

And this brings me to:

6) A friend’s couch. I would never abuse this option, but staying with friend’s or friend’s of friends while passing through or after a bad run of luck is a way to survive. Of course, these friends are always welcome to stay with me if visiting or in need. And they know who they are!

Yeah, it's a little ugly ...

Yeah, it’s a little ugly, but it’s a safe place to sleep.

In the end, these experiences have taught me that I need very little to live. Yet, I have also learned to fully appreciate the luxury of living in a home with all the desired creature comforts. And of course, I have learned home is where the heart is — essentially, wherever it is I am happy.

Homecoming

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byronsusnet

The Wreck

It’s good to be back in the Bay! While the Northern Territory and the Red Centre were magical, it’s time to get back to it! “It” mainly consists of working, splashing around in the sea (surfing, as I call it) and the generally bizarre day-to-day antics that only occur here in Byron.

Not to worry, daily life as I have just hinted is far from ordinary. The proof being my latest feat: skydiving.

Yep. I chose to jump out of a perfectly good airplane for no reason other than to experience the ultimate adrenaline rush.

Call me crazy if you want to but why not try skydiving? Sure something could go wrong, but it doesn’t happen very often. And no one knows how many days they get on this planet anyway. And I continually crave Indiana Jones-style adventure ….

Look, I won’t lie: I held onto an irrational fear for many years related to breaking my legs upon landing after a skydive. When I traveled New Zealand two years ago, I did not jump at Lake Taupo (kicking myself now) as I still foolishly believed I would somehow be  injured or killed.

It was only while selling skydives to backpackers for just over a year in Byron Bay, AU, that my fear started losing its grip.  I observed these “doomed” backpackers returning to the shop after their jumps to use the free wifi — many of them even thanked me for booking this experience for them. These observations and testimonials were the closest thing to a scientific study I was capable of conducting, and my mental tally-sheet showed no one had died within a 12-month span.

My fears melted away.

And the universe responded by presenting the right moment to finally take a leap of faith:

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Yeeeeewwwwwww!

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I knew flying would be awesome!

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A new perspective on Byron!

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He’s laughing because I’m already asking to jump again!

Object lesson: Bugs Bunny mug #postaday

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Sherlock had his pipe. Dorothy had her ruby red slippers. Me? Well, friends, particularly former and current housemates, would most likely associate me with this:

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Yep, it is a Bugs Bunny mug.

When I arrived in Australia I decided I needed a vessel dedicated purely to tea drinking. It was a small luxury I could now afford given I would be staying in one place for awhile. And to this day I savor my tea from this mug each morning. (That’s correct, I am a bit different from the many Americans who clamor for their cup of automatic-drip coffee at daybreak.)

I can’t say it was an extremely thoughtful purchase (impulse buy); I can’t say the mug is expensive or deluxe ($5 from Coles); I can’t even say they bothered to properly fill in the cartoon character’s features (orange bunny nose). Nonetheless, I have carried Bugs Bunny with me move after move after move. And I leave him all over the house, typically still half full with afternoon tea I could not finish due to some distraction, much to the dismay of others.

I am very possessive of Bugs as the mug has developed sentimental value  — it has been a constant in an ever-changing landscape. When housemates borrow Bugs this instantly inspires jealously. Why do they need my mug?! Surely, there are plenty of others around! In fact, sheer panic has arisen on a few occasions after hearing dishes breaking in another room. For some unknown reason I tend to fear it might be Bugs taking a fatal dive!

Yet, the mug lives on and each morning my tea ritual occurs. Undoubtedly, there will be room in my suitcase when the time comes to explore a new country.

Reflections on “goodbye”

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Ripple effect

Photo courtesy Google Images

When traveling, people often make a sudden splash, and the ripple effect continues long after parting ways ….

People come into my life for three days, two weeks, four months, one year — I never really know for how long and I’ve learned to anticipate short stays — and we share an adventure or commiserate over failings that have led us to a particular place.

To be honest, some people I have met on the road are as short lived as a May fly — just a conversation on a ferry, a plane or a bus ride. Yet, they shared a remarkable story from their life or some magical pearl of wisdom fell from their lips, and I’ve locked these precious bits away in my heart for safe keeping.

Every once and awhile, I do look back and wonder why I have crossed paths with certain people. And I always find they appeared when I needed something. I needed a new piece of the “life puzzle.” I needed a shoulder to cry on, a lesson, inspiration or a good laugh. And I suppose that maybe I gave them something in return even if I will never know what it was.

Saying goodbye to these “splashy” people is always bittersweet because the adventure we’ve shared is over. And while goodbye is often just “see you later” in disguise in the traveling world, sometimes, and usually you know when this will happen, people who have left a mark on your heart slip back into the chaos just as mysteriously as they emerged, never to be seen again.

Still, the ripples go on. And the things I have learned continue to shape who I am as I move forward.

* I always prefer to say “see you later” as life is beautifully unpredictable.

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After an amazing journey from Darwin to Alice Springs, I have said fond farewells to new friends who I hope to meet again someday. For now, I return to Byron Bay to jump back into “normal life” in paradise.

Watarrka National Park: Home of Kings Canyon

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Waking up hours before the sun to begin a dizzyingly steep climb up what’s known as “heartbreak hill” — as attempting this feat after sunrise is already considered dangerous due to desert temps and exposure — tends to become one of those mornings where I wonder: what am I doing? Why did I sign up for this? And on this day, more specifically I thought: oh God; heartbreak hill?! Am I strong enough to make it after only a taste of Corn Flakes at 3:30 a.m.?

First light

First rays of light topping the canyon walls

As usual, all reservations are mentally lit on fire and taken away with the wind in the form of ash.

Because I wanted this;

I made this moment reality; and

I will succeed.

The adventure begins with a steep climb to the top of Kings Canyon as mentioned, heartbreak hill, where it is said that as you struggle to continue you can’t help but think of the person you want most walking by your side. Personally, all I could do was think “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” (whilst on land) as I huffed and puffed and would have blown a house down if one had been in the way.

But you can’t beat walking the rim of a canyon (or a volcano I might add!):

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My heart is stronger than forbidding sandstone, thank you!

Half way along the walk is the “Garden of Eden,” an oasis of lush vegetation and waterholes. I find myself captivated by impressionistic reflections and tiny frogs:

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Tiny frongs

Stella the frog

After leaving this oasis, much like the Lion King (no lions in Australia, guys), I proudly stood at the top of what is called “Pride Rock” — a rite of passage for all those who conquered tough terrain and self-doubt to stand tall.

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Yewwwwwww!

And finally, one last truly humbling canyon view from the top:

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Indiana Jones: eat your heart out!