Reviews

The Land of the Long White Cloud

I finished a punishing degree in May 2016, and in celebration of the fact that I hadn’t disappeared into a black hole of essays and technical plans, my best friend and I embarked on a ten day self-driving tour of New Zealand. Both islands!

Starting in Auckland, of course we had to take a selfie with the Dwarf king…

Auckland Airport

before we were on our way down the road to Matamata.

We hired a little Fiat from Jucy Rentals that had all the engine power of a remote control car and it had the weirdest gear box I’ve ever come across; a hybrid automatic/manual. There was also a problem with the volume dial on the sound system, so as soon as I started the car we were deafened by the radio. I jumped so high in my seat that I nearly hit my head on the roof of the car while trying to claw my way through a closed window to escape. But we loved our little eggplant zoom zoom.

With our ears still ringing we set off.

Eggplant zoom zoom at Twizel

Matamata is, of course, the home of Hobbiton, and we deliberately stopped here for a couple of nights to refresh and rejuvenate ourselves. We stayed at a lovely little AirBnB called the Wash House and explored the little town and areas before taking ourselves off to Hobbiton for the night tour and dinner. I highly recommend doing this tour as opposed to the day one, if you have the time and budget of course, because not only do you see this amazing place in the late evening night, you also get to experience The Green Dragon and a eat feast befitting a Hobbit.

Bag End

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Hobbiton Feast

Hobbiton Lamp

An hour and a half drive from Matamata you will find the Ruakuri Caves, and they are well worth the journey to see incredible glow worms, stalactites and stalagmites. It is sacred to Māoris because it is an ancient burial ground, so be aware of that when you are walking through the caverns.

Glow Worms at Raukuri

Descending into the depths

We sadly departed Matamata to continue our adventures further south to Napier. On our way we stopped off to do the Redwoods Tree Walk…

Far Above

Sunlight through the Redwoods

and to see Rotorua’s hot pools…

Rotorua's Mud Pools

I failed parking 101.

I failed parking 101.

before arriving that afternoon in lovely Napier…

The View from the hill over Napier. Thank you to my best travel friend, Mich, for the beautiful photo.

The View from the hill over Napier. Thank you to my best travel friend, Mich, for the beautiful photo.

an incredible city on the east coast of New Zealand that is a monument to art deco architecture. In 1932 the city was nearly completely razed to the ground by an earthquake, and was then rebuilt in the architecture style of the time. It is well worth a visit as Napier is the gateway to the wine region of the Island.

Wine Tasting in Napier

Thank you to Mich for this photo.

Thank you to Mich for this photo.

Filled with cafés, shops, the beach, food trucks, wineries, arts, culture and art deco architecture, Napier is well worth a visit. I also bumped into a couple who were having a coffee and they had their Blue Heeler dog stretched out in the sun at their feet. We used to have a Blue Heeler before he died a few years ago, and I couldn’t resist asking for a pat and cuddle.

Next stop – Wellington, the windy city.

Snapchat

Cafés, vintage, vinyl, films, artistic endeavours, studios and workshops, museums, harbour and hills – Wellington has it all!

First stop of the day was the Weta Workshop, but on the way we had to take a stop off at Park Road Post Production, something to feed my inner audio nerd.

Weta Workshop, Wellington

Now, to Weta! This is where all the maps, costumes, figures, pieces of armour and weapons, jewellery – everything you saw in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were made by the talented people at the Weta Workshop. All the tours are conducted by people who work at Weta, and we were led around by a very enthusiastic and engaging young man who’s passion is moulds. It was great to be right there, watching these artists work, being told interesting facts that you could only learn from someone who spends their days and nights in this inspiring place! I want to take a friend of mine there – a fantastic animator-to-be, and if you have even a passing interest in the art of film, take yourself to Weta.

Our guide recommended we go to the Te Papa museum on Wellington Harbour, so after brunch and a visit to a vinyl store, we went! Did you know there is such a thing as a giant squid? At Te Papa they have one. It’s dead and preserved. No photo I’m afraid – I felt a little queasy looking at this giant piece of calamari in a shallow pool. But they did have an exhibition about World War One, models made in partnership with Weta.

WW1 Weta Model WW1 Weta Model

We then decided, because we were pretty tired, to take ourselves to the movies to see the New Zealand film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It is absolutely fantastic. Before the film began we took a walk up Mount Victoria – a perfect way to say goodbye to Wellington before we flew to Christchurch the next morning.

View over Wellington

 

Gandalf? Is that you?

Waiting at the airport for our early morning flight to Christchurch, we met Gandalf riding an eagle. Our island hopping flight wasn’t as epic as this, but not bad either.

Christchurch after the earthquakes is utterly heartbreaking. I’d been to Christchurch in 2005 and 2009. In 2017 the city is now a shadow of its former self: flattened areas, rubble and white dust, and a confronting art instillation of chairs, even a baby carrier, dedicated to those who died. We left the city quite quickly, but not before stopping off at the new cathedral, made out of cardboard.

Christchurch's Cardboard Cathedral

We spent the afternoon and night at Lake Tekapo. Pronounced Teka-po, not Tek-APO as we were saying it. Not as embarrassing as my pronunciation of Dunedin as DunE-din, but that’s another story.

Our first bite of winter was bracing to say the least. Lake Tekapo is an amazing little town, set on the banks of the lake (it’s in the title isn’t it), surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo's church in the view.

The next morning we took ourselves to the hot pools for a bit of pampering. I don’t know why I do it, but I insist on having massages when I don’t even like them. I realised too late that I had booked an hour of pain and embarrassment, not half an hour an originally thought. Mich enjoys massages and liked hers. Me on the other hand? Never again. Never again I say!

Lake Tekapo Hot Pools

After the ‘pampering’ and hot-pool-ing, we intrepid explorers drove the long, windy mountain roads to Queenstown! All we could do that night when we arrived was find a parking spot for the car (harder than you may think because of the high number of tourists per year v available space), find some dinner and book the next day’s activities then collapse.

Queenstown Day One – a.k.a. the day I was talked into jumping off a cliff. But before we did that we had a win by getting a parking spot in the hostel’s car park. We stayed at the Haka Lodge, and if you’re looking for good, clean, comfortable and thoughtfully designed accommodation in Queenstown, they’re your best shot. Don’t book if you have mobility or knee issues – there are lots of stairs.

No matter how hard I tired, and I tried hard by filling myself with lots of delicious New Zealand food, I was not too heavy to partake in the Canyon Fox, Queenstown’s newest adventure activity.

The kinder way to have your weight emblazoned on your person.

The kinder way to have your weight emblazoned on your person.

The Valley

 

Those cables carry you at high speed across the valley.

Those cables carry you at high speed across the valley.

Up and running for only a couple of months, it was surprisingly Mich’s idea to throw ourselves off a cliff. You are strapped into a harness and let to a platform on the edge of a cliff. (See above). Then you’re attached to a cable and told to run straight down the middle of said platform and jump. After you jump, you fall for a little bit before your harness and the cable you are attached to snaps into action and instead of falling you are whisked over the valley to the other side. Repeat but in a sitting position for the ride back.

I was up for it, and it only took me four or five minutes after being strapped in to run off the end of the platform. I’m proud to say that I was the first of our group to go. One big Australian guy in the group, all bravado and coolness, said, when the group was asked who would go first, “ladies first!” Wasn’t about to let some guy get the better of me, so I. Went First. Mich went second. #friendgoals

You know when you are so in your head that you can’t hear what’s going on around you? Instructions go in one ear, swish around your fuzzy head for a second, then slip out the other ear? That was me. Eventually I got myself together enough to jump. We loved it so much we went again.

Didn't die!

 

Queenstown Day Two – first day of the winter festival.

I am not a hiker. Going on overnight hikes with school for Duke of Ed. was about as far as I got. So when it was suggested that we go to the top of the mountain overlooking over Queenstown the next day I was totally against it. But, lo and behold, there’s a cable car!

The view from the top of the gondola.

At the top you get to see views like this. And you can see the hiking trail up the mountain as you sail to the top with ease. You get your photo taken as well. I’m not allowed to post that one, as it is rather unflattering. Fair enough. So here’s a pretty one of me!

On the gondola.

You can also take a relaxing walk around the lake.

Panorama of the lake at Queenstown

As it was Queenstown’s Winter Festival kick off there were fireworks and live music. A perfect way to say farewell to New Zealand.

Winter Festival Fireworks

Goodbye New Zealand

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Exploring Your Own Backyard

With my imminent trip to Melbourne this Sunday, I have been thinking of the last time I explored this wild and rugged land that I call my home. The photos below are a small compilation of my five-day trip along the east coast of Tasmania, travelling from Launceston to Hobart.

All photos were taken on a Samsung Galaxy S4’s camera, and I am very happy with the way they turned out. So if you’re travelling light or are on a budget, definitely consider your phone’s camera as a great substitute.

Cataract Gorge, Launceston

 

Cataract Gorge, Launceston

Bicheno

Bicheno

Bay of Fires

Bay of Fires

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Weldborough Pass Rainforest Walk

Weldborough Pass Rainforest Walk

Freycinet National Park

Freycinet National Park

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

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Freycinet National Park

Port Arthur

Port Arthur

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Installation artwork, MONA Gallery, Hobart

Installation artwork, MONA Gallery, Hobart

Installation artwork, MONA Gallery, Hobart

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

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Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart

Final night’s sunset, on the road between Port Arthur and Hobart

Happy travelling!

Ali. x

Haven’t travelled in a loooong time…

I haven’t travelled in this past year.

According to some people, once you have gone on your BIG trip, you get over your wanderlust. Not so for me – I went on my first big trip, and… wanderlust has stayed strong and steady within me.

I haven’t been able to write anything on this blog over the past months because I’ve gone back to University. Hence, the lack of funds to travel. Only a year and 6 months until I graduate, and I have already started planning my post-graduation trip.

The passport is safely stored away, interesting online articles and tours have been bookmarked – so it will happen. Patience is a virtue, or so I’m told…

A funny below for your Boxing Day.

 

I Was Your Pilot

“Get lost!” Why you should live overseas

I am in a slightly ruminative mood today dear reader. This has been brought on by a couple of things. After successfully avoiding most winters here at home by heading north for the past few years, I am now having to rug up and grit my teeth through the wind, rain and low temperatures without the escape of an airplane ticket. I was like a bird, heading north for the winter. My winter haven was Europe, France in particular.

The second reason is that last night I watched the Woody Allen film, ‘Midnight in Paris’. The opening sequence is a travelogue of Paris. As the images flittered past, I was mentally naming all the places and remembering all the amazing experiences I had had while living there. For the past day I have been trying to remember why I ever left that most wondrous city. Red wine at a Bistro, Van Gogh paintings whenever I wished and the smell of the place after rain.

This blog post is for you out there who may be mulling around the idea of living abroad, or you’ve never considered it and something is missing from your life and you can’t quite put your finger on it. This is for you.

~*~

An adventure unlike any other

There is nothing more magical, in my experience, than packing your suitcase and saying au revoir to your country for goodness knows how long. When I left for Paris, I didn’t know where I was going to live, I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I didn’t know if I was even going to like living there! But within three weeks of getting the go ahead, I was on the plane and I didn’t look back. You’re jumping into the unknown, and there’s no rush like it out there.

Be different

Dropping everything and moving to the other side of the world is deemed irresponsible and immature in our society. But why? Because we have the courage to go somewhere we don’t know to build a brand new life? To live life outside what is deemed the norm? Move outside the norm. Don’t let the ‘no’ of society harm your dream in any way. Discover, or re-discover, your passion for life, for work, for the world, by being different.

Learn a new language

The sad thing about it is, my schooling didn’t teach me a second language. It just doesn’t seem to be a priority in Australia. So, the chance to learn a second language excited me, and it’s not just any old language, it’s French, the language of love! So, if you’ve ever wanted to become bi-lingual, there’s no better way to do it than to immerse yourself in it!

Widens your view of the world

The world is bigger than your hometown. It’s bigger than Facebook. It’s bigger than the daily grind. Nothing widens the mind more than setting out on your own and seeing parts of the world that’s completely different to yours.

The passion

I may be a little jaded, but in my opinion, very few people today have a genuine passion for life. How many of you reading this do things on a whim? How many of you toss common sense out the window and do something crazy? How many of you live every second of your life with passion?!

Realise how lucky you are

We are the luckiest people in the world. Out of the billions upon billions of ‘could-bes’ floating around, you were born and you have the chance to walk this earth and breathe deep. Take this extraordinary chance you have to see the world from as many different perspectives as you can!

The experience

How many times have you finished your week at work, paycheque in pocket, with a hollowness within you? Mine sits in my throat. Do you wish for something else? New experiences? New people? A new city? Then stop thinking! Over thinking is one of the most dangerous things we do. The one piece of advice from anyone who has lived overseas is this: “just go, just do it!” There’s no point in waiting and thinking. Just go!

Happy travelling!

Ali. x

 

 

 

Your first time

… in Paris.
Going to a city for the first time can be a minefield of organisation and time management. Where do I go? How long do I need to stay? What are the must sees? Guide books such as the Lonely Planet give you a very good idea of all the main tourist hot spots you should go to in any city in the world. But, I am a believer in seeing things and doing things on your first trip to a place that aren’t necessarily in the guide books. Oh, you will still have time to see the sites and to visit museums, but doing something a little bit ‘local’ will make your first time that little bit extra special.
Here I present to you the top 8 things I recommend you do on your first trip to Paris!
~*~
1. Take a walk, it doesn’t matter where. My recommendations are Montmartre, the Marais or along the river. What wonders will you discover?

2. Have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower – at night is the best, with the tower twinkling every hour until 1am.

3. Take a boat ride on the Seine. You’ll get a unique view of the city. Watch out for my personal favourite – Henry IV Bridge. It’s the one with all the faces on it. Stories say that just before the bridge was finished, King Henry held a party to celebrate the opening, and the faces you see on the bridge are the guests at his party.

4. Visit a Patisserie and try a real croissant or macaroon – hell, try both!

5. Have dinner at a local restaurant, sit outside and watch people go by. Eat at 8pm or later if you want to be like a local.

6. Visit the Luxembourg Gardens, my favourite gardens in the whole of Paris. Take along a packed lunch and sit by the gazebo. There will usually be a free concert of some kind playing there.

7. Take a small group tour. Chocolate, museum or city – it doesn’t matter. This will give you some info on the city from a local or an expat that you won’t get anywhere else.

8. Visit a cemetery. You may or may not have heard about Parisian cemeteries. Let the photo below speak for itself and go and see one of these uniquely Parisian places.

Whether it’s your first time or your fifth time in Paris, I recommend you do a few or all of the above. But for first timers, doing things that aren’t in the guide books will make a place special in your mind. No longer will your first time be rushed, full of long lines and exhaustion. Take the time to see and appreciate the city of Paris like a local.

Happy travelling!

Ali. x

How to survive hostel dorm rooms

We’ve all been there. The height of luxury. An 8, 10, 12, 18 bed dorm room in some large city full of different travellers. The newbies –  up at the crack of dawn everyday and out and about all day. The seasoned travellers – taking it easy with everything. The resident – three suitcases and visa runs every few months. But you’ve all got something in common. You’re living together in veeeeeery close quarters. Some people take to it like a duck to water. Others, not so easily. So, to ensure you co-exist amicably with everyone in your room and you come out in one piece, here are my top tips for surviving hostel dorm rooms!

~*~

Luxury! Our 18 bed dorm in London.

Luxury! Our 18 bed dorm in London.

KEEP IT NEAT AND TOGETHER

To ensure a healthy and happy dorm room atmosphere, for the love of god keep your possessions neat and together! You want to make friends on the trip? Then make sure your luggage isn’t left open and spilling into the middle of the room, your shoes are tucked away somewhere and your wet towel isn’t dangling onto another person’s bed.

EARPLUGS

You’re in a dorm room so there is bound to be a bit of noise, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle to a good night’s sleep. Earplugs will block out those little noises, and sometimes the big noises from the snorer in the corner, to ensure blissful slumber.

INVEST IN A SLEEPING MASK

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been woken up in the middle of the night by someone turning on the lights to search for their jim-jams or toothbrush. Is it inconsiderate? Yes. Should you chew them out for it? Possibly. But you can’t stop them from doing it. Instead,  you can invest in a sleeping mask. Maybe one that has padding or a slogan on the front. One of my favourite ones was a baby pink mask with Fuck Off written in cursive. You can also ‘invest’ in one by keeping the one the airline gave you on the flight over.

TORCH

Had a bit too much to drink before going to bed that night? You’ve woken up at 2am with that foreboding pressure in your lower abdomen that you think you can threaten or cajole away? Take it from one with a small bladder that there is nothing worse than leaving your warm bed in the middle of the night to struggle your way through a 12 bed dorm to the bathroom. Queue stubbed toes and getting caught in people’s towels as you walk towards the door. A little torch in your hand will make sure that you make it to the door and back again in one piece.

TOMORROW’S CLOTHES ON TOP

I cannot stress this enough! Whenever I travel, because of the hideous time changes, I am an early riser when travelling. There is nothing more annoying to the other people in your dorm and frustration with yourself when you have to dig through your luggage in search of today’s clothes. Be a smart cookie and put them on top the night before to save yourself all that trouble.

TISSUES FOR TOILET PAPER

You’ve waited and waited patiently for the loo to be free, bladder bursting. You finally get in there and are doing the business when you look around and there is no toilet paper! I don’t panic, my stomach doesn’t lurch, nor do I look around frantically for the secret stash. I’ve been clever and stuffed a small packed of tissues in my pocket. Crisis averted. This trick is especially good for those middle of the night escapades.

ALWAYS WEAR SHOES IN THE BATHROOM, ESPECIALLY THE SHOWERS!

You know those ads on TV, the ones about the yellow fungal nail infections? Well, that curse be upon you if you venture forth into the bathroom without proper feet accoutrements. No one wants to have smelly, infected feet, especially when you’re on them all day trudging around the sites. Save yourself the pain and embarrassment by wearing a pair of thongs in the bathroom.

POWER BOARD

I bet that everyone can sympathise with this. On hands and knees looking underneath bunk beds or behind luggage  for the elusive powerpoint. Usually you can find one, but alas, you have three separate electronic devices to charge up. Never fear, your power board is here! Take along a four plug power board and an international adaptor and you never have to choose which device is more important to charge again. You can charge them all!

~*~

This is not an exhaustive list, but these few tricks and tips will help you to survive a hostel dorm room. Don’t let these situations scare you away from staying in a hostel. Staying in places like this is an experience not to be missed and I have had some of my best adventures and met some of my best friends when staying in hostels, and you will too.

Happy travelling.

Ali. x

Riding Sherlock Holmes

During 2012 I was living in Paris, working as a tour guide for Fat Tire Bike Tours and City Segway Tours. It’s an American company based in Austin, Texas, who gave this wanderlust-filled graduate the opportunity to live and work in the City of Lights over the season. One of the perks of job, apart from the obvious, was that I could experience the delights of Fat Tire in other cities. So, after my jaunt in Cornwall, I spent a few days in London re-aquainting myself with my favourite city.

My good friend Kate had decided to join me, so we waited outside the Queensway Tube for our guide. Enter scene, a typical twenty-something in slouchy jeans and a rumpled t-shirt – this, was our guide. Just a short walk from the Tube is the Fat Tire office where we would pick up our steeds for the morning. All bicycles are named by the guides and my red beauty was named Sherlock Holmes.

My noble steed.

My noble steed.

Ah, it was a beautiful day in London town. You could not have asked for better. The sun was shining and the city was bursting with the excitement from the Olympic Games. I couldn’t wait to hit the road! That would have to wait, however, because we all had to manoeuvre our bicycles up the footpath crowded with tourists and tacky souvenirs, and then fight through a tour group slouching behind a flag and across Bayswater Road into Kensington Gardens. My goodness what a struggle! Lucky I had my red beauty to use as a battering ram. Then we entered the British beauty of the gardens and slowly rode towards Kensington Palace as our first stop.

The riders.

The riders.

Originally bought by William III and Mary II in 1689, the couple moved there from the official residency of Whitehall Palace to move away from the damp of the Thames which was affecting William’s health and exacerbated his asthma. Matt, our guide, made this history lesson fun and interesting, as he did for all the sites.

Before long we were on our way again for a beautiful ride through the park towards Buckingham Palace. Along the way we saw the mounted Queen’s guard on their way to the changing of the guard which happens every day at the Palace and has been seen by 99.9% of visitors of London.

Well hello there.

Well hello there.

The day we chose to do our bike tour of London also happened to be the day that the mens’ road race was on. There were road closures everywhere and the footpaths were more densely packed than Myer during the Boxing Day sales. By this point my firm but gentle battering ram technique was finely honed. Matt was a marvel when the usual tour was thrown out the window and he had to improvise a route to the National Gallery from the Palace. We ended up going a through a back alley that was only wide enough for pedestrian traffic to move in one direction. So what did Matt do? He grabbed the group’s bikes, hauled them one by one above his head and squeezed through the people to the other side. Wow! Those bikes ain’t light! He couldn’t carry us, mores the pity, so it was every man for themselves as we pushed our way through the throng.

Oh! What’s that I see before me? Is it a plane? Is it a bird? No, it’s Nelson on top of a big pole! Welcome to Trafalgar Square!

Nelson's Column in the centre of Trafalgar Square.

Nelson’s Column in the centre of Trafalgar Square.

But by far and away my favourite thing on this square is the National Gallery. It is wonderfully free to enter, as many of London’s galleries and museums are, and holds works of the great masters in a truly magnificent building. If you have time, duck into the Gallery restaurant for lunch, or even afternoon tea as I did once. Hot, strong, tea and fluffy scones with yummy jam. No apricot, which I was gutted about, but the strawberry was nice and comes a close second in my books.

One of my favourite movies of all time is ‘Wild Target’, and in one of the scenes when Emily Blunt’s character rides her red bicycle through the National Gallery, ringing her bell to the artworks. Now, we are not allowed to do this, so I did the next best thing and rode my bike in front of the National Gallery, (completely against the rules), and Kate took a picture of me doing it. It’s things like this that give a holiday a little extra spark of excitement and zing when you remember it.

Living the dream.

Living the dream.

You could choose from a number of eateries near Trafalgar Square for your lunch. Kate and I went into a pub and had chip butties (is that how you spell it?) When in London, and really the rest of the UK, if you need to go to the loo and the thought of using the public toilets fills you with dread, duck into a pub and use theirs! Usually clean, and free!

Right down the Palace of Whitehall, which was helpfully blocked off because of the road race, past Horse Guards parade and one neck exercise later to catch a peek of Number 10, we arrived at Westminster Abbey. I should point out that on all Fat Tire Tours, you do not go into any of the sights. The purpose of the tour is to show the sights and illustrate its history and cultural significance. Oftentimes, tour guides give helpful hints on how to avoid the queues at the busiest sites. From me to you, as your guide, here is a top tip! For Westminster Abbey, the 5pm Evensong service is the best way to get in the building without the crowds. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not. Go and experience the building as it was meant to be experienced! The great space filling the majestic roar of the organ which sends vibrations through your chest. Once Evensong is over, you can walk through the Abbey and take a peek at the building, and the people who are buried there such as Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, and William Shakespeare.

Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey.

One the ride back from the Abbey back towards Bayswater we rode along the mens’ road race route which was still handily blocked off from all usual traffic. It wasn’t blocked for the Queen though, who we saw zoom past us in her big Range Rover. It was fantastic to have the road to ourselves without the pressure of cars hovering in our blind spots.

Resisting the urge to do a Cadel Evans on the race route.

Resisting the urge to do a Cadel Evans on the race route.

A final zoom through Hyde Park, past the Serpentine, to finish our tour behind the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.

The Albert Memorial through the trees.

The Albert Memorial through the trees.

Thank you Fat Tire Bike Tours London!

Happy travelling!

Ali.

The Cornwall Crusader with Haggis Adventures

No matter how much I love travelling on my own, sometimes it can get lonely with no one to share the experiences with. This is what led me into the path of Haggis Adventures. They run small bus tours throughout Britain and Ireland, and in 2012, I embarked on their five day Cornwall Crusader. This tour takes in the beautiful south west corner of England, taking you from busy London, all the way down to Newquay and Land’s End.

The map of the Cornwall Crusader from the Haggis Adventures website. I love a good map!

The map of the Cornwall Crusader from the Haggis Adventures website. I love a good map!

Day One: Druids or aliens?

The tour started on a beautiful summer’s day in London at the end of July. Having been woken up during the night by not one, but TWO, fire alarms, I was feeling a mite weary. Let me quickly point out that 1) you do not put anything metal inside a microwave and 2) putting a toaster on its highest setting will not make your bread toast faster. It will only reduce your piece of bread to charcoal while at the same time managing to peeve off everyone in a full hostel! Lesson over.

Anyway, having blearily checked out I struggled with my pack to the rendezvous point. I don’t know if everyone does this, but I do. When meeting my tour group, I instantly start sizing them up to see who could potentially become a travel buddy. At this time in my life I was living in Paris and working as a tour guide for Fat Tire Bike Tours and City Segway Tours. I was feeling a little lonely and longing for people who I could converse easily with. So, finding myself in a city full of people who I could converse with without accidentally calling them a gherkin or eating what I thought was beef but turned out to be tongue was really lifting my spirits. So, I embarked on “find a friend!”

I found some: My travel buddies.

I found some: My travel buddies.

When travelling, I have found that I have met the most extraordinary people who I am proud to call friend. Whether it was just spending an evening together at a restaurant on the Thames with someone I had met an hour beforehand and eating the most amazing meal with the French waiter trying to get us drunk on apple schnapps. Or going for dumplings in Beijing, accidentally ordering 100 and forming a friendship which is still alive and kicking. My point is, when you are in your element, there is a very high chance that you will meet people who share the same values or want adventure or are also living away from home, and you form this most amazing connection that I can guarantee you in nothing like friendships formed at home. I don’t speak with anyone from my high school friends list and there are only a few people on my Facebook ‘friends’ list who I would call actual friends. The people who I hold dear are scattered far and wide across this beautiful earth and we don’t need to see each other everyday to reaffirm our friendship.

Anyway! Back to the Cornwall Crusader! (You’ll find that sentence a lot more interesting if you do it in a voice reminiscent of the old classic black and white, naval sea voyage, swash-buckling voice.)

After leaving the smoke of London behind, our first stop on this tour was Stonehenge. My mind was full of my father’s tales of Stonehenge when he did his months-long tour of Europe back in the day that Russia was still the USSR. During his visit, he could walk up to the stones, touch them, walk amongst them. These days you’re relegated to walking around the henge on a track behind a fence that’s about 20 or so meters away at its closest point. No matter how dorky you think it makes you look, grab the audio guide and listen to the soft British tones telling you about the Druids and the theories surrounding its use and how it came to be. Our colourful and completely delightful guide Hana, who looks like something out of the fifties, believes that it was put their by aliens. Each to their own I suppose.

Aliens or people more industrious that we give them credit for being?

Aliens or people more industrious that we give them credit for being?

A quick hop, skip, and a jump along the motorway we were in Salisbury to visit the Cathedral and home of one of 13 original copies of Magna Carta. Cue swoon at historical and cultural significance. Issued in June 1215 by King John, the Magna Carta was to prevent civil war and guaranteed England’s subjects certain rights, including the right that justice cannot be bought and/or sold. In other words, the right to a fair trial. This piece of paper was the beginning of the rights of citizens which now stretches across the world and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing it! If you can, speak with one of the people who diligently watch over the Magna Carta. They are a vast source of information on this most important artefact and more than willing to tell you all about it!

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

After a quick stop at Poundland (check it out if you can, anything and everything you could possibly want for a pound,) a deliciously English meal at a pub, and then it was on to Cheddar Gorge. Being a non-lover of Cheese, I went straight for the fudge. I left a little poorer and fatter. Oh well – I was on holiday!

Day Two: Watch out for the horses, they bite.

Dartmoor and Bodmin National Park is calling!

Dartmoor - the untamed wildness of the peaks.

Dartmoor – the untamed wildness of the peaks

 

Watch out for the Dartmoor ponies. They bite - as one person on our tour unhappily discovered.

Watch out for the Dartmoor ponies. They bite – as one person unhappily discovered.

After walking to the top of the moor, we took a short drive, in which two of my travel buddies fell asleep in the most unflattering positions, and I, of course, took a photo, we arrived in sunny, warm Newquay. We stayed in a great hostel that had a kick-ass common area, with yummy food and cold drinks, overlooking the bay. All the group got together and had dinner out of styrofoam looking at the beach where we would have our early morning surfing lesson the next day. Thinking of the wetsuit that I would have to squeeze myself into the next day, the seagulls received most of my chips.

I have a picture of this view on my travel wall at home from the 1950s. It was fantastic to be there.

I have a picture of this view on my travel wall at home from the 1950s. It was fantastic to be there.

Day Three: A theatre by the sea.

Surfing baby! Let’s just say that I need to practice a little more and leave it at that? Flossing sand from your teeth is quite difficult.

Moving on from the morning, we visited the Minack Theatre, built by Rowena Cade. As a lover of theatre who would spend my last 20 quid on the worst seat in a theatre in London just to see a show, this was the most amazing experience for me. Looking out over the big, blue ocean, the tiered seating rises up out of the cliff with past plays and their year of performance carved into the hot stone. It would be hard pressed to find such a monument which pays homage to nature, man, and culture and the arts than this.

The Minack Theatre

The Minack Theatre

 

The names and years of the plays performed in this amazing location.

The names and years of the plays performed in this amazing location.

On my previous tour with Haggis Adventures, we travelled to the northern most point of the Outer Hebrides. As  our tour guide Alan said, “next stop – Iceland.” So it was such a thrill to find myself at Land’s end. A completely different experience. For one thing, there was no one but us, a couple of families and the wind in Scotland. At Land’s End, you couldn’t move for the bus loads of tourists all getting their picture taken at the overpriced sign. Kitsch shops popping up everywhere selling everything from stale cornish pasties to snow globes. To avoid this horrid display of crassness, take a walk along the path which follows the cliff line and take it all in.

The walk along the cliffs towards Land's End which you can see in the distance.

The walk along the cliffs towards Land’s End which you can see in the distance

Towards the end of the day we saw St. Michaels Mont, had a well deserved cider by the sea before retiring to the hostel for delicious burgers and a well earned sleep.

Day Four: the legend of King Arthur.

Put your walking boots on and fill up your water bottle for day four of the Cornwall Crusader! This day was the day we walked to Tintagel Castle, the birthplace of King Arthur. I was so glad that it was part of my job to ride about 10 kilometres a day, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it. As I walked throughout the ruins, I was remembering the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. Of gallantry and good deeds. It was hard to imagine the great stories happening in the place I was standing.

Part of the ruins of Tintagel Castle

Part of the ruins of Tintagel Castle

One yummy Cornish Pasty later we arrived in Bath for the final night of our tour. Travelling to Bath was the reason I chose to go on to this tour and I couldn’t hold in my excitement at being there. I was like a kid in a candy store. The history, architecture, and its literary significance was drawing me there and I wished to soak up as much of all of it as I possibly could in the short time we were there.

The great houses of Bath

The great houses of Bath

That night, after some fish and chips, the girls and I went on a comedy tour of Bath lead by a man in a purple blazer carrying purple balloons. I laughed so hard my ribs ached and I saw the city of Bath in all its glory at dusk.

Bath

Bath

Day Five: Don’t drink the water.

The first stop on our tour of well-being was to the Roman Baths to take the natural water, with a bit of a history lesson along the way. There’s a very big museum which plots the history of the Roman Baths, bringing modern technology and historic pieces to life. If you’re someone who finds the history pill difficult to swallow, this museum will score big with you. For me, I can easily spend a day in a single museum looking over the pieces while still not managing to see everything.

The ancient Roman Baths with the Ango-Saxon Bath Abbey behind.

The ancient Roman Baths with the Ango-Saxon Bath Abbey behind

When you come to the end of the Roman Baths museum, you have the option of tasting the waters. Believed to have health benefits, people would come from far and wide to take advantage of them. Eager to see if these waters would improve my health, I took the little paper cup, filled it with the warmish, mineral infused water, and took my fill. Instantly, it formed a congealed mass in my stomach that threatened to be re-introduced to the open air. Walking through Bath towards the Jane Austen Centre & Regency Tea Room for high tea, the feeling only became worse. Ugh – how could people drink this swill?! It wasn’t until I was happily ensconced in at a table in the window with a plate full of scones and a steaming cup of tea in front of me that I could begin to trust my stomach again. Two scones, two cups of tea and regency themed stationary and music under my arm, I was feeling myself again.

We did a quick stop at Lacock to see the beautiful houses, which have starred in many regency films throughout the years and are still occupied by people today. The only draw back to living in a place? You can’t drive your car around town. But looking around and not seeing three cars parked outside one house, or a spider web of power poles marking the landscape, this made me think that that was a very small price to pay to live in a place like this.

Yes please, that one will do me nicely

Yes please, that one will do nicely

A quick stop to see the Avebury Stone Circle, Manor house and garden then is was back to London for the end of the tour. We arrived back into the big smoke in the midst of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my Cornwall Crusader with Haggis Adventures. I would recommend them to anyone who wants a fun, interesting tour throughout Britain and Ireland. Haggis is a tour, but not as you know it. No flag on a stick or scheduled shopping stops. It’s experience, it’s excitement, it’s Haggis.

Happy travelling!

Ali.