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9.12.05 / Edinburgh

Last day of work at Merrills came and went quickly. I miss the people already! I couldnt wipe the smile off my face all day though! Such a nice crowd - especially my team Matt, Ben and Zeynep, (hope you get better soon)! She has been in hospital and in bed for weeks now... Its funny, I didnt really feel like I am leaving work today...maybe i am getting used to this...

Backpack on again and it was straight out to Heathrow and up to Edinburgh Friday night. Andy and Jo Brydie were nice enough to pick me up and we spent the night catching up and reviewing the map of the West Highland Way. Its great to be back in town, and its mild too, balmy nearly for December, 10C and no wind....strange! The plan is to go for a wee wander along part of the way - parking the car at one end, catching a train up and walking back to the car.

Its a very early start - no rest for the weary! After a hearty porridge breaky we are in the car and out to central western Scotland (listening to Andy's music...). Again the day is mild for winter Scotland as we hoist our daypacks for our 8 mile stroll.

And for once, it really is a stroll, I can't quite believe it! Nice and flat going on 4WD tracks - none of your knee high tussock and heather bog, but proper road! It takes us only two hours and we have plenty of time to settle in for a bowl of soup and a visit to Loch Tay , where Andy's mate Greg has a house on the waters edge. Lovely.

Dinner is deep fried haggis and chips....yummy!


Rory picks me up from Andy's early (again) next morning and we are off to the Borders to see his folks. Its lovely to see his wife Sarah and meet their 3 month old baby Cameron. The drive through the Borders is wonderful, magic part of the world. Its a cruisy few days in Edinburgh, and all too soon I am back in London town. Hopefully back to Scotland for a visit March next year.



1.12.05 / London

Hello there,

Finally, its my last week in London proper and it feels like the right time to leave. Despite work asking me to stay on - my wings want stretching again...I have my London scowl on my face, its hard to stop, time to cheer up and recharge the batteries...its time I am off on another adventure home!

The weather has definately made is presence known recently, the autumn leaves have fallen and the trees across the road are bare and deathly. Most days its dark, cloudy and threatens to rain. Hat, gloves scarf and jacket are the uniform now. On the tube ride into work, cramped as ever is feeling longer each day. Imagine daily volunteering to squeeze onto a packed train, nowhere to hold yourself - other people are your balancing devices. You put up with having for two hours, your face stuck in someones stinky unwashed hair, people's morning breath into your head and the odd uncovered cough on the neck, being squeezed on all sides for an hour standing up. Most people are polite though. My tube rage has abated. As someone told me - some people pay good money for such an experience...! Or maybe its the amount of prozac which floats in the tap water...things you learn in the pub.

My homesickness is soon to be cured!!

Scotland, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Sydney are on the list for my travels til New Year, with Christmas in Hong Kong with the family. I'm ultra excited, its become another big adventure and hopefully many enjoyable times await. Watch this space!



cheese platter lunch



27.11.05 / Amsterdam, NL

This weekend I visit Maria again in Amsterdam. Its 5am Saturday morning, another early start , thermals on this time as its -1C outside. Brrrr. It dark as I arrive at Heathrow, I'm just ready to get on the plane and have a snooze. However I am to be told that my flight has been cancelled...5 hours of waiting at the Airport - at least it lets me enjoy some magazine reading, "Digital Photographer" and "EVO" car magazine, and some breakfast. I arrive in the Netherlands at 3pm and meet Maria by 4pm near Centraal Station. It is very cold in the Dam, but not enough for snow this time! As always, fantastic to see her again.

As it is so late, we quickly plan a quiet evening, and head off to "Foam" museum. This photography gallery is located in an old Canal house in the old part of town, right on a canal, just lovely. A few tram stops later and we are back at Maria's for a well deserved Plate of prawn pasta, watch some DVDs and have a nice chat up chat.

Sunday throws me into tourist mode and I am determined to see the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House. I can't believe it is my 7th visit to Amsterdam and I haven't seen these....I am not disappointed. They are both well worth the visit. The Rijksmuseum, showcases the Netherlands in its golden age 1600s, when the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were very successful and time was spent building a trading empire and fighting the British on the open seas. Rembrandt is everywhere and his work has a profound effect during this era.

Anne Frank house takes us to the 1940s WW2 German occupied Netherlands. A sombre reminder of those times. Its fascinating to see the house having read the book recently. Very touching, very sad.

All too soon its time to leave again. I have had a wonderful whistle stop trip to Amsterdam again - looking forward to returning when its warmer! Before I go, Maria takes me to a Oliebollen stall and we have one each. They are basically egg sized pancake dough balls deep fried donut style and rolled in sugar. We choose the raison Oil balls. YUMMO! These sure keep you warm over New Years, when they are traditionally eaten.

The shops are all Christmasy of course. But in the Netherlands, they celebrate SinterKlaas on 5 Dec. When large chocolate/marzipan letters are given to friends and family, the letter representing their first name and presents, together with a poem about the person for the year. St Nicholas rolls up with his black helpers to hand out presents for the good kiddies.

All too soon its time to return to the London Zoo. Another great weekend in a great wee city. Thanks Maria for another lovely weekend!



14.11.05/ London

It's the first real taste of winter today - Brrrrrr!!! Soooo cold. Not a patch on Scotland cold, but its cold enough thank you! 4 weeks of work left and I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon enough I will be leaving the "zoo" that is London and I can't hardly wait....GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!

Been watching lots of DVDs, as my recent posts have shown...boring I know - but whatever. I like it and thats what counts :) Anyhoo, I've been getting into listening to the Director's Commentary. Such a good thing to do - much recommended. It gives you an insight into the business, from the initial idea and script all the way through to post production. Amazing. It adds so much more to a film you enjoy and makes me at least hungry to learn more about film making! Also as a viewer it lets you in on little secrets and makes you really appreciate the dedication some people put into their work, and the qualities required of the entire crew. I wish I was in the industry!



13.11.05/ London, Bagpipes

Here we go again! Back into uniform! Regimental Church parade for the London Scottish Regiment today. Its good to finally get out and about with a pipe band again - you will all be glad to know they are a bunch of open welcoming people (how rare!). Very glad I joined up again! We marched through London with a police escort playing some old favourites, with the soldiers marching behind. Travel half the world and its just the same!! Had a great day.



London Scottish Regiment "Hodden Grey" Uniform



6.11.05/ London

Generally, things are going well! Reading lots of books, doing lots and looking forward to my big holiday! 5 weeks to go!

Recent reading on the tube (2hrs a day!);

"Anne Frank's Diary" by Anne Frank ***** - a WW2 diary of a jewish teenage girl living in hiding in Amsterdam. Sadly moving, and touching. It brings that part of history closer for me - going to Amsterdam will never be the same. I will try to imagine 1943 Amsterdam when I next go there...(great B'Day Pressie from Maria!)

"Merde Actually" by Stephen Clark ***** - funny book about living in France, light and entertaining

"Lonely Planet - Cycling France" *** - travel planning 2006 :) watch this space!

"Stalingrad" by Antony Beevor ** - some more WW2 history!

The Economist Magazine * - 4 weeks behind in my readings...

"Hello Laziness" by Corinne Maier ** - the Corporate world is evil!

"Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes ** - a year in Italia, just watched the DVD too, its so disappointing compared to the book!!!

"Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes (Walking in the Pyrenees) by Simon Calder and Mick Webb ** - more travelling, take me there!

Recent DVDs at home;

Long Way Home - Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ****, fascinating motor bike adventure, London to New York via Russia and Mongolia. WOW

National Treasure * - Da Vinci COde meets Indiana Jones - sorry = Fail!

A River Somewhere **** - excellent - Australian travel and fishing from 1998 (Bday pressie from Dan!) - cant wait to get back home and trout fishing again mate!

Bon Voyage *** - WW2 again, French with subtitles...well filmed, but lacks something....

Recent Music on the ipod;

James Blunt - brilliant *****

Pete Murray - "Feeler" 2 yr old album and I have just discovered him! ****

Bagad Kemper "Ar SU", concert bagpipe music from Brittany France ***

Yo Yo Ma - Cello, Bach ****, you can taste the cello!

Chris Armstrong - Bagpipes *****, such a talent

Yann Tiersen "Les Retrouvilles" *** from the man who brought you the Amelie Soundtrack.


30.10.05/ Ullapool, Scotland

Friday night 8pm, on a chilly London night, I meet with Andy's mates Graham and Russell M, Ed, Andy D and Damian to catch the Caledonian Sleeper Train to Inverness. Its a wee journey of some 11 hours. Dinner is two tasty cheeseburgers from the friendly Burger King...in anticipation of needing to burn them off in the hills of course...Meanwhile the boys got stuck into the beverages and banter in the buffet carriage.

These sleeper carriages are fantastic, (the last one was in Egypt) the toy factor of the cabin alone can cause you to easily imagine you are in a NASA space craft or submarine or some other boys own fantasy. Its a comfortable journey too, a light breakfast delivered in bed followed by arrival at Inverness for 7.30am. We pick up our hire car, and some supplies in town, oh aye, and a "fatboy" full cooked scottish breakfast to fortify ourselves.

Its great to be back on the road and back in Scotland. I just love this place. Its got a home away from home feel. There is just something magical to me about Scotland. An hour later and we are close to Ullapool, meeting up with Andy and some more of his mates. Its great to see him and meet his mates Dave, Graham K and Andy S. They seem a great bunch.

Time for some hill walking! The day is brilliant weatherwise and we head off across open heather, stretched out before us are the gentle green hills, the drab browns and yellows of the highlands. There's no trees, just tussocks and heather. We cross rivers. All is silent, the air crisp and clear...this is it - bit of soul food that I've been waiting for!

The weather of course changes soon enough,it is Scotland after all, and we are covered in mist and rain, walking through open ground and reach the top of the Munro in white out conditions. Lunch is in the drizzle, but well deserved, and what a view! On the return down the hills, the hot showers and dinner at Ullapool awaits!

Its a very funny and entertaining night out in Ullapool with lots of drinking (lemonade for me), singing, jokes and games. The bunkhouse was perfect and nicely priced. Haggis on the menu for dinner, of course! yum.

A sleep-in and a hearty Scottish cooked breakfast later, we are back on the road to walk up Stac Pollack. Stunning scenery - possibly the best I have seen in Scotland. The view out over the wild mountains and lakes and wet lands, just amazing. We are back to Ullapool for tea and trivial pursuit, then a fish supper for dinner (fish and chips) on the drive back to Inverness. We arrive in with plenty of time to spare for our train journey back to London.

During the night the powerlines have come down and we wake to find ourselves still in North England...5 hours late we arrive at London...What is it about my plans to return Monday mornings! It never works!

All in all a great weekend away with the Scottish lads - Thanks all for a great weekend! See you all next year!



Moi, in the Scottish Highlands (Home away from home)


20.10.05/ 27yrs today, London

Happy Birthday to me - yay!

Not much to report on this grand day really, its chilly in London, off to work today and I will be off to Bagpipes tonight, no big celebration or anything, per usual - just another day really...



Sunny, Anne Marie and Birthday Girl Cora

Had some lovely surprises by mates back home, particularly phone calls from Ab and Will on my mobile!! Wow. So many people contacted me during the day it was great!!! Thanks everyone - you know who you are - just made my month!!!!

DN was asking how my "5 year plan" was going. The current one started when I got on the big plane for the UK after I turned 25. Off to see the world etc etc. Its been grand so far!

3 more years and right now I'm pretty sure I am well on the way to fulfilling my goals as set when I was 25. I've done quite alot of travelling in Europe, and there are about 5 main things left on the list for Europe and America to see and do travel wise. I'll also wish to see lots of Oz on my return holiday in January, places like Perth, Adelaide and Darwin are planned, plus seeing a bit of the places in between!

Next year I definately want to take another month off and do some more backpacking in Europe in summer. I really felt I missed out this year woring away in the office when all those around me were sitting in the sun having a great time.... Also I'd like to do more walking/camping trips and cycling tours would be nice.

My language learning is coming along at last, French for most of the year, plus I will start Mandarin next year also. Classes are definately the way to go!

Career wise I think I will have to think about that some more - I've successfully tried other industries and worked in a few places. Hopefully more contracting work at these Investment Banks, if they will have me back! I think I will stick with the money trail, whilst keeping up to date with my Aussie laws via the web and Continuing Professional Development packages I get sent from home. I am leaning towards returning to Chartered Firms...the independence and security they provide make up for the bling bling name dropping of a fancy multinational job.

I'll continue the photography, the new SLR has been a revelation, really enjoying getting back into it and learning Photoshop so far has been challenging but I feel I am coming to grips with the digital age. Musically I would really love to start something new, but maybe I should concentrate on improving my Bagpipes. It was a good move to return to that world.

Now all I have to think about is buying a house! grrrr I think I can only dodge that one for so long.

So all and all it would seem I should continue as I am, keeping myself busy. Things are going well, even though I grumble alot, and I cant wait for what the next year brings!

p>Oh, and an amazing thing has happened recently...I have lost the restlessness that I had when I began this adventure....what a relief that is!!!



10.10.05/ 1st Year - London, England

Officially its my 1 year anniversary in London, yay...and just past my 2yr anniversary in UK. I have just got my new 4 yr UK Work Permit, which I have decided to take up. There is still so much I would like to see and do in Europe. And even though I still call Australia home, and miss it dearly, I haven't bored of being here. I'm tired - but not bored of it...yet. Its an opportunity I'd like to take.

So, how does it feel - how did my 2 yr tour go? Did I achieve what I wanted? I think so, I deferred life in Sydney successfully. I ventures And I have learnt so much from life in these two years, its simply not funny. I am really so glad I had and took the opportunity to do it, and made it!



London

I loved 2004, possibly the best year of my life was the year I spent in Edinburgh, and I might move back there soon. 2007 sounds like a plan. And 2005?... it feels the complete antithesis. London, what can I say - I really don't like it here. I know thats an unpopular thing to say for a place that offers nearly everything to everyone. But it hasn't pushed my buttons at all, from the moment I set eyes on it I didnt trust it, nothing has changed or happened for me to think otherwise. If fact its more like, everyday reinforces that mistrust!!

The people (and I don't mean the English - I mean people who live in London) I find them all unbearably cold, self-centred, indifferent and shallow. There is a lack of a feeling of community here, a dog eat dog evil tension and feeling, which pervades every pore of the place and seeps into your blood and attacks at my soul.

I keep telling myself - just do it for the money, do it for the money...the pay is twice that of Edinburgh, about 3 times what I would earn in Sydney. It really is the only reason I continue to stay here. That's what 2005 has been and what I had planned it to be about- Career/Money. To that end I am proud to say it has been a success at the cost of selling my soul and becoming a bitter and twisted individual.

The Tube - I hate it, for so many reasons, not least that I have been evacuated off 3 trains and 3 stations in the last three weeks...enough said.

I still haven't made many friends here in London, acquaintances mainly, I tend to hang out with people I knew in Sydney...things just havent worked out for some reason. Maybe its just meant to be like this...Most people will know I need to surround myself with people I care about - so not having that is hard here - the internet helps of course. Thanks for all the kind words and support from Australia and abroad - It means so much to me! I just got Skype free internet phone and wow what a revelation!

My flatmates, and the flat have been the BEST though, I don't think I will ever ever find such great people to live with. Colleen and Steve you guys have made life for me in London tolerable, and a happy experience to come home to everyday, THANKS!!

Julian of course - has become one of my closests mates, champion fella! Can't wait to keep travelling with him next year. Our weekly noodle shop dinners at "Chop Chop" have also kept me sane here!!

What now? I'm headed home in December - via Hong Kong, lots to see, lots to do back in Australia, mostly catch up with people who mean alot to me - I MISS YOU GUYS, EVERY SINGLES ONE OF YOUS! I want to see more of Australia, the red centre, drive up the coast to Cairns, and take a train across to Perth. So much to do - so excited!

Then some serious planning about my next 4 years...some new goal setting and thinking. Its an exciting time! Then - back to the UK in March 2006. To have another adventure!



27.08.05/Munich & Berchtesgaden, Germany

August Bank Long Weekend saw Julian and I off to Munich. This was my first weekend out of London for the summer and I was really keen to get my backpack on again!

We just made our flight at 8am from Heathrow. I think we were nearly the last ones on and settled in for the 2 hr flight to Munich, and with the lack of catering due to a strike at BA, I caught up on some much needed sleep. On arrival at Munich we were greeted by one of the most inquizzitive and friendly border immigration officials I have so far met, his boss though looked like a scary Bavarian governess dyke, accentuated by the beige and green German uniform complete with unflattering trousers and cropped short hair...I think Julian was interested...

The thing that strikes you mostly about arriving in Germany is the neatness, the plainness and lack of in your face colour. They like their off shades and simplicity in architecture it seems. Which is the stereotype of Germany, straight, down the line, no nonesense, yet 100% practical and efficient. I must say in this respect I was never disappoint in Germany.

We picked up our SatNav packed Astra turbo diesel and headed for the hills. The short 90Km drive to Feussen near the Austrian border. Our destination was the Neuschwanstein Castle, built for that nutter King Ludwig II. Famed as the castle used in the Disney Castle Logo, its no wonder, the place is rich in art and mythological magical world, Ludwig was obsessed with Swans and Wagner Operas, tales of Camelot and the like - Check out the website www.neuschwanstein.de its amazing! Well worth the visit.



Worthy of note especially is the way they "usher" people into the castle, German efficiency at its peak. You buy your ticket a few kilometres away - and the entry time is stamped on - complete with a group number. On arrival at the castle gates you are greeted by a sheep yard scene. Three metal stalls, much like at a train station, your group number is displayed above and you put your card to enter, then follow a herding path to the door of the castle. I dont know about you - but there was something slightly sinister about the appearance of this...think Dachau, which is just up the street, the place in March 1933 when they started locking folk up...hmmm

Inside the castle was much smaller than I expected, but just as rich nonetheless I was very impressed by how much I recalled from my Web reading (something I must do more often before visits) and could recognise all the major exhibits and points of interest, most of which was not provided by the guide.

"it is not possible without a guide" was what we had been told, the first part of this phrase is used alot in Germany...I do like that, they tell it how it is, if it is not possible, they will set you straight in that, don't you worry. This statement we found all over Bavaria.

Next we got drenched on the 3 km walk back to the car. It had been flooding in this part of Germany and evidence was in the paddocks nearby, but I have never been so saturated when clothed - since doing Assault Courses! Just felt like standing in your shower for half an hour fully clothed!

Onto Mittelwald for the night. Its a tiny place, a smaller brother to Garmish, which is an Alpine ski resort. Seeing the hills covered in stratified mist was great, I love being in the Alps! The fresh air and the grand peaks - enough to help forget the trudge of Londn life!!

Kebab for dinner and an early night before a long day in the car. We pass Innsbruck, Austria on the motorway and take the smaller roads through the hills (the "sound of music" type hills), damn I could have got the CD as trip theme music! but we had some Wagner, more on that later. We drove through the magnificent Tirol region of Germany, rich dark green pastures dotted with tiny shacks, serious alpine hills which grow and wind to massive grey imposing peaks. We climb and climb through the hills drinking in the views. I just love this scenery. Soon we pass back into Germany and when we near Berchtesgaden.

The Wagner CD is in now as we close in on Konigsee and errily the end of the Ride of the Valkries coincides perfectly with the SatNav woman saying "you have arrived!"

We go to Konigsee, a wee touristy town complete with boats that will take the adventurous out to the foot of the mountains where you can walk to your hearts content - you know - my sort of place - but unfortunately we had little time for trekking and made do with a small 5km loop through the hills and dark Bavarian forests. Julian managed to finally buy a Bavarian Hunting hat, though he stopped short of the shirt and lederhosen, even though I practically pulled them off the rack for him to purchase!

We have a fine dinner in town of Schnitzel and potato dumplings, Julian washes his down with a tasty local Beer, and we walk it off by wandering the streets. Its a peaceful safe place a tourists dream cobbled streets old buildings fountains, the lot.

For those of you who don't know it - Berchtesgaden was Hitler's retreat town, he had a big old holiday house right up in the hills near what is called the "Eagles Nest" and in German the Kehlsteinhaus is the building Hitler's mates constructed for his birthday in 1937 or so. His famous house, as depicted in those technicolor movies has been razed, but the Kehlsteinhaus remains, and so does the 100m brass lined lift which takes you up there. And what a lovely place to build the Furher a shack. Glorious alpine vistas for 360, it is a truely magnificent location.

We head for Munich and especially the Hofbrauhaus the famous beer hall for dinner before we catch our flight home. Pork Knuckle, complete with crackle and more potato dumplings, Julian has a 1L jug of beer and I settle in to enjoy the Omm Pah Pah band, the Bavarians sure know how to enjoy themselves! It feels a happy place.

Soon enough the trip is over and we arrive in time for our flight home to Blightly. A top trip!



20.08.05/London

"Crutches"

No, touch wood, luckily I am not on crutches...I am referring to a metaphor. A crutch is something people use to prop themselves up - to give some meaning to their lives,to take up some time, to keep them going - a weakness(es) if you will in the traditional sense. Examples? Extreme religion, gambling, drugs, drink, excessive shopping, travelling...something to dull out a dreary existance...to soak up some bad vibes, when things arent going right...

So I have been missing mine - and I suddenly found it again...

8 months ago, I had decided to take a sabbatical from the Bagpipes. Having lived in Scotland, competed there and learnt, so far as I was concerned as much as I was ever going to learn about playing pipes at an amateur level, left them at home. A year or more away from them would give me time to pursue other hobbies, like photography, learning a new language and maybe a new instrument (like the clarinet).

Well six months on from the date and I was feeling very down, sure I had my new hobbies, but things were just not going right for whatever reasons and I was getting very very unsatisfied with my life...then I sent an email to the London Scottish Pipeband and turned up the next week.

Magic. From the moment I arrived, met the boys and heard the first few bars of familiar tunes on the Pipes - I was hooked again.

Ok so I may be weird or strange loving this ancient music from a far away land - but it does it for me and as far as I am concerned - I am very lucky to have found it!

Can't wait to be back on the pipes in weeks to come!



Sunny Sunday at Richmond, London.



08.08.05/London

Getting itchy feet for travelling again, with all these friends emailing and talking about such great adventures in Europe - I wanna go too! But work calls and I am trying to save up some pounds to allow for some seriously travelling in the shoulder period in October before I go home. Possibly even some cycle touring with Julian! Here's hoping we can go!

Happy birthday dad for 1st! I heard there was a great time had back home - wish I was there to be part of the celebrations!

Bagpipes call again and I have finally succumb to it and have organised to start piping again next week with the London Scottish Regiment :)

This weekend also saw me buy "30 walks in London" book. A guide book written by various journalists with an off the beaten path feel to discovering London. I am missing terribly my weekend walking and this, although not wilderness seemed the perfect antidote.

I started off with a 6 km wander from Holland Park to Kensington Palace to Royal Albert Hall. Holland Park is just lovely, it has even some forest areas - the antithesis in every way of Shepherds Bush, yet just one tube stop away. Such is London. The destitute live next to the rediculously rich and famous. But, what a great day! I feel alive and excited about being here again!



30.07.05/London

Survived bombings part 2 luckily, and it allowed me to partake in what I will call my Haute Culture July 2005. French Lessons, Ballets and Classical music were the highlights of this month.

It all started off with Swan Lake Ballet by Kirov Ballet in the grand Royal Opera House. Went with Mel and Colleen - and loved it! The Ballet company were So graceful, the music and dance so tender and beautiful! And in the Opera House just so special!

So special that I went back the next week with Julian and enjoyed Romeo & Juliet. Though I must say - as it is a tragedy - slightly less feel good..but just as great to see and experience! Love it!

Quiet month otherwise - work is work - and otherwise been attending 4 hour French lessons on early Saturday mornings. Going well, finally getting to grips somewhat with it - though the pace is relentless!! Can't wait to try some out in France soon!

This Saturday night, had me tickets to BBC Proms, classical music at Royal Albert Hall, 5 hours of it!!!Excellent! AND they had a set of bagpipes on stage!! Looking to going to more soon. One of the great things about the Proms is the accessibility, 3 pounds to stand sit sleep on the floor! Complete with bringing along your beverage if you will!



Rory's silver fast car at Knockhill Racing Circuit, Scotland, March 2005



07.07.05/London Bombings

Happy to report I am ok. Thanks to everyone who sent texts and emails - much appreciated!!

The day started ordinarily enough, I hopped off the tube in City about 8.40am, and wandered into work by about 8.45am. At about 9am our TV screens at work showed an "electrical surge explosion" at a tube stop...

My first reaction was - gee thats no good....I used to used that train...

Then it soon dawned on us what had really happened...as attack followed attack.

We were just sitting there glancing at the TV and really just getting on with work. I guess nothing much stops a bank from grinding on with its business. When I had time I kept glanced at the TV screens, the speaker turned on at my desk - a morbid fascination rather than anything to begin with...I guess I still held onto some youthful feeling of invincibility. Its happening, here, but its someone else...and the traders were calling down the phonelines keeping us busy.

I guess I was more interested academically than emotionally at that time, much of that I put to my work collegues and the whole floor, which seemed like nothing was happening. Business as usual. No panic, all was calm...surreal.

It was only as the managers started being taken to meetings and the information drifted down to us, and we talked of no one to leave the building, security was being doubled and we were to remain at work til an all clear was given. Then it was getting slightly more serious. There was then talk of how we would get home - when we would get home and if we required hotel rooms for the night.

I was last to leave the office at about 7.30pm and it was an errie sombre lonely walk to Waterloo station some 30mins walk away along the strand. I felt slightly tense, the roads were empty except for a few buses, and taxis. Everywhere were Policemen and Women. When I arrived at Waterloo I hopped straight onto an empty train and was home within the hour.

I guess Londoners are a tough lot. And you know it was one this day that I started to feel connected with this city. I had a bond now. "We" had been through and were going through something special. I had fallen in love with Edinburgh and Scotland straight away, but now London. It is now a special place to me - "home"? - not yet - maybe never truly a home for me, but "we" get on now...and I am happy to be here.



03.07.05/Purbeck Coast,South England

This weekend flatmates Colleen, Steve and I are off down south to do a 19mile walk for Leukaemia Busters. After watching some rugby early Saturday on the SKY box, and some more at ahem Slug and Lettuce at Fulham, I meet up with Cora, mate from Sydney days, who is visiting London for work. She has exciting news that she has accepted the offer to work here in September! Great for me - another person to hang out with from Home!!

We only have time for a quick chat and a burger before I must return home to travel down to Poole with the flatmates in their school Tarago or as it is called in the UK Previa Toyota Family mini bus. We arrive after about 3 hours from London at our ultra cheap B&B at Poole at 5pm, and find ourselves pleasantly surprised by our accomodation. It is a residential house run by a kindly old lady, the rooms are luxuriously homely and we think ourselves very lucky, as Colleen and Steve were searching for a very long time to find accomodation. We had just enough time to relax and watch the last of the womens' final at Wimbledon on the TV, before doing a bit of last minute provision shopping and touristy wandering into town. Dinner was seafood and very enjoyable.

Early next morning after a huge Continental breakfast we head out to the registration area for the walk. We find hardly any one and hardly any cars on site...we register none the less, and I am missing Rogaining immediately, the feeling is nearly the same. We are all dressed for a long days walking, collecting control cards and signing off our start time - and of course looking at the map and instructions. After a quick photo call by the Press man, we are off on our walk!

And what a walk! Its classic English country side, we cross over train tracks, either side grazing paddocks with lazy cows tired from the exhertion of eating rich green pasture. Only in New Zealand have I seen this before. We walk through deserted downs sometimes overtaken by Mountain Bikers off to conquer the hills, but otherwise its just us and the cows. We see steam trains ploughing through the fields below and its as if this part of England has been forgotten. I learn the real meaning behind "milestone", a stone marking distance and location, every mile or so!(see pic below) After about 5 miles we reach a small seaside town. The thing that strikes me here are the small timber shacks/changing rooms which are very popular. Owners have converted them into small hobbit hide aways, complete with Kettle and cups of tea, lounge chairs, a tiny home away from home.

A tasty chicken pie later and we are climbing out of the bay (which reminds me much of Collaroy Beach/Long Reef headland) and up over the headlands and into the nature reserves again, we follow the Purbeck coast for 10 miles, where we bump into more Leukaemia Buster walkers. I drink in the coastal views from our cliff vantage points and enjoy the walk. I've really missed it!

Of course no walk is complete without some geographical embarassment (walking term for "getting lost"). And we succeed in getting well off course - but luckily for us its so scenic and coffee book England of tree lined country lanes and stone cottage villages that it doesnt really matter! We arrive back to Registration tent with not too much trouble. I feel invigorated and really happy to have done it! How lucky to experience such a beautiful part of the world and with perfect walking weather - who could ask for more!

Thanks Colleen for organising and Steve for the driving!! Hope to repeat the good times walking in the Alps in August.





29.06.05/Banana Republic, Poetry by Renee

A kiwi tramping mate of mine (tramping but one of many many hobbies she excels at) by the name of Renee, posted this recently on her website. It made such an impression on me that I asked to publish it here for all you to read! So enjoy!

Banana

They call me a banana
A heung-jew
Yellow on the outside,
White on the inside.

So, Iím being compared
to a curvy piece of fruit
grown from a palm
somewhere in Ecuador
a heung-jew,
a fragrant fruit.

I donít think Iím all that fruity
But I could be wrong.

So
youíre calling me a banana
with my yellow skin
prone to a little freckling
in my riper moments
and slanted eyes,
ching-chong they called me at school
straight black hair
that could never hold a spiral perm
and a propensity for being the teacherís pet.

I suppose I could call you back
a coconut or gook or honkey
or nigger or wog or curry-eater
but it wouldnít tell me anything more about you
though it may tell you about me.

Banana is a term
flung by Asians at other Asians,
itís a reproach,
a squish in the face,
a comment that we have abandoned our culture.

Itís a subtle knife in the back during yum-cha
By my motherís friends,
Those I have to call ďAuntyĒ and ďUncleĒ
but it tells you nothing about me.

It may be true
That some of us bananas
hang around in bunches
and discuss our marks,
drink pearl milk tea
complain about our parents
bring disgusting things to eat for lunch,
and the rebels among us
have gwei lo boyfriends

But it still tells you nothing about me.
Peel me
go on
crack my top
and strip me
layer by layer
and underneath
this blubbery skin
is white, yes.

Thereís white,
the Kiwi part of me,
but thereís a core
of seed-yellow
all the way though.

Go on. Take a bite.
it may surprise you,
who I am.

So this poetry reading was all about the experience of being a Chinese Kiwi, of being "between cultures" so to speak. A confusing but enriching experience, and one which I haven't written much about before. ( having chosen the theme I was faced with having to produce the material for it - fast - the last poem was written at midnight the night before!).

Thanks Renee!



27.06.05/London, Coldplay concert

Sal had a last minute spare ticket for Coldplay, so I jumped at the chance to go!

Somehow managed to get out of work at 5pm, the rarest of rare...found my way to a decidedly frantic London Bridge station, and a formidable queue for train tickets, which was followed by a race to the train with all the others to cram onto a (wait for it)... 2 carriage train - hello!!! Full marks for planning.

Nothing like getting a sweaty sardine can London train after a days work, pushed up on all sides by humanity - exposed to multiple armpits as arms reach for the metal hold poles. a mixture of locals and Coldplay crowd. There are some pure nutters in London - really aggressive bastards...but mostly its very sedate, today it was again a mixture of both. "get out of the f*&king way! " was heard more than once...

Somehow managed to meet up with Sal and her mates. The crowd was huge, but somewhat bored looking...the atmoshpere only really charged right at the end of the night when they played their "hits". I am happy to say i knew every song and had a really enjoyable time listening to the band play, enjoyed the balmy weather, clear skies and watching the big TV screens (the players were but specks in the horizon) ah for the days of small venues! I have been very lucky recently - and finally enjoying London for what it has to offer!

Took 2 hours home! Big thanks to Sal for the tickets!



25.06.05/Lille, Ypres, Brugges (WW1 Somme Experience) day

Julian and I are off again - Eurostar early Saturday morning. The trip this time is to meet up with Pierre, who I havent seen since Edinburgh. Location - Northern France and Belgium, "Flanders", to visit the World War 1 battlefields and eat some real food! For Julian also to sample the local beers and chocolate - which I can attest is certainly the best in the world!




18.06.05/London, a Long hot summers day

Wow what a day! 33C in London! Scorching, clear skies and all. Cannot complain today! Wake up at 7.30am, Julian is coming over to play tennis, I live across from the local courts, and it free before 9am.

I havent played properly in about 15yrs and it shows - pathetic...though I am pleased to report all 4 balls were accounted for at the end of the day - and returned to flatmate Colleen.

Meet up with a late running Sal at Baker Street, home not only of Sherlock Holmes, but Alliance Francaise, where I am taking French classes once a week. And no - i still cant say anything useful :)

We head off round the corner to the nearby Regents Park, one of my favourite places. Today it is packed with all sorts of people enjoying picnics and lazing around in the sun. Sal and I are headed to the "taste of London". An open air fete where top restaurants display their food at stalls. You buy a set of tokens and choose snack sized dishes at any restaurant of your choosing. There is also posh icecream, wines and drink for sale too. And of course desserts. Its a perfect event for me - lovely food - in the outdoors - on a gloriously sunny day - the company isnt bad either!

Sunday sees Julian and I chilling out at home with big bowls of Ice Cream watching F1 on the box and having well deserved siestas in front of the TV - it felt so home like all of a sudden, lazy sunday afternoons devoted to doing nothing!!





19.06.05/London, a little email

Here's an email i sent around to some people - bit of fun really a get to know me thing!

1. What time is it? 11.00pm

2. Name as it appears on your birth certificate: Jason Chun Bong Tsui

3. Nicknames: Jase

4. Piercing: none

5. What is the most recent movie you've seen in the theater? The Cat Returns (japanese cartoon)

6. Eye color: Brown

7. Place of birth: Sydney Australia

8. Favorite foods: Sushi and Soup Noodles

9. Ever been to Africa? Yes, Egypt

10. Ever been toilet papering? What the hell is that?

11. Love someone so much it made you cry? Yes, but I will not tell who :)

12. Been in a car accident? yes, a couple...

13. Croutons or bacon bits: croutons and the panfried ones, not the stale bread from last week.

14. Favorite day of the week: Saturday

15. Favorite flower: what??

16. Favorite sport: Rogaining

17. Favorite drink: Orangina, with the pulp!

18. Favorite ice cream: Chocolat, though really I prefer a fruity Sorbet

19. Disney or Warner: Warner

20. Favorite fast food: KFC

21. Color of my bedroom: Cream

22. How many times did you fail your driver's test? None

23. Before this one who did you get your last e-mail from? Nick

24. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? TM Lewin Shirtmakers

25. What do you do most often when you're bored? Go on the net

26. Bedtime: 11.30pm

27. Who will respond to this e-mail the quickest? hmmm...probably no one :)

28. Who is the person you sent this to that is least likely to respond? A certain someone.

29. Who are you most curious about their responses? Everyone's

30. Favorite TV show: Ray Mears (Outdoors Guru)

31. Last person you went to dinner with: Julian

32. Favorite car? Porsche 911 GT3 RS white with red stripes

33. What are you listening to right now? Morcheeba - Big Calm

34. What is your favorite color? Red

35. Lake, ocean, or river? River, an Alpine one fast flowing and gin clear

36. How many tattoos do you have? none

37. Time you finished this e-mail: 11:08pm

38. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? the egg, i think

39. How many people are you sending this e-mail to? 1 just now, but probably 20 or so

Here is a pic of the view from my room - balcony and all on a sunny day in London! 30C!





12.06.05/Paris, Joselyn and Candice

Ah Paris - I just adore this town! We meet late at 11pm at the Gare Du Nord (Northern Train Station), me rushing for my 6pm work dealines. I arriving from London Eurostar, Candice from Caen, and Joselyn from Amsterdam on the Thalys.

Its great to see them both again! We make our way on the Metro to Candice's uncle's appartement at Convention and catch up.

Saturday and Sunday is pure Paris Tourism, Joselyn has never been and has her wishlist, which we of course oblige. We walk from Convention to the 2nd Level of the Tour Eiffel, somehow missing the crowds luckily! Magnificent views thanks to the perfect weather! Next along to the Arc de Triumph, along the Avenue Champs Elysee, Lunch is escargots and a tasty crepe, then onto Tuileries, Les Pyramides and the Lourve. We read that the best time to go is 3pm - and sure enough we arrive facing no queues whatsoever - amazing! We rush to the Mona Lisa, then content ourselves with wandering through the Egyptian exhibits.

Dinner is in St Germain, with Candice's sister Marianne from the Alps, and cousin Garance who works in Paris. We go to a classic French restaurant. I have a delicious entree of Egg in Jelly with herbs - followed by Lamb Casserole and topped with exquisite Chocolat Mousse!!! yum!

Sunday is another early day, blue skies and warm weather - breakfast is complete with fresh baguette and croissonts! We travel by Metro out to the Pigalle to see the Moulin Rouge, and of course the climb up through Montmarte to the Sacre Coeur. We catch a glimpse of the Aussie mountain bike team practising - there was a race down the hill through the famous streets! We cross over to the Pompidou Centre for some book shopping. I get a photobook of Robert Doisneau's work and then we rush to make it for my Eurostar home! As always from Paris - my exits are punctuated by drama. I make the train with 3 minutes remaining! phew - the fastest time I have ever clear customs Ladies and Gentlemen!

Big thanks to the lovely Candice for organising our accomodation, speaking the language and taking us around - so much appreciated! Was great to see them both and catch up! Must do it again sooner rather than later!







4.06.05/London, flatmate Colleen and Marathon Walk along the Thames

Early start - today Collen, her cousin, Julian and I embark on a 20mile marathon distance walk along the Thames. Why? All in aid of Breast Cancer - Moonlight Marathon in two weeks time. And no - you will not see me in a bra walking along with them - tempting as it is!

We meet at Hammersmith Bridge and wander along the Thames to Hampton Court. Along the way it is peaceful, sunny and pleasurable. Its great to stretch the legs again! I never imagined such beauty and rural postcard England so close to London. A true joy.

The next day - Colleen has been given free box tickets to Royal ALbert Hall! We ruch over last minute and see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play "Filmharmonic". Film/Movie Theme tunes. A short list is; Mission Impossible, The Great Escape, Schindlers List, Lord of the Rings, Rocky and Indiana Jones! Just Fantastic!!!! We were so lucky!





29.05.05/London, Maria and Romana

Visitors! I love having visitors! This week Maria and Romana from the Netherlands came to visit London for a long weekend. I love bank weekends! Its suddenly summer weather 28C and sunny unbelievable!!!

We meet their friend Arty who is from Killara, Sydney for drinks Friday night at Covent Garden and spend saturday being tourists. That night Romana organises us to see the Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. They play Tchaikovsky and its just amazing...what have I been missing out on in London!!! 8 pounds it cost us! Fantastic. I make a mental note to go see more concerts. (I go on to book Ballet tickets for Swan Lake and Romeo & Juliet!)

Sunday sees me veg out at home and be domestic - well the F1 is on...Romana's visit ends that afternoon. Maria and I continue shopping at Selfridges on Bond Street, head home for relaxing ice cream and DVDs. The next day travel out to Tate modern to see the free exhibits. I never would have thought a Monet Waterlilly would be in the Tate modern, but there you go.

I love having visitors! Thanks Maria and Romana for visiting!





27.05.05/London

Its a funny thing - the more I am over here the more I think about home. I miss home subconciously I think, I buy and wear Aussie clothes from RM Williams, have an Aussie crumpler bag, and it seems all the music I really end up listening to on my ipod is Australian; The Whitlams, Powderfinger, Missy Higgins, Crowded House...It must mean something - but for now I don't know...I even had vegemite toast the other day. You should have seen me at the Australian Shop buying up all the snack food!!!



14.05.05/Cairngorms, Scotland

This weekend saw me jet up to Edinburgh and meet up with Andy and Jo Brydie, mates of mine from when I lived in Edinburgh. They took me up to their Family retreat in Carrbridge near Aviemore, Scotlands ski area. Its a lovely wooden log house, complete with wood fire - which we needed brrrr.

The weekend saw us do an easy hill walk into the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains Central East Scotland. A wild place not to be taken lightly, with a sub-arctic climate. Though we were so so lucky to have clear skies for both days - not a drop of rain - it is as rare as hens teeth for this area!

Up and over some big hills, through the snow, rocks and heather and down to a loch where we spent the night on a small island and had dinner in a tiny beach surrounded by sheer cliffs, an area we had all to ourselves. JUST AMAZING. Perfect for me of course!! I LOve Scotland! Big thanks to Andy and Jo for taking me up there!!!





7.05.05/Yorkshire Dales, England & Brecon, Wales

Thursday I have an interview in the morning (which went well) and the onto the train bound for Manchester in the afternoon. John and I have planned some car touring for the weekend. Always good to meet up again!

Yorkshire Dales - Friday morning, after a bit of a sleep in - sees us head northwards through Yorkshire. We take as many country single track lanes as possible - it never fails to disappoint when u get off the main roads and motorways.

Its lambing season, there are plenty of the little lambs trundling all over the farms and fields. The highlights are the lush green green rolling hills, divided into tiny paddocks, fenced by gray stone walls. Crofts are on each small holding, and I struggle to imagine how hard it might have been to make a living on such small holdings. Everywhere their are quaint old houses and idyllic surroundings seem to be a great antidote to London living.

Home for Kebabs!

Brecon - Saturday sees us do much of the same, we try to keep to the A and B and tertiary roads where possible, enjoying the quiet countryside. This time the roadsides are lined by hedgerows rather than stone walls. We are treated to a perfect weather day - plenty of blue sky. The hills here are hardly mountains, they reminded me much of the Scottish hills, bare and brown. Just a beautiful part of the country.

All too soon its time to return home to London town...



30.04.05/Warm Sunny London

Last day at work yesterday after 3 months at JPMorgan, we had burgers - complete with pineapple egg bacon and cheese - for lunch at the Pitcher & Piano close by. Its been really pleasant working with the great people in my team, and it will be a hard task to beat them for friendliness. I had said at the end of the day how much I didn't mind waking up in the mornings to go to work because it was such a great environment to go to. Thanks again!

Big sleep-in finally on Saturday morning, lets say it was lunch by the time I emerged from my room!! So much travel takes it toll. Met up with visiting Paula,kiwi mate of mine who lived in Edinburgh when I did, and her friends from Sydney. They are off on a Contiki tour tomorrow! I feel a bit jealous!!

I finally feel like a local today, seeing all the tourists on the tube - argh get out of the way I have places to go!!! I am rushing around like a real local now! The weather is nice, warm tee-shirt weather in London what a change in mood it brings! So much warmer than Edinburgh ever got in the middle of summer!

Have just started French lessons last week, which is part of my mission this year, together with doing some sport...still havent gotten around to sorting that one out...does jogging count? The French has been fun so far - though we are conjugating verbs now...see how long I can hack it!


my boss Samarah



24.04.05/Copenhagen, Denmark

4am start. yes , 4 am, Saturday morning!!!!

For once we get a cab into Heathrow, together with flatmate sharlene and her mate carmen (they are off to Turkey for ANZAC) - its only 30mins, though the cabbie was driving slightly quicker than the limit...

Its a short yet typically bumpy jolty ride on the Express tube to Terminal 4 and we check-in using the super quick self-check-in system - which I recommended to everyone! You put your credit card in and your name appears, in under a minute it spits out your boarding pass and you are ready to go!

It was refreshing to board a proper BA flight, complete with legroom, comfy reclining chair, food and drink! Though the tomato/worchester sauce/lemon drink I had is in the realms of acquired tastes.

Its a quick hour and a bit hop over to Copenhagen, and we land under perfectly blue skies. THE SUN!!! THE SUN!!!

We pull out some Kroners from the ATM, its always great to use a new currency, these had the usual pictures of monarchs and statesmen, but some pictures of vikings were there too. Later we receive coins with central punched holes, love these coins!

The airport is bright, new, modern and airy. lots of light. The rail-link to town is only 15mins. The trains are new, clean, modern and quiet. Julian rates these over the DB (deutsche bahn) trains in Germany - a huge call!

First Impressions is a small clean city, very wide open streets, not busy compared to most European cities. Its a well spaced town, ultra flat and a bicycle city, perfect for peddling around, with separate lanes. The people are beautiful, the women - amazing. Most people look happy, maybe its the Sun, but people arent afraid to smile or look at you directly. Its a pleasant surprise. There is a feeling of calm here, it takes a while to adjust from the hustle of London life.

We spend the clear blue cloudless days wandering the wide walkable streets, taking in the sights and sounds of the place. We enjoy icecreams at the wharf, complete with freshly made waffle cones and are taken by the grandeur of the Royal buildings. Its a wonderfully flat cycle town, much like Amsterdam but without the business!

Copenhagen makes my top 10 in Europe! DO yourself a favour - Go visit!!





16.04.05/Hamburg Lubeck, North Germany

Julian and I are on another cheeky weekend over to europe. This time to the City of Hamburg, in Northern Germany. Julian studied here for 6 months a couple of years ago - so it was great to see it with a "local".

We started off on Friday night straight from work, meeting up at the busy Liverpool Street Station and caught the very expensive 15 pound one way Express train (45min) to Standsted Airport.We were taking the uber budget RyanAir flight to Lubeck. Lubeck is a small quiet canal surrounded medieval town not far from Hamburg, and is famous for being the home of Marzipan, and almond based dessert/confectionery.

Its only a short flight of an hour to reach Lubeck and we soon found our way to our hotel. The hugest room I have ever had - a gigantic double room all for me for just 40 Euros! Saturday morning found us wandering on foot on our way into Lubeck town proper, and to the train station and finally into Hamburg. Breakfast was a ham and cheese roll, with sauerkraut (I love this stuff!) and Mezzo Mix, part coca cola part orange juice.

I am very impressed by Julian's German, we easily get our tickets and hop on the train to Hamburg. Bang on time, to the second infact - no kidding - and the doors slam shut and we are off - no delays here in Germany. The trains are modern, very clean and bright. Its a quick 45 min journey to town. Soon after leaving Lubeck we are in the midst of flat bright green pastures, the sun is out, a rarity in Northern Germany, but it is still crisp and chilly.

This is my second visit to Hamburg, but really more like a first as the last time was with John and we were rushing to catch a train to Denmark. This time I have a whole day. Julian takes me straight to the Reeperbahn (more on this later) and to the St Pauli football club shop.

He buys up on some soccer kit and we continue to the main drag for some window shopping (ladies selling thier wares from little booths no less) - dont worry I wasnt tempted by the 60 year old hookers in black lingerie...arghhhhh!!, tip toeing trough the urine soaked streets we emerge to the main street, avoiding the people trying to sell us peep shows. Its the famous Turkish Kebab for lunch, washed down with shandy.

We head to town walking around the wonderfully pleasant Lake area and finally catch the ferry out to their Beach.

Hamburg is abit busy for me - and I was itching to get back to Lubeck and explore the moated old town. We had dinner near the Rathaus (Townhall). The restaurant was one of those ye olde establishments you dream about visiting in these old countries. Little wooden booths, stone flooring, fantastically tasty German cuisine. Just wonderful!

The next day saw us walking around the lovely parks and canals which surround Lubeck. The quiet Sunday cobblestone streets, near deserted and old buildings were calming and the total opposite of Hamburg. I really enjoyed the wandering - this is what travelling is all about for me. The German street names, the interesting food shops, the historic old feel of a place. Just great!





8.04.05/Sandwich,South East England

John's in town again which is great, he is dossing in the lounge room. This week his folks are in town and he is staying for a week. On the weekend together with Julian we head out to South East England to check out the towns of Sandwich, Deal and Dover. Its pleasant - but there isnt really much to write home about...the day is rainy and chilly, as Julian says - at least we know we arent missing out on anything by not living there!



19.03.05/Lands End, England

Another early Saturday morning start sees Julian and I out of the flat by 6.30am and on our way by tube to Heathrow.

Unfortunately the car we had organised to hire was unavailable, so they just had to upgrade us - to a Mercedes Benz C Class 180, for the price of a VW Polo....Back of the net :)

There's something certainly pleasant about punting around in a luxury car, could be the stereo system, air conditioning, the sound proofing, the effortless 100+ miles and hour we were coasting at, or just the fun of using electonic adjusted chairs....its just a nice change from pedal to the metal in a 1.4L VW Polo. Another thing is, if people shout and scream at you - as they did in Penzance, you can't even hear em!

The mission this weekend was to head out to St Ives, the town with the same name as our home town in Sydney. Julian and I grew up two streets apart - so making the journey to this place seemed quite fitting. The drive we had estimated at 7 hours, so not too far by aussie standards. St Ives is located near the southern most western tip of England, in a region called Cornwall, and from what I understand - Cornish Pasties, is its contribution to UK culinary cuisine. Hmmm, boring I hear u say...too right.

The weather came to the party though as it has been unseasonally perfect (for England) the last couple of days. Hitting 20C with clear blue skies. Lunch was at the seaside town of Torquay, I can imagine its a popular destination in the height of summer. I guess its England's answer to the south coast of France or Spain, but its just not the same really... However, it was a good feeling to be near the sea again, there's something reassuring and theraputic about the sight and sound of a beach, waves and the sea.

We arrived in St Ives at about 4pm, its a touristy old seaside town, very pretty, very pleasant, plenty of whitewash and cobbled streets. It was peaceful to walk through the town along the harbour area, bay and beach. Accomodation was a classic B&B, housed in a tiny 250yr old building, obviously built for people with similar build to me!

The next morning saw us on the drive out to Lands End, historically I guess the most south westerly point of the UK Mainland. Its a good feeling to have completed the double of John 'o Groats at the very top of Scotland and now the very bottom. Its a special place, very wild feeling, yet surrounded by walled pastures. Its a sanctuary for large birds. And was it windy!!

Time to go home, and we decided to visit Bristol and Bath on our way back to London. Though due to heavy traffic, we didnt have much time in either, not that I would recommend Bristol to anyone...Bath felt very similar to Edinburgh, but in a delapidated way in comparison. Must get back to see the roman baths.

For those of you who constantly told me the Steak was expensive, it is, but its all relative in price! We had steak and chips in town and it was fab!





05.03.05/Edinburgh - "home sweet home"

Edinburgh is truly my home away from home! The moment I touched down I felt better, there's something about this town I love, I think its all the little things which make it endearing to me. The clean air, the clean water, bright blue cloudless skies, the quietness, the neatness of the town, the friendliness of the people, the beauty of Stockbridge. I guess it also has a special place for me cos it was the first place I had to survive away from home. So many good times, so many good memories. Its a place I can be very comfortable in.

Almost everything about it is the opposite of what I have in London, and that's the thing about it really.

Rory and the newly pregnant Sarah (Congratulations!) were kind enough to provide me lodgings in their lovely home in Stockbridge. On Saturday morning Tony "the Hood" picked me up in his car and we went out to Knockhill racetrack to see and experience Rory driving his Civic Type R around the BTCC track. Lots of nice cars were out that day, Lotus Elises, Porsche Supercup GT3, Nobles, Cateram 7s, EVOs and WRXs. The weather was obliging too, with mostly clear skies, with a little bit of wind and even some snow for good measure.

Breakfast was a square sausage and bread roll from the "Greasy Spoon" cafe at the race track, all washed down with a tin of Irn Bru, a fews hours in Scotland and I was eating myself to a heart attack.

After a few "hot laps" as co pilot, we headed back to Edinburgh to watch a replay of F1 qualifying. Somehow I had managed to book the trip right on time, for our F1 sessions at Rory's which was a regular activity in 2004. Good to be back!

Sunday saw us wake up for a "Grand Prix Breakfast" of tea and bacon rolls! The F1 was interesting for a change and my Renault team came in 1st and 3rd, with Aussie hopeful Mark Webber in at 5th.

Then it was all back to grey miserable London town.



25.02.05/Amsterdam, Sick and watching movies

The plan was to be at work til 3pm...but that didnt happen...

Am sick with horrible horrible London flu, feel like death warmed up. For the first time in about 5 years I take the day off work. And I hate it! I'm on Vitamin pills, Lemsip, Strepsils, Panadol Extra....and drinking litres of water and honey drink.

But for some foolish reason I am still determined to make my way to Amsterdam on the Easyjet to vist Maria. Things dont really get that much better on arrival, but Maria was the best and was the perfect host! We went out to Pathe cinemas to watch 4 films on their Oscars weekend. But as I was feeling poorly, we ended up just going home afterwards and me hitting the sleeping bag for some much needed rest.

Sunday was a pretty lazy day spent inside also watching DVDs and feeling sick....

Not what I had envisaged when I booked the flight, but hey....Maria was great company as always and we spent the time sipping tea and chatted about everything under the sun. Dinner was a yummy chinese feast from Meine's 1 month birthday, a traditional family celebration for the birth of a child, but I stayed away from the festivities, making sure I didnt make the little ones sick.

The flight was delayed, as is the way with Easyjet and I got home about Midnight, all in all a nice weekend away in Amsterdam!




19.02.05/Paris, with Ab

I wake at 5am literally run out the door to catch the 5.30am train from Putney to Waterloo - to catch my early morning Eurostar Train to Paris. I can't wait to get there really and nothing can deter me....not the cold, the missed bus, the 30min jog to the station, the delayed train, (big yay for UK Rail), the moaning poms...they really do moan/whinge alot...its not just an accusation we give lightly!

Once you walk into the Eurostar terminal you have reached "the continent". Such a telling label which Brits use to call Europe. Anyway - once inside, I felt I was in Paris already, all announcements are in Bilingual and the signage is French and English also.

Its actually a longish 2.5hr train ride,London to Paris, but I catch a few Zzzs.

Ab is looking more and more European day by day! She is kind enough to mee the train at Gare du Nord (North Station). Her hair is tied back smartly and she greets me in French, a language only one of us is proficient at and goes on to tell me something about being ill...my language skills kinda stop there, and I just nodded and said some moments later "in English, mate?"

First stop some Pastries and the Hotel. We hop onto the Metro and emerge near the Louvre, Paris really is a beautiful city. And for me it just doesnt compare with London.




17.02.05/London, The Commute

Some people have been asking about my daily commute - so here goes...

Out the door its normally quite cold here - so the jacket zipper goes up to my neck first, and hands in the pockets. I turn right and head for the Thames. Its only two minutes, the roads and pathways deserted but for the odd dog-walker, runner and cyclist. I walk through the park and along the Thames for about 10mins, watching the every brighter morning sun pinky offsetting a dull grey sky and listening to the distant traffic and the occasional rowing boat coach coaxing effort from his frozen crew. Otherwise all is peaceful on this part of the Thames.

This is the District (Green) Line. At Putney Bridge, there is the familiar sight of Red double deckerbuses ploughing towards town, but I cross the road here and head down a few quiet suburban streets for the Tube (Underground) station. Its tiny compared to most. I pick up a free Metro newspaper. Then reach for my wallet and hold it in front of the big yellow reader, a reassuring beep and red light means my Oyster Travel card is working and I walk through the barriers and up the stairs to the above ground platform. Thats right - I live that far out that the platform is above ground.

If I am lucky there is a seat, Putney Bridge is only 3 stops from the end of the line at Wimbledon, so normally its not yet crowded. Otherwise I stand by the doors, as I did for much of my youth on Sydney's Cityrail and read my Metro. All is quiet on the tube, sometimes when it is full, you can hardly read your paper or book as people are so squashed in, its like sardines, no rails to hold as the human mass holds everyone together inside the tube - like toothpaste being pushed around its tube.

About 40 mins later I come to Tower Hill and alight. Its only a few steps to the ground level, and I step out to see the Imfamous London Tower, and I quote the black sign. "Her Majesty's Palace and Fortress". Its an imposing structure, surrounded by a green grassed dry moat, behind it Tower Bridge, splendid in Blue and WHite. Its a short walk towards the bridge and the Thames again, but I turn left here and go through ST Katherine Docks.

This is a true gem of a place in London. A marina in the city! Both old boats and new, surrounded by new apartments. The walk along the boardwalks is enough to relax anyone!The a quick turn and we are at Trinity Tower, a bright new grand building of glass and metal, currently famous as the opening scene from "Closer" with Jude Law at "work". Door to door, an hour.





12.02.05/Manchester, Chinese New Year

Up at 6am and out to Heathrow via the Tube! Julian and I are off to visit John in Manchester. By 8am we are in our cosy VW Golf heading north through the Cotswolds. Lovely old villages with yellow stone slate topped houses and green green fields. We pass Bleneim Palace, which is only 1hrs drive away - something for "next time". It takes us 4hours to reach John and we arrive for a Full Breakfast meal at the local cafe. This is followed by a whistle stop tour of Manchester, including driving by Old Trafford. We stop in for some fudge at Trafford Centre and also have a look at all the shops...No purchases this time! The clock tower pub in the quiet suburb in Didsbury to watch Bolton draw with Middlesburgh, and then the big event - Chinese Meal in Chinatown.

I expected more activity in China Town, but new year and all, but it was pretty quiet...No lion dancing no cymbals no firecrackers...The meal was excellent though. John had been hanging out for months for the dim sum!

Night followed with us lads walking around town to check out the local action. Did I tell you it was cold??!! Brrrr!!!!

We had a big sleep in til 11am, and returned to the cafe for another Full Breakfast meal before seeing England Rugby team get beaten by the French - nothing better :)

We got back to Heathrow safely by 9pm, but I got home at Midnight, something about getting the wrong bus...I was in Zone 5 before I knew it! Well it was a long day ok, dark and raining!! Lesson Learnt.



9.02.05/London, Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! Kong Hei Fat Choi!

Everything here is finally settling down for me! phew! I'm now broadcasting from the new flat room - excellent - loving the new place, good not to be dossing! Maybe London isnt so bad after all...

The plan this weekend is to hire a car with Julian and drive up to Manchester to see John, break an escape from his flat and celebrate Chinese New Year in China town and down a huge plate of Dim Sims! Highlights should include the Cotswolds.

The commute to work takes about 1 hour, and I've taken the opportunity to get back into reading. My current book is "The Adventure of English" by Melvynn Bragg. Its about the history and growth of the English language. Here is a brilliant excert from his quotes, just to show how simple English really is;

"We'll begin with a box and the plural is boxes.
But the plural of ox should be oxen not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese.
Yet the plural of mouse should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice.
But the plural of house is houses not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be pen?
The cow in a plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows and never vine.
And I speak of foot and you show me feet,
But I give you a boot...would a pair be called beet?..."



6.02.05/London

Whoa, what a long week! Long hours at work followed by Flat hunting has left me a bit knackered, but I am pleased to say I have secured a flatshare room (the coffin room) as I will call it now, it's about 2mx2.5m. Its a tiny room, but quite a nice house, with plenty of dossing space in the lounge room. ALso it's in the nice suburb of Fulham, south of the City, We are actually right next to Fulham Palace, the lounge overlooks the Palace Grounds, its 2 mins walk from the Thames and about 5 to the Tube Station. Its the same price as my Studio Flat in Edinburgh - its a shock but its London...SO come and VISIT me!!!!

So I'm moving from Julian's place next week, it has been excellent staying there, I've had a great time and thank him for his generosity, friendship and hospitality. I'm sure we will hang out heaps in the coming months and even try to do some trips to Europe together!



1.02.05/Happy Birthday Mum!!

Happy Birthday Mum! Hope you had a great day! Wish I was home celebrating it with you! I trust Jacs made or bought a lovely cake from our favourite place!



31.01.05/Remember to Backup

Last night I lost my web diary mysteriously - woops, gone. And of course I had a backup, from November! Ah well, that will teach me not to back up!! Last time this caught me out was in First Year UNi, for a psychology Essay...and I had vowed - never again...

I'll try harder from now on!

























16.11.04/Sydney

Am settling back into the groove of things back home, so much so I don't really want to go back that soon... Have been hanging out with the Lads alot, staying home and spending lots of quality time with the folks and meeting up with all those friends I left behind - its really been fantastic! The year away has really made me appreciate all my friends and family.

The bumming around at home was getting to me though, and Pete has been kind enough to let me start back at work last Friday in North Sydney - great to see all the familiar faces and most importantly variety of food! The weather is getting better and better by the day - and I finally got some Beach time at Clovelly on Sunday with Miranda.

Tonight was bagpipes, it felt as if I had hardly left! Great to get back into playing the pipes. Even got all my old gear back again.

So, in many many ways I am glad I went overseas for a year - and am looking forward to another year soon!


02.11.04/Hobart

Have just spent a cruisy week in Hobart at Dan's place. Lots of junk food eaten, lots of DVDing and lazing around that you'd expect from two unemployed bums. Highlights included day trips out to Mt Wellington, The Great Lake, and Southport.

This is my second trip to Tas, and as I'd seen much of the "must sees" before, it was just great to get back to grass roots Oz, enjoy many litres of Apple Isle Cider, and just relax. Hobart is pretty laid back as cities go, not much happens, and its very quiet. A great place to just be and enjoy the simple things in life.


17.10.04/Home, sweet eucalyptus home

Its a chilly rainy night in Sydney, gone are my romantic notions of arriving for a classic Sydney sunset, coming through the north approach, over the city, the Bridge and Opera House looking spectaculer. No it was a dark already, a backstage homecoming, via the more mysterious southern approach, skirting the Royal National Park, but you couldn't wipe the smile from my eyes.

Home at long last, only 12 months away, but it was a long 12 months.

First Impressions...in some ways its like i never left. Our huge huge Eucalyptus (Gumtree) out front has finally died and been chopped down :( the greenie in me is crying! The house smells a bit funny, there are new light fixtures, my room is clean...but otherwise, its home the way I remember home, lovely dependable BIG home! Its MY bed and its MY room and I share three bathrooms with 3 other people, PURE PURE LUXURY!!!


Me myself and I - Has a year away from home been the greatest learning experience to date? Has it been hard? Have I grown up? Have I suffered terrible loneliness and made 1,000 mistakes? Have I discovered what is important to me? Have I disguarded my sheltered blanket of easy living home and become someone self reliant, confident and resourceful? Have I survived it all? Have I made great friends? Have I seen magical places? Have I touched history? Yes - I have graduated from my first year of this School, it feels better than any other course I have ever done, the School of Life. I have expereinced things you can't recreate here at home, you need to divorce yourself from all you know and see if you can create yourself again somewhere, I have loved every minute of it. These have been the BEST and WORST days of my life so far Can't wait to see what awaits me next year! For now its time for family and friends back home. Recharge the batteries and get the packs ready for another stint!


17.10.04/Singapore

16 Oct - Early morning, and I am filled with dread with the days to come. I pack and change quickly, and make my way to the Airport, only a short 3 mins by foot. I pay the people of Excess Baggage 55 pounds to release my pack and I am off to check in. Here is a tip, if you can get your baggage into the Hold - do it, cos you get your bags off first, its where the Cabin Crew have their gear too. I buy a Cosmo for Jo, to the funny looks I get from the lady at the counter!

The flight is good, I manage to sit next to a pleasant couple from Derbyshire, and talk up Australia and Singapore, feeling the right tour guide :) Its great being an ambassador for home! I was most flattered when the lady said "I hope all Australians we meet are like you!", smiles, yes catch me blushing.

17 Oct - After a seemingly short 13hrs we are in Changi, I have watched all the Harry Potter movies, and nice French movie called "Jeux D'enfants", and half started a few others. I can't wait to see Jo and Singapore again. Its like I was just here, reliving it all, 12months ago, the sights smells and heat have a particularly reassuring and familiar feel. Its great to be back.

Its nice to see everyone again and catch up again, Jo's mum treats me to taro cake for breakfast, and I soak up the airconditioning. There is a new addition to the family Malcolm, Jo's nephew and I reacquaint myself with Javier, who is now 2, has all his baby teeth and even speaks now. Of note is his fetish for his vacuuming machine toy...very domestic! Very cute, he is a bundle of joy.

We go shopping and enjoy the delights of the shopping centres of Singapore. Dinner is with Jo's mates at a place called "aiwo" which translates to "love me" in Chinese. Its a concept restarant, chic modern feel, a sushi train with healthy chinese style dishes. Not my thing, but its nice to see something new.

Night Safari at Singapore Zoo. This is cool, we catch a taxi out to the Zoo, I promptly fall asleep and snore all the way - hahaha. The night safari is great! You get right up close to the animals, and its so much better than the day zoo, as the animals are out and about the night their natural active hours.


18th Oct - Thanks to Jo and the folks again for having me in their lovely home. A taxi picks me up from straight out front, amazing! Its 6am and I can get a taxi in 2 seconds! The cabbie talks about the challenges facing them now, business is hard, he says. Too many free courtesy buses at the hotels, and the new MRT lines planned will mean no more taxis. And thats a bad thing??? Just imagine a place which is so well connected you don't need taxis!


11.10.04/London - Julian

11 Oct - Arrival at Gatwick, its cold and grey again, I am really not that pumped about it all. I am now away from lovely wonderful rural France, where its magical and now in the bowels of the UK, where things could be black and white, but tend to be varying shades of grey. Julian kindly meets me at London Victoria station, which I tell you is the busiest place I have been so far. Its disgusting. And the usual suspects of WH Smith, Burger King and Vodafone are there too.

Julian is a tall lanky fella, skin more european than your standard bronzed aussie, much to do with his Dutch anchestry I assume. Always the business look, he hasnt changed since the last time I saw him. Now a tax adviser at Ernst & Young, Jules will go far places thats for sure.

We catch the tube to Marble Arch for Pizza and coffee. Then head back to his flat in Shepherds Bush, which I have to admit, the area is quite grim. The flat itself though is nice, is tastfully furnished. Though for nearly triple my Edinburgh box room rent - its very expensive for what it is. London prices are rediculous.

13 Oct -

Still on the mission for Nick to find his karting boots, I stroll into a sports shop in Piccadilly Circus. BUt I don't find shoes, I find the rugby jearsey section, and a perfect fitting half price Scotland top! Another present for me! BUt its chucking it down raining and time to go home. I am looking abit drug dealerish at the moment, have put the haircut off too long, I go to the internet cafe cum phone cum barbers and get a 5 quid hair chop...friends never expect much from a 5 quip chop...

Oh I actually say "wee" today, and get caught out by Julian, its used instead of saying small or little, how weird is that! I haven't said "aye" or "och" yet, maybe that will come.


14 Oct - Early start again at about 6am, Julian is up and getting ready for work. I am still on the hard rollmat on the floor, but its ok the heating will go for another hour before i venture out for the sleeping bag.

Its closer to 11am when I finally awaken, a good sleep. I pad over to the toilet, admire the very short short haircut I have been given and notice the small vertical pink mark, just between the eyes that appears at times...I wonder about this mark, maybe its a sign of good sleep. The bags under the eyes have disappeared finally.

By 12pm, the rain outside has subsided, though its still London Grey. I am feeling lazy and I look at the DK Guide with much guilt. But its my last day so I should make the most of it!

I am getting accustomed to the severe look people have in London. The grim look of warmed up death people in Sydney CBD have. No one smiles, its kinda depressing. I suppose its something to get accustomed to. I miss Edinburgh...I am saying it alot aren't I :)

I pack and jump on the tube for Green Park. Its a short stroll down the park to Buckingham Palace. Not the best of days for photography, but I have to have a go don't I! The Canada and AUstralia gates are impressive, if not just interesting in their own colonial imperialistic way. Travelling solo in London seems to be fine with me. Its funny, maybe I am maturing into it.

I spend some time pondering over the significant events that have happened here. The many times I have seen it on TV. It looks smaller than I imagined, but no less imposing as a structure of obvious grandness. Yes a seat of power, a place an global empire is run from.

I walk back into town via Pall Mall, through the horse gates and up towards Soho. The requisite visit to Fopp reassures me that you arent really missing anything in Edinburgh.I continue on my way just wandering about, with no particular place to go. I enjoy it, I actually enjoy it. London town is a pleasant place to wander.

Back to the flat I nestle into Bridget Jones Diary No.2. Having finished another girlie book last night, I really wonder why I am enjoying these books so much...I mean I love my rugby, F1 and blokey stuff, but there is a lack of bullshit in these books I like, the frankness of single life in London, the search for love. The benefit of hope I guess it gives. This is too much information isnt it!

Julian's home at 6 and we go out to Euston Station via the tube. Its been a good few days here. We have talked like old friends do, and I am glad ou paths have crossed again. Hope to see him next year on my return. (Best of luck mate! Thanks for letting me doss!)

2000hrs ON the train now to Manchester, I feel like a yuppie on my laptop typing this out - great fun though - nearly beats a book. I will not put a DVD on...or play my games. Unless that lady two aisles away stops shitting on about here mobile phone and letting it ring at full volume every 2 mins.

We cruise into Manchester on time, catch the Airport Shuttle, alone, yes no one else is on the 2300hr service...and only 1.30 pounds, bargain! I find the courtesy bus and I feel pretty important! a bus all for me, specially ordered too. More like it. I check in and it feels very very nice. I feel all grown up. My first decent hotel room! Pure Luxury!



30.09.04/Long Day

I think we took 5 buses today, bouncing around town - it was a looooong day in Manchester! Lets just say it wasnt the most productive day - and we should have continued drinking cafe lattes!


28.09.04/Vindolanda - Hadrians Wall

Last day in Edinburgh, its a nice feeling to get going. John and I stop off at Berwick for Latte and Scones, then onto Hadrians Wall.

Hadrian's Wall was built to mark the furthest edge of the Roman Empire in Britain, about 1,500 years ago. Not too much of it remains today, and where stone forts once stood are simple green pastures. But at Vindolanda, about 20miles from Hexham on the A69 they have found and excavated the foundations of the Barracks Fort. Its great to finally make it to some Roman ruins, and there is an abundance of material found and an eye opening 3D movie they show, recreating the buildings and depiction of life on the fringe of the Roman empire.

We stood on what remains of the Battlements and imagined being centurians watching the Barbarian hordes advancing over the now peacefully sheep paddocks. Slightly errie really, and fascinating - its such a great thing to touch history here.


25.09.04/Small world

Over a curry and Rory's I discuss my bagpipe small world coincidence with my collegue at work. And to my amazement, it turns out Gordon Duncan played at Rory and Sarahs wedding. What the hell....They even have a framed picture of his kids.


22.09.04/Pipe Dreams

So the day starts badly, I miss the bus to Perth by 1 minute, stumble on the elevator (i have never ever done this), miss a train, and wait another 40mins for the next. But the world sometimes conspires against you....

The train journey is spectacular, over the Forth Rail Bridge, iconic Edinburgh by the way, I drink in the views - truly stunning. I discover a small island just under the bridge I never knew about, old stone ruins resting upon it, wow! The train winds its way along the coast, brushing still beachs, the sea scene out to the horizon is picture perfect. Its dull, natch, but every shade of grey imaginable is there before me, the flatness of the water, the outlines of the hills in the far distance and the carpet of cloud above - just so perfect.

I sit, I read and contemplate. The tunes shreaking into my eardrums are bagpipes and drums. I think about this, again - my love of this music. WHY??? It must mean something....am I destined to do something with it? The thought fades...Soon enough we arrive at Perth - I stumble into work at 10.15am. Its taken me 3 hours exactly door to door. Excellent....

I am sharing a room with Noel today, she is a temp also and just come across from another job. She is quiet, and we seem to have nothing much to say to each other. That is until I press play on my CD player on the Laptop. Quiet of course, cos i try not to disturb, today I even have headphones, but I have yet to plug them in, 2 seconds...."Is that Bagpipe music?" she says inquizzitively. "Yep" say I apologetically. "Who is it?" (hmm, strange question, normally people are just surprised, and ask different questions.) I answer with the name of the band. "Oh is his father so and so..." (What the hell?) "yes" I say, this time smiling and its me with the inquizzitive look...

It turns out Noel was once married to the Pipe Major of the Vale of Atholl, Ian Duncan. Her brother in law is none other that Gordon Duncan, one of my heroes. She sees him once in a while and even does his accounts and tax returns, she knows his and pipe music well. I play her one of my favourites, and the crazy thing is she knows the composer also, "oh yes she played for the Vale" "I remember them playing this train tune". Amazing. The rest of the day is spent chatting pipes and the scene etc etc. Its amazing. Sometimes life is too too funny.

Brings me back to my earlier ponderings - this must be a sign, I must do something with these Pipes....the next day Noel brings celtic music CDs for me to listen too - happy days!


21.09.04/Juice

So Scottish people refer to soft drink as "juice" whats up with that?


20.09.04/The Baillie, Farewell Drinks

Farewell drinks tonight at the Stockbridge local pub. A few members of the band came out, it was a nice evening out! I will miss playing music with these guys - hope to be back for a tune next year!


11.09.04/Pitlochry Piping

Another early start today, the Stockbridge Pipe Band are off to compete at Pitlochry Highland Games. Amazingly this is my very first band competition, after about 4 years of playing! Pitlochry is a beautiful wee village in Central Scotland, it has everything you would expect from a country village, immaculately kept stone houses, a neat high street, on the banks of the gin clear Tay River, and everywhere you look there are flower pots bulging with colour. I have been here about 7 times now, and its still a favourite laid back place for me.

Its a good feeling to get back into pipeband land, the air is crisp and there are about 20 bands out and we start off with a streetmarch down to the park. The park itself is set in a stunning spot, amid the rolling bright green hills.

We are competing Grade 4 today, and its a fun experience to have had a go! I think we sounded ok, but I cant tell you that we won the day - I can tell you that we played good for our amount of practise time! No pics I am afraid - as always - where does one put their camera when playing pipes!


09.09.04/The First Goodbye

My time here in Edinburgh is quickly drawing to an end and tonight I said my first goodbye.

Thats the problem with meeting people, one day you say goodbye, and you may never see them again. All that you leave behind... It was easier back home, cos I was coming back. This time, I might not. I've made some good friends here in Edinburgh, and its starting to dawn on me that its gonna be sad time leaving.


07.09.04/The Dusty Brown Grass of Home

I have caught some kinda wintery feeling flu-y thing, and the whole flat and people at work have all been hit by it. Terrible! This compounds my need to go home. Its every conversation I have had this past week, talk of home.

Home - its a funny thing, a year ago I was so restless to get away from Sydney. I felt like I was missing out on something, there was a calling I heard luring me away, I was entranced by its music and I wanted to be seduced by that call. I felt like I was trapped by everything around me and I just needed to escape and release myself. Follow the sweet song.

I needed to strech my wings, as a mate put it. Well, the wings have been stretched and I have loved being away from the sun and sea. I have been entranced by the tunes of freedom, the sounds of discovery, the melody of independence. But now, with a month left in the UK, all I can think about is going back home.

I think its a needed break from the stress of being independant. I long to be in the shelter and comfort of things familiar. Maybe its because I havent really found what I thought I would find here, whatever that was. Maybe its simply cos I am tired. Tired of being challenged at every turn, tired of travelling, tired of the temporariness of life away from the comfortable nest of home. So I await my return to the fold, to my parents and sister. Of renewing friendships of telling tales and enjoying old company.

But part of me knows I will miss it here. Edinburgh and Scotland will now always be part of me, I like those before me who have lived abroad will keep a keen eye on the news and the things shaping this place. It will hold a special place in my heart forever, its that kind of town.

I think I will come home and be revitalised, ready for 2005, part 2 of my UK tour of duty. No doubt my wings will want to flap again, and I will be winging my way back to the UK winter all too soon. I can't wait for the adventure ahead of me - of finding out what lies in London.


04.09.04/ 1/2 Homecoming - Manchester

Friday night and we are off on the quick squirt down to Manchester from Edinburgh (4hrs) and I am back visiting John and Meg in Manchester! This time with Pierre in tow. The 1st hours drive through the borders via the A702 is really something special, its very pretty, especially at twilight. The mist and light rain add to the overall atmosphere. Rolling treeless hills, ancient looking pastures of deep green, offset with white sheep lazily grazing, its just peaceful.

Bankfield Street - It feels like a homecoming in a way, cos it was from here that I started my UK adventure. Was it already a year since I arrived here??? So much seems to have happened since that cold wet winters morning in November! As always, its really great to see them again.

We have a late dinner in town - chinese - yummo! On Saturday,we drive out the 100 miles or so to Nottingham to check out the "castle" keeping out eyes out for Robin and the merry men, (well ok, Marion as well!) and have lunch (big plate of bangers and mash) and sample the smoothest ale at the oldest inn in UK!!

Highlight must be the ASDA Mint ice cream refreshment I have with John for dinner!

After a well deserved sleep in til 9am! Pierre and I set off for Edinburgh. Its a 6 hours trip this time, as we go via the east coast. Its a beautiful sunny day - awkwardly summery even, and the countryside is really pretty, postcard villlage England, stone houses - I will never get sick of looking at them. It was well worth the detour off the M1.

Tonight its fireworks night to celebrate the end of the Edinburgh Festival. Its a temperate Autumn night in Edinburgh. 8pm, Pierre and I saunter down the quiet and leafy Inverleith Terrace towards Inverleith Park. Upon arrival at the normally quiet park, we see a hive of activity. In the distance are vans selling food, and huge speakers blasting out music. Everywhere, people are picnicing, the smoke from portable BBQs wafts through the still air, its a peaceful joyous family scene. Children are running about, and families are sprawled on large blankets, drinks in hand, smiles on faces, awaiting the main event.

We pick our way through them all and head toward the pond. Here there is a similar scene, and what a view of the Castle! It stands proudly some 3 kilometers away. It is bathed in light, showing off in a golden glow. The pond sits between us on the hill and the Castle, still and serene, reflecting the evening light of the city above. Perfect.

Even the weather is pleasant, its nearly balmy. I have a tee shirt on, but the trusty rainjacket is always at hand! Mini stereos pump out music, but soon they are all tuned into the main concert. The Scottish Symphony is playing in the Princes Street Gardens, at the foot of the Castle, they are to be accompanied by the fireworks.

The first test fireworks go up and there is a cheer! Soon the music starts and typically Scottish, the weather makes a move also. A low cloud decends on the castle and the wind picks up. We all don our jackets and there is a hint of mist. I chuckle as the first tune, a Greig peice kicks off. This IS so typically Scottish!

There are plenty of oohhs and aahhs as the fireworks display unravels before us. The castle is transformed into an artpeice. Its great! A perfect way to say goodbye to summer and the festivals. Not as good as Sydney fireworks, but entertaining nonetheless.

On our way home, we follow a throng of Scottish kids. Pierre asks me if they are speaking English, as he doesnt catch a word!
"och aye, ya d'ken pal?" is all I say!


31.08.04/ Slightly famous

Joselyn has interviewed me about my bagpipe obsession for an online magazine! Its published this month...

http://the2ndrule.com

, click on "pipe dreams", here's the transcript below;

10 questions to Australian Born Chinese Jason Tsui, a 25 year-old bagpipe player currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Interviewed by Joselyn Sim at his pad in Goldenacre, Edinburgh City, June 2004

How long have you been playing the pipes?

JT: 4 years.

What drove you to learn something like bagpiping in the first place?

JT: I was in the army and liked the sound, so transferred to the band after 2 years as a rifleman.

What was your passion for the instrument ?

JT: The unique sound, you cannot mistake the skirl of a bagpipe - its a powerful ancient instrument, and I don't just mean its volume, though that is part of the magic. It is the ancient scale, often misinterpreted by western musicians as out of tune, that tends to elicit emotions and imagery which are unlike any western instrument. It's an instrument which has three main purposes in the military, all of which it is perfectly capable. Insighting men to battle, where they can lose themselves in the martial music, mourning the dead, and entertainment.

Where did that passion come from?

JT: Music is very important in my life, it always has been. But in particular, playing this instrument, can at times feel like you are connecting to something greater than yourself, almost a religious experience! The sound at times can be all incompassing, spiritually and physically. For me it's a great way to relax and playing music with and for the enjoyment of others is always a highlight. I love entertaining.

Did you face any cultural issues e.g. racism? Or have the Scottish been gregarious?

JT: No, scottish people and Australians have been very welcoming and generous with "their" music and instrument. Many a scot has been ashamed at their own disconnection with their roots, and told me that they wish they could play the pipes. Many have been happy for me to be an ambassador for their culture. I think people enjoy the fact that others find an interest in their culture rather than are protective of it. But certainly I get alot of smiles!

It is really quite quirky to have a chinese boy learn bagpipes - what is your take on this?

JT: Indeed its rare, but each to his own. Whatever makes you happy as the saying goes. I still find it hard to wear a kilt and take myself seriously though, it's just fun!

Tell us about playing here in Scotland with your band?

JT: I've played with two bands, the 71st Engineer Regt and Stockbridge Pipe Band. One is a military competition band and the other is a community band. Playing bagpipes at the home of the great highland bagpipe has been a great experience, the Scottish people have been wonderful and welcoming to me.

Events that you may have participated in?

JT: I've recently played for the Leith Pageant (http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/whatson.cfm?id=632622004), Edinburgh Marathon (http://www.edinburgh-marathon.co.uk/uk/), and next year possibly the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (http://www.edinburgh-tattoo.co.uk/) and Murrayfield Rubgy ground (Scottish Rugby Union).

What does your family & friends think?

JT: They are very supportive, my family and neighbours have had to put up with my spontaneous practise sessions at 10.30pm some nights, and my ex-girlfriend hated it!

What's really under the Klit?

JT: How clean are your hands?


28.08.04/ Pierre and Melody

Pierre and Melody have arrived for a bit of tourist action! Pierre is on a break from work and studies, and Mel at the end of her overseas stint after working for 8 months in Shanghai. Its always great to have visitors, and I get to play tour guide again!

0645 and we are up to pick up the hire car from the Airport and drive out to Dunoon, west coast Scotland, to witness the Cowal Gathering (Highland Games). Its a wet and cold introduction for the two of them to Scotland, a day of stereotypes. Dunoon is about 4hour drive west from Edinburgh, its a small fishing village which plays host to the Gathering each year.

Mel's constant excitement is hard to contain "JASON - oooohhhh look the SHEEEPS!!!"

The next day - another driving day out to Loch Ness. Having Mel visit is a funny thing, apart from the loud snoring while being awake phenomena, she is a bundle of huge energy and really brightens the mood. Accomodating 3 people in my box room is interesting, and I find myself sleeping under my desk!

The pair seem to get along fine and do much touristy things together, including day trips to Stirling and St Andrews. Later, there is some drama, as Mel thinks she needs a visa to re-enter china, we have to troop into town to sort it all out at the internet cafe, as mine is down.

She packs her stuff early to go to the consulate, and I havent heard from her since...


Mel emails she has safely returned to Ozland the next day, after more drama in China involving a dark corridor and Chinese immigration officers...

21.08.04/ Lakes District - England

Dan has made the long train journey north from Paris to come see a little of Scotland and find out why I made this city my home away from home! Its great to see him again.

We hired a car for the weekend and trekked out to the beautiful Lakes District on Saturday then to John o Groats on Sunday - the Northern-most point of the British mainland! 550 miles in 2 days - not bad! We had perfect weather for Sunday which is ultra rare, as the preceding 2 weeks had been rain rain rain, and landslides which closed some roads North.

Dan even got to sample the late night/early morning activities of my flatmate, shagging away with some girl to questionably tacky music - through the night, me - I had earplugs firmly in!

Was great tp have Dan stay. As always, we made sure we had plenty of junk food and pizza! Some things just never change.


20.08.04/Edinburgh Festival

The festival is in full swing here, and the crowds are crazy. Seems like every traveller is here enjoying the atmosphere! Paula has organised tickets for us to go and see some shows!

Ross Noble is great standup, The Lady Boys of Bangkok have to be seen to be believed and we even hear the Men at Work song Down Under sung by the man himself at another show! Amazing! Edinburgh certainly is the place to be during August!!!!


14.08.04/ World Pipe Championships - Glasgow Green

Up at 8am and out to catch the bus to Glasgow again. Breakfast was a lorne sausage and roll, with brown sauce. If I have too more of these I will surely soon be a fat bastard!! Going to the World Champs has always been high up on my things-to-do in Scotland, so I was excited!

On my way to the Green, I was stopped twice by people asking if I spoke Chinese. Being Mr Suspicious, I said no. The second time I asked why..."We are Jehovah's Witnesses and are learning Chinese." I smiled brightly started walking and said "well good luck with it" - nutters.

Its actually the first real Piping Band competition that I have ever been to, and I guess watching and listening to Grade 1 at the World's is gonna be hard to beat! I also got the chance to see some excellent Grade 2 bands.

I guess most people think of "World" Champs for bagpipes is a funny notion cos most bagpipes are played in Scotland right? Wrong! There were highly competitive bands from France, USA, Canada, Ireland and of course Australia!

I found the Grade 1 ring, got a spot right in front and parked it there for 6 hours on my feet! 6 hours of bagpipe music! Yes even I was glad it was over! All in all an excellent day. Watching all the best bands who I have hitherto only listened to on CDs.


13.08.04/ Olympics - Opening Ceremony

Has it already been 4 years since Sydney 2000! So much has happened since that day...makes me think where I will be for the 2008 Ceremony! Where will you be??? Ha!


10.08.04/ Glasgow - Piping Hot

Scotland is piping crazy at the moment and the inaugural Piping Festival is being held this week over in Glasgow. Were it not for work I would probably been there all week trying to soak it all up! Tonight I have tickets to the Celtic concert. There are the traditional Pipes & Drums band, but also Hungarian goat pipes band, complete with hurdie-gurdie, and all styles of piping from all over europe. It was excellent!

Next week its the World Pipe Band Championships - can't wait!


8.08.04/ Knockhill - Racing Cars

Woke up at about 3am after 2 hours sleep due to a fuckwit flatmate who decided to continue the partying with his mates at home. Earplugs just didn't do it and I need to get some serious industrial earmuffs going!

At 6.30am the beats were still blaring into my room and I was more than slightly pissed off. Anyway - time to get up and head out to meet Rory and Sarah for a days racing at Knockhill! The British Touring Cars were in Scotland and we ventured out into the seamist to catch up with the action.

It was a cold chilly start to the day - and the decision to wear shorts was optimistic, luckily I had rememebered my raincoat, I had the hood up and hands in pockets! - this is Scotland after all! It must have been about 8C with wind and mist. Picture us wandering in swirling dense fog visability about 50m, Rory pointing out the track, "trust me, its there".

A wander through the paddock was great - Porsche Cup GT3s, Formula Renaults, Formula BMWs, Renault Clios. Awesome! The racing, proved very entertaining, and the weather came to the party also, at midday it was tee shirt and shorts time, hitting about 23C. You sure get 4 seasons in one day in Scotland!


6.08.04/ Edinburgh - The Haar

How to explain the Haar. Its a sea mist fog basically, it rolls into Edinburgh sometimes, from the east. It can stay for hours or days. The prevailing weather normally is from the west...The fog is ultra dense, it makes you cough cos theres so much moisture in it. It can be very eerie. Visability even during the middle of the day can be down to 50m. Day and night, it swirls around right in front of your eyes and at times your imagination can run wild, its a very strong feeling being stuck in that fog! Like an ancient connection with the land, there is nothing you can do but admire its beauty. I have a feeling people who think of Edinburgh and Scotland visualise this fog as a daily occurance, grey dull and cold. Remember its Summer - Welcome to Scotland!


2.08.04/ Edinburgh - Back to work

The holiday is over and I am back "home"! The first day back was hard! I am working out of town in a little place called Haddington, a quiet little village 30mins drive from the City. Its pretty and the weather is very nice! I even have a Renault Megane 1.6L to drive to work each day, its nice to be able to drive around again! I miss my little car back home.


1.08.04/ Happy Birthday Dad!

G'day Dad - Happy Birthday!!! - hope you had a wonderful day. I loved the pics of home, missing it all the time - the cake looks yum!


07.04/ Busabout

I am on a months touring Europe, click here to see the travel log.


19.06.04/ Edinburgh - Bagpiping

Some things change but much remains the same - I am in a different country, but I tend to gravitate back to my old ways, like last weekend. I played pipes Sat and Sun last week - on Princes Street and Silverknowes for the Edinburgh Marathon. Was nice to be back playing in public again, especially in Scotland, it was much appreciated by the public!!! A chinaman in a kilt is funny at the best of times, but I tended to get many thumbs up as I was walking around the town and catching the buses with my kit and pipes with me :D

My new job at Audit Scotland means I am somewhere different every week, getting a really good feel for the suburbs and bus routes, and very much getting atuned to Scottish life. I am working for the government, its been very interesting seeing how much money the tourist attractions like Edinburgh Castle actually make and how much it costs the taxpayer here to look after all their treasures! Stoneworks are expensive - and one Castle's lease contract includes a payment of a bottle of Whisky as rent per month!

Life in a share flat is fun so far, and there is always something going on. I am enjoying myself very much and have found many friends here in Edinburgh, it will be a hard place to leave.

Current plans are that I work all June, then travel Europe by Busabout for all of July, and come back to Edinburgh for the August festivals and September - can't wait to get travelling again!


Joselyn's Visit

Jo has come to town for a brief visit, and its been great to see her and catch up. It's like being back in Sydney - 2 years ago - we are great pals! Its always lovely to have visitors! We hope to get out to the Highlands next weekend, hopefully to enjoy much better Scottish weather than the 4 seasons in one day she has experienced here today!


01.06.04/ Edinburgh - Old Shoes

1950 - they were made, black leather, hobnailed, simple brogue shoes, made to last. I finally let them go today - they had done me good service. Replaced with cheapo Marks & Spencer plastic soled glued shoes. There was something sad about letting them go.

I had been issued the brogues in 1997, and a lot has happened since then. They started out new and hard, uncomfortable. The leather soles with hobnails, clicky-tee-clack, clicky-tee-clack, you would slip if you weren't careful. They required respect. "These shoes will last you forever the boot repairers would say." There was just something timeless about them. Something special...

First they were worn on Ceremonial occasions, then came the Piping jobs, then they became my daily work shoes. I brought them over here, the big adventure and they were dying, but I couldn't let them go! They were special. But time did come, the nails were coming through and the stitching fell apart. Its a sad day for me - goodbye brogues! They remind me of those happy years back home of growing up, of learning about life.


25.05.04/ Edinburgh - Floating

Another adventure starts today - as I finish cleaning out the flat and move into a share flat on the other side of town. Fiona half talked me into living with them, and its seems a good place and a good bunch (apart from the inquizzitive landlord who doesnt announce his arrivals.)

Am planning to stay for a month or so, before going back down to Manchester and then to London - finally to meet with Dan and Cat. Thats the plan anyway - lets see what happens!

Its less than half the rent I was paying before and it will be interesting flatting with other people! Another new thing I am doing here! Its a magical mystery tour thats for sure! Hope its fun!


17.05.04/ Highlands - Backpackers Bus

50% off a three day bus tour of the highlands - couldn't miss it could I!!! Ange and I booked ourselves on and along with another 20 backpackers from around the world travelled up to the Highlands with our guide Tim. He is a straight talking scot, f*&k was every second word - but a passion for Scotland and its history was highly infectious and his stories kept us laughing all three days! Thank you Tim!

Met some really nice people and had a thoroughly enjoyable three days, highly recommended. Hostelling again, and reliving the student penny pincher culture was welcome and reinvigorating. It's great to be travelling again.

Highlights have to be the Scottish dancing at Inverness, really really fun had a smile ear to ear :D Visited my first whisky distillery, and learning the history and putting it all together - what a place! So much has happened here since ancient times, rebellions, wars, kings, the damned English - and you can go look at the hills at Glencoe, and immerse yourself in the richness of it all, massacres, myths and legends, its all in these hills. And on a misty pishy day - just adds to the mystery and atmosphere. I love this country!

Big Thanks go to Angela for finding out about this tour and letting me partake - it was great mate! See you somewhere else in the big wide world and best of luck in all your travels!


15.05.04/ Glasgow - Powderfinger

Finally I visit Glasgow properly! I had a ticket to the Powderfinger concert for the night, so I thought I would make a day of it! Tidied up the flat for a viewing, and headed off, into a sometimes sunny spring day.

First stop, the Piping Centre, to have a browse and sticky beak at the museum of bagpipes. A much smaller place than I had imagined, after all these years...

FIRST IMPRESSIONS - busy shopping town! the population felt much greater straight away, the some streets teemed with people, all locals. Apparantly its shopping rivals London and Manchester, and there is a particular watered down Manchester feel about the place. Grim, but vibrant. NEDs (non educated delinquents) were everywhere. Walking the quieter streets, I felt a little like walking around Sydney, the sun was out and the roads are similar.

As the sights are quite spread out, and I didn't really feel much like bumbling around town, I hopped on a double decker tour bus, 6 pounds for two days, complete with guide - not bad! Glasgow in the new century must be a stark contrast to Glasgow of the 70s. There is so much construction and new buildings going up everywhere. Of course it is a city rich in history, and proud of its industrial roots.

Highlights for me were George Square, the Architecture, the Armodillo, watching a mum feed her 1 year old a sausage roll from Greggs..., the punks/goths, watching a NED urinate on the centrepeice of George Square in broad daylight, getting literally tackled, picked up and carried over the shoulder by a burly drunk Glaswegian...

POWDERFINGER - it was to be, of course an Aussie fest, with all the aussies from Glasgow and Edinburgh descending on this concert to enjoy a bit of home! Loud aussies, especially those loud aussie women...I swear the accent broadens when you go overseas...

Met up with Ange and Matt, who had just been to Isle of Arran, where Matt had worked for a few months as a barman. It was a great concert, and I was surpirsed by the amount of tunes I actually could sing along to!

Identity - again, and of course not for the first time, the question of my identity came back to me, here of all places. I think I saw one other ethnic face in the whole place. I got odd looks from people who must have been wondering how a Chinese tourist got lost and found himself in this place full of white anglo aussies :) There was about 1000 people in attendance I guess. I find it always a strange thing, to see out at the familiar, but recognise that I am different. Do I actually fit in??? Always something to think about...

On the way home in Edinburgh, we witnessed pure class, some bloke urinating on the Princes Street pavement, as people went by - hello! Then some lady having a liquid yawn down Frederick Street...nice.


14.05.04/ Random Musings- Edinburgh

Ok so work has finished and I am comfortably the bum again! It's great cos it gives me time to think, reflect and relax! I spent some time in my favourite shop in Edinburgh, FOPP, a chain store selling reduced price books, CDs and DVDs!

Whilst inside, and now with time to burn, I went upstairs and browsed the CD listening racks. I came along Bic Runga - Beautiful Collision, its just been released here - after a 2 year delay. Funny, this CD holds so many memories for me and has been "with" me for a while, so I popped the headphones on and shut my eyes and let Bic take me away!

I had first bought this CD in a petrol station somewhere in rural North Island New Zealand, the songs were blasting on the radios and I just had to have it! That was in 2002, whilst travelling with Matt G and Jo. That was the first memory, driving the hire car, watching the rain and beautiful NZ scenery pass by, munching on Grainwaves - enjoying our holiday.

The next memory was watching Bic live in Sydney, standing next to Jane, me singing along! Then that lead me to think of the first time I saw Bic live, again in Sydney, when she was playing for Neil Finn, it was her first real audience outside NZ, singing Sway.

And here I was now - in Edinburgh, so far away, yet so close. Music has that boundless ability to take you back to those memories, it's magical! Thanks Bic!


Yesterday, we were at the Modern art museum. One peice in particular caught Ange's attention, it was a list, written in 30 size arial font of 1448 names. Imagine a white wall, three storeys high, split into 4 columns of black text. This list was the names of every person the artist had ever met in his lifetime. At first I didnt think it was much at all, whats so artistic about writing names on a wall? There was no colour no pattern, nothing "special" about it at all.

Then it started to get me....I started to reflect on my own life, how many people could I name? What would my list be like?? We started to ponder this, and its a really great journey through your own life. Flashing images - I mean it makes sense to start at birth and work up right? And the memories, the places, the names, come flooding back. Family, friends, school, clubs, neighbours, all drifting memories creating pictures in my minds eye - Amazing! If this is what art is about - then I applaude it! Its touched me, it has made me think, and it has made me feel good about my life. Thankyou!


13.05.04/ Art Galleries - Edinburgh

Angela and I went out for another tourist trip today! Our mission - the Art Galleries of Edinburgh. We started at the Royal Academy of Scotland, which unfortunately had an uninteresting paying exhibition on so we decided to just skip this - as it was modern works and went next door to the National Gallery. Highlights in this gallery were of viewing a live restoration of a huge painting and the Impressionists gallery.

Inside we found a flyer for FREE bus rides to all the galleries. So of course we jumped at the chance and took to bus out to Dean Gallery, 10mins, and the Modern Art Gallery. Upon visiting the Dean gallery we saw some Dali, abstract and cubism art. We also enjoyed lunch at the intersting landscape garden in front of the Modern Art Gallery, which had just won a design prize the day before.

Back to Edinburgh and we stumbled upon a huge open air 2nd hand book shopon George St, after about an hour of fruitless searching I headed home!


12.05.04/ Happy Birthday Jacs!

Happy Birthday Sis! Hope you had a good one mate!

Today, Ange and I caught the bus to Leith to see the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was actually really good! Highlights were the quality of exhibits, and the signed photos by the royals, showing them all on holidays onboard, somewhere in the wide world! No wonder they loved sailing on it! Very lush!!


07.05.04/ Knoydart Hillwalking

My last week at Citigroup, and how appropriate, but to end the week with a 4 day trip into the highlands hillwalking with Andy, Tony and Fe.

Starting early morning Friday, Tony and I drove up the cloudy misty west coast to Glenfinnen to meet Andy and Fe for the train journey to Mallaig. The journey was mainly on Motorway, but we took twisty scenic A roads for the last half of the journey, past Loch Laggan, location of Monarch of the Glen, just beautiful countryside.

The train up the coast is the BEST train journey I have been on yet. It winds its way majestically through the glens, skirts the coast and numerous lochs along the way - breathtaking scenery at each bend, truly a must for any visitor to the Highlands. The water is a tranquil turqois, and the beaches looked very inviting.

Once off the train, we walked to the ferry wharf and jumped on the "Western Isles", a lovely small boat, for a 40min cruise to Inverie. Again, just spectacular scenery, and a calm sea, made for a more than pleasant journey. We even ate wedding cake, courtesy of newlyweds off to honeymoon in the hills! As the tide was out, we had to clamber onto a dingy and make the final 500m to shore to the hum of an outboard motor. cool :)

The Old Forge is the remotess pub in the UK and we of course stopped for a couple of drinks whilst basking in the rarest of the rare - sunshine and 20C! Some hours later we finally dragged our selves off to a nearby grassy beach and set up camp just above the beach, infront of imposing hills we were to venture into the next day.

Inverie has all things you associate with a tiny lazy remote seaside scottish village. Ancient whitewashed stone cottages, a single red phone box, its a place where everyone knows everyone, the dogs sit infront of and wander into the pub, people come to town on quad bikes and stop to chat at every chance, there are more Land Rover Defenders per head of population than any other in UK i think, and the people look rugged and timeless, and all wear gumboots...

Andy had made reservations at the Old Forge, and we dined superbly, mussels (including kiddies beach bucket for shells), scallops and lugavalines (prawns) - entree was scampi fries!

The next day the serious work began, the rain came and we walked! The scenery was everything you expect from the highlands, thick mist, low cloud, bare hills, deer, freshwater lochs, and gin clear (drinkable) running streams. I still get a real buzz being able to fill up on water at these streams! We ended up at a bothy some 12kms later and lunched at a perfect spot, at the base of a glen, with a 360 degree view of the surrounding hills. A small herd of deer were grazing some 100m away, and an idyllic whitewashed farm house further down the track.

As Fe had developed some serious blisters, we decided to change plans and stay for the night and return to Inverie the next day, instead of continuing back to Glenfinnan. It turned out to be a real blessing in disguise. We went firewood collecting at the nearby beach (only drift wood allowed for fires here). This turned into a beachcombing trip, leisurely collecting fresh mussels and crabs for dinner was an extra bonus!

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing outside and basking in the rare sunshine, and midgeless windless calm.

Returning the next day to our original campsite at Inverie, we set up tents and watched spellbound at the building storm directly from the direction we had just walked. There was thunder and lightning and it was great to see the change in colours and guess the time it would finally hit! We sheltered and cooked dinner in the tents enjoying more dehydrated goodness.

Our trip home was pretty uneventful but for the deer which decided to jump out onto the road!!! Very Very scary and very surreal! All in all another perfect trip out to the hills!


01.05.04/ Maria and Yin in the Highlands

Maria of Amsterdam and her lovely sister Yin came to visit the old town this weekend! Was great to have them here, catch up and payback for my lovely trips to Amsterdam earlier in the year.

After a busy day playing Tourist and more importantly shopping-til-they-dropped, (apparantly the shops here are better than in The Netherlands), we rented a VW Golf and headed out to the Highlands! The planned route was Edinburgh - Perth - Pitlochry - Inverness - Fort William - Stirling - Edinburgh - 400 Miles. A long day behind the wheel.

What a perfectly cloudless pleasant Scottish day! The idilic village of Pitlochry was our first stop, for coffee and a snack. Very old, very touristy, but very Scottish, I even saw fly-fisherman heading off in their waders, rods in hand looking for trout.

Next stop, Blair Castle, a lovely place, set in superb rural surroundings (Highland Cows and Deer of course) lies a bright whitewashed 30 room castle. Hunting Deer is obviously popular here, judging by the amount of antlers adorning the interior. I counted some 400...We lunched on the lawn basking in springtime sunshine and the skirl of the pipes - lovely.

From there we blasted around the countryside, through Aviemore and Inverness, stopping along Loch Ness - and cameras ready - went Nessy hunting! Onwards we drove through central Scotland enjoying the postcard perfect scenery. I love driving trips! Home for fish and chips - end to a perfect day!

PS thanks for the stropwafels and gevulde koeken Maria!

Sunday went blasting around the Peebles with Tony in his Subaru STi - fhaaast car!


17.04.04/ Ceiledh

Went to my first Scottish Ceiledh, or folk music dance tonight! I have no idea why I love this music but I do and its great to be able to get out and enjoy it! Its one of the reasons I can here of course. I was accompanied by Fe, another travelling Aussie who I met through Matt. I hope she enjoyed the deafening qualities of a full pipeband!

No - sorry - no dancing kids, two left feet and lack of knowledge of the steps, the clapping and backwards skipping stuff - I was content clapping and foot stomping!

was BRAW!


11.04.04/ Easter - Matt and Cara - Scotland

Work has been so totally consuming for the past two weeks. For those beanos out there, its quarter end and the deadlines hurt! I still can't believe i had to work over the holidays!

Matt and Cara came to visit this Easter weekend! It was time to put my Guide Hat on again! They are here on a huge 6 month tour of UK and Western Europe, starting in London and working North to Scotland then over to Ire, then all over Europe finishing in Athens for the Olympics, oi oi oi. I have known Matt since I we were 5, all those years back at St Ives Prep, and we went through all of our school days together!

Was good to see these guys here and catch up! It really reminded me of being home! They got great weather, rare spring pleasantness! Though the heater was soon on full ball, good weather here is of course relative!

I think my now well rehearsed 2.5hr tour of Edinburgh was a success, lets just say their travel shoes got a good working! Its nice to have someone cook a decent meal here also! Makes a change from soup noodles and pasta! Matt cooked up a storm in the kitchen!

Sunday was time for a car trip, up north to the Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle and St Andrews Old Course, home of Golf! Here's a tip, on Sundays the course is closed to play and anyone is free to roam the course! A lovely day all in all - which I admittedly spent most of asleep in the back seat!

I wish them both the best of luck for the rest of theri tour and hope to catch them somewhere in Europe!

31.03.04/ Ebay

Selling items on Ebay can be heaps of fun, I just sold my ill-fitting Scarpa Manta boots. The expectation, the preparation of the advertisement, the daily update to see who and what the bid is at. Hoping that the price will get to your reserve. The pure fun of watching people bid for your bit of junk! Happy bidding kids :)

I was reading BBC.co.uk today and they rate Ebay and Google as the top two sites used and visited. I must agree I am part of the crowd! They then went on to talk about the rise of Ebay and the bizarre ways people are using it. For example, people selling themselves as the "perfect girlfriend for two weeks" etc...

I digress, Ebay is the perfect place to sell those bits and peices that someone might value, and if you are lucky you may even find someone who is willing to pay a decent price for something you no longer need.

28.03.04/ Hillwalking, Bothy trip - Highlands

A weekend hillwalking! I have been hungering for this since I landed here! Finally off to the Highlands! And I wasn't to be disappointed. It proved to be the perfect antidote to hours in the office.

Andy has been planning this with his family and friends since Christmas time, he was also itching to try out all his new bushwalking kit, and notch up some more "Munros". To say he was excited was an understatement.

Most of you will know about my love of bushwalking. There is just something I love about the hills, the fresh air, packing the backpack, slipping on the boots and venturing into the wilderness. The blisters, leg cramps and sleeping in a wet sleeping bag are obvious bonuses...couldn't wait!

Andy's family are wonderful (and terribly FIT) people ! I thank them for making me feel so welcome!

BUNKHOUSE- Our first night, straight off the three hour train from Glasgow, we were met by the lady from the Currua Halt bunkhouse. Torch in hand, she led us like lemmings all 10m to the bunkhouse, which was actually the old converted station house! Such luxury! Upstairs the Station Masters room had 360 Degree views and a huge Map table, the perfect thing for bushwalkers!

The morning brought porridge and bacon rolls washed down with welcoming mugs of tea - what a way to start a walk! Do we really need to walk 20miles out there? Its so nice and comfortable here!

PACKS ON - Finally we made a move and the packs were hoisted on and we were soon shuffling down the track towards the Loch and those snowcapped mountains. The air was cool and crisp, just perfect, was good to be walking again.

Gravel track soon gave way to moorland and bogs. Though the scenery just grew in splendour. Up Up and Up we trudged away, bog turned to heather, then it was scree and finally snow! Knee deep snow! The weather soon came to the party and we were in the clouds and rain!

MUNRO - My first Munro - welcome to the club! A Munro is a mountain in Scotland above 3000ft. There are about 280 odd and many keen British hillwalkers aim to make it to everyone! To date there are about 3000 registered nutters who have completed all Munros. Apparantly Andy's dad was nutter No.99 or so...cool!

BOTHY - a bothy is scottish for a shepherd's hut. These tiny gems dot Scotland and provide welcome refuge for the drenched walker. This one was particulary well decked out, with sleeping shelves and a wood fire. I still sleep outdoors though, I had carried my bivvy bag all this way!!! We had a nice time eating, chatting and laughing the night away though - a great way to spend an evening relaxing after a good days walk.

WALK OUT - the walk out was to be flatter (thank goodness) but longer (18 Miles), than the previous day - It was good to get the pack on an shuffle down the track. Couldn't complain about the scenery though - it was all so beautiful, made the blisters worth it - just!

I feel blessed to have met these wonderful people and get outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and admiring all the great scenery and the magneficence of the Highlands. Can't beat this.


23.03.04/ Accessory Sports - Victims

I remember that line in "A River Somewhere" (Aussie Travel Documentary), where Tom Gleisner says something like - "men are attracted to accessory sports, like cycling - where there's always something new to buy. Fishing is like that, I still don't know what half the stuff I bought is for..."

This is so utterly true = I am the proof! And not just me, every guy I know - we absolutely love gadgets!
That's why we like hobbies - so we can indulge our gadgety toy obsession! Cars, Camping, Sports, Computers you name it!
Andy my hillwalking mate at work bought a "spork", after I told him about them.... (a titanium spoon/fork on one - like the white plastic ones they give out in take away shops) Its perfect for those light weight camping adventures where you want do make sure you are carrying absolutely the least weight, while still being very comfortable...anyway - you should have seen the uproar in the office!!!

One of the people at lunch went so far as to say, possibly of her husband, "men enjoy spending more time talking about it (hobbies i think she meant..) that doing it" :)

Guilty Guilty Guilty - we all are victims, and we love it! At least I don't have an Ipod - yet...

I am so immersed in this materialism, it sickens me - but I think really its a result of working life. I have found that most people don't enjoy what they do, and even the ones that do, like to have something material to show for the life that they are sacrificing whilst shackled at the desk. Maybe things that remind them of living?

That's sadly why I bought my car, I wanted to feel like what I was doing was worth something - there was something at the end of the day that I could see, touch and feel. Something, which was mine and was the product of my labour. Is this a primative thing?

p.s. appletise has got nothing on apple isle!


21.03.04/ A bit more on ME

Its been a lovely relaxing weekend at home - phew! All that jet-setting for the last 4 weekends was fun but exhausting, nothing like a cruisy weekend to catch up on some reading, cleaning the flat and resting!

Though I did manage to get up into the Pentland Hills, south of Edinburgh with Andy from work, and got blown over - literally - by the 40mile and hour winds! Great to get the legs working again! It was a steep hill! We actually walked up a disused ski slope at the ski centre there, where people practice skiing on white plastic mesh mats laid out on the grass.

The rest of the spare time got me thinking about plans, and updating the website. People who know me well know I crap on about 5 year plans. (And after watching L'auberge Espagnole again, I had to laugh - as one of the interview questions is "where do you see yourself in 5 years"!).
I try and formulate a grand plan for the next five years...a bit dreaming a bit serious. And so far so good! When I turned 21 it was - get the degree, get a job, get a car and get overseas! So thats kinda all done. (Along the way I picked up the bagpipes and did the CA, so they were bonuses!).

Now for the 25-30 plan (30 - sounds kinda scary to me - I still feel like I am 18!). So many things to do, especially with study finished and out of the way!!!
Languages for one, Mandarin and French I would like to pick up! Travelling obviously, western europe of course. Maybe China and North America. I am thinking a new instrument to learn also, drifting between Saxophone and something quieter, my neighbours need a rest...I am abit over the bagpipes, have hit this plateau, you know, where I need alot more work to improve by slight increments! It must be something about reed instruments that does it for me...Maybe a sport, Hockey? ...4WDing...More reading, and not management books! So happy to be able to do more recreational reading! Have missed it too much. more to follow...


19.03.04/ Work

Many of you have asked what work I actually do over here, so I guess I better write a little about it. I, like many of you, spend so much time behind a desk. I won't write to much of course, cos we all know accountants are boring folk, do boring stuff and speak funny talk. Are you still with me? Good? You sure? Ok. Lets go!

As an Accountant (It has taken me 4 years to be able say that at an audible volume), we Aussies are lucky enough to be able to come here to the other side of the planet and transfer our skills and qualifications directly. Lucky me!

Oh hey here's a tip, if you want to kill the conversation when meeting people, try "I am an accountant", also try "auditor" its a guaranteed killer too...just watch the colour and mirth drain from peoples faces...no more smiles for you laddie! I also read in the paper yesterday that Accountants are in the top 3 that hate their jobs...The people that love their jobs most? Care givers.

THE GORY DETAILS - I am currently a Temp/Contractor at Citigroup, an All American Bank. My role is as a team member in the Financial Reporting team. We prepare periodic internal and external accounts and reports on the Pension Funds the Bank holds. Spreadsheeting heaven. Email is the main form of contact and the phone is used when your computer is dead, or you are in tap dancing type trouble.

A typical day starts with my signature big smile "G'day Everyone!" greeting, before tiptoeing and hiding successfully behind my huge flat screen moniter. I boot up the black box work recorder and type in my serial number and secret squirrel password. This strenuous activity is chased closely by a cup of All American Starbucks coffee, the term "flat white" is antipodian by the way. It is normally accompanied by a choc flapjack, a new favourite. At about 12 there is great mirth cos its time for a huge cheap and cheery, but not-so All American lunch with fellow "Beanos" at the caferteria (think meat + chips). There is nearly always time for a romantic "give me some fresh air dammit" stroll around the block - maybe some shopping down at the Camping store, then back to the office for some Ribena, a banana, and McCoy's crisps.

Somewhere in between all this is much silence, (remember those silent scenes in "the Office" they are filmed here!), alot of mouse clicking, calculator tapping, screen squinting, folder flicking, hole punching and some more silence.

Still with me ? Phew, now thats over, lets get back to living :)


19.03.04/ Me, Myself and I

Warning - contains random ramblings (Permission to ignore is granted)

There are times when I look up into that light blue sky, inhale that crisp Scottish air and wonder - What the hell am I doing with myself? Why did I come here? Am I just dodging "life"? What was I put on earth to do? Is my purpose to be just another number, another consumer? Is there more? Do I want more? Do I really matter? Is it really me I should be worried about? Is my happiness too much to ask for - am I just getting self obsessed? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE??? ha ha!

I do this often, nearly daily, it comes and goes. I guess it's why i came here - to find out who I am and what I want out of this life.

I have carved this window of 2 years to escape my home life and take a good look at myself. I think I have hit my quarterlife crisis...

I was reading abit about this self obsession - I never really thought of myself as self-obsessed. I am referred to as a Generation Y-er (Milenias) - I like to think of it as Generation ME (Milenium Edition if you will)...maybe some of you well read people can tell me more about this!

Restlessness, thats what I called it when I left. Go "see the world" be the tourist. Buts its way more than that. I left home to extract myself from a well worn path. I could see it before me - everyone was at it, the blinkers were on, buy a unit - get on the property ladder, lock yourself into some debt, eat vegemite sandwiches, stare at domain.com.au at lunch, rejoice in your unrealised untaxed profits whilst living on pennies, go do an MBA, consume some more, get rich and invest it. Ah how great is freedom!

Woah!

So here I am, about as far away from Sydney physically that I can get. I have learn a lot about life so far, thats for sure...And can't wait to keep learning.

Directionless wandering...this whole excursion to land of haggis is really a self indulgent escape from a self made existence that is trying to suck the life out of me.

In these precious selfish moments I allow myself to indulge. I like to dream the what ifs, you know - what if my life could be different? What if that "home life" was'nt me? The trouble is - it fits, perfectly, cos its all I have known.

North Shore yuppie Sydney-sider through and through, I am surrounded by it, family, friends - its all I know. We can't all be wrong can we? I have been brought up aspiring for all things expensive and learnt early that quality was worth paying for. Following brand names was good and people with truckloads of money were people to look up to.

You know I feel like I just wanna be struck by something so positive and so right - find something which makes sense to me - something passionate I can devote myself to. But the magnetism of my Sydney life is so strong, its comfortable, its me....isnt it? Could I live a different life? Could I be a monk in Tibet, could I give away the material world? Sadly I don't think so.

So should I just be content with what I have? If having is important to me. I have been so fortunate so far - I feel blessed everyday - really, I really do (thats sounds like The Catcher in the Rye now!) and I feel guilty for questioning my life. There are so many less fortunate than I - I thank God for everything I have been given. And for showing me how lucky I really am. I suppose I am just itching to find out what's in store for me...

Maybe I have been brainwashed into this "me" culture? Whats in it for me? Give me give me give me...

Maybe the answer is just that I should pursue what makes me happy and be done with the deep thoughts? That would be neat and simple wouldn't it?

Behind me my bushwalking sac is packed to the gills.
Now that makes me happy, the expectation of a nice walk and going camping in the hills!

You know it could be as simple as that...


Heres Something I found on this Quarterlife crisis thing! Ha - and I thought I was a bit special - seems there heaps of US out there!! - (Article from SMH.com.au)

March 10, 2004.
Our 20s and 30s should be the best years of our lives - so why do so many of us feel like we're going nowhere? Michael Condon reports.

QLC stands for quarterlife crisis. Lots of people suffer from it but no one knows if it really exists. Astrologers call it Saturn Return the point in our late 20s when the ringed planet returns to the same point it was when we were born.

There are online diaries (or blogs), support groups, books even a screenplay nominated for an Australian Writers Guild award and a Los Angeles rock band named after the phenomenon. The authors of the QLC bible, Quarterlife Crisis: the Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, published in 2001, recently started a QLC career advisory service. They are now planning a QLC conference in the United States in August, complete with Workshops that would provide practical advice and tools for getting through your quarterlife crisis.

I believe that the quarterlife crisis will essentially replace the midlife crisis for our generation, says Quarterlife Crisis co-author Abby Wilner. It taking us so long to get all that our parents complained about at the midlife ?Ethe house, car and kids ?Ethat once we do finally settle down, we'll feel so relieved that I don't think we'lll want to change anything.

Psychologists are finally beginning to pay attention to this major life transition?E Wilner says.

Some are calling it Emerging Adulthood, others Prolonged Adolescence. Although the quarterlife crisis has always existed ... it is a more significant and prolonged process today, because of job hopping and delayed marriage and family life, just to name a couple of reasons.

In the US,?Esays Wilner, the average person now goes through eight jobs before the age of 32 and the average age to get married is now 27. As a generation that has grown up around technology, we have low attention spans and weíre always looking for the next best thing.

At 23, Danny Johnston* was on his way to being a bank manager. He had a dual degree in business and economics and a coveted graduate position at a major Australian bank. He was earning good money and had a respected job, but something wasn't right.

Johnston was depressed.

He looked at other young people around him many of them were depressed, too.

At first, he thought it was the job. He worked at 10 different branches during my time training as a manager and every single person was unhappy,?Ehe says. That's not an exaggeration, there was not a single person who was happy in their job at any of the branches.?E

But Johnston soon realised the unhappiness reached into other areas of his life. He quit and drove around Queensland for three months until his money ran out. Then he went on the dole.

James Arvanitakis was a successful banker and economist whose major concern in life was his share portfolio and whose greatest delight was correctly forecasting the direction of interest rates. At 26, he owned a Mercedes and was paying off a home in Sydney. A year later he threw it all away.

I was 27 and looking at my superannuation and estimating how many millions I would have when I retired,?Ehe says. Arvanitakis abandoned a disastrous relationship and took a year off to travel. In Bolivia, he visited an aluminium and copper mine that used child labour. He decided he could never go back to his job and now develops economic policy aimed at helping poor countries.

I became a person obsessed with money, he says.

I was lucky at 27, I got to reinvent myself.

There are hundreds of similar accounts on Wilner's website (www.quarterlifecrisis.com). At this point, I don't have a clue as to who I am or even what I want,?Esays one. I just have this horrible feeling that I'm wasting my life. I have no definition. Some people would say that its exciting I'm a blank canvas with lots of potential. I just find it extremely scary.

Psychologist Rebekka Sommer, of the University of Technology, Sydney, says many young people are struck by the tyranny of the shoulds, an inner battle over everything parents, teachers, friends, bosses, partners and authorities tell us we Should do.

People are made to believe that life should be a certain way. You should have a high-status job, I should have a great harmonious relationship, I should be slim, sexy and have a high libido. If something in our life challenges these shoulds, it sends us into crisis.

This is exacerbated for recent generations sons and daughters of privilege who have a multitude of options and often do not know which way to turn.

I think there is more pressure on this generation to achieve happiness, Sommer says. Women, particularly, now have more options, thanks to previous generations. Previously, your path was set; for example, young men might be expected to take over the family business. Now each individual really chooses their own path and there is a whole lot of pressure that comes with that.

Gone too are the days of a job for life. Some say that may not be a bad thing.

ďMy suspicion is that the number of people changing careers in their 20s is on the increase, Esays Jim Bright, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?

ďI believe a lot of people in their 20s are looking at their parents in their 40s and 50s, who have slogged their guts out and had a breakdown or other health problems, or have been given the flick after being a loyal employee all their working lives.

David Ellis has written a screenplay called Quarterlife Crisis a romantic comedy nominated for an Australian Writers Guild award after noticing many of his friends floundering in their mid-20s.

ďI think we subconsciously try to emulate our parents but canít achieve what they have or, alternatively, have achieved it and itís not what we thought it would be, Ellis says.ďThereís almost a lost generation out there who are faced with such an enormous amount of options that they often donít know what to do.

For many, the solution is opting out often on the ďbig trip" Rachelle Hill*, a 23-year-old executive, broke off her five-year relationship with her live-in boyfriend and went overseas on a two-year sojourn.

ďI needed to find out my own identity. I was so miserable. It was an incredibly hard thing to do. But now Iíve never felt so much freedom.

Says Ellis: ďOften people get this Ďdeer trapped in the headlights mentality where they feel like they canít move or canít say anything to their partner. I think a lot of the time they need to follow their instincts to avoid getting hit by the traffic.

Hereís what Abby Wilner suggests you do if you think youíre having a quarterlife crisis:

+ Donít have a career plan? Donít worry. Donít think that the people with plans have it all figured out and donít think of it all as some kind of race.

+ Separate the meaning of a job from its trappings. Forget about how much money a job will pay you, forget about societal prestige, and forget about what your parents and friends think about your job. You have to figure out whatís meaningful to you in your career and what will warm your heart.

+ Reflect on a settled period of life. This is a period when you had the time, energy, and confidence to know what you liked.

+ It often helps to compromise at least a little bit. Sacrifices in the short term may make you better off in the long run.

+ Donít be afraid of trial and error to find a fit for your strengths and tastes. Switching jobs quickly is not a bad thing, but first make an effort to like where you are now.

*Not their real names

Source: Quarterlife Crisis: the Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, by Abby Wilner and Alexandra Robbins, Bloomsbury Publishing, $19.95.

HAHAHAHA - so I finally fit in now do I??? :p


15.03.04/ The Netherlands, Den Haag

Aiyaa, 5am wakey wakey, and another weekend in the Netherlands! This time I came to visit another good Dutch mate Miranda - who is actually on her way back to Australia to live in the lucky country for a year or so as a PR!

Its only 30mins by train to Den Haag (The Hague) from Schipol Airport. I arrived early and enjoyed browsing a dutch book shop and trying to read some of the paperbacks! I ended up sticking to the Tin Tin comics, still dutch of course, though he is called Kuifje and Bobbie is the dogs name! Of course I had to buy one!

After successfully buying some brodjes (sausage rolls) at Albert Heijn's (Dutch fancy version of Woolworths), I was met by Miranda and we got the train to her town of Voorburg, only one stop away.
VOORBURG - Walking from the station and into the back streets of Voorburg, I had the feeling we were actually back in Edinburgh! It just felt the same, less the canals and tram lines, all together a very well to do suburb, more houses than flats and a total contrast to the urban areas Maria lives in.

Miranda lives in a lovely big apartment on the ground floor of a two storey house. Her door is about 2 steps from the Tram stop! Its a bit disconcerting when all the neighbourhood just walks past your living room, but you soon get used to it. The Dutch have a habit of pulling their curtains, leaving their living room windows in full view. At night you can sometimes enjoy listening to other peoples conversation as they pass by!

DE PIER - After putting the feet up, a few cups of tea and nattering for a few hours, we set off to De Pier. On the way we walked through Voorburg, its a beautiful little village that feels really touristy, complete with hand operated music boxes, but its very much a normal local place. Makes a lovely change! A short bus ride later and we arrived at the beach!

It was a little windy, though sunny, and people were walking around in thick winter clothing, but the beach is the beach and I was glad to be there. The waves looked angrt, lucky for us we were on a covered walkway to a covered restaurant set out about 500m from shore - how romantic!

The restaurant itself was very pleasant and classy, and we had an enjoyable meal - even though (someone) managed to spill tonic water all over the table! No names...Miranda!

TEA - Dutch people have tea served in a clear glass cup. You receive the cup with hot water and you select and place a tea bag in. The drink comes along with a ginger biscuit too. The differences are what makes travelling so interesting!

OMNI IMAX - That night Miranda took me to IMAX, this one is Huge! The cinema screen is actually spherical, and the field of vision exceeds the vision capable with the eyeball. We watched Andrenalin Rush which is all about parachuting and BASE jumping. I got a real appreciation for why these people chase the extreme rush, and how the fear and adrenaline can be addictive. Following a jump off a Norwegian cliff, you also get a feel for how skilled you need to me to to this stuff. Being a nutter helps of course. I love IMAX!

CHINESE RESTAURANT - Take away was for dinner, and my first Indonesian/Chinese meal. Ordering was interesting - two Chinese people who needed Dutch to communicate to each other. Mental note - learn some damn Mandarin!!!! So embarrassing, I could only muster a thankyou and goodbye! The meal was tasty though - always nice to have some Chinese food!

ZAANSE SCHANS & MARKEN - The next morning Miranda had organised a day trip with her sister and an old school-mate. Yay! After a 1hr drive north east, we strolled around the classic Dutch totems, like the windmills, canals, cheese factory and of course - huge yellow clogs!!! Quite a popular and pleasant place, with some really nice attractions. A must for all you happy snappy tourists!

Marken is a traditional looking Dutch village which sits on a swamp. We happily meandered through the idilic tradtional houses and laneways, even managed to get lost! Its a town all surounded by canals of course! A very Dutch experience day, I forgot to mention the cold and wind!

DEN HAAG - The next day we finally went into Den Haag and explored the streets. Its such a quiet place after being in Amsterdam! Very pleasant day, especially after the best Apple slice I have ever eaten! yummo! And I broke my no Maccas rule - we went in for a McKroket and Ice tea. McKroket, a Dutch croquette in between two cheese burger buns...its not REAL maccas is it!!

LICORICE - As a gift, I had decided to treat the guys at the office some yummy dutch licorice! 5/5 spat it out - I think I outdid myself. In the words of Doug, "Sod that!"


7.03.04/ France, Paris

Ah Paris - I loved this city! It was everything and more than I expected. No wonder it is a must on everyone's itinery - it really is amazing, travelling and living with a local made this trip even better!

SPEAKING FRANCAIS - straight off the plane and I am stuck...the instructions my mate gave me are excellent, but they require buying a billet (ticket) for le metro and RER (train). No euro coins for the coin operated machine...clueless tourist time "Bonsoir. Vous parlez anglais?" :) luckily most of the French speak better English than me so I get my ticket and off I go! Those French language CDs were paying them selves off already!

LE METRO - RER - My guide book safely in the bag, ticket in pocket, off to the trains! I jump on, trying to look casual and not clueless, but the staring at the Station boards and maps on the carriage are a dead giveaway...I know what they are all thinking - "damn tourist". I think I am on the right train - and off we go. Minutes later shifty arab airport workers jump on a are speaking loud arabic - this is familiar! I am in Egypt again!!

We pass the Stade de France, and the outlying towns. Its dark and I cant see much, trying to keep awake and on guard - too many travel horror stories keep me alert! That and making SURE I follow the instructions to the letter....

The RER and Le Metro are actually very user friendly to use. There are heaps of people on them, far from the deserted scenario I had played in my head. In no time, after several line and train changes I reach Convention.

CONVENTION - I made it! YAY for me! My first glimpse of real paris, and I love it. The cafes look inviting and are packed, the scooters are all lined up and everything is busy, and it feels nice. I take the time to enjoy the feeling and stroll the streets. People call me in French asking me to buy flowers and food, this is just great!

Candice meets me and its great to see her! The last time was way back in Sydney about a year ago - and she is just as pretty as I remember her to be! We go for panini and then onto her cousins place, just down the road. Its Paris and we sit up chatting and catching up, (them) drinking red wine - yes its so true!

FRENCH TV - DUBBING

TOP 10

SIGHTSEEING - the list -

CUISINE

MONTMARTE - SACRE COEUR

DIP YOUR COFFEE

OZ GP

MARKET

MISSING MY FLIGHT...

THANKS


29.02.04/ The Netherlands, Amsterdam

Another weekend away - I am getting used to this! :) Though my bank balance will thank me later...when was the rent due again?

Once you mention the words "Amsterdam for the weekend", nearly every single person I told starts thinking, sex shops, bored naked women in shop windows, coffee shops, hash cookies, dope smoking and drinking alcohol legally in the streets. I was even told - in jest - try not to trip over the junkies...

Basically everyone's vision of Amsterdam is one big hedonistic binge land! And the English like to try to preserve that reputation every weekend.

Well, as I don't drink, smoke or engage in any of the other afore-mentioned recreations, Amsterdam for me, luckily represents much more than just the Red Light District. This was to be a weekend endulging instead in Art, cuisine, cycling and sightseeing - oh and catching up with my good Dutchy mate Maria!

Maria had been so nice to come and greet me at the airport! First stop - ticket store for Lennie Kravitz tickets, and my first dose of Maria's super quick double dutch!

Amsterdam this crisp Saturday morning was being covered in snow - huge puffy soft flakes of the stuff drifting all over the place! Lovely - everything was covered in the whiteness. Welcome to Amsterdam! I never get bored of the snow!

A short bus ride later and we were back at Maria's for a poffertjes (dutch pancake) making session! All washed down with Egyptian peppermint tea I had brought with me! Then we chatted, chatted, and chatted!

CYCLING - After the chat fest, we picked up a bicycle for me at Maria's sister's place (after meeting cute baby Onno!!!) - and we were off! Dutch style transport! There is no better way to see Amsterdam than by bicycle! First of all, there are dedicated lanes, and even sets of cycling traffic lights! Makes for interesting turns at intersections I can tell you! With all the cycling traffic, most of the cycleways are perfectly smooth and well paved, a joy to ride. Closer into the city you start to share the road with pedestrians, cars, trams, buses and of course other cyclists! Great Fun!!!

On the Sunday, Maria planned a days cycling out in the countryside! It was really wonderful, great to be in the outdoors (no wilderness here though!) and enjoying the exercise! The flat flat countryside, only 5kms out of Amsterdam, was actually a bit taxing to ride! (I am so awfully unfit!) We passed tiny holiday houses with tiny cute canals, quaint villages and had lunch by the sea in a traditional Dutch cafe/bar.

But like all good things, the only downside to cycling in Amsterdam is the theft. My bike was a good one and had two heavy duty bike locks on it. The first was a 2Kg rubberised chain and the second and intergrated wheel lock on the rear wheel assembly. I was later to find these bikes can cost upwards of 400 euro each!

Oh another thing, for those used to riding in right-hand drive countries, please please look left first!

DUTCH FOOD - I loved all the dutchie food - bitterballen, kroketten (croquettes), petat met(chips with dutch mayonnaise), stroopwafels (toffee wafels), poffertjes (pancakes), and hutspot (Mash and Meat)! I couldn't get into the salty licorice though....

CANALS - Of course you can't go to Amsterdam without seeing, let alone jumping on a cuise on the canals, I had thought the canals were great when we rode over the bridges, and along them, but to ride in a canal boat was something special! Apparantly its all fresh water - and cleaner than it has ever been!!! Needless to say more cleaning needs to me done :) There are also about 2000 canal boat-houses, such a quaint way to live!

MOVIES - as part of my cultural education, I asked especially to see a Dutch film, and "Shouf Shouf Habibi" was showing. This is an interesting, and light hearted film exploring the story of a Morrocan immigrant family in Amsterdam. If you liked East is East - this is the Dutch version.

Cycling again, at night, after a big meal and drinks - its actually a lovely way to get home!

FAMILY DINNER - Maria invited me to the family Sunday sit down at her mother's - read - home cooked meal! Upon walking into the flat I was already smiling, that familiar smell of chinese cooking, the Chinese calenders, the little red stools, it was all so familiar! It all reminded me so much of my Grandma's place in Hong Kong.

My chinese speaking is of course atrocious and I did myself no favours...Mental note to do that intensive Chinese course when I get home...

Maria's mum was wonderfully hospitable and the family was very welcoming. I really felt at home. Sitting down to my mums cooking seems so far away! Thanks so much!!!!

All my favourite dishes were on offer and I lapped it up! Truly memorable! All of course followed by the traditional eating of fruit :)

Thanks also to Maria's brother who kindly offered to drive me to Schipol and also a quick tour of the city by car, much appreciated!

TRAVEL - There is something special about discovering a new place with a local. Gone is that lovely panicy feeling of cluelessness and worry, that feverish thumbing of phrase books and maps is replaced instead by a calm, which allows you to simply sit back, relax and take in your surroundings. Its the best.

This had been by far the most enjoyable weekend for me on the trip so far - I don't know why exactly, but I am sure it had alot to do with the company, but I really loved my time there! (Will be back in 2 weeks time!)


24.02.04/ Scotland, Edinburgh

It is getting so nice now with the longer days! The sun os setting close on 6pm. Today we had light snow again at lunch! But the best was to come on the way home. I left work at 6pm, and was greeted by this fabulously perfectly clear darky blue sky. The sun was setting and the sky was just this incandecent deep blue, maybe its reserved for the northern hemisphere but i havent seen in in Oz before, the moon and a few bright stars contrasting it strikingly. Walking down George Street, it just felt magical! Crisp air, that twilight blue to red glow over St Andrews Square - a real day for the camera! (it was home of course ) Its gonna be hard to leave this town! :)


21.02.04/ Wales, Snowdonia

It was time for another train trip down south to visit John and Meg. This time the destination was Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. Its a famous place for hillwalking and includes Mt Snowdon is Wales' highest peak.

From Manchester, Snowdonia is a short 2.5 hour drive away, and once past Chester, the motorway gives way to A and B roads.

The B roads are really quite fantastic, lovely winding lanes flanked by ancient stone walls or box hedge rows. And of course the scenery into Snowdonia was wonderful, the closer you got to Snowdon, the better. It certainly looked like the day walkers dream, good access roads, and easy access to the hills.

Meg was busy studying so it was just John and I this time. Near Mt Snowdon, we stopped by a picture postcard spot, jumped the stonewall and found ourselves right by this crystal clear bubbling creek, Mt Snowdon was in the background and the sun's rays were just peeking through the tops of the hills. We were lucky to have a perfectly clear blue sky also, just a perfect place! There is just something about Alpine scenery that does it for me - I can't wait to come back soon and do some walking in this region!

All in all we had a nice drive through the North Wales, and got our traditional intake of Scones for lunch!


07.02.04/ Egypt

EXPECTATIONS - Apart from knowing I was visiting a country dominated by people of the Islamic faith 97%, and where the language was Arabic, I didnt know what to expect at all from Egypt. Absolutely NO IDEA. Reading the DFAT Travel warnings were slightly sobering but I still had no grasp of what I was to find in Egypt.

I only had expectations of the grandness of the pyramids, temples and the ancient sites I would be seeing, rich images created by all those documentaries. This I think is a wonderful way to approach a visit to any country! But man what a shock it was to be to me!!

ARRIVAL - Arrived in Cairo at 2300hr Saturday, it was a cool hazy night, from the aircraft everything looked blanketed in a thick dusty cloud, from the desert I presumed...later learning it was mostly the smog!

First mission was to find a Visa office, for my Tourist Visa. Clueless wandering and $15US later and I was the proud owner of two tiny postage stamps, covered in arabic - did I just get ripped off? I was sure I said Visa three times.

Luckily no - i got through customs and immigration with a terse grunt and then my first encounter with an Egyptian official - "stop please", "Which hotel are you staying at?" "I can find you cheaper" ....eh? "Ah no thanks" was my reply.

Next person was an immigration policeman - "Hello - Taxi?" - what the hell goes on here...This was something I was to become more and more angry about - every single person capable of uttering "hello my friend" is an fact another punter wanting to sell the clueless tourist something.

NO.1 Lesson in Egypt = TRUST NO ONE

BACKGROUND - I was to travel the week with Ab - my good buddy from Oz. She is studying Egyptology and had been in Egypt for 3 months on an archeological dig with Macquarie Uni, and we had planned a quick trip round the sites for the week at the end of the digging season. I could think of no better way to see Ancient Egypt than with someone who is knowledgable, passionate about the place and who also was seeing these sites for the first time. Her grasp of Arabic was a bonus too.

Ab was kind enough to come greet me at the airport, and so our adventure started...after of course asking her the Arabic for "No Thanks" - "La Shukram" We were to use this phrase about a million times over the course of the next week! ( I even had dreams about using it to phantom hawkers!!)

TAXI RIDE - driving in Egypt is nuts - drivers don't use lights at night - except when they want to overtake. They like to sit on the horn and use it for all sorts of uses - moving slow traffic, overtaking, saying hello to friends, for fun. They never use indicators either - apparantly all in an attempt to save the lights or the battery... Even though there are lanes marked, no one really uses them, if ever a Formula One driver was to come out of Egypt he would do pretty well!

The ride to the suburb of Maadi, where we were to stay the first night, was a great introduction to Cairo. The place is such a mixture of the old and new. Nearly everything looks old and clapped out, but then there will be the brand new supreme court, sparkling and new. The dust and smog cover everything it can make newish buildings look very old and drab. I saw small fires by the side of the 4 lane highway, locals sitting out front of their pottery shops warming up. Donkey carts ferrying hay, Tricycles stacked with bread, a three car pile up...ominous that one.

All the taxis are old warhorse 504 Peugeots, and all the motor vehicles are pretty derelict, smashed up, dirty and old. All except the brand new Mercedes Benzes...again a place of contrasts. A funny thing though - for all the lack of road rules, I never experienced any road rage.

Egypt is a developing country, some areas are definately third world - something I didnt realise before I arrived. Mental note to do some better research for my next trip...

CALL TO PRAYER - Throughout the trip I would be rudely awakened by the Muslim call to prayer at 4.10AM and 5.10AM, never to successfully get back to sleep. It is omni present all over Egypt. I could never get used to it. Though I think if they replaced the voice with a sweet sounding Norah Jones type recording of the call it would be all good, but the sound of a senior Arab man calling out in arabic and holding 15 second notes played at full volume...think your worst Karaoke experience, then double it!

METRO - As we were travelling independantly, Ab and I would travel the ways locals travelled, and frequently hardly see any tourists at all using public transport. The Metro is a great way to get around the town, clean but dusty, frequent and efficient. For 75 piasters, or about 15cents Aussie, you can go anywhere on the line. Women-only carriages are up the front of the trains and there is a fine if a male wanders in there. As with any densely populated area, there is no real etiquette to getting on and off, just push and continue pushing!! Here's a tip, if you have a backpack, use it as a battering ram!

PYRAMIDS AT GIZA - These have gotta be the biggest drawcard to Egypt for any traveller! The walk up to the Pyramids is pretty exciting, they jut out a little from the building and the lie of the land as the road winds it way up. And after about 5 mins - there u are! Complete with punters selling horse donkey and camel rides . I begins like this "Hello my friend, are you come for the Pyramids yes", "I tell you this my friend...If you come with me it is cheaper...." so the hawking starts.

The ticket office - as everywhere in Egypt was a small obscure concrete toilet block looking place with a tiny window. AUD$30 later i was a proud owner of passes to see the Great Pyramid and surrounds.

Ab's "tazeria" student pass didnt work for the Great Pyramid - for reasons unknown - they worked nearly everywhere else in the country, and it was expressly ok for this site also, but the officials wanted to rip off another infidel. "this is Arabic - can you read? (translated - you are a white woman, you are in my country, dont dare argue with me woman, i am an official showing off and you will do as I say, regardless of whatever the pass allows)."

So here is how they treat a person who has come half way round the world to help them with their national treasures and thus make them more money, but no, lets just treat her badly and rip them off.

So the pushy Egyptian officials ganged up and ripped Ab off for a ticket...I was getting sick of these guys...but what can you do - You are in their country, you have no rights. I was so proud of Ab she stood her ground, never seen her argue like that! I felt helpless, not knowing Arabic or anything, how could I argue? - BASTARDS

Anyway - the Pyramids are of course amazing. Built on that desert rock plateau, all alone with that denim blue sky backdrop - no wonder this was the place to get buried! You try to imagine the scene before you in all its original grandeaur, from the building, to the final product, questions abound, and of course there is still plenty to be rediscovered by archeologists, modern day digs go on on the site. Just imagine, polished and gleaming rock in that strong sunshine - it would have been even more breathtaking - like brilliant stars on the desert earth!

The pass includes entrance into the Great Pyramid, and its a steep and sometimes narrow climb up into the burial chamber. Clostrophopics beware!! Its a bit of a Pitt St in there, even though it is limited to 300 visitors a day, at $25 Aussie, its getting a bit expensive in comparison to everything else in Egypt, but hey - its the Pyramids! After about 5mins of winding your way in littl tunnels, (I couldnt help but think of the Great Escape), you enter a larger cavity, and this is when it starts getting Indiana Jones like!!! The burial chamber itself is tiny, about 5m x 10m x5m high and the sarcophagas is still there.

Wow! It dawned on me that after all these years - here I was - at the Pyramids! Big smile!

But back to 2004 again, the detractions are quite severe. Everywhere u try to walk and enjoy the site, someone will come and pester you for a Camel ride or try to be your "friend" for some "baksheesh". A paid guide even asked "Do you have some money for me??" - more on baksheesh later. There is now even a Pizza Hut and KFC opposite the Sphinx with a perfect view of the Sites while you enjoy your Thin and Crispy BBQ Meatlovers...(no I didn't go! - even though I was very hungry, there are just times when you have to say no)

WOMEN - of course nearly all the local women in Egypt are covered up with headscarves, and unflattering black habit type clothing. Though many wear bright brilliantly coloured dresses, at least in Cairo. You will never deal with a lady anywhere in Egypt - well we didn't. Its a male dominated place, and women are in the background. Something to get used to certainly.

BAD TEETH - Egyptians love sugar! The desserts are so sickly sweet, tea is a popular daily drink and they love heaps and heaps of sugar in it! Everyone I met had deeply stained and rotting teeth!

OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO LUXOR - On our second day, we were off to the Ramses (Central Cairo) Station to board the 10hr Midnight train along the Nile to Luxor, a main town south of Cairo, famous for the Valley of the Kings (Tomb of Tutunkamun). I think every trip must include a long train journey, there is just something so nice about sitting back and watching the country drift past you. Unfortunately we were unable to get good tickets so we were separated and in Second Class, which was actually quite nice, reclining wide seats and heaps of leg room, but they don't turn the lights off!!!

We got to the station an hour early, sat and people watched. Men in fantastically comfortable looking and impressive bedouin clothes were shifting boxes from platform to platform jumping down onto the tracks and popping up again. Conscript soldiers were everywhere, people always staring at us - of course, we were the only non locals on the platform. Old clapped out diesel trains came and went, plain grey colouring, with little arabic and roman lettering all there was showing which carriages they were.

Egyptians don't sleep til about 2am! Fact! I meanwhile was struggling to keep my eyes open. Though my natural paranoia kept me up, I had heard so many horror train journey stories! I was sat next to a typical Egyptian family and settled in for the long haul. Though sleeping was pretty hard,

WARFACE - WELCOME TO LUXOR - Pulling into the stop at Luxor was interesting, all I could through the dusty windows was of an outside that looked hot dusty and dirty - there was piles of rubbish all over the tracks, and a huge amount of local people awaiting to board the train. Alongside them, tea vendors with their 15L teapots and the now familiar armed police.

Tshirt weather! perfect! Ab dug around for the trusty Lonely Planet, and were we off! The room we had booked was on the otehr side of the Nile and we had to find the National Ferry terminal....

"Welcome, hotel room?", "Taxi?", "Horse Ride?","Taxi?", "Yes? Taxi?", "Hello! Hotel Room?"...As the only non-locals to get off this train we were continually hassled!! Followed everywhere....It was a nightmare!

Then, one particular persistent local kept pestering Ab, continually asking questions and invadingher personal space...you see we had been using the "ignore" technique so far to quite good success. a polite "No Thankyou or La'Shukram" had'nt worked in Cairo.

This guy was to be the worst though. "Don't ignore me, you think I am stupid? Answer me yes or no. Hey answer me." This continued for about 50meters, before he decided to push Ab. She of course, pushed him back - BIG MISTAKE!

He pushed her again and started to go nuts. "You bitch, this is my country!", "Fuck you", "How dare you hit me" etc. I was looking around anxiously now - locals started to stare - not good!

Here we were middle of Egypt, no foreigners in sight - and we had pissed off a local punter! Luckily we resolved the situation, and head down and kept walking!! Very lucky! We found some other foreigners, and followed them closely, safety in numbers!!!

By now I was in total defence mode - warface on and everything! Giving everyone the deathstare! I just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge - fast! We made it to the Ferry, and for 1 Eyptian pound each we jumped aboard with the locals and relaxed for a bit!

If ever you visit Luxor - hopefully you will find the other bank as nice and pleasant as we did.What a difference! We only got pestered by one guy for a restaurant, and made our way to our hotel "with tropical garden".

The Hotel was an oasis to us! tucked in the tiny winding backstreets, this was home for two nights! I actually got used to the dodgy feel of the place, and it felt safer everytime we ventured about it!

VALLEY OF THE KINGS

BIKE RIDING

ABU SIMBEL

ASWAN

SOUK - The market is a rich and vibrant part of Aswan, and winds for streets just off the corniche .

BAKSHEESH - Apparantly the wages in Egypt are quite low, and the power of the foreign $ pound or euro is very strong there. Consequently, nearly every Egyptian envolved with tourists is out for some good old Baksheesh (Tipping).

One thing to make clear though, Egyptians don't beg for baksheesh, they will always perform some service, wanted or otherwise - common examples are reading out labels at sites (aimless pointing and grunting suffices) or showing you to a hotel (read following and annoying), ferry, street...even though you can read, have a map etc...Its one of those things that can be novel for a guided tourist, but utterly tiresome for a backpacker!

Another big reason baksheesh sucks is that for a budget traveller at least, people want small notes. Say 2 pounds or so. However, these 1 pound notes become coveted items for the backpacker, as most public transport and food stalls require small notes. No one likes giving change, and mostly you will be refused change.

We consequently became obsessed with collecting change - as much as possible! It was so funny, these notes which were the equivalent of 20c aussie, were more important for us than a 100pound notes (virtually useless in most situations, nearly as good as having Aussie dollars with you!).

So I never really felt sorry for not being able to give baksheesh - I mean, if you insist on refusing to give change - how do you expect others to get baksheesh :)

One funny incident to illustrate the point was when Ab and I tried to get on the National Ferry in Luxor with a 5 pound note. The cost was two pounds for the both of us. The collector had about 200 pounds in 50 piaster bills in his hand, yet when we gave him the 5 Pounds he said "Rubbish". Change?, "Rubbish" was again the answer, I couldnt be bothered so we insisted he take the note and we continued down onto the ferry! Nutters.

SLEEPER TRAIN - Wow! A little bit of luxury at the end of a tiring few days touring was a real godsend! Ab had booked us on the sleepers on the way home, which meant for us, a cost little two person locked cabin and two big fold down beds! Perfect! I love all the little gadgetry on these things, from the little lights, step ladder, wash basin and mirror set and all the little nooks to stick a waterbottle or a book!

We of course had a few games of train chess and feasted on our travel provisions! Though dinner for Ab was a disappointment, bread rolls and cheese (our staple for the last few days). I got two servings of rice and lamb! Yum!

10 hours and a deep restful sleep later and it was 6am, Cairo again!

CAIRO MARRIOT & NILE HILTON - we were quite posh at times, and even managed a few trips to these marvellous establishments to enjoy the view and oppulence which exudes from 5 star hotels. Such a striking contrast to the hustle and bustle of the streets and tourist sites - a must for the weary traveller. Kick back order a juice and bask in the sun - the company wasn't bad either!

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS - the sights are truly amazing, it was all so strong and powerful, a different world definately. You can put up with the demanding people and hawkers...just. :) On reflection, this has been one of the most memorable and powerful trips I have ever been on. I can understand why people love coming to places like this.

PHOTOS - You may have notices that most of the pics i have put online are of me and Ab at mostly the touristy sites! Well I did want to take photos of the locals and all sorts of weird and wonderful things, but there was always something at the back of my head that stopped me. I don't know why....I guess it was the fear that I was being rude or that the people would demand money from me or something. It just didnt feel right, so I didnt...

STRESS - Its a funny thing, I think I was pretty stressed on this trip, the first back to the developing world in a long time, and backpacking - it was quite an intense time, and I could never really relax - that said I forgot about the boredom and mundane existance of accounting work almost immediately the moment I set foot in Cairo - not many holidays can claim that can they!

GET ME HOME! - well I gotta say a week here was enough for me thanks very much - well and truely ready for UK again - you can't have too much of a good thing, as the saying goes. An enjoyable pizza and juice before I left and of course the obligatory rip off merchanting from the hotel staff...dont get me started...

THANKS AB - Ab is a wonderful travel companion, so adventurous and inquizzitive! I hope I didn't spoil her holiday with my negativity! Big thanks for taking me around this beautiful strange place, and having that infective smile for all occasions, I couldn't ask for anyone better to travel with! See you in Europe soon mate!


28.01.04/ its snowing!!!

Indulge me please those of you who are from places blessed with snow - but IT SNOWED again today!

Many wondered about my decision to come over the the UK in winter - well, being cold has one huge drawcard for us Aussies, snow is totally too cool! I have seen snow before, in Thredbo and here in Edinburgh, but today was so special. It felt just Disney!

Its freezing, but you are bombarded by these lovely huge fluffy flakes of winter, drifting so peacefully through the air, carpeting everything in white - spectacular - really adds such an atmosphere to the town. everything looks nice and new to the eye.

Todays dump was really fantastic - even the locals were smiling - when it started, every single person in the office was enrapted just taking the sight in. Ohhing and Ahhing just like kiddies - pure magic!

Jacs has just come and gone again - excellent to see her and the boyfriend here - even better cos they are big gourmets and cooked fabulous meals! makes a great change from the simple pasta and bottled sauce i normally have!


13.01.04/ WWW@home!

After the excitment of receiving my laptop, I had the frustration of not being able to connect successfully to the internet! 20hours of staring at the machine, reading and rereading the user manual, fruitless phone calls to all the computer help people...

You see, my machine, which was bought in Hong Kong and has worldwide warranty is not actually supported completely here in the UK - especially the modem. I was actually told to call Hong Kong...So I faced the task of sending this brandnew broken machine to the local PC repair people and buying a new modem, I was not a happy boy at all...Luckily they told me all was well, and the problem was to do with my "modem" line...

Here in the UK you see, the modem line is a slightly different size to the phone line, by about a millimetre, so small that you don't notice it when you plug it into the modem...8 pounds later and I was connected - big YAY! I was more surprised that every local I asked never thought for one moment that this was the problem....the little things your learn along the way eh!

11.01.04/ Peebles

Today is my first bushwalk or "hillwalk" as its called here! A cold wet rude 7am start to the day, its still dark outside, most normal people are still enjoying deep slumber but today is the first of hopefully many Scottish bushwalks I will be doing here and I was pumped! Most of you know my love of walking and todays walk confirmed all my dreams and expectations of walking in Scotland and I wasn't even in the Highlands!

Peebles is a small township about 20miles south of Edinburgh in an area known as the Borders (border between England and Scotland). The walk was to be for 18kms with about 700m of ascents across open, boggy and heather covered ground for over 5 hills - and didn