Blog Archives

East coast family and friends

08/10/13
The Three Monkeys
West End, Brisbane

I am sitting in a cafe I am very fond of in Brisbane with just two days left in Australia.

My back hurts, my shoulders are sore, I am tired, I have just cried a little bit into my iced coffee and I wondering if I just tried to achieve too much in the last 3 weeks here.

Since leaving Perth I have raced up and down the East Coast trying to fit everyone in and keep everyone smiling.I’ve travelled on trains, planes, buses, cars and even a taxi. I have pulled 23kg + my laptop + my backpack around (and listened to EVERYONE tell me it’s too heavy, ask me why I have so much, and tell me I will hurt myself. Very helpful comments and questions kind people – please note this – NO tired traveller who has painstakingly given and thrown away many many things wants to ever hear this!) and I have not slept more than 4 nights in one bed, which used to be fun, and now at 29 it’s just exhausting!

As I sit here in Brisbane with watery eyes waiting for painkillers to take away the pain that is wriggling across my upper back, I worry that I have tried to do too much and have potentially made my two week Bali adventure an uncomfortable experience.

But in the name of optimism and good blog stuff let’s look at what I HAVE managed to get done over here recently.
First of all, three and a half lovely days with my new-never-met-before-Maltese-Italian-Aussie family that was filled with food, laughter, stories, love and more. I met so many wonderful people that I even rearranged my last few days in Australia to see them again.

Then a train ride from Brisbane through the NSW hinterland back to a much loved home from home on my lovely cousin’s organic farm. Four blissful days were spent cuddling cows, playing with dogs and horses and laughing till I cried, in some favourite locations too.

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Poppy and Venus

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May I say that these four days might have been four of the most memorable in Australia? And let’s not forget the food feasts! I was staying with an incredible cook and also a chef, yet I won our rendition of Come Dine With Me, with my Spanish themed evening – and even got a certificate! One of my proudest moments!

Images from Bundjalung National Park

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Then there was another early departure and a terribly emotional bus trip north as I realised, as one does unexpectedly sometimes, that such a lovely experience as that would never be repeated again and the many fond memories I have started to build up will soon be nothing but memories. Of course I have known ever since arriving that the end would come, but it is sad to leave a place you have been back to a number of times, knowing it’s your last.

I arrived in Brisbane transit centre and sat there for over an hour as my connecting bus was delayed. All I really wanted to do was put my head on someone’s shoulder and go to sleep, but maybe not wise to do that to a stranger!

A little later than planned I arrived at Nambour and was met by a great uncle, who confessed he couldn’t remember meeting me! When people make such a fuss about you spending time with them, it’s a little disconcerting when they say they can’t remember what you look like.

Three days were spent on the Sunshine Coast, filled with plenty of stories, spectacular views and glorious food. Highlights include my 77 year great uncle beating me to the surf at Mooloolaba, a lunch at the magical Secrets on the Lake and some very cheap, yet delicious fish and chips!
Kondalilla Falls
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Lake Baroon
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After my time in Bli Bli I was taken up the coast to Noosa and handed over to a friend for the weekend. My cattle station friend ( we’d met when I was “doing my time” on the station) and I had plenty to catch up on and did this eating copious amounts of cheese, drinking too much beer and chilling on the beach in between.

I sadly never made it to Noosa Heads, as thanks to a public holiday parking was almost impossible.

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A drive down to Caloundra for lunch at another great uncle’s and thanks to a lift in the land cruiser life was made easier. Thankfully I didn’t attempt public transport twice that day as because of a “new” public holiday the Translink website was mistakenly telling me and every other commuter in Queensland the WRONG information. So after a relaxing few hours in Golden Beach, catching up with another relative, I had a rather sticky and stressful commute back to Brisbane.

Since arriving back here I have had another Maltese-Italian banquet and met more family members! I have had a wonderful lunch with another cousin, and yet to come morning tea with my bush family mum and dinner out with another cousin, then lunch with more relatives.

I will be unable to do anything other than sit on the beach once I arrive in Bali!

the start of the goodbyes

The END of Perth
I should have posed this ages ago, and written it even longer ago, but such is life and busy I have been.
I sit here on a Queensland veranda enjoying a beer before midday, because I can, listening to the occasional kookaburra or gecko and Pumpkin the dog for company.

I left Perth just shy of two weeks ago, to begin my East coast jaunt stopping off at the all the relatives I can manage, and a coupele of friends too – some fit into both categories.
This was going to be a post based on my last few days in Perth, with some photos of Kings Park, then I was going to write about the joys of having family in different parts of the world. I had a muse in my head too about the merits of travelling alone, and whether I will be able to settle down when I arrive back in the UK. And then there were a few photographic adventures to post too…

It seems that every minute has been filled from about 3 weeks ago where I was fitting all the things in that I wanted to do in Perth: seeing as many people as I could and frantically weighing items of clothes, giving away things and throwing away as much as I could to fit everything back into 23 little kgs – 5 of which were the bloody suitcase. There were coffees, dinners, goodbyes, see you laters and more. Then I arrived on the East coast, to the open arms of family I didn’t know I had until a few months ago. I have been fed ridiculously, entertained, cooked for, driven around and just been having possibly the most pleasant, albeit stressful two weeks in Australia so far.
There is something to be said about leaving a place – of course It’s when you start to realise how much you like it. And let’s not forget the drama and the stress of fitting everyone in – giving everyone an equal allotment of your time – not wanting to overstay a welcome, nor offend by not staying long enough. Then there are the joys of getting to all these places – long bus journeys, early trains, pick-ups in unknown locations and better still the sheer ridiculousness of lugging a suitcase, backpack and computer around and not getting more than 4 nights in one bed!

There have been a few moments when I have thought about just rolling up to the airport and waiting there, or flying directly home and skipping my upcoming Balinese adventure… but then I wouldn’t have all these lovely things to write about as I make my slow, heavy-hearted departure from Australia…

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What is Australia for me?

Wednesday 28th August

Here’s a post I wrote on my day off about a week ago…

What is Australia for me?

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It’s this: sitting in a cafe on my day off: enjoying a banana smoothie and an ocean view whilst listening to relaxed tunes and having a moment to write this.

It’s the smells that should be bottled: eucalyptus trees on a hot day, barbecues in the park, wild flowers in bloom.

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It’s the sound of a kookaburra laughing about something in the distance.

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It’s amazing creatures like kangaroos and koalas and cockatoos, parakeets and galahs…

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It’s the taste of beer and the sound of live music.

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It’s chance encounters with people from all over the world.

It’s meeting members of family you never knew you had, or old friends in sunny places.

It’s feeling very welcome, but not quite belonging.

I’ve experienced many things in Australia – yet none of them have been bad. Even finding a 6ft python lounging over my toilet gave me a (horrific) story to tell and I learnt a lesson of caution when using the toilet.

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Being unemployed and unable to enjoy it thanks to lack of funds wasn’t exactly a bad experience.
Neither was feeling used and unappreciated in my first Au Pair role a bad experience. It was incredibly unpleasant and draining but taught me what to ask for and what I deserved in my next role.

I have avoided most extreme weather situations in Australia – not had to endure many 40+ C days, nor suffered a long winter. I was relatively unaffected by the cyclones on the East coast and the bush fires didn’t come close enough to pose a real threat.

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Am I sad about leaving? That’s what everyone keeps asking me. And the answer is yes and no. I knew Australia couldn’t last forever. I’ve not had any of the experiences I thought I would have, but instead had experiences I never imagined possible.
I never made it to Ayres Rock, didn’t buy a car so I could drive around the perimeter of Australia, never made it to the Northern Territory or Tasmania and have really only scratched the surface of this land of plenty.
I have been a waitress, a receptionist, a bar person, a teacher, a tutor, a farm hand, a nanny and a cleaner. I have worked for great money, no money and shit money.
I have tried new sports, new foods, learnt new skills, dropped bad habits and even managed to improve my Spanish.

So… Australia has given me so much, yet not quite enough to stay any longer. I know it’s time to leave and try something else. I am feeling a pull towards the UK, to the place I used to call home, to my family and to a culture and lifestyle I have been avoiding for many years. It’s time to see what’s coming next!

Hope it makes good blog material!

Serpentine National Park

Transperth – or public transport in WA to be more general is NOT brilliant. In Slovakia – a country you wouldn’t expect to have a well organised or easy to use transport far trumps what Perth has to offer. In Slovakia I went on a number of adventures – weekends and day trips, and although sometimes complicated ( there are a number of posts offering examples of this in Slovakia Stories ) they were never impossible. My point being that I have found it incredibly hard – in fact impossible to have adventures that don’t require a set of wheels. Places of interest are simply not served by public transport – or at least they are but require a number of changes, lengthy transits or not enough time to meet connections or return trips. In Slovakia I travelled far and wide on a network of trains, trams and buses and never found anywhere I couldn’t get to.

So on Friday night, after pulling my hair out trying to find somewhere I could get to and spend a reasonable amount of time in – I texted a friend on the off chance they wanted to accompany me on a day out… and drive their car there and back. Fortunately the response was positive, making me very happy to set my alarm early for Saturday morning.
I needn’t have bothered as I was awoken at some antisocial hour by an incredibly loud thunderstorm, that seemed to be directly above my head, shaking my little cabin.

Two hours later, when the thunder, lightning and torrential rain had ceased chariot arrived and we set off for Serpentine Falls.

First stop was Serpentine Dam. A vast expanse of water on the Serpentine river whose catchment is one of the major supplies of drinking water for Perth. Do not quote or correct me on this please – I don’t make notes when I go exploring – I remember and recount information and openly admit to getting it wrong sometimes!

This dam was not on my do list – didn’t even know it was there. We stumbled upon it first of all, missing a turning and completely bypassing the falls. A wrong turn worth taking I believe…

Serpentine Dam

Serpentine Dam

Serpentine Dam

Next came the falls. Entering the national park from the opposite side we pulled up into the central picnic area – a smell of sausages on the barbecues greeting us as we assessed the trail maps. There was a damp, yet pleasant smell in the air – of fresh, green plants – ready to spring into bloom. It reminded me so much of Železná studničk – Bratislava Forest Park – and a wonderful day I had spent hiking there at the beginning of Spring some time ago.

We took an alternative path to get a higher view of the Falls, only to realise that the easier, simpler route led you to a far better viewing platform – purposely built with steps into the upper pool for warmer days when the water invites you for a swim. It wasn’t particularly cold – so with a little more planning ( bikini and a towel ) I could have been persuaded to have a dip. I have had a waterfall swim already which was up near Cairns (QLD) last year, so that box had already been ticked. Thankfully.

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After an ample amount of time taking in the scene and sitting on a rock that plenty of other people wanted to sit on, we headed off on another trail. A 6km, grade 4 hike up to Baldwin’s Bluff. This very much reminded me of my hiking weekend, again in Slovakia – in Terchova where the weather, climate and hiking grades were similar. Yes – it has been 2 years since I have enjoyed a good hike!
Our trail was a steep, stony path up the side of a gorge to a lookout over the waterfalls and Kitty’s Gorge. It was flanked either side with nature’s display of Spring bursting into bloom. The smell was worthy of being bottled – a fragrant reminder that Spring has sprung and Summer will be arriving fairly soon. The humidity and threat of rain enhanced the aroma and as the climb evened out, the flowers grew brighter and smelt fresher.

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I could have joined the masses who stopped to photograph every flower, but I would have bored my companion to tears and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the exhilarating high I got as I sprang onwards – pain in my back or legs totally eradicated as my heightened senses absorbed everything available. I don’t get what they call Runner’s High – but what I feel when I walk or hike in a place of natural beauty is something I imagine can be equated to that feeling.

view from Baldwin's Bluff

Serpentine Falls

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Perth in the distance - 50 km away

Long distance Perth

The walk down had a few slips and slides, but no injuries were obtained other than a large bite I, of course, (wouldn’t be anyone else) received right on the kneecap of my still sore ice skating knee!

I snapped away at a few views and flowers, as an excuse to catch my unfit breath but was disinterested in hiking behind my camera lens so hope the atmosphere has been sufficiently captured from my relatively spontaneous, yet wonderfully rewarding day in the park!

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smell the flowers

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It seems I got a little complacent here in Perth.

I forgot to have an adventure. I just plodded along: making do, getting by and making excuses for losing my spirit. I was depressed about not earning enough, felt stunted by not having the freedom of a car and felt I hadn’t met the right group of people to be myself with.

Sometimes we forget who we are, what drives us and what makes us smile. We just get into habits, routines and doing what’s easy, or safe, or the least stressful. And sadly – the least adventurous and often the least fun.
With less than two weeks left in Perth, I realised there were still so many “unhad” adventures to be had! I realised I had wasted weekends thinking I had plenty of time left, or been waiting around for people to make plans or commit to suggestions, for the weather to improve, to have a bit more cash. So many reasons to sit on my arse and do nothing. That’s not who I am – I made a vow a couple of years ago to stop waiting for perfect and do things today

So, realising I had unwittingly had a bit of an adventure hiatus, a few months of not making the most of the moment – I frustratingly scoured the internet looking for places to spend my last few days off in Perth. If you wait for people to be available, or for the weather to be perfect – nothing happens. As John Lennon aptly put it “Life is what happens to you whilst you are busy making plans”. And it’s true – suddenly you realise months have gone past and time is almost up.

A four day weekend… a day in a national park, a day at a comedy and music festival and two more days to fill. Not a moment to be wasted.

Here’s to making the most of it!

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Live a little…

So, the other day I bought a voucher to go Iceskating…

It occurred to me that I had become a bit “safe” recently and subsequently, quite boring, and yes, indeed bored.
I have a number of excuses for such a position. Is it because I now work as an Au Pair and I am quite literally drained of energy at the end of the day? And I have the unusual luxury of having my own digs, complete with tv and internet, so sometimes it’s just “easier” to not go out?
Is it because I have never got enough money? I don’t earn very much to say the least, and what I do earn, really doesn’t go very far in Perth. Then there is the fact that I don’t have my own car, so going anywhere involves a number of transport complications, so as previously mentioned, it’s just sometimes easier to stay at home.

But is that what I came to Australia to do? To sit in my room, watching Foxtel and feeling pleased I have got through the day? Worrying about where my cents will go, so desperately trying to save them instead of enjoying them?
I know that when I get back to the UK my dollars will mean nothing, the sun won’t shine very often and I won’t have the opportunities that living in a (pretty cool) city in a (bloody awesome) place like this has to offer.

They say that you should do something that scares you every day. That’s not always possible and I am not as brave as I used to be, so I will aim for once a week! I also have only 5 weeks left in Perth, and only 8 weeks left in Australia, so now is the time more than ever to MAKE EVERYTHING COUNT! Who knows when I will be back?

Iceskating. Yes it scares me. The last time I went was about 10 years ago. I fell over, but it was ok. The time before that was about 3 years previously and I fell badly, landing on my knee, really hurting it, and vowed never ever to go again. Since then I have feared hurting myself so much that I never thought I would go again. Frightened I would fall and hurt my back, I forgot about the prospect of landing on my knee again. Which was worse?

Anyway, I enlisted the company of a fellow Au Pair and friend on my fear-combating adventure. Bought the tickets and made the plans. I refused to let anxiety hinder my enjoyment, but on entering the building I was looking for any excuse turn on my heel (whilst still on dry land – can’t turn on ice!) and make a quick exit. There was nowhere safe to leave my bag: leave it in the car. The skates were too big: Smaller ones would be uncomfortable. The skates hurt: get over it. It’s cold: get over it. I don’t like the music: get over it. Out of excuses. Skates on.
We waddled our way towards the ice – how do you walk without looking like a penguin??
I gingerly stepped onto the ice, gripping the barrier for dear life. At this point I start laughing hysterically (anyone familiar with this?) as I was actually bricking it. I can’t move!! I had no idea what to do, I froze, pardon the pun! Other skaters whizzed past me, carved the ice, skated backwards. No one was falling over. This was not the place for Grace to get over her fear!

Slowly I started to move my feet – making my way along the edge, and whilst laughing and screaming simultaneously whenever someone passed me, I found myself sort of skating. My partner in crime was finding my expression (sticking tongue out in concentration interspersed with screeches of fear or hysterical laughter) hilarious herself and had to stop a number of times from laughing too hard. I don’t know how many laps I did before I started to realise I was actually skating and dare I say, enjoying it a little bit. I still flailed my arms, and windmilled my way around and went straight into the barrier to stop. I still screamed every time someone whipped past me, and watched people fall over to asses how badly they were hurt and to figure out how they got up again.

I started to get the hang of it, and was smiling, grinning, skating, yelling out “I am skating, no one will believe me! I can do it!!” I don’t have words to describe how it felt to actually do it, after all these years. I even had a little fall and got back up again, but I was fine!

It has to end somewhere though doesn’t it? Usually when someone wants to take a picture. Often when you fall and really hurt yourself and the wind is taken out of your sails, not to mention your chest and your pride, not to mention your body is bruised.

“You skate ahead, do another lap, and I will get a photo of you”. Off I went, picking up speed: the idea of a camera capturing my moment spurring me on. Then something went wrong, I did something wrong and I went down. I went down hard. Right on my Left knee (same one as before) and hard on my left boob and hand, as I tried to cushion my fall. I flipped myself over immediately, scared someone was going to slice me in half, but the pain in my knee made me want to vomit and the pain in my chest from being winded actually scared me. I can’t tell you how I got to my feet, but I made it just as someone was offering me a hand, I managed to dodge oncoming traffic and slide contraflow to the exit and get off, barely able to move my legs. I sat, tears smudging my mascara, as my leg shuddered with shock, and my left breast felt like someone had kicked me repeatedly. I wanted everyone to disappear so I could have a good cry. The pain eventually subsided, but my enthusiasm was gone. Skating was finished for me. The fear was back and I was terrified and bruised. I did, however, get back on the ice and I did another lap, just so that I could end it well, and not have my memory being face down.

I saw so many people fall and get back up again, who looked fine. I was fine too – nothing but my smile was broken, but it was time to go home.
On the way home, we stopped for frozen yoghurt – my new obsession and I got a bag of ice for my knee, which I sat with all evening, fearing the prospect of an unusable knee.

I am SO pleased I did it, I now know I can do it, and I had a go, and even enjoyed it.
I told my younger brother tonight what i had done, and he said… “So, maybe are ready to have another go at skiing then…” Some of you know my skiing story from the Pyrenees about 7 years ago – an experience I do not wish to repeat!

moving on

I am sitting in Flagstaff Gardens as I write this, or at least I was, writing it in my notebook. A real pen and paper: imagine that!

It’s supposed to be 32 C, but it’s cloudy and considerably cooler than it was 30 minutes ago, but that’s Melbourne in a nutshell. Away from the madness of Bourke Street, I sit on the grass in the square shaped gardens with Saturday traffic rumbling past on each side. I can hear the cars, but I am at peace. There are some Asian girls in front of me chatting in a tongue I cannot comprehend, a group of people my age to my left enjoying each other’s silence and in another patch of grass a group of men of varying nationalities kicking a ball around. One is wearing a Chelsea strip a few seasons old, with Frank Lampard on the back, and sandals on his feet.A interesting backdrop for my Saturday thoughts.

And I sit here, cross-legged, with two days left in Melbourne pondering over what I have done, wondering where I am going and reminiscing on where I have been. My blog by my standards is way overdue – is it possible that I have had so much to say, it’s become too much to write about? My family say I write posts that are far too long, so I resolved to write little and often, but that doesn’t seem to have happened at all.

I have not had the opportunity to write about my fourth, yet by far the most fun trip to Sydney; my terrifying yet fabulously rewarding sea kayaking experience in Byron Bay; what it was like to return to a much hotter cattle station and all I realised I had learned about myself as I left again; the return to a city that has the familiarity and comfort of a place that I daren’t call home; the experiences I have had dressing in my suitcase finery and posing as a mystery shopper in Melbourne; eating all day and dancing all evening at a Latin festival; my impression and ideas about Melbourne and my thoughts on my nomadic life so far.

There really is so very much to write about and seemingly little time. I do not know where the last 3 weeks have gone. I do not know where the majority of my audience is based, nor fully understand their interests or what they/you want to read. I know one of my fans will tell me to write it all, write it all Grace!

Here is my train of thought for today, sitting in Flagstaff Gardens on Saturday 24th November…
I am thinking right now about the people I have met so far on my Australian Adventure and indeed on the literal and spiritual journey I have been taking to get to this very place today.

I feel that there are people who come into our lives for a purpose – yes, this is not a very profound statement to make, but there is more to it. There are the people who are in the background, setting the scene, playing the extras if you want a film analogy. They are the people in the park with me right now, the people that serve you coffee, sit next to you on the tram, the person who brushed past you in the street. The passers-by or passengers have, in my opinion, every importance to your day.For, without them, your day has no colour or sound.

Then there are those who are placed in your life because your purpose is to teach them something – they are the student. I don’t say this because my profession is teaching, but because they will learn something from you perhaps without either of you realising. Then, and perhaps it’s arguable that these are interchangeable, but there are the people who came into your life to teach you something. Again I refer not to the didactic role of a teacher, but more the passive role you play as you learn something, very often about yourself, through something this person does or how your relationship develops.

I also strongly believe that some of these people are planted in front of you to serve you a purpose and nothing else. They are passengers who get off at the next stop and need not stay on your train for any longer than necessary. You may never see them again, but you are pleased that they sat next to you for some time. Then there are the others who will continue the journey some distance with you, maybe until the very end because they have touched your soul in a way that the others didn’t. You therefore understand the importance of holding these people close either physically, or in your heart after geographical locations separate you.

As I sit here today, in my pensive mood, I am mentally flicking through the catalogue of amazing people who have coloured this journey and created endless lists of moments to laugh, cry and wonder about. I can clearly categorise the teachers, the students and the extras in my movie. I know who is going to continue on my journey: who I’ll hold onto dearly, and who I will smile at and say a fond farewell when I depart. I also remember those who have already passed through, those who have moved on and those who are coming with me, metaphorically. I remain optimistic about who is around the corner waiting to bump into me, or who will get on my train at the next stop. And I smile wholeheartedly from deep inside at the wonderful people who I’ll be certain to meet again soon or one day in the future.

It’s sad to say goodbye, better to say see you soon and oh so wonderful to say Hello again.