My flight landed into Vancouver at 6.10 pm, immigration was really quick but had to wait a while for my suitcase to come through, luckily it was amongst the first lot to come out. I then made my way to the sky train which would take me into the City centre. Once I arrived The Empire Landmark Hotel was easy to find but was a long walk down Robson Street, which is the main shopping street and all the trees were lit up with fairy lights, very pretty. My room was on the 25th floor and it had a small balcony and offered amazing views, the sun had just gone down and the sky was a lovely dark blue with a lovely orange hue. I had to take some photos before finally falling into bed.
Friday, September 15th
I woke up really early thanks to jet lag, the 8 hour time difference was really difficult to get used to. It was promising a nice sunny warm day so I decided to go to Stanley Park. I walked from my hotel down to the Lost Lagoon and made my way to the sea wall which is a walk around the whole of Stanley Park, about 6 miles in total. There were some great sights along the way, I got some lovely photos and even managed to see some Otters in the wild! I also saw the Lions Gate Bridge and North Shore Mountains, the Girl in the Wetsuit and I ended up at the Totem Poles. They were really fascinating and all had different stories to them, I love a good Totem Pole! There was a nice little gift shop there too, I saw a little badge very similar to a brooch my Mum has from my Grandma which is a maple leaf with Hamilton written through it so I got her a Vancouver one to go with it. Hopefully I’ll get back to Canada and I can get her a whole collection!
Saturday, September 16th
Today I walked down to Canada Place and went to the tourist information desk to book myself onto the Sea to Sky Gondola day trip to Squamish. It was going to be about an hours drive, our tour guide Federico gave us lots of information on the area and it was a wonderful scenic drive too. I sat next to Philippe who was from Brazil, he was working in Vancouver and getting to see some of the sights with his friends. We arrived at 11am and took the gondola to the top, it was really high up! Once at the top the views were stunning, I took lots of photos and then had a cup of tea and enjoyed the scenery. There were a few trails to walk so I did a couple of those too. I saw a little chipmunk on one of my walks too. After the trip back down in the gondola I then walked to Shannon Falls a massive waterfall, it was amazing!
Sunday, Septemebr 17th
Today I’m meeting up with my Disney friends and we are going on a road trip to Seattle! I got the sky train from Burrard Street to King George in Surrey where Derek met me, we went back to his to wait for Matt and Lindsay to arrive in the hire car. I was kept entertained by Dereks border collie Sadie, she was lovely and reminded me of my Shep.
Once we were on our way it was good to catch up, what I love about my Disney friends is even though we don’t see each other often we can just pick up where we left off and its like no time has passed at all. Once we arrived we headed to the Museum of Pop Culture which had a section on the Muppets and some music and movie exhibits. I got to see Dorothy’s dress from the Wizard of Oz!
We were then going to see a bit of the City but as it was throwing it down with rain we decided to head straight to The Cheesecake Factory, Matts favourite restaurant. I had no idea they did anything other than cheesecake! The monorail back was an interesting experience, it really tilted to one side, not fun. I got a couple of photos of the Space Needle as we made our way back to the car. We stopped off at some outlets on the way home and of course went to the Disney Store and I got a nice cup of tea, great way to end the day! It was lovely to see my friends again and I got to tick another place off my list.
Monday, September 18th
I went to Gastown this morning, it’s such a lovely area. I got some photos of the Steam Clock and Gassy Jack himself. I went nice and early so it wasn’t too busy. There were lots of little gift shops on Water Street so an ideal place to finish off my souvenir shopping for the family. I then walked back to my hotel and decided it’d been pretty full on so I’d just rest for the remainder of the day. I had a long soak in the bath and then read my book in bed.
Tuesday, September 19th
I went to the Vancouver Aquarium today, it was brilliant. They had Sea Otters, Dolphins, Seals and Penguins. They held little talks about the different animals which was interesting. I was definitely too obsessed with the Sea Otters they are just so cute and entertaining! They had lots of different types of Jellyfish in tanks too which looked really cool. It’s Matts birthday today so we’re meeting up tomorrow for some food and drinks.
Wednesday, September 20th
I decided to go to Granville Island this morning, I walked from my hotel and then got a little aqua bus over to Granville Island Market. It was a wonderful sunny day again, I’ve been really lucky with the weather! I walked around the market which was full of different foods and plants and flowers. I then went around the craft shops and ended up sitting on a bench outside the market in the sunshine to eat my dinner and there was a man there playing some music, it was so lovely I just sat there for ages.
In the evening I went to meet Derek and Matt at Doolins Pub where we had some food and a couple of drinks. I say a couple of drinks but poor Derek did end up wearing the remainder of my second glass, honestly cant take me anywhere! That aside it was a nice evening and a lovely way to say goodbye for now…………………..
East Coast Travels : I have always wanted to visit Australia for as long as I can remember. It’s the ultimate adventure, the beaches, the surfing, the rainforests and of course exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Let the journey begin.
Tuesday 18th October 2016
My first ever trip to Australia begins, I’m very excited but not so much for the long journey there! I went via Dubai so it was 6 and a half hours and then 14 hours. I managed to get some sleep but ended up with a sore back and sore knees. Also the screen with the plane that doesn’t seem to move anywhere, not helpful! I remember looking out of the window when we had just passed the west coast of Australia, it was a really large flat space with nothing for miles, the land was a reddish colour and there were white patches which looked like lakes that had dried up. I thought well it cant be much longer now, turns out yes it can! It took another 4 hours before I reached Sydney and it went from daylight to darkness. I had no idea how large Australia really is, on the map it doesn’t look that big and it’s something you only realise once you witness it.
Wednesday 19th October
I finally arrived at 10.30pm and went through customs quite quickly but then waited an age for my suitcase! I had my reservation at the hotel ready and it suggested getting tickets for a shuttle transfer from the information desk. This would have been fine had the information desk been open but the whole airport was pretty much deserted, not what I expected from an international airport. Luckily I had done my research and new that my Central Station hotel was near a train station of the same name. So I walked to the train station which wasn’t far at all and I didn’t have to wait long. The train arrived and a young lad stood up so that I could sit down with my suitcase next to me, a great first impression. You often judge a place by the behaviour of its people and so far so good.
Thursday 20th October
I had arrived at my hotel at midnight and only managed 4 hours sleep. Oh the joys of jet lag and watching Cake Wars at 4am. Finally it reached an acceptable time to get up and shower and get ready to explore the city. I decided to go on the City Sightseeing Bus, it would definitely save my legs a bit. I got the bus from Central Station and made my way down to the harbour to catch my first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. It was jut lovely down there and very windy today, I obviously brought the Welsh weather with me! I had a wander around and then got back on the bus to head over to the Australian Museum where they had animal, dinosaur and aboriginal exhibits. It wasn’t a very large Museum in comparison to Aucklands for example, nice to wander around none the less.
Just opposite the Museum was St Marys Cathedral a beautiful building inside and out and those stained glass windows, amazing! I then went back to the bus and headed back to Central Station via Woolloomooloo Bay which is home to the Australian Navy, no exciting sightings to report. Planning Palm and Bondi Beach tomorrow as it’s promising rain for Saturday and I start my Contiki Tour on Sunday so it’ll be my only opportunity.
Friday 21st October
I went straight to Central Station to get the train to Wynyard where I would then get the L90 bus to Palm Beach – Summer Bay! The bus journey took around an hour and a half but I had my music on and it was a lovely scenic ride so time passed quickly. It was really exciting to finally arrive as I’ve watched Home and Away for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint! It was so beautiful, I took lots of photos and walked along the beach. Those sand pathways are not easy to get up either, I tried walking up and it was hard work, they run up it and make it look easy on t.v!
I met an Australian man called Spencer outside the surf club and he introduced me to his wife Rhonda, son Scott and daughter in law Belinda. They asked me to join them for lunch at the Diner. We sat at a table under a shaded area and chatted about travels and family life, it was lovely and they insisted on paying for my lunch which was very kind of them. They also said if I’m ever back this way to get in touch and I can stay with them for a couple of nights or longer if I’m good at washing up, haha.
It was really surreal to be in Summer Bay but I loved every minute of it! It was time to go back to Central Station where I would get the sightseeing bus to Bondi, the weather had turned a bit by this point so it was rather cloudy and windy. I didn’t stay long as I was tired but at least I could say I’ve been to Bondi.
Saturday 22nd October
Today was an overcast, windy and rainy day so there was only one thing to do, have a chill day and head to the Cinema. I watched Inferno because I love Tom Hanks but I have to say it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, I didn’t like the twist in it and it needed more of a romantic element for me. Went to a Contiki welcome meeting in the evening, our tour manager is Adam Zammit (he prefers to be called Zammit), tour starts in the morning, cant wait to see more of Australia!
Sunday 23rd October
We all met at the lobby of the Sydney Travelodge where we would stay for a further 2 nights. First trip was to the Blue Mountains! We met our bus driver Gary and checked out our coach “the pink panther” which would be our transport for the next 16 days. It was a great coach, laminate flooring, leather seats, charging ports and wifi, what more could we need. Music of course, Zammit had this bit covered starting with our day song which is This Is What We Live For by American Authors. We also had a wake up song which was In My Blood by The Veronicas.
We arrived at the Blue Mountains around 10am and then we walked to Wentworth Falls. The scenery was just stunning and the mountains really do look blue. We could here cockatoos squawking above us as we walked along the pathway that was carved into the mountain at some points so we had to be careful not to bang our heads. The path was only slightly muddy in places and the weather was a bit chilly but walking at a steady pace warmed us up. The waterfalls were lovely and I managed to get a few photos before we made our way back up a series of steps (tiring) to the coach.
We were now going to the Three Sisters rock formation and Zammit had told us the history behind them on the way. The Three Sisters are sacred to the Aboriginal people and the story is that the three sisters were three women from the same group of Aborigines who had captured the attention of three men from a different group of Aborigines and they wanted to marry them. The elder from the women’s group forbade it and to protect the women he turned them to stone. He fully intended to turn them back once the threat had passed but he passed away before he could do this and therefore the women remained as stone.
It was really beautiful at the Three Sisters lookout and it just goes on for as far as the eye can see. I loved the way the clouds made shadows on the expanse of trees below and of course the unusual blue hue. After spending some time at the lookout we headed back to the coach to make our way to a beautiful little township called Luara. It was so pretty with it’s flowers and trees and actually looked like a little alpine village. A few of us had lunch in a little café, I had bacon and eggs on toast.
Then it was back into the city to check into the Travelodge. My room mates were Laurell and Amy. We had a short time to chat and get ready because then we were meeting everyone again to go down to Darling Harbour for tea at Stacks where we were going to cook our own steaks. I wanted mine well done so I stood at the grill for what felt like an eternity and then when I eventually sat down it still wasn’t as well done as I wanted. Also by this point I was so tired I could have fallen asleep in my food! Luckily it wasn’t too long before we headed back to the hotel.
Monday 24th October
Today we went down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair which also has great views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House so it was a great photo opportunity. We then made our way to Manly while Zammit pointed out some areas of the city along the way. We also drove over the Harbour Bridge and a fun fact for you is that Paul Hogan of Crocodile Dundee fame actually used to work as a painter on the bridge. I love that film.
Manly was lovely with it’s tree lined promenade and the beach, wow. The waves were amazing too, they start so far out so we sat and just watched them coming into shore. There were a good few surfers and I found it more impressive than Bondi to be honest, the weather was much nicer though than when I was at Bondi. Another Manly fun fact is that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban got married here, I can see why, although I’d marry Keith Urban just about anywhere!
I had lunch with Tatianna and Nina at a café on the promenade, I could have just sat there all day it was so beautiful. I had a Sydney Opera house tour in the afternoon though so we went to get the ferry back into the city. The ferry ride was interesting with a really rough patch about half way through, I had forgotten to take a sickness tablet but thankfully didn’t feel ill at all. The tour started at 2pm and I was slightly disappointed with it unfortunately. It started late and then felt a bit rushed and a couple of parts we were just told to sit on the floor and watch a dvd. The main theatre room was amazing, they don’t even have to use microphones because of the acoustics in there, which is why the building was designed this way. Lots of wood has been used inside the building as well and that’s because its good for sound. There is also a massive organ at the back of the stage and some of its pipes are as large as tree trunks apparently. They also have odd UFO looking things that hang over the stage and push the sound back down to the ground. Loads of people have played there including Michael Buble. We weren’t allowed to take any photos in there which again was disappointing. The cream sails of the Opera House are made of tiles – loads of them! It is a heritage listed building and is situated at Bennelong Point which was an important Aborigine meeting place.
The original architect of the Opera House Jorn Utzon was from Denmark and he actually never got to see it completed because of disagreements and changes in government e.t.c. I thought that was really sad as its such a unique building and so iconic. Our guide said they did eventually invite him back but that he was too old to travel, rather convenient if you ask me. Apparently his son who is also an architect visits regularly.
After the tour I walked back to the hotel after grabbing some food and planned to just relax while Laurell and Amy went to do the night time Bridge Climb, rather them than me! It takes up to 4 hours to complete from start to finish, madness. We have an early start tomorrow as its our first travel day, we are going to Coffs Harbour to a surf camp. Fun fact of today, there’s a Kangaroo and an Emu on the Australian flag because neither of them can walk backwards which therefore represents the country continuing to always move forward.
Wednesday 26th October
We arrived at Spot X surf camp last night and were shown to our shipping container bedrooms for the night, tea was included but was something I wouldn’t eat so I had to load up on snacks not ideal as I’d need energy to surf in the morning but there you go. We had to have bags to coach for 6.15am in the morning and our surf lesson was at 7am. I was slightly nervous after the talk we had about things that can potentially happen to you in the sea but I was brave and got myself into a cold/wet wetsuit, grabbed a massive board which I carried with Tatianna’s help and we headed to the beach.
We were shown the basics and practiced on the sand. The board was heavy and much bigger than me so this was a challenge in itself. I hesitated a bit before I got in, I never go in the sea because I’m afraid of what might be in it and this is Australia so I know what might be in there! Anyway you’re only here once so I got in and totally forgot about what might be in there with me because I was so determined to try and stand up on the board. I managed slightly a few times but its very difficult, they make it look so easy! You have to get yourself centre on the board then when the wave touches your toes on the end of the board, paddle four more times, place hands, back foot, front foot and twist. All with bent knees, ouch, I hurt my kneecap towards the end which wasn’t fun but at least I didn’t do it at the beginning.
After the surf lesson it was a quick shower and then on the coach to head over to Byron Bay and our first stop was Cape Byron Lighthouse, I love a lighthouse and a great lookout. I was looking out to sea and there before me was a Humpback Whale, how amazing! I was seeing Whales in the wild for the first time, I felt so lucky to be witnessing it. It’s the final couple of weeks of their migration and I managed to see some, wow! We went for tea at a beachfront restaurant in the evening and I had some lovely fish and chips afterwards we moved on to Cheeky Monkeys where I had a free glass of champagne before retiring for the evening. Tomorrow is Currumbin Wildlife Park where I get to hug a Koala, exciting stuff!!
Thursday 27th October
We had a free morning in Byron Bay so Tatianna, Nina and I decided to go for a walk along the sea front and then around the little shops. It’s a lovely little place with a relaxed vibe. Its still very windy but it’s not cold so its fine. We had bags to coach at 12.30pm where I managed to have a suitcase related incident. The coach parks around the corner from Nomads our accommodation so we had to walk around to it. Unfortunately there was a dog tied up outside a café with his lead stretched the whole length of the pavement, so as not to disturb said dog I decided to yank my case off the pavement and straight onto my big toe, ouch. Toenail trauma is not fun as you can imagine but at least my knee is feeling better from the surfing injury as it was the same leg. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m never usually this clumsy!
This afternoon we crossed from New South Wales into Queensland and the time is 1 hour behind here so we had some extra time at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary which by the way is my new favourite place! I actually got to hug a Koala, it was amazing! They are possibly the cutest things I have ever seen. They sleep for around 20 hours a day, sounds like the perfect pet to me! I got a photo of me holding it included in the price so that’s nice to keep. I also got to stroke a Kangaroo called Lisa, she was really fluffy and soft. They were so used to people that they just lie there and let you stroke them. Lisa was the eldest in the group at 12 years old, they have a lifespan of about 10-12 years but can live longer in captivity. The oldest Kangaroo they ever had was a female that lived to be 25 years old and she even had a joey at 24 years old, crazy! I had a lovely time there it was a real highlight for me.
Now we have arrived at Surfers Paradise and we’re staying at the Alpha Sovereign hotel for 2 nights. It’s a nice hotel, our room has a small kitchen, large bathroom and a balcony, it’s very windy though so don’t think I’ll be venturing out there. We have a full free day tomorrow and a no coach day!
Friday 28th October
Today was a free day at Surfers Paradise, I decided to take it easy and elevate my bad foot. Tatianna went Sea Kayaking in the morning so when she got back we went down to the pool to chill. Later in the afternoon we went into town for some food and then walked around the little markets along the beachfront.
Saturday 29th October
Today we headed to Brisbane, we walked across Victoria Bridge and then along the south bank to catch the free city hopper boat to Eagle Street where we could then walk back down Queen Street. I went to the pharmacy to sort out some first aid bits for my toe and then I went to get some dinner before heading back to William Street to get back on the bus.
Then we were off to Noosa where we had a couple of free hours again. It’s getting warmer up here so I went for a sit down and a lemonade as I couldn’t manage the coastal walk because of my sore toe. Our accommodation for 2 nights is at the Noosa Lakes resort, it’s basically a little apartment that I’m sharing with Tatianna and Nina. It’s really beautiful here, our balcony overlooks the lake and surrounding trees and as I’m writing this the sun is setting in the background. We’ve ordered pizzas for tea and we’re getting our washing done as the washer and dryers are free here. I also managed to Skype home, it was lovely to speak to everyone. I’m looking forward to my Fraser Island day trip tomorrow!
Sunday 30th October
Today is Fraser Island day and our guide Jacob met us at 6.20am, we then walked around the corner to 2 massive ex military four wheel drives. We were in for a bumpy ride, luckily I got a seat up front where I could see out of the cab window. We drove for 2 hours through the Hinterland (the bush) I even saw a Kangaroo in the wild! There were lots of fields and trees and only some of the drive was on an actual tarmacked road the most part was on gravel/stone tracks. Then we finally reached Rainbow Beach, it’s called that because of the different colour sands, the story is that the Aboriginal people were throwing boomerangs so high that one hit the rainbow and the colours burst. You could actually see all the colours in the sandy cliffs when we drove along, the colours are actually different layers of minerals.
We stopped for some snacks and then headed for the ferry to take us over to Fraser Island. We drove straight onto the sand, which was surreal and then we went straight onto the ferry. It only took 10 minutes before we arrived and drove off the ferry onto 70 mile beach! We pulled over for tea and cake, best day trip ever! Whilst we were there Jacob showed us how to throw a boomerang. You throw it at a 45 degree angle to where the wind is coming from and if you do it right then it should come back to you. A few of the group had a go and it was funny to watch except for when it was coming straight for our heads!
While we were driving Jacob told us a bit about Fraser Island, lots of trees and plants were brought over by the wind and birds. The sand is millions of years old and came all the way from the Blue Mountains. It is the largest sand island in the world and also one of the oldest. The Seychelles are actually the oldest sand islands in the world. The Aboriginal people that lived on Fraser Island were the fittest and that’s because they had access to such a varied diet. They were also very generous people and anyone who came to the island would be given permission to hunt for certain animals for example. The Aboriginal people believe that the land owns them not that they own the land. If they were born on Fraser Island they would be given a totem something that they would be responsible for looking after for example the honeybee, the dolphin, the kangaroo e.t.c
I loved learning some of the history of the place and the people. We were now at Central Station where we were going on a rainforest walk, it was amazing to go from wide open 70 mile beach to then being in the middle of a rainforest! The stream running alongside us was so clear and it is a sacred place for Aboriginal women. The ferns are some of the oldest in the world which is why part of David Attenborough’s Walking With Dinosaurs was filmed here. Jacob also showed us where the deadly Funnel Web Spiders live, they were just small black holes in the undergrowth. Moving on quickly we followed the track for about 30 minutes, some of the trees were huge, one was 90 years old and its trunk was really wide.
Then we were back in the truck and heading to Lake McKenzie. It was stunning, really clear and so blue, made from only rainwater and surrounded by rainforest. Then we had some lunch at the picnic area which was great because I was starving after such an early start. Then it was time to make our way back to the ferry. We drove along Rainbow Beach and cut through the dunes to another beach which would take us back to the main road. It was very surreal everyone driving on the beach as if it’s completely normal. The waves were actually quite brown in colour and Jacob said this was because of a combination of seaweed and coral spawn. Jacob has a few Aborigine friends and he said there are only around 20 left living on the island, which I think is quite sad really. He also said the Aborigines in this area were so good at tracking that the police actually asked for their help to track down Ned Kelly who was basically the Australian version of Robin Hood. I didn’t actually see much wildlife other than Cockatoos, we were warned about Dingo’s and how dangerous they can be so I was glad we didn’t encounter any of those! The whole trip was unlike anything I’m likely to experience ever again, one of the best day trips I’ve ever been on.
Monday 31st October
We had an early start again to set off for the Farm Stay. Our midday stop was at the Ohana Winery at Childers. We had an exotic fruits and wine tasting tour, we were shown some weird and wonderful fruits, I passed on sampling them as they didn’t look very appealing. Then we did the wine tasting and I liked the white wine but the others were a bit too exotic for my liking. There was a Strawberry, Pineapple and Macadamia Wine and also a really strong Port and a Limencello to finish. Luckily they were very small samples! We were then given lunch which was included and we were introduced to the couples pet dog Otto.
Then we were back on the road singing and doing a group quiz whilst on the way to Langmorn Cattle Station to spend the evening with the Creed family. It was a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere about an hour away from Rockhampton. Such a stunning location! Wendy greeted us with her adorable little doggie called Molly, she said she was a Moodle (Maltese/Poodle). She was loving the attention from everyone. Wendy said they also had 4 Border Collies but that they live in an outbuilding because they are working dogs. I told her about my Shep.
We were then shown to our rooms and then we were told to grab a cowboy hat and wait for Ron to arrive with the tractor and trailer to give us the grand tour of the farm grounds. They have Brahman cattle and the one we were going to feed was called Sausage. He was actually cute to look at but I didn’t want to feed him any bread not with that huge mouth! He also had a hump, I’ve never seen a cow with a hump before. During the ride we also saw a tree snake wrapped around a gate, Wendy said it had a frog in it’s mouth, I decided not to look too closely. They also had some horses. They have 2 small children and Wendy’s sister has 4 to send them all to boarding school would cost around 6 million dollars, so they have to work hard to be able to do it. Obviously farmers can have hard times too so they turned to tourism 17 years ago which has helped them out.
They have a large barn conversion which is the complex where we stayed/ate/danced and sang the night away. Ron also tried to teach us some whip cracking, he was really good at it and made it look easy. It was far from easy, I could not crack it to save my life, I was all whip and no crack. I did however manage to whip myself on the arm, others got their legs and one guy even got his back, they leave a really red mark on your skin. Their son who cant have been any older than 8 or 9 was amazing at it too, he was whipping it in circles over his head and making the loudest cracking noises, just brilliant bless him.
We then had a roast beef dinner and it was the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been here! Beef, roasties, vegetables and gravy and then chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. Afterwards to work all that off we had some line dancing and then some karaoke. Of course I decided it would be a good idea to represent Wales and sing Tom Jones Delilah, Alice and Liz were kind enough to join me up on the bar. I’ve never seen so many blank faces looking back at me, haha, I mean come on people its Tom Jones he’s an absolute legend! I’ll never forget the time I saw him live in Colwyn Bay. Oh I forgot to mention the small heart attack I had when visiting the toilet block, two words Giant Moth! Aaaaaaaaaaa
Tuesday 1st November
Bags to coach was at 6.15am again this morning, then we said our goodbyes and were on our way again to Airlie Beach the gateway to the Whitsundays. Some of the group are going for a 2 day sail, rather them than me! I’m going to enjoy some down time at this amazing hotel. Peppers Airlie Beach is lovely, my apartment is incredible, there is a large kitchen/diner and then a small living area with folding doors that open up onto a large balcony with the most amazing view of the mountains and the sea! It genuinely looks like a postcard, so lucky! Earlier we had some cockatoo visitors on the balcony. Serina wanted to feed one, we only had some of my shortbread biscuits so that had to do. Well it went down a treat and it decided to call all it’s friends over. They started multiplying before our eyes, it was actually a bit freaky. They are really cute though.
Wednesday 2nd November
Today was a full free day for me so I walked down to the beach front and around the little town itself. I got another postcard to keep the family updated with where I’ve been. I also got some lunch and took it back to my balcony to eat and to relax with my book. I got the hotel shuttle back into town in the evening to get some tea, I had a steak and drink meal deal. Then I got the shuttle back and showered and watched some t.v in bed. The weather here is quite hot actually, god help me when I get to Cairns tomorrow! I’m so looking forward to the Great Barrier Reef day trip though!
Thursday 3rd November
Today was a big travel day from Airlie all the way up to Cairns with one main stop for lunch at a place called Townsville. Not long after we’d arrived we went for tea at a restaurant down at the harbour called Ochre. This was one of the included meals and out of all the options I chose Barramundi, I didn’t think much of it and the dessert was an absolutely hideous looking nutty/pavlova thing, not for me. I was glad to get back to the hotel after such a tiring travel day.
Friday 4th November
Today was the Great Barrier Reef day cruise. We were at the coach for 7.15am and the harbour was only 5 minutes down the road from our Rydges Esplanade hotel. We were all given a boarding card and the people doing a scuba dive were given some forms to fill in. Then it was onto the boat which was a 3 storey catamaran type that you could see through the middle of. There were quite a few crew members and we were introduced to a few. It was at least an hour or so before we reached our first stop on the reef. The colour of the water becomes amazing and that’s when you know you’ve reached the reef. It’s a lovely light blue colour with darker blue patches which are the reefs below.
We had been given flippers and masks just before we arrived and I put a stinger suit and life vest on, so it was now time to get off the boat and go out into the open water. I think I must have been on a natural high because I was nowhere near as nervous as I thought I’d be. I also felt quite safe because I was going in with an expert and would hold onto a life ring which he would use to guide us around. Just before I got in they pointed out Barry the Barracuda, it was huge but they only eat fish so I dealt with it. I saw loads of colourful fish and some big bulb headed parrot fish.
It was very tiring after a while so I decided to head back to the boat. Just before I got back onboard a crew member says “oh watch out for that blue bottle jellyfish”. I freaked out and the girl ahead of me on the steps was more interested in spotting the jellyfish than getting back on the boat, I lost count of how many times I said “just get on the boat”! I managed to hurt my arm on the metal steps in the mean time because a wave sent me into it. I know this sounds ridiculous but I thought the water would be completely calm on the reef, I didn’t think it would be as wavy as it was which is probably crazy because it is the sea after all. Anyway I’m now sporting a lovely purple/blue bruise on the top of my arm.
I also went on the glass bottom boat which may have been a mistake because a bout of seasickness hit me at this point. It may have just been getting back on the boat after being in the sea. Once back on the main boat I had a lie down and a little doze and felt a lot better after half an hour had passed. I’d had a seasickness tablet so it was strange that I felt ill at all as they usually work really well. I saw a Green Turtle from the boat and managed to grab a few photos of it which I was pleased with as I love turtles, so cute!
We then moved on to the second spot and had some lunch. I didn’t get off the boat this time, I decided to chill and just take in the beautiful scenery. Luckily I had a good shaded spot on the boat too so I was very comfortable. After a while it was time to head back and we were given some cheese and crackers, fruit and cake. We arrived back around 4.30pm and went back to the hotel to go for food and drinks at the Wool Shed. I had a pizza and a couple of drinks including free champagne, don’t mind if I do. I had a great day and ticked another thing off the bucket list. Who knows how much longer the reef will be here for, I’m glad I can say I’ve seen it and it was beautiful.
Saturday 5th November
Today was a free day for me as I’ve not booked any of the thrill seeking extras so I’ve been souvenir shopping for the family and myself. I wanted to get something that I could keep so I got a handmade wooden trinket it’s in the shape of Australia and is painted with traditional Aboriginal art, it’ll look great on our coffee table. I’ve also ended up with lots of Koala related souvenirs, basically I’m in love with them.
I’m going to go for food later with the girls but I’m just relaxing in the room and will go to the pool after to read my book. It’s very humid here! There is some cloud cover today which is good, it makes it a bit more bearable than being in the blaring sunshine. In the morning I’m off to Cape Tribulation for some rainforest exploration. Cape Tribulation is actually the only place in the world where 2 world heritage protected sites meet, The Daintree Rainforest and The Great Barrier Reef.
Sunday 6th November
We left at 8am after meeting our new driver for the next couple of days. His name was Cavel and he was a lovely Aboriginal man. First we were off to Mossman Gorge for a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk which was conducted by another Aboriginal man who met us at the entrance to the rainforest. Before we entered the forest he conducted a traditional smoking ceremony for us, some leaves were placed on the fire and we wlaked around it while he asked his ancestors to look after us while we were in their area. He pointed out different plants and bush food and told us about the wildlife here. When he was younger he would have competitions with his brother to see how many lizards they could find. He had a brilliant eye for it, we saw a few but one time I said oh yes when he was pointing one out but I couldn’t see it.
The land is called Kuku (pronounced Gugu) Yalanji. There are several different dialects in their language. The dreamtime stories are all about creation. There are sacred sites for both women and men, they would never go to each others, they are completely separate. If they ever did, something bad would happen, it would affect them physically and mentally. When the boys and girls reach a certain age usually around 12 or 13 they would go walkabout with their grandparent, they would then teach them everything they need to know. It is something that could take weeks, months or even years, especially if the grandparent wanted them to become the next leaders.
They know their land so well, they are literally at one with the land. They have key point indicators which are basically signs for example when a certain plant is blooming then they know that the crocs eggs will be hatching. When certain leaves for example the fan palm decrease in size it means the weather is too bad to go fishing because of the wind. They also have 6 seasons and I think they were Summer, Winter, Start of Dry, End of Dry, Start of Wet and End of Wet.
We also went to a stream with a lovely view, it was strange to be in an actual rainforest. He also showed us things from the forest that they would use as paint to take away their scent for hunting and they would also have some to identify themselves. There were some stringy plants with lots of spines all over them which you could easily get caught up in if you weren’t looking properly. They call them the “wait a while plant”, makes sense. There was also a plant like nettles but much worse which you need to avoid at all costs and the only way to treat it would be with wax strips or back then urine, urgh.
He also told us about Cassowaries and how dangerous they can be, they are attracted to the colour blue and eat blue fruit, 1 of which was poisonous to everything else. We also saw a snake on top of the hut where we later had tea and what they said was bread but it was more like a scone with jam, I enjoyed it a lot! While we ate and drank he showed us how you play the didgeridoo it’s all in the vibration of the lips to start with and then your breathing technique.
Then we headed back to the bus to go and get some lunch from the supermarket and have a picnic in the park. Then we were on our way to The Beach House in Cape Tribulation for the evening. We had to drive onto one of those ferry’s that takes you across the river which only takes a few minutes, you think they’d just build a bridge really. Anyway we were soon surrounded by rainforest and the coastal drive was lovely. The waters around here are all crocodile infested and soon a load of Jellyfish will join them too. We arrived at around 2.30pm and the little beach huts were cool. I walked down to the beach and took some photos, it was lovely down there. I finished my book and went for food at around 6.30pm. We ended the night by sitting around a little fire at the edge of the rainforest next to the beach. I went to bed early in preparation for my 5am wake up call to see the sunrise!
Monday 7th November
Today is day 16 and the last day of my Contiki Tour. I woke up at 5am and strolled down to the beach, it was still dark and a bit eerie. Once I was down at the beach I grabbed a chair to watch the sunrise and then some of the others from my group arrived. There were some clouds but we could still see the pink/orange colours. It changed often and looked like a beautiful oil painting. I took some lovely photos and to make the whole thing even more special 2 Dolphins appeared!! It was one of the most magical experiences of my life! I cant believe I’ve finally seen them in the wild and in such a beautiful setting. I completely welled up, just stunning and the perfect way to end this amazing trip.
I’ve now seen Whales, Kanagaroos, Turtles and Dolphins in the wild during this trip. Australia really has been everything I hoped for and more!
We got to the bus at 9am and then went for a couple of walks through the rainforest with Cavel telling us about the land and more about the key point indicators, they basically mean that they never have to go looking for food e.t.c because the indicators tell them what to get and when. Also they believe that you only take what you need and not what you want.
Cavel is actually from Central Australia so he has to speak a different dialect here in Cairns. He speaks a few different dialects because he learnt his mothers and his fathers as well. He said you stay with your parents until you can walk and talk and then you are sort of passed on to your grandparents because they are considered the most knowledgeable. He said he didn’t like school and that he used to get into trouble with his father because of it. Eventually his father said enough is enough and you can work on the farm instead. He learnt so many skills from working on that farm.
Cavel has been a bus driver/guide for around 5 years now but before that he was a banana picker for around 7 years or so, he told us what that entailed and it sounded very hard going. He said his change to bus driver/guide was definitely a change for the better. He’s a lovely man, bless him. It was great to hear the stories he had to tell.
We also saw some mangroves on our walk and then went to the Alexandria lookout to get some good photos. We went to a lovely place called Port Douglas for lunch and it had the most wonderful little church called St Marys By The Sea, Cavel said it is so popular that there is a 2 year waiting list to get married there. We also stopped at Rex lookout on the way back to Cairns which was amazing.
I’ve really enjoyed my time in Australia and I’ve managed to see so much. It’s been quite the whirlwind so I’m glad I’ve kept a travel journal. I will end by taking the lead from Australia’s Indigenous people and I’ll never say goodbye just “see you again”.
My 2 month International Program was about to begin, I didn’t know of anyone else that was going but I’d booked my flight with STA travel and they had put me on the same flight as others with the same start date as me. My flight from Manchester was delayed which meant missing my connection in Boston so I was diverted to Dallas and then on to Orlando. Not a great start, if I have learnt anything from my years of travelling it is to always get a direct flight if possible!
I eventually arrived into Orlando at 12.30am and had by now met a few others on my program, we had been split into different flights to Dallas and the others had lost their luggage en route. This meant they all had to describe their luggage to airport staff and provide an address for them to send it on. Then we had to make a stop at Wal Greens so that they could buy some essentials. We finally arrived at my new home for 2 months The Tree house Villas at around 2.30am. I felt awful, extremely jet lagged and a bit ill. To make things even worse I had to be at a meeting early next morning which meant I would only get around 4 hours sleep if that!
11th September, Monday
I had to be at the bus stop for 8.15am for my meeting at The Commons and we then went on to Chatham Square and Vista Way. I was tired and hungry (not a good combination), we were given a free voucher for lunch at Chick-fila so this helped improve my mood a bit. Although after the meal we had to rush back to another meeting where we were made to wait outside in the boiling heat, luckily I managed to find some shade. Once back at the Tree houses I had an early night and didn’t have to be up early the next day so managed to get over the jet lag.
12th September, Tuesday
I had to be at the bus stop for 12.45pm for a meeting at The Commons again. The meeting involved listening to presentations and filling out forms for a bank account e.t.c. The new starters were all from the U.K and Mexico.
13th September, Wednesday
I had the day off, so I had another lie in and then went to Downtown Disney in the afternoon. Downtown Disney is a waterside shopping, dining and entertainment complex, it was nice to explore and have a stroll around. Also my new favourite place Ghirardellis chocolates would give out a free sample every time you go in. It was a lovely chocolate and caramel square, needless to say I went in as many times as I could get away with!
14th September, Thursday
I had to be at the bus stop for 6.45am . My Traditions Class was at the Disney University at 8am. The class lasted for 4 hours, I also won a little Minnie Mouse figure for answering a question right. I had to dress in professional clothing and the lady said she liked my shoes. I learnt about Disney history and expectations and watched some videos. I also met lots of new people some from England and some from Mexico.
Over the next couple of days I went to MGM and Magic Kingdom and I found out that I would be working at Pecos Bill quick service restaurant in Frontier land at Magic Kingdom. I didn’t know at the time but it is the busiest QSR at MK. I also became acquainted with Wal-Mart, luckily for me they had an international isle. The main things I put on my first ever shopping list were Weetabix, Robinsons Orange squash, Chocolate and a pillow (the main essentials in life). There were other items purchased some of which were shared with my housemates Nicola and Fiona.
17th September, Sunday
My first day of training at work, otherwise known as Earning My Ears! My friend Tom had also been given Pecos as a work place so we started at 12.15pm with our trainer Jazmin who was really nice. I thought the work would be hard and that I would never remember everything as there was a lot to it. Within a short space of time I was shown how to do filler, condiments and trays and closing down. We were allowed to leave early at around 6pm instead of 8.30pm which was good.
18th September, Monday
My second day of training was worse than the first as I was shown how to do topping bar and topping bar runner! I had to change these massive bags of ketchup and mustard and lets just say it was a little messy. I had to stay until 8.30pm as well because Jazmin had been in trouble for letting us go early yesterday.
19th September, Tuesday
My day off. I washed my clothes and went to Wal-Mart where I purchased a phone card so that when I got back I could speak to everyone back home, they were all fine. I told them all about the new people I had met, my work and the mousekateria (works café). I also told Ryan about EPCOT and the Test Track ride. It was nice to speak to them all and let them know that I’m ok.
That evening Oscar, Sawy and Gary came around to see if we all wanted to go out. My housemates didn’t so we decided to stay in and went back to the guys apartment. We had a good laugh playing some games, including one where we went around the circle and we each had to say something in our own language. I thought they just meant a catchy little phrase that we could each learn so just said something along the lines of Bore Da, Sut Da Chi? Welsh for Good Morning, How Are You? but some of the others gave longer examples. It was nice to listen to the different languages. Oscar said that he was glad to be here and that he had made new friends and that I was beautiful. I thought that was very sweet of him, no one had ever said anything like that to me before. He was such a gentleman walking me back to my tree house at the end of the evening around 1am just in case I got lost (which I said I wouldn’t but I totally would, it all looked so different in the dark!).
20th September, Wednesday
I was at work from 10.15am until 6.15pm, I had to work alone and then I had my assessment. Rachid was the manager completing my assessment, he was nice, he’s from Morocco. I was looking forward to the evenings events because there was going to be a private Round Up for International Cast Members only after the park closed in Frontier land. I had agreed to meet the others there including Oscar, we went on Splash Mountain and made the mistake of sitting right at the front, my hair got completely soaked and the water was actually dripping off my face! It was funny though.
21st September, Thursday
I was in work 11.30am -5.30pm and had to work on topping bar for 2 hours, it was awful. I was on filler for the rest of the day.
22nd September, Friday
I was working 11.30am-5.30pm again and was on filler all day which wasn’t too bad. In the evening I met up with Oscar and went to the swimming pool and hot tub. We chatted for a while and then came back to my place and continued to chat and watch rubbish on the telly and then fell asleep. Oscar has a little brother the same age as Kelly.
23rd September, Saturday
Today I have the day off, I have done my bedding and towels and have been to Wal-Mart. I’ve been sat down writing this diary trying to remember what I did on what day this last week. It has taken some time. I have also found some new insect bites, it’s my own fault for going to the hot tub in the forest at night. Wont be doing that again! Nicola and Fiona are due home soon so we’ll probably stay up for a bit and have a girly catch up.
24th September, Sunday
Went to work for 11.30am, I was on filler and then close down on my own! I started the close down at around 4pm and didn’t finish until 6.40pm. I then went to clock out, Fiona is working until 1am and Nicola until 9.45pm. I saw James on the bus on the way back he said he doesn’t enjoy the actual job much either but we both agreed we like the social side of things. I’m off on Thursday and Friday this week so I think I’ll go to Animal Kingdom.
25th September, Monday
Went to work for 10.45am, I was on counter stocker for around 4 hours, it was very tiring. At night we had decided to go to PI (Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney) there are a few night clubs there and it’s all free for us. Motion is my favourite club. There weren’t many people out so we didn’t stay out late, Thursday is the best night to go so a big group of us is going to go then.
26th September, Tuesday
Went to work for 11.30am, the day wasn’t too bad. I went out in the evening to a special evening for cast members at Magic Kingdom called Curse of Tom Sawyer Island/Pirates of the Caribbean. We were in a big group me, Nic, Fi, Zeki, Chris, Hannah and Laura, we went over to the Island on a raft then we had to walk around in the dark with just a lamp to light the way. Pirates started jumping out of the bushes at us and people with weird light up masks were making us scream as we went through some caves. We then ended up in a little courtyard with a fountain in it and Davy Jones bursts out of some doors and chased us around the fountain. Even the boys were scared, it was mental, such good fun though! I lost my flip flop at one point in the dark caves and a guy with a scary flashing face had to drop the act and help me find it using his mask, hilarious!
27th September, Wednesday
I had to be at work for 11.15am, I had quite a good day really, I didn’t get any bad jobs. Tom was in as well so we chatted when it was quiet. I’m off tomorrow and it’s Cast Member night at PI. I saw Sergio on my break we share the same break room so we chatted for a bit. Captain Jack also passes through occasionally which is fun, there is one that is especially good looking! I’m looking forward to going out tomorrow, Chris and Zeki are going, hopefully the Mexican group will be too. Tonight I’m having a night in, already in my pjs in front of the t.v.
28th September, Thursday
I had the day off today, slept until around 10.30am and then went into work to get my pay cheque. I then went to Wal-Mart and cashed in my pay cheques at the garage there. I also had my hair trimmed at the hairdressers, I like it and I’m going out tonight so my hair is already done.
Nic, Fi and I met Tom and James at the bus stop at 10.15pm then around 11.30pm we met the others- Manuel, Edgar and Oscar and the rest of their friends. We went to Motion again and I was told I wasn’t dancing enough but by the end of the night my “Britney” moves were great apparently! They play the music videos to the songs on a big screen which is quite cool. The club closed at 2am so the few of us that were left got a taxi back, it was a fun night.
29th September, Friday
I had the day off today as well, I got up at 10.30am and went to Animal Kingdom and watched Festival of the Lion King it was good but I preferred the Lion King show at Disneyland Paris. I have already started to buy Christmas presents for the family for when I go back home. Nic will be back at 8pm so we’re going to share a pizza then.
30th September, Saturday
I worked 11.30am-7pm nothing to report really. Tomorrow I’m not working until 5.15pm
1st October, Sunday
Me, Nic and Fi went to Magic Kingdom for the day. Philhar Magic is my favourite (it’s a 3D show where Donald goes through different movie songs such as the Little Mermaid, Lion King and Beauty and the Beast) and I enjoy the parades and of course the night time Castle Show Wishes is the best! I got changed in the locker rooms for work. Some annoying girl I work with keeps trying to boss me about, I’d accidentally elbowed her in the head earlier on in the shift, glad it happened now.
2nd October, Monday
Today I had training for cash from 8.45am-5pm. I had a 2 hour dinner break which was great! It all went fine and I’ve got my assessment tomorrow, hope it goes ok. I got free food on my lunch break too! I went to an ice cream social after work. I have seen my shifts for next week and they have only given me 1 day off which I’m quite annoyed about, I’ll have to try and give 1 shift away.
3rd October, Tuesday
I had my assessment on cash handling today which is basically till work, Rachid was my assessor again and it all went fine, I passed. I finished at 5pm and Nic had the day off so I hopped in the shower and then we headed to Magic Kingdom for the evening. Oscar was working on the main gate, it was good to have a quick catch up as I haven’t seen him in a while because our schedules have clashed.
4th October, Wednesday
I was at work for 11.15am today and I had a welcome presentation they were showing a video on a big screen of different photos of people taken around the park and one of me came up with my Mexican friends at the Cast Member Round Up, I could have died! I finished work at 6pm and I’m off tomorrow, Fi is off too.
5th October, Thursday
Had the day off today, me and Fi went to the Polynesian Resort for a spot of sunbathing. We then went on to Magic Kingdom and watched the new Dreams Come True castle show and the High School Musical pep rally. We also went on Space Mountain and then went to meet Nic for 6.45pm. We then went to Downtown Disney and I got some chips form the Irish Pub, they were delicious! I’m going to call home tomorrow, I’m looking forward to speaking to Mum! I’m missing Buddy (my dog) too, I miss him running to welcome me, sitting on my knee and talking baby talk to him. On Sunday I’ll have been here a month!
6th October, Friday
I slept until around 10.30am, went to check the mail and then went to sunbathe by the pool. I phoned home and had a good conversation with Mum. In the afternoon I went to EPCOT with Nic and Oscar, I made the mistake of going on Mission Space. I felt so ill afterwards but thankfully it passed quite quickly. We walked around the World Showcase, Oscar gave us a guided tour of Mexico – I’d like to go one day. We watched the Illuminations fireworks show at 9pm. Then we had to get back to the Tree houses which meant getting the bus to Chatham then waiting for the W bus for 25 minutes. I’m tired from all the walking today.
7th October, Saturday
Work dragged today, I finished at 7pm. There was a bit of thunder tonight. Watching Big Daddy at the moment and chatting to Nic and Fi. Got a few things coming up in the next week including the cast member preview of the new Finding Nemo ride at EPCOT on Thursday.
8th October, Sunday
Work was really tiring today, they had me scooping ice with a massive shovel for 4 hours! It was obviously a mistake on the computer that had missed me out of the rotation, I had to go and tell Duvall ( the days manager) in the end because my back was breaking! He sorted it out for me straight away. I’m watching Desperate Housewives now and Brothers and Sisters is on afterwards, which I love!
9th October, Monday
I worked 3.15pm until 9.15pm and went to PI with Zeki and a few others and we met Sergio and his friends on the bus. We stayed together in a big group all night and had a great time. We all went back to a tree house and listened to music and chatted until around 4.30am.
10th October, Tuesday
I woke up around 10.30am, I’m on a late shift tonight working until 10.15pm, Tom is in too so at least I’ll have someone to talk too.
11th October, Wednesday
Today I went into work for 11.45am and I put in for an ER (early release) so I finished at 6.45pm. I’m going to Downtown Disney with Nic and we’ll meet Fiona there. I’m off tomorrow and we’re going to EPCOT. I’m watching Dancing with the stars, Mario Lopez is on it (he’s very good) and so is Joseph Lawrence but he’s shaved his head and doesn’t look as nice. It’s gone a little bit cooler here now and is a bit chilly at night time. Need to go to Wal-Mart, hate food shopping!
12th October, Thursday
Today I had my day off, the three of us went to EPCOT to go on the new Finding Nemo ride, you basically get in a clam and you can see the aquarium and they make it look like the characters from Finding Nemo are in there too. Then we went for food at the Rainforest Café at Animal Kingdom, I had a burger and fries. Then we went on Everest and the Dinosaur ride, I felt a bit ill after Everest because there is a section where it goes backwards. I also got Eeyore to sign Kellys birthday card, she’ll love that.
Then we went to drop Nicola off at work and I picked up my pay cheque. We then went on to MGM and had some ice cream and watched Fantasmic, which is an amazing show that brings together favourite Disney heroes, princesses and villains, it’s all based on an island surrounded by water and they use some great special effects. I got home and Zeki has come around to see Hannah, he wants me to go to PI with them tonight. I think I might go because I’m not working until 12.30pm tomorrow.
13th October, Friday
I did go out last night and I’m not too tired but I probably will be later, I’m working until 9.15pm. Work was tiring, I was on topping bar runner from 4.30pm until I finished. I’m not going out anywhere tonight, I’m going to bed!! I’m going to write some letters first. It’s Chris’s birthday tomorrow so I think there is going to be a big party in his apartment.
14th October, Saturday
I was in work from 11.45am until 5.45pm, I like finishing early and it was an ok day today. Think I’m going to pop to Wal -Mart now and then to Chris’s party after. I saw Oscar and Gary at the bus stop. It’s been a lot cooler today, hope it’s hotter tomorrow so I can work on my tan!
15th October, Sunday
I did go to the party last night, I met loads of new people and spent a lot of time chatting to Vanessa, Manuel, Edgar and Sergio, we had a good laugh. I didn’t leave until around 4.30am so spent most of the day sleeping, I washed my clothes too. Going to watch Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters later.
16th October, Monday
I slept until 11am and then just lazed around. I called home too which was nice. I’ve got a social security trip tomorrow which is basically going to some office to get my social security number. I’m working 6.30pm-12.30am tonight , I’m closing.
17th October, Tuesday
I got up at 6.40am to go on my social security trip, I met Tom at the bus stop. It was a really stupid system we basically had to go in a few at a time which meant us hanging around on the bus for hours. When we got back I went back to Sergio and Edgars place with Andrea and Sergio made us some Mexican beef thing for lunch and I quite liked it. I wont have to make a meal tonight now either. Dancing with the stars is on at 8pm so I’ll have to watch that.
18th October, Wednesday
Today I went to Universal with Edgar, Sergio, Vanessa, Cesar, Jackie and Pablo. I went on quite a lot of the rides considering rides aren’t really my thing. I didn’t go on the Hulk ride though, I held everyone’s bags and jumpers instead. It was a fun day, which is a good job considering it cost me $80!
We all went to the pool when we got back. I had a great day but haven’t got much money left now, we don’t get paid enough. I’ve only got 3 weeks left here now!
19th October, Thursday
I’m happy today, I got an ER so I didn’t have to do a 10 hour shift. I was on greeter for 3 hours and counter stocker for 2 hours, I had an hour break as well. I saw Edgar on my way home, him and Sergio are both working late tonight so I think I’ll just have a quite night in tonight. Tomorrow I need to cash my cheque in and take my costumes (uniform) back.
20th October, Friday
Today I got the 11.20am bus to take my costumes back and get some clean ones and I went to the bank. I worked from 12.15pm until 9.45pm. I had an hour break and went to the Mousekateria for a burger and a muffin(not eaten together). I’m not working until 3.45pm tomorrow so I can have lie in. Tomorrow I need to ring international recruiting and call home.
21st October, Saturday
I worked from 3.45pm until 9.45pm. I got up around 11am, I left a message for international recruiting regarding my interview for the Cultural Program. I rang home and told Mum all about work and Universal Studios. Today was the first time I really wanted to go home after speaking to them and I got the job of changing all the bins (trash cans) in work, not the best job in the world. I worked on the drinks station the rest of the time so it wasn’t too bad. I had a catch up with Vanessa on my break, we share the same break room. I need to plan what I want to do before I leave.
22nd October, Sunday
I worked 11.15am until 5.15pm today, I was on drinks the whole time and it was really busy so time went quickly. If only every day was as easy. I’m going to have a nice relaxing bath now and then a nap before Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters.
I’ve had my schedule for next week and I’m on cash, I haven’t been on the tills since my training. Tom told me he went to Universal Horror Nights yesterday and that it was scary so I don’t think I’m going to go to that after all. You basically go in these haunted houses and walk down streets and people with weird masks and chainsaws chase you.
23rd October, Monday
I worked from 11am until 5pm today, I was on drinks all day again which was great. I’m not looking forward to tomorrows shift, it’s a really late one. A girl at work wants more hours so I’m going to try to give some of mine to her this week, will have to get it sorted on the team portal. I didn’t go anywhere last night but James came over for a catch up with me and Nic, we stayed up until around 1am. Nic’s off on Wednesday so we will hopefully be able to do something then. I have set up an interview with International Recruiting for Thursday at 10am at the Casting Centre, hopefully it will go well.
24th October, Tuesday
Today I was in work 4pm until 12.30am, it dragged. Saw Sergio on my break he said Alexis was having a birthday party after so I went back got changed and headed straight over. It was great fun, Mexicans know how to party! Lalo was trying to teach me to dance “Mexican style”. The party finished at 4am, security said “Party Over” because the music was too loud apparently.
25th October, Wednesday
Lazed around for most of the day, went over to Sergios and waited for Edgar to get back so we could go to Magic Kingdom, we mainly went to see people we knew that were working. Then we watched the night time parade Spectro Magic, all the parade floats are beautifully lit up. Then we watched Hallowishes which is a Halloween version of Wishes the night time Castle Fireworks show. I love Wishes, it is an amazing show!
When we got back we got ready to go to PI, we were all quite tired so just sat around in the clubs. Manuel was working at the Motion club and had a break so he came over to join us. Didn’t stay too late because I had an interview the next day.
26th October, Thursday
I have the day off today but got up early to go to my interview. It went well, Kim was my interviewer and she was really nice. I showed her some of my photos from back home which I think she liked. She also complemented my purse (handbag) which was kind of her. She said I should here from Jason at Yummy jobs soon. When I got back I went to the Florida Mall with Nic and Fi, we needed to buy some costumes for Mickeys Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom. I found a bunny girl costume.
At around 7pm we arrived at Magic Kingdom for the party, we got loads of candy. They have different candy stations dotted around the park and we saw lots of people we knew so they gave us loads. We watched the special parade, I loved the Jack Sparrow float! Then we watched Hallowishes and shared an ice cream cookie sandwich.
27th October, Friday
Today I worked from 11am until 7pm. I checked my emails when I got back because some of the others have heard that they have got the Cultural Program job but I didn’t have any emails. I’ve only got around 2 weeks left now, looking forward to calling home.
28th October, Saturday
I had a really long sleep last night which was just what I needed. I went into work for 11am and finished early at 4pm. I went to Wal-Mart after. I’m working on cash tomorrow so I’m a bit worried that I might make mistakes after not being on the till for so long. Going to relax tonight, I’ve got some magazines to read then I’ll have an early night.
29th October, Sunday
So it turns out the clocks went back last night and we didn’t know, poor Nicola got up an hour early for work and she was in early enough as it is. I worked 12.15pm until 8pm, I was on cash until 5pm and then went on to topping bar which sucked. I’m home now and getting ready for Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters. I’m looking forward to my graduation party and that same night is the cast preview of Mickeys Magical Christmas parade. It’ll be a lovely way to end my time here, we will leave the next day.
30th October, Monday
I didn’t feel well today so had to call in sick to work, luckily they over staff for sickness so I didn’t feel too bad about it. I’m looking forward to calling home tomorrow to say Happy Birthday to Kelly. I’m looking forward to going home and seeing them all plus I can eat some decent food and watch proper things on t.v. I will call Yummy jobs tomorrow if I haven’t heard anything, I want to know either way if I’ve got the job or not.
31st October, Tuesday (Halloween)
Today I called home to say Happy Birthday to Kelly, she was pleased with all her presents. They were just about to start the party food when I was saying goodbye, so jealous. I worked 5.15pm until 11.15pm on cash, it was great, I even got a seat at the till. Then when I got back I went to PI and met up with Tom and Meg from work. I had to get to PI on the bus dressed as a bunny girl by myself as I was meeting everyone there, hilarious. Meg drove us back around 2am which was good of her.
1st November, Wednesday
Today I was supposed to work from 11am until 6.45pm, I was on counter and managed to get an ER at 3.45pm. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. I went home got changed and then went back to meet Nic and James in Magic Kingdom. We went on a few of the rides and then met Fiona when she finished work at 8.30pm and then we met up with Tom and we all went to Downtown Disney. We went for a meal at The House Of Blues, it was a good laugh. When we got back we played Pirates of the Caribbean Monopoly and then I went to bed around 1am.
2nd November, Thursday
Today me, Nic and Fi went to EPCOT. We went on the Soarin ride, which basically makes you feel like you are gliding through the air over certain landmarks, it was good. We then went to MGM and had some lunch, I had some fried chicken strips. We watched the parade which compared to the Magic Kingdom one wasn’t that great. Then we went on to Magic Kingdom and had some ice cream and drinks, we watched the castle show and then went down into the tunnels (there are a series of tunnels under the Magic Kingdom which is how us Cast Members get about so quickly) to get our pay cheques.
We then came home to get showered and changed ready for PI. I met Edgar on the bus and we were talking about how quickly time has gone and it’s almost time for me to leave, they have got another couple of months to go. We went to the 8Trax club first but ended up in Motion because it’s the best really. Sergio showed up halfway through the night and was acting really weird, men! Nic and Fi had left so I spent the rest of the night with Edgar, Lalo, Zeki and Hannah. Edgar and I had a chat about how we both want to travel and he said I’m welcome to stay with him in Mexico anytime which was lovely of him, I hope I can go someday. We will keep in touch via email.
3rd November, Friday
Today I worked 11.30am until 5.30pm. I cashed me cheque in at Vista bank and she said I owed them $8, the cheek of it! apparently the account I have is a chargeable one, funny how they don’t point that out to you when filling out the paperwork. I’m having an early night tonight, I didn’t get home until 3am this morning. I’m going to have a relaxing bath now too. I only have 5 days left to go in work.
4th November, Saturday
Today I got up around 10.30am and then called home, it was nice to talk to everyone and I’ll be seeing them in a week! I worked from 1am until 8pm, I’m tired and have got a bit of a cough so didn’t sleep properly last night. I’m catching up with Nic at the moment, we’re having a laugh.
5th November, Sunday
Today I really couldn’t be bothered going to work but I did from 11.15am until 8pm. I’m not working until 1pm tomorrow. I’m currently enjoying a Terrys Chocolate Orange and watching Desperate Housewives which is really good tonight, Brothers and Sisters looks funny tonight too.
6th November, Monday
Got up and went for a shower, went to work for 1.15pm and finished at 8.15pm, I had to close the topping bar. After work I went home and then went to do some last minute shopping at Downtown Disney with Nic and James. I got some gifts and some bits for me too and of course my free chocolate samples!
7th November, Tuesday
I worked form 11.45am and got an ER at 5.45pm. I went home to get changed and then went back to Magic Kingdom to meet Nic and Fi. I met up with Oscar who was working but we watched Wishes together, probably for the last time. It’s my last day in work tomorrow!
8th November, Wednesday
My last day of work!!! I worked from 11am until 7.15pm, I was made Sheriff of the Day today! It is usually a magical moment that we do for kids when they are celebrating a birthday or something. I got a badge and certificate and had my photo taken with Sheriff Jose and Eric, it was really funny. There are quite a few of us leaving so we got some group photos. I have to come back in tomorrow to get my Certificate signed by Rachid to say I have completed my program, he has already done my evaluation sheet and I did really well (even better than Tom) it probably helps that we get on well.
Tomorrow I will pick up my last pay cheque and drop off my costumes and then I’m going to a Cast Member Celebration. Afterwards we will go around Magic Kingdom one last time. My graduation party is at 6pm at Vista Way, then we will go to the Christmas parade preview.
9th November, Thursday
Today I have been to Magic Kingdom and I have got my certificate. This morning I found out I have got a place on the Cultural Program, today is a good day! The graduation party was good, I got photos with Mickey and Minnie in their graduation gowns and I got my graduation mickey ears to wear. We got free pizza and a drink too. Then we went to the Magic Kingdom, we watched Wishes for the last time, it was emotional! We then waited for the Christmas Parade Preview, I saw Edgar, Manuel and everyone and managed to get some photos of us all. I swapped email addresses with Oscar, Edgar and Manuel so it’ll be easier to keep in touch. I have already got Nicola, Fiona, James and Toms emails as we hope to meet up once we are home too.
Looking back this was one of the best experiences of my life, it fuelled my love of Disney and also of travel. I made the most of every moment and had so much fun doing it. I learnt a lot in those 2 months and I may have moaned a bit about the ins and outs of the job itself but I did it all with a smile on my face because I was at the happiest place on earth. I have also made some friends for life and we still keep n touch to this day. In fact this September is our 10 year anniversary and we are celebrating by going back to The Happiest Place On Earth!!!
First I flew out to Orlando to meet my then boyfriend. I spent a few nights at the Hard Rock Hotel and spent my days relaxing by the pool which was good to get over the jet lag. I also celebrated my 25th Birthday whilst there and went to Universal City Walk in the evening and ended up at Rising Star Karaoke where people get up and sing with a live band, it was good fun.
A couple of days later and we were going to drive up to New Jersey to spend some time with the boyfriends friends and family and of course to visit The Big Apple! We stayed over night in South Carolina and the next day we arrived in New Jersey. It had been a lovely sunny drive up and we even passed through Washington where I managed to catch a glimpse of The Monument and The Thomas Jefferson Memorial building. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for a tea break at Baracks place.
We spent a lot of time with the boyfriends friends and family at their houses where we spent the days outside in the lovely sunshine and we went out for meals. Then it was time to spend the day in Manhattan, we got the Staten Island Ferry over. it was such a lovely warm day that there was a haze over everything. It started to clear up as we approached, we passed the Statue Of Liberty, I had always imagined it would be much bigger than it actually was. It was a nice way to arrive passing the statue as so many have in the past. Then we started to approach the Manhattan skyline, there were so many different looking buildings all at different heights. Some were older looking buildings made from brick and they were surrounded by newer looking glass and metal buildings.
Finally I had set foot in New York, we were going to walk a little before using the Subway to get around quickly and easily. We walked passed the bronze Bull outside the Stock Exchange and then passed the new Twin Towers where construction was still taking place. We were getting hungry at this point so it was time for a hot dog from one of the street vendors. I had no idea until after I’d eaten it that they are locally known as “dirty water dogs” gross! Still it did me no harm.
Then it was time to get the Subway to Times Square. We walked around and spotted all the different shows that were on at the time. I can imagine it would have looked more impressive at night time. Next it was on to the place I had wanted to go ever since I’d watched Sleepless in Seattle, The Empire State Building!
We walked to Fifth Avenue and there it was and it looked exactly like it does in all the movies. I was not going to leave without going up to the top, so we went inside and it was a lovely entrance. It was very busy, it was actually Fleet Week which is where the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard dock in a variety of major cities for 1 week and get to visit it’s tourist attractions. Anyway I was prepared to wait, we had to go through a security area just like you do at the airport, then you pay and then you go to several different areas where you queue up. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere you realise it’s just another queue. When we finally got to the lift to take us up I realised why it had been taking so long, they were really small and couldn’t take many up at a time. Also they did not look anything like the lifts they show on Sleepless in Seattle with the silhouettes on the doors. After a couple of hours we made it onto the 86th floor observatory deck, the most famous observatory in the world! The views were very impressive and you could walk all the way around to get 360 views. I saw the Brooklyn Bridge, The Hudson River and East River, The Chrysler Building and could just about make out The Statue of Liberty through the haze. The only disappointment for me was that Tom Hanks was not up there waiting for me!
Once we had made it back down it decided to rain so all in all we were very lucky that it hadn’t rained when we were up on the observatory deck! I had wanted to go to Central Park next but didn’t fancy it in the rain so we decided to get the Subway and make our way back to the ferry. For our last night before flying back to Orlando we stayed in a hotel with great views of the city and Brooklyn Bridge.
I would have loved to have spent a bit more time in Manhattan but I’ll probably go back one day maybe around Christmas time as it would be even more magical then!
The flights were long! Manchester-London-Vancouver-Auckland, over 30 hours travel time. Luckily a friend picked me up from the airport as by this point I could only just about function as a human being after very little sleep. I was going to be living in Ponsonby which is a lovely area of Auckland and I was not disappointed when I arrived at Anglesey Street which had an amazing view of the City which included the Sky Tower.
I had visited Auckland 2 years previously so had therefore already done a few of the ‘touristy’ things Auckland has to offer. Things such as going up to the observatory deck in the Sky Tower which offered up some amazing 360 views, walking up to the top of Rangitoto Island a volcanic island which I was not wearing the correct footwear for, I also did the Harbour Bridge walk which was fine until we had to go up to the bungee pod – lets just say heights aren’t quite my thing!
Anyway being back 2 years later I wanted to do some of the things I hadn’t got around to doing the first time. I went to Auckland Museum, entry was free because I was now an Auckland resident. I found it all really interesting especially the section dedicated to Maori culture, there was also a large wildlife section and Auckland as it used to be many years ago, the top floor was War related.
I also took advantage of the lovely sunny weather and went to Auckland Zoo. It was such a lovely day, as you walk in they have a large Pridelands area which you walk around at a higher level than the animals such as Giraffes, Zebras and Ostriches. They also had Lions, Cheetahs and an Asian Elephant. Some time later I was enjoying an ice cream and watching the Meerkats when to my complete surprise a few zoo keepers go by casually walking the Elephant around the zoo, it was amazing to see her up close!
I also visited some bars and restaurants in Ponsonby and the City itself and went to a couple of parties. My talented neighbour was a singer and was playing at the Thirsty Dog on Saturday night which we followed up with a visit to a club called Snapdragon down at the harbour. On Sunday we had a very chilled movie day which was well needed as I started work the following day.
My housemate had secured me a 2 month contract working for a well known media company. Having only ever worked in retail I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was working on the customer service helpdesk for Auto Trader, it was very computer based and quite complicated when it came to knowing what people were talking about when it came to Boats, Farm Machinery, Caravans and Cars!
On the plus side it was very relaxed and there were quite a few perks such as free lunches, free drinks and a social club ( $2 a month membership and all events were then free) which had it’s own perks such as going gold class at a cinema – this included watching a film from your own individual reclining arm chair, a 2 course meal and a beverage of your choice. I never wanted to go to a normal cinema again! We also went to Sale Street for food and drinks with a $1500 bar tab to use as we pleased!! That night turned out to be one of the funniest nights ever! I met Lucy at work, she was also from the UK and we got on really well.
One day at work I was asked if I wanted free tickets to the Taylor Swift Red Concert at Vector Arena, of course I said yes. I received 2 tickets and asked Lucy if she wanted to go with me, she did. First we met up and went for an Italian meal down at the harbour and then on to the concert. Taylor is a brilliant entertainer, she played the guitar and piano, we had great seats too! She closed with ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ and loads of red and white ticker tape fell on us, good finale.
I was off every weekend so tried to make the most of going to places in the surrounding area. Mission Bay was a favourite of mine, just 10 minutes from the City it is a pretty little beach resort where I would often go for some fish and chips followed by a stroll along the beach front whilst enjoying an ice cream.
Waiheke Island is also beautiful and only a short ferry ride away. It has lots of little beach areas and some lovely little boutiques. There are regular buses from the ferry terminal to take you around the island, it is well worth a visit.
I also have a friend Manuel who is the manager of Bay Adventurers hostel in Paihia, so I took every opportunity to visit him. Paihia is in the Bay Of Islands and is a gorgeous little seaside town. The coach from Auckland would take around 4 hours but was very scenic. I would have breakfast each morning in a lovely little waterfront café. The weather was beautiful so we went for a drive around the area, including a visit to Keri Keri and a stop off at Haruru Falls. I think at one point we were even singing along to Michael Bubles ‘Everything’ which is one of my favourite feel good songs and the only one that Manuel would allow on his playlist! I also walked from Paihia to the Waitangi Centre which housed a traditional Maori Canoe, Meeting House and Treaty House which is where the document that established the British Colony of New Zealand was signed on 6 February 1840. There were also some stunning views over the Bay of Islands, an ideal photo opportunity!
Back at work things were much the same but my weekends were always filled with different things to see and do. One weekend a lovely lady from our street arranged a street party, it was more of a street barbeque/picnic really and everyone brought something different it was a lovely chilled out afternoon. Manuel also managed to get down to Auckland now and again so we would meet up and go somewhere for food and a couple of drinks.
I had a week off work the first week of December and had booked a trip to Queenstown on the South Island. It is described as a cosmopolitan lake and alpine resort that has the perfect mix of action and relaxation. Feature films have also been shot there including The Lord of the Rings, Wolverine and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lots of people I’d spoken to had suggested I go and I am so glad I did!
I flew down on the Monday and arrived in the afternoon, the views from the plane of the mountains and lakes were absolutely stunning! I was staying at Reavers Lodge which had brilliant views and was an easy walk to the centre. Not so easy on the way back I might add as it was on a very steep hill! For the rest of the afternoon I had a Ferg Burger for Tea (well known and a very popular place to eat) and then I took a little cable car up the side of a mountain so that I could get some amazing panoramic photos. They also had a toboggan track up there and people were paragliding and there was a little shop and a café. The weather was sunny and warm and just perfect. Going back down the mountain in the cable car was not as much fun, I’m not great with heights and it was swinging about all over the place!
The next day I had booked a 13 hour day trip to Milford Sound. The journey down by coach was amazing, we stopped in a few places of interest to get some photos. We stopped in Te Anau the last town before Milford for some food and then drove through the Fjord Land National Park. We saw mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, such stunning scenery that it almost felt as if it couldn’t be real. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.
Milford Sound was named by John a Welshman who first found it, he was from Milford Haven. We had to go through the Homer Tunnel to get to Milford, it took 11 years to build because work was stopped during the war. It is such a small narrow tunnel and only takes single file traffic controlled by traffic lights on either side. It is named after William Homer and Monkey Creek which is just before you get to the tunnel is named ‘Monkey’ Creek because William had a pet monkey. We also stopped off at Cleddau River (another Welsh reference) which was a great chance to stretch our legs a little and walk to the Chasm which is a deep fissure in the earth’s surface.
When we arrived at Milford we then got on a small cruise which would take us through the Fjord itself. We were surrounded by mountains and waterfalls and we spotted some seals sunbathing. It was very windy in the Fjord so here’s an insider tip if you want to sit outside to get the best photos make sure you take a coat with a hood and/or a warm hat. It was an amazing trip, there were no stops on the way back so you could just relax and take in the scenery all the way back. I went with a company called Jucy Cruize, the driver was very friendly and informative and they have their own little shop in Queenstown where you can just pop in and get yourself booked onto one of their trips and they pick up from most hotels.
On Wednesday I treated myself to a little lie in and then planned my day. I decided to walk to Frankton and then get the bus to Arrowtown. So Frankton was much further than I first thought (around 3.5 miles) and I ended up walking for about an hour and a half. It was a beautiful walk along the lake and I took some lovely photos. I got the bus to Arrowtown which was like going back in time, it is very charming and has a cobbled main street and town centre, a string of historic buildings and tree lined avenues. The pretty town sprang from the 1860s rush for the Arrow Rivers gold.
After an afternoon of exploring Arrowtown it was back to Queenstown for a fish and chips supper. I flew back to Auckland on the Thursday and was sat next to a kiwi guy who told me he was off to Europe in a few weeks and was after some advice which I was happy to give. I also told him our ‘British Fanta’ was better than theirs, and a message I received a few weeks later confirmed that I was right and that he agreed with me.
On Friday I went back up to Paihia and just relaxed and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun. On Saturday Manuel drove us to the Kawiti glow worm caves in Waiomio about 20 minutes from Paihia. It is a family run tour business and we had a helpful guide who told us all about the glow worms and about the history behind the caves. On the tour we followed a wooden boardwalk through a 200 metre limestone cave system. Once inside, we saw thousands of glow worms spread across the ceiling surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. Our guide explained the life cycle of the New Zealand Glow Worm and the intricate webs used to catch their prey. We then made the return walk through a natural corridor of karst rock formations and pristine rainforest. It was all very interesting.
That evening we went to a waterfront bar to listen to some live music by one of the guys who was staying at Bay Adventurers, it was lovely sitting outside in the sun with a glass of Monteiths apple cider. I went back to Auckland on the Sunday where I had around 3 weeks left in work before I would fly home just in time for Christmas. It didn’t really feel like Christmas in New Zealand it was hot for a start! I did go to a couple of Christmasy events though, I went to the Coca-Cola Christmas in the park event with Lucy and her Aunty, it was a great outdoor Christmas concert that ended with a big fireworks display. I also had a Christmas party at work which was a 1920’s Great Gatsby theme and was great fun. They even had some Charleston dancers come in and do a performance and also as the company had recently moved to a new building so they had arranged for a Maori blessing to take place, it was brilliant!
There is still so much more to New Zealand that I haven’t seen so hopefully I will get to go back again one day to explore some more. It is a beautiful and safe country to travel around and I would highly recommend it to everybody.
I arrived in sunny Barcelona at 11.45am. I had already pre booked the Aerobus which would take me from the airport to Placa Catalunya where I would then get the metro to the Barceloneta stop. Word to the wise, pick pocketing does take place in Barcelona but as long as you keep your wits about you then you should be fine, I wouldn’t recommend backpacks as they seemed to be the obvious target. The hotel I was staying in was located in the Old Town area and was called Park Hotel, it was easy to find as it was opposite Estacio de Franca the large train station. I only had a weekender sized bag on wheels with me so travelling with it was easy enough. The hotel didn’t look much from the outside but was clean and modern inside, I had requested a quiet room when I booked through booking.com and I was given a room towards the back of the hotel further away from the road where the noise was minimal.
It was around 1.30pm by the time I checked in and had settled in my room. The first thing I wanted to do was take a shower and put some clean clothes on as by this point I was starting to melt! It was around 27/28 degrees but felt a lot hotter with the humidity in the city. I then decided it was time to explore, Parc de la Ciutadella was right next to my hotel so was going to be my first stop. It was very pretty with lots of green open spaces and tree lined paths which often led to some beautiful fountains. Barcelona Zoo was also situated here but as I was only there for a few days I decided to give that a miss.
Next I decided to walk to Port Olympic which was by the sea and offered up a lovely sea breeze. From Port Olympic you could see all the way down to Port Vell and it looked so beautiful so of course I got carried away and walked all the way down there! I have since found out that the beach is about 2 miles long so that’s how far I walked in that heat, I must have been mad! I was really hungry by this point so walked back up into the city itself for a bit to eat, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food I like to stick to what I recognise so Burger King it was.
After refuelling I wanted to explore further, the architecture in Barcelona is amazing and I ended up at Catedral de Barcelona which dominates the Old Town. The magnificent Gothic Cathedral was begun in 1298 but was not finished until the early 20th century. I took some photos of the eye catching façade. I stumbled across some other interesting buildings but my feet had given up by this point so I got the metro back to the Barceloneta and then a short walk back to the hotel. I then planned what I was going to do the next day and had an early night as I’d been up since 5.30am and had walked half of Barcelona!
Next morning I went to the Maremagnum shopping centre where I found out most shops didn’t open until 12 but there were a few little cafes open so I could have some breakfast before catching the hop on hop off City Tour Bus. I had also purchased the 2 day bus ticket online before arriving. Once on the bus I was given some headphones to plug in for English commentary on the places of interest along the way, which was actually really interesting. I decided I was first of all going to get off at Sagrada Familia, it was an absolutely amazing looking building! Gaudi was commissioned in 1883 to complete a Neo-Gothic cathedral. It became his life’s work and he lived like a recluse on the site for 16 years. He is now buried in the crypt. The building is still unfinished and work continues on it to this day. The queue to go inside was insane and I didn’t have all day to wait so I had to make do with taking lots of photos of the outside which included the Nativity Façade and the Passion Façade. I would advise anyone planning on visiting Sagrada Familia to book tickets online before arriving to save a lot of time and to ensure you actually get in.
Then it was time to get back on the bus and head for Parc Guell. Gaudi was commissioned in 1910 to lay out a private housing estate on a hillside above Barcelona. There are also some beautiful mosaic works by Josep Maria Jujol. From the bus stop it is a steep walk up to the entrance so I would advise purchasing something to drink before you head up. It was also very busy when I arrived and I was told the next available entry was not until 2.30pm, I waited in the shade and had a drink and a white chocolate magnum. It was lovely up there but very hot! I entered at The Square which offered beautiful views over the city and the undulating benches covered in Mosaics were very pretty. I took lots of photos before I moved on to the Hypostle Room which was a covered area with 86 columns supporting the square above. The ceiling was formed of small domes and was decorated with some lovely tiles. Then I walked on to the Monumental Flight of Steps, the steps are full of detail such as gargoyles, mosaics and a large brightly coloured Lizard. Then there are the 2 mosaic pavilions which have intricately tiled exteriors, one of them houses the visitor centre.
I then made my way back to the bus where I got off at the Maremagnum shopping centre and had some food at Macdonalds and then did a bit of shopping because it would be rude not to and because I needed some comfier shoes! I had only been wearing some New Look sandals and had managed to get a blister underneath my foot so I purchased some comfy canvas shoes from H+M. I then decided to walk back into the city via the Wave Bridge and then over to La Rambla which is an historic tree lined avenue that has a Monument to Columbus at the bottom of it. I walked my way up La Rambla and passed lots of little stalls selling flowers, gifts and food e.t.c. There were also palm tree lined squares with lovely fountains in the middle, which is what I had pictured when I thought of Spain. I walked all the way up to Placa Catalunya and then got the bus back as close to my hotel as it went and then a short walk back to the hotel for a shower and an early night. I also planned where I wanted to go on the second tour bus route the following day.
The next morning I got up early and headed to Sagrada Familia so that I could get in the front of the queue to go inside. I was right at the front at 8.15am and I new it opened at 9, great. No, it hit 9am and a guy came around to say it was at full capacity and that you wouldn’t be able to get in until at least midday! I didn’t have the time to waste as it was my last day so I cut my losses and got back on the bus to do the orange route.
I passed the Jardins de Mirramar where lots of different species of plants grow even cactus that date back hundreds of years. Then it was up around the edge of the mountain of Montjuic where there were some amazing views over the city. We also passed the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Diving Boards where Tom Daley has competed, I recognised it from when we’d seen it on t.v – it’s certainly a pool with a view!
I got off the bus at stop 8 the Art Museum which was an impressive looking building and I then went down the different levels of escalators towards Placa Espanya. There was an amazing multi level fountain surrounded by beautiful Roman architecture. I got some lovely photos, a couple asked me to take a photo of them and I asked them to take one of me in return. Placa Espanya had 2 massive Venitian Towers which were modelled on the bell towers in St Marks in Venice and a large fountain in the middle of a roundabout also by Josep Maria Jujol. There was also a bullring (built in 1899) which has been converted into a shopping and entertainment centre.
I then got back on the bus and decided to get off at stop 15 L’illa Diagonal a large shopping centre which I had some discount vouchers for and picked up a free shopping bag which had lots of different things all over it that were supposed to represent Barcelona. I also had some food in a café in between shopping and then I ended up with a Haagen Daas ice cream. I then got back on the bus and got off at stop 17 La Pedrera (the stone quarry) Gaudi’s greatest contribution to Barcelona’s civic architecture. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any photos of the outside as it was being re furbished but I went inside. Gaudi designed his eight floor apartment block around 2 circular courtyards. The lift takes you straight up to the roof terrace which has lots of interesting sculptures and chimneys and there were some amazing views of the city including Sagrada Familia. The museum “El Espai Gaudi” was on the top floor and had models and explanations of Gaudi’s work. Then there was the apartment itself with it’s old fashioned bedrooms, bathrooms, living room, kitchen and maids room. It was very fascinating. There are no straight walls in the building at all!
I finished the day by getting back on the bus to go to stop 1 Placa Catalunya to walk down La Rambla to do my souvenir shopping. I managed to find something for everyone and at good prices too. Then it was back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to leave the following day. My stay was short but sweet, I had a wonderful time and have some brilliant photos to show for it. It was some of the hottest/humid weather I had ever experienced and my legs were wrecked but it was worth every minute. I would not hesitate to visit again one day.
Stepping off the plane at Naples airport I was hit by the heat, it was 8pm and pitch black so I wasn’t quite expecting it. I was transferred to the main terminal by bus as you have to on all flights as Naples airport is very small. Entering the main terminal first it was to passport control which consisted of 2 agents sat behind a small protected desk and 1 of them proceeded to snatch my passport from me, quickly check the photo and then throw it back at me and that was that. My bag came through really quickly and then the reps pointed out the way to the coach transfer, which felt like a small hike in the humidity and dragging my suitcase along behind me. I was then told which number coach to get on and an Italian guy called Claudio put my suitcase in the storage area underneath and I then patiently waited for him to let me on the coach forgetting that it was a left hand drive for him to quietly mutter “it’s the other side” oh yeah.
So I was on coach 17 and Roberta had introduced herself as our transfer rep, she was soon telling us some facts about the area and tying to point out places of interest in the dark. I however was slightly distracted by the insanity of Italian driving. If there are lanes on a motorway surely you stay within the lanes, apparently that’s not how it works if you’re Italian. Also everyone on a scooter seemed to have a death wish. We went through lots of tunnels the newest was very long and had only been open for 1 year. You wouldn’t have thought so to look at it, I am not exaggerating it looked like it had been there for 100 years! Next it was on to a coastal road which was very high up, I could see all the lights below and the most stunning was an extremely large cruise liner anchored in the bay, it’s lights were reflecting on the water and it looked beautiful. Next was on to a “country road” now I live in the country so I am used to country roads but this was something else! The long and winding road comes to mind, there were people to be dropped off at 5 hotels and of course mine Grand Hotel Vesuvio was last.
I arrived at my hotel at around 10.45pm, check in was swift and rather oddly they keep your passport when you check in to register you as a visitor to the country (I’m guessing this is because passport control can’t be bothered) which I wasn’t too happy to do but not much you can do about it. My room was 409 a single room with air conditioning (yes!) and a balcony (lovely) overlooking some lemon groves. The room was overall clean, bright and thankfully cool.
Tuesday September 1st
I had managed to sleep on and off and went for breakfast at 9am. Breakfast was served in a lovely room with great lighting and massive windows overlooking the most amazing views over the bay of Naples, you could see Sorrento where 2 cruise ships were now sitting in the bay and Mount Vesuvius was just visible through the morning haze. After breakfast which was your standard continental I decided to go and take some photos of the hotel. Usually I don’t do this kind of holiday I just arrange everything myself but I had decided to find out what it was like as a lot of holidays to this area are package holidays. With this in mind I went to the welcome meeting at 11.30am where we were given a map of Sorrento and information on all the excursions available. I already had and excursion (Amalfi and Positano day cruise ) booked for Wednesday but I arranged to do another one on the Sunday (Pompeii and Herculaneum). We were told there was going to be a free walking tour of Sorrento at 1pm to get a bit of a feel for the place so I decided to go to that as well.
Walking tour – First Stop was Limoncello (lemon liquor) tasting, I say tasting which is ironic because it was so strong it could burn your taste buds right off! Thankfully it was only a very small amount you were expected to taste and that was enough. Next was on to a lovely restaurant “Risturante la Favorita” which was one of the oldest in Sorrento (1868) part of it was like a greenhouse with lots of plants and then you walk through to the back and there was a large covered veranda with lemons growing on it. Then it was on to Cuomos Lucky Store (1856) which was a store full of wooden furniture and we were given a quick demonstration on how they get the intricate patterns onto the wood. We were shown a table that transformed into a gaming table with several different layers poker table, back gammon, chess and finally opened up to reveal a roulette wheel. Next was down a little lane to Davides ice cream shop where they do 50+ flavours, we were told we could get one scoop for 1 Euro so I chose Vanilla with White Chocolate, yum! Last stop was the Foreigners Club restaurant which has some of the most stunning views over the bay, the 2 cruise liners were still in so was a good opportunity to take some photos. I was also given a complimentary drink of Prosecco and red orange which was nice.
The rest of the day I spent at the hotel reading up on the excursion I was doing the next day and then just reading the novel I had taken with me. The evening meal in the hotel was not what I was expecting, there was a different menu every night and I barely recognised anything on it, I was at least expecting Pizza. I am a fussy eater anyway and when the meals came out looking the way they did and also really small portions needless to say I only ate in the hotel twice, I did however enjoy the ice cream for dessert, thank the lord they had vanilla!
Wednesday September 2nd
Amalfi and Positano cruise day! I was picked up at the hotel at 9.20am a few stops were made to pick up at other hotels before we were dropped off near a lift that was going to take us down to the port. Basically it’s such a long way down the cliff to the port that they’ve put lifts in to make it quicker and easier to get down there. Once at the port there were more people already queuing up to be told which number boat you were going to be on. This process seemed to take a long time, Italian time goes even slower than normal time! Eventually we got our boat, boat number 3 – it was a lot smaller than I was expecting and as someone who has suffered from seasickness in the past I was a little apprehensive, even with taking some precautionary seasickness tablets. There were only 12 people in my group so a small boat was all we needed. We cruised slowly around the coast and our skipper introduced himself as Andre. He kindly pointed out places of interest along the way and popped on some music for us the first song on his soundtrack being the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, hilarious!
First stop was a swim stop, I didn’t fancy it as it was literally in the middle of the sea, I’ve always been a bit afraid of swimming in the sea as you don’t know what’s in it! So the others jumped in for a few minutes and then it was on to our first proper stop Amalfi. I took lots of photos of the coast as we went by. Arriving into Amalfi we were told we had almost 2 hours to explore before we were expected back at the boat. It was very hot, the breeze on the boat had been lovely but as these places are surrounded by steep cliffs they are very much secluded and it makes it a complete sun trap, it was 30+ degrees. I headed straight for the centre which was only a short walk away, the first major thing I notice is Amalfi Cathedral – a beautiful building with it’s many steps leading up to it and the large clock on the left, it looked amazing. First things first I needed to cool down so it was time for an ice cram (you may notice a theme developing here) I sat down at the restaurant in the square opposite the Cathedral where I had a very expensive vanilla ice cream at 7 Euros, I can honestly say at that point it was worth every Euro! Then it was time to go into the Cathedral as long as the climb up there didn’t kill me first. I made it and it was only 3 Euros to get in and a word to the wise if you ever plan on going there make sure your shoulders are covered or you wont be allowed in. I was wearing a dress that covered my shoulders so I was fine, luckily. Inside was just as stunning if not more so! The detail and paintings on the ceilings were amazing, so beautiful.
“Art is the meeting place with mystery, because the beauty of created things stirs up God’s emotions, nostalgia” (John Paul II in “Letter to the artists”)
I took lots of photos which was allowed as long as you didn’t use the flash. There were different areas within the whole Cathedral which included The Cloister of Paradise, The Basilica of the Crucifix, The Crypt and The Cathedral. The Crypt of Saint Andrew was amazing, completely made of marble it was lovely and cool and was very peaceful and the paintings on the ceilings were beautiful. The Cathedral itself was also stunning, massive and awe inspiring I had to take a quiet moment within the seating area just to take it all in. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious person normally as I don’t go to church but in that place at that time it would be hard not to feel a greater sense of something.
I walked around a bit more and bought a postcard for my collection from one of the little shops on the way back to the boat. Next stop was Positano, it was nice to get back on the boat and have a bit of a breeze to cool down again. As we approached Positano I realised it was just as postcard picture perfect as I imagined it would be. All the pretty coloured houses built onto the side of the cliffs and the church in the centre. Again we had almost 2 hours to explore before being expected back at the boat, it was very hot again so my first stop was to be at one of the sea front restaurants for an ice cool beverage. Luckily lots of the little narrow alleyways were in the shade, there were some beautiful little shops with everything from gifts, clothes and handmade sandals to ceramics and paintings. Unfortunately the church wasn’t open so after wondering around the little streets and taking some more photos I decided to relax in the shade.
Then it was time to head back on the boat, Andre showed us some little waterfalls and some little caves along the coast where we again stopped off for a short swimming stop. By this point I had started chatting to 2 couples that were also on the trip Josie and Ryan a young couple from London and Lyndsey (not very often do I meet someone with the same name as me and spelt the same way too!) and Shane newlyweds from Rugby. We decided we were going to meet up later that night at Insolito a cocktail bar in Sorrento, where I had a couple of slushy Strawberry Daiquiris, my favourite!
I remember feeling so lucky when I was on that cruise, it was like a taster on how the other half live and so very relaxing.
Thursday September 3rd
I had a bit of a lie in after the previous days excursion/cocktail bar evening. I got the complementary hotel shuttle bus into Sorrento at 9.30am and went down to the port to catch the little ferry over to Capri for the day. Again the island looked like something straight from a postcard, just lovely! The harbour was beautiful with all it’s little boats and turquoise blue waters. I decided to head straight for the Funicular which would take me up to Capri Town where I was hoping to spot a celebrity or 2. Once up there, again there was a little church and a clock and some truly stunning views looking down over Capri and the harbour. There were lots of little winding streets filled with every designer boutique you could think of, it was like the Champs Elysees on a much smaller quainter scale. Capri Watch was a dominant brand and was advertised all over the island, I had a look in one of their stores and saw a couple of nice watches but for 200 Euros a piece they were going to stay there!
I bought some little hand made bracelets as gifts for my sisters and of course one for myself. I also had a donut that was the same size as my head, sugar everywhere but so worth it! I went in the little church and took some photos and then stood outside the church in the shade for a bit and used the free wifi from one of the restaurants nearby. Whilst there some guy came over and asked if we (other people were doing the same as me) could all move out of the way of the steps for a moment as they wanted to take a team photo. My ears pricked up and so I got my camera ready as I could see an official photographer and a t.v camera and then the whole National Italian Swimming Team show up! I didn’t know what team they were at the time by they were in an official looking kit and quite a few of them were handsome so I got a couple of photos. It added a bit of excitement to the day anyway : ) shame they weren’t in their speedos because I would have known straight away what team they were then of course ; ) I have also discovered Italians are lacking in manners and do come across as quite rude when you are being served in a shop for example. Obviously there are some exceptions like my hotel shuttle bus driver Maurizio, he always had a smile and a “Ciao” for everyone and is generally a very polite man.
Friday September 4th
I decided to relax a bit today and just spend some time in the hotel and exploring Sorrento a bit more. I ended up walking further than I had before in Sorrento and ended up in a fashion store where I bought some new winter clothes. From looking around I could tell that the colour palettes for autumn/winter here were the same as at home so that worked out well.
I also decided to try some food at an English Inn which was nice, unfortunately I did also receive the life story of some Italian guy sitting next to me who also liked to ask a lot of questions. I had to politely turn down a couple of his offers for a “true experience” one being a ride on his scooter and the second pizza at his nieces party down at Marina Grande. Yeah, so it was time to eat up and get out of there, there’s always one!
Spent the afternoon on a sun lounger listening to some Frank Sinatra. Also a little tip for anyone planning on going over in September, take some insect repellent as I managed to get a few bites on my legs.
Saturday September 5th
Went back into Sorrento in the morning as I had managed to convince myself that I needed the beautiful leather handbag that I had seen in the leather shop the previous day. After all it’s always nice to have a bag that nobody else will have back at home. I also got a few more souvenirs from the little shops in the narrow alley ways. Saturday was the first day that there was any cloud cover and as I was off to Pompeii and Herculaneum the following day I was hoping it would hang around for a bit longer as I had been told there was not much shade in either of these places. For the rest of the day I relaxed in the hotel gardens which had beautiful views over the bay, I read and listened to some music – bliss!
Sunday September 6th
Pompeii and Herculaneum excursion day! I was picked up by coach at my hotel at the very precise time of 7.49am where I was told by Roberta my tour guide that after the last couple of hotel pick ups it would take 40 minutes to get to our first stop Pompeii. Also as it was the first Sunday of the month so we would not have to pay any entrance fees as they are classed as museums and in Italy it is free on the first Sunday of every month to visit the museums, another handy little tip there!
As I walked into Pompeii I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had read the guide books but it still doesn’t become real until you set foot in the place. It really was like stepping back in time! First I walked through a large square area with lots of stone columns surrounding it which led to a large amphitheatre where Frank Sinatra last performed in Italy. Apparently the videos are available online to prove this, I am yet to look it up. We then moved on to a smaller theatre which had original marble flooring and stone sculptures. I was glad I had chosen to do a guided tour as Roberta was very knowledgeable, she had studied archaeology at university and was even part of an excavation team at Pompeii.
I took lots of photos as it was amazing to see all the original features such as stone, marble and mosaics. The street roads were made from massive stone slabs and you could still see the grooves in them from where the chariots used to go up and down them! You could see houses, shops and even a brothel. In some of the houses you could see different eras of decoration, some had beautiful paintings and intricate ceilings. There were also public baths separate ones for men and women, they had tiled floors and what we would now call lockers which were just stone shelves with individual square partitions.
At the forum which would have been the cities main piazza there were lots of stone and marble columns with Mount Vesuvius as a stunning backdrop. Also within some of the buildings here were the plaster moulds of locals that were caught in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. There was the body of an adult, a child and a dog. Weirdly I was most disturbed by the one of the dog. Pompeiis coastline completely changed after the eruption, there used to be a port there, now the sea is some distance away. The residents at the time used to put small pieces of marble in the roads that would reflect the moonlight and guide their way in the dark. We spent 2 and a half hours in Pompeii before we went for lunch, I had fish and chips (it was the most anorexic fish I had ever seen).
Then we moved on to Herculaneum which was 20 minutes away. It was a smaller better preserved site. After visiting both I would say this was my favourite. We arrived at a higher level so we could see the whole site, apparently three quarters of it is still buried under the modern buildings. This site also used to be a port and you could work out where the sea would have been. Again there were houses, gardens, public baths and luckily no brothels (not that they’ve found anyway). Some of the paintings and mosaics here were amazing. There was a beautiful coloured mosaic in one house depicting a Greek God which was common at the time, there were lots of Roman and Greek influences.
The sun had now come out in full force and it was very hot, I was glad I’d taken my hat and a hand held fan to cool me down a bit. Roberta said we were off to see the skeletons next and that they’d only just opened this to the public the previous week. She said they had all gone down there to escape the eruption by boat but had been killed by the extremely hot temperatures – 400 degrees. It was the gas from the eruption that had killed the residents of Pompeii. Herculaneum was buried in a thick sea of mud whereas Pompeii was buried in burning fragments of pumice stone.
Mount Vesuvius is now dormant it’s last eruption was in 1944 during the second world war, they now closely follow what is happening within Vesuvius and say that they could give the local residents a 1 week warning of any future eruption. I had a great time exploring both these sites and I definitely learned a lot.
Overall I had an amazing experience on the Sorrentine peninsula and would not hesitate to visit again someday.