Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wrapping up this leg of our travel adventure

So we have been back in Cheltenham UK for just over a month now and have obviously been neglecting our blog (sorry!!). So much has been going on and it is difficult to stay up to date with it as I’m sure you can imagine. I’ve got to a point that I’m so behind, that I’ve struggled to be bothered to write anything at all! But, this blog is important….not only for all of you who want to be kept updated with our adventures, but also for our own record because we want to look back on this some day and remember the details that are so easily forgotten. So…. it’s time to bite the bullet and put those of you who eagerly await our posts, out of your misery. I’m going to try and break this one up into a few posts and I may not get it all done tonight, so bear with me! We still have our time in France to cover as well as settling back into ‘normal’ life – who knows what that really means for us right now! So we’ll start with leaving Spain and making our way across the French border where we spent 6 nights (Nov 19-25).

We left Gijon in Spain after our ordeal with the Policia and we stayed another night in San Sebastian on our way over the French border. The first thing we noticed when entering France was the complete and drastic change in scenery! We went from beautiful green, rolling hills and mountains with such a diverse array of architecture in Spain, to an absolutely flat plain, with scenery that was dead looking and every house almost identical – cream render with red tiled roofs! Hmmm, in that moment we wanted to go back to Spain….but we had to slap ourselves and we decided to give it a chance. So glad we did!

It was about 2pm and we were getting quite peckish – almost ready for lunch, well at least in Spain it was. We neglected to check what time the French have their lunch and when we drove into a small village to find food, the streets were deserted and there was no food in sight! We walked around for a while trying to find somewhere that would serve us food, but the best we could do was coffee so we ended up snacking on what we had in the car. Mental note – the French have lunch from 12noon-2pm. We were actually a bit relieved because it was hard to get used to the Spanish meal times. We did have the chance to try out some French speaking with the waitress that served us coffee which was quite amusing because we had spent no time whatsoever even glancing at our French phrasebook or learning anything from it until we crossed over the border. It was a little challenging (to say the least) to switch from trying to speak Spanish (after just starting to get the hang of that), now we were switching to another language again! So needless to say, we continued to speak Spanish to French people automatically and we wondered why they looked at us weird. Then we would realise and have to correct ourselves! Haha! It didn’t help that most of the pronunciations in our phrasebook for French were wrong, so we found out!

Anyway, we arrived at our B&B just outside the gorgeous little medieval town of Saint Emilion in one of the major wine regions of France (half hour from Bordeaux) at about 5pm. We had a good start with our host (Agnes) who couldn’t speak much English…..Tim started off by saying in French “hello my name is English”!! LOL! I realised what he wanted to say was do you speak English! It was a good laugh which helped to break the ice! We settled into our room and managed to get some recommendations of where to eat in Saint Emilion, then we made our way our for dinner. The meal was a bit of a let down compared to what we’d had in Spain – Tim had steak which had to be sent back because it was still mooing on the plate and I had chicken….well it was all bone actually. I searched for any sign of meat under the chicken skin, but it was nowhere to be found! The poor chicken obviously wasn’t alive long enough to grow any meat! A bit disappointing, but we weren’t too phased because we were in such an amazingly beautiful place! We wandered around the streets for a while and admired the cobblestones and ancient architecture lit up with the reflection of the street lights. We couldn’t wait to explore the village in the daylight! We drove around for a while, trying to navigate the one way streets and came across the tiniest laneway we’d ever seen and we wondered if cars were even meant to attempt to drive through. The side mirrors were literally an inch from a stone wall on both sides of the car!

We came across a wine bar and decided to go in, but before we did we came across a timid stray dog that we had seen earlier that day. I’m such a sap when I see any animal that doesn’t look like it has a home. All I wanted to do was take him home!! Bit tricky considering I was in a foreign country though. I can thank my Mum for developing the desire to ‘foster’ any animal or person that looks like they need some love! Hehe. We got chatting to one of the locals who also took pity on the poor dog which looked like it hadn’t eaten for some time and she spent the whole evening texting her friends to see if anyone would take it in. Meanwhile, the dog slept on the front door mat inside the wine bar – it had obviously found a temporary home. Thankfully, by the end of the night, this local woman had been successful in finding it a home! A happy ending……needless to say I slept well that night!

In the same wine bar, we met a wine importer from Brazil (Fernando) and his associates who were buying bottle after bottle and sharing it around, including with us! Sweet! We found out later that we actually drank wine from a 200 Euro bottle! Ahhh! We were also personally invited by Fernando to stay at his home in Brazil! We could not believe we were in a tiny French village drinking very expensive wine for free and then being invited to stay at some rich dude’s house in Brazil!! A memorable experience to say the least! Another local guy invited us to go and have some wine tastings in his shop the next day which we gladly accepted.

So….the next post will finish off our time in France and I’m going to be really slack and dot point the highlights otherwise I really am going to be here forever, or so it seems.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Policia Encounters - in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the morning of Wednesday November 18, we were packing our stuff getting ready to leave Gijon for the last time and head toward San Sebastian. Our car was parked a couple of blocks away in an uncontrolled parking zone so we could avoid paying for parking. I (Tim) decided that it would be best to bring the car closer and pay for half an hour so we didn’t have to cart all our stuff two times over to the car. As I approached the car, I noticed that there was an orange cone at the rear of my car and no cars parked behind. I thought it was just zoned off for no reason that I knew of. I got in the car, started it up and made an awkward three point turn and made my way on the right hand side, navigating my way down a lot of one-way streets mind you, to park the car closer. As I crossed the lights, made a left turn and took my time making my way toward the park, all of a sudden I saw in my rear vision mirror and little blue Peugeot 206 with a single blue light on its roof speed up overtake me and cut me off with all sirens and lights blazing, Hollywood style!!!! At this point I was feeling quite calm and thought they had just pulled me over because of the GB number plates. Four undercover cops hopped out the car and approached the car rather cautiously, one guy with his hand inside his jacket. At this point I began to feel a little nervous because I knew he was holding a gun and they were going to question me in Spanish which I knew little of. The police began interrogating me while I was still in the car and I couldn’t understand a word they where saying, just the tone. ‘Lo Siento. No Entiendo!’ (sorry, I don’t understand) was all I could say in the panic! They made me get out of the car and stand on the pavement. I was now really beginning to shit my pants as they were all very serious. I tried to communicate by speaking in very limited and broken Spanish and lots of hand waving only to have them tell me to ‘Be Silent’ and ‘Keep Calm’. This seemed to be all the English they could speak. They wouldn’t allow me to call anyone or do anything!!! I started to really sweat when one copper got my car and drove off. I thought he was taking it away!!! It was ok, he was only moving it out the road of traffic. Because I couldn’t understand them, who knew what they were doing with my car??? I asked what I had done wrong with one of the more helpful cops who told me (in broken English) that I had run a red light… I thought to myself ‘All this fuss over a red light?!’ I couldn’t even remember which red light I could’ve run? I didn’t see anymore lights… Finally after lots of Spanglish, more hand waving and a thorough car search, Sally called my mobile Hallelujah! I told her to get her butt down stairs with our passports and our Spanish phrase book so we could ask the cops what they wanted to do with us. One of the cops looked at our phrasebook with much amusement when he read the line 'These drugs are for my personal use'. We were told we had to follow them to the police station so with me in the driver’s seat, Sal in the back, cop next to me in the front and a cop next to Sal in the back, we made our way to the cop station. We walked into the station with all eyes on us… we felt so conspicuous! Spot the tourist… Not one copper in the station could speak English and they had no access to an interpreter! No joke! After failing to get in touch with Marcos at his restaurant we finally got hold of Adriana who spoke to the police and interpreted for us - apparently the police were looking for a couple of similar description to Sal and I who stole a car like ours with British number plates and were supposedly on the run in Spain… Lovely coincidence! I guess we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time! Unfortunately we had to go the police headquarters to sign a book to say they had checked our passports. After two hours with the police they escorted us to Avante Garde where Marcos works so we could pick up his keys so we could get our stuff. One of the nicer cops who had been the most helpful gave Marcos an explanation of our situation and with a very warm farewell he let us go free!... Yah! We couldn’t get out of Gijon fast enough after that. Good story for the Grandkids. One that we’ll certainly not forget in a hurry!

We ended up arriving in San Sebastian at about 7pm and hung out at the hotel for the night (we were exhausted from the day) before leaving for Saint Emilion, France in the morning.


Sal's bit: So I was waiting for Tim to get the car so we could pack it to leave for San Sebastian....'geez, he was taking his time! What the hell is he doing' I thought to myself. So I gave him a call, only to hear on the other end...'Thank God you called, I've been pulled over by the cops and I can't understand a word they're saying. Can you come down here with our passports and phrasebook!' So with a half blow dried head, I went down there with my heart racing the whole way. We were both a bit shaken up about it all, but in the end we didn't have anything to hide, oh except for the drugs lol, so we just stayed calm and went along for the ride. Because in the end, that's what it entertaining ride and a bloody good story.

Our final days in Spain (for now)

We left the small village of Zarautz on Sat Nov 14 and headed for Santander where we arrived late. I was having another bad day with pain, so I (Sal) hung out in the pension (budget hotel) and watched Packed to the Rafters on the laptop while Tim went out on the town with Marcos & Adriana (again- boo hoo). Our last day of travel back to Gijon with Marcos and Adriana was spent stopping at some stunning coastal villages and having another 3 course lunch along the way. I think we were all feeling pretty tired from the full week that we had and we were ready for a good sleep. It is pretty incredible to now reflect on the experiences we had during that week and the privilege it was to be travelling with locals who also happened to be our friends. We got to experience the Spanish culture from the inside so to speak and for us, that was pretty special.

When we got back, I think we all needed a bit of space from each other or at least to get out of each other’s pockets. So for the next couple of days, Tim and I did our own thing while Marcos and Adri prepared to go back to work. We savoured the sunshine in Gijon, explored the coastal city a bit and we ate in Marcos’ restaurant Avante Garde for the second time. We can say now, that eating Marcos’ food was the biggest culinary highlight of our time in Spain – now considering Spain is famous for its food, that’s a pretty big statement. Marcos, you are a veeeeery talented man! All we can say is thank you so much! In fact, we have to say a massive thank you to Marcos and Adri who are probably reading this, for taking us in and making us feel like part of their family. We won’t forget their genuineness and hospitality.

So the day we left Gijon – November 19, was an interesting day to say the least. Read on...


Friday, November 13, 2009

San Sebastian

After an entertaining day on Tim’s 29th birthday, we drove to San Sebastian – Spain’s gastronomic capital and a stunning seaside town that is obviously a very popular place to visit. We booked into a luxurious four-star hotel where Adriana managed to get us 40% off through her connections – sweet! It was nice to say the least and the bed was like sleeping on clouds!

When we arrived in San Sebastian, the weather was borderline monsoonal – crazy wind and rain, we didn’t know if we wanted to leave the hotel! However there was obviously too much to see and amazing food to be tried so we braved the weather, hopped into a taxi and went out to a pretty fancy restaurant where the food was incredible. Despite not living up to our previous gastronomic experience at Marcos’ restaurant in Gijon it was impressive nonetheless. The bill of about AU$400 for all of us did hurt the hip pocket a little bit, but asked ourselves – when do we really get to experience restaurants like this? That was our excuse anyway….ha! We finished dinner at about 12:30am and we were all ready for bed after a long drive that day, but the question was, how were we going to hit the sack with our bellies so full! I think we both felt a bit sick laying down that night and we woke in the morning still feeling like we’d just eaten!

Unfortunately I woke up that morning with excruciating pain in my lower back and hip – as most of you would know, the recovery after my hip operation has been extremely complicated, but I honestly thought I was past the worst of it. When I woke in this much pain, you can imagine how devastated I was….I wasn’t leaving the hotel room that day, because I couldn’t walk! So, for me this was one of my lowest points of the whole trip….Tim went out with Marcos and Adriana to check out the beautiful sights of San Sebastian while I was stuck inside four walls. I couldn’t understand why this was happening and it was that day I felt extremely homesick. I desperately wanted and still want, to experience to the full everything I can on this trip and being limited by my body is a real downer. The thing I have to keep holding onto is everything usually makes sense in hindsight. I have learned a lot about life and myself through all of this – the journey continues. At least I got to eat the entire contents of the mini bar (almost) that day! lol

So as I said, Tim went out with Marcos and Adri that day – here’s his version of events….

Started off the day on the foreshore at a placed called the Windcomb. All along the foreshore were many sculptures by a well-known artist, which were amazing. After spending a couple of hours walking along the foreshore we arrived at the Old Quarter of San Sebastian. The Old Quarter is filled with narrow laneways plenty of Pinchos bars. Again the vino and pinchos started flowing again as we proceeded from bar to bar, I was starting to feel quite sick from going to bed on a full stomach every night and really needed a break from the excessive food and alcohol lifestyle of the Spanish. On this particalur day the King of Spain was in town to open a new section of the aquarium. The atmosphere of the place seemed to be on edge as there was a lot of police activity. I grew to learn from Marcos and Adriana that the reason there were a lot of police was because there is a known terrorist group that fights for the independence of the Basque country from Spain. They are sort of an extremist group that have terrorist bombing attacks from time to time to make their point. Many of the police were wearing balaclavas to hide their identity to avoid being personally targeted by the terrorists. As we continued through the old quarter we came to a bar were I could tell Marcos and Adriana were a little edgy about entering (which I didn’t fully understand the reason at the time) but we decided to go in anyway. There were some crazy looking characters smoking weed, not really caring about the fact that it was illegal. Marcos told me the police turn a blind eye to it as long as they are not doing it in public; the police have bigger fish to fry. I saw there were Basque flags available at the bar and wanted to buy one only to be told by Marcos and Adriana that I should buy one elsewhere otherwise I would most probably be directly funding the terrorist group. So I left it…

Already feeling full, we made our way for another gastronomic session at a restaurant on a hill were I tried salmon roe (eggs) for the first time and loved it! It was a good meal but I still think Marcos’s cuisine was better. Although the chocolate dessert I had was absolutely amazing. It was filled with chocolate pieces that crackled in your mouth; a bit like the chocolate I tried a couple of days ago. The views of the city from the restaurant were beautiful to say the least.

After being more than full to the brim, I decided to return to the hotel to give Sal some company because I felt really sorry that she had missed out on such a great experience. We hung out there until about 8pm when Sal was feeling a bit better and was keen to go out for some non-minibar food. So we went out and managed to eat more pinchos! Not sure how that was possible!

Sal – Thankfully, I was feeling a bit better the next day (Thurs Nov 12) and was able to get out to see the beautiful city of San Sebastian. The sun was shining and it was about 20 degrees so I was loving it! Although I was still feeling a bit sore, it’s amazing what a bit of the sun’s rays on your skin can do for making you feel a whole lot better. San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen…..every building has been so creatively built, with the old and new perfectly blended together and it’s set right on the ocean surrounded by mountains. Tim and I walked the laneways of the old quarter, ate more pinchos, had another 3 course lunch and wandered along the boardwalk on the foreshore. It was such a relaxing day that we were able to spend on our own as Marcos and Adriana went to experience a Michelin star restaurant at 180Euros per head!!! It would have been nice to join them, but we just could not justify 300 Australian dollars each for lunch no matter how amazing the food was. Maybe for another time, when we’re richer!

Marcos and Adriana picked us up at about 7pm and we drove to our next stop on our way back to along the coast – a small village called Zarautz.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A birthday to remember (finally, a post from Tim)

So it was my birthday on the 9th, I was hoping something special would be in store. As it turned out it was a huge day! Just wait…. Let me expand on that. The day started out with a whole miscommunication from Marcos about what time we need to leave that morning. Apparently, we needed to be up and down for breakfast by 9am and then leaving at 10. Well we got up on time but the bathroom wasn’t available, so instantly I new we weren’t going to be on time. When I made my own way down for breakfast there was a concerned look on everybody’s face who were present (those who couldn’t speak English). I could tell they were wondering why Sal wasn’t there. How do you communicate to people when you don’t speak their language that we were running late because the bathroom wasn’t available??? Well it resulted in lots of arm waving and broken singular words that I don’t think I understood myself.

After everything was clarified we finally said goodbye to those who were present of the family we stayed with and set off for the day. Amazing to see that even in the Spanish culture the old men cry when they see people they care about leave and not know when they may see each other again.

Our first stop was a winery in the Rioja region (don’t remember the name sorry) where we had a tour and tastings. The cellar was built deep into the underground some by hand many years ago. Exciting times seeing how wine is produced in other countries! The wine tasting was good and would say it could give SA a run for its money on some wines.

We then made our way with Marcos, Adriana and the their good friends (who couldn’t speak English mind you) to the little town where we were stopping for the night. I must mention again that people here don’t do lunch and dinner at 12 and 6, hence the reason we were drinking vino (wine) and pinchos (Spanish finger food) right through to past midnight! We went from bar to bar in a horseshoe shape ordering pinchos and vino in each new bar we entered. On our bar hopping adventures, one bar was offering wine from a drinking contraption called a Porron. A Porron (pronounced pirrone) is like a small version of a decanter but with a long skinny spout for pouring directly into your month. A Northern Spanish tradition of drinking wine with no wine glasses involved lots of fun and spilt wine. The barman heard that it was my birthday and gave me a Porron as a gift - stoked! Lots of fun to be had with it when we get back to Oz! Not sure what I'd do if it got broken though....mmm. When we finally settled in the last bar for the evening, Sal had a couple of baileys and set of to bed as she is a light weight now days, while we carried on to the wee hours of the morning, carrying on the vino theme before moving on to some serious local rum and coke cocktails which made the communication thing a whole lot more interesting. With a bit of liquid courage into me I now thought I was a linguistic master trying to interpret everything and be involved in the Spanish spoken conversations… to no prevail, so it seemed.

As dawn approached we decided that we all should hit the sack as it was 3 am and we had another day of travelling ahead of us. All the guys decided that we would meet downstairs for coffee at 8.30 in what turned out to be a failed attempt of all other parties but me as they rocked up at 9 where I had already decided to go back to bed a long time ago. So much for being punctual.

Anyway, it turned out to be a brilliant birthday – certainly one to remember. To top it off, I got 30 personal messages on facebook to wish me a happy birthday! Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not just a tourist, but part of the family!

We left Gijon on Sunday and made our way to the family home of Marcos’ friends located in a remote village called Valpoesta in the Basque country where we stayed the night. This would have to be one of the major highlights of our trip so far despite the fact that the whole family didn’t speak a word of English. From the moment we stepped into their home though, they accepted us as if we were their own. Thankfully, Marcos and Adri did interpret for us a bit, but we also tried to communicate using lots of hand movements and our phrasebook – although the phrasebook proved pretty useless in this situation! It just didn’t contain what we wanted to say! Lol They cooked us a beautiful meal (first time we had squid ink risotto – surprisingly yum) and we sat around eating and drinking vino (wine) all night, getting merry and having a good laugh trying to decipher what we were all trying to say! It was Tim’s birthday the next day and it was such a special moment when the clock struck midnight and everyone sang happy birthday to him in Spanish and then in English – a rare moment we really should have captured on video. They then cracked open a bottle of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) to celebrate the occasion. It felt so surreal at the time, that we were sitting around the table with a Spanish family, experiencing REAL grassroots culture and incredible hospitality. What an amazing privilege that we were definitely not taking lightly!

We were so mesmerised by their beautiful, multi-level farmhouse - the solid wood beams, colours, textures, shapes and the food on display were straight out of a dream, only this was real! How do you comprehend or take all this in? Their home is situated amongst the mountains of the Basque Country, such a gorgeous location, one that we didn’t appreciate until the next morning because we arrived so late the night before. I won’t forget the moment that I got out of bed and went to the window – I think my jaw hit the floor right then and there! WOW!! Time to pinch myself! Ancient buildings, Church steeple, mountains, lush greenery, dew on the grass…. I literally wanted to capture in a frame every glance at this utter beauty and take it home with me.

That morning, the man of the house (Marcos’ friend Paul’s Dad - can’t remember his name) showed us around an old Church located next door. The Church dated back to 804 A.D. and despite it being extremely run down, it was full of gold detail and displayed the original robes worn by the priests - fascinating and beautiful.

We left there feeling sad because in one night we had become a bit attached to this beautiful family. Paul’s Dad actually had tears in his eyes as we drove away and it really spoke to us about how much love this family has to give. We were blown away.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A pinnacle moment of gastronomy

So for those of you who are on facebook and saw my status would know that I promised to blog about the BEST food we have EVER eaten….well here goes….

It’s probably better described as our best all round experience in a restaurant, from the service, to the wine, to the atmosphere, the cocktails, to the 9 course degustation menu, everything was incredible and an experience that is actually a little difficult to put into words…ones that will do it justice anyway. I’m talking about the restaurant called Avante Garde where Marcos (our friend) is the head chef.

We arrived at 10pm for an aperitif before dinner – yes it was that late! Still getting used to the culturally late dinner times here, trying to get past the feeling of dozing off with my head on the table immediately after finishing my meal…anyway, the waiter, who thankfully knew some English, went through the wine list with us with some recommendations – we have never known any waiter to describe wine with such articulate detail and passion. After a couple of glasses of wine at the bar, a little dish arrived in front of us which we studied for a while to try and work out what it was, but it was definitely inviting! So we eagerly took our spoon and tried what we found out was quail egg. We’d never had quail egg before, but it was so smooth and creamy in texture and the delicacy and simplicity of the flavours were so good. It definitely wet our appetite for the remainder of the menu which was:

Salted-cured foie terrine (pate) with beetroot and red berries;

Lobster salad with "salmorejo" and melon

Monkfish with smoked aubergine puree

Vegetables tempura with 3 sauces

Dim Sum (surf n turf)

Pizza Avante Garde (Flore di latte mozzarella, iberico ham and truffle oil)

Sirloin steak with creamy mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms

Dessert - No dairy cream caramel with milk infused ice cream

The combination of flavours, the delicacy, the simplicity and the presentation of this food was an experience that we’ll never forget. Every bite was beyond delicious and honestly could not be faulted in any way – now that is a huge thing to say from two massive ‘hard to please’ food critics, when it comes to restaurants anyway. It completely blew our expectations out of the water! To top off the night, Marcos left the kitchen early to come and have after dinner drinks with us. We showered him with compliments about the food, but the question is, how do you describe to a modest chef just how good the food was in a way that he really gets it? Does he really know just how good of a chef he is? We would probably say world class! Maybe he does get it, who knows.

Another experience that won't be leaving our memory any time soon!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

No Entiendo.

No Entiendo – the Spanish word we’ve used the most since we arrived in Gijon at 12:30pm yesterday! Can you guess what it means? ‘I don’t understand’ lol. Needless to say, communicating with the people here has been somewhat challenging and a little frustrating!

We are staying with our friends, Marcos & Adriana. We met them through when they stayed with us in Adelaide about the same time last year. They are absolutely adorable people and we had such a connection the first time we met them. Keeping in touch has been effortless and it is now a really nice feeling to be with good friends in such a foreign place here in Gijon. It’s a bonus that they speak English! ;-)

We had about a 2 and a half hour drive from Bilbao (where the ferry docked) to Gijon. It was our first time driving on the right hand side of the road and we couldn’t read a word on any of the street signs. All we could think was ‘shit too bad if we’re breaking the law’ lol

With Marcos and Adriana both working in the afternoon, we decided to have a wander around the city and maybe have some lunch. Spaniards’ lunch time is traditionally 2-4pm, so we waited until then to find somewhere to eat. The only problem was ,that it took us about 10 minutes to read every menu that looked remotely in our price range and it was DRAINING!! You could imagine the locals amusement seeing two foreigners standing outside a restaurant with their phrasebooks trying to translate the menu! Especially in a town where foreigners are basically non-existent! At that point we said to each other – hmmmm, maybe we should have spent more time studying our phrasebook before coming to Spain. We finally found a place to eat and we decided to order from the Menu Del Dia which in Spain, is a 2-3 course set lunch menu for a very good price (generally). We recognised Paella on the menu and thought ‘yes, our first Paella in the land of Paella’….so we went in and asked the waiter “Habla Ingles?” (Do you speak English) only to hear “No”. ‘Shit, ok here goes’….the waiter said something but we had no idea what, so of course we responded “No Entiendo”. We managed to ask for the Menu Del Dia and then were told “No”. What the hell did he mean? Could we not have anything from that menu? Obviously not, but we didn’t know why at first, then worked out that it was just before 4pm, so they had sold out or were just not serving that menu as lunch was almost over. So after our experience there, we went to a supermarket where reading the labels was also a bit impossible, but we recognised a few words/items mostly in the confectionery/biscuit range which didn’t really help with our need for lunch. We resorted to buying some tomatoes and cheese and had this on top of cruskits which we had bought with us from the UK.

That evening we went out with Marcos and Adri to a traditional Spanish cyder bar where the barman pours the cyder from over his head into the glass held at waist height (entertaining). Then we moved onto a wine bar where we sampled some fine Spanish wine and tapas. The experience of both places was good, but the food/cyder nothing to rave about. It was also very strange to be in bars where every second person smokes. I think we forgot how disgusting it is to eat/drink around smokers!

After leaving the last bar, I think it was then that it really hit me – ‘we are a veeeery long way from home’. I actually started to tear up and felt quite overwhelmed about being here. I guess what I was experiencing was culture shock. Not only could we not communicate with anyone in our own language, but not being able to read signs, menus or food labels was a bit much for one day For me anyway (keeping in mind that this is my very first visit to a non-English speaking country). It would be interesting to know what your first experience was like – leave your comments after this post. I know it will get easier as time goes on and soon I will be thinking what the hell was I getting myself so worked up over!! (As you do in hindsight with a little bit more experience under your belt)

I think Tim probably felt a bit better about it all – here is what he has to say…….

Tim: Its been an interesting experience so far. I haven’t really been overwhelmed with the culture shock here. I think I got over that when I was in Bali in the year 2000 where I had trouble getting over the filthy, smelly environment and the poor communication with the locals. What does make it harder being here than most other touristy places is that hardly anyone speaks English… at all. When you are travelling to well known places, you take refuge in the fact that there is likely to be other tourists who speak English, but not here. We are very thankful to have Marcos and Adri speak to us in English!

So…funnily enough, today we went back to the same restaurant for a second go at ordering from the Menu Del Dia but we weren’t that hungry, so we decided to just order for one and share. That was until we heard from the waiter a resounding ‘no’ when we asked to ‘compartir’ (share). He then rattled off something else in Spanish and we responded with our well practiced word – ‘No Entiendo’. The waiter just threw his hands in the air! ahhh! We worked out, that he was trying to tell us that we needed to order two servings if we wanted to eat there, but it was 12 Euros a head and we weren’t very hungry. So, a little sheepishly, we said “Lo siento” (sorry) and left the restaurant. We ended up having cruskits again for lunch! Lol At least we can say we tried! And I guess we will keep trying. J

Tonight we are eating dinner at Marcos’ restaurant where he is the head chef and he has already planned a menu for us (what a treat!!)… so it will be a nice little break from trying to decipher Spanish menus! For a little while anyway ;-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Craving stillness - literally!

Ahhh! We’ve had hardly any sleep and we’re so tired! We hit the worst of the weather at about 3am this morning with a 9-10 metre swell!! The waves were crashing against the ship so hard, that we heard loose cargo clanging and banging around underneath us. It was so loud that it made our whole cabin shake! Little did we realise, that we were placed in a room near the front of the boat that apparently bares the brunt of the turbulent waves. It was worse than any turbulence we’ve ever experienced in a plane, plus we had that giddy, negative G stomach thing going on! So yes, we were feeling pretty sick however we have managed so far to avoid driving the porcelain bus – just! Lol. Thankfully after that episode we were moved to a better cabin at the back of the boat which had a little less sway. It was a significant difference.

This arvo the Captain announced our delayed arrival would only be 2 hours instead of the original 24. Yeeew! Thank God! We haven’t been handling the motion sickness all that well (can you tell? ;-) and can’t wait to set foot on dry land in Spain in the morning.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sea legs and stomach...

So here we are, we have boarded the ferry and we are on our way to Spain. The weather forecast is lousy and as a result we will be arriving 24 hours later, meaning we have about 65 hours of rocking and our insides doing somersaults! So much for ‘big ship, smooth sailing’! It sort of feels like you’ve had way too much to drink without touching a single drop (thankfully)– we have been ‘dancing around’ our cabin, with the sudden urge of needing to sit/lay down and QUICK! Hmmm, we may be driving the porcelain bus sometime on this trip ;-) Not sure if travel sickness tablets are going to cure this one!

Maybe the fact that our stomachs were already churning before getting on the ferry had something to do with it – because we lost our compact digi camera today! Well, it was today that we discovered it was missing anyway. The only possible explanation that we have come up with is that I (Sal) was pick pocketed at Heathrow airport on Sunday! Grrr! So we’ve made a police report and hopefully we can claim that one back on our insurance. It was a stressful day looking for it and we are pretty disappointed that we’re not going to have a ‘point and shoot’ for the Spain/France leg of our trip. What a lesson eh! Normally, our awareness is heightened when it comes to protecting our things while travelling, but because we were picking up friends from the airport, we weren’t in travel mode and I guess our guards were down. Can’t believe how professional those pick pocketers are! I remember someone bumping into me, but I didn’t think anything of it. You live and learn. Lucky for us, all our pics were uploaded to our pc and we didn’t lose any precious memories. After all, things can always be replaced.

Back to the ferry….tonight we thought we’d cruise into the show bar for some entertainment titled ‘Broadway’. Well needless to say, it lived up to the cruise ship reputation of being extremely cheesy but it was a good laugh nonetheless. We had performance snippets from Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Hey Big Spender, Footloose and We Will Rock You. Singing was out of tune, dancing out of time and the cast was made up of colourful characters – I’m sure you can imagine our amusement!

We’re off to bed now, hoping we will actually get to have some sleep tonight because the boat is a rockin!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gearing up for Spain and France

So here we are, back in Cheltenham UK after an incredible time in Iceland! We’ve been having some down time the last few days and we’re ready to go again, next stop Spain. If we had our time over, we probably would have not planned so much time in between trips – we are finding that we are getting extremely bored very quickly and there’s not a whole lot going on in Cheltenham.

So we have been filling our time with catching up on emails, chatting to people on skype/facebook (which as you know, can take up half the day), washing, cooking and other boring stuff. In some ways, I actually like having some days of normality in between being so completely outside of my comfort zone, just not too many that boredom sets in, like now!

We’re driving to Plymouth, UK on Wednesday (Nov 4) and heading to Bilbao, Spain on a 35 hour ferry ride. This ferry, a P&O cruise liner has a cinema, restaurants, casino, health spa, gym and shopping so I’m thinking we may not want that 35 hours to end! Whilst in Spain we will be staying with our couch surfer friends (the same couple who stayed with us in Oz) in Gijon, Asturias and during their week off work are going to show us around and make sure we’re introduced to amazing food and wine! Wooooo! Can’t wait to delve into the Spanish world of culinary delights!!

Not sure how long we will stay in Spain, but the plan is to drive back to the UK through France, wine regions etc.

Today, we were studying our phrasebook to learn some Spanish because it sort of hit us that we probably won’t be able to communicate with anyone there if we don’t! Ahh! We have actually known that for quite some time, but we’ve been a bit slack and I guess you could say that it’s crunch time! Nothing like a deadline to motivate you hey! Trying to roll my tongue today for some of the ‘r’ words was nothing short of hilarious!! I can’t roll my tongue to save my life!! Of course I will keep giving it a go, even if I am a source of entertainment! I will admit that we buy a ‘point it’ book today to use as a last resort if someone doesn’t have the foggiest what we’re trying to say. ‘What’s a point it book’ I hear you ask! Well lets just say that it is a whole book of pictures of things you may need that you can point at instead of trying to work out how to ask for it. Yes, very slack but could prove to be handy.

This will be our first experience of being immersed in a non-english speaking environment…….should have some good stories to tell from this one! Haha

Til next time,

Sal x

Monday, October 26, 2009

A series of moments in Iceland

Iceland.....what a unique experience this was - well probably our most unique yet at least. In a nutshell, the landscape was so surreal and different to anything we've ever experienced. We were in awe of our surroundings and we know now, that 3 nights was definitely not enough time to spend there.

We arrived in Keflavik airport from London and took a coach to Reykjavik. The bus driver took our bags to load into the bus and Tim asked him if he needed a hand. We were met with a confused look - like what the hell was he on about? We both had a chuckle to ourselves and realised we were actually in a country where English is not necessarily spoken by everyone. We got on the bus on the opposite side to usual and as we drove off, it felt so strange to be on the 'wrong' side of the road! Like we were about to have a head on collision at any moment. haha.

We arrived at our hotel at about 1am after a half hour hike uphill with our bags. We decided not to pay the extra dosh for a hotel transfer from the bus station because according to the cashier's directions, it was only a 5 minute walk to the hotel. Yeah right! We did make our walk a little longer though by wandering right past our hotel and continuing onward for about 10 minutes until we had to ask for directions. Funnily enough, the guy we stopped to ask was Aussie who had been living in Iceland for years! So, we eventually found our hotel and crashed after a very long day of catching buses, a train and a plane.

Getting ready for bed, Tim decided to have a shower to freshen up and I was a tad concerned that the water smelled like a sewer! We worked out later, that it was actually the smell of sulphur in the water which is warmed naturally by hot volcanic springs. We learned that this smell is everywhere in Iceland! Peeew!!

We got out of bed earlier than usual to make the most of the 3 days we had in Iceland. As I usually do when I get up, I pulled back the curtains and was met with ice/snow covered mountains in the distance. I don't really know what I expected to see, but it certainly wasn't anything this beautiful. Up until this point, I had never seen real snow (I know, shock horror!) and knowing that I would be holding it in my hands in the next couple of days, well what can I say....I was having a moment, where something in my spirit leapt. Know the feeling?

We spent the morning wandering around the streets of Reykjavik, familiarising ourselves with our new surroundings. I guess the biggest things that struck us were the multi-coloured, multi-textured buildings/roofs, the mountainous backdrop and of course the cold!! Although it wasn't as cold as what we expected....and not as much ice as we expected either! The temp was about 5 degrees. It took us a while to find an open cafe for breakfast because most shops don't open until 10am in Iceland - they obviously understand that a good lifestyle includes a sleep in. We finally found a little cafe and had an impressive omelette (although it did have that slight sulphur taste) with an amazing coffee (we discovered later, that Icelandics make some of the best coffee we have ever tasted). We had a good laugh over one of the breakfast menu items....'The Hangover Killer', consisting of a hangover sandwich and a Bruce Willis shake with Jack Daniels and a Treo painkiller tablet. Serving alcohol with painkillers - classic!
In the arvo, we caught a bus to the Blue Lagoon. For those of you who don't know what that is, basically it's a famous hot spring for bathing in - click on this link for more info We had such a relaxing experience in this eery yet amazingly beautiful place. The air was so cold, the water so warm and being surrounded by blue sky, ice capped mountains and volcanic rock was simply out of this world! We gained much amusement from plastering ourselves with the silica mud mask on offer which is naturally produced and refined from the lagoon. All the Asian tourists were horrified that we had our non-waterproof camera in the water (of course we were very careful to hold it out of the water) but we were so glad we risked getting it wet coz the pics are awesome! See for yourself....
We left the Blue Lagoon and were surprised by how wrecked we were! All we felt like doing was going to bed! I guess that meant we were extremely relaxed ;-). We got back to the hotel and decided we didn't want to waste a moment in Iceland so we were going to head out again and of course we needed to take the camera. One problem.....we couldn't find the camera!!! Ahhhhh!! You know the feeling of losing something that is so precious? Yeah well we were kinda feelin like that except I just went into complete melt down! We thought we must have left it on the bus, so Tim got on the blower to the bus company to find that they hadn't come across it, our heart sank. While Tim was still on the phone, I frantically searched our bags again, throwing things around our hotel room like a mad woman, camera nowhere to be seen. The drama of it all really did make me lose the plot a bit, especially when we had just taken some amazing pics at the blue lagoon that could never be replaced unless we returned to the country. So...I crouched to my knees and put my head on the floor, had a cry and asked God to help us find it. And....wouldn't you know, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black loop peeking out from underneath the bedspread on the floor. My heart leapt, I reached in and there it was!! Woooooohooooo!! The sense of relief was incredible!! Thank God those memories were not lost!

After a few beers, some chocolate cake and hanging out with some fellow Aussies and German guys staying at our hotel, we ended up hitting the sack ready for our 8:30am-7pm tour the next day.

Whilst most people we spoke to at our hotel chose a tour that was on an impersonal big coach, with a mono toned speaking tour guide, we struck it lucky with a brilliant tour guide (Hushy) and a mini-bus with 7 other people! Hushy told us heaps of interesting facts about Iceland and it's history including what to do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest - 'stop crawling around and stand up and you'll find your way' (the trees are really short, more like the Aussie scrub) lol. According to our guide, it is never windy in Iceland, it's simply the calm air rushing by haha. On the tour we visited some of the major sights outside of the main city - waterfalls, hot springs and the site of the original democratic Parliament, but the best part of the tour was the snow mobiling on Langjokull glacier. I rode with Tim which I obviously still haven't learned is a pretty stupid thing to do! Most of you who know Tim would also know that he's pretty fearless when it comes to most things, especially when riding anything motorised and he enjoys taking a risk or three....well to my horror, when we hit a patch of ice on this snow mobile, he decided he wanted to go for a bit of a slide. All I can say is that the 90 degree slide flung half my body off, with my arms clutching onto Tim for dear life! Needless to say, Tim copped a few hard punches from me for his efforts!
We stopped at the top of the glacier to admire the view and it was here we had another moment. We were in awe again. One of those times which I think really can't be truly appreciated until later, although I think I actually shed a tear while looking out into the horizon. I guess for me, being on the top of a glacier was a spiritual moment where I was able to reflect what I had actually conquered, the fears that I had faced head on to get here and I was now at the top of the mountain. It was all so worth it!

Since Iceland's main industry is fishing, we thought we couldn't leave Iceland without trying their seafood. So that night we wandered around until we found a menu that was actually affordable (meal prices in the average restaurant in Iceland are the equivalent to 30-40 Aussie dollars). We saw several menus that had whale listed as well as Puffin bird and we discovered that these are delicacies in Iceland. No we didn't try whale as I'm sure you're wondering, morally we really couldn't bring ourselves to eat any. Our tour guide did tell us that Icelandics only hunt certain types of whales that are in high population and these numbers are monitored to make hunting sustainable. Hmmmm, not sure about that one. We also found horse on a menu! Nooooo! I guess anything cultural is completely natural to that particular culture. Anyway, we did find amazing seafood that night and we were more than satisfied.
The next day morning we spent our last few hours walking the streets of Reykjavik reflecting on what we had experienced and to really appreciate the beauty of this place for the last time, in a while at least. We were disappointed that we didn't get to experience the spectacular phenomena of the Northern Lights ( because both nights we were there it was too cloudy. Of course the weather cleared up on the day we were leaving! A good friend told us not so long ago that wherever you visit, u should always leave something for next time, so I guess this gives us a good reason to return to this beautiful country.

"We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand.....and melting like a snowflake" Marie Beyon Ray

Treasure the moments :-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Penguin Bars No Substitute for Tim Tams

So before coming here, I was concerned about having withdrawals from Tim Tams, considering I had at least 2 every day! I had several English friends who told me to try Penguin Bars, that they are actually better than Tim Tams. Well surprisingly, I actually came to terms with not having Tim Tams for a while until the other day when I was craving one and decided to try a Penguin Bar instead. Suffice to say, they are terrible!!! An Aussie version of homebrand Tim Tams.

I guess the good ol' Arnott's Tim Tams will always have my heart.

Anyone fancy bringing me some?? ;-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Northern England/Scotland Road Trip

I'm convinced that any journal, blog etc is at it's best when events are recorded soon after they's the best way of capturing exactly what occurred, including the raw emotion attached to those events. Well, as much as I believe that, it may not always be the case with this blog but we will keep trying! ;-)

So, this little road trip is our longest chunk of travelling since we've been in the UK. Can't give you every detail or I'll be here for hours, but here's a rough itinerary and some of the highlights...

We set out on Sun Oct 4 from Cheltenham and headed for the Lake District in northern England to a place called Millom - the home town of my (Sal) good friend Belinda who about a year ago migrated to Oz. We hung out with Belinda and her family for a couple of days while they were visiting home and were a bit spoilt with having her Mum's house to ourselves! The scenery in the Lake district is beautiful and we lapped it up during a ride on a steam train and a 'memorable' drive down an extremely windy road over the top of a mountain called Wrynose Pass. While in the Lake District, we also visited the villages Keswick, Windamere and Bowness. Bowness was probably our favourite place in the district - we adore quaint little villages set into the hillside on the side of a lake. The day we were there was quite cold but the air was still and the clouds were so low they were flowing over the mountains - stunning. This was the first time we'd seen clouds that low but of course it's not really that much of a novelty over here. We went to Muncaster castle, visited an owl sanctuary - amazing creatures and saw our first pebble beach. We ate out with Belinda, Michael (her partner) and their friends and tried black pudding - yuck!! What was even more gross was the smell of Tim's farts a bit later - so bad you could literally cut the air with a knife!! Vomit material! We won't be feeding Tim black pudding again that's for sure! For those of you who don't know what the stuff is, it's basically Pig/Cow blood with thickeners! Yeh that sounds appetising doesn't it!! But it's on all the menus here and people actually order it!
So.. from the Lake District we drove to Edinburgh, Scotland (Oct 7) where we couch surfed with Angie for 3 nights. We absolutely loved this place! We just couldn't believe the age and beauty of this city, it literally felt like we were walking back in time with so much history every where we looked. We have only been to a few castles, but have been too stingy to pay to enter them (or maybe we thought the price was ludicrous!!!), however we could not complain about the price or even contemplate skipping the famous Edinburgh Castle. I'm sure that those of you who have been into a good castle or two can agree that it's a bit like walking into a movie set or something. To imagine that people actually inhabited Edinburgh Castle and many people were held prisoner there was extremely surreal. Ok, now I'm really sounding like a novice traveller!! I'm not someone who really gets into the history side of things (although I probably should), but I was definitely interested in this one! We joined a 20 minute guided tour of the castle with an older dude (Jim) who really knew his Scottish history! He also spun a few entertaining yarns and we were intrigued by his obvious genuiness and love for his country. After the tour finished, we managed to have a chat with him and he told us about a place called Glen Nevis in the Highlands that we 'must' visit....we tucked this one away in our memory.
In Edinburgh we had the best Indian curry we've ever eaten, although we did order a tad too much but couldn't complain about being able to take a doggy bag home! :-) We spent alot of time wandering around the city just admiring the surroundings - we did so much walking in those 3 days and Edinburgh is certainly not flat! In fact, the whole city is built on multiple levels! It was the most walking I had done in a while, but I was so stoked to be able to do it. It's amazing how much you appreciate being able to walk when you haven't been able to for some time. In Edinburgh we also tried haggis in a sausage which was pretty bad - although it was probably because I just couldn't get past what I knew was in it! Mmmmmm, brains, liver, tongue, kidneys. We were game enough to taste it again later and found out that it can actually taste nice - sort of like a good meat pie without the pastry. So I guess now u know what you're really eating when you bite into a good Aussie meat pie eh?!
From Edinburgh we headed for Fort William in the Scottish Highlands (Oct 10). I don't think we really knew what to expect because the only thing we could say was 'WOW' as we drove into the mountains. When you see something that magnificent, it literally leaves you speechless. And it's even harder to put into words here. We had decided that we wouldn't book accommodation for the next few days, we would 'wing it'. Now, for those of you who know me well, know that when it comes to venturing into the unknown, I don't really like to 'wing it', I'd much prefer to plan or maybe the better word is 'control' what I can to make sure everything works out. Well, for me this was a little step toward trying to control things a little less!! ha! And it was definitely the right decision!! In Fort William, we found this little B&B just out of town and what we got was such a treat. A little house set on a fairly secluded property with mountains as the backdrop, generous, friendly and 'go the extra mile' hosts, gorgeous room with a comfy bed and a breakfast feast to die for!! We didn't want to leave there, but the hosts were off to Turkey!
We were in the vicinity of Glen Nevis and after hearing about it from the Edinburgh Castle tour guide, we knew we should definitely check it out. Little did we know, it was a bit of a hike/climb....I didn't know if I was ready for that yet but I thought - stuff it, I'm gonna give it a go! It was so worth it! The trickling water, greenery, rocks, steep drop offs and mini waterfalls on the way up were pretty amazing. What was even more amazing was what we found at the end of the 2m wide opened up into a wide open space with an incredible body of water gushing down the side of a mountain (otherwise known as a waterfall ;-) We were in awe.
We left Fort William and made our way to Portree on the Isle of Skye (Oct 11). Despite the things we'd heard about how beautiful Skye is, we felt a bit sad to leave the heart of the highlands and were a bit underwhelmed with the scenery at first. Then we really had to remind ourselves to hold back from comparing and just appreciate what each place has to offer even if it doesn't seem as beautiful as the last. We arrived in Portree when we were losing light and hadn't found any accommodation. We stopped at a B&B and saw the room, but the host was rude and unfriendly and we knew it just wasn't right. If we are going to pay the money to stay in a B&B we want to enjoy the experience and have some connection with the host. Anyway, we drove around the town for a while and to cut a long story short, we found a room right on the harbour of Portree with a million dollar view (maybe not quite that but almost) for a bargain price!

The next day we did the tourist loop of northern Skye and enjoyed the drive (Oct 12). We managed to get up close and personal with a couple of highland cows on this side of the fence. Weren't really sure how close we should get.......newspaper headline - 'Australian tourists mauled by a highland cow'. Hmmmm, too close would not be a good idea! haha!
Although we had planned to stay in Skye for 2 nights, we thought our time would be better spent back in the heart of the highlands, so we made our way toward Inverness not knowing where we'd end up for the night. What we did stumble across after stopping at several B&B's and losing light, was a 5 star hostel in a place called Drumnadrochit! Yeeeeah! Try and pronounce that one! We scored a double room with an ensuite for £35 a night! Nice!! That price was good enough for 2 nights and because there was alot we wanted to see in the area we decided that's exactly what we'd do!

We used the time to explore Glen Affric National Park. It's the middle of Autumn in the UK, but nowhere have we been struck by the multi-coloured, multi-textured surroundings like we were in this part of Scotland. Reds, purples, browns, greens, yellows of every shade, all within close vicinity to provide such contrasting beauty. I was mesmerised, in awe, stunned, amazed by our creator. It was incredible! We did multiple walks through different parts of the National Park, one where we walked down to Plodda Falls - yes another waterfall. I honestly don't think I could get sick of them! We got close enough to this one to feel the mist on our faces.

Late that afternoon we decided to take a drive to Inverness. Although we didn't have much light left in the day, we just wanted to check it out, have a wander around and get some dinner. We didn't end up seeing much of Inverness because it was bucketing down and we really didn't fancy wandering around in the rain we grabbed Indian takeaway and drove back to the hostel. Hey, at least we can say we've been to Inverness! As for Indian food in the UK, farout it's good! So much better than any curry I've found in Australia. I can now truly understand why all our Pom friends in Oz complain so much about not being able to find a good curry ;-)

The next day (Oct 14) we were off to spend some time with Nessie, but we couldn't seem to catch even a glimpse - that's right, of the Loch Ness monster. I've concluded, that the story of the Loch Ness Monster is one big marketing strategy to attract tourists! Or am I being cynical? Speaking of marketing - what is it with all the pubs over here....they all have 'good food' or 'real food' signs out the front. Is that the best they could come up with? lol
We made our way to Oban as a final stop in Scotland to discover that there was a major festival/singing competition called the MOD going on. The streets of this large sized fishing village were packed with crowds of people, many of whom were wearing kilts. A funny and weird sight was seeing a stocky bloke out front of a pub smoking a cigarette in a kilt!! haha. We drove around for 3 hours, stopping regularly hoping to find an accommodation vacancy with no luck. It was 6pm, getting dark and we were running out of options so we decided to just keep driving in what we thought was the direction of Newcastle (where we were going the next day). Despite finding out that we drove in the opposite direction to Newcastle, we did find a B&B about 15 mile outside of Oban and it was perfect - at least I thought it was in my tired state ;-) The great thing about Scotland is that the view from every window is always beautiful! It's the first thing I saw when I walked into the room and I immediately felt at home.
The following day we were sad to leave Scotland. We both felt such a connection with the place and had been so overwhelmed with the beauty we had encountered. We felt so relaxed and really in travel/holiday mode by this time and we wanted to savour the experience we had had. On our way to Newcastle, we stopped at Stirling in Scotland to visit the William Wallace Monument, which houses the sword of Mr Braveheart himself and we climbed the 247 steps to the top much to my disgust at the time, then to my delight when I admired the views at the top of those 247 steps. Knowing the story of William Wallace through watching the Braveheart movie made this a pretty special experience.
In Newcastle, we stayed with our friend - Carla's brother and his wife. We got along really well and they asked us what sort of things we wanted to see while we were there. I think at the time we were a tad exhausted and although we weren't expecting to feel like this, we just wanted to sleep in and hang around the house for a bit, especially because it was so cold and windy. So this is exactly what we did! I do feel slightly bad for not exploring Newcastle more especially when alot of the young people I work with are from there. We did see and cross the Tyne bridge though, the one that apparently inspired the design of the Sydney harbour.

So Newcastle concluded this little trip and we drove back to Cheltenham on Sat Oct 17, next stop Iceland!!

Btw, do you have any ideas of replacement words for 'beautiful', 'amazing' or 'incredible' because I think I'm going to wear them out ;-)