The adjustment period

Almost every single Australian that heads to the UK intends to return Down Under.  Some return after their one-year working holiday, pulling beers at their local pub and then blowing all the money they earned on a shitty flatshare in Shepherd’s Bush and a few Contiki tours.  For others, they end up settling into British life and staying longer than they had initially planned, until they get sick of the weather, and of moaning constantly about how things are better in Australia.

I was one of the latter antipodeans, and returned after three-and-a-bit years away.  Having been back in Australia for nine months now, all I can do is reminisce fondly about is how life was better in London.  Sure the weather was a bit crap, and people always mocked me for saying “thongs”, and “DAH-tah” instead of “DAY-tah”, but it’s only after coming back that I’ve realised in what an expensive, isolated, and history-deprived country we live.  Grocery shopping is a depressing experience when you realise that everything costs twice as much as the UK.  On my second day back in the country, my brother took me to a cafe where an almond croissant cost $5.50 and all I could think about was how it would only cost me £1.70 (less than $3!) in Paul.  Jumping in a plane for 2 hours will get you from London to Barcelona for a weekend city break, but doesn’t even get you from Sydney to Auckland.  And in the UK, you can visit cities that were formerly Norse kingdoms, and ancient Pagan stone circles.  In Australia, we have a some cave drawings in remote parts of the country, and Heritage-listed buildings that are only 100 years old.

Before you all tell me to bugger off back to Engerland, there are of course upsides to living in Australia.  It goes without saying that the weather is rather more pleasant, we have proper beaches, and we have great Asian food.  Our economy is still putting along rather nicely, and incomes are a damn sight better than they are in troubled UK economy.  The newspapers don’t just contain headlines about which married footballer was caught with his pants down with some seedy WAG wannabe.  And our transport system doesn’t grind to a halt from dumpings of snow:

 

It has taken me a little time to adjust back to Sydney life, but things are going well.  I have a new job and a new car, I’m back living in my little Balmain flat, and I have quite a few travel plans in the pipeline.  So all in all, life is good!  How are you guys going?

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No mezcal for me, thanks

After a manic week of people and pollution in Mexico City, it was a welcome relief to spend a few days in beautiful Oaxaca.  It’s a beautiful Spanish colonial town in the middle of three valleys, with a laid back and relaxed vibe.  There was a lot to do in the area – I wandered around the ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla, refreshed myself in the freezing cold springs of Hierve el Agua, saw the world’s widest tree (not as exciting as it sounds), and drank mezcal with a bunch of crazy Aussies from the hostel (the expensive golden stuff is OK, the clear stuff is like drinking paint stripper).

From there, I travelled to San Cristobal de las Casas, high up in the Chiapas mountains.  Being coffee country, I supercaffeinated myself and explored the hippie stores and lovely streets with alfresco dining and bars.

Despite desperate pleas from the Mexican manager of my hostel for me to change my ticket and stay in San Cristobal another night of salsa dancing (I’m clearly breaking hearts all over the country…ha!), I headed off to Palenque to see the amazing jungle ruins.  I had pretty high expectations of Palenque, since everyone told me how amazing they were, and I was not disappointed at all.  Our Spanish guide took us into the jungle to show us some unexcavated Mayan buildings, and gave us some fascinating background into the medicinal plants and the worshipping of Mayan deities.

 

For the last week or so, I’ve been chilling out in the Yucatan town of Merida, exploring the beautiful cenotes, the ruins of Uxmal, and indulging in some of the best pizza I’ve ever had (by Raffaello from Italy).  It’s a welcome break from the hectic travel schedule of the last two weeks, and is a bit of recuperation break before I head to the party towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen next week.

Well, Merida is known for its all-weekend festivities, so I’m off to find some beer!

Men in lycra and other DF sights

Mexico City is just buzzing with people.  Just when I thought that there could not possibly be any more people crammed into the streets or the metro, the weekend arrived!  I try to ignore the similarities to London’s Oxford Street on a weekend.

There is no shortage of interesting things to do and see in a city this big and with a history and culture so rich.  I’ve managed to cram in a lot of great tourist sights, such as awesome Teotihuacán, the National Palace, the Museum of Anthrolopogy (one of the best museums I’ve ever visited), the Catedral Metropolitana, the Templo Mayor, and the incredibly massive Chapultepec Forest and the Chapultepec Castle.

Some interesting or cool observations about Mexico City:

  • The mo’ is definitely still in!
  • Mexican men LOVE the “wet look”, and I have seen some absolutely enormous tubs of hair gel for sale in the markets
  • The Metro system is brilliant – regular and clean, and at less than 10p to anywhere
  • The smog and pollution here is slowly killing me
  • Looking like a backpacker, who doesn’t speak any Spanish, is enough to feign ignorance at all the touts or people trying to beg for money.

This evening, my mate Paul and I went to check out a fun family night out – the lucha libre!  It was much more entertaining than that WWE stuff that you occasionally glimpse whilst channel surfing (noone really admits to watching it right?), just because they don’t take themselves as seriously.  The star performer of the night was Místico, and he got us all whooping at his amazing acrobatics and amazing leg throws.

This was my super sneaky iPhone shot after my camera wasn’t allowed into the fight.

Of course, I was more than a little excited at all the lead up to the actual fight, with the wrestlers strutting out in their shiny jackets and capes, and then tearing off their velcro pants and tight tops, which had me swooning and squealing like a teenage girl at a Backstreet Boys concert.  At only 40 pesos, or less than 2 quid, for balcony tickets it has to be the cheapest strip show ever!

Tomorrow I am off to the beautiful city of Oaxaca.  Must remember to charge the iPod for the 6 hour bus ride.

Visiting the Queen

Having just learnt to ride a motorcycle the weekend before last, I hired a little 125cc for the weekend to practice my skills and rode out to the pretty town of Windsor.  I dropped by Windsor Castle, where the Queen’s standard was flying high on the Round Tower to indicate that she was in!

Having missed my appointment for tea and scones with Her Majesty, I wandered around the lavish State Apartments and marveled at the beautiful paintings and tapestries adorning all the walls.  The Drawing Room even had original sketches by Leonardo da Vinci.

The ride out and back was a good experience, with a wrong turn into Windsor Great Park giving me an idea of how terrifying it is to ride in crosswinds at 50mph.

I’m looking forward to getting a bike of my own sometime next year when i return from my mammoth 30th birthday backpacking trip.  It will hopefully be a largish bike – one that will be comfortable on weekends out in the British countryside and won’t be squealing like mad at 50mph in 5th gear!

An adventure in Belgian cuisine

At long last, my dear little bro arrived in London and I promptly whisked him away to a weekend in Belgium on the Eurostar.  We have both long been fans of mussels, chips with mayonnaise, Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate, and we weren’t disappointed on our visit here.

Bruges is very touristy, and it’s no surprise why when you see the beautiful medieval architecture and cobblestoned streets.  It didn’t take us long to find a decent-looking place that served mussels, and that set the tone for the weekend – mass feasting!

We took time out to do some exercise though, and our hotel had complimentary bicycle hire for its guests.  It seems like a romantic idea – cycling through cobblestoned streets – but in actual fact, the whole ordeal is just quite painful.  All that bouncing around on bikes without any suspension or seat padding results in a very sore arse!