Arriving in St Kilda, Melbourne

As I mentioned before, three days in Hong Kong just isn’t enough but I was ready to get to Australia at last! Another long flight loomed. This couldn’t be worse than the last one, right? Mostly.

I was on an aisle seat, which was fine. Two Chinese women were next to me and one wanted the aisle seat and the other the window seat. I didn’t want to be trapped between them so I politely said no. Unfortunately, they spoke no English. The flight attendant translated for us but somehow I got stuck in the middle anyway!

Without going into too much detail, I think I either got adopted or married, honestly not sure which. The only phrase they knew was “I love you” and it was said to me over and over! They were fascinated with my eyes and kept showing me pictures of their families. I fell asleep for an hour and woke up wrapped in three blankets. And they kept feeding me food! How awkward. Still, better than kids.

Anyway, I’ve been in St Kilda for just under two weeks and I’ve loved every moment…well, except one part.

Settling in and defeating jetlag

The first day was wasted, but it’s normal. I sorted out some boring stuff like banks and orientation and took myself on a short walk but mostly chilled at the hostel. A few drinks in the evening helped me settle and I met my first friend, who works at Base. We get on really well and this isn’t one of those who I’ll spend time with and forget, I’m sure we’ll keep in touch!

If you had told me before I arrived exactly what kind of hostel Base was, I probably wouldn’t have booked in. Too much partying and noise for an old git like me but actually, I think it was the best thing. It forced me to do things and get involved and that helped me get out of my shell a little. You might not think I need help with that but being so far away and knowing no one, that little push helped me get involved a little quicker. I’ll pop back every so often but I don’t think I need it anymore.

St Kilda Festival

The rock stage at St Kilda Festival

The rock stage at St Kilda Festival

Less than a week after I arrived, St Kilda Festival arrived. I didn’t know this was happening before I arrived but I was excited to go. It takes over the entire area, and is one of the biggest free festivals in the southern hemisphere! About 400,000 people were expected this year with stages and displays and arts stuff going on throughout the day.

Of course, I found the rock stage.

Saw some good bands and spent a nice day wandering and chilling in parks with some of the friends I’ve made since arriving. To have this right on my doorstep, literally, was a stroke of luck and while I get why residents avoided the area for the day or weekend, it was good fun and I didn’t see any fights or riots that happen in festivals back home at times.

A feel for Melbourne

One of the pieces of street art/graffiti from Hosier Lane

One of the pieces of street art/graffiti from Hosier Lane

I’ve spent a lot of time finding my feet so far, going on walks around the area, visiting the beaches – some of which are really nice but I’ve been told they’re nothing compared to elsewhere! Melbourne is a very friendly place overall, and despite the busy areas feeling a little overwhelming at first, I feel like I did in Manchester. I love it here.

I’ve heard mixed things about Hosier Lane but I found it really interesting. Some great graffiti art here and I took a lot of pictures. It was smaller than I expected, though, and I saw someone working on a new piece. Having a place for people to do this is clever, as I’ve not seen as much graffiti as back home generally.

There are also penguins living on St Kilda pier! They come out at sunset and go hunt. They’re not phased by people at all but I did feel like pushing people away when they were trying to get past the crowd. It was so cool but it’s important not to feed them to disrupt their cycle.

A missed opportunity

A Penguin at St Kilda Pier

A Penguin at St Kilda Pier

Being slightly out of the city has its perks, it’s easier to relax a bit more and still be close to everything I want to do. Getting out of the holiday mentality where I feel like I have to do something different every day has been hard but I’m getting to the stage where I’m happy to have a chill day, especially knowing I’ll be back again.

However, a few days ago I was out on a pub crawl and my drink got spiked. I didn’t know at first but soon I was unable to stand, see straight or do anything. The next day I couldn’t focus my mind, see properly, eat anything and more. It was awful. It took me over a day to fully recover but I’m fine. It’s happened now and it hasn’t put me off doing things – I just need to be a little more careful.

The sad thing was I missed White Night, which is a 12-hour light show in the CBD with music and such. From the pictures and videos, it looked epic. Next year, I’m doing it!

Moving on

Sunset at St Kilda Pier

Sunset at St Kilda Pier

Tomorrow I fly to Perth for two weeks to see a friend from back home and spend a little time exploring the city and the area. I’ll be coming back to Melbourne after for another few weeks to explore more and find more sunset views like this before a big, month-long adventure!

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Three Days in Hong Kong (It’s not enough)

I flew with Cathay Pacific. The plane from Manchester to Hong Kong was huge, and quite comfortable, even in Economy (standard) class. There was some great in-flight entertainment and the food was miles better than it was back when I was like 13 and going to Florida – or maybe I’m less fussy now.

Unfortunately, I had a kid in front and behind so I was subject to 11 hours of kicking from both sides. The couple next to me were nice and while I didn’t sleep, I kept my cool with it all.

I landed at just after 7am local time the following day. I couldn’t check into the hotel until 1 or 2pm but they did hold my rucksack. I went to explore Kowloon for the day and had to decide whether to sleep in the afternoon or power through.

I powered through.

Kowloon

Day one was spent in Kowloon, the more, how can I put this, local side of Hong Kong (and all around it except the south). Now, the language barrier was going to be an issue. I had learnt a few basic words to get me going; hello, thank you etc but even then, a lot of the signs weren’t in English. Official signs were, but restaurants and shops, no chance.

Thankfully, I never encountered any problems. There was almost always someone who spoke at least some English and we muddled through. Google and smartphones were my friend in the times I was held behind a language barrier.

I didn’t want to buy much, because the whole point is me travelling light but I explored the Temple Street night Market and the Ladies Market and a lot of parks.

Lake in Kowloon Park

Lake in Kowloon Park

Kowloon Park was fantastic and had fountains and an aviary. The difference between night and day is stunning. There was also the Star Garden, with statues, sculptures and information on local and national stars. The waterfront is also nice, and at Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour there’s a cultural centre.

At night, the city comes alive. The lights transform everything and there’s a brilliant light show at 8pm you can watch involving the buildings on Hong Kong Island. You need to get there a good hour or so early though to get a good spot to watch it from!

Hong Kong light show

Hong Kong light show

There’s street food everywhere, meaning you won’t go hungry. It took some pointing to rather than talking with some of them but I had some great snacks throughout the day.

It’s worth noting that shops and restaurants don’t always open early. Some will open from 9am-ish but more from midday and even more from mid-afternoon to 5pm. A lot of places are open till about 2am, though. Adjust sleeping patterns appropriately.

Hong Kong Island

Day two took me to Hong Kong Island, across the Victoria Harbour. There is a ferry but I took the local metro system, the MTR. Quick and easy.

While all of Hong Kong features sky scrapers, it hit me a lot more here. I arrived in the business district, with a lot more high-end shops on the go. You’ll find a lot more expats on this island and the signs, both official and window based, included more English.

View of Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong

My first stop was the Peak Tram to take me up a bloody big hill. Took an hour to queue but it wasn’t a walk-able one – not for me. At the top is a viewing platform. Now, we all know I HATE heights. Nevertheless, I went and did it. I took the obligatory selfie and absorbed the views. It was a bit murky (unfortunately it was all three days I was there) but that doesn’t take anything away.

I then went on a walk around Mt Austin and climbed up an old stone path (why do I do this to myself?) to a spot higher than the observation platform. Got some even better pictures but not of the same view as there was a lot of foliage in the way.

Hong Kong Park Aviary

Hong Kong Park Aviary

It was then back on the Peak Tram and up the road to Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. More great views and a lot of animals to see. This was a free area too, with refreshments in the area.

From there it was a short jaunt back to Hong Kong Park (which had another vantage point but I avoided the stairs on this one). There’s also a brilliant Aviary where you can walk through and a lot of the birds will get very close to you.

It was then down to the harbour for views of Kowloon, waiting for dark for the contrasting photos and back to Kowloon for more food and bed.

Lantau

View from the cable car

View from the cable car

On the third day, I went across to Lantau, the West Island and closer to the airport. The MTR was again my transport of choice. I changed lines once and it was so easy. Their platform structure is brilliant – I hopped off my train and straight across the platform to a train going to my destination. The return platforms were on another level.

I had a pineapple bun with cream for breakfast and it was amazing! From there, I took a cable car up to Ngong Ping. I queued for about 45 minutes but it can be much longer. Remember, I don’t like heights but put a brave face on and took some pictures of the awesome views. Got talking to the guys in the car with me – there are some perks to travelling solo!

Tian Tan Buddha

Tian Tan Buddha

I arrived in a village-type setting designed to reflect the times of the time. Up here was the Tian Tan Buddha (Fat Buddha) and the Po Ling Monastery (Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas). It was so calm and serene, even with the amount of people around. The village itself is full of shops and restaurants. The monastery is beautiful and the Tian Tan Buddha itself was incredible – even after all the steps to get to it. There’s also a walk around the area and bus routes to other areas on this island.

Now, unfortunately, I left about 3pm. I wanted to relax as I had an early flight the next day to Melbourne. I did wander around Kowloon some more but nowhere new. I was back in the hotel from 9ish and had an early night ready for a nine-hour flight.

All in all, I loved Hong Kong and would love to go back again to see a lot more.

A New Adventure

Hello! Apologies for such a long absence, but it’s been a busy few months. Nothing particularly interesting; I finished my book and started submitting to agents, got a Christmas temp job in a bookshop (which was awesome) and got things ready for my travels.

As a lot of you know by now, I’m leaving the UK for a while. Quite a while. Actual length is to be decided yet but I’m heading to the other side of the world, with Hong-Kong and Australia two definite targets. I’ll be posting more regularly as a result, to catalogue my travels. Mostly this but some writing stuff will still appear too.

It might be more regular if there are things of interest to discuss.

Getting ready

My life for the next year or two in two bags!

My life for the next year or two in two bags!

I spent the last ten days so getting things ready, double checking all the paperwork and such before packing the night before. Anyone who knows me will be prepared for this: I packed a rucksack and a backpack. The rucksack weighed 9.4kg – okay, you say, that’s fine. Remember, I’m going for a year. Maybe two! I know people who pack 20kg for a two-week trip!

It amused me.

I then took off from Newcastle a few days early to spend some time in Manchester and try to catch up with people. I’m sorry now for anyone I didn’t get a chance to see – at times it was literally an hour per person or group. It was great to see so many of you though, and I’m thankful for you all taking the time out of your days and nights to catch up. I wish you (the ones I did and didn’t see) all the best and I’ll try to keep in touch.

Right now

I’m writing this in Manchester Airport, waiting for my flight to Hong-Kong. Three days there and then on to Melbourne. I won’t lie, I’m ridiculously excited right now (even if my face doesn’t show it) but the nerves are rising. I’ve flown on my own before, been on solo holidays before but never have I gone this far, for so long, on my own. I’m sure I’ll be fine once I take off and settle in to what I’m doing but right now, I want the waiting around to stop!

On a plus note, it was a very quick jaunt through T2’s security checks. Not a big queue and travelling so light has its perks, I guess!

Here we go, people. The biggest adventure of my life so far is about to begin. See you on the other side!

Literally.

Back from the Dead!

Well, not really but every so often I like to be dramatic. Picture that as a jump into the spotlight with jazz hands. Yup, I went there, I included the jazz hands. Deal with it.

So where have I been? Nowhere in particular, I’m sorry to say but a lot has been going on and that’s meant a reshuffle of my priorities. Now, this whole blog is for a couple of reasons. I like to write, and this is an easy way to do something I enjoy. Whether it’s talking about books, stories or other things, it helps keep my writing skills sharp. I’ve developed a style and it’s a big part of me even beyond the blog.

Second, hopefully other writers or interested parties finds it useful – at least sometimes! I hope, through my experiences, I can help you, or others, get started or overcome hurdles that I face too. Writers are solitary creatures. We’re weird and crazy and a little bit eccentric at the best of times but that doesn’t mean we aren’t, or shouldn’t be, connected to the world around us. At least, I think so.

Finally, it’s a vent – and that’s important. We all need to get things out there at times, it can make everyone feel better. Sometimes it’s a long rant, others a more structured post or it can even be creative.

So, that being said, what have I been doing to keep me away for so long?

The book

Outside of work, this is what is taking up a lot of my time. I’m working on the 4th draft at the moment and, honestly, I’m happy with the progress being made – if not the time it’s taking me. I feel like the story is getting stronger with each revision, the world is growing and there’s enough in there to get teeth into, even if it’s not the longest sci-fi book in the world.

I go through phases of productivity and I’m lacking that right now. I stare at pages and my mind won’t focus. I’ve tried working on other stories or free writing, but nothing is coming. I’ve gone back to my games to distract me and I think it helps.

I need a solid block of time to finish the thing. I can’t continue doing an hour here, 30 minutes there – I lose the flow. So, there’s an opportunity coming my way to do that. Late summer will see me spend a full month getting this sorted. I’m hoping by the time this block of time comes, I’ll be working on the 5th draft.

Ideally, I want it finished by the end of the year so I can start submitting. And to start work on book two – of which I already have a full plan ready. Maybe I’ll try writing the 3rd book’s plan…

The day job

So, the opportunity.

I had already decided that I needed time to work on my book but supporting myself financially was always going to be a concern. I live alone, it’s not the cheapest option but it’s done me well. Work offered voluntary redundancy and I applied. After talking it over with my manager, it was approved and I will be finishing my current role at the end of July, just short of 2 years in the role.

Time wasn’t the only factor. The redundancy has a good pay-out and will give me the means to live without working for a while so I can sort the book out. Get some good progress done and advance a goal that I’ve been working towards for as long as I can remember.

I’ve turned down other jobs in the process of making this decision but there are longer implications to this too. It’s all a little scary but I’m feeling calm, hopefully and even excited for what lies beyond the next couple of months.

Future plans

So, what does this mean for me after July? Well, after almost 8 years here, I’m leaving Manchester. Not necessarily for good, but at least for a couple of years. Maybe more. I’ll be heading to Newcastle to live with the parents for six months or so. I’m going to finish the damned book and maybe start the next one (I’m a sucker for punishment, it seems). I’ve covered this above.

After that, going into 2018, I’ll hopefully be heading to Australia. Some of you know I’ve been talking about this for years, seriously trying to save for the last year or two and failing miserably. This opportunity gives me the money I said I needed to do this. And hopefully a little more. The family is very understanding of my plans and while it’s always been a dream, it’s time to make it happen. After my book.

I feel like I need a change. I need to travel, go somewhere else and see what I can find. Grab some adventures and experiences. I’m stuck in a rut here and I’m nowhere near ready for relationships or houses or stuff like that. Maybe an early midlife crisis? I pulled the longest grey hair from my head this weekend. Scary. Anyway, I digress.

I’ll be looking to build some freelance work up for that time at home and maybe beyond – content and social media primarily but also social advertising, PPC, SEO and such. I know it. I can do it, time to make a living from it. Get in touch if you know of anything or have any questions about it – I’ll try and help.

For now, more regular blogs incoming.

My First Trip to Budapest, but Definitely Not the Last

HELLO!

I’ve been quiet lately. Some of you will know that I went to Budapest in February. I took a lot of pictures and had a lot to say but then life. It’s an excuse I keep using. My bad.

Despite it all, I like blogging. And those pictures will waste away on Facebook if I don’t use some of them here so let’s not waste any time. We’ll get the boring bits out of the way first and then look at more interesting things later.

I joined a group of friends and we flew from Manchester to Budapest. Direct flights each way and they took less than two hours. There wasn’t much leg room on our RyanAir flight but even a tall git like myself didn’t feel too much like a canned sardine.

Note: you can take TWO carry-on bags with RyanAir. I did not realise this and checked my small suitcase into the hold – that was £50 unnecessarily spent. It meant I didn’t have to carry it, so bonus. Also, I travelled the lightest with that case weighing in at 6.6 kg. Go me…shame on the others.

One of the streets in Budapest

One of the streets in Budapest

The flights were pretty cheap and so was our accommodation – I just went with the flow, much easier. We stayed in Nova Apartments, close to everything. I walked everywhere. No buses used throughout – the only transportation used was the metro once and a beer bike but more on that later.

A different look, a different atmosphere

One thing I love about going somewhere new is you just don’t know what to expect. I took a lot of pictures of the streets and buildings because you just don’t see that style here in the UK – even in the quaint little villages.

I spent plenty of time each day just walking, stopping for coffee or beer regularly, and exploring. With a map in one pocket and a smartphone in the other, I was confident enough of getting back or to a meeting point if needed. There was even a cool little indoor corridor with shops, stalls and eateries. Picked up a little souvenir there!

One of the views of Budapest from Buda Castle

One of the views of Budapest from Buda Castle

The views from Buda Castle, though. They were fantastic. We were lucky with the weather. Yes, it was cold but it was clear and sunny throughout. Brilliant. I took a lot of pictures going up, and it was a long climb!

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

The Széchenyi Thermal Baths was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Thanks to some good planning, we went to this place after our beer bike tour – more on that later – and it was the right choice. All the stress and tension just evaporated in the water.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths at night

Széchenyi Thermal Baths at night

There are other thermal baths in the area but these were the ones to go to, as I’d been told by others and one of the group who had been to Budapest many times.

We went in when it was daylight but it was dark when we left. The baths are outdoor, surrounded by the building which is ring-shaped. The air temperature was just over 0 degrees but the water temp 35ish degrees. The steam came and went. While you might think your head would be cold, it doesn’t work like that. A science-focused person would explain it.

Heroes Square

Heroes Square

The worst thing was getting out. It was bitterly cold – especially when wet – but the changing rooms had heated floors so you run inside and warm up. In the summer, I can imagine this is less of an issue.

If you ever go to Budapest. Go here. Above all else, it’s great. The place is close to Heroes Square, which is a sight itself.

Szimpla Kert

Another of the highlights for me was Szimpla Kert – a ruin bar. There are a number of ruin bars in Budapest and all are different, but, basically, this is the original. It’s full of everything you can think of, which some people would call junk, I guess. Fools.

Inside Szimpla Kert

Inside Szimpla Kert

There’s a real sense of character in this place. A long hallway with rooms to either side with seats and bars and quirky things. Different lighting styles and tones and it should’t work at all but it…does. Really well. There’s a cool area out the back too with more seats and what looked like a BBQ space. I’d love to explore it in the day time. Next time.

I could write a whole blog post and/or story about this place. Anything I say won’t do it justice – just go and check it out.

It. Is. Awesome.

Out back at Szimpla Kert

Out back at Szimpla Kert

Quality without stupid costs

I tried a couple of local dishes and foods out there, some nice and some I didn’t get on with so well. That’s fine, it’s part of the trip. Some of it was really nice – pork with a tangy sauce and donut shaped bread thing with a creamy yoghurt sauce. Can’t for the life of me remember the name but yummy. Try it.

We didn’t go for posh food but nor did we eat badly. There were good options and bad throughout but we balanced the beer with plenty of food. It helped keep us going. Overall, for the quality of the food and drink we had, it was worth the price and keep in mind it’s cheaper than here in the UK. The same meal and drink, on average, would cost about a third more. Did I splurge a little? Sure, who wouldn’t.

Some of the quirks

The beginning of the climb up to Buda Castle

The beginning of the climb up to Buda Castle

It felt a little 90’s when we got there. Some of the clothing played a part in this – I saw more than a couple of shell suit jacket things. Google it and be glad you don’t remember wearing them. The music was also part of it. There was new music (Ed Seeran every. Single. Morning.) but they did like the older stuff. It worked for me.

We went on a beer bike ride and Holy Crap was it hard. I mean, we had beer so that was good but the whole contraption was heavy and took a lot of effort to pedal. It was a good laugh – or good to laugh at those pedalling until the time came to switch. We went down a side lane alongside the main road but had to pull over to let traffic past. We got some strange looks along the way. Going to the Thermal Baths after this was a good plan.

Possibly THE BEST pizza I've ever had!

Possibly THE BEST pizza I’ve ever had!

PIZZA! I have had one of the best pizzas ever in Budapest. Seriously, I would happily fly over, go to this pub (Pointer Pub FYI), eat a pizza (as big and bigger than a car wheel!) then fly home. Totally worth it. It wasn’t a pizza place, it wasn’t a small local – it was a sports pub. Nice staff and we watched the Six Nations there. The pizza was supposed to be a snack but it definitely impacted on the evening meal. No regrets though, so good!

Even better, everyone is really nice and friendly. That makes everything better.

Too long; didn’t read

Good food. Friendly people. Stunning buildings and views. Cheap cheap cheap. I’d recommend it to solo travellers or groups of friends. Go and explore, see the sights, and do things you couldn’t at home. Money comes and goes, friends won’t always be there for you and a house will belong to someone else one day. The only thing we truly own is our memories and experiences. Creating them shouldn’t be a chore. Enjoy it.

In the end, what else is life for?