Vancouver.

From Seattle it was onto my last destination, Vancouver. I had another train trip full of lovely scenery, although much shorter than the one to Seattle, a few border control type questions at the train station in Vancouver and then I was through and in another new city in another new country.

I didn’t have a full week in Vancouver because I’d only added it into my plan on the advice of the guy in Brisbane, and unfortunately it rained quite a lot while I was there and I was full of a cold which I wanted to get rid of if I could before flying home so I did stay inside in the warm and dry quite a lot. I did have one lovely day however when I wandered along the water and ended up at Stanley Park. As I got into the park itself I noticed some signs advertising horse drawn carriage rides round the park which sounded really fun but I figured it’d be the cute, little, romantic type carriage for two which could be a bit weird on my own, but it wasn’t. It was actually a fairy big carriage with about half a dozen rows of benches so I promptly jumped on for a tour of the park.

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And then before I knew it it was time to head to the airport. I had a short flight back down to LA, a night in a hotel by the airport, and then a flight back to London and home. Thankfully my cold wasn’t too bad by then and I didn’t cough much on the plane although I did then go and have a coughing fit once we’d landed.

And there we go. About 9 months, 9 flights, 5 countries, 1000s of photos, 1 skydive (:D!) and one big adventure and, finally, one finished blog!

In case you didn’t know I’m currently on a Canadian adventure so make sure you sign up for updates on my second blog acymraesincanada.wordpress.com if you want to know what I’m up to. There are posts imminent!

Seattle.

I got the Seattle version of the City Pass which kept me busy here and my first stop was the aquarium which was fun and not something I’d have probably bothered with without the pass.

I love him! He's so cute!

I love him! He’s so cute!

And I think he's settling down for a good gossip!

And I think he’s settling down for a good gossip!

I also went to the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project) which had all sorts of music and pop culture including my favourite which was all about fantasy worlds on books and films. There were costumes from films, artwork, props video interviews with authors and filmakers. They even had some original Tolkien manuscripts which I was very excited to see although sadly you weren’t allowed to take photos of them.

I had a cruise of the harbour on a rather grey day!

I visited the Pacific Science Centre which wasn’t really my cup of tea.

And I took two trips up the Space Needle, on in day light and another once it had gone dark.

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Back on the ground afterwards.

Back on the ground afterwards.

In between trips up the Space Needle I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit nearby which was very cool. To begin with you went through a number of dark rooms that contained different, really lovely and colourful blown glass sculptures. Then you went out into the garden which had more of the sculptures incorporated into it. It was really good and the whole thing had a slightly strange, Alice in Wonderland type feel to it.

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Also while in Seattle I enjoyed wandering round Pike Place Market (and leaving my mark on the Gum Wall!) and wandering along the waterfront.

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As you can see it was very grey during my stay in Seattle but it stayed dry just about all the time so it wasn’t too bad. And then on the last day, when I’d used all my City Pass tickets and done everything I wanted to do the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. Isn’t that just typical?

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Travelling to Seattle.

Next up was Seattle, a fair distance from LA, so I decided to take the train which meant a 34 hour trip. I splurged out and paid for a teeny tiny cabin and the whole journey was great. I’ve always wanted to do a long overnight trip on a train, it seems like a very classic Poirot type era thing to do. Thankfully there were no murders on my journey. Because I was in a sleeper car all my meals and snacks were included in the price, I got first choice of meal sittings and a guaranteed seat in the dining car whereas the plebs (;D) in the regular seating weren’t guaranteed a seat there and could have just had to go to the snack car. We also had a special panoramic lounge car with comfy chairs and wide windows and a glass roof to watch the world go by, as well as a car attendant to see to all our needs.

My cabin was literally the width of the seat and just a bit longer than the two seats together. For sleeping the two chairs flattened out and the attendant came and made up the bed for me. If two people were travelling in there a second bunk could be pulled down from the ceiling. Each car had a number of washrooms and also some showers but I wasn’t brave enough to use the shower.

As I said my ticket included meals in the dining car which was full of tables of 4 so being on my own I had to share with people but that was fine. They were mostly American, and mostly older and mostly fascinated by me and my accent. There were a few choices of food and they were the same for all 4 meals so I kept picking the one thing I was certain I’d like which meant by the end of the journey I was a bit fed up with it but it was nice enough.

For the whole first day the cabin opposite mine was empty so I could flit between the two to take photos of both sides which was handy but then some people arrived during the evening and travelled all the way through to Seattle so that put a stop to that. We went through lots of lovely scenery, often right along the coast, but sadly we saw what I thought was the most beautiful bit while I was at lunch on the second day with my bag stowed under the table with my camera safely in it out of reach so I didn’t actually get any pictures of that particular stretch. Nevertheless here are some of the photos I did take.

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Los Angeles.

Hollywood!

Which has become completely photoless. But as far as places go it wasn’t the most picturesque so it was a worthwhile sacrifice for the photos to come.

For my time in LA I stayed in a nice enough hostel just off of Hollywood Boulevard, home of the Walk of Fame, film premiers and the Oscars, which was very exciting and once I was there I bought a city pass which gave me admission into 4 Hollywood attractions. The first one I visited was Madame Tussauds. Now I’ve never really seen the attraction of these but as it was included in my pass I thought why not? Having now been in one I still don’t really see the attraction. It was fun enough I suppose but I went through the whole place quite quickly and didn’t actually bother taking my camera out at all. I did snap some photos on my phone but the waxworks were all a bit weird so I don’t think we need to see them.

Next up was a movie stars homes tour which felt slightly stalkerish but was fun nonetheless. To begin with we drove up to a lookout that gave us some good views over the city and also of the Hollywood Sign.

Then we had a drive through all the posh neighbourhoods and our tour guide pointed out where all the celebrities live. We were in an open top little minibus and we all had a set of headphones so we could hear the tour guide which was a good idea because it meant we were able to enjoy the lovely weather and take photos without windows in the way but still hear the commentary although I was a little windswept by the end. Sadly I didn’t see any celebrities (that day or any other that I was there) but I did see the homes (or at least one of their homes) of people including Julia Roberts, Courtney Cox and Tom Cruise. I saw where Elvis lived at one point, where Michael Jackson died, where Peter Falk, the grandfather in Princess Bride, used to live and where a lot of Pretty Woman was filmed. I also saw a fair amount of Halloween decorations even though it was only October 16th!

I also took a Hollywood Behind the Scenes tour with my city pass which was very interesting. We walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard while our guide told us stories. We heard all about some of the different theatres that we passed like the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, and the Chinese Theatre which is where all the hand and foot prints are. We heard about the stars on the Walk of Fame and how you get one, about films that had been made on the street, about the Oscars, and there were all sorts of stories about stars past and present.

We were again linked with our tour guide by a headset so that we could hear him over the hustle and bustle on the street and not get lost but we did have a bit of a delay at one point because our group was two members short. In the end the tour guide discovered that they’d just left without saying anything to him and returned the headsets to the office. Some people are so rude!

The last thing I did with my city pass was a tour of the Dolby Theatre which is where the Oscars are held. Sadly you weren’t allowed to take photos inside the theatre but it was a very cool tour. The theatre is part of the Hollywood and Highland Centre, which is a big shopping and dining centre, and was built for the Oscars. As you approach the staircase leading up to the theatre there are columns with the names of all the Best Picture Films and there’s space for them to continue this right up to 2071.

The big courtyard of the centre itself was inspired by the set of an old silent film set in Babylon. It also had a ‘Road to Hollywood’ along the floor made of red paving stones to look like a red carpet leading from the entrance all the way to the back of the centre to a viewpoint of the Hollywood sign. Along the ‘red carpet’ were anonymous stories of how different people in the film industry made their way to Hollywood.

Honolulu.

Ta da! These posts are sadly quite photo lite, some more so than others, because I’ve literally filled up my media space on this blog unless I want to pay money which I don’t so I’ve had to be brutal in cutting some of the planned photos.

And then to America! First stop Hawaii. It was already dark when I landed in Honolulu but just stepping off the plane I was hit by a wall of heat which was a sign of what was to come that week. After an interminably long wait to get through customs it was out into the sweltering evening and onto a shuttle bus to take me to my hotel. Yes I did type that right, hotel. I’d spent quite some time in Sydney looking into hostels, reading many terrible reviews of them all and altogether dithering before finally deciding to book a cheap hotel for the week and I’m so glad I did. It wasn’t a posh hotel by any stretch of the imagination but it was lovely. I got to have my own space that wasn’t shared with anybody, a TV, air conditioning and a fridge which I kept stocked up with water and fresh fruit to keep me cool.

I did spend one night, or at least half a night, in a hostel at the end of the week because my flight away from Hawaii was so early that I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep the night before and so didn’t really think it was worth paying for a hotel room for that night. So, after considering and then dismissing the idea of staying at the airport overnight I decided, somewhat reluctantly, to grab a taxi across town on my last day and check into one of the hostels I’d seen such bad reviews for. Thankfully it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d been dreading, I didn’t see any hordes of ants or cockroaches like many people had but it was a small room with barely enough room for us all, noisy and very hot even though I was by the AC unit so there was no sleep had that night and before I knew it I was back in the shuttle bus on the way to the airport but I’ve got ahead of myself.

The only thing I really had planned for my time in Hawaii was a visit to Pearl Harbour. But then the US Government decided to shut down or something, I didn’t understand the details, during the time I was in Hawaii and that meant that all the state run parks and monuments and what have you were closed including Pearl Harbour. So in the end I wandered, I sat by the beach and I enjoyed the privacy of my own room. I particularly enjoyed looking round the International Market Place and I did happen to come away with a souvenir or two. Well it’d have been rude not to.

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So there we have it. Hawaii was definitely lovely but not somewhere I’d rush back to.

Sydney Again.

From Melbourne I went to Canberra but I only stayed a couple of days because the hostel was fully booked for about a week after that. My main memory of Canberra is how quiet and empty it seemed, especially given that it’s Australia’s capital. I went into the city centre one afternoon, and it was a Sunday, but it was just completely empty, felt a bit weird.

Anyway after that it was back to Sydney. Sadly I couldn’t stay in the lovely hostel I stayed in before so I stayed in a nearby one that was nice enough and included free breakfast because I was a YHA member which was a definite bonus.

Last time in Sydney I went past the ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park quite a few times but never went in for one reason or another. This time I did. There were some interesting displays on the ground floor but what I found particularly moving was the domed ceiling of the main hall which was covered in 120,000 gold stars each one representing a person from New South Wales who fought in World War 1.

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As part of the centenary celebrations of the Australian Navy there was an International Fleet Review in Sydney Harbour and on my last day in Sydney there was a big firework and light display planned as part of it. So, after making sure I was all packed and ready for the next day, I trotted off down to the harbour following all the crowds. After a bit of wandering I chose a spot by the Opera House and waited for it to get dark. There were a couple of bands playing throughout the afternoon and helicopters and planes buzzing overhead (and an incident best forgotten wherein I queued for food for about 45 minutes and then foolishly chose the worst possible thing that involved lamb drenched in horse radish sauce, yuk!) and before I knew it the show was about to begin.

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To begin there were smaller fireworks going off along with imagery that was projected onto things like the Opera House and the towers of the Harbour Bridge giving a brief run through of the history of the Navy along with a segment of remembrance, and then the firework display went epic. There were fireworks coming off the bridge, off ships in the harbour, from some of the buildings in the city and all over the place, it was great!

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And then it was back to the hostel and to bed ready to fly back to Auckland the next morning. All my flights were in the morning, apart from my last one home, which meant getting to the airport horribly early which was worrying enough as it is given how little of a morning person I am. This flight was even worse because it happened to fall on the day that the clocks went forward so in trying to work out when to set my alarm for and whether my phone would change the time automatically or not, or if at 2am or whenever it is that they technically change it would just completely malfunction and destroy itself (unlikely but still a concern) I became even more paranoid about oversleeping and missing my flight. Thankfully I didn’t and all was well.

I had a day or two in Auckland, just long enough to buy some souvenirs and what have you, and then it really was farewell (for now) New Zealand. I did experience one last lovely bit of Kiwi helpfulness at the airport. When I went to change the New Zealand and Australian money I had left I just gave them the notes assuming that they wouldn’t take the coins and that I could just put them in one of the charity collections I’d seen but the lovely lady said she was happy to take change even when she saw the mass I’d somehow accumulated. So I dumped it all out on the counter, she added it up and gave me lots of US Dollars and I was on my way. It did mean I had slightly unrealistic expectations at LA Airport about a month later. I’d barely finished asking if they took change there before I got a short, sharp reply of “No”. Ah well.


 

Melbourne.

From Brisbane I flew down to Melbourne. I was an old hand at the whole flying malarkey by this point so there was no sleepless night beforehand which was nice.

It wasn’t until I seriously started planning where in Australia I wanted to go that I realised just how incredibly big it is and how far apart everything is. My theory on that is because when you see it on a map it’s pretty much on its’ own apart from teeny tiny New Zealand off to the South East so there’s nothing really to put it into context or to compare it to. Or maybe it’s just because I’m not very good with distances. It was only when I saw a map of Australia with Europe superimposed on top of it with plenty of room to spare that the size of the country really dawned on me.

And now I’m rambling, so anyway, Melbourne. The first thing that struck me about Melbourne was the weather. Gone was the sunshine, gone was the heat only to be replaced with grey skies, cool breezes and rain and it was like that all week. Bummer, you might thing, that’s no good. But I loved it! I’d had four weeks of constant sunshine and warm days and to be honest I’d had enough. So much sunshine just isn’t natural I tell you! I kept the window by my bed open whenever I could so I could hear and smell the rain and even though I did get caught in some quite heavy downpours some days I loved the change in weather.

The hostel was fine, nothing special but nothing terrible and I even had the dorm to myself once or twice and even when there were other people it was a big enough room that we didn’t all feel piled on top of each other. There was another chatty, older Australian lady staying at this hostel and we ran into each other quite a bit in the kitchen but this one was a bit weird so the less said about her the better!

I spent quite a lot of time exploring the Botanic Gardens and even saw a wedding ceremony take place there, unfortunately for them that was on one of the rainy days!

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I went to another large garden while in Melbourne which featured, amongst other things, a model Tudor village and ‘The Fairies’ Tree’. I couldn’t pass that up now could I. The model village was a gift to the city of Melbourne from the people of Lambeth, England to thank them for sending food to Britain during World War II.

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I’m not going to lie, not only was I expecting the model village to be a bit bigger but I also found ‘The Fairies’ Tree’ a little disappointing. I expected something a little bit more magical. Here’s a photo, what do you think of it?

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As it was quite rainy I figured it would be a good week to go to the cinema as I hadn’t been for a while so I had a look at what was on and discovered something wonderful about one of the cinemas in Melbourne. They have a bean bag screen! That’s right, no seats just bean bags so of course I had to go. They were showing a film I hadn’t heard of in that screen called Paranoia with Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford that looked fun so I checked out where the cinema was and set out. It was actually in a big shopping centre in the middle of the city which I figured would be easy to find. It wasn’t. Eventually, looking a little bit like a drowned rat I eventually found the shopping centre. Then it took me another age to actually find the cinema but finally I had my ticket, was stocked up with coke and popcorn and ready to find my bean bag.

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Doesn’t it look cute?!? I was given a designated seat with my ticket and each bean bag counted as two seats so I don’t know if that means you could have to share a bean bag with a stranger if you were on your own and it was full but that wasn’t a problem for me because there were only about four other people in total there for that film. My bean bag was to the left of the picture and you can just see my bag and drink beside it. It was lovely to sprawl out there and watch a film, and the film itself was good too.

Afterwards I went to another pancake type restaurant and had another deliciously sweet, yummy thing but can’t quite remember what I went for that time. Rest assured it was amazing though.

The other wonderful thing I did while in Melbourne was visit the set of Neighbours. Mock me if you will but I think this was what I was most looking forward to in Australia. I had a choice of taking a tour on a weekday in which case I’d be able to visit the street where they film all the exterior shots of Ramsay Street, visit one or two other sets and meet a member of the cast, or take the tour on the weekend and see a lot more of the sets because they don’t film on weekends but I wouldn’t meet a cast member. In the end I went for the weekend and was very glad I did. I took plenty of photos as I’m sure you can imagine but I’ll keep it short and sweet here.

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Finally, I met these charming gentlemen in the middle of Melbourne J IMAG0475a

Brisbane

I really liked Brisbane and not just because it reminded me of London, although it did a bit with the river running through it and all the bridges crossing it and the artsy South Bank which even had a big wheel. It was hot and sunny during my week there, the hottest I had it in Australia, and although it was getting to the point of being too hot at times it never quite got there which was nice as I’d been slightly concerned about how I was going to cope with the heat being a delicate Celtic girl and all but being there in Spring worked out well.

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I spent a lot of time on the South Bank because only a day or two before I arrived the Brisbane Festival began and a lot of the action seemed to happen down there. There was a stage there that held free concerts with a few different artists each night so it was lovely to go along, find a patch of grass to sit on and have a listen. Just off to the side of the music area were plenty of food vans and I had some very yummy food from those including but not limited to a hot dog, a taco wrap and churros which, in case you’re wondering are long pieces of fried dough with a sweet sauce for dipping. Delicious! There was also a lovely ‘light garden’ to wander through made up of loads of colour changing LED lights.

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The other big thing every night with the festival was a light show that took place on a barge in the middle of the river. It happened a couple of times a night and lasted a good ten minutes and was great fun to watch (although one of the times I was watching it I did get coke splashed all up the backs of my legs when someone dropped their drink which was not so fun). There were lights and lasers both from the barge itself and from the city buildings on the other side of the river as well as cascading water, jets and these weird, slightly creepy figures and it was all set to music. One of the songs they used has come up in an advert quite a lot this year and although I’ve got no idea who it’s by every time I hear it I think of this show so that’s nice isn’t it?

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And from the festival area I’d always have a lovely walk back along the river to my hostel.

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While I was in Brisbane I took a trip to Australia Zoo, the zoo owned by Steve Irwin’s family, and had a very lovely day. I’m sure you’d rather see photos of some of the animals rather than just read me talking about them so here’s a few.

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I even got to feed an elephant!

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While I ate my lunch I watched a daily show that starts off with lots of swooping birds doing tricks and taking things from audience member’s hands and things like that and then we got to see a couple of crazy people playing (or taunting, not quite sure which) with a crocodile. It was a lot of fun to watch but they really must be mad to do it!

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I also had my own encounter with the wildlife while I was at the zoo which, to be honest, I could have done without. One of those ibis birds that I mentioned in the previous post landed on my table at lunch and tried to steal my food. I had finished with it by that point thankfully but they’re big birds so it was slightly terrifying and then it happened again later in the week back in Brisbane!

The hostel I stayed in was lovely, especially the rooftop deck which led out from the kitchen and had great views out over the city. In fact it was out there that I was sat talking to someone about my plans for America later on in the trip and he said that since I was already planning on going as far north as Seattle I should really try and make the time to carry on up to Vancouver which I did and which turned out to be a very good idea indeed.

There seemed to be less coming and going in my dorm throughout the week than in other hostels. Here in Brisbane it seemed to be the same 6 of us, including an older, Australian lady, for almost the whole week which was nice because it meant we chatted quite a bit more with each other over the week.


 

Sydney

It’s a Christmas miracle! All my Australia posts at once and I even promise to have the USA/Canada posts up in the New Year too so how about that. And now on with the story.

My flight to Sydney was at 7am which obviously meant getting up at hideous o’clock to catch the shuttle to the airport so the night before I got my bags all ready, set my alarm and snuggled down into bed at about 7pm. A couple of minutes before my alarm was due to go off I got up having not slept a wink all night, got my things together and headed off to catch the shuttle to the airport. My usual paranoia seemed to have tripled and in making sure I didn’t get there too late and miss my flight I ended up having to sit around in the entrance for about an hour before I could check in but I eventually got checked in, had breakfast, met the guy below and then had second breakfast (well when in Middle Earth…) and got on the plane.

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The flight was about 3 hours, positively short compared to my two flights out to New Zealand and I had a brief nap after being serenaded to sleep by Bon Jovi (sadly only on my little TV not actually in the plane with me) but soon enough I was landing in Sydney. After dropping my bags off at the hostel I headed into the sunshine and found myself down by the harbour and the Botanic Gardens. I spent quite a lot of time there over the week wandering or lying in the sun reading and just generally being wary of the giant birds that were everywhere (ugly fellows but more on them in another post).

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On one of my days in Sydney I went down to Darling Harbour and came across the Chinese Garden Friendship which was a lovely place to spend an hour or so and have a bite to eat. It was quite a strange place in that it was really peaceful and tranquil and Chinese but it was surrounded by skyscrapers and signs of the city.

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From there I carried on to where I’d been planning on going, the Australian National Maritime Museum. It was a really interesting place even though I didn’t actually end up seeing anything in the museum itself because as well as the main building they also have a number of historic vessels moored in the harbour that you can wander round and it was on these that I spent my time. First up was a replica of HMB Endeavour, the ship James Cook discovered New Zealand and Australia in during the second half of the 18th Century.

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Next up it was onto HMAS Vampire, Australia’s last big gun ship which was in use in the Australian Navy from 1959 to 1986.

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And from there it was onto HMAS Onlsow, a submarine, which was decommissioned in 1999 and which you can also see in the photo above.

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At some point while I was wandering round these I started following this British family with a couple of teenage kids and I think more than one of the volunteer guides thought I was one of their kids as well. We did share a few awkward glances but no-one addressed the fact that I’d briefly joined their family, and then at the end we parted ways and I never saw them again.

The other thing that needs to be mentioned about Darling Harbour is a restaurant called Pancakes on the Rocks which, as you may have guessed, serves pancakes and crepes and things like that. They do also serve savoury meals but who cares about them when you can have something like this?

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This was called ‘The Ultimate’ and was so incredibly yummy but so sweet and filling that I couldn’t actually finish it even though it doesn’t actually look like that much. It was two crepes full of cream cheese and sultanas with berry sauce and ice-cream and I am now craving it again.

One of my daily wanderings led me to The Rocks which is down by the Harbour Bridge and is the oldest part of Sydney. It was a lovely place to wander round with its’ old buildings and narrow streets and every weekend they have a huge market there which I came across. I love looking round markets like that and could have easily come away with all sorts of things but I restrained myself. One of the things I nearly almost bought was a painting. I came across this artist who was doing these spray paint paintings and it was so cleverly done and they were really good. He’d start out with a blank page and just create it and it would look like random colours to begin with but by the time he’d finished, and it didn’t take long, it would be this wonderful fantasyesque picture. Being un-arty myself it’s hard to explain but if you search on YouTube for spray paint art you can see people doing it and see what I mean. But sadly I didn’t get one as I wasn’t sure if it would survive the trip home.

I stayed in a lovely hostel which was nice and convenient for all the sightseeing and had a very tasty café connected to it. The kitchens/common areas floor had lots of random little nooks for sitting and chilling/hiding in. And yes I did need to hide sometimes because there were quite a few groups of high school kids on trips staying there throughout the time I was there and unfortunately the kids always seemed to be hyped up and running around and screaming but apart from that it was nice.

This isn’t the last of Sydney but for now it’s time to move on and from Sydney I decided to head up the coast for a bit spending a few days each at Newcastle and Byron Bay. It was during this week that I came to the conclusion that, as I suspected, I’m not really a beachy sort of person. Both places were nice but nothing special and I was perfectly happy to move on from them both.